– proudly touting Deborah Cahn’s The West Wing credentials, it’s clear from the off that this is a political drama hoping to bridge the gap between politically incisive and conventionally thrilling. Unfortunately, she’s no Aaron Sorkin, and I’m reminded of a story he tells about how executives initially read his pilot script and thought it would be ‘more exciting’ if Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman literally swam out to rescue the Cuban refugees from their rafts. In this, despite highfalutin, quick fire walk-and-talks and political window dressing, the political operatives are embroiled in so much conspiracy it’s laughable. From political assassinations, kidnappings, false flag operations involving the British PM (without informing his foreign secretary), love affairs, CIA stitch-ups – it’s all just so over the top. ‘Trashy’ might be too strong a word, but it’s certainly not realistic. Is it fun though? Mostly. Maybe. Sometimes. Right up until it jumps the shark mid-series, perhaps. I don’t regret watching it, but I’m also not eager to recommend it. A shame it didn’t at least rap up the storyline (or any story arcs), as I’ll be giving Season 2 a miss.
Blue Lights S01 (TV)
– Belfast police drama is very typically BBC, made-for-TV, ham and cheesy, in much the same way Line of Duty was. It has echoes of The Responder (Martin Freeman), but where that show is so gritty it makes you want to wash, this leans more towards soap opera. That’s not to say it’s bad, not at all. It’s engaging, with some funny dialogue and a few genuinely great characters, but it falls firmly in the light entertainment category. Nothing wrong with that.
We Own This City S01 (TV)
– Writer / Creator David Simon’s latest is another Baltimore based slow burner, and albeit not in the same league as The Wire, the parallels are obvious. It doesn’t crackle and excite as that show did, and some of the dialogue is painfully didactic and explanatory, functioning to spell out the politically obvious in a manner that feels a bit patronising at times, but overall it works for the same reasons that show succeeded, shining a spotlight on an unfettered criminal underbelly with a gritty, authentic-seeming approach, genuinely interesting characters, and universally excellent performances.
The Snow Girl (La Chica de Nieve) S01 (TV)
– spanish language kidnap mystery sees a traumatised reporter track down a missing girl. It’s unoriginal, cliché and low production quality. I’d love to offer some positives to balance all that out, but I can’t. Rubbish. Skip it.
Succession S03 (TV)
– while remaining hugely entertaining, a question mark is beginning to form about to what extent the writers rely on expletives to disguise a lack of genuine wit or imagination. The occasional vulgarity is so farcically, vividly grotesque as to prove hilarious, but much of the effin’ and jeffin’ is neither funny nor warranted by the context, and it seems to be replacing actual jokes. By now, there are a lot of narrative frustrations in general, like the fact that every new series seems to reset the balance of the previous one; that the great upheaval and story twist they each build towards is ultimately dismissed as a trifling inconvenience or hardly commented on again (Logan’s health, Kendal’s betrayal, Kendal’s second, more dramatic betrayal, the Sandy buyout, the Pierce buyout, the Gojo buyout, Tom’s prison time, Tom and Shiv’s on again off again relationship); that scenes which deserve whole episodes (the congressional hearings!) are given a few seconds of screen time. It feels like the writers are copping out. Instead, weird subplots bubble to the surface, seemingly from nowhere – Roman’s obsession with Gerri, Logan’s sudden reliance on Roman and his meteoric, inexplicable rise from starting and bailing on a management training programme to suddenly being in contention for CEO, Tom’s abrupt desperation to have a baby with Shiv and her reluctance, not to mention extravagant birthday party after extravagant birthday party. They feel like ideas thrown around in the writers room in the absence of a proper narrative progression because everyone is too cowardly to introduce a genuine and significant change to the family’s circumstances. It’s engaging, but at this point, it’s engaging like watching a Merry Go Round at night, all sparkles and music and flashing lights, but going nowhere, and going nowhere slowly.
Flowers S01 (TV)
– off-beat and weird comedy drama is sometimes hilarious but mostly so silly it’s borderline unwatchable. It follows the lives of a suicidal man, his confused wife and their batshit crazy, dysfunctional twin kids. If Will Sharpe could somehow distill all his genius ideas into something resembling consistency his work would be unmissable, as it is, you need to tolerate a lot of bollocks to enjoy a few moments of magic.
Succession S02 (TV)
– not as strong overall as the first season, particularly with Kendall depressed and in the doghouse and some meandering episodes that drag on the overall momentum. That said, there are enough zingers in the script to land at least a few belly laughs each episode and the show still has the capacity to surprise. It’s buoyed by the magnetic cast of Roys (and Wambsgans) who offer ceaselessly zany performances. Fortunately, too, this time around it ends with the explosive shake up that was long overdue. Season 3 promises excitement.
The Last of Us S01 (TV)
– for once, finally, a genuinely impressive and faithful adaptation of a video game, and a brilliant one at that. As a huge fan of Naughty Dog’s series, I was apprehensive about this, but it echoes everything I loved about the games and mirrors the aesthetic almost exactly (practically shot for shot in places). The casting is spot on and the acting, convincing. The script’s entertaining banter and joshing is sometimes lifted verbatim from the games. I’m excited to see how they tackle series two, given that the second game is so much darker and generally more unpleasant.
The Gold S01 (TV)
– rose tinted bullion heist crime drama is very BBC, the criminals questionably depicted as being class warriors on a mission rather than ruthless gangsters, but with the caveat that it is history rewritten, it proves a spirited six hours of entertainment.
Tokyo Vice S01 (TV)
– illuminating and novel as it is to see a stylish, Tokyo-set, Yakuza-centred Western crime drama, this is nothing to write home about. Adelstein’s offensively forward, and on balance, quite unlikeable journalist is improbably fortunate in his every venture, is a magnet for any girl he sets eyes on, and has a more active nightlife than most first year students. His backstory is paid lip service, and the interesting hints of nationalism and racism that he endures in the first episode or two are forgotten entirely as the various plots – involving a hodgepodge of call girls and their patrons – develop. Of the handful of characters the viewer is invited to care about, only Sato the gangster’s story emotionally resonates, and the lack of conclusions by the end of the series is frustrating. At least the core power struggle between rival Yakuza gangs and Adelstein’s mission to document it proves mostly engaging, if not substantive.
Happy Valley S03 (TV)
– the northern cop drama concludes with the same confident delivery and feisty scripting of the last two series. The acting throughout is superb. Sarah Lancashire is made for the role, and although the menacing Tommy Lee Royce storyline had definitely already run its course by this season (how many times can this dense guy evade the law, pop up and cast a shadow over little Ryan?!), it still proved an engaging and thrilling enough ride. It’s a shame the writer(s) relied quite so heavily on ‘made for TV’ contrivances and rushed the subplots.
Echo 3 S01 (TV)
– CIA action thriller is just a few missteps short of masterful; polished, slickly produced, and with top tier acting and cinematography, particularly from director Pablo Trapero. It comes off the boil towards the end, and there are a few too many contrivances, including at least one that’s borderline insulting, but as an overall package, this is stunning, edge of the seat stuff. I’m not really sure why everyone isn’t talking about it…
– underwhelming adaptation of Stephen King’s time travel misadventure pales next to its source material (which had its own problems) but remains quite fun. The whole thing is shot with a sort of levity that makes it hard to take seriously (in part because Franco is so woefully ill-equipped as an actor) but the flip side is that this slapdash approach facilitates suspension of disbelief, an aid to ignoring the gaping plot holes and bad character decisions. It’s not high end, but is at least moderately entertaining.
The Crown S01 (TV)
– surprised to find this is pretty excellent and mostly deserving of its acclaim. It’s frustrating to watch because of the lack of likeable characters, the agonising adherence to tradition and pomp, and the sense that everyone (except Princess Margaret and the Duke of Edinburgh) is buckling under the weight of their duty, history, and misguided, anachronistic morals. It certainly doesn’t do the monarchy any favours overall and it lacks any compelling overarching story to thread each episode together, but it nonetheless works as a brilliantly acted, polished, and useful (albeit spurious) insight into Royal life and politics.
Tehran S01 (TV)
– Israeli spy series with comically chirpy music dangles promise in its opening sequence, then deteriorates in quality minute by minute, with unbelievable scenarios and dodgy dialogue. The characters are roundly annoying and mostly unsympathetic, and ‘hacking’ is used, as per usual, like magic. To conclude on a cliffhanger is particularly galling for viewers, like me, who have no intention of continuing to watch but nonetheless would have appreciated a resolution. It’s more than passable entertainment for sure, but the foreign spy thriller bar has been set impossibly high by Le Bureau (a must watch if you’ve missed it until now), and with recent British spy thrillers (A Spy Among Friends) also operating on an elevated level, this just can’t compete.
Woman of the Dead S01 (TV)
– scandinoir does the usual scandinoir shuffle. At this point, finding a decent crime mystery series is like spinning a tombola, liable to leave you disappointed. Mostly they’re a string of increasingly outlandish crime scenes, shady characters with high profile roles in the community and absurdly devious motivations, predictable twists and eye-rolling contrivances. Sadly, this is no different. If you’re desperate for gnarly murders and dour landscapes, this will just about keep you sated, but gone are the lofty days of The Killing, The Bridge and Nobel.
The Mosquito Coast S02 (TV)
– The Fox family misadventure falls apart at the seams, with ill conceived and half arsed plot swings, idiotic decision making and each family member dumbed down until their motivations are practically visible as straight lines on a story board. An ignominious exit for the series.
Treason S01 (TV)
– lightweight fast food trash, completely unbelievable and frustratingly irrational from start to finish. Classic low effort, low quality content fodder of the kind that populates streaming services with flashy front covers and titillating trailers. Rubbish.
Slow Horses S02 (TV)
– the silly spy drama continues, thankfully as hilarious and engaging as ever. This is one of those once in a blue moon, high quality, light hearted but intellectually stimulating shows. What it lacks in depth it makes up for with a lot of fun. Really pleased it’s been renewed for Season 3.
The English S01 (TV)
– Hugo Blick’s latest is a vengeful love story in the Wild West. The acting is excellent, particularly from the central cast, and wonderfully hammy where appropriate (Rafe Spall excels as the arch villain, for instance). The cinematography, though theatrical and stagey, is striking and darkly beautiful. The issue is that the plot meanders erratically, running either too fast or too slow, with characters introduced to be killed in short order, and verbose, uninspired soliloquies aiming for profundity and landing flat. Ultimately, at only 6 episodes, it is worth watching, but it’s definitely massively overrated.
