Archives for category: drama

I’m sure regular readers are all too aware of my love for Orange Is The New Black. I genuinely consider it to be on the most original shows out there. You can laugh your head off at one scene and be heartbroken by the next. And I have waxed lyrical about the diversity of the cast, but I will say it again for those at the back – this is THE show that waves the flag for diversity.

My love did dim a little last season. There was too much darkness, too much oppression, too many people at warm. OITNB is skilled at doing those little uplifting moments, but there were too few last time.

Yet this repressive atmosphere is what has led to the catatonic energy of season 5, which centres on a riot. The emotional explosions only work because so much was contained previously. It also is where the viewer gets a big payoff. We have followed these characters for quite some time now and know them. Seeing the breadth of reactions is powerful. We have the Hawaiian woman who chooses to hide, the meth heads who decide to become guards, and those who seek to exploit it purely for their own gain.

The humour is right back in full flow. Big Boo, so dislikeable at times early on, has become a one-liner machine and her growing friendship with Pennsatucky is one of the most rewarding sub-plots in the show. Meanwhile, Red on amphetamines has to be one of the most perfectly pitched pieces of slapstick I have seen.

The heartbreak is here too though. So-So’s reaction to Poussey’s death has been well played, subtle little moments of private grief interspersed with explosions of anger. It is a grief that burns away and eats you from the inside.

The star of this season though is Taystee. Having spent most of the first four seasons as a comedic foil or second-in-command, she is now the leader. She is the one who is driving through change. This isn’t just revenge on the guards, or even salvaging something from Poussey’s death. This is about changing the entire culture of the prison and restoring humanity. The failure of those outside to grasp this – both the media and the corporations – is a damning indictment of how fair minded those of us we consider ‘civilised’ actually are.

If I could make one change, it is that I feel that there are some stories still not being told. Take the Nazis, who suddenly appeared last season. Why are they who they are? Everyone else is given a reason for their behaviour, why not them? In making the case for diversity, is this show failing to explore the mind set of those who oppose it?

This show has always been a social commentary. It has, at times, lost this too soapiness and titillation. But this time, it seems to be pitched just right. This should be compulsory viewing for all those that think the private sector is the answer to our problems or that we can dehumanise sub-sections of our society without a cost. Yet they are the very people that will not watch it.

Scandi-noir has a lot to answer for, not least the plethora of pale imitations that it generates. Ditto Broadchurch, with its perfect representation of how a horrific crime can disrupt a small town. Combining these two sources is The Loch. It has the macabre deaths of Scandinavia and its dramatic but gloomy scenery with the small community of people with secrets of Broadchurch. Tartan noir mixed with McBroadchurch if you will.

We have the murder of a piano teacher, and now a local teenage tearaway, both dispatched slightly horrifically. Everyone has a reason to look suspicious, including the paedophile doctor and the ex-con living under a new name. A top DCI from the big city (Siobhan Finneran) is shipped in, upsetting local cops and bringing along with her a ‘celebrity forensic psychologist’. Oh, and there’s a man tied to the bottom of the loch that nobody has spotted yet.

It is as barking mad as it sounds. There’s the man being kept in a drugged coma by his mother, locals looking shifty at each other and random wolves popping up all over the place. It is as if the writers were given free rein to do whatever they like, but when it came to filming the budget kicked in and tripping over into the truly surreal Twin Peaks style was put on hold.

Nevertheless, despite (or maybe because of) its ludicrousness it is actually quite enjoyable. With nobody remotely acting guilt free we have a whole village of suspects, although if it is the local sergeant’s husband I will scream in despair. Once you acclimatise to it, the oddness becomes intriguing rather than distracting.

Of course, for me the making and breaking of crime drama is in how it handles the procedural stuff. This is where The Loch falls sadly short. The detectives seem to just barrel along, doing what the hell they like. If this ever makes it to court, the defence will have a field day with procedural errors. The whole case will collapse in the space of an afternoon. It didn’t have to be this way: Broadchurch, Line of Duty and even Scott & Bailey are proof you can talk procedure and keep the drama.

But maybe that’s the point – procedural dramas are already being done so well, why copy? Hang the technicals, forget the rules, and don’t even consider the paperwork. The eccentricities will be a distraction from all this.

Still, it wouldn’t hurt to hear a conversation about forms, or an interview of a suspect done with all the quiet suspense of the show’s rivals. It’s what a lot of us like. You don’t need to dial back the odd, just turn up the real.

It is often hard to work out who school-set dramas are pitched at. The teenage characters’ heady hormones are distant memories to many parents, while it is hard to imagine the younger generation being interested in storylines concerning the private lives of teachers. Both groups would feel that 50% of the show is uninteresting and a distraction from the stories that they do want to see.

Yet they are popular. The current horse from that stable is Ackley Bridge. It shares some key features with its predecessor Waterloo Road. Troubled school in a northern town. Plotlines that are soapy to the extreme. Relationships between teachers being every bit as rocky as those between the kids.

