Archive | UK TV reviews

Reviews of UK TV programmes


June 29, 2015

Third-episode verdict: Humans (UK: Channel 4; US: AMC)

Posted on June 29, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerHumans.jpgA Barrometer rating of 1

In the UK: Sundays, 9pm, Channel 4
In the US: Sundays, 9/8c, AMC

I have to admit I don’t watch much UK TV these days, of which Channel 4 represents a very small amount. All the same I’m going to go out on a limb and say Humans is one of the best science-fiction shows the network has made, perhaps since the hallowed Ultraviolet. Perhaps it’s because it’s adapted from a Swedish TV show or perhaps it’s because it’s a co-production with the US's AMC network. Either way, it’s very, very good.

Set on a parallel, modern day Earth in which synthetic humans (basically Blade Runner-esque Replicants) have become everyday appliances that can help around the home or take on dangerous or unpleasant jobs, Humans uses that situation to explore our attitudes to technology, what it is to be human as well as what humanity is capable of. What would we do if we could create people whose feelings we didn’t have to care about? Would we still consider them human in some way and treat them with respect? Would we use them and abuse them? And what would happen to our self-identities, if we had better versions our ourselves around to look at and compare ourselves against?

While the first episode felt a little bit too much ‘made in the UK’ and the second struggled a little with pacing, the third was a real blinder, both disconcerting and moving, the audience never being too sure whether to root for the ‘synths’ that have emotional capabilities or fear them, to cheer for the humans who might be at risk or be dismayed by their lack of empathy.

The show does particularly well at using each different synth to show how we treat a particular human group, with the central Asiatic synth a representation of domestic servitude, an attractive female synth a representation of how we treat sex workers and more generally women, and so on. Each synth brings up the question “How do these groups feel? And what would happen if they took power into their own hands?”

Simultaneously, they make us question our relationships with technology, the power we give it, the benefits it bestows, and even beyond - Rebecca Front’s medical synth, for example, is as much a commentary on the power we give healthcare bureaucracies over those in their care, as she is on the need for empathy in those who perform the care.

But as well as being 'good at issues’, Humans works well as a drama, too. Katherine Parkinson’s working mum has to work out if her new synth really can feel or not, and what position she herself can have in a family where all the traditional tasks of the mother are being provided by someone who’s not only better at them but there all the time - and is happy to tell her that to her face.

Colin Morgan’s attempts to reunite all the thinking synths while on the run from those who want to learn their secrets is just as interesting, as is his own secret, and William Hurt’s attempts to hold onto the memories of his dead wife, trapped within his failing, old synth that Front’s come to replace are somewhere between moving and comedic.

While it’s still all a bit made in the UK, married with the typical speed of an AMC show, Humans is nevertheless the kind of show that makes you realise all’s not lost for modern British television.

Barrometer rating: 1
Rob’s prediction: Should hopefully get a second season

June 19, 2015

What have you been watching? Including Humans, Tyrant, Jodorowsky’s Dune and Jurassic World

Posted on June 19, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

It's "What have you been watching?", my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently that I haven't already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I've missed them.

The usual "TMINE recommends" page features links to reviews of all the shows I've ever recommended, and there's also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I've reviewed ever. And if you want to know when any of these shows are on in your area, there’s Locate TV - they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.

It’s time for a move again. With new shows launching on Thursdays and a couple of Sunday shows finishing, I’ll be switching “What have you been watching?” back to Mondays, starting next week, to give myself time to watch everything. (This was a bad idea. I'm sticking to Fridays for now)

In terms of new stuff, still sitting in the viewing pile somewhere are The Astronaut Wives Club, Complications and Killjoys, which I should be getting round to reviewing on Monday or Wednesday, but I did manage to watch Dark Matter this week, as well as…

