Tag Archives: drama

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

BIRD BOX (2018) and ROMA (2018) – NETFLIX “CINEMA” REVIEWS 

BIRD BOX (2018) & ROMA (2018) – NETFLIX “CINEMA” REVIEWS

Firstly, may I wish you all a happy holiday season and thank all the people who have visited and read my reviews and articles this year. There are a lot of film review sites out there so it’s great so get so many visitors in a saturated online market.

For my final reviews of the year I have decided to double-up two Netflix releases. I watched them pretty much back-to-back in the hope, on top of enjoying them for entertainment purposes; I may be able to add them to my 2018 favourites.

So, here are my quick and concise reviews of Birdbox (2018) and Roma (2018) with the usual marks out of eleven. By the way, if you’re interested my favourite films and TV show lists of 2018 will appear early in January. Happy 2019 in advance!

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

BIRD BOX (2018)

Directed by: Susanne Bier

Produced by: Chris Morgan, Scott Stuber, Dylan Clark, Clayton Townsend

Screenplay by: Eric Heisserer / Based on: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Danielle Macdonald etc.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: AGAIN!  I’d say that many of us may be getting apocalypse fatigue by now. So much so that if the end of the world does happen we’ll be mentally ready. Thus, any genre film about the end of the world must fight against the tide of similar films and TV shows released in the last decade or so to gain our attention or praise. Bird Box, for me, was a very entertaining and thrilling addition to the sub-genre. It benefits from an excellent ensemble cast and sterling lead performances from Sandra Bullock and Trevante Rhodes. Moreover, John Malkovich steals every scene he’s in as a cynical and obnoxious lawyer.

The story involves an invisible alien or natural force which infects the world’s population once they look; seeing it is deadly. It grips an individuals’ mind and then forces them to do horrific acts of violence to themselves. The film establishes Bullock’s character, blindfolded, with her two children just about surviving in the wilderness. After which we flash back five years and find Bullock’s pregnant character thrown into a memorably gripping set-piece. After which anyone familiar with George A. Romero’s zombie-film template will recognise many of the twists and turns in the story. Indeed, Bird Box is not that original because the superior, A Quiet Place (2018), also had a very similar premise but used sound rather than vision as the danger. Nonetheless, as a genre film Bird box rips along compellingly and Suzanne Bier has created some intense horror moments throughout.  

Mark: 8 out of 11

ROMA (2018)

Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón

Produced by: Alfonso Cuarón, Gabriela Rodriguez, Nicolas Celis

Written by: Alfonso Cuarón

Starring: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira

Alfonso Cuarón writes, directs, edits and shoots a clear love and hate letter to his Mexican childhood. It contains the love he feels for his mother and the maid who helped raise him; and ire towards the men that negatively affected his young life and his country of birth. Set in the 1970s it covers around a year in the life of one middle-class family living in Mexico City; the main focus being the young help, Cleo. We follow her as she carries out her mundane tasks on a daily basis in an Upstairs Downstairs thematic structure. She is committed to her work and it is clear that she dotes and loves the children as if they are her own. As a historical film the era aesthetics are incredibly realistic and Cuaron’s cinematography, presented in crisp black and white imagery, is virtually perfect. You feel like you are there with the characters in 1970s Mexico. Historically too, the film evokes between the lines the politically charged danger of the era; however, Roma is more of a personal film than determinedly socio-political.

Cuarón is an auteur at the height of his powers. His direction on both Children of Men (2006) and Gravity (2013) was phenomenal; utilising technological brilliance with fierce storytelling acumen. Likewise, in Roma his stylistic choices are fascinating, although I think it actually works against the themes and content at times. The long take pans and tracking shots, while expertly done, slow the pace of the story and in my humble opinion are repetitive and overdone. Moreover, Cuaron the editor has fallen in love with own work and to me would have been a masterpiece if trimmed to two hours. There are at least four incredible standout cinematic scenes – that I won’t spoil – which all linger long in the memory. Furthermore, the characters, led by the humble Cleo are empathetic and at times tragically formed against the backdrop of political unrest. Yet, despite evoking the Italian neo-realist era of post-war filmmaking, Cuaron’s film feels padded at times, lacking the economy of Rossellini’s and De Sica’s work. Overall, it’s a touching work of cinema about birth, life and death, which arguably did not need the stylistic flourishes to tell such a simple, slice-of-life story.                                           

