I’m An Addict!

They say that the first step on the road to recovery is admitting you have a problem.  Well, here goes!  My name is WD, and I’m an addict.  Hard to believe, but it’s true.  Despite what you see, I’m stuck in a secret cycle of abuse.  Oh, I’m good at hiding it, denying it.  I only use it to relax – unwind.  I can quit anytime I want to.  But no, I can’t.  I’ve tried.  I’m an addict.  For me, one is one too many and even a whole series is never enough.

I guess my story’s the usual one.  It all started innocently enough; just a few schoolboys having a bit of a vicarious adventure.  I don’t remember who tried it first, but by the end of the summer, all my friends and I were doing it every weekend.  For a while, it was all we could talk about.  Fortunately, the habits of the young are fickle, and when school started, most of my friends drifted away to homework and hockey practice.  However, I remained, every weekend, watching black and white back-to-back reruns of Richard Greene’s Robin Hood and Roger Moore in Ivanhoe.  Soon, an hour a week simply wasn’t enough, and I began experimenting on my own – searching for a bigger thrill.  It was then that I discovered … Doctor Who.  I remember thinking, I’ll just try it; I can always change the channel.  But I didn’t.  I couldn’t.  I watched it all, even the credits, in the gathering twilight of an autumn afternoon.  It was a wonderful excitement, exhilarating and confused.  I was too young to truly understand what Time Lords were or the symbiotic relationship Who had with the Companion, but I wanted to know.  I wanted to open my perceptions to the sophisticated storylines, explore the language, and fill my senses with the ideas that I never found on regular TV.  I didn’t know it then, but I think I was already addicted — to British Television.

Emma Peel

From Doctor Who, it was easy to graduate to watching The Saint.  After all, Roger Moore was just Ivanhoe in a tuxedo – wasn’t he?  No, he was more than that — stronger, with deeper plots and worldly situations.  Then it was The Avengers.  Just as my pubescent friends were discovering the hidden fantasies of Barbara Eden’s belly button, I had Diana Rigg all to myself.  For a teenage boy, Emma Peel had a dizzying depth of character, compared to Anthony Nelson’s do-as-you’re-told Jeannie or the submissive Samantha Stevens.  She was my fee verte, and I was a slave to her.  Sated with suggested sex, mystery and espionage, when The Prisoner was broadcast in the early 70s, I was unable to resist.  I wallowed in its nonlinear drama, letting it wash over me, week after week, until — hauntingly unresolved — it ended, and left me empty and cold.

I should have stopped then – gone cold turkey — but I was ready for the hard stuff: Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  Speedball comedy with a walloping high so potent that even today I find myself laughing outrageously in its etherealic flashbacks.  The Pythons opened my mind to non sequitur, the absurd, the tilted storyline, bizarre characterization and oh, so much more.  I don’t know how many traditional motifs I abandoned that winter.  It’s all a blur to me now.  But at the end of it, I knew I was never going back to North American TV.  I was hooked.

Since those heady days, I’ve spent forty years searching, always searching, for more of the roll-off-the-sofa/pee-your-pants highs that the Pythons delivered.  Through Fawlty Towers; Black Adder; Yes, Minister; Red Dwarf; Ab Fab; The Office and so many others.  Even Mr. Bean!  That’s how complete my habit has become.  And it wasn’t just comedy; it was drama, as well.  Mysteries, espionage, political intrigue — I’ve tried them all.  Night after night, I’d tell myself just one episode, but hours later, I’d still be slumped on the sofa — covered in cookie crumbs and stinking of Earl Grey tea.  The only thing that saved me from utter degradation was I’ve always had a violent allergic reaction to Jane Austen.  Otherwise, I would have been up to my eyes in costume drama.  Then along came Downton Abbey and I was lost.

Today, British television is easy to find.  My dealers were always PBS and The Knowledge Network, but now there are so many other ways to feed my habit.  Netflix, Prime, Acorn, Britbox — they’re all there – whole seasons of Sherlock, Broadchurch, Vera (back to the days of David Leon) House of Cards (the original with Ian Richardson) and even Lovejoy and Agatha Christie — if that’s what you fancy.  This year, I watched all ten seasons of MI5 again, 60 years of murder with Morse, Lewis and Endeavor and, of course Top Boy and Shetland.  But it doesn’t end there because late at night when my skin crawls for long vowels, Manchester accents and proper pronunciation, I surf through YouTube for snippets of Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, Cracker, The Inbetweeners and even grainy bits of Jimmy Nail’s Spender.

My name is WD, and I’m an addict.

Originally published 2013, and gently edited for 2020

Cult Of Celebrity!

red-carpet

It may be too much to hope for, but it looks as if the terrible, terrible plague that has gripped our planet for far too long may be over.  … SERIOUS PAUSE … Uh – no – not that one, the other one: the soul- eating Cult of Celebrity.  Maybe — just maybe — our unholy obsession with celebrities could be in its final days.

