Archives for category: drama

Finally, the much-anticipated return of Killing Eve has happened. It was one of last year’s most-talked about shows with what was a breathless mix of action, drama and comedy. Oh, and lots of blood. It was near perfection, and the bar was set high for the return.

Some people felt let down by the season two opener. Too slow was a common complaint. Having spent most the first season building this cat-and-mouse narrative around Eve and Villanelle, the prolonged separation of the two characters, and Villanelle’s lack of ability to move around, was seen as hampering.

Personally, I disagree. It was the show taking a deep breath before plunging us back in again. There was still all the hallmarks we have come to love, not least the whip-smart dialogue. Fiona Shaw in particular seems to deliver every line with delightful glee, revelling in the role and the words. And there was a shocking twist that I won’t spoil for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but it was precisely the kind of jolt this show delivers like no other.

Besides, the second episode soon blew any fears of cobwebs away. Eve has a new team, and a new shopping habit, whilst still obsessing over the one that got away. Villanelle proved she is still as resourceful as ever as she, for a change, nearly became the victim, and also got a new handler to send her off on a new round of murderous city breaks. And the episode again ended with another neat twist.

The appeal of the show is obvious to anyone who has watched it. It’s smart for a start. Don’t expect to be hand held and have everything explained to you, as the show is too busy careering round the next corner. The dialogue isn’t there to answer your questions but merely to carry you to the next moment, with some lovely dark humour thrown in. My personal highlight was Eve and Carolyn chowing down on a burger whilst inspecting a corpse.

The characters are brilliant, as ever. Although I miss Bill, the trinity of Villanelle, Eve and Carolyn are probably three of the best-written characters ever. And to top it all, there is the tantalising promise of a second female assassin who is the polar opposite of Villanelle – covert and blending into the crowd compared to Villanelle’s love of the theatrics of the kill.

Watching this show is a real highlight of the week for me, hence my refusal to binge watch. A season three is already promised. With something this brilliant, you don’t want it to end.

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Dystopian futures are very on trend right now. This is unsurprising when you consider the extent of the political turmoil the world is in right now and the fact that the pace of cultural and technological change grows ever faster. I normally avoid this genre, as it just gives you further nightmares to the one you already have.

Yet I found myself drawn to Years and Years. The drama revolves around one family over a 15-year period from 2019-2034 as their lives are shaped by the world around them, in particular the rise of right-wing populist politician Vivienne Rook (Emma Thompson).

Political crisis so far played out (we are up to 2025) include Russia successfully gaining full political control of Ukraine, leading to a refugee crisis when those opposed to Russia are forced to flee, America’s trade war with China leading to Trump launching a nuclear weapon on a military base and the resulting economic sanctions leading to a banking crisis that dwarves 2008.

But it’s not just politics that is played out. The remorseless advance of technology also plays a part. One family member declares themselves trans-human, wanting rid of their body to be just uploaded as data. Hologram emoji masks and having a phone implanted into their body are just the start of this transformation.

All of this would just be weighty moral lesson learning if it lacked a people dimension, but this is where the show shines. Daniel (Russell Tovey) falls in love with one of the refugees fleeing Ukraine, leading him to divorce his husband and setting up a revenge plot. Stephen (Rory Kinnear) loses all his money in the banking crisis and is faced with a daughter who has more affinity with machines than people.

It is the character of Rosie (Ruth Madeley) that potentially has the most interesting progression. She is the one who, as the series progresses, most buys into Rook’s populist vision. Quite how far she falls and the price she and others pay for Rook’s rise to power is still to be seen, but she does represent how many voters feel. Outside of the London bubble, not sharing in the boom others enjoy but being hit by the bust and generally being economically isolated from the world around here, Rosie is the person made angry about the future and clings to the hope of returning to a past Rook promises.

For all the grimness, there is a sprinkling of humour throughout, particularly from formidable matriarch Muriel (Anne Reid). It’s this that helps you buy into the world and the characters, and makes it feel so real.

Whilst the show is giving me nightmares (nothing presented feels impossible right now), it is gripping. It is a warning for us all. But how many will pay attention to it is another matter.

One of the biggest frustrations with British TV is that because it doesn’t work on a seasonal basis, the next series of episodes can come out whenever. You can easily find yourself waiting a couple of years for the next batch of episodes, regardless of the intensity of the cliffhanger.

The flip side to this is that it means what is made is done so with patience and love. It allows the writer to only send the show out when it is ready and become a gem polished as close to perfection it can be. It also creates a feeling of event TV, which is becoming increasingly rare in this era of streaming.

