Archives for category: tv

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

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If you watch something over and over again, no matter how much you enjoy it, you inevitably start asking questions. In the case of drama or comedy, it could be plot holes or plausibility. Why has a character done x? How could event y have happened? What about thing z? This is perhaps why the best shows only last a few series, because the writers know that in order to reduce these questions they are working in a tighter framework.

Reality TV has a similar problem. Big Brother lost its spark as it drifted ever further away from being about normal people. Likewise, The Apprentice has perhaps lot its way a little as it has become ever clearer that there are people on it who use it as a passport to fame instead of furthering their business.

Because there is always one. They tend to leave about week seven or eight, when it is no longer plausible for Lord Sugar to keep them in, as they have shown they are incapable of running a business. Last year it was semi-professional ‘lad’ Andrew, who used his 15 minutes of fame to go on Celebrity Big Brother and date a C-lister. My money this year is on Kurran, a wannabe actor who can’t act but is a fan of grandiose statements about his genius.

Another problem with The Apprentice is some of the tasks feel deliberately designed to put candidates under ridiculous pressure which I’m not convinced reflects how business is done. For example, would somebody working in the advertising industry be expected to turn around a logo, advert and devise a presentation for an airline in 48 hours? Highly doubt it and you certainly wouldn’t be expecting with no knowledge of said industries to complete that workload.

Of course, there is the argument that this is all about seeing how people react to pressure. But seeing as many of the candidates are running their own businesses, you could argue they know all about pressure already. Lord Sugar could just as easily film them doing their normal jobs for 10 weeks rather than having them jump from gardening one minute to selling on TV shopping channels the next.

But then that wouldn’t be good TV would it? We want to see people flail and fail, having tetchy arguments about the price of plant pots along the way. And many of the eventual winners are actually successful post-show with their businesses. The right person does seem to win even if it takes a while to get there.

How much longer can the show last? Who knows. Once they have run out of ideas for tasks maybe, or Lord Sugar descends into senility perhaps. For now, we just need to sit back and take it all with a pinch of salt.

I have mentioned in the past about shows so light that they defy analysis. The only thing asked of them is to be a diversion from the reality of life, a brief interlude for us all to enjoy. Social-cultural study will lead to naught.

But, as with a dish with only a few ingredients or a dance stripped back to its core, everything must be perfect or the cracks are exposed for all to see. In some respects, creating something light and fluffy is a far bigger risk than making an epic production. Taskmaster pulls it off beautifully. Others struggle.

I’ll Get This is the lightest and fluffiest show out there. In some respects, it borrows from Taskmasters concept of have celebrities do weird things whilst throwing in an element of Come Dine With Me by setting it all round a dinner party/restaurant. The concept is that five celebrities arrive for dinner at a restaurant. They put their credit cards in the centre of the dinner table and compete in a series of challenges. Win one, you retrieve your card. The last one with their card still not retrieved pays the entire bill.

Of course, with shows like this it all comes down to the celebrities in question. On the one hand, you need them to gamely play along, whilst on the other you want to avoid any unnecessary luvvie-ness. A good example of those who got it right include Julian Clary and Janet Street-Porter, who participated but had that slight bite to them to suggest they weren’t actually that bothered, and certainly weren’t interested about making friends with their fellow diners.

It is the forced chumminess between the celebrities that is the most grating. Whilst some may know each other already, most don’t, yet spend the show acting as if they are best friends. It all seems a bit weird to me, but then again I am an introvert watching a show that is clearly an extravert’s idea of fun.

In truth, it is one of those shows that if anything else even remotely interesting was on I wouldn’t give a second thought to watching. Yet there isn’t. So the question is, does it amply fill the gap? Is it the fun diversion it needs to be?

Nearly. It has flashes where it is genuinely entertaining (the vodka/water round is particularly fun) but is nowhere near consistent enough to match some of the best in the genre. It is all slightly stilted and only comes alive when someone hangs up their inhibitions and plays it straight. The ingredients are there, but the cooking just isn’t quite right.

