Tag Archives: TV

SIX OF THE BEST #15 – TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED EPISODES (1979 – 1988)

SIX OF THE BEST #15 – TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED EPISODES

Created by:     Roald Dahl

No. of series: 9 – No. of episodes: 112

Producer(s)    Anglia Television / ITV

Original release: 24 March 1979 – 13 May 1988

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

With its eerie opening theme tune and iconic dancing silhouette title sequence, Tales of the Unexpected, holds much nostalgia for me. In fact, it was one of my favourite shows I watched as a kid. Every Sunday evening I couldn’t wait for these short, sharp and sometimes shocking tales of: murder, revenge, adultery, gambling, addiction, blackmail, liars, con-artists; and generally twisted visions of humanity. Of course, the amusing consideration remains that the twist in the tales were generally always expected, making them paradoxically, not unexpected at all. However, trying to guess the twist was also part of the fun in watching.

The series was inspired by similar anthology narrative shows such as: Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone and Way Out; with initial stories adapted from the work of genius writer, Roald Dahl. The early seasons were also introduced by Dahl and while produced mainly in the UK, latter seasons had U.S. produced episodes too.

Other writers’ work would be adapted and the series became a staple haven for many famous actors too. These included: Susan George, Sian Philips, Jose Ferrer, Joseph Cotten, Peter Cushing, Janet Leigh, John Gielgud, Brian Blessed, Ian Holm, Joan Collins, Denholm Elliott, Derek Jacobi, Michael Gambon, Anna Neagle, Joan Greenwood, Harry H. Corbett, Timothy West and many more.

Over most of 2018, I re-watched pretty much every episode on SKY ARTS and so for this article I would like to choose six of my favourite ones. I’d say the latter seasons were probably not as strong as the earlier classics. Yet, I still loved most of them; even some of the more comedic and goofy ones. Finally, picking a favourite six was an impossible job, and I have limited the Dahl classics to just one. Here they are!

LAMB TO THE SLAUGHTER (1979) – SEASON 1

A murdered husband, baffled police, distraught wife and a leg of lamb are the ingredients of one of the finest short stories I have ever experienced. Originally adapted for Hitchcock Presents, Susan George is excellent as the pregnant wife cooking up a special meal and murderous alibi twist.

THE FLYPAPER (1980) – SEASON 3

I was always told as a kid don’t talk to strangers for fear of abduction or harm and this episode deals with that theme expertly. The chilling tale from the pen of Elizabeth Taylor (not that one), finds an young girl drawn into danger from a seemingly unlikely source. The slow build-up of suspense, creepy performances and frightening end make it genuinely unforgettable piece of television drama.

THE BEST OF EVERYTHING (1981) – SEASON 4

Michael Kitchen is brilliant in this sharp, twisted drama as put-upon clerk, Arthur. His lowly beta male seeks the love of the boss’ daughter but is too broke to get her attention. Enter society-playboy Charlie Prince and Arthur finds confidence from his tutelage and connections. As the plot turns one way then another morality and fate catch out Arthur’s lofty aspirations and his dreams soon turn to dust.

HIJACK (1981) – SEASON 4

This brilliant story deals with a genre staple of an airline hijack. Very economical and full of suspense, it’s mostly shot in the interior of the cockpit as Simon Cadell’s Captain and crew are subject to a fear-inducing robbery. Cleverly plotted, this one even had me fooled with an audacious twist which really flies high at the end.

WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN UP TO LATELY (1982) – SEASON 5

I loved this episode because of the performance from Benjamin Whitrow. He is a bitter, unlikable, alchol-driven, misanthropic actor who verbally abuses his wife. When he bumps into an old acting friend the two share past memories and it’s soon revealed both are unhappy with their lives. Whitrow imbues, in a short time, a life of disappointment and human weakness, and his startling comeuppance is certainly deserving by the end.

SCRIMSHAW (1985) – SEASON 8

The U.S. produced episodes did not stand the test of the time very well, mainly due to the aged and fading 16mm film. Anyway, many of them could be classed as average but there was the odd gem. Scrimshaw was one such diamond in the rough, containing a haunting performance from Joan Hackett as an alcoholic barfly. One day she thinks her luck has changed when meeting an old wealthy artist friend, but that is far from the case.

Hackett’s performance stayed with me, especially the incredible shot at the end. When I researched Hackett’s name online wondering what she was up to now, I discovered she died in 1983 from cancer, aged only forty-nine. Released in 1985, Scrimshaw finds the audience literally watching a ghost, something I found completely unexpected.

