SLOUCH POTATO: 02/03/16 - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Remote in hand, Tom Pheby surfs the channels...

John Travolta knows the transient nature of Hollywood better than most. Back in the days of glitter balls, white suits and disco, John was as big as they came, especially with the 'laydeez'. Saturday Night Fever ('77) and Grease ('78) had established Travolta as solid box office material and it looked as though he could do no wrong, but, inexplicably, he committed the cardinal sin of wanting to hang up his dance pumps to become a serious actor.

There followed a collection of average films that stopped just short of being dismal. Travolta suddenly found himself out of favour and he began the long dispiriting journey to the basement of fame, which is full of people destined for big things, Ted Danson has his own booth. Yes the bar of broken dreams and shattered careers is no place to visit when you have aspirations of being a big cheese film star.

However, Travolta's luck changed in 1994 thanks to Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction where he played the quirky character of Vincent Vega. Suddenly everyone remembered that he was a damn fine actor and the scripts started arriving like the Walton's offspring.

Here we are in 2016 and once again John is back looking down the steps of the basement of fame, hearing Danson's muffled cries. Travolta's looks are on the way out, the phone appears to be broken and Christ knows what's going on with the mail man, but today's Travolta is well prepared for the drop and isn't about to take it lying down. No Sir he has a trick or two up his considerable sleeve and has ventured into producing, which is a smart move indeed.

His latest project is The People Vs OJ Simpson - An American Crime. Why the last bit is even in the titles is slightly baffling but let's move on.

For anyone struggling to recall the OJ Simpson story, he was very much the handsome, American sporting hero, who found himself the suspect in a double homicide back in 1994. The victims were his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend/boyfriend Ronald Goldman.

Travolta plays Robert Shapiro, lawyer to Simpson (played somewhat unconvincingly by Cuba Gooding Jnr), and its a role in which he brings everything to the table. Years of acting have afforded Travolta with the capacity to make everything seem effortless and he mesmerises with a performance that shows the worst possible flaws of the human condition. Shapiro is unashamedly self serving, self absorbed, completely obsessed with his own credibility and reputation, which I found highly amusing.

More interestingly, the programme also highlights the social chaos that arose from the Rodney King incident. In 1992 King was senselessly beaten by officers from the LAPD. The entire sequence of events was captured on film and subsequently televised around the globe, resulting in mistrust, racial tension, widespread rioting, looting and violence, which had the potential to spread across America.

So this was the backdrop to the Simpson case and it appeared that the Authorities were guilty of acting rashly in an effort to restore faith in the law. Simpson would benefit greatly from the incompetence shown in the case of Rodney King and the public's perception of a hidden agenda towards black Americans. The series offers up a number of intriguing questions about the way the trial was conducted, the result and the roles of those involved. It's a very important social statement, which unfortunately reveals that little had changed since the early 1960's.

This series has become 'an unmissable treat' with a number of riveting performances from the likes of
David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian, Bruce Greenwood as Gil Garcetti and Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clarke. Travolta may not be the star he once was but if he continues to be involved in projects such as this his future looks brighter than it ever was.

Phone Shop Idol clearly illustrates the divide between those that want to achieve success for their own personal  development and improvement and those misguided souls who want to become stars within the industry so they can show everyone how wonderful they think they are.

When Mark Davis said he had to establish himself as a brand, I was deeply troubled. This is when the job of salesman has baffled the brain to the extent that the lines of product and person inexplicably blur. It's a thin line between profession and obsession and Mark has sadly fallen on the side of the latter, convinced that he is about to become the biggest Phone God on the planet.

Mark has been fast tracked for management and was blowing his own trumpet louder by the second. His ego was expanding like an loaf in a piping hot oven, convinced that success was within his grasp.
"It scares me, knowing the actual potential that I've got"
...he told a colleague. It scares me, because he actually believes the tosh he comes out with.

Meanwhile, Andy, from the much smaller operator 'Phonehouse', was sitting by the Thames and was rather more concerned that pigeons in London could swim on the water.
"They haven't got webbed feet! Typical London bastards, u's just don't give a shit."
He may be a phone sales Goliath but he's no David Attenborough, that much is clear.

