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Broadchurch

Wolf Hall

Broadchurch, ITV1; Wolf Hall, BBC Two

Dear Wolf Hall,

Alright my love? How’s the third week going? Ratings slightly down I hear? Me too. You get used to it. Listen, I’m writing because a little bird told me that you didn’t have much of a plot going on, and that you might be after one. Thing is, I’ve got quite a lot of them at the moment, so if you were wanting to borrow any then I reckon it could be good for both of us.

Let’s face it, we both look smoking hot. Me with my sunny seascapes and mysteriously cloudless skies, like an advert for Visit Dorset, and you with your lute-soundtracked stately homes and manicured lawns, like an advert for the lovechild of the National Trust and English Heritage. I really think we can come up with an arrangement that suits us both.

Oh, I should probably tell you a bit more about our range. We have numerous recycled plots, a couple of credible plots, a few plots rapidly losing their intrigue, awkwardly shoehorned-in plots relating to legal counsels’ backstories, and a slightly incongruous plot involving a unconvincing vicar dating a promiscuous hotelier. Take your pick!

Sincerely,

Broadchurch

Winner of four BAFTAs

***

Dear Broadchurch,

With regards to your proposition, I am afraid I cannot answer yes or no, rather you will have to deduce my response from my enigmatic facial expression.

That is all I have to say on the matter. I am a drama of few words.

Sincerely (or perhaps not),

Wolf Hall

Future winner of all of the BAFTAs

***

Dear Wolf Hall,

Ok, I’ll cut to the chase. I’m in a bit of a scrape. I have one murderer on the loose, and one about to emerge victorious from a dubiously conducted court battle, and I’ve only got three episodes left. You seem to be pretty skilled in making one episode go a long, long way. Plus, people really seem to like you. What’s your secret?

Sincerely,

Broadchurch

***

Dear Broadchurch,

First of all, my commiserations to you regarding the recent birth of the Latimer baby. I personally have a deep understanding of what the birth of a girl can do to the complexity of a plot, and from what you’ve said in your previous correspondence, that sounds like the last thing you need.

Secondly, I have noticed a distinct lack of fluffy animals in your drama. Three episodes in and I’ve had a puppy, several kittens, a white rabbit and a horse. You may want to consider this tactic – it might help with the declining viewing figures you alluded to in your earlier correspondence, as well as your concerns about likeability.

Sincerely,

Wolf Hall

***

Dear Wolf Hall,

Thank you for your advice, but as we are not a high-brow historical drama adapted from two Booker Prize-winning novels, we don’t feel we need to use such tactics to attract the attention of a generation raised on YouTube cat videos. We can do that just fine with our dramatic twists, and scenes involving a shirtless James D’Arcy.

Anyway, I was thinking that if we lent you a couple of plots, you might be able to loan us Mark Rylance for a bit. I heard his character was a lawyer, and he seems to be quite efficient in getting certain people to certain places – like Anne Boleyn to the King’s bed – and I reckon that talent could be extended, in our case, to getting the Sandbrook murderer into jail, with Joe Miller not far behind. I admit, there would be a couple of issues to resolve – primarily the fact that Rylance looks like he literally just walked out of a tudor painting – but this can be remedied with a quick hair trim, a wardrobe change, and maybe the cultivating of some unkempt stubble à la Alec Hardy. Speaking of, I might be willing to throw David Tennant into the bargain if it would tempt you.

Let me know what you think,

Sincerely,

Broadchurch

***

Dear Broadchurch,

I am afraid that I cannot give you a definitive answer either way. Rylance’s character goes where he pleases, looking mysterious in the process. It may be that he will take a trip to the West Country – as he has done so a number of times throughout filming in order to walk enigmatically around the gardens of a number of National Trust properties in that part of England. However, I am quite sure that the town of Broadchurch boasts no such landmarks.

With regards to the loaning of David Tennant, you are somewhat deluded if you think I will settle for anyone less than Olivia Colman.

Sincerely,

Wolf Hall,

BBC Two’s biggest drama for a decade

***

Dear Wolf Hall,

Three-time BAFTA award-winning Olivia Colman is strictly off limits. You give me no choice but to take my incredibly advantageous offer elsewhere.

Sincerely,

Broadchurch

ITV’s highest-rated weekday drama series since 2004

***

Dear Broadchurch,

I am sorry that I seem to have disappointed you. Had you been in your first series I may have considered your generous offer. Now, however, you are somewhat irksome and past it. The Catherine of Aragon of TV drama, shall we say.

Sincerely,

Wolf Hall

The Anne Boleyn of TV drama

***

Dear Mr Selfridge,

How are you doing? If you could find the time in your busy schedule to get back to me, I have an offer I am sure you will find most attractive.

