Opinion, Television

SOUTH PARK .V. FAMILY GUY:

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source: Fark

It’s one of the age old questions – which is better: South Park or Family Guy? Many appreciate both shows, but there are just as many who fall very distinctly into one camp. In my case, I am a huge South Park fan and have never really seen the Family Guy appeal. This is not to say that I don’t think Seth MacFarlane is funny – annoying as he may be, American Dad stands as proof that he is capable of decent comedy – I just find that my personal comedy tastes err more towards Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s South Park.

Parker and Stone have been fairly vocal (understatement) in their annoyance towards the two shows being constantly lumped together, and they have a point. The similarities are undoubtedly there – animation, crude humour, surreal elements and so on – but ultimately the creators have very different approaches to what constitutes comedy, leading to shows which have much less in common than it would first appear.

South Park addressed the issue directly in season 10 with Cartoon Wars, a two part episode which lampooned Family Guy with the no holds barred approach that the show uses to lampoon everyone, suggesting that the plotlines of Family Guy were generated by manatees randomly selecting them. The criticisms were very thinly veiled, and Cartman’s words are particularly noteworthy: 

“I am nothing like Family Guy! When I make jokes they are inherent to the story! Deep situational and emotional jokes based on what is relevant and has a point, not just one random interchangeable joke after another!” 

It is worth noting that MacFarlane and the Family Guy camp have generally taken such criticism in their stride, with MacFarlane saying in an interview that he found Cartoon Wars “funny and accurate” but also questioned the “personal venom that they spew in the press about the show and about me.”

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source: Hulu

As much as I love South Park, it is easy to see where MacFarlane is coming from. Stone and Parker appear to hold the show in utter contempt, though this may just be a result of the two constantly being placed together. It is perhaps understandable in that case, considering South Park is ultimately the superior show.

Of course, as I’ve already pointed out, this is all a matter of opinion, but I think South Park has a much stronger case for being better. What initially began as a crudely animated shock value show has grown into smart and inventive satire, dripping in toilet humour.

Parker and Stone lampoon current events, making episodes just days before they air, and no group has been safe from their razor sharp satire. It is on this point that the South Park/Family Guy divide is at its clearest. Whilst Family Guy does satirise to an extent, it generally focuses more on homage/celebration and the shock elements are much more based on the toilet humour and gross out effects. 

Family Guy is also famous/notorious for it’s extensive cutaway gags. Whilst they can sometimes be funny, there is little doubt that the show ran out of steam many seasons ago, as did the cutaways. Whilst I would be exaggerating if I said I have never laughed at Family Guy, I don’t find the show particularly funny. It’s perfectly fine on a single, on-in-the-background viewing, but not something I would specifically tune in for.

South Park on the other hand, tends to improve on multiple watches. It is a deeper humour which can be appreciated on many levels – there is the base, crude humour which still works even if you are unaware of the current events/group that are being lampooned. Then there is the satirical slant which makes for the majority of the funniest moments. 

South Park is also still going pretty strong after an incredible 19 seasons, whilst Family Guy left its best days behind years ago. The latter show has become increasingly stale and desperate, with the infamous killing and revival of Brian being a prime example of how obsolete it has become. South Park on the other hand never feels stale due to how current each season is, and the fact that Parker and Stone seem to have an endless stream of inventive ideas.

Ultimately it all comes down to personal taste, but South Park offers multi-dimensional humour and social commentary in a way that means it will always win out over the long stagnating Family Guy in my book.

Are you team South Park or Family Guy? Share your views in the comments section! 

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Film, Reviews

FILM REVIEW: DEADPOOL

The ‘merc with a mouth’ finally gets the film he deserves. 

Directed: Tim Miller

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, T.J Miller

To say expectations for Deadpool were high would be an understatement. Back in 2009 cult-favourite character Deadpool appeared in X-Men Origins: Wolverine with his mouth inexplicably sewn up, much to the horror of fans the world over. Seven years later and here we are – Deadpool is finally here in all his glory.

A passion project from star Ryan Reynold’s, the film has had one of the best marketing campaigns of recent times, which only served to intensify the hype. It was going to take something good to live up to expectations, but don’t worry, Deadpool delivers.

