Archives for posts with tag: women

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.

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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?

I avoid adaptations as a rule. If it is a book I have no interest in reading, why would I want to see a TV version? If I do want to read it, why would I spoil the pleasures of it? And if I have read it, why would I want someone else’s interpretation ruining mine? I can’t help but thinking if everybody followed this logic, then there would be a lot more space for some original programmes to me made.

Yet every so often one suckers me in. It helps if I’m nostalgic about the book, the reading of it conjuring up a time in my life. Plus there are surely some books that they can’t mess around with that much.

Such is the case with The Woman in White. I read this at university and loved it. Victorians knew how to do Gothic sensationalism. Menacing aristocrats, creepy buildings, women who would kill you as quick as kiss you, it’s all there. And there is nothing like sinking your teeth into a good mystery. It transfers to TV so easily that it seems silly to faff about with it.

Yet there has been faff. First, an artsy narrative structure has been imposed of characters giving statements to a solicitor dealing with a case, but not necessarily the case at the centre of the story. Then there’s the feminist speech my Marian Halcombe. I have no objection to feminist speeches, but a good adapter would have found a way of showing us that men are wicked towards women rather than telling us. It’s all there in the plot anyway, so why club us over the head at the start

Having said that, I don’t totally object to this adaptation. Jessie Buckley is very good as Marian, playing the less-than-typical Victorian lady as was intended, opening speech besides. In fact, the casting all round works so far. I have a shaky memory of the finer details of the book, which will help the adapters get away with some things, but Walter Hartright is largely an ineffectual hero until the end, and Ben Hardy, without being rude, has that look about him.

What will make this adaptation live or die is the performance of Count Fosco, who makes his first appearance in the second episode. He needs to be charming yet threatening, and if memory serves me correctly, attractive despite (or because of) him carrying a bit of extra weight. If that doesn’t work, the book’s most alluring character is dead in the water and the rest of the plot with it.

I still come back to that jarring note though I understand that if a story has been told before then it needs a new way. But credit the viewers with being modern enough to see the misogyny played before them. Don’t make characters utter statements that render the plot impotent. And don’t think you know better than the classics. They became so for a reason.

After a bit of a delay, I have finally got round to catching up on Derry Girls. For the unaware, this is a sitcom set in early 90s Derry at the height of the Troubles. Essentially, a coming-of-age story with a darkly humourous backdrop. Derry is a city that behaves like a small town, in that everyone knows everyone else. Part of my keen interest in the show is that one of my closest friends is from that neck of the woods and she has assured me that, yes, it really is like that.

The focus is on Erin, a fairly typical teenage girl, desperate to improve her status despite already having a loyal gang of mates. There is her cousin Orla, who is dim witted and flaky. Claire operates as the group’s moral compass, but is perhaps too moral and is quick to turn grass. Michelle is the gobby trouble causer, who always has a get rich scheme. And finally, there’s James, the only boy in an all-girls school and who has committed the sin of being, gasp, English.

Interestingly, all the characters seem to be increasingly well fleshed out, bar Erin. For a focal point, she seems a remarkably blank canvas. Her main role seems to be to contort her face in disgust at everything around her, which is getting slightly annoying. Thankfully, the other characters have enough of a footprint to raise the show.

The adult members of the cast are also good. Erin’s grandad constantly undermining his son-in-law, who seems to be an ocean of sanity amongst the madness. Orla’s mum, Aunt Sarah, is every bit as daffy as her daughter.

The show is stolen though by headmistress and nun Sister Michael. There is a delicious stony expression that lives on her face permanently, whether it is dealing with a failed attempt by Michelle to bully a Year 7 or banning ‘Love is All Around’ from the school assembly list. Her deadpan comments are a sheer delight and worth the entry fee alone.

The timeliness of the show cannot go unnoticed either. Just as the Good Friday Agreement comes under serious threat through a mixture of Brexit and the power collapse at Stormont, this is a reminder of the bad old days, where bomb threats and paramilitary attacks were worryingly routine. Whilst this is a fertile ground for dark humour (the first episode sees lots of jokes about a suspicious package on the main road through Derry) it should also be a stark message about not wanting to go back in time.

Is it funny? Yes, perhaps not side-splittingly, but will certainly raise a giggle. It is also well crafted and smart. And if all else fails, it has a corking soundtrack of early 90’s classics. Yes, the main character needs work. But that doesn’t stop it being a joy.

Firstly, an apology for missing a week. Real life got in the way. And by real life, I mean a Christmas Afternoon High Tea with prosecco. But I am back now, so let’s crack on.

Last year the BBC launched a number of sitcom pilots to see if any could generate enough interest to succeed as a series. Most failed to even raise an eyebrow, but one – Motherland – generated both critical and public acclaim. This perhaps isn’t surprising when you consider the calibre of people working on it. Two of the four writers are Graham Linehan and Sharon Horgan, both of whom have a pedigree in making excellent comedies.

Motherland is, as the title obviously suggests, about parenting. Anna Maxwell Martin plays Julia, who is trying to ‘have it all’ and ending up often with having nothing but stress thanks to a feckless husband. Diane Morgan is the more slatternly (and presumably unemployed) single mum Liz, Lucy Punch as queen of the ‘Tiger Mums’ Amanda and Paul Ready is stay-at-home dad Kevin.

It has to be said the strongest character is Liz, full of brutal honesty and realism with also a touch vulnerability. A particular highlight came in episode one when Julia’s entertainer for her child’s birthday party was exposed as a racist and Liz had also used and refused to pay him. When Julia queried if it was the racism, Liz responded with: “No, because he was shit! If I didn’t pay people because they were racist I would have never got my satellite dish fitted. Or my wedding catered for”.

