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Old 12-16-2020, 01:10 PM   #581 (permalink)
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Episode title: “The Most Adequate Christmas Ever”
Series: American Dad
Season: Four
Written by: Jim Bernstein
First transmitted: December 16 2007

Back to American Dad we go, after a pretty poor attempt by MacFarlane’s other franchise to present their take on the holiday season. One thing you can say about this show, whether you like it or not (I did, for a time) is that they know how to do Christmas specials, and they usually pull out all the stops. Given that this is almost the same length of time into the series that the previous one was (six years later, yes) it’s a vast improvement on Family Guy.

Stan comes home on Christmas Eve and promptly denigrates and insults the family’s efforts at decorating. He leads them into the woods to cut down a new Christmas tree, unhappy with the one they have, but is so picky that none of the ones they suggest will do. Eventually they become so fed up with him that they leave him to it. He finds the perfect Christmas tree, all right, but when he cuts it down it falls on him and kills him.

He wakes up in Limbo, where he demands a second chance, and so must go to court to prove he deserves one. Here, he is given a lawyer, unfortunately the worst in the business; Michelle is known for having lost her first ten cases by agreeing with the prosecution! She has not yet earned her wings, and Stan’s case seems hopeless as evidence is submitted by the opposing attorney demonstrating his callousness, selfishness and sense of always being right and never listening to anyone. Michelle tries to use one example of Stan’s supposed selflessness, but it turns out to have been a dream. He is now boned, and Michelle tells him he can at least console himself with the thought that his family will soon be joining him, as he left them to die in the snow, taking the keys of the car when he left in search of the perfect Christmas tree.

Unable to secure a second chance, Stan falls back on old habits and pulls a gun on the judge. When His Honour laughs and says mortal guns don’t work here, he takes one from a guard. Now he has a Heaven gun (seriously, says someone in the crowd, why do we have these things?) and forces his way out of the court, taking Michelle hostage, demanding to be taken to Heaven to see God personally. Gatecrashing Jesus’s party, they split up and Stan goes looking for God. Stan finds God (sorry, couldn't resist!) but he is not in the mood, and when Stan threatens him with the gun he tells him to get a grip. When Stan puts down the gun and walks away, God tells him that was all he wanted, for Stan to admit to himself that he couldn’t control everything all the time and didn’t always know everything. He returns Stan to his family, also granting Michelle her wings. Home again, Stan praises the efforts of his family on their Christmas decorations, while Roger points out there is a hooker with wings outside the window watching them.


Notes

How is it that neither Hayley, whom we know has kept some dubious company in her time, nor Roger can just hot-wire the car? I mean, if they’re all freezing to death… though Roger doesn’t seem to be bothered by the cold, and he’s about as selfish as Stan is. Still, does he want to be left out here alone? And doesn’t he have a thing for Steve? At worst, he should want to save him. I will admit that when Seth or his people try, they can do two things really well - mythology and science fiction. Roger’s planet, when we see it later, is very well thought out, and here we have chariots which, when the whip is cracked, bring into being an invisible Pegasus to pull them. We also have a huge Griffin (ha ha very clever) to take people to Heaven, and archangels who fly with burning swords. It’s very impressive. I also like when Stan gets to God’s office, he approaches the Almighty’s desk and trips over something. Darkness falls. God drawls “Stan, you unplugged the sun.”

Considering how they seem to hate being compared to The Simpsons - and with, at this point, almost twenty years on them by their rival - it’s perhaps odd that Stan emulates Homer in their first Christmas episode, detailed in the first post, when he goes looking for a Christmas tree. Like the tight-fisted patriarch of the Simpsons family, Stan goes into the woods and tries to chop down a tree. However his story differs in that he does this in the full knowledge - and presence - of his family, whereas Homer went off alone to accomplish this deed in secret, probably embarrassed that he couldn’t afford a real one. Stan could surely afford one, but for whatever reason decides to cut down his own - probably against state laws, but who knows - and in so doing secures his own demise. Perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned there? Or, as David Bowie said as Pilate in the movie The Last Temptation of Christ, no, probably not.

It’s a good tale, a metaphor for a man who has to control every aspect of not only his, but his family’s life, and who always thinks he knows best. There are elements of It’s a Wonderful Life in it of course, and it’s hardly an original idea, but to be fair it’s very well executed, and the outcome is handled decently. It’s also a cute touch to note that the character of God does indeed look like a grown-up form of his son. Perhaps letting the episode down though, it concentrates almost entirely on Stan, there being no role for anyone else once he dies, meaning we see the family for about the first two or three minutes, and then again at the end, and that’s it. So if you don’t like Stan, or you’re a fan of Roger, you’re out of luck in this episode. They do make the most of their reduced screentime though, Francine as usual laying down the law, Steve getting his pee frozen, while Hayley, well, she just basically stands around. Roger has a few okay lines but mostly is very much underused. Again, we end on the standard American Dad theme, no festive version, and, unlike the previous Family Guy episode, no Christmas wishes from the characters.
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Old 12-17-2020, 09:48 AM   #582 (permalink)
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Episode title: Miracle on Evergreen Terrace
Series: The Simpsons
Season: Nine
Written by: Ron Hauge
First transmitted: December 21 1997

Marge is determined that the family will celebrate Christmas properly this year, and so she lays down an edict that nobody is to open any Christmas presents until 7:00 AM on Christmas morning. To ensure this instruction is adhered to, she takes possession of all alarm clocks, but Bart has an idea. He drinks twelve glasses of water, so that his insistent bladder will wake him up nice and early. It works, but while he’s playing with a fire truck he accidentally sets the Christmas tree on fire, and it melts, taking all the presents with it. Desperate to hide the evidence before anyone gets up, Bart drags the melted mass out into the garden and covers it with snow, then pretends their house has been robbed. When they’re all despondent Bart tries to divert attention from the loss of presents by suggesting they remember the true meaning of Christmas, that it’s not all about gifts. Lisa and Marge agree - though Homer is still miserable - and they decide to walk over to the nursing home and cheer up the old folks.

