“Spoilers, Sweetie!” (Part 3 of 3)

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Do spoilers spoil or do teasers tantalise?

Our epic spoiler-filled discussion between Generation Star Wars’ John Hood and Taking The Short View‘s Andrew Lewin reaches its dramatic conclusion!

In part one of our discussion on spoilers we looked at whether they were all bad, and in part two we dived deeper to investigate the nature of different potential spoilers. Finally we reach the end of our journey which looks back to the 70s, takes in a tour of movie trailers and historical disasters, before touching on how long a ‘spoiler’ lasts for and finally getting around to drawing some conclusions…

So have you had any examples of where you’ve deliberately sought to puncture the suspense of something that you are actually intending on seeing? The only thing I can remember off hand is an old season of NCIS which ended with a cliffhanger in which a key character appeared to resign and leave for good. They were so important to the success of the show that frankly if they had exited then that would have been it for me, and I wanted to know sooner rather than later whether the actor was quitting the show so that I wouldn’t waste any more time or effort on it in the meantime. (To be honest, it was a pretty lame cliffhanger in any case so it didn’t feel like spoiling something so much as it was just taking care of an irritation!)

The Best of Both Worlds Pt I intimated a new direction for the Star Trek franchise with a psychologically damaged Captain at the helm, which was never properly explored until the movie First Contact. Read the rest of this entry »

“Spoilers, Sweetie!” (Part 2 of 3)

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Do spoilers spoil or do teasers tantalise?

Our spoiler-filled discussion between Generation Star Wars’ John Hood and Taking The Short View‘s Andrew Lewin continues…

In the first part of our discussion posted last week, we started looking into the phenomena of the spoiler and asked whether it was all bad or whether there could be an upside to it. We continue our ruminations further this week, and wonder whether falling foul of spoilers actually stops us from watching programmes; which current shows are the most spoilered; whether a whodunit is automatically ruined by knowing the guilty party; and the question of whether novels are turning into spoilers for the TV and film adaptations made from them.

Have spoilers stopped you watching a movie or beloved series? The controversial conclusion to Lost spread across the social media space like wildfire. I never felt compelled to watch the final season! Incidentally, I originally joined Twitter solely to discuss Lost with fellow fans.

For me the equivalent would be The X-Files on a CompuServe forum which was one of the reasons I got online in the first place.. You never forget your first shared Internet fan obsession!

Halcyon memories.

And like you, I never did get to see the end of Lost either – Sky fell out with Virgin Media and pulled their channels from the cable platform mid-season so that was it for me. But in any case, I was never as into it as many people and actually found it more irritating than intriguing to be honest. I’ve never felt inclined to go back and finish it off. I’ve heard the gist of the way it finished if not the details, but it doesn’t make much difference to me.

The only scenario I can think of where a spoiler might stop me from watching something would be if the entire thing hung on a single reveal – whodunits being the most obvious example. Would I still want to see Se7en even knowing who John Doe and his last victim are? Or see all of Twin Peaks if I knew from the start who killed Laura Palmer? Or sit through 23 episodes of Murder One if I already knew who killed Jessica Costello? Or 20 episodes of Forbrydelsen (the original Danish version of The Killing) if the identity of Nanna Birk Larsen’s killer was known at the outset? Or even eight episodes of Broadchurch if I knew for certain who the killer of Danny Latimer was from the first scene? Read the rest of this entry »

“Spoilers, Sweetie!” (Part 1 of 3)

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Do spoilers spoil or do teasers tantalise?

A brand new spoiler-filled discussion between Generation Star Wars’ John Hood and Taking The Short View‘s Andrew Lewin…

The return of Game of Thrones for season 4 has once again made the Internet a minefield for those of us who aren’t able to watch the show in real time because of not having the right satellite, cable channel or streaming service to see the show before it makes its way to DVD and Blu-ray in 11 months time. How on earth do we manage to stay pure and spoiler-free for that amount of time without accidentally finding out something devastatingly pertinent in the meantime?

Does finding out about some major plot twist or dramatic event in advance of seeing the show in question end up ruining it beyond repair? Or is it no big deal really and everyone should just get over it? To put it simply: are you a spoilerphobe or a spoilerphile?

Since it was mentioned in the introduction, I should confess that I am – as you know – very far behind in my viewing of Game of Thrones. Despite absolutely loving the first season, I’ve yet to even get cracking on the second box set. While it might be vaguely reasonable to insist that no one spoils the current season now airing on television for at least a few weeks or months, it’s clearly ridiculous to expect them not to speak freely of events that happened a year ago or further back still.

