Tag Archives: TV

Twin Peaks: The Return

Twin Peaks - The Return banner25 years or so ago David Lynch and Mark Frost left television and film audiences baffled as their journey to the dark heart of Americana, Twin Peaks (and spin-off movie Fire Walk With Me), came to an end with one explanation unraveling a whole host of further questions.

Now here we are in September 2017 and the 18 hours of Twin Peaks: The Return has come to a close, I’ll try not to give too much away, but safe to say it’s left us in a place that is, to use the cliché, ‘Lynchian’.

Dropping us right back in where we left off, but at the same time with the timeline shifted to the modern-day, we find Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) where we last saw him and his apparently possessed alter ego roaming free and up to no good.

Kyle MacLachlan as Agent Dale Cooper

MacLachlan as Cooper

We are also taken back to the town of Twin Peaks where much has remained the same, but also things have changed, and we meet other characters new and old as the tale winds its way there and back again.

Unlike the original run the murder mystery is almost totally forgotten, replaced with a bigger sense of mystery that has wider scope and feeling, but still driven by the death of Laura Palmer.

Much like the original series to tell this story Lynch plays on television conventions with each thread of the ongoing story in this newly expanded world, having a different feel.

Amongst them there is an (intentionally ironic?) X-Files like FBI procedural that follows FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole (Lynch) and his team’s explorations of the whereabouts of Agent Dale Cooper, the twisted soap opera of Twin Peaks town, something akin to modern crime dramas like Breaking Bad as we learn about the exploits of Mr C (MacLachlan) and then, in the extended world of Dougie Jones (MacLachlan), a kind of surreal sitcom.

David Lynch as Gordon Cole

Lynch as FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole

Laced through all of this is an extended exploration of the other world seen in the original series, the world of the Black and White Lodges and more, that at its most extreme feels like a sequel to Eraserhead and there are strong suggestions that we are in that same universe.

In this vein one episode around the middle of the series is entirely given over to exploring this and in some ways it feels like it offers an explanation for at least some of the goings on – though of course things are never that cut and dry.

As the series goes on and all the threads come together things escalate as Lynch’s expert sound design ties things together and at points the quaint small town feel gives way total nightmare, even outside the lodges, as it appears universe morph and mutate as much as the story and meaning.

Kyle MacLachlan as Mr C

MacLachlan as Mr C

While all the performances are excellent, whichever aspect of things they exist in, it is undeniable (and regularly reinforced) that Kyle MacLachlan is the star. Playing at least two (three… four… more?) characters it really is a tour de force spanning the whole series and all its different worlds while being the tie that binds them all together.

As things head towards their conclusion it feels like all the loose ends are being tied up, but of course this is David Lynch really at peak performance so I won’t say much more… other than to say that The Return continues the escalation of Twin Peaks into an exploration of the state of humanity, or at least that might be one way of looking at it.

This all makes for one of the greatest pieces of televisual art I can remember seeing, it has all the gripping mystery and plot of the aforementioned likes of a Breaking Bad combined with the unique world view of Lynch that marries surrealism with a mesmerising nature that makes you not want to miss a single moment for fear a crucial event will pass you by.

Nine Inch Nails at The Roadhouse

‘The Nine Inch Nails’

Added to this as a bit of bonus, but one that sits perfectly in the tone of the programme, most episodes culminate at The Roadhouse with a musical performance from various real world bands and musicians from the renowned likes of former Lynch collaborators Nine Inch Nails and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, to new artists and I’m looking forward to picking up the soundtrack when it’s released.

If you’ve not seen the series and want to avoid spoilers don’t watch to the very end of this video – otherwise… The Nine Inch Nails…

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Marvel’s The Defenders

Marvel's The Defenders logoOver the last few years Marvel and Netflix have teamed up to give a place within the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) to some of the comic and movie juggernaut’s less brightly coloured characters.

From Daredevil to Iron Fist the four initial characters, five if you count anti-hero Punisher who’s yet to have his own series, they’ve all had their good and bad points and, much like the movies had The Avengers, have had an obvious target in mind, The Defenders.

I had my concerns going into the series as, while I had generally enjoyed the two Daredevil series (I think due to my already established interest in the character and his story), Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist had all suffered from having too many episodes and not quite enough story.

Jones particularly dragged in places despite the excellent Kilgrave story, but, in The Defenders, a shared underlying thread has come together in a genuinely satisfying way.

The Defenders - Luke Cage, Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Iron Fist

Luke Cage, Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Iron Fist

Story faults aside, what had impressed about the standalone series was how each sat within its own genre version of the Marvel world, from gritty 70s style crime cinema (Daredevil) to a kind of tidied up blaxploitation (Luke Cage) and, in the first few episodes at least, but threaded throughout, The Defenders echoed these motifs around the individual characters very well.