Humans (UK: Channel 4; US: AMC)
We’ve discussed this a bit already in the comments section elsewhere, but this UK-US co-produced remake of SVT’s Äkta Människor is a surprisingly good bit of sci-fi, imagining a parallel world where robot humans are being created to replace people in sectors ranging from mining to social care to prostitution. Tom Goodman-Hill (Mr Selfridge, Cabin Pressure) decides to buy a ‘synth’ to help out around the house, much to the annoyance of his often-absent wife (Katherine Parkinson, apparently unable to escape the IT crowd), particularly when her children decide they like the new arrival (Gemma Chan from Bedlam) better than their mum. The problem is that Chan and a few other synths may be a little bit more alive than they’re supposed to be…

The show does a decent job of imagining this parallel world, from all the applications that the robots are put to through to the little details about how they’d operate in practice. It also wisely chooses to focus not just on questions of artificial intelligence but how we react to synths - we might like labour-saving devices that do the cooking for us or even read bedtime stories to our children, provided they don’t look like prettier, younger women whom our children can bond with and prefer. Similarly, in the case of engineer and synth inventor (?) William Hurt (Challenger), we might well want to keep an old android around, even once it’s malfunctioning, if we’re starting to dement and the android has the only memories of our dead wife.

The show’s a little too “made in the UK” for my liking, with its prosaic, unimaginative direction making it look like it has a budget of £3.50. Nevertheless, it’s a smart, sometimes creepy, sometimes touching show that I’ll be making an effort to tune in for next episode.

I’ve already passed third-episode verdicts on The Whispers, Westside and Stitchers, so after the jump, I’ll be looking at the latest episodes of Halt and Catch Fire, Hannibal and Strike Back: Legacy, as well as the season finales of Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley, and the first new episode of the returning Tyrant.

But first, movies!

Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013) (iTunes)
I’ve already given a lot of the background to this elsewhere, so I won’t go into it in great detail, but suffice it to say a very different adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune was developed in the 1970s by surrealist director Alejandro Jodorowsky (The Holy Mountain) and this movie is a documentary that runs through the history behind it.

It’s a fascinating movie, but watching it, one can’t help but feel that firstly, Jodorowsky’s Dune would have been an absolutely stunning but utterly silly movie with often little more than a passing resemblance to the book. Secondly, it’s surprising how much influence a non-existent movie can have, since without it (or if it had ever been made), there’d have been no Alien and a number of movies would have lost some of their most important imagery. Thirdly, it makes you realise just how crazy mental you need to be to produce at least certain kinds of art.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) (iTunes)
X-Men: First Class/Kick Ass’s Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman adapt Mark Millar’s comic The Secret Service to give us a fond homage to Roger Moore-era James Bond, with Colin Firth, Jack Davenport and Michael Caine a bunch of posh secret agents who have to let chav new blood (Taron Egerton) into their top secret organisation when they have to deal with a tech billionaire (Samuel L Jackson) who wants to save the world from nasty polluting human beings.

At times, Kingsman feels like a retread of Vaughn and Goldman’s previous movies, mixing in the school training and spies of First Class with the superbly choreographed fights and ultraviolence of Kick Ass. What largely differentiates the movie is its Englishness, the movie satirising Moore’s Bond and (American) movies’ concepts of what an English gentleman should be while simultaneously taking ownership of it to give something a young, male working class audience to aspire to.

The movie’s final scenes involving a Swedish princess are a little disheartening after the largely good work that preceded it, even if it is another Moore satire, but generally a good viewing and by the end of it, you will accept Colin Firth can be an action hero. Mark Strong is also in there as a Q-like Scotsman, but no Welsh or Northern Irish members of the nation were apparently invited to join the Kingsmen.

Jurassic World (2015)
Bigger but not better retread of Jurassic Park set 20 years after the original that imagines a world now jaded about the return of once-extinct dinosaurs so regarding trips to the expanded ‘Jurassic World’ theme park island as little more than trips to the zoo. Consequently, the company behind it decides to bring the crowds back to create a brand new dinosaur by cross-breeding the more dangerous parts of a whole bunch of other dinosaurs - belatedly bringing in former US navy sailor turned Velociraptor trainer Chris Pratt to check out their security. Want to have a guess if it’s good enough or not?

