Thursday, 26 August 2010

Britain's Worst Husband (Virgin 1)

Quentin's got his dukes up.

When I sat down to watch Britain's Worst Husband I steeled myself for a display of the nation's most wicked spouses. A cavalcade of violence and infidelity nary seen since the reign of Henry the Eighth. Even Quentin Wilson himself (a man who's presenting style makes you feel like you're being told off by a boiled egg) promises that these are 'the worst of the worst'. Disappointingly these are unlikely to be anywhere near the worst unless the biggest offence a wife has experienced at the hands of her betrothed are trying to beat his fat arse dents out of the sofa cushions. These are men that merely see marriage less as an institution and more as a very personalised maid service.

We are introduced to 4 feckless vegetables that are the bane of their long-suffering wives' existence. First up, Brian. Brian is a gargantuan bolus of a man. Sitting in his armchair like a carrier bag full of wet bread he offers helpful comments to his beloved Ada ("Is that supposed to be a cup of tea?"). Brian stopped working due to a hip injury and never went back due to being exasperatingly bone idle. Ada shuffles between the kitchen and the throne with the expression of a holocaust survivor.

Then there's Carl. Carl is a surprising candidate because it's hard to believe he managed to spend long enough outside the walls of a police station to get married in the first place. His entire persona screams 'date rapist' and he slithers into view, bare-faced lies falling from his mouth like boxer's teeth. He met his wife Val by stumbling pissed into her back garden and she's tolerated him ever since. She gives an overview of his sparkling character between chain-smoking and chewing her fingers down to the knuckle.

The third contender is David, a football obsessed trainspotter type who's nylon tracksuit probably contained more personality when it was on the hanger. A dreary Nigel of a man, David admittedly spends 99% of his time playing or watching football and 1% actually paying attention to his exasperated family. In a bleak glimpse of what this involves we see David on a desolate football pitch, punting a ball through an abandoned goal and giving himself a little cheer. It seems David is so boring even other football bores don't want to be seen with him.

Lastly, we are introduced to Phil; a 38 yr old mashed-potato golem with the mind of a child. His 13 amp brain tick-tocks wildly between lazy ignorance and downright lunacy ("Women are all aliens. Aliens or wasps."). His wife, Carolynn, has the look of a woman on the edge. Whether it's the edge of divorce or homicide remains to be seen.

So the men are promptly thrust into their first challenge; to do a small number of simple household tasks within 30 minutes. Carl nearly detonates every electrical appliance in the kitchen, possibly explained by the fact he spends more time drinking and smoking than paying attention. David does little but make a mess and a bad smell. Brian outshines the rest of the team by showing all the domestic skill of a slice of ham. After boiling some pasta in milk he nearly electrocutes himself on the iron before melting the front off a dress. He finishes off by sweating heavily into the food. Finally, Phil shows everyone up by making a semi-decent effort but does so whilst mumbling grimly about 'woman's work'.

The second challenge sees all four couples having a romantic meal. Unfortunately the producers have decided that this would best be done with all four couples in the same restaurant seemingly devoid of any other diners. Dinner soon descends into a flatulent caterwauling and the men do everything possible to shame themselves and their wives short of flinging their own shit.

The men are then tasked with buying their wives a selection of thoughtful gifts. All fail miserably by normal standards but these women have been exposed to so much disappointment they probably get excited by a feint mist. Presents of note include earplugs and a wok. Carl steals the show by pissing away most of his allotted cash on a thunderously tacky smoking whirlpool with an oyster floating in it. Brian is the most clueless shopper and looks confused at the very notion of walking into a shop, nevermind actually buying something lady-flavoured. Every attempt at commerce looks set to give Brian a crushing migraine as he gawps into shop windows like a reindeer staring at a diagram of a jet engine. Shockingly, his efforts, whilst completely underwhelming, stand so far above 45 years of shuffling ineptitude that Ada literally crumples with joy.

