Archives for posts with tag: television

I’m a sucker for a period drama. I’m also a sucker for a crime drama. So a period crime drama is like all my boats coming into harbour at once. The mixture of watching crimes being solved with put all the modern wizardry and the plush settings that are both foreign and familiar are a heady brew for me.

Vienna Blood is a good example of this. Set in turn-of-the-century Vienna, it follows grumpy Oskar Rheinhardt, a detective emotionally crippled by the death of his daughter. He is saddled with an unwanted consultant in the form of psychologist and disciple of Freud Max Liebermann, who has his own family issues, not least a high-maintenance girlfriend and his businessman father.

The relationship between the two resembles a less cordial Holmes and Watson, with Liebermann’s quirks and need to patholigise the crimes clashing with the world-weary and old-school policing of Rheinhardt. They have become friends in a tetchy sort of way, which the show’s only attempt at humour.

Not that it needs humour. This is a crime drama first and foremost, so watching two characters put the jigsaw together is the priority. The crimes and revelation of the killer are very OTT, which seems a bit pointless when you know the two stars will survive, but it lends a touch of melodrama to an otherwise low-key affair.

One thing that does make it more interesting is its engagement with the social changes of the time. One episode explored the antisemitism that was beginning to pump through society’s veins, especially in Vienna, a city on the brink of losing its status. Coupled with watching the birth of Freudian talking therapies, it is easy to get wrapped up in the world that has been created.

There are some niggles. The plot can sometimes grind too slowly, especially when we get wrapped up in character’s personal lives. Either make them compelling or don’t have them try to compete for attention.

The other is the lack of strong female characters. They are invariably either victims or just floating about in a scene with no real purpose. Yes, that could be a true reconstruction of the times, but it feels more like a writer that doesn’t know how to write women, so features them as little as possible.

The show is still a fascinating watch. The two leads are endearing and the world they are in is believable. It needs some sharpening up though. Otherwise it will disappear like the empire it is set in.

I have to admit to being very lucky during this pandemic. I still have my job, nobody close to me has contracted the virus and my routine has adapted well to the changes. Yes, I am missing seeing people (I’m even missing the smell of the gym) but I would say that overall I’ve been fortunate.

It says a lot about how I have been impacted by this crisis is that the cruelest blow was the cancelling of Eurovision. This is an occasion I rate in importance with my birthday and Christmas, so hearing that it had been taken from us all was a hard loss.

To their credit, the EBU sprang into action with alternative programming, the pinnacle of which was Eurovision: Europe Shine a Light. It consisted of the presenters in an empty studio playing snippets of this year’s entries and talking to stars of the past. Graham Norton was also offering commentary, but there was no crowd and no winner.

In many respects, the most disappointing aspect was just how little time was spent of this year’s songs. Just 30 seconds was played on each, which when you consider the crafting that went into each of them feels a little tight. I don’t think we needed the heartfelt message at the end of each clip, although credit to Iceland for going their own way with that as well as the song.

The satellite links were a little clunky as well, but that can be forgiven. They actually worked better than they do in the grand final. Again, though, they dragged on. Honouring 2020 songs seemed to be a lot lower down the agenda than it should have been.

At least Graham’s commentary was as robust as ever. Particular highlights were his review of Serbia’s entry (‘Serbia’s answer to the Pussycat Dolls, if the question is “who isn’t quite as good as the Pussycat Dolls?”‘) and his response to being asked where he was when the UK last won Eurovision in 1997 (“probably face down in a bar somewhere”).

So what would I have done? Well, I’m glad you asked. Ran the contest still, but allowed acts to send an official video or live performance. Still had the semis and the final, but the winner, rather than hosting next year, gets first dibs on hosting a special Eurovision concert. The songs get a proper airing, we all stop speculating on who would have won and the winner gets something.

If the EBU want to call me any time, I’m available.

I am beginning to really have to scour over the TV guide some nights now to find something to watch. I could fall back onto a repeat of something I enjoy if necessary, but I would increasingly prefer not to. We need to save something for the post-lockdown recovery while we wait for the schedules to get properly up and running again.

It just so happened one night there was a repeat of a documentary I missed the first time it was on. Ian Hislop’s Fake News: A True History is what it says on the tin – the story of how fake news has become so prevalent in modern society.

It covered several different aspects, from the birth of sensationalist tabloid reporting in nineteenth-century America and fake photography, to conspiracy theories motivated by racism and the very contemporary worry over deep fakes. It spread a whole spectrum of severity, to silly pseudo-scientific reporting, naked profiteering, right through to deliberate persecution of minorities and the rise of the alt-right.

