Years and Theirs

I’m linking here to OH’s blog about Years and Years because I think it gives an excellent summary. I usually run out of patience when I’m reviewing something because I can’t be arsed to give all the details. I’m a Gemini (not that I believe in astrology*) and Gemini is an air-sign, meaning you tend to skip over detail and just generally waft the overall picture in the direction of your readers. To be honest I don’t see anything wrong with this in the context of a blog; if I were ever to set up shop as a paid reviewer I’d have to pull up my socks, pants and garters – in fact my underwear would generally have to be overhauled – but since I write this blog primarily to interest myself and in the hope that it will similarly interest others, I can allow myself that freedom.

Basically I thought Years and Years was terrific drama, one of the best I’ve seen in a long while and I think its power stems, as OH says, from the connection to the present; that this is not happening in some indefinite future but the seeds are being sown right here and now. This is a future we are all creating at this moment with our actions. The denouement seems to be a positive one but as Edith points out there are other comedians waiting in the wings to take over. As soon as you slay one monster another arises.

Kirk out

*I see no reason whatever why astrology should work. Why should there be a connection between the time you were born and your character, let alone your destiny? Even though it’s explained brilliantly in this episode of Mum, I reject it utterly. This is typical of a Gemini, apparently…

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Years and Years and Years and Years

Just when you think there can’t possibly be any more TV drama quite as good as the series you’ve finished watching (and yes I know Killing Eve is coming back but you’d have to be under a rock not to know that) along comes Russell T Davies to knock you off your feet and turn you upside down and spin you round and round. Years and Years is quite simply astonishing drama. A pinch of Black Mirror, a dash of The Thick of It and oodles of what can only be called Russell-T-Daviesness, that unique quality that he brought to Dr Who and now splashes all over this slightly futuristic drama, make this highly watchable. Emma Thompson plays against type as a nasty Katie Hopkins-ish politician, part of the political backdrop to the story of the Lyons (definitely a reference there) an extended family including a left-wing political activist, a politically naive and rather annoying wheelchair-user (good to see him casting against the usual angelic type there) and a housing worker who falls in love with a Ukrainian guy. These stories of gay love, deportation, exploitation, technology and Trumpian politics take place against the backdrop of a banking crash which propels the father (Rory Kinnear) from rich householder to cycle courier forced to decamp with his family to his mother’s (Anne Reid) huge house. Two storylines culminate in a devastating denouement in episode 4 – and it’s not over yet! There are two more episodes and since they haven’t put this up as a box set we’ll have to wait. As God intended. And quite right too.

Back in what we are pleased to call the real world, the Queen must be having interesting times trying to make conversation with You Know Who. This Tangerine Nightmare is the last person anyone wants over here (except Boris – but did you see that embarrassing video they posted on Big Ben?) but he doesn’t have the sense he was born with. If you really want to take over the NHS the last thing you should do is tell everyone. Perhaps now people will wake up to what the real Brexit game is.

Kirk out

Two Docs, Three Families, One Viewer

About a week ago I discovered that Doctor Foster is now on Netflix.  The first series which I watched a few years back was awful but compelling and I was happy to find a second series I hadn’t known existed.  Alas, though one series was too short, two is definitely too many and after the third episode it doesn’t seem to know where to go at all.  I can’t be bothered giving you the ins and outs of the plot but basically it’s a war between cheating husband and virtuous but wronged wife who goes haywire and takes revenge in acts which largely rebound on herself.  It just goes on too long, like a terrible row  which nobody wants, but no-one can think how to end.  There comes a silence: you think it’s all over; then somebody says, ‘It’s just that…’ and the whole thing kicks off again.  Only sheer bloody curiosity kept me watching to the final credits, and afterwards I couldn’t help thinking: yes, the guy’s awful; yes, he cheated and lied and spent all their money; yes, he’s a total creep who never takes responsibility for his actions – but do they really have to make such a Greek tragedy out of it?  Divorce happens every day, but they make of this a drama where it’s kill or be killed – and in the end it’s like MotherFatherSon, totally over the top.

