Things We Wish Were Real of the day: Disappointed that the Buffy The Vampire Slayer cartoon series was developed but never got off the ground? Welp, this fully realised intro from artist Stephen Byrne is only going to make you pine harder for a trip to an animated Sunnydale. Watch out for a ton of in-jokes and call backs to the original show, and be weirdly okay with a rather funky take on Nerf Herder’s immortal theme song, and then petition those US TV companies to make this a reality.
Way To Make Christopher Walken Look Even Creepier of the day: Seems like America is finally cottoning on to the British tradition of the Christmas pantomime, as NBC is televising Peter Pan Live! this yuletide season. The most important part of this news is that film legend and person-it’s-easiest-to-do-an-impression-of Christopher Walken will be playing Captain Hook and Girls' Allison Williams will be playing the titular hero, sticking with the panto tradition of cross-dressing. It seems like, in this first official image of the show, Walken has opted for the Japanese kabuki look, ahead of a traditional pirate visage, whilst Williams seems to be some sort of hipster from 50 years in the future. Regardless, this has the potentially to be terribly brilliant or brilliantly terrible, and just what we all need at Christmastime.
Colin Farrell Confirmed As Lead For True Detective Season Two: Aaaand we’re off, folks! After a good four months or so of rumours, we’ve finally the first official casting announcement for one of the four lead roles in season two of everyone’s favourite bleakly existential and slightly gothic crime show. Colin Farrell’s name had long been in the mix, but the actor confirmed his casting in Irish paper The Sunday World, saying:
I’m doing the second series. I’m so excited…I know it will be eight episodes and take around four or five months to shoot. I know very little about it, but we’re shooting in the environs of Los Angeles which is great. It means I get to stay at home and see the kids.
With the In Bruges star’s involvement certain, will confirmation of either Vince Vaughn or Taylor Kitsch’s casting be far behind? Both actors were often rumoured in the same sentence as Farrell, so you’d imagine those rumours now look very likely. Neither actor’s name will quite inspire the show’s fans, but then again neither did the announcement of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson last year, and look how that turned out. Farrell & Kitsch would play two of the detectives investigating “the bloody murder of a corrupt city businessman found dead the night before a major transportation deal” and Vaughn would play a shady businessmen at the centre of the corruption.
The least certain role is that of the season’s female lead and third detective. Early buzz hinted at Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss, who has since refuted the claims in recent interviews. Last week The Wrap reported that there are seven actresses in the running for the part: Jessica Biel, Brit Marling, Oona Chaplin, Kelly Reilly, Malin Ackerman, Jaime Alexander, and Rosario Dawson, but gave Farrell’s Alexander co-star Dawson the upper hand. When looking at the role’s description - “a Monterey sheriff with a troubled past that has led her to a gambling and alcohol addiction” - Dawson certainly seems the most likely and capable pick of the bunch.
No word on when the season will air on HBO. One would imagine early in 2015 like its predecessor, but from whispers online and Farrell’s words above, it could very well end up moving to summer.
The Leftovers is a show of moments, metaphors and symbolism. It may regularly dodges consistent logic and narrative satisfaction, but its first season has contained some wonderful iconography and a handful of truly jaw-dropping scenes - scenes which in a show of consistent quality output would make it one of the finest of this current Golden Age Of TV™. But once again Damon Lindelof, as is now his trademark, like Kubrick and bathrooms, Rowling and spiders, or Whedon and super-powered women, provides roughly a shit-ton of questions with a relatively paltry amount of answers. It happened with Lost, it happened with Prometheus, it happened in a lesser degree with the Abrams Stark Trek films, and it’s happened again with The Leftovers.
Talk on the internet has already bubbled up between those wanting answers or at least some forward momentum in the show, and those happy to go along with the human drama and interactions between characters. The latter group often seem to see the show as less about a central mystery needing to be solved, and more a study of how people deal with loss in different ways, or even a giant allegory for how depression can affect people. Whilst those readings are absolutely valid and are great as something under the surface to pick up on, I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to stay on board with The Leftovers if that’s all it amounts to. Audiences have enough shit in their own lives before tuning into ten hours of fictional people grieving with few glimmers oh hope on the horizon (although the closing scenes of the finale did offer two transparent hooks for next season which in turn were the most positive moments so far). It would be fine to shift focus from an all-encompassing mystery and the search for answers to the characters’ individual struggles if they were compelling characters, but few are, no matter how good the actors behind them are.
