Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Line of Duty

Having made no effort to catch Jed Mercurio’s previous antiseptic offerings ‘Bodies’ and ‘Cardiac Arrest’, we came to this with only the hope of something less self-conscious than ‘The Shadow Line’ and less run-of-the-mill than almost every other cop show.

The first of five episodes set up some nice ambiguities.  If none of the characters are hugely sympathetic, so far, then they’re not outright bad-guy villains either, just people making choices according to circumstance.  Wonderful Lennie James is DCI Tony Gates, whose soaring crime clear-up rate brings him under suspicion of cherry-picking easy-win cases.  DS Steve Arnott (Martin Compston), whose moral compass points so truly to north he probably can’t sit down, is assigned to Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) to investigate.  DC Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) meanwhile has succeeded in joining Gates’s team undercover.  Whether guilty or innocent of the above, Gates is compromised: he has a wife (Kate Ashfield) and children, as well as a mistress (Gina McKee) who has dragged him into covering up her involvement in a hit-and-run that may have been deliberate.

Nothing to dislike so far.  (Neil Morrissey as a sleazy cop may just be inspired casting.)  The style is background to the script and action, for once, and it’s a promising premise to look at the system of modern policing as something that allows or even encourages foul play.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012


Best described as 'solid'.  One of those not-great-not-terrible legal dramas with a better cast than it deserves.  Really don't understand the praise this has garnered, although the second series which finishes tonight has been better than the first.  The omission of the irritating pupils was a good move, ditto the single-career-woman-in-mid-life-pregnancy story.

More moral dilemmas with slightly less predictable turnouts and this would be a cut above.  And perhaps less of the insufferable Clive's bedroom antics.

Mad Men Series 5 - some spoilers

Mad Men - five series down, two to go.  Instead of reviewing storylines, we thought it was probably easier to see how each of the characters had developed over the course of this series.  

Don - As the lynchpin of the show Don has had a good series.  Free from Betty, he's been reasonably happy with - aka faithful to - Megan, and it's all been pretty much believable.  The only negatives are the occasional visions, which seem to be out of sync with the more-or-less natural tone of the rest of the show.  Less of those please!

Roger - Also a good series.  As a functioning alcoholic (with seemingly everlasting finances) we can buy him experimenting with LSD and realising his latest marriage was a leap in the dark that hasn't worked out.

Bert - Bert hasn't appeared much, but he's also been true to his character.   He told Don to 'get back to work' after lots of Megan distractions, and in fact he'd have done that earlier.

Lane - The series has a habit of making the male characters sleazy if it doesn't know what to do with them.  (See below!)  This series we got Sleazy Lane at the beginning, but then better storylines developed.  Halfway through we felt sorry for Jared Harris, arguably the best actor in the show, getting such a poor deal, but he had some great scenes later on.  RIP.

Pete - Sleazy Pete! Pete is a great character, and very believable as a young, thrusting ad man, but the show doesn't really know what do do with him outside work.  Hence Sleazy Pete.

Peggy - Finally she got another job.  As with Pete, they really don't know what to do with Peggy outside (& maybe inside) the office.  Ali has had a gripe with this since MM began.  Why should the nominally go-ahead character have such uninspiring stories?  Because most of the writers are male and don't know what to do with her, or understand her?  Could Peggy either go or have some kind of proper, full series story arc?

Megan - It (kind of) came good in the end, but Megan has the potential to turn into another Betty dramatically, in that she'll drag the show down whenever she appears.

Joan - We wondered midway through, but Joan ended up with the sort of full series story arc that Peggy needs.  She also arguably had the best single episode story too (the pitch) and we'd put money on her becoming an even more important character in the remaining series.

Fabulous cast, strong and intelligent writing.  Bring on Series 6!

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

True Love

'Mad Men' is the honourable exception to our Sky avoidance.  Or more accurately, it's the only thing non-terrestrial and non-freeview that we bother to tune in for or tape.  Hence the recent silence, since it's the only channel featuring anything that hasn't been shown 58 times already.  With the summer lull upon us, the schedules are full of cheap stuff, like dud Jubilee coverage and Olympics promos.  We were hoping for a pleasant diversion in bite-sized chunks, set in the faded, tawdry splendour of MargateThe trailer promised much, not least a starry cast, and on this at least it's delivered.

Admittedly, we are only one down with four still to go, but on the strength of the first story, featuring David Tennant, Joanne Froggatt and Vicky McClure, it's going to be a struggle.  Hurrah for scriptwriters.  Hurrah for Mike Leigh for coaxing decent dialogue via workshopping and improvisation.  Either would have been welcome here, but instead we got actors with rabbit-in-headlights expressions, obviously uncomfortable at being given banal storylines and having to come up with lines on the spot.  Needless to say, they conveyed love by saying "I love you" and "I love you too", and on unexpectedly bumping into an old acquaintance they say, "Well this is..." and "Yeah, yeah, it's...yeah."  It was like watching well-known actors appearing in something like TOWIE.  What's worse, the advance publicity suggests that the next four episodes will be essentially the same story (person either bereft or in relationship fancies alternative) with slightly tweaked scenarios.  Sad to say, but there were also some likely TWNH moments: would Serena really fly over from Canada to look up old flame Nick, rather than attempting, initially, to find and friend him on Facebook?  Would Nick be so hung up on her that he jumps straight into an affair that he hides from his wife but no-one else?  Would said wife be so quick to forgive him?

Good on the actors for being game, and all that, and good old Margate for being a better backdrop than most would credit, but slight stories and even slighter lines make an extremely underwhelming watch.