The Watchlist: November 2016

Please Like Me S4

I’ve gone on about this show an awful lot this year. It’s probably my favourite new discovery and I recommend it to everybody. When Amazon Prime recently picked up S1-3 I was hopeful they’d do the same for S4 and stream an episode a weekly, parallel to it airing in Australia. And they did! What a shock that was, I think that was the first time something I’ve wished for has ever come true.

For a show that’s now four series in it’s a surprise that this one features the first proper ‘going away’ episode. A classic sitcom trope, the group going away camping together was well delivered and devoid of clichés. There was a large amount of disdain online for Josh this series but he doesn’t seem any more irritating or complicated than before – Arnold is the one who’s changed. My favourite character, Claire, has moved on with her life and appears sporadically via phone call. This was a conscious decision by Josh Thomas to portray real life friendships honestly; sometimes people just drift apart, it doesn’t mean they hate each other. Re: character development, I’ve become a real fan of Ella this series. She was a little irritating last series and, although little has changed, she seems to have come into her own more and it’s nice to see Tom happy.

tumblr_o5dlj8dij81r00hyjo2_1280The Outs S2

Do you remember when everyone kept going on about HBO’s Looking as this superb seminal piece of gay drama? It wasn’t. This isn’t either, but it’s a damn sight better. The Outs is a web series that appeared online before web series was cool to mild acclaim. This time round it’s been picked up by Vimeo and they’ve thrown a load of money at it – and my God, can you tell! The production values have clearly increased substantially.

It took me a while to get back into the groove with the characters again, but it’s nice to see they’ve all slightly developed. And everything is unpatronisingly relevant in the way it’s presented. The show does a great job of being part of the ‘now’ without really meaning to be and the way it deals with issues such as suicide, HIV, monogamy, long distance relationships and happiness is great. I wouldn’t say this is necessarily a laugh a minute comedy but it has its moments and is really pleasant to watch. I happily binged it in 48 hours. And judging by the series ending, there’s clearly going to be a S3.

Class

Somehow, and inexplicably, Class got so much worse post Ep 4. I was holding out hope back in October because it showed promise but then the scripts got even more clunkier and the plots even more dull. Shadow Kin? Shadull Kin more like. Still, at least there was more gratuitous sex scenes and if you’re going to have unattainably attractive actors at least use and abuse them like so:

Screen Shot 2016-12-12 at 14.42.41.png

*wipes brow*

Transparent S3

Look at me with an Amazon Prime subscription again! I got it for Please Like Me, and I’m a little afraid the Amazon computers are going to lump me in with all the Grand Tour watchers given their proximity of release. Anyway, since I was last on S3 of Transparent appeared. It’s probably the weakest of all the series. I felt there was little in the way of character development, it was all same-old, same-old. The flashback episode was pleasant enough though and the (updated!) opening titles are still so, so perfect.

I don’t feel that the show can in any way be described as a comedy anymore. There was barely a funny moment in it – the only amusing thing I counted was in the final episode where Shelly ~”gets a gay with her room”~ on board a cruise ship. You could count the terrible shot continuity as amusing though, I suppose, if that’s what they were going for.

Skam

Crikey, look at me with my TV shows with gay plotlines this month. The ‘internet’ (tumblr teens/30-something gay men) have been going mad for this Norwegian teen drama this month. S3 is airing currently and focusses on Isak’s coming out story and first gay relationship, with a guy called Even. Forget Skins, this is a thing of beauty. Adults barely feature in the entire series, it’s all about teenagers and their own world and bubble. You might see an adult silhouette, or a text message or their torso but that’s it. These teens are struggling through life themselves and helping each other out and not everything is action-packed. There are scenes where characters just shoot the breeze, or sit alone on their bed texting and browsing the internet which feels incredibly authentic. There’s enough action, and enough beautifully shot scenes (the soundtrack too!) that brings everything together to create a really wonderful show.

maxresdefaultThe Norwegian broadcaster refuses to syndicate the show online so it’s down to Tumblr blogs and Google Drive accounts to find the latest instalment, lovingly translated into English by Norwegian teens. Annoyingly, links disappear almost as quickly as they appear. In its native country, however, episodes don’t just air weekly: scenes are posted online in real-time, as they occur, and texts and Instagram posts from the ‘characters’ appear throughout the week too. It’s clear to understand why its become quite the phenomenon, and Tumblr loves a gay storyline so this ticks all the boxes. S1-2 from the past couple of years are on my to watch list too, with each season focussing on one specific character but the same groups being present throughout.

