Tag Archives: tv review

TV Review – Blackadder

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I absolutely adore Blackadder. I’ve seen the odd episode here or there over the years, but I’ve never really sat and deliberately watched the series from start to finish.

Well not quite the start. I did watch Series One years ago and I hated it, to the point I’m not willing to try it again.

However, don’t judge Blackadder II, Blackadder the Third or Blackadder Goes Forth by the first series, as series two to four are very different, and most importantly they are absolutely hilarious.

My husband keeps asking me which is my favourite episode, and I honestly can’t pick one, as there isn’t a dud among them to help make the rest stand out as better and therefore a favourite.

Each series is set in a different period of British History. Blackadder II is set in Elizabethan England with Miranda Richardson doing a fabulously macabre turn as Elizabeth I. Rowan Atkinson and Tony Robinson also establish their roles as Blackadder and Baldrick wonderfully.

Whoever thought to team Richard Curtis and Ben Elton together to write Blackadder, it was a good plan, a cunning one even, because what they established in series two, they built upon in Blackadder the Third.

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The third series Blackadder is the man servant for Prince George, the Prince Regent during the reign of Mad Kind George III. The power dynamic has shifted for Blackadder, but that only makes his wit more sharp, and his intolerant of fools even more comical.

And Hugh Laurie, well what can I say; most people know him because of House. British folks knew him as a comedy actor first though (mainly working with Stephen Fry). His portrayal of the Prince Regent is one of the reasons why Britain already loved him before he became one of America’s sweethearts. He is a lovable fool in this series.

And he carries that on in Blackadder Goes Forth, with Stephen Fry and Tim Mcinnerny re-joining the cast from series two. Series four is a completely different set up, because rather than being set in a place of power, it is set in the trenches of World War One.

And somehow the show creators and actors made one of the most horrific periods of history side-splittingly funny.

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I said above that I can’t pick a favourite episode, but I do have a favourite series, and if you don’t see any of the others, Blackadder Goes Forth is a must-see. They refer back to jokes and characters from previous series, but you don’t need to know them to find them funny.

And if you are looking for something seasonal, at Christmas you can watch Blackadder’s Christmas Carol, which is their twist on A Christmas Carol. On New Year’s Eve there is Blackadder Back and Forth, which was a special created for the new millennium.

If you call yourself a fan of comedy and you’ve never seen the genius that is Blackadder, then are you really a fan of comedy? Try it!

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TV Review – The Crown (Season One)

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The Crown has been on my watch list for a while now, and when my husband and I finished watching Westworld we were after something else to interest us for an hour or so each evening.

I generally have quite positive opinions of the monarchy, mainly because of the Queen, who is an brilliant role model for girls and women. Apart from the death of Princess Diana though, I don’t actually know anything about them.

The first season of The Crown is utterly brilliant. Even if it wasn’t based on real life, the drama of the series is gripping. The writing is spot on, and a large amount of research has obviously gone into it to make it as historical accurate as a television drama will allow.

What I really love about this series is that it has made the monarchy human; real human beings are having to live in this weird world of being royal. More than that, The Queen has to live with the reality that she has a duty to protect the Crown which is integrated into how government works. She has to work very hard to do her bit and she has several brilliant moments of setting men of power straight.

She also has to do it while dealing with the illness and then death of her father the King; the family politics of her Uncle who abdicated; the politics of the country under the aging Churchill; a sister who has fallen in love with someone deemed unsuitable; and the expectations of her husband having to adjust his life to fit around her in an age when wives did that for husbands not the other way around.

Just thinking about it makes me want to watch it again, and the second series which is already underway. I know I will come back to it again and again, all because the writing, acting and production is superb.

TV Review – Westworld

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Westworld is just awesome. Review done!

Alright, yes maybe I should talk about it a bit more than that. I’ve recently re-watched season one of Westworld. I have to admit it is one of those shows that is better the second time around, because you have a better understanding of what on earth is going on.

To help with understanding it even better, I recommend only watching one episode a day. Delayed gratification massively improves watching this show. It gives you a chance to absorb the plot, absorb the character development, and organise in your head what you think is going on. Then come the next episode you’re better prepared for the glut of new information.

I absolutely love Westworld because it is one of the few shows that makes me have to sit and concentrate. Normally, unless a plot has a twist that isn’t foreshadowed, I can figure out the ending. Westworld I had to watch to find out the ending and I was never once bored.

