Tag Archives: TV reviews

Homeland (Series 1 & 2)

More twists than the Nürburgring.

Carrie Mathison works for the CIA. She hears that some US soldier who’s been held prisoner by some extremist group has gone over to the beardie side. Not long afterwards, Nicholas Brody is released from captivity. “He’s a mad beardie!” screams Carrie. A lot. “No,” Brody keeps saying in a flat monotone, and everyone believes him.

In fact, Brody is working for Abu Nazir, plotting to kill the Vice President, who gave the order for the drone strike that killed Nazir’s son, Aisa to whom Brody had become deeply attached. (Just as an aside, how is it that when Brody is rescued, he’s a dishevelled mess, but he was perfectly all right while he was teaching Aisa?) The cunning plan is to herd the VP and everyone to a safe room so that Brody can then blow himself up, but the bomb fails to explode, and then his daughter rings him, and he can’t go through with it.

Don’t worry about it, says Nazir. You can still be evil. “How?” asks Brody. Become a politician.

And so Brody ends up becoming a Congressman, and tipped as a potential Vice President.

There’s one small fly in the ointment. Carrie is temporarily reinstated with the CIA so that she can go and have a chat with the wife of a terrorist commander in Beirut, who has some information. In typical Carrie style, she shouts hysterically and runs into the house where the commander lives so that she can gather intelligence. It seems to be no more than his shopping list until Saul finds an SD card sewn into a bag which has the video in which Brody explains why he blew himself up (but never did).

Thus, the CIA turns Brody, although to save Carrie, he gives Abu Nazir the serial number of the VP’s pacemaker so that the beardies can hack into the man’s heart and kill him. Job done.

The CIA eventually get their man after Carrie rants and raves hysterically again, but he gets them back by blowing up Langley with a bomb. “What’s my car doing there?” says Brody. “That’s not where I parked it.” Oh, f… says Carrie, getting cut off by the explosion. You did it! You did it! she screams wildly. “No,” replies Brody in a monotone, and for once he’s telling the truth. They go on the run, and Saul is left in charge.

Carrie is a manic depressive, but has hidden this from the CIA. She ends up having sex with Brody. In one episode, Saul Berenson (Carrie’s mentor) suddenly declares that she loves Brody. Really? There’s no real chemistry between Claire Danes and Damian Lewis, and Danes has the wild-eyed loon thing down a treat.

Brody’s daughter, Dana, is also prone to Carrie-like mood swings and hysterical rants. I suspect the writers didn’t know what to do with the character of a teenage girl, thus turning her into mini-Carrie. The character seems to be constantly on the verge of rumbling her dad, and she discovers that he’s a Muslim (I note that Jessica Brody doesn’t confront him with a bacon sandwich).

Homeland is both compelling and ridiculous at the same time. It’s as if the writers sat around trying to think of more and more implausible plot twists. The character of Carrie gets more and more annoying as she rants and raves at regular intervals. “Don’t do it, Carrie!” says Saul. Does she bother listening? No. If she was a World War I general, she’d be telling her men to charge straight at the machine guns because bullets only sting a little bit.

While the plot twists may make Homeland compelling, they can feel relentless, and although art requires the suspension of disbelief, it has little power against eye-rollingly inane plots.


Deep Space Nine

[20.08.14. This post was extracted from an entry from 2008.]

Deep Space Nine, Series 2

I finished watching the second series last night. If the Dominion hadn’t made an appearance in the final episode, I probably would’ve given up on DS9 when it was first shown all those years ago. The episodes were, once again, very TOS/TNG and probably averaging about a C. There were potential story arcs such as political issues on Bajor; the election of a new kai (the Bajoran spiritual leader); and the maquis, but nothing got going because none of these stories were really Space Opera™ material. The maquis were potentially romantic as settlers defending their lands against the evil railroad company the Cardassians, but they came across as whiny nuisances.

On this occasion, I couldn’t help but note that the series seemed to be more like a Western set in space. If some new race turned up, they were farmers. If anyone went to Bajor, their dealings were frequently with, er, farmers. Obviously the writers have no idea what modern farming entails because it’s not some guy tilling the fields by hand. It’s mechanised, computerised, deodorised. All right, perhaps not deodorised. But it’s a business. And by the 24th century (or whenever this is set), you’d expect things might be a little more sophisticated. I quite like the style of steampunk, but this isn’t even agripunk, which might redeem the general ludicrousness of this conception of agriculture.

If the future is full of farmers in space, then the military are a bunch of cave dwellers. Pretty much every planetary base (secret or otherwise) is in a cave because the military always operates in hills where there are caves. I’m sure that somewhere in The Art of War, 孙子 must’ve written, “Secret bases in caves are kewl.” Now if you’re part of the resistance, you probably don’t have the money to spend on something techie, but it seems that as a rule, the military are cheap bastards. The general wants a new uniform; his troops have to live in caves.

In retrospect, it was probably clear fifteen years ago, if you considered the matter carefully, that the Trek universe needed a Russell T. Davies to overhaul it. I recall noting more than once in the reviews that I posted on my original website that a lot of the ideas for DS9 and Voyager seemed to come from The Big Book of American Clichés.

Now arriving from 2006

Arrested Development.

I had thought I would’ve posted an entry about Arrested Development here seven years ago when I first watched the original three seasons, but since I can’t find an entry, I can only assume that I either wrote nothing (which would be unusual at the time) or the entry was on an old Live Journal blog of mine.

The story is about the wealthy, dysfunctional Bluth family. George Sr. is arrested for embezzlement and then, apparently, treachery for building houses in Iraq.  His wife, Lucille, is an alcoholic socialite with a contemptuous regard for her children. G.O.B. (pronounced like the biblical Job), the utterly tactless eldest son, is a hopelessly bad magician who’s always looking for his father’s approval. The middle son, Michael, is the only responsible member of the family, although not above being as undermining with his own son, George Michael, as his father has been with him. His allegedly twin sister, Lindsey, is lazy and married to the obliviously gay Tobias. Between them they have a daughter called Maeby, who cons her way into a movie studio as an exec. The youngest brother, the immature and clingy Buster, is actually the son of George Sr.’s twin brother, Oscar.

In spite of the entertaining cleverness of Arrested Development, the writing seemed to be on the wall by the third series because the story lines were rather rapidly cleared up. It was shown that George Sr. had been unwittingly working for the American government in Iraq; the story about Rita Leeds, the MRF (Mentally Retarded Female), was disposed of in a rather cursory fashion; and there was a flurry of other stories such as the revelation that Lindsey had been adopted or the visit from the Japanese investors which set up a Godzilla parody.

Arrested Development was a clever and entertaining series, though why it got killed off, I can’t say. However, there is YouTube footage (see here on gawker) of David Cross, who plays Tobias, wondering how the programme, which was so highly acclaimed, could be so badly marketed.

I don’t know whether I’ll ever see the fourth season. One review I’ve seen declares it to be a hit-and-miss affair which doesn’t quite live up to the original.

Downton Abbey, Series 3

Lord Grantham, financial wizard.

One of the things I did in New Zealand was watch the third series of Downton Abbey, although I never got round to watching the Christmas special.

Matthew and Mary finally get married, though not after some ridiculous last-minute drama between them.

Edith finally got to the altar only for her aged and partially disabled beau to leave her at the altar, but she ended up writing a newspaper column and taking a fancy to the editor, whose insane wife cannot grant him a divorce.

Sibyl had her baby, and then died because of the incompetence of the Harley Street specialist who her parents had brought in. That led to questions about her husband and the baby’s religion. He was assimilated to the family, but the baby, also called Sibyl, was baptised as a Catholic, much to the horror of Lord Grantham and his mother.

Meanwhile, Lord Grantham had invested all of his money in a dead cert in Canada. “Bye bye, money,” said Lord Grantham’s solicitor. What was the earl to do? “Hello, money,” said Matthew. “Well, not ‘hello money’ because you’ve come from my other fiancée’s dead father, and I’ve got annoyingly large scruples. Also, I’m not going to read this letter which will chase my scruples away.” Fortunately, Mary did read the letter, and all was well, although it made Matthew part-owner of Downton.

Below stairs, Bates finally got out of prison after sufficient evidence came to light, which cast doubt on the original conviction. Thomas almost got nobbled after O’Brien sabotaged his gaydar. Daisy fancied Alfred, Alfred fancied the new kitchen maid, the new kitchen maid fancied the new footman. Daisy did get promoted, but had an even better offer from her father-in-law. Mrs Hughes bought an electric toaster.

Matthew’s mother took to saving fallen women and encountered Ethel, who had been on manoeuvres with an infantry captain during World War I and got pregnant. She relinquished her son to his grandparents, but eventually found a job which allowed her to be near him.

The series ended without any major cliffhangers and was comparatively free of some of the more idiotic story lines of the previous two series.

When is a review not a review?

When it’s this review.

I watched Little Deaths last night. It was one of the DVDs I found in the shop round the corner from Vanguard and Suyou, and because it was British, I thought it might be worth a glance. Oh dear, was I quite wrong.

The two themes of the six stories were sex and death. How very novel. I would never ever have thought to put them together. [I think this is sarcasm. –ed.] They were all unrelentingly bleak and not for people with weak stomachs or readers of the Daily Mail. Presented consciously or otherwise, the stories were clearly metaphors for the economic crisis, employment, unemployment, etc.

Ultimately, none of this was, I think, material of any great quality, and it looked like the sort of thing which would appear on C4, E4, BBC 3/4 late at night when no one was watching; and there’s a conclusion – no one need watch this stuff.

From silly to sinister

3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy.

I heard about this film a few months ago because it’d been getting imperial citizens overexcited. It starts as a silly Hong Kong sex romp about a man who is under-endowed in the trouser snake department going to see the sybaritic Prince Ning as a consequence of his little problem.

But eventually the film turns violent, unpleasant, and tasteless, and what­ever little sympathy I had for it evaporated. The whole thing ends up being tacky and vulgar.

I don’t know what the film’s message is meant to be, but it appears to be that there can be enduring love without sex. It ends many years later with our hero, who lost his donkey-sized transplant during the final con­front­ation with the Prince of Ning, and his wife, still in the unremovable chast­ity belt (though that’s ridiculous because they would’ve been able to recover the key easily enough), still together and no less fond of each other, much to the surprise of the newly married couple seeking their blessings.

Lost Girl.

I wasn’t certain what I was getting with this, but it turned out to be one of those Showtime TV series. Bo has been drifting from one place to another because every time she gets hot for someone, she sucks the life out of them. She rescues a chancer called Kenzi from a date-rapist, but is then caught by the police who, as it turns out, are not your ordinary boys in blue.

Bo is informed that she’s a fey called a succubus, and is forced to undergo a test before choosing whether to join the light fey or dark fey. In the end, she chooses neither, and ends up living with Kenzi in a dilapidated old house from where they run a P.I. business. Cue adventures.

Dyson, one of the two policemen who caught her, is a werewolf and her kiss-fight-kiss-fight boyfriend. Seriously, one moment they’re together and the next moment they’re not, and it even becomes the subject of a bet by Dyson’s partner, Hale, and Kenzi. There’s also Lauren, the human doctor who works for the light fey leader called the Ash, and would like to be Bo’s girlfriend, but that also goes pear-shaped.

Meanwhile, there are lots of hints (Trick, the barman, and Dyson both know, and then predictably start arguing about whether to tell Bo) that some of the fey at least know exactly who Bo and her parents are.

Bo still wants to find out who her parents were and eventually meets another succubus who calls herself Saskia, but is, in fact, Eva (Efa? The medial consonant was definitely voiceless), her mother, who was handed over to the dark side to bring a war to an end, but subsequently tormented, which has driven her stark, raving mad.

The series ended with mummy maddest trying to start a war between the light and the dark fey while Bo seemed to throw her brain out of the window by gushing about how she wanted to get to know her mother even although she knew the woman was a couple of thongs short of a knicker drawer.

This felt like some cheap, fantasy fun that didn’t try to take itself too seriously, but overall felt too much like it’d been phoned in.

Here be monsters

Sanctuary, Series 1-3.

Dr Helen Magnus (Amanda Tapping) runs the Sanctuary project, which offers a refuge for creatures called abnormals, which display unusual abilities or fall into the Loch Ness monster or yeti category. She has her own gang of scoobies, including Nikola Tesla, Jack the Ripper, and John Watson from her past, and some bright young things from her present. You see, Dr Magnus is 159 years old, having been made immortal by a simple injection of pure vampire blood because that sort of thing so works.

Every week there’s some monster or  villain to be dealt with, and on several occasions, some old friends from Stargate SG1 have turned up (Michael Shanks, Walter [who puked up a bug], Samantha Carter’s top secret boyfriend, Maybourne [now promoted to a general]; and all the extras are probably the same guys who were the jaffa in SG1).

This is cheap sci-fi (or should I say Syfy?) in which Tapping plays a slightly different version of Samantha Carter, being a scientist first and foremost. It lacks the space opera grandeur of SG1 and has no permanent villains like the goauld.

I missed most of the first series because disc one only had the first three episodes, downloaded piecemeal from the Net. However, I don’t feel I’ve missed out, and won’t be too bothered if I never see series 4.

Wine in the close

Cougar Town, Series 2.

I forget what I thought about the first series of Cougar Town. Perhaps it was “Wine-guzzling people living in a close in Florida re-enact Courteney Cox’s version of Friends, where she’s the centre of attention”.

That just about sums it up. It might be a little better if it wasn’t, ap­par­ently, aimed at an audience of slightly stupid or drunk or stupid and drunk adolescents and twentysomethings.

Well, I needed something to watch.

Are all wives of such a kidney?

Desperate Housewives, Series 7.

With the villain of series 7 obviously being Paul Young, who had turned up at the end of the 6th series, the new arrival on Wisteria Lane was Renee, played by Vanessa Williams, an old friend of Lynette Scavo’s and very wealthy divorcee. Time for a recap.

Financial problems forced Susan and Mike to move away from Wisteria Lane, which was why Paul Young was living in their house. Susan took a job doing erotic cleaning performances on the Internet until Paul discovered her secret and she had to tell Mike, who took a job in Alaska. Meanwhile, as a result of Paul’s machinations, Susan lost a kidney and the surviving one was defective, which forced her to undergo dialysis until a donor could be found. There were two matches – Bree, and Paul’s wife, who killed herself so that she would be Susan’s donor. Susan turned Paul into a project, but Felicia Til(l)man, who had been nicked and imprisoned, having been given compassionate release, was using the opportunity of Susan’s goodwill to poison Paul and frame Susan for it. Of course, the truth was revealed, and Felicia suffered death by artic. All this time, Susan was forced to drive around in a Volvo XC60 (worth a mere £25,000-£37,000).

Bree and Orson went their separate ways, and she started going out with her interior decorator, a man supposedly 17 years younger than her even although he didn’t actually look so young. Eventually, the relationship failed when a former girlfriend turned up with their son in tow. Next man at the batting crease was a policeman who was temporarily supposedly gay until the truth came out. In the meantime, Bree’s son, Andrew, had been suffering from alcohol problems and wanted to tell Carlos that he was responsible for his mother’s death. Carlos eventually learnt of this by accident and while he forgave Andrew because of his youthfulness at the time, he forbade Gabrielle from seeing Bree ever again. That, of course, led to clandestine meetings.

Lynette demanded a nanny for the new baby and got Tom’s old fashioned mother, who was suffering from senile dementia. She also started an interior design business with Renee. She tried to get rid of the twins, who moved into Mrs McClusky’s place as lodgers until she kicked them out. Her attempt to manipulate Tom into taking a much better paid job backfired when she found herself being treated as a +1 at a major business conference and resenting it. Finally and at long last, this mismatched pair have decided to separate.

Carlos and Gabrielle learnt that Juanita was not their actual daughter, but had been swapped with another baby by mistake. Gabrielle had to meet her real daughter, who had been raised by illegal immigrants from Mexico. (Of course, why would their other daughter also be fat if their actual daugher was thin?) Thanks to Gabrielle’s imperious behaviour, the father got deported and the mother had to go on the run. Gabrielle went off the rails as a result of being separated from her real daughter, but this led to a new revelation – that she had been abused by her stepfather when she was a teenager. But she also discovered that she was worshipped in the town where she’d grown up, where she also confronted the nun in whom she had confided after being raped. But her stepfather wasn’t dead and had started stalking her only for Carlos to bash him over the head with a candlestick and kill the man. It also meant that just as Carlos had some dirt on Bree, she had some dirt on him. And that was how the series ended.

The overarching story was about Paul Young’s return to the lane and his attempts to destroy it. He had been released from prison after Felicia turned out to be alive and insane. Using the compensation money, he bought up several houses and planned to open a halfway house for offenders, which led to a riot. His wife turned out to be Felicia’s daughter, Beth, whose loyalties ended up being in conflict, and rejected by both him and her mother, she killed herself. That led to Felicia being released and although she pretended to bury the hatchet with Paul, she started poisoning him via Susan’s cooking until Paul discovered the truth. Thwarted, Felicia attacked Paul directly, and knowing that he was probably going to die, he finally admitted that he had killed Felicia’s sister, Martha. But even after Susan rescued him, Paul confessed to the police.

Although the 8th series is scheduled for later this year, the 7th had an air of finality about it. Unlike previous series where the final episode usually came with a hint of what was to come (new arrivals on the lane), the Paul Young story has come to an end, and Gabrielle’s abusive stepfather was thought to be dead anyway, which means that his body can be easily swept under the carpet (although I’ll bet good money that the storyline is revived with the arrival of someone trying to track him down).

So where next for Desperate Housewives? The creepy new neighbour storyline has been thrashed to death, and I’m not sure there are many secrets (like the death of Carlos’ mother) left to be revived from earlier series. Oh well, I expect I’ll probably have seen series 8 somewhere around this time next year.

Only a few years late

Extras, The Christmas Special and Series 2 (in that order).

When I went to Suzhou last weekend, I took the opportunity to go to a DVD shop because there, such places are not the pale shadows they’ve become here. Among other things, I got Extras, the first series of which I probably watched years ago, but I hadn’t seen any sign of the programme on the Mainland.

In series two, Andy Millman has his sitcom, When the Whistle Blows, which is the lowest of low-brow catch-phrase comedies. Like Kenneth Williams, he wants to do something serious and arty, but he finds that beside A-list celebs such as David Bowie, who sings a scathing song about Millman, his star is very dull, and although he despises his audience of cretins, he at least has their adulation.

I think the star turn in the second series was Daniel Radcliffe playing himself as a sex-crazed adolescent trying to score with anything female, including Maggie, who had already not fancied Orlando Bloom. The best scene was at lunch when Radcliffe is waving around a condom which he pings away only to find that it’s landed in the hair of Dame Diana Rigg.

A special mention has to go to the BAFTA ceremony, including the coke-snorting Ronnie Corbett and Millman’s never-ending humiliation in front of everyone else during the awards.

At the end of the series, Millman has the chance to meet with Robert de Niro, but does the right thing by visiting a sick child in hospital. de Niro doesn’t say much in the scene with Stephen Merchant, but he is fascinated by one of those pens where the lady is dressed one way up and naked the other way up. And thus his big chance has passed.

I watched the Christmas special first because I assume the second series was on the second disc. In the special, Millman is in the Big Brother house. Months before, he burnt his bridges by announcing the end of When the Whistle Blows in an endeavour to do something more serious, but he has to become a profile-promoting celeb to do it, and that means a part as a slug in Dr Who and roles various things which he doesn’t want to do. But it’s his candid speech before he leaves the Big Brother house which raises his profile, and it seems that real fame and stardom is waiting.

Instead, Millman legs it with his friend, Maggie, in her 2CV.

I haven’t laughed so much in a long time. Possibly, I’m suffering from middle-age hysteria, but there were some brilliant moments. There were also some poignant ones as Maggie’s life got progressively worse. Stephen Merchant continued to do his brilliant turn as Millman’s completely hope­less agent who, along with Barry from Eastenders (Shaun Williamson), ends up working at Carphone Warehouse after he’s been sacked.