Sincerely,

Broadchurch

Ps. It does NOT involve three-time BAFTA award-winning Olivia Colman

Remember Me

Remember Me, BBC One

If there are two  genres we love here in Britain, it’s crime and period drama. We can’t get enough of them, the former proving particularly prolific recently. Usually rooted in gritty realism, our crime dramas of late (think Broadchurch, The Fall, and Happy Valley) have been disturbing, unrelenting – and utterly addicting. But despite their compelling qualities, it’s nice once in a while to move away from realism and into the realm of the supernatural.

Cue Remember Me, a three part ghost story penned by Gwyneth Hughes, that provides Michael Palin with his first straight television role in more than twenty years. Set against a backdrop not unlike that of Happy Valley, Remember Me is refreshing in its shunning of realism and wholehearted embracing of the ghostly genre. Palin plays Tom Parfitt, on the face of it a perfectly unassuming pensioner. Underneath his jovial temperament, however, lurks something altogether more sinister. There’s also something lurking in his house – specifically the surprisingly sizeable attic room – that makes him determined to leave, feigning a fall in order to be granted a place in a nearby old people’s home. It’s here that he meets Hannah Ward (Jodie Comer), a young carer, who is drawn unknowingly into Parfitt’s troubles.

Hughes makes use of a number of ghost story tropes in this first episode: dripping taps, a black and white photograph ripped down the middle, an old mill, and plenty of howling wind. That’s not to say that the story is as obvious as the devices used. In fact, after this first episode, it’s anyone’s guess where this plot will take its characters, who remain equally in the dark (in more ways than one). We’re left with a number of components: Jack himself, the attic of doom, a mysterious veiled woman who makes a habit of infiltrating dreams, and a chest full of sheet music – specifically of the traditional folk song, Scarborough Fair. The song itself provides an effective motif throughout the episode, from the haunting, childlike rendition during the opening credits, to the single line played on the out-of-tune piano later on. Ruth Barrett’s score is sparse, but extremely effective, as are the sound effects that raise the tension level several notches – all loud creaks and ominous thuds.

Whilst the ghostly happenings (present from the get-go) are not exactly subtle to begin with, they perhaps become slightly over the top at the climax of the episode. However, well-pitched and sympathetic performances from Palin, a dishevelled Julia Sawalha (as Hannah’s mother), and especially Comer herself, ensure that Remember Me remains intriguing and chilling to the end.

Carrie

Homeland 4×01: The Drone Queen

N.B. I’m watching Homeland on UK time, so apologies if you’re already streets ahead of this. And by ‘streets’ I mean ‘two episodes’

I spent the first two seasons of Homeland with my eyes glued to the TV and my heart in my mouth. The third season, however, was spent staring slightly incredulously at the screen and uttering ‘Ugh, Carrie, really?’ and ‘Seriously, Brody, seriously?’ at various points throughout. That doesn’t mean that I am one of those people who would rather see the back of Homeland. Nor am I one of the people who for some reason were of the opinion that the entire series was carried by Brody, and couldn’t possibly go on without him. On the contrary, one of the worst episodes of Homeland I have sat through was the one that solely featured Brody, practically dead in a tower block in Venezuela, being administered heroin by a doctor resembling Michael Jackson. That, in my opinion, was Homeland’s low point. So I was actually not sorry at all to see the back of Brody. It has always been the brilliance of Claire Danes’ portrayal of Carrie that has kept me watching. I was never really 100% invested in the Carrie/Brody relationship, and the whole thing was drawn out far too long. When Brody made his exit at the end of last season, I was hopeful. Homeland was now free to reset the clock, wipe the slate clean, leave the Brodys (including, thank heavens, Dana – not to mention poor, inexplicably mute Chris) behind.

And much about Homeland is new as it moves into its fourth season. New locations, new characters, new conflicts – even a new baby. It’s certainly a departure for the show, which until now has taken place largely, as the title might suggest, on US soil. But as Carrie – or, as she is termed by her colleagues early on in the episode, ‘the Drone Queen’ – returns to her sparsely furnished Kabul apartment, pours a large glass of white wine and washes down a pill or two, it’s clear to see that old habits die hard. The same can be said for Saul (Mandy Patinkin), all the way back in New York, stuck in a private sector job and visibly itching to return to a world where his opinions have a larger effect than merely jeopardising a contract.

