Archives for category: tv

An occasional topic I discuss on here is when should a show end. Once Upon A Time is a case in point. Season 6 seemed to end in such a way as to make the story feel complete – the biggest evil was defeated, most people got happy endings and a new, quiet life was dawning for many.

So news of a season 7 took me aback. Surely there were no more curses that one group of people could endure? How many more times must we sit through Emma and Hook being all ‘will they, won’t they?’ and Mr Gold turn briefly good before his Machiavellian streak emerges again? Hence why I avoided it for so long.

But, having given in, I feel more satisfied than expected. For a start, we have almost an entirely new cast, bar a few characters. And it is the best ones. The drippy Snow and Charming are gone, but Queen of Sass Regina/Roni is still around, Rumple has a new guise and Hook is still eye candy for those who are into their men who wear an excess of guyliner. We do have an adult Henry, less irritating but still too vanilla, but this is Disney.

I am loving the plot the as well, which seems to have dialled up the crazy several notches. There seems to be at least four villains this time, with Rumple joined by Lady Tremaine/Victoria, Drizella and Gothel, people coming back to life and a slightly grittier feel to the setting. The whole thing is deranged in the best possible way.

I do have bug bears. Whilst the plot is crazy fun, it is getting manic in such a way that I have no clue who is responsible for what and why. I’m not entirely grasping what the end game is of the villains, but I can live with that for now.

My biggest frustration though is Tilly/Alice. I hate in when American shows cast a British character and only allow them to sound like royalty or Cockney sparrows. Tilly is the latter and seems to be channelling Dick Van Dyke’s chimney sweep from Mary Poppins. As a non-Londoner, I feel slightly insulted that we don’t hear many other British accents. We have to translate Deep South voices over here, I’m sure Americans can handle Scouse or Geordie with a bit of help.

Anyway, this is to be the last season, hence the feeling of reckless abandonment with so much of it. I hope it builds to a satisfying end, even if it is not necessarily a happy one. Who am I kidding, this show lives on schmaltz of the highest order, of course it will be a happy one.


On Mother’s Day, it seems appropriate to review series 2 of Mum. This low-key sitcom follows a year in the life of widowed Cathy and her family and friends over a series of inconsequential celebrations or minor life events. For example, one episode focused on a room needing to be cleared on Good Friday in time for a new carpet to be fitted.

The humour is in the turn of phrase within a sentence, as opposed to big gestures, although the most recent episode did feature the ghastly Pauline collapse in a deckchair. It is typical of the show that the joke didn’t rely on the physical, but on the barbed verbal exchange afterwards. Horrified at the impression that she had broken it, Pauline ensured events were span to construe the chair was already broken.

Every character has their streaks of madness in their character. Cathy’s son Jason and his girlfriend Kelly share a dopiness and shallowness although seem to be fundamentally quite sweet, although both also have a dash of selfishness that comes from youthful self-absorption. Kelly also has an inconvenient habit of picking up random sharp objects and playing with them in absent-minded manner.

Then there is the bitterness of in-laws Reg and Maureen, angry at each other, everyone else and, most of all, old age. They spend social events sitting apart, refusing to engage and offering their blunt opinions to anyone who will listed. Dips in particular come in for a drubbing from them.

It is the aforementioned Pauline though who steals the best lines. A comic monster in the most powerful sense, she has disdain for all around her, despite her dependence on them. A virtual nervous breakdown over the thought of going to a carvery in the first episode was a sight to behold, not least her desperate musings on how you could possibly need three types of potato.

All this borne stoically by Cathy, a patient smile on her face which only drops when alone. She has her own problems, engaging in a delicate dance of flirting-yet-not with her late husband’s best friend Michael. The ‘will they, won’t they’ element between the two of them gives a bit of emotional heft to what otherwise would just be another comedy of manners.

The most recent episode set round a barbecue was as near perfect as it gets. All the classic elements were in place – Jason waxing lyrical on his dad’s technique, Pauline boasting of her connections at the golf club, Cathy and Michael negotiating a visit to the garden centre – but the last few minutes really rose it above. First, Reg had one of those all too common features of grief, as he looked around the room and realising his late son would never be able to join them. Then, in one of the most touching scenes I have seen, Pauline put aside her monstrous nature to help her boyfriend’s daughter fix a dropped stitch. It was a rare tender moment form her, betraying something soft within, a lost maternalism. Single shot looks don’t get better than that.

After a bit of a delay, I have finally got round to catching up on Derry Girls. For the unaware, this is a sitcom set in early 90s Derry at the height of the Troubles. Essentially, a coming-of-age story with a darkly humourous backdrop. Derry is a city that behaves like a small town, in that everyone knows everyone else. Part of my keen interest in the show is that one of my closest friends is from that neck of the woods and she has assured me that, yes, it really is like that.