The story, as previously mentioned, pulled elements of all the shows together but it’s particularly parts of the Daredevil plot and the Iron Fist back story that lead things. Featuring Marvel’s famous band of evil ninjas, The Hand, and their ongoing plans for New York – as usual based loosely around machinations of power and destroying things that don’t stand up to too in-depth an exploration but make for a good antagonising force.

Sigourney Weaver in The Defenders

Weaver as Alexandra

While we’d met a few members of The Hand in the past their new apparent leader revealed here comes in the form of Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra.

Echoing many of her famed genre roles of the past its clear that Weaver is having a great time chewing up scenery in a brilliantly villainous fashion with little of the potential nuance that modern villains might often have, though as the series goes on her story gains a little more depth, but nothing to change her excellently played villainy and a story arc that looks like it will make her more sympathetic actually develops the other way.

She’s ably backed up by previously introduced members of The Hand which leads to the forming of The Defenders as a kind of angsty, grumbling, street level version of The Avengers.

This formation is expectedly rocky but does lead to some brilliant moments between the characters dotted throughout the series hinting at more to come, particularly between comic book co-stars Luke Cage (Mike Colter) and Iron Fist (Finn Jones). This is best demonstrated in the series’ fourth episode where things all fall into place (well as much as they do at any point) and we get probably the most of the quartet in a room talking before the inevitable fighting starts.

The Defenders in action

The Defenders in action

Speaking of action, as with the previous series, this was all much more ‘realistic’ (for superhero stuff) than the movies with plenty of blood and far more heft to what happens, including a number of severed limbs and decapitations which really are to be expected when katanas seem to be the general weapon of choice.

While there wasn’t quite a single standout action moment like some of the past series had, everything there was, until the very end, was brilliantly handled and really it was the weight of implausibility that only mildly tainted the big battle scene in the climax.

At only eight episodes compared to the lead in series’ 13, it was far tighter, focussing only on the one story, while giving us hints of side arcs but not feeling the need to explore them in detail.

In all this made for the most satisfying of the Marvel/Netflix series so far, but it may well suffer from not being as accessible to those who haven’t seen all the build up, but for those who have it’s a pretty non-stop ride and a nice alternative to the ever-increasing sci-fi scale of the cinematic releases.

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GLOW

Netflix Glow posterNetflix latest hit ‘own brand’ series is something of an odd fish. While their Marvel series and Better Call Saul obviously come from established franchises and others are fairly solidly angled genre pieces, GLOW seems to throw things together and hope something entertaining comes out the other end and, to a degree, it does.

Based on the story of the mid 1980s GLOW: Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling promotion/show it presents a fictionalised version of the lead up to their first television taping from initial auditions to broadcast, similar to the documentary GLOW: The Story Of The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (also currently available on Netflix in the UK).

To make it into a drama the series focuses on one of the ladies, the apparently totally fictional Ruth (Alison Brie) a struggling actress in LA who stumbles into the wrestling show. Around her are the cast of wrestlers-to-be (including her former best friend, Betty Gilpin as Debbie) and the producer and director duo of Bash (Chris Lowell) and Sam (Marc Maron), the latter of whom becomes a kind of second lead.

To make this work the main thread of the story takes on a soap opera style, possibly also in a kind of reference to soap opera-like nature of wrestling storylines, which for me is a slightly odd construct but it works for the most part to keeps things rolling along in its half hour per show format.

GLOW - Alison Brie

Alison Brie as Ruth

Along with this though two other aspects collide in a way that makes it often a little on the unbalanced side.

The first, that certainly runs throughout, is the comedic side provided by Maron.

At its best this leads to some genuinely funny moments at which points Maron’s dry delivery is wonderful, but elsewhere it feels a little too much like he is hijacking proceedings with a very different style to the rest of the show, either way he is one of the highlights.

At the other end of the spectrum there are a few moments where the story gets a bit too serious which jars with the otherwise lighthearted tone, this particularly comes with an accidental pregnancy and abortion plot line that just doesn’t sit quite right and feels just dropped in to make up time.

Aside from this it is, for the most past, a light and colourful show a little like the one it is telling the story of (though with a far higher budget).

GLOW - Marc Maron

Marc Maron as Sam

Of course as a fan of wrestling there’s one crucial aspect that would make or break the show for me and that is its depiction of what NJPW calls ‘The King Of Sports’ (I know…). Thankfully in this it does a great job.

From the start its clear things are going in the right direction as not only does Johnny Mundo (aka John Morrison aka John Hennigan) appear as a wrestling coach but one of the regular cast is played by the artist formerly known as Kharma in WWE or Awesome/Amazing Kong elsewhere, Kia Stevens (and in a nice touch the gym is named ‘Chavo’s’ in tribute to that famed member of the Guererro family some of whom were involved with the original GLOW training).

GLOW cast

The GLOW girls

As the show goes on more pro-wrestlers cameo, notably Carlito Colon and the artist formerly known as Brodus Clay in WWE, and at no point is the actual in ring work made a joke of with a reasonable nod given to the effort required given the broader context of the show and these ladies pull off some moves that would never have been seen in the mid-80s outside of Lucha Libre.