A big stumbling block in my road to wholly enjoying the show is how dull the concept becomes when dropped onto white middle-class suburban America. The unexplainable loss of 2% of the world’s entire population with no rhyme or reason in those who disappeared - “I get the Pope. But Gary fuckin’ Busey? How does he make the cut?” - could find so many more interesting contexts and subtexts in nearly any other place on Earth than an affluent white-picket fence town in New York. As such, the majority of the season felt like some reworking of American Beauty, right down to Jill & Aimee mirroring Thora Birch and Mena Suvari’s characters.
Thankfully the acting side is far more balanced than the rest of the show. It’s nice to see Justin Theroux back in something of note after years of cameos and screenwriting (although I wish he’d put on some goddamn pants when filming - you’re making the rest of us look bad, Jus) and he does a fine job of making Kevin Garvey an utter asshole with some redemption and reform possible. In her first regular TV role, Carrie Coon has knocked it out of the park as Nora Durst, arguably rivalling Fargo’s Allison Tolman for the year’s biggest acting find. One imagines, after this season and a supporting role in David Fincher’s upcoming Gone Girl, she’ll be in far greater demand; her performances in “The Prodigal Son…” and spotlight episode “Guest” are genuinely Emmy-worthy. Despite giving us the worst American accent since Ray Winstone’s in The Departed, it was a joy to have Christopher Eccleston back on screen as one of the show’s more intriguing characters in Matt Jamison, the former reverend - and brother of Nora - without a church or flock.
Special mention has to go out to Amy Brenneman and Ann Dowd as the central characters of the show’s de facto antagonists The Guilty Remnant, who are excellent despite only being able to speak in a handful of episodes (one particular instance in the finale is made all the more chilling because of this). It’s unfortunate that the same can’t be said of Liv Tyler who’s newcomer to the Guilty Remnant isn’t afforded much characterisation, although there have been hints of her rising to power within the cult in the coming seasons, which would obviously afford her a role befitting of her talent and stature. Similarly, the always excellent Paterson Joseph went disappointingly underused before going out the Elvis way in the finale, without so much as a Peep Show reference. The Holy Wayne was certainly one of the most interesting elements of The Leftovers, with a cloud of ambiguity over whether he actually had spiritual powers or was just “another nut who believed he was God”, and to take him out at this stage of the game feels like a mistake.
However, I’m not sure how much of the success of the show in bringing out emotion can be attributed to the frequent appearances of the work of Max Richter. Richter is one of the finest contemporary classical composers and the use of his compositions “The Twins: Prague” and “November” have served as remarkably effective reoccurring motifs throughout the ten episodes of The Leftovers… but to be quite honest, I’m listening to Richter right this second as I sit here writing this, and it makes me feel as though I’m typing out a great piece of art or an important treatise, or that just something monumental is happening. I’m fairly certain a slow motion shot of someone picking their nose and eating it, backed by those compositions, would seem like one of the most powerful, moving pieces of cinema ever recorded. Admittedly, the music choices on the show have often been sublime - season finale “The Prodigal Son Returns” deserves specific praise for the use of Nina Simone’s “Ne Me Quitte Pas” and Apocalyptica’s superb orchestral cover of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” - in a similar vein as its timeslot predecessor True Detective, you can often expect to rediscover a classic tune you’d forgotten or an oldie you’d never heard of before.
But despite wonderful musical direction and those stunning moments dotted throughout - the final twenty minutes of the finale, the in-utero loss, the car of creepy old women seemingly predicting the departure, the stoning of Gladys, the shooting of the dogs, Nora’s “shooting”, the deer rampage, the reveal of the mannequins, the general look of The Guilty Remnant - I really cannot completely give myself over to the show. It seems so assured and proud of its profundity and sincerity, like it’s making a vital comment on the human condition, for merely broaching the topics of grief and loss. There’s little nuance in its shallow waters, and its “new beginning” of a ending - whilst making for an intriguing second season (the source novel has now been exhausted leaving Lindelof with no road map for future plotting) - feels almost insulting as a statement that there’s always light at the end of the tunnel of depression, when that is in no way a certainty.
