Back on record – the reasons behind vinyl’s unlikely comeback

photo credit: Daisy's first LP via photopin (license)
photo credit: Daisy’s first LP via photopin (license)

 

The world recently celebrated Record Store Day (April 18), a big day in the life of often-beleaguered bricks-and-mortar record stores, and courtesy of Lee Barron, Northumbria University, Newcastle of The Conversation, we get insight into the ever-increasingly re-popularityof vinyl, and what its resurgence means for the future of the music industry itself …

In a music buying industry now dominated by iTunes and music streaming sites such as Spotify, Napster, Pandora and Jay-Z’s recently released Tidal, the CD and physical music store are reportedly in sharp (and potentially terminal) decline. But a curious development in music consumption has seen vinyl, the format ostensibly rendered extinct by the compact disc with its “perfect” digital sound, make an unlikely, but significant cultural and commercial comeback.

In an era in which even digital album sales have fallen, vinyl has bucked the trend. In 2014, record sales grew by more than 50% to hit more than a million, the highest since 1996 – and the upward curve has continued in 2015.

Of course, there were those who never lost faith in the format. Vinyl is at the heart of Record Store Day, an event created in 2007 when some 700 independent record stores in the US combined to celebrate music retailing and the passion for music collecting. Now also a firm fixture in the UK, on April 18 Record Store Day annually collaborates with musical artists to release special edition CDs and vinyl that are strictly exclusive to the day. The event is now even more buoyed in the wake of the renewed enthusiasm for tracks on wax.



Adam Ant performs in Berwick Street, London, on Record Store Day 2014.
David Parry/PA Archive

Retromania

On one level, this resurgence could simply be the latest manifestation of a contemporary condition – what the music commentator Simon Reynolds dubs “retromania”. Old bands are reforming, new artists building their sounds and looks on classic acts, and enthusiasm for the fashions and cultural paraphernalia of the past is endemic. The revival of vinyl could be similarly motivated by mere nostalgia for the antithesis of digital streaming: large and fragile discs in cardboard sleeves that manifest a distinctly un-digital crackle when played on the similarly redundant technology of the record player.

But nostalgia is arguably only part of the story. Because the demand for vinyl in the UK has been so pronounced it has recently spawned an official vinyl LP album and singles chart, launched on April 13. Significantly, the first #1 album of the chart was Future Hearts by the contemporary US pop/punk band, All Time Low. The majority of the Top Ten is similarly modern: Sufjan Stevens, Turbowolf, Nadine Shah and James Bay, but with a suitable nod to the old guard with the presence of Van Morrison.

 

 

In a wider context, the highest-selling albums of 2015 so far do reflect a distinctive fusion of nostalgia, with classic albums by bands such as Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Bob Dylan mixing with modern acts such as Arctic Monkeys, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and Royal Blood. But long-established established artists of the calibre of Madonna, Daft Punk, Björk, and Jack White are also present within the resurgence and are releasing vinyl versions of their new albums. So, if nostalgia is not the sole driver for vinyl’s significant commercial comeback, what is?

Warm and fuzzy

A major technological characteristic cited in the comeback of vinyl is its distinctive lack of audio cleanness and perfection – what fans call the “warmth” of the vinyl sound. This apparent audio feature is produced by the flaws inherent within analogue sound production, due to – as sound engineer Andreas Lubich explains – “distortion, and in the best case, harmonic distortion”.

The sound of vinyl is also arguably more immersive. This is a factor explored by DJ, Colleen Murphy, who has set up a series of public listening events in a variety of locations chosen to maximise the acoustic impact of the music (including churches). LPs are played in their entirety, a key element in the contemporary pleasures of the format.

The revolutionary design feature of CD players was their ability to enable listeners to skip tracks and reshuffle albums. Vinyl, on the other hand, was and is different. Track skipping is a tricky business and, due to the fragility of the discs, you run the risk of dropping the stylus and causing damage. Consequently, the album as a track-by-track experience (as intended by the artists and central to the listening experience of classic LPs such as Dark Side of the Moon) has returned.

 



An altar to music?
from www.shutterstock.com

 

Media artist Jesse England also subscribes to this sense of “reverence” for the complete album immersion – he goes as far as to describe record players as “altars” for music. He has even invented a vibrating plastic disc that enables people to play digital music (via Bluetooth) on any record player, giving it that distinctive imperfect analogue sheen.

Similarly, the vinyl “renaissance” has led to the production of technological analogue/digital hybrids, such as portable attaché case-style record players that include USB ports for digitally recording vinyl, crackles and all.

