Monthly Archives: December 2013

2013 Christmas Specials

Christmas is a pretty special time in the UK, I think.  I theorize.  I’ve never been there at Christmas time, but one glance at the decorations on Oxford or Regent Street tells you what it’s like in London.

90_05_15---Christmas-Lights--Regent-Street--London--England-_webI also haven’t participated in that age-old tradition of the Queen’s Christmas address.  But one tradition I am always happy to indulge is the tradition of the Christmas special.  During busy weeks, particularly in the holidays, TV here tends to come to a screeching halt.  Repeats for weeks on end.  The only exception is (American) football, which is on constantly from Thanksgiving to …February.  Blech.  I’ll pass on that.  But the Christmas special! Something everyone can gather around the TV and enjoy, that (usually) doesn’t involve padding or jock straps.  I can support that tradition whole-heartedly.

This Christmas was a big one for Doctor Who, with Matt Smith’s last episode and Peter Capaldi’s first.  They like to do these transitions on big episodes, don’t they?  And this one was a particularly unusual story.  We saw the Doctor bald, we saw him naked,

matt-smith-nude-the-time-of-the-doctor-band even more strangely, we saw him old.  Doctor’s aren’t supposed to age, are they?  During that stretch of episodes in America, we see the Doctor some 200 years older in one episode than when we see him next, and there isn’t the slightest change.  So exactly how much time did he spend in a town called Christmas, on a planet called Trenzalore, to get to looking like this:

Doctor-Who-11-2959359He looks and acts very Dickensian, which I find rather amusing. He’s always been very Victorian, number 11, with his waistcoats and bow ties and pocket watches.  Being rather fond of that era myself, I am sad to see that go.  I am genuinely sad to see Matt Smith go, which is a big credit to him, since I was weeping over David Tennant’s exit.

This episode was very grand and (is often the case with very grand episodes of the show) it often seemed more concentrated on being big and important, rather than making much sense.  I try to remember what exactly was going on, but I found myself thoroughly confused by a lot of the plot for this one.

The way I understood it, the Time Lords were communicating through the crack in the wall, which reappeared in Christmas.  Their message was heard by everyone, and it scared everyone.  They were asking the Doctor’s name…and if he told them, they would come through.  And this would, for some reason, cause immediate and total war?  The Church of the Mainframe protects the planet from the hordes of Daleks, Cybermen, and every other type of villain that is trying to get in.

I have so many questions from this episode. How are the Time Lords of Gallifrey able to send messages, and then (Deux Ex Machina)  time energy, through the rift when they are stored safely away in a frozen moment of time? How did a burst of time energy reset the clock on the Doctor’s regeneration count? And simultaneously give him power to kill Daleks with a light beam? Why does the regeneration process seem to happen really quickly sometimes (John Hurt’s Doctor to Chris Eccleston’s, Eccleston to Tennant) and sometimes (Tennant to Smith, Smith to Capaldi), it takes quite a while. Most importantly, what’s the point of using the Silence as priests?  Why would you want to confess and then forget you’d done so?  Much better to have a priest who forgets everything you’ve just told him.  And was the episode implying that the Silence were created to be priests?  Or that they were recruited as priests after they were more-or-less killed off on Earth?

I think this episode attempted to do too much, too big, without enough time or weight given to some of the big issues.  And the most important thing, the actual regeneration, took place so late in the episode, that we barely saw Peter Capaldi as the Doctor.  I like him already, I feel I can’t help but to like him.  But with a new Doctor, any new Doctor, he needs to win the audience over nearly immediately.  Now we’ve seen Peter Capaldi for approximately 40 seconds, and now we have to sit and wait until …whenever they decide to air the next series… before we get to really see him as the Doctor?  I don’t like it.  I wanted more, obviously, and I think it’s important to the audience to keep out any doubts over the new Doctor.  I was pretty disappointed to not see more of him, and that’s part of what makes me unhappy and unsettled about the episode as a whole.

And then there was Downton Abbey.

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Another Christmas special that has utterly nothing to do with Christmas?  This time it’s the London Season, where debutantes are launched into society and try to land the richest possible husband. Mary is entertaining multiple suitors as usual, we learn that Bates probably did murder whats-his-name, and the Grantham family has to engage in some clumsy skullduggery to save the Prince of Wales from embarrassment over his affair.  Most importantly, Carson is barefoot in the ocean.  Mr. Carson is the last person I imagine to ever be barefoot. The poor man, I would gladly have gone on his outings. I liked the Science Museum and all the other ‘educational’ outings he suggested.

