Broadchurch: Season 2

bBroadchurchI watched Broadchurch season 2 with something of a sense of disappointment, frustrated that it didn’t live up to the first season with it’s erratic characters, unlikely plots and unrealistic presentations of the legal profession. But when I looked back at my review of season 1 I found the following line “it relied very heavily on red herrings, stupid characters, sudden turnarounds and unlikely coincidences.” so as it turns out, season 2 was actually pretty consistent!

I think I was remembering Broadchurch as better than it was for two reasons – the performances and the addictiveness of it. You couldn’t really not watch Broadchurch, everyone was talking about it, and everyone wanted to know who killed Danny. Each episode had a one step forwards, one step backwards, half a step forwards cliffhanger structure to it that was completely addictive. And while you might be aware of that manipulation you didn’t care because you were also completely tied in with the performances from Olivia Coleman, David Tennant and for me at least the under-appreciated and completely heart-breaking performance of Jodie Whittaker as Danny’s mother.

So how was it that Broadchurch season 2 induced such a negative response when it was actually doing something extremely similar, with largely the same people?

The always insightful Maureen Ryan pointed out something that I hadn’t really thought of but could be at the heart of the issue. The season was mostly built around the same case as the first, but just rehashing everything and telling the audience “it consciously and deliberately undoes much of what was powerful about the shattering conclusion to the first season”. It’s frustrating and a bit boring. The secondary case, the ‘one that got away’ that has haunted Tennant’s Detective Hardy never has the same emotional punch as the first. We’re not connected with the victims or their family, the only emotional link we have is Hardy himself, and given his rather repressed character it just never quite lands.

In the end, I’m still glad I watched the second season (I nearly gave up a couple of times) as the final episode was very well done and had the emotional punches that I hadn’t found in the earlier episodes. Plus of course there’s always the simple joys of watching excellent actors at work and I’d watch Olivia Coleman in just about anything. Still, I wish the writers had taken it in a slightly different direction.

Downton Abbey: Season 5

Downton_AbbeyI’m not sure whether I’m mellowing in my old age or if Downton has actually got better. Both options seem pretty unlikely, but while I wound myself up into a pretty enthusiastic rant about last season, this year I find myself leaning more in favour of enthusiastic gushing.

I think there’s certainly something in settling in to Downton for what it is, not what the papers or award voters try to turn it into. Downton is an autumnal Sunday evening drama. You curl up under a blanket on the sofa with a nice cup of tea and a packet of biscuits and relax. It’s not gritty or challenging, you’re not expected to think or relate it to the reality of life, it’s a last vestige of calm before the crashing arrival of Monday morning.

Looking over last season’s review I could mount all the same criticisms at this year. Ridiculously little happened, and the few things that did were drawn out so thin that any resolution was more like the story being put out of its misery than any sort of glorious conclusion. We still have an array of indistinguishable suitors flocking after the quite horrible Mary, Edith wallowing about, Bates in trouble with the law, Thomas plotting and Rose flitting. Even stories that should have injected some challenge to the status quo were so over-done that you lost all sympathy. Rather than cheering for the schoolteacher to come in, stir everything up and remind Tom of who he used to be, she was so nasty that we just wanted her to go away.

I guess then it must be me that’s mellowing, because despite all that, Downton really has been one of the highlights of my week. It’s just nice to watch. The longer episodes allow you to really settle into the comfortable easiness of it. The distribution of stories amongst the characters meant that even if one was slumping, it was never on screen for very long and each story did at least have a beginning, (overly long) middle and a conclusion, they never just disappearing without resolution. I even found myself caring on occasion… am I crazy or should Tom pair up with one of the sisters? I’m not sure I even mind which one, but he makes each of them more likeable and more progressive and they in turn give him confidence and connections. Sorry. See, I care!

Should Downton be getting Emmy nominations? God no. It’s cheesy, obvious and nothing particularly special. But it is a blend of entertainment and comfort that I for one, found I desperately needed as the evenings got darker and Monday morning loomed.

Doctor Who: 2014

doctorwhoAnother season of Doctor Who has gone by, and I find myself completely and utterly ambivalent about the whole thing. I can’t even find the enthusiasm to get properly cross about it, I’m just utterly bored. That makes me really sad. I’ve had some mixed responses to Doctor Who in the past, but never before have I felt so un-engaged from it that I can’t summon the enthusiasm to rant. I mean, what’s that about?! What’s the point of me if I can’t even be bothered to rant?

