Ronja, The Robbers Daughter (Amazon Prime)

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ronja-1If you’ve ever seen one of Studio Ghibli’s fantastical animé films such as Spirited Away, Laputa – Castle in the Sky, Porco Rosso or Howl’s Moving Castle, then this television show which was originally made in 2014 will look and feel very familiar to you – but with the slightest of twists.

Based on the children’s fantasy book by noted Swedish author Astrid Lindgren (creator of Pippi Longstocking), Ronja, The Robbers Daughter is the charming story of Ronja, the ten-year-old daughter of bandit chief Mattis and his wife Lovis. The early episodes spend time with Ronja as she explores the forest around the castle fortress that she calls home, but it isn’t long before a rival clan moves in literally next door and a feud builds up which is further complicated when Ronja develops feelings for the rival chief’s son Birk. Read the rest of this entry »

24: Legacy E1-2 (Fox)

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24-legacyNew 24: Legacy – exactly the same as the old 24.

Seriously, I could leave it there and make this a candidate for the shortest review on the site. The only surprising thing about the new 12-part mini-series spin-off is how little difference losing its iconic star Kiefer Sutherland has made to the franchise. Honestly, you’re more likely to notice that the on-screen ticking clock has gone from red and orange to a cool blue, or that the end credit music has been changed, than you are to notice that Jack Bauer is sitting this one out. And who can blame him?

It turns out that the lack of any returning characters really doesn’t make any difference, because the show is still packed with exactly the same archetypes as it always has been. The name tags might have changed, and the actors might be different this time around, but they’re going through exactly the same motions and spouting the same interchangeably homogeneous, bullet-point dialogue so it really doesn’t make any difference. You could just as easily be watching a rerun as a brand new show. Read the rest of this entry »

Bull S1 E1-6 (Fox)

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bull-tv-seriesWhen an actor has become synonymous with playing one of the most popular characters on one of the highest-rated television series for over a decade, it’s hard for the audience to detach them from that long-standing role and accept them as someone completely new, so it’s understandable if we’re initially struggling to see Doctor Jason Bull as anything other than an undercover role for NCIS’ Tony DiNozzo, complete with thick-rimmed spectacles to make him look more serious and introspective.

That’s not the fault of Michael Weatherley, for whom Bull is something of a star vehicle after finding fame on NCIS. It’s just an acknowledgement that after 13 years on a weekly television show, an actor has put so much of himself onto a recurring role that the audience believes that it has a familiarity with them that is hard to overcome – especially when he moves direct from one part to another over the summer hiatus without so much as a breather. And truth to tell, the character of Bull really isn’t all that far from that of DiNozzo, and it doesn’t help that both NCIS and Bull are both rather similar story-of-the-week crime procedurals: although that said, while NCIS is a traditional cop show investigative whodunnit, Bull is more of a legal ‘how are they doing to get the client out of that?’ format that extends all the way back to the classic Perry Mason series of the 1950s. Read the rest of this entry »

Constantine S1 (Amazon Prime)

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constantineDespite his appearance in a cross-over episode of Arrow, the character of John Constantine has always felt an awkward fit with the rest of the DC Comics television universe. Rather than being part of the usual milieu of masked superheroes with fantastic powers, or cartoonish metahumans or angst-ridden dark vigilantes, Constantine exists in an out-and-out supernatural universe of magic, demons and angels.

Originally co-created by Alan Moore, Constantine first appeared in The Saga of the Swamp Thing in the mid-1980s and was subsequently granted his own long-running comic book Hellblazer a few years later. A firm favourite with graphic novel fans for three decades now, the first attempt to make a live action version came in 2005 with a movie starring Keanu Reeves. Unfortunately that strayed too far away from the source material to satisfy fans, such as not honouring Constantine’s famously British (and blond) roots – although having heard Reeves’ attempt at an English accent in Bram Stoker’s Dracula I think we should call that a lucky escape.

This short-lived TV series produced in 2014-15 was much more respectful to the comics than the movie, and consequently rather better received. Even so, it only lasted 13 episodes on NBC before being cancelled; in the UK it’s been exclusive to the Amazon Prime streaming service, which is where I happened upon in this month. Read the rest of this entry »

Legion S1 E1-2 (Fox)

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legionTired of the overwhelming number of superhero shows and films around at the moment? Then you probably groaned to see yet another one added to the list with the arrival of Legion, a Marvel Studios mini-series based on a minor character from the X-Men comics. But don’t come to any hasty conclusions: this is a superhero story unlike anything you’ve seen before; indeed, it’s unlike any other show, period.

