The Past Month on TV #50

Last month, I said this month would hopefully feature Stranger Things 3, Veronica Mars season 4, and The Boys season 1. It doesn’t. Not any of them. But I’m not short of other things to write about…

Years and Years
Years and YearsThe writer most popularly known for reviving Doctor Who, Russell T Davies, returns to science fiction for the first time in almost a decade with this acclaimed miniseries. This is a very different kind of sci-fi, though — no space invaders or malicious AI or mad scientists here. No, this story begins in 2019 as we know it and then moves across the next 15 years to explore just where we’re headed, in a realistic and grounded way. It focuses on a normal family from Manchester — four siblings, their grandmother, and assorted spouses and children — and how the changes in society and technology affect them. It’s a story of the ordinary people; the folks who don’t shape history, history happens around and to them.

Cannily, it dodges the Brexit bullet — there are implications it went ahead, but it doesn’t have any bearing on the story: these big changes are happening everywhere anyway, whether Britain leaves the EU or not. What it is aware of is how much society and technology are now intertwined. In the first episode, a teenager comes out to her parents as trans — not trans gender, but transhuman. She wants to ditch the limitations of flesh and live forever as data. Some people will scoff at that, but the way it’s presented and plays out over the next five episodes is highly plausible. RTD tackles a whole host of societal issues in a similar way — immigration, the gig economy, nationalism, etc — all mixed together in a way that reflects real life. After all, we’re never just dealing with or worried about one thing at a time, especially nowadays.

As someone who grew up in the ’90s and ’00s, learning about the Cold War as an historical event, I sometimes wondered how people lived their day-to-day lives with the constant threat of nuclear annihilation. Except that’s not what it was actually like, was it? It may’ve been there, in the background, ebbing and spiking depending on the political factors of the day, but people just got on with their everyday lives while that played out on the news. It’s the same nowadays, isn’t it? There’s so much crap going on in the world, and most of it we just see on the news — unless it happens to butt into our own lives for whatever reason. And Years and Years is that same thing, but projected into future events; and not fantastical things, like a mission to Mars or an AI breakthrough, but a very plausible extrapolation of where we’re headed.

Personally, I thought it was a work of borderline genius. RTD has always had a way with characters — of quickly shading in believable individuals, their families and lives; of writing scenes that sing with dialogue and interactions that seem plucked straight from real life — and here that’s married with an imaginative vision of the near future, the two working in harmony to create a drama that’s also a warning about what we’re getting ourselves into… although it’s also an admonishment, showing us what we’ve got ourselves into and wondering if it’s too late to stop it. But there’s a dash of hope in there, too; just a sliver of “maybe it’ll be mostly OK in the end.” Fingers crossed.

Peaky Blinders  Series 4
Peaky Blinders series 4Birmingham’s premier gangsters return with a storyline that forces them to reckon with their past actions. So it’s unfortunate that this is a show that can’t be doing with recaps at the start of episodes. I spent most of the first instalment trying to remember the events of previous series and how they’d led to where things were, which is an unwelcome distraction that could be easily solved with a simple “previously on” at the opening. I don’t know why Netflix hate them so much (well, I do — it’s the assumption you’ll just binge-watch everything, and if you don’t then they want you to feel you have to; and we’re all just buying into what we’re told to do, which is half the problem (funnily enough, that’s a lot of what Years & Years was all about…)

Anyway, once things get up and running, and you can get your head around what’s going on enough to be going on with, this is another thrilling story of ’20s criminality. Adrien Brody pops in as a series-long guest star, a Mafia enforcer from New York who has a vendetta against the Blinders because they killed his dad, and now he’s brought his American muscle to wipe them out. With bigger forces out to gobble them up, the Blinders must rely once again on a mix of their wits and straightforward firepower. The show itself is the same, blending together tricksy plotting (Tommy Shelby may always have a plan, but we’re not always privy to it until after the fact) and impressively staged action scenes (there’s an extended shoot-out at the start of episode five that must’ve eaten up a lot of the budget; and if it didn’t, they’ve done a good job making it look like it did). In fact, the series as a whole looks stunning — style drips off the screen, whether it be the slow-mo hero walks or the pulsating rock soundtrack.

