Tag Archives: Television

AUTUMN 2019 TV DRAMA UPDATE – REVIEWS INCLUDE: DARK (2019) – S2, EUPHORIA (2019), THE LOUDEST VOICE (2019) & THE HANDMAID’S TALE (2019) – S3 ETC.

AUTUMN 2019 TV DRAMA REVIEWS

Having finished watching all six seasons of the absolutely amazing series The Americans (2013 – 2018) at the end of the summer, I thought it prudent to try and catch up with some of the other television shows I’d missed or had on my planner.

It is becoming clearer and clearer that television, especially many of the shows from Showtime, HBO and Netflix, are reaching and surpassing cinematic quality. The budgets, writing, production values and casts are incredible. It’s been like this for a while, and long may it continue I say.

So, here are a collection of the excellent TV shows I have completed watching in the last month or so, with the usual marks out of 11.

**SPOILER FREE**



CITY ON A HILL (2019) – SEASON 1 – SHOWTIME / SKY ATLANTIC

This crime drama set in 1990’s Boston is essentially a combination of The Wire meets Ben Affleck’s cracking film, The Town (2010). Kevin Bacon and Aldis Hodge lead the cast in this always watchable story of cops and robbers. Bacon is especially excellent as the anti-heroic FBI agent, Jackie Rohr. Good performances, violent action and earthy Bostonian dialogue inflect this genre piece, which blurs the lines between the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

Mark: 8 out of 11



A CONFESSION (2019) – ITV

Martin Freeman, Imelda Staunton and Siobhan Finneran are all uniformly excellent in this true crime drama. Set in Wiltshire, it follows Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher (Freeman), as his investigative team search for a missing young woman. What follows is a series of compelling events which grip you throughout. Seasoned scriptwriter Jeff Pope delivers a meticulously researched screenplay that explores the emotional impact of criminal behaviour, and how police procedure effects justice for victims and their families.

Mark: 8 out of 11



DARK (2019) – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX

What can I say about Dark (2019) – Season 2? Well, for starters it is easily one of the best television dramas I have seen in a long time. It’s edgy, nightmarish, confusing, twisted and to be honest, virtually unreviewable. I say that because I don’t want to give away any spoilers but, trust me, if you like emotionally, structurally and artistically complex plots involving multiple characters, locations and timelines then this German thriller is for you. It had me confused in a good way and totally immersed in the tenebrae. You will be lost, searching for the light, yet you will be astounded too by the audacity of the writing and looping madness on show.

Mark: 10 out of 11



EUPHORIA (2019) – HBO / SKY ATLANTIC

Having recently watched Sam Levinson uneven but stylish low-budget crime drama, Assassination Nation (2018), I thought I’d give this big budget HBO U.S. drama a watch. The ensemble cast of mainly young actors are led brilliantly by the ultra-talented Zendaya. She portrays just-out-of-rehab, Rue, who battles drug addiction on a daily basis. Her new best friend Jules (Hunter Schafer) also has issues to deal relating to identity, sex and love. In fact, pretty much all the characters are fucked up somehow in this giddy, glossy, sexy, dirty and often shockingly dark profile of high school existence.

Mark: 9 out of 11



THE HANDMAID’S TALE (2019) – SEASON 3 – HULU / CHANNEL 4

Season 3 of the iconic Margaret Atwood literary adaptation, continues to play strongly with the emotions, the nerves and the heartstrings. Centred around the dictatorial and fascistic Republic of Gilead, the plight of oppressed woman such as June Osborne (Elizabeth Moss) and other ‘Handmaid’s’ is a grim mix of tense drama and suffocating horror. Having said that, misery has never looked so beautifully shot as Moss’ performance and the cinematography are both exquisitely framed. The narrative is slightly slow in delivery, yet as June finds strength in rebellion and civil disobedience, you’re never too far from startling turns of violence and empowerment within the narrative.

