Thursday, 9 September 2010

Reviewing the new Nike Pro Combat range

Nike has launched its second year of their 'Pro Combat' line of uniforms for various college football teams to the similar vague disinterest that their 2009 set mustered.

For those unaware, college teams in American football have for the most part retained very minimalist and classy looking uniforms for long periods of their existence, such as the blue on white of Penn State, and the crimson of Alabama.

In an effort to sweep all of that aside and line their pockets in the process, Nike last year introduced a set of uniforms for ten teams it provides equipment for to use in their rivalry games, traditionally the last week of the season.

The results were mixed, with Ohio State's white on grey throwbacks looking relatively stylish, Missouri's black on carbon looking like something out of Transformers, and others offering so little difference as to appear just plain unnecessary.

Clearly not content with producing fairly inoffensive first designs, Nike went back to the drawing board for this year intent on making jerseys that would be unavoidably garish and in your face, and the resulting sets are pretty vomit-inducing. Virginia Tech's burgundy stripes on black helmet is particularly sickly, but take your pick from Miami's orange pyjamas, Pitt's Dark Knight inspired robotic look and Boise's metallic grey.

There is something strangely appealing about the shamelessly bombastic marketing however. Wander around the Nike website and you are bombarded with images of players exploding out of fires, emerging from swamps to roar next to alligators, and taming wild Broncos. Accompanied by hyperbolic audio tracks that attempt to claim that Pitt's uniform is inspired by the tough guys from the steel city, the effect is laughably entertaining.

There is an element of frustration with Nike's constant website reminders that the uniforms remain true to the spirit of whichever city or area they represent, when in reality a designer in the office has been let loose to run riot with Photoshop and indulge whichever fantasy their mood provoked that day.

Graphically the production is spectacular, and if the designs remained mere concepts they would probably be perfectly palatable, but in the glare of a real game, they just look slightly out of place, like a child's crayon drawing that somehow found its way through the development process.

Maybe more importantly, at the Uniwatch website, ESPN writer Paul Lukas took issue with the use of comparisons between football and real military combat, arguing convincingly that such casual references for merchandising purposes are more than a bit tasteless.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Comedy podcasts

In addition to the recommendation of the Russell Brand Show as listening material a few weeks ago, here are several other shows worth catching up with:

Peacock & Gamble podcast

This developed in the aftermath of the Ray Peacock podcast, in which the eponymous Peacock and fellow comedian Ed Gamble mocked former Eastenders actor Raji James in what was half classic comic stooge conceit and half sincere frustration.

What made the original show so rewarding were these moments that the loose setup was lost and we saw behind the curtain, hearing stories of incidents involving the three and occasionally leading to what felt like genuine disagreements.

The show eventually began to feel as if it had run its course, and its fate was sealed when some listeners began to stray beyond the comic 'bullying' in the podcast to simply abusing James through other virtual channels.

It still remains worth listening to though, and the collection can be found here:

The Peacock & Gamble podcast that launched in 2009 loses James and has a distinctly different feel, with more reliance on both riffing on each other's material and taking turns to play the straight man and the foil. It is very funny, with an interesting mix of the puerile, wacky, intelligent and knowing humour, and seems to be getting stronger with every episode. Download if just to hear Ed Gamble's explosive laugh:

Collings & Herrin

This podcast, originally intended to be a comic breakdown of the week's newspapers, was a slow-burner that began to pick up momentum as the two writers/comedians Andrew Collins and Richard Herring found their feet.

Collins initially played the straight character with Herring providing more of the comedy material through his increasingly outrageous suggestions and reactions. In more recent podcasts we have seen Collins develop his own style of comedy, and this has contributed to and culminated with his recent Edinburgh fringe stand-up show.

At the same festival, the podcast produced ten live shows which should be listened to solely for Herring's daily heckling of select members of the audience in increasingly imaginatively abusive ways, later put down as the work of his comic alter ego 'Herrin'.

It's a podcast that is perhaps not as immediately accessible as the Peacock & Gamble material, but rewards the listener for sticking with it through multiple episodes with moments that will suddenly have you laughing out loud.

In addition, the duo have a 6 Music radio show which has a distinctly different feel, as Herring is suddenly reigned in by broadcasting regulations, a comic tension that he relishes pushing to the limits of its acceptable boundaries.

Gervais, Merchant, Pilkington XFM
All of their more recent work is well-known, but the real joys can be found in the entire back-collection of four series-worth of radio material they presented back in the early 2000s. All of the stories later rehashed on the podcasts made their first outings here in what Gervais frequently refers to as 'the most shoddy radio show' every produced.

The live factor leaves no doubt as to Karl's real character, occasionally knife-edged studio tension and anger, as well as moments of hilarity.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Travel hangover

There's something deeply unsatisfying about when traveling comes to a jarring end. Arriving back into a Yorkshire town after wandering around in the sweltering heat of New York in what felt like the same hyper-extended day is hard to both comprehend and accept.

It's not just the cultural differences between America and England, but the perceptions of people's ambitions having radically altered once you arrive back in your depressingly familiar home-town.

And it doesn't hit you until you reach that station, until you are finally stationary for the first time in what feels like the length of the entire trip. It hits you again when you wander out into the street and see the same places you've seen for too long already in your life, and once more when you wake up the following morning and don't have to make plans, don't have to fire yourself across into some distant part of an unexplored city simply for the sake of it, just because that's what you should do.

It hurts more when people you are now surrounded by, rightly or wrongly, have the look of those happy to be settled into the 9-5 routine, to trudge around the streets staring at their own feet, snarling at others and waiting until an hour early enough for it to be acceptable to start drinking.

To not be walking across New York today, standing swaying on the Subway or sitting in the shade to get away from the oppressive heat just feels mad. And horrible. Pass me a beer.