Tag Archives: BBC

End of Season Report: Orphan Black, Season 1

2 Sep

Many Orphans, All White

I like deep and meaningful television shows.  I do.  My favorite shows on TV are wrapped twice over in complicated themes that resonate powerfully and lovingly drawn characters with strong emotional cores, shows like Game of Thrones, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad.  Orphan Black is not that.  That’s not to say it’s dumb by any means or unworthy of a modicum of thought; it’s not, and it is.  But you don’t watch Orphan Black and ponder on it in the same way that those shows (and those are the very best on TV, so it’s hardly insulting to be compared unfavorably to them anyway) stick in your head for hours after you finish an episode (Rectify is a new show that fits this profile).  Orphan Black, you watch because, well, it’s a damn fun ride.  You may not want to ruminate too long on the plot or the characters, but when you finish an episode you find yourself immediately throwing on the next one.

I’m required to start my qualitative take on this season, as any article about Orphan Black does and should, by piling accolades upon Tatiana Maslany, who plays main character Sarah Manning along with a bajillion different clones of all shapes and sizes (I think she plays six of them for at least a moment, but I could be missing someone, and yes, technically I suppose they’re all the same size, but I’m trying to make a point).  She does a phenomenal job of portraying not just different accents but plays different looks and expressions and demeanor so well that even though it’s obviously the same actress playing these roles, sometimes I forget and temporarily think they are just two actresses who look really similar.  More than in nearly any other show, or nearly any other main character, Maslany is the foundation of the show and makes the show go, there aren’t many shows where the star quite literally plays multiple characters.

Jordan Gavaris is the other standout cast member, as Sarah’s foster brother and best mate Felix.  He provides the most constant source of comic relief during the series, and his wit is on point, often deflating otherwise serious situations.  His chemistry with Tatiana is outstanding, both during her performances as primary clone Sarah as well as with her other characters (Alison, primarily).  Orphan Black succeeds because it’s fun; a dreary and over serious Orphan Black wouldn’t work, and Gavaris does the heavy lifting in preventing it from getting there.

This is particularly so when the other main cast members, all of whom are fairly peripheral characters, don’t really add a lot.  Dylan Bruce plays charisma-less hunk Paul, who was in a relationship with clone Beth and now takes up with Sarah, while formerly but no longer working for the evil clone corporation.  Kevin Hanchard is dead clone Beth’s police partner, and he’s, well, he’s fine, and he has more charisma than Bruce, but don’t take that as more than it is because it’s an incredibly low bar.  Michael Mando is slightly more amusing as the mentally unstable drug addled former beau of Sarah (what the fuck she was doing with this guy is never satisfactorily resolved – he shows not one redeeming quality in his sporadic appearances in Orphan Black where his only role is as antagonist gumming up the plot).  Maria Doyle Kennedy plays Mrs. S, Sarah and Felix’s foster mom, who has been caring for Sarah’s daughter Kira, and who is stern but caring, and one of the only secondary characters who gets a chance to show a little bit of pathos in the course of the season. And don’t worry if you don’t recognize these actors’ names; they’re largely Canadian; amazingly just about nobody in the cast is even remotely famous from anything else that an American might know.

So, the side characters by and large aren’t the best.  But that’s okay.  Orphan Black is a roller coaster ride, complete with twists and turns as Sarah and soon her clone buddies Alison and Cosima investigate and learn about a shady underground cloning project they were part of.  It gets seriously conspiratorial but never takes on the super-heavy all encompassing tone that BIG sci-fi shows (Lost, of course the most prominent example, but Heroes, Revolution, Under the Dome) tend to take on.  The plot is important, sure, and there are questions – where did they come from – but there’s no BIG deep premise question which could cause the show to implode upon itself.  The show is more action sci-fi than drama, and it keeps the suspense up and the high-brow stuffiness out.

I’ll admit that if you think too much about the plot it comes apart in lots of little ways, and it relies on a whole series of exceptionally unlikely circumstances happening.  These are points that would likely annoy me if I wasn’t having such a good time watching the show.  If the plot of Lost didn’t work (and it didn’t), I would be (and was) devastated because I spent so much time trying to piece everything together and it didn’t work out.  I didn’t think for a second after watching an Orphan Black episode about where everything fits into place.  Every little plot element might not exactly work together, and sure, it should, but I enjoyed it in the moment in a way I couldn’t enjoy Lost because Lost was buried so deep under its own expectations.

