Tag Archives: Fox

ATLANTA (2016 – 2018) – SEASONS 1 & 2 – FOX TV REVIEW

ATLANTA (2016 – 2018) – SEASONS 1 & 2 – FOX TV REVIEW

Created by: Donald Glover

Writer(s): Donald Glover, Stefani Robinson, Stephen Glover, Jamal Odori etc.

Director(s): Hiro Murai, Janicza Bravo, Amy Semetz

Starring: Donald Glover, Brian Tyree Henry, Lakeith Stanfield, Zazie Beetz

Original network: FX

'Atlanta' TV show premiere, After Party, Los Angeles, USA - 19 Feb 2018

Donald Glover and his multi-talented cast and crew deserve all the praise and accolades they have or will receive for Atlanta. It is easily one of the best and most originally voiced television shows I have watched in the last decade.  Set in the Atlanta, which is the most populous city in the U.S. state of Georgia; it centres on a collection of characters on the outside of the capitalist system just trying to make their way in life through: creativity, music, strange schemes, ducking, diving; and possibly a bit of drug dealing.

Atlanta has a rich political history. In the 1960s it became a major organizing centre of the civil rights with Dr Martin Luther King Jr. and many others playing serious roles in the movement’s leadership. Flash forward fifty years and, while we find the USA has moved beyond segregation from a legal perspective, inequality and social divide remain everyday from an economic perspective. The underclasses stay just that with the rich getting richer and the poorer communities unfortunately scrabbling around just trying to get by.

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It is against this social milieu we meet our main protagonists in Atlanta. Donald Glover is Earnest “Earn” Marks, a young Princeton dropout turned manager; Brian Tyree Henry as Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles, Earn’s cousin and up-and-coming rapper; Lakeith Stanfield as Darius Epps, Alfred’s eccentric right-hand man and visionary; and Zazie Beetz as Vanessa “Van” Keefer, Earn’s on-again-off-again girlfriend and the mother of their daughter Lottie. These are presented as complex characters who, while at times, not following the law or rules are just trying to survive in these difficult economic times. A mixture of both society and their own poor decisions trap them, and from this comes much drama and comedy.

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This is a very rich show, which over two seasons, is brilliantly acted, scored, filmed, written and directed. Thematically, it is very powerful while retaining a very honest humour. Episodes cover: stoner culture; crime; family relationships; the working class struggle; guns; violence; street gangs; drugs; children; social media; hip-hop; fashion; celebrity; as well as satirizing white people’s attitude to black culture and the music scene in general.  It is confidently written with a loose episodic structure with events linked thematically and often looping back and re-joining much later in the season. Atlanta also experiments with form as well as style using a meshing of genres including: pop video, short film, chat-show, horror, comedy, internet and various dramatic devices to tell its story.

Overall, this is one of those shows which constantly surprises you and what appears to be a loose vibe is in fact a cleverly structured series of impactful vignettes full of rich moments.  Indeed, episode 6 of Season 2 called Teddy Perkins is one of the most amazing pieces of television I have seen in a long while.  Atlanta is not just a TV show but an experience not to forget and I certainly had Georgia on my mind long after I’d finished watching it.

(Mark: 10 out of 11)

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THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE (2018) – TV SHOW REVIEW

THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE (2018) – TV SHOW REVIEW

Executive Producer: Ryan Murphy

Writer: Tom Robb Smith

Based on: Vulgar Favours: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History by Maureen Orth

Original Network: FX / FOX

Starring: Edgar Ramírez, Darren Criss, Ricky Martin, Penelope Cruz, Finn Wittrock

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I watch a lot of telly but don’t always review stuff because I don’t have time. The Assassination of Gianni Versace was one of those shows which I enjoyed when on the BBC but did not feel like reviewing. But then it kind of stuck with me; it nagged at my psyche as a chilling, violent and intense work of television drama. Hence I thought it was worth recommending it for those who are interested in excellent crime stories.

The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story is the second season of the FX true crime anthology series American Crime Story. It explores, over nine compelling episodes, the murder of designer Gianni Versace by spree killer Andrew Cunanan. Those coming to the show looking for an in depth story about Gianni Versace – as a man or designer – may be slightly disappointed.  Save for three or four episodes the lion’s share of the drama is about his killer, Cunanan.  What we do see of Versace and his sister Donatella, as expertly portrayed by Edgar Ramirez and Penelope Cruz, is a man who grew up from humble beginnings to become one of the finest fashion designers of all time. Personally, fashion does not interest me so I was pleased that world did not dominate the focus of the story.

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The main focus, however, was the spree killer Andrew Cunanan. Writer Tom Robb Smith, adapting from Maureen Orth’s book takes many risks, notably telling Cunanan’s story in reverse chronological order. I’m not always a fan of non-linear storytelling for the sake of it, however, beginning with Versace’s murder and then flashing backwards revealing, episode by episode, the sad demise of each of his victims made for absorbing viewing. Darren Criss as Cunanan is absolutely brilliant. His performance of the fantasist murderer is equally scary, embarrassing and darkly funny at times.

