The Past Month on TV #9

There’s so much TV right now! And that’s before you consider all the old stuff to catch up on (and by “old” I mean “anything aired before the past month”).

Still, here’s a selection of what’s been gracing my eyeballs in the last 35 days…

Luke Cage (Season 1)
Luke CageThe third series in the Marvel/Netflix stable wins points for boldness, much as Jessica Jones did this time last year. Where Daredevil is a well-done but ‘standard’ superhero show, leading to it being somewhat demeaned by the Cool Kids of the critical world (but much higher-rated by us plebs on the likes of IMDb), Jessica pushed into dark psychological territory, and now Luke Cage brings black culture and life into the fold.

In truth, I still think Daredevil is the best produced of the three. Maybe that’s because it’s operating in more familiar territory, but it seems to know how to construct its storylines to fit the time given, and pace them to really kick off that “just one more episode” feeling that Netflix binge-watching is so famed for. Conversely, Jessica didn’t have enough story for 13 episodes, spinning its wheels and going in circles in the second half. Luke Cage doesn’t suffer from that exact problem, but it spends a lot of time finding excuses to keep its near-invulnerable hero out of the action.

But, for its plot-related flaws, it’s not a bad show. It has three strong villains — it’s just a shame it’s the fourth who becomes the focus for the back half of the season. Its use of music is unusual and brilliantly executed, though as it’s employing genres and styles, indeed a whole culture, that I’m not exactly au fait with, it’s like watching as a fascinated outside observer rather than someone fully embedded or engaged. That’s not necessarily a negative, just a different way of relating to it. And even with those storytelling faults I mentioned, there’s at least one huge and unexpected twist, which really livens up the show… for a bit. It also gives Rosario Dawson the biggest role she’s yet had in one of these Marvel series, and that’s no bad thing either.

Indeed, the best thing about Luke Cage is its characters. Mike Colter is an appealing leading man — when the character is allowed to do something, anyway — and the supporting characters on both sides are fantastic (with that one unfortunate exception I already mentioned). This bodes well for when they join up with everyone else in The Defenders next year, and also leaves season two with plenty of potential…

…if Netflix commission it, of course. Surely they can’t be intending to have 6+ Marvel shows on the go?!

Ripper Street (Season 5)
Ripper StreetIt feels like only yesterday I was writing here about season four (it was, in fact, February and March). I think it was assumed this final season would be coming next year, but then Amazon announced it almost out of the blue just before the BBC’s run of season four ended, and made the unusual-for-them decision to dump the whole season at once, Netflix-style. It benefits this particular group of episodes because it really is one long story — when the show moved to Amazon for its third season it got more heavily serialised, but often with “case of the week” plots alongside that; the end of season four and all of season five throw that almost entirely aside for one long, developing storyline.

Nonetheless, they’ve done a good job of making a TV show rather than a really long movie in six parts. The third episode, in particular, sets our heroes aside almost entirely to spend an hour with a villain who’s barely done more than grunt so far, digging into his psyche and his hopes (if any) of redemption. It almost felt more like an arty drama film than an episode of a period police procedural and proves that, even after five years, a quality programme can still push at and explore its form.

The final episode, however, is a certified oddity. After wrapping up the season’s primary plots with relative haste, it moves on to an odd, somewhat lethargic non-story. It is, in its way, bold for what started as a police procedural to end with an episode that focuses on the drama of its characters’ lives, but it does so with an almost perverse fixation on setting up certain expectations only to dash them. It is tough to call the episode either satisfying or unsatisfying as a conclusion, though I imagine some will come to the latter opinion purely because it is so uncommon. It’s titled Occurrence Reports, and that seems apt, for it seems to merely report a series of occurrences; but they do at least, in their way, bring all of the series’ parts to their respective ends.

Leaving aside the finale’s forays into structural experimentation, this is a good final season, that has moments to count among the programme’s very best. I still reckon season three is the best individual run, however.

Black Mirror (Series 2)
Black MirrorWell, it’s only taken me 3½ years to get round to this (seriously, where does time go?!) This bunch really represents the series’ highs and lows. On the one hand, Be Right Back — in which Hayley Atwell signs up for a company who create a virtual version of her deceased partner using his contributions to social media — is an exploration of broadly-plausible near-future-tech with a focus on its potential emotional effect. That’s what Black Mirror does best, I’d argue: look at stuff that may, perhaps, be in the pipeline, and how that would actually play out for us. On the other, there’s The Waldo Moment, which is also sickeningly plausible — as Charlie Brooker himself has said, it’s more or less come true, though with the likes of Boris Johnson and Donald Trump instead of a blue cartoon bear — but as an episode it doesn’t quite seem to know where to go with its concept or what it might ultimately signify. The episode just stops rather than ends, until a flash-forward coda that’s a bit silly in its extremity. Even Brooker, while doing press for the third season (released tomorrow), has said he’d go back and re-do that episode if he could. Still, full marks for effort.

Red Dwarf XI (Episodes 1-5)
Red Dwarf XIThis latest series of Red Dwarf (which airs its fifth episode tonight, with the sixth available on demand from tomorrow) seems to have gone down rather well, with some reviews even hailing it as a “return to form” — that form being “the good old days” of Red Dwarf VI (or thereabouts), over 20 years ago. Personally, I didn’t dislike Red Dwarf VII or Back to Earth, and I even have a soft spot for Red Dwarf VIII, so what do I know? Nonetheless, I would concur that this Dwarf represents a fine vintage, hitting the series’ unique mix of accessible mainstream-ish comedy and proper science-fiction concepts. Red Dwarf XII is already in the can for 2017, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dave commission more episodes beyond that.

