Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 
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Things I’ve learnt from US TV drama.

Posted by Jason O on Jan 22, 2016 in Cult TV

1. You have to be professional model hot to be a female Assistant District Attorney.

2. It is the job of senior politicians to stick their jaws out and tell their juniors to “expedite” things.

3. No one who can grasp complicated scientific or technical concepts is allowed head an elite law enforcement unit. They have to demand other people “speak English” instead.

4. US intelligence and law enforcement agencies have legal standing everywhere in the world except Iran, Russia, Cuba and North Korea.

5. If a hero cuts corners, it’s ok. If some else cuts corners they’re not doing their damn job.

6. Sex between two beautiful people always makes the moon shine through the window.

7. If a working joe is decent and loves his family, his wife will always be at least two points higher on the hot scale than he is.

8. Every single piece of information in the world is just six key strokes away from US government employees.

9. People who threaten to “have your job” never manage to.

10. Americans don’t know that Christmas lasts longer than a single day.

11. Officials who say “The United States does not negotiate with terrorists” are alway wrong.

12. As are military or police leaders who never listen to the ordinary working cop/soldier on the ground.

13. Every terrorist has been on the hostage negotiation course, and has read the “Dealing with a hostage situation” manual.

14. Reciting someone’s CV to them in detail when you first meet them doesn’t make you sound clever. It makes you sound like a dick.

15. Every major company in America is run by either an asshole or a guy who worked his way up from the mailroom.

16. There are far, far more ex-Navy SEALS and ex-special forces people at work than there are people in the special forces of the world.

17. There seems to be some sort of system for allocating the title of “Hottest new restaurant/club in town”.

 
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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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Cult TV: Bergerac.

Posted by Jason O on Dec 29, 2015 in Cult TV, Movies/TV/DVDs

bergeracFrom 1981 to 1991 mention the island of Jersey to anyone watching British television and they’ll almost certainly mention “Bergerac”. The detective show, set on the island, starred John Nettles as recovering alcoholic detective sergeant Jim Bergerac of the Bureau des Etrangers of the Jersey police, a special unit that dealt with tourists but more often with the many very wealthy foreigners who lived on the island.

By today’s standards, the Jersey of the 1980s all looks a bit naff, but at the time the wealth of the island, its sunny location and the French connection made it all seem very exotic and even glamorous indeed, and for ten years it was a Saturday teatime favourite.

As with many successful shows, Bergerac had a breakout character, Charlie Hungerford, played by veteran character actor Terence Alexander, who was a north of England bovver boy made good, a sort of Arthur Daley who had done very well for himself, thank you very much. One of the running jokes of the show was that Hungerford seemed to know absolutely everybody on the island, or at least was connected, often without his own knowledge, to every criminal enterprise on Jersey.

The show was a huge hit, and was responsible for boosting tourism to Jersey, with Nettles himself heading up the campaign.

Nettles went on to achieve a rare success for an actor in having played a household name for a decade as Jim Bergerac then went on to do it again for over a decade as Chief Inspector Barnaby in “Midsomer Murders”.

 
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Great TV you’re missing: Archer.

Posted by Jason O on Dec 22, 2015 in Cult TV, Movies/TV/DVDs

archerIf you like spy shows, politically incorrect humour and sexual vulgarity, Fox’s cartoon show “Archer” is for you.

It’s based around brilliant but incredibly self-centred and over-sexed agent Sterling Archer, operative of ISIS (Yeah, they’ve since changed that. Ahem.), and his battles against the KGB, terrorists, his domineering nymphomaniac mother/boss (played by the brilliant Jessica Walter of “Arrested Development” fame), his fellow agent/ex-lover Lana Kane, his dysfunctional/sociopathic/perverted co-workers and people who stole his Black Turtleneck Is Cool look.

Try it. But be warned. This is not one for the kiddies or the faint hearted. Think “The Man from UNCLE” but with a lot of dick jokes.

 
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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?”

 
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Everything I learnt from Hart to Hart.

Posted by Jason O on Aug 24, 2015 in Cult TV, Movies/TV/DVDs, Not quite serious.

hart3When I was growing up in the 1980s, “Hart to Hart”, starring Robert Wagner, Stefanie Powers and Lionel Stander seemed to be on every bleeding day, and this when there was only six channels.

Running for five seasons from 1979-1984, and then ten years later as a series of TV movies, Hart to Hart held a special place for me. My parents marriage was actively disintegrating before my eyes, two people who had loved each other now swung from disdain for each other to loathing, all played out in front of me and my younger brothers.

Then there was Jonathan and Jennifer Hart. Even then I knew their smoochy childless marriage was too good to be true. Of course they were happy. They’d no kids, a nice dog, a gravelly voiced chef/driver/factotum named Max, and Jonathan was worth about $200 million, back when that was a lot of money. Watching their globe trotting holidays (where every bar, hotel and restaurant manager knew their name), I’d happily have put up with the fact that every week someone would try to murder them, Max, their friends or even their dog. To me the novelty was that here were two married people who still loved each other.

