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Twin PeaksThirty years ago today saw the premier of the greatest TV show ever, Twin Peaks.  By the time it reached the UK in October of the same year it was already a phenomenon; 34.6 million people watched the pilot on US TV, people were already quoting “damn fine coffee”, and Cherry Pie.  I watched it because of David Lynch.  I had seen Dune (1985) shortly after release, and loved it (despite popular opinion), and had recently seen Blue Velvet (a little young at 14).  Both directed by Lynch, and like Twin Peaks, both starring Kyle MacLachlan.  Like everybody else, I didn’t know what to expect from the show. The Radio Times described it as an “offbeat murder-mystery drama”.  I seem to remember people having a problem with the long-form  story arc.  One review, possibly also in the Radio Times called it a Soap Noir suggesting it had more in common with soap operas than quality TV, which at the time was episodic.  Little did they know that it was a glimpse of the future.  But it is more than that, this is TV at its most cinematic.  After all, it was television directed by a visionary filmmaker, something that would be almost the norm two, and three decades on.  Lynch may be known for his quirky characters and absurd scenarios, but he is also an elegant filmmaker.  Take a scene early on; Laura Palmer’s parents (Ray Wise & Grace Zabriskie) are talking on the phone, she is missing but they don’t know she is dead, we as an audience do.  As they are talking we see a police car pull up in the background.  As with so much of the show it is subtly brilliant.  That’s not to say Lynch and co creator Mark Frost are afraid to lean into the melodrama of soap!  The “Who Killed Laura Palmer?” advertising campaign was directly influenced by the “Who shot J.R.?” campaign from the show Dallas a decade earlier.  Like a soap, there are over thirty main characters.  There are also the strange encounters and conversations , many which are left hanging and are not connected to the plot, but all add to the colour. laura-palmer

Ultimately the long form nature of the show was its downfall for me, for a while at least.  Early in the second series, I went on Holiday and missed an episodes when the recording failed.  An episode or two later I stopped watching intending to pick it up again when re-run.  Ultimately, this opportunity came a couple of years later when I borrowed the VHS from a friend and watched both season  all the way through.  I have watched it all the way through at least three times since then. dale cooper audrey horne

The title sequence shows both the simple splendour, as well and the mundane of small two life.  There is something strangely beautiful about watching a giant saw-blade being sharpened, or is that Angelo Badalamenti’s theme music doing the heavy lifting?  The theme that is echoed throughout the rest of score perfectly captures the grief and melancholy that hovers over the show.  It doesn’t take a music expert to recognise that Laura’s theme (that is repeated throughout the show), and the theme music are of the same piece.  Other parts of the score reflect the absurdity and obscurity of the show.  The music is bizarrely brilliant, and totally timeless; it sounds like nothing else, but is also reassuringly familiar.    The evil lurking under the surface of a seemingly perfect and idyllic community is not new ground for Lynch having explored it in Blue Velvet (1986).  But lets not forget this is a murder mystery, and that is where Mark Frost’s expertise rests, his credits include around fifty episodes of Hill Street Blues as scriptwriter and/or story editor.  If you strip away all the strange characters and events, it is still a great murder mystery, just not one with the conclusion you would normally expect. Part of the brilliance comes with the setting Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) talks about how murder isn’t a faceless event, not a statistic, and how Laura Palmer’s death affected everybody in town.  Pure evil is more noticeable and more meaningful than if it had been set in a large city. Twin Peaks Black Lodge

Like all the best shows, it hasn’t dated (except possibly the 4:3 aspect ratio), even after thirty years.  Initially cancelled after two seasons, but as a final act, Lynch made the boldest of moves.  Taking a storyline that goes back to early in the first season as a jumping off point, he revisited the show (just over) twenty-five years later.   Twin Peaks The Return, as it is sometimes known dove deeper into the supernatural that always been there, often just below the surface.  The result was a very different experience, that makes you look differently at the original show.  Like a film with a very different sequel, you can take Twin Peaks as the original thirty episodes of seasons one and two, or you can take all forty-eight from all three seasons; either way, it was as groundbreaking as it was brilliant! twin peaks the return

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Following my list of Space Adventure movies in the century so far, I thought I would take a similar look at TV from the same time period. 

Farscape (1999 – 2003), Where better to start a list of programs from this century, than in the previous one! The Australian-American series ran for four seasons, before being concluded with a three hour mini-series.  The Jim Henson Company, were responsible for both the alien make-up/prosthetics and animatronic puppets. The show had a great cast, the highlight being Claudia Black.  The world-building was excellent, but the standout was the story.  In a time before longform TV as we know it now, most of the episodes were standalone or short narratives over a small number of episodes, however, there is always an overarching story arc.  Farscape

Frank Herbert’s Dune (2000) Produced by the Sci Fi Channel, and regarded by many as the definitive version of Frank Herbert’s novel.  I found it a little tedious, and prefer David Lynch’s 1984 film version.  A second series: Frank Herbert’s Children of Dune (sometimes called Dune Apocalypse) followed in 2003.  Based on the books Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune.  A better series overall, mainly thanks to James McAvoy as Leto II.Frank Herbert's Dune