There’s a couple of bits that are a little difficult to get your head around: high schoolers living alone, away from their parents (I think I read there was a rent grant in Norway and it’s not that uncommon?), people seeming to be quite rich and carefree and… oh, yes, everyone being so young. Some were born after the millennium ffs! That aside, the acting is sublime from people so young. And, as an opposite to Class, it’s nice to see teens on-screen with flaws. Spots, acne and problems. Skam just gets so much right.

streetmateStreetmate

I love a good dating show and I was mildly aware of the existence of Davina McCall’s Streetmate from the late-90s. It was brought back recently for a one-off edition on Stand Up To Cancer. I subsequently tried to find clips of the original on YouTube but there’s none  around, not even many of the ITV2 Holly Willoughby version from the late-00s. And then, on a fluke, I typed it into All4 and lo, all the episodes from all three series popped up! I then subsequently binge-watched around 20 eps and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

First surprise: the format. It took a little while to get used to it actually, I wasn’t expecting that the actual ‘street match’ element would be such a slim part of the show. The rest is made up of pre-date getting ready where you learn about the participants in more detail, the date itself and then the post-date interview filmed a few weeks later which features the question “did they ring you?” which seems so lovely. These days the question would probably be “did they send you a nude?”.

Talking of nudes, there is a surprising amount of naked male bums and ab close-ups in the pre-date section. A decision must have been taken between series however, as they (sadly) all but disappear in S2. It took a while for there to be an episode featuring a gay man but a couple did appear eventually. Lesbians still remain non-existent I’m afraid though. And the post-show voxes are a treat – which in essence involve asking random members of the public about their sex lives. Richard Whitely appears in one (!!) but with a more sedate question, understandably*.

One of main enjoyments of Streetmate is the 90s just quietly bubbling away in the background. The old cars, the defunct shop brands seen in the background, the soundtrack. It’s such a lovely trip down nostalgia avenue**. I feel like this show could have real potential for a comeback and would be quite big online. If I had any get up and go I’d create and film a version for YouTube called ‘Match Street’ with slight format tweaks to avoid a lawsuit.***

* talking of ‘slebs the not-yet-famous actor Don Gilet appears in one of the very first eps as a friend of a date participant
** not my nostalgia, I would have been in nappies
*** the show’s based on an American concept actually which is incredibly difficult to find any reference to online. The only thing I could find was this clip where the host sets up a couple at a retirement complex.

Black Mirror: Hated In The Nation

This was always going to be my Black Mirror treat. A feature-length episode to be savoured with drink and food, and my God was it great. As always it ticks the relevant box oh so well, being set in the very near future (2017 I think?). Katie Hopkins-esque columnists, public shaming through social media, band-wagon jumping, bees dying out, government surveillance and hackers; it’s all there. The episode begins in media res, as we see the beginning of a government investigation into some terrible and as-yet-unexplained event. We zoom back to the day when it all started and slowly, over the course of 90 minutes, everything becomes painfully clear. Outstandingly good.

blackmirror-bee

Buble At The BBC

I struggle to understand people who hate Michael Bublé. I feel like they’re cut from the same cloth as those who make out that they despise Coldplay. There’s a certain element of snobbishness involved and yet in reality I bet they could sing and hum an awful lot of their songs. And when it comes to the Boobs, he’s one of the nicest people in show business with time for everybody. Claudia Winkleman was her lovely self here as the Beeb try to replicate the success of their 2015 Adele special. I don’t think it was as successful and the hidden camera element where Bublé was in disguise didn’t work anywhere near as well as Adele and her lookalikes. However, it’s great to see music on prime-time TV. If we have to shove an interview in there and some little game than so be it.


