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BBC TV REVIEW: INSIDE NO. 9 – SERIES 6: CONSISTENTLY DENYING ARTISTIC EXHAUSTION BY DELIVERING FURTHER TELEVISUAL GENIUS!

BBC TV REVIEW: INSIDE NO. 9 (2021) – SERIES 6

Created and written by: Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith

Directors (Season 6): Matt Lipsey, Guillem Morales

Original Network: BBC (available on BBC Iplayer)

No. of Episodes: 6



I have written exhaustively about how brilliant this television programme is, so much so I don’t think I can add any further other than I believe it deserves regaling as TV national treasure. Just when you think Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton could be running out of creative steam they prove you wrong with another superb series of Inside No. 9. If you are interested, here are prior articles I have written about it.

1) NINE REASONS WHY INSIDE NO. 9 IS ONE OF THE BEST TV SHOWS EVER! | The Cinema Fix presents:

2) BBC TV REVIEW – INSIDE NO. 9 (2020) – SEASON 5 – more hare-raising twists from geniuses Pemberton and Shearsmith! | The Cinema Fix presents:

However, to recap, if you have never seen Inside No. 9 I urge you to do so. It is an exceptional anthology series with six stand-alone episodes per series. Individual episodes feature a whole host of different characters and amazing actors each time led by the multi-talented Pemberton and Shearsmith. As per the prior seasons, the latest one is absolutely unforgettable. It again privileges tightly woven thirty-minute short narratives, which more often than not, feature a twist in the tale. Moreover, the events usually unfold in one location with rarely more than a handful of characters. This makes the narratives feel more focussed, intense and intimate. In series 6, there is even more growth within the anthology genre and much risk-taking where style and form are concerned.

So, here are my mini-reviews of each episode from Season 6 with marks out of nine (obviously).

*** BEWARE: POTENTIAL SPOILERS ***



EPISODE 1: WUTHERING HEIST

Main cast: Paterson Joseph, Gemma Whelan, Kevin Bishop, Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Rosa Robson, Dino Kelly etc.

Not only are Pemberton and Shearsmith accomplished actors, writers and directors, they are also acutely aware how fans revel in their incredible work, devilishly mocking their own mythology and playing with audience expectations. They do this to dizzying impact in the puntastic opening episode, Wuthering Heist. Marrying elements from farce, crime, Commedia dell’arte and the plot of Reservoir Dogs (1992), the players wear masks, prat about and bleed over each other while attempting to pull off a diamond heist. Set in one location, a disused warehouse, Gemma Whelan is superb as the fourth-wall breaking narrator attempting to hold all the story innards together. Pretty soon though one realises that the flurry of puns, sight gags, plot contrivances and comical misunderstandings are intended as wondrous and silly fun. The lack of emotional depth is the joke here and the writers know this. Because Shearsmith and Pemberton’s script has a gag every four seconds, be it a sight jape or involve some sparky verbal dexterity. Lastly, not only do they know they are jumping the shark, but they revel in doing so during this hilarious meta-work.

Mark: 8 out of 9



EPISODE 2: SIMON SAYS

Cast: Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Lindsay Duncan, Nick Mohammed

Among many of the recurring pleasures of watching Inside No. 9 is wondering what the number nine will refer to. It’s been a myriad of things including: a karaoke booth, a hotel room, a train sleeper car, a dressing room, a referee’s changing room, and even a shoe. In Simon Says it’s the name of a television epic called The Ninth Circle. This show is very similar to Game of Thrones in genre and scale, and likewise has a battalion of fans across the country who feel the final series undid the majesty of the prior seasons. The episode opens with immediate mystery as Steve Pemberton’s writer, Spencer, enters his flat with blood staining his clothes and conscience. Suddenly, Simon (Reece Shearsmith), is at the door saying he has evidence Spencer has committed a serious crime. Simon, a Ninth Circle uber-fan then blackmails Spencer into, among others things, rewriting the whole of the last season of The Ninth Circle into something more fan-friendly. Managing to be both funny and suspenseful in equal measures, Pemberton and Shearsmith’s characters play cat-and-mouse expertly, throwing in several big plot twists at the end of this compelling tale.

