The Past Month on TV #10

If there’s something strange in your neighbourhood, who ya gonna call? Three middle-schoolers on their bicycles, apparently…

Stranger Things (Season 1)
Stranger ThingsHype — it’s a funny old business. It’s hard to have avoided hearing something about Stranger Things, Netflix’s summer hit that went down like gangbusters, its ’80s nostalgia perfectly calibrated to target the kind of people who run entertainment news websites these days — just to be cynical about it. Or truthful. Then there came the backlash, which attested there was nothing more to the show than those callbacks and tributes; a hollow experience of copying and “hey, remember this? That was good, wasn’t it?”

So, I confess, I approached the first chapter with the thought in mind that I might be about to watch the most overrated thing since sliced bread. The opening instalment did little to sway me either way — as with many a ‘pilot’ episode (it’s not a pilot if it goes straight to series, but anyway), it’s got a lot of establishing to do: teaching us the normality of this world, introducing us to the players, setting up a mystery, teasing where that might be going… Stranger Things does all this well, but not exceptionally. It’s good, it makes you want to stick with it, it has promise, but it’s not one of those first episodes where you come away thinking, “Holy moly, this is gonna be great!” (First example of that that comes to mind: Game of Thrones. Another: Firefly. I’m sure you have your own.)

Like so many streaming series, produced with an awareness that they’ll be released all at once like a really long movie, it’s a little slow-going at times, but it’s kept ticking over with some exceptional elements. Yes, it’s bedded in the style and tone of many beloved ’80s genre classics — primarily Stephen King tales and films produced (not just directed) by Steven Spielberg — but that’s just the execution. In storytelling terms, it has its own mythology, and it feels like there’s a rich vein of originality there. Or possibly it’s just references and riffs I’m not familiar with, who knows. Even better than that are the performances. Winona Ryder is incredible as the mother of a missing boy, her raw feelings and frantic actions forming a core of plausible emotional reaction in the centre of fantastic events. Millie Bobby Brown is also excellent as the mysterious Eleven, conveying so much personality and internal conflict with very little dialogue.

Stranger haircutsWithout wanting to get into spoiler territory (despite what the media would have you believe, not everyone has Netflix all the time and not everyone watches every new zeitgeisty series immediately. Apologies if you write for an entertainment site and I’ve just given you palpitations), everything comes together nicely for a barnstorming pair of climactic episodes. For my money, the penultimate chapter is the best one: with a bunch of revelations out of the way (some of them easily guessed but finally confirmed), the series kicks off a run of long-awaited fan-pleasing events (as in many a drama, it takes this long for everyone to finally start talking to each other; also, the bit with the van!) The finale is less accomplished, with some characters wandering around for a bit in a way that feels designed to pad the running time. Still, it’s a satisfying conclusion… to season one, anyway.

As an outsider for most of the summer, the endless and ever-increasing handwringing over whether there would be a second season was actually kind of amusing — and the punchline came when it was revealed Netflix had actually commissioned season two before season one was even released, they’d just decided to keep it secret for a bit. Here’s the thing: Netflix has never not recommissioned one of its original series. Even Marco Polo, which apparently no one watched or talked about, got at least a second run. And here you have a show which everyone’s talking about, and presumably most of them are actually watching too, and you think Netflix aren’t going to bring it back? I mean, it wraps itself up quite well, but there’s a whole pile of blatant teases for future storylines. C’mon, people!

Anyway, I’m happy to report that Stranger Things by and large lives up to the hype, especially by the time it reaches its climax. Bring on season two! Between that and all the Marvel series, maybe I’m going to end up with a year-round Netflix sub after all… You win, Netflix. You win.

Class (Series 1 Episodes 1-5)
ClassTen years to the very day since the launch of the original dark, sexy BBC Three Doctor Who spin-off, Torchwood, we got this dark, sexy BBC Three Doctor Who spin-off. Playing as much like the other 21st century Who spin-off, CBBC’s The Sarah Jane Adventures, it concerns a bunch of Sixth Formers battling alien threats coming through cracks in time and space that occur around their school. And also having sex with each other at the drop of a hat, because that’s totally what life is like for all teenagers. So yes, Torchwood + Sarah Jane x Skins = Buffy, pretty much. I really liked the first episode (as pilot-type episodes go, it’s a strong’un), and the third, Nightvisiting, was also a great concept well executed; but the other three instalments were run-of-the-mill and/or awash with niggles. Plus the two-parter in episodes four and five suffered from having too little story to fill two whole episodes. So it’s a mixed bag, but Torchwood was the same at the start and eventually produced one of the best miniseries ever made (Children of Earth), so you never know.

The Flash (Season 3 Episodes 1-2)
Arrow (Season 5 Episodes 1-2)
The Flash season 3The CW’s raft of superhero shows restarted on UK TV this month. I’ve given up on Legends of Tomorrow and am still not joining Supergirl (though I got hold of the opening episodes, co-starring Superman, to maybe make time for at some point); but, five seasons in, Arrow has me suckered for the long-haul, and The Flash tempted me back with the intrigue of adapting Flashpoint. I’ve never got on the bandwagon with Flash, which attracted a lot of praise during its first season that I simply didn’t agree with, leading it to outshine Arrow in ratings and people’s affections. Arrow has long been off the boil, and season five certainly hasn’t got it back up to temperature so far, but The Flash had plenty of issues of its own. It’s not problem free now, but I actually really liked the first couple of episodes of the new season. It’s still a long way from the top tier of TV superheroes (Netflix have that sewn up), but it’s likeable.

