The final season of Orange is the New Black feels like the end of an era for me. I think it was the very first show I watched on Netflix. It certainly was the first that I eagerly anticipated the next season for. It represents all what streaming services can be over mainstream TV – brave, representative and uncensored.

Ok, so a couple of seasons lost me a bit. Season 4 was so unremittingly bleak I began to question my ability to watch it and still function. Ditto to a lesser extent season 6, which had me nearly in tears at the finale. In many ways though, its strength over the last couple of seasons has been to tell how political decisions impact the most vulnerable people. And there simply isn’t a way to sugar coat that.

Take the plotline of Blanca and Maritza being locked up in an ICE facility. Nothing says more about the current brutal state of our society than the fact that both are legal citizens of the United States. One lost their status by accepting responsibility for a crime that wasn’t hers, proof that no good deeds goes unpunished. The other, simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Whist some bad people may get scooped up in this, you can’t help but wonder if they are outweighed by innocent victims of circumstance.

The other central plotline is Piper’s rehabilitation post-release from prison. Rebuilding her life is tough – restricted on employment opportunities, shunned by friends and strangers alike. And this for well-spoken, educated white girl. You are left only to imagine the additional barriers faced by those with a poorer background or an ethnic minority. No wonder so many reoffend.

There are other heartbreaks as well; the continued decline of Taystee from joyous sunshine to feared monster, the OD’s, the gang warfare. Yet there feels also to be lighter touches. The bond between Pensatucky and Suzanne is beautiful, as is the one between Gloria and Red.

Most interestingly though, there is a small window of hope. New warden Ward is changing things and despite cynicism about her book learning, actually seems to be more astute than she is being given credit for.

I hope the season ends on a positive note of some kind, albeit with a tint of realism. I will miss this show and many of the characters, but if the ending works, it will soothe the pain.


Adapting a novel for television is normally straightforward. Yes, you may want to update the language so as not to be un-PC and it is wise to cut any weak subplots (or add new ones to stretch out the series of more episodes than the material gives you), but overall the work is one for you.

So how then do you approach adapting an unfinished novel? It can be hard enough with a good author to guess how the final few chapters are going to go, but when you have less than half a book you are faced with countless questions.

This is the issue facing Sanditon, an incomplete Jane Austen novel that only had around 50-odd pages completed. It does help that Austen stories fit a clear pattern, but even so, it is quite a challenge. Yet perhaps it is also strangely liberating – the final destination of the characters are in the screenwriters hands and, so long as it feels like it fits the pattern, should not upset fans too much.

Sanditon focus on the story of Charlotte Heywood, a country girl invited by a wealthy family to the new seaside resort of Sanditon, which is being built around their ears. All the stereotypes of Austen are there – the dangerous young man (Edward Denham), the imposing matriarchal aristocrat (Lady Denham) and the brooding hunk (Sidney Parker).

The plot is therefore obvious – Charlotte is to initially dislike Sidney, with a mutual feeling in response, before some tragedy brings them together and makes them see each other in a new light, with other obstacles (not least the social order) getting in their way of being together.

To be fair, it is done well. Two episodes in and we are the still not liking each other stage, although Sidney has appeared naked in front of Charlotte, which is one of many things I’m not convinced Austen would have included. I doubt many viewers would have complained though, especially as Poldark has come to an end and Theo James clearly knows his way round a gym.

But it is the subplots that are more interesting. Firstly, the plotting of Edward and his sister Esther to sully the reputation of Lady Denham’s ward Clara in order to gain her inheritance. This also is very forward compared to traditional Austen, with its references, albeit coded, to hand jobs. It almost feels as if the book has been confused with some kind of Regency version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

The other is the heirless Miss Lamb, the daughter of a sugar plantation owner and a former slave. Cynics might see it as deliberate casting of an ethnic minority. I personally think it adds to the battle of social orders Austen often included in her novels. Miss Lamb is hating England and her guardian Sidney. A friendship is forming with Charlotte though, which gives her another reason to throw her in the path of our hero.

Perhaps the best thing is to pretend this isn’t an adaption at all and is an entirely new creation. It allows us to hang those questions about its sincerity to the original text out to dry. Instead, let us wallow in everything and enjoy this slightly more edgy period drama. Not everything has to be authentic.

Representation is important in TV. For some, this is the same as diversity, but it arguably isn’t. Diversity smells of box ticking, in that a character is an ethnic minority or LGBT because it cynically taps into a market or fashion. Representation is more of a deliberate action, in that you want to tell a person’s story because it represents our varied society.

