Month: May 2014

A Thousand or so Words on Two and a Half Men’s Cancellation

As Private Eye‘s E.J. Thribb would say, So. Farewell then, Two and a Half Men. After eleven seasons and with one more to go, CBS have announced that the long-running sitcom will be ending in 2015, four years after star Charlie Sheen was fired and without whom many thought the show wouldn’t be able to carry on. Well, turns out it did, but now the time has (nearly) come to say goodbye. As expected, certain areas of the internet are celebrating this news – mostly self-appointed tastemakers who don’t like the show and haven’t watched it in years, if ever. So what are they celebrating, exactly? Not sure, to be honest: if you don’t like a show you don’t watch it, and if you don’t watch it then surely you’ve no need to feel anything when it eventually gets canned. Better shows were on in the meantime? Better shows could have taken its time-slot? Well, life is hard and sometimes people don’t get what they want. Cruel, yes, but there we are. (And seriously, Hollywood.com writer-guy, “high-minded”? I hope you’re joking, son, because… yeesh.)

All right, maybe I’m being a little passive-aggressive and a bit too defensive here, but as baffling as it might seem I have something of an emotional connection to this show, which I always enjoyed and never felt was as bad as some people say (although I agree with many of their criticisms, particularly those regarding the treatment of female characters). So then how do I, a dude who loves the Charlie Sheen years and could even be called something of an apologist for the Ashton Kutcher years, feel about this news? Honestly, I’m ambivalent. On the one hand, like I said, I’m a big fan of Two and a Half Men which, in my personal opinion, was a highly entertaining and unpretentious show with great character dynamics, well-written jokes and a proclivity towards peeving people off. On the other hand, it hasn’t been that show since Sheen was fired.  Sitcoms should always focus more on the -com side of things than the sit-, but in recent years the show’s jokes have grown stale and increasingly reliant on grotesque bodily humour while the relationships and character arcs have taken over. It’s become more of a gentle soap opera than the sitcom it once was (though this isn’t unique to Two and a Half Men).

I get this is a tired mantra, too, but the show really hasn’t been the same without Sheen. The show has always been debauched and abrasive and, though that might be off-putting to some, at least Sheen made it look easy and fun. Since he left most of the more hedonistic traits have been dumped on to Jon Cryer’s character Alan, who used to be a loving father and a stick-in-the-mud but suddenly became this weird, morally-void sex-freak who makes it all look like hard work. If that sounds like I’m dumping on Cryer, I’m not – the actors and actresses have done the best they can with the material they’ve been given since. But the dynamic of the show changed too much – the best humour from the earlier seasons came from the frequent conflicts between Charlie and Alan, the sleazebag and the nice guy who often outwitted each other on certain points and sometimes even took over each other’s roles. Ashton Kutcher’s Walden Schmidt, however, is too much of a nice guy to create any real conflict with Alan, so they usually just spin off on their own tedious subplots generally revolving around sex, marijuana, how rich Walden is or some combination of the three. It never helped, either, that all the interesting characters from the earlier seasons were quietly pushed aside while new peripheral characters were constantly thrown at us (and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a few more tossed our way in the final season) to try and inject some lifeblood into the show. Did any of them work? Well, Patton Oswalt’s Billy was kinda funny, I guess, and Amber Tamblyn’s Jenny had some good moments, but for the most part they were pretty forgettable.

When it’s all said and done, though, its end was inevitable: while the critics never had any real impact on the show – if they had, it would have ended a lot earlier – dwindling ratings, aging actors, a rapidly-drying well of creativity and an increasing sense of public apathy towards the show were bound to do it in eventually. But hey, at least the fans – myself included (did I mention that, already?) – get one more season to enjoy (or at least tolerate), along with the previous eleven to do with what we please. That’s an astonishing number for any sitcom and, perhaps, a few too many for this one. For me, it’s eight seasons of sheer gold (humour is subjective, people) and (what will be) four spottier seasons that still have their moments. Can’t be bad.

So what does that leave us with, sitcom-wise? Well, I’m one of the few people who actually prefer studio-based, multi-camera sitcoms to the more “naturalistic” single-camera shows, so let’s put aside Modern Family and all that lot for now. The Big Bang Theory was recently handed another three seasons, so we can enjoy that until at least 2017 (even if I haven’t really enjoyed the show since 2011). What else is there? Mike & Molly? Eh, I always found that show pretty average. 2 Broke Girls? Nah, never liked that one. The other various shows that may or may not have long-lasting runs? We’ll see – I didn’t even get into Two and a Half Men until season eight. I guess time will tell if we can ever have another legacy show like this one, or whether we’ll even want one.

