Tag Archives: BBC

5 reasons to watch ‘Stranger Things’

5) The boys. Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky and Mike … er, sorry, that’s Mike, Dustin, Lucas and Will take us 80s children back to Goonies or Stand By Me, in that they have the dumb, goofy kid way of relating to each other. It doesn’t seem scripted or forced, just your average four junior high kids who don’t quite get girls yet and are far more interested in the next weekend’s D&D campaign than the school dance. The teen boys and twin love interests of Mike’s sister Nancy – played by Charlie Heeton and Joe Keery – also each bring something interesting to the proceedings after coming off as the stereotypical outsider and jealous boyfriend in the early going. Terrific casting.

4) The girls. Millie Bobby Brown plays a weird, creepy girl who is more than she appears. She’s had practice: She was also a weird, creepy girl who was more than she appeared in the BBC science fiction drama Intruders from 2014. However, this is a different kind of creepy. Her Stranger Things character, Eleven or “Elle” as the boys take to calling her, is a lost puppy with great powers who doesn’t quite understand how she fits into the world, whereas her Intruders character, Madison, was far more menacing and violent. Either way, Brown kicks ass. Natalia Dyer brings some depth to Mike’s teen sister Nancy, and really brings it when the shit hits the fan. And I’m tossing Winona Ryder in here, too, although calling her a “girl” might seem a little demeaning for someone who is a year older than I am. I don’t think I’d seen Ryder in anything since Black Swan, and she still has an amazing screen presence. Her role as the mom of a lost child could have easily succumbed to silly melodrama in some over-the-top manner by a lesser actress, but Ryder keeps it grounded in a situation where that’s not as easy as it sounds. Hope to see her hauling in a best supporting actress Emmy next year.

3) The music. The soundtrack is great, full of 1980s hits and re-workings – such as a Peter Gabriel’s cover of David Bowie’s Heroes – that really help set the scene. You’ll never listen to The Clash’s Should I Stay or Should I Go? the same way again. The score by Survive is another thing entirely, frequently reminding me of classic horror of the era, particularly – but not limited to – Halloween. The story and the acting are both great, but the music is like sweet, creamy icing on top of the best cake you’ve ever eaten.

2) The 1980s. No cell phones, no Twitter, no Facebook, no online gaming. It helps build the tension when you can’t reach out to everyone all at once. The over-sized walkie talkies were a great choice, both for believability and the visual, showing just how far tech has come in 30 or so years. The hair and the fashion, as well as the design of the automobiles … it’s like watching news footage from some suburban documentary in 1983 or something. It’s akin to what’s done on FX’s The Americans, the level of detail used to properly set the scene.

1) The end. As we were watching the show come to a close, my daughter asked, “Is this going to be the only season?” I mused that maybe it was going to be more of a single-season anthology show, like American Horror Story. But then two things happen, and suddenly there’s potential for so much more ahead with the same gang from Hawkins, Indiana, that we’re now so invested in. Well played.

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‘Intruders’ example of how good sci-fi is done

This creepy little girl is being partially inhabited by an immortal serial killer.

This creepy little girl is being partially inhabited by an immortal serial killer. Welcome to “Intruders.”

Last fall, I complained about Fox’s Sleepy Hollow. My main issue was how much information the minds behind the show gave the viewers in the pilot, information that could have been subtly teased and slowly leaked out as the season went along. Instead, it was all vomited into the first episode with all the delicacy of hitting a watermelon with a sledgehammer.

This is why I am such a fan of the new BBC series Intruders right now. It’s five episodes into its first season, and only now are we starting to get a clear picture of what is happening with the secret society of immortals that appears to be manipulating events. Heck, only now are we getting a clear picture that there is a secret society of immortals. The soul transferring ceremony … mechanism … whatever, we have zero idea how that works. What makes the immortals special? Who knows? Why was Marcus (played to the dirty scumbag hilt by grade-schooler Millie Brown, pictured above) to have his immortal status revoked? Not a clue.

Being in the dark is no fun if there’s no point. Just ask all those pissed off people who watched Lost from start to finish. Fortunately, that doesn’t appear to be the case here. Producer/creator Glen Morgan has done an amazing job of crafting episodes that are interesting without spilling too many beans, leading viewers to each insight slowly and with a build-up. The direction is moody and sparse, allowing the actors and the story to be front and center. Stars Brown, Mira Sorvino and James Frain take advantage of this approach, owning each scene and revealing layers to their characters that are peeled away at key moments.

