Grantchester

December 2, 2014 by  
Filed under Reviews

James-Norton-Granchester

Detective Vicar is an unusual character combination. But considering the amateur sleuths who have graced our screens, including authors (Jessica Fletcher), magicians (Jonathan Creek) and even chefs (Henry Crabbe), it’s really not that odd. And, flexibly interpreted, Derek Jacobi’s portrayal of pious PI, Cadfael the Monk, back in the nineties is a reasonable replica.

It’s a formula that ITV are revisiting in their adaptation of James Runcie’s popular novels ‘The Grantchester Mysteries’, starring James Norton as spiritual sleuth, Sidney Chambers. Who, in addition to God and murder is also a World War Two veteran, jazz lover and a reluctant sex god. With his good looks, intelligent caring personality and an ability to tear it up with the lowliest of thugs, he could almost be a candidate for world’s most perfect man. If it wasn’t for all the boozing, self-loathing and brooding introspection.

Based at his parish in Grantchester, Chambers is pulled into the orbit of the local constabulary’s DI Geordie Keating, played here by the increasingly charismatic (now that he’s not handling fish on Channel 5) Robson Greene. Together they investigate a series of murders against the familiar Sunday night backdrop of post-war Britain; where the imperial decline has been more than offset with snippets of National Trust arcadia and tasteful music.
The mysteries themselves are of the seedy variety: homosexual hate crime, revenge and a touch of bigamy but the case solving plays second fiddle to the personal life of Chambers himself.

This kind of television is never the most challenging and it’s not supposed to be. It needs to be reassuring and nostalgic like most costume drama and ‘Grantchester’ very much follows in this tradition.

Yet there is also something different about the drama, something which after the first two episodes really kicks in and makes ‘Grantchester’ very watchable. That something is a black cloud of melancholy; it hangs above the show with subtle menace, lurking in the minor chords of the soundtrack and the tragic murders. But mostly in the haunted, sad gaze of Sidney Chambers.

James Norton is terrific, he has an understated yet magnetic star quality that is ideal for the reflective Rev. Chambers. He muddles his way through a love life fraught with bad timing and regret as well as struggling to cope with the psychological damage he sustained during the war. Norton’s character depth is enough to convince that this wonderful person, who acts with honour and nobility will never find peace or happiness, due to the very traits that make him the good person he is. It’s heart breaking.

The show is not all doom and gloom. There are some lighter moments provided by Tessa Peale-Jones and Al Weaver as the Chambers’ house keeper and curate respectively and some great scenes of bonhomie and friendship between the vicar and the policeman. These relieve the tension and help make the innate sadness of the main character even more bitter sweet.

ITV has produced a traditional, unchallenging Sunday night drama that also manages to be philosophical, depressing but eminently watchable. Quite an achievement.

Grantchester is available on DVD or digital download now

New Girl (Series 3)

November 20, 2014 by  
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New Girl: the current court of actress, musician and reigning Hipster Queen Zooey Deschanel. A media phenomenon and “adorkable” progenitor that I have managed to avoid, until now.

Sitting down at the weekend, tasked with the daunting task of watching the 23 episode third series of the Fox comedy I had no preconceptions, just a vague knowledge that the show, like its star was very popular.

Set in Los Angeles, New Girl follows the not so unpleasant trials and tribulations of upbeat and bubbly Jess Davies, a kooky school teacher of perpetually wide, non-blinking eyes, shining happy smile, and killer bangs (or fringe, if like me you’re sensitive to the insidious encroachment of American English into our nation’s lexicon). As someone wary of jumping into an ongoing show without any prior plot knowledge, a quick scan of Wikipedia can be very helpful in these circumstances, but from previous experiences with other series, even after reading outlines for every episode I am generally still confused by what is going on.

