Monday, 25 November 2013


Just for a change, I'm going to rate these shows. Here's the guide.
***** I'm not going out, I'm not answering the phone and I'm holding my nose until the commercial break when I'll clean up the cat poo.
****   As above, but I'll move the cat poo into another room until the commercial break.
***    As above, but I clean up the cat poo immediately and I could be talked into going out for a drink as I'm recording it.
**       I'm recording it and finding something else to do. Might watch it sometime.
*         There must be some cat poo in the house to clean up.

There's a trend for reinventing classic characters on TV (talking about drama series here) by doing a riff that is at complete variance with what the viewer expects. Recent example that worked: Merlin. Current example that doesn't: Atlantis -rating *. 

And now there's Dracula which is so utterly bizarre that it comes over as completely insane. Either that or it's a work of genius. Drac is still a vampire (or course he is; him not being really would defeat the object) but everything else pretty much isn't. Our anti-hero is revived by the doctor Abraham Van Helsing to help him take out the secret organisation which killed the vamp a couple of centuries earlier. after that opening he appears in late 19th century London as Grayson, an American industrialist-entrepreneur who wants to destroy the oil industry which is controlled by our secret society. Jonathan Harker is a journalist enlisted by Drac to get the dirty on his enemies. Harker's fiance Mina is a woman training to be a (shock, gasp, how dare she, she's a woman after all) doctor. Oh yeah, she's also the reincarnation, so he believes, of Dracula's long-dead wife. Lucy Westernra is a good time girl with a secret crush on Mina. There is a wonderful Amazon (woman, not a pre-Internet version of you know what) blonde with big t... sorry, this a non-sexist blog. Likes: rampant sex, fine food and wine, watching no-rules women fights, torture and decapitating vampires (even though she doesn't know she's shagging one -Grayson aka Drac) for the secret society. Give her a spin-off series.

This show is so over the top you want applaud each successive incident of bravura, chutzpah, or whatever you want to call it. Me, I call it the best trashy show on TV. 
Rating: *****

And then there's Sleepy Hollow in which a famous spooky story about a headless horseman and a school teacher is reinvented. Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) is now a British military officer who has swapped sides and now works for General Washington in the fight against the British army in the American War of Independence. He decapitates a seemingly unstoppable soldier only to find it makes no difference and not long after wakes up in a crypt to find out that over 200 years have passed and that the horseman is back and he may be one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Crane is teamed up with a young cop (Nicole Beharie) who is not only, as you may have guessed, female but also black. This poses no problems for our progressive turncoat British Oxford professor/spy/soldier/etc. 

Things get complicated, lots of people die (beheading being quite a common way in this series), our heroes accrue a collection of friends and enemies (aka the supporting cast), surprising revelations come at a fast rate of knots as the plot gets knottier and knottier. 

This series is turning into a surprise cult hit in the States -the chemistry between the two excellent leads is an important factor- though the only people who are still surprised are those who haven't seen it yet.
Rating: ****

Last of the new series is Marvel's Agents of Shield. Now given that there are strong links to both Joss Whedon and the larger Marvel movie superhero universe (specifically The Avengers), hopes were not only high they could, like the cow, jump over the moon.

Unfortunately it's just not very good. The characters aren't particularly engaging, though some have got better as the series has gone on. But the stories are, on the whole, quite dull. I keep watching it in the hopes it'll get better. There was an enormous amount of goodwill for this show and it's already booked for a second season. Not sure if I'll be watching it.
Rating: **

Arrow is in its second season and it's steadily building into what may soon be considered the best tv series ever to be based on a super-hero character. In this case it's DC's Green Arrow. It takes much of its mythos from the comic but grounds it, by TV standards, in reality. It has a strong supporting cast of interesting characters played by good actors and in its lead, Stephen Amell, you have someone who looks like he can actually physically accomplish what his character does, who is a good actor, and importantly possesses an undoubted charisma which makes both Arrow and alter ego Oliver Queen convincing. That it's also extremely well made doesn't hurt.

There are plenty of surprises, twists, and turns, revelations and always the feeling that there's more surprises to come. When they introduced Black Canary (in the comics GA's long time lover) and it wasn't the love interest then it could only be one other character who was supposedly dead and I was right.