Mark: 8 out of 9


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EPISODE 3: LIP SERVICE

Cast: Sian Clifford, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith

I watch some television series and films and am often struck at how much time is wasted in setting up the protagonists and story. Similarly, in unnecessarily long TV series you get either eight or ten episodes full of padding in the middle which destabilizes the momentum of the story. Nothing of the sort occurs in Inside No. 9. Stories are set-up with stylish economy and the situations immediately grab you by the throat and rarely let go. In Lip Service, Steve Pemberton’s downtrodden Felix is holed up in a hotel room waiting to liaise with a woman. But it’s not what you think. Sian Clifford’s Iris arrives and it turns out she is there to offer her services as a lip-reader. Felix suspects the woman he loves is having an affair and he requires Iris to read her and a possible lover’s lips at an adjacent hotel suite. I’ve now seen this episode three times and it truly is breathtaking. There’s empathy for Felix’s lost soul, some fine linguistic comedy, a potential romance, Clifford’s performance knocking it out of the park, Reece Shearsmith having great fun as an officious German hotel manager and THAT ending. The denouement, while totally believable, comes out of nowhere and leaves you genuinely speechless.

Mark: 8.5 out 9



EPISODE 4: HURRY UP AND WAIT

Cast: Adrian Dunbar, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, Donna Preston, Bhavna Limbachia, and Pauline McGlynn

Quite possibly my favourite episode of the series, Hurry Up and Wait manages to achieve that difficult juxtaposition of being meta-textual and containing some real emotional power. Because it is one thing to be self-referential and satirise the creative process, in this case the making of a television police drama starring famous actor Adrian Dunbar, but it’s quite another to build in a murder mystery and empathetic characters who you root for. While Reece Shearsmith is always excellent playing angry characters, here he portrays James, a mild-mannered actor, who has got a break playing a scene with the precious talent, Dunbar. The TV drama they are in concerns a missing child and the “green room” happens to be a static caravan owned by a working-class family who may have important information about said grisly crime. Steve Pemberton and Pauline McGlynn play the parents of immature, Beverley – the brilliant Donna Preston – adding much comic relief, but all possibly hiding a dark secret. As James learns his lines he also plays detective seemingly discovering the truth until the truly chilling ending is revealed.

Mark: 9 out of 9


EPISODE 5: HOW DO YOU PLEAD?

Cast: Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, Derek Jacobi

Arguably the darkest tale, both in terms of the noir lighting and foreboding themes, it is difficult to discuss this tale of soul-searching guilt and justice without giving away too much of the story. Thus, I’ll talk about the actors and characters more. Derek Jacobi gives a deeply moving performance of a dying barrister who prides himself of, after an upturn in his early legal career, never losing a case in court until retirement. As he lies dying in bed, lungs heavy around his heart, he feels guilt about one case where he defended the indefensible. As he confesses his regret to Shearsmith’s cheery carer, it is soon revealed both men have sins they buried in the past which will soon come back to bite them. Watching these two fine actors spark off one another is as compelling as television drama can get, but there’s also comedy there too as Shearsmith delivers some spirited one-liners in between Jacobi’s grand screen gravitas. But where’s Pemberton I hear you ask? He’s sitting there waiting patiently in the shadows of this evocatively lit and thrilling tale.

Mark: 8 out of 9



EPISODE 6: LAST NIGHT OF THE PROMS!

Cast: Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, Julian Glover, Debra Gillett, Bamshad Abedi-Amin, Sarah Parish etc.

Are you aware of the work of Dennis Potter? He was one of the finest writers in British television from the 1960’s way into the early 1990’s. His scripts were always highly erotic, political and incredibly controversial. They skewered very British and human themes and burnt great sacred cows of the church, government, family, sex and marriage on the TV barbecue, leaving charcoal remains in their stead. Potter was a genius and with Last Night of the Proms, Pemberton and Shearsmith match him for bravado in deconstructing human nature and what it means to be British. Set in a well-to-do, middle-class household, a family of three generations sit down to watch the Last of the Proms on the BBC. It’s a big traditional classical music event and cultural celebration of what it means to be British. It makes me sick! Britain isn’t great. The British are racist, imperialistic and hardy murderers, who have a history and present (fucking Brexit!) they should be ashamed of. The thought-provoking screenplay here is heavy on compelling themes, memorable imagery and striking symbolism. This is a jarring and messy episode and what it lacks in precise plotting it more than makes up for in juxtaposing horror, satire, drama, surrealism, Jesus, social commentary and comedy to rather mesmerising effect. Potter’s ghost would have watched with glee and disgust and hate and love and pity and sadness; which is much how I felt witnessing Last Night of the Proms.

