Dumbing down?

What kind of a start, I mean, ‘Christmas’ episode, of Doctor Who was that? Apart from the possibly meaningful release of lots of new Daleks, it was mostly mush.

I’m all for feelings, but then I want to feel those feelings; not having them spoken about as though we need stuff explaining to us. It was all touchy feely, with few resolutions.

Captain Jack eyed up several of the Doctor’s fellow travellers. Why? And what was he doing there? His brief stint a year ago was OK. A bit fun. But this felt pointless, and I say this as a fan of the good Captain.

So we’re losing two companions. I’m not impressed by the advertised replacement, but as Daughter said, we’ve generally liked them once they get started. Let’s live in hope.

But it felt vague and bland. The bright spot, surprisingly enough, was Chris Noth. I almost felt as if I was meeting a much missed old friend. Let’s have him back. He was camper than Captain Jack.

And what’s with this season’s Christmas University Challenge? Those were no celebrities or famous people. Mostly. They were people doing jobs after having been to university. Mostly. Despite the questions feeling somewhat dumbed down, I was intrigued by what these people don’t know.

Geography is one subject they didn’t pay attention in. But let’s go for Svalbard at all times. Has to be right at least once. And and, I’m so old! I must be. There are things one knows through having lived through a period when those things happened. The man who graduated in 1967 turned out to be valuable. As did anyone with a useful hobby. Like an interest in football.

I did find I could cheer the Courtauld Institute team, though, and we loved Kate Fox from Loughborough. Hers was not just a funny face, but there was knowledge behind it.

And I have to say we did not dumb down at all, having our nut turkey and brussels sprouts accompanied by the Downton Abbey film. Good food and good trustworthy entertainment with the right amount of tears, even on a second viewing. And the dowager duchess will lick the stamps herself!

When your nose fails

Many years ago I was having my photo taken. It was either the individual school photo or a passport photo, by an unknown photographer. That’s why I felt I wouldn’t make a fuss and delay things, when I could feel my glasses sliding down my inadequate nose. But he stopped and said, you will look better if you push your glasses up. So I did.

It taught me something. This is why I wish whoever is in charge of filming Bull would tell Geneva Carr to get a better face mask, or better still, get her a better mask. Or at the very least, have her pull it up, when it slides down as she speaks her lines. The others all seem to have functioning face coverings.

But having said that, Bull is still doing well. Four episodes before Christmas, and all featuring masks in a mostly realistic way.

I understand from my in-house viewer that NCIS: New Orleans have used face masks from the beginning of the new season too.

So why not NCIS? How long can they go on pretending they are flashing back to 2019? Even if they do it for a full season, however long or short that may end up being, they will at some point have to face a future after mask-wearing, if there is such a thing. It’s not going to be just a short, embarrassing interlude, which can be ignored forever after. Besides, hairstyles have changed. You shouldn’t keep having the actor in late 2020 pretend they are still in the previous year.

Speaking of noses, while it is charming to have Sean Harmon pretend to be his dad, they just don’t have the same noses. Gibbs the older would probably carry a face mask better than Gibbs the younger.

I’m not saying the three episodes we’ve seen so far have been bad. Just that real life implications grate a bit when the pretending is carried too far.

Wishing you a

Happy Christmas, and a New Year!

Lucia’s name is Lina

Back in 1991 I didn’t know I’d need it so much. After all, I’d been away from Sweden at Christmas, and Lucia, for years. And my nearest Swedish church was a seamen’s church, and what do those burly sailors know about beautiful singing in long white gowns? Well, we went anyway, and as the singing carried up the stairs in the church in Liverpool, it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It was so beautiful. And they weren’t sailors at all, of course. They were the children of Swedes in exile plus some students.

It was the same feeling I got yesterday as we sat around enjoying our morning coffee at CultureWitch Towers. Singing, coming from outside, possibly up the stairs. I don’t know. I’ve not been to the church in London. In a year when so much has had to be given up, here we were, with a real Lucia, filmed in an empty church, with all the necessary physical distancing in place. It was beautiful.

Lucia and her ten attendants sang most of the most beautiful, traditional songs, with only one unknown medley. For Oh, Holy Night they were joined by the church’s youth leader, who has a very good voice on him. There was a short greeting from the Ambassador and a blessing from the minister. And that was it. Short and sweet.

On a personal note, I was relieved to see that even this Lucia had a slightly lopsided crown of candles. I thought it was just Daughter, 15 years ago. But they are heavy things, those crowns. With live candles. The Resident IT Consultant asked where the people with the wet towels and the buckets of water were, and we decided they presumably hid behind the camera. He was on bucket guard more than once in the seamen’s church.

Later in the evening I watched Swedish television’s Lucia offering, filmed in Jukkasjärvi. It was beautiful too, in a different way. Very cold, judging by the breaths coming from Lucia and her many attendants. They were out of doors in the darkness of morning. There were reindeer. Behind the cellist sitting in the woods.

