Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Case File C00G4N: The Trip

Scene of crime: BBC Two

Defendants: Producers Andrew Eaton and Melissa Parmenter

Case for the defence: Comedians and impressionists Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon star as semi-fictionalised versions of themselves in a six-restaurant, Michelin-starred tour of the north of England. Although based on their real live personas, this is presented as a standard comedy format and not as a documentary, once popular in the early 21st-century.

Coogan is supposed to have accepted an Observer commission to review restaurants in a bid to impress his American girlfriend Misha, but when she pulls out he takes Rob instead. Along the way they bicker, usually in-character as a celebrity, do drugs, cheat on partners and try and get one up on the other. They also eat some exceedingly good food.



Witness statements:

"Underneath it all, though, runs the question of what it is the Coogan character thinks he’s looking for in life. Largely improvised, the programme blooms to become a very touching exploration of friendship and ageing.

"Nothing happens. Everything is happening." - Damien Love, The Herald

"It’s determinedly uneventful, hardly penetrative in terms of character and not especially funny. But what in other hands would be maddening, or soporific ends up being strangely beguiling – an exercise in trying to hold an audience with the tiniest of titbits. Coogan and Brydon give the viewer so little that after a while you start filling in the gaps yourself. Ultimately, of course, it’s all down to the relationship, and here the implication is plain – the two of them belong together." – John Preston, the Daily Telegraph


Findings:

By rights I ought to commit summary justice – two comedians playing exaggerated versions of themselves, swearing to never return to British TV, this has "meta" written all over it, and for the public good that's an automatic execution. However, they just get away with it – just – as they don't draw obvious attention to it. Even Brydon calling "you're stuck in a metaphor" to Coogan as he falls off stepping stones comes across as genuine rather than contrived.

The problem is the storyline. It doesn't completely lack one, with Coogan's attempts to work out where his live should go and what family means, but it doesn't go deep. The pilot, with the tension between Brydon and Coogan, both slightly envious of the other, and Coogan and his ex, led to laughs amongst our test group. However, it never goes further and like Brydon's constant use of impressions, it gets grating.

At the Justice Department we know to spot tell-tale sings in perps if they are behaving in a pretentious manner in public (sentencing guideline: five to 50 years stretch in the cube). Philosophy, particularly foreign philosophy, poetry. The pair are in the Lake District, so poetry is the charge. But beyond Brydon memorising a poem, he goes no further, learns nothing, does nothing. Brydon is Coogan's catalyst but not much more. Instead of creating depth, they flesh out or bring in some minor characters. It's no substitute.

Citizens looking for more will be, perhaps like the comedy pair spoiled on Michelin-starred food, be looking for more.

Verdict & sentence:

Occasionally, a judge has to use discretion and balance mitigating factors against the crime. Reluctantly, I am going to admit mitigating evidence here and restrained from the summary execution. However, let us not forget that a crime has taken place.

The producers and Steve Coogan, I sentence you to re-education classes. Rob Brydon, you never did much, you are free to go – once the Justice Department surgeons remove your vocal chords.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Birdsong

Scene of crime: The Comedy Theatre, London

Defendants: Stage adaptor Rachel Wagstaff, director Trevor Nunn. Original author Sebastian Faulks.

Case for the defence:

Sebastian Faulks' World War I epic Birdsong has been in film development limbo for several years, its subject – the 1910 meeting of a young Englishman and his affair with his French hostess, his subsequent service in the war, and his descendents' lives in the 1970s – has been thought inadaptable. However, Wagstaff does so and despite trimming the 1970s section, this is an epic at around three hours with one intermission and a five-minute break.

The play starts, as we're told on the projector screen, in 1910 in a very conventional play, one that could have been written at the time – a young Englishman, Stephen Wraysford, arrives at a well-to-do family house and is entertained. So far so conventional, but when he hears his host beating his wife, Isabelle, Wraysford's attraction to this older woman grows until they embark on an affair. They are found out and elope, but before long Isabelle tires of their poor life and returns, devasting Wraysford.

Act I ends with the sound of war and the stage comes to life – the moving backdrop is now not just a projector screen but three-dimensional, the trenches. As we return in Act II, we're introduced to Sapper Jack Firebrace, a pious man who has a turn at entertaining the troops in drag, but he angers the-now Lt Wraysford by sleeping on duty. Despite the threat of execution for this, the two become friends, or as close as two solitary types can. Wraysford wants to see Firebrace's tunnels beneath the Bosch's lines and despite attacking in the bloodbath of the Somme stays at the front.

His previous life catches up with him when his unit is stationed in Isabelle's old village and he seeks her out. Finding her, seven years later he still loves her despite her wounds, but Isabelle has fallen for a German soldier and won't return to Wraysford. Nor will she tell him about his son. Isabelle's sister tries to, but it is for nothing and he returns to the front. By 1918 he is down in the mines with Firebrace when the Germans devastate their tunnel network, Wraysford manages to blast his way out, saved by a German soon after the Armistice is signed.



Witness statements:


"Nunn’s direction is sometimes turgid, with unconvincing sing-songs round the piano. The play’s most moving moments are the simplest, with Lee Ross as the sapper Jack Firebrace writing letters to his wife and reading her replies. Thanks to Ross’s beautifully simple and direct performance, the scene when he receives terrible news from home is by far the most moving in the play. It is not an easy thing to play uncomplicated goodness without sliding into sentimentality but Ross resists the temptation and moved me to tears.

"…Nevertheless this stage version strikes me as cumbersome and unnecessary, and never comes close to matching the dramatic power and extraordinary tenderness of RC Sherriff’s Journey’s End, written from his personal experience of the Great War, rather than based on scrupulous research like Faulks’s novel. My advice would be to stay at home and read the novel, or better yet, a collection of the great poems written by Owen, Sassoon and others who actually served in the First World War." – Charles Spencer, the Daily Telegraph

"Wagstaff’s version retains many of the novel’s intriguing elements: its concern with class, its sense of war as an exercise in blinkered bureaucracy, its depiction of an early-20th century crisis of masculinity. It’s poetic, too, and beautiful in places, thanks to John Napier’s clever designs, which make generous use of projections by Jon Driscoll and Gemma Carrington. The sound, by Fergus O’Hare, is also excellent. Besides Barnes, there are skilful performances from Zoe Waites, Nicholas Farrell, Genevieve O’Reilly, and above all Lee Ross as Jack, a tunnel-digger with a quirky music hall sensibility. Yet whereas the novel is often claustrophobic, here there is less visceral immediacy. Events are narrated when they really need to be dramatised. The result is too rhetorical: we’re told what we ought to be shown. Barnes has an elegant way with his expository speeches, but Trevor Nunn’s production is often static, and, for all the gravity of its subject matter, it doesn’t engage us fully." – Henry Hitchings, the Evening Standard

"The weakest part of the play is the first third which deals with the sojourn of a young Englishman, Stephen Wraysford, in the Amiens of 1910. As a working guest in the house of a rich manufacturer, he falls in love with his host's wife, Isabelle: an experience that colours his whole life. But, although we see the affair through Stephen's eyes, this feels like filleted Faulks. The industrial unrest that provides a context to the affair is cursorily dealt with. Even the anguish of the cuckolded husband, who in the book rushes from room to room seeking evidence of tainted bedsheets, is reduced to a single cry of jealous rage. But when the play moves to the western front, from 1916 to 1918, it exerts an emotional grip" - Michael Billington, the Guardian

Findings:

Starting a play with not one but three "as you all know" in the first thirty minutes is an automatic year in the cubes. I don't care that you may be trying to evoke the plays of the period, with the preconception with witty talk and singing songs, it comes across as sloppy.

Despite the background of industrial unrest and illicit love – not punishable, yet – the first act feels like any other Edwardian play. It's not until the sound of war that things change for the better. It's not that the first act is bad, but this is a story about war. Here we can commend the director and set designer for not just the uniforms and props but recreating trench and tunnel warfare on stage.

As a Judge I know no woman, but even for me the romance and love was unconvincing and it seemed more an infatuation than a romance. Once together they had some chemistry, but Isabelle could have equally rejected instead o accepted Wraysford's love.

Regarding Wraysford, he seemed lacking. Ben Barnes played him well, particularly as he is on stage for most of the time, but the script took you places and abandoned them. Twice – with card reading then divining the augers - suggested that some hint of his future was to come about, but to no avail. Finally, the theme of Birdsong, and Wraysford horror of birds – the play starts with him describing such a nightmare – goes nowhere. There is an incident with carrier pigeons but no more.

Finally, and appropriately – even I have a sense of humour – the ending. For a long play it felt rushed and not quite clear on its message and what has come from all this.

