Writers: Nick Antosca & Michelle Dean, Dan Dietz, Robin Veitch, Lisa Long, Heather Marion
Directors: Laure DeClermont-Tonnerre, Adam Arkin, Christina Choe, Steven Piet, Hannah Fidell, etc.
Cast: Joey King, Patricia Arquette, Chloe Sevigny, AnnaSophia Robb, Calum Worthy, Dean Norris, Denitra Isler, Margo Martindale etc.
Original Network: Hulu (US) – Starz/Amazon (UK)
*** CONTAINS SPOILERS ***
The capacity for human beings to lie and fake and forge simply knows no bounds. Clearly lying is bad, as it disintegrates trust in families, relationships and society in general. We should all strive for truth. But before one judges and jumps to conclusions there can be mitigating circumstances for lies. It could be a good lie. A lie that protects someone from the horrors of reality or a bad situation. It could be a falsehood which is worth denying in order to circumnavigate a tricky moment. This last example is a subjective decision though. But what if you’re not in your right mind? What if you have a mental illness? Does this forgive the darkest lies you tell or present? No, but it does explain why you’ve told such untruths.
Hulu’s exceptional true-life drama, The Act (2019), centres on a character who is both a liar and mentally disturbed. You would not know from the outside but Dee Dee Blanchard (Patricia Arquette) was a very troubled person. A seemingly loving single mother to a teenage daughter, Gypsy Blanchard (Joey King), Dee Dee unfortunately has to cope with Gypsy’s myriad of medical issues which leave her in a wheelchair and unable to feed herself. But Gypsy is actually incredibly healthy. Her mother has in fact been drugging and faking and benefiting financially from harming her daughter for years. Clingy, controlling and manipulative of her daughter’s every movement, routine and personal interactions, Dee Dee never wants her daughter to grow up. She wants a permanently powerless child and vicariously feeds off all the sympathy this brings. Yet Gypsy is growing up and she wants to do her own thing. Her body is changing and so are her desires. Something had to give.
Over eight brilliantly written and directed episodes, The Act (2019), unfolds as a powerful human tragedy. The story begins in 2015 with a serious crime; someone has been hurt. It then flashes back to when Dee Dee and Gypsy moved from hurricane hit New Orleans to Springfield, Missouri in 2008. Moving consummately back and forth in time the structure builds the drama very well. I genuinely couldn’t believe that someone would do that to their own child. Then, just when you think the story cannot twist any further the events take an even stranger and darker fall. Unsurprisingly, Patricia Arquette won an Emmy for her performance as the tragic faker, Dee Dee. Arquette inhabits the skin of this unhinged mother chillingly. But she’s not a scary monster, more one that subtly gets right under the skin. Joey King as Gypsy is equally brilliant as the co-dependent daughter, ultimately driven to extreme and shocking behaviour by her mother’s lies and twisted vision of love.
Created and written by: Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith
Directors (Season5): Matt Lipsey, Guillem Morales, Steve Pemberton
Original Network: BBC (available on BBC Iplayer and Netflix)
No. of Episodes: 6
***CONTAINS PROPER SPOILERS***
Inside No. 9is written by and stars Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith. Both are brilliant comedic and dramatic actors, having appeared in many TV shows and films down the years. They are arguably most famous for beginning their careers in amazing comedic troupe The League of Gentlemen; however, their work on Inside No. 9 surpasses the ‘League’ in my view.
If you have never seen Inside No. 9 before, I urge you to do so. It is an exceptional anthology series with six standalone episodes per season. Individual episodes feature a whole host of different characters and actors each time. As per the prior seasons, the latest one is absolutely brilliant. It privileges tightly woven thirty-minute short narratives, which more often than not, feature a twist in the tale. Moroever the events usually unfold in one location with never more than a handful of characters. This makes the narratives feel more focussed, intense and intimate.
Inside No. 9 is also a surprising delight because you never know what kind of genre you will get. One week you could get comedy, horror, drama, crime, romance or musical; and sometimes a combination of all of them. They also take chances with their use of form and structure, with many episodes either paying homage or parodying different genre styles. So, here are some short reviews of each episode from Season 5. Usually, I mark my reviews out of eleven (in homage to This is Spinal Tap (1984)), however, for obvious reasons, I will be marking these reviews out of NINE.
