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1001 reasons to buy this book Jul 28

1001 TV Series modelled by meI love cult TV so I jumped at the chance to be involved in this huge undertaking: 1001 articles about classic television series, from the 1950s right up to the present day.

A massive round of applause to editor Paul Condon who took on such a mammoth task, including all the arguments about what should go in and be left out, and turned out this beautiful tome.

I’ve contributed around 2.5% of the content with articles on some of my favourite series, including The West Wing, Columbo, the 1960s Batman, Dark Season and Forbrydelsen (The Killing).

There are plenty of non-fiction shows in there too, plus a good representation of excellent drama from around the world – it’s a truly international book.

1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die is due out in October but is already available to pre-order.

Category: Geeklife, TV  | Tags:  | One Comment
Eurovision 2015: Semi-final 2 May 21

So Denmark – the winner two years ago – and the Netherlands – second last year – were among the six countries that failed to qualify on Tuesday. Not that we were shocked, were we? There were much better songs in the running.

Tonight’s semi-final has a slightly larger field, with 17 countries competing for 10 spots in the final – so it will be marginally more difficult to quality. It’s also the one where we in the UK get to vote, so let’s take a look at the songs.

  1. Lithuania – What starts are jangly guitar turns into a country style backing but they’re no Texas Lightning (Germany, 2006). There’s an irritating chorus and in a sea of duets, this is the weakest. It’ll probably get through anyway.
  2. Remember when Ireland were good at this? They’re not about to return to the top with this dull ballad. Believe it or not, they were better off with Jedward.
  3. San Marino – Another male/female duet. Now I love a good key change, even if the voters don’t, but this one’s a disaster. Just as the song settles into an interesting sound it modulates into cheese.
  4. Montenegro – It’s not promising at first but Adio manages to develop a heartbeat in sufficient time. Add a reasonable performance and interesting musicality and there should be enough here to see it through.
  5. Malta – Georgia’s Warrior deservedly made it through semi-final 1. This is the weaker of the two even while if the sound is more mainstream pop. It would be convenient for everyone trying to keep track on Saturday if this didn’t get through.
  6. Norway – Technically this falls foul of my “just get going” complaint, but I’ll excuse it because a dark ballad can’t go straight in all guns blazing and it does work, eventually. The strongest of this semi-final so far.
  7. Portugal – So unremarkable I can barely come up with a remark. Features possibly the dullest key change ever.
  8. Czech Republic – These two had a fun time at the London Eurovision Party a few weeks ago. I’m interested to see if they manage to bring the charisma on show that night to Vienna or whether they’ll feel the need to go serious. This is a reasonable duet but it needs to be sold in the performance.
  9. Israel – I think it’s trying to be “fun”. The last line – noting that his three minutes maximum song time is up – is unforgivable.
  10. Latvia – I see what they’re trying to do but it’s a bit screamy and a bit of a slog.
  11. Azerbaijan always seem to do better than I think they should. This is a biggish number that does nothing for me so will sail through to the final.
  12. Iceland – Forgettable. If I had anything else to say, I’ve forgotten. And anyone vaguely enjoying this and thinking about voting for it is likely to be distracted too, because next up it’s…
  13. Sweden – Let’s not pretend this hasn’t got where it has because of the staging, but that wouldn’t be effective if there wasn’t a good song to build on. This has been the presumptive winner for some time, propelled from the same position in Melodifestivalen, Sweden’s annual selection competition (as big a deal there as Eurovision itself). Straight through to Saturday without touching the sides.
  14. Switzerland – The opening bass line reminds me of 1995 Beautiful South, and there are lyrical similarities with Jade Ewen’s UK entry (It’s My Time from 2009). Could get a bit lost; could sneak through.
  15. Cyprus – Sweet and simple and probably not going to make waves.
  16. Slovenia – The vocals are a little odd but there’s a nice bit of fiddle – always a good sign – and it’s got a decent tempo and a memorable chorus to help it qualify.
  17. Poland – First, let’s give thanks for this not being last year’s awful Polish entry – to which the UK phone vote promptly gave douze points (thankfully cancelled out by the wisdom of the jury). This is a 1980s ballad. It’s perfectly pleasant with a good climax but will be lucky to sneak through.

The semi-final is on BBC Three and live streamed on YouTube from 8pm. Be there or be not there.

Eurovision 2015: Semi-final 1 May 19

Oh my god, we’re back again.

Conchita’s storming victory in Copenhagen last year means the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest finds us in Vienna. Last year 31 countries were competing for places in the final. This year it’s 33 so the semi-finals, of which tonight is the first, are extra important.

