Category Archives: Television

TO BOLDLY REVIEW #4 – STAR TREK – THE ANIMATED SERIES

STAR TREK – THE ANIMATED SERIES (1973 – 1974)

Created by: Gene Roddenberry

Directed by: Hal Sutherland (S1) and Bill Reed (S2)

Starring voices of: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Majel Barrett

Executive producers: Gene Roddenberry, D.C. Fontana

Production: Filmnation Norway, Paramount TV Service

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Running for a mere 22 episodes four years after the original Star Trek series was cancelled, the animated series can be seen as an unofficial fourth season to the live action show. While the animation was cartoon-like and rudimentary compared to the incredible CGI animation we have today, the scripts and stories were actually very sound. Many of the original cast members lend their voices too, so the show is not a mere cheap cash-in. Moreover, the stories featured the U.S.S. Enterprise boldly exploring space and beyond, capturing the dramatic essence of the original show.

While it was short-lived there some fantastic episodes in the animated series. The animation allowed for more expansive and weird-looking alien creatures, especially as the make-up and effects budgets would not be stretched as on the live action show. Some curiosities I noticed while watching were the inclusion in one episode of the “holodeck” or rec room. Plus, Kirk also referred to himself, rather weirdly, by his full name James Tiberius Kirk.

Many of the episodes had strong emotional and science fiction concepts. Although, given the twenty-four minute running time of each they often felt rushed to conclusion. Indeed, some of the stories could fit a feature film no problem and perhaps the recent reboot could have looked at some as a starting point; perhaps they did? Overall, I enjoyed the show but was surprised to read it won an Emmy in 1975 for Outstanding Entertainment – Children’s Series. Then again, it was certainly smarter than your average Hanna Barbera cartoon.

Of the twenty-two episodes I would say my favourite FOUR were:

Yesteryear (S1 – Ep. 2)

Spock must travel to the past to rescue his younger self from danger.

The Time Trap (S1 – Ep. 12)

The Enterprise and a Klingon battlecruiser are drawn into a space vortex and end up in a timeless dimension.

The Jihad (S1 – Ep. 16)

Kirk and Spock are summoned to retrieve a holy artefact which could ignite a galactic war.

The Counter Clock Incident (S2 – Ep. 6)

An unusual spaceship pulls the Enterpirse into a negative universe where time flows backwards.

MY BRILLIANT FRIEND (2018) – HBO / SKY TV REVIEW

MY BRILLIANT FRIEND (2018) REVIEW

Based on: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Directed by: Saverio Costanzo

Written by: Elena Ferrante, Francesco Piccolo, Laura Paolucci, Saverio Costanzo

Starring: Elisa Del Genio, Ludovica Nasti, Gaia Girace, Margherita Mazzucco, Anna Rita Vitolo, Luca Gallone, Imma Villa, Antonio Milo, Alessio Gallo etc.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

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The quality of Italian produced TV dramas in recent years has been spectacularly high. I devoured three bloody seasons of the macho-gangster brutality of Gomorrah (2014 – 2017) with both shock and enthusiasm. I subsequently imbibed avidly the magisterial and philosophical depth of Paulo Sorrentino’s The Young Pope (2016). Thus, expectations were equally raised by HBO’s production of My Brilliant Friend; my confidence eventually rewarded with a moving, fiery, sensual, violent and intelligent drama about friendship and family rivalries.

Based on the first of four Neapolitan novels written by Elena Ferrante, the drama charts the lives of various families who inhabit a 1950s Naples neighbourhood. It’s a traditionally working class environment, set amongst run down blocks with cars travelling along dusty roads which lead to the city, country or sea. While encompassing a large ensembel cast, the story focusses on two specific characters: “Lenu” Greco and “Lilu” Cerullo. Forging a powerful friendship in their primary school years, the narrative unfolds over a ten-year period until they are sixteen. Their lives become entwined in family dramas, fights, romances and death, as both characters rival and connect with each other and those in the neighbourhood.

