Archives for category: tv

Ackley Bridge has become, by accident rather than design, a small highlight of the week. This is largely down to most of the others shows I love finishing, leaving Tuesday and Friday as the only nights where I have something seriously meaty to watch. I seem to have fallen in love with the show, which is a surprise considering the amount of red flags.

The biggest of these flags is its soapy nature. There is a lot of bed hopping going on at times and no one seems to understand what monogamy means, with the adults worse than the kids. I find such storylines dull, and I have to admit that when Ackley turns the spotlight one a storyline like this, I find myself engaging less.

The other flag is its tendency to wrap things up too easily. The best example of this is Emma’s grief over Sami. She goes after the planting of a tree and a kind word or two from others from a woman possessed stalking the streets for his killer to Queen of YOLO. There could have been a more emotional punch to this story and it was thrown away.

What compensates for all this is that strength in storytelling in other areas. If you don’t like on storyline, there’s another around the corner you will. You invest in many of the characters and want them to succeed. You want Missy to finally triumph academically and to be happy personally. You need Kaneez to rebuild her life because otherwise she is just another hurt woman. You hope Naveen finds they guy he loves (and a lot of us wish it was Cory).

There are also positive lessons to be learned. Kaneez posing as potential suitor for her daughter Nasreen, only for Naz to accidentally send her mum nude shots, is an example of this. What was an already interesting story about the breakdown of a mother-daughter relationship became a tale of sexual maturity and technology’s impact on relationships.

The show is in its own way brave. It openly shows conflict between religion and sexuality. Class and privilege are at the centre of many of the tensions. It even touches on politics of the education system, as well as what the limits of the law are in a multi-cultural society. No one group is painted as angels or devils, because life is too nuanced.

It is easy to paint this show as another do-gooder programme, where everyone is fundamentally nice but have demons to overcome. Such an interpretation misses the point of the show, which is that if you close people out of doors of opportunity, don’t be surprised if they think they’re only choices are to kick them down or walk away. Don’t be confused into thinking this is bubble-gum TV, it is far more important than that.

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We are used to travelogues being about the familiar yet exotic. Japan, Brazil, China, India… we all know about these countries enough to be conscious of them, yet still have that distance to make us curious. For all their other-worldliness, they are open to tourists and trade off it successfully.

The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan takes a different slant by taking us to countries that are not so travel friendly. These are places with, to put it mildly, an image problem and have become trapped by a conception that the Western world has fixed upon it.

The first episode saw comedian Romesh visit Haiti. It epitomises many of the problems third-world countries have. It has suffered a combination of cruel dictatorships, that when they collapsed left a country with no real infrastructure for a democracy to grow, gang warfare and poverty that has arisen from a lack of law and order, and natural disasters. The island’s political history meant that just as other Caribbean islands began to take advantage of tourism, Haiti was shutting the world out. And of course, it is the place that Trump poetically called a ‘shithole’.

Romesh is a good host, adding some dry humour to the potentially bleak atmosphere. My favourite comment was when he was describing his mum giving him a blessing before he flew out- ‘it was only slightly undermined by the fact she was still wearing her Royal Mail uniform’. He also gets mildly hysterical when taking part in a voodoo ceremony, in what proves to be a highlight for the viewer.

But Romesh is not just some glib commentator. He is equally bewildered and appalled by what he sees, especially in some of the more poverty-stricken areas. Another comment of his is damning of our Western hunger for exotic luxury. Listing all the stereotypical delights of the Caribbean he is missing, he realises, ‘This place isn’t built for tourists because it isn’t even built for the people that live here’.

He does find some hope though. The beaches of Jacamel have been relatively unscarred by dictatorships and earthquakes. A bit of eco-conscious development here, and suddenly the economy could go. The island can repair its physical wounds and heal its emotional ones. This island does not have to be the prisoner of geography – look at its neighbour, Dominican Republic. The right politicians and a small dose of luck could see it rise.

The show is undoubtedly sobering. You realise that when cameras stop rolling, the people still need to keep living. There are ‘shitholes’ all over the third world that don’t have the skills to top being so. But a bit of global cooperation could go a long way.

As I have mentioned before, I very rarely give up on something after one episode. The merest hint that it could get better or be worth investing in and I’m there. Often I am proven right. Sometimes though I am tested. The first episode does enough to put me off entirely and I never go back or get close to.

The Alienist very much pushed me to the limit of what I was willing to go back to. It had several off putting elements, including open misogyny and extreme violence. Yes, both were central to the plot, but it was still a very comfortable watch.

What challenged me the most was the gore. I don’t handle gore well and find subtle hints at it serve a much better function and make a more interesting narrative then serving it up on a plate. The desecrated corpse of a child was bad enough, but for me it was the man banging is head against the wall, blood pouring down his face and syphilis marks all over him that was the hardest watch. It was making me, in northern English parlance, ‘gip’.

I didn’t find any of the characters, even the good guys, likeable either. So the omens were not good for me carrying on.

Yet I did, because part of me, despite my disgust, wanted to see the crime solved. And the second episode was significantly better. Firstly, the gore, although still present, was in smaller doses. Also, I began to warm to Dakota Fanning’s secretary character and even warmed a little to Luke Evans, although Daniel Bruhl is still annoying me. The Jewish brothers are also getting more of a role, and like Fanning, are providing a bit of warmth to an otherwise cold story.

The plot of police corruption and male prostitutes is also serving a proper function now rather than just acting to shock. All in all, it has turned a corner. Of course, it can no doubt turn back again, but let’s hope it doesn’t.

Even so, this isn’t for the faint hearted. There is no attempt at humour, even dark humour, bar the odd aside. It is uncompromising in what it does and can border on the unpleasant.

My advice – have something sunny and happy in your back pocket for when you are done. I have season 2 of Nailed It! ready to go as soon as I am done with it, and also watching the last season of The Middle. After The Alienist, you need that dose of loveliness. It probably wasn’t what the writers intended, but it is the result.

Recent events have meant that I had a gap in my Netflix viewing schedule. House of Cards was delayed from its spring release following the scandal surrounding Kevin Spacey, meaning my traditional bridge that lasts me until Orange is the New Black was missing.

After a bit of scrolling around I came across Unforgotten, a crime drama that I had wanted to dip into when it was on ITV but never got the chance. So I took the opportunity to make up for lost time, and I am very glad I did.

The shows revolves around a cold case from forty years ago when the remains of a mixed-race teenager who was reported missing are found. The detectives then focus on four key suspects, a former gangster turned businessman, a reformed far-right activist, a bookkeeper with a history of violent assault and a vicar with a dodgy relationship history. Everyone has motive and the depth of their connections to the victim are slowly unfurled.

What I love is that the story isn’t rushed. There are no adrenaline pumping scenes, manic car chases or the like – it is all about slowly building a case through old-fashioned detection. For example, the interviewing of connections to the suspects, tracing pay phone records, the sort of stuff so many crime dramas do away with to make space for a torture scene.

Also, Unforgotten cleverly dodges another pet peeve of the complicated home life of the copper. Yes, Nicola Walker’s DI character has one, but it is subtle. A close but troubled bond with her father and a mother who hangs like a cloud over them both through her absence. It doesn’t detract from the main story, instead it merely rounds out a character.

It can be a bleak watch – there are suicide references and the constant feeling that no one is truly good can wear you down. The fact that the person most hit hard by the opening of the investigation on a personal level is the one who has most turned their back on their wicked former selves raises the question of even if the right person is convicted of this crime and the mother of the victim given some peace, is it truly justice if people have paid their debt in some other way.

The only real fault is that it does slip into one cliché. Private Eye recently mocked the crime drama trope of everyone who is suspicious staring out into the sunset, and this show practically thrives on it. Once you have spotted it as a marker it almost becomes comical, which is obviously not the intention.

That aside, it is still brilliant. It’s clever too. Fortunately, the second series is being repeated on Sunday nights, so I can dive straight in. What I use to fill my Netflix void though is anybody’s guess.

In my latest spate of catching up on things, I am finally getting round to season two if Timeless. Season one was a hodgepodge affair, with what started out as just a bit of sci-fi and alt-history silliness trying to become darker in ways that didn’t really pay off for the viewer.

Season two is shorter and designed purely to finish the story, which will at least satisfy the audience. But in doing so, it has now raised a big question. And I hate big questions.

The question is what exactly do Rittenhouse represent? It is never made clear how they are the enemy or what their idea of a ‘tidy’ American history is. Why kill car manufacturing giants if that is what made America so prosperous? Why try to hang Ben Franklin’s mum as a witch if she is to bring to life one of the nation’s great heroes?

Indeed, many of their missions are looking similar to so-called terrorist Garcia Flynn’s aims. He too attempted to assassinate car supremoes and overthrow/prevent Kennedy’s presidency. So who is the bad guy then? What could be an interesting dialogue of ideas as to what we class as terrorism and what is ‘correcting’ a power imbalance is suspiciously blank.

There seems to be a fear of defining whether the ideologies of the competing groups is far left or far right lest someone gets offended. Instead, we have this void that, for me at least, detracts from the show. Yes, Rittenhouse are the baddies, but what is their end vision that makes them so evil? Is it racial purity? Religious intolerance? Social inequality far beyond what it is now? Perhaps it’s the other way – an extreme socialist society? Maybe these questions get answered later in the series, but it is still a source of angst for me.

My other issue is that the formula has bored me, as I feared it would. The team go back to an historical event, meet a famous figure who helps them prevent a bad thing from happening, some minor detail in history gets altered, some other revelation that was revealed on the trip sinks in, everyone stares at each other dreamily or suspiciously.