With the series culminating, as one might expect for such a show, with an apparently triumphant first screening, GLOW is far from a classic but there’s enough to enjoy in a lighthearted guilty pleasure kind of way, particularly with its nostalgia heavy 80s soundtrack and style, and, while I’m not sure how much fuel there is for a second series, I wouldn’t be disappointed to see it go on.

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Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager

The Captains - Star Trek The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager

Captains Picard, Sisko and Janeway

Around the time JJ Abrams semi-reboot of Star Trek was released, back in 2009, I set out on my own ‘on-going mission’ to rewatch (or in some cases watch for the first time) the entirety of the Star Trek TV and film canon.

I’ve already posted reviews of a few of the films (The Wrath of Kahn, First Contact and Insurrection) but here I’m going to focus on what is, for me, the main run of the TV show from the launch of The Next Generation in the mid 80s to the climax of Voyager in the late 90s.

Of course none of these could exist without Gene Roddenberry’s original 1960s show which was certainly groundbreaking in several ways but sadly petered off rather swiftly leading to its cancellation after just three of its five years.

Its success on syndicated repeats though kept the ideas it espoused alive and, following an animated series and the launch of the film series in the late 70s, led to the idea of the series’ first not quite reboot, Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Star Trek The Next Generation core crew

Star Trek: The Next Generation crew

While the idea is a little clichéd now (and was even then) ‘TNG‘ set its stall as a real development from the off with bigger budgets and bigger ideas permeating its seven seasons.

While the first few seasons are somewhat hobbled by some of Roddenberry’s more 60s ideals; there’s still a strong streak of the originals idea of a strapping Star Fleet officer having his end away with exotic aliens, they do hint at the greater development beyond.

The opening episodes, Encounter At Farpoint, strongly indicate a lot of this with new life form, Q (John De Lancie for the entire run), putting the human race on trial and exploring morality and ethics in a very obvious way that, as it goes on, becomes a slightly more subtly handled linchpin of the ongoing franchise.

While this is a bit of a one-off at first, as the series’ goes on and we get past the rather two-dimensional introduction to new races like the Ferengi, and on wider television we move into the era or Twin Peaks and The X-Files, things start to coalesce with deeper ideas being investigated in the traditional hard sci-if way of finding things in the future setting to reflect the current world and current ideas.

USS Enterprise-D

USS Enterprise-D

Along with this it introduces some characters who have become not just staples of the Star Trek world but, in some cases, have slipped into broader popular culture.

Of course there’s the crew, led by Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard, who’s phrase ‘make it so’ has entered the pop culture sphere as has the actor who would go on to become Professor X for much of the X-Men film franchise. Another notable character who has crossed over a little is the android crewman, Data (Brent Spiner) and, latterly, Wil Wheaton’s Wesley Crusher.

To my mind though the most important thing TNG gave us was one of the new ‘species’ it introduced, The Borg. Playing on particularly timely obsessions with technology, in many ways they prefigure the likes of The Matrix by a good decade and develop as the show goes on into one of TV’s most interesting villains and continue to develop into one of the main antagonists of Voyager.

Borg

An early example of a Borg drone

As TNG goes on it also develops from a standard ‘monster of the week’ style format into a broader storytelling context that grows into a universe building piece.

In its final episodes this allows it all to come full circle, back to elements introduced in the opening Q story making for a generally satisfying climax before the Enterprise-D crew headed onto the silver screen.

What the universe building also led into was the expansion of the franchise into other series, first Deep Space Nine and then Voyager.

In some ways ‘DS9‘ continues in the style of TNG with standalone episodes making the bulk of the first couple of seasons, but even then there are much more obvious overarching themes at play and heading into different directions than TNG dealt with.

Star Trek Deep Space Nine crew

Deep Space Nine crew

This is particularly focussed around the aftermath of war, foreign policy & diplomacy and religion due to its setting in the recently liberated Bajoran system following a lengthy occupation by the Cardassian Empire.

While all of these are dealt with in a way that still suits early evening prime time TV, DS9 does take things a step further than TNG as it goes on and actual war breaks out, taking up the bulk of the last few seasons in a largely ongoing story (with occasional asides).

In this it gets increasingly ‘dark’ (for wont of a better word) with lead characters even dying a long way into the run in very effective fashion and with the aftermath of this dealt with in surprising depth.

It’s during this that the already impressive practical special effects begin to dabble with CGI and, while rudimentary by today’s standards, it opens up the storytelling into more action oriented territory which is something Star Trek as a whole often lacked.

Deep Space Nine

Deep Space Nine

Thankfully it does this without losing the story or the ideas as has become a problem with over heavy CGI sci-fi since, including, sadly the last couple of Trek films, particularly Star Trek Beyond

While it’s often considered the lesser series, Voyager continues much of this and, in one sense, with the most ambitious concept of all as it launches its crew to the other side of the galaxy and traces their attempts to get home.

