The Past Fortnight on TV #20

Like some kind of Walder Frey impersonator, I’m having two feasts in a fortnight — two feasts of TV reviews, that is!

It may’ve passed you by (don’t think I’ve seen any coverage of it anywhere at all), but Game of Thrones is back, so that’s where I’ll begin…

Game of Thrones  Season 7 Episode 1
Game of Thrones season 7Season premieres of Thrones are typically concerned with re-establishing where all the major characters are, and maybe moving their stories on a few baby steps to indicate where they’ll be headed this season. Dragonstone is no exception. So where Arya had arrived in Westeros to kill the Starks’ enemies, now she’s slaughtering them by the hallful; where Bran and Meera were headed for the Wall, now they’re passing through it; where Jon and Sansa were taking charge in the North to be ready for war, now they’re preparing for war; where Sam had headed to the Citadel to research important stuff, now he’s in the Citadel researching important stuff; where Cersei had taken the Iron Throne and Jamie had his doubts, now Cersei’s preparing to defend her kingdoms and Jamie has his doubts; and where Dany was sailing for Westeros with her hodgepodge military, now she’s landed in Westeros. The wonder of Thrones is that it can take such scene-setting and turn it into riveting television.

That’s because everything about the show is so well put together. Each sequence offers one or more out of sharp-witted dialogue, sublime direction, surprising emotion, or badass mass-murder, alongside consistently stellar performances. David Bradley, Rory McCann, and Sophie Turner were the particular standouts this episode, I thought, with special mention for all that John Bradley had to endure in the name of a montage. Although some scenes only left us with more questions about the future, others were satisfying vignettes in their own right. It’s a good mix.

Ed SheeranIn fact, the only thing letting the side down was the well-publicised cameo by Ed Sheeran. If you have no idea who Mr Sheeran is then perhaps his appearance was fine — his acting was no worse than dozens of other bit players they’ve had on the series before now. But if you do know who the singer-songwriter is, his appearance was like being served a cheese board accompanied by cheese crackers with a glass of melted cheese and extra cheese on the side. After devoting what felt like a significant chunk of time (but was probably mere seconds) to him singing a song, Arya trots over to him and goes, “I don’t know that one,” and he says, “it’s a new one,” which he may as well have followed up with, “which you can hear in full on my new album, available now everywhere music is sold.” I have no idea if he has a new album out, or if that song would be on it if he did, but that’s how it felt.

Anyway, maybe next week Arya will murder him in his sleep. Things to look forward to…

Twin Peaks  Season 3 Episodes 9-10
Happy times in Twin PeaksSlowly, very slowly, the disparate strands of Twin Peaks Mk.III seem to be coalescing into a coherent, connected story… which is almost more frustrating, in its own way. By that I mean: when it was wilfully obscure, you just kind of went with it — it was Lynch being Lynch, and you had to let it wash over you and allow your feelings to do the deduction about what it was supposed to signify. Now that the plot is beginning to crystallise into something your rational brain can make sense of, it feels a mite slow in getting there. I mean, while Dougie Jones is less annoying than he used to be (helped in no small part by the brilliance of Naomi Watts), I still miss real Coop, and we’re running out of episodes to spend time with him again. Was MacLachlan just feeding us a red herring when he said he’d “almost forgotten how to play him”? Because he hasn’t played him yet! Ach, we’ll see. It remains defiantly its own thing, and at least we can trust Lynch is going somewhere with it — even if we may never be able to work out precisely where that somewhere was…

Automata  Season 1
AutomataBased on a webcomic from the creators of Penny Arcade and funded through Kickstarter (so far it’s only available to backers), this miniseries-cum-pilot (the five short episodes total 58 minutes) takes place in an alternate Prohibition-era America, where “Prohibition” instead refers to the ban on production of automatons — sentient robots. Ex-copper Sam Regal (Basil Harris) and his partner Carl (voiced by Doug Jones), an automaton, now make ends meet as PIs, doing the usual PI thing: photographing cheating spouses. Only this time the run-of-the-mill case leads them into a murderous web that encompasses speakeasies, robo-gigolos*, underground automaton-hating gangs, and a twist ending (natch).

There are two particularly striking things about Automata. The first is its interesting alternate history. From this opening season (which, as I alluded to earlier, is equivalent to a single episode really) it’s tricky to get an idea of how fully imagined it is, but this is a promising start. Secondly, it has really strong production values, especially for something on such a low budget. In particular, the CGI used to create the automatons is exceptional. But it’s also very nicely shot, with the deep shadows so evocative of noir. It was made available in 4K, so it’s the first thing I’ve bothered to properly watch in that quality since I got my new TV. I must say, I’m not sure it looked any better than a good 1080p transfer. That said, I didn’t watch it side by side with its lower-res version, and my screen is on the low end size-wise of those available in 4K, so maybe it wasn’t the fairest test of the format. When I finally get round to American Gods, or when The Defenders comes out, then I’ll give it a longer trial.

Anyway, personal technological observations aside, Automata is a well-made proof-of-concept that should satisfy anyone who thinks “Prohibition-era noir story, but with robots!” sounds like a good pitch. And if you’re still not sure, you can watch an atmospheric trailer here. Whether this’ll lead to a full-blown series, or even just further miniseries like this one, it’s too early to say, but I’ll be there to watch them. (And I’ll try to remember to mention when this one becomes available to non-backers, too.)

* That’s not what they call them, I just thought it sounded good.

Also watched…
  • Line of Duty Series 3 Episodes 1-3 — with the tennis over, it’s time to dive back into series the other half also cares about. This is the season of Line of Duty, apparently, so it should be a corker. More thoughts on this one next month when we’ve finished it, but that first episode… must’ve been great for those who hadn’t had the twist spoiled!
  • Wallander (UK) Series 4 Episode 1 — it’s been yonks since this final series was on, but we’re finally making time for it. The first episode upped sticks for a South African setting, and so did the production — and they clearly wanted us to know it, with tonnes of truly stunning location photography. It was almost worth watching for that alone, but I also thought the episode had a strong, weighty (if ultimately predictable) story.

    In other news…

    The 13th DoctorThe biggest TV news this fortnight was undoubtedly the BBC’s announcement of the 13th actor to take the title role in Doctor Who. (Well, the 14th. Well, the… oh, let’s not get into that.) As you surely can’t have missed, it was Jodie Whittaker, who is a woman! Gasp! Naturally, there was some outrage. After all, it makes no sense whatsoever that an alien being who can travel in time and changes his whole body every time one gets worn out could possibly, during that change, switch from being a man to a woman, even if it’s been established multiple times within the series itself that such a change is possible. It’s just not plausible, is it?

    It’s difficult to tell whether the loonies who actually believe that groundless claptrap are in the majority, or if the day instead belongs to the many who were mightily pleased by the news. Hopefully the latter. There’s certainly a lot of positive word of mouth, so hopefully the naysayers will be converted. Even most of the media were on side, though some of our pathetic excuses for ‘newspapers’ reverted to predictable type and ran articles on Whittaker’s previous roles that featured nudity. Apparently one paper accompanied it with photos of previous Doctors topless, as if that somehow justified it. On a more intelligent note, Variety ran a piece about the importance of the casting: “Coming from one of the biggest media franchises on the planet, the news that the new Doctor Who is female is huge — and almost completely delightful.” (Emphasis my own, because it pleases me.)

    Anyway, I guess the proof will be in the pudding — in this case, the “pudding” being the ratings. I hope it’s a success. I mean, I always hope Doctor Who is a success, but there is extra weight on this particular incarnation, like it or not. New showrunner Chris Chibnall doesn’t have the strongest track record on the show, but he’s done first-rate work elsewhere, so fingers crossed — at the end of the day, it’ll be the quality of the writing as much as the quality of the performance that will make or break the first female Doctor.