Evoking the characterisation of Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman, Criss nails the confidence and desperation of a very conflicted person. His Cunanan is not just a straightforward psycho but a rather complex loner with delusions of grandeur. The reveal in the later episodes that go some way to explain Cunanan’s psychosis are especially chilling. The show is also very honest about Cunanan’s sexuality. Via Cunanan’s, and other characters’ experience, the representation of gay men in America is illustrated in a fascinating way. Finn Wittrock, Mike Farrell, and Cody Fern, who portray three of Cunanan’s victims, are very empathetic as they battle the prejudices and expectations of gay men in society. It is a tragedy their lives, and others including Versace, were so violently ended at Cunanan’s hands.

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Overall, I was extremely absorbed by The Assassination of Gianni Versace. While not as grandstanding as The People Versus O.J. Simpson (2016), this character drama both shocked and stunned in equal measure; thanks to an excellent script and Criss’ haunting acting performance. Also, kudos goes to show-runner Ryan Murphy. This uber-producer is best known for creating/co-creating/producing a number of successful television series, including the FX medical drama Nip/Tuck (2003–10), the Fox musical comedy-drama Glee (2009–15), the FX anthology series American Horror Story (2011–present); Feud (2017–present); and with this latest season of American Crime Story (2016–present) he has overseen another memorable televisual experience.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

THE ORVILLE (2017) – SEASON 1 – TV SHOW REVIEW

THE ORVILLE (2017) – SEASON 1 – TV SHOW REVIEW

Created by: Seth MacFarlane

Starring: Seth MacFarlane, Adrianne Palicki, Penny Johnson Jerald, Scott Grimes, Peter Macon, Halston Sage, J. Lee, Mark Jackson

Executive producer(s): Seth MacFarlane, Brannon Braga, David A. Goodman, Jason Clark, Jon Favreau (pilot), Liz Heldens, Lili Fuller

Production company(s): Fuzzy Door Productions; 20th Century Fox Television

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

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If you search YouTube for Star Trek fan films you will find hundreds of them. In fact, I myself have written and produced one myself called Chance Encounter (2016). However, you will not find a shiny and more expensive Star Trek homage and fan film – in all but name – than Fox’s big budget science fiction series, The Orville. It was written and created by uber-talented Seth MacFarlane and joins the stable of shows and films he has been involved in, including: Family Guy, American Dad, Ted (2012) and A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014).

The Orville is set on the titular U.S.S. Orville (ECV-197), a mid-level exploratory space vessel in the Planetary Union, a 25th-century interstellar alliance of Earth and many other planets. Seth McFarlane portrays Ed Mercer, a journeyman officer who is depressed due to his wife’s infidelity, and constantly turning up to work hungover and uninterested. A chance at redemption comes when he offered the captaincy of The Orville.  He is then joined by his first officer, Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki), who so happens to be his ex-wife. This slightly clichéd dramatic turn does actually become a positive fulcrum for the twelve episode run, providing many jokes and bitter asides between the two. Their dedicated crew is a mix of aliens, humans and a genius robot called Isaac; who may as well be called Data to be honest.

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The Orville is an interesting show to review because I could understand someone watching it randomly because of say, liking Family Guy or Ted, and then not enjoying this at all. Because aside from the odd sight gag or wicked one-liner, this is not all out comedy. The Orville is instead a really solid science fiction show which mixes satire, action, comedy and drama. Indeed, while there is much to smile at, many episodes feature contemporary moral dilemmas involving: relationships, religion, social media, race, gender issues and sex. Most of all this is Seth Mcfarlane’s tribute to Star Trek. He even goes as far to enlist Trek producer Brannon Braga to executive produce and helm several episodes; while Jonathan Frakes also directs episode 6 – Pria.

Overall, I really enjoyed the show because of its similarity to Star Trek and because the characters drew me in tooSeth Macfarlane is not the greatest actor but he is a very likeable everyman. He is also ably assisted by a very committed supporting cast and the slick production. Many episodes whizz along at a decent pace and it doesn’t take itself too seriously either. There’s some excellent supporting characters along the way portrayed by Charlize Theron and Rob Lowe. There’s also some brilliant science fiction stuff which I loved including: space weapons; space ships; time travel; worm holes; ion storms; alien creatures; special powers; cannibal monsters; and hologram devices. Basically everything that Star Trek had The Orville has and that’s why I enjoyed it.

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

2017 – MY FAVOURITE TWELVE TV SHOWS OF THE YEAR

2017 – MY FAVOURITE TWELVE TV SHOWS OF THE YEAR

Our TV watching experiences are very different now with the various platforms available, so the idea of viewing shows live and week-to-week is a thing of the past. Moreover, the quality bar and production values of television programmes are getting even higher; especially where HBO, Amazon, Showtime and Netflix are concerned.

I have my perennial favourites so my list this year may look very similar to last year (see below), yet I’ve not yet seen the latest seasons of Better Call Saul or Black Mirror yet. Neither did I see the much lauded shows: Twin Peaks: The Return, The Deuce or anything on Amazon but overall it was a great for new TV shows and some classic long-running programmes.

