Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Odyssey


Ms. Friel again, playing here a modern plucky gal rather than a 1940s lipsticked one in 'The Saboteurs'.  This time she's American, and the security of western democracy is in her hands.  Or something.  A bit like 'Homeland', in other words.  However, a rather tired-sounding premise and a few early cliches (a young activist in New York is the son of a powerful businessman; a moral mover-and-shaker - who happens to be a dead ringer for a young Matthew McConnaughey btw - has a wife who delicately reminds him what a good job and lovely house he has) flourishes into a watchable, decent drama.  OK, Odelle Ballard (Anna Friel) manages to escape death almost as often as James Bond, if with rather more reliance on outside aid, but her journey along the Mali/Algerian border, interlaced with the attempts of her fellow Americans to find her, had us gripped for the extra-long 90-minute episode.

If she manages not to have an affair with any of the men who are looking for her, it'll be more believable than 'Homeland' for that alone.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Cordon


There are lots of jokes about the Belgians, not least that the three things they do well are chocolate, gravy trains and overcharging.  We can vouch for the last, but disagree with the generalisation of the first two.  So the words 'Belgian drama' don't have quite the thrill of Nordic, Skandi or even, these days, US drama.  'Cordon' is all about an infectious disease.  Biologists are doubtless on the edge of their seats, waiting to lambast the portrayed security protocols or the claimed provenance of some disease.  For the rest of us, it's a bit like a disaster movie, i.e. a good part of the first hour is spent establishing some characters and their backstories in order to throw them mercilessly into the path of tragedy and chaos.  It's all a bit bewildering thus far.  What is this flu-like virus that they're so scared of, and who are all these people milling around the Antwerp Institute of Contagious Diseases?  It's not 'The Cassandra Crossing', which made everything crystal clear (we were dealing with the Beubonic Plague) but it's just as depressing.  Not very Saturday night!

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Black Work


Jo Gillespie (Sheridan Smith) has an undercover cop, Ryan (Kenny Doughty) for a husband, with whom she has a daughter and a stepson.  His frequent absences from her life have led to her seeking solace with one of his colleagues (Matthew McNulty).  She decides to give her marriage another go, but before she can do anything about it, he is found shot dead in an empty warehouse.  She'd believed he was at a football match (that went on all night...?) and so she begins a quest to find out who her dead husband really was and how he died.  Unsurprisingly, the police aren't too keen, especially as it soon becomes clear that they aren't too sure what he was doing either.

The post-mortem discovery of a loved one's secret life is hardly a new formula, but there's plenty of basis in reality for the scenario, at least, with recent news stories and trials concerning cops undercover for years, going 'native', having relationships and even children.  Difficult to tell whether this will be credible, as so far there have been a few implausibilities or handy coincidences (surveillance teams would go to the trouble of putting bugged conversations on CD, of all things?  Said CDs are stowed in the airing cupboard?  Obliging lover leaks information about dead hubby's undercover identity?  Same dead hubby has a hideout his bosses haven't investigated?).  The next two parts could give us explanations for these things, and the cast is strong enough to keep us watching to find out.  In addition, there's some nice footage of Leeds and West Yorkshire as neither the grim Northern hell nor the American-sell gloss usually depicted.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

The Saboteurs


This is a six-part co-production of Norwegian, Danes and Brits, about the race to develop nuclear weapons in WWII.  The Germans have Werner Heisenberg, Nobel Prize winner for Chemistry in the early 1930s; the Danes have Niels Bohr; the Norwegians have a plucky Professor and the Brits have Anna Friel as one of those clipped gals who knew what was wanted to win a war, by golly.  What the Norwegians also had, and everyone wanted, was heavy water, which you need for a nuclear bomb, so the Nazis invaded Norway.

Does it bear any resemblance to history?  Who knows, beyond the intellectual heft of Heisenberg et al and the invasion.  It's gripping, though.  Think 'Foyle's War' with subtitles and more at stake than a missing ration book or some dodgy tractors.  Only a few of the major players knew the stakes were high, and even they weren't sure what they were creating.  Scary.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Wayward Pines


Wayward Pines is an adaptation of Blake Crouch's novel series 'Pines', and is produced by M Night Shyamalan, with Matt Dillon as the main character Ethan Burke.  It's what we'd class as 'good tosh' - pretty implausible all the way through, but with enough twists and turns to keep us interested.

