How To Get Away With Murder

October 22, 2014 by  
Filed under Reviews

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On the How To Get Away With Murder promo poster in the upper left hand corner, just above the cool stare of Viola Davis’s Professor Keating, are the words “From the Executive Producers of Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy.” Simply from reading these words, without having seen a frame of the show, the audience knows what they’re in for. And if it is slick, intriguing, well-produced melodrama that you want, Murder, the latest from Hollywood television darling, Shonda Rhimes, will not disappoint.

How To Get Away With Murder follows a group of first year law students, namely Wes Gibbins, played by Alfred Enoch of Harry Potter fame, who enroll in a class taught by the sharp and terrifying Annalise Keating (Davis). Keating, a well-respected high profile defence attorney, enlists her class to help create a defence for one of her clients. Succeed, and you may find yourself with a job by year’s end. Fail, and you will be relegated to the bottom of the heap.

While at its core Murder may have more in common with Scandal than Grey’s Anatomy, they all share the same beating heart of intense, thrilling workplace drama. While Enoch’s Gibbons would be loosely described as the show’s “protagonist” and moral compass, there is little doubt that Murder is Davis’s show. Davis’s Professor Keating is the quintessential anti-hero. She’s intense, powerful, intimidating, and even sexy. But most of all, Keating is effective. Rather than teaching from a textbook, Keating throws her students into the deep end, forcing them to sink or swim.

The audience knows from the get go who will survive Keating’s trial by fire. Rather than crafting the episode exclusively around the competition between students, Rhimes opens the show with four students, the aforementioned Gibbins, Connor Walsh (Jack Falahee), Rebecca Sutter (Katie Findlay), and Michaela Pratt (Aja Naomi King), trying to dispose of an unknown corpse. But instead of ruining the suspense surrounding Professor Keating’s decision, this decision demonstrates to the audience that Murder plans to cast a much wider net than the logline lets on.

It is this sense of intrigue running throughout the show that will bring audiences back week after week. While some may feel that the show’s non-linear storytelling style might distract from the law school melodrama that lives at the heart of Murder, it provides a welcome reprieve from the young professional hijinks and promises to keep the show fresh and constantly evolving. And while the show does suffer a bit from the typical hammy pitfalls of broadcast television shows, it refuses to be boring and for that it must be commended.

How To Get Away With Murder airs Wednesday, October 22nd, at 10pm.

The Walking Dead Season 5 premiere

October 13, 2014 by  
Filed under Reviews

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WARNING: If you haven’t seen episode one yet, this review contains spoilers.

Common consensus isn’t always the best judge of things, but when common consensus decided that season four of The Walking Dead was its finest yet, it was all but impossible to disagree. If the twin terror of the prison’s virus outbreak and the return of The Governor inspired nails to be bitten off almost entirely, then the subsequent scattering of Rick, Michonne, Daryl et al to the wind combined with the mystery of Terminus left many viewers with little more than stumps for fingers.

The cliffhanger that last season’s finale presented us with was an exercise in torture of the cruelest kind. No sooner had Rick’s diminished posse arrived at Terminus – and it became clear that it may well be their very final destination – than the season was brought to a shattering end. Summers the world over were instantly ruined, as we all wiled away sun-filled days wondering if a fresh collection of bones could soon be added to the huge pile seen on Terminus’s outskirts.

As if to atone for such wickedness, The Walking Dead team conspired to give us what may be its best episode ever (and yes, we did rave most fervently about Season Four’s opener too, but for sheer visceral reaction, this trumps it). The first five minutes alone gave us by far the show’s most horrifying scene (think Hostel meets Texas Chainsaw Massacre), without a single zombie in sight – quite a feat for a series that had only just put its audience through the wringer of infanticide. Near relentless brutality followed, with the resultant adrenalin rush only staunched by an emotional reunion that would have induced tears, were it not for the comical ‘who are all these weirdos?’ look on baby Judith’s face.