A Spy Among Friends (TV)
– ITV’s cerebral and utterly engaging spy thriller is an absolute treat; an intellectual, highly charged and sometimes profound examination of friendship and mixed loyalties. It’s so refreshing to watch a series that credits the viewer with the nous to fill in blanks and read between the lines. Anna Maxwell Martin is perfectly cast as a surly, abrasive interrogator trying to extract the truth from professional liars after senior British intelligence officer, the infamous double agent Kim Philby, defects to Russia. Embodying Philby, Guy Pearce toes the line between ebullient and desperate with skill, larger than life charm one moment and soul searching from inside of a bottle the next. But the bulk of the story falls to Damian Lewis, and he is a master at work. From Life to Homeland to Our Kind of Traitor and now this, Lewis has a penchant for these spy roles and it’s evident why – he excels in them. Aside from his natural charisma, in the best possible way, there’s something vaguely duplicitous about him, as though every line or action is calculated and there’s always an ulterior motive at play. It’s a joy to watch. If there’s any scope for criticism, it’s that the national and international stakes aren’t as clear as they might be, such that, albeit endlessly intriguing, it lacks genuine jeopardy or peril, and the framing of it as a spy game, nothing more than a battle of sharp wits, seems fairer than perhaps it should.
Shadowplay S01 (TV)
– Taylor Kitsch is a smooth talking American police detective in Berlin in the immediate aftermath of WW2 (1946) on the hunt for his brother, who’s been left traumatised and vengeful after witnessing war crimes. He takes charge of a ramshackle police force doing its best with no resources, but finds himself pulled in all directions by the forces at play in the city. It’s not a bad premise, but even Kitsch at his most likeable is simply too thin on charisma to make me care about any of the plot strands, whether criminal, political or romantic. Generously, this is a middling crime drama. Less generously, this is very dull.
Last Resort S01 (TV)
– submarine action thriller is exactly what you expect from 2012 era bingy TV: no depth (despite the sub) and low intelligence, two dimensional drama. Easy, lazy, moderately enjoyable viewing for when the thought of engaging your brain is off-putting.
The Peripheral S01 (TV)
– what starts out as a visually arresting, striking vision of a dystopian future, after a few episodes, through some quirk of ‘made for TV’ homeostasis, becomes far too conventional for its own good, with the innovative aspects of the lore taking a back seat in favour of painfully familiar themes – crime families, evil scientists, PTSD suffering soldiers, forced romantic side plots – and infuriatingly complacent, arrogant protagonists. There’s hardly a character who isn’t self-satisfied and hubristic, making them quite irritating to watch. The highly futuristic and impressively realised sci-fi elements – peripherals, sims, melding psyches, parallel universes and cross temporal communication, apocalyptic pandemics and artificial environments – novel areas that would be fascinating and potentially original territory to explore, all end up as almost farcical gimmickry in the service of telling very unremarkable, even boring stories. After receiving the start of the series enthusiastically, disappointingly, I’m not excited at the prospect of another. A shame, as it’s a waste of diverse talents, not least from the VFX crew.
The Bear S01 (TV)
– after Boiling Point, it wasn’t as surprising to behold the intensity of a kitchen in full flow, but this takes it to a sensory level. The searing heat here is sustained largely by the volume of shouting from the pent up characters, similar in frenetic style to Uncut Gems. The show is definitely impressive and original, both in terms of performances and production, and the short episodes make a refreshing change from the mini-films most series employ these days, but it’s not exactly likeable or comfortable viewing, and the story is too loose to be compelling.
Succession S01 (TV)
– despicable though each of the characters are, this is an often hilarious depiction of the uber wealthy as they trample on one another and everyone else in their pursuit of self importance. The comedy is black and grotesque, and in a similar vein to that of Veep or The Thick of It, but the presentation leans further into high stakes drama. It goes over the top in the season finale, but then the whole point of the show is excess, so perhaps that’s unsurprising.
Bad Sisters S01 (TV)
– after the few episodes it takes to build some momentum, this black comedy about a group of sisters trying to kill their brother in law hits an enjoyable, albeit vaguely trashy, stride. The script is much more comedic than is acted, so it feels like a comedy played as a drama, rather than an outright black comedy, and many of the jokes don’t land. The five sisters (each acted with aplomb) behave pretty reprehensibly and are quite unsympathetic, so to get the viewer on board with their scheming, Claes Bang’s villain, JP, is made irredeemably grotesque and vile – a role he absolutely nails. Overall, the core conceit and structure (the time jumps between before and after his death) is hugely engaging and intriguing, even if the conclusion isn’t quite as unpredictable as Sharon Horgan and her writing team may have hoped.
The Capture S02 (TV)
– if season one was flirting at the edges of technological plausibility, this time around the BBC’s deepfake conspiracy thriller goes full blown sci-fi, with just about anything with a lens compromised by spies, facial recognition operating at a magical 100% accuracy – with face masks and without racial bias – and Holliday Grainger growling her way through more MI5, CIA and Big Tech board rooms than there are in Silicon Valley…in London. But farcical as it is, it’s also a good crack, with those early 00s ‘24‘-style cliffhanger endings and enough twists to tie its own shoe laces together. All in all, silly and totally misrepresentative of technology, but quite fun.
Only Murders in the Building S01 (TV)
– you know when you’re a bit embarrassed to watch something because it has next to no qualities and at times feels actively bad, but you watch the whole season anyway? Yeah, me too.
Totems S01 (TV)
– after Le Bureau proved such an accomplished French export, I hoped this might be another. Alas, not so. Totems takes the scientific-office-bod-turned-super-spy trope and runs with it through Soviet era Russia and East Germany, using an unconvincing romance as a crutch. Nothing about it is noteworthy, let alone remarkable, and mostly it’s just bad. After more than four hours, I decided it’d be gambler’s fallacy to carry on.
Escape at Dannemora S01 (TV)
– abandoned this around the halfway mark. It felt refined but unlikeable. There are so many prison dramas, most more thrilling and engaging than this, and despite the performances and meticulous direction, I simply didn’t care enough about any of it to justify the time investment.
Black Bird S01 (TV)
– engaging and polished crime thriller with some impressive (if weirdly stylised) performances and a suspenseful atmosphere. Disappointingly, the script goes on some strange and unconvincing tangents, with implausible dialogue, irrelevant subplots, and disconnected scenes. The result is compelling but unnecessarily rushed and nowhere near as tight or satisfying as it could have been, or as some comparable shows, like True Detective S03.
The Old Man S01 (TV)
– Its drab name belies the best spy thriller since Le Bureau. The Old Man puts the craft in spy craft, with a heavyweight, serious cast, each at the top of their game, and thoughtful direction that commands your attention with subtle hints, careful pacing, and the refreshing use of space: both for the cast to shine and the suspense to marinate. Despite a proclivity for showy, literary monologues, its intelligent scripting weaves what could easily have seemed a farfetched narrative into a convoluted but pleasantly adhesive web, while its tastefully unadorned, gritty aesthetic helps add authenticity. A shame season 1 only lasts an irregular 7 episodes, but gladly, FX have renewed it. This one is highly recommended.
The Terminal List S01 (TV)
– Chris Pratt’s military revenge thriller is very silly and takes itself far too seriously, but it’s also a lot of fun, kinda like early Prison Break vibes. When Pratt’s Navy SEAL one man killing machine is finally let loose as a full blown psychopath on the run from the FBI, it ticks all the boxes for classic binge material: cliff hangers, predictable twists (that you still want to see resolve so your guesses are vindicated), cathartic violence (albeit at least once much too excessive – no-one wants to watch a man gutted and forced to unravel his own intestines)… the tone of the whole thing is very morally questionable, if not morally reprehensible, but if you can reconcile yourself with that, it’s very entertaining. I even think I’d watch a Season 2. You know, if the brain tumour gets resolved.
Sherwood S01 (TV)
– inconsistent crime drama set in a former mining community where old alliances are still causing problems. While this is quite well produced and acted, the story depends on so many far fetched ingredients and manipulative narrative twists that it practically feels unfair to the viewer, and the ending (specifically the killer’s motives) feel like an absolute copout. Top marks for casting though, the younger, flashback versions of the older characters are very convincing.
The Outlaws S02 (TV)
– the buffoonery continues, still with enough laugh out loud moments to make it worth watching, even while just as many jokes fall flat. There’s also an inequality in the character arcs and their associated comedy, so some of the outlaws’ stories feel like tedium that must be endured to guffaw at the real stars of the show – Stephen Merchant and Jessica Gunning. I’m not left clamouring for an encore, but if another season emerged, I’d probably still watch it.
The White Lotus S01 (TV)
– This droll dramedy is like watching a car filled with deplorable passengers crash in slow motion, and being asked to laugh at it. There’s a small kick to be had watching insufferable people suffer, but by and large it’s just tedious, laden with scornful social commentary and judgement, and grotesque in its style. Thankfully it boasts some big hitters who can spin gold from straw: Murray Bartlett is a treasure, playing hotel manager Armand like a genius cross between John Cleese and Jim Cummings, while Connie Briton and Steve Zahn are electric and charismatic in any role and still a joy to watch here.
Ozark S04: Part 2 (TV)
– the midseason break didn’t do the show any favours. It limps to the finish line despite the escalating insanity of every scene, falling to the same hurdle as so many other great dramas: likeable characters sacrificed on the altar of ‘dramatic intensity’. The humour is practically non-existent by its concluding episode, plot strands are introduced only to be resolved an episode later, and its attempt to go out with a literal bang left this viewer unconvinced. A great shame for the finale of such an epic show, but perhaps it was inevitable it wouldn’t meet its own high bar. Now it’s over, yet another reason to unsub to Netflix (if you didn’t already…)
Slow Horses S01 (TV)
– Apple’s MI5 black comedy spy thriller is an absolute romp. From the opening sequence to the cynical ending, it’s a series of biting exchanges and phenomenal performances, particularly from Gary Oldman (still original and hugely watchable after a ludicrously prolific and diverse career), and relative newcomer Jack Lowden, who I last watched in Calibre (which I also highly recommend). Great to see there’s a series two already lined up and shot. Lowden surely a shoo-in for Bond after this?