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN (2018)

Written and Directed by: David Lowery

Produced by: James D. Stern, Dawn Ostroff, Jeremy Steckler, Anthony Mastromauro, Bill Holderman, Toby Halbrooks, James M. Johnston, Robert Redford

Based on: The Old Man and the Gun (article) by David Grann

Starring: Robert Redford, Casey Affleck, Danny Glover, Tika Sumpter, Tom Waits, Sissy Spacek

Music by: Daniel Hart

Cinematography: Joe Anderson

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**


Forrest Tucker was a career criminal destined to die in jail. His life in between was one of many bank robberies, incarcerations and successful and unsuccessful prison breakouts. The morality of his actions must be condemned as the man was a recidivist addicted to the thrill of crime, making money and also the chase. While I’m not a fan of banks, who themselves are bigger criminals than the robbers, I rarely find myself rooting for such characters, unless there are mitigating circumstances for their actions.

Indeed, Tucker’s illegal acts would have left the authorities drained chasing him across America, and prevent them from protecting other people. Moreover, by holding a gun in people’s faces and demanding money Tucker would have most likely scared a good number too.  Tucker would go on to rob banks well into his late seventies but he never fired his gun; and was often described as a gentleman by his victims. Yet, despite his wrong-doings, the film of his life in the hands of acting legend Robert Redford and director David Lowery is well worth a watch.



It’s a pretty simple story based on a New Yorker article by David Grann and Lowery adapts with warmth and empathy towards Tucker’s aging bank robber. The casting of Redford is also a masterstroke. As he has throughout his career he exudes a mercurial class and poise.  There’s some wonderful usage of stock photos of Redford from earlier in his career, supplanted to the character of Tucker. This nostalgic trip down memory lane both serves the story and reminds us what a great movie star Redford has always been. It’s a shame that Redford has decided to retire from acting, as reported in August 2018, but this is a fine film to bow out on.

Lowery, whose last film was the amazing A Ghost Story (2017), changes tack with a more conventional character study here; however, he invests lots of imaginative touches in the presentation. He also gets a memorable performance from Sissy Spacek who sparkles as Redford’s romantic interest. It’s beautifully and hazily shot by Joe Anderson on Super 16mm and contains a misty-eyed halcyonic feel to it. I felt like I was watching a film from the 1970s even though it was set in or around the 1990s. So, despite my inherent dislike of the man and the crimes he committed, I very much enjoyed this excellent drama about a fascinating, if misguided, character.                                        

Mark: 8 out of 11

TO BOLDLY REVIEW #3 – STAR TREK OST – SEASON 3

TO BOLDLY REVIEW #3 – STAR TREK THE ORIGINAL SERIES – SEASON 3

My voyages on the first Starship Enterprise came to an end after seventy-nine intelligent, crazy, moving, mind-blowing, occasionally silly but always fascinating original series Star Trek episodes. Thus, having recently written reviews on the first and second series I have now completed watching the third series. In tone, the third and final season was probably more serious and I actually found the lack of comedy or parody worked in its favour.

Often maligned by some fans and critics alike for having some of the worst episodes of Star Trek ever filmed, the third season, in my opinion, is actually very good. There are a few episodes, notably Spock’s Brain, that are just ridiculous and some, like Turnabout Intruder and Elaan of Troyius, that are rooted in regressive sexism. Plus, there’s a very familiar formula feeling too with contrived space-set situations echoing episodes from prior seasons. But to be honest I actually like that formula, which is why I still enjoy watching shows such as Quantum Leap, Doctor Who and indeed, Star Trek.

Thus, while formulaic familiarity set in, the budgets were cut and Scotty’s hair was all over the place from episode-to-episode, Season 3 still had some really memorable moments with great monsters, energetic villains, handsome actors and solid science-fiction concepts. Okay, some of the writing was at times lacking the snap, crackle and pop of say Gene L. Coon’s or D.C. Fontana’s scripts but I enjoyed the series very much. Here are six episodes which I feel still stand the test of time in terms of ideas, stories and drama.