Line of Duty has become such an event. We are now two years on from the conclusion of the last series, yet people still flock to it. And it’s no surprise that they do. No other drama on TV can compete with twists and turns, throwing the viewer off guard. It has almost become a game working out what is being told to you straight and what is subterfuge (clue: almost everything at the moment).

One of the central mysteries is the identity of H, the kingpin of bent coppers that are aiding OCGs with their crimes. All the fingers are pointing at Hastings, our previously undoubtable Superintendent. But it is never that simple in the world of AC-12, unless this time it is. What bigger twist than to make its biggest reveal actually the most straightforward and use the paranoia of our own minds to doubt it?

My one gripe with this series is that so much focus is being placed on the UCO and the OCG and very little on bent coppers is that we are missing the beautiful interview scenes. The slow setting of the traps and the surprise table turns are missing or downplayed. Most importantly, where is all the paperwork? I mean, seriously, everyone knows we watch it for the acronyms and the evidence files and not for the explosions or gunfights!

That aside, it is still one of the best shows out there. It is fascinating watching the relationship between our central trio become tested as they begin to doubt each other. Also, it is refreshing to see Vicky McClure, previously the department skivvy, rise up through the ranks and become the de facto second-in-command.

There were initially rumours that the show would wrap up at the sixth series, but now it is potentially heading for a seventh. I hope it doesn’t become over milked. If the storylines fit six series, make it six. If it does work for a seventh, go ahead, but don’t ruin what has gone before. Event TV stops being so when the quality dips. That will be the case no matter what paperwork is done.

Normally with Netflix I am miles behind everyone else. So it is quite exciting for me that instead of my usual months I am only a few weeks behind on The Umbrella Academy. It has helped the delays to The Crown and Stranger Things have knocked my usual winter viewing off course.

I’m not usually one for comic book/superhero type shows. The Marvel and DC universes are like a foreign language to me and the thought of sitting through dozens of films for a pay off in one climatic one is incredibly off putting.

Thankfully The Umbrella Academy is not related to this world. It follows six incredibly gifted children born in auspicious circumstances, all with super powers. Number 5 has seen an apocalypse and is trying to prevent it from happening, with varying degrees of helps from his ‘siblings’ and whilst being chased by two assassins.

There is certainly plenty of action – fans of fight and gun scenes are well served. In fact, you can’t fault the visuals. As befits an adaptation from a comic, sight is an amply rewarded sense. Netflix has once again managed to turn something cinematic in style into a television programme.

The rest of the show is a mixed bag. The problem with such a large cast is you get hooked on one or two characters and want to rush through what is happening with the rest. Luther and Alison for me, both separately and as a potential couple, pose little interest. Luther in particular is too worthy, a martyr for his cause, which too often veers into dullness, even with a striking physical appearance.

On the flip side, Robert Sheehan’s portrayal of drug-addled séance expert Klaus is excellent. He is a ball of manic energy off which sparks fly. Likewise, Number 5 is also beguiling, albeit in a very different way. The scenes with the two of them together lift the show so high that everything else seems to crash down around them.

It is the unevenness of tone that has been the show’s biggest flaw for some critics. Personally, I like it, although as I previously hinted, I’m not sure why we need the weird romance plot growing between Luther and Alison. But other than that the variety works, allowing you to draw yourself in and out as needed.

Overall, I would say it is not my favourite thing. But it is just about intriguing enough and successful in its attempts to be different to be worth my time. At least until The Crown comes back, anyway.

They say necessity is the mother of invention. If by invention we mean ‘try new things’, then I have to agree. A loose end viewing wise Sunday night led me to making a choice between two rather intense looking dramas: Baptiste on the BBC or Traitors on Channel 4. As the former potentially needed me to know what had happened in its parent drama The Missing I chose the latter. The post-World War Two setting helped, as I’m a sucker for a drama with a bit of history in it.

The plot follows Feef Symonds, a well-to-do trainee intelligence officer, working for the Civil Service, where she is recruited by the Americans to flush out a Soviet spy in the Cabinet Office. The first episode mainly sets up her relationships with the key players, including a rather sweet but overly earnest socialist MP.

It does feel in a way as if very little happens in it. There is a lot of talking about what the post-war world looks like and the reverberations of Labour’s shock landslide election win in 1945. A lot of time is spent on people having little dilemmas and trying to circumvent their superiors. I have to confess that the detail at points got rather lost on me, but then I was still rising up from a hangover at this point.