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Class differences underpin the various plots and sub-plots with Lilu displaying incredible academic acumen but held back as her family are too poor to send her to school. Galvanised by competition Lenu pushes herself to get ahead of her friend and despite such division the two are drawn together when facing seemingly insurmountable emotional odds. As such, their friendship and loyalty toward each other drives the story powerfully. Lilu, while contrary and irritating at times, is passionate and principled, while Lenu is more passive and demure. Yet, together they form a resilient whole.

The performances from the cast are brilliant, while the production overall is a thing of beauty. Max Richter’s score is sumptuous and haunting, with the era, setting and locations all wonderfully evoked. But it’s not nostalgia for happier times, rather an honest examination of humanity and rites of passage struggle through puberty and into adulthood. While the sun shines brightly in Naples, these are ultimately hard times. The many stories unfold in sand-hit tenement blocks where men, women and children struggle to make ends meet. Moreover, the show prefaces sisterhood as a means to overcome the misogyny and sexual exploitation of the era.

Toxic masculinity dominates throughout, with men represented as either: sexual predators, gangsters, wife-beaters and Catholic Priests. There are some positive male role models and there is a whiff of solidarity in the air as Communist doctrine is presented; however, there is no escape for the working classes other than to die or struggle onwards. Lastly, the only way out for Lenu and Lilu is sticking and fighting together; educating themselves academically and emotionally to grow and gain the experience necessary to cope with the slings and arrows of Neapolitan life.

Mark: 9 out of 11

BANDERSNATCH (2019) – BLACK MIRROR / NETFLIX REVIEW

BANDERSNATCH (2019) – BLACK MIRROR REVIEW

Directed by: David Slade

Produced by: Russell McLean

Written by: Charlie Brooker

Cast: Fionn Whitehead, Will Poulter, Asim Chaudhry, Craig Parkinson, Alice Lowe etc.

**SPOILER FREE**

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Choices, choices, choices! We all have so many choices to make every day. Some simple; some much tougher. We didn’t have any choice over whether we were born, but now we are here there’s a myriad of daily selections we get to make. Do we get out of bed? Do we eat? Do we wash? Do we find the strength to get in our car or on the train and face the horrors of employment? Do we engage with violent abandon by calling the driver who cut us up at a roundabout, “a wanker!” Do we wear our clean underwear today or re-use yesterdays? Do we have a salad or burger for lunch? Do we start smoking again? Do we regret having children? Do we tell our partner we love them? Do we have the last beer in the fridge? Do we try and change our life? Do we just give up? Do we watch the new drama box-set or a Netflix special by Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker. So many tough choices!

Thus, you’ve had a shitty day with so many choices made and you sit down in front of the television in the hope you can switch off your brain. But that darned Brooker won’t let you. The televisual provocateur and his production team are cruelly requesting, for your entertainment, that you make MORE choices. If you’re young enough to remember those: “Go to page 47 to see if your spell vanquished the demon – or go back to page 666 to find out if you are the conqueror of the Universe”, type books, then Bandersnatch is THAT in television form. You may also be used to multiple choice computer games the likes of which I played myself as a kid on the Spectrum 128k computer. This is also the inspiration for Brooker’s twisted vision. But is it any good? I would choose YES! Bandersnatch is dark, hallucinatory and involving “fun”.

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The story/stories are set rather aptly in 1984. Our main protagonist is a grieving and troubled teenager, Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead). Stefan is obsessed by a “choose your adventure” book called Bandersnatch.  Inspired to turn it into a computer game, he soon descends down a veritable black hole mentally, physically and emotionally. The fact that we are vicariously responsible for the characters’ journey create a real sense of dread, doubt and suspense. It’s very clever and immersive and no doubt the writing of it must have been a tortuous process.

