Archive for the ‘Telly’ Category

In a nutshell: Elementary, my dear iPad

Popcorn rating: 3.5/5

Sherlock, in which Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss bring Conan Doyle’s characters from fog-shrouded Victorian London into the 21st century, has returned to our screens. I enjoyed the first series, but had minor gripes with it, mainly that there was no need to show an iPhone and cut to images of the London Eye and the Gherkin every two minutes just to remind us it wasn’t the 1890s.

Now I’ve accepted it as all part of the BBC’s Sherlock ‘look’, however, I quite enjoyed that aspect this time around. I do need to point out that if you’re going to give a show an ultra-techy feel, don’t have characters say ‘camera phone’; who the hell has routinely called their phone a ‘camera phone’ in the past decade? What next, searching the internet with Ask Jeeves? But other than that, I’ve come to believe that it all adds to the excitement.

The cast in last night’s ‘A Scandal In Belgravia’ was strong as ever. Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes is still cold, sharp and slightly alien; Martin Freeman’s Watson is dependable but never boring. Mark Gatiss was perfect as Mycroft, and Una Stubbs as Mrs Hudson is… well, Una Stubbs. The plot was complicated, implausible and tremendous fun, much like Conan Doyle’s were. There’s no doubt that Sherlock is slick, stylish and immensely entertaining.

Last night’s episode reworked Conan Doyle’s ‘A Scandal In Bohemia’, in which Holmes finds the mysterious Irene Adler a particularly intriguing adversary. However, it appears that the writers wanted to crank it up a notch, so their Adler was a bisexual dominatrix and she and Holmes spent half the episode semi-clad and smouldering at each other. Sexy, right? Er… no. It was so heavy-handed and obvious that I expected the words ‘SEXUAL CHEMISTRY’ to flash across the screen accompanied by a klaxon. Nothing’s less sexy than having something flagged up as sexy. Fangirls fancy Cumberbatch. We know that. No need to hammer it home.

One other thing: Conan Doyle has Holmes captivated by retired opera-singer Adler and ultimately bettered by her. She ends the story with the upper hand. But last night, Adler, now a sex-worker, falls in love with Holmes and uses his name as a password. Under her Miss Whiplash exterior she’s a vulnerable, emotional ickle girl, you see; Sherlock even makes her cry. Oh, and in an ill-fitting twist, he also saves her from decapitation by terrorists.

Any power she has is sexually defined, she gets her comeuppance for being a bit too uppity and she ends up a damsel in distress who’s rescued by the hero. A fine piece of gripping, escapist, modern entertainment Sherlock may be, but iPhones, blogs and shiny London skyscrapers aside, sometimes I can’t help feel we’re moving backwards.

Reviewer: JoSheppard

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In a nutshell: Alien invasion meets soap opera

Popcorn rating: 2.5/5

Think of aliens from outer space and you’ll probably picture a sweaty, shaven headed Sigourney Weaver battling xenomorphs; or perhaps you’d focus on the softer tales of aliens interacting with humanity favoured by a young Steven Spielberg; or maybe you’d chuckle at the idea of a terrified 1950s radio audience panicked at how real a fictional ‘we’ve been invaded’ news announcement can be.

Falling Skies is very much in the Spielbergian camp, offering a story focusing on the human toll of an alien invasion. As an added credit, the world famous, cap wearing director even signed on as an executive producer. Of course, in retrospect, he probably wishes he hadn’t bothered as, quite simply, Falling Skies just doesn’t cut it.

Like The Walking Dead, Falling Skies is set after a catastrophic event and focuses on mankind’s last hopes at fighting back. The story centres on a band of survivors, based within the army’s ragtag 2nd Massachusetts division who have made their camp at John F. Kennedy High School. We quickly learn mankind is not alone. Hulking mechs roam the streets and highways eliminating everything in their way, while six-legged alien “soldiers”, known as skitters, enslave human children.

The aliens and their weaponry are eye catching, interesting, thrilling even, but when the aliens are nowhere to be seen, the American series doesn’t seem to know what to do with itself. This is supposed to be an apocalypse, a last ditch attempt to survive, and yet the characters aren’t broken; they’re clean cut, optimistic. It is almost like a soap opera.