Representation is easier when the people behind it are part of the group telling the story. It is obviously going to be more authentic and more nuanced. It allows that group being represented to be presented as more human, as flaws are not tiptoed around and real struggles not sugar coated.

I write about this as I try to get my head round I feel about Special. It revolves around Ryan, a gay man with cerebral palsy, as he navigates his hunger for independence and love whilst dealing with the limitations of his disability. Ryan O’Connell is both writer and star and is, unsurprisingly, gay and disabled.

He often talks about the show in terms of dealing with his internalised ableism. The central plot is that he has lied to his work colleagues, claiming his disability is really the consequence of a car crash rather than something he was born with. This is something O’Connell himself did at college, trying to start a new life and wanting to throw off the baggage of being disabled.

The problem I have with this show is that I find myself having no sympathy with Ryan. He is willing to take advantage of his disability but hides from the label. He both demands independence yet relies on others to get him out of the smallest of scrapes. He is wanting love but runs away from affection and hides behind a bitch, catty nature. A couple of flaws is fine but this many is just annoying.

I have far more time for his mum. Although she is clingy, you at least feel she is sincere in her efforts to build a new life. I find myself desperately wanting her to be happy with her new boyfriend and am far more moved by the conflicts in her life.

Likewise, Kim is a brilliantly confident character that conveys the hypocrisy of the body confidence movement. In other words, it’s easy to find yourself beautiful if you already are and a few platitudes won’t lift you if you are not.

This show is a classic case of something good that could be so much better. Longer episodes might be a start, allowing a greater depth of story to be told. It may add more layers to Ryan, making him more sympathetic when he gets things wrong. Right now though, Special is, ironically, not special.

I frequently compare my friends in my head to a TV personalities. One, due to her place of birth, is instantly Erin from Derry Girls. Another as he ages and grows increasingly middle-aged facial hair is Bob from Bob’s Burgers. It’s all harmless fun and I wouldn’t be surprised if they had similar comparisons for me (one has admitted that she sees me as David from Schitt’s Creek).

The strongest one I make is a friend who, due to her build and potty mouth, is an obvious Kathy Burke. Burke is a brilliant person to watch in anything, so naturally I had to settle down to see her documentary Kathy Burke’s All Woman. The premise is Burke exploring the female rites of passage she has eschewed to understand why so many women still want them in an age when, theoretically, they can be anything. Namely, motherhood, marriage and beauty.

Burke is charmingly unguarded in her views. In frequent conversations to the camera she explains why she has rejected all of these. Her pursuit of beauty was fruitless, as at her most conventionally beautiful she was at her unhappiest (not an unusual tale in itself actually). Meanwhile, the motherhood gene switched on, so she never felt the hunger for a child.

While her interviews with others are good, it is her following of one particular subject on a journey that is particularly interesting. In the beauty episode she followed a young woman getting a breast enhancement both pre- and post-operation. Exploring motherhood, she met a mid-30s woman who was having her eggs frozen to help her conceive when she finally meets ‘the one’.

Both episodes saw all roads leading back to one common cause. For beauty, it was social media. Her interview with former Love Island star Meghan Barton-Hanson saw the lengths she must go to look Instagram ready. It was enough to make you want to ban it all.

In terms of motherhood, it was a woman’s most formidable enemy – biology. Quite simply, women have a race against the clock that men don’t, and this can throw everything else out of the window. As one fertility expert put it, unless there is a male menopause that comes along that makes men infertile in their forties, then it will always be the women alone who must shelve career plans to bring up children.

This is a fascinating and accessible series that, even with the copious swearing, should be compulsory viewing for all teenagers, not just girls. It celebrates the progress women have made, the battles they still face, and the ones that for now need to be accepted as lost.

Sitcoms fall into two broad categories in terms of premise. There is your bog-standard nuclear family or group of friends set up, which are self-explanatory and more mainstream. Yes, there may be a slightly new take on it (e.g. they are all physicists like in The Big Bang Theory), but it is still a fairly straightforward take.

The second is a bit more esoteric, where there is perhaps some surprising darkness to the story. Back to Life, which I haven’t watched but want to, is about a woman rebuilding her life after being released from prison for a horrific crime. Quite often there is something deeper going on here rather than just laughs, which is fine unless you then realise the laughs have been forgot all together.

This Way Up falls into this second group. It follows Aine, played by writer of the show Aisling Bea, as she enters the world following a nervous breakdown that saw her in rehab. She works as a TEFL teacher and has a strong relationship with older sister Shona (Sharon Horgan), who has taken on the responsibility of keeping an eye on Aine whilst also building her own life.

