Even if you’re not a fan of football, you cannot fail to have to heard of the Argentinian player that is Diego Maradona. If you don’t know him then he rose from the shantytowns of Buenos Aires to become one of the greatest footballers of all time. A wunderkind prodigy as a teenager, he became the most expensive footballer ever when he moved to Napoli from Barcelona. In Naples he would transform a club, normally in the shadows of giants from Milan and Rome, into a title winning team. Moreover, he famously led Argentina to World Cup glory in 1986, with one of the most scintillating individual footballing performances ever witnessed. I missed Asif Kapadia’s absorbing documentary when released at the cinema, however, with Maradona sadly passing away last week, I took the opportunity to watch it on Channel 4’s streaming platform.
Kapadia has shown himself as a master filmmaker in constructing narratives from archival footage. This engrossing style and expertly edited form is brilliantly demonstrated in Senna (2010) and Amy (2015), both winning several major awards. Once again Kapadia uses the same process. He combines interviews via voiceover with Maradona, his ex-wife Claudia, his trainer and many other people, with hundreds of hours of found film footage shot by Argentine cameramen in the 1980s. Moreover, further archival footage was discovered in the home of Maradona’s ex-wife in a trunk untouched for 30 years.
Kapadia and his editors weave such sources to create an absorbing portrait of an extremely complex personality. Indeed, many interviews comment on the football star having two distinct sides. One called Diego, a sweet-natured lad who became a phenomenon on the pitch and the other Maradona, a notorious, larger than life mega-star pursued by the media, football fans, women, gangsters and money people. Whether this schism contributed to Maradona’s battles with drug addiction and other controversies, it is difficult to say. What is clear though is, despite his flaws, love for partying, fiery temperament and questionable associations, the press in Italy and the rest of the world, were permanently in Maradona’s face, creating a pressure cooker atmosphere for him and his family.
Overall, I was totally transfixed by the documentary, Diego Maradona (2019). Having grown up as a teenager watching Maradona on the television, notably the infamous ‘Hand of God’ game against England at the 1986 World Cup, I was struck by huge waves of nostalgia. Even though Maradona’s Argentina defeated England, one could never fail to be in awe at his magical skills as a player. I love football and enjoyed many scenes showing the brutal and beautiful nature of the game. Lastly, Kapadia’s main narrative thrust involves Maradona’s rise and fall from grace during Napoli’s spectacular rise to the top of the Italian league. Yet, having scored the penalty that knocked Italy out of the 1990 World Cup, his once beloved Naples would turn on Maradona, leaving him friendless and without protection from the Italian law. Ultimately, the film stands as not only a complex tribute to a footballing genius, but also a cautionary tale of the trials and tribulations of worldwide fame and notoriety.
War brings out the worst of humanity; difficult choices must be made as lies, fiction and manipulations become the order of the day. This is especially true where the shadowy world of the spy is concerned. The Channel 4 drama, Traitors (2019), was released last year and presents six intelligently written episodes exploring matters of politics and espionage in post-war 1945-set London. Pitting American, British and Russian spies against each other, it also delves into the history behind the creation of the Israeli state by the British. Indeed, the reverberations of future political conflicts, between Israel and Palestine, coalesce alongside echoes of the recently demised World War II.
This is an ensemble driven piece, but the lead protagonist is Emma Appleton’s portrayal of Feef Symonds. She is a young upper-class civil servant looking to serve her country in more exciting ways than mere typing. Thus, she finds herself becoming a secret agent for Michael Stuhlbarg’s obsessive Office of Strategic Services operative, Rowe. Stuhlbarg gives his usual excellent performance as the shady American spy. His paranoid fixation with all things Soviet, becomes a reflective precursor to the infamous “Red Scare” that plagued American socio-politics in the 1950’s.
Rowe determines that the British Government must have a Soviet spy in its’ midst and charges Feef with tracking them and reporting back. As Feef delves deeper within the corridors of Whitehall she begins a cat-and-mouse game with many potential suspects, notably Keeley Hawes’ suspicious civil servant. Feef’s romance with an earnest Labour MP, portrayed by Luke Treadaway, also complicates matters. Hawes, as expected, is impressive in her role and is the most memorably complex of the characters. Hawes is especially adept at burying twisted anguish within this subtle performance. Her character battles both personal and political conflicts and is the most empathetic within a gallery of untrustworthy archetypes.
