Hurrah for Sky, eh? Around 400 channels, broadcasting in numerous languages, at qualities varying from 1080 HD to eighth-generation VHS NTSC-to-PAL, and it’s mostly dirge. On a given day, you can expect to see a dozen repeats of Friends, frankly weird Brazilian variety shows hosted by a club singer in a neckbrace-cum-microphone-stand, and one trillion hours of home shopping.
But, as Jimmy Cricket and his comically mislabelled wellies would undoubtedly say were he writing this blog, there’s more. A few swift presses on your Sky remote can open up a whole new world of viewing pleasure: hidden channels not yet deemed worthy of joining Psychic TV, Gems TV2 and O’seasproperty on the EPG proper. A carefree world where the normal rules of Sky+ do not apply. A grab-bag of content where a channel listed only as a four figure number could contain a pre-launch world of wonder, a screaming test card, or nothing more than blank void. Join us now, as we step tentatively down some creaky stairs (press ‘Service’ on our remote), worry that the batteries on our torch are beginning to fade (press ‘4’), wonder what that noise was behind us (press ‘4’ again), and repeat the secret incantations to open a portal into the netherworld (enter a frequency code from here and add some channels to the ‘Other Channels’ menu, then watch them).
Here are just two of our findings.
11.259 V | Symbol Rate 27.5 | F.E.C. 2/3 | Channel Name: 52117
What is it?
Seemingly due to launch some time soon, we’re not quite sure what the channel’s remit is, but we strongly suspect it’s along the lines of “The Cheapest General Entertainment Channel We Could Cobble Together and Still Qualify for a Place in the Entertainment Section, Where We Plan to Spend Fourteen Hours a Day Simulcasting Quiz Channels”. When we tuned in, the EPG claimed “9pm-11pm Movie Special: A movie show, with a selection of English title movies from around the world”.
What Was On?
What was actually on was some strange sort of American soap-opera/sitcom hybrid along the lines of ‘Mind Your Language’ meets ‘Robins Nest’. And not in a good way, like Soap. It is called Crossroads Café. It wants to be the next Cheers. With luck and the wind behind it, it’ll be lucky to get somewhere near the quality of Springer’s Day.
A cheap set, training film quality acting, more dodgy faux-foreign accents you can shake an episode of Relative Strangers at, and an odd pace that means it’s about 94% bad soap opera, 6% sitcom. The upshot of this is that the half-hearted canned laughter only kicks in about once every five minutes, which feels frankly odd. Pretending you’ve got a studio full of people heartily guffawing it up is one thing, pretending they’ve all been bussed in just to play spot-the-gag is another. It’s clearly made in order to teach The Foreigns to speak English, but we’re not letting it get away that easily. There’s a whole archive of 1980s BBC-1 Sunday morning output that can do the job a million times more effectively.
The action, such as it is, is infrequently broken up with info-breaks in place of adverts. Short sequences on How To Go On A Job Interview, or clips from Crossroads Café subtitled with what the lines were there for (“What is *his* name?” etc) pop up every five minutes or so, bookended by quite probably the worst animation ever (“Three frames of animation for a scene? We’re not bloody Pixar, you know!”). Unfortunately, the huge TrendsTV on-screen logo obscures many of the subtitled headings, so any Johnny Foreigner trying to learn English from these screenings will remain blissfully unaware of what The Queen’s Full-Stops look like.
Ident Watch: A ghastly low quality NTSC’d up CGI effort, with the channel title being beaten roughly about the text by someone having their first ever go at a trial version of Adobe After Effects.
Picture Quality: You know what YouTube videos look like when you make them fill your screen? Slightly worse than that.
Oh dear. Will our next venture into uncharted waters be any better?
Two out of ten.
11.426 H | Symbol Rate 27.5 | F.E.C. 2/3 | Channel Name: Brit Shorts
What is it?
It looks to be a soft-launch of a forthcoming showcase for short British films. For now, it is broadcasting a series of short films from what we presume is their parent channel,
What was on?
Despite the title of the channel, some sort of utterly bizarre French-language animation. A woman visits a dating agency, then gets dressed up as a giant turkey to meet some bloke in an airport who doesn’t like her much. Then another woman travels with Santa (and his little dog) to visit some tiny body builders. She isn’t very happy, but then bumps into some bigger body builders, so she scarpers with them, in another sleigh that was just lying around. Santa gives chase, and turns her into a slug outside the airport seen previously. The dating agency woman leaves the airport, and slips on the newly beslugged-up sleigh-woman. At the airport bar, they all laugh about it afterwards, though. Roll credits.
Then, another French short, about a small boy having his birthday party interrupted by half-a-dozen women in leggings. They seem to be acting as some sort of co-stepmother. Retreating to his room, he begins to think about Star Wars. Moving to a Star Wars poster on his wall, we can see he has drilled a hole giving a view of his co-stepmothers’ bedroom. Jump cut. As a track-suited man with an afro peers through the hole at the pervyness therein, Boy mends the head on his Luke Skywalker action figure. The man is so pleased with the view, he damages his neck somehow. Nonetheless, he is still pleased by his experience, and duly pays Boy up. As he walks out of the room, the corridor is lined with more men, eager for some peep-hole panty neck-hurt action. Cut to a conference being given by one of the men from the corridor, now in a neck-brace. As he completes his speech, the other men in the room applaud. They are also wearing neck-braces.
Then, another one started. It looked like it was going to involve an old woman getting undressed for a bath, so we promptly put Match Of The Day on instead. Brr.
Ident Watch: Four shorts in, we didn’t see a single one. Poor show.
Picture Quality: Good. Despite our mobile phone camera making them look poor.
Once it gets going fully, and once there are some shows we can actually understand, this could be one to keep an eye on. Until then, a bit like a non-stop French version of the Japanese Jam Films series. A good thing.
Seven out of ten.
Meanwhile; exciting BBC HD news! They took the BBC HD dog off the screen for tonight’s premiere episode of Party Animals, the new political drama from the people behind This Life. As you might expect, it was basically This Life but about people who work for politicians, and was subsequently terrible. Hopefully, they’ll ditch the logo for some good programmes and hopefully some movies, too.
And what of the Celebrity Big Brother Fame-O-Watch? Well, here you go. We’re not really going to write any more about it now, because it’s all over, so we can stop caring. It’s a bit like how Germany versus Italy is a must see television event if they play each other in the World Cup Finals, but if they’re meeting in a European Championships qualifier, it’s all you can do to glance at the Sky Sports News Infobar to see the result.
So, in summary: blah Shilpa blah blah Jade getting lot of increased attention for obvious reasons blah still won't buy any records by Towers Of London blah. All info taken the morning after the final, but we've not had time to upload it until now. And yes, we *are* still in love with Shilpa Shetty.