With all the re-launches, you would be forgiven for thinking TV is without any original ideas. Of course, you may be right; there is certainly a dearth of truly new programming at times. Besides, making a reboot is, as the film industry has shown, so much simpler than creating anything new.

But then we have a question of when is a reboot a reboot an when is it something arguably more – a rethinking or reimagining perhaps. To reach this level you need more than a new cast, you need an entire genre and tone change, and therefore take a much bigger gamble.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina certainly is more than a reboot. Sabrina the Teenage Witch was a kids’ comedy with talking cats, daft plots and very little substance. Of course, I loved it. Even now, the snarky Salem the Cat is one of my televisual spirit animals.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is definitely not a comedy, instead returning to the supernatural horror roots of the original comic. Personally, I miss the humour. In fact, the abiding air of the show is one of taking itself far too seriously. It isn’t exactly miserable as such, but it is lacking a wit that surely wouldn’t be that out of place. Some people have compared it to Buffy, but that also had a lighter tone amongst the angst, knowing when to be deep and when to be frivolous. Sabrina hasn’t learnt that yet.

It is also politically confusing as well. One the one hand, many of the plots touch on #metoo with the message of the importance female support groups, along with an open approach to sexuality and the generic ‘don’t be bad to those who are different’ moral. It is one of those shows that has worked so hard to strengthen its female characters, the men are underwritten into either being Neanderthals or pushovers.

At the same time, it is oddly conservative in how black and white it draws its moral lines. X group of people are bad, Y group of people good, and no one seems to really float in the middle. Again, this ability play with what is good or evil is where Buffy trounces Sabrina.

Some things, or rather some characters, save the show, although for me one of them isn’t Sabrina herself. I found her very irritating for the first couple of episodes, although I am coming round to her now. Instead, it is Aunt Hilda, Cousin Ambrose and Madame Satan who seem to be the most watchable. Of course, the latter isn’t a surprise, Michelle Gomez must be top of everyone director’s casting list when you are wanting a villainess with a fine line in menacing bon mots.

So overall, I would argue Sabrina could be so much better. The horror isn’t that horrifying, you never really feel the stakes raise and it is far too serious. For saying it is so much darker than its comedy predecessor, I’m not convinced it has any more substance. Whatever spell some say it has cast, it hasn’t worked on me.

I finally had a breakthrough this week and managed to get round to watching This Country, a show that has been top of my must-watch list for over a year now. I had heard constant hype about it and clips on social media had whetted my appetite. So did it live up to my expectations?

Well, not quite. But first, let me go over the premise for the uninitiated. Cousins Kerry and Kurtan Mucklowe live in a small English village. Their surroundings are picturesque but dull. Most of their time is spent wandering the streets and upsetting the neighbours or sitting around Kerry’s house talking nonsense. Importantly, both are deluded as to their own importance, believing themselves to be the coolest people around.

A lot of the humour comes from the gap between their outward bravado and the reality, and the lies they tell themselves to bridge it. The mockumentary style works well, as it is allows that distance between what is said and what is done to be played out to the fullest. As a result, it is funny, but often in a more low-key way than expected.

The funniest scenes are when some trivial argument gets out of hand, for instance, the fight over who gets the top shelf of the oven. Also, kudos goes to Kerry’s mum, never seen but always heard. She is a Mrs. Wolowitz from Big Bang style presence, able to draw a bigger laugh from bellowing something from another room than most of the cast can from being physically present.

It does fall prey to some of the traps of low-key comedy though. When you watch it, you can only do that. No trying to surf through social media on your phone or internet shop at the same time. The humour is from a twist in language or a sudden and brief change of expression. And because this is a comedy about having nothing to do, little happens, so the temptation to distract yourself is high. It rewards the attentive viewer and the modern world means these are often in short supply.

But I still enjoy it. It is endlessly quotable – you will have yourself muttering Kerry’s ‘I have enemies in Upper Cerney’ speech as soon as you hear it. Those that put the time in will be rewarded with well-drawn characters that become instantly recognisable. So if you have some distraction-free time, invest in it. Just don’t try and watch it with only half an eye.

The Good Place has never been a conventional sitcom. Not in a downbeat, angry white male kind of way though, which by the way there are far too many of. If anything, it is relentlessly upbeat whilst tackling the big questions.

