Charlie Day as Charlie Kelly Glenn Howerton as Dennis Reynolds Rob McElhenny as Mac Kaitlin Olson as Dee Reynolds Danny DeVito as Frank Reynolds
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS, BITCHES!**
The thirteenth season of one of my favourite sitcoms arrived on Netflix in early January. With a mixture of joy and sadness I eagerly binged another ten episodes of the most scurrilous and offensive comedy shows of recent years. The sadness was mainly due to the fact that Glenn Howerton’s Ted Bundyesque character, Dennis, had seemingly been written out of the show. However, it turned out he was in many of the episodes so joy soon prevailed.
If you haven’t seen It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – THEN WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU! No, seriously, it is one of the darkest, funny and absurd shows I ever seen. It is the anti-christ of sitcoms and a black anathema to the Friends template. It concerns five individuals who congregate a bar in Philadelphia called Paddy’s and basically follows them as they fuck each other and those around them over. It may not sound like it but it is comedy gold. Further, it’s also pretty smart in satirising zeitgeist issues relating to race, gender, politics, friendships, sport, addiction, crime family and sexuality. It is quite often shocking but not just for shock’s sake. There is a mean streak of intelligence running throughout the show.
I would have to say that Season 13 did not hit the heights of prior seasons. The main reason is that Glenn Howerton’s appearances, while very funny, seemed to impact the consistency of the show. There was an uncertainty and feeling he was only available for a certain time during filming and this was felt in the season as a whole. Also, one could argue the writing was not as sharp as prior seasons. Nonetheless, the show had some brilliant and pointed episodes. My favourites were: The Gang Beats Boggs: Ladies Rebootwhich both called back to a prior “drinking game on a plane” episode and satirised the drive by Hollywood for all-female ensemble remakes such as Ghostbusters. The Gang Gets New Wheels episode was also brilliant. Here the status symbol of car ownership was mocked as Dee finds herself elevated socially due to her new vehicle. Safe to say her new found popularity is ruined by her own narcissistic and obnoxious character choices.
The season takes joy in referencing the #MeToo and Time’s Up furore, the Eagles Superbowl win, Gay Pride, Escape Rooms, Sex Dolls and lampooning films such as: Home Alone and Inception. The latter becoming a hilarious meta-textual delight in the episode, The Gang Does a Clip Show. By the thirteenth episode, Mac Finds His Pride, I had thoroughly enjoyed the scatter-gun chaos of the season. Yet it was still not enough to prepare me for the incredible final sequence, which found Rob McElhenney performing a contemporary dance sequence of some skill and beauty. While it did not necessarily make me laugh it, like the show as a whole, kept me hooked and surprised throughout.
Starring: Donald Glover, Brian Tyree Henry, Lakeith Stanfield, Zazie Beetz
Original network: FX
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.
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.
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.
THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE (2018) – TV SHOW REVIEW
Executive Producer: Ryan Murphy
Writer: Tom Robb Smith
Based on: Vulgar Favours: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History by Maureen Orth
Original Network: FX / FOX
Starring: Edgar Ramírez, Darren Criss, Ricky Martin, Penelope Cruz, Finn Wittrock
I watch a lot of telly but don’t always review stuff because I don’t have time. The Assassination of Gianni Versace was one of those shows which I enjoyed when on the BBC but did not feel like reviewing. But then it kind of stuck with me; it nagged at my psyche as a chilling, violent and intense work of television drama. Hence I thought it was worth recommending it for those who are interested in excellent crime stories.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story is the second season of the FX true crime anthology series American Crime Story. It explores, over nine compelling episodes, the murder of designer Gianni Versace by spree killer Andrew Cunanan. Those coming to the show looking for an in depth story about Gianni Versace – as a man or designer – may be slightly disappointed. Save for three or four episodes the lion’s share of the drama is about his killer, Cunanan. What we do see of Versace and his sister Donatella, as expertly portrayed by Edgar Ramirez and Penelope Cruz, is a man who grew up from humble beginnings to become one of the finest fashion designers of all time. Personally, fashion does not interest me so I was pleased that world did not dominate the focus of the story.
The main focus, however, was the spree killer Andrew Cunanan. Writer Tom Robb Smith, adapting from Maureen Orth’s book takes many risks, notably telling Cunanan’s story in reverse chronological order. I’m not always a fan of non-linear storytelling for the sake of it, however, beginning with Versace’s murder and then flashing backwards revealing, episode by episode, the sad demise of each of his victims made for absorbing viewing. Darren Criss as Cunanan is absolutely brilliant. His performance of the fantasist murderer is equally scary, embarrassing and darkly funny at times.
