Archives for posts with tag: women

It is a source of joy and frustration that many dramas and comedies in the UK don’t have a fixed schedule. The next series is often at the whim of the writers and actors. It is a joy because you normally avoid a deluge of your favourites returning at all the same time. But it is also a frustration as you can often be left waiting around to see if it will come back at all.

So it was with Motherland, where were left not knowing the future. But it is now finally back, and remains the bitter joy that it was before. Sighs of relief all round.

This series does see some progression. Julia is now freelancing and working from home, although no less stressed. Meanwhile, new mum Meg is on the scene, brilliantly quick witted but also hedonistic. But everything else remains constant. Amanda is still queen bee faithfully followed around by Anne, Kevin is still the weedy dad and Liz the cynical and slovenly one of the group.

It is the sharp turns of phrase that make this show stand out. Liz in particular has a brilliant way of delivering killer barbs, for example, calling Amanda’s pretentious gift shop a ‘knick-knack prison’ whilst mourning the loss of her favourite kebab shop that has gone to make way for said boutique.

What is also fascinating is that it straddles the lines between making the characters slightly dislikeable but also sympathetic. Kevin is irritating but also sweetly trying to cling on to his identity through his kids. Amanda is a snob but also battling a breakdown in her marriage. Julia is selfish and spiteful but also harried and incredibly aware of her own failings. This means that when bad things happen to them you don’t feel uncomfortable but also don’t take too much pleasure from their pain.

There are some strong points made in between all this. Not least is the constant competitiveness that parenting has become. Another is, as Liz puts it, the yummy-mummification of the high street. Both show that in the battle of the haves and have nots, it’s the mums who are having to use most of the weaponry.

I hope don’t have as long a wait as last time for another new series, or we are at least put out of our misery sooner. Parenting comedies can often be finite so we need as many series as possible before we sink into the too predictable teenage years. Hopefully, this plea will chivvy it along.

I frequently compare my friends in my head to a TV personalities. One, due to her place of birth, is instantly Erin from Derry Girls. Another as he ages and grows increasingly middle-aged facial hair is Bob from Bob’s Burgers. It’s all harmless fun and I wouldn’t be surprised if they had similar comparisons for me (one has admitted that she sees me as David from Schitt’s Creek).

The strongest one I make is a friend who, due to her build and potty mouth, is an obvious Kathy Burke. Burke is a brilliant person to watch in anything, so naturally I had to settle down to see her documentary Kathy Burke’s All Woman. The premise is Burke exploring the female rites of passage she has eschewed to understand why so many women still want them in an age when, theoretically, they can be anything. Namely, motherhood, marriage and beauty.

Burke is charmingly unguarded in her views. In frequent conversations to the camera she explains why she has rejected all of these. Her pursuit of beauty was fruitless, as at her most conventionally beautiful she was at her unhappiest (not an unusual tale in itself actually). Meanwhile, the motherhood gene switched on, so she never felt the hunger for a child.

While her interviews with others are good, it is her following of one particular subject on a journey that is particularly interesting. In the beauty episode she followed a young woman getting a breast enhancement both pre- and post-operation. Exploring motherhood, she met a mid-30s woman who was having her eggs frozen to help her conceive when she finally meets ‘the one’.

Both episodes saw all roads leading back to one common cause. For beauty, it was social media. Her interview with former Love Island star Meghan Barton-Hanson saw the lengths she must go to look Instagram ready. It was enough to make you want to ban it all.

In terms of motherhood, it was a woman’s most formidable enemy – biology. Quite simply, women have a race against the clock that men don’t, and this can throw everything else out of the window. As one fertility expert put it, unless there is a male menopause that comes along that makes men infertile in their forties, then it will always be the women alone who must shelve career plans to bring up children.

This is a fascinating and accessible series that, even with the copious swearing, should be compulsory viewing for all teenagers, not just girls. It celebrates the progress women have made, the battles they still face, and the ones that for now need to be accepted as lost.

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.

I spoke last week about the fad of having people who are fundamentally unpleasant as lead characters in sitcoms. The kind of person who is rude, selfish and not as smart as they think they are, living under the impression that the world should fall into their lap. Man Down is a good example of this genre, with the central figure of Dan never believing that the bad things are happening because of him, but because the universe is against him.

His co-star Roisin Conaty treads a similar beat in her own sitcom GameFace. In it, she plays out of work actress Marcella, who gets by on temp jobs that she can never keep and is forced into life coaching sessions. To be fair, she is not as rude as the above description but is always trying to take a short cut in life and failing. And, most crucially, she has that most crucial character flaw for the genre, a lack of accountability.

Yet you actually feel a bit more sympathy for Marcella. I wonder if this is a gender issue – there is that feeling that if a man fails it is because of his own actions, a woman because of those of others. Or it could be that her actions never stem from a place of anger; she is merely scatty and impulsive rather than aggressive.

Conaty is, of course, brilliant, although when you play an exaggerated version of yourself it is hard not to be. Still, no one can deny the air of authenticity on the show. Her elaborate daydreams add a surreal dimension to the show and are probably the highlight.

