The Past Month on TV #38

There are three major series for me to review this month, thanks to the UK’s highest-rated drama launch for a decade, Bodyguard; the debut season of Amazon’s heavily-promoted version of Jack Ryan; and a second season for the runt of the Marvel/Netflix litter, Iron Fist. Plus, shorter reviews of other stuff. All spoiler-free, of course.

So, without further ado…

Bodyguard  Series 1
Bodyguard series 1
A massive hit for BBC One from writer Jed “Line of Duty” Mercurio, Bodyguard follows copper David Budd (Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden) as he’s assigned to protect Home Secretary Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes), who’s trying to push through a tough new anti-terrorism act. As multiple terrorist attacks begin to take place, and Montague cosies up to the intelligence services, the series quickly morphs into a conspiracy thriller, with Budd struggling to know who can be trusted as he hunts for the truth about what’s going on and why.

Like Line of Duty, Mercurio excels at Big drama: this is a busy, fast-moving story that churns through plot. Not much here of the gradual, slow, “it’s really more about these characters as people” stuff we usually get from British drama. That’s not to say there isn’t fine character work, mind: Budd, in particular, is a complex and nuanced hero, who starts out calm and capable and is revealed to be… well, something else; so much so that you begin to wonder if he’s an unreliable narrator… The other thing Mercurio is great at is set pieces. In Line of Duty they’re often lengthy, jargon-filled police interviews, although he’s pulled off a couple of big action ones too. Bodyguard kind of merges the two, in that they’re talky but also usually involve bombs and guns. The series is bookended by them: episode one boldly devotes its opening 20 minutes to what initially seems like a prologue (unsurprisingly, it has more relevance later), and a massive chunk of the middle of the finale is taken up with another.

David Budd and Julia MontagueSome have criticised the series for being OTT, implausible, or having too many plot holes. Well, individual mileage will vary on that. It’s not a slice-of-life drama, after all — the larger-scaled storytelling is a genre thing, not an inherent flaw. It’s no more implausible than hundreds of other thriller TV series and movies, just perhaps not the kind we make much in the UK anymore. I’m always wary of accusations of plot holes — it’s a term that gets thrown around too liberally nowadays by, frankly, people who either don’t know what they’re on about or have a failure of imagination (“we didn’t see that happen on screen so how can it have happened” is, genuinely, the root of one prominent complaint about Bodyguard’s finale).

Still, I think the series’ main aim was to be an exciting guessing game — it’s a whodunnit, really, with a multitude of suspects and motivations. As that, I thought it was a success; and, based on the ratings and chatter, it looks like the public at large agreed. No second series has been commissioned (and, anyway, Mercurio is busy on the next Line of Duty until sometime next year), but I’d be surprised if we don’t see more.

(If you’re outside the UK, it was announced last week that Netflix have snapped up the international rights, where it will be available from October 24th.)

Jack Ryan  Season 1
Jack Ryan season 1The latest reboot of Tom Clancy’s CIA hero sees him get the TV treatment, which is perhaps the best place for a hero who is more about solving problems with his mind than his gun, and a storytelling style that cuts between lots of concurrent plots before later revealing how they interrelate. That’s something this season has done rather well, incidentally — it’s an original story, taking Clancy’s characters but not directly adapting any of his novels, but they committed to trying to emulate his “mosaic storytelling style”. I’ve never read any Clancy, so I’m not an expert on this, but they seem to have evoked it well. (Considering there are multiple Ryan novels that haven’t been adapted, it seems a shame to abandon them entirely. Maybe in a future season.)

