April 6th 2010
Just to let you know I've got my finger on the pulse of popular culture, this weekend I watched the latest episode of a TV series that premiered in 1963. Yes, ladies and gents, Doctor Who. You may have noticed that David Tennant's reign of doctor (it's funny because 'doctor' sounds like 'terror') has come to an end, and Matt Smith has picked up the baton - or, if you will, the sonic screwdriver. Speaking of which, that's a gadget that owes much to low-budget low-tech early days of Doctor Who. "What've you got for this week?" "Er... this screwdriver?"
Anyways, I was impressed. I didn't get round to seeing much of David Tennant, but I think I'll be watching this series. Matt Smith does give the impression of being taken straight out of a sixth form production, but he grew on me over the episode, and Karen Gillan (who, as my Facebook friends will already know, I keep calling her Kieren Fallon in my head by mistake) appears to be a worthy companion. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I'm a sucker for redheads.
I may come back to Doctor Who later in the series, but now allow me to move on to another TV show: How I Met Your Mother. I've mentioned before on this page my appreciation of the show, but let me now go the whole hog and give you my top 10 reasons why I love the show:
Barney Stinson, played by Neil Patrick Harris of Doogie Howser fame - no, I'd never heard of him either - is the first thing you notice in the show. He's hilarious. All the characters are funny, in fact, but Barney's the one who stands out.
2. It's not edgy
The show's not a completely traditional sitcom, since it has plenty of flashbacks and a premise (ooh), but it is fairly traditional, without being post-modern, mockumentary or anything vaguely edgy. Don't get me wrong, I can like edgy stuff as much as the next guy, but there's room for something simpler. Funny lines, funny situations, funny characters. Kinda like Friends, in a way.
3. The premise
As mentioned above, there's a running premise. Or do I mean conceit? The show is based around a middle aged Ted (an uncredited Bob Saget) telling his kids about how he met their mother. Each episode has its own plotline - obviously - but it frequently ties into the over-arching theme, and it keeps you interested.
4. It ties together
Though I love Friends, it does have the problem of ret-conning (changing its back story to suit its needs). Ross twice mentions his birthday, and he says different dates - why? HIMYM takes care not to do things like that, and will often draw on previous episodes for continuity - for example, Robin mentions a film she doesn't like in one episode, and then a series or two later it's mentioned again. Or, say, whenever there's a flashback to a time when Lily had red hair in the show, they make sure her hair is red in the flashback. It's little things like that which make it a bit more realistic, and reward loyal viewers.
5. There's no weak link
It's not exactly an ensemble comedy, since Ted is generally the focal point, but all five of the main cast are very good in their own way - Barney, Ted, Lily, Marshall and Robin: not a weak link. Strong characters, whether playing emotional scenes, funny scenes or - for want of a better word - platonic scenes.
6. Cobie Smulders
Robin is played by an actress called Cobie Smulders. What a name.
7. It doesn't get silly
One of the reasons that Friends worsened deeply was that it became unrealistic, and, basically, silly. If Monica or Ross screamed a line, the other people in the scene would act as if everything was normal, whereas anyone in the real world would be astonished. HIMYM doesn't make that mistake (at least, it hasn't yet) - for example, when it turns out that Robin used to be a tweenie Canadian pop star, her music video is not unrealistically silly; it is simply brilliantly observed.
8. Lily & Marshall
While Ted & Robin is the couple that's initially focused on, we - the viewer - know from the off that they're not going to make it. That's what happens when the entire show is in flashback and 'old Ted' has referred to her as 'Aunt Robin'. Lily and Marshall, though, are a great couple, and their scenes at the end of series 1 and start of series 2 are very, very sweet.
9. Its take on sexual morality
TV, by and large, doesn't have a great take on sexual morality. Everyone in Friends would sleep with anything that moved, and if Joey did it more than anyone else, they were none of them saints. The guys, particularly, are looking for sex, not love. HIMYM is hardly perfect, but is streets ahead: Ted is, from the off, looking for love and marriage, and Marshall is proud of the fact that he's only ever slept with one woman; his (now) wife.
