Meet The Widower – Reece Shearsmith Q&A

March 9, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

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What attracted you to the part of Malcolm Webster?

I felt it was a huge journey to be able to go on with a person, and a real horror to be able to play the innocence of his reality as he saw it. He’s not doing it with a twirl of a moustache – the entire thing is just a means to an end. Every step of the way he’s justifying his actions.

Is this role a departure for you, particularly as it’s a factual drama and you’re more known for black comedy?
Playing the role of Malcolm Webster was a great opportunity for me to show people another side of my work. It’s a slow process though, people generally have me pegged as the man who does the grotesque characters so it’s nice to do something with a bit more subtlety.

How did you feel about playing a real person and convicted criminal?
As an actor you do feel a sense of responsibility on your shoulders when you play a real person. I recently played Patrick Troughton in Mark Gatiss’ Doctor Who. For that part I had an extra element of responsibility because people can easily say, ‘That’s not right…he wasn’t like that’.

How did you approach your portrayal of Malcolm Webster?
I talked to Paul [the director] constantly about not playing a cod Hannibal Lector-style psychopath or someone you’d find in a deliberate serial killer story. I wanted to get across the ordinariness, the blandness, and the mundanity of the evil.

I only ever drew on the perception of Malcolm Webster given by other people who encountered him. Everyone I discussed this with said there was never even a glimmer of evil and ironically, all the women felt completely safe with him. On the whole, the person they spent a lot of time with wasn’t evil to them in the slightest. They find it really hard to square that with what he did. We also show the evil side of Malcolm Webster, a side that was completely alien to the world and only about greed.

Was it ever suggested that you meet Malcolm Webster? If not, why do you think the production took the decision not to seek his involvement?

There was never any consideration that I should have met Malcolm Webster. I don’t think I would have gained anything from meeting him other than seeing his utter conviction. The depiction of him via the facets we’ve managed to gather from everyone who encountered him when he was free, is what we needed. To ask to go and see him would have been a voyeuristic exercise and that’s to be avoided.

This isn’t a drama about him as an innocent man. Our version of the person I play is, quite rightly, presented through the eyes of the women. That’s the way it should be.

What research did you do for the part?
I spoke to Charlie Henry, who’d had a lot to do with Malcolm Webster as the net closed in on him. I researched a lot about the sociopathic mind-set of someone who is not really engaging with the world but appears to be. There’s a lot of source material on that.

I also met Simone and Peter Morris. Peter came on the day we filmed Claire and Malcolm Webster’s wedding. He watched me do Webster’s speech. He came up to me and said, “You’ve got his arrogance”, which I thought was good! I felt awful meeting him because I was playing the man who murdered his sister, but he was lovely.

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In one scene you shave off your hair. Can you tell us about that?
You wouldn’t normally shave hair from that length but they wanted the proper tramline through the hair. I asked, ‘What if the razor jams’ and they said, ‘Just keep going – we’ve got one take for this’. My legs were shaking when I did it and I didn’t sleep that night. My head was on the pillow with a new feeling of no hair. But that’s the commitment to the truth of the story. It felt right and I was very pleased we’d done it.

What is it about The Widower that will appeal to and fascinate an audience?
I think it’s endlessly jaw-dropping. I was really pleased with the level of tension within the scenes. Firstly you’re with Webster, seeing his lies and how they ripple out into the world, but then as the drama unfolds you’re with Charlie Henry as he’s slowly working towards capturing Webster. The element of cat and mouse is gripping.

Do you think it’s important to dramatise real life cases and stories?
I think stories like this should be told as you can’t pretend that terrible things don’t happen. If you do, you’re letting that person get away with it. I remember talking to Andy Serkis about playing Ian Brady. He was frightened of doing it but said, ‘of course I have to do it, as you’ve got to confront things by showing these evil people’.

Recce Shearsmith’s TV and film credits include: Inside No.9; The World’s End; A Field in England; Psychoville; Eric & Ernie; New Tricks; Shaun of the Dead; The League of Gentlemen

The Widower starts on ITV on Mon 17 March at 9pm

The Pramface Baby Daddy – An Interview With Chris Reddy

March 4, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

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It’s difficult to discover much about “Pramface” creator Chris Reddy. He doesn’t have a Twitter account, a personal site or give too many interviews. And somewhat selfishly, his American oceanographer namesake hogs the first twenty pages of Google results.