Verdict & sentence:

Moving and official Justice Department Commendation for Barnes, but Wagstaff and Nunn, I'm taking you down to the cubes. One year for "as you all know" – correction, one year per "as you all know" – and another two for leading us nowhere. Start singing birdies, hope you like your new cage.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Mad Men Exhibit I – The Beautiful Girls

Scene of crime: AMC (US)

Defendants: Writers Dahvi Waller and Matthew Weiner

Case for the defence:

First may I praise you Judge Kritic for your prescient public statement on the lead you have with the Three Dead Kings for now Ida Blankenship has joined the ranks of the dear departed. It simply remains for Duck Phillips to journey to Resyk for your prediction to be complete. May the citizens rejoice at yet another public display of the all-knowingness of our Judges!

Yes, The Beautiful Girls saw the oldest girl, Don's secretary Miss Blankenship, "died as she lived, surrounded by the people she answered phones for", as Roger put it. Her last words were to ask if Don was visiting the toilet. Unfortunately for Don, her death was at her desk in full view of the meeting room with clients and led to sitcomesque attempts to conceal then remove the body. Pete Campbell, although he said nothing, was the man despatched to move Ida and is silent gestures stole that part of the show, edging out Harry's plaintive cry that his mother made the makeshift burial shroud.

Roger, former subject to the Queen of Perversions, seemed to be affected by her death but it did not stop his attempts at wooing Joan. Feeling he had overstepped the mark on discovering that Joan's husband was off to Vietnam, he sent stereotypical Swedish masseuses to "rub her the right way". His demand of a dinner date, eventually accepted, and a mugging that left them bereft of jewellery and cash, led to the mutual rekindling of their romance – with Joan making it clear to Roger she did not regret it.

Dr Faye was another woman to have no regrets in this episodes as it started with her orgasmic screams at the start of the episode. By the end she also states that she had no regrets over being childless, even if it did mean she couldn't deal with normal kids, let alone Sally Draper. Like many a paranoid woman, Dr Faye saw Don's requests for help as premeditated tests – ones that she failed, as Sally hated her.

Why did she get to meet Sally? Because Don's daughter sneaked into the city to see her dad and a kindly stranger took her to SCDP. The fact that Abe, the anti-establishment journalist that Peggy kissed at the party several episodes ago, witnessed Don being "bad with money", as Betty once put it when he tried to hurl dollars at the stranger, probably didn't help Abe's view of 'the Man' being a cruel beast. His attempts to convert Peggy to this initially hit all the wrong notes but by the end of the episode some of what he said had been digested.

This episode was called The Beautiful Girls and while there were some stylised scenes, particularly when Betty came to collect Sally and half the office women where there, it was not about looks but personality. In previous defence statements I have defended Pete as being one of the most interesting characters on the programme, but this episode showed that this is ensemble and the girls are just as deserving of a solid defence.



Witness statements:

"It didn't trouble me that the mugger was black, though it did bring into relief the extent to which the struggle of women in the workplace has replaced the Civil Rights Movement as the series' political undercurrent. [...]

"This is more of an observation than a complaint. The shift in focus makes a lot of sense dramatically: In Peggy and Joan, and now Faye, SCDP has three very different women through whom to explore 1960s workplace realities like the ones Julia's mom powerfully conjured." - John Swansburg, Slate

"We never learn why Miss Blankenship ended up alone and in contact with virtually no one outside the SCDP staff—beyond Roger’s Queen Of Perversions line, I guess—but she was doubtlessly given a different set of choices than those presented to other women on the show, and different from those Sally Draper will face when she grows up.

"Maybe 'choices' is the wrong word. It’s the one Fay uses to describe how got to her late thirties childless but accomplished. But where Fay talks about choices, Peggy talks about limitations. After Joyce leads her into an unexpected date with Abe, she at first recoils at the notion that the nice Fillmore family could be racist then turns the discussion to women. 'Most of the things Negroes can’t do, I can’t do either,' an opinion that takes Abe by surprise. It’s a false equivalency for the reason Abe points out, and for others. But her gripes are legitimate, even if downtown progressive types like Abe—and the counter-culture of the later parts of the decade—couldn’t see them at the time." - Keith Phipps, the AV Club

Findings:

First, Citizen Attorney, Judges do not need flattery, we know the work we do. Second, I agree with your description as this being 'sitcomesque'. Not only the removal of Miss Blankenship's corpse but the orgasmic screams at the start and Roger juggling his telephone calls, all were a tone away from the usual drama. In addition, the clanging of "gee what happened to this neighbourhood?" before the mugging was hard to ignore.

I found this episode far more stylised than normal. While the director no doubt congratulated himself for how the women looked, particularly in Betty's scene in the office, it was guilty of being too staged. Mad Men is highly stylised, yet manages to create a bubble of believability – The Beautiful Girls swelled this bubble and it burst.

The symbolism of the mugging was not lost, although of course I remind all citizens it is their duty to report crimes immediately, lest you be in violation of our ordinances, and Outraging the Public Decency instead of reporting a mugging is not the right option. Both Joan and Roger having their wedding rings taken away by a stranger but they chose to act as if they were single was an interesting development. Roger has been flirting with Joan for some time, and she was an ice queen at the start, but I am not sure if I approve of the new relationship.

The Citizen Attorney barely mentioned Don but I would like to. I am not sure that Don would ask his new conquest Dr Faye to take his child home as he is a man who keeps a clear division between his professional and private life (apart from sex). Even if he does blame it on his secretary's death, Don has previously shown himself to be the type to keep both lives separate unless he can carefully manage this. This lessens the effect of Sally's scene that rouses the entire office – had Don shown how much he valued his private life then the mortifying embarrassment he showed would have been clearer.

Don at least is showing other changes – for the best. He comforts Dr Faye when she confides her insecurities to him. Other, past, lovers, including Betty, would have been scorned. However, Dr Faye's revelation that she 'couldn't sleep' due to thinking and that she wants a dinner to talk to him does not bode well. My mole in the relationship world states that this is not a good thing. May the next bit of evidence attest or deny this.

Verdict & sentence:

Group culpability is a cornerstone of our justice system. However, in this case I am going to split the two writers. Dahvi Waller and Matthew Weiner wrote this together, but I suspect it was Waller that set the sitcom tone. True, Weiner is the producer and could have reined it in, or even set the direction, but the circumstantial evidence is against him. Waller, get your stuff, you're doing time. Two months, cubes, now.

Where are you going Citizen Attorney? I'm not done yet. For nausea-inducing sycophancy in your defence statement I'm sending you to the cubes for a year and stripping of your right to practice.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Mad Men Exhibit H – The Summer Man

Scene of crime: AMC (US)

Defendants: Writers Lisa Albert, Janet Leahy and Matthew Weiner

Case for the defence:

With us now over half-way through the fourth season - a season that has witnessed Don hit new lows and reach the nadir of waking up with waitresses who know his real name - The Summer Man sees Don start his climb back to the top. He's not failing professionally and deserves his place as SCDP partner, but personally he realises that he is not relationship partner material just yet.

We know this as the episode starts with Don narrating his diary – a trick of many a poor script, but Mad Men just about pulls it off, even if it doesn't reveal anything we don't know. At least now we know that Don is beginning to understand what kind of a man he's become.

As he struggles to regain his former composure, others lose theirs. Joan, subject to common room-quality sketches by the art team, loses it with them and with Peggy when the former secretary fires one of them. Betty too loses it, telling Henry she wants a drink when he meets a political wallah – a no-no in Henry's book. But Betty has just seen Don out on a date in the same restaurant with a suspiciously similar blonde, but a good many years her junior. 

Don's date with the Betty lookalike Bethany ends with what at the time would have got them charged with outraging the public decency, but that's probably the last we'll see of her. Instead Don asks Dr Faye out – and this time she accepts, although not after making it on her terms. After speaking about the heartache of not seeing his two-year-old son, Don does not use this as a tearjerker to wheedle his way into Dr Faye's bed but instead acts the gentleman and drops her off at her flat.

Betty's dinner date with Henry ends with a scolding and while she's upset about seeing Don – and boosted by her friend Francine saying he's a 'sad old man' – by the end she's reconciled and doesn't have a fit when Don turns up at baby Gene's second birthday as if he belonged there.

The former husband and wife seem to become adults, while Henry has regressed, driving his car into Don's boxes and then dumping them on the pavement without a look at Don.



