Category Archives: World of TV

On Sharks, And How To Jump Them Successfully

SPOILERS for Death in Paradise, Grey’s Anatomy and X-Files

Tonight, the truth will be revealed. Or, you know, it won’t. It’s hard to say. I mean, FBI Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully have been looking for it since 1993 and haven’t found it yet, despite having lost pretty much all members of their families, been impossibly impregnated, survived alien cancer, brought down numerous government conscpiracies, stopped vampires, ghouls, poltergeists and chupacabras, and been abducted by extraterrestrials at least twice between them. After all that excitement, you’d think that everything that needed to be said about aliens would have been said – but here they come again, with a new mini-series of The X-Files starting in the UK on Channel 5 this evening.

I meet this news with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I love Mulder, I love Scully, I love Mulder/Scully, I love Skinner (see this earlier blog post), I love the witty repartee, I love the music and I LOVE a good mystery. But having watched the whole show, in order, years after it was originally broadcast, I quickly started to get frustrated with the whole alien thing. Monster of the Week episodes – yes. Increasingly absurd and nonsensical myth-arc which grew more ludicrous and more tedious by the week – no. In The X-Files’ defence, I have a terrible memory, so it wasn’t entirely the show’s fault that I spent quite a lot of time in the latter seasons going, “Who’s that? Is he an alien? What did she do before? Didn’t he die? Why’s she doing that? Is that Mulder’s dad? Is THAT Mulder’s dad? Was he that guy with the thing? Who’s that? Who’s THAT? Why can’t that guy with the waterbed come back?” Deficits of my brain notwithstanding, I really feel like the last few seasons were specifically designed to confuse and alienate viewers (pun very much intended), for reasons I can’t begin to fathom. So, bringing it back now, eight years after the concluding film… Has The X-Files jumped the shark?

This phrase, as you may know, comes from an episode of Happy Days in which the Fonz, out for a casual water-ski one sunny day, literally has to jump over a shark. Cue applause, many rounds of ‘Ey!’, and groans from audiences all over the country who decided that this was quite frankly absurd and that enough was enough. The producers didn’t listen to the groans and delivered six more seasons, but the deed was done, and now that poor shark is immortalised in pop culture as a symbol of a show past its sell-by date – when something so ludicrous happens that you know the show is never going to be the same again.

And it’s not that hard to argue that, indeed, The X-Files jumped the shark some time ago. One major category of shark-jumping (according to TV Tropes, fount of all film and television knowledge) is to do with plot. A show can push its own self-destruct by, among other things, radically altering its premise, drastically and suddenly changing its mood, throwing in endless plot twists, or absolutely refusing to tie up its main storyline, leaving it hanging about, getting more and more complex and inexplicable, until viewers lose not only the will to watch but the will to live. I’m not saying that’s the case with The X-Files or anything, but let me just note that the official TV Tropes designation for this occurrence is ‘The Chris Carter Effect’ – Chris Carter being the guy who, um, created The X-Files

Of course, shark-jumping isn’t all about plot. Another major kind of shark-jump – possibly the most common – is cast changes, including but not limited to the removal of a popular character, a new character that everyone hates, replacing an actor and claiming it’s the same character, or replacing a character with a totally different character who’s actually exactly the same. I highly recommend that you go and check out the various lists of occasions on which these have occurred (assuming you have a spare week to get hopelessly lost in an endless web of pop culture titbits) but today I’m concerned with a few shows in particular that have undergone these changes, starting with Death in Paradise.

Series 5 of this desert-island murder mystery is currently showing on BBC1, and, cast-wise, it bears little or no resemblance to series 1, which I adored. It’s still a cosy mystery set on a beautiful tropical island and all that jazz, but of the four main characters who began the series, only one is left, and it’s the worst one. (Sorry, Danny John-Jules – loved your work in Maid Marian and her Merry Men, though). The first heartbreaking disappearance was Ben Miller’s pernickety English detective with a penchant for paperwork and inappropriately warm suits, replaced by Kris Marshall’s goofy English detective who’s decided to really just embrace this whole Caribbean thing. Initially I was very upset by this, and considered giving up there and then; but I battled through, and Marshall won me over. But then – BUT THEN. The next character to leave was Fidel, the lovely young sergeant played by Gary Carr; and then, travesty of travesties, Sara Martins’ suave French lady detective went as well. Quelle désastre, as they would say on Saint Marie.

