Emmy Fail - What, No Tatiana Maslany?

So the Emmy nominations are in, you can see a complete list here, and overall it is pretty good.  Just a couple of weak nominations, Downton Abbey (that has not recovered its Season 1 glory), another nomination for Alec Baldwin, Jeff Daniels for The Newsroom (good actor, crap program), to name a few.  These weaker choices squeezed out some lesser known performers such as Michael Cuditz from Southland, Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell from The Americans and Tatiana Maslany from Orphan Black.  I know it is sci-fi, but they are showing Game of Thrones some love, so why not the tour de force that is Tatiana Maslany, playing at least six distinct characters.  She should really be nominated for lead performance for being Sarah, but also my favourite clone Alison, the uptight soccer mom.  She is so good at this, that when three clones are in the same scene together, I do not even think that this is one actress playing each of them, I am so caught up in the story.  They all look the same but each is so different.  She is amazing.  Just check it out.

 

Here are some other nominations that I am extremely happy about - all the Game of Thrones nominations, House of Cards, Vera Farmiga for Bates Motel, Top of the Lake, Kerry Washington for Scandal, and Merritt Wever for Nurse Jackie.  

P.S. It is also very sad to see that there was no love for Julianna Marguies from The Good Wife.  As her co-star Christine Baranski said in reaction to her nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama, “What an honor and what a surprise. I am so proud to be part of The Good Wife, a show that does everything cable shows do — except backwards and in high heels. And to find myself in a category with the great Maggie Smith [of Downton Abbey]… I am truly honored.”

X-Files Reunion at Comic-Con

What a difference 20 years makes.  When The X-Files began in 1993, the highest rated show on US TV were: 

60 Minutes
The CBS Sunday Night Movie
ABC's Monday Night Football
Murphy Brown
Rosanne
Coach
Home Improvement
Grace Under Fire
Seinfield
Frasier


As you can see, not an hour long drama in sight.  They were only in the Top 20 and included Murder, She Wrote; Northern Exposure; and NYPD Blue. With that context, no one could have predicted the critical and commercial success of The X-Files. The rise of The X-Files coincided with the development of the internet and was the blueprint for online fandom.  I remember waiting at least a minute for the next page to load on my university's DOS computer in the Computer Room.  The green screen and limited visuals of the episode reviews on the unofficial websites created and run by fans who called themselves X-Philes was the first glimpse of what was coming up on my favourite TV show. We still relied on magazines in those days for our news, and it was very very hard to get a magazine that had entertainment information, let alone a sci-fi TV show, outside of the US or the UK.  Some magazines eventually arrived about 6 - 9 months later in selected shops.  Very different to flicking through sites on my iPhone. 

20 years later, after two movies, nine seasons, cast changes, two technology booms and the rise of geek culture in the western world, the show will be celebrated this weekend at Comic-Con in San Diego.  Comic-Con itself has morphed into something so different to what it started out as.  Founded as the Golden State Comic Book Convention in 1970 by a group of four San Diegans, it focused on comic books and related merchandise.  The first three day convention had 300 attendees.  Now it has over 130,000 attendees.  The the long weekend has an annual regional economic impact of US$162.8 million, according to a San Diego Union Tribune article in 2011, so a figure from two years ago.  I wonder what it is this year?

The content has expanded from comics to previews, panels and seminars of upcoming feature films and TV shows, so much so that the term Comic-Con is not that relevant anymore.  The schedule for this upcoming weekend in San Diego spans four days and includes 22 separate rooms in the Convention Center, ranging from 280 seats to the massive 6,500-seat Hall H. - See more at: http://www.comic-con.org/cci/programming-schedule#sthash.61m2UZc3.dpuf.  

The X-Files 20th Anniversary Panel will be tomorrow, Thursday 18 July at 3.30pm in Hall 20 and will be attended by creator Chris Carter and stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson.  Nice.

Here is a clip of some of the best moments from the nine year run.  

RIP James Gandolfini

There was sad news today as reports came in from Italy that actor James Gandolfini died of an apparent heart attack at age 51 years. As the star of The Sopranos, James Gandolfini became known worldwide for his blistering portrayal of New Jersey gangster Tony Soprano. The Sopranos is often sighted as the beginning of the golden period of scripted TV dramas and James Gandolfini was integral to its success.

He had been acting for at least twenty years before this fame came upon him playing key supporting roles and cameos in many top films, such as Zero Dark Thirty and Get Shorty.  Here is a link to his a great slideshow on ew.com that shows 10 top movie roles.  

This is sad news indeed and a great loss to film and TV. 