EPISODE 1 – THE REFEREE’S A W**NKER
Cast: David Morrissey, Ralph Little, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith
The number 9 of this episode occurs in a football referees’ changing room before, during and after a critical final game of the season. Tensions rise between players, mascots and officials in what is the referee’s last game before retirement. David Morrissey is brilliant as the ultra-professional ref attempting to keep control amidst the chaos. Ralf Little also excels as the vain referee’s assistant, with Shearsmith and Pemberton offering fine comedic support. On the main this plays out as a comedy, but there are also serious moments. Indeed, The Referee’s a Wanker explores themes of corruption, gay footballers, and the obsessive win-at-all-costs nature of football fanatics. Fast-paced, funny and containing a great twist, this episode kicked off the season very positively.
Mark: 8 out of 9
EPISODE 2 – DEATH BE NOT PROUD
Cast: Jenna Coleman, Kadiff Kirwan, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, Sarah Solemani
This episode was a joy on many levels. Firstly, it was a fantastic mixture of dark comedy and bloody horror. Most significantly, it contained a wonderful series of meta-cultural call backs to Shearsmith’s and Pemberton’s prior work called Psychoville. A grotesque and demented sitcom, Psychoville contained a gallery of crazed characters with many portrayed by Pemberton and Shearsmith. In Death Be Not Proud the opening is quite conventional. Young couple (Jenna Coleman and Kadiff Kirwan) get what they think is a property bargain. However, the flat was host to a grisly murder and something from beyond the grave is tormenting the new tenants. When the previous owner, David Sowerbutts returns things get even weirder. Only then do we learn about the horrific history of this murder home, to sick and hilarious effect.
Mark: 8.5 out of 9
EPISODE 3 – LOVE’S GREAT ADVENTURE
Cast: Steve Pemberton, Debbie Rush, Gaby French, Bobby Schofield, Reece Shearsmith.
Once again displaying fine writing and actorly versatility, Love’s Great Adventure plays out as a straight family drama. It’s of such high quality and hits such emotional and dramatic peaks, TV writers like Paul Abbott, Jimmy McGovern and Jed Mercurio would have been proud to have written it. Cleverly structured around an advent calendar, the Christmas setting adds texture to the financial struggles of one working class family. Trevor (Pemberton) and Julia (Debbie Rush) are devoted to each other, their teenage daughter and grandson who lives with them. They are even prepared to forgive their self-destructive addict son. Set mainly in the kitchen on various days leading up to Christmas day, the events unfold in a subtle, but powerfully realistic manner. These are ordinary, but compelling characters, who prove there is nothing stronger than family love.
Mark: 8.5 out of 9
EPISODE 4 – MISDIRECTION
Cast: Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Jill Halfpenny, Fionn Whitehead
One of my favourite ever TV shows is Tales Of The Unexpected and Inside No. 9 certainly owes a debt to that series of twisted genre narratives. Misdirection is a case in point. It is up there with the best Pemberton and Shearsmith plots, as a young student journalist, Fionn Whitehead, interviews Reece Shearsmith’s famous magician. Safe to say that as this is about magic there is much in the way of tricksy turns, bluffs and diversionary tactics. Shearsmith is on brilliant form as the arrogant traditionalist with a dark secret. He criticizes the inelegance of street magicians while a battle of wits ensues with Whitehead’s seemingly naive novice. Echoing the structural and stylish dexterity of Peter Schaffer’s brilliant Sleuth (1972), Misdirection holds all the cards when it comes to being a deviously clever and totally unexpected tale.
