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Your handy guide to true religions on TV - Hellenism and Religio Romana

Posted on May 10, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Xena and Hercules

This entry is one of a series of articles covering religions depicted on TV as being true. For full details and a list of the other religions covered, go to the introduction.

The Greek pagan religion featuring Zeus and the other Olympians isn't quite a dead religion, but it's close. Nevertheless, it remains one of the most influential, dominating Western literature, film and TV to a far greater extent than those in a far healthier state, such as Hinduism. As well as adaptations of Greek tragedies on TV, there have been many adaptations of many Greek myths and the gods have shown up in shows set in the modern day as well as the past. Atlantis, which is currently being made by BBC1, would appear to feature elements of Hellenic religion as well as the Minoan religion of Crete.

Religio Romana
Again, another religion that's not quite dead and still gets featured occasionally in TV shows. A syncretism of native Italian religion and Hellenism, Religio Romana and its literature dominated Western understanding of Hellenism and myths until the 14th century, when an understanding of Greek and Greek literature became to permeate through after the fall of Constantinople. It wasn't until the late 19th and 20th centuries, in fact, that academics realised the two were separate, yet in the last century or so, despite the occasional blurring (e.g. Hercules/Heracles, Wonder Woman's Ares/Mars, etc), Hellenistic literature and Hellenism have now almost totally replaced Religio Romana in the public consciousness.

There are no Roman gods in modern-day TV shows, as far as I'm aware; no adaptation of The Aeneid or the Metamorphoses of Ovid. However, people are far more interested in period dramas set in Roman times than in classical Athens (Athens' misogyny might be responsible for that) or Sparta (everyone exercising naked in olive oil outdoors?), perhaps also because of the Roman empire's continuing influence on everything from architecture to politics to this very day.

However, one of the differences between Roman and Greek religions is that the Roman emperors became gods on their death, so technically any show that depicts a Roman emperor technically is showing a possible future Roman god. How many shows have followed through on that?

Continue reading "Your handy guide to true religions on TV - Hellenism and Religio Romana"

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What did you watch this fortnight? Including Trance, Rogue, Bates Motel, Endeavour and Southland

Posted on April 21, 2013 | comments | Bookmark and Share

It's "What did you watch this weekfortnight?", my chance to tell you what I movies and TV I've watched this weekfortnight 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:

  • The Americans (FX/ITV)
  • Arrow (The CW/Sky 1)
  • Being Human (US) (SyFy)
  • The Daily Show (Comedy Central)
  • Doctor Who (BBC1/BBC America)
  • Elementary (CBS/Sky Living)
  • Endeavour (ITV1)
  • Go On (NBC)
  • Hannibal (NBC/Sky Living)
  • Modern Family (ABC/Sky 1)
  • Plebs (ITV2)
  • Vegas (CBS/Sky Atlantic).

These are all going to be on in either the UK or the US, perhaps even both, but I can't be sure which. Continuum returns in Canada tonight, so I'd suggest tuning in for that, too.

Still in the viewing queue: Friday night's Las Vegas and last night's Doctor Who (review tomorrow when I've seen it), as well as Netflix's new release, Hemlock Grove. But I've tried a few new shows in the past couple of weeks:

Arne Dahl (BBC4)
Basically – as Stu_N put it – The Professionals with pilchards. Dreadful.

Rogue (DirecTV)
Thandie Newton is a very implausible, undercover cop whose son gets killed and she blames herself. Despite the decent cast, which includes Martin Csokas from Falcón and Ian Hart, an incredibly forgettable, derivative show.

I also watched the Easter Jonathan Creek special, which despite a whole lot of merits (the cast, the changes in format), was absolute ridiculous and bore no resemblance to reality. Plus how do you cast both Rik Mayall and Nigel Planer in a show and not have them meet?