The focus is on Erin, a fairly typical teenage girl, desperate to improve her status despite already having a loyal gang of mates. There is her cousin Orla, who is dim witted and flaky. Claire operates as the group’s moral compass, but is perhaps too moral and is quick to turn grass. Michelle is the gobby trouble causer, who always has a get rich scheme. And finally, there’s James, the only boy in an all-girls school and who has committed the sin of being, gasp, English.

Interestingly, all the characters seem to be increasingly well fleshed out, bar Erin. For a focal point, she seems a remarkably blank canvas. Her main role seems to be to contort her face in disgust at everything around her, which is getting slightly annoying. Thankfully, the other characters have enough of a footprint to raise the show.

The adult members of the cast are also good. Erin’s grandad constantly undermining his son-in-law, who seems to be an ocean of sanity amongst the madness. Orla’s mum, Aunt Sarah, is every bit as daffy as her daughter.

The show is stolen though by headmistress and nun Sister Michael. There is a delicious stony expression that lives on her face permanently, whether it is dealing with a failed attempt by Michelle to bully a Year 7 or banning ‘Love is All Around’ from the school assembly list. Her deadpan comments are a sheer delight and worth the entry fee alone.

The timeliness of the show cannot go unnoticed either. Just as the Good Friday Agreement comes under serious threat through a mixture of Brexit and the power collapse at Stormont, this is a reminder of the bad old days, where bomb threats and paramilitary attacks were worryingly routine. Whilst this is a fertile ground for dark humour (the first episode sees lots of jokes about a suspicious package on the main road through Derry) it should also be a stark message about not wanting to go back in time.

Is it funny? Yes, perhaps not side-splittingly, but will certainly raise a giggle. It is also well crafted and smart. And if all else fails, it has a corking soundtrack of early 90’s classics. Yes, the main character needs work. But that doesn’t stop it being a joy.

Jo Brand is one of my favourite people. I love her self-deprecating stand up that is unfairly stereotyped by her critics as just being ‘It’s hard to be a woman’ humour. I adore her no-nonsense approach to panel shows, not least her slapping down of male guests whenever a whiff of misogyny enters the air (check out her take down of Ian Hislop and Quentin Letts on Have I Got News For You last year). Mostly though, I love her sitcoms. Truthful, raw and decidedly unglamourous, but never bleak.

Damned has returned for its second series. Set in the world of children’s social work, its title comes from the saying ‘Damned if you, damned if you don’t’, referencing the constant kicking social services receive in the media for either intervening or not. It is an aware Brand has an astute knowledge of, owing to her mother working as a social worker.

The characters all feel very real. There is the world-weary Rose and Al (played by Brand and Alan Davies), the latter of whom has no patience anymore for the rule book. There is the obnoxious, but essentially useless, Nitin (Hamish Patel). Dim-witted receptionist Nat is played by Isy Suttie, Kevin Eldon is team leader and slightly OCD Martin. This series sees the edition of virtue-signalling Mimi played by Lolly Adefope. With the exception of Mimi, none of these characters feel like stereotypes.

The situations are on the button as well. Episode one focused on a woman raising two children and having to resort to sex work to boost the minimum income she received for her legitimate work of cleaning. Sounds harrowing, yet the humour shone through thanks to deft and sympathetic writing. Having said that, the end of the episode is heart breaking.

There are some good background plots too. There is the blossoming connection between Rose and her boss Denise’s brother Dennis. The tension is growing between Mimi and Nat, with the latter unimpressed with the former’s being fast tracked. Plus there is the very timely storyline of historical abuse that they can’t tackle, but a growing storm outside is saying they should.

I think I love this because my work inhabits a not entirely different world, working as I do for a government regulatory body. The constant three-way battle between the morally right solution, the common sense answer and what the rule books say is a constant fixture of my world, although the stakes are rarely as high. It’s a relief for someone to be calling it as it is. Especially the chaos that erupts when meetings get derailed.

Or maybe I love it because it is a show about generally good people trying to do the right thing that is also very funny. The humour maybe dark, but it’s never cruel. Rather, it is smart enough to point out what is going wrong. It’s rarely the people on the front line.

I have spoken about How to Get Away with Murder before. My problems with its unsympathetic lead cast, being style over substance etc. It is far from my favourite thing to watch. So why do I put myself through it? Because I want to see things through.

To a certain degree, this persistence is now paying off. I am currently reaching the climax of season 3, which has had a strong second half. This has been aided by allowing us into Annalise Keating’s hinterland, particularly the loss of her own child due to crossing the dangerous Mahoney’s. It also helps that Keating’s back is well and truly against the wall, with manufactured murder charges against her.

I have done some flip reversals on the cast as well. Asher Millstone is still an irritating frat boy, but one who is proving to be surprisingly well intentioned and loyal to those he cares for. Likewise, Michaela Pratt’s over-driven streak has been tempered by her discovering an empathy for others that is stretching beyond that needed for self-preservation.

On the other side, Connor Walsh, whose gallows humour I previously liked, is increasingly dislikeable. I am frankly bored of him toying with the naïve Oliver and treating him like a plaything and his scowling in every scene is increasingly at odds with the personal growth we have seen in the surrounding cast.