Vinyl not only sounds different, but it also has a possessive quality that intangible downloads and streaming lacks. As Simon Reynolds notes, the iPod looked set to do away with “record collecting in the traditional sense”, but collecting is actually an intrinsic part of vinyl’s allure. An LP is an object and one that comes with a certain “ritual” behaviour, from the opening of the sleeve and the gentle handling of the disc, to the aesthetic qualities of the cover and the inner sleeve designs with its artwork (often considered to be art and diminished on the smaller CD case) and printed lyrics.

Obstacles

But it’s crucial to acknowledge that the significance of vinyl sales is not overstated. While the rise is undeniably impressive, it’s not that significant in terms of the units sold in digital formats. As Martin Talbot, the chief executive of Official Charts, acknowledges, the consumer-base for vinyl is “still a niche audience”.



Aladdin’s Cave for a growing pool of vinyl nerds.
marcwathieu/flickr, CC BY

 

This assessment also raises one of the most significant barriers to the triumphant return of vinyl: the manufacture of LPs. Given its near-obsolete status until comparatively recently, the technology required to manufacture vinyl has been difficult to access, given that very few factories produce records. Presses have been in short supply because they barely exist.

As a recent Wall Street Journal feature reported, in 2014 90% of raw materials for vinyl production were produced by one company. This means that the future of vinyl production will require considerable investment from record companies in the re-production of expensive technology. Given the decline of the bricks-and-mortar record store within the retail landscape, distribution will also be a decisive consideration if the upsurge in demand for vinyl is to be a sustainable one.

But to quote Martin Talbot again on the current magnitude of vinyl sales: “To grow at the rate it is, there’s clearly something happening here.” Many other industry experts agree. It seems that many music fans are set to continue putting the needle on the record, which is very good news for the future of Record Store Day.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

What are we doing here? The do-or-die mysteries of syfy’s Dark Matter (trailer)

The cast of syfy's upcoming TV series Dark Matter (image via Blastr (c) syfy)
The cast of syfy’s upcoming TV series Dark Matter (image via Blastr (c) syfy)

 

SNAPSHOT
In Dark Matter, the crew of a derelict spaceship is awakened from stasis with no memories of who they are or how they got on board. Facing threats at every turn, they have to work together to survive a voyage charged with vengeance, betrayal and hidden secrets.  The cast includes Zoie Palmer (Lost Girl), Roger Cross (The Strain), Marc Bendavid (Bitten), Anthony Lemke (White House Down), Melissa O’Neil (Les Miserables), Joelle Ferland (Twilight) and Alex Mallari, Jr (Robocop). (official synopsis via Blastr)

It’s one thing to walk into a room, do a double-take and wonder why it is you walked in there in the first place.

Quite another, of course, to wake up on a spaceship, your memory completely wiped, not just temporarily stymied, uncertain of where you are or why you’re there, and having to face threats innumerable if you’re to survive.

But that’s the fate of the crew who come to in a spaceship that has clearly seen better days, none of whom can recall where they’ve come from or who they used to, but all of whom possess skills and attributes that will be needed in the perilous voyage ahead.

And by the looks of things they need to put those skills to good use pretty much straight away.

How’s that for a wake-up call from hell?

 

The cover of one of the issues in Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie's Dark Horse graphic novel series Dark Matter (image via Joseph Malozzi blog)
The cover of one of the issues in Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie’s Dark Horse graphic novel series Dark Matter (image via Joseph Malozzi blog)

 

The TV series is based on a graphic novel series by former Stargate writer-producers Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie who originally intended for their idea about a group of capable disconnected amnesiacs onboard a spaceship to be a TV series.

No one nibbled at the time (January to April 2012) but thanks to the success of the novelised form of the story, syfy picked up the 13 episode first season of the show back in October 2014.

If it wasn’t exciting enough having a new show from Stargate production alum, Blastr notes that some very familiar faces will be popping up in the series alongside our crews of violently-puzzled castaways.

“[Dark Matter] hopes to captivate faithful fans of the Stargate TV franchise by adding some familiar faces — like Amanda Tapping (Stargate SG-1) and Torri Higginson (Stargate: Atlantis) — to the cast.”

It sounds a highly intriguing premise with a great chance of succeeding thanks to its road test of sorts as a graphic novel; granted they are wholly different mediums but the success of the comics bodes well for the TV series making the most of its 13 episode order.

Let’s just hope the crew can remember where they left the keys or they’re really screwed.

Dark Matter zips onto our screens, with no memory of how it got there, on June 12, 2015, at 10/9c.

 

You thought winter coming was a downer? Try having Jon Snow as a dinner guest (Game of Thrones parody)

All that time on the Wall has left Jon Snow's social skills a little rusty, making him, initially at least, not the world's greatest dinner guest (image via YouTube (c) Late Night with Seth Meyers)
All that time on the Wall has left Jon Snow’s social skills a little rusty, making him, initially at least, not the world’s greatest dinner guest (image via YouTube (c) Late Night with Seth Meyers)

 

We’ve all been to dinner parties like it.