Andromeda (2000 – 2005) Marketed as Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda, it was based on an and unused material by the late Roddenberry.  The show ran for 110 episodes over five seasons.  Set in a future dystopian, post-apocalyptic universe, the premise of the show is fighting against the odds to make things better, a very Roddenberry idea.  I seem to remember the show was no very late at night in the UK, I watched the first episode and then saw odd episodes over the years.  I remember enjoying what I saw, but never enough to seek out a whole series. Andromeda

Cowboy Bebop (2001 -2002) – Japanese animated series made up of 26 episodes and a movie.  Set in a future where Earth almost uninhabitable, and humanity has colonized most of the Solar System.  The story concentrates on a an Inter Solar System Police. Described as a cyberpunk blend of Western and pulp fiction, it meets all the space opera credentials for this list.  An American live action version is reported to be in production for Netflix, although recent reports suggest it will be much delayed due to a knee injury suffered by star John Cho. Cowboy Bebop

Star Trek Enterprise (2001-2005) Running for 98 episodes across four seasons, Enterprise was set around a century before the original series and captain Kirk’s five-year mission telling the early years of Starfleet, and the first starship Enterprise. I lost interest during the first season, but understand it got better. Star Trek Enterprise

Firefly (2002 – 2003) The show that gives this article its title.  Cruelly cancelled mid season, there are only 14 episodes, but they are all fantastic. Although episodic, flashback episodes tell the origins of the characters.  Set on the fringes of civilised society echoing pioneer culture and western movies, key members of the crew fought on the losing side of a civil war.  Handled differently this could have been very problematic.  A combination of fantastic world-building and characters set the short lived show head and shoulders above others, this made it easy for them to transition into Serenity, the movie that finished the story. Firefly

Battlestar Galactica (2004-09) When I was kid in the early 80’s I used to watch the original Battlestar Galactica every Sunday evening for years. Or did I? How the mind plays tricks on us, it only ran for 21 episodes (plus 10 episodes of Galactica 1980, which I didn’t see).  While I loved the show at the time, re-watching it in the 90’s revealed that it wasn’t very good.  However, the re-imagined version is nothing short of a masterpiece.  Retaining the original concept, and technically a sequel to the original show.  The action and drama of the show were enhanced by a smart script with political undertones with contemporary relevance.Battlestar Galactica

Stargate Atlantis (2004 – 2009) Although I watched and enjoyed the original Stardgate movie, I have never seen any of the TV show.  I did however start watching Stargate Atlantis, which I understand to be a continuation of the original show.  A military survival series, set in a new galaxy and unable to contact earth, I enjoyed the first season, them it moved from free to air TV and I haven’t seen any further episodes. Stargate Atlantis - Season 5

Doctor Who (2005 – ) Doctor Who ran for over 700 episodes from 1963 to 1989.  When it returned in 2005, nobody knew what to expect, I don’t think anybody expected it to be so good and to re-cement itself as a British institution.  It has lost its way since the departure of Steven Moffat, but still remains fun and watchable. Doctor Who

Star Wars The Clone Wars (2008 – 2020) The clone wars were mentioned by Princess Leia, and then again by Luke and Ben in Star Wars, without any explanation as to what they were. Following the prequels (clones were introduced in Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)) came The Clone Wars filling in the can between episodes II and III.  I have never seen any of them, but understand they are popular. Star Wars The Clone Wars

Stargate Universe (2009 -2011) An exploration team find themselves onboard an Ancient spaceship several billion light years from our Galaxy. Running for 40 episodes over two seasons, the show was cancelled after the final season was in the can resulting in an ending described as a semi-cliffhanger.  A shame, as I enjoyed the show. Stargate Universe

Caprica (2010) – Set a generation before Battlestar Galactica and telling the story of the creation of Cylon’s and sowing the seeds for the destruction of the twelve colonies.  The show was filled with interesting characters played by some really good actors.  Sadly the story unfolded too slowly and it failed to find an audience and was cancelled before the first season had finished airing.  This is a great shame, the tease real for the unmade second season look really good.Caprica

Agents of SHIELD (2013-2020) The MCU’s longest running TV show is largely earth based, but the whole firth season is set in space, and is pretty good.Agents of SHIELD

Dark Matter (2015) Six people wake up on a deserted spaceship with no memory of who they are or what they’re doing there. Running for three seasons, I am yet to see it. Dark Matter

Killjoys (2015-2019) What started out looking like it was going to be a second-rate Syfy channel space opera gradually became more interesting and compelling.  As well as an overriding story arc, it also included more relevant characters and storylines.  Beyond all this, the real reason for watching is the shows secret weapon, rising star Hannah John-Kamen in the lead role.Killjoys

The Expanse (2015- ) Based on a series of novels by James S. A. Corey (the pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck).  Set in a future with a colonized Solar System, a fragile cold war like peace exists between Earth, Mars and the Belt (an asteroid belt located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter). Essentially a cold war/conspiracy thriller, the brilliance of the show is that as an audience we don’t take sides; all three sides are represented, and there are good and bad on all sides.  This is further complicated as the good characters are flawed, and the bad ones have redeeming features, just like real life!  Simply one of the best shows around at the moment.The Expanse

