Archives for category: tv

Last year that was a bit of a fuss when it was announced the new Doctor was to be a woman. The divide was nearly as strong as that over Brexit. On the one side, people who felt it was about time and that this a glorious next step for women on TV. On the other, there were those who were deeply unhappy, that this was going against the canon and was another example of the liberal elite enforcing diversity.

Many of the arguments against a female doctor I didn’t get. I never saw the character as explicitly male and, despite progress, women are still a minority in lead roles, particularly in science fiction. The one I did have limited sympathy with was that The Doctor was perhaps the only example of a non-violent male hero, teaching boys not to use their fists to win battles but their minds. But even then, I can’t help feel that some good parenting would ensure young men wouldn’t disregard someone as a role model just for their gender.

So when it came to Doctor Who actually returning, there was a lot of pressure. The slightest fault would see the worst beliefs of those opposed vindicated. Thankfully, the first two episodes dispelled that, for me at least. The first episode was a brilliant adventure to relaunch the franchise. A simple race against time to stop a big bad doing something evil with spikes of jeopardy, good use of humour and a surprisingly touching end.

The second episode was also good and was a good quest story with peril and just enough darkness to ensure a broad spectrum of age ranges would be able to follow and enjoy it. It did trip slightly over into one of the show’s recurrent weaknesses, that of the guest character of the week giving an emotive speech explaining their motivations and thus slowing down the action, but bar this odd dip it worked.

I personally don’t feel the change of the gender in The Doctor has impacted on the show, for good or evil. It has almost become instantly irrelevant, and to be honest this was the best way to go about it. We don’t want preachy, especially on a show that can fall prey to that anyway. Jodie Whittaker fits the role perfectly, dialling back the world weariness that plagued Capaldi and channelling an almost Tennant-like approach, an adventurer who loves people and is prepared to fight battles with sheer optimism alone.

The rest of the supporting cast is strong as well. Mandip Gill is very good. Bradley Walsh slots in surprisingly well. But it is Toisin Cole who is the stand out, playing someone who is emotional, impulsive and feeling lost in the world. The Doctor has a history of giving these people their purpose.

Of course, there is a long series to go. When the novelty wears off, cracks may appear. But for now, it is fair to say the majority are satisfied with this new era. Which is good, as Whittaker has implied it is will be a long one.

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We have all seen those glamorous legal dramas with immaculately tailored suits parading around high-rise buildings. Some put a less wealthy spin on it, but even then there is an air of a crusader, a good person in a bad world of injustice. Yes they are often renegade but for all the pretence of being unkempt they are actually as immaculate as their wealthy counterparts.

But is it really like that? Last Chance Lawyer: New York City lifts the lid of how lawyers do their work. Howard Greenberg is, to put it mildly, an eccentric. He is untidy, uncouth and uncontrollable. His phone manner is gloriously bad, openly referring to himself as ‘that piece of shit’ in his greeting. In fact, his communication is a whole tick-box of no-no’s. Shouting and swearing are how he gets things done.

That extends beyond his work. While junior attorney Michael is a prime target for Howard’s wrath, his wife Therese (The Boopa) also cops some flak, arguing about the domestic things in life, including the one that stalks every marriage, who stacks the dishwasher. Both of them survive onslaughts by a mixture of firing back and knowing that Howard’s no bullshit approach is a sign of caring. If he’s nice to you, chances are you are being fired or receiving divorce papers.

Therese is an accidental star of the show. A former court journalist, she is as knowledgeable on the law as her husband and reviews his cases with a sharp eye. I could watch a lot more of her.

The cases themselves are intriguing. A cop accused of misusing her weapon on a love rival. A barber facing a charge of attempted murder. Unlike in a legal drama, there is no last-minute piece of evidence that turns the cases on their head. Instead we have on person jailed, perhaps unfairly but bound by an early mistake in their defence. The other is resolved through a plea deal, and not a dramatic one at that.

There is a touching scene when sentencing is delivered in one case. Accepting he has lost for his client, Howard self-sacrifices and makes a brief but emotive speech about letting her down. Of course he hasn’t, we have spent the episode watching him try everything to get a result. But he has a plan. By making himself look like a failure, he opens the door for an appeals lawyer to change the result on a technicality.

