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HBO TV REVIEW SUCCESSION (2019) – S2 – EASILY ONE OF THE BEST TV SHOWS OF 2019!

SUCCESSION (2019) – SEASON 2

Created by – Jesse Armstrong

Writers – Jesse Armstrong, Jon Brown, Jonathan Glatzer, Anna Jordan, Mary Laws, Georgia Pritchett, Tony Roche, Susan Soon He Stanton, Will Tracy

Directors: Kevin Bray, Becky Martin, Mark Mylod, Andrij Parekh, Robert Pulcini, Matt Shakman, Shari Springer Berman

Executive Producers: Ilene S. Landress, Kevin Messick, Frank Rich, Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, Jesse Armstrong

Producers: Regina Heyman, Dara Schnapper

Cast: Hiam Abbass, Nicholas Braun, Brian Cox, Keiran Culkin, Peter Friedman, Natalie Gold, Holly Hunter, Danny Huston, Cherry Jones, Matthew MacFadyen, Alan Ruck, Parker Sawyers, Sarah Snook, Fisher Stevens, Jeremy Strong, Rob Yang etc.

Composer: Nicholas Britell

Original Network: HBO

**CONTAINS SEASON ONE SPOILERS**



“So, someone’s getting shit-canned. Let’s get the party started.” — Roman Roy


If you haven’t watched HBO’s Succession (2018-2019), then I urge you to do so. It is genuinely one of the best television shows of the year. You can read my review of the first season here, but it’s safe to say Season 2, now all the characters are established and plots thickened, is even nastier, funnier, scathing, backstabbing and emotionally charged.

Succession may not appeal to everyone. If you prefer your television to be safe and heart-warming, then this is the antithesis of cosy Sunday night viewing. It’s a sickening watch at times; embarrassing and cringeworthy too. These rich capitalists and media players have more money than some countries, but they are driven to crave more. They want more money and more power! This power corrupts absolutely and for them greed is not enough. They are bored gods who having destroyed lesser humans turn on each other for sport.



The second season follows directly after the events of Season One. Waystar Royco’s uber-owner, Logan Roy (Brian Cox), has withstood a power challenge from his son, Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong). He is under pressure now from external sources seeking to excavate a hostile takeover, plus he has to choose a successor to satisfy shareholders.

These situations, and Logan Roy’s attempts to buy one of his biggest media news rivals to bolster assets, initially drive the season forward. But, due to some brilliant writing, the series weaves many other story-lines into a web of twisted strands, all of which create humour, shock, grief, sadness and exhilaration. From Kendall’s attempts to recover from addiction to Siobhan’s (Sarah Snook) pursuit of power and Roman’s (Kieran Culkin) pseudo-Oedipal sexual dalliances, there’s all manner of turbulence for the Roy family. None more so than when — echoing the recent #MeToo scandals — historical sexual abuse in their Cruise Division comes to darken the company door.

HBO has spared no expense in this production, as we find ourselves in a variety of global venues including: New York, London, Dundee, Greece, Turkey and New Hampshire. Moreover, episodes structured around family get-togethers, business meetings, retreats, conferences, awards ceremonies and corporate away days are staged in beautiful and opulent locations. As the characters move from the boardroom to country houses to museums to super-yachts to beaches to trendy bars and off-Broadway theatres, you find yourself a tourist without having to leave the armchair.



Often you will get TV shows where a few characters will stand out as protagonists, but in Succession (2019), the writing, directing and acting is so good everyone stands out. It’s hard to pick whose acting is most impressive. But my favourites have to be Matthew McFadyen as Tom, the grovelling husband of Siobhan, and Jeremy Strong as Kendall. His ghostly performance, full of guilt and existential emptiness, is paralyzingly memorable. As well as the main cast, the production added a raft of incredible character actors such as Holly Hunter, Danny Huston, Fisher Stevens, Jeannie Berlin, Cherry Jones to name a few.