Homeland will never be as gripping as it was in its first season, when there were so many unknowns surrounding all characters, including our unpredictable protagonist. Three seasons on and we’re now at the stage where we get Carrie and how she operates. Her rash decisions are par for the course, and are more likely to induce an exasperated eye-roll than a tension-filled gasp. What’s interesting is that the writers now seem to be using this to their advantage. Instead of capitalising on our sympathy for Carrie (something we had in spadefuls in season 1 but that has since been wearing dangerously thin) they are instead causing us to question her choices increasingly. Carrie is now Station Chief in Kabul, rather than Istanbul as was originally the plan, and it is strongly hinted that the choice of Afghanistan over Turkey is related to the fact that the former is far too dangerous a place in which to raise a baby. It says much about Carrie that she would choose to become the Drone Queen rather than care for her own child. This repositioning of the audience’s feelings towards the protagonist is an interesting decision by the writers, and I’m curious to see how it pans out. There are many points in which Carrie’s responses to the consequences of her actions – especially the inadvertent killing of forty civilians in a poorly-timed attack that becomes the focus of this episode – cause us to feel as uncomfortable as we do seeing the words ‘The Drone Queen’ iced delicately onto a birthday cake. Luckily, not everyone in Homeland is completely devoid of a moral compass. Peter ‘Cheekbones’ Quinn (Rupert Friend) is still strongly questioning his role in the conflict playing out in the Middle East, and he’s not about to let Carrie off lightly either. Apparently, for now, he is the new Saul – concerned by Carrie’s behaviour, and ready to play devil’s advocate if need be. Not that Saul is oblivious to Carrie’s actions even all those miles away – as a (pointedly ignored) phone call suggests partway through.

This episode, on the whole, was slow to get going and quick to wind up. It felt like the action was only just beginning when the credits began to roll. Showtime chose to air the first two episodes back to back in the US last week, and it’s a shame Channel 4 didn’t follow suit. Having said that, I’m not ready to give up on Homeland just yet. We were left with a lot of questions: who was the mysterious ‘X’ on Islamabad Station Chief Sandy’s phone? Would Sandy (played by an enigmatic Corey Stoll) survive to see another episode? What is the significance of the young medical student who survived the wedding party attack ? And just how long can Carrie keep avoiding a) her baby and b) the emotional consequences of her role – especially when people keep turning up to remind her that she should be feeling guilty? I don’t just mean Quinn – I’m referring also to King Arthur from Merlin (Bradley James), who pops up in uniform halfway through the episode, and actually turns out not to be King Arthur, but First Lieutenant J.G. Edgars, who regretfully – on Carrie’s orders – flew the mission into Pakistan that has everyone in a tizzy.

Instead of showing remorse following Edgars’ confrontation, Carrie merely acts annoyed. But then when has she ever been one to listen to other people?

There are upsides to indefinite unemployment, especially when you find yourself in this particular predicament in the Autumn, the season of mists, mellow fruitfulness, and an abundance of glorious television drama. As I tread the vast waters of joblessness, not only is there ample time for me to avail of the delights of the Autumn drama output, there is also room to acquaint myself with classics that have previously escaped my attention. Thus I am currently ploughing through season 1 of The West Wing (a programme I cannot believe I have thus far neglected, and that makes me dearly want to swan around in a suit being eloquent and witty but also staggeringly intelligent and astoundingly efficient) whilst simultaneously enjoying new series of Peaky Blinders, The Good Wife and, of course, everybody’s favourite Sunday evening staple, Downton Abbey, the drama that drama forgot.

I would just like to mention here, as a disclaimer of sorts, that I have actually been taking productive steps to finding a job alongside all of this sustained consideration and critiquing of screen-based popular culture. My parents – with whom I am currently living – will probably read this, and I’d hate them to think that all of the hours I spend holed up in my bedroom are dedicated to lovingly binge-watching fifteen-year-old US TV dramas rather than the reality: carefully crafting cover letter after cover letter, and watching my practice psychometric test scores creep painfully slowly towards the desired percentile. Last year, when I was still basking in the luxury of student life, I wrote a column containing recommendations for television programmes that were appropriate as revision. Now that I find myself essay-less and exam-less, I feel an update may be necessary. And the truth is, there are countless lessons to be learned from the stars of the small screen. So without further ado, here it is – Productive Television Consumption: The Graduate Edition.

Core competencies: lessons from the Bake Off.

Independence. Drive. Initiative. Determination. Risk-taking. Tenacity. Multitasking skills. Ability to produce the perfect choux pastry.

Until that last one, this could easily have been yet another list of core competencies reeled off by yet another ‘Requirements’ section on yet another graduate scheme website. In fact, it’s a list of all the qualities possessed by our beloved Great British Bake Off contestants. With that in mind, the only motivation I have for watching this week’s final is because I’m looking to gain inspiration for any application forms, interviews or assessment days that may miraculously come my way. It’s obviously not just because I quite like gazing at baked goods for extended periods of time. Nothing to do with that.

'Can you tell me about a time when you showed initiative under the icy glare of Paul Hollywood?'

‘Can you tell me about a time when you showed initiative under the icy glare of Paul Hollywood?’