Single Sitting TV - Top Of The Lake

I was putting off watching Jane Campion and Gerald Lee's Top Of The Lake, knowing that it was not going to be an action adventure with quips and a lightness of touch.  It is a series best viewed in one sitting as you dive into a world and adjust to the ebb of flow of the rhythm of story and plot.  You need a little bit of energy and commitment, a bit like you would approach a good book.  You know you are going to enjoy it and think about it way after the end credits role.  

This series is a study of gender roles, parents, sex, family, violence, rape, incest, death, life and all the big things masquerading as a crime story.  Elisabeth Moss plays a Sydney police detective Robin Griffin, who goes home to a remote town at the top of the lake on the South Island of New Zealand to visit her dying mother (Robin Niven) and gets involved in the local police force under Detective Al Parker (David Wenham) when the 12 year old daughter (Josephine Joe) of the local chief hoodlum Matt Mitcham (Peter Mullan), discovers she is pregnant and is too frightened to say who the father is, goes missing.  On the other side of the lake a collective of broken women set up a community called Paradise under the guidance of GJ (Holly Hunter), a type of guru. Personal history seeps into present day for all characters as the story unfolds.  Lives and relationships become messy as the tension builds and builds. This sounds hard going, but it isn't.  There is a lot of humour in the show and it has you laughing at that everyday life stuff.  No comic punch lines here.

At the centre of it is a searing performance by Elisabeth Moss.  As any viewer of Mad Men knows, she is a great actress, but this series gives her room to breathe and expand.  Hers is not the only one that is fantastic in this.  The whole cast is great.  Holly Hunter projects a stillness and depth to a character that could have fallen flat, she is in direct contrast to Peter Mullen's angry picking his teeth with the scenery performance.  The rest of the cast falls somewhere in between and together they take you on a journey that leaves you thinking about what you have just seen.  Mulling over a story well told.

The series reminds me of the slow and entangled Scandinavian crime shows such as Forbrydelsen (The Killing) and Broen/Bron (The Bridge). For example, nudity and sex are shown in a natural light, both figuratively and literally.  There is no shoehorned sex scene filmed to titivate, the intimacy or lack of intimacy of the characters is the point, not watching pretty actors simulate sex that is closer to pornography than realistic sex.  The nudity is not from the perspective of the male gaze.  It is what is happening at that point in the story and in some cases the nudity has nothing to do with sex. It is just what the character is wearing or not wearing at the time that we catch up with them in the story.

This is a series to watch if you want to give a little time and thought to your entertainment.  Take a day and indulge yourself.  Go to the top of the lake and see what is there.  It is well worth it.

BAFTA TV 2013 - The Winners Are....

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards 2013 for television happened on Sunday evening in London.  There was some surprise winners and some lovely tears on stage and I am sure off stage.  The whole TV industry is represented at this award show, from news, documentary, drama, sports and live events, entertainment, comedy, reality TV and soaps  - the Brits give each form its due. What is great to see is the depth of talent and scope of the industry that is often overshadowed by its US cousins.

The clear winner of the night was the concept of a nation looking at and questioning big and small events that have impacted Britain as a nation as well as the attitudes of its citizens.  The factual awards focused on the big events such as the winner of the Sports and Live Events 2013 - the production team of The London 2012 Paralympic Games.  As one of the production team says in this clip below, "It is not very often you actually see someone changing their perception".  The same can be said of the winner of the Single Documentary 2013 - 7/7 One Day in London and the winner of Best News Coverage 2013 - Hillsborough The Truth At Last (Granada Reports).  Both subjects that have been reported about and discussed over and over again, but these winners have changed people's perceptions of well known events.  That is good television.  

The fiction awards focused on the small events.  The Single Drama winner was Murder, which focuses on the missing moments in an investigation with protagonists speak directly to the camera telling there version of the story.  Winner of the Drama Series was Last Tango in Halifax about two widowed pensioners who rekindle a romantic relationship.  Television about people over 35 years of age.  What a shock. the Situation Comedy winner is Twenty Twelve a mocumentary about the lead up to the London Olympics.  A format taken from the Australians and made very British.   

The individual awards showcased the incredible talent in the UK, with the old, the Bafta Fellowship was awarded to Michael Palin, the new, Ben Whishaw winning Leading Actor  for Richard II, and the multi-talented, with Olivia Colman winning Best Female Performance in a Comedy Programme for Twenty Twelve and Supporting Actress (Drama) for The Accused (Mo's Story). But what was truly great is that these are just some of the winners.  Just check out the great programs, actors and actresses who were nominated.  See the complete list here.  