The actual plot concerns — what else — Middle Eastern terrorism. On the bright side, it devotes as much time to the villains as to the heroes, painting a more detail picture than just “some foreign-looking people want to blow us up”. I don’t know if it has anything deep or new to say about terrorists and those who hunt them (we’ve had ten seasons of 24, seven of Homeland, and goodness knows how many other shows on this theme since 9/11 — it’s well worn), but it’s still effective as an intelligent thriller, bolstered by having a desk-jockey analyst as a hero rather than a trigger-happy soldier. Nonetheless, episodes are packed with incident, tension, and excitement. It’s not quite “a thinking man’s thriller” because I don’t think it ultimately has enough to say about things, but it is a lot more measured and realistic than your usual action-thriller fare, while still creating exciting (but also plausible) sequences.

Naturally, the season takes the form of “an 8-hour movie” (to be precise, it’s actually 6.6 hours long), because that’s what’s popular with prestige TV nowadays, but it also works on an episodic level. Put another way, it’s in parts that build to a whole, rather than a whole sliced up because it has to be. That’s not to say the series isn’t heavily serialised, mind (for example, there’s a random murder in episode two that doesn’t seem to relate to anything else, but then pays off at the end of episode four), but this is only a problem if you dislike non-episodic storytelling. I tend to agree that some shows take this too far, seeming to go nowhere on an episodic level because everything’s designed to be “one long story”, but Jack Ryan is one of those serialised shows that strikes a healthy balance between the two — it is one long story, but each episode conveys a solid amount of plot.

Field analystAn advantage the show has in this regard is its short length: with just eight episodes, the plot moves at a fair lick. It gets better as it goes on, too, as the various plot lines and characters begin to build and resonate with one another. Indeed, it’s something very rare, possibly unheard of, in direct-to-streaming series: one where I wished the season was a couple of episodes longer. Not that it’s rushed per se, but one or two subplots might’ve been even better with just a little more room to breathe; the main stories might’ve been even better with just a beat or two more in them. But in an era where streaming/prestige series are gaining a reputation for being bloated and not having enough story to fill their running time, maybe it’s better to leave people wanting more.

And I certainly do want more — season two’s already in production, and I’m looking forward to it. Although I enjoyed this season a lot, I do hope the next one takes us somewhere a little more original (and therefore interesting) than Islamic terrorists. I mean, how about those Russians and the tech espionage shit they’re pulling nowadays? Now that sounds Clancy-esque.

Iron Fist  Season 2
Iron Fist season 2The first season of Iron Fist attracted a lot of criticism, and, thankfully, the people behind the Marvel/Netflix series have listened. This second season doesn’t suddenly revamp the show into the best thing on TV or something, but it is a big improvement. They were hamstrung to an extent — as new showrunner M. Raven Metzner has said in interviews, you can’t reboot something like this: it has to keep to the continuity of what happened in season one, and in The Defenders, and in the other Marvel/Netflix series, and go from there — but they’ve made a fair fist of it, (there’s a good piece about what changes they made here), and by the end of the season the show is in a much better place.

It starts a little iffily, mind. I mean, the hero is a rich, privileged white guy with anger issues who appropriated another culture for his own ends, while the villains are the Asian guy who wants back his birthright that the hero took, and a businesswoman who wants her due from the company she helped build. If I was confident the show was going somewhere with that it’d be one thing, but it also feels like it can’t’ve been deliberate (considering the heroes also include a Japanese-American woman investigating her heritage and, later in the season, a black female cop), but it’s a definite reading of episode one. I began to worry it was going to accidentally pan out like some kind of Men’s Rights / White Supremacist show. Well, it’s not that bad, thank goodness — the season does make some nods towards tackling these issues (there’s a scene in episode six where Davos specifically calls Danny out on his privilege meaning he values nothing), but I’m not sure it truly engages with it, more hopes that if it’s acknowledged and sort of moved on from (I won’t say too much because of spoilers!) then we’ll let it slide.