Not so ‘New Girl’. After just five minutes I was introduced to a familiar set of characters, seemingly constructed from the chopped up corpses of the cast of ‘Friends’ and then stitched back together in random combinations to create “new” and “unique” personalities. This process is somewhat akin to William Burroughs’s ‘cut-up’ writing technique, but without the imagination, drugs or resulting tasty Mugwump jism.

We have, Jess of course, pretty much a straight up ‘Rachel’ archetype. Jake a perennial loveable slacker and everyman mash up of Joey and Mike (Phoebe’s eventual husband) to add a dash of bland manliness. Then there’s Schmidt, a nightmare combo of Chandler and Monica; the formerly obese but now hot, slightly effeminate man child. I could go on but I would spoil the “fun” of recognising the glaringly obvious.

Stereotypical characters, well-trodden Seinfeld-esque plot lines about feuds with restaurant owners and Frasier style farce, could all add up to be a recipe for a brilliant comedy.

But ‘New Girl’ just isn’t funny. The lack of laughs make the well served themes and characterisation appear lazy and generic. Unlike that other hipster comedy, the sadly cancelled ‘Bored to Death’ whose attempts at originality got you through the sometimes hit and miss writing.

Ultimately ‘New Girl’, is nothing more than a light hearted and cheesy soap opera, even the people I know who watch it don’t think it’s particularly good. It’s just sort of nothing. No doubt it will run and run.

New Girl is available to own on Blu-ray and DVD now

Great Continental Railway Journeys

November 10, 2014 by  
Filed under Reviews

Great British Railway Journeys with Michael Portillo

Ahh the return of Michael Portillo. A phrase that used to chill the blood back when he was a vocal proponent of the Poll Tax and hired Alexandra Palace to celebrate his first decade in politics. Now it just triggers a warm sense of cosy anticipation for the return of his rather delightful series, ‘Great Continental Railway Journeys’, on the best channel on earth, BBC4.

This is series three of the gentle travelogue and it carries on in exactly the same way as before: with Mr Portillo travelling the railways of Europe using George Bradshaw’s ‘Continental Railway Guide’ from 1913 as a template for his meanderings.

Following on from his trips to the great European cities in the first two series, it is now the turn of Moscow, Tula and St Petersburg, where our garishly jacketed host (lemon yellow is a tough look for anyone, Michael) mooches along the scopious railways networks of Russia.

First off is Tula, where the author of ‘War and Peace’, Leo Tolstoy, was birthed and buried. Britain’s former Defence Secretary visits the great writer’s house in the old town, where we are given some background into his life as the ‘aristocrat who turned’, becoming the pre-eminent voice of peasants against the cruelties of Russia’s ruling classes. Portillo then takes us into his home and shows us the very desk where he wrote great masterpieces of literature such as ‘War and Peace’ and ‘Anna Karenina’. We also got to see Portillo pay homage to a large black sofa upon which Tolstoy was born.

From Tula we accompany our agreeable guide to Moscow and St Petersburg where he tours the Kremlin, takes on some menial work at the Bolshoi and most amusingly experiences a refreshing yet brutal Russian banya, Mother Russia’s version of a spa. Here, the erstwhile Tory MP for Kensington and Chelsea receives a good old fashioned birching, all in the name of getting “clean like a Russian”, entertainment and a touch of schadenfreude, of course.

‘Great Continental Railway Journeys’ is a tremendous little programme, and Michael Portillo is an amiable and likeable host. The show’s structure is such that it doesn’t overwhelm or under inform the viewer by smashing through as many locations and destinations as it can cram in. Instead it devotes a decent amount of time to each terminus, soaking up just enough of the ambience in each cultural hotspot.

Portillo is on a journey of discovery and is genuinely enthusiastic to chug along these historical railway tracks, meeting all manner of different characters and taking in sights of bona fide interest. Another little victory for the little engine that could. Well done BBC4.