Rose drove me less crazy during this episode by far.  She’s still silly and a bit dim, but she acted like an adult at least.  Edith and Mary, on the other hand, drove me crazy. Mary is just as spoiled and selfish as she has ever been, and Edith is tedious and dull at best.  I never like indecision, particularly in TV characters. In a story, there’s no point in indecision.  It’s a waste of the audience’s time.  Edith waffling back and forth and being rude to others about a situation she’s created for herself is…just as annoying as I’ve come to expect from her character.  I miss Sybil!

Finally, we got to see Paul Giamatti as Cora’s brother, and I thought he did splendidly.  He always seems to play the same character–the grumpy but charming man who wins over far more attractive ladies.

downton-abbey-2013-christmas-special-shirley-maclaineNo exception here.  I know the ‘Americanness’ of these characters is heightened to the point where they may as well be from another galaxy, but I quite like them.  They get almost all of the minute social niceties completely wrong in every situation–futile introductions to the Prince of Wales, never understanding that they’re supposed to get their own tea or breakfast, not comprehending the practice of downstairs servants being called by the name of the person upstairs that they serve, etc., etc.  But no matter how many times they get it wrong, it doesn’t phase them.  And as an American, I think that’s pretty accurate.  While the Brits are disdainful of our loud voices and lack of manners, we are blissfully apathetic to doing these things the ‘wrong’ way.  Undoubtedly, Harold will tell all his amused friends in Newport about his conversation with the Prince, whereas any Brit who had made the same mistake would probably be mortified.  I know Downton takes place nearly 100 years ago, but I think these are social mores that still exist in each culture.  Brits still have fear of causing offense or inconvenience; Americans generally don’t know or don’t care when we’ve accidentally committed a minor faux pas.  The American in me genuinely likes Cora, her mother, and her brother, for being too independent to care about titles or propriety, and for caring far more about the actual value of a person or an action.  I hope Paul Giamatti is in more than just this one episode, because I like him and I think the Grantham family needs more people to come and ruffle their feathers.  They’ll never survive the changes coming their way if they are allowed to believe the world is going to stay the same.

Bates’ story was the only real menace in the episode.  Mary and Mrs. Hughes know that he probably killed Mr. Green, and they’re not certain if they ought to keep it a secret.  The more I think about Bates, the more I think he’s a villain.  No one can really blame him for wanting to kill Mr. Green.  But to act on it…and I have never been entirely convinced he didn’t kill his first wife.  He seems to be surrounded by characters so evil that no one could really blame him for wanting them dead, but the amount of death that seems to follow him is pretty ridiculous.  Anna seems to be doing much better, but this will tear her apart again, so he is hurting her more than almost anyone.  I don’t trust him or like him anymore, and he’s shown he’s quite capable of lying to cover up his actions.  He’s gotten rid of a lot of problems in his life by acting like a criminal.  It may be safe to say, at this point, that he just is one.  I’m ready for him to be done.

It’s a long time until Downton Abbey starts again, and I’m not certain this episode provided me with a really compelling reason to keep watching.  I enjoyed the 4th season, but there was no particular cliffhanger or massive event at the end of this episode that would make me hungry for more.  But I did like the little moment with Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson, because they’re both lovable and they deserve more fun.  That being said, it seems an odd place to leave your Christmas episode–on a sunny beach.

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Upcoming British TV

It’s that time of year again!  Time for Christmas specials, followed closely by new premieres in 2014!  We’ve got a lot to look forward to in the coming months.

First, there is the Christmas special for Doctor Who

Doctor Who, Christmas Special 2013 - Artwork: Jenna-Louise Coleman and Matt SmithThe Time of the Doctor  (Christmas Day in the UK and US) will mark the end of Matt Smith’s run and the beginning of Peter Capaldi as our 12th incarnation of the eponymous Doctor.  As happens every time there is a regeneration, I am dreading it, but know that the new Doctor will win me over pretty quickly.  It happened with 10 and with 11, so I have faith that 12 will be just as good.  Okay, no one is actually as good as David Tennant, but they do try…

The Downton Abbey Christmas special will play on Christmas Day in the UK, but the US will have to wait a few months–we haven’t even aired season 4 yet.  Season 4 premieres on PBS January 5th. So the Christmas Special will air sometime in February or March.  Festive.  I am looking forward to it because we finally get to see Paul Giamatti as Cora’s rakish, financially-irresponsible brother

downton-abbey-christmas-special-2013

I also notice Edith missing from this picture.  I won’t spoil anything for those who haven’t seen season 4, but I’ve got a guess where she is…

One week after Christmas is (to me) the most important premiere of the last several years.  Sherlock (series 3) premieres on Jan 1st in the UK, January 19th in the US (again on PBS).

sherlock_series_3_fan_poster_2_by_crqsf-d52873pI’m almost done with my re-watch of the first two series.  I just have the heinously painful, ugly-cry-inducing Reichenbach Fall. And then there will finally be new episodes! There’s rumor of a mini-episode premiering on Christmas Day (on BBC 1) that acts as a sort of prequel to Series 3. (Here’s hoping I can find it online).  The proper episodes run January 1st, 5th, and 12th in the UK.