I honestly feel baffled that I kept coming back for more of The Leftovers week after week for almost three months. Such dedication to a show with so many glaring flaws isn’t uncommon, but when it happens, it’s frustrating. Tuning in for each episode with no guarantee that there’ll be enough content to enjoy to validate your ongoing fandom (the major examples I can think of are latter-day Simpsons, Doctor Who and the output of the WWE) is a tiresome business, and breeds contempt towards the show and its creators. But I know in my heart of hearts I’ll be back in the same seat watching when season two debuts.
With the 25th anniversary of its very first episode coming up in November, and FXX currently in the midst of a full series marathon ahead of the launch of its Simpsons World, we here at Hitsville have chosen our some very favourite episodes from everyone’s favourite Springfieldianite family.
Bart The Daredevil (Season 2, Episode 8)
chosen by Megan Fozzard
"Bart the Daredevil" was the first Simpsons episode I ever remember watching (not when it originally aired, I’m not that old). As I watched it, I was about as transfixed as Homer and Bart watching the advert for the Monster Truck Show featuring Truckasarus in the opening few minutes of the show. This newly found programme was hilarious to 10 year old me and a transition between ‘kids’ and ‘adults’ tv. And I couldn’t believe that according to the TV Guide it was on every single night on BBC2 at 6 o’clock, which was right after dinner as well (when the programme moved over to Channel 4, this lead to a dark era of ‘kids’ to ‘adult’ TV which introduced me to Hollyoaks). I wasn’t really watching for the ingenious cultural references and satire that has become a hallmark of The Simpsons, such as Dr Hibbert showing Bart a ward of children that have been injured trying to copy violent things they have seen on TV and commenting that ‘as tragic as all this is, it’s a small price to pay for countless hours of top notch entertainment’. I didn’t really understand all that yet. I was in it for the slapstick, as Homer accidentally tries to jump The Springfield Gorge with a long sequence showing him hitting various rocks on the way down, only to be airlifted back up, and then the ambulance crashes and Homer is heading back down the gorge again on a stretcher hitting the same rocks. Looking back, it was a great introductory episode of The Simpsons for me, showing Homer as the manchild parent and Bart as the mischievous boy, but of course I’ve learnt they’re more than just that in the past 11 years. Happy Birthday, The Simpsons!
Three Men And A Comic Book (Season 2, Episode 21)
chosen by James Daly
"Three Men And A Comic Book" is perfect example episode of The Simpsons. The plot is based around Bart (my favourite Simpson), but the main appeal for me is that the story is original. I know it’s riddled with homages, but the story isn’t a carbon copy of anything else and that gives this episode an integrity that many others just don’t have. For those who haven’t seen it, the plot follows Bart as he teams up with best friend Milhouse and resented acquaintance Martin in order to pool their funds and buy a rare Radioactive Man comic book. It’s not long before the alliance gives way to bickering as the three decide to the keep the coveted article in Bart’s tree house and all spend the night resulting in a sort of Lord Of The Flies styled conflict between the three that ultimately ends with the comic book being destroyed. The weight of this tragic occurrence is cleverly juxtaposed by Homer and Marge’s complete ignorance of the turmoil that the three-way comic book ownership caused, suggesting that what’s important as a child may not be when all grown up. On a personal level, this episode really appealed to me when I was younger because it combined my love of superhero culture – which I was a bit too removed from and therefore even more fascinated by it – with my childhood desire to have friends over and stay in a treehouse.
Mr Plow (Season 4, Episode 9)
chosen by Josh Bunham
"Do you come with the car?" I once got really drunk and broke into my girlfriend’s bedroom to tell her I loved her, made her watch Mr Plow with me and then fell asleep on her kitchen table table. That’s how great this episode is. That’s how quotable this episode is. I thought that if I didn’t get my girlfriend to watch it at that moment then we might spend the rest of our lives slightly out of sync, with her never quite knowing why I was telling people I had been at a pornography store, buying pornography. I would argue that Mr Plow is possibly the most quotable episode of The Simpsons ever. I know a lot of people would argue with me but….witch-ah. Yes, I do expect you to agree with me because I made a stupid noise. Homer and Barney find themselves pitted against each other in a lot of other episodes, but there are very few where they prove how much they care for each other as friends. Guest spots from Adam West and Linda Ronstadt (who she is I’m still not really sure but, Senor Plow no es macho…) are among some of the best executed in the history of the show and top off what is simply a perfect episode from a perfect season of a perfect show.
