HBO's Succession
US TV

Review: Succession 1×1-1×2 (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)

In the US: Sundays, 10pm, HBO
In the UK: Acquired by Sky Atlantic. Will air later this year

Normally, you can guarantee that whatever airs on HBO in the US will end up on Sky Atlantic here in the UK. Sky does, after all, have an exclusivity deal with HBO, and advertises itself as the home of both HBO and Showtime shows in the UK. It’s also so eager for kudos and ratings unaffected by illegal downloads when it comes to the likes of Game of Thrones and Westworld that it airs them the next day in the wee small hours after they’ve aired in the US.

Yet the channel is mysteriously quiet about when it will air Succession. A first glance at the show’s credits might make you wonder why. Directed by Adam McKay (Anchorman, The Big Short). Exec produced by Will Ferrell. Created by Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show). Written by Jesse Armstrong, Tony Roche (The Thick of It, Veep, In the Loop), Jonathan Glatzer (Better Call Saul), Lucy Prebble (Secret Diary of a Call Girl), et al. Starring Brian Cox, Kieran Culkin, Alan Ruck, Matthew Macfadyen et al.

Should be a natural for much hype and instant transmission, you’d have thought. Yet Sky is quiet. Why?

Well, you don’t have to be the most media-savvy viewer in the world to work out why after only a few minutes’ viewing, because Succession is a very thinly veiled satire of the Murdoch empire. Very thin. It’s a veil that must be made of some kind of nanomaterial, it’s so thin.

December 32nd 2018 then?

Succession

Succession

The show sees Brian Cox playing Rupert Murdoch – let’s not pretend otherwise – or at least an 80-year-old mogul with a vast media empire that encompasses every continent of the world. As well as growing health problems and a foreign wife (Hiam Abbass), he has a whole bunch of moderate to no-talent children. Like I said, let’s not pretend otherwise.

Eldest son Ruck is more interested in saving the planet than working for the family business, so that leaves Jeremy Strong, the James of the piece, as Cox’s most likely successor. However, while full of MBA talent, he lacks his dad’s sociopathic killer instincts for the deal. Sarah Snook is the Elisabeth of the piece, although this Elisabeth fancies being a politician instead. Meanwhile, youngest son Culkin fancies himself for the top job but is a spoilt brat and “not a serious person”.

Just as everyone’s expecting Cox to hand over the reins of the company to Strong, Cox drops a bombshell – he’s not going to retire after all, since he doesn’t think Strong is ready. Maybe another 10 years – and if all you kids could sign over management of the trust to Abbass by 4pm, that would be just peachy. Needless to say, the kids don’t take well to this and when Cox suffers a possibly fatal stroke at the end of the first episode, the next episode is all about them jockeying for position, deciding whether to honour their father’s wishes or maybe even to pick randomly arrived cousin and theme park management trainee dropout Nicholas Braun as their neutral interim CEO.

Jeremy Strong in Succession

The Thick of NI

Succession is more or less exactly what you’d expect from “The Thick of It‘s Jesse Armstrong” – it’s not extensive winter location filming in Iceland à la Game of Thrones so much as lots of two-way conversations in non-descript rooms and corridors, in which a bunch of related idiots hurl colourful insults at each other and behave incredibly childishly. And it’s correspondingly funny, too.

Everyone is very well cast. Strong is pitiable as a man with big ambitions but with not quite the character needed to obtain them. Culkin is a brilliantly unpleasant rich kid, who’ll offer a small child $1 million if he makes a home run in a softball game, but refuse to pay up when he just misses out – and then taunt him. Macfadyen is amusing as Snook’s weak husband, ambitious but perpetually inept at politicking so endlessly picking the wrong moment to do things, while dumping on Braun because he doesn’t need anything from him. Braun you just know is going to end up running the company, purely by accident.

It’s not totally compelling, though. The put-downs don’t all work and sometimes just become “F*ck off!” “No, you f*ck off!”, rather than anything more artful. Having so many useless, venal characters makes it hard to root for anyone. And it is all about the Murdochs, at the end of the day. Do you want to watch a Rupert Murdoch biopic? Probably not.

Still, I went from having no interest in this to looking forward to the second part and now the third part, so it’s definitely got some compelling qualities and it is consistently amusing. Give it a try. Assuming you’re up at 2am on December 32nd.