One important thing Hislop does early doors is to clarify what fake news actually is. It is not news you disagree with that doesn’t fit your world view. Rather, it is news that is based on an objectively proven falsehood, like suggesting that bat people live on the moon or that some photographers can make the ghost of a loved one appear by your side in a portrait.

He also looks at the consequences of fake news. There is the obvious ones, where people believe the lies and are swayed to support dangerous political figures. But there is also the other extreme, where people grow so sick of the sensationalism they stop believing any news, even that which is true.

There are two other debates in the documentary. Firstly, who is responsible for controlling it? Just how much should Facebook and the like be held to account for spreading it? Is social media culpable or is it just a platform? Is intervening at all in the publication of fake news a form of blocking free speech?

Secondly, how do we, the public, deal with it? One of the contributors suggested we are just in a cycle, that the clickbait of socially media will lose its power and a new equilibrium will be established. But in the meantime, Hislop offers a very simple guide. Be skeptical, but not cynical. Always ask the question of news, who is telling me this and why?

Overall, this was a fascinating documentary. Hislop as ever presented a difficult topic in a light way but not dumbed down. It is a must watch for anyone interested in how we got into this situation and, more importantly, how to get out of it.

There is little worse than something you looked forward to being a damp squib. Those special occasions that never quite lived up to expectations, for example. Who hasn’t had a birthday that passed by virtually unnoticed or where every obstacle to celebrate was thrown down? Actually, considering the current environment, probably most of us right now.

On a smaller scale, it can be disappointing when a show that you love suddenly loses its edge or that spark that made you tune in. This is why I never begrudge a show ending before the viewers want it to if I can help it – it is just the creators why of ensuring quality control.

Much to my horror, Killing Eve has fallen into that trap. Some accused it of losing its way in the second season, but bar a few bum notes it was still brilliant to me. This third season so far isn’t.

I have to confess of only having seen the first two episodes at this point, so maybe salvation is around the corner. But for now, it seems to have many faults. The chief of which is that the two lead characters seem to have lost their way. Eve has become mopey and melancholic, a textbook sad alcoholic. Even worse, Villanelle has become exasperating, her mood changes no longer seductive and just plain annoying. They need to be shoved back on the right path again, hard.

I’m also not keen on the mood. Eve’s London seems to be dominated by greys, Villanelle’s Barcelona hideout beige and terracotta. The latter’s decadence seems tainted with solemnity compared to the joyfulness of her Parisian flat. Where have the colours gone? Everything suddenly feels so seventies.

There are bright spots to keep me going. For all of her annoyingness, Villanelle still knows how to spit out the best ripostes and the dark humour in her character is still there. Although I don’t completely buy into her bond with Dasha which lacks the chemistry of her scenes with Konstantin.

The biggest though is Carolyn, so long a secondary character who has now been allowed to step more into the limelight. It is a masterclass in restrained grief and devastating understatement. I hope this focus on her is sustained, as it really lifts the whole show.

What this show is beginning to need is a sense of direction. Is this about taking down The Twelve? What is the overall ambition of this organisation? And just who is double crossing who right now? The kills are all well and good, but what is the purpose of the body count? And what is the end destination for Eve and Villanelle? It increasingly feels like we should be told.

Mental health has grown in prominence over the last few years. This can only be a good thing, so long as this change is permanent and not just a fashion. Awareness is becoming a fight for better funding, and open conversations about everything from anxiety to eating disorders are flourishing.

As part of this, Dave have partnered up with the charity CALM to produce a series of stand-up specials called Comedy Against Living Miserably where comedians present a set talking about their own mental health. It is essentially Live at the Apollo with a theme.

Interspersed across the episode are scenes of the comics talking backstage giving more context to their set and about their life in general. The chats are interesting and can be quite deep. For example, one saw the group discussing the ‘sad clown’ trope, asking themselves that if in hunting so hard for the funny things in life, they are also become aware of the sad.

The problem is in mushing these two concepts together. Stand-up sets discussing mental health – great. Group conversations that go beyond the sets – fantastic. But the group chats often interrupt the set the comedian is doing, making you wonder if you are missing a part of the story. On the flip side, the more frivolous sets feeling like they are crashing on top of the poignancy of the conversations.