What seems at first like it will be a relaxed evening over great food and fine wines with very good friends suddenly becomes weird, awkward and interminably long thanks to the presence of one unexpected, strange and oddly-self-involved guest with the social skills of a longterm cult member whose only interests are canned goods and rainfall charts.

Or in the case of Jon Snow (Kit Harrington), the bastard son of Lord Eddard Stark (Sean Bean) of Winterfell, who turns up at Seth Meyer’s dinner party one night – it’s revealed they met at a Cross Fit class because even warriors need toning apparently – an understandably moody disposition, coarse dining skills and an obsession with death, betrayal and familial violence.

He is not exactly the life of the party and it’s not until Seth Meyers repeatedly takes him aside and coaches him on appropriate social etiquette that Snow realises the path to true dinner party acceptance, and possibly the love of a fetching single lass lies in tales of derring-do and high romance.

In fact, so well does he turns things around and enthral everyone with his tale that all the guests agree that Snow’s life and that of the rest of blood-soaked inhabitants of Westeros would make a fine series of books, or you know, even a TV series.

Fancy that!

Something to consider all right but not before all the wine is drunk, tales are told and a certain beguiled young lady is courted …

 

Nanu nanu indeed: Jamie Costa pays a first class rapid tribute to the great Robin Williams

Jamie Costa in full, gloriously-realised Mrs Doubtfore mode, just one of the many spot-on Robin Williams impersonations he nails in his tribute to the legendary comic genius (image via YouTube (c) Jamie Costa)
Jamie Costa in full, gloriously-realised Mrs Doubtfore mode, just one of the many spot-on Robin Williams impersonations he nails in his tribute to the legendary comic genius (image via YouTube (c) Jamie Costa)

 

I think it is safe to say that there will be never be another man as funny and talented as Robin Williams, a uniquely-talented comic force of nature who managed to be zany and intense, jocular and intense throughout a career marked by one stellar performance after another.

So great did his joyfully manic presence loom over the entertainment landscape that every day since his all-too-early death in August 2014 has seemed a whole lot less funny and considerably more ordinary.

But one up-and-coming actor by the name of Jamie Costa, who commands a startling physical resemblance to the great man with an ability to channel the very spirit, and yes even delivery of his comedy, has delivered unto us a brilliant tribute to Robin Williams that helps you forget for just a moment that he is no longer with us.

It is an impressive performance on every level as Cinemablend observed:

“With the efficiency of a machine that spews comedy, Costa’s two-minute tour de force shows him roll through the definitive roles of Robin Williams in a way that not only effectively reproduces the late actor’s greatness, but also manages to display Costa’s own insane on the fly improvisation and impressive organizational skills.”

And by “definitive roles” we mean definitive roles with Costa, who cites Williams as the man who ignited his passion for performance, managing to cover an impressive selection of roles from Williams’ long and much-loved career in two very short, impersonation-packed and endlessly-enjoyable minutes:

“The bits stretch back all the way to the beginning with the “Nanu Nanu” catch phrase that put Robin Williams on the map on TV with his Mork character on Happy Days and Mork & Mindy in 1978. From there, it’s a cavalcade of comedic kills, with quips from Good Morning Vietnam, Popeye, Dead Poets Society, The Fisher King, Hook, Jumanji, Aladdin, The Birdcage, Jack, Flubber, and his turn as Teddy Roosevelt in the Night at the Museum movies. Of course, Costa also included highs like Williams’ Oscar-winning role that found geniuses in janitors in Good Will Hunting, and lows like his pusillanimous paternity picture, Father’s Day.”

It’s an absolute joy to watch, both because it gives us some idea of the promising talent ready to burst out of Jamie Costa any minute now, if not already, and reminds us that though we lost a great deal when Robin Williams shuffled off this mortal coil, we remain blessed by the rich and varied legacy he left behind.

 

Movie review: While We’re Young

(image via IMP Awards)
(image via IMP Awards)

 

Time flies they say, and with the passing of all those hours, minutes and seconds, goes any sense of spontaneity, curiosity or sparkling joie de vivre.

So goes the usual view of things which posits that the young are vital and engaged while those who have reached middle age or beyond, are moribund and listless, trapped in ennui and disillusionment so strongly pronounced it would take an air-to-surface to shake it apart.

It’s all very cut-and-dry, black-and-white, and in most movies, done-and-dusted as a plot conceit.

But then Noah Baumbach (Margot at the Wedding, Francis Ha) writer/director/producer, doesn’t make most movies, and so chooses to approach this well-worn idea of the great generational divide and the conflict that supposedly pervades it, from a different angle than most.

In Baumbach’s world, some of the assumptions about the different stages of life we all go through do hold true – we do become more risk averse as we age, more used to routine, less favourable to late nights, new experiences and the idea that just around the corner waits nirvana (the paradise, not the band).