And the thing about that is – OK, actors leave. But in Death in Paradise they haven’t been replaced by new exciting characters that will take the show in a different direction. They’ve been replaced by almost identical characters who look like them and sound like them but just aren’t them. It’s weird and I can’t get my head around it.

What other tropes should we avoid, then, if we want the shark to stay firmly unjumped? Here’s one: overuse of gimmicks, such as special guest stars, musical episodes, clips shows or the release of a movie. What show am I about to talk about…? Yep.

Poor old Simpson family. From humble beginnings as a short section on someone else’s show, they went from strength to strength on the basis of being really damn funny. But times are a-changing, and now there are other cartoon for grown-ups, so what choice do they have but to keep on pushing or give up completely?

You could fill a book with analyses of the celebrities who’ve cameoed on The Simpsons (in fact, someone probably has. If not, they should – can you say ‘money spinner’?!). Simpsons vocal alumni include Stephen Hawking, Glenn Close, Buzz Aldrin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Justin Bieber, Richard Dawkins, Eric Idle, Julian Assange, Richard Branson, Paul and Linda McCartney, Elizabeth Taylor, Pete Sampras, Tony Blair and, of all people, Cat Deeley. True, the fact that the show can get such a raft of glitterati involved is impressive – but you do have to wonder what it’s trying to distract you from with all these famous voices.

Likewise, what are they hiding beneath all the musical numbers? I have to say, I actually feel kind of unfair complaining about this, because The Simpsons’ musical episodes are by and large utterly glorious. There’s a whole generation of people who only need to hear the opening chords to Mr Burns’ ‘See My Vest’ in order to jump up onto a table and start belting out the most beautiful nonsense about grizzly bear underwear (and don’t even get me started on the bundle of delight that is Spider-Pig. That came from the movie, though, and we all know that releasing a movie is a Sure Sign of sharks being jumped). Nonetheless, you can’t keep a show going on music and funny voices alone, and the slow but steady decline of quality in the actual storylines of The Simpsons is basically a fact of life now (allow me to insert a link to a particularly apt episode of my favourite podcast here), and the fact that it still keeps on rolling is a cause of wonderment to pretty much everyone, not least, I would imagine, the show’s producers.

But that’s the thing – a shark jump is not necessarily a death sentence (however much people – including me – might whinge about it). Here’s a classic example: over the last few weeks, I’ve been catching up with the most recent season of Grey’s Anatomy. “Grey’s Anatomy?!” I hear you cry. “Is that still a thing?!” Why yes it is, dear reader, and I’m still watching it, slowly, bit by bit, as new DVDs trickle over from across the pond, since all British TV networks appear to have given up on it some time ago. Yet, on a hospital-shaped set somewhere in LA, a group of actors are still putting on white coats and saying things like, “This guy’s going to crash, we’ll have to do an emergency heart transplant, prep OR 1 stat and tell my spouse and/or children that my work comes first, I’m a surgeon, dammit!”

Grey’s has basically run the gamut of shark-jumps. It’s killed off or otherwise thrown out numerous beloved characters (George, Denny, Cristina and of course the one and only McDreamy); introduced odious new replacements (Arizona. There, I said it. She irritates the hell out of me and I’m not sorry); completely changed the personalities of key figures (George, the sweetest person in the world, cheating on his wife? Come on now); resolved all manner of sexual tensions (Meredith and Derek, Cristina and Owen, Callie and Arizona, Jackson and April, to name but a few); and thrown an absurd number of outlandish scenarios at the main character (hurricane, fire, secret sister, other secret sister, shooting, drowning, call from President, best friend moving to Switzerland, plane crash), from which she has emerged with no more personality than at the start of the series. It’s also had a musical episode and a spin-off, which you will by now recognise as classic examples of shark-jumping. But I STILL LOVE IT. The most recent season had me laughing, weeping, booing, cheering and, crucially, wanting to watch more.

