The Watchlist: January 2017

Woah now! I am fully aware of the fact very few people read this blog (other than you obviously. By the way your hair looks LOVELY today), and I kind of do it for myself as a record of my ‘cultural engagement’ but I’m quite chuffed that it’s now successfully been running for a year. Here’s January’s rather lengthy watch list…

Television

Search Party

I LOVED this so much. It stars Alia Shawkat who most people know as Maeby in Arrested Development (I still love the fact that they committed to one joke in S1 Ep1 so much that they were willing to set in stone a character’s name for the entire series), as Dory, a stuck-in-a-rut 20-something looking for something more meaningful. She ends up taking an interest in the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of an old school-peer, and one that in reality, she barely spoke to. She’s joined on the merry ride by her hapless boyfriend, her self obsessed gay friend (Elliott) and insipid blonde-actress friend (Portia).

sourceWhat I found really remarkable about this was how well Episode 1 was done – it’s an absolute masterclass in introducing characters and plot in the space of little over twenty minutes. I went away from it feeling like I knew each and everyone of them incredibly well already, even though there weren’t any unsubtle “this is my friend Nick, who happens to own this expensive house and has a job and two dogs and a mother who hates him and did I mention he bakes cakes which will become relevant in ep 3”-type lines.

The characters aren’t meant to be flawless but it’s such a rollicking good ride along the way. They’re twenty-something millennials looking for meaning in their lives. Yes, they’re incredibly vacant at times, desperate for fame or something tangible but mostly they’re trying to get by. The mystery element of the whole piece makes it so difficult not to binge immediately – I tried to savour a couple of episodes at a time but did do a straight out five episode binge at one stage. I can’t recommend this highly enough – even if you think a mini US drama about Brooklyn millennials won’t be up your street I promise you this is not to be missed.

This Is Us

This show seemed to tick the box of being “the hit new US-sensation”, and me, ever desperate to be seen as being #relevant, decided to leap in feet first. I mean, with the premise summarised as being “US drama series charting the lives of individuals who happen to share a birthday and whose paths cross and stories intertwine”I thought “ooh, that sounds interesting”. It turns out minor spoiler their stories intwine because they’re part of the same family. They’re three siblings that just so happen to be born on the same day as their Father. That was disappointment number one – disappointment number two is that it just feels like an incredibly plodding, expensive soap opera. I realise it’s meant to be a light drama but the ‘cliffhangers’ are all based on the viewer not yet knowing the whole truth which I think is a bit of an easy get-out. Where’s the real drama? The realisations? In fact, by around Episode 4 they just gave up on cliff-hangers altogether and the episode simply ends, as do many subsequently. I assume some focus group research on US TV showed that by Ep 4, viewers will generally stick with a show if they’ve reached that point. And it’s been true for me, thus far. I’ve wanted to bail, particularly once I learned how many episodes there were in the season but I’m sticking with it at the moment even if I’m not necessarily enjoying it.

On a side note, it seems Channel 4 have grown bored of it too – initially scheduled for Tuesdays at 9pm, it’s now been pushed to the graveyard 11pm slot and will undoubtedly be shoved on to More4 in the near future. I am being a bit of a negative nelly here, but there’s nothing wrong with the actual performances of the actors and it’s nice to see Sterling K Brown (who we met in The People vs OJ Simpson this time last year) in something else. This Is Us has been greenlit for a two more seasons – I doubt I’ll watch them, but I realise that NBC can’t exactly sniff at something that gets more than two viewers these days.

fanartBarracuda

An Australian drama featuring lots of men in Speedos with a subtle gay undertone throughout the series… what a shock I ended up watching it, eh? I actually thoroughly enjoyed this. Each episode charts a portion of a year in the life of Danny, a champion swimmer in the making. Danny’s not a perfect underdog character that we’re meant to fully support – he’s a teenager full of bravado once he realises his ability; he’s a bit of a knob but he’s well intentioned. It’s a solid teen drama and the beginning of the Episode 4 finale really packs a punch, both literally and metaphorically. It makes you go “oh shit, oh shit, oh no!” as you watch through your fingers.