Lisa’s First Word (Season 4, Episode 10)
chosen by Liam Whear
The Simpsons is a show without continuity, yet still one that involves you emotionally. Maybe it’s the sheer power it’s held over pop culture since its 1989 debut, making these characters unescapable. Or maybe it’s the sheer quality in the show’s writing during its peak. “Lisa’s First Word” is a shining beacon of this. It’s also hilarious. What works best about “Lisa’s First Word” is it creates a great snapshot of 1983 America, struggling in the grip Reagan bought down on it, as young families have to adapt to survive. Marge and Homer nearly have the chance to own their dream house crushed because of monetary woes, until Grandpa Simpson comes through in a heartwarming scene. The Soviet boycott of the Summer Olympics puts Krustyburger into bankruptcy. Cyndi Lauper is topping charts. The world seems to be on the edge of something but it doesn’t know what. In between all this confusion, Homer and Marge somehow find the time to bring Lisa into the world. Straight from Marge’s announcement of her pregnancy, scriptwriter Jeff Martin places the emphasis straight on Bart. His prankster side becomes a lot bitterer, screenwriter Jeff Martin capturing how it must feel for a baby boy to be shoved from the spotlight. It becomes almost emotionally draining to see him being ignored by Patty and Selma, and to see him taking his jealousy out on here. But it’s ultimately rewarding in the payoff, when Lisa’s first word is ‘Bart’, setting up the close yet feisty relationship Bart and Lisa develop throughout the entire show. The emotional dynamics explored in “Lisa’s First Word” have certainly been touched on an infinite amount of times before, and an infinite amount of times after. But “Lisa’s First Word” simply does it the best, and in a mere 20-minute episode that doesn’t sacrifice humour for sentimentality. And of course, there’s that perfect bittersweet ending. You know what I’m talking about.
Marge Vs The Monorail (Season 4, Episode 12)
chosen by Joe Murphy
There really is nothing on earth like a genuine, bona fide, electrified six-car monorail. There may be more important episodes of The Simpsons, more inventive or possibly even funnier ones, but few condense everything brilliant about the show into a single package as neatly as “Marge vs. The Monorail”. Every line is perfect, every visual gag inspired, and it is as good an episode as any in the fourth season to mark the point at which The Simpsons embraced a new level of weirdness and never looked back. Above all else it offers a quite literally show-stealing turn from Phil Hartman, the greatest guest voice-actor the show ever had (Can it really be a coincidence that the golden age of The Simpsons ended around the same time that Hartman died?). The people of Springfield banding together in an act of mass idiocy was a theme the show had used before, and would continue to use to great effect for years to come, but here it reaches its peak, proving beyond doubt that a song, a dance and a sly suggestion of Shelbyville’s superiority are all it takes to whip Springfield into a frenzy. So, all together, sing it with me now: “Monorail, monorail…”
Last Exit To Springfield (Season 4, Episode 17)
chosen by Chris Taylor
"Last Exit to Springfield" is one of those episodes that even the writers look back on fondly and go, “Yep, we definitely did a lot of things right here”. For a very long time, this was the perfect example of The Simpsons’ mix of highbrow and low brow humour - often within the same jokes – at least until John Swartzwelder’s phenomenal run of episodes from 1995 to 1997. Focusing on the politics of the Springfield Power Plant and Homer’s employer Mr Burns, it sees Homer becoming head of the union to fight Burns’ plans to revoke their dental plan (“Dental plan! Lisa needs braces!”) It all sounds rather routine for an episode of The Simpsons but, in that half hour, the show manages to pile in as many jokes, references and parodies as they possibly can until the whole thing feels like its fit to burst. Moby Dick and “Classical Gas” bumps up against The Beatles and Batman, with a nice stop-over into Homer’s image of the world of crime a la The Godfather II. Even with so many jokes, it doesn’t feel too heavy handed and the traditional Simpsons heart still beats within. It’s hilarious, it’s heartwarming, it’s quintessential Simpsons. In its tidy half an hour length, it manages to boil down the very essence of what makes The Simpsons so great, creating something of a microcosm of the show as a whole. Pretty much the perfect starting point for anyone not yet acquainted with The Simpsons.