Mark: 9 out of 11



THE LOUDEST VOICE (2019) – SEASON 1 – SHOWTIME / SKY ATLANTIC

I don’t tend to watch the news as it’s all quite depressing. However, I was drawn to this drama about Fox News and its’ leader, Roger Ailes, because it features a great cast. They include, an unrecognizable Russell Crowe, Naomi Watts, Sienna Miller and Seth MacFarlane. The narrative covers Ailes starting Fox News for Rupert Murdoch in 1996, and subsequent global news events from then to the present. Crowe revels in his role as the monstrous Ailes, who advocates making Fox the number one news outlet on TV, by pushing his own agendas amidst sensational news storytelling. I have seen a few negative reviews for this show, but I really enjoyed it. As a profile of a big, corporate predator who preyed on those around him, it was both sickening and enthralling at the same time.

Mark: 9 out of 11




HBO TV REVIEW -SUCCESSION (2018) – SEASON 1 – BRILLIANT SATIRE ABOUT RICH AR$£HOL£$!

HBO TV REVIEW – SUCCESSION (2018)

Created by – Jesse Armstrong

Writers – Jesse Armstrong, Jon Brown, Jonathan Glatzer, Anna Jordan, Lucy Prebble, Georgia Pritchett, Tony Roche, Susan Soon He Stanton

Directors: Adam Arkin, Miguel Arteta, S.J. Clarkson, Adam McKay, Mark Mylod, Andrij Parekh

Executive Producers: Ilene S. Landress, Kevin Messick, Franch 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, Matthew MacFadyen, Alan Ruck, Parker Sawyers, Sarah Snook, Jeremy Strong, Rob Yang etc.

Composer: Nicholas Britell

Original Network: HBO

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

“Money, money, Money! Must be funny! In a rich man’s world!” ABBA

Is it funny? In a rich man’s world? Or woman’s? Or anyone’s?

From my perspective I’ve never understood the desire for incredible wealth and power. Of course, it is great to be comfortable and have the money to feed, clothe and house yourself. But, that need and want to have extravagant things is beyond my comprehension. Obviously, if you’re born into money, it could be deemed unavoidable. Some may say it’s a curse. However, we all have choice as to how we behave whether we have money or not.

Personally speaking, I have everything I need to live. I have enough nice things. I have a car, television, mobile phone, computer, food, clothes, shoes, people I love and, at time of writing, my health. I have enough. For some enough is never enough. The extreme is only halfway. Ambition and power and wealth and greed drive them forward. Their desire for more has no limit.

Succession (2018), is another television show about the darker actions of the filthy, selfish and narcissistic rich. Similar, but far more poisonous than Showtime’s hit Billions, the narratives are driven by power games from the Machiavellian playbook. Set within a behemoth media conglomerate, Waystar Royco, led by octogenarian, Logan Roy (Brian Cox). the plots and subplots focus on the various family members and fucked-up personalities within this permanently dysfunctional family. The characters are not so much ‘Masters of the Universe’ but masters and mistresses of their own calamitous downfalls.

Is it funny though? In a rich man’s world? Well, based on Jesse Armstrong’s creation Succession (2018), it is! Unsurprisingly, from a writer who has worked on such comedy masterpieces as Peep Show, The Thick of It, Four Lions (2010) and Veep, these ten episodes contain some of the most biting and sarcastic dialogue and situations you could experience. It’s black though. It’s tumour humour. These are cancerous laughs which eat you from the inside. You’re entertained watching the programme but simultaneously aware of how accurate its’ dark vision of humanity, greed, power and family life is. No one gets out of here alive, including the audience.

The show bleeds quality from cast to production values to direction and not forgetting Nicholas Britell’s incredible score. You have to have a strong stomach to watch so many irredeemable and unlikeable characters all inhabiting the same space. But the writing is an absolute marvel with all manner of slicing one-liners which cut with scalpel like precision. The main narrative strands involve the children challenging their father’s running of the company. Watching Brian Cox viciously curse and do battle with them is drama of the weightiest kind; almost Shakespearean at times.

Lastly, I must say the acting is of the highest order. Sarah Snook, as political campaigner daughter, Siobhan, is destined for big things. British actor Matthew MacFadyen gives a nuanced comedic rendition as Siobhan’s fiancé; both sycophantic to the Roy family and a bully to company underlings. Kieran Culkin is sleazy and the most unlikeable of all, while Alan Ruck’s passive aggressive older son waltzes in and out of scenes with consummate skill.

