TV Dinners: The Best TV of 2011

TV continues to occupy an increasing amount of our leisure time – last time I checked the Tivo, there were no less than 15 regular series which were being DVR’d, and it seems the number has been creeping up, to the point where we have to exercise discipline to ensure an unwieldy backlog doesn’t build up. It helps that the DVR hard-disk is limited to 20-25 hours of HD TV at any one time, and doesn’t appear expandable [unlike my ‘puter, which just got a 1 Tb external drive, almost entirely for media-related reasons]. It concentrates the mind when the DVR starts warning you that it’s gonna start erasing stuff, like a mother threatening to throw out all those toys if she finds them lying on the floor one more time.

To keep things fresh, all shows that were listed in last year’s top 10 are disqualified from contention. In some cases, e.g. Haven, they didn’t keep their standards up, others (Caprica, 24) were not on the schedule, but the majority would at least be worthy of an honourable mention in this year’s roll of televisual goodness. Speaking of honourable mentions, those should also go to Alphas and Being Human [the original British version, though the American remake is going in some interesting directions[. They were the two shows which were the final ones cut from the list. As last year, the list is in alphabetical order

Falling Skies
This tale of life after an alien invasion took a while to get going, but proved to be worth sticking with. Gradually we learn more about the ETs, their abduction of children and “harnessing” of the kids, which has both physical and psychological effects. There’s a chilling plausibility to much of this too; one suspects any actual alien invasion would probably result in humanity getting its collective arse kicked, rather than some kind of Independence Day triumph. Occasionally get a little too religious, though you get past that with a little rolling of eyes. Curious to see where they go in Series 2.

An Idiot Abroad
Debated continues to rage in TC Towers are to whether Karl Pilkington is real or a comic creation, played with deadpan seriousness. That’s been the case since we were first aware of him on The Ricky Gervais Show, and Idiot leaves the question unresolved. It’s a wonderfully funny counterpoint to the suggestion that travel broadens the mind, though Karl is thrown in at the deep-end of foreign culture and shows himself to be remarkably game, e.g. eating things that would certainly not pass my lips. So: genuine idiot or Borat-like character? The jury remains out on that one.

Law and Order: UK
I never bothered with the many US versions of the show, e.g. Special Victims Unit, Criminal Intent, etc. but have thoroughly enjoyed this one, even if the stories are largely reworked American episodes. There’s something uniquely British about the rhythms on view, and in particular, Bradley Walsh as cheerfully-reformed alkie DS Brooks. At its best – and it usually is – it’s smart yet emotional drama that really drives home the minefield negotiated by those in charge of striking the balance between law and justice. as well as the difference in those two concepts.

Funnily enough, I’ve written more – lots more – about this one on, and it remains the best action heroine show on TV, even though it’s now buried on the least-watched network (The CW) on a Friday night, where shows go to die. It’s a different take to the previous TV version, with Nikita here having quit her former quasi-governmental employers, “Division”,and now seeks to destroy them, with the help of both internal and external allies. The best fight scenes on TV, and the best selection of strong female characters, especially in Season 2, where Division has an anti-Nikita in charge.

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena
After the success of the first series, a second was commissioned, but the diagnosis of star Andy Whitfield with cancer put that on ice. While he underwent treatment, the makers went for a prequel, which retained most of the other aspects, e.g. John Hannah yelling “By Jupiter’s cock!” We also got Jaime Murray, best-known here for playing slutty psycho Lila on Season 2 of Dexter, demonstrating her range here by playing Gaia, a psycho slut. Her end in both was pretty messy, and the series single-handedly demolishes the idea of Rome being the birthplace of civilization. Sadly, Whitfield died in September, so has been recast for the show’s return next year.

Strike Back
It’s like Spooks/MI-5’s cruder big brother, with  all the gratuitous violence, swearing and rampant nudity you could want, and more than a hint of 24, with MI-6 agents Michael Stonebridge and Damian Scott kicking terrorist arse from India to Budapest [we can only speculate who would win, if Stonebridge and Jack Bauer had a fight]. Somewhat confusingly, the British Stonebridge is played by a Yank, and the American Scott by an Aussie. It’s one of two UK/US co-productions on the list – this seems to be the wave of the future, allowing for British talent to receive enhanced production values. 

