Monday, 30 May 2011

Scott and Bailey

AKA Cagney and Lacey: UK

This was always going to be a prime-time cop show and not quality original drama, so we've no business posting about it, but dammit we like Lesley Sharp and all she's had to do so far in 'The Shadow Line' is look unhealthily thin and baffled.  (Mrs Bede may have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, but she's probably also confused by the overblown plot.)

Last night's opener was pretty much as expected: case which coincidentally mirrored Cagney's, sorry, Bailey's muddled private life which she thus has insight enough to solve.  Hurrah!  Clunky, but harmless.  The main TWNH, though, is that we are expected to believe that our competent cop has been seeing someone for two years without realising he was married with kids and lived, when not in his bachelor pad, in a posh family home.  Villains had better hope that Scott is on leave or off sick, so they can get away with it.

OK, the last episode has now aired, and Ali stuck with this one.  Undeniably there were some good scenes and sharp dialogue.  With a bit more thought about developing peripheral characters, i.e. all the men in the series, and as much care given to the weekly crime(s) as to the soapy personal lives of the leads, it could be great.  Suranne Jones and Lesley Sharp make good screen buddies, if you can get over the former being, in the words of her boss, “one of the best young detectives I’ve ever seen” while falling for Mr Rotten twice (Rupert Graves, the current go-to for nasty cads).  Said Mr Rotten – who must have an equally daft wife – tried to have Bailey killed in order to save his career, so he was obviously (a) Evil Incarnate and (b) taking more of a risk having her murdered than trusting her not to talk?

You also have to get over Scott, supposedly the more stable of the pair, preaching to Bailey about being a dupe and then putting her husband in the same position by continuing an affair with a colleague.  This is after she’s made a miraculous recovery from being stabbed by her dead friend’s brother last week.  A couple of months were meant to have gone by, admittedly, but as always in telly-land, there were no physical reminders at all.  She’s human, yes, and she nearly died, and her erstwhile lover is leaving town but... wouldn’t she either leave her hubby or make a go of her marriage?

Having kept their MIT jobs by the proverbial skin of their teeth, the end of the series brought everything pretty much back to where it was at the start, so in the next series they can behave like this one never happened....

Monday, 23 May 2011

Bafta Reactions

Did the Bafta judges read our post last week?  Unlikely, but they might have read our minds, because by & large we agree with their decisions:

Leading actor: Daniel Rigby, Eric And Ernie - A great performance.  Playing a well-known character is so hard, but DR really seemed to *be* Eric Morecambe at times in this.

Leading actress: Vicky McClure, This Is England '86 - Another great performance.  While the series was a bit uneven (the first couple of episodes had too many 'TWNH' moments, and it wasn't wholly convincing as an update on the film), the last two episodes with the horrific scenes with Mick and Trev vindicated the whole production.

Supporting actor: Martin Freeman, Sherlock - Yes, ok.  Martin Freeman was pretty good.  We'd have given it to Johnny Harris for This is England (see above) but that would have been a very unpopular decision, given the level of complaints the programme received.

Supporting actress: Lauren Socha, Misfits - Don't know, haven't seen it, but heard good things.

Single drama: The Road to Coronation Street - It's still on the Sky Plus.  We're prepared to accept that it was really good.  Must get around to watching it!

Drama series: Sherlock - They didn't know how to end the third episode, and there were a few annoying things about it, but yes, this was deserved.  We'd like to think the judges took our comments to heart re Downton Abbey, but maybe they just thought Twitter followers wouldn't stand for it....  @superinjunction, you have the power!

Drama serial: Any Human Heart - Love the book (Dan.  Ali isn't sure yet), but the TV series felt like it was just joining up the dots.  Disappointing that William Boyd's adaptation of Sword of Honour was better than his adaptation of his own book.  At least they didn't give the Bafta to The Promise.