The whole series just felt messy. Too often really solid ideas were drowned in frippery and fuss. Two dimensional aliens who turn people into pictures in order to understand them – Cool. A shrink ray that traps the doctor inside a MUCH smaller on the outside Tardis – adorable! Bodge the two of them together with an excuse that “2 dimensional aliens are stealing energy which makes things smaller” – ridiculous. The explanation makes no sense at all! It was cluttered, inelegant and a waste of two good ideas in one fell swoop. Over and over the writers relied on fast talking and bouncing between ideas to cover the fact that they lacked the courage or rigour to fully develop any single idea into a solid storyline.

Then of course you’ve also got the usual problems with having to make excuses about when the Tardis could be used as a time machine and when it couldn’t. The entirely clumsy bolting on of a mysterious character at the end of each episode to power the two-part finale (and what was going on with her accent?!). Also, was there a massive dent in the budget this year? Many of the episodes and effects were stunningly naff, London turned into a forest with no people and the occasional red phone box, inside the Dalek looking like the air conditioning room of the studios).

The biggest problem is that when the writing of the stories is bad, you lose faith in the writing of the characters. How much of the Doctor’s hypocrisy, selective memory and mood swings were supposed to be a character trait and how much was lazy writing? We’ll never know. I’d love to say that despite everything Capaldi rises above, but I just don’t think he had a chance. Without the subtlety and the quiet moments in the right places, I never really got the hang of his character and he just didn’t have the material to shine. I know Capaldi is a fine actor who can do both comedy and drama, but I just didn’t feel like the Doctor was being written for the actor in the same way it was for previous incarnations.

What actually held it together was Jenna Coleman as Clara. I described her before as almost painfully adorable, but she was so much more this season. She did everything and she did it in a way that felt fresh and original. Romantic comedy, grief, determination, terror… I believed her. In fact she was the only thing that I believed. While the stories swerved about all over the place, she clung on and matched tone perfectly. It may not have made for an entirely consistent character, but it certainly gave a consistently enjoyable performance.

I think it’s time for Moffat to move on. It’s time to take Dr Who back to basics and get the stories back on track. Make it fun, make it coherent and make it powerful again. There were powerful moments and lines, but they were buried amidst so much stuff that they get lost. Turn it around Doctor Who, you’re losing me.

Bits and Bobs

I think I’m going to start a new type of blog post (although I also reserve the right for this to be the only time I use this structure). Often I’ll find myself watching things during the week that aren’t quite worthy of a whole post by themselves, but that it seems a shame to ignore completely. This will also give me the opportunity to point things out on iplayer or various other catch-up services in time for you to watch them. I may even occasionally link to bits of news that interest me. Basically, it’s a random collection of bits and pieces!

The Driver
driverI’ve watched two out of the three episodes of BBC’s drama The Driver, starring David Morrisey. It’s a good story and David Morrisey is always a very watchable actor. It’s the sort of thing that’s perfectly suited to this sort of very short burst, I don’t think I could take the intensity or sense of doom that fills it for any longer. I’m not expecting a happy ending!
Available until 6th November on iplayer

The Detectorists
detectoristsAbout as far from the Driver as you can imagine is this nice little easy going half hour show on BBC4. It stars the wonderful pairing of Toby Jones (Marvellous, The Girl, Infamous, Harry Potter…) and Mackenzie Crook (Almost Human, Pirates of the Carribean) as some very ordinary metal detectors who may be on the verge of a huge find. It’s somewhere between comedy and drama and is just wonderfully easy to watch.
Episodes 1 and 2 are on iplayer and new episodes air on Thursdays.

The Code
An Australian drama sucked me straight in with its first episode blending together politics, journalism, hacking and a small town mystery about two missing teenagers. It reminded me a lot of State of Play with the interweaving of small and large plots linked together by a journalist. I’ve no idea how it’s all going to come together, but it’s a great set up.
Episodes 1 and 2 are on iplayer and new episodes air on BBC4 on Saturdays.