As Logan Roy Brian Cox is well, just so Brian Cox; sweary, growling and menacing. His character locks horns most of all with second son, Kendall Roy. Portrayed exceptionally by Jeremy Strong, Kendall is a sad figure, attempting recovery from drug addiction, but cursed to desire to lead his fathers’ company. This leads to him making some incredibly dubious decisions. Because enough is never enough and that is the tragedy. In Succession, it is far from funny in a rich man’s world. It is sick, twisted and ultimately very black.

Mark: 9.5 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

THE ROMANOFFS (2018) – AMAZON TV REVIEW

THE ROMANOFFS (2018) – AMAZON TV REVIEW

Created and directed by: Matthew Weiner

Writer(s): Matthew Weiner, Michael Goldbach, Mary Sweeney, Semi Challas, Andre Jacquemetton, Maria Jacquemetton, Donald Joh, Kris Turner Towner etc.

Composers: Anton Sanko, David Carbonara, Giona Ostinelli, Sonya Belousova, Marcelo Zarvos etc.

Cinematography: Christopher Manley

Original Network: Amazon Studios

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Matthew Weiner and his production team were behind one of the most brilliant television series of recent years in Mad Men. The quality of writing, directing, acting, art direction and attention to period detail on that show was incredibly rich. Overall, Mad Men wasn’t about big surprises and massive plot twists, but rather strong characterisation, evocation of an era and dense analysis of existential moments within romantic, family and industrial relationships.

Weiner’s next project The Romanoffs, finds him in a similar character driven mode. It’s a contemporary anthology series about people who are descendants of the Russian Royal family. The eight stories loosely connect but mainly stand alone, dealing with the lives, loves, turmoil and deaths of privileged people. As such mostly first world and high class problems abide. Altogether, the productions are expertly presented with Amazon clearly throwing a lot of money at them.

As they are self-contained narratives I have decided to order them in personal preference, rather than Amazon’s air order. Thus, here are said mini-reviews with usual marks out of eleven.

THE ONE THAT HOLDS EVERYTHING (EPISODE 8)

Main cast: Hugh Skinner, Hera Hilmar, Ben Miles, JJ Feild

This is the final story in the series and they saved the best until last. It is an incredibly dark exploration of family conflict that traverses the life of Hugh Skinner’s tragic Simon Romanov. Flash-backs entwine with flash-backs as his story unfolds from various perspectives. The script is incredible and certainly one of the best stories I have seen all year.

Mark: 10 out of 11

HOUSE OF SPECIAL PURPOSE (EPISODE 3)

Main cast: Christina Hendricks, Isabelle Huppert, Jack Huston, Paul Reiser

This is an absolutely brilliant satire about the filmmaking process. It finds Hendricks’ movie star on the crazy set of Isabelle Huppert’s eccentric director. The narrative channels horror, surrealist, comedy, drama and romance genres with a complex screenplay. Huppert and Hendricks are superb; as is the jaw-dropping ending!

Mark: 9 out of 11

BRIGHT AND HIGH CIRCLE (EPISODE 5)

Main cast: Diane Lane, Ron Livingston, David Patton

Thematically very strong, the story finds Diane Lane and Ron Livingston as wealthy parents whose children may or may not have been abused by their piano teacher. It’s a subtle exploration of middle class paranoia and universal fear glued together by a superlative performance from Lane.

Mark: 8 out of 11

END OF THE LINE (EPISODE 7)

Main Cast: Kathryn Hahn, Jay R. Ferguson, Annet Mahendru

Like the very watchable Netflix film Private LIves (2018), this story finds Kathryn Hahn portraying another parent desperate for a child. Hahn and her husband, Ferguson, travel to Vladivostock to adopt a Russian child and face all manner of cultural, geographical, health and language barriers. It’s an absorbing piece which really drags you in but ultimately the drama felt protracted by the end.

Mark: 7.5 out of 11

PANORAMA (EPISODE 6)

Main cast: Radha Mitchell, Juan Pable Castaneda, Griffin Dunne

More travelogue and history lesson with a mild romantic drama added, this story promises much but peters out by the end. Castaneda’s journalist investigates medical malpractice but it’s left to Radha Mitchell and the wonderful setting of Mexico City to provide the emotional depth.

