Monthly Archives: June 2013

London Fields, a ‘whydunnit’ by Martin Amis

01-Random-HouseBritish authors can do bleak and hopeless better than anyone I know.  Most people think it is the French or the Germans, your Sartre or Camus or Nietzsche, but I think it’s the Brits.  They know how to really mix the nihilism and the absolutely tragic to create a cocktail of bleak pointless hopeless cloudy grey depression.

I can’t tell if I liked this book, but I can tell you it was one of the more depressing books I’ve ever read.

The novel is sort of ‘meta’.  There are chapters which make up the murder mystery, but there are also interludes narrated by the author of that murder mystery.  He talks about how he gets his information, how he writes, his interactions with the characters.  The novel he is writing is all true, all happening in real-time.  Worse, we know the outcome from the very first page.  We know the ‘murderee’ and the murderer. We know who will kill whom and on what day.

Let me say first that Martin Amis specializes in antiheroes, and these are some of the least heroic people I’ve ever read about.  First, there is Keith Talent.  He is identified in chapter 1 as the murderer.  Keith is a truly despicable person, and the more we learn about him the more despicable he seems.  He beats his wife, he sleeps with 5 or 6 women at a time, he has raped women, he steals from old ladies, he cheats everyone he’s ever met. His calling in life, the only thing for which he has respect and morality, is darts.  What a perfect game for such a man.  Played in pubs, while drinking.  Such a pointless game; no strategy, no difference between playing someone good or bad because all you do is play the board.  Darts is like golf, if all 18 holes were exactly the same.  But Keith thinks it is the only thing worth caring about, probably because it’s the only thing he’s ever been marginally good at.  As truly heinous as Keith is, after 500+ pages of living in his world you do notice small redeeming features about him, and things which make you sympathize and empathize with his situation.  Tiny things, like trying to correct his semi-illiterate spelling, or deciding he should stop hitting his wife, or his general ignorance about the world that belie a truly appalling education level. It’s a tribute to Amis’ writing that, by the end of the book, you feel more sorry for him than you would think possible.

Nicola Six is introduced as the ‘murderee’.  I found her to be the least likable character in the book, to be honest. By the end of the book I figured she pretty much deserved it.  Nicola is a ‘sexpot’, according to the narrator.  I’d call her a misandrist.  She uses all of her beauty, her intelligence, and her skills to manipulate and hurt two men in the story, Keith Talent and Guy Clinch (more on him in a minute).  With Keith, she makes him pornographic videos and lets him masturbate to them in her house, becoming more and more the personification of the naked girls in The Sun or in Keith’s favorite porn videos. With Guy, she tells him she is a virgin and slowly lets him teach her how to kiss, how to french kiss, and …that’s about as far as it gets.  As a woman, I can comprehend that men have two main fantasies about us–the virgin and the whore.  Nicola seems to think they don’t want anything in between.  She is manipulative for no reason, she is cruel and heartless, and terrified of showing her true self to anyone.  I really, sincerely disliked her.  I’m a feminist, and I think women like Nicola set women’s rights back 20 years for every step forward the rest of us take.

Guy Clinch is perhaps the least complex of the characters in London Fields. He’s a titled aristocrat, rich and married.  His child is possibly the anti-Christ.  He is desperately unhappy with his easy life, and goes ‘slumming’ at a pub called the Black Cross.  This is where he meets Keith and Nicola (and the author/narrator).  As I mentioned, Nicola claims to be a virgin (to Guy only). He sees her as a complete innocent, and falls entirely in love with her, despite a niggling idea that she might be too good to be true.  She works him into a sexual lather which amplifies over weeks and weeks. Like a dog, he follows her, obeys her every command.  He is incredibly pathetic, weak, lacks all courage to change his life.  When she humiliates him at the end, I don’t feel he deserves it, but…I do feel he should have known better.

Amis calls the book a ‘whydunnit’, because he tells us who will be the murderer and who the murderee on that very first page.  This means that the 500+ pages of the novel can sometimes feel far too long, because there is no need to find out ‘what happens next’. Not only that, but Nicola (through a strangely undefined psychic power) knows that she will be murdered.  She actively participates in manipulating these two men with full knowledge that it will end in her death.

But why?  At the end of the book I was most frustrated by the fact that I hadn’t a clue why the murderer had killed her, nor why she had done any of what she did.  The frustrating pointlessness of these events greatly diminished my enjoyment of the book.