Across its seven seasons Voyager does have its wobbles and maybe a few too many moments of apparent luck and coincidentally bumping into past characters that doesn’t fit the epic trek of the ongoing story but, in between it has some of the more interesting stand alone stories as the conceit removes much of the galactic baggage that had built up across TNG and DS9.

Star Trek Voyager crew

Voyager crew

Of course it would be remiss to not also mention that it gives the Trek universe its first female lead in the form of Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) who grows and develops into probably at least an equal to DS9‘s Captian Sisko (Avery Brooks) – I’ll be honest no one is going to best Kirk or Picard.

The last few seasons again provide the highlights as The Borg loom larger and again CGI is used to create things more inventive than a parade of humans with forehead prosthetics (though there are still plenty of them), like Species 8472 who for TV at the time are quite a feat of animation.

What possibly hampers Voyager somewhat is that many of the ideas it explores are just retreads of what we’ve seen before, with new aspects in most cases but it still has a little too much of a hint of repetition, particularly with first the holographic Doctor (Robert Picardo) then former Borg Seven Of Nine’s (Jeri Ryan) explorations of humanity more than echoing TNG’s Data.

Voyager

Voyager

The other thing that feels a shame is that the series ends rather abruptly and, while it satisfies part of the main story, it feels there was more to tell and wrap up before coming to an end.

While it’s obvious that TNG is the superior of the three series in many ways they all have their share of merits and, on my personal ‘trek’ it was the concluding part of DS9 and much of Voyager that provided many highlights, possibly because I had seen them less than TNG.

Along with this though they stand as some of the foundations of the TV renaissance of recent years (along with The X-Files, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and others) that has led to the likes of Breaking Bad, Game Of Thrones and the Marvel Netflix shows with wider concepts and ongoing stories becoming the main focus of TV rather than the more easily disposable medium it had previously been.

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World Of Sport Wrestling – 31/12/16

World Of Sport WOS Wrestling logoBefore Vince McMahon and Hulkamania swept away the old world of professional wrestling in the 1980s and became a world-wide phenomenon if you were a grapple fan looking for a fix of a soap opera in spandex living in the UK, World of Sport was where you looked.

Between the 1960s and late 1980s Saturday afternoons on ITV meant wrestling, with the likes of Mick McManus, Adrian Street, Johnny Saint and Jim Breaks (amongst others) providing wrestling action while Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks provided notoriety and spectacle. Then in the late 80’s the ‘British style’ fell out of favour for the big budget, glossy American product and wrestling in the UK headed to the holiday camps.

Over the last couple of years professional wrestling in the UK has had something of a resurgence thanks to the likes of ICW, RPW, Progress and others and, with the announcement last summer that they were bringing back World Of Sport (WOS) Wrestling with Jim Ross on commentary and a selection of indie stars lined up, it looked like ITV were looking to cash in on this, 30 years after last airing British grappling.

I had been looking forward to WOS Wrestling since the announcement, but tried to maintain a sensible level of anticipation. This was after all going out early evening on ITV so I wasn’t going in expecting ‘strong style’ or ‘hardcore’ wrestling, but more family friendly fun stuff, with some good action built-in. From the opening music and styling though I was dubious as it had the ring of everything that makes ITV’s output problematic – shiny and cheap with a lowest common denominator audience in mind.

Grado and Dave Mastiff

Grado and Dave Mastiff

The first bout was announced as being for the World Of Sport Championship with two contenders chosen by an unknown ‘committee’, so far ok, this is an old trope of the NWA and WCW, and even the choice of Grado, a perennial good time babyface (blue-eye, fan favourite) seemed to suit the show, even if comparisons to ‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes felt a bit laboured.

His opponent was Dave Mastiff, a terrifying looking 300 pounder who is every part the pro-wrestling heel (bad guy, villain) to counter Grado’s fun loving persona. On his way to the ring, accompanied by Sha Samuels and Johnny Moss as a very imposing team, he cut a promo interrupting one from Grado, both of which felt over simplified and over scripted leading into a short match that felt the same.

The pairing and references on commentary felt self-consciously reverential to the Big Daddy/Giant Haystacks feud but its fair to say pro-wrestling has moved on since then and this was a problem across the show as a whole, along with the fact that the crowd reactions felt false. With such a short match and no real story to it until an interference ending, this didn’t start things off well despite the best efforts of the performers.

After the match we cut backstage to a brief interview with the ‘general manager’, the mysterious Mr Beasley, which felt like an attempt to emulate WWE’s similar backstage segments but fell down on almost all aspects, including the announcement of a Battle Royale at which point the smell of the low-budget mid-90s wrestling shows I remember seeing touring began to get a bit too strong.

