Reach Out And Touch Faith: An American Gods Season 1 review.

Developed by: Brian Fuller & Michael Green.

Starring: Ricky Whittle, Emily Browning, Ian McShane, Crispin Glover, Bruce Langley, Gillian Anderson, Pablo Schreiber, Yetide Badaki.

Plot: Repentant convict Shadow Moon has been released from prison to find his wife dead and his prospects on the outside world severely limited, that is until he happens upon the enigmatic Mr Wednesday who offers Shadow employment. Soon Shadow is thrust into an America where gods old & new engage in a conflict for supremacy.

I haven’t read American Gods, there, I’ve said it and as a consequence went into the first Season of the Brian Fuller led American Gods TV show pretty much blind. I knew some things, that is was written by the incomparable talent that is Neil Gaiman, that it told a story of gods living amongst men in modern America and that I was immediately enticed by this prospect along with the sterling word of mouth from friends of mine that were fans of the book and had already seen the show, they weren’t exaggerating. 

Weaving an intricately mapped story of conflict between old & new gods in contemporary America, American Gods is a concept tailor made for a structured TV serialisation. Take one look at the thick tome it is adapted from and you’ll see there was no other way to go in respect to format without dropping facets of the story and risking narrative cohesion. People I know who have read the book have corroborated that American Gods is a story so richly and intricately woven that to weed away the story to suit a framework that didn’t fit it would have been a huge disservice, so to see it get the full Brian Fuller backed TV treatment is a move that long term fans and like me, the erstwhile newcomer with no prior knowledge, will certainly appreciate. American Gods is certainly a show that respects its audiences intelligence, it doesn’t pander to them or dumb down its source material to make it more palatable. Neil Gaiman is a verbose writer of great imagination & intellect which reflects in his work, the brilliant Neverwhere was a book that placed an entire world beneath the streets of London, fully realised and full of complex characters and narrative, American Gods even more so from what I am reliably told and it certainly translated that way in the TV show. 

In American Gods the audience has to do a lot of the groundwork to get the truest sense of what’s gong on in the narrative of the show, who the old gods are and what the new gods represent. The new gods I feel are slightly less ambiguous, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why the goddess Media only appears as in the guise of icons of stage & screen, that Mr World is an allegory for globalisation or why Technical Boy resides in a matrix-like cyberworld, locking down the old gods however certainly requires a bit more knowledge on the viewers part. I had heard the name Mad Sweeney before, I knew that Bilquis was the Queen Of Sheba and I think most people will have cottoned on as to who Mr Wednesday actually is before the reveal, a modicum of prior knowledge of certain folklores and mythologies will help you pick out a few but certainly not all of them but if you can, have a cream bun and a gold star on me.

American Gods is yet another show with an incredibly strong ensemble cast. People this side of the pond may recognise Ricky Whittle who plays Shadow Moon from godawful UK soap opera Hollyoaks, he certainly has traded up here delivering a strong and likeable lead performance despite the characters many flaws, the same can be said of Emily Browning as his wife Laura, a sympathetic portrayal of a depressed and alienated spouse and later dead pan delivery of an increasingly absurd and amusing situation after her resurrection. Ian McShane brings his usual magnetic charm and acerbic delivery to the role of Mr Wednesday and some fun support from his fellow gods, Pablo Schreiber seemingly having a ball as Mad Sweeney, Gillian Anderson playing dress up and giving a scarily good Bowie impression as Media and the gloriously oddball Crispin Glover chews the scenery with gusto as Mr World.

American Gods is high on my list of must see TV shows this year. It was original, captivating, funny, unabashedly provocative, not afraid to take creative gambits such as an animated introduction in one episode and a luscious episode long period backstory in another. It doesn’t pander to it viewers and relies on them joining the dots so to speak but is in all a massively addictive watch. With just 8 episodes in this first season it’s highly likely you will binge watch once you start it and with the knowledge that Season 2 has just been greenlit, you’ll be chomping at the bit for more.

American Gods Season 1 is currently available to stream via Amazon.

(Don’t) Look Away!: A Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events Season 1 review.

Developed by: Barry Sonnenfeld.

Starring: Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Warburton, Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, K. Todd Freeman, Presley Smith, Joan Cusack, Alfre Woodard, Catherine O’Hara, Rhys Darby, Will Arnet, Cobie Smulders.

