Celeste Dring and Freya Parker (aka “Lazy Susan”) circa 2017A couple months back, the BBC decided to throw up a registration-moat around its iPlayer, to make it impossible for casual viewers/listeners to catch-up on shows they’d missed without typing in a username and password every damn time… which is an especially painful process if you’re doing it via an onscreen keyboard using a set-top-box remote, dammit!* I resisted for a while, but two shows swayed me to finally sign-up/in… one was the latest season of French crime-drama Spiral, and the other was Radio 4’s The East Coast Listening Post, a spoof investigative “human interest” podcast written and performed by character-comedy duo Lazy Susan, aka Freya Parker and Celeste Dring. Here they play a pair of interpid American sisters, transplanted to the UK to report back on interesting people they’ve encountered, including eccentric feuding aristocrats, has-been costumed mascots, and repressed support-group leaders.

The episodes are only 15-minutes long, but they pack in plenty jokes, engaging story-arcs, fun performances, and an impressive supporting cast. I also thought that the lead characters, ‘Jenna’ and ‘Dana’, came across as genuinely charming, cool, crush-worthy co-hosts, who I’d happily follow across multiple formats/media… so, snaps to their multi-tasking creators for that!


* Though I admit that being able to “follow” favourite shows will save having to type their titles in every week, so I guess it balances out in the long-run…?

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“Uh, This Is The Crew Of The USS Callister…”

[Contains distracting pizza deliveries and SPOILERS!!!]

The cast/crew of The USS Callister in “Black Mirror” (ep #4.1)Although I’m a big fan of Charlie Brooker’s work as a satirical critic, commentator, and panel-show presenter… not to mention his priceless contribution to British comedy/culture as the brain-father of Philomena Cunk… I’m a little more ambivalent about his dramatic output, and bailed on the critically acclaimed, multi-award-winning science-fiction anthology series Black Mirror somewhere around the second season. Despite the cleverness of the scripts, and the quality of the casting, it’s just a little too miserable and misanthropic for my tastes… too desaturated and sombre… so I was very confused/intrigued when I saw promo photos for the first episode of the new (fourth) season, suggesting a bright, shiny, retro-styled homage to old-timey technicolour space-operas, such as the original Star Trek series. Of course, I assumed that something horrible and unsettling was going to happen to the eponymous spaceship’s squeaky-clean sacrificial-lambs over the course of the story, but the soppy optimist in me was still blindly hoping that they’d find a way to overcome their ordeal in the end… and, much to my surprise, they did!*

Cristin Milioti as ‘Nanette Cole’ in “Black Mirror” (ep #4.1)To short-hand it for those who haven’t seen the episode yet, all of the crew-members pictured above, save for their seated Captain, are digital-clones of real people (with all their memories and personality traits intact), unwittingly trapped in a highly-advanced virtual-reality video game, and sectioned off in a custom-skinned pocket-universe inspired by the co-creator’s fave cult sci-fi show “Space Fleet”. In fact, they’re all office-mates who have supposedly “wronged” the petty programmer, who jacks-in every evening after work to role-play as their preening superior, and vent his frustrations on them, via vicious acts of torture and disfigurement, when they don’t behave in a satisfactorily fawning and subservient manner. Using cheat-codes to give himself near-godlike powers, he rules his cheesy little realm with an iron fist, and a painful lack of imagination… until, that is, he makes the mistake of assimilating nerdy new-girl ‘Nanette Cole’ (Cristin Milioti) into his silicon menagerie, and she employs her abundant intelligence to f*ck him up, both in the game-world and in reality. Hurrah! The episode ends on a happy up-beat, with the virtual crew conducting a surprisingly successful and empowering mutiny (which leaves their human tormentor’s consciousness trapped in a trash bin somewhere), and breaking out into an ever-expanding MMORPG universe, appropriately titled “Infinity”. Nanette’s triumphant smile in the final shot, as she settles into the vacant captain’s chair, is both well-earned and extremely uplifting.

