I’ve had a rather nostalgic weekend revisiting some old TV via YouTube.

Spent some time watching a couple of documentaries on Rod Hull, a childhood hero of mine, whose Emu puppet terrorised all and sundry. In many ways it was a brilliant act – he involved whoever was nearby in it, even if it meant you ended up on the floor fighting off an emu puppet:

It lead to watching several episodes of Emu’s World (including the All Live Emu’s World series in which attempting to phone people was an absolute disaster week after week ) which brought back a lot of good memories.

It made me appreciate the work that Rod did as both performer and writer, along with Carol Lee Scott as Grotbags and Freddy Stevens as Robot Redford. Oh, and David Tate as Croc. Imagine putting a pantomime on every week – live. That took guts and hard work. And the prizes were also pretty decent too. Walkmans, latest LPs, radios, BMX bikes – all good stuff.

Emu had a big influence on me as a kid..

Rod Hull had a thing for the ladies, and it was interesting to watch two different documentaries about his life. The second one, from 2003, mentioned two different girlfriends towards the end of his life (he was still married at the time – with the missus back in Australia) and there were some serious vibes when one girlfriend mentioned the other. Blimey.

But he was very good with kids. They liked him, and he got on well with them. It is said that Rod hated Emu, but I honestly think it was a very good, very funny and very clever act. And looking at his earlier work in Australia, he definitely had that Stan Laurel look and work ethic about him. I really do think people should have given him the chance to do more writing – which is what he wanted.

Rod Hull was a genius and is greatly missed.

The other thing I came to, thanks to YouTube algorithms, was this compilation of Office Crabtree’s greatest lines from the BBC sitcom, ‘Allo ‘Allo which I also loved as a kid. I still laugh like a loon at some of these.

We live in a truly connected world. A world in which television has been transformed by the internet. Streaming services have been de rigueur for the TV connoisseur looking for the very best in entertainment. Battles between traditional broadcasters and streamers are a regular occurance – often ending in the two working together to create, produce and distribute a series outside of a broadcaster’s home country.

Netflix’s first original TV show was produced in conjunction with Norway’s national broadcaster, NRK1. It was called Lilyhammer and featured The Soprano’s Steven Van Zandt as Frank Tagliano, a former underboss in an American Mafia family who testifies against his former boss who placed a hit on him. Under federal protection, he opts to go and live in Lillehammer, Norway, under a new identity of Giovanni “Johnny” Henriksen.

We had three wonderful seasons of Lilyhammer. It was almost the perfect show – especially after Breaking Bad. It mattered not that Johnny only ever spoke English and everybody else spoke Norwegian (with English subtitles) .- the excuse WAS plausible. This was a true “fish out of water” comedy drama which exuded charm. And it all came to a sudden end at the end of season three – with the only episode directed by Van Zandt himself.

There were rumours that NRK1 did something that Netflix didn’t like. Some said it was the other way around. But in any event, Netflix pulled out of the deal and we were left with a great show that ended suddenly, leaving at least one major plotline unresolved (that of Sigrid, Johnny’s former girlfriend and mother to his children).

Fast forward to 2019. Moria Walley-Beckett, a former actress turned writer-producer and showrunner, who has won more awards and nominations than I can count on my fingers (including three Emmys), announced that season three of “Anne with an E” – her more modern take on Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables – has not been renewed for a fourth season.

Quite frankly, I’m pissed off.

You may think it’s rather odd for a 43-year old straight bloke to enjoy a show whose demographic – well, I’m not and never was going to be the key demographic for this genre am I? But trust me, I do like this show. I really do.

Firstly, Anne (with an E) has such a fine cast and crew for a historical drama that’s as complex and endearing as Upstairs, Downstairs or Downton Abbey, two shows that I never expected to love and enjoy as much as I did (and still do – and I also include The Crown in that bunch – something I wouldn’t normally have ever touched 20-30 years ago).

