Jamestown: season one review

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In 1610, Jamestown became the first permanent English settlement in the Americas. At first, men only. Then a few years later women came, by way of being purchased as wives. In the same way one might buy tobacco at the time.

Which is a decent idea for a TV show, if you think about it. It’s cinematic, there’s lots of vast landscapes and ideas to explore and adventures to be had. And, weirdly, it feels fresh. Especially if you come at it from a feminist perspective.

Which you’d hope that Bill Gallagher, the guy behind this show, did do. Because, among other things, he’s had a hand in Downton Abbey, Lark Rise to Candleford and The Paradise. So he can do period drama and he can do compelling characters.

Plus, he’d heard about this slice of history and thought it would make an interesting canvas upon which to showcase his skills. No matter that Terence Malick had already had a crack at it, with the film The New World in 2005. Gallagher must have figured that, with Sky Atlantic backing him, he could tell a compelling story on the small screen on a juicy budget.

After all, he had worked on Downton Abbey. And everyone loves that.

Sadly, he hasn’t replicated his past successes. At least not to the same extent. Which is baffling, because all the component parts were there for a winner. It’s a period we haven’t much seen before, it’s got Native Americans, the untapped wilderness of Virginia, hunting for gold, politicking, fights for power, lusting, and a sexy cast.

And I say sexy because that’s how Sky marketed it. Sexy, but more importantly, feminist with it. Because the advertising had my partner and I thinking it’d be a show about women fighting their corner and controlling their destiny; in a time when they were literally sold as property and shipped off to a new world.

However, after a promising first episode, our enthusiasm quickly petered out as the show failed to live up to its hype.

Because the real problem is, that NOTHING MUCH REALLY HAPPENS. Ok, there are a lot of characters to introduce but we never really stick with any of them long enough to get that invested. And each episode seems to jump between them with no clear focus as to who our main protagonist is and what the thrust of the overall story is supposed to be.

Ultimately, screenwriting should only do one of two things: reveal character or drive the story forward.

And Gallagher doesn’t do much of either. You could argue that maybe two farmers, the Sharrow brothers, are the key focus. Silas (Stuart Martin) the quiet hero, just looking for a peaceful life with his new – but questionably acquired – wife Alice (Sophie Rundle). And Henry (Max Beesley), the intense and violent older brother, laser focused on finding gold that’ll shift the balance of power in the town in his favour.

The problem is I’m reaching for these two as the clear protagonist and antagonist of the show. Both Henry and Silas’s storylines meander along and neither character has that much agency. Silas, in particular, just reacts to things, rather than driving his story forward.

It probably also won’t escape your notice that I’m talking about two male characters when I had hoped this show would be feminist. Which is another gripe, as Gallagher sets up a host of promising female characters, then seems to only give them limited screentime when they should probably be the focus throughout.

For example we have Jocelyn (Naomi Battrick), betrothed to Samuel of the Virginia Company, and in a position as a Lady of standing in the town. Immediately we mark her out as the most Machiavellian character; plotting and scheming and twisting the town’s men round her little finger. Which is great to see. (Almost Cersei-esque a la Game of Thrones.) But too often she drifts for entire episodes, hovering in the background when she should be dictating proceedings. Which is, frustratingly, down to the show’s writers rather than Battrick’s performance.

Then there’s Alice (Sophie Rundle), betrothed to Henry but suffers a sexually violent act (another one on modern TV, how original) at his hands before they wed. He goes off in search of gold and she weds his brother Silas (with whom she’s conveniently fallen in love almost straight away). And whilst she has the potential as a character to bring righteous retribution in Henry’s direction, she seems to be largely stuck in ‘wet blanket’ mode, relying on Silas to protect her, which is a shame.

There’s also Verity (Niamh Walsh), married to the town drunk. She’s the fiestiest character and seems to get the best lines in terms of defending herself and her fellow females against the town’s boorish men. But she also waxes and wanes frustratingly, never progressing or shaking things up. 

And that’s pretty much how the whole season goes. Teasing you with the glimmers of interesting storylines and complex characters, then shying away from fully realising any of them. 
Maybe it’s the fault of shows like Game of Thrones, which just set the bar too high. But I don’t buy that. I think that this show is trying to play the long game and let things unfold over many seasons. But you just can’t do that these days. With so much good TV out there you need to be grabbing the viewer straight from the off, and keep them hooked EVERY SINGLE EPISODE. 

