Tag Archives: The Simpsons

Something new that’s well worth an hour of your time

Some while ago, after my 15-year run on the BBC came to an end, listeners wrote in (and still do) suggesting I put out a podcast.

That seemed like a very unrealistic objective to begin with, quite frankly.

First, I was bored with broadcasting; I’d been at it for forty years, man and boy. Surely I get to take a break at some point, don’t I? There comes a time when you’ve said all there is to say. With that in mind, I simply retired to write books. Besides which, I considered podcasts a bit of a come-down for a long-time professional broadcaster. Howard Stern calls them ‘radio for losers.’ Losers being people who can’t otherwise get into radio, or who’ve been fired from regular broadcasting and can’t find a job. I was neither.

Now, though, three years later, podcasts ARE radio. Podcasts are where the action is.

Whereas radio of every stripe is beholden to sponsors and advertisers and political correctness, amd therefore can’t ever give you the whole story – or if it does, then that story has been edited by a committee of four people before it reaches you, especially on the BBC or NPR – podcasts don’t do that. They feature honest, uncensored content. My kind of content.

The Life QuizFor that reason, I finally got around to doing a podcast. It’s called The Life Quiz and it’s like nothing else that’s out there. I think you’re going to like it. The reaction so far has been tremendous.

It’s based on an idea I had a looooong time ago. Season 1 features six shows and six guests, each answering a list of set questions about life, living, and what it’s all about. The result is fascinating. The six people I interviewed were very special in their own way, and willing to be  candid, vulnerable, and open. The conversations are amazing, as well as often moving and enlightening.

So why not check it out? The first show features Sally Stevens, who you’ll recognize from The Simpsons, Family Guy, and her work on loads of movies, from Jurassic Park to The Matrix and Terminator; even The Sound of Music. Either listen below, or visit the website and get more information there. It’s also available for download on iTunes. Just type ‘The Life Quiz’ into your podcast search box, and away you go.

Episode 2 features Veronica Cartwright, one of the stars of Alien and The Witches of Eastwick. Episode 3 is devoted to a truly fascinating man, Christof Bove, a former NBC Universal executive who got mired in the Hollywood lifestyle of drink and drugs in a way that almost cost him his life. His revelations are riveting.

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Simpsons, cool again for the briefest moment.

simpsonsBelow is something cool. A Simpsons take-off of the Mad Men opening title sequence. Lovely stuff.

So cool actually that they’ve prevented us embedding it in the blog. So click below, then choose to go to YouTube.

TV Swami – he say YES to comedies doing stuff without laughs in them.  Arrested Development would be another example. Only that time it wasn’t deliberate.


Watch Cash’s movie, Fast and Very Loose, HERE

Read Cash’s book HERE.

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The ultimate sitcom: a central character bows out.

Last night, to relax, I did something I hardly ever do nowadays: I watched TV. An unusual thing to say, you might think, for someone who, over the past eleven years, has been a weekly TV reviewer on the BBC. 

But that’s the great thing about TV nowadays, you don’t have to watch it.

In this modern age, a critic no longer has to bother with the very device he’s meant to be an authority on. He just has to be prepared to spend inordinate lengths of time in front of a computer, trawling sites from Yahoo! to YouTube to Hulu to the networks’ own sites, looking for snippets of shows that seem moderately interesting, then skipping through them with his cursor, cutting out any extraneous dialogue, filler or scenic shots, and all tender moments, to just focus on the key action. In the average hour-long drama, this amounts to roughly four minutes of watchable material.

The process saves hours of my time. Time I can devote to more interesting things: such as learning the oboe, designing my own moon rocket, or eating cake. (I’m doing these in reverse order. Right now, I’m focusing on the cake.)

Anyway, last night, as I said, I did the unthinkable, and caught an episode of Family Guy, which has officially taken over from The Simpsons as the cartoon du choix of all right-thinking people. The Simpsons just doesn’t cut it any more, not since the movie came out.  I know it was a massive hit around the world, but truthfully it wasn’t that good. I laughed twice. And one of those times was at my own foolishness for renting it.  

But anyway, my point is, I watched Family Guy and was immediately reminded, as I always am when I see phony, invented families on TV, of how dysfunctional my own family is.