FAVOURITE TWELVE TV SHOWS OF 2016 (in alphabetical order)

BETTER CALL SAUL (2016) – SEASON 2
BILLIONS (2016) – SEASON 1
DAREDEVIL (2016) – SEASON 2
FARGO (2015) – SEASON 2
GAME OF THRONES (2016) – SEASON 6
GOMORRAH (2016) – SEASON 2
IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA (2016) – SEASON 11
MAKING A MURDERER (2015) – SEASON 1
PENNY DREADFUL (2016) – SEASON 3
SOUTH PARK (2016) – SEASON 20
STEWART LEE’S COMEDY VEHICLE (2016) – SEASON 4
WESTWORLD (2016) – SEASON 1

 

FAVOURITE TWELVE TV SHOWS OF 2017 (in alpha order)

BIG LITTLE LIES (2017) – HBO

“. . .  inter-weaving stories concerning an unknown murder victim; school bullying; warring parents; extra-marital affairs; and the abusive relationships, is expertly played out over seven compelling episodes.”

 BLL

CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM – SEASON 9 (2017) – HBO

“. . . Curb Your Enthusiasm comes back as if has never been away as it revels further in the adventures of Larry David’s pedantry, un-PC behaviour, poor decisions, risky statements and strict adherence to the social etiquette and unwritten rules of life!”

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FARGO – SEASON 3 – FOX / CHANNEL 4

“. . . Slyly satirising the police procedural drama with off-centre plot twists and dark humour, David Thewlis’s scumbag businessman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead crafty femme fatale steal the show in Season 3 of Noah Hawley’s pitch perfect Coen Brothers’ pastiche.”

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GAME OF THRONES
(2017) – SEASON 7 – HBO

“. . . containing great direction, acting, design and character twists throughout and while it felt rushed at times these seven episodes were still amazing from my perspective! And the dragons and zombies and battles and death! Winter is definitely here!”

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HANDMAID’S TALE (2017) – HULU

“. . . containing suggestions of hope, light, rebellion and solidarity in a grim, patriarchal world which crushes life and colour; this impressively directed, acted and shot series had me transfixed throughout. Elizabeth Moss is a revelation. . .”

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IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA (2017) – SEASON 12

“. . . In the current superb 12th season one episode is presented from a supporting characters dream; while the most impressively detailed formal presentation has Dennis becoming a god-like TV director. This intelligence keeps the show fresh and funny.”

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LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN – 20TH ANNIVERSARY (2017) – BBC

“. . . Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Mark Gatiss and Jeremy Dyson are geniuses! In 1999 they brought an array of beautifully ugly comedic grotesques to the TV screen. After 3 seasons, stage tours and a movie the League of Gentlemen ceased. But they were back at Christmas with three episodes of brilliant black comedic sketches and set-pieces.”

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LEGION (2017) – FOX

“. . . as imaginative and original take on the mutant/X-Men genre you are going to find. It also very cleverly melds themes relating to: mutation, telekinesis, disassociation and schizophrenia expertly; while Aubrey Plaza and Dan Stevens are incredible in the show.”

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MINDHUNTER (2017) – NETFLIX

“. . . both dark and stylish, this David Fincher production, created by writer Joe Penhall, took elements from Zodiac (2007), Silence of the Lambs (1991) and standard FBI procedural dramas to brilliantly highlight the embryonic stages of the serial-killing profiling team.”

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SOUTH PARK – SEASON 21 – SOUTH PARK STUDIOS

“. . . The bar was raised SO high by Season 19 that Season 20 was bound to suffer, especially in the complex serialization approach. Yet, Parker and Stone are back in Season 21 with satire of the highest order! Some classic episodes such as: Sons of Witches, Put it Down and Hummels and Heroin and more, made this must-watch classic comedy.”

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STRANGER THINGS 2 (2017) – NETFLIX

“. . .Netflix’s first season sci-fi-80s-Spielberg-King-Carpenter-nostalgia-fest was arguably padded out and over-hyped; but Season 2, after a slow start, really hit the ground running as the small town kids battle inter-dimensional monsters with fantastic style and scares.”

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THE YOUNG POPE (2016) – HBO

“. . .  The Young Pope contains some wry and delicate humour too. I mean ten episodes of a Vatican-based comedy it isn’t, but Paulo Sorrentino’s skewed look shows the priests and nuns, not as higher beings but rather flawed humans like the rest of us.”

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TO CODA:

Of course, there’s probably loads of shows I’ve missed, yet I must make a special mention for the old BBC classic , Doctor Who, which while not on the above list, makes it in spirit. While the show is now older than time there were a few great episodes in Peter Capaldi’s final season as the eccentric and genius Time Lord! So, I bid you bon voyage and here’s to productive viewing in 2018.