Also watched…
  • Castle Season 7 Episodes 2-15 — it feels like the quality takes a nosedive with this season, and, sure enough, as I suspected, it turns out this is when they changed showrunner. Halfway through it’s beginning to pick back up a bit, at least.
  • The Crystal Maze Stand Up To Cancer Celebrity Special — I used to love this as a kid. As an adult… eh. I’m sure it’s a lot of fun to actually do, though.
  • The Great British Bake Off Series 7 Final — bye bye, Proper Bake Off. Whatever Channel 4 do in 2018, it won’t be the same.
  • The Musketeers Series 2 Episodes 8-10 — in which everything is wrapped up… and then left open-ended. Good thing there’s a third series.
  • The National Lottery: Who Dares Wins Series 9 Episodes 1-4 — I don’t waste much time on gameshows, but naming as many things as you can think of from semi-obscure lists? Right up my street. An impossible show to watch live, though — you need to fastforward the filler and pause the answers.
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again — full review here.

    Things to Catch Up On
    The CrownThis month, I have mostly been missing the most expensive TV show ever made*, Netflix’s much-discussed The Crown. I don’t know if they’ve been pushing it as much in the rest of the world as they did in the UK, but it certainly felt like it was everywhere… for about a week, as is usually the way with Netflix series. Also missed: the equally-discussed Netflix-exclusive new run of Black Mirror. Both of these are because I don’t keep up a permanent Netflix subscription, but between them, the forthcoming Gilmore Girls revival, and the Series of Unfortunate Events remake in January, I will be signing up again late in December (using the free month voucher they had in the Radio Times, hurrah!)

    * Apparently it isn’t, actually.

    Next month… I’ll be out of the country when the next update is due, so it may be a little later than normal — perhaps a ‘Christmas special’.

  • 6 thoughts on “The Past Month on TV #10

    1. It took me a while to warm to Stranger Things, I think the hype led me to believe it would hook me from word go, but the second half of the season was fantastic!
      I’ve given up on both Flash and Arrow, which makes me sad because I used to really enjoy them, but I might try and catch up in the Christmas period.
      Without wanting to add to your watch list, you should give Westworld a go!
      – Allie

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, I definitely found Stranger Things to be a grower as well.

        Despite the fact I’m still watching them, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend Flash and Arrow. The former, maybe, if they end up going somewhere good with their new developments, but of course it takes an awfully long time to see such things with US network seasons!

        As for Westworld, I’ve discovered I’m away when the final episode airs, so I think I’ll save it all up and binge at Christmas.


    2. Good stuff as usual. STRANGER THINGS – not something I’m binge-watching personally. I like what I’ve seen (three-four episodes) but it hasn’t been compelling in the same way as… THE CROWN! I didn’t expect to like this one at all, being a confirmed Republican, but I found myself getting completely drawn in to what turned out to be a riveting social history of Britain in the early 1950s. Plenty of royalty, but much of it concerns HRH’s reactions to the great events of the day – Churchill’s failing government, the pea-souper of 52, etc. Added to which I would give anything starring Matt Smith a chance, and he’s very good in it, though John Lithgow as Churchill (unexpected casting, but inspired) is superb and Jared Harris’s tragic George VI is perhaps best of all.

      I have to echo Allie about WESTWORLD – my only caveat is that it takes a while for anything to actually happen, but the world building and peeling back of revelations has me hooked.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The best bits of Stranger Things are definitely in the second half, I think, so it’s worth sticking with. But I do agree that it doesn’t generate the same “must watch another one” feeling that the best of these shows do.

        Glad to hear The Crown is worth it. I read something where the producer talked about Claire Foy’s casting, saying everyone else did an impression of the Queen while Foy just played the character as written, and that’s what they were looking for: a character inspired by the Queen rather than an impression. Which I guess indicates the mentality of the series and probably why it overcomes the need to be a royalist. I couldn’t imagine Lithgow as Churchill at all, but he’s a sometimes-underrated actor (less so after Dexter) so I shouldn’t be surprised he’s pulled it off; and I always enjoy Jared Harris, so that’s a bonus.

        Liked by 1 person

        • That “must watch another one” feeling – no idea if it’s just different for different people. THE WIRE, and for that matter THE SOPRANOS – admired both, didn’t have enough good things to say about either, but I never felt especially compelled to binge on episode after episode, whereas I know others have dined on this stuff for hours. It all makes me feel a bit of a philistine as I’ve scurried back to the ones that have really compelled me to watch more – BUFFY, BATTLESTAR, etc.

          As for THE CROWN, Claire Foy is very, very good in a completely thankless role – Churchill is always a compelling character, even in his failing years, the narrative about Phillip being second string in the marriage is good stuff, Margaret is better looking and has a tragic storyline. And yet she carries it all off and the show is doing a very fine job of showing the struggle between her dual roles as monarch and family member. And those eyes….

          Liked by 1 person

          • I agree there’s an over-emphasis on binge-watching these days. It isn’t for everyone and there are some shows it doesn’t suit. For me, there are some series that are just too good to burn through quickly, and others you need time to digest. (Related to that, I think some people do push ahead in a needless rush and don’t allow time to take things in properly).

            That said, it’s increasingly the case that streaming series (Netflix’s in particular) are made with binging in mind, because their release strategy encourages it. So in those circumstances, if it doesn’t compel you to instantly watch the next episode, has it failed somehow? I suppose if you watch it eventually then it hasn’t (I think I’ve come full circle at this point…)

            Liked by 1 person

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