MY BRILLIANT FRIEND (2018) – HBO / SKY TV REVIEW

MY BRILLIANT FRIEND (2018) REVIEW

Based on: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Directed by: Saverio Costanzo

Written by: Elena Ferrante, Francesco Piccolo, Laura Paolucci, Saverio Costanzo

Starring: Elisa Del Genio, Ludovica Nasti, Gaia Girace, Margherita Mazzucco, Anna Rita Vitolo, Luca Gallone, Imma Villa, Antonio Milo, Alessio Gallo etc.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

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The quality of Italian produced TV dramas in recent years has been spectacularly high. I devoured three bloody seasons of the macho-gangster brutality of Gomorrah (2014 – 2017) with both shock and enthusiasm. I subsequently imbibed avidly the magisterial and philosophical depth of Paulo Sorrentino’s The Young Pope (2016). Thus, expectations were equally raised by HBO’s production of My Brilliant Friend; my confidence eventually rewarded with a moving, fiery, sensual, violent and intelligent drama about friendship and family rivalries.

Based on the first of four Neapolitan novels written by Elena Ferrante, the drama charts the lives of various families who inhabit a 1950s Naples neighbourhood. It’s a traditionally working class environment, set amongst run down blocks with cars travelling along dusty roads which lead to the city, country or sea. While encompassing a large ensembel cast, the story focusses on two specific characters: “Lenu” Greco and “Lilu” Cerullo. Forging a powerful friendship in their primary school years, the narrative unfolds over a ten-year period until they are sixteen. Their lives become entwined in family dramas, fights, romances and death, as both characters rival and connect with each other and those in the neighbourhood.

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Class differences underpin the various plots and sub-plots with Lilu displaying incredible academic acumen but held back as her family are too poor to send her to school. Galvanised by competition Lenu pushes herself to get ahead of her friend and despite such division the two are drawn together when facing seemingly insurmountable emotional odds. As such, their friendship and loyalty toward each other drives the story powerfully. Lilu, while contrary and irritating at times, is passionate and principled, while Lenu is more passive and demure. Yet, together they form a resilient whole.

The performances from the cast are brilliant, while the production overall is a thing of beauty. Max Richter’s score is sumptuous and haunting, with the era, setting and locations all wonderfully evoked. But it’s not nostalgia for happier times, rather an honest examination of humanity and rites of passage struggle through puberty and into adulthood. While the sun shines brightly in Naples, these are ultimately hard times. The many stories unfold in sand-hit tenement blocks where men, women and children struggle to make ends meet. Moreover, the show prefaces sisterhood as a means to overcome the misogyny and sexual exploitation of the era.

Toxic masculinity dominates throughout, with men represented as either: sexual predators, gangsters, wife-beaters and Catholic Priests. There are some positive male role models and there is a whiff of solidarity in the air as Communist doctrine is presented; however, there is no escape for the working classes other than to die or struggle onwards. Lastly, the only way out for Lenu and Lilu is sticking and fighting together; educating themselves academically and emotionally to grow and gain the experience necessary to cope with the slings and arrows of Neapolitan life.

Mark: 9 out of 11

THE CINEMA FIX: 12 FAVOURITE TV SHOWS OF 2018

12 FAVOURITE TV SHOWS OF 2018

I love television and watched a lot of it last year on most terrestrial and streaming services; especially the BBC, ITV, SKY and NETFLIX channels.  I must admit I am way behind on many AMAZON and ALL 4/CHANNEL 4 programmes so will be rectifying that this year. Indeed, there are probably some glaring omissions because of this.

For comparison I include last year’s favourite TV shows. This year I have not included South Park (Season 22) as it was not as good as prior years, despite clearly being one of the funniest shows around. Also, Doctor Who does not make my list as there were too many average episodes. Lastly, a special mention to The Walking Dead (Season 9), which at the mid-season break had somehow pulled itself out of the torpid decline that occurred around Season 6. It may make my 2019 list once the latest season has finished screening this year.

