4 Blocks
German TV

Boxset Monday: 4 Blocks (season 1) (Germany: TNT Series; UK: Amazon)

In Germany: Aired on TNT Serie in May 2017
In the UK: Available on Amazon

The Wire is one of those shows that casts huge shadow over TV. Arguably one of the best TV shows ever made, if not the best, it’s a novelistic, many-layered show as Charlie Brooker will happily explain to you (you’re welcome, Charlie):

Naturally, every new, vaguely similar TV show wants to be “the new The Wire” to bask in inherited glory. As soon as international distributors want to export their gritty cop show to another country, said cop show becomes the country in question’s “answer to The Wire“. So Engrenages (Spiral) was “France’s answer to The Wire“, for example, even though it’s better to think of its first season, at least, more as Law & Order meets Scandal.

However, I think it’s fair to say that the multiple award-winning 4 Blocks is the first show that you could call “somewhere’s answer to The Wire” (that somewhere being Germany) and for that genuinely to be the case, both in terms of themes and general quality of production – all without being a straight carbon copy. Even if the Süddeutsche Zeitung thinks it’s more like The Sopranos and Die Zeit thinks it’s the ‘German Gomorra‘.

Here’s a highly NSFW trailer. Slightly spoilery discussion of the whole season after the jump.

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HBO's The Deuce
Airdates

When’s that show you mentioned starting again, TMINE? Including The Deuce, Law & Order: True Crime, X Company, Room 104, Snatch and Alias Grace

Every Friday, TMINE lets you know the latest announcements about when new imported TV shows will finally be arriving on UK screens – assuming anyone’s bought anything, of course

After last week’s deafening silence when it came to acquisitions, it’s all go this week, and we’ve got a flood of premiere dates, too, you’ll be glad to hear. Indeed, the only new acquisition that hasn’t already been given a premiere date is The Orville (US: Fox: UK: Fox UK), which I reviewed earlier this week. I’ll let you know when it’s revealed. I’m assuming it’s not going to be kept a secret, anyway.

After the jump, pop-pickers, I’ll be giving you the rundown of all the new acquisitions and their matching premiere dates. See you in a mo…

Continue reading “When’s that show you mentioned starting again, TMINE? Including The Deuce, Law & Order: True Crime, X Company, Room 104, Snatch and Alias Grace”

Narcos
Internet TV

Review: Narcos (season three) (Netflix)

The first two seasons of Narcos demonstrated just what a truly global television company intent on producing quality output can do.

Shot on location in Colombia almost entirely in Spanish and using real-life news footage to reinforce its message, Narcos depicted the real-life efforts of the US’s Drug Enforcement Administration to stop the famous drug kingpin Pablo Escobar’s operations in Colombia and beyond. It was a slow-burning but ultimately mesmerising critique, showing the complexity of the drugs trade, crime, law enforcement and life in South America almost as well as The Wire did. It also had a tour de force performance by Brazilian actor Wagner Moura that dominated proceedings.

However, season two ends up with the capture/death of Pablo Escobar, so what would Narcos be about for its final two seasons, you might wonder. More importantly, given that the show thrived on its sheen of veracity, what would it do for leads, given not only the departure of Moura but also the fact its two DEA agent heroes (Pedro Pascal and Boyd Holbrook) had little to do with the Colombian drug trade after their ultimate location of Escobar?

Answers at last

Now we have our answers, some of which were partly provided at the end of season two. Season three follows the fate of the four Colombian ‘godfathers’ (played by Alberto Ammann, Damián Alcázar, Francisco Denis and Pêpê Rapazote) of the so-called Cali cartel, as they try to negotiate their way to a surrender and a future as legitimate businessmen – something that not all of them want and that the other cartels might take advantage of.

Still at the DEA, though, is Pedro Pascal who also gets to take over narration duties from Holbrook. Although the CIA and even the US ambassador are playing a more strategic, political game, Pascal wants to do the right thing, and he’s going to try to bring all of Cali to book before they’re able to negotiate their own terms. There are also two new DEA agents (Michael Stahl-David and Matt Whelan), who unlike Holbrook have been trained from the outset to deal with the new sophistication of the cartels. Unfortunately, even they don’t quite realise just how deep and far the fingers of the cartels have penetrated every aspect of Colombian society.