Let’s start with what I love the most; it is a combination of western and science fiction. The last time I watched a show with that combination was Firefly, a TV show ahead of its time and my all-time favourite. The other similarity I enjoyed being reminded of was Bicentennial Man, because like that film this is a journey of synthetic beings becoming more than what they were built to be. 

And then there is the element of repetition for the residents of Sweetwater. It isn’t a time loop as such, but I do love time loops, and this is a much more sinister variation on that idea, with brilliant music acting as the finishing touch.

Westworld took these elements, and just takes it to a completely new level. When I first watched it, and saw the cast list I just knew that this was something special, because the ensemble attracted to take part in this project is just outstanding.

And I know why they wanted to be involved? Because all they will have had is the writing to base their decision on when they joined up. The production, the direction, the cinematography etc. cannot be faulted. It is one of the highest quality TV productions I’ve seen.

The writing though is what is key to making it all work. The concept is interesting and complex; the plot while not straightforward makes you want more; not a single word of dialogue is wasted; the character development, especially Dolores’ makes you want to know what happens next, which makes resisting binge watching difficult.

The level of complexity is what makes the show so compelling, because like with the Westworld park itself, the layers of story are so subtle, it makes it feel real. It makes it feel like every time the can of paint falls to the floor, it feels like it is genuine and real, and possible. The reactions are grounded in reality, not in fantasy which is in truth what Westworld is all about.

It is a fantasy, you’re just not meant to know it.

It is truly immersive, and I couldn’t pay a TV show or a film a higher compliment.

 

TV Review – The League of Gentlemen

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I know ‘The League of Gentlemen’ is hardly a recent television show to review, but for me is it a rather recent discovery. I was too young to watch it when it was first broadcast; I wasn’t a babe in arms but I wasn’t quite a teenager either, even though I was probably more mature then than I am now. Over the years though, I’ve been appreciating the various works of the writers since, and decided that watching the show was something that finally needed to be done.

But this is not just me filling in a day on my blog, by going other a TV show that has been available for years to view. The main reason I can’t help but review the show is because it is one of the few things I’ve found that will make me laugh. This is great praise for a comedy I know and I will accept comments from people who are now wondering whether I’ve gone a bit daft. ‘Of course comedy is going to make you laugh’, and cue eye-rolling from my readers.

Let me explain; I find laughing out loud to be something I mainly do as part of a group activity. Deep belly laughing and setting off my asthma is something I only do with other people (and not just for the obvious safety reasons in that admission). When I’m on my own though and watching comedy I don’t laugh. I appreciate what I’m watching, but few things make me chuckle while I’m on my own.

I’m weird what can I say.

When I watch ‘The League of Gentlemen’ alone though I do laugh, perhaps not quite as loudly as when I watch it with others but there is an actual external acknowledgement that my sense of humour has been tickled. It’s gets under my skin.  I will never hear the word ‘Local’ in the same way again, and from now on I will always have a silent chuckle with myself when they turn the lights out on a cave tour. I’m quite serious in my praise for ‘The League of Gentlemen’ because it does have the rare effect of making me laugh with myself.

It is a brilliant British cult classic that gets at the very heart of the type of black comedy that I find very funny. The show twists quite normal situations to dark extremes, with a delightful mix of black humour and horror. It has well thought out characters and great writing (especially the plotting of series three). The slant of Northern English context is even relatable (as a proud Northerner myself), and sometimes painfully accurate.

It is also everything that I want from a comedy.

I want a situation to be subtly and satirically twisted; blatant stereotyping and a generic laugh track, common to many popular sitcoms, will just make me switch off. Yes, this show has a laugh track, but isn’t a cue for me to laugh because I’m supposed to find this highlighted moment funny; the laughing is there because it is actually funny.

If the comedy is physical then it needs to be simple or slightly farcical, like Peter Sellers peering around a corner and spilling milk. Unnecessary slapstick will just make me roll my eyes. While the more grotesque elements of the show have an element of slapstick, the sublime acting from Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, and in particular from Mark Gatiss, shows how using subtle body language to twist the already satirical dialogue, a larger than life characters can be created for comic effect without resorting to cheap tricks. Fine it isn’t verbose to the same extent as the likes of Sir Humphrey, but the writing is on point, which works marvellously with the talent of the cast.

It is just fantastic and I’m very glad to add it to the list of reasons why I admire the creators of the show.