Plot: The Baudelaire children, Violet, Klaus & Sunny are orphaned and left open to the machinations of their relative, Count Olaf, a terrible actor with an eye on their family fortune. The Baudelaire’s seek to unravel the mystery surrounding what happened to their parents and the secret organisation they were involved with.

Mention Daniel Handler and people will most likely shrug, mention his more commonly known moniker of Lemony Snicket and people will recognise the name for differing reasons. From the series of macabre children’s novels from the late 90’s but most likely from the 2004 Jim Carrey film of the same name which covered the events of the first 3 novels of the 13 novel series. The Netflix Lemony Snicket series intends to bring all the novels to our TV screens and season 1 gets things off to a very strong start. The stories contained in the Lemony Snicket novels certainly benefit from the format of an 8 part episodic season, this first season containing the narrative of the first 4 novels, rather than the strictures of a near 2 hour film trying to cram in as much of that narrative as it can. The stories are allowed to have more context, greater emphasis is allowed to be applied to sub-plots and a much greater degree of character development is allowed to evolve over the course of a season run. Production values on this series are high, the show is gorgeous to look it, nailing the aesthetic of Snickets world, a slightly off kilter Gothic ambience hangs over the proceedings in a world with an ambiguous location & place in time.

The casting for the show is expansive and pretty much spot on. As much as I loved Jim Carrey’s portrayal of Count Olaf, Neil Patrick Harris over the course of this first season makes the character his own, it isn’t him trying to do his best Jim Carrey impression, Harris’s Olaf is much more subdued and nuanced than Carrey’s comparatively one note mugging and is a move that pays off big for the Broadway stalwart, a side he also gets to show off in his performance of the shows brilliantly infectious theme tune. The actors playing the Baudelaire orphans are great, there is no cliched, irritating child acting here, Malina Weissman & Louis Hynes are excellent choices as Violet & Klaus respectively and carry their roles with a deft touch that defys their youth. There is also a scene stealing turn from the impossibility cute Presley Smith as Sunny who never fails to raise a smile when onscreen and is voiced by voice artist extraordinaire Tara Strong, adding the prerequisite coo’s & gurgles. The role of Lemony Snicket is embodied by the ever brilliant Patrick Warburton who’s deadpan delivery of the author is a constant joy to behold as the series goes on, who’d think an in depth explanation of the definitions of literally & figuratively could be so entertaining? The show also boasts a ridiculously varied and talented support cast. Deep breath, Joan Cusack, Alfre Woodard, Will Arnet, Cobie Smulders, Don Johnson, Rhys Darby even Catherine O’Hara who starred in the film makes a return appearance, all giving note perfect performances in their episodes.

Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events is a joy from start to finish, a darkly comic, richly and impeccably delivered take on its source material giving the Daniel Handler stories wonderfully realised life. There have been 2 more seasons of this show commissioned by Netflix to cover the remaining 9 stories in the series and if they are anything like what has been accomplished in season 1, we are in for a real macabre treat in the years to come.

Season 1 of Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events is currently available to view on Netflix.

Winter Is Here: My thoughts on the first episode of Game Of Thrones Season 7.

*ATTENTION* This is a post regarding the events of the first episode of the seventh season of Game Of Thrones and as such will contain plot points. You have been warned.

It’s been a long wait but it’s finally here, Game Of Thrones Season 7 has begun and I thought I’d take some time to give my feelings on the episode and also where I think that this season will take us, but first a recap may be needed. At the end of Season 6 we had Jon Snow defeat Ramsey Bolton at The Battle Of The Bastards and become King In The North, Cersei in one fell swoop taking out The High Sparrow, faith militant, prominent members of the Tyrell family and demolishes the Sept by igniting Wildfire caches beneath it resulting in King Tommen’s suicide and her assent as Queen and most importantly, Daenerys makes her move to cross the narrow sea with her army and heads for Westeros. With The Nights King and the army of the dead marching for The Wall also, this upcoming Season is going to be nerve shredding.

So, the first episode of the new season is as to be expected, setting all the pieces into motion on their respective courses. In a fist pumping pre-credits sequence we see Arya finally getting revenge against the Frey’s by masquerading as the deceased Walder Fray at a banquet and poisoning every male in the room with a toast in a class moment of ruthless vengeance for the murder of her mother & brother at the red wedding. This act sets Arya in motion toward the capital and Cersei, briefly stopping to dine and converse with Lannister soldiers in a frankly throwaway scene featuring a cringing guest appearance by serial ear botherer Ed Sheeran, one can only hope this doesn’t herald a move toward acting because it is excruciatingly forced viewing with very little purpose. 