Evoking the characterisation of Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman, Criss nails the confidence and desperation of a very conflicted person. His Cunanan is not just a straightforward psycho but a rather complex loner with delusions of grandeur. The reveal in the later episodes that go some way to explain Cunanan’s psychosis are especially chilling. The show is also very honest about Cunanan’s sexuality. Via Cunanan’s, and other characters’ experience, the representation of gay men in America is illustrated in a fascinating way. Finn Wittrock, Mike Farrell, and Cody Fern, who portray three of Cunanan’s victims, are very empathetic as they battle the prejudices and expectations of gay men in society. It is a tragedy their lives, and others including Versace, were so violently ended at Cunanan’s hands.
Overall, I was extremely absorbed by The Assassination of Gianni Versace. While not as grandstanding as The People Versus O.J. Simpson (2016), this character drama both shocked and stunned in equal measure; thanks to an excellent script and Criss’ haunting acting performance. Also, kudos goes to show-runner Ryan Murphy. This uber-producer is best known for creating/co-creating/producing a number of successful television series, including the FX medical drama Nip/Tuck (2003–10), the Fox musical comedy-drama Glee (2009–15), the FX anthology series American Horror Story (2011–present); Feud (2017–present); and with this latest season of American Crime Story (2016–present) he has overseen another memorable televisual experience.
12 REASONS WHY IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA IS ONE OF THE FUNNIEST SITCOMS EVER!
With the new season now up on Netflix I thought it advisable to revisit my awe and admiration for the clever, crazy and scurrilous comedy show that is: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I have reviewed it in the past here, but rather than simply do another glowing evaluation of Season 12 – which I loved by the way – I thought why not consider its disgusting genius as a whole. So, here you go! 12 reasons why the crazy gang from Paddy’s Pub completely rock!
**CONTAINS SPOILERS BITCHES**
Any successful comedy and drama show lives and dies by the characters who inhabit the storylines and world. In the show we have a rich differentiation of people collectively known as ‘The Gang’; who all work collectively within the comedy as a highly dysfunctional family. Charlie is the idiot youngest child; Dennis and Mac are the insane older brothers; Dee is the incompetent and much maligned sister; while Frank is the wayward father and the mother is, well, there is no precise mother but a random set of insane surrogates. What they have in common is that they are all deluded-self-serving-narcissistic-insane-lunatics all seeking to undermine each other in turn. Thus resulting in some incredibly hilarious episodes and seasons.
To me political correctness is a fair way to behave and make judgements within everyday life, but sometimes it can go too far and is used as a weapon to demonize behaviour meant as humour. Moreover, in life the unwritten and written laws of society deem it necessary – for upstanding citizens that is – to abide by a certain set of rules. Those same rules don’t apply to the characters in this show. Indeed, behaviour such as: doing drugs, blacking up, stalking, pretending to be gay, arson, selling fake cola, luring women into bed under false pretences, black market surrogacy, faking own deaths, blowing up cars and generally attacking and verbally abusing people around them, should get them locked up. However, the punkish and illegal shenanigans allow the viewer to both live out vicariously such bad behaviour; not so much shock for shock sake but as an attempt to drive the humour down very dark avenues for comedic impact.
The characters inhabit a world where it’s dog-eats-man-eats-woman-eats-dog; and in some ways this reflects the darker aspects of society. I mean we have become a selfie-taking-blogging-wait-until-you-finish-talking-culture only interested in getting one-up on each other. While of course there is much humanity and charity too in life, It’s Always Sunny is not a cosy or safe world where everything ends up great at the end. No! Dead dogs fall out of children’s coffins; tramps have anal sex under the New Jersey boardwalk; Frank exploits Vietnamese people in sweatshops; people pretend to have cancer; the long-suffering Cricket had his face and existence burnt off; characters laugh when others fall flat on their face or try to kill themselves etc. Today, and quite rightly, we should strive to respect each other so the show is a terrible role model for life and lurks in a world far away from and the warm hearts of other benign TV shows.