All in all, an excellent action-adventure series.
Rating: *****

If True Blood hadn't already jumped the shark a couple of seasons ago then it certainly has this time with the introduction of a 6000 year old vampire-fairy in love (and who the hell isn't on this show?) with the heroine. Still, there's enough explicit sex, nudity, blood, gore, flashing fangs, and humour to keep regularly viewers moderately entertained. Rating ***

Spy thriller Nikita is up to season 3 and I hope it will be the last. Loved the first two, don't know why I keep watching the third. Once our hunted heroes took over the organisation that used to hunt them, it went downhill. Rating: **

It's the last season for British underclass super-hero series Misfits and, despite a complete change of cast from the beginning it remains consistently vulgar, funny, and sex-obsessed thanks to a great cast and Joseph Gilgun in particular. It's quitting while it's ahead. But it will be missed. Rating: ****

I'm getting tired so I'll quickly skip over Elementary, a modern New York-living Sherlock Holmes played well by Johnny Lee Miller with Lucy Liu as his assistant Dr Joan Watson. Always interesting and often funny, this is one of those shows that shouldn't work but does. Rating ***

American Horror Story Season 3 is about witches. I gave up watching the first season about halfway through, not for the horror but the cruelty and the certainty that something terrible was going to happen to innocents. For that reason I skipped Season 2. However I'd thought I'd give the latest one a go. For those not familiar with the show, each season is self-contained and while actors may reappear, their characters are different.

This one is set in a school for young witches, but if you're thinking an X-men variant, forget it. There are only four students. The head is generally well meaning but her mother is the Supreme witch and is played by Jessica Lange with such intensity that no-one in their right mind would even want to be in the same city as her. Cathy Bates plays a slave owner/madame given eternal life and then buried alive for 180 years until Lange digs her up and makes her the slave of the obese black teenage witch. Angela Bassett is Marie Laveau who wasn't buried alive, still flourishes and whose mortal enemy is the ruthless Lange. I can't begin to summarise the actual plot as it changes every five minutes. 

In a way, this show does what true horror should do -it unnerves and it disturbs, it goes into truly dark places which is something rare in modern horror no matter how gory. ****

If you see this woman, run!

Dr.Who Special.

The Day Of The Doctor. Well, it is what it is. There's no point to criticising it except by the standards and conventions the show has set itself. There's no point in criticising if you don't like the show because what you see as flaws could be examples of writer/produced Stephen Moffett's genius to someone who does. There's also no point whatsoever in criticising it for its use of science which has always been bibble-bibble, the deus ex machina rabbit out of a hat with one mighty bound he was free and if you can't swallow that, go watch The Sky At Night instead.

Apart from wrapping up loose ends, bringing together strands and bringing them to a resolution, there is a feast of references -some obvious, some subtle, some downright obscure- for fans of the show. One minute it's Monty Python, the next it's the human dilemma and knowing what is the right thing to do.

All that remains to say are: John Hurt was amazing as the War Doctor; and, I just loved it.

And if you haven't seen this show, watch it on BBC's Iplayer.
If you have any interest in the early history of British television, if you like dramas based on actual events, if you're interested in Doctor Who, or just like British actors acting brilliantly, watch this now.

In case you haven't heard (and I can't imagine regular readers of this blog not doing so), this is about the creation and early years of Dr.Who. It's how an extrovert Canadian showman got a minuscule budget science fiction kids show on tv, made a pushy female Jew the producer, and put a wog as its director. In the white upper class male patrician BBC this was unheard of. Verity Lambert and Waris Hussein (for it was them) got a grumpy middle-aged chain smoking actor with a chip on his shoulder as the elderly lead, put it together with materials like Blue Peter sticky black plastic and cardboard, and made it an enormous success.

And that is the story. It's also brilliantly done on every level. From its recreation of the BBC of the early sixties, the wonderful cast, a masterly script by Mark Gatiss (possibly the best thing he's ever done), and surely at the least a Bafta award nomination for David Bradley as that vulnerable curmudgeon William Hartnell.

Simply a breathtaking piece of drama that makes the license fee worth every penny.

I did see the first episode at the time and still remember it (vaguely). I also never missed one for many years after that.

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