A boatload of new shows and season premieres are slated for Spring 2014 here in the US.

Fleming-The Man Who Would Be Bond is a BBC America look at Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond.  It stars Dominic Cooper as Fleming, and looks like a combination between The Hours and Mad Men.

460x300_flemingThat’s Lara Pulver (aka Irene Adler) as the proto-Bond girl, Ann O’Neill.  I’ll withhold judgment on this one–I’m not a big fan of Bond, but I’ll give it a try. It premieres January 29th.

Despite being (rudely) cancelled after its second series/season in the UK, Ripper Street will get a full second season airing in the US.  I’ve already heard that the ‘finale’ wasn’t very rewarding, because the showrunners didn’t know (or didn’t know early enough) about the show’s fate.  Season 2 premieres on BBC America in February (no fixed date yet, that I’ve seen).

March 30th will be a big day for PBS viewing.  Call the Midwife AND Mr. Selfridge return for their 3rd and 2nd seasons, respectively. Here’s a trailer for Mr. Selfridge:

April 13th sees season 2 of The Bletchley Circle premiere on PBS.  It premieres much earlier (January 6th) in the UK.

Shortly after, on April 19th, Orphan Black finally returns on BBC America.

There are several other shows without announced premiere dates, but we know are coming soon.

The Musketeers–a BBC America show, taking place in 17th century Paris. The (four) Musketeers are all hot young men in this incarnation of the classic story. I’ll give it a try, though I’m not really one to go for men with feathers in their hats. The BBC America website says ‘Coming in 2014’, so this one could be a while.

Similarly, they’re very vague on the dates for a few other shows.  In the Flesh is definitely going to have a second season/series, but all the info they give is ‘Spring 2014’.  I would guess March or April.

Wild Things with Dominic Monaghan is already filming season 2, with special guest star and fellow hobbit, Billy Boyd.  No release date for that one either, but I’m guessing late Spring/early Summer, based on my zero expertise.

It’s going to be a busy season of TV watching this Spring!

The Paradise – season 1

Ladies-Paradise-TV-tie-inPBS just finished airing season one of this series, although season/series 2 has already started in the UK.  Given the subject matter (a Victorian era department store in England), comparisons between this show and Mr. Selfridge are inevitable. For the first two or three episodes, I found myself comparing them, and it gave me an unfavorable opinion of the Paradise.  Over the course of the 8-episode season, however, the show really grew on me. I forgot to compare it to Mr. Selfridge, and could enjoy it much more for that fact.

The Paradise centers around the eponymous department store in 1875 in Northeast England.  The show is a re-interpretation of an Emile Zola novel set in France during the same period. The store is owned and run by the handsome Mr. Moray (Emun Elliott), who started from humble roots and is slightly obsessed with expanding his empire.

paradise2Moray is loosely-tied to Katherine Glendenning, a spoiled rich girl who is pretty obviously trying to tie him down in marriage.  Moray is still grieving over the loss of his first wife, and dithers over decisions about this relationship.  Both Katherine and her father prove themselves, over the course of the season, willing to do anything to get what they want.  This includes manipulation of people and circumstances to their own favor.  They’re pretty terrible people.

The other main focus of the show is Denise (Joanna Vanderham), a girl from the country who has just arrived to work in her uncle’s draper shop.

denise_06_crop_648x327Unfortunately, the competition of the Paradise on his street has dried up her uncle’s business. He doesn’t have enough money to support Denise, nor enough work to keep her busy. Having few options, Denise seeks employment at the Paradise.  She proves, very quickly, that she is smart and creative, full of new ideas for how to improve the business in the store.  Mr. Moray takes a shine to her almost immediately.

This is an ensemble cast, with a lot of characters.  Besides Moray, there are other managerial figures with their own minor storylines (Dudley is Moray’s 2nd in command; Jonas is in charge of ‘security’ and is a pretty intimidating figure; Miss Audrey is Denise’s boss, the head of Ladieswear).  There are other sales associates in the store (Sam, the flirt, Clara, the mean girl, Pauline, the nice girl).  I think the show does a good job of balancing the main characters with these side stories.  I think everyone’s acting was very good, and that really helps you to care about characters that are not always in the forefront of the show.

