The Past Month on TV #2

This month, another ragtag selection of programmes I’m not watching at the same speed as anybody else.

The 88th Academy AwardsThe Oscars
They feel so long ago already, don’t they? But no, the Oscars were just a couple of weeks back. I thought it was a pretty good show this year. Chris Rock ended up belabouring the race point a bit by the end, including a few gags that went very wrong, but his opening monologue was good, as were some of the skits on the way. That there were a few surprise winners also helped keep things ticking along nicely, though (without having seen it) I think Spotlight is already destined to be an obscure answer to “name a film that won Best Picture” within a couple of years.

Person of Interest (Season 4 Episodes 1-3)
Person of InterestI have very mixed feelings about Person of Interest, whose fourth season has only made it to UK TV in the past few weeks (the belated fifth starts in the US in May, they announced yesterday). When it works, it’s a good quality vigilante/procedural action show; but its array of arc plots are as unrewarding as they are never-ending, and are consequently unsatisfying to a fault (literally). However, now that I’m so deep into it, and with cancellation finally confirmed (the foreshortened and delayed fifth season will indeed be its last, as was also finally announced yesterday), I feel like I’m in ’til the bitter end. The makers just bloody better have had the notice to get a proper ending into that now-final episode…

Ripper Street (Series 4 Episodes 5-6)
Ripper StreetWhen Amazon picked up Ripper Street after the success of the third series, it was for a fourth and fifth season totalling 13 episodes. The show’s writers seem to have taken the double recommission to heart and crafted an arc plot to last throughout those two seasons, meaning this first half ends on a big surprise and with all sorts of things left up in the air. And now we have to wait. Still, it’ll be fascinating to see how there are six or seven more episodes left, considering the predicament they’ve put the characters in.

Shetland (Series 3 Episodes 3-6)
ShetlandI think I sounded a little more dismissive of Shetland than I’d intended in last month’s review. The remainder of the season stepped outside the programme’s usual wheelhouse, heading down to Glasgow and into the world of organised crime, which perhaps lost some of the series’ unique spark. However, it chose to tackle some very heavy issues in the last couple of episodes; the kind of thing that has too often been dumped into dramas as a plot twist without exploring the actual ramifications. Kudos to the writers for dealing with it intelligently and sympathetically, then, and to the cast — particularly Alison O’Donnell — for their incredible performances.

The X Files (Season 10 Episodes 3-6)
The X FilesThe quality of this revival has certainly been all over the place. I was wary of episode three, Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster, because comedy always seems at odds with The X Files’ grand conspiracy storylines, but I thought it was hilarious and deserving of its acclaim as the best episode of the season. Home Again felt like solid standard X Files fodder, and Babylon was clearly trying to be zeitgeisty but perhaps wasn’t fully thought-through. As for the much-maligned finale, My Struggle II… well, it was a mess, and over-ambitious, and a stupid idea to end it on a cliffhanger when no one knew how well the revival would go down. Let’s hope Chris Carter is right that there’ll definitely be more.

Also watched…
  • Dickensian Series 1 Episodes 13-20 — please BBC, can we have some more?
  • Elementary Season 4 Episodes 9-13 — you can adapt the wordplay mystery from A Study in Scarlet all you want, it still doesn’t make you actually similar to Sherlock Holmes.
  • The Flash Season 2 Episode 10 / Arrow Season 4 Episode 10 / DC’s Legends of Tomorrow Season 1 Episode 1 — I can’t be the only person who thinks of these like one show that’s on three times a week.
  • Gilmore Girls Season 3 Episode 11-Season 4 Episode 17 — 71 to go.
  • Grantchester Series 2 Episodes 1-2 — remember when I said I was going to watch fewer crime dramas? Because I didn’t, clearly.
  • The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story Season 1 Episode 2 — who thought this was going to be a comedy?

    Things to Catch Up On
    The Night ManagerThis month, I have mostly been missing The Night Manager. The critically-acclaimed ratings hit is, as you likely know, a spy thriller adapted from a John le Carré novel, which not only means it has pedigree, but that its star — Tumblr-beloved Marvel villain Tom Hiddleston — is now being tipped to take over as Bond. I wouldn’t know, I’ve not seen it yet.

    Next month… Daredevil season 2.

  • The Past Month on TV #1

    This is a film blog (you may’ve noticed, it is in the title), but I spend a lot of my time watching TV. This is one of the reasons I have regularly struggled to make it to 100 films (not so much the last couple of years, but in general). Dedicated cineastes may find this unfathomable, and spend all their time watching as many films as they can gorge their eyeballs on, but I instead regularly fritter away said time on stuff like Arrow or Elementary or a 374th re-watch of Friends. Such is life.

    So some of my viewing choices conform to the old-fashioned (way, way, completely-outdated-level old-fashioned) notion that TV isn’t really worth passing comment on; but there’s other stuff that is at least as high-quality as a decent movie — and, in some cases, considerably better. Therefore, provoked partly by this post by ghost of 82 (and our discussion in the comments), I’ve decided to post monthly thoughts on some of my TV viewing. I won’t bore you with every single thing I watch, nor dig too deep into what I do cover (not on a regular basis, anyway), but instead merely mention some highlights — and probably lowlights, too.

    (Why do this? What do you mean, “why?” Why do we review anything?)