10. I love puns
It's a sitcom that's not afraid to go for a world class pun every now and then. A few examples:
Barney: "It's gonna be legen- wait for it... and I hope you're not lactose intolerant because the second half of that word is -dary!"
Barney: [phones an answering machine and makes a high-pitched squeak] "I left a voicemail."
Lily: "You left a voice, but it wasn't male."
Robin: "I get recognised one time and I start thinking I'm Julia Roberts. I'm no VIP. I'm not even an IP. I'm just a lowly little P sitting out here in the gutter."
Lily: "You know something? I'd take a P in the gutter over Julia Roberts any day."
April 9th 2010
I know how you all take an eager an active interest in my actuarial studies, so I thought I'd share with you some of the more painless learning I've been doing lately. The big exam I've got coming up - all about assets, investment, risk... that kind of thing - is best prepared for by learning lots and lots of acronyms. Well, maybe not best prepared for - knowing what you're talking about is always a plus - but I find them a very helpful way of remembering the lists that the examiners cherish so dearly.
The thing about acronyms, though, is that you have to make a choice: either the phrase is a good one, or the words that make it up are good; rarely both. For example, a favoured acronym is C.R.E.A.T.E.G.R.E.A.T.L.I.S.T.S. - but it requires an E to stand for 'experience from overseas', rather than the more obvious O for 'overseas experience'. That's why I've chosen to remember C.R.E.A.T.E.G.R.O.A.T.L.I.S.T.S. instead... not so neat, but makes more sense when you break it down.
Anyways, I thought I'd let you know a few more of the acronyms I use. Y'know, for kicks:
Well, there are a lot more. 41 in total, so far... fun, fun. Rick tells me he had about 59 acronyms when he sat this exam a few years ago, so he's winning at the moment. Oh, speaking of Rick, I'm sure you'll join me in congratulating him and Jen on the birth of their daughter, Abigail Grace.
OK, most of you don't know who they are, but congratulate them anyway, you hard-hearted people.
April 11th 2010
I should start by congratulating Olly and Katy on their wedding - so I have. The first of my (so far) three planned weddings this year, with Steve & Bronwen and Anthony & Becca to come - the former couple have thoughtfully decided to get married about seven minutes' walk from my house, whereas the latter couple have not been so accommodating. You can tell me all day that she's American; I still hold that weddings taking place outside of Bristol are sham marriages at best.Speaking of the great nation that is the United States of America, you may or may not know that they refer to "Where's Wally?" as "Where's Waldo?" over there, even though he's a British creation. It could be worse, the French call him Charlie, the Danish call him Holger and the Germans call him Wallgeschunderwissenaften [I'll check this one]. Anyways, I hear rumours on the grapevine that there's going to be a Where's Waldo? [sic] film, starring Jim Carrey as the intrepid hero. Early days, as of yet, so don't get too excited, but I look forward to it - as a kid, I used to love the TV series (which, admirably, was dubbed in British), so it's not as crazy as it sounds.
Unless it turns out like this, that is. That would be crazy.
In other film/TV news, we are soon to see the remake of The Prisoner on ITV. If you aren't aware of the 1960s original, it was a 17 part series starring Patrick McGoohan as a man kidnapped and taken to an island, and his attempts to discover why - and what on earth was going on. A series of people calling themselves Number 2 referred to him as Number 6 and refused to tell him who Number 1 was. There was a big white ball called Rover. And people said "Be seeing you" a lot.
