Tag Archives: Netflix

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.

The Fall

The-fall-highres_8colI don’t think I knew about this show when it originally aired in the UK (early summer 2013). It’s on Netflix Instant here; it never aired on US TV.

There are a lot of police procedurals on TV. Way more than the world will ever need. There have been nearly 750 episodes of CSI and its spinoffs. And they just ordered another CSI spinoff focusing on computer crime. And don’t get me started on Law and Order (original, Criminal Intent, SVU, UK, Elevator Inspector’s Unit). So…most of them aren’t even good shows. They’re completely unrealistic with their ludicrously attractive casts, featuring police women in 6″ stiletto Louboutin shoes, lab scientists who are inexplicably present during police raids, SWAT missions, interrogations, the incredibly posh sets that no government could afford for what little lab resources they have, and their superhuman ability to zoom and ‘enhance’ CCTV footage to make a picture clear enough to identify perps and even take their fingerprints off the water bottle they can see through the camera. They are all stupid shows. The only good ones are those that either a-makes the situation goofy or b-show the darkness that comes with the job. Psych is my favorite version of the former, and Luther is a great version of the latter.

The Fall is neither as dark or as devastating as Luther. But it has a lot going for it, and is infinitely more worth watching than any episode of CSI (even that one Quentin Tarantino directed).

Reason the first: Gillian Anderson.

3619467-high_res-the-fall.jpgI have seen very little of her acting, as the X-Files scared the crap out of me when it was on TV–I was 12 when it premiered.

But I did see her in the recent miniseries of Bleak House and she was wonderful in it. In The Fall, she plays DSI Stella Gibson. She travels from the Metro Police to Belfast because of a missing woman. If Stella Gibson were a man, the character wouldn’t be much different, and would be a bit of a cliché. Cold, unemotional, focused on the hunt for the killer. Serial killer, Gibson believes after examining several similar cases. Gibson is smart, logical, eminently capable, and confident to a fault.  She asks to be introduced to a fellow cop because she thinks he’s handsome (she doesn’t say that last part). When she starts talking to him, she just casually (but pointedly) mentions her hotel’s name and her hotel room number. I don’t think I would ever have the guts to do something like that, but omg I wish I had that sort of confidence. I had to stare at the screen for a minute with my mouth open to recover from that scene.  The guy gets the hint and shows up later, and Stella is just as take-charge in that scene as she is during press conferences. Her character and her performance are very interesting and fascinating to watch.  She does approach her job as a hunt, and uses her ability to understand the killer to help find him.

Which brings us to reason the second: Paul Spector

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Jamie Dornan plays the killer. He hasn’t been in much before (an American show, Once Upon a Time), but he’s about to be much more famous. He’s playing the lead in the 50 Shades of Grey movie.  A movie I plan to avoid with all resources available to me. Same strategy I’ve applied to the books, and it’s worked so far.

In the Fall, the viewer spends almost equal time between Gibson and Spector. We see the killer prepare, research, stalk.  We see him kill. We also see him at his mediocre job, with his wife and children. We see his infatuation with the babysitter. It’s a bit like Dexter, in that we see from both points of view. But though Dexter is a terrifying person and a serial killer with a much higher body count, I find Spector far more terrifying. Dexter has his ‘code’, his set of morals, and that makes the bitter pill easier to swallow.  Spector goes after professional women, brunette, pretty. He strangles them, slowly. He bathes them and paints their fingernails after they’re dead. And then he goes home to his wife (a neonatal nurse) and 2 children. His daughter suffers from night terrors. He has a normal life, and when he is with his family he seems like a normal man. In the end, he is able to keep his family together, which keeps him from being exposed as a killer. He is able to feign normalcy well enough to be assumed innocent.

Which leads us to the big problem with this show.  The ending. After 5 nailbiting episodes, the show ends with a cliffhanger.  The hunt is on a break, because Spector has left town. It’s not just a cliffhanger, it’s more of a no-ender. No resolution, no pause to collect thoughts, just a fade that leaves you thinking you must have accidentally hit pause and of course there should be another 5-10 minutes to this damn show! Frustrating!

The good news is that they are filming the second series soon. From what I’ve read, it should pick up exactly where the last one stopped. Right back to the pursuit.

This is a minimalist show. Not a lot of dialogue. Sparse. This makes it difficult for me to qualitatively describe what I liked so much about it.  I can only say that it was well-made, well-written, well-acted, and kept me interested without the need for big twists and unexpected coincidences. And how many shows can you actually say that about nowadays? Very few. I totally recommend watching it.  But keep in mind that you will be irritated when you reach the end.

 

TV review: Derek with Ricky Gervais

Derek series posterRicky Gervais’ new series, Derek, just finished its first season in the UK.  It will be airing exclusively on Netflix in the US later this year (no premier date yet).  It’s only six episodes, but a second season in the UK has already been announced.

There was a lot of controversy before the show started, when it got out that Ricky was playing a man who seemed to be mentally disabled.  I think most of the controversy dried up when people actually saw the show. I don’t think it’s offensive at all–it might even be a bit too safe.

