Monthly Archives: September 2014

Happy Valley

MV5BMTQzODQ3OTA3OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzUyNzI0MjE@._V1_SY317_CR6,0,214,317_AL_Yes, another police procedural. But, I really liked this one. Netflix suggested it to me because I liked the Fall. I can see why (police, strong female protagonist, evil man to catch), but they’re actually really different. Gillian Anderson in the Fall is very upper class, very separate from the common officers on the street. In Happy Valley, the whole show takes place at a working class level in a fairly working class area of Yorkshire.

It aired in April on BBC One, and was put on Netflix last month in the US. It has been renewed for a second season.

The show stars Sarah Lancashire as Catherine Cawood. And oh boy does she have a life I wouldn’t want.  About 8 years ago, her daughter was raped and became pregnant. She delivered the baby, but hanged herself shortly thereafter. Catherine decided to keep and raise her grandson, against the objections of her husband and their son. Divorce and ostracism followed. The men of the family couldn’t look at the baby without seeing the rape and the suicide.

Now, Catherine still wonders if she made the right decision. Catherine and her recovering addict sister Clare (played by Downton Abbey’s Siobhan Finneran), and the two of them can barely handle the boy, Ryan, and their hectic lives.

Siobhan Finneran as Clare and Sarah Lancashire as Catherine in Happy Valley

Ryan has a bad temper, and you can’t hear that without wondering how much of his father is inside him.

Speaking of his father.  He was just released from prison. Not for rape. He was never caught for what he did to Catherine’s daughter, so you can imagine that revenge on him is just about the only thing Cahterine cares about when she hears he is released.  And, I can’t blame her, because he’s a sick and disgusting villain.

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On the other side of town, in a little bit better neighborhood, lives Kevin Weatherill. And if he isn’t the world’s biggest asshole, I don’t know who is.  Yes, I do, it’s Rupert Murdoch. But still. This guy is a douche.

p01xkx77He wants to send his daughter to private school, but he doesn’t have the money. So he asks his boss, Nevison, who he feels owes him something.  His boss says no, because if he did it for Kevin, he’d have to do it for everyone.

You can see Kevin’s big flaw in just this little bit of information. He has a problem, and he wants someone to solve it for him. When the boss says no, Kevin sees it as all the boss’s fault. Some people would take a second job, or cut back on vacations, but not Kevin. Kevin thinks the world owes him. He’s angry, so, naturally, he suggests to a criminal he knows that maybe the boss’s daughter could get kidnapped and he could get a cut of the money. That’s his solution.

So the criminal, Ashley, gets together his two workers, Lewis and Tommy Lee Royce. Tommy Lee Royce, by the way, is the guy who raped Catherine’s daughter. And together they organize and carry out the kidnapping.

As you can imagine, these two sides of the story meet in the end. And it’s superbly done. Dramatic, tense, disturbing, sad. Enraging.  By the end of the show, the person I was most angry with was Kevin. Even after it’s all said and done, and he’s dragged down his whole family in his ruin and disgrace, he still blames his boss. If his boss had just given him the raise, then the daughter would never have been kidnapped/raped/almost killed.  He’s a complete loon.

Here’s what’s great about this show: The women. They are tough. Smart. Capable. Most importantly, they are survivors. We see the men commit mistake after mistake, miscalculate, break down, cry. We see the women push forward and do what they think is right. Not just Catherine. Ann, the kidnapped girl, is an absolute survivor. Catherine saves her life, and Ann saves her right back. The men cannot be depended upon, and none of them prove anything other than a disappointment.

Before you cry misandry, let me remind you how many shows feature an almost entirely male cast. How many shows feature women as victims, women unable to do more than cry? Even Broadchurch, which had a female co-star and smart detective, left us with the question of how could she be so stupid as not to know about her husband. Happy Valley leaves us with no doubt that Catherine will continue her work, will take down drug dealers and murderers, rapists and kidnappers, and whomever else she needs to. It’s great to see her on television. And it’s rare. So…deal with the tables being turned for once.