But Ackley Bridge is on Channel 4, so therefore is a little, but only a little closer to the edge in the social commentary it offers. For a start, this isn’t a comprehensive, but an academy. How much they explore the influence of ‘sponsors’ on how education is delivered remains to be seen, although there have been hints at it.

The big theme though is multi-culturism. This academy is formed from two previously segregated schools (not deliberately, just as a result of the postcode lottery our education system creates), one from a predominantly Asian community, the other largely white. The cultural conflicts form a major thrust of many of the storylines, whether it is exploring LGBT relationships in BME communities or the tension between assimilating into a nation whilst being proud of your religion.

There is some debate as to how much we should put these kind of issues through the soapy treatment shows like this create. It feels as if these issues are almost too big to be reduced to be mixed in with others plots like affairs. At the same time though, not everyone is going to watch a hard-hitting drama or searing documentary series, so if telling them the story through a slightly more trivial medium allows the message to spread wider then it is all to the good.

Of course, none of this matters if the show is rubbish. Well, it isn’t. Granted, I don’t love it. The headteacher-husband-sponsor love triangle is a bit too predictable, and I do wonder if there is perhaps one plot too many, making it hard to grasp on to any of the characters. But there are worthwhile storylines as well. Nasreen exploring her sexuality with the help of her friend Missy seems a strong seem to follow, and I’m intrigued enough to see where the Jordan Wilson plot goes to keep investing. Plus there is Sunetra Sarker playing the sassiest dinnerlady ever created.

At just six episodes, the first series may be too short to do it justice. But if it gets a second one, an extended run could help the show find its legs.

A while back I wrote about the first season of House of Cards. I was not impressed by it. I found the cynicism of the characters wearying and it was heaping yet more reasons for me to be concerned about the then forthcoming US election. Frank Underwood represented the worst of the career politicians that plague us both sides of the Atlantic. Success was for his ego, not the good of the country.

Since then, I have polished off the second season and got halfway through the third, and my view has altered somewhat. No doubt the drama of the real-life election being absent has helped, but I also feel I understand Frank and Claire more.

Take one of the smaller arcs from season 2 – the rise and fall of Freddie at the hands of Raymond Tusk. He is one of Frank’s few friends, and his destruction allows Frank to have a motivation that is more than about himself. From that point on, no matter how despicable he acts, we know Frank has an ability to be human. This buys him enough of your support to be more anti-hero than villain.

Likewise, season 3 has seen Claire’s character become more fleshed out. True, there were always more reasons to sympathise with her anyway – she seemed to use her ability to calculate against others more for good, and she is a rape survivor. But this season is the one where she truly stops just being a wife. She wants to make her mark on the world. Frank is driven by power, Claire by legacy. The most recent episode I viewed saw her hurt affected by the suicide of a gay activist. She throws politics overboard and shows an anger at injustice that is more than skin deep.

Of course there are other wheels turning. Heather Dunbar is on the rise as an opponent to Frank and we have Stamper aiding her cause. Then there’s the tracking down of Rachel through Gavin Orsay, although I am missing his scene-stealing guinea pig. One of the things I have come to like about Netflix’s shows is they aren’t afraid to ignore a major plotline for an episode, knowing their audience will patiently wait for it to return to the centre ground.

The one that is piquing me most at the moment though is Frank writing his autobiography. This, more than anything else, tells us who he is. He has come from nothing, and used ruthless ambition and eye for an opportunity, plus old-fashioned hard work, to get to the top. You still don’t like the man, you are never meant to, but you are forced to admire his journey. Maybe I can stick with this show after all.

I currently feel spilt for choice in terms of TV. Bar Saturday nights, which rarely show anything of quality in my opinion and have therefore become sky+ nights, I have at least a solid hours’ worth of great telly.

Even amongst this packed field, there are some highlights. Near the top of the list is legal drama The Good Fight, the spin-off from The Good Wife. I love this show for the same reasons I loved its predecessor: it is smartly written and well plotted with characters that are three-dimensional from the off, even relative bit part players. It isn’t afraid to engage with topical issues or to wear its liberal heart on its sleeve.

The show primarily follows Diane Lockhart and Maia Rindell, two lawyers at opposing points of their career but both impacted by a Ponzi scheme: Diane the victim who must put her retirement on hold and become a partner at an African-American dominated legal firm, Maia the daughter of the supposed creator who is starting her career at the same firm, plagued by rumours and trolls.

Whilst these are over-arching plots, which will now doubt move closer to centre stage as the season progresses, it is the individual cases and some of the sub-plots that really elevate this show. The intricacies of the legal system fascinate me, as opposing sides battle for their interpretation to be held valid or some obscure law that was never repealed to come to their aid. Likewise, the latest subplot, Mike Kresteva targeting the firm for it pursuing police brutality cases, is a further layer. There are so many spinning plates but the team behind the show never let one drop.

