Archives for posts with tag: politics

The final season of Orange is the New Black feels like the end of an era for me. I think it was the very first show I watched on Netflix. It certainly was the first that I eagerly anticipated the next season for. It represents all what streaming services can be over mainstream TV – brave, representative and uncensored.

Ok, so a couple of seasons lost me a bit. Season 4 was so unremittingly bleak I began to question my ability to watch it and still function. Ditto to a lesser extent season 6, which had me nearly in tears at the finale. In many ways though, its strength over the last couple of seasons has been to tell how political decisions impact the most vulnerable people. And there simply isn’t a way to sugar coat that.

Take the plotline of Blanca and Maritza being locked up in an ICE facility. Nothing says more about the current brutal state of our society than the fact that both are legal citizens of the United States. One lost their status by accepting responsibility for a crime that wasn’t hers, proof that no good deeds goes unpunished. The other, simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Whist some bad people may get scooped up in this, you can’t help but wonder if they are outweighed by innocent victims of circumstance.

The other central plotline is Piper’s rehabilitation post-release from prison. Rebuilding her life is tough – restricted on employment opportunities, shunned by friends and strangers alike. And this for well-spoken, educated white girl. You are left only to imagine the additional barriers faced by those with a poorer background or an ethnic minority. No wonder so many reoffend.

There are other heartbreaks as well; the continued decline of Taystee from joyous sunshine to feared monster, the OD’s, the gang warfare. Yet there feels also to be lighter touches. The bond between Pensatucky and Suzanne is beautiful, as is the one between Gloria and Red.

Most interestingly though, there is a small window of hope. New warden Ward is changing things and despite cynicism about her book learning, actually seems to be more astute than she is being given credit for.

I hope the season ends on a positive note of some kind, albeit with a tint of realism. I will miss this show and many of the characters, but if the ending works, it will soothe the pain.

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Regular readers of this blog will know I love The Good Fight. It’s one of those shows I deem so worthy of my attention that I refuse to watch it on my laptop. It deserves the respect of a proper TV screen, real sound quality and no distractions like Facebook notifications or tweets.

One of my biggest reasons for adoring this show is the characters, flawed yet brilliant individuals. Like many in this current world, they are torn between pragmatism and idealism in an era where the former seems like a dirty word.

But a few flies have appeared in the ointment of the third season. The first is a new recurring character, Roland Blum. Michael Sheen is a brilliant actor, and there is no doubt that the irrational, OTT character is who he is because Sheen is able to translate that so brilliantly. Yet it is a character who grates. He would have served nicely being in one, maybe two episodes. But a whole story arc? Like seasoning in a dish, too much has turned something that should heighten the flavour into something that crushes it.

The second, and for me the biggest, is the animated short films that seek to explain something in the plot to the audience. One of the best things about the show was its refusal to talk down to the audience. If a reference went over your head, so be it. Now, we have what are frankly inane animations. For me, they merely serve as an opportunity to top up your drink if an ad break is too far away.

The final one is a bit of a mixed one. I have always enjoyed the openness of the politics of the show and the way it allows complicated issues to play out with subtlety. This series has felt more heavy-handed. This could be a case of the nuances not coming across to the viewers strongly enough. But, as I say, we are a smart bunch. Let us decide how much we take in. Having said that, some episodes still have that fine thread running through it, and a lot of the bluntness is revolving around Diane’s internal conflict of pragmatism and idealism we mentioned earlier.

It is still a great show. I still find myself enjoying a good 90% of it, which is much higher than many others. But please, drop the shorts, remove Blum and let the audience be challenged again.

Ackley Bridge has always been the kind of programme to mix soapy elements with hard-hitting issues. Your view on how successful it is at doing this will entirely depend on how much you value either genre. Some will want a deeper expose at the critical underfunding of education in this country and the weight of bureaucracy on schools and feel that too much time is spent on love lives. Others will find the interpersonal fascinating but the political too preachy.

I have always veered more towards the former myself, but I have to confess that it handles the link between the individual and the bigger issues facing our society increasingly deftly. It’s a difficult trick to pull off but it generally gets it right.

Take the rise of hate crimes in this country. They have spiralled out of control, even before Brexit. Ackley Bridge is open in its portrayal of a small town that is a tinderbox of racial tensions, with some sections of the community openly embracing the far right, others resolutely sticking to Islamic values at the expense of integrating with western liberalism.

When a popular member of the community dies, it sparks racial repercussions and escalating violence. It all feels very real and is a classic example of two disenfranchised groups turning on each other.