Tonight’s winners will head to the final to join the Big Five – France, Spain, Italy, Germany and the good ol’ UK – plus reigning champions Austria and guest competitor Australia.

The show will be on BBC Three this evening, with Scott Mills and Mel Giedroyc hosting. If you’re in the UK, don’t try to vote: we get to have our say in the second semi on Thursday.

Here’s a quick rundown of what to expect tonight:

  1. Moldova – This is very Europe, as befits an opening act. Eduard Romanyuta is Adam Rickitt’s 90s pop career reborn with a mainstream pop song that I seem to like more than everyone else, even if the verse could do with livening up. He appears to have recruited his dancers from Uniform Dating.
  2. Eurovision entrants are allowed six performers on stage and Armenia are taking full advantage, opting for six vocalists. Unfortunately, they appear to be singing six different songs. This is the musical theatre entry and that’s not a bad thing, but they’re trying to squeeze so much into their three minutes that the audience may be left baffled. Still, key change.
  3. Belgium – Now this is different. 19-year-old Loïc Nottet channels Adele in places with a song that could do really well. Its success will depend on how it comes across live but it deserves to breeze through to the final.
  4. Netherlands – They came so close last year (albeit with a song I wasn’t fussed about) but this doesn’t stand out. It’s perfectly serviceable but not a winner, and after a while you get sick of the incessant “why-why-yi-yi-yi”.
  5. Finland – They’ve not had a winner since Lordi and this won’t change that. It’s great to see a group of artists with learning disabilities represented at Eurovision. Alas, the song itself is dreary.
  6. GreeceOne Last Breath is, in the video at least, performed suitably breathily. A key change kicks it into gear and then it tries to squeeze all the dramatic stuff into the last third. Regular (well, annual) readers of these posts will know that this is one of my biggest Eurovision bugbears. Don’t write a song that’s boring for two minutes and only good for one. That’s not building to a climax, that’s wasting two-thirds of your stage time. And yet, as Greece are perhaps aware, people still vote for them. Grr.
  7. I’m always well disposed to a strong duet, and there are several this year. Estonia‘s is suitably upbeat and the closest to last year’s Netherlands near miss. I’m concerned that at times they’re singing parts too low in their ranges, which detracts from the power. There’s room for improvement but it’s a solid entry and should go through.
  8. FYR Macedonia – It’s a strong, contemporary song, if a little slow for me. It’s biggest danger is being overshadowed in the final by the Swedish entry, of which more on Thursday.
  9. Serbia make a welcome return with Beauty Never Lies. This starts quietly but instead of suddenly getting good too late, it builds steadily into a full-on dance track. Could be popular.
  10. Hungary – The curiously-named Boggie goes for the Eurovision stalwart of the anti-war message. Over the last few years, Hungary have had a very strong run of songs without being rewarded with a win. This is different and not particularly to my taste but it’s not bad. The version in the promo video is pleasantly chilling. It might struggle to have the same effect live.
  11. Belarus – This is the love child of 2014’s Azeri and Hungarian entries and gets a boost from a well-utilised violin. Very toe tappy.
  12. Russia – Them again. The worst of all the options for 2016 host. This is a song about peace and healing and how we’re all really the same. From Russia. And it’s as twee as that sounds, although the chorus is good.
  13. Denmark – Tonight’s only guitar pop entry. McBusted could release something similar tomorrow to disprove my point but this still feels dated to me. Retro is fine but it needs an original twist. Competent filler.
  14. Albania – This is a classic example of my bête noire: it washes over you for two minutes and then suddenly there’s some syncopation and you remember you were supposed to be listening.
  15. Romania – After a night of songs in English, a sudden change! For a while anyway. It’s OK but we’re all flagging now.
  16. Georgia – Bizarrely, there are two songs this year called Warrior. This is the first and I think demonstrates what is meant by “fierce”. It’s a pumped up Evanescence (remember them) but will need big drums on the stage to work. One to reevaluate after the semi final if it progresses, which it should.

There we go. Only 10 can make it through to the big night on Saturday. And on Thursday, we’ll be back like the gluttons for punishment we are for 17 more songs.

Eurovision 2014: The final May 10

The time has almost come to find out who’ll be crowned this year’s Eurovision Song Contest champion and there are plenty of countries being tipped. Will it be the early favourite Armenia? Can Sweden retake the title two years after their last victory? Momentum is building for the Netherlands after Tuesday’s semi-final, while Austria’s entrant wowed the arena on Thursday. Could Hungary achieve their first win? Or will our strongest entry in a decade bring the competition back to the UK in 2015?