That the new season was promoted in the UK with a pop-up ‘human flesh’ burger restaurant might have been a dead giveaway, but discovering that our heroes were to be served as prime fillet, not for the walkers, but for their fellow humans was no less horrifying. Especially when we witnessed the crude baseball bat/butcher’s knife/steel basin set-up that comprised Terminus’s abattoir, with the camera refusing to stray from the moment of gruesome blood-letting.

Of course, not everyone was being eyed as a delicacy at an all-you-can-eat cannibal buffet: Carol, Tyreese and baby Judith were still en-route to Terminus. Which is fortunate, as after intercepting one of the Terminus scouts it meant the episode could essentially become ‘The Triumph of Carol’, as she went all out Jane Rambo and initiated a one-woman, Expendables-style rescue mission. Granted, Rick 2.0 played his part in saving the group from becoming barbecue food, but without Carol’s explosive intervention everyone would have ended up as nicely basted morsels slowly digesting in the stomachs of their captors.

Her re-admission to the group, coupled with Rick and Carl being reunited with the decidedly nonplussed Judith, rounded off what was a perfectly self-contained opener. But by bookending the episode with the backstory of Terminus leader Gareth (who was still very much alive, give or take a bullet or two, come the end), it appears the greatest threat this season will come from a world in which the normal conventions of humanity are as dead as the zombies that inhabit it.

The Walking Dead Season Five airs every Monday at 9pm on FOX.

Follow Nick Norton on Twitter @OnlyForKoolKids

 

 

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  
Filed under Reviews

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

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**

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

Mr Sloane

May 24, 2014 by  
Filed under Reviews

Mr Sloane review

It’s safe to say that when we first meet Jeremy Sloane, the eponymous hero of Sky Atlantic’s new tragicomedy, he’s at just about his lowest ebb. It’s safe to say this because the first time we meet him he’s securing a noose around his neck, stepping up onto a chair and kicking it out from under his feet. As shocking an opening gambit as that may sound, it actually becomes one of the show’s best gags and an indication of its knack for mining the humorous from the most horrific.

Of course there’s no need to issue a spoiler alert (but if you really want one: spoiler alert!) – Sloane’s suicide bid ends in spectacular failure. He is, after all, played by much-loved funnyman Nick Frost, and no show would ever recover from the image of Frost’s lifeless corpse swinging from a rope. Fortunately, as his very much living body comes crashing down from its temporary suspension, the only way for the rest of the episode to go is up. Albeit up on a mildly uneven gradient.

Mr. Sloane is the creation of Robert Weide, the man who, along with best friend Larry David, brought us the scabrous cult comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm. Where the latter is set in contemporary Los Angeles and features the everyday confrontations on an uncensored, unrepentant David, so the former is its polar opposite: set in Watford in 1969, with the mildly repressed company man Sloane at its heart. It is very English and very period.

As we quickly learn, Sloane has recently suffered two tragedies in his life – being abandoned by his wife (played by newly-crowned BAFTA queen Olivia Colman) and losing his job to a former protégé. The ‘comedy’ in ‘tragicomedy’ comes from Sloane’s attempts to pick up the pieces and get his life back on track, starting with a spectacularly misjudged attempt at supply teaching. Although this induces more gentle ‘hah’s than outright LOLz, more often than not there is a comfortable amount of mirth over the course of the hour.

Not everything works. Weide has yet to master the art of conveying ‘pub banter’ in a way that doesn’t come across as cringeworthy as Richard Curtis’s attempts to do ‘working class’, while a lengthy gag involving a self-improvement tape (or rather eight-track tape, as the period detail demands), falls falteringly flat. And it will be interesting to see if Ophelia Lovibond’s American love interest develops beyond the stock fantasy ingénue, introduced as she is in a psychedelic-patterned dress that screams “LOOK AT HOW DIFFERENT I AM FROM EVERY OTHER STAID CHARACTER IN THIS SHOW!” Curb fans looking for its English equivalent will certainly come away disappointed.

