The Haunting of Hill House: Season 1

I was looking for something that would be a satisfying, but un-challenging box set for a weekend of dreary weather, mild illness and catastrophically low motivation. The Haunting of Hill House turned out to be a near perfect fit for my needs.

This series delivers a number of fundamental horror principles very solidly:

1) Is it supernatural or not? The twists and turns play out very nicely over the 10 episodes, supported by characters holding different positions and in turn evolving their thinking as the audience does. If you see the monster in the first 5 minutes there’s no mystery, just a battle for survival. But if you spend hours not sure whether the monster exists or if people are crazy, that’s far more interesting.

2) Family dynamics are the real horror. As much as this is a story about a haunted house, it’s a story about a haunted family. The series follows a sibling group demonstrating how differently people can respond to trauma, and how those differences can tear a people apart and bond them together. The individual characters are all complex individuals and played by actors more than capable of demonstrating their depth; while the connections and conflicts between the siblings are equally complex and fascinating.

3) Stuff that’s festered is more scary. I’m not just talking about some of the ickiness, but also by tracking two major timelines, and flashing back occasionally to key points in the intervening period, it allows you to see the huge, life changing impacts that events have. Being scared and getting over it is one thing, but when it’s shaped the characters lives for decades, that’s really scary. The plot and interweaving of the timelines was carefully done and I rarely felt frustrated to be pulled from one to the other.

Overall, The Haunting of Hill House is a very satisfying and solid horror series. It’s not without flaws, I struggled early on to track who was who, particularly tracking the children to their grown up counterparts, and there were a fair number of classic horror story problems whereby people often did dumb things that pushed the bounds of credibility. But that’s almost part of the genre itself. The series uses its running time well and leaves just the right amounts of closure and unanswered questions. A great binge watch for a dreary weekend.

You: Season 1

Netflix was pushing this fairly heavily, but I’d dismissed it slightly out of hand. I’d spotted that it was based on a book by Caroline Kepnes, and I’d recently read her second book (Providence) and been underwhelmed with unconvincing relationships and a distracted story. But then the buzz for You started building and I was informed by a couple of people that I HAD to watch it. So I did. And once I’d started I couldn’t stop.

It’s the kind of show that if I describe the individual elements and how I feel about them, it would probably make you think I didn’t like it. It’s about a group of 20-something New Yorkers who are by and large pretty awful people. The central story focuses on, and is largely narrated by Joe, a quintessential Nice Guy bookshop manager who falls for wannabe writer Beck, who is equally the quintessential Writer – she’s struggling to make ends meet and yet lives in a stunning apartment, is rarely seen working (either on her writing or her job as, of course, a yoga teacher), and is always out at expensive bars. Her circle of friends are rich and vapid (one actually has a job as an instagram influencer). Joe immediately becomes obsessed with Beck and things spiral quite rapidly in some incredibly creepy and violent directions, it very quickly becomes clear that Joe is quite the expert stalker and there’s a lot in his past that he’s not sharing.

What really pulled me into the show though was the voice over. We are watching the show from inside Joe’s brain, he’s narrating and talking throughout, explaining why he’s doing what he’s doing. While that never justifies his actions it does explain why he is doing everything. You can track the logic chains and while they are generally started by an idiotic choice that is unforgivable, you kind of understand why things keep going as they do. Joe does monstrous things, but because we are in his head, it’s hard for us to view him completely as a monster. He’s a fascinating character, elegantly written and subtly played by Penn Badgley.

Unfortunately that’s more than can be said for most of the rest of the characters, all of whom are pretty one dimensional. I found Beck a deeply annoying and unlikeable character. The fact that she’s far from perfect makes for some interesting twists and turns for the plot, but I never really understood her choices. Because we’re not in her head as much as we are in Joe’s, we don’t get the same insight into her motivations, so she comes across as shallow, selfish and inconsistent. While I don’t want to drift into victim blaming, she does make poor choices that have consequences in her life, and just because she IS a victim, does not actually make her a nice person.