Ultimately, this is Shakespearean television of the highest quality. Succession (2019), is what we would get if Billy Wilder did TV. I haven’t even mentioned the incredible score by Nicholas Britell. The music soars and binds scenes of black comedy and blacker tragedy together with a searing complicity. As I said, the show may not contain the most likeable of characters, but, somehow, the writers, actors and production staff make you want to watch these monsters. Despite their wealth and venal ways, you’re compelled to rubberneck this coruscating humanity motorway pile-up presented as TV entertainment. The incredible dialogue alone makes it one of the best seasons of television I have seen in some time.

Mark: 10 out of 11



HBO TV REVIEW – BIG LITTLE LIES (2019) – SEASON 2

HBO TV REVIEW – BIG LITTLE LIES (2019) – SEASON 2

Created by: David E. Kelley and Liane Moriaty

Producers: Barbara Hall, David Auge

Executive Producers: David E. Kelley, Jean-Marc Vallee, Reese Wetherspoon, Bruna Papandrea, Nicole Kidman, Liane Moriarty etc.

Based on: Big Little Lies by Lianne Moriarty

Teleplays written by: David E. Kelley

Directed by Andrea Arnold

Main Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Zoe Kravitz, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, Alexander Skarsgård, Adam Scott, James Tupper, Jeffrey Nordling, Kathryn Newton etc.

Cinematography: Yves Belanger, Jim Frohna

Original Network: HBO

**CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SEASON ONE**

I hate Social Media and Twitter especially, sometimes. I also hate myself for getting dragged into the bullshit it sometimes brings. I’m referring specifically to the distorted prejudice the mind can take on when reading a few negative posts about a programme, film or personality. Such reports can obviously be accurate. However, they can mislead and stain your expectations of a show or film or actor or artist. In this case the second season production of HBO’s, Big Little Lies, came under fire from a few people on my Twitter feed. They said it was an awful and an ultimately disappointing series. Were they right? I mean, how bad could it be?

Then there was the Indiewire article which highlighted an issue during production. They asserted in a well written piece of click-bait that director Andrea Arnold was unceremoniously disregarded in the editing process and first season director, Jean-Marc Vallee, brought in to oversee re-shoots and final cut. If you believe the Indiewire article, this was the act of a heinous media corporation cutting down a beloved artist and robbing her of her vision. Arnold’s auteur status remains untainted for me. She is a fine director who carried out her contract and did not have final cut anyway. This belonged to HBO and they had say on who they hired during the production.

Thus, in a short period of time, a couple of tweets and one article had seriously affected my expectations of the second season of Big Little Lies. I was expecting a mess of a show. One which did not make sense and was robbed of all artistic and dramatic impetus by the HBO hierarchy. However, I can safely say I was wrong and, while not as good as the brilliant first season, it was still a really intriguing eight episodes worth of entertainment.

After the exceptional first season which found a stellar cast including: Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, Adam Scott, Zoe Kravitz, Alexander Skarsgård and Shailene Woodley on top acting form, the second season follows on with the aftermath of prior events. The first season expertly inter-weaved stories concerning an unknown “murder” victim; school bullying; warring parents; extra-marital affairs; and abusive relationships, expertly played out over seven compelling episodes. With the “murder” victim revealed in the final episode, we now get an exploration of suspicion, guilt, conspiracy and a test of loyalty and friendship.

Without wishing to give too much away the newest and strongest addition to the series is Meryl Streep. She plays the mother ***SPOILER ALERT*** of the dead guy from the first season, Perry Wright (Alexander Skarsgård). His death occurred when he was pushed “accidentally” down some stairs at a party. But, the friend’s, including his wife, Celeste (Nicole Kidman), collude to say he fell instead. With the police still suspicious the main investigator is actually Streep as the dogged Mary Louise. She is passive-aggressive and subtle in her enquiries as to how her son died. It’s a delight watching her deviously pull apart each of the lead suspects. It is also an absolute masterclass in acting as Streep’s crafty characterisation makes this series a must-watch. Her scenes with Nicole Kidman’s crumbling personality are especially compelling.

Allied to the investigation into Perry’s death, the show gives some interesting narrative strands to Laura Dern’s energetic power-mum, Renata. Her world is about to disintegrate around her in the face of her husband’s financial wrong-doings. Equally powerful is Bonnie’s (Zoe Kravitz) attempt to heal the rift between herself and her mother. Bonnie suffers the most guilt as ***SPOILER ALERT*** she was the one who pushed Perry down the stairs. As she battles with the emotional repercussions of her actions, she experiences a painful re-emergence of historical parental abuse. Perhaps, not as intriguing are Madeline (Reese Wetherspoon) and Jane’s (Shailene Woodley) narrative strands. Nonetheless, they do support the series’ themes of family, trust and love that add depth and subtext.

