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October 3rd 2012
The odds are that you are familiar with the phrase 'jumping the shark', used to indicate when something - particularly a television show - begins an inexorable decline from which it, somewhat tautologically, never recovers. As in: "I reckon Friends jumped the shark when Chandler and Monica got together" or "Last of the Summer Wine jumped the shark when Foggy left". The phrase derives from the fifth season premiere of Happy Days, in which Arthur "The Fonz" Fonzarelli proves his manliness by jumping over a shark while water-skiing. Critics in general - and a chap called Jon Hein in particular - hated the storyline and believed that it marked the beginning of the end for Happy Days, thus the phrase entered the lexicon. Which has always made me feel rather sorry for the guy who wrote it.
Thanks to the wonder that is Wikipedia, it is a matter of mere seconds for me to find out that Fred Fox Jr. was the man responsible for Fonzie's water-skiing (and leather-clad) exploits. It may have been a bad day at the office for him, but it's really got to sting to have written something so poor that it's become the benchmark by which all other poor writing is measured. It ain't gonna look good on your CV.
Then there's Scrappy Doo; a phrase that I don't often use to kick off paragraphs (except at work, where I litter my pricing reports with it at every opportunity). More or less the same notion as jumping the shark, but more specific, is the idea that the introduction of a particular character can damage a TV show beyond all repair, and Scrappy Doo is always the example given. See, for example, this quote from (the excellent) Are You Dave Gorman?: "We decided that the introduction of 'Uncle Albert' had damaged the sitcom Only Fools and Horses almost as much as the introduction of 'Scrappy Doo' had damaged the cartoon Scooby Doo." The little pup was so hated by almost everyone who came across him that the writers of the rather dreadful live-action Scooby Doo film even made him the villain of the piece.
The reason I bring him up is that the new season of The Big Bang Theory aired last week in the USA, and I am rather of the opinion that Amy is to The Big Bang Theory as Scrappy Doo was to Scooby Doo. Any comedy surrounding her is far too broad - not to mention repetitive - and provides an unpleasant contrast with the more subtly drawn and halfway realistic characters that make up the rest of the cast. I mean, I'm not saying they're packed with nuances or anything, but compared to Amy they're a whole bunch of Captains Subtle.
In other news, I am watching Top Gun - and being reminded of how good Hotshots! is - and they've just had the line "It's too close for missiles; I'm switching to guns". Remember when that was written at the bottom of half the pages on Facebook? What was that all about?

On this day in 2009... In other 'urgh' news, you may have seen that Wolves lost at home today... to Portsmouth, who had lost all seven of their games before this match. Come back, Steve Bull, we need you.

October 7th 2012
I didn't come here lookin' for trouble, I just came to do the Red Dwarf Shuffle.Last week saw the return to our screens of Red Dwarf, now in its tenth series a mere 24 years after it first aired. In case you're not familiar with the show, it's a sci-fi sitcom about the last surviving human, Dave Lister, living aboard a mining ship after three million years in stasis, with only three people for company: the ship's computer (Holly), a hologram of his former supervisor and nemesis (Arnold Rimmer) and the humanoid descendant of his pet cat (er... Cat). From series three onwards a mechanoid called Kryten joined the crew, and much later a token woman (Kristine Kochanski) was added; a Scrappy Doo character if ever there was one.
The early series of Red Dwarf, in particular, made great use of the possibilities of sci-fi, with things like time travel and alternative realities often explored. Whether it was due to the writers' fertile imaginations or simply budget constraints, it was a rare episode that didn't feature the main cast playing multiple characters, or perhaps the same characters but at different times (e.g. the second episode, Future Echoes). One of the reasons I was disappointed by the film 'Moon' was that, while it was lauded in many quarters, it was no more imaginative than your average episode of Red Dwarf. However, the show somewhat lost its way around series seven, and in series eight the whole dynamic of the show - a small, dysfunctional, band of misfits travel through space together - was turned on its head by the resurrection (something to do with nanobots; I can't be bothered to explain or, indeed, remember) of scores of Red Dwarf crew members. It was a mistake, and presumably recognised as such when siad crew members were all more or less ret-conned out of existence for series nine.
Ah, series nine. Also known as 'Back to Earth', it aired on Dave in 2009, ten years after the last episode of series eight had been shown. And... well... it wasn't very good. There were some clever ideas in the script, but it simply wasn't very funny, and - crucially - there was no studio audience or laughter track, the absence of which served to emphasise the weakness of the gags. Every punchline seemed to hang in the air, damned by the ensuing silence. However, the viewers tuned in to all three episodes (yes, three. I call it 'series' nine, but that feels like an exaggeration even for a British sitcom) and Dave were persuaded to come back for more, hence series ten.
So far we've only had one episode out of six, but it was definitely a return to form; the actors seemed to fall back into their old personae effortlessly, the jokes landed - my favourite was "That crate's slower than the speed of dark", and honourable mention must be given to "No, we hosed him down and gave him a hat", although that requires you to know a bit more of the context - and there was a pleasing confidence about both the script and the performances. My friend Pete, who is at least as big a fan of Red Dwarf as I am, raised the worrying possibility that they put the best episode up first in order to reel people in, so I'll try not to get too carried away until I've at least seen episode two this Thursday. So... not, perhaps, the best comeback since Lazarus, but possibly the best on since Rocky Balboa.