Its unconventionality lies more in its ever-shifting premise. Season one was about Eleanor avoiding being discovered as not belonging in The Good Place. Season two became about the entire cast avoiding The Bad Place, which actually involved being sent to said place. Season three sees them back on Earth living mortal lives, initially unaware of their previous experience in the afterlife.

Of course, for a show that sees humour and philosophy intertwine, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Philosophers change what it means to be good, and even whether it is important to be so, on a regular basis. If the first season was about the difficulties of actually being good (Chidi was punished despite being a nice person), the focus is now on ‘why should we be good?’ With the gang guaranteed eternal damnation, and they know it, the good they do is coming from a more selfless place. This is the point where you can start debating on how possible is it to perform a purely selfless action. If you want that debate, please have it.

Now the characters have built up a backstory, I am actually finding the show funnier. Not just a glib ‘oh that’s quite good’, but genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. There is a strong satirical bent to the humour, which is where the show is strongest, not least in its openness to critique the trappings of the modern world.

The difference between a sitcom that works and one that doesn’t isn’t just about the jokes though. It is about investing in the characters. Thankfully, he whole cast has grown on me, even Jason, whose stupidity has progressed from irritating to charmingly naïve. Janet still remains my favourite. D’Arcy Carden tells a whole joke with just her facial expressions, and for saying she is playing the least human character, is also the one that brings heart to the cast.

The risk with changing premise and creating almost drama-like cliffhangers is the risk one won’t pull off. A change too far or a ‘jumping the shark’ that leaves the viewers at breaking point. So far the show has avoided that, but there will be a point where there is a reset to many.

Until then though, it is one of the warmest shows around but still has a message. In a bleak and cruel world, that alone should earn everyone involved some Good Points.

How does a show survive not one, but three, major cast members leaving? You could always put more emphasis on the originals left behind, but then that restricts you in terms of plot potentially. Or you could promote some secondary characters to the centre, but that relies on them being strong enough to carry the added weight. Or just bring in some fresh faces, and hope the viewers can attach themselves to the newbies as quickly as possible.

Suits seems to have tried a combination all three, with extra emphasis on the last two. Harvey, Louis and Donna are now a trinity at the fulcrum of everything, Katrina and Alex are promoted to main cast and we have new girl Samantha. The question is, has it all worked?

It helps that Meghan Markle’s departure, although big celebrity news, actually took away the least interesting central cast member. Sorry, but it’s true. The loss of Mike was bigger but arguably only in terms of his relationship with Harvey. Scenes with him minus his mentor were never the best. As for Jessica, well, she was all too easily pushed to the side anyway. A waste of a brilliant character. I hope I get to see her spin off series soon.

So the strongest members of the cast remain. I actually like the growing genuine friendship between Harvey and Louis and Donna is finally as close to the top of the tree as she deserves to be. The plots aren’t radically different – bad business person tries to hurt good business person – but this has increasingly become a legal drama less about the law and more about the relationships of the people that work within it.

Katrina’s character is rounding out nicely, although I feel the setting up of an affair between her and Brian is a slightly lazy plot. It would be nice to see a storyline where a man and woman can genuinely be friends with each other. The shine came off Harvey and Donna when we discovered they had done the dirty with each other in past and it would be a shame for history to repeat itself here.

Alex is less interesting. Another wannabe Alpha male who is constantly having to settle for second fiddle. He constantly mentions a family that, bar a daughter, is constantly locked away and isn’t particularly revelatory at solving legal problems. His rivalry with Samantha is the only thing keeping him viable.

Speaking of whom, it’s a big risk making a new character so easily dislikeable. Samantha is repeatedly underhand, unfeeling and intrusive. Attempts to soften or explain this have not alleviated this first impression. And yet, I like her. For all of her traits, she is not bitchy or actually outright cruel. She is just tough and wanting to get the job done.

Overall, Suits still works for me. It has survived something that may have killed other shows by playing to its strengths and getting it nearly perfectly right with new characters. How long this new era lasts is anyone’s guess, but for now it is still doing the job.