Also, it is actually funny in amongst some the cringe. The best humour comes from her one-line responses as opposed to any of the elaborate set pieces, although that is just my take. I have never been one to be bowled over my embarrassing people as a form of humour, preferring witty repartee or caustic off-the-cuff remarks.

Basically, this functions as a short diversion. It is certainly good enough for you to spend your time on, but is also slightly throwaway and disposable. It certainly doesn’t match the sharpness of This Country, which has grown on me from being mildly enjoyable to bloody amazing. GameFace is perfectly fine in its own way. It may follow a well-walked path, but you won’t regret going down it.

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

I have spoken before about my love of Orange is the New Black. It showcases diversity across gender, racial and sexuality spectrums, yet you only realise this when you step away from it and think about it. It’s clever without being smug. It tells you moral tales without being preachy. It’s funny without being demeaning. So many boxes are ticked.

Individual seasons were up and down. The first one was peerless, the second darker but still strong. The third seemed lighter in tone, which I was fine with. Season four for me was a low point. Too dark and too angry, the subtleties of the cruelty that had been seen so many times laid too bare, although to its credit the closing episode was a beautifully done sucker punch.

Many didn’t like the fifth season but I did. I felt our investment in individual characters paid off in the riot, as different paths emerged, at least in the first half. Admittedly the second half was a bit of a sprawling mess, that seemed more to be building to the next season then giving satisfaction in that one.

However, the gamble seems to have paid off. The sixth season once again has seen the balance between dark humour and punchy drama restored. Only the best characters are back – Red, Taystee, Black Cindy etc. All of whom are now facing the consequences of their actions, with Taystee suddenly an icon of Black Lives Matter and Piper suddenly finding a sense of purpose.

The new characters are a mixed bag, but that is always the case. Baddison is certainly a more irritating presence than she is threatening, although Daddy proves to be a more interesting proposition. The main interest though is on rival cell kingpins Carol and Barbara. At the moment they are just on the sidelines, watching their respective troops line up. But you can feel a storm brewing and it will be rewarding for the viewer when it finally happens.

A particularly fun plotline is the fantasy inmate game the guards are playing, a form of fantasy football where inmates on your team pick up points for certain infractions. In fact, the new guards in general seem better to watch than previously, not merely at the extremes of cruel or too soft hearted.

There are still some plotlines we could have lost or developed differently. Gloria’s menopuase story and Blanca’s attempts to get pregnant are lost amongst the punchier stories. Pennsatucky being on the run was resolved too quickly and easily. And, bar her new sense of purpose, what function does Piper serve?

The advantage is that for every duff plot, two others work. This is still one of the best things Netflix ever made. It may be infuriatingly consistent, but it is so in the most charming of ways.

Revivals and reboots seem to be all the rage at the moment. Maybe it’s just the circle of nostalgia – the generation that enjoyed the originals is now old enough to be the decision maker in the industry and want to recapture their youth. Or more likely it is just a lack of original ideas, or at least ones that are profitable.

The latest mooted comeback is for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I have mixed feelings on this. It was a show that I loved as teenager and in my early twenties. It seemed to fit the times – a sassy, pop culture take on the genre. There was a chemistry so unique I find it hard to imagine it ever working that well again and I do not want my memories spoilt.

Having said that, there is such a lack of strong female leads in the fantasy world. Even most of the women in Game of Thrones seem entrapped by men in some way. Also, who am I to declare what the next generation can do and not do with a story? I gave short shrift to those who rampaged against the Ghostbusters revival, so I would be a hypocrite to put up the same barriers around Buffy.

There are some rules though that both the creators and fans (yes, fans, you have some responsibility too here) need to follow. First, we need to let the new Buffy be a new Buffy. If she is a different name, race, age or sexuality than the original we need to agree that is ok. We need to remember that this character is being made for a new generation to tell new stories.

More importantly, she is to be the change that generation wants to see, and a powerful female figure to boot. So gents, if she isn’t the stuff of your wet dreams, don’t wang on about it. That’s not her job. She just needs to kick ass.

That message goes to the writers as well. Make her a bimbo, or dependent on the love of men, or subservient to anyone in anyway, then you are missing the point of the character. Buffy taught a generation of people that while love is, well, lovely, it shouldn’t be something that makes you weak.

Finally, make the new stories genuinely new stories. Tap into contemporary fears and give us the hope they can be beaten. The evil tech genius who possess people through social media. The vampire who uses Tinder to meet its victims. The demon who thrives off the chaos caused by fake news. There, that’s three plots sorted for you. DM me for how to give me payment.

So I’ve decided that, if things go as they should, the reboot of Buffy will work. But, as I said, it is not just on the writers, it is on the fans as well. Don’t tear things down just because it isn’t what you want. This new telling is for new people as well. Let them get excited the way you did. Because you would hate for anyone to destroy the love you have for the new thing you have found, wouldn’t you?