 

 

12 REASONS WHY ‘IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA’ IS ONE OF THE FUNNIEST SITCOMS EVER!

12 REASONS WHY IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA IS ONE OF THE FUNNIEST SITCOMS EVER!

With the new season now up on Netflix I thought it advisable to revisit my awe and admiration for the clever, crazy and scurrilous comedy show that is: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  I have reviewed it in the past here, but rather than simply do another glowing evaluation of Season 12 – which I loved by the way – I thought why not consider its disgusting genius as a whole. So, here you go! 12 reasons why the crazy gang from Paddy’s Pub completely rock!

**CONTAINS SPOILERS BITCHES**

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1. CHARACTERS

Any successful comedy and drama show lives and dies by the characters who inhabit the storylines and world. In the show we have a rich differentiation of people collectively known as ‘The Gang’; who all work collectively within the comedy as a highly dysfunctional family. Charlie is the idiot youngest child; Dennis and Mac are the insane older brothers; Dee is the incompetent and much maligned sister; while Frank is the wayward father and the mother is, well, there is no precise mother but a random set of insane surrogates. What they have in common is that they are all deluded-self-serving-narcissistic-insane-lunatics all seeking to undermine each other in turn. Thus resulting in some incredibly hilarious episodes and seasons.

2. FEARLESSNESS

To me political correctness is a fair way to behave and make judgements within everyday life, but sometimes it can go too far and is used as a weapon to demonize behaviour meant as humour. Moreover, in life the unwritten and written laws of society deem it necessary – for upstanding citizens that is – to abide by a certain set of rules. Those same rules don’t apply to the characters in this show. Indeed, behaviour such as: doing drugs, blacking up, stalking, pretending to be gay, arson, selling fake cola, luring women into bed under false pretences, black market surrogacy, faking own deaths, blowing up cars and generally attacking and verbally abusing people around them, should get them locked up. However, the punkish and illegal shenanigans allow the viewer to both live out vicariously such bad behaviour; not so much shock for shock sake but as an attempt to drive the humour down very dark avenues for comedic impact.

3. DARKNESS

The characters inhabit a world where it’s dog-eats-man-eats-woman-eats-dog; and in some ways this reflects the darker aspects of society.  I mean we have become a selfie-taking-blogging-wait-until-you-finish-talking-culture only interested in getting one-up on each other. While of course there is much humanity and charity too in life, It’s Always Sunny is not a cosy or safe world where everything ends up great at the end. No!  Dead dogs fall out of children’s coffins; tramps have anal sex under the New Jersey boardwalk; Frank exploits Vietnamese people in sweatshops; people pretend to have cancer; the long-suffering Cricket had his face and existence burnt off; characters laugh when others fall flat on their face or try to kill themselves etc. Today, and quite rightly, we should strive to respect each other so the show is a terrible role model for life and lurks in a world far away from and the warm hearts of other benign TV shows.

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4. FORMAL BRILLIANCE

Throughout every season of It’s Always Sunny there is always an attempt to present episodes in an imaginative form and structure.  For example, in Who Pooped The Bed we get a Rashomon-style-split-perspective murder investigation into who crapped in Charlie’s bed.  While in The Gang Go On Family Fight, the humour is structured around the gang appearing on a classic gameshow. In addition to the hilarious historically anachronistic flashbacks in The Gang Cracks the Liberty Bell, in Season 11’s Being Frank the whole episode was shot from Frank’s POV. In the current superb 12th season one episode is presented from a supporting characters dream perspective; while the most impressively detailed form presentation is in Old Lady House: A Situation Comedy. In this Dennis sets up a series of CCTV cameras in Mac and Charlie’s Mum’s abode and becomes a god-like TV director; editing their everyday lives into a bizarre but hilarious reality show/situation comedy. This intelligence and thought keeps the show fresh and funny in presentation and delivery.

5. WRITING

As well as the impressive formal structuring all twelve seasons of It’s Always Sunny the plots are always pretty tight and logical in a twisted way. Of course some of the storylines can become quite convoluted for humorous purposes but the writers use pace and a plethora of plot twists to great impact. I especially loved the episode The Gang Breaks Dee which finds Dee finally hitting it big as a stand-up comedian only to find it was the Gang who set her up with a massively elaborate practical joke. Dee again was at the centre of a big mystery in Season 6 where she gets pregnant and tries to make money out of surrogacy. This plot became a classic arc for the season and the episode Who Got Dee Pregnant is brilliant twisted as each of the Gang debate as to whether it was them or not; including even Frank and Dennis!  So essentially rather than being just a litany of abusive characters being horrible many of the narratives are tighter than a wrestler’s nut-sack in Speedos.