Amis’ writing is spectacular, to be honest.  He plays with language in a Vonnegut-esque way, he establishes some very human, complex, and comprehensible characters.  He mixes the ‘murder mystery’ chapters and the ‘meta’ chapters with relative ease.  That being said, it is not an easy read. It requires thought, input, a comprehension of the world.  I don’t think I could have read this book 10 years ago and understood half as much.

I was watching Midnight in Paris last night, and when I think back about this book a quote from the movie’s version of Gertrude Stein comes to mind:

“We all fear death and question our place in the universe…it’s the artist’s job not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote to the emptiness of existence.”

Of course, Stein was speaking from a time before the postmodernist and very nihilistic trends in fiction really took hold, but I still entirely agree.  Amis has inevitably captured a more accurate and realistic version of human life than a fairy tale would be.  To be honest, though, if I wanted despair and pointlessness, I’d just watch the news.  I don’t particularly enjoy it in my literature, no matter how well written.  I thoroughly appreciated the technical expertise that went into this book, but I did not enjoy it.

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A new take on the zombie apocalypse: In the Flesh

InTheFleshIn the Flesh premiered on BBC Three in March, and aired over three nights on BBC America this month.  I’ve noticed lately that things which air over three-4 weeks in the UK are crammed into 2-3 nights in the US; not sure why.  This was no exception, but I found it easier to take some time between viewing the first episode and subsequent ones.

In the Flesh envisions a different sort of ending to the traditional trope of the zombie apocalypse.  Though the zombies rise just as you would expect, the government has a different way of dealing with them than you might imagine.  The ‘rotters’ are rounded up by the British government and rehabilitated.  Through group therapy and medicine, Partially Deceased Syndrome (PDS) sufferers can be reintegrated into society and returned to the homes they occupied before their deaths.  With the help of contact lenses and ‘mousse’ (foundation), they even appear normal.

We follow Kieren Walker, an 18-year-old PDS sufferer who is returning to his parents’ home.  There are just a few problems with his return.  Kieren’s village of Roarton was one of the major centers of the ‘rising’, and the village formed a Human Volunteer Force (HVF) to hunt the ‘rotters’.  Roarton is still a hotbed of hatred toward PDS sufferers, despite a government mandate of peace and acceptance. Kieren’s own sister, Jem, is a proud HVF member and zombie hunter.

The first episode really shows the absolute sense of fear from having Kieren back in the family home.  Not fear of him, fear of the HVF and its leader, Bill.  It reminded me of something you might see in Nazi-occupied Europe, if you were hiding a Jewish person in your attic.  At the end of the first episode, Bill and the HVF show up at a neighbor’s house, drag his elderly PDS wife out into the street and shoot her in the head.  The hatred and anger are unforgivable and unacceptable.

The second episode had a bit more hope in it.  Word gets out that Kieren is back home, but he’s given a reprieve from being shot in the street. Bill’s son, Rick, who was lost during the war in Afghanistan, is coming home.  Rick’s parents have revered him since his absence, so his return as a PDS sufferer is confusing, given Bill’s hatred for ‘rotters’.  Rick was also Kieren’s best friend, and (this is implied but never stated outright) his boyfriend.  Lots of tension between Kieren and Rick, and Rick and Bill, and Bill and Kieren.  Bill combines his hatred of ‘rotters’ with his homophobia to absolutely despise Kieren.  As far as Bill and Rick go, Bill is totally in denial about what his son is, both as a gay man and as a PDS sufferer.  But the rest of the town starts to show a bit more compassion and acceptance.

Kieren meets his old hunting partner, Amy, and has someone with which to share the crazy experiences of being a dead body re-introduced to the human world.  Even Jem, his antagonistic sister, starts to come around.

The third episode gets into more of the meat of the relationships between all of these Roarton characters.  We learn that Kieren killed himself after Rick was killed in Afghanistan.  His parents and his sister were very angry with him, which explains a lot of the tension.  This fact also proves even more tragic later.

Bill is the catalyst for almost all of the action in this last episode.  He is in absolute and complete denial that his son is gay, and that his son is a ‘rotter’.  His response is to get rid of what he sees as the problem: Kieren.  Without Kieren around, he can pretend his son is normal, in every possible meaning of the word.  And the best way to make sure of it is to have Rick do the honors.  Bill tells Rick to eliminate Kieren (and Amy, for good measure).  I think Rick, who clearly has a hard time saying no to his father’s orders, is tempted to do it.  But how could he kill Kieren for the same faults that exist in him as well?  He can’t do it.  He washes off his mousse and takes out his contacts, and shows himself to his father as-is.