Great Continental Railway Journeys is on BBC4 on Wednesdays at 9pm

The Art of Gothic

October 27, 2014 by  
Filed under Reviews

Art of Gothic bbc

The British love the Gothic. And whether we realise it or not, our lives are steeped in this, the most foreboding and sinister of aesthetics. From Shakespeare and Dickens to William Blake and The Cure, it haunts our internal and external lives.

Cathedrals, churches and administrative buildings up and down the country are stamped with the tell-tale markings of pointed arches and ribbed vaults which describe the form. Even politics can’t escape its touch. Could there be a more fitting home for the vampiric creatures that legislate our lives than that masterpiece of Gothic construction the Palace of Westminster?

Gothic thought has sunk its fangs into our literature, art and music; bonding with our culture so completely that to remove it would change the entire landscape of the nation on a mental as well as physical level. The Gothic is such an integral part of our little corner of the world we never question its presence or even ask where it came from? In the new BBC4 series ‘The Art of Gothic’, Culture Show stalwart (amongst many other things) Andrew Graham-Dixon seeks to answer this question, and in three fascinating episodes he takes a jolly good stab (hack, slash) at it.

‘Art of Gothic’ starts with an overview of the style and the beginning of its assembly at the hand of the Georgian Gentleman. It then goes onto analyse and weave together the different strands of Gothic’s origins including Romanesque and Renaissance Art; the religious reconstruction of The Reformation and the influence of Marxism. Graham-Dixon guides us through these different movements examining works by, amongst others, Salvator Rosa, John Ruskin and of course Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker.

Graham-Dixon to my mind is one of our best arts commentators; I always enjoy his points of view even when I do not agree with him and in fact that’s when I like him most. His light hearted demeanour and cheeky assertions are designed to provoke thought in the viewer. Never truly dogmatic,

Graham-Dixon just wants you to think about what he is talking about, mull it over in your own way and actually learn something.

Thus ‘The Art of Gothic’ is that rare thing in modern television; entertaining, intelligent and challenging. There is no assumption of prior knowledge but also no presumption that the viewer is stupid and doesn’t want to learn.

This kind of show is another demonstration of the importance of BBC4. To me it is the high watermark of Television, and ‘Auntie’ could do a lot worse than give Anthony Graham-Dixon free reign, especially with his fancy new haircut.

The Art of Gothic will be broadcast on 27 October on BBC 4

Arrow

September 30, 2014 by  
Filed under Reviews

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‘Arrow’, The CW’s slice of DC Comics superhero stylings, new series is out on DVD and I am going to watch it, in one big long binge.

I watched the first series and I sort of enjoyed it, but it troubles me that a clearly mediocre production garners so much praise from critics and audiences alike. Now, there are countless numbers of things the world seems to love which I think suck, including but not limited to, ‘The Walking Dead’, bacon and the non-existent derriere of Pippa Middleton. So I am used to being in a minority.

It’s more that where ‘Arrow’ is almost globally accepted as being good, another show ‘Agents of Shield’ is enthusiastically panned. I watch both of these series, AOG because I find it genuinely exciting and surprising and ‘Arrow’ as I can’t really quite believe that I am watching such a cheese ball, formulaic and badly written piece of guff.

‘Agents of Shield’ Season One, ended with events that changed the whole set up of the show and I cannot wait for the next instalment to come round. I am sure that ‘Arrow’ ended on a cliff hanger of some sort (or knowing Arrow, maybe Oliver Queen gave someone a dirty look) but I just can’t remember what it is, so as you can imagine I am not that excited to sit down and watch the next season. I will return in 23 television hours.

Here I am, just three paragraphs but a whole day later and I am glad to say to all you ‘Arrow’ fans out there nothing has really changed.

The season opens with Oliver Queen’s cohorts, Felicity Smoak and John Diggle, helicoptering in to Skull Island determined to retrieve their employer from the turmoil created by the events of the season one finale. He doesn’t want to come back, but after some gentle persuasion about how much everyone needs him, he does. Of course he does.