So maybe there’s hope for The X-Files as well. I shall sit down tonight, snacks in bowl and notepad in hand, ready to embrace Mulder, Scully, Skinner and even Cigarette-Smoking Man, open to the idea that it might still be worth loving.the-x-files-i-want-to-believe-print


10 Highly Questionable TV Crushes

Yesterday evening, as well as the excitement of the first Only Connect quarter-final on BBC2, BBC3 brought us the new series of American Dad!, the much-less beloved baby brother of Family Guy. Always one to go off in my own slightly inexplicable direction, I actually prefer American Dad! to its brash and noisy older sibling. For one thing, it has Patrick Stewart in it. For another, it doesn’t have Quagmire (giggidy giggidy go away you are too creepy to be amusing). But perhaps the main reason for my preference is that I have quite a big soft spot for patriarch and eponymous American Dad Stan Smith. I really shouldn’t. He’s barking mad, often very sinister, and also he’s a cartoon. But nonetheless I see his enormous chin and hear his absurd pompous voice and I think, “Ah, Stan. How about slipping some of that American-ness my way, baby?”.

Therefore, in his honour, I now present to you Screen-Eyed Monster’s ’10 Highly Questionable TV Crushes’.

1. Stan Smith (American Dad!)

For those unfamiliar with American Dad!, Stan is your quintessential Republican. He always wears a suit with a little American flag lapel pin; he works for the CIA; he is immensely single-minded in his devotion to both God and Ronald Reagan (not necessarily in that order); he’s horrified by anything remotely left-wing (i.e. his daughter) or non-heteronormative (i.e. his son); in short, he’s sexist, homophobic, bigoted and gun-crazy. But here’s the thing – he’s actually quite sweet sometimes. I mean, he lets an alien and a talking goldfish (inhabited by the mind of a former East German ski-jumper, obvs) live rent-free in his all-American house. And he’s a very snappy dresser. And one time he sacrificed an eye and a hand to save the life of his estranged wife in a post-apocalyptic dystopia run by the Anti-Christ. So, you know, you sort of feel like you’d be safe with Stan. Unless he could only save either you or George W. Bush, in which case you’re a goner.

2. Nigel McCall (Rev)

At first glance, it’s fair to say, Nigel doesn’t appear to be a major heart-throb (even if you generously ignore the fact of his name). As the lay reader at a small inner-city church, he seems to have a problem with authority, which is a bit odd for someone apparently devoting his life to working for the Supreme Authority, and generally wears either a V-neck sweater or a cassock – so not exactly your go-to guy for flights of feverish fantasy. In addition, he’s worryingly strait-laced, posh, pernickety, fastidious, slightly camp and humorously out-of-touch with young people. I guess in that sense he’s quite similar to the actor who plays him, Miles Jupp. In fact, Jupp is the son of a minister and studied divinity, so really they have an awful lot in common. OK, fine, I have a crush on Miles Jupp. Stop banging on about it.

3. Barney Stinson (How I Met Your Mother)

Ah, Barney Stinson. Womaniser, philanderer, inventor of the Lemon Law. Not a bad person, really, but hardly the ideal date/boyfriend/husband, not least because he seems completely incapable of committing to any other human for more than about twelve seconds. His motto is ‘Love ‘em and leave ‘em’ (well, that’s not strictly true – his mottoes are ‘Suit up’, ‘Legen – wait for it – dary’ and ‘When I get sad, I stop being sad and be awesome instead – true story’) and he bounces between attractive women faster than you can say ‘Bob Barker’s your dad’. Nonetheless, he has a sweet side, mainly involving a troubled youth as a lonely hippie and a surprising soft spot for babies. Bless! Sign me up.

4. Walter Skinner (The X-Files)

FBI Assistant Director Walter Skinner is a man on a mission: to keep America safe from threats both terrestrial and extra-terrestrial. Sure, at the start of the series he has little time for Mulder’s wacky theories, but then Mulder is trying to convince him that aliens are trying to kill us all, which, let’s be honest, does sound a bit bonkers. But after a few run-ins with bad guys not of this world, Skinner starts to believe (certainly quicker than Scully does), and then he’s a steadfast ally, giving leeway where leeway is needed and reining things in when they get out of hand. He also had the balls to take on his evil boss, the Cigarette-Smoking Man, and he very much enjoys a good bubble bath. In fact, aside from the age gap (he’s 50 by the end of the series) and the fact that he has a bit of a bald thing going on, I’m not sure this one is actually that weird. Right? Right…?