Current state of play: mother dead; brother not talking to me for eleven years due to his wife’s unspeakable fear of brothers; father not talking to me for a million other reasons. It’s not a happy set-up on the whole and could have been scripted better. Especially the ending, which is imminent but hasn’t happened yet, though already I can tell it’s not going to go well.

In sitcoms, endings are always neatly tied up. Even the most convoluted plotlines are manhandled to a satisfying conclusion in which people decide to get along despite their differences and somehow lessons are learned, redemption earned, and the basic threads of love that knit the family together prevail. Because nothing’s more important than love, right? At least, that’s what I take away from these things.

And I should know. I grew up watching every sitcom around, American and British, from the Dick Van Dyke Show and Bewitched to On The Buses and ‘Til Death Us Do Part. They were a major influence. Though at the time, I couldn’t help wondering why it was that fictional families were painted so idealistically on TV and why they bore no resemblance at all to families in the real world. My family, for instance.

Then I realized: it was my family that was bizarrely out of step. 

On American TV, in one season alone, sitcom families resolve their differences and move on with their lives twenty-two times. And they do that year after year. Because there’s an undercurrent, albeit contrived, of love and respect behind their actions. The message: nothing is so serious that it should be allowed to break bonds christened in blood. Something I myself believe very firmly. It’s just not within my personal experience, that’s all.

I’ve often wondered why my dad isn’t speaking to me, and why it’s gone on for so damned long. In fact, I’ve debated the issue many times with psychiatrists and other experts I meet during reporting assignments. They always have theories, but nothing concrete, because they don’t know him.   And he’s not a bad guy. Honestly. If they met him, they’d like him. He’s funny and intelligent, exquisitely honest, with a great brain for learning and analysis. We’re very similar in that respect. His influence is all over my work. In theory at least, our relationship should be going gangbusters. So it’s hard to figure out what went wrong.

Having said that, I at least know where the current problem started – with one particular storyline, involving a small misunderstanding that should in theory have led to hilarious consequences, but didn’t. All my fault, it seems, but it caused a rift so divisive and grim that it went into syndication, and is still there.

I won’t bore you with too many details – I’m surprised you made it this far, quite honestly – but here it is in a nutshell, because it’s a lesson in bad writing. Someday, I’m convinced, they’ll teach this crap in colleges.

In 1999, I worked for a public radio show in America called The Savvy Traveler, now defunct. One day, my editor received a press release from my home town, Manchester in northern England, which was being touted as a new vacation destination, albeit a somewhat twisted, you’d-have-to-be-a-maniac-or-high-on-drugs-to-want-to-go-there-on-holiday one, and decided it might be fun to send me back as a tourist. Terrific premise, I thought.

So a three-day press trip was arranged. It was like a combat mission. Fly to Britain, see Manchester in a day, pretend it would make a vacation destination for anything other than lunatics, and fly out again.   

While there, naturally I called my dad to say hi. (He’d since moved to York, which is on the other side of the country.)

“Guess where I am,” I said. “I’m in Manchester.” 

“Oh,” he  replied, sounding happy.  “Are you coming to visit me?”

“Sorry, I can’t. I’m on a press trip. I have to go straight back to America again. Maybe next time.”


And that was that. An innocent moment. All very civil and friendly. 

Yet, apparently, somehow, without even realizing it, I’d sparked an inferno, one that continues to rage with the same intensity ten seasons later as it did when I inadvertently lit it.

“You come to England, you don’t visit your old dad. How could you do such a thing?”

It was a slight but not a slight, if you know what I mean. I’ve apologized a million times, but to no avail. He doesn’t understand. So his anger smolders on, growing exponentially, never to be extinguished.

At the very least, this helped me understand real world issues a little more. I mean, if my own father couldn’t bring himself to forgive me for such a minor infraction, what chance was there of ever satisfactorily ironing out difficulties between Israel and Palestine, for instance? Zero.

Since then, all sorts of peculiar plot twists have happened. So many that it’s hard to keep up sometimes. In fact, some of them are so implausible that I think the show may have jumped the shark. I sent him a lovely card for his 80th birthday, for instance, one that happened to be a whole lot smaller than cards he received from other people. No big deal, but that too was perceived as a slight. As if I could foretell how big the rest of the cards were going to be – c’mon, now! 

It’s all quite funny on one level. Yet immeasurably sad on every other one.

But wait. Things are shifting.

Uh-oh. There are signs that the present season may be the last. 

To begin with, one of the main characters has decided to leave, citing creative differences, and few sitcoms can survive that. 