This imbalance is what stops the show being great I think. The development of Joe’s character and the way he is presented makes a high quality drama (while still also having plenty of laughs from his dry observations), but because everyone around is flimsy, it undermines that central richness. It also makes it slightly uncomfortable when the aggressor is allowed more opportunity to be sympathetic than the victims are – they don’t have to be likeable, but if they’re not rounded, it just starts to come across as more of a cheap slasher than as a psychological drama. It’s still a hugely compelling and entertaining show to watch, but it could have been more.

American Horror Story: Apocalypse (season 8)

The good thing about American Horror Story is that each season is a complete story and you don’t need to watch them all. Except that’s not quite true. There ARE elements that carry across different seasons, and Apocalypse picks up a number of threads in a way that’s both satisfying and irritating. I’ve watched six of the previous seasons, but that doesn’t mean that I remember them and there were quite a few times that I was clearly missing some back story which was a bit frustrating.

However, the threads that are picked up make for a much richer story and even if I didn’t necessarily follow all the connections, I could still appreciate them and get some satisfaction from them. The various timelines were played out well, working in large steps rather than muddling them all up made that aspect easy to follow at least, gradually adding explanation and depth without having to keep track of who-knows-what confusion. Actually, given how many settings and characters there are, it’s surprisingly coherent. The cast is full of familiar faces from other seasons, and it’s a credit to the actors that even when they end up playing multiple different characters over the span of Apocalypse, it still somehow works. (Wikipedia has an interesting table of who plays who in each season, but there are mild spoilers there).

The series was certainly compelling and entertaining but I can’t say I was ever particularly horrified. Other series have managed to be thoroughly creepy and disturbing, or deliver effective jump scares, maybe I’ve just become rather casual about gore, or this level of horror has become average for television. For the most part I didn’t feel the emotional connection to the characters that would be needed to feel lost in their awful situations, maybe that was related to me not being able to remember much about the previous times we saw the characters so I didn’t have that established relationship with them. But I still found it a really engaging season, I watched all ten episodes in two sittings, only interrupted by the need to sleep, so they’re clearly doing something right.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: Season 1

I have vague memories of the original Sabrina television series, probably about the perfect amount as far as the creators of the new series are concerned – a mildly curious nostalgia without a defensive reverence. I immediately liked the idea of taking the teenage witch element and making it much darker and the show certainly on the surface delivers that with dark satanic rituals and casual references to pretty dark stuff, but I found if you really paid attention, it was all smoke and mirrors.

The pilot gets off to a good start with an immediate hook that Sabrina must soon decide between life as a human like her mother, or life as a witch like her father. Being raised by her father’s sisters following her parent’s death means that it’s assumed that she’ll commit to being a witch, taking a dark baptism on her 16th birthday and pledging loyalty to the Dark Lord Satan. But that would mean leaving behind her human school, friends and boyfriend and Sabrina is not so certain, questioning what it really means to commit to the Dark Lord.

The thing is, it quickly becomes apparent that the writers don’t really know the answer to that question either, and really don’t want to have to commit to anything. Sabrina doesn’t really seem to have to give anything up – she uses magic, keeps the boyfriend, goes to both schools (although never has to do any actual work) and seems to have no real problem doing whatever she wants to do.

The show never really reconciles what it means to “commit to the Dark Lord” in terms of morality and principles. After a while it becomes apparent that although Sabrina’s family are full members of the church, they don’t seem to act on anything. There are dark things occasionally done by other witches, but it feels like that’s because they’re “bad guys” rather than because they’re witches. It felt all talk no action, like teenagers saying they’re satanists, drawing a pentagram with a sharpie and then going home to do their homework .

In addition to these problems at the heart of the concept, there are more mundane issues on the surface too. Characters are completely under-used (Ambrose, Salem the cat) and the less said about the utterly dreary Harvey the better. The directing/cinematography annoyed me from the very start and I didn’t really get used to it. There was some sort of effect being used that only a small amount of the screen would be in focus at any time and it drove me to distraction. Some of the sets felt incredibly artificial and cheap and some of the acting and/or script writing was pretty clunky, and even the costumes and make-up annoyed me at times.