– unique, visually stunning and creatively directed by Will Sharpe, this theatrical mini-series about two middle-aged Brits accused of murder manages to vacillate between devastating and laugh-aloud hilarious every few minutes, with Olivia Coleman and David Thewlis both smashing it out of the park. It’d be easy to recommend purely on the basis of how distinctive it is, but it’s also nearly perfectly executed. Definitely gets a smiley.
The Typist (TV)
– straight-laced German crime drama is the opposite of a whodunit, telling you exactly what’s happening when it’s happening without a shred of mystery. I spent the time hunting for twists and surprises that the show had no intention of delivering. The performances are mostly good, but the overall tone is dreary. At least it’s only five episodes.
It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia S15 (TV)
– the show goes on, as outrageous and outspoken as ever, but with more shouting and obscenity it seems, and this time set in Ireland. There are some moments of comedy gold without a doubt (in episodes 1 and 8 especially), but I have to say it feels a little worn, even cringey, like the jokes are strained and real life events have forced the gang’s caricatures to go even further into farce than comedically apposite. Is it nearing the end? Perhaps it should be.
Masters of Sex S01 (TV)
– There are moments of greatness in this graphic scientific drama, but they’re few and far between, and fuelled exclusively by virtue of the phenomenally talented cast: Michael Sheen and Alison Janney in particular. The small handful of characters at its core are all too unlikeable, and right off the bat some of them behave in ways that seem irredeemable, stultifying any audience ambition to see them succeed. Nonetheless, the plot maintains just enough momentum, and the script just enough wit to keep the viewer engaged, if not always entertained, and it’s an interesting insight into the prudish history of sexual health and the (early) science of intercourse.
This Is Going To Hurt S01 (TV)
– a near masterpiece that should be mandatory viewing. Simultaneously hilarious, heartbreaking and a critical insight into the functioning (or not) of our NHS and the people holding it together at the seams, while struggling to hold themselves together. All the performances are stellar, but the real revelation is Ashley McGuire, who steals every scene she’s in. Had me in stitches. The good kind.
You Don’t Know Me S01 (TV)
– an interesting premise, a la The Usual Suspects, where a man’s tall tale might get him off the hook in a murder trial, but its delivery is fundamentally flawed. Despite strong performances, every character is unlikeable and uncharismatic, the twist takes too long to develop and doesn’t really work when it comes, and the ending is of the ‘fence-sitting’ ilk (which doesn’t bother me but had my other half shouting ‘NO!’ at the screen). Given the dynamism of the story, the execution is horribly flat. Everything should have happened faster and with more panache. Watchable? Maybe. Only four episodes, but feels like two too many.
Hierro S01 (TV)
– even as a fan of Spanish-language cinema, I couldn’t bring myself to finish this small minded and uninspired crime thriller, packed full of tired tropes and unimaginatively presented. Avoid.
The Tourist S01 (TV)
– the BBC’s attempt at a Fargo-like, tongue-in-cheek, crime thriller set in small-town, outback Australia is pretty solid entertainment and a fun guessing game, but nowhere near great TV.
The Responder S01 (TV)
– endlessly simmering bent cop thriller stops just short of boiling point but still cooks up some of the best BBC drama of recent times. Martin Freeman is unrecognisable as copper Chris Carson, (looking like Russell Tovey’s dad), risking his marriage, his career and hard time while trying to stay on the right side of a mental breakdown as well as his new rookie partner (another terrific performance from Adelayo Adedayo). The script crackles with deliciously black humour and the soundtrack keeps your heart rate elevated a notch above comfortable. Excellent and just a few decisions away from masterful – but all the ingredients are still there, so maybe the inevitable sequel will raise the bar further.
Ozark S04: Part 1
– the family continue in the same blackly comic macabre vein that has been their hallmark throughout, and thankfully, the script and story have upheld their standard, too. This is one of Netflix’ best.
Dexter: New Blood (S01)(TV)
– season 9 or season 1 of New Blood? Officially S01, but hard to envisage a S02 after the events of this one. The plot is as silly and impossible as ever, but it’s still a pleasure to see Michael C Hall step back into the familiar shoes of Dexter Morgan, serial killer. Despite annoyances and story inconsistencies that would never have plagued the first few seasons of the show and cement its massive drop in quality, surprisingly, it remains fun to unwind to and to second guess. The ending, then, puts an abrupt and unexpected stop to that and will prove hugely divisive (or straight up hated).
Cry Wolf (S01) (TV)
– underrated Scandinavian domestic violence drama is as bleak as expected with generally strong performances, and maintains an element of intrigue throughout. Its reliance on contrived indiscretions though, sensitive conversations overheard through open doors, behaviour witnessed through windows etc., means the depiction feels a little beyond the bounds of realism, even while the subject matter, sadly, is not.
A West Wing Special To Benefit When We All Vote (TV)
– this one off theatrical presentation of West Wing episode, Hartsfield’s Landing, brings truck loads of nostalgia and is an absolute love in for the surviving cast and crew. For fans, this is a heartwarming and slightly heartbreaking return to a series that continues to make waves and sets the bar for intelligent political drama. If you loved the series, you’ll love this.
Foundation S01 (TV)
– Apple’s attempt to realise Asimov’s world building certainly looks pretty, but after a stately start, Foundation’s knot of stories weaves itself into a bland and unconvincing tapestry, with a cast that seem, other than Lee Pace and Terrance Mann, woefully out of their depth, and nearly universally uncharismatic and unlikeable to boot.
The Outlaws S01 (TV)
– Stephen Merchant’s return to BBC comedy after his stint in the States is by no means perfect, but it has a high gag rate and the general silliness is charming enough that even the low brow jokes, rehashed Office skits and over-egged dramatics are easily overlooked. Good giggly fun with some genuine thigh slappers. Bring on Series 2.
Riot Police (Antidisturbios)
– one of the finest TV shows I’ve seen, and certainly the finest I’ve seen from Spain. Barring one strange misadventure in the middle of the series, this is an epic, edge of the seat tour-de-force: smart writing with visually commanding direction and a killer score. The characters are nuanced, sympathetic and compelling, and without exception, the cast deliver their A game. Amazing that this isn’t one of the most talked about shows out there. Creator Isabel Peña is clearly one to watch.
Midnight Sun S01 (TV)
– a fun, if chaotic, multi-lingual scandi-noir, with some interesting forays into grand themes such as race relations, but crammed with too many unrelated stories and a mystic/ druidic undertone that just feels silly. It’s got a quirky sense of humour though and the performances are all really strong, so while not in the league of The Bridge or The Killing, it’s worthy of the time investment.
Caliphate S01 (TV)
– A fast paced, phenomenally well acted and convincing depiction of radicalisation that leaves you feeling angry, distraught and excited, but mostly like your nerves have been shredded with a cheese grater. Annoyingly, the narrative is undermined by contrivance and irrational, even farcical behaviour and judgment from some of the characters, but these dubious writing decisions are forgivable when the overall result is so compelling, and it could be argued they provide more opportunity to tell the greater tale. Very scary thriller.
The Chestnut Man S01 (TV)
– hardly The Killing or The Bridge, but this scandi-noir crime thriller is exactly what you expect from the genre, and a little better than average too. Relish the binge, then forget it.
The North Water S01 (TV)
– a powerhouse cast, and Farrell appears to have morphed into an actual powerhouse. The man is an ox in this show. He embodies the role brilliantly, such a weighty presence I worried my screen would come off the wall mount. Jack O’Connell, too, is riveting as his foil: a laudanum addicted surgeon haunted by the ghosts of a grisly past. Indubitably, this period drama isn’t for everyone. It’s grimy, gory and deeply unpleasant at times, with few likeable characters, but the cinematography works magic and the script largely stays a few oar lengths ahead of the viewer. If you can stomach nastiness, this is highly recommended.
Ted Lasso S02 (TV)
– the second series continues in much the same vein as the first left off. The novelty is gone and Lasso’s quirky references feel more strained, more annoying, and less amusing. That, combined with Nate’s ill-advised shift to the dark side resulting in the loss of one of the funniest characters, means the comedy itself is falling by the wayside. Still, I’m fond of the characters now, irritating though they are, and I’ll probably keep watching.
Vigil S01 (TV)
– compelling and engaging TV crime drama sacrifices believability in a frantic effort to excite, and while it’s predictable and quite silly most of the time, it still mostly works as good fun. Would have been even better if they’d dropped the shoehorned family and relationship backstory.
Hit and Run S01 (TV)
– silly spy mystery starts fast paced and intriguing (if nothing else) then proceeds to sprint everywhere but in a sensible direction. A waste of time.
Perdida S01 aka Stolen Away (TV)
– Spanish language soap-thriller is fast paced, easy (if frustrating) viewing and good practice for learners; as a show, I can’t recommend it. The plot is insane, the script and acting typically hyperbolic, and the direction completely rote.
Bosch S07 (TV)
– the final series of the earnest and plodding police drama doesn’t make radical changes. If you liked the first six, this is more of the same. It’s a fitting and tidy conclusion, but not momentous.
– marvellous three part drama with fantastic performances from just about everyone involved and an effectively laconic script. Great to see Sean Bean demonstrate his significant acting talent and survive the series. It’s unusual in that we’re so accustomed to seeing violence in prison dramas that I found myself conditioned to expect it at every turn. In fact, the emotional violence of this series is much more brutal and affecting. Surprising, ultimately upbeat, and highly recommended.
Lupin (Part 2) (TV)
– where part one was seductively tongue in cheek and winsome, part two, I fear, relies too heavily on the charisma of its lead and fails to deliver a decent plot or cunning heists. The twists are too heavily forecast and the personal drama too much of a distraction. Hopefully part 3 will have the prep time to get back on track.
Mare of Easttown S01 (TV)
– a compelling crime drama, without a doubt, but for me personally, too oppressively bleak to actually enjoy. Instead, I admired its polish and the guesswork of the whodunnit, and readily moved on when it was over.
Ted Lasso S01 (TV)
– this caught me totally off-guard with Jason Sudeikis’ real life Ned Flanders feel good charms and Airplane! level gags and slapstick. The first four episodes had me hooked, but I’m sadly not sure it sustained its magic for the full series, and I’m hoping the gag rate will be higher and more consistent in series 2.