For the most part, though, here’s to you, Two and a Half Men. You may not have been perfect but you made me laugh, and that’s all I really wanted. Now reveal that Charlie never actually died and we can all let you rest in peace. If not, well, at least it won’t be as controversial as How I Met Your Mother‘s finale.

Think I have a point? Think I don’t? Think I’m a hateful, mouth-breathing wad of gangrenous scum that should have been eviscerated at birth (all right, steady on)? Leave a comment. Or don’t. Your choice.

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Eurovision 2014: The Entrants (Part 5)

Here’s the fifth and final part of my run-through of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest hopefuls. We’ve made it to the Big Five and the host nation now, so there’s no semi-final process for this lot – you’ll definitely hear these songs on the night and only on the night. Parts 1 through 4 of my whistle-stop tour can be found here, here, here and here respectively.

Be warned: the opinions contained within may be dangerous and/or silly. Proceed with caution.

DENMARK: Sim, “Cliché Love Song”

Okay, first of all, double points for the song title. That is really rather good. The song…

…well, it’s catchy enough, I suppose, but it’s too lightweight for my tastes – kinda sounds like Bruno Mars on auto-pilot. The scat-hook in the chorus gets annoying after the second-or-so time you’ve heard it and there’s nothing in the way of variation to make the song remotely interesting for more than a minute-and-a-half. It’s so lightweight it’s barely there. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t dislike it either – I didn’t really feel anything towards it once it had finished. It’s three-and-a-half minutes of… eh.

Also, that title. Let’s halt the train and talk about that title. Now, granted, this is Eurovision, and there are certain rules as to what an artist can or can’t sing about. You can’t sing a song that promotes any political or religious cause, for one, and that’s fair enough – nobody likes to be preached to at Eurovision. However, I do firmly believe that if you’re going to sing a song called “Cliché Love Song” at a contest where cliché love songs are pretty much all anyone is singing, you should seize the opportunity for a bit of satire on the whole thing. It doesn’t have to be too vicious or cruel – it’s still cuddly ol’ Eurovision we’re talking about here – but there’s an opening you’ve given yourself to have a bit of a sly dig at the whole thing that you really should be exploiting. You don’t just sing a cliché love song about how you’re going to sing a cliché love song after someone else has sung a cliché love song and just before someone else is about to sing a cliché love song, and call it “Cliché Love Song” as if you’re about to unleash some witty commentary on the whole thing but instead do as everybody else is doing and perform another cliché love song. Am I rambling? Probably. Am I getting angry over nothing? Absolutely. Let’s move on.

FRANCE: Twin Twin, “Moustache”

As far as my memory serves me, France normally send a serious entry, often an opera singer, to represent them at Eurovision, thus bringing a little class to proceedings. This year they’ve sent in a song called “Moustache.” I think France might have changed its attitude towards this contest.

Is it me or do those synths at the beginning have an early Daft Punk feel to them? Well, Daft Punk are French, and so is this. You can’t say the science isn’t there, folks. The song itself is a gooey slice of, oh, what’s this, club-minded synth-driven dance-pop? Gee, what a breath of fresh air. Hang on, though, there’s rapping. French rapping. Despite the wacky concept, a mildly-catchy chorus and what I can only assume are hilarious lyrics (me no French good), “Moustache” as a song is surprisingly joyless: the verses aren’t memorable and the rapping sounds uninspired. Perhaps I’m being unfair but I just don’t feel this one – and dash it all, I should be able to. Songs called “Moustache” at Eurovision don’t come around every year.

GERMANY: Elaiza, “Is It Right!”

Er, shouldn’t that be “Is It Right” with a question mark? Unless it’s an exclamation of thinly-veiled disbelief, e.g. “is it, right?” Is that even right? I don’t know. I don’t even… let’s just get on with the song.

Oom-pah! I tells yer, those traditional folk influences are like gold dust to me this year, and I’m not even a fan of oom-pah music. To be honest, on paper there’s not a great deal to recommend here apart from that: the melody could have used some much stronger hooks and the song as a whole would have benefited from a bit more experimentation, or any for that matter. Despite that, I quite like it: it’s charming in its own way and passionate without blowing the roof off. It might just be my prejudice against the swathes of club-minded, synth-driven dance-pop this year that’s driven me to give this a thumbs-up. Or maybe it’s because I genuinely quite like it. Who knows?

