Tag Archives: HBO

Doll & Em

HBO aired the full 6-episode season of this show in 3 weeks, which means it’s all over before you have a chance to decide if you truly like it.  It premiered in the UK on Sky Living in February

doll-and-em-first-season.21771This show has both women playing themselves, or versions of themselves.  I recognized Em (Emily Mortimer) right away, because she is on the Newsroom, and she’s excellent in it. She’s been in a lot of other things as wellas is Dolly Wells, but I didn’t recognize her at all.

I wonder about the people who make these pseudo-real life shows/movies, where they are playing a spoof of themselves. On the one hand, the audience gets to see the truth behind cameras and how things tend to work in Hollywood (a satire can reflect the truth pretty accurately).  And there has to be some cathartic value in playing a mean version of yourself, or getting to yell at your best friend in a fight for the cameras.  On the other hand, wouldn’t it screw with your head to portray yourself interacting with your best friend portraying herself.   Seems like lines would become really fuzzy, and a la Inception, you might start to lose track of whether you’re being yourself or portraying a version of yourself.  My head hurts if I think about it too much.

This particular show has Doll breaking up with her boyfriend and heading out to visit Em on location for a movie in L.A. To keep her busy and have her around, Em offers to pay Doll to be her personal assistant for the duration of the shoot. Always a good idea–working for your best friend in one of the most demeaning possible roles.  Look, I just don’t get personal assistants. I understand work assistants–you’re helping to accomplish something. Personal assistants are just…helping someone control their own life? I get that certain people, actors, world leaders, etc., don’t have a lot of time. But I don’t think I’d ever be so busy that I’d make someone go out and get coffee for me or pick up my dry cleaning.  She makes Doll drive her too and from work every day.  Why?! What is she doing that she can’t drive? I just don’t get it. Being a personal assistant is predicated on the idea that your boss’s life is more important than yours. Unless you’re personal assistant to a world leader, I don’t buy it. So maybe that’s why this show sometimes left a bad taste in my mouth. Em was a bit spoiled and unsympathetic. Doll wasn’t perfect either.

The final blowout between them, predictable from the 1st episode, is depressing. I will say, though, that the final episode reeled me in again. Most of the show saw the two women competing against each other–for male attention, for professional success, for sympathy about their dead fathers. Women do this, no denying that, but it’s not particularly fun to watch. Most of the show is about this competition and the petty jealousy that springs up between them.  Until the last few minutes of the last episode. Seeing them communicate genuinely and support each other at the end made me much happier than all of the other episodes combined.

The show also boasts some impressive celebrity guests playing themselves – Susan Sarandon, Ben Chaplin (hopefully not as big of an asshole in real life as he was during he scene in this show), John Cusack. There was also a bonus cameo at the very end from Noel Fielding, which (despite lack of goth makeup) I recognized immediately as Richmond, from The IT Crowd.

richmond

 

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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!

Parade’s End Miniseries

Parade's End

The miniseries Parade’s End played on UK TV way back in August.  I have been impatiently waiting for it to come to American TV ever since.  HBO had the rights for months, but they finally decided to play the thing last week.  Instead of a weekly installment, HBO played the 5-part miniseries over three days.  I’m not certain why they decided to wait 6 months and then squeeze the miniseries into the middle of the week, but whatever. I was just happy to see it.

Parade’s End was adapted from a series of four books written by Ford Madox Ford, in the 1910s and 20s.  After seeing this miniseries, I intend to read all of the books. The characters were spectacularly well done, and I can only guess the books are very good.

I love a BBC period drama, but obviously the main draw for me in seeing this one was Benedict Cumberbatch.  He plays one of the three main characters, a man named Christopher Tietjens.

ChristopherTietjens is an incredible character.  A firm believer in the truth, in honor, in fair-play, and everything simultaneously morally righteous and annoyingly priggish. He has a habit of making corrections in the margins of his encyclopedia. His know-it-all-ness is alternately tedious (especially to his wife) and funny.  Benedict always seems to play characters smarter than everyone else in the room, and Tietjens is no exception.  Some of the best moments in the series are when he confronts and out-thinks corpulent blowhards and moronic busybodies.