4. FORMAL BRILLIANCE
Throughout every season of It’s Always Sunny there is always an attempt to present episodes in an imaginative form and structure. For example, in Who Pooped The Bed we get a Rashomon-style-split-perspective murder investigation into who crapped in Charlie’s bed. While in The Gang Go On Family Fight, the humour is structured around the gang appearing on a classic gameshow. In addition to the hilarious historically anachronistic flashbacks in The Gang Cracks the Liberty Bell, in Season 11’s Being Frank the whole episode was shot from Frank’s POV. In the current superb 12th season one episode is presented from a supporting characters dream perspective; while the most impressively detailed form presentation is in Old Lady House: A Situation Comedy. In this Dennis sets up a series of CCTV cameras in Mac and Charlie’s Mum’s abode and becomes a god-like TV director; editing their everyday lives into a bizarre but hilarious reality show/situation comedy. This intelligence and thought keeps the show fresh and funny in presentation and delivery.
As well as the impressive formal structuring all twelve seasons of It’s Always Sunny the plots are always pretty tight and logical in a twisted way. Of course some of the storylines can become quite convoluted for humorous purposes but the writers use pace and a plethora of plot twists to great impact. I especially loved the episode The Gang Breaks Dee which finds Dee finally hitting it big as a stand-up comedian only to find it was the Gang who set her up with a massively elaborate practical joke. Dee again was at the centre of a big mystery in Season 6 where she gets pregnant and tries to make money out of surrogacy. This plot became a classic arc for the season and the episode Who Got Dee Pregnant is brilliant twisted as each of the Gang debate as to whether it was them or not; including even Frank and Dennis! So essentially rather than being just a litany of abusive characters being horrible many of the narratives are tighter than a wrestler’s nut-sack in Speedos.
6. RUNNING GAGS
Throughout all the episodes there are a plethora of running gags such as:
Charlie is a perpetual glue or paint sniffer.
Charlie ‘loves’ and stalks the Waitress.
Frank and Charlie are garbage scavengers.
Frank always tries some underhanded money-making scheme.
Dee is a terrible stand-up comedian.
Dee has terrible taste in men who all suffer at her hands.
Dee is mocked for being a bird.
Cricket’s life and body is destroyed by the Gang.
The McPoyle family are the Gang’s sworn enemies.
Dennis thinks he’s the most intelligent but is just as dumb as the rest.
Mac thinks he’s a brilliant bodyguard with great fighting moves but isn’t.
Everyone thinks Mac is gay but he doesn’t know or admit it!
The Gang ALWAYS destroy Dee’s cars.
Dennis is a committed “lady-killer” with sociopathic tendencies.
Charlie does all the dirty work!
The Gang will promote ridiculous products such as: Kitten Mittens, Wolf Cola and Fight-Milk!
The Gang ALWAYS dumbfound and conflict with figures of authority including: Police; Lawyers; Health & Safety; Doctors; Therapists etc.
These and many more provide the spine for the show and give it a depth and wealth of humour throughout.
Similar to South Park many people who haven’t seen the show may think that It’s Always Sunny is just a gross and base comedy show. However, many of the episodes show the Gang attempting to resolve a national or international capitalist crisis. Usually led by Frank’s desire to screw someone over or simply because they prefer ill thought out and hair-brained schemes to actual proper work these episodes successfully satirise the world today. My particular favourites include: The Gang Runs for Office, The Gang Solve the Gas Crisis, The Great Recession and The Gang Recycles Their Trash all demonstrate a finger-on-the-pulse of political and social satire; albeit from a completely ridiculous angle.
In some respect the dialogue is some of the most disgusting words ever committed to TV. In fact I’m amazed there isn’t more controversy for some of the episodes. However, like the characters it remains on the fringe of the TV schedules remaining cult viewing. Here are just a few of their classic quotes:
“Hey-o! What’s up, bitches!” Mac
“Wildcard, bitches! Yee-haw!” Charlie
“I browned out that evening.” Mac
“You keep using this word “jabroni. It’s awesome!”Charlie
“If you’re in my room, you’re always being filmed.” Dennis
“I’m not fat. I’m cultivating mass.”Fat Mac
“Your mom doesn’t know dick! She’s a dumb, fat cow!” Sweet Dee
“Fight Milk! The first alcoholic protein drink for bodyguards!” Mac
In the latest season there is a wonderful cameo from Scott Bakula where his 1980s character Sam Beckett is shown to have jumped into the body of an old black man. Bakula features throughout with a wonderful hang-dog desperation as to how he ended up in such a crazy situation. Other cameos include: filmmaker Guillermo Del Doro and Games of Thrones writers David Benioff and D. B. Weiss who have actually written the Flowers for Charlie episode and guest-starred in one two. Other guest stars include: Josh Groban, Sinbad, Puff Daddy, Dax Shephard, Tom Sizemore and my personal favourite Sean William Scott as Country Mac. I think the appearance of said celebrities is not enough to get the laughs, but the writers often use them parodically and the actors really get into the craziness of the show.
