Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 
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Time to recast “Sherlock”?

Posted by Jason O on Jan 23, 2017 in Cult TV, Movies/TV/DVDs

sherlockWith the recent finale of the fourth season of “Sherlock” looking very much like a series end, the question of the future of the show must surely be up for debate. The reality is a bizarre one. The idea that two relatively modestly known actors (Freeman being the more famous, if anything) would become globally recognized film stars is a pretty far-fetched one, and yet that was what the show did for the two of them. Both went from earning a living as working actors and being That Guy From That Thing to, well, them.

The rest is history: “Sherlock”, although a globally successful TV show, is still run on a relatively modest budget and you can’t expect two guys to turn down the opportunities now open to them in Hollywood.

That’s not to say they haven’t shown loyalty to the BBC, because they have. But the reality is that the show deserves to survive even if, for whatever reason, its two stars can’t commit to anything more than the odd TV movie.

Plenty of fans would like to see more of “Sherlock”, and that leads to the awkward question. To recast?

There are those who say that it’s impossible, but I can tell you, as someone who thinks of Jeremy Brett and David Burke or Edward Hardwicke when I hear the names Holmes & Watson, it’s not. I love “Sherlock”. I got goosebumps when I saw the first episode. But I’m not a wacko purist who thinks that somehow the thing I loved can be damaged or changed by something that comes after it. Even George Lucas didn’t managed to destroy the good “Star Wars” movies.

“Sherlock” can continue, and if you don’t like it without Cumberbatch and Freeman, then don’t watch it. But what about Julian Rhind-Tutt or David Tennant as Holmes, and Stephen Mangan as Watson? Or, and here’s one out of left field…what about Lars Mikkelsen and Toby Jones as an older pair? 

Or failing that, if a recasting is too radical, what about The Adventures of Mycroft & Irene, with cameos from our favourite inspector, landlady and pathologist?

Of course, the one thing I would ask is that they solve a few sodding mysteries this time…   

 
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Lovejoy: In defence of gentle television.

Posted by Jason O on Sep 27, 2016 in Cult TV

lovejoyFrom 1986 to 1994, Ian McShane played the near-always described “lovable rogue” antiques trader Lovejoy (“Not Mister. Just Lovejoy.”) in the BBC series of the same name.

The series was a comedy drama about Lovejoy’s adventures as a “divvy”, someone with an innate ability to tell whether an antique was genuine or a forgery. Although ethically supple, Lovejoy was careful never to lie to his clients, and along with his henchmen Eric Catchpole and Tinker Dill, and his will they/won’t do relationship with the very posh Lady Jane Felsham, (Phyllis Logan, later Mrs Hughes in “Downton Abbey”) spent every episode pursuing a valuable antique around the home counties for his commission but also for his love of the pieces themselves.

Such was the show’s success and widespread appeal that when McShane appeared in the gritty crime drama “Sexy Beast” as vicious homosexual crime boss Teddy Bass, some joked that the sub-title of the movie was “that film where Lovejoy gets it up the arse.” Charming, I know.

I’ve always been surprised it’s never been remade. Most of the cast are still alive (Malcolm Tierney, who hammed it up as Lovejoy’s wealthy but not quite as clever rival Charlie Gimbert is no longer with us) and could certainly provide a wealth of support to a new Lovejoy son or daughter. And antiques seem to be bigger in the public mind now than they were back then, certainly if TV is to be judged.

But what made “Lovejoy” was that epitome of gentle family television, without being boring. Although it had the odd murder, it was safe, entertaining and oozing with charm helped by Lovejoy’s habit of breaking the fourth wall to address the audience on a plot point or detail about antiques.

It reminds one, as one gets older, that not all TV drama has to gritty and psychologically disturbing. “Lovejoy” is in the same stable as “Midsomer Murders”, “Death in paradise”,”Minder”, or “Monk”. Not quite as formulaic as “Murder, she wrote” but not going to have you wake up at night screaming either.