My biggest concern is that Orphan Black is not built for too many seasons. I’m not sure how much plot the writers thought out ahead of time, and while, as mentioned above, it doesn’t have to be sewn together tightly to work, it does have to make a minimum of sense and keep the excitement levels up.  Extending the plot line runs the risk of either artificially stretching it out or making it overly complicated.  I want more Orphan Black; I don’t want a show that’s like Revolution or Under the Dome.  I want a bunch of clones acting in ridiculous ways, and conspiring with one another to infiltrate some vaguely evil corporation.  I don’t want to greater lessons about mankind.

Summer 2013 Review: Broadchurch

28 Aug

Broadchurch Broadchurch is a British show about the investigation into the murder of an 11-year old boy in a small beach community in England. Broadchurch’s premise immediately made me think of The Killing and The Bridge, and the three of them combined over the past couple of years officially makes there an early 2010s trend of very serious season-long (or longer) murder investigation series.  I’m getting tired of the premise, largely because there are so many other interesting show ideas that aren’t getting made because of them (different generally > same, all else being equel) , and because these shows have inherent limitations. Because the murder investigation is the thing in these shows, it’s kind of hard to figure out what to do once the murder is solved, and if, because of that, you can’t solve the murder for a long time, that can lead to some problematic forced stretching it out, as fans of The Killing learned once upon a time.

That disclaimer said, I should also mention I appear to be a sucker for these shows.  Or maybe they just seem to start off particularly well.  The Killing drew me in, The Bridge drew me in at least well enough that I’m still watching it even while feeling somewhat ambivalent about the show, and while I was initially skeptical of Broadchurch because of the premise, I liked it enough that I find myself rationalizing that I’ll at least give it a couple episodes so hopefully it doesn’t break my heart with some terrible twist and huge anticlimax.

So, Broadchurch.  We start with what seems like an ordinary family in a bright little seaside community.  Mum, dad (I don’t know what British for dad is), grandmum, and older sis go about their morning routines only to realize later in the day that their son/grandson/brother Danny is nowhere to be found. He never went to school or to his daily early morning paper route, the paper route being why it would be normal for his family not to have noticed him missing right away.  Soon, it turns out the worst of all possible outcomes is the one that transpired.  Danny’s dead, lying on the beach.  The two lead detectives on the case are a grim-faced veteran who is apparently trying to make up for an embarrassing scandal of some sort of that we haven’t learned about yet and a local detective whose son was best friends with the dead boy and who is having a particularly hard time because of her close relationship to the case and because it seems to be her first murder case of any kind (I’m not positive on this; I’m guessing from context, but be aware I’m possibly reading it wrong).

It’s hard to tell who else will become main character besides the family and the cops but it appears the leading candidates are the female detective’s nephew, a young hungry local journalist who sees this story as a possible way to move himself up in the world, and a big city female journalist who convinces her editor to send her out to the country to write about the case. Towards the end of the episode, the head detective (played by David Tennant, of erstwhile Dr. Who fame), gives a press conference where he asks for information and lets the killer know there’s nowhere to hide, and we see lots of people all around town watching.  The killer could be anybody, this reminds us, as well as that small towns hide lots of secrets. There’s always dangers of potential cliches when it comes to tv cops, and by far my biggest initial concern is Tenant’s possible cardboard cutout serious-police-officer-looking-to-make-up -for-a-major-mistake-in-the-past .  However, at least in the first episode, ; even though I knew it was a tripe, it surprisingly didn’t bother me too much while watching.  This is the type of problem that could wear on me over time; I’m hopeful the character is invested with some depth and that Tennant is equal to the challenge.