ITALY: Emma Marrone, “La Mia Città”

The stereotype-goblin that lives in my thoughts is pleading for some accordion here. It’d be great if you could appease him, Italy, or he won’t let me sleep for another three months.

Italian David Bowie! Italian David Bowie, people!! Give her your votes! Give her your money!

Back to planet earth for a moment: maybe Italian David Bowie is putting it a bit too strongly, but I really rather like this. It’s got a great, sleazy glam vibe to it with some vicious, scissor-sharp synths that really compliment that strong, thick accent of hers, not to mention a great, jagged pop melody with some really interesting musical choices (the pre-chorus and middle-eight in particular I really like: those shuddering synths in the former and the heavy-rock guitar in the latter make me smile). What an entry, eh? It just sounds so freaking alien to everything else this year, I can’t help but enjoy it. All right, the chorus is a bit too EDM for my tastes, but that’s a minor niggle. Lady Gaga comparisons will be inevitable when this airs, but seeing as how I don’t like Lady Gaga while I do like this, I’d rather not be the one to draw them. This should be a good one to watch on the night. I expect good things for Italy this year. I demand good things.

SPAIN: Ruth Lorenzo, “Dancing in the Rain”

Hey, I remember her! Ruth Lorenzo, from that X Factor one year. What a nice surprise to see her back. And now she’s singing for… Spain?! Freaking turncoat! Why I oughta… wait, she is Spanish? Huh. Okay then.

“You’d better learn… to daaaance iiin the raaaiin!” Sorry, had my Megadeth hat on there. Basically it’s an operatic piano ballad with a big, punchy chorus that switches from Spanish to English for some reason. I quite enjoyed it, but it does sound like something from a Disney soundtrack. Mind you, with the recent success of “Let It Go” from Frozen, the resemblance to that sort of music might earn it a few Brownie points. The drums are a bit loud, though: I’m enjoying a nice, orchestral pop song and suddenly it sounds like I’m listening to something from KISS’ Creatures of the Night. Good album, but… time and a place, y’know? It’s not music to dance in the rain to, exactly (it’s quite slow, so you’d get very damp very quickly), and the chorus is a bit simplistic, but it picks up towards the end. I could listen to this again.

UNITED KINGDOM: Molly Smitten-Downes, “Children of the Universe”

So we’ve gone from hiring newbies, which didn’t work, to wheeling out the oldies, which didn’t work, to bringing out the newbies again. It’s almost as if we don’t have a firm grasp on this whole Eurovision thing, isn’t it?

Doesn’t that drummer look like he’s playing a completely different song? Sorry, what? The song itself? Oh. Well, the chorus is nice and bombastic, and Smitten-Downes does have a pretty good voice (I particularly like the vocal trill in the “don’t you know” hook. Couldn’t tell you why, just do), but the verses are a little flat (possibly to accentuate the chorus, but again, who am I to say these things?). As a whole it’s a bit too “Heal the World” for my tastes, and any song these days with a ‘woah-oh’ or ‘woah-eh-eh’ hook makes me die a little inside. Still, I don’t mind it. Will it do well? Honestly, it stands a better chance than pretty much anything we’ve released in the past few years. I’m probably too cynical to say it could actually win us the contest for next year, but I’m no clairvoyant, so who knows? Well, an actual clairvoyant might. Go ask one.

And there we are! That’s all of them, all… however many it was. Thanks for reading, folks. I know I’m looking forward to watching the final this Saturday and doing this all over again next year, but until then here’s my top five personal picks for this year’s contest, in descending alphabetical order by country:

  1. Belarus – Teo, “Cheesecake”
  2. Italy – Emma Marrone, “La Mia Città”
  3. Netherlands – The Common Linnets, “Calm After the Storm”
  4. Switzerland – Sebalter, “Hunter of Stars”
  5. Ukraine – Maria Yaremchuk, “Tick Tock”

These aren’t necessarily the entries I think will win, just my personal favourites that I think perhaps should. If even one of them gets into the top five on Saturday you owe me a pint. If none of them do, you still owe me a pint. John Smiths, on draft, if you would. Keep it cold.

The Eurovision final will take place this Saturday 10th May – good luck to [insert country of your choice]!