He embodies everything stereotypically British–stiff upper lip (literally, Benedict barely moves his upper lip for the entire miniseries), honorable, more capable of showing affection to horses than people–but he is also a man that hearkens back to the past. He admits that he loves the idea of a more agrarian, simple society that he believes Britain embodied in the past.  He reminded me a bit of what I know of Churchill.  He clings to Tory ideals that don’t really reflect the society in which he is currently living.  He doesn’t like the changes that are coming up in society at the beginning of the 20th century.

And that is the central theme of this miniseries. The title reflects the end of the society as drama, as pomp and circumstance.  The upper classes are breaking down, the institutions of nobility, of patriarchy, and of marriage are falling apart.  All the Anglican ideals to which Tietjens adheres most fervently are disappearing from ‘modern’ society.  This is the last gasp of that Victorian culture that was so prevalent just ten-twenty years earlier.

There are two women in Christopher’s life, and neither are much like him.  His wife, Sylvia, is almost his antithesis.  She is Catholic, feisty, vapid, lascivious, and tremendously bored.  She is played by Rebecca Hall, who looks so astonishingly beautiful in this miniseries that I’m convinced she has been sent specifically to make the rest of us mortal women feel bad about ourselves.

Sylvia

It’s difficult to determine who is less pleased with this marriage, which is doomed from the start.  After a fling with Christopher while in the midst of a long affair with a married man, Sylvia discovers she is pregnant.  Not wanting to be ruined in society, she marries Christopher.  Being something of a martyr, and a truly honorable man, Christopher marries her despite knowing there is a chance the child is not his.  He resents her at the same time that he is bewitched by her appearance and her joie de vivre.  She resents him for being so (to borrow an anachronistic term from the 1950s) square, so emotionless.  She is constantly (especially in the beginning of their marriage) trying to provoke his anger and jealousy.  He never gives in to his emotions.

At first, I found Sylvia difficult to like.  She is like a petulant child, acting out in the hope of a reaction from disinterested parents.  For me, it seems obvious that people so utterly bored with life must be very boring themselves.  But as the series continues, she improves.  Her independence alone must be commended, considering when she lived and how she lived. Though she first finds Christopher a bore, it’s obvious she loves him too.  No one wants their husband’s attention that badly unless they care. No matter how misguided and immature her actions are, all she can hope is that it will provoke a reaction in her husband.  She does truly want to work it out, and I found myself sort of hoping it would.

But then there is Valentine, a young suffragette that Christopher meets. Valentine is everything that Sylvia isn’t and vice versa.  She is played by Adelaide Clemens, soon to star in the new Gatsby movie.

ValentineIn some ways, it’s strange that Christopher would be attracted to a revolutionary woman.  Women’s suffrage was a pretty revolutionary idea, and you can see clearly in the miniseries that the majority of people thought suffragettes were whores.  They were trying to undermine the status quo, and that’s never going to gain you popularity with most of society.  That Christopher, so conservative and old-fashioned, is attracted to Valentine is explainable because she is an honorable and honest person.  Unlike Sylvia, who is all about manipulation and misinformation, Valentine has the honest naiveté of every young revolutionary.  She is immediately attracted to Christopher because (in my opinion) she recognizes a similarly moral person in a vastly immoral society.

This being a British period drama, the love triangle is unconsummated for 99% of the miniseries.  This is not Team Edward vs Team Jacob.  The majority of the miniseries sees Christopher trying to repress his feelings for Valentine because he is married and despite his wife’s unfaithfulness, he refuses to break his marriage vows.  He does not even want to divorce her, because he just doesn’t think it’s the right thing to do, in any circumstance.