Like many great contemporary comedies including South Park, Father Ted and The Simpsons many of the shows episodes are clearly influenced by the makers love of music, movies, TV and radio. Episodes parodying musicals, 1980s ski/sex comedies, gangsters, Reality makeover shows, animated kids programmes, horror films, detective and cop shows and many more. In Season 11 they parodied Oscar winning Birdman (2014) by filming the show in one-take to a jazz score and in Season 12 But the show doesn’t just mention or take plots from certain genres it mocks but it pays tributes to specific films too. For example in Season 9 they even made Lethal Weapon 6 with hilarious results.
Believe it or not the rag-tag-weirdo-idiot-boy Charlie (Charlie Day) is a songwriter of some ill-repute. The best examples of his music can be found in the legendary episode The Nightman Cometh where he gets the Gang to stage a musical for no apparent reason. It is complete and utter insanity but somehow actually works and the songs are pretty catchy too. Season 12 also finds the Gang stuck in The Wiz and having to sing their lines involuntarily. This is absolutely hilarious too as they attempt to find the rules of the parallel world they are trapped in.
12. LOW BUDGET
Incredibly the very first pilot episode was shot for $200 and ever since that the Gang and creators have stuck to the lower budget ideals of the debut season. In fact that is the strength of the show as they must use their writing and acting abilities to come up with ideas which do not need massive budgets or special effects. Indeed, the lo-fi charm of the show remains as it is from the first season. Okay, the Gang have got older and Mac got fatter and gayer but the same theme tune and credits play out in the current season as they did in the first; and that is very comforting to me, BITCHES!
Following on from my recent reviews of ITV drama shows I have also recently watched, many U.S. programmes over the last few months. So, here are some more bite-size reviews with marks out of eleven. Hope you enjoy.
BATES MOTEL (2014) – SEASON 1 – NETFLIX
So, Norman Bates gets a paradoxical contemporary prequel which while chronologically set before Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Psycho (1960), exists in the now of mobile phones, crooked cops, Chinese sex slaves, cystic fibrosis and huge cannabis forests that drive the towns’ industry. Freddie Highmore as young psycho Norman and Vera Farmiga as his domineering, yet sexy, mother are absolutely brilliant in this absurdly plotted but nifty little horror-crime-thriller-mish-mash. I especially enjoyed Highmore’s subtle delivery as he fights with the demons in his head, amidst hormonal teenage desires. Plus, more often than not he echoes Anthony Perkins classic performance as the original Master Bates. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
BIG LITTLE LIES (2017) – SEASON 1 – SKY ATLANTIC
One of the most difficult things a screenwriter and director have to do, in my view, is to make rootable those wealthy, spoilt and first-world characters that drive your story. One way to do it is to make their conflict human and relatable, plus casting brilliant actors in the lead roles helps greatly too. Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, Adam Scott, Alexander Skarsgard and Shailene Woodley are all on top acting form portraying various personas within the affluent Monterey upper middle classes. Jean-Marc Vallee directs David Kelley’s superb script with aplomb and the editing is some of the best you will see in a television show all year. The interweaving stories concerning an unknown murder victim; school bullying; warring parents; extra-marital affairs; and the abusive relationships, is expertly played out over seven compelling episodes. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
BILLIONS (2017) – SEASON 2 – SKY ATLANTIC
Again, how do you make rich people empathetic and rootable? Well in Billions the writers don’t! They have created a superbly written series around some of the most selfish, self-centred, vicious and vindictive characters in hedge-fund shark Bobby Axelrod and unscrupulous Attorney General Chuck Rhodes; and pitted them against each other over ten compelling episodes. Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti are on fantastic form as “Masters of the Universe” leads that will stop at nothing to destroy each other’s lives. Maggie Siff and Malin Akerman as their respective wives also at the sharp end of the legal, financial and psychological one-upmanship drama, along with a terrific ensemble cast including: David Constable, David Strathairn, Eric Bogosian, Toby Leonard Moore and the very gifted Asia Kate Dillon. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
HOMELAND (2014) – SEASON 3 – NETFLIX