This more down-to-earth humour balances the more manic energies brought by Julia and Kevin. The latter in particular is annoying, a mixture of weird obsessiveness with a desperation to please normally only seen in puppies. It is the fact this portrayal veers in the cartoony that is the show’s biggest weakness. Everybody else you feel is somewhat believable, regardless of their faults.

Putting Kevin aside, this is an excellent comedy. It actually makes you laugh as the strands of the episode build to a climax. There isn’t any of the absurdism of Linehan’s other sitcoms, but then, that wouldn’t work here. This is about wry observations of modern parenting and the social rules that come with it.

I hope this show achieves continued success. Female-dominated comedies often get plenty of well-meaning comments but nothing to show for it. This deserves more. At the very least, a BAFTA for Morgan, who seems to be constantly just bubbling under the surface as a breakout talent. Maybe this could be her chance to join those at comedy’s top table. She has earnt it.

 

I’m sure regular readers are all too aware of my love for Orange Is The New Black. I genuinely consider it to be on the most original shows out there. You can laugh your head off at one scene and be heartbroken by the next. And I have waxed lyrical about the diversity of the cast, but I will say it again for those at the back – this is THE show that waves the flag for diversity.

My love did dim a little last season. There was too much darkness, too much oppression, too many people at warm. OITNB is skilled at doing those little uplifting moments, but there were too few last time.

Yet this repressive atmosphere is what has led to the catatonic energy of season 5, which centres on a riot. The emotional explosions only work because so much was contained previously. It also is where the viewer gets a big payoff. We have followed these characters for quite some time now and know them. Seeing the breadth of reactions is powerful. We have the Hawaiian woman who chooses to hide, the meth heads who decide to become guards, and those who seek to exploit it purely for their own gain.

The humour is right back in full flow. Big Boo, so dislikeable at times early on, has become a one-liner machine and her growing friendship with Pennsatucky is one of the most rewarding sub-plots in the show. Meanwhile, Red on amphetamines has to be one of the most perfectly pitched pieces of slapstick I have seen.

The heartbreak is here too though. So-So’s reaction to Poussey’s death has been well played, subtle little moments of private grief interspersed with explosions of anger. It is a grief that burns away and eats you from the inside.

The star of this season though is Taystee. Having spent most of the first four seasons as a comedic foil or second-in-command, she is now the leader. She is the one who is driving through change. This isn’t just revenge on the guards, or even salvaging something from Poussey’s death. This is about changing the entire culture of the prison and restoring humanity. The failure of those outside to grasp this – both the media and the corporations – is a damning indictment of how fair minded those of us we consider ‘civilised’ actually are.

If I could make one change, it is that I feel that there are some stories still not being told. Take the Nazis, who suddenly appeared last season. Why are they who they are? Everyone else is given a reason for their behaviour, why not them? In making the case for diversity, is this show failing to explore the mind set of those who oppose it?

This show has always been a social commentary. It has, at times, lost this too soapiness and titillation. But this time, it seems to be pitched just right. This should be compulsory viewing for all those that think the private sector is the answer to our problems or that we can dehumanise sub-sections of our society without a cost. Yet they are the very people that will not watch it.

The biggest problem with any series that is set in the recent past is the tendency for the lifestyle of whichever era is being recreated to be viewed through rose-tinted spectacles and, in some extreme cases, to be fetishized. Downton Abbey falls into this trap, with viewers believing the early 1920’s was all picnic’s and jazz bands. Of course, in this case such romanticism is deliberate, as the creator Julian Fellowes seems to treat the past not just as ‘another country’ but a better one. There may be political turmoil around the world which is only just clambering out of a devastating war, but at least everyone dressed properly for dinner.

The Bletchley Circle almost falls into the same trap. Again, we find Britain picking itself up from the hammer-blows of international conflict, although this time in the 1950’s as opposed to the 1920’s. Yet it also neatly avoids many of them, and certainly denies many viewers the opportunity to wish themselves there. This largely down to the premise and genre. Four former Bletchley Park code breakers reunite to rescue a friend from being wrongfully convicted of murder. This is a sequel to the original series where one of the group (Anna Maxwell Martin, who seems to be currently living in period costumes) spotted the pattern of a serial killer far faster than the police did. With crime and the behaviour of bad people at the forefront there is naturally less of a desire to wish yourself in a time machine to join them.

Likewise, the social environment appears far more cruel than we find in Downton. It is telling that of the three women who are all still in work, all are single, and mainly in menial roles. The fourth, Martin herself, is married with children and is therefore obligated to be a housewife. There is a telling scene when she is visiting boarding schools for her daughter where she is brusquely informed by the headmistress that girls in general are not to be encouraged to study maths, as the arts and languages are much more appropriate, with Martin using every fibre of her soul to not tell the teacher exactly where to stick her education. And with it being the 1950’s her husband doesn’t understand this frustration, after all his daughter’s future husband is the one who needs skills to succeed in the workplace. Ditto his breezy comment about being promoted to a post abroad, with the subtext that his wife can say no, but they will go anyway so she can go with a smile on her face or sulking, either way the boat leaves soon.

In fact, underneath the grisly crimes and the jolly hockey-sticks banter, what appears to be most at the centre of Bletchley is what does a society do with woman when their skills beyond producing babies and running a home are surplus to requirements? As terrifying as World War Two was, it gave women social and economic freedoms. A whole generation of bright, young girls found doors opening and a ‘purpose’ only for 6 years later to be gently eased or shoved back out of them again when the men came home.

Yet as Martin’s character demonstrates, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. A generation of ‘pushy’ mothers who found there talents going to waste ensured their daughters got a better education and could compete with men. They literally gave birth to the second-wave of women’s lib activists. It was a slow path, and still is, but we should all be thankful it is one that was started.