Meanwhile, Amy decides to leave town to find a ‘rotter prophet’ living in the woods, wearing a Guy Fawkes mask of some kind.  She’s looking for answers.  She doesn’t have a family anymore, and life in Roarton isn’t turning out to be peaceful.  Kieren sees her off at the train station and then returns home…to find Rick at his doorstep with a knife in his brainstem. Dead for real this time.  Killed by his own father.

Things are rough from that point on, obviously.  Kieren confronts Bill. Bill gets what he deserves, though not at Kieren’s hands.

Let’s take a moment to think about Kieren’s luck. His best mate/boyfriend goes off to Afghanistan and is killed in an explosion. Kieren doesn’t want to live anymore, so he kills himself because of the ensuing depression and grief.  He rises as a zombie (he can’t even kill himself properly!) and commits terrible atrocities, but after medical attention and rehabilitation he is able to return to his family.  Rick returns too…and is killed again.  The feeling of futility has got to be overwhelming at this point.

Kieren returns to the same place where he committed suicide, just to think this time.  His mother comes to retrieve him, and that’s when the story of his suicide comes out.

The whole miniseries features a lot of very grim and taciturn patriarchal figures and their quiet beset-upon wives.  We see Bill and his wife, one meek and victimized by her husband, the other a blustering despot with limited ability to process his own emotions.  We also see Kieren’s family.  His mother shows some emotion, but is still quiet.  His father holds in all of his emotions until the very last scene of the miniseries, when he lets them out in a moment of healing and crying.

This all reminded me of American Beauty, and Bill particularly of Chris Cooper’s character.  So much pain and denial and repression.  Willing to do intense violence to cover up, to keep from acknowledging, the truth. But my only issue with this miniseries is that I think it would be better placed in the ’90s than currently.  The gender politics alone were very traditional, and the ideas about homosexuality are also out-of-date.  Of course, this takes place in the North, somewhere near where Heathcliff and Catherine would have been running around on the moors.  It looks like the type of place where it is just never truly warm.  Windy and cloudy and gray all the time.  I know that the North is, stereotypically, a bit more conservative and less cultured than the South of England.  Something like how the Midwest is thought of in the US.  But, as someone from the Midwest, I also know that not to be particularly true. Is it (Lancashire) so very traditional that this is a reasonable depiction of a small village near Blackpool?  Maybe.  There are places like that in the US, small towns where homosexuality and atheism and being a democrat are unheard of, not talked about, absolute Sins with a capital S.  It’s definitely possible.

I thought this miniseries was pretty good, actually.  Lots of complex ideas and unavoidable tension.  The actor who played Kieren could be a little stiff, a little numb, but how perfect is that for someone playing a partially-dead person?  Anyway, everyone’s emotions were so repressed and covered, that it worked quite well.  My only issue was that the ending was very open, almost not like an ending at all.  I hope that will be resolved when the series comes back for another 4-6 episodes in 2014.

Orphan Black

Orphan Black bannerOrphan Black premiered on BBC America in March, and the season finale was earlier this month.  Rumor has it the show will air on BBC 3 in the UK, but no air date yet. A second season is coming next May.

The show, as we quickly realize from the trailer, is about clones. Tatiana Maslany plays almost all the characters in the show, all different versions of the same genetically engineered person. We start with Sarah, the main character.  She is a bad-ass Brit, has an excellent collection of Clash t-shirts, and terrible taste in men.  She witnesses the suicide of her doppleganger, Beth, a homicide detective.  HelenaCosimaLater, we meet Helena, a religious crazy person, Allison, an uptight soccer mom, and Cosima, a lesbian pot-smoking evolutionary biologist.  Of course, all of these are played by Maslany.  She detailed her process of getting into character in a few interviews.  She created separate playlists for each character, and would listen to that playlist before each scene.  For the first two or three episodes, I was acutely aware that this was all the same actress, but by the end of the series I just thought of them as completely and wholly different characters, as real and diverse as any other non-Maslany character in the show.  Still, when you look back and think about it, it is an amazing bit of acting.  More confusing when you think of Maslany playing Sarah pretending to be Beth.  At one point Helena pretends to be Sarah, but we could tell before the reveal, because of the look in her eyes.  Amazing bit of acting.  And think of all the time, during scenes like this:

three maslanys

when she was just acting to nothingness, and had to respond to nothingness later on. Acting into a vacuum.  Reacting to a future or past performance she herself had given/would be giving.  She is pretty amazing.  Also, she makes me want to hit the gym for the rest of my life.