Mark: 7 out of 11

THE VIOLET HOUR (EPISODE 1)

Main cast: Aaron Eckhart, Marthe Keller, Louise Bourgoin, Ines Melab

What starts off as a fascinating culture clash dramedy between an elderly racist and her Muslim carer, strangely left-turns into an tacked-on romance story. The cast are excellent and there’s some fine dialogue but it felt unbelievable toward the end for me.

Mark: 6.5 out of 11

THE ROYAL WE (EPISODE 2)

Main cast: Kerry Bishe, Corey Stoll, Janet Montgomery

Mid-life crises and male “seven-year itches” drive the narrative as a bunch of selfish and adulterous actions made me hate Stoll’s character. The Jury Service scenes are interesting but aside from Kerry Bishe’s decent character, I found this a painful way to spend eighty-or-so minutes.

Mark: 6 out of 11

EXPECTATION (EPISODE 4)

Main cast: Amanda Peet, Emily Rudd, John Slattery

Amanda Peet’s character has a bad day – THE END! Even the appearance of the mercurial John Slattery cannot save this disappointingly empty story.

Mark: 4 out of 11

IN PRAISE OF BBC’S LINE OF DUTY + SEASON 5 – TV REVIEW

BBC’S LINE OF DUTY & SEASON 5 REVIEW

Created and Written by Jed Mercurio

Directors (Season 5): John Strickland and Sue Tully

Cast (Season 5): Taj Atwal, Martin Compston, Adrian Dunbar, Stephen Graham, Anna Maxwell Martin, Vicky McClure, Rochenda Sandall, Polly Walker etc.

I was slightly late to the Line of Duty corrupt police drama party. Thankfully, I caught up with it by watching the first four seasons on Netflix. The fifth season has just completed a run over the last six weeks on BBC1 and thoroughly thrilling it was too. Creator and writer Mercurio is a bulletproof show-runner; a genre writer with a proven hit rate whose work almost always brings commercial, critical and audience success.

Having achieved early TV writing acclaim with dark medical comedy, Cardiac Arrest (1994-1996), Mercurio’s subsequent drama Bodies (2004 – 2005) was another critical hit. Latterly, Bodyguard (2018) and Line of Duty (2012 – present) have also proved highly successful. Undeniably, Line of Duty is a massive hit for the BBC. It has received awards and nominations from: the Royal TV Society, the Writers’ Guild and BAFTA. Moreover, it was also voted in the top BBC shows of all time. Therefore, after the success of Season 4 on BBC1, Season 5 was awaited with great anticipation.

THE LANGUAGE OF LINE OF DUTY

If you haven’t seen Line of Duty then it is highly recommended as quality genre storytelling. Over five seasons it has received much media attention and a strong fan following. It’s also fun looking out for the tropes, genre expections and language built into the classic cop drama. So, a game of Line of Duty bingo would certainly include:

  • AC12’s lead characters: DS Steve Arnott, DI Kate Fleming and Superintendent Ted Hastings will be committed to nicking bent coppers.
  • Massive and unexpected plot twists.
  • Untimely deaths of major characters.
  • Police Officers being bigger criminals than actual crooks.
  • The main antagonist will likely be revealed early on to the audience like an episode of Columbo.
  • Brilliantly written and lengthy police interview scenes often dominate whole episodes.
  • The main antagonist can at any time be superseded by a bigger antagonist like an episode of ‘24‘.
  • Main antagonists will be played by well known actors such as: Lennie James, Keeley Hawes, Daniel Mays and Thandie Newton.
  • Minor sub-plots will often blow up into being the main plot.
  • Red herrings galore with misdirection and cliff-hanger writing tricks becoming legion.
  • Line of Duty language and catchphrases have become culturally familiar including: “Fella”; “Mother of God”; “Bent Coppers”; and my favourite: “DCI. . . has the right to be questioned by an officer at least one rank senior.”
  • Fantastic hard-boiled one-liners and dialogue that Raymond Chandler would be proud of.

I could go on but I can highly recommend all five seasons of the show. While it exists within the police drama genre the lead characters are well written. Not simply basic binary heroes, they are complicated humans, yet highly determined and professional. The plots are serpentine and often become very complex, threatening to swallow their own tail at times. Nonetheless, if Alfred Hitchcock created a long running crime drama then Line of Duty would be it.

