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ALL 4 DRAMA RESIDENCY – INCLUDING REVIEWS OF: THE ACCIDENT (2019), CHIMERICA (2019), KIRI (2018), NATIONAL TREASURE (2016) and more…

ALL 4 – DRAMA REVIEWS

So, I don’t get paid for doing this. I do it because I enjoy watching films and television and writing about them. It helps me to review stuff critically from both a creative perspective and absorb knowledge for when I make my own low budget films. Also, it’s something to do isn’t it; a hobby and means to immerse oneself in something that interests me. Lastly, one also learns much from the hours of viewing, especially if the narratives are grounded in reality, representations of history and social issues.

CHANNEL 4 has always been at the forefront of producing intelligent drama television built to inform, entertain and provoke thought. Their streaming platform called ALL 4 is a great place to catch up with Channel 4’s product and I have already reviewed many of their shows here on this site. Having said that, I thought I should put an even bigger effort to catch up with some of their dramas. After all, ALL 4 is — aside from watching a few adverts — is absolutely FREE! I’m glad I did because they have quality production values and are very powerful, skilfully tackling social themes and historical events. So, here are some quick reviews of Channel 4 television dramas both recent and not so recent with the usual marks out of eleven.



THE ACCIDENT (2019) – Mark: 9 out of 11

What I found from my All 4 residency was that many of the shows were written by Jack Thorne. He is a clever writer with a keen eye and ear for drama relating to everyday people’s lives. The Accident (2019) is set in Wales and concerns a small community whose lives are ripped apart by an explosion at a construction site. Many children are killed, but given they were trespassing the blame initially falls on both them and building company. The ensemble cast lead by Sarah Lancashire and Joanna Scanlan are uniformly excellent, as the impactful drama echoes actual events such as Aberfan and Grenfell Tower disasters.


CHIMERICA (2019) – Mark: 8 out of 11

Based on Lucy Kirkwood’s play of the same name and set during the 2016 American Presidency election, this political drama sees Alessandro Nivola’s once-lauded photographer attempt to locate the “Tank Man” from the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Part-redemption and part-historical expose, the writing is excellent as Cherry Jones and F. Murray Abraham easily steal the acting plaudits. I was more interested in the plight of Zhang Lin’s (Terry Chen) China-set parallel storyline than the photographer’s, but, overall, I was drawn into detective plot and human conflict throughout.



THE DEVIL’S WHORE (2008) – Mark: 9 out of 11

The wonderfully titled The Devil’s Whore (2008), features a fine cast of actors including: John Simm, Peter Capaldi, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Fassbender and Dominic West. The drama focusses on the historical era of Oliver Cromwell and Charles I, filtered through the eyes of Riseborough’s strong, yet scandalised heroine, Angelica Fanshawe. Peter Flannery’s excellent script is full of violence, political and religious intrigue and works well as both a work of entertainment and chronicle of key characters from the bloody English Civil War!


I AM. . . (2019) – Mark: 9.5 out of 11

Dominic Savage is a skilful and experienced filmmaker, who recently made the semi-improvised feature, The Escape (2017). It focussed on unhappy mother portrayed by Gemma Arterton, and while an interesting character study, it ultimately felt a little flat dramatically. Using the same improvisatory and documentary style with the anthology triptych, I Am. . . (2019), Savage casts Vicky McClure, Samantha Morton and Gemma Chan in three separate stories of women in various states of domestic plight. All of the narratives are brilliantly acted and directed, focussing on coercive relationships, gaslighting debt escalation and painful maternal inertia respectively, all delivered with tremendous emotional power.



FALLING APART (2002) – Mark: 8.5 out of 11

Mark Strong and Hermione Norris excel is this shocking drama about domestic violence. Seemingly the perfect couple, Pete and Clare fall in love and marry, only for Pete’s aggressive tendencies to come to the fore soon after the honeymoon period. Clare forgives Pete and blames work and herself and then finally thinks he may have a problem. An honest and bleak look at love gone wrong, there are many scenes that make one flinch and feel bad for those women trapped in similar situations.


KIRI (2018) – Mark: 9.5 out of 11

Sarah Lancashire is exceptional as the social worker hung out to dry when a fostered child, Kiri, is killed after a family visit to her paternal grandparents. Jack Thorne writes a subtle and compelling script which explores issues relating to: adoption, social care, race, class, and child murder. As well as Lancashire, Lucian Msamati, Paapa Essiedu, Wunmu Mosaku, Lia Williams and Sue Johnston give exceptional performances. Finally, what begins as a murder mystery drama unfolds into something far more complex, with an ending that leaves you stunned with its brave, narrative risk-taking.



NATIONAL TREASURE (2016) – Mark: 9 out of 11

Not to be confused with the Nicolas Cage film series, this searing drama, written by Jack Thorne again, springboards off the recent #MeToo and Operation Yewtree news events. Robbie Coltrane takes the lead as Paul Finchley, a once successful comedian of the 1980s and 1990s, now hosting a television quiz show, while his wife is portrayed by the exceptional Julie Walters. Finchley’s life and career is turned upside down when he is accused of rape and sexual assault, something he vehemently denies. The drama unfolds in an engrossing fashion as we flash back and forth between Finchley’s present day and past history. Again, a potentially sensationalist subject matter is dealt with mesmeric power, as it all culminates in a tense and emotional court case.


ON THE EDGE (2018) – Mark: 8 out of 11

Excellent set of short anthology dramas which focus on various issues affecting mostly younger people in Britain today. Issues explored include: knife crime, body shaming, race, neurodiversity, date rape, depression and social work. All are extremely well acted and directed, giving excellent examples of diverse drama Channel 4 excels at.

