Tag Archives: Television

Dust to dust… Ashes To Ashes finale review (no spoilers!)

Believe it or not, I do watch things other than Top Model.

The last time I wrote about British TV was when I got all excited for the new season of Doctor Who. I never really followed it up on here because, in truth, I was a little disappointed with the final results, with the quality varying wildly with each different writer and an oddly underwhelming finale. The hiring of Stephen ‘Blink’ Moffat to take over the helm from Russell T. Davies, the return of the Stone Angels, the mystery of Alex Kingston’s River Song and the arrival of a brand new doctor and a spunky new companion had all boded so well… alas, it turned out to be a series not only bursting with potential, but also with the inability to live up to it.

Contrast with Ashes To Ashes, a show I’d all but given up on. Right from the beginning, it was an audition for Stars In The Eyes, saying ‘Tonight Matthew, I want to be Life On Mars.’ The right bits were all there but, like a Madame Tussaud’s waxwork, there was something about it that wasn’t quite right. Philip Glenister’s DCI Gene Hunt was as watchable as ever, churning out one-liners with the speed and ease of a machine-gun, but the character, the performance and the writing made him so inherently watchable that you’d probably sit through Hunt attempting to do Hamlet. Keeley Hawes softly psycho-babbling away could never compete with the mastery of John Simm, and she verged on annoying the viewer as much as she did Gene. And the change of era to the glib, superficial, flashy 80s seemed to set the tone for a series that appeared happy to rest on its laurels by providing a few good laughs, a few good car chases and a few good punch-ups each week. The website even has Gene Hunt’s Quattro listed as a character! Whilst the first season showed some promise, with the brilliant climax of a final big reveal, I found Season 2 near unwatchable. Dull, slow and ponderous, I only found the energy to struggle through (albeit usually with something else going on in another tab on my PC) once I’d learnt that Season 3 would be the definitive ending and provide some answers to the whole saga as begun by Simm’s Sam Tyler. And by ‘eck, it did.

Right from the first episode of the third season, I sensed a gear change, with the whole thing really accelerating around Episode 6. The plots were tighter, the pace was faster, characters were evolving and clues were being dropped at an appetite-whetting rate. A new character, DCI Jim Keats (Daniel May), was introduced and was just the kind of series-driving antagonist Season 2 so desperately needed to give it a greater sense of purpose. But I don’t want this review to include spoilers and become my thesis on the finale, because frankly, the Internet has enough playgrounds for fanboys. Instead, I just hope that this finds its way to someone who hasn’t watched and decides to give it a go. [And for my money, the much-maligned Season 2 isn’t essential to watching the last season anyway.]

The finale was simply a beautiful piece of television. It made everything slot together, made everything before it slot together even better and dovetailed perfectly into Life On Mars. The series creators always stated that they had wanted to do three seasons of Life On Mars, but John Simm wanting out put the cabosh on that. Despite Simm still being a no-show, the last Ashes To Ashes felt like a worthy ending to the whole affair. The door was closed gently and tenderly on five years of remarkable primetime telly, but with just enough loose ends and thought-provoking threads to inspire debate and discussion on the wastelands of the Interwebz for years to come.

It was moving, it was clever and it was startling. Other critics seem to have pieced things together well before time, but not me. It was enough of a surprise to be gripping viewing, but not so much of a left-field bolt from the blue that I was left thinking ‘WTF’ throughout. At times, the acting was hair-on-end heart-wrenching, taking you to places that you weren’t sure a retro bad haircut, a bird with an annoying voice and the chubby buffoon from Plus One were capable of. And that final realisation when everything clicked? Did I mention that it was just a rather beautiful piece of television?

Ultimately, Ashes To Ashes managed to transcend its roots from a high-concept tongue-in-cheek sci-fi time-warp cop-drama nostalgia-trip into something much much more. Sad but loving, profound but amusing, daring but populist, complex but essentially simple – and all with a much-loved misogynistic ball-breaking, tough-talking, hard-drinking, one-liner-spinning iconic anti-hero at its heart. And all this at 9pm on a Friday night on the Beeb? Quite an achievement indeed.

nterview with Ashley Pharoah and Matthew Graham

Don’t wake me up…

If there’s one thing guaranteed to make me feel like a 12 year-old again, it’s reminiscing over old-but-not-ancient tv shows. Especially the ones that aren’t actually the agreed ‘classics’ but the sort of not technically great but still holds a place in your heart stuff, that has the power to make one generation alone go goo-goo eyed yet cause blank stares and bemusement to everyone outside this narrow range.