LINE OF DUTY – SEASON 5 REVIEW (WITH MINOR SPOILERS)

Season 5 began with an all action and breathless opening couple of episodes. Yet, by the end it transformed into a claustrophobic, theatrical and tense police interview showdown. While Season 4 found Thandie Newton desperately trying to evade capture using her intelligence and guile, Season 5 was more explosive. Opening with a pulsating robbery, with an OCG (Organised Crime Group), raiding a police vehicle convoy carrying confiscated drugs and weapons; AC12 were soon hunting armed robbers and investigating the death of several Police Officers.

The head of the crime gang is, or so we think, John Clayton. He is portrayed by fine character actor, Stephen Graham. It soon turns out Clayton is not what he seems and is playing a very dangerous game as an undercover cop. But, is Clayton still undercover or has he gone rogue? Clayton’s gang are not to be crossed and their boss is an anonymous high-ranking corrupt Police Officer referred to only as ‘H’. They communicate via computer text software, thus creating a fog of invisibility and suspicion.

As the various plot strands ravel and unravel further robberies and murders occur, with Mercurio creating a series of tense stand-offs and action set-pieces. The stakes get higher and higher until our very own Ted Hastings becomes number one suspect in the chase for ‘H’. Adrian Dunbar as Hastings is especially brilliant in this season. His character finds his whole life and history turned upside down and in freefall. I mean, could this beloved character be the arch-nemesis? The conflict created by Mercurio is totally absorbing until the very final reveal.

Overall, one could argue that Season 5 goes too far to attempt to out do the previous seasons. However, I loved both the complexity and familiarity of what I was watching. The action, suspense, twists, doubt, shocks and ‘whodunit’ plot were played to perfection. We also got a bit of characterisation amidst the heavy plotting as we found out about: Hastings’ history in Northern Ireland; Fleming’s family issues; and the impact of Arnott’s spinal injury (from a violent attack in Season 4). We also got some new characters such as the formidable DCS Carmichael featuring a stand-out performance from Anna Maxwell Martin.

Ultimately, this is a cops and robbers show which plays the numbers very well. Furthermore, like a game of bingo you never know the order the numbers will come out, who’ll win or lose and whether the game is, in fact, rigged so no one really profits in the end.

Mark: 9 out of 11

FLEABAG – SEASONS 1 & 2 – BBC TV REVIEW

FLEABAG – SEASONS 1 & 2 – BBC TV REVIEW

Created and Written by: Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Directed by: Harry Bradbeer

Producers: Lydia Hampson, Sarah Hammond

Starring: Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Sian Clifford, Olivia Colman, Brett Gelman, Hugh Skinner, Bill Paterson, Jamie Demetriou, Jenny Rainsford, Hugh Dennis etc.

Composer: Isobel Waller-Bridge

Cinematography: Tony Miller, Laurie Rose

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

This melancholic, painful and chaotic home for middle-class grotesques and excruciatingly awkward comedy situations involving, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s barely-surviving-human being-the-titular-‘Fleabag’, shouldn’t really work as entertainment. Yet, it does because of: brilliant writing, dark, honest humour, existential depth, almost-cinematic production values; genuine star quality from Waller-Bridge; and a cast on top of their game.

First-world-very-white yet universal human problems are legion in two seasons of twelve breathless episodes. We join our nameless anti-hero scraping through life in the midst of doubling grief, following the recent deaths of her mother and close friend/business partner. No doubt the chattering twenty-something classes are full with “I’m just like Fleabag!” recognition. Nonetheless, there’s something to enjoy for those who love to experience raw, human frailty on screen too.

‘Fleabag’ fights flailing moods, business and family issues in contemporary status-symbol London. Using sex to block out her pain in the first season, ‘Arsehole Guy’ and ‘Bus Rodent’ are two such crutch-like paramours who, along with on-off-ex-boyfriend, Harry, are given the physical and emotional run-around. In the less bawdy second season she falls for an uber-cool Catholic Priest (Andrew Scott). Thus, the lashings of sex from the first season gives way to more interesting abstinence and romantic torture for ‘Fleabag’.