It’s really hard to end these type of mysteries in a satisfying way, particularly since no matter how much it’s supposed to be about the journey and the experience, a disappointing ending that either comes out of nowhere or is too obvious or is simply unsatisfying puts a disappointing sheen on the entire series.  Additionally, this concept doesn’t necessarily play well over multiple seasons, which was the problem The Killing had; it’s hard to not feel like the show is being artificially lengthened after a point, or there’s one too many red herring, and the viewers simply feel jerked around. The small coastal town is a beautiful setting and the element present in the small town mystery here, unlike in the big cities in which The Killing and The Bridge are set, is the everybody-knows-everybody angle.  The first episode showed a smart amount of restraint and hopefully Broadchurch can maintain the difficult balance between moving the plot along at a fair pace while holding on to the emotional core and avoiding melodrama.

Will I watch it again?  Yes, I’m going to.  It looks pretty, the acting is solid, and it has the most basic element that got humans reading and watching mysteries once upon a time.  Whodunnit?  Hell, I want to know.  I hope I will care this much about who did it halfway through the season. It’s not close to the most unique or different show I’ve seen and I’m hesitant for the reasons I’ve mentioned to get too confident that Broadchurch will keep it up, but it passed the all-important I-want-to-watch-the-second-episode-right-after-I-finish-the-first-episode test.

Summer 2013 Review: The White Queen

14 Aug

She's white, and a Queen

Here’s the best thing about The White Queen.  In an incredibly bizarre coincidence, the first episode was written by a writer named Emma Frost, the pseudonym of Marvel character White Queen.  Now the not as good.

The first episode of The White Queen, in short.  The series takes place during The War of the Roses, beginning when Edward IV has just been crowned king. A recently widowed woman whose family is on the Lancaster side of the conflict meets the Yorkist king.  In about five minutes, they fall in love, and he loves her so much in these five minutes that he proposes marriage.  She can’t tell her parents, who are wary of her even seeing the king.  He’s on the wrong side, and even though Romeo and Juliet wasn’t invented yet, opposing loyalties are powerful and all that.  She accepts, because, fuck, he’s the king, and he’s handsome to boot, and they get secretly married.  The show then basically spends the last thirty minutes going back and forth between whether the secret marriage was just a ploy by the king to have sex with her or was a legitimate marriage, and it turns out it was legitimate, although the King’s cousin and closest adviser and the king’s mom are both opposed to the marriage, which presumably will lead to trouble later on.

As previously mentioned, The White Queen is a piece of historical fiction about the marriage of Elizabeth Woodville, a commoner, and King Edward IV during The War of the Roses. While the White Queen is historical, and Game of Thrones is fantasy, Game of Thrones, like most fantasy, is set during quasi-medieval times, and in particular based some of its conceptual framework on the War of the Roses  White Queen may not actively be attempting to imitate Game of Thrones, but  some of the ideas and characters and themes seem similar enough to look kind of like the original, but a version that came out all twisted and broken.

Examples of similarities include a young king who halts a potential kingdom-making royal marriage to marry a commoner he’s smitten with, dueling royal familie, with people switching sides depending on which way the wind is blowing, a strong maternal female character who is the brains behind her family’s oafish male counterparts, and even some magic.   I won’t get on the show too much for not looking as good as Game of Thrones because of the probably production budget differences, but it doesn’t.

The White Queen is like Game of Thrones without all the parts that make Game of Thrones good.  That’s probably too harsh for the sake of being snappy and concise but it’s not off point.  The biggest single condemnation I can make of the show is that feels hollow. Everything that happens feels like empty exposition with nothing behind it and I struggled to find a reason to care or invest myself.  Obviously it’s hard to create a ton of characterization in the first episode of a series, but I don’t feel like I know the characters at all.   The characters felt like written descriptions rather than actual characters.  Not only do I feel like I know nothing about the new queen and king, but they didn’t sell me at all on their unlikely love that is supposed to get this story going.   She’s supposed to be such a mind-mindbogglingly charismatic commoner that the king would swear off a smart foreign marriage for her, and I don’t get that here. The episode felt largely artless; even outside of the characters there was no sense of direction, writing, or aesthetic that gave me reason to want to step back into this world for another episode.