FX/BBC TV REVIEW – MRS AMERICA (2020)

FX/BBC TV REVIEW – MRS AMERICA (2020)

Created by: Dahvi Waller

Producers: Tanya Barfield, Boo Killebrew, Sharon Hoffman

Writers: Dahvi Waller, Tanya Barfield, Boo Killebrew, Micah Schraft and April Shih, Sharon Hoffman, Joshua Allen-Griffiths, etc.

Directors: Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, Amma Asante, Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, Janicza Bravo,

Cast: Cate Blanchett, Rose Byrne, Uzo Aduba, Elizabeth Banks, Kayli Carter, Ari Graynor, Melanie Lynskey, Margo Martindale, John Slattery, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Tracey Ullman, Sarah Paulson, and many more.

No. of Episodes: 9

Original Network: FX on Hulu / BBC (UK)

*** CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS ***


“Feminism has never been about getting a job for one woman. It’s about making life more fair for women everywhere. It’s not about a piece of the existing pie; there are too many of us for that. It’s about baking a new pie.” — Gloria Steinem

I just won’t ever understand this world and the people in it. We are capable of wonderful moments of love and compassion and just being good to one another, but equally just as capable of negativity, division and dispute. Take for example the Equal Rights movement. First proposed by the National Woman’s political party in 1923, the Equal Rights Amendment was to provide legal equality of the sexes and prohibit sex discrimination.

Initially failing, the E.R.A. was revived in the late 1960s, and throughout the 1970s tireless work was done to get it ratified. Here was a group of people striving for gender equality and generally fighting for better working conditions. This for me is a noble cause. However, unbelievably there were women, not just men, in America who were AGAINST the Equal Rights Amendment. Of course, it is a constitutional right to freedom of speech and to protest your point of view, however, arguing against something that is looking to improve lives is hard to credit.



FX’s historical biopic, Mrs America (2020) is set against the backdrop of the 1970s and it dramatizes the amazing fight by those individuals and groups seeking to ratify the E.R.A. across the disunited states of America. Leading political activists such as Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne), Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman), Shirley Chisholm (Uzo Aduba), Bella Abzug (Margo Martindale) and Jill Ruckelshaus (Elizabeth Banks) were just a few of the people struggling to get the E.R.A. over the line. While it seems like a no-brainer to me, the 1970s was clearly another country when it came to gender roles and the treatment of women. Thus, the amendment, while slowly gathering momentum in various states, faced much opposition. The mini-series represents the major source of opposition in ultra-conservative spokesperson, Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett), an activist and lobbyist who started the No E.R.A campaign group. The battles between her group and the feminist legion gives way to much incisive drama, comedy and entertainment.

Presented in nine brilliantly written, acted and directed episodes, Mrs America (2020) is television of the highest quality. The ensemble cast is one of the finest ever assembled in my opinion and there are so many amazing performances. Cate Blanchett is magnetically charismatic as PhylIis Schlafly. Blanchett gives a complex characterisation of a formidable woman who, while striving to be taken seriously in the world of law and politics, finds she is undermined by the men she is fighting for. Sarah Paulson also gives another nuanced and exquisite rendition of a housewife on a slow journey of self-realisation. There are just too many great acting portrayals to mention, but Tracey Ullman steals every scene she is in for sure.

Overall, Mrs America (2020) takes a potentially dry subject and infuses it with the intricacies of both political intrigue and powerful personality. The script fizzes with wit, style and verve, and is supported by an amazing soundtrack and some jaw-dropping acting. No doubt many liberties have been taken with the events for dramatic purposes. But if that means bringing to prominence this important struggle then I am all for it. Rather incredibly, the E.R.A., at the time of the programme’s release this year, still had not been ratified by the number of States needed to make it law. I know it’s too complex an issue to be resolved so easily, however should this political matter still remain unratified today? It remains a sad indictment of humanity that equality for all was seen as such a negative thing in the 1970s, especially by individuals it sought to protect.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11

SKY TV REVIEW – GANGS OF LONDON (2020)

SKY TV REVIEW – GANGS OF LONDON (2020)

Created by: Gareth Evans, Matt Flannery

Directors: Gareth Evans (2 episodes), Corin Hardy (4 episodes), Xavier Gens (3 episodes)

Executive producer(s): Thomas Benski, Lucas Ochoa, Jane Featherstone, Gabriel Silver

Producer(s): Hugh Warren

Writers: Claire Wilson, Peter Berry, Joe Murtagh, Gareth Evans, Matt Flannery, Lauren Sequeira, Carl Joos,

Cast: Joe Cole, Sope Dirisu, Lucian Msamati, Michelle Fairley, Mark Lewis Jones, Narges Rashidi, Parth Thakerar, Asif Raza Mir, Valene Kane, Brian Vernel, Jing Lusi, Pippa Bennett-Warner, Orli Shuka, Richard Harrington, Jude Akuwudike, Emmett J. Scanlan, Colm Meaney etc.

Production company(s): Pulse Films, Sister Pictures, Sky Studios

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**



The British, or more specifically, London-based gangster narrative is a well-trodden pathway for writers, directors and filmmakers. In fact, when Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) was a low-budget sleeper hit, agents and film companies were never more than a few feet away from a cheeky-chappie-laddish-gangster script. Ritchie obviously has made his name in the crime genre and his most recent film, The Gentlemen (2020), was another rollicking piece of entertainment. However, Ritchie’s stylish geezer model doesn’t always show the serious side of the British crime yarn. Films such as: Villain (1971), Get Carter (1971), The Long Good Friday (1980), Mona Lisa (1986), The Krays (1990), Sexy Beast (2000), Legend (2015), and many more, represent the dark and brutal face of hard-nut masculinity and the profession of violence. Enter the new Sky drama, Gangs of London (2020), which over nine episodes pitches itself as a similarly stern contemporary gangster fable, but with lashings of explosive action set-pieces, savage fisticuffs and a few severed hands thrown in for good measure.

