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.

What have you been watching? Including The Mick, Sherlock, Mechanic: Resurrection, The OA and The Bureau

It’s “What have you been watching?”, my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently and your chance to recommend anything you’ve been watching. 

Well hello. How are you today? Have a nice break away from it all? That’s what I like to hear. 

Right, that’s the small talk done. Let’s talk telly.

So, I didn’t watch an awful lot over the Christmas break, since I was actually in Germany and if you’ve ever watched German TV, you’ll remember what a mistake that was (more about that tomorrow). But after the jump I’ll be talking about the regulars I did watch, including the return of Doctor Who (briefly) and Sherlock (less briefly):

Global Internet
The OA 

UK
Doctor Who, Sherlock

France
Le Bureau des Légendes (The Bureau)

US
Shooter

However, New Year’s Day was on Sunday and Americans being quite efficient, there have already been two new shows to grace the screens. I’ve already reviewed Ransom (US: CBS) but on top of that there was:

The Mick (US: Fox)
A gender-swapped, race-swapped Uncle Buck that sees It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia‘s Kaitlin Olson playing the white trash grifter sister to a billionaire’s wife who gets lumbered with looking after the kids when the rich couple go on the run following fraud investigations. If she sticks around, she gets to enjoy the lifestyles of the rich and famous. But she’ll also have to deal with the bitchy neighbours, the bitchy daughter and the entitled son.

The show’s created by John Chernin and Dave Chernin, the creators of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, so you shouldn’t be too surprised to hear that it’s funnier than you might think, more accurate about being poor than you might think and also based around people being mean too one another verbally and physically in order to get one up on everyone else. Olson’s very good as the Mick(ey) of the title and everyone is marvellously bitchy, too.

Except that’s not my idea of fun, so I probably won’t stick with it.

I also watched a movie.

Mechanic: Resurrection (2016)
Sequel in name only to the actually not that bad 2011 Jason Statham remake of the Charles Bronson/Jan-Michael Vincent actioner, The Mechanic. Here, Mechanic: Resurrection throws pretty much all the first movie’s nuance aside in favour of a sort of melange of The Transporter, The Transporter 2 and The Internecine Project. No longer the meticulous hit-man planner of yore, Statham is retired in Brazil until fellow East End child army survivor (don’t ask) turned billionaire bad guy Sam Hazeldine (Peaky BlindersResurrection) blackmails him into returning to his old life by abducting new girlfriend Jessica Alba. Only if Statham kills three of Hazeldine’s impossible-to-reach rivals in ways that look like accidents will Hazeldine release Alba. He says.

Foresaking The Mechanic (2011)’s character building and steely professionalism, Mechanic: Resurrection is an insultingly stupid piece of work that tries to give us glossy backdrops, non-stop Statham fight scenes, a bit of ultraviolence and a bit of casual racism as a substitute, hoping we’ll like it better. Certainly, the stars seemed to have liked it, because Alba’s former Afghanistan soldier turned teacher of Cambodian children is an insult to women, but she does get to go to lots of tropical islands; Tommy Lee Jones gets more of the same travel action, but perhaps was also swayed by the chance to play a socialist arms dealer with a James Bond-style underwater base and submarine using all the subtlety he deployed in Under Siege; Michelle Yeoh was purely there for the tropical islands and not to have to do anything athletic for a change, as far as I could tell.

To be fair, most Statham movies take the piss a little bit and Statham is as aware of that as anyone. Certainly, the fact he takes his shirt off in almost every other scene can’t be accidental and I refuse to believe that the FX shots were anything other than deliberate tributes to Derek Meddings’ model work in 1970s James Bond movies. There’s a certain amount of tongue going into cheek here.

But the writing is still terrible and worst of all, almost none of the murders Statham is supposedly hired to make look like accidents would pass as such for more than a minute. Terrible.

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including The Mick, Sherlock, Mechanic: Resurrection, The OA and The Bureau”

What have you been watching? Including Game of Thrones, 19-2, Le Bureau Des Légendes (The Bureau) and Zoolander 2

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. 

State of the country, politics, the world, et al right now:

Sob. Oh well, let’s talk about tele to try to cheer ourselves up. Last week, I reviewed the first few episodes of:

However, a few new shows have also stuck their heads up the parapets this week, so in the next few days I’m hoping to review Greenleaf (US: OWN), Queen of the South (US: USA) and maybe The Night Of (US: HBO) – it’s only a mini-series.

Obviously, this was supposed to go up over the weekend, but owing to post-referendum blues and a general desire to boxset a certain French TV show, that didn’t happen. However, I haven’t had time to watch anything more than Game of Thrones from last night’s usual bumper crop of shows. So after the jump, I’ll be talking about that, the latest episodes of more or less the only shows that don’t air on a Sunday – BrainDead, Cleverman and Outcast – last Sunday’s Preacher, Secret City, Silicon Valley, Still The King and Westside, as well as the return of Canada’s good show, 19-2, and the whole of season 1 of Le Bureau Des Légendes (The Bureau). Some are for a-chopping, though, and some are on a lifeline.