People of Earth
News

Game of Thrones prequel greenlit; Damned cancelled; People of Earth unrenewed; + more

Film trailers

Internet TV

  • Trailer for Netflix’s The Good Cop
  • Netflix green lights: series of comedic, contemporary Greek myth drama Kaos
  • …and mission to Mars drama Away…
  • developing: adaptation of Jessica Pressler’s How Anna Delvey Tricked New York’s Party People

Canadian TV

  • Trailer for season 2 of CBC’s Anne with an E

UK TV

US TV

New US TV shows

New US TV show casting

Deep State
International TV

Review: Deep State 1×1 (UK: Fox UK)

In the UK: Thursdays, 9pm, Fox UK

The words ‘Deep State’ and ‘Fox’ in near proximity should normally trouble you. For the uninitiated, the idea of the ‘deep state’ is that secretly, behind the scenes there’s a new world order of sorts, trying to ensure that specific policies happen. So far, so illuminati. However, in the US, Fox News, Donald Trump et al have used the phrase ‘deep state’ to suggest that anyone potentially working against President Trump – for example, to impeach him for various criminal offences he might have committed – is really a member of the deep state trying to frame him, is a traitor and should probably be executed. This includes members of the FBI and other government organisations who might be doing what others would call ‘obeying the rule of law’.

Want to know if someone’s a crackpot? If they use the phrase ‘deep state’ to talk about Robert Mueller, they’re a crackpot.

Fortunately, we’re in the UK, Fox UK isn’t Fox News and Fox Networks’ first European/African commission Deep State isn’t suggesting that Alex Younger is a pawn of Goldman Sachs. Sure, there are hints that the Iraq war was started by big business for its own needs and engineered David Kelly’s suicide, but that’s not really deep state or the government of the day, and at least it’s all fictionalised. Robert Mueller’s real. So’s Donald Trump.

Untrumped

Deep State sees Mark Strong (Low Winter Sun) playing a former MI6 officer who’s retired to France and is now living happily with his new French wife Lyne Renee and lovely moppets. Then he gets a spooky calling card from his spooky former boss (Alistair Petrie), demanding he return to London. There he’s told that son Joe Dempsie (The Fades, Skins, Game of Thrones) is dead, having decided to follow in his dad’s spying footsteps. Worse still, he’s been killed by Strong’s protégé Zubin Varla (Strike Back).

Strong’s mission, which he decides to accept: head off to Beirut to kill Varla and the rest of his team, as they’ve clearly gone rogue. But is everything as it appears to be? And whom can Strong trust?

Joe Dempsie in Deep State
Joe Dempsie in Deep State

Lofty ambitions

Just like dopey old The State WithinDeep State has lofty ambitions to be a smart spy show, does its best, but ends up getting drowned in a sea of spy clichés. Filmed in both Morocco and London and with a supporting cast that also includes Anastasia Griffith (Trauma, Damages, The Cazalets) and Amelia Bullmore (Big Train, Scott & Bailey), Deep State has obviously had a lot of cash spent on it. True, although Morocco works fine as Iran or Beirut, it’s less fine as France, but it’s not Scunthorpe at least and they also hired a few French speakers. The fact there are references to ‘The Section’ clearly suggests that writer Matthew Parkhill is a fan of Callan, and thus an appreciator of the classics.

But it’s spy dramas, rather than spy fact that are the reference points here and if you’ve watched some decent spy shows, almost nothing about Deep State will surprise you – other than when it goes for something blindingly stupid that seems beneath it.

You can forgive stupid names for covert sections, such as ‘the Bank’. You could even forgive the ‘key to a safety deposit box containing top secret footage on a USB drive’. But if all it contains is a minute-long confession to camera, what’s the point of that, hey? What’s that going to prove?

Then you get supposed top-tier secret assassination units learning that a member of their team is in league with the baddies (thanks to a timely observation said member should have known about) and rather than heading off their own separate ways, falling back to plan B, etc, they decide to go back to the safe house their treacherous friend knows about to discuss all of this and then pick somewhere else to go to.

Worse still, every ‘twist’ is one you’ll see coming. Do the goodies all trust precisely the wrong people, every single time? Yep. Is everyone going to fall for every single trap laid for them? Yep. I’m hoping it’s all an elaborate bluff and later episodes will play on this, revealing how the audience have been fooled. But putting it all in the first episode? That’s either brave or stupid. Or more likely, it’s not a bluff.

So, sure, it’s smart. But it’s smarter than the average generic spy show in the same way a £4.99 bottle of wine is better than a £1.99 bottle of wine. That still doesn’t make it a premier cru.