They could try replacing my dad with someone else, I guess – a younger, more accepting guy, for instance – but it didn’t work on Bewitched, why would it work here?  The original is the best; my dad is my dad. The audience has grown used to the old curmudgeon, they  like him, he’s irreplaceable. So I’m the one who’s moving on. 

For me, the plot of this soap is becoming thin and tired, and beginning to test my allegiance. Much as I love the grumpy old goat, I’ve grown weary of the drama. Being ignored year upon year can really test your patience, I find. Fights without hope of reconciliation eventually lead to a dead end and viewers lose interest. That’s what’s happening here.

These days, I’m driven to flick to other channels in search of fresh material. My partner, for instance, has a large, hearty family that runs like a well-tuned locomotive, fueled by deep love and respect and joy for one another, and they’ve embraced me unconditionally – a set-up I’ve never known, and which feels totally alien, yet the pay-off is very appealing. So that’s what I’m glued to now. My new thing. Though in the back of my mind, I always secretly wish my dad would reconsider: come around, and sign up for another couple of seasons while he still has the chance.

But he won’t. I know him. That’s just how it is.

In the meantime, I can always catch the old show in reruns. My memory is phenomenal for small details and odd situations. Plus, I have relatives who keep me posted on developments. Beyond that, though, I think it’s over.

This painful, yet oddly intriguing, piece of homespun theater has been such a major part of my life for so long, even more than Bewitched was, or the Dick Van Dyke Show, or Til Death Us Do Part, that it’ll be hard to let go. I was there at the beginning, so of course I’ll always treasure a certain fondness for the characters and their bitter-sweet interactions. 

The ride wasn’t fun, or even emotionally rewarding, but it was a story I knew and thought I understood, and it shaped me and my world-view in very many positive ways, so I’m grateful. I may not tune in any more, and there’ll be no reunion shows in the future, so everyone will lose track of everyone else. But one thing’s for sure, I’ll always be a fan. 

After all, I still love the main character. I can’t help it.

We’ll be right back after these words….


TV Swami – he say YES to Family Guy.   


Watch the video for Cash’s new book, Naked in Dangerous Places. 


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MacBOOM! MacBANG! Guess who’s back.

I’ll keep this short, but oh so sweet.

They’re bringing back MacGyver!

The show, a delicious piece of iconic escapist claptrap that snagged the imagination of a generation too high most of the time to debate story structure or ask any rational questions, featured Angus McGyver, a secret and very resourceful operative from the Phoenix Foundation who was always jumping over hedges and dangling from helicopters, and who could escape from any dangerous situation, any at all – just give him a roll of duct tape, a set of salad servers, and something long and very thin – ran for seven fabulous seasons on ABC in the late-eighties-early-nineties and made a star of Richard Dean Anderson.

Then, apart from two TV movies, including one where MacGyver found the lost treasure of Atlantis (some might say,But of course he did, you ass – he’s MacGyver!”), it was cancelled, to live on only in parody and in an endless roster of comedy shows, including The Simpsons and, most recently, MacGruber, an extremely unfunny and labored skit on Saturday Night Live.

It was this, the SNL thing, that became the final straw, I suspect. Hollywood loves taking your money way more than it loves entertaining you with movies. And the recurring  MacGyver references in popular culture must have proved to someone somewhere that the American public still has an appetite for crap that makes no sense. So New Line thought, “To hell with this! Enough with comedians mocking our hero and devaluing a potential cash cow, let’s revive this brothersucking franchise right away and make some serious dough, guys.” 

As a result, MacGyver will live again, this time as a full length feature film. If you don’t believe me, go check with someone reliable.

My memories of the show are hazy, I admit. Maybe it’s not as good as I remember it. As with Love Boat and Fantasy Island and Falcon Crest and Dynasty and The Munsters and Jonny Quest (which is also being filmed right now, as is Tintin), these programs hold up far better in the memory, where they’re packaged in a wrapping of fondness and stored in a quiet attic beyond the reach of ruinous modern-day scrutiny, alongside episodes of Get SmartRowan and Martin, the bear that kept falling over on The Andy Williams ShowDoctor Who in black and white, and Bewitched with a Darren you recognize, than they do in real life. 