The central character is David Haller, a psychiatric patient diagnosed with severe schizophrenia. Among other things he has hallucinations in which he is a powerful mutant with telepathic and telekinetic abilities, which is of course complete nonsense. But an encounter with a fellow patient leads to him leaving the hospital and being taken in by a group of similarly gifted people who teach David that his abilities are very real, and that his powers are needed if the mutants are to overcome persecution from the government’s sinister Division 3… Read the rest of this entry »

SS-GB E1 (BBC One)

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ss-gbA few weeks ago, while reviewing Amazon’s The Man In The High Castle, I confessed to a particular weakness for ‘alternative history’ fiction. one example of the genre that I failed to cite at the time was Len Deighton’s 1978 novel SS-GB for the simple reason that despite having owned a copy of the paperback for 25 years, I’d inexplicably – and inexcusably – failed to actually get around to reading it until only a few weeks ago, finishing just in time for the start of this new BBC adaptation that started at the weekend.

Like The Man In The High Castle and Fatherland, Deighton’s story postulates a world in which the Nazis win the Second World War. However while those other stories are set several years later in the 1960s, SS-GB takes place in 1941 only months after Britain has lost the aerial battle and been forced to capitulate to the Nazi invaders. The first scene of the television version sees a Spitfire land on the Mall in London in the shadow of the bombed-out shell of Buckingham Palace, with swastikas plastered on every building as the subservient British people scurry about their business beneath the harsh gaze of their new masters. Read the rest of this entry »

Ray Donovan S1 (Amazon Prime)

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ray-donovan-1Ever since Showtime aired the first episode of this series back in 2013, Ray Donovan has irritated me. Not the show itself, you understand, but more because I’ve never been able to watch it, or really get a proper grip on whether it’s even the type of show that might interest me if I could. In the UK, it’s aired on a channel that isn’t carried by my cable provider; since it clearly doesn’t fit into a neat genre it’s usually unhelpfully classified simply as ‘drama’, and the series description tends to be just as broad and sparse. As a result it’s a show that’s appeared on the television listings tantalisingly out of my reach, while the DVD boxsets that started coming out a year later were too expensive to buy sight unseen when there was a real risk that I’d watch the first ten minutes and hate it.

Three and a half years later I’ve finally been granted a way in, after finding that the first three seasons of the show are available free to Amazon Prime subscribers. That has allowed me to dip a toe into the world of Ray Donovan and finally work out what the show is actually all about, and whether I like it or not. Read the rest of this entry »

Case S1 (All 4) [2015]

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case-s1Contains some general plot details

Icelandic drama Case is one of the latest additions to Channel 4’s Walter Presents foreign drama brand on its digital streaming service All 4. Not only has it been promoted quite heavily on the network’s broadcast channel, it even had the extra accolade of the first episode itself actually being aired on Channel 4, with the remaining eight episodes then released as a online ‘boxset’ exclusive.

The series has been described as being ‘in the spirit of The Killing‘, but it really isn’t. For one thing, the inciting incident that gets the plot underway – the discovery of a 14-year-old ballet student found hanged on the stage of the theatre where she trained – is quickly ruled a suicide, after which the multi-faceted investigation that follows becomes more focussed on what could have driven her to such dark despair and desperation. Less a murder mystery, then, and more a socio-political dramatisation of the pressures and ill-treatment that are too-often inflicted on young girls in today’s modern society, making it closer in spirit to the likes of Ken Loach’s seminal Cathy Comes Home than to Nordic fare we’re used to in the form of Forbrydelsen or The Bridge. Read the rest of this entry »

The Lens S1 (All 4) [2014]

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the-lensIt’s only natural that we should have preconceived ideas about what a drama from Sweden, Denmark, Norway or Iceland should be like; or equally, a production from France, Germany, Italy, Australia or even from Britain or the US. For sure, those expectations may very well end up being confounded or overturned, but we generally still have a certain sense of what’s coming.

I have to confess that this was very much not the case when it came to what to expect of crime thrillers from the Czech Republic, and as a result I was intrigued by the prospect of The Lens (original title Clona), the story of wannabe filmmaker Roman (a likeable turn from Krystof Hádek) who fails to win a place at film school and instead grudgingly follows his father into working as a police traffic officer. When his father is a victim of a hit-and-run attack, Roman joins a small elite band of detectives as their photographer, cameraman and video forensics officer. Read the rest of this entry »

The Passenger (All 4)

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Contains some spoilers

passenger-1Just in case there isn’t enough foreign language drama currently being broadcast in the UK, Channel 4 have set up their own special streaming service called Walter Presents, available via their All 4 catch-up on demand platform, which gives access to even more productions from around the world.

One of the latest additions to the service is The Passenger, a six-part thriller from France starring Jean-Hugues Anglade and Raphaëlle Agogué as psychiatrist Mathias Freire and police captain Anaïs Châtelet respectively who team up to investigate a series of killings of local vagrants, with all of the bodies staged to resemble stories from classical mythology such as Prometheus, Oedipus or Icarus. It’s an unusually Hollywood set-up for a French production, given that the country is fiercely proud about doing things the Gallic way and not giving up its cultural heritage in the face of an influx of media from the English speaking world. Read the rest of this entry »

The Man in the High Castle S1 (Amazon Prime)

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Contains some spoilers

highcastle-1Not everyone likes alternate history fiction, but I should confess from the start that I’m a bit of a fan. Robert Harris’ Fatherland is probably one of the most oft-reread titles on my bookshelf, while more recently I was very impressed by The Company of the Dead by David Kowalski. But when it comes to tales of parallel universes, arguably the granddaddy of the genre is Philip K Dick’s The Man In The High Castle that has recently been adapted for television by Amazon Prime, which full disclosure requires I should declare it to be the biggest single reason why I recently gave in and subscribed to the streaming service.