Mark: 9 out of 9
EPISODE 5 – THINKING OUT LOUD
Cast: Maxine Peake, Phil Davis, Ionna Kimbrook, Sandra Gayer, Sara Kestelman, Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton
Before reviewing this season, I watched every episode twice. I’m glad I did because Inside No. 9 can be complex and pack a lot in thirty minutes. So, it proves in Thinking Out Loud, as we get seven seemingly disparate characters all unconnected. Or so we are led to believe. The episode uses the video diary format, which was something of a popular phenomenon in the 1990s, plus it echoes the “talking heads” style of Alan Bennett. Thus, we get a character in therapy, her therapist, a criminal on death row, a singer, a man suffering from cancer, a man looking for love and an Instagram influencer. All directly address the camera and as we cut between them, their connection slowly filters through until the incredible reveal. Owing much to films like Identity (2003) and Split (2017), this psychological thriller is very crafty with many chilling moments that bear up to multiple viewings.
Mark: 8 out of 9
EPISODE 6 – THE STAKEOUT
Cast: Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith
This virtual two-hander concentrates all of the action within the confines of a police car. Steve Pemberton portrays the jaded and experienced police officer obsessed with finding out who killed his partner. Joining him in the vehicle is new partner, played by Shearsmith. The latter’s character is a Special Constable who seeks to follow the book causing tension on a stakeout during a literal graveyard shift. The two clash over diet, riddles, word-games and police procedure, but over three nights they eventually find mutual respect. The bulk of the episode’s enjoyment comes from Pemberton and Shearsmith’s sparring and their performances are exemplary. The writing is also impressive as it plays with the tropes of the police procedural genre. Finally, it also sets up a suspenseful opening only to confound us by the bloody fiendish denouement.
Developed by Richard Price – based on Stephen King’s novel
Writers: Dennis Lehane, Jessie Nickson-Lopez, Richard Price
Directors: Jason Bateman, Andrew Bernstein, Igor Martinovic, Karyn Kusama, Daina Reid, J.D. Dillard, Charlotte Brandstrom
Cast: Ben Mendelsohn, Bill Camp, Cynthia Erivo, Jason Bateman, Jeremy Bobb, Julianne Nicholson, Mare Winningham, Paddy Considine, Marc Menchaca, Max Beesley, Derek Cecil, Yul Vazquez etc.
Original Network: HBO
No. of Episodes: 10
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
When I first saw this advertised, I thought finally, someone has adapted Albert Camus’ classic existential novel, The Outsider. When I saw it was from HBO, I was even more stoked. However, I then realised it was actually a story developed from a recent novel by uber-writer, Stephen King. Nonetheless, my enthusiasm was not curbed or curtailed. Because lord does King certainly know his way around a crime and horror tale. Moreover, with character actors such as Ben Mendelsohn, Bill Camp, Paddy Considine, Mare Winningham and Jason Bateman in the cast, plus star-in-the-making Cynthia Erivo also in the mix, I knew this had to be good. Thus, it proved.
It goes without saying that being a HBO production this is a high quality rendition of Stephen King’s novel. The director of the first two episodes, Jason Bateman, brings the dark finish, tone and experience garnered from his superlative work on Netflix’s brilliant series, Ozark. Bateman is also cast as the main murder suspect, Terry Maitland, and he so metronomically good in the role. In a gripping opening episode Maitland is arrested for the murder of a local boy, Frank Peterson. The investigation is lead by Cherokee City detective, Ralph Anderson; an emotionally hollowed cop superbly portrayed by Ben Mendelsohn. Maitland protests his innocence, and when his ebullient attorney — the ever-impressive Bill Camp — shows he has a cast iron alibi, the narrative takes a decidedly strange turn.
Firstly, as I have alluded to, this must be one of the best casts assembled in a television show since, well, the last HBO series produced. Further, grandmaster screenwriter, Richard Price — who also co-adapted the superb The Night Of (2016) for HBO — has spring boarded King’s original brilliantly. Price and his co-writers fully flesh out a series of fascinating characters and a community ripped apart by a black monster lurking in the shadows. Indeed, grief and heartache stain the eye of this drama as death hangs heavy over the humans of this closeknit town.
The Outsider (2020) is so confident, we are not even introduced to another of the major assets of the series in Cynthia Erivo’s investigator, Holly Gibney, until the third episode. While the ‘Outsider’ of the title could be referring to the killer, Gibney’s character is very much an idiosyncratic loner too. Whether she is on the spectrum, it is not revealed. However, irrespective of her lack of social skills, she has an incredible memory, powerful determination and prodigious logic. Erivo, as Gibney, gives a masterclass of a performance radiating empathy, heart and fierce intelligence throughout.