Sadly, this show doesn’t. So, if I was marking it, I’d say 5, maybe 6 out of 10. And I’d be very surprised if it got a second season. Which is a shame, but it would be its own fault.

The Get Down: season one, part two – review

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The Get Down was, by its own admission, a hugely ambitious undertaking by Baz Luhrmann and his team. With a sizeable investment from Netflix (although they’re seemingly unstoppable these days, so whatever). So it meant that a lot was riding on this tale of late ‘70s New York, painted as a city in crisis – at least in the Bronx, where most of our story takes place.

Plus it’s a sprawling epic. 

It touches on poverty, drugs, sexuality, inner city regeneration, friendship and male bonding, graffiti and self-expression, religion, and the birth of hip-hop, and how music can change your life and those around you. And that’s just for starters.

Which means that, with great ambition comes great responsibility. I mean, this show built itself up to tackle A LOT of weighty subjects and it does so quite well, for the most part. But derails a little come the second half of the season, which we’ll get to.

Moreover, maybe it bit off more than it could chew, with all these subjects vying for screen time. It made it hard to get a handle on the main thrust of the story at times. Was it part documentary, musical, love story, social commentary, musical history lesson or gangster movie? Or all of the above? The mind is liable to boggle.

Which meant, that if you wanted to pick holes in the plot, you could. You’d find loads. But the show’s sheer exuberance and enthusiasm for its material more or less carried it through. And this was helped, in part, by numerous punch-the-air musical moments, delivered by a highly watchable cast. In particular Ekeziel ‘Zeke’ Figuero (Justice Smith), the wordsmith of The Get Down Brothers (loosely modelled on the birth of the Sugar Hill Gang) and Mylene Cruz (Herizen Guardiola) a blossoming disco star; herself trying to break away from the clutches of a religiously overzealous father and the fact she’s come from more or less nothing. 

For all its ambition though, it’s a show of two halves (to coin a football pundit phrase). In that the first half introduced the main characters – framed via a modern-day rap concert (with Nas playing a grown-up Zeke) – and set them on their path to musical glory well enough. And was stylised much like a musical, all primary colours and big hair.

But then it seemed the second half of the season thought it best to get high on its own supply. Which meant it, rather oddly, got pretty trippy. We had the introduction of numerous animated sections in each episode which, whilst fun, seemed like a device to help Baz and his overworked crew take a breather whilst they set up the next big musical set piece. 

The plot, too, seemed a bit spaced out. There were really too many story strands drifting around the place to fully invest in any of them. And by the time the finish rolled around, I was left feeling like I’d seen something quite good, but also quite confused about what it wanted to be.

So top marks for ambition, casting, musical numbers and vision. But sorry Baz, you’re getting a little marked down for execution and story. Still though, overall, it’s a decent show and worth catching. Particularly if you’re a fan of hip-hop and experiencing a little slice of the birth of a musical genre done with real flair. 

Big Little Lies: the first two episodes

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So Sky Atlantic have a new flagship show out, Big Little Lies, written by David E. Kelly and based on a novel of the same name, penned by the wonderfully named Liane Moriarty.

And, as you’d expect, it’s got a formidable cast. One which includes Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, Zoe Kravitz, Alexander Skarsgard and Shailene Woodley. Along with Academy Award nominated director Jean-Marc Vallee at the helm. Perhaps most notable for directing the acclaimed Dallas Buyers Club. But also for directing Witherspoon and Dern in Wild – a rather beautiful and underrated film. So, he’s got game. And as we all know, TV is big game these days. 

Now in terms of the story, I’m only two episodes in, but it’s layered – nay, dripping – with intrigue. You’ll be hooked fast. Indeed, Wikipedia describe it as a dark comedy drama and, whilst this is true, a simpler reference might be to say it’s Broadchurch meets Desperate Housewives, which is reductive, but gives you a rough idea. It’s far more cinematically shot and beautiful to look at than either of those, though. (Just saying.)