Where have we been the last six seasons? How did we miss this? Chris just stumbled across an episode by chance; she was on the phone to me, and the conversation was peppered from her end with “What the fuck?” and “Holy shit!” It plays kinda like a cross between Buffy and The X-Files, with brothers Sam and Dean Winchester criss-crossing the country to take on occult evils of one form or another. While it’s not exactly impenetrable – we’ve figured out what’s going on without much difficulty – we’re waiting for the show to appear on Netflix streaming so we can catch up on the previous 100+ episodes

Torchwood: Miracle Day
Another US/UK co-production, we were concerned how this one would work out, and after some early stumbles, it meshed the obvious nods to the American audience, e.g. Mekhi Phifer with the essential British aspects (Gwen and Captain Jack) pretty well. Certainly, every penny was up on screen, and there was no toning down for a global audience. Indeed, we could have done without an entire episode basically being devoted to showing exactly how gay Harkness was [the omni-sexual approach from the UK series seemed more appropriate]. If not quite Children of Earth, not bad.

The Walking Dead
I covered the series last December, but am pleased to report it has kept up its quality and remains the most intense horror series presently on television. The second season is now under way with the dwindling band of survivors abandoning the city after their trip to CDC headquarters in search of centralized survivors didn’t quite go as planned. However, we’ve currently got one child missing and another shot accidentally, as well as all the zombies. Almost as good is this parody, which you wonder why no-one apparently thought of previously.

A truly guilty pleasure, watching people struggle their way through an impossible obstacle course, where failure is not an option – it’s the only option. Reminiscent of a hardcore version of MXC, complete with two presenters whose deadpan asides definitely enhance the viewing pleasure. I could go on about the program being a showcase for the indefatigable strength of the human spirit in the face of obstacles, but truth be told,. there’s really nothing funnier than watching people get whacked in the face, falling off things, and cartwheeling down into muddy ponds. Hey, don’t just take my word for it…

“You c—!” The Ten Best Cinematic Uses Of The Ultimate Taboo Word

“Cunt” is about the last word possessing any power to shock, especially here in America. While the rest of George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television” list from 1972 – shit, piss, fuck, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits – are now, to various extents (and particularly on cable) part of the public vocabulary, you’ll still rarely find the c-word used.

This does, of course, only apply in America. A lot of the time, it just doesn’t sound right when Americans use it, such as the line in Way of the Gun: “Shut that cunt’s mouth or I’ll come over there and fuckstart her head!” or when Bill tells the Bride in Kill Bill, “Every once in a while, you can be a real cunt.” These examples is like children, who know a bad word or two, but have no concept of how to use them correctly, only that they shock adults. That’s a sad waste of the power inherent in “cunt”.

When you do hear it used correctly, there’s often a Brit involved, either as actor, writer or director, perhaps because the word doesn’t have quite the same impact there. It has been used on broadcast TV in the UK since at least 1970, and its use in a film is not necessarily a ticket to an adults-only rating e.g. the Ian Dury biopic Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, which was rated 15, despite dropping several C-bombs. That’s understandable, given there were street-names such as Gropecunt Lane as far back as 1230. At that point, the word was not considered obscene, though it had drifted into so being, by the time of Shakespeare, who alluded to it more than once in various plays.

There are suggestions that its use is inherently derogatory to woman. Obviously, when aimed at a woman, it’s pretty much the worst single word you can use, but I’m less convinced of this being the case in general usage – indeed, calling someone a “clever cunt” is a compliment, albeit a coarse one. And as a counter-argument to some feminists, no-one ever complains about the similarly “anti-male” aspects of insults such as prick, dick or knobhead. And when was the last time you heard anyone call somebody out for talking a load of ovaries? Not all women object to it: when they started filming Closer, Natalie Portman gave Julia Roberts a necklace that said “cunt”, because of their characters’ foul mouths. When shooting ended, Julia Roberts returned the favour, giving Portman a necklace reading “lil’ cunt”.

It’s not a word I use a lot, personally, simply because I’m a big believer that the less you swear, the more effective it is – I still recall the first time I heard my mother swear, and it was something relatively mild. My 15-year old jaw dropped, and I can tell you, whatever it was I was doing wrong – and I forget that aspect – I stopped. We do use it, semi-facetiously, when referring to those who use the HOV lane when they shouldn’t. Or Hummer drivers. That works too. But there have been some epic uses of the word in cinema. Here are ten of my favourites; I’ve stuck to film, but give an honourable mention to Kenny Powers’ from cable TV’s’s Eastbound and Down: “There is no I in team, but there is a U in cunt.”

10. Monty Python: Live at the Hollywood Bowl

Albatross Woman: Of course you don’t getting fucking wafers with it, you cunt. It’s a fucking albatross, isn’t it?

Why it works: Because it’s the only time the words “cunt” and “albatross” have ever been used in the same five-word stretch.