5. Jack Donaghy (30 Rock)

Jack Donaghy is basically Stan Smith if Stan Smith joined NBC as a network executive. Staunch Republican – check. Snappy dresser – check. Severe disdain for namby-pamby airy-fairy lefties – check. At times it seems all he cares about is money, seducing powerful women and money. But, disconcerting capitalist dogma notwithstanding, Jack’s a pure charmer; after all, you don’t get to be Vice President of East Coast Television and Microwave Oven Programming by alienating everyone you meet. In fact, as frontwoman Liz Lemon becomes increasingly selfish and morally ambiguous, Jack starts to shine as a beacon of common sense, conscience and compassion. Either that, or I’ve been so mesmerised by his hypnotic blue eyes and perfect hair that I’ve lost all sense of reality.

6. Brian Steadman (Teachers)

The thing about Brian is that he’s not a bad guy. It’s just that, well, he only ever wears tracksuits (he’s a PE teacher, after all), he’s not brilliant with the ladies (“This has nothing to do with you being fat, which you’re not, you’re just healthy… in a large way”) and he finds it hard to keep up with all this new-fangled political correctness – indeed, finds it hard to keep up with much of anything at all. Still, he seems all right at his job, and certainly manages to avoid some of the worse traits found in his colleagues, such as chain-smoking, one-night stands, sleeping with students, and whining constantly every second of every day. RIP, Brian. RIP.

7. Leonardo (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)

By way of introduction to this one, let me quote Wikipedia: “The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are a team of mutant red-eared sliders named after four Renaissance artists and living in the sewers of New York City, where they train by day and fight crime by night as ninjas.” Standard. So, yes, essentially I’m saying I have a crush on a humanoid terrapin who lives in a drain. But not just any humanoid terrapin who lives in a drain, oh no. Leonardo is the leader of the gang. He’s the man (turtle) in charge. He’s the hero. He gets stuff done. And you’d never want for pizza.

8. Dennis Reynolds (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia)

My God, Dennis is a terrible person. I mean, even in the context of It’s Always Sunny, in which every character is appalling, Dennis surpasses them all by being outstandingly horrible. Ever pushed a former friend out of a moving car? Dennis has. Ever bought a boat so you could lure women onto it and coerce them into sleeping with you? Dennis has. Ever installed a glory hole in the bathroom of the bar you own? Dennis has. Ever threatened to kill your sister, chop her into small pieces and make her into a fetching suitcase? Dennis has, and he would do it again. Is he a sociopath? Perhaps. At the very least, he’s sufficiently odious that I’m really struggling to justify the fact that I’ve included him on a list of TV crushes. It certainly has nothing to do with the fact that he takes his shirt off a lot.

9. Huck Finn (Scandal)

Let’s get the bad news out of the way right at the start: Huck is a former Special Ops torturer who really, REALLY loved his job. As they say, once a torturer, always a torturer, and Huck remains a mass of inner turmoil and conflict (not helped by the fact that his ‘hero good guy’ employer keeps asking him if he could maybe just do a teensy-weensy bit of torturing, nothing too serious, all in a good cause, you know – but that’s a rant for another day). However, he has the following going for him. One – sympathy vote (he was blackmailed into becoming a torturer in the first place, so, you know, totally not his fault). Two – incredible loyalty to friends and family (see above re. ‘Nothing wrong with a bit of torturing between friends’). Three – strong technological game, including hacking into government mainframes, which would be useful in avoiding any pesky parking tickets / jury service / murder charges. Basically, however badly you mess up, Huck’s got your back. Maybe best to keep it turned away from him though.

10. Spike (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Spike, AKA William the Bloody. Yikes. Where to begin? Vampire without a soul. Killer. Thief. Double-crosser. Science experiment. Punk. Bleach blond. Writer of truly terrible poetry. On paper, it looks bad – any sensible girl or boy would stay the hell (geddit) out of his way and go for someone a bit more wholesome and human. But pretty much the entire Buffy fandom would pick Spike over, for example, wholesome human Riley Finn, who’s about as interesting as a piece of old sandpaper. And that’s because Spike is cool, all sarcastic and leather-clad and muscly and Cockney and cheekboney and and such. Having a crush on Spike is basically inevitable. Twisted, absurd and highly problematic, but inevitable.

So there you have it. Am I mad, or do I have an eye for a diamond in the rough? WE MAY NEVER KNOW.

Haven’t I Seen You Somewhere Before?

