‘Witnesses’ – Series 2

As you may have noticed I’m still waiting on the next big Euro drama to cross my path. All the Scandi stuff recently has me feeling a bit flat, with fairly promising starts leading to confused middles and ‘meh’ endings. It’s fine to have a beautiful backdrop of lakes and mountains, but you need to populate it with original characters leading interesting lives. The story needs to be multi-layered, but not too complicated; zoning out and playing with your phone is the absolute death knell for a subtitled drama. Both the good guys and the bad guys need to have clear motivations that we can relate to.

So with a Gallic shrug it might well be time to bid au revoir to the northernmost corners of Europe and see what France might have to offer; after all, the daddy of the noir resurgence in the past decade has been the Emmy award-winning and much loved Spiral. The most memorable dramas I’ve watched recently have been French, or part French; the balls-out action heros in Braquo, stylish super spies in The Bureau and the best character in Midnight Sun was the deeply troubled French detective.

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‘Acquitted’ – Walter Presents

It’s been a long while since I started a new Scandi thriller. I’ve been struggling with some pretty serious health problems. Turns out concentrating on anything when you’re really ill is extremely bloody difficult. I guess it’s why mindless daytime tv does so well. And concentrating on high-quality drama with subtitles is completely out of the question. My top tip for sickies is fairly short YouTube content, but avoid ones that make you laugh too hard, so you don’t bust any stitches, or ones about eating nasty things, so you don’t start puking again.

But the wonderful Walter Presents peaked my interest in Norwegian drama series Acquitted. Aksel Nilsen is a very successful Kuala Lumpur based businessman who returns home to little Lifjord after 20 years away to finally confront his unhappy past. Aksel is pouty and good looking, extremely well-groomed and manicured to a shine. In his beautiful bespoke suits he looks like a Ken doll crossed with a perfume advert (pour homme, pour femme, pour Norway). He’s done alright for himself in KL, with a corner office, a beautiful successful wife and a bolshy teenage son. His colleagues all have perfect English spoken in English accents; Nicolai Cleve Broch as Aksel does very well, but it’s his swearing that lets him down. He gets a call for help from Lifjord’s major employer, drops everything and chases off to the other side of the globe to try and save the town.

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‘Chinese Burn’ – BBC3

A quick word about Chinese Burn, a new BBC3 comedy from the Comedy Slices series; what, back in the day, we’d call a pilot. This is a flatshare comedy about three Asian girls trying to navigate London life. This mainly consists of getting drunk, getting fired, getting into fights and keeping their slightly dodgy activities quiet from their parents back home. All the while they’re raging against stereotypes – “sweet, innocent, submissive Chinese girls. Conservative and virginal – good at maths, ping pong and looking after men. Screw that!” As a white girl from the ‘burbs I have much to learn about the Asian cultural stereotypes, but I can tell you straight-off if it’s funny.

It’s really short, clocking in at just over 20 minutes, but a lot is packed into this episode. Elizabeth (played by co-writer Shin-Fei Chen) is the failed Chinese daughter, filled with guilt for telling her family she’s a sommelier in a Michelin starred restaurant when she really spends her days in a degrading mascot suit hawking bubble tea, and trying to keep away from her grubby little boss who has a (tiny) boner for her. She’s delightfully self-destructive, a lot like Abbi in Broad City, frustrated and embarrassed at every turnThose girls would get on so well – Elizabeth would bring the wine and Abbi and Ilana the weed. What a party!

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‘I’m Dying Up Here’ – Sky Atlantic

I’m Dying Up Here was on my to-watch list for a long time before I took the plunge. I’m sorry I hesitated, because it’s exceptional television. It’s American comedy-drama television series created by David Flebotte and set firmly in 1970s Hollywood. It was made for Showtime in the US and picked up in the UK on Sky Atlantic (exactly where you’d expect quality imports to pitch up). It has comedy pedigree in its backbone as it’s based on a book by William Knoedelseder detailing the excesses of soon-to-be household names such as Jay Leno, Robin Williams and Andy Kaufman on Sunset Strip in the 70s. It’s also executive produced by Jim Carrey, and at the time of writing, the less said about him the better.

