Archives for posts with tag: drama

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.


One way of keeping a show fresh is by mixing up the central casting every now and then. This is often more of an essential for American TV shows, with their long seasons of 20+ episodes and dream of making the magical 100th episode. Killing your darlings is a shortcut to making things exciting and opening new avenues.

It is less a feature of British TV, with Doctor Who a notable exception. New Doctors and companions allow for new interpretations of the individual’s character as well as their relationship with others. One season it may be quasi-romantic, another parental, yet another a best buds.

Death In Paradise has also had to cope with line-up changes over the years. The excuse given is, that although six months of filming in the Caribbean is a delight, it is also a drain on the star’s time to spend with their family.

Again, each lead character has given us different readings of how their detective finds life on Saint Marie. Ben Miller played his as an uptight fish out of water, incredibly methodical but emotionally closed off. Kris Marshall made his almost like and excitable puppy embracing a new world, with a more scattergun approach to match. Newest lead man Ardal O’Hanlon has gone down a different track, playing the detecting as laid back and exuding bon homie to the point of almost pretending to be slightly dim witted.

The question is whether a viewer can take to each one equally. A few purists miss the fastidiousness of Miller. Others saw Marshall, so far the longest serving, as the most natural fit. Few seem to have warmed to O’Hanlon so far. That could be time issue, but personally, I am amongst those who are struggling with him.

For me, it is the pernickety detail of his rhythm of speech. The way he speaks sounds very forced in my opinion, as if he hasn’t quite memorised his lines and someone off camera is holding them up for him. I also feel his more ‘comedy’ moments feel disingenuous, but then again this has always been my issue with the show. I’m not sure how even in a ‘cosy crime’ setting you can have a pratfall immediately following a revelation about someone killing someone else.

But what brings you back is the mysteries themselves. I’m a sucker for a locked-room story, and Death In Paradise does them brilliantly. Sometimes you may guess the result, but not often, and if you can, may I suggest watching something more rigorous and allowing the rest of us an hour to ourselves?

Of course, a lot will rest on how much we can all adjust to O’Hanlon. Even in this show a lot rests on the leading man. The sands of time may allow us to accept him. If not, well, it’s not like a sudden recasting is unheard of on this show. Perhaps it is one of the most brutal programmes on TV after all.

A big challenge facing TV wonks is how to make a potentially dry genre funny without it being a spoof, or at least not make it a spoof if you don’t intend it to be one. When you parody something, you potentially mock the very audience you intend to win over by making fun of the hallmarks of something they love, which leaves you with no-one watching.

One solution is to go for more of a pastiche – makes jokes about the genre, but do so gently. The other is to simply make something funny whilst using the genre as a setting. The Orville does a bit of both, and in doing so has made a genuinely funny yet also genre friendly show.

The Orville is a sci-fi comedy about a crew of a star ship. It is obviously designed to be a Star Trek with gags. There is the mocking of the diversity of the crew – a super-strong female alien security guard, a robot that is slightly sociopathic, two frat boy helmsman, etc. It could easily descend into something farcical.

What saves it is that Seth MacFarlane (yes, it is he) has actually invested in the plots. The opening episode introduced us to the evil Krill trying to steal a new technology that can speed up time. Whilst there were jokes, the plot was never forgotten about, even if it was a bit simple. Then again, early episodes of a show tend to be as the priority is to build cast dynamics. Again, this has been well done. There is a nice undercurrent of tension with Captain Ed Mercer (MacFarlane) having to work with his ex-wife, who actually secured him the job without his knowledge.

The fact this show is happy to also be a more of a drama than a comedy is also, for me, a positive. It allows light and dark to balance each other, and stops you being whacked over by MacFarlane’s juvenile humour. It also allows more a commentary of society to be offered without being either flippant or sanctimonious.

The critics have panned this show. Interestingly, some have found it too silly and frivolous to be worth their time. Others have wondered where the jokes are for this to be a comedy. The fact it is pleased viewers a lot more though suggests that the critics have missed the point: it is simply an hour of enjoyable television. It has heart to it, a rare thing at times. And I’m not going to lie, for an average viewer like me, it is fun to see the critics get it so wrong.

Such is the power of Netflix, seasons may change their name to some of its biggest hits new release dates. Spring will become House of Cards, although quite how that will pan out following recent events we can only guess. Summer will be Orange is the New Black. Autumn so obviously is Stranger Things. And winter can only possible be named The Crown.