Overall, I enjoyed Traitors (2019) for it’s well-researched historical aspects and some very fine acting. My main reservations though were that the drama never quite caught fire, despite some decent suspense amidst the espionage. Moreover, there was, no doubt deliberate, an arrogant air about most of the characters. Conversely, I did not really warm to any of the personalities due to their wintry natures. That’s the problem with the representation of spies here; they’re nothing like the fantasy action heroes of Ethan Hunt and James Bond. Here they are all shown all to be liars and traitors of a kind and therefore difficult to like or trust. My feeling is that is precisely is the point. The programme reflects a world today where we are consistently fed government lies, fictions and manipulations.
Series Producers: Mark Herbert, Derrin Schlesinger, Rebekah Wray-Rogers
Cast: Thomas Turgoose, Vicky McClure, Joseph Gilgun, Stephen Graham, Andrew Shim, Stephen Graham, Andrew Ellis, Rosamund Hanson, Danielle James, Kriss Dosanjh, Chanel Cresswell, Johnny Harris, Michael Socha, George Newton, Jo Hartley, Katherine Dow Blyton, Stacey Sampson, Perry Fitzpatrick, Joe Dempsie etc.
Cinematography: Danny Cohen
Music by: Ludovico Einaudi
**CONTAINS SPOILERS FROM – THIS IS ENGLAND ’83, ’86 & ’88**
So, just to reiterate if you have NOT seen the previous film or TV series of This is England, I would advise you start with the film and watch them in order of release. Safe to say that this review also contains MASSIVE SPOILERS from the previous productions too.
As the title says we are now in the year 1990, some two years after the trauma of Lol’s (Vicky McClure) suicide attempt. Her and Woody are now thankfully back together and he, the gang and Milky have reconciled. Structured into a seasonal order of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter the show shifts focus to a more ensemble narrative presentation. Here more secondary characters such as Lol’s sister Kelly (Chanel Creswell) and Milky (Andrew Shim) are given meatier storylines over the four episodes.
As it’s the 1990’s we get some of my favourite music of all time presented. Indie, pop and rave tracks by the likes of The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, The Pixies, The La’s, James, Beats International and many more dominate the soundtrack. Thus, the Spring and Summer months begin in an upbeat mood for the characters on the main. Gadget, Harvey, Trev, Shaun and Kelly are into the rave and Madchester scene, popping pills with heady abandon. This is where Kelly’s story veers into dark drama as her grief for the loss of her father spills into drug addiction and self-destructive behaviour.
This reaches a head in the Summer episode. Beginning as a humorous drive to a field in the England becomes, for Harvey, Gadget, Trev and Shaun a narcotic escape out of Midlands mundanity. However, for Kelly it leads to a dark, drug-induced and sexualised nightmare. For the first time in the series though I felt the drama was slightly gratuitous and felt uncomfortable with Kelly’s ordeal. However, Chanel Cresswell gave a haunting performance of a character lost in a fog of addiction and despair.
With Kelly’s character adrift in the Autumn and Winter months, the narrative also brings back Combo (Stephen Graham) into the mix. As the racist thug in the original film, his character had ventured into some twisted redemption when taking the blame for Lol and Kelly’s Dad’s death. With Combo about to be released from prison the series examines whether people can change and most importantly be forgiven for prior crimes. It is hard hitting stuff and Stephen Graham is a superb actor who lives and breathes the mistakes of his characters’ past. His Winter scenes with Milky are particularly painful and ultimately shocking.
Indeed, during the Autumn and Winter episodes we get some of the most painful and dramatic scenes in the whole series. The scene around the dinner table when Lol decides to confess to her mum, Kelly and Milky the actual events regarding her Dad’s death are so compelling. Meadows directs this scene with simple and devastating effect. He allows the amazing performances from the cast to create emotion via long and tense takes. News of Combo being released impacts them all and the aftermath leads to a vengeful decision by Milky which haunts both him and the audience.
Meadows, co-writer Jack Thorne, the cast and the production team of This Is England ’90 deliver another nostalgic, humorous and hard-hitting drama series. It ends with the characters moving toward the light but with darkness not too far behind. Lol and Woody finally get married in as close to a feel-good ending you get with Shane Meadows. Overall, as slices of life go, these films and TV programmes are genuine British classics and a must watch if you are drawn to gritty, realistic dramas which chuck everything at you — including the kitchen sink.
