Monday, 19 June 2017

Walking Through Eternity: 1.2 The Daleks

Hello all,
Welcome to the second of my individual Doctor Who reviews! This time, the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan meet the Doctor's most dangerous foes, the Daleks, for the very first time! It's a really interesting and exciting story, really showing the series coming into it's own and I hope you like reading my thoughts on it!
   A small note about when these reviews will be going up: I have no set time frame for this project, mainly going by when I get a chance to watch and review the stories. However, for the foreseeable future, these reviews will come out on a Monday, so make sure to check then!

1.2 The Daleks

7 episodes. Broadcast 21st December 1963 - 1st February 1964. Written by Terry Nation. Directed by Christopher Barry and Richard Martin.

Synopsis: The Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan arrive in a strange, petrified forest. Venturing into a metal city, they discover a terrifying adversary, the Daleks. But what do these monsters want, and why do they speak of horribly mutated creatures?

Put simply, the metal pepper pots made Doctor Who famous.
There's a few things guaranteed to get on a Doctor Who fan's nerves. One is referring to the Doctor as Dr Who (yes, while he may have been credited as that for pretty much the entire classic series, it is not his name as no-one in the show calls him that), the other is that Daleks aren't scary because you can escape them by climbing up stairs. In the show's later years, when it went from a national pride to a laughing stock, this was the one joke that always came up. And it's nonsense. But in some ways, it makes sense, because with very few exceptions (the fourth Doctor's Genesis of the Daleks and Seven's Remembrance of the Daleks comes to mind), I don't think the Daleks are as scary as they are in their very first appearance.
   It's at the end of the effective first episode that sets up a number of mysteries and includes several memorable visuals, such as the petrified forest, the still-impressive model shot of the city, the strange metal surfaces. The characters find themselves separated and Barbara gets lost. Doors close behind her, and there's the sense that she's being closed in, trapped. And then she turns. What looks like a plunger lunges towards her. And she screams. It should be the silliest thing you've ever seen, but it's not. It's terrifying. It's a mix of Jacqueline Hill as Barbara's brilliant panic-stricken acting, the unique soundscape and the escalation of mystery that makes the scene work. It's perhaps the series' finest cliff hanger and is another example of the show at its most iconic in its early moments.
   In this story, the Daleks work perfectly. From their shouting rage communicating their absolute, as the Doctor puts, "dislike for the unlike", their inhuman, sleek design and their sheer monstrous, power, they are a true force to be reckoned with. While later stories will work towards expanding them (in numbers, types and back story), their natural mysteriousness paired with their pure hatred, make them a terrifying foe.
   Character wise, everyone in this story gets something to do. The Doctor creates chaos as he lies about the TARDIS having a broken fluid link because he wants to explore the city, but in doing so, puts them all at the mercy of the Daleks. At this stage of the series, the Doctor is as much of an antagonist as the Daleks, leaving Ian to be our action hero, which he does wonderfully. This is seen especially in the moment he confronts the Thals, the Daleks' opposite species. They're beautiful pacifists, which the TARDIS crew want to change. So, Ian makes one of the head Thals stand up to him by trying to kidnap one of the Thal women. It's an odd scene, one that is potentially a bit iffy depending on where you stand politically, but the story makes it work, arguing that pacifism can only stand so long before one has to make a stand.
   Susan helps the gang by recovering some radiation medicine from the TARDIS, running into the Thals and screaming a lot. Already her mysterious, alien nature from An Unearthly Child is gone and she's a screaming, panicky teenager. This will become more and more of a problem as her tenure on the TARDIS goes on. Not true for Barbara who gets to have a lovely little relationship with an attractive Thal and help to storm the Dalek city at the climax.
   While this is a wonderfully paced, exciting story, there are moments where it drags. Episode six feels like padding until the climax, while the Thals are just not very interesting, a problem that will continue whenever they turn up in later years. It makes you want a story that was just the TARDIS crew fighting the Daleks, but alas.
   However, what makes this serial work as well as it does, actually isn't the story at all, it's in the way it's made. It always looks polished and professional (even if you do have to look past the life-sized photos of Daleks in the background) and is gifted with one of the most memorable soundscapes of the series. The alien buzzing of the Dalek ship, the silence of the petrified forest, a whirlpool that seems to scream out in terror, it's a story meant to be heard as much as it is seen.
   Almost immediately after their first appearance, the Daleks were a hit, imitated in playgrounds all over Britain. Forever afterwards, the words Doctor Who and Dalek would be inextricably linked, the popularity of one tied to that of the other. We fans wouldn't have it any other way, especially when this entertaining, terrifying slice of science fiction exists with not a stairway in sight.
 