Here is one of the fantastic self depreciating speeches from Olivia Colman from the night.

Arrested Development - The Final Count Down

On 26 May, Netflix will be streaming the whole of season four of Arrested Development. With a mere seven year gap between season three and season four, the devoted and, in some places, passionately demented fan base are getting stirred up in anticipation of the return of the Bluth family.  

This is the fourth original programming from Netflix this year following Lilyhammer, House of Cards and Hemlock Grove to be pushed out online as a complete series instead of weekly installments through a traditional broadcaster.  Along with Amazon and Hulu, Netflix are challenging the US TV broadcast model.  Australian broadcasters seem to think that this is not a challenge to them as it is happening in the US, but as the US Ambassador to Australia recently pointed out, Australians are the highest proportion of illegal downloaders of Game of Thrones. If Australian TV does not provide what the viewer wants then they will go elsewhere.  Entertainment is global, the structures need to start reflecting that.

Here is the latest trailer of season four as we enter the final count down to 26 May.

The Americans

Imagine this pitch for a show - so there is this married couple and they are spies - and you think to yourself, this may be of interest with shows such as Alias, Covert Affairs, 24, Le Femme Nikita and Homeland, but nothing unusual.  It is set in 1981 - mmmm, a period piece.  Mad Men has a long shadow.  But I like the 1980s, all those high waisted jeans and perms, and that is just the boys.  Maybe.  They are Soviet sleeper agents living in the USA.  Wow, I thought, I am in.  

And boy was it a good choice. It had me with the most awesome opening scene with fantastic use of Fleetwood Mac's
Tusk.  This idea of using period music to emphasis the story comes full circle in the final episode of series one with Peter Gabriel's Games Without Frontiers.  It is a slow burn drama with the excitement of spy craft (wigs and make-up) doubled with the complications of an arranged marriage that has been going for 15 years (with two children) and the cat and mouse of the FBI's newly minted counter-terrorism unit.  The only stretch in the set up is that the leading FBI agent just happens to move into the neighbourhood and the families become friends.   What brings this show alive is the good writing but also the phenomenal performances by leads Keri Russell (Elizabeth Jennings) and Matthew Rhys (Philip Jennings) with incrediable support from Noah Emmerich who plays FBI agent Stan Beeman, and Margo Martindale who plays Claudia, the Jennings FBI handler.  It is a great cast doing a wonderful job.  I never watched Felicity so I had no preconceived idea of Keri Russell, and I have been a long time fan of Matthew Rhys ever since the UK TV series Metropolis

The series was created and executive produced by Joe Weisberg who is a former CIA Officer and has written episodes for Falling Skies and Damages.  His co-executive producer is Graham Yost, who created and executive produces Justified.  Yost has a long list of TV writing credits such as Band of Brothers, The Pacific, Boomtown, Falling Skies, as well as film writing credits such as Broken Arrow, Speed and Hard Rain.  The pedigree is there and the show is great fun. Layer upon layer is being built and it looks like next season is going to be even better.  So, dos vedanya Tovartisch.

Broadchurch - another Great British Crime Drama

Nearly eight million people watched the final episode of Broadchurch in the UK yesterday.  This crime drama had people betting the odds at the local bookie and had twitter a flutter during the 9pm screening. A combination of great, and I mean great, acting by David Tennant and Olivia Coleman and the rest of the cast, and a stylish slow burn plot as the viewer got to know the families, friends and community of this seaside town.  

I agree with the blogger at The Observer who credits the influence of Danish crime dramas on this series.  The Brits know how to make a good crime drama and this one is a good ride with an emotional ending.  Well done to Chris Chibnall, the creator and writer. His writing credits include episodes of Life on Mars, Torchwood, Doctor Who and the TV film United, about the Manchester United football team that crashed in Munich in 1958.

Great Sci-fi on TV

This year there have been at least three new science fiction shows on television. Defiance by the Syfy channel in the US and two from the UK, Utopia by Channel 4 and Orphan Black from the BBC , well BBC America really.  It is a UK production with US money, filmed in Canada.  And they are great.  I agree with Mo Ryan at the Huffington Post, who said in a recent review of Defiance, "too many shows in recent years (on Syfy and other networks) have skirted that label, and that waffling has often resulted in watered-down programs that have pleased neither sci-fi fans nor the mainstream audiences that were presented with genre-lite dramas like FlashForward, V and Terra Nova. Those shows, and dozens more like them in recent years, ultimately failed to take full advantage of the kinds of the social, cultural and personal stories that can be explored best from the center of the genre."  But someone has been listening.