Things adapted from other things: a staple of modern pop culture. The world is full of films adapted from books, books adapted from films, musicals adapted from real life, books adapted from video games, comics adapted from films, films adapted from theme park rides, video games adapted from toys adapted from films (Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4 for PS3, anyone?). Naturally, coming up with original ideas is tricky, and adaptations are generally a safer bet. But the last few weeks have been particularly full of TV programmes that answer the ubiquitous question, “What new thing can we make a show about?” with “OK, does it have to be a new new thing…?” Poldark, Outlander, The Casual Vacancy, The Musketeers and The 100 are based on books; In and Out of the Kitchen and Nurse are adapted from Radio 4 shows; Arthur and George and Coalition are based on real-life events… You get the idea.

So I was planning to say that, in principle, I don’t have a problem with adaptations, but actually that’s not strictly the case; although there are some brilliant examples that I love, there are also many inherent aspects that make me a little bit sceptical about adaptations as a group.

Obviously, one of the biggest problems is making a narrative designed for one medium work in another. For one thing, how do you deal with the pacing? For a book-to-TV adaptation, say, how many hours of film should each chapter/book/series get? Understandably, detective stories tend to follow the rule ‘One mystery, one episode’ (see e.g. Inspector Morse or Miss Marple), although Midsomer Murders goes for stretching each book over two episodes. Other dramas take it more slowly: a single book might get three episodes (The Casual Vacancy), or an entire series (Outlander, Game of Thrones). Poldark, interestingly, seems to have bucked this trend. I haven’t read the books (by Winston Graham, about a Cornish mine owner in the late 18th century), but I gather from swimming about in the depths of the Internet that the series is rushing through them apace. This could explain why it feels as though everything is happening at once: in the first three episodes we’ve had one war, two weddings (one between two people who’d never met in Episode 1), two pregnancies (that is, the whole nine months with a birth at the end), one near-fatal duel, one near-fatal stroke and one month-long cooking injury healed in a few seconds. In a way it’s impressive that they’ve managed to squeeze so much in there and not make it completely insane, but at the same time it does sort of detract from the genius of television (as opposed to film), which is that things can develop over time. The ratio of Poldark to everyone else is also on the high side. While there are obvious advantages to this (*cough*AidanTurner*cough*), it means that we don’t always get a lot of development of the other characters, some of whom really deserve it (e.g. young urchin-cum-goddess Demelza, whose awful curtsies are some of the best things ever to happen on TV).

Of course, you can avoid this tricky time-management issue by picking a source text that already exists at the speed you want, such as, ooh, I don’t know, adapting a half-hour radio comedy into a half-hour television comedy…? Examples are numerous, but I’ve recently been watching In and Out of the Kitchen (which I was familiar with as a radio show) and Nurse (which I was not). Pacing-wise, they’re golden; but there are other dangers and pitfalls in adapting between two media forms that seem outwardly similar. A striking one is the fact that all of a sudden you can see the characters, which seems like an obvious thing to say, but which has a slightly odd effect on Nurse, in particular. Nurse is described as a comedy drama, and revolves around a community mental health nurse (played by Esther Coles) who goes to visit various different patients, most of whom are played by Paul Whitehouse. On the radio, I imagine this was genius: he’s a splendid and convincing impersonator of human voices. But when you can actually see the characters, it’s rather more obvious that they’re all him, and, for me, the self-indulgence of this detracts somewhat from taking the programme seriously. In fact – laying my cards on the table – I’m constantly reminded of the Aviva adverts where Whitehouse plays a weird range of different OTT (and frequently camp) characters who’ve nonetheless all got a great deal on their car insurance!!!!! Nurse has received positive reviews from various trustworthy sources, including the Independent, the Radio Times  and Richard Osman on Twitter, but I’m just not feeling it: it’s like they took a successful radio programme and plopped it into TV without really asking how they could make it a new and interesting show.

As a counterpoint to this, I’d like to present In and Out of the Kitchen, also a half-hour Radio 4 comedy that’s recently come over all televisual. Now IAOOTK (hmm, not a great acronym – let’s go with Kitchen instead) has not been quite so positively received as Nurse, mainly because, in the words of my favourite TV Editor Alison Graham, “the alchemy of some shows just works better on radio”. Basically, the premise of the radio programme is that Damien Trench, a cookery writer, narrates his day-to-day life, with other characters coming in and providing dialogue when relevant. Clearly this is a non-starter for TV, where voiceover is insufficient; but I think we have to give the programme makers credit for realising this, and for approaching the TV version in a different way. The scenes with other actors now take the forefront, while the narration is replaced by the occasional piece-to-camera (admittedly a tad disconcerting when it first happens) and snippets of scenes that are essentially Damien hosting a cooking show, albeit one where there’s no audience. Personally, I think the cooking scenes are quite a clever mockery of the melodrama of real cookery programmes, and I also think the characters are more rounded in the TV version. So there: transfer to TV successful.