Is he simply a reluctant self-promoter? Or is he taking a more principled stand against the ubiquity of modern celebrity? “Twitter’s great but I think I’m more suited to long form. I’d only end up redrafting every tweet eight times, then junking it and starting over. It’d be a weird feed to follow.” Besides, he deadpans, “Chris Reddy the oceanographer is doing really important work, so I don’t want to hinder him in any way.”

A 2014 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research in the USA claimed that the MTV TV show “16 and Pregnant” reduced teenage conceptions by 5.7% in the 18 months following its first broadcast in 2009. And according to the Office for National Statistics, teenage pregnancies in England and Wales are at an all-time low. Theoretically this should be a concern for a series like “Pramface.”

Comedy in its most basic form is a recognition of shared cultural references. It’s not uncommon for a prospective audience to be wary of performers and performances which do not resemble their own experience.

Nonetheless, “Pramface” has prospered. Even with the sort of name that Owen Jones could be reliably expected to write a thinkpiece about. Read more

Party Time with Adam DeVine

January 23, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

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When you bring a date home, setting the right mood with some smooth grooves is an integral part of sealing the deal. It’s not however, a common pre-interview tactic. Speaking for both of us Adam said, “I don’t know if its the publicists at Comedy Central [or here in LA] but [the on hold music was] very sexy. Some Harry Potter looking for Hermione type shit.” He then asked the publicist if she could get hold of that “sensual blend” for him. Presumably for personal use, but if he wants to get unprofessional I’m no prude.

If you haven’t seen Workaholics, Adam DeVine is probably most familiar for his role in the teen a capella movie ‘Pitch Perfect.’ Those two roles don’t have much in common and he’s still a little surprised by the crossover fans. “It’s kind of weird…suddenly having an eleven year old girl come up to you [does little girl voice] ‘Are you Adaaam?’ And I’m like ‘How do you know me? Your parents should be arrested. You’re not supposed to be watching Workaholics.’”

His Comedy Central show isn’t R rated (a UK 18), but that is a direction he’d like to take the show. “The thing is, we’re naked and smoking weed often. So I don’t know what we have to do.” At which point we concluded that it’s probably going to need a few more naked women. As Adam says, “they let male nudity slide because it’s hilarious. But female nudity – nope. If it gets the loins burning, it’s a hard R.” It’s those damn double standards. Yet again. “I hate it. I hate it, man.”

There was some concern that Workaholics’ less than family-friendly content could hinder him getting other roles. But so far he’s not suffered any negative backlash with recent parts on Community, Arrested Development and Super Fun Night. Not to mention a recurring role on the multi-award winning Modern Family. “I was surprised when [the Modern Family producers] came to me and said ‘We want you to play this really sensitive, nice guy who’s maybe too nice.’” Especially because as he describes it, his role in Pitch Perfect “was this crazy egomaniac douchebag, and then Adam in Workaholics is, well, a crazy egomaniac party animal.”

Even allowing for this recent diversification, he doesn’t think he’ll be getting a cameo on Downton Abbey any time soon. But if he got a chance to be on the ITV show he says he’d be “the lost Crawley brother with the rightful claim to Downton” who went down on the Titanic and “somehow just surfed the iceberg all the way [to Downton].”

It’s a wonderful image, and it works even better in Adam’s British accent. Which he’s the first to admit isn’t the best. “I auditioned for Saturday Night Live five or six years ago and they wanted me to do some impressions. And I was like ‘Ello I’m from Britt-en.’ One of the reasons I can’t do an accent is because I can’t do it without stating the country I’m from.” Which he confesses, sort of defeats the purpose of doing the accent.

Last year he won a Teen Choice award for Best Villain (Pitch Perfect), but he’s pretty pissed that they still haven’t sent him his surfboard. I encouraged him to use his half million (“590.8 – but who’s counting?”) followers to launch a social media campaign on his behalf. He demurs, but he is impressed with social media’s capacity to bring him minor material wealth. “I went and bought this new coffee machine – a Keurig – and it broke right away, so I took photos of it and I was like ‘This is my Keurig graveyard.’ And within ten minutes Keurig contacted me and were like ‘Please don’t do that. And we’ll send you a new Keurig and all the coffee you can handle.’ So that’s why to me having so many fans is cool. Because now when my life sucks I can get on the internet and be a psychopathic douchebag maniac about it and I get free stuff. Which I think is the goal in everyone’s life.”