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

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THE ENTERPRISE INCIDENT – SEASON 3 – EPISODE 2

This terrific episode has a brilliant spy versus spy plot as Kirk and crew attempt to steal a Romulan cloaking device. Crosses, double-crosses, fake deaths and conspiracies occur as the Enterprise finds itself at the mercy of Romulan vessels. Spock shows himself adroit at firstly betraying Kirk and then “romancing” the female Romulan Commander. While it doesn’t seem appropriate for his character to act this way it is of course part of a very logical plan. Nimoy’s performance is excellent and he again proves, underneath all that Vulcan make-up, he’s able to portray an emotionless character with much verve and charisma.

SPECTRE OF THE GUN – SEASON 3 – EPISODE 6

One of the over-hang scripts from Gene L. Coon’s reign as executive producer and show-runner successfully melds sci-fi with the Western genre. Kirk, Spock, Chekov and McCoy are transplanted by darned Melkotians into a virtual reality version of the Gunfight at the OK Corral. The only problem is they are all destined to die in the gun fight and must find a way of overcoming historical fate. Despite the contrivances in the narrative, the episode has much to offer thematically on violence and guns; as Kirk must decide between using force or peaceful means with which to overcome his foes.

FOR THE WORLD IS HOLLOW AND I HAVE TOUCHED THE SKY – SEASON 3 – EPISODE 8

Season three had some wonderfully pretentious episode titles and this one was no exception. However, it is a very effective episode that finds the Enterprise attempting to prevent an asteroid from colliding with a Federation planet.  However, the asteroid is not in fact a hurtling lump of space rock but a planet civilisation that provides a home to highly devout religious people. The clash of the Federation rules with the religious group’s rules provides much impetus for the drama. Moreover, the added woe of McCoy discovering he is dying and finding solace in the love for Natira of Yonada, makes this both an intriguing and moving episode.

WHOM GOD’S DESTROY – SEASON 3 – EPISODE 14

The lunatics have literally taken over as memorable villain of the piece, former Fleet Captain Garth, gains control of the insane asylum at Elba II. Using shapeshifting abilities Garth is able to hoodwink Kirk and crew and take them prisoner. It’s a fun episode which finds the seasoned TV actor Steve Ihnat revelling in his role as the maniacal egomaniac Garth. There are lots of twists and turns throughout and the final fight scene involving Kirk fighting “himself” is most memorable as Spock must decide who the real Kirk is or who is Garth in disguise. While it’s quite a theatrical episode set in one location there’s load of fun to be had.

LET THAT BE YOUR LAST BATTLEFIELD – SEASON 3 – EPISODE 15

Arguably the best episode of the season finds two battling humanoid aliens who will stop at nothing to wipe each other off the face of their war-torn planet. Frank Yorshin – who I recognised as The Riddler from the 1960s TV show Batman – portrays Commander Bele as a fanatical zealot. With his special telekinetic powers Bele takes control of the Enterprise and will stop at nothing to take his rival, Lokai, to trial and death. Indeed, Kirk is even forced to set the Enterprise in self-destruct mode to counter Bele. This is thematically a very strong episode as it critiques mindless racism and the senseless path of endless war. It’s also quite bleak at the end as a brilliant montage symbolises the potential destruction of Earth. Okay, so the message could be seen to be broad, and literally black and white, but it remains brave writing given it was released in the 1969 when civil unrest in the USA was rife.

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS – SEASON 3 – EPISODE 23

All Our Yesterdays found Kirk, Spock and McCoy dispersed back in time on endangered planet, Sarpeidon. I guess the ticking time bomb narrative of a dying world had kind of been done to death by now but it did not detract from an entertaining storyline which found Spock and Kirk in different timelines having entered a time portal by mistake. Kirk goes back to a medieval setting and is accused of being a sorcerer; while Spock and Bones are bombed five thousand years back to the ice age. Spock even finds time to fall in love as his genes regress with the age. Sounds silly but as Spock might say, I found it “fascinating.”

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – BORDER (2018)

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – BORDER (2018)

Directed by: Ali Abbasi

Produced by: Nina Bisgaard, Peter Gustafsson, Petra Jonsson

Screenplay by: Ali Abbasi, Isabella Eklöf, John Ajvide Lindqvist

Based on: Border by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Starring: Eva Melander, Jorgen Thorsson, Ann Petrén, Sten Ljunggren

Music by: Christoffer Berg, Martin Derkov

Cinematography: Nadim Carlsen

**SPOILER FREE REVIEW**

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If you go down to the woods today you’re sure of a big surprise. Indeed, one of Border’s many strengths is the constant way co-writer and director Ali Abbasi invokes the strangeness of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s original short story to constantly shock and move us. Because while linear in structure and reliant on structural beats from the rites of passage, romance, fantasy and crime genres, Border, is one of the most original and interesting films you could see all year.