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Derek, season 2

Ricky Gervais as DerekRicky Gervais returned for a second season of Derek on Channel 4 in the UK, and on Netflix in the US. As with the first season, the show focuses on an elderly home, its workers, and its residents.  Derek, played by Gervais, is a slow, but kind-hearted.  The whole point of the show is that being kind is better than being smart, and that it will make you happier than money or accomplishment.  So our heroes and heroines are humble people. Derek, and especially Hannah, who runs the nursing home.

slide_277704_2042720_freeOne big absence this season is Karl Pilkington’s Dougie, who was my favorite part of season one.

Dougie-setups-083_A2Ricky Gervais said that acting made Karl way too nervous, and Karl has admitted he really disliked it.  Compared to An Idiot Abroad, where he traveled and saw new things, he did not enjoy sitting in a small trailer in Uxbridge between scenes.  Understandable.  I don’t even know where Uxbridge is, but I don’t think I’d fancy spending time in a trailer there.

Taking up a larger chunk of time, to make up for Dougie’s absence, is Kev.  The foul-mouthed slob accepted at the nursing home because he makes Derek laugh.  I have to wonder why Derek gets nearly whatever he wants in life. Kev, in season one, is pretty awful. With Dougie gone in season 2, he is slowly and haltingly redeemed.  Not all the way to normalcy, but to a place where we can hope good things happen to him.

Here’s the problem with Derek.  The world it presents is just too simple.  Everyone is too good.  For me, since I’m an emotional and optimistic person, this isn’t such a big deal.  It doesn’t bother me too much while I’m watching the show, but afterwards it gnaws at me when I think back. Because even if everyone were inherently good, all the different ways people think they are doing ‘good’ means there will always be opposition to one thing in favor of another. There will always be conflict.

So the show is unrealistic, to the point of being hard to swallow.  I cry in every episode.

But one episode nearly killed me, after what I went through earlier this year.

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In one episode, Ivor the dog has to be put down. He’s quite old and very sick, so it’s not as tragic as it might be.  But, the subject matter hit so close to home that we (my bf and I) had to stop the show and weep for a good 10 minutes before we could continue. I’m crying a little just thinking about it. So I can’t be too cynical about this show, because there are moments in life that bring out true and unadulterated emotions, and Derek is good about showing these moments. Since most TV shows don’t give death much weight at all, it’s good to have a counterpoint. Something uncynical.  It’s too simple, but I’d rather watch a show that is too simple and promotes kindness and unmaterialistic goodness, than watch a show that is too simple and promotes violence, tawdry affairs, and materialistic bullshit.

The Thick of It

In preparation for the new season of Doctor Who, complete with Peter Capaldi, I decided to get acquainted with his most well-known character–Malcolm Tucker.

10938The Thick of It is one of those backstage looks at politics. Like the West Wing, if everyone was terrible. It’s very similar to Veep, an American show currently on HBO, which is hilarious and similarly cynical and foul-mouthed. Veep is loosely based on The Thick of It. The show aired sporadically in the UK, with a new series every ~2 years from 2005-2012.  I watched it on Hulu, where you can see every episode.

Capaldi’s Tucker is the scheming, profane, morally-bankrupt spindoctor/slavedriver for the PM. Technically, I think he’s a director of communications, but they all see him as an enforcer. He keeps everyone in line. It’s his job to fire people when it’s good for the PM, or convince them to jump on a grenade to save the government, or to yell at them until they correct their colossal errors. He’s a truly terrible person. But Capaldi is brilliant. I love everything about him in this show. I mean, I love to swear, so anyone that can swear that much, and in a Glaswegian accent, has won my heart forever.

He’s delightful to watch, but I wouldn’t last one day working for him. I don’t mind swearing, but the constant insults and threats of violence..and occasional actual violence…I’d quit after our first conversation. He’s terrifying.

thickofitThey really are attack eyebrows!

To be fair, he’s surrounded by idiots. There’s Glen, Terri, and Ollie. timthumb

Ollie is a dreadful soulless human being. Glen is a good person, but he’s old and seems to become more useless each season. Terri is a civil servant, and isn’t really invested in the policy decisions or outcomes.

There are also the ministers of this department (the fictional DoSac). These alternate between an old man, a guy that looks like a deflated Muppet,

The Thick Of Itand a woman, who is said to be the inspiration for Julia-Louis Dreyfus’ character on Veep.

