In the US: Sundays, 10.30pm, HBO In the UK: Will air on BBC2 this year
Christopher Guest is a god, of course. One of the originators of Spinal Tap, he is the premier maker of the improvised 'mockumentary', with films like Best in Class that are cuttingly funny social observations. He is America's Mike Leigh.
Except, of course, Guest is half-British, the son of a UN diplomat, and shared his childhood between London and New York. Which is why we shouldn't be surprised that BBC2's latest co-production with HBO - following on from the likes of Rome and Parade's End - is set predominantly in Britain. Family Tree follows Chris O'Dowd's (The IT Crowd, Bridesmaids) attempts to trace various members of his family after his great aunt dies, leaving him a box of memorabilia. Along the way, he's helped and hindered by his sister (Nina Conti, best known for her stand-up act, but also from Guest's For Your Consideration), who still uses the therapy monkey she had when she was a child to say things that would otherwise be unsayable, and his dad (long-time Guest collaborator Michael McKean from Spinal Tap).
Again, largely improvised by the cast, it's well observed and engrossing, flirting with British stereotypes while undermining them and having far more depth than a whole load of US shows I could name. But is it funny? Well
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)
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.
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?
About the blog
This is a UK media blog with daily news, views, exclusive reviews and good conversation. There's a bit of a bias towards the latest and greatest US TV, but we also cover UK TV ranging from new Doctor Who to old Z Cars, and BBC4 to S4C.
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"For most of us watching the telly of an evening is a way to wind down and relax, but for Rob Buckley it’s his blogging bread and butter. With reviews of cult classics and up and coming US and Brit television shows, The Medium is Not Enough is fast becoming essential reading for TV buffs, with over 50,000 hits a month."
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"Billing itself as 'officially the fourth most popular UK TV blog', there are several whimsical regulars here that could help it climb as high as number three…"
I'm Rob Buckley, a freelance journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of, although you might have heard me on Radio 5 Live's Saturday Edition. I've edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for trade magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider and the equally short-lived Death Ray and Filmstar magazines; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it "web site for urban hedonists" The Tribe. I'm freelance now and have contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network and TV Scoop.