Jessica Jones: Season 1

December 1, 2015 by  
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Jessica Jones 1

If the internet has taught us anything it’s that if something exists, then someone’s wanking over it. A woman consummated her marriage to the Berlin Wall, men pay £500 a pop to sniff second hand shoes, erotic Harry Potter fan fiction happens. Human sexuality is a vast, surreal plain and no matter how disgusting something might seem if it exists, someone’s wanking over it. Imagine the worst thing your genitals could come into proximity. An industrial blender, an oozing gangrenous wound spurting juicy, red-eyed maggot and necrotized lumps of flesh. Donald Trump’s mouth. Whatever. Someone’s wanking over that. They are.

When Andrea Dworkin chronicled and released her experiences of sexual assault, she wrote in the most graphic, grotesque and harrowing terms imaginable. There is nothing sexually suggestive in her prose whatsoever. And yet, some men contacted Dworkin after her publication to tell her they were wanking over that. Maybe it was analogue trolling, the latter day equivalent to MRA activists filling feminist’s Twitter feeds with their masturbation schedules. But she believed that they were totally sincere. And that is, in a nutshell, why it is so difficult to do rape properly on television. No matter how sensitively it’s framed, no matter how graphic and wretched it is made to appear – someone will find it titillating, someone will wank over it.

Marvel and Netflix’s Jessica Jones takes rape as one of its central themes but manages to side skirt the tricky issue of the actual imaging of rape by starting the story after the abuse is over. What we see instead is a story of recovery and the dynamic between the abused and the abuser rather than the sensationalised portrayal of the details of abuse. It works fantastically.

Much has already been written about the wonderful characterisation of the titular character, Jessica Jones, the ‘feminist anti-hero’ (which is ironic because if she was a male character, then we’d be calling her a ‘hero’). Jessica Jones is a modern re-imagining of the classic film noir protagonist – a bitter, alienated, whiskey slugging private eye. She also has super-strength and can fly a bit, because you know, Marvel. She does what she wants, she says what she wants, she has absolutely zero time for your shit but behind that rough persona lies a heart of gold.

Her nemesis is a guy called Kilgrave, a supervillain with powerful mind-control abilities who once took Jones under his control, made her do his bidding inside the bidding and out and turned her into a murderer. Played to creepy perfection by David Tennant, Kilgrave is a monster – but such a pathetic one. He is a grown-man locked in a state of arrested development, prone to throwing murderous toddler temper tantrums at the pettiest of provocations. He would be risible if he weren’t so gratuitously violent and terrifying cold. And his motivation? It’s all for love.

Kilgrave with his enormous capacity for self-pity, his insatiable entitlement not only for Jessica’s body but for her love while completely oblivious to who she is as a person and what her feelings are towards him, bears the classic psychological imprint of an abuser. For a fantastical superhero story, Jessica Jones gets uncomfortably close to the bone.

Jessica too, for all her superhero trappings, is a solid portrayal of a survivor of sexual abuse. She is not the rape victim we are used to seeing on television – all unstreaked make-up and picturesque Disney Princess glitter tears. Jessica suffers from PTSD and it is an irritation to her. She is far from the model of mental health and yet refuses stubbornly to collapse under her pain. Best of all, Jessica Jones doesn’t fall into the classic, tiresome trope where a woman is raped, she meets a new man, she is unable to trust, he is lovely and patient and saves her from herself etc. No, Jessica meets a new man, bangs his brains out, has a great time, deals with her experiences on her own terms and saves herself and the rest of Hell’s Kitchen in the process.

The message Jessica Jones gives to us is that he may have been his victim but the abuse was temporary, he will always be a tragic and pathetic figure and when they finally face off, he is weak and she is superhero strong. She walks away from him damaged but he is left totally broken.

Jessica Jones is available now on Netflix.

Jekyll & Hyde, Episode 5: Black Dog

November 29, 2015 by  
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Jekyll & Hyde Image 1

Terrible, just terrible. It comes across like a series of people performing scenes off a page. Which is exactly what any show is but in J&H it feels like that’s all it is.

The car was quite nice.

Well, that was the positive paragraph, back to business. With each new character and mythical reference comes another string of clichés and tiresome attempts at tension.

I don’t blame the actors, I can’t think of any that aren’t giving it their all but there’s just nothing to ‘sink their teeth into’.

It needs humour, desperately. The stodginess would work well as a backdrop for comedy. It’s committing to the time period in almost every way but neglecting to embellish the dialogue; which is the charm of most of these kinds of dramas.

Considerable resources have clearly gone into the making of this series but I can’t help but think that they would have been better allocated to something else.

Jekyll & Hyde is on ITV at 19.00 every Sunday.

QI: Series M, Episode 6 – Marriage and Mating

November 29, 2015 by  
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Some QI fans complain when an episode contains too much sex or raunchy humour in it. However, when an episode covers the subject of mating you can’t say you haven’t been warned.

Jo Brand, Bill Bailey, and making his QI debut Greg Davies, joined Stephen Fry and Alan Davies on this week’s episode, where they discussed the origins of sex in prehistoric fish, people who have a fetish for statues, the man who advised that you should dissect a woman before marrying one, and what monkeys are willing to pay for.

The outstanding member of the panel this week was Jo who was shocking Alan and indeed herself by the fact she knew so much, displaying her knowledge of Sir Walter Scott’s ancestors, the legend of Pygmalion, and how parachutes can be used on your wedding day.

In terms of the raunchiness of the show, it did not just come from the questions of course. There was one segment that later kept recurring throughout the episode concerning an old stand-up routine Alan used to do concerning the only sexy secret Santa present he could afford.

This episode will not please everyone, but it is enjoyable if you allow yourself to be entertained by the ruder side of humour.

QI skips a week due to BBC Two’s coverage of the FA Cup, returning on 11th December.

Toast of London: Series 3, Episode 2 – Beauty Calls

November 26, 2015 by  
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The thick slice of comedy that is the Toast of London was a little mellower this week, compared to the disconnected craziness of last week, not compared to a normal show, obviously.

It was pleasing to see such a nice satirical take on beauty pageants; the whole concept is decidedly taken up a notch and transported into a very possible future.

My favourite part of a Toast of London episode, though, is always the small, irrelevant gags. There’s a small joke about pubs constantly asking you how large your glass of wine should be, jokes about reticent house-mates, jokes about pretty much everything other than and including the topic of the episode. There’s even a whole arc about home-brewing alcohol.

Plus, Toast is back in the recording booth after being briefly usurped.

The song, as always, was a low point for the episode. It was fine when The Mighty Boosh broke into song in every episode because they performed actual fully fledged songs that I’d listen to by themselves. The songs in Toast are always little soggy interludes that are meant to enhance…something.

The best way to approach an episode of TOL, is to be prepared for a show that isn’t really looking for you to pay attention to it. It’s like a cat; aloof, confusing, independent, but very rewarding if you put in the time and catch it at the right moment.

I’m giving this episode: 4 and a half octopus test results out of 9.

Toast of London is on Wednesdays evenings at 22.30 on Channel 4.

Josh, Episode 3: Wedding & Waiting

November 25, 2015 by  
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Josh 1

Good news – it looks like Josh Widdicombe’s sitcom might have finally found its feed in this third episode.

The episode begins with Josh and Owen (Elis James) on holiday, where Josh’s use of his mobile to check whether Guinness contains milk results in him paying over £400 in roaming charges and thus going broke. Things are made worse by the fact that landlord Geoff (Jack Dee) has been going to storage auctions, meaning that he has had to store a grand piano in Josh’s flat.

To make amends, Geoff gives Josh and Owen tickets to the darts: the problem is Josh cannot afford the money for drinks, so Owen has an idea: go to his cousin’s wedding and get drunk before the darts start. It seems the ideal plan, until they discover that they are the only guests.

Their flatmate Kate (Beattie Edmondson) meanwhile has to stay in the flat all on her own, waiting for her new mobile phone to arrive. While she tries to improve herself it is not long before she watches trashy TV – right up to the point there is a power-cut in the flat.

This episode of Josh has certainly been the best so far: partly with its mix of visual humour, and also from the comedy from the characters. As stated before, Jack Dee has been the stand-out performer in the series so far, but it looks like we are getting better performances from the rest of the cast too. Elis James was particularly good, and the dialogue is also getting a bit better. The idea of Owen being so drunk that he ended up, “vomiting on a Venus fly-trap”, is both disgusting but so weird you can’t but laugh at the ludicrousness of it.

I still do worry though that the earlier episodes have let the quality of the series down, but hopefully the other episodes will continue to improve.

Josh is on Wednesday nights on BBC Three at 22.30.

Peep Show: Series 9, Episode 3 – Threeism

November 25, 2015 by  
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Peep Show 1

This week: Mark throws the dinner party to end all dinner parties, Jez’s relationships reach new heights of complexity, and the return of April, Mark’s perfect woman, from way back in series two, in 2004.

He’s tracked her down online to a book signing – ‘Corrigan and Google, the maverick detectives, who just won’t give up’. Now a successful academic historian, it seems that perhaps true love and happiness might finally be on the cards for Mark – until he discovers April is already married.

Through a series of unfortunate events, Mark ends up having to throw a farcical dinner party for April and her husband, Angus, serving a delicious meal of mashed baked beans, pasta, eggs and lettuce, washed down with a rum, water and vinegar cocktail. I lost it at the cheese course, where he resorted to squashing Dairylea triangles into a mozzarella-ish ball, and drawing blue lines with a felt-tip onto a piece of cheddar to create stilton.

Jeremy has now started sleeping with Megan as well as Joe, so when they both turn up at the flat, and are coerced into attending Mark’s dinner party, Jeremy also begins to panic as his plans start unravelling. The combination of the both of them desperately trying not to have their schemes uncovered results in the most intense and hilariously uncomfortable dinner party imaginable – it even makes the Christmas Dinner scene in season seven look bearable.

The season so far has been marked by a heightened level of energy and general ‘wackiness’, which carries on in this episode, possibly one of the most chaotic and fast-paced episodes of the entire 9 series. It will probably annoy a few purists, as the set-ups become ever more far-fetched, but I can forgive it if the lines are as funny as these – Jeremy’s explanation of his new sexual status, and Mark’s discomfort as he tries to eat his yoghurt was fantastic.

It was also nice to see the return of April, and offers a faint hope that Mark might even get something resembling a happy ending. It would also be great to see a few more obscure characters from the show’s rich history popping up one last time – big mad Andy, Jeff, Elena, Big Suze, all of them paying their last respects as the El Dude brothers sail off in the sunset.

Peep Show goes out at 22.00 on Channel 4 on Wednesdays.

Peep Show: Series 9, Episode 2 – Gregory’s Beard

November 24, 2015 by  
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Episode 2 of Peep Show is here, and Dobby is back. Mark has become even more obsessed and stalker-ish in his attempts to woo her back from New York, whilst his control freakery over Jeremy has also reached new levels – setting up surveillance cameras and taking ambient temperature readings to keep tabs on the heating and electricity bill.

The central story this week is the wedding of Super Hans and Molly – it’s fantastic to see more of Hans, who gets all the best lines. He’s asked Mark to be his best man, since Molly despises all of Hans’s ‘crackhead, smackhead’ friends – not least of all Jeremy. Mark’s initially reluctant – after all, what will he talk about in his speech? ‘The time he tried to cut my legs off when he was tripping, because he thought I was a demon? Or the time he just went for me with a chicken skewer for no apparent reason?’

However, his resistance vanishes when he discovers Dobby will be in attendance – perhaps this will be his chance to bring her back to the good old days of ‘hours on the sofa, DVDs and takeaway lamb pasandas’.  But disastrously, she brings along Gregory, her Williamsburg hipster boyfriend, who writes a blog about digital rights, reviews Brooklyn coffee-shops, and live-tweets his own headaches.

Jeremy, meanwhile, has been banned from the wedding. He’s occupying his time life-coaching Megan, the girl from the juice bar in the first episode. But her boyfriend Joe sends his quest down a slightly different path…without wishing to give any spoilers, there’s several themes in the episode that come together to create a particular scene that ranks among the funniest that the show has offered in its history.

There’s a clear sense that Armstrong and Bain are having a lot of fun with this final series, and are throwing everything in and more – hitchhiking, attempted garrotings, a violent beating for one of the characters, the reveal of Super Hans real name – even an appearance of the legendary twins.

This was another frantic and lively episode of what is shaping up to be a fittingly excellent final series. Only one downside this week – no Johnson.

Jekyll & Hyde, Episode 4: The Calyx

November 22, 2015 by  
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Jekyll & Hyde Image 1

Did anyone read these scripts before they were made? To check if they contained interest, intrigue, or any unique plot developments?

There’s plenty of convoluted mythological resurrections and world building but there’s just no reason to care about them. Something cannot simply be ‘a story’. J&H feels like the narrative equivalent of a car-wash; it serves the function of a TV show but without any…spark.

The dialogue goes on just a little too long in every conversation. Once the point has been established, there are just more words, meaningless words.

It has all the building blocks of a good parody but everyone’s too serious, stiff, and unimaginative. Why did a comedy writer not write a proper comedy? He could have kept the same setting, the same characters, even a similar plot; it just would have needed to be funny rather than ineffectively ‘dramatic’.

Characters, especially the title character(s), still do a lot of stating how they feel and think out loud, which is just as irritating as it was in previous episodes. Only the Bold and the Beautiful or Shakespeare can get away with vocalising thoughts and feelings constantly, and it’s not especially entertaining even when they do it.

At one point a character is shot by a sniper and then remains exactly where he was standing to be shot again a couple of minutes later, that says quite a bit I think.

QI: Series M, Episode 5 – Maths

November 22, 2015 by  
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There are plenty of notable things about this week’s edition of QI. One of these shouldn’t be however, because it shouldn’t be notable that an episode of a panel game has an all-women guest line-up. It should be something as normal as having an all-male one. The real reason it is notable though is that one of the guests is soon stepping into Stephen Fry’s shoes – which given their difference in height is something that is best done only metaphorically.

The guests this week joining Stephen Fry and Alan Davies were Susan Calman, Aisling Bea, and Sandi Toksvig, who is taking over as host of QI as of next year. This is the only episode of Series M that Toksvig is appearing in so this will be the last time we see her as a guest. Seeing her perform, it is clear to see why she given the job, as she was able to provide a lot of extra interesting information, ranging from why bears who took days off, to mathematicians who accidentally flip coins to land on their edge.

The episode’s mathematical theme explored the importance of Babylonians with regard to time; how members of parliament are hopeless at calculating probability; anagrams written by Galileo, and why the phrase “Too cool to do drugs” is not a good phrase to inscribe on a pencil. The best moment however came with an equation which when read out composed a limerick.

So far this has been one of the best episodes of the series. It had the perfect balance of knowledge, comedy and information which makes QI one of the best shows around.

Toast of London: Series 3, Episode 1 – Over The Moon

November 19, 2015 by  
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Toast of London should not work as a show or a comedy. The elements of the narrative float around each other in a suspension of almost implacable chaos. The characters jump wildly from one side of the sanity spectrum to the other. Costumes and props could be introduced or removed from the plot at any time without warning. But, somehow, it all works and it’s refreshing, funny, and ludicrous.

The first episode of Season 3 features a large pillar, pickled onions, and ‘The Batphone’ as central plot points: central! It’s a bit like The Mighty Boosh and Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace finger-painting on the walls of Buckingham Palace; in that it has a loose grip on reality, every character wants you to notice that they’re acting, and the whole thing is infused with grandeur and gravitas.

Particular attention should be given to the names of the characters. Each and every name seems to have been chosen meticulously. And sometimes the name of the character outshines the character themselves, such as the infamous ‘Clem Fandango’.

My only hesitation is Toast of London‘s tendency to break into song during an episode. Sometimes the song is good, funny, entertaining but sometimes it feels like I’m watching one of the weaker Disney films and I want to press fast forward on my VCR.

I give it 6 slanderous paintbrushes out of 4 corked thighs.

Toast of London is on Channel 4 at 22.30 on Wednesday nights.

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