6. RUNNING GAGS

Throughout all the episodes there are a plethora of running gags such as:

  • Charlie is a perpetual glue or paint sniffer.
  • Charlie ‘loves’ and stalks the Waitress.
  • Frank and Charlie are garbage scavengers.
  • Frank always tries some underhanded money-making scheme.
  • Dee is a terrible stand-up comedian.
  • Dee has terrible taste in men who all suffer at her hands.
  • Dee is mocked for being a bird.
  • Cricket’s life and body is destroyed by the Gang.
  • The McPoyle family are the Gang’s sworn enemies.
  • Dennis thinks he’s the most intelligent but is just as dumb as the rest.
  • Mac thinks he’s a brilliant bodyguard with great fighting moves but isn’t.
  • Everyone thinks Mac is gay but he doesn’t know or admit it!
  • The Gang ALWAYS destroy Dee’s cars.
  • Dennis is a committed “lady-killer” with sociopathic tendencies.
  • Charlie does all the dirty work!
  • The Gang will promote ridiculous products such as: Kitten Mittens, Wolf Cola and Fight-Milk!
  • The Gang ALWAYS dumbfound and conflict with figures of authority including: Police; Lawyers; Health & Safety; Doctors; Therapists etc.

These and many more provide the spine for the show and give it a depth and wealth of humour throughout.

7. SATIRE

Similar to South Park many people who haven’t seen the show may think that It’s Always Sunny is just a gross and base comedy show. However, many of the episodes show the Gang attempting to resolve a national or international capitalist crisis. Usually led by Frank’s desire to screw someone over or simply because they prefer ill thought out and hair-brained schemes to actual proper work these episodes successfully satirise the world today. My particular favourites include: The Gang Runs for Office, The Gang Solve the Gas Crisis, The Great Recession and The Gang Recycles Their Trash  all demonstrate a finger-on-the-pulse of political and social satire; albeit from a completely ridiculous angle.

8. DIALOGUE

In some respect the dialogue is some of the most disgusting words ever committed to TV. In fact I’m amazed there isn’t more controversy for some of the episodes. However, like the characters it remains on the fringe of the TV schedules remaining cult viewing. Here are just a few of their classic quotes:

“Hey-o! What’s up, bitches!”                                                 Mac

“Wildcard, bitches! Yee-haw!”                                              Charlie

“I browned out that evening.”                                               Mac

“You keep using this word “jabroni. It’s awesome!”          Charlie

“If you’re in my room, you’re always being filmed.”          Dennis

“I’m not fat. I’m cultivating mass.”                                       Fat Mac

“Your mom doesn’t know dick! She’s a dumb, fat cow!”    
Sweet Dee

“Fight Milk! The first alcoholic protein drink for bodyguards!” Mac

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9. CAMEOS

In the latest season there is a wonderful cameo from Scott Bakula where his 1980s character Sam Beckett is shown to have jumped into the body of an old black man. Bakula features throughout with a wonderful hang-dog desperation as to how he ended up in such a crazy situation. Other cameos include: filmmaker Guillermo Del Doro and Games of Thrones writers David Benioff and D. B. Weiss who have actually written the Flowers for Charlie episode and guest-starred in one two. Other guest stars include: Josh Groban, Sinbad, Puff Daddy, Dax Shephard, Tom Sizemore and my personal favourite Sean William Scott as Country Mac. I think the appearance of said celebrities is not enough to get the laughs, but the writers often use them parodically and the actors really get into the craziness of the show.

10. PARODIES

Like many great contemporary comedies including South Park, Father Ted and The Simpsons many of the shows episodes are clearly influenced by the makers love of music, movies, TV and radio. Episodes parodying musicals, 1980s ski/sex comedies, gangsters, Reality makeover shows, animated kids programmes, horror films, detective and cop shows and many more. In Season 11 they parodied Oscar winning Birdman (2014) by filming the show in one-take to a jazz score and in Season 12 But the show doesn’t just mention or take plots from certain genres it mocks but it pays tributes to specific films too. For example in Season 9 they even made Lethal Weapon 6 with hilarious results.

11. SONGS

Believe it or not the rag-tag-weirdo-idiot-boy Charlie (Charlie Day) is a songwriter of some ill-repute. The best examples of his music can be found in the legendary episode The Nightman Cometh where he gets the Gang to stage a musical for no apparent reason. It is complete and utter insanity but somehow actually works and the songs are pretty catchy too. Season 12 also finds the Gang stuck in The Wiz and having to sing their lines involuntarily. This is absolutely hilarious too as they attempt to find the rules of the parallel world they are trapped in.

12. LOW BUDGET

Incredibly the very first pilot episode was shot for $200 and ever since that the Gang and creators have stuck to the lower budget ideals of the debut season. In fact that is the strength of the show as they must use their writing and acting abilities to come up with ideas which do not need massive budgets or special effects. Indeed, the lo-fi charm of the show remains as it is from the first season. Okay, the Gang have got older and Mac got fatter and gayer but the same theme tune and credits play out in the current season as they did in the first; and that is very comforting to me, BITCHES!

SCREENWASH – AMERICAN TV DRAMA REVIEWS, INCLUDING: BILLIONS, BIG LITTLE LIES & WALKING DEAD

SCREENWASH – AMERICAN TV DRAMA REVIEWS

Following on from my recent reviews of ITV drama shows I have also recently watched, many U.S. programmes over the last few months.  So, here are some more bite-size reviews with marks out of eleven. Hope you enjoy.