9. Memento

Natalie: You know what one of the reasons for short term memory loss is? Venereal disease. Maybe your cunt of a fucking wife sucked one too many diseased cocks and turned you into a fucking retard.

Why it works: One of the rare uses by a woman, though it does occasionally happen e.g. in Bridesmaids. But the venom on view is unsurpassed, and the quote also appreciates the use of “cunt”, not just on its own, but in combination with other expletives.

8. Silence of the Lambs

Hannibal Lecter: Now then, tell me. What did Miggs say to you? Multiple Miggs in the next cell. He hissed at you. What did he say?
Clarice Starling: He said, “I can smell your cunt.”
Hannibal Lecter: I see. I, myself, can not. You use Evian skin cream, and sometimes you wear L’Air du Temps, but not today.

Why it works: It’s all part of the power-play between Starling and Lecter. The good Doctor knew very well what Miggs said – but wanted to make Starling say it. Unfazed, Starling does so, and Lecter then responds on an entirely factual basis. Academy Awards all round!

7. Blade: Trinity

Hannibal King: That’s atomized colloidal silver. It’s being pumped through the building’s air conditioning system, you cock-juggling thundercunt!

Why it works: Writer/director David S. Goyer is American, as is actor Ryan Reynolds who plays the character. But if you can hear the phrase, “cock-juggling thundercunt” without smirking, you’re a better person than I. Every time we see Parker Posey – to whose vampiric character the line was addressed – we have to use it. Hopefully, we never meet Ms. Posey in real life, or we’ll have some ‘splainin’ to do…

6. Snatch

Brick Top: Do you know what nemesis means? A righteous infliction of retribution manifested by an appropriate agent, personified in this case by a ‘orrible cunt. Me.

Why it works: Contrast. What starts off as a dictionary definition, suddenly mutates at the end into something self-referential and a good deal more sinister. The rest of the film leaves no doubt that it’s an entirely accurate description.

5. Shaun of the Dead.

Ed: Can I get… any of you cunts… a drink?

Why it works: It’s addressed to Ed’s best friend, whose girlfriend is attempting to engage him in a meaningful conversation about their future, and why Ed should play no part in it. Case closed. Another case where a film was rated only ’15’ in the UK, despite its use of the word, likely due to the entirely non-sexual context.

4. Saturday Night Fever

Tony Manero: Look, what are you anyway? Are you a nice girl or are you a cunt?
Annette: I don’t know – both?
Tony: You can’t be both. That’s the thing, a girl’s gotta decide early on. You gotta decide if you’re gonna be a nice girl or a cunt.

Why it works: It’s easy to forgot what a harsh movie Saturday Night Fever was, full of violence, racism and – as the above illustrates – outright misogyny. Perhaps the most offensive use of the word – and, yet, Annette isn’t bothered by the philosophical dichotomy so eloquently expressed by Tony.

3. Sexy Beast

Don: Not this time, Gal. Not this time. Not this fucking time. No. No no no no no no no no no! No! No no no no no no no no no no no no no! No! Not this fucking time! No fucking way! No fucking way, no fucking way, no fucking way! You’ve made me look a right cunt!

Why it works: Rhythm. Listen to the audio clip below. Despite the limited vocabulary, it’s poetic, almost to the level of a Shakespearean sonnet. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but “cunt” becomes the exclamation point on the end of the tirade. How could you possibly respond to that? Plus, it’s said by the guy who played Gandhi.

2. Kick-Ass

Hit Girl: Okay you cunts… Let’s see what you can do now!

Why it works: If having a woman say the word is a palpable shock, what about this approach?

Step 1. Have it said by an 11-year old girl – oh, and she’s about to kill most of the people in the room, while accompanied by The Dickies’ cover of the Banana Splits theme.

Step 2: receive loads of free publicity discussion, mostly complaining about how irresponsible the film-makers are to put such appalling language in the mouth of an adorable poppet like Chloe Moretz (who, ironically, wasn’t technically able to see the film in which she played such an integral part).

Step 3: Profit! Masterful.

1. In Bruges

Ken: Harry, let’s face it. And I’m not being funny. I mean no disrespect, but you’re a cunt. You’re a cunt now, and you’ve always been a cunt. And the only thing that’s going to change is that you’re going to be an even bigger cunt. Maybe have some more cunt kids.
Harry: Leave my kids fucking out of it! What have they done? You fucking retract that bit about my cunt fucking kids!
Ken: I retract that bit about your cunt fucking kids.
Harry: Insult my fucking kids? That’s going overboard, mate!
Ken: I retracted it, didn’t I?

Why it works: Figure it out for yourself, you smart cunt.

YouTube video