But many others aren’t quite so on the money.

Take the central couple in While We’re Young, Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts), a forty something couple who, unlike all their friends, haven’t had kids (not for want of trying), still argue they are spontaneous and could go to Paris anytime they want – they don’t – and are well-established in careers that at least in Josh’s case as a documentary filmmaker have become a little sclerotic.

Their relationship too has seen better days though it is not in any way broken or irreparable; they have simply gone from being “Oh wow we’re married” to just married as one of them observes early on in the course of the film.

 

 

So far so cliched right?

But that’s where Baumbach upends things more than a little.

For all their fulfillment of the middle-aged cliche, they are open to new and exciting things even if at the time we meet them that amounts to owning iPods, iPads and a well-used Netflix account.

Just how willing they are to upend the static nature of their well-established lives becomes evident when feisty, energetic twenty-something couple Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried) who seem to be in possession of everything Josh and Cornelia belatedly realise they’ve lost.

They’re adventurous, intensely creative, have a home filled with all the essentials of hipster life including all the items, so Cornelia wryly observes, that she and Josh have thrown out such as LPs, VHS tapes, and a typewriter, and thanks to Jamie’s ambition to be a documentary filmmaker just like Josh, and his father-in-law Leslie Breitbart (Charles Grodin), a shared love of the visual medium.

It sounds like a friendship, and is at first, a friendship made in heaven, and before they know it Josh and Cornelia have unconsciously eschewed their middle aged friends and their staid weekends in the country and their perfectly-staged parties in favour of joining Jamie and artisanal ice cream maker Darby at an Ayahuasca ceremony to find themselves, a hip hop exercise class and bike rides around New York City (curtailed only by Josh discovering he has arthritis, a reminder his body is not quite keeping up with his spirit, no matter how zestful it now is).

But as is the way of things, the honeymoon, one punctuated by a great deal of fun and much observational humour, can only last so long and Josh and Cornelia discover that for all the youth and vigour they have regained, there are some elements of Jamie and Darby’s freewheeling, try-everything-once lifestyle that don’t quite work for them.

 

 

Rather than set this up at some sort of lazy inter-generational conflict though, a wholesale rending of the close relationship that has also seen the two couples closely collaborating on a film project of Jamie’s – one that becomes so successful that Josh, whose latest film has taken 10 years to make and is yet to be finished, finds himself having an unexpected middle aged crisis of sorts – Baumbach rather cleverly steers away from an us-and-them mentality in favour of an exploration of what it is that makes these peoples’ lives work and not work and why.

There is an adversarial element to it of course, channelled most directly through Josh who doesn’t handle the ebbing of the friendship well, but this doesn’t take the form you might expect it to, with Baumbach, who has an eye for observing and distilling the quirks of human nature and the nuanced way they play themselves out in real life, choosing to present them as simply different stages of life rather than good or bad.

If anything, he probably lands on the side of Josh and Cornelia, no surprise since he is a man of a certain forty-something age himself, allowing us to see that it may be they, for all their well-worn life decisions, that actually have the healthier relationship, the more genuine and engaged approach to life.

But then that is only brought to light by their interactions with Jamie and Darby, who though they are ultimately not as free and together as they first come across, are nonetheless not the narrative-driving car wrecks the average filmmaker would make them out to be.

In fact, so well-wrought are Baumbach’s characterisations, that you emerge from While We’re Young appreciating anew that no stage of life is good or bad; his message, if there is one, is that as long as we are true to ourselves, a lesson Josh and Cornelia take on board with gusto in time, then that’s all you need to worry about.

Authenticity is ultimately the key here, the idea being that no matter where we are in life, we should only ever strive to embrace what makes us happy, irrespective of who’s looking on and possibly judging you, if we’re going to get any real joy or fulfilment out of life.

 

Inside Out’s got me feeling Cannes emotions (new clip + posters)

One of the Cannes promotional posters for Inside Out (image via Collider (c) Pixar / Disney)
One of the Cannes promotional posters for Inside Out (image via Collider (c) Pixar / Disney)

 

SNAPSHOT
From the tepuis of South America to a monster-filled metropolis, Academy Award®-winning director Pete Docter has taken audiences to unique and imaginative places. In 2015, he will take us to the most extraordinary location of all – inside the mind of an 11-year-old named Riley.

Growing up can be a bumpy road, and it’s no exception for Riley, who is uprooted from her Midwest life when her father starts a new job in San Francisco. Like all of us, Riley is guided by her emotions – Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). The emotions live in Headquarters, the control center inside Riley’s mind, where they help advise her through everyday life. As Riley and her emotions struggle to adjust to a new life in San Francisco, turmoil ensues in Headquarters. Although Joy, Riley’s main and most important emotion, tries to keep things positive, the emotions conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house and school. (official synopsis via Collider)

C’est officiel!