So, the plot.  Sarah sees Beth commit suicide and makes the split-second decision to pretend to be Beth.  She stays at her apartment and makes use of her car and cash (and boyfriend).  All this is a terrible decision and Sarah doesn’t really think of the consequences, even when the dead body on the train tracks is identified as ‘Sarah Manning’, instead of ‘Beth Childs’.  She does it to avoid a stupid no good boyfriend, who she punched and from whom she stole 20k worth of drugs.  Brilliant move, Sarah.

The only person she can rely on is her foster-brother (they’re both orphans) Felix, who is awesome. FelixSeriously, though, if this guy is in on the conspiracy, I’m going to be really upset. The writers come up with a lot of reasons for Felix to end up in suburbia, interacting with suburbanites, and those might be my favorite moments of the show.

Sarah finds out she’s one of many clones pretty early on in the show, and she also finds out that someone is killing her fellow ‘sisters’.  Things get pretty dramatic pretty quickly.  We meet other clones, and the three main surviving girls (Allison, Cosima, Sarah) work to find out who has done this to them and how deep it goes.

Part of what is built into this show is not knowing who to trust.  Each of the clones has a ‘watcher’, someone in cahoots with the people who created them.  There are medical tests, conducted while the girls are asleep.  Lots of speculation on who is watching whom, and who works for whom.  I won’t give anything away.

Add to that, at least 1 of the clones is sick with some genetic tuberculosis type disease, and, oh yeah, there’s someone murdering them.  These girls don’t have easy lives.

The show isn’t the greatest thing since sliced bread, but I really enjoyed seeing what was going to happen next.  I found it got a lot better toward the end of the season. Part of this was due to Sarah no longer acting like a lone wolf and starting to be invested in the fates of her ‘sisters’.  I’ve enjoyed the progression of all of the characters over the course of the season, and it gives me a feeling that the show-runners know what they’re doing.  Hopefully, anyway.

Occasionally, I get a little irritated with the show when people are making obviously stupid mistakes for no discernible reason.  Really, you’re going to walk into the street without looking?   You’re going to let someone die with no proof that they are what you think they are? You’re going to leave your important secret files just laying around while entertaining a potential enemy? You allowed the government to declare you dead and didn’t think your family might find out?

Jennifer-Lawrence-ok-thumbs-up

Why are characters on TV so stupid sometimes?  Those moments made me really irritated and very unsympathetic.  Sometimes, if you’re going to run out into the road, you’re going to get hit by a car.  If you’re a fictional character, I get to judge you and think you’re stupid.

Other than these moments of glaring stupidity (maybe this stupidity is written into their DNA?), I enjoyed all the characters and the story arc.  I’m looking forward to the next season immensely.  Half of the fun is just watching Tatiana Maslany work, but it’s a lot of fun, so I’m fine with that.

Wuthering Heights: my own personal white whale

Wuthering HeightsI first tried to read Wuthering Heights when I was around 20. I had just read, and loved, Jane Eyre, and moved on to a different Bronte sister. Much to my chagrin, Emily is just no fun, and I didn’t make it through more than a few chapters. Since then, I think I’ve tried twice more and made it even fewer pages through.

In May, I took up the challenge again, determined to at least finish the damn thing. And I did! And I can check this off my list, know that it is not a book for me, and move on with my fucking life.

If you’re not familiar with the story, Wuthering Heights is the story of two families who occupy a stretch of land in ‘the North’ of England. The setting is based on the childhood home of the Bronte family, which was north of Leeds. The setting is perhaps the second most iconic character in this story. Long stretches of windy and cold countryside, simultaneously bleak and beautiful. That’s what people think of when they read Wuthering Heights. It’s a perfectly isolated and lonely part of Yorkshire. Or it was in the mid-19th century, at any rate.

The multitude of characters, many of which share the same names, can get confusing. I found a chart online, which only confused me more–and I’ve read the book.

Wuthering Heights character relationsIf you concentrate, you can usually figure out which Catherine and which Linton and which Heathcliff is being discussed. Plus, people keep dying in nearly every chapter, so most of the characters with the same name don’t interact often as their other half is already dead.

