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The Lone Gunmen – All About Yves (Review)

This October/November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the eighth season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of The Lone Gunmen.

The broad consensus would seem to suggest that All About Yves is the best episode of The Lone Gunmen.

While this is perhaps unfair to Madam, I’m Adam and Tango de los Pistoleros, it is certainly a defensible position. All About Yves is one of the tightest shows of the season, and marks the first time since The Pilot that a plot has managed to actually build momentum and tension across its run-time. As effective as the climaxes of Madam, I’m Adam and Tango de los Pistoleros might have been, the first season of The Lone Gunmen doesn’t really offer much in the way of dramatic stakes.

"This looks familiar..."

“This looks familiar…”

In a way, that is to be expected. The Lone Gunmen is, first and foremost, a comedy. There are points in the first season where it feels like The Lone Gunmen exists primarily as a silo to store all the displaced comedy that the production team stripped out of the sombre eighth season of The X-Files. (Cynics might suggest that there wasn’t quite thirteen episodes’ worth of comedy to be re-homed.) It is hard to feel too stressed when Langly is threatened in Bond, Jimmy Bond or when a poacher points a gun at Byers in Diagnosis: Jimmy.

That is the beauty of All About Yves, managing to create a growing sense of tension and unease without sacrificing any of the show’s humour. Indeed, with the addition of guest star Michael McKean to the cast, All About Yves winds up funnier than about half of the preceding season.

The truth is out there...

The truth is out there…

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The X-Files – X-Cops (Review)

This November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

There is a very serious argument to be made that X-Cops represents the last point at which The X-Files truly pushed itself.

There are experimental episodes later in the run that play with new narrative forms and concepts. Improbable features a snazzy musical number; Lord of the Flies intersects with stunt-driven television shows; Sunshine Days has the characters enter The Brady Bunch. However, X-Cops represents the last time that The X-Files allows itself to be completely submerged in a high-concept idea, following the concept through to its logical conclusion in the spirit of Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” or Bad Blood or Triangle.

xfiles-xcops17a

X-Cops features Mulder and Scully crossing over into an episode of Cops. However, the episode is told entirely from the perspective of the Cops production team, filmed and broadcast as if it were an episode of Fox’s long-running law enforcement reality television show. The camera becomes a performer in X-Cops, and at no point in the entire forty-five minutes does it “break character.” Barring the use of the X-Files opening credits sequence and superimposing the logo at commercials, X-Cops adopts the form and structure of Cops.

This is a boldly experimental piece of television; it is not the sort of episode that viewers expect from a show in its seventh season. This is a giddy and goofy concept more akin to enthusiastic student filmmaking than an established television institution. After Sein und Zeit and Closure suggested that The X-Files was winding down, X-Cops proves that there’s life in the old show yet. Sadly, this feels like something of a last gasp; there would never be quite as much life in The X-Files after this point.

xfiles-xcops2a

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Star Trek – Bread and Circuses (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

Bread and Circuses is not subtle. Then again, that is the point.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff happening in Bread and Circuses, the fourteenth episode produced for the second season, but the last to air. There’s the idea of a world dominated by “a twentieth century Rome”, a rogue captain, a Prime Directive dilemma and a scathing indictment of modern television. Not only is it one of the last episodes with a “produced by Gene L. Coon” credit, it is also an episode co-written by Roddenberry and Coon. It is also the episode of Star Trek that endorses Christianity most explicitly and heavily.

"Wait, we're only getting it in black and white?"

“Wait, we’re only getting it in black and white?”

Bread and Circuses is a bold and audacious piece of television, full of venom and righteous anger, rich in satire and cynicism. It’s a plot so ridiculously over-stuffed with good ideas that viewers are liable to forgive the show’s somewhat cop-out ending where Kirk and his away team beam back to the Enterprise and continue on their merry way as though little has actually happened. Bread and Circuses feels like it uses every minute of its fifty-minute runtime wisely, balancing character with world-building.

It is probably a little bit too messy and disjointed to be labelled a dyed-in-the-wool classic, particularly when compared to the shows produced around it. Nevertheless, it is a decidedly ambitious piece of work, and one that demonstrates what Star Trek could do when it sets its mind to something.

When in Rome...

When in Rome…

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Non-Review Review: One Chance

It’s very easy to dismiss reality television. Personally, I wouldn’t be the hugest fan of the genre. However, it’s worth remarking that – in the right hands – it can be elevated to an artform. While the use of the word “reality” is applied loosely, it comes with its own narrative conventions – its own strengths and limitations. Carefully micro-managed, painstakingly edited and even sometimes clumsily scripted, reality television is simply another format of televisual entertainment.

It’s not that reality lacks a central crafted narrative or story arcs or character beats. These exist in reality television, albeit in a hyper-stylised meta-textual form. Just as some might advise you to read A Song of Ice and Fire to fully appreciate Game of Thrones, the meta-narrative from reality television spills out the side of the television set, unfolding in tabloids or gossip website. Characters are defined as rigidly, arcs are plotted just as carefully, it’s just that the narrative is crafted differently than it would be in an hour-long scripted drama or a half-hour sit-com.

One Chance, then, feels like the feature length adaptation of one such narrative. The story of Britain’s Got Talent winner Paul Potts (“like the Cambodian dictator?” a nurse inquires in the opening scene), One Chance often feels more like the adaptation of a much-loved novel than an attempt to tell a true story.

Sing when you're winning...

Sing when you’re winning…

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Reality (TV) Bites…

For reasons beyond my control (and the same reasons that might lead me to slow my contributions over the next weeks) I found myself watching late night reality television on TV3. Until now, reality TV and I have observed something resembling a mutually peaceful existence – I don’t bother it and it doesn’t bother me. However, watching an hour of Gordon Ramsey swear like he’d just bought a sailor’s thesaurus really just hammered home how uncomfortable I am watching reality television. What’s my problem?

Reality TV in a nutshell...

Reality TV in a nutshell...

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Non-Review Review: The Truman Show

One of the very few movies to get even more relevent after it was made, The Truman Show is one of the best movies Hollywood has produced in the past two decades. One part mythical fable about identity and control and another part biting satire on consumerism and reality television, it is one of those rare movies that deserves the description ‘masterpiece’.

For the world is hallow and I have touched the sky...

For the world is hollow and I have touched the sky...

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The Disappearance of Without a Trace

I’m going to be honest – I’m not a fan of Without a Trace. I’ll confess to something resembling indifferent affection to Anthony LaPlagia, but I’ve never sat down and watched an episode. I do know lots of people who watch it regularly. Hell, based on the viewing figures, there are a lot of people who watch it regularly. So, as someone who never watched the show, I am still gravely worried by what I see: the recession is affecting networks so badly that they are being forced to cancel expensive high-budget dramas.

I wonder if the network cancelled it simply because of the amount of puns that journalists could make about Without a Trace going missing...

I wonder if the network cancelled it simply because of the amount of puns that journalists could make about a show called Without a Trace going missing...

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