Finally, some may feel the HBO series moves too slowly in the middle episodes, following the thrilling opening ones. However, I was engrossed in the methodical unravelling of the exposition to the audience. As Gibney discovers the true horror of the mystery then so do we. Stephen King has always been a genius at creating eerie suspense and this story is no different. I was pleased that this vision avoided the more hysterical supernatural elements which have blighted lesser King adaptations. Yet, while it is subtle in delivery, the show isn’t without a number of explosive moments, especially during a bullet-fest of a shootout in the final episode. Overall though it’s the creeping dread I felt while watching The Outsider (2020), that I’ll remember most. It’s the stuff of nightmares you see; and at times I was seeing more than double.
IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA – SEASON 14 REVIEW
Created by: Rob McElhenney
Developed by: Rob McElhenney and Glenn Howerton
Writers:Charlie Day, David Hornsby, Megan Ganz, John Howell Harris, Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton, Dannah Phirman, Danielle Schneider, Conor Galvin, etc.
Directors: Glenn Howerton, Heath Cullens, Pete Chatmon, Tim Roche, Kimberly McCullough
Charlie Day as Charlie Kelly Glenn Howerton as Dennis Reynolds Rob McElhenny as Mac Kaitlin Olson as Dee Reynolds Danny DeVito as Frank Reynolds Mary Elizabeth Ellis as The Waitress David Hornsby as Cricket Dolph Lundgren as Thundergun
*****MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS, BITCHES!*****
I’ve written about the scurrilous comedy show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia at length here and here and reviewed Season 13 here. It is genuinely one of my favourite TV shows of all time. Moreover, it is always one of the cultural highlights of my year when a new season is released by FX/Netflix. This is the fourteenth season of the show, which now means it is one of the longest running live action comedy sitcoms in the U.S. It’s basically one of the main reasons I carry on living.
If you haven’t seen It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – THEN WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU! No, seriously, it is one of the darkest, funniest and absurd shows I ever seen. It is the Anti-Christ of sitcoms and a twisted anathema to the Friends template. It concerns five narcissistic individuals who run a bar in Philadelphia called Paddy’s, and each episode tracks their weird and wonderful antics. It may not sound like it, but it is comedy gold.
Further, it’s also pretty smart in satirising zeitgeist issues relating to race, gender, politics, friendships, sport, addiction, crime, feminism and sexuality. It is quite often shocking but not just for shock’s sake, because there is a streak of intelligence running throughout the show. Season 13 felt mildly broken because Glenn Howerton seemed to have left, it still had some classic episodes like The Gang Beats Boggs: Ladies Reboot, The Gang Escapes, Mac Finds His Pride and The Gang gets New Wheels. Having said that the Dennis-shaped hole was mostly filled with Glenn Howerton appearing as Dennis in many episodes during last season. This year Howerton is back with in every episode; and he even directed a couple too.
The season opens strongly with the episode The Gang gets Romantic, which essentially involves Dennis and Mac using the Air BNB model to trap an unsuspecting woman in their flat. Frank and Charlie do the same but in a way less sophisticated fashion. Safe to say their creepy plots go badly in very unromantic and different ways. Frank and Charlie at least find some bromance with some European male counterparts, having kicked out some junkie Euro skanks. Episode 2, Thundergun 4: Maximum Cool, then found the Gang in a focus group situation. Here they tore into what they perceived to be political correctness gone mad, diverse Hollywood reboots, a lack of male nudity and the expensiveness of the cinema experience. It’s always chaotic and hilarious when they come into contact with outside agencies; and so it proves to be!
