The Past Months on TV #51

When I mentioned in September’s monthly review that I hadn’t posted a TV column that month, I was intending to get one up within a few days. As it turned out, for various fundamentally unimportant reasons, it’s taken until now — so, really, this one covers two months.

Much like my film viewing, my TV watching hasn’t been as prolific as normal, including some regulars falling by the wayside (no Twilight Zone again). But there are still a few things worth talking about.

Stranger Things 3
Stranger Things 3On what you might unkindly call a superficial level, the third season of Netflix’s signature series was thoroughly entertaining — it’s frequently funny and exciting, with cool moments aplenty (especially in the last couple of episodes), and many enjoyable callbacks to both ’80s pop culture and within the show itself. But dig any deeper and it begins to seem less surefooted, with what felt to me like muddled themes and character arcs, and a sense that the mythology was treading water. I don’t particularly object to the way any characters were treated, nor the destinations any of them reached (especially as a fourth season was inevitable, so wherever this run finished up was only ever temporary), but I didn’t feel like they were being guided anywhere with any real purpose. There’s something to be said for storylines like that, but when you’re trying to play some kind of redemption arc, or a coming-of-age tale about burgeoning independence (or whatever), I feel like you need to be a bit clearer-eyed. But hey, I still enjoyed it a lot — it’s a fun watch, and I imagine even more so if you have nostalgic memories of an ’80s childhood — I just think there’s still some room for finessing.

Watchmen  Season 1 Episode 1
WatchmenAlan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s graphic novel Watchmen is a seminal work of the form — I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you about that at this point. Over the past decade it’s been adapted into a film, and both prequelised and sequelised (I think? I dunno, I stopped paying attention) in comic books, to varying degrees of success and controversy. So when HBO announced they were bringing it to TV, there was much trepidation. Early promises that it wasn’t a remake or prequel or sequel, but instead a ‘remix’, just added to the confusion.

Now it’s finally here, it’s clear that such bold reports were perhaps a bit of an exaggeration. Well, I say “clear” — I’ve only watched the first episode (two have aired, out of nine) so there’s plenty of room for things to change, but (so far at least) it seems to be definitively set in the world of the comic book (and not the movie, which made some significant modifications to the climax) and in 2019 (whereas the comic is set in the ’80s). So it is a sequel… but it’s not a direct sequel, because very few of the original characters have a part to play (yet, anyway). So it’s a new story set in the same world… albeit one where the events of the first story have had a massive impact, and some of the same thematic concerns are coming into play — not to mention a load of familiar iconography. Okay, maybe “remix” wasn’t a wholly terribly epithet after all.

Anyway, it’s early days, but there’s a lot of promise and potential here. Reading the original before viewing may not be essential, but it’s going to help a lot (besides which, it’s a damn good book). And if you want to go even further down the rabbit hole, be sure to check out the tie-in Peteypedia website, which provides a lot of extra info to help bridge the gap between book and series.

Catherine the Great
Catherine the GreatHBO and Sky Atlantic have teamed up for this lavish four-parter about the life of the famous Russian ruler, conceived by and starring Helen Mirren. The big bucks those broadcasters are known for are all over the screen here — it looks suitable sumptuous, with grand locations that positively shine, especially in UHD. Unfortunately, nothing else about the production is up to scratch. The writing is thoroughly mediocre — it most reminded me of The Tudors, although that seemed to know it was a bit of trashy fun, whereas I think Catherine the Great wants to be taken very seriously. But the dialogue is uninspiring, the characters uninteresting and underdeveloped (we’re told the relationship between Catherine and Potemkin is some great love affair, but they strop around like moody, jealous teenagers), and the flat performances do nothing to elevate any of it — and despite her general acclaim, Mirren is probably the weakest of the lot. Pretty, then, but vacant.

