TV review: Dead Pixels, Series 1-2

Meet Meg and Nicky. Both are young, in their twenties and are friends. Both were effectively in Lockdown long before it was fashionable.

For Meg and Nicky are gamers, hopelessly addicted to the huge online role-playing computer game, Kingdom Scrolls in Jon Brown’s winning E4 sitcom. Kingdom Scrolls is not actually a real game, but you would be forgiven for thinking it was from watching this. The fantasy world in which Meg and Nicky are drawn into is fully realised on screen in graphic detail. Although we see Meg and Nicky in the real world a lot: almost invariably in their flat or at work, often speaking to each other via portable headsets, we often see them as the fantasy warrior avatars they play as in the game fighting battles, hunting for treasure and generally living their lives vicariously through their characters in the game.

This isn’t the first sitcom to feature gamers as leading characters: remember Spaced, The IT Crowd and Big Bang Theory. But none have portrayed their high-tech fantasy worlds in as much vividly realised, carefully crafted visual detail as Dead Pixels does.

Needless to say, neither Meg (Alexa Davies) or Nicky (Will Merrick) are normal, well-rounded people. They never date, eat out, go to the cinema, go on holiday, read books, go clubbing or do any of the normal things pre-Lockdown twentysomethings did. Instead, they devote every spare minute of their free time to Kingdom Scrolls. They neglect their diet and are uninterested in their work. Meg, in fact, genuinely seems to be very good at her job and keeps getting promoted. This only annoys her as it leaves her with more responsibilities and less time to play Kingdom Scrolls.

They are endlessly scornful about the activities of their friend, Alison (Charlotte Ritchie). Although only slightly older than Meg and Nicky. she is a non-gamer who lives something close to what most of us would consider to be a normal life. She is baffled and slightly troubled by Meg and Nicky’s obsession and does what she can to gently draw them out of it. She achieves little success in this, however. Meg and Nicky continue to treat such developments as the release of a new expansion pack or the casting of the long-awaited Kingdom Scrolls film as if they are matters of life and death. We soon learn Alison is not above making bad life decisions herself too.

Incidentally, there is a neat twist revealed quite late in the very first episode. I have avoided mentioning it here.

There are other characters too. Usman (Sargon Yelda) is a slightly older US airline pilot whose obsession with Kingdom Scrolls clearly comes at the expense of family life. He never meets any of the other characters in person during the programme although he speaks to them often.

Russell (David Mumeni) is a Kingdom Scrolls newbie, who Meg as met at work. Russell is embarrassingly unworldly in both the game and real-life and is still amused by such japes as sheathing and unsheathing his character’s sword repeatedly to make it look as if his avatar is masturbating. The other more seasoned gamers have long since ceased to be amused by such antics. There is an ongoing story about Meg fancying Russell at first, finding him very physically attractive despite disliking his personality. Nothing is really made of this after the first series, however. Other supporting characters also crop up in the second series played by Al Roberts (Stath Lets Flats) and New Zealand comic and actress, Rose Matafeo (Taskmaster, Baby Done).

The first series of Dead Pixels was released in 2019 and the newly released second series which is now showing is just as good as the first. Genuinely funny, very watchable and boosted by impressive visuals and strong comic performances from Davies, Mellor and Ritchie especially, Dead Pixels is guaranteed to keep you glued to the screen.

Series 2 of Dead Pixels is currently being screened on Tuesdays at 10pm on E4. Both series are available to watch in full on All4.

Dawn of the Planet of the Geeks

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Once upon a time, nobody wanted to be a geek.

Geeks were stamp collectors, train spotters or computer nerds. Who would ever want to be one of them? James Bond. Rocky. Han Solo. They were heroes. Nobody wanted to be Roland from Grange Hill. Everybody wanted to be Tucker Jenkins. Dennis the Menace trounced Softy Walter every time.

Then, in the Eighties and Nineties, things started to change. Geeks like Bill Gates and Richard Branson became role models. Filmmakers Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Quentin Tarantino, Richard Linklater and Kevin Smith were notably more geeky than their drug-addled hedonistic Seventies counterparts. The films started to reflect this  with even superficially cool characters like Back To The Future’s Marty McFly and Indiana Jones (who is, of course, an archaeologist) having a geeky side.

By the end of the 20th century, films like Clerks and TV shows like Spaced and Freaks and Geeks were close to celebrating geek culture. Mainstream characters in shows like Friends and Seinfeld also started aping geek behaviour.

Now, far from being shunned, thanks to shows like The IT Crowd (now finished) and The Big Bang Theory, geeks are not only shunned but celebrated. There is now tons of pro-geek merchandise available. There is a popular website called Den of Geek. Actors like Tobey Maguire, Zooey Deschanel, Doctor Who’s Matt Smith, Benedict Cumberbatch and Jesse Eisenberg (who memorably played Facebook founder and geek Mark Zuckerberg in the film The Social Network) are hailed as geeks. Truly, as The Bible almost says: “the geek have inherited the Earth”.

The problem is that there are still plenty of real genuinely socially maladjusted geeks around without pretend geeks homing in on their territory. The other day, an attractive female participant on Channel 4’s First Dates proudly claimed to be a geek. Yes, she wore glasses. Yes, she was a computer programmer. But was she a geek? No way.

This has to stop.  Leave the realm of geeks to the real genuine geeks: the addictive Warcraft players, the Dungeons and Dragons enthusiasts (yes, there are still many around) and the obsessive bloggers. Ahem.

Bear in mind these simple rules:

Wearing glasses is not enough in itself to make you a geek. Nor is it even necessary. Zooey Deschanel is kooky, yes, but much too attractive and sociable to have ever been a geek. Wearing glasses just means you have defective eyesight and don’t like contact lenses. And they often look cool now anyway (see below).

Watching Game of Thrones is not enough in itself. Or The Hobbit. Or Star Wars. Or Iron Man. Or computer games. All of these things are mainstream now. However, have you read more than one Game of Thrones book? Now, you’re on your way.

You cannot like sport and be a geek.

Finally, and most importantly: if you really want to be a geek, face facts:  you will never truly be one. You might as well try to be genuinely cool.

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