    Things to Catch Up On

    The Handmaid's TaleThis month, I have mostly been missing The Handmaid’s Tale. It belatedly started airing on this side of the pond at the end of May, but it slipped my mind so much that I didn’t even mention it in the May post. Ironically, it’s no longer fully available on demand so I’ll have to get hold of it (at some point) in the same way I would’ve before anyone bothered to air it here. Meanwhile, in “things I’ve actually started”, I’m three episodes behind on Preacher. This happened last year, too. I’m sure I’ll catch up on some or all of it before next month’s column.

    Next month… Cannes hit miniseries Top of the Lake: China Girl.

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  • 2 thoughts on “The Past Fortnight on TV #20

    1. I’m actually 4 episodes into Handmaids Tale (hurrah for Tivo) and have to say it’s pretty incredible. Really, really good- so good I watched all four episodes in one day. Its pretty intense so I’m going to give it a rest for a few days, but its pretty amazing how some shows hit the ground running from episode one and nail EVERYTHING. Remember how shows like Babylon 5 needed.a full season to iron out the kinks?

      Game of Thrones, yep, great first episode, although I did watch the last episode of season 6 the night before so all the ‘catching-up’ got a wee bit annoying, but that was my own fault, I thought with so few episodes this season they would be off at a run, not a gentle jog.. Not as annoying as that ginger singer though. What were they thinking? GOT threatened to break the fourth wall and it was so needless. Hope he’s suitably dispatched by next episode- afterall, the only good Lannister soldier is a dead lannister soldier.

      I’m a bit behind on Twin Peaks, episode 5 I think. Bit worried you still haven’t got Cooper back yet. Its hypnotic television but I do hope Lynch hasn’t gone too far. He’s his own worst enemy sometimes.

      Dr Who, female Timelord (Timelady?). Can only be an improvement on a gay alien puddle chasing the doctor through time and space from the first episode to the last and saving the day.I could not believe that season finale. Terrible. Dr Who needs a fresh start, can’t get fresher than a female Doctor, I only hope the male companion doesn’t get fresh with her though. Here’s hoping he’s not young and dishy. Oh God who am I kidding, it’s inevitable.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ll make an effort to get round to The Handmaid’s Tale, then. Or, at least, put it on the digital pile with Westworld, Legion, American Gods, True Detective… yeesh.

        Based on cast & crew comments, I’m presuming Thrones will be a headlong rush in the direction of the finish line from here on out. One day I intend to rewatch the whole thing as a single long run, and it’ll be interesting to see how much all the re-establishing premieres stick out like placeholders in that context.

        I get Lynch’s reasons for not wanting all of the new Twin Peaks to be released in one big lump, but I think it might play better binge-watched, at least for the sake of the plot. Or maybe it would be even more befuddling that way, who knows.

        I reckon we’re in for a big stylistic change when Chibnall’s era of Who begins. I’m not sure how exactly — I find it hard to extrapolate from his previous episodes what he’ll be like as showrunner, especially as I think he’s matured as a writer since the last time he wrote for Who. I know some people are dreading it because his earlier episodes are perceived as poor, but then Moffat was the can-do-know-wrong writing king of the RTD era and look how that turned out. But I don’t think his characters will be as sex-obsessed as Moffat’s. RTD once commented that Moffat’s writing is driven by such concerns, which I think is true, but I’d wager Chibnall is more mature in that regard (based on the last series of Broadchurch, at least). Even Moffat’s admitted he made mistakes there (specifically the scene from season 5 where Amy tried to lure the Doctor into bed), so I don’t imagine we’ll see such shenanigans again. Companion-wise, I hope they bring back Bill (it’d be a bit of a fudge, but there was already dialogue to set it up) and have an all-female TARDIS team for a bit.

        Liked by 1 person

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