To finish, I learnt once again that social media and Twitter surfing can have a negative impact on one’s critical expectation of a programme or film. You have to basically make your own mind up and not be swayed by the pitchforks and torch-bearers baying for blood online. Big Little Lies (2019), Season 2, therefore, while not reaching the dramatic heights of the first season is an excellent follow-up. It explores the privileged lives of the rich Monterey set instilling a sense of humanity and frailty to their lives. The more improvisational direction of Andrea Arnold works well with the fragmented impressionism of the editing style to bring this out. Mainly though, it’s the impressive cast and script which glued me to the screen while experiencing this very watchable drama.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

DEADWOOD (2019) – HBO FILM REVIEW

DEADWOOD (2019) – HBO FILM REVIEW

Created and written by: David Milch

Directed by: Daniel Minahan

Cast: Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, Molly Parker, Dayton Callie, Kim Dickens, Brad Dourif, John Hawkes, Paula Malcolmson, and Robin Weigert, Keone Young, William Sanderson, Gerald McCraney etc.

Cinematography: David Klein

Original Network: HBO

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

David Milch’s formidable Western TV classic was a show I’d never ever seen. So, I took great pleasure drinking in its’ flavours and palette at the end of 2017.  I was so glad I did because Deadwood is one of the most brilliantly written shows I’ve seen; and while the dialogue is clearly anachronistic it feels paradoxically authentic. Throughout the thirty-six episodes the monologues sing from the screen as a litany of character actors drawl and deliver words of filth, comedy and great tragedy. At times the dialogue is so dense it reaches sonorous Shakespearean heights.

After three brilliant seasons of Wild West slice-of-life the show was cancelled and the various narrative strands were left loose. But Deadwood (2019) returns one final time with a movie that further elucidates desperate times brimming with whores, bandits, con-artists, killers and a twisted and violent rendition of the American dream. With most of the original cast returning and the action set some ten years after the final season ended in 1889, here we find scores to be settled, relationships to be consolidated and revenging to be done.

The main thrust of the film shows nefarious Senator George Hearst at constant loggerheads with the townsfolk, especially the noble but angry Marshall Bullock; Trixie the prostitute who tried to kill Hearst; and Ian McShane’s gutter-mouthed bar owner, Al Swearengen. Al’s body and health are crumbling due to his heavy drinking and he becomes more a liver-failed spectator amidst the dirty narrative twists and turns.

Given it was more about the characters, performance and dialogue I actually didn’t mind the open-ending provided by the cancellation of the show. I liked that their lives just went on off-screen until they became the proverbial quintessence of dust. However, there is much to enjoy in getting a belly full of these hard-bitten, drunken characters again. As send-offs go the film is a filthy joy. I especially enjoyed seeing Timothy Olyphant as Bullock, Paula Malcolmson as Trixie, Ian McShane as Al; and the marvellous Robin Weigert as Calamity Jane. They all enrich the proceedings with incredible acting performances.

Deadwood may represent a series of distant Wild West memories but its’ grizzled and bloody vision of humanity is just as valid today. The streets of society now may have pavement and tarmac and skyscrapers but they are still besmirched with blood and greed and revenge of the Wild West. While arguably unnecessary this final film is an ebullient and entertaining drift back to the past with enough spittle, blood, anger, justice, love, profanity and mud to please the die-hard Deadwood  fans.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11

CHERNOBYL (2019) – HBO TV REVIEW

CHERNOBYL (2019) – HBO TV REVIEW

Created and written by: Craig Mazin

Executive Producers: Craig Mazin, Carolyn Strauss, Jane Featherstone

Producer: Sanne Wohlenberg

Directed by: Johann Renck

Starring: Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgard, Paul Ritter, Jessie Buckley, Emily Watson, Con O’Neill, Adrian Rawlins, Sam Troughton, Robert Emms, David Dencik, Ralph Ineson, Barry Keoghan etc.