So underneath the swearing, rudeness and flaring temper, Howard Greenberg is still a crusader. You want him on your side. Just don’t ask him stack the dishwasher.

It is unusual for me to write about a show after it has finished. I see myself as making a case for why you should invest time or not into it, which is pointless if it is no longer on air. Of course, there is catch up, but my brain still doesn’t quite treat that as an equal to watching it on actual TV.

However, the ending of the most recent series of Upstart Crow is a special case. But before I go into it, I want to first briefly discuss how Ben Elton ended another one of his comedies, Blackadder Goes Forth, as there is more than a passing similarity.

In Blackadder Goes Forth, the final episode ends with the men in the trenches of the First World War, waiting for the signal to go over the top and meet their almost certain death. The signal is given and, in one the most emotional scenes a comedy could produce, meet their doom.

There has not been another full series since. One-off specials yes, but nothing more. It would be wrong. Such a note-perfect ending would be disrupted by a new series, no matter how distant the setting or how big the time gap. It’s a brave move to say enough is enough when people still want more, but it is often the right one.

Upstart Crow has finished on a similar note. The final episode closes on the revelation that Shakespeare’s son has died from the plague. There is no attempt to make it funny. Instead, we see genuine grief on David Mitchell’s face as he realises what he has lost and how his pomposity has cost his son his chance to be confirmed. The nature of faith is questioned – is the fact God spared his other two children a token of his generosity or the fact he has taken one a mark of cruelty? Does he even exist at all, if he allows such things to happen to a family?

No news has been confirmed as if there is to be a new series, but I hope not. As with Blackadder, to suddenly switch back to comedy would be jarring. For a start, could we really buy in to Mitchell still playing Shakespeare as slightly foolish and very pompous when such attributes have cost him his last moments with his son? Would he even care about his rivalries with other theatres or the inadequacies of Elizabethan coach travel in light of this tragedy?

I think not. While there is arguably more stories to tell, the show would need to find a new tone to tell them. A layer of darkness would always be there, and it would not suit what is basically a slightly silly family comedy. Ben Elton has made this brave decision before. He should make it again.

Sometimes something so brilliant comes along it totally absorbs you. When you want to describe it to someone afterwards, you can’t, because all you can remember is how much you loved it. Which is a shame, because it is something you want everybody to watch.

Killing Eve is precisely that. For the unaware, and my god you need to stop being so now, it follows a bored MI5 operative, the titular Eve, who gets embroiled in a cat-and-mouse chase with psychopathic assassin Villanelle. Villanelle is for hire by god knows who, skipping around Europe with a girlish giggle and incredible inventiveness. Hat pins, operating theatres, poisonous perfumes – all are fair game.

Now I am aware this sounds all very depressing and bloody. Certainly the latter is true. But there is a streak of humour in it that brings almost as much zing to the show as the murder scenes. Ok, it isn’t for the faint hearted, either in violence or language. But if you can withstand these things, you are in for a treat.

Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer are note perfect as our spy and assassin. Oh plays Eve as a woman embracing an opportunity for excitement in her job and in the process putting the safety of the domestic at risk. Comer somehow has made a psychopath thrillingly fun in her sadism. As you don’t know who funds her, it may be that she is rather conveniently taking out some very bad people. Not that it matters to her.

It would be remiss not to mention David Haig as Eve’s former boss and later assistant Bill. He gets some of the most delicious lines in the show and is very nearly a scene stealer. Spoiler alert – he dies in episode three. Which I am furious about. If there is a moment as an audience member you turn against Villanelle, this is it.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge has done an excellent job of bringing this to the screen. The visuals are striking and you fall into this world easier than you could have thought possible. And the soundtrack is not phoned in either – the selection of Euro-bangers is on point.

There is only one fair result here and that is for the show to be showered with every award going, both in terms of acting and behind the scenes.

One final note – for British viewers there is the option to indulge in the whole series at once. I have chosen the traditional route of watching it weekly one episode at a time. Why? Because it is so good I don’t want it to go. I want to have enjoyed every last bite, not just stuffed it all in. It is the respectful way to reward such brilliant television.

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.