While it may not be for some I was engrossed by the show as it felt at times I was living in a Philip K. Dick story. Dick’s novels are often hallucinatory and dream-like with simple yet devastating prose. They deal with reality, alternative reality and beyond reality. You’re often in a place with unreliable narrators or confused protagonists who are existing in some real world, imagined or manufactured nightmare. Paranoia, anxiety and depression infect Dick’s world and Brooker captures that vibe brilliantly in Bandersnatch. However, it’s not also without humour too, albeit incredibly dark sarcastic humour.

Brooker and his filmmaking team achieve a style over substance triumph with Bandersnatch. I have only gone through Stefan’s narrative once but it gripped me from start to finish as an experience. The drained, urban and suburban 1980s colour and council-estate-grey look suited the psychotic breakdown of the main character. Nonetheless, at times, the dizzying twist of choices did take away from the emotional journey of the character. At one point I was so in the meta-hole the whole trip made me feel quite queasy. Having said that, I will be going back into this meta-adventure again; after all, the choices like in life seem endless.

Mark: 9 out of 11

RESOLUTION (2019): DR WHO NEW YEAR’S SPECIAL REVIEW

RESOLUTION (2019): DR WHO SPECIAL TV REVIEW

Directed by: Wayne Yip

Written by:  Chris Chibnall

Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Charlotte Ritchie, Nikesh Patel etc.

Produced by: Nikki Wilson

Executive producer(s): Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens, Sam Hoyle

Music composer: Segun Akinola

**SPOILER WARNING**

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And so Jodie Whittaker’s first raft of television adventures as the Gallifreyan Time Lord / Lady came to an end with this New Year’s Day Special. Aptly entitled Resolution it offered lots of intrigue and action and invention and one of the worst kept TV trailer secrets of recent times.

Opening with an impressive battle sequence involving humans defeating some unknown and villainous beast in the 9th Century, we then flash forward to the present wondering whether the creature would be seen again. Of course it would! It’s a fine opening and very cinematic, creating both a sense of awe and suspense, while owing much to the Marvel, DC Universes and Lord of the Rings type fantasy genres. In the present we are then introduced to flirtatious archaeaologists Lin and Mitch, who suddenly unearth that which has been buried in the earth for centuries. So far: so Quatermass!

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When the archaeologists’ find brings to life a slimy, tentacled and horrific monster from the darkness, the Doctor, Tardis and ubiquitous gang are not too far behind. The monster itself is an (SPOILER WARNING) unshelled Dalek who has been woken from centuries of slumber with anything but peace and goodwill on his or her mind. I’m not sure if Dalek’s are gender specific but probably best to keep within the politically correct rules the show rightly follows and projects.

With all the back-story and exposition out of the way, what follows is essentially a Terminator: Judgment Day (1991) type pursuit plot. The Dalek gains control of Lin and envelops her mind in order to carry out its’ evil bidding. Here Charlotte Ritchie is absolutely brilliant in her role as she valiantly battles the Dalek’s nefarious battle plans. Likewise I felt that Whittaker’s Doctor was on good form in Resolution; the Dalek threat really galvanises the Doctor’s mettle, as this episode felt more like some of the classic episodes of the past.

Overall, I really enjoyed this fast-paced narrative and Chris Chibnall’s script has a lot of fun with this solo Dalek as they re-shell, re-arm and attempts to exterminate everyone in its’ path. Not so successful is the sub-plotting resolution of Ryan’s relationship with his father. It worked out but it slowed the main action story down unnecessarily and there was some right old clunky dialogue in a cafe scene which really added nothing other than some mild emotional turmoil for Ryan. However, Yas suffered even more with very little to do character wise; while Bradley Walsh again really shone as the chirpy cockney Graham. Nonetheless, overall it was great bit of Dr Who entertainment to start the New Year.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

“TIME TO GET CEREAL!” – SOUTH PARK (2018) – SEASON 22 REVIEW

SOUTH PARK (2018) – SEASON 22 REVIEW

Directed by: Trey Parker
Produced by: South Park Studios
Written by: Trey Parker
No. of episodes: 10
Release Date: September 22 2018 – December 12 2018
UK Release: Comedy Central