Mark: 9 out of 9


FX /BBC TV REVIEW – DEVS (2020) – ONE OF THE BEST TV EXPERIENCES OF 2020!

FX / BBC TV REVIEW – DEVS (2020)

Created, written and directed by Alex Garland

Executive producers: Alex Garland, Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich, Eli Bush, Scott Rudin, Garrett Basch

Cast: Sonoya Mizuno, Nick Offerman, Jin Ha, Zach Grenier, Alison Pill, Stephen McKinlay Henderson, Cailee Spaeny, Karl Glusman, Jefferson Hall, Liz Carr, Janet Mock, Aimee Mullins, Linnea Berthelsen etc.

Cinematography: Rob Hardy

Composers: Ben Salisbury, Geoff Barrow, The Insects

Distribution / Screening Platform: FX / Hulu / BBC


*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



“I read more about science than anything else, and it started with two things. One was getting my head around this principle of determinism, which basically says that everything that happens in the world is based on cause and effect. . . One is that it takes away free will, but the other is that if you are at a computer powerful enough, you could use determinism to predict the future and understand the past.” Alex Garland – Creator of Devs


Alex Garland has an impressive literary, cinema and now televisual curriculum vitae. He gained acclaim as the writer of the novel, The Beach, before moving onto screenwriting duties with fine films such as: 28 Days Later (2002), Sunshine (2007), Never Let Me Go (2010), and Dredd (2012).  He made his directorial debut with Ex Machina (2014), which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. His second film, Annihilation (2018), garnered further acclaim, so much so, FX bypassed a pilot and went straight to series for his latest science fiction narrative, Devs (2020).

While I am a massive fan of Garland’s work, I wasn’t too enamoured of Annihilation (2018). I found it brilliantly made with some fantastic concepts and incredible moments, yet overall it was too slowly paced. With the eight superlative episodes of Devs (2020), Garland has kept the meditative pace of Annihilation (2018), but also delivered a story which really connected with me this time. With Devs (2020) he has successfully merged a compelling technological espionage plot to an intelligent exploration of philosophical thought and behaviour. Moreover, Garland presents a complex group of themes and characters relating to Silicon Valley tech firms and how their work could control individuals, companies, governments, society as a whole, and actual time itself.



Set now in San Francisco, the narrative opens with two employees of the Amaya Corporation, Lily Chan (Sonoya Mizuno) and Sergei Pavlov (Karl Glusman), attending work. Sergei has a big presentation to pitch to Amaya CEO, Forest (Nick Offerman) and chief designer, Katie (Alison Pill). It goes well and Sergei is invited to work on the mysterious DEVS project. At DEVS he finds wondrous halo-style lighting in the woods and an incredibly expensive set of buildings, capsules, platforms, workstations and screens. Dominating the landscape also is a gigantic model of a young girl (Forest’s daughter, Amaya) who looms over the company and the San Franciscan horizon. These spectacular props, sets and locations are complimented by impressive cinematography from Rob Hardy throughout the eight episodes.

Sergei’s tenure at DEVS does not last long though as he goes missing. Lily, who was in a loving relationship with Sergei, is distraught and, with the help of ex-CIA head of security, Kenton (Zach Grenier), attempts to locate him. When Sergei turns up dead from an apparent suicide, Lily is convinced there is a conspiracy occurring in the Amaya company so begins a dangerous investigation. Even more intriguing, however, is the work that is occurring at DEVS itself. Led by Forest’s desire to “resurrect” his deceased daughter, this complex computer programme can somehow view events from the past, recreated via particle-driven software and projected on huge screens. Using this application the developers and programmers are attempting to determine the future from what has occurred in the past. If they can determine the future they may be able to control it. Mind blown yet? Safe to say, Lily’s investigation into Sergei’s death and the DEVS system become inextricably linked as the drama unfolds. As such, the drama works well as a conspiracy thriller as well as thoughtful sci-fi as Garland punctuates the brooding pace with some crushing stunts and brutal murder set-pieces.