So in terms of story, what we have, is a number – for the most part – of highly privileged families that live near the beautiful Californian coastal town of Monterey. And the first scene opens with a crime; one where the details are murky and unknown to us. We’re then introduced – through Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley) who’s new to the town – to the rest of its key players. In particular Madeline MacKenzie (Reese Witherspoon, in excellent form); a mother who specialises in poking her nose into everybody’s business and manipulating most scenarios to her own ends, often leveraging her children in the process. But there’s more to her than you first expect – naturally.

And whilst she drives much of the plot in these first episodes, the rest of the cast, in particular Jane (Woodley), Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and Renata (Laura Dern), have more to them than first seems the case as well. So within a couple of scenes you’ll think you have them nailed as characters, then they subvert expectations – like good actors should. (And Kelly, as writer, no doubt had a hand in this as well.)

As these moments are ultimately where life resides right? In the wrinkles, the gaps between floorboards, the conversations between the sheets, the furtive glances and simmering silences of words left unsaid, or words said but loaded with subtext.

This will get you asking questions upon questions. What’s the crime that took place? What’s Jane’s backstory? Is there more to Celeste’s relationship than on show? Why do Renata and Madeline almost loathe each other? Why does Madeline feel the need to control things so much? Is everyone a suspect? They all seem to want to kill each other. 

And the list goes on…

Furthermore, other than Billions, with Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti (another on Sky Atlantic), a show hasn’t gripped me so quickly in quite the same way in some time. It’s a marvel in that respect, what clever screenwriting.

So in essence, it’s painfully human. It’s got more nuanced, flawed and complex characters than you can shake a stick at – and actors that have us believing in them from the get-go. It’s beautifully shot (hats off to Vallee), and it’s achieved all this in a mere couple of episodes. Plus it’s got an 86% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so I’m not alone in my assessment. 

This also means that if you didn’t catch it there’s still time. So do it. You know you want to.

Luke Cage: season one review

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Take Captain America and add a dash of Superman and thread Harlem throughout his core and what do you get? Luke Cage. A badass bulletproof hero in a hoodie. Originally a character that turns up in Jessica Jones but now has his own show. And one that feels pretty different from others out there, and indeed, different from other Marvel ones too. From the opening yellow-washed, funk-inflected theme song – that’s simultaneously retro and contemporary – you get a sense that a lot of love has gone into its creation and how important the Harlem setting is to its fabric and structure.

For example, music is vitally important. Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Mohammad put it together and said they were influenced by Wu-Tang Clan, Ennio Morricone and Mohammad’s group A Tribe Called Quest. So we’ve got Western meets ’90s hip hop, with an original track by Method Man too (video below). All of which adds to its identity.

And on the character front, our main man Luke is interesting. Not immediately likeable and some may say stoic and unreadable, but there’s a fire under his surface. He’s a quiet hero, fierce, intelligent, troubled. There’s no spandex or cape and he half shuns the limelight for the most part. In reality, he’s an ex-convict trying to lay low and live his life in peace. But he’s too special to do that for long. He’s bulletproof for one thing, but it’s more than that. He has a strong sense of injustice and the people of Harlem need him to step up and protect them. So far so very Western, right?

Marvel's Luke Cage

And whilst it’s easy enough for him to hurl gangsters about (he’s bulletproof and can heal incredibly fast and has superhuman strength) he does have weaknesses. Namely loved ones, the people that he cares about. Which you’d expect. If you can’t hurt a bulletproof man, hurt those around him. Which is the approach our bad guy Cornell ‘Cottonmouth’ Stokes (Mahershala Ali) takes for the first half of the season.

And I very much think this is a season of two halves. First is set-up and a bit slow burn, then the second gets more gung-ho, with Luke half on the run from the law and the bad guys at the same time. So an educated outlaw and vigilante with the common people on his side? May as well call him Robin Hood.

Whatever we call him, it’s a good first season for a show and gets better as it goes on. And it’s nice to see Marvel trying new things, but all the while building the MCU on the small screen. We’ve had Agents of SHIELD (decent and still going) and Agent Carter (had its moments but cancelled after two seasons), Jessica Jones and Daredevil (heard both fairly good but haven’t caught them) and now we have Luke Cage. It’ll be most interesting to see what happens in season two.