Downton Abbey
Downton_AbbeyThree episodes in and Downton seems a little more energetic this series. I can actually think of things that have happened, which is a lot more than I could say of previous years. Mary is irritating me less, she seems to have started moving with the times a bit more and her occasional flashes of feeling and connection to the people around her (I liked the bit with Tom last week) makes her more interesting. I hope they move Edith’s character on and give her something positive soon though.
Episodes are available on itv player

Great British Bake Off
8077683536_38efd98443_mI can’t really not mention what seems to be the television event of the year, particularly given that I’m a bit of a baker and am a big fan of the show. It’s clearly more popular than ever, with ratings of the final topping those of the World Cup Final but for me, I don’t think it was the best series. I found the recipes far less inspiring than usual, particularly the technical challenges, and I got increasingly frustrated with the artificial time pressures (you can’t ice a hot cake!). The contestants, hosts and judges however were all lovely as usual, and in the end I think the right person won. (Ps, that’s a picture of my own version of the GBBO title cake)
Most of the episodes are still on iplayer but they’re disappearing soonish.

Cat Watch 2014: The New Horizon Experiment
5347376050_4707fb35ac_zI’m slowly catching up on this three part update to last year’s amazing cat-stalking documentary and it’s every bit as interesting, original and cute as the previous show. It’s a good job my housemate is allergic to cats because frankly within just 10 minutes of gorgeous close ups and slow motion shots I was overwhelmed with a desire to fill the house with moggies. (That’s my dad’s cat in the photo).
All three episodes are available on iplayer until 9th October.

Coming up next week
I’m incredibly excited about the start of season 5 of The Walking Dead, 9pm Monday night on FX. There are three interesting looking new shows starting this week. On Monday at 9pm on Channel 5 is Gotham, following young detective James Gordon as he investigates the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents. It’s one of the top picks for the year’s crop of new shows in the US and my expectations are pretty high. The Knick starts on Sky Atlantic on Thursday at 9pm, set in a New York hospital in 1900 which sounds like a fascinating idea and as it stars Clive Owen and is directed by Steven Soderbergh I’m quite optimistic for the delivery. I’m less optimistic about The Great Fire on ITV, 9pm Thursday. I’ve also spotted that Justified is available on Sky Box Sets on Demand, a series that I’ve wanted to catch up on for a while.

The Honourable Woman

honourablewomanThere’s a middle ground on which some shows try to balance. On one side is a show which explains everything to the audience, spelling out the plot, characters and background so that nothing is left to the imagination. On the other side however are shows that are entirely vague on everything, leaving everything to the audience to extrapolate, or indeed make up for themselves. There’s a patch of territory in the middle however where the audience is forced to think and interpret, but the writer has given enough hints that they end up exactly where they were meant to be, coming to the same conclusions and having those predictions confirmed.

The Honourable Woman tries to find that balance point, an admirable ambition but I’m not entirely certain that it was successful. There were certainly points during the season where I had no idea what was going on. Reading The Guardian’s recaps was as much a part of the show as actually watching it, and that would frequently point things out to me which had completely passed me by. At the same time thought, episodes would make a big ‘reveal’ things that I’d been assuming as a given for a while. Discussing the show with friends the next day became a regular habit (which is great!) and they tended to agree with me that they missed some things and assumed others (which is not so great), although it wasn’t always about the same things (which is just confusing).

Despite that the show was certainly watchable, even compelling. Each episode moved things along and the rate at which questions were answered and new ones introduced was very satisfying. There were a few too many incidents of smart characters having to act dumb to move the plot along (“this isn’t a stone factory”) or being passive when they should have stood up for themselves more (“I deserve it”), but that may be just my own disappointment in the characters themselves, not that those actions were ‘incorrect’.

The style of the show also occasionally lost the balance, falling too far on the arty side of the spectrum, which always makes me lose focus. Some of the scenes had absolutely stunning lighting and framing but others (and the credit sequence) seemed to be trying too hard to make the show feel moody and atmospheric, which to me conflicted with the more practical nature of the story. I also thought the music montage of real news clips in the last episode was a huge miss-step, we shouldn’t (and didn’t) need to be told after that many episodes that there’s such suffering in the Middle East, it cheapened the whole series by making it feel like a slow build up to a charity appeal.

What held the show together though were the performances. I thought it would be impossible to find a challenger to Sarah Lancashire’s performance in Happy Valley, but Maggie Gyllenhaal gives it a fine attempt. As Nessa Stein she demonstrates another amazing balance act between a strong and confident baroness, and a terrified and isolated woman with secrets; hiding behind rigid control in public and struggling to not break down in private. Gyllenhaal used everything from her voice to her eyes to deliver this stunningly complex character.