Trey Parker’s scandalous and scatological satire South Park shows no sign of slowing down in its mission of targeting the various sacred cows, media, celebrities, politicians and fads of society. The shenanigans of the small Colorado town reach their 22nd season, as the likes of: Cartman, Sharon, Randy, Kyle, Mr Mackey, PC Principal, Stan, Mr Hankey, Butters, Mrs Cartman etc. continue to be used as Parker’s conduits for comedy and social commentary.

Season 22 started slowly but ultimately proved a hit for me. Nonetheless the show is arguably a victim of its own formula and success. There are few surprises left as the show bases most episodes on satirising current events and the cultural zeitgeist. Plus, the characters are so well formed that we are rarely shocked by what they do. However, the writing, gag-rate and thought-provoking narratives prove the show is as strong as ever.

Arguably not as memorable as the incredible Season 19 (review here); there is a lot to recommend in Season 22! Below, I will now look at each episode in turn and consider their various merits.

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

EPISODE 1 – DEAD KIDS – Mark: 8 out of 11.

School shootings and the lack of reaction to them force Sharon Marsh to become apoplectic in her outrage. A solid episode which didn’t quite catch fire but had its moments; as Sharon’s PMT is ridiculed by Randy unfairly with Parker clearly stating gun crime something must be done about this horrendous stain on United States society.

EPISODE 2 – A BOY AND A PRIEST – Mark 8 out of 11.

Butters “befriends” Father Maxi as the Catholic Church once again try and cover up historical paedophilia. I was shocked but how unshocked I was by the episode yet it contains many great gags. Parker ensures we do not forget the horrific crimes committed by priests down the age; highlighting the hypocrisy that continues to be presented by the Catholic hierarchy.

EPISODE 3 – THE PROBLEM WITH A POO – Mark 8.5 out of 11.

Talking turd Mr Hankey was never my favourite character, but the show literally gets loads of “shit” jokes out of him. Here, Parker satirises celebrity Twitter scandals but more interestingly focusses on Vice Principal Strong Woman giving birth to five PC Babies! This precipitates a fantastic running joke throughout the series involving PC Babies crying persistently at mention of something that does not fit their progressive agenda.

EPISODE 4 – TEGRIDY FARM – Mark: 9 out of 11

The series really started hitting its stride as Parker snipes at the vaping craze and the legalisation of marijuana in Colorado. Typically, Randy Marsh driven episodes are almost often classics and here he becomes a hemp farmer. Similarly, Cartman has become a vape dealer and the two narrative strands combine to delightful effect.

EPISODE 5 – THE SCOOTS – Mark: 9 out of 11

This was another brilliant and funny episode. It combines elements of Hitchcock’s The Birds, with satirising of human beings’ obsession with smartphones and Halloween. I loved the way the episode built from Mr Mackey’s panic with the E-Scooters as they threaten to take over the town. As this is South Park it all soon descends into disaster and brilliant anarchic humour.

EPISODES 6 & 7 – TIME TO GET CEREAL / NO ONE GOT CEREAL – Mark: 9 out of 11

In this hilarious two-parter the kids’ old “friend” Al Gore comes out of retirement due to a monster killing citizens of South Park. It turns out it’s the analogous beast ‘ManBearPig’; a demonic animal part-pig-part-man-part-bear. If you didn’t know ‘ManBearPig’ is an absurd symbol for the Environment, and here Parker depicts Gore as not just a figure of fun but actually smugly correct in his global predictions. Meanwhile, the authorities – including the police – reject the existence of ‘ManBearPig’ and blame the kids for the murders. Satan makes an appearance too as the two-parter amusingly critiques: Climate Change deniers, inept policing and addiction to video-games such as Red Dead Redemption 2.