Sometimes all you want is a cosy murder with a nice cup of tea and a biscuit.

 
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University of Chicago Institute of Politics Political TV Festival: The West Wing

Posted by Jason O on May 8, 2016 in Cult TV, Movies/TV/DVDs, US Politics

 
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Scandal: Incredibly irritating yet curiously addictive TV.

Posted by Jason O on Apr 5, 2016 in Cult TV

The first time I saw political drama “Scandal” I found it both irritating and ridiculous. The basic idea, about a political fixer named Olivia Pope, is certainly a solid concept. Kerry Washington, who plays Pope, is an attractive and capable actress. So what annoyed me so much?

First of all, Olivia Pope’s SOP seems to be sass-sass-cry, bitch slapping Washington’s finest then having a good cry because she is the president’s on-again off-again mistress. The president and the first lady, by the way, are both awful self-centred elitist snobs. There’s also the basic theme of the show, which is that the American public are absolute morons who will change how they vote based on the First Lady talking about being “an ordinary mom”. Yes, I know, this is the age of The Donald but still.

The show is based on a woman constantly trying to cover up the fact that her clients might reveal what they are really like to the voters. Nearly all of her political clients are shallow sociopaths. Her team are quite happy to stab each other in the back if the job requires it, with every one of them, including Pope, existing for work and leaving behind a list of failed relationships caused primarily by their obsession with their jobs. Did I mention that every character seems to believe it is OK to carry out absolutely horrible betrayals of people they love as long as they apologise after?

So why do I watch it, then? With it’s absolutely madcap plotlines? Because it is a guilty pleasure. It’s very watchable and almost every episode ends on a “Feck! Now I have to watch the next one!” reveal. Also Jeff Perry, who plays the Republican president’s openly gay and married, and incredibly Machiavellian chief of staff Cyrus Beeme and Joshua Malina (Bill Bailey in The West Wing) who plays a senior Justice Dept official David Rosen. Both are very watchable, by far the most watchable thing in the show.

There’s also an interesting conspiracy storyline running through it.

It’s also a show (now in it’s sixth season) that has figured out a way of getting different audiences to watch the same show. For me there’s the political conspiracies. For others it’s the story of a hard working woman in a difficult relationship.

Me? I just fast forward through the scenes of Olivia putting away huge volumes of wine alone in her very swish apartment whilst having a good cry to herself.

 
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Let’s hear it for the character actors

Posted by Jason O on Mar 13, 2016 in Cult TV, Movies/TV/DVDs
Boris McGiver

Boris McGiver

Are you a Robert John Burke fan? What about Delaney Williams? Or Timothy V. Murphy? Or Reg E Cathey? Or Jayne Atkinson? Or Boris McGiver?

Never heard of them.

Yeah, you did. You just don’t know it. Every good TV show from The Wire to Sons of Anarchy to Law and Order SVU to House of Cards has been made good not just by good lead actors, but by the character actors

Jayne Atkinson

Jayne Atkinson

around them. We call them character actors, and it’s a slightly misleading title because it hints that they’re sort of limited to playing a similar type of character all the time, which isn’t true, although it feels that way.

Robert John Burke

Robert John Burke

Is there anyone who doesn’t think of the words “Internal Affairs” and automatically think of Robert John Burke? If anything, some become so good that writers actually start basing characters around them and their sheer presence on screen.

Unlike series regulars, who have time to build a character and their personality and quirks, character actors are usually turning up for a

Reg E Cathey

Reg E Cathey

once-off and yet still have to create a fully credible 3D character. That takes skill, and if you look at the various actors named here, every one of them is an equal peer to the series lead when they’re on screen with them.

In fact, we have now, rightly, reached a point where producers have realised that the really good character actors aren’t just someone to fill in scenes with the series regular but are

Timothy V. Murphy

Timothy V. Murphy

now adding value as audiences not only recognise them but know that a Reg E. Cathey or a Jayne Atkinson always bring something worth watching to a scene, and want to see more of them.