I had to look the place up. You can tell from the name that it’s in the far north, but how far? More or less next to Kiruna. Very beautiful, and very dark. And those teenagers sang so beautifully. They looked less slim than you’d expect, until you realise that they were wearing thick white coats, and mittens.

Both these Lucia events were wonderful. For the exile in me, the London one was better. I crave recognition, by which I mean I need to hear the same old songs again. The Jukkasjärvi selection consisted of mostly new [to me] songs.

Both the Lucias were called Lina.

And the cellist, with the reindeer behind him, looked very much like he was straight out of a Danish crime series. But with colder fingers.

Bull is back

You need to grasp the bull by the horns – please excuse the unintentional pun – if you’re going to deal with Covid successfully. You can’t imagine it away. We’ve had a longer than usual time waiting for our favourite television shows to return. First because their last season was cut short, and then because they of necessity had to have a late start; working out what to do, and how to do it.

Bull looks as if it’s got it right. You could see how Bull’s thoughts whirred as he worried about whether he’d have a company to continue his work. How to pay his staff, and how to have trials and for him to perform his magic in them.

And as Jason Bull thinks about his future, you see Michael Weatherly thinking the same thoughts. Or so I believe. Bull is his baby, and after four years seemed to be growing up and doing fine. But can he go on being Bull on the screen? Is it going to be possible?

Well, I don’t know, obviously. But we meet the actors/Bull’s employees as they do nothing all spring/summer/autumn. And they wear masks, just like the rest of us. They don’t know. Neither the actors nor the characters know how this will pan out. Just like the rest of us.

So I liked the realism of the masked people not knowing what to expect from life from now on. And I liked what they did with the first two episodes of Bull, season five. Filming will take longer, there will be more gaps and I assume the whole of season five will be rather short.

But thank you for trying and for making a good job of this uncertainty. We’ll be here waiting for your episodes when they are done. (But please no more John Fogerty/Michael Weatherly soundtracks.)

Happy 60th (x2)

I couldn’t help noticing that it is Colin Firth’s 60th birthday today. Have a happy one!

And as I did so, Hugh Grant appeared as well, having celebrated his 60th yesterday. Belated happy 60th to you too!

Don’t know whether I’m surprised they are so old, or so relatively young. It’ll be one of those. Darcy and the PM. How I wish he was. Hugh as PM, I mean. I probably prefer Colin in Mamma Mia as the ‘spontaneous one.’

At least they grow older with me, and if I play it right, maybe one day they will be older than I am?

The bank manager was back

I hope his nose grows. It was either that, or a different pair of glasses, as the man himself said, halfway through the concert. That’s Andy Fairweather Low, and one of my first thoughts during his live online gig tonight was that he needed to see his optician.

He’s very self-deprecating, isn’t he? I ask because I’m still almost a complete novice, but I really enjoyed this. Short, at just over an hour, but they had worked hard at deciding which half of their most popular repertoire they’d play. Some was new, some I knew.

And I do hope that they could hear us applauding all across the globe? That’s what goes missing when the only people in the room are themselves and – by the sound of it – friends and family? Or just crew, maybe.

I was struck by the enormity of it all; the reason a group like this needs to play live via YouTube, and the fact that they can, that it is possible to organise a concert and that anyone, anywhere can buy a ticket and tune in. My own armchair is more comfortable, even with the laptop balancing on a swivelling office chair, and the queue for the toilet was non-existent. But it’s not the same as live, as in the same room.

It will have to do, though. Seems the band had not seen each other for a long time, and their next date is April 2021.

Twelve long years

I’m not generally a binger. But this past year I have binged a lot more – mainly on television shows of long duration – for various reasons. And for those reasons I haven’t managed to find the time, or perhaps more truthfully, the happy inclination, to bore you all with what I binge-watched.

Began with Downton Abbey, starting in the middle, where my co-binger happened to be. It was the episode with the pigs. Then I accidentally found myself moved on to Call the Midwife, where I was under the impression – very erroneous it turned out to be – I was only signing up for episode one. I left at some point in season three, but could be in favour of returning to it one day.

After that my recent and very sporadic watching of Gilmore Girls was reorganised into full blown proper bingeing, and it was quite enjoyable. It still is, because we’re not done yet, as the intensity of viewing has slowed down considerably, along with everything else, during lockdown.

Both these shows proved useful when I was presented with the film Spy, for the second time, and while I hadn’t exactly forgotten what happened, I was amused to discover that two of the main characters were from Call the Midwife, and Gilmore Girls respectively.

There’s so much I didn’t know.

We started the re-education of the Resident IT Consultant and myself by embarking on all the Star Wars films and all the Marvel films, some of which we’d seen over the years, but never quite ‘got’. We’ve been an embarrassment to Daughter, and I’m afraid that old age hasn’t improved us all that much. Still have more films to enjoy, especially Marvel ones, as I have discovered there are more than twenty films! (Between you and me, though, isn’t there a curious likeness between Thor and Star Wars?)

