Stuart’s Week In Entertainment – Christmas 2012 (or ‘Why Outnumbered Needs To Stop’)

December 28, 2012

I’ve not been particularly enamoured by the Christmas television schedule this year.

In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s been terrible.

Yes, of course there’s Doctor Who (and while I’ll end up reviewing the story in greater detail when I get to it in my run, I’ll be brief and say that I enjoyed it, but felt that the story of the Snowmen themselves were pretty irrelevant to the plot, which was basically a way of setting up the new season), but in terms of Christmas Day that was the only new piece of television I watched.

I don’t watch the soaps so have no interest in them, Dancing on Ice means nothing to me and by the time it got to the likes of the Royle Family, spending time with my family seemed a better prospect.

BBC2 meanwhile was just showing Christmas Specials of old comedies, which is poor, even if those comedies are funny.

Beyond that, the TV schedules seemed to be filled up with films. Channel 5 for example had Gone With The Wind and Ben Hur running from 9am – 5pm.

How poor is that? Maybe in the 70s, 80s and even 90s, the idea of putting films on prime time TV at Christmas might have seemed special, but in the age of cheap DVDs, Movies On-Demand and Online Streaming Rental sites, those days have

Here's the original Outnumbered family, as young as they were intended to be to make it funny

Here’s the original Outnumbered family, as young as they were intended to be to make it funny

long since gone. I can’t imagine anyone who wanted to see Shrek hadn’t seen it many times before.

We ended up watching the 1974 Christmas Special of Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads with our Christmas Dinner this year. For what it’s worth, it was funnier than anything else on TV that day, even if it did end the series on a rather sour note of adultery (watch it to find out what I mean).

And that just sums up how limited the TV was that day.

Not Just Christmas Day

But it’s not just Christmas Day that was bad; either side of the day itself had poor fayre as well.

Take Peepshow for example. Now there’s a show that has run out of steam. There’s an argument that it’s the best British Sitcom of the 21st century, but like many comedy gems before it, it seems to have reached that point where the jokes have worn thin and the writers have simply run out of ways to make things funny.

Channel 4 put on two episodes in two nights, and neither were amusing or related to the time of year. What a disappointment.

It’s a shame, but maybe it should be put to rest, instead focusing on the odd holiday special.

One show that definitely needs to be put to bed for good is Outnumbered.

The first two seasons were a revelation. The idea of having two young kids performing without a script and acting as natural as real life children (as opposed to the sickly TV Children you usually get) was brilliant. While the scripts themselves weren’t particularly funny or interesting (it was basically just a show about the average family where the kids are a handful) the comedy was in the improvised performances by those young kids and reactions of the adults to them.

But those children have grown up now, and so the one thing that Outnumbered had going for it is gone.

The middle child – who was never all that funny to begin with – appears to have morphed from a 5 or 6-year-old boy into a horrible giant hoss of a man with a deep voice. Rather than being the sort of ‘Dennis the Menace’ character, he now seems to be more the sort of genuine menace you would cross the street to avoid. And yet he apparently is still 12 years old. Honestly, it made me jump a little when he first appeared

Now look at them. That element of cute has long since left the building, along with any comedy

Now look at them. That element of cute has long since left the building, along with any comedy

Meanwhile the little girl – who at four years old was one of the most entertaining comedy characters on TV – is now an aloof 10-year-old girl who has clearly been sent to a very posh school in real life based on her voice and demeanour.

The problem is that the show is now about the sort of family nobody likes. Does anyone really like other people’s’ bratty children? Is there any comedy in an oldest child who goes out on the piss with his tear-away friends, a middle child who looks like a gorg from Fraggle Rock and an openly rude 10-year-old girl with a chip on her shoulder? Of course not.

Meanwhile, there’s no improvisation anymore, of at least if there is, it’s no longer funny because those kids will be aware of it.

The show had 45 minutes and didn’t manage to make me laugh once. Instead it simply reminded me about how terrible some of my own obnoxious extended family are.

And where’s the comedy in that?

Did I like Anything?