Surviving numerical reasoning: Daisy in Downton Abbey

Times they are a-changing (as they are wont to do alarmingly often in the land of Downton), and Daisy is worried that her maths skills aren’t quite up to the standards that a future career may demand of her. I FEEL YA DAISY. Numerical reasoning tests are the Thomas to my Miss Baxter, the bus (read: Bates) to my Mr Green. Every time this poor kitchen maid bemoans her non-existent affinity with numbers, I find myself nodding along to her proclamations of woe. I, too, have been the victim of much numerical trauma. I, too, have spent hard-earned cash on books that might help, only to cast them aside in despair. But Daisy is not going to give up. She’ll keep going, even if it means hiring Miss Bunting to teach her alongside the demands of her never-ending culinary to-do-list. An inspiration to all those who feel defeated by data interpretation.

Looking the part: literally everyone on The Good Wife

I am currently in the market for a Corporate Fairy Godmother, and I would like, if possible, for Alicia Florrick to fill this vacancy. Or Diane Lockhart. Either will do. This is partly to do with the fact that I want them to share with me all of their wisdom and insights relating to being Kick-Ass Women In High-Powered Jobs, and partly because I think that if anyone could wave a wand and majestically transform my H&M jumper and jeans into a classy Hugo Boss suit and blouse combo/devastatingly sophisticated Etro dress, it would be Alicia or Diane. In fact, everyone on The Good Wife looks so fabulous that it may as well be renamed The Good Wardrobe, and from this we can deduce the following: 1) It is important to look the part, so dress well for interviews, and 2) Maybe if I get a good job, my hair will miraculously become more voluminous.

'Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boss'

‘Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boss’

'That's why her hair is so big. It's full of corporate insights.'

‘That’s why her hair is so big. It’s full of corporate insights.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Commercial awareness: the Peaky Blinders

Peaky Blinders returned last week, and in Episode One we learned that our favourite razor-capped, dubiously-moralled brummie gang were looking to expand to London. We were flies on the wall as Tommy et al discussed the implications of the move on the family business. These people had clearly done their research. Tommy new all about the current political and economic landscape in the capital (apparently the Jews and Italians aren’t too keen on each other), and Esme exhibited remarkable insight when she proclaimed that London meant ‘smoke and trouble’. We can learn two things from this: 1) Commercial awareness is key to a successful business application, and 2) Maybe we aren’t that keen to move to London after all.

CV points: Cilla

By the end of the first episode of ITV’s cosy biopic Cilla, we’d already seen our Scouse heroine excel in typing, experiment as a hair stylist and belt her heart out in the Cavern Club, accompanied by the Beatles. This is a girl who clearly understands the value of work experience – and the importance of networking.

'Did someone say transferable skills?'

‘Did someone say transferable skills?’

Conclusion: TV is a valuable resource when it comes to the graduate job hunt. Now back to the application forms. (And maybe some more West Wing…)

Doctor Who

Oh hi! It’s been a while. Let’s get straight into it shall we? As mentioned in the past, I am firmly not a fan of the direction in which Steven Moffat has taken Doctor Who. I was hoping the Capaldi era would signal a new lease of life, but Saturday’s episode confirmed that Moffat is still up to his old tricks. I think going over everything that annoys me about the programme would just be regurgitating most of what a lot of other people have said. Instead, I give you my own interpretation of Moffat’s scripts, which I think pretty much sums up my feelings on the subject. This will definitely make more sense if you’ve seen the whole of Saturday’s episode.

SCENE 1

DOCTOR: I can solve any problem! I’m the master of any sticky situation! I’m Scottish! I’m Steven Moffat! Ahem – sorry – I mean I’m the Doctor!

ENTER DINOSAUR

CLARA: Look! A dinosaur!

DOCTOR: That’s not a dinosaur. It’s a FEMALE dinosaur. I must mention this so that I can have a protracted one-sided conversation about how I’m not flirting with it! Joke for the adults!

DINOSAUR: Do I get a say in this?

DOCTOR: No. You’re female, so better just stick to the feisty wisecracks.

JENNY: (TO VASTRA) We’re also female! Nudge nudge, wink wink!

CLARA: Feisty wisecrack!

(ENTER SHERLOCK AND WATSON)

SHERLOCK: I’m investigating the origin of this dinosaur and how he came to end up in the Thames.

JENNY: It’s not a he. It’s a female dinosaur!

DINOSAUR: Hey baby.

SHERLOCK: In that case I must act adorably disarmed in the presence of this powerful female. Women love that.

VASTRA: Guys, we’ve just spent the last minute saying absolutely nothing in an awful lot of words. If we stopped doing this, the episodes could be over within an hour, like they used to be, and we wouldn’t have to engineer all this horribly forced sexual tension.

SHERLOCK: Over in an hour? Pathetic.