Witness statements:

"As for Dr. Miller, I think she holds more interest for Don than she does for me as a character. Apart from the first season, I’ve always found Don’s extramarital (and now post-marital) affairs the least compelling element of the show. Not that these subplots drag, really. But Don’s parade of women has rarely yielded many interesting characters and I don’t yet see Dr. Miller as an exception, however well Cara Buono plays her. I’ve sometimes wondered if this is by design." - Keith Phipps, the AV Club

"At the onset of the episode, Don is badly winded after swimming a lap in the pool. By the end, he's easily besting an athletic lap lane competitor, easily ten years his junior. The promise for redemption is right there, evident and ripe for the taking, but will he continue on this strange new path? Was Anna's death such a motivating catalyst for self-realization that Don will actually set himself on the straight and narrow? Or is this just an extended moment of clarity, balancing on the temporary calm?

"We'd be foolish to predict anything but the latter, but it's impossible not to root for a man so desperate to right his own wrongs." - Johnny Firecloud, Crave Online

Findings:

Narrating a journal to start an episode is a crime – a crime where guilt is assumed unless innocence can be proven. The reason we do this is because in the majority of cases that come our way, voiceovers and journals don't reveal anything we don't already know and it's a lazy way to move on a story. Mad Men has received official commendation for its proper use of flashback, which also presumes immediate guilt, but with voiceover the commendation does not apply. It's not done badly, but just because it's passable doesn't mean it's not criminal.

Don's diary does not reveal much more than what we've already seen or will see and his writing is used to show that he wants to get his life back together. However, as Citizen Witness Firecloud observes, his swims do this best – at the start he gasps for air he's so out of shape, but by the end he's pacing his juniors. Likewise Don's rejection – and contrary to Dr Faye's expectation – of ending the night together and his maturity with Betty also shows his change.

Much as I agree with Firecloud's verdict on the swimming metaphor, I also agree with Citizen Witness Phipps that no woman can match those seen in the first series, Rachel Menken and Midge Daniels. Dr Faye is intelligent and independent (literally, being a consultant), but she lacks the banter and equality that Rachel and Midge had with Don. We saw Don woo Rachel and it was more gripping than this.

Joan and Peggy's confrontation did not tell us much more than what we know – that Joan is bitter over Peggy's rise to power and her status as a sex object and nothing more by the office and her husband. Mad Men gets good reports when it works subtly and this episodes was less subtle than most.

Despite these failings, the evidence presented itself well, particularly Betty's maturation, and we gladly anticipate the next piece for judicial review.

Verdict & sentence:

Lisa Albert, Janet Leahy and Matthew Weiner, your crimes, while you may not view them as major, set a poor example for others in our society. As such I am making an example of you – traffic island, two months, for Wanton Use of Voiceover.

Now to sentence the witnesses. Johnny Firecloud, you get six months in the cubes for Agonising Analogy. "There are some tectonic chess moves at play here" indeed. Take the chess set, you're going to need it in isolation, but your only partner's going to be the earth's tectonic plates. You may be waiting a while for them to make their move.

Friday, 10 September 2010

The Three Dead Kings and Mad Men


A citizen questioned my use of the Three Living and Three Dead, or the Three Dead Kings, in my report on Mad Men The Suitcase. Don't forget creeps, I ask the questions here, and under normal circumstances that citizen would be doing time in the cubes, two years, minimum, Questioning a Judge's Authority. However, as part of our outreach and citizen learning programme, I am going to explain.

The Three Dead Kings is a story from before Brit-Cit, the 15th Century, of three kings hunting boar confronted by three corpses. One king wants to flee, one – and I approve of this – wants to confront them. These corpses say they are not evil (hah! No one is innocent, there's only degrees of guilt) but the kings' ancestors, stating: "While I was a man upon earth, pleasures were mine and now I pay the price". The kings are urged to change their ways and not forget them, much like Dickens' Christmas Carol (*Tharg note: this work is now banned so if you are aware of this report to the nearest Judge immediately).



Citizen, look at Mad Men The Suitcase. Duck Phillips, once like Don, an adman with depraving addiction to alcohol, now – while not in the cubes – fired from his office, his career dead but not his drinking.

Miss Blankenship, where a witness statement declares this old woman once was a "hellcat" and "Queen of the Perversions" - you don't have to be a Judge to deduce the connection with kings. But no more. Don is not into perversions, but he is still very much sexually active, unlike Miss Blankenship (citizens, report for a mind scrub if you have inadvertently thought of Miss Blankenship active with Roger Sterling). She is now a sexual laughing stock and without family, something the divorced Don risks alienating.

Finally, there is the truly dead, Anna Draper who apparently makes a brief appearance in spirit form and Don't ultimate fate (this was before rejuvenation chambers).

I have used the Three Dead Kings and not Three Living and Three Dead as each of the dead are an aspect of Don. Whether he will heed the warning like the Three Living I don't know, I'd need Psi Division to tell me, but he is showing signs of the horror that the Three Living had when they saw the Three Dead. In this case one of the Three Dead – Duck – beat him down while Don was covered in vomit from his drinking. If that doesn't hammer home the message nothing will.

Lesson ends.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Mad Men Exhibit G – The Suitcase

Scene of crime: AMC (US)

Defendant: Matthew Weiner

Case for the defence:

As the SCDP team gets ready to watch Muhammad Ali defend his heavyweight title against Sonny Liston, Don wants to have a finished idea for Samsonite, even if it means working late into the night. And morning. It's also Peggy's 26th birthday and she's expecting a romantic dinner for two with her boyfriend Mark, but her plans are dashed not just by Don's insistence that she stay late to finish the Samsonite pitch, but Mark has also decided to throw an (unwanted) surprise for her by inviting her family to the meal.

Don invites Peggy to get close in the only non-sexual way he knows how – through drink. It's certainly not through overt displays of respect, although he does let her into secrets and tales of his life no one else at the office knows. Peggy herself reveals some secrets when a drunk, smitten (and recently fired) Duck Phillips turns up at SCDP and confesses his love of her to Don – before beating his former creative director to the ground.

By the time a new day breaks, Don has broken down over the death (and ghostly vision) of Anna but has come up with a pitch for Samsonite. He's also found out some of Roger's secrets through finding his tape of his memoirs – Bert Cooper is a eunuch and Don's secretary Miss Blankenship is revealed to be a "queen of the perversions", one the young Roger embraced warmly.



Witness statements:

"The Suitcase breaks format by turning, for most of its runtime, into what's essentially a short play about two characters. It blends a surprisingly large number of elements into its plot stew, but it uses all of them in service to a story about Peggy and Don, what the two want from each other and what they actually mean to each other. Look at all of the stuff that Mad Men drops into the pot in the first ten minutes of the episode. Peggy and her team have been struggling to come up with a pitch for Samsonite luggage, which has led to Don being perhaps unnecessarily cruel to his star pupil." - Todd VanDerWerff, The AV Club

"It was hard not to ponder Don and Peg ending this night – which included her and her boyfriend breaking up on the phone – in bed together. Certainly, that's how it would have played out on some shows. But whether that ever happens (and it certainly doesn't feel impossible at this point), it doesn't need to, because this episode solidified a special bond between Don and Peggy – which included the less than glamorous moments of her seeing him puking his guts out in the bathroom and the sweetness of her letting him fall asleep with his head in her lap." - Eric Goldman, IGN TV

Findings:

I've summarily executed some shows for their use of shimmering, happy ghosts. So why haven't I done this on this episode, did Weiner get lucky? Get this into your heads creeps, no one is ever lucky against a Judge, we're just gathering more evidence.

Was it because this was a strong episode? In some cases, no, this was an episode that seemed to have been written in parts by the audience as character said things that citizens have been shouting for some time – "Peggy, tell Don he doesn't give you credit", "Peggy, tell Don he's a drunk and pushing too hard", "Don, admit that Miss Blankenship is a penance". We Judges don't listen to the people – look how the democracy experiment worked out – and when writers do this it can be the beginning of the end. However, on review of other seventh episodes from Mad Men, the self-contained, tight plot worked and is typical of the series.

Even though it had a soap opera feel – I've lost count of the jaws broken when programmes take a turn for that – and a bit too much humour – Duck trying to violate Public Ordinance H-267/b (*Tharg note: 'Citizens must not outrage the public decency, viz, defecating and urinating in public') - it ultimately came out strong.

In terms of themes, there was a touch of the Three Living and Three Dead in The Suitcase. Duck, whose career died, Anna, who has died, and Miss Blankenship, whose potential for new life (*Tharg note – no longer sexual) all remind Don what the future holds in store. There is also the matter of the tape, Don must be aware of Ordinance J-659/j requiring all relevant information to be handed in to the Judges. Instead he told Peggy. I've also learned that discoveries and revelations should only work against the protagonist, so if this is foreshadowing of Don's life being discovered – again, after Pete and Peggy's discoveries – by others then so be it.