From the opening scene — which finds heir apparent to the Wallace Corporation, Sean (Joe Cole), burning alive and dropping a low-level hoodie off a sky-scraping construction building — the brutal tone is set. Flashbacks then reveal the reason for Sean’s ire. His father, Finn (Colm Meaney), was murdered while on the Albanian mafia’s turf and thus he demands revenge. So far, so Hamlet! Yet, this is no singular character’s journey into the psychological depths of real or invented madness. Mostly, we find a sprawling, multicultural and international ensemble piece with the world of crime represented by aforementioned Albanians, Nigerians, Kurdish freedom fighters, Chinese gangs, Pakistani drug cartels, Welsh travellers and various other criminal elements.

While there is some soul searching for Sean as Finn Wallace’s buried secrets are latterly exposed within the drama, this is very much a symbolic and sadistic manifestation of Brexit. Moreover, it critiques the rise of gangster culture from the mean capital streets into the corporate boardroom. The Wallace’s billion-pound construction business acts as a front for money laundering, drugs deals, prostitution, people smuggling, gun-running and other nefarious crimes. Business has never been so good; that is until Finn Wallace is killed. Henceforth, all hell breaks loose on the streets of London and the police, who all seem to be in the pockets of the gangs, are unable or unwilling to control it.



The gangster genre can be a challenge for writers, directors and actors as they attempt to sidestep the cliches. Moreover, these stories predominantly show violent and amoral characters attacking or cheating or back-stabbing one another. Thus, it can be difficult to create empathy for such nasty people. Nonetheless, given the continued success of such narratives, the anti-heroic ensemble represented by the likes of the Wallace, Dumani, Afridi, Dushaj and Edwards’ families, among others, give the audience plenty to get our teeth into. There are so many different characters, motives, actions and desires on show that the sheer pace and twists in the narrative can leave one breathless. That isn’t to say the pace is rapid. There is a brooding suspense and grave depth to the overall direction. At times the drama, as well as the casting of Michelle Fairley (Lady Stark), reminded me of Game of Thrones in crime form. It gives us high-quality genre storytelling interspersed with some incredibly violent fight scenes and shoot-outs. It doesn’t quite have the heroes that Games of Thrones had though. The closest we get to a rootable character is Sope Dirisu’s low-level enforcer, Elliott Finch, who has a big secret to hold onto. Dirisu gives a powerful performance both emotionally and physically as he fights his way up the Wallace chain of command.

Gangs of London (2020) was created by Gareth Evans and Matt Flannery for Cinemax and Sky Studios. Evans, of course, is the talented Welsh filmmaker who had to go all the way to Indonesia and direct Merantau (2009), The Raid (2011) and The Raid 2 (2014), in order to make a name for himself in the film industry. He is a director with a special set of skills, especially when it comes to the knuckle-breaking and heart-stabbing fight sequences. Thus, the episodes he directs stand out among the best of the series. Notably Episodes 1 and 5, which feature an incredible bare-knuckled-table-leg-glass-in-the-face bar fracas and a bloody-mercenary-raid-on-a- country-farmhouse set-piece respectively. The remainder of the series arguably pales a little where the action is concerned, however, there remains some shockingly grotesque acts of violence as the corpses mount up the further the series proceeds. Indeed, as Sean Wallace attempts to locate his father’s killer and order from the chaos, he will find little in the way of salvation, redemption and satisfaction in the life of a London gangster. If only he’d watched more crime films, he’d know that already.

Mark: 9 out of 11



NETFLIX TV REVIEW: INTO THE NIGHT (2020)

NETFLIX TV REVIEW: INTO THE NIGHT (2020)

Directed by: Inti Calfat and Dirk Verheye

Written by Jason George – based on the novel The Old Axolotl by Jacek Dukaj

Cast: Pauline Ettienne, Laurent Capulletto, Stefano Cassetti, Nabil Mallat, Jan Bijvoet, Vincent Londez, Babetida Sadjo, Mehmet Kurtulus, Alba Gaia Bellugi, Regina Bikkinina, etc.

Distribution: Netflix


****MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ****



Netflix’s first Belgian original production series is an inspired adaptation of Jakub Dukaj’s electronic science fiction work, The Old Axolotl. While that work may be a digital release about a post-apocalyptic Earth, Into The Night (2020), is not a futuristic tale, but rather a very contemporary one set in the now. Opening in the Brussels airport the suspense is ratcheted up from the start when a NATO Officer, Terenzio Gallo, takes a Moscow bound plane hostage at gunpoint. Frantic and dangerous he orders the pilot and crew to take off immediately as they are all in danger. I won’t reveal what that danger is for fear of spoilers. What I can say is though these six episodes are one hell of a thrilling and panic-stricken plane journey.

Jason George’s excellent adaptation is written as a fast-paced disaster movie over six sharp episodes. Given the characters convene at an airport and the Brussels office of the United Nations is close by, the narrative establishes an ensemble of various nationalities including: Polish, Italian, Belgian, French, Turkish, Russian, Moroccan and in later episodes, English. Indeed, as well as the environmental threat and technological challenges the characters face, national identities and cultural clashes drive the drama of the series. The various personalities may be facing impending doom from an unknown source, while flying thousands of feet in the air, yet they cannot put their petty prejudices aside and this leads to much trouble. Amidst the in-fighting though some solidarity is found as the passengers and crew overcome a plethora of suspenseful moments and situations.