MacGyver, though, was a great idea that still has legs and could be a hit. First, it had the best TV theme tune EVER…


…and also, despite coming under investigation by the IPIAF, the International Pretending Isn’t Acting Federation, the ludicrous characters and situations were often very engaging.

A recent special episode of Mythbusters kinda gave MacGyver even further credibility. The two host weirdos proved that some of his scientific jiggerpokery actually would work in reality. I mean, how cool is that? The MacGyver writers did research. That makes me so happy.

The only drawback, as far as I can see, to New Line’s plan is the long record of miserable and ghastly-to-horrendous failures when it comes to reviving TV shows as movies. Some have worked: Mission Impossible, South Park, Brady Bunch, X-Files, Star Trek, Batman, even The Addams Family, for example.

But let’s not forget Mod Squad, Bewitched (Nora Ephron and I had dealings with the same agent years ago. “She just doesn’t get it,” he wailed, holding his head at the forthcoming disaster. “It’s awful.”), Thunderbirds (horrrrible! What moron agreed to one frame of this travesty being shot?), The AvengersDukes of Hazzard, Inspector Gadget, Lost in Space, and Scooby Doo

And they’re not done yet. 24‘s going to be a movie soon. As is The A-Team. Which is like MacGyver, only he has a team! And then there’s Dallas. That’s been in the works for ages, with John Travolta as JR, though it never quite showed its face, and Baywatch too, which nobody at all is waiting for, except maybe teenage boys either too small to reach the top shelf or too young to buy anything on it.  The only one they haven’t attempted and failed at yet is The Man from UNCLE. Oh, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which, given the death (actual or imminent) of its cast, is thankfully right off the table. 

So I’m happy today. I think we should welcome the news of MacGyver‘s resurrection with flung hats and open arms.

I won’t go see it, mind. I say I will, but when it finally arrives I’ll probably back out. Same with Transformers 2. I got so badly burnt the first time around that I’m not wasting another second on that overblown, pretentious bilge. All the same, let’s be positive. Let’s encourage New Line to do a good job, lead them into believing there’s a market for a new MacGyver, wait ’til the film’s release in 2011, but then stay away in droves, just to show them who’s boss and who pays their wages.


The idea of remaking MacGyver gets five magic carpets out of five.

TV Swami – he say YES.

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When TV hosts attack…Star Wars…Jonas Brothers

I’m going to talk about this feud between Jim Cramer and Jon Stewart that’s all over the news.

First, though, I want to say something else. About blogging.

It’s not hard to tell when somebody is new to something. They’re very, very enthusiastic for the first couple of weeks, right? Positively brimming with fresh ideas that they’re eager to communicate to you. Not only that, but they’re willing to sacrifice a dozen other, less boring activities in order to get down and do this new special thing they’ve discovered. My dad’s passion for bird-watching comes to mind.

But then the initial burst of activity is over. What was, to begin with, fun, stimulating, and a challenge, starts turning into a small chore, and they find that the novelty doesn’t just wear off but turns yellow and gathers traces of mildew on it, like last week’s towels. That’s the critical watershed. It may take a year,  it may take only a few days to reach the damp towel moment, but once it’s happened, there’s no going back. From that point on, every time they embark on what was once such a bright, shiny, exciting new activity suddenly becomes a grind and they want to quit. My dad’s passion for bird-watching comes to mind.

His explosion of interest began the day he bought the book at the store and lasted well into the following week when he got around to reading it and discovered how unremarkable and dull birds are – they hatch, they fly, they make nests, they eat, they crap, they get attacked and eaten by cats, and they die horribly; that’s the average life-cycle. Once he knew that, he never picked the book up again and we gave it to a charity shop.

As you probably guessed, I was about to draw a parallel here between my dad’s shortlived hobbies (remind me to tell you about his clock-making binge) and writing this blog. But actually it’s not quite like that. I’m not bored with it at all. In fact, it’s been quite gratifying on one level to have so many people stop by and read my thoughts every day. It does an ego good to feel wanted and know it serves a purpose.

Or rather, it did. Until I took a look at the blog statistics and spotted something interesting.

People aren’t really coming here for me. I hoped they were, but they’re not. I get the most hits on this site, it turns out, when I mention somebody else. Anybody, it seems, will do. As long as it’s not me.

Rachel Bilson is a good example.