In the North we see King Jon holding court and pardoning the Karstarks & Umbers for their role in their betrayal of House Stark by fighting for the Boltons during the battle of the bastards, needing as many hands to fight knowing what is approaching from the North of the wall. There is some butting of heads with Sansa over this decision, Jon angry with Sansa for essentially undermining him in front of his people, possibly heralding more tension between the two siblings in the future also but with Sansa also rightly pointing out a summons from the Queen asking Jon to Kings Landing to bend the knee, an instruction that ignored would almost certainly Illicit even greater animosity between the two houses. It’s all about to kick off!

Meanwhile in Kings Landing, Cersei & Jamie discuss the very real predicament of being quite literally surrounded by enemies with a distinct lack of allies. Cue the arrival of Euron Greyjoy and his armada offering his support in exchange for marrying Cersei. She may be desperate for support but doesn’t trust him so he vows to win that trust with “a gift”, a remark that feel unsettlingly portentous considering his previous form. Quite what Euron has in mind remains to be seen but it certainly doesn’t bode well and quite how well his armada will stand up against Daenerys’s dragons remains to be seen.

Sam Tarly is now set up in Oldtown at the citadel basically operating as a lackey, cleaning bedpans, serving food, being a general dogsbody all the while keeping his eye on a locked restricted section of the citadels library like a rotund Harry Potter, an area he is forbidden to enter by the archmaester who believes Sam’s warnings of the White Walkers but feels the Wall is more than enough protection from the onslaught. After stealing his way into the restricted section and a selection of its wears, he discovers that Dragonstone, the Targaryen ancestral seat is home to a stockpile of dragonglass, a priceless commodity in the fight against the Night King due to its lethality to White Walkers. Factor in a surprise appearance by a decidedly scaly Jorah Mormont and our visit with Sam has been a pretty damn important and interesting jaunt.

In the Riverlands, The Brotherhood Without Banners and Sandor Clegane hold up in the home of a farmer The Hound had robbed in a previous season, the bodies of him and his daughter still present adding to Clegane’s growing conscience of his past wrongdoings so much so that he burst the bodies, not an act The Hound of a few short seasons ago would have carried out. With the guidance of Thoros Of Myr, Clegane also witnesses a vision in the flames of the fireplace of the advancing White Walker army marching on the Wall. It looks as though The Hounds story arch this season is going to be a very interesting one, a more human side to the character is emerging and the fact he is experiencing visions makes for a fascinating turn of events.

Finally we stop by Dragonstone and the arrival of Daenerys and her army, arriving back on Westeros soil and at her ancestral seat no less. It’s not a particularly long scene but a portentous weight hangs over it. The castle is deserted and has remained so since Stanis Baratheon made his ill fated journey north. Daenerys connection to the place doesn’t feel sentimental though, rather than sit in the throne of her castle she makes her way to the war room instead to get down to business, kingdoms don’t reclaim themselves you know?

Ones to watch this season? Sansa is acting very cagey in my option, I feel a betrayal coming on. Arya is ticking more names off her list and heading to Kings Landing for a biggie in Cersei who is in quite the predicament of desperately needing support and having to trust a decidedly untrustworthy Euron Greyjoy albeit with a proving of that trust to be delivered on his part firstly, don’t think his armada is going to stand up to three angry dragons though. The Hound is undergoing a dark night of the soul, almost showing signs of a conscience, it’s going to be a really interesting season for him I think. With the knowledge of Daenerys essentially sitting on a giant stockpile of dragonglass, it won’t be long before she crosses paths with her relative Jon Snow. A lot occurs in this first episode, some blood is spilt, some interesting information comes to light, some even greater questions are left unanswered, tentative alliances are being made and relationships called into question. Basically, Game Of Throne is back baby!  

His Last Stand? :My thoughts on the series finale of Doctor Who.

*ATTENTION* If you have not seen the series finale of Doctor Who it is advised you don’t read on as there will be plot spoilers, you have been warned.

After 4 years we are reaching the end of Peter Capaldi’s tenure as The Doctor and he was fantastic, he brought an old school feel to the character that has not been present for any incarnation of The Doctor since the series returned in 2005. He has been up there as my favourite Doctor bar Matt Smith since the shows resurrection, or should that be regeneration? This past Saturday night saw the final episode of the current series, teasingly titled The Doctor Falls, so did it really mark the departure of Mr Capaldi?