Series Producers: Mark Herbert, Derrin Schlesinger, Rebekah Wray-Rogers
Cast: Thomas Turgoose, Vicky McClure, Joseph Gilgun, Stephen Graham, Andrew Shim, Stephen Graham, Andrew Ellis, Rosamund Hanson, Danielle James, Kriss Dosanjh, Chanel Cresswell, Johnny Harris, Michael Socha, George Newton, Jo Hartley, Katherine Dow Blyton, Stacey Sampson etc.
Cinematography: Danny Cohen
Music by: Ludovico Einaudi
Shane Meadows’ Midlands-based drama classic continued two-and-a-half years after the tragic events of its predecessor, This is England ’86 (2010). While obviously harking back to the late 1980’s and infused with nostalgia, it is arguably even darker and keenly focused than the previous series. Dealing mainly with the aftermath of Lol (Vicky McClure) and Woody’s (Joe Gilgun) relationship breakdown, it also explores Shaun’s (Thomas Turgoose) misadventures attending drama school.
While there is a lot of humorous situations in these three episodes, Meadows and co-writer Jack Thorne essentially structure around Lol’s heart of darkness descent into depression. They present a devastating character study as she struggles with single parenthood following her self-destructive affair with Milky (Andrew Shim) and subsequent split from Woody. Lol is crushed with guilt over this and her father’s death; an act she committed in self-defence and Combo (Stephen Graham) took the blame for.
Vicky McClure as Lol gives a devastating performance. She wears her grief as a second skin, with the weight of her world pushing her deeper and deeper into the mire. Moreover, as Lol confronts her difficult life choices head on, she is literally haunted by the ghost of her father. Meadows and McClure deserve such praise for presenting depression and the disintegration of a characters’ mind so convincingly and sensitively. Lol is a lost soul and her story felt so real to me when watching.
Woody, on the other hand, is living with a new girlfriend, Jennifer, at his parents. Things are going well for him on the surface but you feel he’s lost without Lol. Indeed, Lol and Woody are one of television’s iconic couples. It’s strange not seeing them together. Joe Gilgun’s performance as Woody is excellent too. It’s clear he’s putting on a brave face and using humour to direct his pain. However, heartache is never too far away from his crooked smile.
Meanwhile, Shaun’s excursion into six-form acting provides some light relief but also personal trauma. It’s very funny when the gang, high on speed, almost ruin his opening night with constant laughter. To be honest the play is pretty awful so I don’t blame them. Furthermore, Shaun’s hormones are bouncing round like a squash ball, as he finds himself attracted to one of girls in the class. The scene where he’s caught with his trousers down by girlfriend Smell is both funny and sad. Quirky actress Rosamund Hanson, in her role as Smell/Michelle, impresses with a mix of punk and hysterical rage here.
Yet, the main theme of the narrative is one of overcoming loss through community and togetherness. While Woody eventually confronts the gang and more specifically Milky over perceived treachery, Lol sinks deeper into a downward spiral. Here Shane Meadows is able to present isolation and loneliness very powerfully. Indeed, the series captures raw and human emotions in a very convincing way. Through these characters we experience trauma and tragedy but through love and unity we also find hope.
Cast: Ricky Gervais, Kerry Godliman, David Earl, Karl Pilkington, Brett Goldstein, Colin Hoult, Holli Dempsey, Ruth Bratt, Arthur Nightingale, Doc Brown, Joe Wilkinson etc.
Original Network: Channel 4
**MAY CONTAINS SPOILERS**
So, let’s address the elephant in the room with my review of ALL 4/Netflix bittersweet comedy, Derek. Is it acceptable for a person to seemingly inhabit the character of someone who could be perceived to be mentally challenged or disabled? Not forgetting, the person is a successful TV writer/actor, Ricky Gervais. After all we’re in a progressive age where it is right to be sensitive of perceptions and reactions to the representations of people of colour, religion, race, heritage and mental capacity. Is it in poor taste for Ricky Gervais to ultimately, get seemingly cheap laughs out of a gurning, simple man?