In semi-final 1, we said goodbye to Latvia, Estonia, Albania, Belgium, Moldova and Portugal, and in semi-final 2 we lost Israel, Georgia, Lithuania, Ireland and Macedonia (so my prediction was 80% right!). One of the down sides of the semi-final process is that some of the more characterful, extravagant, ridiculous or comically bad entries for which Eurovision is notorious get weeded out – but don’t worry, there’s still plenty of idiosyncrasy in tonight’s show.

  1. Ukraine – And the idiosyncrasy starts here, with a cunning ruse to distract us from the song using an attractive man performing gymnastics in a giant hamster wheel. It works and this song, with lyrics as Eurovisionly banal as its possible to create, came off better than I expected during its appearance in the first semi-final. It’s a fun bit of nonsense but even extra geopolitical sympathy votes are unlikely to propel this to the top of the table.
  2. Belarus – While Latvia’s cake song was relegated on Tuesday, Teo’s Cheesecake made it through to the final two days later, ensuring bake-off fans still have something to slaver over. It would benefit from losing the very dated pop culture references and the air of Robin Thicke.
  3. Azerbaijan – It’s the Year of the Classy Ballad, and Dilara is the first of several female vocalists vying for that vote. Start a Fire is hard to criticise but it has some stiff competition and, despite the name, the fire never quite gets going.
  4. Iceland – Iceland’s cartoonish Pollapönk were a surprise qualifier for the final. Their message of tolerance is very welcome but the song itself is a bit of a mess, jumping jarringly from reasonable verse to laboured chorus, then diverging, to its credit, into a disco break and a key change. My favourite lyric is indicative of the rest of the song: “Even if you’re taller / Or someone who is smaller / Or perhaps you’re thinner / Or one who loves his dinner.”
  5. Norway – I have warmed to Carl Espen’s ballad over the last few days. A strong performance in the second semi-final saw this rightly through. It’s sung well and nicely put together but it remains at the duller end of tonight’s spectrum.
  6. Romania – Paula and Ovi attempt to distract us with a hologram and a novelty keyboard (Ovi’s fingerwork fooling nobody), but it detracts from rather than enhances this middling track. It’s an OK song but OK just isn’t going to cut it.
  7. Armenia – Armenia was the early favourite and while Aram MP3’s odds may have lengthened, he is still definitely in the running. I wasn’t too impressed by his performance on Tuesday which contributed to my view that this is style over substance: it’s the crescendo, the build, the dramatic final minute, the fireworks on stage – but cut that away and the song has little to it.
  8. Montenegro – With Norway, this makes up the pair of male vocal ballads in the final. It comes alive towards the end but is the weaker of the two songs and could well be forgotten – and with most other Balkan countries not taking part this year, it can’t rely on its neighbours for easy votes.
  9. Poland – This was the one I didn’t expect to go through on Thursday, when it was notably popular with the live audience, but I hadn’t counted on the vote-winning attractions of live, busty butter churning. Or maybe it was the music. (Or maybe it was the butter.) It’s fun and bawdy but not much a song.
  10. Greece – I was worried for this in its semi-final after some sound issues at the start but I needn’t have been: the boys done good and now find themselves in the final. It’s upbeat, it’s positive, it’s funky (I still feel embarrassed to use the word) and there’s nothing else like it in the contest. It could sink or it could do extremely well. I hope it’s the latter.
  11. Austria – There was an almighty roar in the area on Thursday night when Conchita Wurst was announced as the last act to reach the final. The crowd loved her and another strong performance tonight would definitely put her in contention for the prize. Rise Like a Phoenix is another ballad but with a James Bond theme sensibility. It oozes with style. Conchita will appeal to viewers for her singing voice and for her beard, which will ensure no-one forgets her when it comes time to decide who to vote for. What’s the Wurst that could happen?
  12. Germany – As one of the Big Five moneyed countries, Germany automatically qualifies for the final. This is the weakest of the five. The lyrics are banal but there’s a folksy, middle of the road charm to it. It shouldn’t trouble the top ten.
  13. Sweden – I’ve liked Undo more every time I’ve heard it and Tuesday night’s performance was a stonker – aided but some extremely effective stage lighting. Sanna Nielsen is a veteran of the Swedish Melodifestivalen, qualifying after numerous attempts, and her set in Copenhagen’s “Eurovision Village”, which I caught on Wednesday afternoon, proved she’s a very talented singer. Expect a strong placing.
  14. France – We move into the second half with the second of the Big Five, and the most eccentric. You don’t need to speak French to understand that TWIN TWIN’s song is about a man’s desire for a moustache. Whether or not that’s a euphemism, only they know, but the choice of syllable to emphasise does needlessly bug me. It’s a simple but infectious number and I’m looking forward to seeing if the staging is as odd as the song.
  15. Russia – The audience applauded Russia’s performance politely on Tuesday but it was the announcement that the Tolmachevy Sisters had made it to the final that brought boos. Away from the geopolitical context, there is of course nothing sinister about two clean cut, photogenic blonde girls singing about a star rising in the east. In context, though… It’s one of the weaker vocal performances (although perhaps, ahem, assisted from the wings) and the song itself sounds like a hundred Eurovision entries before it.
  16. Italy – The third automatic qualifier is Emma Marrone’s upbeat and rhythmical La Mia Città. It’s not at all bad but will struggle to stand out.
  17. Slovenia – Tinkara’s successful semi-final appearance on Thursday confirmed my view that this is a cracker, the (admittedly obvious) rotating camera work and stage images effectively reinforcing the song (Round and Round). It begins with a flute, played, as is now required, by the singer, but don’t worry – it’s a cunning ruse! The song is a thoroughly modern pop track and deserves to do well.
  18. Finland – High school students Softengine are the only guitar band in the contest so their brand of Brandon Flowers will be looking to conquer that section of the audience. Something Better does that competently but it’s rarely been a winning approach at Eurovision.
  19. Spain – The fourth song from the Big Five is performed by Ruth Lorenzo, who was apparently on The X-Factor when Softengine were still at primary school. It’s another classy ballad from a female solo artist whose lungs will be going full whack at the end but it’s now a crowded market.
  20. SwitzerlandHunter of Stars is a jolly, catchy song you can whistle along to and Sebalter is a charismatic singer. I’m glad this reached the final but it did feel a little lost in the huge arena on Thursday. Switzerland haven’t broken the top 10 since 2005 and last won with Céline Dion back in 1988 so this could give them one of their better results of the last 20 years.
  21. Hungary – Now this has to be in the Running to win. Andr´s was the last to perform on Tuesday and his energetic performance and strong song immediately leapt into contention. Like Armenia, it starts gently and builds but, unlike Armenia, it gets to the point quickly and has proper depth. Dark lyrics with an upbeat dance backing? One for an each way bet.
  22. Malta – Turn down your Mumford detectors unless you want to break them – here’s Malta and the twee-est song of the night. It’s cheesy but it stands out and you might find your foot tapping despite yourself.
  23. Denmark – As last year’s winner, Denmark also gets a free pass to the final – which is good news for the hosts as this song would have been at risk of not qualifying. It’s a wannabe Timberlake performing nonsense lyrics that quote Katy Perry. As clichéd as its title suggests, its closest competition is Belarus, whose laid back approach makes it the better of the two. I heard some drunk Danes singing this in the streets of Copenhagen but the only two who expressed an opinion to me were embarrassed by it.
  24. Netherlands – I misunderestimated the popularity of Calm After the Storm, which is up against with Malta for the country music audience. It’s a perfectly respectable track but more calm than storm. It’s absolutely perfect for Radio 2, which you may interpret as you will.
  25. San Marino – It was fantastic to see Valentina Monetta reach the final on her third attempt. Two years ago she tried with The Social Network Song (urgh) but it’s Maybe that’s done the job – and guess what? It’s a classy ballad. It’s not going to win the Battle of the Ballads but top marks for effort.
  26. There’s one more song to go and one more of the Big Five left. Yep, it’s the United Kingdom with our best song in years – and possibly our best chance since 1997, although there’s some stiff competition. After two unsuccessful attempts to mine the Singers’ Retirement Home, the BBC has found in Molly Smitten-Downes a talented singer-songwriter – which is what they should have been looking for all along. I was at the first public performance of Children of the Universe and there was genuine excitement when the audience realised this year’s entry would be a song that is, you know, actually good. Plus we’re trumping all those old Eurovision songs about us being children of the same world by going for the whole universe. A good performance tonight – and word is that’s what we got in the jury final yesterday – and we could be top 5 for onl the second time since 2002. Touch wood.

So there are the 26 songs. The organisers have revealed the voting order, which is supposed to make the voting as “exciting as possible” based on the jury results already in. This has put Slovenia last – which could be a sign that it’s between Austria and Hungary.

While we can expect some of the usual tit-for-tat voting (which exists of course, but only impacts on the lower orders), there are some interesting differences from past years. With Cyprus not taking part this year, Greece loses a bankable 12 points. None of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia qualified, so where will their votes go? And will the female-led ballads split the votes, opening the way for Hungary, Armenia or even the UK?

Answers from 8pm.