 

 

 

 

A Young Writer’s Notebook – Reviewing 2016

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Last year was not an easy year for ‘A Young Writer’s Notebook’. I started this blog back in 2013 with the idea that my blog would be about writing, and my thoughts on writing. I had been inspired by two things – the TV adaptation of ‘A Young Doctor’s Notebook’ and also by a sketchbook of an artist I know well.

The former I simply twisted the title a little bit and made the blog about my thoughts on writing. The latter though was more inspiring. I’m not a particularly artistic person – I love art but because I didn’t show talent in it I wasn’t encouraged in school to pursue it. I didn’t really understand what a sketchbook was for. To me art is the finished product – a sketchbook though is how you get from the idea to that product, which I learnt a couple of years ago at my friend’s exhibition.

Notebooks for me have always been the equivalent to the sketchbook though I didn’t know it – inspired by ‘Sherlock’ I turned the notebook into the modern day equivalent. A blog.

And I have never once treated this blog like a notebook. Very little of my writing on this blog is actually to do with my writing. It is to do with my thoughts on writing (via The Key to a Great Story) and then later the addition of  Young Writer’s Review.

While I did once have my Notes on Life Series, and I occasionally blog about what ever crochet project I deem worthy of sharing with you, I very rarely go beyond a planned blog post. Blog posts for me are either reviews or part of a blog series.

And this is where I feel as if my blog has lost the plot a little bit. By the beginning of 2016 I’d been blogging for nearly two and a half years, and I’d completed my largest blog series to date about creating a great story, and I was floundering for a plan. Enter in one little article I read about the films to look out for in 2016, and bingo a plan arrived.

Most of the films I was excited about in 2016 were part of a franchise (I know sit down, you must be so shocked by that!) Some of these franchises have been around for a while, including Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and even Harry Potter. Perfect I automatically had dozens of blogs all lined up for 2016 that I could plan and write in anticipation for the latest instalment of the franchises. Essentially I could blog about my favourite fandoms and I didn’t have to think too much.

I think I managed to get about as far as Captain America Civil War being released before I had driven myself utterly insane, because I hadn’t just kept to the plan of the franchises I was (emphasis on the word was) excited for, I expanded that to include tv series series I had been having a binge on, with a series by series review that could easily supply me with a few dozen more posts.

You have to understand though that for the first half of the year when I was doing this, I wasn’t doing it for the number of hits per day, (I will admit I was trying to build up a bigger audience) I was doing it because what I was hoping was that I could open up discussion with like-minded people about the fandoms I love. It sort of worked.

Despite being of the millennial generation though, and while I identify as a millennial, in many, many ways I’m also not. There are people on the internet who have been dong this for a lot longer than I have, who were blogging about these things at the time of their release not years later. While I nearly always find people are willing to discuss an old book, the world of TV and film is a lot less receptive to that – I was naive.

I was an industry of producing reviews for everything little thing I was watching, and while I actively sought new and original things to watch (such as High Rise and Anomalisa in the first half of the year, and then more recently the likes of Mulholland Drive and Kubo and the Two Strings, none of which I had predicted would make an impression on me this year) I also ended blogging about Austin Powers in what I can only describe as desperation (I mean it is a cult classic, and I love it, but I didn’t need to blog it though).

The turn of the new year always makes me very reflective on the journey I took in the previous year, and all I can say is thank goodness for Zootopia. I still haven’t reviewed Zootopia, but seeing it and realising its potential as the most important film of 2016, made me stop and really wonder why I had ever thought the franchise plan for my reviews was a good idea.

Seeing it, and thinking about it stopped me in my tracks, I took a break from blogging, and I actually started to enjoy films and tv again, because it was for fun, not an examination and a reviewing exercise to be undertaken. My crazy life in 2016 got a bit in the way as well, but the second half of 2016 was definitely a lot less productive and for the better really.

So what are my plans for 2017 and A Young Writer’s Notebook? Well I haven’t really got one yet.

I still have my current writing series Book (Re) Writing to dip into, but that doesn’t really have a structured plan; it is more of on outlet for me rather than as a guide for others. I have a few loose ends I’d like to tie up on some of the franchise reviews I have, and I think I might revisit a few thoughts I’ve had in the past about these franchises, but actually other than that I haven’t got a clue.

And I think I will be happier for it.

TV Review: Agent Carter – Season 2

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It took me a while to connect to the second season of Agent Carter, certainly longer than it did with season one, but the show is still utterly brilliant, and the storyline in season two is even better than the first season.