The show features Ricky as the eponymous Derek, possibly the nicest man in the world.  If there is one thing this show is about, it’s about valuing kindness over all other traits.  Derek cares about everyone and every living creature, and the show illustrates how much more valuable that is than qualities like intelligence, material success, A level scores, etc.  Derek works in a nursing home; it’s his whole life.  I can’t tell you what he does exactly (in terms of a job). It seems like he is more of a companion to the residents, and he’s very good at that.  He genuinely cares about all of them.

His best friend is Hannah,

hannahwho runs the nursing home.  She is one of those women who takes care of everyone and doesn’t have much of a life on her own. She puts all of her energy into her job and truly wants to take care of all of the people who live in and work at the home.  She makes me, honestly and truly, feel like a pretty terrible person by comparison.

To make me feel better, there is Karl Pilkington (and a hilarious wig) as Dougie.

slide_277704_2042719_freeDougie is the handyman in the nursing home.  He’s not as kind as Hannah or Derek–he is more willing to say what is on his mind and more likely to be irritated by other people.  Who knew Karl could act? He’s actually really good!  Now, there are a lot of similarities between him and his character.  In my preview of this series, I noted these similarities:

He complains a lot, likes to fix things, doesn’t know why he’s friends with Ricky.  Check, check, check.

And I stand by that post.  He’s very similar to what I know of him through An Idiot Abroad and The Ricky Gervais Show–though all of these shows give us Karl through Ricky’s eyes (and editing skills), so I wouldn’t presume to actually know him.  At any rate, Dougie is perpetually annoyed, but his annoyance is geared toward people who truly deserve it.  One high point of the series is when Dougie throws out the money-grubbing daughter of a woman who has just died, because she is a heinous person only concerned with getting her mother’s things now that she’s gone.  Dougie is my hero in that episode.

There’s also Kev

derek_kev_2Derek’s friend and the least likeable of the main characters.  He is sex-obsessed, crass, and generally unliked, but his friendship with Derek and the clear evidence that he is full of shit make the audience realize that he isn’t all bad.  If he was an asshole in the exact same way and also handsome/successful, then he would be unforgivable.  The fact that he is horribly unsuccessful in life and with women make his boasts and pronouncements less offensive and more sad.

In the background there are a litany of secondary characters from the fringes of life.  There are chavvy teenagers, assigned to do community service at the nursing home, the heinous people from the city council threatening to shut the place down, and of course the residents themselves.  I kind of love Derek for the simple fact that it shows people we don’t normally see on TV.  For how many hours of super fancy people on Selling New York or The Bachelor or Real Housewives of Whichever City, you’re only likely to see a regular person on shows like Hoarders or My Strange Addiction.  It’s lovely to see people represented on TV that normally wouldn’t be, and I hope it gives everyone a greater respect for older people, even though the show is inherently more rose-colored than reality must be.

Let me start with a warning about this show.  I cried during every single episode.  It is emotional; it is schmaltzy.  Some critics think the emotion has gone too far, into the realm of absolute sentimental tripe.  I think there are arguments for that.  After all, you never seem too controversial by showing how great it would be if everyone was kind to one another.  On the other hand, very few of us have the capacity to be as kind and as selfless as Hannah and Derek.  There are, undoubtedly, people who work in a caretaker capacity that are just like them.  But there are also people who take advantage of their situation to do horrible things, and there are people who become burnt out by what they are seeing on a day-to-day basis and become apathetic or cold-hearted as a result.  Derek portrays a world free from those types.  There are your occasional villains who come in (like the couple mentioned above, visiting only to get a hold of a family ring), but they leave.  Everyone there is forgivable and forgiving, and cares about the residents in their care.  I don’t know how accurate that is.

The show is genuinely funny, but you’re more likely to spend your time crying than laughing.

The show is very clearly a Ricky Gervais project, but at the same time it is quite different.  No matter how crass and unlikeable Ricky can be when he is confronting the world as himself (I have a coworker that loathes him completely), his works always have a good heart and good people behind them.  In The Office, Tim and Dawn are the heart of the show, but by the end of the run you do truly care for David Brent and for Gareth.  The only real villain of the piece is Chris Finch, and we see him put firmly in his place during the special (my favorite moment ever).  In Extras and Life’s Too Short, you see an egotistical, foolish, deeply flawed, very negative main character, but the show always makes clear that these traits are not rewarding.  In the end, these characters focus their energy on their personal relationships and not on the success they so long for.  That same sense of good and kindness is the main centerpiece of Derek, but Derek approaches it in a different way.  It’s there from the absolute beginning, as the prevailing quality of the main character.

It is schmaltzy, and it is sensationalist (to use the old definition of causing sensations), but it is cathartic to see and experience what life might be like if we were all a little less smart and a little more kind. It made me cry to the point of extreme discomfort on more than one occasion (especially the finale), but it did feel good afterward.  I really enjoyed the show and will definitely be watching the second season.

Ricky as Derek with dogs