This seems to be one long moan, which is a shame because Christmas TV has a reputation for being special. Maybe that’s just a myth that we all believe in, only to be disappointment come the end of the year.

I’ve still to watch The Girl – a dramatisation based around Alfred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren – and that should be good, but I’m not holding out much hope for anything else. There haven’t even been any good list shows this year.

Looking forward, it seems as though the jewel in the BBC’s crown is Mrs Brown’s Boys, which just stuns me. How that got commissioned is anyone’s guess…apparently the moron element is larger that I thought.

But I don’t want to moan forever, so let me praise some shows I’ve watched this Christmas period, and surprise surprise, they come from the USA.

Going back to last week, the finales of Dexter and Homeland were both very good. Well…Dexter was amazing (and spoiler alert, my prediction for how the season would end was spot on) and Homeland was pretty good. The only thing wrong with Homeland was that it should have ended for good; I can’t imagine the next season being anything more than a chore.

And the best Christmas Special of the year? Believe it or not it goes to Happy Endings, which put out a genuinely laugh-out-loud funny, Christmas themed episode.

And that’s more than can be said for any of the comedies on this side of the pond.

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Video Games: Denki Word Quest Review (or ‘A Simple, Cheap & Addictive Game But Lacking Difficulty’)

December 15, 2012

I’m a fan of word games, whether it be Scrabble, Boggle or the recently reviewed Quarrel

So I was pleased to see that the makers of Quarrel – Denki Games – have released a new word game for your web browser called Denki Word Quest.

What Is It?

It’s Quarrel meets Zelda, as you travel through the land of Wordania, defeating Skeletons, Spiders, Cats and Bosses in a quest to rescue as much treasure and as many Princesses as you can.

Instead of landing damage in the traditional RPG sense – i.e. by using your turn to attack an enemy with a sword or magic – you must come up with as high scoring as word as you can with the six letters provided.

As you can see, the graphics are nice and colourful.

As you can see, the graphics are nice and colourful.

So for example, if your opponent has a life meter of 10, you’ve got to make a word worth at least 10 points. If you fail, it gets a turn to try to knock as many of your points off as possible.

Initially, you only have the ability to make words of 3 letters, but as you get more points, you can unlock the ability to make words of larger size, the maximum being 6 letters.

There are also other unlockables like the ability to give you more time to create a word (because you are battling against the clock), the perk of having the AI’s words scoring fewer points off your total and also increasing the chance of the AI ‘missing’ (i.e. coming up with an incorrect word).

There aren’t really any controls to speak of, as you keep moving along after you defeat each enemy. All you have to do is make the words.

Thoughts

I bought this yesterday and I’ve already finished it, but while you might think that’s a bad thing, I don’t.

For the three or four hours it took to get through the entire game, I was hooked, and with a price tag of £2.59, I see that as value for money. Put it this way; you wouldn’t have any problem paying that out for 10 seconds on a fruit machine, would you?

It’s a fun and addictive game with plenty of levels that tests your ability to make words from the letters provided.

As the quality of your opposition increases, you have to come up with better words to ensure you get through that level.

It also looks nice – with graphics and music playing homage to the Zelda series.

This is me away to take on the final boss. As you can see, there are plenty of levels to work through

This is me away to take on the final boss. As you can see, there are plenty of levels to work through

And if also has some nice humour in the way it describes how you defeat the enemy; it raised a chuckle to see the line “You dobbered the scary cat”.

But if I was going to criticise it, I would say that the same word options came up too many times. I lost count of the amount of times the anagram ‘Japers’ came up for an easy score.

It’s also not particularly difficult. I think I only had to replay one single level two or three times to defeat a boss. Other than that I had no troubles…but then I’m quite good with words.

I read Eurogamer describe it as a bit more simplistic compared to Quarrel, and that’s true, but we can forgive it that.

Final Thoughts

Denki Word Quest is a pleasant little game; a time waster, a quick gaming release at your PC.

It’s simple, it’s cheap and it’s addictive.

It’s not a long-term investment of course, nor does it have the depth of most games, but at £2.59, who cares?