Dad’s Army: The Lost Episodes
Dad's Army: The Lost EpisodesThe BBC’s 1970s policy of junking programmes because they supposedly no longer had commercial value is a familiar topic for Doctor Who fans, who’ve spent decades hoping and hunting for copies of missing episodes. But it was an organisation-wide policy, so Who was far from the only show that suffered — Dad’s Army was another. It’s a perennially popular sitcom here (even today repeats land among the most-watched programmes of the week), so you can see why it made commercial sense to invest in recreations of the missing episodes — especially as there’s only three of them.

The pre-broadcast press and ads emphasised heavily that these were intended as a tribute (presumably because that attempt at a feature film revival from a couple of years ago went down so badly). The sense of affection for the original seeps off the screen, from the faithfully recreated set to the performances, which ably tread the fine line between flat impersonation and respectful imitation. By that I mean the cast were clearly trying to play the roles as they were originally performed, but without getting stuck in a rut of mere emulation, instead injecting a reasonable amount of their own interpretation of the characters.

So, taking the project as it was intended — as a loving salute to the original programme, which also plugs a gap in its record — The Lost Episodes should be classed as a success.

Also watched…
  • The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco Season 1 Episodes 1-4 — ITV’s cancelled period crime drama is revived in this US sequel/spin-off, because it was relatively popular on the other side of the pond. Unfortunately, this iteration does look and feel like cheap US network filler. It’s gently watchable enough, if you don’t mind that sort of thing.
  • Japan with Sue Perkins — The former Bake Off host pops over to Japan for a two-part exploration of modern cultural quirks and fads. Open-minded and consequently insightful, I feel like it could’ve been a longer series to dig in even deeper. Maybe a more indicative title, too — by getting so specific, it was hardly the overview/travelogue of Japan that you might’ve expected.
  • Monty Python Night — BBC Two marked the 50th anniversary of arguably the most influential comedy troupe ever with an evening of archive-derived programming. So, that was two repeats — of documentary Almost the Truth: The BBC Lawyer’s Cut and the first-ever episode of Flying Circus — and one new programme that was compiled from archive interview clips, Python at 50: Silly Talks and Holy Grails. If you missed it… it’s no longer on iPlayer because I’ve been so tardy in posting this column. Sorry.
  • World on Fire Series 1 Episodes 1-2 — Now, here’s a good idea: a returning series that follows multiple loosely-connected characters in multiple different countries as they make their way through World War 2. I’m not convinced by the execution so far (it feels remarkably small-scale for a premise that’s all about scope, and visually it looks a bit too “TV” for a major prime-time series in the present climate), but, eh, we’ll see.

    Next month… the golden compass leads us to the northern lights as His Dark Materials is readapted for TV.

  • The Knockout Monthly Update for November 2018

    When Rocky snuck its way onto my “What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen” list back in January, I didn’t have particularly high hopes — I’ve never liked boxing movies, and I was only going to watch it because I ‘should’. Well, in the eight months since I watched it I’ve gone on to watch all six sequels, ending this month when I gave Creed full marks precisely because of how much it was a Rocky movie. And that’s why this month is a knockout.

    Also, because I watched a tonne of films.


    #223 Their Finest (2016)
    #224 Going for Golden Eye (2017)
    #225 Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom 3D (2018)
    #226 The Other Side of the Wind (2018)
    #227 Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero (1998)
    #228 Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013)
    #229 Have a Good Funeral, My Friend… Sartana Will Pay (1970), aka Buon funerale amigos!… paga Sartana
    #230 Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
    #231 Attack the Block (2011)
    #232 Outlaw King (2018)
    #233 Incredibles 2 3D (2018)
    #233a Bao 3D (2018)
    #234 They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)
    #235 Paper Moon (1973)
    #236 Hitchcock/Truffaut (2015)
    #237 The Greatest Showman (2017)
    #238 The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
    #239 The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013), aka Kaguyahime no monogatari
    #240 Redline (2009)
    #241 Zatoichi’s Cane Sword (1967), aka Zatôichi tekka-tabi
    #242 Creed (2015)
    #243 Danger: Diabolik (1968), aka Diabolik
    #244 Boy (2010)
    #245 Dad’s Army (2016)
    #246 Teen Titans Go! To the Movies (2018)
    #247 Ant-Man and the Wasp 3D (2018)
    Bohemian Rhapsody

    Paper Moon

    Creed

    Teen Titans Go! To the Movies

    .