Bart Of Darkness (Season 6, Episode 1)
chosen by Joe O’Brien
’Twas an understandably difficult and virtually impossible task to pick a favourite episode of The Simpsons. Of the 500-odd episodes the show has produced, I adore at least 200 of them, and picking an all-time favourite is beyond my decision-making skills. “Bart Of Darkness” though, is an episode that always stood out for me. Season 6 is quite possibly the season I’ve watched more than any other and this season/DVD opener is one of the cleverest, most memorable and most quotable of the bunch. If you’re reading this, you are probably a massive Simpsons fan yourself and so describing the plot of the episode would be pointless. To keep it short; it’s the one where Bart breaks his leg and The Simpsons get a swimming pool. Although it’s terribly obvious to me now as an educated film fan, there must have been at least a dozen times where I’ve watched this episode and not known that it was largely a parody of Hitchcock’s Rear Window. As if my appreciation for the episode wasn’t great enough, discovering this fact a few years ago certainly gave me a whole new level on which to enjoy it. In fact, it’s only been in the last five or six years that I have started to notice just how many references The Simpsons cram into every episode. It’s quite remarkable, and for a pop culture guy like me, it’s an absolute treat. All that aside though, what truly makes “Bart Of Darkness” a classic is the comedy. To me, some of the show’s most unforgettably hilarious moments can be found in this episode, from “trashcan or no trashcan!” to “Shut up, brain! I got friends now, I don’t need you anymore.” to “’Tis a fine barn, but sure ‘tis no pool, English” to “Oh, I see! Then I guess everything’s wrapped up in a neat little package!” to “Take your best shot! I’m wearing seventeen layers!”, “Bart of Darkness” is relentless when it comes to delivering the funnies, and let’s not forget the infamous creation that is “Milpool”.
And Maggie Makes Three (Season 6, Episode 13)
chosen by Lewi Hudson-James
A reoccurring theme throughout The Simpsons seems to be Homer’s carefree, almost dumbfounded attitude towards his job, his family and life in general, and although there are episodes where he shows his feelings and an emotional side, this is normally left to the female characters or the more sensitive males, such as Millhouse or Ned Flanders. However, in Maggie Makes Three, I was literally bought to tears at how the writers approached the theme of the episode, and the sweetness, genuineness and sentiment of Homer’s actions. After paying off all of his debts, Homer is finally able to go for his dream job at the Springfield Bowling alley. But, when Marge becomes pregnant for the third time (with Maggie), Homer has to quit the job he had been wanting for so long as the wages he earns there aren’t enough to support his growing family and their needs. He asks Mr Burns for his old job back at the power plant, and at his work station are the words on a plaque which read “Don’t Forget, You’re Here Forever”, which Homer partially blots out with photographs of Maggie – both on her own and with him, leaving the sentence “Do It For Her”. The both heart-warming and heartbreaking actions of Homer, acting as a third time father and showing his deep down caring side, and sacrificing a large part of his financial and personal happiness, really resonated with me, and clearly affected millions of other viewers too, as this episode was the fourth most viewed Simpsons show the week it aired on Fox in January 1995.
A Fish Called Selma (Season 7, Episode 19)
chosen by Sean Lewis
I’m not a big believer in black and white thinking, but one of the few things I am adamant on is that Planet of the Apes: The Musical is the funniest three minutes to ever be broadcast on television. I love the name. I love the concept. I love legitimate theatre. I really just want to shake the hand of the writer who thought of the idea of replacing the words to “Rock Me Amadeus” with “Dr. Zaius, Dr. Zaius”. The fact that I still get that song stuck in my head at completely random times is a testament to how great that whole bit is. The other moment that cements this episode as my favourite is the perfectly paced scene where Homer and Troy McClure are drinking on the night before Troy’s wedding, and Troy admits that he’s only marrying Selma as a publicity stunt. The classic Simpsons “suspense” noise plays. It then cuts to the wedding day. The camera slowly pans across to Homer. It focuses in on his head, and we hear him thinking… the riff to “Rock ‘N’ Roll Part 2” by Gary Glitter. I literally have no idea what is said in the next scene, because I’m always laughing too hard by that point.