The story is told through a moronic and useless narrator, Mr. Lockwood. Seriously, Nick Carraway has too much personality compared to this guy. Most of the story of the two houses that are concerned in the story is told through Ellen Dean, a servant of one family, and then the other.

We learn that Catherine and Hindley Earnshaw are brother and sister, and their father brings another boy into the home. An orphan, possibly of Romani origin, that he found alone in the big city. Heathcliff. He is uneducated, parentless, and dark-skinned (a mortal sin in 19th-century England). Most of the family detests him from the beginning, but he is spoiled by the father of the house and by Catherine. The two grow up running around the moors together, like feral children.

The other family is the Lintons. Mr. Linton is a member of the gentry, and his family is a far more socialized and gentile one than the Earnshaws. When Catherine meets their son, Edgar, who is very handsome and very sophisticated, she begins to turn against the ways of her family. In some ways, she dislikes the Linton children because they are so sheltered and weak. They are polite and kind, but the smallest unkindness sends them into tears. She is used to a rough and tumble existence with Healthcliff.

As you might be able to guess, Catherine agrees to marry Edgar. She likes being treated like a princess, being revered, and being in a kind and comfortable home. The Lintons spoil her incessantly, which she also enjoys. In her heart, she admits that she loves Heathcliff as if he were a part of herself, but says that she would debase herself by marrying him. His parentless, landless, poverty-stricken existence makes him an unsuitable match for her.

From that moment on, everyone involved is absolutely doomed. Heathcliff, furious with Catherine, with Linton, with Catherine’s brother, and with himself, turns from wild to calculating and vengeful. He disappears, and doesn’t return for months (years?). He has a plan to exact revenge on everyone who has wronged him. According to his own calculations, this is everyone he knows. Catherine’s brother, Hindley, is the first on the list. Inticed to gambling, Hindley ends up turning over his entire property (the eponymous Wuthering Heights) to Heathcliff in an attempt to win back what he continuously loses at cards. Heathcliff gains revenge on Edgar Linton by running off with Linton’s sister, marrying her out of spite.

After a few years, almost everyone is dead. Edgar, Hindley, Catherine, Edgar’s sister. Heathcliff has a son, Catherine and Edgar a daughter. Hindley also has a son, who is left to be more or less wild, raised piecemeal by servants. Confused yet?

Heathcliff feels his last revenge will be to get his son married to Linton’s daughter. On the one hand, I think that he feels if they marry, it is the closest he will come to marrying Catherine himself. But mostly, he wants to own what money and property Catherine has inherited.

Long story short, he accomplishes his goal, just before his son dies. Then he goes mad and dies, and Catherine falls in love with Hareton Earnshaw, her cousin.

It’s a terrible story. There are a few main themes that are sort of smashed into your head multiple times.

One is the difference between those that are treated well in life and those that are not. The Linton family, and all that have that name, live in a comfortable house surrounded by polite people. They are kind to each other, and have no evil in their hearts. On the other hand, they are terribly weak and often spoiled, and barely have the capacity to care for themselves.

The Earnshaws and Heathcliff live in a dark, dreary house with angry, drunk, violent people. They all grow up to be angry and violent. But they are tough. They outlive and outlast. Heathcliff proves himself the toughest and the most violent main character I can remember. At one point, he tries to kill a dog. Multiple times, he hits and beats, or threatens to do the same, women and children. He gets what he wants by brute force. He becomes the richest, the most powerful man in the area–a man Catherine would not have refused if given her chance again…but it is too late. She’s long dead, and his inability to fix that is what drives him mad. He has a lot in common with Jay Gatsby, if you think about it. A Jay Gatsby who is evil and cruel.

The book also shows a somewhat radical (for the time) idea of social class. At first, the Earnshaws are the owners of Wuthering Heights. While Old Man Earnshaw is alive, Heathcliff is treated like one of the family. When he dies, and his son Hindley is in charge, Heathcliff is demoted to the place of servant. When Heathcliff takes charge of the house, he elevates his own son and sends Hindley’s son, Hareton, to live the life of an uneducated servant. Yet, once Heathcliff is dead, Hareton and Catherine Linton own both properties together. Time and time again, Heathcliff takes people into his house (often by force), and forces them to debase themselves. Used to having servants, his wife, then his son, then Catherine Linton, have to learn to live by their own means.

Two things drive me crazy about this book. No, three. I’ll stop with three, though I could probably find more.

