It’s New Years Day and I’m feeling charitable so this blog is brought to you in a whisper, with a cold flannel (for your forehead) and a bacon sandwich (for your mouth… if you need instructions on how to eat a sandwich, maybe don’t get out of bed yet). Read my round-up of the best Christmas telly and figure out what you want to watch on catch-up to keep the festive feelings flowing, and I’ll pop to the shops for paracetamol. Alright?
A classic tale of mismatched neighbours Andrew (Stephen Merchant, playing exactly the sort of person he always does) and Dev (Asim Chaudhry) from Bedford on a 9 hour mission to save Christmas and buy the must-have toy (Sparklehoof the Unicorn Princess) for Andrew’s daughter. Dev is the lonely chubby one, separated from his family at Christmas, and Andrew is the awkward angry intellectual, successful but bad tempered with a family who loves him for some unseen qualities. Dev teaches Andrew to be a happier man and a better father, and despite themselves they’ll be best buddies for life. Basically it’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles or Jingle All The Way for the small screen. It looks lovely with cosy camera angles suited to our suburban action heros. There’s great pacing throughout with real tension and subversive moments of mischief. Neither lead performance is all that over-the-top and their situation, while silly, seems entirely probable. An unexpected gem.
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.
Jed Mercurio’s new six-part drama has been teased by pretty much all of the journalists and bloggers who were lucky enough to catch previews this week. He’s riding high with the continued success of Line of Duty, the next series of which was delayed Bodyguard – a timely story about trust, fear and terrorism. As promised, the first 20 minutes were edge-of-your-seat action hero stuff, but is there enough here to maintain interest for five more episodes?
Richard Madden is David Budd (looking about 600% more macho than the late lamented Robb Stark he played on Game of Thrones), a traumatised soldier back from Afghanistan. His brave and selfless actions foil a terrorist plot to blow up a train filled with passengers, including his own children. Both terrorists are also unharmed, again thanks to him. Desperate brainwashed Nadia (we find out her name a long way into her and David’s conversation – I thought textbook negotiation tactics are to get people’s names as a priority) is talked down from pressing the button on her suicide belt by stony-faced Dave. He then embraces her to keep the army from shooting her dead. Interestingly, everyone on the train ready to pull the trigger and make a mess is female. He’s in the nurturing role, caring for his children, for poor confused Nadia and trying to keep the peace. Everyone escapes, traumatised but alive. Well of course – not even Mercurio is going to blow up his main character in the first episode. Or at least, not this time.
Thankfully Alice Roberts, Professor of Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham, is here to build the perfect female form – part science, part sci-fi and all nightmares. With doctors, sculptors and SFX experts she rebuilds her own body from scratch, and fixes the flaws that natural selection has embedded in our collective DNA. Her intentions are the best; making giving birth safer, solving the problems of our bad backs and giving us excellent sight and hearing. She unveils the life-size model in London’s Science Museum to gasps of amazement, but certainly not delight. Part elf, part bird and part kangaroo I think I’ll stick to human 1.0. Thanks all the same Alice.
The mighty Jontosaurus is risen. Fear him! And also, read his top 5 The Walking Dead deaths and feel all squishy inside for gore of yore…
AMC’S The Walking Dead is in a dark place right now, with viewing figures at their lowest point since season 1. Reviews of season 8 have been remorseless, but there can be no denying that throughout the show’s massive run there have been some truly memorable characters that have perished in some truly memorable ways. And, in the case of Glenn, there have been about ten times we’ve thought he was going to die, only for him to turn up alive- sometimes without a whole lot of explanation. So, in honor of Glenn- God rest his fictional soul- here is a rundown of The Official Jontosaurus Top Five Memorable TWD Deaths Of All Time. As always, this is based purely on personal opinion, so please don’t be offended if your ‘favourite’ doesn’t make it in. Oh, and it goes without saying… but there may be spoilers ahead for those of you who have been living in a cave for the last few years. To be fair, I will try and avoid the most recent two or three seasons just to play it safe.
Hershel Loses His Head
“When all others lose theirs…” didn’t seem to be part of the plan for Hershel, who definitely loses his head, albeit in a clumsy and ultimately tragic way. Used as a sort of bargaining chip during The Governor’s assault on the prison, he is dragged out and negotiated over like a piece of meat. Just when it seems as though the adorable, well reasoned old man is going to pull through, the series decides to take a drastic U turn. As Maggie and Beth’s father, Hershel has already lost a leg due to a Walker bite, and although he looks about as resilient as a water paper bag, he’s clearly a tough old dog who isn’t ready to throw in the towel just because the apocalypse has reared its ugly head. Unfortunately, the Big Bad in form of David Morrissey’s The Governor has other ideas, and after a drawn-out affair, he grabs a samurai sword- a very familiar samurai sword for that matter- and lops off the old man’s head. What makes this scene so unexpected is that it leaps upon us as viewers just when we think the old man may be spared, and it also shows the removal of the head in graphic detail. We watch as the Governor messes up his first chop, only partly severing the neck, and all the while the dying Hershel just sort of kneels there, serene and untroubled, as his head is cut off. Truly harrowing but, sadly, not the most harrowing death on this list.
This hotly anticipated three-part drama series about the most explosive event in British politics stars Kit Harington, whose star is in the ascendant as he’s that Jon Snow off of Game of Thrones. Even if you’re a stick-in-the-mud hold-out refusing to ride that fantasy dragon I’m sure you could pick his curly locks out of a line-up. Not only is Kit in the starring role as chief gunpowder plotter Robert Catesby but he’s credited as co-executive producer, and he helped get this unlikely vanity project off the ground. Turns out that Kit has family ties on his mother’s side to the rebellious Catesby family of persecuted Catholics who are central to the drama and to this famous nugget of British history.
We meet the Catesby’s and co back in 1603. Queen Elizabeth I is dead and James I is in charge. Things are not improving for England’s oppressed Catholics. The well-to-do Catesby family are seventeenth century preppers because in this instance the government really is out to get them.
There’s a new Swedish thriller in the all-important Saturday night BBC4 slot which launched our national obsession with all things dark and Scandi, but this is Scandi with a twist, as, if you’ll pardon the pun, all the detective stuff has been done to death. This is Black Lakeoriginally released as Svartsjön in Sweden and Denmark in October 2016. We’re in creepy territory from the start with the classic X-Files text wipe and tappity-tap keyboard noise. We see confused events in a cellar in 1996, just enough to pique our interest, but in no way giving us any plot points, other than it all looks pretty scary.
So 20 years later we have a bunch of wealthy-looking young people in very nice 4x4s drive off into the mountains for a ski trip. Johan (Filip Berg) is thinking of buying this abandoned ski lodge and running it as a business. His gang of mates are his guinea pigs to check it out and see if it’s worth buying. These kids are not short of cash and this is reflected in the opening sequences. It looks like an expensive car advert, with staggeringly beautiful cinematic wide shots of the perfect christmas card landscape.