One of the weird powers that Netflix seems to have is that it doesn’t matter that I didn’t like the series, I still watched the whole thing, and may well end up watching the second season. It’s like some kind of dark spell, because heaven/hell knows, there’s nothing in this series that actually rewards the time.

The Rain: Season 1

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

The Upfronts 2018 – NBC

Bye bye
The Brave and Rise both failed to survive their first seasons – I’d actually been looking forward to Rise (high school musical theatre starring Josh Radner, but it got terrible terrible reviews). Shades of Blue (the Jennifer Lopez vehicle) got three seasons, while Great News and Taken only got two seasons each. Timeless is still on the bubble, it got cancelled then renewed last season, I don’t think it’s likely to be saved again.

See you again soon
It’s weird that the only thing I watch from NBC is actually a half hour comedy, but The Good Place is SO good that it even gets past my tin ear for comedy, the third season can’t come soon enough. I also plan to watch This is Us whenever the 2nd season appears on Amazon, although I’m not certain how long the jumping timelines can be drawn out once so many reveals have been done. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has been renewed for a 20th season which will tie it to the original Law & Order and Gunsmoke as longest running American scripted drama, it seems unlikely they’ll cancel it before it takes the record. All the Chicagos will be back (Fire, Med, PD), The Blacklist continues into season 6 and Blindspot into season 4. Good Girls is a new series that I’ve got my eye on (I’ll watch Christina Hendricks in almost anything) and now it’s been picked up for season 2 I’ll definitely seek it out, ditto for Midnight Texas.
Will & Grace had already been renewed for its 11th season (or 3rd season of the revival). Superstore goes into season 4, and A.P. Bio gets a second season.

NBC has also rescued the Fox series Brooklyn Nine-Nine after a massive fan outcry when Fox cancelled it. I’ve never watched it, but it’s just a nice feeling when that sort of thing happens (not that I’m still bitter about Firefly or anything).

Hello there

Manifest – a bit Lost, but this is the first trailer I’ve seen that actually made me really want to watch the show.

I Feel Bad – I’m starting to worry, I kind of liked this one too.

New Amsterdam – generic medical drama, but yup, that one got me too. I think they’ve officially broken me.

Abby’s – a group of people hanging out in a bar – sounds like Cheers
The Enemy Within – a former spy is brought out of prison to help solve present cases – sounds like the Blacklist
The Inbetween – a woman who can talk to the dead helps solve cases with the police – sounds like iZombie
The Village – a group of ‘characters’ who live in an apartment building – sounds like… well pretty much every other show out there.

The Upfronts 2018 – Fox

Bye bye
I’m a big fan of Lucifer so I’m sorry to see it cancelled after three seasons, although even I admit that the show as a whole doesn’t live up to the quality of some of its characters/actors. The X-Files is cancelled again which I’m not that sad about given watching the new series just reminded me about how bad the original series could be. The Exorcist was a show I meant to watch but never got round to and has been cancelled after its second season. Four comedies bit the dust – The New Girl finished as planned after a short seventh season, Last Man on Earth made it four seasons, The Mick made it two and LA to Vegas only got one.

See you again soon
I enjoy Lethal Weapon as mindless entertainment, and while it will be back for a third season it will be without the lead character of Riggs who is having to be replaced because the actor has been let go for what must be catastrophically bad behaviour to warrant jeopardising a successful show. Not sure if that one will work out. The animations continue with The Simpsons had already been renewed for its 30th season as part of a two year deal, and Family Guy and Bob’s Burgers were renewed for 17th and 9th seasons respectively. Empire and Gotham will both return for fifth seasons, but it will be the last one for Gotham. For some reason that utterly escapes me, Fox have also renewed Last Man Standing the Tim Allen comedy that was cancelled by ABC and has been off air for a year.

It was a pretty good year for new drama at fox, 9-1-1, The Gifted, The Orville, and The Resident will all return – I’ve watched none of them, although I think I’ve got a load of The Gifted and The Resident backed up on the Sky box.