(For those of you wondering, I couldn’t be bothered to watch episode 3 of Animal Kingdom or Uncle Buck, after their uninspiring performances last week. Soz)

But first, a movie!

Zoolander 2 (2016) (iTunes)
Sequel to everyone’s favourite Ben Stiller movie, although it only became such once it came out on DVD, since it tanked a bit at the box office. It sees Stiller, Own Wilson, Will Ferrell, et al, returning as their original characters, who have all gone their separate ways after Derek’s school collapsed just a couple of days after opening. Then incomprehensible fashion designer Alexanya Atoz (Kristen Wiig) invites them to star in her new fashion show in Rome, and they’re soon imbroiled in a Da Vinci Code parody that sees the likes of Justin Bieber being killed off to protect a terrible, terrible secret, with fashion policewoman Penelope Cruz their ally in solving the crime.

I was a bit wary of this, since it got bad reviews, and the movie itself is really not much more than that Da Vinci Code twist on the original Zoolander structure. However, surprisingly, it’s actually quite gigglesome, with plenty of laughable moments, huge numbers of odd cameos (Kiefer Sutherland, Susan Sarandon, Fred Armisen, Anna Wintour et al), references to everything from Dune to Star Wars and the general surrealism that pervaded the original still managing to percolate through. 

Very stupid, but cheered us up a lot on Friday.

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including Game of Thrones, 19-2, Le Bureau Des Légendes (The Bureau) and Zoolander 2”

Le bureau des légendes
French TV

Third-episode verdict: Le Bureau Des Légendes (The Bureau) (France: Canal+; UK: Amazon Instant Video)

In France: Broadcast on Canal+ in 2015
In the UK: Available on Amazon Instant Video

Walter has been napping. Supposedly watching hours of foreign-language TV every week to find the best shows from around the world for Channel 4, somehow he managed to avoid watching any of Canal+’s 2015 output – despite Canal+ officially being France’s good TV channel. That means Amazon have had the chance to poach Canal+’s Le Bureau Des Légendes (The Bureau) from out of Walter’s hands. Oops.

In that curious way these things happen, we’ve coincidentally been talking a lot about both verisimilitude and spy shows in the past couple of weeks, taking in along the way both Legends and The Night Manager. The latter is the epitome of modern British spy shows, departing from the glorious semi-realistic days of Callan, The Sandbaggers, et al to give us nonsensical, cliched but glossy affairs that convince almost no one.

Fortunately, France seems to remember how to do a decent spy show, judging by Le Bureau Des Légendes. Set in the undercover section of France’s equivalent of MI6, the DGES, it sees Mathieu Kassovitz (La Haine) playing a top undercover operative who’s been working in Damascus for the past six years. He’s mysteriously summoned back to Paris at short notice, where very quickly problems emerge with ‘Cyclone’, the DGES’ top operative in Algeria. A devout Muslim, Cyclone is nevertheless mysteriously arrested for drink-driving and is taken away by Algerian police, before promptly disappearing. Has he been rumbled as a spy or has he been turned and engineered his own disappearance?

In common with its stable-mate at Canal+, Engrenages (Spiral), there are multiple wheels turning within wheels in Le Bureau Des Légendes. Despite being ordered to break off all ties with her, Kassovitz invites his married lover from Damascus (Zineb Triki) to visit him in Paris. His superiors wonder whether he has ‘Post Mission Disorder’ and can’t shake off his old life. But more importantly, Triki might have secrets of her own that jeopardise Kassovitz.

At the same time and seemingly unrelated to the main plot, Kassovitz is training up a new operative (Sara Giraudeau) to go undercover in Iran. There’s also a new psychiatrist (Léa Drucker) monitoring everyone and Kassovitz has to deal with his now grown-up teenage daughter, whom he left without explanation. And there’s a bunch of French spies out in the Sahara somewhere who are definitely up to something, but by the end of the third episode, may themselves not know what that is. Just to make everything even less clear, the third episode is told in flashback while Kassovitz is attached to a lie detector – all without explanation.

How it all fits together I suspect is something that will get revealed by the end of the season, but it’s merely happy to set up the puzzles in these first few episodes.

In common with the likes of The Sandbaggers, the show is admirably concerned with realism and tradecraft. Although it occasionally uses the likes of Drucker and Giraudeau to Basil Exposition everything to us, it does do its best to give us a look at how spies probably work and approach security in the 21st century in a way that most other shows ignore. Mobile phones are banned in the Bureau in case of remote exploits turning them into listening devices and operatives have to clean their own desks so that no one who doesn’t ‘need to know’ needs to enter the Bureau. But that’s basic compared to things like mapping mobile phone signals and using behaviour analysis of the data to get an indication of likely events.

