The Cutprice Guignol

The Sixth Year: American Sigh Story

Category: Television Review

Why the Gossip Girl Reboot Might Actually Work

You know, when I first saw the news of the Gossip Girl reboot a few days ago, I didn’t think much of it. Yeah, sure, whatever. Just because I spent my teenage years consuming the books and TV series and the spin-offs with an avaricious hunger that is only triggered when I’m a hormonal teenager crushing hard on Blake Lively doesn’t mean I actually still care about it. I mean, the series is trash – pulp of the highest order. I’m grown now. I watch films and describe the camera work as “dynamic”. I don’t have room in my Meaty galaxy brain for stuff like Gossip Girl anymore.

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Stranger Things Season Three is Total Nonsense

Alright, I’m going to be real with you here: I didn’t give a shit about the new season of Stranger Things.

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Where Black Mirror Went Wrong

Black Mirror. You want to talk about Black Mirror? I’d love to talk about Black Mirror. I’d love to talk about the odd, patchy season that came before this one. I’d love to talk about the weird, unsettling experiment of Bandersnatch. And most of all, I’d like to talk about why this latest season, out last month, feels like such a downturn for a show which has so often held such a huge place in the cultural zeitgeist.

The problem with shows like Black Mirror is that they rely on an outside perspective on the aspects of society that they’re critiquing. When Black Mirror started out, back in 2011, it felt like a genuinely anarchic and even important take on where technology was taking us. Paranoia and fear about technology and social media was only just starting to really bloom, and Charlie Brooker, with his esteemed eye for pop cultural batshittery, was the perfect choice to explore it in a narrative sense.

But how can you sustain that sense of acerbic outsider-dom when you are firmly inside the system? When Black Mirror shifted to Netflix, and when it started working with Youtube personalities, and when it embraced the involvement of huge pop culture figures like Miley Cyrus and the like, it couldn’t hold on to this sense of being on the outside, looking in, and providing all the cogent commentary you would expect from someone holding that position. Other shows have suffered similair fates over the years; The Simpsons worked as a sharp-tongued critic of other pop culture, but after it became so thoroughly absorbed into the very fabric of what made up the modern media landscape, it just had to resort to sending the family on trips to Brazil and Japan for want of a better idea.

When Charlie Brooker gave up writing his legendary Screen Burn columns in the Guardian, he credited some of that decision to becoming part of the industry that he was trying to critique.  His reasoning is pretty unarguable: you can’t poke holes an industry that you have become so deeply entrenched in. As Black Mirror uses modern technology and media to push itself forward, attempts to critique the same become more and more shallow. I mean, I saw Anthony Mackie, star of one of the this season’s episodes, in a Marvel movie just a couple of months ago – unarguably the biggest deal in storytelling since Game of Thones ended. The presence of his celebrity (and the celebrity of so many who have been attached to recent seasons, like Miley Cyrus, Jodie Foster, Bryce Dallas Howard, Letitia Wright, et al) sort of blunts everything the show is trying to achieve. As the show expands to swallow up great swathes of popular culture, it can’t stand outside it comfortably any longer without ringing with some abject hollowness.

And that’s why this season, for me, just doesn’t work. While the show still has some obvious merit – creativity, solid writing, handsome cinematography and talented performers – the central message seems increasingly lost as the meta-narrative of what the show has become in the real world overwhelms the actual narratives that it’s trying to tell us within these episodes. Black Mirror, to its own detriment, just got too good at playing its own game.

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The Best Sitcom You’re Not Watching

Well, it’s summer, allegedly. And that means that we’re all reclining into our requisite summer viewing: light comedy, twenty-minute snippets that we can finish up quickly at the instigation of an impromptu beach ukelele party or something. Is that what people do in summer? I’m Scottish, I honestly couldn’t tell you if summer is some sort of elaborate joke at my expense and has been this whole time. Is it? Mail your answers on a postcard to my cat’s litter tray.

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Good Omens: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told

Ah, you know what I haven’t done in ages on this blog? A bloody full-show television review. And now seems as good a time as any to pick up where I left off and yell at you about how much I fuckin’ love Gay Good Omens.

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The Best Performances in Bad TV Shows

So, we love a little blog synergy around here, right? Well, this week over at our film blog No But Listen, we’ve been looking at the best performances in bad movies, and that got me to thinking – who fills that gap on the small screen? So many bad shows to choose from, so little time, but I’ve narrowed it down to my three favourites. To the list!

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The Scariest TV Scenes in History

So, a couple of weeks ago, my writing partner and I wrote an article over on our film blog, No But Listen, about the scariest scenes in movie history, and that got me to a-thinking. I love all things horror, and it seemed a shame to stop there when there’s so much freaky shit on TV to delve right on into. So while these may not be the scariest scenes in TV history, they’re certainly the ones that kicked the emotional crap out of me when I first saw them and the ones I most often bring up in therapy sessions. Time to rake over some traumatic childhood (and miscellaneous) memories!

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Russian Doll and the Loops of Compulsion

Wow, Lou, try writing about anything? Other? Than your mental health problems? I hear you cry, and I politely ignore you and write this article anyway. I’ve been watching Russian Doll over these last couple of weeks – which is ridiculous, really, because I could have gotten the whole thing done in an evening and had time to nip out for cat food afterwards. But honestly, rarely have I so uncomfortably identified with a character as I have with Alan Zaveri in Russian Doll, and I’m finally ready to take a prodding poke at this series as a whole and what it has to say about compulsion.

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True Crime, Voyeurism, and Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes

“Don’t watch “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes” alone. Trust me on this one,” Netflix US tweeted out at the start of the weekend, when their latest true crime documentary hit screens. Directed by Joe Berlinger, and based around the interviews conducted by Stephen G. Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth with Bundy before his execution in 1989. Promoted like a lurid horror film and breathlessly trailed as a fascinating look into the mind of a brilliant, sadistic murderer, I already had my doubts about it before I so much as sat down in front of the first episode.

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An Ode to the Cooking Show

For those who’ve stuck around at the Guignol since its inception, you may remember that time I was just really depressed and lay in bed all day writing about the cooking shows that happened to be on TV that afternoon and talking about how I wanted to fuck Guy Fieri (it was a dark time in my life, alright, we’re moving on). And, you know, I’ve always loved a good cooking show, even when I’m not hiding under the covers trying to figure out if I’m more anxious or more hungover. Considering this blog is all about my passionate love of television, I feel like it’s about time I took a little wander down a pathway that has lately brought me so much joy in some recent hard times.

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