Killjoys: Season 1-4

Canada has always done an extremely solid line in excellent, character driven science fiction. My understanding is that it’s thanks to generous tax breaks and a wide variety of different landscapes in a relatively small geographical area, making it perfect for any series where the characters are travelling a lot. So X-Files, Warehouse 13 and Supernatural could tour the US while the Stargate franchise, Dark Matter and Battlestar Galactica can tour the universe. It can get a little incestuous with the same names and faces appearing in cast and crew and the same forests and mountains subbing for different cities, planets, spaceships and whatever else the imagination can summon. But they all know how to make the money go a long way – making the most of minimal set dressing, effective stunts and special effects rather than flashy but insubstantial CGI, and writers and actors who can deliver meaningful scenes in a bare corridor, or the small standing set that they use every week.

Killjoys is a very worthy entry into this great pantheon. The building blocks of the plot can be taken from any role-playing adventure – the characters fall into their assigned roles neatly (warrior princess, thief, soldier, cleric, medic, gay bartender) and head off on requisite quests and heists. But the universe behind it is half science fiction exploration of a class based society gone mad, and half like a bad trip (shared memories stored in “the green”, bodysnatcher goo and unkillable zombie like opponents) with conspiracy theories and wars being fought across the millennia. As I try to write it down, I realise that I don’t really understand the plot. It doesn’t matter though because it’s not about any of that. It’s about characters.

The three main characters (the warrior princess, the thief and the soldier) form an incredibly strong core to the series. They are beautifully written, and wonderfully acted. Killjoys could be used to teach what good character and relationship writing looks like. The thief (Johnny) and the warrior (Dutch) are bounty hunters (known as killjoys), the soldier (D’Avin) is Johny’s estranged brother, suddenly landing in the middle of their lives. The relationships between the trio, and the individual pairings are all wonderfully nuanced, but it’s the relationship between Johnny and Dutch that is my absolute favourite. They are soulmates, they are codependent, rely on each other, bicker away and call each other on their crap. But they are not in love. They freely admit they love each other, but they are family not romance. The openness and trust between the two is beautiful; while the worlds shift around them, they are bedrock.

The other thing is, the series is FUNNY. Proper laugh out loud, spit out your tea, rewind to hear it again, funny. There’s a realness to both language and delivery that has me smiling just thinking about it. It’s not elegant in terms of creativity of language or delivering complex set ups; it’s the hilarity of a perfectly timed swear word, a shared sigh, a heartfelt insult, an acknowledgement of insanity, a well timed pratfall. It’s the private jokes of family members, that are somehow feel inclusive rather than exclusive.

I love this series. I powered through it, and then went back and re-watched many of the episodes to obsessively seek out key moments and lines. Yeah, the plot goes a bit nuts and there are holes that you could drive an asteroid through should you chose to look for them, but it’s such a fun ride that I just don’t care.

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Films in October

I actually had quite a quiet month for films, the only reason this film doesn’t look quiet is that I had a day off sick and watched 7 films back to back. I think that may be a personal best.

New films
First Man
There’s a lot that is admirable about this film. The ‘story’ of the first man to walk on the moon is a fantastic one that certainly supports a film. Armstrong is simultaneously the least likely choice and the perfect choice for the history making position – a remarkable man, but also a very down to earth one (pardon the pun). The film’s writers, directors and star Ryan Gosling all fully explore the contrast – telling the story of his daughter’s death, showing everything in lingering closeup and performing everything in an very internalised way. It’s an incredible story, told well. So why didn’t I like it?
Firstly, I didn’t get on with the style. I see why they chose to film it in a period way (basic framing, lots of closeups, grainy texture, flat lighting) but I found it dull. I also often had to close my eyes when the handheld, fast motion got rather nauseating. I can see that the film isn’t about NASA, or even the moonshot itself, but is in fact about Armstrong, but I was disappointed to not get more of the ‘supporting’ characters, most of whom (even Buzz Aldrin) were reduced to single note cliches. I also understand why it played so slowly at times, but I found it boring. Maybe that was because I did already know a lot of the beats in the story and it just felt dragged out. There were a few moments scattered through that really, completely engrossed me (the footage on the moon was beautiful, and the Apollo 1 section was utterly horrific to watch). But my over-riding response for most of it was impressed but slightly bored.