Mark Strong in Deep State

Strong enough

Strong does his best to be a stoic puncher of bad guys, jumping across rooftops and beating up guys half his age, in decently choreographed but unsurprising fight scenes. He also does well being a stoic punchbag for various wives of his, current and ex, as they berate him for being a spy.

“Tough job being a man, isn’t it, hey? But the world needs stoic, manly spies, prepared to sacrifice and not cry for their dead sons, even if women won’t understand that – until we save them,” the show might as well have stamped on Strong’s forehead. It’s not quite the worst spy characterisation since we evolved from slime molds, but it’s getting there.

But that’s virtually all the characterisation anyone gets, as the show is more geared up to deploying nonsense plotting to suggest that the ‘deep state’ is everywhere. Think you’re safe in France? Ha, ha! We can get your bank card blocked and your utilities switched off! Ha, ha again!

They could have emailed to arrange an appointment, you know?

Anastasia Griffith
Anastasia Griffith in Deep State

Conclusion

Strong and his strong Strong performance, as well as the production values, are the show’s main draws at the moment, although I quite like the fact that Varla’s probably a good guy for a change. But I’m not feeling enthused at all and I might not even bother with a second episode. Nevertheless, it could have been worse and given it’s already been renewed for a second season, some people clearly liked it.

Don’t go in expecting a new Bourne or even an old Bond and you might enjoy it. If The Night Manager is more your speed, again, this could be a show for you. Just don’t expect The Sandbaggers.

Altered Carbon
Internet TV

Boxset Monday: Altered Carbon (season 1) (Netflix)

Most science-fiction is an attempt to talk about the present. Stories that genuinely try to predict what the future will be like are far harder and inevitably of their time – we mock 50s sci-fi for imagining we’ll all have flying cars and rocket packs, but was 80s sci-fi any less fuelled by the nuclear concerns of its period?

So spare a thought for Altered Carbon, which does its level best to imagine a future in which bodies are completely replaceable, making death an optional rather than mandatory part of human existence. There’s some heavy thinking gone into it and it’s a show that really does make you philosophise.

Death becomes him

It’s the year 2384 and thanks to some fortuitous discoveries on an alien planet, human beings now have ‘stack technology’. Bodies are now ‘sleeves’ that you wear, while consciousness resides in a crystal disc or ‘stack’ that slots into the back of your neck. Take the disc out, put it in another sleeve and hey presto, you’re reincarnated. With cloning, cybernetics and other technologies, you can become fat or thin, black or white, man or woman, child, snake, robot or even someone completely different – it’s your choice, provided you have the cash for it, of course, otherwise you get nothing or maybe someone’s old hand-me-downs.

But if you do, you can become as old as Methuselah himself. When someone tries to kill one of these rich, all-powerful ‘Meths’ (James Purefoy), seemingly unaware he backs up his consciousness regularly, the reincarnated Purefoy decides he needs someone who can investigate his murder who is both exceptional and immune to all the norm societal pressures of the time.

So he ‘spins up’ Takeshi Kovacs (former Robocop Joel Kinnaman) in a new body, 250 years after he last died. Kovacs was an Envoy, a former space soldier capable of doing all manner of superhuman things, and now it’s up to him to solve Purefoy’s murder – assuming he wants to, given that he was once part of a rebellion that tried to stop the Meths getting the power that they now have.

Will Kovacs care enough to help in this new time and place? And if he does, what will he discover and who will try to stop him?

Sounds good, doesn’t it? And for a long time it is. Trouble is, there’s a moment where the whole show slams into a brick wall at 70mph, from which no one walks away alive. So much for stacks, hey?

Still, let’s talk about it after this shiny trailer and the jump. Spoilers ahoy, but hopefully nothing too serious.

Continue reading “Boxset Monday: Altered Carbon (season 1) (Netflix)”

Kelly Reilly in Sky Atlantic's Britannia
BAFTA events

What TV’s on at BAFTA in January 2018? Including Requiem and Britannia

Every couple of weeks, TMINE flags up what new TV events BAFTA is holding around the UK

We’ve already done January, but BAFTA is being its usual helpful self and not telling me about things until they have already sold out (Meet the Controllers – thanks, BAFTA!). So I’ve had a look and it turns out that they had some secret Welsh events they hadn’t told me about as well. Better still, they’re not sold out.

Continue reading “What TV’s on at BAFTA in January 2018? Including Requiem and Britannia”