Arrow returns to his weird hometown Starling City, which operates as an isolated city state completely separate from the rest of America, determined to become a better hero and not kill anyone anymore. This introduces two of the defining characteristics of the comic book version of Arrow: his social awareness and resolute defence of society’s underdogs. Which, though sort of interesting, also leads to more pubescent whining from the overly sensitive characters about whatever little thing has upset them this week.

Along the way we meet some more of DC’s un-powered super heroes such as Black Canary and the story arc from flash back Island catches up with the present day. All in all, though this series pretty much continues as the first; plot hole filled action padded out with 20 minutes of soap opera. Much like its spiritual predecessor ‘Smallville’.

I think the problem with ‘Arrow’ for me is that, as much as it clothes itself in shadow and darkness, this gloom is mere window dressing. It is like the teenager who, freshly doused in new puberty strength emotion, puts on some black clothes, applies a liberal smear of eyeliner and shuffles about being “depressed”. Unless you count the count the numerous appearances of Stephen Amell’s rippling torso, there really is no meat or substance under the hood.

Arrow: Season 2 is available on Blu-ray and DVD now

The House Across The Lake

August 12, 2014 by  
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The House Across The Lake is a Hammer Film; you may recognize Hammer as purveyor of all those wonderful horror films from the 50s, 60s and 70s. You know the ones I mean, most of them starred either Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing (often both), with many directed by the criminally underappreciated Terence Fisher. Hammer weren’t just a horror studio though. They made all types of films including comedies, dramas and many a straight up thriller.

This leads me to ‘House Across the Lake’. Back in them there olden days, film studios from the UK would often approach production houses from across the pond to help increase the budget and market of their visual wares. These films would often be dressed up to appear as American films and would be littered with American almost/has been stars.

‘House Across the Lake’ is a great example of this, aping Hollywood B movie noir so much that for the first half of the film it is only the appearance of a certain Sidney James in a rare dramatic role that gives you an inkling the film is British.

Starring Alex Nicol (who incidentally directed the woefully bad horror ‘The Screaming skull’) as Mark Kendricks, washed up pulp novelist, booze hound and incorrigible womaniser who has slunk off to Lake Windermere to get away from the bottle and the bitches to finish his novel.

Unfortunately for him, on the other side of the lake are Beverly and Carol Forest a millionaire husband and his (apparently) beautiful wife, he makes the money and drinks the booze. She spends the money, sleeps around and also drinks the booze. Before long Kendrick finds himself drinking booze with them and is slowly drawn into their twisted marriage and ‘House Across the Lake’ becomes a of tale of sex, murder jealously and…booze.

That sounds pretty cool when I write it down but unfortunately ‘House Across the Lake’ falls a little flat, its characters and premise a hodge-podge of classic films like Double Indemnity’, ‘The Third Man’ and ‘The Lady from Shanghai’ but it fails to build any of the suspense and excitement that ooze from every pore of those awesome bastards, choosing instead to dwell in the dark shadows of cliché and mediocrity. Much of this is down to the script which drips with ‘on the nose’ dialogue as the characters rush to tell you exactly what they are feeling without any subtlety or hint of a subtext, sucking all life out of the movie and leaving the viewer bored stiff.

Amusingly this lack of decent writing is actually mirrored in two scenes, first Kendrick regrettably sends of some work he knows to be substandard and a second where he is fired from his publisher for being rubbish. I’d like to think this is an admission of guilt by writer/director Ken Hughes, who did do some good stuff in his day including ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’.

Personally I am glad to have seen this film but if you’re not a completest follower of film noir and black and white thrillers or even fervent Sid James fan (who for the record is pretty good in a straight role) I would give this one a miss and watch the classics.

The House Across The Lake is released on DVD on August 18

The Speakmans

July 29, 2014 by  
Filed under Reviews

the-speakmans

**

Since returning to the UK after eight months or so in the lunatic asylum of a country the world calls China, I have been reacquainting myself with this eccentric little island. Which, for all intents and purposes means hanging around pubs, clubs and any seedy little dive that will allow a shabby gentleman like myself through the doors.