El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer (Season 8, Episode 9)
chosen by Joe Armstrong
The brilliance of “El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer” is the way it balances relatable issues with its surreal storyline, offering the best of both worlds. In an entertaining tale about Homer going on a vision quest, the episode still manages to address everyday problems such as loneliness, relationship complacency and alcoholism. Much of the episode takes place at Springfield’s annual chilli cook-off. Chief Wiggum’s been trying to cook up a batch that can singe Homer’s legendary fireproof stomach, and, thanks to the help of some Guatemalan insanity peppers, it looks like he’s succeeded. That is, until Homer coats his mouth with molten candle wax to avoid the chillies burning his mouth. Then things start to get weird. Eating the psychotropic peppers causes Homer to trip balls (I think that’s the technical term). This part of the episode contains some of the finest visuals and animation the show has ever produced. Homer’s body takes on a strange fluidity, swirling and splashing as though he’s made of liquid. Stars and planets coalesce in the sky to reveal the grinning face of a coyote, his spirit guide (voiced by Johnny Cash). The coyote’s message to Homer is to find his soulmate, a journey that leads him to a lighthouse and finally to a greater appreciation of Marge. This episode’s one to savour for years to come.
The Springfield Files (Season 8, Episode 10)
chosen by David Scott
If you were to ask me what is one of my most vivid childhood memories, it wouldn’t be a family holiday, or maybe my first kiss. It would be the words, high pitched and creepily sing-song, "I bring you looooove", spoken by a drugged out, glowing (and genuinely kind of creepy) Mr Burns. ”The Springfield Files” has stuck with me in a way few episodes of television have. Sure, the episode is home to some truly iconic jokes that are hard to forget, from Homer’s horror at a billboard proclaiming him to DIE (or something far worse), his hypnotic ‘lava-lamp’ jiggling or Abe’s battle with a toothy tortoise. But there’s a mad genius to every scene, whether it’s beautiful little details - The X-Files' iconic Cigarette Smoking Man lurking during Homer's explosive lie detector, the “most illegal shot” of the show’s history exploding the episode’s sci-fi references in just a few seconds, or Homer’s camping equipment, all tagged with “property of Ned Flanders”- or some truly bizarre and stupid jokes, like Leonard Nimoy’s utterly ridiculous introduction - "and by true, I mean false" - Moe’s hidden orca or “The Bus That Couldn’t Slow Down”, that I just cannot help but adore. Like Urkel! To me, “The Springfield Files” is quintessential Simpsons. Jokes fire at rapid pace, brimming with genius and joyous stupidity at every turn. Scene after scene chock full of the kind of pop cultural markers that Simpsons nerds adore and iconic visual gags that are still passed around in photosets and gifs to this day, and it is just an incredibly fun and entertaining watch. Plus, it’s hard to ignore Fox Mulder resplendent in a speedo on his FBI Badge. Stupid sexy Mulder.
Expletive Supercut of the day: When it comes to cursing in sitcoms, very few come close to It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (arguably The Gang are neck and neck with the South Park kids for foulest-mouthed characters on TV). But oddly enough, their go-to swear is one of the tamest possible, and probably barely even raises an eyebrow for most people; “goddamn it”. In fact, it’s used so often by Charlie, Dee, Dennis, Frank and Mac that one presumably extremely patient fan has compiled every utterance of the phrase in the show’s entire run to date in one handy six and a half minute video, which is remarkable when you consider it takes one second to say, at most. Goddamn it, we want Season Ten as soon as possible.
Instagram Portraits of the day: Who knew all it took to class up MTV’s VMAs after last year’s Thicke/Cyrus twerking kerfuffle was hiring photographer Amanda de Cadenet to snap some rather slick backstage portraits (with requisite IG filters).
Next year Doctor Who will have been back on our screens for a decade. How difficult it is now to remember a time before 2005, when the resurrection of the BBC’s dust-gathering time travel franchise must have seemed as unwise as it was unlikely. Fast forward to 2014 and it seems equally as inconceivable that a new series of Doctor Who could be anything other than a major television event. Doctor Who has risen from one of television’s museum exhibits to one of its flagship productions.