I have to admit that I did lose track of the plot towards the end, at least partly due to my embarrassing lack of understanding of the whole situation in Israel and Palestine. The personal stories all made perfect sense, what the characters did and why, but the larger motivations of the regimes involved rather went over my head (or another way of looking at it, weren’t adequately explained). That did leave me feeling a bit down on the show at the end, but none of that changed how completely engaged I was in the show. It was not a flawless series, but it was an ambitious idea and a very worthy and watchable attempt.

The Smoke: Season 1

smokeThere are lots of contrasts in being a fire-fighter. A lot of the time is spent on relatively low level tasks around the fire house while waiting for the bell to ring, or out on pretty basic call outs like rescuing proverbial cats from trees. That seems to provide an opportunity for playing childish pranks, moping and a fair amount of moonlighting on side projects. But when the alarm does go for a real emergency, the characters (mostly) switch into professional mode – working through their well trained procedures. Walking into burning buildings is literally the day job, and although the training and equipment make it safer, it’s still unpredictable and risky. It’s a contrast between day to day monotony and strict processes and the chaos and danger of things on fire.

Meanwhile the fire-fighters all have personal lives as well. They’re a group of people who rely on each other and form a complex network of relationships. Then you’ve got life outside the station, what’s it like to be the family of a fire-fighter? There are practical issues such as the shift work, terrible pay and unpredictable hours; but also the stress of not knowing if they’re safe and dealing with the emotional and physical fall out when things go wrong. No one involved is a superhero, they all make mistakes and poor choices that have knock on effects back and forth between personal and private lives.

While that all sounds great (or at least it does to me), keeping that all in play is a really complicated balancing act and sadly for the most part The Smoke just doesn’t manage it. Rather than merging it all together it’s like a gritty action drama is switching back and forth with a messy soap opera with convoluted relationships, pantomime villains and over-blown reactions. Each episode swerving back and forth across the complete range, occasionally hitting on moments of brilliance but not really bringing them together into a cohesive whole.

The unevenness continued through the dialogue and acting. Some of the characters, in some situations had a wonderfully fresh and realistic tone. They actually behaved how real life people do, their words felt fresh and raw rather than overly rehearsed and scripted, their responses felt realistic as if the words were genuinely coming from their brains in those situations, not the writers room on a fourth redraft. Unfortunately that generally didn’t follow through consistently for some of the secondary characters, and was also abandoned wholesale when necessary to move the plot along. Jamie Bamber is very watchable (although his accent is often painful) but it’s Jodie Whittaker who really steals the show.

The most obvious comparison for the show is Chicago Fire, but in many ways that only tells half the story. Chicago Fire is pure soap opera, everything is turned up to 11 and many of the stories/relationships could just as easily take place in an office as in a fire house (although there’d be less reason for all the blokes to take their tops off). By having simple aims, Chicago Fire delivers what it sets out to do. You may not like it, but it is successful. The Smoke however tries to do more and when it fails, it falls further. I did find it very watch-able, the moments when it succeeds were interesting, original and worth a certain amount of eye rolling through the places where it fails. But I’m not sure that I will bother to watch the second season.

The Musketeers: Season 1

muskateerThe BBC seems to have an ongoing commitment to producing Saturday evening family dramas, shows that appeal to young and old by covering the full spectrum from fart jokes to existential crises, sometimes elegantly integrating the two (Doctor Who) and sometimes just swerving wildly between them (Merlin). I’m quite a fan of this type of show, at worst it makes for a mindless 45 minutes or so while eating dinner and as a bonus sometimes you get something a bit more substantial on top. So when the BBC announced they were doing a version of The Three Musketeers I was *almost* excited. I’ve loved the story of the musketeers since I was introduced to it via Dogtanian and the 70s comedy films starring Michael York and Oliver Reed. The story seemed a really good fit for Saturday evenings on BBC – swashbuckling action, palace intrigue, handsome young men with just about credible reasons to take their shirts off and friendly banter and camaraderie by the bucket load.

So I was rather surprised when rather than being a Saturday at 7pm show to fill in the gap left by the departure of Merlin, Musketeers appeared on Sunday at 9pm show. That immediately confused me, Sunday at 9pm is a very different timeslot, no kiddies to appease with running and swashing of buckles and instead an expectation of something a bit more thoughtful (The Crimson Field is now in the slot since Musketeers finished its run).