Now, some thoughts on some of the regulars and some of the shows I'm still trying:

  • The Americans (FX/ITV): The usual problem that when show runner Joe Weisberg isn't involved in the scripting, the episode just isn't as authentic-feeling as the other episodes. The developments between the two Russians feel a little padded out, and I'm not sure they would have been quite so merciful this week, given their need to preserve their identities.
  • Bates Motel (A&E/Universal): Quite tedious now, and in no sense really related to Psycho, beyond names and presumably the eventual conclusion. Despite those blips of interest in the first three episodes, the show's settled on a very dull formula now, with only Vera Farmiga's character offering any real reason to watch.
  • Being Human (US) (SyFy): Another show that finished, leaving a lot of hanging storyline threads. The revelations haven't been as impressive or as interesting as you might have hoped, and as I said last night, it does feel like the whole of this season could have been covered in just an episode or two.
  • Cougar Town (TBS/Sky Living): A somewhat uninteresting way to end the season, but also slightly deeper than normal. The writers didn't take the show anywhere especially new, but having Tippi Hedren show up for the finale was worth watching it for anyway.
  • Endeavour (ITV1): Inspector Morse, back in its natural period – the 1950s. Nowhere near as impressive as its pilot episode, boiling down to an ability to solve crossword puzzles rather than make deductions, but Anton Lessing was perfect as the new superintendent.
  • Plebs (ITV2): More ahistorical than normal, with the arrival of bananas and a Thracian with a Russian accent (Anna Skellern from Big Finish's Sapphire and Steel range), but still good fun, surprisingly historical in other ways and Bryan Murphy (George from George and Mildred) showed up as an old soldier.
  • Shameless (US) (Showtime/More4): A good and surprisingly optimistic finale that felt almost like a series finale. Where does the show go next?
  • Southland (TNT/Channel 4): Two episodes to finish off the season and perhaps the series. The first was a very hard and traumatic episode that unfortunately crossed the Southland line – despite being based on a real-life incident, didn't feel like a Southland episode because it stopped being able the everyday life of cops. Thankfully, the final episode was more of a return to normal. It finished off a number of plot threads and left several hanging, in a way both satisfying a season-finale and a series-finale. And, of course, for one character, a shocking but entirely plausible end (?). If it is the series finale, that would be a shame for probably the best and most realistic cop show since The Wire.
  • Spartacus (Starz/Sky 1): And so it ends. Probably the most surprising bit of quality TV, given its graphic novel violence, sex and swearing (and Starz network home), Spartacus has continued to make Roman history interesting and Machiavellian fun. The finale was just about as good as it ever could be, given Spartacus has to disappear or die, the revolution has to fail, and Caesar and Crassus have to go on to rule Rome. Perhaps a little too anti-Roman, but it was still as intriguing as ever.
  • Vegas (CBS/Sky Atlantic): Michael Chiklis's direction somehow made the usual sets look cheap and like a backlot, but the show is clearly struggling now to expand its format. I'm hoping that Carrie-Anne Moss gets a promotion now, since she's had so precious little to do. Nevertheless, the show does look like it's limping towards cancellation.

And in movies:

Danny Boyle directing, Joe Ahearne writing, Rosario Dawson, James McAvoy and Vince Cassel starring in a semi-Inception-like story about an art dealer who steals a painting with the help of a gang, but when he gets hit on the head, forgets where he hid the painting. So Cassel takes McAvoy to see hypnotherapist Dawson in an effort to recover its location, and she takes McAvoy (and the audience) through several levels of reality. While it does interesting things in terms of flipping notions of who is the protagonist and who is the antagonist in the narrative, has some shocking full-frontal nudity and violence, and says some interesting things about gender in thriller narrative, if you pay attention, you'll have guessed most of the story's secrets and revelations ages before the end.

"What did you watch this weekfortnight?" 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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What did you watch this week? Including How To Live Life With Your Parents…, Corleone, The Raid and The Americans

Posted on April 7, 2013 | comments | 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:

  • The Americans (FX/ITV)
  • Archer (FX, 5USA)
  • Arrow (The CW/Sky 1)
  • Being Human (US) (SyFy)
  • The Daily Show (Comedy Central)
  • The Doctor Blake Mysteries (ABC1/ITV)
  • Cougar Town (TBS/Sky Living)
  • Doctor Who (BBC1/BBC America)
  • Elementary (CBS/Sky Living)
  • Go On (NBC)
  • Hannibal (NBC/Sky Living)
  • House of Cards (Netflix)
  • Modern Family (ABC/Sky 1)
  • Plebs (ITV2)
  • Shameless (US) (Showtime/More4)
  • Southland (TNT/Channel 4)
  • Spartacus (Starz/Sky 1)
  • Vegas (CBS/Sky Atlantic).

