Saturday, 18 June 2011

The Kennedys

Joke!  We weren’t labouring under the misapprehension that this was quality.  No US airtime and the presence of Mrs Cruise do not auger well.  Just had to note the continuing plunge of Tom Wilkinson (daddy Joe K) from sublime to ridiculous.  We thought he’d hit bottom with ‘Cassandra’s Dream’ but no, apparently not.  Is the mortgage that large, Mr W?  We can forgive the young, who probably do have a largeish mortgage, a career to establish and contacts to make.  We can forgive the not very successful, for obvious reasons, and also the ageing, for whom there are less parts about than they deserve.   (We can also forgive Pauline McGlynn for joining ‘Shameless’ some years after it was interesting, because she’s Mrs Doyle and we WILL we WILL forgive her anything.  Nobody mention Twitter, please....)  But what’s your excuse Mr W, for breaking our hearts?  Why not just take on the lead in a revival/remake of ‘Heartbeat’ and have done with it?  Do we need to dedicate a page to good actors in rubbish?  It would expand to a whole blog....
In common with a good percentage of the population, we have some interest in the Camelot years, and what sort of mob-funded, moll-fuelled shenanigans went on behind the glamorous facade.  There's no shortage of biographies, no dearth of film portrayals, so why churn out this schmaltzy, turgid affair which seems to have used 'Dynasty' as its template?  Delving into the realms of fantasy may be excused when it comes to JFK's assassination, since if anybody knows the truth, they aren't shouting about it and showing proof.  Character assassination is another matter, cutting both ways.  Joe Jr here is played in such a way that viewers are relieved when he gets killed.  Mother Rose is a fanatical, wet, if loving mother, rather than the cold fish she is generally described as by biographers.  As for the real Jackie, her flaws make her fascinating and somewhat sympathetic - there's little doubt she married a man likely to behave like her adored, faithless father knowing fully what life as Mrs Kennedy would be like.  In this, she behaves like any Mills and Boon heroine, believing in true love and confiding in, of all people, Joe Sr about her love life.  Bobby is depicted as about as good as it's possible to get without a halo appearing, which even those who love him must find a little disturbing.  And still well over four hours to go....
Maybe we get the media we deserve.  It's ironic that the aura of the Kennedys in their campaign and White House years was part of the ever-increasing love of image, of vacuous celebrity that replaces any attempt to convey the political issues debated, defended or decried.  Viewers unfamiliar with the details of the administration and what it stood for will come away with ambition, adultery and spin.  There will always be things to be explored about the life and legacy of the Kennedys, as long as there is interest in the US and its place on the world stage through history, but we suggest that badly-dramatized biopics is not a happy medium.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011


It’s marketed as the Idris Elba show but oh, how we cry for Stringer Bell.  Despite sharing a name with the founder of the Protestant church and a civil rights activist, this Luther isn’t all that interesting.  It’s your average show about a maverick (yes, ‘fraid so) cop, but the creatives dropped a couple of tabs while doing their stuff and the result is lurid, uneven and set in an alternative universe unrecognisable to anyone sane and sober.  The leads are charismatic, some scenes well done, but that this got a second series while ‘Zen’ got bumped can only be explained by the expensive location shoots for the latter.



Do barristers' clients turn up post-trial with a bottle of fizz and a “nudge, nudge, wink, wink, ta mate for getting me off when I’m guilty as sin?”  Somehow I doubt it.  And aren’t both sides meant to declare witnesses and evidence before the trial?  Plus it’s a little tired to borrow a narrative trick from a road safety advert.  At least Emma in ‘Edge of Darkness’ had something useful to say when she took to haunting her dad.  Even things he didn’t know, bless her.  The hint of twee that makes ‘Foyle’s War’ such a guilty pleasure seems to appear in all of Horowitz’s work and it translates badly to a tale of modern lowlifes who murder, abuse, bully, exploit and lie their way through the story, and they’re just the ones apparently on this side of the law.  It’s not exactly a whodunit: flashbacks from the very first episode, plus the helpful dead boy, tell viewers that barrister Travers murdered an ex-client who had the temerity to be guilty as charged and that his old friend Newall killed a girl half his age in a hotel room.  The main problem is that stronger threads are needed to pull viewers through five solid nights.  As the final credits appeared, there had been no character development and the plots had fallen strangely flat.

Travers, we are meant to believe, is embarked upon a career defending clients and then murdering them if they pretend to be innocent.  We suspect this would be a very short-lived career, since even the likes of DS Wenborn and DC Taylor would be able to link a string of victims who had all been defended by Travers.  Wenborn, at least, was already on his tail after the first murder, and even prepared to do Very Bad Things to secure a conviction.  Luckily for Travers, Wenborn was a thoroughly rotten sod who got shoved downstairs by his abused wife and, as always happens on TV, broke his neck.  That Wenborn’s own career had lasted so long is surprising.  We’re told that he was a lovely, kind man before joining the force, so didn’t anyone spot that he was becoming a tv cliché and kick him out of the door with a payoff?