This does not go to plan, however: the drug man has been and the old folks, including Grampa, are all high as kites and therefore very cheerful. While Homer ends up at Moe’s, drowning his sorrows, he sees a report by Kent Brockman on the TV, which features his family, and when he gets home he finds that all of Springfield have come together to help his family. Mr. Burns is looking for change for a button, but it’s the thought that counts. Wait a minute: no it isn’t. Anyway, Bart is particularly distressed when two orphans give him the dollar they had been saving, and eventually he can’t stand the pressure of the guilt any more and comes clean to the family. Just as he does, Brockman arrives to do a follow-up story. While the family tries to keep their secret, Santa’s Little Helper digs up the buried tree and presents, and the whole deal collapses. Now everyone knows. The Simpsons are pariahs.

Marge has the rather ill-advised idea to win the money to pay everyone back by taking part in Jeopardy but of course loses. On the way back home, they see the crowd again at their house, but nobody seems angry at them any more. Thinking this a Christmas miracle, Marge is soon disabused of this notion when it becomes clear that their friends are taking the Simpsons’ property in payment of the debt, like bailiffs. It will be a rather frugal Christmas for America’s favourite family - not even a TV or a couch to watch it on!

Notes

In essence this isn’t a terrible episode, but given we’re into the ninth season now it’s kind of weak really. It ends poorly, and if you ascribe real-world logic to it (as you can often do, unlike the other two shows) what legal right have the neighbours to take property in payment of what was, after all, unsolicited donations, even if they were obtained under false pretences? I don't’ think any court in the land would support that! And while we’re at it, how is Moe’s open on Christmas Day, and how come Kent Brockman is working? When Bart crashes his truck into the power socket and it goes on fire, he just remote control drives it into the tree, which starts the fire. It actually stops and he starts it up again. Why doesn’t he just go and pick it up? The truck would be destroyed, yes, but the fire would be unlikely to spread.

I don’t know him personally, but I guess for Americans it’s nice to see “Jeopardy” host Alex Trebek guest, as he died only recently and was apparently one of the USA’s most loved gameshow hosts. Guess it was like when Bruce Forsyth passed on here some time ago; national day of mourning almost. But back to the niggles. When the fire starts, and consumes the tree, how come it doesn’t spread to the rest of the house? Yes, it was the fire engine raising its ladder while on fire (why did Bart do that? Surely that wasn’t automatic?) that set the tree ablaze, but why did nothing else catch fire? And how could he pick up a surely superheated charred mess in his bare hands and get it outside without getting third degree burns? At least when Brian burned down the house in Family Guy the fur on his paws was all burned off. When they bought their new car and it crashed and sank as the ice broke, why did it explode? How did it explode, underwater? Is that possible?

It’s as I say I pretty poor ending, not particularly funny, but it does at least bring home the moral that if you make a mistake you should own up to it, rather than try blame it on someone else, including a shadowy figure who never existed. It’s interesting to see all three other family members go for Bart when he admits his guilt - normally it’s just Homer. I think Maggie may join in too; can’t remember and I’m really not bothered enough to go back and check.

One thing The Simpsons does, that the other two shows seem not to, is add Christmas music to their titles, at least their closing ones, and here the couch gag at the beginning is turned into a snowglobe, so there’s a festive theme there. Overall though, a lot poorer than I remember.
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Old 12-18-2020, 06:47 PM   #583 (permalink)
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Episode title: Christmas Guy
Series: Family Guy
Season: 12
Written by: Greg Meighan
First transmitted: December 15 2013

The Griffins are aghast to find that the annual Quahog Christmas carnival has been cancelled, and even more so when it turns out that it’s Lois’s father, Carter, who is responsible. Peter goes to see him to find out why, and Carter tells him that it’s terrible being rich at Christmas: everyone expects big expensive presents and he gets nothing. Ah, your heart bleeds, wot? So as a result Carter hates Christmas and, being rich and selfish (never a great combination and almost always one going with the other) he has decided to cancel the carnival. Peter vows to help him regain the spirit of Christmas, however despite some really stupid - and quite frankly disgusting and disturbing - ideas he has, success eludes him until he sighs that he had no idea Carter was Jewish. Suddenly, rather than be seen as a Jew, Carter reinstates the carnival. Nice one, Seth, you racist bastard.

So far, so terrible. Step forward, Stewie, for the love of Jesus and save this trainwreck! If only Brian were here instead of this annoying Italian mafia/Tony Soprano style dog they have now! Well, only one way to sort that out: bring Brian back! Only one problem: just before Brian died, Stewie destroyed his time machine, leaving him unable to bring his friend back. He really was dead. But hey, this is cartoons, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned watching and researching them, it’s that anything can happen, and often does. Usually though with Seth that’s just it: it happens, no explanation. At least here, I tip my hat to the writer for the way in which he enables Stewie to time travel again.

Despondent without Brian, Stewie goes with Vinnie to the toy store, where he sees, against all odds, himself from the past. This Stewie has travelled into the future - our Stewie’s present; bear with me - to pre-buy a toy that will quickly sell out. Stewie follows him, aware that in his backpack is the return pad for the time travel machine in past Stewie’s bedroom, so that if he can get it, he can (deep breath) return to the time machine in the past, use it to go a little forward in that past’s future to save Brian and then return to his own present with Brian still alive. With me so far? Tough. You should have paid more attention during temporal mechanics class. What? You didn’t take temporal mechanics? What kind of Starfleet cadet are you? What? Well in that case, sir, these gentlemen from Starfleet Security need to speak to you...

Anyway, the plan works brilliantly and Brian is saved, whereupon the “future” Stewie, his time line now defunct, vanishes, leaving the current Stewie (back in the present - you know what, this is getting tiring and confusing. Thank god it’s nearly over) wondering why Brian is making such a fuss of him on Christmas morning. With the timelines restored, Vinnie vanishes, never having been associated with the Griffins in the first place, and all is well in the world again.

Notes

Really, this is less of a Christmas story and more of a perhaps bowing to pressure to bring Brian back (though it may all have been planned, who knows?) and as the former it really doesn’t work. They would have been better just making it the Brian-comes-back story and leaving it at that, though mixing this in as a Christmas episode does work on some levels. The “main story”, if you will, sucks balls and is nothing more than an opportunity for Seth to spout his often hateful racist and religiously intolerant rhetoric; it’s wrapped up about ten minutes into the episode and is, really, throwaway and not at all important to the episode. It’s hardly even linked.