EPISODE 8 – BUDDHA BOX – Mark: 8 out of 11

Cartman’s anxiety leads him to wear a cardboard ‘Buddha Box’ over his head to isolate himself from society. Sending up further our obsession with mobile phones by eschewing meaningful human contact is always going to get laughs and Parker achieves that here. However, the PC Babies gags win the episode as taking the piss out of snowflake millennials continues to be hilarious.

EPISODES 9 & 10 – UNFULFILLED / BIKE PARADE – Mark: 10 out of 11

The highlight of the season was undoubtedly the episode called Unfulfilled. Here South Park pokes its parodic tentacles at Amazon, never losing its grasp. Amazon open a warehouse in South Park, and after an accident, the employees go on strike. This industrial action leads to Jeff Bezos himself coming to South Park; with Parker depicting him as a cold telekinetic alien. The episode and the follow-up Bike Parade show the various ways the people of South Park deal with the lack of fulfilment from the Amazon non-deliveries. Here Parker combines Marxist doctrine and consumer culture satire with absurd comedy and horror parody to amazing effect. These episodes once again show that South Park retains the balls and strength to make us laugh and think in equal measures.  

Overall mark: 8.5 out of 11.

THE CINEMA FIX: 12 FAVOURITE TV SHOWS OF 2018

12 FAVOURITE TV SHOWS OF 2018

I love television and watched a lot of it last year on most terrestrial and streaming services; especially the BBC, ITV, SKY and NETFLIX channels.  I must admit I am way behind on many AMAZON and ALL 4/CHANNEL 4 programmes so will be rectifying that this year. Indeed, there are probably some glaring omissions because of this.

For comparison I include last year’s favourite TV shows. This year I have not included South Park (Season 22) as it was not as good as prior years, despite clearly being one of the funniest shows around. Also, Doctor Who does not make my list as there were too many average episodes. Lastly, a special mention to The Walking Dead (Season 9), which at the mid-season break had somehow pulled itself out of the torpid decline that occurred around Season 6. It may make my 2019 list once the latest season has finished screening this year.

FAVOURITE 12 TV SHOWS OF 2017

BIG LITTLE LIES (2017) – HBO
CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM – SEASON 9 (2017) – HBO
FARGO (2017) – SEASON 3 – FOX / CHANNEL 4
GAME OF THRONES
(2017) – SEASON 7 – HBO
THE HANDMAID’S TALE (2017) – HULU/CHANNEL 4
IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA (2017) – SEASON 12 – NETFLIX
LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN – 20TH YEAR ANNIVERSARY (2017) – BBC
LEGION (2017) – FOX
MINDHUNTER (2017) – NETFLIX
SOUTH PARK – SEASON 21 – SOUTH PARK STUDIOS
STRANGER THINGS 2 (2017) – NETFLIX
THE YOUNG POPE (2016) – HBO

FAVOURITE 12 TV SHOWS OF 2018

ATLANTA (2018) – SEASON 2 – FOX

BILLIONS (2018) – S3 – SKY

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BLACK MIRROR (2017)NETFLIX

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BODYGUARD (2018) – BBC1

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THE DEUCE (2018) – S2 – HBO / SKY

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HANDMAID’S TALE (2018) – S2 –C4

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HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (2018) – NETFLIX

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INSIDE NO. 9 (2018) – S4 – BBC

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KILLING EVE (2018) – S1 – BBC

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PATRICK MELROSE (2018) – SKY

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VANITY FAIR (2018) – ITV

A VERY ENGLISH SCANDAL (2018) – BBC

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VANITY FAIR (2018) – ITV DRAMA REVIEW

VANITY FAIR (2018) – ITV DRAMA REVIEW

Created and written by: Gwyneth Hughes

Based on: Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

Executive producer(s): Damien Timmer, Tom Mullens, Gwyneth Hughes, James Strong

Directed by: James Strong

Starring: Olivia Cooke, Claudia Jessie, Tom Bateman, Johnny Flynn, Charlie Rowe, Simon Russell Beale, Anthony Head, Martin Clunes, Frances de la Tour, Michael Palin