The real asset here is Frost, a performer with such a natural propensity for comedy he could probably make castration seem funny. His range extends well beyond funny too, helping flesh Sloane out as a man out of time, content to listen to Gilbert and Sullivan and chase safe domesticity while the revolutions of the 1960s completely pass him by. If Weide can keep things a little less Curtis and fully utilise Colman (who only appears briefly in flashback in this first episode) and Lovibond, enthusiasm for a regular Friday night date with Mr Sloane may become ever less curbed.

Mr Sloane is on Sky Atlantic, Fridays at 9pm

Follow Nick Norton on Twitter @OnlyForKoolKids

Derek: Season 2

April 24, 2014 by  
Filed under Reviews

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Taking place a full year after the first series’ happenings, Derek returns with its eponymous 49 year old character, and the rest of the workers at Broad Hill retirement home, in relatively similar standing. Vicky is now a full time employee, Hannah and Tom are together and (thanks to Derek) publicly trying for a baby, whist Kev is still sipping from a Special Brew can and Dougie is moaning about something in his traditional Pilkington ways.

Although a little too coincidental that so many things happen in one day, the first episode of series two acts as a strong re-cap of what life is like in the nursing home, and the beautiful things that have and haven’t changed about the characters. Following from the last episode of season one, we see Derek’s traveling dad move into the nursing home and make an impression on the numerous female residents.

New character Geoff, a strongly opinionated and smarmy fellow, works a few days in the nursing home doing various small tasks. His attitude begins to wind up Dougie and in a comical confrontation we see Dougie leave the nursing home as he can’t take it any more. Something which unfortunately marks the departure of Karl Pilkington from the series.

To replace Karl’s comical relief, drunkard Kev suddenly has a lot more time on screen, yet admittedly he has become much more humorous. As Derek has always tied comedy and drama together through a blend of realistic and larger than life characters, the comical options are limited, which thus forces Kev into the limelight. His humour is akin to the last series, smutty, outspoken and drunk, whilst irony oozes from every utterance; overall it’s effective at stirring up the genteel nursing home pot and providing some adult humour. For example, a drunken song he sings out loud, to the nursing homes silence, ends with the expertly delivered line ‘and a butt plug’.

Yet as in the first season, it’s not all fun and games. Derek, a character who some media outlets have labelled autistic despite Gervais’ contrary claims, has limits in his ability to amuse but this is in exchange for his simplistic yet heart-warming observations. His selflessness, kindness and relentless ability to care permeates throughout the characters in the nursing home, through the warm aesthetic of the show, and into the lives of its audience.

The oddball characters that compose Broad Hill’s staff continue to be endearing and thus overwhelm outside visitors through their sense of respect and community, or as in the case of Vicky and Tom, turn them into members of the clan. There is an underlying sweet message to the show that asks us to reconsider what we deem important in our own lives, and with Derek unwittingly uprooting a well-paid, overly stressed professional in episode two, the outsiders that enter the home are not far removed from the shows audience members.

Overall Derek has come back on the strengths with which it first succeeded and continues to be a highly entertaining show that treads between genre boundaries. Personally, the removal of Dougie takes an edge off of the show for me as he was by far my favourite character, yet admittedly I am a huge Karl Pilkington fan. Multiple people I have spoken to share a similar view on the first series, although Kev is funnier than ever in attempts to replace Dougie and thus far is proving to be a worthy replacement, it could be enough to put some people off the second series.

Perhaps American audiences won’t miss a character with such localised comedy but for UK audiences the dismissal of Dougie will undoubtedly be a sore point; perhaps the unique blend between comedy and drama will continue to hold the show together. I just hope Karl Pilkington shows up for a cameo later in the series.

Derek will be shown on the 23rd of April on Channel 4 at 10pm

Monkey Planet

April 10, 2014 by  
Filed under Reviews

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‘Monkey Planet’ is soon to be airing its second installment of a three part series. The clue is in the name. This is a series about all the different monkeys (and apes, awkwardly) on our planet. Primate planet seems like it should have been the obvious choice; a nice dose of alliterative accuracy.  The series is a bit like ‘who do you think you are’ but hairier, we’re all involved, and the soundtrack includes the Spice Girls, rather than watching a washed­-up celebrity find out they had a sheep­stealer as a great grandfather.