A couple of days ago Miley Cyrus asked on Twitter when Workaholics was coming back. When I ask how he feels this affects the credibility of the show, he tells me that he’s unsure, but he does believe that like it or not, she’s quite possibly the “voice of a generation.”

Although from a purely personal perspective he’s enjoying the circularity of it all. Back when he and co-writers Blake Anderson and Anders Holm were writing Season 2 of Workaholics and they needed a break, “we would crank [Miley's] ‘Party In The USA’ full blast and just bump and grind to it…and then we were ready to get back to work.”

With the recent production line of made-for-TMZ stars the Disney channel has produced, this got us speculating about who would be the next one to go off the reservation. But in the end he doesn’t think it really matters. “In like 30 years, you guys won’t have a member of Parliament who doesn’t have dick photos out there. And that’ll be a platform that you stand on when you’re running for office. ‘You’ve seen the dick pics, you know what I’m working with. Now let me swing my bat.’ I think that’s where we’re going as a society and personally I’m looking forward to it.”

Workaholics is on Comedy Central Friday’s at 11pm

Workaholics

November 28, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

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It’s Entourage attitude with Kevin and Perry Go Large aftermath. Three guys enjoying an extended adolescence, supporting themselves with the twenty-something equivalent of chores money; just enough to provide them with the lifestyle catalysts to keep their 24/7 interesting.

Workaholics isn’t a show about forgotten youth, what should be or what could’ve been. It’s about three young men from the meaty party of the bell curve trying to survive their day-to-day. There are no real long term ambitions and the closest these characters ever get to a big-picture desire is never more than a two episode arc from fulfillment.

It takes a few episodes before you start to believe that the characters are actually morons embracing moronic behaviour and not just arseholes acting dumb to excuse their actions. Once that becomes clear, the show becomes a lot more enjoyable.

Workaholics might take a little longer than most series to completely gauge your interest; the humour tends to come in bursts and the inside jokes will take more than a couple of episodes to recognise. Part of the problem is that Workaholics doesn’t seem to entirely know what’s going on a lot of the time. It’s not a program that’s ever going to medal, but like Winter Olympians from Saharan nations, it’s enjoyable to watch them try.

Plot over narrative forever.

Comedy Central has already broadcast three series of Workaholics in the US and I would wager that the majority of its potential audience in the UK (students or those still behaving like students) have already seen all of them. Even if you’re not what Malcolm Gladwell called a Maven in the Tipping Point, you’ve probably already seen most of the best moments in YouTube clips. In 2011. This makes it difficult to project an audience in the UK. If you’re not in one of the aforementioned groups, it’s unlikely that you’ll find much worth persevering with.

3/5

Workaholics starts on Comedy Central UK on 29 November

Tom Stade Will Suck A Dick For Testicular Cancer

November 11, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

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Born and raised in British Columbia, Tom Stade has got the accent (and frequently, diction) of a man you’d expect to find a few hundred miles further south, amongst the Southern California surf scene.

He’s been on Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow, Dave’s One Night Stand and Mock The Week. And although he might not have the profile yet, he’s funny enough not to need any more of an introduction. The only thing that could slow him down was the poor reception on his train back home. Treat yourself and get familiar.

So Tom, are you doing anything for Movember?
Yeah, I’m going to suck a dick. With a moustache.
Why not?
In front of my wife. Going to get real gay. I don’t know why they make words like that..
[Audio cuts out] Tom, I think I lost you…
Where did we get to? Are you going gay for November?
Gay for November?!
Isn’t that what it is? I mean what’s the thinking behind Movember?
I think it’s supposed to raise awareness of testicular cancer
Oh is it? How does that help raise awareness for testicular cancer? Because when I hear Movember I’m thinking “What is that?”
Some of the female equivalents are even worse
What?! Man, they can’t grow a moustache…
Hopefully not… I think they’re growing something else
Oh awesome! That’ll be great. Some of us have got a head start. Us seventies kids love a big bush
Who doesn’t like Scary Movie bush?
Right on

Talking of big hair, I saw a video of you back in the 90s and I’ve got to ask: what happened to the mullet?
Well, we were really enjoying a different time. You couldn’t escape it. I think time has just swept me along, man. I think maybe it’ll come back in the next twenty years when we all get bored of having these really cool hairstyles. And maybe I’ll do it when it comes back around, but I was really just part of the time. When it was [all about] grooving and everybody was having a ball and we were line dancing. I liked it, I’m not gonna apologise [for it].
It was a more innocent time
You’re damn straight it was. (Laughs) It was a time of ignorance

