Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 
0

Imagine if The West Wing had been written from a conservative, right-wing perspective.

Posted by Jason O on Apr 14, 2018 in Cult TV, Movies/TV/DVDs, Not quite serious.

The West WingOn tonight’s episode of “The West Wing”, President Bartlet becomes greatly concerned that poor people have too much access to healthcare, and worries that not being terrified of one of your children getting sick might weaken their moral fibre.

Toby and Leo have a blazing row over the administration’s policy on Israeli settlements, with Toby worried that Palestinian homes aren’t being bulldozed fast enough. The meeting breaks up in acrimony as Leo objects to being in the same room as “one of those people”.

Sam is spurned into action after meeting a lonely old billionaire whose heart is broken when he discovers that he pays more tax than his gardener.

The episode ends with a touching scene where a sobbing orphan thanks President Bartlet for making sure her mother didn’t get the treatment she needed, because if she had she might have thought life was fair and would have become a socialist. Or even worse, French.

Hilarious hi-jinks ensue when Fox News reveals that CJ isn’t blonde.

The White House is put on lock down after a young black man is seen.

 
0

Frasier: The Greatest Sitcom of All?

Posted by Jason O on Mar 3, 2018 in Cult TV, Movies/TV/DVDs

frasierIt’s funny how TV shows can be forgotten. “Murphy Brown”, a sitcom starring Candace Bergen about a tough TV journalist ran for ten seasons (1988-1998), yet is practically forgotten. When was the last time you saw it repeated? Yet this was a popular show that was well known and well watched for most of its broadcast life and is, curiously, looking at a reboot(!).

“Frasier” hasn’t quite been forgotten. It is repeated on satellite channels, and still has its fans. But it never quite received the heights of pop culture endorsement that “Friends” did.

For the benefit of those who don’t know the show well, “Frasier” ran for 11 seasons from 1993-2004. It’s a spin off from “Cheers”, which was a massive sitcom which also ran for 11 years from 1982-1993. “Cheers”, set in a Boston bar, was a huge ratings winner, very much “must see TV”. People stayed home to watch the finale, and it made the careers of many, including Ted Danson, Woody Harrelson, Shelley Long, and of course Kelsey Grammar who started out as a minor character, Dr Frasier Crane.

Like many, I was surprised when I first heard that the “Cheers” spin-off would be Frasier, as he was not a particularly loved character. Indeed, most “Cheers” fans would have expected if there was to be a spin-off it would be of the two greatly-loved barfly philosophers, Norm Peterson and Cliff Clavin.

But the producers had been right: Norm & Cliff would have been a “Cheers” carry-on, whereas “Frasier” told a whole new story about Frasier returning home to Seattle to work as a radio psychiatrist and live with his working-class father Martin (John Mahoney) and see his prissy brother Niles (David Hyde Pierce).

As a concept, it could easily have been a one season experiment that didn’t work. Remember the “Friends” spin-off “Joey”? No? Good for you.

But “Frasier” worked, on an extraordinary level. The cast worked on an ensemble level which was not dissimilar to  “The West Wing”, where characters and actors gelled together almost perfectly. You believed this was a family. All five main characters could communicate with a single look.

The scripts were sharp, swinging from cultural zingers to almost slapstick physical West end farce comedy. Just watch David Hyde Pierce’s Mr Bean style brilliance in the episode “Three Valentines” where he nearly burns the apartment down. “The Ski Lodge” is another, almost “Noises Off” in its door slamming mania.

Whilst the scripts were very strong, what really made “Frasier” work were its cast, and the fact that for sitcom characters there was surprising depth. Frasier was a man of great charm and erudition, yet in perpetual mid-life crisis, essentially lonely. Niles was wracked with indecision between staying in a cold but socially ascendant marriage with his bullying (never seen) wife Maris and his genuine hidden love for Daphne. Martin was the old style blue collar father struggling with his own aging, his sons’ social notions and the fact that he still missed his dead wife. The two women in the main cast, Daphne and Roz, were if anything underwritten and as a result even more of a credit to the two actresses who played them, Jane Leeves and Peri Gilpin.