I personally cannot stand flying. Thus, my heart was literally in my mouth throughout this exciting series. The acting, action, direction and editing are all extremely well delivered, and I can safely say that this is one of Netflix’s winners. The threat the humans face is also very believable too. Furthermore, a classic disaster movie trope is to give the characters enough depth to bring you into their personal stories. Each episode is named after a character and is accompanied by a mini-flashback establishing their back story. We get one character seeking romance, one facing grief, another having an affair, a mother attempting to save her sick son, and so on. While these are very much standard types within the genre, the breathless pace of Into The Night (2020) leaves you dizzy from both the high altitude and anxiety.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


BBC TV REVIEW – INSIDE NO. 9 (2020) – SEASON 5 – more hare-raising twists from geniuses Pemberton and Shearsmith!

BBC TV REVIEW – INSIDE NO. 9 (2020) – SEASON 5

Created and written by: Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith

Directors (Season5): Matt Lipsey, Guillem Morales, Steve Pemberton

Original Network: BBC (available on BBC Iplayer and Netflix)

No. of Episodes: 6

***CONTAINS PROPER SPOILERS***



Inside No. 9 is written by and stars Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith. Both are brilliant comedic and dramatic actors, having appeared in many TV shows and films down the years. They are arguably most famous for beginning their careers in amazing comedic troupe The League of Gentlemen; however, their work on Inside No. 9 surpasses the ‘League’ in my view.

If you have never seen Inside No. 9 before, I urge you to do so. It is an exceptional anthology series with six standalone episodes per season. Individual episodes feature a whole host of different characters and actors each time. As per the prior seasons, the latest one is absolutely brilliant. It privileges tightly woven thirty-minute short narratives, which more often than not, feature a twist in the tale. Moroever the events usually unfold in one location with never more than a handful of characters. This makes the narratives feel more focussed, intense and intimate.

Inside No. 9 is also a surprising delight because you never know what kind of genre you will get. One week you could get comedy, horror, drama, crime, romance or musical; and sometimes a combination of all of them. They also take chances with their use of form and structure, with many episodes either paying homage or parodying different genre styles. So, here are some short reviews of each episode from Season 5. Usually, I mark my reviews out of eleven (in homage to This is Spinal Tap (1984)), however, for obvious reasons, I will be marking these reviews out of NINE.


EPISODE 1 – THE REFEREE’S A W**NKER

Cast: David Morrissey, Ralph Little, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith

The number 9 of this episode occurs in a football referees’ changing room before, during and after a critical final game of the season. Tensions rise between players, mascots and officials in what is the referee’s last game before retirement. David Morrissey is brilliant as the ultra-professional ref attempting to keep control amidst the chaos. Ralf Little also excels as the vain referee’s assistant, with Shearsmith and Pemberton offering fine comedic support. On the main this plays out as a comedy, but there are also serious moments. Indeed, The Referee’s a Wanker explores themes of corruption, gay footballers, and the obsessive win-at-all-costs nature of football fanatics. Fast-paced, funny and containing a great twist, this episode kicked off the season very positively.

Mark: 8 out of 9



EPISODE 2 – DEATH BE NOT PROUD

Cast: Jenna Coleman, Kadiff Kirwan, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, Sarah Solemani

This episode was a joy on many levels. Firstly, it was a fantastic mixture of dark comedy and bloody horror. Most significantly, it contained a wonderful series of meta-cultural call backs to Shearsmith’s and Pemberton’s prior work called Psychoville. A grotesque and demented sitcom, Psychoville contained a gallery of crazed characters with many portrayed by Pemberton and Shearsmith. In Death Be Not Proud the opening is quite conventional. Young couple (Jenna Coleman and Kadiff Kirwan) get what they think is a property bargain. However, the flat was host to a grisly murder and something from beyond the grave is tormenting the new tenants. When the previous owner, David Sowerbutts returns things get even weirder. Only then do we learn about the horrific history of this murder home, to sick and hilarious effect.

Mark: 8.5 out of 9



EPISODE 3 – LOVE’S GREAT ADVENTURE

Cast: Steve Pemberton, Debbie Rush, Gaby French, Bobby Schofield, Reece Shearsmith.

Once again displaying fine writing and actorly versatility, Love’s Great Adventure plays out as a straight family drama. It’s of such high quality and hits such emotional and dramatic peaks, TV writers like Paul Abbott, Jimmy McGovern and Jed Mercurio would have been proud to have written it. Cleverly structured around an advent calendar, the Christmas setting adds texture to the financial struggles of one working class family. Trevor (Pemberton) and Julia (Debbie Rush) are devoted to each other, their teenage daughter and grandson who lives with them. They are even prepared to forgive their self-destructive addict son. Set mainly in the kitchen on various days leading up to Christmas day, the events unfold in a subtle, but powerfully realistic manner. These are ordinary, but compelling characters, who prove there is nothing stronger than family love.

Mark: 8.5 out of 9



EPISODE 4 – MISDIRECTION

Cast: Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Jill Halfpenny, Fionn Whitehead

One of my favourite ever TV shows is Tales Of The Unexpected and Inside No. 9 certainly owes a debt to that series of twisted genre narratives. Misdirection is a case in point. It is up there with the best Pemberton and Shearsmith plots, as a young student journalist, Fionn Whitehead, interviews Reece Shearsmith’s famous magician. Safe to say that as this is about magic there is much in the way of tricksy turns, bluffs and diversionary tactics. Shearsmith is on brilliant form as the arrogant traditionalist with a dark secret. He criticizes the inelegance of street magicians while a battle of wits ensues with Whitehead’s seemingly naive novice. Echoing the structural and stylish dexterity of Peter Schaffer’s brilliant Sleuth (1972), Misdirection holds all the cards when it comes to being a deviously clever and totally unexpected tale.