WOS Wrestling ladder matchAfter an ad break we heard from some of the genuine British Wrestling legends further hyping the appalling work of Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks and ignoring their own great grappling, before a ladder match in some ways akin to WWE’s Money In The Bank gimmick.

The match itself was too short to really get into with four men fighting to reach a briefcase hanging from the ceiling. While I got the feeling at least some of the wrestlers had talent it was lost here as neither character nor any real action got across, largely thanks to some appalling camera work and editing. Anyway the winner, Kenny Williams, advanced to the Battle Royale.

Next up was a women’s match, hyped as the first of its kind on World Of Sport as in the past female wrestlers like Klondike Kate would compete against men, pitting Alexis Rose against Viper. At first I worried this may veer too far into the ‘titillation’ side of women’s wrestling but once they started this wasn’t the case as they put on the hardest hitting contest so far.

Viper and Alexis Rose

Viper and Alexis Rose

Both women’s characters came across and the story was simple but effective with the smaller baby face against the bigger heel. The bigger Viper won and after the opening pair of matches this started to bring me back on board (though the presentation was still all wrong).

Another qualifying match for the Battle Royale came in the form of a tag team match as Mark & Joe Coffey squared off against Rampage and Ashton Smith.

Like the women’s match this was a solid bout with both teams getting across characters and a range of hard-hitting looking action telling a fairly typical but well executed tag match story.

The Coffeys may have looked like they were aping WWE’s The Ascension at first, but I soon got over that and all four men impressed with the brother team getting the win with a nice double team strike combo.

Coffey flies at Rampage

Coffey flies at Rampage

While I was new to most of the wrestlers appearing here Zack Gibson and El Ligero came with something of a reputation that had me excited to see them in action and, once again despite the production, they didn’t disappoint.

Mixing styles of ‘lucha libre’ (Ligero) and a more submission style reminiscent of classic British grappling (Gibson) instantly made for a good story with Ligero looking for his highflying spring-board DDT finisher and Gibson working on Ligero’s arms to set up for his Shankly Gates finishing hold.

Ligero seemed to be slightly hampered by the looseness of the ropes a few times but worked through it like a pro (he wasn’t the only wrestler dealing with an unfamiliar ring, the 20ft WWE sized  ‘squared-circle’ seemed far too big for most of them) and the duo told a fine story with real pace and psychology.

Ligero picked up the win with his DDT and really came across as a true fan favourite character that the small audience actually seemed to genuinely get behind while Gibson’s throwback heel character clearly also got to the crowd in the way he should.

After three matches that seemed to be getting things together we got the Battle Royale that instantly switched back to the poor booking that had marked the start of the night.

Davey Boy Smith Jr

Davey Boy Smith Jr (while wrestling in Japan)

The initial section was set up to get over Sha Samuels and Johnny Moss, both of whom look like great heels, before surprise entrant ‘The British Bulldog’ Davey Boy Smith Jr (aka Harry Smith) came down to sort out the heels.

Smith has a genuine heritage here as son of the original Bulldog and nephew of Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart, but he was oddly soon eliminated by the heel duo after a few big signature spots, leaving them open for Grado to eliminate destroying any sense of threat they’d built.

After the win Grado suffered a hugely unconvincing knee injury thanks to a beat down from the heels supposedly calling the return match with Mastiff into question…

…of course there was never any real question as Mastiff returned to the ring before Grado made his third entrance of the show and they proceeded to have less a match, more an angle, that saw Mastiff attack Grado’s injured knee before Grado came back to hit his ‘Grado Cutter’ neck breaker for the win and a feel good ending.

Grado is awarded the WOS Championship

Grado is awarded the WOS Championship

In the show’s favour it had three good (one particularly so) matches in the middle with Gibson, Ligero, Rampage and the Coffey brothers coming out looking particularly good and it had Jim Ross on commentary as it’s always good to hear ‘Good Old JR’ back on the mic.

Unfortunately an inconsistent tone and terrible production work meant it looked cheap and above all silly, and when you’re dealing with a product that can already look inherently silly, emphasising this is never a good idea.

Pro-wrestling should suspend disbelief as we invest in characters we love or love-to-hate but all this seemed to do was poke fun at the formula and set back the cause of British pro-wresting 20 years to the dark days of the mid 1990s.

Much like then there are some good performers doing their best who I will investigate elsewhere where their work is respected, but with WOS Wrestling, ITV have created a product that, while it was never intended to appeal to die-hard wrestling fans, I can’t see appealing to anyone else either.

Lets just hope WWE’s United Kingdom Championship Tournament in a few weeks does a better job (I’m confident it will)…

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Sherlock: The Abominable Bride

Sherlock: The Abominable BrideSince 2010 Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have regularly neglected their duties on the revived Doctor Who to revive another great figure of British popular culture, Sherlock Holmes, creating three series of genuine crossover event television (I had a look at series two here). At Christmas 2015 this reached something of a cross roads with Sherlock: The Abominable Bride, an apparently stand alone, one-off, special taking the action from the modern-day back to its original Victorian setting.