Lost in Space (2018 – ) When I was kid in the 80’s I loved the re-run of the 1960’s show.  I only watched the first two or three episodes of the new version before loosing interest.  It appears to be popular with a third season being commissioned. Lost in Space

Star Trek Discovery (2018 – ) Moving away from the single episodes of most of the Trek franchise to telling one long form story per season has changed the show dramatically.  Interesting stories and fantastic casting have made it a positive move.  Set before the events of the original show, the writers have done an amazing job of fitting the story into existing narratives. Star Trek Discovery

Altered Carbon (2018 – ) With two seasons aired so far, Altered Carbon has become legendary for its cost of production.  The high budget really shows with the lavish production design.  Based on the 2002 novel of the same title by Richard K. Morgan, a key to the story is how, memories and consciousness can be transferred from one body to another allowing recasting to  become part of the narrative. Altered Carbon

Krypton (2018 – 2019) Set on Superman’s doomed home planet around 200 years before his birth. Running for twenty episodes across two seasons to mixed reviews.  I haven’t seen any so can’t comment further.Krypton - Season 2

Nightflyers (2018) Billed as a psychological thriller (aka a pretentious horror) about a spaceship exploring the universe for alien life.  Based on a novella by George R.R. Martin.  It ran for 10 episodes, I lost interest by the second. Nightflyers - Season 1

Another Life (2019-2020) A crew travel into space to try and unlock the mystery of an alien artifact that may be threatening life on earth.  Combining adventure with mystery thriller the concept of this show looks really good.  Unfortunately It didn’t work for me, I gave up after two episodes. Another Life

The Mandalorian (2019- ) Episode One of Jon Favreau’s Star Wars TV show snuck in before the nations cinemas closed, and screened in UK cinema’s as part of the Disney streaming launch.  All the hype seems to have surrounded the character who has erroneously become known as baby Yoda.  The show, is actually very good! The Mandelorian

Star Trek Picard (2020- ) Patrick Stewart returns to the Star Trek universe as a now retired Jean-Luc Picard.  The story makes reference to the events of Star Trek: Nemesis (2002) and brings back a few characters from the past, and introduces some really good new ones.  On the whole it is excellent, but isn’t as consistently good as the first season of Star Trek Discovery. Star Trek Picard

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As I’m sure you have heard, since the launch of Disney+ all Marvel TV shows on other networks are coming to an end.  This seems like a good time to have a quick look back at the TV shows based in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe).  It is worth noting that none of these shows had any impact on the MCU; Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, and Agent Carter has featured characters from the movies, but to the best of my knowledge, aside from a small appearance from James D’Arcy in Endgame (that has no impact on the plot), nobody has gone the other way.  Something that I understand is set to change.  In an interview with Bloomberg Marvel chief Kevin Feige said: “If you want to understand everything in future Marvel movies, he says, you’ll probably need a Disney+ subscription, because events from the new shows will factor into forthcoming films such as Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” I was always disappointed that none of the key characters from the TV shows made it into the movies, but am not sure this isn’t a step too far.  Below is a quick synopsis of the shows and what I thought of the ones I watched:

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (2013 – 2020) – S.H.I.E.L.D recruit new agents, have personal problems, and save the world numerous times, all under the watch of Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) resurrected from the dead following the events of The Avengers. I watched this from the start.  The events of Captain America, The Winter Soldier threw them a real curveball that derailed the plot.  Surprisingly they recovered from this and the series improved.  They have also had some memorable antagonists; Kyle MacLachlan, Powers Boothe, and Bill Paxton.  It was also the first time I had seen the amazing Ruth Negga.  I gave up early in the sixth season.  I understand there will be a seventh and final season next year. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D

Agent Carter (2015-2016) – After the end of WWII, British Agent  Peggy Carter is working in America for Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR), a forerunner to S.H.I.E.L.D.  She is mostly relegated to secretarial duties while the men in the office haplessly blunder around.  This series took forever to make it to the UK, I eventually saw it on Amazon, after it had been cancelled.  I watched both series, the pacing is a little up and down, but the period setting looks great and Hayley Atwell and James D’Arcy make likeable leads. Agent Carter

Daredevil (2015 -2018) – The first of the MCU shows made by Netflix.  Charlie Cox stars as Matt Murdock a blind lawyer who uses his superhuman senses to moonlight as the crime fighting masked vigilante Daredevil.  The first season was excellent, but lost its way in the second before returning for a fantastic third and final season.  I binged all three seasons as soon as they came out. Daredevil

Jessica Jones (2015 – 2019) – The second Netfix show: Following a short stint as a superhero, with a tragic ending, Jessica Jones reinvents herself as a New York private detective with a drink problem.  Running for just 39 episodes over three seasons, this was my favourite  Marvel TV show.  Krysten Ritter was perfectly cast as the snarky, sarcastic lead, the supporting cast was also great.  The stories, particularly season one were amongst the strongest too.  As with Daredevil, I binged them all!Jessica Jones