So here’s to the character actors. Some break through to lead, some do a “Stephen Toblowsky” and become a character genre in themselves, but all deliver.

To jog memories as to all those from above, you’ll have seen Boris McGiver in

Delaney Williams

Delaney Williams

House of Cards and Person of Interest, Robert John Burke in SVU and Person of Interest, Delaney Williams in SVU and The Wire, Jayne Atkinson in House of Cards and Criminal Minds, Reg E. Cathey in House of Cards and The Wire, and our own Timothy V. Murphy in Sons of Anarchy.

 
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10 things I have learnt from RTE’s “Rebellion” (so far)

Posted by Jason O on Jan 11, 2016 in Cult TV, Irish Politics

rebellion1. There was a lot more sex when the Brits were here. I think we banned it after independence, until Gay Byrne discovered it again. For telly that is, not personally.

2. Is it possible that the Holy Joe Rebels and the Workers Republic Rebels never had a conversation as to what sort of Ireland they wanted after the Rising?

3. Seriously, would it have killed them to let one woman sign the Proclamation? Don’t give me the aul “different times” argument. This was supposed to be the new way.

4. A question: what happened to all the southern Catholic unionists? All join Fine Gael?

5. Many of the same Irish soldiers fighting the same Irish rebels would do it all again, much more viciously, in the civil war.

6. If the women of “Rebellion” had been in charge we’d have a republic by the Tuesday. But it would have been a pretty dour country run by a Mary Hanafin type scolding us in a big foldy hat. And shootin’ people for looting.

7. The Brits f**ked up and effectively created the Shinner mystique, wrongly blaming them for the rebellion. Oh, the irony.

8. Surely on the day The Proclamation was just a proclamation before it became The Proclamation.

9. Dublin taxi-drivers haven’t changed: “Sorry love, I’m not going that way. Sure there’s a load of urban guerilla activity up there, and the match is on tonight.”

10. We now know why the Brits stayed so long and why we put up with them: they got to keep their beautiful but icy wives, and we got a good seeing to by someone who doesn’t regard the phrase “Brace yourself Bridget*!” as foreplay.

 

*Note: I cannot claim to have come up with the phrase “Brace yourself, Bridget!” I so wish I could. It’s a wonderfully evocative phrase. Hats off to whomever did.

 
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Great TV: Deutschland ’83 and Spin

Posted by Jason O on Jan 9, 2016 in Cult TV

Deutschland 83Two shows worth a watch for the political thriller junkie:

The first is the German thriller “Deutschland ’83” (RTE and Channel 4) which is about an East German spy in the mid-1980s placed into the West German army as an aide to a senior NATO general. The East German perspective, where the KGB/Stasi are absolutely terrified that Ronald Reagan means what he says and is planning a secret first strike with Pershing II missiles on the Warsaw Pact is fascinating. With the benefit of hindsight, the idea is ridiculous, but one could see how they actually believed it at the time. The plot neatly ties in with actual events of the time, the cast is great, and the soundtrack of 1980s hits really adds to the authenticity of it. Unlike similar concept show “The Americans” this has a hint of humour.

Spin Tv series“Spin” (More4) is a French political thriller following two spin doctors, the old master and his protégé, battling it out over a snap French presidential election caused by the murder of the President of France. Made in 2011 (why did it take so long to get over to us?) it’s stylish, and has that look that comes from actually being filmed in France, the world’s most photogenic country. You might recognise Gregory Fitoussi from the French cop show “Spiral”.

 
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The Empire vs. the Federation: a comparison.

Posted by Jason O on Dec 21, 2015 in Cult TV, Movies, Movies/TV/DVDs, Not quite serious., Politics, Science Fiction

death star 2Watching “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and also seeing the new Star Trek trailer got me thinking recently about how society is ordered in both systems. Admittedly, the Empire existed when humans were still in dwelling in caves, and so a like-for-like comparison isn’t quite fair, but as models go they’re worth comparing.

Which works better? Depends on the question.