Mrs Travers, meanwhile, is full of angst about living in Suffolk (can’t blame her), exploiting the sensitive, talented teenaged tearaway – despite his having pleaded successfully for her to publish his novel – and suddenly in the final episode realising that her husband isn’t sufficiently detached from his clients to be professional, i.e. not kill them.  While she looks to be on the verge of tears in every scene, none of this bothers her too much: they return to London, the writing prodigy hangs himself before finishing his novel, thereby removing any dilemma, and she’s satisfied that even if hubby is a killer, at least he’s enjoying his job again.

Nastiest of all, and Travers’ victim number two, is Newall, who works for a dodgy company, abandoned his first wife and child and is having an affair with a Kate Middleton look-alike.  None of this makes him nastier than your average TV nasty (especially as they’ve added the sympathy vote that Travers stole Mrs Travers from Newall at university) so they’ve thrown in paedophilia too, which takes him beyond the pale.  It’s a gratuitous subject to include, since Newall could just as easily have strangled his lover and set up an alternative motive and alibi because he enjoyed sadism.

Are Nick Dunning and Andrew Tiernan ever going to play anything but sneering villains again?  They must be tired of seeing themselves in reaction shots when they get their comeuppance from the heroes and heroines.  Dunning, as Forbes-Watson, was a particularly dim barrister who didn’t see the obvious flaws in his case for the prosecution, but he was still probably more true to life than William ‘I believe all my clients’ Travers.  Tiernan’s was a throwaway part, but he was in good company with Imogen Stubbs, Susannah Doyle and Lisa Diveney who had very little to do and not much airtime to do it in.  Ironically, Tiernan would have had a stronger part had the boy-writer (who had named Tiernan's character Bankes to the police) not committed suicide, as he would then have had a revenge to plot....

Overall it felt like an extended episode of ‘Murder in Mind’, another Horowitz effort from some years ago: unafraid of cliché, issues of the day shoehorned in and plots turning on slightly tenuous links (Would the prison guard really have threatened the boy for crying in the night?  Yes, they have to be tough, but it must have made a nice change from getting shouted at, or worse.  Travers works out that Newall is guilty because his partner says he is left-handed, which prompts him to look at a supposedly random figure he can’t see on CCTV throwing something in the river.  Errr...?)

And most confusingly of all, two actors from 'The Shadow Line' turned up, one of whom seemingly as the same character.  They may call it work, I call it... injustice.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Case Histories

We're liking, with reservations.  Familiar territory, but characters and situations have an original slant that betrays their literary origins (no bad thing - Ali).  Also has good cast (like Jason Isaacs - Ali).  More after more....

We continue to like.  Has a nice slightly offbeat tone.  Small quibble: Brodie has the best eyesight in the world.  Unlike most men, who don’t even notice earrings when they are talking face-to-face with a woman, Brodie can see them from some considerable distance and a fair height.  Wow.  Oh and surely even a lonely, drunken actress in a terrible play wouldn’t sleep with slob Richard Moat over Brodie?  Second story, based on second book, managed to carry on Brodie’s personal life in a way that broadened his role as totty and made us care when his ex-wife took his daughter to New Zealand.  Awww.

Third and final story was a good finale and we'd watch another series, if based on the Atkinson novels.  'Quirky' is an over-used and much-maligned word but this is distinguished from the average cop show by wit and imagination.  Gwyneth Keyworth, so good in 'Royal Wedding', has real presence, and came across here like Shirley Henderson's younger sister (casting call, anybody?).  We're no experts, but Amanda Abbington had a consistent accent AND the luck to be torn between Patterson Joseph and Jason Isaacs.  Sorry, this isn't a review at all - Ali's fault - so we'll stop at saying it was a fun watch, intelligently written and well acted, and so much better than formulaic procedurals.

The Shadow Line reminds me of...

It's time for another post on The Shadow Line.  As the series has progressed a few things have become clear:

- It's too long, and has too many characters.  It would have been better as a shorter, less convoluted story.

- It's hard to follow, and it seems to take pride in this.

- There are still lots of TWNHs - for example a shop is turned into a fireball, and the two men inside walk away.  Hmmm

- It's not as good as Psychoville 2, also showing on BBC 2.

Psychoville 2 is also a story with lots of characters.  There's a mysterious man who goes around killing off the main characters.  There's a woman who has a terminal illness, and her companion (her son in this case) is very upset by this.  There are some mysterious powers at work.  There are some gruesome killings (Oscar Lomax's hanging, for example)  There is a shop that isn't what it seems (Hoyti Toyti, which turns out to have a cellar full of Nazi artifacts).  However Psychoville manages to hold it together much more successfully, and isn't nearly as confusing.

I think maybe someone at the BBC was laughing to themselves when they they scheduled Psychoville 2 straight after The Shadow Line!