Verdict & sentence:

John Hamm gets a reward for the most convincing cry in television. Certain other perps currently undergoing rehabilitation in the cubes should take note. There were some Justice-approved call backs, such as the reference to the first episode when Peggy uncomfortably takes Draper's hand – in this case he takes hers.

For an atypical episode, I am waiving the automatic fines for use of ghosts and soap opera plotlines. Only the strongest who know the rules know how to bend them. Like Muhammed Ali. Or a Judge.

Draper – a word of warning. I admire your commitment to the job, but you could have come up with that Samsonite image if you waited to the morning and bought a paper.

Bioshock 2

Scene of crime: Xbox 360/PS3/PC

Defendant: 2K Games

Case for the defence:

Eight years after the events of the first game and Rapture is just as deadly a place to visit. Jack Ryan from the first Bioshock is gone, now you are one of the giants – and instantly recognisable image of the game – a Big Daddy. Formerly the only man to have discovered Rapture by himself, as Subject Delta you are a unique Big Daddy, the first to successfully bond with a Little Sister.

That Little Sister – the small girls who harvest ADAM, a genetic-altering material that powers your Plasmid superpowers – happened to be Eleanor Lamb, daughter of Dr Sophia Lamb and the ruler of underwater dystopia Rapture since the fall of Andrew Ryan. Gone is Ryan's devotion to the individual and Ayn Rand, in is the community and Family of Dr Lamb.

While Ryan may be gone, but the Splicers – insane, genetically enhanced, humans – haven't. They've evolved, as have Big Daddies, who have had weapons and other upgrades, making Rapture a tougher place than the first visit, although hacking into machines is easier.

The story itself starts in 1958 with your suicide under hypnosis, only for you to reawaken a decade later in Rapture to hunt for Eleanor and to put a stop to Dr Lamb kidnapping girls from the mainland to become new little sisters.



Witness statements:


"BioShock is a hard act to follow, but this sequel is definitely a worthy successor to what is regarded as one of the decade's best, smartest games. In a lot of ways it's even better than its predecessor. It's a more competent shooter, with vastly improved AI and a more varied palette of weapons and Plasmids. The story is tighter and more focused, offering a number of challenging moral junction points, and the options for tactical play are much broader." - Andrew Kelly, PSM3

"One thing BioShock 2 does brilliantly where the original game floundered is in creating a feeling of progression and consequence to your actions. BioShock 2 constantly chucks moral decisions at you (and not just whether you should off the Little Sisters or not) and through character dialogue and the odd painful flashback it's clear what kind of path your character is treading; good, bad or somewhere in the middle, ultimately culminating in one of many different endings.

This result is a single-player game that, on paper at least, is superior to its 2007 predecessor - in level design, pacing and combat. The one thing it doesn't do though - just as we expected - is recreate those 'wow' moments from our first title's trip underwater." – Andy Robinson, Computer and Videogames

Findings:

A good story suspends belief. That's what they taught us at the Academy and if there's a case file for this, it's the original Bioshock. There those creeps at 2K they came up with a 1950s world of genetically modified humans with superpowers that was believable, and you learnt how they did this not through cut scenes and dialogue but through revelation and self-discovery at key points. I liked that, it got a Justice Department Seal of Approval and we gave permission for a sequel.

The first Bioshock (and Halo for that matter)  had a strong story and you know what else it had – a strong theme, it was about survival, it had a pinch to make you more involved, and a twist to make the story even more dramatic. This then set up a big, final confrontation that didn't disappoint and rought back memories of my days as a street judge. Some of my fellow Judges knocked it for slipping in an escort mission but in terms of storytelling my Scriptomatic Gauge hit full and the writers got a reward.

Bioshock 2, on the other hand, while not a bad story, lacks these key points. Despite knowing them for Bioshock 1, the sequel has no pinch or a dramatic showdown. Most worryingly, by the final parts of the game you can kick back and go off duty - you can have an inactive protagonist. They do this by encouraging you to use this to summon an invincible super soldier type to fight for you. I am a Judge, we don't let vigilantes and citizens do our fighting nor should we in training simulators like Bioshock 2.

Finally, the plot is confusing and I had to refer to notes from other investigating Judges to work out what was happening in terms of the story and by the end I did not care all that much.

I know, what was the story to Zelda, Mario or Great Giana Sisters? Not that much, but things have changed. Bioshock is partly sold on the strength of its story, as seen in Andrew Robinson's witness statement. It still gets things right – the antagonist is someone who believes they are acting for the best of intentions, a type I find tougher to battle than a simple 'a mad criminal'. Likewise Rapture is a dystopia but as Isaac Asimov once said, a dystopia that has the single note of 'aren't things bad' gets staler than a synthi-donut pretty quickly. In addition, the Ryan theme park adds a touch of dark humour to anyone who's been on a Disney ride.

It doesn't disappoint but it doesn't live up to the first game.

Verdict & sentence:

2K Games, you have not done badly. But on the other hand you're not completely innocent of crimes. And don't give me the "sequels aren't equals" crap – take a look at Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty.

However, your crimes did not stop enjoyment of the game, but are crimes nevertheless and must be punished. The most suitable punishment in your case is a fine – a million creds. Case dismissed.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Mad Men Exhibit F – Waldorf Stories

Scene of crime: AMC (US)

Defendant: Writers Brett Johnson and Matthew Weiner

Case for the defence:

It's awards time and SCDP is up for the advertising industry's Clio – and Peggy claims it's for her idea yet Don gets the credit. Instead of thanking her – and gratitude is something Don's bad at as we later see - he scolds her and makes her work the weekend with a 'lazy and ideas free' sexist art director who waxes lyrical about the joys of nudism.

Some old faces appear at the Clios – self-styled rival Tom, Duck Philips, sailing on neat gin with an embarrassing drunken interruption to the ceremony, and Ken Cosgrove whose client suggests will be working with SCDP very soon. This sets Pete on edge, petulantly asking Lane if a merger was ahead – there isn't, but worse for Pete, Ken may be joining. Pete never liked Ken and his 'easy success', so there's no way Pete wants him there. However, just because he doesn't want it doesn't mean it may not be best for SCDP.

Recruitment and getting into ad land runs through this episode. Getting that break– we see a flashback to how Roger gave Don a job (or did he? Drink was involved) while in the present one of Roger's wife's cousins is trying to land a job. All he has are hack lines and a tenuous connection to Roger.

The other major theme in this episode is that of drink, and saving face the morning (or two mornings) after. Don stole the cousin's pitch, Roger gave Don a job when told that he had said so while drunk.

It's an office-life focused episode, and all the stronger because of it.



Witness statements:

"This week’s episode of Mad Men gives the idiom an origin story while providing illustrations of how careers get made as much through hard work and persistence as raw talent. And how people who don’t remember that could lose what they’ve got. Aspiration may not be as good as perspiration, but either one beats coasting." - Keith Phipps, The AV Club

"I don’t know what to do with the information that Roger hired Don to come work at Sterling Cooper because he was drunk at lunch one day and Don was being a pest. What did this shed light on? Roger’s lucky that Don turned out to be a spectacular creative genius? Both of the men have drinking problems? Don didn’t really work his way into anything, he just knows how to work a drunk man? His line about wanting to become a big manly man working in a manly man’s office was adorable, though. Hamm laid on the good-boy charm thick, and that part I enjoyed. Mad Men: Flashbacks are not for you." - Michelle Stark, The Daily Loaf

"Lane, Peggy and Pete - and soon Ken - represent the new order, and they'd be very at home in 2010. They're (mostly) moralistic and bottom-line-oriented, unattractive qualities in anyone. Peggy, exiled to develop a Vick's campaign with sexist-cliche-spouting art director Stan Rizzo, calls his sexist bluff by daring him to strip as she does. It's kind of a stupid scene, actually, and we won't dwell on it." – Kyrie, The Houston Chronicle

Findings:

Drink does strange things and that's why we banned it in Mega City. Mad Men reminds us all why – Don used it to weasel the job that launched his career and it's to blame for him hiring a man he clearly doesn't want. It's also the reason he lets down his kids for the first time, and for making a fool of himself with Dr Faye. Washed up Duck Philips is a warning of where he could end up and some good foreshadowing of mixing drink with work. It also made me realise that for all the drinking done on Mad Men, we rarely see the consequences, other than with Freddy Rumsen. Other than a long stretch in the isolation cubes of course.

The acting rated highly on my Acting Detector – Don played three versions of himself, as literally wide-eyed (a little too wide-eyed if you ask me) 50s go-getter, stern creative director, and drunk. We saw Joan in love with Roger and as an old friend. Peggy got naked, but as a Judge I'm not surprised but what citizens get up to. It's Pete who I have under surveillance as it is hard to tell how he'll react and that makes him dangerous. If he was under my jurisdiction I would have hauled him in for analysis and perhaps a protective lobotomy to keep him on track.

