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North Square

The quality of mercy is not strained....
Here in Australia our ABC is currently doing a repeat screening of this top notch British legal drama/comedy, and not a moment too soon. 10 episodes is just not enough of North Square and it's completely criminal that more were never made.

North Square may not be a realistic portrayal of legal life (though my own experiences as a law student and one-time article clerk do make me wonder if there is a grain of truth in North Square) but it has witty dialogue and fascinating characters. It's hard to pick a favourite part of North Square but my vote goes to barrister Tom Mitford's method of swaying juries and judges - with quotes from The Merchant Of's adaptable to any case, even indecent exposure.

But there are heaps of great moments in this show. Find a copy, watch it, and let it endear you to the legal world of Leeds.

Jonathan Creek

Disclaimer: I love this show
Yes, I admit it, all my comments here are coloured by the fact that I loved this high quality, well written, funny, intelligent, crime-drama-comedy show since the pilot episode (The Wrestler's Tomb).

Jonathan Creek is one great show: seemingly impossible murder mysteries combined with an interesting sexual tension between the two leads (at least, it was in the first 3 series when we had Maddy, not that I disapprove of Julia Sawalha) and some good comedy. The writing was great, the acting was likewise, and the show saw Alan Davies become a new "thinking woman's sex symbol" almost overnight. :P

But seriously, Jonathan Creek deserves not only its BAFTA but also a place in the UKTV hall of fame.

We Are History

History - the budget version
I wasn't quite sure what to make of We Are History. First of all it is a take-off of the many UK history shows (you know, Elizabeth I, the wives of Henry VIII, that kind of thing). Second, well, the humour is a cross between absurdist and slapstick. Third, a key feature is the use of real life locations and volunteer participation by enthusiastic members of the public in recreations of famous historical events. The episodes are about 10 minutes long, and the history is the concise version with gags.

So does it work? When it works it works well, but when the jokes fail they fail dismally. As a distraction between main event programming the show works well, but I doubt it could be promoted by itself.

I recommend it to anyone with an insane sense of humour, or, alternately, anyone watching late-night weekend programming (that's when the show normal airs here on Australia's ABC) who's had a few drinks.

Donovan Quick

Worth a tilt
To begin with Donovan Quick is Don Quixote, albeit a modern Don Quixote in a thoroughly modern setting with a modern corporate enemy (Windmill Transport). Donna Franceschild (who also did the tv adapation of Eureka Street by Robert McLiam Wilson) captures something of the dreamer-influencing-reality spirit of the original book in her screenplay for this telemovie. I found myself entranced by the production, going from desperation with the circumstances of of the Pannick family (Katy Murphy turning in a wonderful performance as Lucy Pannick, caretaker of her mentally disabled brother and senile grandmother, girlfriend to the somewhat abusive Clive) to the belief in the grand schemes of Donovan Quick (Colin Firth). What occurs in the confrontation between Donovan and Windmill Transport and what happens in the final twist ending I won't reveal here - go out, find a copy of this telemovie and see it for yourself.

(And for Colin Firth fans - this is a must! As Donovan Quick, Firth gives a brilliant demonstration of his abilities as a character actor, not just as a handsome leading man.)

Eureka Street

All stories are love stories
If at all possible, take time out to watch Eureka Street - that time will be well rewarded. Set in Belfast, Northern Ireland during a brief ceasefire in The Troubles, Eureka Street deals with the reality of everyday life in such a grim situation as civil conflict.

However, the show never descends to cliche - each episode is fresh, confronting, and brilliantly scripted and acted.

All I've said you can read in the other reviews - I fully agree with those other summations of this show - but I will add that Eureka Street is based on a book ("Eureka Street" by Robert McLiam Wilson) and adapted perfectly by Donna Franceschild (who also wrote Donovan Quick, a great telemovie). I highly recommend the book - it is a good read whether you have seen the tv adaptation or not.

I thought that the way in which Eureka Street the tv show captured the spirit of Eureka Street the book was inspiring. While both deliver a very real and disturbing picture of the horror of The Troubles, Eureka Street is rare in that it also gives a message of hope - one that begins in the small pieces of everyday life and which ends in a vision that is international.

Seriously Weird

Serious Consideration
It's like Buffy for the younger kids, but without the blood, the ultra punchy scripts, and Angel.

Not that Seriously Weird is completely without merit. The premise is sound, often well executed (although some episodes fall flat, and when this show fails it fails badly), and with a mild-mannered comment on the stereotyped American highschool characters and settings that are always so common on our screens (even some Aussie soaps are starting to mirror their US counterparts these days).

Seriously Weird is a gentle distraction to an afternoon (at least while waiting for the Doctor Who repeats here on ABC at the moment) and while it doesn't manage the fantastic all the time, it easily makes the standard where other shows with seemingly more potential fail to meet.

Dirty Tricks

Classic Clunes
The polite dinner party question was "And why did you read languages?" And the answer from Edward the perpetual student of culture was "So that I could learn how to use language to conceal my real intentions."

Martin Clunes is at his best in this black comedy crime drama. The English excell at this kind of thing and this is a particularly good example of the genre. It should be pointed out to anyone who's seen Men Behaving Badly that here in Dirty Tricks we are prvileged to see Clunes display some amazing versitility. He's heartless, manipulative, lying, creative and utterly fascinating as the anti-hero of this piece.

Edward is a language teacher who has the class and culture to enjoy life but unfortunately not the funds. All this changes when he is invited to a dinner party by his employer's accountant. After his host's wife accosts Edward in the upstairs bathroom, things begin on a rollercoaster ride which sees Edward come into some serious money and some serious legal trouble to go with his new good fortune.