1-No one is likeable, in any way. Everyone is violent or weak, stupid or condescending, overly pious or entirely evil. You don’t care about a single character, because they are all awful. I didn’t want a single one of them to find happiness, because none of them deserve it! And I thought It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia was bad!

2-Everyone makes the same mistake, over and over again. Particularly Nelly (Ellen Dean), who is the main narrator. She must say 10 different times that she should have and wanted to intervene, but paused momentarily. Then, oops, who could have guessed, Heathcliff beat them all and locked them in the house until he got what he wanted. Or Mr. Linton tells his daughter not to go to Wuthering Heights or to see its occupants, and that rule is broken again and again, supposedly by accident. If your neighbor had a habit of beating women, or forcing them into marriage, would you go visiting? Even if your horse was tired or his son was sick? I wouldn’t. What morons.

3-Heathcliff is a romantic hero. This is not the books fault, to be fair. But women love Heathcliff. Women love him more than Mr. Darcy?! Who are these women? They must be the same women who write love letters to prisoners and stay in abusive relationships. Heathcliff is a sadist. I guess that means they are also women who read 50 Shades of Grey.

Yes, it’s briefly romantic to imagine a man so enamored of you that he will destroy the world without it. A love so strong that 20 years after you’ve died he is still entirely devoted to you and finds no point in living without you. When I was 14, that would sound romantic.

But as an adult, I don’t get it. Even if he wasn’t horrible, sadistic, violent, abusive, and mercurial, it is not romantic to have someone live for you. Not in reality. I would rather have a partner who has his own hobbies, his own desires, his own independent life. Not only would it be a lot of pressure to be someone’s entire world, but it would be quite dull. It seems a very immature view of love, to want something like this. The fact that grown women are so fond of him makes me both irritated with and embarrassed for them.

Summer British TV

Summer and Winter seem to be when the best of the British channels finally hits our shores. This summer is no exception. Just because Doctor Who is over, and Downton Abbey is months away, don’t despair! There are a lot of premieres in Summer and early fall. Starting in chronological order:

Family Trees

Family TreeChris O’Dowd’s new show on HBO started last month, and I have really enjoyed it so far! It’ll be running every Sunday through early July. Chris plays Tom, a somewhat depressed, slightly pathetic man living in London. His great-aunt dies and leaves him a trunk of family paraphernalia. He gets interested in his history, and goes about tracing his family lineage by finding out more about the objects in the trunk. It’s a very British show, so far, but later Tom does take a trip to the states to find out more about one branch of his family. It’s a hilarious show, very self-effacing and extremely odd. Tom’s sister, uses a monkey puppet to voice all her strangest and most offensive thoughts. She has conversations with this monkey all the time; she goes everywhere with the monkey. Tom also has a best friend, Pete, who is dumb as a post, and his dad is played by the always hilarious Michael McKean (of Clue and Spinal Tap fame). The show relies on awkward and embarrassing moments to make you laugh, which is a theme with British TV I think. Probably because awkward situations are the biggest fear of most English people.

Here’s a trailer (though I must warn you that it plays up the American part of the show far more than has happened in each episode yet):

In the Flesh

In the FleshThis is a miniseries that started June 6th. I’m not a zombie person, okay? I’ve read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but that’s about it. Okay, I’ve seen Zombieland. And 28 Days Later. And Shaun of the Dead…okay I’ve consumed more zombie books/movies than I thought. Still, it’s not a concept I’m particularly attracted to. On the other hand, this is only a 3-part miniseries, so I might as well give it a try. It aired in the UK and March, to generally positive reviews. These zombies are presented as a socially-marginalized minority, have been diagnosed with PDS (Partially Deceased Syndrome), and have been rehabilitated with medication and cosmetics. It sounds vaguely like True Blood‘s approach to vampires. At least In the Flesh won’t be just another scary movie a la Dawn of the Dead. I’m willing to give it a try. My only qualm is that I’m not very good with gore. Even in comedy films like Shaun of the Dead, I’m horrified by the sights and sounds associated with…zombies eating human flesh. Particularly while said human is alive. But it’s on BBC America, so it can’t be too bad. Here’s the trailer:

On June 23rd, the second season of Copper premieres.

