With Matt Haigh currently taking a second look at the first series of The X-Files, it seems an appropriate moment to review the possibilities for a totally irresponsible geek-out with a handful of DVDs and a pile of menus for pizza houses that deliver. Gird your buttocks and break out that bag of ’embalmer’-strength nachos then, as we limber up for a geek veg-out…
(n.b. In all cases, the shows or films are available at least on DVD)
FOR AN EVENING
When even your imaginary friends have other things to do, it’s time to make a quick dash home and keep the food fast…
Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace – 2 hours, 40 mins.
Breakneck and side-splitting, you may even have time to cook something rather than just microwave it, as Matthew Holness rips his way through six unlikely tales of the occult and the monstrous together with his theatrically challenged manager Dean Lerner (Richard Ayoade).
Snacks: Green water.
Jam – 2 hours, 40 minutes. If you want a really dark place, try this. Chris Morris penned this unbelievably grim comedy-horror series with Father Ted/IT Crowd writer Graham Linehan, amongst others, and it really can be a damn sight more shocking than some of the stuff in the ‘straight’ horror shows. Material from Jam also beat some hot contenders for Channel 4’s 100 Greatest Scary Moments , including the original The Wicker Man and The Sixth Sense.Snacks: The bitter ashes of regret and madness.
Ultraviolet – 5 hours. No, not that tosh with Milla Jovovich. This is the tosh with Jack Davenport as a high-tech vampire (ssshh! We don’t say the ‘v’ word!) hunter in late nineties London. Underrated and moody.Snacks: Pringles. Even vampires like Pringles.
A LOST WEEKENDThe aerial’s blown off the roof and the cat’s eaten the ladder; nothing to do but Geek Up until the shops open again…
Alien series (directors’ cuts including AVP movies but no extras) – 11 hours, 15 minutes. If you keep your beer intake steady and time it right, you might just be drunk enough to believe that the AVP films belong in the series by the time they come on.
Snacks: Cornbread, but you might not like it. Avoid spaghetti.
All the Harry Callahan movies – 8 hours 40 minutes.Dirty Harry (1971), Magnum Force (1973), The Enforcer (1976), Sudden Impact (1983), The Dead Pool (1988). Both the dudes and the scripts get saltier with each film, but the bad quips and big blow-aways keep you hooked, and even the rather tired Sudden Impact adds some great stuff to Callahan mythology.Snacks: Fortune cookies.
Sledge Hammer – 11 hours, 40 minutes. The flipside of Dirty Harry, David Rasche’s early skit on Eastwood’s character is both reverential and hilariously piss-taking, as Sledge shoots his way through situations that could comfortably have been handled with a simple conversation. He also talks – and sleeps – with his beloved Magnum (same one Callahan prefers). Sledge Hammer got weak very quickly, but the early episodes are on a par with Police Squad, and Anne-Marie Martin – lost to TV shortly after by marrying moneybags author Michael Crichton – is an above average female foil for the triple-Y chromosome dick.Snacks: Steel nails.
Lord Of The Rings trilogy (extended versions) – 11 hours 35 minutes. If you and your golfing buddies have had to surrender your 9 holes to bad weather, have a vicarious bracing walk with Frodo and his variously untrustworthy chums.Snacks: Hot curry, so you’ll feel in the spirit of things by the time Frodo’s burning his ring.
The Prisoner – 14 hours. While you’re waiting to see what Cavalziel and McKellen make of the new version, why not check out one of the strongest and quirkiest pieces of cult television ever made with Patrick McGoohan’s tale of an independent-minded ex-government agent who might know ‘too much’?Snacks: Anything that’s factory-sealed and definitely hasn’t been tampered with.
Star Wars episodes 1-6 – 12 hours 50 minutes. Probably the commonest geek marathon. Needs the reverse handling to the AVP series, as the films get better later, so load up on beer and you should be sober again by the time anything is worth watching.Snacks: Kendall mint-cake; not only is it green and Star Wars-looking but it’ll keep you awake through the ‘Jar Jar years’. If you think that’s wise.
Sapphire & Steel – 14 hours Join Steven Moffat in what I suspect is his favourite TV geek out, as the ropey animated titles give way to some thought-provoking and often extremely creepy adventures with interdimensional elementals Joanna Lumley and David McCallum.Snacks: Anything in shiny foil.
‘V’ (mini-series + the final battle + TV series) – 22 hours, 20 minutes. Like starting out your journey in a Silver Shadow and arriving at your destination in a Hillman Imp, this tale of alien Nazis using propaganda to spread fear and conquer (and eat) the Earth suffers a dreadful and inexorable quality-drop throughout its total runtime, but even the absurd TV series is fun and Jane Badler is magnetic throughout.Snakes: Yes, or rats, or a nice juicy hamster.
CALLING IN SICK[rasping] “Throat…can’t talk…yes, thanks, I should be in tomorrow. Wednesday I’m sure I’ll be fine. Or Thursday…”
The Outer Limits (original series*) – 30 hours 30 minutes. It may have been commissioned to cash in on the popularity of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone (see below), but it frequently delivered harder-hitting and more far-out episodes, and the retro buzz of a really good series that’s this old and still this good is irresistible. Harlan Ellison sued the producers of The Terminator for plagiarism of two of his Outer Limits episodes, ‘Soldier’ and ‘Demon With A Glass Hand’, and now is acknowledged in the credits of the original Terminator film.Snacks: A big bag of sweets with a live scorpion.