In a futile attempt to train the beasts into passable human beings they are plopped in front of a romance coach. When asked where they think women like to be touched, the least insensible answer is 'on the face'.

Lastly the men are given 5 minutes in which to offer up some grain of affection in the hopes of securing future marital bliss. David talks like he's reading the football scores, Phil has forgotten what he's supposed to be doing, Carl gets away with a nauseating performance but scores highly for remembering to use the L word but the best offering has to be from Brian who, realising he's pretty fucked by this point, turns on the waterworks and blubs like a fat girl at a school disco. Irrespective of how sincere this episode may have been it becomes clear that Brian has secured himself another twenty years of bacon sandwiches and when the final vote comes it's Phil the Man-Child that comes off worse.

The entire process is completely academic anyway and therefore depressingly futile. It's clear that none of the men involved are interested in personal growth and all the women are so brow-beaten they'd stay put even if the men grew an extra mouth on their foreheads just for swearing. Quentin rambles smugly to camera, dreaming of the day they let him talk about Ferraris again and mercifully we're done.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Baby Beauty Queens (BBC3)

I'm just so happy...
Baby Beauty Queens is a furtid glance into the frantic tedium that is the life of a child pageant contestant. Although not the first such peek into the lunatic world of glittered contempt and teeth-grinding desperation, BBC3 clearly found previous ventures far too critical or inquisitive so this time, travelling light on both irony and reason, we once more immerse ourselves in the freakish world of the Mini Miss Competition. Sane human beings will spend all 30 minutes of this guiltless paedothon with their faces locked into a rigid mask of horror like a Daily Mail reader who's just found an asylum seeker taking a shit on their lawn.

We watch from the edge of our seats as 'child princesses' Amber and Eden are primed for the upcoming competition. There's a common theme here that quickly becomes apparent and that's one of utter delusional insanity. The girls are treated as both fragile icons of vicarious accomplishment and bejewelled tapdancing slaves and the typical scene shows either mum or daughter kicking up a shit-fit somewhere in Topshop.

These are slotted in between snippets of interview with the mothers where we are treated to a direct shot of loopy banter. Amber's mother exclaims "Last year I thought she was a princess, this year she's going to be queen princess" clearly displaying a distinct lack of awareness of monarchical heirarchy. She is also keen to point out that she 'would never force her daughter to participate in beauty pageants' with all the conviction of a nazi war criminal, having buried her daughter neck deep in chiffon and ignorance at the negation of everything else including any lasting sense of dignity.

We also glimpse similar scenes of fellow foetal competitor Eden, who's mother Fathom sounds like she was named after some sort of aquatic super-villain. Fathom runs a one-stop-shop for glittering horror capes and ruby red slut rags called 'Brazen Hussy' and it is from this trove of gaudy baubles that Fathom outfits her first-born, draping her in a mint green aberration whilst barely concealing her pride. Meanwhile, for those watching, lunch has begun to resurface with alarming urgency.

The mothers' pride is seemingly impervious to reality. As their children warble painfully along to Britney Spears or lollop about the living room like startled wildebeest, the mums look on agape as if the girls had started vomiting diamonds.

Competition day rolls around and the girls are paraded about in some godforsaken village hall. The competitors are shoved on-stage to perform a variety of devastating performances. Quite predictably both Amber and Eden win utterly nothing and are left to the mercy of their bulldog-faced progenitors.

An adjustment

It transpires that despite my gargantuan knowledge of games, I truly come into my own when reviewing something I truly loathe. For that reason, from this point forward I shall be reviewing snippets of complete dross from the world of games and tv. If I have even the most positive feeling toward something it is unlikely to make it here.

It also struck me recently that I can never find anything worth watching when skimming through the 'on-demand' content available, instead having to wade through page after page of codshit heaved out by BBC3 or, heaven forfend, the shambling horror that is the ITV Net Player. So, I've decided to make the mountain of utter bollocks work in my favour. At least once a week I'll be casting a critical eye over some of the finest television ever shat out by our nation's broadcasters.