But at least DF knows what it is, whereas MFS doesn’t seem to have a clue.  Is it a political drama?  Is it a story of family breakdown?  Is it a tale of journalism investigating corruption?  Is it about the downfall of a powerful guy?  The answer is yes to all: it tries to be every one of these things but ends up being none – because it doesn’t know how to prioritise.  It’s like an overworked secretary doing a bit of this and a bit of that and getting nothing actually done.  Some dramas have a main plot and successfully juggle lots of interweaving sub-plots, but this does neither: it has quite literally lost the plot.

So after all the wearying emotions of these dramas I needed some light relief, and where better to turn than Portwen?  The location (Port Isaac in Cornwall) is one of the main attractions of Doc Martin, being a village with whitewashed houses, steep hills and a natural harbour: the other is Martin Clunes as ‘the Doc’, a highly competent and dedicated doctor but a sad, ridiculous human being unable to sustain close relationships (comparisons with Sherlock abound).  There’s a terrific supporting cast in a number of revolving stories (Eileen Atkins, Claire Bloom, Ian McNeice and before the character’s death, Stephanie Cole) as well as guest appearances by the likes of Sigourney Weaver: all in all it’s an object lesson in how to make setting, cast and story work together.  The plots may sometimes be contrived but in the moment they never feel so; and alongside the ongoing tragi-comedy of Martin and Louisa’s marriage there are enough interesting medical emergencies and comic moments to make this highly watchable.

So if you have Netflix check out Doctor Foster.  MotherFatherSon is available on iplayer and if you want Doc Martin it’s on ITV but for older series you’ll have to go somewhere like NowTV.

Of course nobody’s interested in any of this because they’re all agog for the latest yawnfest, Game of Thrones.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Kirk out

 

 

 

MotherFatherSonandHolyHell…

I’ve kept up with the bizarre and incomprehensible MotherFatherSon out of sheer dumb curiosity – because, having given it four hours of my life already I can’t bring myself to jettison the entire series and besides, there’s a certain voyeuristic thrill to be had from seeing just what will happen.  But god, it’s hard work.

This week in episode 5 we learn about Max’s childhood with an abusive and controlling father (yeah, I’d never have guessed) and how Max thinks he was horrible but right, rather like the Roundheads in ‘1066 and All That’ who were ‘Right but Repulsive.’  The central scene is a dinner ‘conversation’ between the three protagonists which is staged in a symbolic glass house, some of which goes like this:

Son:  Why are you here?

Father:  To tell you that I don’t think we should talk.  The plate you dropped – it was deliberate

Mother:  Max, you can’t do this

F:  Caden, you’re in love.  Why would you want to fight with me?

S:  We have to talk about this

F:  If we talk, we fight!  This is the line.  If you want to go over the line, this is it.  It’s the end.  There’s no coming back.

M:  How does it end?

F:  The way all fights end – badly

S:  Then good for you

F:  Good for me, for all of us

S:  A cover-up!

F:  Families are hundreds of cover-ups.  Let’s finish our meal

S:  And then we talk

F:  All right, let’s talk.  This is you.  Your mother’s doing it for you

S:  Fuck you Dad

F:  Well, there we have it.  We can pretend that this is about the news or ethics but it’s not.  Good.  Now do you feel better?  Fine.  Now be a man.  Tell your mother you don’t need her to fight your fights.

S:  All this make-believe.  All this fake family.  There’s no love.

F:  You hear him?  He’s wrong

M:  I’m not part of your conspiracy.  And I’m not afraid of you.

F:  Should I be afraid of you?

M:  We are going to talk about extortion, blackmail…

F:  Stop!  We have one more chance.  Please.  End this.

M:  You’re brilliant.

F:  I’m belligerent when I’m right.

M:  Are you ever wrong?

F:  I didn’t realise you wanted to save our marriage.