Despite looking excellent, giving plenty of head nods to the original and some oftentimes smart writing, Jurassic World is nevertheless a little dead inside. Characters are either underdeveloped or plain annoying, so we don’t really care enough about them to feel frightened when bad things start to happen. Indeed, you’ll probably care more about the poor herbivorous dinosaurs getting a pasting at the hands of Indominus Rex than about whether Pratt survives to make it to a second date with the perpetually high-heel clad workaholic theme park executive Bryce Dallas Howard, who turns out not to be too shabby with a gun.

All the same, despite not hanging together well as a movie, there are some good individual moments that’ll stick with you afterwards.

Continue reading "What have you been watching? Including Humans, Tyrant, Jodorowsky’s Dune and Jurassic World"

Read other posts about: , , , , , ,

June 5, 2015

What have you been watching? Including The Elephant Man, Hannibal, Strike Back & Halt and Catch Fire

Posted on June 5, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

It's "What have you been watching?", my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently that I haven't already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I've missed them.

The usual "TMINE recommends" page features links to reviews of all the shows I've ever recommended, and there's also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I've reviewed ever. And if you want to know when any of these shows are on in your area, there’s Locate TV - they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.

Elsewhere on this ‘ere blog, I’ve already reviewed all the new TV shows I could find this week and which you should either try to find yourselves or desperately avoid, these being:

So if you’re looking for new shows here, I ain’t got nothing for you, mister, I’m afraid, since I haven’t had a chance to watch Netflix’s new Sense8, the entire series of which was released today. Thanks Netflix.

However, we’ve got a few returning regulars this week, too, which means that after the jump, I’ll be reviewing the first new episodes of the latest seasons of Hannibal, Halt and Catch Fire and Strike Back: Legacy. I’ll also be looking at the latest episodes of Between and Game of Thrones, and casting an eye over perhaps the last ever episode of Community.

But first, a theatre review! I have in fact between to the theatre twice this week, but I’m saving up my review of the Almeida’s marathon modernisation of The Oresteia – a trilogy in four parts, it turns out – until next week when I can give it due consideration.

The Elephant Man (Theatre Royal Haymarket)
Little known actor Bradley Cooper and the rest of the Tony Award-nominated Williamstown/Broadway cast (Patricia Clarkson, Alessandro Nivola, Anthony Heald et al) come over to the Theatre Royal for this 12-week run of Bernard Pomerance's 1979 play about the deformed Joseph Merrick aka ‘the Elephant Man’ because he was exhibited in a circus. Most people will be familiar with the 1980 David Lynch movie starring John Hurt, and this follows similar beats, focusing on Merrick's life between his discovery by a Dr Treves (Nivola) at the circus run by Heald through his life in Treves’ care at the London Hospital and his friendship with Clarkson's famous actress (who in real life actually did perform at the Haymarket) until his eventual death in the hospital.

It’s a moving piece, albeit one that can’t quite focus on a theme, jumping between questions of God and Darwinism through to women’s bodies in Victoria society. Merrick here is similar to Lynch’s version, being the beautiful souled man trapped in a body so horrifying everyone but a trained actress can’t help but avoid screaming and running away from. However, this is less ‘disabled as object pity’ than the movie, giving us a Merrick who’d quite like to see a naked woman, please.

Cooper takes on the challenging role of Merrick but eschews all make-up in favour of an entirely physical and quite breathtaking performance, assuming each deformity as it’s described in an early scene. Cooper's obviously and deservedly the focus of the play, but Nivola’s performance is what anchors it and Scott Ellis’s direction is innovative. I was impressed, my wife loved it and the whole thing got a standing ovation, so see it while you can.

Continue reading "What have you been watching? Including The Elephant Man, Hannibal, Strike Back & Halt and Catch Fire"

Read other posts about: , , , , ,

Featured Articles

Ballers

The black Entourage?