The humour is driven by Aine’s tendency to handle her problems or any uncomfortable moments by making bad jokes peppered with brutal honesty. The writing is smart and does raise a smile, but it never becomes quite a laugh.

The solution is to instead treat the show as a drama with an edge of humour to it. This works because everything else about the show is strong. The characters are engaging, particularly Aine herself, who manages to play someone still dealing with a swirling vortex of chaos inside as brittle but easy to sympathise with. You instantly want good things to happen to her, even when some of the problems she faces are self-inflicted.

The relationship between the sisters is also genuine. There is that mix of sparring and frustration muddled with silliness and protectiveness that close siblings have with each other. It helps that Horgan’s character is developing nicely as well as she faces her own challenges.

This is a good show, but it feels wrong to label it a comedy. It is, however, a good representation of the isolation that mental health can create and the need to present yourself as fine with all the defence mechanisms that involves. The strength of the story alone makes it an excellent watch. Just don’t expect to split your sides.

I find that I often enjoy the secondary aspect of a show more than the primary. Killing Eve, for instance, is more entertaining for me if I see it as a black comedy than a thriller. It makes the scenes in between the gruesome murders more interesting if you actually treat the violence as the bonus instead of dark humour in the writing.

Likewise, I find myself putting the horror of Stranger Things as a distant second reason to watch it behind the nostalgic coming-of-age story. Which is probably not what the writers, or most of the die-hard fans, want to hear. They probably want the scares to come first, the human interest second, albeit an important second. After all, how bothered can you be by the monster if you don’t care about the victims?

But such a take for me misses the strongest point of the show. Yes, the Mindflayer is doing its thing and it is all very horrible, fitting in nicely with the parable of mass consumerism and late-stage capitalism. Oh, and there is a new dimension of Cold War paranoia ramping up a notch which could actually push the horror down into third place. Yet none of this matches watching the journeys of the young cast towards adulthood.

I was more gripped by the scenes where Will felt crushingly left behind by his friends as they discovered girls than I was by revelation of what the Mindflayer is doing. I was more moved by the growing bond between Max and El than I was scared by the exploding rats. And I took more joy in the humour between Robin, Steve and Dustin then I was repulsed by the transformation of Mrs Driscoll.

In many ways, I am enjoying this series more than the others. There are more storylines in play and the characters are gaining depth. For example, Steve has gone from irritating wazzock to cutely idiotic and vulnerable and is now one of my favourite characters.

All this, and we still have Winona Ryder and David Harbour giving the performances of their lives. Harbour has officially become King of the Dad Bods and Ryder has consigned any previous misdemeanours, both personal and professional, to history.

I hope further seasons continue this progression. The complications of adulthood are knocking on some many of the characters’ doors. It would be a shame to slam it shut.

I apologise in advance if I am starting my review of the second series of The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan in exactly the same way as I started the first. To be fair, I have written so many of these, finding a new to introduce my musings is challenging.

The celebrity travelogue is an overdone genre and one I only dip into occasionally as a last resort. I have two major beefs with the form. The first is that some destinations are decidedly overdone. India, Japan, the USA, Australia – there must be barely a town, river or mountain that hasn’t been visited. Any more ‘breathtaking’ visits to the Taj Mahal or Ayers Rock and I will throw my TV out of the window.

This leads me nicely to my second, which is the endless cooing of the presenter and the almost patronising repartee with the locals. This often descends into the trying of a local craft, which the presenter ‘hilariously’ fails to master. Is there any point to these moments, over than to titillate the Little Englanders back home?

What I like about Misadventures is that both of these faults are absent. The whole point of the show is to go to the most unloved by tourists places on earth. The first episode of the new series took us to Zimbabwe, a country more known for the cruelty of Robert Mugabe than its hospitality.

Yet, as we find out, there are plenty reasons to go. It offers some genuinely beautiful scenery, not least the best views of the Victoria Falls. And the wildlife is as varied as any other safari. Not only that, but there is genuinely a spirit of warmth in the people, for all their turbulent history. It is also splendidly irreverently presented, Romesh as fascinated by an elephant’s penis as he is by the landscape.

Which brings me to how it overturns the second convention. Romesh and his guide Chipo do not shy away from discussing the problems of the past, both in its colonial days and after. A chat in a country club certainly illuminates the troubled race relations and this is only heightened when the meet Ian, a white Zimbabwean and conservationist who made no secret of his longing for a return to empire days. Cue a surprisingly tense discussion over the nature of colonisation and the treatment of indigenous people – is it a process of civilisation or subjugation?

This is a show that is both lighter and deeper than your average travelogue. It’s engaging, fun and clever and is the perfect way to spend a Sunday evening.