Archives for posts with tag: politics

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.

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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.

The fashion for reboots is showing no signs of slowing down. The latest to enjoy such a privilege is Charmed. I never watched the original series, which both aids and detracts from my ability to analyse this show. Aids because I am distracted by a nostalgia for the previous version that could cloud my judgement. Detracts in that it means I cannot judge how much it is living up to the initial spirit of the show.

Anyway, Charmed should be right up my alley. Regular readers know I find it hard to resist a bit of supernatural hokum, the wittier and slightly dafter the better. I have slowly come round to The Chilling Adventures if Sabrina, although I still feel they missed a trick not having a talking cat. But once it settled more into the pattern of background long-term villain and short-term crisis points a la Buffy I began to fall for it.

At the moment, Charmed is suffering from a similar problem, in that it is trying to set out its premise, and is therefore currently lacking a natural rhythm. The first episode in particular seemed to be doing too much and had three scenes that could have all worked as a suitable ending that instead just got left hanging as the next situation came up that needed to be resolved. In other words, it was rushed.

The second episode was better. There was a tighter structure and slightly fewer distractions from the main thrust, although I still felt there was a battle for airtime between the plots at points. I once read a companion book to Buffy that suggested all you need is a plot and a subplot in each episode and all character development should span from that, and this is advice this show needs to follow.

My other big problem is that the show seems to be at pains to be as woke as possible. It’s fine to beat the drum by making strong female characters, LGBT themes and the current political background a key part. But it needs to be subtle. Again, I call upon Buffy as an example of it done well. It was only when people started discussing it as feminist and pro-LGBT you realised that it was. Charmed rather smashes you with it. And if I feel like that as someone who is pro #metoo and LGBT rights, I can only imagine what those who are more ambivalent or opposed feel.

What this show needs, and what I am going to give it, is time. It needs to find its rhythm and a means of telling its stories that works. The plots are good, the characters a little cheesy but capable of growing over time and there is a strong mystery hook. It has all the ingredients it needs. It just needs to blend them a little better.

The politics of gender is big news at the moment, not least in the ‘Believe Her’/#metoo movements. Yet its biggest impact is being felt arguably in the entertainment industry, where cases of everything from uncalled for sexual comments on set to historical abuse allegations are leading to a rebalance of power. It’s not an unneeded one, Lord knows we need more women in power behind the camera as well as in front of it, but it is a marker of how morally poor we are that it has taken something of this scale to produce it.

One of the most notable shake ups occurred on House of Cards, where the departure of Kevin Spacey created a need to rewrite a whole season of plots and a complete re-centering of the story. Gone was Frank and Claire Underwood’s fight for the White House. Instead, Claire is standing alone against a combination of friends and enemies of Frank’s.

It is a shame that the original storyline has been lost due to the actions of Spacey. He is now a deservedly marked man, someone whose behaviour can derail your entire production. The show always was at its best when put its two leads against each other and weakest when it had them randomly accruing a new sexual partner that they sometimes shared.

Having said that, the new story is a good metaphor for how many women must feel when their men exit their lives. Hated by his friends for letting him go or driving him into his grave, despised by his enemies for having him in their life in the first place. Unless you have enough allies yourself, it can feel lonely at the top.

I have always been more fascinated by Robin Wright’s portrayal of Claire than Spacey’s Frank. Morality being tempered by circumstance is always more intriguing than out-and-out amorality. Claire is more quietly passionate, but not less so for it. Dare I say it, but she is actually more creating a legacy for everyone than for herself.

The change in cast has brought enemies old and new as well. The Shepherd’s represent everyone’s worst fears about Western politics, that no political decision is ever made without the permission of big business. Journalists are still hounding Claire over actions from the beginning of the show. Political foes are lining up. There is a sense of something building.

There is still that feeling that everything moves at a glacial pace but sometimes this pays off. I’m hoping that everything is lining up to a monumental

Politics seems to be everywhere at the moment, impacting every genre of TV show going. You don’t have to be watching something that is specifically a political drama or thriller to see it, albeit with varying degrees of subtlety. From the boom in satire to the political sub-plots of otherwise fairly standard dramas, it is hard to miss.

Those dramas concerning the public services are particularly easy to insert political messages into. They are, after all, on the frontline when it comes to governmental decisions being taken. The impact of austerity in on the public’s health or ability to be educated is shown, as is the impact of cuts on the services themselves.

Even No Offence, a cop drama that prides itself on being different, is not immune. This third series focuses on the rise of a new far-right group that is targeting a mayoral election, deliberately whipping up anti-Muslim sentiment. It’s not a new plot, but has a decent spin on it. The mixture of dark humour and frantic pace that have categorised previous series are still here, which keeps the whole thing feeling fresh. Even if we also have the tried and tested device of an undercover cop hidden in the organisation.

It also goes a little deeper, exploring of these predominately working class organisations are funded by well-off benefactors with their own motives. In this case, a private security firm run by a middle-class racist (yes, they do exist) trying to expose the lack of funding for the police so they can claim a contract patrolling the streets.

What is most shocking is that none of this feels unrealistic. The current state of things politically suggests we are only a step away from such a situation where the highest bidder, regardless of moral compass, patrols our streets, dishes out healthcare and controls education.

This show is still one of my favourites. As I have already mentioned, the humour and pace mean you can’t breathe until the end, but when you do, what’s happened hits you at full force. Joanna Scanlan and Paul Ritter remain utterly brilliant, even if the latter gets far too few lines. In fact, the whole ensemble works in way that must make other shows jealous.

It is hard to be original, but this show, even when using old plots, seems to manage it. I hope we get a few more series at least. It would feel so dull without it.