It’s an important message to convey, a reminder that we humans are not so supremely distinct; we belong firmly within the primate family. During the series we meet a whole host of relatives, some are better looking than others, some are more hygienic, some are remarkably randy, and others will prove capable of organising a highly sophisticated plan to hunt you down and eat you. Fairly typical familial relationships­ every family is a dysfunctional one. We witness the ‘human­like’ behaviour of primates across the globe with teeth flossing, cannon­balling, marshmallow toasting, and abstract ­art­ creating. None of this behaviour should be surprising ­ researchers have amassed evidence for years demonstrating the highly developed cognition of many of our primate counterparts; it’s a reflection of our own arrogance that it remains surprising, but nevertheless, it is ­ delightfully so. The footage captured across eleven countries featuring Borneo, Ethiopia and Japan is quite breathtaking, and the corresponding soundtrack is well­thought and engaging.

It is a series that celebrates the family: its diversity  (the proboscis monkey finally gets a look in as a legitimate primate, rather than a play­thing of buzzfeed), and its integral nurturing role; another attribute humans too readily claim as their own. It highlights other parallels too, such as an apparent class system in the Japanese macaques, or the ‘hugging wins friends in high
places’ approach taken by the spider monkeys. There are legitimate objections to nature programmes indulging in anthropomorphic explanations of animal behaviour; it can however, have value if the overriding messages reach a wider audience. At least, in the case of Monkey Planet, objections on these grounds must surely be minimal. It is no giant leap to describe primate behaviour in ‘human’ terms.

Bonobos too were granted the attention they are due. It is explained that they, along with the chimpanzees, are most closely related to humans. Their unchaste sex­fuelled lives were dealt
with in a delicate and understanding manner. This is usually all too easy turf for sensationalising within our own terms of sexual reference; instead it was aptly presented as a daily occurrence for Bonobos with important de­stressing benefits. It’s just a shame he didn’t talk more about lesbian sex though. No, really. The sexual pursuits of Bonobos are not limited to heterosexual possibilities; they frequently engage in all manner of combinations.

George McGavin (identifiable as the clothed primate) can not be faulted for his presentation of the series. His own personal interest in the subject matter allows the marvel of things to be clearly explained, whilst avoiding any possibility of being patronising. He is endearing, and clearly enjoying himself; he knows he’s got the best job in the world, to quote: “I’ve got a macaque on my shoulder flossing his teeth­, you couldn’t make it up.” He has a charismatic, if understated delivery. Beautifully exemplified standing atop one of the tallest trees in the rainforest, lookingdown and describing it as ‘alarming’; or when he exclaimed:  ‘I’ve never seen so much mess in my life. It’s like a teenage sleepover’.

This series is not about lowering humans to their animal ancestry, rather it’s about raising non­human primates to the platform they are entitled to. As George reveals to us the beautiful array, and the extraordinary capabilities, of the primate family, he rightfully suggests that we should be ‘proud to be a primate’.

Watch Monkey Planet here

Monkey Planet is on BBC 1 on Wednesday April 9

Game of Thrones: Season 4

April 7, 2014 by  
Filed under Reviews

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Given just how phenomenally popular it has become, it’s hard to imagine that the Game of Thrones almost never made it to our television screens at all. But according to star Sophie Turner, the pilot episode was so substandard that US broadcaster HBO was ready to pull the plug. They didn’t, of course – the pilot was re-shot, three epic seasons followed and Game of Thrones went on to become the world’s most popular (and pirated) television series ever.