It’s been great meeting friends and drinking, snorting and whiffing my way across Wales, the West Country and London, but as the Chinese like to think if it’s bad it’s got to come out.

Today is the day my body has decided to wave a little white flag and expel all the bad shit as well as come down with rather unpleasant cold, on top of hay fever and crackling cough.

I have turned into a living factory whose only product is human waste matter. I am so weak I can barely type let alone control the smorgasbord of excretia that flows out of me. A sneeze blasts through the strongest man size Kleenex, splattering my bedroom in cobweb of snot and bacteria. My eyes and ears weep a thick semen like substance and the haemorrhoids in my arse leaks blood like sodium pentothal dosed Julian Assange leaks political secrets

And every couple of hours I vomit. I vomit hard. I vomit a murky rainbow of greens, oranges, yellows and browns. Fortunately no black or red the tell-tale give away of blood but that’s probably cos it’s all coming out of my butt.

I have thrown up more in one day than Becky the subject of Channel… The Speakmans. Becky is 26 and due to a mishap at the age of three which meant a hospital had to induce sickness. Becky has been left with emetophobia a rare condition which means the sufferer lives in fear of being sick and hasn’t done so since then.

Becky suffers so acutely from this problem that it has affected her relationships with friends and family, missing her sister’s wedding, her grandfather’s funeral and is fast becoming a hermit relying upon her (wonderfully sweet and kind) mother to do everything for her.

She has tried everything to get over this problem including hypnotherapy, hypo-analysis and some other acronyms I didn’t quite make out. None of it has worked, so apparently it was time to call in a The Speakmans; a husband and wife team of professional northerners, clarted in fake tan, make up and bleached hair and an exquisite mullet depending on which one you happen to be looking at. I love this look, it seems to be a symptom of many a successful northerner, eschewing taste and style entirely to relying solely on the how much a thing costs as an indicator of whether it looks good.

Carol Vordeman does it; the Holllyoaks cast do it, and obviously Geordie Shore do it. It’s not limited to the north of England, Essex rocks it, as do the supposedly elegant Milanese in Italy, the affluent New York Jews and the moneyed classes of Hong Kong, Dubai and Moscow (I might as well just insult everyone, in case I am accused of being racist… I am not, I am a misanthrope, I hate all of you equally).

The Speakmans are apparently a phenomenon, without any formal training in medicine or counselling the two have managed to build up a successful empire as life coaches, appearing on This Morning and other middle of the road productions being adopted as self-help gurus by a number of celebrities along the way.

They seem to help Becky as well, I am not sure how as the show didn’t really give anything away, there was segment where they presented the patient with a couple of boxes, one contained trinkets of her life imagined in a negative manner and another in a more positive light. They then blamed everything on the mother for indulging her daughter’s mental issue. Becky had a little cry and then suddenly she was better.

They seem to have some miraculous way with people, it’s a bit like cognitive therapy where you look at a problem logically and objectively do help dispel any irrational fear or problem but all the Speaksmans seem to do is say “who said life had to be hard, life is easy so stop making it difficult ”

It’s a sweet notion right up there with Kantian philosophy of the Universal good as being a good reason for human beings to be nice to each other. Just as fucking stupid but with pronounced with much less eloquence

The whole thing seemed so ridiculous that I would say it was entirely faked. Becky did not seem in the least bit troubled, in fact she was a bubbly and healthy looking woman that did not present the greasy, green tinged pallor of people who don’t leave the house for days on end and the accents of Becky and her mother differed so much that it called into doubt that they lived in each other’s pockets for 23 years.

However I have to say I rather enjoyed the show. I like the Speaksmans not as people or personalities but as figures of fun. And the show which lasts a whole television hour flew by. So watch, mock watch and laugh at the idiots. Which as we all know fuels so much of what we watch these days

The Speakmans is on ITV on 28/07/2014

Death Comes to Pemberley

December 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

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Right, the Christmas Season is upon us.