The plot takes us back to Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Watson’s (Martin Freeman) first meeting, in this case in the subterranean morgue of ‘St Bart’s’ hospital, circa 1880 something, before fast forwarding to a point following the duo’s famed adventures as written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. So we get references to these tales, most obviously The Hound of The Baskervilles and more telling to the plot The Final Problem.

It’s in these opening sequences that the story first stumbles as the apparent need to cram in references to both Conan Doyle and Moffat and Gatiss’ own version feel somewhat heavy-handed making it harder to get immersed in both the world and the story. Once this settles down though the tale of ghostly murder does pick up and get rolling, most notably from the meeting with Mycroft (Gatiss) onwards.

The Abominable Bride

The titular bride (Natasha O’Keeffe)

As it goes on an uneasy feeling falls over the whole thing and it isn’t too long before the reasons for this become obvious and this is another slight stumble as the story is clearly trying to do two things at once. On the obvious front it wants to progress the over arching story that started back in 2010, while on the other it is trying to be a compelling mystery in its own right. This leaves the middle section very uneven and while the period setting is fun it never quite rings true.

From there it largely gives up on the period plot and the modern-day one is the focus once more leading, in a way, to some interesting situations (both fun and serious) concluding on something of a loose cliffhanger teasing ahead toward the next series (currently set for early 2017).

Performance and production wise the whole thing is as top-notch as one would expect, in fact Sherlock is consistently one of the best looking and well made BBC productions I can remember, and the Victorian period is particularly well rendered with interesting little flourishes of telegrams and newspaper cuttings echoing the text messages and online news reports of the modern-day tales.

Watson (Freeman) and Holmes (Cumberbatch)

Watson (Freeman) and Holmes (Cumberbatch)

In the end then The Abominable Bride is a mixed bag of a tale that isn’t as stand alone as I had hoped but works well within the larger context and has got me suitably excited for what’s to come. I couldn’t however help but feel I’d like to see this team tackle some of the original stories in the original setting as I think they could make them just as good and engrossing as their modern variations and breath a new life into them away from the more running and fighting Guy Ritchie and Robert Downey Jr. versions.

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Doctor Who – The Magician’s Apprentice

Peter Capaldi as The Doctor

Peter Capaldi as The Doctor

I don’t normally do reviews of individual episodes of a series but I’m making an exception in this case as, not only am I a huge fan of Doctor Who (historically at least), but this new season has something of a ‘make or break’ feel for me.

To put that into some context, I found the last season (8 by the new timeline), the first to feature Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, more than a bit disappointing.

With the exception of the Missy revelation there is little from it that has stuck in my mind a year later and I was left with the feeling that with this and Sherlock show runner Stephen Moffat may have taken on more than one man could deal with, leading to Doctor Who becoming somewhat like high profile fan fiction.

Doctor Who - A mysterious boy

A mysterious boy

In the build up to this season I had found my interest somewhat lacking as the powers that be in BBC’s marketing department seemed to be relying on revealing major plot points as a way of keeping us interested.

Inevitably they have ended up ‘spoilering’ a few key aspects of the story before it even started. So, I came to the new episode, The Magician’s Apprentice, more than a little doubtful.

Starting off with a rather traditional Doctor Who looking setting that could easily have been a quarry in Wales (and I really hope that at least some of it was) the pre-credits sequence managed, in one line that I won’t spoil here, to generate more intrigue than the entire last season combined and had me hooked.

The DoctorFrom there we got some back and forth with companion Clara, back at home on Earth, and UNIT while an inventive looking new kind of creature hunted for the Doctor.

To talk much more of plot details would be something of a spoiler, but suffice to say there was quite a lot to take in that I hope gets at least some kind of explanation as the series goes on.

The middle section of the episode did revert back slightly to some of the directionlessness and gimmickry of the previous season, but that was soon dealt with and the sense of intrigue returned with a further nod to the past, including a brief glimpse of Tom Baker’s Doctor.

Tom Baker's Doctor

Tom Baker’s Doctor faces a dilemma

As the episode drew to a close, on both a big ethical cliffhanger for The Doctor and a wider storyline cliffhanger, I was left with much more positive feelings than I’ve had for the show in a while.

A lot still remains to be seen in how these big set ups are dealt with going forward, and if it all succumbs to the same lack of direction as the last season, but for an opening episode The Magician’s Apprentice had a lot of good points that I hope mean we are in for a more engaging and controlled show again, like Doctor Who can be at its best.

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Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways

foo fighters sonic highwaysMuch like many concept albums that came before it the idea of Foo Fighters’ Sonic Highways could, on paper, sound massively self-indulgent. Across eight tracks the band travelled around the USA visiting eight cities and in each city visiting a different iconic studio to record a song.

