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Posts Tagged ‘television reviews’

You want a strong female character? I’ll give you a strong female character.

Catherine Caewood (played by Sarah Lancashire) is the lead role in BBC’s Happy Valley, a crime drama set in working-class West Yorkshire; it’s a valley, but it isn’t happy.

This character is perhaps the most conflicted, complex, and yet utterly understandable creations I’ve seen in a while. Caewood, a sergeant with the local police, is forty-seven, divorced, with two kids—one dead, one that won’t talk to her—and a grandson. She lives with her sister, a recovering heroin addict and, well, you get the picture. Her life’s a mess.

Except it isn’t. (more…)

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I sucked up the first four episodes of Sense8 like a parched man drinks water. This was the show I’ve been waiting for all year. It has it all: the writing, settings, plot, characters, the performances, all are markedly above the line of expectation.

So, why hadn’t I heard of it before?

One reason is that the show is only available on Netflix, and only since 05 June. That means I’m only ten days behind the curve on this which, for me, is notable. I usually don’t hear of shows like this until after they’ve been canceled.

Another reason is that the reviews on the show have been mixed. Even those who liked it have couched their praise in overstuffed caveats, complimenting the show as often as they complain.

Negative reactions run the gamut. The actors are all too pretty, was one complaint, and I’m like, “Have you watched anything on network TV? Everyone’s gorgeous!” Another felt that the left-wing LGBT agenda is too “in your face,” to which I say, “Oh, you mean, unlike the hetero agenda, which dominates everything?”

But one consistent complaint is that the storytelling method is disjointed, obscure, deliberately complicated, and too “filmic.”

This is understandable. The storytelling style of Sense8 is unlike anything I’ve seen, and its compelling nature is hard to pin down. It does not fit in any pigeonhole, can be hard to follow, but nevertheless, it is compelling.

If your just catching up, Sense8 is a 12-episode Netflix original series, created by Andy and Lana Wachowski (The Matrix) and J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5). It features eight characters who, through one woman’s ultimate act, are transformed into a cluster of “sensates,” physically separated individuals all with a psychic connection to one another. The characters are scattered across the globe–Mexico City, San Francisco, Chicago, London, Berlin, Nairobi, Mumbai, and Seoul–and none has any prior relationship with another member.

In the first four episodes (all I’ve watched as of this writing), the eight slowly become aware of their connection and their abilities to interact with one another. This long main plotline is interspersed with smaller crises that affect one or another of the individuals, providing opportunities for them to come to each other’s aid, culminating in the first real crisis for the “cluster,” when one of them is threatened with lobotomization, the equivalent of “sensate death.”

From the beginning, and throughout this rising action, we see the influence of two mysterious factions. One, personified by a sensate adept named Jonas, is supportive of the cluster, while the other is a shadowy, inimical cabal that is “hunting” cluster members. It’s a classic good vs. evil scenario, and I expect further episodes will reveal motivations and betrayals of trust–though hopefully not as many as some of the more frustrating shows of recent years.

The style of the show, though, is what sets it apart. The connection experienced by members of the cluster is depicted as a sudden translocation, like astral travel (called “visiting” in the show) or body-swapping possession (called “sharing”). The deejay lounging in her London bed-sit is suddenly standing next to the cop in Chicago, or the kick-boxer from Seoul can abruptly inhabit the body of the van driver in Nairobi. During the first four shows, as these sensates explore their connections, the scenes shift all over the place as the members of the cluster all share a common experience, and by the end of the fourth episode, they’re all asking–along with the lyrics of the song they’re sharing–“What’s going on?”

Whereas other shows like Heroes and Lost (both of which have been compared to Sense8) purposefully withhold information known to some characters–creating a cheap and unsatisfying experience, in my view–here, the characters don’t know anything about what’s going on, and Jonas (who seems to be on their side) is telling them as much as he can in the brief “visits” he can manage with them. There is a growing sense of urgency and a constant ramp-up of peril as layers of complexity emerge, but I did not find it overwhelming or annoying at all, as it followed an organic path of experience for the clustered sensates.

You have to pay attention, though (and this may be what frustrates some of the reviewers; you can’t watch with one eye on your iPad). Once the show establishes that the deejay lives in London, it doesn’t continually remind you when the scene shifts back to her.