When I finished the episode, I just didn’t care, not about the forbidden love, not enough to root for the king, or the White Queen, or the queen’s practical, possibly magic mother, or, well, anything.  It’s not compelling, and in a post Game of Thrones world, it’s hard for me to not watch this fantasy show without making the comparison, which as mentioned above does not suit The White Queen well. I’m not sure whether the mere existence Yorks and Lancaster is supposed to make us feel the charge of how forbidden this love. Maybe in England, you can just say Yorks and Lancasters and you automatically get the sense of instant rivalry that North and South in the Civil War would bring in America.  I understand historically that Yorks vs. Lancasters was a big deal, but I would like the show to convince me of that through storytelling rather than mention it a couple of times and have it assumed so due to historical context. There’s a real cheap attempt in the last two minutes to keep prolonged interest in the show when the new queen sees a possibly magical vision of her own blood, but other than that I’m not sure what I have to look forward to.

Will I watch it again?  Nope.  Honestly, the best I can say about The White Queen is that it reignited my interest in the War of the Roses. I know I’m a history nerd, but it’s probably not a great sign if I enjoy the reading about the real life characters on Wikipedia more than I do watching the show.

End of Season Report – Downton Abbey, Season 3

26 Jun

Sisters Downton

I’ll admit I wasn’t particularly excited to watch the third season of Downton Abbey.  I waited until long after it aired in both the UK and the US to watch it.  While I never doubted I would get around to it, after the second season I was a lot less excited with the whole prospect. Saying I was disenchanted with the show is far too strong a word for a show that didn’t really change its essential stripes, but I was hardly looking forward to it either.

I’m making this point only to turn around and give Downton Abbey the backhand compliment that while the third didn’t exactly return me back into a state of excitement about the show, it also didn’t continue to deflate my expectations as much as it might have.  It represented a plateau-ing of Downton Abbey, as the third season was at least as consistent as the second season.  While I’m still not super excited about the fourth season, I probably won’t wait as long to watch it.

Everyone who watches this show should know this by now, but Downton Abbey is a primetime soap opera thinly disguising itself (and not even really disguising itself at this point) as a show about the dynamics of class politics in early 20th century Britain.  Watching Downton has made me think there could be a place for a really piercing drama about these class politics, but this certainly isn’t it.  It’s not entirely politically vacant, and to Downton’s credit, while they smooth most conflicts over fairly quickly, they don’t entirely ignore their existence.  Still, every seemingly political content is generally just used as a vehicle for personal drama.

Downton does cycle right through a series of issues which could really be reckoned with, but these difficult issues are generally introduced just to provide fodder for short term conflict between two or more main characters, and then solved an episode later, after which tea will be served.  Sybil’s marriage to a chauffeur was the stuff of scandal, but by the end of the third season, Tom has joined the family and just about entirely quelled his controversial talk about Irish independence.  The Catholic-Protestant conflict is solved in about 45 minutes after Lord Grantham eventually gives in.  Poor Lord Grantham has to play the conservative heavy in almost every conflict this season, counting on all the charisma and love he’s generated in the early seasons to prevent him from coming off as a total villain.  A scandal revolving Thomas Barrow’s homosexuality (which I had totally forgotten about) nearly ruined his life before a surprising number of empathetic parties, who have had their qualms in the past with the generally villainous Barrow, put pressure on the servant who was doing the accusing. The accuser was motivated less by hate than by the machinations of the scheming O’Brien.  Ethel, the maid who had given birth to the child of a solider who was recuperating at Downton (I had also totally forgotten about this) returns, as the always virtuous Mrs. Crawley hires her so she can rehabilitate from her life as a prostitute (things did not go well for her after Downton).  This sets off a major conflict but all’s well when the Dowager Countess helps get her a new job working for a family near where her child is being raised by the kid’s grandparents. Everybody wins!

I’m making these points not to vent against these happy endings; they’re quite fine, but rather to much as to make sure we’re clear on what we’re watching.  It’s a visually gorgeous soap opera that happens to involve some really rich people and not rich people who work for them in their awesome house.

As I pointed out above, poor Robert serves as the unchanging conservative force who is having trouble adapting to the new times, more than his wife, and even more than his mother.  It’s kind of sad watching him fight against everyone else, especially when he’s usually the only one on his side.  His poor decision making is evident, after earlier in the season discovering he lost all of his money in bad investments, he tries to argue for reinvesting in the fund of a one Charles Ponzi.  Even Downton Abbey can’t resist a pointed historical joke from time to time.