The show absolutely found its Anne in Amybeth McNulty, its Marilla in Geraldine James, and Matthew in R. H. Thomson. The supporting cast are equally as brilliant – and you really appreciate the work that casting directors do – a very overlooked profession that doesn’t truly get the recognition it deserves.

The crew is equally superb – some of Canada’s finest directors including Anne Wheeler, Ken Girotti, Helen Shaver, Amanda Tapping (of Stargate fame) and Norma Bailey, amongst others. The first episode was directed by none other than New Zealander Niki Caro, whose Whale Rider was a triumph of filmmaking. Anne (with an E) doesn’t feel like regular episodic television – the cinematography, direction, writing, performance and production design makes it feel that you’re watching a cinematic masterpiece each week.

I think Anne (with an E) is an important show as it’s an exceptionally positive adoption story. That and Dreamworks Kung-Fu Panda trilogy. It may seem silly to compare a big live action drama with a family animated film – but having gone through (and unfortunately due to a variety of reasons never completed) the process of (international) adoption some time ago, the meaning of belonging, acceptance, and dealing with things like attachment is important.

I tell you right now – the second episode of the first season of Anne (with an E) had me literally in floods of tears when Matthew, who instantly warmed to Anne’s strong personality and intelligence after meeting her for the first time, managed to find her after running away from Green Gables and exclaimed to everybody in the room that she was his daughter. Anne started crying. I started crying. It was such a bloody lovely moment.

Moria Walley-Beckett’s Anne (with an E) goes beyond the books and introduces themes that simply couldn’t or wouldn’t have been addressed in Victorian Canada at the time. Not just issues surrounding adoption, but other social and personal matters. It’s truly an inclusive drama which I’ve seen critics have a go at the show for – but the beauty of transformative works is that they can be whatever the writers want it to be.

Now while I haven’t yet read the Green Gables books – I’ve bought the whole lot on Kindle as soon as I started watching the show. I know certain key points in Anne’s life, and how the series ends. It would take a considerable number of seasons to cover it all – and you’ll find that previous adaptations (including a version of Studio Ghibli’s Isao Takahata) only go up to a certain point in the book series. But from what I gather of season three (which hasn’t yet aired internationally) it’s a rather bittersweet ending.

My question is – who put the knife in? Netflix? CBC? I doubt it’s CBC – a national broadcaster is unlikely to have killed off a series which is universally liked – especially in its home territory. Did CBC manage to piss off Netflix? Is it Netflix data? Did the computer say no? (I always say, computers are generally good for some things, but without humans behind them, cold facts can get in the way of doing good deeds.)

That there are several petitions (which I’ve signed) with over tens of thousands of signatures each to ask to reinstate a fourth (and maybe fifth) season goes to show that this show has a solid fanbase. It IS a good show. It’s a damn good show. It is one of the best, most lovingly produced shows I’ve ever seen, and everybody involved with it has clearly poured their heart and soul into it.

If Netflix did pull the knife, it has got to be careful about how it does so in the future. I can terminate my Netflix subscription at any point. Anybody can. There are alternatives now. There always will be alternatives. It’s difficult to ask us to invest ourselves in a show, then cancel the bloody thing two or three seasons in. Who are you? The SyFy Channel (or as I like to call it: The Cancellation Channel).

Save Anne (with an E). It makes sense. It keeps people in employment. It’ll continue the excellent storytelling. It’ll make the fans happy.

What’s to differentiate between Apple TV+ and other streaming services, other than the content and a lower price? Unfortunately, very little. One of the biggest frustrations I have with all of the current streaming services is the complete lack of additional features and audio commentaries.

Apple had a chance to make their Apple TV+ streaming service truly unique by introducing special features and audio commentaries to their original content, but this just has not happened. Yet. Until they do, Apple TV+ is just another platform offering limited original content.

iTunes Extras has been the only service available to most (dependent on the film studio) film purchases on iTunes to provide special features. It’s the main reason I’ve stuck with iTunes as a purchase platform. It is the closest I can get to physical media features on a digital platform. I can play films on my Apple TV 4K, iPad Pro, iPhone 11 Pro Max or 2018 MacBook Pro. It’s both portable and can be played on the big screen TV. I still prefer physical media for most things, but as I’ve mentioned many times here and elsewhere, it’s a rapidly losing battle.