Economic Freedom: there’s no comparison. The Empire is a free trade Caveat Emptor kind of place, with huge discrepancies between rich and poor. Slavery is tolerated. On the negative side, private property rights don’t seem to be respected by the state as much as just tolerated. Imperial stormtroopers can burn down your farm without as much as a “by your leave.”Star Trek Enterprise Ship 1701 2

The Federation, on the other hand, is almost the opposite, in that it is in effect a Communist society where possibly all property is owned by the state. Having said that, civil rights seem to apply to a home and individual once it has been allocated. Slavery is banned in the Federation, as is discrimination based on many criteria. Many of them. The Federation seems to have more laws than the Empire has stormtroopers.

The Political System: both systems seem to devolve a lot of non-military power to local decision making, however it is chosen locally. There is a tendency in the Federation towards only permitting members to join that govern with the broad consent of their people and involves detailed negotiation and examination of a candidate. The Empire, on the other hand, just annexes planets. Think British Empire. vs EU.

The Empire is a dictatorship. The Federation Council is chosen by member states, with the Federation President being a low profile bureaucrat. Russia vs EU. Neither hold galactic elections. Only one has a leader who personally murders people.

Civil liberties: There are pretty much none in the Empire, whereas the Federation has probably the most civil liberties in any galaxy. The Empire executes people. The Federation does have the death penalty, but very rarely uses it. Instead, prisoners tend to be exiled to New Zealand. That’ll learn ’em. Finally, Imperial forces seem to be limited to humanoids and clones, whereas Starfleet is multicultural. It might explain why stormtroopers are such dreadful shots.

Military power: Although the Imperial fleet is much bigger than Starfleet, the Federation’s ships are technologically more advanced, with both cloaking (unofficially) and transport technology. Most Imperial weapons seem to be crude energy blasters, whereas Federation weapons are targeted and sustained beams. Both sides boast a superweapon. The Empire has a Death Star, the Federation the Genesis Device. The Death Star has superior range, whereas the Genesis Device would have to be delivered from orbit by a cloaked ship. Having said that the GD leaves the planet intact and devoid of life, ready to be reseeded with plant life. It is the neutron bomb of the galaxy.

The Empire has far superior ground forces, with the Federation having a very limited Military Assault Command capability. It also has better psychics who can actually do stuff aside from sense that people are stressful.

So, of the two systems, where would one choose to live? It’s a simple enough choice. If you are a swashbuckling scofflaw with a belief that you can make your own way and outrun any other ship (and do, maybe, the Kessel Run in under 12 parsecs, say) then the Empire is for you.

If, on the other hand, you want order, dignity, and enough money to live a nice middle-class life but no more, the Federation is the one. You can become very rich in the Empire, but also have it taken off you at a whim by the starving underclass or the shady Ayatollah who runs it. And they’ll either freeze your ass off or feed you to some sort of giant sand sphincter with teeth.

In the Federation you can work your way up through the fleet by meritocracy, or sit on your ass writing light operas. Whatever floats your boat. You won’t go hungry, and neither bounty hunters nor the military will bother you.

Unless the Empire decide they quite fancy owning the Federation, of course.

 
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Cult TV: The Death of Ross and Rachel.

Posted by Jason O on Dec 20, 2015 in Cult TV, Movies/TV/DVDs

Ross RachelRepost: The American chatshow host Conan O’Brien remarked last year that he had noticed a significant change in audiences who attended the recording of his show on TBS. He pointed out that in the 1990s a guest who was the star of a successful show could assume that the great majority of the studio audience not only knew who he/she actually was, but would get references to their character and the plotline of their show. Everybody knew who Ross and Rachel were.

O’Brien pointed out that now, going by audience reaction, it is now possible to be the star of what is deemed a successful show and yet still have a large proportion of the audience have only a vague if any knowledge of the actor or their show.