Films

Arrival

Never before have I felt such a great disconnect in terms of my opinion vs. that of the masses. This film has been praised all over the place and people have been going wild for it on social media. I hated it. Like, really, really disliked. The fact it was sci-fi wasn’t the issue (the length of a film matters more to me) but I found the entire thing incredibly dull. The entire middle of the film as Amy Adams & co try desperately to communicate with the alien visitors was incredibly repetitive. Any ‘high-drama’ in the film was achingly dull. *spoiler* Oh no, the countries aren’t talking to each other anymore! Oh no, the explosives might go off with them inside! Yawn.

And don’t get me started on it being overly sentimental. Throwing a dying kid in the mix, some sad music and a potential new boyfriend does not automatically make the entire thing acceptably moving. There’s barely any depth to the characters either, I felt no connection or fear for them whatsoever. Everything seems incredibly basic and uninspiring, even when reviewed knowing the ‘twist’. In fact, with the ‘twist’ at the end, I can’t help but think the entire film eats itself at that moment. It ends shoddily and bizarrely both slowly and quickly. The solution presents itself very quickly but is then explained in agonising detail.

Oh, and the British input in the entire film was a Brit scientist saying “you cheeky bastard”. Got to love a stereotype! The most interesting thing during the film for me was a lady in the auditorium tripping as she went to the loo, loudly proclaiming “oh, shit!” leading to hysterics from the audience.

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

Nocturnal Animals

Nocturnal Animals on the other hand, the other Amy Adams film out this month, I adored. This is designer Tom Ford’s second cinematic direction after Colin Firth’s A Single Man. Right from the incredibly poetic opening in Nocturnal Animals, which is up there as the most bizarre thing I’ve seen on the silver screen, through to the end, it had me gripped.

Presented as a thriller within mundanity, Amy Adam’s character is sent a manuscript of a new book by her former boyfriend. Suffering from insomnia she reads through the book and the action plays out on-screen, in between her trying to get a grip on her life. The book and real life are intertwined and there’s the knowledge throughout that the former boyfriend may well be using the entire plot as a metaphor for their relationship. There’s some real tense moments throughout and the way the action can suddenly stop as the reading stops adds to the effect. It’s exactly like being deep into a book within your own life.

Also within the film is the sense of time passing as we see the real life relationship between Gyllenhall and Adams’ characters, and the way they and it changes over time. Is happiness how you define it, or how your societal status defines it? Can it be temporary? Do we all turn into our parents as we age? Eventually, Adams’ character realises the wrong steps she took in her life but gains no triumph from the realisation. It’s too late. It seemed perfect that way.

Hypernormalisation

The name Adam Curtis doesn’t mean anything to me. Well, at least it didn’t until Bitter Lake appeared as an iPlayer exclusive. I’ve still yet to watch that but thought I’d dive in with Hypernormalisation as it seemed incredibly relevant judging by the description. The post-truth world we live in and the echo-chambers we build ourselves are all presented here within a larger context. Trump features heavily too and having watched this after his win in the US presidential election, it all seems more sad and bizarre. Some of his history I knew already from the copious amount of articles about his less than straight past but it was interesting to see it weaved into a wider global context.

p04bpbyzI’m ashamed to say I don’t know all that much about the middle-East or recent global history besides that of the UK. I’m not sure that’s all my fault though. The recent past fascinates me far more than ancient history and yet it’s barely taught in schools. Instead, there’s an obsession with the two world wars and the bloody Tudors.

This doc is lengthy (I mean, of course it would be) and far from succinct but is easily spread over a few days with obvious places for you to bail for a night’s sleep. Important and relevant, but this is all just the tip of the iceberg. We’ve become self-aware of our situation but there feels like there’s no way of doing something about it. Shouting into the void doesn’t help, the liberals are decimated and all we can do is stare into the oncoming iceberg (Titanic reference, the best I can do).

Lost In Translation

I would discuss this film in great detail but I lost interest half way through. It bubbled away in the background until the end but I can’t for the life of me remember what happened. Just the way it is.

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