But it’s great to see Brian back. I had thought - along with millions of others, no doubt - that it was a stupid, almost suicidal move to kill Brian off. Yes, the shock value was there, but just as Star Trek realised you can’t kill a major character off just like that and not get furious feedback from the fans (and even Arthur Conan Doyle found his out a hundred years earlier) Seth must have known it couldn’t be a permanent exit. Whether people took to Brian’s replacement or not I don’t know; Vinny was all right but a bit cliched and I didn’t see him do much in the handful of episodes he was in. And his efforts o emulate Brian for Stewie, while laudable on one level, are really just painful. The Griffins without a dog would have been just as effective.

As usual, nothing for the rest of the family to do. I’m not sure Meg even spoke - maybe had one or two lines - Chris was as useless as ever and even Lois had little to say or do. At least Peter didn’t take over the episode, though he was given time to crap all over it with, as I said above, some very unnecessary and frankly horrible scenes which I did not find at all funny, nor appropriate for a Christmas episode. Yeah, yeah, my knickers are untwisted, but still, there’s no need for that kind of thing I feel.

I’d rate this as a total failure if it wasn’t for the subplot (which I consider really the main plot, despite the title) which rescues it and makes it watchable, even good. But never a Christmas episode. Without question, Brian and Stewie aside, the worst one I’ve reviewed here yet.
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Old 12-19-2020, 10:13 AM   #584 (permalink)
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Episode title: The Best Christmas Story Never Told
Series: American Dad
Season: 3
Written by: Brian Boyle
First transmitted: December 17 2006

Stan is angry that “liberals” are “stealing Christmas”. He has a point, to be fair. The Christmas tree in the town square is removed due to an injunction stating that the land it stands on, being public land, is not a fit place for religious icons, and so is removed. Nobody will wish him a Merry Christmas, it’s all Happy Holidays (and boy do I hate that!) as if everyone is afraid of offending those who do not celebrate Christmas (cough) Muslims (cough) so he decides to do something about it. Roger is depressed that he has been, he tells the Smiths, sixty years on this planet without anything to show for it. Stan is so angry with not being able to say Merry Christmas that he decides there will be no Christmas, but as he sleeps on the sofa, banished there by Francine, the Ghost of Christmas Past visits him.

Ah, we all know where this is going now, don’t we?

No. No we don’t.

Breaking away from the Ghost when he is brought to 1970, Stan realises that the one person he can blame the new “liberal Christmas” is Jane Fonda. Look, don’t ask: just go with it, ok? So he sets off to the set (sorry) of the movie Klute, which she is filming at this time, determined to kill her. However when he goes to see her and spies on a conversation between her and Donald Sutherland, he hears that it is actually him who encouraged her to get into politics, so now Kiefer’s father is his target. The Ghost meanwhile goes back to the present and enlists Francine’s aid in tracking her husband down. Roger, working as a busboy in the hotel which Stan has just sneaked into, finds a cassette tape Stan bought him as a cheap Christmas present in the, um, present, a recording of disco’s greatest hits. This allows him to debut artists nobody has ever heard of before, as they’ve not been recorded yet, and raises him to the level of superstar music mogul.

Stan meets Martin Scorsese, and convinces him to give up drugs, then just as he’s about to shoot Sutherland the Ghost and Francine stop him. The Ghost warns him that any action he takes here can have drastic consequences in the future, their, ah, present. I guess. Anyway Stan as usual is not listening, but it’s too late as he’s dragged back to his own time. Unfortunately, everything has changed, and the US is now under Russian control. Checking back through his actions, the Ghost deduces that getting Scorsese off drugs led by an unlikely chain of circumstances which are too silly to relate (but see notes below) to Reagan not getting re-elected in 1984, and Walter Mondale, as president, handing over the USA to the Soviets.

They realise they have to go back to the past to undo what Stan did, but of course it goes wrong. Stan now has to make the movie Taxi Driver in order to get John Hinckley to be so obsessed with Jodie Foster that he shoots Reagan to impress her, but Stan is no movie maker and fires De Niro, casting instead John Wayne (!) and making the movie a shoot-em-up western, all of which fails to draw Hinckley to Foster. Left with no option, Stan must face the inevitable. If anyone can save America, it’s him, and if that means shooting his hero, then so be it! Stan Smith must attempt to assassinate Ronald Reagan!

It’s now 1981, and to Roger’s horror the disco boom is about to go flat. Nobody’s buying disco records any more, and his party is over. He’s lost all his money, and investing it badly (”What about all the racehorses I bought? I thought you were feeding them!") has wiped him out entirely. Stan does what needs to be done, and everything goes back to how it was. Christmas, and America, has been saved.

Notes

Again, it’s hardly original, mixing elements of A Christmas Carol with Back to the Future, but it’s still streets ahead of Family Guy. Technically speaking, like the aforementioned Family Guy, this isn’t quite a Christmas story. It would have stood up as a normal episode, but the idea of losing Christmas kind of adds to it. There are clever touches. Roger becoming a disco impresario and the sudden death of disco are well signposted, and the tacit admission (whether true or not I don’t know) that Martin Scorsese needed drugs to enable him to make his iconic movie is clever too, though to be honest the chain of circumstances that then lead to the Soviet takeover of America is a little, shall we say, tenuous, at best? Here’s how it supposedly runs:

Scorsese needed to do coke in order to make Taxi Driver. When Stan gets him off drugs it kills his creativity and the movie is not made. Without being cast in the movie, Jodie Foster then never impresses John Hinckley to the extent that he shoots Reagan to try to impress her, and Reagan in his turn does not have the added impetus of having survived assassination to enable him to win re-election in 1984. The presidency goes to Mondale, who hands over, for some reason, the USA to the Soviet Union a few months into his term. Um, yeah. None of those things could happen, and even if they did, Foster was in other movies before 1981, any of which Hinckley could have seen her in. Not to mention that Reagan was, at the time of the 1984 re-election, still very popular and would have been even without the assassination, which only served to boost his already high standing, not revive a flagging popularity. Mondale was never in contention.