FAVOURITE 12 TV SHOWS OF 2017

BIG LITTLE LIES (2017) – HBO
CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM – SEASON 9 (2017) – HBO
FARGO (2017) – SEASON 3 – FOX / CHANNEL 4
GAME OF THRONES
(2017) – SEASON 7 – HBO
THE HANDMAID’S TALE (2017) – HULU/CHANNEL 4
IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA (2017) – SEASON 12 – NETFLIX
LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN – 20TH YEAR ANNIVERSARY (2017) – BBC
LEGION (2017) – FOX
MINDHUNTER (2017) – NETFLIX
SOUTH PARK – SEASON 21 – SOUTH PARK STUDIOS
STRANGER THINGS 2 (2017) – NETFLIX
THE YOUNG POPE (2016) – HBO

FAVOURITE 12 TV SHOWS OF 2018

ATLANTA (2018) – SEASON 2 – FOX

BILLIONS (2018) – S3 – SKY

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BLACK MIRROR (2017)NETFLIX

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BODYGUARD (2018) – BBC1

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THE DEUCE (2018) – S2 – HBO / SKY

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HANDMAID’S TALE (2018) – S2 –C4

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HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (2018) – NETFLIX

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INSIDE NO. 9 (2018) – S4 – BBC

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KILLING EVE (2018) – S1 – BBC

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PATRICK MELROSE (2018) – SKY

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VANITY FAIR (2018) – ITV

A VERY ENGLISH SCANDAL (2018) – BBC

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VANITY FAIR (2018) – ITV DRAMA REVIEW

VANITY FAIR (2018) – ITV DRAMA REVIEW

Created and written by: Gwyneth Hughes

Based on: Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

Executive producer(s): Damien Timmer, Tom Mullens, Gwyneth Hughes, James Strong

Directed by: James Strong

Starring: Olivia Cooke, Claudia Jessie, Tom Bateman, Johnny Flynn, Charlie Rowe, Simon Russell Beale, Anthony Head, Martin Clunes, Frances de la Tour, Michael Palin

Composer(s): Isobel Waller-Bridge

Distributor: ITV, Amazon Studios

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

It’s an interesting anomaly in my later years that having previously boycotted period dramas which illustrate the lives of the wealthy and privileged, I now find myself being less partisan and actually watching more. This change doesn’t derive from a mellowing of my socialist working class roots but more an intelligent inquisitiveness as ignorant dismissal of the genre, be they on television or film, means one is possibly missing out on some fine drama or comedy. Indeed, many historical periods’ works of literature or theatre are in fact satirising or damning the upper classes.

Dickens for example dealt with the lower, middle and upper classes, shining a critical light at the many degradations of the era. Likewise, William Makepeace Thackeray also critiqued the folly of war, greed and narcissistic pursuits of the privileged. Stanley Kubrick demonstrated this brilliantly in his classic adaptation of Barry Lyndon (1975); while in ITV’s most recent adaptation Vanity Fair (2018), Thackeray’s adroit study of ambition and upward mobility shows the strengths, weaknesses and foibles of the women and men at the time of the Napoleonic wars.

Vanity Fair is widely considered a classic and considered the founder of the Victorian domestic drama. Originally serialised between 1847 and 1848 it was at the time a massive hit and one could argue the equivalent of what we would call a soap opera today. There have been, since the novel’s release, a plethora of screen, radio and television adaptations. Did we need another one? Probably not; but over seven compelling episodes Gwyneth Hughes’ screenplay does great justice to bring to life an army of: well-to-dos, country lords and ladies, soldiers, clergy, businessmen, plus the sparkling scheming of anti-heroine Rebecca or Becky Sharp.

Indeed, the effervescent, nuanced and outstanding performance of Olivia Cooke as Becky drives the narrative forward with absolute purpose. Cooke owns every scene as Becky attempts, from lowly beginnings, to rise through the ranks of society. It is both her strength of character and confidence which is her biggest asset and greatest enemy, because, always pushing for more, she doesn’t quit when she’s ahead. In stark reflection to Becky, Claudia Jessie as Amelia, is characterised as a romantic and desirous not of wealth or position, but rather love and romance. She is a pure spirit and her personality contrasts perfectly with Becky’s. While we admire Becky’s ambitious drive we remain suspicious of her motives, yet Amelia we warm to due to her big and gracious heart.

The men in the piece are a mixture of romantics, noble soldiers, treacherous or haphazard patriarchs, foppish fools, gamblers or all of the above. Tom Bateman gives a solid performance as Rawdon Crawley, Becky’s gambling military husband, as does Charlie Rowe as the more conflicted romantic, George Osborne. Furthermore, the adaptation contains sterling support from the cream of English character acting royalty including: Martin Clunes, Frances De La Tour, Claire Skinner, Anthony Head and Simon Russell Beale to name a few. However, the standout performance for me was Johnny Flynn as William Dobbin. This is such an empathetic and selfless character that, while holding a torch for Amelia, was prepared to sacrifice his love to make everyone happy. Potentially seen as a weakness, this for me was a real strength in a story which was full of selfish narcissists out for what they could get.

