‘McMafia’ – BBC1

Having heard a few conflicting reports about the Beeb’s new gangster drama McMafia I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was one of those shows where I think I’ll give it 10 minutes and if it’s rubbish I’ll turn it off. Especially given as it was on New Years Day and I knew it was set in the world of international finance, I wondered if my hungover brain would be able to follow the plot. But, while I could never be described as a mathematical wizz, I’ve got some grounding in telly finance at least, having watched and enjoyed Billions on Sky1. If I could hang on in there for Wall Street insider trading, how much more difficult could the European version be? The spreadsheets in the credits are anything but enticing, but, thankfully, James Norton is.

Turns out, it was fine. We’re introduced to Norton as Alex Godman, a City fund manager raised in England but part of a rich and influential Russian family. His super-wealthy parents escaped the current Russian regime, and it seems like his Dad is an oligarch at odds with Putin (although the President is no mentioned by name). Going back would be impossible, and probably extremely dangerous, so Dad is severely depressed and pines for Moscow while his glamorous Mum worries about his state of mind.

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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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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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‘The Bureau’

We had a bureau at my parents house. It was an old, wooden, very formal piece of furniture in the dining room (next to the deer head mounted on the wall. I’m not even kidding). They used to keep bills and receipts in the drawer and the posh wine glasses in the top. I’m not sure I knew it was a French word, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never pronounced it correctly in my whole life. The Bureau in this instance is just as smart and formal,but thankfully not so wooden. This is the secret office responsible for deep undercover agents within the French secret service. We meet the agents in a time of transition and confusion.

Rashid (codename Cyclone) is a French Muslim spy operating in Algeria. He refused to drink alcohol in training even though it’s clearly important to know if your operatives can take interrogation while drunk (“I love you, you’re my besssht friend! Guess what I do for a living!”). So it’s shocking that he’s arrested for drunk driving while on an operation.

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