And The Mandalorian; wasn’t it just lovely? Baby Yoda, yes. But also the calm generated by a different kind of hero.

Three Ironman films is almost two too many. We also saw Big Hero 6, which bore some resemblance to Ironman, and not just because they both wear red. On the whole I found Baymax the better of the courageous, flying heroes. To prove we’ve really gone down the quality film route we watched Sister Act as a birthday treat for me, followed soon after by Argo, which might well have been my first Ben Affleck film (I didn’t even know it was him…).

Daughter did not take well to Life on Mars when we tried that, so it remains something for us oldies to watch on our own. It brings back that lovely brown-coloured glow. And it was filmed in Stockport, which has some bearing on things. Plus there was a brief glimpse of Roger Whittaker, as opposed to Marc Bolan.

And we finally got started with the fourth season of The Good Fight. Looks promising, but I can’t say more since Daughter needs no spoilers as she fails to catch up.

We took some time getting to the end of Bull, and when we did, were startled to find ourselves in a New York in mortal danger of a virus, but not that virus. It was downright eerie and weird, because they will have to revisit that idea if/when they get to season five.

It’s the 2nd of September, which we used to mark as both Culture’s birthday  -twelve today – and the birthdays of the Grandmother and the Gibbs, aka Mark Harmon. He is now 69, which is pretty old for a federal agent, methinks. The same age as the Grandmother was when NCIS began…

We are sort of looking forward to a possible start of season 18 of NCIS. We almost believe it will happen. If they can work out how to deal with the last four episodes that didn’t get made in the spring, and how on earth to work in the bloody virus? But where there’s a will…

The reason we would quite like to see them back, is that season 17 was generally a big improvement on the train crash that was season 16, and to some extent 15. Although those scriptwriters in California should get their atlases out every now and then. For McGee to get from work to Johns Hopkins he could drive. Or get a taxi. Sending him to the airport with a suitcase is overkill.

But more of the stuff with Palmer, please.

Jaja ding dong

It’s when you discover that the other two watching the film Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga with you are elf deniers, that you realise you didn’t know them. And whatever they say after to rectify their status is just too late.

Clearly the elves were not only real, but their presence in the film meant they had something to add to the plot other than for people to scoff. How could Iceland win Eurovision without them? (Maybe even with them would be too impossible, but you never know.)

Anyway. As so many have said online, it was a nice film. Really funny, true to the spirit of Eurovision, offering good Icelandic scenery and using the handful of actors who appear in everything made in or for Iceland. Lots of Eurovisiony songs, mostly enjoyable, and none too awful (unlike in real life).

It is the story of the once young Lars Erickssong and his possibly sister, possibly not, Sigrit Ericksdottir, who have always wanted to sing for Iceland [and win]. While it was a bit painful to hear the younger father of Lars, played by Pierce Brosnan, speak Icelandic, it got a lot better once they all spoke in accented English, as though most of the actors weren’t already native English speakers.

A bit gruesome at one point, it is mostly very funny. Lars and Sigrit obviously make it to Eurovision in Edinburgh, mostly filmed in Glasgow, except for the improbable car race near Edinburgh Castle. Because it’s how we drive here.

Dan Stevens is excellent as the rich Russian, and the cameos of ‘real’ Eurovision singers such as Conchita Wurst and Netta Barzilai and Alexander Rybak make for a fun moment.

And I have always known Mikael Persbrandt to be a bad one.

I’d quite like an album of the songs, but if I can only have one, it would have to be Jaja ding dong, which is the favourite of the locals in their home pub. Very more-ish that is. You can play it over and over again.

Staged

Thank god for some good quality, brand new entertainment!

We’ve not been up to watching just anything, and Disney & Co will only take you so far.

But Staged on BBC One was like discovering diamonds when all you were looking for was limp, used, teabags. We were feeling grotty, but trying to make the best of things with Indian food delivered to the doorstep, when our smiles grew wider and wider as we watched David Tennant and Michael Sheen quarrelling in their respective locked-down homes.

It’s a rare thing when both the audience and the performers are in the same – albeit different – boat. They got to see how the other actors lived, and we got to see how they live, and we – almost – met Michael’s neighbour, and we wouldn’t dream of trying to hide our empty wine bottles. Not that we have any, of course.

David and Michael, ably assisted, or not, by their director and their finance woman, their respective spouses, and sister, and three heavy-weight actors in some great cameo roles. I can just about see myself writing a drama and casting Judi Dench. Although I realise she’d have to turn me down.

All three of us would have said we’d want to watch it very soon again, were it not for the fact that the Resident IT Consultant never says stuff like that, so it was just Daughter and me. But we will. It was like medicine. For the virus.

And their hair grew as we watched. Or so it seemed.