Composer(s): Isobel Waller-Bridge

Distributor: ITV, Amazon Studios

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

It’s an interesting anomaly in my later years that having previously boycotted period dramas which illustrate the lives of the wealthy and privileged, I now find myself being less partisan and actually watching more. This change doesn’t derive from a mellowing of my socialist working class roots but more an intelligent inquisitiveness as ignorant dismissal of the genre, be they on television or film, means one is possibly missing out on some fine drama or comedy. Indeed, many historical periods’ works of literature or theatre are in fact satirising or damning the upper classes.

Dickens for example dealt with the lower, middle and upper classes, shining a critical light at the many degradations of the era. Likewise, William Makepeace Thackeray also critiqued the folly of war, greed and narcissistic pursuits of the privileged. Stanley Kubrick demonstrated this brilliantly in his classic adaptation of Barry Lyndon (1975); while in ITV’s most recent adaptation Vanity Fair (2018), Thackeray’s adroit study of ambition and upward mobility shows the strengths, weaknesses and foibles of the women and men at the time of the Napoleonic wars.

Vanity Fair is widely considered a classic and considered the founder of the Victorian domestic drama. Originally serialised between 1847 and 1848 it was at the time a massive hit and one could argue the equivalent of what we would call a soap opera today. There have been, since the novel’s release, a plethora of screen, radio and television adaptations. Did we need another one? Probably not; but over seven compelling episodes Gwyneth Hughes’ screenplay does great justice to bring to life an army of: well-to-dos, country lords and ladies, soldiers, clergy, businessmen, plus the sparkling scheming of anti-heroine Rebecca or Becky Sharp.

Indeed, the effervescent, nuanced and outstanding performance of Olivia Cooke as Becky drives the narrative forward with absolute purpose. Cooke owns every scene as Becky attempts, from lowly beginnings, to rise through the ranks of society. It is both her strength of character and confidence which is her biggest asset and greatest enemy, because, always pushing for more, she doesn’t quit when she’s ahead. In stark reflection to Becky, Claudia Jessie as Amelia, is characterised as a romantic and desirous not of wealth or position, but rather love and romance. She is a pure spirit and her personality contrasts perfectly with Becky’s. While we admire Becky’s ambitious drive we remain suspicious of her motives, yet Amelia we warm to due to her big and gracious heart.

The men in the piece are a mixture of romantics, noble soldiers, treacherous or haphazard patriarchs, foppish fools, gamblers or all of the above. Tom Bateman gives a solid performance as Rawdon Crawley, Becky’s gambling military husband, as does Charlie Rowe as the more conflicted romantic, George Osborne. Furthermore, the adaptation contains sterling support from the cream of English character acting royalty including: Martin Clunes, Frances De La Tour, Claire Skinner, Anthony Head and Simon Russell Beale to name a few. However, the standout performance for me was Johnny Flynn as William Dobbin. This is such an empathetic and selfless character that, while holding a torch for Amelia, was prepared to sacrifice his love to make everyone happy. Potentially seen as a weakness, this for me was a real strength in a story which was full of selfish narcissists out for what they could get.

Aside from slightly dodgy green-screen CGI for the later scenes in India this was beautifully shot and lit, with the vistas of the English and French countryside wonderfully rendered. The interiors were eloquently designed as the stately and city homes of the characters, likewise the colourful costumes, were expertly brought to life.  James Strong is a prolific television director and he gets brilliant performances and marshals the pace and machinations of the narrative precisely. With Olivia Cooke and Johnny Flynn delivering star turns in their roles I was consistently surprised by this adaptation of Thackeray’s masterpiece. Ultimately, I’ve learned that whether something is a period drama or not one must give it a chance as it could have qualities which continue to stand the test of time.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11