It’s been a while since I’ve done one of my Entertainment Review articles, but seeing as I’ve been playing plenty of games and watching a few different things on TV throughout the month of July, I thought I’d exhume the format.
As you’ll know, most American TV shows run between September and May, with the US market seemingly believing that nobody watches TV during the summer.
However, you will get the occasional programme running almost unopposed around this time, and one such example of that is UnReal, which finished its first season last night.
A drama about the behind the scenes running of a reality TV show called Everlasting (which is basically The Bachelor), UnReal ‘exposes’ the reality format and captures not only how stage-managed everything that goes on in these shows actually is, but also the ruthless and selfish types of people both in front and behind the camera.
Whether I truly enjoyed it is something I’m not all that sure of. Yes, I watched every episode and it kept my attention, but I’m struggling to understand how it can go beyond a single season without retreading over old ground. Now we know that everyone involved is an arsehole and that the show will always be run a certain way, surely any new season would just be a repeat of what we’ve already seen.
What’s also interesting is that there isn’t really a single character in it who is likeable. Everyone is out for themselves and though they try to portray the main character Rachel (Shiri Appleby) as sympathetic, she’s arguably the biggest prick of the lot.
Viewers of Entourage and House of Cards watching this must also come to the conclusion that Constance Zimmer has managed to become typecast as the very niche character of ‘Single Minded Woman In The Media’.
Apart from UnReal, here’s what else I’ve been watching…
Nashville: I took a punt at watching Nashville on Sky On Demand after unsuccessfully trying to be interested in the dull as dishwater Ray Donovan, and I was surprised at just how enjoyable it is. Not only does it
have a wide range of characters who are all written with some amount of depth, but the storylines are also interesting and it’s all supported well by catchy tunes. And I previously didn’t even like Country music. I think the biggest surprise of all is that previously wooden actress Hayden Panettiere – who I thought ruined Heroes by the time I stopped watching – is actually really good in it. I’m currently on Season Two so I don’t know anything about the most recent episodes, but I’m in this for the long haul.
Under The Dome: When I reviewed the first season of Under the Dome, I took the view that it was shit, but I forgave it because it was so unintentionally amusing. When Season Two came out I gave up after about three episodes, but with the news that it’s on its final season this year, I went back and watched the rest of the second one. Wow, was that a mistake. Season Two of Under the Dome is shit, but it’s not unintentionally amusing, it’s just shit. I don’t really know where to begin. Is it the tenuous way a host of new characters managed to come into it despite the confines of the setting? Is it the terrible acting, not least from the girl with The Largest Forehead In The Universe? Is it that the new science teacher character is written so one-dimensionally ‘sciency’ that she doesn’t come across as a genuine human being? Is it that the plot became so garbled and confusing that I honestly have no idea what it’s even about anymore? Is it that they have situations like Julia getting stabbed through the leg one week and only surviving her predicament by literally dying of hypothermia so her blood stopped pumping and then in the next week she’s running around with a bandage over her jeans and not even a hint of a limp? Or is it all of the above? I will finish Under the Dome, but only because I feel I’ve put in too much time for me not to. But it’s really shit, so if you haven’t seen it, don’t bother.
Out of the Unknown: Ok, so I was doing reviews of Out of the Unknown, but I’m throwing in the towel. But for one or two episodes, it was just really boring. I couldn’t face watching another one.
1997 Editions of WWE Raw: I’m a subscriber to the WWE Network, and despite the fact that it must not get as many subscribers as WWE clearly wants it to, I would say it offers fantastic value for money for any wrestling fan. But what it also does is serve as a reminder that in almost all ways, wrestling in 2015 is rubbbish compared to what I personally feel was its heyday, 1997. On the Network at the moment is every single episode of Raw from 1997 (and indeed I think it has everything from 1993 up until 2000) and I have been happily sitting through episode after episode from that year. With the exception of the athleticism of the wrestlers involved, everything about that era – from the recognisability of the wrestlers through to the quality of the storylines – was just so superior to what we’ve got now, it’s quite sad. Most wrestling fans will point to 1998 – the year the Attitude Era came into full swing and when WWE turned the tables on WCW – as the best of times, but not me.
There’s just something – and pardon the pun here – raw about 1997. In March of that year they moved to the new set and thetwo-hour format that the show is most synonymous with, and yet at the same time
it feels a completely different era has been placed in that setting. Everything about the environment will remind fans of Austin vs McMahon, DX vs The Nation, The Undertaker vs Kane and everything else associated with Attitude, but for the most part, 1997 isn’t about that at all. There’s Vince McMahon on commentary, Gorilla Monsoon as the President who is not in the least bit intimidated by Steve Austin (who plays the heel for much of the time and is at his best at this point), voiceovers by Todd Pettengil and appearances by guys who you’d be forgiven for forgetting were still around, like Sid, The Patriot, Barry Horrowitz and The Honky Tonk Man.
The Hart Foundation storyline – and everything that came along with it – remains my absolute favourite wrestling storyline of all time. I said earlier that it felt raw, and this is the best example of it. Bret Hart’s attitude towards the way his character was no longer accepted as the hero in the US was genuine. His dislike for Shawn Michaels (and vice versa) was very real, and the exchanges between the two hit so close to the bone that with hindsight (especially knowing how Hart would be screwed at Montreal and forced out of the company) it makes for compelling viewing. There’s nothing they could do now that could touch this for authenticity.
Like I say, I believe 1997 is wrestling’s heyday. Every episode starts with a reprisal and ends with a cliffhanger, just like a good TV show should. It’ll never get this good again, but at least for $9.99 you can relive it and remember what it was like when wrestling was actually entertaining.