For my money, the plot was a little smaller-scale than previous seasons, despite involving ever-bigger outside forces, which made it feel almost like an extended movie rather than a dense season of television. But don’t take that criticism too much to heart — previous seasons may’ve been even better in my personal estimation, but this is still top-drawer drama.

Unforgotten  Series 3
Unforgotten series 3Where the other shows reviewed this month are big, brassy productions told on a mythic scale, Unforgotten is almost the opposite, and yet it tackles themes no less grand. But it’s a quiet, understated drama, as London detectives Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar (along with their team) investigate a cold-case murder, in the process having to tackle the fallout that time has wrought on the victims left behind.

This time, the skeleton of a teenage girl is found under a motorway, and it turns out to be a girl who disappeared on December 31st, 1999, and was a huge story at the time, which naturally leaves our little team under intense media scrutiny. (It’s somewhat amusing seeing this ITV-produced show get to use real ITV News presenters and graphics while the hero characters are slagging off the attitudes and methods of the media.) Unforgotten has the usual murder mystery array of suspects for us to theorise about, but what it also does well is portray the terrible sadness of such crimes. Reveals in the final episode push the storyline in a slightly different direction which allow it to pull focus in a different direction, too, although I’m not sure it really has the time or space to dig into that aspect.

Like Peaky Blinders, I don’t think this was the very best series of the programme (series two was harder hitting and even more emotionally complex), but it’s still more or less on form. It wears its heart on its sleeve, trying to treat these victims and suspects not just as pawns in an elaborate guessing game, but as real people whose lives have been torn apart. That makes it one of the better cop shows on TV, I think.

Also watched…
  • Agatha Raisin Series 2 Episodes 1-3 — Sky 1’s murder mystery series (which they cancelled but an American outfit revived and now they just buy in) is the very definition of cosy crime, though with enough humour that it plays more like a rom-com than a crime drama. Also, looks surprisingly gorgeous in UHD. Happily, there’s a third lot in production.
  • Beecham House Series 1 Episodes 4-6 — Oh yes, I stuck with this to the end. (Please let this be the end.)
  • Grantchester Series 4 Episodes 5-6 — Been catching up with this in bits and pieces, but just realised I’ve not mentioned it until now. James Norton’s gone off to bigger things (Joss Whedon’s new show, to be precise), so they’ve got a new co-lead, who’s fine. This season attempted an arc subplot with contemporary social relevance (a woman being harassed by a coworker), which went for the happy modern-ish ending rather than what I expect was the full misery of actually suffering that kind of thing in the 1950s.
  • Lucifer Season 3 Episodes 1-3 — Since I last watched it Lucifer has been cancelled, revived, recommissioned, and extended (Netflix ordered a ten-episode final season but, after fan outcry, added a further six), so I thought it was about time I got on with it. It’s a fun show, that I’ll probably be watching in dribs and drabs for a while. (See my reviews of seasons one and two, which broadly apply to season three as well.)
  • Susan Calman’s Fringe Benefits Series 1 — A mix of chat and standup from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Calman’s an infectiously jolly host, and the chance to get an overview of different acts, including ones you don’t see on TV as often, is nice. If anything, it’s a shame it’s only three 45-minute episodes — there’s so much going on at the Fringe, I expect they could do a half-hour every night and still not touch the sides.

    Things to Catch Up On
    Wu AssassinsThis month, I have mostly been missing Wu Assassins on Netflix, starring Iko “The Raid” Uwais. The trailers look perhaps a bit cheesy, but also promise regular doses of Uwais’ incredible combat skills, so that’ll do me. Elsewhere, Preacher has embarked on its fourth and final season. Considering I’ve not seen most of season two and none of season three, that’s a bigger catchup project. And talking of stuff I’ve not seen, I never got round to Mindhunter season one, even though David Fincher directed some of it, and now there’s a second season, which he’s also partly directed. Considering it’s been five years since his last movie, I do kinda need that Fincher fix…