Extinction (Netflix)
There were three phases to this film and I’m going to avoid spoilers, so pardon the vagueness. The first phase is well covered by the trailers – a ‘normal guy’ in a near future looking city is having recurring dreams of some sort of apocalyptic attack. It’s all very flashy, but it’s hard to make out real details. His family, friends and colleagues are noticing his distraction and want him to get treatment, but he feels that they’re not dreams but visions. Then in the second phase it looks like his visions are coming true, when an invasion starts. We start following the fairly standard steps of him trying to get his family to safety – dodging attackers and explosions. At this point I was pretty bored to be honest. While it was trying to look flashy, it felt cheap and unoriginal. Not enough was really made of the vision bit and I was feeling frustrated that the ‘unique selling point’ was being so dramatically underused.
The thing is, the final third explains what’s going on and pulls everything together. Suddenly there’s interesting depth to world and characters which I wanted to spend more time exploring… but having dedicated an hour to the boring bits, we’re now out of time. I can see that you wouldn’t be able to get to the interesting bit without the first bits, but that doesn’t change that they’re quite dull.

New to me
Crazy, Stupid Love – I wobbled about on this film. That’s not necessarily a surprise as it’s a sort of anothology film, with a few different storylines running through, either losely but obviously connected or seemingly disconnected from each other. Some of the characters are problematic, and some of the others also had some dubious moments. But, I did rather find myself charmed overall. The character development is quite sweet and the way things occasionally clicked together was incredibly satisfying.

True Romance – I just didn’t really get into this film, from the very start I found the characters irritating and frustrating. I didn’t really feel it was stylish enough to be a parody or riff, but it was a very long way from being realistic and a credible caper. There were moments that showed flair and originality, but for the most part I was bored and irritated.

The Stepford Wives (1975) – The film does suffer a bit when you know what the secret is, and I think you’d be hard pressed to find many people who don’t by now know it after it’s been referenced so many times. But I was actually surprised that there’s still considerable value in watching the film, the tension of suspicion and paranoia and seeing the characters work things out. It’s a heavily period piece now – not just in terms of the fashions, but also the film making style, but that just gives it another level of interest.

Panic Room – You could almost use this film as a masterclass of how to make a solid thriller. The sense of dread builds up from the very beginning, not rushed, but also not waiting so long before the drama really kicks in. The sense of claustrophobia is pitched just right – the eponymous panic room is small, but with the use of security cameras in the larger house the scale of the film isn’t too limited. There were times when I was almost shouting at the screen as characters made stupid choices, or didn’t think of obvious (to me, sitting on my sofa) options, but for the most part I think they fell just on the side of reasonable. My only real complaint is that it got a little ‘Home Alone’ at times.

Finding Your Feet – I felt really cross about this film. I put it on because I was looking for some feel good, easy entertainment. I should have known better because any film with ‘older’ characters seems to endlessly feel that they must have a death in it somewhere. So rather than smiling and tapping my foot, I’m reaching for the tissue box. The film is solidly written, the cast is superb and everything is very well delivered, so if you’re looking for a big dollop of heartbreak along with your feel good, then it’s a good film. But I do think films should come with a warning label that realistic but depressing life events may occur.

Bridget Jones’s Diary – Somehow, I’ve managed to got seventeen years without seeing Bridget Jones’s Diary. And after all that time I find that I wasn’t really missing much. I can see that it could really speak to some people, but personally I just found Bridget incredibly irritating and the choices of men that she’s presented with deeply underwhelming.