I’ll be honest, the technological side of Devs (2020) was outside my knowledge repertoire as I do not comprehend coding or programming jargon. Nonetheless, I did understand what was occurring in the narrative as it was presented in a clear and digestible fashion. Unlike say the most recent seasons of HBO’s Westworld, which tied itself in knots with looping and over-lapping timelines, Alex Garland’s deft script, excellent direction and fantastic cast make Devs‘ (2020) complex science and tech theories comprehensible throughout. While Garland is dealing with theories relating to free will and deterministic cause and effect, the elegant structure, both linear and with flashbacks, builds a gripping narrative which maintains emotional impact for the characters and the choices they must make. Indeed, Lily Chan is a very empathetic leading protagonist and Sonoya Mizuno gives a compellingly magnetic acting portrayal. It was also fascinating to see Nick Offerman outside of his Parks and Recreation ‘Ron Swanson’ persona playing a highly driven and grieving father. Thus, to conclude, if you enjoy clever, meditative and Kubrickian style television in the science-fiction genre, then you should definitely use your free will and be determined to watch Devs (2020).

Mark: 9.5 out of 11


BBC3 COMEDY REVIEW – THIS COUNTRY (2017 – 2019)

BBC3 COMEDY REVIEW – THIS COUNTRY (2017 – 2019)

Created by: Daisy May Cooper & Charlie Cooper

Written by: Daisy May Cooper & Charlie Cooper

Directed by: Tom George

Producer: Simon Mayhew-Archer

Cast: Daisy May Cooper, Charlie Cooper, Paul Cooper, Paul Chahidi

Original Network: BBC Three

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

“I am Jack’s bitter, failed arsehole!”

In Chuck Palahniuk’s contemporary literary classic Fight Club – and the movie version – the narrator often refers to a third person called, ‘Jack’, to describe inner rage. It’s a nifty narrative device and kind of a foot-in-the-door to explain my feelings when watching BBC3 mockumentary series This Country. Because having watched the two series and extended one-off special I have to say I didn’t get the joke and I’m thinking it must be me and not the show.

Perhaps it’s my ongoing sobriety? I mean, while the acting is sublime, I could not work out why this comedy series has received so much critical praise. Moreover, I could not work out how it has won several Royal Television Society and BAFTA awards. I will perhaps have to accept I am wrong and know nothing about comedy and the television industry. I am just a bitter, failed arsehole.

This Country is a rural sitcom in the mockumentary style. Thus, first and foremost, while it’s nearly impossible to achieve originality in TV and film, the show is derivative of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s classic comedy, The Office. While Gervais was influenced by the Christopher Guest-led ensemble genius of, This is Spinal Tap (1984), one cannot escape the fact This Country is a weaker clone of The Office.

Episodes revolve around an accurate rendition of rural life; somewhere not too far from Swindon, Wiltshire. Comedy and drama derives from issues relating to: boredom, crime, unemployment, failed romances, general village idiot-types and very dysfunctional families. The main protagonists are Kerry and Lee ‘Kurtan’ Mucklowe; cousins in the show but portrayed incisively by siblings, Daisy and Charlie Cooper. In fact, the actors are way more likeable than the characters they portray. Kerry and Kurtan are so moronic and obnoxious at times it was difficult to empathise with them.

It is a testament to the precise conveyance of village life that the programme felt believable as an actual documentary. Unfortunately, for me, the pace was quite slow and, while I guess that was the point, there are only so many dry pauses-for-comedic-effect you can experience without getting bored. Similarly, with the “realistic” pace, punchlines often felt very spaced out, with a reliance on the accents to get the laughs.