The humans are led by Captain Weaver (Will Patton) who attempts to look vaguely haunted by his past and Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) who is completely wooden throughout the 10 episodes, during which he repeatedly ‘heroically’ insists on undertaking the most dangerous missions.

This makes it incredibly difficult to feel any empathy for the humans, and therefore any anger towards the aliens. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the final battle of the series goes out with a fizzle rather than a bang.

But to be fair, once Falling Skies works through its teething problems there are some interesting twists along the way. The aliens attach ‘harnesses’ to children which basically turn them into willing slaves – and possibly even worse, which is an interesting twist (though the survivors don’t seem to pick up on massive clues hinting at the symbiotic device’s darker purpose).

All in all, not as good as I had hoped but it offers some reluctant promise for a better second season.

Reviewer: David Morgan

Popcorn rating: Suits you sister

In a nutshell:3.5/5

Right, listen up all you perky young things. How many times do you have to be told by the funky-haired television types before it finally absorbs through your taut, peachy cheeks that 40-something females don’t need to dress like whores to feel young and sexy, hmm? So, like, get over it Barbie face.

What, you don’t believe me? Then you better watch Mary Queen of Frocks, because Mary Portas (the eponymous queeny) knows what women want. Don’t ask me how she knows, alright, she just does. And she tells us she does. Over and over again. With a murderous stare. That’s why she’s risking everything to open her very own outlet, showing all the senior sisters out there how to do it for themselves.

What she’s after opening is a sort of Fountain of Youth for the high street, or as she puts it, a “wonderful, spiritual home for women”. Ooh, get her. In her Shangri-La of chic, Buddha takes the form of a mannequin dressed in a ginger wig with chiffon culottes; scripture is a size-guide. It’s going to be the perfect retail refuge for all those misguided middle-aged frumps, dahling.

But the path to shopping enlightenment is not an easy one for Guru Portas. Like all struggling independent retailers, she’s had to fight to get what she wants. For instance, she had to make one phone call and stamp her feet a little before being given 2,000sq-ft of prime retail space in one of London’s busiest department stores – phew! Entrepreneurs could really learn a thing or two.

And it only gets tougher. She now has to recruit her own team of fashion disciples. From the looks of it, the person specification listed ‘anti-fat’ and ‘lack of opinion’ as essential criteria. In the end, hardly anyone bothers applying, probably because Portas can’t hold a conversation with another human being without looking as though she’s about to bite off their nose.

That’s what makes this show such fun to watch; the sinister and very real feeling that someone is about to get their neck snapped if they dare stand in the way of Portas’ retail regime of saving women from themselves. So, I think it’ll all turn out nice for her. Don’t ask me why. I just do, alright? Portas tells us it will. And if you want your nose to stay on your face, you’ll think it too.

Reviewer: AdamFairclough

In a nutshell: “Just put ‘approx’ nine more killings…”

Popcorn rating: 4/5

When someone ‘vulnerable’ – a child, or an adult who might not fully understand the procedure – is arrested or charged with a crime, an ‘appropriate adult’ is appointed to sit in on interviews, offer them advice, and generally make sure the nasty old policemen aren’t taking advantage of them. Presumably, when Janet Leach volunteered for this back in the mid-90s, she was expecting to be keeping an eye on 15-year-old shoplifters. What actually happened was that her first client was a ‘53-year-old man with learning difficulties.’

Who’d raped, murdered and dismembered his daughter.

Appropriate Adult is the true story of the investigation into Fred and Rose West’s squalid, sadistic murder spree, told from the perspective of Leach, West’s uneasy confidante. Much praise has been given to Emily Watson as Leach, but while she is indeed convincing in what must have been a harrowing part to play, from the audience’s point of view all she really has to do is look haggard and harassed. The really strong performance is from Dominic ‘No Relation’ West.

Is there no end to Dominic’s talents? How can one man play a Baltimore cop, a 1950s BBC newsreader and a psychotic bumpkin and be utterly convincing as all of them? I suspect witchcraft, but whatever: West is brilliant as, well, West. He’s sinister, occasionally roguish, even charming in a manipulative sort of way, one moment ‘a bit simple’, as my mother would say, and the next wily and cunning.

Somewhat overlooked in the previews, Monica Dolan as crass, aggressive, foul-mouthed Rose is excellent too – malevolent, vicious and terrifying in an entirely different way from her disturbingly affable husband.

The subject matter of Appropriate Adult is, of course, distressing, despite the wise decision not to attempt to recreate any of the actual murders or show the exhumation of the victims’ remains. But incredibly, there are lines, lifted straight from the real police interviews with Fred, that are shockingly close to being funny: this drama isn’t scared to shy away from the occasionally comic banality of small-town evil.

The cast and makers had a tough job on their hands with Appropriate Adult, but they’ve managed to pull it off without it once descending into sensationalism or exploitation. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve had cause to say this in the past twenty years – but ITV really have done a fine job.

Reviewer: JoSheppard

In a nutshell: On holiday with the lads

Popcorn rating: 3/5

The Inbetweeners was a surprise TV hit. For many, those awkward teenage years and the hierarchy of high school conjure up long lost memories of dread. But the honesty with which writers Damon Beesley and Iain Morris portrayed four friends made it a success with the young and the young at heart alike.

The joy of the TV series was that all the scenarios, no matter how embarrssing, seemed somehow feasible, from the first fumbling encounters with girls to a disastrous trip to Thorpe Park.

The film takes geeky Will, besotted Simon, potty mouthed Jay and dopey Neil on the next logical step after finishing high school – a lads’ holiday.

Making the transition from the small screen to the cinema has often been tricky for British comedies. Fear not though as this is not another Kevin and Perry Go Large.

The Inbetweeners trip takes them to Malia in Crete where, inevitably, their misadventures lead them to meet four girls – as well as Simon’s love interest from the show Carli – and the plot rolls on from there.

It’s fair to say The Inbetweeners does lose something in its transition to Crete. The high school gags are long gone and many of the supporting characters are absent. Greg Davies’ brilliant portrayal as cynical teacher Mr Gilbert makes a fleeting appearance but you long for more. It’s also a lot more vulgar than the show and, although many fans will love that, you can’t help but cringe.

But in other moments, the film is on absolutely top form. Watch out for the scene when Will, Simon and Neil dance over to a group of girls in an empty bar.

Credit also goes to Beesley and Morris for deliberately sabotaging every moment of the film that was deemed overly sentimental.

Essentially the movie stays true to original series but, with a short run time, you do get the lingering sense this could have all been achieved as an extended final episode on the telly.

Reviewer: DavidMorgan

In a nutshell: A cliche, a classic, a travesty

Popcorn rating: 4/5

In the great tradition of police dramas, The Chicago Code starts with a car chase. Cameras pan across the iconic city as maverick detective Jarek Wysocki (Jason Clarke) pursues the criminal Louis. The chase culminates with a gun being pointed in Wysocki’s face but ends peacefully when the detective offers Louis the chance to see his pregnant girlfriend one last time before his arrest. It is the kind of scene that, although cliched, instantly grips you.

Wysocki, a Polish American, is temperamental but brilliant at his job and the sort of ‘super cop’ that every police drama needs. Then again, what else would you expect from creator Shawn Ryan?

Ryan was the man behind The Shield, another cop show but from the perspective of a corrupt strike team in Los Angeles. The Shield also blessed us with one of TV’s most infamous anti heroes in Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis).

With The Chicago Code, Ryan gives the cop formula a lick of paint to make it more slick and high octane for the Fox network. It also takes a cue from The Wire by offering a glance at a cross section of the city and all those affected by crime and police work, from street level to the polished offices at city hall.

The core plot takes you to the top of the police and political food chains. Teresa Colvin (Jennifer Beals), the city’s first female police superintendent, is determined to build a case against the charming but crooked Alderman Ronin Gibbons (Delroy Lindo).