Fitting for a show that’s really about personal drama rather than political conflict, the most moving moments by far involved the death of youngest daughter Sybil right after she gives birth to a daughter.   While the political conflicts often like they’re lacking juice, the reaction from Sybil’s death felt authentic by all parties. After Sybil’s death, there’s a bizarre turn in Edith’s character in the second half of the season when I felt the strange sensation of rooting for her, which made me entirely uncomfortable.  That said,  kudos to whoever decided they wanted to make Edith stop being horrible.  Shows aren’t served well by characters that are irredeemably terrible, and Edith has never been quite that bad, but she’s come close.

There’s lots of little drama between the characters that is hardly edge-of-your-seat suspenseful but is enough to care about at least for as long as the episode is.  There’s a love quadrangle among the servants as Daisy likes Albert who likes Ivy who likes James who likes, well, who even knows.  In filling up just eight episodes, it seems like sometimes the writers don’t have a ton of ideas left but Downton is surprisingly watchable for a show where a lot of the subplots aren’t particularly captivating.  It is, if I haven’t said, a really fucking nice house.

This season was definitely a little bit looser and more relaxed now that Matthew and Mary are finally married.  The will-they won’t-they between the two of the them was charming initially, but got tiring as it seemed like the show was just inventing excuses to keep them apart.

I don’t want to leave without saying how hilarious I thought the impression of Americans was on the program.  Shirely MacLaine plays Cora’s mother and makes constant quips about quaint British traditions and how allergic to change the British are.  In the last episode, we’re introduced to a new young female character named Rose for some reason.  I think Rose is introduced only to help portray the ‘20s as we Americans know them with loose women and flappers doing the Charleston while black musicians play.  When it’s discovered she’s visiting these clubs with a married man, Rose has embroiled herself in s a scandal that everyone at Downton can agree on!

Fall 2012 Review: Cuckoo

7 Nov

Cuckoo is a BBC comedy (BBC 3 to be precise, but please don’t ask me what the difference is) about a normal-ish family trying to get along with their weird new son-in-law.

While I was watching the first episode, various comparisons kept coming to mind, but my brother crystallized it best –  Cuckoo most closely resembles Meet the Parents in reverse.  Instead of a normal, if easily intimidated and sometimes awkward, workaday guy, being forced into bizarre uncomfortable situations with a super weird and intense parent of his fiance, it’s about a normal workaday family, the father, especially, being forced into bizarre uncomfortable situations with a super weird and intense son-in-law his daughter brings home after marrying him during her gap year abroad (could you get more UK than gap year?).

While the rest of the actors haves some British cred (Greg Davies, who plays the father, is the head of sixth form in other recent British comedy hit, The Inbetweeners), the only one known to Americans is Andy Samburg, who plays the new son-in-law, who calls himself Cuckoo (hence the title).  While I imagined Samburg would play his standard doofus-y type character which I thought would fit seamlessly into this plot, he plays just as ridiculous and over the top a character, just not what I was expecting in that vein from him.  He’s a super arrogant, super non-self aware, eastern-philosophy type, pretentious and with no basis in reality.  His work is writing his magnum philosophical opus, and he casually insults the father unwittingly within just a couple of days of knowing each other (how this is unwittingly is a mark of how extreme the lack of self-awareness is) by calling his beautiful English countryside shit, compared to all the beautiful places Cuckoo has been, and by calling the father a worker, while he, Samberg, is a thinker who works on a higher plane while the workers handle more menial tasks.

If you haven’t guessed yet from just the description so far, well  the show doesn’t really work.  It doesn’t really work on either of two primary levels, idea and execution.  It starts with kind of a simple, stale idea, and doesn’t bring anything particularly new or innovative to the idea nor even take advantage of what humor can still be mined out of that existing idea.