Continuing drama: EastEnders - Whatever... If we were doing 'That Would Never Happen' for EastEnders we'd never have time to do anything else.

International: The Killing - We agree!

Thursday, 19 May 2011


Checking out the Bafta tv nominations made us realise that the blog was inspired by even more shows:

  • Downton Abbey - we admit to being a pedants.  It's because we (OK, I) love the whole Upstairs Downstairs scene, dammit.  Many people have raised the anachronisms, though notably not many critics, so all we (I) would say is: a little more regard for viewers who might know their lords from their lackeys, please, and perhaps a shade more subtle characterization?  Just to make it a bit harder to summarise cast as 'kind lord', 'old battleaxe', 'nasty footman', 'feisty daughter' etc.

  • The Promise - it tried its best with a difficult situation, but we just weren't convinced by the enormously irritating Erin, nor her quest on behalf of her granddad Len (who looked like he was constantly in danger of bursting into tears), whom she'd only met a handful of times.  Would she have spent a gap year hanging around in Israel while her friend was on national service, and while her granddad was dying?  Would she have been quite so reckless, naive and selfish, given that we are supposed to think her intelligent and at least vaguely sympathetic?  As for the romances, torn loyalties and murky pasts, we don't dispute these things happened and are still happening, but... why did it all feel so cliched?  Maybe because the characters were secondary to the situations Kosminsky wanted to engineer to illustrate his moral points.  Maybe.
We haven't made up our minds yet about 'Sherlock' and 'Mad Men' (yes, I know, after a zillion and three episodes of the latter).  We neither want to hug nor throw something at the telly.  So in short, we like, but do we love?

Progs we love

And yes, we did watch 'The Killing' and mostly loved it, but it did have a couple of TWNHs: Thais wouldn't tell Pernille that Nana had worked in the wonderfully-named 'Boils'?  The security guard didn't admit to filling up the car, knowing it was where the body was found, until days afterwards, despite being questioned?  Troels's campaign was on and off a few too many times to be believed.  It seemed a bit hamstrung by the gimmicky structure of one episode per hour (think '24', spread out) but it was good enough to keep us watching for the full 20 hours....
The real reason for this blog is our love of good tv, and just to show we mean it, here are some shows we love:
Clocking Off – fresh, original stories with 3-dimensional characters, and in our opinion Abbott’s best work (yes, better than ‘State of Play’).
Life on Mars – for once a terrible-sounding premise: “Cop goes back in time!” produced a fun, entertaining drama.  The less said about AtoA the better.
Holding On – riveting, heart-breaking collision of contemporary lives, and so far unsurpassed by anything Marchant’s done since.
GBH – surreal, sublime, what more can we say?
Edge of Darkness – lionised from the off, and of its time, but still as powerful 25+ years on.  Maybe if they’d followed the original idea and turned Bob Peck into a tree at the end, it would have been even more relevant now, who knows...?
A Very British Coup – as with the above, being remade for some unfathomable reason.  Come back, Ray McAnally, Tony Benn and the vanished left?
Auf Wiedersehen, Pet – character-driven plots, realistic scenario and genuinely funny.  Take a bow, Messrs Whateley, Healy, Spall et al.
Our Friends in the North – who’d have thought a multi-hour drama adapted from an RSC play would become state-of-the-nation telly?  Another career-making programme, and maybe here the question is whether Ms McKee and Messrs Eccleston, Craig and Strong have bettered these performances?
The Singing Detective – another piece lauded almost before broadcast, and by a positively idolized writer.  We think his output pretty uneven, all told, but this is about as good as telly gets.
House of Cards – and another work that would fail all tests of ‘realism’ but translated the satire of the novel brilliantly, drawing the viewer into a sinister, claustrophobic and darkly funny tale.
Shooting the Past – great example of something that works in its own little universe, that of a photo archive in crisis, with slavishly dedicated and seriously knowledgeable staff and several fascinating life stories captured in boxes hidden away on dusty shelves….  So much more than the sum of its strange parts and, if we dare repeat ourselves, has Poliakoff done better work elsewhere?  (OK, maybe ‘Caught on a Train’.)
The Beiderbecke Trilogy – England’s dreaming, 80s style.  Some say twee, we say the sharp barbs of Jill and Trevor (pre and post- First Born) lift this clear of the derided category of ‘comedy-drama’.
The Wire – Proof that it’s possible for a cop show to avoid cliché.  Comparisons to great 19th Century novels for scope and comprehensive human experience are not unfounded.
And not even exhaustive!  A brainstorm threw up such gems as After Pilkington, Conviction, Bellman and True, Low Winter Sun, Brideshead Revisited, Das Boot, Longitude, The Cops ....  We confess there may be TWNHs within these, but they’ve escaped us in the sheer enjoyment of watching.

