‘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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‘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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‘Back’

Even before it started Channel 4’s new comedy Back has a whole list of things going for it. It’s exciting to see David Mitchell and Robert Webb back together again working with writer Simon Blackwell who penned Veep, The Thick Of It and, most importantly, a few episodes of the iconic Peep Show. Back is a six part sitcom that gets the Peep Show boys together again and is directed by Ben Palmer, the man behind The Inbetweeners. So far so brilliant; what an excellent comedy pedigree!

And yet, a pause. Let’s not get carried away people, because real comedy fans know sitcoms need time and patience to develop and grow. This is even more important in this hyper-connected, hyper-critical era where everyone has an opinion and expresses it loudly on social media. Not all great comedy is instantly great straight out of the blocks. Those of us of a certain age whisper “Remember Blackadder!” Series 1 of Blackadder is no one’s favourite and the one no one talks about. Given time, fresh focus and another chance it became a comedy classic. It’s so sad that those days are over, and it’s sink or swim based solely on the first episode.

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‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’

The Cuckoo’s Calling is a new drama series that the BBC must be very happy to have. It’s based on the novel of the same name by Robert Galbraith. Old Robbie here was discovered to be a pseudonym for JK Rowling in 2013. Now, that’s a name to conjure with. It’s an odd way to broadcast the series – two episodes in one Bank Holiday weekend and the last of this trilogy in a week’s time. Let’s see what it’s all about.

The plot seems to be a list of unlikely names designed by the Cluedo board game characters playing Mad Libs with a murder mystery running through it. It’s also a warning to office workers everywhere – be careful what temp jobs you sign up for. There’s a whole world of shit you have to put up with for just above the minimum wage and all the tea you can drink, as long as you remember to fetch the milk.

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‘Hinterland: Series 3’

I have finally relented and let Mr H submit a review for his favorite show. He spent 20 years living in Wales for his sins so consider him our foreign correspondent.

“It’s beautiful, I’m so glad you bought a big new telly” – Sarah Hamstera (1847 – Present)

It’s not often I hear justification for a purchase but there is power in beauty and Hinterland knows that all too well…

Hinterland (Y Gwyll) is an oddity in British television in that it is created and produced primarily for the Welsh audience but filmed once in Welsh and again in English. This means that there are 2 versions available to the tv audience (3 if you include the much rarer and heavily abridged all English version), the all Welsh version (Y Gwyll) appears on BBC owned S4C followed a short while later by the ‘International’ version which is predominantly in English but with key sequences in Welsh with English subtitles. This is the version put out on Saturday nights on BBC4 fitting nicely into their standard Scandi-Noir slot where we get to see just how well we have come to understand and love the genre. In some ways it feels odd that we aren’t watching the Welsh version with intermittent English scenes but, given the core audience, it’s understandable.

For those that haven’t yet sampled the ethereal delights of Hinterland, it is ostensibly a police procedural drama set in the beautiful scenery of the rural Welsh countryside surrounding Aberystwyth. This, for the most part would be enough but there is much darker fayre to be had below the verdant and bucolic surface.

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‘The Legacy: Series 3’

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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