So, even with that, a lot of things are improved over season one. Most things, even. But the show is at its best whenever its title character is off screen. Every member of the supporting cast and their relationships to each other is more interesting than Danny. At best he’s a bit nothingy, at worst an irritant. In fairness, I also suspect the show knows this, given its focus on Colleen — look how she shares the marketing. She makes a better lead character than Danny — her conflictedness about being a vigilante is certainly a richer seam than his privileged certainty, and Jessica Henwick excels in some properly kickass fight scenes, too. Among the supporting cast, Ward and Joy Meacham get some interesting material as well, again developing from what they went through in season one. Where back then it was just Plot Stuff to provide a story and twists, here there’s a genuine attempt to explore what the psychological fallout of that might look like. Plus, there’s a lot less stuff about the running of Rand Enterprises, something I called out the first season for ballsing up.

VillainsIronically, while the MCU movies became renowned for their poor villains, that’s the area the Netflix series have always excelled in. This season the star turn comes from Alice Eve as a version of Daredevil villain Typhoid Mary, who (spoilers if you don’t know the character!) has dissociative identity disorder (DID), aka multiple personality disorder — so she can be both sweet, timid, kind Mary, and hard, stern, violent Walker. It’s the kind of role that’s a gift for any actor, of course, and Eve is fantastic. Similarly, Danny’s childhood friend Davos gets to combine many of the traits I’ve described in other characters: motivated by past events; complex relationships to other characters (not only Danny, but, as the end of season one teased, Joy). He’s the kind of villain whose goal is almost relatable; where you almost side with him over the hero.

Across all of the characters and storylines, I think the season wants to be about addiction, but it doesn’t execute it as a throughline particularly well. Early on we see Danny being a little bit out of control with the fist; then, many episodes later, he explains he was addicted to it; in between, there’s a subplot about Ward being in NA and struggling to stay on the wagon. These two plot threads should be mirroring each other, not tag-teaming — and in a way that sometimes leaves the theme untouched for an episode or two, at that. It’s a shame, really, because if they’d managed that kind of cohesion in what the show was “about”, it may have been able to lay claim to being a genuinely very good show, rather than just a marked improvement on season one. Don’t get me wrong, I quite liked a lot of it, and I do think it’s a big improvement; but you can see signs that maybe it could’ve been something even better. But hey, even if it can’t offer depth, at least it can offer thrills. And really, it’s a superhero show — good vs. evil punch-ups are the order of the day.

Marvel’s Netflix shows have often faced accusations of being too long, of not having enough story to fill their 13 episodes. That’s a problem of story, not episode count, as The Defenders proved by not having enough plot to fill eight episodes. Nonetheless, Iron Fist now only has ten episodes, and it seems to have helped. The plot moves so fast that by halfway it feels like it must be nearing its end, but instead of going in circles, it has some more twists and tricks up its sleeve. And to complete the indication that the show is making an effort to head in new directions, the finale devotes about half its running time to wrapping up the main plotDaughters of the Dragon (via a whole load of fighting, natch) and then the second half to what happens after — not just the necessary “wind down” type aftermath stuff, but also a fair chunk of time into establishing where things will go in season three. Netflix hasn’t commissioned that yet, but I hope they do because I’m actually looking forward to it. Wonders will never cease.

Upstart Crow  Series 3 Episodes 1-3
Upstart Crow series 3Ben Elton’s Shakespearean sitcom commences its third run as funny as ever, if not more so — I’ve always enjoyed it, but it feels particularly on point this series. I guess its on-the-nose satire of modern life by transposing it to Elizabethan society (e.g. Will’s woeful carriage journeys between London and Stratford are an unsubtle riff on the problems with British railways) won’t find favour with everyone, mainly because it seems a little easy and there’s a monologue about it pretty much every episode, but I still find that stuff amusing. When Elton applies the same strategy to other aspects of modern life, it’s similarly as rewarding/obvious, depending on your predilections. But there’s also a solid vein of mining Shakespeare’s own works for humour, the best one so far this series being an extended bit about how all of Will’s friends think Hamlet is a comedy due to its farcical plot. There’s also a running subplot about Will’s nemesis, Robert Greene, trying to discredit him by making people think he doesn’t write his own plays, which nicely pillories those ridiculous theories, and includes a guest appearance by Ben Miller doing an amusing riff on Mark Rylance.