It has also been, at least in recent years, a flagship where mutinous murmurs of dissent have abounded. Showrunner Steven Moffat has claimed that he based the revamped clockwork-based opening title sequence on a fan-made version he found online. If he was indeed venturing into the world of Doctor Who's online fandom, he could hardly have failed to notice the scathing criticism of his own performance as showrunner. Common targets of backlash include his tendency for incomprehensible plotting, the Doctor's increasingly unlikeable messianic streak and the shivery vein of barely concealed misogyny that had crept into the writing. Series opener “Deep Breath” arrived with two unenviable tasks: introduce a new Doctor in the form of The Thick of It's Peter Capaldi, and reassure fans of the direction being taken by the entire show.
For a tense half an hour, it seemed as if “Deep Breath” might succeed in neither goal. Where previous episodes tasked with selling us a new Doctor have felt the need to be a major event, this was a lower-key first outing: a steam-punk penny dreadful that ended not with a grandstanding finale, but with a much more sedate and contemplative confrontation between the Doctor and his foe. The production design and cinematography were more gorgeous than they ever have been, and it was all solidly orchestrated by rising star of British horror Ben Wheatley (director of cult classic like Kill List, A Field In England, and Sightseers), but there seemed on first glance to be something lacking. It wasn’t until nearly halfway through, when Capaldi was discussing his new appearance with one of Victorian London’s homeless poor that the brilliance of this more unassuming approach came into focus. Moffat had simultaneously rectified two fan complaints by avoiding his tendency to get lost in his own narrative acrobatics, and by allowing some space to establish a new character for the Doctor and a new direction for the show. “I’ve made many mistakes,” declared Capaldi’s Doctor, and in his regret it was hard not to hear the closest we’ll ever come to Moffat offering an apology for the derailment of the show that occurred on his watch.
Arguably the single biggest beneficiary of Moffat’s change of gear was Jenna Coleman, an extremely talented actor who until this point had been struggling in vain to save a character so staggeringly ill-defined and two dimensional it was a wonder she never simply vanished from existence. Here, for the first time, Coleman’s Clara seemed to coalesce into an actual character capable of expressing actual emotions and thinking actual thoughts. “Deep Breath” certainly had the least dubious gender politics of any episode in quite a long while, even going as far as acknowledging previous misguided attempts at creating sexual tension between the Doctor and his companions. If the rumours of Clara’s departure at Christmas are true, it will be sad to see Coleman leave the show just as it has figured out what to do with her.
Which is not to say that the episode didn’t give hope for the future: in so many ways “Deep Breath” belonged to Capaldi. It hardly seems necessary to state at this stage in his career that he is a brilliant actor, but it was thrilling to see him take less than an hour to escape the formidable, sweary shadow of Malcolm Tucker and cement himself as a genuinely iconic figure. After too many years of cheeky, handsome young men with floppy hair, here was a darker, more fire-and-brimstone Doctor who ends the episode on a note of chilling moral ambiguity. This is not to say that Capaldi cannot be charming and witty, as he patently can. But he has succeeded in doing something that nobody has been able to do in years, perhaps even decades: he has made the Doctor an enigma again. It is this enigma that will hopefully now become the driving force of the show, as the Twelfth Doctor sets out on his own distinct path. I don’t know where this path is likely to lead, but I do know that for the first time in years, I’ll gladly be watching.
Posters: Simpsons World: If you’re someone who already has every Simpsons episode hardwired into your mind and soul, but hasn’t had the time, inclination or means to download them to your computer via less-than-legal avenues, then the announcement of FXX’s Simpsons World was probably like manna from yellow-skinned, four fingered heaven to you. The service, which allows us Springfield obsessives to stream episodes, create playlists, share and search for specific clips, and even follow along with the original script, launches in October, after a 552 episode - the show’s entire run to date - marathon, 24 hours a day, seven days a week from August 21st to September 1st. These posters, designed by Cold Open, Arsonal and Gravillis Inc, to promote the launch are utterly sublime, and there are sure to be more than a few fans clamouring to have these hanging on their walls.