Well, on the surface and initial watch Derek, could be deemed offensive for reasons of poor taste. However, having watched series one, two and the final hour-long special for the third time, I have decided that, while it may have puerile and childish humour, Gervais has created a positive, and in some cases, heroic role model who promotes kindness to the elderly, animals, friends and basically everyone, whether they are horrible or not. The comedy and pathos derive not simply from cheap shots, but, organically from a set of outsiders and forgotten people inhabiting a care home. Lastly, Gervais is a talented actor and while he’s no Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot (1989), his character of Derek Noakes is a genuinely fine human being worth spending time with.
Moving past the controversial issues of taste the most important question remains: is Derek funny? Well, it is both funny and very moving, encompassing themes relating to life, death, grief, romance, love, redemption, depression and memory. Set in a care called Broad Hill it features a collection of disparate ensemble of characters who are existentially trapped within their day-to-day lives. These include hard-working Hannah (Kerry Godliman), gruff handyman, Dougie (Karl Pilkington), alcoholic wastrel, Kev (David Earl), and the titular, Derek. Furthermore, the care home becomes a haven for characters doing community service such as Vicky (Holli Dempsey) and of course the elderly residents who are cared for at Broad Hill.
Shot in Gervais’ often used mockumentary style, each episode unfolds in a gentle slice-of-life style as the Broad Hill employees go about their business. A common theme running through the series is the pressure the staff, notably Hannah, find themselves under looking after old people who have been dumped by their family and society at large. Moreover, the children or grandchildren of the residents are mostly represented as greedy, callous or self-absorbed. Gervais has commented that the show is a tribute to family members who worked in care homes and Derek succeeds in that context.
In representing the working classes and societal outsiders, Derek also works very well. I’ll be honest there is some easy humour to be had from the sexual perversity and drunken antics of Kev, portrayed with greasy acumen by David Earl. However, in Season 2, Kevin’s sad decline comes into focus as his alcoholism causes his health to fail and the friends he has alienated have tough choices to make. Nonetheless, the comedic interactions between Pilkington, Gervais, Earl and Kerry Godliman are priceless. These, plus Brett Goldstein as Hannah’s boyfriend, Tom, are all gifted performers and they shine throughout the episodes.
Gervais faced much critical controversy when Derek was first released. But having watched it again I actually think this was undeserved. Derek is not a figure of fun but rather a complex human being and richly empathetic character. If you find it offensive or do not enjoy Gervais’ performance then I understand that. Ultimately though, the series has some childish humour such as characters writing obscenities on crabs at the seaside, Dougie’s stupid hair, and Kev crapping himself at a staff meeting. However, it also has some fine comedic set-pieces as occurs when Derek, Dougie and Kevin put on a play about Duran Duran at a talent night. Plus, the scene where Kev and Derek try and sell their autographs of “famous” people is pure comedy gold.
Overall, Derek is a life-affirming comedy full of eccentric characters on the fringe of society. Somehow, they all band together to create this weird dysfunctional but very caring family. It’s a show about life, death, gain, loss and the human spirit. Moreover, through Derek’s homespun philosophical musings we get a lot of simple, yet effective life lessons. Yes, it’s full of toilet and school-playground humour, and at times is really mawkish and sentimental, but it is also full of heart and poignancy all performed by a fantastic ensemble cast.
Cast: Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Jonathan Bailey, Julie Dray, Louise Ford, Damien Moloney, Amit Shah, Susan Wokoma, Adrian Scarborough etc.
Original Network: Channel 4 Television (UK)
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
While Netflix, Sky, Fox, Disney and Amazon dominate much of the digital television output across the English-speaking world, Britain has, in the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 a lot to offer in regard to TV entertainment. I watch a lot of the main drama and comedy from the BBC, but I thought perhaps I needed a little catch-up on some Channel 4 shows I may have missed.
Thus, I set up an account at ALL 4 – https://www.channel4.com/ – and had a little look about. There are hundreds of films, comedies and dramas on their channel produced in the UK, Europe and the globe in general. So, I will be writing some reviews of stuff I’ve been catching up on that I can recommend. I have to state ALL 4 is great value because it is ad-driven and there is NO monthly subscription.