There are a number of strong episodes including, Kurtan’s attempts to win a scarecrow contest and also when he worked on a building site. Yet, certain episodes never really went anywhere as character development also suffered inertia in the narrative. Having said that, there is some excellent writing. Daisy’s doomed relationship with her bastard of a father, Martin, does lend a depth and pathos to the narrative. But this is more dramatic than funny overall. Then again, I accept that this is just the opinion of a bitter, sober and over-analytical arsehole and some may find this the funniest show on television.

Mark: 7 out of 11

DOCTOR WHO – SEASON 11 REVIEW: THE WOMAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (2018)

DOCTOR WHO – SEASON 11 REVIEW: THE WOMAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (2018)

Directed by: Jamie Childs

Written by: Chris Chibnall

Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill

Producer: Nikki Wilson

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

Composer:   Segun Akinola

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As a massive Doctor Who fan I was very much looking forward to the latest incarnation of one of the galaxies’ longest running television shows ever. With a new Sunday screening slot it was great to see the show back with a new Doctor, new showrunner, new sonic screwdriver, new companions, new theme tune, new Doctor Who costume and new, soon to be seen, inside-of-the-TARDIS. Yet, while there were lots of new stuff flying about on screen there was pretty much no major changes in the narrative formula. Basically, an alien from outer space, along with various sidekicks, battle to save the Earth or whatever planet they are on, while using: skill, luck, gadgets, guile, time-travel paradoxes, intelligence, stupidity, righteousness, technology, diversity, bravery, action, morality and good old fashioned running and jumping about.

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The first episode in this series called The Woman Who Fell to Earth was a fine, if safe, introduction to the new Doctor. It had a lot ground to cover introducing all the various elements I mention above and on the whole Chris Chibnall delivered a fun, linear script with some great lines of dialogue, decent jokes and an emotional pull not always present in Steven Moffat’s often very complex temporally challenging narratives. The “Predator” style alien invasion was something we’d seen before in Doctor Who and many science-fiction shows, films and books but the actual alien monster itself was quite scary. Moreover, some good comic mileage was mined from name “Tim Shaw” alone.

Jodie Whittaker, an instinctive and ultra-talented actor, was effervescent in the lead role and her earthy Yorkshire accent is certainly a change from the gravelly Scottish brogue of Peter Capaldi. The Internet broke when Whittaker was cast as the first female Doctor with protestations on the gender switch. All I can say is: get a life! The Doctor is both an alien shape shifter with two hearts who has lived for many millenniums and let’s face it, fictitious!  Who cares what gender they are because the most important thing is the quality of production, storylines and performances?  Based on this episode and the future clips I think this season will be very fine entertainment. I think that once Whittaker settles in to the role and is given some meaty and passionate storylines we will see her Doctor soar. Due to the characters’ regeneration and the wicked pace of the episode, Whittaker’s emotional range was not really tested, but I’m sure it will be.

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Perhaps the most surprising thing for a show with so much change was how familiar it all felt. But the one thing I did enjoy was the feeling we’ll be spending time with an interesting and diverse set of characters within a pseudo-family unit. You have the Doctor, obviously, representing both mother and father, Bradley Walsh’s character representing the Grandfather and Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill representing older children. It remains to be seen whether the latter will have a will-they-won’t they-romantic relationship, which would require a re-write on this observation. Nonetheless this new-styled A-Team-in-Space will be a force to be reckoned with I’d say. Perhaps more time could have been allowed for the characters to question the fantastical events but the episode went for fast, fast and faster so hopefully later episodes will give us a chance to breath a tad more.

July Preview

Ultimately though, Doctor Who is thematically a show about hope, family, caring, inclusion and doing the right thing in space and time. It’s also meant to be a lot of fun. Chris Chibnall, as showrunner, hasn’t aside from casting a female Doctor, attempted to reinvent the wheel but instead concentrated on the strengths of the show.  He has demonstrated by the diverse castings, the opening Northern setting, and introduction of a dyspraxic character that inclusion will thrive, as usual, in the Doctor Who ‘Universe’. So, if this series delivers some fine emotional scripts with scary monsters, space-ships, aliens and some good old time-travel bits then BBC1 on Sunday evenings will certainly be worth watching. Unless you record the show and watch it in the future!  In which case the future is in safe hands too.

Mark: 8 out of 11