Archived entries for Television

The Newsroom

Amidst the snappy dialogue, quick one-liners, sometimes silly set-pieces, human interest plot lines, a theme of  internal conspiracy and the occasional awful incidental music, The Newsroom is a welcome programme of substance.

It tackles issues head on, with real news stories, actual footage and, in a refreshing alternative from attempts to satire politics, hard facts and polemic. The early concerns it could be preachy are put to the side when events take over, with stories from the BP oil spill to the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords becoming the real drama.

By the time The Newsroom gets in its stride, the seventh episode, 5/1, has echoes of the greatness of The West Wing, with a superb combination of characters stranded on a grounded plane while the emotion of the breaking news story, the successful mission to find Bin Laden, takes over everywhere.

As the ten episodes progress there is less of the annoying incidental music that assumes its audience as stupid, just as the show the programme is centred on, News Night, matures to treat its views with more respect. And it is the discourse within The Newsroom, from why one courtroom trial is prime time TV ahead of not only a major global economic crisis, but cases that could be exactly the same if not for the way the media, with an agenda, want to present the case, that lets the viewer listen in on intelligent and weighty conversations. Continue reading…

Prisoners of War

Spread over ten one-hour parts, the Israeli drama on which Homeland was based came to the UK on Sky Arts, slower-paced than the more famous US show, but just as compelling. Primarily focused on the aftermath of returning soldiers who have been held in captivity for years, the specific details of the story are different, although many of the clever original ideas it had, which Homeland adapted, are here.

There’s the secret language of released prisoners, the covert surveillance, a honey-trap, the flashbacks to the violent beating of a colleague and the collateral damage of the wrecked families left behind after the soldiers became prisoners. Continue reading…

Line of Duty

Following in the footsteps of Cops and last year’s The Shadow Line, Line of Duty lived up to the promise that now accompanies the category of “an original contemporary BBC2 British police serial drama”. There were elements of both those captivating predecessors in Line of Duty – there was the realism, both mundane and gritty, that Cops reflected so well, and there was the crime thriller with corruption at its heart, both themes in The Shadow Line, which was arguably the greatest British contained drama series of all-time.

With a fantastic cast, Line of Duty wasn’t too shabby either. There are few, if any better British actors at the moment than Lennie James, and he is brilliant throughout in the lead part of Tony Gates: every word, every facial expression and every movement perfectly brings to life a clever, charismatic, confident, high-flying cop who suddenly finds the walls around him closing in fast after an error of judgement. Continue reading…

The Bridge

With the look and feel of Hugo Blick’s The Shadow Line, and arguably the best thing on Television since, ten episodes of The Bridge on five consecutive Saturday evenings on BBC4 have delivered high quality drama with a combination of style and substance.

As a Noir The Bridge is perfect, not just with beautiful cinematography, perfect opening titles, wonderful attention to detail and costume design, a ‘Killing’ like score, inspired direction and shots that suit the crime genre, but with dark humour that at times is laugh out loud funny. With two brilliant lead characters, Sofia Hlin’s Saga Noren and Kim Bodnia’s Martin Rohde, the dialogue is golden. Continue reading…

Homeland

Though often implausible and with holes in the substance of the messages it was sending out, ‘Homeland’ was an expertly executed thriller with hints of classic US Cinema.

On the 11th September 2001 the pictures broadcast around the World understandably had an immediate effect on American art, with Bruce Springsteen’s ‘The Rising’ the best example of a great album reflecting the bereavement New York City was recovering from, and both The Sopranos and The West Wing recognising the US’s new outlook on a lurking domestic threat that had taken on a new menace. Over ten years later it is the knock on effect of 9/11 that has now become a factor in contemporary drama, with Season Two of The Walking Dead giving us a clever parallel of a prisoner of war, and some the best drama from outside the US, The Killing II and The Bridge, incorporating their own angles on Terrorism and War.

Homeland is different though. It isn’t about subtle analogies that are part of a broader picture; 9/11, and the continuing War on Terror, are the centrepiece. Based loosely on an Israeli drama, Prisoners of War, Homeland is at times daft and annoyingly implausible, but it is compelling throughout. The messages it sends out are debatable, but it works because it is expertly executed as a Thriller. Continue reading…

The Walking Dead II

Season One of The Waking Dead was just six episodes, standard serial length for a drama in the UK but in US Drama terms, the equivalent of an EP. Two fine performances from British actors now plying their trade in the States, Lennie James and Andrew Lincoln, set the scene in an opening episode in 2010 that quickly developed an overriding theme of groups and individuals looking for a safety and security; distant echoes of Steinbeck, despite the setting of a post-apocalyptic zombieland. Continue reading…

Borgen

A programme that begins with a quote from Machiavelli, and is the next Danish drama to follow into the Saturday night BBC4’s timeslot after Forbrydelson, promised much. Borgen, which translates as “Government”, took us into a world where ideals matter, but are inevitably weighed down by requirements of retaining office. Continue reading…

Brickbat

When Liverpool overcame Manchester United at Saturday lunchtime, completing a week in which they knocked both of the top two placed teams out of the domestic cups in a week, it highlighted the momentum cup competitions can bring. Just a week earlier Liverpool were abject against Bolton, which led their manager Kenny Dalglish to be unusually critical of his players in his post-match interviews.

On most occasions interviewing Dalglish seems to be a task that is on the same list as getting blood out of a stone and asking Jose Mourinho to accept defeat with grace. But Dalglish has not always been unfriendly with the media; in his heyday as a player he made several appearances on Question of Sport, when the requisite for being a football guest was to have an international cap rather than having once appeared on a panel show, as well as making a cameo appearance as himself in the Channel 4 Drama, Scully. Continue reading…

Little Crackers II

Despite a couple of unpalatable things about Sky TV, most notably its major shareholder and the barely disguised editorial slant of some of its news coverage, beneath the surface there are a number of good things including, its excellent production and coverage of sport; its dedicated arts channel; its import of quality programmes including Boardwalk Empire, Modern Family and Romanzo Criminale; and currently, its investment in new British comedy.

Arguably it is the least the viewer could expect for excessive monthly bills on top of an hour of its flagship drama being interrupted and extended by five commercial breaks, plus movie channels where the continuity announcer deliberately talks at the start of the credits. But, it is welcome, and Sky One showed the way with its comedy shorts ‘Little Crackers’ in 2010, the Chekov comedy dramas on Sky Arts in 2011, and the commissioning of a number of new home-grown sitcoms recently.

The second set of Little Crackers follows the same format as its predecessor: an eleven minute short comedy-drama that relates back to past experiences. Continue reading…

Romanzo Criminale

When turning on the TV in a hotel room in Italy, the primary experience, amidst the welcome clips of football, are old men in suits, with cheesy smiles, presenting alongside much younger women with little on, looking for cheap laughs from a studio audience. It is a reoccurring theme on every visit that does little to inspire confidence in Italian made television. However, ‘Romanzo Criminale’, which has been hailed as the greatest Italian programme ever made, is the counter to that, and television series of substance in its own right.

Continue reading…



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