Canadian show, Continuum is just going into its second season on Syfy.  It is fun and ambitious and a cut above the usual sci-fi action show. The second season of TNT's Falling Skies jumped in quality in relation to storytelling and plot structure with the addition of Bradley Thompson and David Weddle as co-Executive Producers and writers.  The Battlestar Galactica alumni are also co-Executive Producers of Defiance along with co-creator Rockne O'Bannon, who created and produced Farscape, one of the best sci fi shows of the last 15 years, showrunner and co-creator Kevin Murphy  who Executive Produced Caprica (the prequel to Battlestar Galactica), and co-creator Michael Taylor, another Battlestar Galactica alum. Are you seeing a trend in US sci-fi shows yet?  Defiance is set in St Louis, or what was St Louis, but it also has its own online first person shooter video game set in what used to be San Francisco.  Both stories are separate but they exist in the same world at the same time.  If there is a storm front crossing the country, it will be part of the show and when it would get to San Francisco it would show in the video game.  Nice. 

Across the pond, the UK has been pumping quite brilliant science fiction for many many decades, and the two recent series are the latest in a long line of sci-fi.  Utopia is described as a conspiracy thriller, but really it is a near future 'science used for evil' story that includes technology, a graphic novel and biological experiments as plot points. Visually stunning and metophorically down the rabbit hole with storytelling and reveals.  Orphan Black is about a woman who discovers that she is one of many clones.  It is set in New York and it peels away the layers of story bit by bit. We are up to episode three, but it is looking very good.  The future of science fiction on television seems to be bright and shiny.  Long may it stay that way.

Reflections of China Beach

This is a very good opinion piece about the release of China Beach on DVD. FINALLY. The author makes a great point about music and his personal history in relation to a war he lived through.  

I, for one, am very excited that this series is available to buy.  The reason it took so long and it is quite expensive is that they had to get the rights for every song that was used in the show.  And many many hits of the 1960s were used in this series,  It is well made and is a tour de force for Dana Delany, who plays First Lieutenant Colleen McMurphy, a nurse with the 510th Evac Hospital located on China Beach, Vietnam. The show was inspired by a memoir, Brothers in Arms, by William Broyles Jr.'s published in 1986.  Broyles helped create China Beach and wrote some of the episodes.  It aired from 1988 to 1991.

All About Style

It is a time for celebration.  The new season of Mad Man started this week with a cracking feature length opening episode.  And with that, we are all over analysing and weighing every gesture and word for the next two or so months.  the conversation around this program is just as much fun as watching.  One of my favourite recaps of the show is my Tom & Lorenzo, who usually talk fashion on a daily basis with a smattering of TV recaps of shows they are interested in. And one of those shows is Mad Men.  In addition to their recap they offer an look at the style of Mad Men.  This is one show where what is worn and how the scene is dressed is just as important as what is being said or done.  Tom & Lorenzo offer up great insight and context to Mad Men and I recommend reading their posts after watching the episode.  

mad-men-season-6.jpg

Most TV programs give a nod to style and you can't read much into what the characters wear, especially as 80% of them are about cops, lawyers, doctors and in recent years criminals and really rich people betraying each other.  This may be because these shows are set present day, but it is also because it is not required by the story telling as they are mainly plot driven.  But even the other big cable shows that are more than plot, do not use clothes and set in the same way.  There is only so much you can do with a zombie and Game Of Thrones is set in a different world entirely and is a different type of storytelling.   What we are left with is a variation of theme, as can be seen from the many pant and skirt suits worn by female characters who are in a profession or a casual jeans, boots and leather jacket look, and the skin tight glamour dresses worn by female characters who play rich women not being nice to each other.  The men just seem to wear suits or jeans no matter what they are doing. So welcome back Mad Men and the many many recappers of the internet.  Put some time aside and watch a program with a bit of style.  

Forever Young

It is National Youth Week here in Australia, and I started to think about what it must be like to grow up in this decade.  There is a huge amount of information and marketing being pushed at young people today, and there is so much technology that makes it easier and easier for kids and teenagers to access entertainment, information, other people’s private information, celebrities and porn than ever before. It is quite a different world from when I grew up in Zimbabwe in the late 1980s.  Where TV programming only started at 5pm and we were the dumping ground of US, UK, Canadian and Australian produced shows that got to us in the same year or 10 years later.  There was no logic to it.  The one TV channel showed whatever it was sent.  The result was an eclectic range of children’s shows that were created in the British public funding model from the UK and Commonwealth countries of the day.  The US had not yet split into niche programming with channels such as Nickalodeon and Disney and was still exporting educational kids shows.   Here are the top 10 programs from my youth that I would recommend to any kid or teenager today.   Look past the hair and the fashions and what you find beneath is education through great storytelling.