Rewatches
Scream 1-3 – I’m not a fan of horror films, but I’ve always loved the Scream films, maybe it’s because they’re as much a film for film fans as they are for horror films. Scream is now over 20 years old but is holding up quite well, it was a new take on teen slasher movies at the time and it still feels surprisingly fresh. The self-awareness of the characters still feels appropriate and the pacing is well managed to build and release tension. I think the fact the elements of the plot are so straightforward but delivered at such speed means there’s never time to start questioning how things fit together, or even to notice aspects that are now dated (at no point did I actually even think about them using mobile phones). Sadly the next two films in the trilogy have dated less well. The second one is still delightfully self-derogatory (“by definition sequels always suck”) with the characters realising they are in a horror movie and a sequel at that. It’s not as tight as the first film, but it’s still fun, which is more than can really be said for the third film. With Neve Cambell in a reduced roll it falls to the Arquettes to carry the movie and they just can’t manage it. The cannon fodder is numerous, interchangeable, and not very good; the villain is convoluted and unpredictable and the script predictable and cheesy. I couldn’t face watching Scream 4.

The Hateful Eight
I say over and over again that I’m not a Quentin Tarantino fan. I have a respect for his style, and frequently actually like it, but as a film maker I think his flaws override his strengths and I’m endlessly frustrated that he hasn’t learnt better. Hateful Eight is classic Tarantino. It’s a small (largely familiar) cast, it’s dialogue heavy, violence heavy, set slightly out of its time, with a spectacular soundtrack and some gorgeous visuals. It’s also classic Tarantino in that it’s waaaaay too long and that completely undermines the otherwise extremely good film.
I first saw this film digitally projected in a cinema and it was over 3 hours long with an intermission in it. An actual intermission! For a start, that just made the film even longer, for a second it gave you a chance to realise just how much more of the film there was to go and how much of your day was evaporating, and for a third, it completely broke the flow of the film. I next saw it on Netflix and had to watch it across two days. While every scene had something interesting in it (even if that was just Jennifer Jason Lee pulling faces in the background) as a whole it was baggy and draining.
I wish I spent longer in this review talking about how good it was, how funny it was, how original. How good the performances were. How interesting it was to have much of it set inside just one large room and be able to watch all the cast members in the background. But instead Tarantino shoots himself in the foot and all anyone talks about is how it’s too long. Learn Quentin! Learn!

Gosford Park – A great film that really benefits from multiple viewings. There’s about 30 different characters to try and track and most of the first viewing is spent trying to work out who’s who and how they relate to each other. However they are all well developed and have their own stories to tell. It’s definitely worth giving it a chance as it is a truly superb film with so many great performances and different layers to it. This is one of my top picks for a sofa day and I watch it almost annually and I never fail to be entertained and gripped.

The Woman in Black – The film is built around the scariness of long drawn out silences followed by things jumping out at you. The problem with that is, that if something goes wrong with either the tone of the movie, the casting, or just the interest level of the viewer, the long drawn out silences don’t so much build tension as just make you bored. This film was boring. Maybe it’s the relentless grey, the slight miscasting of Daniel Radcliffe (he’s good, but the character needed to be older), or just the fact that I was too easily distracted by other things… but I found this film not scary, but boring.

Before I Go to Sleep – Although I had read the book and been completely gripped by it, I couldn’t remember the details of the plot, so was equally gripped by the film (even the second time around). The story is very well told (in both book and film) with twists and turns constantly keeping the audience on edge right along with the main character. The real success of the film though is the casting which sees Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Mark Strong switching back and forth between their rather typecast personas and the polar opposite. The whole thing played with audience expectations very slickly. The plot isn’t without holes and stretches, but it’s so atmospheric that you don’t really think about it while you’re watching.

Death Becomes Her – This film was a staple in my family growing up (I have no idea why!) so despite not having seen it for years, I found I could quote most of the dialogue and was laughing at things before they’d even happened. That does make it rather hard for me to objectively assess whether it’s any good, I have a suspicion it probably isn’t. But I don’t care.

