Ronja, The Robbers Daughter (Amazon Prime)
If 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as Spirited Away, Laputa – Castle in the Sky, Porco Rosso or Howl’s Moving Castle, then this television show which was originally made in 2014 will look and feel very familiar to you – but with the slightest of twists.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 »
The X-Files S10 E1 “My Struggle” (Channel 5)
Includes some mild spoilers but no plot specifics.
Everything old is new again. Last year we had Heroes reborn, next year we’ll be able to return to Twin Peaks, and right now we get to reopen The X-Files for the first time since 2008.
I’ll admit right now that I was a huge X-Files fan and that for a lengthy spell in the mid-1990s it was unquestionably my favourite TV show. It coincided with the first time I got online, and a lot of friends and connections that I have to this day come from that period and fan community. Right from the moment I read the synopsis of the first episode I remember thinking “It’s like they’ve made a show just for me, from all my favourite things” and certainly for the first three seasons I pretty much adored each and every episode virtually without exception.
Created by Chris Carter, the series premise was the two-person FBI team tasked with investigating unsolved cases of the paranormal: Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) was the true believer, while Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) was the more rational scientist who kept him grounded. The series was one of the first network shows to mix a long-running continuity arc (consisting of stories of an alien abduction conspiracy) with standalone ‘monster of the week’ outings; later on the show would develop a third strand of more humorous stories to boost the variety and vitality of the series, including “Humbug”, “War of the Coprophages”, “The Post-Modern Prometheus” and “Bad Blood.”
The third year was probably the show’s peak, since while the fourth season contained arguably some of the best episodes the show produced, the overall quality was proving more variable. There was never a year that lacked outstanding moments but in general The X-Files’ subsequent run was one of slow decline and the conspiracy arc became increasingly tangled, confusing and unsatisfying. Duchovny left at the end of season 7, and while Anderson stayed to the bitter end her character stepped back to allow the spotlight to fall on replacement team Doggett and Reyes (Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish). However it was hard to rekindle the show’s original magic spark, and the series finally ended in 2002. Having had one surprisingly good conspiracy-themed feature film spin-off in 1998 while the show was still on air, a somewhat inferior monster-of-the-week second outing came six years after cancellation but didn’t do well at the box office. Ever since then there’s been vague talk of another film or revival, but it’s taken until 2016 for it to become a reality with a six-part ‘event’ mini-series. Read the rest of this entry »
War and Peace E1 (BBC One) (2016)
I’ve never been one of those people who have been remotely tempted to ‘tackle’ any of the great classics – those 19th century works of literature that come in inch-thick doorstopper editions capable of causing subsidence to the average bedside table. It’s true that many people do see this activity as some sort of lifetime milestone that has to be undertaken at some point, the sedentary equivalent of running a marathon or climbing Everest; they grit their teeth, put their head down and plan their campaign as if going off to battle.
I am not one of those people. Frankly if a book doesn’t appeal to me intrinsically as something that I actually want to read and would enjoy doing so then nothing and no one is going to persuade me otherwise, and I shall be moving quickly on. After all there are a lot of excellent modern books out there that do appeal to me that I also have yet to get around to, so I’m simply not going to squander my short time on this planet on something that people tell me that I should read just so that I can boast about the alleged achievement. I’m perfectly happy to leave that to others who really do enjoy doing such things.
The idea of a 1,225-page tome about the lives and loves of the old Russian aristocracy with unpronounceable names in 1805 simply holds no such inherent appeal. Accordingly the task of reading Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace is so far down my to-do list that I would need two or three lifetimes for it to make it to the top of the pile. While watching a TV adaptation of the novel is a distinctly less challenging prospect – the latest BBC adaptation only requires one’s attention for a relatively scant six hours in total – I’m afraid that my ambivalence toward the novel quickly spilled over to a firm resistance toward embarking upon the small screen version as well. Only the slightest nagging sense of intellectual obligation – that I really should at least give something a chance before completely dismissing it – made me think that I had to sample a few minutes of the first episode to see how far I could actually get before gratefully throwing in the towel and moving on. Read the rest of this entry »
Hannibal S2 E1 “Kaiseki” (Sky Living)
Contains spoilers for season 1
The second season of Hannibal started airing in the UK this week, and to be honest I’m a bit surprised the show got recommissioned. It’s such a gruesomely dark and utterly impenetrable affair that’s it hard to imagine how it could possibly attract the size of audience sufficient to keep the network and studio interested in making it. Those twisted souls who keep faith and continue to be absorbed by the show (such as myself) do so almost like visiting the Tate or Guggenheim to view an exhibition of the works of a particularly unhinged genius: we can admire it without really understanding it, but often the best moment of all is when we head outdoors again at the end and can relish the return to fresh air and sunshine after the complete gloom and despair of what we’ve seen.
The ending of the first season confounded the expectations of those of us who thought we knew how the series would go based on our knowledge of the Thomas Harris book Red Dragon from which the series was inspired. Rather than having Dr Hannibal Lecter incarcerated in a basement cell at Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, showrunner Bryan Fuller’s reimagining of the story instead left FBI profiler Will Graham staring out from behind the wrong side of the prison bars after being framed for Lecter’s own appalling serial murders. Worst of all for Graham, even he didn’t know for sure whether he did or did not do the crimes of which he is accused, thanks to Lecter’s comprehensive shredding of his psyche. Read the rest of this entry »
The Fall S1 E5 (BBC2)
Contains full spoilers for the final episode.
I reviewed the first episode of The Fall when it aired last month and have no intention of going over the same ground, but in light of some of the critical comments made about the final episode of the first series I thought I’d come back with a (relatively) shorter piece focusing just on the finale.
We’ve had a lot of brilliant crime shows of late that have stumbled at the very end – all three series of Forbrydelsen suffered from problematic conclusions, and even Broadchurch’s much ballyhooed last episode has similarly come under fire from those who expected more. With The Fall, viewers wanted either a resounding, satisfying climax to the current case in which the bad guy is caught, or else a major cliffhanger to put them on the edge of their seats for the next few months before the now-confirmed season 2.
The problem is that the producers themselves didn’t know if they were going to get a second season or not, so they had to make a final episode that could work equally both as climax/resolution and as cliffhanger/to-be-continued with just minor changes depending on what the network verdict turned out to be. (And when the very first episode set new records for a drama début on BBC2 the decision was not long in coming nor much in doubt.) Read the rest of this entry »
The Fall S1 E1 (BBC2)
Apologies, I’m a week behind watching this series and although episode 2 aired last night as I write and post this, I’ve only seen the first episode so far. Even so, I still wanted to pen a few words on it before the series went too far into its run for people to decide whether or not to jump on board. This post does contain spoilers for episode 1, but not beyond.
This is a new five-part psychological thriller by writer-producer Allan Cubitt (Prime Suspect 2, Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Runaway) that takes the serial killer crime procedural into welcome new territory, both in a storytelling and geographical sense. Set in Belfast, there are echoes of the time euphemistically referred to as ‘The Troubles’ but refreshingly these are neither the point nor the focus of the story that unfolds.
Instead, the series follows two characters, both of them outsiders but in very different ways. DSI Stella Gibson is from the Metropolitan Police, asked in by her counterparts in Northern Ireland to conduct a review of a murder case that’s gone cold despite having a high profile victim, a successful young architect who was also the former daughter-in-law of a Unionist MP – which immediately suggests political pressures will apply. Read the rest of this entry »