‘The Circle’ – Channel 4

The Circle is a new social media reality show, launched in the week that Channel 5 has finally confirmed what viewers have known for years. Big Brother, once the undisputed king of reality shows, is dead as a dodo. It’s strange times indeed in telly land. The Circle was trailed heavily on Channel 4 for weeks, with each advert being a full instruction manual for the show, not really helping the initial audience reaction that it was overly complicated. Then before and after every ad break the presenters Alice Levine (My Dad Wrote a Porno podcast, coming to HBO in 2019) and Maya Jama (dunno, off some youth radio show at a guess) took the opportunity to again explain the rules in painful detail. We get it  – you’re expecting the audience to be on the thicker end of the education spectrum.

So this is the start of three weeks of Alice and Maya talking about a bunch of people talking to themselves in their pokey little flats, sorry apartments, with an all-knowing Alexa console for company unless they’ve had the foresight to bring their own baby or  turtle for company. The twist on the classic Big Brother format is that they don’t ever meet face-to-face. All contact is conducted via a specially-designed social media platform – the eponymous Circle. The total number of contestants vying for the £50,000 prize is eight which is surely more than enough. But apparently people who get evicted get replaced! Dear God –  is this Black Mirror? Is three weeks actually eternity? Will it ever end?

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Alice and Maya explain the rules again, and again, and again – we’re none the wiser

So down to the fundamentals – how do you get people to like you? Are you true to yourself, as every Insta bio assure us is the way, the truth and the light, or are you more controlling of the image you portray to the world. Do you edit out your bad bits and concentrate on your good bits, both in your personality and your physicality or is it slightly repulsive to be so obviously manipulative? Is all this false advertising even ethical? Some of these contestants have said fuck ethics and they’re halfway to scamming retirees out of their pension as a sketchy African prince.

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‘The Bridge’ – Series 4, Episode 2

This is a full review of The Bridge: Series 4, Episode 2. Catch up with my episode 1 review here. Don’t read on unless you’re completely up-to-date on the BBC2 schedule.

It’s business as usual for episode 2 of The Bridge which after the hardship and the outright panic of episode 1 is a blessing for viewers.

The Case:

This week we learn more about suspect number one Taariq and his amazing fluffy yet angular hairdo. Turns out he’s a hero; saving two girls from violence and giving them a hot meal. These young thieves won’t win any acting prizes but they seem to make a living from scamming people and pickpocketing wallets and passports. But this is The Bridge, so no good deed goes unpunished. Taariq’s desperate situation is getting worse – he’s grassed up to the cops by his horrible boss, and worse still it seems he’s been set up with a phone that tracked the victim’s whereabouts. Poor Taariq has got to be the unluckiest man in all of Scandinavia, and despite my still being convinced he’s not the killer he is not out of the woods yet.

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Taariq – this picture is in the dictionary below the word unlucky

Taariq’s relationship with Margarethe sounds unlikely. He tells us that he met her secretly in the gay club because she wanted to make amends for the cruel decisions of the state. By day she’s the immigration department’s Bruce Wayne; all above-board, all business, but by night she’s Batman; out to right the wrongs and offer help to the helpless. Was she really this strange split personality, riddled with guilt? At the moment we know so little about her. Her husband Niels looks dodgier than ever “They have nothing” he says in a secret phone call, “stick to the plan”.

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‘The Bridge’ – Series 4, Episode 1

This is a full review of The Bridge: Series 4, Episode 1. Don’t read on unless you’re completely up-to-date on the BBC2 schedule.

Hey, you can come out from behind the cushion now. Is everyone ok? Take a deep breath, shake your fist at BBC2 for making you wait a whole week for the next episode and let’s process that remarkable hour of television.

So The Bridge is back with a bang, gleefully ramping up the tension, messing with our expectations of Saga and Henrik, all while introducing the usual cast of victims, ne’er-do-wells, and various hangers-on, some of whom will inevitably be added to the final body count.

