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Is Star Trek on Television Dead?

I saw Star Trek last night and was quite impressed – it is one of the best movies in the franchise (albeit not the best). It riproared effectively and gave us a brilliant look at the Kirk/Spock relationship, which is one of the oddities of the show – how such an impulsive, womanising and irrational man would develop a lifelong friendship with such a stoic and logic individual was always a slight mystery to Star trek fans. Still, there is a world of difference between the television shows and the movies, and I wonder if we’ll ever see another Star Trek show back on the airwaves?
The original original crew...

The original original crew...

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The DVD Dilemma…

I have a moral dilemma. Pixar’s Up is released in the United States next weekend. It has opened to nigh-universal praise at Cannes. My girlfriend is anticipating the film like nobody’s business. And we’ll have to wait five months to get to see it over here. By that stage, the DVD and Blu Ray will have been released in the United States.

So, should I feel guilty about wanting to import a legally purchased DVD or Blu Ray of a film that hasn’t arrived in cinemas yet?

You shouldn't have to trek halfway around the world to see Up...

You shouldn't have to trek halfway around the world to see Up...

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Welcome to Baltimore…

“This is Baltimore, gentlemen. The gods will not save you.”

-Bill Rawls

I finished the fourth season of The Wire yesterday. Boy was that depressing. Really depressing. Even my parents, who had been wading in and out as they were going about their weekend business, found it almost soul-destroyingly downbeat. That’s not to say it wasn’t great – just depressing. Anyway, my mom repeatedly stressed that she didn’t believe that anywhere as bad as Baltimore could actually exist. I decided to investigate.
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The Late, Late Gets a New Host

Ryan Tubridy will host the Late, Late Show.

Admittedly, having caught him on Newstalk this morning, I’m not as ticked as I was last night. He actually came across as charming, sincere and a genuinely nice guy. On the other hand, he comes across as a bit of a gombeen on his Saturday night show, though something about the faux-Americana vibe just rubs me the wrong way.

Hopefully if someone can talk him out of bringing the house band – I love the Quartet, but they don’t suit a primetime talk show – and convince him that “poor man’s Conan O’Brien” is not a great design style, then he might do well. I attended a filming of the show a few year back and Tuberty worked well off camera. He was witty and charming, but the moment the camera hit somehow that charm became smarm. I hear he’s much better on the radio, but I’m in work, so I can’t listen.

So, maybe if he’s the only member of staff carried over from Saturday night it could work. He rightly points out that Gay Byrne had relatively little current affairs experience before he took the job (he worked behind-the-scenes in Britain), and we all know how that turned out. So maybe this constantly upwardly-mobile favourite son can pull it off. The Late, Late really needs a good, challenging host after a stale few years. Maybe Tubridy’s change we can believe in.

I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for the moment, but will be watching very closely.

Irish television…

Why can’t RTE produce a standard thirteen-part drama once a year? I am a huge television fan and I can’t wrap my head around it. I know they aren’t the BBC – nor should they or could they – but it’s incredibly hard to justify given that the station has possibly the best current affairs department in the world and an above-average record with comedies (though they never should have passed on Father Ted).

I flick over to the ever-reliable Beeb and I see any number of highly-watchable drama shows that run once-a-year every year – Doctor Who, Torchwood, Spooks, Hustle, Ashes to Ashes, New Tricks to name but a few. Wow. And for my irish television licence, what do I get? Raw. A show about a restaurant that is reviewing terribly. Still, we get a second season, so that’s good, right? Maybe they’ll commission a second season of something good.

(Very) Raw talent

(Very) Raw talent

We have the talent in the country – The Abbey and The Gate see to our acting talent, many of whom emigrate to find work; there’s a rapidly emerging Irish film circuit that provides the directors; we’re a nation highly respected as writers – so why hasn’t it happened yet? I have dozens of TV shows on DVD, but not one of them is Irish, save the crappy Reeling in The Years compilation RTE produced. No Irish drama. (And the show is amazing… due to rights issues, the DVD less so.)

We have room in the schedule – a disturbing proportion of RTE’s broadcasts are imports – and we also have the money, we’re just spending it wrong. Why do I need RTE to show Lost when I can see it in higher quality on Sky? What’s the point of getting Desperate Housewives on RTE when there are 101 other boland import-filled channels on my digibox? Sure, it might garner ratings and advertising revenue by acquiring exclusive rights, but what’s the point of having a state broadcaster to do that for us?

It made sense before the internet allowed us to see anything anywhere almost simultaneously. It made sense before digital made it possible for ordinary households to see anything we wanted. What is the purpose of a public-service broadcaster that doesn’t offer anything we can’t get anywhere else? Even if you could argue that Irish drama isn’t financial lucrative, there’s a reason we fund the public arts. And it’s not to see 30 Rock (awesome as it may be) a few weeks early.