For those playing “Aussie-drama Bingo”, much like “Nordic-Noir Bingo” where you keep an eye on the actors appearing in other things, Jeremy Lindsay Taylor pops up. We met him last month in Deep Water.

Sherlock

Ah, Sherlock. A show that has an unbelievable amount of hype for something that’s barely on a TV screens. It started off so well, great episodes, great cases and conclusions that made you go “ohhhhh!” as everything became clear, like a high brow Jonathan Creek. Nowadays, my end of episode reaction is more of a disappointed “oh”. There’s been enough criticism levelled at the show so I don’t feel like I need to go into great detail here. Toby Jones appeared in Ep 2 (Toby Jones in a BBC One drama? whatever next!) and I thought things were going to get back to normal – it seemed like a cut and dry case that Sherlock had to solve. Alas, even that proved to be a little disappointing in its conclusion but I had strong hopes for Episode 3 if the formula was back in play. It turns out it wasn’t. The entire series now seems to revolve around the ‘myth of Sherlock’ and his character, which is delivered slowly throughout an entire episode. I’d much prefer if his character and past were recognised and revealed throughout the course of a case that makes some form of sense but alas. Everything just feels a bit pants and from what I gather from Moffat/Gattis interviews, they’re not planning on changing that anytime soon. It sure is dark and difficult to see when you’ve got your head up your own arse, I suppose.

a-series-of-unfortunate-events-review-netflix-02_1484209999522A Series Of Unfortunate Events

There was a lot of pressure riding on this from my perspective. I wouldn’t go as far to say that I was obsessed or loved the books above all else when I was younger, but they were a big part and constant during my childhood. In fact, I’d say the release of The End was bigger for me than the release of any Harry Potter book. I’ve never actually seen the film adaptation in full but squeezing three books into one feature-length does seem a bit tight. This series stretches each book to two 45 minute episodes, which I think works far better.

I did enjoy the series but I think it struggles with what it wants to achieve. The performances are good but parts of it do seem a bit rushed and I can’t tell if the terrible, terrible CGI at points is meant to be an affectation or not. (I realise a non-CGI baby may have proved difficult at points, and credit where credit’s due Sunny could be a lot worse) The way they’ve tried to intwine green screen elements with actual sets and props is interesting but at times is a little jarring. Parts feel steam-punk influenced (a token to the nature of the books, which are set in some bizarre mix of the turn of the millennium and way-back-when olden times) and others like a poor man’s Wes Anderson movie. Everything is highly stylised. It’s also a shame that they went down the route of Count Olaf being a farcical character – the books add some real depth of creepiness and terror which I think is lacking here.

The tales are narrated by a Lemony Snicket character, interjecting at points and helping you pierce together more of the facts and mysterious back story, which is a more drawn out process in the actual books. These are nicely done. There’s also some moments where the fourth wall is broken within the ‘drama’ itself which I love obviously (one way that’s guaranteed to win me over is a tongue in cheek reference or joke). If you don’t take it all too seriously, it’s a great piece of fun and no doubt one of my favourite things Netflix has commissioned. I look forward to the next two series. Some viewers were complaining that the episodes became a little formulaic and repetitive after a while but that’s part of the books’ charm. It’s the same basic plot explored in a variety of different settings.

Other things of note: in true Netflix style the episodes have proper opening credits over a minute in length. The second of each double bill opens with Count Olaf singing as his ruse character. Also, my dress sense is scarily similar to that of Klaus Baudelaire, particularly in the first few episodes. Same glasses? Tick. Same suede shoes? Tick. Hair to the left? Tick. Shirt and jumper combo? Tick. If only I’d looked that good when I was thirteen.

brooklyn-nine-nineBrooklyn Nine-Nine

Unquestionably, B99 (is anybody calling it that?) is one of the best mainstream network comedies out of the US right now. The Big Bang Theory is a congealed drop of condensed milk by comparison. Season 3 finally appeared on Netflix and it’s a great show to fill your day – spare twenty minutes? Stick on an episode and all is well in the world again. The jokes are good, situations funny, characters well written and well delivered. It has everything and never manages to feel rushed in twenty two minutes or full of ‘filler’ mid-season either. Andre Braugher is a tour-de-force (in fact, as is everyone) and the line in the finale along the lines of “I should have known he was a bad egg. I once saw him… wearing a V-neck” *gasp* “And you did nothing?” perfectly describes my opinion of V-necks. Have some self respect. I’m in two minds as to watch Season 4 on All 4 but I think 22 spaced out episodes and the same tired old ads might grow a little wearisome for me.