We open with the lead protagonist, Tina, working for the Swedish Border Agency. She is a seemingly sad and isolated individual with, what she believes is, a chromosome deficiency in her genetics. Her features leave her open to cruel ridicule from members of the public. However, she is excellent at her job. In fact, her hook is the ability to literally smell fear or guilt on the people coming through customs. Subsequently, Tina’s superiors start to use her to investigate more serious crimes.

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As this is occurring Tina meets Vore, a man with a similar “condition” to her and this is when her life really begins to spiral into very dark and exciting places. Similar to another film I saw called Beast (2017) the film is, at its heart, about sexual awakening and breaking free of the constrictions of society and family. Eva Melander, beneath the very convincing prosthetics, gives an outstanding performance of a woman finding out an incredible truth about herself and her past.

As a character study this film is very powerful. Tina’s world is turned upside down and she is faced with some horrific choices at the end. Arguably, the crime element of the story doesn’t quite meld with her rites of passage journey. Moreover, some of the fantasy elements from Scandinavian folklore required further research after the fade out. Yet, this remains very brave filmmaking with fascinating themes relating to: ritual and child abuse; nature versus nurture; good versus evil; and how those humanity believes to be outsiders should not be treated as monsters but instead with respect and love.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

SHARP OBJECTS – HBO TV REVIEW – absorbing self-hating misanthropic, Southern Gothic tale!

SHARP OBJECTS – HBO TV REVIEW

Created by: Marti Noxon

Based on: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée

Writers: Marti Noxon, Gillian Flynn, Alex Metcalf, Vince Calandra etc.

Editors: David Berman, Maxime Lahaie, Émile Vallée, Jai M. Vee

Starring: Amy Adams, Patricia Clarkson, Chris Messina, Eliza Scanlen, Matt Craven, Henry Czerny, Taylor John Smith, Sophia Lillis, Elizabeth Perkins

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

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As is often the case when a writer has a big hit producers and studios look at their back catalogue to see if there are any apples in the shade ripe for plucking. Thus, following the cinematic success of her book adaptation Gone Girl (2014), Gillian Flynn’s debut novel from 2006 is given a stylish, small-screen HBO treatment. The story concerns crime reporter Camille Preaker – Amy Adams on stunning form – who returns to her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri, to investigate the murders of two girls. There she confronts a personal ordeal from the past, clashes with her mother, Adora (Patricia Clarkson) and attempts to bond with her precocious, teenage sister, Amma (Eliza Scanlen).

Firstly, I must say Amy Adams is one of my favourite actors. Her performances in films such as: The Fighter (2010), American Hustle (2013), Arrival (2016), Nocturnal Animals (2016) to name but a few, have demonstrated what a striking screen presence she has. Furthermore, she is able to illuminate a character’s emotion through sheer being; it’s almost effortless. But while she excels in serious roles, displaying both inner strength and vulnerability, she also has a sense of mischief and humour. Indeed, who better to evoke the pathos required to portray a character like Camille Preaker? Adams nails the alcoholic, self-harming, ex-psychiatric hospital patient role, refusing to suffer fools and using mordant wit to hide her pain.

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Camille’s assignment takes her back to a place she never wanted to go back to; drinking even more to further block out her inner turmoil. But, she has a vested family interest to find the killer of two missing girls, as her sister, Amma, knows the victims. Her inquisitive nature finds her locking horns with local cop played by Matt Craven; and forming a dysfunctional liaison with out-of-town investigator, Chris Messina. Being a small Southern town everyone has secrets to hide and out-of-towner Camille is not actually welcomed with open arms; not so much the Prodigal’s daughter but the outsider’s insider come to poke her nose where it doesn’t belong. Conflict further derives from external and internal grief that drives a feeling of gothic dread throughout. This is a story about abuse and neglect and the need to dominate through an overpowering sickness and poison. Dysfunctional humans harm others and themselves in order to get through the day.