One of my colleagues thinks you now look like a hard drinking Paul Rudd – care to comment?
Is he saying I look like a hard drinking Paul Rudd?
Yes she is
Let your friend know I’m probably older than Paul Rudd. And yes, as comparisons go, she’s pretty accurate
Talking of big drinkers, it’s been a pretty massive week for Canadians. Rob Ford admitted to smoking crack in a drunken stupor and then Justin Bieber got caught with some Brazilian hookers – any predictions for who’s next?
My next prediction – let me think about that, Nick…[At this point the audio cuts out for about ten seconds and then I hear]…with bears in Toronto [There's laughter and then the line goes dead]

Crossing the Atlantic, you’ve been living in Edinburgh now for quite a while; was it just so that you could get cheap festival deals or do you actually like the place?
It was definitely a comedy of errors that got us there. But you know what, in the end, we really fell for the place and the festival is the only time I consider it a vacation
That must be nice. Do you have lots of comedians round to party at yours?
Sometimes I’m thinking of renting my house out… obviously you know…

[We're back] You’re not being harassed in the quiet carriage are you?
Nah man. I’ve got my head stuck in the luggage racks. Trying not to have everyone listening to this conversation
I was on the train to Wembley once and they caught some Australians hiding in the luggage racks trying to avoid their fares. It was hilarious – took about twenty minutes to extract them from the bags.
Silly Australians. They’re so stupid.
They’re good for a laugh
Of course they are. That’s why they’re there, man
Who else drinks more and parties harder? Canada has a pretty good reputation but I think Australia might challenge you
Canadians [are better] for sure because we’re the only ones who have to drink in minus forty below weather and I challenge anybody to do that. But you want to know who the best drinkers are? It’s the English and I’ll tell you why: your property prices go up the closer to the neighbourhood pub you are.
I can believe that. Is there anywhere you’ve found in the UK that really took their drinking above and beyond?
Oh yeah – totally. The Midlands, man.
The Midlands?!
Fuck yeah. That’s why I got along so good with those guys. That’s where I showed them my hard drinking Paul Rudd face
If you were single, I think “hard drinking Paul Rudd” would make an excellent online dating profile tag line
I just want everybody to know that I was before Paul Rudd too
Maybe you’ve got a Judd Apatow movie in you somewhere?
Eventually when I slow down.. I’m definitely going to write something
Probably a nice little rom-com
Fucking sci-fi man
Why sci-fi?
Just because that’s where my head is most of the time and…hang on Nick. The train just stopped and there’s a whole bunch of people trying to get off and I don’t want to be weird.

[Tom then starts narrating his journey down the carriage whilst pretending to answer questions from the person he's on the phone to. Lot's of “excellents,” “you betchas”, and “sure, man.” ]

We’re back in business
Back in business?
Yeah, man
So this sci-fi film. What’s going to happen?
It’s definitely going to be me and Thor and Batman. And we’re going to celebrate Movember. Together.
Call Harvey Weinstein now. That’s Cannes ready.
It’s so ready in my head, buddy. Tell Harvey Weinstein to call me.
You did some writing on Tramadol Nights – would Frankie Boyle maybe play a role in this sci-fi epic?
Naaah. I don’t think he’s that into comics
Really?
Nahh. He’s totally into comics. He’s one of the biggest comic book nerds I’ve met in a long time, man.
I didn’t know that
Yeah, Frankie’s the same as me, man. He loves his comic books. You should see his library. When you’ve got Frankie Boyle money you can get a really nice comic book collection.
What’s he like to work with beyond the comic books?
Frankie is one of the coolest people that I’ve met on this planet, he’s a real true friend. I think he understands life enough not to take it too seriously – and that’s what I love about the man.
That’s a nice quality to have in a person
Yes it is. It’s a nice quality to have in any person. Who wants to hang out with someone who takes life seriously all the time?