It’s worth the ride if this is your type of thing. If not, I’m sure Sleepy Hollow will continue to blast cannonballs of plot and exposition in your face on a weekly basis.

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Maslany’s performances drive ‘Orphan Black’

Rachel, Alison, Sara, Casima and Helena, some of the clones of Orphan Black.

Rachel, Alison, Sara, Casima and Helena, some of the clones of Orphan Black.

At first, I wasn’t sure I liked Orphan Black.

It was a compelling enough idea, an orphan runs into a woman who looks exactly like her. Said woman jumps in front of a train, and the orphan takes over her life, thrusting herself into the midst of a conspiracy to monitor and study what may be an endless number of clones, just like her.

My problem was … I’m still not sure. It just wasn’t doing it for me.

But the clones kept coming. And everything changed.

We’ve all seen the double thing in TV and movies. And there’s always that moment where it becomes obvious – a technological glitch, the actor isn’t quite looking in the right spot, etc. – and you’re taken out of the story.

Orphan Black is the exception to the rule. Kudos to the technical team behind the scenes, for making it seemless. But it’s really Tatiana Maslany who makes it happen. She so deeply inhabits each character that you never question that each clone is a different person. Alison is the Type A soccer mom with homicidal tendencies. Rachel is the ruthless corporate chief willing to push any button to further her agenda. Casima is the sweet, soft-hearted scientist who jumps into an iffy relationship eyes wide open. Helena is balls-out nuts, a feral animal caged by a religious zealot for years.

And then there’s our heroine, Sara. She’s a product of a foster family that includes the shady Mrs. S and joyously gay “brother” Felix. She can barely take care of herself, let alone her child, the intuitive Kira. Her violent ex is a constant menace, her doppelgänger’s ex is a constant menace, and everybody with an examination table and a scalpel wants a closer look at her lady parts, because she has done the one thing no other clone has managed to pull off: Procreate.

Beyond Maslany’s brilliant acting performances, creators John Fawcett and Graeme Manson deserve a ton of credit. The first season is mostly Sara not trying to be her own worst enemy, both while re-connecting with her daughter and while trying to make sense of the madness she’s dived head-first into. The second season the conspiracy expands, as do the originally simplistic roles of secondary characters such Alison’s cuckholded husband Donnie, Sara’s dimwitted and violent ex Vic and Detective Bell. The story never falters, and where many sci-fi TV offerings lost their way in their second season – Lost, Heroes, Revolution, etc. – Fawcett and Manson carefully guide their fragile craft past dire straits.

But nothing on Orphan Black works if Maslany sucks. And she most definitely doesn’t.

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The best show you’re not watching

Stringer Bell turns cop? Yup, it's about as awesome as you'd expect.

Stringer Bell turns cop? Yup, it’s about as awesome as you’d expect.

The third – and likely final – season of the BBC’s cop drama, Luther, is now wrapped up. If you haven’t seen Luther, here’s five reasons why you should check it out.

1. IDRIS ELBA. Idris Elba hit mainstream consciousness with his turn as Stringer Bell in the amazing American series The Wire, since popping up in films such as Thor, Pacific Rim and Prometheus. Elba’s Bell was a smooth-talking business student intent on helping his drug dealing partner Avon Barksdale go legit. Stringer is self-assured, intelligent, calculating, even-tempered. Elba’s Luther, the title character, is none of that. His life is a wreck professionally and privately. His passion and temper have driven away his wife and alienated most who would or could call him friend. His brilliance as an investigator is never denied, but he is a nightmare politically and tends to work in the gray areas on the fringe, a positioning that makes him a target of those who live and work strictly by the book.

What strikes me every time I watch Elba is how he physically inhabits John Luther. Luther wears his emotions in his gait, in his face. When the trail is hot and the evidence is fresh, Luther stalks the bad guy, a muscular predator tensed, ready to pounce. When he fails, when someone dies and he could have prevented it, the life is sucked from him, his trademark 3/4-length jacket just a husk on a desiccated, lifeless, drained soul. Luther’s body language and facial expressions are so honest, so of the moment, that when Luther occasionally does resort to some sort of subterfuge, it’s shocking.