Westworld: season one review

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Now I’ve called this post a season one review because, as we all know, Westworld has been renewed for a second go round. Hardly a surprise, given it’s a flagship show on Sky Atlantic, it’s got a sickeningly talented cast (Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Thandie Newton, Evan Rachel Wood etc), clever, tricksy writers (Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy), strong concept (sci-fi meets Western) and has been a storming hit with audiences (89% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes).

It’s also fresh because it bucks the modern trend of drowning us in nudity and violence (Game of Thrones we’re looking at you) and doesn’t serve up that much story in one go. That’s not to say it’s light on story and character. In fact it’s quite the opposite. This is a slow burn, but one that’s worth your time. And it’s also somewhat rare for a show to start with the number of characters that it does. In that at least four or five of them have key storylines. (So maybe it’s a little like Game of Thrones.)

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For the uninitiated though, at its basic level, Westworld is a theme park, albeit a giant one, where the population are made up of ‘hosts’ (synthetic robots) that are so lifelike that you cannot tell them apart from humans. The park’s purpose is for humans to visit to get away from the world, to fight and have sex and enjoy the wild west. And the series starts with The Man in Black (Ed Harris), who’s been coming to the park for years. He’s no longer interested in the park’s base attractions, but is searching for its centre, the centre of the maze, as he calls it. To give his life meaning and purpose.

We also have various hosts who evolve throughout the story, becoming more human as they go. In particular both Thandie Newton and Evan Rachel Wood’s characters are searching for who they really are. Their purpose.

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In fact, most characters are searching for meaning, trying to discover who they really are and why they’re here. Why are they a part of this world? What makes them who they truly are? What makes humans real and hosts not? Tugging the strings and playing God with barely concealed glee is Dr Ford (Anthony Hopkins), who’s treading a fine line between villian and a mysteriously benevolent creator. It would be easy to play him as a straight up bad guy, but Hopkins gives us more, adding layers and nuance to Ford. And by the end of the season you’re still not sure of his motives and whether he’s playing a trick on everyone, as all the best magicians do.

So this show has laid down a big and bold marker; in that it’s fairly different from a lot out there. A bit more thinky thinky and less smashy smashy. But it gets the balance right and answers enough questions to keep season one satisfying, but holds enough back so that season two promises to be worth waiting for.

Walking Dead: season 7 – midway review

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It’s funny… the ‘mid season’ break of The Walking Dead seems like it’s splitting hairs calling it mid season, because the show is basically over for a few months. It even had a mini finale and everything (as it always does). Although this means as fans we get left in the lurch, and I often find I half forget what happened in the first half of a season by the time the second half comes around. It feels, at least to me, that the show’s creators have to rekindle my interest. Which they nearly always do (or at least by a few episodes in).

But maybe that’s just me.
Anyway, as usual, I’m off topic before I’ve even begun.

So let’s talk about the first half of season 7, which has been interesting and actually a significant change in terms of the journey of the characters. Indeed, almost fundamental, in that an encounter with a new bad guy has shaken them all to their core. The guy? Negan, the despotic leader of a violent group known as the Saviours, who’s played with relish and gusto by Jeffrey Dean Morgan. And what a way to keep a show fresh. Seldom has an actor that’s been drafted in to play a big character – in such an established story – managed to cause such an upheaval. In the most delicious way possible, of course.

Often it’s the case where actors make the mistake of hamming up the baddie, sneering and moustache twirling until the cows come home. That’s not what you want in this day and age. I mean, this ain’t the 80s or even the 90s. You want menace and charisma in equal measure, and you want him or her to flip between the two on a dime. Which Morgan does as Negan like a natural, it’s delightful.

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And everyone loves to hate a bad guy, right? It’s like we’ve all got Stockholm syndrome when they start abusing the characters that we know and love. But then, that’s what the show’s creators wanted Morgan to bring when they cast him. And boy, did he deliver. It helps that Negan is meant to be the biggest threat old Rick and the gang has ever had to face (at least in the comics, and the show is shaping up that way too).

But just so I don’t get carried away, waxing lyrical on the Negan bandwagon, there’s the main cast to consider, too. Because it should not be underestimated just how fine a performance the majority of them put in. We take it for granted now (as most of them have been around for a good few seasons, and some since the start), but that’s our failing, because they really are outstanding and know their characters inside out.

