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February 11, 2013

Question of the week: is there too much good television on at the moment?

Posted on February 11, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

If you've been reading my blog since the start of the year – you happy few – you'll have noticed that I've been struggling to watch all the TV that's been airing. Even putting to one side the rubbish TV that I've been contractually obligated to watch because of the blog, it's still a bit of a struggle to watch just the good stuff. Why, over the weekend alone, there was two hours of Spiral, an hour of Mr Selfridge, an hour of Shameless (US) and, yes, an hour of Top Gear. And I don't think that's just because it was the weekend or BBC4's stupid transmission schedule. Netflix has just pumped out 13 episodes of House of Cards in one go and practically every night of the week has a good couple of hours somewhere.

Now, admittedly I'm an outlier, since I do scour the planet's TV schedules, looking for stuff to watch. So to work out whether I'm just unrepresentative or not, today's question is a simple one:

Is there too much good television on at the moment?

As always, answers below or on your own blog?

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February 8, 2013

Review: House of Cards 1x1 (Netflix)

Posted on February 8, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

House of Cards

In the UK/US/Canada/most of the world: Available on Netflix. First episode available free.
In some other places: Acquired by HBO Europe

Welcome to the future, everyone. How are you liking it so far?

So until now, Netflix has been the TV equivalent of a library. You want to watch some TV? Okay, sure. Oh wait, actually, Mrs Brown has already got that out so how would you like to watch this instead? It's not what you wanted to watch, but you might enjoy it anyway.

But now things are changing. Just like Amazon and other companies that used to just sell you things other people had made, Netflix has decided that it's going to make some of its own products to get round all those thorny rights issues, broadcast networks and everything else that means they've never got what you wanted, when you wanted it.

Now before you mock, we're not talking about a situation like Dave or UK Gold, in which the budget is thruppence ha'penny, the script was written by someone past their prime and who couldn't get work anywhere else, and the best actor the producers can hire was 15th on their list of preferences.

No, for Netflix's first production (and there's a new series of Arrested Development coming our way, too, among other delights), they've got a near A-list cast (Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Kate Mara), an exceptional director (David Fincher) and an Oscar-nominated writer (Beau Willimon), together with a budget of $120m to put together a top-notch 13-part series: a remake of Andrew Davies' adaption of House of Cards for the BBC, but relocated to the US, with US congressman Frank Underwood turning his Machiavellian talents to betraying everyone in his party when his promised position of Secretary of State is denied him.

And Netflix is releasing all 13 episodes around the world at the same time. If this is the future, it's not only exciting, it's going to make my job a lot harder. Here's a trailer:

Continue reading "Review: House of Cards 1x1 (Netflix)"

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February 1, 2013

What did you watch this week? Including The Following, Spartacus, Mr Selfridge, Being Human (US) and Arrow

Posted on February 1, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

It's "What did you watch this week?", my chance to tell you what I movies and TV I've watched this week that I haven't already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I've missed them.

First, the usual recommendations: 30 Rock, Archer, Arrow, Being Human (US), The Daily Show, Don't Trust The B----- in Apartment 23, Cougar Town, Elementary, Go On, Last Resort, Modern Family, Mr Selfridge, Shameless, Spartacus and Suits. These are all going to be on in either the UK or the US, perhaps even both, but I can't be sure which.

Being added to the list this week after rather a long time hovering close to the qualifying bar is Vegas - it's not an absolute must-recommend but it's about as good as network TV is probably ever going to be able to do with a period gangster show set in Las Vegas and it did have a cracker of an episode this week that managed to mix comedy with the nasty to great effect.

I'm also sticking Banshee on, even if it's going to be a bit too ultraviolent for a lot of people and doesn't exactly aim for verisimilitude a lot of the time. Spartacus is back and so is Top Gear: strange how the three presenters are great when they're together, merely bearable when there's two of them, and unbearable when it's just one of them.

Some new shows started this week, none of which I had a chance to watch: The Americans, which has started on FX and has been acquired by ITV, which looks good but at two hours, was just a little bit too much for me to have caught in time; last night's Do No Harm, which is a modern Jeckyll and Hyde story on NBC; BBC2's Charlie Brooker's Weekly Wipe and Channel 4's Derek with Ricky Gervais. I'll review them all (or the first two at least) when I've had a chance to watch them, probably on Tuesday. Oh yes, and Netflix has the whole of the new House of Cards for us to watch, too.

Also in the viewing queue: this week's episodes of Suits, 30 Rock and Yes Prime Minister. But that's it.

Now, some thoughts on the regulars.

  • Archer: Timothy Olyphant from Justified is gay for Archer. As fun as always, with a great ending that used silence to maximum effect.
  • Arrow: I appreciate that the producers would probably rather be making 'Batman: The Early Years', but did they have to take an existing Green Arrow villain (Count Vertigo) and basically turn him into the Joker, even getting the actor to do an impression of Heath Ledger? Good ep though. The flashbacks could do with advancing the story a bit faster, now, and when are they going to make the IT/general purpose science girl a regular?
  • Being Human (US): Curious how they're shifting the show's power dynamics to make it more female-centric. Where once it was all about Aidan and Josh with Sally a bit of an after-thought (a bit like the original then), it's now all about Aidan, Nora and Sally instead. Everything's in flux though, so let's see if they can stabilise with the new dynamic.
  • Bob Servant Independent: Tried watching it, but despite Brian Cox's best efforts it's the usual "small man in a small town trying to be big" stick that huge chunks of bad British comedy are based on. So I gave up.
  • The Carrie Diaries: Got about 10 minutes into episode two before we completely lost the ability to concentrate. We'll try again but I suspect this is a definite dud.
  • The Following: Well, what an amazing turnround. After a deeply nasty first ep that was empty and full of misogyny, it's like the producers have sat down, asked "What's wrong with this show?" and done as much as they could to fix it. So they've amped up the characterisation, dropped a lot of the sadism, dropped the rubbish female character and added a couple of good and interesting female characters, added in some Scream meta-ness, and focused a lot more on character relationships. Don't watch episode one, if I were you, but start watching from episode two instead. Assuming you fancy watching a show about Edgar Allen Poe-inspired serial killers, that is.
  • Go On: A good Lauren episode and a good expansion of the set up with some more incidental characters. But it really needs to get funnier if it's too avoid cancellation, as well as drop a few of the more rubbish characters that are hogging up the screen time.
  • Mr Selfridge: The first downright poor episode of the show, more soap opera than drama, and with some terrible acting in some quarters. But still enjoyable and had a few interesting historical notes about 'the rational dressing' movement.
  • Spartacus: Usually, it takes the show two or three episodes before it settles down and stops being all about the swearing, sex and violence, and gets on with the plot. This season, they've leapt straight in with plot and characterisation. Yes, it's still a blood-bath and there was an orgy or two - it is still Spartacus - but some clever plotting and writing and actually not much by way of ornate swearing for a change. Also featured Ty from The Almighty Johnsons in a bit part, which was odd.
  • Suits: A decent Louis episode but not as clever as in previous weeks.
  • Yes, Prime Minister: Episode two was a marked improvement on episode one, but watching re-runs of the original, it's clear just how inferior the new version is, both in terms of writing and performance, and it's actually a little offensive at times. All the same, it does have some insight and good qualities, so if you've nothing better to watch, try it.

"What did you watch this week?" is your chance to recommend to friends and fellow blog readers the TV and films that they might be missing or should avoid - and for me to do mini-reviews of everything I've watched. Since we live in the fabulous world of Internet catch-up services like the iPlayer and Hulu, why not tell your fellow readers what you've seen so they can see the good stuff they might have missed?

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