The show was also hugely aided by a string of brilliantly cast recurring secondary characters such as Dan Butler’s boorish Bulldog Briscoe, Harriet Sansom Harris’ brilliantly amoral and coquettish agent Bebe Glazer (a running joke was that she was the devil), or Edward Hibbert’s snooty food critic Gil Chesterton.

As to the claim that “Frasier” is the greatest (English language) sit-com, I can think of a dozen sit-coms that could make a play for the title, from “Porridge” to “Father Ted” to “Only Fools and Horses” or “One Foot in the Grave”. Yes, “Seinfeld” was great.

But’s here’s why I think “Frasier wins:

1. It hasn’t really aged. Unlike “Murphy Brown”, which was so full of current political references as to destroy it in syndication. It’s about a family, and about men getting older and looking for love.

2. It maintained a consistent quality over 11 seasons and 264 episodes.

3. It’s non-comedic elements were genuinely moving, such as the relationship between Daphne and Niles and the revelation (spoiler alert!) that Frasier and Niles’s sainted mother Hester had cheated on Martin.

If I were to be trapped on an island with one boxset, “Frasier” would be it.

 
1

Great TV: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Posted by Jason O on Jan 30, 2018 in Cult TV, Great TV you have probably missed, Movies/TV/DVDs

Repost: Recently browsing through my obscene DVD collection (I mean in size, not in content) I was reminded of the fact recently that if I never bought another

Sherlock Holmes BrettDVD again I would not be too troubled. I was also reminded that I have some treasures that I have not watched in ages that are such a treat. Granada Television’s “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” is one such gem. It’s available on DVD, and stars the late Jeremy Brett as Holmes and David Burke and Edward Hardwicke respectively as Watson.

Just as every generation has its James Bond, Batman and Doctor Who, for my generation, growing up in the 1980s, Jeremy Brett WAS Sherlock Holmes, and for two words: Pure Quality.

The period details are great, including an entire life size Baker Street set. It’s mainly true to the original Conan Doyle stories, but the real meat is in the performances of Brett and his two co-stars.

Brett, who suffered terrible psychological illnesses later in life and died at a mere 61, is just stunning as Holmes, creating an eccentric, captivating character around the framework created by Conan Doyle. Every scene with him leaves you unable to take your eyes off him, with every twitch and flamboyant hand gesture and flinging of himself onto the floor of grand country houses looking for clues adding to the character’s depth.

Both Burke and Hardwicke could easily have been blown off the screen given Brett’s performance, but both instead create a calming, grounding and very human foil to Brett, leaving the viewer with a very clear understanding that Holmes could not be Holmes without Watson, who although is not his intellectual equal, brings to the table human skills that Holmes does not possess, in particular Watson’s skills with women, a fearless willingness to get physical if necessary, and simple human decency. Burke and Watson are pretty much responsible for the repairing of Watson’s reputation after Nigel Bruce’s bumbling fool during the Basil Rathbone years. Today it’s normal to see Watson as equal if differently skilled to Holmes thanks to both men. It was easy to believe Holmes and Watson were genuine friends.

The series was made over a ten year period beginning in 1984.

 
0

Why I love Moonraker.

Posted by Jason O on May 27, 2017 in Movies/TV/DVDs

Moonraker“Moonraker”, Roger Moore’s fourth 007 movie, has a bit of a reputation. Rushed into production after “Star Wars” became a massive hit (For Your Eyes Only had been announced at the end of the previous movie), it’s mocked as the movie that finally took Bond over the edge into full self parody.

As it happens, I hate all that self-parody crap that became a feature of the Roger Moore films. There’s one scene in Moonraker, where Bond escapes by driving a hovercraft gondola through the streets of Venice, which is possibly my most loathed scene of all Bond movies. It’s not funny, it’s just moronic. Slapstick, even.

Yet as a movie I love Moonraker. Why?

Because it has all the features that I love of the Bond movies.

It has Hugo Drax, arguably the best Bond villain of all time, with his dry delivery and his “Look after Mr Bond: see that some harm comes to him.”