My only critique is the rather trite resolution. If anything, this is when the soapy nature of the show kicks in, not the relationship stuff. There seems to be this pervading sense of teachers as fairy godmothers. This isn’t to slight the fact that teachers are expected increasingly to be more than just teachers – we seem to expect them to be surrogate parents, social workers and therapists to our children – but how many in the real world would genuinely have the time or patience to be community heroes.

Of course, this in itself is making a strong point. This is a town that is lucky in that it has a school that is willing to lead on fixing the problems in the community. In the real world, many aren’t. Not because they don’t want to. No school would want to actively encourage divisions in the town. But many are battling their own problems without fighting what is outside the school gates.

Also, the focus of this series has been the school becoming part of a trust. A head office that sees students as numbers and exam takers rather than individuals. Again, there is the fairy godmother element of the headteacher being a lone voice fighting this, but the point is made. How can we expect to make education a positive thing when it becomes purely about profits and targets?

I could talk further about individual plotlines and characters, but I don’t have the space. Needless to say, what started out feeling like a run of the mill drama has now become something more. It is a critical voice that holds up a mirror to our society and asks if we like it. Surely the answer has to be no.

Dystopian futures are very on trend right now. This is unsurprising when you consider the extent of the political turmoil the world is in right now and the fact that the pace of cultural and technological change grows ever faster. I normally avoid this genre, as it just gives you further nightmares to the one you already have.

Yet I found myself drawn to Years and Years. The drama revolves around one family over a 15-year period from 2019-2034 as their lives are shaped by the world around them, in particular the rise of right-wing populist politician Vivienne Rook (Emma Thompson).

Political crisis so far played out (we are up to 2025) include Russia successfully gaining full political control of Ukraine, leading to a refugee crisis when those opposed to Russia are forced to flee, America’s trade war with China leading to Trump launching a nuclear weapon on a military base and the resulting economic sanctions leading to a banking crisis that dwarves 2008.

But it’s not just politics that is played out. The remorseless advance of technology also plays a part. One family member declares themselves trans-human, wanting rid of their body to be just uploaded as data. Hologram emoji masks and having a phone implanted into their body are just the start of this transformation.

All of this would just be weighty moral lesson learning if it lacked a people dimension, but this is where the show shines. Daniel (Russell Tovey) falls in love with one of the refugees fleeing Ukraine, leading him to divorce his husband and setting up a revenge plot. Stephen (Rory Kinnear) loses all his money in the banking crisis and is faced with a daughter who has more affinity with machines than people.

It is the character of Rosie (Ruth Madeley) that potentially has the most interesting progression. She is the one who, as the series progresses, most buys into Rook’s populist vision. Quite how far she falls and the price she and others pay for Rook’s rise to power is still to be seen, but she does represent how many voters feel. Outside of the London bubble, not sharing in the boom others enjoy but being hit by the bust and generally being economically isolated from the world around here, Rosie is the person made angry about the future and clings to the hope of returning to a past Rook promises.

For all the grimness, there is a sprinkling of humour throughout, particularly from formidable matriarch Muriel (Anne Reid). It’s this that helps you buy into the world and the characters, and makes it feel so real.

Whilst the show is giving me nightmares (nothing presented feels impossible right now), it is gripping. It is a warning for us all. But how many will pay attention to it is another matter.

Comedy has long been used to make a political point. In fact, that was pretty much the reason it was invented. You can trace it from the plays of Ancient Greece, through the satire of Swift and the comic pieces in Dickens, right up to now, through both stand up and sitcoms.

One of the newest sitcoms to attempt to get some laughs out of modern Britain is Home. It revolves around Sami, a Syrian immigrant who sneaks into Britain in the back of a family’s car. Peter, who we later learn is not even himself fully part of the family but is just mum Katy’s new partner, is appalled, and represents all the anti-immigrant behaviours that we see and hear. The rest of the family though are delighted and welcoming.

A lot of the humour comes from the misunderstandings that we have around immigrants. This includes the sincere and well-meaning, for example, the family automatically assuming Sami is a Muslim and making him a prayer room in the home office, not realising he is actually Christian. But it also covers the less pleasant – the belief that an immigrant comes to take advantage of our welfare system, the constant gnawing fear they may be a terrorist.

When the show is trying to make these points through comedy it can be very, very good. The prayer room scene was a brilliant example of this, ditto the scene where Sami mistakes marmite for chocolate spread.

Yet it also has increasingly become a drama. The scene where Sami found out his family were safe and well in Germany before finding out they had no intention of coming to Britain was designed to be one of ecstasy followed by agony. But the emotional gut punch missed me. It all felt slightly out of place.

