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.

  • The Past Month on TV #36

    There are schizophrenic superheroes, deconstructed movie genres, Italian thefts, and even some ball-kicking competitions in this month’s TV review…

    Legion  Season 1
    Legion season 1The first live-action X-Men TV series is only tangentially connected to either the movies (there are a couple of vague nods) or even the original comic books (apparently the title character is the only thing taken from them), but instead creator Noah Hawley (the man behind the Fargo TV series) has been allowed free rein to do as he pleases. Turns out that’s a massive mindfuck; a series that’s focused on atmosphere over narrative coherence, full of crazy visuals and abstruse plotting. If you’re thinking, “that sounds a bit Lynchian,” then yes, this is probably the nearest thing we’ll ever get to a David Lynch version of the X-Men.

    That’s not just a pithy comment, for two reasons. Firstly, although the series is based around the character of David Haller (Dan Stevens), an exceptionally powerful mutant, by the end of the first episode he’s joined up with a team who are based at an educational facility that teaches mutants how to use their powers, in part so they can fight for their rights against humans who want to oppress them. For those not in the know, that’s more or less the overarching plot of the main X-Men series. Secondly, it’s not just that “this looks a bit weird, let’s reference David Lynch” — the series has a Lynchian attentiveness to dream-like sequences and visuals to convey meaning, and an awareness of the importance of sound design to create an effect or atmosphere. Unlike Lynch, there are some answers to be found; and while they’re often still very weird, at least there’s definite satisfaction in them.

    I watched the eight episodes of the first season over eight days, which I have mixed feelings about. As ever, it makes it easier to connect up the dots of the plot; on the other hand, the show’s style comes so out of leftfield, maybe it would work better spread out at a traditional pace, offering a little hour-long oasis of weirdness in your week. The second season has already concluded, so I’ll have to decide before I approach that one.

    When that will be, I’m not sure. I bought this first season on Blu-ray, so I’d like to do the same for the second, but there’s no sign of a release being scheduled yet. Hopefully this won’t be one of those series that never gets a complete disc release — that happens every so often (and I believe Legion’s network, FX, are regular culprits) but it never pleases anyone.

    Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema  Episodes 1-2
    Mark Kermode's Secrets of CinemaMark Kermode is our guide for this BBC Four documentary series that seeks to expose the inner workings of movie genres and what makes them so effective. Co-written by Kermode and encyclopaedically knowledgeable movie guru Kim Newman, the series certainly has the chops to take on such a task. Focusing on one genre per episode, it makes an interesting choice to start with romcoms — a massively and enduringly popular type of movie, unquestionably, but one that’s often ignored by serious film analysis. That makes it the perfect choice for a series such as this, because, as the episode makes clear, the whole point of the genre is to do something very, very hard (produce a funny movie with loveable characters) and make it look easy (and when they succeed, that’s why it gets ignored!) As insightful as the first edition was, I preferred the second one, focusing on heist movies, though that’s purely because it’s a genre I’m more disposed toward.

    Kermode’s teachings are illustrated with superb graphics (the 3D realisation of each film’s timeline is fantastic), examples drawn from the entire history of cinema (the heist episode takes in everything from 1903’s The Great Train Robbery to last month’s Ocean’s Eight), and throws in a few pleasantly unexpected curveballs too (John Carpenter’s The Fly is a romcom? Half-forgotten black-Vietnam-vet drama Dead Presidents is an archetypal heist movie?)

    Future editions will focus on science fiction, horror, and coming of age films. Of course, there are considerably more than five movie genres — maybe if we’re really lucky there’ll be more series in the future…

    Lupin the 3rd: Part IV  Episodes 1-5
    Lupin the 3rd: Part IVAs I mentioned when I reviewed The Secret of Mamo, this is the first main Lupin III series to receive a release in the UK (spin-off The Woman Called Fujiko Mine was released back in 2013. I’ve still not watched it). Part IV, also known as The Italian Adventure, sees Lupin and co in, you guessed it, Italy, where the master thief and lothario is, much to everyone’s surprise, getting married. Naturally, he’s got another plan up his sleeve. It’s the first of many, as these early episodes are mostly standalone adventures; but with Lupin’s thievery attracting the attention of shadowy MI6 agent Nix, there are hints of a bigger story to come. So far it feels somewhat lacking compared to the two Lupin III movies I’ve seen, but it’s still quite fun.

    Also watched…
  • 2018 World Cup — I’m not much of a sports fan, and even when I am it’s not the ball-kicking tournament that floats my boat, but even I got a little swept up in the England hype… for all of two-and-a-half games, anyway. We won the first (hooray!), lost the second (boo!), and the third-place play-off was so mind-numbingly dull that I spent most of the first half updating my database with that week’s Blu-ray purchases, then wandered off entirely before the second. So that’s that.
  • Doctor Who Series 11 Trailers — You wait ages for a Doctor Who trailer to come along, and then you get two in a week. Well, maybe it’s something to do with time travel. Neither the World Cup-themed teaser nor fast-cut clip-fest proper trailer gave us too many details on what to expect from the forthcoming series, but it’s enticing nonetheless.

    Things to Catch Up On
    Picnic at Hanging RockThis month, I have mostly been missing Picnic at Hanging Rock, the new adaptation of Joan Lindsay’s novel (perhaps better known from Peter Weir’s 1975 film adaptation), which is currently halfway through airing here in the UK. It looks up my street, so I intend to binge it at some point. Also, Keeping Faith, the BBC Wales drama that was such a hit on iPlayer they’re finally giving it a run on BBC One proper. Oh, and the third series of Unforgotten is also partway through, and they’ve gone and revived The Bletchley Circle too. Who says summer is a quiet time for TV?

    Next month… I’m intending to finally get lost in Netflix’s space.