Hello there

The Passage – I really didn’t understand what was happening, but the cast and production values look good.

Proven Innocent – very similar to Conviction, the Hayley Atwell show from a few years ago, except lacking the bite and with more sanctimonious speeches.

Rel – were those genuinely the best parts of the pilot that they could put together?

The Cool Kids – old people. Aren’t they funny.

The Upfronts 2018 – The CW

Bye bye
The Originals, long running spin-off from The Vampire Diaries was cancelled after five seasons. Neither Life Sentence or Valor (which always seemed an odd match for The CW) survived their first seasons.

See you again soon
It used to be I watched almost everything on The CW, now there’s mostly a lot of stuff that I either used to watch, or keep meaning to try. The only one I watch is iZombie which will have a fifth and final season next year, so I’m happy that it will get a proper close at least. Supernatural STILL goes on, into its 14th season which will see its 300th episode. The Arrow-verse proliferates with the original series (season 7) alongside The Flash (5), Supergirl (4), and Legends of Tomorrow (4). Black Lightning is not technically part of the Arrow verse apparently, but will also be back for a 2nd season, I watched the pilot and liked it and keep meaning to go back to it. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is one I’ve had recommended lots of times but I’ve never been able to get through the pilot but will be back for a fourth and final season; Jane the Virgin I liked the first season but never bothered to watch more of, that will get a fifth and final season. The 100 (never made it past the pilot) comes back for season 6 and Riverdale (also never made it beyond the pilot) will be back for season 3, while Dynasty (not a chance I was even going to glance at the pilot) is renewed for a second season.

Hello there
Given how many shows have been cancelled, or flagged that the coming season will be their last, there’s not much to look forward to from the new series.

All American – Friday Night Lights meets Fresh Prince of Bel Air and dials the drama up. The trailer was full of cliche, but the actors seem solid.

Charmed – rebooting the series that started 20 years ago (gulp) and ran for 8 seasons. It’s a solid enough basic concept and partnering it with 2018 feminism could work but the cast didn’t leap off the screen for me.


  • Roswell, New Mexico – another reboot, of a series that I actually watched and enjoyed. It’s no longer set in high school, more like late twenty-somethings which could be an interesting take on it I guess.
  • In the Dark – I’m just going to copy the wikipedia synopsis because I don’t think I can do it justice – “A flawed and irreverent blind woman is the only “witness” to the murder of her drug-dealing friend. After the police dismiss her story, she sets out with her dog, Pretzel, to find the killer while also managing her colorful dating life and the job she hates at Breaking Blind – the guide dog school owned by her overprotective parents.”
  • Legacies – a second generation spin-off based on The Originals which was based on The Vampire diaries. It focusses on Hope Mikaelson, the daughter of Klaus and Hayley if that means anything to anyone.
  • The Upfronts 2018 – CBS

    Bye bye
    I have barely heard of any of the shows cancelled by CBS this year, let alone watched them. There may be people that these shows mean the world to, but there obviously weren’t very many of them – 9JKL; Kevin Can Wait; Living Biblically; Me, Myself and I; Scorpion; Superior Donuts and Wisdom of the Crowd. Scorpion made it to 4 seasons, none of the others made it beyond 2.

    See you agains soon
    There are lots of shows here that I used to watch, but none of them that I still watch. I liked and enjoyed NCIS: Original and Los Angeles, but petered out a while ago, and I never bothered with New Orleans – at over 650 episodes between them, they just all got too samey. Similarly with Hawaii Five-0; all these show have really great characters and casts, but the plots themselves are utterly forgettable so it’s hard to stay engaged. Blue Bloods I gave up on after a couple of years and I don’t think I made it to the end of the first season of Madam Secretary. Bull was just too formulaic. Criminal Minds I was watching until very recently when I suddenly realised that it was rubbish – really unimaginative, awful dialogue and actors who seemed to be phoning it in; I don’t know whether that was me seeing the light, or a sudden deterioration in quality from them. The Big Bang Theory continues ever onward and I watch it occasionally but not with any level of commitment, the Young Sheldon spin off seems just as popular.

