The Handmaid’s Tale – On the Box

If you’ve not yet heard anything about the The Handmaid’s Tale, let me give you a hand getting out from under that rock where you’ve been hiding. This is an MGM production being show on Hulu in America. They seem to be a good 7 episodes ahead of us. Sadly, even in 2017, sometimes America is ahead of us in tv land. It’s great to have synchronised start dates, but it’s still not the norm. Avoiding spoilers for this much talked-about show is going to be a killer.

A few weeks after starting in the USA this 10 part drama series has been picked up by Channel 4 in the UK, which, as the young, intelligent, and left-leaning political channel is a really good fit for their brand and a bit of a coup. The series is based on a novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood and despite its startlingly relevant content was actually written in 1985. So this dystopian future Atwood envisaged is 30 years closer than we’d have hoped for, and none of her themes are any less relevant or possibilities presented any less realistic. In interviews Atwood says that none of these war crimes in the fictional Republic of Gilead are entirely made up – all have happened somewhere on the globe. This really is extremely dark stuff. Do we as the audience have the stamina to get through it?

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The handmaids distinctive uniforms at a ceremony

 

The series opening is distressing, as our heroine Offred is violently parted from her husband and daughter, but it’s not a tense escape. We know she’ll get caught. The rippling tension comes from her social position at her new posting with the Commander (Joseph Feinnes) and his wife Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski).

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The Legacy Series 3 – On the Box

The Legacy is a Danish drama from DR Fiktion, but quite a different beast to stable-mates The Killing and Borgen. Series 1 was described by The Guardian as “utterly addictive” and I’m pleased to report that while the characters have grown and changed, this remains true.

Instead of dark political intrigue or dark and bloody murders in grey dockyards The Legacy offers up an enormous rambling farm-house in rural Denmark and an off-kilter family drama. This series spins out from the death of artist and domineering matriarch Veronika Gronnegaard and the after effects on her children. The Legacy in Danish is Arvingerne which literally translates as “heirs”. As these kids squabble over Veronika’s house, her reputation and her art we can see why Sky Arts picked it up rather than Sky Atlantic, the more traditional home for drama.

In series 1 we were rooting for Signe, Veronika’s fourth child adopted and brought up by normal down-to-earth people. She’s the surprise beneficiary of Veronika’s deathbed will and we’re willing her to get her share of the inheritance from her argumentative, entitled and just plain rude step-siblings. Lovely Signe learns her secret family history and is excited, but not about the money. She’s lonely and wants to be their sister. But this simple story of trying to be a blended family quickly gets messed up. Money changes people. Signe started believing her own hype.

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Witness for the Prosecution – On the Box

After last year’s Agatha Christie adaptation And Then There Were None, hopes were set high for short story turned into two-part drama special Witness for the Prosecution, but this was quite a different beast. No mansions, no dinner guests being offed one-by-one, no detective twirling his enviable moustaches and not a normal Christie ending. Much interfering had been done, and there wasn’t much in the way of original Christie to be seen.

We’re transported to the roaring twenties and Kim Cattrall is Ms French, a wealthy widow living it up and having a fine time with her fancy man Leonard Vole much to the disgust of her loudly disapproving maid Janet. These days Emily French would be mocked as a cougar, a woman of a certain age who is attracted to younger men and has the nerve to go after them. These prejudices are certainly represented and Emily knows her actions make her unpopular and looked-down on in high society, but she doesn’t really care. Money is a pretty good insulator against what people think of you. Cattrall, famous for a strikingly similar character in Sex and the City, is essentially playing Samantha 70 years earlier.

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The Young Pope – On the Box

This extremely strange new drama from Sky Atlantic, created and directed by Paolo Sorrentino, is the story of little Lenny Belardo who grew up to be Pope Pius XIII. He’s young, handsome and sure to be a rock star pope. His adoring crowds and awkward clergy and lay staff are totally lapping it up. Lenny is one part politician, one part dictator and one part gangster. Quite often he’ll offer up to the camera a cheeky grin – Jude Law is having a whale of a time.

In the opening few minutes Lenny spectacularly undermines the whole Catholic church in a nutty dream sequence of his first address – “We have forgotten… to masturbate!” It’s clear this guy is going to shake things up. The whole show looks like a dream; a totally surreal ‘real’ Vatican city populated by odd figures in even odder uniforms, who all know the drill and work to unseen schedules. Around the next corner could be a group of nuns playing amazing athletic football or elderly Cardinals gossiping in ornate robes with large sun hats. Anything is possible.

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Braquo: Series 4, Episode 1 – On the Box

Grim. Unrelenting. Relentlessly downbeat. An extremely difficult watch. No, not soundbites describing the year that was 2016. These are all the reasons that I never got around to watching the rest of series 2 of hard-boiled French cop drama Braquo. So despite being a big fan of series 1 there’s a distinct gap in my Braquo knowledge as series 4 starts.

It’s a hard watch, but it’s good. This is the real deal – far grittier than any US or British cop show I’ve ever seen.  Braquo was created by former cop Olivier Marchal and based on his knowledge of the beat – a sobering thought considering the morals, or lack of, on show in every single one of his characters. You’re in safe, if grubby, hands, with the Canal+ mark of quality. Just don’t ask where those hands have been.

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On the Box – ‘The Five’

I’m assured that Harlan Coben is a huge deal in thriller writing with his books prominently displayed in stores at airports and train stations. Somehow I seem to have missed him entirely. But his name is writ large on this new Sky drama series and if this is anything to go by I’m going to be keeping an eye out for his stuff in the future.

The Five is an eight-part original thriller made for Sky, which promises to be a stand-alone series with a proper beginning, middle and end. He says “The one thing I do think that I’ve brought to TV from the novels is a real ending. I guarantee that the end of this show is well earned.” If that’s true, that would be so sweet!

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‘Line of Duty’ (Series 3) – On the Box

You have to be careful watching Gogglebox (Channel 4) when you’ve got a lot of  stuff to watch on your planner. I’m taking it in my stride as it’s my fault for watching things out of order, but it spoiled a major plot twist in the new series of Line of Duty (BBC2).

Gogglebox has become a strange and wonderful cultural touchstone. As you probably already know it’s a simple concept – families and friends sit in their front rooms and are filmed watching the best bits of tv from the week. These teams of amateur telly reviewers are now award winning celebrities in their own right. It’s a strange ,seemingly useless programme on paper but a genuine delight to watch. From initial scepticism (what’s the point of this?!) it’s slowly become must-see tv in our house. And anyway, we’ve been entertained by The Royle Family for years, and what’s that other than people sitting around watching tv?

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