Composer: Hildure Guonadottir

Cinematography: Jakob Ihre

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

The horror. The human error. The inhumane error. The terror. Meltdown during a safety test. Flaws in the system as ghosts envelop the machine. Science in a brave new world invents progress with which we venture into, only to find we are murdering ourselves.

The terrifying events which took place are chartered with grey, brutalist accuracy. Regular Soviet families live in proximity to a ticking time bomb; believing they are protected by the State. The State trusts the science. The science trusts men to follow nuclear procedures to the letter. But what of pride? What of targets? What price the desire to obsess and force a flawed system?

On that fateful day on 26th April 1986, the nuclear time-bomb exploded. Initially, it was believed it could be contained. The Soviet machine could handle the fallout. Heat. Water. Steam. Graphite. Fire. All conspire to create one of the biggest disasters ever perpetrated against nature.

The Chernobyl nuclear disaster is well documented but for years the alleged truth was covered up. Death toll rose but official statistics stayed low. Naked miners, radiation sickness, blood, pus and falling hair. Style and look was natural and under-stated. Verisimilitude only heightening the horror.

Johann Renck directs with steely commitment from an incredible Craig Mazin screenplay. Jared Harris, Stellen Stensgaard, Jessie Buckley and Emily Watson lead a stirling cast of formidable character actors. The attention to detail in the HBO production is second-to-none. Thankfully the vicarious fear is palpable and I am able to view such events in the comfort of my own home.

We did this to ourselves but it could have been worse. When will humanity learn that we will bring about our own judgement on Earth. The Scientists led by Valery Legazov and composite character, Ulana Khomyuk, fought at length to contain and prevent this ever happening again. Who really believes it won’t? There are approximately four hundred and fifty nuclear power plants in the world. The threat hangs over humanity like a cancer.

I was at school in April 1986. Just sixteen years old. I saw events on the news. Historical dramas such as Chernobyl make real the fear that was there at the time. The site is still poisoned. The exclusion zone remains two-thousand and six-hundred square metres; uninhabitable for twenty thousand year, according to an online source. This event teaches us to never take anything for granted. We have built our own gallows.

1986. Former Soviet Union. Ukraine. Pripyat. Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Disaster. Recovery. Suppression. Lies. Liquidation. Death. Suicide. Exclusion.

The horror. The horror.

Mark: 10 out of 11

GAME OF THRONES – SEASON 8 – HBO TV REVIEW – AN EMOTIONAL FAREWELL FULL OF HIGHS AND LOWS!

GAME OF THRONES – SEASON 8 – HBO TV REVIEW

Lord of Light! Come to us in our darkness. We offer you these false gods. Take them and cast your light upon us. For the night is dark and full of terrors.“― Melisandre prays to R’hllor

Created by: George R.R. Martin, David Benioff, D.B. Weiss

Based on: A Song of Fire and Ice by George R.R. Martin

Executive Producers: George R.R. Martin, David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, Carolyn Strauss, Bernadette Caulfield, Bryan Cogman, Miguel Sapochnik, David Nutter

Producers: Mark Huffam, Frank Doelger, Chris Newman, Greg Spence, Lisa McAtackney, Bryan Cogman, Duncan Moggach

Writers – Season 8: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, Dave Hill, Brian Cogman

Directors – Season 8: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, Miguel Sapochnik, David Nutter

Main cast: Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Maisie Williams, Liam Cunningham, Nathalie Emmanuel, Alfie Allen, John Bradley, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Gwendoline Christie, Conleth Hill, Rory McCann, Jerome Flynn, Iain Glen, Carice Van Houten etc.

**SPOILER FREE REVIEW**

THE BELLS!

Those damned bells. The first chime sent a chill in the air. Everything stopped for what seemed like an eternity. The second chime clanged. The third and then the fourth and suddenly the fate of a television show went from glorious triumph to a just about earned pyrrhic victory by the final episode credits. Thus, in the space of a minute or so, and the carnage that followed, Game of Thrones virtually threw seven seasons and 5 episodes under a narrative bus.