Copper trioI was on the fence about this show throughout the first season. The three characters I liked (conveniently pictured above) are all coming back, so I’m going to give it a try (new motto for me?). This show always seems to be on the edge, teetering on the precipice of me not wanting to watch it anymore. I dislike the violence and blatant corruption, but I like the fact that it is set in the 19th century, and I think it always has potential to be a really great show. I’m hoping this year, now that it is a bit more established, it will reach that potential. Here is the trailer:

Also, on June 30th, the twentieth season of Top Gear premieres in the UK. No word yet on BBC America’s air dates, but last season they were only about a week behind, so hopefully more info will be forthcoming.

In early July, PBS will begin airing Endeavour, a prequel to the long-running Inspector Morse detective series. I’ve only seen one or two episodes of Inspector Morse, so this wasn’t on the top of my Must-See list. But, I had second thoughts when I saw who they cast as Morse:

EndeavourAdd to the obvious appeal of…whoever this guy is…it’s still set in Oxford. Oxford is so picturesque, and so quintessentially English (it’s what we think of in America when we think of an English village) that I could watch just about anything that takes place there. Plus, I have a certain weakness for incredibly smart, rail-thin detectives, even when they are not played by Benedict Cumberbatch. It’s only 4 or 5 episodes, so I’m going to go ahead and watch. I hope not much will be lost on me for not having followed the original series closely. Trailer is here:

The same night Endeavour premieres, the biggest thing since sliced bread is set to hit BBC America.

BroadchurchDavid Tennant stars in Broadchurch and uses his Scottish accent, which is my favorite thing in the world. This show was a huge hit in the UK this Spring, and I’ve been waiting anxiously for it since. A second series has already been announced.

It’s a whodunnit murder mystery set on the Dorset coast. In addition to Tennant, Olivia Colman co-starred and co-produced the show, and Arthur Darvill (Rory!) also co-stars. This is at the top of my Must-See List, FYI. Trailer:

Since I will be thoroughly busy watching all of these shows, I’m glad there is a bit of a break before more begin. The next one starts August 18th. It’s called The Lady Vanishes.

The Lady VanishesPBS is airing this remake of a Hitchcock thriller about a woman who goes missing, and another who tries to alert authorities about the incidence, but is not taken seriously. Listen, I tend to think any remake of a Hitchcock film is just a terrible idea. Are they going to improve on his direction? No. Is the addition of color going to add more suspense and creepiness? No. Are there modern actresses/actors who could play these roles better than the likes of Grace Kelly and Jimmy Stewart? Hell no. But, this actually got pretty good reviews, so I’m going to watch and keep an open mind. I’ve never seen the original, so that should help. Trailer:

At the end of August, PBS is also airing Silk, a legal drama. Prepare your powdered wigs, we’re off to the Old Bailey!

SilkI don’t have a lot of info on this one, partially because the title is very hard to Google well. Apparently it deals with two rival barristers. PBS is airing it in 3 two-hour increments from August 25th-September 8th. Bonus-it features Rupert Penry-Jones, of Whitechapel. Less of a bonus–his character looks like a d-bag, judging by the trailer:

Next, starting September 3rd, the all important Idris Elba returns to my life on BBC America.

luther series 3You gorgeous man, you.

There’s not a proper trailer for this one yet (that I could find), but they made an ‘announcement trailer’

Judging by this video, I’m guessing the episodes for the new season will disturb me just as much (if not more) than the last two seasons. Don’t care. Idris Elba calls, and I must answer.

Last, but not least:

The ParadisePBS is airing this one on October 6th, and calling it The Paradise. It’s an adaptation of an Emile Zola novel, and was sort of squared off against Mr. Selfridge when it aired in the UK, because of the similar subject matter. The show revolves around the first department store in NE England. It looks a little more soapy to me, based on the trailer. But I plan to watch and compare. Bonus–Arthur Darvill is also in this one (briefly).

Beyond here, there be trailers:

I’m going to be a busy blogger over the next 3 or 4 months. Yay!

Mr. Selfridge on PBS

Mr. SelfridgePBS recently finished airing the first season of Mr. Selfridge, a period drama based on the true story of the American self-made man that created one of the first English department stores–a store that still stands today, though it is far too expensive for me to have purchased anything there. The show aired early in the year in the UK on ITV, and did well enough that they have ordered a second season, to premiere in 2014.

I was concerned about Jeremy Piven, because he seems so slimy in most of his roles, but I really loved him and I loved this show. Piven plays the eponymous lead, Harry Gordon Selfridge. The show begins with him arriving on the scene in London to scare up funding and publicity for a store that hasn’t even been built, on the ‘unfashionable end’ of Oxford Street.  Ten episodes make up the first season, most of which revolve around Harry and his home family, and Harry and his work family.  He has an endless amount of women causing problems in his life–to be fair, most of the problems are his own doing.

