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.


2012-13 Season – the best and the worst

2012_2013As the new season has officially started, it’s time for my wrap up of the 2012-2013 season! From the list below it really looks like I’ve watched 46 television series this year, which frankly even I find amazing, given that last year I was astonished that I’d gone from 28 to 39 series. Admittedly 10 of those series are still in progress and a couple might not get finished, but even without those, it’s still probably somewhere in the order of 700 episodes.

The Americans: S1
Blue Bloods: S3
The Big Bang Theory: S6
Bones: S8
Borgen: S2
Broadchurch: S1
The Cafe: S2 (in progress)
Castle: S5
Chicago Fire: S1
Criminal Minds: S8
CSI: S13
CSI: NY: S10 (in progress)
Defiance: S1
Doctor Who: S7
Downton Abbey: S3
The Fall: S1
The Following: S1
Forbrydelsen (The Killing): S3
Fringe: S5
Game of Thrones: S3
The Good Wife: S4
Grey’s Anatomy: S9
Hannibal: S1
Homeland: S2
House of Cards: S1
House of Lies: S2 (in progress)
Hunted: S1
Last Tango in Halifax: S1
Luther: S3
Mad Men: S6
Merlin: S5
Nashville: S1
NCIS: LA: S4 (in progress)
The Newsroom: S2 (in progress)
Once Upon a Time: S2 (in progress)
Orphan Black: S1 (in progress)
Les Revenenants (The Returned): S1
Scandal: S2 (Review to come)
Smash: S2 (in progress)
Supernatural: S8 (in progress)
The Thick of It: S4
Utopia: S1
Vegas: S1
The Walking Dead: S3
Warehouse 13: S4 (in progress)
Young Doctor’s Notebook: S1

There are also a few miniseries I watched (mostly British) – Dancing on the Edge, In the Flesh, What Remains (to be reviewed), The Secret of Crickley Hall and Southcliffe.

Best Shows
The Walking Dead title screenThe Walking Dead – I think this may be the show I obsessed most about this year (although see Scandal later on). I pounced on every episode as soon as I could, read analysis, studied trailers, frankly it’s a bit embarrassing. But what makes me really happy is that the show warrants its place in the best list, not just the favourite. The quality of this show is outstanding, from the breathtaking direction to the elegant writing and heartbreaking acting. There were a few miss-steps with the plot, but overall, this show is right up there with the likes of Battlestar Galactica for raising genre to a new level.

GoodWifeThe Good Wife – It’s hard to think of new superlatives to describe The Good Wife, from the very first episode of season 1 this show has been consistently good, interesting and entertaining. Sadly that consistency also applies to the ongoing poor usage of Kalinda, but if that’s the only problem with the show, then it’s still leaps and bounds above most of its companions on the schedules.

House of CardsHouse of Cards – It’s notable that of the three best shows I’ve selected one is on Cable, one is on Network and the final one is on neither! Thanks to Netflix it’s now possible to get exceptional television series completely independent of the television channels. House of Cards was smart, challenging and exceptionally well made and throws a real challenge at the traditional broadcasters.

Honourable mentions – I’m only 2 episodes in, but Orphan Black is rather amazing and reminiscent of the also stunning Utopia. Broadchurch was outstanding, blending believable responses to horrific events with a British humour and A Young Doctor’s Notebook was surprisingly weird and engaging.

Favourite Shows
scandalScandal – I haven’t written my review of this yet, because it would mean admitting that rather than waiting for the weekly episodes on the television, I was so addicted to the show, I saught out an alternate source and watched the whole season pretty much back to back over the space of a weekend. The story is utterly ridiculous, but I found it incredibly addictive. Shonda Rhimes has recreated the Grey’s Anatomy magic, it doesn’t matter how bad it is, I can’t let it go.

americansThe Americans – It’s almost impossible to talk about this show without comparing it to Homeland, which appeared on my best shows list last year, but is significantly absent this year. The Americans gets right everything that Homeland got wrong in season 2, it never took itself too seriously, never sacrificed consistent character development for cheap cliffhangers and remembered that spies (even in the 80s) are cool!

BorgenBorgen – Last year Borgen was in the ‘Best shows’ category, this year I move it to ‘Favourite’ because although I still adore it, I just didn’t think it was as good. I had a lot of trouble with the storylines and characters this season, many set off down unfortunate paths which ultimately led to dead ends and frustrations. But despite that, it’s still hugely entertaining, with sparkling dialogue, beautiful direction and an unfailing ability to draw me in.

Honourable Mentions – hmm, the fact I’m struggling to find ones of note is a bit of an indicator that this years shows have really gone to the extremes of “great” and “meh”. Nashville was reliable ridiculous fun (far far more successful than the increasingly awful Smash) and Last Tango in Halifax was endearingly easy watching. Oh, and there have been great moments in the first few episodes of The Newsroom, but those moments of brilliance are unfortunately surrounded with some real mediocrity (and that’s being charitable).

bBroadchurchI think there should be some kind of awareness that there is great acting going on in the oddest of places. Awards are generally given for great acting in great shows. That really is a bit chicken and egg, is the acting great because of the writing, or is the writing great because of the acting? For shows like The Walking Dead, House of Cards, Broadchurch, The Americans and The Good Wife, the quality just feeds back and forth elevating both to wonderful heights.

