Arts and Class

July 30, 2015 — Leave a comment

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that the best documentaries have no onscreen presenter taking up valuable airtime; fortunately, a documentary about Melvyn Bragg needs no presenter because Bragg is the presenter of all things whenever he steps in front of a camera or behind a microphone. Melvyn Bragg: From Wigton to Westminster (BBC Two) was a tremendously enjoyable, sporadically moving, profile of the man who is perhaps the last example of what used to be called a cultural grandee; but it was depressing viewing for anyone who cares about arts programming. Continue Reading…

Extreme Bromance

June 26, 2015 — Leave a comment
Image Credit: NBC

Image Credit: NBC

The threat of domesticated AI is a trend in the near-future sci-fi genre at the moment: Extant (Amazon) had a creepy robo-kid, though, having failed to watch the whole series, I don’t know how dangerous he became; the Terminator franchise is – once again – ahem, back, as you may’ve seen in what must be the most desperate, tragic trailer of the decade; and now Channel 4 have their somewhat familiar take on us vs. robots, Humans. Continue Reading…

Image Credit: Steven Lippman/Steven Lippman/SHOWTIME

Image Credit: Steven Lippman/SHOWTIME

Infidelity is almost as vital a staple of television as the violent murder of young women. Convoluted assignations are practically the only things that occur in our beloved, cryogenically-frozen soap operas, and these often end in someone’s climactic death. There isn’t a marriage on the box that doesn’t harbour a cheat or a killer. The message seems to be this: that we, the gawping masses, either want someone other than our significant others, or we want to kill them. But the telly, our moral guardian, is ever on hand to save us from our dark desires and enact them, ad nauseam, for our delectation and, presumably, titillation. Continue Reading…

Ordinary Television

April 24, 2015 — Leave a comment

Not even Channel 4’s own announcer sounded convinced when she was forced to describe the last episode of Indian Summers as the ‘gripping finale to our hit series’. This was a risible, ham-fisted attempt to lash together the hazy colonial nostalgia of a Somerset Maugham story with modern sensibilities. It failed. Continue Reading…

Maddening Mad Men

April 10, 2015
Image credit: AMC

Image credit: AMC

Alas, there wasn’t time to sit through every episode of Mad Men (AMC/Sky Atlantic), as I had pipedreamed, before the first episode of the second half of the final season (there’s an easier way to put that but as long as showrunners want to tease us with half-portions of final episodes, they should know how uncomfortable we all are). This may be a good thing: that trademark blend of purposeless sexism and misogyny, ranging from the puerile to the sadistic, was, frankly, trying by the end of this opener – exposure to 85 episodes might force a tough re-evaluation of the company one keeps on screen. Just as, say, OD-ing on Breaking Bad might make Walter White seem less of a troubled genius and more of a simpering slap-head. Continue Reading…

Image credit: Netflix

Image credit: Netflix

What a good and generous thing it is for Netflix to offer a month’s free trial. But then, also, how devious. You think you’ll be in and out like a seasoned bank robber, binge-watch your series of choice and ride off into a blank screen. Not so. For once you’ve watched your series of choice – House of Cards – there’s another series – Better Call Saul that’s released weekly; then there are all those others – Lillehammer, Orange is the New Black – that you’ve never had chance to see and had better stick around to see what the twit-crits having been raving about; and, finally, there are the future enticements, such as Marvel’s upcoming Daredevil.

It’s a racket, all right. Continue Reading…

Cromwellian: Wolf Hall

January 24, 2015 — Leave a comment
Image credit: BBC

Image credit: BBC

Condensing Hilary Mantel’s novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies into six hours of television must have been a challenge that required a severe hand as well as a deft one and, after the first episode, we can conclude that Peter Straughan has produced an admirable script. One that marries well with the BBC’s seven million pound budget; both of which, one assumes, were attractive to its commanding cast. Continue Reading…

New Year’s Espionage

January 10, 2015 — Leave a comment
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Image credit: ABC/Marvel

It behooves a television critic to say something about the ‘festive telly’ but, hélas, the moment has passed, and what more is to be said? I’ve answered so many questions, seen so many of the same faces, and laughed at so few jokes on celebrity quizzes that I’m sure they must film them all in one go on a revolving cyclorama. On The Big Day itself, the BBC and ITV teamed up to give us schmaltz with both barrels in the form of Call the Midwife and Downton Abbey. Continue Reading…

gore-vidalI know all those SEO experts tell bloggers to stay within their niche – which, let us not forget, means not only a specific market but also a comfortable position, i.e. not where a critic should be – but I’m going to go slightly off-message by mentioning a theatrical release: Life Itself (CNN Films – also available on some demand platforms) a documentary about American film critic Roger Ebert, based on his 2011 memoir of the same name. Continue Reading…

Image credit: HBO

Image credit: HBO

So it has ended: bloody, cold and brutal Boardwalk Empire (HBO/Sky Atlantic). And when Mad Men concludes next year, so ends the great age of the grand dramas. Tom Wolfe is entirely wrong to say that the modern novel needs to engage with and depict society as a whole, returning to the tradition of Dickens et al, because the writers of television programmes such as these (along with The Wire, Breaking Bad, and, top of the heap, The Sopranos) are telling modern sagas. Equipped with far more scope and creative talent than most films, television is the place for story and character over plot and gimmickry. Continue Reading…