After the explosive end to Season 2, which wiped out many of the major supporting players, Season 3 found Carrie Matheson and Nicholas Brody find themselves separated and in deep trouble. Matheson is cast as the scapegoat for the destruction of the CIA and failure in protocols while Brody is in Columbia lurching from one violent episode to another. The strength of the first two seasons came from the dynamic plotting, heart-racing suspense and the chemistry between Claire Danes and Damian Lewis. Season 3 suffers from the two’s separation slightly but there was enough dramatic moments throughout to make it well worth a watch. Danes was especially impressive as Matheson who is forever taking chances because of her determination to protect her country, plus her love for Brody. The show doesn’t present easy answers and the ending was particularly bleak as we come to realise that no one wins in these political and international wars. Have to say that Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson and Rupert Friend gave great support and the show ultimately remains compelling, even if at times it slightly tested believability. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
SONS OF ANARCHY (2015) – SEASONS 6 & 7 – NETFLIX
My lord this show is SO brutal; in fact I think it is arguably the most violent TV show I have ever seen because many of the deaths are cold and hot-blooded savagery. In Seasons 6 and 7, Jax (Charlie Hunnam) desperately tried to become a better person and take the club down a more legitimate route, however, once an outlaw – always an outlaw. Thus battles with cops, IRA, gang-bangers, Mayans, Aryan Brotherhood, and more culminated in two seasons of the usual carnage and bloodshed. Also, Jax had the horror of dealing with the death of loved ones borne out of terrible lies and decisions by those close to him. The main strength of the show is the terrific ensemble cast of which Jimmy Smits, Charlie Hunnam, Tommy Flanagan and Katey Sagal really stood out. Also, the action and serpentine plot twists kept the dramatic irony and suspense at pulsating levels. Only the indulgent montages, over-the-top “I love you, brother” dialogue and overlong episodes wrenched a little but overall an exciting end to a gruesome but entertaining TV show. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
THE WALKING DEAD (2017) – SEASON 7 – FOX
The Walking Dead is very much like an elderly grandparent in as much as it has provided happy past memories; has a lot to offer in terms of historical experience; yet sits in their armchair only occasionally sparking into life for our entertainment. However, I must say, Season 7 was way more entertaining than Season 6, which overall really stalled in terms of storylines and fast-paced action. Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his Alexandrian crew and family came under pressure, not just from the zombie hordes but also Jeffery Dean Morgan’s delightful uber-villain, Negan. Massacring two of the leading characters at the beginning of the season created a real sense of suspense throughout and, aside from a few filler episodes; I thought the writing and the introduction of other clans gave the show some dramatic impetus. I still think sixteen episodes are too many but the war against the Saviours was gripping and overall there was enough bloody zombie deaths to entertain this horror fan. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
DIRECTOR(S): Noah Hawley, Michael Uppendahl, Larysa Kondracki, Tim Mielants, Hiro Murai, Dennie Gordon
WRITER(S): Noah Hawley, Peter Calloway, Nathaniel Halpern, Jennifer Yale – based on Marvel’s Legion created by Chris Claremont & Bill Seinkiewicz
CAST: Dan Stevens, Aubrey Plaza, Rachel Keller, Jean Smart, Jeremie Harris, Jemaine Clement, Bill Irwin
**REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS**
Noah Hawley is a postmodern auteur par excellence. He takes established genre output and influences from film, television and literature, before translating them through his creative persona to breathe paradoxical original life into his productions. For example, he actually had the creative courage to take one of my favourite films Fargo (1996) and turn it into a brilliant and quirky television series. Similarly he has done the same with Marvel’s comic-book-X-Men-based-anti-hero Legion.
Of course the superhero/heroine genre has become massive business at the box office. I loved Nolan’s Batman trilogy and personally am also a big Marvel and Avengers fan, believing the Captain America trilogy to be representative of the height of the genre model. Meanwhile, the X-Men franchise also has some fine entries too notably X-Men: First Class (2011) and Days of Future Past (2014); and Netflix’s Daredevil (2015) has also given us two seasons of gritty and energetic delight too. Yet arguably some of the more intriguing Marvel adaptations have been the lesser known products such as: Ant Man (2015), Doctor Strange (2016) and the effervescent Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). Now, FX’s sensational television series Legion (2017) proves to be the most mind-boggling and consistently brilliant of the lot.