As you’ve found yourself on TV more, have you had to moderate your material?
Yeah of course you do. But I learn at the comedy club where I don’t have to moderate. So I will moderate to make sure I don’t have to moderate
That’s very meta
Thanks, man. I was sitting there with my fingers together, breathing deeply, ready to give you the answer you need.
In your calm place
You betcha – just waiting to get back to my ocean of unconsciousness
Moving in the opposite direction of calm, you’ve been in Edinburgh for a few years now. Have you been to an Old Firm game?
Are we talking Hearts?
The Celtic v Rangers games – the ones where there’s about one policeman to every three fans
I’ve been to one Hearts game because somebody got me free tickets but my son has got season tickets to Celtic. He’s a big Celtic supporter
He must’ve grown up in Canada, Wolverhampton and now Edinburgh?
Yes
That accent must be amazing
We don’t even know what it is. A lot of people can’t understand him at all
Your accent is pretty individual too. I think I heard you blame it on “twenty years of dope smoking”
That’s exactly right.
Has drug use helped your comedy or is it just the accent?
I don’t like the way you’re calling it drug use, I’d call it drug enjoyment. I’m of the old school, where I’ve never had a problem with drugs but I’ve had a one or two problems with police.
Tell me about it
You’ve smoked drugs in front of the police? You’re not very good at this, Nick…
No comment
I’m of a hippie generation, so I would never consider it drug use. It’s more just recreation.
Now you’ve been doing this a while, do you still get any hecklers?
Nah man, because I don’t pick on people. But I do get a lot of conversationalists. I don’t consider them hecklers any more. It’s just free material. And together we come up with humour of the moment
Just a bit of free association comedy
That’s exactly what it is. Free association comedy. Being in the moment, riffing and believing in yourself. There’s a difference between telling comedy and being a comedian. And I’m a comedian my man.

Yes you are, Tom. Yes you are.

Tom Stade is on tour now. Buy tickets here

For more information on Tom, head to his website or follow him on Twitter.

Follow Nick Arthur on Twitter

Low Winter Sun

November 1, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

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Detroit was once an attractive city. It now suffers from self-doubt, wonders where it all went wrong and what it did to deserve its current predicament. Choosing a bald man for the lead role in a series set there was a wise choice. He will intuitively understand all of these things.

Said actor, Mark Strong, as Detective Frank Agnew is one of the few highlights of AMC’s Low Winter Sun. Something which shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with the title since it’s an American version of his role in Channel 4’s 2006 mini-series of the same name.

Strong plays the same conflicted copper; a good man corrupted by nurture not nature. Led astray by a colleague who convinces him that evil means are sometimes necessary for good to prevail. It’s an all too familiar trope; that once the devil has made a good man sin, he will forever be a sinner. Because he becomes a man who will do whatsoever necessary to relieve his karmic burden. Somehow forgetting in his quest for redemption that expedient methods rarely achieve disinfected outcomes.

Low Winter Sun follows Detective Agnew and his partner Joe Geddes (Lennie James) across ten episodes as they try to escape the consequences of a murder they committed and are now in charge of investigating. It’s occasionally interesting but more frequently not. Although there’s enough potential that I wouldn’t be averse to a second series – if the cast remains intact and somebody goes full Robespierre on the writers.

The script is colour-by-numbers deliberate and the dialogue relies too heavily on over-emphasised would-be aphorisms. Lines that might have worked as development talking points but have instead been used as the corner stones from which to build a script.

Engagement with Low Winter Sun comes exclusively with the cast. Aside from Strong and James, there’s much to be said for their most visible villain. The character and tone of James Ransone’s Damon Callis is not new to him. As Tim in ‘How To Make It In America’ his character was similarly Puckish, upbeat and mischief making – albeit with less violence. As Cpl. Josh Ray Person in HBO’s Generation Kill, and despite sharing a screen with Alexander Skarsgård (True Blood’s Eric Northman) in almost every scene, he was the biggest draw.

It helped that he had lines like, “How come we can’t ever invade a cool country, with chicks in bikinis? I’ll tell you why. It’s lack of pussy that fucks countries up. Lack of pussy is the root fucking cause of all global instability.” But even with Low Winter Sun’s shine-blocking script, he’s an enigmatic presence.

It’s not must-watch TV, but if you must watch it, you’re probably already aware that you’ve got too much free time.

Low Winter Sun Season One is available to buy now from Amazon

TV Transfer Deadline Day

September 2, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

Deadline-Day1

Live updates on all the top moves and deals on transfer deadline day, with OTB reporters covering the big stories at home and abroad.

11:18

Spotted – It has emerged that striker Peter Odemwingie was seen in London a day before transfer deadline day yet again. This time in the EastEnders carpark. He’s believed to be currently dating star Shona McGarty, but rumours of a three episode “dogging” arc have stuck to him like paint on a plasterer’s radio in recent weeks.

