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Channel hop

Mark Peters

 

My favourite T-shirt is a tired and tatty old grey thing that I've had for far too many years. Despite the rips and tears, though, you can still make out the faded slogan: "They lied to us. This was supposed to be the future. Where is my jet pack. Where is my robotic companion. Where is my dinner in pill form. Where is my hydrogen-filled automobile". (Where are the question marks? - you might ask.)

They aren't particularly new sentiments; in fact, in this day and age, the answers to the questions aren't really that unfathomable (which shows you how old the shirt is); we have achieved most of these things in some form or another, although, after having spent five minutes in a red taxi, I think we can all agree it would be unwise to ever let some people have a jet pack. It's the sombre final line, however, that really rings true with me: "Where is my cure for this disease". Now, I'm not sure whether the designer meant this as in, "Where is the cure for cancer? Surely we should have found a remedy for [insert your disease of choice here] by now!" but I've always read it as, "Where is my cure for constantly living for the future? Why aren't we ever happy to just be living in the present?"

Attempting this week to answer questions of a similar nature is Futurescape with James Woods (above; Discovery Channel, Tuesday at 9pm), a documentary series wherein researchers and scientists take a peek ahead and reveal the "advances that will redefine humanity". Beginning with the episode Robot Revolution, a look at how we are blurring the lines between man and machine, the series not only explores the science and technology that is just around the corner, but also looks at the ethics and the potentially dangerous consequences these radical advances could have if used irresponsibly. A self-confessed science geek, Woods, whose day job is as a Hollywood actor, brings humour and light to what could have easily been an overly stuffy look at a boffin's world. The six-part series will also investigate eternal youth, life creation and space travel.

I'm especially looking forward to the I Know What You're Thinking episode, in which scientists will show us how they can scan memories and read minds with "telepathy helmets" - but, of course, some of you knew that already. It appears the future's so bright we're going to have to wear some pretty thick shades to avoid being blinded by it all.

If you're up and at 'em bright and early tomorrow morning, then you'll be able to catch the live broadcast of the biggest entertainment event on the film calendar, the 86th Academy Awards (Fox Movies Premium; tomorrow, 8.30am for the red carpet, 9.30am for the ceremony). Now I don't hate the Oscars, I get that it's just Hollywood's biggest we-are-not-worthy back slap for the pretty and famous, but the Academy Awards do bore and confound me. Can you honestly rank art and judge which is the best? Surely it all comes down to an individual's taste. Some people may think Sly Stallone is truly deserving of an Oscar, and they'd be as daft as a carrot, but that's their prerogative. Hey, I hear the cries of "pot" and "kettle". I know this column is a critique of (televisual) art, but I'm not handing out awards with a big song and dance as if giving divine judgment.

Of course, I'm not totally immune to the glitz and glamour of Tinseltown. I'll gleefully lap up the red carpet dogs' dinner show, but only because it's the pinnacle of what's truly wrong with this world (OK, the selling of celebrity may be slightly less evil than genocide, human rights violations, animal cruelty and environmental destruction, but hopefully you get my clumsy point) and it inspires me to go and do something, anything, more constructive and worthwhile than worrying about which way Shia LaBeouf has decided to part his hair today.

Other than to see who bawls on cue and who is cast into damnation for forgetting to thank God, the lavish ceremony, hosted, as in 2007, by comedian Ellen DeGeneres (right), will be a pointless affair. We all know the winners will be those whose "people" caressed the most palms and who threw the most dollars at their popularity campaigns. Actor Sir Anthony Hopkins summed it up nicely: "I find it nauseating to watch, and I think it's disgusting to behold. People grovelling around and kissing the backsides of famous producers. It makes me want to throw up, it really does."

If you remain unswayed by my ranting but are not an early riser, don't panic, the charade is repeated at 8.20pm, so there is no avoiding this popcorn snoozefest. Unless you happen to change channels.

Now, I enjoy a frolicking period drama almost as much as I look forward to a movie-awards extravaganza, so it was with utter amazement that Father Brown (BBC Entertainment, Friday at 9.50pm) didn't make me want to flail myself silly. Adapted from the well-loved detective stories of author G.K. Chesterton, this 10-episode modern reimagining places the good Father in the 1950s, in England's picturesque Cotswolds, as he goes about his unique and merry way, solving crime and saving souls. The titular parish priest, an investigative hybrid of Holmes, Poirot and Marple, is brilliantly brought to life by Fast Show actor Mark Williams, perhaps now best known to the kids as Ron Weasley's dad.

Of course, like any good murder mystery, someone dies in suspicious circumstances within the first 10 minutes, usually a poor local villager, and all the subsequent clues and revelations point towards an obvious perpetrator.

Like a fine pair of slippers, fans of Midsomer Murders et al will find Father Brown similarly comfortable and cosy and, while it may not please all Chesterton purists, it'll pleasantly distract you from an increasingly befuddling future.

 

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