I only saw five or so episodes - the first four and the last one - and I recommend that explanation fans steer clear. Basically, the series was a maze of confusion that had no answer: rather than revealing who Number 1 was, why McGoohan's character had been kidnapped and treated in such a peculiar manner, or what the island's purpose was (or, indeed, anything else) they had a mad man laughing and, if memory serves, some monkeys. I like answers to my questions, and while a little ambiguity is no bad thing, it is always disappointing to find that there is no great explanation (I fear that Lost viewers may be experiencing similar disappointment soon). It's like reading an Agatha Christie novel which, instead of ending with Hercule Poirot announcing the murderer's identity, ends with him cutting off his moustache and putting on a trilby. Ridiculous.
Where was I? Oh yes, the remake. Well, it turns out that this time round we do get an explanation, which can only be a good thing - if reports from across the Atlantic, where it has already been aired, are to be believed, this may be the only good thing about it. We shall see. But it can't be as annoying as the original.
April 13th 2010
It's probably a while since I complained about anything particularly (well, apart from The Prisoner last time out, and that was pretty half-hearted), so let me change that today - I'm going to moan about both Scrabble and Chris Morris.
Firstly, you may have noticed last week that the makers of Scrabble have announced that proper nouns will now be allowed. For those of you who've forgotten your school English lessons, a proper noun is a name - so things like Colin, Kentucky and Microsoft - and, until last week, they were banned from Scrabble. And only a blithering idiot would suggest that they should be allowed; by definition, a proper noun is a name, and as such not necessarily in a dictionary. Logically, with these new rules, there is absolutely no reason why I shouldn't decide to rename my shoe 'Gxnypho' and thus get all my letters out. My hope is that Scrabble is doing much the same thing that Coco Pops did when they briefly renamed themselves 'Choco Krispies' - gaining publicity and reminding people how much they loved the original. It was the same story with New Coke, I'm told.
Anyways, the Scrabble people have already committed to releasing versions of the game without the rule change - which seems a bit unnecessary, since it's only going to be a single line in the instructions (unless the letter ratio has also been changed to accommodate this madness). Wouldn't it be sufficient to have a one-size-fits-all with "You may choose to use proper nouns, if you're a blithering idiot, otherwise steer clear" in the instructions?
I'm not the only one who feels this way - indeed, one would hope that no one on this great green Earth would disagree - but the Times columnist who chose to make the point was unfortunate in being placed right next to an article about genocide in Rwanda. Sometimes we lose perspective.
Chris Morris, now (not to be confused with Johnny Morris). In 1997, on his Brass Eye programme, he got several television personalities, including Noel Edmonds and Bernard Manning, to warn people of the dangers of the drug 'Cake'. There was no such drug - it was all an elaborate 'satire' - and several people are of the opinion that this was hilariously funny.
Except, it's not funny, is it? Celebrities were told that they could help in dissuading people from taking a lethal drug, so they did so. No, they hadn't heard of the drug, but that's probably because they're not drug dealers - and, yes, some of them were persuaded to say things that, had they thought about it for a while, they would have realised didn't make sense. But perhaps they thought that the many, many people who die from taking recreational drugs - not to mention the ruined lives of those who aren't killed - was pretty serious. Perhaps they thought that helping to stop that, in any way possible, was a good idea. Perhaps they thought that other people thought like that too, so they trusted Morris. Mocking people for doing things that any decent person would do is not satire, and it's not funny.
As I say, Morris did this in 1997, but people were still laughing when Borat had the same premise - do something stupid and deceitful, then laugh at people who respond in the way that anyone would if confronted with such a situation - in 2006. Sometimes you just give up hope.
Well, there are my complaints for the day. Lollipops and rainbows next time, I assure you.
April 16th 2010
Once more, you find me revising. Today is struggling to be very productive, though - CA1 is a weird exam, but at the moment I feel I should be OK. I'm fine-tuning, as it were, which mostly means going over things with which I'm already pretty comfortable.
Anyways, I know you people won't believe I'm revising unless you see a video of it, so I've given you one below. Kinda like I did last year. My apologies if you spot any minor continuity errors.