As you might expect from the double meaning of bureau/office, also in common with The Sandbaggers, this is a show that’s mostly about talking and office work. Big chunks of it are people sitting around discussing what precious information they have from far away can mean, as well as internal and external politics with other agencies, divisions, superiors and allies. Although the second episode does give us a car chase of sorts through central Paris, it ends as a car chase in central Paris probably would end, rather than à la The Bourne Identity‘s. The show also does have the occasional moment of humour, such as an odd little side-plot in the third episode involving a mouse getting into the Bureau and Drucker’s analysis of her superior’s multi-coloured tie.

Linguistically, there are fun things going on in the French that for once, the subtitles actually do a jolly decent job of conveying, but occasionally miss out on. I quite liked the French ‘faire le ménage’ (to do the housework) being used to mean ‘remove anything incriminating from the house’, for example, but that gets translated as ‘clean the house’, which sort of works but not quite. More entertainingly, all the codenames for undercover operatives are derived from insults and expletives used by Captain Haddock in the French-language Tin Tin comics. But as befits such a globally-focused show, there’s plenty of Arabic and the occasional bit of English, too.

It’s not 100% realistic. While there’s some admirable computer expertise behind the scenes, for some reason everyone in France uses the same Windows XP installation, no matter where they work. It also seems unlikely that anyone who’d been undercover for six years would have been so senior or so readily accepted back into the fold.

But Le Bureau Des Légendes is certainly the best spy show I’ve seen this year and the first French show in quite some time that I’ve actually wanted to boxset (sorry, Marseille). There have already been two seasons in France, and a third is on the way, so give it a go if you can.

Barrometer rating: 1
Would it be better with a female lead? Yes, but is that ever going to happen in France?
TMINE’s prediction: N/A

Here’s a French-language trailer, but if you want one with subtitles, you’ll need to go here, although there are a few spoilers from after the first three episodes by the looks of it.

What have you been watching? Including The Imitation Game, Great Britain, State of Affairs and The Fall

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.

Last round-up for a fortnight, since I’m going to be away next week. But with it being Thanksgiving this week and a lot of shows delivering up their mid-season finales, I’m not sure there’s going to be a lot on to watch next week. I might even have to watch British TV for a change. Shudder.

I didn’t quite have time to get round to watching and reviewing Sky Arts’ Danish import The Legacy, but I’ll definitely be doing that on Monday. Definitely. And I’m in two minds about whether to bother with BBC One’s spooky Remember Me, featuring Michael Palin. But I did manage to watch both a movie and a play.

The Imitation Game (2014)
A potted biography of British mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), covering his childhood, work during World War Two breaking the Nazi Engima machine cypher and eventual chemical castration following conviction for his criminal conviction for homosexuality. Cumberbatch is outstanding as the older Turing, while Keira Knightley excels as a fellow Bletchley Park brain and Turing’s fiancée, despite having a pretty underwritten role to deal with. Although the script is more at pains to express how much international involvement there was in the Engima effort, unlike certain movies I could mention, it isn’t brilliantly executed and glosses over a lot of the work necessary in the decryption, both before and after it was initially cracked. However, the story, Turing and the cast (which also includes Mark Strong, Matthew Goode, Charles Dance and Rory Kinnear) are strong enough that despite the script’s flaws, the movie still wows over the audience and is deservedly likely to be this year’s King Speech.

Great Britain (Theatre Royal Haymarket)
Richard Bean (One Man, Two Guvnors) casts his eyes over UK newspaper history for the past 30 years and sticks it all together in one tabloid, The Free Press, which soon discovers that hacking people’s voicemails isn’t that hard – particularly if you’re both literally and figuratively in bed with the police. It’s a very well executed piece that draws on fake TV broadcasts, newspapers, audience interaction and even YouTube mash-ups to tell its story, and the more you know, the funnier it gets, with Andy Coulson, Kelvin MacKenzie, Rupert Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks, Piers Morgan and others all getting skewered by proxy through their various fictional amalgams and equivalents. Lucy Punch (Ben and Kate, The Class, Bad Teacher) takes over from Billie Piper in this production, as the definitely-not-any-real-person tabloid protagonist, and makes the role her own, even if her accent fails to convince as either working class or Bristolian. Definitely of interest to anyone who knows anything about modern newspaper history and knows what the News Bunny was, or to anyone who likes a laugh.

After the jump, I’ll be running through: Constantine, Elementary, The Fall, The Flash, Gotham, Gracepoint, Mulaney, The Newsroom, Scorpion and State of Affairs.

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including The Imitation Game, Great Britain, State of Affairs and The Fall”