You don’t need to be told this as you are in the midst of it. In fact you’re probably over the Festive Season before it has even begun. With the endless ads seeming to starting earlier each year (fffs this year they definitely started in October), Christmas movies and tinselly, baubley crap adorning the office and shop windows.

So, as I say, you may not need to be told the obvious, but me? For some reason I’m in fucking China and with less than a week to go, it’s only just dawned on me that it’s Christmas.

Just as I was thinking this I got a call from the Editor. Like some kind of TV Santa Claus (TV as in Television not transvestite, though who’s to judge? I am writing this in a nappy, listening to the Ozric Tentacles, sucking on a petrol can) he sensed my unease.

So there I was, be-diapered and high skyping my surprisingly attractive man as woman boss (think Bugs Bunny, in a dress but drunk and more slutty) complaining about missing Christmas and being home sick, when like the go-getting young lady man I have come to respect he immediately knew what to do.

“Why don’t you review a bunch of Christmas Specials? “ he slurred through lipstick stained teeth and last night’s mascara running down his cheeks, martini in one hand, cigar in the other.
“Put a few decorations up, get some sherry in, you can get sherry can’t you?” He asked, lazy hands weaving silver tinsel into his hair.
“I always have sherry, Sir” I replied.
“Atta boy” He smiled kindly at me through my laptop. A smile etched with hardship, delirium and too many cigarettes.
“If you have Christmas Specials and sherry sugar tits, then you can have Christmas. His smile grew weary as he emailed me the list of Christmas shows on offer.
“Merry Christmas you young scamp” he signed off blowing me a kiss.

So two days ago, I sat down with a bottle of cream sherry, a fresh can of Esso’s finest and a makeshift Christmas dinner, consisting of duck neck, owl soup and pickled veg and begun my Christmas Television marathon.

First up was ‘Death Comes to Pemberley’, an adaptation of crime author PD James’s sequel to Pride and Prejudice.

P&P is exactly the kind of high end soap opera masquerading as literature that bores me to tears but I am a sucker for a sequel and this one also being murder mystery, meant it might break the tedium of traditional costume drama. I have also just finished the ‘Anno Dracula’ series by Kim Newman, (sequel to Bram Stokers ‘Dracula’) so I was well up for a much delayed literary follow up.

It opens with Elizabeth Darcy (nee Bennet) heroine of P&P, on morning duties. This comprises of swanning round the village, visiting the smorgasbord of classically handsome young men who populate the area. Seriously, if a dashing chap is your cup of sex tea, then you’re in for a treat with this show. However, if it’s the female of the species that gets you hot and bothered then…well…not so much.

Once the morning perambulations are complete, the show drops into cruise control and not much happens. Tens of minutes pass where we are treated to heaving, breathy shots of Pemberley House, its gardens and surrounding countryside. All coupled with long dramatic pauses from the cast and not much else.

It’s all very nice but there is only so much high definition, soft focus and made for 3D composition that I can stand. After a while it becomes less drama and more advert for National Heritage.

Anyway, at some point in the first episode some bloke is murdered. Not much else happens before that; Darcy walks around looking serious and saying little whereas Elizabeth goes on her sex tour of the village.

Once the death happens, the two classic lovers instead of working together, take their own separate journeys into discovering the killer. Elizabeth pretty much by being inquisitive and asking questions and Darcy by being a pompous dick.

This schism in their relationship represents an underlying theme to ‘Death Comes to Pemberley’ and P&P i.e. should we marry for love or for duty, this is rammed home at all possible moments.

The second episode is more of the same but without even the revelation of a murder…so it plods along for an hour sighing, looking forlornly out of windows and being wet. Looking gorgeous though, always gorgeous.