What sets this apart from being an exercise in pure self-indulgence is two-fold. First is that the album they came up with in these unique circumstances is, somewhat bizarrely, one of the Foo Fighters’ most consistent albums to date.

Second is that as well as visiting these cities band leader Dave Grohl continued his new-found love of film, first seen in Sound City, by making a documentary TV series focusing on the musical culture of each city, while taking a behind the scenes look into the album’s recording.

Foo Fighters - Sonic Highways album cover

Sonic Highways album cover

The album itself is a great modern rock record, combining everything that has made the Foo’s reputation so far, but with an added sense of exploration and maturity.

As with much of their previous material there are hints here of where the band came from with grungy overtones and screamed vocals still present. These are tempered with huge melodies that feel custom-built to fill stadiums and festivals come the summer.

Along with that comes the more conceptual end of things where stylistic flourishes, lyrical nods and guest musicians related to each city are added to the usual Foo Fighters mix to create something extra.

While these could be overlooked on a quick listen they are there and reward re-listening brilliantly, like references and ‘Easter eggs’ in movies, just in appropriately sonic form.

Dave Grohl

Dave Grohl

While Sonic Highways is certainly the closest the Foo Fighters have come to so-called ‘Dad Rock’ it retains enough of the edge of the band members’ shared musical history to set it apart and make it a great album.

While it may not have stand out ‘singles’ like many of their other records, this new-found consistency is refreshing in an often ‘shuffle’ centric musical world.

While the album is very enjoyable by itself, it really comes into its own after absorbing the accompanying documentary series.

Foo Fighters - Sonic Highways TV series

Sonic Highways TV series poster

It would be very easy for Grohl and his crew to have taken the easy approach here by telling the obvious stories of each city, but, while these are reflected, each episode adds a personal level.

This varies from the intense connection the band has to Washington DC, Seattle and Los Angeles to the more exploratory links to Chicago, New Orleans, Nashville and Austin while the series’ climax in New York City brings it all back together.

Across the series a real insiders view of the band in the studio is also presented as we see their crew rigging the studios and the band working out the songs and recording them over the course of a few days in each location, while producer Butch Vig gives some brief but surprisingly in-depth insights into the nature of the work he and the band are undertaking.

Much like the album this comes together into something fascinating and highly enjoyable whether your interest lies in the musical heritage explored or the behind the scenes glimpse into the world of one of the rock’s biggest bands.

Butch Vig

Butch Vig

The real highlight of the whole project comes in its conclusion where Grohl, during an interview with US President Barrack Obama, puts the work into the context of a wider American culture and the notion of the ‘American dream’.

Alongside this comes a more universal idea of how the perception and value of music and culture seems to be evolving for good or bad depending on your point of view

While its conclusion is, possibly, a little on the positive and sugar-coated side (as you might expect coming from a band making millions from their art) it also leaves questions open and introduces ideas that leave the more adventurous viewers with a starting point from which to explore many new avenues of music and culture.

This makes Sonic Highways a genuinely successful conceptual, multi-media, work from a band firmly planted in the current mainstream – though I got the feeling each episode had a lot more to say that their hour run time allowed.

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Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks bluray coverIn the 25 years since its first broadcast Twin Peaks has become a genuinely cult television series with aficionados debating seemingly every second of the show to explore its hidden (or not so hidden) meanings and in that it has become hugely influential on a lot of TV (and general pop culture) that was to follow.

Particular to this was the mid-1990s trend for supernatural themed TV that peaked with The X-Files and almost certainly led to the likes of Lost having a home on international TV. But, for a newcomer, what charms would David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks have two and a half decades on?

Going into my first watch of Twin Peaks I knew very little, simply that it was set in a remote town on the US/Canada border and that the general theme was a murder mystery with the body of a local girl called Laura Palmer being the catalyst for everything that was to follow.

For the first, shorter, season of the two, my expectations weren’t far wrong as I was plunged into an almost soap opera like setting with a host of characters; from our maguffin chasing lead, FBI Agent Dale Cooper (the always convincing, Kyle MacLachlan) down to seemingly bit part players of the various, eccentric, townsfolk.

Kyle MacLachlan as Agent Dale Cooper

Kyle MacLachlan as Agent Dale Cooper

As the series goes on a more esoteric thread is gradually introduced through Agent Cooper and his various visions that seem at odds to the almost heightened, soapy, feel of the rest of the show. All this builds to create at atmosphere that could only come from the mind of David Lynch.

Given the extra scope of a TV series, compared to a movie, this off kilter feel is explored with great success and gradually builds in such a way that it becomes simply part of the nature of life in this town.

While some of this leads to some funny moments, that always feel intentional, the main arc of Laura’s murder and Agent Cooper’s investigation always has a serious feeling to it and the series actually deals with some pretty serious themes as the bodies pile up and drug running and prostitution get added to the mystery.