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And top of that tree has to be Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, the heart and soul of the show. After Negan more or less breaks him by dispatching a number of notable characters in a highly brutal and visceral way, Rick is left utterly hollow, devoid of any fight he may of once had. And gone is the confidence, swagger and resolute nature that had served him well as a leader up until then. He’s unsure of his path and focused on the safety and survival of the group alone. And the others cannot handle seeing him this way.

It’s not the Rick we’re used to but perhaps the one we need, as the show had become a bit samey in recent seasons. Or you could say that Rick was losing himself and his way, that he needed focus. Maybe Negan, as his nemesis, gives him that? Particularly as he breaks him in such a profound way, that the payoff for us as an audience is going to be that much bigger when Rick finally bests him. As he surely must do this season, no?

And this break has taken us up to a nice point, bringing the group back together. Where for most of the season they’ve been disjointed and fragmented, hiding out in different communities, or on different quests after one another. Originally I had planned to talk more about the ins and outs of the show in terms of plot, but that seems unecessary. I prefer to just offer my general thoughts and feelings on the season so far. And to say that, with the mildly hopeful ending, it seems to have set things up for the second half to be most interesting indeed. Or as some might say, one hell of a shitstorm.

What Game of Thrones spin-offs would you watch?

My musings, TV

On the way to work today I walked past a mother and a young boy and couldn’t help but notice that the level to which he quizzed her on her activities was startling. And it reminded me, in a way, of the refreshing introduction of Lady Mormont in the season six of Game of Thrones and how it’d be great to see her in a spin-off.

Then I thought, what other characters would be great in a show of their own. So here’s my list. (I should have been in TV production with genius ideas like these. Expecting the call any day now.)

Lady Mormont: the path to power
Now whilst the first cousin of scaly love fiend Ser Jorah Mormont only had a few episodes upon which to make her mark, she did so most emphatically, like a mini Cersei chastising various Lords of the North like they were little boys. Then declaring her allegiance to Jon Snow as King in the North and embarrassing everyone else to do the same. What kind of ruler would she be on Bear Island I wonder? It would be fascinating to watch her rise to power.

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Clegane: the wilderness years 
Ah, Sandor Clegane. A big and brutal beast of a man, but oddly sympathetic as each season went on. Let’s be honest, none of us wanted him to die after Brienne worked him over and when he turned up in a peaceful community led by Ian McShane’s Brother Ray we all rejoiced. I’d have liked to have seen those two team up to bring peace to the region in a buddy comedy. Brother Ray with a twinkle in his eye as Clegane grunts, grudgingly accepting the way his zen-like friend does things, perhaps uttering the line, ‘I’m getting too old for this shit.’

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Assassin’s Creed: the tutelage of Arya
The most fiesty Stark was one of the more fascinating characters to watch develop in seasons five and six. Mostly because we were slowly seeing her become a faceless assassin and taking her fate into her own hands. And I’m all for seeing her development under the watchful eye of Jaqen H’ghar. As she gets sent on missions we would get to see how she wrestles with her progression from sweet and fiesty to bad-ass killer. And each episode could be titled, ‘A girl…’. Like, ‘A girl angers the Many-Faced God’ for example.

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Olenna Tyrell: the evolution of the Queen of Thorns
Now let’s all agree, actress Dame Diana Rigg pretty much stole every scene she was in as Olenna Tryell. Not quite a Dame Maggie Smith performance, but comparisons will be made, and rightly so. And considering she came to the Game of Thrones late, it would be interesting to see what she got up to before she made her way to King’s Landing. Sharp, wily and speaks her mind. Who wouldn’t want to see her run rings around everyone?

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Daenerys Targaryn and Asha Greyjoy: a love story
Now whilst they’ve only shared a single scene in season six, there was enough interaction between the Mother of Dragons and Asha to suggest something of a hint of romance. A frisson you may say. And why not? Asha has already had a scene in which she basically ‘acted like a man’ nuzzling boobs and spanking wenches. And Daenerys seems one of the most progressive characters in terms of the relationships and sexuality. It’d be great to see them take to the seas around Slaver’s Bay and beyond, raining fire down upon their enemies and falling in love in the process. A Westeros power couple, if ever there was one.

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Penny Dreadful: season three review

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And so endeth Penny Dreadful. Before its time some might say. Despite the fact that creator John Logan said it would always end with (*spoiler!) the death of Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), not many of us believed him.

