Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Binge watching, what's been good lately on BBC, Netflix etc

You don't need another article by someone from my generation (X, Y, etc) to observe with bewilderment at how media consumption is changing. But I do think we are in something of a golden age of television.

How you consume though is everything. I really enjoy the binge watching of a series and it has totally altered the way our attention spans pivot around a programme. Being married to a teacher not all of these have been shared experiences, one of us doesn't have the time, one of us travels on trains a lot. But the ones I enjoyed the most, we enjoyed together.

Here's what I've been watching over the last year since what I thought were the peak telly highs of Stranger Things and Narcos.

The Fall (BBC) - We gave up on this creepy, rapey, sexist crap. Should never have been broadcast. Outrageous. 1/10.

The OA (Netflix) - I didn't really get into this. The twists and turns seemed like strange leaps into the unknown and in the end I skipped a few to find out what was going on. 4/10.

Homeland (C4). I thought Homeland had run out of steam around series three, but this last series probably cemented its place as a decent but run-of-the-mill spy thriller. The Trump election probably ruined the narrative about America's new place in the world and the characters rather fizzled out. 5/10.

Cleverman (BBC) - An Australian thriller, set in a dystopian racist future with the emergence of a secret race of "hairy people" or "subhumans" in a corporatist police state. Sometimes I wish they'd just get on with it, not quite enough going on, and I'm struggling to see the shifting motives of two of the lead characters. 6/10.
  
Taboo (BBC) - Tom Hardy's grunt fest was a real mixed bag. In parts brilliant. In others just a load of incomprehensible mystical tosh, which I admit is a harsh verdict given how forgiving I've been of Twin Peaks. By the end it had all the elements and you could truly smell the filth of London's dirty streets and rivers. 6/10.

Twin Peaks - The Return (NowTV). Strangely, I don't think I could handle binge watching Twin Peaks. It would be too much to handle. It started off with so many disparate strands and red herrings thrown to the winds that it seemed aimless and directionless. Just as I was losing patience with it came the outrageous 8th episode (Got a light?). It was off the scale Lynch weirdness, creepy, dark, ugly and needlessly violent. Unforgettable television that had as many theories as it probably had viewers. Since then it has started to draw the fragments together, from the first half and from the first series 25 years ago and from the film Fire Walk With Me. It is a masterpiece, for all it's flaws. Whatever happens now will be unable to be repeated by anyone. What Lynch has done is to graft onto an old project something that feels like a lifetime of work and creativity, sometimes with the sense that a director is indulging his fans and his  own imagination. 7/10 (points deducted for needless indulgence).

Ozark (Netflix) - billed as an heir to Breaking Bad this was always on a hiding to nothing. But I liked it and was gripped by the end. Sympathetic characters were in short supply, but the stars of the show weren't the entitled money laundering Chicago family, trying to make a mark in the sticks, but the roughnecks of the Missouri Ozarks, especially the dysfunctional Langmore clan, exemplified by an outstanding performance by Julia Garner as Ruth. But for me the real show stealer was Peter Mullan as Jacob Snell. 7/10.

Top of the Lake, season 1 (BBC) - I came across Top of the Lake series one quite late. It was glorious to watch, unnerving and full of suspense with a series of jaw dropping scenes starring Elisabeth Moss, again. And Peter Mullan again, this time with his Scots accent intact. 8/10.

Top of the Lake, season 2 (BBC) - I was pleased that season two was made available all at once on the BBC iPlayer. It was hard going at times. Though I have a soft spot for pretty much anything Australian (of which more later) the grimy side of Sydney was too much at times. It wasn't until the third episode that a male character emerged with any redeeming features whatsoever. But it was a brave and ambitious series marked out with some complex character twists. 7/10.

The Code (BBC) - We watched two series of this pacy and high octane Australian thriller, pretty much one after the other. Taught and anxious due to stand-out performance of Ashley Zukerman as Jesse, a high functioning autistic lead character. I loved how it spanned different parts of Australian life, the outback as well as the stiff political class of Canberra. 8/10.

Hinterland (S4C) - We were properly gripped by Hinterland, picking up on where I left off from the first series which I reviewed here. I adored the sparse and oppressive central character in the show, the one consistent and dominant element that loomed not just in each episode, but every scene. That is the landscape of Ceredigion, and collectively the people of west Wales. I was disappointed that Sian and Lloyd weren't bigger parts, but the priority had to be flushing out the frankly ludicrous presence of the most useless copper on television, the brooding Prosser. We liked it so much we went to Aberystwyth for the day. 8/10.