Mark: 9 out of 9



EPISODE 5 – THINKING OUT LOUD

Cast: Maxine Peake, Phil Davis, Ionna Kimbrook, Sandra Gayer, Sara Kestelman, Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton

Before reviewing this season, I watched every episode twice. I’m glad I did because Inside No. 9 can be complex and pack a lot in thirty minutes. So, it proves in Thinking Out Loud, as we get seven seemingly disparate characters all unconnected. Or so we are led to believe. The episode uses the video diary format, which was something of a popular phenomenon in the 1990s, plus it echoes the “talking heads” style of Alan Bennett. Thus, we get a character in therapy, her therapist, a criminal on death row, a singer, a man suffering from cancer, a man looking for love and an Instagram influencer. All directly address the camera and as we cut between them, their connection slowly filters through until the incredible reveal. Owing much to films like Identity (2003) and Split (2017), this psychological thriller is very crafty with many chilling moments that bear up to multiple viewings.

Mark: 8 out of 9



EPISODE 6 – THE STAKEOUT

Cast: Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith

This virtual two-hander concentrates all of the action within the confines of a police car. Steve Pemberton portrays the jaded and experienced police officer obsessed with finding out who killed his partner. Joining him in the vehicle is new partner, played by Shearsmith. The latter’s character is a Special Constable who seeks to follow the book causing tension on a stakeout during a literal graveyard shift. The two clash over diet, riddles, word-games and police procedure, but over three nights they eventually find mutual respect. The bulk of the episode’s enjoyment comes from Pemberton and Shearsmith’s sparring and their performances are exemplary. The writing is also impressive as it plays with the tropes of the police procedural genre. Finally, it also sets up a suspenseful opening only to confound us by the bloody fiendish denouement.

Mark: 8.5 out of 9



HBO TV REVIEW – THE OUTSIDER (2020) – Stephen King's novel is given an impressive HBO going over!

HBO TV REVIEW – THE OUTSIDER (2020)

Developed by Richard Price – based on Stephen King’s novel

Writers: Dennis Lehane, Jessie Nickson-Lopez, Richard Price

Directors: Jason Bateman, Andrew Bernstein, Igor Martinovic, Karyn Kusama, Daina Reid, J.D. Dillard, Charlotte Brandstrom

Cast: Ben Mendelsohn, Bill Camp, Cynthia Erivo, Jason Bateman, Jeremy Bobb, Julianne Nicholson, Mare Winningham, Paddy Considine, Marc Menchaca, Max Beesley, Derek Cecil, Yul Vazquez etc.

Original Network: HBO

No. of Episodes: 10

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***


Image result for HBOS THE OUTSIDER

When I first saw this advertised, I thought finally, someone has adapted Albert Camus’ classic existential novel, The Outsider. When I saw it was from HBO, I was even more stoked. However, I then realised it was actually a story developed from a recent novel by uber-writer, Stephen King. Nonetheless, my enthusiasm was not curbed or curtailed. Because lord does King certainly know his way around a crime and horror tale. Moreover, with character actors such as Ben Mendelsohn, Bill Camp, Paddy Considine, Mare Winningham and Jason Bateman in the cast, plus star-in-the-making Cynthia Erivo also in the mix, I knew this had to be good. Thus, it proved.

It goes without saying that being a HBO production this is a high quality rendition of Stephen King’s novel. The director of the first two episodes, Jason Bateman, brings the dark finish, tone and experience garnered from his superlative work on Netflix’s brilliant series, Ozark. Bateman is also cast as the main murder suspect, Terry Maitland, and he so metronomically good in the role. In a gripping opening episode Maitland is arrested for the murder of a local boy, Frank Peterson. The investigation is lead by Cherokee City detective, Ralph Anderson; an emotionally hollowed cop superbly portrayed by Ben Mendelsohn. Maitland protests his innocence, and when his ebullient attorney — the ever-impressive Bill Camp — shows he has a cast iron alibi, the narrative takes a decidedly strange turn.


Image result for HBOS THE OUTSIDER

Firstly, as I have alluded to, this must be one of the best casts assembled in a television show since, well, the last HBO series produced. Further, grandmaster screenwriter, Richard Price — who also co-adapted the superb The Night Of (2016) for HBO — has spring boarded King’s original brilliantly. Price and his co-writers fully flesh out a series of fascinating characters and a community ripped apart by a black monster lurking in the shadows. Indeed, grief and heartache stain the eye of this drama as death hangs heavy over the humans of this closeknit town.

The Outsider (2020) is so confident, we are not even introduced to another of the major assets of the series in Cynthia Erivo’s investigator, Holly Gibney, until the third episode. While the ‘Outsider’ of the title could be referring to the killer, Gibney’s character is very much an idiosyncratic loner too. Whether she is on the spectrum, it is not revealed. However, irrespective of her lack of social skills, she has an incredible memory, powerful determination and prodigious logic. Erivo, as Gibney, gives a masterclass of a performance radiating empathy, heart and fierce intelligence throughout.

Finally, some may feel the HBO series moves too slowly in the middle episodes, following the thrilling opening ones. However, I was engrossed in the methodical unravelling of the exposition to the audience. As Gibney discovers the true horror of the mystery then so do we. Stephen King has always been a genius at creating eerie suspense and this story is no different. I was pleased that this vision avoided the more hysterical supernatural elements which have blighted lesser King adaptations. Yet, while it is subtle in delivery, the show isn’t without a number of explosive moments, especially during a bullet-fest of a shootout in the final episode. Overall though it’s the creeping dread I felt while watching The Outsider (2020), that I’ll remember most. It’s the stuff of nightmares you see; and at times I was seeing more than double.