You can try Denki Word Quest for free here and if you enjoy it, you have the option of playing on beyond the second level.


Video Games: The Walking Dead Review (or ‘More Of An Interactive Story Than A Game’)

December 14, 2012

Seeing as I started watching The Walking Dead TV show, I thought I’d give the game a shot.

What’s It About?

From Telltale games – the makers of titles like Back to the Future and Sam & Max – it’s an episodic game based on the Walking Dead franchise, but crucially, separate from the characters of the TV show and comic.

You control Lee Everett, a man being driven to prison on murder charges when the Zombie breakout occurs.

Over the course of five episodes, Lee must guide a group of survivors – including a young girl who has lost her parents that he’s looking after – to some form of safety.

Thoughts – More of An Interactive Story Than A Game

The thing about the Walking Dead is that it’s more of an interactive story than a game. While you control Lee and have plenty of options in the conversations you have with the people around you, it ultimately doesn’t make too much difference to the story.

No matter what you do, and no matter who you take along for the ride based upon your choices, the end result is essentially the same.

On a similar note, the game itself is not particularly challenging. It’s not the sort of game that requires skill; instead it’s more that you’re guiding Lee through a determined narrative.

But then that’s not a bad thing; it’s just that it’s different.

Proper story-telling is not something that games do well, and as you progress through the game you get into the story in the same way as you would a TV show or a film. You get attached to some of the characters and feel a certain level of disappointment when one of them dies; certainly more than you’d get if Mario fell off a cliff and you had to go back to the start of the level.

I’ve read some softies say they cried at certain points in the game – especially towards the end of the final episode – but I wouldn’t go that far.

Each to their own though.

Controls and Feel

As a game, it’s easy enough to play. You walk around with the left stick and you perform tasks and options with the A, B, X and Y buttons.

Simple.

It looks good too, with a nice form of cel-shaded animation used to give it a stand-out appearance.the-walking-dead-screenshot-2

And similarly, the voice artistry is also of a high standard.

The only issue with the gameplay I would say is that from time to time it’s difficult to get Lee to move in the direction you want him to go in.

Plot Issues & Spoilers

While the plot of this game is engrossing and easy to follow, I would say that the issue I raised earlier is pretty crucial to my enjoyment of the whole thing.

If the choices I make as Lee don’t really make any difference, what’s the point?

Here’s some examples for you…

  • In the first episode you have to choose between two characters to save. Which one you choose to save should make a difference to the overall storyline, but it doesn’t. No matter who you save, they still end up with the fate at the same point in the storyline.
  • In another episode you have to choose between leaving someone behind or taking them with you in a truck. If you leave them behind, that’s it, but if you take them with you, they just leave you when you reach your destination anyway, so it didn’t make the slightest bit of difference to the plot.

Compare that with some of the games with flexible storylines like Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain – both of which have come under criticism for not being flexible enough – and they don’t really compare.

The only differences your choices actually make are in terms of how the other characters feel about you personally and what sort of mood they are in with you.

Also, you are given a comparison chart at the end of each episode that tells you how many other players made the same choices you did.

That’s not really enough for me, and though I enjoyed it, I felt as though I was going through the motions as things developed.

As for spoilers? Well I played this game just after I started watching the TV series, and I was a bit dismayed to find that a throwaway line in Episode 2 is the basis for the season ending cliffhanger to the second season of the TV series.

That’s not so much a problem with the game, but if you want to enjoy the TV series more, play this after you’ve at least watches the first two seasons of it.

One spoiler issue that is a problem with the game though is the image shown as the ‘cover’ for the final episode, which basically gives away the ending. I thought that was a serious let-down and ruined the story as whole. It’d be like the trailer for a film giving away the big twist at the end.

Should You Buy The Walking Dead?

Well I did enjoy it, but it has absolutely no replay value.

Overall, it’s going to cost you around £20 for all five episodes, which isn’t too bad, but don’t bother with it if you are expecting a game in the traditional sense.

However, if you’re a fan of the Walking Dead or just want a decent story in a game, it is worth your while.