The Log Lady

The Log Lady

Ending on a great cliffhanger Season One of Twin Peaks is a tight, undeniably weird, murder mystery with hints of Lynch’s ever present theme of exploring behind the veneer of, so-called ‘normal’, small town American life.

While season one seemed content to merely hint and suggest at a paranormal aspect from the start of its second season Twin Peaks escalated this and never let up. As intrigue and mystery piled on top of one another the plot does waver at times as it develops from a relative simple murder mystery into something much more.

To the show runners’ credit despite this escalation in scale it never really loses sense of its underlying feeling of peeling back the skin of Americana as everything is heightened and cranked up further and further.

Twin Peaks - The Red Room

The Red Room

Again there is some great comedy, particular coming in Lynch’s cameo as deaf FBI chief Gordon Cole and this is very welcome as other threads becoming increasingly disturbing – particularly those surrounding the mysterious BOB and Agent Cooper’s former FBI agent partner.

The most impressive thing as the series continues is how the various, often separate storylines, are intertwined and all join together as we head towards the dénouement.

Even 25 years later it seems wrong to spoil the ending of Twin Peaks, but its safe to say that the concluding few episodes capitalise on all that’s come before to create something the likes of which I’ve never seen in a supposedly mainstream TV show.

Twin Peaks opening titles

The original opening titles

Across both series the soundtrack and score, from Angelo Badalamenti, is a permanent fixture, often leading the action and emotion of the action or counterpointing it with reverb drenched twangy guitar and bass tones that hint at Lynch’s love of 50s rock ‘n’ roll and, in this, suit the off-centre Americana of the series.

With a movie (Fire Walk With Me) following soon after and a new series in the pipeline as I write, its clear that Twin Peaks had a strong, lasting effect on pop culture and, while I know there’s a lot more to it than one watch could ever give, it more than stands up 25 years down the road as both a landmark series and genuinely fascinating and enjoyable experience that I would describe as essential viewing for any fan of modern television.

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Filmed in Supermarionation

Filmed In Supermarionation posterTelling the story AP Films (APF) and, later, Century 21 Productions, Filmed In Supermarionation offers the chance to step back to the 1960s with the people behind the likes of Stingray, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet.

While there seems to be an interesting story to tell here, this film never quite manages to find it. We start off with Parker and Lady Penelope introducing us to the story, which they are oddly reading from a book (surely watching the movie would make more sense) and, for the first half of the film at least, we cut back to them and Brains, from time to time, to move things on.

This device disappears part way through the movie though leaving what could have been quite a nice quirky aspect of the filming feeling poorly thought out, which is a thought that continually occurred across the following 120 minutes.

The general arc takes us from through the early puppet TV shows produced by Gerry Anderson and into the more famous sci-fi series that followed up to the odd live action/puppet mixed that sealed their fate. The bulk of the film consists of a mix of talking head interviews, archive interviews and what could have been some interesting segments where Anderson’s son takes some of the original puppeteers back to where the studios used to be.

Parker and Lady Penelope

Parker and Lady Penelope

Unfortunately, and not wishing to sound cruel, a lot of these segments have more of the air of an outing from an old folks home than an insightful documentary and, while all involved are charming, there is little genuine insight to be had here.

It doesn’t help that neither studio really exists anymore (one is clearly now a mechanics workshop) so its left with what often feels like people stood chatting in a car park next to a model.

The talking heads sequences aren’t much better and, aside from the rather dry Gerry Anderson talking about his dealing with TV impresario Lew Grade and Sylvia Anderson telling the bulk of the behind the scenes story, it left me feeling like I’d spent some time with a parade of old English eccentrics, more than anything else. The chap who voiced Parker, however is something of a highlight.

Gerry Anderson

Gerry Anderson

What Filmed In Supermarionation is most successful at is reminding me how much I used to love the likes of Stingray and Captain Scarlet, when they were revived in my youth in the late 80s and early 90s, and quite how impressive some of the work they did was considering when they were made. Stingray in particular looks a good decade ahead of its time here in terms of production quality and Captain Scarlet has some surprisingly dark and brutal touches I hadn’t previously considered.

I think the biggest problem with Filmed In Supermarionation comes with the fact that it was conceived as a feature documentary but can’t escape the TV feel, so, rather than the cinema and Blu-ray release it has had, I think it would be much more suited to a cut down run on BBC Four (or the like) as its first hour drags as we work through the earlier, less well-remembered, shows.

Filmed in Supermarionation

One of the recreated sets

As expected the segment on Thunderbirds is the most in-depth and seems to be where most of the talking heads come to life most as well, possibly hinting at why this was the most successful of the shows, but again not much is revealed that hasn’t been well discussed in the past.

In an odd move, it leaves things on something of a down beat note as we find out that once Century 21 folded, most of the models were simply smashed and thrown in skips in front of the people who’d spent years working on them. This kills the warm nostalgic feeling that had been built and left me not too keen to watch the bonus disc of classic episodes of the TV shows, which is surely something of a crime.

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