Having watched a number of films and programmes dealing with the death or taking of children, this harrowing subject is becoming a real go-to for filmmakers and writers. Over eight episodes such crimes are melded with themes relating to: family secrets, mental illness, grooming, mutilation, addiction, suicide and sexual assault. As with Gillian Flynn’s aforementioned Gone Girl, the setting is not a happy place. Human beings do not come off that well either and are presented as very damaged personalities; or controlled and bullied by even more fucked up parents. However, as a brooding psychological thriller Sharp Objects is utterly absorbing and well worth a watch.

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I would argue that it moves too slow for eight episodes and is on occasions slightly repetitive, but Jean-Marc Vallee once again proves he is one of the best directors around gaining brilliant performances from Adams, Patricia Clarkson and Eliza Scanlen especially. The editing also is very poetic, shifting beautifully from past to present and in between, charting a series of chilling, violent events. So, while it does have filler moments in the middle it is worth sticking with. Indeed, the end contains a great twist, which in my opinion, was delivered with way to much subtlety. Ultimately, if you like your dramas dark, elegant AND brutal then stick with it; because Sharp Objects cuts deep, way after the end credits have rolled.

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

ATLANTA (2016 – 2018) – SEASONS 1 & 2 – FOX TV REVIEW

ATLANTA (2016 – 2018) – SEASONS 1 & 2 – FOX TV REVIEW

Created by: Donald Glover

Writer(s): Donald Glover, Stefani Robinson, Stephen Glover, Jamal Odori etc.

Director(s): Hiro Murai, Janicza Bravo, Amy Semetz

Starring: Donald Glover, Brian Tyree Henry, Lakeith Stanfield, Zazie Beetz

Original network: FX

'Atlanta' TV show premiere, After Party, Los Angeles, USA - 19 Feb 2018

Donald Glover and his multi-talented cast and crew deserve all the praise and accolades they have or will receive for Atlanta. It is easily one of the best and most originally voiced television shows I have watched in the last decade.  Set in the Atlanta, which is the most populous city in the U.S. state of Georgia; it centres on a collection of characters on the outside of the capitalist system just trying to make their way in life through: creativity, music, strange schemes, ducking, diving; and possibly a bit of drug dealing.

Atlanta has a rich political history. In the 1960s it became a major organizing centre of the civil rights with Dr Martin Luther King Jr. and many others playing serious roles in the movement’s leadership. Flash forward fifty years and, while we find the USA has moved beyond segregation from a legal perspective, inequality and social divide remain everyday from an economic perspective. The underclasses stay just that with the rich getting richer and the poorer communities unfortunately scrabbling around just trying to get by.

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It is against this social milieu we meet our main protagonists in Atlanta. Donald Glover is Earnest “Earn” Marks, a young Princeton dropout turned manager; Brian Tyree Henry as Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles, Earn’s cousin and up-and-coming rapper; Lakeith Stanfield as Darius Epps, Alfred’s eccentric right-hand man and visionary; and Zazie Beetz as Vanessa “Van” Keefer, Earn’s on-again-off-again girlfriend and the mother of their daughter Lottie. These are presented as complex characters who, while at times, not following the law or rules are just trying to survive in these difficult economic times. A mixture of both society and their own poor decisions trap them, and from this comes much drama and comedy.

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This is a very rich show, which over two seasons, is brilliantly acted, scored, filmed, written and directed. Thematically, it is very powerful while retaining a very honest humour. Episodes cover: stoner culture; crime; family relationships; the working class struggle; guns; violence; street gangs; drugs; children; social media; hip-hop; fashion; celebrity; as well as satirizing white people’s attitude to black culture and the music scene in general.  It is confidently written with a loose episodic structure with events linked thematically and often looping back and re-joining much later in the season. Atlanta also experiments with form as well as style using a meshing of genres including: pop video, short film, chat-show, horror, comedy, internet and various dramatic devices to tell its story.

Overall, this is one of those shows which constantly surprises you and what appears to be a loose vibe is in fact a cleverly structured series of impactful vignettes full of rich moments.  Indeed, episode 6 of Season 2 called Teddy Perkins is one of the most amazing pieces of television I have seen in a long while.  Atlanta is not just a TV show but an experience not to forget and I certainly had Georgia on my mind long after I’d finished watching it.

(Mark: 10 out of 11)