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

BATES MOTEL (2014) – SEASON 1 – NETFLIX

So, Norman Bates gets a paradoxical contemporary prequel which while chronologically set before Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Psycho (1960), exists in the now of mobile phones, crooked cops, Chinese sex slaves, cystic fibrosis and huge cannabis forests that drive the towns’ industry.  Freddie Highmore as young psycho Norman and Vera Farmiga as his domineering, yet sexy, mother are absolutely brilliant in this absurdly plotted but nifty little horror-crime-thriller-mish-mash. I especially enjoyed Highmore’s subtle delivery as he fights with the demons in his head, amidst hormonal teenage desires. Plus, more often than not he echoes Anthony Perkins classic performance as the original Master Bates. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

BIG LITTLE LIES (2017) – SEASON 1 – SKY ATLANTIC

One of the most difficult things a screenwriter and director have to do, in my view, is to make rootable those wealthy, spoilt and first-world characters that drive your story. One way to do it is to make their conflict human and relatable, plus casting brilliant actors in the lead roles helps greatly too. Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, Adam Scott, Alexander Skarsgard and Shailene Woodley are all on top acting form portraying various personas within the affluent Monterey upper middle classes. Jean-Marc Vallee directs David Kelley’s superb script with aplomb and the editing is some of the best you will see in a television show all year. The interweaving stories concerning an unknown murder victim; school bullying; warring parents; extra-marital affairs; and the abusive relationships, is expertly played out over seven compelling episodes. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

BILLIONS (2017) – SEASON 2 – SKY ATLANTIC

Again, how do you make rich people empathetic and rootable? Well in Billions the writers don’t!  They have created a superbly written series around some of the most selfish, self-centred, vicious and vindictive characters in hedge-fund shark Bobby Axelrod and unscrupulous Attorney General Chuck Rhodes; and pitted them against each other over ten compelling episodes. Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti are on fantastic form as “Masters of the Universe” leads that will stop at nothing to destroy each other’s lives. Maggie Siff and Malin Akerman as their respective wives also at the sharp end of the legal, financial and psychological one-upmanship drama, along with a terrific ensemble cast including: David Constable, David Strathairn, Eric Bogosian, Toby Leonard Moore and the very gifted Asia Kate Dillon. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

HOMELAND (2014) – SEASON 3 – NETFLIX

After the explosive end to Season 2, which wiped out many of the major supporting players, Season 3 found Carrie Matheson and Nicholas Brody find themselves separated and in deep trouble. Matheson is cast as the scapegoat for the destruction of the CIA and failure in protocols while Brody is in Columbia lurching from one violent episode to another. The strength of the first two seasons came from the dynamic plotting, heart-racing suspense and the chemistry between Claire Danes and Damian Lewis. Season 3 suffers from the two’s separation slightly but there was enough dramatic moments throughout to make it well worth a watch. Danes was especially impressive as Matheson who is forever taking chances because of her determination to protect her country, plus her love for Brody. The show doesn’t present easy answers and the ending was particularly bleak as we come to realise that no one wins in these political and international wars. Have to say that Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson and Rupert Friend gave great support and the show ultimately remains compelling, even if at times it slightly tested believability.  (Mark: 8 out of 11)

SONS OF ANARCHY (2015) – SEASONS 6 & 7 – NETFLIX

My lord this show is SO brutal; in fact I think it is arguably the most violent TV show I have ever seen because many of the deaths are cold and hot-blooded savagery. In Seasons 6 and 7, Jax (Charlie Hunnam) desperately tried to become a better person and take the club down a more legitimate route, however, once an outlaw – always an outlaw. Thus battles with cops, IRA, gang-bangers, Mayans, Aryan Brotherhood, and more culminated in two seasons of the usual carnage and bloodshed. Also, Jax had the horror of dealing with the death of loved ones borne out of terrible lies and decisions by those close to him. The main strength of the show is the terrific ensemble cast of which Jimmy Smits, Charlie Hunnam, Tommy Flanagan and Katey Sagal really stood out. Also, the action and serpentine plot twists kept the dramatic irony and suspense at pulsating levels. Only the indulgent montages, over-the-top “I love you, brother” dialogue and overlong episodes wrenched a little but overall an exciting end to a gruesome but entertaining TV show.  (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

THE WALKING DEAD (2017) – SEASON 7 – FOX

The Walking Dead is very much like an elderly grandparent in as much as it has provided happy past memories; has a lot to offer in terms of historical experience; yet sits in their armchair only occasionally sparking into life for our entertainment. However, I must say, Season 7 was way more entertaining than Season 6, which overall really stalled in terms of storylines and fast-paced action. Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his Alexandrian crew and family came under pressure, not just from the zombie hordes but also Jeffery Dean Morgan’s delightful uber-villain, Negan. Massacring two of the leading characters at the beginning of the season created a real sense of suspense throughout and, aside from a few filler episodes; I thought the writing and the introduction of other clans gave the show some dramatic impetus. I still think sixteen episodes are too many but the war against the Saviours was gripping and overall there was enough bloody zombie deaths to entertain this horror fan. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

 

SCREENWASH – MAY 2016 – BY PAUL LAIGHT

SCREENWASH – MAY 2016 – BY PAUL LAIGHT

May was a decent month of viewing with some things old, some things new and nothing blue watched at all. So, here are my TV, film and comedy reviews for the month of May – with marks out of 11 as usual.