Of course, you can dissect the idea behind this as much as you want, and none of it is as stupid and just completely impossible as a sitting American president ceding his authority to the Russians (maybe Trump, I don’t know; that guy’s like a jilted lover and he is crazy, but only a month or so left to go!), though this I guess feeds into Stan’s misplaced idea of the Democrats as commies and liberal bleeding hearts without the stomach for a fight. Similarly, Stan’s contention that Jane Fonda is somehow to blame for liberalism may have some basis in a grain of truth, but she can hardly be blamed for the more PC America you guys live in now, and killing her would likely have achieved nothing, though in the end he switches his attentions to Donald Sutherland. It’s all pretty silly, but it is fun.

We do learn a few things in this episode, and I don’t mean that there’s DNA in poo, as the Ghost of Christmas Past tells us dejectedly. We learn that though Roger has only been with the Smiths for four years, he has been on Earth for sixty, having been in the UFO that crashed in Roswell. We learn that Stan hates the liberalisation of Christmas, particularly people wishing him “Happy Holidays” and that he thinks Jesus was born in a mangler. He also believes there is nothing as American as a Christmas tree, though when he thinks about it, with Steve’s help, an American flag with little Christmas trees for stars might be even better. Finally, we learn that Roger’s story about being a flash music mogul in the seventies is actually true, though this is only possible because of Stan buying him a tape in the present and then going into the past and dropping it, so if he hadn’t bought it in the present how could he… let’s not go there, okay? This is confusing enough.

I don’t get the idea of the Christmas (sorry, Holiday) Rapist. He’s mentioned at the beginning and you think he’s going to play some part in the story, but he doesn’t. All he ends up being is another peg to hang a not particularly funny joke on, and refer back to when the Ghost of Christmas Past appears to Stan. Bit of a wasted opportunity: they could have I don’t know, met him in 1974 maybe, done something that turned him into the Christmas sorry Holiday Rapist, but they swerved that one. Almost as if the writer had forgotten about him.
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Old 12-20-2020, 09:47 AM   #585 (permalink)
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Episode title: Marge Be Not Proud
Series: The Simpsons
Season: 7
Written by: Mike Scully
First transmitted: December 17 1995

Bart really wants the new must-have video game “Bonestorm”, but Marge says it’s too expensive and promotes violence, so he decides to steal one, shoplifting at the Try-n-Save, but he is caught by the dick ooer store detective, who phones his parents to tell them what has happened, and tells Bart he is banned from the store. Luckily for Bart, his parents are not home and he has time to get back and change the tape before they can get to hear the message the store detective has left for them. When the family go to get their annual Christmas picture taken Bart is horrified when he realises where it’s to be taken, and of course the store detective sees him, despite many attempts to hide himself, and the whole sordid story comes out.

Marge is disappointed; Bart is surprised she isn’t angry, but he can’t see her heart is broken, and she starts to realise that he’s not the little boy she thought he was. He’s growing up, and that brings with it its own set of problems. In an attempt to address this, she starts pulling back, being less motherly to him. Well, she says this is what she’s doing but in reality she’s probably subconsciously punishing him by withdrawing her affection and attention from him. In an attempt to redeem himself, Bart goes back to Try’n’Save and gets a photograph of himself for his mother, who had been bemoaning the fact that of all the Christmas pictures they have had taken over the years, none of them have Bart in them smiling or not pulling a face. She is delighted and they reconcile.

Notes

You’d have to say that again this is a fairly poor Christmas episode, which does not make it a poor episode, but Christmas is almost an afterthought to the plot, which concerns a kind of heavy-handed moral on the sin of stealing. It’s presented well: I particularly like the woman with the pushy, bratty, nasty kid who demands, when she buys “Bonestorm” for him, “Get two: I’m not sharing with Caitlin!” Bart’s wondering belief that this must be the happiest kid in the world is sharply offset when she, seeing Bart benig taken back into the store by Brodka, shakes her head and opines that that boy’s parents must have gone very wrong, blissfully unaware that a spoiled, arrogant child will grow up to be just as bad, unable to see her own failures as a mother. The declaration “four finger discount” by Jimbo to describe their shoplifting is a reminder that all Simpsons characters have, for some reason, only four fingers.

As Bart is marched up to Brodka’s office, the store Santa offers him a candy cane but the detective shakes his head and growls “not for him”, and Santa nods, frowning. There’s a cameo from the late Phil Hartman as Troy McClure (you may remember him from such information films as “Lead: Delicious but Deadly!” and “Phoney Tornado Warnings Waste Resources”) as he stars in a video about the history of shoplifting and then it’s funny when Brodka says “capische?” to Bart and then follows this up with “well? Do you understand?” to which Bart replies “Everything but capische.” Again this episode, like many Christmas episodes across all three series, suffers - or benefits I guess, depending on your point of view - from concentrating on one character more or less to the exclusion of everyone else. Here of course it’s Bart, and while Homer and Marge have things to say, and Lisa gets in a line or two, it’s the bad boy who carries the show. Bart can of course do this, and has, effortlessly in the past, but it does place something of a burden on the viewer, I believe, when there’s not even a sideplot to concentrate on and give you a break from the adventures of Bart Simpson at Christmas.

Millhouse is, sadly, in the episode but thankfully not for long - Bart sees he has “Bonestorm” and pays his friend a visit, but Millhouse won’t share and so he gets thrown out. However on the second attempt it seems Millhouse has lost interest in the game and is now into cup-and-ball (no, smartarse, it isn’t: it’s a very old form of entertainment you could make yourself, where a small ball on a string hangs from a kind of chalice-like cup, and you try to flip the ball into the cup). It’s quite a clever comment on how kids often go for the simplest things to play with, despite all the expensive technology around them: kind of like playing with the box of the Playstation or whatever. The second time Millhouse is very willing to let Bart play with the game, but as with children everywhere and all times, it’s whatever the other kid has that they want, and so he tries to take the cup-and-ball from Millhouse. This time though, on the point of being ejected from the Van Houten home, he asks Millhouse’s mother if he can hang with her and do “mom stuff”. This is fun for a while, but soon creeps Lou-Ann out, and Bart is sent home.