These are all going to be on in either the UK or the US, perhaps even both, but I can't be sure which.

I'm adding to the recommended list both Plebs (ITV2) and Hannibal (NBC/Sky Living) (hopefully, I'm not being too quick off the mark there).

Still in the viewing queue: Jonathan Creek, last night's Orphan Black, Arne Dahl and Rogue. I'll be reviewing last night's Doctor Who on Monday, when I've woken up. But I've tried a few new shows this week:

How To Live With Your Parents For The Rest of Your Life (ABC)
In which Sarah Chalke (Scrubs, Mad Love) is once again wasted, this time in an incredibly bland sitcom with an almost zero joke count. The story, for what it's worth, is that Chalke splits up from her no-hope, but good-hearted husband and takes her kid with her to live with her parents. Six months later, she's still there. Everyone, including Elizabeth Perkins as Chalke's mother, tries really, really hard to make this work, but i's just utterly bland.

Corleone (Sky Arts)
2007 Italian crime drama aka Il Capo dei Capi based on the life of real-life gangster Salvatore Riina, aka Totò u Curtu, growing up in post-war Sicily. Surprisingly well made for Italian TV, it is, nevertheless, completely unremarkable and lacking in interest for anyone who doesn't know about said gangster. Trailer over here, for those who want one.

I've also been watching a few things on Netflix, just to mix things up a bit:

Black Books
Yes, I never watched Black Books. Treat me like the leper I am. The first episode wasn't bad and it surprised me to see Martin Freeman in it as a doctor, doing the exact same Martin Freeman routine he's apparently been doing for the last 12 years now. Still feels like a slightly less funny cousin to Spaced, Hippies and The IT Crowd. But I'll keep watching when I have time.

House of Cards (remake)
I finally got to the end of it. Yes, it ends on a cliffhanger. Yes, that cliffhanger is not the same as the BBC original's cliffhanger. Yes, nothing much at all is resolved. But it's still magnificent.

Spiral (season 1)
Yes, I know I've watched it already, but I thought I'd give season one a re-watch, since I'm now horrified to discover it was filmed in 2005 (although I think it took BBC4 a couple of years to pick it up). It's remarkable to see what'd different and what's changed. The directorial style, with the CGI zoom and crash zooms with sound effects are just weird; the swearing was considerably less than it is now; it's filmed in Summer, so everything looks sunny for a change; Laure's happy; Karlsson's still learning how to be evil from the drunk struck-off solicitor; Clement's still a magistrate; Romanians are the ethnic enemies; Pierre and Laure are shagging like very French bunnies. It's all just so fascinating to watch and fun to see how the Spiral formula is still being worked on.

Now, some thoughts on some of the regulars and some of the shows I'm still trying:

  • The Americans (FX/ITV): Just keeps getting better every week, blurring the boundaries between who's good and who's bad in the cold war between the KGB and the FBI. The separation was unexpected, as was the final killing, and while the show obviously amps up the intrigue beyond what the KGB would have allowed their sleeper agents to do, it's all done in as unshowy a manner as possible. A regular must-see.
  • Arrow (The CW/Sky 1): Despite the presence of Count Vertigo, this episode surprisingly didn't suck and was actually quite good. Nice to see that they're making the Chinese woman Oliver's flashback mentor, rather than Deathstroke.
  • Being Human (US) (SyFy): Another US TV season ends with an overly sentimental wedding. Quelle surprise. But despite some good jokes in this final episode, it's largely been a bit of waste of a season, offering no real plot advancement, with everything that happened in the first few episodes effectively reset by the end of the season. There have been a few changes and clearly a whole lot of things are being set up for next season that might pay off. But unlike the British original, it'll probably still be worth watching. UPDATE: Duh! Obviously, it wasn't the season finale. Silly me…
  • The Doctor Blake Mysteries (ABC1/ITV): A decent 10 episodes of intelligent TV period crime drama. It became a little formulaic towards the end, with less of the period commentary than before, but the story arc about Blake's family was very well handled and moving, and the ending only promises good things for the future.
  • Elementary (CBS/Sky Atlantic): Surprisingly close to a genuine Sherlock Holmes mystery, although Jill Flint was badly unused. The addition of Doyle's Hudson to the roster of characters was very welcome, changing the Watson/Holmes dynamic in useful ways, and well handled, too, given the changes made by the producers. The story was also a good way to capitalise on New York's recent weather 'issues'.
  • It's Kevin (BBC2): Cameos from Stewart Lee, Peter Serafinowicz, Matt Berry and more show how respected Kevin Eldon is. Definitely getting better but a little bit of an acquired taste. The Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber sketch was marvellous though.
  • Parks and Recreation (NBC/BBC4): Six episodes into the second season and I've finally see a funny episode that didn't entirely depend on Ron Swanson for the jokes. And that's after an episode that didn't have Ron in it at all, and so was virtually unwatchable.
  • Plebs (ITV2): While largely The InBetweeners in Roman times, it's surprisingly clever and this week's "role reversal" episode where the hero and his slave swapped jobs for day and the two cousins who shag were interesting marriages of laddish humour with Roman cultural differences. If you watch one ITV2 show, this is the one to watch.
  • Shameless (US) (Showtime/More4): Surprisingly, not the final episode of the season, despite the apparent resolution of so many plot threads, including an unexpected act of kindness by Frank. What they do tonight should be the last thing we expect then.
  • Southland (TNT/Channel 4): More or more like a series of vignettes, rather than an actual drama, with our characters almost aware that their television time is drawing to an end and looking for personal closure. A great couple of cameso this week for long-time fans of the show, which I'm hoping will lead to more by the end of the season.
  • Strike Back (Sky 1/Cinemax): I'm finally catching up with this, which has been sitting on my Apple TV for months now. Funny to see Tim Piggott-Smith running around with a sub-machine gun, Charles Dance being an arms dealer, and
  • Spartacus (Starz/Sky 1): We're on the home straight of the season, the traditional time for the show to really dig into the politics and intrigue. An almost nostalgic episode, where the gladiators return to the 'arena', various characters get the vengeance they want and deserve, and with the arrival of the third member of Caesar/Crassus triumvirate, Pompey (if not yet in person), it's starting to feel more and more like a prequel to Rome as well as decent ending for one of the most surprising shows on cable TV in years.
  • Vegas (CBS/Sky Atlantic): Finally realised that the FBI guy is Shawn Doyle (with US accent and black hair) from Endgame. An odd little procedural about an under-age prostitute, with a somewhat surprising, feminist conclusion that once again shows what a standout Sarah Jones is. That, and the addition of a new title sequence, suggests the producers have been having a slight rethink in the show's extended absence. Needs a little more umph, but still a good drama and a cut above the standard CBS procedural.

And in movies:

No Country For Old Men
An excellent movie with a great cast. Josh Brolin finds some money, Javier Bardem chases him with a bad haircut, Sheriff Tommy Lee Jones wanders around cluelessly. It's quite a scary movie, in some senses, where the moral of the story is that even if you are a Vietnam vet and a hunter, there's always someone deadlier than you out there, and beyond that is God/Fate who can kick that person to the kerb, too. It's ending defies analysis, too, although it's efforts to defy the standard Hollywood traditions of how plots must be resolved, particularly violent plots, is welcome.

The Raid
An elite Indonesian SWAT team have to take in a crime lord who lives at the top of a building. To get to him, they have to shoot, punch, stab, kick and beat everyone they come across along the way, in what is largely a demonstration of the Indonesian martial art of pencak silat, starring some of the art's greatest living practitioners. Not exactly the most plot-driven or character-rich movie out there, but a cracking action film, incredibly shot on a ridiculously low budget, that'll be too violent for a lot of people. Came out at the same time as Dredd 3D, to which it bears such a similarity that it largely (unfairly) killed that movie's box office.

Bad Boys 2
Dreadful, even by Michael Bay standards. Shame, because Bad Boys was actually quite good.

"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?

Read other posts about: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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