Archives for category: politics

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.

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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.

The politics of gender is big news at the moment, not least in the ‘Believe Her’/#metoo movements. Yet its biggest impact is being felt arguably in the entertainment industry, where cases of everything from uncalled for sexual comments on set to historical abuse allegations are leading to a rebalance of power. It’s not an unneeded one, Lord knows we need more women in power behind the camera as well as in front of it, but it is a marker of how morally poor we are that it has taken something of this scale to produce it.

One of the most notable shake ups occurred on House of Cards, where the departure of Kevin Spacey created a need to rewrite a whole season of plots and a complete re-centering of the story. Gone was Frank and Claire Underwood’s fight for the White House. Instead, Claire is standing alone against a combination of friends and enemies of Frank’s.

It is a shame that the original storyline has been lost due to the actions of Spacey. He is now a deservedly marked man, someone whose behaviour can derail your entire production. The show always was at its best when put its two leads against each other and weakest when it had them randomly accruing a new sexual partner that they sometimes shared.

Having said that, the new story is a good metaphor for how many women must feel when their men exit their lives. Hated by his friends for letting him go or driving him into his grave, despised by his enemies for having him in their life in the first place. Unless you have enough allies yourself, it can feel lonely at the top.

I have always been more fascinated by Robin Wright’s portrayal of Claire than Spacey’s Frank. Morality being tempered by circumstance is always more intriguing than out-and-out amorality. Claire is more quietly passionate, but not less so for it. Dare I say it, but she is actually more creating a legacy for everyone than for herself.

The change in cast has brought enemies old and new as well. The Shepherd’s represent everyone’s worst fears about Western politics, that no political decision is ever made without the permission of big business. Journalists are still hounding Claire over actions from the beginning of the show. Political foes are lining up. There is a sense of something building.

There is still that feeling that everything moves at a glacial pace but sometimes this pays off. I’m hoping that everything is lining up to a monumental

Politics seems to be everywhere at the moment, impacting every genre of TV show going. You don’t have to be watching something that is specifically a political drama or thriller to see it, albeit with varying degrees of subtlety. From the boom in satire to the political sub-plots of otherwise fairly standard dramas, it is hard to miss.

Those dramas concerning the public services are particularly easy to insert political messages into. They are, after all, on the frontline when it comes to governmental decisions being taken. The impact of austerity in on the public’s health or ability to be educated is shown, as is the impact of cuts on the services themselves.

Even No Offence, a cop drama that prides itself on being different, is not immune. This third series focuses on the rise of a new far-right group that is targeting a mayoral election, deliberately whipping up anti-Muslim sentiment. It’s not a new plot, but has a decent spin on it. The mixture of dark humour and frantic pace that have categorised previous series are still here, which keeps the whole thing feeling fresh. Even if we also have the tried and tested device of an undercover cop hidden in the organisation.

It also goes a little deeper, exploring of these predominately working class organisations are funded by well-off benefactors with their own motives. In this case, a private security firm run by a middle-class racist (yes, they do exist) trying to expose the lack of funding for the police so they can claim a contract patrolling the streets.

What is most shocking is that none of this feels unrealistic. The current state of things politically suggests we are only a step away from such a situation where the highest bidder, regardless of moral compass, patrols our streets, dishes out healthcare and controls education.

This show is still one of my favourites. As I have already mentioned, the humour and pace mean you can’t breathe until the end, but when you do, what’s happened hits you at full force. Joanna Scanlan and Paul Ritter remain utterly brilliant, even if the latter gets far too few lines. In fact, the whole ensemble works in way that must make other shows jealous.

It is hard to be original, but this show, even when using old plots, seems to manage it. I hope we get a few more series at least. It would feel so dull without it.

If I was to make a list of my favourite people, I would have to place Ian Hislop near the top. I think Private Eye should be read by everyone, especially around election time, to help them make educated decisions as to how genuine the parties and individual MP’s are being. Beneath his satire on Have I Got News For You, he also offers some searing insights.

Hislop is also a great documentary maker. In the past he has covered the Welfare state, railways and philanthropy. His most recent one is Who Do We Let In? Britain’s First Immigration Row. It positions our current obsession with immigration within the context of Britain’s move from open doors in the mid-Victorian era to the first pieces of peacetime immigration legislation in the early 20th century.

Along the way there were some interesting stories. How Britain was so open doored, it even harboured terrorists to prove its liberalism (the fact said terrorist was French perhaps helped). How Winston Churchill was so incensed by the anti-immigration rhetoric of his colleagues in the 1900’s, we switched from the Conservatives to the Liberals. How Britain became the proud home so thousands of Belgians fleeing the German army during the First World War.

The most interesting moment though was Hislop’s interview with Katie Hopkins about the media’s role in fuelling immigration fear. Hopkins seemed to take pride in her role, claiming that two things sell papers – Maddie McCann and immigration. She also pushed back strongly on the idea that she was pedalling hate, claiming to be merely defending a country she loved, which is strange, considering most of her journalism involves talking the country down in a way that if it was done by a Leftie, would be seen as unpatriotic. Most chillingly though, she laid the blame for her and other right-wing commentators at the feet of Hislop, positing him and the ‘liberal elite’ as Frankenstein, she as their monster.