At some point Penelope Keith pops in for a rather pointless cameo, and though she does liven proceedings for 3 or 4 minutes, it is not enough to distract from the shows numerous failings in script, direction, casting and Trevor Eve’s ponytail.

The third episodes starts off much like the others, but about half way through the editors realise they don’t have to continue padding this out and finally start telling the story.

This story is quite entertaining if a little predictable and would have made for good TV if they had cut it down to 2 or even 1 episode. But, it’s a Christmas extravaganza and no doubt the BBC’s big thing for Christmas, which makes it rather disappointing. On the other hand its unchallenging nature and themes of love and honour, duty and family, against picturesque English countryside and architecture make it a perfect food coma tele. Not for me though, for my Gran. My dead Gran.

Well that’s the first special done, next up it’s the ‘Bletchley Circle’ or ‘Catchphrase’ Seriously he wants me to watch ‘Catchphrase’. I need more petrol and maybe some duck tongue.

2/5

Death Comes to Pemberley is on BBC1, at 8pm on the 26th December

The Americans

June 3, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

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I had no idea what ‘The Americans’ was going about when I sat down to watch it, ( I tend not to read the blurbs on these things as I believe it will bias my opinions as I am weak willed and impressionable).

But any programme or film that starts with a blow job, quickly followed by a chase scene and knife fight soundtracked by Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk is going to pique my interest.

That the sex is rather amusing and the man attached to the turgid member receiving the aforementioned fellatio seems to have his pleasure sensitivity levels set to ridiculous. And is ready to shoot his bullets before his gun is even out of the holster, with a fizzog twisted into a gurn of ecstatic exaltation not seen since this side of an acid rave up circa 1990, well that just makes it all the better.

Anyway, the bad guy being chased and eventually caught is a Russian spy, and the agents chasing him, well, they’re Russian too but not normal Russian agents. Oh no not on your nelly .

They are Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings, undercover superspies sent by the KGB to pose as a regular couple who live in the suburbs with their nice American kids and their nice American jobs. Oh and the icing on the cake; it’s set in the motherfucking 1980’s. Oh yeah!

That there is the basic premise of ‘The Americans’, Fx’s new show that somehow has not been bought by Channel 5 or Channel 4 and is being aired by rubbish old ITV. As you can no doubt tell, I think it is fine premise indeed.

I guess this is the first ‘Homeland’ inspired political action thriller to appear in order to capitalise on that series’ runaway success. It’s not as confident in what it is as ‘Homeland’ and nor does it have its intensity, veering from heavy, uber seriousness to a lightweight almost camp vibe. Which is odd, considering it’s only a three parter and does not have worry so much about having to consider all the people all the time in order to get another season.

I am toying with the idea though that this is intentional, the show does not shove 80’s references down your throat. There is no super massive big hair, shoulder pads or pixie boots and no one watching Knight Rider and listening to Axel F.

In fact it’s the only the references to President Reagan and another sex scene where the huffing puffing is replaced by the grating wail of Phil Collins singing ‘In the Air Tonight’ that I even noticed the period.
However 80’s TV and Film was always bit odd; ultra-violence was graphically displayed but always juxtaposed with a witty one liner or wise crack to release the tension, it was dramatic theory played to extremes and now looks distasteful and almost perverse.

Even though ‘The Americans’ doesn’t operate anywhere near those bizarre altitudes, it does reflect them. We have vigilante revenge violence, then a camera lingers with saucy attention on a punctured hand as it spurts blood and of course it’s all set against the end of The Cold War.

And get this for a nod to ‘high concept’, the Jennings’ have a new neighbour, and what does he do for a living? He’s an FBI expert in espionage and spying!

Basically, ‘The Americans’ is an 80’s show made with all the those morally questionable corners sanded down, which is much better than it sounds.

Great stuff, I am going to watch part 2 right now.

‘The Americans’

10pm, June 1st on ITV

King of Coke: Living the High Life

May 15, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

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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.

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