In Australia: Mondays, 9pm, Foxtel
In the UK: Available on Netflix
Secret City was one of TMINE’s top shows of 2016. A marvellous return to the genre of ‘dogged journalist investigates political cover-up at the highest level’, it was every bit Australia’s answer to State of Play and deservedly earned worldwide success through Netflix distribution.
Starring Anna Torv as political journalist par excellence Harriet Dunkley, it also had a lot to say about Australia’s political positioning with respect to both Asia and the US, something that proved to be very timely.
The first season was reasonably self-contained, with a downbeat ending that could have left the show “one then done”. However, that Netflix success means that Secret City is back for a second season.
But when is a second season not a second season? When it has almost nothing in common with the first season.
In the UK: Available from Thursday on Sky Atlantic
In the US: Will be available on Amazon
What is Sky Atlantic’s new show Britannia all about? The obvious answer is that it’s about the second Roman invasion of the British Isles (aka Britannia), way back in AD43. David Morrissey (State of Play, The Walking Dead) is the Roman general in charge of the invading legions who thinks that he can do better than Caesar did 90 years earlier. The tribes of native Celts who once lined the shores to repel Caesar’s invasion are now led by Ian McDiarmid and Zoe Wanamaker, who are at each other’s throats thanks to a wedding ceremony gone wrong as the results of a bit of treachery, so seemingly no obstacle to Morrissey. Around them are other Celts vying for power, including McDiarmid’s son Julian Rhind-Tutt (Green Wing, Hippies); meanwhile, McDiarmid’s warrior princess daughter Kelly Reilly (Sherlock Holmes, Black Box, Above Suspicion) wants nothing but peace and her father’s approval.
However, it wasn’t just the Celts that helped repulse that first invasion. It was the druids and their genuine magic that sent Caesar running back to Rome in a tizzy. And it’s that magic that’s the real reason for Morrissey’s desire to lead Claudius’ legions to victory – he wants to visit the underworld to meet the dead and he needs the help of the druids, including their chief the 10,000-year-old Mackenzie Crook (The Office, TheDetectorists). That’s something ‘outcast’ druid Nikolaj Lie Kaas wants to stop as he thinks Morrissey might be a demon from the equally demonic Rome.
But underneath that literal explanation of the plot, there is as the title suggests a deeper introspection of the nature of Britain, Britishness, change and immigration fit for our post-Brexit world. Plus a little bit of ultra-violence.
For ages, I was pining for a sequel to State of Play. I really was. It was just so bloody marvellous.
It didn’t help that the movie adaptation was just so average, I’m still only halfway through it.
State of Play 2 isn’t happening and never will. Sniff, boo hoo. So bless you Canada for trying to do your own (unofficial) State of Play. It’s not the same, it’s really not, but it touches me that you’d give it a go.
Shoot The Messenger has pretty much all the same plot threads as State of Play. It has street shootings. It has an intrepid reporter (Elyse Levesque from Stargate Universe) investigating a murder. It has an equally intreprid police department doing their own parallel investigation, with both sides feeding each other information to advance their own causes. The murder has political connections that might affect a certain big shot to whom Levesque has connections. It even has a plucky British newspaper editor (Alex “River Song” Kingston).
The big difference here is Levesque, who as well as being a cub reporter rather than a seasoned hack is also a bit of a shagger. She’s shagging the head of the police investigation (Lyriq Brent); she’s shagging her more experienced co-worker (Lucas Bryant). She also comes from a family of shaggers, since her sister is shagging said bigwig. And when Levesque isn’t shagging, she’s getting hit on the head or hiding under things.
State of Play this is not. Sorry, Canada.
The show also lacks the journalistic verisimilitude of State of Play. While there are attempts to give both the police and newspaper sides of the plot a sheen of accuracy and Kingston’s frequent words of advice to Levesque are frequently useful, The Guardian-logo nicking, serious newspaper ‘The Gazette’ appears to be equipped with neither copy editors nor fact checkers, there don’t appear to be department heads, Levesque actually gets invited to the editor’s daily content meetings, there appears to be almost no appreciation of the existence of a little thing called the Internet or social media, Levesque thinks it’s okay to use a faux Google Images to check the spelling of names, and Kingston herself thinks it’s more grammatically correct to say ‘who is whom‘.
State of Play comparisons to one side for a moment, Shoot The Messengerdoes at least do something different from the usual CBC drama, even the ones that are supposed to be thrilling (eg The Romeo Section, Cracked), by having some action and excitment – its plot focuses on the Somali community and local gang ‘the Mogadishu dogs’, with Levesque witnessing the murder of the brother of one of the gang members, which sets off a chain reaction of violence (and misreporting). But while there is the occasional insight into that community, mostly it’s all a lead in to corporate and political corruption and a Rob Ford analogy.
But as a thriller, it’s not very thrilling and spends a lot of it’s time being apologetic for things and feeling sad about children getting killed in gang wars. There’s an unnecessary side plot about Levesque’s brain-damaged dad; with the exception of Brent, all the black characters are criminals or harbourers of criminals, leaving Bryant to be the implausible Somali expert at the paper; and Bryant seems like he’s on quaaludes the whole time.
Levesque and Kingston make Shoot The Messenger pass a lot more agreeably than it should. I might stick with it, since the political side of things hasn’t kicked in yet and it could well get better as a result. But more likely, I might just watch State of Play again.
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.
With the fourth of July weekend in the US last week, things have been a little quieter than normal, but not completely quiet. There have been a few new shows to review and I’ve already cast a glance over Dead Of Summer (US: Freeform), The Kettering Incident(Australia: Foxtel Showcase) and Roadies (US: Showcase; UK: Amazon Prime), as well as passed a third-episode verdict on American Gothic (US: CBS; UK: Amazon Prime). Last night in Australia, Barracuda (Australia: ABC) started, and I’ll be reviewing that by the end of the week, I hope. There’s also a couple of new acquistions of Netflix that should be getting my attention this week, too.
Nevertheless, the regulars have been looking a bit thin on the ground, which means that after the jump, I’ll only be looking at 19-2, The Last Ship, Preacher and the final episode of Secret City. Oh yes – I managed to watch the first three episodes of the new season of Marco Polo. I’m sure you’ll be thrilled to hear about them, too