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Posts Tagged ‘The Wire’

Just like most movie bloggers, at this time of year I start to think about my top ten movies of the year.  Having only seen 28 movies at the cinema (I have averaged about 110 a year for the past two decades) I am not as excited by the idea as in previous years.  However I have watched more TV than ever before, practically through the first lockdown.  The best shows I have watched are The West Wing, and The Wire that I had not previously seen, and Breaking Bad that that I started watching last year.  But what of the new, and ongoing shows?  It’s actually been a really good year:

The Queen’s Gambit – Three years ago Scott Frank gave us Godless, a fantastic seven part western TV miniseries, who would have thought his next project would be about chess? As with Godless, Frank directed every episode, and wrote them with co-creator Allan Scott. Based a novel from 1983 from Walter Tevis, and telling the story of a (fictional) chess prodigy.   I have long thought Anya Taylor-Joy is the best young actor around at the moment, this has proved it, her performance is probably the best I have seen all year, in film and TV.  Hitting a lot of the beats of a sports movie, but where a sports movie has the challenge of making the sport look realistic, this has the problem of making chess exciting, it does it with ease.   As with Godless, Frank directed every episode, and wrote them with co-creator Allan Scott. 

The Mandalorian, seasons 1&2 – We had to wait until this year for the first season of The Mandalorian, it was worth the wait, to add to this, the second season was even better.  Set a few years after the end of the original Star Wars trilogy and telling the story of a Mandalorian bounty hunter.  Created by Jon Favreau and providing a perfect antidote to the patchy sequels.  Essentially a western in space, the stories are great but the real appeal is the characters .  With numerous rumoured spinoffs, it may be the starting point for the next generation of Star Wars, it certainly provides a strong template. 

Normal People – Marianne and Connell are two, well, normal people.  Coming from very different backgrounds in the same small town in Ireland, the story follows them from their final year at school, through their time at university.  Coming just two years after the publication of Sally Rooney’s novel on which it’s based.  Released on BBC Iplayer in one go, it was one of the summers most binge-worthy shows.  The performances from little known Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal are sensational. 

High Fidelity – Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel was adapted into a really good film in 2000 directed by Stephen Frears and starring John Cusack.  The TV show is better than them Movie.  Moving the location to Brooklyn (the book was set in London, the movie in Chicago), but more significantly the casting of Zoë Kravitz changed the dynamic of the show, she is also brilliant.  Criminally, by the time it reached the UK, it had already been cancelled, so we don’t get a second season, this is a great shame. 

Gangs of London – Created by Gareth Evans, the man behind The Raid movies.  An undercover cop finds himself at the centre of a power struggle in London following the death of a gangland boss.  Full of recognisable British actors, but the standout performance comes from Sope Dirisu.  Episode five, is possibly the best single episode of TV this year. 

His Dark Materials – Season 2 is based on The Subtle Knife, Philip Pullman’s second novel in the His Dark Materials trilogy.  The first season was good, the second is even better.  Dafne Keen has really grown into the role, as has Amir Wilson who has much more to do than in the first season.  The real star remains the brilliant Ruth Wilson.

What We Do in the Shadows, Season 2 – Based on the 2014 New Zealand mockumentary written and directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi.  Continuing the mockumentary style of the movie but following a different house of vampires, this time in Staten Island.  The beauty of the comedy, is that however absurd it gets (it gets extremely absurd), it is totally deadpan.

Save Me Too – Marketed as Save Me Too, is the second Season of Save Me.  Co-written by star Lennie James.  The story revolves around a man searching for is estranged teenage daughter.  Spoiler: by the end of the first season he hadn’t found her.  The second season picks up eighteen months later, to its credit, it doesn’t always go where you expect. 

Sex Education, Season 2 – With the help of a classmate, the son of a sex therapist starts a sex advice business at school.  Set in an fictional British town that seems to exist out of time, with a school more reminiscent of American TV. What sounds like a terrible idea for a show is actually brilliant thanks to a the brilliant script, and performances.  The kids are all very good, but Gillian Anderson steals the show. 

Alice in Borderland – A late entry ontot he list as it only dropped on Netflix in early December.  A Japanese TV show based on a manga of the same name by Haro Aso.  Three friends find themselves in an abandoned Tokyo.  Trapped in the city they soon find they have to compete in a series of deadly games in order to survive.  Inspired by and taking elements of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland”, it is wonderfully bonkers.  A second season has already been announced. 

The honourable mentions: Devs, The Boys – Season 2, I Hate Suzie, Bosch – Season 6, Snowpiercer, The Eddy, Hunters, Lovecraft Country, Warrior – Season 2, The Umbrella Academy – seaason 2, The Expanse, Season 5 (may have made the top ten, but only half the season has dropped at the time of going to press). And finally: Small Axe – Marketed as a miniseries or an anthology, I didn’t include it as a TV show, but is worth a mention as it is excellent.  A series of five movies about the experiences of West Indian immigrants in London during the 1960s and 1970s.  All films are directed by Steve McQueen, who also co-wrote them.  The first two Mangrove, and Lovers Rock were the standouts for me. 

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I have been hearing the term Long-form television a lot recently. It is a term I had never heard of a few years ago. There doesn’t appear to be a single definitive definition of the term, for the purposes of this article I will take it to describe a TV show with a story arc that runs across multiple episodes. In some cases this can run over an whole season, or the run of an entire show.

Although most of the shows I grew up with were made up of single plot episodes there were a few that would fall into what we now call long-form. These days every other show seems to be long-form, they aren’t limited to any particular genre. The Wire and the Danish show The Killing, cover crime drama, Homeland is a spy thriller; House of Cards a political drama, Battlestar Galactica, Sci-Fi, The Walking Dead, Horror; Game of Thrones, fantasy.game-of-thrones

I was initially skeptical about talk of television being better than films. However I am beginning to see the benefit of some of the best examples. It would be impossible make a film with the characters and plot strands seen in Game of Thrones, even if it was a Peter Jackson length film. I am not however a total convert, the limitations of length of feature films can promote creativity and result in the true art. There is also something appealing about watching a complete story, and that is what prompted me to write this. I recently watched all eight episodes of True Detective in two sittings. It struck me that not only was I watching it like a film, but this was the best way to watch it. When I thought about it isn’t the first time I have binged on TV shows, I am actually watching Boardwalk Empire as I write this.true detective

It appears I am not alone, listening to the Rotten Tomatoes podcast, they talk of television as cinemas equal and are as interested in the new shows as they are in new film releases. In the latest episode the main topic of conversation was season two of Orange Is the New Black and how they intended to binge watch it. This is possible thanks to Netflix releasing the whole season in one go and not showing it over three months the way it would be on TV.  We are watching TV shows as (long) films, this is interesting as films are becoming more like TV with franchises and book series adaptations.  Orange Is the New Black

Cinema is still my first love, television is not cinema and will never be cinema, it is a very different beast. I am however happy to enjoy televisions renaissance and the quality shows that it is delivering. But more importantly the way the internet has given us a new, easier and more flexible way of enjoying it.  Whatever happens, I am sure people will look back on this time as a time of change in media, hopefully it will continue to be a change for the better.  

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