You’ve got a good mix of civil servants and party-specific staff.  This is something most Americans may not pick up on. Civil servants in the UK (generally) keep their job even when the government switches parties. The advisers to the ministers have to leave when the majority party switches, and they may lose their jobs completely. Some will keep working for (what is now) the opposition party, in the ‘Shadow’ government. In America, some jobs are generally replaced when a new administration comes in, but the majority of them are not. Also something that is not common in American politics: the reshuffle.  Sometimes a PM will decide to just re-assign the ministers in the Cabinet. The Foreign Secretary could become the Home Secretary, the Home Secretary could become the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In the US, the president has to get congressional approval of Cabinet appointments (and a lot of other positions), so wholesale reshuffles are very rare. People are usually replaced on a case-by-case basis. Also in the US, not all positions are filled by persons in the same political party, and US Cabinet members are not legislators.

I digress.  If you enjoy watching swearing and bureaucracy, you’ll like this show. It’s funny, it’s cynical, sarcastic, clever.  But…I found myself feeling a bit tired by the end. Tired of the idea that the government is run entirely by idiots, egomaniacs, and the morally-bankrupt. I get the same feeling when I watch Veep or Scandal for too long. House of Cards would completely destroy any faith I have in government, so I’m avoiding it. Both the British and US versions. You do start to wonder–are these the best employees the government can get? Are these the best leaders?! Not a good sign for modern civilization.

The cynicism fatigue aside, it’s a good show. It gives you a great look at Capaldi and what he can do. I will say it might leave you wondering why he doesn’t just threaten and swear at the Daleks to get them to fuck off. So be warned about that kind of bleed through.

 

Coriolanus with Ralph Fiennes

coriolanusRalph Fiennes (aka Voldemort) directed this version of the Shakespeare play Coriolanus. It’s a modern day retelling of a story about the early days of Rome. He retains the Shakespearean dialogue, which is always a must in my opinion.  Instead of fighting with swords and horses, there are guns and bombs in this one. But the play easily converts to a modern ‘Place Calling itself Rome’.

Coriolanus takes place in the days of the Roman senate, and that idea is easily transported to a modern-day Rome, that looks more like an old communist city than a world capital. The peasants are starving while the rich withhold grain to maximize their profits. Rome is under attack from the Volsci. Caius Martius (Fiennes) is a military hero, spurred to constantly prove his worth in battle by his mother, who considers military heroics to be the only honorable quality. The leader of the Volsci, Aufidius, is played by Gerard Butler.

120119_MOV_coriolanus.jpg.CROP.article568-largeThe two absolutely loathe each other. As Coriolanus says, ‘there is the man of my soul’s hate’.  They meet in battle, but neither has been able to finish the other. But you know they will try each time they meet.

But what gets in the way of all this is politics. Caius Martius is offered a place as a Senator, because of his noble sacrifices and injuries in war. In order to obtain this position (which his friends and his mother want him to have), Martius must debase himself by asking for the people’s’ approval. He must pander to them, showing off his war wounds and recounting his brave deeds in battle. His disposition is such that he can’t even stay in a room when others discuss his heroics. He also actively and completely disdains the plebeian masses.  So it doesn’t go well at all. It’s a tragedy play, after all.

I think Ralph Fiennes did an excellent job taking a play set in the B.C.E. and converting it to a realistic and comprehensible modern world. There’s something really brutal about the stark setting (it was shot in Serbia), the utilitarian violence, and the colors used, all of which gives you some insight into both of these military men. They exist, they thrive, in this harsh world, and they falter when confronted with a more nuanced and colorful and compromising world. Martius, brought up to believe only in the valor of military service and sacrifice, cannot comprehend the value of anyone who has not served and who does not perform to his best. He warns his fellow soldiers, before proceeding into battle, that if they try to retreat, he will ‘leave the foe/ And make my wars on you’.  So…go ahead and don’t sign me up for that regiment.

Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain, and Gerard Butler all put in great performances. They cajole, soothe, spur, spurn, and force Caius Martius to do things their way.  It is this combined influence that leads him inexorably toward his tragic end.  But, it’s all about Ralph Fiennes. He is the focal point, almost to a fault. I remember more of the other characters in the play, and they don’t shine as brightly in this version. But it’s definitely worth watching. And worth remembering and considering, whenever the government trots out a war vet for a photo-op.