You end up feeling as if the two concepts should be separated and become either a stand-up show or more of a chat show. Either would create a more consistent tone and become a rewarding watch. My personal preference would be the latter, as the chats are still funny in places but also allow for a feel of more real talk.

It may feel like I’m being churlish criticising a charity programme, like I’m expecting it to be something Bafta winning. But all I’m asking for is for something that is so worthy in its nature to become worthwhile watching. Mental health is a very important topic. It deserves for progammes about it to be the best they can be.

I’ve really tried to resist writing this post. Covid-19 has taken over our lives and I wanted this blog to be a tiny corner where it is not mentioned. But it’s inevitable that I have to. Because TV is being impacted, and it would be foolish not to acknowledge it.

Some of the changes are subtle. Race Across the World has changed its opening titles so the brag of the ease of international air travel has instead referenced the dream of seeing the world, a nod to how out of reach this feels right now.

Others have had to have whole format changes. Have I Got News for You now has each of the panelists and host at home with no audience to play to bar each other. It doesn’t entirely work, but it’s a game effort, and with the right line up can still occasionally shine. It rewards the natural raconteurs over the one-liners. The Rev Richard Coles is a great example of this.

Likewise, The Graham Norton Show is reduced to half and hour with quick 5-minute conversations with the guests. Again, the sense of them bouncing off each other is missing and it all feels slightly stilted. But we have to forgive these things.

Of course, this begs the question of long-term impacts. For a start, this is normally the time of year when the autumn/winter panel shows start filming. Will we see truncated series of QI and Would I Lie to You?. This would mean schedules are being played with six months from now, perhaps even beyond Christmas.

Likewise, how quickly will soaps be able to get back into production and build the head of steam needed, and how will it impact storylines? If a character is meant to be absent for a year, will this suddenly get reduced? Continuity is going to be an even bigger minefield than it already is.

And what of dramas like Line of Duty and Peaky Blinders? The BBC was banking on them to be ready by a set schedule but that is now blown out of the water. The return to normal could be every bit as painful as the current crisis.

Or perhaps this could all be a non-issue. The lockdown is due to end at the height of summer. People itching to socialise will do so, filling week after week seeing people they haven’t been able to. If the weather is kind then the chances of them turning on the TV are zilch. It could become a chance to refresh the stock of programmes ready for winter. So let’s all pray to the weather gods for a pleasant summer. We all need it.

Teen drama is always something that America has excelled and Britain has lagged behind at. Shows like The OC and 90210 always carry that hint of glamour and melodrama lacking from something like Grange Hill or Byker Grove. Surely teens aren’t that different on either side of the Atlantic from each other?

Hurrah then for Netflix’s Sex Education. Set at a British sixth-form college, it focuses on Otis (Asa Butterfield) as he finds himself an unlikely relationship and sex guru to his fellow students whilst navigating his own sexuality. He is assisted by the resident bad girl Maeve (Emma Mackey) and gay best friend Eric (Ncuti Gatwa). Things are further complicated by his relationship with his professional sex therapist mother (Gillian Anderson).

I adore this show for many reasons. Firstly, it is an honest look at teenage sexuality in the 21st-century. The stark truth is many kids are having sex at 16/17 and this programme is great at navigating the minefield. I particularly loved one of the plotlines in the second episode, where a teenage couple encounter problems because the girl wants to only have sex in the dark due to her disgust at her own body. Otis teaches her to love herself in order to be more confident with her boyfriend, enhancing both their lives.

If this sounds preachy, it isn’t. Ideas like respecting boundaries and consent are tackled with a light touch and warmth. In fact, it’s only at the end of the episode you realise that you have learnt something.

All this makes it essential viewing for those 15 and up, which makes the 18 certificate a little bit infuriating. When a show is so openly teaching valuable life lessons, those who need it most should be able to access it. The nudity isn’t pornographic, it is real. If anything, it is the counter-balance to the overly pornographic nature sex is often displayed as in other shows. This is healthy sex. Free-range, organic, ethical sex.

The only criticism I have is the Americanisation of the show. There’s the lack of uniform at the school for a start, the sports team culture, the Mean Girls clique. I’m almost expecting a crowd of cheerleaders to appear. In a show that is so British in its humour, this setting becomes an almost jarring note.

Nevertheless, you quickly forget this. This show teaches you all you need to know about finding joy in relationships, not least in the physical side. More importantly, it centres love and trust in that relationship, qualities that all too often are forgotten. I make no apologies for repeating myself – this is a must watch for anyone embarking on their first relationship.