Reported Missing  Series 2 Episode 1
Not normally my kind of programme, this — a fly-on-the-wall documentary that follows police as they search for missing persons — but the ‘plot’ description for the first case piqued my interest. A dad reports his five-year-old son missing after having not seen him for two years due to a custody dispute with the mother. When the police track her down, she says the boy doesn’t exist and she doesn’t even know the man who made the report. Who is telling the truth? What’s really going on? It plays out like a low-key thriller. If you have access to iPlayer (the episode is here), it only takes up the first half of the episode and I’d say is worth half-an-hour of your time.

Also watched…
  • Daniel Sloss: Live Shows — A pair of live stand-up shows, recorded at different times and places, that Netflix have lumped together as a ‘series’. The first, Dark, is a masterpiece; it lives up to its name though, so avoid if pitch black humour isn’t your thing. The second, Jigsaw, isn’t quite as exceptional, but is still excellent. A definite cut above most other stand-up specials I’ve watched.
  • Hang Ups Series 1 Episodes 4-6 — I was praiseful of Hang Ups last month, but if anything it improved as it went on, with the finale a riotous farce.
  • The Imitation Game Series 1 Episodes 1-3 — ITV’s impression-based panel show is a bit odd (everyone’s busy pretending it’s improvised when much of it is clearly scripted) and dependant on the skills of the guests (some of these so-called impressionists should find a new job), but it’s pleasantly diverting. Plus it gave us this skit of Andy Murray singing I’m So Excited, which is spot on.
  • Magic for Humans Season 1 Episodes 4-6 — Like Hang Ups, there’s even better stuff here than in the first half of the season (which I also wrote about last month). Episode four, Seeing is Believing, is not only a fun magic show but also kinda profound.

    Things to Catch Up On
    Killing EveThis month, I have mostly been missing Killing Eve, BBC America’s critically-acclaimed, Emmy-nominated thriller about an MI5 officer hunting for an assassin. It aired in the US back in April, and it feels like ever since I’ve been hearing praise for it flowing across the Atlantic. It finally made its way to this side of the pond this month (for an organisation with “BBC” in their name, BBC America productions do take their time getting over here). As I’ve only just (as in “as of last night”) finished making my way through 24 episodes of Jack Ryan, Iron Fist, and Bodyguard back-to-back, maybe that’ll be up next.

    Although likely to get in the way is Maniac, Netflix’s miniseries starring Jonah Hill and Emma Stone that looks inherently interesting (based on the trailer — like Inception made by someone with a wilder imagination than Christopher Nolan) and is directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, aka the recently-announced director of Bond 25. I’ve never seen anything he’s done, despite almost all of it being on my “to watch” list, so it’s about time I started. Expect reviews of both of those next month, then, alongside the return of a certain time traveller…

    Next month… Jodie Whittaker is the Doctor!

  • The 100th Monthly Update for August 2018

    It’s been over eight years now since I started charting my progress via monthly updates — the first was in May 2010. And that, as you may’ve guessed, makes this the 100th such monthly update. (Although this was the 140th month I’ve been doing 100 Films, so, er, it’s kind of meaningless and arbitrary, really…)

    Anyway, to mark this special occasion I’ve… named this blog post after it. And… that’s it.

    So, on to this month’s viewing!


    #174 Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)
    #175 Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)
    #176 Strangers on a Train (1951)
    #177 A Quiet Place (2018)
    #178 The Quiet Earth (1985)
    #179 Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008)
    #180 Christopher Robin (2018)
    #181 Zatoichi and the Chess Expert (1965), aka Zatōichi jigoku-tabi
    #182 Darkest Hour (2017)
    #183 Ready Player One 3D (2018)
    #184 Seoul Station (2016), aka Seoulyeok
    #185 The Most Unknown (2018)
    #186 Zorro (1975)
    #187 The Elephant Man (1980)
    Christopher Robin

    Zorro

    .