There’s more of this, acres more – and yes, I have taken some bits out but I promise you it makes no more sense with them left in.  It’s like odd bits of dialogue downloaded from schlocky dramas by someone with no idea about how people actually talk – which makes it all the more astonishing that this was written by the same person who wrote ‘The Assassination of Gianni Versace’ and ‘London Spy’, both of which were excellent dramas. I simply cannot understand how the same person could have written such strikingly different scripts.  Here he is talking about his work and shedding no light at all on that question – and here, should you wish to use it, is a link to the series.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

Kirk out

 

 

 

 

 

Beware the Ideas of March

Now there’s a title I know I’ve used before but hey ho, the best ones are worth recycling, especially when an anniversary comes up.  For today is the Ides of March, made famous by the assassination of Julius Caesar as retold by Shakespeare, and no-one will ever forget that line the Sybil spoke.  By contrast I’ve never managed to get into my head what exactly the Ides were and how they differed from the Nones and the Calends, but I can’t say not knowing has made an appreciable difference to my life.

Last night I was bored, being in that liminal state where the brain is active but the body is still recovering and hence only capable of sitting in front of Netflix while a series unrolled before my eyes, pausing only to – well, hit the pause button for intervals such as meals and going for a pee.  It was a pretty good series though, and one I’ve seen before; The Assassination of Gianni Versace with the added attraction of imagining, between scenes, having an outfit designed by him to wear to the Nobel ceremony when I am awarded the Prize for literature (it’s an ensemble in bright colours, mainly blue, of trousers and jacket; and wearing it feels as though Versace has seen into my very soul.  In case you’re interested.)

Well, once Versace had been dispensed with and his killer destroyed, it was time to turn to the latest episode of MotherFatherSon, a series whose squished-together title does not, in itself, bode well.  I ummed and ahhed about even bothering with this but in the end sheer dumb curiosity won out.  Oh dear.  Well, I suppose it has a weird sort of entertainment value, but other than that it’s quite bewildering.  Max, the ‘Father’, is an unreconstructed media-moghul-arsehole; his divorced wife a garland of all virtues and their son who was last week rushed to hospital after a car-crash and given what looked like trepanning but turns out to be an operation to install some kind of cardboard flap in his head following a stroke, is comatose in hospital.

Things emerge jerkily: there’s a long flashback to the couple’s divorce and the Father’s gaining custody of the Son by devious means; this is barely distinguishable from a scene with Father’s new partner.  Meanwhile a somewhat batty woman comes to the Father with a proposal to make Britain great again, sounding like Mary Whitehouse aspiring to be Donald Trump.  It’s hard to take her seriously or even to know quite what she’s saying but in spite of this one of Father’s advisers warns him that she’s very dangerous.  Really?

Meanwhile Son stirs from his coma, Mother has a night with her homeless man (whom she doesn’t seem to want to help, just sleep with) and leaves him alone.  He unaccountably has a fit when she leaves and breaks something which seems to be significant, though I couldn’t see what it was: I guess if you have a 96-inch TV you probably could.  She rushes to the hospital where Son is in the process of telling a nurse we’ve never seen before that he ‘did’ her phone and knows who she f****d last night.  This news fails to surprise or shock her; in fact it barely seems to get through.  Enter Mother, whereupon Son grabs her, says he wants to die, pulls out his transfusion needle and clamps his mouth to her breast.

And… cue credits.

What the hell?  MFS seems less a cast of characters than a collection of random isotopes pinging off the walls of some experimental chamber.  It makes no more sense now than it did last week, and feels like something written by Martians after watching a few TV dramas and with only the vaguest idea of how human beings actually behave.

Anyway, here’s the link.  If you dare.

Kirk out

PS  Most reviewers seem to agree with me, though the Guardian kinda likes it.

 

 

 

 

FatherMotherWhat?

Occasionally a TV series leaves you thinking, what the hell happened there? and the latest Beeb drama, FatherMotherSon, was one of these.  From the trailer I thought it looked a bit trashy but as OH and son frequently tell me, I make up my mind very quickly about things.  I’m tempted to retort, ‘that’s because my mind works faster than yours,’ but I restrain myself.