His agent had this to say:

“He’s where? Oh Christ, Peter. Oh Christ! Peter! PETER! PEEEETER! OH JESUS CHRIST! PEEEEETER! OH JESUS CHRIST!”

12:34

Take Me Out to sign MIC player?

Spencer Matthews, the love-rat-cum-gash-hound, has made it clear that he wants to move into Paddy McGuinness’ role long-term, but E4 will only accept a permanent move if they can get Season 3′s Lucy in a like-for-like, tit for tits swap.

Comment: TMO producers have been unapologetic about the need to get more flirty for weeks, but this has all the hallmarks of a panic buy. It’s going to be a long old series for viewers unless it can add a bit of creativity and shaggability to the hosting lineup.

13:08

Saturday Kitchen producer Will Spector on the future of host James Martin, who has been linked with a move to The Hairy Bikers’ Cookbook:

“It’s getting tiring all this speculation. Whilst everyone knows that he’s got a lustrous head of hair and back like a black labrador, no bids have been made and there is no point anyway because he isn’t for sale. How many more times do we have to say it?”

14:57

Danish television station TV Danmark has confirmed that The Killing’s Sarah Lund is presently holding talks with ITV officials about a potential loan move to Midsomer Murders.

Comment: Signing the Dane would, in my eyes, make perfect sense for DCI Barnaby’s team. The British favourite may be getting consistent results in the ratings, but the show has been suffering from a lack of young playmakers for some time and this could be just what’s needed to settle the menopausal fan base after yet another hot flush.

15:26

Match of the Day in shock Jordan acquisition

The BBC’s flagship highlights programme are thought to be closing in on a two year deal for notorious WAG Katie Price, (who in the Brazilian style she’s known for goes simply by Jordan.)

“We’ve been very clear about our need for a solid pair up front for our coverage. She really knows her footballers and we think she’ll be able to provide some serious off-the-field insight. And for what it’s worth Dwight Yorke assures us she’s a safe pair of hands.”

An unnamed scout commented that he thought the move had a lot of potential but worried that she might fail the medical.

Follow Nick Arthur on Twitter

Harrow – A Very British School

August 26, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

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If Harrow were a very British school, this portrait wouldn’t be nearly as adoring. Although the title might mislead, the content is much more rigidly factual. As long as what you seek is no more than the selective truth of a school prospectus.

Dean Acheson famously said that Britain had lost an empire and had yet to find a role. Some saw the United Kingdom as the Greece to America’s Rome. It’s quite possible that we have instead become what Switzerland once was to finishing schools; educating the small slice of the world which goes on to comprise the greater part of its leaders. Harrow boasts a diverse intake geographically, but there is very little economic diversity. A long way from the initial mission of the school to classically educate thirty poor boys of the parish.

When the Harrow headmaster makes an appearance, it is always from behind a lectern. He makes speeches which are nominally for the boys in front of him, but have clearly been written for an audience much further afield. Spectators he no doubt envisions tossing away their copy of the Good Schools Guide and instead letting the emotional clarity of an after-dinner Shiraz guide them to the Applications section of harrowschool.org.

The rest of the staff are all plenty nice enough. Although most suffer from the try-hard enthusiasm of adults who seem to want their pupils’ approval more than their respect. It reminds you quite how weird most teachers are. Something which is almost certainly exacerbated by the full-time company of teenagers and other similarly afflicted adults.

A Very British School isn’t un-enjoyable television. There are enough titbits to keep you from drifting off and the cast aren’t quite media-aware enough to be dull. The occasional factual error will probably slip past even the eight percent who attended public schools; in all likelihood lost in the nostalgia of their golden spell before adulthood or reliving the trauma of expulsion from the familial Eden.

As an advert for Britishness, it’s somewhere between Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony and PG Wodehouse caricature. There’s not enough here to recommend watching unless you were either sent away or need reassurance before being sent. It’s not Hogwarts, but it’s far enough away from normality to probably seem like it to some.

Harrow: A Very British School will air on 4th September at 8pm on Sky 1 HD and the first episode is available On Demand from 29th August.

Nashville Season One

July 16, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

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The most invidious stereotypes are those that form when the subject has little personal relevance. It can be very difficult to shake a suspicion without some anecdotal evidence. Most of what I knew about country music before watching Nashville came from snide jokes in American shows with greater cultural crossover. In British terms it seemed to have the same cultural cachet of Morris dancing but without any of the ironic participatory enjoyment.