Inside Out, Pixar’s first animated feature in two years – the last one to hit screens was Monsters University in  June 2013 – and its first original, non-sequel film since 2012’s Brave, is going to that most venerable, not to mention glamourous of film festivals, Cannes, which will be held this year from May 13 to 24.

It’s a big deal, a huge deal in fact, and to celebrate this most wonderful development, the good folks at Pixar have released a special clip which shows Joy (Amy Poehler) getting this ready for Riley’s first day of school in her new home of San Francisco.

 

 

Not only that but they have released a slew of posters, with appropriately enough, taglines in French (which Collider have very helpfully translated; merci beaucoup!) to celebrate their impending walk down the Promenade de la Croisette in Cannes, an event which will include all five emotions, or their actor voice equivalents anyway, from the film known in France as Vice Versa.

 

 

It’s exciting news and you can understand why Pete Docter, who won an Academy Award for the luminously-gorgeous, utterly-poignant Up and will appear at Cannes, according to Coming Soon, “with producer Jonas Rivera (Up), and co-director Ronnie Del Carmen (Up)” is incredibly thrilled:

“We are overjoyed at being included in this year’s official selection at Cannes,” said Docter. “With ‘Inside Out,’ we spent years imagining – and then building – never-before-seen settings and characters within the mind. It was an incredible, fun and exciting challenge and now we can’t wait to share it with the world.”

The posters and the clip as as wonderful, colourful and entertaining as you’d expect, encouraging anticipation that this will be one of the best films of 2015, animated or otherwise.

Inside Out officially opens in USA on 19 June in USA (premieres at Seattle International Film Festival on 6 June 2015) and Australia on 25 June (premieres at Sydney Film Festival 9 June 2015).

 

“Move over, we’re going up the red carpet steps!” #Anger (image via Collider (c) Pixar / Disney)
“Move over, we’re going up the red carpet steps!” #Anger (image via Collider (c) Pixar / Disney)

 

“It better be sunny…” #Disgust (image via Collider (c) Pixar / Disney)
“It better be sunny…” #Disgust (image via Collider (c) Pixar / Disney)

 

“Don’t forget your Palme…” #Sadness (image via Collider (c) Pixar / Disney)
“Don’t forget your Palme…” #Sadness (image via Collider (c) Pixar / Disney)

 

“We really have to go up all those steps??!?” #Fear (image via Collider (c) Pixar / Disney)
“We really have to go up all those steps??!?” #Fear (image via Collider (c) Pixar / Disney)

“Chewie, we’re home”: Star Wars: The Force Awakens debuts teaser trailer #2 … and I’m 12 years old again

(image via YouTube (c) Lucasfilm Ltd / Disney)
(image via YouTube (c) Lucasfilm Ltd / Disney)

 

As a crashed Imperial Star Destroyer lies wrecked on the sands of the newly-revealed desert planet of Jakku (and the Millenium Falcon, as fast as ever, flies through it with a snazzy new TIE Fighter in hot pursuit) …

And a terrifying new villain straight from dark side central casting – speaking of which we meet the main cast if you’re paying attention – by the name of Kylo Ren demonstrates he has a lot of power at his disposal …

And one Luke Skywalker, face mysteriously hidden from view, intones that the Force is strong is in his family, even the dead once-evil ones with burnt, broken helmets (guess who? Hi dad!), as he hands a light sabre to a young eager hand …

I think we can safely say, extant Empire notwithstanding which looks to be down but not out, that this is indeed the second teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens that we have been waiting for …

That includes you R2-D2, still faithfully by your master’s side, and also the snazzy though frighteningly badass chrome trooper running through a suitably-imposing ship gun in hand, and yes, even you stormtroopers 2.0, looking all shiny, white and re-designed (a little) …

 

 

Unveiled at the Star Wars Celebration, a four day galaxy-spanning – OK to be fair just the Anaheim Convention Center but that’s still plenty large enough for a Jawa sandcrawler transport full of droids, a specially-built Mos Eisley Cantina and thus, many villainous scum oh my! – currently underway in southern California, it’s everything long time fans have bene hoping it would be.

The music alone, as grand, stirring and goose bump-inducing as ever, is enough to make you feel like a wide-eyed little kid again, but then you see everything you love about George Lucas’s legendary galactic adventures unfurl in short but gloriously awe-inspiring bursts, and you ARE that little kid again, sitting spellbound in the cinema in 1977 (or whenever) as the opening titles of Star Wars: A New Hope scrolls out before you.

The sense that you have somehow been magically transported back to a time when all you had to worry about were Wookies, smiling, goodhearted rogues and small, green masters of the Force with unusual syntax, is made complete when at the end of the trailer Han Solo and Chewbacca emerge from the Millenium Falcon as Jabba the Hutt’s bete noir happily announces to his longtime danger-dodging companion “Chewie we’re home”.

