‘Trapped: Series 2’ – BBC4

This is a full review of episodes 1 and 2 of Trapped so don’t read on unless you’re up to date.

Trapped Series 1 was an extraordinary bit of television, the first ever Icelandic drama broadcast on British TV. The first series was the highest rated series ever on RUV, watched by 86% of TV households in Iceland. In the UK it passed 1.2 million viewers on BBC Four. Safe to say then that series 2 has quite a bit to live up to. I’m hoping it’s worth getting excited about.

Bearded man-mountain Ólafur Darri Ólafsson reprises his role as chief police inspector Andri now back in Reykjavik when he is entrusted with an extremely high-profile case. In classic nasty Scandi style we have an immediately gripping immolation opener which is fascinating even as you recoil in horror. Gisli an impoverished sheep farmer from the Icelandic Highlands sets himself on fire in front of the government building, trying to kill the Minister of Economic Affairs who just happens to be his twin sister. Andri is back on top again – a rise so meteoric I’m surprised he doesn’t have a nosebleed. From zero to hero thanks to his hard work and persistence in Series 1. In the first five minutes he’s already chatting to Iceland’s Prime Minister who cuts right to the heart of all Scandi noir motivations – was this attack personal or political?

Vikingur (early contender for best name of the series) is Gisli’s son, working at the controversial aluminium plant up north. As in the first series we get a break from subtitles thanks to the international element here in this industry; something that right-wing Icelanders like the Hammer of Thor group are protesting against – who profits from the devastation this plant causes to their landscape and their livestock? Vikingur already has a lot on his plate before his father’s horrible suicide – he’s in a relationship with Ebo, a black colleague who seems like he’s in the country illegally.

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‘Watership Down’ – BBC1 /Netflix

Christmas is a time for giving and receiving, and spending a lot of money on presents that may not be exactly what the recipient really wanted. Do you have friends and relations who give great gifts or have you been in training for weeks to perfect your thank-you face? Shining eyes under a paper cracker crown, broad grin, scrabbling around in the box hoping they’ve included the receipt? “Thanks very much for the 6 pack of pan scourers Nana!” Does that sound familiar at all?

The new Watership Down adaptation showing on BBC1 and Netflix made me think they should have kept the receipt. This was one of the early festive highlights with a rumoured budget of £20 million for state-of-the-art CG animation and seems to have put the flop in Flopsy Bunny with very mixed reviews across the board. And it’s not just the ‘we should never do remakes’ crowd feeling grinchy towards these cottontails.

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Just for Play-Play: the best of catch-up TV

In Search of Science iPlayer (first episode available until 27 August)

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This Brian Cox fronted series was first shown but unfortunately missed back in 2013. Yes it’s all about scientific wonders, but as it deals with the history of British science pioneers there are fewer gorgeous desert sunsets and less opportunity for attractive lens flare than in most of his TV shows. The fascinating stories highlighted here show how science and public perception have often been at odds with each other. It was just Darwin and his monkeys offending public sensibility. The lesson here for all is the importance of proper public engagement – sharing knowledge and showing the benefits of new scientific breakthroughs to assuage any misgivings about strange and startling discoveries. Science needs good PR, and that’s just as true now with the outcry over GM crops as it was with Professor Giovanni Aldini whose research on corpses inspired Frankenstein.

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‘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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‘Detectorists: Series 3, Episode 6’ – BBC4

This week, with the UK under deep snowdrifts we bid goodbye to the always summery Detectorists. As the watchful magpie reminds us, our heroes should be looking up not down. Their metal detectors are pretty useless in this case, and it’s in the branches of the lovely old tree, beneath which we’ve seen them shelter for so many years, where the trickster magpies have hidden their ancient hoard.

The tiny heartbreaks of this series have done their job and we are rewarded with stronger happier relationships. Lance with his daughter Kate and his girlfriend Toni, who are not at odds with each other for his affection, and who seem like they could be excellent friends. TV writers take note; women can be friends, not just bitchy rivals. It was a shock to see Lance’s horrible ex-wife Maggie return (played with relish and skill by Lucy Benjamin). She had a useful but very short storyline. Her evil plans were scuppered easily. Maybe she was a little underused?

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‘Detectorists: Series 3, Episode 2’ – BBC4

It’s only episode 2 of the current series of Detectorists and already we can see the wheels in motion that will bring this story to a climax. The farmer’s fields that Andy (writer, director and star Mackenzie Crook) and Lance (the wonderfully versatile Toby Jones) have been searching for five years finally being to reveal its secrets in the form of a handful of Roman coins. The boys are finally getting close. But then so is the looming deadline – their permission to search this patch of blissful countryside is over forever in just 6 short weeks. Photon Harvest Solar Electricity (a name so ridiculous it sounds entirely plausible) will have their solar panels in place and it’ll be game over for our favourite detectorists.

Happily our least favourite detectorists are back too in the form of Simon Farnaby as Art (Horrible Histories is poorer without his talents) and Paul Casar as Paul aka the dastardly duo of Simon and Garfunkel. They come waving the white flag and assure Lance and Andy that all they want to do is share permissions and work together. To which Lance and Andy respond with schoolboy teasing, of course. Simon and Garfunkel deserve nothing more.

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‘In the Dark’

This formulaic drama would have passed me by, but some interesting casting turned my head and I decided to check out episode one. Female copper Helen Weeks (MyAnna Buring) is haunted by childhood tragedy so returns to the sleepy Derbyshire town of Polesford which must be twinned with Happy Valley – the odd array of accents certainly place it much further into the vague north than Derbyshire. She’s back just in time to help support her childhood friend (wife of the lead suspect in the disappearance of two girls) and rub up the local police force the wrong way as they hunt for a murderer.

First, the plus points. There’s an excellent supporting cast. I love to watch comedy actors stretch themselves in drama. Helen’s friend Linda Bates is played by Emma Fryer who is so perfectly funny in Channel 4’s Phoneshop and BBC’s Ideal. Her character is proud, angry and defiant. Her man Stephen could never be the murderer – by sheer force of will she’d keep him on the straight and narrow. It’s a great performance but I’m expecting her to roll her eyes or stick her tongue out at any second. And another great spot from Ideal was Sinead Matthews seemingly playing another nice but dim character.

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