The 3rd and 4th episodes, Dee Dayand The Gang Chokes were full of crazy situations. In both episodes Kaitlin Olsen is on particularly great form, as is Danny DeVito in The Gang Chokes. It’s hilarious when he chokes at the dinner table and no one jumps in to help him, forcing him to shun the group and pay back the person who saved his life. The next episode The Gang Texts is one of the highlights of the season. The Gang visit the zoo, but get a text group started to stay in touch. Mac and Dee struggle to retain control amidst the communication problems. While Dennis wants to see a lion feast on flesh, Frank tries to rile the Gorillas by teasing them with bananas. Ultimately, this episode contains the message that it’s best to live in the moment and not on your phone. That and Mac gets pissed on a lot by the others.
The Janitor Always Mops Twice was a hilarious pastiche of film noir genre films. Here Charlie is the private dick investigating a devious cherry racket. Once again Kaitlin Olsen is hilarious as Dee and Mary Elizabeth Ellis appears as a seductive femme fatale who suspiciously looks like the Waitress. The script zings along and there are many classic moments, notably when Charlie mixes cat food in his whisky. In The Gang Solves Global Warming, Paddy Has a Jumper and A Woman’s Right to Chop the series satirises some serious issues with the usual anarchic results. Climate change, suicide, streaming algorithms and abortion are important matters affecting society, but the Gang doesn’t get bogged down too much with the messages. Instead they explore and irreverently barb humanity. The Gang Solves Global Warming was particularly funny as the bar became a microcosm for Earth. A massive party ensues and as the heat rises no one wants to stop the partying even for a second.
The final episode called Waiting for Big Mo is set in a Laser Quest establishment as writer, David Hornsby, cleverly turns it into a curiously florescent parody of Beckett’s seminal play, Waiting for Godot. The Gang are essentially controlled by Dennis who is obsessively sticking to his plan of winning the game. Mac, Charlie, Dee and Frank just want to have fun and play like children. The show examines existential philosophies amidst some hilarious exchanges between the characters, including Charlie not knowing the difference between riddles and jokes. Ultimately, it was a fun, daft, and at times, intelligent end to a very satisfying season of one of the greatest comedy shows of all time.
Writers: George Kay, Alejandro Hernandez, Manuel Cuenca, Frederic Mermoud, Mathieu Missoffe, Antonin Martin-Hilbert, Bernd Lange, Sebastian Heeg.
Directors: Frederic Mermoud, Oliver Hirschbiegel, Mariano Barroso, Jim Field Smith
Cast (various): David Tennant, Hayley Atwell, Youssef Kerkour, Nicholas Pinnock, Mark Stanley, Katherine Kelly, Sara Giradeau, Nathalie Baye, Margot Bancilon, Stephane Jobert, Laurent Lucas, Peter Kurth, Deniz Arora, Nina Hoss, Sylvester Groth, Florence Kasumba, Carmen Macha, Inma Cuesta, Eduard Fernandez, Jose Angel Egido, Emma Suarez, Jorge Bosch etc.
Original Network: Netflix
******* MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS *******
I’m a massive fan of anthology shows and also television which adheres to a clear format. Of course, it can be argued to be generic and formulaic, however, there’s something very pleasing in watching a television drama with fixed location, rules and concepts in place. Netflix’s crime procedural drama, Criminal (2019) is one such programme. Each episode is based around the interrogation of a prime suspect, as the police attempt to extract the truth or confession relating to a serious crime.
The enclosed space and the battle of wills in each episode between the police and suspect finds the drama unfold in a similar way to a theatrical play. Thus, the script, characters, dialogue and performances need to be of a high quality. Using the same exquisitely geometrically designed set (shot in Madrid) Criminal has been produced in England, Spain, Germany and France, I watched all four, consisting of twelve episodes, and very entertaining it was too. Here are some quick reviews of each series with usual marks out of eleven.
CRIMINAL: FRANCE (2019)
Arguably, along with the UK episodes, the most consistent of the four series. The three stories were expertly scripted and acted, tapping into relevant issues of the day relating to terror attacks (Emilie), homophobic violence (Jerome) and industrial murder (Caroline). Veteran actor Nathalie Baye excelled in the latter, while Sara Giradeau was very moving as Emilie, an individual accused of being a fake “victim” in a terrorist bombing. The issue of gender politics in the crimes and between the police hierarchy adds further depth to this excellent drama.