Don Draper also needs some protection for his own good, a spell in the isolation cubes would do him a service. I don't approve of a man who livers on a false identity as it's a crime, but he has at least been consistent so far. That he told a waitress – and not up to his usual standard going by Hot-or-Not gauge – his name's Dick is major flaw. If he was a Wally Squad member (*Tharg note – undercover Judge) he would have been dead long ago.

Drink lets people get you over a barrel – Don had Roger, cousin Danny had Don. Peggy got the art director over a barrel by calling his bluff but at least no drink was involved there. And Peggy was the only one without regrets because of this.

Don kissed Joan and I hope this doesn't lead to a new affair and more regrets. My instinct is nothing will come in Don's current shape, as a washed up exec at his nadir, but he's not at Duck Phillip levels just yet. There is still more evidence to consider.

Verdict & sentence:

Performances varied in portrayal but not in the acting and despite what Witness Kyrie claims, flashbacks do work well in Mad Men, and work better on this programme than on any other.

Dr Faye and Joan to remain observation, Pete to be brought in for interrogation.

Brett Johnson and Matthew Weiner, you are acquitted.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Mad Men Series 4 - Exhibit E – The Chrysanthemum and the Sword

Scene of crime: AMC (US)

Defendant: Writer Erin Levy

Case for the defence:

First the Brits now members of another former empire make their appearance in Mad Men, clichés and all – the Japanese. Honda executives are considering switching agencies and Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce are, along with two other medium-sized firms, invited to compete via a presentation with strict rules.

Self-proclaimed rival Ted Chaough wants to beat Don, even if he is infuriated by the worship of Don, but his obsession leads to the (probable) bankrupting of his agency as Don resurrects a trick from the very first season of Mad Men. Back then it was what was to make Lucky Strike different when manufacturers were all in the same boat, now it was how to think differently when the other agencies had the same financial limitations.

Back to Don's personal life and we see more of him looking after the kids – in practice leaving them with a babysitter to go on a date, with the definite notion he could have gone at any time. Daughter Sally starts to rebel by cutting her hair and masturbating at a sleepover, leading to Betty slapping her in front of Don.

However, there were more than a few touches of humour to compensate, with Don's secretary Miss Blankenship fighting Pete for a present, the subtitles for what the translator told the Japanese and Peggy riding a motorbike around in circles in an empty film studio.


Witness statements:

"In general, much of the first half of Sword pushed a little too hard at the thin line that separates Mad Men from cliched tales of the '60s. The series has mostly avoided cliche in the past because it was set in a period of the '60s that was relatively unexploited...The best thing about Mad Men's second and third seasons were their restraint, their ability to back away from the sorts of 'Hey, remember when kids used to play with plastic bags?' moments that occasionally hurt season one episodes. Season four, though it's fun and feisty, suffers from a bad case of the subtext on sleeve from time to time." - Todd VanDerWerff, the AV Club

"What is the right behaviour? How does it define us? That seemed to be at the crux of another superb episode of Mad Men, which has so far defied those who might be looking for a crack in the veneer of its greatness now that Season 4 is upon us. No such luck just yet." - The Spoiled Bastard, the San Francisco Chronicle

Findings:

What to make of this episode, the first to make me rub my chin in judgment. Don Draper has finally returned to his old, creative ways while we saw more of Henry Francis and his relationship with Betty and Don. Pete Campbell was both a brat and a wise old man, something the best episodes show him as, while Joan is once more a figure of competence.

However, Mad Men tried to get funny with a Judge. And Judges don't do humour, not at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. We're taught at the Academy of Justice that a good character is somewhere between real life and a cartoon, and Miss Blankenship belongs in Toon Town. In moderation I can handle her, but if I see her acting like she did again I'll throw her in the cubes for her own good. Mad Men can do humour well – as when the translator said, regarding the Japanese business men leering at Joan's breasts, that "they're not subtle" – but Don's secretary and Roger's attempts at racist humour was too much. That's on the charge sheet.

In mitigation, Pete Campbell did show both sides that make you both like him and want to strike him with a riot stick. Betty Draper, who has been stuck in the same key, added a note or two, and Sally showed signs of development. I've seen muties eat a man whole, but I still felt uncomfortable at her masturbation scene. But it was also relevant to the plot and to revelation as Don was the only person Betty could speak frankly to.

I enjoyed this episode, but that's not how Judges make their calls. Introducing a nemesis for Don and disposing of him in one episode is not typical of Mad Men, although they did make it believable as to why they never mentioned Ted before. Similarly Roger's anti-Japanese feelings have never been hinted at for all of Bert Cooper's Nipponophilia. I think this sums up the episode – not typical Mad Men, but it just about pulls it off.

Verdict & sentence:

I'm still rubbing my chin on this one. I think I need to make an example of Erin. Erin Levy, I sentence you to community service cleaning the windows inside and out on the 250th floor of the housing blocks. You have leave to appeal. Take this flak jacket, some of those birds have taken a liking to human flesh, but it should protect most of your most vulnerable parts. Hearing adjourned.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Confession 20100819 - The Making of Mr Hai's daughter: Becoming British

Scene of crime: Book, Virago Press

Defendants: Yasmin Hai, author

Case for the defence:

The Mr Hai of the title arrived in Britain from Pakistan half a century ago to found a new life in London based on his view of Englishness. After importing a bride from his homeland, he eventually settled in Wembley and raised his family, including Yasmin.

Mr Hai – Marxist, atheist Muslim, Englishman – dominates the book, even after his death. He is the motif for the book – a question of identity and identity politics – as well as a clearly adored father and man of strong views. Amongst the prominent ones were 'no Urdu' in the house, to help his family assimilate, and no Islam, apart from Eid which he saw as religious as Christmas.

Later on, as Yasmin breaks out into the world and her widowed mother gains independence, Yasmin becomes a TV presenter and journalist and a default 'go to' Muslim journalist. The only problem is that Yasmin doesn't count herself as Muslim, and as her friends become more fundamental in their beliefs, is told more often that she isn't 'proper' Muslim. She in turns wonders if they are proper British, and what she is, proper or otherwise.



Witness statements:

"Had Mr Hai succeeded in turning his daughter into an Englishwoman? I’m not sure it really matters any more, but his kindly influence obviously enabled his little Yasmin to write this unbelievably funny, passionate autobiography." - Zenga Longmore, The Spectator

"Ultimately, this is a very compelling story and there are a whole bunch of interesting issues which I hope to touch upon in the future. In many ways, it epitomises Pickled Politics. I don’t think I can give the book a better recommendation than that and encourage everyone to check it out." - Shariq, Pickled Politics

"When Yasmin Hai's Pakistani father arrived in Britain in 1964 he determined to embrace Britishness, and to raise proper little English children. In her happy - if confused - childhood in the London suburbs, Hai was drilled in English manners, had her hair cut in the style of Milly Molly Mandy, and excelled at tiddlywinks. Now a successful TV journalist, she writes winningly and with great humour of the conflicts and realities of a cross-cultural life, and of her own struggle to navigate between her disparate identities in modern Britain. Charming, funny and illuminating." - The Daily Mail

Findings:

This is the first confession [* Tharg note, 'autobiography' for our 21st century readers] that this Judge has had to consider as a case and as a Judge I'm naturally disinclined to disbelieve anything tells me about their life – guaranteed it'll be a sob story so you'll go easy on them. Never happens, but they try.

I've not come across such an open confession as I read here, one that deals with the good and the bad, the rights and the wrongs. I liked her style and I read her confession quickly. No creep likes thinking back about the bad things done to you and bad things you've done – Grud knows how hard it is when you think how long you need to beat some perps to find out what they did.

However, like many a confession I've heard before, and will no doubt hear again, there were bits missing that I wanted to know more about. Her mother got a job at the BBC – doing what, did it inspire Yasmin? Yasmin married a Jew – what did the family and friends think, what was the wedding like? The early parts of her life are relatively detailed, but by the end she just wants to rush through it. Like I said, I hear this a lot in confessions – when the perp starts rushing, and brushing aside details as 'inconsequential', I know I want to hear more as they have something to hide.

There are times when she needs to say more. You can tell Yasmin has a horror of how her British-born friends become more Islamic and praying to Grud, I mean Allah, but she rarely tackles it head on. She also has an issue as being seen as a token minority for producers, but my research into what remains of the 21st century internet, all her interviews have been about Islamic identity and Britishness. I suspect that this is not her choice and she's a victim of her own success with this confession.