Consider two numbers: “Game of Thrones”, arguably the most popular TV show on the planet, gets around 7m viewers in the US for new episodes. Now consider that “Only Fools and Horses” used to get up to 14m viewers in the UK alone. Sure, don’t go all mad: I know, I’m not comparing like-with-like. GoT appears on a cable network, OFaH was free to view. But the fact is, the huge choice we have now has completely fragmented TV viewing. There are exceptions: in the US the Superbowl gets over 100m viewers, but even that has to be taken in the context of the time. Why? Well, here’s another wild figure. The finale of “MASH” in 1983 got nearly 106m viewers, in a country with nearly 100m less people than the Superbowl broadcasts to now.

The media lock onto shows like “The West Wing” or “The Sopranos” or “Madmen” or “The Wire” but the reality is that relatively small numbers of people actually watch these shows, in whatever format they watch (Cable, download, etc). The finale of “Friends” 10 years ago got stateside 52m viewers. Seinfeld got 76m. Today, the biggest drama show on American TV (both cable and terrestrial) is “NCIS”, which gets, in a country of 320m people, an audience of between 16 and 20 million. True, they were finale shows, with huge amounts of publicity surrounding them, but the figures are still stark.

So what’s my point? I suppose it’s that we now live in a “television” (I use the word loosely, given the impact of Netflix and downloads) age where a huge increase in quality and choice has almost shattered the shared experience. It’s true that people now watch “Doctor Who” or “Downton Abbey” with one eye on Twitter, and that is a shared community, but the reality is that most people are not watching the show you are watching. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. But we all (of a certain vintage) remember Ross and Rachel’s first kiss. On the other hand, I’m afraid to write about Ned Stark out of fear that some of my readers don’t know who he is, or his destiny, because they haven’t experienced it yet.

 
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A possible Xmas stocking filler: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

Posted by Jason O on Dec 16, 2015 in Cult TV, Movies/TV/DVDs

I was in New York just before “Studio 60” debuted in 2006, and it was a big deal. The major US TV networks had gotten into a major bidding war to secure Aaron Sorkin’s new show, based around a late night “Saturday Night Live” comedy show, and when NBC won the rights, they pumped huge money into advertising it, with billboards, magazines and bus stop ads. This was to be the biggest show on TV that season.

It bombed. In fact, it bombed so badly that hardly anybody saw the final few episodes as its viewing numbers dropped from 14 million to 4 million, and it was quietly cancelled after 22 episodes.

When I first saw it, I was quite underwhelmed. It had all the Sorkin stuff, and was jammers full of ex-West Wing alumni like Bradley Whitford, Matthew Perry and Timothy Busfield, but overall, it was all a bit, well, “meh”.

Yet, watching it now, having bought it cheap on DVD, I ask myself: would I watch a second season? Surprisingly, the answer is Yes I would. With the benefit of hindsight I think I know what went wrong with the show. Firstly, it came after “The West Wing”, which reinvented political drama. There were huge expectations on this extremely expensive ($3m an episode cost to NBC) to produce show, which could never be met. After all, people discovered “The West Wing”, whereas they were waiting for this.

Secondly, it’s about a subject (effectively SNL) which is revered by comedians, writers and The New Yorker crowd but is just a funny TV show to everybody else. It is hard to make drama out of something that people do not regard as important. It’s like setting a show in the competitive world of show jumping. A big deal to some people, but…

Funnily enough, I could see it working as an HBO show now, especially with it’s angle about the politics of television. Wait, isn’t there a show on HBO about a TV show written by Aaron Sorkin? Oh well.

Give it a go, all the same. Whitford and Perry have genuine onscreen chemistry, and I’d like to see them in something together again. It’s also set during the paranoid days of the Bush administration, before that nice well-spoken young man from Hawaii rescued us all, and you can notice it.

One other thing: it was this show that finally made me try to write stuff professionally, and watching it reminded me of the very first cheque I ever got for writing, and thinking “Really, people are going to pay me for this?”

Copyright © 2019 Jason O Mahony All rights reserved. Email: Jason@JasonOMahony.ie.