Luke Cage 2016 – 2018 – Having already been introduced in Jessica Jones, Luke Cage (Mike Colter) gets his own show.  Reluctant hero Cage is a former convict with superhuman strength and unbreakable skin.  Set in Harlem with a largely African American cast, the series made a refreshing change to the usual super hero shows and movies.  The villains are excellent, particularly Alfre Woodard, and a pre Oscar Mahershala Ali.  The supporting cast includes the always excellent Rosario Dawson, reprising her role from Daredevil.  It ran for 26 episodes over two seasons, I watched them all and largely enjoyed it.  The first season started really well but lost its way, the second season was up and down.  Luke Cage

Marvels Inhumans (2017) – I understand the plot goes something like this: After a military coup, the Inhuman Royal Family escape their home on the dark side of the moon, to Hawaii.  They must put aside personal differences to save the world!  The first two episodes were shot in IMAX and screened in cinemas.  I didn’t get around to seeing them, but understand they are terrible.  I didn’t bother with the series, and it seems no one else did either, it bombed and was swiftly cancelled, the eight completed episodes were retiled a mini-seriesMarvels Inhumans

Iron Fist (2017 – 2018) – The weakest of the Netflix shows.  Finn Jones plays Danny Rand, A young man who returns to New York after being presumed dead for fifteen years following a plane crash. Rand has heightened martial arts abilities, and the ability to call upon the mystical power of the Iron Fist.  The character isn’t very well written, and the plots are less engaging than those  in the other series.  It is helped by a strong supporting cast most notably Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing.  I watched all 23 episodes (across two seasons) but took longer over it than any other Netfix/MCU show.  As a side note Danny Rand appears as a supporting character in a few episodes of Luke Cake, and works better as a supporting character. Iron Fist

The Defenders 2017 –  Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, join forces to fight a common enemy, the Hand.  It was been suggested that it was the least-viewed Marvel Netflix following mixed reviews and word of mouth.  I enjoyed it and watched all eight episodes in quick succession. the defenders

The Punisher (2017 – 2019) – The final MCU/Netflix show.  Probably the most consistently excellent MCU show, and at its best it is as good as Jessica Jones, and Daredevil.   Jon Bernthal plays Frank Castle a former cop turned vigilante “the Punisher”, after the loss of his family.  First introduced in Daredevil, the first season goes back to tell the well trodden origin of the character.  The second season is actually better.  Another show that deserves more than the 26 episodes it got. The Punisher

Marvel’s Runaways (2017 – 2020) The plot (copied from wikipedia):  “Six teenagers from different backgrounds unite against a common enemy – their criminal parents” sounds interesting.  There are twenty episodes to date, with a final season of ten due out later this month.  I haven’t seen any of them yet, but may get around to it. Radio On

Cloak & Dagger (2018 – 2019) The unsung hero of the MCU TV.  Two very different teenagers  with seemingly unconnected powers find they are more effective when working together.  An excellent show that combines all the tropes of a teen romance, with a superhero show.  Sadly cancelled in the Disney+ cull of competing Marvel properties, it deserves a third and final season.  It has been rumoured that stars, Olivia Holt and Aubrey Joseph are reprising their characters in the supporting cast of the final season of Runaways, another reason to catch up with it.AUBREY JOSEPH, OLIVIA HOLT

So what does Disney+ have planned for us to replace everything that has been cancelled?  The following shows have all been slated and are at various stages of production.

  • The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (Filming – due: late 2020)
  • WandaVision (Filming -Due: early 2021)
  • Loki (Pre Production – Due 2021)
  • What If…? (In Production (animated) – Due: 2021)
  • Hawkeye (Ordered – Due: 2021/2022)
  • Ms. Marvel (Ordered – Due: TBA)
  • Moon Knight (Ordered – Due: TBA)
  • She-Hulk (Ordered – Due: TBA)

The interesting thing, the first three are only set to have six episode first seasons.  Is this because they are so expensive, or are Disney spreading their properties too thinly?  Are they a toe in the water before a longer full season is ordered, or are has this just been misreported? Given the level of the MCU movies, I expect the new shows to be top quality.  I’m just not convinced cancelling excellent shows that still have millage in them the best way to do it.  Maybe there is truth to the rumour of a Disney+ reprieve for Jessica Jones and Daredevil! 

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State of the Union is posibly the most sublime television I have seen in years.  Ten, ten minute episodes, each depicting a couple (Rosamund Pike & Chris O’Dowd) meeting in a pub before visiting a marriage counsellor.  Such short episodes requires a snappy and concise dialogue and direction, this is provided by writer/creator Nick Hornby, and director Stephen Frears.  They are as much the stars as Pike and O’Dowd.   Is it a comedy drama about people and relationships, or a metaphor for brexit? Probably both!  Rather than attempt to review the show, I will simply recommend you watch it.State of the union

Here is a quick look at the talent involved:

I first saw Rosamund Pike in Die Another Day (2002), and was less than impressed.  I found her performance wooden, in a truly terrible film.  By the end of the decade my opinion had totally changed culminating in a fantastic supporting performance in Made in Dagenham (2010).  Excellent in everything she has done in the past decade, highlights include Gone Girl (2014), and A Private War (2018).Rosamund Pike and Chris O'Dowd

Chris O’Dowd, on the other hand is a funny and compelling comedian, but limited actor, he shone in the TV show The IT Crowd (2006-2013).  He has since forged a film career in movies, starting with Bridesmaids (2011), playing largely the same character, but playing it really well!  Last year he appeared in Juliet, Naked based on a novel by Nick Hornby.