Press Gang, ITV UK (1989 – 1993)
A comedy-drama aimed at older children and teenagers.  Press Gang was about the staff of a newspaper, the Junior Gazette, written and produced by pupils from the local comprehensive school.  Starring Julia Sawahla and Dexter Fletcher this show was the first show written by Steven Moffat of Doctor Who and Sherlock fame.  It is known for its His Girl Friday like repartee and taking on issues such as solvent abuse, child abuse, firearms control and drinking.

This show heavily influenced my decision to study journalism.  I really did think journalism could change the world.

Fraggle Rock, Television South UK, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and HBO USA (1983 - 87)
Created by Jim Henson, Fraggle Rock was a combination of live action and puppets.  The central characters were ‘muppet’ like creatures called Fraggles who lived in the hole in the wall of the house of a human called Doc.  Doc was an inventor and had a dog called Sprocket (a puppet) who chased the Fraggles back into the wall to their home called Fraggle Rock.  According to IMDB ‘the Rock also had the Doozers (who are knee-high to a Fraggle) and the Gorgs (who are giants that think they rule the Rock). One gang of Fraggles (Gobo, Mokey, Wembley, Boober, and Red), under the guidance of the all-knowing Trash Heap (Marjorie), learn about each other and their neighbors and eventually befriend the Doozers, the Gorgs--and even Doc and Sprocket. Meanwhile, Gobo's Uncle Matt explores Outer Space (our world) and sends postcards to his nephew about the Silly Creatures (that's us).’  And there were musical numbers.  It was awesome and totally delightful.

Henderson Kids, Network 10, Australia (1985 - 86)
This series only ran for two years, It was about teenage siblings, Steve (Paul Smith) and Tamara (Nadine Gardner) who are forced to leave the city and move to the country to live with their uncle Mike (Nicholas Eadie) after their mother Alice (Diane Craig) is killed. Mike is a police officer in the fictional town of Haven Bay. It is a typical new kids coming to a new town and make friends with the local gang.  Gang, as in a group of kids hanging out together, not gang as in drug gang – the innocence of that time. In the second season the Henderson kids go back to the city and live with their father and make friends with a new gang.  Some of the actors who got their start in the series where Kylie Minogue, Ben Mendelsohn, Peter O’Brien, Stefan Dennis, Alex Papps and Jane Hall.

Kids Incorporated, USA (1984 – 1994)
This was like a kids musical where a group of children and teenagers performed in their own rock group called Kids Incorporated.  The kids dealt with issues from schoolyard crushes to child abuse to peer pressure.  There were sudden fantasy sequences, fictional band performances, characters breaking into song and a final song.  The show had a number of stars through the years, some who went onto more famous things, they are Eric Balfour, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Marta ‘Martika’ Marrero, and Stacy ‘Fergie’ Ferguson (yes of Black Eyed Peas fame).

Danger Bay, Canadian Broadcast Corporation, Canada (1985 – 1989)
Set in Vancouver and about Grant ‘Doc’ Roberts (Donnelly Rhodes) a marine veterinarian and his two children, Nicole (Ocean Hellman) and Jonah (Christopher Crabb).  The episodes featured the Vancouver Aquarium in nearly every instalment and usually focused on environmental issues such as pollution, wildlife endangerment and forest preservation.  It rained in nearly every episode and Doc's girlfriend flew a helicopter, which was a totally cool job that I really really wanted to do when I grew up.

The Muppet Show, USA (1976 – 1981)
Jim Henson again.  If you don’t know the muppets, you must be under 30.  It is a vaudeville show with musical guests who ranged from Alice Cooper to Diana Ross to Dudley Moore.   There were recurring skits such as Pigs In Space (my favourite), the Swedish Chef, Muppet Labs with Dr Bunsen Honeydew and his assistant Beaker, Statler and Waldorf, and the Electric Mayhem with ANIMAL.

Heartbreak High, Channel 10 and Australian Broadcast Company, Australia (1994 – 1999)
Based on the 1993 feature film Heartbreak Kid, Heartbreak High was about a tough inner-city high school in a multi-racial area of Sydney.  The lead in the first season was Nick Poulos (Alex Dimitriades) and it focused on him and his friends.  It was hard hitting and took on controversial issues.  As the show went on, there were cast changes and more soapy storylines which changed the tone and made the show less than it started out.  But boy was it a training ground for Australian actors. 

