TV Roundup

“Just what the bloody hell have you been doing with your time?” It was a fair question. Apart from moving house, scraping, scrubbing, painting and generally fretting about not having enough of anything to call my new pad a home or any money to change that fact, I had to admit, I had become a little negligent of my readership. Watching television hasn’t helped.

As long-term readers will know, I have never really subscribed to television as a source of relevant and legitimate entertainment. I’m the original movie-guy, after all. What on earth could television programming possibly offer me? With the notable exceptions of Family Guy, Fringe (thankyou for making me watch it, Andrew), American Horror Story, Broadchurch, Downton (thankyou for making me watch them, Jane) and Modern Family, you could write what I knew about television on the back of a very small stamp. Only in the past twelve months or so, in fact, have I relented and watched all of both Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, having not seen as much of a sniff of an episode of the former and just the first season of the latter (and that was under duress).

Really, the only show I watched out of choice from the outset in the past couple of years was True Detective and the aforementioned American Horror Story (and after Season Two, I must admit, I kinda lost the plot there too, goodwill notwithstanding). More recently I’ve really enjoyed The Leftovers and Fargo, but it hasn’t been until now that I have really got the bit between my teeth and done some serious (and some not so serious) goggleboxing, so I though I’d let you know just what exactly I have been watching, as something of an explanation (albeit a rather lame one) as to why I haven’t been writing more about movies in the past couple of months (aside from the painting and stuff, of course).

Although it may be something of a comedy-in-waiting in the UK, threatening to overtake Modern Family as my favourite show that lasts less than twenty-five minutes at a time is possibly The Last Man On Earth, written by and starring Will Forte, ably supported by Kristen Schaal and January Jones. The simple story of Phil Miller and his comical and self-serving attempts to survive after a plague that wipes out practically everyone on the planet is beautifully realised and frighteningly on point when it comes to the shortcomings of the average man when truly left to his own devices. The title of the show is only slightly misleading as the picture above suggests. The performances are all excellent and Forte is outstanding in the title role as well as impressing with a strong and funny script, forcing you to watch him through the cracks in your fingers, such is the embarrassment you feel for him. Already having completed it’s first season, we await an already green-lit second dose of ‘Alive In Tucson’ soon.

“It’s like Modern Family, but in the eighties.” This was my eldest son’s synopsis for The Goldbergs. “You’d really like it Dad. I know how much you love Modern Family.” If anyone knows me, it’s certainly him, so I took his advice.  An altogether different kind of funny to The Last Man On Earth (more honesty and considerably less bite), this was already forty seven episodes old before I even realised it existed (all caught up now, nonetheless). A practically biographical re-telling of film-maker Adam Goldberg’s childhood, this has yet to truly unseat Modern Family as the one thing you really don’t want to miss every week and get generally upset upon discovering its mid-season break. This is consistently funny and if you’re of a certain age, will have you open-mouthed at its historical accuracy, but has yet failed to match Modern Family for smarts, although familiarity may well test this theory over time. With two seasons under my belt, I am keenly anticipating the next batch.
Even if you haven’t been really paying attention, you cannot help but notice the rise to prominence and success of projects like The Killing and Broadchurch that have piled on the misery with dramatic twists and turns that have been truly gripping for those that have stuck with them. Psychological thriller Fortitude is much the same in that it features a insular community at the point where something truly dreadful starts to happen and how the featured characters deal with the torment that they are put through, both personally and collectively. This is big budget television as envisaged by Sky and with the big budget come big stars in the form of Stanley Tucci, Christopher Ecclestone and Michael Gambon just for starters. Starting with the mysterious death of one the foremost members of this small titular town, we are led on a winding multi-layered story driven by a dozen equally engaging characters as their history and secrets are carefully placed for the delectation of the audience, culminating in a finale that you may well see coming, although this makes it no less satisfying for that fact when it comes. Season One may be over, but Sky has already commissioned a second season. Tension, drama and excellent performances all go to make this a great success for Sky.
Arguably, the second most watchable character in Breaking Bad was Saul Goodman, attorney at law. Walter White’s legal fence was regularly involved in Heisenberg’s various schemes. Not always willingly, to be sure, but nevertheless, he made every episode of Breaking Bad he appeared in just that little bit more watchable. Thankfully, Netflix felt the same way and commissioned Better Call Saul, an off-shoot series that featured the downtrodden lawyer, concentrating on his fledgling career, prior to his path crossing with Walter White. Maybe exploiting the good feeling about the aforementioned Chemistry teacher, this made for good business for Netflix and to an extent, almost gave Breaking Bad fans the kind of fix they’d been waiting for. Shot brilliantly with at least one eye on the cinematography, the story maybe lacked the voracity and tension that Breaking Bad enjoyed in spades, but this was never going to be as good for obvious reasons. Nonetheless, this kept me intrigued until the end unlike many other shows. A second season is already on the cards and due fior release early next year.

