Archive for the ‘ Drama ’ Category

The Rain

The Rain is effectively a Danish, post-apocalyptic young adult novel, there was really no way I wasn’t going to watch it. It ticked all of the boxes for the type of things I gravitate towards, but then have no idea why I’m really watching it. I guess Britain and America can make any amount of shows that are fairly mediocre and yet still get audiences, why shouldn’t Denmark.

Don’t go in expecting a plot that really makes any sense. The setup is that the rain makes people get sick, one drop and you’re a foaming gibbering dead person walking. Simone and Rasmus are just children when they find themselves all alone in a bunker as the world outside disappears. 6 years later they emerge, join a passing group of other young adults and set off on a slightly incoherent quest.

The eight episodes play out pretty much as you’d expect, hitting as many tropes as they can along the way. Most of the characters get little flashbacks to show you who they were before the disaster, and there are some glimpses of interesting ideas there, but none of them go anywhere. How any of them survived any length of time is a bit of a mystery as their decision making is dubious at best and they are very easily distracted by a whole network of love triangles and secret crushes. The acting is all solid and Alba August as Simone is particularly interesting to watch doing a really good job portraying someone who is still a child, but also has to be the adult for everyone. Netflix offers an option of a dubbed version, but you lose too much of the characters and I lasted less than 5 minutes before it drove me to distraction and I reverted to subtitles.

The setting is at least something different from the usual America, and some of the scenery and even rundown city settings are really stunning, definitely making a change from the usual filming locations of warehouses in Vancouver. At eight episodes long, it’s a short sharp burst that doesn’t really set the world alight, but it is passingly entertaining. N

Advertisements

13 Reasons Why: Season 2

Could I ask that before you read this review, you go and have a look at my review of season 1? I normally try to make reviews of individual seasons stand alone, but there’s a lot of things from the first season review that I’d like to build on.

OK?

Some of the more problematic elements of the first season are not only still present in season two, but are even more problematic. I use the word ‘problematic’ quite pointedly, because this isn’t a show that can be taken lightly and evaluated just as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It’s talking about incredibly serious and delicate issues – harassment, assault, sexual violence, and suicide and it has to take responsibility for that. It can’t just be discussed as a ‘teen show’, that can sweep bad writing and story choices under the rug and shrug nonchalantly that it’s ‘only’ a silly high school drama. Glee just about got away with its wild lurches between cheesy insanity and punchy drama. A show who’s very title is referencing reasons why a teenage girl killed herself cannot get away with it.

The characters in the second season are asking who is responsible for Hannah’s suicide, and if anyone could have stopped it. Hannah’s mother is taking the school to court because they did not act to stop the bullying. The responses to that action are the fundamental flaw of the series which made me furious. After a student commits suicide and a second attempts it (and a host of other serious incidents such as a fatal car crash) how did anyone think it was appropriate to have all of these children testifying in open court with minimal support? I’m sorry, but how is it possibly acceptable for adults to be putting children on the stand when they know they will be talking about physical, emotional and sexual abuse, in front of their accusers? Then sending them back to the very place and people who are accused of failing to respond appropriately.

The issues of the first season come back again. None of the characters act or look like they’re high school students (16-18?). They’re all covered in tattoos, they drink and swear like proverbial sailors and seem to have complete freedom with hardly a glance or a word from their parents. Every now and then an adult makes a sudden declaration of responsibility, but it’s so little, so late that it’s just insulting. There is an interesting discussion to be had around who is responsible for a teenage suicide, but that’s not what happens. Everyone is covering up and playing stupid and unnecessary games, and the worst offenders are the adults who utterly utterly fail to even try to learn any lessons, instead compounding them further. Maybe this is a true reflection of the insanity that goes on in schools (in America), but if it is, then reality is unbelievable and this needs to be a documentary series not a drama. I spent the whole season in a complete sense of disbelief, angry at characters and writers alike.

Quite beyond all the above problems, the second season is considerably weaker because it lacks the structure of the first season. Each episode focusses on one person’s testimony, with their voice acting as a narrator. It’s good to hear their points of view (unreliable narrators that they of course are), but it feels fake. The narration does not actually sound like it’s their testimony, it jumps around in time and is just not believable. At first it looks like the polaroid’s will form a set of things, but that structure is even weaker and quickly falls aside. We find out there was a huge amount of additional relationships and stuff going on during the timeframes in season 1 that we’d never seen any indication of, and I really don’t think that it would hang together if you actually check people’s actions. Oh, and there’s a ghost, that’s never a good sign.

I’m being very critical of the series, but I can’t deny that I watched the whole thing the weekend it came out. The actors may not be teenagers and the material may not make any sense, but they deliver it incredibly powerfully. If the setting had been a small university, making the characters just that little bit older and more reasonably independent from their parents and teachers, that would have made it all a bit more believable. Instead there is a lot of talent going into something that’s fundamentally flawed, and more importantly the incredibly important stories of what teens are going through is undermined and left untold.