Lost In Space – 49 hours. An object lesson in network interference as this long-running sci-fi show gradually develops into a whacky sitcom with a laugh-track. Luckily some DVD versions have the option to hear the soundtrack without it.Snacks: Anything, but take it easy – you’ll run out of it eventually.
Star Trek: The Original Series – 65 hours Even the monster-laden third series has some striking and original sci-fi ideas to offer, which makes the rampant sexism even more jaw-dropping. If you must leave your mobile phone on, change the tone to an aspiring whistle.Snacks: Anything you’ve never eaten before.
Bewitched – 66 hours. Watch as the magic of emerging feminist consciousness changes Samantha from a blow-dried TV housewife to a tie-dyed hippy, while button-down husband Darren magically changes his appearance from Dick York to Dick Sargent in 1969.Snacks: Anything burnt.
“–P45 form enclosed. We hope you take your next job more seriously than you took this one. Love, Your (ex-)Boss.”
The Saint (B&W + colour series) 63 hours, 23 minutes. Join debonair and dapper Roger Moore (in colour later on) limbering up for his finest hour as dissipated international playboy Brett Sinclair in The Persuaders. But here too there’s a dash of charm and a whiff of danger round every corner, as Leslie Charteris’s spy-about-Europe gets into all sorts of trouble, disguises and strange beds over a very long run.Snacks: Fine wine and caviar washed down with four large scotches and two packs of cigarettes.
Farscape – 75 hours. I can’t talk about this with any authority as my one attempt to watch it sent me to sleep, but I hear it has a devoted following.Snacks: Anything with caffeine.
The Twilight Zone (original series) – 75 hours, 26 minutes. The original portmanteau sci-fi show was shot through with Rod Serling’s humanitarian point-of-view. With so many episodes to fill, a lot of Serling’s non-sci-fi/horror output got shoehorned in, such as ‘They’re Tearing Down Tim Reilly’s Bar’, but the quality of his writing shines through for the most part.Snacks: Rice crackers, spicy peanuts or any other food with a nasty surprise right at the end, when it’s too late.
Babylon 5 – 77 hours 40 minutes. Talk is cheap, and that’s how expensive sci-fi series get to keep going after their initial set-up costs. This really is worse even than Deep Space 9 or TNG in terms of being a yak-fest, and though it was very ingenious of J. Michael Straczynski to find a way of keeping a wallet-busting sci-fi show on the air, it’s ultimately too dependent on a rolling bunch of characters talking to each other in long-established sets. If you like soap-opera, there’s no earthly reason why you wouldn’t like this, and you’ll even be treated to Dynasty soap-ette Tracy Scoggins taking over the lead role in the final series.Snacks: Dry toast. If you’re watching nearly 80 hours of this, you’re a masochist anyway.
SERVING TIME IN PRISON
There are some complete series which you can only expect to enjoy in one hit if you’re detained at her majesty’s pleasure. Some of these wouldn’t even give you time to sign on if you were still at liberty…
The Simpsons (to date) – 92 hours. The problem with this particular marathon is that you will find yourself winding through a lot of episodes that you know backwards. In fact you may skip up to 8 seasons before you find anything that hasn’t been burnt onto your retina by the show’s relentless syndication. That said, the mid-years are the best, with many episodes more than worth reliving.Snacks: Be guided by Homer in this matter, and hope you survive this DVD viewing session with your arteries intact.
Married With Children – 100 hours. Probably the nearest analogue to the sad tale of Happy Days, MwC was one of the funniest and blackest comedies America ever produced, but slowly yielded to criticism of the barbed wit and wisdom of shoe salesman and all-round loser Al Bundy (Ed O’Neill) as he strives to escape the clutches of his repulsive family. By the end it was unwatchable rubbish, but it’s a looooong way to the end, and a great ride in the early years.Snacks: Bar pretzels.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer – 120 hours. That’s a whole lot of slaying for the hit semi-parodic horror series that turned out to have one of the sharpest and funniest lines in slick humour of any 1990s show. Even when it starts getting bored with itself and changing things for change’s sake, it does it with wit and invention. Up until about series 5, when a dark strand, ironically, appears for the first time and by series 7 it just isn’t any damn fun anymore. But a riot in the early discs.Snacks: Garlic baguette.
Stargate S.G. 1 – 145 hours. God save us. If they make you watch this in prison, appeal to Amnesty International. It was bad enough that the original film wasted two talents as excellent as James Spader and Kurt Russell, but this really…is…interminable.Snacks: A sack of uncooked rice and five gallons of water; it’s a better fate than watching 145 hours of Stargate.
The X-Files – 146 hours. A marathon is possibly the best way to appreciate the story arcs that the show dipped into frequently, as they were annoying roadblocks for many when the series was first broadcast. But the heart of any X-Files series is it’s memorable case-studies, with bizarre creatures, strange happenings and other gripping narrative devices all gilded with crystalline black humour. If Buffy is the comedy derivative of Kolchak, this is the one that finally got the ‘straight’ monster-of-the-week scenario right.Snacks: Toot sweets.
Baywatch – 175 hours. And that’s not even including Baywatch Nights.Snacks: Anti-psychotic drugs.
* The Outer Limits new version – chopped up into so many ‘collections’ and with so many omissions of availability that I couldn’t rank it.
Doctor Who is not included here as too much of the material is unreleased or remains missing from the great BBC video-wipe massacre of the 1970s.