The Thick of ItThe more impressive achievement I think is great acting taking place in mediocre or even awful shows. The cast of Homeland did an admirable job with truly terrible writing as did some of the cast of Hannibal. The Thick of It had serious structural problems from a watch-ability point of view, but it did mean everything built up to the stunning inquiry which offered each of the actors an opportunity to give a masterclass in characters. Peter Capaldi was of course the star (and the only problem I have with him being Doctor Who is that he’ll have less time to do work like this), but everyone in the cast was incredible in that episode.

lutherThen you’ve got the type of performances that complete transcend and transform the shows they are in. Performances from Idris Elba (Luther) and Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) seem like they’re in entirely different leagues to everyone around them, bouncing off the screen with originality and charisma and really are the only reason I watch the shows. I came to Nashville because I love Connie Britton, but was surprised that I stayed with it in equal parts for was wonderful performance from Hayden Panettier. Between the two of them they made the ridiculous soap opera watchable.

Grey's Anatomy CastWhen it comes to relying on her actors to sell ridiculous storylines however, Shonda Rhimes is queen, I forgive Grey’s Anatomy its many sins because of actors like Chandra Wilson, Ellen Pompeo and Sandra Oh. I forgive Scandal for being demented because of actors like Kerry Washington who portrays Olivia Pope with such hardness and such softness, Jeff Perry who makes Cyrus the kind of manipulative bastard you want to share popcorn with and Guillermo Diaz who makes you want to give Huck a cuddle even if he is a terrifying psychopath.

Mad MenMad Men – If not for the fact that the next season will be the last, Mad Men season 6 would have been the nail in the coffin for me. I’ve just got no interest in watching a show increasingly dedicated to the unpleasant and repetitive character that is Don Draper. He goes round and round in destructive circles, holding back the other characters and the show itself from really developing.

Once Upon a TimeOnce Upon a Time – I’m struggling to find the enthusiasm to watch the whole season of this I have backed up on my Sky+ box. I think there are just too many characters (particularly given almost every character has a fairy tale alter-ego), too many worlds and too many storylines. I don’t care enough to watch every week, and without that regular viewing I lose track and therefore care even less.

fringeFringe – I’m sorry, but the final season of Fringe just wasn’t as good as the previous seasons. Jumping to the future threw everything off for me, it wasn’t as much fun, I wasn’t as engaged and it felt less original. It did however at least offer a solid ending to the show, so I am still grateful for that.

Things I Didn’t Watch
SonsOfAnarchyIn many ways the 2012-13 season was notable for the things I didn’t watch. Several shows that I’ve previously loved, I just couldn’t bring myself to watch. Glee and NCIS both got dropped because I was fed up with the inconsistent writing. I tried out Hawaii Five-0 to fit the NCIS spaced gap, but though I love the dynamic between the two leads, it wasn’t enough to keep my attention through the mind numbing plots. I also dropped Veep because I just didn’t find it funny enough to overcome the frustrations with stupid characters.

My reasons for stopping watching Girls are rather more profound. Like Veep, I didn’t think it was funny and I found the characters frustrating, but I had an extra level of repulsion to the series because it seemed to be claiming some greater reality than something like Veep. Lena Dunham, either through her own claims or those of the media appears to think this is what young women in New York are really like. Given that I think the characters are pretty hateful people, if that’s truly what this section of humanity is like, then I want nothing to do with them, even through the abstract medium of television.

This year’s high profile casualty is actually more about the fact that the writing is too good. Sons of Anarchy is a superb television show, but by making me care so much about the characters, the relentless misery heaped upon them has just become a bit much. As their situations become increasingly hopeless I found myself dreading each episode until eventually my anxiety overcame the quality and I remembered that I didn’t have to watch if I didn’t want to. It’s the same reason that I’m unlikely to watch Breaking Bad beyond the first season, that was enough for me to understand how good it was, and enough to for me to know I just didn’t want to watch something that hard.

To end this section on a positive note however, even though I didn’t get along with this season of American Horror Story (I just didn’t feel any connection to any of the characters) the clever thing about the way the series is structured means that I can try it again next year when it moves on again to a new set of characters and stories.

Local Talent
utopiaEvery year I pledge to watch more British television, and this year I actually managed it! A lot of it suffers from, what Sky’s director of entertainment eloquently described as “po-faced stick up your backside morose drama”. When done well that sort of thing is hard but fascinating to watch, but when done badly it’s just dull. Southcliffe fell into the latter category unfortunately, The Fall was doing well until it failed to reach a conclusion that just left a bad taste in the mouth. On the plus side Utopia was quirky, brutal, intriguing and beautiful to watch, and Broadchurch was utterly engrossing and entertaining from start to finish. It’s a good job David Tennant was so good in that though, because The Politician’s Husband was horrific and I know at least one person who’s Tennant crush has been permanently damaged by the dialogue he was forced.

