‘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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‘The ABC Murders’ – BBC1

Spoiler warning: details about the murderer lie below!

Mustache-twirling Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is a beloved character in literature, in cinema and on TV. Recently he’s been re-imagined as a Hollywood action hero by Kenneth Branagh in a slightly strange but ultimately well-received version of Murder on the Orient Express. So now to the BBC’s Christmas drama schedules, a big part of which has been Agatha Christie adaptations by Sarah Phelps. Over the past few years she’s brought us Ordeal by Innocence, And Then There Were None and Witness for the Prosecution. Ginger and restrained adaptations are not Phelp’s style. How do you rip up the rule book but stay true to the source material?

It turns out all you need to do is wait. The passage of time makes characters different people, more fragile and sympathetic, more human. John Malkovich portrays the great detective as a weary yesterday’s man – the ying to David Suchet’s dapper and self-important yang. He’s dismissed as just another nosy parker by the young and very serious Inspector Crome (Rupert Grint). The world has moved on since Poirot’s celebrity heyday. This is all done in an extremely heavy-handed fashion as Poirot’s retired police pal Japp literally drops dead in front of him. Alright, alright, we get it – everyone is mortal. Poor old Poirot is lonely; in desperate need of a Scooby gang – despite first appearances he’s no good at coping with life alone and forgotten.

Enter the murderer who remembers Poirot at the height of his powers and wants to play a game. By letter he tells him he’s off to kill a series of people throughout the UK whose names start with each letter of the alphabet in turn and it’s up to Poirot to figure out the connection between the seemingly random victims stop him. What an effort from the murderous mastermind to troll Poirot pre-Twitter. Think of the expense in stamps alone!

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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.

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‘The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell’ – Netflix

Sometimes TV shows come along and they’re more than one blogger can handle. Welcome to this original collaborative effort between yours truly at Dead Pixel Test and Birmingham food blogger extraordinaire Laura who writes over at Full to the Brum. Your usual Dead Pixel Test fare is above, seasoned with Laura’s unique take on this singular show, and her thoughts in full on each episode is your delicious dessert buffet below.

In the week where TV fans are lamenting the silencing of an animatronic cat, I might have just the thing to cheer you up. The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell is a strange box of delights, released on Netflix in the build-up to Halloween, which is of course goth Christmas.

This out-there show is based around wholesome pastimes of baking, crafting and sewing but Christine specialises in some shocking creations. And she sets out her stall early. The first thing we see is Christine painting what seems to be an actual human skull and then absentmindedly biting off a spiders leg. Our host is a totally glamorous 1950s housewife with a sort of romantic Snow White look about her. Her set is a gorgeous pastel coloured kitchen with gothic hints in the spiderweb patterned kitchen cabinets. It’s as if the Stepford Wives weren’t obliging robots at all but had their own secret coven.

Odd enough right? Well, lets meet her team. Christine’s rag-tag adopted family are all incredible puppets made by the Jim Henson Company. The stand-out star here is resurrected roadkill Rose who leaks partially digested food out of her seams. Not letting a little thing like that hold her back she’s a insatiably horny murderous scene-stealer, with hobbies including eating herself into a diabetic coma, torturing neighbours and humping gnomes. Rankle is the sarcastic talking mummified cat from ancient Egypt (a descendant or ancient ancestor of Salem, depending on how you see it) who still expects to be worshiped. Big cuddly Edgar looks to be part Bigfoot, part werewolf, there’s a giant one-eyed fuzz ball in the basement and huge but useful tentacles that live in the fridge. The creatures, especially Rose and Rankle, definitely get the best lines. These Henson creations are certainly not kid-friendly and the show would be hideously saccharine without them.

For a program ostensibly about baking, it’s astounding that zero cakes actually get made. It’s like joining an episode of the Great Transylvanian Bake Off mid-way through a showstopper challenge when the dull and messy jobs are done. Christine’s specialities are sculpting, painting, and decorating with enviable precision. Everything she produces is extremely obsessively beautiful, everything is a masterpiece. Piped royal icing teeth and claws seem to be her trademark, which looks like the fiddliest job ever. If Marilyn Mason ever gets married again he knows who to get in to do the buffet.

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‘Making a Murderer: Part 2’ – Netflix

Fifteen years ago if you had an extensive collection of serial killer literature on your bookshelf your date might leave with certain preconceptions about you and they might not be in a hurry to see you again. These days they’ll probably ask you what podcasts you’re listening to, whether you’ve seen The Staircase or who you think really killed Sister Cathy in The Keepers. True crime has come out of the closet and the first major show on Netflix that did that was Making a Murderer. Even if you were living under a rock three years ago you’d still have heard about it. It was easily Netflix’s most talked-about series ever, and arguably the most important true crime TV show in decades. Now it returns for a long-awaited second series.