    • With 14 new films watched, August is the lowest month of 2018 so far.
    • Nonetheless, it beats the August average (previously 11.7, now 11.9). And though it falls short of the rolling average of the last 12 months (20.0), last August was even lower, so it still increases it (slightly) to 20.3. No such luck with my average for 2018 to date, though, which was previously 24.7 and is now 23.4.
    • But it’s only by recent standards that a total of 14 looks in any way poor. There’s no other year in which it would be the smallest month, and three years where it would’ve been the biggest. Plus, it would be an above-average tally for any month of the year except May, where it’d be bang on average. So, on an all-time scale, 14 is still good going.
    • In other good news, this month I passed 2017’s total to make 2018 my third best year ever. It will almost certainly reach second place next month. And I’d have to average just three films a month for the rest of the year for it not to become my best year ever. Well, let’s not jinx it…
    • It wasn’t a deliberate choice to watch A Quiet Place and The Quiet Earth back to back (though possibly a subconscious one, I guess). They’re the first (and second) films beginning with Q in this year’s viewing, and only the fifth and sixth in this blog’s lifetime.
    • And then I immediately followed those with a film beginning with “Z”, which would normally be quite rare (it was only my 13th ever “Z” film), but this year it really isn’t: it was my 7th this year alone, and by the end of the month I was up to my 9th.
    • While we’re on the topic, The Elephant Man is my first “E” film this year. It may be the most commonly used letter in the English language, but it’s a surprisingly rare one at the start of film titles.
    • This month’s Blindspot film: Alfred Hitchcock’s murderous thriller Strangers on a Train.
    • This month’s WDYMYHS film: the aforementioned The Elephant Man. Disappointed to discover it wasn’t David Lynch’s attempt at superheroes. (Not really.)



    The 39th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

    Favourite Film of the Month
    There are some well-regarded films in the list above, including a couple of Best Picture nominees, but nothing leaps out at me as a huge favourite — my short list for this award encompassed nine of the fourteen titles. On balance, I’m going to pick Christopher Robin. It’s definitely not the “best” film up there, but I love Pooh, and he’s on particularly good form in this film.

    Least Favourite Film of the Month
    There were no films I outright disliked this month, but two flicks battle it out for the title of least whelming — both starring zombies. I expected very little of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, so I was surprised to find parts of it rather enjoyable. I still don’t think it was all it could’ve been, though. On the other end of the spectrum, there was a weight of expectation on a prequel to the magnificent Train to Busan, one which Seoul Station couldn’t live up to. It’s by no means a “bad film” though, and is certainly the best least-favourite film this year.

    Podcast of the Month
    Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to listen to journalist Chris Hewitt chat with writer-director Christopher McQuarrie about Mission: Impossible – Fallout for 5 hours and 52 minutes on the two-part Empire Film Podcast Mission: Impossible – Fallout Spoiler Special. No, that’s not a typo: the interview (actually two interviews) lasts almost 6 hours. If that sounds like an OTT amount of time to discuss one film… well, I guess it would be for some. But McQuarrie is an intelligent, articulate, thoughtful, and honest interviewee, and the insights he shares about the process of making Fallout, a big-budget entertainment-focused summer blockbuster, are fascinating for die hard Mission fans, or, indeed, anyone interested in behind-the-scenes details of filmmaking. He gets pretty candid at times too. I guess Paramount okayed it, but it feels more revealing than you normally hear during a film’s press cycle — including what really went on during the saga of Henry Cavill’s moustache and the Justice League reshoots. (If you just want to hear that, it’s in the final 15 minutes of part one.)

