‘Britannia’ – Sky Atlantic

Britannia is the much discussed and much trumpeted new Sky Atlantic drama. It’s also the first co-production between Sky and Amazon. It’s written by Jez Butterworth, who seems to have theater and screenwriting experience in spades, but not much on the CV for telly. Not like our collective expectations are set too high, but it’s been bandied about that Sky are in desperate need of something substantial in the swords and bloodlust category as the wait for Game of Thrones will be glacial. But the people who have seen it already are split into two camps – either it’s brilliantly bat-shit or terribly confusing. Well, which is it then?

Set in 43 AD this is about the Roman conquest of Britain. This is the second time around, as Julius Cesar went home with his tail between his legs in 54 BC, and boy, despite the man being long dead, do we hear a lot about that. We meet General Aulus Plautius, played by David Morrissey, not worrying in the slightest about his accent or where in the Roman Empire he hails from. To misquote Doctor Who, a lot of countries have a north. Aye up legionnaires!

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‘Hard Sun’ Episodes 1 & 2 – BBC1

After the mauling that The Guardian gave BBC1’s new cop show/ sci-fi drama you’d be forgiven for thinking the BBC were presenting a badly-written festive pantomime like A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong . This was the tone of the preview published at 11am yesterday. The actual 4 star review landed a few hours later calling it gutsy and ambitious. Same newspaper, very different opinion. Great work guys – don’t make up your mind about something, teach the controversy.

So safe to say this end-of-the-world drama written by Neil Cross of Luther fame is polarising opinions. Twitter seemed suitably impressed and a lot of people were very happy to realise the series was all set ready to binge on iPlayer. We put the second episode on straight away but now I’m not sure how much more of it I want to see.

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‘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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‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

If you’ve not yet heard anything about the The Handmaid’s Tale, let me give you a hand getting out from under that rock where you’ve been hiding. This is an MGM production being show on Hulu in America. They seem to be a good 7 episodes ahead of us. Sadly, even in 2017, sometimes America is ahead of us in tv land. It’s great to have synchronised start dates, but it’s still not the norm. Avoiding spoilers for this much talked-about show is going to be a killer.

A few weeks after starting in the USA this 10 part drama series has been picked up by Channel 4 in the UK, which, as the young, intelligent, and left-leaning political channel is a really good fit for their brand and a bit of a coup. The series is based on a novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood and despite its startlingly relevant content was actually written in 1985. So this dystopian future Atwood envisaged is 30 years closer than we’d have hoped for, and none of her themes are any less relevant or possibilities presented any less realistic. In interviews Atwood says that none of these war crimes in the fictional Republic of Gilead are entirely made up – all have happened somewhere on the globe. This really is extremely dark stuff. Do we as the audience have the stamina to get through it?

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The handmaids distinctive uniforms at a ceremony

 

The series opening is distressing, as our heroine Offred is violently parted from her husband and daughter, but it’s not a tense escape. We know she’ll get caught. The rippling tension comes from her social position at her new posting with the Commander (Joseph Feinnes) and his wife Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski).

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‘One Killer Punch’

Life can change in the blink of an eye. This Channel 4 documentary about horrifying assaults makes this clear from the start. Straight away it was immediately gripping, in the style of mega-hit Netflix documentary Making a Murderer. We instantly sympathise with this baby-faced boy called Ben, talking to the camera about going to a party and snogging a girl. It’s a teenage romance. Then a drunken fight breaks out and it all turns sour. Ben describes the fight and how he was involved albeit unwillingly, defending the honour of his friend. “I’m not a violent person,” says Ben. We nod. Look at his face. How could we believe anything else? Then another face appears, another young man who was there at the party, and says no, that’s not what happened. Ben hit George with such force that he died. CCTV backs this up. Our view flips 180 degrees. What an ingenious way to start.

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‘Westworld’ – On the Box

Big things were expected for Westworld, the telly reboot of the 1973 sci-fi film, and big things were achieved. It was HBO’s biggest series debut in three years. And it looks magnificent!

Westworld is a theme park – the newcomers are the players, the high-paying guests who get to live out their cowboy frontier town fantasy. Sex and violence is the top two reasons people seem to play, and sexy violence is probably competing for third place. The innocent townspeople who populate the game are extremely advanced androids (incredibly beautiful and faces full of character), who live in a Groundhog day-dream state, to please the guests and keep them entertained.

Through wholesome Delores (Evan Rachel Wood) and her cowboy lover Teddy (James Marsden) we briefly glimpse a clichéd romance fantasy before life quickly turns sour. It’s horrific to watch, and worse still she wakes in blissful ignorance the next day to be preyed upon all over again. Despite how real these androids seem these are just toys programmed for paying customers pleasure. We know this and yet our sympathies lie squarely with the machines from the opening moments.

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‘Murder in Successville’ – On the Box

When in doubt have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand. This could get to be pretty silly but somehow it didn’t seem to matter.

– Raymond Chandler

Murder in Successville‘s detective is a perfect comedy parody of Raymond Chandler’s archetype hard-boiled gumshoe Philip Marlow. Only DI Sleet has no discernible skills apart from escalating a situation out of all control and leaving his sidekick to mop up the mess.

Sleet, played by Tom Davis is a big presence on-screen – I mean, really big. Like an amiable bear in a trench coat, snarling and snapping in his raspy voice, ground down by the celeb-on-celeb crime in Successville, lonely and hard-drinking. But it’s not all noir in this improv-comedy-parody-celebity-gameshow. Set him up with the right partner and he’s cheeky, witty and very fuckable if you like that sort of thing (I do).

As you can tell this is a show that defies convention. How it got commissioned I’ve no idea. But I’m very glad it did.

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