It features a talented ensemble cast led by the intensely brilliant Dan Stevens portraying a mentally disturbed young man called David Haller. The pilot episode’s opening sequence establishes his issues from a young age through teenage-hood right through to the now as he finds himself in a psychiatric hospital being treated for schizophrenia. Patients he connects with mostly are Aubrey Plaza’s eccentric and wild Lenny Busker and the more sensitive Sydney Barrett (Rachel Keller). Syd cannot stand to be touched – a character quirk which is soon to be revealed more than a phobia – yet her and David fall for each other. This romance propels one facet of the multi-stranded narrative; at the same time providing the story with much empathy and heart.
The main thrust of the narrative though is totally cerebral. While David finds himself in the middle of a war between mutants and the shady government agency called Division Three, we essentially spend many of the episodes in David’s troubled mind. There events unfold in a whirling cavalcade of images, characters and monsters all battling for supremacy of his brain. At times I could not work out what was happening yet I felt compelled, like last year’s HBO production Westworld (2016), to persist and the rewards and payoffs in the final episodes are indeed legion. Because the show, no doubt propelled by Hawley’s creativity and the original source material, is brimming with stunning ideas and visuals that literally burst out of the screen.
The cast are incredible. Dan Stevens cements himself as one of the best emerging actors and he is destined for stardom in my view. Aubrey Plaza, who was great at laconic sarcasm in Parks and Revelations is wildly over-the-top and entertaining in her devious role; while Rachel Keller is the polar opposite: doe-eyes cute, vulnerable but with steely determination to protect David. My favourite supporting character was Flight of the Conchords’ comedian Jemaine Clement as a far-out scientist lost to the astral plane. His delivery and deportment just made me laugh out loud amidst the madness on show.
This is as imaginative and original take on the superhero/mutant/X-Men genre you are going to find. Many people lost their shit over Logan (2017) but that is pedestrian compared to Legion. It also very cleverly melds themes relating to: mutation, special powers, telekinesis, split-personality, disassociation and schizophrenia expertly while wearing its’ influences neatly on its sleeves. Indeed, if you’re a fan of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), I’m a Cyborg But That’s Okay (2005), Clockwork Orange (1971), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) , Inception (2010) and the work of David Lynch, then you’ll love Noah Hawley’s masterful Marvel adaptation.
While going to the cinema is one of my favourite things to do the quality of television dramas has risen in quality to almost cinematic levels at times. Plus, there’s nothing quite like a box-set binge too for one’s enjoyment. Here are a few TV dramas I’ve caught up with over the last few months with marks out of 11.
AMERICAN HORROR STORY: HOTEL (2015) – NETFLIX
Minus Jessica Lange alas, this one had Lady Gaga to fill the void as the writers introduced a whole new set of monsters, murderers, rapists, ghouls, vampires, junkies and deviants. Set in a H.H. Holmes-style horror hotel, one can always rely on American Horror Story for over-the-top blood-letting, devilish characters trying to out-do each and pitch black humour throughout. While sickening to watch at times it never takes itself too seriously and is recommended to proper horror fans. On the whole its narrative takes second place to the demonic style; pop video vignettes and decadent shenanigans featuring historical serial killers and fantastical blood-sucking beasts. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
BLACK MIRROR (2016) – SEASON 3 – NETFLIX
This is a must-see TV programme for anyone who likes brilliant drama which has intelligent writing and a scorpion twist in the tale of every story. Six stand-alone episodes all provide an insight into the dark recesses of technology and how it can impact humanity. Social media, videogames, virtual reality, internet bullying, techno cryogenics, military mind experiments and cyber-terrorism are all filtered through Charlie Brooker’s devious imagination. A great ensemble cast of actors are seen within the anthology series including: Bryce Dallas Howard, Mackenzie Davis, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Kelly, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jerome Flynn and many more make this one of the best TV programmes of last or any year. If I had to choose the stand out episodes were San Junipero and Shut Up and Dance. (Mark: 10 out of 11)
BROADCHURCH – SEASONS 1 & 2 – ITV ENCORE
