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March 20, 2013

The Wednesday Play: The Challenger (2013)

Posted on March 20, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

William Hurt as Richard Feynman in The Challenger

Normally, I have to raid the archives for our regular The Wednesday Play but this Sunday saw BBC2 unveil the rather impressive The Challenger, a TV movie/play all about the US presidential commission into the Challenger disaster.

For those who don't know, in the mid-80s, one of NASA's space shuttles, the Challenger, exploded shortly after take off and a presidential commission was convened by President Reagan to investigate the cause of the accident. The commission included the likes of Neil Armstrong and Sally Ride, but most notably it also included the Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, who ultimately was to discover the cause of the accident.

Feynman was/is a bit of a hero to geeks. A New York City boy and an atheist with contempt for all forms of authority and 'sacred cows', he was also involved in the Los Alamos project during World War 2, played the bongos, cracked safes and was generally an all round fun guy. That and he invented Quantum Electrodynamics, path integration and, of course, Feynman diagrams.

Being a geeky sort, when I won a physics prize at my school, it was Feynman's What Do You Care What Other People Think? that I requested: I'd first seen Feynman in the 1981 BBC Horizon documentary, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, which I'd really recommend watching it if you have any interest in science or indeed people, since it's a great bit of work:

For those who prefer movies, his early life during World War 2, particularly his relationship with his dying wife, Arline Greenbaum, was depicted in the film Infinity, with Matthew Broderick playing Feynman.

The Challenger, a co-production between BBC Scotland, the Open University and the Science Channel in the US, was as much an examination of Feynman and the nature of science as a rational tool as it was of the cause of the disaster. With a stellar cast that includes William Hurt as Feynman, Joanne Whalley as his third wife Gweneth Howarth, Brian Dennehy as Chairman Rogers, Bruce Greenwood as General Kutyna, Eve Best as Sally Ride and Kevin McNally as Larry Mulloy, the play depicts the events during the inquiry, as well as his ongoing struggle with cancer (he died two years after the start of the inquiry). It follows the story from the disaster itself through to Feynman's adventures in Washington DC, Huntsville AL (I've actually been there - I'm not entirely sure the programme makers have been, despite the various subtitles claiming so, but I guess you have to save budget where you can. Plus Huntsville ain't the most exciting of places) through to the eventual conclusion of the inquiry.

Written by actress-writer Kate Gartside, it's a tad more conspiracy theory-ish than perhaps it should be, but it's a really impressive dramatisation and well worth a watch. Hurt's not quite Feynman - he doesn't try to do an impression, not even aiming for a New York accent, and doesn't quite have Feynman's exuberance - but he does a very good job all the same.

I'd love to be able to embed it below, but the BBC being what it is, I'll merely link to the iPlayer instead, and leave you with Feynman's appearance at the Rogers press conference, vividly demonstrating in characteristic style, what he'd found wrong with the shuttle, as well as his take on the commission. No word yet on a US broadcast date, by the way.

March 5, 2013

Review: Engrenages/Spiral 4x7-4x8

Posted on March 5, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Tin Tin and Laure

In France: Last autumn
In the UK: Saturday 2 March, 9pm, BBC. iPlayer: Episode 7, Episode 8
In the US/Canada: Acquired by Netflix

Prepare yourself for much wailing and gnashing of teeth: I'm away for a week, so I won't be able to review episodes 9 and 10 until next Thursday or so, I suspect. Of course, given these reviews are only getting as many as one comment each, maybe you'll all live somehow. Let's see how many comments this gets by the time I return, anyway.

Either way, let's look at the two episodes that have just aired, in which Gilou proves that yes, he can be very smart, provided it's criminal activity rather than police work, Karlsson proves that she's great at defending everyone except herself - at least, when Pierre's around - and Laure proves that Spiral will remember past continuity references and characters eventually, even if takes a year or two.

Welcome back, Sami!

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March 5, 2013

Mini-review: Golden Boy 1x1 (CBS)

Posted on March 5, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Golden Boy

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, CBS

Not really worth a full-on review, since it's so perfectly generic, I could recycle practically any other review I've ever written of a CBS cop drama and it would say more or less the same thing.

The basic idea is that the Robert Kennedy-alike Walter William Clark Jr (Theo James, who could see dead people in Sky Living's horror show Bedlam) will become the youngest police commissioner in New York City history seven years from now, and when he's interviewed about how he got to the top so quickly, we see in flashback the events that transpired along the way.

And it's incredibly, incredibly generic. We have the slobby black partner a couple of years from retirement (Chi McBridge) and the ambitious backstabbing detective who's intent on sabotaging Clark Jr's obviously inevitable career trajectory (Kevin Alejandro from Southland). We have a token female detective who's somewhere on the moral spectrum between those two. We have a wayward sister for our hero to look after.

All of which might be excusable if there were decent plots. But for a Golden Boy, he ain't half stupid. There is literally no obvious insight that he can't make, no obvious act of backstabbing that he won't miss. The show should more probably be called Earnest Boy, because this isn't a political animal like Robert Kennedy in the making (which someone who rose that quickly up the career ladder would really need to be).

So although, as with all CBS dramas, it is competently made, has a decent degree of verisimilitude and looks great, ignore it.

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