King of Coke: Living the High Life
Tuesday 14th May 10pm on National Geographic
This is the story of Larry Levin, a studious and charming young man with his sights set on the big time glamour of dentistry. On the way he uses his charisma and attention to detail to accidentally almost become one of the most significant coke dealers of the 80’s.
Born into a successful middle class family, Levin was used to having money and nice stuff but this all changed when his Dad’s business went kaput and suddenly his family were more or less ostracised from the ‘keeping up with the Jones’ lifestyle they had become used to and Larry had to fend for himself.
Winning a scholarship to an Ivy League college, Levin had no more than a 100 bucks in his pocket when he first rocked up to the privileged institution. Desperate for cash, he soon turned to hustling weed to maintain his existence and much more importantly, to fit in amongst the moneyed set of his new environment. Fortunately for him, his looks, charm and what can only be described as ‘coolness’ made it easy for him to establish himself as ‘the man’.
Then as the 70’s moved into to the 80’s and as the show puts it “long hair gave way to big hair” marijuana was no longer the drug of choice for the fashion conscious and the old Bolivian marching powder came back into vogue.
Levin shifted into this higher gear effortlessly and by seeking out money motivated and attractive slicksters like himself he was able to build and run his rapidly growing Chang Dynasty and still be a dentist.
His life soon became a cliché of 80’s glamour. Full of pastel coloured suits, fast cars and busty ten foot blondes you could shake a Duran Duran at. Of course as you know from the mere existence of this doc, it all went very wrong very quickly.
King of Coke is a pretty standard old school documentary. Lots of interviews with the people involved with just a wee bit of dramatic reconstruction to help highlight certain situations.
It is also an engrossing subject, nearly 30 years on, the now middle aged Levin, talks about his success and downfall with a casual, almost aristocratic air. He clearly loves what he did and is unable to hide the pride he has in almost getting away with it.
It is this appealing arrogance on display that no doubt enabled him to make so much money without intimidation or violence in business that is drenched in blood and guts. It is also very much part of the hubris that meant he was always going to get caught.
13 May at 9pm BBC2
I had hoped this would going to be a dramatisation of Albert Camus’s philosophical novel ‘The Fall’ when I first got the go ahead and review it.
It isn’t, and my disappointment only sharpened when I saw it was in fact going to be another detective show about another arsing serial killer. Then I saw Gillian Anderson was in it and I breathed a sigh of relief, maybe this was not going to be that painful after all.
I am a big fan of Anderson and not because of her iconic turn as Agent Scully in the X-Files, sure I liked the show (the first few series anyway) but she never particularly blew me away and I was not caught up in the whole Gillian Anderson as a sex symbol thing either (not that she wouldn’t get it but she didn’t get my teenaged blood up like a Erika Eleniak or a Nora Batty).
No, the reason I am a big fan is that once she was shorn of her break through role she went on to do some interesting projects and proved herself to be a very charismatic and effective actor. More than capable of carrying a piece as a lead or adding a touch of class to a character part.
This can only be a good omen for ‘The Fall’ but from the opening episode it’s quite hard to properly judge. I found it interesting that it was set in Belfast, Northern Ireland is not the most common of TV locations and I also liked playing spot the Hollyoaks actor ( I definitely saw two) but not a huge amount happens.
The story moves around handsome young psycho Paul Spector (crass? Yes, I think so) as he tries to balances his night time hobbies of lurking outside windows, sniffing knickers and ‘moidering’ attractive young professionals, with his career as some kind of guidance/bereavement/marriage councillor.
When he’s not doing these things he likes to nothing more than ponce around naked in shadows, allowing shafts of moonlight to perv tastefully over a bit of muscle, sinew or half buttock.
The local police force are finding him very difficult to track down basically because they refuse to see any connections between the deaths. But they still draft in Detective Stella Gibson to help track down the culprit even though don’t think there is ‘one’.
As I said at the beginning serial killers are the go-to villains in modern detective shows and have been pretty much since Anthony Hopkins hammed it up as Hannibal Lector in ‘Silence of the Lambs’ many years ago.
While I like a serial killer as much as the next person; like many people I have more than one book on my shelves discussing the various individuals and psychoses that fuel their blood soaked carnality. However, this familiarity does mean that we have a good idea where the show will go: more profiling and forensics than traditional detective work as they have no real motive to investigate other than the perp likes to fuck and kill!
The Fall though might prove to be a bit more substantial, it’s got a slow drip, drip vibe to it, taking time to round out all the characters. The writing is smart and all about suggestion and subtlety not pointing and shouting and I have high hopes for part two.