Aside from slightly dodgy green-screen CGI for the later scenes in India this was beautifully shot and lit, with the vistas of the English and French countryside wonderfully rendered. The interiors were eloquently designed as the stately and city homes of the characters, likewise the colourful costumes, were expertly brought to life.  James Strong is a prolific television director and he gets brilliant performances and marshals the pace and machinations of the narrative precisely. With Olivia Cooke and Johnny Flynn delivering star turns in their roles I was consistently surprised by this adaptation of Thackeray’s masterpiece. Ultimately, I’ve learned that whether something is a period drama or not one must give it a chance as it could have qualities which continue to stand the test of time.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

DOCTOR WHO –S11 – EP. 9 REVIEW – IT TAKES YOU AWAY (2018)

DOCTOR WHO REVIEW – IT TAKES YOU AWAY (2018)

Directed by: Jamie Childs

Written by: Ed Hime

Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Ellie Wallwork, Kevin Eldon, Christian Rubeck, Lisa Stokke 

Produced by: Nikki Wilson

Executive producer(s): Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens, Sam Hoyle

Music composer: Segun Akinola

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

This episode, depending on your point of view, was either a strange, but moving science fantasy surrealist hybrid classic; or a collection of half-baked concepts that fell apart with an incredibly bizarre and silly ending.

Yet, It Takes You Away starts off very promisingly. For a start the title evokes suspense, mystery and an underlying sense of loss. The suspense builds when the Doctor and companions arrive in Scandinavia and are immediately faced with a mystery in the Norwegian wood. The beautiful landscape of blue fjords, green brush and scattered timber hide a dark secret within a boarded up cabin. The impressive cinematography also evokes an eerie atmosphere. Moreover, there’s a frightening monster hiding somewhere within nature. Or is there?

In the cabin, the Doctor finds a lone teenage girl, Hanne, blind and seemingly abandoned by her father. Of course, they all agree to help protect Hanne against the monster and find her father too. Up to this point the drama and mystery were intriguing and finely poised. Subsequent events descend to a strange place called the ‘Anti-Zone’. This is where it all begins to fall apart narratively speaking.

Emotionally the episode had some very powerful moments drawing on the breakdown of family relationships; Graham’s grief for the loss of his wife and whether it is better to live in or out of reality. However, within these fascinating themes were some stupid bloodsucking moths and the brilliant character actor Kevin Eldon was under-used as an underground demon-type creature. The less said about the ending the better, which I can only think was going for Twitter-like-clickbait trending rather than a coherent and believable pay-off.

The denouement, together with another massive exposition dump from the Doctor scrambling to convince us it all made sense, found the episode completely laughable.  It was a shame as it had some fine ideas and Bradley Walsh gave a moving performance as Graham. Ultimately though, this season of DoctorWho is flailing having started so promisingly and It Takes You Away plummeted to a new low.          

(Mark: 5 out of 11)

BODYGUARD (2018) – BBC TV REVIEW

BODYGUARD (2018) – BBC TV REVIEW

Producer(s): Priscilla Parish, Eric Coulter, BBC

Created and written by: Jed Mercurio

Director(s): Thomas Vincent, John Strickland

Starring: Richard Madden, Keeley Hawes, Gina McKee, Sophie Rundle, Paul Ready, Vincent Franklin, Stuart Bowman, Nina Toussaint-White,  Stephanie Hyam

Composer(s): Ruth Barrett, Ruskin Williamson

Cinematography:   John Lee

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Jed Mercurio has written and show-run some seriously good television over the years. I remember watching the acerbic medical comedy-drama Cardiac Arrest in the 1990s and enjoying greatly the honest, bleak and black humour of the show. So much so it made hospital soap Casualty look like a kids’ birthday party. Being from a medical background Mercurio would later revisit the NHS for the critically acclaimed programme Bodies (2004 – 2006); a show that contained graphic depictions of surgical operations amidst the cut-throat administrative and medical drama. Subsequently he would have, arguably, his biggest hit with the show Line of Duty. Gaining massive viewing figures Line of Duty concerns a crack team of police officers who investigate corruption within the force.

Mercurio created a solid genre premise with each officer under examination being played by a formidable lead actor. These included: Lennie James, Keeley Hawes, Daniel Mays and in Season 4, Thandie Newton. His strengths as a writer are to use realistic settings, scenarios and characters and twist them for every ounce of suspense possible. His work also contains brilliant narrative twists that often go against genre expectation. Indeed, he has no qualms casting a famous actor and killing them off when you least expect.