With her best mate dead from a tragic accident ‘Fleabag’s’ sword and shield against life is gone and attempts at bridge-building with her family are fraught with strained agony. Her sister Claire (Sian Clifford), is tighter than a snare drum, existing solely on neurosis and a never-ending workaholic mission drive. The scenes between ‘Fleabag’ and her sister range from touching to hilarious to fractious dread. Meanwhile, their beta-male Father (Bill Paterson), is also grieving and a full-on emotional trainwreck. He finds himself a rabbit-in-the-headlights of Olivia Colman’s ‘Godmother’; a genius at passive aggressivity and unlikely arch-villain, quietly stealing the father away from his daughters.

Many hilarious and painful scenes play out around dinner tables, art exhibitions, parties, funerals, seminars, retreats and weddings. ‘Fleabag’ vainly attempts normality but understandbly fails. In addition to her family she also conflicts with other characters, notably Claire’s horrendous-alcoholic-overgrown-man-child-husband, Martin. I was genuinely shouting bile at the TV screen every time I saw him. Thankfully, Fleabag also features fine supporting roles from more likeable characters portrayed by the ultra-talented Fiona Shaw, Kristin Scott-Thomas and aforementioned Andrew Scott.

From Hancock to Steptoe and Son to Fawlty Towers to Blackadder to The Office to Spaced and to the most recent Gervais show After Life, British comedy has been replete with idiosyncratic and anti-heroic characters we root for. Indeed, it takes special writing and performances to get such shades of grey to work on stage and screen. Overall, Waller-Bridge takes familiar themes and situations and spins comedy and dramatic gold from them. Formally, she smashes the fourth wall with Brechtian direct address, welcoming us into her tumultuous reality, speaking to us and asking us to laugh and cry and love and hate and do what humans do: somehow just get through the day.

Season 1 – Mark: 9 out of 11

Season 2 – Mark: 9.5 out of 11

THE NETFLIX MEMORANDUM – INCLUDING REVIEWS OF: AFTERLIFE, THE SINNER (S2), RUSSIAN DOLL, DAREDEVIL (s3) ETC.

THE NETFLIX MEMORANDUM – INCLUDING REVIEWS OF: AFTERLIFE, THE DIRT, RUSSIAN DOLL, DAREDEVIL ETC.

For some insane reason I have given up alcohol for the year and the weight of reality and time burdens my everyday existence. First world problems abide. Anyway, while my liver breathes a huge sigh of relief, my mind still desires stimulus. Thus, I have, in my constant sobriety, had even more time to stream and watch even more films and television. These bitesize reviews look at the latest stuff I’ve seen on the behemoth streamer Netflix; with the usual marks out of eleven.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Image result for netflix

AFTERLIFE (2019)

Ricky Gervais’ latest fictional piece is a really enjoyable tragi-comedy. His everyman, Tony, is suffering severe grief following the passing of his wife. Sadly he allows misanthropy and suicidal thoughts to overcome his daily existence in the fictional town of Tambury. The comedy is founded on dark materials but filled with deep humanity as we watch Tony wrestle with his demons.

I especially loved the eccentric characters and jokes concerning Tony’s job as a reporter with the local newspaper. The supporting cast are a joy too and include brilliant comedians like: David Earl, Kerry Godliman, Joe Wilkinson, Tom Basden and Diane Morgan. The ensemble cast and fine writing combine to create a simple, funny and emotional journey through one’s man’s fight with depression and grief. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

ABDUCTED IN PLAIN SIGHT (2019)

I keep telling myself not to watch such true crime documentaries as they make me feel really sad about the state of human behaviour. This story from the United States was in documentary film form so I got pulled back in by not having to sit through ten episodes of horror. Also, I’d heard it was a pretty incredible story too so my interest was piqued by that.

Safe to say this grim tale of grooming, paedophilia and abduction that one family suffered at the hands of a human monster in the 1970s, is something you wish you could un-see. As a documentary film it is very well made but it does make you lament the gullibility of some people and sickness of others. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

DAREDEVIL (2018) – SEASON 3

I’d say Matt Murdoch’s Daredevil is my favourite of the Marvel/Netflix streamed offerings. Charlie Cox is a fine actor and the drama, fighting and villainous rendition of Wilson Fisk by Vincent D’Onofrio, make it essential viewing. While it takes a huge gulp to believe that a blind guy could be that great at fighting criminals with sight, once you buy into that premise the show offers a lot of fun.