Mark: 9 out of 11
CRIMINAL: GERMANY (2019)
Set in the same claustrophobic location but this time based in Germany, these episodes are directed by seasoned helmer, Oliver Hirschbiegel. While very thrilling, they had a cooler and more detached feel compared to the other countries. The lead detective Karl Schultz is portrayed by the exceptional actor Sylvester Groth. His obsessive cat-and-mouse interrogation of the accused (Nina Hoss) in the last episode, Claudia, was the highlight of the three compelling dramas. The other two episodes are well written and intriguing, with decent twists too.
Mark: 8.5 out of 11
CRIMINAL: SPAIN (2019)
Probably my least favourite of the quartet within the franchise, there was still a lot to like about the three episodes. While the segment entitled Carmen was both moving and suspenseful in its’ depiction of a family torn apart following the death of their autistic daughter, the other two stories lacked depth for me. Lastly, the officer leading the interrogations, Chief Inspector Toranzo Puig (Emma Suarez) was highly suspect in her adherence to procedure and while this added to the drama, it made her character cold and hard to like.
Mark: 7.5 out of 11
CRIMINAL: UK (2019)
My favourite, along with the French series, the UK one starts with a fantastic episode, Edgar, owed mostly due to appearance of David Tennant. He is such a commanding presence on screen, you’re really drawn into the case of whether his Doctor (not that one) had killed his stepdaughter. The second episode, Stacey, features an almost unrecognisable Hayley Atwell. Looking thin, hair-dyed, and speaking with a strong South London accent, it found the classy actor really delving deep into her character. The final episode was very tense too as Youssef Kerkour’s truck driver, Jay, is accused of being involved in people trafficking for a dangerous gang. Ultimately, the series was very solid drama, well-acted and directed. I thought Mark Stanley stood out as the cop battling a hidden secret.
Created and Written by: Karl Pilkington and Richard Yee
Directed by: Richard Yee
Cast: Karl Pilkington, Sondra James, Marama Corlett, Cokey Falkow, Lou Sanders, Shola Adewusi, Cavan Clerkin, Finn Bennett and more.
Original Network: Sky One
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
I’m a late developer when it comes to appreciating the Northern homespun charm and philosophies of one-time radio producer, but now TV presenter, writer and actor, Karl Pilkington. I only caught up with his melancholic and eccentric outpourings when I recently listened to recordings of The Ricky Gervais Guide To. . . podcast show, featuring Gervais, Pilkington and Steven Merchant. The two high status comedians basically take a subject and throw themes and shit at Karl Pilkington and he delights them with a mixture of odd, but also weirdly wise rants and musings. Subsequently, I watched the hilarious shows An Idiot Abroad and The Moaning of Life. Then, having decided he was not being bullied and was actually a real person, I firmly emerged a big Karl Pilkington fan.
Pilkington’s first major venture into fictional storytelling, as opposed to crazy and hilarious travel programmes or stooge-like appearances with Gervais and Merchant, is called, appropriately enough, Sick of It. There have been two seasons and twelve entertaining episodes so far screened on Sky television. Karl portrays a downtrodden taxi driver called, wait for it, Karl, who having been dumped by his girlfriend is now living with his Aunt Norma (Sondra James) in Ladbroke Grove, West London. While he has featured in small roles previously, this is Pilkington’s first major acting gig. It’s interesting too as he also plays the part of his own “inner voice”, So, you get two Karl Pilkington’s for the price of one. While not having much range his acting is actually pretty good. Furthermore, he’s a likeable everyman character, both empathetic and droll.
The alter ego or inner voice character is essentially Karl’s self-doubt, insecurity and negativity personified. Only seen by Karl and the audience, he provides some very funny rants throughout the two seasons. Having said that, the writing and performances are strong enough that the show could definitely have worked without the “double” element. To conclude, Sick of It is a bittersweet slice-of-life character comedy, with some very funny episodes. I especially enjoyed the ones where he escapes London to go on holiday or returns to his hometown of Manchester. Lastly, I imagine the show will appeal to Karl Pilkington fans mainly, yet, those who identify with individuals dealing with loss, loneliness, depression, failed romances and the perils of everyday living will find something to enjoy in the show also.