    Last point before I begin: I watch hardly anything ‘live’ nowadays, so this certainly won’t be just “some stuff that happened to be on telly in the last four weeks”, but a mix of recent broadcasts, older stuff I’m (re-)watching, and stuff that isn’t broadcast at all (i.e. series from Amazon Prime and Netflix).

    This month year-to-date I have mostly been watching…

    Dickensian (Series 1 Episodes 1-12)
    DickensianThe BBC’s Avengers-style mash-up of characters from the work of Charles Dickens is an interesting mishmash of a show — part soap, part sitcom, part murder mystery — probably quite like Dickens’ originals, to be honest. It’s also an interesting case study in dramatic irony: every major storyline is a prequel to one of Dickens’ works, so how much do you rely on the audience knowing where everyone ends up? We surely all know where Miss Havisham is headed, but do you remember exactly what roles Compeyson and Pocket have to play? And is anyone but a Dickens expert (or someone who’s read Wikipedia, obv.) aware of who Honoria Barbary grows up to be? As a show, it’s not as classy or accomplished as the Beeb’s peerless Bleak House (from a decade ago now!), but it’s considerably more entertaining than their version of Little Dorrit that followed (both apt comparisons, because they’re Dickens adaptations in 15+ parts). It’s designed to be a returning series, and I hope it gets recommissioned.

    Gilmore Girls (Season 2 Episode 20 – Season 3 Episode 10)
    Gilmore Girls season 3Oh, it’s a Woman’s Show — or, worse, a Teen Girl’s Show. There’s more to Gilmore Girls than that (stupidly reductive, anyway) description. OK, I’m not that fascinated by the ins and outs of Rory’s relationship dramas, and life would be simpler if Lorelai and Luke would just bloody well get together, but it’s endurable due to the fast*, witty, intelligent dialogue (seriously, these characters are impossibly well-read and -watched), the depiction of quirky small-town life and all its crazy characters, and the realistically antagonistic relationship between independent daughter and old-fashioned parents. I got quite far through watching Gilmore once before, many years ago, and then a while back started re-watching with a view to finishing it off. With Netflix’s four-movie revival coming later this year, it’s become time to get a wriggle on. So expect this to keep popping up — I’ve got 100 episodes to go…
    * Favourite trivia: they talk so fast, scripts for the show were about 60% longer than an average TV script.

    The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story (Episode 1)
    Gilmore Girls season 3This is a few episodes in over the pond, I know, but it only started here on Monday (see also: The X Files). I’ve never seen one of Ryan Murphy’s other shows (Nip/Tuck, Glee, American Horror Story, etc), except for the Rocky Horror episode of Glee, which I hated. He seems to be quite a divisive creator, so maybe it’s for the best that here he’s only acting as producer and occasionally director. For people like me, who were too young to follow the O.J. case, this is a potentially-fascinating insight into a famous bit of… I was going to say “recent history”, but it’s 22 years ago now. Reportedly the series will focus on how the apparently open-and-shut case we witness in this episode goes astray at trial, which I guess makes this first part all about setting things up. If that is the case, I think there’s a lot of promise.

    Ripper Street (Series 4 Episodes 1-4)
    Ripper Street IVThe Amazon-saved Victorian murder drama returned with a 130-minute episode shot in 2.35:1 widescreen — in other words, it was basically Ripper Street: The Movie. In truth, it was clearly designed as a two-parter, and would perhaps have played better in that form. The cinematography of that first episode is glorious though, so rich and well-designed, it’s practically worth watching just for that. Series 3 was the show’s strongest run so far, and for me the new series isn’t quite matching it yet, but it’s still a quality drama about dark deeds in dark places.

    Shetland (Series 3 Episodes 1-2)
    Shetland series 3I don’t watch that much crime drama… says the person who’s already highlighted Dickensian, American Crime Story, and Ripper Street, and is also watching Death in Paradise, Elementary, and Vera right now. (I need to cut back on these.) One thing that works in Shetland’s favour is its remote, somewhat desolate setting. I suppose that makes it feel tapped into the Nordic Noir craze a little bit, though that’s probably where the comparison ends. This latest series is also telling a single story over its six parts, which is a change of pace for the show. It’s still in the “intriguing start” phase — there’s clearly something much bigger going on than these small-island cops are used to dealing with.

    The X Files (Season 10 Episodes 1-2)
    The X Files EventThe X Files revival only has one episode left to air in the US now, but over here it’s barely begun (episode two went out on Monday). Despite the general apathetic reaction to the first episode (My Struggle), I largely enjoyed it. Only having dipped in to the original series meant I was thoroughly lost at times, but the Mulder and Scully reunion was suitably nostalgic and it threw around ideas with abandon. Episode two (Founder’s Mutation) seems to have been better received, but I can’t say I noticed a massive up-tick in quality. Ostensibly a “monster of the week” episode, it’s decent in that regard, though I also liked how it tapped into storylines from the past — when you’ve only got six episodes, making any of them completely cut-off and standalone feels somehow wasteful.

    Things to Catch Up On
    Phwoar and PeaceThis month, I have mostly been missing the BBC’s new War and Peace — aka Phwoar and Peace, according to social media and/or journalists wanting to have influence on social media. It seemed like the kind of thing (i.e. lots of characters with Russian names) that would benefit from being watched intensively, rather than spread thin over a month and a half, so I’ve got it all saved up. Maybe next month, then.

    Next month… largely more of the same, I should imagine — marking time until Daredevil returns…