The Watchlist: December 2016

As you can imagine, given this includes the Christmas period, this feels fairly mammoth this month! Some things have been relegated (thankfully, no doubt) to a few lines.

Television

Dirk Gently

I had eagerly been looking forward to this series for a good few months. I’d purposefully tried to both be excited about it but not watch or read too much about it – I wanted to see it with properly fresh eyes. Obviously, I loved the Stephen Mangan Dirk gently series that was on BBC Four a few years ago (back when BBC Four had a homegrown drama budget – when that went, so did the show), which did a fairly decent job of being faithful to the original novels. It’s worth saying here that the novels are far from perfect. I know that Adams is held up in high-esteem by his fans as if he could and didn’t do wrong, but the second Gently book is an absolute mess in the back half.

gallery-1481457854-dirk1

The BBC UK series was an anthology and I kind of expected this BBC America/Netflix series to be mildly similar. Maybe a few detective cases, spread over a couple of double episodes, with a longer running thread between them all that comes to  a head in the final episode. I couldn’t have been more wrong! This series paves its own way completely, and the Dirk Gently legacy is barely visible apart from the name in the titles and the titular character being a quirky Brit. Macduff doesn’t really exist, being replaced by a down-on-his-luck bellhop called Todd,  played by Elijah Wood*. I spotted one nod to “Dirk” in the pilot – he randomly eats pizza from the box during one scene. Bizarrely, he’s upgraded from a wreck of a car to a sports car (?!), which is a shame but understandable as there’s already another character, the assassin, driving around in a wreck. Gently’s ineptitude when it comes to finances aren’t visible, sadly, and his secret psychic but not psychic path is turned into something bizarre involving the CIA. I’ll say no more on that one but safe to say correctly predicting exam papers doesn’t appear at all. There’s no young Dirk flashbacks like in the BBC UK series.

If you divorce any semblance of expectation of”Dirk” from the show and just watch it for what it is, it is enjoyable. There’s lots of threads all playing out at once and Todd and Dirk barely feature in some of the first episodes. There’s a surprisingly high body count if you can look past that, but there’s some really strong characters within the series. The ending just about holds up – there’s a lot of ‘explanation’ at then end, which although needed, I always feel like is a bit of a get-out when it comes to TV series. They’re fine with a one episode, ninety minute murder mystery, looking back at the vital clues that were underneath your nose; but if you have to explain in great detail how everything links then maybe you haven’t plotted and presented it well enough. A viewer should be able to realise connections as a series goes on.

It’s a fun series, there’s a definitive ending, a lovely bit where the main characters are sitting at a table in a diner, Christine & The Queens’ Saint Claude floats in, and everything seems serene… and then they set themselves up for a second series with crashes and bangs and wallops. Maybe in the second series we can actually find out what the point of the assassin character is?! I’m still struggling to see how she progressed the story in anyway. And Samuel Barnett has set himself up very nicely to be a future Doctor…

*I don’t know if it’s just because he looked incredibly good as a forlorn bellhop and my brain immediately thought of The Grand Budapest Hotel straight away, but… when is there going to be a Wes Anderson film with Elijah Wood in the main role? It needs to happen.

modus_1_Modus

Modus is about as clichéd Scandi-noir as it’s possible to get – but unlike other series, we are fully aware of ‘whodunnit’ and we witness the merry dance between them and the police as the deaths stack up. It’s not an unenjoyable series, it ticked a lot of boxes for me and it was really great to see a middle-aged couple represented on screen where their sexuality doesn’t come into play all that much… or so I thought. The ending is a complete pile of pants though – a rushed mess that undoes everything that’s been built up in the previous seven episodes. It was actually incredibly disappointing and frustrating in hind-sight. I could understand why they didn’t get ten episodes of the series and I don’t think they needed it, there would have been a lot of treading over the same ground again (is the daughter safe? Will she tell her secret? Who will be murdered next?) but a lot of the ending came out of nowhere. Inheritance scandals, random in-car deaths, a complete lack of reaction or reference as to the explosive ending of Ep 7 and a bizarre final showdown that makes no sense. And *spoiler* when you examine the plot it starts to unravel too: for starters, if the bishop’s secret lesbian life was such a well kept secret, how did some random cult in America with no real Scandinavian links happen to know about it?