Verdict & sentence:


This confession flows well, but too much is missing and I want to know more, as any good Judge should. Not only that but Yasmin, in obsessing about her own identity fails to address the big question her book raises – can Muslims integrate or not? Her confessions suggests that they won't, a controversial point and I don't know if she realises that this is what she suggests. In the wrong hands much could be made of it.

I like her style, but too much is left out. However, she may yet atone. Yasmin Hai, I sentence you to 3 years in the cubes for lack of thorough thought, suspended for five years as I suspect you will make good a better follow up.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Mad Men Series 4 - Exhibit D – The Rejected

Scene of crime: AMC (US)

Defendants: Writers Keith Huff and Matthew Weiner

Case for the defence:

Don's drunken tryst with his secretary, Allison, finally catches up with him after bubbling away the past two episodes, while Pete discovers that he is a (legitimate) father at long last. While the episode starts with Don and Roger placating Lee Garner Jr at Lucky Strike over his concerns that cigarette advertising is on the ropes, the account that is at the centre of this episode is Pond's Face Cream.

Convinced that there's a conflict of interest with Clearasil – which just happens to be the account that Pete's father gave him (and had taken away in the past over Pete's refusal to adopt a kid) – Roger and Lane orders Pete to ditch Clearasil. Back with Pond's, Dr Faye Miller leads the girls from the office – not including 'old and married' Joan – in a discussion on face cream and relationships, which opens the floodgates of tears. When Allison can't take any more and confronts Don about 'that night' – she wants something from him and when he won't open up emotionally, and worse, offering what he thinks she wants (a glowing reference, not a statement of what he thinks of her) - she snaps and hurls a paperweight at him.

Finally, we see more of Peggy this episode, literally in the case of peeping through the glass divider into Don's office. She's hit on by a lesbian in the building but holds her own and isn't put off, enjoying the party until it's raided, making good of her hiding place in a cupboard for a quick kiss with an exciting new writer.

 
 
Witness statements:

"The Rejected's version of the Don/Lane bender arrived via Peggy, in truncated but still compelling form... the big scenes in The Rejected were far more pointed—though I confess they still snuck up on me, to the extent that I didn’t feel the full weight of the episode until its final few images." Noel Murray, The AV Club

"I am consistently amazed by what Vince Kartheiser does with Pete, leaving him to seem completely sincere in each and every one of his conflicting characteristics. Pete seemed genuinely excited to be having a child but also genuinely thrilled to be able to exploit his new status as leverage in his dealings with his father-in-law through the agency." Ginia Bellafante, the New York Times  

Findings:

I like themes in an episode. Mad Men in particular does this well as they don't force feed it to you. But by grud, The Rejected, layered it on this week, I almost thought it was a plant. Maybe, and it's not often you hear a Judge admit doubt, Man Men is a male-centric world and series, when it focuses on the women it is more noticeable. Maybe.

There was grud-load lot of rejection it this episode – Don rejected Allison, then she him, Clearasil by Roger before Pete turned the tables ("turned chicken shit into chicken salad") on his father-in-law, and the secretary with her ex-boyfriend. Even Peggy engaged in this, rejecting Joyce's advances and ultimately rejecting her boyfriend by not only not inviting him to the party but kissing another creep while there. Lane almost rejected Pete with his handling of the news he was a father before he corrected himself. As I said, a pretty theme-heavy episode.

This brings me to some evidence an informer, Hack, sent me. While the theme in this episode was overwhelming, the little details stood out, and you don't have to have a Judge's synthetic eye to spot them. Lane's handling of Pete's parenthood – focusing solely on the account, before correcting himself – and Don's shutting out Alison, but she still getting into him and noticing how he only turns on the charm when he wants something, are uncomfortably true to life for some. Even Don's started, but never finished, typed apology, when he could have said these words, are true, so I'm informed. Judges are forbidden by the Justice Dept from marrying or forming relationships, and watching Mad Men makes me see the wisdom of the Father of Justice when he lay down the law of celibacy.

Despite my objections to the defence, this episode was still better written than most other series. The catalyst of Ken Cosgrove – not seen since the end of Season 3, and underused then at any rate – led to action by Pete and was handled deftly. Dr Faye Miller's machinations mean I'll be keeping an eye, or at least a Spy in the Sky, for the near future – her wedding ring removal, change of clothes, even 'being forgotten' for the name tags – all stank of deviousness. Deviousness isn't a crime, much as it ought to be, but sleep soundly citizens, for she shall be under observation.

Verdict & sentence:

Hmmmm, I'm going to take my time on this one. In some respects the plot was a bit heavy handed and I don't like that – upholding the law, call me old fashioned, but I like it heavy - but plots, no. In mitigation the characters were well written and well acted, particularly Pete.

Bring in the next piece of evidence.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Mad Men Series 4 - Exhibit C – The Good News

Scene of crime: AMC (US)

Defendants: Writers Jonathan Abrahams and Matthew Weiner

Case for the defence:

1964 ends but Don's philandering doesn't. It's new year's eve but two men don't feel like celebrating – Don Draper and Lane Pryce. Pryce reveals he got a divorce for Christmas and Don returns after learning that his soulmate Anna – the original and only Mrs Draper – is unaware she won't be along for much longer due to bone cancer.

Back in the office, and like two acquaintances stuck in halls during the vacation, get to know each other in the only way Mad Men knows – over drink, and good stuff from the sound of it. A trip to the cinema, dinner, comics and call girls ends with Lane bedding one of the call girls at Don's.

Despite the poignancy of the scenes – two lonely men together only because of their lack of family, the cancer, Lane being an ass to Joan – the episode has its light moments, from Lane's secretary mixing up flowers between Joan and Mrs Pryce, Joan's husband's poor jokes.

Witness statements:

"How fucking great were the scenes with Don and Lane? Both slinking into work on New Year’s, deposited by their newly failed marriages. Their bender was something to behold, especially seeing the buttoned-down Lane come way the hell out of his shell. The movie theatre scene was a highlight." Scott Tobias, The AV Club

"After a fairly uneven second episode, Mad Men is back on track with "The Good News." More's the pity it has to be so sad." William Bradley, The Huffington Post

 

Findings:

Mad Men, it's been a while. I never sat in judgment on you before but my predecessor on the beat spoke highly of you. I don't know why you keep getting run ins with the Justice Department, I don't know if you like to push your luck but so far its held. Let's hope for your sake it continues.

The first two episodes of this series were reasonable, but seemed to lack something to make them rounded. The Good News is rounded. It would be easy for the writers to have had an episode solely with corny jokes, shots of Joan at her loveliest and drunken high-jinks. Similarly they could have gone with a dark episode, with two divorced men at their loneliest, Draper making a fool of himself, and unknown, deep, cancer.

However, the writers made a wise choice by not taking the easy route but the difficult one of getting the balance right. And it worked, luckily for you perps.

Don Draper, you're making a fool of yourself. But it's a believable foolishness. You also showed some human dignity at last, even if I nearly shot the screen while reviewing the case.

Lane, it's good to hear you speak up at last. Before now it was the Don and Roger show, I'll be monitoring you. You've been warned.

Joan Holloway, I've not forgotten you. Good to see you step to the front for once. You're lucky judges don't approve marriages as your husband would have had a firm 'reject' from me, although he has some qualities shown in this episode, even if you did not believe it.

Verdict & sentence:

It's the fourth series of Mad Men, and the 43rd episode yet you're getting away with this like you're still fresh. I'd suspect that you were on Stookie [Tharg note – an anti-ageing drug. Justice Department note – a highly illegal anti-ageing drug].

Innocent of all crimes.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Kwaidan - Case no. 20100616

Scene of crime: Novel

Defendants:

Patrick Lafcadio Hearn

Case for the defence:

Patrick Lafcadio Hearn collects 14 Japanese folk tales and some essays on insects and butterflies.

Hearn was born in Lefkada (hence his middle name) to an Irish Protestant father and a Greek noblewoman, raised in Dublin, matured as a journalist in the US and at the age of 40 emigrated to Japan. Despite operettas like the Mikado, the Land of the Rising Sun remained in in the shadows of Western minds in 1890 when he moved to Japan, and Hearn's publication of Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things just before his death in 1904 helped spread Japanese cultural tales from their land of origin.

Like folk tales from other parts of the world, the collection in Kwaidan varies – some humorous, some dark, and others plain disturbing to modern readers. Of the stories included, the dream of Akinosuke is probably the most famous, if only for Stark Trek: The Next Generation paraphrasing it for one of its best-received episodes. The tales are from across the eras of Japanese history and offer an insight into the culture of the country.

Hearn's collection of essays on insects, by contrast, are personal musings on how Japan and Hearn himself viewed the creatures.