While based in reality, this is a fictionalised account of the premier Los Angeles comedy club, and the denizens who inhabit it, honing their craft to make it to the big time. That way real-life anecdotes can be revised, tweaked and magnified, much like the way a stand-up takes real life and makes it funny, constantly revising their act.

The comedy club is Goldie’s, owned and run by businesswoman and matriarch Goldie Herschlag (played by Melissa Leo, and loosely based on Mitzi Shore the founder of The Comedy Store). She has very little tenderness in her heart and is all about business. She cares for her comics in a way, but is very strict with them, and this tactic has proved extremely successful. What she says goes (even insisting one comic change his name after daring to play in another LA club). Goldie’s is only place where the talent scouts come from Johnny Carson’s ‘Tonight Show’, the big coast-to-coast American talk show. That slim chance at stardom is what keeps her comics loyal.

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‘Public Enemy’

Sky Atlantic are really stepping up when it comes to interesting Euro imports, and really competing with the big boys Walter Presents on Channel 4 and good old BBC4. Midnight Sun from Sweden was seriously amazing. Their latest offering is a dark drama that was hugely successful in its home territory of Belgium, and it soon becomes clear why.  When a convicted child killer Guy Beranger (Angelo Bison) is released from prison on probation, the monks of Vielsart Abbey offer him sanctuary in a small village in Belgium’s Ardennes Forest. Creepy Guy is placed under the protection of a young Federal Police inspector, Chloé Muller (Stéphanie Blanchoud), who is herself haunted by nightmares of childhood trauma. Despite clearly not being mentally fit enough for this duty young Chloé is to be his babysitter.

Creepy Guy was convicted of five murders in 1990s. These were extremely high profile killings, mainly it seems of children, and he’s not been forgotten. On the way into the up into the forest we’re greeted with angry protests from Vielsart villagers and quite a few of the abbey monks. Father Abbot is on side, all about the Christian charity and forgiveness. Even among his own brothers he’s not made a popular decision. Will he be ousted because of this or will he teach his brothers that forgiveness isn’t easy but is always necessary?

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‘Glow’

Good tv title sequences must grab your attention and sum up a show’s theme, and GLOW is a perfect example. The shiny disco Day-Glo neon titles scream “80s nostalgia here we come!” It’s all there, running throughout the series – the music, the outfits, the big hair. And a central scene in episode 1 takes place in an aerobics class which makes me, and everyone else of a certain age, think of Flashdance. We’ll be seeing a lot more women in leotards before this series is done. GLOW is the new Netflix comedy-drama from Orange Is The New Black executive producer Jenji Kohan, and the theme of strong unconventional women and their struggles is familiar to both.

We start out with aspiring actress Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie) and her fight against sexism in Hollywood. She’s delivering the audition of her life when her misunderstanding is revealed – “You’re reading the man’s part”. The women’s part is a secretary and she gets one line. Ruth is very determined, badgering the casting director (also a tough woman) who eventually offers her a crumb of sympathy – an open casting call for “unconventional women”.

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‘Ronja the Robber’s Daughter’

A Studio Ghibli tv series on Amazon?! Yes please, says I! Most people who love the silver screen are familiar with the masterful Japanese animation house, behind such beloved international classics as My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. 

Film School Rejects say “The studio is respected the world over for its lush animation, attention to detail, and the way its movies can soak its audiences in a mood without any effort at all”. So it’s easy to see that expectations were set high for their first ever tv series, which debuted in Japan in 2014. I won’t drag out the suspense – Ronja the Robber’s Daughter is a huge disappointment.

Ronja is a cute little girl, born to a robber king and his wife. They lead a band of ne’er-do-wells who patrol the forest paths robbing from the rich who travel through in their horse-drawn carriages. The merry band live in a secluded castle surrounded by a forest full of enormous creepy birds with women’s faces.

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