All that aside, for those playing Scandi Actor Bingo, it was nice to see another cast member from Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves pop up in something, following Adam Pålsson in The Bridge S3 and Adam Lundgren in Blue Eyes. Modus stars Simon Berger.

Witness For The Prosecution

It’s like Toby Jones hasn’t been off BBC One in 2016 and yet, I’m pretty sure this is the first drama I’ve seen him in for a while! The BBC seem to have started a new Christmas tradition of an Agatha Christie-adaptation, and it was all going to be a tough act to follow And Then There Were None (don’t mention their work on Tommy & Tuppence). WftP is actually a Christie play, but this adaptation presents the story slightly differently. The first of the two episodes presented itself as a bit ‘meh’, I’d say. It just seemed like any average 1920s mystery drama, and tbh, I was tempted to bail out on it *but* obviosuly with Christie there’s a decent enough twist coming, and that appears in episode two. This was solid and decent and I await next year’s adaptation.

2-16-deep_water-1358-photo_by_sean_oreillyDeep Water

This is unusual for me: a foreign detective show that doesn’t involve people in knitwear, running through snowy forests in the hunt for a killer! It was down-under this time round, so there’s surfers, swimming costumes and beaches instead. Interestingly, Deep Water‘s airing in the UK couldn’t have come at a more apt time given the news stories – the premise revolves around the murder of gay men via dating app hook-ups. It took me a while to realise why I recognised the two detectives – one is Charlie Bucket’s Dad (Noah Taylor) and the other is Morello (Yael Stone) from OITNB.

It felt very ‘commercial television’-esque as a detective drama, but wasn’t terrible. It had four episodes, and I think they could have stretched it to six if needed be. It never felt rushed as such, but things weren’t presented in masses of detail and the plot developed happened at an incredible pace in some episodes. There was a really nice direction thing with it though, in some scenes, where the audio of a conversation continues as voice-over as other shots from before/after the conversation and reaction shots are blended in. It’s difficult to explain properly but felt incredibly originally and didn’t grate at all.

Rillington Place

I admit I was completely unaware of any of this real life tale. I’d never heard of Christie or Timothy Evans or the crimes committed. This series presented itself as three episodes presented, broadly, from three different perspectives. It wasn’t a first person account per episode, it just went through the years with differing viewpoints. Looking back, it was nice that Christie’s wife Ethel got an episode revolving around her given her closeness but lack of direct involvement with the murders. Tim Roth does a strong job of portraying the creepy Christie. Two old My Mad Fat Diary take on the loved-up couple together; Nico Mirallegro and Jodie Comer. I’m a fan of Nico but his accent in this was questionable, appearing strong one minute and disappearing the next.

Two Doors Down S2

It feels like a pretty swift turn around from Series 1 – I think that’s down to S1 originally airing on BBC Scotland, before appearing on the network. Once again, this is a decent BBC comedy. Hell, I think TV comedy in the UK is in a terrible place but this is one of the better ones out there. It’s nice to see Christine’s character develop too, away from the ‘hypochondriac’ she’s been presented as before.

p04mbs2s2016 Wipe/Cunk On Christmas

Oh, Charlie Brooker. What a man, what a mind blah blah blah. Oh, and what a year. I think Brooker said on Twitter the rough cut for 2016 Wipe was over ninety minutes long, and they managed to get it down to just over an hour. It was strong as usual and one of those shows you need to re-watch to appreciate all the one-liners littered throughout. I was surprised by how pro-Remain it presented itself, however. I didn’t expect Brooker to be a Leave-voter, but this is very “you twats!” in some places but then seeks to point out it recognises some of the issues that led to the vote swinging how it did. It’s both tongue-in-cheek about it (the magazines etc) but equally, by the notion of describing 2016 as a shitty year of tumultuous events you’re insinuating Brexit was a terrible thing, and yet a whole bunch of people think 2016 was /great/ for that very reason.