The Crown lends itself to the headlong rush to the festive season in the same way Downton Abbey did. No matter if the setting is high summer, there is something about the sumptuousness of the clothes, the stodginess of the food and the innate cosy feeling mixed with a dash of grimness of the architecture that it is always winter psychologically – both in positive ways and negative.

The Crown is possibly my favourite of all Netflix productions because, in its own slightly stodgy way, it tells us how the personal and political will always intertwine, yet appear to lead separate lives. A personal foible of a politician setting a train of events from which there becomes no escape. How those events can speed up or instigate social change, or at times try and be a last defence against it.

The first two episodes of the new season demonstrate this. Episode one may begin with a royal marriage on the rocks and be threaded throughout with suspicions of adultery, but it is the Suez Crisis that is a focal point and the vanity of those who instigated it. Already the Queen is faced with the challenging of being a stable fulcrum around which the men who serve her in government flail, grasping for power and a legacy.

Episode two sheds more light on the relationship between the Queen and Prince Philip, as the latter constantly battles to form his own identity. He is a navy man, happier in the company of men and physical pursuits, revelling in what one character calls ‘a six-month stag night’. Along the way, we see what formed him into an unemotional man who perhaps struggles with the idea of being part of a family. It takes the rumour of a private secretary’s own adulteries to remind him of his duty to his wife and children, and even then we still have not returned to the crescendo of emotions that opened the season.

Claire Foy and Matt Smith embody the slowly changing personalities wonderfully. She, slowly gaining in confidence to question the men in power; him, relinquishing his need to control. And then there is the cast who surrounds them – Vanessa Kirby still steals the show as Princess Margaret, giving us this seasons must-have GIF for all party goers over the festivities.

There are no doubt faults, but quite frankly I don’t want to dig for them. For all the harsh realities that this show portrays – the limited status of women and the decline of Britain to name two – it is still a warm blanket that envelops you. This is why it is perfect winter viewing, it wraps you up and brings you comfort. Which is exactly what we need.

On a recent episode of 8 Out of 10 Cats does Countdown Jimmy Carr made a barb at Fay Ripley, describing Cold Feet as the UK’s answer to Friends if the question was ‘What’s not quite as good as Friends?’ Ripley jumped to the show’s defence, pointing out that at least her show was still going. This does, however, ignore the massive gap between the original series ending and the comeback last year.

Even so, it does seem silly to compare the two shows, longevity aside. Friends was always a sitcom, Cold Feet a comedy-drama, and one of the rare ones that could pull off both at that. Yes, there were six people navigating relationships and careers in both with a significant ‘will they/won’t they’ dynamic’, but that’s where it ends.

I find Cold Feet to be one of the best-plotted shows on TV. It’s a tricky thing giving five (R.I.P. Rachel) central characters enough room for each story to breathe whilst still maintaining a group dynamic and allowing side characters to have their moments. The cleverly demarcated flashback scenes, where some of the group tell the rest what happened whilst we are shown it, is used just the right amount and with both humorous and dramatic effect. Jen and Pete’s sex tape scene was brilliantly comedic and tellingly honest about the gap between expectation and reality in our approach to sex.

I must admit to being nervous when they introduced the teenage pregnancy storyline where Karen and David’s daughter became pregnant by Adam’s son. This is a plot that has been done far too much in soaps and the like and you would struggle to find an original angle. Yet it did. The discussions around abortion were mature and focused on Olivia’s wish to have control over her body and Matt’s naïve belief he could rise to the challenge of fatherhood at just 16. The scene at the clinic was perfection and a lesson in understatement, a young girl facing the reality of her choices an everyone all so quiet and hushed, the fragility of the moment encapsulated merely in a tone of voice.

In truth, all the plots are absorbing. Jen facing the dilemma of reaching the peak of her career just as an ailing parent needs her most. David playing the night in shining armour to trapped Cheshire housewife. Karen risking everything to save her business. And, of course, Adam’s bumpy relationship with new squeeze Tina. I feel a bit sorry for Tina, as much in the centre of things as anyone yet still not given central cast status. Either let her be one of the gang or cut her loose. Otherwise she just becomes a side character who the viewers will never fully accept.

Cold Feet is a brilliant examination of life in your late forties and early fifties and is both funny and honest. Friends may never come back and tell us what happened next, but it doesn’t need to. Cold Feet is doing it better than anyone ever could.