Dropping Bilson’s name, for no other reason than that she’s my neighbor and marrying Hayden Christensen from Star Wars, instantly attracts traffic from fan sites and other blogs around the world, curious to know what I’m saying about the (presumably) happy pair. And look! See what I did just then? I just mentioned Star Wars too. That’s a biggie. I can expect a huge response to that now, I’m sure. In fact, I’d better go doll myself up and put a clean shirt on. This blog’s going to be like Home Depot on a Sunday morning; I need to look my best.

Another sure-fire visitor-count winner is The Simpsons. A passing reference to them got a lot of people very excited the other day. So they stopped by as well, just to see what I was saying about Homer. Which was nothing, it turned out; I’d stuck his name in at the end of something else for no particular reason.

Oh, and let’s not forget Hugh Laurie. For some reason, House fans trawl the web at all hours of the day and night, hunting down any reference to the show or its lead, and their diligence brought them here, to the TV Swami blog, where they became instantly disillusioned to find that there was nothing of any substance about House and Hugh Laurie at all, I’d simply shoe-horned them in for the sake of it. I’m not expecting those people back again. They’re upset. We’re not speaking.

And perhaps I should also mention the Jonas Brothers and Rihannah.Y’know, just because.

The reason I’m telling you this, in case you’re wondering, is because the whole issue of how to gratuitously whip up public interest happened to cross my mind last night as I tuned in for the very public brawl between CNBC’s Jim Cramer and The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart. You probably heard about it. And how the result was not just a bloodbath, but the best TV bloodbath EVER. Or at least the best since Jon Stewart did the exact-same thing in 2004 to Tucker Carlson on CNN’s Crossfire, a show that never recovered and died soon after.

If you don’t know how we got here, let me give you a summary: Jim Cramer’s an ex-hedge fund manager who’s made it big as a crazy-shouting-manic financial advisor on TV. I’ve only followed two of his tips.  Both times I lost what was, for me, a ton of money. So I don’t trust him at all. And now I find I’m not the only one.

Jon Stewart was on fire yesterday. He blamed CNBC and Cramer for being in bed with the very Wall Street criminals they’re reporting on and supposed to be exposing. Caught in the crosshairs, unable to run away, Cramer was high-pitched and helpless. He had nothing rational to say. He was dithery, stuttery, lame. Worse, he’d made the mistake of trying to defend himself on The Today Show and even Martha Stewart earlier in the week, where he dared mock Jon Stewart for being just a comedian and hosting a variety show.

Bad move. TERRIBLE move.

Cramer was booked as a guest on The Daily Show Thursday. He said beforehand that he was nervous. He was right to be. But even then, he didn’t see what was coming. Stewart tore him apart, not only limb from limb, but cell from cell, molecule from molecule. It was horrendous to watch, squirm-making, both funny and sad, diabolical and delightful, all in one.

The bout was also peppered with commercials. More commercials than I ever remember seeing on this show. Why? Because Comedy Central knew they had a winner. The media had chattered so much and for so long about this escalating feud that it became headline news, and people who normally aren’t interested in Jon Stewart and don’t even know who Jim Cramer is, much less invested in Best Buy a couple of years ago on his advice and watched it tank, tuned in to see this contest of heavyweights.

Actually, to be fair, there was only one heavyweight in the match. The pairing wasn’t fair last night. Then again, fairness didn’t come into it. We’re in a deep recession. People have lost their savings and houses and pensions and security. They’re angry. They wanted blood. And they got it.

Now, enough about them. Famous people. Back to me.

In a simple TV blog I can’t do any of that. I can’t give you a bloodbath every day. But clearly, good writing and interesting topics alone are not enough to make this page a magnet to web traffic.

However, what I can do, I now realize, is up the ante by riding on the back of other people’s bloodbaths. I can namedrop like fury whenever the opportunity presents itself, and sprinkle famous people, noteworthy people, newscentric people, throughout the blog – Barack Obama, Katie Couric, Doctor Who; there, see? – to draw in readers.

So that’s it. From now on, this will be my plan.

That way, the blog will stay popular, new people will come constantly, and The TV Swami will stay fresh and alive and exciting, and not go the way of my dad’s momentary fascination with bird-watching. And, later, clock-making. And winemaking. And caravanning. And playing the organ. And, come to think of it, being a father.

The Daily Show showdown gets five magic carpets out of five.

TV Swami – he say YES.

The Cramer/Stewart fight is here:


Stewart’s take-down of Crossfire and Tucker Carlson is here:



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