    Next month… take your pick for what I’ll’ve watched and what I’ll’ve missed out of Peaky Blinders season 5 (starts tonight), Dad’s Army: The Lost Episodes (starts tonight), Sanditon (starts tonight), The Great British Bake Off (starts on Tuesday), Carnival Row (out on Friday), and The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (out on Friday). Bear in mind: I’ve only just finished one season of Peaky Blinders, and I didn’t much like The Dark Crystal. (Why do I feel like that means it’ll be the only one of these I end up actually watching…)

  • 3 thoughts on “The Past Month on TV #50

    1. And here we go again, me revealing that I’ve watched none of the above. Infact, I’ve never watched ANY of Peaky Blinders- when I get around to it it’ll be a complete boxset on iPlayer no doubt. I have been watching The Boys though -I’m at the midpoint now- and its as good as everyone says.

      As someone who enjoyed MIndhunter Season One, I’m looking forward to Season Two immensely, but it’s on a long list that’s only getting longer with Dark Crystal coming on Friday. I only watched the trailer of that Carnival Row yesterday and was surprised to see it looking quite fascinating, like a fantasy-land Penny Dreadful. So it seems like a really good Autumn for telly, considering there is also Man in the High Castle, The Expanse etc also coming up. Who needs Disney+?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Peaky Blinders is definitely worth catching up on at some point… though there’s so much stuff that applies to. They surprise-announced that Breaking Bad sequel movie the other day, and I’ve still not even started that. I thought about trying to squeeze the whole thing in before the movie, but eh, why? My Blu-ray set is boxed up somewhere anyway. Though it’s all on Netflix in 4K (hate it when that happens, the conflict between “something I paid for” and “highest quality”. Same deal with the new Suspiria, which I still haven’t watched).

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    2. “As someone who grew up in the ’90s and ’00s, learning about the Cold War as an historical event, I sometimes wondered how people lived their day-to-day lives with the constant threat of nuclear annihilation. Except that’s not what it was actually like, was it? It may’ve been there, in the background, ebbing and spiking depending on the political factors of the day, but people just got on with their everyday lives while that played out on the news.”
      –Richard Nelson, review of “Years and Years” television series, August 25, 2019

      This is a dangerous, potentially insulting point of view concerning people who lived through the Cold War. As an American born in the thick of it (1957) and spending most of my life in its clutches, perhaps my view is nearer the impact of this social movement based mostly on US militaristic ideals and policies. So well known to have become something of a cliche, even during its time such as toward its end in the 1970s-80s, it is well to remember that fashionable thinking, which always wants to force out older thinking for newer thinking, stands to miss much of the truth of what happened during its reign. This is particularly evident as a result of a lack of comprehensive, honest evidence, because a cold war is rife with coverup behavior.

      There are few better ways of establishing one’s argument than to tell of one’s personal journey through life and how that life was affected by the larger events which may or may not have been part of that life’s affectations. Mine was, although not directly, nonetheless significantly. Remember, people’s lives were very much affected by the cold war in a cold, indifferent manner.

      I was not connected in any way to the military. It is true, that by the time of my coming of age during the 1970s, few Americans felt very deeply about living under threat of nuclear annihilation, as you stated it. We had bigger fish to fry, so it seemed, what with semi-ignorant elders who were still thinking like it was the 1950s (All In the Family) and thereby having outdated views of what was currently happening (military draft, civil rights movement). Many young people died in southeastern Asia, all of which could have been avoided if not for fools who wholeheartedly supported the Cold War. Supported, I say, in the way a madman paranoid from living in war continues to buy supposed protection from corrupt racketeers.

      As Eisenhower knew, much of our national policies were influenced by weapons manufacturers and media scare tactics prompting policy makers to continue the madness of war in southeast Asia and then in Middle East. But the question always remains: How much of people’s personal lives were affected by these larger sociopolitical movements? Quite a lot, actually. And to be sure, it was mostly subtle. So subtle, in fact that it’s the kind of stuff which never gets reported in a way which reflects back to the overall paranoia that actually dominated everyone’s life. Why, for example, are so many people dedicated to supporting and loving spy behavior in popular films? Is it because we don’t trust Soviets and socialism, or because we’ve been told in a way meant to assure us that those ways of living (Russian life) is absolutely the enemy regardless of what might actually be happening to real people in real-life places.