Space: 1999, UK (1975 – 1977)
Here is the blurb from Wikipedia “in the opening episode, nuclear waste from Earth, which was stored on the Moon's far side, explodes in a catastrophic accident on 13 September 1999, knocking the Moon out of orbit and sending it, and the 311 inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha, hurtling uncontrollably into space. The series was the last production by the partnership of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and was the most expensive series produced for British television up to that time.” And it was scary to me.  I was petrified of the alien woman who could turn into animals.  The music that accompanied this transformation used to send me scurrying out of the room until the change had happened (I wonder what scars it did to my psyche).  I loved it.  The Eagle was the best space ship until I saw the Millennium Falcon. Science fiction took hold young with me.

Rainbow, ITV UK (1972 – 1992)
This show was on every school day and it involved a particular activity or situation that would happen in the Rainbow House where the main characters lived.  These main characters were puppets – Zippy, George and Bungle and humans, Geoffrey who looked after them and Rod, Jane and Freddy who used to pop in and sing an educational song.  It is aimed at young kids but became a cult with teenagers as there always seems to be an underlying weirdness going on.  In 1979 the cast made a special exclusive sketch that was meant for the Thames TV staff party that had a lot of sexual innuendo it got out into the public in 1997 and many a person’s memory of childhood was forever altered. Click below to see the intro and have the song stuck in your head for days.

Breaking out of Albuquerque

In the last few years, Albuquerque was known for it's International Balloon Festival in October, part of the historical Route 66 and a very nice Old Town.  But then as little cable TV show happened - Breaking Bad. For those of you who don't know what Breaking Bad is about, a science school teacher with a cancer diagnosis, Walter White, turns to making crystal methamphetamine to make enough money for his family before he dies.  He goes into remission and becomes more and more involved in the drug world of Albuquerque.  Now you can go on the Bad Tour and get blue candy (from The Candy Lady in Old Town) that was originally created as a prop for drug deals.  Nice.

However, my favourite TV show set in Albuquerque in In Plain Sight.  Another cable TV show that focuses on US Marshall for the Witness Protection Program, Mary Shannon.  It is loads of fun.  I recommend it. 

Spoilers - Hot Topic for Call The Midwife

The latest episode in the third season of Call The Midwife showed a backstreet abortion by a married mother of eight who could not afford to or emotionally and mentally face the prospect of having a ninth child.   The BBC received complaints about when the program, the pre-9pm slot, and the very uncomfortable scene (which was not graphic, but very emotional) that will surely spark a discussion.   The episode emphases the pre-pill days of 1958 in the UK and the impact this has on an impoverished family in the East End of London. 

Here are some interesting comments from a selection of UK media outlets

The Telegraph - From reviewer Ben Lawrence

The Daily Mail - tabloid infused news

I agree with Natika Halil, Director of Information FPA (Family Planning Association) who is quoted in The Daily Mail article.  She said:

‘Back-street abortion is shocking and upsetting but this was the grim reality for women in Britain before abortion became legal in 1967. FPA started running contraception clinics in the 1930s and what happened to women like ‘Nora’ in Call the Midwife is well documented. 

'While it can be difficult to read or watch, the issue mustn’t be airbrushed. Some women died and many others suffered terrible health conditions as a result and this reminds us of a situation we must never go back to.’

call-the-midwife1-460x289.jpg

A Great Second Hour

The second season of the BBC’s six-part drama, The Hour is a perfect example of how to make a good thing even better.  Creator and writer Abi Morgan has built on what worked in the first season, the relationship and chemistry between the three leads, the behind the scenes of broadcast journalism and a comment on 1950s Britain, and has added a more realistic overarching political story that connects better with the creation of The Hour, the most important 60 minutes of the week. 

As the show is set in the 1950s, The Hour keeps getting compared to Mad Men.  This is a trite and lightweight comparison based on the window dressing of men and women in a media industry smoking and drinking in a decade from the mid 20th century.  The structures of the shows are vastly different.  The Hour is s traditionally structured six part drama that is made every year in Britain. For example, White Heat, Case Histories, Call The Midwife, Misfits... the list goes on.  Mad Men just happens to be set in the 1960s in New York but it is about the creation and delusion of identity.  Each season is quite different to the one before and there is no guarantee the next episode is going to be structured like the one you just watched.    These comparisons should be left behind. 