Commercially and spiritually, country music is much more at home below the Mason-Dixon line. That post-modernism hasn’t yet reached what is known condescendingly  as the Bible Belt, is almost certainly testament to its continued success: songs telling simple human stories with universal themes of love, loss, hope, fear, success and failure are easy to embrace. Listen long enough and you’ll find something to identify with.

The creator of Nashville, Callie Khouri (Thelma and Louise), seems to see the show as one extended country song. Even though all of the characters are very emotionally driven the storylines never become overcomplicated. That the story rarely slips into trite melodrama or one dimensional acting is a credit to the show’s cast.

Leads Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights), and Hayden Panettiere (Heroes) are both visually very powerful. There were times after watching when I could’ve seen a National Enquirer front page with Panettiere’s Juliet Barnes on the cover and not questioned its veracity. Her command of both ends of the emotional spectrum, from sugar sweet to lemon sour is grunge like in its delivery, with the quiet setting up the noise and her scowl never more than a circumflex away from a smile if it’ll help her get her way.

Clare Bowen as Scarlett, a waitress and a poet, is thoroughly enjoyable and deservedly gets extended screen time as the series progresses.

As somebody with an extensive and less than complimentary scepticism about musicals it was difficult to initially give Nashville its due. My utter loathing for shows which degenerate into “spontaneous” sing-and-dance ensembles remains intact, but for the first time I’m willing to admit that credible emotional stories can involve music.

Nashville Season 1 is out on DVD from 22 July

Boss

June 3, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

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Boss makes its bold ambitions clear from the opening credits. A host of big names are dotted across a broad panoramic sweep of Chicago’s landmarks, neighbourhoods and historic figures. And it’s all set to Robert Plant’s “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down.?

There is little time for positivity in US “prestige dramas” and that is undoubtedly what Boss aspires to be. What happiness does exist for Mayor Kane – the titular Boss – and the rest of the cast is tainted by the zero sum behaviour it required. Wars are never won, only battles. Victories are just LinkedIn bullet points for people who believe in the divine right of their own surname and think that Darwin plagiarised Sun Tzu.

There are no peaks to conquer in Boss, just an elevated plateau to reach. It is inhabited by the few people who understand that to remain above everyone else requires the never-ending accumulation of power. This is where Tom Kane’s (now incapacitated) father-in-law once resided and where Kane now resides. When he visits his former patron, it is clear that he disdains him for the man he has become. Seemingly only dropping in to remind himself how pitiable a man without power is.

The violence emulates Reservoir Dogs in its intensity and on occasion, very literally. Whilst the sex scenes are as rough as the politics. Typical alpha male fantasies – in an ignominious display of equality – are initiated by both genders. Acts which in any other context would start out: “Dear Penthouse, I never thought this would happen to me but…”

In some ways, Boss goes too far trying to prove its prestige credentials. There are an unnecessary amount of Shakespearean allusions, with enough soliloquies to satisfy Hamlet and every major character has at least one monologue per episode. The fluency and rhythm of these speeches are enjoyable, but only if you can tolerate the incongruity of so many Type A characters ceding the floor to their rivals for that long.

Yet for all its eloquence, this isn’t an attempt to emulate the West Wing. There is far too much Realpolitik for this to be a world Aaron Sorkin would ever create. Besides, when you watched the West Wing you wanted to be amongst the characters. To be one of the good guys, doing the right thing and making a difference. In an arrogant moment, you might wish to be one or two of the characters from Boss, but you certainly wouldn’t want to spend time amongst them.

There have been accusations that Boss is unrealistic, but it doesn’t come across that way. Chicago is a city tainted by corruption. This is undeniable. Since the seventies, Illinois has convicted two Governors, two congressmen, a state treasurer, an attorney general, and more than 1500 others of political corruption. In an environment where crime clearly flourishes, to not give artistic licence some leniency seems foolish. Boss may over-dramatise elements, but it never feels outlandish.

Macbeth’s tragedy was that he destroyed the good in his life through the pursuit of power. Tom Kane would see the parallels. Unlike Macbeth, Kane recognises his own mortality early enough that he has a chance to redeem himself. The journey he embarks upon to do this is well worth watching.

Boss Season 1 is available on DVD from 10th June 2013

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