JENNY: At least we managed to get in a bit of innuendo. Wink wink.

STRAX: Joke for the kids!

VASTRA: No, but seriously. Is there any kind of plot here?

SHERLOCK: What’s a plot?

WATSON: It’s kind of like a storyline. We used to have them.

SHERLOCK: Oh, right.

DOCTOR: I don’t need a plot. I’m the Doctor. I AM the plot. I’ll just say a load of words in some kind of order whilst looking powerful and mysterious and perhaps a little tortured and then we can move the episode along. How does that sound?

SHERLOCK: Familiar.

CLARA: Go on then, Doctor!

DOCTOR: (LOOKING POWERFUL, MYSTERIOUS AND  A LITTLE TORTURED) I’m the Doctor! I vote we all move locations in order to give the pretence of some kind of plot! Because I’m the Doctor! Yes to independence!

BACKDROP SUDDENLY CHANGES

CLARA: (WIDE-EYED) Wow, Doctor! You’re so powerful and mysterious, and… old!

DOCTOR: I’m what?

CLARA: Old. You’ve got lines and stuff.

DOCTOR: How did I become over 35?!

RIVER SONG: Spoilers!

(PAUSE)

JENNY: No, River, you’re not in this any more…

RIVER SONG: Aren’t I?

VASTRA: Nah. Soz.

RIVER SONG: How do you know I’m not? I might be. But I can’t tell you. Y’know… spoilers…

DOCTOR: River! My soul is tortured by the mere sight of you – even though no one can quite remember why, because you tend to just pop up at random intervals to wink at me and shoot things.

RIVER SONG: Sorry sweetie. (WINKS AND SHOOTS DINOSAUR)

VASTRA: No!

CLARA: Why did you shoot the dinosaur?!

VASTRA: The girl dinosaur!

RIVER SONG: It was a girl dinosaur? Rats. If I’d known that I would have flirted with it because sexual orientation is fluid and we’re a really progressive show.

STRAX: Joke for the kids!

DOCTOR: Btw Clara, I’m not your boyfriend.

CLARA: I never said you w-

DOCTOR: Stop flirting with me.

(ENTER FANGIRL)

FANGIRL: Hey guys! Sorry, I heard the word spoilers! If you want to know any spoilers, I’ve watched a couple of leaked episodes online and I follow, like, 157 Doctor Who Tumblrs! (TO DOCTOR) Apparently you’re now old because you’re played by a slightly older actor! And he’s Scottish.

DOCTOR: AYE. DOWN WITH THE ENGLISH.

CLARA: Hold on a second. We can’t have fangirls wandering into scenes. It’s a bit self-referential. I mean seriously, how’s that going to look?

WATSON: Familiar.

DOCTOR: Ha! You’re totally jealous of this other female presence, Clara! Look, I told you, I’m not your boyfriend. I’m too old. Look at my lines and my grey hair. I’m practically dead.

CLARA: I know. You’re ancient. I’m so conflicted. I can’t cope with you being old. I’m going to leave.

ENTER MATT SMITH

MATT SMITH: Oh hi y’all! Just popping back to surprise the fans!

FANGIRL: (FAINTS)

MATT SMITH: Woah – who’s that grandad over there?!

CLARA: It’s the Doctor.

VASTRA: It’s you.

DOCTOR: It’s Steven Moffat’s ego.

MATT SMITH: Wow. I got old.

CLARA: And Scottish.

DOCTOR: VOTE YES.

MATT SMITH: Listen, Clara. I know you kind of want to leave because you’re fed up of being squeezed into a skirt that’s just a little bit too tight and making feisty wisecracks all day long, but seriously, it’s better if you stay. We need you for the male fans, and as a dubious role model for young girls, whose agency can be analysed endlessly on online forums.

CLARA: Urgh. Ok. (TO DOCTOR) But you’re not my boyfriend, remember that. You’re too old now.

DOCTOR: Totally fine with that.

CLARA: Let’s get coffee.

JENNY: Nudge nudge, wink wink.

STRAX: Joke for the kids!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Varsity issue no. 779, published 25/04/14. Here’s the link

TheGoodWife (1)

I must confess, I haven’t watched any new TV in a while. I’ve finally succumbed to an affair with Netflix (specifically The Good Wife) but with a dissertation-shaped elephant in the room, all the series I’ve been meaning to watch (Rev., The Crimson Field, Jamaica Inn) have sidled past silently, with far too many episodes stored up on iPlayer for me to have any hope of catching up. A couple of months ago, I wrote about the dangers of Netflix. Now I’ve changed my mind, and I’m about to tell you what you want to hear: contrary to popular belief, Netflix is made for exam term.

First and foremost, Netflix provides respite. Sometimes you just need a break. But what do you do when everyone else is revising and you’ve already caught up on the latest episode of Game of Thrones? Netflix is there at all hours to comfort you.