Having read Fever Pitch in the early 90’s, I have followed Nick Hornby through books and movies for three decades, the highlights for me being Fever Pitch and High Fidelity.  He has also written directly for the screen, and adapted other peoples books, including two excellent recent movies: Wild (2014) and Brooklyn (2015)stephen frears and nick hornby

Stephen Frears has bed directing movies since the 60’s with highlights including: Dangerous Liaisons (1988), High Fidelity (1998), Dirty Pretty Things (2002)

State of the Union was nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards, winning all three: Outstanding Short Form Comedy or Drama Series, Outstanding Actor in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series (Chris O’Dowd), Outstanding Actress in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series (Rosamund Pike).

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Amazon Prime seems to be falling behind Netflix when it comes to original and exclusive TV show, not because their show are inferior, simply because of the onslaught from Netflix.  While there is a constant stream of new things on Netflix, Amazon seems to be more sporadic in its releases and less consistent in its quality.  But Amazon has got at least one gem of a show that can stand toe to toe with the best Netflix, Sky Atlantic and all the rest of the traditional television Networks have to offer.  I am not referring to the high concept, The Man in the High Castle, although that is excellent, I am talking about Bosh.bosch-poster-amazon-studios

I’m not a massive fan of police procedural’s both in print of on screen so probably wouldn’t have rushed to see the first season that appeared on Amazon Video (as it was then) in 2014.  However, some of the marketing caught my attention.  Based on a series of novels by Michael Connelly, Hieronymus ‘Harry’ Bosch is the half brother of Michael “Mickey” Haller, Junior aka The Lincoln Lawyer played by Matthew McConaughey in the excellent and somewhat underrated 2011 movie.  I had just re-watched The Lincoln Lawyer on TV and really enjoyed it so thought I could give the Bosch a try. the lincoln lawyer

I was vaguely aware of Titus Welliver who seems to specialises in police and military types with the odd villain thrown in for good measure.  His most notable role that I have seen was in the TV show Deadwood.  Without having read the books, I don’t know how close Welliver is to the character, but he is perfect for the show.  The casting as a whole is excellent and aided by well drawn characters is supporting roles.  Although the show is very much about Bosch, It is this fantastic cast of characters that gives the show the colour and depth that set it apart from lesser shows. Bosch

Reading up on the character biography, it appears they have done a good job of updating the character for the screen.  The first book was published in 1992, over 20 years before he made it to screen.  The character in the books had been in the 1st Infantry in Vietnam, the updated screen version, he is a veteran of the first Gulf War in 1991 who became a police officer after military service.  He re-upped with the Army after 9/11 serving in Afghanistan, something I am led to believe many real life LAPD officers did.  None of this is told through excessive exposition, it simply comes up naturally as the story progresses.  After forty episodes we are still learning things about the characters. Bosch Cast

The LA setting is important to the story.  The wealth gap and social diversity are always on the radar.  The Rampart scandal and LA Riots are directly referenced.  It is no accident that the Bosch lives above all this looking down from his hillside home.  It is explained early on in the first series that Bosch once worked as a consultant on a Hollywood film based on him.  The royalties paid for his hillside home with stunning views of LA.  Presumably it also paid for his Rolex and his HiFi system that cost about as much as a small car! (McIntosh preamp and valve power amp, Ohm Walsh speakers and an old Marantz record player).  The house (I understand described in the book as being on Woodrow Wilson, off Mulholland Drive) features heavily in the show, with the HiFi and a poster for the “The Black Echo” (the film Bosch worked on) both prominently displayed. Bosch_104_03254.CR2

Each season is a mere ten episodes, and takes its is inspiration from multiple books.  Each season has a main overriding story arc and at least one other sub plot.  The killing of Bosch’s mother when he was a child has featured in all four seasons.  Bosch’s ex wife and teenage daughter become increasingly involved.  There are also a couple of other stories that stench across seasons. As good as the stories are, the greatest strength of the show is the characters, Bosch in particular.

If you haven’t already, time to start binging.   