I’m not sure Musketeers ever got over that confusion. While the absence of bodily function jokes was a blessing, the darker story lines never felt like they were really being committed to. Elements of the show were still a little camp (yes Peter Capaldi, I’m looking at you and your beard) and somewhat silly when compared to the tone of some of the actual plots about the politics and acceptable actions of the period.

The repetitiveness of the stories really didn’t help either. It felt like pretty much every week one of the Musketeers found the love of his life, who was then placed in jeopardy and eventually had to be given up because being a Musketeer is too important and/or too dangerous to allow long term relationships to work out. The first couple of times it was interesting, but it got old pretty quick once it had looped past each of the four Musketeers at least once.

Of course The Musketeers lives and dies with the four main characters, and it took some time for the actors and audience to settle in with the characters. They’re iconic roles and the relatively unknown and inexperienced actors didn’t immediately bring them to life. It took me several episodes to get the hang of who was who and for them to ground each Musketeer into their familiar traits. But by the end of the season everything was coming together a lot more and I was starting to see the potential of each of the characters getting some more long term development than the isolated films have ever managed.

The female characters actually didn’t suffer from that problem as much. I wasn’t sure why they’d changed Constance’s role from being the Queen’s maid to being… actually, I can’t even remember how she got involved with the whole thing, but other than that minor problem, each of the three women (Constance, Milady and the Queen) was an interesting mix of strength and emotion.

One other thing the show did get right from the start at least was the production design. It looks both beautiful and right. Everything from the lavish French palaces to the leatherwork on the armour feels appropriately intricate. I also rather liked the style of the opening credits and the music that was used. Although again, it all fit a Saturday evening adventure series a little better than the 9pm drama slot.

If the show had been in the 7pm slot on Saturdays, I would have come down a lot more favourably. I acknowledge that’s pretty daft, particularly as I rarely watched the show live, but I had different expectations for a Sunday at 9pm show. If you approach the show as moderately disposable entertainment, then I think you’ll be satisfied. But if you’re looking for more, I think you’ll be disappointed with the first season. I will look forward to next season with revised expectations, although losing Peter Capaldi to Doctor Who (ironically of course to the Saturday at 7pm time slot) will be a blow to the series, so we’ll have to see how they cope with that.

Outnumbered: Season 5

Outnumbered ChristmasI had to check Wikipedia for the chronology of the seasons, but with the exception of a Christmas special in 2012, it’s over 2 years since we had an Outnumbered series. Given the change in ages of the Brockman children (and indeed the actors) that’s seen quite a shift in the family, and I think that jump is probably a good thing. It may have been interesting to see the more gradual shift of the kids, but this jump allowed us to really mark the changes.

Karen and Ben are still children, but they’re not little kids any more. Jake is to all intents and purposes an adult (maybe the only one in the whole family), he’s not talking back to his parents like an unruly teenager, he’s properly interacting with them, challenging them but also taking and being given responsibility. To a certain extent he’s always been the straight-man of the comedy, somewhat older than his age, and now he really occupies that middle ground between child and adult, mostly grown up, but still uncertain of what he’s doing with his life and occasionally willing to muck about and act like a kid again.

Karen and Ben are a little more problematic. Both are still demonstrating the annoying traits that their parents have failed to really deal with, and have now gone from cute and quirky to outright annoying as they grow older. Ben’s hyperactivity and silliness, and Karen’s stubbornness don’t really work at secondary school and while that’s addressed with Karen via a stunning and hilarious meeting with her new headmistress (the perfect Rebecca Front, “we’re all unique, but we’re not all special”), Ben continues to be firmly ridiculous, encouraged by a demented drama teacher it would seem.

As with previous seasons of Outnumbered there are some beautifully observed moments of every-day comedy – interacting with mobile phones, losing car keys, trying to explain the ridiculousness of life to rightfully confused teenagers. But there are still times when the characters meander too far from reality and do things that you don’t think any real person would do which is jarring. The penultimate episode of the season (and indeed series) nicely demonstrated that. The quiet hilarity of Pete trying to co-ordinate three children and two relatively innocuous chores, combined with Karen and her headmistress’s conversation was undermined by Sue’s over the top failure to balance work and family and get a conference call to work. That aspect was pushed that little bit too far and it broke.

