Archive for the 'In praise of:' Category

27
Aug
09

In praise of: Mad Men (and Spectacular Spider-Man)

Now that The Wire and Battlestar Galactica have ended, Mad Men is the best television drama currently in production. This occurred to me as I was watching it last night (incidentally, there was a reason I was up watching telly ’til three in the morning, but I’d rather not explain for fear it would put me in a bad mood again). The episode I watched was titled “Shoot”, where a rival advertising firm tries to lure Don to the company, using a modelling job for his wife to bait him. I suddenly realised that there’s nothing else around right now that touches this level of quality.

First of all there’s the acting. It’s more than excellent. The characters are so well realised that every principle actor seems to be in the role they were born to play. With the exception of The Wire, this is probably the best ensemble television cast in recent memory (it easily trumps The Sopranos in this regard).

What really works here, however, is the writing. When I first encountered Mad Men I was unimpressed. The unashamed sexism and social exclusion of its setting seemed very gimmicky. What I hadn’t figured out was that the works are left under the surface. The writers rarely point out the important elements of the story they’re telling. Rather they trust the audience with the intelligence to recognise it for ourselves. This is not only clever in it own sense, but highly appropriate for a show about an advertising firm in the early 60s, where images hide things that are more important.

I wanted to embed a video here, but it seems AMC have been all over Youtube, and so the clips can’t be embedded. This one seems to best describe what I’m talking about.

Anyway, apart from Mad Med the only other show that gets me excited these days is The Spectacular Spider-Man. I know it’s a kids’ program, but there’s no reason kids’ programs can’t be great. The scripts are smart and witty and avoid talking down to their audience, and the animation is beautifully fluid (and also I’m a great big geek, so really go for this stuff). It’s possibly the best action cartoon since that Batman series in the 90s. Here’s an episode I quite like.



07
Jan
09

In praise of: Sean Moncrieff

I’ve noticed that the posts here that get the best reaction and generate the most traffic are the ones where I’m bemoaning some unimportant psuedo-outrage. I’m currently getting a lot of attention due to my Beverly Flynn post, which although I think expresses a valid point does have an air of holier than thou about it. I also attracted much traffic with my Gillian McKeith rant, and my most popular post by far is my pathetic attempt to tell Declan Ganley to go fuck himself. Now while I’m grateful for the attention, I can’t say I’m entirely happy about his. I’m really not a negative person in real life, and I didn’t start this blog to be another Twenty Major wannabe.

It is for is reason that I’m writing this post, with a mind to it becoming a regular category where I just talk about something I really like. In this episode, Sean Moncrieff.

When Newstalk gave Sean Moncrieff  an afternoon slot, it was clearly a naked attempted to cash in on the popularity of Ray D’arcy’s show on Today FM, that being a light-hearted show where people engage in Seinfeld-esque conversations about kitschy topic that in the grand scheme of things are ultimately unimportant in every conceivable way. I find it easy to forgive Moncrieff, however, as his presentation and interview style is just so pleasant and agenda-free that it’s a joy to let him into our homes every mid-afternoon. This is in contrast to, say, the oh-so media tarty smugness of The Ray D’arcy Show.

I know I said this was to be a positive post, but I’ve levelled a fairly serious charge there and I feel I should back it up. I recall once being forced to listen to D’arcy while in a doctor’s waiting room (actually, it was an STI clinic, but I wasn’t there because I was worried about anything. I was just, you know, making sure). Kildare’s favourite son was interviewing Bill O’Herlihy, and building up Bill’s status as a ‘legend’ so much that I began to wonder if D’arcy was getting off on it. Anyway, one of the question asked of Bill was, “What’s the secret of your success?” followed by, “hang on, wait till I go to a break and tell me then.” Now I studied radio broadcasting in college (under the caring guidance of Galway Bay FM’s Bernadette Prendergast), and I was repeatedly informed during this course that the golden rule of broadcasting is “do not alienate the listener”. If I tried a stunt like “wait until we’re off the air so we can have a proper chat” Prendy would have kick me out of the class, and rightly so. It’s different for Ray thought because, well, he’s Ray. This exemplifies a self-satisfied smugness with D’arcy that can also be seen when he suddenly thinks he’s Jeremy Paxman and starts harassing interviewees who offend his sensibilities, with his belief that he’s allowed to say “fuck” on air whenever he likes, or when he was doing Blackboard Jungle and would tell all-female teams, “you did very well on sport, considering you’re girls.”

Back to things I like. Moncrieff on Newstalk wins out because the host’s ability interview and discuss topics without being overly judgemental. He knows the show isn’t meant to be taken too seriously, and thus avoids taking himself too seriously. He’s also a naturally funny guy, and can take piss out of most topics without betraying his own agenda.

This being said, Moncrieff’s broadcast career hasn’t been a series of hits. He has been involved in enough shitty television for even Gerry Ryan to say “jaysus, that’s shockin'” He’s perhaps best know for Don’t Feed the Gondolas, which although was often quite hilarious, couldn’t avoided the fact that it was a rip-off of far better BBC comedy quiz shows (it was also the show that made Brendan O’Connor a household name, an unforgivable sin). There was also that weird game show where couples competed to win a house, and perhaps worst of all Good Grief Moncrieff, a summer schedule chat show that every week featured the most uninteresting guests in the history of light entertainment. Moncrieff made the best of this by injecting each episode with his mildly anarchic sense of humour. Nonetheless, he clearly hated doing it.

The thing is, all of this, and I mean every second of televised badness (except O’Connor, obviously) can be forgiven due to Moncrieff’s first foray into television. The End was the kind show that was so fresh and original it was hard to believe it was on RTE, expect of course when they would ironically point out their own shittiness due to being an RTE product. For those who don’t remember, The End was a mid-nineties show that basically was last thing broadcasted on RTE 2 before end of transmission on Saturday nights (there was also a more cerebral Friday night offering hosted by Barry Murphy). Because it was on at a time when normal people were either in bed or out having a life, Moncrieff and co knew they could get away with doing whatever they liked, and frequently…well, frequently didn’t bother. They could get away with that too. One highlight I recalled was when the producer put the entire show on Buy and Sell for a laugh, only for it to be bought by a crazed Australian. It was the kind of enforced wackiness that Saturday morning kids’ shows are known for, except it was for adults and for some reason it worked.

So that’s it. I quite like Sean Moncreiff and if you haven’t given him a listen I suggest you do. He’s also a known as a talented writer, with a couple of novels under his belt. I can’t comment on this as I haven’t read his stuff. I can say, however, that this is one more thing that makes him better than Ray D’arcy.