I’m a big fan of Philomena Cunk and her Shakespeare special earlier in the year showed great promise for a full series. Sadly, however, I felt this Christmas special wasn’t as tight or funny as it could be. Likewise, her ‘moment of wonder’ in 2016 Wipe was average at best, even if Brian Cox was in it and had clearly sussed her out beforehand well enough to not appear like a rabbit in headlights when the questions tumbled from her mouth. But that’s the fun, right?

Skam I blogged about this last month, and if there’s one thing this show doesn’t need another of , it’s a ‘hot take’. I really enjoyed it however, and the final two episodes were so great. There’s a beautiful ending to the penultimate episode where a Norwegian Christmas song is sung in falsetto over the scenes, and the scene in the kitchen at the party in the final episode gave me a big grin plastered all over my face. The final episode was quick to remind us that the entire series wasn’t all about Isak – in fact, Isak and Even’s relationship doesn’t feature all that heavily. And it’s refreshing that they both agree to enjoy it for what it is now, knowing full well that good things come to an end but that doesn’t mean they were any less wonderful at the time.

Please Like Me S4 this series drew to a close, and it was more heartbreaking than ever before. And, as much as each character’s life appeared to change dramatically to the the point when it was almost end-of-an-era level, things went round in a circle. The show’s future is in doubt but if the S4 finale was the forever finale I’d be happy with it.

Michael McIntyre’s Big Show The hey-day of Saturday night TV had all but disappeared by the time I was a child. Endless years of Strictly, a karoake competition, Casualty was all there really was. It appears that the Beeb have struggled to know what to do with Michael McIntyre of late (a comedy roadshow? a chat show?) but MMBS has settled in incredibly nicely, taking elements from other shows and giving them a nice new feel. There’s live music, classic hidden camera stuff, taking the piss out of celebrities… and it’s all in good faith, there’s nothing mean spirited about it. When one woman is united with a pen-pal she’s written to but never seen in all of 70 years.. that’s special. Great Saturday night family* TV whether you’re a fan of McIntyre’s style or not. (*some jokes are a little risqué, but broadly a family show)

Grandma’s House The beginning of the month saw me in another of my classic cultural droughts. very little was of interest to me, and, as usual when this time comes I end up watching Grandma’ House again, for what must be the seventh or eighth time. It was an acquired taste at the time, but there’s so many great lines within it and it’s a masterclass in character presentation.

Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves My rather morbid December tradition is to watch this Swedish-drama set in the 80s during the height of the AIDs crisis. I have a real fondness for this drama and its characters, particularly Benjamin. Epsiode 2 breaks me every single year.

Films

Clue

I’ve heard a lot about this film, over time. I started watching it a few months back and bailed but felt in the mood for a bit of comic farce over Christmas. My parent’s were unimpressed by it (which I found quite surprising given some of the crap they watch) but I enjoyed it. I mean, who couldn’t love a film based on a board game, right? It’s the whole classic premise of people in an isolated place being murdered one by one, but who is the culprit?!?!?!??? There’s a whole bunch of false endings to this film which was unexpected, but it’s alright. It does it’s job, it’s amusing and that’s all you can hope for really.

high-rise-film-ben-wheatley-mark-tildesley-interview_dezeen_1568_9High Rise

It got mixed reviews at the time, which prevented me from going to see it at the cinema, and having now watched it at home, that was probably a wise idea. I didn’t detest this film exactly, the whole future-from-a-60s-perspective thing is always a great stylised look, and it’s presented well here. There’s a solid British cast (and Elisabeth Moss) too and I hate to admit how basic I am but I do fancy Tom Hiddleston. Forgive me, forgive me, but this is the first thing I’ve watched that he’s been a protagonist in and he’s slim and blonde and looks good in a suit… It’s a shame that the film becomes batshit crazy at the drop of a hat half way through. I understand that’s its a societal commentary on hierarchy and bubbles and a collapse etc but it does disintegrate very quickly, both literally and in terms of the plot itself. The second half became nonsensical to me, and oddly plodding. I lost interest. But still – at least the first forty minutes looked nice!

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