The Mosquito Coast S01 (TV)
– far from just a Theroux family vanity project. Both in terms of plot and stylistically, this is a cross between Breaking Bad and Ozark. I’m yet to be convinced it’s on a par with either, but it’s not too far off. Its biggest issue is that for the plot to work, it’s contingent on a single contrivance: that in this family fleeing from the US government at all costs, neither of the teenage children, nor the audience, ever learn why they are being chased. That grows thinner and more implausible with each passing episode. Fortunately, they’re just about exhilarating and smartly scripted enough (barring some grimace-inducing social commentary) to keep the McGuffin rolling, but Season 2 will have a lot of explaining to do.
Line of Duty S06 (TV)
– early Line of Duty may have been brilliant at times, but this series was dire. Bad scripting, a made-for-TV gloss and style of editing that feels dated in this day and age, and laughably unrealistic plot turns including shoot outs with automatic weapons in the middle of the street by teams of ‘bent coppers’ which appear to gain no media coverage nor warrant further investigation. About the only realistic thing in the entire show is the ending, which is unpopular because it’s so uneventful. Plus, every character has become a caricature and half of the lines uttered are catchphrases or clichés. So disappointing.
The Innocent (El Inocente) S01 (TV)
– twisting thriller with a stellar cast starts strong then rapidly goes off the rails, stretching implausibility until it snaps and becomes straight up stupidity. A shame, as it seemed so promising, but shows like these – especially Spanish – never let realism get in the way of melodrama, and the standard suffers.
Le Bureau S05 (TV)
– disappointingly, the series never fully recovered after it’s 4th season dip in quality, but at least this is an improvement, and it’s still gripping and above average entertainment. It’s a shame this series adopted a strangely hallucinatory style of editing and direction, and felt a little too self-indulgent with its multiple dream sequences and graphic sex scenes. The final two episodes in particular felt decidedly out of character and tonally off. Nonetheless, absolutely worth watching for fans of the show and still highly enjoyable.
The Inmate (El Recluso) S01 (TV)
– enjoyably awful Spanish language prison thriller with a crazy and implausible plot, a terrible script, and editing that feels like whole chunks of the show were left on the cutting room floor. That said, the cast put in admirably hammy performances – with Flavio Medina as Peniche and David Chocarro as Santito both particularly riveting. They deserve much better roles. All in all, not worth it unless you’re a fan of this kind of shambolic telenovela melodrama. Shamefully, perhaps, I am.
Le Bureau S04 (TV)
– The first season of the show that feels dangerously close to ‘average’. Malotru is still out of control, buffeted around by circumstances, the loss of a key figure is seriously detrimental to the dynamic, and for some reason, the writers decided they’d lean into the tried and tested magic of hacking and AI for a bounty of deus ex machinas and other plot contrivances. It’s still an enjoyable ride, but this season fell far short of its predecessors, including with its uncertain and slapdash conclusion.
Le Bureau S03 (TV)
– the French spy thriller’s standard stays high, mostly, and the multitude of stories engaging – if a little familiar, despite a plot development that has the potential to derail the whole series.
Le Bureau S02 (TV)
– Malotru is back and so is the staggeringly high standard of screenwriting and acting. So compelling and fast paced, it feels like it ran straight into series three. Your love hate relationship with Marina Loisseau starts here…
Le Bureau S01 (TV)
– high stakes, nuanced and blisteringly tense French spy drama takes an episode to get going and then never lets up. With top notch performances and intelligent scripting, this is that rare gem: a truly great spy thriller.
The Spy (TV)
– Sacha Baron Cohen gives an impressively straight performance as Israeli spy Eli Cohen. The series is uneven, cheesy and rushed at times, but it’s mostly gripping and easy entertainment.
Black Narcissus (TV)
– disappointing and uneventful period drama about some randy nuns struggling to reconcile their religious duties with their petty jealousy and lust for the local handyman. Sorta.
The Pembrokeshire Murders (TV)
– disappointing. Feels extremely rushed, inevitably, given 5 years of police work depicted in 3 episodes, and the script is 90% exposition. Acting also not great. That said, nice to see a Welsh crime drama that isn’t Hinterlands.
Mr Mercedes S01 (TV)
– ten episodes is far too long, and though both leads can hold their audience (extremely disconcertingly in Harry Treadaway’s case), the direction and scripting leaves a lot to be desired, with contrivances and implausible behaviour happening all over the shop. It’s also extremely gratuitous and graphic and generally pretty damn unpleasant to watch. On balance, with the range of high quality TV available now, I’d give this a miss.
Guilt S01 (TV)
– Like a Scottish answer to Better Call Saul or Breaking Bad. Top performances, top soundtrack, and creative direction. A totally unexpected little black comedy gem.
Manhunt: Deadly Games S02 (TV)
– not a patch on the original Unabomber series. The scripting is farcical at times, and it’s dismaying that most of the story and characters are completely fabricated. Honestly though, for fans of high stakes crime thrillers, this is still an engaging and easy-viewing romp.
The Queen’s Gambit S01 (TV)
– for chess fans and simply TV drama fans alike, this is a treat. Great casting, direction, and pacing. It’s cheesy and cliché at times, and Beth’s battle with addiction has an inevitability that is always tedious to watch unfold, but overall this is winning and deserving of its widespread acclaim.
The Undoing S01 (TV)
– thoroughly enjoyed this crime thriller. Though the casting is a little distracting, the story keeps you guessing right up to its gritty ending. One of the best shows I’ve seen in a while.
Roadkill S01 (TV)
– Hugh Laurie demonstrates why he’s consistently chosen as a leading man, but I’m not sure this series is really anything more than a juicy political soap opera. Light, easy viewing, and for both these reasons, also quite boring.
Cardinal S04 (TV)
– aaaand I’m up to date. No great surprises here. The sexual slack between Cardinal and Delorme is tied into a bow while the duo plod through snow investigating revenge killings.
Cardinal S03 (TV)
– more of the same, but Cardinal is on the backfoot and Delorme takes lead.
Cardinal S02 (TV)
– much like series one, this is short and easy viewing. Not such a good story as the first season – often stupid and predictable in fact – but it (just about) hits the crime spot.
Cardinal S01 (TV)
– quite gruesome but enjoyably straightforward cop show, short episodes and a short season. This is no True Detective, but it’s ideal for filling the gap between bigger and better TV shows.
DNA S01 (TV)
– as expected from one of the writers of (the original) The Killing, this is an above average scandi crime thriller with twists aplenty and a delightful capacity to surprise. Though imperfect, it’s an enjoyably puzzling mystery for anyone with an appetite for the genre.
The Looming Tower (TV)
– a brilliant cast and cinematic direction elevates this above the mainstream. Thoroughly gripping, even though you know what happens next…
Patriot S01 (TV)
– Ozark-vibes comedy finds humour in the blackest of places. It fluctuates between highly entertaining and hugely depressing, and its slow pace might be off-putting to some, but it’s pleasingly original.
Avenue 5 S01 (TV)
– Despite wincing often, the black humour in the pilot made me laugh enough to watch further, but subsequent episodes were uncomfortably unfunny. Every caricature is taken to its intolerably tiresome extreme; shouty, annoying and puerile. Hard to believe this is from the same great mind as Veep and The Thick of It.
The Valhalla Murders S01 (TV)
– fairly standard scandi-noir, some duff writing, stupid coincidences and a lot of personal relationship drama that dilutes the intrigue and distracts from the plot, but it’s watchable enough if murder mysteries are your cup of tea.
– Koresh gets a (somewhat) sympathetic depiction in this immediately compelling dramatisation of the Waco catastrophe. The filmmakers caveat their portrayal to some extent, and it remains unclear how factual it is, but this is a pretty hard hitting indictment of the ATF and FBI’s approach to the standoff. Gripping from the off, and definitely recommended.
Bosch S06 (TV)
– unusually, a show that gets better with time. It’s reassuringly steady and unambitious; not shock and awe, just the enjoyably slow piecing together of disparate cases and clues.
Barry S01 (TV)
– I wanted to like this much more than I actually did. While clearly a Bill Hader vanity project, he’s easily good enough to carry it, and in a silly way the plot just about works. The tone is all over the shop though, sometimes slapstick goofball (and unfunny) comedy, sometimes sharply witty, and sometimes quite devastating drama. If it were consistently smarter and funnier, it might work, but as it stands, it falls short.
Defending Jacob S01 (TV)
– by and large, this is an engaging and addictive drama but its innumerable flaws (dated gender stereotypes, predictable twists, endless contrivances, to list a few) lead to an underwhelming and disappointing conclusion.
The Trial (Il Processo) (TV)
– Italian crime thriller reaches for high stakes but descends into melodrama instead. The story is an absurd, rambling, meandering mess, beleaguered by endless contrivances. There’s nearly nothing here to like.
Better Call Saul S05 (TV)
– when brilliant writing meets convincing acting and memorable cinematography is cut with creative direction, you end up with a show as consistently compelling as Better Call Saul. Jimmy has come a long way since we were first introduced to his origin story, but Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould pace his development just right, with barely a foot wrong. Unfortunately, the wrong foot in this season falls in the final episode, which is a real clanger given the deliberate realism of the series so far. This might well be the best show currently on TV though, and over 50 episodes, the occasional misstep can be forgiven.
Ozark S03 (TV)
– though the black witted crime drama remains a cut above most of its competition, this season dips in the middle, returns to retread some old ground, and has a sense of inevitability about it that is dangerously close to tedious. That said, it ends with a bang, the comedy remains laugh out loud at times, and the main cast are as terrific as ever. It’s a shame the writers lean into ’emotional conflict’ so heavily they could be following notes from a university lecture on creative writing. It grates.
Tiger King S01 (TV)
– batshit crazy biopic cum true-crime documentary about the deadly rivalries between private zoo owners in the USA. Definitely unique and worth watching for the extraordinarily eccentric characters and the eye opening lives they lead. The chronology is chaotic though and the whole series too drawn out. It also feels a little manipulative, as these shows so often do, withholding key information or revealing it in drips to frame audience opinion and maximise shock factor.
A Confession (TV)
– Martin Freeman is well cast in this tense and punchy drama detailing the fall from grace of Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher, who caught a serial killer then spent years fighting for his career as well as pursuing justice for the victims’ families. No comment on the facts of the case, but as a TV show, this is polished and absorbing, if a little heavy on the drama and liberal with the exposition. It’s definitely worth a watch.
The Capture S01 (TV)
– if every character wasn’t so annoying, and the plot wasn’t so ludicrous, this very-BBC-TV cop thriller could have been good. As it stands, it’s certainly bingeable, and paced fast enough you might overlook its endless irrationality. I’m afraid I couldn’t.