Kubo and the Two Strings – Visually, this film is absolutely stunning. It’s beautiful to look at with an original and strong style to it, but throughout I had to keep reminding myself that it was stop motion, and when in the credits they show a tiny snippet of the scale and detail of the work that went into the film, it’s absolutely breath-taking. Fortunately the film is also entertaining and meaningful, taking fairly standard themes and building and twisting them. The visual style is original and gorgeous and the humour subtle but lovely.

Books in October

Tim Harford – Fifty Things that Made the Modern Economy
Economics is a subject I always wish I understood more, but it doesn’t seem to matter how much I read or study, it just doesn’t seem to stick in my head. Tim Harford makes economics both interesting and accessible and this book is a great illustrator of a lot of core ideas to the subject. There are 50 chapters on different physical things, or non-tangible ideas that are each just a few pages long so really easy to pick up on tube journeys or while dinner is cooking. Harford’s style is so engaging, always using stories, examples and simple metaphors that it is a really easy to see how each ‘thing’ shaped the economy and in turn shaped the world (for good, bad and often both). This is one of those uncommon books that teaches you lots and entertains you while it does it.

Agatha Christie – Nemesis
Some may find Miss Marple’s meandering slowness endearing and relaxing, but I just find her a bit dull and this book really emphasized it without even trying to compensate for the character traits by having a more active plot. It felt like the whole thing just dragged and dragged. It was hard to get engaged in the case when you didn’t meet half of the key characters in the mystery and by the time the plot filled in, it felt very obvious to me who did it. Not one of Agatha Christie’s better works.

Ian Fleming – Dr No
I thought reading a James Bond book was probably one of those things I should tick off, although I do wonder how many people, even those that consider themselves James Bond fans have actually read one of the original books. I’m not a huge James Bond film fan, I’ve watched most of them I should think, but not with any real loyalty, just as a passable action film. I went into the book nervous at what James Bond written in the late 50’s would look like, when even in modern versions he’s a fair way from what I consider ‘acceptable behavior’. I wasn’t wrong to worry as the overt sexism and exploitation were pretty miserable to read. It completely overwhelmed any enjoyment I might have got from a solidly put together action novel. It’s not going to hold up well in terms of plot and action to modern thrillers, but it got the job done as a page turner. If you can ignore the “of it’s time” elements then I suppose it’s entertaining enough, but I’m not sure why you’d bother when there’s any number of modern thrillers that will avoid most of the issues.

Max Gladstone – The Craft Sequence 1: Three Parts Dead
I’m a bit torn on this book. On one hand it’s got a fairly original premise – magic and religion are kind of like contracts and trading – power, belief, terms and conditions. So lawyers are at the heart of it all. That’s an elegant idea, but I didn’t think it was very well introduced or developed. There was a bit too much going on for a first novel, and as I didn’t understand how the world was working, I couldn’t get lost in the schemes and subversion of the rules. The characters were all solid, I think the plot just about hung together and it was very readable; I just didn’t quite feel it was quite there.

Killing Eve: Season 1

Sometimes I really am tempted to just write “this is really good, you should watch it”. I’m very aware that reviews can leach the joy out of things, particularly the pleasure of discovering something wonderful when you have absolutely no idea what’s coming. The good news is that I’m quite far behind on my TV watching, so I figure if you were going to discover Killing Eve for yourself, you’d already have done so and I’m just giving a bit of a nudge.

It’s a hard show to describe. It’s about serial killers, psychopaths, murder, chaos and terror. And yet, it’s also hilarious, knowingly ridiculous and a lot of fun. In a world of scandi-noir and bleak dramas it’s something of a breath of fresh air. There are moments of true drama though. There was an incident a few episodes in which was well telegraphed and I spent the whole episode just wishing it not to happen and was properly devastated when it did. There are a few other moments spread through the episodes that are either horrifying, terrifying, depressing or all of the above. But wrapping around them is a dry and witty sense of humour.