Crucially, it’s also flexible. If you start watching a current drama, you’re completely at the mercy of schedulers. People say binge watching is dangerous, but catching a drama before it falls off the iPlayer cliff and into the underworld of unwatched and unreachable episodes requires a level of commitment that just isn’t realistic in exam term. You can also guarantee the final episode will be scheduled the night before your first exam – the world is cruel like that. But Netflix is kinder. It doesn’t mind if you’ve been away for a while: the episodes are all still there waiting for you when you get the chance to return.

Netflix also keeps you sane. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that in exam term every conversation, no matter how it starts, will always end up being about exams. You can even apply a kind of exam-term Bechdel Test: 1) Are there ever two people in a room? Yes, at mealtimes. 2) Do these people talk to each other? Yes, when they don’t have food in their mouths. 3) Do these people talk to each other about something other than work?

Uh oh. Test failed at the final hurdle. The only two places you can go to escape this manic revision/dissertation-based conversation are a) home or b) Netflix. Home is far away, and probably expensive. Netflix is just a click away. Honestly, the fact that Alicia Florrick doesn’t stop halfway through a trial and express panic about whether the preface is included in her dissertation word count is more of a blessing than I can put into words.

Okay, so I’ll admit, this column is basically an elaborate justification for renewing my Netflix subscription at the worst point possible. But I think I’ve argued my points well. I have a feeling I won’t be saying the same about my first practice essay.

From Varsity issue no. 777, published 14/02/14.

Netflix

Nightmare on Netflix

Let’s talk about binge-watching, the condition that involves losing a few days of your life to a television drama. Last August Kevin Spacey heralded it as the future of television, claiming audiences were no longer prepared to wait a week for a new episode when they could just as easily watch three more there and then.

There’s also the counter-argument: television viewing is a shared experience. It’s about watching a show then discussing it avidly for the next week; look to Broadchurch as a prime example – and isn’t Downton Abbey just an excuse to get together for bit of an eye-roll? Not nearly as many people would watch it if whole series were available on demand. Broken jam jars and scheming under-butlers aren’t enough to sustain a proper binge. That was Spacey’s point, actually. He claimed that the Netflix format helps to nurture quality dramas that have longevity. He cited The Sopranos and Breaking Bad as examples of productions that reached their pinnacle only by their third or fourth season. Dramas like these are the future, he argued, and their place is online.

Great. I’m all in favour of an abundance of quality drama. The problem is, I’m rubbish at binge watching. Ridiculous, I know. How can you be rubbish at sitting motionless in front of a screen for the best part of five hours? You can’t. But it’s not the watching I’m having trouble with. It’s the getting started.

It being the penultimate term of final year, I decided it was about time I renewed my Netflix subscription. I’d had an epiphany whilst half-heartedly procrasti-watching a mediocre episode of Mr Selfridge: I could be enjoying a truly decent drama. Off to Netflix I went. I was going to watch The Good Wife. I’d also heard great things about Orange Is The New Black. But realistically how long could I dodge conversations about Breaking Bad? Likewise House of Cards? Then again, The Bridge was meant to be fantastic. I panicked and wound up watching Tangled instead. A couple of days later, I took to Facebook to solve my dilemma. To which, I asked, should I sell my soul? Naturally, five people suggested six different dramas, with one adding helpfully that ‘Breaking Bad will ruin your degree.’

I was back to square one. My inner-finalist knew I should only commit to one. I just couldn’t decide which would cause the least damage. That’s the advantage of Mr Selfridge, you see: it’s controlled viewing. Taken once a week with dinner, and middling enough to prevent addiction. So I think I’ll steer clear of the binge – until June, that is. Maybe being indefinitely unemployed won’t be as bad as I’d anticipated.

This term I get to ramble about television fortnightly in the form of a TV column for Varsity. Here are the first two. The first is the latest, and the second is now about two weeks out of date. So soz about that.

Less of the novel, more of the novels

From issue no. 776, published 31/01/14. Here’s the link.

Mr Selfridge

Last week the ebullient Mr Selfridge flounced back onto our screens. If you missed the relatively mediocre first season, Mr Selfridge is essentially what Downton Abbey would look like if Mary Portas were the producer. Strangely, the man behind the screenplay, Andrew Davies, is responsible for some of the best costume dramas to grace our screens: Bleak House, Little Dorrit, and the famous BBC Colin-Firth-in-wet-shirt adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Mr Selfridge may look as sumptuous, but when it comes to substance it pales in comparison. Perhaps Davies should stick to what he does best – adapting novels, rather than attempting to be novel. Adaptations trump vapid original representations of history (Mr Selfridge, Downton Abbey) for several reasons:

They actually have plots – not surprising, given they’re the work of storytelling greats such as Austen, Dickens and the Brontës.