The Alienist

This is very generic. Even the things about it that are shocking do so in a way that these days feels very generic. That’s probably a bit of a damning indictment of the level of sexual violence on television today make the prostitution of young boys and their murder something that’s not terribly remarkable. The beautifully created period setting adds a slight other-worldliness to everything, I was never sure whether I was watching events and characters that were realistic to the period, or if it was an anachronistic fantasy.

The plot moves at a good rate, and for me there were just the right number of twists and turns, steps forward and backwards. Similarly the various factions involve play off each other well, with the ‘heroes’ not just trying to find the bad guys, but also work around members of the police who are not moving with the times as much as anyone might like. It’s not terribly creative, but it is a very well structured story.

The generic-ness of the characters doesn’t work quite so well unfortunately, it’s all been seen before and that just makes it a bit tiresome. The somewhat clunking dialogue also doesn’t help. It’s a shame because it’s a very good cast who have all delivered very good performances elsewhere. I don’t think any of them were necessarily trying their hardest here, but the material they were working with wasn’t really giving them much opportunity.

I found this a solid way to pass a few hours in a pretty disposable kind of way.

Below the Surface (Gidseltagningen): Season 1

An 8 part Danish thriller – yup, of course it’s on BBC Four.

I enjoyed this series immensely. At just 8, 45 minute episodes (broadcast in pairs each week) it didn’t outstay its welcome at all, powering through without too much unnecessary padding or red herrings. There were occasions that it felt like they’d maybe had a slightly longer series in mind, going into more back-story on the characters with more use of flashbacks, focussing each episode on a small number of characters. The end result actually has only a very small number of flashbacks which while they did what was needed, did feel a little odd at times, like we were only seeing the tip of an iceberg.

Just as the flashbacks are very focused, the same is true of the overall storyline. I found myself slightly missing the wrong turns and dead ends that most thrillers have. Everything here progressed fairly steadily and smoothly towards the conclusion. It’s boiled down to the bare bones and only ever has what is necessary, which is satisfying and impressively intense, but occasionally a little too easy. The ending does however manage the impressive trick of being both predictable and surprising and kept me rethinking things.

Even within that time they find room for some character development for quite a wide range of characters, both above and below ground. Johannes Lassen as Philip the head of the investigation team is impressive, delivering a flawed and conflicted character, but one that’s also in control and professional. He’s a good centre for a show like this. I could have lived without the romantic element with the negotiator, but it wasn’t pushed too much and did enrich her role a bit, so I’ll allow it. The hostages are a diverse and interesting group even with the limited screen time each one gets.

I don’t think this got much in the way of press, and it’s not got a ‘hook’ like The Bridge, or The Killing, but it actually makes both of them look flabby and a bit clunky. So I hope this turns into a regular series.

The Crown: Seasons 1 and 2

Apparently I never got round to writing a review of The Crown Season 1 when I watched it last year, but that’s ok, because I re-watched it immediately before watching Season 2 so I’ll do them as a combo. Given that I’ve just told you I re-watched a season (something I rarely do) before pouncing on the second season when it was released probably tells you this isn’t going to be a bad review. If I add that I watched both seasons in about 5 days, that probably tells you it’s going to be a very good review.

So yes, I love this series. In fact I may go so far as to say this is one of the best things on television at the moment. Possibly this decade. That it isn’t actually on ‘television’ but is on Netflix is maybe an indicator of the shifts that the television landscape are going through. The amount of money that this series needed and the quality that Netflix’s money can buy is a different league to what television, even American cable television, can compete with.

I’m not sure whether it’s easier or harder for a series to be based on true events. In the case of The Crown they certainly have enough phenomenal material to work with, even just in terms of what is in the public access already, let alone what can be extrapolated and guessed at. When you start looking at historical figures as real human beings and thinking about what their nature and nurture would be, it’s an amazing story to tell. The writers have then found a compelling way to tell that story, picking and choosing events, structuring into episodes and seasons and then filling in and adjusting with dramatic licence just enough to make it really shine without losing the reality.

Then you add a cast. And what a cast. There are huge names in there and relative unknowns and they are all, every single one, stunning. Of course the key roles of Elizabeth and Philip draw a lot of attention, and so they should. I’d not heard of Claire Foy, but she is perfect; just enough of an impression to make it connect, but not so much to be cheesy. The mannerisms and voice feel natural (despite being odd) and the restraint of the held in emotions is palpable. By contrast I was of course familiar with Matt Smith from Doctor Who but never imagined he would work in this role, but he really does. I thought Phillip was going to be a comic figure, but I came away feeling so much sympathy for him.

The surrounding actors are just as incredible, they may be “minor” in the royal household, but they shine in this series. John Lithgow has rightly got a lot of praise for his portrayal of the ageing Churchill, but I think the standout for me was Vanessa Kirby, bringing such complexity to Princess Margaret, in some ways getting the best story across the two seasons. I also want to mention Victoria Hamilton and Jared Harris as their parents, who show the previous generation and really bring alive the nurture element to Elizabeth and Margaret’s personalities.