First Dates Hotel

I am an unashamed First Dates stan. I love it… but I can’t seem to click with this version of the show. It strikes me that there was some terrible, terrible meeting somewhere where someone said “First Dates is great and all but what we’d really like to see is like… a second date?” and thus this format was born. I hate it so much I’ve stopped watching, which is a shame really.

Streetmate

And with First Dates Hotel disappointing it was back to me watching this for some light kicks. And it’s meant to be coming back soon too! Sadly not with me hosting but you can’t have everything in life.

Films

Spotlight

I always feel like a fool ‘reviewing’ (that’s not really the point of this blog, but…) films that have won a load of awards and been written about to death by critics. What could I possibly add that’s relevant or even vaguely insightful? Not a jot. That doesn’t stop me being able to say something incredibly simple, however: I enjoyed this. You’d think given the subject matter it might be tough watch, or have a dull mid-section, or be over dramatising elements for effect. It isn’t and doesn’t have any of these things. It’s an incredibly well put together film that at no point feels plodding. Sure, there’s very little in the way of actual action and it could no doubt have been a little shorter but it didn’t feel like a mountain of movie you had to climb. I wouldn’t go as far to say it was a relaxing Sunday afternoon watch, but it was worthy of my time and I’d recommend it wholeheartedly. Also, and I assume this is down to me being a #mediageek but I genuinely cried at the end. When everything comes together and you realise the impact for good that the media can have when it puts its heart into something, it all got a bit overwhelming. It’s precisely like when I was fifteen/sixteen and I was watching the BBC News Channel and started crying during the countdown up to the top of the hour as the music built to a crescendo. I’m a freak.

henryorient1

The World Of Henry Orient

This has been on my Netflix to watch this for a long old time and I couldn’t quite work out why and then it hit me – it’s one of the few things on Netflix UK starring Angela Lansbury. Sadly, there weren’t any good gifs I could get from this film (wonder why I’d need them, cough cough) but I still thoroughly enjoyed it. It charts two teenage girls who become close friends and bond over a shared obsession with a middlingly successful (and in reality quite terrible) womanising pianist. It’s good fun and the two young actresses are stand out… there’s a really fascinating New Yorker article on what became of them, including a look at the movie and how it was made. Worthy of a read even if you don’t intend to ever watch it.

Royal Tenenbaums

Treat myself to a Wes Anderson movie. This isn’t my favourite one but I still broadly enjoyed it. This instrumental version of Hey Jude at the beginning is so great and so’s this exchange towards the back end of the film…

– I’ve always been considered an asshole for about as long as I can remember. That’s just my style. But I’d really feel blue if I didn’t think you were going to forgive me.

– I don’t think you’re an asshole, Royal. I just think you’re kind of a son of a bitch.

– Well, I really appreciate that.

lalalandLa La Land

It wasn’t long before the La La Land backlash set in. There was an enormous amount of hype around this film which is always a little worrying and I went in fully expecting to be disappointed – but I loved it so much. It was light and airy and a joyous watch. Bitter sweet rather than cloyingly sweet but it was still great. Don’t go into the cinema expecting miracles and you’ll come out pleased, feeling like you’re walking on air and with a desperate urge to leap out your car and start singing whenever you’re next stuck in traffic.

My feet were tap-tapping away in the cinema and I was properly mouthing along when out of nowhere A Flock of Seagull’s I Ran randomly appears. It was a fairly empty screening, don’t judge me.

Love Is Strange

I watched this on a Sunday evening and was only half paying attention. It was okay, maybe worthy of a rewatch in a few years time but it didn’t set my world on fire.

Blind Date

(ctrl-c, ctrl-v) I watched this on a Sunday evening and was only half paying attention. It’s a French romcom.

Little Men

(ctrl-c, ctrl-v) I watched this on a Sunday evening and was only half paying attention. It’s a French romcom. Someone on Twitter said this was one of their favourite films – I can’t for the life of me understand why.

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