Still More Things That Annoy Me In TV & Film (Part 6)

December 5, 2012

A few times now I’ve noticed stuff that I should be including in these lists, but I’m not in a position to write them down and so just forget about them.

It’s particularly annoying because I thought of one last night that was an absolute doozy, but I’m damned if I can remember what it is right now.

Ah well, on with what is – unless I think of more in the future – the final selection of Things That Annoy Me In TV & Film…

The Way People Talk While Driving

I don’t know about you, but I consider myself a safe driver, and part of the reason for that is that I look at the road when I’m behind the wheel. That tends to be a fundamental aspect of driving without incident.

And yet you watch any TV show that involves a conversation taking place in a car, and you’ll see that whoever is behind the wheel will happily sit there with their head turned to look at the person in the

There's Rick Grimes, happily driving along without paying attention to the road

There’s Rick Grimes, happily driving along without paying attention to the road

passenger seat for period of 10-20 seconds at a time.

Just try that and see how quickly you get into a car accident in real life.

Swimming In Your Clothes And/Or Not Drying Off Afterwards

Here’s another one.

How often in reality do people decide to go swimming in their own clothes at the drop of a hat (sometimes literally)?

You see it all the time. They either go into a pool/the sea fully clothed or with their underwear still on, and then in the next scene they are perfectly dry again.

Meanwhile over on Homeland, here's Brody going for a swim in his underwear...

Meanwhile over on Homeland, here’s Brody going for a swim in his underwear…

Sure, this mostly happens in America, but America isn’t that hot

In reality they’d either be done for the day because they are soaked through, or would be walking funny thanks to soaking wet underwear.

“That’s What I’ve Been Trying To Tell You”

So you’ve got Earth-shattering news to break. You’ve realised the solution to a major problem or you need to explain that you are aware of imminent danger.

Do you…

  1.  Demand the attention of the relevant people and explain what you need to say in as direct a manner as possible?
  2. Wait patiently until the person you want to speak to finishes their trivial conversation, possibly allowing them to go off in another direction completely?
  3. Allow the person you want to speak to to keep cutting you off rudely despite danger being imminent, and stand around twiddling your thumbs, happy in the knowledge that your chances of escaping almost certain death are increasing?

If you are normal, the answer is number 1. If you are a TV character, it’s 2 or 3.

For crying out loud, if it’s that important, say it.

For Christ’s Sake, Move!!!

If someone is pointing a gun or any other sort of weapon at you, you would either defend yourself or run for cover. Right?

And yet in the next scene by the pool he's bone dry and not in any way walking funny because of wet pants.

And yet in the next scene by the pool he’s bone dry and not in any way walking funny because of wet pants.

Not on TV or Film.

In this medium, unimportant characters are happy to stand still and wait patiently for death. Yes, they’ll sometimes say “No…don’t do that. Aaaaaaaaaargh” before dying, but most of the time they are happy to quietly accept their fate.

The Discovery of Evil

When an evil character – say a murderer – is found out in a Movie or TV show, the person who makes the discovery is always totally unable to hide their feelings from that person. They make it very obvious that they know the truth.

Now I’ve never accidentally stumbled across a murderer before, but if I did find out they’d done something wrong, I’d do my level best to act as normally as possible around them before getting out of dodge and informing the authorities.

But that’s ok, because what happens most of the time in shows is either

  1. The evil person is either in the next room and is about to try to kill that person anyway, purely by coincidence
  2. The evil person is on his or her way to kill a different character

And with option 2, it seems like the protagonist character doesn’t bother to do what most of us would do – phone the potential victim up to warn them.

No, they’d sooner jump in a car and make the long drive over to that person’s house to warn them that way.

That type of storytelling could have worked before mobile phones became a part of every day life now, but it doesn’t ring true (pardon the pun) nowadays.

To get round this, most writers decide to have the character not have their mobile phone on or anywhere near them. Because of course, if you’re sitting alone in your house watching TV you don’t have your mobile anywhere near you, do you.

If someone somehow manages to find out that another character is evil – say that they are a murderer or something like that – why is it they are unable to act normally around that person?

How convenient.