One of the things that came out repeatedly in the documentary was that history is often a cycle. In this case, a surge of immigration creates fears of crime, cultural clashes and threats to employment. Then those immigrants assimilate, aping their hosts’ habits, before the next generation sees a new set of immigrants, and the fears rise up again.

Hislop did leave us with a lesson, albeit a slightly theoretical one. Although open door immigration wouldn’t work (although other than going against popular opinion he doesn’t say why), open mind would. In other words, be cautious but compassionate. Welcome those who can and will contribute regardless of their background and reach out to those who are without support. Keep out those who are obviously dangerous and try to ensure individual communities don’t get overwhelmed. Most importantly, stick to the facts and don’t get wrapped up in rhetoric. Britain’s history will always make it an asylum of nations. That doesn’t mean it isn’t one that doesn’t function.

Confession time – there has been little new for me to watch this week. No new series have taken my fancy and my week has fell into a humdrum pattern of viewing. The good news is that this week coming there are a couple of new things on the horizon. For now though, you will have to suffer me talking about something I’ve discussed before.

The Last Leg has built a loyal following over the last five years. It has moved beyond its original remit of just being a Paralympics companion show to becoming an incisive current affairs programme, gleefully mixing pop culture references with satire to cut through the news of the week.

By and large, it does an excellent job. Neither forced to be neutral like the BBC or owned by someone with an agenda like our newspapers, it can break down stories to make them understandable whilst offering social commentary. It is positive and uplifting and is capable of discussing both sides of the argument whilst still able to draw a line when one side is talking nonsense. They even have a special ‘bullshit’ button to know when that line is being crossed.

Of course, time restraints mean that they can never go into too much detail, but shows like this are only ever intended to be a jumping off point, especially ones like this that aim to give some light relief. Of course, it is seen by many as a home to ‘libtards’, although this seems harsh when you consider they have been as quick to criticise the shortcomings of Clinton and Corbyn as they have to May and Trump, it’s just the latter two have now got power and need to be more accountable for what they say and do.

My biggest critique is that actually, for all its talk of equality and diversity, it sometimes fails its own standards. The last three female guests on the show, Victoria Coren Mitchell, Sandi Toksvig and Sharon Horgan, have all been paired with male guests, with only Horgan’s understandable, as it was her writing partner Rob Delaney. Both Coren Mitchell and Toksvig could hold their own. There didn’t seem to be a need to book a female guess to counter balance Kevin Bridges, and, as Harry Hill pointed out when he appeared, it was ironic that the show broadcast on International Women’s Day had five men and no women.

Similar arguments could be made regarding race and LGBT figures (Stormzy the sole BME guest and Toksvig ticking the LGBT box for the series). Nobody wants this reduced to a box-ticking exercise but something as simple as allowing female guests to fly solo would be a start.

Am I being pedantic? Maybe. But it would be a shame for a show that covers equality and diversity so well in other areas to fall on something as basic as this. Otherwise it might be their hiring policy that is termed ‘bullshit’.

Finding a pause in my Netflix viewing schedule (seriously, Netflix, when are you putting season 7 of The Good Wife up?), I decided to tackle one of those shows everyone has been telling me to watch. Yes, after four years of ‘how are you not watching this?’, I have finally capitulated and started House of Cards.

In many ways, this should be a great fit for me. There isn’t a huge gap in terms of legal and political dramas, I love a bit of plotting and scandal and I’m not averse to a streak of dark humour. When you consider how loved it is by so many, it is hard to imagine how I could not fall in love with yet.

And yet, two episodes in, I find myself feeling underwhelmed. Part of the problem is that I actually don’t have a huge love for breaking the fourth wall. If the golden rule of writing is ‘show, don’t tell’, having the character speak directly to the audience breaks that. In some ways it helps fill in the background, but even so, it seems actually to be a distraction.

My other beef with it is that, when all said and done, I find it slightly dull. I confess to here being part of the problem. Often when I watch things on Netflix, I am doing something else at the same time. Therefore, subtleties are often lost, so any slight-of-hand by characters doesn’t register as well. The Good Wife and Orange Is the New Black don’t suffer from this as much, so I feel less lost.

Nevertheless, I intend to carry on for a while yet before I give this up as a lost cause. It seems very much the kind of show that needs to unfurl and slowly envelop you in its energy. Stakes will slowly be raised, relationships will complicate and there will be a reward for those who devote time to it.

On a side note, I do wonder if part of my discomfort is that I have started watching this during one of the most divisive American elections in decades. Even though I am separated from events by the Atlantic, the palpable anger is still being felt. I’m not going to say what side I’m taking so as not to make my blog a home for both sides to sling mud. Perhaps in a more stable time, House of Cards would just be an entertaining distraction. In the current climate though, it feels all too horribly real.