Anyone familiar with Sandra Oh from Grey’s Anatomy will know her wonderful talent for delivering heartbreak and humour in the same breath and she uses that skill here beautifully. Her counterpart is played by Jodie Comer who has a similar ability to slide between mischievous and murderous. The relationship between the two women is fascinating, the connection is clear even when they’re apart and when they do share scenes together I found myself holding my breath.

As is now my usual way, I burned through the series in just a couple of sittings. In my defense it is only 8 episodes and they’re only 45 minutes long. The plot is well structured with gradual reveals to reward you, but a deepening storyline to keep things moving. The game of cat and mouse between intelligence officers and a villainous organisation is hardly original, but the characters all felt richer and fresher than the traditional wood paneled rooms. Of course a lot of that is down to having so many women involved, it’s created by Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag) and most of the main characters (hero, villain, boss) are women. I’ll leave it up to the reader to extrapolate how that would make for a different feel from something like James Bond or Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

I’m happy to see that a second season is already in production and I look forward to how the story continues to twist and turn. I do have a slight worry that things could end up being strung out too long, and conspiracies getting too complicated, but for now, I’m thoroughly enjoying the ride.

Killing Eve is available as box set on iPlayer for a whole year

Films in September

New Films
The Miseducation of Cameron Post – While I was watching, I was gripped by this film. Even in some of the more ‘arty’ moments of lingering, moody shots, I was entirely there – mostly I suspect due to the extraordinary talent of Chloe Grace Moretz who can say so much without opening her mouth. Afterwards, as I though about the film however I felt a little more frustrated that threads of story and other characters hadn’t been better developed. Each character effectively had a single moment that gave them depth, but then it wasn’t really extended at all and so they all came across as two dimensional. That’s better than one dimensional, but it’s still frustrating. I wish that thought hadn’t lingered as much as it has, because as I left the cinema itself I thought really highly of the film.

New for me
From Up on Poppy Hill – A Studio Ghibli film that I’d not heard of, so a rare treat to be introduced to a new film. It’s a fairly straightforward story of a young girl with responsibilities beyond her age, getting involved with a new group of kids. There’s no fantasy or magic beyond some improbable behavior and lax schooling standards. I quite liked the contrast of a straight story but with the beautiful, delicate illustrations of Studio Ghibli. It’s not outstanding, it’s not hugely original and it’s pretty predictable; but it’s also gently lovely.

American Psycho – The 80’s-ness of it is rather painful and undermines the film a bit, it’s very hard to not laugh (unfairly) at the giant mobile phones, fashions and music. The central themes are chilling, but it’s hard to entirely buy into any of it. There are moments of shock, and it’s well done that there’s more shock in the anger behind the actions than in the violence of the actions themselves. Bale is superbly unpredictable, and the way the film closes surprised me too, but it didn’t really impact me once the credits finished.

Lean on Pete – I was strangely unaffected by this film. Despite being on subjects that would normally have me emotionally gripped, it felt oddly cold. This is possibly deliberate as the lead character is quite emotionally closed off and spends a chunk of the film in various states of shock. Without the emotional connection, I was a bit bored by the film, at one point I checked to see how near the end I was and was shocked to find myself only half way through the two hour run time. I don’t think it was a bad film, the structure kept things moving (I was glad they went for a straight linear timeline rather than jumping around) and the performances were excellent. But it just didn’t work for me for some reason.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool – This did not work for me at all. I just didn’t get on with any of the characters, the eponymous film star was played for almost a single character trait – lack of acceptance of growing older. The boyfriend meanwhile had no personality of his own at all (and I spent a good amount of time just trying to reconcile him as Jamie Bell from Billy Elliott), and although Julie Walters is of course lovely, she is 100% Julie Walters rather than an embedded character. Without any character development the story is too minimal to support the film and it’s just boring.