Some shows are comfort blankets. They offer safety and security. The outside world in all its cruel technicolour does not exist. Maybe the world would be less cruel, or more of us would be fighting against it, if these shows didn’t exist, but that’s a rather deep thought.

King of comfort blanket TV is The Great British Bake Off. Twelve lovely people make delicious things whilst two experts offer well-meaning constructive criticism. If things go wrong, they are told how to get it right next time. If it goes well, the praise is effusive yet sincere. Most importantly, the formula never deviates. Bar one exception, there is no shock double elimination, no deliberate ratcheting up of the tension, no purposeful sabotage.

It is not without its controversies. This year saw the series start with biscuits instead of cakes. It shows how genteel GBBO is that even such a minor thing became a talking point. It appears that the logic was that the showstopper, a biscuit selfie, gave you an insight into each contestant, helping you bond with them.

Not that you need much help. Within a few minutes you have favourites. Briony has a lovely self-deprecating wit about her even if she does cry over cake. Karen happily eats crisps when she finishes early, and is therefore my spirit animal. Everyone’s favourite has to be Rahul though – so modest and quietly eccentric, surprised by his own abilities. Whenever he gets sad, which is often, you want to hug him. He is one of life’s Eeyores.

Naturally, there are some you are less keen on. I’ve gone back and forth on Ruby, although her post-naan bread challenge comment of “at least I wasn’t the worst Indian in the room” has put her in the good camp for now. Likewise Kim-Joy, who is sweet and lovely yet also irritating. I hate myself for disliking her because she is innocent of the crime but sadly that is what has happened.

Least popular is Dan. He has an unfortunate condition called ‘resting smug face’. When he is not pulling that, he is contorting it into odd expressions. He also commits the golden sin of the tent, which is being chippy about another contestant. Poor Ruby faces the brunt of it, especially in cake week: ‘good luck cooling that in time’ came the sharp-tongued response when she presented a rather larger than expected tray bake.

But even that villainy is mild compared to some shows, and is an accidental quirk of character rather than an outright maliciousness. GBBO doesn’t do nasty people. It is not a gladiatorial arena. Real life is too much like that already. We don’t need it with cake.

I have spoken before about my love of Orange is the New Black. It showcases diversity across gender, racial and sexuality spectrums, yet you only realise this when you step away from it and think about it. It’s clever without being smug. It tells you moral tales without being preachy. It’s funny without being demeaning. So many boxes are ticked.

Individual seasons were up and down. The first one was peerless, the second darker but still strong. The third seemed lighter in tone, which I was fine with. Season four for me was a low point. Too dark and too angry, the subtleties of the cruelty that had been seen so many times laid too bare, although to its credit the closing episode was a beautifully done sucker punch.

Many didn’t like the fifth season but I did. I felt our investment in individual characters paid off in the riot, as different paths emerged, at least in the first half. Admittedly the second half was a bit of a sprawling mess, that seemed more to be building to the next season then giving satisfaction in that one.

However, the gamble seems to have paid off. The sixth season once again has seen the balance between dark humour and punchy drama restored. Only the best characters are back – Red, Taystee, Black Cindy etc. All of whom are now facing the consequences of their actions, with Taystee suddenly an icon of Black Lives Matter and Piper suddenly finding a sense of purpose.

The new characters are a mixed bag, but that is always the case. Baddison is certainly a more irritating presence than she is threatening, although Daddy proves to be a more interesting proposition. The main interest though is on rival cell kingpins Carol and Barbara. At the moment they are just on the sidelines, watching their respective troops line up. But you can feel a storm brewing and it will be rewarding for the viewer when it finally happens.

A particularly fun plotline is the fantasy inmate game the guards are playing, a form of fantasy football where inmates on your team pick up points for certain infractions. In fact, the new guards in general seem better to watch than previously, not merely at the extremes of cruel or too soft hearted.

There are still some plotlines we could have lost or developed differently. Gloria’s menopuase story and Blanca’s attempts to get pregnant are lost amongst the punchier stories. Pennsatucky being on the run was resolved too quickly and easily. And, bar her new sense of purpose, what function does Piper serve?

The advantage is that for every duff plot, two others work. This is still one of the best things Netflix ever made. It may be infuriatingly consistent, but it is so in the most charming of ways.