Review: Black Box 1×1 (ABC)

Kelly Reilly in Black Box

In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, ABC

Mental health is so hot right now. I don’t mean that in the sense that it’s a subject for serious examination in drama or that it’s something that is thoughtfully used in characterisation. I mean it’s a great gimmick.

Time was when dramas would have set-ups like “two brothers are private detectives”, “he’s a Vietnam vet with a super helicopter”, “he’s an angel wandering the Earth helping people” and the like. But you can only have so many of those unique set-ups before you start to repeat yourself.

Mental health issues, by contrast, used to be the motivations for crimes, not something that could affect a hero, because it was unmanly. Well, maybe PTSD so they could have really manly flashbacks to Nam.

Thankfully, those times are gone and it’s all change. With first Monk giving us the OCD detective and then Touching Evil giving us the slightly lobotomised detective, TV has worked out how valuable these personality quirks can be. Why, right now, on TV we’ve got Asperger’s aplenty (Community, The Bridge, Hannibal, Parenthood) and the new top, post-Silver Linings Playbook condition, bipolar disorder, has been jaunting around both Homeland and Mind Games, giving them all sorts of entirely medically accurate depictions of how helpful mental health issues can be.

Producers have also worked out thanks to medical shows such as House, Mental and 3lbs that ‘brain weirdness’, to use it its technical definition, can be really entertaining in guest characters as well. So what better than a show that features not just lots of supporting cast weirdness but also a central character who has the bipolar, hey?

Black Box is such a show – and it turns out that despite its having not just the delightful Kelly Reilly as the lead as well as no lesser actress than Vanessa Redgrave as her psychiatrist, a whole lot of things could be better.

Reilly, putting on her best US accents, is a talented neurologist/doctor who is also bipolar. As long as she’s on her meds, she’s fine, but believing that medication stops those with mental health issues from achieving their true potential or even being truly happy by coming to accept themselves, she has a history of ‘non-compliance’. The result is that sometimes she’s manic and productive, other times she’s crazy, hallucinating, doing all kinds of bad things, including almost committing suicide. Yet somehow it makes her a better doctor.

Gosh, how quirky and interesting. Gosh how almost unwatchable.

Here’s a trailer.

Continue reading “Review: Black Box 1×1 (ABC)”

Tuesday’s “Da Vinci’s Demons begins well, Heather Graham joins Californication and Supernatural characters return” news

Film casting



US TV casting

Thursday’s “Wonder Woman gets a writer, Samuel L Jackson joins Robocop and France gets six new HD channels” news



  • Trailer for That’s My Boy, with Adam Sandler, Leighton Meester, Susan Sarandon et al
  • Trailer for Robert Zemeckis’s Flight, with Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, Don Cheadle et al
  • Teaser trailer for Django Unchained


French TV



New US TV shows

Friday’s “More Muppets, Fringe, Prisoners’ Wives, The Syndicate, Happily Divorced, True Justice; less Make It or Break It” news



  • Trailer for Hick, with Chloe Moretz, Blake Lively, Juliette lewis and Alec Baldwin



Classic TV

Lost Gems: Lynda La Plante’s Civvies (1992)


What better way to celebrate International Women’s Day on a UK TV blog than to look at a piece of work by the UK’s most celebrated, famous and popular female TV writer, Lynda La Plante CBE? Even better, it gives us a chance to take a look at the show that gave the world its first proper chance to say “Hello to Jason Isaacs!”

Civvies was a 1992 BBC1 drama by former actress La Plante, who was fresh from BAFTA wins thanks to the previous year’s Prime Suspect on ITV. She’d written Civvies four years previously, but in common with a series she’d researched about the drugs squad, it had sat on the shelf until the Prime Suspect win had shown she was capable of more than just another rehash of her popular 1984 show Widows and its sequel Widows 2.

The show was inspired by a builder working on her house who asked her to help him find jobs for some friends who had just left the paratroop regiment. “I rang up eight different security firms, but they refused to offer work to ex-soldiers on the grounds that they were too institutionalised,” she said at the time in an interview with The Independent.

Deciding to tell the stories of these supposedly unemployable paras and men like them – in fictionalised form at least – La Plante created a show that saw a group of former paratroopers, traumatised and in one case seriously wounded by their tours in Northern Ireland, trying to find legitimate work for themselves on ‘civvy-street’ and instead inexorably being drawn into a life of crime.

For the show, which an executive at the time described as “the most violent home-produced series the BBC has ever made”, the producers assembled a cast including Peter O’Toole (Lawrence of Arabia himself), Peter Howitt (Bread and later the writer/director of Sliding Doors) and the relatively new-to-TV Lenny James (now best known from US shows Jericho, The Prisoner and Hung). James also went on to star in the BBC’s The State Within, where he was reunited with another Civvies co-star – a certain Jason Isaacs.

Here’s the opening title sequence.

Continue reading “Lost Gems: Lynda La Plante’s Civvies (1992)”