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Deadpool in X-Men: Origins. source: Comic Book Movie

Known in the comics for breaking the fourth wall, Deadpool was never going to be a conventional superhero movie. After that test footage was released and Reynolds and director Tim Miller secured that sought after R rating (a big deal in the US, here in the UK it’s a 15) fans were more than convinced that the beloved character was in safe hands.

With fourth wall breaking, cartoonish violence and vulgarity galore, Deadpool delivers on it’s potential in spades. In terms of narrative structure, it veers into surprisingly tired territory with the typical origin story – probably at the insistence of the studio (aka “the guys who sewed his fucking mouth up the first time”). Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is an ex-military mercenary who finds out he has multi-organ cancer and allows some shady people to do some suspicious experiments on him in order to live for his girlfriend Vanessa (Monica Baccarin).

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In spite of the origin story narrative, Deadpool is no superhero, and the film is a revenge flick at heart. In fact, the guy is certifiably insane, and the film is all the better for it. Wise-cracking his way through a rising body count, it’s almost a stretch to call the guy an anti-hero. Reynolds is perfectly cast, delivering too many one liners to count. That’s not to say that the rest of the cast don’t keep up – Baccarin is fantastic as hard-as-nails Vanessa, who takes the typical girlfriend trope and inverts it brilliantly. Sure, the film plays with the damsel-in-distress stereotype, but it arguably gets off with it by being so hilariously self-aware.

T. J Miller provides the comic relief as Weasel, Wade’s best friend who stops short at being a sidekick. Miller’s deadpan delivery of some of the films best lines perfectly suit the tone and again offsets the film as a lot more than typical superhero fare. The only true weak link is, probably unsurprisingly, Ed Skrein’s Ajax. The ‘villain’ of the piece who is responsible for making Wilson both immortal and, in his own words, “unfuckable.”

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Ajax. source: The Guardian

Skrein is the typical ‘British villain’ – though the film pokes fun at itself by pointing this out to us in the opening credits – but in this sort of movie, it doesn’t really matter that the big bad is two-dimensional. It is yet another example of the film’s self-aware nature being it’s saving grace.

Set in the X-Men universe, it was a given that some of Professor X’s proteges (“James McAvoy or Patrick Stewart?”) were going to show up, and they do in the form of Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrande). Kapicic replaces Daniel Cudmore and portrays a version of Colossus that is much more in line with the comic books, whilst Hildebrande is hilarious as a moody teenage mutant.

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Just because the film comes from the same studio as X-Men doesn’t mean they were safe from Deadpool’s lampooning, and there are some truly hilarious exchanges as he berates them for their ‘hero’ status. In a market inundated with clear-cut ‘heroes’, it is refreshing to see a frankly psychotic anti-hero who’s only real agenda is revenge.

The film is the directorial debut for Tim Miller, and his background in visual effects is clear from the beginning with an inspired opening sequence. The direction is assured for a debut and he indulges in extreme violence, with heads literally rolling. It could easily have come off as cheap, but Miller ensures that the violence is actually executed much more artistically than one would expect.

Sure, the visuals are great, but of course it was always going to be all about the dialogue. Reynolds played a heavy role in the writing, and the script from Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese is a laugh a minute.

The film only came out in the UK two days ago, but Fox have already confidently announced a sequel and appear keen to keep the creative team together, which seems fair considering what they have managed to pull off here. Reynolds has made it clear that he would ultimately like the character to be part of an X-Force movie, so it looks like this is only the beginning for the ‘merc with a mouth.’

Here are my top five quotes from Deadpool, which is probably the most quotable superhero film of all time…

DEADPOOL

Negasonic Teenage Warhead and Deadpool. source: The Wrap

“Oh, I so pity the dude who pressures her into prom sex.” 

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Deadpool. source: Screen Rant

“And a convivial Tuesday in April to you, Mr.Pool” 

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Deapool and Colossus. source: Twitter

“That guy was up there before we got there.” 

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Deadool. source: The Verge

“The T-Rex was always the dinosaurs’ fiercest enemy!”

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Deadpool.

“Tell Beast to stop shitting on my lawn.” 

What did you think of Deadpool? Let me know in the comments section! 