My only complaint is that the relationship between Moray and Katherine isn’t always clear at the beginning of the season.  Part of that is his inability to make up his mind, but the show doesn’t always make it clear who or what stands between them, or what brings them together.  It’s very clear by the end of the series how they feel about each other, so that may be why I enjoyed the later episodes more.

As I said, the comparisons with Mr. Selfridge are inevitable. But this show really grew on me over the course of the season, and I quite enjoyed the last two or three episodes especially.  I hope PBS decides to show season 2 next year, but I fear it will be late next year if it comes to the US.  PBS has a pretty full schedule in Spring, with Downton Abbey and Sherlock coming soon.

Hello Ladies with Stephen Merchant

stephen-merchant-shines-as-desperate-casanova-in-hbo-comedy-hello-ladiesI was planning to love this show from the start, because I love Stephen Merchant.  I would definitely marry him, despite the fact that he is about 1 foot taller than me, probably weighs less than me, and sometimes looks like a stick insect. I’ve loved him since the Ricky Gervais Show, and have loved all of his work with Ricky.

On the other hand, his character in this show is pretty unlikable at times.  He walks a very fine line. He’s an asshole about 90% of the time, but he does come through in the end.  Barely.

Stephen plays Stuart Pritchard, a web designer living in L.A. and trying to find a lady.  He rents his guest house to Jessica (Christine Woods), a struggling actress.

helloladies04__1381442741_93.107.148.139He’s got a best friend named Wade, who has just separated from his wife and is not doing very well.  He’s obsessed with a model he’s seen on a billboard, and convinced that if he met her, she would be perfect for him.

Here’s the problem with Stuart–he’s really stupid.  Not…intellectually, but in terms of awareness of other people.  He really believes that if he could just get the most attractive girl, then suddenly he’ll feel wonderful about his life.  So he tries, desperately and obviously, to gain the attention of beautiful women. He will throw off one woman if he sees another, more attractive woman that might want him.  It’s painfully obvious, and his biggest crime is that he really cannot see how obvious it is.  He’s inconsiderate, embarrassing, and hard to watch.

On the other hand, he is inevitably punished for every terrible thing he does.  In almost every episode, he manages to manufacture his own downfall. He tries to throw a huge bash of a pool party, hoping it will turn into a scene from Spring Breakers or Project X. The party starts out slow, and he gets very annoyed with the quality of people who have turned up.  He scares off the only attractive women who show up, and then leaves out of frustration.  As he is leaving, a big group of hot girls shows up at the party.  Stuart tries to get back in, but he is blocked by the security that he insisted upon having (to keep out undesirables).

His cloying attempts to be successful with women are his Achilles’ heel, inevitably leading to utter disaster.  So that instills a certain sense of pleasurable self-righteousness in the viewing.  He always gets exactly what he deserves. We see that every time, but he seems a little slow to recognize it.

And how genius is Stephen Merchant (or whomever came up with it) for calling this show Hello Ladies.  There is no situation where a straight man can say that phrase to a group of women without sounding creepy and weird.  It can’t be done; I’m convinced of it.

Can I say that I am so glad I don’t live in L.A.? I can’t think of a single worse place for trying to find a real relationship.  I would go out of my mind.

The show is very funny, but it is the classic British ‘cringe comedy’.  You want to look away because you are so embarrassed for the characters.  It’s a fine line in this type of show, and sometimes I think Hello Ladies steps just a bit over.  I mean, surely Stuart must get it eventually?!

I will say that, in the end, he did eventually do the right thing.  I’m sure there will be 2 steps back for every half-step forward with this character, so if there is a season 2 (I hope there is!), I expect him to make up for being a good guy by behaving like a moron for several episodes in a row.

My boyfriend’s only complaint about the show is that it seems too obvious that Jessica and Stuart will end up together.  If they do ever get together, I think it won’t be until Stephen finds someone who might actually be a-interested in him and b-a real person, rather than his paragon ideal of what he wants.  Right now, Jessica is the only ‘real’ woman in his life–one that he sees as a person, rather than as an accessory to prove his virility/success/popularity. I don’t see her showing any feelings for him unless there’s another genuine human being in his life that is interested in him.

That being said, I honestly hope they stay friends.  It would be far more interesting for me to see a friendship between them, while they both try to find the right person, rather than resorting to the tried-and-true  ‘I couldn’t find the right person because they were standing next to me the whole time’ rom-com standard.

I know the show hasn’t gotten great reviews, but I think it improved a lot by the end of the season, and would probably get better with a few more episodes.  I hope HBO gives it another shot.