The Last Ship: Another show I’ve attempted to get hooked on is The Last Ship, but it’s failing to keep me interested. It’s just a bit corny and it’s difficult to take lead actors (Eric Dane of Grey’s Anatomy and Adam Baldwin from Chuck) seriously because of their past playing more comedic characters. Also, knowing that it was renewed for a second season which is currently airing just makes me think that the overall plot will just end up being stretched much further than it should.
Meanwhile, I’ve been fairly busy on the gaming front as well. Here are some examples of games I’ve played over the last month.
N++ (PS4): Here’s a game I’ve been waiting to come out for years. The sequel to the Xbox 360 game N+, this was supposed to be released around the same time as the PS4, but the developers just kept holding it back and holding it back, Now this is a top game, and has a single player mode every bit as good and challenging as its predecessor, which came in at #8 in my Top 100 Games Of The Last Generation article series, but I won’t lie; I’m a little disappointed with it. One of the best parts of N+ was the ability to play online Co-Op mode with friends. That’s gone, and it’s a shame. The developers came up with a long-winded explanation for why they didn’t add it in, which seemed reasonable, but considering the game came out two years later than it should have and considering it’s not exactly inexpensive for a PS Store game at £15, I just don’t have much sympathy for them or their ‘woe is us’ excuses. All I know is that if the games developer I work for released a game two years late and with expected features missing, we’d be slaughtered.
Rocket League (PS4): Contrast N++ to Rocket League, which came free with July’s PS Plus membership and has been accepted with open arms around the world. Yes, I totally accept the difference between
one developer getting support from Sony and another having to go it alone, but Rocket League doesn’t come with a sob story attached (N++ literally does have a sob story which you can click on on the main menu). A simple concept of rocket fueled cars playing football, it’s fast, furious, frustrating and fun. And you can play it online with your friends, not just on the PS4 but on the PC too, which is a breakthrough in cross-platform gaming as far as I’m concerned. My only problem with it is that sometimes struggles to cope with my network connection and can be a tad laggy when playing online. Still great though.
Splatoon (Wii U): I love Nintendo, but I’m going to go against the grain here and say I don’t find Splatoon as enjoyable as I think I’m supposed to. I should love it; it’s bright and colourful, it’s a Nintendo game and it gets fantastic reviews from all corners, but there’s just something about it I struggled with. It felt samey and the controls were a bit awkward. Plus, more than the likes of Call of Duty, I felt that the weapons that more experienced players had unlocked made it nigh on impossible to triumph against with the entry-level options. I’ll try to give it another go, but it feels a bit disappointing to me.
Kirby And The Rainbow Paintbrush (Wii U): I was also surprisingly disappointed by this game, but for a different reason. Kirby is challenging and does what it’s supposed to well enough. It’s never going to be as good as a Mario game but it provides you with a few hours of solid platforming fun. The thing is though it has a huge design flaw; while it looks fantastic, you get no chance to actually enjoy how it looks because the need to use the touch screen on the Wii U Gamepad the entire time. This means that you don’t get a chance to lift your head up to actually see the beautiful graphics on your expensive 55″ TV screen. Madness.
The Secret of Monkey Island 2 – LeChuck’s Revenge (Xbox 360): First released in the late 80s/early 90s heyday of LucasArts adventure games, Monkey Island 2 is regarded by many as one of the all time great games. I take issue with this. It’s amusing and it has been lovingly remastered to look swish on the 360, but I just don’t see the point in a game that you can’t complete without reading a walkthrough. Now you might come to me and say “Stuart, maybe you’re just not clever enough to work out some of the puzzles” but I’d argue that point. Maybe I’m not, but maybe it’s that these games were designed with the post-purchase money-spinner of getting players to phone up hotlines or buy guidebooks to get help finding solutions to these puzzles? Maybe also people had a greater tolerance to devoting time to thinking about all the possible tenuous ways to complete some of the more obscure brain teasers? But put it this way; there’s a puzzle where to get money you have to get a job. To get the job you have to get the cook in the pub sacked. How do you do this? You’ve got to pick up a rat. How do you pick up a rat? You have to pick up a cheese puff, a piece of string and stick and add them all together to create a trap with a cardboard box that’s sitting in a corner in the same screen as the rat. Without any hints, how is anyone supposed to conclude that’s what you have to do to move on? People who have too much time to think most likely.
Professor Leyton and The Miracle Mask (3DS): Speaking of puzzles, the Leyton games are famous for their brain teasers that require actual thought and cognitive reasoning. And that’s fantastic. The Leyton games however are also famous for being absolutely bogged down in layer upon layer of uninteresting storylines that you have to sit through before getting to the next puzzle. I suppose without the storyline the game would feel utterly bare-bones, but for me the puzzles are the only interesting part, so it made it a real struggle to get through it.
TwoDots (Android): My current go-to game for a quick fix is TwoDots, a sort of Bust-a-Move/Zookeeper/Candy Crush affair available on mobile platforms. It’s good, but success is entirely random. Sometimes the way the dots fall (you have to link up the same colours to clear them) means there’s just no way you can complete a level in the required moves while other times it just falls into place easily. After a while you realise there’s no skill involved. I’m guessing this is a deliberate ploy to sell in-app purchases like extra lives and weapons. You can do well without them of course, but you just need that little bit of patience. It’s free and it’s fun, but my advice is to keep calm and avoid paying out for these extras.
Assuming I remember, I’ll be back with more next month!
Calls to Action
b) Read about my books – focussing on reviews of Doctor Who from the very beginning – here
c) If you appreciate my sense of humour, go ‘Stuart’s Exciting Anecdote of the Day’