Then we have Jason, the manager of Three store in Lewisham. He's still living out his dreams through his staff and his David Brent style banter continues to baffle. Nuggets such as,
"We are amazing, we are 'incemptional', we are legends"
I never want to go in that store or I may end up doing something I may regret.

Jason is truly insufferable, and proceeds to suffocate his protégé by taking charge and imposing his will on the poor lad. He acts as if the whole competition is built around him, a student of the 'me, me, me' academy.
It got worse when he found out that his only remaining member of staff in the competition failed to make the final stage, he declared,
"I don't like losing and that EE beat me makes it even worse. I have bounce back ability. I've gone through a messy divorce and break up, this isn't as bad as that."
Not one mention about how 'whatshisface' was feeling or coping with failure, there was just the wittering sound of some managerial silly bollocks talking about himself.

Pamela Anderson made a rare big screen appearance in the 1996 action/sci-fi movie Barb Wire. I don't know what inspired me to pop this on this week but possibly it's because Anderson looks flawless in it. Visually that is. If only she didn't have to speak this film could've been perfect, but when she does the lines come out like they are being delivered by a porn star on the verge of a sexual act.

Set in the early 21st century, the USA is in the wake of the Second Civil War, and the whole country is in a constant state of emergency. What was formerly called the American Congress now rules the country with fascistic methods. Anderson is Barb Wire, a club owner and a bounty hunter living in the last free city in America, Steel Harbor. When the action spreads to her hometown she decides enough is enough and embarks on dishing out justice Barb Wire style.

Throughout Anderson dresses like she could do damage to someone, or maybe even herself - she was no doubt cast in the role to attract the 'dirty mac brigade' into cinemas and make a killing in disposable tissues. The action scenes are energetic enough, and if you watch it with the sound on mute then it just about escapes a burning in hell.

The original CSI: Crime Scene Investigation sadly ended recently. Running for 15 years and over 300 episodes, it lasted somewhat longer than CSI: New York, which was equally good, and my own personal favourite CSI: Miami starring David Caruso as Horatio Caine, the Director of the MDPD Crime Lab. My wife and I would play a game prior to every episode, we had to choose a) glasses on, b) glasses off, or c) sideways face. These were characteristics that the actor did throughout every episode with alarming regularity when questioning suspects or on arriving and leaving the scene. We would then see which Caruso did most during an episode and give ourselves a point for each (I know, it's weird, but try it on the re-runs).

Then there were the opening puns about the victims, straight out of the terrible Bond films of the 70's. Such as the time Horatio and Frank were at the scene of a victim who was recently divorced.
Frank: No matter how you cut it, divorce sucks.
Horatio: (putting on glasses) Frank, it's a killer.
(cut to music)
Brilliant! Glasses on and puns.

Now we are left with only CSI: Cyber, and you may be forgiven for thinking that the bubble has burst on these type of shows, but it's big rival has begun a quest for global domination. I am, of course, referring to NCIS and the spin offs NCIS: Los Angeles and NCIS: New Orleans.

I have to admit that I only like the original NCIS with Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon), the sexually charged Anthony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly), geeky Tim McGee (Sean Murray), quirky medical examiner Donald Mallard who talks to the dead (David McCallum) and goth forensic scientist Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette). It feels a bit like a throwback to the classic cop shows of the 70's but the scripts are generally top notch and you actually like the characters enough to give a stuff about what happens to them.

It's currently on almost all the time on 5USA, or at least it seems to be, and it does become strangely addictive. Sadly Gibbs only gives myself and the Missus the opportunity to guess a) how many head slaps he dishes out or b) how many times he bellows "grab your gear", and that simply isn't good enough.

Script Writer, Poet, Blogger and junk television specialist. Half English, half Irish and half Alsatian, Tom is well known for insisting on being called Demetri for reasons best known to himself. A former film abuser and telly addict who shamefully skulks around his home town of Canterbury after dark dressed as Julie Andrews. Follow Tom on Twitter

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