‘Dead to Me’ – Netflix

There’s an avalanche of new stuff on Netflix every month. It all looks glossy and expensive, but often that seems to be a shiny gloss to distract the casual viewer from poor storytelling. How often does a neat, compact, well-paced drama stop you in your tracks and makes you go wow?

Dead to Me stars Christina Applegate (most familiar to me from as the  excellent Veronica Corningstone in Anchorman) as Jen, a newly widowed affluent Californian realtor. We get to see her perfect comedy timing in the first uncomfortable scene. Her well-meaning neighbour stops by with yet another culinary disaster (“It’s a Mexican lasagne) and that awkward need to help and to accept help gracefully will be familiar to anyone who has had a family crisis where friends and neighbours rally round. Jen’s husband is dead and none of your crappy platitudes or terrible cooking is going to change that heartbreaking fact. She knows she needs help so she finds the sweet but creepily-named Friends of Heaven grief support group where she eventually opens up to kooky Judy about their shared experience of losing a partner.

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‘Santa Clarita Diet’

I think we can all agree that 2016 was rubbish, punctuated by the occasional depressing shitstorm. So far, 2017 is just bleak, barely registering on the Shrug Scale of shit-we’ve-all-just-got-to-get-used-to a.k.a. the new normal. So it’s the perfect time to turn your brain off, get grizzly and relish some zombie face-munching fun.

Welcome to Santa Clarita, a deeply boring middle-class suburbia somewhere in dull dry Southern California. Sheila and Joel are good-looking super-normal upwardly mobile estate agents (or realtors as they say over there) quickly sliding down the slippery slope into a totally ridiculous situation. Poor Sheila dies, only she doesn’t. Life goes on as normal, as best they can, while she, Joel and their teenage daughter Abby deal with the fact she is now a zombie.

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‘The Grand Tour’

So this is it. The moment we’ve all been waiting for. Amazon picked up the wayward Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond and threw a considerable sum of money at The Grand Tour aka Top Gear on the road. Episode one starts with Jeremy leaving the BBC and rainy grey old England behind in a made-up back story to romanticise the end of the old show. No he wasn’t sacked!, they’re desperate to remind us, it was just his contract wasn’t renewed! Haha! Because Jeremy Clarkson hit someone who worked for him. He got wound up for an incredibly pathetic reason and took it out on an underling. Haha! Because bullying in the workplace is fine. Hahaha he’s such a lad! Top bantz.

Anyway, with the past glossed over, his co-presenters appearing from nowhere and an insipid version of ‘I Can See Clearly Now’ playing in the background we arrive in the Californian high desert at Burning Man Festival. They then spend a few minutes making the whole festival look and sound utterly boring. It seems to be chock full of podgy pasty white people, who no doubt leave a violent shade of lobster red. On stage we can swiftly tell that these guys are many things, but they are not rock stars or even stand-up comics. They’re at great pains to introduce each other as motoring journalists. So why do they have to do it so awkwardly on a big stage?

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‘Westworld’ – On the Box

Big things were expected for Westworld, the telly reboot of the 1973 sci-fi film, and big things were achieved. It was HBO’s biggest series debut in three years. And it looks magnificent!

Westworld is a theme park – the newcomers are the players, the high-paying guests who get to live out their cowboy frontier town fantasy. Sex and violence is the top two reasons people seem to play, and sexy violence is probably competing for third place. The innocent townspeople who populate the game are extremely advanced androids (incredibly beautiful and faces full of character), who live in a Groundhog day-dream state, to please the guests and keep them entertained.

Through wholesome Delores (Evan Rachel Wood) and her cowboy lover Teddy (James Marsden) we briefly glimpse a clichéd romance fantasy before life quickly turns sour. It’s horrific to watch, and worse still she wakes in blissful ignorance the next day to be preyed upon all over again. Despite how real these androids seem these are just toys programmed for paying customers pleasure. We know this and yet our sympathies lie squarely with the machines from the opening moments.

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