Mark: 9 out of 11


NETFLIX REVIEW – CRIMINAL (2019) – UK/FR/GER/SPAIN

NETFLIX REVIEW – CRIMINAL (2019) – UK/FR/GER/SPAIN

Created by: George Kay and Jim Field Smith

Writers: George Kay, Alejandro Hernandez, Manuel Cuenca, Frederic Mermoud, Mathieu Missoffe, Antonin Martin-Hilbert, Bernd Lange, Sebastian Heeg.

Directors: Frederic Mermoud, Oliver Hirschbiegel, Mariano Barroso, Jim Field Smith

Cast (various): David Tennant, Hayley Atwell, Youssef Kerkour, Nicholas Pinnock, Mark Stanley, Katherine Kelly, Sara Giradeau, Nathalie Baye, Margot Bancilon, Stephane Jobert, Laurent Lucas, Peter Kurth, Deniz Arora, Nina Hoss, Sylvester Groth, Florence Kasumba, Carmen Macha, Inma Cuesta, Eduard Fernandez, Jose Angel Egido, Emma Suarez, Jorge Bosch etc.

Original Network: Netflix

******* MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS *******



I’m a massive fan of anthology shows and also television which adheres to a clear format. Of course, it can be argued to be generic and formulaic, however, there’s something very pleasing in watching a television drama with fixed location, rules and concepts in place. Netflix’s crime procedural drama, Criminal (2019) is one such programme. Each episode is based around the interrogation of a prime suspect, as the police attempt to extract the truth or confession relating to a serious crime.

The enclosed space and the battle of wills in each episode between the police and suspect finds the drama unfold in a similar way to a theatrical play. Thus, the script, characters, dialogue and performances need to be of a high quality. Using the same exquisitely geometrically designed set (shot in Madrid) Criminal has been produced in England, Spain, Germany and France, I watched all four, consisting of twelve episodes, and very entertaining it was too. Here are some quick reviews of each series with usual marks out of eleven.


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CRIMINAL: FRANCE (2019)

Arguably, along with the UK episodes, the most consistent of the four series. The three stories were expertly scripted and acted, tapping into relevant issues of the day relating to terror attacks (Emilie), homophobic violence (Jerome) and industrial murder (Caroline). Veteran actor Nathalie Baye excelled in the latter, while Sara Giradeau was very moving as Emilie, an individual accused of being a fake “victim” in a terrorist bombing. The issue of gender politics in the crimes and between the police hierarchy adds further depth to this excellent drama.

Mark: 9 out of 11


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CRIMINAL: GERMANY (2019)

Set in the same claustrophobic location but this time based in Germany, these episodes are directed by seasoned helmer, Oliver Hirschbiegel. While very thrilling, they had a cooler and more detached feel compared to the other countries. The lead detective Karl Schultz is portrayed by the exceptional actor Sylvester Groth. His obsessive cat-and-mouse interrogation of the accused (Nina Hoss) in the last episode, Claudia, was the highlight of the three compelling dramas. The other two episodes are well written and intriguing, with decent twists too.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


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CRIMINAL: SPAIN (2019)

Probably my least favourite of the quartet within the franchise, there was still a lot to like about the three episodes. While the segment entitled Carmen was both moving and suspenseful in its’ depiction of a family torn apart following the death of their autistic daughter, the other two stories lacked depth for me. Lastly, the officer leading the interrogations, Chief Inspector Toranzo Puig (Emma Suarez) was highly suspect in her adherence to procedure and while this added to the drama, it made her character cold and hard to like.

Mark: 7.5 out of 11


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CRIMINAL: UK (2019)

My favourite, along with the French series, the UK one starts with a fantastic episode, Edgar, owed mostly due to appearance of David Tennant. He is such a commanding presence on screen, you’re really drawn into the case of whether his Doctor (not that one) had killed his stepdaughter. The second episode, Stacey, features an almost unrecognisable Hayley Atwell. Looking thin, hair-dyed, and speaking with a strong South London accent, it found the classy actor really delving deep into her character. The final episode was very tense too as Youssef Kerkour’s truck driver, Jay, is accused of being involved in people trafficking for a dangerous gang. Ultimately, the series was very solid drama, well-acted and directed. I thought Mark Stanley stood out as the cop battling a hidden secret.

Mark: 9 out of 11



ALL 4 TV REVIEW – TRAITORS (2019)

ALL 4 TV REVIEW – TRAITORS (2019)

Created and written by: Bathsheba “Bash” Doran

Writers: Bash Doran, Emily Ballou, Tracey Scott Wilson

Directors: Alex Winckler, Dearbhla Walsh

Cast: Emma Appleton, Luke Treadaway, Michael Stuhlbarg, Keeley Hawes, Brandon P. Bell, Greg McHugh etc.

Original Network: Channel 4 – available on All 4

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



War brings out the worst of humanity; difficult choices must be made as lies, fiction and manipulations become the order of the day. This is especially true where the shadowy world of the spy is concerned. The Channel 4 drama, Traitors (2019), was released last year and presents six intelligently written episodes exploring matters of politics and espionage in post-war 1945-set London. Pitting American, British and Russian spies against each other, it also delves into the history behind the creation of the Israeli state by the British. Indeed, the reverberations of future political conflicts, between Israel and Palestine, coalesce alongside echoes of the recently demised World War II.

