Archives for category: drama

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.

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.

Regular readers of this blog will know I love The Good Fight. It’s one of those shows I deem so worthy of my attention that I refuse to watch it on my laptop. It deserves the respect of a proper TV screen, real sound quality and no distractions like Facebook notifications or tweets.

One of my biggest reasons for adoring this show is the characters, flawed yet brilliant individuals. Like many in this current world, they are torn between pragmatism and idealism in an era where the former seems like a dirty word.

But a few flies have appeared in the ointment of the third season. The first is a new recurring character, Roland Blum. Michael Sheen is a brilliant actor, and there is no doubt that the irrational, OTT character is who he is because Sheen is able to translate that so brilliantly. Yet it is a character who grates. He would have served nicely being in one, maybe two episodes. But a whole story arc? Like seasoning in a dish, too much has turned something that should heighten the flavour into something that crushes it.

The second, and for me the biggest, is the animated short films that seek to explain something in the plot to the audience. One of the best things about the show was its refusal to talk down to the audience. If a reference went over your head, so be it. Now, we have what are frankly inane animations. For me, they merely serve as an opportunity to top up your drink if an ad break is too far away.

The final one is a bit of a mixed one. I have always enjoyed the openness of the politics of the show and the way it allows complicated issues to play out with subtlety. This series has felt more heavy-handed. This could be a case of the nuances not coming across to the viewers strongly enough. But, as I say, we are a smart bunch. Let us decide how much we take in. Having said that, some episodes still have that fine thread running through it, and a lot of the bluntness is revolving around Diane’s internal conflict of pragmatism and idealism we mentioned earlier.

It is still a great show. I still find myself enjoying a good 90% of it, which is much higher than many others. But please, drop the shorts, remove Blum and let the audience be challenged again.

Ackley Bridge has always been the kind of programme to mix soapy elements with hard-hitting issues. Your view on how successful it is at doing this will entirely depend on how much you value either genre. Some will want a deeper expose at the critical underfunding of education in this country and the weight of bureaucracy on schools and feel that too much time is spent on love lives. Others will find the interpersonal fascinating but the political too preachy.

I have always veered more towards the former myself, but I have to confess that it handles the link between the individual and the bigger issues facing our society increasingly deftly. It’s a difficult trick to pull off but it generally gets it right.

Take the rise of hate crimes in this country. They have spiralled out of control, even before Brexit. Ackley Bridge is open in its portrayal of a small town that is a tinderbox of racial tensions, with some sections of the community openly embracing the far right, others resolutely sticking to Islamic values at the expense of integrating with western liberalism.

When a popular member of the community dies, it sparks racial repercussions and escalating violence. It all feels very real and is a classic example of two disenfranchised groups turning on each other.

My only critique is the rather trite resolution. If anything, this is when the soapy nature of the show kicks in, not the relationship stuff. There seems to be this pervading sense of teachers as fairy godmothers. This isn’t to slight the fact that teachers are expected increasingly to be more than just teachers – we seem to expect them to be surrogate parents, social workers and therapists to our children – but how many in the real world would genuinely have the time or patience to be community heroes.

Of course, this in itself is making a strong point. This is a town that is lucky in that it has a school that is willing to lead on fixing the problems in the community. In the real world, many aren’t. Not because they don’t want to. No school would want to actively encourage divisions in the town. But many are battling their own problems without fighting what is outside the school gates.

Also, the focus of this series has been the school becoming part of a trust. A head office that sees students as numbers and exam takers rather than individuals. Again, there is the fairy godmother element of the headteacher being a lone voice fighting this, but the point is made. How can we expect to make education a positive thing when it becomes purely about profits and targets?

I could talk further about individual plotlines and characters, but I don’t have the space. Needless to say, what started out feeling like a run of the mill drama has now become something more. It is a critical voice that holds up a mirror to our society and asks if we like it. Surely the answer has to be no.

Sometimes a programme can be compared to another unfairly purely because of one key similarity. It is never the intention of the writers or cast, who are trying to produce something original, but the marketing and media latch on to something. I feel that Beecham House is suffering somewhat from this, in that you feel that ITV really wanted a new Downton Abbey and, bar a few comparable notes, haven’t got it.

The show is set in pre-colonial India, when it is a trading post for the British and French and plans for either to rule it are still in their infancy. John Beecham, former East India Company employee and now independent trader, has set up home here and his assorted friends and family are descending onto his life, both welcome and otherwise.

The biggest comparison to Downton is in its rather sanitised approach to its lead characters. Just as the Earl of Grantham and his family became pseudo social workers to their staff, John Beecham seems to be a one-man racial equality campaign. He is disgusted by his mother’s prejudices and, it emerges, was briefly married to a ‘native’, producing a mixed-race baby. The ‘colonisation’ of India’s women is instead portrayed through his wayward brother, who has a liking for a local brothel. I’m not an historian, so can’t say which picture is closer to the truth, but Beecham is a man with 2019 sensibilities. I fully expect him not to bat an eyelid at the first same-sex relationship he comes across.

It doesn’t help the show’s aim to form its own identity that Lesley Nicol, who played the indomitable Mrs Patmore, plays Beecham’s mother, channelling a late 18th century Hyacinth Bucket. Apologies for my own snobbishness here, but I don’t quite buy her as a social climber when she still sounds like she should be bemoaning having to make an extra pudding due to unexpected guests arriving.

The biggest problem the show is facing is that, unlike Downton, it is unwilling to give in to its more soapy elements. I have yet to see anything that could be seen as humour, or tension for that matter. Nobody seems under any real pressure or showing any sparks, and the plots seems to grind on. To add to this insult, all the female characters seem to be presented as obstacles to Beecham’s noble quest, whilst somehow also being unsubstantial in personality.

Why am I watching it? God only knows. Probably because there is nothing on and money is too tight for me right now to socialise. But dear God, does bankrupting myself seem a pleasure compared to sitting through this. At least Downton Abbey movie is coming soon. In doing so, it will only serve to expose its competitors flaws.