      Nobody knew anything about Russians, because we were told every day that we shouldn’t ask about it. But the same thing happened in my own family. My grandfather, a Romanian immigrant to Ellis and then to Detroit as a painter at Ford factory, was such a mad sexist that he refused to allow his two daughters an education. Why? Obviously he was only fitting in with his peers at work. Such is the extent of social influences gone psychotic behavior as the norm in America throughout the entire history of our overly proud thus ignorant nation. We have been living in various forms of socialistic economy (social security etc), to many poor folks benefit. But, again we’re not supposed to ask about the subject. Angela Davis was arrested in 1970s for teaching it. Do crooks take advantage of socialism? Of course, they do. But a Cold War atmosphere feeds such crooked behavior instead of allowing people to communicate enough to arrest it.

      Lack of communication in my family as a result of my grandfather’s eldest son, my father’s elder brother, making sure to cover up the secret of his father’s sexism during his career as a violinist in Toscanini’s NY Philharmonic Orchestra, Casals Festival Orch etc seemed to require it while Americans’ ideas about sexism changed by mid-century, played out with devastating effect upon not only my aunt and her sister, the ones refused an education–the elder aunt took her own life as a result of associating with nefarious people, which she likely would not have done if she had experienced a more honest and supportive childhood–but also upon my father. Hating his father over mistreating his beloved little sister, as both were talented pianists, my father won a national piano contest at age twelve in 1926, the first prize being a new grand piano, but he refused the prize and demanded it be given to the second place winner, a girl. This, of course to spite his father’s misbehavior. Soon he was shipped off to Europe to study with masters of music there and also to NYC to study with friends of cellist Piatigorsky, only to blow the whole thing as an older teen when he vowed to never perform as a professional. A promise he kept throughout life, having died an “estranged classical piano genius” when I was age six. His body was half paralyzed, his wife, my mother had left us before I was age two, leaving me orphaned in Los Angeles at age five.

      Throughout my childhood, everyone in the family hated my father because supposedly he was too idealistic of an artist and that caused him to lose his senses, causing everyone to not enjoy the benefits of what would have been an illustrious concert pianist career: fame and prestige. But the truth was, he did it to spite his father for mistreating his little sister. This aunt in question was the one who adopted me. Yet she could never bring herself to tell me the entire truth of the matter. I only learned this from her daughter, my cousin, after she died two decades ago.

      My uncle the violinist, faithful to covering up the lie about grandfather’s sexism, somehow influenced every single person in my family to keep the truth about everything away from me. I’ve had to undergo years of psychotherapy as a result of the struggle experienced from having been gaslighted throughout childhood. It basically ruined my promising career as a musician, despite having achieved scholarships and working with some of the most famous rock music acts in the world (Gary Wright, Boz Scaggs, Foreigner, to name a few).

      People in the biz finally gave up on my unsociable behavior, even though I was always so desperately trying to break out of this stupor which my family’s “cold war” created for me. I became a notorious “dumb blonde” in the music industry of Hollywood and Studio City Jazz Fusion circles. None of it, the quietness, was really me. As my shrink would be happy to inform. Since during the past decade I’ve made tremendous progress and my personality is actually quite gregarious and cheerful. This, despite members of my family who continue to live in the lie thus refusing to accept me on realistic terms.

      My uncle had a son, my elder cousin, who floundered as a folk-rock musician in the wake of his dad’s prestigious world. As I recall it, they never spent two minutes in each other’s presence without breaking into a yelling fight. Still, the family chalked it up to the “generation gap.” When the truth was that uncle was living in a cold war, lying about my father, lying to himself, lying about everything except things which would keep the lie hidden. I remember his face, always as confused as Archie Bunker’s face. It’s easy to say such confused people are simply old-fashioned, and then give them a break for being out-of-fashion’s sake. But there is always more to the truth of that kind of story. A story bereft with cold war behavior spilling out into everyone’s life without trying to do so.

      Thank you for listening to my sad story. I hope it didn’t take too much of your precious time to read it. Moreover, I hope that hearing the truth about the cold war generation will help youngers, millennials etc to take stock of what you have, particularly the supportive communication that exists because you do not live in a cold war environment.

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