So, after all this, why do I still watch it, you may ask. Because I like the idea of alternative histories. Looking back at flashpoints that make or break a nation is fascinating. I want more of this, more understanding of why this moment matters, and less love triangles. More importantly, it could be asking us questions of who gets to tell history. But it doesn’t. It happily sinks into just being a conspiracy show. Maybe if it had challenged itself more, it wouldn’t have been cancelled.

I usually steer clear of ‘human interest’ documentaries. You know the sort; the people with obscure medical conditions, the ‘benefit porn’, the sensationalist personal lives. Too many of them are about gawping in the style of the freak show for the people partaking to feel any benefit. Even the feel good ones are morally dubious.

Yet I decided to give Bride & Prejudice a go. This was for two reasons: firstly, the trailer looked like, despite its pun title, it was going to be a serious look at some of the issues, and secondly, there was nothing else on.

Basically, the show is about couples getting married that face opposition from their families. This isn’t just the case of mum thinking bride-to-be is a money grabber or dad sensing your fiancée is a wrong ‘un. There are actual discrimination issues at play here.

The first episode featured three couples. Dee and John faced hostility owing to he being more than three decades than she. Simon and Rob were struggling with Rob’s parents not being able to face up to their son’s sexuality. Jaime and Sheeba faced a double battle with Sheeba’s mum, Faye, dealing with the disapproval of him being white as well as transgender.

It is the latter two stories that are currently most gripping, to me anyway. There are layers that add an emotional punch. Rob had been previously married to a woman and his parents had been front and centre at that wedding, but now want to hide at the back now he is marrying a man. Faye, meanwhile, feels betrayed that her daughter’s best friend is now to become her husband, the trust of allowing them to spend time alone as teenagers gone now that she feels there was more of an agenda.

What I find most surprising is how open Rob’s parents are and Faye is about their anti-LGBT views. Rob’s parents openly admit to being embarrassed about their son’s sexuality and refuse to discuss it or even believe it, as they don’t feel he fits the stereotype. Faye consistently refers to Jamie as ‘a transgender’ – not acknowledging him as a man or even a person, but rather categorising him almost as if he is a transformer, something inhuman.

The contrast is that for Rob’s parents it is all about status – they don’t want the gossip of having a gay son and feel it is not the done thing. For Faye, this is about her culture. She sees Sheeba’s choice of husband as flying in the face of respecting your elders’ wishes. There is still an element of fear of a loss of status, but it is on a bigger scale. It still makes her comments unjustified, but there feels like there is more of a context.

More couples are being followed as the season progresses but I feel it is these two that will hit home the most. There feels more at stake here than a disapproval over an age gap. It’s about how truly tolerant we are. This show suggests there is a longer battle to fight than we thought.

There are moments when a show does so well people become desperate to copy its success. Broadchurch was brilliant TV, a tense crime drama about the death of a child that reverberated around a small community and exposed all its cracks. While not completely original, it was at least so well done it didn’t matter.

Netflix is now in on the act with its crime drama Safe, written by Harlan Coben. It centres on the disappearance of a teenage girl from an exclusive gated community and the death of her boyfriend. There are also a million different subplots, including a teacher accused of impropriety and the girl’s father rebuilding his life after his wife’s death, which will all presumably tie in somewhere.

Safe at times feels like a rather odd fish. On the one hand it wants to be gritty – it is, after all, about a missing child – with character’s heroically charging around council estates for drug dealers. Yet its main setting of this high-end community means it can’t help having a Desperate Housewives varnish on it.

This is also seen in some of its more ridiculous twists, not least when the family who are the viewers’ prime suspects border on the tragi-comic in the some of the scenes where they try to cover their tracks. Having said that, I have a high tolerance of, and even a bit of love for, such daftness. If anything, I wish the show was a bit more comfortable with that aspect of the plot.

Safe was also clearly designed for binging – characters briefly appear in an episode and then reappear in a later one with minimal context, suggesting that the viewer should only have seen them a few hours previously as opposed to days. For those of us that don’t binge, this becomes a test of memory.

Neither the odd genre fit nor the need to binge watch are insurmountable. What could be for some viewers is the return of my pet hate – British characters made by an American production team which means everyone must be Cockney or posh. This despite filming being in Cheshire, Manchester and Liverpool. To top it off, Michael C. Hall appears to have to gone to ‘speak with a mouth full of marbles’ school of learning an English accent. Every sentence sounds over-enunciated and drawn out.

But I’m invested now. There are enough decent plot twists to keep me going back as I reach the halfway point. This isn’t going to be the next big watercooler conversation, but it will titillate those who take the time to watch. All will rest on the ending though. Failure to provide the best one it can, and Broadchurch will be able to sleep easy atop the crime drama throne.