The Lady Vanishes – Sometimes I’m surprised by films. This was made in 1938 and frankly about the only thing that has dated is the aspect ratio and film quality. The story, characters, and even direction are as fresh and polished as many modern films. The finale is maybe a bit cheesy and improbable, but the twists and turns to get there were gripping. Alfred Hitchcock truly was a master, who directors even today are struggling to emulate.

Rewatches
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – Absolutely brilliant. It’s so vivid- loud with music, alive with characters, bright with colour, and sparkling with dialogue. It’s not pure frothiness, it (and the characters) has a line of hardness running through the middle, not losing touch with the reality of the world around them. The characters are hilarious and heartbreaking, the dialogue exquisitely quotable (in the right company) and by the end I had a giant smile on my face and my heart felt completely full.

Spotlight – This is an incredible story – both the facts that the journalists are trying to uncover, and the process they have to go through to get to the bottom of the cover-up. The film focuses on that without particularly embellishing it with style or creativity. It’s not a glamorous collection of star-turns, it’s instead an incredibly solid ensemble cast and very straightforward writing and direction letting the story (or rather the history) stand on its own. It’s not flashy, artsy or overdone and that’s exactly what the events deserve and what makes the film utterly compelling.

WALL-E – I was lucky enough to see this in the cinema again, 10 years after its first release and it absolutely took my breath away. It is stunningly beautiful in every way – visuals, story and sentiment. Pixar (as usual) have managed to infuse so much character and heart into things with minimal faces and make them seem more human than the human characters. So much of the communication comes from expressions and sound effects and yet you always know exactly what the robots are saying. The visual style is approached as if it were filmed with cameras and lenses – it has lighting, focus and textures that must be constructed for animation and they are breathtaking. It may not be the funniest Pixar, or the slickest plot, or the most exciting, but I think it might actually be the most beautiful one, and it may just be my favourite one too.

The 39 Steps – Not Hitchcock’s best, but an engaging mystery, adventure type film. In many ways it’s an early version of North by Northwest and the later film does many elements much better, including the chemistry and the actual drama. I have to admit I found it quite difficult to get into the film and was very easily distracted.

Books in September

Robert Galbraith – Cormoran Strike 4: Lethal White
Looking back I read the first three books of this series over the span of about three weeks. Despite this book being 650 pages long I charged through it in just 4 days. Frankly if not for the annoying necessities of work and sleep getting in the way I would probably have read the whole thing through in one sitting. I found the book completely engrossing, the slow build of the cases alongside the tumultuous personal lives of Strike and Robin left me incredibly frustrated every time I had to put the book down. The book is carefully balanced between personal stories and the cases, with the different threads intertwining and continually delivering satisfying moments. I’m not so naive I can’t see that I’m being manipulated by cheap tricks like cliffhangers at the end of the chapters and “Come and meet me, I need to tell you something urgently” tropes, but the tricks are delivered very well and they just work. At the end I had that deep joy and satisfaction of a great book, but that sadness and almost emptiness of having run out of pages. Roll on the next one.

Genevieve Cogman – The Invisible Library 3: The Burning Page and 4: The Masked City
This is a very readable series, but it’s not really one I’m falling in love with. It can feel a little clinical at times, as if it’s hitting milestones which are ‘due’ in a series of this type, but then the emotion of those milestones doesn’t necessarily play out. It feels oddly devoid of passion, even when characters talk about their loves (books, people, allegiances) it feels a bit trite and regurgitated. But even without that passion it is a well built universe that’s evolving nicely, I particularly liked the development of the fae, and the idea that they deliberately and accidentally turn their lives into great stories – influencing those around them into tropes and stereotypes. It’s a nice construct that gives an excuse for cliche storytelling. It’s an effective action/adventure that keeps the pages turning. It just doesn’t leave me really feel anything.