 

THE AFFAIR (2014) – SEASON ONE – NOW TV

Very much a “first world” problem drama starring the excellent Dominic West, Maura Tierney and the effervescent Ruth Wilson, it shows the events an extramarital affair causes to two different families. The acting and writing are just superb as West and Wilson’s sexually charged attraction spills into duplicity, body heat and suspense. The storytelling is excellent too as each episode shows multiple events from different perspectives and the characters are both irritating and intriguing with their wonky moral compasses and poor life choices. The Affair is highly compelling and keeps you gripped throughout. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT (2003 – 2004) – NETFLIX

How the hell did I miss this cracking comedy first time round beats me?!  The hilarious show centres on the disastrous Bluth family who are all narcissistic egoists all trying to manipulate each other in some financial or emotional way. Even the sanest of the lot Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) is a flawed “hero”, although he is positively angelic compared to the other members of his family including failed magician Gob (Will Arnett), pill-popping matriarch Lucille (Jessica Walter), deluded Lindsay (Portia De Rossi) and imprisoned father portrayed with sociopathic insouciance by Jeffrey Tambor. The brilliant ensemble cast (including among others: David Cross, Michael Cera, Henry Winkler, Liza Minnelli, Tony Hale etc.) hit the rapid-fire gags and deranged scenarios out of the ballpark; as the show perfectly encapsulates the very epitome of a dysfunctional family.  (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (2007) – BLU RAY

Andrew Dominik’s moody Western is one of the BEST films I have seen in the last 10 years.  It was a box-office flop but everything about it screamed greatness to me: stunning cinematography; wonderful cast; beautiful vistas; elegant pace; resonating themes regarding notoriety; and so on and so forth.  Sam Rockwell excels in a supporting role as Charley Ford who gets caught between the eerie homo-erotic hero-worship-then-rivalry of his brother Robert (stunning Casey Affleck) and eponymous Jesse James (never better Brad Pitt).  The film moves at a glacial pace, building character and suspense, while in between, the sporadic bursts of violence startle and raise the pulse in an altogether memorable cinematic experience. (Mark: 10 out of 11)


CAPTAIN AMERICA 3: CIVIL WAR (2016) – CINEMA

Historical reviews on this very blog have been favourable about Captain America and his exploits; in fact he is probably my favourite Marvel Avenger I’d say.  His last outing Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014) was one of my films of the year, so I had high hopes for Civil War. The final film in the trilogy delivers a cracking rollercoaster ride filled with tremendous action, set-pieces and plot twists. As usual the army of Marvel effects technicians deliver an array of computer-generated mastery with a cacophony of colour, explosions, chases, fighting and bone-crunching sound effects.

The strong narrative involves a number of strands which link the prior two films as Steve Rogers protects his brainwashed buddy Bucky Barnes from the US government and allied Avengers attempting to bring him to justice for his crimes. Moreover, Iron Man, Black Widow, Vision and others face off against Captain America and his team in order to make the Avengers more accountable for their actions. This culminates in THE BEST ACTION SEQUENCE of the year as the Avengers have a battle royale on an airstrip in Germany. Overall, it’s a brilliant film which has welcome cameos from Ant-Man and another new Spiderman; while also introducing the all-action nobility of the Black Panther.  Again the Russo Brothers direct with whip-cracking pace and humour, making this easily the blockbuster of the year. (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

GOTHAM (2015) – SEASON 1 – NETFLIX

TV boxset watching is often like a cultural version of Stockholm syndrome. Some programmes grab you immediately while others you have to watch enough of before you give in to their demands. With that in mind, it took about 11 episodes before started enjoying Gotham. It began poorly with terrible dialogue and hammy acting and the Batman canon timeline, tone and characters are all over the shop. However, by the end it had won me over as a trashy guilty pleasure mixing horror, comic-book, crime, Western and fantasy genres. Highlights are the succession of violent cartoon villains and young versions of villains-to-come while Ben Mckenzie (Gordon), Robin Lord Taylor (Penguin), Sean Pertwee (Alfred) and Corey Michael Smith (Edward Nygma) steal the show. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

GREEN ROOM (2015) – CINEMA

This was an excellent sophomore feature film from writer/director Jeremy “Blue Ruin” Saulnier, as we find a punk band pitted against neo-Nazis in the back beyond of Portland, USA. It borrows heavily from George Romero and John Carpenter but the filmmakers and cast create a really nasty horror-show as the death of a rock fan spirals totally out of control. A fine cast including:  Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Anton Yelchin, Amanda Poot, and an against-the-grain-playing-nasty Patrick Stewart. Despite the stupidity of the band and Nazis I was gripped throughout and there is some terrific gore and box-cutting violence and recommended for those who like their thrills rare and bloody. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA – SEASON 11 – NETFLIX