Sure, you counter, RTE does original programming. I’ll give you current affairs. I love Prime Time and I want to run away and marry Brian Dobson. I’ll accept comedy like Bachelors Walk, as it is high quality entertainment. Hell, even the one off drams can be good (Whistleblower), but they can also be so bad it’s horrible (Butter Sweat). I am disgusted with the amount of crass reality television knockoffs we produce as a nation. I makes my physically sick. Sure, every other station in the world does it, but the good ones offset it with something good and smart and brave (or at least better and smarter and braver), instead of patting the audience on the head with some American sitcom.

I want to love RTE, I really do. It’s all there, ready and waiting to be used. They don’t seem to be willing to use it though. And that really ticks me off.

I’m going to go watch the BBC.

Holy Blasphemy Law, Batman!

As a lot of people reading this blog are probably aware, the Irish government recently proposed a new crime of blasphemy. Predictably, the media has erupted in a massive firestorm, free speech activists are pledging to fight tooth-and-nail, religious groups are distancing themselves from the law and the Minister for Justice is covering his backside by claiming that – due to an archaic provision of our Constitution – he is only doing his job.

Putting on my rather dusty ‘lawyer’ hat, he’s half-right. He is supposed to obey the Constitution and cannot directly act against it, nor can he ignore it. However, even the most stoic drafters of the document realised that social values tend to evolve over large periods of time and put in a get out of jail free card intended to be invoked in situations like this.

An impromptu staging of The Life of Brian was not a good idea given Ireland's new blasphemy law

An impromptu staging of The Life of Brian was not a good idea given Ireland's new blasphemy law

As one my most learned lecturers drilled into my head while at college, Ireland has one of the most flexible methods of constitutional reform in the world. Unlike England, we actually have a constitution. Unlike America, we don’t require a nigh-impossible unity of political thought in our houses of government to change our guiding principles. We hold simple ‘majority-wins’ referenda to amend our Constitution. There’s no requirement of turnout, nor of government or judicial support. All power to the people and all that.

The biggest stumbling block is getting the referendum held in the first place – that requires government support. The Dail and Senate need to agree to have a referendum (though all the Senate does is either rubber-stamp the proposal or delay it two months). I don’t understand why the Greens are the only party who seem to be pushing for an actual debate on whether we want blasphemy to remain a crime in this jurisdiction – especially given we’ve held plebiscites on everything from divorce to abortion to immigrant babies to Europe (often until we get the ‘right’ answer).

Although, given the debatable role that the ‘silent’ religious majority may have played in defeating the godless baby-killing European Union in the Lisbon referendum, maybe I do see why the major parties might shy away from a public debate on the matter. I’ve only seen one abortion referendum while living in the country, and it was a very messy affair. I would hope that something as simple as freedom of speech wouldn’t be so viciously divisive in modern Ireland.

Better off Ted...

Better off Ted...

I believe. I am a Catholic (albeit lapsed, slightly). I still view this proposal as a huge step backwards. I don’t intend on doodling images of the Prophet, nor of insulting any belief that people hold sacred, but I like to believe I have the right to. If a system of belief is so blatantly ridiculous and offensive as to deserve my scorn (and I can think of one example in particular), I would like to think that they are not above debate or discussion merely because they are a religion. If people want to insult God or Allah or Buddha, well… I’d like to think the believers who invest faith in these religions worship beings that have more important things to worry about that what some blogger or newspaper columnist thinks of them.

Freedom of speech is a core part of democratic freedom. Sure there are grey areas where it becomes hazy – like incitement to hatred, or maybe holocaust denial – but blasphemy isn’t one of them. Sure, it might not necessarily be conducive to polite discussion to bring up the topic (it’s easy to point the finger at willfully offensive content like South Park or Family Guy here), but sometimes it is (Salmon Rushdie’s Satanic Verses is proclaimed a masterpiece, Scorcese’s The Last Temptation of Christ is a flawed but thoughtful film). Even if it’s not intrinsically valuable or even if it doesn’t contribute to discourse, the principle of freedom of speech loses any value if we restrict it to protecting only speech worthy of our protection. Who makes that call?

I love this country, but we do tend to lag behind the rest of the world when it comes to distancing the personal religious affairs of our citizenry from the rule of law in our state. What worries me is that – for all the observations from legal scholars and government officials stressing the constitutionality (as distinct from the moral correctness) of the law – we’ve yet to have any return shots fired from the pro-criminalising-blasphemy side.

Still, it’s early days.