    Best Swashing of Buckles of the Month
    Really, this is just an excuse to highlight the 1975 version of Zorro starring Alain Delon. It’s a Spaghetti Western cum swashbuckler, an actioner cum comedy, with very much the same kind of tone as Richard Lester’s Three Musketeers. It’s a lot of fun, and I think rather underrated. If you’re interested, it’s currently streaming on Amazon Prime in the UK (but not in the US, I’m afraid. Don’t know about elsewhere, or other providers).

    The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
    Despite only appearing on Thursday, my 37th TV column stormed up the charts, taking under 36 hours to pass presumed victor Christopher Robin (which had two whole weeks to amass its hit count) to bag this month’s crown. I thought this would be due to referrals from IMDb seeking my Disenchantment review, but the stats show it’s more thanks to referrals seeking Magic for Humans. Well, there you go.



    Sadly, I fell slightly behind target with my Rewatchathon viewing this month. I only missed one, though, so that should be easily caught up.

    This month, by coincidence, they’re all spy thrillers in long-running series…

    #30 Skyfall (2012)
    #31 Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)
    #32 The Hunt for Red October (1990)

    The big news here is Mission: Impossible – Fallout, because it’s the first film I’ve seen twice at the cinema since Watchmen back in 2009. It’s a superb film that I would’ve considered seeing twice anyway, but it was sealed by getting the chance to see it in IMAX, where it did look incredible. (For the record, and for anyone who cares, it was only “LieMAX”, but still, looked great.) I would have quite liked the chance to see it in 3D too, especially as there doesn’t seem to be a Blu-ray release scheduled for that, but hey-ho.

    Much like Never Say Never Again last month, I only watched Skyfall because I happened to see it was on ITV2. This time I was flicking and came upon it a little way in. Normally I wouldn’t watch a film under those circumstances, but I had nothing better to do and it’s so good that I became engrossed, eventually watching it through to the end. So, technically, this isn’t a full viewing, but I did watch the vast majority of it. According to my records, I’ve only seen it twice before, the last time being five-and-a-half years ago in February 2013. Even though I’m counting this, I feel like I should do it again properly sometime soon.

    Finally, The Hunt for Red October is a film I remembered liking but, well, that’s about all I remembered. I’ve been meaning to re-watch it for many years, and I recently bought the Blu-ray so I could do just that — and, having checked my records, it turns out “recently” here means “three-and-a-half years ago”. I’m a lost cause, people… And I didn’t decide to finally get round to it because the latest reboot of the character came out yesterday. Well, not consciously, but I do keep seeing posters for the series around, and I have been quite looking forward to it, so that may have exerted a subconscious pull.


    So, August was quite a slow month, both in viewing and review-posting, because I was away from home for a fair chunk of time in the middle. I’d hoped to catch up some on my ludicrous review backlog during that time, but that didn’t happen. Not even a little bit. And the reason I’m mentioning this now, in the “next month” section, is that the rest of my year is shaping up to be pretty busy with non-film stuff too, which is likely to mean a continued reduction in viewing and blog-writing. Only time will tell just how that pans out.

    The Past Month on TV #37

    Another later-than-usual TV review, because my TV viewing was affected by the same stuff that’s seen my post count plummet this month, as well as kept this month’s film numbers down (more on that on Saturday). Consequently, I waited until I’d actually watched enough TV to make this post somewhat worthwhile…

    Although, despite what I said in last month’s “next month”, I still haven’t watched Lost in Space. Maybe next month (but don’t count on it).

    Disenchantment  Season 1
    DisenchantmentThe first new series from The Simpsons creator Matt Groening in almost 20 years, Disenchantment is a riff on the fantasy genre. It follows the misadventures of Princess Bean of Dreamland, a rebellious sort who prefers to sneak out of the castle and get drunk in the pub than… well, do anything else. In the first episode, she and we are introduced to her personal demon, Luci, and Elfo, an elf who has left his happy-clappy kingdom to explore the misery of the wider world. This trio form the heart of the show, though naturally there’s a wider ensemble to help fuel storylines.