While not scaling the heights of Season 1, and lacking the brutal Punisher (John Bernthal) side-plot of Season 2, this latest Season 3 finds Murdoch up against Fisk again and a new psychopath in rogue FBI agent, Ben Poindexter. Like other Marvel adaptations on Netflix it’s still five episodes too long and bogged down with plodding angst and lengthy dialogue scenes, so doesn’t quite hit the bulls-eye throughout. Nonetheless, it’s still compelling drama and the hand-to-hand fight scenes are an absolute sensation. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

THE DIRT (2019)

Crazed rock stars take drugs, smash up hotel rooms, screw groupies and almost die due to their excess is the unsurprising narrative ups and downs of this Motley Crue biopic. It’s not a bad watch but is essentially like a poorer version of This is Spinal Tap, without the incredible gag-rate. The film fleshes out the caricature members of the band showing their human side; Douglas Booth and Iwan Rheon bringing depth to their paper-thin roles. Moreover, while the era and stadium shows are really well emulated the direction lacks alot of imagination.

I mean, there was an intense film about addiction and human excess in here, and while we do get some moving scenes, notably with singer Vince Neil’s life struggles and Nikki Sixx’s heroin dependancy; ultimately the film did not dig deep enough into their characters. Still, fans of the band and their energetic rock music will love it no doubt. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

JESSICA JONES (2018) – SEASON 2

Kristen Ritter is back as Marvel’s hard-drinking, misanthropic and super-powered private investigator; and she remains very pissed off. Season 1 of Jessica Jones was absolutely brilliant due to David Tennant’s incredible villain, Kilgrave, and Jones’ character arc reflecting the damaging nature of controlling relationships.

Season 2, alas, is a plodding let-down full of filler episodes and weak sub-plots which quite frankly bored me. While Ritter holds the season together, the investigation into her past gets dragged down by soap operatics and a severe lack of pace and action. Mark: 6 out of 11

POLAR (2019)

Mads Mikkelsen is one of my favourite actors and he is on good form as a crack hit-man daubed ‘The Black Kaiser’. There’s a decent B-movie in here somewhere but the attention-deficient and showy direction detract from a potentially interesting story of regret and redemption. Moreover, while the action scenes are deftly realised the stupid characterisation, exploitative sex scenes and amoral violence drag the film into the unwatchable territory.

The least said about Matt Lucas’ performance as the amoral ‘Mr Big’ the better; here a usually excellent comic actor is given appalling direction that, like most of the film, lacks subtlety, tone and emotion. (Mark: 3 out of 11)

RUSSIAN DOLL (2019)

Another Groundhog Day copy gets a run out with Natasha Lyonne’s sassy computer programmer finding herself living out the same day over and over with various insane diversions along the way. It starts off really interestingly with lots of crazy deaths, character revelations and existential suffering. However, it soon runs out of steam, adding up to eight dramatically paper-thin episodes, more style than content.

Lyonne, is a fine actor who I like very much, delivers every line like New York comedian Andrew Dice Clay and this grated on me in the end as I felt I was watching a stand-up performance rather than a fully-rounded character searching for the meaning of life. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

THE SINNER (2018) – SEASON 2

After the surprisingly excellent Season 1 of The Sinner, I was really looking forward to the second season. The cop show format is twisted in a really interesting way as we see the accused commit the crime, yet find the cop, in this case the impressive Bill Pullman, empathising with the criminal. Pullman’s Harry Ambrose is a brilliant creation. He’s not flashy or loquacious but a determined and dogged cop with his own personal demons.

Drawn to the troubled or underdog Ambrose digs for justice and redemption. In this story he sees his own past in the crimes of a 13 year-old boy accused of murder and is determined to find answers. Here the boy in question is given a compelling performance by Elisha Henig; and his characters’ commune existence and family history had me gripped throughout. A supporting cast including Carrie Coon and Tracy Letts also add real quality to this stirring psychological drama with themes relating to: physical and psychological abuse; religious cults; family tragedy; mental illness; and the darkness of the human spirit. (Mark: 9 out of 11)