Scandi-noir has a lot to answer for, not least the plethora of pale imitations that it generates. Ditto Broadchurch, with its perfect representation of how a horrific crime can disrupt a small town. Combining these two sources is The Loch. It has the macabre deaths of Scandinavia and its dramatic but gloomy scenery with the small community of people with secrets of Broadchurch. Tartan noir mixed with McBroadchurch if you will.

We have the murder of a piano teacher, and now a local teenage tearaway, both dispatched slightly horrifically. Everyone has a reason to look suspicious, including the paedophile doctor and the ex-con living under a new name. A top DCI from the big city (Siobhan Finneran) is shipped in, upsetting local cops and bringing along with her a ‘celebrity forensic psychologist’. Oh, and there’s a man tied to the bottom of the loch that nobody has spotted yet.

It is as barking mad as it sounds. There’s the man being kept in a drugged coma by his mother, locals looking shifty at each other and random wolves popping up all over the place. It is as if the writers were given free rein to do whatever they like, but when it came to filming the budget kicked in and tripping over into the truly surreal Twin Peaks style was put on hold.

Nevertheless, despite (or maybe because of) its ludicrousness it is actually quite enjoyable. With nobody remotely acting guilt free we have a whole village of suspects, although if it is the local sergeant’s husband I will scream in despair. Once you acclimatise to it, the oddness becomes intriguing rather than distracting.

Of course, for me the making and breaking of crime drama is in how it handles the procedural stuff. This is where The Loch falls sadly short. The detectives seem to just barrel along, doing what the hell they like. If this ever makes it to court, the defence will have a field day with procedural errors. The whole case will collapse in the space of an afternoon. It didn’t have to be this way: Broadchurch, Line of Duty and even Scott & Bailey are proof you can talk procedure and keep the drama.

But maybe that’s the point – procedural dramas are already being done so well, why copy? Hang the technicals, forget the rules, and don’t even consider the paperwork. The eccentricities will be a distraction from all this.

Still, it wouldn’t hurt to hear a conversation about forms, or an interview of a suspect done with all the quiet suspense of the show’s rivals. It’s what a lot of us like. You don’t need to dial back the odd, just turn up the real.

It is often hard to work out who school-set dramas are pitched at. The teenage characters’ heady hormones are distant memories to many parents, while it is hard to imagine the younger generation being interested in storylines concerning the private lives of teachers. Both groups would feel that 50% of the show is uninteresting and a distraction from the stories that they do want to see.

Yet they are popular. The current horse from that stable is Ackley Bridge. It shares some key features with its predecessor Waterloo Road. Troubled school in a northern town. Plotlines that are soapy to the extreme. Relationships between teachers being every bit as rocky as those between the kids.

But Ackley Bridge is on Channel 4, so therefore is a little, but only a little closer to the edge in the social commentary it offers. For a start, this isn’t a comprehensive, but an academy. How much they explore the influence of ‘sponsors’ on how education is delivered remains to be seen, although there have been hints at it.

The big theme though is multi-culturism. This academy is formed from two previously segregated schools (not deliberately, just as a result of the postcode lottery our education system creates), one from a predominantly Asian community, the other largely white. The cultural conflicts form a major thrust of many of the storylines, whether it is exploring LGBT relationships in BME communities or the tension between assimilating into a nation whilst being proud of your religion.

There is some debate as to how much we should put these kind of issues through the soapy treatment shows like this create. It feels as if these issues are almost too big to be reduced to be mixed in with others plots like affairs. At the same time though, not everyone is going to watch a hard-hitting drama or searing documentary series, so if telling them the story through a slightly more trivial medium allows the message to spread wider then it is all to the good.

Of course, none of this matters if the show is rubbish. Well, it isn’t. Granted, I don’t love it. The headteacher-husband-sponsor love triangle is a bit too predictable, and I do wonder if there is perhaps one plot too many, making it hard to grasp on to any of the characters. But there are worthwhile storylines as well. Nasreen exploring her sexuality with the help of her friend Missy seems a strong seem to follow, and I’m intrigued enough to see where the Jordan Wilson plot goes to keep investing. Plus there is Sunetra Sarker playing the sassiest dinnerlady ever created.

At just six episodes, the first series may be too short to do it justice. But if it gets a second one, an extended run could help the show find its legs.