As soon as the end credits rolled, my geeky little brain started hopping up and down yelping: “Ooh-ooh! Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a spin-off show, where we got to see their actual adventures, as they explore new worlds, and seek out new life-forms, etcetera?” And apparently I wasn’t the only one, as this Hollywood Reporter interview with episode director Toby Haynes bears out. Is six seasons and a movie too much to ask? Make it so! At the very least, I’d like to see Jimmi Simpson get a few gongs for his alternately hilarious and heart-breaking turn as the ship’s longest-serving/hardest-suffering victim. According to Haynes, the veteran scene-stealer nailed his epic monologue in a single take! Kudos.

Cristin Milioti as ‘Nanette Cole’ in “Black Mirror” (ep #4.1)[Note: An earlier version of this post included a rambling three-thousand-word digression about Milotti’s eyeballs/brows, but it was removed for the sake of brevity/dignity. Instead of that, here’s a link to an interview in which she discusses her joy at landing the role, and how she summoned up her inner “warrior spirit”!]

* According to the man himself: “This season, the writing of it started in July 2016, so there were episodes being written all through the American election… and everything was looking horrible. I genuinely thought, I don’t know what state the world’s going to be in by the time these [episodes] appear, and I don’t know how much appetite there will be for nothing but bleak nihilism… If you’re living in a dystopia, you don’t necessarily want to look at another one. So I sort of thought, let’s maybe not make them all [depressing].” Amen!

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Deck The Halls With Bots

"Christmas seems to be here, and we thought we should tell you that."I only discovered the surreal comedy-genius of Botnik Studios a couple days ago, via an article in The Guardian, but the site’s already given my belly-muscles a serious work-out (which I’m very grateful for, considering all the cheese and cakes I’ll be scoffing this month), so I thought I’d share their festive family newsletter with y’all, in honour of the occasion. As far as I can make out, the peeps running the site use a predictive text keyboard to generate a stream of glorious nonsense (randomly drawn from a reserve of relevant text), and then cherry-pick/polish the choicest nuggets for public consumption. Bless ’em.

So far my faves include their excerpt from a nightmarish Harry Potter novel (Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash), and a spec script for an episode of The X-Files (modestly titled “Coveralls”) which I would dearly love to see the real cast act out someday…

Anyhoo, I hope everyone out there in imaginary-reader land is having a happy holiday, and snagging some exciting bargains in the sales… I picked up the Funko “Log Lady” figure for a fiver, which has made me very merry indeed! The wine helps too, of course…

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Harley-volution (Pt. 7)

[Continuing my compulsive cataloguing of Harley Quinn‘s various on-screen appearances, in (roughly) chronological order. Contains will-crushing fist-bumps and SPOILERS!!!]

Harley Quinn in “Justice League Action” (ep #1.25)After her brief cameo in an earlier instalment of the short-and-snappy Justice League Action cartoon series, our ‘Harley’ (Tara Strong) returned for a slightly more substantial (though still sadly subordinate) appearance in ep #1.25, aka “Garden of Evil”. Once again written by co-creator Paul Dini, the episode saw her playing bridesmaid to gal-pal ‘Poison Ivy’, who was using her apparently-unlimited plant-control powers to manipulate ‘Swamp Thing’ (Mark Hamill) into marrying her, and destroying the eponymous super-hero squad as a wedding gift! I have to say I found Ivy’s voice especially alluring this time around, but it wasn’t until the end credits rolled that I realised that was because she was being played by none-other-than Natasha Leggero! Although Ivy was the main antagonist of the episode, Harley did get to bust out her old “Boingy! Boingy!” catchphrase while bouncing around on spring-heeled shoes, and even managed to take down the far-more-powerful ‘Firestorm’ (P.J. Byrne) with nothing more than a sucker-punch with a boxing-glove! Hurrah!

Many months later, she managed to score a more central role (and titular namecheck) in ep #1.42 (“Harley Goes Ape”), though she didn’t actually show her face on-screen until two minutes into the episode, which only ran to ten minutes total! Tch! Still, at least she was credited with the crazy criminal cunning to exploit the distraction/danger of a giant ape attack in Metropolis to sneak into an abandoned jewellery store and bag herself some bling. Her heist was rudely interrupted by the do-gooding ‘Stargirl’ (Natalie Lander), who turfed Harley back out onto the street, where she had an impromptu encounter with the rampaging primate, ‘Titano’, an old chum from her days as a behavioural zoologist at S.T.A.R. Labs (who was subsequently shot off into space and embiggened by a Kryptonite comet). Unfortunately, he was now being piggy-backed and worked like a furry meat-puppet by ‘Gorilla Grodd’ (David Sobolov), so the reunion was sweet, but short-lived.