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  1. Twin Peaks: This could have gone so wrong.  Revisiting a TV show from quarter of a century ago with a combination of the original and a new cast.  The results were amazing, with one mind-bending episode in particular standing out.  Why did I ever doubt David Lynch.Twin Peaks
  2. The Handmaid’s Tale: I read Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian satire back in the early 90’s and loved it.  There was a film version in 1990 that wasn’t bad.  Why is this version so good? Is it because it is frighteningly relevant today, because Elisabeth Moss is so good in the lead role, or that its just really well written well made television? Probably all three!The Handmaid's Tale
  3. Mindhunter: You could call it Manhunter/Silence of the Lambs Year 0.  Set in the mid/late 1970’s and telling the story of the FBI Behavioral Science Unit in the early days of criminal psychology and profiling.  It’s a very talky show, so don’t expect lots of action, but if that’s your thing you will love it.Mindhunter
  4. Godless: A seven part mini-series set in the American west in the 1880’s.  While it contains all the archetypes of the genre you would expect, and yet it feels strangely authentic.  A well constructed piece with flashbacks to tell back stories dropped in at just the right moment, it is more like a seven hour movie than a TV show.  The cast are all fantastic.Godless
  5. American Gods: Based on Neil Gaiman’s book of the same name.  The conflict between the old gods of mythology and the new gods of the modern consumer age told from the point of view of a mortal man.  Blending mythology and pop culture in a visually stunning way often trippy to a trippy effect.  You don’t always who what is going on but it kind of all pulls together in the end.American Gods
  6. Alias Grace: The second Margaret Atwood adaptation on the list, this time written for the screen by Sarah Polley.  Based on a fictionalized version of a murder in 19th-century Canada.  The story of female oppression feels sadly relevant today, but also works as a historical drama.Alias Grace
  7. Game of Thrones: The first returning show on the list (unless you count Twin Peaks), the penultimate series gives exactly what you expect of the show to date.  Taken on its own merits it would be higher up the list, as it is, it loses a few places for reasons of familiarity.Game of Thrones
  8. Taboo: A strange and dark tale that seems a little bold for prime time BBC.  What started out looking like a strange otherworldly tale quickly settled into a far darker tale; one of commerce, and a (real life) multinational corporation trying to survive at any cost to the society around it.  Tom Hardy is excellent as ever.Taboo
  9. Peaky Blinders: Steven Knight, also responsible for Taboo, returns with a fourth season of his Birmingham based organised crime/ gang series.  It was hard to see after the last season what there was left to say.  The new storyline is excellent as are the new characters but the standout is still Helen McCrory.Peaky Blinders
  10. Star Trek Discovery: Discovery has done the impossible, it is everything you expect from Star Trek, and nothing live Star Trek as you expect it.  The boldest move is to make a character other then the captain the shows lead character.  Sonequa Martin-Green is excellent in the lead, Jason Isaacs’ Captain Lorca is the most interesting character.Lethe

Also recommended:

Glow, The Punisher, Stranger Things, Preacher, 13 Reasons Why, Into the Badlands

Shows That have seen recommended to me, but I haven’t seen yet:

Big Little Lies, The Good Place, Legion, Feud, The Deuce

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The Expanse

Anyone who read my article a couple of weeks ago will know that I recently signed up with Netflix. I still believe that the cinema is the best place to watch a film, the larger the screen the better.  For this reason I still visit the cinema an average of twice a week.  It will therefore come as no surprise that I watch more TV than movies on Netfix.  I have mainly been catching up on shows that I have been keen to see for some time but not gotten around to, however, I have just watched The Expanse based on the robotic recommendation of Netflix.the-expanse

For those who haven’t heard of it (I hadn’t a week ago), the Expanse is scf-fi crime drama / space opera.  Based on the series of books by James S. A. Corey ( a pen name for collaborators Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) set in a future where has spread out and colonized other planets.  The United Nations controls earth, Mars has its own military government.  Both planets depend on the resources of The Belt, the outer planets and asteroids whose inhabitants are treated like second class citizens.  The largest planet is Ceres (a real place, it is a dwarf planet in the orbit of Neptune located in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.  It is named after the Roman goddess of agriculture).  In the belt air and water are in short supply and are therefore a precious commodity.  The three factions are on the brink of war.  As a viewer we follow three main characters who stumble across a conspiracy and can’t let go:

Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo): UN Assistant Undersecretary of Executive Administration who becomes personally involved in events.chrisjen-avasarala-shohreh-aghdashloo

Joe Miller (Thomas Jane): an archetypal heavy drinking police detective on Ceres who is given an assignment that he isn’t supposed to solve.joe-miller-thomas-jane

Jim Holden (Steven Strait): an officer on an ice haulage ship who fall down a rabbit-hole that begins when he answers a distress call.

The opening credits have elements of The Man in the High Castle and Game of Thrones lending an air of familiarity.  The show itself is well constructed with great use of time.  Rather than relying on simple flashbacks within scenes the narrative moves around within its timeline with the same dexterity as it does within its universe.  This is achieved with a mixture of clearly dated and ambiguous variations that work well to keep the drama tense.  The story is similarly well constructed keeping an air of uncertainty and excitement.  Many of them main characters are well rounded and developed with believable histories, they are however, largely clichéd and unoriginal.  The acting is solid and natural without any wooden or over the top performances, however, on the other hand it lacks any of the standout performances that we can expect on modern TV shows.  It clearly doesn’t have the budget of a cinema movie or top TV show but the effects really aren’t bad and largely, it actually looks good.  The costumes are a little hit and miss with the space set elements using an effective mix of military uniforms and industrial overalls.  The planet based characters fall into most of the same clichés of other similar shows.   The biggest visual problem though, is Thomas Jane’s haircut.  Both too flamboyant and high maintenance for the deadbeat character he plays, but more significantly, it looks stupid.  The vehicles and planets have a sense of believably and reality as we have seen in Battlestar Galactica and Firefly.  It also shares a dirty industrial look of these shows.the-expanse-florence-faivre

It isn’t a classic show within the genre that we will be seeing alongside Battlestar Galactica and Game of Thrones on best of lists, but it does have both a charm and quality making it worth a recommendation.  I am looking forward to season two. 

