Thursday, 7 July 2011

It's Never as Good as the First Time

We are having a mid-season break from Dr Who. This might be a good thing: I need to pause for breath and to recap, as the plot developments have come thick and fast, distorting perceived realities and suggesting thast time is, indeed, 'bendy-wendy'. I like this new series, although it is more sci-fi geekdom and less personality-fest than on David Tennant's watch, but the latest instalment of Harry Potter is out next week and I can only cope with one time-travelling, parallel inter-dimensional universe thing at a time.

I mentioned to a friend how I was hooked on Dr Who and wondered whether I really should have grown out of it by now, or whether it was actually no longer targeted at kids. Apparently what I should be watching is Torchwood as that is the 'adult version', but I am worried that like every other spin-off ever, it will be crap.

Yes, I know, that's a bold statement, but can you really think of any spin-off that is better than the original? Tucker's Luck, Going Straight and Joey spring to mind. So, no, then. Him Outdoors loved the chaos of Tiswas, but it didn't translate to the anarchy of O.T.T., which seemed more like 'Try Too Hard'. And while Dallas and Dynasty may have been bad, they were still compulsively watchable, unlike Knot's Landing and The Colbys which were convulsively execrable.

Apparently Boston Legal came out of The Practice, which I find interesting because I never watched the latter (although it was the fore-runner) but enjoyed Boston Legal immensely. Lawyers and doctors series (Holby City out of Casualty for example) make fertile grounds for spin-offs it seems, as do detectives and cops in general. Inspector Morse was very good and I like the emergence of Lewis as he stalks the streets of Oxford with the sardonic Hathaway in tow.

I remember (in 1980, preceeding Juliet Bravo by four months) Jill Gascoine as a (shock horror) female police detective in LWT's The Gentle Touch. My mum loved it. I preferred C.A.T.S Eyes (1985-87) partly because I was a bit older, and partly because it featured Don Warrington, whom I adored, and Leslie Ash whom I admired (who didn't want to look like her in the 80s before she discovered Lee Chapman and plastic surgery?)

From cartoons to teenage angst, children's programmes have proved a rich seam to mine. Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels began on Scooby Doo; The Perils of Penelope Pitstop and Dastardly and Muttley in their Flying Machines all emerged from Wacky Races; Sesame Street, The Muppet Show and Fraggle Rock are all inter-linked; and Count Duckula hatched from Danger Mouse (an intriguing zoological phenomenon).

Party of Five (remember that? It was the first time I'd ever heard of a boy being called Bailey - I thought it was the name of a dog or a drink) led to Time of Your Life (I don't remember that); The Six Million Dollar Man spawned The Bionic Woman (as it were); similarly Hercules: The Legendary Journeys begat Xena: Princess Warrior (a favourite of my Dad's - I can't imagine why...); and, from a more innocent era when kids were encouraged to do things with their hands that didn't involve computers, Vision On evolved into Take Hart (not to mention The Morph Files).

Frasier was okay, but true Cheers fans will claim it is nowhere near as good as its parent programme. Not that I was ever a fan of Who's the Boss, but I did watch it occasionally when I lived in New York - not so the sequels Living Dolls or The Upper Hand. It wasn't my era, but I believe many people who liked Man About the House were less than enamoured of the follow-ups, George and Mildred and Robin's Nest.

Sometimes you just have to be in the moment and, if you try to recreate something later, it just doesn't work. Sometimes it really is the X-Factor that can't be reproduced. There are few more depressing developments than Coronation Street: Open All Hours which featured several Street characters (Steve, Vicky, Vikram, Bet, and Reg Holdsworth) floundering in Brighton. Truely it was painful.

And then you get the weird crossover, which isn't so much a spin-off as an odd collaboration - such as when the character of Tanya Turner from Footballer's Wives was sent to prison and ended up in three episodes of Bad Girls. Has this sort of thing happened before, and is there a name for it, I wonder?

Characters can emerge from a trial on a comedy series (or chat show in the case of Dr Phil) and sometimes steal the show from their screen nativity. French and Saunders gave us Absolutely Fabulous; The Mary Whitehouse Experience conjured up both Newman and Baddiel in Pieces and The Imaginatively Titled Punt and Dennis Show; we have That Peter Kay Thing to thank for Phoenix Nights, and Naked Video is responsible for Rab C Nesbitt - make of that what you will.

So, being as it never is as good as the first time, why do the producers of shows think it might be? Why do they tarnish the lustre of successful programmes with at best dull sequels? Are they ever hopeful that they might find The One, or are they just going through the motions, lazily milking the cash cow. I am reminded of a comic who once reckoned that casting director for a sequel must be the easiest job ever: 'That Arnold Schwarzenegger was quite good as the Terminator in the last film - what say we get him for the next one?'

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Huevos Rancheros

One of life's pleasures is a lazy Sunday breakfast with cups of coffee and a peruse of the papers - that's one of the many bonuses of not having children. Often we go out for breakfast and the experience takes all morning. Otherwise we have it at home, on the patio in summer or by the fire in winter.

Eating at home narrows the options somewhat, however, as, much though I enjoy cooking, I can't be bothered to faff about in the kitchen first thing in the morning. So breakfast has to be a compromise of maximum effect for minimum effort and this version of Mexican ranch-style eggs sits perfectly on the menu:

4 x rashers bacon, finely chopped
1 x onion, pleeled and finely chopped
2 x Tbsp oil
1 x 400g can tomatoes (spiced or add your own)
2 x Tbsp finely chopped coriander or parsley
4 x eggs
tortillas or toast

Cook the bacon and onion in the oil in a frying pan over a moderately hot heat for 5-7 minutes until the bacon and onion are golden and very fragrant. Add tomatoes and coriander or parsley and simmer for 2 minutes.

Make four wells in the centre of the sauce and break an egg into each well. Cover and simmer for about four minutes until the eggs are cooked.

Serve an egg with a little sauce on top of a warm tortilla or slice of buttered toast.