The Outsider S01 (TV)
– after an intriguing and promising start, this Stephen King mystery abandons the mystery, introduces a human-possessing demon and an expositional clairvoyant, then sinks the viewer into their very own hell: boredom. Hugely disappointing, an absolute waste of time.
The Stranger (TV)
– very ‘made for TV’ binge mystery starts intriguing but farfetched and gets progressively more and more inane. None of it adds up, none of it is remotely plausible outside of the realms of TV land, and it’s stupid even by those low standards. Save yourself the eyerolls and vexation: avoid.
Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet (S01) (TV)
– it got off to a cracking start, a lot of laugh aloud moments and great quirky characters. By mid-season though, the smart gag rate was dropping, replaced with hysterics, shouting, and unironic stereotyping. McElhenney is fantastic as Ian Grimm, and the show works best when his heady mix of inspiration and egotism is at its peak. Unfortunately, that’s not often enough. It dragged its way over the season finish line all out of ideas.
Watchmen S01 (TV)
– Not quite a masterpiece but certainly a masterful piece of TV storytelling. Racism, identity, time travel, religion and transgression are just some of the themes considered, all under the guise of a slickly produced and extremely stylish action thriller. Nice work.
Giri/ Haji (TV)
– international detective story boasts a cast at the top of their game, a hugely witty script and more excitement by episode three than most series have reached by their finale. Unfortunately, it struggles to sustain its focus, becomes diverted by petty relationship dramas and ill thought out plot strands and so misses the bullseye. That said, fantastic TV show, highly recommended. Great soundtrack too.
Servant S01 (TV)
– the clues to this convoluted, slow-burning, skin-crawling mystery emerge through a combination of supernatural horror and black humour. It’s a claustrophobic drama, brilliantly acted, wonderfully intriguing and often very funny, but it’s also inconsistent, juggling a plethora of ideas and themes that are too meandering (almost random), and left underdeveloped and ultimately a bit thin (echoes of Lost). Perhaps an expanded cast and range of locations will help flesh it out in season two.
The Witcher S01 (TV)
– another disappointing video game adaptation, this one hoping to capture the Game of Thrones audience with a moody atmosphere, the requisite conspiratorial plotting and plenty of gore. Though a huge fan of the games, I found this dull and confusing.
The Morning Show S01 (TV)
– Billy Crudup carries this hyperbolic #metoo movement drama as sociopathic and anarchic network news president, Cory Ellison, perhaps the only character among the whole stellar lineup who’s actually entertaining or likeable. There are moments of clever scripting – some even laugh out loud, but mostly it’s not half as clever as it would like to be or thinks it is, brimming with overacting, contrived set pieces, and a condescending didacticism that seeps through cheesy montage after heartfelt speech after hysterical breakdown as the show goes to increasingly far-fetched and eye-rolling lengths to inject some excitement and jeopardy into morning news. It’s certainly bingeable, that much is true, but whether it deserves to be binged is another matter. It feels like a desperate effort to capitalise on real world events, yet despite its grounding in the truth, manages to be utterly unconvincing.
Counterpart S01 (TV)
– JK Simmons’ doppleganger sci-fi definitely suffers from an overly ponderous pace and dour tone, but if you’ve the patience for it, there’s a smart spy thriller at its core, with a pleasantly convoluted and twisting plot, fantastic acting and an evocative musical score.
Dublin Murders S01 (TV)
– a mixed bag of mystery and intrigue whose brilliant cast and sometimes sharp script is tempered by bad subplots and ludicrous allusions to the supernatural. An enjoyably compelling experience overall, but proves ultimately disappointing.
Animal Kingdom S04 (TV)
– perhaps the most bingeable of the show’s seasons despite a jarring and tedious historical plotline about Smurf. The writing is smarter and wittier than the last series (admittedly a very low bar to beat), and the plot moves at a fast pace through major, character-changing events. If you were on the fence about carrying on after S03 (and I wouldn’t blame you), this is worth resuming. If not, I wouldn’t bother starting Animal Kingdom at all.
Animal Kingdom S03 (TV)
– there’s nothing more criminal in this series than the way it has turned a menacing, high stakes crime drama into a chaotic, madcap and asinine catalogue of errors; as if the writers decided as long as they included the stock ingredients of drug-taking, sex and random acts of violence, they could avoid actually having to drum up a compelling storyline or any innovative new heists. This is terrible writing with nearly nothing to redeem it. As a fan of series 1, I can only hope they seriously upped the game for season 4. I’m not holding my breath.
Narcos: Mexico S01 (TV)
– engrossing as this sometimes is, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before (and in this show no less). The Narcos formula begins to feel tired; thin on ideas and excitement, with twists and turns bordering on predictable, and plot strands that run to nowhere. It doesn’t help that the characters this season aren’t charismatic and the ending, when it comes, concludes nothing.
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie
– very much a sequel to offer closure on Jesse Pinkman’s story. It plays more as an extended episode of the show than a standalone film, with some slightly laboured exposition to help fill the gaps. It’s an unnecessary but no less welcome return to Breaking Bad, and although it doesn’t bring anything new, Gilligan’s trademark camerawork and strong performances make for another engaging and competent production.
Unbelievable S01 (TV)
– Though clearly a series on a mission, the impressive acting and well paced cat and mouse story allows for some didactic freedom without the script becoming too preachy. It takes a few episodes to really kick into gear, and the extensive exposition is tiresome, but once it has you, it’s extremely compelling viewing and a very refreshing addition to the crime genre.
The Boys S01 (TV)
– wildly original as well as just plain wild, this is a superhero misadventure with more dark twists and psycho kinks than a comicon in a bondage dungeon. The script is often too try-hard, whether in attempts at shock or humour, and the characters and Machiavellian scheming sometimes just too obvious, but as a cocktail, it’s hard not to swallow the lot with a giddy smile and extend the glass for more. Cross Deadpool with Banshee and you’re somewhere close – Antony Starr sure can pick ’em.
Animal Kingdom S02 (TV)
– the crazed family of thieves continue to trample each other and everyone nearby in their attempts to earn a quick buck, get high or get laid. While there are some major plot developments this series and it remains easy viewing, the show feels less even-handed and considered than its prequel, with a reckless, scattergun approach that is messy and unconvincing.
Animal Kingdom S01 (TV)
– there are plenty of problems with this show, but none register for long before they’re superceded by a nailbiting thrill or a move that leaves you squirming. Though it wallows in gratuity – the whole cocktail of sex, drugs and violence – and the whole conceit stretches plausibility, it goes to plenty of dark places that a lesser show might not, and though the dialogue can seem trite at times, the cast (nearly) uniformly deliver even the weaker lines with an unhinged edge that keeps you gripped and their deranged characters intact. Echoes of Bloodline (2015) but far less restrained.
Green Frontier (Frontera Verde) (S01) (TV)
– Afraid to say I gave up on this after a few episodes. Beautiful scenery, but the pace is paralysingly slow, the script and premise both vague and unconvincing, and the lead actress is nearly devoid of emotion. Life is too short.
When They See Us (TV)
– Though polished, this is thoroughly miserable from start to finish. Whether accurate or not, it doesn’t make for enjoyable viewing.
– As per the first series, though on paper the premise suggests an intense and suspenseful crime thriller, in practice, the ingredients feel undercooked, lukewarm, not even raw. The inherently interesting subject matter proves compelling enough to keep watching, but never excites.
– brilliantly crafted historical drama depicts the harrowing tragedy informatively and ungratuitously whilst remaining utterly engaging. A rare feat that more than deserves the acclaim and audience recognition it has received.
Stranger Things S03 (TV)
– a sillier season than its predecessors, with some annoyances like Hopper’s incessant rage and shouting, and Will’s neck-scratching demotion to near irrelevance, but overall, fans of the franchise will still be entertained, and it promises another fun follow-up.
The People vs. O.J. Simpson
– solid if unexciting show, worth watching, particularly as an educational historical piece highlighting the significance of the case as well as the simmering race issues at the time. Not the most fun I’ve ever had though…
True Detective S03 (TV)
– A satisfying mystery that intrigues and excites thanks to carefully calculated performances from a cast at the top of their game, and a sharp and quick witted script.
Killing Eve S02 (TV)
– Sadly far inferior to its predecessor, this time it forgoes the cat and mouse excitement for a focus on relationships, resulting in the kind of banal drama found in any other run of the mill TV show. There are enough key ingredients to entertain, but it’s disappointing.
Bosch S05 (TV)
– a strong season for fans of grumpy Harry. It’s not cutting edge TV, it’s basic, borderline procedural crime drama, but the characters have a cantankerous charm about them, and the soundtrack and general atmosphere is somehow calming. In the absence of better crime thrillers, this is just dandy.
Line of Duty S05 (TV)
– the predictable but compelling BBC crime drama continues, as far fetched as ever, and no less entertaining.
Dead to Me S01E01 (TV)
– not my cup of tea. American glossy trash vibes. The premise is good, the delivery too slapdash.
Russian Doll S01E01 (TV)
– following acclaim in the media I gave this a shot. Another misfire.
Arrested Development S05 (TV)
– not very good at all, and it’s a shame. The comedy’s gag rate is lower and the jokes less successful, historic flashbacks to the childhood of the Bluths don’t work well (as well as being inconsistent with the show), and the narrative has become so convoluted and self-referential as to be confusing. Very disappointing. I think the show is dead.
Veep S07 (TV)
– So darn good. A huge return to form after its somewhat lacklustre and sloppy last series. Laugh out loud comedy multiple times an episode. Great.
The West Wing S07 (TV)
– it’s only upon concluding the West Wing story that you realise how truly momentous and significant an achievement it was, and even more strikingly, how much the standard of the last three seasons suffered as a result of Aaron Sorkin departing the political drama. I could easily watch it again, but if and when I do, I’ll stick with the first four series and happily forget the unpleasantness of its concluding chapters.
After Life S01 (TV)
– Gervais carries on his losing streak with a now typical dramedy where the comedy comes second to the laboured and on the nose hardship of his characters. If long-suffering fans are still hoping for a glimmer of the genius shown by The Office and Extras, this will disappoint. The XFM shows and podcast series continue to be mined for jokes, and even without his involvement, Karl’s ideas crop up throughout. Gervais seems to believe crass language is comedic in and of itself, resulting in a script that’s as hard to listen to as his protagonist is to like, his tedious, career-long obsession with atheistic bible-bashing goes on unabated, while the intended redeeming moments of poignancy are so devoid of subtlety or art they feel as lifeless as his character’s dead wife. This is a depressing show, both literally because of its content, and also because it suggests any hope for Gervais to return to his glory days is not worth holding on to.