And with that, I am 12 years old again, pop clutched tightly in hand, swept deliriously happy once more to a galaxy far, far away …

Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens 17 December 2015 in Australia and 18 December in USA, UK and New Zealand. 

Zach Be Nimble: One comedian, a piranha and Sesame Street teach us about being “quick and light”

Zach Galifianakis and Murray, and of course a piranha show us the meaning of the word "nimble" (image via YouTube (c) Children's Television Workshop)
Zach Galifianakis and Murray, and of course a piranha show us the meaning of the word “nimble” (image via YouTube (c) Children’s Television Workshop)

 

It goes without saying that if you want to teach a lesson well, it must involve a piranha.

It’s an educational truth so self-evident that it’s a wonder every learning institution in the world isn’t equipped with a school of the cannibalistically-feisty Amazonian creatures.

Sesame Street, now in its 46th year of teaching kids – and let’s be honest, everyone else because we’re all watching – all the important words, numbers and life lessons they need to know, knows their importance all too well which is why when comedian Zach Galifianakis dropped into the show one day, they had an eager piranha on hand to add extra chomp to his segment with Murray.

And it’s a good thing too because Zach, sterling comedic talent that he is, doesn’t quite appreciate what the world “nimble”, defined as “movements which are quick and light”, means until said piranha makes his appearance at the end of Murray’s specially-adapted nursery rhyme.

In no time flat, Zach understands the word’s meaning all too well, educationalists cheered the world over and Sesame Street once again proves that it knows exactly what it’s doing when it comes to educating the world’s children.

And using piranhas as teaching aides.

Watch and learn, people, watch and learn … oh, and get ready to move!

Nimbly, of course.

 

Outlander: “By the Pricking of My Thumbs” (S1, E10 review)

Claire and her BFF Geillis find themselves going from the bonhomie of friendship and secrets shared to accusations of a decidedly satanic nature (image via SpoilerTv (c) Starz)
Claire and her BFF Geillis find themselves going from the bonhomie of friendship and secrets shared to accusations of a decidedly satanic nature (image via SpoilerTv (c) Starz)

 

*SPOILERS AHEAD AND ALL MANNER OF FAERIE FOLK*

 

Sir Bedevere: There are ways of telling whether she is a witch.
Peasant 1: Are there? Oh well, tell us.
Sir Bedevere: Tell me. What do you do with witches?
Peasant 1: Burn them.
Sir Bedevere: And what do you burn, apart from witches?
Peasant 1: More witches.
(Monty Python and the Holy Grail)

In the wonderfully wacky world of Monty Python’s The Holy Grail, much skilful and hilarious satirising arose from merrily mocking the way otherwise intelligent, caring folks could be whipped into a frenzy of witch-burning ardour by the simple declaration that someone was a witch.

No proof was required really – all you needed was an enthusiastic accusation, behaviour a little or a lot out of the ordinary – if you think the Twitter hordes can be judgemental, they have nothing on a bunch of parochial medieval villagers in action, pitchforks and burning torches at the ready – an efficiently conducted trial, and clearly, lots and lots of wood.

It was an efficient way of getting rid of your enemies without the annoying bother of actual corroborated evidence and it was used by the lovesick Laoghaire MacKenzie (Nell Hudson), still rather psychotically pining for “her man” aka Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), to get Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and her BFF Geillis Duncan (Lotte Verbeek) – to be fair it’s doubtful the good burghers of 18th century used that term but let’s pretend for the purposes of this review that they did shall we? – into a whole heap of trouble by accusing them of … WITCHCRAFT!

Yes WITCHCRAFT!, and while the arresting warden didn’t exactly shout like a baying mob – though clearly the only way to say the word is at the top of your lungs, even in “print” – it was the sort of charge that stands a good chance of sticking thanks to Claire’s 20th century-gifted advanced medical skills which like all good technology no one understands looks like magic, and Geillis’s predilection for orgasmically-communing with Mother Nature in dark Scottish forests in the middle of the night naked.

While only Claire saw that particular performance, Geillis’s role as a dispenser of medicinal remedies has aroused all kind of suspicions, which are only fuelled when both her husband, Arthur Duncan (John Sessions) and the wife of her lover – WAIT FOR IT! – Dougal MacKenzie (Graham McTavish) – GASP! – die within days of each other, just like she’d asked Mother Nature, with fire, nudity and chanting, to arrange.