Monday, 16 May 2011


Cop procedural based on novels of Ann Cleeves.  Can’t speak for the novels, but the first episode of the tv version wasn't great.  An intriguing set-up yielded the laziest of denouements, based on the 'because he's mad’ motive.

In other episodes, viewers were treated to tired old chestnuts such as that of a trained policeman turning his back on a suspect to rescue a victim in a cellar, having been sent to a remote farmhouse on his own.  (The two viewers in the UK who have never seen a cop show may not have guessed what would happen, but they were probably doing something more interesting with their Sunday evenings anyway.)  The dialogue included such gems as, “Those who profit from violence aren’t above using it to their own advantage.”  Really?  Even a be-cardiganed Brenda Blethyn can’t make this a long-stayer, surely?

The final episode had just too many TWNHs to list, straining our credulity to the point of no return right from the pre-credit rescue of the drowning boy, who is the only witness to a brutal murder....  Stop us if you think you've heard this one before.  The dialogue was yet again aimed at those unfamiliar with the notion of cop shows, or perhaps both cops and shows:

"He says he's the boy's father." (I paraphrase here)
"He could be lying."
"Why would he lie?  Anyway, the DNA test will tell us."

Would two police officers, both in on the interview with the suspect and familiar with DNA swabbing, have this conversation?  Presumably the suspect might just also be aware that saying he's the father would mean a paternity test?

Even if we could forgive all of the above and replace the 'gritty' Tyneside setting with, say, Neverland, we can't bring ourselves to forgive Brenda's shouting at everyone every five minutes.  If she wants to be Boyd from 'Waking the Dead' she's missed the boat.  If real cops yell like tv cops all the time, there must be a high rate of deafness among the ranks.

Friday, 13 May 2011

The Shadow Line

‘The Shadow Line’ (spoilers)

Unfair to review before reaching the end, so this is a work in progress.
Generally speaking, we have no problem with slow.  If you tune into a thriller, it can hit its ground running or take all the time it needs to ratchet up the tension.  It’s when it takes more time than it needs, and way more time than it should, that there’s a problem.  Even the pre-credit sequence of the first episode was too darned long, to the point of being boring, and by the end of that episode our impressions were that ‘Shadow Line’ loved itself, deeply and solemnly, and at the expense of anything like a convincing performance from the usually-good Rafe Spall.  It tried its best to confuse, but as the closing credits appeared, you knew you were dealing with a quarrelling criminal gang, complete with psycho scion (the aforementioned Spall, the victim’s nephew) and a cop with a past that he (in)conveniently can’t remember.  We’ve been here before, just a few times.
13th May.  Episode two has a tense chase at the end.  Nothing like it for obliterating the dull 50 minutes building up to it.  For us, it wasn’t quite that good, partly because every ten seconds it looked like Andy, our AWOL driver, had to get caught by one of the people chasing him, and then suddenly there he was again, way out in front, with not a tree root or heart attack to beleaguer his pursuers.    The other reason is that, like extreme pain, the sheer self-indulgence of the various interview/interrogation scenes preceding it was hard to forget.  And lest we neglect them, the intimidated partner and mother of our AWOL driver, knowing at least something about what he’d been involved in, cheerily open the door to two strange men, one after the other.  TWNH.  Oh and the seriously sinister drug baron/criminal overlord who is owed money by the gang says he has been waiting for it for two years.  Most patient drug baron/criminal overlord ever?  Lucky gang!  He also agrees to Bede’s so-surefire-it’s-never-been-done-before plan after 5 minutes.  Lucky, lucky gang!
20th May.  Episode Three was an improvement.  Rafe stopped chewing the carpet (only so much twist'n'pile an actor can take?) and there was less of the staged set-piece feel of the previous hours.  We are prepared to follow in the increasing hope that there is a decent payoff at the end of the series.