So here we are on the verge of a fourth season (unless you’re part of the scarily committed brigade that stayed up to watch Sky Atlantic’s US simulcast at 2am this morning, you bleary-eyed thing you). With the Lannister’s betrayal putting marital bliss to the sword in the infamous ‘Red Wedding’ episode and the ascent of Daenerys Targaryen and her brood of dragons combining to send fans into hysterics by the end of season three, the global clamour for revenge and retribution ensured #GOT, #GameOfThrones and a myriad other related hashtags littered the Twittersphere for hours on end yesterday.

Under the weight of such expectation, does Season Four opener ‘Two Swords’ live up to the hype? The answer is a categorical ‘Yes!’… and then some. Most impressive is the deftness with which it reintroduces us to what must be the largest cast a drama series has ever seen – and throws in a few new faces to boot. In lesser hands it could have been a mere televisual rogues’ gallery, but under the direction of showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss the episode not only reacquaints us but sets in motion the narrative strands that will wind their wicked ways across Game of Thrones’ geographically vast backdrop and wrap around the rest of the season.

In the North there’s Jon Snow, fully recovered from the three not-so-Cupid’s arrows fired into his torso by spurned lover Ygritte and ready to rally the Night’s Watch against the horde of Wildling invaders en route to Castle Black. Down in skullduggery central that is Kings Landing, Tyrion Lannister (as deliciously droll as ever thanks to the masterful Peter Dinklage) is struggling to play diplomat with a Dornish Prince who holds more than just a grudge against his family, whilst caught between the duty of an unwanted marriage to poor Sansa Stark and the need to keep his affair with lover Shae from prying eyes.

Across the water to the south Daenerys’ three dragons have hit the troublesome teens, adding to their mother’s burdens as she marches her army onwards to recapture the Iron Throne. And somewhere in between are the odd couple that is Arya Stark and The Hound, who get to bring proceedings to an end with a suitably bloody bang. All with an infusion of the blackest humour that keeps proceedings zipping along, without ever threatening to veer into self-parody. A supremely satisfying scene-setter, Two Swords comes out swinging and connects with every strike.

Game of Thrones Season Four begins tonight at 9pm on Sky Atlantic

Endeavour: Trove

April 6, 2014 by  
Filed under Reviews

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An unexplained suicide, a missing girl, and a stolen Trove – all are mysteries left for Endeavour Morse to solve in the return of the ‘Endeavour’ series.

“Trove”, the first of four films in the second series, reintroduces Inspector Morse, now mentally scarred but with an unchanged desire to solve crimes in his hometown of Oxford. The traumatic ending for Morse in Series One has left him with the challenge of recovering from his past experiences while bringing his life back to normality.

Inspector Morse with his partner Detective Inspector Fred Thursday is immediately called upon to solve a chain of events that follow a chaotic scene during a Broad Street parade. After two students instigate the town scare, an unsuspecting policewoman ends up witnessing a man falling from a building to his death. Shortly after, a beauty pageant participant is reported missing by her distressed father.

While Morse is eager to recommence work again, his return causes difficulties in the office, and more importantly his relationship with Inspector Thursday. When Morse suggests the crimes are all connected by loose evidence, his colleagues, including Thursday, claim he is idealising the situations, and hypothesis that his illness may be affecting his competence. Although a friend and close partner, Thursday is more sceptical than supportive.

Despite Thursday’s lack of trust in Morse’s decisions, the pair act convincingly in their respective roles. Roger Allam, portraying Thursday, exudes the stern exterior of a proper police detective while still expressing concern for Morse’s wellbeing. Facing different circumstances, Shawn Evans, portraying Morse, conveys his insecurity as a result of his past but still uses his intuition to piece the crimes together.

The quality of characters has a large impact on the film’s overall production in addition to the structure of the story. The complex variety of crimes in the first film would seem to obscure the typical conflict-resolution aspect of this detective film but are instead neatly and subtly organized to create a suspenseful storyline, also seamlessly leading to the next film in the series, “Nocturne”. Avoiding the generic format of crime dramas, writer and producer Russell Lewis reinvigorates the genre by developing a lead character with internal struggles along with a multi-dimensional and unpredictable plot.

Endeavour: Trove is available to watch on ITV Player now

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