 Witness statements:

"Kwaidan translates from the Japanese as weird tales, which perfectly describes these haunting stories.

This collection of supernatural tales includes a musician called upon to perform for the dead, man-eating goblins, and insects who uncannily mimic human behaviour. A perfect treat for fans of the strange and otherworldly." – Amazon review

Findings:

Folk tales aren't easy on the modern citizen. Many come from a social order alien to them, such as life-long commitments formed on one (comatose) kiss or that if your mother is wicked, being ripped apart by wild animals is fair justice. The Law is strong, but it is never cruel. The Grimm brothers and their cohorts would do well if they had a copy of our noble laws to hand. In fact, perhaps the time will come when it's time to judge them for attempts to instil citizen justice – when did you ever read of a Judge determining the villains' sentence in the end? I may make a formal request to the Cultural Unit that fairy tales are rewritten to improve citizen morality and faith in the Justice System.

Returning to Kwaidan, I was impressed before reading by the fact that Amazon has printed this as a lost book – anything that enhances the knowledge of citizens (and keeps them off the streets violating the Law) gets my vote (if democracy were not illegal). The tales are varied and from various parts and periods of Japan, with a variety of humour and darkness.

Stand-out is Akinosuke for its whimsy and exploration of what it is to be happy as family, while Jikininki and Rokurokubi are good for showcasing Japanese supernatural beliefs. As for The Story of Mimi-nashi Hōichi, I'd sentence the priest – who was meant to look after his ward – for neglect.

The essays are diverge too much from the previous stories, but are no reason not to buy this book.

Verdict & sentence:

Patrick Lafcadio Hearn, late of Japan and Honda City, while your folk tales are worthy of Official Recognition as Hero of the Mega City, but the essays trouble me. Let this be an official warning on mixing such topics, otherwise you're free to go.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Be Near me – Andrew O'Hagan. Case no. 20100606

Scene of crime: Novel

Defendants:

Andrew O'Hagan, author

Case for the defence:

Be Near Me tells the story of Fr David Anderton, a priest born in Edinburgh, schooled in England and now regarded by his Ayrshire parish as satan himself – not just English but a paedophile at that. Being an Oxford man this may be expected, but to the denizens of Dalgarnock – a clutch of Orangemen, chavs, dole lovers, working class snobs, and ghetto-wannabes – he's a cuckoo in the nest who on refusing to conform must be destroyed.

Anderton ultimately is, not for forcing choirboys to receive his offering but for an ecstasy-fuelled kiss of the class hard man. His 'friend' the Bishop tries and fails to rescue him, as does his cleaning lady and in the end Fr David goes his own way.


Witness statements:

"O'Hagan's work has always concerned itself specifically with Scottish identity, and more generally with the structures and ideas that hold societies together, and the frail bonds which hold individuals to the body of society. He is a writer of stern and bleak ambition, but with a tender concern for the people who find themselves adrift and inadequate - for their particularity, for the singularity of their broken stories. As often with this writer, digressions can seem to slow the narrative and divert it; a bit too much of those Proustians, perhaps, a bit too much dinner-table argument over political commonplaces. But in the end he turns the wanderings back to his central purpose. He is a fine stylist, a penetrating analyst, a knowledgable guide to high thinking and squalid living, as observant and funny about the townsfolks' violent quirks as he is about the affectations of his sad central character. Between the lines, everything fits. This is a nuanced, intense and complex treatment of a sad and simple story.

"Read it twice." - Hilary Mantel, The Guardian

"O'Hagan has the power and exactitude to take the measure of a politically inert ex-industrial society subsisting on the long-chewed bones of sectarian and ethnic prejudices. He writes with bracing clarity, as if the sentimental despoliation of realism by television's treatment of working-class life had never happened. Yet, although much contemporary writing seems myopic and trivial in comparison, Be Near Me is simply too short, as if scaled down from its true ambitions, provoking admiration and regret in equal measure." - Sean O'Brien, The Independent

Findings:

My informant, Agent Orange, alerted me to this crime and I'm glad that she did. Great writers can tell us a lot about what society was like before the the Atomic Wars glassed it. Mega City scientists have been unable to learn anything new about from this book. What evidence they have amassed through Greene, Burgess and Waugh, British Catholic males were to a man mopey, and, in most cases, repressed homosexuals. O'Hagan's work merely adds to this hypothesis.

O'Hagan reminds me of an old perp, Lynard Smokey, I hauled in for jaywalking – asked why he did it, he'd respond with a promising story he swore would explain all, only to stop and drop it just as it started to get interesting. Perhaps O'Hagan thinks that Fr David is too interesting to share the story with many others, but as the old saying goes, never trust a man who uploads his own picture to Wikipedia.

Be Near Me touches upon the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the paedophilia paranoia of the late-20th to early-21st century, and touches most of all celibacy, but like the priest with his brief kiss, he doesn't go all the way. I've been part of the Justice system for nearly 30 years and by now I can sniff a motive from even the most sealed of cases, but even I struggled to find a story in O'Hagan's work.

His style is pleasant enough, and while Judges are deservedly known as hard-hearted, even we know when a character is meant to get some sympathy, but I rooted no evidence out for this here. It's like listening to an old lady describing her lost cat – to her the cat is the source of sunshine and personality. To me it's just another sheet of paper and the foreboding I'm going to have to go over and detailed how we found Patch digesting in some alien's belly.

Verdict & sentence:

Andrew O'Hagan, for cliché I sentence you to three years in the isolation cubes, and for the crime of telling a meandering story you are to serve your sentence in chains. Let this be a lesson to others.

Hilary Mantel, for attempting to mislead a Judge I sentence you to a year in the cubes. To be served twice.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Ashes to Ashes – Exhibits E – G and Summing up

Scene of crime: BBC One

Defendants:


Executive producers Ashley Pharaoh, Matthew Graham, Simon Crawford Collins, Jane Featherstone, Alison Jackson.

Case for the defence:

Ashes to Ashes finally ends after three series of supposedly-1980s action (mainly a bit of eyeliner and rolled up denim jackets). This time the final three episodes are condensed into one submission of evidence and the final sentence is given. As always, Mega City Judges will pull no punches (Tharg note: this means spoiler alert).



Witness statements:

"It seems that Hunt's been dead all along, I think. To be honest I'm not totally sure what's going on.... Did the people behind A2A know all this when they started, or are they just tying together all the loose ends together now, in a big old knot?" - Sam Wollaston, the Guardian
"Anyway, the question is: did the final episode deliver on its promises? Yes, absolutely, and with the impact of a punch in the gut from Hunt.
Whatever you may feel about Ashes to Ashes -- and it surely went on too long -- this was a cracking, supremely clever closing chapter, every bit as gripping and ingenious as the finale of Life On Mars." Pat Stacey, The Herald

Findings:

The last three exhibits have been submitted as one, which makes summing up the series nice and simple. I like things simple, leaves me more time to spend on the streets cleaning it of perps. Even fining someone for littering gives me more pleasure than this secondment to the Cultural Unit. But if the Chief Judge says you gotta go, you gotta go. Just you perps know that when I am back on the street I'll be itchier than ever to dish out some proper justice.

Justice, huh, what did our predecessors, the police, do before the judges brought law and order? Not much if Ashes to Ashes is anything to go by.

First there's Exhibit E, where a prison riot leads to the prisoners holding Gene Hunt's officers hostage. Guess that riot foam wasn't invented then so they couldn't subdue the prisoners that way, but looks like 1980s CCTV quality was much better than the history books suggest. And why Gene Hunt thought he could lead his men in I don't know, I'd have busted him down to rookie before you could say 'Judge Cal'.

Pc Viv took a shoot in a by-the-numbers script - foreshadow that something's wrong with him but is ignored, reveal that he's a traitor, give a speech on his motivations, colleagues who disown him, and a token bit of sacrificial action by Viv to redeem himself. I've seen that so many times we study it at the Academy. Guess Viv didn't.

The only saving grace is that Ray now appears to have a personality, but the downside was a heavy dose of Sam Tyler references, which only served to highlight how unlikable Alex Drake is and how badly done Ashes to Ashes is. It also showed how little real-world, beyond the coma interaction there is, but more on that later. Of course character development can be forgotten – I notice no one has mentioned Chris' little brush with the dark side in the last series.

Perhaps it's best that the past is forgotten lest we get the 'romance' we saw between Alex and Gene; prominent in the first series. But like the zombies from Judgment Day, the two have their dead romance rise from the grave. And like Judgment Day, they're all dead. Yes, that's the secret behind both Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes. Do I need to go on...? Okay, the Chief Judge says I do. Well then.