On this day in 2005... Yesterday was the grossly-underpublicised national poetry day (coming not long after I memorised Shall I Compare Thee?), and to mark the equation, our Analysis lecturer gave as a limerick he found on the Internet.

October 13th 2012
At work we have recently had 'Watching our Wealth' week, possibly so named as a hilarious pun on 'AXA Wealth', in which we have been encouraged to reduce the company's expenses by doing things like print in black & white (or not at all), tele-conference rather than travel across the country and stop giving away a free solid gold statue of Michael Parkinson with every life insurance product sold. Yep, from now on it's bronze or nothing. Preferably nothing.
As part of WoW week - an abbreviation that was sadly lacking in any of the intranet and, er, printed promotional material - employees were invited to enter a photo competition under the heading "What Watching our Wealth means to me". Well, I'm the kind of guy who likes to get behind AXA's endeavours - even ICE... lordy, do you remember ICE? That question only really applies to my readers who were working for AXA in 2008 - so I took a snap on my Samsung Galaxy Siii (I'm attempting a Bond-style product placement thing here, although I can't help but feel I should have got a contract sorted out, or something) of Nick switching offCheck out that thumb action someone's monitor. Y'know, to save electricity and therefore money, not to mention the baby seals. I'll be honest, the photo went from concept to set-up to execution in about seven seconds, but even so I think we can pleased with our work, which is shown, left, so you can judge for yourself. Well, I say it took seven seconds, but I must admit I then spent the best part of quarter of an hour coming up with a title for the photo, before finally plumping for "Monitoring the situation". What with it being a monitor and all, you see.
Six photos were submitted so that AXA employees could vote for their favourite, and I'm sorry to say that Nick's thumb-work and my pun skills were not sufficient for us to nab either first or second place (the other positions were not revealed, but I imagine we almost certainly came in third). And I'm not bitter, or anything, but I would like to point out that ours was the only photo that showed anything even vaguely resembling a cost saving. Other photographers - including both the first and second prize winners - went down the route of taking pictures of their daughters, and it appears that the good folk of AXA prefer a picture of cute, smiling child to a shot of a man switching off a monitor, no matter how pinpoint the accuracy of the latter. And, let me tell you, it was pinpoint. I take comfort from the fact that Van Gogh wasn't appreciated in his own time, either.
In other news, I have now bought three chart CDs in the space of just a few weeks, and I feel myself dangerously close to the cutting edge. The Killers, Bob Dylan and Muse, since you ask, and since they've had a combined recording history of 71 years - okay, 50 of that is Bob Dylan - I am perhaps not quite as edge-cutting as some people, but this is as close as it gets for me. I even managed to watch nearly two thirds of the Gangnam Style video last week, before switching to a Gandalf Style take-off instead. Neither, it has to be said, were worth the watching.

On this day in 2010... I have just returned from watching Back to the Future at the cinema, as it has been re-released "in glorious cinematic digital quality" to mark its 25th anniversary.

what was I listening to?
The Promise - Bruce Springsteen
what was I reading?
Game of Thrones - George R. R. Martin
what was I watching?
Top Gun
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