I’ve loved this show because unlike most other sitcoms it felt believable. Real life is genuinely funny and this is the kind of show that is comfortable, familiar and helps you see the comedy in your own life. I will really miss Outnumbered and have some hope that we will be able to check in with the Brockman’s again every now and then. I want to see if Ben ever grows up and if Karen’s new leaf sticks, what kind of people they’ll be and how Sue and Pete deal with all their kids turning into adults. Hopefully we’ll see them again some day

Mostly procedural, mostly British pilot catchup

I’m getting increasingly behind on my reviewing, so am opting for a round up post to gather my thoughts on some of the new series that have appeared in the last few weeks on British TV. Mostly procedural (except one), mostly British (except one).

Babylon

Babylon arrived with a fair bit of publicity pushing its connections to Olympic Opening Ceremony hero Danny Boyle (producer and director). It’s described as a comedy-drama, but I actually don’t know much more about it. Initially that was because I wanted to come to the series reasonably fresh and from what little I did read everyone was having a hard time describing what the tone and flavour really was. The principle reason for my ignorance is that I didn’t make it more than 10 minutes into the first episode before I had to switch it off. The first scene made me cringe, the second left me angry and halfway through the third I realised that I was actively searching for ways to distract myself from having to watch or listen and so decided to give up. I don’t know whether it’s intended as biting satire based on what police work is really like, but nothing I saw gave me any confidence that it was based on reality, and even if it was, then that’s not something I want to watch. I’m sorry, but if the armed police really are that horrific and juvenile than I don’t want to see it outside of a documentary or news story. The introductory pilot will be followed by a series later this year, I won’t be touching it with a barge pole.

The Smoke

Sky are increasingly moving into content production rather than just purchasing other people’s shows and The Smoke is one of their flagship offerings. Set in a fire station in Mile End it picks up 9 months after a disastrous call-out that had serious physical and mental fallout for the fire station’s chief, played by Jamie Bamber (Battlestar Galactica). I’ve always been a bit surprised that given the plethora of cop procedurals there aren’t more series about Fireman (or paramedics for that matter), but I guess fundamentally someone lying in the street with some fake blood is considerably cheaper to do than raging infernos. The Smoke certainly doesn’t compromise on the budgets or spectacle mixing some genuinely scary fires to accompany with more small scale chip pan fires and traffic accidents, although the latter is possibly even more scary due to its relatively common day feeling. There’s also no skimping on the melodrama, it’s as much a series about emotions and characters as it is about smoke (the title I’m sure is all metaphorical as well as literal) and it certainly doesn’t pull its punches on the horrors the fireman see or the not always sensible ways they deal with them. In contrast to Babylon, somehow the juvenile antics of the firemen don’t push them away from the audience, instead making them easier to connect with although not necessarily making them likeable. It’s all laid on a bit thick in places (particularly Bamber’s accent) but it’s certainly interesting enough to have me hitting the series link.

The Muskateers

This series is now four episodes in, but you can catch up on iplayer until April. I was initially a bit underwhelmed by the series, but for some reason I stuck with it and it’s rather grown on me. I was expecting this to slot into the Merlin shaped hole on Saturday nights, pitched more towards the younger audience with humour, silliness, relationships, unsubtle moral quandaries and a heavy dose of action. What I got though was an attempt to step towards a more mature audience on a Sunday night, but not a massively successful one. The tone is quite uneven, there’s plenty of entertainment and plenty of interest, but the two aren’t blended together, instead coming in blocks of “here’s the funny bit” and “here’s the serious bit”. Each bit is good, and it has smoothed out a little bit, but it can make it rather frustrating to watch and easy to tune out the bit that you’re not in the mood for at the time. There’s plenty of energy though and I like what they’re doing with the characters and the variations to the traditional story that makes it more suited for a longer series, so we shall see how it goes.

Salamander

As we wave goodbye to the Scandinavian Bridge, BBC4 immediately offers us the Belgian Salamander to deceive us into feeling cultured by watching something with subtitles, while really we’re just watching a slightly trashy thriller. Four episodes have aired by the time I write this, but I’ve only watched the first of them and am allowing the others to build up on the Sky+ box as I haven’t quite decided whether I’m going to stick with the show. The first episode was intriguing enough – a colourful police officer, a three dimensional villain, an original crime, some action, some politics, some mystery and some humour. I just found myself having a bit of an internal crisis; if this had been in English would I have bothered with it, or am I just watching because it’s got subtitles? It’s a silly thing to get caught up on, but I have a suspicion that the series itself is intrinsically quite disposable and for now it’s not quite bubbled above the other things on my to-watch list.