    You may’ve heard the series has come in for a bit of a drubbing from critics, which I’m not sure is wholly fair. It’s not the most consistently funny show, with background gags sometimes providing bigger laughs than the main stories or situations, but it raises chuckles with decent regularity. It’s also not the most original concoction on TV, with some familiar characters and relationships, just grafted onto a fantasy setting. Although at least it has the good sense to create its own fantasy world, rather than being a direct spoof of, say, a certain other show that has brought the genre widespread attention. Whether it’s set in a fully-realised world or one the writers are creating on the fly, I’m not sure, but there’s a lot of room left to explore.

    But even if it’s not hilarious or groundbreaking, the first season builds up a nice little rhythm as it goes along. The weakest episodes are undoubtedly the first few, which are somewhat swamped under setup. After a few standalone stories in the middle — which vary in quality from some of the season’s best instalments to, well, not — things begin to come together for a highly serialised run at the end, which finds a use for many disparate bits from those standalone episodes, and all culminates in a cliffhanger. Fortunately, Netflix’s original commission was for twice as many episodes as are in this first run, so we’re guaranteed a second batch. This serialisation works better for a streaming show than completely standalone episodes, although Disenchantment thankfully doesn’t lose sight of being consumable in episode-sized bites.

    So, while it may take most of the season to truly warm to the characters and for the series to find its groove, it does get there, and suggests brighter things in the future. Whether it will ever attain the cult following enjoyed by Groening’s other series is arguably a long-shot (can lightning strike thrice?), but it has potential.

    Hang Ups  Series 1 Episodes 1-3
    Hang UpsLoosely based on the US series Web Therapy, this new sitcom stars Stephen Mangan as Richard Pitt, a therapist offering his services over the internet. The filming style (each client only appears for a few minutes per episode, popping up now and again throughout the series, always via webcam) allowed them to attract a rather phenomenal supporting cast, including the likes of David Bradley, Charles Dance, Celia Imrie, Richard E. Grant, and David Tennant. The way each episode pingpongs around the various clients and Richard’s many, many personal problems (his marriage, his kids, his parents, his siblings, his bank balance) makes for a whip-crack pace that has pros and cons — each episode seems to disappear in a flash, having at once both dashed through some plot and also gone nowhere. Partly this is the result of an abundance of characters — some of the clients are basically one-off sketches, which is fine, but the regulars’ stories can only advance in small increments. I’m left wondering if it might’ve actually worked better with less going on. Still, the quality cast means characters do get rounded out speedily, and when it works it can be pretty funny.

    Also watched…
  • The Comedy Lineup Season 1 Episodes 2,5,8 — Netflix’s series of 15-minute standup sets from up-and-coming comics. Naturally, that means the quality is varied. I only watched a semi-random sampling, and some were very good and some were pretty weak. A new batch of episodes is released tomorrow.
  • Magic for Humans Season 1 Episodes 1-3 — I love a good magic show, and this Netflix series is definitely a contender. Magician Justin Willman’s cheeky-chappy persona may grate with some viewers, but his tricks — a mix of hip variations on old standards and wonder-inducing new stunts — are dazzlingly effective.
  • Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema Episodes 3-5 — So good (see my review from last month) that they’ve decided to keep it on iPlayer for a whole year. No word on a second series, as far as I’m aware, but fingers crossed.

    Things to Catch Up On
    BodyguardThis month, I have mostly been missing Bodyguard, the new BBC One thriller from Line of Duty creator Jed Mercurio that premiered with a two-day double-bill last weekend. It seemed to go down well, based on the ratings and what I saw on Twitter (while avoiding spoilers!) As usual, I intend to wait until the whole series has aired (or most of it, at least) and then whisk through the lot.

    Next month… everyone’s least favourite Marvel Netflix show returns. But there’s a new showrunner and a lower episode count, so fingers crossed Iron Fist feels worth the 10-hour investment this time.