They force you to read the original. I feel guilty about watching adaptations of novels I haven’t read, so I usually attempt to do so before they hit our screens. Who says TV doesn’t make you cultured?

You can pretend you’ve read the original. Obviously my well-meaning enthusiasm doesn’t always translate to action. But hey, no one need know, right?

They’re not all obsessed with ‘The War’. According to Julian Fellowes’ recent projects, history consists of WWI and the sinking of the Titanic. Unfortunately, at the end of episode one of Mr Selfridge, poor old Franz Ferdinand was shot again, which means we’re no doubt in for more sanitised depictions of trenches and wholesome representations of Home Front life.

They inspire debate. When dearly loved characters and plots are reconstructed on our screens, it gets people talking about the original text and why this new interpretation is completely unfounded/wonderfully understated.

Adaptations of classic novels have been thin on the ground lately. Perhaps these things come in waves – ITV had an Austen Binge a few years ago, around the time that the BBC were particularly enamoured by Dickens. Even so, there are plenty of lesser-known titles that have inspired some brilliant dramas in the last few years, primarily the BBC’s Parade’s End, based on the works of Ford Madox Ford, which saw Rebecca Hall and Benedict Cumberbatch give sensational performances. Yes, ok, it was partially set in the war, but unlike dear old Downton, 85 per cent of the script didn’t consist of references to this fact.

There’s good news for adaptation fans though – Davies has a six-part version of War and Peace in the works for 2015. I’d better get reading.

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The Rise of the TV Detective

From issue no. 775, published 17/01/14. Not online.

Broadchurch

Maybe someone’s laced our tea, infiltrated the TV scheduling, or employed Derren Brown to hypnotise us on a street corner, but currently we are all infatuated with detectives. Investigateur extraordinaire Hercule Poirot may have said his final farewells last year, but there are a million more surreptitious sleuths lining up to take the place of the much-loved Belgian eccentric, sneaking stealthily into every available timeslot. There are, it seems, plenty more where Poirot came from (I’m talking figuratively here – they’re not all Belgian).

Subtle as they may be on screen, the plentiful presence of private eyes has not gone unnoticed. Quite the opposite – we can’t get enough of them. It’s not just the smooth Sherlock-types, but the complex Luthers and the whimsical Lewises too, not to mention the maternal, empathetic ones and the surly ones with heart conditions, à la Broadchurch’s Olivia Colman and David Tennant respectively. So smitten are we that the brains behind this year’s National Television Awards have created an entirely new accolade to accommodate them. Among those lurking in the ‘TV Detective’ category are Colman and Tennant, Luther’s Idris Elba and Sherlock’s Benedict Cumberbatch. To quote the latter, the game is (very much) on.

It seems a shame, however, to have to compare characters similar by occupation and yet so different in every other respect. Will they be judged on crime-solving prowess or performance? If the award is ‘best detective’ then I’m going with Cumberbatch. If it’s on best performance, then I’d pick Colman (although it’s a close call). Yet pitting Colman and Tennant against each other is a shame too. Their characters’ dynamic was an important part of Broadchurch. It seems wrong to compare their performances when each complemented the other so well.

Subsequently, the drama performance category is looking a bit empty, even after clubbing male and female performances together. We’re left with the usual suspects: Smiths Matt and Maggie, and previous winner Miranda Hart. Perhaps the re-categorisation is understandable. Given our obsession, any of these nominees would surely be robbed of a win – and this time the crime-solvers would be the culprits.

Obviously, due to the nature of a public vote, the awards favour performances from actors in popular programmes – meaning standout performances in more niche offerings are likely to miss out. Consequently, my investigator-of-choice didn’t even make the longlist. Top Of The Lake was an exquisitely shot and scripted six-part drama that saw Det. Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss) investigating the disappearance of a pregnant schoolgirl. Moss tracked Robin’s increasing fragility beautifully throughout, giving a devastatingly well-pitched portrayal of her subsequent emotional breakdown as her past caught up with her. It was a performance worlds apart from the frenzied brilliance of Cumberbatch, but every bit as captivating in its own right.

Picture: Radio Times

Sherlock – BBC1. Read the review on Varsity here.

That’s it then. Sherlock has gone as quickly as it came. Quicker, maybe – it got off to a bit of a shaky start. But this third and final instalment of series 3 was right back on form. The much sought-after ‘actual plot’ that many lamented the absence of in previous episodes finally materialised. And there was a fabulous cliff-hanger to boot.

We finally got to meet the man belonging to the pair of icy blue eyes that stared out at us on New Year’s Day as Watson sautéed on the bonfire: Charles Augustus Magnusson (a thrillingly evil Lars Mikkelsen), sole retainer of a gigantic amount of incriminating information on everyone he’d ever come across, and also a massive creep. When he wasn’t licking people’s faces, he was busy blackmailing the entire country. But not for much longer. Enter Sherlock.