Edward lies and manipulates his way through the plot, his ability with language clearly coming in handy. The plot itself is simple but at the same time packed with elaborate detail. And the more detail there is, the more the viewer is drawn into the murky world of Edward's Oxford.

I confess to not having read the book on which this show is based, but having seen this adaptation I will be seeking out the book for sure.

Posh Nosh

Living without fennel
Welcome to the ancestral home of the Marchmonts - Simon and Minty are passionate about all things to do with food, particularly about how you, the viewer who is in desperate need of some high culture, are going to be making and, thought it could be sacrilege, consuming such creations as are brought lovingly to life on this show.

Forget Jamie Oliver, forget Nigella Lawson and Delia Smith, this is a cooking show that is at the very top of the food chain.

(And forget living without fennel - it's the new revolution in cooking, and a trademark of the Marchmonts' restaurant, The Quill And Tassel in Bray, England. Make sure you try the Bread AND Butter Pudding with shaved fennel while you're there.)

Simon and Minty are the to-the-manor-born hosts of the show. While Minty (Arabella Weir) gives us cooking tips (exasperate your vegetables until exhausted; disturb your chestnuts in milk until queasy, then disappoint), Simon (Richard E. Grant) teaches those of us with ordinary tastebuds the finer points of wine selection and consumption.

This show is well written (with Arabella Weir being involved in that writing) - its satire of the cooking shows which now saturate our screens is a welcome change from being told that all these years we've been boiling those eggs all wrong. Chris Langham's directing style can be seen by those familiar with series such as "People Like Us". It's mockumentary style makes the irony behind the dialogue between the show's hosts all that more enjoyable.

The two hosts turn in great performances: Minty is a fallen domestic goddess, somewhere between Nigella Lawson and Delia Smith, who's marriage to Simon seems to have come about because Minty wanted a title and Simon wanted to get marriage out of the way so he could continue his tennis lessons with his strapping spanish male tennis coach. Arabella Weir is delightful as Minty and Richard E. Grant turns in another quality performance of eccentric English aristocratic snobbery.

I've given the show a good rating so far but I'm sure there will be those who disagree. What I say is this: watch for yourself, and if you don't get at least a laugh out of one short and insane episode, check your pulse and go take some lessons in the British sense of irony.

Hudson Hawk

It's all in the mind, you know....
Just reading some of these reviews has quite surprised me.

I've found myself called a moron and an idiot by some seemingly intelligent critics of film, and on the other hand I've been congratulated for my insane sense of humour by people who seem to be rather more intelligent and certain less critical than the aforementioned individuals.

I loved Hudson Hawk the first time I saw it. The movie was fast-paced, highly amusing, definately not serious, and full of brilliant one-liners, and truly insane comic moments.

Of course, I can accept that this fact may not be immediately evident to anyone who lacks a sense of humour and wants to be given something with a serious message (which, incidently, they don't have to think too hard to grasp) when they go to the movies.

The point is that Hudson Hawk is not meant to be taken seriously. The only requirements the movie makes of its audience is that they listen to what is going on and that they approach the movie with a sense of humour and no preconceptions about the movie itself.

Hudson Hawk is in the same category as movies like Groundhog Day, The Blues Brothers (1 and 2), MIB (1 and 2), the comic book movies (as in, the ones which have less jokes than MIB - things like the Batman movies, Spiderman, X Men, etc.), Monty Python, all of the Mel Brooks movies, and others of that ilk.

The best thing about the movie is that it doesn't take itself too seriously. The worst thing: well, that it has Andie MacDowell in it (but I won't hold that against the movie, she is perfect for the role, if slightly annoying).

Watch this movie if you enjoy a laugh at something that doesn't sink to the level of movies like Dumb & Dumber or Something About Mary (and the rest - there are more Farrelly Brothers movies out there).

And whatever you do - don't heed the reviews telling you that your taste is deficient if you happen to like Hudson Hawk. It's all in the mind, you know. He who laughs last didn't get the joke, and he who doesn't laugh at Hudson Hawk needs his sense of humour upgraded (or should go back to watching paint dry).

Red Dwarf

It's cold outside, there's no kind of atmosphere....
I knew that this show had a large following, but this large? Is it possible that so many people can have such good taste in insane humour?

I came to Red Dwarf at a relatively young age (about age 8) when my Japanese teacher let us watch an episode or two to keep the class quiet for the lesson.

Since then, with a background in British sci-fi comedy and comic fantasy, I've been able to track down and watch most of the Red Dwarf episodes from series I to series VIII.

I'll add to the rest of the comments: series I to about series V are brilliant. It's character driven comedy with dodgy SFX (but come on guys, who needs good SFX? And there are heaps of examples: Dr Who, Hitch-Hiker's Guide (the TV series), anyone remember Monkey Magic?) and it's smegging brilliant.

Series VI is probably THE all-time greatest. (Although I have to admit that my favourite episode is from series III.)

Series VII has been given a multitude of bad reviews. I've watched all of these episodes (except for Tikka To Ride) and I have to say that, on first inspection, the series does seem a little painful, especially if you've just come from the previous series' level of brilliance. However, I have found that this series improves with repeated viewing. Personally, I don't think that the show suffered as much from the Grant Naylor split as the books did.

(Incidently, if you ever read the early books, make sure that you check out the episode entitled White Hole. It's not a truly fantastic episode but it does feature one amazing pool/billiards shot.)

Series VIII I am still in the process of tracking down, but I have seen the first episode, and it looks like the series has started quite well.

The best thing about Red Dwarf is that you're always wondering how the characters are going to get out of the situation into which the writers have put them. The only other piece of sci-fi that Red Dwarf is comparable to, in my book, is the radio play of the Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy.

Well done to all the avid Dwarfers out there. He who laughs last didn't get the joke, but he (or she) who laughs at Red Dwarf has the best possible sense of humour. :)

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