Viewers are also given an insight into the underworld with police officer Chris Collier (Billy Lush)working diligently undercover to substantiate the Irish mob’s connections to Gibbons.

Each character’s backstory is revealed through brief flashbacks and Scorsese-style voiceovers which gives the show a cinematic quality.

There’s many more characters that deserve a mention like Caleb Evers, Wysocki’s partner who is hungry to learn and the only detective seemingly able to tolerate Wysocki’s mood and whims. But it’s impossible to do the full cast justice as this is such a well crafted programme.

The fact that Fox cancelled The Chicago Code after just one series is still causing shockwaves among the angry fanbase. A Facebook group is out to save it but really there is little hope. Of course, Fox has to consider its bottom line but the corporation has proved time and again it does not look at the bigger picture.

Firefly was cancelled by Fox after just 14 episodes but creator Joss Whedon convinced Universal Pictures to bankroll the film sequel Serenity. Neither The Chicago Code nor Firefly received the instant mega ratings that Fox is looking for. But maybe their execs should consider the quality of production values and plot which offer the potential for growth with extended exposure.

Fox obviously don’t see the value of an intensely loyal fanbase either. It is sad that the joy of a great show has to end in the crushing disappointment of its premature demise but there we have it.

This writer will have to take some refuge in the fact that Ryan’s mate Kurt Sutter, the executive producer and one of the key writer’s of The Shield is doing a little better. Sutter’s excellent Sons of Anarchy, about a motorbike gang in California, has been cleared for a fourth series. Looks like TV’s criminals are winning in the cops and robbers stakes.

Reviewer: DavidMorgan

In a nutshell: News, spies and institutional teacups

Popcorn rating: 4.5/5

I know I’m supposed to love Mad Men, but I couldn’t be bothered. I watched The Wire; what more do you want? I’m not committing to yet another interminably long American import just so I can nod sagely when the Guardian’s TV critics are drooling over it.

And anyway… who needs Mad Men when we’ve got The Hour?

Set on a news programme in 1956, back when current affairs on TV was still finding its feet, The Hour is a gripping thriller in which ambitious young working-class journalist Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw, as twitchy, gawky and ‘on the spectrum’ as ever) tries to unravel a dangerous tangle of murder, political intrigue and national secrets.

Freddie is aided by his best friend and producer Bel Rowley (Romola Garai) and, reluctantly, by suave presenter Hector Madden (a great performance by a Brylcreemed Dominic West at his Old Etonian best), along with a host of other supporting characters. The characters are what really make The Hour stand out: the writers aren’t afraid to let them build slowly over several episodes, or to make them really quite unlikeable at first. It’s a rare drama these days that doesn’t throw everything there is to know about a character at the viewer in the first episode, and The Hour is all the better for the slow-burn approach.

The casting is universally perfect – look out for an almost unrecognisable Julian Rhind-Tutt playing against type – and so is the period detail. Yes, some of the clothes are lovely and the use of liquid eyeliner is excellent, but there’s also an austere, post-war dinginess to it. Rock and roll has barely arrived, and it’s deemed thankfully acceptable for an exhausted Bel to have dark circles under her eyes.

Where Mad Men is all glamorous offices and shiny new consumer goods in America’s land of plenty, The Hour is distinctly British. People may well wear beautiful dresses to dinner at extravagant country house weekends, but they also have wrinkled stockings and knitted tank-tops and sit in a grubby-looking canteen drinking tea from institutional cups. Set against a backdrop of the Suez Crisis, The Hour is sandwiched in history somewhere between rationing and the Profumo affair, and it’s got that authentic atmosphere of secrecy, paranoia and a rigid social hierarchy.

Is there anything bad about The Hour? Anything? Well… maybe the will-they-won’t-they thing between Bel and Freddie grates a bit, and the production team’s secretary is basically doing an impression of Martine McCutcheon in Love Actually. Other than that, its only fault is that there’s a mere three episodes left to go. Still – they say you should always leave your audience wanting more, and The Hour can only possibly do that.

Reviewer: JoSheppard