I do however want to know a) how Bart made it all the way to Try’n’Save on his own (they had to drive there originally) and how he also managed to avoid Brodka long enough to get a proper picture taken. Maybe the store detective was on a break. Still, it seems unlikely, although this is possibly a day or so, or more, later, as it doesn’t make that clear.
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Old 12-21-2020, 12:08 PM   #586 (permalink)
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Episode title: How the Griffin Stole Christmas
Series: Family Guy
Season: 15
Written by: Aaron Lee
First transmitted: December 17 2016

When Peter stands in as a mall Santa the power goes to his head. That’s it. Well, not really but you get the idea. Brian and Stewie crash Christmas parties in search of free booze (for Brian obviously, not the baby) and lonely and desperate women. What? Oh. Yeah. Not Stewie. Probably not. No, definitely not. Definitely not? Definitely not. Stewie tries to liven up one of the parties by telling the staff half of them will be fired unless they can drink more shots that the other half, and the boss, liking what he hears, takes him on. When it becomes clear that Stewie’s joke has gone too far (don’t ask me where Brian is at this point; he seems to have disappeared) he tries to make amends by handing out paycheques to everyone, cut for the maximum amount he’s authorised to sign: eleven thousand dollars. Cash them fast, he tells everyone.

Having blagged everything he can because he’s dressed as Santa (seriously? They believe that? They know he’s not really Santa, right?) Peter passes out in the street. He awakes to find the real Santa standing over him, none too pleased at how he’s been mistreating the office. But rather than wreak terrible vengeance on him, like maybe showing him what the world would be without a proper Santa (or even an evil one) lame-ass Santa here just pranks Peter with a text and then tries to strangle him so that Peter gives in and takes off the suit. It’s beyond lazy, it really is.

Notes

It’s hard to know what to say really. This is top grade trash. I mean, what’s in the story? Stewie and Brian crash a party, Stewie gets a job at the office and it turns out not to be the awesome adventure he had anticipated. Peter uses his position as Santa to be really greedy and Santa sort of punishes him, but not really, until Peter repents. Garbage. If this is what the current season is like, I’m glad I stopped watching. There’s really nothing else to say. Merry Christmas, you fat lazy bastard Seth MacFarlane.
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Old 12-22-2020, 09:21 AM   #587 (permalink)
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Episode title: Skinner’s Sense of Snow
Series: The Simpsons
Season: 12
Written by: Tim Long
First transmitted: December 17 2000

Despite a heavy fall of snow, and to Bart’s disgust, Springfield elementary is open - one of the few schools that is. He cheers up a little when Principal Skinner tells the class that, as no teachers showed up today, he will be showing them a movie, about a Grinchy little character. However it’s not what the kids think, and they have to sit through a bad 1930s movie called The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t And Then Was - in black and white. Thankfully however after two hours the video camera burns up the movie, and everyone heads for the exits. In shock, they realise the snow has piled up outside and they can’t get out: they’re trapped in the school!

Homer and Flanders set out to rescue the kids, but Homer hits a fire hydrant and the water instantly freezes, trapping them too. Meanwhile things are turning ugly at the school, so Skinner dons his old army uniform and re-establishes discipline. Nelson tries to make a break for it but runs head-first into the big pile of snow waiting outside. The children settle down for the night, unhappy but unable to leave. Undaunted, Bart decides to dig his way out (with a ladle?) and has actually made good progress before Skinner catches him. In trying to collapse the tunnel though (while inside it; how stupid is that?) he gets trapped and by the time the kids and Willy pull him out he’s no longer a force for authority. They tie him up and the kids take control of the school.

Trapped in the frozen car, with engine fumes leaking in, Homer starts to have hallucinations. Skinner sends the school hamster, Nibbles, off in a transparent ball (don’t ask me) with a note asking for help. He ends up smashing through the windscreen of Flanders’s car, breaking the glass and letting in air. This (for some reason) frees them from the ice too, and they head off but crash into a pillar of salt (yeah I know) outside the cracker factory (doesn’t or didn’t Kirk Van Houten work there?) which topples over, spilling tons of salt onto the snow, and thus melting it.The kids escape from the school as the snow melts, just as Homer and Flanders show up outside.

Notes

This is how you do a Christmas episode! Yes, again it’s kind of centred on one character - Bart - but given that it also involves the school you get to see the other kids, particularly Nelson and (shudder) Millhouse. Even Martin gets a line. And despite what you might expect, Lisa does not side with Skinner on the issue of authority, but joins in with the general rebellion when he is imprisoned by the children. Homer has some great scenes here and it’s pretty cool that he teams up with Flanders. Bart’s takeover of the school does somewhat mirror when he was at Kamp Krusty, but it’s handled in a different way.

The clever twist when the kids think they’re going to be shown The Grinch and it turns out instead to be a crappy b-movie from the days of black and white is nice, and the crappiness of the movie is enhanced by Lisa pointing out a stage-hand who walks out on the set. Another flashback to ‘Nam for Skinner - those are always good - and I also like how when Millhouse tries to impress Lisa by tearing up her permanent record the page reconstitutes and the drawer closes by itself. The power of education indeed! The link back to Mr. Plow, where Homer can’t even remember having such a job despite the fact that he is actually wearing the jacket, is a comment on I guess the fact that so many people are now sick of that episode, and staying with snow ploughs, the selling off of the city’s supply to Mr. Burns for his entertainment is just the sort of thing Quimby would do.

A few small nibbles, sorry niggles: when Skinner writes SEND HELP! On the note he puts into the hamster’s rolling ball, that’s literally all he writes. Not who the note is from, where he can be found, how help might be sent or to where. Very lax for a so-called educated man. I’m not sure exactly how the DVD of the movie failing manages to burn up the camera, or how Skinner fixes the disc - one would assume he just cleaned it, but why then would that make the screen burn up, and it having done so, how would repairing the DVD allow the screen to function again? Why are they all eating relish and apples? Surely there is other food in the school? It’s the Christmas holidays, yes, but there should be food left over still. Even candy bars from the machines or something? Relish and apples? How does Bart dig such an effective tunnel without any supports or buttresses at all, and given that he is at this point almost out, why does Skinner decide to collapse the tunnel instead of maybe strengthening it and seeing if they can after all get out?