This is an ensemble driven piece, but the lead protagonist is Emma Appleton’s portrayal of Feef Symonds. She is a young upper-class civil servant looking to serve her country in more exciting ways than mere typing. Thus, she finds herself becoming a secret agent for Michael Stuhlbarg’s obsessive Office of Strategic Services operative, Rowe. Stuhlbarg gives his usual excellent performance as the shady American spy. His paranoid fixation with all things Soviet, becomes a reflective precursor to the infamous “Red Scare” that plagued American socio-politics in the 1950’s.


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Rowe determines that the British Government must have a Soviet spy in its’ midst and charges Feef with tracking them and reporting back. As Feef delves deeper within the corridors of Whitehall she begins a cat-and-mouse game with many potential suspects, notably Keeley Hawes’ suspicious civil servant. Feef’s romance with an earnest Labour MP, portrayed by Luke Treadaway, also complicates matters. Hawes, as expected, is impressive in her role and is the most memorably complex of the characters. Hawes is especially adept at burying twisted anguish within this subtle performance. Her character battles both personal and political conflicts and is the most empathetic within a gallery of untrustworthy archetypes.

Overall, I enjoyed Traitors (2019) for it’s well-researched historical aspects and some very fine acting. My main reservations though were that the drama never quite caught fire, despite some decent suspense amidst the espionage. Moreover, there was, no doubt deliberate, an arrogant air about most of the characters. Conversely, I did not really warm to any of the personalities due to their wintry natures. That’s the problem with the representation of spies here; they’re nothing like the fantasy action heroes of Ethan Hunt and James Bond. Here they are all shown all to be liars and traitors of a kind and therefore difficult to like or trust. My feeling is that is precisely is the point. The programme reflects a world today where we are consistently fed government lies, fictions and manipulations.

Mark: 8 out of 11


FX TV REVIEW: FOSSE / VERDON (2019)

FX TV REVIEW: FOSSE / VERDON (2019)

Developed by Steven Levenson and Thomas Kailbased on Fosse by Sam Wasson

Executive Producers: Steven Levenson, Thomas Kail, Joel Fields, Lin-Manuel Miranda, George Stelzner, Sam Rockwell, Michelle Williams

Producers: Erica Kay, Kate Sullivan, Brad Carpenter

Directors: Thomas Kail, Adam Bernstein, Jessica Yu, Minkie Spiro etc.

Writers: Steven Levenson, Thomas Kail, Deborah Cahn, Tracey Scott Wilson, Charlotte Stouldt, Ike Holter, Joel Fields

Main Cast: Sam Rockwell, Michelle Williams, Norbert Leo Butz, Margaret Qualley, Nate Corddry, Paul Reiser, Jake Lacy, Susan Misner, Peter Scolari, Kelli Barrett, Evan Handler and many more.

Original Network: FX – UK Network: BBC

No. of Episodes: 8

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

I’m not a massive fan of musical shows or films as a genre. However, when the subject material or narrative connects with me, or the craft of song and dance transcends the form I will enjoy them. Thus, musicals I have seen and enjoyed on stage in the last few years include the brilliant Gypsy, Funny Girl, and Company. On the other hand, I could not stand Hamilton, despite the incredible talent involved in the production. Ironically, Hamilton director, Thomas Kail, is a major driving force behind this adaptation of Sam Wasson’s book about Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon.

On the cinema screen the likes of: The Wizard of Oz (1939), Singing in the Rain (1952), Grease (1978), Moulin Rouge (2001), Chicago (2002), are just a few great examples of the genre I liked. But, the best and most exceptional musical I have seen in terms of form, style and subject matter is the Bob Fosse directed, Cabaret (1972). It’s not just a great musical, but it’s also a incredible piece of cinema. It oozes dark class in the musical set-pieces, ambiguous and fractured characterisation, sleazy sexuality and the thematic political subtext of pre-World War II Germany.

The making of Cabaret (1972) is one of the many creative events featured in Fosse/Verdon (2019). As the title suggests, it is an extensive biographical television drama about legendary director and choreographer Bob Fosse (Sam Rockwell) and the genius dancer, Gwen Verdon (Michelle Williams). Both their artistic and personal lives were entwined from the time they met on the Broadway musical Damn Yankees in 1955, to the moment of his death in 1987.

If you’re interested in musicals and the work of Fosse and Verdon then you will absolutely love this warts and all biopic. We get extensive rehearsal, on stage, on screen and edit room scenes showing Fosse and Verdon’s creative process. Songs and dance numbers from Cabaret, Sweet Charity, All That Jazz, Pippin, Chicago and many more, feature heavily in the play and fantastic soundtrack. Further, both Fosse and Verdon, were dancers from a very young age and we therefore get scenes from their formative years paying their dues in dives and flop-houses.

We also get the heavy drama of Fosse and Verdon’s marriage battles. The former being a pill-popping workaholic and womaniser was the biggest issue in their relationship. His constant affairs and narcissistic tantrums took their toll eventually. Indeed, Fosse, while an amazing creative force, is quite despicable in his lecherous use of the casting couch and exploitation of his position and power. Perhaps, even more could have been done to critique his negative acts, especially in light of the #MeToo gender issues relevant today. However, there is no aggressive damnation of his actions, but rather agnostic reflection and acceptance that this was prevalent masculine behaviour for the era.

Sam Rockwell as Fosse is outstanding. He conveys the sadness of a junkie, haunted by a dysfunctional and abusive childhood. Yet, where his work is concerned his energy and obsession is non-stop and formidable. This, in no small part, is down to his constant amphetamine abuse; something which would lead to mental and physical health issues. Similarly, Michelle Williams is incredible as Gwen Verdon. She inhabits this classy performer with an energy and drive, but also a fighting spirit when clashing with Fosse creatively and matrimonially. She is more his match than his muse though. Indeed, Verdon, is his equal and deserves to share many of his plaudits and awards. They ultimately would push each other to greater heights and achievements.