Downton AbbeyA lot of dross was also put out claiming to be ‘pure entertainment’ with Mr Selfridge and The Paradise both trying to capture the ongoing magic of Downton Abbey and failing catastrophically. Hunted was entertaining, but nowhere near interesting enough to make me want to watch a second season. Sky’s offerings of The Cafe and Young Doctor’s Notebook are far from what I’d expect from the juggernaut, both understated and unusual.

Broadchurch: Season 1

bBroadchurchAll over the place people have jumped upon the fact that Broadchuch owes a debt to Scandinavian dramas like The Killing and The Bridge because it comprises just one case which is gradually developed over the space of several hours. But the similarity which really jumped out to me was not the structure, but the fact that like those shows it relied very heavily on red herrings, stupid characters, sudden turnarounds and unlikely coincidences.

I don’t know what a real police investigation would be like, but in order to control the pace of the show this one clearly relied on police asking not quite the right questions and witnesses/suspects wanting to keep secrets rather than truly help with the investigation. For the most part it comes across as characters being dim, rather than writers being stuck for ideas, but it is a very fine line sometimes. As it turned out the journey was also far better than the destination, while I guessed the who (partially), the motive came out of absolute nowhere and felt very weakly explained.

But for all my that, I thoroughly enjoyed Broadchurch, and that’s down to three factors. The first is that it was proper ‘water cooler television’. I could sit and chat about the show with friends over a cup of tea, not just to chuckle over the dialogue or tut over the problems, but to discuss the plot twists and turns and make predictions. The frustration that many of the answers were completely unguessable never overwhelmed the shared experience of making them.

The other two elements that made the show a joy were David Tennant and Olivia Colman who lit up the screen and brought spark to even the flattest of dialogue. Their relationship didn’t fall into any of the usual clichés and they genuinely just felt like a normal couple of people thrown together. The acting through the rest of the cast was a bit more hit and miss, the lovely Arthur Darvill can do no wrong in my book, but Pauline Quirk was laying it on with a shovel.

I’m a bit uncertain as to whether I’d describe Broadchurch as ‘good’, but I have no hesitation in recommending it as enjoyable. There are lines of dialogue that absolutely cracked me up, and moments of silence that had me welling up. But alongside those were moments that had me cringing and an eventual reveal that just left me flat. I’m not sure how a second season will work, but if it allows me to spend more time with Olivia Coleman and David Tennant, than I’ll be there.

The last few episodes are slowly disappearing from ITV Player, but it will be available dvd from May 20th

Broadchurch and Mayday: Pilot Reviews

The BBC and ITV both launched major new dramas that no one can argue are both heavily influenced by various European dramas. There’s just less Danish knitwear and more morris dancing and 99p flakes. Something is topsy-turvy in TV land though, because ITV’s offering of Broadchurch stars BBC stalwarts David Tennant and Olivia Colman and is a great piece of television while the Mayday stars… well not much of anyone really and is utterly rubbish.

Mayday started on Sunday night and playing out over the next four evenings, which means that by the time I get this review up the series is actually almost over. I probably wouldn’t have bothered reviewing it at all if not for the fact that it contrasts so nicely with Broadchurch, which I really wanted to draw peoples’ attention to.

Both series are about a crime against a child, Broadchurch starts immediately with the body of a ten year old boy, while Mayday has a missing 14 year old girl. Both are set in small towns where everyone knows each other, Mayday in an idyllic village (complete with Mayday celebrations and Morris Dancers), Broadchurch a Dorset seaside town (with ice creams and seasonal traffic jams). The biggest point of contrast is that while both series suggest that not everyone is what they seem, Broadchurch gradually works up to that with subtlety, while Mayday practically screams “this person has a secret” with every line of dialogue, close up moody look and musical cue.

That is the very reason why I loved Broadchurch and loathed Mayday, and is also the reason that I wondered if the two had somehow got channel swapped by accident. Mayday is a pantomime that sits more naturally alongside ITV’s Downton Abbey and Mr Selfridge. Characters are one sentence parodies with hammy actors combining with cheesy direction to make a horrific ploughman’s of a show. My response to it all was eye rolling and laughter at the obviousness of it all, hardly edge of the seat stuff.

Broadchurch however induced not only curiosity and genuine tension, but also full on tearing up and heart in mouth moments. The focus on the family as they went through the worst day of their lives was just devastating, and the view of the emotional impact on the team investigating the crime was equally heartbreaking. The director and writers have enough faith in their actors and audience to leave much unsaid, the subtext is clear for everyone to read and doesn’t need to be bludgeoned home.

I guess there’s a chance that Mayday settled down, and that some of you stuck with it while I deleted the series link as soon as I’d finished the first episode. It’s strange that the BBC chose to run it Sunday to Thursday evenings, it really didn’t seem anywhere near the type of event television that would make that work. The ratings don’t look to be its favour, it dropped nearly 2 million viewers (6.2 to 4.3) for its Monday showing, which went up directly against Broadchurch which mustered 6.8million. I guess the real test for Broadchurch is how many tune in next week, but I for one can’t recommend it highly enough.

Mayday finishes tonight and is available on iPlayer until and Broadchurch airs on Monday nights and is available on itvplayer.