Currently, the jury is still out on Aquarius, a police drama based firmly in the summer of love, where David Duchovny’s Sam Hodiak goes undercover to investigate Charles Manson and his family prior to their killing spree. Shot with flair and enjoying a well considered soundtrack, the script does feel a little lightweight and somewhat cheesy just a little too often. After only a couple of episodes under my belt, it has begun to become a little wearing, struggling to maintain the tension it requires over an extended period. Like everything though, this may not be a pre-cursor to what we might enjoy in future episodes, hence the plan to stick with it for at least a little longer.
For me, the most watchable and strongest dramatic actress on television at the moment is arguably Lily Rabe (in my most humble opinion). Following her gripping and unmissable performances in American Horror Story, she has followed up with what I feel is going to be another hit for her (not to mention the rest of the cast). In The Whispers, Rabe plays Claire Bennigan, FBI Agent renowned for her skill with interviewing children, which is handy when a mysterious, deadly unseen force starts to manipulate the very same, causing them to do some frankly dreadful things to the grown ups around them, with devastating results. Creepy and crammed with suspense, this could easily have become very cliched and trite, but Rabe anchors this very well indeed and is supported ably by the likes of Milo Ventimiglia and Kristen Connolly (who I could watch just breathing in and out if I’m honest). Despite only being a few episodes in, this has all the makings of a very satisfying tale, told with respect to its audience and a clear love of juicy storytelling.
Hailed by some (most notably, it’s creators as it happens) as revolutionary, you really need to watch Sense8, the latest project from The Wachowski’s. I say this not because it is unmissable entertainment, but more to decide for yourself whether it should really be classified as revolutionary, as that is indeed quite a lofty claim. I’ve already managed to get through six episodes and honestly, I still can’t make my mind up whether this is just, pointlessly complex, over my head or actual nonsense, dressed up as de rigueur. To tell you the plot is almost completely pointless as this hops about all over the place and for the four (or more) episodes you will be left wondering, much like the characters, just what the bloody hell is going on. With five seasons already written, The Wachowski’s will hope that this is received well, as this is something they have thrown themselves behind, but to me, this seems a little convoluted and perhaps a touch vain on the behalf of the creators themselves, which has a habit of making this hard to become engaged with. Who knows, however, upcoming episodes may change my mind.
Finally, a WATCH THIS SPACE moment. Coming at the end of this month is the start of something that promises to be very special indeed.  Rami Malek, Portia Doubleday and Christian Slater star in Mr Robot, the story of an anti-social programmer, hacker and anarchist with a very particular view on the world around us, which may resound with many readers. Written with verve and bite, shot with flair and imagination and performed with such talent that you simply have to make time for it, Mr Robot may well be the standout of the summer this year. After seeing the pilot last month, I am very keenly anticipating its arrival.
So, that’s my round up of what’s been hoovering up my time lately in between bouts of painting etc. Now then, it might be time to get back to that big screen…

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