Having said that, the show was shockingly formulaic, with the following lessons constantly applying in HartLand:

1. Jennifer Hart was a lovely, beautiful, kind and well-read woman. She was also as dim as a bag of broken bulbs down a sealed well. She was forever getting kidnapped, more often than not escaping and then flagging down the car driven by the people who kidnapped her in the first place. In the opening credits, Max would announce that she was a “lady who knew how to take care of herself” That was a lie. She was rubbish at it, having to constantly be rescued by her husband. She also was incapable of detecting anyone sneaking up behind her with chloroform, a gun or even dressed as a f**king mummy. She’d just stare blankly ahead, never look behind her, and scream “Jonathan!”when someone would sneak up behind her and grab her. Looking back, I wonder was she just looking for attention.

2. You can’t help wondering if she married him, at least initially, for his money, given that every episode seems to involve the two of them on obscene spending sprees. Having said that, given that nearly every bed scene involved her letting out an “Oh Jonathan!” when the lights went out one suggests he might be one kinky bastard, and she just lies back and thinks of Tiffany’s. One shudders to think what he’d take out of the bedside drawer once the lights went out.

3. The Harts had a drinking problem, constantly quaffing champagne at inappropriate moments. Jennifer was constantly being “drugged”. If you watch the show from the point of view that it’s the drunken imaginings of a rich man’s bored wife at home getting pissed on gin, it’s a whole different show, always ending with her ever-patient husband “rescuing” her from her latest adventure.

4. Hart Industries seemed to make money, or at least Jonathan was constantly signing deals for mergers and the like. On the odd occasion you see what his companies actually make, it’s shite. HartToy Inc made, yes, toys, including a shitty version of Simon Says (that had a bomb in it. I don’t recall if that was part of it’s charm), and an even shittier robot which he was convinced was going to be a huge success, a plastic pony and a “Snake in a Box”. No, I’ve no idea either. Funnily enough, Jonathan was always terrified that other companies might be stealing his toy plans. Looking at this crap, you can’t help thinking that maybe he was drunk most of the time too.

5. Late seventies, early eighties California was a weird place. Solving the murder of rich people seemed to be beyond the purview of the LAPD who got irritated when Jonathan would ask them to solve a murder or yet another of Jennifer’s kidnappings. But then, one could hardly blame them. “She’s kidnapped again??? What’s wrong with you people? Have you considered locking her in the basement for her own good? Have you been drinking again Mr Hart? “

6. Additionally, every gun in California seemed to be adjusted to fire a bullet three feet away from whatever you aimed at. When the guy who played The Incredible Hulk tried to murder their dog on a golf course because the dog witnessed a murder (don’t ask, just keep going) they ended up chasing him in a golf cart at about 10 feet an hour, and he still couldn’t hit them. He should have stopped the cart and stood behind Jennifer. They’d never look there.

7. California also boasted the highest nationwide incidences of people bumping their heads and getting amnesia, evil hypnotists, and people who looked like Jennifer Hart only more evil and sluttier. In fact, Jennifer Hart seemed to resemble dozens of people from ancient Egyptian queens to the aforementioned slut.

8. Jonathan Hart loved jumping on people from a height. He could easily shoot someone from a safe distance (although those wonky Californian guns…), hit someone with a tire iron or just plain punch them, but no, he’ll climb on top of something and jump on them. It was his thing. And he had lovely hair. The man was trapped in a wind tunnel but his hair reset itself. Maybe that’s how Hart Industries made money. Their super hair gel subsidised all the other crap.

9. The Harts’ friends were mostly awful people, and a bunch of murderers. After the first twenty you’d think the Harts would start wondering how they surrounded themselves with these psychos. But then, they probably didn’t notice with all the drinking, sex, and Max constantly asking them if they wanted a sandwich, even when they were pawing each other on the sofa.

10. You were never sure whether Max was a higher functioning retard or not. He could drive OK, and was a pretty good chef, but seemed to be taken in by whatever passing fad was on the go at the time. You always wondered would they arrive home from some glamourous fundraiser to find him dead, hanging from a door with his belt around neck, trousers around his ankles and Freeway licking chocolate sauce from his balls. Max seemed the sort of guy who’d give anything a go.

Still, when they met it was murder.

 
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Is TV getting too gruesome?

Posted by Jason O on Aug 18, 2015 in Cult TV, Movies/TV/DVDs

I recently finished the final episode of  “Sons of Anarchy”, FX’s violent motorcycle gang as criminals drama starring Charlie Hunnam and Ron Perlman. It’s excellent drama, and I’ve constantly been almost recommending it to people as one of the most political TV shows on in recent years. I don’t mean in terms of political systems, sons of anarchybut in terms of how relationships between many competing interests are managed. SOA was not as much about motor bikes as relationships between people and groups.

I say almost, because I have to be careful who I’d suggest it to. Sons of Anarchy is exceptionally and unnecessarily violent, to the point of being literally eye-poppingly gruesome, and it’s indicative of a problem faced by modern television drama.

I’m old enough to remember when some people complained that “The Professionals” or “The A Team” were encouraging young people to be violent with the casual amount of gunplay in each episode. As one of those young people  I thought, and still think, that those complaints were just plain silly. But today’s level of violence, on the other hand, is reaching a stage where one has to question is it just becoming gratuitous? Even non-cable network shows which are much more restricted in what they can show on camera, like “Criminal Minds”, up the ante by featuring scenarios where families and children are regularly menaced or tortured in disturbing psychological ways.

I’m not calling for any form of censorship, of course. People can make and watch whatever they want. But surely the real challenge for creative TV writers now is to create shows that can create suspense without the easy fall back of horror?

 

Copyright © 2018 Jason O Mahony All rights reserved. Email: Jason@JasonOMahony.ie.