 

Jamie and Claire spend some quality time out in the woods - I have to say Claire was out a-roaming in the woods an awful lot in this episode; she is a WITCH! - after Claire is unable to save the life of a sickly baby given up to the faerie folk (image via Spoiler TV (c) Starz)
Jamie and Claire spend some quality time out in the woods – I have to say Claire was out a-roaming in the woods an awful lot in this episode; she is a WITCH! – after Claire is unable to save the life of a sickly baby given up to the faerie folk (image via Spoiler TV (c) Starz)

 

As you might imagine it was all suitably, writ-large dramatic but as is Outlander‘s way, it was all presented in the same considered, slow-burning way that has marked the show’s writing and production since the first episode.

It’s one of the pleasures of watching Outlander – unlike many other current TV shows which race through their narratives as if a thousand angry “She’s a WITCH!” screaming villagers are at their back, the show is content to let things unfold slowly, rhythmically and naturally, even when the events are, in all fairness, gloriously soap operatic.

It’s that willingness to let key scenes play themselves out in their own space and time, such as the scene where Claire witnesses Geillis at one with her pagan beliefs in the forest, or where Jamie passionately makes love to her, that grants viewers the sense that they really have travelled back to a time when, by the simple virtue of distance and time not being so easily or quickly bridged, events don’t transpire quite as we are used to in our frenetically-wired, 15 seconds of fame 21st century existence.

This slow mindful building of an 18th century world entirely not our own but which is as real to its inhabitants as ours is to us, lends a believability to events that might not be as pronounced had not a great deal of trouble been gone to ensure that we understand that what we watching is entirely possible in the culture and politics of the time.

The strength of the writing though is that it doesn’t confuse slow moving with nothing much of anything happening, and the writers have shown great skill in folding a bold, action-packed plot, and a huge amount of burning love and desire from just about everyone involved in “By the Pricking of My Thumbs”, into a seductively-realised pace.

They allow us time to take in the fact that Dougal and Geillis are lovers, that she is carrying his child and that she is willing to go so far as to invoke pagan rituals to have them both free of their loveless marriages.

That her plans don’t quite come to fruition is also allowed to play itself out in an organic way with the Laird (Gary Lewis), who frankly does not miss a single bagpipe-blowing beat, quickly surmising, amidst much blustering anger, that great mischief is afoot, exiling his brother sans Geillis who he is forbidden to marry, to his estate far from Castle Leoch (along with sadly Jamie who is separated from his beloved wife because of a skirmish, not of Jamie’s making with the Mackenzies’ adversaries, the clan MacDonald).

Grand sweeping events of great import yes but all of them brought forth in a way that makes sense in the time and place we are inhabiting along with the sassenach Claire, and in a way that allows their impact to be fully felt.

 

Claire drops by for a spot of sherry and as is her newly-assumed way blackmailing with the Duke of Sandringham who may have the power to alter the trajectory of Jamie's life (image via SpoilerTv (c) Starz)
Claire drops by for a spot of sherry and as is her newly-assumed way blackmailing with the Duke of Sandringham who may have the power to alter the trajectory of Jamie’s life (image via SpoilerTv (c) Starz)

 

As is Claire’s sudden role as a Machiavellian political operator, a good couple of centuries after the man himself trod the earth, when she stops in for a spot of sherry with the visiting amusingly fey Duke of Sandringham (Simon Callow) to ensure that he treats Jamie’s formally-lodged written complaints about Captain “Black Jack” Randall (Tobias Menzies) with the seriousness they deserve.

If they are treated with the necessary vigour, and Captain Randall is deemed an unfit officer and exiled to the West Indies or some other remote spot of the burgeoning British Empire with the coterminous imputation that his word cannot be trusted, then Jamie can be pardoned and his life resumed.

But ah, the Duke, who is rather closer to the Captain than is widely known – though not as close to Jamie, ahem, as he would like to be – and a Jacobite to boot (not the sort of thing a member of the nobility, ostensibly loyal to the crown, is supposed to be what ho) tries to bully Claire into submission, thinking he is dealing with a compliant woman of the age.

She is, of course, nothing of the sort and quickly makes it clear that she knows things, damning things, and could undo the Duke’s cosy existence with one “Did I say that?” slip off the tongue.

And just like that The Duke agrees to play ball and Claire is one step closer to successfully navigating her way through the perilous terrain of 18th century life.

Well, that is until the WITCHCRAFT! charges of course but right at that point she is a woman triumphant, her knowledge of what in her original 20th century time is history coming successfully to her aid.

Even so, she is still thrown by the customs of the age, such as the propensity of people to leave sick or deformed children out in the forest on faerie hills so that the fey folk will leave a healthy child in their place, but again as I observed last week, she is coming to realise that these beliefs matter and are real to the people of the time, something Jamie underlines once more to her in an intimate moment, and that she can’t simply dismiss them from her more “advanced” position as a woman of the future (even if in the case of the tragedy of a baby being left to die she is right on the money).

