Posts Tagged ‘television’

Ghostwatch reviewed by an American in 2016

October 29th, 2016


 

For Halloween this year I thought I’d so something a little different — I got my hands on a copy of an infamous British TV horror special and decided to write a review.

For those unfamiliar with the show, Ghostwatch is a 1992 Halloween TV horror special from BBC. It never aired in the US, nor has it ever been made available to US viewers through legal means (unless you have a region-unlocked DVD player.)

The TV special scared many viewers at the time because it masqueraded as a live, non-fiction TV show featuring hosts familiar to BBC viewers. You can read more about the effects the show had on its audience over on Wikipedia.

I don’t want to spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it, so I’ll just give you a brief rundown. The 90 minute show alternates between a talk show host with a paranormal investigator, and two on-scene reporters investigating an allegedly haunted house where two girls live with their single mother. The talk show segments include everything from “live phone calls” to interviews with a skeptic from New York.

 

 

The type of horror leans toward the subtle variety one would expect from BBC. Think Doctor Who and you’re not far off. There’s no terrifying violence or jump scares here. As an American viewer, I’d say the closest analog would be if The Blair Witch Project had been a TV special hosted by Geraldo Rivera.

One minor spoiler: the ending won’t be a surprise to you if you’ve seen The Onion’s Halloween episode of In The Know. For all I know The Onion could have been making an homage to Ghostwatch.

Overall I can say it’s entertaining, but twenty four years later it feels very dated. TV shows don’t do call-in segments anymore, for example; instead they read responses on social media. But the biggest problem isn’t the format, it’s the storytelling. The haunting theory presented toward the end casts the ghostly villain as two lazy stereotypes; mentally ill and transgender.

I don’t mean to say that a mentally ill transgendered person returning as a ghost couldn’t be compelling, but Ghostwatch doesn’t make a case for this. Instead these attributes only serve to advance the story while neglecting any potential motivations behind the ghost’s actions.

The horror aspect also deserves some critique, as the host segments tend to deflate the sense of dread building up in the on-scene segments. For the most part the tension built up inside the haunted house dissipates once the show returns to the comfort and safety of a TV set.

 

 

There are two paths Ghostwatch could have gone that would have made it a more timeless classic. One, it could have played its cards closer and have never tried to explain away the details of the haunted house. Two, it could have gone the opposite route and explored the alleged ghost in more depth.

That said, I could easily imagine the show doing well in the US market in the early 90′s when similar “truth seeker” reality shows were popping up on Fox, cable TV, etc. But stripped of its cultural context, the show seems more enjoyable for its curious novelty factor than its ability to scare.

 
Verdict: B-/C+

Good for: People curious about unusual television history, those looking for a mildly scary 90 minutes of television.

Not good for: Those bored by typical horror tropes, anyone seeking modern horror.

The John Barrowman Theory

February 6th, 2015

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Image credit: Phoenix Comicon
 

What if the television shows Doctor Who, Desperate Housewives, and Arrow are all part of the same universe? Crazy, you say? Well sure. But let me explain The John Barrowman Theory to you anyway.

After the events in Doctor Who and Torchwood, the enigmatic man who calls himself Captain Jack travels forward in time and discovers Earth is destroyed by an environmental disaster. Rather than work with Torchwood he decides to take matters into his own hands. He travels back in time and assumes the name Patrick Logan to conceal his identity from Torchwood.

As Patrick, he becomes an eco-terrorist to stop the impending doom. To escape his crimes, Patrick fakes his own death in an explosion (an easy feat because he’s immortal) then changes his name to Malcolm Merlyn. In the face of tragedy Malcolm decides to become even more of a badass and trains with Ra’s al Ghul’s assassins. When things take an ugly turn, what does Malcolm do? He fakes his own death again, that’s what.

 
See? There’s a pattern here — morally ambiguous, vengeful, mortality-challenged. Jack, Patrick, and Malcolm could easily be the same character in the same universe. And that’s the John Barrowman Theory.

Mind = blown.

Ugly building in “Silicon Valley” show

April 16th, 2014

Mike Judge’s new show “Silicon Valley” satirizes Bay Area tech culture. From Peter Thiel paying kids not to attend college to unconventional social norms to strange business practices, the show has some pretty easy targets to mock.

One of my favorite aspects of the show is the unusual architecture it highlights on the Peninsula. From the Google-inspired “Hooli” campus to the incubator housed in an Eichler, the Bay Area’s architecture has the same experimental quality as everything else here.

Not all experiments are successful. One particularly notable example of bad Peninsula architecture is highlighted in this scene: (click for larger version)

It’s an unusually ugly building on an unusually ugly stretch of El Camino in Palo Alto. Here’s what it looks like on Google Maps:

According to LoopNet this building was constructed in 1961. One can only imagine that drugs were a factor in the decision to attach those garish metal panels to the upper floor of what would otherwise be a tolerably bland building.

But it may not have long for this world — plans are afoot to replace it with a larger office building (PDF warning.)

Journeyman’s San Fauxisco

September 24th, 2013

Did you ever see the 2007 TV series Journeyman? No? Neither did anyone else. The short-lived series is about a newspaper journalist in San Francisco who accidentally travels through time to hang out with his ex-fiancee.

And if that wasn’t strange enough, this man lives in a bay area mansion on a journalist’s salary.

The show is set in San Francisco, yet filmed mostly in San Fauxisco, a strange and magical land where it’s cheaper to film.

But audiences are stupid and require frequent reminders about a show’s setting. Rather than limit themselves to the 100 seconds of footage actually shot on location, Hollywood prefers cheap set pieces and inexpensive effects.

Here’s two examples from the very first episode. Our time-traveling hero Dan wakes up in Golden Gate Park. Which, of course, has an amazing view of the Golden Gate Bridge:

Later, Dan’s wife Katie walks down a suburban street, which obviously needs a Bart/Muni subway stop:

Click any of the images to enlarge.

The iPhone with the untraceable manufacturer

January 20th, 2013

“The tech inside is military grade, I can’t even trace the manufacturer.”
– Arrow season 1 episode 10

Come on, your average Best Buy employee could “trace the manufacturer” of an iPhone 4. I’m starting to think this town only needs Archer McRockabs because of their incompetent police force.

Arrow hooks you with action and drama, but you’ll stay for the facepalm-worthy moments.

The Treats of San Francisco

June 5th, 2011

The Treats of San Francisco

A Quinn-Martin production!

Wait… what? This is some kind of cheesy Muni ad for buying a Muni Passport and visiting Ghirardelli Square. It has nothing to do with Karl Malden and/or Michael Douglas.

Straight Eye for the Closeted Guy

September 15th, 2010

I want to pitch an idea for a TV show I had*. It’s like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, but in reverse; a group of straight men have to help a gay man stay in the closet.

The straight guys help the closeted guy act straight. He needs help to dress poorly, get his home sufficiently messy, and drink cheap beer. Of course he also has to develop, for example, a pony tail. And he MUST learn to talk about sports, cars, and electronics.

Finally at the end of the episode, his beard arrives and they go on a date. Will she suspect he’s actually a homo in disguise? Oooh, the suspense!

* (Okay, I know I live in a city where everyone says “I don’t own a TV” but somehow is able to post about the latest Mad Men episode on Twitter. So let’s cut the shit and stop pretending for a moment: you watch TV, get over yourself.)