TV, radio and film are not really media which I enjoy for their own sake - if
there is nothing on the box, I would usually rather turn the damned thing off
than have extra noise in the way - but there are some programmes and movies
which are worth actually paying attention to.
I watch precious little television these days. Even when I lived in
Britain, I didn't watch much - I would be playing "Dodge the East Ender" in
the early evening, and only watched a handful of programmes the rest of the
I watch far less telly than that now I live in the States.
This page is more a snapshot of the programmes I would like to watch rather
than those I actually do right now.
Star Trek - perhaps rather too stereotypical for a geek to like
Trek, but being stereotypical doesn't stop it being true. Obviously it's
science fiction, but more to the point it is a profoundly optimistic
vision of mankind's future.
I'm particularly fond of The Next Generation and Voyager,
but the later Deep Space 9 is jolly good too. I'm less enthusiastic
about the original series and certain of the films - ground-breaking in
their day, yes, but really rather dated now.
The current Trek incarnation, Enterprise, is the only show I
watch with any regularity at the moment. I hope that its third season is
not its last, but the current behaviour of network television in the
States does not give me much cause for optimism here.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer - again, perhaps rather stereotypical,
but not for the usual reasons; I am rather fond (in a somewhat
out-of-character way) of the film Clueless and Buffy is
reminiscent of that American high school setting with the added bonus
of hideous monsters thrown in.
Besides, I've always been keen on vampires as a class of nasty.
Red Dwarf - sitcom in space! OK, so the seventh and eighth
series were deeply ropy (particularly the seventh... gah) and the whole
enterprise was rather overshadowed for a while by Craig Charles' trial
(hence the large gap between the sixth and seventh series), but it is
University Challenge - since the demise of Mastermind,
the only really intellectual quiz left on British TV. Even if it were
'dumbed down' though (as someone I know insists it has been) it would
still be worth watching in this incarnation because of Jeremy "Tetchy"
Come on, come on.
There is nothing like this on broadcast US television. There are no
intellectual quizzes at all, in fact - Jeopardy is the closest
geek contests - there used to be several of these on in Britain,
what with the The Great Egg Race, The Adventure Game, and
others (there was an 'outward bound' one called Now Get Out of That):
clever people being set tasks against other teams of clever people.
Recently though, these splendid bits of telly have been creeping back
onto British screens. Two current programmes are:
Robot Wars - the name says it all, really: geeks build robots
and set them on each other.
It is perhaps a little disappointing that the robots themselves are
radio-controlled rather than truly autonomous, but still...
The closest analogue to Robot Wars in the US is Battle
Bots on The Comedy Channel, which is close but the presentation is
far more annoying.
Scrapheap Challenge - teams of engineering folk build machines
from components found on a (ridiculously well-stocked) scrapheap, then
pit them against each other. Bikers seem to do disproportionately well,
but that is proabably no bad thing. Watching an artillery piece blow
its barrel off (thus bringing a whole new meaning to the term 'muzzle
velocity') is a particular favourite moment.
This show is known in the US as Junkyard Wars, and is
apparently filmed in the same scrapheap in Wiltshire even for US
Actually trogging along to the cinema is just too much like hard work most of
the time, but that doesn't mean there aren't films I enjoy:
Highlander - oo, what fun! Immortal warriors sword-fighting for
a fabulous prize!
Oh, I know it's a silly film... the Scottish hero is played by a Frenchman,
whilst the most famous Scotsman in the world plays a Spanish prince (by
way of Japan and Egypt, naturally). The constant cuts between flashback and
modern New York are almost deliberately confusing, and the plot is... well,
a bit arcane.
But somehow it works - on some level, and in some weird way, I just
really enjoy watching this film. I suppose it could be because it's the
first film I saw where I was consciously aware of the vocabulary of
cinema, or it could be because I like picking apart impenetrable
action, or it could be the effects (which are rather good...), or it
could be the swords.
It's probably the swords.
(incidentally, avoid the film sequels at all costs - the third
film is alright at a push I suppose, but Highlander 2 is
The Mask of Zorro - this is definitely the swords.
As a fencer I wanted to see this film to criticise
the swordsmanship, but this really is a dazzling adventure film. And of
course it features another well known Celtic actor not bothering with a
Bond movies - and not just the actual James Bond ones, either.
True Lies is a Bond movie really, and Mission Impossible
(although obviously based on the old TV show) could at a stretch be
lumped in with Bond.
I just think they're good, escapist, fun - obviously the misogyny of
the earlier Bonds is unpleasant to modern eyes, but that doesn't stop
them being little capsules of filmic splendour.
My very small claim to fame in thos department is that I saw Tom Cruise
while he was filming a part of Mission Impossible. It's amazing how
many takes it took, how frequently those poor pigeons were scattered by the
diminutive Tom walking through them... and despite all that, the scene
still ended up on the cutting room floor.
Roger Moore should have been shot at birth, though.
Clueless - strange one, this. I'm not normally given to really
liking romantic comedies, but somehow the whole situation just hangs
together for me. And this is very much the prototype for Buffy,
Interview With The Vampire - as I've already said, I am rather
fond of the book this film is based upon. The thing with this film,
though, is that every time I watch it I'm amazed at just how good
Tom Cruise actually is as Lestat.
The Matrix - a seminal hacker movie, whose position of informing
geek culture has been greatly damaged by the weakness of the second film
(Reloaded) and the, well, badness of the third
(Revolutions). I still think the mythos has great power, and I
enjoy all of the first film and parts of the second, but somehow I doubt I
will sit down and watch the third very often.
Something I have been told is that the original idea behind the Matrix
was that humans were subjugated for the purpose of using their brains as
hardware to run AI programs on, rather than for the rather bizarre power
plant reason. This simple change makes almost everything in the films make
more sense, but apparently the Warchowski brothers changed this detail
because it was too hard to explain in the context of the film. Hmmph.
superhero films - this goes back to Superman and
Batman, but there has been a rash of high production value
superhero films over the last few years which have been mostly fairly
entertaining: Spiderman, X Men, even The Incredible
Hulk (Daredevil wasn't very good though).
One note about X Men - I saw this film before any of my friends
in Britain because I was in the States a week before it opened in the UK.
However, I couldn't tell anyone about it because I wasn't supposed to
be in the States... I was supposed to be decorating, I was not
supposed to be being interviewed for a job in America.
The only radio station I listened to with any regularity in Britain was BBC
Radio 4, and this has not really changed since I moved out of broadcast range.
I listen to my local NPR affiliate in the car, but the programmes I listen to
I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue - obviously. See the relevant page
under the MC section...
The News Quiz - the precursor of the more famous TV incarnation
of Have I Got News For You, this half hour of seditious comedy
concentrates far more on being funny than on inviting celebrity guests
seeking publicity and an opportunity to gurn for the amusement of a
I also listen avidly to Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, the closest
equivalent in the States, but although it is an hour long and is on all
year round (even during elections), it just isn't as funny.
science programmes - I look forward to The Material World
each week, but there are usually three or four programmes I like to listen
to if I have time.
In Our Time - I didn't like Melvyn Bragg much when I lived in
the UK, but this is a consistently interesting programme which I look
forward to hearing no matter what the subject matter. Sometimes it doesn't
quite work, but overall it's an absolute treasure.