The Suspicions of Mr Whicher
12 May at 8pm on ITV
I was looking forward to this. I love a bit of Victorian sleuthery, the fog, the gas-light and mangled faces of the supporting casts have always evoked great comfort and pleasure in me.
I am also a big fan (who isn’t?) of Mr Paddy Considine, he has a rare charisma that I find hard to pin down and is extraordinarily watchable so the combination of the period, the actor and ‘moider’, should have made for an excellent nights viewing.
Unfortunately it did not. Following on from ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher: The Murder at Road Hill House’ from 2011, we meet up with our titular hero as he looks out for one Susan Spencer; who he spies on a desperate mission to prise information about a missing child from the denizens of the seedier, grimier parts of town.
After emancipating her purse from a young oik, Whicher offers his services as an ex copper to help her track down her missing charge.These services seem to consist of wandering around, mumbling questions to an assortment of undesirables and getting useful and immediate answers. They just tell him everything at the slightest prompt, it’s quite bizarre.
I have been watching the classic ITV Sherlock Holmes of Jeremy Brett of late, (I say of late but I never really stop watching it, it’s been on for about ten years now) and I guess ITV are in some manner trying to recreate that show in the ‘Suspicions of Mr Whicher.’ If they are to do so they really need to up the ante on the writing.
The detective’s ability to evoke honest answers from everyone around him is a microcosm of the script as a whole; everyone seems to spout exactly what is on their minds without any subtlety or sub plot. None more so in the utterly wasted Olivia Coleman as Miss Spencer. She is hamstrung by the weakness of the writing, taking a layered and cultured actress and turning her (and the rest of the cast) into little more than exposition machines. Which is just such a shame, as one of the greatest pleasures of period drama is often the effortless use of elegant language.
Despite this, the atmosphere and Paddy C manage to make this ‘on the nose’, unsophisticated stuff pretty watchable at first, but at the hour mark I found myself focusing on the frivolities, like the similarity of one of the main characters to Sir Digby Chicken Caesar, instead of what was actually occurring.
By the time we got to the reveal of the main villain and the reason for their schemes my head was thick with lethargy and didn’t know what was happening and nor did I care.
However, I like to think there is potential in this and if ITV do go onto make many more, it could be thrilling. If they trust the audience to understand and enjoy a less obtuse script that is.
BBC4 27 April at 2100
The first thing I learnt about this series is that Arne Dahl is the name of the writer not a main character like a Frost or Inspector Linley.
The action revolves round ‘A Unit’ who are I guess, having not seen the first story, Sweden’s top level crimes team. They are a bit of an NCIS type set up, in that are made up of specialists of one sort or another. There is the female all-rounder, an intellectual Finlander, a brute, a tough guy, a Mexican (I think, his name is Chavez) and a veteran lady-cop who leads the whole shebang.
In this two-parter, the ‘A Unit’ are warned by the FBI that an American serial killer is on his way over to mix things up a bit and do some murdering Swedish style. Swedish style in this case being the same way he indulged his morbid peccadillo in the States, specialist pliers in the throat to keep the victims from making any noise as he goes to town on their genitalia.
It’s an interesting show, after opening with some serial killing and the team descending on the local airport to try and capture the ‘Kentucky Killer’ on arrival, it then segues into the lives of the characters who make up the ‘A Unit’.
This is done extremely well. Which surprised me as in the opening minutes the dialogue and camaraderie between the group was forced and unnatural; very much “we need to show that this is a team who work together and play together, so let’s have some shit jokes and personal references to bring the audience up to speed”.
But, when it actually got going this side developed very naturally and I was sucked in to the slightly depressing lives of the Swedish crime busters. The drama between fathers and family is very much a theme for the story and ‘A Unit’ has at least two Dads with interesting familial dilemmas but it also spotlights some over some over 40’s sexy time, which as a younger man would have hurt my eyes but now, equidistant between my 20’s and 50’s, actually give me some kind of comfort in light of my rapidly approaching middle age.
I could have watched this quite happily but as must happen, by the time the second feature length instalment starts the focus switches back onto ‘Kentucky Killer’. Though this is still very enjoyable it also seems to be a bit far-fetched when compared to the down beat realism of ‘A Units’ private lives.