Harry Selfridge and his ladiesThere’s his patient and loving wife Mary clutching his arm.  She’s played by the wonderful Frances O’Conner, and endures quite a lot from a man who does love her, but is not the best at being faithful or attentive. On the left is Lady Mae, a connected noblewoman who Harry relies on to help him secure funding and fix publicity problems.  She is not the sort of woman you want to owe favors to, but she is the exact woman you do owe favors to if you want to get anything done.

On the right is Ellen Love, a showgirl with whom Harry begins an affair.  She is everything pathetic and typical about the other woman. Nothing but trouble, hopelessly naive and convinced Harry will leave his wife and children to be with her.

The work family focuses on a few main characters.  The most important of which is Agnes Towler. She ends up in a love triangle (square?  some shape…) with two men who work at the store, VictorAgnes, Henri and Victor (on the right) and Henri (on the left). Agnes is probably my favorite character in the show.  She supports herself and her brother, she’s strong and independent, and she’s quite creative.  My only slight gripe with her is that it’s never quite obvious to me why all the men are so violently in love with her.  Still, I enjoyed watching her story.

Also central to the action are Mr. Grove, the chief of staff at the department store, and Miss Mardle, the Accessories supervisor.

Mr. Grove and Miss Mardle

Though Mr. Grove is married to a very sick woman, the two are having an affair.  What we later learn is a very long-term affair.  Of course, no one at the department store can know this as it is against the rules. Mr. Grove proved himself to be a thorough scoundrel in my book, more and more with each episode.  Miss Mardle was of interest to me, partially because she is played by Amanda Abbington, who is the ‘long-term partner’ of Martin Freeman.  Damn her.  Anyway, she will be in the next season of Sherlock, so I wanted to see her act in something.  She was good. Though the character is a very demur and repressed woman, she did convey a lot of depth of emotion.

Everyone in this show seems to have a secret relationship.  Harry and Ellen Love, Agnes and Henri, Mr. Grove and Miss Mardle, Agnes and Victor, Victor and Lady Mae…think of a combination and they’ve gone there.  I was most interested in Mrs. Selfridge’s relationship with a young painter, Roderick Temple, who bore a striking resemblance to a 6’5″ version of Neville Longbottom.

Mr. Selfridge Roderick Temple

Matthew Lewis

Who knew Neville Longbottom would grow up to look like that?  Anyway, his resemblance to Neville made me predisposed to like him.  Plus, artist points.  But he proves himself to be a scoundrel as well–I’m detecting a theme. None of these men are to be trusted!

Obviously all of these love stories have elements of the soap opera tropes about them.  I think what sets this show apart is the setting, the time and place and industry in which it is set.

It lends itself very naturally to comparisons with Downton Abbey–there are love stories, infidelities, a multitude of class interactions, and they are occupying the same piece of history–but they are very different shows.  DA is, at its heart, a soap opera. Everyone is either entirely good or entirely despicable (the only exception I can think of to this is O’Brien, but her brief foray into being a good person ended after a few episodes, so it barely counts).  The tension revolves around whether a couple will end up together, and which person Julian Fellowes will kill off.  The other big source of tension is the never-ending struggle to maintain the status quo.  The big house, the landed gentry, the old Tory way of life in the country.

Mr. Selfridge could not be more different. The fact that they exist at the same time, are set in the same time and in the same country is something I had to keep reminding myself.  Mr. Selfridge is actually set earlier than DA, which is even more strange. The show features a main character that wants to embrace everything new and modern.  In the 1910s, that means automobiles, explorers, ready-to-wear clothing, cosmetics for respectable women (gasp!), and a new-found love of shopping. The first episode shows Harry Selfridge going into a typical London shop.  Everything was kept under the counter, and you had to ask to look at individual items.  Selfridge wanted his customers to be able to see and touch the products, so that they might be enticed to buy something other than what they needed. He really understood what the experience of shopping could be.  Part of me wishes society hadn’t taken this turn to the ridiculously commercial and superficial, but it would have happened with our without Harry Selfridge.  I digress, but my point is that it is fascinating from a historical perspective to see these changes toward a modern society and away from the 19th century.

I think that facet, ultimately, is what made me enjoy this show (perhaps, though I am afraid to say it) more than Downton Abbey.  I really looked forward to watching it every week, and am looking forward to a second season.