Another positive of Kitchen is that the characters from the radio show are maintained, but the plots are fairly loosely gathered from various series, with a certain disregard for when and where they fit into the overall narrative. The reason I call this a positive is that my other big quibble with adaptations, assuming you’ve read/watched/heard/played/experienced the source material, is that you generally know what’s going to happen in the end. Now friends have put forward the argument that, actually, having an idea of where things are going is a positive thing, since it allows you to judge whether they’re getting there in a convincing fashion. But that’s not at all the attitude I take. I like to pretend TV is real (while I’m watching it, that is; I would definitely never think about TV characters as real people outside the TV-watching moment, that would be insane, what do you take me for, some kind of crazy fangirl?). So I like the element of surprise, and excitement, and ‘Ooh, where is this going next?’ – which I didn’t get in, say, The Casual Vacancy, because I’d read the book. I knew who was going to sleep with whom. I knew who was going to win the council seat left tragically empty by the death of one of the few nice people in the entire town. I knew who was going to behave like an ass-hat (answer: pretty much everyone). Now I do concede that this isn’t the be-all-and-end-all of storytelling, and Casual Vacancy had many other things to recommend it. The overall story is obviously compelling, hence it being adapted in the first place; and the acting was generally excellent, in particular Abigail Lawrie (troubled teenager and unofficial foster mother Krystal) and Julia McKenzie, whose unbearably cute little face seriously belied the venom and nastiness spewing forth from her character. But it would’ve been nice to be surprised by the plot twists along the way.

I should say at this point that I’m probably being a bit unfair in picking out all the bits that didn’t work with the above adaptations. For the record, I enjoyed The Casual Vacancy (and In and Out of the Kitchen), and Poldark, while not my favourite show ever, rolls along quite nicely. But what I’m trying to get at is: adaptations are tricky blighters. Yes, you’ve got a narrative that definitely works and a ready-made fanbase, but you also have to tread several fine lines between faithfulness and freedom, old and new, surprise and disappointment. Overall, I think, I like a loose adaptation. Although they run the risk of infuriating the die-hard fans (which in many cases includes me), some well-aimed changes to the source material can freshen a show up and introduce some much-needed elements of surprise. They had a go at this in Casual Vacancy, when it was announced in advance that the ending had been changed because the book’s original dénouement was deemed “too grim”. I had no quibble with that: the ending of the book was indeed bleak and miserable, and I got quite excited at the prospect of something a bit more uplifting (and, of course, surprising) happening instead. In the event, I was less put out by the fact that they changed the ending and more concerned about how they changed it. Without wanting to spoil it too much, only one person died, instead of the two who died in the book, and a different character had a final redeeming moment. So, um, not that different, then, and still pretty death-y.

Other shows have been more daring in switching things up: Games of Thrones, for example, has recently departed completely from the books, largely because the written series can’t keep up with the TV one. I’m hoping that Outlander (released on Amazon Prime today) goes down this route too. Having read and enjoyed the first book (summary: WW2 nurse goes back in time to Jacobite Scotland and gets mixed up in clan warfare; also sex), there were a few strands that could do with being subjected to the Tom Bombadil Effect, and a few other events and bits of characterisation that could definitely be tightened up for the television series. In particular, some of the episode descriptions seem to suggest that Frank – the main character’s husband who gets left behind in 1945 – gets a bit more of a look-in in the show than he did in the book, and if that’s the case I’ll be extremely pleased. That kind of judicious adaptation strategy, combined with some nice Highland scenery (and probably some more instances of young-rustic-yet-masterful-hero-with-six-pack-displays-anachronistic-penchant-for-taking-his-shirt-off, such as have proved so popular in Poldark) could make Outlander the adaptation of the decade. Let’s go, guys. We can do it. Adapt and prosper.


(Note: If anyone is seeking to adapt this blog or my life story for television, the fee will be £10,000 in gold bullion, the secret recipe for Joe’s Ice Cream and a lifetime’s subscription to all current and future television-streaming services.)