Crashing (2016), is a comedy centred around property guardians. Such people rent disused properties at a discounted rate but have to “protect” the property and leave virtually immediately when the landlord demands. It’s a great set-up for a television format as it allows for a mixture of various characters to connect in comedic, dramatic, romantic and hysterical ways. The setting, a disused hospital, is also great with the abandoned building providing a strong visual theme throughout.
Written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, prior to her Fleabagand Killing Eve fame, the script pulls focus on six such property guardians. Waller-Bridge is Lulu, a twenty-something party girl drifting into London town looking for childhood friend Anthony. You can obviously see elements of her Fleabag persona in Lulu notably the way she uses alcohol, flirting and chaotic sexuality to hide her true feelings. Other characters are: said friend, Anthony; his girlfriend, neurotic Kate; middle-aged depressive Colin; French artist, Melody; awkward professional, Fred; and grieving, but charismatic estate agent, Sam. Kate, especially, is a progenitor for Fleabag’s hyper-stressed sister, Claire.
Waller-Bridge has created an interesting chorus of variant personalities who laugh and conflict and romance and sex in a very entertaining six episodes. I would say the show is more comedic than dramatic and there are some really funny moments which tend toward the slapstick, bodily functions, comedic misunderstanding or are just simply sex-driven. Who-fancies-who-or-who-is-fucking-who is a believable running theme through the show but there is some pathos there, especially with Colin, Fred and Sam’s characters. Overall, this is an under-rated comedy gem which, while it only ran for just one season, is definitely worth watching for the fast-paced writing and excellent ensemble acting.
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
SCREENWASH – SUMMER 2017 – TV DRAMA REVIEW ROUND-UP
I’ve been watching some excellent dramas over the last few months so here’s a few bitesize reviews with the usual marks out of eleven!
BROADCHURCH (2017) – SEASON 3 – ITV
Chris Chibnall’s compelling investigative-crime-coastal-set drama continues as Police Officers Hardy (David Tennant) and Miller (Olivia Coleman) get to grips with a horrific sexual attack. The chemistry between the two leads is, as usual, the glue that holds the show together as does the suspenseful narrative. It’s a very well-crafted human drama too with many well-rounded characters driving the story. The excellent supporting cast including: Jodie Whittaker, Andrew Buchan, Lenny Henry, Julie Hesmondhalgh etc. make this another very watchable drama. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
FARGO (2017) – SEASON 3 – MGM / FX
Noah Hawley continues to emulate the Coen Brothers’ oeuvre with pitch perfect expertise. This story of stoic cops, dumb criminals, ultra-violence and random acts of fate amidst the snowy landscapes of Minnesota is highly recommended. Ewan McGregor brilliantly plays TWO warring brothers whose feud escalates out of control while corporate crime also gets a poke as McGregor’s Emmet Stussy car-lot business gets swooped on by shysters. Slyly satirising the police procedural drama with off-centre plot twists and dark humour, David Thewlis’s scumbag businessman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead crafty femme fatale steal the show in ten brilliant-could’ve-watched-it-all-day-violent-but-hilarious episodes. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
GENIUS (2017) – SEASON 1 – NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
This beautifully shot and well-written educational drama is based on Walter Isaacson’s book Einstein: His Life and Universe (2007). It examines Einstein’s early life as a struggling clerk and events which saw him become one of the most famous scientists. Johnny Flynn portrays young Einstein with a fine energy while Geoffrey Rush excels as the mad-haired genius we have come to recognise. I’m definitely not a science buff, however there was much to be engrossed by in Einstein’s story, not least his dysfunctional family and marital issues. Both informative and enlightening in regard to science and history it’s fascinating throughout. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
THE HANDMAID’S TALE (2017) – SEASON 1 – HULU / C4
Based on Margaret Attwood’s novel, it is set in a dystopian (is there any other kind) near future where the United States has now become split following a societal breakdown and coup. Having moved to more religious-based dictatorial rule, women on the main are now barren and unable to have children; there are however a select few who can still get pregnant. Rather than herald these individuals they are herded up and given to the ruling elite as brood slaves. Elisabeth Moss is mesmerizing as the lead “Handmaid” Offred/June who must survive oppression following her husband and daughter’s apparent death. This hard-hitting drama is definitely one of the best I have seen during 2017. It moves slowly and is very bleak but, like Children of Men (2006), it contains suggestions of hope, light, rebellion and solidarity in a grim, patriarchal world which crushes life and colour. Impressively directed, acted and shot it had me transfixed and disturbed and I very much look forward to a 2nd season. (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)