Once you’ve got that script and the cast, then you add the money. A lot of money. It would have been hard to make this series work without the incredible richness of the sets, locations and costumes that are integral to the lives of the characters. The scale of the endeavour is amazing, it’s hard to remember at times that you’re not looking at the real Buckingham palace.

I enjoyed this series immensely, and with so much detail and character development the first season easily stood up to a second viewing. I do think the second season had some miss-steps in it. Some of the focus got a little bogged down, and the episode towards the end of the season with the flashbacks to Phillip’s schooling didn’t really help the momentum towards the end of the season leaving me a bit frustrated that I’d rather be spending time on other things. However, I can’t wait to see how the series continues to develop, particularly given the entirely new cast next season to mark the passing of time. If they sustain this quality, I think this could be one of the landmark television series of all time.

Iron Fist: Season 1

I wasn’t going to bother watching this entry into the Netflix Defenders franchise. Nothing about the concept appealed to me – kung fu movies leave me utterly bored at the action and chuckling at the cheesily delivered philosophy. But I decided to at least watch the pilot so I’d been introduced to the character before moving on to The Defenders. No one is more surprised than me that I made it through all 13 episodes in just two days.

I will say that I think this says more about me than it does the series. I had very little enthusiasm this weekend for doing anything more challenging than slumping on the sofa and doing a jigsaw and it was more by luck than planning that the first thing I picked to watch was Iron Fist and I was just too lazy to stop Netflix auto-playing the next episode.

The show isn’t anything special in the slightest. It has all the things about kung fu movies that I don’t like. There are lots of action sequences, which I’m sure took a lot of skill and talent to do, but almost always left me reaching for my phone to play with, or focusing on a particularly boring bit of sky in the jigsaw. I glazed over an equal amount whenever a character started talking about Chi and K’un L’un, The Hand, and the mystical destiny of whatever. Maybe I’m being incredibly disrespectful, but it just sounded silly. I did the same thing with any of the inhumans philosophy on Agents of SHIELD and a huge amount of Doctor Strange. Once you’ve taken all that out, you’re left with a fairly run of the mill story, missing heir comes back, tries to reclaim his father’s business and runs into scheming former friends/relations and an overly convoluted investigation into what the mystical Hand are doing in New York.

The more I write, the more I’m not sure why I watched the whole thing. Finn Jones is likeable enough as Danny Rand, but I’m not sure the character makes any sense. He’s sometimes completely at home in New York (where did he learn to drive a sports car in K’un L’un?) and other times completely out of touch with the reality of running a business or understanding people. Similarly his temper and zen flip flop depending on what the mood of the episode needs rather than necessarily with any relation to the circumstances he’s in. Other characters are pretty one dimensional until they too flip flop because everything needs to be dragged out to 13 episodes so it should appear that the bad guy has a heart after all, or the childhood friend may be a bit of a bitch. The plot relied on far too many cases of characters not being what they seemed so that after a while I just became immune to it all.

This is definitely the weakest of the series in the franchise I’ve seen. Jessica Jones and Luke Cage were both much more carefully built series, both made me actually care about the characters and challenged me to think about the issues. Iron Fist was just pure background noise. Still, I did finish my jigsaw.

Orange is the New Black: Season 5

This show still can’t seem to decide whether it wants to be a drama or a comedy. Some shows manage to blend both together (I loath the word ‘dramedy’ but it is sort of useful), but this one just swings from one side to the other, with very little in the way of elegant merging. That problem is exacerbated by the fact that it’s not just nudging back and forth on the natural boundaries between funny and sad, but lurching from extremes of tragedy to absurdity of farce.

The season also feels like it’s using a cast of characters so huge that individuals get completely lost in the noise.

The wikipedia page for the season lists 17 main cast and over 40 recurring characters. For thirteen episodes. That’s not including guest stars or bit parts, almost all of those characters get some kind of storyline and attempt at development. That’s insane and it just doesn’t work. To even attempt to cover that ground meant the flashbacks were hardly used at all, and I really missed the structure of giving each episode a focus on one character and telling their history at the same time as their present.

The other mistake of the season is focusing the time down on just a few days at the prison. That should bring some element of focus to the season, but because there are so many threads going on, it’s no more focused and just opens up confusion. I don’t think the writers plotted and structured it as well as they could, it felt like time was passing differently for different characters and there was no satisfaction to be had from interweaving of different strands.

Frankly, the whole thing was chaotic. And not in a good way. Characters had so little time – both screen time and actual passing time – to do anything, that they each got boiled down to just one or two aspects. The wavering tone made it impossible to either laugh at the comedy or allow yourself to really feel the impact of the tragedies. They continually undermine the weight of any of the serious messages they’re trying to introduce and it cheapens the whole thing. I was really disappointed.

Advertisements