April 17th 2010
In The One With the Memorial Service, Chandler pretends that Ross has died after being hit by a blimp ("It kills over one Americans every year"), and tells a friend that "he died doing what he loved - watching blimps." At the time I thought it was an unusually good line for Friends in its later series, but I've recently come to the theory that this joke works well with any punchline. But don't take my word for it:
He died doing what he loved - bleeding uncontrollably from the head.
He died doing what he loved - crossing the road.
He died doing what he loved - wearing clothes.
He died doing what he loved - operating heavy machinery.
He died doing what he loved - committing suicide.
Of course, it's not so funny if you don't like jokes about death. But feel free to tour the world, using only this gag. You will, I guarantee, make millions.
In other news, you can tell that this year's general election is getting the country excited, as even Simon watched the first ten minutes of the first leaders' debate. Nick Clegg, I think we're all agreed, was the most impressive of the candidates, but he didn't really have anything to lose. Neither Dave nor Gordo will have been terribly pleased by proceedings, but they won't be too worried yet, either. Two more debates to go, and it's still all to play for...
April 22nd 2010
Today has been my first day of freedom after the latest exam session (by 'freedom', I mean 'being at work', but every little helps). Now I can not only spend my evenings watching TV and playing Fifa, I can do so without feeling guilty.
Since you ask, the exams were a mixed bunch. Days one and two were CA1 (otherwise known as 'the really big one'), and while the first paper was nicer than average, the second was a bit of a stinker. Economic capital is very much like playing music quietly - it's not my forte. Golly, that was amusing. Anyways, CA3 (otherwise known as 'the one I've failed twice, which has led me to re-evaluate who I am as a person, but I try to laugh of these days') was a very nice paper, though I'm not sure I did justice to it. Results aren't out until mid-July or something, so we'll see how they go. My plan was that 2010 would be 'the year of the exam' (my apologies to my Chinese friends, who will tell me that it's the year of the ox. Or goat, or pigeon or something), with the intention of passing CA1, CA3, CT9, ST1 and ST2. I'll keep you updated.
In other news, you'll notice that I'm listening to Florence + the Machine, partly because I'm hip - and, it wouldn't surprise me to learn, hop - but mostly because Rob recommended it to me today. He is a man whose musical taste I respect, so I'm giving it a whirl on Spotify despite my reservations. So far, so good. It reminds me that I intended to make a list of my top 25 albums of the decade (my favourites, rather the ones I've released myself. My musical output has been somewhat limited recently, I must confess. Writing and singing credits on EduSpace aside, it's been a slack decade). Watch this space.
Speaking of Spotify, they've just recommended the dating site mysinglefriend.com - this is the first time I've seen a dating site that is not actually aimed at single people, but at their friends. I don't really have a point, except that I find dating sites intrinsically amusing (and, you could argue, inevitable. But not till I'm at least 30, or I find a good picture of myself - whichever comes first).
Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that it's nearly May, and I have all sorts of exciting activites lined up. People visiting from Uni (though we haven't got round to asking them yet), Don McLean in concert, voting in the General Election, paintballing, the Bristol Actuarial Society quiz, Steve's stag do, changing teams at work, a two day residential CT9 course... May will be t'exciting.
Speaking of May, did you know that "cast ne'er a clout till May be out" may refer to May as in Hawthorns (boo!), rather than the month? According to the first website I found when I Googled the phrase, opinion is divided. I have no strong feelings on this one, so I'll leave it to your own wisdom.
Before I leave you tonight, I should mention the second leaders' debate. Since I'm almost certainly going to vote Tory, and Matt is now an avowed Lib Dem, there is some difference of opinion in our household - but we were both agreed that there was no clear winner tonight. Personally I think that Nick Clegg's immigration policy is badly thought out (he's essentially extending an amnesty to illegal immigrants currently in the country, and believes that regional permits for foreign workers are feasible), but David Cameron just doesn't do enough to make me proud of voting for his party, and I decided against Gordon Brown some time ago. Speaking of Brown; I know it's not an important factor in choosing a Prime Minister, but is there any joke he can't mess up? After some feeble attempts last week, he eventually garbled out a line about his two competitors reminding him of his children at bath time. It's a gag that could have worked well in the mouth of another candidate - Tony Blair springs to mind - but Alistair Campbell must be ruing the hours he no doubt spent writing it, such was Brown's delivery.