    • With 25 new films watched, November is the fourth best month of 2018. That’s not particularly impressive — it’s only just inside the year’s top third — but on an all-time scale…
    • That number makes November 2018 my joint fifth best month of all time (tied with August 2007), putting it in the top 5% of all months. Sounds a lot more impressive put like that, doesn’t it?
    • It’s the best November ever by some margin (the previous was 2016’s 14), in the process dragging the month’s average from 8.8 to 10.3. That leaves just July with an average below 10.0 (but it’s on 9.9, so hopefully I’ll get it over the line next year).
    • Also, as this is the first November with over 20 films, that leaves just December as the only month never to have reached the 20s. Will next month be the first? Only time will tell.
    • This month’s Blindspot film: aliens invade a London council estate in Attack the Block. The aliens may be violent, feral monsters, but they didn’t count on chavs…



    The 42nd Monthly Arbitrary Awards

    Favourite Film of the Month
    There were many films I really liked this month, including a couple that surprised me, and ending with two colourful superhero movies that I enjoyed as much or more than the genre’s more serious-minded efforts earlier in the year. But, as the introduction to this post probably made clear, the victor has to be Creed.

    Least Favourite Film of the Month
    Where Creed worked because it had respect for its legacy, this month’s loser is a film that puts on the surface sheen of caring about its forebear, but doesn’t demonstrate that reverence — because it’s pretty rubbish. The film in question is 2016’s Dad’s Army remake.

    Most Listened-to Song from a Movie of the Month
    I thought this was going to be Last Breath by Future from the Creed soundtrack, which makes nice use of the famous Rocky theme to give that inspirational anthem a modern spin. But iTunes informs me the actual winner is the number I highlighted in my Greatest Showman review, the almost-titular The Greatest Show. Well, I did bung it on loop while I was writing that review…

    Most Surprising Male Nudity of the Month
    Sure, everyone was talking about Chris Pine’s penis in Outlaw King, but did you know Teen Titans Go! To the Movies features baby Superman’s naked, wiggling arse? Okay, he’s just a cartoon, but still.

    The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
    November 2018 was my second largest month ever for views and visitors, much of that powered by the continued popularity of my Bodyguard review (which has now entered my top ten of all time). As for new posts, regular readers may know that the winner of this award is often a review of a just-released film posted while that film is still brand spanking new. So when I posted my review of Bohemian Rhapsody a whole 18 days after its UK debut and 9 days after its US release, I didn’t expect much hit-wise. But, lo and behold, a mega-popular film is a mega-popular film, and Bo Rhap bested the likes of Outlaw King (a review I posted the day after it popped up on Netflix) and They Shall Not Grow Old (a review I posted the morning after it was on TV) to be November’s most-viewed new post.



    This month, a few recent blockbusters I watched for the first time in 3D…

    #42 Jurassic World 3D (2015)
    #43 Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004)
    #44 Thor: Ragnarok 3D (2017)
    #45 Justice League 3D (2017)

    People seem to have become increasingly sour towards Jurassic World in the years since it came out, but I still think it’s pretty great, a blockbuster ride with sufficient spectacle. In 3D, the extra dimension is superb, really adding to the film’s scale.

    The same can be said of Thor: Ragnarok, which also benefited from a shifting IMAX aspect ratio. I enjoyed it even more on a second viewing — having been reminded of what a ‘normal’ Marvel movie is like tonally by Black Panther and Infinity War, Taika Waititi’s influence was much more pronounced.

    Conversely, I was a bit more attuned to Justice League’s flaws this time around. Not that I was unaware of them before, and I still mostly enjoyed it, but it’s so clearly a compromised movie. Its 3D is fine, but rarely as spectacular as a film of this scope should be.


    2018’s record-obliterating total.

    Plus, could the combined final tallies of the main list and Rewatchathon result in— no, shh, it’s a secret…