Grade: A-

Next time: The crew are trapped in the TARDIS and everyone goes a bit mad in one of the strangest Doctor Who stories ever!

Love and thanks,
David Gumball-Watson

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Walking Through Eternity: 1.1 An Unearthly Child

Hello all,
I know it's been a long time since posting, and I am hoping to write a post about what I've been up to shortly in the future, but in the meantime, I'd like to introduce a brand new series of posts for you all!
   As many people know, my favorite TV series of all time is the beloved, long-running science fiction series Doctor Who. Through over 50 years, it has been a wonderful slice of television joy and I count myself proudly as one of the people who has a wide knowledge of both the classic and the new series. Naturally, as we've been together for over three years now, I thought it time I introduce my partner, Finn, to the great joys of the series. But where to begin? With the new stuff? The fourth Doctor? The seventh Doctor? The Third? And then, I realised that the best place to start was at the very beginning! While I have done most of the stories, I have never done them in order, from the start. It was something I was saving for my bucket list, but why not knock it out now? So, for the foreseeable future, my partner and I will be slowly working through the great Doctor Who journey, while I post my thoughts on the stories up shortly after. I am also endeavoring to include some special coverage of some of the wide variety of Doctor Who spin-off media available, such as novels, comics and audio adventures. I look forward to seeing you on this journey, as I present the TARDIS key to you and invite you to take it!

1.1 An Unearthly Child

4 episodes. Broadcast 23rd November - 14th December 1963. Written by Anthony Coburn. Directed by Warris Hussein.

Synopsis: A pair of schoolteachers, Ian and Barbara, are fascinated by their student, Susan's, odd behaviour. Unable to explain why, other than pure curiosity, they decide to visit her home. But the address she provided is an old junkyard. How could this possibly be where she lives? And could it have something to do with that angry old man guarding that oddly alive police box? After the Doctor kidnaps them and transports the TARDIS to the days of cavemen, he, Ian, Barbara and Susan must make fire or face a brutal death.