The second season of The Hour continues the quality from the first season.  It is a well written, acted and directed.  The best way to watch this show is in one setting as it is great to sink into this world and become witness to what is happening.  This season centres around the ongoing investigation into corruption and vice in Soho, London, which gives us an insight into some of the very real social problems in the United Kingdom at the time.  Britain had spent 10 years rebuilding after the Second World War, there is a shift in working class London with the influx of immigrants from post-colonial countries, the nuclear arms race has started and the US begins to flex its new superpower status on the world stage. 

As in the first series, Bel Rowley (Romola Garai) is the producer, Hector Madden (Dominic West) is the face of the program, and Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw) comes back from his travels around the world to be the co-presenter and chasers of stories.   I wondered how Abi Morgan was going to keep this trio’s interwoven relationship interesting and real, without dropping off into the soap opera abyss.  But she manages it with the help of three great actors.   However, the show is nearly stolen from beneath them by Peter Capaldi, joins the series as Randall Brown, the new Head of News and Current Affairs, and Anna Chancellor as veteran journalist Lix Storm.  Peter Capaldi and Anna Chancellor are two of the finest British actors and they prove it in these six episodes.  Their story is beautifully done.   

The only niggle I have with regards to character development is that Bel seems to overruled at every turn by either her new boss, Randall or told what to do by her best friend and subordinate, Freddie.  It is a bit undermining to try and say that this woman is a very good TV news producer, when she is not solving some of the problems or making some of the decisions for herself.  But don’t let that niggle stop you.  Put some time aside to watch the six episodes in one sitting and enjoy great drama made well.

Fringe - The Most Audacious Sci-Fi Series

Friday saw the final two episodes of one of the most courageous, creative and emotional science fiction series to grace our TV screens.  Fringe.  The 13 episodes of season five were a gift from Fox to the fans.  There is no way Fringe should have been on the air for this long as its ratings were not that good, to say the least.  When it did not become the next X Files, the show was set free to become its own. It zigged when you expected it to zag, it re-booted, re-invented, and erased characters, storylines and mythology.  But it always did what great science fiction does.  It made you care about the characters, each version of them.  The central trio of the ‘mad’ scientist Dr Walter Bishop (John Noble), his initially estranged son, Peter (Joshua Jackson) and FBI Special Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), who works with them in the Fringe division.  A division set up to deal with all the weird and wonderful things that happen because of the work Walter did in the 1980s as a young scientist with his partner Dr William Bell (Leonard Nimoy) and anything else that was classified as not ‘normal’.  That is just what the synopsis said.  What it didn’t say is that the series would create two beautiful love stories.  One between and father and a son, and another between two emotionally damaged heroes.  The one thing science could not explain or overcome was love.   It literally conquered all.   Apart from the stories, Fringe was innovative from its opening title sequences to its inventive promos and way out 19th episodes of each season.

Instead of writing about it all, I suggest you read this article, as it is a pretty definitive take on the series as it is a bunch of TV critics looking back on what they liked about the series. 

I also recommend clicking on the best episode lists below.   Only click though if you do not mind being spoiled of some big reveals.

EW - Fringe: 19 Best Episodes

TV.com - Looking Back at Fringe's Five Seasons: The Top 20 Epsiodes

If you haven’t watched the show.  Just watch the first season trailer below.

Top 10 Favourite TV Programs for 2012

This is the time for those pesky Top 10 lists for the year.  I am not going to do the ‘best’ as I don’t watch everything – I have never gotten into Breaking Bad, I am on a break from Sons of Anarchy (the 4th season was just too violent)  and I think Homeland is good but not great.  So here are my top 10 favourite programs for 2012:

10. Justified (USA) Season 3
How could that they top that awesome second season? Well they did. The big bads for the season were Detroit mobster, Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough) trying to get in on the local Oxy action, and local ‘mayor’ of Noble’s Holler in the segregated part of Harlan County, Ellstin Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson).  However, the season was all about family, their betrayal and loyality, both Raylan’s and Boyd’s.

9. Archer (USA) Season 3
This is the funniest and sharpest spy adult cartoon on the planet.  There is great voice work by H. Jon Benjamin, Judy Greer, Aisha Tyler, Chris Parnell, Amber Nash and Jessica Walter and you actually start to care for these crazy characters and their insane lives. 

8. Fringe (USA) Season 5
Fringe is one of the best shows on at the moment.  It is an ode to creativity and strength of conviction.  As soon as the series creators realised the show was not going to get ratings that make it a ‘hit’, but they did have an avid fan base and support from Fox Network, they had the licence to tell the stories they want.  Fringe’s final season is proving to be completely different from what came before and simultaneously true to previous seasons.  The trio of Olivia (Anna Torv), Peter (Joshua Jackson) and Walter (John Noble) are fantastic actors and they anchor you through the incrediable leaps of faith required in good science fiction.  I suspect that this shows legacy will be ‘All You Need Is Love’.