The show also strays over into preaching. Maybe I’m too aware of the media bias against immigrants, but the scene where the newsagent showed pro-immigrant newspapers being dwarfed in size and popularity by the anti- ones was as unsubtle as they come. The fact is the people who need to be converted won’t watch this show; they will simply hear the premise and run a mile. Those who do watch will already be in sympathy to the lead character and see Peter’s xenophobia as ripe for mockery.

What Home really needs is to make a decision about what it is – culture-clash comedy or social commentary drama. Whilst it can have aspects of both it needs to wear one hat more (I would recommend comedy) and leave the other in a minor key. Currently it is trying to be all things to all people, causing the message to be both lost and also too obvious. And it is far too important a message for that to happen.

They say necessity is the mother of invention. If by invention we mean ‘try new things’, then I have to agree. A loose end viewing wise Sunday night led me to making a choice between two rather intense looking dramas: Baptiste on the BBC or Traitors on Channel 4. As the former potentially needed me to know what had happened in its parent drama The Missing I chose the latter. The post-World War Two setting helped, as I’m a sucker for a drama with a bit of history in it.

The plot follows Feef Symonds, a well-to-do trainee intelligence officer, working for the Civil Service, where she is recruited by the Americans to flush out a Soviet spy in the Cabinet Office. The first episode mainly sets up her relationships with the key players, including a rather sweet but overly earnest socialist MP.

It does feel in a way as if very little happens in it. There is a lot of talking about what the post-war world looks like and the reverberations of Labour’s shock landslide election win in 1945. A lot of time is spent on people having little dilemmas and trying to circumvent their superiors. I have to confess that the detail at points got rather lost on me, but then I was still rising up from a hangover at this point.

What I can say is that it is well played, without a jarring note amongst the cast. Having said that, the star turn of Keeley Hawes as a senior civil servant is currently underplayed, hopefully in a role that will move to the centre as the episodes go on. I mean, you wouldn’t hire someone of her calibre for the show and then just have her in the background.

The show does need a little more action. After a lively opening scene there is little to light a fire until the close of the episode. Again though, this is probably a passage of time thing. Hopefully by the time we reach the end of episode 2 we have a little more incentive for those that aren’t history buffs to keep watching.

Credit where credit is due though, you do get swept up in the sense of time and place. There is an atmosphere of wounded pride hanging off everyone, and the fight over by whose values we rebuild is palpable.

But if you promise a spy drama you need more than this. I have faith that Traitors will deliver on this. But it needs to do so quickly. A bit of ruminating on the state of the nation is good. Six hours of it though will become an indulgence.

Last week I talked about the way Charmed handles discussing big social issues. I found it clunky and too obvious, to the point it became a distraction from the plot rather than a driver. You have to get it right when you are making strong points about society, gently shepherding your audience to the moral point you want to make rather than whacking it out there.

A show that gets it right in my view is The Orville. It tackles issues in a way that makes you aware and hints towards the conclusion you should make, but are never forced towards it. It perhaps helps that with sci-fi you can introduce culture clashes in an organic way – religious, racial and sexual differences all are obvious barriers when you cross species with each other.

Yet it also nods towards some of the smaller issues in our society. One episode tackled porn addiction. Another referenced the anti-vax movement. Whilst you were given a strong sense of what is wrong and right, both sides are given some compassion. Very few figures are out and out villains. At the heart is the constant debate we have in society – how much can we respect someone else’s views when they not only clash with our own, but actually come into full-on conflict?

It helps there is a dollop of humour in the plots as well. Sometimes it is small, other times larger, but it is the spoonful of sugar that helps the narrative go down. It can sometimes trip over into the silly and crass, one of the few weak points, but even in then it is over in the blink of an eye.

The pace of each episode varies as well. It is a unique skill to make a show that is not predictable. Some are all action, others on a more emotional slow build. And, as with all great sci-fi and fantasy, it can deliver a surprising sucker punch. Check out episode three of the current season if you don’t believe me.

Is it a clarion call to liberal values? Probably. This is a show that is proud to demonstrate the importance of diversity, tolerance and science. It has taken pot shots at religion, conservative social movements and the abuse of technology. Yet, as I have said, you are given the choice as the viewer as to whether this how you live your life or just a show you watch for entertainment.

In short, this is probably one of my favourite things on TV. It is clever but not smug, warm but not smushy, funny but not stupid. It can give you action if you want it too. In these interesting times, it is a near perfect tonic.