A slightly squalid Sherlock, actually, hiding out in a drug den – supposedly for a case. ‘Stay out of my bedroom!’ he ordered once he’d been dragged home and scolded by everyone (not to mention slapped a few times by the wonderful Molly, who hasn’t had nearly enough to do this series). Sherlock was clean, it turned out. So what was he hiding in the bedroom? Only the flirty Irish bridesmaid from last week! Watson’s incredulous response to this ‘relationship’ was priceless – Martin Freeman is the king of reaction shots. But Sherlock had morphine pumping through his veins soon enough, this time in hospital: he’d been shot. The culprit? None other than Mrs Watson.

Oh, Mary! What a dark horse, stringing us along in your jovial manner! We saw the word ‘liar’ on the screen alongside ‘bakes own bread’ when Sherlock first met Mary, but we chose to ignore it because she was just so nice. Yet suddenly here she was, putting a bullet through him. It was a clever twist, and credit to Amanda Abbington for making us invest so much in her character in just a few episodes that the big reveal, when it came, was a genuine shock.

A series of confrontations followed, amusingly interspersed with Christmas at the Cumberbatches (with Benedict’s parents reprising their roles as Mr and Mrs Holmes). It was thrilling, but perhaps not to the extent of previous finales. Two years ago, Sherlock was the sharpest thing on TV. This year it knew it, and veered dangerously towards self-indulgence a few too many times. But you can’t fault its intelligence. There were lines in this episode that wouldn’t have been out of place in a sitcom, but as always they were woven around a much darker story – in this case one that played to very current fears of surveillance and exposure. Beneath all the panache, Sherlock remains a beautifully crafted drama.

After a final rendezvous with Magnusson (in what appeared to be the Tellytubby house crossed with Kew Gardens), Sherlock was on a jet headed for certain death in Eastern Europe. Not again. But oh, how they toy with us! Just as the credits began to roll, a voice piped up: ‘Did you miss me?’ And there he was in all his mad glory: Jim Moriarty. As quickly as it had taken off, Sherlock’s jet was landing. Yes, Moriarty! We did miss you! Come back and engineer some real crimes! Blackmail and face-licking are one thing, but not a patch on the havoc you used to cause! Let’s just hope your mayhem isn’t another two years in the making.

Picture: Guardian

Death Comes To Pemberley, BBC1 – read review on Varsity here

If Sherlock, Downton Abbey (last year) and Eastenders (most years) are anything to go by, we love a bit of dramatised death during the festive season. And we love a period drama any time of year. So take the cast of the mother of all period dramas, Pride and Prejudice, add a murder mystery, and set them against a backdrop of stately home porn in the form of the Chatsworth Estate, and you’re onto a winner.

Death Comes To Pemberley was an adaptation of the P. D. James novel of the same name, in which Austen’s beloved creations find themselves embroiled in a murder case involving infamous Regency love-rat, George Wickham. Early on, Wickham is seen dragging the body of Captain Denny through the woods at Pemberley, and the rest of this three-part drama was concerned with piecing together the chain of events leading up to that moment.

Despite the whodunit aspect, Death Comes To Pemberley still made time to explore more personal dramas, primarily the fight for the affections of Georgiana Darcy (Eleanor Tomlinson) between young lawyer Henry Alveston (James Norton) and Colonel Fitzwilliam (Tom Ward), now considerably more embittered since the events of P&P. We also saw some tension in the marriage of Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, as the two had trouble seeing eye to eye where Georgiana was concerned.

Anna Maxwell Martin was a marvellous Lizzie, more mature than previous incarnations, but still possessing the same spark and wit, shown to best effect in her exchange with the interfering Lady Catherine de Bourgh (soon-to-be-Dame Penelope Keith). Also worth noting is Jenna Coleman, who softened the simpering, showy Lydia by adding a refreshing fragility to Austen’s rather one-dimensional character. Matthew Rhys was a sober Darcy, but the strain caused by the return of Wickham in such unfavourable circumstances became clear throughout his performance. However, given their history, and the damage that Wickham’s dilemma could have had on his reputation, Darcy was surprisingly patient with his childhood friend – almost polite – which was not easy to swallow.

All things considered, the acting was stronger than the plot. The murder mystery was well paced and intriguing, but my parents managed to predict the denouement before the big reveal. (Not me, though. I’m a bit slow.)

When all was well again, the writers couldn’t resist a bit of period-drama schmaltz. “I’m so happy!”, laughed Lizzie, as Darcy spun her around in front of Pemberley’s Olympic-sized water feature. I would be, too, if I lived in that house.