HOMELAND (2014) – SEASON 4 – SHOWTIME / C4
Claire Danes deserves so much praise for her role as Carrie Mathison. She owns the screen with her single-handed determination to fight against both bi-polar and “enemies” of the USA. Set in Kabul this season eschews the more romantic intensity of the previous seasons for some thrilling spy twists. Rupert Friend excels too as the burnt out CIA Operative as the story moves more toward 24esque territory. It’s sad that the political landscape gives rise to shows such as this but it remains compelling if slightly generic viewing compared to the other seasons. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
IRON FIST (2017) – SEASON 1 – MARVEL / NETFLIX
Danny Rand (Finn Jones) – previously believed dead – comes back to claim his family business and takes on both corporate and mystical villains in this contemporary superhero drama. Jones is okay and David Wenham is excellent as one of the bad guys but I really struggled with this. I enjoyed Daredevil and Jessica Jones and thought Luke Cage, while a bit slow, had some excellent moments. Iron Fist, however, had a thin repetitive narrative and the fight scenes, characters and dialogue lacked the fizz of Marvel’s best TV work. (Mark: 6 out of 11)
THE NIGHT OF… (2016) – HBO/SKY
A shy young student Naz portrayed by Riz Ahmed makes several poor life decisions and finds himself in jail for the murder of a young woman. Ambulance-chasing-psoriasis-suffering lawyer John Stone (John Turturro) takes his case as all the evidence points to his guilt. Created by Richard Price and Steve Zaillian and starring Riz Ahmed, John Turturro, Michael Kenneth Williams and Bill Camp this exquisite noir-crime drama carries the confidence and style of the very best cinematic offerings. Moreover, the rich characterisation and performances raise it well above the usual police/lawyer procedural dramas on television. Award winning drama of the highest quality with a superlative cast. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
I love watching TV shows and films. Mainly to fill a void in my soul, or put it another way, stop me drinking myself to death. Oh, also because I just enjoy escaping reality by watching stuff on a screen.
I have split my September Screenwash reviews into television and movies, because I watched so much damned stuff last month. Here are the TV shows I watched with marks out of eleven.
**THERE MAY BE SPOILERS AHEAD**
ASH V. THE EVIL DEAD (2015) – SEASON 1 – STARZ/VIRGIN
This 30-years-later-sequel to the original Sam Raimi Evil Dead trilogy featuring Bruce Campbell is a gory, cheesy and bloody delight. It brings back one of the most iconic-blue-shirted-wise-cracking-big-chinned-chain-sawing-action-horror-dudes ever in Ash Williams.
Having accidentally conjured up the Deadites from the Necronomicon – Book of the Dead, Ash heads cross country battling demons and ghouls with his trusty chainsaw and boomstick. He finds new friends and enemies along the way and Campbell is on wonderful form as the sexist, ageing demon-killer.
Plot wise the story is flimsy and generic, yet the bloody and bone-crunching gore is brilliant and Bruce Campbell is hilarious as usual. Ignore the evil and abominable reimagining from 2013 and get on board this silly and superb horror nostalgia trip with Ash Williams and co. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
BLACK MIRROR – WHITE CHRISTMAS (2014) – NETFLIX
Charlie Brooker is pretty much a genius in my eyes and as well as being a bastard-funny TV critic, he is also a formidable storyteller. The Black Mirror stories echo the short-sharp-shocking plots of Rod Sterling’s The Twilight Zone and Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected; yet with a very contemporary and technological twist. Season 3 Black Mirror is imminent on Netflix yet this Chrimbo special provided some darkly imaginative tales for the season.
Brooker presents a triptych of stories including: a Dating Coach (John Hamm) guiding – via contact-lens-style-Go-Pro – a naïve lad on a sexual conquest; a spoilt and demanding rich bitch (Oona Chaplin) who buys the ability to digitally clone herself so she can be her own personal ‘slave’; and a story of a doomed relationship between Rafe Spall and Janet Montgomery where an app allows a human to physically BLOCK them in reality. Safe to say all the narratives criss-cross to fiendish effect as cyber-technology is presented as initially a positive thing but ultimately something horrific which undermines humanity and hinders emotions and physical contact. Brooker is of the view that the future isn’t orange but very black indeed. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
FARGO (2015) – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX
Was Season 2 Fargo any good? It sure was – darn tooting! For me this was almost perfect television viewing. It had a great story, memorable characters, and brilliant dialogue and is filtered, like the first season, through the twisted eccentricities, imagery, sounds, music and narrative style of the Coen brothers. Having said that, the writer and showrunner Noah Hawley has taken the Coen’s football and sprinted away with it and almost transcended the primary source material.
