‘Bandersnatch’ – Netflix

Are you the kind of person who always remembers to say thank you to Alexa? Are you careful in how you describe the great and benevolent Google when you’re within earshot of a Home Hub? Have you had a good long look at your Facebook privacy settings and do you actually understand what all that nonsense means? In which case you’re already familiar with the themes of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, a huge worldwide Netflix success (as far as we can tell with a company notoriously cagey about releasing their viewing figures) poached with extreme prejudice (and bucket-loads of cash) from Channel 4 back in 2015. Technology is a crutch for the human race, a wedge that drives us apart and the idealism of “do no evil” is an absurd fairy story. We’re being corrupted and driven to the point of madness by our own beloved, addictive creation.

Bandersnatch doesn’t make my life easy. This review is particularly hard to write. Usually I’d give brief outline of the story and then get into the nitty gritty. But everyone’s story here is slightly different, especially the multiple possible endings. So let’s cover the very basics and see where we go from there.

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Christmas Telly Round-Up 2018

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?

Click and Collect – BBC 1

Dev and Andy off to save Christmas

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.

Click through for more shows

‘The City and the City’

“Nowhere else works like the cities”. This is the first line of BBC1’s new drama based on the 2009 ‘weird fiction’ novel by British author China Miéville, an exotically named man actually born in Norwich. His book has been adapted for TV by screen writer Tony Grisoni.

The cities in the title are Besźel, which looks like the Eastern Bloc of 30 plus years ago mixed with cafes and people from 1970s Istanbul and Ul Qoma which is glimpsed only briefly in the first episode. These streets look brighter, cleaner, and more advanced. The colour pallets are quite different in each city; dingy yellows for Besźel and clean blues for Ul Qoma. Like the inhabitants, the viewer always knows where they’re looking.

The two cities actually occupy much of the same geographical space, but the inhabitants wilfully ‘unsee’ the areas they’re not allowed to view. Early on Commissar Gadlem (Ron Cook) gets out his overhead projector, and lays two acetate maps on top of each other. That’s a good way to get your head around it.

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‘Black Lake’ – BBC4

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 Lake originally 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.

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‘I Know Who You Are’ – Episodes 1&2

I Know Who You Are is a Spanish language thriller, unusual for BBC4  who seem to cover Scandinavia and France with their Saturday night detective drama slot. This was a hugely popular series with fans and critics. So just what is all the fuss about?

The first shot is almost zombie film imagery – a lone survivor of some nameless horror stumbling along the highway. This is Juan Elias (Francesc Garrido),a notorious and brutal lawyer, academic and general legal eagle. He’s the husband to a high court judge with all the right connections, and dad to two kids. Elias (confusingly everyone calls him by his middle name) finds all this out at the same speed as the viewer. He has what seems to be almost total amnesia after a car accident. Only he wasn’t alone in the car. His niece Ana has gone missing and there’s forensic evidence linking her to the crash. She’s missing and he hasn’t a clue what’s happened, or so he says.

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‘Public Enemy’

Sky Atlantic are really stepping up when it comes to interesting Euro imports, and really competing with the big boys Walter Presents on Channel 4 and good old BBC4. Midnight Sun from Sweden was seriously amazing. Their latest offering is a dark drama that was hugely successful in its home territory of Belgium, and it soon becomes clear why.  When a convicted child killer Guy Beranger (Angelo Bison) is released from prison on probation, the monks of Vielsart Abbey offer him sanctuary in a small village in Belgium’s Ardennes Forest. Creepy Guy is placed under the protection of a young Federal Police inspector, Chloé Muller (Stéphanie Blanchoud), who is herself haunted by nightmares of childhood trauma. Despite clearly not being mentally fit enough for this duty young Chloé is to be his babysitter.

Creepy Guy was convicted of five murders in 1990s. These were extremely high profile killings, mainly it seems of children, and he’s not been forgotten. On the way into the up into the forest we’re greeted with angry protests from Vielsart villagers and quite a few of the abbey monks. Father Abbot is on side, all about the Christian charity and forgiveness. Even among his own brothers he’s not made a popular decision. Will he be ousted because of this or will he teach his brothers that forgiveness isn’t easy but is always necessary?

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Christmas Telly Round-Up 2017

To be quite honest with you, the bumper Christmas Radio Times (opened gleefully way ahead of time in our house) did not fill me with joy this year. The week in which about 90% of Britain downs tools, puts on their pyjamas and watch tv all-day every-day while eating Quality Streets and drinking prosecco (a healthy balanced breakfast) usually has an abundance of great telly. Was it just me thinking it was all a bit harder to find this year? Anyway, this is my little list of tv that caught my attention over the Christmas holidays.

Click through below for seven telly offerings, some which were more coal in the stocking than a sable under the tree…

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Where is the bear?

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (Channel 4)

Michael Rosen’s picture book has very little in the way of peril. While being no expert on children’s books, I have read this recently to friends’ kids. The family bereavement subplot seemed to have been slotted in to pad out an extremely short story into 30 minutes of television, and to give that little bit of Christmas pathos that we seem to expect from everything in December, especially adverts. Who would have thought that after being totally traumatised last year (at the age of 33) by Cormac McCarthy’s Stick Man (turns out his nom de plume for kid’s books is Julia Donaldson), that I’d be wistful for a seasonal cartoon with a real adventure in it.