This love triangle is interrupted by World War One, and that event is the catalyst for all the change we witness in British society in this era.  Entire generations of men gone to war and coming back wounded physically, destroyed emotionally, or not coming back at all.  The romantic and chivalrous ideal of Victorian society cannot stand up to the reality of WWI.  Parade’s End makes this perfectly obvious.  Christopher, irritated with illogical bureaucracy, resigns his government job and enlists to fight.  In one scene, the incongruous nature of Victorian society meeting 20th-century war is highlighted particularly well.  In a fit of exhaustion, stress, and emotional trauma during an air raid, Christopher claims to be able to write a sonnet in under 3 minutes.  His education in the classics, in poetry, in languages, would have made this quite simple for him. He completes his task, and his fellow officer (a former scholar) claims to be able to translate it into Latin in under 3 minutes as well.  This is the sort of exercise their education has prepared these upper-class men to do.  So they are doing it, in the middle of war-torn France with bombs dropping all around them.  And for the most part, this was painfully true.  No one was prepared for the carnage of WWI, but I would guess the officers least of all.  Working men would have seen terrible things in the course of their much rougher lives.  Officers (whose positions were earned through social class or purchased for them) would have come from more educated, but more sheltered backgrounds.  But they were still there, in the trenches, with just as much chance of being shot or blown in half.  As with any war, the pointlessness is overwhelming, but WWI was especially pointless.

The miniseries ends with the end of the war.  Christopher makes it home, but the society he knows is largely gone.  And England did change almost entirely during those years, far more than the US did.  The upper class lifestyle of landed nobility tried to continue to hang on afterward, but things were too different and the century rolled on without them.  The miniseries did a great job illustrating the end of that era. Christopher doesn’t hold so tight to his Anglican morals when he comes back; he sees where they are useful, but he makes his own morality now.  He allows himself to fall in love with Valentine, and he lets Sylvia go.  The miniseries ends with their relationship finally being consummated, and Sylvia contemplating a divorce.

Because of the time period, there are many comparisons between Parade’s End and Downton Abbey.  I like Downton Abbey a lot, but comparing the two is ridiculous and not going to make anyone happy.  For the record, I thought Parade’s End was mature, thoughtful, subtle, and meaningful.  It was for adults; it was perhaps for the slightly disenchanted.  Downton Abbey has proved, especially with season 3, that it is more of a soap opera than anything else.  It is an exceedingly well-done soap opera, but the characters and the drama veer often into the melodramatic and the ridiculous.  Its portrayal of World War I had a high casualty rate, but barely scratched the surface of what is generally believed to be the most horrifying part of that war–the pointlessness of it.  If you really compare the two, Parade’s End is like literature, and Downton Abbey is like a very well-done glossy magazine.

Reviews have all been pretty good regarding Parade’s End. Everyone is agreed that the acting is superb and the cinematography beautiful.  I think that the accent Benedict Cumberbatch puts on, though probably very accurate to the period, might put some people off.  It sounds comical to a modern ear, and can take you out of the moment.

My real problem with the miniseries lies either in the editing or writing. I don’t know enough about how these things are made to tell you which.  There’s some sort of disconnect in what’s presented to the audience, and we don’t get the whole story.  We see snippets of larger themes and problems the characters are working through, but we don’t get the whole story.  It’s hard to understand sometimes why they are doing what they are doing.  Sylvia goes to France, to the middle of the fighting, to visit Christopher during the war.  It’s fairly obvious that she wants to win him back, and for a moment it looks like it might work.  But he is irrevocably in love with Valentine by this point, and though he and Sylvia get a moment of rekindled affection and respect, it turns to nothing.  The next time they meet, after the war, there is very little trace of it in their interaction.  Sylvia is either sick or pretending to be so; Christopher does not care.  They are back to their old interaction–she wants his attention and his outrage, he doesn’t want to show it.  There are lots of moments where the interactions don’t all add up, don’t flow in an even keel.  I imagine this is the trouble of condensing what were four books into a short miniseries, but it’s hard to tell for sure.  It was difficult to feel the emotional reward and cathartic release at the end of the miniseries because of these strange missteps sprinkled throughout.  One of the reviews I read, here, describes it really well, saying that the ‘connective tissue’ of the story is missing.  That’s exactly how I felt.  The various limbs of this story were not adequately connected.

It wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t always rewarding.  It was interesting and gave me a lot of things to think about.  I cannot wait to read the books, which will have the connective tissue.

Coming Soon

I thought I would take a day to look at what’s coming out of the UK and hitting our shores in the next few months. Warning though, this post is restricted in some ways to what appeals to me as an anglophile.  So, for example, if Big Brother UK is going to be on here, I probably won’t talk about it, because I don’t honestly care..

Films:

The Deep Blue Sea starring Rachel Weisz and Tom Hiddleston (aka Loki from Thor).  Not to be confused with the Samuel L. Jackson movie of the same name.

This trailer isn’t anything spectacular, but the cast is.  According to Wikipedia, it is from a play by Terence Rattigan, about the wife of a judge who falls for a pilot in the RAF. Intriguing, could be good. Lots of good quotes on the trailer, but no telling if that translates to an actually good film. But it has been out since November in the UK, and currently has an 88% on Rotten Tomatoes, so I’m guessing it’s going to be fairly good. It comes out in limited release here March 30th.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Could there possibly be a more boring title? I can’t think of one. But, then you look at the cast: Ewan McGregor (doing his native Scot accent for once), Emily Blunt, and Kristin Scott Thomas. And I’m in.

Seriously, though the subject of salmon fishing in the Middle East could not be of less interest to me for many reasons, this looks like a really good heart-warming sort of film that I love.  This one is coming out quite soon; limited release this coming weekend! I am definitely looking forward to this film.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

This is it! I don’t think there’s any movie that I’m more looking forward to this year.  Can you believe the cast? Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey, HP), Bill Nighy (HP, Underworld, Love Actually), Judi Dench (every period drama ever, the new Bond movies), Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire), Penelope Wilson (Downton Abbey, Dr. Who), and Tom Wilkinson (tons of stuff, most recently Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol).  Seriously though, when the US does a movie with this many superstars, it is some absolute trash like Valentine’s Day or He’s Just Not That Into You.  But this is going to be brilliant, because not only are they quite famous in England, but they are famous for being actually good actors. Cannot wait for this movie! But I will have to, as it doesn’t come out until May 4th.

Books:

Some titles I’m looking forward to in the coming months include:

Britain, etc.–A nonfiction, light, trivia-based jaunt through Britain from A-Z.  Hopefully I’ll learn something and be entertained at the same time.

The English Monster–It’s historical fiction, it’s a murder mystery, it’s based on a true story.  Set in the early Regency period, based on some real murders. Difficult to think of dreadful murders going on at the same time Jane Austen was penning her lovely novels.  I have decided lately to get more into crime fiction and this may be one of my first forays into that oeuvre.

And of course, the unnamed J.K. Rowling book will be at the top of my reading list, no matter what it is about or when it comes out.  That’s just how it is.

TV:

Life’s Too Short: I’m watching this right now on HBO. It’s a lovely and ridiculous comedy starring Warwick Davis (Willow, HP films, etc.) as a warped and foul version of himself. It’s yet another Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant project, and expect a full review once the series is done. It’s brilliant.

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Whitechapel: This one is a modern police procedural starting with a Jack the Ripper copycat.   I am starting to be rather obsessed with Jack the Ripper! This was actually on BBC America last fall, but I missed it with the holiday rush. So I’m going to try to watch it now.

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Top Gear!: Anyone that doesn’t know about this show has my pity.  Ok, I should preface this by saying that cars are not of much interest to me.  I started watching this show with my bf because he loves cars and I love England, so it was a good fit.  But it is hilarious, one of the most popular shows in the UK, and lots of fun even if you’re not a ‘petrolhead’ as they call it. Season 18 starts in April. Also, do not confuse this with the American version, which has more cars and less class.

Here is a best of montage to wet your appetite: