DVD Review: Band of Brothers

At the beginning of the year, some friends and I came up with a novel way to pass the time between when we caught up (because we all live in different parts of Australia) – we’d go out and buy the same TV show on DVD, watch one episode a week and then swap notes about the episode via SMS or phone calls or whatever. There were only three of us, so taking it in turns to pick a show means that we basically get 1-2 picks a year.

The inaugural show picked by the youngest member of our troupe was the famous Band of Brothers, which I’d heard of many, many times but never gotten around to watching, so it was good to have the excuse to watch the whole thing.

If you haven’t ever heard of it, this miniseries was made for the HBO cable channel about 10 years ago, and was the brainchild of Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, both of whom wanted the chance to tell another World War II story after the success of Saving Private Ryan.

Based on the book Band of Brothers, by Stephen Ambrose, they found the perfect war tale. The miniseries, over the course of 10 episodes, follows the adventures of Easy Company, a paratrooping company from America. They’re a great group to follow for World War II, because they were in a lot of the major skirmishes of the time. They were parachuted into France on D-Day, then later on found themselves in Holland, Germany and other places.

What makes this different from many other war films is that there are no fictional characters here. Every actor, even in a small role, is playing a real historical character. To further emphasise this, each episode begins with a filmed interview of some of the real members of Easy Company (obviously now quite elderly) describing their recollections of the battle. If you watch the excellent extra features on this disc, you will find that all of the actors were sent on training boot camp where they were required to take on the name of the soldier they were playing. This has clearly carried over into the film, where all the actors take on their roles with great seriousness and professionalism.

In the end, though, this attention to detail is the main drawback. Because nearly all the actors are little-known (and, oddly enough, many of the leads are British performing with American accents), it took me several episodes to really get the hang of who’s who in the company. There’s also not much time given for explaining the various military strategies being used. This is very much a program where the viewer has to “sit forward”, as it were, and pay attention.

However, that won’t be too hard for most people. The production design on this show is phenomenal. This show successfully proved that there’s no reason why TV has to be a poor cousin to cinema. The action is engaging, the special effects, sound design (especially if you can watch this in Dolby Digital 5.1!) and cinematography are all top-notch. (Depending on how much you like hand-held camera and a washed-out green colour. This series has taken its lead from Saving Private Ryan in terms of the look and feel.)

For an insight into what it was like to fight in World War II, this is probably as good as it gets – and makes me very glad that we haven’t had a war on that scale since. Definitely check it out.

4 ½ out of 5.

 

Non-Spoiler Review of Lost Seasons 1-4

This post is, of course, rather redundant to true fans of the TV show Lost because Season 5 has been completely aired, and most people are getting excited about what’s coming in Season 6.

So maybe this can be a little note for those who’ve never watched any Lost and are wondering if it’s really as good as it’s cracked up to be.

Well, I suppose first of all – what Lost is not: it’s not a subtle character drama, in the vein of Sopranos or any similar HBO series. It’s designed for America’s ABC channel, so all content is kept at a reasonably mild level, and all characterisations are the larger-than-life type that you find in a typical disaster film. The heroic doctor, the heroic girl, the loudmouth, etc. etc.

However, where this show has won over the hearts and minds of viewers is largely in two areas: a) its originality and b) it’s cleverness. And for me, I’d add c) it’s brilliant use of the 45-minute TV episode as a storytelling medium.

A little on all three.

a) I read an article once, which I now can’t remember where, which described two guys who have developed working out movie popularity down to almost a mathematical formula. They can read a script, and based on the script, work out how popular the film is going to be. And one of the things that really makes a film or show take off is actually not the big stars – but the location.

And that has well and truly been proved with Lost. We’re so used to seeing either big American cities (in the law/medical/police dramas) or small country towns or whatever in TV shows, that a show set almost exclusively on a tropical island is quite a novelty. Just watch a couple of episodes of Lost with its lush greenery and sparkling sands, and it just doesn’t look like any show you’ve ever seen before. And because it’s a different location, different stuff happens. People run through trees being chased by things. People hide in the jungle. People discover things hidden in the jungle. (It’s just like playing those adventures games we used to play on computers in the 80s/90s all over again.)

2) The cleverness. When Lost first took off, in nearly every single episode of its 25-episode first season, it raised new questions. Just when we wanted to know more about what was going on – a new episode came out that raised completely different questions. By the end of the first season, there were so many questions that were up in the air, that the word on the street was that the guys behind the show were just making it up as they went along.

As it turns out, we were quite wrong. Slowly, bit by bit, every question is being answered. There are certainly more arising, but those who have continued to follow the show (there have been drop-offs along the way) have been rewarded with bigger and bigger answers.

3) But for me, it’s not just the cleverness of the plot that I like – it’s the structural beauty of the show. Like all good shows that we love, it has created a formula. For instance, those of us that follow House M.D. are familiar with the formula. Someone mysteriously gets sick, House solves the case over the next 45 minutes. Show over.

And Lost too developed a unique style. In any given 45-minute episode, it would pick one character, and during the episode, we would see flashbacks of a past time in that person’s life. Simple concept, but it worked beautifully.

First of all, it gave us a structure to follow and really worked to mix things up and keep it interesting. (After all, all those trees and jungle could get a bit boring.) But most importantly it worked because while the present-day island parts were raising questions in our minds, the flashbacks were answering questions. So by taking from us with one hand and feeding us with the other, the creators of the show were able to lull us into a sense of trust – trust that they would explain all the mysteries to us.

Where this worked exceptionally well is in Season 1 – probably still my favourite, even though I’m aware the action really hotted up in Season 4.

But Season 1 worked well because in the opening minutes we were simply dropped into the middle of a unique situation. A man in a business suit wakes up on his back in the jungle, looking dazed and confused. He looks around and sees a white dog. That makes him even more confused. Then he hears a noise, runs through the trees and out onto a deserted beach.

Then we see it . . . a burning wrecked plane and people scrambling around trying to escape. As the man in the suit runs around rescuing people, we find out that there are about 14 speaking parts (plus lots and lots of extras that never say a word).

At first, because we don’t know these people, we can only judge on first appearances. The guy in the suit is Jack, a doctor. He seems to be quite a hero. Then there’s the nice girl, Kate, that he meets. There’s Hurley, a larger overweight Spanish-American. There’s Michael, an African-American guy trying to connect with his young son. There’s Locke, the bald guy who carries hunting knives with him.

And at first we make snap judgements – “I like her. He’s nice. That guy’s a creep.”

But then, over the season, we start seeing flashbacks of these people’s lives. And then, one by one, we start to realise that there are reasons these people act the way they do. And so the first great mysteries of Lost that get explained are the back stories for these characters. And so every episode, we found out something new about someone which made us feel like we knew a little bit more – which temporarily made us forget that we had no idea where they were, why there was a killer monster in the forest, and polar bears running around.

And thus the saga went. This simple formula, though, had a cumulative effect. Every episode was perfectly balanced between present-day and flashback and would carry forward an episode arc. But then every episode was carrying the arc of the season forward. And every season is carrying forward the overall story arc.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not all perfect. There are some episodes (especially in Season 2) that were redundant. It was like they had 18 episodes worth of ideas and they had to make 24. So you sometimes got some episodes that didn’t really carry the overall story forward or provide any memorable back story information about the characters.

But those were well and truly made up for by the episodes that did. What’s more – come the third season – the pattern that we were used to became like a piece of classical music – if you were creative enough, varying the pattern could become a memorable experience in itself. So there are some episodes that are legendary in their effect on first-time viewers, because the creators of the show played games with our perspective of what we expected to see. This is especially apparent in the opening minutes of the new seasons. The filmmakers excelled at making people wonder if they were really watching the same show they were viewing last season.

Anyway, that’s all I wanted to say. I’m working my way through Season 5, and I’ll be hoping to catch up with all the internet hype I’ve missed for Season 6. The one thing about being slow is that I miss the community that has grown up around Lost as fans have swapped theories and tried to work out what is going on. So I’ve deliberately tried to avoid as much reading about Lost online as I can to preserve the delight of seeing each episode unfold without knowing what’s happening next.

To sum up – when the whole thing is finished, unless the creators well and truly run out of steam and stuff the whole thing up – it will be one of the most satisfying, and epic tales that have ever been told. It will be one of the greatest examples of serialisation ever created. The creators have used the limitations of the 45 minute TV episode and the 22 (give or take)-episode season to craft a new type of storytelling. It’s like a master novel-writer was told that they had to write a novel that could be released in a set number of small books of 15,000 words each.

What they’ve achieved is amazing. But don’t just take my word for it. I’d try it for yourself. If you can get hold of Disc 1 of the first season, watch the first four episodes. I’m especially keen to see what you think of Episode 4 (Walkabout). That was the episode that sold me on this series and, for me, is probably the defining episode of the whole series. If it sells you on it too, then you’re going to have great fun with the rest of this series.

If it’s not your thing, at least you found out early.

One Final Rant About Harper’s Island & A New Book Project for the Blog

Look, I’ve got to do this – despite my earlier rant about the television show Harper’s Island, I must confess that I did end up watching the whole thing.

My complain last time was that I was five episodes in and nobody seemed to notice or care that people were vanishing left, right and centre.

I will credit the producers – by the time they’d hid the 13th and final episode, they’d managed to kill off over 20 characters. So they weren’t kidding when they said that somebody dies in every episode.

But still, the whole thing was badly done. From now, I’m going to drop some spoilers, so either happily read on, or you can just stop right here. To make sure nobody accidentally reads something they don’t want to, I’ll put the text in white, so you’ll have to highlight to read it.

***Spoilers***

Two main problems with this show:

1. The seeming lack of care of people disappearing.This was only in the early episodes, but it sucks the suspense out of things. In fact, the only way the filmmakers could hold our interest in between killings was to stick in raunchy scenes. This does not make up for suspense, but maybe it keeps teenage boys watching. I don’t know.

2. Too many bit players and an island that was too big. The closest thing to Harper’s Island is, of course, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, which brilliantly puts 10 people on a very small island. The point of that book is you realise very quickly on that there are only those 10 people, so as they start dying, the suspense is driven by the fact that it must be one of those 10 people. But in Harper’s Island, there are so many local townfolks wandering around the island (and probably a whole batch we never saw), that the suspects could have been almost anybody. See, there’s no sense of mystery, if the killer could potentially be a crazy man lurking out in the woods. A real whodunnit, to play fair, must have its killer be one of the main characters. And to do that, we must know that only a certain number of people could have committed the crime. But in Harper’s Island, any old person could have walked off the street and started killing people – thus the whodunnit side of things falls apart. Which brings me to:

3. The identify of the killers. Now having destroyed the suspense and the whodunnit mystery, it then proceeds to pick two killers (yes, two, which you’d know by now if you were watching) – and it picks the worst two people you could possibly have.

The first one is the Stereotypical Nicest Guy in the Show. I remember when I was a little kid, I’d watch Murder, She Wrote and I’d always pick the killer. I had no idea what the plots were about, but whenever you met someone nice for a few minutes, that person turned out to be the killer. (Actually, I think they picked that up from Scooby Doo.) So as soon as I started turning my mind to guessing who the killer was likely to be, he was the first person I chose. About halfway through, I started keeping my eye on him and sure enough – he was never around when killings took place, he was being really nice and supportive, etc.

And then – to throw me off the track – because I really thought it was a dead giveaway in Episode 7 – they do the unthinkable – the killer turns out to be a crazy man running around in the woods who everyone thought was dead seven years ago. Obviously, they hadn’t read my posts on what kills suspense in a whodunnit . . .

So then it turns out to be, in the end, the crazy man and the Nicest Guy. One is a cheater’s way of setting up a whodunnit, and the other is a Scooby Doo cliche . . . Horrendous, horrendous, horrendous.

Anyway, all of this has made me fix on a new literary project for the blog following on from War and Peace. I’ll take a month off in August, but coming in September, for anyone who wants to join me, we’re taking an interactive tour through possibly the greatest mystery story every written: Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. More details to follow soon.

Small Rant About a TV Show That Probably No One Else Reading This Blog Will Ever Watch

About three or four weeks ago, an ad came on for a show on Channel 10 called Harper’s Island that was going to run at 9.40 (after Rove). I’m not normally one to follow much TV (not on TV – on DVD, yes, if it’s got a good reputation). But the concept sucked me in. Twenty-five people go to an island, and one of them is going to be murdered every week. In the last week, we’ll find out who the murderer is.

Now, the reason this caught my attention was because this is the plot for a book that I still consider one of the greatest mystery stories of all time, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (which, depending on your age, you may have read under the older title Ten Little Indians and if you are really old – like the copy I first borrowed from a library in Brisbane – you may have read it under its original title Ten Little Niggers. Hmm . . . I wonder why they changed its title?)

The concept with the Christie story was quite simple. Ten people go to an island, for  a variety of reasons. One thinks he’s invited to a reunion, another thinks it’s a party, another think it’s a business deal, etc. This little island, off the coast of England somewhere is a tiny rock that basically contains one large house and not much else. So it’s quite clear from the outset that there are only these 10 characters on the island.

That night, they’re all having a drink, and the butler (one of the ten) is asked to put on a record. The record announces that all of these people are criminals and committed a serious crime and that they’re all going to die for it. That said, one guy falls straight over dead with a poisoned glass.

And that, my friends, is the beginning of one of the greatest thriller romps in literary history. The characters are 2D, but who cares? As they all get killed off, one by one, the paranoia grows and grows. Because the killer must be one of these ten and there is no detective to abstract us from the tension and bring some objectivity. There’s just suspects. And even though you would think it might get easier to work out who the killer is as the numbers dwindle, it actually doesn’t. It gets harder and harder, and the denoument in the Christie book is so brilliantly over the top and unexpected (let’s just say she goes from 10 to 0) that it’s stuck in my mind for years afterwards.

So I’ve always kind of liked this model of thriller as a story. And there was a very clever spin on it with John Cusack a few years ago called Identity.

So I was all set to get into Harper’s Island. I’m still watching it, but it’s really a notch below the Christie, for the following reasons:

  • First of all, it’s a large island off the coast of Seattle, and a whole bunch of people live there. So the killer could turn out to be some nut job that I’ve never seen who lives in the hills. I’m sure it won’t, but it could – and that takes away from the tension of the whole thing.
  • The characters are stupid college types (they’re all out there for a wedding, so there’s a bunch of stereotypical groomsmen and stereotypical bridesmaids) so I don’t particularly care which one they bump off next.
  • But most irritating of all, each episode is a day (starts in the morning, ends at night) and I’ve watched four of them so far and there’s been something like half a dozen people killed so far. Of those six, at least three (I think) came over on the boat with the original party and nobody – but nobody- has stopped to ask, “Hey, I wonder where Uncle So-And-So was that came over with us on the boat? I haven’t seen him anywhere!” I mean, geez, folks, if they’re your favourite relative or your bridesmaid or your friend or whatever they are – surely you would wonder where they are, right? Right? This killer must be scratching his head, thinking to himself, “How many people have I got to chop before they even notice I’m here? This is just stupid . . .”

Anyway, I’m obviously not the only one, because after two episodes, Channel 10 shifted it to the crazy hour of 1.25 am in the morning. I think I’ll just stick to it online from now. Maybe in the 5th episode, they’ll finally notice someone is missing. If they’re not all panicked by episode 8, I really think the murderer might as well give up – clearly these people are brain dead already.

DVD Review: Wagner

Amazingly, I hit 3.30 this Saturday afternoon, and I’d knocked over all the urgent jobs I had to do. So I’ve been spending the afternoon doing relaxing things that I enjoy doing. It’s been a remarkably nice afternoon.

The point of all that is that I gave some thought to blogging and thought that maybe if I made an attempt to just review one thing a week, the task wouldn’t be so overwhelming. That way, I could give some thought to what was the most remarkable piece of culture I consumed in a week, and could give it some thought, rather than trying to review everything. I mean, after all, if you really want to know what else I’ve been watching or listening to, you could always ask, couldn’t you?

So I thought I’d kick this vague attempt at jump-starting my blog back to life again with a review of possibly one of the more bizarre programs created for TV – the 1983 miniseries “Wagner”.

1983 was the 100th anniversary of the death of the composer, Richard Wagner, so this documentary was timely when it came out. The original version (or “the complete epic”, as you can see in this picture) was about 9 hour longs.

However, I just put up this picture, because there’s actually no image on the net that matches the version I watched, which is a cut-down DVD (now out of print) that runs for a rather more modest 5 1/2 hours instead. (That’s far more likely to make you watch it, isn’t it?) So maybe part of the bizarreness is the fact that I’m missing 2-3 hours worth of material. It could well be, because having seen it twice (the first time was several years ago on video), I still shake my head at how obscure and difficult to follow some moments are. I know a little bit about the life of Richard Wagner, which helps, but woe betide anybody watching this thing cold.

Why is this show so bizarre?

For starters, nobody seems to want to take ownership over it. With most old TV shows, directors, cameramen, etc are all keen to crawl out of the woodwork to mumble commentaries and tell inane stories on extra features whenever a show is released on DVD. Not so Wagner. It’s quite clear that my cut-down version has just been copied straight onto DVD from the video tape version I watched. (And I understand the American version pictured here is no better.) So effectively, we’re left with sound and video that date from the VHS era. Which studio owns the rights to this? Does no one have the original negative? Where’s the director?

Well, actually, I know he’s around. You can visit his website. But it seems the studios haven’t bothered to call upon him to help out in bringing this thing to DVD. Hmm . . . Maybe I should send him an email. I might just do that when I’ve finished this.

Anyway, Wagner. For those of you who have no idea who Wagner is, you can skip the next couple of paragraphs. For those of you who have no idea who Wagner is and don’t even care, skip the whole review. It’s not going to get any more interesting from here on in.

Richard Wagner was one of the most radical music composers to come out of the 19th century. He composed several major operas over his lifetime, including the amazing Ring of the Nibelungs, which consists of four operas that are meant to be performed across the space of a week. In total, there’s about 15-16 hours worth of opera in the Ring.

Wagner continues to be one of the most unusual composers that ever lived, because his personality and music were so extreme. The man himself was a complete egotist, who believed that the world revolved around him, and that as a great artist, he should be denied nothing that he needed. So, it comes as no surprise that he cheated heavily on his first wife, stole his second wife from another man (who, in a bizarre twist, still continued to be devoted to the composer) and generally left a trail of debts and scandals in his wake. In the second half of his life, things took an even more dramatic turn, when King Ludwig of Bavaria (barely out of his teens) became so enamoured of Wagner and his music, that he poured large amounts of the country’s money into funding Wagner’s operas. This caused no small upset in the nation.

But, at the same time, standing alongside these massive character flaws, the music Wagner composed has an extraordinary power and emotion to it. (I say it in the present tense, because to this day, Wagner’s music still stirs audiences in a way that most composers do not. Wagner fans will think nothing of traveling the world to see a performance of the Ring live. They will do this for no other opera.) While Wagner does have a tendency to drag on in some parts, when he hits his high points, they are among the most spine-tingling moments of theatre you will ever see or hear.

But, at the same time, there’s a disturbing trend towards immorality that bypasses us in the music. The epic Tristan & Isolde, which tells of a knight who falls in love with a princess betrothed to someone else. To an audience in the late 1800s, this was as good as committing adultery, but Wagner’s music makes us buy into the romance straight away. In the Ring, he was to feature all sorts of incest and philandering, but his music convinces us that love is much more important than law.

Some might say, we should throw out his music on that basis – and also on the far more disturbing basis that his music became a favourite of the Nazis several decades after his death. But his music, on its own, is so majestic and beautiful, that it has become part of our culture. Even if you don’t know Wagner, you know movie soundtracks, and we wouldn’t have things like the Star Wars theme if it wasn’t for Wagner.

So back to the miniseries. How do you portray a man like this? As a hero? A ratbag? Tony Palmer does the film in the only way I think you can do it – as the man was. We watch Wagner’s life unfold, portrayed by the extremely watchable and eccentric Richard Burton. Burton was in the last few years of his life when he made this, so he looks a wee bit old to be playing the young revolutionary Wagner in Dresden, but by the time we get to the familiar mutton-chopped figure we’re familiar with from the pictures, he’s completely convincing.

The next bizarre thing is the dialogue. You don’t realise until you see something like Wagner what a complete joke most “period costume drama” films are. As a general rule, in most of these films, we’re watching thoroughly modern people wearing old clothes. Not so Wagner. I would say the dialogue comes largely from Wagner’s writing, because I couldn’t see such complex and lengthy monologues being made up by a screenwriter . . . again, maybe I should email Tony Palmer and ask him.

Every five minutes or so, we seem to see Wagner ranting about something. How brilliant he is. How music needs to change. The fact that he wants a united Germany. How much he hates Jews. The point is made quite clear that the roots of Nazism were alive and well in this man. Every now and again, a moment will occur when you think, “Oh, he’s not so bad,” and then another jaw-dropping piece of anti-Semitism will come out, and you’ll change your mind again.

So why would anyone want to watch this guy for six hours? . . . For exactly the same reason that we go to his operas. . . the music. Ranging from the quiet and sublime to raging and ominous through to majestic and soaring, there’s just something in Wagner’s music that catches our ears. Certainly, there were scenes in this series that just had me transfixed, just because of the power of the music.

Very well conducted by the famous Georg Solti, the music blasts through most of the scenes. Combine that the with the cinematography of Vittorio Storaro (of Apocalypse Now fame), and you have a morally disturbing, striking looking and gorgeously sounding piece of art.