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Stephanie and Christina from Gogglesprogs

Gogglesprogs (Channel 4)

Cult telly, now mega-hit format Gogglebox (viewers talking about telly, on the telly, to you the viewers) is by turns charming and irritating, depending largely on whether you like the particular family passing comment and whether they agree with you. However, the mini-people version Gogglesprogs is always a treat and it was lovely to check in with these favourite nieces and nephews this year. My, how they’ve grown. Mr H and I had bets on who was going to cry (always Christina, always Molly). We did not expect it to be serious and sensible Ashton, crying at the complicated emotions and longing for lost childhood thrown up by Toy Story 3. He’s no older than 11 and already he’s so grown up. Old before his time and very wise. What a guy.

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Long to reign over us

The Windsors (Channel 4)

People either loved or hated the first series of this exceptionally silly royal satire, which was on Channel 4 in April 2016. I’m guessing there’s a big intersection in the Venn diagram labeled “extremely silly” and “Daily Mail reader”. Surprised there’s not an e-petition for them to be charged with treason and locked in the Tower. But then Netflix had to go and make The Crown, which is almost exactly the same – writers making up behind-the-scenes stories and motivations for our most recognisable and unknowable dysfunctional family. Ok, so in The Windsors Kate is a proud tyre-selling gypsy, Camilla is a scheming bitch desperate to be Queen and brash Fergie and her awful sloany daughters have to stay in the stables at Christmas because Charles won’t let them in the house. None of these are plots on The Crown, yet. Yes it’s vicious Spitting Image style satire, but it’s funny because it’s all quite likely in our collective imagination.

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Big bad sad wolf

Revolting Rhymes (BBC1)

It’s unusual to have a cartoon version of Roald Dahl’s characters without much of a nod to Quentin Blake. This two-part special had was soft and warm where Blake’s illustrations are scratchy and angular. But style and content couldn’t have been more dissimilar. This mixed-up series of fairy tales is rather slow and ponderous to start with but the end of the first episode really ramps up the revolting elements. It’s almost too unsettling for children and certainly freaked me out. Who walks around in a coat made from the skin of her enemies? Little Red Riding Hood, of course. Strange as someone who is still nervous around wolves, thanks to their terrifying presence in all the best children’s books, this made me feel quite a lot of sympathy for the Big Bad Wolf. Dominic West’s vocal talents made him angry, vicious and vulnerable. Probably felt quite at home among these sadistic killers.

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Saiful Islam is this year’s RI presenter

Royal Institution Christmas Lectures (BBC4)

It’s a good thing that the lectures are only an annual event. Sadly they’re never as interesting as you remember and always quite a chore to watch. What with it being an actual televised scientific lecture from the Royal Institute in London there are too many moving parts and moving experiments on and off stage interrupt the flow. Usually at least you get to see kids taking part in exciting experiments but episode 1 was all about generating alternative sources of electricity so all Saiful Islam could really do was send a series of children around the building to read numbers off of various screens. And it was all a bit depressing really as the target remained firmly out of reach. It made renewable energy seem difficult and a bit pointless; hardly their intention. I think most people watch the lectures halfway through a chocolate orange and a game of Monopoly, hoping for some science knowledge to be stirred by osmosis. This is a shame as BBC science tv can do so much better.

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Cunk asks the hard questions about Christmas

Cunk on Christmas (BBC2)

Diane Morgan’s brilliant comedy creation makes a welcome return after the amazing Cunk on Shakespeare shown in May. Her investigations are always nonsense, always with an element of truth. It’s deft comedy dressed up as daft documentary. I’d worried now that she’s a big hit she might not have much of a shelf life, like Sacha Baron Cohen’s Ali G but she continues to baffle historians and other boffins who surely know she’s a comedian playing the interviews for hugely awkward laughs. Cunk’s musings are so ridiculous and the documentary style is so beautifully done that you can’t see the joins. She’s an absolute wonder and might even have more staying power than Charlie Brooker’s Wipe series, who elicited more sympathy than laughs in his annual review of the news. Who’d be a political satirist in 2016?

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Sue Perkins’ new chums, and not a cake in sight

Insert Name Here (BBC2)

Sue Perkins has a new job guys! We don’t need to worry that she’ll struggle to make ends meet in 2017 without cakes. This comedy panel show actually had its first full series in 2016 but was a bit hidden away in the schedules. There’s nothing revolutionary or even very exciting about the format (questions on famous people who all share a first name). Honestly, despite being a big fan of Sue Perkins, I didn’t have high hopes but it seemed to find its niche rather well. The host and team captains – Richard Osman (the clever one) and Josh Widdicombe (the naughty one) – seemed to gel after the first couple of episodes. I also liked how BBC historians including Kate Williams and Ruth Goodman got to appear very knowledgable and let their hair down a bit. Hopefully this Christmas outing means some more viewers for the second series due this month.

All the shows above are available either on BBC iPlayer or All4 for you to catch up while you finish up the chocolate and cheese and pretend you don’t have to go back to work/ school this week.