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List, Television

5 TV SHOWS CANCELLED TOO EARLY:

*NOTE* – Contains spoilers for some of these TV shows, continue at your own peril.

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The American system of making television is one that is very different to over here in the UK. It is a much more commercial system which, for better or worse, is mainly interested in making money through selling advertising slots. This can mean that successful TV shows are dragged out long by their natural sell by date – just look at CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and its numerous spin offs as a prime example. However, it can also mean that shows which are perhaps more of a slow burner are for one reason or another cut down in their prime. Ratings are the dictating force on US networks, and if a show is failing to hit high levels of viewership it will be axed – a fate that has befallen many a good show. Here are five examples of American shows that were cancelled too soon…

5 – CLONE HIGH

Clone-HighWhat do the guys behind The Lego Movie (2014) and the creator of Scrubs have in common? The answer is Clone High – an animated MTV series that lasted for one season back in 2001-02. Phil Miller, Christopher Lord and Bill Lawrence all worked on the highly inventive series, which focused on a high school populated by clones of famous historical figures including Cleopatra, Abraham Lincoln, Joan of Arc and John F Kennedy.

It was an interesting premise, and the show was since gained a cult following, but upon its original airing it was dogged by a controversy over its depiction of Gandhi, which saw groups of people in India go on hunger strike in protest. The show never fully recovered and was hit with low ratings, leading to MTV cancelling the series in the face of mounting pressures.

4 – FREAKS & GEEKS

freaksandgeeksFreaks and Geeks is one of those shows that is hysterical to watch now because it features such a range of some of the biggest stars in comedy before they made their names. James Franco, Jason Segal and Seth Rogen all started out in Judd Apatow and Paul Feig’s (two of the biggest comedy directors in Hollywood today) sitcom set in the an early 1980’s American high school. It is also really worth watching because Biff from Back to the Future is in it (Thomas F Wilson plays Coach Ben Fredricks).

The show followed the lives of ‘freaks’ Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) and co. and her brother Sam (John Frances Daley) and his friends, the ‘geeks’. Whilst it might seem crazy now that the show was cancelled after only one season consisting of 18 episodes, back in 1999-2000 these comedy giants were still small-time, though it is arguably Freaks and Geeks that set most of them on the path to success. The entire first season is available on Netflix and is well worth your time (I repeat, Biff from Back to the Future is in it).

3 – PUSHING DAISIES

pushing-daisies_1280x1024The 2007-08 Writers Guild of America Strike has a lot to answer for – it played havoc with a whole host of shows – but perhaps one of the worst outcomes us the fate of Pushing Daisies, ABC’s ‘forensic fairy-tale’ that aired right in the midst of the strike. The show followed the life of pie-maker Ned (Lee Pace), who has the ability to bring people back to life by touching them. The downside is that if he touches them a second time, they will return to being dead permanently. This causes chaos when he brings back to life childhood crush Charlotte ‘Chuck’ (Anna Friel) and then enters into a romance with her.

The show was met with huge critical acclaim and was nominated for a total of 12 Emmys in its first season. However the first season was cut short by the strike, and attention had waned by the time it returned, with ratings dropping. The show was cancelled at the end of the second season, breaking the hearts of the shows cult following as they never got to find out if Ned and Chuck were able to make things work.

2 – TWIN PEAKS

TWIN PEAKSTwin Peaks is never far from anybodies lips when the subject of TV shows cancelled too soon comes up. The CBS show came from the king of the surreal, David Lynch, along with Mark Frost, and was based around the mystery of who killed Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). Airing from 1990 to 1991, the show – like much of Lynch’s work – looked at what lurks beneath the veneer of idyllic small town life and saw Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) become further entrenched in the fictional Washington town as he investigates Palmer’s murder.

The show was met with huge success in its first season, but things took a nosedive as the second season began in 1991. CBS worried about the fact that Laura Palmer’s killer had not yet been disclosed, and placed pressure on making the reveal. This led to the mystery being solved in the middle of the second season, which along with various timeslot changes led to a sharp decline in ratings. The show was cancelled at the end of the season, leaving the plot on a frustrating cliffhanger.