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Stuck in 2nd Gear

I haven’t read any of the fallout from last night’s new iteration of Top Gear.  If I did they would probably say what a disaster it was and how terrible it is.  It wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t very good.  There was no chemistry between Chris Evans and  Matt LeBlanc.  Everything seemed forced and scripted.  This is something you could never accuse the Clarkson era of.  I am sure it was scripted and rehearsed, but it never came across, the three presenters Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May have real chemistry.  When they bicker and take the piss out of each other it always seemed real.2nd Gear

In last night’s first episode, Evans seemed delighted by the fact they had won “custody” of The Stig.  The Stig was an invention of the Clarkson era, they should have let him go to Clarksons new Amazon show, The Grand Tour, and come up with their own gimmick instead of revelling in what they have won from the “divorce settlement”.  There is a scene in the Tina Turner movie What’s Love Got to Do with It where she explains that all she wants out of her divorce from Ike Turner is her Name, she worked for it and it is the most valuable asset she could own.  I don’t know how true this was to the singers real life, but given her success in the decades that followed its rings true.  The same is true of Top Gears 2002 reboot.  They took the name and the currency that it held and did their own thing with it.  That is what this new show should have done, they haven’t!  The new show has largely stuck to the old formula.   This was a big mistake, it makes comparisons easier and less favourable than if they had done their own thing.  When the old version of Top Gear was cancelled in 2001, produced John Bentley along with presenters Quentin Willson, Tiff Needell, and Vicki Butler-Henderson moved to channel five to make 5th Gear.  They wanted to retain the name Top Gear but BBC retained the rights.  The show never lived up to Top Gear, but at least it changed its formula over time making it its own thing and not just a pastiche of the old show.top gear

This is something the BBC have to get right, in a time when they are trying to save a million here and there, Top Gear is one of its biggest cash cows.  When you include magazine sales, and licensing agreements as well as direct sales overseas Top Gear is worth around £50 million a year to the BBC.  But then the BBC haven’t exactly handled the situation well.  Jeremy Clarkson’s indiscretion that caused all the problems was well published at the time.  It is often stated that he was sacked by the BBC, this isn’t entirely true.  After much deliberation and procrastination, the BBC decided that they would “not be renewing his contract” as stated in press release from Director-General Tony Hall.

But there is hope; When the show was rebooted in 2002, I was a little slow to catch on missing the first few episodes.  I have since seen a couple of the early shows, but they are not readily available the way season two onwards are.  The reason, they weren’t that great.  If you can track one down you will find the familiar faces of Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond, but no James May.  Instead the first series featured Jason Dawe who was soon replaced by May.  The main reason for the problem was a lack of chemistry and coordination with the presenters, by season two they had found their feet and the rest is history.  This is the one glimmer of hope for Evans and LeBlanc, but also the reason I am looking forward to the show The Grand Tour staring Clarkson, Hammond, May, and significantly produced by former Top Gear producer Andy Wilman. And on that bombshell… 

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It was a brave move for Marvel to reboot Daredevil as a TV show rather than a movie, but having just binge watched the second series it is increasingly looking like a good one.  A few years ago the idea of a studio relegating one of its major properties to the small screen would have been unthinkable.  The newly found status of TV helps but on its own isn’t enough for the gamble to pay off, the content has to be good too.  A point proven by the fact that I gave up on Gotham and The Arrow after a few episodes each and haven’t seen any of the other DC, TV shows. The ongoing sagas of comic books do lend themselves to TV but there is something else.  Daredevil is a better fit for TV than film.  Where The Avengers work on a global scale Daredevil and his alter ego, Matt Murdock are firmly rooted in their Hell’s Kitchen home.  This is problem that DC are going to have to contend with as they move Batman out of Gotham and  into the world of the Justice League.daredevil

With a far darker tone than Agents of Shield and Agent Carter the series exists on the edge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is the better for it.  The beauty of its execution, there is no need to see any other MCU property to make sense of it, and likewise, you don’t need to see it to complete the story told in the movies.  Like the rest of the universe the odds have gone up as time has gone on.  Although there hints a bigger story in season one, Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) was largely a local villain.  Season two moves things onto a whole new level, introducing an outside threat.  It is however careful with its introduction of new characters.  Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung) and Frank Castle aka The Punisher (Jon Bernthal) are the most notable additions.elektra

We know that The Defenders is on its way, a new series where Daredevil will hook-up with Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and the yet to be introduced Iron Fist.  To its credit, Daredevil resists the temptation of introducing the new characters.  The only overlap being a cameo from Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) from Jessica Jones and Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple who has appeared in both shows.  Elektra and The Punisher are better served than in any of their big screen outings with real motivations.  The plot is well served giving character arc’s for all the main protagonists, both new and old.  The new story both is tied up nicely and left open for future development.The Punisher

TV will never replace cinema for me and I still expect to see the bigger stories on the big screen but some stories belong on TV, and good TV is better than second rate movies. 