My last thought, until next week's debate, is just how annoyed I'm getting by Clegg repeatedly referring to the "Cold War Trident missile" - it's almost as bad as Cameron's insistence on describing National Insurance contributions as "jobs tax". Politicians treat the electorate as idiots because, to be frank, most of us are. But it can get a little wearing.
April 25th 2010
Colin's Online Diary is your first port of call, I would hope, for all televisual news. To reward your faith in me, I'd like to update you on Doctor Who, as I watched the fourth episode of the new series tonight.
First, though, let me take you back to last week's episode, in which the Doctor and Amy answered a call for aid from Winston Churchill (weakly impersonated by a chubby guy permanently munching a cigar) and encountered the Daleks. But these were not any old Daleks; they were new, improved Daleks - though the only obvious difference to their previous incarnation was that the news ones are in a range of bright poster-paint colours.
It was, by some margin, the worst episode of the new series so far, not only because the storyline was pretty weak, but because the entire episode only existed to sell merchandise. I mean, look at them. Those Daleks were only made pretty colours so that new Dalek toys can be sold to kids (or, rather, their parents). The Times tells me that a couple of versions of the Daleks have already been popular stocking fillers in the last few years, but I don't know whether or not the show was prostituted so clearly in the past. Disappointing.
What makes it worse is that, despite what my mother tells me, Daleks are simply not scary. Seeing one of them rotate slowly then zap somebody with a kitchen whisk is faintly ridiculous, rather than frightening, and while there's very little the BBC can do to change that, colouring them in just makes it worse. I am at a loss to know how generations were kept hidden behind their sofas by villains so obviously cobbled together on a wet Thursday afternoon.
But! This weekend's Doctor Who was scary. I mean, I'm a 24 year old man - man, I say - so naturally I don't hide behind my sofa. But I won't say I wasn't tempted. The villains this week were 'Weeping Angels' (I believe they've appeared before), creatures that are carved from stone, but only when you look at them. Look away - or blink - and they come alive, move lightning fast and try to kill you; any image of an Angel becomes itself an Angel; they can infiltrate your mind (for example, they make Amy believe her hand has turned to stone)... compare that with the Daleks, which are essentially bobbly oversized pepper pots, and there's no contest. I've discussed previously my fear of supposed inanimate objects being alive - it is, and always will be, the scariest thing TV can throw at me - so perhaps the Weeping Angels are less scary to the masses than they are to me. Please feel free to let me know, or to provide a thesis on why the Daleks are, in fact, terrifying.
In other news, I was at Wolves vs Blackburn with Powly yesterday, and had a great day. It was helped by Sylvan Ebanks-Blake scoring an equaliser for Wolves with his first touch, giving us a 1-1 draw and a valuable point in our battle against relegation - in fact, hundreds of Wolves fans invaded the pitch at the end, despite the stadium announcer repeatedly pointing out that safety wasn't yet guaranteed. He was being a trifle pedantic, really, and Burnley's crushing defeat to Liverpool today means we are definitely - 'mathematically', as pundits insist on saying at this time of the season - safe. Premiership football at Molineux for at least another season - very good news, as I'm sure you'll agree.
April 29th 2010
It is the third leaders' debate tonight, and I realise I've mentioned the previous two without any thought for my readers who are uninformed on such matters. If you're politically unaware, or not based in Blighty, I fear I may have bored you. But worry not! This handy cut out and keep guide should help you in following what is left of this election campaign - just for y'all, here are the leaders of the three main parties:
|what was I listening to?
Showbiz - Muse
|what was I reading?
Crossroads of Twilight - Robert Jordan
|what was I watching?