I think the reason it took me a bit longer to connect to what they were doing in season two has to do with the fact that the creators no longer needed to prove to the audience that a woman is able to be multi-dimensional and a capable character, while also being the lead. Throughout all of season one it was all about proving that Peggy Carter is deserving of the job she has earned and being respected as a capable woman.

The creators have toned that down for the second season, because that no longer needs to be proved, it has been established, and it is toning down that makes the second season so brilliant. It doesn’t need to be pointed out that Peggy Carter is a capable, because the show has established that this is perfectly normal. They have made having a ‘strong female’ character normal.

Someone please pat them on the back, and don’t whatever you do ask them why they wrote a ‘strong female character’, because I will throw a Joss Whedon quote at you.

Go on I will anyway but I’ll make it small.

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The second season of Agent Carter is a fab romp through LA, starting with a lake freezing over, and ending with a very satisfying development. It is fun, funny and as fabulous as Agent Carter herself.

TV Review: The Night Manager

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I will hold my hands up and admit I was initially excited about watching the Night Manager purely because I like Tom Hiddleston. That was the first thing I had learnt about the tv series, but my crush on that particular actor wasn’t the driving force behind my urge to watch the series. I then learned Hugh Laurie and Olivia Colman were involved and the excitement level build even further, as I’ve been a fan of both from before the times they both found fame as household names.

What really prompted me to make the effort of actually watching it though was when I learnt that The Night Manager is a novel by John la Carre, and I knew from then on that the series was going to be brilliant because of la Carre’s genius.

I was not disappointed.

I’ve not read the novel the TV series is based on, so I don’t know if it is an entirely faithful adaptation, but even if it isn’t, the series itself is well worth the time investing in watching it. The cinematography is gorgeous; the script is brilliant and will keep you guessing the entire time how the story will end; and the acting is just perfection.

I am a massive fan of Olivia Colman, and in this she is just brilliant. She was easily the best character, and the plot reveal of why she is motivated into committing fully to her job is one of the best scenes in the entire series. It even beats Tom Hollander’s drunken grope of Hiddleston in one of the few moments of comic relief in the series.

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The brevity of comic relief is one of the things that makes the series so brilliant; it is drama from start to finish, with the comic relief only coming from moments when it suited the personality of the characters to lighten the mood a bit. There wasn’t a single moment when I was bored either.

All of the characters, not just the main characters were fully formed and you rooted for them all, even the antagonists purely because at no point did you get the impression that even if the antagonists prevailed would you be disappointed. Anyone could win at the end, and you just knew all the way through that it would be stunning to watch unfold.

The premise of the show revolves around Jonathan Pine, a night manager in a plush Cairo hotel, ending up tangled up in the precarious world of Richard Roper, after he is recruited by British Intelligence and Angela Burr’s unwavering determination to bring Roper down no matter what the potential cost. Jonathan commits completely to her plan, leaving even the viewer in doubt of whose side he is really on.

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Tom Hiddleston is just utterly brilliant, but no matter how brilliant he was, he can’t be credited alone in why the series worked. Hugh Laurie matched Hiddleston’s brilliance and it was refreshing to see an antagonist played so subtly. There was no ‘ham acting’, just sublime elegance that hid perfectly the rotten core beneath. Tom Hollander as Corcoran was also excellent, and it was great to see him in the role as an antagonist that stretched his acting ability; he was utterly convincing as a villain in a way I’ve not seen from him before.

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I’ve already sung the praises of Olivia Colman, but she was not the only female actress to grace the screen. Elizabeth Debicki, Natasha Little and Aure Atika all portrayed powerfully strong women who have also got caught in Roper’s net. From the viewpoint of Roper all of these women were little more than lover’s and wives there to look pretty and keep up appearances; they held no concrete role in his plans, but they all were threatened by him because they had validity enough to potentially betray him.

I’m so glad though that from the audience’s perspective their characters weren’t just there to be props; each of them were motivated by more than the pigeon holes some of the men had put them in. They stood up for what they felt was right, and the tv series demonstrated how little power some women have, because each of them were beaten down, but none of them allowed themselves to be destroyed. It was a wonderfully realistic portrayal of the struggle of women who find themselves at the mercy of others.

I highly recommend that you watch these series; it will have you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. While it might not have the fast paced and bullet sprayed action of something like James Bond, the subtle storytelling of John la Carre is a spy story of a different calibre. If you’re a fan of adaptations like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, then you will love The Night Manager. If you just want to see some great drama to escape into, then look no further.