I'll leave the previous, rather pleasant reviews where they are if only to prove that I wasn't always a negative, curmudgeonly bastard. Just don't tell anyone.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Bioshock 2

Upon beginning Bioshock 2 my first impression was one of unease. Trying to put aside any preconceptions lingering from its critically adored predecessor was always going to be tricky but it was nevertheless possible that the sequel could stand alone on it's own merit or prove a worthy continuation of such solid groundwork. This endeavour was dashed as soon as I sat through the opening cutscene and was amazed at the brevity with which I was rushed into the driving seat. The now infamous plane crash and bathysphere journey that first brought us to Rapture have been seemingly forgotten and, after a brief set-to with some Splicers and chat with the game's nemesis, Sofia Lamb, you awake in the middle of splicer central with nowt but a drill to defend yourself. Now it's not a bad thing to get straight into the action but the world of Rapture has such a rich depth that it would have been nice to be drawn in to the mood before being flung into action.

This time around, Well-to-do megalomaniac psycho Andrew Ryan is replaced as the evil overseer in residence by the equally well-spoken posh nut-job Sofia Lamb. Rather than slowly giving the player the sense that something may be amiss with Lamb's vision of Rapture's true purpose (as with the previous game's treatment of Ryan), we are sledgehammered into full awareness of her dire intentions by the fact that a) she makes you shoot yourself in the head in the opening cutscene and b)her name adorns every friggin wall in the game in various doomsday slogans.

As you travel through those first few areas, the unease still persists. Possibly because, with so little time to immerse yourself, everything looks like Rapture but it doesn't feel like Rapture. It may also be because it's not just the intro that feels rushed. There's evidence that some areas weren't thrown together with quite as much attention as they may have deserved, whilst others retain the trademark lustre. Lazy texturing is occasionally evident and while this is still excuseable, it exposes a lack of sufficient garnish that Rapture deserves.

The game's predecessor and it's cousin Fallout 3 were both notable for having implemented music cues appropriate to the historical setting. Bioshock 2 attempts this but with all the subtlety of a nude tapdancer. Instead of the dulcet notes of Beyond the Sea lilting from an old record player or crackling into life as one picks up a stray radio signal, these seemingly random chunks of 50s americana are blurted out over the game's loading screens, stopping as abruptly as they start and doing nothing to set the scene.

The loading screens themselves seem excessively long for a game of such recent release. When sitting amongst peers that have found ingenious ways of smoothing over loading issues (Mass Effect notable in this category but not for entirely positive reasons. Google 'mass effect elevator'.) it seems somewhat shoddy to be presented with a static screen and skippable 'tips' that become mostly redundant 30 minutes into the playthrough.

One thing that is much improved is the system of hacking. Not only can you now hack from a distance with a purpose-built dart gun but the hacking minigame itself is much quicker. No longer requiring the player to channel water through pipes, it's as simple as hitting the A button at the right time when a needle is in the right position and bonuses and free items can be earned by doing this particularly well. It certainly serves to keep the momentum going and it's not long before you're hacking with confidence.

Bioshock 2 takes place from the perspective of 'Subject Delta', an early Big Daddy prototype (displaying more than a passing resemblance to a steampunk Bomberman) who has been out of action for the best part of ten years whilst Rapture fell to ruin around his ears. Strangely, despite being a Big Daddy, renowned for being walking tanks, Subject Delta is about as armored as a wax jesus. Playing on the normal difficulty will find you powering through first aid kits and even the most idle of Splicers can usually dispatch you with 2-3 well placed clobbers. Some compromises obviously had to be made when making a Big Daddy the protagonist; players would soon tire of clumping around rapture at a snails pace groaning like a clinically depressed zombie. That said, Delta does feel like a curious mix. The only real evidence that you're in a Big Daddy's shoes is the drill on your arm and the ungodly clodhopping thump you make when jumping up and down. The rest of the time you're ambling around at a fair pace, jacking-up with plasmids just like the original protagonist. It's a fair compromise and mostly gives the player the best of both worlds.