The Handmaids Tale (C4). I thought this was a masterful piece of filmmaking. Atmospheric, uncomfortable and terrifying. As part of an Elisabeth Moss binge it was right up there. But. There was a but coming. The experience of watching it every Sunday night, with adverts, was hard going. I'm delighted there's a next series, but I'm going to dash off the lot in a weekend. 5/10 for the experience, 8/10 for the actual programme.

Broadchurch (ITV) - we were dubious about how ITV could keep the momentum going with Broadchurch. More red herrings than a trawler could catch off the Dorset coast, the third series was my favourite of the lot. So many issues got resolved, so many didn't. I can't think of a better cast female detective than Olivia Coleman as DI Miller. 8/10

The Missing (BBC) - we found this second series a really tough watch, and frustrating for the jumpy timelines, but it was mesmerising and truly worthy of a week off between episodes. Keeley Hawes and David Morrissey were outstanding as the parents of a missing daughter, while Tcheky Karyo as Julien Baptiste brilliantly portrayed the detective who takes an obsession to a new level. The producers are constantly in the driving seat with what they choose to reveal, prompting a whole industry of speculation. 8/10.

Line of Duty (BBC) - for tension, twists, manipulation and sheer brass balls I watched most of Line of Duty stood up. This was the BBC at its best and at most preposterous. The clues were littered all the way back through the previous series, and sometimes it stretched credibility with the deep and frankly inexplicable dark criminal conspiracy looming over everything. 9/10.

But the winner is...

Broken (BBC) -  as Catholics you sort of heave a sigh of predictable acceptance when a TV series focuses on a priest. It's usually only a matter of time before he gets outed as a kiddie fiddler. Dark as this series was though Sean Bean not only delivered a performance you could believe in, but depicted a priest that truly fulfils Pope Francis' call to them to get out and smell of the sheep. Tough storylines, full of despair, frustration and tension, but in doing so Jimmy McGovern also wrote a troubled love letter to the church. Full of contradictions, but full of the graces. 9/10.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Tony Mowbray is the problem

That was awful. Pitiful, weak, shambolic, amateur and downright dishonest. Losing anytime is disappointing, losing at home is always particularly hard to take. But surrendering in our first home game of the season to newly promoted Doncaster really hurt.

I blame Tony Mowbray all the way. Sure, some players had individual off-days (Williams, Graham, Ward, Bennett) but he picked the team. He drilled the formation, he will have read the scouting reports on Doncaster Rovers and stuck Danny Graham up front on his own to hide in the shadows of two taller centre halves. Unbelievably, inexplicably, he sent them out in the second half to do the same again.

So if Tony Mowbray's the problem, what's the solution? For now, more Tony Mowbray.

Friday, August 11, 2017

I love the Inn at Whitewell

I love the Inn at Whitewell.

I've only been twice, but I have an irrational and emotional connection to it, possibly to everything it represents.

Growing up in Lancaster the Trough of Bowland was so close, but yet so far. Signs to places like Oakenclough, Calder Vale, Chipping and Clitheroe pointed to destinations we never quite reached. The hills and vales seemed like a nether region, somewhere that an Ordnance Survey map offered mystery, but an ancient map in an antiquarian bookstore would probably denote them as "there be dragons". We had our own names for our favourite beauty spots for picnics and paddling - the pipe place, the pools, the rocky place. Far from ice cream vans and penny arcades they contain firm memories of enduring innocence and, I've grown to appreciate, wise parents.

JRR Tolkein visualised Middle Earth when he was embedded at Stonyhurst College, a few miles away. As you peel away from Whalley with your Sat Nav charting a course ahead, along no obvious highway, defying logical directions to anywhere in particular, you can see why. It is glorious countryside, rolling and surprising.

Yesterday was a magical, glorious, emotional day. The wedding of our very special niece Danielle to Carl Holden, such a smashing lad. These days layer on the pleasurable experiences that cement a reputation. Stood on the terrace with braziers burning brightly and warmly added to the sense of comfort and hospitality. And I'm a sucker for a shop stocked full of cookbooks and expensive cashmere socks.

The Inn also kicked off the TV series The Trip, where Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon open their food travels of the North. The surprises on seeing that for the first time back in 2010 are all happy ones, a real delight, heightened possibly by Coogan's chicken choice pretty much matching what we had as our wedding banquet yesterday. I scanned the menu while we were there; local, seasonal and utterly tantalising. On the way there we passed by the Three Fishes at Mitton, the first of Nigel Haworth's monuments to Northern food where we have enjoyed many a splendid lunch.