His own fortune, based on a private space exploration programme, is a concept decades ahead of its time.

His plan is the ultimate in dastardly evil, plotting to murder billions of people.

There’s not one but two huge baddie bases. There are spaceships, and there’s the bit I think is missing from the Craig movies: the goodies arriving in force to blow the crap out of everything, in this case the US Marines with jetpacks and laser rifles.

Then there’s Roger Moore.

As a cynical teenager I came to despise Roger Moore’s Bond as a pisstake. But as I got older I got to see his performance for what it was. He wasn’t playing James Bond. He was playing Roger Moore, and Roger Moore is very watchable.

I’ve always thought there were two things you could do to Moonraker that would radically change the perception of it.

The first was to remove all references to James Bond and replace them with the actor Roger Moore doing a favour for MI6. It would suddenly be a great one-off action adventure.

The second was to edit out the silly stuff like the gondola and (yes) Jaws. The humour in Bond doesn’t come from the gimmicky jokes. It comes from Moore himself, right down to his “A woman?” on meeting a female astronaut. It doesn’t need flying gondolas.

There’s another reason why Moonraker has intrigued me as a movie…

How the hell did Drax convince anybody to go along with the plan?

“Right…I want all you nubile girls to put on these skimpy costumes and come into space with me as we murder all your families using nerve gas….don’t cry dear….oh, by the way, if any of you have ugly children we’ll be throwing them out the window….right…who’s on?”

Finally: bear in mind that Moonraker has probably the best and smuttiest line of the whole series.

Cue: disco version of Shirley Bassey’s theme song.

 
0

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…   

 
0

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

 
0

Why Peggy Carter is the greatest Marvel TV/Movie universe hero.

Posted by Jason O on May 4, 2016 in Cult TV, Movies/TV/DVDs, Not quite serious.

Agent-Carter-poster-570x760Spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen “Captain America: Civil war” then read no further. You have been warned.

******

There’s a scene in the movie where Steve Rogers is informed that the love of his life, SHIELD agent Peggy Carter, has died, probably aged around 100 years old. She gets a military funeral, and watching the scene I found it surprisingly touching, especially as the image of her used on the coffin is a current image of Hayley Atwell in character from the TV series “Agent Carter” set in 1946.

What struck me was that, watching her funeral, we realise that she is one of the few characters we have seen in her entirety, starting out as a much disparaged (by men) WWII intelligence officer who grows to become, as one of the key leaders of SHIELD, one of the most powerful people in the world.

But what really warrants her status as their greatest hero is the fact that she isn’t a superhero. She doesn’t have a super-serum coursing through her veins, or incredible intelligence matched to huge inherited wealth.

She’s just an ordinary woman, and a woman growing up in an age where for most of her life her looks count against her and discrimination based on her sex is the norm and in many cases the law. Then, as if that isn’t enough, she loses the love of her life, believing him to be dead well into her 90s.

And yet, despite all that, through a mixture of intelligence, hard work and competence, by the 1980s she is one of the leaders of the most powerful organisations in the world, and one of the most effective intelligence operatives ever.

Peggy Carter is the character every little girl can aspire to be, and that’s why she’s the greatest.

 
0

The politics of “Captain America: Civil War”

Posted by Jason O on Apr 30, 2016 in Movies, Movies/TV/DVDs, Not quite serious., Politics, Science Fiction

captain-america-civil-warSpoiler alert: I’m assuming if you are reading this you have seen the movie. If not, don’t read any further as I’m talking about key plot points.

********

The two most recent “Captain America” movies have been the most political of the Marvel Universe movies, with both “The Winter Soldier” and “Civil War” having, at their heart, a question about the political accountability of self-appointed groups of do-gooders with extraordinary power.

In “Civil War”, a division emerges between the superheroes over a proposed UN treaty which puts them under the control of an international oversight body.

Unlike many superhero movies, the question isn’t black and white. The treaty comes about as a result of rising casualty rates amongst civilians caused by The Avengers group fighting various bad guys. As a plot, it’s very close to the key plot of “Superman Vs. Batman: Dawn of justice” but exercised much more interestingly. Both Tony Stark (in favour of oversight) and Steve Rogers (against) make valid points in the debate.