But all those questions aside - none of which are, in the final analysis, important anyway - what I really like about Simpsons episodes versus Family Guy and to some extent American Dad is that they rarely if ever poke fun at Christmas, and never at religion. Yes, there are a few gentle jabs - Bart saying Christmas is remembered for the birth of Santa, Homer lamenting that Jesus must be spinning in his grave etc - but there isn’t the kind of wanton cruelty and disdain that Seth McFarlane’s shows, especially Family Guy, heap on Christmas, as if the guy hated it. Not all of the Simpsons Christmas episodes are great, not by any means, but when they do it right they can really hit the mark, and to be fair, this happens more times than it doesn’t. This isn’t a perfect Christmas episode, but damn it, it’s close.
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Old 12-23-2020, 03:29 AM   #588 (permalink)
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Episode title: Dreaming of a White Porsche Christmas
Series: American Dad
Season: 12
Written by: Brian Boyle
First transmitted: December 1 2014

We have the same writer that gave us the rather superior "The Greatest Christmas Story Never Told", so there’s hope, there’s hope. Jealous of the footloose and fancy-free (and, one would assume, Francine-free - sorry) life that Principal Lewis leads, and hassled by his family to sort out Christmas, Stan wishes that his life was different and that he had Lewis’s life. He says this as he places a plastic angel - one he has not seen before, and got from Roger’s room - on the top of the tree. The next morning, his family is gone, there are sexy pictures of women all over the house, his tree has been replaced by, well, something in a bucket with a beer bottle on top, and there’s a white Porsche in his garage!

His shock doesn’t last long, and he and Roger go on the tear, but when he heads to Lewis to check out some pointers on how to be single, he is gobsmacked to see that the Principal now has his family! He’s married to Francine, and has a little black Steve and a little black Hayley. Well, he wished for Lewis’s life, and got it, and now Lewis has his life. Seems fair. Stan doesn’t think so though. After believing he can just undo the wish, pretending he’s learned a lesson when Roger tells him that might be part of the deal, he does what Stan always does: overreacts and takes his, I mean Lewis’s family hostage. The CIA soon turn up, as Lewis now has Stan’s job too, and Francine, seeing her chance to escape, pretends she believes Stan, who then lets her go to “explain to the CIA”. Rather stupidly (though Stan has never been a great thinker anyway) he lets her take the kids too. With no hostages left, it’s clear for the Agency to take him down.

Before they can though he drives off in the Porsche, and heads for Suicide Bridge. As he jumps, the CIA riddle him with bullets. And as he lies on the ground, smashed, full of holes and bleeding, they riddle him some more. As he begins to die, an angel appears and tells him that he has learned his lesson and may go back to his family, but it is not his family but another one. The angel tells him this is the kind of family he’s been wishing for, being so disappointed with both his son and daughter, and dismissive of Francine, so he now has the sort of family he deserves and wants. But Stan wants his old family back. He meets Roger, who doesn’t seem to know him as well as he should, but when he explains to him about his alternate life, Roger agrees to help Stan. He must make a wish, and place the angel on the tree. He does, as Stan holds on to his backside, as Roger did when Stan wished, which was why he ended up in the alternate reality with his friend.

Unfortunately, in every reality Roger is a selfish, stupid, self-centred narcissist, and he wishes for a white Porsche, which he gets, but which has now wasted his only wish. Stan is now stuck in this reality. His last chance is to get his new wife, Mary (oh come on! Mary Christmas? Didn’t they make the tired old joke in Family Guy?) to wish she had never married him, but she is intractable, even when Stan rams Roger’s Porsche through the house. Finally though he hits upon her Achilles’ Heel: he criticises her homekeeping. She takes the angel, makes the wish and Stan is back, happy never to be single again, back with his own family.

Notes

While again so many Christmas specials rely on versions of A Christmas Carol or It’s A Wonderful Life - this on the latter - they can really use the device differently, and here we see, not Stan’s world without him, but basically Stan without his world. Fed up with his family and contemptuous of their desires he learns to appreciate them by being deprived of them It’s hardly original but it works well. The idea of Roger being dragged along because he was feeling Stan’s butt as he placed the angel on the tree is clever, and completely consistent with what we know of Roger, and it’s interesting to see wildman Lewis settle down with Francine. Not so good to see Hayley and Steve as little black kids, but there you go. Quite funny too when Stan runs into his new kitchen to ask Klaus what’s going on and realises he’s just an ordinary fish. “The fish doesn’t talk!” he gasps. “What kind of Twilight Zone world am I in?”

You may disagree - I’m sure many do - but I don’t like Patrick Stewart’s character, so it’s no fun for me to see him heading the CIA rescue force, though thankfully he’s not in the episode for long. The overkill as Stan goes off the bridge is funny, though perhaps stretched a little when they continue shooting him as he lies on the ground dying. When they all walk off whistling “Deck the Halls” though it does kind of bring a smile to my face. It’s a good double-bluff, too, when the angel appears and tells Stan he has learned his lesson, and we think everything will go back to normal, but it doesn’t. Also good when Roger wastes his wish. To be honest, Francine is hot, but I’d stay with that other wife if I were Stan. Rowr!

It always slightly disturbs me though the way death is treated so casually in both Seth’s series. I know (shut up, I know) it’s only a cartoon but I wonder does it contribute even in a small way to the desensitisation of kids towards violence? I mean, we see Principal Lewis run over two people as he hares into the Smiths’ driveway, and nothing is said. Roger froths up a bottle of soda and causes two young girls to crash into a tree, and then they destroy a petrol station and nothing is said. It’s funny, yes, but is it overly or unnecessarily violent? Family Guy, to its small credit, doesn’t tend to focus so much on the violence, but American Dad certainly does. I just wonder if it’s appropriate in a Christmas episode? But then of course I thoroughly enjoyed “For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls”, and you couldn’t get more violent than that. Still, that was a battle, and you could see it as necessary or at least justified violence.

Good to see they actually made an effort with the Christmas titles this time. No special song a la Simpsons but they have Stan wearing a Christmas-themed pouch (um,yeah) and the words American Dad are fashioned from Candy Canes. Also, all the characters are wearing Christmas jumpers, antlers or other items and Roger is dressed, in Stan’s car, as the crucified Jesus, something I would have thought they would have done before this. That or Santa. At the end there’s a Christmas song, so it’s a lot more geared towards the festive season than previous ones, even the aforementioned “For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls” was.