7. Being Human (UK) Season 4
What do you do when one of your lead actors decides to leave the show to go to New Zealand to make The Hobbit? You give him the best send off in the final of the previous season, start to close the story arcs of the remaining lead characters in the beginning episodes of the latest season and seamlessly introduce and reboot the series.  Beautifully done.

6. Call The Midwife (UK) Season 1
Midwifery in London’s East End in the 1950s.  Not your typical topic for great Sunday night TV.  But this charming BBC series based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth is a winning combination of comedy and drama.  Showing us the true worth of the British National Health Service and introducing the comedian Miranda Heart to a great dramatic role.

5.  The Bridge (Sweden/Denmark) Season 1
The Bridge was the first joint creative and financial set up between Denmark and Sweden.  The story is driven by a criminal investigation instigated by the dumping of a body on the Oresund Bridge joining Sweden and Denmark.  One investigator from each country, this detective double act is a winning combination of verging on Aspergers Saga Norén (Sofia Helin), the lead homicide detective in Malmö and friendly Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia), the lead homicide detective in Copenhagen.  The first season is a compelling crime story with great twists and turns and loads of adrenalin.

4. Game of Thrones (USA) Season 2
This adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin's series of fantasy novels, this second season is bigger, better and with more characters.  It builds up to the Battle of Blackwater, with all its magic, betrayal, love and scheming, however it is the character duets that stand out in this season.    The wonderful work between Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister, head of the Lannister family and Maisie Williams as Arya Stark, the younger daughter of Stark family of Winterfell who is disguised as an orphan boy and in his service as she tries to get back to Winterfell from King’s Landing ; Rose Leslie as Ygritte, a Wildling and Kit Harrington as a new member of the Night Watch and Ned Stark bastard,  Jon Snow; Gwendoline Christie as Brienne of Tarth, a female warrior and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as her prisoner of war, Jaime Lannister; and Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister trading barbs with Lena Heady his elder sister and Queen of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, Cersei Baratheon.

3. Mad Men (USA) Season 5
There was some backlash over the amount of time spent on Megan (Jessica Pare), Don’s second wife this season, but to me it was logical that she was seen in stark contrast to Betty (January Jones) and her icy coldness of previous seasons.  Although their screen time was not as much as Megan, it was decisions made by Joan (Christina Hendricks) and Peggy (Elizabeth Moss) that had the greatest impact.  Season 6 will be very interesting indeed.

2. The Killing (Denmark) Season 3 or 4 depending who you ask
Technically it is Season 4, but as 1 and 2 were shown at once in the UK, the Brits call it Season 3.  Now coming to an end next week in the UK, this season and this series is great television.  It will go down in the TV Annals as one of the best crime dramas made with a mesmerising central performance by Sofie Grabol as Detective Inspector Sarah Lund.

1.  Sherlock (UK) Season 2
Just four words – A Scandal In Belgravia.  Enough said.  Best 90 minutes of TV for 2012.

Freaks and Geeks - An Oral History in Vanity Fair

The latest issue of Vanity Fair has done an oral history of Freaks and Geeks, the 13 episode teen comedy-drama from 1999.  Set in 1980 in Michigan it is about a brother and a sister and their groups of friends at High School.  Produced and created by Judd Aptow and Paul Feig this cult TV show was the anti-Dawson Creek as it dealt with awkwardness, teen age humiliation and growing up like nothing else on TV.  Just like My So Called Life and Firefly, the shortness of the run of the show has stopped the drop in quality and has captured a show in its creative prime, trying to tell honest stories the best way they can.

This show is the launching pad for some fantastic actors - Linda Cardellini, John Francis Daley, Seth Rogan, James Franco, Jason Segal, Busy Philips (who also did a stint on Dawson's Creek), Samm Levine, and Martin Starr.  It is also the beginning of the Judd Aptow troupe of actors.  As Aptow says in the article, Knocked Up is just what happened to Seth Rogan's character when he got older.   

The article is great.  Showing what it was like during the making of the show, the cancellation, and the impact the show has had on the actors, creators, and writers.  Well worth a read.

The Guardian's blog on The Killing

This is one of the best blogs for a TV series.  Vicky Frost does a fabulous job of summarising the episodes and weaving in the basis to the conversation that happens in the comments section.  You can just feel that the English viewers of the latest season of The Killing from Denmark are just as excited about the blog and the conversation as the episodes they have just consumed. Lots of fun.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radio/series/the-killing-episode-by-episode