Besides Dianne Lockhart, there is a smattering of returning cast members. Cush Jumbo is back as Lucca Quinn, more spiky and whip-smart than ever. Marissa Gold, a bit-part player in Wife, is given a meatier place in the cast here, which I think is great, as she always brought extra zing to the few episodes she was in to the mother show. No doubt others will appear, in some cases maybe only briefly.

Of course, there is the question of what happened to Alicia Florrick, the wife of the original series. We have had hints – she doesn’t appear to be working in the law anymore for a start. Whether she is being primed by Eli for politics or is merely chasing Jason still is unknown. I’m not sure if this blank space helps or hinders Fight. Maybe the writers will throw us a bone and drop a few more hints.

Regardless, it is a pleasure to watch something that is well crafted and willing to grant its audience some intelligence. When something is this good, you do wonder, why isn’t every show trying to reach this level?

Adapting a novel for the screen, big or small, must be one of the most challenging projects on TV. It’s all very well having the plot nicely written for you, but this becomes a hindrance. Do you stick to it rigidly, digressions and all? Do you focus on just the main strands but axe some minor characters, who could actually be the most interesting of them all? Do change the ending to suit your ‘vision’?

However you answer these, you are bound to ruffle feathers. Be too close to the book and you risk making something pointless – after all, people may as well just read the story and get the full flavour unless you do something original. Lose a minor character and you remove potentially some of the best moments or give them to someone entirely unsuited. Change the ending or a major plot point and people will howl at the moon if you even put the slightest foot wrong with the change.

When it’s a book you love, you feel very protective of what is created. You have your vision and woe betide anyone who doesn’t go along with it. So I was nervous about the recent adaptation of Decline and Fall, a book I read as a precocious teenager. Or, at least I was nervous, until I realised I couldn’t remember most of it. I definitely recollect enjoying it and finding it funny though.

I suppose then, that this adaptation’s one and only test was to be funny. It stood a good chance with Jack Whitehall in the lead role of Paul Pennyfeather. Yet I was surprised by how lifeless he seemed to make the character. Of course, that is partially due to the nature of the story – the pitfalls that occur are caused by others’ actions on to him rather than his own agency. Even so, book Paul always seemed more robust than TV Paul. This could be partially due to a reader having more access to an inner monologue and the narration, where the satire is probably sharper. It could also be a faulty memory of mine.

Nevertheless, quietly politely rarely carries a story well, so it falls onto the supporting cast to give the story its life. They do this admirably, in particular Vincent Franklin as agnostic minister Prendergast and Douglas Hodge as Grimes, a man who is nearly always ‘in the soup’.

There are hints at the satire that Waugh was aiming for in his novel. The Bollinger Club and the government officials who manipulate their way to the top and stay there, largely by passing blame on to those underneath. The ‘trendy’ approach to maintaining discipline in prison. An education system that focuses on please parents over teaching children. All as true now as then. I can’t help feeling it couldn’t have been more savage though. This was satire with gloves on. What it needed was for a brick to be hidden in it.

I tend to find that the talked-about TV that has people salivating tends to clash with one of my more mundane pleasures. It’s not that I’m opposed to challenging TV, I just tend to want it to be a source to wind me down rather than rev me up. This is why I miss the big BBC dramas in favour of an animated comedy or panel show on some remote cable channel.

Line of Duty was one such show. Until now. Series 4 started recently, and with nothing clashing with it, I decided to give it a try. And how glad I am I did. Two episodes in and I’m already obsessed with it, to the point where I long to find the first three series and catch up so I can appreciate every twist and turn.

Not that I really need to. The new series is, in many respects, a blank slate, with many long-running threads from previous story arcs now tied up. This makes it ideal for people like me to start following anti-corruption task force AC-12. A promotion to BBC1 shows the faith being placed in writer Jed Mercurio to deliver the goods – no more is this show a cult concern.

One of the things I love is that it indulges my love of detail. A good crime drama for me always has a healthy dose of ‘procedure’ – I always want to see the bureaucracy that detectives face. Whether it be the careful recording of evidence, the team huddles where the SIO lays out the day’s agenda or the interviews that are conducted like a game of cat and mouse, I adore it. Things like this are far better than throwing in a car chase or ludicrous plot twist.

Not that this show shies away from twists. There are plenty, and all excellently executed. It’s just that they are part of a bigger picture. Clearly the audience appreciates it, otherwise we wouldn’t be coming back for more each week.

As for the cast: sublime. Thandie Newton as our villain is par excellence, playing DCI Ros Huntley, allowing pressure from above to lead to her arresting the wrong man and digging herself into an ever greater mire the more she covers her tracks. Her paranoia over her head and hand wounds give her a Lady Macbeth quality, even when she is perpetrator of the crime rather than just the encourager.

Martin Compston, Adrian Dunbar and Vicky McClure are all equally fantastic as the investigators trying to chip away at Huntley’s defences. Compson, in particular, exudes a quiet determination to get to the truth, even if he lets personal feelings cloud his judgement.

Normally, I would find a weakness or flaw, something undeveloped or not quite sitting right. But I can’t. This is as close to perfect as TV can get. Thank whatever is out there that I found it before I was too late.