Fargo S03 (TV)
– if the format hasn’t grown tired, I’ve certainly grown tired of it. Unusually, I abandoned this half way through when I realised I had zero interest in either the characters or the story.
This Time with Alan Partridge S01 (TV)
– while not up to the standard set by old school Alan, this is still a very funny satire with some shrewd and incisive comedy. It definitely tries much too hard, but even the unfunny bits manage to entertain.
Homecoming S01 (TV)
– although this PTSD drama mystery features good performances and is shot in an original style, it’s too plodding and, on balance, I think I preferred the radio/ podcast series.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia S13 (TV)
– by far their worst season, patchy at best, unfunny and gratuitously gross out at its worst. That said, as always, there are moments that make it worth the viewing, the final scenes of the season finale proving a case in point.
– as per the plummeting trend, the eye rollingly stupid crime thriller is more gratuitous and more ridiculous than ever. Waste of time.
The ABC Murders (TV)
– gratuitous and trashy whodunnit crime thriller with no wit, charm or smarts. The few bits of genuine intrigue remain unsolved at its conclusion, and the murderers motive (and unexplained obsession with Poirot) is farcical to the point of annoyance. Avoid.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia S14 (TV)
– the most disappointing series yet. There are a few giggles along the way, but this feels like the team are phoning it in; a lot of reliance on historic episodes and gross out humour that doesn’t feel earned as it has in past seasons.
Castle Rock S01 (TV)
– after half the first series, I decided not to stick this out. It left me cold and didn’t seem to have much going for it by way of scripting or story.
Parks and Recreation S02 (TV)
– better than the first season, but still massively hit and miss. Some episodes hardly evoke a giggle, others are filled with belly laughs.
The Little Drummer Girl (TV)
– highly stylised but excellent spy thriller. It’s overindulgent at times, but maintains a high calibre and taut atmosphere throughout.
Elite S01 (TV)
– glossy teenage trash with the usual spanish melodrama
Better Call Saul S04 (TV)
– such amazing and consistently high brow craftsmanship, surely one of the most unique and remarkable TV shows to prove a success. Every frame, scene and line of dialogue is carefully considered and meaningful. Excellent. Bring on Season 5.
The West Wing S03 (TV)
– Sorkin’s writing is of such a high standard that it remains a joy to watch even after multiple viewings.
Bodyguard S01 (TV)
– after a phenomenal start that marked a new bar for British TV, with set pieces that would have been polished even for Hollywood thrillers, the story and action slips into familiar clichéd territory and intensity becomes absurdity. That said, this is still an extremely compelling and smartly delivered BBC drama, ideal for an edge of the seat binge watch.
The West Wing S05 (TV)
– this one was the miss. Albeit still an entertaining show, its clear the calibre of writing slipped post Sorkin, and the new team are struggling to find their rhythm.
The West Wing S04 (TV)
– Not quite on a par with the first three seasons, this series really goes off the rails during its final episodes which are unconvincing at best, and totally un-West Wing.
The Mechanism S01 (TV)
– Easily lost in the endless churn of low calibre TV series because it’s not compelling enough to compete with the better thrillers out there about political corruption in its various guises. I wanted to like it, but after several episodes I couldn’t be bothered to keep trying.
Ozark S02 (TV)
– another solid, morbid series of drama, thrills and blood spills. Not quite as polished as its antecedent, nor quite as wholly gripping, but still well above average and highly recommended with outstanding performances across the board.
Who Is America? (TV)
– Crass, irreverent, often plain disgusting, yet this satirical political comedy highlighting the gross prejudices, greed and stereotypes within American society illuminates some extremely uncomfortable truths. It’s not consistently funny, and it’s downright unpleasant to watch at times, but its shocking approach cuts straight to the point and hits home often enough that its misses can be overlooked. Careful who you watch it with though…
Disenchantment S01 (TV)
– not worth pursuing. Either Matt Groening has lost his touch, or this experiment failed. Mostly unfunny, crass and uninspired.
Fariña (Cocaine Coast) S01 (TV)
– a spanish language narcotics soap opera, a telenovela in every respect but production values. The story is predictable, character behaviours stupid, and every episode follows the exact same formula: risk of arrest being averted by a litany of increasingly absurd coincidences, contrivances, and deus ex machinas. If it wasn’t for the love of the language, it’s unlikely I’d have watched past episode two, and all the warning signs are there in episode one. If you want an amazing thriller about drug trafficking, there are so many to choose from, don’t choose this one.
Stranger S01 (TV)
– An above average whodunnit wrapped in political intrigue and cultural hierarchies and deferences. Our fascinating protagonist isn’t some blundering alcoholic battling with his demons as he solves cases; he is shrewd, capable, relentless, he sees much and says little, he is enigmatic but sympathetic, and his performance is fastidious and crisply delivered. The programme is soap operatic in many ways, excessively long (episodically and as a series), and it does suffer curious quirks and melodrama that are a million miles from realism or even plausibility, but overall these inadequacies don’t undermine its value as fun and extremely engaging television.
Deadwind S01 (TV)
– Based on episode one only, this is a plainly unoriginal and formulaic drama following the tropes established by The Killing, The Bridge and other far superior scandi-crime dramers/ thrillers. Given how competitive this space is, shows really need to do better to stand out.
Bosch S04 (TV)
– Great series overall and they handled a difficult plot turn mostly well, although it cast a glum shadow over the remaining episodes. This is a reliably solid detective show in a landscape that suffers from a drought of decent murder mysteries. Hope Bosch S05 gets the go ahead.
Halt and Catch Fire S04 (TV)
– the first half of this season is quite stunning. It’s funny, sweet, intriguing, full of potential. Then there’s a tonal shift, it becomes ponderous, introspective, monologue after monologue, devoid of ideas and inspiration (much like its characters). If the first three seasons were about progress and moving forwards, this season is preoccupied with regression and the past.
Fauda S01 (TV)
– Gripping, if entirely unrealistic thriller. After a strong and furiously fast paced start, the pacing drops off a cliff and padding crops up detailing superfluous soap opera relationship drama. It’s a shame. Furthermore, the ending, when it comes, is so abrupt it feels like no ending at all, with slapdash contrivances that undermine all the efforts of the protagonists (and the audience) to have come so far. The same story in 8 episodes would have been a blinder. Expect I’ll still watch season 2 though.
Sharp Objects S01 (TV)
– Stopped after two episodes of this dreary and loveless drama. Sinfully dull. Exhausting. Waste of time.
A Very English Scandal (TV)
– Excellent performances and a witty script. Entertaining TV.
The Crossing S01 (TV)
– very low quality soap opera sci-fi. A shame as the concept is strong and Steve Zahn is terrific in everything.
The Detectorists S02 (TV)
– charming, wonderfully lighthearted, and with numerous laugh out loud moments each episode, this second series is perhaps even better than the first. It’s a fantastic script, and the chemistry between McKenzie Crook and Toby Jones has only matured. An excellent comedy.
Arrested Development S05 (TV)
– nowhere near as good as the original few seasons, but still good entertainment and fun to watch.
Killing Eve S01 (TV)
– wonderfully original British crime drama. Unfortunately the climax of the series teeters a little too close to the edge of the rails.
Utopia S02 (TV)
– enjoyable continuation of the conspiracy thriller, but clutching at straws and contrivances in a way that series 1 didn’t need to. Still great entertainment, I’m just glad it was wrapped before it descended into farce.
Utopia S01 (TV)
– An intriguing and arresting pilot episode is followed by what must surely be one of the finest and most original conspiracy thriller series Britain has produced. There are some occasional lines of cheesy expositional dialogue, and the plot frequently strays into absurdity, but for sheer entertainment and thrilling momentum, this is an instant classic. Neil Maskell in particular is a rivetingly sinister villain.
AP Bio S01 (TV)
– ridiculous and puerile comedy, often reliant on ropey slapstick. Somehow still managed to win me over with it’s asinine charm (and Glenn Howerton). Couldn’t recommend it though.
Se Quien Eres (I Know Who You Are) S01+S02 (TV)
– frequently absurd but captivating nonetheless. The mystery intrigues even through the dodgy script and occasionally terrible acting. (
Mozart in the Jungle (S04)(TV)
– as always, a wacky pleasure. Great music and comedy, and enough off-kilter zaniness to stay original.
Sneaky Pete (S02)(TV)
– this is not high art, it’s indubitably bad on so many levels, but it’s incorrigibly bad, loveably so, and it always leaves me grinning like a dufus.
– Interesting concept proves dull viewing. Too much atmosphere, not enough coherence.
– terrific TV series with a career best performance from Sam Worthington and perhaps from Paul Bettany too. It’s a shame some of the scenes are a bit on the nose and exposition heavy because it falls just short of perfection. Nonetheless, a fantastic ride.
The Siege of Jadotville
– fantastic, suspenseful and stunningly beautiful war film. Unexpected given its modest renown.
– A truly magnificent Western. Epic, beautiful, profound, with a splendid cast and sharp witted script. Fantastic.
Shooter S02 (TV)
– Another stunted season due to Ryan Philippe’s freak injury. Probably a saving grace to be frank. Despite a good turn from Josh Stewart (under-appreciated as always but well cast here), this was fraught with cliche, stupidity and wearisome machismo.
The Five (TV)
– Thoroughly engaging and enjoyable TV drama exploring the mystery of why a missing and presumed dead boy’s DNA is showing up at murder seasons. Utterly ridiculous and implausible, but compelling.
The Sinner S01 (TV)
– intriguing, often gratuitous and unnecessarily drawn out crime mystery. Disappointing.
Stranger Things S02 (TV)
– more of the same, ergo it’s awesome, must watch TV. Feel-good, nostalgic, inspiring, and dangerously easy to binge. Bring on the next season.
– watchable, and occasionally fun, but nowhere near as sinister or macabre as it would like to be, and perhaps ought to be, given its premise. There’s much better TV out there.
– one of the most original and affecting shows I’ve seen on TV in a good while. Travesty they cancelled it, but at least it’ll last as a tightly contained masterpiece. Watch it.
– great show, a little slow on the uptake, but once the first few episodes are out of the way it’s gripping and suspenseful to the end. In some ways, it’s more entertaining than the first two episodes, and some of the cast members are just fantastic; hat tip Andrea Londo and Matias Varela.