As result, even before I watched a single episode of Game of Thrones I knew that the person who was the evident star of the show – Sean Bean playing Eddard Stark – didn’t make it to the end of the season without a sudden reduction of about a foot in height. This is, as you can image, a rather huge spoiler – arguably it’s the shocking pivotal point of the entire first year. Knowing that, you would think, would irretrievably wreck the viewing experience.

But actually, it really didn’t. It certainly changed the viewing experience, I’m sure, and given a free choice then I’d have preferred not to have known in advance, but I’m not sure it did any major damage – party because the key moment came so much earlier than I’d expected, a sudden twist in fortune that still caught me off-guard when it happened. While I knew Stark’s ultimate fate in the show I had managed to stop myself from knowing the details of how we got there and that made all the difference, it seems to me. In the same way I know in a general way about events such as Blackwater and the Red Wedding and now the Purple Wedding, but it doesn’t impact my eagerness to get to those points in the box sets, or lessen my enjoyment of the show or the effect of those shocks when they happen anyway.

So while I don’t tend to seek out spoilers, I also don’t fly into a rage when one lands in my lap, and I wouldn’t declare the whole show ruined for me for all time if and inevitably when it happens. Does that make me an unusually forgiving and forbearing sort of person, or are you the same?

I’m of the same mind, Andrew!

Inadvertent spoilers don’t phase me per se, but I try to be discreet in how I disseminate information. For example my enjoyment of Captain America: The Winter Soldier was distilled in a spoiler-free review, which made no reference to the titular character, nor identity. It piqued friends interest in a movie they were otherwise disinterested in. Perhaps Marvel should appoint me to the company’s social media division?

I’ve been guilty of very rare, and unintended, spoilers, myself! The most infamous pertained to the appearance of a ‘Red Supreme Dalek’ in a teaser trailer for The Stolen Earth. This was at a time when BBC America wasn’t showing the series day and date with the UK. Twitter replies lit up, aptly, like the Fourth of July and I hastily apologised. Losing a few followers in the process…

Of course there’s an omnipresent issue that friends can post spoilers on perfectly innocuous status updates on Facebook. I’ve received disgruntled direct messages from friends complaining about this. It’s exhausting policing my own timeline for fear someone will reveal to the world that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father. D’oh! Read the rest of this entry »

What I’ve been watching (May 3-9)

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Sometimes I’m asked how I decide what to review on this blog, and the answer’s pretty simple – it’s whatever I happen to have watched, read, seen or listened to that week. I never choose to watch something purely to review it, which at least means that everything I review here is something that I actually wanted to see and why a negative post is usually a function of genuine disappointment rather than because it’s not my sort of thing in the first place.

But I don’t review everything I see/hear/watch in a week – I do have a life, strange as that seems to me as well I’m sure as to you. I cherry-pick the things I have something (new) to say rather than just churning out the same comments on an ongoing series for the sake of it. However, I thought as a one-off experiment, what I’d do here in this Very Special Post is run through the disturbingly long list of things that I have watched on the screen in the last seven days just to put a little context around the posts that did make it to the big time so far in May … Read the rest of this entry »

Dallas E1 (2012)

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So, Dallas is back.

I’ll cheerfully confess, I watched most of the first seven years or so of the original series back at the end of the 1970s and into the 1980s. In its heyday, it was something genuinely new and refreshing, a glossy soap with enough action drama to appeal across gender and even age lines largely thanks to the appeal of the iconic character of JR Ewing. Of course, it went into a nosedive after the infamous Shower Scene and the whole genre was dragged down into pastiche and self-parody by the likes of Dynasty that never even tried playing it straight, and so I can’t say I was really pining for its return any time soon. But return it has, and we have to deal with it. So what’s the 21st century version like?

First things first, it’s emphatically not a remake or a reboot: it’s a continuation but also a thorough update for modern times. No retro shoulder pads in evidence, this is as slick as anything else in the current schedules like Gossip Girl or Revenge. The show knows it needs to play the nostalgia card, but it also knows that can’t be all it has to offer: it has to compare well with the show’s great, great, great televisual offspring on its own merits.