It’s really difficult to understand what the daughter, Rachel, sees in Cuckoo, but even taking that as a given and putting it aside, it’s just not very funny.  Rachel really wants her parents to like him, but she’s amazingly oblivious to his inappropriate and weird comments, and not even really trying to make excuses for his behavior, like you’d think someone would.  There’s lots of sitcom standard miscommunication, where two characters are talking on different frequencties, and we the viewer realize this at the time, while they realize this later on, and there in allegedly lies the humor.  Primarily at one point in the pilot, the father thinks he’s convinced Cuckoo to take some of the father’s hard earned money and leave for good, for Rachel’s sake, so she can have an ordinary university life, where Cuckoo naturally doesn’t get what the father’s saying at all and uses the money to buy a ridiuclous truck, and soon the father realizes he’s wasted his money but has to claim otherwise to save face with the rest of his family for are trying to be more considerate to Cuckoo.  Cuckoo’s so wacky and oblivious!  It’s awkward for everyone without being funny to compensate properly.

Will I watch again?  No.  It wasn’t awful; it mostly was stale instead of cringe-inducing, and there were one or two moments where I laughed.  It just wasn’t very good and was rather disappointing; I’m not sure I had any reason to expect more from this show, but for some reason (likely that I generally like Andy Samberg) I did.

Summer 2012 Review: Copper

8 Sep

So, as a terrible joke (the use of the word “joke” is charitable), a friend and I started calling this show “Cobbler” and now I can’t get it out of my head.  So, let’s cobble it out.

It’s the early ‘60s.  The 1860s, that is, and we’re located in the Five Points, a la Gangs of New York.  The Civil War rages, but we don’t really care.  Our main character is “Copper” Kevin, a former Civil War soldier who returned with his daughter dead and his wife…missing?  We open with an ambush of three would-be bank robbers.  Well, they get the robbing part right and all, but are taken out a few yards from the bank by Kevin and two colleagues.  The take down is violent – they shoot first, and ask questions later, though with good reason, and grab some of the cash before their superiors gather it up for return to the bank.  They’re not corrupt; that’s just the way the 1860s work.

Kevin and his partner each have their own lady loves, I can’t really figure out a whole lot about them from the pilot.  He also gets an offer to referee a boxing match from the scion of a rich family, something or other Morehouse, who likes Kevin because Kevin gave him an assist in the war – always the great social equalizer.  While there he meets the prototypical rich local plutocrat, Mr. Haverford and his English wife, Mrs. Haverford.  You might be seeing them again!

Soon, a girl is found murdered.  Kevin notices that she is the girl he saw earlier, in the first scene, who talked to him for one second for some reason.  Sorry, forgot to mention that earlier.  Through some investigation, Kevin learns that the dead girl is the sister of the earlier girl, and that the earlier girl was kidnapped to work as a prosititue by the nefarious local madam, the contessa, before running away.  He takes the dead girl’s body to some random black guy who is apparently his personal M.E. (why are a black guy and a white guy being friends at this point – easy answer – war buddies), and whose wife is played by the actress who played Wallace’s love Jackie in the second season of Veronica Mars.  Black M.E. (now there’s a show title) tells us that she was raped, well, after death, so I suppose not technically rape, but you get the idea.  In addition, she was hit in the head with a blunt object.  Kevin pays the contessa a visit and beats up one of her doorman, a bulky dude, who Kevin is convinced kills the girl, because, well, he’s big, and why not?  Kevin beats the shit out of him, without a confession, but leaves him handcuffed in a room/torture chamber.

Kevin pays a return visit to Black M.E. who tells him, ah hah, it was a staff that did the damage, and the man had to be a certain height – taller than the guard who Kevin initially suspected.  Kevin feels slightly bad about the guy he just beat, but realizes where he saw a cane, at the home rich local plutocrat Mr. Haverford, who he immediately knows did it.  He steals the staff, as evidence, and then brings it to his superiors.  Of course, because this is America, where the rich, no matter when, buy their way out of criminal activity, his bosses arrange it so that the guard he originally beat was “guilty” and sentenced to death, settling the matter, even though everyone knows what really went down.  Justice!  Kevin is disgusted but powerless.  He settles down, hopefully having saved the girl’s sister (who they found later and hid from the scary plutocrat; sorry, forgot to mention that), for now, before at the end, he is confronted by Mrs. Haverford, who asks if her husband committed the crime.  He did, Kevin, tells her.