Shooter S01 (TV)
– Fast paced action thriller, as plausible as Prison Break but similarly enjoyable.
House of Cards (S05)(TV)
– disappeared so far up itself I’m left watching solely to see the house collapse, the cards tumble down, and Frank Underwood take a bullet to the face (or the just equivalent)
Mar de Plastico S01E01 (TV)
– spanish attempt at scandinoir falls flat with glossy casting, a tactless script and infuriatingly stupid plot oversights (generously not called ‘holes’)
Banshee S04 (TV)
– at long last the town of Banshee gets its final act. The drawn out and self indulgent conclusion in the last episode is preceded by a mostly entertaining, if staggeringly gratuitous main story. Worth watching if you’ve come this far if only for the closure.
Veep S06 (TV)
– The comedy has definitely declined since its early seasons, but there are still enough laugh out loud moments to warrant the viewing time.
Ozark S01 (TV)
– best original show in years, a masterclass – Bateman and Linney are fantastic, but the writing is where it flies, the dance between tragedy and hilarity is graceful and gripping. Excellent, must watch show.
Bloodline S03 (TV)
– albeit engaging throughout, this season really underdelivered and went off the rails. An episode where John spends time hallucinating multiple realities really jumps the proverbial shark, but even before then, it had become increasingly unhinged and ungrounded. Meg was abandoned within the story, written out, and Mama Raeburn has her depravity dialled to 11. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the show overall, but I’m very glad it’s ended. Its conclusion felt long overdue.
Arrested Development S03
– Steve Holt!
Public Enemy S01 (Ennemi Public) (TV)
– disappointing crime thriller, particularly given the rave reviews ahead of its release. Not even close to the benchmarks set by The Bridge and The Killing.
Better Call Saul S03
– terrific series of an increasingly terrific show. It’s a shame the season finale was lacklustre relative to some of the other episodes and didn’t leave me hyped for the next season, but I savour every minute this is on air. Great performances, great script, simply great TV.
The Path S01
– this obsession with cults and the supernatural is a bit tiresome. Not bad, but didn’t wet my whistle. Won’t be watching season 2.
Line of Duty S04
– ludicrous but thoroughly engrossing and engaging to the bitter end. And it is a bitter end. I hope they pull S05 back from the edge of the abyss.
– far inferior to the opening season, but this was still entertaining for the most part.
Halt and Catch Fire (S03)(TV)
– Whilst still mostly excellent, this season indubitably suffered from excluding, to a large extent, its most interesting character: Joe McMillan. Whilst he’s still present, his storyline plays second fiddle to the emotional difficulties in the relationship triangle between Donna, Gordon and Cameron.
The Principal (TV)
– riddled with problems, and some of the scripting is clumsy at best, but it has a positive, optimistic outlook and wins over as a really sincere and genuinely heartwarming series
The Moorside (TV)
– uncomfortable two part drama recounting the missing of Shannon Matthews in 2008. Questionable whether this should have been made at all. Easy to watch, but not exactly thrilling TV.
– Terrific performances, tight and well executed sequences and a really compelling script in this near perfect little Norwegian thriller. I loved it.
The Honourable Woman (TV)
– well intentioned but tediously self-aware and imperious. There are a few good characters, but none are likeable, and the plot is infuriatingly drawn out. After the powerhouse of The Shadow Line, this is a huge disappointment.
Sherlock S04 (TV)
– a far fetched and self-conscious but mostly enjoyable crime series, with a finale that hugely disappoints. It seems the creators gave up on actual cases in favour of pseudo psychological thrills and set pieces, and the show suffers hugely as a consequence.
The Last Panthers S01 (TV)
– a strong, high concept pilot episode disintegrates into a dull, muddled mess of a crime drama.
Sneaky Pete S01 (TV)
– Enjoyable and imaginative TV show of the ‘easy viewing’ variety; a lot of fun, compelling cliff hangers, solid casting and an engaging story. The flaw is that in order to carry it all off, it relies on some serious suspension of disbelief, more than a little cliche, and too much instructive soundtrack and exposition. Sadly, the setup for the second season was extremely ham-fisted and rushed.
The Missing S02 (TV)
– vastly superior to its first season, this crime thriller drama is very engaging TV. It suffers from some clumsy exposition and occasional offtone acting, but largely this is an excellent ride.
Westworld S01 (TV)
– all at once fantastic, beautiful, gratuitous and scary, this should be a one season wonder, but I fear it’ll be tarnished with subsequent series that can’t possibly live up to the near perfection of these ten episodes. Watch it if only for it’s magnificent conclusion.
The OA S01 (TV)
– Weird sci-fi drama with an unlikeable cast, if just about intriguing enough to command attention. Mostly well produced, its a shame about the plot.
The League S01 (TV)
– occasionally hilarious, but just as often tediously puerile. It could serve as good entertainment if you’ve got the time to kill. Sadly, I don’t.
Mozart in the Jungle S03 (TV)
– Terrific show as always, but I’m a teeny bit concerned this series was less well plotted than the first two and I hope this isn’t the first scree on a slippery slope. I still thoroughly enjoyed the season though, it’s a joy to watch a show with so much love and so much optimism. If only life could be so consistently upbeat.
– strong criminal drama with a frustratingly abrupt and unearned conclusion. Billy Bob Thornton is terrific, and the plot is intriguing and nuanced, but the rushed delivery in eight episodes was totally insufficient and ultimately disappointing.
Mr Robot S02 (TV)
– Those people suggesting this season has “nose-dived” in terms of quality, I suspect were just hangers on from the beginning. If anything, by the end of Season 2, I am far more invested in all of the characters and the overarching plot. The series is surreal. Undeniably so. But that’s pretty brave for the creators, and it’s so unusual and unlike anything else we’ve seen on TV, it’s worthy of praise for originality alone. I can’t wait for Season 3 – this season ended with much more suspense than Season 1. I hope they can maintain the standards and ignore the naysayers.
– Derren Brown’s latest live show is far from his strongest. The illusions are few and underwhelming in contrast to his earlier shows and TV performances.
Narcos S02 (TV)
– mush less enjoyable than the first season, perhaps in part because of its inevitable conclusion and endlessly smug narration. Thinly veiled American propaganda.
Mr Robot S02 (TV)
– Those people suggesting this season has “nose-dived” in terms of quality, I suspect were just hangers on from the beginning. If anything, by the end of S02, I am far more invested in all of the characters and the overarching plot. The series is surreal. Undeniably so. But that’s pretty brave of the creators, and it’s so unusual and unlike anything else we’ve seen on television, it’s worthy of praise for originality alone. I can’t wait for S03 – this season ended with much more suspense than the first. I hope they can maintain the standards and ignore the naysayers.
Stranger Things S01 (TV)
– wonderful, fun, lighthearted and affectionate, this supernatural drama series is everything accessible TV ought to be.
– sort of wannabe The Thick of It for cops. Fast paced with an engaging story, but none of the characters are likeable, and the comedy is often too nasty to raise a smile.
Marcella S01 (TV)
– a waste of everybody’s time, unaided by the intensely unlikeable hipster crime solving team at its heart. Dreary, convoluted and beyond improbable. Don’t bother.
Line of Duty S03 (TV)
– after a less than exhilarating four or five episodes, the finale packs a punch unlike any other British thriller and offers a payoff that more than justifies the insidious pacing. Performances and scripting are tight, and the direction, at times, is artful. Indubitably one of the best shows on TV. Bring on series four.
American Crime Story S01 (TV)
– gripping and well confected courtroom thriller.
The Night Manager S01 (TV)
– wonderfully suspenseful, gripping and hyperbolic le Carré thriller. Perfect as entertainment, even while riddled with flaws and clichés.
Jessica Jones (S01)(TV)
– dreary, unlikeable and interminable Marvel comic adaptation. Spectacularly failed to deliver after the high standard set by Daredevil S01.
Making a Murderer (TV)
– Gripping court room true crime documentary. Builds steam to around episode 8, but the final few are superfluous.
The Bridge S03 (TV)
– thoroughly entertaining, as always, but riddled with irritating decision-making, poor judgement and irrational behaviour. The show has definitely dropped in quality since its inaugural season, but with the absence of competitors in the genre, it remains a must
And Then There Were None (TV)
– deliciously intriguing Agatha Christie whodunit. Consensus on the killer was formed pretty early, but some red herrings put you off the scent before confirming your early suspicions. A lot of fun! I wish good whodunits were back in vogue…
Halt and Catch Fire (S02)(TV)
– As TV goes, I honestly don’t think it gets much better than this. The character of Joe MacMillan is just unrivalled in complexity and depth. Lee Pace is beyond magnetic in the role, he’s electric, and the writers recognise that and use it beautifully. The storylines are broad, sweeping and powerful, skipping triviality in favour of weighty topics that shaped the computing world and the world we live today. The casting is spot on, the acting stupendous. I only hope that AMC top brass realise that this is shaping into one of the best TV series to have graced our screens. Watch it; laugh, weep and fist pump. This is one of a kind.
The Man From High Castle (TV)
– Unfortunately, despite a wonderful concept and vivid realisation of Dick’s parallel universe, this fails on several levels, from clumsy, even bad, scripting to poor, glossy casting choices. Thankfully the story is strong, and some of the actors really command attention (Rufus Sewell, I’m looking at you). Could have been much better though.
The Moaning of Life (S02) (TV)
– Karl is incorrigibly loveable. He has grown greatly over the course of his career, and his ignorance is no longer the comedy. In its place, you have his natural and offbeat wry observations. I can’t get enough.
– Fast paced (perhaps too fast paced), drug cartel crime thriller charting Pablo Escobar rise and fall from power in Colombia. Sharp acting and excellent direction, it’s a minor pity that the script frequently borders on US propaganda. Terrific TV though.
Veep (TV) (S01-S04)
– My favourite political comedy with a fantastic cast and incisive script. Every episode has moments of comedy gold and whilst the humour is occasionally malicious (particularly re: workplace bullying), it usually redeems itself within the same episode.
The Booth at the End (TV)
– an intriguing premise that starves the audience of answers in a way that repels rather than invites. The minimalist format and production smacks slightly of a collegiate project too.
Mr Robot (TV)
– Like early Dexter with 1s and 0s. A twisted and anguished protagonist with an alternative perspective on life. This is a hacker series deservedly praised by laymen and computer nerds alike. A little overly tortured at times, dragging the pace, but overall this is a compelling and novel contemporary thriller, hopefully to inspire a new generation of anarchist hackers.