In the TV version, the point of divergence between our world and that of the High Castle is the assassination of FDR in 1934. As a result of this the US never recovered from the Depression to play its full role in World War 2, meaning that Nazi Germany won the war in Europe and went on to invade the East Coast of America. Meanwhile Japan was victorious in the Pacific and occupied the West Coast, leaving a wild west neutral zone straddling the Rocky Mountains between the two superpowers. But now Adolf Hitler is ailing and the Nazi High Command is ruthlessly jockeying for position to succeed him as Führer, which Japan fears will herald the start of a new global war – one that the Japanese Empire cannot possibly win given that the Nazis alone possess the super-destructive Heisenberg device. Read the rest of this entry »

Sherlock S4 (BBC One)

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Contains some spoilers

sherlock-finalWith the singular exception of Doctor Who I tend not to write more than one post on any given television show per season, unless something occurs that significantly changes my initial take on it, so I hadn’t intended to contribute any more thoughts about the latest series of Sherlock following my review of the New Year’s Day episode. But since it appears that this might be the very last we see of the Steven Moffat/Mark Gatiss incarnation of the consulting detective, an exception seemed called for in order for us to take one final look at the whole of season 4.

As regular readers might recall, I rather enjoyed “The Six Thatchers” which was the first of this run of three episodes, although some were put off by the Bond/Bourne overtures and pined for the time when the show ‘just solved mysteries’ (which was never the point of Sherlock.) I did however grumble about the final 20 minutes which seemed clunky and mis-paced after what had gone before. Read the rest of this entry »

Father Brown S5 (BBC One) [2017]

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fatherbrownFrom humble beginnings tucked away in the daytime schedules back in 2013, it seems that Father Brown has slowly become a genuine break out hit for the BBC, boosted by digital channel reruns in prime time on UKTV and healthy overseas sales to the United States and South Africa. It’s now returned for its fifth season, with 15 episodes including a prestigious Christmas special that was screened on the day before Christmas Eve and the rest following on a week later beginning on the public holiday after New Year.

Things are much the same in Kembleford where Father Brown (Mark Williams) serves as the local Roman Catholic priest aided by parish secretary and busybody Bridgette McCarthy (Sorcha Cusack). The curate is still getting caught up in various local crimes that bring him into contact (and conflict) with the insufferable local senior police Inspector Mallory (Jack Deam). This time, Mallory’s longtime sidekick Sergeant Goodfellow (John Burton) gets promoted to the regular cast, but missing from action is loveable black market ‘spiv’ Sid Carter – we don’t find out the fictional reason for his absence until well into the new series (see “The Sins of Others”), but actor Alex Price has been cast as Draco Malfoy in the West End production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Sid was chauffeur to local socialite Lady Felicia (Nancy Carroll) and she too only appears in the first two episodes of this latest run before departing to join her husband who has been newly promoted to a top colonial government post in Rhodesia. Fortunately her wayward niece Bunty (Emer Kenny) arrives just in time to effectively take over both Lady Felicia’s and Sid’s plot functions in their respective absences. Read the rest of this entry »

Preacher S1 (2016) [DVD and Amazon Prime]

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preacher1Preacher is weird. Really weird. No, I mean it – it’s very, very high up the bonkers scale of weirdness. Even having seen all ten episodes of the first season, I’m still not sure what it was really about or trying to do or where it is attempting to go, or even whether I enjoyed the process. That said, I did end up watching all ten episodes, and in this day and age where time is short and distractions are many that has to stand very much in its favour.

Preacher is based on a cult favourite graphic novel created by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon which I confess I’ve never read. It’s been adapted for the screen by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and Breaking Bad alumni Sam Catlin (who does the lion’s share of running the show and writing the scripts) with apparently a lot of changes being required to make it fit into a format suitable for serialised television. Fans of the graphic novel are understandably not wild about some of these changes, but I myself came to Preacher with no preconceptions and simply judged what I saw on the screen with no knowledge of what might be different or where the original story might be heading. Read the rest of this entry »

The Fjällbacka Murders: The Hidden Child (2012) [DVD]

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fjallbackaScandinavia’s broadcast output has been so thoroughly mined by TV channels over the last few years that it often seems that we must have seen every last bit of drama output from that part of the world. So when you find a piece of Nordic Noir going straight to DVD with little fanfare it’s hard not to jump to the conclusion that it must be pretty bad, even before reading the description of the show which makes it seem like some light-hearted bit of cosy crime that would make Murder, She Wrote feel like Tolstoy. Read the rest of this entry »