So how are these pictures of the Saved By The Bell cast all grown-up for making you feel old? Take that, High School Musical, this will you be in 20 years!

In the UK, this used air at 9.25am on Channel 4. Oh, the days when I used to wake up at 9.25am through my own volition.

Zack Morris was my best friend Tom’s first gay crush. I wanted to be Kelly Kapowski but was probably always more of a Jessie Spano (sans the addiction to ‘I’m so excited! I’m so excited! I’m so…. scared’ caffeine pills). My Saved By The Bell tee from TruffleShuffle.com is the most commented-upon item in my wardrobe, eliciting knowing smiles and thumbs-up from random passers-by every time that I wear it (well, at least I hope that’s why they were smiling).

The cast look amazing and it makes my heart go all warm and fuzzy to see them back together again (this behind-the-scenes video is cute too). Of course, you’ll notice Screech is missing. In-between making porn, becoming a chess master and desperately flogging t-shirts on his website, I guess he was too busy. Or he just wasn’t pretty enough for this shoot. Or, given the number of years he clocked up with the SBTB franchise, he’s STILL working for Mr Belding.

Jimmy Fallon unsuccessfully tried to reunite the cast on his show (Screech and Tiffani ‘Kelly’ Thiessen didn’t sign up, although Thiessen released an odd viral about how busy she was which suggested that she was game), so I guess this photo shoot might be the closest we get. Although Mario Lopez (ah… those dimples are still cute as ever) does tantalisingly hint we might get a future reunion show later. Fallon’s attempts did result in this rather awesome interview with Zack Morris. He is STILL the coolest kid in school.

UPDATE: Come 2014, he finally managed to reunite four of the Bayside gang… I challenge you not to grin your way through this! And how do they all look EXACTLY THE SAME? Was there something magic in the water fountains at The Max?!

As a consolation present, Fallon instead reunited the California Dreams cast. HELL YEAH. In the UK, this would often air immediately after Saved By The Bell and was basically the same, except this lot were in a band (the ‘song an episode’ premise features in another childhood favourite obsession, Jem & The Holograms). It came from SBTB’s genius producer, Peter Engel who, once he’d found a successful formula, sure as hell stuck to it (Hang Time, Malibu CA, City Guys) – young attractive cast, cheesy jokes, “issues” episodes and a cavalier attitude to cast changes to keep the dead horse flogged for as long as humanely possible.

Again, the cast look sickeningly-good (possible because they’ve not exactly been exhausting themselves with work ever since) apart from the Latino one, who wore a leather jacket back in the day signalling his ‘bad boy’ character, and is now nearly unrecognisable (hang on, isn’t he Weevil in later seasons of Veronica Mars?!). Sly, the slightly rat-faced Tom Cruise-alike (couldn’t sing so became the band’s sleazy manager and of course, best character) even whips out the six-pack – oh, the desperation of out-of-work actors (not that I’m complaining).

But the real fangirl squeal is reserved for when the cast actually sing the theme tune (at 9.30 in the vid). Yes, these folks sung and played their instruments for real (although the badly-mimed, leotard frenzy that was the girls’ band in SBTB still remains a guilty pleasure that pops up way more often on my iPod than I’m ever going to admit).

I’m going to repeat – they sing the theme tune. Live. The warm fuzzy feeling produced by the SBTB photos just multiplied tenfold into a shivery happy glow. It’s actually a brilliant mellow theme song, which transports you instantly to laidback lounging on the beach. Amazing harmonies, evocative instrumentation, fantastic vocals (possibly in the days before Autotune existed). It’s actual theme song GOLD. In fact, let’s watch in all its full-length 90s glory – just wait for that guitar solo.

And it made me feel like a carefree child again for a few precious hours. These dreams *are* good.

Pictures: People Magazine