Archive for the ‘TV stuff’ Category

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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