The original investigative filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos are back and hard at work, embedded in the ongoing troubles of the Avery family and their apparent relentless persecution by the American justice system. If you need a quick refresher Steven Avery was originally convicted of a sexual assault on Penny Beerntsen despite having a solid alibi. For that he served an 18 year sentence. That conviction was finally overturned in 2003 and he was freed. He then filed a $36 million civil lawsuit against Manitowoc County and the law enforcement officers who framed him. Just two years later Avery and his 16 year old nephew Brendan Dassey were tried and convicted by those same institutions for Teresa Halbach’s murder. She’d disappeared after photographing a car at Avery’s salvage yard.  The hugely flawed conviction was clear to anyone with even a passing interest in how the police should work as vulnerable Brendan was coerced into his confession during a hugely irresponsible questioning where he had no responsible adult or legal council present. The video footage of his confession remains grueling to watch.

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‘Doctor Who – The Woman Who Fell to Earth’ BBC 1

“I’m a traveller” says Jodie Whittaker’s newly regenerated Doctor. You and me both, love. I missed the fanfare for the new series last night as I was stuck on a train somewhere outside Bristol Parkway. Yes I know it’s 2018 and I could have watched it on my phone but the wifi was horrendous and there were no ancient alien adventurer ready to help me in my time of need as far as I could see.

But who knows what they look like theses days? Other than awesome coats in common they could look like anyone. This regenerating alien character who assumes human form is no longer the privilege of men. As the adverts cleverly said, it’s about time. So we’ll have no more creepy paternal romances with a subordinate companion figure, thank you very much. But she retains the benevolent feelings towards humanity in general and her mission is still helping people in distress – the universal fourth emergency service. And this time with the Tardis being MIA it won’t feel quite so odd if the stories end up being relentlessly earthbound, although we can but hope she and her big blue box are reunited soon.

There was much to love in this first 60 minute episode.  Jodie’s character seems to strike all the right notes; the wonder, the restlessness, the silliness and the dependability that are cornerstones of the show. I loved her costume when she finally chose it, and that it came from a charity shop junk pile. It was great watching her bodge together her own DIY sonic screwdriver. The cinematography was gorgeous and the way that Sheffield didn’t have to pretend to be London was very welcome indeed (poor Cardiff, you were cheated – South Wales deserved more than a being stand-in).  And it’ll be interesting to see how her Scooby gang, their characters and their relationships will develop over time. I predict Tosin Cole as Ryan will be a much more confident and capable young man in no time at all.  I was very disappointed that easily the brightest person we met, and the one most enthusiastic about adventures with the Doctor was killed off, but tragedy is a effective if rather blunt tool to cohere the team around.

Bradley Walsh seemed much more at home with the serious parts of the script than the attempts at humour, as if he’d left his cheeky chappie persona on the set of The Chase and resumed work as a dour policeman on Law & Order UK. This is fine, and a good reminder of the proper acting he’s capable of, but I had high hopes for him carrying the comedy here. The humour in general seemed badly timed and a bit off throughout.

Tonally it all felt a bit flat and to my mind the pacing of the whole episode wasn’t great. There’s got to be a balance between madly, breathlessly running around a spaceship occasionally pausing to yell “There’s no time to lose!” and this amble through Sheffield at night that the first episode presented us with. It’ll be good to see Jodie on an intergalactic battlefield trying to talk both sides down from the brink of war – we’ve yet to see her stretch herself or make any really inspiring dramatic speeches. The writer Chris Chibnall and director Jamie Childs seemed to have that extended episode time at the forefront of their mind, and even with a murderous alien on the rampage picking off innocent humans there was no massive sense of urgency in any of the action.  I’m extremely hopeful about this series and quite willing to watch another episode, but I hope someone rigs up a car battery quickly and gives it that electric shock it needs.

Stuck somewhere in need of entertainment? Got a better wifi connection than the average Cross Country train? Then watch the first episode of the new run now on iPlayer and let me know in the comments or on Facebook what you thought.

‘Unforgotten’ Series 3 – ITV

SPOILER warning: this post deals with the final episode of Unforgotten Series 3. Do not read on unless you are up to date with both series 2 and 3. Catch up with all the box sets on ITV Hub now.

Unforgotten bowed out after a tremendous third series at the weekend. No one disagreed that it was an acting masterclass from start to finish, led by stalwarts Nicola Walker as DCI Cassie Stewart and Sanjeeve Bhaskar as DI Sunny Khan.  Since inception this show has attracted top quality British actors. This series was dominated by awesome performances particularly from Alex Jennings, James Fleet and Neil Morrissey (getting better and better in each drama part,although here he certainly need more screen time). But I wasn’t expecting such a split opinion on the ending, especially as this has become a truly beloved British drama. I wasn’t immediately on board back at their humble beginnings, and I admit I snarked at the first episode back in 2015. I was very happy to be proven wrong; the atmosphere wasn’t lacking in comparison to Scandi drama – it was just different.

Online, people seemed annoyed that there was no twist in the tale and that the final episode ran out of steam. Although, thinking about it, do any of the series so far provide a neat and satisfying ending? In series 2 because of the nature of the crime, the number of perpetrators and the time passed the police decide there was no value in pursing and prosecuting anyone. Was this what the audience wanted? Do we demand everything tied up neatly in a bow? Or do we realise if you strive for realism on TV in style and storyline that endings will inevitably be messy, just like in real life?

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