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 »

Christmas reading: 61 Hours by Lee Child; The Santa Klaus Murder by Mavis Doriel Hay; The Redeemer by Jo Nesbø

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To conclude this week’s mini-run of Christmas reviews I thought I’d turn from the screen to the printed page. In my efforts to get into the festive spirit I had decided to read three books over the holidays with a common theme of Christmas and/or snow and ice, but all of them featuring murder of some kind or another… Read the rest of this entry »

Inside No 9: The Devil of Christmas (BBC Two)

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insideno9Inside No 9 is a drama-comedy anthology series in which there is no connection between one episode and the next save for the appearance in the cast of The League of Gentlemen alumni Steve Pemberton and Reece Sheersmith, who also created the series and write each episode. Inevitably that means that some episodes work better than others according to personal taste – the near-silent burglary escape “A Quiet Night In” is nothing less than a work of comedy genius, for example, but “Sardines’ felt like a good ten minute idea that didn’t know where to go for the final 20 minutes of running time. As a result I’ve tended to be a bit hit or miss about watching the show over its two seasons of six episodes apiece, but I did make a point of catching the special festive edition “The Devil of Christmas” last week.

The story operates on multiple levels, as it recreates what appears to be a lost episode of a 1970s Christmas TV ghost story. The set, costumes, script and acting are all authentically recreated – the production even uses the massive studio cameras of the period to give the end result the right old school video tape feel and 4:3 aspect ratio, even down to the way that a light source such as a candle leaves a ‘burn trail’ across the screen for several seconds after panning across. The whole thing is presented as DVD release complete with an audio commentary in which the fictional director laments the lack of time and funds, continuity errors, and where the actors miss their marks or have to leave to record a voiceover for Findus. It’s a delightfully nostalgic experience for those of us who remember watching the real life counterpart shows of the time, such as Tales of the Unexpected and Thriller. Read the rest of this entry »

The Witness for the Prosecution (BBC One)

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witnessNot long ago I commended BBC Daytime’s production of The Moonstone (which got a quick repeat over Christmas week) for its simplicity and clarity, and for telling its tale clearly and succinctly without being trapped and weighed down by the weight of literary pretension, portentousness and over-styling that so often afflicts its evening peak time counterparts.

An example of what I mean by the latter helpfully showed up on the Christmas schedules in the form of The Witness for the Prosecution. There’s no question that this was a high-class, top quality production from the BBC, a display of the very finest technical television craftsmanship with every frame immaculately photographed and a top notch script by Sarah Phelps who also adapted last year’s Christmas Christie treat And Then There Were None. Read the rest of this entry »

Sherlock S4E1 “The Six Thatchers” (BBC One)

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Contains spoilers

sherlockIt’s been almost exactly three years since the last ‘regular’ episode of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ modern Sherlock, not counting the one-off 2016 New Year’s special which took Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes and Martin Freeman’s Watson out of time and back to the original Victorian-era setting of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories.

When last we were with Sherlock, it appeared that his arch enemy Moriarty had risen from the dead to threaten Britain with a new crime. Three years is a long period over which to sustain interest in any cliffhanger, so you’d expect “The Six Thatchers” to waste no more time getting stuck into the long-awaited denouement, but you’d be gravely mistaken. Instead, the whole Moriarty aspect is quickly kicked to the kerb, used briefly as a plot device to get Sherlock reinstated after his cold bloded murder of Charles Augustus Magnussen in “His Last Vow” and thereafter as a distraction and a red herring to obscure the true crime that is underway, which is signalled by the destruction of six china busts of Margaret Thatchers in varying locations around the country. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who: The Return of Doctor Mysterio (BBC One)

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mysterio1It’s been exactly a year since Doctor Who‘s most recent new adventure, and so the anticipation ahead of the 2016 Christmas special was sky high. When “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” finally arrived on Christmas Day, it quickly turned out that – not for the first time – the show has wrong-footed us and that it isn’t the episode we might have thought that we had been expecting and in some cases dreading: Doctor Who has moved on. And that’s a good thing.

In the past, showrunner Steven Moffat has delivered some of the most Christmassy of Christmas specials imaginable, from 2010’s “A Christmas Carol” to 2011’s “The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe”, 2012’s “The Snowmen” and 2014’s “Last Christmas”. By comparison, last year’s “The Husbands of River Song” was somewhat light on the Christmas trappings, and this year’s story goes even further with only a brief prologue at the start being set on Christmas Eve. Even then it’s only so that eight-year-old Grant Gordon (Logan Huffman) can understandably mistake the ‘old guy’ hanging upside down outside his New York apartment block window 60 floors up in the air for Santa Claus. After that however you’ll look in vain for any festive feels. Read the rest of this entry »

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

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rogue-1Almost exactly a year ago, the Star Wars saga was triumphantly rejuvenated by the release of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, a film that I really enjoyed and was happy to call “almost certainly the best Star Wars film that anyone could possibly have made in 2015,” despite being somewhat frustrated by the sheer metric tonnage of nostalgia and fan service it contained and just how far it was content to ride on the coattails of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. The film’s best assets were its new cast and characters which offered an injection of new life and new hope to the franchise, but The Force Awakens itself was too busy revisiting the past and reheating the same themes and plots of the original trilogy to really get the best out of them. Still, it set things up nicely for Episode VIII assuming that the filmmakers can take advantage of what they now have in their arsenal.