That said, trained cop Gabriel wipes his bloody paws on the crime scene.  Presumably this will have repercussions for him later, but it was a pretty clumsy device.  And Harvey, lately a crime lord, has but one mourner at his funeral - mad Rafe.  The cops were so excited when mourner # 2 turned up they took endless pictures.  They'd obviously been hoping for a Krays-style underworld bash.  Even his 'lieutenant' (do they all watch 'The Wire' in the way that mobsters watch 'The Godfather'?) failed to show up.  Is it an offence?  The two main twists revealed were intriguing, except that the Gatehouse one threw up a nice TWNH: since our AWOL driver knew he had in fact killed his boss, and the killer knew he knew, would he choose to trust this man over the boss's family and the cops?
And please, Mr Blick, give the wives something to do other than attract sympathy for their husbands!

27th May.  We have a division.  Dan likes it more than Ali.  As divisions go, this is not unusual and not serious.

What Ali dislikes is that, more than halfway through the series, the main characters are all people she’d take serious detours to avoid, be they criminals, cops or journalists.  This isn’t only because they are inherently unsympathetic, but because they all speak as though they were in an o.t.t. send-up of a noir thriller.  “It’s so much p*ss in the wind,” snarls a top cop, “and I’m beginning to feel the spray”.

Dan says he takes Ali’s points (except the pompous dialogue, which he hadn’t noticed and now can’t remember) but he still likes it, despite the TWNH (or at least the TWBUTH - Unlikely To Happen) ending.  Do young, ambitious London journos live deep in the countryside?  It felt like a scenic way of killing him, and also an unreliable one.  The professional killer chose a method which might injure him too and not kill the target.  That's if he managed to time the thing so that they'd both be on the same stretch of empty road at the same time.  Note to self....

3rd June.  I (Ali) must be a masochist.  I can’t stop watching even though it frustrates me.  Somewhere in here is, just possibly, a really good story, but it’s drained of all life by the ponderous dialogue, lovingly-framed shots and over-emotive music.  It takes itself so seriously I want to laugh, and I’m feeling more manipulated than ever.

Last week’s episode ended with a splattered journalist.  He wasn’t very nice, but doesn’t anyone wonder how he died?  The police were preoccupied with snapping at each other about a dead colleague and how to cover their tracks.  This week’s episode ended with a splattered gangster.  He wasn’t very nice either, but will the police take note?  The killing scene was spliced with those of other characters staring moodily, while an ironically crooning song played.  A little homage to ‘Sopranos’/’Mad Men’?  Sadly the likes of ‘Casualty’ got there first – and I’m deliberately ignoring Mr Coppola here.

In-between, we had this week’s big TWNH: an explosion where a shop was blown to bits but the two men inside it survived with minor cuts and bruises.  Having been about to kill each other, they growl a bit and part ways.  Then there was not so much a TWNH as an OHoT (Only Happens on TV) moment, with Bede starting an affair with Glickman’s girlfriend as soon as they meet.  Lonely criminal meets scared gangster’s moll = obvious affair, on TV.  Will there be a point to this?  Will one of them end up splattered at the end of episode 6?

I’m grateful he’s trying, really I am, and hands up I’ve no direct experience, but do CEOs of drug networks really stride around in sinister hats, commit their own murders and operate state-of-the-art surveillance equipment?  Are they all called things like ‘Glickman’, ‘Bede’ and ‘Gatehouse’?  (I know the average cop is not called ‘Gabriel’ or ‘Honey’)  And why is there always an androgynous juvenile sleeping with a seedy middle-aged gangster?

10th June.  Praise be, not one but two female characters who actually had something to do in last night’s episode.  One of them was Petra, who committed murder (and attempted murder), true, but hey it beats the boring old ‘love interest’ role.  The other was Gabriel’s ex-mistress, whose grief helped her find some compassion, which hasn’t been very much on display anywhere in the programme so far.
Special mention for Nicholas Jones, a lovely actor who gets to spend all his time coiling ropes on docksides when not growling at unwanted visitors.
Things are now playing nicely like a Jacobean tragedy, except that the revenge motive isn’t clear.  Gripping, if even less rooted in the world as anyone knows it.  And no, police didn’t seem that interested in last week’s end-of-episode death either.  This week they’ve got Glickman, Petra and Gabriel’s illegitimate child, so they’ll have a grand job ignoring all three, plus Gatehouse’s near-miss.  We watch with interest to see if Gabriel finally gets the picture before the bullet kills him.

17th June.  All over in overblown style.  We think it would have been better if it hadn't screamed in every possible way - dialogue, acting, visuals, music - that it was so very serious, and important, and tragic.  Both Rafe Spall and Freddie Fox appeared in this week's 'Miss Marple' and managed to give more convincing performances in (what should be) a campier show.  Yes, we felt for Gabriel, the once-possibly-bad-but-now-struggling-to-be-good cop, as he realised that even Honey had lied to him and worked for Gatehouse.  We even felt for Bede, for whom letting go of his suicidal wife meant letting go of his own life.  But...

Are we meant to believe in major drug operations being masterminded by bent cops for decades?  Masterminded by one department, being investigated by another, some of whom are also, shall we say, walking the Shadow Line?  Somehow the suicide of our skipper friend the ex-Commander didn't ring true either: he'd given a helpful run-down of events to Gabriel, justifying everything he'd done (it was all for our pensions, don't you know), and surely if Gatehouse had wanted him dead, he'd have been splattered all over his deck long ago, so why kill himself?  And what became of the customs guy Beatty and the cop Foley, last seen as Beatty's punch bag?  The scene had one of the series' few moments of intentional humour when they both stopped the violence to flash their ID cards at a passing patrol car.  Even the familiar upbeat ending of a birth was clouded with predictions of doom by the late Gabriel's boss in a scene redolent of the drowning cat in episode two; both should have been terrifying, but ended up being a bit silly.  "We always look after our own," snarls the Commander as he salutes the newborn in front of his nonplussed mother.  Someone should have told him that (a) Gabriel was no longer one of theirs, even if he ever had been, (b) babies are a bit young to recruit and (c) this wasn't 'Rosemary's Baby' nor 'The Omen'.

We know this has its fans, and maybe we should thank the telly-watching gods that original dramas are made at all, but it could have been much better and it's a shame it isn't.  Mostly it feels like a film student's idea of what a classy thriller should be, with the elements to include ticked off one-by-one: violent murders, warehouses, sex, ailing wives, suitcases of money, guns, bent cops, foreign dealers, at least one psycho, characters speaking cryptic lines etc.  In all, it doesn't add up to much more than the sum of its borrowed parts.  Does Mr Blick understand his plot?  It's a kindness to say he doesn't, because otherwise he just didn't do his job in communicating it very well.  Were we the only lost viewers, we would keep quiet and enrol on a course, but we seem to be two of many.  Perhaps, as Foley says, the only way to get through it is to know nothing?  What have we got for seven hours of our lives, other than being very wary of hatted strangers at the front door?


