TV: Mr Mercedes Review

July 29, 2018

You probably think I haven’t been watching anything considering the lack of reviews on this site lately, and that’s half right.

There’s no doubt I haven’t been getting my money’s worth with my Cineworld Unlimited Card – I’ve been to five films in four months meaning I’m paying something daft like £15 per visit – but on the other hand, I have been keeping up with plenty of TV shows, and over the next few days will give my thoughts on some of them.

First up is a show I only found out about because of an article on the best TV shows that aren’t on British television.

Mr Mercedes is an adaptation of a Stephen King novel about a retired cop who tries to solve a two-year old case about a multiple homicide involving a car driving in to a crowd of people waiting to attend a jobs fair.

Knowing just how bad some of the recent Stephen King TV adaptations have been, I must admit to approaching Mr Mercedes with a sense of trepidation. Under the Dome, for example, started well enough but should have been wrapped up in one season, while The Mist was such a terrible show that I gave up after four episodes.

Mr Mercedes bucks the trend though, and was an enjoyable watch.

As a story, it retained my interest and unlike so many shows it didn’t begin to drag towards the end or sink in the middle, and that on its own is fine. But where I think the real strength of Mr Mercedes lies is in the characterisation and the quality of the actors bringing them to life.

Brendan Gleeson is the powerhouse of the show, and his portrayal of the hard-drinking ex-cop Bill Hodges is excellent, but the quality in general is very high, from his co-lead Harry Treadaway all the way down to…well I’d just end up naming every cast member because they are all good.

As with most of my reviews, I don’t plan on spoiling the plot for those who have yet to see it, so I will sum it up by saying that it’s definitely worth your time, and that I hope the upcoming second season strays far enough away from the original that it doesn’t become like so many other shows and out-stay its welcome

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TV: Safe Review (or “A Netflix Show That Doesn’t Get Boring After A Few Episodes. OMG”)

May 20, 2018

The sheer volume of Netflix’s output means that it’s inevitable that some of it won’t be particularly good.

I’ve found that a number of their shows recently have been so uninspiring that I’ve given up on them in pretty short order.

Bloodline? Three episodes was enough for me to be bored into submission.

Santa Clara Diet? I watched one episode and found it wasn’t my type of humour at all.

Jessica Jones? I fell asleep every time I watched an episode of the second season and had even forgotten that I had stopped watching it before I started this article.

Designated Survivor? Knowing that it’s been cancelled, I don’t really find myself inspired to watch more than I have (which was up to the second episode of season 2 by the way).

So although Netflix has so much content, it’s fair to say that not all of it is must-see.

Of course, I could argue that it’s because of the amount of content available that I haven’t been bothered to finish watching these shows, and that Netflix’s greatest strength is the problem, but if I recall correctly, I already did a few years back (and you can read about that here)

But I bring this all up because for the first time in a while, I have managed to stumble across a new show on Netflix that immediately grabbed me, and resulted in me binge watching all eight episodes over the course of a few days.

Safe – starring Michael C. Hall as a father whose daughter has gone missing while her boyfriend has been found murdered – is actually really good and well worth a watch.

Although his English accent is immediately dodgy, you soon get used to it and that apart, it’s a well written and executed drama that manages to stay the course and – unlike so many Netflix shows – remain interesting throughout all eight episodes.

Also unlike so many other shows – Netflix or otherwise – it isn’t written with a second season in mind. It presents a mystery, it hooks the viewers in and it then answers every question by the end of the final episode.

And that’s how a show should be.

So if you’re sitting at home, twiddling your thumbs and wondering what to watch, Safe is a safe bet.

And yes, I had to make that pun.


TV Review: Colditz (1972-1974)

April 1, 2018

Over by the self-service checkout area at Sainsburys last Christmas was a selection of classic TV boxed sets, including the likes of The Saint, Danger Man and Survivors. I suggested for a Christmas present from my parents that they just choose one at random that I hadn’t seen, and hoped for the best that I’d enjoy it.

They got me the 1972-1974 British drama, Colditz.

And I loved it.

It was obviously a show I had heard of, but my knowledge of the plot only extended as far as it being about British POWs held in an ‘escape-proof’ castle.

But there’s a lot more to it than that.

Yes, there are lots of escape attempts, but it’s mainly about the relationships between the prisoners and also between the prisoners and their German captors. And it’s the latter relationship that I found the most engrossing.

I think it’s fair to say that by and large, the Germans in WW2 dramas and movies are presented as the evil enemy, and yet in Colditz – based as it is on the experiences of those who were in the POW camp at the time – this isn’t the case. Coming under the jurisdiction of the Wehrmacht rather than the SS or Gestapo, it’s run by mostly honourable people – Germans of the Old School – who are at pains to ensure that their prisoners are treated fairly and within the terms of the Geneva Convention. Yes, in the second season the writers include the entirely fictional boo-hiss villain, Major Mohn for the purposes of added drama, but it’s the likes of the Kommandant (played by the king of 1970s BBC drama, Bernard Hepton) and his chief of security, Ullman (Hans Meyer) who are the ones that reflect the type of German who ran the camp. In fact, I found myself rooting for them thanks to their restraint in the face of being constantly tested by British officers often acting like children.