Lynch returned to Twin Peaks in 1992 with the prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, but he has since expressed huge regret at the Laura Palmer reveal. He claims that they never originally intended to tie up the mystery, and that in doing so they “killed the goose that laid the golden eggs.”

The show is set to be revived in 2017 with many members of the original cast returning and Frost and Lynch once again at the helm, so here’s hoping they can tie up those loose threads and return Twin Peaks to it’s former glory.

1 – HAPPY ENDINGS

happy-endings-food-w724Happy Endings was a fantastic ensemble sitcom that aired on ABC from 2011 to 2013. Lasting for a total of three seasons, the show charted the lives of a group of friends living in Chicago. The gang consisted of married couple Brad (Daymon Waynes Jnr) and Jane (Eliza Coupe), Jane’s sister Alex (Elisha Cuthbert), Dave (Zachary Knighton), Max (Adam Pally) and Penny (Casey Wilson). The show quickly became popular with critics for its quickfire wit and outrageous antics.

Originally airing on Wednesday nights following ABC’s sitcom juggernaut Modern Family, the first signs of trouble for the show came when ABC decided to change their timeslot to Tuesday nights in season three. Ratings immediately deteriorated and attempted damage control saw the timeslot make another change to Friday nights, which acted as the final nail in the coffin. Further drops in ratings led to the shows cancellation at the end of season three.

Happy Endings felt like it still had a lot of steam left, and this wasn’t helped by the fact that the show was cancelled quite suddenly, robbing fans of any real sense of closure as the series ended on a cliff-hanger of sorts, with viewers finding out that Alex and Dave had broken up for the second time. A huge part of the shows success was down to it’s excellent cast, something other networks obviously picked up on – as soon as the show was cancelled Fox brought Waynes Jnr back to New Girl, as well as enlisting Pally for their other sitcom The Mindy Project.

Which shows do you think were cancelled too soon? Let me know in the comments section!

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List, Television

5 SHOWS TO BINGE-WATCH THIS WINTER:

rs_500x335-140204131302-tumblr_m72lvk47vw1ql06buo1_500Collins dictionary has named ‘binge-watch’ the word of the year, beating out a number of worthy contenders including ‘dadbod’ and ‘clean eating’ to come top of the 2015 list. Online streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon mean that instead of having to wait week by week for your favourite show to air on television you can watch an embarrassing amount of episodes in one sitting (yay?). Shows like Breaking Bad have contributed to an over 200% rise in the use of the term over the past year.

This is a phenomenal rise, a reflection of the revolution that has occurred in viewing habits over the last few years. Netflix is a formidable giant and this point, with a slew of it’s own shows and even its own movie just being released. Other streaming sites are also on the rise such as Amazon Prime Instant Video and Hulu, and more and more people are watching shows on the likes of BBC iPlayer than ever before.

How should we celebrate the rise of the binge-watch? With excellent shows of course! From sitcoms to dramas, here are the shows you should be watching as the dark nights close in.

5 – GAVIN AND STACEY (2007-10)

line-dancing-590x350Available from: Series 1-2 on Amazon Prime, Series 2-3 on Netflix UK

Starring: Ruth Jones, James Corden, Matthew Wolfe, Joanna Page, Rob Brydon

Written by Ruth Jones and James Corden, who also star as the hilarious Nessa and Smithy. Gavin and Stacey is a smash hit comedy that was originally broadcast on the BBC. Whilst there is a huge chance you’ve already watched this sitcom, which lasted for three series, a million times before, who will ever get bored of the antics of the Shipman and West families? The lighthearted sitcom follows the relationship of English Gavin (Wolfe) and Welsh Stacey (Page) who, after talking on the phone for months, decide to meet in the first episode. Cue hilarity as their best friends and families get involved. Every character is hilarious in their own right, with Rob Brydon’s Uncle Bryn standing out as a particular favourite, but what makes this series really special is the way it finds the humor in aspects of everyday life (getting a takeaway, going to the beach etc). With laughs from Bacillary to Barry Island, Gavin and Stacey is the perfect feel-good comedy to fill your winter Sundays with – and make sure you don’t forget that classic Christmas special.