So the good news is that it largely manages to successfully do just that. It looks really good, with extensive location shooting (the end of episode one is staged in the middle of the playing field at the Dallas Cowboy’s impressive NFL stadium) and impressive interior sets. There are some lovely shots of the huge Southfork estate and the return of the iconic ranch house (which together with the theme tune are perhaps the two much-have hold-overs from the old series to make a relaunch remotely credible.)

It’s chosen the three characters to retain from the original series (Patrick Duffy’s Bobby, Linda Gray’s Sue Ellen, and of course Larry Hagman’s JR) because they best fit within the dramatic set-up that follows, not just because old time viewers need to be placated – Ray Krebbs (Steve Kanaly) and Lucy Ewing (Charlene Tilton) by contrast get a two-scene cameo only, thank goodness. But the focus is really on the new, younger generation and in particular the show works by cannily centring on a “history repeating itself” feud between the sons of Bobby and JR, Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) and John Ross (Josh Henderson) respectively. There’s even a battle over a woman, Elena (Fast and Furious star Jordana Brewster) that has a set-up reminiscent of the “Romeo and Juliet” Bobby-and-Pam mythic basis of Dallas’ original series premise back in 1978.

It’s slightly unfortunate that the two young male leads look rather too similar for comfort. Interestingly, both Metcalfe and Henderson are both alumni of Desperate Housewives, probably the closest recent show in tone and spirit to this new version of Dallas. If you liked that series then you’ll be able to transfer seamlessly to this. There’s even a third shared member of the cast in the form of Brenda Strong, here playing Bobby’s latest wife Ann.

Of the new cast, it’s Henderson who unexpectedly really impresses, managing to come across as staggeringly evil and manipulative with a youthful careless swagger and arrogant lack of underhandedness, while also displaying enough self-doubt and vulnerability to keep the character on the right side of believability without becoming a pantomime villain. That’s something that at the series’ height was a similar achievement by Larry Hagman: the two even share enough similar behaviour traits to make the father/son dynamic perfectly credible.

However, as good as Henderson (and also series veterans Duffy and the astonishingly well-preserved Linda Gray) are, they’re no match to the force of nature that is Larry Hagman. He’s kept inert and comatose in the early scenes – a nicely subtle, slow way of reintroducing the character – but once he’s reactivated by the prospect of more family feuding and backstabbing it’s like watching Frankenstein’s monster be galvanised by electricity and twitch into life to steal the rest of the film. With his well-known health issues over the years, Hagman’s undoubtedly aged: but the minute he turns on that devious sparkle in the eyes, it’s like watching the life force flood back in and swell him back up to twice the size of life, a remainder of what made Hagman and his dramatic creation such a phenomenon of its age.

So it’s a pretty decent start. But the pilot episode does have one big weakness – the script. Not the basic storylines or plots, or even characterisations – those were all fine enough, if understandably rudimentary at this stage. But if you’ve seen the promos and trailers for the show and noticed the way that they cut at random between key scenes and extract lines out of context for maximum promotional effect, then you have a sense of how choppy and fragmented the programme itself ends up being. There’s no flow to it, just artless cut-cut-cut between characters and plots at random with no build or time to allow impact. The show is so desperate to introduce its characters and lay out its wares at the first possible opportunity that it’s like a demented two year old in an ADHD spasm after consuming a pound of sugar.

Just look at the way the script throws away Sue Ellen’s entrance into the show; or how the wedding of Christopher and Rebecca is thrown away in three montage shots as an after thought to the episode, Weddings and barbeques used to the be the focus points of whole episodes if not entire seasons of the old show, milking each one for maximum dramatic effect and emotional angst. Here you’re left blinking wondering if it really happened or whether you just dreamed the whole thing; it totally lacks impact as a result.

There are signs that the show will succeed in calming down after this opening instalment. Even in the pilot, the episode found time for a couple of effective quiet moments such as Bobby’s airborne surveying of the rolling lands around Southfork, which really brought home his emotions at the decision to sell the ranch. Given time and a little more confidence of its own survival, the scripts will likely improve and find their own rhythm and pace in the coming weeks, in which case there’s enough in place with the rest of the treatment of this revival to think that this may well become a very solid series with a decent future.

Whether it will be anything more than an afterthought to the original in the annals of television history remains to be seen. But for now, the one thing that can be said is that it didn’t screw it up completely and dance on the grave of its forebear. And that in itself is no mean feat.

The ten-part first series of the Dallas revival airs on Wednesday evenings at 9pm on Channel 5. The DVD will be released in the UK on November 12 2012.