This clash is my own real problem with what is a very intelligent and carefully paced thriller, with fully rounded characters filmed in a bleak and grizzly style going up against with what the FBI describes as “like 65 psychopaths wrapped up in one body”. It all clashes a bit, especially when it is revealed that there is a second ‘Kentucky Killer’ who wants to kill the first one, the involvement of the CIA and the ubiquitous terrorist story arc.
There is a lot going on and it’s an odd mix but Arne Dahl just about gets away with it.
Men At Work
23/04/13 at 2200 on Fox
Breckin Meyer, used to be sort of famous (go on Google, the sonnuvabitch, you will like totes recognise him from the movies) but now he is not, so he has created what I suppose is called a sitcom, though I am not entirely sure.
It has laughter (canned, natch) but nothing funny happens and there is no conflict, so it certainly isn’t a drama and there is no tragedy, ergo it must be a comedy. It is also half an hour long and has actors who have previously been in sitcoms, playing the same pick’n'mix roles that appear in these things.
We have a so called likeable main guy (played by someone from That Seventies Show), a geek/weirdo (if played by a woman they are known as kooky), a cocky, confident chap who is also good with the laydeeez, though here Breckin Meyer has split this character in two and we have a slick wise arse and a lady killer but they are best mates so we get two for the price of one. You lucky people.
Anyway, Milo (the likeable main guy) has broken up with his long term girlfriend and turns to his group of clichés to help him muddle through this difficult transitional phase, he gets drunk and pours his heart out to some girl, the lady killer has sex with three women (2 at one time), the cocky guy is witty and comes out on top and the geeky guy is geeky…though he does have a surprisingly hot girlfriend.
And that’s about it, it’s the same thing you have seen a million times but you won’t be used to seeing it this badly. The States tends to only export their good stuff but with all this globalism that’s been going on recently we now have to watch their crap as well.
I am sure when Breckin Meyer originally came up with his ‘Men at Work’, it was a brilliant and cutely observed piece on being suddenly single in your mid-thirties, it was probably full of original characters and snappy dialogue that dared show what men are really like (and ladies you may think you know what we are like, but really you don’t).
But then the suits got involved and sanded down all those nasty edges that seemed way too like real life. I bet Breckin Meyer fought every step of the way to keep it true to his vision but no doubt had a kid or something and eventually capitulated just to earn a buck.
Or maybe he so hated being sort of famous that he created the most vanilla and forgetful series he could think of just to burn any bridge that might take him back to Lala Land.
Or he thought anyone can write a sitcom. Ed. Hello Leverage fans! What do you think?
Ice Cream Girls
19 April on ITV at 2100
The last three part ITV murder-drama I was asked to review was ‘The Town’, it was about a young man who returns to his home town after a long absence following the sudden death of his parents and uncovers a mysterious past.
The ‘Ice Cream Girls’, a new three part murder-drama from ITV, is about Serena, a woman who returns to her home town after a long absence to help support her dying Mum and uncovers a mysterious past.
Where ‘The Town’ was enigmatic and funny, with writing that showed a sophistication way beyond what is necessary for a run-of-the-mill crime thriller, Ice Cream girls is, judging from the opening episode, pretty standard stuff.
Based on the book of the same name by Dorothy Koomson and adapted for the small screen by Kate Brook (co-writer of recent period production, Mr Selfridge), ‘The Ice Cream Girls’ focuses on the aforementioned Serena, who has returned home to be with her family and her contemporary Polly, who quite remarkably has also just come back to the small seaside town after completing a bit of time in stir for murder.
Though Polly did the time, did she really do the crime or was it Serena? Or both? You would think I would care but I really don’t.
The victim of the crime, who we meet through the power of flash back, is not very nice. He is a womanising and slimy young bounder with a penchant for the manipulation and deflowering of young women.
There is great play made of how unpleasant he is. He takes advantage of his position as a teacher; he calls women bitches and openly flirts with one young girl whilst in the company of another. He is so abhorrent and corrupt that at one point he uses rape as a tool to best demonstrate his love and future fidelity.
I suppose this is layered on so thick in order to give a good reason for the two young women to kill the odious little fart and remain sympathetic. Which, to my mind, is a massive cop-out. Add some layers of ambiguity to the villain and you automatically add some complexity to the motives of those that did him in.
So, unless the plot suddenly pulls the rug out from under us, the remaining two parts will be who really did the crime one, the other or both together.
Now, maybe I am being harsh, this could be interesting if it just wasn’t so depressing. The two protagonists wander about looking at objects from their past with sad and pensive expressions as a particularly mawkish strain of cello music tells you to feel sad but inquisitive.