Halt and Catch Fire S01 (TV)
– found myself a new favourite among TV series. Exceedingly strong performances from the whole cast, a gripping, dynamic plot, and script and direction that will have you laughing aloud before hunkering at the edge of your seat. Terrific show.
– A playful, whimsical foray into crime for Rufus Sewell. Good fun.
– Wry humour and master villains, this is a gripping crime drama with a lot to enjoy, but somehow it resolves to nobody’s satisfaction.
El Chapulín Colorado (TV)
– old school slapstick silliness in spanish.
– By this stage it’s pretty much more of the same. The novelty has worn off and the flashbacks are getting old. It remains a watchable show, but I’d definitely start looking for something new.
El Gran Hotel (S01) (TV)
– gossipy, trashy, farcical – there is little to redeem this spanish period drama bar its language. If I wasn’t making an effort to learn spanish, I wouldn’t touch this with a barge pole.
Wayward Pines (TV)
– Try hard surrealist crime thriller in the vein of Twin Peaks (it even sounds similar). Dillon is very watchable but the show is tediously try-hard.
– Extraordinarily violent and gruesome at times, it’s nonetheless a pretty tongue in cheek, light-hearted and entertaining Netflix super hero series. Certainly more compelling than I had expected.
– if a feature length episode of the hit TV show appeals in principal, then it will almost definitely appeal in practice, with the usual cast favourites racing against the terrorism clock. It’s slick and fast paced and pretty much exactly what you’d expect.
Spiral S01 (TV)
– Gritty and compelling French police serial. A solid series.
Nowhere Man S01 (TV)
– Moderately compelling if farfetched and frustratingly dated thriller. Time is better spent elsewhere.
House of Cards S03 (TV)
– Plodding third series of the Netflix phenomenon. A couple of heavy twists, but by and large this is too toned down and lumbering.
– Unfortunately, after a relatively promising start, the show breaks down in to a tiresome and poorly paced mess of contrivances and clumsy exposition, even to the point of WWII flashbacks. This is a huge disappointment. Given the hefty time investment it demands, I don’t recommend it.
Happy Valley (TV)
– Phenomenally well acted and compelling British TV, a thriller of the calibre that rarely graces our screens. A netflix exclusive allegedly, although it has BBC all over it and oddly shows only on the US Netflix. Don’t miss this, the best British cop series since The Shadow Line.
– Innocuous, lighthearted and relaxing comedy from Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones. It’s a relief and pleasure to watch something so gentle.
The West Wing S01 (TV)
– Such an enormous pleasure to rewatch this. Still one of the finest, wittiest, sharpest scripted TV shows I have ever seen. Every minute is fun and every episode exhilarating.
Secret State (TV)
– Solid political drama series with strong performances all round and a hypercritical script depicting the cosy relationship and interworkings between British banks, businesses and government. Very worth watching, but not quite landmark TV.
The Code (TV)
– Gripping, if at times frustrating, Aussie conspiracy thriller. Solid acting in difficult roles, but as is so often the case, the show fails to offer any lovable, or even likeable characters, and consequently isn’t as enjoyable to watch as it could, and should, have been.
The Assets (TV)
– An exposition heavy script, transparent story and superfluity of US propaganda mars a show that had promise on paper. Not all that surprising it was cancelled.
A Most Wanted Man
– not since Rubicon was aired on TV has the spy genre been so perfectly depicted on screen. An apt tour de force for Philip Seymour Hoffman’s swansong, devestating though that is, and a hugely successful suspenseful thriller. Just terrific.
The Leftovers (TV)
– Lifeless, po-faced and painfully grave, this speculative dystopian TV drama isn’t short on intrigue, but stubbornly refuses to offer answers or resolution, resulting in an inexplicable world of shock factor scenes, irrational behaviour, and detached angst. I really wanted to like it, but there is very little to like, let alone praise.
The Walking Dead S04 (TV)
– mindnumbingly, agonisingly boring with one of the worst season (anti)climaxes to ever precede another season. Bad acting, bad script, worn out ideas. What a shrivelled and dessicated show this has become.
Epitafios S01 (TV)
– Audience insulting twists, police incompetence, bad judgements, gratuity and cliches galore mar what could otherwise have been a moderately entertaining, if intellectually challenged, serial killer thriller. Frustration ruins a TV series though, and my God, this show is frustrating viewing! (We’re talking worse than Dexter S07)
The Americans (S01)(TV)
– Basic and with a fair number of tropes, this spy thriller still grips, even if at times it’s a little too much American propaganda. Very much focused on the spies rather than their motives.
– Gritty, realistic police show. Strong characters and good acting but perhaps the characters are all a little too unlikeable.
Death in Paradise (TV)
– moderately amusing British murder mystery comedy. Silly, very lighthearted, and consequently entirely forgivably hammy!
Orphan Black S01
– Infuriating and cliched dialogue and glossy set design undermine multiple strong performances from Tatiana Maslany. It’s a pity the whole show is so shallow, as the clone storyline isn’t novel by a long shot either so it really has very little going for it. This is bad TV, of the type that will get multiple series and entertain families across the globe because it’s “light hearted, fun” and requires dick all thought. Depressing.
– Refreshingly original premise for a TV drama, but the pacing is off, and as a result, the story progression feels unnecessarily laboured. I will watch Season 2, though I keenly hope that story developments are a little more rapid and enticing. Strong performances all round though, and the novel programming should be commended.
– Some of the greatest moments of TV, and some that are utterly pretentious. Hits and misses, but mostly hits. The lead performances are astounding and the cinematography is bang on the money. This is well worth watching, I look forward to season two.
The Sopranos (S01)
– Hailed as classic TV, and perhaps the best that has aired. In the face of modern masterpieces (a la Breaking Bad/ Boardwalk Empire), I can’t agree with such gushing acclaim, but it’s certainly a good series, albeit a little too formulaic in structure.
– A shocking season of TV, and sadly, brutally uncompromising. I won’t be watching S04; for me this is a conlusion to Homeland, a series which was always Brody’s story. Lewis and Danes are both terrific, though the plot plays fast and loose with chronology.
The Escape Artist (TV)
– Better than average BBC fare, and Tennant is fantastic. The plot is inadequately constructed and the resolution and conclusion feel unsatisfying. Why does the BBC repeatedly fail where American networks don’t?
Boardwalk Empire S04 (TV)
– Whilst maintaining a standard well above average, this series is the first to really drop the ball. The key storylines are dull comparative to previous seasons and the most compelling and intriguing characters are all overlooked: Arnold Rothstein, Al Capone, Meyer Lansky, even Eli. It’s as if the writers tried to tackle too many storylines and only succeeded in finishing one or two – the boring ones. Hopefully S05 will pick up the pace.
Hannibal (2013) (TV)
– I really tried to like this. Mads Mikkelsen is a terrific actor, but this show is just agonisingly bad. The script is weak at best, shoddy at worst. All of the actors are coasting. Gillian Anderson hasn’t played a different role since… ever, and every episode seems to be an attempt to shock. The colour grades and sfx are stylised to distraction whilst the plot itself fails to flesh out any kind of compelling, plausible thrills or drama, and is consequentially surprisingly boring. The fact that practically everything Will says suggests that Hannibal is the killer, and everything Hannibal says has a murderous subtext, leaves you wondering how an entire team of “FBI behavioural experts and profilers” can be so unfathomably oblivious . This is like starting Dexter in season five; bad and poised to plummet further.
Elementary S02 (TV)
– more or less as titled. Highly entertaining for the most part but too often formulaic and reliant on the usual procedural pseudo-science of cable TV. Johnny Lee Miller is a gem though, wonderfully eccentric.
The State Within (TV)
– After a slow start, this conspiracy thriller soon picks up pace and fires on all cyclinders, keeping you utterly gripped. Brilliant BBC Drama.
The Book of Daniel (TV)
– Another promising series cut off before it had time to fully flourish. Hugely enjoyable, warm, light hearted and often laugh out loud funny.
– An original sci fi, amusingly scripted and directed with warm characters. A little too procedural for my tastes, but definitely a good watch.
Dexter (TV) (Series 7)
– Insipid, interminable. The worst season by a substantial margin, saying something given that the show has been plummeting in quality since season four, a great pity after such an excellent and promising opening back in season one.
Top of the Lake
(TV) – Despite the hype, even with top (if not novel) performances, this falls short of an entertaining series. Mildly curious at best, mind numblingly boring at worst, the acting and cinematography cannot save a fundamentally uninteresting drama.
(TV) – Another excellent role from Peter Mullan. Implausible and inadequate in comparison to US equivalents, but nonetheless better than average British viewing with an original premise at its core.
Arrested Development S04 (TV)
– an ambitious return to the classic TV comedy sees plenty more laughs and ludicrous story arcs. Perhaps not on a par with the first three seasons but definitely a must watch all the same.
The Returned S01 (TV)
– original premise (albeit based on the 2004 film with the same name), mystery and intrigue keep you hooked even when the script and acting fall apart. Fingers crossed the writers know where they’re going with it. It has some dangerous similarities with Lost.
– excellent whodunit in the style of The Killing with phenomenal performances all round. The conclusion is faintly predictable a few episodes too soon and one or two strands are left unresolved, but all things considered, this is a well above average mystery drama that comes highly recommended.
Boardwalk Empire S03 (TV)
– superb. Perhaps the best season yet. A few stray story lines, but what an unforgettable climax.
– Slow burning, but top quality television. Performances all around are outstanding, right down to the minor roles.
The Hour (TV)
– British television of a rarely excellent calibre. No Shadow Line, but nonetheless an intelligent and well conceived spy drama.
Californication season 5 (TV)
– enjoyable as always. Sex and comedy pretty much sums it up.
Case Histories (TV)
– fairly bland but great performances, especially from Jason Isaacs
The Shadow Line (TV)
– remarkable for British TV. Episode two features one of the best chase sequences I’ve ever seen.
Inside Men (TV)
– Stylish and compelling, but it reaches a shamefully unsatisfying conclusion.
– one of the worst shows I’ve bothered to watch to it’s end. Learn from my mistake.
The Bridge (TV)
– compelling and enjoyable but reaches a frustrating resolution.
– Poignant and beautifully witty. A reminder that there is much more to Gervais than the press credits him with.