I’m of course talking about a key character and plot wrench in Season 8, episode 5, called The Bells. While what followed after Queen Daenerys’ decision to carry out her actions, was as spectacular a television set-piece as you could ever see, unfortunately it led to a badly judged final episode called The Iron Throne. In this final episode the writers gave us a series of baffling creative decisions which flew in the face of character arcs and also many rules of the Westeros world. Don’t get me wrong, strong shocks and massive twists have always been part of the books and show. However, some of the decisions made were just mystifying.

“NOT TODAY!”

This is a spoiler-free and more emotional outburst so I won’t go into specifics. In my review of Season 7 — found here — I defended the writers, who I believe could be forgiven some sleight-of-hand contrivances and geographical inconsistencies, because the show was still one of the most entertaining programmes around. Conversely, the first seven seasons gave me some of the greatest televisual enjoyment I have ever experienced. Moreover, the novels are an incredible testament to the brilliant imagination, scope and mind of author George R.R. Martin.

In terms of character, plotting, dialogue, action, reversals, twists, shocks, romance, performance, political intrigue, editing, direction and jaw-dropping-heart-pounding-tension Game of Thrones is ONE OF THE GREATEST TV SHOWS EVER! Moreover, as aforementioned, George R. R. Martin’s books are just something else too. Indeed, the third book, A Storm of Swords, is one of the best works of fiction I have had the pleasure to read. But yet, Season 8 had some more amazing action and events too. It’s just THAT ending; THAT final episode.

Highlights of Season 8 were the build up to the attack by the dead. Winter had finally arrived i.e. death. It comes for us all and our heroes were witnessing a manifestation of death via the White Walkers and Others; all led by the ghoulish Night King. Then when battle commenced the third episode called The Long Night, was an incredible action feast, containing moments of high drama, horror and heroism from many characters we have come to love and even some we hate.

I didn’t even mind that the black night meant it was difficult to see some action. Moonlight, fire, the Red Women and dragons lit up the sky enough to see what was occurring. The blackness was in context and added to the doom facing our characters. My issue was that the fight with the Night King was an end-of-the-world event. Surely, this battle should have closed the show. But no, there was more to follow; the final battle for the Iron Throne itself. In my view, anything following The Last Night could be open to anti-climax. So, it proved.

HEROES AND VILLAINS

Let me reiterate: I still loved Season 8 and I DID NOT SIGN A PETITION for the writers to take the black! These so-called fans signing on-line petitions need to get a life and if they want to take a stand need to take a good LOOK AT THE REAL WORLD! But there was no smoke without fire for the online pitchfork hordes. I too did not agree with how rushed the final season was and many of the character choices that were made. During The Long Night and The Bells episodes I witnessed two of the finest television episodes ever seen from a production perspective. They were jaw-dropping. But from a structural stand-point they were as broken as Bran.

It would appear the showrunners were working from George RR Martin’s template as to how it may end. However, we definitely got a bullet-point conclusion; leaving it hitting certain emotional plot events without earning them. Basically, the complexity of characterisation was lost in favour of wrapping up the storylines too quickly. However, I still cannot praise the massive crew and cast who made this TV show. It genuinely made my life worth living from a cultural perspective.

WINTER HAS GONE!

The main reason for watching and loving the show was for the heroism in the face of death and darkness. Life can be shitty and tough and Game of Thrones was about escape for me. Personally, I felt characters such as Jon Snow, Daenerys and Jamie deserved more heroic endings, but instead got disappointing ones. Similarly, Cersei’s visceral flame just fizzled out. I know they aren’t real people but I wanted their conclusions to be more rousing. The likes of Arya, Sansa, Brienne of Tarth, Samwell Tarly; and even Sandor Clegane got somewhat satisfying endings. I guess you can’t have everything, though.

Don’t get me wrong, Game of Thrones has a propensity to surprise and shock and amaze and it definitely did that in Season 8; right up until THAT vanilla ending. Because as the troubadour once sung, “It’s better to burn out than fade away;” so it’s a shame the lord of light diminished somewhat at the end. Still, it’s all about the journey and the quest rather the final destination. Winter and come and winter has gone and it’s a one I will never forget!

Game of Thrones – Season 8 – Mark: 9 out of 11

Game of Thrones – Overall – Mark: 11 out of 11