It all started in March when Wonder Woman and her tone deaf (that works on so many levels!) choir trotted out John Lennon’s ode to hypocrisy, Imagine.  Although they meant it as feel-good manna from the ruling class, it didn’t take the peasants more than a few minutes to “imagine” Gal and the gang were a bunch of assholes.  After all, millionaires telling a bunch of people who are having trouble paying the rent to “imagine no possessions” is kinda adding insult to injury.  And from there, it just got worse.  Ellen DeGeneres, the world’s mightiest sycophant, told us that living in her multi-million dollar mansion was like “being in jail.”  Clearly, Ms. DeGeneres has never been in jail, seen a jail or even had a jail carefully described to her.  And of course, since then we’ve all learned that, even as she spoke, her smiles and chuckles production company was treating the staff as if Ellen was the warden.  Then along came Madonna, the Queen of Pop, and named Covid-19 the “the great equaliser.”  Oddly enough, she did it stark naked in a bathtub that probably cost more than my car!  Apparently, some of us are more equal than others, huh, Madge?  Then there was Jennifer Lopez frolicking in her huge backyard; Pharrell Williams, asking for money; Katy Perry, bored out of her mind, and on and on and on.  But for sheer audacity, nothing beats the crew of really, really white people on Twitter, celebsplaining how much Black Lives Matter in their “I Take Responsibility” campaign.  These Malibu militants were giving it their best shot, but it was almost impossible not to laugh at their “Dammit, I’m sincere!” sincerity.  First of all, they’re actors – Duh!  Secondly, we all know their only brush with black anything is probably Will Smith.  And finally, aside from wearing a T-shirt and maybe giving the housekeeper a Christmas bonus, these folks were done.  When they shut off the camera, they were going back to their enormous homes, their manicured lawns, their nannies, their drivers, their personal assistants and a little Grey Goose by the pool.  The message might be “We’re all in this together,” but anyone who’s watching knows we aren’t.

The truth is without Award Shows, Red Carpets, parties, photo-ops and the Late Night Jimmies (Kimmel and Fallon) the celebrity emperor has no clothes.  When push comes to shove and serious stuff is on the table, it’s painfully obvious that celebrities are less than useless.  In fact, they’re part of the problem, because they insist that fame somehow makes them relevant — that their political insights, their social awareness and – OMG! — their medical advice actually means something.  It doesn’t.  It’s just muddying the water.  Personally, I’m praying that, as more and more people discover this, when the New Normal finally gets here, there won’t be any room for these parasites.  We can only hope!

Neglected Spy Movies

spies

I love spy movies.  Everything from the dirt-under-your-fingernails realism of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy to the “Oh, c’mon!  Plastic masks don’t work that way!” un-believability of the Mission Impossible franchise.  It all started when I was a kid and saw Dr. No.  (I was just an eyelash too young to fully grasp what Sylvia Trench was doing in Bond’s apartment, but I instinctively knew it had to be something cool.)  I went home and — in one long, grueling, dark, freezing Canadian winter — read all of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books, in order, cover to cover to cover to cover.  By Christmas and From Russia, With Love, I’d figured out the Trench/Bond dynamic.  Spies get the girl – all the girls.  I was hooked.  However, after all these years and literally hundreds of movies, I find there’s one subgenre of the spy movie that’s been woefully neglected – the Espionage Rom-Com.  There just aren’t that many of them.  Here are some of the good ones that immediately come to mind.  (Feel free to add to the list.)

Get Smart (2008) – One of the few made-from-TV movies that actually works.  Why?  Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway.  They are the natural evolution of Maxwell Smart and (they still didn’t give her a name) Agent 86.  He’s no longer Gilligan’s Island incompetent, and she isn’t hiding behind Max’s propped up ego.  And, they’re not heavy-handed with the 60s catch phrases, either.

Knight and Day (2010) – Ethan Hunt meets I Love Lucy.  Think about it!

True Lies (1994) – Seriously dated (It’s so old Arabs are still the villains!  Awkward!)  But Schwarzenegger gives it just enough Arnie to make it an action movie, and Jamie Lee Curtis gives it just enough Jamie Lee to make it a comedy.  Plus there’s a terrific tango scene at the beginning, Bill Paxton plays himself and, of the roughly 8 million bad movies Tom Arnold has appeared in, this is his best.

The Tourist (2010) – I’ve included this because, even though it’s not technically a com (Depp has his moments but …) it’s definitely a rom.  The critics panned it because critics are pompous asses.  It’s actually a good movie.  Trivia Time.  The movie was shot in less than 2 months because Johnny Depp was between pirate movies.  It features an ex-James Bond, Timothy Dalton.  And rumour has it that it was originally written by Julian Fellowes, the guy who wrote Downton Abbey.

The next four are not actually spy movies but hired assassins are part of the greater international intrigue genre

Mr. Right (2015) – Okay, Okay Sam Rockwell and Anna Kendrick have made some schlock, but they’ve made some really good movies, too, and together they make this one work.  Francis and Martha are the quirky lovers everybody wants to be – going about their business, together alone – while the rest of the world just doesn’t get it.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017) – Ryan Reynolds plays Ryan Reynolds.  Samuel L. Jackson plays Samuel L. Jackson.  And Gary Oldman can convincingly play anything on this planet (including Boris Johnson’s comb.)  This film features not one but three romances – Ryan Reynolds and Elodie Yung, Samuel L. Jackson and Salma Hayek and Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson.

Grosse Point Blank (1997) – International assassins have to come from somewhere.  This movie answers the question – whatever happened to that stand-alone, moody-cool guy from 12th grade?  Plus, it’s got John Cusack in uniform (Does he even own a different tie?) and a kick-ass soundtrack.

And finally:

Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005) – This is the Espionage Rom-Com by which all other Espionage Rom-Coms must be measured.  You can actually see Angelina Jolie lusting after Brad and Brad slowly, unconsciously, then consciously, then willingly, leaving Jennifer Aniston.  There are several mere “glances” between the two stars that are hug-your-knees sexy and it looks as if they’re doing the fight scene/love scene for real because — OMG! — they are!  Plus, two dance scenes and Mondo Bongo by Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros.