Viewing

We’ve spent a lot of time recently sipping wine and watching TV and films, so time for a brief roundup:

Robin Hood

The BBC’s attempt to create a show that’s exactly like Doctor Who only set in the middle ages is not without its charm, but.. actually, no, it’s without its charm. It’s clear that the producers believe that today’s family audience won’t sit still for anything resembling actual drama, or even what passed for drama in Robin of Sherwood, so what we get instead is more on the level of Hercules: the Legendary Journeys with a faux medieval setting populated by modern people wearing modern outfits and winking in a post-modern way. On occasion this approach can be quite entertaining (see, for example, A Knight’s Tale which makes a virtue of its popcorn preposterousness and has a great comedy turn by Paul Bettany as Chaucer.) Here it’s only intermittently likeable, and the sheer one-dimensionality of the story, filled with snarling villains in black leather, doesn’t do it any favours for a modern audience. I’m sure kids will lap it up.

Bones

Season 2 of Bones is just as endearingly amateurish and stupid as Season 1, with the addition of a really annoying new boss character. Which makes it sound far worse than it is. So far it’s proving to be perfectly entertaining, and David Boreanaz continues to put in a likeably goofy performance and have plenty of simmering sexual chemistry with more or less every female on the show. I do wonder what he does for all those cases where he isn’t confronted with unrecognisable human remains.

Studio 60

The third episode of Aaron Sorkin’s new show is my favourite yet, with some genuinely funny comedy material both from the show within the show, and the show itself. There’s still something missing, however. I just don’t connect with, or even particularly like, most of the characters – including Matt and Danny. I’m not sure what’s missing and I hope I warm up to the series soon because there’s genuinely a lot to enjoy.

Deadwood

The third and final season of Deadwood has just finished, and for me it was a very strong return to form after a somewhat diffuse and confusing second season. There’s a strong central narrative, an incredibly rich and interesting villain, and all the usual digressions into the odd quirks of character which make Deadwood such a particular slice of life. Only the complete lack of any resolution to the central narrative, which I suspect may be part of the point, prevents this from being a genuinely satisfying season of television. We’re promised some TV movies to wrap up the story, and I’m looking forward to them.

The Wire

Like most of the best telly this is an HBO show, now in its fourth year. We got turned on to it by my brother-in-law, who shares my love for Homicide: Life on the Street. The Wire comes from David Simon, whose years of journalism with the Baltimore police department inspired the book upon which Homicide was based. I’ve raved about it here:

“I have to recommend The Wire, easily my favourite TV Show of the moment. I think a lot of people have been put off because it looks like “just another gritty cop show” but for me that’s not the point of the series at all: instead it’s a surprisingly realistic look at all sides of urban society, with the drug dealers (many of them practically kids) occupying just as much screen time as the police. The cops are neither noble nor corrupt, merely flawed human beings doing a day job, while the criminals sometimes aspire to something greater than themselves. Also for a remarkably naturalistic series it does themes and parallels rather well. It’s a subtle, smart, believable portrait of urban despair and hope in much the same way that Deadwood combines those two ingredients, and never less than completely absorbing. Each season is structured like a novel, with a slow-building story and characters that rely on the audience sticking around for the whole tale. I think it’s great. My biggest problem as a middle class white boy is in following some of the urban street talk. :-)”

“The writers have talked about asking the audience to trust them to go somewhere interesting – so rather than stick the whole show in a bottle in the first episode, they treat it like chapter 1 of a book. It does mean things can take a while to pick up pace, but once it all gels in your head it’s very absorbing. Later seasons are even more about life in Baltimore than Season 1, which has a little more of the cops and robbers vibe at times, but even when it’s a cops and robbers show it punctures so many TV balloons that it feels fresh.”

I really would recommend it to anyone who enjoys series like Deadwood, but I have to admit that there’s no point in starting with year 4. The current season has shifted the focus onto the role of education in pulling children out of a culture of drugs and urban crime, with a labyrinthine structure and a cast of characters culled from all of the preceding three seasons. It’s just as good as its predecessors so far. Smart TV that’s depressing but also funny and relentlessly likeable.

Veronica Mars

Only one episode into season 3 and I’m feeling optimistic. Everything I love about the show is present and correct, and the story has interesting places to go. Plus Keith’s story thread is at least as interesting as Veronica’s. As season 2 showed the year may yet turn out to be more variable than the premiere suggests, but things are looking good.

Children of Men

We saw this film this afternoon and I may still be suffering from post-traumatic stress. It contains some of the most harrowing scenes of gunfire and peril ever committed to film, and yet despite being a frenetic and rather bloody tale the film manages to feel more like a highbrow SF movie than an action thriller. I enjoyed it a lot, and can’t really add to what Niall has already said.

Foreign Correspondent

Foreign Correspondent is an early black and white Hitchcock movie that my sister got me for Christmas. I hadn’t seen this before, and it’s an odd concoction. Joel McRae takes the Cary Grant role of fast-talking bounder as a New York journalist sent to Europe in the run up to World War 2, in an effort to get an actual news story instead of endless political hedging. He ends up involved in a truly ridiculous plot by German agents, falls in love with a woman in approximately ten seconds flat, and disappears from the film for about an hour while George Sanders takes over for a bit. Then the whole thing ends with an incredibly contrived bit of peril, and some chokingly over the top patriotism. Very odd, very of its time, but also quite a lot of fun and strangely enjoyable.

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