Sunday, March 11, 2018

Winter telly. A quick reprise and a constant theme - get on with it!

Anna Friel in Odyssey
We've enjoyed stoking up the coal fire and indulging in some decent TV during these cold nights, and I've sneaked in a few while I've been travelling.

At the moment though the biggest problem with so many series is pace. Either too much crammed in, or frankly they've been padded out to a ludicrous degree. I also appear to have too many TV series on the go. It was probably like this in the pre-boxed set days when the papers would run a 'wise-up on the soaps' column. But this crop largely have strong female leads, or co-leads.

Strike (BBC) is well conceived, brilliantly cast, superbly acted and far too busy. That Robert Galbraith knows how to write, I wonder what else he's done?* The storyline was ambitious and brave, lots of interlocking bad people. But if anything there wasn't enough time to comprehend who was who and what they were meant to be doing. There was supposed to be a twist at the end, but instead I just wondered if I'd missed something and was curious as to why Neil Maskell appeared to be playing two different people.

Collateral (BBC) suffers from being a political broadcast on behalf of Jeremy Corbyn dressed up as a TV crime drama. David Hare railing at the dystopian nightmare of a Labour opposition led by Yvette Cooper and a military full of sociopaths and imbeciles. It's a shame because compared to pretty much all of the other dramas mentioned it has good pace and some strong central performances, Carey Mulligan's Kip Glaspie is a model of sass and smart policing.

Homeland (C4 - US) we're currently storing up the recorded episodes of Homeland, now surprisingly on its SEVENTH season. The first episode saw the unlikely scenario of Saul moving almost seamlessly from jail to the Oval Office. The success of Homeland when it started was pushing the boundaries of a spy drama of a stable but frightened America against a hostile and uncertain world. Now it seems the roles are reversed. Trump has allowed that door to an uncertain America to be opened and basically anything goes. At first I thought they’d dropped a clanger with a Hillary Clinton type in the White House, but it doesn’t matter. It’s still an isolated and paranoid President who doesn’t listen to advice and is being manipulated by darker forces. Yet the raw power of Homeland is still the incredible acting, notably from Claire Danes, and especially in her heightened meltdown situations. We’re three episodes in and it is finding its feet again.

Odyssey (NBC) - one reviewer dubbed this interlacing American military conspiracy drama as more Poundland than Homeland. It never survived the first season, which we're ticking through, but I found myself rooting habitually for Anna Friel's Odelle more comfortably than I often do for Carrie in Homeland. There are some interesting and well-written untypical characters (Bob, Shakir, Aslam and Luc), as well as cardboard cut out bad guys from the military industrial complex.

Marcella (ITV) - paradoxically the first season of this Anna Friel drama saw her playing a character cut from the Carrie Matheson school of tortured genius and mental breakdown. Much of the story arc was preposterously interwoven, but it certainly had danger and pace. It's a triumphant end rresult, on the whole. Marcella is a difficult character to pull off as she battles fugue blackouts, distrustful colleagues, her snide gaslighting husband playing with her mind and the staple of ITV drama to create ever nastier and creepier bad people.

The principal selling point of Keeping Faith (BBC Wales) is lead character Eve Myles and, like 2016's Hinterland, it was filmed back-to-back in Welsh and English. Three episodes in and her husband has vanished, but nothing much else had happened. It badly needed some actual drama, which came in the fourth episode, but still managed to intersperse plot shifts with a very long series of pop videos where the director indulged lingering scenes of Faith staring into the distance while a melancholic folk song layers on quite how troubled and sexually alive she is. This is apparently because of the difference between a TV hour on S4C, with adverts, and the BBC, with no adverts. Hence each episode is padded out by 8 minutes. *rolls eyes*

I wasn't always sure whether Requiem (BBC Wales) was a compilation of horror's greatest hits, or just another twisted psycho drama. But it was terrifically atmospheric and very, very creepy. All that was missing at the end were torches, hoods and animal heads, though the casting director missed a trick with the family from Deliverance who popped up in Keeping Faith.

I watched one episode of Shetland (BBC Scotland) while I was on the train. It was everything you’d expect of a Nordic noir, but my first impression was the obvious missing ingredient of place. London as a location can be cruel, unforgiving and unexpected, because there's so much life there. Shetland is just shown as bleak. Everyone talks about getting away. It's small and closed. That's it. I just don't think they tried hard enough to make Shetland interesting. I've written before about how well Hinterland managed to really get under the skin of the Welsh people and landscape, I await with interest how this gets on.

* I know.

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