I wanted the show to be better than it was.  I have surprisingly little sense of what the show is from just the one episode.  If I had to guess, there will be a case every episode with slow advances on the personal lives of the two main coppers and the pursuit of evil plutocrat Mr. Haverford.  However, it could easily become a longer arc-ed show right off, which would almost certainly be the more interesting choice.   I think there’s a lot of very easy ways to make a show like this interesting (in this case, good) but I’m not all that confident that the show will trend in that direction based on what I got in the first episode.  From just one episode each, I think I’m a bit more interested in Hell on Wheels than Copper in terms of recent shows set in the second half of the 19th century.

Will I watch it again?  Maybe.  Actually, as fall starts, it immediately jumps behind a number of other shows.  I wanted to like it more than I did, as I said, but that’s the show’s fault as much as mine;  it definitely could have been more inspiring.  I was hoping for something more than what seems awful like a police procedural set 150 years in the past.  In an idle moment maybe I’ll try to sneak in a second episode to get a real batter sense for how the show is going to work, but if it ends up just being another single episode case, than that episode will probably be the last I watch.  More serial TV, please.

Show of the Day: Luther

20 Aug

British drama Luther is a House M.D. of crime.  Detective John Luther is an eccentric, kind of crazy, but extremely devoted and brilliant policeman who gets stuck with the big hard-to-solve cases.  He also has an extreme temper problem, and possible internal sanctions hanging over his head after, in the first couple minutes of the show, he drops a probably guilty man to the ground in a chase on a bridge rather than arrest him.  Luckily, the victim is in a coma and can’t talk.  Additionally, his ultra-driven career has led to him losing his wife and love of his life Zoe to another man.  Luther works with a team of generic cop characters to solve a new crime in every episode, generally involving serial killers, but with a kidnapper and the like here and there.

There’s one very intresting character in Luther, and it’s not Luther.  Luther’s good, well, because Idris Elba (um, Stringer Bell from The Wire is actually British, and speaks with a British accent – too weird) is good.  Otherwise, Luther isn’t really that interesting.  We’ve seen this character before, as mentioned before, he’s good, he’s damn good at what he does, but he’s angry and tormented and obsessive.  Every time you want Luther to do something just slightly different than you would expect, he almost never comes through.  He’s still the second most interesting character in the show by a long shot.  Also, it’s worth noting that Luther, the show, and Luther, the character, have absolutely no sense of humor, which, as House showed (House, the show, and House, the character, had some issues, but plenty of good points as well), would lighten up the show and the character a little bit (Humorless shows can work; not every show needs humor in its arsenal, but there’s a risk run of episodes really slogging along without it).

The most interesting character is Alice, who I haven’t mentioned before in the short sum-up, because her role actually requires an explanation.  First episode SPOILER – in the first episode, Luther attempts to solve the murder of Alice’s parents, and while he’s nearly certain Alice did it the entire time, he’s unable to prove it.  Instead of ever being found guilty, Alice gets away, and Luther develops a grudging respect for her, while Alice, who is a sociopathic nihilist, but not always nefarious, comes to respect and like Luther.  Over the course of the season, she acts somewhat as Hannibal Lecter to Luther’s Clarice Starling, helping him solve other crimes by viewing them through a sociopath’s perspective.  Not only is Alice the best character in the show, but Luther is also at his most interesting when dealing with Alice, and their tet a tets discussing Luther caring too much and Alice caring not at all are the best parts of the show altogether.

Here’s the other problem with Luther.  When extremely dramatic events occur late in the first season, you realize that not only do you not really care about the characters, but that you barely known any of their names.  Cop who is kind of friends with Luther and he talked with for five minutes in the first episode?  Cop who is his boss and is generally friendly to him but sometimes restrained?  Cop who is his younger protégé and new partner?  I don’t know what their names are and I finished the first season.  I know it’s only six episodes, but that’s enough time for a modicum of name-saying.  I don’t really care about any of them either either.  As long as they get the murderer in the end, that’s pretty much what does it for me.

In short, here’s what’s good about Luther; you mostly watch it for the cases, you watch it for Alice, and you watch it for Idris Elba.  For six episodes that’s enough, and I have four more in the second season which I’ll watch soon.  The cases are actually well executed and interesting and enough to make the show somewhat compelling as a simple procedural without all the baggage of Luther’s temper and personal problems.  It could be a lot better, but it slides in above the worth watching line, especially for so few episodes, if not much higher.