Harley Quinn in “Justice League Action” (ep #1.42)After ‘Superman’ (Jason J. Lewis) and Stargirl managed to prise the malevolent mind-controlling monkey* off of Titano’s back, he went rogue, and scooped Harley up for the inevitable King Kong spoof. “I seem to remember seeing something like this in a movie”, she observes, as they scale the Daily Planet tower, before noting that “It didn’t end well!” Thankfully she and Stargirl were able to sooth the savage beast with a song (and a giant promotional teddy-bear), before he took a fatal tumble… but then Supes “rewarded” our anti-heroine for helping to save the city by shoving her in the back of a meat-wagon with Grodd, simply because she still happened to have some “hot rocks” on her person! Harsh! That said, it did give her a chance to bust out her therapy pad, and offer the stewing simian some free psychoanalysis, so all’s well that ends well, eh?

Overall, this episode (once again written by Dini) was a very enjoyable romp, with numerous humorous highlights… such as Harley hyping herself as “America’s screwball sweetheart” (and rather less plausibly as “Batman’s arch-enemy”), and the ease/alacrity with which she casually picked the lock on her standard-issue police handcuffs! I also dug her odd-couple dynamic with Stargirl, who she nick-named “powerpuff”… presumably as an in-joke-y reference to one of Strong’s (many) other voice-over roles, as ‘Bubbles’ on The Powerpuff Girls…?

Harley Quinn in “The Lego Batman Movie” (2017)Meanwhile, over in a whole other animated “universe”, Harley returned to the world of sticky toy-bricks in The Lego Batman Movie (2017)… which, much like its predecessor (The Lego Movie (2014)), made me chuckle and gasp many times, but never laugh-out-loud. They’re both superficial frantic fun, and very enjoyable in the moment, but much harder to care about after the credits have rolled, imho. Although I’d been looking forward to hearing Jenny Slate’s take on Harley, I found myself rather underwhelmed by the end result… largely because she wasn’t really given a substantial role to play, or any ear-catching dialogue or memorable jokes to work with. The same goes for the other supporting female characters, voiced by ringers like Riki Lindhome (as ‘Poison Ivy’ and ‘Wicked Witch of the West’), Kate Micucci (as ‘Clayface’), Zoë Kravitz (as ‘Catwoman’), Ellie Kemper (as ‘Phyllis’, gate-keeper of The Phantom Zone), and Laura Kightlinger (as ‘Reporter Pippa’ and ‘Orca’)… though Rosario Dawson fared a lot better as ‘Barbara Gordon’ (aka ‘Batgirl’), one of the main antagonists in the movie, who succeeded her father as Gotham’s Police Commissioner, and attempted to end the egotistical vigilante’s lone-wolf law-bending. Btw, why does every single Lego-based Batman movie have to kick-off with ‘The Joker’ (Zach Galifianakis) recruiting the rest of the “rogue’s gallery” to wreck up his home city? Seriously, this is the third time that’s happened now, and it’s getting kinda boring… meh…

Note: IMDb has now discontinued its character-centric filmography pages, which will make it much trickier to keep track of Harley’s appearances as she flits from screen to screen. Dammit!

* I know that technically Grodd’s also an ape, not a “monkey”, but that spoils the alliteration/pun.

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Sink Or Swim (Redux)

Every now and then I try to check the links I’ve posted here, to see if they’re still active… and earlier this morning my attention was drawn to the fact that one year on, The Nottingham Post has taken down its post-task-win interview with former The Apprentice (UK) hopeful Frances Bishop (presumably because they don’t have infinite server-space to store all their old articles on?) Anyhoo, for the sake of posterity, I’ve salvaged the page using the marvellous Internet Archive “Wayback Machine”:

Frances Bishop a la "The Apprentice" (UK) 2016Project manager Frances Bishop finally wins a task on The Apprentice

By Stewart Thorpe – Posted: November 17, 2016

Keyworth’s Frances Bishop celebrated her first victory in The Apprentice after six consecutive losses brought her closer to Lord Sugar’s firing line last week. The Pud! store business owner and reality game show contestant coasted to victory as Team Nebula’s project manager turning on her “totalitarian” side to secure her first win. Episode six, screened last week, left Frances as the only person in the process not to win a task and Lord Sugar warned the 25-year-old that she needed to impress. Following his remark, the business tycoon appointed Frances and Karthik to lead Team Nebula and Team Titan, respectively, in this week’s sales task.

