Archives for posts with tag: drama

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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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.

Thanks to the fact schedulers produce a bounteous feast some nights, I find myself falling behind on certain shows and having to catch up here and there where I can. The Good Fight is one such show. The second season has nearly finished on UK screens, but I am still only three episodes deep.

But what episodes. I remembered instantly why I loved this show and its prequel The Good Wife. This is drama for grown-ups. By that, I don’t mean that it is staid and humourless, only tackling big moral questions. I mean, it does tackle these questions, but there is a sense of humour there as well. It isn’t scared to have fun.

The show is brave as well. Firstly, politically. Whilst many shows will nudge at anti-Trump agendas, this one has it fully in the open. The recap interspersed the standard review of developments on the show with some of the Presidents most-controversial moments. At a time where you get called a traitor and worse for merely asking the question as to whether Trump is a good person or not, to be so openly vocal and proud of saying no is a creative risk.

But it is bold creatively in other ways. The Rindell scandal bubbled throughout the first season and initially looked like it was going to in the second, only to wrap up in the second episode (unless there are other developments I am currently unware of). A lesser show would have dragged out the trial fearing where to go after its conclusion.

There are a couple of characters in particular who I adore. The first is Marissa Gold, secretary turned investigator. She is the show’s spiritual heir to Kalinda, with all the ingenuity, feistiness and sharp tongues, but without (so far) the baggage.

The other is the lynchpin of the show, Diane Lockhart. She remains both imperial in her majesty yet vulnerable. This is highlighted even more in her soul searching following the murders of two lawyers by vengeful clients. There is the slightly odd plotline of her micro-dosing, but I’m willing to see if this plays out into something substantial or whether it is just one of those off shoots of a plot that disappears as quickly as it starts.

It is hard to find a fault with the show full stop. It trusts the viewers who love the show to not need their hands held with every plot development. Nor does it hide its sense of humour for fear of causing offence. Most importantly, it asks real questions of us as a society. And you don’t even realise that it’s doing it. That is how good it is.

I avoid adaptations as a rule. If it is a book I have no interest in reading, why would I want to see a TV version? If I do want to read it, why would I spoil the pleasures of it? And if I have read it, why would I want someone else’s interpretation ruining mine? I can’t help but thinking if everybody followed this logic, then there would be a lot more space for some original programmes to me made.

Yet every so often one suckers me in. It helps if I’m nostalgic about the book, the reading of it conjuring up a time in my life. Plus there are surely some books that they can’t mess around with that much.

Such is the case with The Woman in White. I read this at university and loved it. Victorians knew how to do Gothic sensationalism. Menacing aristocrats, creepy buildings, women who would kill you as quick as kiss you, it’s all there. And there is nothing like sinking your teeth into a good mystery. It transfers to TV so easily that it seems silly to faff about with it.

Yet there has been faff. First, an artsy narrative structure has been imposed of characters giving statements to a solicitor dealing with a case, but not necessarily the case at the centre of the story. Then there’s the feminist speech my Marian Halcombe. I have no objection to feminist speeches, but a good adapter would have found a way of showing us that men are wicked towards women rather than telling us. It’s all there in the plot anyway, so why club us over the head at the start

Having said that, I don’t totally object to this adaptation. Jessie Buckley is very good as Marian, playing the less-than-typical Victorian lady as was intended, opening speech besides. In fact, the casting all round works so far. I have a shaky memory of the finer details of the book, which will help the adapters get away with some things, but Walter Hartright is largely an ineffectual hero until the end, and Ben Hardy, without being rude, has that look about him.

What will make this adaptation live or die is the performance of Count Fosco, who makes his first appearance in the second episode. He needs to be charming yet threatening, and if memory serves me correctly, attractive despite (or because of) him carrying a bit of extra weight. If that doesn’t work, the book’s most alluring character is dead in the water and the rest of the plot with it.

I still come back to that jarring note though I understand that if a story has been told before then it needs a new way. But credit the viewers with being modern enough to see the misogyny played before them. Don’t make characters utter statements that render the plot impotent. And don’t think you know better than the classics. They became so for a reason.

I’m going to be honest with you, it’s been difficult to write this week’s blog post. There has been little new for me to watch this week, and I feel I have discussed everything that is on a hundred times before. I now there are new shows every week, but I am one man, I have other hobbies and some shows that I am desperate to watch remain unwatched.

So what I thought I would do is list the shows I want to watch when I finally can. Maybe some of you readers can help me prioritise or maybe even advise me not to bother with them.

This Country: every article I read about this show praises it to highest heaven. The premise is that it is a mockumentary about two cousins growing up in a sleepy small town and the idiosyncrasies of such a life. I have seen clips online and it does look to live up to the hype, and it is also loved for being a little bit heart breaking in its humour. This is sometimes a red flag for me (why do comedies needs to also be tear jerkers?) but if done well can be the cherry on top of the ice cream.

Chewing Gum: another much-talked about comedy, following the adventures of Tracey and her quest to lose her virginity. It is hailed as a funny, rude and, above all, honest representation of female sexuality. It has earned its creator and star Michaela Coel awards for both acting and writing.

Game Face: another female-fronted sitcom. This time Roisin Conaty is our lead, playing wannabe actress Marcella. Again, there is a hunt for her dream man, which is making me wonder how many sitcoms by men are about guys finding their girl, at least in the UK anyway. The main appeal here is that I love Conaty in so many other things that this has got to be good.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Maybe you are seeing a pattern. What can I say, the argument women aren’t funny doesn’t sit with me at all. If anything, I find women are more natural in their humour and try and do each other down less. Anyway, this has been on my list for a while now. It seems warm and hopeful, qualities I sometimes thing sitcoms forget to include. Tina Fey is the brains here, and 30 Rock was another show I adored, so high hopes again.

There are very few dramas appealing to me, but then I have plenty to be getting on with for the next few months. I might dip into Designated Survivor. I may have a root around on Netflix for something else. If I get desperate, I may even get an Amazon Prime account.

So there you have it. Please suggest away anything else that should be on my list. Not Breaking Bad. So many people have wanged on about it I have now made it an ambition to never watch it, just to watch its devotees flail their arms and implore me to do so. But besides that, fire away. The floor is yours…