Even if the plot is weak and the music heavy handed, it could still be good if the dialogue had some layers and nuance. But it ain’t; it’s just all on the nose, there is no sub-plot at all, just what is happening or has happened. There is nothing enigmatic about any of the characters or their motivation. We know why and what they are about because they tell us directly.
At the end of the first instalment of ‘The Town’ I knew nothing about what had really happened (though I had my ideas) but I was intrigued and excited and hungry for the next episode. With Ice Cream Girls on the other hand, I feel like I know exactly what happened and why but don’t even care enough to watch more to have that confirmed.
Two nice girls killed a bastard, one got done the other didn’t. Life sucks. Whatever.
Security Men, 12 April at 2100 on ITV
Some things in life amaze you because of their brilliance. For me that has included the first real, naked boobs I encountered; finally seeing the Pixies live after nearly 20 years of live Pixies virginity; the first time I received the special endorphins that are released into the brain during long distance running and the birth of my child.
Well not the last one, I don’t actually have any but I am hoping that my reaction is going to be nearer to the condition of amazement than that of my own Father’s to the news of my birth, which was to grunt and carry on watching television.
There are also feelings of amazement that come with being out and about in nature. A gorgeous view from a hill, the feelings of awe sent down from the heavens during a thunderstorm. I even once caught site of a Golden Eagle swooping down on some prey before it launched back up into the sky, all from 20 feet away.
You can also be amazed at human athletic prowess, like Usain Bolt’s magical 100 metres in Beijing, the scuttling skill of Lionel Messi or the grace of Roger Federer swiping at tennis balls on a grass court.
Basically, what I am trying to say there are lots of positive ways to be amazed. There are of course horrible ways to be amazed, but I want to keep this thing I am writing light hearted so I won’t go in to into those.
And then there is ‘Security Guards’, a new one off comedy commissioned by ITV from the pen of award winning writer and performer Caroline Aherne and it is amazingly shit.
I am not that into Aherne, she was great in ‘The Fast Show’ and ‘Mrs Merton’ had some moments but I hated ‘The Royle Family’ as it was too middle brow, stylised and frankly too northern for my tastes.
However I do appreciate it was well written and understood its popularity but with my poncey southern outlook and feverish addiction to the new and the novel it just wasn’t for me.
But WOW, Caroline, WOW. Security Men is disgraceful.
You have taken your remit of writing populist rubbish to levels of such sheer redundant mediocrity that I had to keep slicing into the skin between my toes with a vinegar soaked Stanley knife to keep myself from completely flat lining.
Described as “comedy drama”, you would expect some laughs and if not actual tears then at least a bit of tension to provide that knot of discomfort in your chest that even an episode of the drabbest game show is able to rustle up.
But no, none of that. The only way I knew at what point I was supposed to laugh was through the laughter of the characters themselves.
Drama should have conflict but this just had the titular Security Men encounter a potentially disastrous problem and then immediately come up with a rather smart plan and hey presto! Problem solved.
If any suspense could have been rinsed from this pathetic and unimaginative plotting, it would have all been scuppered by the running time. When there is only 4 minutes left of a show and only then it decides to finally throw the most un-curvy of curve balls, you know it ain’t going to make a jot of difference to the shiny happy outcome that has been signposted throughout.
Sorry Miss Aherne, without the gags and without any conflict of character or story a COMedy draMA becomes a…COMA
I haven’t really seen much of the ‘Inbetweeners,’ and up until very recently had not seen any of ‘The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret’ but after a catch up I was ready to do some “chat” with star Blake Harrison. There was some teething problems and I was all set to moan about bloody celebrities etc. but when I did eventually get hold of him, Mr Harrison turned out to be a thoroughly interesting and decent chap.
The ‘Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret’ proved to be really off the wall farcical, I’m excited to think where it will go from the end of Series 1, so what can we expect from Series 2? Read more
More4, 14 February at 10pm
I was half hoping that I would be asked to have a look at the new Country Music based drama now airing on More 4. Not because I am country and western fan ( I don’t hate it either) there was just something about the adverts for it that made me think that it could become some off the wall, bat shit crazy, high camp, wonder soap.
And after watching a couple of episodes, though it’s currently quite tame, I have faith that it will become what I want.
The show revolves around Rayna Jaymes “Queen Of Country” (Connie Britton); she is troubled by the failure of her latest record and the rising star of country pop princess Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere). On top of that she has family/politics problem with her bankrupt husband running for Mayor and by the end of episode two, she has realised she is still in love with her reformed (for now) junkie ex-lover Deacon Clayborn (who has also been banging Juliette Barnes).