The supporting cast, including the magnetic Margaret Qualley as dancer, Anne Reiking, and Norbert Leo Butz portraying writer, Paddy Chayefsky are excellent. Also, the talent and look of the era is convincingly evoked on and off the stage. The cavalcade of dance numbers are superbly mounted and the editing perfectly reflects the fractured nature of the characters’ show business lives. Lastly, the jigsaw structure, which zigs and zags from the characters’ past to Fosse’s final days, charting triumph and adversity, complements the complexity of the characters.

Thus, overall, this works as an honest analysis of a flawed genius and his equally talented dance and life partner. It is highly recommended for those drawn to the darker side of creative artistry and personal relationships. But the question remains: should the work of Fosse be re-evaluated, especially in light of his extremely sexual and sexist behaviour? Is there a statute of limitation for genius and all that jazz? The Primetime Emmy awards panel do not seem concerned given Fosse/Verdon (2019) has received seven major nominations at time of writing. All of which it stands a great chance of winning!

Mark: 9 out of 11

ALL 4 TV REVIEW – DEREK (2013 – 2014)

ALL 4 TV REVIEW – DEREK (2013 – 2014)

Created, written and directed by: Ricky Gervais

Producer: Charlie Hanson

Cast: Ricky Gervais, Kerry Godliman, David Earl, Karl Pilkington, Brett Goldstein, Colin Hoult, Holli Dempsey, Ruth Bratt, Arthur Nightingale, Doc Brown, Joe Wilkinson etc.

Original Network: Channel 4

**MAY CONTAINS SPOILERS**

So, let’s address the elephant in the room with my review of ALL 4/Netflix bittersweet comedy, Derek. Is it acceptable for a person to seemingly inhabit the character of someone who could be perceived to be mentally challenged or disabled? Not forgetting, the person is a successful TV writer/actor, Ricky Gervais. After all we’re in a progressive age where it is right to be sensitive of perceptions and reactions to the representations of people of colour, religion, race, heritage and mental capacity. Is it in poor taste for Ricky Gervais to ultimately, get seemingly cheap laughs out of a gurning, simple man?

Well, on the surface and initial watch Derek, could be deemed offensive for reasons of poor taste. However, having watched series one, two and the final hour-long special for the third time, I have decided that, while it may have puerile and childish humour, Gervais has created a positive, and in some cases, heroic role model who promotes kindness to the elderly, animals, friends and basically everyone, whether they are horrible or not. The comedy and pathos derive not simply from cheap shots, but, organically from a set of outsiders and forgotten people inhabiting a care home. Lastly, Gervais is a talented actor and while he’s no Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot (1989), his character of Derek Noakes is a genuinely fine human being worth spending time with.

Moving past the controversial issues of taste the most important question remains: is Derek funny? Well, it is both funny and very moving, encompassing themes relating to life, death, grief, romance, love, redemption, depression and memory. Set in a care called Broad Hill it features a collection of disparate ensemble of characters who are existentially trapped within their day-to-day lives. These include hard-working Hannah (Kerry Godliman), gruff handyman, Dougie (Karl Pilkington), alcoholic wastrel, Kev (David Earl), and the titular, Derek. Furthermore, the care home becomes a haven for characters doing community service such as Vicky (Holli Dempsey) and of course the elderly residents who are cared for at Broad Hill.

Shot in Gervais’ often used mockumentary style, each episode unfolds in a gentle slice-of-life style as the Broad Hill employees go about their business. A common theme running through the series is the pressure the staff, notably Hannah, find themselves under looking after old people who have been dumped by their family and society at large. Moreover, the children or grandchildren of the residents are mostly represented as greedy, callous or self-absorbed. Gervais has commented that the show is a tribute to family members who worked in care homes and Derek succeeds in that context.

In representing the working classes and societal outsiders, Derek also works very well. I’ll be honest there is some easy humour to be had from the sexual perversity and drunken antics of Kev, portrayed with greasy acumen by David Earl. However, in Season 2, Kevin’s sad decline comes into focus as his alcoholism causes his health to fail and the friends he has alienated have tough choices to make. Nonetheless, the comedic interactions between Pilkington, Gervais, Earl and Kerry Godliman are priceless. These, plus Brett Goldstein as Hannah’s boyfriend, Tom, are all gifted performers and they shine throughout the episodes.

Gervais faced much critical controversy when Derek was first released. But having watched it again I actually think this was undeserved. Derek is not a figure of fun but rather a complex human being and richly empathetic character. If you find it offensive or do not enjoy Gervais’ performance then I understand that. Ultimately though, the series has some childish humour such as characters writing obscenities on crabs at the seaside, Dougie’s stupid hair, and Kev crapping himself at a staff meeting. However, it also has some fine comedic set-pieces as occurs when Derek, Dougie and Kevin put on a play about Duran Duran at a talent night. Plus, the scene where Kev and Derek try and sell their autographs of “famous” people is pure comedy gold.

Overall, Derek is a life-affirming comedy full of eccentric characters on the fringe of society. Somehow, they all band together to create this weird dysfunctional but very caring family. It’s a show about life, death, gain, loss and the human spirit. Moreover, through Derek’s homespun philosophical musings we get a lot of simple, yet effective life lessons. Yes, it’s full of toilet and school-playground humour, and at times is really mawkish and sentimental, but it is also full of heart and poignancy all performed by a fantastic ensemble cast.

Mark: 9 out of 11