Candidates were tasked with tapping into one of the UK’s biggest markets – the boating and leisure industry. Speaking to the Post Frances, who was tasked with managing Sofiane, Jessica, Trishna and Paul, said: “I only had a few minutes to get a strategy together with my team. I knew that Paul and Sofia didn’t work well together and split them up and I knew that Paul would be a good sub team leader. There were all a bit taken aback because I had such a strategy quite quickly.” Coupled with Harrods worker Sofia, Frances’ sub team took responsibility for selling the high-end items with surprising success in the dreary weather conditions – especially considering Frances cannot swim. “The BBC said if you can’t swim you can’t do it but I wrote a declaration saying that if anything goes wrong I take that risk upon myself,” said Frances. “Thankfully it was fine. I didn’t die.”

After picking their products to take to the Poole Harbour Boat Show, for once, Team Nebula team ended up more successful than Team Titan. “When they were reading out the results I actually cried. I was like ‘I have finally won!'”, added Frances. “The strategy was sell, sell, sell and that is what we did. Normally I have quite a relaxed management style but if you don’t know the people you have to lay down the law and I was dealing with some big characters.” Team Titan finished with almost £43,000 in sales whilst Karthik – despite calling himself a “brilliant project manager” for ‘project managing’ his son’s conception – lead Team Titan to defeat as they took home just £188.90.

Frances Bishop in "The Apprentice" (UK) (ep #12.7)Frances’ victorious Team Nebula went to one of the world’s most famous rowing clubs – The Leander Club – where they were met by double Olympic gold medallist James Cracknell for a rowing lesson. Frances said: “It was fun to finally get to go on a treat but James Cracknell was taking the mic out of me because I can’t swim. I was the only one made to wear a life jacket!”

Since then Bishop has scaled the heck out of her Pud Store chain, which recently won “Best Independent Apparel Retailer” (2017) at the Progressive Preschool Awards. So snaps to her (and her staff) for that.

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Kittens For Sale!

The Lounge Kittens circa 2017Britain’s foremost lounge-style-rock/rap-covers comedy act, The Lounge Kittens, are having an end-of-year-ish sale over on their site, and that means you can pick up their debut E.P. (Just The Tip) and album (Sequins & C-Bombs) for a song. Pun! They’ve also slashed the prices of their T-shirts, but most are only available in “small” sizes at this point.*

Sadly, when the Kittens passed through my neck-of-the-woods earlier this year, it was to host a vocal-training workshop, rather than to play an actual gig… and I’m totally tone-deaf, so if I had gone along it would have just been a huge embarrassment for me, and an ear-ache for everyone else… so I just sat at home and watched their videos from a safe distance instead. Hopefully they’ll be putting out another album soon (apocalypse-permitting), or at least giving a proper live performance a little closer to my Hobbit-hole…


* Those pesky small people get all the best/cheapest clothes! Tch!

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Auktion Over!

Danza Direct's "Pasta Dog" spaghetti-tidy, as featured in "Get Krack!n" (S1)The Get Krack!n eBay prop auction ended earlier this morning (UK-time)… and even though the bids slowed down considerably after the first couple days, they still managed to raise an impressive amount of cash for their chosen charitable “kauses”.

The “Pasta Dog” spaghetti-tidy brought in $455 (Australian-money) for the Butucarbin Aboriginal Corporation, which “works to facilitate and coordinate relevant community programs and activities that contribute to the support of the Aboriginal community”… while the “Kroombe” kitchen gadget thingy brought in $162.71 for the Human Rights Law Centre, which “protects and promotes human rights in Australia and in Australian activities overseas, using a combination of legal action, advocacy, research, and capacity building.”

So a hearty “Good onya!” to everyone who bid, and my seething envy to the eventual winners…

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