I got hopelessly lost on the way home, in the dead of night. It didn't put me off, quite the opposite. I liked that it requires extraordinary effort to discover, but also to escape. I love that no-one stumbles on it by chance, that you have to go there with purpose and prior knowledge.

And that photo above of my beautiful wife Rachel in the private dining room will be one to treasure forever.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Clash of the abominable owners - Rovers at the Ricoh

Two clubs with abominable owners met last night at the Ricoh Arena. My team the Blackburn Indian Chicken and Pharma Conglomerate visiting the Japanese Photocopier Bowl, the temporary home of of the Coventry Hedge Funders in the Confected Energy Brand Trophy. That Blackburn won the actual cup tie 3-1 doesn't settle the argument of who have the worst owners (not that they were there, either). You can take a look at many others here to decide that for yourself.

It is an appalling situation that Coventry find themselves in. Kicking off the season in League Two (fourth division) is no place for a club of this size in a city like Coventry. Reading back through the coverage of their shabby period in charge provokes real anger. SISU thought they could turn around a distressed situation to their advantage, wreaking havoc on the fortunes of the club, the city and the asset they thought they'd enhance. Instead they've made it worse, arguably by applying their own ruthless business logic to a sport that defies it.

In one of our Discuss Manchester debates a few years ago my pal Graeme Hawley (currently on the silver screen as Morrissey's teacher in England is Mine) made the powerful and emotional case for fans everywhere. An unregulated wild west has enabled football to become the plaything of oligarchs and asset strippers. A club is no longer a focal point in a community that exists for the common good.

On looking out across this large bowl of a stadium last night my first sad thought was how sparse and eerie it was. How a few thousand people peppered around it accentuated the demise of what it ought to be. I texted Graeme to say I thought it felt like a music venue, an arena with a pitch in the middle, compounded possibly by a very good choice of music. The effect of that size and scale, that emptiness, has proved suffocating to teams, he said.

On my groundhopping journey, of which this season will be a very busy one, this is another new ground chalked off. I make it the 149th ground I've watched football on, I'm still on 82 out of the Punk 92 as I'd seen Coventry City at Highfield Road twice before, but it is my 71st of the current 92 as I lost Hartlepool United and Leyton Orient last season, the latter another club with bad owners.

I was pleased that we won, especially after the disappointment of Southend, but never have I felt as sad at a football ground for the fate of the fans following the other team.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Southend away - back to reality

It always takes me a while to absorb the pattern of a game of football, to work out a formation and a game plan and to see who's on top and what's going on. Yesterday at Southend, after 20 minutes or so I thought to myself we're the better team here, our players are clearly a notch above and I like what I see. Of the new faces Peter Whittingham has a forward gear and an instinct to go forward in a way that Jason Lowe never did, and I like the look of Richie Smallwood. Bradley Dack never got in the game until too late.

So what went wrong? I had my say on TalkSport2 half an hour after the game as we rattled through the Essex countryside. I said there seemed to be too much of what we had last season. Reliance on our best player to pull some magic out of the hat, a defence that crumbled under pressure and failed to do the basics, and a forward that for all his undoubted poaching ability doesn't score enough goals.

There's something else though. Ever since we lost Mark Hughes as manager each of our teams has lacked steel. They've been a soft touch and been unable to impose their style of play and physical presence on a game. We just seem to adapt to the game plan of the opposition. When it counted we were bullied by Southend yesterday. Anton Ferdinand might as well have got a new pocket sewn into his shorts for Danny Graham to slip into for the second half. I don't honestly think Southend were better players, neither did they "want it more" but the last 15 minutes Rovers were totally unable to create momentum to get an equaliser. The introduction of Harry Chapman descended into farce when he fell over his own feet right in front of us. Despite that, I believe Sheffield United fans who tell me we've got a good one there.

There were loads of us in the sold out away end yesterday, an impressive turnout from a loyal support. It added to the occasion and the home fans relished beating the team everyone is going to want to beat. But as we discussed on the way home yesterday, we're going to have some more tough days like that. We should win this league. We can win this league, but it's going to be a lot harder than a lot of fans, and maybe some players, realise.

First Generation: The campaign to transform lives



There's a really fabulous programme underway at work to support students to come to university. Across Greater Manchester there are bright kids at schools and colleges who are thinking that further education isn't for them. They don't have the peer groups, the siblings or the parents who can relate their experiences. What I like about First Generation is that provides a level of pastoral support as well as a financial package. Have a look at the video and see if you can contribute to this really good cause.