Obviously, I watch a hell of a lot of fiction films and television shows. Every now and then I try and catch up with some documentaries about actual events, people and serious matters. Personally, I love nothing more than to immerse myself in fictional worlds, but sometimes it’s important to explore the “truth”.
Having said that, some documentaries contain highly constructed narratives with as much, if not more drama than fictional works. Indeed, very often truth is much stranger than fiction. Thus, here are six documentaries I have watched recently. As some of these reviews deal with serious issues, I have dispensed with the usual marking system, so as not to trivialise them.
******CONTAINS FACTUAL SPOILERS******
BRITAIN’S CHILD DRUG RUNNERS – CHANNEL 4/ALL 4
Dispatches is a long-running documentary series which examines hard-hitting issues in society and the world as a whole. This particular episode sought to shed light on the gangs which lure teenagers into their drug running crimes. Children, some as young as eleven, are used to run “County Lines” delivering and selling drugs. The programme was fascinating and showed how the children’s, parents, police enforcement and society in general is being tragically affected by this problem.
CATCHING A KILLER (2019) – CHANNEL 4/ALL 4
Murder documentaries are like rats in the city, infesting our TV screens and streaming platforms. Some of the true-life ones can be lurid and trashy, however, this one from Channel 4 was moving and of high quality. The series focuses on ongoing investigations and follows police as they investigate the crime and gather evidence. This particular episode profiled a retired gentleman who relatives believed had died of natural causes. It soon became clear that the victim had been cruelly conned and manipulated by a charming, but devious killer.
FOR SAMA (2019) – CHANNEL 4/ALL 4
This incredibly moving and harrowing documentary took you into the heart of the Syrian conflict. Filmmaker and journalist, Waad Al-Kateab began filming in 2011 and continued for many years as her home in East Aleppo became a bomb site full of loss, destruction and death. Despite this she met her husband, a Doctor, and gave birth to her daughter, Sama. Choosing to stay amidst the explosions and blood was not only an incredible commitment to the story, but also a testament to the bravery of those lives impacted by war. I don’t know much about the Syrian war, and obviously this is just one side of what is a very complex matter. Yet, despite all the pain and suffering on show, one must admire the resilience of those involved and I am not surprised the film has gone onto to win many awards.
MARRIED TO A PAEDOPHILE (2018) – CHANNEL 4/ALL 4
This salacious sounding documentary is not as exploitation based as it would appear. Focusing on three families who lives have been torn apart because the man of the family had downloaded child pornography, it explores the aftermath of this serious crime. Interestingly, the documentary featured the real voices of the people involved, but with actors playing their roles. It’s an intriguing subject as the wives and children of these men are left to deal with not just shame and guilt, but vindictive neighbours and broken relationships.
THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS (2018) – CHANNEL 4/ALL 4
This is genuinely one of those stories you would not believe, unless perhaps it was in a science fiction cloning drama or something. The documentary film examines the past and present lives of triplets who were given up for adoption in the early 1960’s. The issue was none of them, or their adoptive parents, were told of the others existence. Thus, years later when they meet each other aged 19, through sheer coincidence, they have one hell of a surprise. The first half of this documentary is very engaging and positive as the trio, Bobby, Eddy and David reunite and become celebrities, appearing on chat shows and magazine front pages in 1980’s America. The second half of this incredible film then darkens somewhat as the truth as to what actually happened is revealed. It is truly astonishing to watch!
WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOUR (2018) – NETFLIX
Having watched and reviewed the recent film release, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)here, I decided to head over to Netflix and check out the earlier documentary about American TV legend, Fred Rogers. Like the feature drama, this highlights the strength, wisdom and kindness of a great man, determined to instil worth and warmth into children’s lives. It’s a finely constructed documentary with an intermingling of footage from Rogers’ television shows, historical interviews with the man himself, plus friends, family and people he worked with paying tribute to a fine human being. The film asks, “Won’t You Be My Neighbour?” My answer is a definite YES!