Naturally, I have some nits to pick with the show. Nothing’s perfect. For instance, the cluster members are all young and tech savvy, but while every twenty-something I know is in constant contact with their cadre via their smart-phone, in the first four episodes I saw only one text sent. Also, as this mysterious connection they share manifests, no one sits down to google… well… anything.

These don’t bother me, though, because as the action progresses, I become engrossed with the characters themselves. They all have history and quirks, they are all very different from one another. They are honest and criminal, struggling and well-to-do, but each one is a product of their environment, their city, their family, and their past.

As to the “LGBT agenda,” yes, the characters are straight, gay, bi, and trans. They cover the spectrum of sexuality, but in no case is a character’s sexuality pertinent to the main action; it affects their lives and the people who surround them (as you’d expect) but it is irrelevant to the functioning of the cluster or their “sensate” abilities. In this way also, the show stands apart from almost everything else.

A third of the way through the 12-episode series, there are plenty of mysteries to be exposed, and much for these sensates to learn and overcome. The larger plot of factions and cabals is just beginning to emerge, and I can’t wait to binge on the rest of the series.

If only I didn’t have to sleep.

Or work.

k

Typewriter

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Gentlefolk, start your DVRs.

Ripper Street is back with Series 3 (that’s “Season” 3, for us here in the States), airing on BBC America beginning April 29.

BBC canceled the show after its second season, citing low viewership in the UK, but when an online petition garnered over 50,000 signatures, the production company was able to reach a deal with (what is now) Amazon Prime Instant Video to fund a third season.

UK residents have already seen this third season, and reports I’ve read state that it’s the strongest, most viscerally charged season to date. The show’s creator, Richard Warlow, was more cautious about future seasons this time, and gave the end of Season 3 a sense of closure while still leaving sufficient loose threads with which to weave a Season 4, should it get picked up again. Here’s hoping on that score! (more…)

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Last year, I brought to your attention Ripper Street, the BBC  crime drama set in Whitechapel (London) in the years after the Jack the Ripper murders. Last year, the premiere season was showing on BBC America, and I was all atwitter about it.

It’s back for a second season–a good bit of news–but it’s also back in the news.

You see, Ripper Street was canceled at the end of its second season. Even The Guardian was gobsmacked by the news, calling it “Dreadful news for fans of quality drama.”

And I agree. But all is not lost.

(more…)

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The British television industry has a tradition of creating short-lived series. In America, a show may have 23 episodes in a season; in Britain, it is often only half that or, as fans of the recent Sherlock reboot well know, only three. In addition, the Brits will create a “series” that is only expected to live one, maybe two years. Where we Yanks will keep a show going well past its sell-by date, the Brits make a show, air it, and move on to the next idea, the next story.

Naturally, they have their long-standing staples like Coronation Street, East Enders, Top Gear, and Time Team (which sadly was canceled after two decades of wonderful programming), but by and large this “one-off” approach to television creates a more varied viewing landscape where, if you don’t like a show, just wait a month or two and something new will be on.

And so, British television will often take risks that would give American television execs apoplexy.

Hit & Miss is a perfect example. (more…)

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Monday was a bit of crazy around our house, so we missed the two premieres we were waiting for. To be fair, we were going to miss one of them, anyway, since they were both on at 10PM and I was not staying up until midnite…not on a school night.

But last night, we caught up with both “Castle” and “The Blacklist.”

Warning: there will be some mild spoilers in this post.

(more…)

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It’s not often that I can tie together what is arguably the grittiest crime drama on network television with a 1966 rom-com–OK, I’ve never done it, so today’s a first–and I’ll be frank with you, tieing these two objects together is going to take some doing, so have patience. I’ll get there.

Yesterday during my workout I watched “How to Steal a Million” (1966), starring Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole. It is a light-hearted bit of fluff about the daughter of an art forger and a purported art thief who need to steal something to protect a secret. It’s set in Paris, Audrey is swathed in Givenchy throughout, O’Toole sports around in an XK-E, and it has several temporal “shout-outs” to the stars’ previous hits, so I’m sure it was doubly enjoyable for folks back in ’66 who’d been following these two icons through their early careers. It’s a little less believable than most romantic comedies (which means it was totally farcical), but one doesn’t watch a rom-com for believability or with any doubts as to the outcome. We watch them for the interaction, for the play, for the fun of it, and in this respect, “How to Steal a Million” delivers, even today.

I thought it was out-dated, though, because of its treatment of Ms. Hepburn’s character. (more…)

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