Unsurprisingly no, of course it didn’t, there is still a Christmas special to go this year and no official announcement of Peter’s replacement has been made as in previous years so it was always a safe bet that this wasn’t going to be the last we’d see of this incarnation of The Doctor. That’s not to say that The Doctor Fall’s didn’t yield some unexpected surprises for us to savour until our Yuletide farewell.

Firstly, there was no easy reset of Bill’s predicament from the prior episode, she remains a converted Cyberman and in a way, Im glad. Too many times the show has copped out on cliffhangers in prior episodes making everything ok again within minute of the next episode starting, not this time. The use of Bill still perceiving herself as human was a nice touch to still give the excellent Pearl Mackie some screen-time. The door has been left open thankfully by Steven Moffat for a possible return for Bill if new showrunner Chris Chibnal would like to utilise her which was a classy move of respect for a character the audience have grown to love over the course of this season.

John Simm’s return as The Master was excellent also, as machiavellian and literally moustache twitching as i could have hoped him to have been. The show has also found a way to keep this story arch for the character interesting in that he is ultimately dispatched by……himself, or should that be herself in the guise of Michelle Gomez’s Missy, his future self, changed and burdened it seems finally with a conscience to stand with The Doctor and face certain death, literally stabbing herself in the back to achieve this. It is then that the truly great decision to have Simm’s Master kill Missy and indeed by extension himself rather than allowing himself in the indignity of helping his nemesis, it was the most Master-like action to be carried out by any incarnation of the character since his return in Series 3 and was a perfect way to write out both Simm & Gomez even though I doubt very much that this is the last we’ll see of the character.

Finally the handling of Capaldi’s impending regeneration, the beginning of the process is teased early in the episode and carried along for its duration right up to the final minutes where the Doctor stubbornly refuses to allow himself to regenerate alone on the surface of Mondas, no crying, no whimpering like Tennant’s Doctor, he is willing himself to hold on to this life for a little longer, brief moments of delirium in the Tardis with The Doctor quoting past last words was a beautifully inspired touch before his encounter with a familiar face on the planets surface, it certainly promises an exciting prospect for Peter’s last story proper this Christmas.

Pinfall: A GLOW Season 1 review.

I was completely unaware of the existence of GLOW up until a trailer for the series appeared whilst I was finishing up the latest season of Orange Is The New Black. GLOW is a fictional comedy/drama based on the real life women’s wrestling promotion that rose to prominence in the early 80’s. A failed b-movie director is called in to man the production of an all women’s wrestling promotion by a wealthy investor, he holds a casting call for local actresses who don’t quite know what they are letting themselves in for.

GLOW, like the aforementioned Orange Is The New Black perfectly marries comedy & drama with an exceptional ensemble cast and also some recognisable faces from the world of professional wrestling for the eagle-eyed fan. Alison Brie of Community fame & Betty Gilpin make for strong leads, likeable but flawed, funny but not irritating, fans of mid-00’s British indie pop may recognise Kate Nash offering a strong support turn and the excellent stand-up comedian Marc Maron is consistently a high point of the whole season as the ladies embittered, sardonic ‘director’. GLOW will no doubt attract fans of professional wrestling and they will be well catered for with industry in-jokes, guest appearances from the likes of John Morrison, Brodus Clay, Joey Ryan and Alex Riley to lend some credible realism to proceedings. The cast perform really well in ring to be fair, they aren’t WWE standard performers but they carry themselves well in the ring and add some much appreciated authenticity.

With a lot to prove in its inaugural season, GLOW hits the ground running and powerbombs its way in to your heart. It is funny, surprisingly affecting at times and wonderfully written and performed to be appealing to both wrestling fans and to fans of deftly delivered dramatic comedy. Check it out, you won’t be disappointed.

GLOW can currently be streamed on Netflix.

The Animals: An Orange Is The New Black Season 5 review.

*ATTENTION* this is a review of season 5 of OITNB and will contain plot spoilers from previous seasons as well as season 5, please read on if you are up to date or don’t mind plot points being revealed.

Orange Is The New Black is a show that has gone from strength to strength since its inception in 2013, spearheading the phenomenon of on demand streaming through its parent service Netflix and been the very definition of a show one binge watches to completion within days, I can safely say that OITNB season 5 is no different, it may not be the shows strongest season but it is certainly it’s most ambitious.