Ten Tragic TV Couples

This Valentine’s Day, are you fed up of red roses, boxes of chocolates, lacy hearts, public displays of affection and awful puns? Then read on for the ultimate antidote to Valentine’s Day Nausea: the Screen–Eyed Monster Official List of Ten Tragic TV Couples (featuring exclusive RoJu Tragicness Rating).

SPOILERS for, among others, Angel, Buffy, Doctor Who, Downton Abbey and Grey’s Anatomy.

 10. Edmund Blackadder and ‘Bob’/Kate (Blackadder II)

Pic 0023 Blackadder Bob

Edmund Blackadder: nobleman, wit, raconteur, all–round arsehat. The one time he ever shows any consideration for someone other than himself is when he finds himself falling for his new manservant, Bob. Fortunately for the standards of the Elizabethan Age, ‘Bob’ turns out to be Kate in disguise, and Blackadder is able to seduce and marry her. Or at least, that’s the plan, until best man Lord Flashheart waltzes in with a canoe in his pocket and steals the bride–to–be. Edmund is never nice to anyone ever again.

RoJu Rating: 1/10 (because Blackadder still has Baldrick)

9. Phoebe Buffay and David the Scientist (FRIENDS)

Blog 0023 Phoebe David

Phoebe is swept off her feet by David’s awkward approach to her in Central Perk, explaining that the only reason he is talking during her performance is that he can’t believe how beautiful she is. But their time together can only be fleeting, for David is about to take up a research post in Minsk. A few more brief encounters over the years keep the hope alive, but Phoebe can’t wait forever, and eventually finds Mike instead. David’s last–minute attempt to win Phoebe back by proposing to her is overshadowed by Mike’s simultaneous proposal; rejected at the last hurdle, David sadly returns to Minsk, never to be seen again.

RoJu Rating: 2/10 (because Phoebe, at least, found happiness in the end)

8. Susan Mayer and Mike Delfino (Desperate Housewives)

Pic 0023 Susan Mike

Very much the Ross and Rachel of Wisteria Lane, Susan and Mike had a relationship more complicated than a Shakespeare comedy. Was he a murderer?Was she still in love with her ex–husband? Would she rather marry an Englishman? Or a house painter? Was he going to spend the rest of his days in a coma? Was she going to lose both kidneys? Would she be arrested for helping to conceal the murder of her friend’s evil stepfather?  The answer to all of these questions eventually being ‘no’, Susan and Mike marry for a second time to raise their son together; but then Mike is killed by a loan shark and it’s almost as if none of the last ten years ever happened…

RoJu Rating: 3/10 (because by the end of the series we were totes over it)

7. Gregory House and Lisa Cuddy (House)

 Pic 0023 House Cuddy

House was a genius, yes, but so rude, callous and infuriating that nobody could really put up with him… apart from Cuddy, his long–suffering boss, friend and, for a brief glorious period, girlfriend. The sexual tension was palpable from the get–go, and it almost seemed for a moment or two as if a relationship with Cuddy would lead House to grow up and start caring about other people. But his self–destructive tendencies got the better of him, and when he drove a car into Cuddy’s living room, she made the (entirely justified) move of leaving his life forever.

RoJU Rating: 3/10 (because House’s true love is really Wilson)

6. Cristina Yang and Owen Hunt (Grey’s Anatomy)

Blog 0023 Cristina Owen

From the moment Owen flew into the ER riding a gurney and desperately trying to keep alive a man on whom he’d performed an emergency tracheotomy with a pen, Cristina was smitten. They got together almost immediately, and stuck with each other through bouts of PTSD, shootings, storms, an unexpected pregnancy, friends’ deaths, a rushed marriage and an affair. Ultimately, their relationship failed for one reason alone: he wanted kids, and she didn’t. After six years, they realised there was no way to compromise. So they called it a day, and Cristina moved to Switzerland.

RoJu Rating: 4/10 (because no–one died, but life just got in the way)

5Toadie Rebecchi and Dee Bliss (Neighbours)

Blog 0023 Toadie Dee

Toadie was the class clown with no direction and a penchant for amateur wrestling; Dee was the beautiful nurse who was unlucky in love with several of Toadie’s housemates. After much prevaricating, Toadie and Dee realised they were meant to be together, and when a complex plot cooked up by Dee’s evil ex–boyfriend Dr Darcy threatened to derail their relationship, they battled through. Finally, FINALLY, their wedding day arrived – but as they drove away from the ceremony, Toadie lost control of the car and the happy couple plunged over a cliff into the sea. Toadie escaped to wrestle another day; Dee did not.