Of course no Big Daddy experience would be complete without the little sisters. Although driven to find his own little sister, Eleanor, Delta is able to adopt the numerous strays that litter Rapture in order to collect Adam. This process is both original and troublesome. For some unknown reason the collection of Adam is like a beacon to surrounding splicers who appear as if from nowhere in their droves to terrorise the little sister out of collecting the precious red goo. Given your tiny health allowance these battles are often frustrating exercises and a failed extraction will often find you mopping up the stragglers of the last attempt before you can have another go. One can only imagine these get easier as the game wears on and Delta is given more tools to steel himself against these onslaughts but this is certainly off-putting early on.

For the most part, Bioshock 2 is not a bad game but it does serve up a 'more-of-the-same' experience. 2K Marin have picked up the mantle well and created more of the same lush environments, unique weapons and a few pleasant tweaks to the established formula. Where it falls down is in it's presentation and attention to detail. Bioshock 2 has it where it matters but the game as a whole doesn't quite stand up to intense scrutiny.

Score: 7/10

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4

I could regale you with a hundred childhood stories that would give you an insight into my relationship with Lego. The time I spent 2 hours making a contraption out of Lego Technic that ultimately did nothing but twitch a bit when you turned a lever but was nevertheless a source of amazement for my next-door neighbour. Another time when I got one of the smaller pieces wedged in my nose and nearly had to be taken to hospital. Most memorable, of course, was the time when I discovered my hamster's death was not quite the 'accidental drowning in his water bowl' I was initially led to believe but was in fact blunt force trauma caused by a family member dropping the elaborately constructed Lego mansion I had made onto his head. My point is that Lego had a vital place in my early years, as I suspect it had for many of us. It is this childhood reminiscence that is tickled mercilessly by the Lego games.

It was once said of Lego Star Wars, the game that started it all, that it takes you down two memory lanes at once: the one for our fond memories of Lego and the one for our equally fond memories of Star Wars. But as the series develops it becomes apparent that there is much more at work here. It's evident to me that as we've seen the release of Lego Star Wars (and sequel/prequel/rebundles), Lego Indiana Jones, Lego Batman and now Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4, these games combine two far more powerful forces. The first being our love of Lego, the second being our inner geek. After all, what appeal would there be in smashing our way through the forests of Endor or wastelands of Hoth if not to have a go at riding a speeder bike or taking out AT-STs? Why would we spend hours combing Hogwarts, if not to seek out the character token for Sirius Black or Dumbledore? It's this faithfulness to the source material and attention to detail that keeps adults hooked for hours while kids happily mash through levels for cartoon thrills. Lego Harry Potter is no exception to this clever precedent and a surprising level of detail has been taken not just from the films but also from the books, evident in the presence of many playable characters that never made it to celluloid.

The game provides the backdrop of Harry's first four years at Hogwarts for this title (Philosopher's Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban & Goblet of Fire) serving as a predictable prelude for a future tie-in romp for the final 3 years. Although the story mode serves these faithfully, even when you've played these end-to-end you'll still find you've barely completed half of what's on offer here. It's not just about playing through the films, it's about discovery and the maze that is Hogwart's is the perfect playground for such an endeavour.

The driving force behind Lego Harry Potter is the the constant feeling of reward that feels almost as if it's been lifted straight out of an MMO. Traveller's Tales have done well to balance it perfectly with short term goals like collecting studs and unlocking spells pitched against longer-term objectives like the 100% game completion that is an ever-present reminder between levels and areas of how much there is still left to discover.

