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.

It is, indeed, familiar; with its vague threat of danger and paranoia; but it looks very glossy for a British drama (possibly because AMC have a hand in it) and, miraculously, a capable cast has been united with a script that aspires to originality. However, the main inducement to watch seems to be that Anita (Gemma Chan), the main robot – or synths, as I believe they’re called – is a knockout piece of hardware, which could go unmentioned if she hadn’t been the only visible presence in the promotion, and there have been hints as subtle as Big Ben that there will be some attempted shenanigans. (And let’s be honest, if this had been Channel 4 in the nineties there would’ve been tits all over that synth strip club.) It was a surprise to see William Hurt around, not that there aren’t Americans in London, but his presence seemed a little too conspicuous among a cast of minor names (unless the bat-eared chap from Merlin is big news these days).

Speaking of bat-eared chaps, AI is the sort of thing that Prince Charles is concerned about – should Channel 4 be basing their big programmes around his peccadillos? (Though it’s always possible that Channel 4 has been trying to be Prince Charles all along – they are also obsessed with tiresome architecture.) After the dire embarrassment of Utopia they really need a bit of genre drama to try and tap-in to the Game of Thrones crowd. But there’s a fundamental problem with anything concerning artificial intelligence, granting that one isn’t some variety of physicist or conspiracy theorist, as soon as you ask yourself the question, ‘Why build it in the first place?’ – you switch off.

There is nothing vague about the threat of danger in Hannibal (Sky Living), but the duality of the third season’s opening episodes has given it a slightly ponderous feeling. Perhaps it’s because we’re used to Dr Lecter and Will Graham spending a lot of close screen-time together and it’s disconcerting to see them mixing with different pals, or because we don’t know who’s still alive from the last series. (Actually, it’s always been somewhat difficult to pick out the dead from the living.) None of which is helped by the time-warp déjà vu instilled by heavy lifting of dialogue from the book/film of the same name.

Gillian Anderson is now part of the main cast so she won’t be a starter on the show’s menu, but without its other characters it feels small and empty – Hannibal can only seem ethereal in comparison to others, hence, there must be others. But still, Mads Mikkelsen has a magnetic screen presence and the second episode was particularly notable for the lack of it. What has become most chilling now – yes, even more than all the cooking, the blood, the antlers, the ice picks – is the nature of the friendship between the cannibal and Graham: a twisted confabulation of empathy and disgust, a byzantine form of Stockholm syndrome, a romanticised addict-enabler set-up – one that will probably spawn a new genre of reality television – Extreme Bromance.

I watched seven – or was it nine? – episodes of Orange is the New Black (Netflix), and am pleased to report that it hasn’t suffered from the same difficult-third-season syndrome as its sibling, House of Cards. It is almost perfect television because, when recounting the pre-imprisoned lives of inmates, it never gives you more flashback than you want, and – crucially – the flashbacks never tease something vital to the main plot, they only enhance; it also never overdoes sentimentality, that is, for every metaphorical knife to the heart, there’s a real shank around every corner. A few scenes have been overwritten this season: such as the memorial for the burnt  books, which was still funny, and Piper’s speech about empowerment through panties, which was just a bit weird. Its chief joy, however, is still a triumphant cast of women – with a seemingly endless range – who, though their characters may still be in a man’s world, don’t need men to shine.

We’ve waited half the year, but we can finally say, It’s been a good week for documentaries – in fact, we’ve been able to say it several times. BBCs Two and Four have been overrun with interest – and I don’t want to write a list, so get to the iPlayer. Not least among these was Victoria Coren’s How to be Bohemian – despite being the least Bohemian thing ever, but that’s rather the point. Coren put away the arch, nerd-wrangling tones of Only Connect to produce a minor smash of a documentary – the only downside was that it’s always a shame to see or hear Molly Parkin anywhere, but that’s worth enduring just to see Maggi Hambling (- the real queen of bohemia, Molly).

Jacob Knowles-Smith

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