With solid acting all the way through, and a cast – both regular and guest – of fine actors that you’ll probably recognise, Colditz is the sort of drama that you just don’t seem to get anymore. It’s slow building, it has episodes based around one-off guest characters (and the finest example of that is the jaw-droppingly good Tweedledum, about an officer who pretends to everyone around him that he has gone mad in a bid to be sent back to England on compassionate grounds), and the entire quality of the show rests on the strength of the acting and writing.

It certainly made me invest in it emotionally and come away from the final episode wanting to learn more about the realities of the way the camp was run.

I would offer Colditz my highest recommendation. In an era of throwaway NetFlix shows that are often pretty dull, this is one of the finest dramas I’ve watched in a long, long time.


TV: Save Me Review

March 18, 2018

*Note: Because of the nature of this review, there are spoilers concerning the conclusion of the final episode. If you want a very brief non-spoiler point of view, I’ll say it’s worth watching but sags a little in the middle.

So anyway…

In a recent interview, Save Me writer and lead star Lennie James admitted that it was always the intention for the new Sky Atlantic show to have a second season; it was commissioned on that brief.

Alas that’s the way TV networks operate nowadays and the results are mixed. A show like Line of Duty can support a story told over multiple seasons because there’s a background plot that runs throughout, but each season focuses on a specific storyline or character. Meanwhile there are so many other examples – and Under the Dome is the one that immediately springs to mind – where you can just see that the story doesn’t have enough about it to justify another run, and yet it gets one because it makes financial sense for the network. It’s a case of financial reward over creative satisfaction.

Having polished off Save Me last night, I fear it falls in the second category.

This is a show about Nelly, a guy whose 13-year-old daughter – who he hasn’t seen for years – is kidnapped. Initially he’s suspected of being responsible, but it turns out pretty quickly that someone who was pretending to be him contacted her on the internet and lured her into a trap. Because of the very specific information about Nelly’s life used to by the kidnapper to attract her, Nelly realises that it must be someone he knows from his local pub who must be responsible, and takes on the burden of solving the crime.

Now if I was going to write that for maximum creative effect, it would be told from beginning to end in one go. Nelly would find the person responsible and then from there find Jody (the daughter) either alive or dead.

As it turns out, Nelly does work out the culprit and even gets as far as finding out where Jody’s being held captive by a local paedophile ring, but in the end he finds another girl instead.

It just seemed like such a flat ending.

Over the course of the six episodes, Save Me was mostly about Lenny and his relationships with characters around him, and it did a very good job of giving those characters a back-story and a potential motive for wanting to kidnap Jody. And though some of the characters were a bit odd – Jody’s mother played by Suranne Jones isn’t written as being particularly bothered about her kidnapping and is more interested in getting pissed and having sex with Lenny behind her partner’s back – they all get put under the microscope.

Now that we know who kidnapped her – even though the reveal came thanks the disappointing Terry Nation style trope of “Hold on a minute; the only way you’d know that piece of information is if you are the kidnapper” – and more to the point now that we know who didn’t kidnap her, those characters seem largely redundant going forward.

And there’s the problem. Save Me ends on a note of the viewer feeling short-changed by the ending, and concerned that to have the story resolved one way or the other, they’ll have to endure a second season that doesn’t appear to have the legs to make it worth watching.

That being said, if you want to live for the moment and enjoy it for what it is now, the first season is mostly an entertaining watch up until the ending, although it does slow down to a crawl in episode three.


Stuart’s Entertainment Review (The Detectorists, Peaky Blinders, Manhunt Unabomber etc)

February 12, 2018

A roundup of some of the shows I’ve been watching lately…

The Detectorists

Because this is considered a ‘gentle’ comedy, I made the mistake of thinking that it was something akin to Last of the Summer Wine. In actual fact, this show is probably the best BBC sitcom in a long, long time. It’s not what I would consider hilarious, but it has its moments. The main thing though is that the characters are likeable and relatable and the story across all three seasons is one you can invest in.

It’s feel good and charmingly British.

Peaky Blinders

Perhaps less charmingly British, but British nevertheless is Peaky Blinders.

Packed with big name actors and some absolutely brilliant performances, it’s entertaining and gritty throughout.

It’s not exactly the most original of plotlines – a family rise to prominence in a historical setting – but that setting is a good one, and the story does progress as the show goes on.

I also liked how it used modern music instead of stuff that perhaps might have seemed more fitting to the era.

Manhunt: Unabomber

What I like about this show is that it’s an apparently mostly accurate retelling of a genuine FBI case, so while it’s not the most exciting show you’ll ever see, it is at least informative and interesting.