In format it's a strange mix of Life on Mars (is he imagining it all?), Twin Peaks (strange town with quirky inhabitants), The Truman Show (he's constantly being monitored) and The Prisoner (each episode - so far - he's tried to escape).

Despite the author being an exec producer, there is lots online about the differences between the books and the TV show, and it also seems to turn into a very different sort of show once - spoiler alert - some new characters come to live in Wayward Pines in episode 3, and again in episode 5 where a completely new set of characters are introduced.  

One thing we feel though is that drama shows are now buying up books to adapt based on a high concept format - with this being the mix of LoM, Twin Peaks, Truman and Prisoner - and more coming in in episode 5.  As such it's a pretty flexible format & setting - a bit like Lost was - and we can see it running for several series, just by bringing in new story lines and characters.

Another book currently being adapted for TV, by Amazon, is Philip K Dick's The Man in The High Castle - about an alternate history of the US in the 1950s where the Axis powers won the second World War, with Japan in control of the Western states, and Germany in control of the East coast, with an independent federation of states in between.

Again, if you cover the original book's plot pretty quickly you have a flexible format to create lots of new stories & presumably the rights for these things aren't all that expensive compared to the potential profits from a long-running drama.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Humans


Joe Hawkins (Tom Goodman-Hill) buys a synth in a sale and calls her Anita (Gemma Chan).  Synths are synthetic humans, aka androids, who serve their employers in whatever way they wish.  Sounds great?  It goes without saying that things aren't quite what they seem.  A quick flashback to only a few weeks earlier reveals that 'Anita' was one of a handful of renegade synths who were led by human Leo (Colin Morgan) to freedom, before being recaptured.  These particular products were given 'singularity', i.e. consciousness.  Oops.  Joe's wife Laura (Katherine Parkinson, who won our sympathy in 'The Honourable Woman') is suspicious of the sleekly perfect new presence in their lives, whose responses are just a little too pat for her liking.  Meanwhile Dr. Millican (William Hurt) turns down super-synth Vera (Rebecca Front) in order to hang onto to a malfunctioning model he's possibly become fond of... or who just knows too much, while a policeman (Neil Maskell) is hunting that same older model for causing a disturbance, and a synthetic prostitute is developing very negative feelings indeed. 

So far (one of eight) it's familiar SF ground, well covered by classics like 'Blade Runner' and 'Terminator'... and not-quite-such-classics as 'I, Robot'.  Advance blurb described this as a cross between 'Black Mirror' and a treatise on the nature of consciousness, and that describes it pretty well.  It's good enough to cover the human interest angles well, though, and the story is building nicely.  If the inherent silliness of pretending that the currently impossible is reality deters you, then this probably isn't going to be your bag, but so far this is high-end SF nonsense.

Sunday nights on UK TV this summer are clearly all about jam: ITV serves it up cosily with the trials of the village WI amidst spitfires and sandbags; C4 brings a humanoid who can't stop telling you that your favourite flavour is apricot....

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Stonemouth


We're beginning to think the BBC are saving us the trouble of reading Iain Banks's books.  Admittedly there's been a big gap between 'The Crow Road' in 1996 and this, his penultimate novel before his untimely death in 2013.  However, there are similarities strong enough to stir memories across the intervening years.  A cheeky-chappy average Scots lad, here played by Christian Cooke, returns to the small town where he grew up for the funeral of someone he loved, and suspects foul play.  There's also a love interest, who is ever-so-perfect, and a more suitable and human girl lurking nearby.  It's not bad, but it feels like Banks' point is that men never mature mentally beyond their teens.  The less charitable opinion is that Banks himself didn't move beyond this one narrative, and maybe just wrote well enough to enchant readers regardless.  On television, it's not an advert for 'Visit Scotland', on the plus side, but more of an extended 'Taggart' episode with a voice-over.  Has there ever been a drama that has been improved by a narrative voice?