It felt rushed, particularly as most of the characters had been flung across the globe on personal quests of their own. Suddenly they’re hurried back to London at pace, at the bemusement of fans no doubt. Fair enough conflicted Texan werewolf/gunslinger Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) always had the threat of his father with which to contend, so it made sense he deal with that.

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And why not have a dishevelled Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) along for the ride? Even though he’d half lost his way he was still a better father figure to Ethan than his real dad, Jared Talbot (played with gusto by Brian Cox).

The creature (Rory Kinnear) was off on a quest of his own to discover god-knows-what in the Arctic. He then returned to London after a few episodes to reconnect with his family. It was touching I suppose, but not really the story I wanted to see and his arc felt like a distraction. In some ways it would have been more exciting to see him team up with the gang to fight a common foe.

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And speaking of common foes, this season saw the introduction of Dracula (Christian Camargo), bringing to a head his long pursuit of Vanessa Ives; which more or less started in the first season. And, whilst it was refreshing to see the way in which he pursued her, like most delectable things in life, it was over all too soon. For a baddie that big I wanted more.

Especially because the gang got two new additions, which both proved extremely interesting as characters within the first few episodes, but didn’t get the time they deserved. Namely, Catriona Hartdegen (Perdita Weeks), a stunningly attractive supernatural expert who was sassy, held her own in a fight and seemed to flirt with every character she encountered – and that was seriously refreshing when the show was in danger of becoming too dour for its own good. We also got the addition of Vanessa Ives’ therapist, Dr Seward (Patti LuPone), who gave the show a nice bit of weight and gravitas cutting through the melodrama with her no-nonsense approach.

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The trouble with a lot of it – because so much revolved around Vanessa Ives at the end of the day – is that most of the main characters didn’t interact with each to any great degree until almost the last episode. Long-form storytelling is fine if you’ve got maybe five or six seasons, but if you’ve only got three you’re shortchanging everyone, from characters to actors to audiences alike.

So I’m somewhat conflicted. Big fan, but frustrated.

And I’d also add I’ve been a huge fan of Eva Green since her debut in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, and this show – and her character – perfectly suited her occult and otherworldly qualities. Not that it was all about her, as the rest of the cast were also outstanding. I’d go so far as to say this has been the best work we’ve seen from both Timothy Dalton and Josh Hartnett in a long time. Rory Kinnear, as ever, is a very fine actor and massively underrated and the others all did a fine job, too.

Perhaps, in some ways, there were too many characters and stories to explore. From Lily Frankenstein’s (Billie Piper) escapades with Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) to Victor Frankenstein’s (Harry Treadaway) experiments with Dr Jekyll (Shazad Latif) it seems like John Logan bit off more than he could chew in the time he had given himself.

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These days it seems like every show wants to be Game of Thrones but tries to leap ahead and run before it can walk. Not that you can really compare the two shows, but the point has some relevance. Whatever caused the show to end before its time there’s one thing that’s clear, it will be missed by some pretty devout fans. Particularly as it was a show of real quality and substance.

And if they resurrect it minus Eva Green, it just won’t be the same. Don’t do it. Let’s just let it rest in peace as a decent thing which ended before its time eh?

The Leftovers: season two review

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Where does one begin with The Leftovers? It’s safe to say it’s like no other show out there. For sure, it has shades of other shows, mostly drama. But there’s a lot in there, and a lot that’ll go over your head (it did mine).

It’s also maddeningly infuriating too. As viewers and consumers and fans and critics we’re used to knowing everything these days. Instant gratification. The Leftovers takes that away from us. It puts us in the same boat as the characters, utterly lost and confused. And you sort of love it for that.

Assuming you’ve seen season one (it would take too long to explain, see here), season two picks up with the Garvey family (well, Kevin, Jill, Nora and a random baby) moving to Jarden, a town in Texas which has seemingly been spared the apocalypse while the rest of the world has not.

As well as being a tourist attraction the town is also closely guarded – after all, they can’t just let anyone in. This expands the world of The Leftovers and gives us an insight into other communities and how they’ve dealt – or failed to deal – with what happened; as the people of Jarden aren’t as ‘spared’ as the Garvey family first think. Furthermore, fleeing to this place won’t solve all of Kevin’s problems – he still suffers from guilt and is plagued by suicidal thoughts and visions which worsen as this season progresses.