Oh the man-children, Dennis, Charlie, Mac and Frank – and not forgetting bird-girl Dee – are back for another season of anarchic derring-do at Paddy’s Pub and beyond. As a massive fan of this very naughty show I was very much looking forward to the mayhem of Season 11; and they did not let us down. In this season we had episodes: parodying 80s ski films; Charlie capturing a Leprechaun; the gang getting trapped on a Christian cruise; Charlie and Mac move to the suburbs; Dee gets involved in porn; a whole episode, rather scarily, shot from Frank’s point-of-view; and all manner of other bizarre incidents and behavior. The gags explode like fireworks throughout the series as things go south and very dark; more often than not ending in chaotic hilarity. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

LINE OF DUTY (2013 – 2014) – SEASONS 1 & 2 – NETFLIX

Very solid cop drama written and produced by Jed Mercurio, this story of cops investigating cops has an excellent British cast across two seasons including: Lennie James, Craig Parkinson, Neil Morrissey, Adrian Dunbar plus leads Martin Crompston and Vicky McClure.  It’s tightly plotted with some brilliant twists and great suspense as you never quite know who’s on whose side. Special mention for Keeley Hawes who is a revelation as the cop being chased in the second season; as her acting is so brilliant, you never know if she’s good, bad, manipulative, a victim or just plain evil.  (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)


LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987) – PRINCE CHARLES 007 RETROSPECTIVE

The Living Daylights, for me, is a very fine Bond film and Dalton is an incredibly under-rated 007. He only did two films but brought a pathos, depth and unpredictability to the role that Moore severely lacked. Bond is a stone-cold-killer-burnt-out-anti-authoritarian-adrenaline-junkie who has seen death a thousand times over; and Dalton plays him as such. Connery, Craig and at times Brosnan got this over in their performances but none as much as Dalton. The film works brilliantly on the big screen too and stands the test of time as both a sterling Bond film and cracking espionage action thriller. For my full classic review clink on this link(Mark: 9 out of 11)

NOSFERATU (1979) – SKY MOVIES

Werner Herzog’s atmospheric and moody adaptation of Stoker’s Dracula works brilliantly as both a horror film and homage to Murnau’s silent classic of the same name. Bruno Ganz excels as the unlucky Harker, sent to Transylvania to complete a property deal for his firm. Moreover, Klaus Kinski is chilling as the vampiric Count hell-bent on sucking the blood out of anyone who gets close. This has some exquisite cinematography plus an ethereal and dream-like style which makes this a memorable horror classic. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

OF MICE AND MEN (1992) – DVD

Steinbeck’s classic novel about two itinerant drifters is one of the best stories I have ever read.  This film version directed and starring Gary Sinise, with John Malkovich as the tragic Lennie Small, is a touching rendition of the depression-set story. It’s such a brilliant book that any screen version will pale in comparison but Sinise and Malkovich excel in their respective roles and it’s great to see Steinbeck’s rich, authentic and grim tale of existence brought to life and death. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

SON OF SAUL (2016) – SKY MOVIES

This is a heavy-as-hell-Hungarian-holocaust drama deserved won Best Film in a Foreign Language at the Oscars. The story focusses on the intense Saul (Geza Rohrig) and his search for a Rabbi to give his son the Kaddish to allow him a correct Jewish burial. It is a harrowing experience, presented in a 4:3 screen ratio and pretty much all over-the-shoulder of the protagonist. These stylistic choices narrow the focus on Saul’s tireless journey through the camps in vain pursuit of said Rabbi. Amidst his search death, fire and flesh bleed through the landscape and the whole experience is gruelling, overwhelming and upsetting. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

YAKUZA APOCALYPSE (2016) – SKY MOVIES

This film from insane Japanese director Takeshi Miike is just mental. I enjoy Asian cinema films and Miike’s previous movies such as Audition and Ichi the Killer were excellent just-the-right-side-of-bizarre spectacles, yet this is an unwatchable mix of martial arts, horror, and gangster and monster movies. Recommended only for the brave, foolhardy or clinically insane. (Mark: 3.5 out of 11)

 

THE WATER DIVINER (2014) – AMAZON PRIME

A muddled mix of war, family, romance and period drama genres from debutant director and star Russell Crowe, The Water Diviner, boasts some wonderful scenery and highly moving scenes, notably in the WW1 Gallipoli flashbacks. However, Crowe the director is let down by a hamstrung script plus the miscasting of Olga Kurylenko who just seemed too glamorous to fall for Crowe’s recently widowed character searching for the bodies of his three dead sons. While it fails as a movie epic there’s enough to recommend it as a matinee rental on a wet Sunday afternoon while nursing an uber-hangover. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

WILD (2014) – NOW TV

Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed is excellent in this road-movie-true-story-drama as she trudges the Pacific Crest Trail in order to exorcise the demons of her past and somehow redeem her soul. It’s very well directed and structured by director Jean-Marc Vallee and screenwriter Nick Hornby and works really well as a pathos-driven character study; as well as stunningly shot travelogue with wonderful vistas. (Mark: 7 out of 11)