Before that film, however, comes a cinematic intermission in the form of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story which clearly positions itself as being a tale from and about the Star Wars universe while not being a part of the main saga itself. Such anthology tales could prove to be the future of the franchise as a whole, with new films headlining Han Solo and Boba Fett already in production, so the importance of Rogue One to the health and wealth of Star Wars can hardly be understated. Read the rest of this entry »

The Grand Tour S1 E1-2 (Amazon Prime)

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As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently succumbed to the never-ending parade of pop-ups and prompts and took out an Amazon Prime membership. It was the week before Amazon released the first episode of their latest original online streaming television production The Grand Tour, and while that hadn’t been one of the factors that make me sign up in the first place, it was certainly one of those ‘value added extras’ that I was keen on looking at now that I had access.

grandtourSometime in the future – if it’s not happening as we speak – someone will write a lengthy treatise into the Great Top Gear Schism and what it tells us about the media industry. You’ll recall that the show’s already-controversial presenter Jeremy Clarkson parted company with the BBC’s motoring show early in 2015 after a heated altercation with one of the production team, taking with him his co-presenters Richard Hammond and James May and the show’s producer Andy Wilman to start a new show called The Grand Tour, which is funded by the deep pockets of the world’s largest online retailer.

This split meant that the BBC retained all the rights to Top Gear – the internationally famous brand, the programme format that included the ‘Star in a Reasonably Priced Car’ and masked test driver The Stig – and all they had to do was find a new set of presenters to keep the show on the road. Clarkson and his team on the other hand had to start again from scratch and produce some sort of show that bore no (legally defined) similarity to Top Gear whatsoever if they were to prevent the lawsuits from flying in. It’s no wonder that when the first new shows of the two respective post-Schism series aired, one was rolling in verve, confidence and exuberance while the other was floundering and fumbling around, staggering like a new born foal trying to find its footing. Read the rest of this entry »

Class S1: End of term review (BBC3)

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Contains some mild spoilers for the series, although there shouldn’t be anything too explicit.

classIt feels odd to me that anyone should make a show for a streaming service but then decide to dole out the episodes once a week on what is effectively a conventional TV network broadcast schedule. But that’s what the BBC has done with Doctor Who spin-off Class and it’s also what Amazon Prime are doing with their nothing-at-all-like-Top Gear new series The Grand Tour, so what do I know?

Saturday saw the final episode of the first season of Class land on the BBC’s iPlayer, which means that we’re now able to look at the whole run of eight stories in context. From what I’ve seen up to this point, the reaction of Who fans has been somewhat mixed to say the least, and not even the theme song has escaped criticism. Moreover, the strategy of making it an online exclusive has likely limited the show’s reach outside that base of Whovians: as much as the BBC might wish it so, people simply don’t currently see iPlayer as a Netflix-like service for new online material, but rather mainly as a catch-up facility.

That’s a shame because Class deserves a rather more love than it’s currently getting. It’s not perfect – far from it, it has many annoying swings in tone and approach. However the production quality of the finished episodes has been consistently high throughout with excellent acting, direction, photography and FX work across the board. It’s certainly better than you might reasonably expect for a brand new show, unlike for example the wildly variable start to fellow ‘grown-up’ Who spin-off series Torchwood in 2006 which really did take a long time to find its feet and work out the kinks, and which had some really terrible moments during its first season. Read the rest of this entry »

Bosch S1 (Amazon Prime)

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boschLast week, after many years resisting the never-ending parade of pop-ups, emails and on-screen prompts to sign up for Amazon Prime, I finally buckled and gave in thanks to a well timed first year discount offer. While the chief appeal of Prime remains unlimited free shipping, I confess that it was a number of Amazon’s exclusive shows on its streaming service that ultimately proved to be the tipping point in finally making me dive in. Amazon will doubtless assume that it’s the new Jeremy Clarkson post-Top Gear series The Grand Tour that was the big draw as it happened to début the day after I signed up, but in fact that’s not the case – although that said, I’ll doubtless watch Clarkson and co. pretty soon and will report back when I do.

No, it was a number of Amazon Prime’s older self-produced shows that I was more interested in, starting with Bosch – a crime show starring Titus Welliver as LAPD detective Harry Bosch based on the long-running series of novels by Michael Connelly, which I confess I haven’t read. The TV series started life with a one-off pilot in 2014 which garnered sufficiently positive reaction from viewers (if not critics) to result in a full ten-part season which premièred in February 2015, with the show having since been commissioned for a second, third and fourth series. Read the rest of this entry »