Stephen Fry – Mythos
The subtitle of this book is “The Greek Myths Retold”, and I was really enticed by the idea of someone with Stephen Fry’s wit, turn of phrase, and sense of humour retelling the myths that I’ve always loved. The problem is, that this book could have been written by absolutely anyone. There was barely any of Stephen Fry’s personality in the retelling, it just felt like someone had done a solid job of compiling the familiar stories, in a fairly unremarkable narrative. There were very occasional asides that I could actually hear in his voice, but for the most part it was a slightly dry retelling of familiar stories. It’s as good a retelling as any other, but I was hoping for a lot more spark.

S.J. Morgan – One Way
This is incredibly similar to Andy Weir’s The Martian, but is also the complete antithesis of it. Both works are about people stranded on Mars and both also have a similar fascination and commitment to explaining the science and engineering of how things work (or don’t work). Both have a central character who is thrown into something they didn’t expect and must now “science the shit” out of the problem. But where The Martian feels like a positive story about what humanity can do when they’re working together, One Way is about the horror humanity can inflict on each other. Reading (and watching) The Martian made me feel better about the world, while One Way gave me a growing sense of sadness and depression. Technically, One Way is not quite as well put together as The Martian either; Morgan does a solid enough job, but I was always multiple steps ahead of the characters and frustrated at their slowness. It was a compelling read, but it is ultimately quite disposable and all in all, I’d probably recommend just reading The Martian instead of this. Even if you’ve already read it, read it again.

SEAL Team: Season 1

I’m not sure how many people remember a series from a few years ago called The Unit. A bit of googling reveals it was on CBS from 2006-9, airing 69 episodes over 4 seasons. I’m not sure how I came to watch it in the UK but I somehow ended up with the dvd box set and powered through it. SEAL Team is pretty much the same series, just moved into a world 10 years older for an audience that’s more savvy.

Both series are about special forces teams, the people that get sent in to the most dangerous and complicated situations at home and abroad and both series go to great lengths for authenticity, with all the language, movements, actions and behavoiurs seeming entirely ‘correct’. This is the most satisfying thing about both series, and the most vital. If they didn’t seem credible as elite military unit it wouldn’t work at all. Similarly if they too often disobeyed orders, or the orders didn’t make sense, it would be impossible to accept any of it.

Season 1 of SEAL team neatly split into two halves – the first half establishing the characters while working out of their home base, and the second half following them on deployment to Afghanistan. It’s a very smart decision, giving us a run of standalone episodes to build the characters – starting from their simple definitions (the leader, the right-hand-man, the newbie) and then add secondary notes and depths, and how they function as a team. Then the second half develops into a longer overall story line and pushes them slightly out of their comfort zone (although what is a comfort zone to a Seal team operative is quite scary).

The biggest difference between the two series is that The Unit had a much greater balance between the stories at home, the families left behind and the challenges of being military wives. That is touched upon in Seal team, but it’s always from the point of view of the soldiers. I don’t mind that change to be honest, there were a lot of times in The Unit that it felt that the home stories were forced and verging on melodrama at times. It’s a shame so many of the female characters in Seal team are therefore relegated to guest appearances, but they are still strong characters. There are also women on the team who are never presented as anything other than fully competent.

Neither series is a mindless “boys” action fest. The characters are smart and well rounded, the emotional aspects are never ignored, and the complexity of the situations they are in are well considered. The cast was one of the big draws for me, with several names that I knew could all deliver interesting characters, adding more than was maybe written on the page. Led by David Boreanaz (Angel, Bones) you’ve also got Max Thieriot (Bates Motel), Jessica Pare (Mad Men) and AJ Buckley (CSI New York and Justified) and the guest cast includes people like Alona Tal (Supernatural) and even Michael Irby from The Unit.

I watched about 1/2 the season straight through in a few days before catching up with the live airings. Each story is dealt with efficiently and effectively, I was never bored and I didn’t spot any particular holes or oversights (which is far from common). It will of course not be a show that wins any major awards, and I can’t say it’s a show that necessarily lingers in the mind after you’ve finished watching. But for me, it ticked all the boxes.

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