What most saddens me about the end of Luther is that I won’t get to see Elba continue to evolve and own this role. Sad.

2. THE CRIMES. I won’t ruin any of the crimes Luther investigates, because it’s part of the fun seeing the investigations unfold. That said, they’re a step-up from the pedestrian plots of shows like CSI and Law & Order.

3. THE STORY. The crimes are just a front, though. What Luther is really about is how John Luther’s handling of said crimes affects him and those who work with him, care about him. Luther’s ruthless dedication professionally matches the passion of his friendships and romantic interests. And while that makes him interesting, that passion is ultimately his failing. It blinds him, it drives him relentlessly and destroys many of those around him. It paints a target on him, both for those who would see him fail and for those whom he encounters in his work.

4. JUSTIN. Played earnestly by Warren Brown, Justin is hard to pin down. Often, he seems the loyal and more even-tempered counterpart of Luther. But at times, his loyalty is to be questioned. Justin is the young cop trying to find his way, a little naive, but smart enough to understand that following Luther blindly could be the end of him. Is Justin with Luther or against him? Only time will tell.

5. THE AWESOMENESS THAT IS RUTH WILSON. British actress Ruth Wilson plays sociopath Alice Morgan, the one criminal who evades Luther’s investigative prowess. In the process, Alice gains a an appreciation for Luther. Alice has no morals, but she is fascinated by Luther’s strong moral dedication. She admires him for it. And in that, an unlikely bond is formed between lawman and lawbreaker. It’s a relationship that hangs over the show, even when Alice is nowhere to be seen.

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Smells like teen spirit

The angelic Paul (center) and his pals fight to keep dead people dead, making it much less crowded for the living

Taking small moments and getting a lot out of them, that’s what the good writers do. For this reason, I enjoyed a recent episode of the BBC sci-fi gem, The Fades.

SPOILER ALERT. The show is about a British teen, Paul, who finds out he is an angelic. Angelics can see the dead who have not moved on, those who remain and watch over us. Now, some fades are becoming re-animated and eating humans to survive. The angelics are taking on the fades, hoping to prevent the fall of humanity.

Like Lost or Buffy the Vampire Slayer or any other number of well-done TV sci-fi, that may be what’s going on in The Fades, but that’s not really what it’s about. It’s about the relationships of the people involved in this battle, how their highs and lows are often very much like those of any people, but magnified by the intensity of the danger surrounding them.

Not only is Paul finding new super powers and coming to terms with what this will mean in the fight against the fades, he’s also a child of divorce, the ultra dorky twin brother of the coolest and cruelest girl in school, and totally, madly in love. Paul’s lucky enough that the love interest appears to be interested in him, too.

This brings me to the incidents that occur Episode 4. Paul and Jay are playing a game of strip Rock-Paper-Scissor. It turns out this is a masturbatory fantasy of Paul, who lets the game play out to its somewhat obvious climax. Then, as that climax occurs, he sprouts silver wings.

Later in the episode, the opportunity to get into a nuder state with Jay presents itself. Actually, Jay presents it. Calmly, with a smile on her face, knowing just how much this is messing with Paul, who stammers and meanders until finally realizing the opportunity is here, he better grab it. So he strips down and hops in bed with Jay. Sweetly and awkwardly, they make love for the first time.

So many of this situations are played for big laughs, heavy drama, some sort of moral angle. I applaud the minds behind The Fades for doing such a good job avoiding those pitfalls. Yes,the masturbation scene is bit silly. But it really goes to Paul’s lack of maturity and experience with girls, as well as showing just how little control Paul has over his powers. It also works to cement his affection for Jay because it comes off more naive than dirty. And the sex scene was handled so, so well. It wasn’t salacious, preachy or ridiculous. It was just as uncomfortable and warm and unsettling as it would be for those two characters in this situation. They use protection, they laugh nervously, they are excited quickly, they seem to want to speak but don’t know what to say. It was a very real moment, both for the characters and for the viewers. If the characters aren’t well written from the beginning, this doesn’t work. If the words coming out of the actors mouths feel hokey, you can’t make this moment real. It isn’t easy to pull off, but The Fades nailed it.

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