    There are a few new shows that I meant to give a try, mostly due to their casts – Instinct starring Alan Cumming, SWAT with Shemar Moore and Seal Team with David Boreanaz. Now they’ve been picked up for second seasons I might actually watch them.

    Hello there

    Magnum PI – utterly ridiculous. There’s some charm I guess, but by the end of the trailer when he jumped onto the helicopter I just couldn’t face any more.

    The neighborhood – so many many problems. The first one of which being the insane laugh track on the trailer.

    Happy Together – a rockstar moves in with his accountant and his partner, who are (apparently) incredibly dull. Another awful laugh track, but at least someone was laughing.

    FBI – warning – the trailer spoils the whole of the pilot episode, why do they do that? It looks as generic as its name, but it’s a good cast and Dick Wolf (Law and Order) knows how to make generic compelling.

    God Friended Me – so God friends an atheist on Facebook and sends him after random people who need help. It sounds like Quantum Leap with less cross-dressing, but Brandon Micheal Hall is rather charming and maybe a bit of sappiness can work.

    The Code – for which there is zero information beyond that the two lead roles were recast after the pilot. That all bodes well.
    Fam – some sort of comedy about a woman’s perfect life being spoilt by a teenager half sister turning up. Diddums.
    The Red Line – the story of three families’ intersecting lives following a white police man mistakenly shooting a black doctor.

    The Upfronts 2018 – ABC

    That time of year again already and I failed to do these overviews in any sort of timely fashion. In the interests of speed, I’m not going to talk about cancelled or renewed shows that I have never seen.

    Bye Bye
    A few of abc’s long runners were retired relatively gracefully this year, although I’m not sure the word ‘graceful’ and Scandal really go together, the 7 seasons were a ridiculous ride and although I still followed it via spoilers, I gave up around season 4. Once Upon a Time also managed 7 seasons, but I only watched the first. I did enjoy it, and really loved the original concept, but I lost track of the multitude of characters and never returned. The two seasons of Designated Survivor were quite popular with a few of my friends, but despite watching the first couple of episodes twice I just couldn’t get into it.

    It was another tough year for new series at abc, the only one I saw any of was Marvel’s Inhumans which had such an atrociously awful premier that it baffles me anyone dared air it, let alone the whole season of eight episodes. I had been looking forward to The Crossing, which I’d been stacking up to watch on Amazon, but given it only aired 6 episodes, I probably won’t bother.

    See you again soon
    Shonda Rhimes continues to rule, Grey’s Anatomy found its feat again this year and will unsurprisingly be back for a 15th season, alongside a second season of firefighter spin-off Station 19 which I really hope finds its mojo soon. I’m very happy to see Marvel’s Agents of Shield not cancelled, but with incredibly low ratings and only a shortened sixth season to air next summer, I think this may be its last. The Good Doctor is one of the big successes from the new shows and gets a second season. I watched the pilot but it just didn’t grab me.

    Hello there

    The Fix – Movie star aquited of murdering his wife, 8 years later his girlfriend is murdered. Did he do it? Seems to focus on the prosecution team. No one seems likeable and I just didn’t care.

    Whiskey Cavalier – A pair of spies who hate each other. Blah blah blah. Scott Foley and Lauren Cohen deserve infinitely better.

    The Kids are Alright – A family with 8 boys growing up in the 70s. Pretty generic and low on laughs, but Mary McCormack and Michael Cudlitz are good names.

    The Rookie – A middle aged guy decides to change his life and becomes a police office in LA. What does it matter what it’s about, it’s got Nathan Fillion in it.

    A Million Little Things – A group of friends dealing with life. It’s This is Us meets Friends, probably very bingeable.

    Grand Hotel – Good grief. This look hideous! it lacks the necessary wit that something like Jane the Virgin had and is just utterly awful.

    Single Parents – Well, on the plus side it’s an original variation on the theme of inept parenting, but I didn’t smile, let alone laugh.