Suspects

Given my anaemic response to many of the recent new British drama offerings, I didn’t go into Channel 5’s Suspects with anything resembling expectation or hope. I mean, Channel 5 doesn’t really have the reputation for showing high quality drama, let alone making it themselves, so I was absolutely astonished when I found the first episode original, interesting and utterly compelling. The documentary filming style immerses the audience in the action and the complete focus on the crime and investigation is refreshing. The characters are completely secondary, but thanks to the talented actors they manage to reveal themselves organically. The investigations feel realistic and the stories are interesting, although in both episodes I’ve watched the eventual outcomes were fairly predictable and standard which did let things down a bit, but overall I’m really impressed.

Sherlock: Season 3

SherlockMy review of season 2 was heavily mixed. I adored the substance of the show (the writing, the characters, the stories, the humour the direction) but felt badly manipulated by the production team. After just three episodes they left us on a frustrating cliffhanger and cheerfully waved goodbye, see you in 2 years.

2 YEARS! Almost to the day in fact. It wasn’t even a proper cliffhanger, we weren’t wondering whether Sherlock Holmes was really alive, because they showed he was, but just about how he did it. That was all, just the mechanism. Sherlock the series did exactly what Sherlock the character does, leaves you struggling to put together the final details and revelling in the fact that it/he is so much cleverer than you. It felt like a somewhat crappy way to treat your audience.

But like the character, the series can get away with it because it’s brilliant. So despite feeling slightly used and dirty about the whole thing, I was as eager as anyone to find out the answer. I actually watched a television program live. That was how eager I was!

And wouldn’t you know it, they turned it around. I said in my season 2 review that I feared they would resolve and dismiss the cliffhanger in the first three minutes (as they did with the one between seasons 1 and 2). But they really didn’t. They not only took their time with the actual explanation, but they didn’t skim over the emotional fallout either. We saw the effect the deception had on Watson (more of that later) but we actually saw how it effected Holmes himself! We get to see a different Sherlock this year, one who actually makes and embraces connections with people. Ok some of those connections turn out badly or as part of a scheme, but still. He’s not exactly changed, but he is a bit more open.

It’s that openness which I think may have frustrated some people. The criticisms about the series playing too much to the fans. I think it’s fair to say there was a lot of fan-service this year, with the various comedy variations on Sherlock’s not-a-death, seeing Sherlock drunk, in a relationship and acknowledging how important John is to him. But I don’t see that as something to be overly critical of. Yeah, the speech at the wedding had maybe too many touchy-feely moments in it and I cringed a bit at many of the imagined deaths, but if that’s what the people who adore the show and have patiently waited for it want, then isn’t rewarding them something to be praised not criticised? Who is the show for? The people who watch and love it, or the critics?

Maybe the complaints are just because you have to look so phenomenally hard to find something wrong with the show. Because it is damn near perfect. The simple elegance of the writing belies how (apparently) hard that is. With the possible exception of The Good Wife, nothing on television at the moment comes close to the pure quality of this production. Maybe that’s because Sherlock is really a miniseries not a series, but then so is Downton Abbey and Sherlock has more talent in its episode titles than an entire season of Downton has.

Each episode is a delight to watch. It’s a show I go out of my way to watch live and one I desperately try to watch with other people, because the experience is so reliably wonderful that I want to share it. That did mean that were plenty of moments admittedly that I had to snivel discretely into my tissue mind you, largely driven by the utterly superb performance from Martin Freeman. Benedict Cumberbatch is of course dreamy and wonderful (the moment where Sherlock as the French waitor realises that he’s miss-played this one being a particular standout) but for me it’s all about Martin Freeman. He’s the heart and soul of the partnership and the show as a whole, he’s the perfect straightman – effortlessly stealing every single scene and moment. Added to the mix was Mary, the perfect blend of Watson’s humanity and Holmes’ smart manipulation and you’ve got the perfect mix.

The writers certainly played to their strengths this season. They know exactly what they have in their two leading men (headhunted left right and centre for massive Hollywood productions) and they provide them with just the material they deserve. It’s the perpetual blessing and curse of Sherlock – incredible actors mean very difficult timetables. So we are left with a wait of who knows how long before we get to see them again. I thank the writers from the bottom of my heart for the lack of cliffhanger. Unlike last time, I’m left with no bitterness, just a pure joy at getting to watch the offering of a group of people at the very tops of their professions.