As with previous incarnations, LHP adapts the tested formula from previous games to fit the new context perfectly. Almost all of your interaction with the game world is now via one spell or another. The manual building of objects and manipulating most environmental elements is now done with Wingardium Leviosa (fellow Pottergeeks will have experienced the same ire when this is used at the beginning of the game to open a door. No Alohamora?) with other spells learnt along the way to uniquely dispatch with pixies, dementors, etc. LHP also introduces potion-making as a way to overcome puzzles. Orientated around finding key ingredients around a level, these are then used to create a potion necessary to advance, whether it be strength potion, invisibilty potion or the infamous Polyjuice.

One very unique feature this time around is the Lego Builder Mode. After completion of the initial tutorials at Gringotts, players can mess around in their own sandbox levels to create their own Lego arenas. It's a nice feature and it's good to see the boundaries of the series being pushed but it's ultimately unnecessary fluff. If the option had been included to share creations across Xbox Live (or PSN) it may have provided some extra longevity past completion but without it this is all too easy to leave buried in the vaults.

The game has still obviously suffered from the same slight buggy nature of previous titles but this is far diminished in this most recent outing. Tearing is still occasionally apparent in some areas but players will be hard-pressed to find themselves with unlockable achievements or glitched collectibles that stop the fun dead in it's tracks.

In summary, Lego Harry Potter is exactly what any fan of previous Lego adventures would expect it to be. Harmless fun, fierce attention to both the books and films and the kind of innovation we've come to expect.

Score: 9/10

Thursday, 8 July 2010


I know the original intent of this was to talk about actual stuff like games and films and things of actual interest but I just can't let this go. Of all the things cursed upon us as a species (childbirth, facial hair, feet) the most loathsome of them all is bloody teeth. They're a fundamental design flaw. I don't remember the last time I had to brush my shins for fear of them rotting away to useless husks, forcing me to wheel myself around a trolley and have small children grab their mothers in fear as they pass by crying "Mummy, Mummy what's wrong with that man?" to which the mother would reply "Well clearly dear that man didn't spend enough time BRUSHING HIS LEGS!"

Having to brush your teeth is like having a crap job. There's no real benefit to doing it other than if you don't a bunch of bastards turn up and repossess your face and leave you looking like a fucking cartoon witch.

It's not that I'm advocating toothlessness, after all who'd want to see Cameron Diaz with no teeth. No-one. It'd be a nightmare scenario where suddenly all attractive women take on a disturbing resemblance to your nan and even worse your nan would now look similar enough to Cameron Diaz that she might try a crack at dating again. No, of course not, it's just that I'd prefer a more low-maintenance but ultimately nice-looking option that requires absolutely no input from me other than possibly a rinse-out with magic water that tastes like Skittles.

Obviously those of us that slip in this constant vigil against mouth demons are inevitably thrust at the mercy of dentists. Dentists are people that would have become doctors but couldn't stop tutting long enough to hear what was bloody wrong with anyone. Instead these ghoulish mouth-quacks have chosen to spend every working minute with one of a plethora of spikes, scrapers, drills, clamps or saws in another human being's face. There is a fundamental concern surrounding people who are drawn to the profession. The same way that people appreciate that undertaker's or clowns exist, they serve a purpose but you wouldn't necessarily want one in your house while you were asleep.

Anyway, that's enough for now I'm off to brush my ears so they don't rot off the side of my head.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

In The Night Garden

As a teen, when I witnessed the merciless replacement of the time-honoured classic Playbus with a foursome of babbling gibber-wits called Teletubbies, I was outraged. A cheerful, educational institution had been budged aside to make room for disturbing technicolour babble-crap and my weekday afternoons would never be the same. Even now the Y-Bird must lie gathering dust on some long forgotten shelf in a storage shed round the back of BBC television centre. What's the sign on the lollipop? The sign of the times, that's what.

A Christian ministry (read 'octogenarian village-green zealouts') once argued online that the Teletubbies represent an attempt to promote a new global paradigm of earth-centered spirituality. All I knew was that we had ventured into a terrifying new world where giggling demons with televisions in their guts rolling around under the gaze of a demented sun-fetus now amounted to kids telly.