Stan’s arrogance is always annoying, his belief that he is right no matter what, and it’s gratifying to see him taken down a peg or two; we wonder if he has learned his lesson, then remember this is Stan Smith we’re talking about. Of course he hasn’t. But for now it seems he appreciates his family, and I guess that’s as good as it gets. Overall a very satisfying episode, and enjoyable to watch. Well written, well thought out, well resolved. Well done, Mr. Boyle. We look forward to other efforts by you.
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Old 12-24-2020, 10:14 AM   #589 (permalink)
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Episode title: Road to the North Pole
Series: Family Guy
Season: 9
Written by: Chris Sheridan, Danny Smith
First transmitted: December 12 2010

Ah, now we’re cooking! As I’ve said before, if one tenuous and yet very strong strand of rope holds, or held, the entire Family Guy apparatus together, keeping it precariously swinging over the abyss but not falling into it, it’s the relationship between Stewie and Brian. If you get an episode without the two of them in it, chances are, these days anyway, it’s going to suck. Add in the “Road” series, of which there have been, to date, seven not including this, and you almost always have a recipe for success. So to team that up with a Christmas episode and have the intrepid pair head to see Santa, well, you’re guaranteed a good episode.

I don’t normally do this, but as most if not all of the “Road” movies have interesting and different opening titles, with the usual song and dance (literally) absent, and the theme entirely changed, and as this is a Christmas episode which for once allows the cartoonists to reference the holiday season, I think it might be worth checking off all the Christmas-themed shots that are shown in these opening titles.

So, they are then, in order: Stewie and Brian in “The Nutcracker”, dashing across the snow in a sleigh (open but not one-horse), a scene from A Christmas Carol in which Brian plays the ghost of Jacob Marley and Stewie is a frightened Scrooge, Brian building a snowman while Stewie builds a rather gay-looking strongman version of Rupert, Brian pulling a different sleigh down a hill with antlers on his head while Stewie urges him on with a whip, from atop a massive sack of presents, then Brian and Stewie as ornaments on a Christmas tree, the two of them camping out at night in a snow-covered forest, Stewie tobogganing down a snowy hill on Brian’s back, Brian wearing a top hat and smoking a pipe. Then we have Stewie staring in horror at something while outside Chris grins evilly and Brian looks annoyed, Brian and Stewie having a snowball fight, with Stewie about to launch a barrage of snowballs at Brian via a catapult, Stewie electrocuting Brian with the Christmas lights, the two of them as biscuits left out on a plate for Santa, a bite taken out of Stewie, the two of them filling Meg’s stocking with coal (Brian with a wheelbarrow full of the stuff wearing a hard hat while Stewie stands on a ladder and empties a bag of it into the stocking and Brian and Stewie making snow angels (though Stewie’s comes out as a snow devil - did they steal that from The Simpsons or vice versa?). Note: none of these scenes occur in the show.

There: we’ve had some super fun already and there’s been plenty to write about, and we’re only through the credits. It starts in live action, with for some reason Seth’s actual father narrating the show, but that thankfully quickly fades out and we get a big musical number, which to be fair Family Guy are very good at doing. Brian is taking Stewie to see Santa at the mall, but the line is so long that by the time they get to the top the store is closing and they’re unable to be seen. Furious, Stewie decides to go to see Santa at the North Pole and give him a piece of his mind. Of course he can’t drive so Brian has to take him. He tries to fool him by bringing him instead to Santa’s Village, but Stewie sees through it. When Brian tries to talk him out of going to the actual North Pole, Stewie says he has to, as he intends to take his revenge on Santa by killing him.

Brian still refuses, knowing how long - and pointless - such a journey is, but Stewie decks him and next thing he sees the baby is in a truck headed north. With no alternative but to follow him, Brian sets off. Stewie causes a traffic accident when he sets off a flare gun in the cab and Brian’s car is also wrecked. Although he tries to convince Stewie that his quest is doomed to failure, as Santa does not exist, Stewie refuses to believe him. They make a deal, and borrow a snowmobile and they are on their way. Their fuel runs out though so they have to spend the night in an old hunting lodge, and head off in the morning on foot.

To Brian’s amazement (but not ours obviously) there is a North Pole where Santa lives, and they have reached it. However, when they enter they find that instead of a Christmas toytown village with elves running around and wooden trains and cars and things, it’s a smoking, frowning industrial nightmare, huge chimney stacks belching foul dark fumes out into the soot-choked air, high wooden gates and a Santa who is very depressed and tired. So much so that when Stewie, recovering somewhat, declares he is here to kill him, Santa sighs “Thank god!” and encourages him to pull the trigger. He takes them inside, to show them that his elves have degenerated, after centuries of in-breeding, into a mutated race of simpletons and monsters. The reindeer have become feral, feasting on the elves who walk outside to die when it gets too much. He tells them this has all come about because kids these days want too much, and his staff are forced to work ridiculously long hours, polluting the environment and sinking deeper into misery and despair.

Cue another musical number in which Santa and his elves complain that Christmas is killing them. Santa then collapses, and while he’s being cared for Brian and Stewie deliver the presents, taking the sleigh. Would anyone like to hazard a guess as to whether this all works out according to plan? Of course they crash, the reindeer stuck up a tree and pretty soon they’re, well, murdering a family to cover their tracks. Ah, Christmas! Don’t you just love it? Having completely failed to do the job, Brian and Stewie instead present Santa, frail and ill in a wheelchair and hooked up to IVs, on the news, and explain how everyone’s incessant and greedy demands at Christmas for more, more more is killing him, and ask everyone to restrict their list to one present a year, in order to save Santa Claus.

One year later…

Santa’s village is back to how it should be, the elves are, well, human again and Santa is hale and hearty. Everyone gets just one present and is happy about it, and all is well.

Notes

As explained in the intro, this is a really excellent Family Guy Christmas episode, which is really a feat, considering the dross they’ve served up over the years. But it’s mostly - well, let’s be honest, it’s all on the back of that partnership that continues to keep the Family Guy franchise lurching along when it should have been put down years ago. With a “Road” movie to buttress this story, it’s a whole different, er, story. There’s a real feel of Christmas about it, from the opening Hollywood-style titles to the songs and the setting at the North Pole, and the climactic ending, but there’s enough madness thrown in to make sure you never forget this is, after all, Family Guy you’re watching.