On the TV programs front, iTunes has been a poor show. None of the titles available are in 4K, and very few carry any extras – mainly because iTunes Extras is a format reserved for films. Breaking Bad is currently the ONLY title I own that has special features and audio commentaries – and I can only play the audio commentaries by disabling Dolby Surround.

Apple TV+ content IS available in 4K. Whether this will push existing TV studios to consider releasing their purchasable content on iTunes in 4K, I just don’t know. I doubt Apple will let you purchase episodes or whole series of Apple TV+ shows since it’s in their interest to keep you as a subscriber. But that then brings me back to the special features and audio commentaries.

Netflix, oddly, puts many special features about their shows on YouTube. Not on their own platform. Amazon is equally rubbish at this, and also put special features on their YouTube channel too. Amazon have been the only streamer to put an audio commentary on their service, but only for one title, and for one season.

No. Unless Disney+ pulls its fingers out and puts special features and audio commentaries on their platform as well as releasing new content and offering their back catalogue, Apple TV+ isn’t going to be unique in the market place at all.

Other problems with Apple TV+ have been the super annoying Up Next bar during end credits. I can’t dismiss it – but it does vanish after a while – but it still obscures credits. And the Apple TV+ user interface doesn’t tell me the frequency of new episodes of a current season. I had to look up when new episodes for For All Mankind came out having watched the first three episodes this weekend.

For All Mankind, BTW, is a decent show but somewhat let down by its visual effects. I’ve seen Method Studios and Pixomondo do better. But the storytelling is compelling enough to stick around for now. Other titles have received very mixed reviews. I have a free year’s trial with Apple TV+ thanks to upgrading to the iPhone 11 Pro Max, so only time will tell if I’ll be paying for it next year (even if it’s £4.99/month).

In other news, I cannot tell you how much frustration MacOS Catalina and iOS 13 have caused me over the past few weeks. This is some seriously buggy piece of crap from Apple, and by far the worst quality releases that have come from them in years. If Apple doesn’t buck their ideas up, I’ll be moving back to Dell and Windows late next year.

Doin’ the (coo, coo) pigeon..

Sometime on Tuesday afternoon, working from home, I noticed that soot and pebbles were increasingly falling down the chimney into my empty fireplace. I was wondering if the neighbours were doing something, or if the chimney pot was coming loose, or maybe Santa Claus was making an early appearance. To my surprise, I heard a flop and something caught my eye.

Alas, it wasn’t Santa. There were no presents or any “ho-ho-hos”.

It was a pigeon. And it was sitting in my fireplace looking rather surprised to be there. But it wasn’t as surprised as I was. It wasn’t a big pigeon – maybe a teenager – and was speckled brown with white wings.

I grabbed a towel, opened the front door, slowly moved towards the pigeon and covered it with the towel – gently. There was a bit of flapping at first – but the pigeon was very gracious in letting me wrap it up and take it outside where it waddled off somewhere. I don’t know whether it flew away, was eaten by a cat, or knocked down by a car – but if it was a teenager, I figured that if the family was nearby, they’d come for it.

Thank goodness I was home at the time because that pigeon could have done some serious damage to the house.

And remember: KNOW WHERE YOUR TOWEL IS. Be a hoopy frood.(*)

Meanwhile, I think I’ve earned the right to be in Pigeon Street. I bet they never did a story where a pigeon comes down a chimney. Cue those electro tom-toms (which, whenever I listen to disco music which features them heavily, I always think of pigeons – those talented drum players which nobody has ever given them credit for).

Doo doo, doo doo, etc. repeat 30 million times

(*) Thank you, Douglas Adams.