Running for only 8 episodes, it doesn’t outstay its welcome, but if I had any criticism, it would be that the time hopping, non-linear nature of it seemed unnecessary.

The Good Place

I thought I’d written a review of The Good Place after I watched season 1 on NetFlix last year, but apparently not. And I’m glad I didn’t because I probably would have said I thought it was a bit light and no more than average. I kept watching though and just finished off the second season this evening, and I’ve got to seriously recommend it.

It’s not a laugh out loud comedy – indeed I don’t really remember ever doing that while watching it – but what it is is clever. It makes you think while still being fun.

And unlike so many other shows there’s genuine development, not only of characters, but of plot; the show is now in a completely different place (no pun intended) than it was at the start.

Like I say, I’d recommend it highly. It’s well worth your time.

Lovesick

Previously known as Scrotal Recall on Channel 4, this show was bought by Netflix and renamed as something that perhaps has more marketability.

I’d never seen it before Saturday, but I’m hooked now and have binge watched it over the last couple of days.

It’s a bit derivative of How I Met Your Mother (the leads may as well be called Ted and Barney) but it has that more adult, British twist to it in terms of the language and the style of humour.

More than the other two comedies in this list it’ll make you chuckle, but it also has a story that’s decent enough to sustain it.

Riverdale

Watched the first episode but it didn’t grab me. I think Pretty Little Liars has filled my ‘Teen Drama for BFFs’ quota for the next wee while.

Danger Man

A much older show, but I’ve recently started watching the 1960s Patrick McGoohan ITC show.

For when it was made it does seem high budget, and though the episodes tend to resolve far quicker than they should, it’s a decent watch.

Of course, knowing me as you do, dear readers, part of the fun is identifying the actors who have appeared in Doctor Who at one point or another.

Let’s just say when Patrick Troughton showed up with his Salamander voice on, I was pretty thrilled.


TV – The Crown Season 2 Review

December 13, 2017

When it comes to watching Netflix Original series, my most regular complaint is that the shows start well but tail off badly. Whether it’s drama shows like Luke Cage or Ozark, or true crime shows like Making of a Murderer, I’ll get bored and barely muster up the will to finish them.

I think part of the reason for that is that there’s not enough story to last the course, so everything slows down to a crawl and they inevitably rely on time-wasting tropes such as the flashback episode that nobody wanted to see in the first place.

But The Crown is a bit different; well…maybe except for the flashback episode, because in the new season there was one that went back to Prince Philip’s childhood, and it was by far and away the weakest of the entire run.

Apart from that though, The Crowd is a consistently entertaining show that manages to stay fresh and interesting throughout. I think the reason for that is that it tackles a variety of major issues that happened in the UK and abroad late 1950s/early 1960s rather than just sticking with the same thing, like so many other NetFlix shows do. So while the first three episodes are about the fallout from the Suez Crisis and Prince Philip’s trip around the world on the Royal Yacht Britannia, it then moves on to other topics like Princess Margaret’s relationship with the future Lord Snowdon, the view of the monarchy being out of touch following a disastrous speech by the Queen at a factory, the Ghanian Crisis, JFK, the Profumo Affair and the revalations about the former King and his relationship with the Nazis (and by the way, what an absolute bastard he was, eh?).

That kept me engrossed and educated, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

And it’s well enough acted too, with Claire Foy being particularly good as the Queen and deserving of all the credit she gets. I’m not sure if Matt Smith is that good or if I just see him as Matt Smith and therefore can’t separate him from his performance as the Doctor.

If I was to have any complaint – as churlish as it is – is that the actors playing the parts are perhaps a little too good-looking for the characters they play, but hey ho.

Anyway, this is definitely a show you should watch. I’m yet to come across anyone who has anything but praise for it.

If you’ve not seen it, that’s your next couple of weeks sorted.


TV: The Fall Review

August 31, 2017

Sometimes you’ll watch a show and persevere with it either out of loyalty or reputation.

Other times you think “That’s enough” and just stop.

And that’s what happened with me and The Fall.

Put simply, after an initially decent first season, things began to slow down so much in the second that whole hour-long episodes would go by without anything happening. After one episode of the third and final season, the entirety of which was spent with people hanging around the A&E department of the local hospital, I could face no more. Yes, there were only five instalments left, but that would be five hours I could be spending doing something else.

So I just read what happened in the last episode – my fears vindicated by reviews suggesting the final season as a whole was one gigantic waste of time – and moved on.

Maybe I’m spoiled by having already seen the superior-in-every-conceivable-way Line of Duty, meaning that the pace and acting would never stand up? After all, in place of the mighty Ted Hastings, we had that guy with the beard who looked like he was going to burst into tears every time he was on screen. Or it could be that I was put off by sub-plots that went nowhere and paper thin characters who would routinely acted in an unbelievable manner?

Whatever it was, I couldn’t face any more of it and I would implore you not to bother with it.

In a world with so much content available to the viewing public, this just isn’t worth your time.