RoJu Rating: 4/10 (because Dee’s body was never found, and hope remains that she could come back)

4. Lady Sybil Crawley and Tom Branson (Downton Abbey)

Blog 0023 Sybil Branson

Things looked bleak from the beginning for the earl’s daughter and the chauffeur who fell in love despite the odds. He encouraged her to wear trousers and consider the plight of the working classes; she convinced him not to burn her family home to the ground. Eventually Sybil tells her parents the truth, but there’s no time for her father to disapprove, because the pair has eloped to Dublin, and shortly afterwards Sybil is pregnant with a tiny half–posh half–pinko baby. Can the tiny creature bring the family back together…? No, because Sybil dies in childbirth, leaving poor Tom alone to fend for himself and his new baby against the entitled onslaught of the Crawleys.

RoJu Rating: 6/10 (because it is better to have loved and lost than never to have eaten at the Crawley table)

3. The Doctor and Rose Tyler (Doctor Who)

Blog 0023 Doctor Rose

On the one hand, this was never going to work: a young Earthling and a centuries–old Time Lord, divided by millennia of experience. And yet, for a while, it did, with Rose saving the Doctor’s life almost as many times as he saved hers, and showing an impressive ability to get over the fact that, halfway through their relationship, he became a completely different person. But time gets us all in the end, and Rose ends up trapped in a parallel universe with a Doctor clone for company. The Doctor, once again, ends up alone.

RoJu Rating: 7/10 (because two Doctors are better than none)

2. Willow Rosenberg and Tara Maclay (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Blog 0023 Willow Tara

Willow didn’t realise she was into women until Tara arrived on the scene, full of witchy goodness. Together they help to defeat a multitude of vampires, demons and monsters, as well as serving as parental figures for teenage loner Dawn, until Willow starts to abuse her magical powers and alters Tara’s memory. Tara works hard to forgive her, and they finally reconcile – at which point Tara is accidentally killed by a wanton bullet, and Willow goes Dark, taking revenge on the perpetrator and very nearly summoning the Apocalypse in her grief. Yikes.

RoJu Rating: 9/10 (because the end of this relationship nearly brings about the end of the world)

1. Wesley Wyndam–Pryce and Winifred ‘Fred’ Burkle (Angel)Blog 0023 Wesley Fred

A second entry from the Buffyverse, because Joss Whedon apparently hates happiness, but this one’s a corker. Wesley the rogue vampire hunter falls secretly in love with shy librarian Fred, who chooses their colleague Gunn instead. After an extremely misguided affair with an evil lawyer and a stand–off against his own father to save Fred’s life, Wesley tells Fred the truth, and she reciprocates. Guess what, though? In the next episode she dies and her body is taken over by an ancient demon, who hangs around as a constant reminder that Fred is no more. Oh, and at the end of the season Wesley dies too.

RoJu Rating: 10/10 (because having to be friends with your ex’s corpse is just nasty)

Happy Valentine’s Day, guys!

10 New Year’s Televisiolutions

1) I will watch at least one documentary a week. Doctor Who Confidential and Horrible Histories do not count.

2) I will finally get round to watching all, or, more realistically, some of the following programmes: Once Upon A Time, The Tudors, Homeland, Orange Is The New Black, Black Mirror, Battlestar Galactica, Dollhouse, Orphan Black and Girls.

3) I will not binge-watch more than four episodes per night of any show on catch-up, Netflix or DVD, even if it is “getting to a really good bit”.

4) I will try not to get annoyed when friends and family members (a) shout out University Challenge answers (b) insist on watching sporting events or (c) eat loud foods at dramatic televisual moments.

5) I will not judge the quality of entertainment programmes by whether or not they have offered me multiple opportunities to tweet humorous comments.

6) I will read Radio Times when I purchase it each week, and not six weeks later when the information contained within it has become meaningless.

7) I will no longer find it necessary to accompany every television viewing with “something to nibble”, unless it is Eurovision, in which case I will ensure that I have something to nibble from every participating country.

8) I will make more effort to watch Newsnight and other current affairs programmes, and not just when there’s a laughably obnoxious figure of fun as a guest.

9) I will not fall in love with more than five television characters/actors at a time.

10) I will write a new blog post at least every two weeks.

Happy New Year!