But what’s interesting is the politics at the core of the disagreement. Stark believes (rightly, I think) that a group with such immense power must operate with public consent, and so must be accountable and even open to restraint. Rogers, guided by his own sense of morality, believes that a group of individuals with such talents as theirs should not let themselves be restrained by politics.

Interestingly, he spits out the word, and that tells us something about the at-times curiously elitist views held by Rogers, that if he believes something is right, that’s good enough, and that no government, even one elected by the people, has a right to overrule his right to intervene. It’s a fascinating insight into our modern society that such a view is portrayed in a movie as a reasonable side to a case, and not what it really is: the argument of a fascist superman. In short, if someone believes themselves to be emotionally right, as Rogers does, then that’s OK.

As it happens, Stark displays incredible hypocrisy when he discovers that Bucky Buchanan, under Hydra mind control, murdered his parents, and anoints himself the right to murder Buchanan (technically innocent)under a straight and simple desire for emotional revenge, but in doing so makes his own original point that their powers have to be held in check.

Politics aside, it’s a great entertaining movie. The fight scenes are excellent, it’s chock full of cameos and it has plenty of humour. DC take note.

 
0

Review: Batman vs. Superman

Posted by Jason O on Mar 29, 2016 in Movies/TV/DVDs

Batman supermanI’m not a huge fan of  Zach Snyder as a director. It’s not that he isn’t a competent director, because he is. But his style, all speed and shadows, can be frustrating. Put it this way: I can’t tell you what the Batmobile looks like, and I’ve seen the movie. That and his obsession with slow-motion “symbolic” shots makes the movie so much longer than it deserves.

That’s not to say it’s a bad movie. Ben Affleck gives a good performance as a grizzled world-wary Bruce Wayne, and Henry Cavill isn’t bad as Clark Kent. Gal Gadot steals every scene she’s in as Diana Prince, helped in particular by a thumping soundtrack and in particular one revealing scene from her history. But none of them are likable the way Tony Stark or Steve Rogers are.

The problem for this movie, and its position as DC’s launch vehicle to create a rival to Marvel’s Avengers, is that Marvel have set a very high bar, and this movie doesn’t reach it.

It’s joyless, dour, nearly totally devoid of humour, and even the CGI looks more like CGI than Marvel’s does. Put this movie in a league of superhero movies and it comes in way down the list, way past both Avengers movies, all the Iron Man movies and The Dark Knight trilogy. And I write this as someone who regards himself first and foremost as a Batman fan.

This isn’t a bad movie, as I said. It entertained. But, like Man of Steel before, it’s not a movie you’d be rushing back to watch a second time.

 
0

Coming soon to HBO*: “Threadneedle Street”

bank-england-logoWhen the governor of the Bank of England dies suddenly, and his obvious successor Sir Guy Acheson (Rowan Atkinson, in a surprising straight role) is ruled out because of a shares scandal, brilliant but maverick economist Steve Darblay (Episodes’ Stephen Mangan) finds himself appointed Governor of the Bank of England, in the middle of a currency crisis, by the ruthlessly ambitious Chancellor of the Exchequer Tom Parrish (Hugh Laurie.)

For Darblay, his appointment not only places him in the driving seat in dealing with everything from interest rates to the future of the euro to who goes on the new £5 note, but also a target for Acheson who feels bitterly wronged but also that the new governor is not exactly from the right side of the tracks.

With his former Cambridge tutor Bill Burke (Roger Allam-The Thick of It) and even more brilliant economist (and former girlfriend) Yves Cassidy (Lenora Crichlow-Sugar Rush) at his side, Darblay gets ready to take his seat at the most elite of the world’s councils.

Guest starring Delaney Williams (The Wire) as US Fed Chairman Matt O’Malley and Sidse Babette Knudsen (Borgen) as ECB President Martina Delacroix.

Special appearance by Stephen Fry as the Prime Minister.

*I wrote this as a joke, but as I wrote it I thought “Jesus, I’d watch this!”

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