The 3rd season of this police procedural drama is on ITV now so I thought I’d do a quick catch up of the first two seasons. It begins with the death of a young boy and the subsequent police investigation, plus the impact this has on his family and coastal community of Broadchurch. The first season is first and foremost a terrific “whodunit” as various members of the town are all plausible suspects. Moreover, the brilliant acting duo of Olivia Colman and David Tennant spark off each other throughout the investigation. Writer Chris Chibnall deals expertly with the emotions too as the family – including Jodie Whitaker as the mother of the tragic child – are put through the wringer by the crime. The second season is almost as gripping as the child killer faces trial and Tennant’s character obsessively investigates a historical crime which blotted his police career. Overall, it is an excellent drama with many twists and a superb ensemble cast of British actors. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
LUKE CAGE (2016)– SEASON 1 – NETFLIX
Luke Cage’s reluctant superhero had previously popped up in the Marvel series Jessica Jones and the action follows up from there. He’s a humble man trying to keep a low profile but given he is virtually indestructible it’s not long before trouble finds him in the guise of Harlem gangsters Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali), Diamond Back (Erik LaRay Harvey) and Alfre Woodard’s crooked politician Mariah Dillard. Luke Cage is decent show with a lot of style, soul and terrific musical performances. The script draws attention to many important historical black figures from history, while the direction harks back to 70s’ Blaxploitation films. Mike Colter in the lead lacks a certain charisma but has power and likeability. Overall the story felt padded out over 13 episodes by some unnecessarily long dialogue scenes and while the fights scenes were strong they lacked the wow factor of say the brilliant Daredevil show. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
SONS OF ANARCHY – SEASONS 4 & 5 – NETFLIX
While it’s pretty binary in its tough guys and dolls representations I’m still digging my catch-ups on this neo-Western-hard-assed biker drama. The main reasons to watch the show are the performances of Charlie Hunnam as the ever-conflicted Jax and Maggie Siff as his “old lady” Tara. Katey Sagal and Ron Perlman are also excellent as the matriarch, Gemma and grizzled patriarch, Clay. The twisting serpentine plots of Seasons 4 and 5 find, aside from other gangs and the law, new rivals in the way such as: the Mexican Cartel, businessman Damon Pope and SAMCRO themselves splinter into civil war after Clay’s skulduggery upsets the groups’ dynamic. The seasons are full of the usual grim violence, motorcycle pursuits, gunfire, black humour and lashings of naked flesh. It’s soapy at times but full of great dramatic twists making it very watchable television. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
QUARRY (2016) – SEASON 1 – SKY ATLANTIC
Pitched somewhere between Fargo and the Rockford Files this violent 1970s set thriller was a brutal watch at times. The story finds a recently returned Vietnam veteran, Mac Conway (Logan Marshall-Green) carrying out hits for a murky businessmen called The Broker (Peter Mullan) in order to clear a debt. As a troubled character, suffering from post-traumatic stress, Conway is a fascinating anti-hero and the thrills come from the hellish danger he finds himself in from episode to episode. Essentially, his whole world turns to shit and the only way out of it is to become a reluctant killer. Like Luke Cage music is featured very prominently, notably dirty blues, jazz, rock and soul; while the style is muddy water noir throughout. Marshall-Green is a dead ringer for Matthew McConaughey but is a fine lead and he, Mullan and gay hitman Damon Herriman make this bloody show most watchable. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
TABOO – SEASON 1 – BBC
Tom Hardy produced and starred in this flagship BBC period drama which ran over eight dark-hearted episodes recently. I have to say that it was sumptuous and stylish affair which oozed quality and class throughout. Hardy himself, looking very Bill Sykes in his long black coat and battered top hat, portrayed James Delaney, a man on a mission to get back his fathers’ estate and battle the East India Company for crimes against his body and soul. Hardy’s naked muscular body is something you see a lot of amidst the faux mysticism, American spies, gluttonous Royalty, gap-toothed prostitutes, tattooed ragamuffins and Oona Chaplin as Hardy’s cuckolded sister hiding a terrible secret. The supporting cast are absolutely brilliant especially: Tom Hollander, Michael Kelly, Jesse Buckley, Jonathan Pryce, Stephen Graham and Edward Hogg. Overall, it was more style than substance and the revenge plot was dragged out and did not make much sense really. Still, the smoke-and-shadows style plus the brooding Hardy made it worth a watch. The score by Max Richter though was probably the best thing in the whole show; both majestic and black in equal measures. (Mark: 8 out of 11)