It’s all change at Litchfield penitentiary in the aftermath of Season 4’s finale which saw the inmates retaliate against the death of fellow inmate Poussey Washington at the hands of an over zealous and undertrained guard resulting in an all out riot and the inmates taking control of the prison, taking guards hostage and making demands for change at Litchfield. The change of direction with the inmates in control is a refreshing, the principal characters now in the seat of power effectively running the prison, now almost broken into little fiefdoms with the Spanish prisoners invoking a Spanish Harlem in the bunk room with the guards held captive in ‘the bubble’, Leanne & Angie embark on a pantsing odyssey, Vause & Chapman staying clear with a bunch of other prisoners in the yard whilst Taystee, Black Cindy & Janae lead the pursuit of justice by trying to open dialogue with the outside. It is an interesting and compelling dynamic to have all these disparate groups embarking on their own quests for personal freedom. 

The performances from the cast are as strong as ever, particular praise is owed to Danielle Brooks who’s role as Taystee takes more of a front seat this season, deservedly as she has increasingly become the heart and moral compass of the show. The phenomenal Uzo Aduba is as strong as ever with her massively sympathetic, humorous and heart-rending performance as Suzanne and the likes of Taylor Schilling, Laura Prepon and Kate Mulgrew all lend excellent support as in prior seasons.

It’s not all positives for this season, the usually constructive flashbacks feel throwaway and needless this season offering no real insight to those they are about with the possible exception of Piscatella’s flashback, the episodes of prior seasons focused on characters each episode using the flashbacks to place context on their actions & motives, this season suffers I feel from a lack of focus in this department. There are a few instances also this season where the usually spot on juxtaposition of humour & drama don’t quite work as well as in prior seasons, the humour feels a little more forced on occasion and at times doesn’t sit as well next to the more serious moments. 

It was a brave move and I believe the right move to try and play with the formula this season, some of it worked, some of it didn’t. Too many shows in a similar position as OITNB coast by doing the same thing each season without taking risks and with OITNB doing this at the height of its popularity, it should be applauded for its guts. Where the show goes from here after its Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid-esque cliffhanger is anyone’s guess, things have changed and it’s pretty hard to see how they can ever go back to how they were with any kind of believability. I can only hope the showrunners have a long game planned because going forward we are going to be treading in uncharted climes.

All seasons of Orange Is The New Black are currently available to stream via Netflix.

They’ve Gone On Holiday By Mistake: A Camping review.

Written & Directed by: Julia Davis.

Plot: A group of middle aged friends reconvene for a camping trip to celebrate one of the groups birthday. Pretty soon however, cracks in their friendship start to form.

Starring: Julia Davis, Steve Pemberton, Vicki Pepperdine, David Bamber, Elizabeth Berrington, Johnathon Cake

Julia Davis has been responsible for some of the darkest and fitfully funny TV comedies of the 21st century. From her acting work with Chris Morris on Brass Eye & Jam to her writing of the excellent Nighty, Night and the more recent and equally great period piece Hunderby. Davis’s clever pitch black humour and deadpan delivery have become calling cards of comedic excellence, Camping is no different.

Camping has a great script but is nothing without the tremendous assembled cast who, as in a lot of Davis’s work, all pitch in and are freely welcome to ad-lib. Steve Pemberton gives a reliably solid performance as the Birthday boy Robin and downtrodden husband of Vicki Pepperdine’s unpleasant control-freak wife Fiona who’s constant henpecking and worry for her son’s possibilty of contracting airborne homosexuality and his “elongated anus” are equally excruciating and hilarious. There is also a note perfect turn by Rufus Jones as Tom, a man going through what can only be described as the 21st century equivalent of a mid-life crisis. From his carrot-cut Top Shop jeans to his conspicuous hair transplant and his ridiculous, wretch-inducing fawning of his new vacuous, nymphomaniac girlfriend played to irritating perfection by Davis. Davis has an unnerving talent for creating weird, slightly sinister, socially inept grotesques and in Camping she created a doozy. David Bamber’s nervy campsite owner Noel who constantly skirts the line of being sympathetic and thoroughly creepy in his sheltered existence looking after his unseen invalid mother before tipping over the scales into full blown scary for the series deliciously WTF denouement.

Davis has made a career as a writer & performer of considerable talent and with Camping she has excelled herself once again. It is a perfectly characterised, gloriously dark and hugely funny series that I would highly advise you track down.

Camping is currently available on Sky Atlantic on demand.