So, first up, with *spoilers* and a little later than planned:
We had to like lots of things about this: likeable main cast, good pacing and all helped by scheduling over consecutive nights.  Even those of us with lives could watch without too much head-scratching about what had happened so far.  But...

1.     The 'we'll send it to the newspaper and it'll all come out' ending.  Would they publish?  Even discounting Metzler getting a superinjunction, it was an unsolicited manuscript, based on the evidence of a now-dead low-life and an illegally recorded conversation (that didn't really get a confession).  Plus couldn’t Metzler spike the story, assuming the paper did take it seriously?

2.     Is it really likely Tom would have left Tulse at his request, to come back the next night?  Does Tom never watch any telly, in which the person with info always then dies?  This is almost as popular as the 'I'm about to kill you but I'll waste time telling you why so they can rescue you' scenario (which will almost certainly be alluded to again on this blog very soon) and the “Stop!  You can’t go in there!” line (which happily appeared in ‘Exile’).

3.     It’s official: Tom’s lover’s husband is such a good bloke that he forgives Tom for sleeping with his wife and thereby ending his marriage, all in a matter of days.  Was there any real point in this affair at all, other than to show that Tom wasn’t a total sh*t and is amazingly irresistible to women?

4.     Absuses did happen, and there were cover-ups, but two weirdos together raping women to the point where there were multiple pregnancies would have been investigated by more than just one lone journalist.  Who told him?  There must have been people who knew, and a nurse working there would have heard more than just rumours.  So, would Metzler have had Tulse's contact details on his pc at work?

5.       Respite care would be difficult to arrange at such short notice.  Why not say Sam was in hospital for a day or two as they'd had to sedate him or he'd fallen over?

6.      So there you are listening to one of your old cassette tapes, as you do, when suddenly you hear your dad talking about a conspiracy.  I'm sure we've all been there.  Lets leave the likelihood of journo dad being careful with his material and say it's a coincidence of Hardy-esque proportions that the very tape you pick would just happen to be the one.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

First Post

So you watch a drama on telly – and not even a soap, or a long-running cop/doc show - a ‘quality, original drama’ etc etc – and you think or say or even yell, “That Would Never Happen!” maybe once, twice, or until you lose count.  The first fact is, that even after one TWNH you’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’, and the second fact is, when you read reviews from allegedly respectable sources, the critics often seem to have had a brain transplant while watching.  (We could wonder if they watched it at all or are just blagging it, but we’re not that cynical folks.  Or not always.)  We can’t think of too many current cinema films – with the same proviso of quality, original screenplays – that are quite so blasé about intelligent plots or anachronisms.  A matter of budget, perhaps?
There have always been a number of tv offenders, but we’ve noticed a lot lately; dramas with an interesting premise and a good cast that just don’t deliver on the internal logic front.  The ones that drove us over the edge, i.e. specifically prompted this blog, are: ‘Accused’ (some howlers spoiled an otherwise intelligent and provocative series); ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher' (played fast and loose with facts, and with a sketchy script which managed to lose all sense of atmosphere in transition from book to screen); ‘Outcasts’ (OK, so we neither of us expected much, nor watched after episode one, but given that the 21st Century has furnished us with both wireless and digital screen technology, why is the control room/command deck of a future off-world colony hamstrung by a very visible column of massive wires, a la ‘Dr Who’ c. 1977, and a videophone picture that constantly snowstorms?)
You can argue that we drift towards the pedantic now and then, but the fact is that once you’ve found one glaring no-no, others demand to be seen and heard.  Yes, you have to suspend disbelief sometimes, but without a good script as well as good performances, it isn’t going to happen.  And yes, some things could have various explanations, but without even a hint of why something inexplicable or unbelievable happens, why should you give it the benefit of the doubt?

So: the real reviews, like it is, no bribery etc etc.