Season 2’s plots – and there’s some serpentine shit going down – are set in Fargo and surrounding counties, mid 1979. We focus on country gangsters the Gerhardts and the attempted takeover by some Kansas City “business” people who think they can run the hicks out of town. In amongst the bloody hits, kidnapping and badassery we have Patrick Wilson and Ted Danson as the good cops who, having seen the horrors of war overseas, just want an easy life. Thrown into the mix by the dark lords of fate are self-improver Kirsten Dunst (amazing) and simple butcher Jess Plemons who get out of their depth very quickly.
Overall, the drama, humour and suspense are incredible as is the cast, notably: eloquent hitman Bokeem Woodbine and brutal rural gangsters Jean Smart and Jeffrey Donovan. Philosophically and thematically the writing is very strong too with an existential bent which makes the whole show gold-plated genre TV of the highest quality. (Mark: 10 out of 11)
THE KILLING (2007) – SEASON 1 – NETFLIX
I recall when this first hit the TV screens the Guardianistas shitting bricks over how good this Danish cop-procedural-politico drama was. The moody atmosphere, murky lighting and winter jumpers were all the rage with the lentil-eaters; as were the performances of Sofie Grabol, Soren Malling and the formidable Lars Mikkelsen. In the cold light of day and almost ten years later there is still much to like about this Scandi-genre-cop-thriller. Over twenty gruelling episodes we find ourselves amidst the investigation of the vicious murder of a young woman called Nanna Larsen. Simultaneously a mayoral election is taking place in Copenhagen and the two events become fatefully entwined.
Ultimately, it is pretty generic stuff with the device of “red herring” suspects and characters revealing information later than they could of being over-used. Also, it could’ve have been wrapped up WAY before the twenty episode run, yet, it was gripping throughout with some terrific suspense. I especially liked Grabol’s intuitive cop who could see past the surface and into the psychology of a situation or person. Her obsessional cop was flawed but brilliant at her job even though her family life was threatening to implode. Also, exceptional is Lars Mikkelsen as mayor candidate Troels Hartmann, a man trying to do the right thing, yet with ghosts of the past haunting him. The best scenes were with the Larsen family whose lives were about-faced by the death of their daughter. Their grief brought a real depth to proceedings with many heart-breaking and emotive moments surrounding their ordeal. Perhaps over-hyped on first release, this remains a tremendous cop drama with loads of twists to keep you hooked. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK (2014) – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX
What started, in Season 1, as an ensemble prison drama with the focus mainly on spoilt-brattish-over-grown-Prom-Queen, Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), has developed quite brilliantly, by Season 2, into a sexy-black-comedy-drama of the highest quality. Piper is of course still there driving me mad with her bouts of narcissistic wants but this time she’s toughened up and is now bouncing off the inmates, walls and screws with a bit more spunk and verve. However, the power of this narrative is now driven by the ensemble characters – both inmates and guards – who all get a chance to shine in a collection of stories, flashbacks and vignettes which the writers weld together expertly over thirteen brilliant episodes.
Season 2 develops further the histories of, among others, love-struck Morello, cancer-sufferer Rosa, Taystee, Black Cindy, Poussey and Sister Ingalls; as well revealing more about crooked Assistant Warden Figeroa, prison Counsellor Sam Healy and ambitious head screw Joe Caputo. Also, entering the prison was a cracking antagonist Vee Parker brilliant portrayed by Lorraine Toussaint and her battle to control rackets in jail saw her on a collision course with ‘Red’ Reznikov (Kate Mulgrew). Overall, there was SO much going on in the show yet it didn’t feel cluttered. The characters were drawn so well, relying on archetypes and human definition rather than soapy stereotypes. I was just going to give it one more season but the drama, dialogue, performance, humour and pathos delivered here made me want to go in for Season 3 and beyond. (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)