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Other characters get a few scenes to keep things varied, but most are largely sidelined (Jill and Nora, prime suspects). So this season, it’s really all about Kevin. How does he adjust to Jarden? How does he deal with his guilt and depression? How does he connect with those closest to him?

With this show (based on a book by Tom Perotta), screenwriter Damon Lindelof has crafted something incredibly poignant, nuanced and painfully flawed. It takes a long, hard look at death, loss, grief, faith, religion, zealotry, persecution, belief – and a heck of a lot more. It poses more questions than it answers and, as a viewer, you’re often at pains to see where, if anywhere, the story is heading. Yet that’s its strength.

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And it has matured drastically between seasons one and two, shifting locations, adding characters, expanding the world and so on. Currently HBO are pondering whether it deserves a third season. Like many, I’m torn (almost every reaction I have to do with this show). On the one hand, like many fans, I crave a third season, one which might provide some answers, or at least some glimpse of where it’s going. But then, the show’s not about answers and story arc, not really. It bucks convention.

In some ways ending where it does would be sort of perfect. It’s dramatic, narratively satisfying and poetically beautiful. And I bet most shows would give a lot to be able to say the same thing after two seasons. Golden age of television, indeed.

True Detective: season 2 review

TV

Whilst it’s incredibly easy to jump on the critical bandwagon and denounce the second season of True Detective as a confusing and unengaging flop, I feel that’s slightly unfair. It’s also unfair to constantly compare it to the first season. A season which, let’s face it, had little expectation, other than the fact it had a couple of A-listers in the lead roles. Yet delivered and then some.

For the sake of fairness, the first season had a couple of obvious but vital things going for it too. It was a simpler story, albeit leaping around time periods. It also had a secret weapon: Matthew McConaughey, a man at the top of his game. But, first and foremost, we identified with the two lead characters and the interaction they had together.

Fast forward to season two and the cast has changed and grown, the story has become more complex and layered, and the location has shifted from the simmering deep south to the urban sprawl of LA.

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So, it’s literally almost an entirely different show.

That said, some things remain. Such as the slow burn tone (expertly continued with a woozy, languorous and devilishly seductive soundtrack) and the tortured characters (instead of two leads we now have four – more bang for your buck). Although what this does mean is that we as an audience need to reinvest ourselves in an entirely new set of troubled souls.

So in step Colin Farrell (a washed up old copper desperate to connect with his kid), Rachel McAdams (a prickly detective unable to meaningfully connect with anyone at work or at home) and Taylor Kitsch (a young traffic cop grappling with – and hiding from – his sexuality), who are thrown together to initially solve a murder which spirals out into a much bigger web of corruption and deceit, partially involving Vince Vaughn’s aspirational gangster.

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With the series finale (after eight episodes) I was left feeling rather relieved it was all over as it had sort of collapsed under the own weight of its expectation. And, despite the cast all giving a decent account of themselves (particularly Rachel McAdams and Colin Farrell), there was nothing they could do to elevate the confused and convoluted script.

Will there be a season 3?

Smart money would say no, although HBO are open to it. The first season was critically acclaimed and the second the polar opposite; maybe the result of just trying to be too ambitious for its own good and different for the sake of it? If that’s the case then the show’s creator Nic Pizzolatto should be applauded for his bravery. After finding a winning formula in season one he then oddly, largely, abandoned it. Or perhaps tried to evolve it, it’s hard to say.

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On the plus side there were definitely things to love about the second season. For example we had proper, cinematic, edge-of-your-seat scenes throughout, in particular a street gun battle in broad daylight that felt akin to the one in Michael Mann’s Heat.

Then there were quieter, more introspective moments that were incredibly tender and showed a deftness of touch. In particular a series of intensely vulnerable moments between Farrell and McAdams’ characters as they opened up to one another, which were understated and deeply moving.

In some ways I’d be interested to see what they do with a third season, should they choose to make one. Different location again? Different characters? Would any return or cross paths?

These days, TV audiences are a little spoilt for choice with the quality out there, despite the fact that the ‘golden age of TV’ is reportedly over. And anything that plays by its own rules is bound to divide people. But there is definitely a place for this sort of show, so maybe let’s not give it a kicking just yet eh?

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