 

Love sweet love and a reminder that both Jamie and Claire have equally pressing need of each other and much they learn from the other (image via SpoilerTV (c) Starz)
Love sweet love and a reminder that both Jamie and Claire have equally pressing need of each other and much they learn from the other (image via SpoilerTV (c) Starz)

 

This is what really makes Outlander tick – it’s articulation in ways small and large that simply because we don’t understand the way in which things work in a particular place and time, and let’s face it, for all her newly-acquired understanding Claire is still a stranger in a strange land, doesn’t mean they can be ignored or summarily dismissed.

They may be misinformed, they may be lacking in the advanced scientific knowledge of our time but they have validity and worth to the people of the time and Claire cannot simply pretend they aren’t there (though she well within her rights to subtlely influence them for change if she can; although this can backfire because, you know, WITCHCRAFT!) and must learn to work with them as she can.

Once again the writers have done a masterful of illustrating just what Claire is up against, and that for all the gorgeous scenery, rhythmic pace of life and romanticised feel of the past, that the world she now inhabits has a great many alien and dangerous things with which to contend.

This is not a Mills and Boons romp through the past and that is made abundantly clear, although again in ways always measured and subtle, time and again.

Just how much power Claire has to change things for the better is something that will become starkly evident in next week’s episode “The Devil’s Mark” when she comes hard up against the beliefs of the time in a way that will make everything up this point look like child’s play …

 

Didn’t see that coming: Netflix’s Grace and Frankie deal with big changes in their lives

(image via The Randy report (c) Netflix)
(image via IMP Awards (c) Netflix)

 

SNAPSHOT
In Grace and Frankie, Jane Fonda (Grace) and Lily Tomlin (Frankie) star as two women whose lives are suddenly turned upside down when their husbands reveal they are gay and leave them for each other. Both sparring partners and partners-in-crime, they form an unlikely bond to face an uncertain future together and discover a new definition of “family,” with laughter, tears and plenty of mood enhancers along the way. (official synopsis via AceShowbiz)

The twists and turns of life create some off bedfellows and none more so, if the amusing trailer for Grace and Frankie is to be believed, than the wives, played with comedic aplomb by Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, of two high flying law partners in their 70s, Martin Sheen (Robert) and Sam Waterston (Sol), who have fallen in love right up the noses of their oblivious beloveds.

They find themselves forced together by circumstances beyond their upper middle class imaginings – one previously defined it would seem by fundraisers and fervently-denied cosmetic treatments – into a family of sorts, a gathering of the spurned if you will, who have to find a way to recast their lives without the two men they thought would be with them to the end of their lives.

It’s an awkward, deeply unsettling and highly-challenging situation on a lot of levels, which of course means it’s ripe with all kind of comic possibility along with some deftly placed social commentary no doubt.

Helping matters along considerably is the fact that the show’s creators, Marta Kauffman (Friends) and Howard J. Morris, had the very good sense to cast some major wattage stars in the form of the aforementioned Fonda and Tomlin, who act as two of the executive producers, along with Sheen and Waterston, all of whom possess the ability play comedy well and inject nuance and subtlety into their characters.

 

 

Complicating things and helping things in equal measure is the fact that Frankie and Sol, and Grace and Robert, have children, all of whom react to their news in the expected manner, with much of their support, according to the trailer at least, given over to their shocked and grieving, and endlessly bemused, mothers.

One particularly funny scene has Grace’s two daughters, played by Brooklyn Decker and June Diane Raphael, talking with their mother about the possibility of her joining a support group for wives left by their now-gay husbands, with the latter daughter musing whether a group “for wives of husbands who turned gay in their 70s” is even a thing.

You can understand the kids – Frankie and Sol also have two kids, one adopted, played by Ethan Embry and Baron Vaughn – being considerably thrown and confused when even Robert and Sol, in love and eager to get married – Robert happily happily explains “Cause we can do that now” to which an exasperated Frankie retorts through gritted teeth “I know, I hosted the fundraiser” – are having all kinds of trouble explaining their relationship to confused friends and family.

In short, it looks incisive, clever, well-paced and very, very funny.

Sensibly the first season has been kept to a taut and terrific eight episodes, all of which will no doubt be consumed in one concentrated binge-watching session when Grace and Frankie debuts on Netflix on May 8.

Oh, and and don’t forget the 7 stages of grief – you thought there were only 5 but you were wrong; my favourite is medication, one I would no doubt embrace most heartily were I in the same situation – illustrated by an amusing series of posters below:

 

(image via IMP Awards)
(image via IMP Awards)

 

(image via IMP Awards)
(image via IMP Awards)

 

(image via IMP Awards)
(image via IMP Awards)

 

(image via IMP Awards)
(image via IMP Awards)

 

(image via IMP Awards)
(image via IMP Awards)

 

(image via IMP Awards)
(image via IMP Awards)

 

(image via IMP Awards)
(image via IMP Awards)