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I think the Marvel Cinematic Universe AKA The MCU has finally found its feet and its place, on the small screen.  A credible interpretation of Marvel comics on screen began in 1998 with Blade, but the MCU as we know it really got going with Iron Man in 1998.  Next year will see their two biggest heroes,  Steve Rogers / Captain America and Tony Stark / Iron Man go toe to toe in Captain America: Civil War.  The film will probably make a billion dollars, as will their kiss and make up, bury the hatchet movie Avengers: Infinity War – Part I, two years later.  But, putting all the hugely successful movies aside, Marvel have found their place on TV, or to be more precise online, or video on demand if you prefer.  Netflix and Amazon are rapidly gaining credibility as both produces and distributors of quality television, and one of them (Netflix) has done it in partnership with Marvel.Wesley Snipes Blade

This should come as no great surprise.  Television has the same ability to serialise as story as comic books.  This is something I have limited experience of.  Comic books weren’t on my radar as a kid, I read a few as a student in my late teens and early twenties.  Despite this I understand the way stories developed over time and appeared in  multiple issues making it necessary to follow more than one title to get the whole story. Interestingly things don’t always work exactly that way with Netflix (and Amazon with their products) dropping a whole season in on go encouraging binge watching.

So what has prompted this revelation?  I have just finished watching Jessica Jones.  Thirteen episodes in eight days, I haven’t taken my time, but also don’t think I have binged!  I have to say the series has been nothing short of fantastic, but before I get onto that, a little background.  Jessica Jones is the fourth MCU TV show.  Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. started in 2013 and has been a little up sand down in the quality of the story.  It found its feet towards the end of the first season, into the second, but ended looking like a setup for an Inhumans spinoff.agents of shield

Agent Carter picks up the story of Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) after the war, and after the events of Captain America: The First Avenger (2011).  It includes in the main cast Howard Stark played by Dominic Cooper, also reprising his role from Captain America: The First Avenger.  The show succeeds thanks to some good stories, great period production design and an outstanding performance from Hayley Atwell in the title role.Agent Carter

I always enjoyed the movie Daredevil (2003), although it has its problems, I don’t consider it bad enough to call it a guilty pleasure; however, the TV sets the bad a lot higher. Matt Murdock has the same back story, as the comic book.  He is blinded and gains his heightened senses allowing him to become Daredevil in same way but after that we have Christopher Nolan Batman sense of realism.Daredevil

Jessica Jones has the most interesting concept.  Rather than an origin story for a super hero, it is the picks up after a failed attempt to become a hero.  Filled with pity, self loathing and an unhealthy intake of bourbon Jessica Jones is keeping her head down and finding her way as a New York private investigator for reasons that unfold in the early episodes.

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 10: Krysten Ritter filming "Jessica Jones" on March 10, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Steve Sands/GC Images)

Next year Jessica Jones will be joining Daredevil (a link is made in the final episode), Luke Cage (who is introduced in Jessica Jones) and the as yet to be introduced (as far as I am aware) Iron Fist in The Defenders.  A show that promises to be a small screen version of The Avengers.  It has also been suggested that the characters may find their way into the cinematic side of the universe in future. I often praise films over television for the ability to use imagination overcome constraints, usually time, but it works the other way.  Most Marvel movies end with the heroes battling an adversary whose threat hangs above a major city (usually literally) and ends in a victory but only after great destruction and collateral damage.  The television shows have a different constraint, budget so have to fall back on storytelling and character development to deliver a finale. Lets hope The Defenders continues the quality of Daredevil and Jessica Jones and doesn’t become a cut price Avengers the way Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. looked like it may go in its early days.The Defenders

But there is also another reason why the TV shows work so well, villains.  Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter both revolve around the hunt for their true villain, Jessica Jones and Daredevil both have great villains. There are two notable things about Daredevil’s adversary, Wilson Fisk aka The Kingpin, firstly the character seems to truly believe that he is the hero and not the villain and his actions are for good not evil, secondly, Vincent D’Onofrio’s portrayal of him is totally phenomenal.kingpin

I understand that in the comic books, Jessica Jones’ advisory Kilgrave was featured mainly as a Daredevil villain.  Like Fisk he is brilliantly played by (former Doctor Who) David Tennant.  The brilliance of the character is the realisation that he isn’t evil for the sake, or the fun of it, he has been turned evil by his ability.  With the ability to compel anyone to do whatever he asks, no one will ever love, or even like him for who he is.  Furthermore, he can never have a conversation without carefully choosing his words through fear of giving a command.Kilgrave

There is also an interesting leaning towards female characters in the TV shows.  Three of the four shows are led by woman (Chloe Bennet’s Skye is as much the main character as Clark Gregg’s Phil Coulson in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.).  Despite the fact Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow is the most interesting character in the movies she is yet to get her own movie.  As things stand we have to wait until 2019 for a female lead charter, this will feature the yet to be introduced Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel.

I am not suggesting the TV shows are better than the movies but at this moment they are more interesting than the movies and I am looking forward to the further adventures of Jones, Murdock and Carter more than any of the eleven planned movies in the MCU phase three.

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