Well!  I’d like to review it for you but that would be asking a bit much at this point.  What I experienced was a load of very short scenes, seemingly unconnected with each other and involving a variety of characters and locations.  I realise that short scenes and seemingly unconnected characters are a staple of TV drama these days, but this one seemed determined to push the trope to its limits and the effect was bewildering.  An American businessman arrives in England, an older journalist (stereotype of the old-faithful dogged type, except this one’s a woman) resigns from a media corporation while everyone watches her silently, a woman accepts a gift on the river bank from a homeless man and they embrace.  Various other characters spin around in situations too fast to recall, like faces on a merry-go-round.  Eventually it transpires that the American businessman (a stereotypical asshole) is the young man’s father, arrived to take over the media corporation and show his son what a terrible job he’s been doing, and the woman is his divorced wife and the young man’s mother.

Some journalist takes pictures of the mother embracing the homeless man and sends them to the father in an act of blackmail.  This is supposed to be a terrible thing but I was thinking, who cares?  So your divorced wife embraces a homeless man – so what?  Then the young man goes up to his huge, soulless plate-glass penthouse, orders a prostitute, has weird sex and in the morning is seen snorting cocaine before going down to his car.  He then has a meltdown: crashes the car, screams, bleeds, vomits, collapses, then drags himself up in the lift whereupon he screams, bleeds, vomits and collapses in the doorway.  In the final scene he is taken to hospital where for some bizarre reason they cut off the top of his skull (are they trepanning?) before removing the skin to expose the brain.  Why?  None of this makes any sense!  And unlike other dramas which may not yet make sense but you have confidence that they will, I have no confidence that this will become comprehensible – and worse, nor do I care.

I may watch an other episode out of sheer dumb curiosity but unless it improves radically I doubt I’ll stay the course.

Kirk out

 

 

 

 

Is Everything Soapy?

It has been widely commented that the long-running radio drama, The Archers, has recently become like a sound-version of Eastenders.  And no wonder, since the current producer is late of that depressing TV series:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-23579746

Many of us long-time listeners have stopped tuning in; in fact my early evenings are quite different now.  Whereas they used to begin at six with the news, continue at 6.30 with the comedy slot (and don’t get me started on that) and centre on the Archers before continuing with Front Row; now we usually turn it off and watch something instead.

But the soapy phenomenon is not confined to radio.  Some of my favourite crime series, such as ‘Silent Witness’ and ‘WPC 56’ seem to be going the same way:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/search?q=WPC%2056

So what is the difference between a drama and a soap?

I think it’s primarily the predominance of the personal in the plot.  Whereas a crime series focusses on solving crimes, and ‘an everyday story of country folk’ centres on farming, a soap centres on its characters and their relationships.  Of course dramas have characters and those characters have relationships, but their private lives are secondary and create a tension because they have the ability to disrupt work.  In a soap, the emphasis is on the personal and work takes a back seat.  This results in a lack of urgency; a sense that work can wait while people sort out their love-lives.  Casualty, though in many ways the most soap-ish of dramas, does at least retain an atmosphere of crisis; even though in its preposterous plot-lines staff regularly desert a shift to sort out the lives of their patients, there is still a sense that work is urgent; work comes first, and that staff never have enough time for their own lives.

And this is as it should be.  I don’t mean that in a moral sense; I mean in a dramatic sense.  Crime and medical – and probably farming – dramas run on the staple that personal life is always on the back-burner.  It will flare up and disrupt daily life, but that’s part of the ongoing drama.  There’s a pleasurable sense of anxiety as you worry about x’s marriage or y’s child while the character is in a car-chase or helping a cow give birth.  When I used to listen to the Archers I would always worry primarily about how they ever managed to get enough sleep.  But now?  Without that tension it’s just a soap where more and ever-more sensational problems are needed to maintain the interest.

Or lose it.  I’ve said quite enough in previous posts about why I no longer listen to the Archers, so enough of that.  I still quite like Silent Witness, though there’s less and less about forensics.  WPC 56, however, seems to have more or less dispensed with the central tension which fuelled it – that of a woman struggling in a man’s role – and now the officers’ personal relationships loom as large as the crimes they are meant to be solving.  There’s a balance issue here.  It doesn’t.

Is everything a soap now?  I think we should be told.

Kirk out