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?
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.
Welcome to Italy, Naples to be exact. Only these intimidating inner-city destinations won’t be on any tourist trail. If you end up in these locations you holiday stroll has taken the worst of wrong turns. Welcome to Gomorrah.
Gomorrah is based on the non-fiction investigative book — 2006’sGomorrah: Italy’s Other Mafia by Roberto Saviano, a journalist who got such a close and detailed look at Naples mafia he is now living in hiding. Gomorrah is the highest-rated show to ever air on the Italian network Sky Italia, far outstripping American imports such as Game Of Thrones and House Of Cards. There’s a strong familial resemblance to The Wire, as this captivating Italian series is also an immersive look at street-level crime, gang organisation and shocking scenes of unflinching violence.
Naples is a colorful city but those colours are washed-out neon, like looking at life through a fishbowl. In similar way to Braquo this is firmly set in the grimy underbelly of the city, filled with leather jacket wearing hard men. This is the territory of the mafia; running drugs, buying crooked cops and dishing out violence to all who cross them. And we meet them at a paranoid time – there’s problems with extra cops, neighbourhood watch and journalists crawling around the blocks. Everything is changing.
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.
The Cuckoo’s Calling is a new drama series that the BBC must be very happy to have. It’s based on the novel of the same name by Robert Galbraith. Old Robbie here was discovered to be a pseudonym for JK Rowling in 2013. Now, that’s a name to conjure with. It’s an odd way to broadcast the series – two episodes in one Bank Holiday weekend and the last of this trilogy in a week’s time. Let’s see what it’s all about.
The plot seems to be a list of unlikely names designed by the Cluedo board game characters playing Mad Libs with a murder mystery running through it. It’s also a warning to office workers everywhere – be careful what temp jobs you sign up for. There’s a whole world of shit you have to put up with for just above the minimum wage and all the tea you can drink, as long as you remember to fetch the milk.
This spring ITV and BBC1 are both banking on strong comebacks from Broadchurch and Line of Duty – two behemoths of British drama. Standards are high and expectations even higher – let’s check in with them both…
ITV’s Broadchurch was roundly panned for a patchy second series where the writers tried to do two stories at once and did them both badly. The courtroom scenes were embarrassingly poor with very little in the way of reality, or even a coherent story. Strangely a solicitor friend of mine enjoyed it, but maybe she’s not looking for gritty realism after a full day defending people in the dock. Her giving it the benefit of the doubt was extremely generous; she was very much in the minority. Series 2 had terrible ratings and people gave up on it in droves (including Mr H who doesn’t have time for bad tv). It should serve as a warning to all broadcasters eager for a hit – one good series is always better than undermining it with a poor return.