Star Trek The City on the Edge of Forever
Star Trek: The Animated Series Yesteryear
Star Trek - The City on the Edge of ForeverThe entirety of TV Star Trek is available on Netflix, so I took the chance to watch the most acclaimed episodes of both The Original Series and The Animated Series — which happen to be connected, something I didn’t realise until afterwards. Er, I mean, which I totally planned. Both are pretty fine uses of science-fiction to explore relatable issues. Well, not many of us have to deal with disruptions to reality caused by time travel, or knowledge of the future creating dilemmas about what we do next, but they work the relatable stuff in around the surface plots. And they both still seem pretty bold for network TV episodes even today, almost half a century later, as (spoilers!) Kirk lets a good woman die to retain the correct timeline, and a kids’ cartoon deals with the subject of euthanasia.

Also watched…
  • Castle Season 6 Episode 8-Season 7 Episode 1 — almost always a nice, light, entertaining show, but the season 6 finale is a mess. Well, the bulk of it’s fine, but the premise is illogical and the cliffhanger is weightless and unneeded.
  • The Great British Bake Off Series 7 Episodes 5-9 — this series has seen Bake Off’s charms firing on all cylinders, I think, which just reminds you what we’re about to lose.
  • Line of Duty Series 1 — as this is on Netflix I thought I’d finally see what all the fuss is about. I think it’s the second run where it really took off, but this has its moments.
  • The Musketeers Series 2 Episodes 6-7 — quite a few grim crime shows in this month’s viewing, so a bit of quality swashbuckling is a welcome change of pace.
  • Scott & Bailey Series 5 — not the strongest run (the “darknet serial killers” case was a little too outlandish for a show that has often thrived on its more-plausible-than-your-average depiction of murder investigation), but still a quality police drama. Shame there won’t be more.

    Things to Catch Up On
    WestworldThis month, I have mostly been missing loads of stuff. Probably the most talked about is HBO’s adaptation of Westworld, which has apparently pulled in even bigger ratings than Game of Thrones. Over here there’s the second series of The Missing, which if it’s half as good as the first will be a real must-see. Then there’s Woody Allen’s first (and last) TV series for Amazon, Crisis in Six Scenes. Reviews have been mixed to poor but I still intend to get round to it. And finally Hooten & the Lady, which may be the worst title for anything in the history of ever, but a globetrotting adventure series inspired by the likes of Indiana Jones and Romancing the Stone sounds right up my alley.

    Next month… the latest Doctor Who spin-off comes to iPlayer; brand-new Black Mirror comes to Netflix; and I’ll finally watch Stranger Things, I promise.

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  • 9 thoughts on “The Past Month on TV #9

    1. Westworld is brilliant. Its currently up there with Blade Runner in my book, so much so I wonder how Blade Runner 2049 will function as a standalone movie with (presumably) similar themes within just two hours running time.

      I guess it really depends on where Westworld goes over ten eps though- at the moment its all tease/set-up, it really depends on the (eventual) pay-off but its certainly very promising. Brilliantly executed so far.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Glad to hear it’s so good. I always thought the production issues, that some were using to try to write it off before it even aired, would amount to naught. I just have to decide whether to catch up now or save it all for a binge at the end of the season.

        Like

    2. Another plug from here from WESTWORLD. I did wonder how it would spin the story out for so long (apparently there are going to be five seasons), but I’ve now seen the first two episodes and can see where it’s going. Very good stuff though so far.

      Personally I’ve gone down the unfashionable route of catching up on new series DOCTOR WHO (currently up to S6) and very much enjoying it, after reading the Russell T Davies book, A Writers Tale. Looking forward to the Netflix series of BLACK MIRROR (the Atwell episode you mentioned was a cracker, beautifully acted also), and speaking of which, by association only, I have ploughed through the latest Adam Curtis documentary, HYPERNORMALISATION, on iPlayer. It’s like a distilled and over-arching version of themes Curtis has explored in previous offerings – very good paranoid fun, and that skill of mixing archive footage with other odds and sods is becoming an art form in itself.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I love The Writer’s Tale. I may be slightly biased as both a Doctor Who fan and aspiring writer, but I’d probably number it among the best books I’ve read. Season 6 is around about the time new Who begins to go a bit askew, in my opinion, though I’d argue there are gems in every season.

        I don’t think I’ve ever watched any of Adam Curtis’ stuff, but that does sound interesting — though at that length I’m sure “ploughed” is the right word!

        Liked by 1 person

        • To be honest I’m loving S6; knowing the arcs in advance, knowing what’s coming, really makes it all quite thrilling. Being able to watch it as a box set helps also, plus Matt Smith being brilliant throughout of course. Loved that RTD book – what a thing to show how difficult and tricky writing this stuff is, the sheer attention to detail involved. I couldn’t put it down.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I think I owe s6 a re-watch, because looking back over the episodes I enjoyed most of them, including the ones a lot of people dislike. It felt quite bumpy at the time, especially with the mid-season break, so I can see how it might hold up better with that foreknowledge.

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