Spin forward a decade or so. The Teletubbies, having firmly cemented their place in history as both new-wave educators and soulless harbingers of a faceless armageddon, have retired happy in the knowledge that children no longer have time for wasteful things like numbers, sentences or compassion thereby making them ideal pawns for the eventual war on humanity.

In their cultural wake arrived their inevitable successor, from the same production company, In The Night Garden. Continuing the tradition of sun-dappled nonsense, the 'night garden' (where it is ironically never bloody dark as far as I can tell) is home to a myriad strange and bizarre inhabitants all, as far as I can tell, named after thinly-veiled racial slurs.


Iggle-Piggle is clearly king of the garden and as such gallops around the lunatic landscape like Lord Bastard of Shittington Manor content in the knowledge that his smug face adorns all the mortifyingly over-priced tie-in merchandise touted toward the well-meaning, sleep-deprived zombies that look after their target audience. He routinely can't be bothered to go to bed and is a force of chaos in the garden.

The Tombliboos

The Tombliboos are three excitable, unblinking novelty pen-toppers that live in a giant green microphone. Their day mainly comprises bumping into each other and laughing. Major dramas have included all three of them simultaneously forgetting where they put their trousers and getting lost in their own house, all of which puts them on par with cocaine-addled university students.


Makka-Pakka is the meekest of the garden's inhabitants and the others have spotted this and have made him their bitch. Forced to live underground in a pitiful ditch hovel, he spends his time doing 'favours' for the other residents such as finding all the shit they've lost whilst in a giddy haze and washing their faces. He travels the garden with a push trolley collecting rocks (which he sleeps with for comfort) quietly wittering to himself like a homeless man with dementia. How do his friends repay this quiet, selfless being? On one occassion his trolley ran away on it's own and The Pontipines stopped it. With a rock. What a bunch of cunts.

The Pontipines/The Wattingers

The Pontipines are a huge family of miniscule wooden people who all live squashed into a tiny house like refugees. They are rarely seperated and travel everywhere in a conga-line. Likewise, their next-door neighbours are an unnervingly identical family called The Wattingers, who are indistinguishable from The Pontipines except for the fact they are blue instead of red. The whole lot of them are pathologically flatulent and at times even appear to replace their squeaky language with a series of rasping guffs.


Upsy-Daisy is the sole female inhabitant of the garden, save for the mostly sexless Pontipine/Wattinger wives. In what appears to be a staunchly patriarchal society, Upsy-Daisy is not permitted her own house and instead is forced to keep her bed in the middle of the garden. She spends her day singing nonsense and spinning in circles.

The Ninky Nonk & The Pinky Ponk

The Night Garden is home to two sentient vehicles which appear at random to ferry the garden's inhabitants between nowhere and somewhere else, seemingly ignorant of their huge size difference. The Ninky Nonk is a hobbled-together gypsy caravan convoy that pelts around at breakneck speed which is in stark contrast to the Pinky Ponk, a farting airship that travels painfull slowly and is still incapable of avoiding trees. When the Pinky Ponk collides with a tree it is referred to as a 'ponk' which is far cuter than 'unnecessary and terrifying crash'.

The Haahoos

The Haahoos occupy a biological space somewhere between sentient foam gods and garden furniture. They are massive gurning shapes that loom through the garden and are in all respects the stuff of fucking nightmares.

The Tittifers

Just birds. They painted them pretty colours but they're just heavily stage managed parrots.

The surprising thing amongst all of this is that I actually love In The Night Garden. I really do. Why? because I have a 14 month old son and it doesn't matter what wacky shenanigans he's in the middle of (climbing the radiators, investigating plug sockets), when In The Night Garden comes on he walks calmly to the sofa and is quietly entranced by this tomfoolery for a solid 25 minutes. Any other parents will attest that discoveries like this are rare. Disturbingly, therein lies its devillish power. It speaks directly to the ludicrously nonsensical child-mind at a level we mere adults can never understand and as a result I, like my own child, am powerless to resist.