The industrialisation of Santa’s Village is harrowing and well done, the mutant/retard elves clever and the feral reindeer a nice touch, while Stewie and Brian’s attempts to take over the Christmas delivery have hilarious and indeed terrifying consequences (Stewie: “Let’s be honest, Brian. This is no longer a Christmas delivery, it’s a home invasion!”) providing nearly - nearly - as much blood and gratuitous violence as the American Dad episode. Thank Christ Peter is only peripherally involved in this episode, as he really would have ruined it, though I don’t get the reason Seth's father (yeah apparently it really is him) had to introduce and narrate the episode. Probably just wanted to feature. He doesn’t add anything to it, other than the expected crude jokes.

The crash of the big rig and the subsequent road accident, the trek across the snow on the snowmobile, the winking David Boreanaz in the sky, all classic FG tropes and Brian’s struggle to try to let Stewie down gently over the non-existence of Santa, hit upside the head when he realises he has been wrong, shows the depth of feeling between the two - well, mostly from Brian’s side, who doesn’t want to shatter the kid’s illusions but can see no other way of dissuading him from taking the long trip. Quagmire’s contempt for Brian also comes in here, when he cuts the line for Santa and inadvertently ends up traumatising his niece, a cancer patient. There’s also time for cameos from a few well-known characters, including Seamus, the doctor, Mayor West and Bruce to name but a few.

But there are as usual questions. First off, how did Santa’s elves all suddenly normalise within a year? Or if these are new ones, is it possible for them to breed that much in one year and if so, what happened to the old, mutant ones with the reindeer gone? Were they disposed of somehow? Well okay there’s just that one question. I like the way the doctor elf left to look after Santa looks like a tiny Steve from American Dad.

Without question the best of the (really poor) Family Guy Christmas episodes. If only they left Christmas in the hands of those who know how to do it, and not entrust so much to the fat man, they might have ended up having better ones down the years. Oh well; at least one doesn’t suck.


HAPPY CHRISTMAS FUCKERS!


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Old 02-24-2021, 02:24 PM   #590 (permalink)
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Some more of the TV I’ve been watching recently, and what I thought (or think) of it.

The Third Day (Mystery, horror, suspense)

Meh. I was wary of this from the fact that Jude Law is the main protag, but it was getting so many good reviews I thought I’d give it a go. The premise is pretty ludicrous - man trapped on some sort of island by virtue of the road by which it is approached being waterlogged, ie swamped, overnight, forcing him to remain there, for some reason, for days while his wife worries - and the story seems a poor rip-off of movies like Children of the Corn and The Wicker Man. You know the kind of thing: simple folk living apart from society decide for whatever reason that the old gods were best, and the old gods demand sacrifice blah blah. Gave it up after three episodes.

Status: Unknown; possibly self-contained as it’s described as a serial rather than a series. If so, then complete.

Verdict: 4/10

Vagrant Queen (Science Fiction, dark humour)

Find of the year, so of course they cancelled it. Hip, sexy, funny, topical and irreverent, like an even better Killjoys. Great acting (and bad acting which is so bad it’s great), clever storyline, good aliens, great ships (“We have a doorbell?”) and enough fun to fill a galaxy. Based on the comic series, sadly ended on a cliffhanger and was scrapped. Bastards.

Status: Cancelled

Verdict:
10/10

Resident Alien (Science Fiction, comedy)

Another real find here. Alien crashlands on Earth with a mission to wipe out humanity. Only one problem: he’s lost the destruction device he needs, and it’s winter so it’s lost in a lake of ice. He’ll have to wait till the ice thaws to find it, and meanwhile he has to pass as a human. Cue mucho hilarity as he tries to fit in, and slowly becomes assimilated into humanity - until one kid sees through his disguise, then cue mucho more hilarity.

Status: New (first season)

Verdict: 9/10

The Bridge (Crime, drama, mystery)

Most of you probably know about this series from Scandinavia. I did, too, having heard a lot about it, but I kept waiting for it to restart so I could watch it from the beginning, which I felt was essential if I was to enjoy it properly. I was right, as it happens. Four seasons of unremitting gritty crime drama, and an amazing lead character. Highly recommended.

Status: Finished

Verdict: 10/10

The Valhalla Murders (Crime, drama, mystery)

Set against the starkly beautiful backdrop of Iceland, this series carefully handles the idea of child abuse and the use of authority in a senstive way. A great story which seems to have resolved quickly, until you find it hasn’t. Very enjoyable.

Status: Finished (I think)

Verdict: 9/10

Younger (Comedy. romance)

Yeah. I was on a hiding to nothing with this one, and I knew it but gave it a shot. Woman tries to return to work at age 40 after having brought her daughter up, finds the world has changed and nobody’s interested. Stretching a suspension of disbelief almost to breaking point, she passes for 26 and suddenly everyone wants to hire her. But what of her - really - 26-year old new boyfriend? How does she get around to telling him he’s sleeping with someone who could be his mother, or at least his aunt? And how does she fit in at her age into a world of dizzy twenty-somethings whose biggest worry is how many followers they have on Twitter or Facebook or some damn thing? And does anyone care? Not me. I gave it three, four episodes, then went grumbling back to the old folks home. Kids these days, don’t know they’re born etc.

Oh, and I see it ran for - count ‘em - SEVEN seasons! Jesus!

Status: New

Verdict: 4/10

What We Do in the Shadows (Horror, Comedy)

Based on the movie, the series just makes it better. The story of three hapless vampires sharing a house who do not get on very well, and who find adjusting to life in the twenty-first century hard to say the least. Lots of laughs, and some decent storylines.

Status: Renewed for third season

Verdict: 10/10

Monsignor Renard (War, drama)

Four-part series following the return of a priest to war-torn France where he tries to keep his flock safe while still tentatively helping the Resistance against the occupying Nazi force. It’s good, and John Thaw in the title role is excellent, but it needed to be longer. Storylines begun tend to peter out and suddenly you’re looking at the end credits for the final episode and thinking is that it? Yep, it is. That’s all she wrote, folks.

Status: Finished

Verdict: 8/10

Devils (Drama, high finance, conspiracy)

It’s always the problem with shows that focus on the workings of Wall Street - hard to understand the basic concepts, though to be fair the writers here do explain some things. A decent mystery/conspiracy which has definitely legs for a second season, which has been greenlit. An Italian production, but not too much in the way of subtitles - most of it is in English.

Status: Renewed for second season

Verdict: 8/10
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