This is married to some rather kitsch writing where the drama seems to arise from one person misunderstanding and over reacting to the intentions of others and exploding into a volcano of anger and crackling indignation. All the while their friend/lover/business partner does nothing to alleviate matters and just looks mawkishly on as they run out of the door.
If this was real life, it would go a bit like this.
A. “Would you like some coffee?”
B. “No, tea is fine please just had some coffee.”
A. “What! You think I am ugly, untalented and old. Why don’t you go fuck yourself. I HATE” YOU!! Exits room.
B. Wow, that was weird yet perfectly also perfectly understandable. I could easily clear this up but I won’t, instead I will just look sad whilst staring into the middle distance.
All round the acting is pretty dodgy. This is often the case with new shows as not only do the actors have to find their feet and learn how to play their new roles but the writers have to respond to the audience’s reactions and craft parts as appropriate.
Yet something tells me this may not be the case with Nashville, especially the lead Connie Britton. She just has this dead eyed, low energy style of saying words (I can’t really call it acting) that make every utterance sound like that of a slightly stoned yet mildly pissed off teenager.
The rest of the cast are a bit more lively but still they all have the airbrushed perma-tanned feel of the American day time soap star. They might look good but they all have a streak of purest wood running through their “talent”.
Hayden Panettiere could come out of this unscathed as she seems to understand the high camp melodramatic possibilities of ‘Nashville’, spouting “What do I have to do to get Deacon Claybourne in to my bed” with all the spoilt expectation you would want from a future country music diva.
It could go either away really; it might slicken up or remain trashy. From the above you can see why I have belief in the latter, and it could become the new Dynasty.
And at least it doesn’t have Christian Kane in it.
Tuesday 5 February 2013 at 10pm on Fox
Archimedes once said “Give me a Lever long enough and I can move the world”.
It is also what I write to try to find a nice segue way into talking about Leverage, another American show about a group of slick, talented individuals doing cool things.
I couldn’t think of a slick and cool opening, so if you noticed I took the easy way out and got meta on your ass. This has led me a bit further down the self-referencing path. It’s not a path I like and I think of it as more of a spiral; a spiral of shame.
I have now commented on my comment about not being able to think of an opening gag to this review. I think I should be taken out the back and shot.
Which, now it’s been cancelled, is what has rightly been done to ‘Leverage’. But for the wrong reasons.
Creativity is by definition about coming up with something new and hopefully wonderful. Now, that new thing might well be influenced by whatever has gone before it or it might be something completely new entirely. At best, it will be brilliant and at worst it could be confused, unfathomable and rubbish.
Weirdly, it doesn’t matter which. The quality of the creation does not really have much to do with success. We all know of crap things that are very popular and conversely; brilliant works that never achieve the recognition they deserve.
But, the business side of creativity is all about trying to predict what will be successful. Without clairvoyance or other magical powers the only way to predict something is by recognizing patterns and then inferring outcomes from your deductions.
That’s not usually so difficult, past performance and behaviour are often very good indicators of future performance and behaviour but art is different.
You could trust the artist but they are unreliable.
So, the money guys who invest and fund in TV, Film and Music look at what is successful and go with that.
They also know that it needs to be different in order to stand out. You can’t completely re-make CSI (well you can, hence CSI:Miami etc.) so you take the formula and put a spin on it, which results in shows like NCIS, the ‘slightly wacky’ CSI. Eventually this leads us to uninspired derivative creations.
Thus the conception, mild success and now death of ‘Leverage’; its entire life cycle determined by its mediocrity and lack of gumption.
I had not only, not seen ‘Leverage’ before but also knew zero about it, yet within a minute of watching I knew the score.
It’s not entirely bad (other than Gina Bellman, who almost makes me blush with her embarrassing version of acting) but my god have you seen it before. This time in addition to CSI, we have the wackiness and light comedy of NCIS combined with the con men of British TV’s ‘Hustle’ (which was in turn an attempt to replicate wise ass American shows and the ‘Oceans 11’ movies).
I get why these shows are made, I honestly do, but there is a factor that ‘The Suits’ don’t take into account when trying to predict future success. Humans like novelty, it actually releases endorphins into our brains and we get a sexy buzz. Routine is easy but does nothing to stimulate.
‘Leverage’ should not have had to wait five seasons to be killed off due to a lack of ratings. It should’ve been shot at birth for being self-referencing, lazy and uninspiring. Just like me.