Despite the inconsistencies – why Ray and Chris 'channelled' the real world in Life on Mars at times, why they don't remember dying (or deduce it, they're no Judges but they are detectives for grud's sake), or that they too had been back in time despite their mocking of Sam Tyler, it at least fitted into the third series of Ashes to Ashes.

Gene and Alex finally kiss, after a meandering build up to it in the penultimate episode, and she says goodbye after the Magical Negro Nelson guides them to heaven. An AD2010 pub. With the devil as a long streak of Mega City Law H756 Section 35 (public urination, prevention of). Grud no wonder we banned religion back in 2078 if this is what you were expected to believe in.

It takes a lot to move a Judge to emotion. There wasn't a lot, even in this final episode, but enough for some.

Verdict & sentence:

Up until the final episode execution was being mulled over. However, how can you kill something that's already dead? Trust me, we've tried before and it ain't pretty.

The final episode, though it made a hash of Life on Mars, did tie in with the final series. Ashley Pharaoh, Matthew Graham, Simon Crawford Collins, Jane Featherstone, Alison Jackson - Justice is not a harsh mistress, execution is commuted, I'm gonna be lenient and you only get 25 years in the isolation cubes. Add a year in solitary for not playing Bowie's Ashes to Ashes. You don't have to thank me.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Ashes to Ashes - Exhibit D

Scene of crime: Ongoing case BBC One Friday 23rd April

Defendants:

Executive producers Ashley Pharaoh, Matthew Graham, Simon Crawford Collins, Jane Featherstone, Alison Jackson.




Case for the defence:

This week the team discover that there's an undercover officer working on their patch - and she's not under Gene's command.

Louise Gardner has been sent to infiltrate told gangster Terry Stafford's operations and Gene has it out with her commander, DCI Wilson for pissing on his patch. Alex has a bad dream along the way and Chris calls investigating officer "guv" in front of Gene.

Witness statements:

"This fourth episode was on the whole more in keeping with the quality of last week’s episode more than the barnstorming opening two instalments. That’s to say it was a good to very good episode, but not quite Ashes To Ashes firing on all cylinders." - Simon Brew, Den of Geek

"Dan Owen regularly says that the crime stories need more work on Ashes To Ashes because they make up the bulk of each episode. In this instance, I totally agree." - Gerrard McGarry, Unreality Shout

Findings:

Do you think I was born yesterday, Pharaoh? I know what you're trying by making Chris call Jim Keats guv, but it was as realistic and in-character as a witness statement at 3 in the morning on a cold holiday.

Your habits are getting predictable, Pharaoh, and that's fine by us judges observing you before your inevitable incarceration but I think the civilians want something more. In a Bit of Punt and Dennis (currently languishing in the isolation cubes by the way) they spoofed old war films. Their MO was to  introduce a new character, let him tell his tale, usually one involving marrying his sweetheart on his safe return, and then declaring "dead!" The same could be said for new characters in Ashes to Ashes who throw themselves on the team's protection, or have something to prove, only for them to be another corpse sent to the resyk plant. All relevant characters are introduced in episode 1 of a series. All the others die. If only judging was that simple.

However, some characters survived who I wish hadn't. The police complain about overwhelming redtape, DCI Wilson must spend his time reading Shakespearian soliloquies and practising his pontification. No judge on my precinct has time for more than a "freeze, creep!" on the best of days, let alone in the midst of a string of junkie deaths.

Verdict & sentence:

Investigation still pending but I'm in a generous mood. 5 years a piece added to the current bill.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Ashes to Ashes - Exhibit C

Scene of crime: BBC One, Friday 16th April

Defendants:

Executive producers Ashley Pharaoh, Matthew Graham, Simon Crawford Collins, Jane Featherstone, Alison Jackson.

Case for the defence:

DI Alex Drake was shot in 2008 and woke up in a low-budget 1983.

This week a mad bomber threatens an election, and Ray has his life saved by a fireman after he runs into a flaming building. Despite being surrounded by firefighters with correct breathing equipment. Ray still runs in. He should be booked for endangering the life of his rescuer.

The fireman has a brother who's sleeping with his wife. This isn't a spoiler, it's because Ashes for Ashes is so by the numbers that any new character is up to something – in this case, his sister-in-law.

Alex, it's now established, has forgotten she's in a coma and her daughter, although she seems to be enjoying her fantasies of Heartbeat Pc Nick Berry with a smashed in face. While many of us would like to see that, that does not justify it.


Witness statements:

"The climax of the episode was fantastic." – Gerard McGarry, Unreality Shout

"What does seem clear is that Ashes To Ashes is continuing to lay down some narrative threads that we can’t wait to see resolved. This was the weakest episode of the three we’ve had of series three to date, but the standard was still good, and the decision to give Ray some spotlight time was a well rewarded one." - Simon Brew, Den of Geek

Findings:

Explosions and fires like it was a rehash of the Apocalypse Wars, but my main concern was that the cardboard characters would catch fire.

Yet another character development by numbers - big speech by the antagonist for empathy, even longer one by Ray because after three series of Ashes to Ashes. plus Life on Mars, the writers think it may be time to give him some character development.

Pc token woman aka Shaz makes some right-on jibes about the Falklands. But seeing as the war was to liberate a democracy from a dictatorship, her notion of right-on is not recognised by the Hall of Justice definition. Some mandatory re-education hypnosis may be needed on her.

Case note - "Bolly Knickers" is getting tiring as a knickname. Gene Hunt has become the office bore who uses knicknames that are only funny to him and where you cringe each times he uses it. Gene's engaged in "repeat until funny" mode. Scriptbot, disengage this phrase.

And where does Gene get his guns from? The Acme Corporation? Was 1980s London really so lax about weapons? No wonder their civilisation collapsed.

Verdict & sentence:

I should have locked you perps up a long time ago. You seem to think that because of your good work on Life on Mars you're free to do as you please. Justice doesn't work like that, she's blind. Lucky her, she can't see what you've sunk to.

I'm saving final judgment until I've reviewed all the evidence, but I'll tell you now, creeps, you're already looking at a long stint in the cubes at best. This episode alone deserves five years each.

Fresh evidence next week

Sunday, 18 April 2010

I am Love - Case no. 180410

Scene of crime: Cinema, BritCit.

Defendants: Writer & director Luca Guadagnino. Actress Tilda Swinton.

Case for the defence:

"I am Love stars Tilda Swinton as the head of a large, wealthy Milanese family who, with little real temptation or any bad treatment by her husband, into a nude affair with her son's business partner, chef Edoardo Gabbriellini. Two hours of art-house direction, music and themes, almost entirely in Italian with some English and Russian. Plot in no language."

Exhibit A: Defendant Swinton engaged in the crime.

Witness statements:

Seemed like a false call to start with. Everyone from the Times, the Telegraph, grud, even the Independent, seemed to think there was no case to answer to. Even some jimps [tharg note: judge impersonators] over in Boulder seemed to be taken in by it. If you listened to them it was a five-star 'glorious' film.

However, if every judge believed what they were told then we may as well disband becasue according to every perp who's had his collar felt, everyone's innocent. Let me set the record straight citizens - no one is innocent, there's only degrees of guilt.

That's why I roughed up Nigel Andrews at the Financial Times and I was right there was more. A whole lot more. Turns out not only is this film a "long-winded work in an outdated form, in which you could go blind searching for small but essential information", but lead actress Tilda Swinton had a hand in this. She's already facing a charge for lying to a judge, so I reviewed the video logs to see what really happened.

Findings:

At first I felt a little guilty. The first minutes of the evidence swept this old judge up. However, a big warning alarm bell rang inside my head. I'd seen this case before - servants busying themselves, big family dinner, old patriarch telling his family 'as you all know...' - these perps are history freaks. They'd dug up an old Victorian artefact and were passing it off as their own. They're already looking at three years for theft and deception and I was only ten minutes into the vid.

I wish I could have stopped watching then, but a judge has to be thorough and review all the evidence. I'll keep it brief, although the writer couldn't - characters who do nothing, irrelevant flashbacks, characters spouting lengthy speeches on behalf of the writer - grud, I nearly threw up during some of the tracking shots, let alone that speech. And as for the sex scene... Flowers budding. Music crescendo. Climax. I nearly whipped out my lawgiver and shot the screen. Melodrama. And then it ends.

Verdict & sentence:

Luca Guadagnino, in the name of the law, I sentence you to five years hard labour in the off-world penal colony followed by five years in the isolation cubes. May it be an example to others.

Tilda Swinton, three years for withholding information from a judge, three years in the isolation cubes for theft to be served consecutively.

Nigel Andrews, on behalf of the citizens I present you an award of 100 creds.

Now beat it.