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With his latest show Bodyguard, Mercurio has again looked within the police force as a starting point. His main protagonist David Budd (Richard Madden) is part of the Royalty and Specialist Protection Branch tasked with protecting the ambitious Home Secretary, Julia Montague; portrayed by the always brilliant Keeley Hawes. Over six episodes Budd has dangerous encounters with: his own force, MI5, Counter Terrorism Command, terrorist cells, organised crime and in-fighting Government officials too.  Safe to say Montague becomes a target and very soon Budd is fighting not just for her life but his own.

Opening with an incredibly tense scene involving an Islamic suicide bomber on a train, the show raises the pulse with incredible consistency. Another stunning set-piece involving a terrorist attack on a school plus a vicious sniper assault on the Home Secretary in a later episode demonstrates that Mercurio wants us in the heart of the action. In terms of the politics of the series they are incredibly murky and confusing, in a good way. What I mean is we live in a confusing world of fake news, terrorism, racism, suspicion, paranoia, violence and corruption. It’s difficult to know what to believe and who to trust. Mercurio doesn’t offer any easy answers and everyone is a suspect. Even Richard Madden’s Budd is a tortured soul showing skill at his job but a heart and mind riddled with post-traumatic stress. He deals with the separation from his wife by drinking and burying his angst in his dangerous work.

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Bodyguard had me hooked from the beginning and really turns the screw dramatically throughout. The ensemble cast are uniformly excellent but Richard Madden and Keeley Hawes are particularly memorable. One could argue the representation of the terrorists’ borders on the stereotypical, but it’s a tough call because Mercurio is effectively reflecting events which have occurred within the U.K. in recent years. Whether such violent situations should be turned into primetime entertainment is a question for a whole different essay, but the writer and creator has shown once again he can take serious issues and produce exhilarating genre television.

Mark: 9 out of 11

DARK (2017) – NETFLIX TV REVIEW

DARK (2017) – NETFLIX TV REVIEW

Created by: Baran bo Odar, Jantje Friese

Director: Baran bo Odar

Writer(s): Baran bo Odar, Jantje Friese, Martin Behnke, Ronny Schalk, Marc O. Seng

Starring: Oliver Masucci, Karoline Eichhorn, Jördis Triebel, Louis Hofmann, Maja Schöne, Stephan Kampwirth, Shani Atias, Daan Lennard Liebrenz, Mikkel Nielsen, Andreas Pietschmann, Deborah Kaufmann etc.

Cinematography    Nikolaus Summerer

Original network:    Netflix

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**SPOILER-FREE REVIEW**

Where do you start with this clever German science-fiction-family-drama-murder-mystery-serial-killer-historical-thriller-drama?  Because over ten fascinating episodes it is challenging, baffling and mind-blowing in equal measures. Does this mean it’s any good? Well, on the main, it is well worth a watch, especially if you like labyrinthine narratives concerning time-travel paradoxes, death, human corruption and familial conflict.

Set in the fictional German town of Winden, Dark begins in 2019 before later on moving around in time covering at least another two separate timelines. I will admit I do not want to give spoilers away on this but if you like on-screen jigsaws which span different years and various versions of characters as children, adults and the elderly then this is for you. Indeed, over the ten episodes the creatives behind the show take you on a gruesome, stylish and splintered journey into the characters’ past, present and future.

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Dark is grim, weird with loads of death. It opens with the suicide of a man and a teenager from the local school has also gone missing. Further disappearances occur which baffle the police while at the same time dead birds drop out of the sky. Yet, this is to all intents and purposes a normal town with regular families, school, police and oh, a Nuclear power station. So, if you’ve seen the recent Netflix show Stranger Things you’ll recognise we’re in similar Stephen King type horror territory. Having said that, Dark doesn’t actually worry about you liking these intense characters the way King and Stranger Things does. Although you do root for some of them they are a humourless bunch. But, who can blame them given what’s about to happen to their town and it’s the weirdness and mystery that keeps you watching.

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Centred around four families within Winden called: Nielsen, Kahnwald, Doppler and Tiedemann, who all have secrets to hide. As these secrets are revealed the intriguing writing gives us more and more mysteries and at times I felt lost. However, with a multitude of strands pulled together during the last couple of episodes I was fully on board this incredibly rich genre mix of horror, drama and science-fiction. The style is also very alluring with darkness, light, rain, stark landscapes and photography creating a thrilling mood, along with the haunting score. Finally, there were still loads of questions which remained at the end but I’ll certainly be back for Season 2 in the future.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11