We begin with a striking close up of Saga’s face, silent, dark and isolated. She wakes and sighs, remembering she’s in a nightmare she can’t escape from. She’s been in prison since the end of series 3 and I was worried her character development and personal resilience would be set back to zero but she’s doing her best. She awaits the outcome of her retrial for her manipulative mother’s murder. Remember she has a motive, no real alibi (she was set up to be alone in a graveyard when her mother died) and there was forensic evidence all stacked up against her. It sees a new witness has come forward, but Saga’s simple belief in right and wrong, and the power of the law has been firmly shaken. And she’s floundering. If she’s not a cop then where does that leave her. Without the job who is she?

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Eurovision 2018 – Grand Final Preview

Is it really that time of year already? Tonight I’ll take my seat with about 200 million viewers worldwide and watch the Eurovision Song Contest, taking place in Lisbon, Portugal. The £18 million show will see 26 countries go head-to-head with a diverse set of songs, and the vote will split between the public phone vote and their regional juries of pop-music experts. It’s three and a half hours of joyful silliness, amazing sets, outlandish costumes and dark mutterings about politics and the future of Europe. It’s a like a lavish wedding with all your strange and estranged relatives turning up in their most fabulous clothes, ready to get drunk, have a dance and air all those techy grievances. This powder keg is going to explode into a massive argument. There’s nothing you can do about it, so just enjoy the party.

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‘Roast Battle’ – Comedy Central

Comedy roast are not all that common in the UK, despite this being the home of the Archbishop of Banterbury, Bantom of the Opera and the Bantersaurus Rex (lads! lads! lads!). While we’re very much at home with taking the piss out of each other in the pub, the playground and all-office emails, this kind of vicious verbal sparring in front of an audience is a format that we’re just not used to in merry old England. We leave that to the Americans, and a proud history they have of it too. Instantly this new Comedy Central show is a bit out of step for the British audience looking for funnies, with a post-apocalyptic set, macho gunshot sound track, and the studio audience expected to shout and point as well as drink and laugh. It’s all a bit too much to believe we can multitask like this.

I love stand-up comedy, on tv and especially live (shout out to the excellent Fat Penguin club nights in Birmingham – if you’re in the Midlands check them out), but I turned this on and watched it through my fingers. I didn’t was this format to fail, but it was bound to be a disaster, right? As The Guardian said “Roast battles and insult comedy? No thanks, we’re British”. But despite the silly gunshot noises and the heavy reliance on Paper Planes by MIA, the battles themselves were not as aggressive as I’d thought. If anything the style is collaborative; usually solo comics acting as a team, building on each other’s jokes, laughing at themselves and visibly enjoying the experience. I was all set to hate it but the four comedians in the first episode did such a good job they quickly won me over.

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‘Eyewitness’

The Norwegian crime drama Eyewitness is a tricksy little fiend before we even start. I’ve been looking forward to this for literally months. Walter Iuzzolino (of Channel 4 Walter Presents fame) mentioned it as one to watch back at the end of last year at the live event in Birmingham Literary Festival in October. I might have been writing this blog for 18 months now, but I still have much to learn about what ‘coming soon’ means in the world of television.  Soon wasn’t soon enough, and while constantly refreshing the Walter Presents schedule I was getting antsy. Surely lovely Walter wouldn’t fail me. The days and weeks ticked by and winter became spring. It wasn’t in any listings for shows coming soon  until suddenly I saw an advert for it two weeks before the air date. Unfortunately for me, three weeks before the air date I’d bought it. In a dark moment of desperation I gave up on Walter and got the DVD. Lesson being, trust Walter and don’t worry. He’ll see you right.

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‘Modus’

Modus is familiar even before it begins. It’s an eight part Swedish crime drama shown on BBC4 in the Saturday 9pm slot usually reserved for foreign langauge drama. The credits are familiar again – a nod to the skyline of The Bridge and the grizzly but striking black and white body parts of Trapped. It’s a new tradition that dramas especially must have stylish opening credits, extra points for slow motion and an air of chilly bleakness.

So this is Christmas, in a snow-covered pine forest. A delightful Christmas card scene but it’s cold, lonely and frightening. Euro horror merchants the Brothers Grimm taught us from an early age that monsters live in the forest and they were right. In this case, in a caravan.

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