4 – THE GOOD WIFE (2009-Present)

finales4goodwife900x506Available from: Series 1-5 on Netflix UK

Starring: Julianna Margulies, Chris North, Alan Cumming, Archie Panjabi

Sometimes all you want is a good drama to sink your teeth into, and The Good Wife has it all. With a fantastic central performance from Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife follows the story of Alicia Florrick who in the first episode is shown to be standing by her husband, disgraced states attorney Peter, despite him having cheated on her with prostitutes. Whilst this premise could have lent itself to an overly soapy show, The Good Wife deftly handles the storyline in a way that is both relatable and engaging. More low key than the likes of Breaking Bad/Boardwalk Empire, The Good Wife is more along the lines of Mad Men –  full to the brim with complex characters – and is also a great pick for fans of legal procedural shows (think Law and Order etc) due to Alicia’s work as a lawyer. It also isn’t afraid to shy away from controversial subjects, with racism, gun control and religion being just some of the topics covered in early seasons. The Good Wife is a perfect winter watch with over a hundred episodes to sink your teeth into.

3 – IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA (2005-Present)

alwaysunny-04Available from: Series 1-10 on Netflix UK

Starring: Charlie Day, Kaitlin Olson, Glenn Howerton, Danny DeVito, Rob McElhenny

Basically the anti-sitcom, It’s Always Sunny takes the ‘friends hanging out’ trope and turns it entirely on its head. These characters are terrible people who do some truly dark things – trying to scam the welfare system, turn a ‘dumpster’ baby Mexican and setting each other on fire (yes, really) are just some that come to mind. But that is what makes this show so great, through the characters complete an utter depravity the show often achieves a level of satire whilst still creating laughs for the audience. These are characters that, rather than rooting for each other are actively trying to hurt each other, which makes for some pretty great comedy. No topic is off limits, and the addition of Danny DeVito to the cast in the second season is when the show really comes into its own, bringing the gang to its dysfunctional peak. It’s not for the easily offended, but It’s Always Sunny offers a totally different perspective and is well worth a watch if you’re getting tired of Friends and How I Met Your Mother re-runs.

2 – GOTHAM (2014-Present)

Gotham_pilot_Fish_sOffice_5048r_73e9d583Available from: Series 1 on Netflix UK

Starring: Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, Jada Pinkett Smith, Robin Lord Taylor

Gotham was always going to be a hard sell. A show set in Batman’s famous city, but without Batman? Fans were dubious of how Fox’s series would pan out. Set in the immediate aftermath of the Wayne’s murder, Gotham features Bruce Wayne as a child and shifts the focus to a young Detective James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) who is on a one man mission to clean up the corrupt city. To say the show plays fast and loose with the source material is an understatement, but you can’t fault their intentions. Season one was a mixed bag, plagued by an uneven tone, but to write it off totally would be a mistake. We see the early days of a whole slew of famous Batman villains – Penguin, Catwoman, the Riddler, Poison Ivy and perhaps even the Joker. It’s interesting to see younger incarnations of famous characters  – in particular James Gordon and Alfred the butler. Far from perfect, Gotham is still a fun ride, introducing a gritty tone but maintaining elements of its comic book source, with inventive criminals and plenty of strong performances. With the second season beginning last month, that is the perfect excuse to get up to speed and decide for yourself what you think.

1 – STILL GAME (2002-2007)

Still-Game-still-game-163286_1024_768Available from: Series 1-5 on Netflix UK

Starring: Greg Hemphill, Ford Kiernan, Paul Riley.

Taking the number one spot with ease is Still Game, the hilarious sitcom from Greg Hemphill and Ford Kiernan. Originating from sketches in their other excellent show Chewin’ The Fat, Still Game tells the story of Jack (Kiernan) and Victor (Hemphill), two pensioners living in rundown Craiglang. Their adventures with best pal Winston (Riley) and other friends and acquaintances form the basis of the shows narrative. Much like Gavin and Stacey, the show find hilarity in the normality of retirement, and whilst it is perhaps a select brand of humor, anyone who has lived in Scotland for an extended period of time is sure to find it funny. Finally available on Netflix as of August this year, Still Game is the perfect tonic for the cold winter nights.

Here is a compilation of clips/trailers from the 5 shows listed here, enjoy!

What are your favourite shows to binge-watch? Let me know in the comments section below!

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