The plot also seems to have upped its game slightly. It is as daft and OTT as ever, yet I find myself caring more about the end result. For once, I find myself wanting Annalise wanting to win, not for the sake of others, but for her. Perhaps this is because for once the other side is more morally questionable then her. Or maybe, as I said, all those vulnerabilities she has kept hidden have finally broken through. It is more admirable to see her as a fighter when you realise how many battles she has thought before.

I do slightly miss case of the week. I find law interpretation fascinating and the chess games that go on in the courtroom. Hopefully when I get to see season 4 finally we will return to that, albeit with

Word of mouth is a surprisingly valuable asset for streaming services. Hype can get a ball rolling, but it is the ability to make the show a watercooler conversation that is the most valuable. Netflix and its ilk gets the most benefit from this as their shows stay on forever, whilst on-demand sites are more time orientated, with hits disappearing only to potentially return as an archive later.

Word of mouth means even a sleeper show gets a shot. I was recently put on to the case of Schitt’s Creek, a Canadian comedy that is completely unknown in the UK unless you stumble across it on Netflix. I was put onto it by the same person who recommended me The Good Place, and they were more than right about that.

For the uninitiated, a rich family is stripped of all their assets for not paying their taxes bar a small town they bought and have to move there to start a new life. The town is awful in the way backwater towns are, and the programme avoids the cliché of the town folk being sweet and humble by making them equally as bad in some cases. Having said that, I’m only two episodes in so forgive me if I have misconstrued something.

The best scenes feature Dan Levy as the son David. Acid tongued, shallow and melodramatic, he is also that little bit vulnerable. He hogs the best lines, but rightly so, as he delivers them so brilliantly. An early favourite of mine his is comment on his dad’s Ebenezer Scrooge nightshirt: “Give my regards to Bob Cratchitt”. I howled.

With any comedy the question is always ‘is it actually funny?’ I would argue this is, although in a sporadic, low-key way. I certainly feel the ‘rich people become poor’ plot has been done a lot before, so I hope there are some other interesting developments. There is also the question of whether or not this show will trip into that cliché of everyone learning a lesson and becoming better people, which is fine so long as it stays funny.

Overall, I like it. It has enough acid to keep it sharp and I feel actual storylines coming together. It is slightly lightweight, and I doubt when I have finished it I will be crawling the walls for more, but it fills a gap. At least until my friend gives me her next recommendation.

There are always accusations that TV is dumbing down. In fact, even the concept of TV itself was seen as such. When you consider the amount of reality and constructed reality TV shows out there, it is hard to deny yourself from agreeing with the charges being laid down. I doubt John Logie Baird envisioned shows like Celebs Go Dating or Tattoo Fixers when he invented the TV.

But to make the case for guilty you have to ignore the plethora of intelligent dramas, genuinely eye-wateringly good documentaries and even a recent upswing in quality in comedy. That’s not to say there isn’t dross – there certainly is – but it is balanced by high quality, if you know where to look.

Take quiz shows. Yes, there is the banality of Tipping Point and the ilk, but it banish this drama is to ignore two brilliant ones – Only Connect and University Challenge. The former is a fiendish test of lateral thinking that requires a wider breadth of knowledge, even a strong understanding of pop culture is needed. One episode seamlessly included a question of Alexis Carrington’s husband on Dynasty. The latter is a more straightforward general knowledge quiz, but one dominated by high culture. People who don’t know their Venus’s from their Aphrodite’s, or their Rembrandt from their Vermeer, need not apply.

Putting the two on side-by-side is a genius move, an hour of either revelling in your own intelligence or being struck by those of others. Everybody has one they prefer – UC is more in my lane in types of question, although I prefer the style of presenting of OC – but the two camps are rarely at war.

They are two related yet different beasts. I see them as a pair of maiden aunts. University Challenge is the one who can quote Paradise Lost and spends her weekends at museums, and has a strong snobbery towards pop culture but will dip her toe into it just so she can complain about its existence more accurately. Only Connect meanwhile is the one who indulges in a liquid lunch and has no qualms about watching a bit of Made In Chelsea and listening to Drake, but has the bad habit of being a bit of a flirt. Both see themselves as the matriarch of the family, and everybody humours each one by saying she is.

I do think University Challenge could learn from Only Connect in terms of presentation and attitude. Victoria Coren Mitchell genuinely loves the teams who are playing and the questions, revelling in everything the show does. There are even sing-a-longs and questions about celebrity marriages. University Challenge seems almost staid in comparison. The prevailing snobbery towards pop culture means popular music questions are all but non-existent by the quarter finals, and there is an obsession with classical literature that will always favour the private/public school educated over the comprehensive. Jeremy Paxman could do with dialling back the sneering as well.

Both in their own way reward the smart and knowledgeable. Anybody who believes in an active mind will delight in them as a relief against the soaps that compete in the timeslots against them. They will always cult obsessions, but they were always intended to be. But what a happy cult we are.