In the end, it’s hard to say what I think of it. I don’t love Wagner any better than before. I don’t actually think I’m meant to. But, at the same time, if you told me that you were going to burn all his music and any recordings of it, I’d be pretty heartbroken. What does this mean? I can’t explain it beyond the fact that there is a certain transcendent power to music that can cross all sorts of barriers.

4 out of 5.

Review Backlog 4 of 10: Seachange Series 1 & 2

This is definitely rather belated, because Rach and I have been watching this on and off over the last year, but it is a show that deserves to be reviewed.

For those of you who never saw it on TV (and I was one of them), SeaChange told the tale of Laura Gibson, a big Melbourne lawyer who manages to suffer a disastrous set of circumstances in the space of 48 hours.  Her marriage and her high-flying career all come crashing down around her ears.

So, realising that for the last 10 years, she’s been too busy to really stop and think about life, Laura takes her two kids, Rupert and Miranda, and heads off to a small seaside town called Pearl Bay to take a job as the local magistrate.  The last time she was there was 10 years ago on holiday, and it was the last time she remembered being really happy and content.

This is really just the scene-setting part of it.  The charm of the series comes from the range of characters that inhabit Pearl Bay.  To list just some of them:

  • Bob Jelly, imperious real estate agent and local mayor.  Bob is nearly always the “bad guy” in every episode, as he seeks to get a bridge built that will turn Pearl Bay into a tourist trap and take away its small-town charm for ever.
  • Meredith, who runs the local pub, and knows everyone in town and never forgets anything.
  • Angus, the court clerk, who goes for a surf every morning before the court starts, and thinks nothing of showing up in his wetsuit to get ready for court.  And, of course, his fiancee:
  • Karen, the police prosecutor.  She and Angus are “on a break” from their relationship, but they’re still engaged and planning the wedding.
  • And, last but by no means least, the one and only Diver Dan (in a star-making role for David Wenham), the ultra-laid-back owner of a little cafe/fishing shop.

The amusing part of this series is just watching Laura’s reactions to these characters.  Overall, the laid-back, bend-the-rules attitude of the town clashes majorly with her stressed, city attitude.

At first glance, the show appears to be a typical Aussie soap opera.  But have a closer look and the writing in the series is absolutely outstanding.  In any given episode, the mood can change from humour to romance to tear-jerking pathos instantly without missing a beat.  On top of that, the acting is so well done, and the characterisations so strong, that a character can appear for just a few seconds in any episode and still act entirely within their character (and often getting a huge laugh out of us at the same time).

Fans of Diver Dan (and there were quite a few of those, let me tell you) were rather disappointed when he left in the second season (I do hope that wasn’t too much of a spoiler for you, but it’s mostly common knowledge) and it almost could have crippled a lesser show.  But, amazingly, once you get used to David Wenham’s absence, the show picks up and becomes just as strong.

This is well worth a look, if for nothing else, an example of what can happen when you let talented writers at a TV show. We haven’t seen the third season yet, but if it’s anything like these two, it won’t be disappointing.

5 out of 5.

Review Backlog 3 of 10: House MD – Season 1

Rachel and I are currrently working our way through the Season 2 DVD set, so I’m a little bit late in reviewing Season One.

For those of you who haven’t seen this series, or heard of it, the least you need to know is that Greg House (played by the increasingly outstanding Hugh Laurie) is a doctor of diagnostic medicine at an American hospital. His job, along with his three junior staff, is to work out what’s wrong with the various mysteriously sick people who are admitted to hospital.

In one sense, this show is completely formulaic: each episode begins with someone getting ill under dramatic circumstances (not always a seizure, but that is a favourite). House and his crew try increasingly riskier and more dangerous treatments, always getting the true diagnosis wrong, until there is a twist ending, and House ultimately figures out what is wrong.

The illnesses themselves and the hospital procedures are fascinating viewing, but what ultimately sucks us in is the personality of House himself. He is a man with absolutely no personal skills whatsoever. He is constantly rude, obnoxious and unafraid to say exactly what he’s thinking, no matter who it rubs up the wrong way. In every episode, he irritates and infuriates his fellow staff and patients. But, at the end of the day, he’s a great doctor, so they put up with him.

We’d hate to know this guy in real life, but on screen, it’s irresistible. On top of that, Hugh Laurie, has so inhabited this character that I now find it hard to recognise him when he talks in his real British accent. As the episodes roll by, these characters just become more and more real. I’m not usually a huge fan of television shows (especially medical ones), but this show is really good. 4 1/2 out of 5.