What I can say is that it is well played, without a jarring note amongst the cast. Having said that, the star turn of Keeley Hawes as a senior civil servant is currently underplayed, hopefully in a role that will move to the centre as the episodes go on. I mean, you wouldn’t hire someone of her calibre for the show and then just have her in the background.

The show does need a little more action. After a lively opening scene there is little to light a fire until the close of the episode. Again though, this is probably a passage of time thing. Hopefully by the time we reach the end of episode 2 we have a little more incentive for those that aren’t history buffs to keep watching.

Credit where credit is due though, you do get swept up in the sense of time and place. There is an atmosphere of wounded pride hanging off everyone, and the fight over by whose values we rebuild is palpable.

But if you promise a spy drama you need more than this. I have faith that Traitors will deliver on this. But it needs to do so quickly. A bit of ruminating on the state of the nation is good. Six hours of it though will become an indulgence.

I’m going to start this post with a confession. I totally intended to watch new drama Pure this week, but then didn’t, which has ruined my best shot at finding something new to talk about. Instead, I find myself going through what I watched the rest of the week to talk about instead.

The best I can do is revisit Cold Feet, the drama that used to be about a group of people learning to be adults and settling down and now seems to be a study of aging and differing attitudes to lost youth. Of course, it’s so well written and acted, it always feels like it is more than that.

One of the biggest strengths is that it tackles some of the bigger issues in a way that avoids the melodrama but doesn’t allow itself to be sterile. The past couple of series have seen it tackle depression and the care of elderly parents. This series sees cancer and homelessness take centre stage, but both in such a way as not to be bleak.

The cancer storyline surrounding Jen in particular is being well crafted. Burying it deep down, she is instead trying to live life to the full, but not explaining to anyone why she is acting out. The scene in the most recent episode where she realised the possibility of not seeing her children’s future was brilliantly done in that did just enough so the viewer understood without walloping us about with ‘feels’.

There are lighter storylines as well. Adam (who no matter what else is happening somehow always commands attention) is finally realising that chasing after young bits of skirt is not endearing. Again, the scene where he opened up to his son about his motivations (previous episode) demonstrated a good balance.

The show can sometimes let itself down with childish humour. I could have done without the storyline where David accidentally ate a batch of cannabis cookies, especially as it seems so slight juxtaposed with his threat of homelessness.

It is still overall a good way to pass an hour. Emotional but not sentimental, light-hearted but rarely trite. Plus it makes Manchester look genuinely stunning. Pure can wait when there is other things like this on.

Last week I talked about the way Charmed handles discussing big social issues. I found it clunky and too obvious, to the point it became a distraction from the plot rather than a driver. You have to get it right when you are making strong points about society, gently shepherding your audience to the moral point you want to make rather than whacking it out there.

A show that gets it right in my view is The Orville. It tackles issues in a way that makes you aware and hints towards the conclusion you should make, but are never forced towards it. It perhaps helps that with sci-fi you can introduce culture clashes in an organic way – religious, racial and sexual differences all are obvious barriers when you cross species with each other.

Yet it also nods towards some of the smaller issues in our society. One episode tackled porn addiction. Another referenced the anti-vax movement. Whilst you were given a strong sense of what is wrong and right, both sides are given some compassion. Very few figures are out and out villains. At the heart is the constant debate we have in society – how much can we respect someone else’s views when they not only clash with our own, but actually come into full-on conflict?

It helps there is a dollop of humour in the plots as well. Sometimes it is small, other times larger, but it is the spoonful of sugar that helps the narrative go down. It can sometimes trip over into the silly and crass, one of the few weak points, but even in then it is over in the blink of an eye.

The pace of each episode varies as well. It is a unique skill to make a show that is not predictable. Some are all action, others on a more emotional slow build. And, as with all great sci-fi and fantasy, it can deliver a surprising sucker punch. Check out episode three of the current season if you don’t believe me.

Is it a clarion call to liberal values? Probably. This is a show that is proud to demonstrate the importance of diversity, tolerance and science. It has taken pot shots at religion, conservative social movements and the abuse of technology. Yet, as I have said, you are given the choice as the viewer as to whether this how you live your life or just a show you watch for entertainment.

In short, this is probably one of my favourite things on TV. It is clever but not smug, warm but not smushy, funny but not stupid. It can give you action if you want it too. In these interesting times, it is a near perfect tonic.