Importantly, season 3 doesn’t quite follow the same template as the previous two seasons since a huge part of the season is Matias Varela’s smart, considered head of Cali security. A former engineer who’s looking to go legit, he’s not a bad guy at heart, so the question is whether he’ll be able to stomach Cali operations for much longer, particularly once his friends and their families start getting murdered by his own employers…

Continue reading “Review: Narcos (season three) (Netflix)”

US TV

Review: American Gods 1×1 (US: Starz; UK: Amazon)

In the US: Sundays, 9pm E/P, Starz
In the UK: New episode available every Monday

By all rights, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is a novel I should have in some lovingly crafted Folio Society edition, situated in pride of place on my bookshelf or on a small shrine. Pagan gods? Check. American setting? Check. Neil Gaiman? Check and double check – after all, I spent most of my university days not just avidly reading Gaiman’s comic book works, particularly Sandman, but looking like its titular character, too. This is basically a photo of my sister and me in the early 90s.

Sandman and Death

Imagine the confusion and fear among knowing bystanders when we met up.

And yet, somehow, American Gods passed me by. I’ve not read it; I’ve not even listened to any of the audio books of it. I don’t even want to, despite very much enjoying Gaiman’s work on Doctor Who and his novel (co-authored with Terry Pratchett), Good Omens. Odd, hey?

A new TV show, though – one co-showrun by the marvellous Bryan Fuller (Heroes, Hannibal, Mockingbird Lane, Pushing Daisies)? Maybe that’s more my speed now?

So, sign me up, but don’t expect comparisons with the original, only answers to the thorny question of whether it’s a good TV show or not.

The story follows the fantastically named Shadow Moon (Hollyoaks’ Ricky Whittle), a con serving a three-year prison sentence who’s released days early when his wife is killed in a car accident. Trying his best to make his way home for her funeral, he encounters obstacle after obstacle, until he comes across conman ‘Mr Wednesday’ (Lovejoy‘s Ian McShane) and his luck mysteriously changes. Maybe that’s got something to do with the leprechaun (The Wire‘s Pablo Schreiber) he also meets. At least, he says he’s a leprechaun, but he’s mighty tall, so Moon has his doubts. Probably not because of the height, though.

Discovering his wife wasn’t quite who he thought she was, Moon is tempted by an offer of employment as Mr Wednesday’s ‘heavy’, but before he even starts, he’s discovering that Mr Wednesday has some very, very odd, very nasty, sometimes completely faceless enemies.

And that’s basically the plot of the first episode, which really isn’t that inspiring a piece of work. Not much happens other than establishing that Moon is rather similar to Luke Cage in terms of personality, if a bit less indestructible and without half the charm or catchphrases. There’s also little of the fantastical about it until the end, and what there is, largely doesn’t work, Schreiber’s leprechaun (who may be from Ireland. Or Russia) being an amalgam of stereotypes about Irish people being drunkards and fighters, rather than anyone liable to lead you to the end of any rainbow. I imagine that later episodes will be where we discover the rather important central conceit of the series that there’s a war between New Gods (such as technology) and Old Gods (such as Odin) being waged in America. That sounds more interesting, doesn’t it?

But there are some things that work. Ian McShane is obviously marvellous as the scheming Mr Wednesday (“Today’s my day” – gosh, I wonder who he might be), but what really lifts American Gods out of the ordinary – at least at this stage – is the mise-en-scène. Hovering here in roughly the same orbit as season 2 of Hannibal (ie not quite as perfect as season 1 but not as far up its own arse as season 3), American Gods does have some truly lovely and sometimes disturbing visuals, as well as the equally unsettling, jazzy dissonance of Brian Reitzell’s musical compositions. As it’s on Starz, there’s also quite a bit of the Spartacus gore along for the ride, too, with some blood tableaux that are often breathtaking.

Without those, there’d be little to mark out the show from any other piece of generic fantasy, though. There’s almost nothing of Gaiman or Fuller’s wit and wisdom in any of the dialogue and where it gets fantastical, it’s often in ways that make you scoff rather than wonder.

Gaiman says that a lot of the first episode is new but still in keeping with the book, so I’ll give the show the benefit of the doubt for now and hope it gets better in later episodes as they return to the original text. There’s also a top cast of guest gods due later on (Crispin Glover, Kristin Chenoweth, Peter Stormare, Gillian Anderson, Orlando Jones, Corbin Bernsen, Jeremy Davies), which should make that task a whole lot easier.

But this isn’t the way back into either Gaiman’s or Fuller’s works that I was expecting. Still, maybe we shouldn’t expect miracles.