Isn't it iconic?
It's hard to imagine what it would've been like sitting down to this series 54 years ago, especially not after all that has happened since. But let's paint a picture for a moment. First, some context. The day Doctor Who was first broadcast would live down in history. It was the day JFK was shot and killed. The world was suddenly a very different, scarier place. The news told the story, the world was in shock. And then, a mere half-an-hour later, the opening bars of the Doctor Who theme began. The scariest, most alien sound anyone had ever heard. The world was changing, the tune seemed to say, why not find some comfort in this strange, wonderful little show?
   To the viewers back in the 60s, this represented a new beginning, something vastly different than they'd ever seen before. Ironically, the feeling is much the same to a modern day viewer. This isn't the Doctor Who we know either. There is no fun, likable central character. The first Doctor, as played by William Hartnell, is irascible, frustrating and oh, so very, very alien. Some might go so far as to call him unlikable, but that's exactly the point. This is a man who kidnaps his granddaughter's school teachers because they stumble upon his weird bigger-on-the-inside spaceship. A man who smokes a pipe. A man who almost kills one of the cavemen with a rock. The first Doctor is both young and old, grumpy yet with a twinkle in his eye. What early Doctor Who presents, particularly in its first season, is the story of an alien traveller who, through contact with the kindness of humanity, learns to be a little less horrible. It's only at the conclusion of that character arc that we begin to see a Doctor we recognise, but it's only early days yet.
   What's even stranger than the Doctor's behavior is that he's actually not the protagonist of the series. That role is undertaken by Ian and Barbara, the aforementioned kidnapped schoolteachers. They are the protagonists of the series, through whose eyes and experiences allow us to see this strange new world. They keep the Doctor and the stories grounded, ensuring that their very human, relatable reactions ensure something scary is still enjoyable.
   The story's adventure with the cavemen is not as fondly recalled as it's iconic opening episode, but it's here that we get to see the series' great strengths and weaknesses. Weaknesses out of the way first; the cave politics are even more dull than they sound there, and the long scenes of the group just talking to one another are very odd. One could say that this is just a factor of the story not aging well, but as we shall see the rest of Doctor Who's first year doesn't really fall prey to this, so it must just be an odd writing choice. There are also moments when it looks a bit ridiculous, particularly when the TARDIS team run through a jungle that is clearly a back production with an extra waving some sticks in the actors' faces. That hasn't aged well.
   But the strengths! This is Doctor Who at its most nasty with a real sense of threat that being in such a dangerous situation provides for both the characters and the audience. It's seen in the constant mention of death or the prison cell where the gang is held up, filled with skulls and bones. This is an incredibly hostile, unpleasant environment. It's also a situation that plays up Ian and Barbara's kindness, allowing the Doctor to change as well. A key scene features the two stopping to help a man that had been chasing them, but who was wounded by a creature. The Doctor wants to leave the man, going so far as to grab a rock and almost drop it on the man's head, but Ian catches him, and scolds him. They have to help him, it's the right thing to do, the human thing. It's the beginning of change for the character, and it will happen a lot throughout this first year.
   Another key strength of this story is the dynamic between the characters. After only four episodes, we have a family established, with each character fulfilling a specific role. The Doctor, the alien presence who pushes the characters into unfriendly and unfamiliar circumstances; Ian, the action man and skeptic; Barbara (my dear beloved Barbara), the heart of the group, believing in the impossible; and Susan, the annoying, childlike audience stand-in.
   Ah, Susan. She's a character I really struggle with. In her first appearance, she's a mysterious, alien presence, very much the Doctor's granddaughter. When Barbara gives her a book on the French Revolution, she memorably flips through the pages, stating "that's not right!" It's such an unforgettably odd entrance, setting up great things for her character. But after such a mysterious entrance, she becomes the go-between for her grandfather and Ian and Barbara, settling disputes, but never actively being a very engaging character. It doesn't help that she has an annoying tendency to scream, cry and whine at the smallest things, but the big problem is she's just not very interesting. But that's a problem for another story.
   So, what to make of all this? I keep returning to that first ever episode and the way it's instantly iconic and atmospheric. A policeman walks through a junkyard, past an old police box. It buzzes, as if it's alive. But it couldn't possibly be. Could it? How wonderfully alien.
   Or later in the episode, when Ian and Barbara meet the Doctor in the junkyard, worried for Susan's wellbeing. They think he's trapped her in the box, so they push past him and open the doors into a massive, open, white space. Even when you know it's coming, as any person who watches this, even if they've never seen Doctor Who must, it's still awe-inspiring and unforgettable. As the ship departs and arrives on an alien planet, still in the form of a police box, one has to wonder did the creators of this little show know how iconic they were going to be? How this series would last for 54 years and is still going strong? How despite constant changes it still manages to be the same basic show? It seems impossible, but as anyone who loves Doctor Who knows, as soon as you hear those opening bars of the theme tune, you know that anything is possible.
"If you could touch the alien sand and hear the cries of strange birds and watch them wheel in another sky, would that satisfy you?"

— The First Doctor

Grade: B

Next up: The Doctor meets his most dastardly foes in The Daleks!

Regards,
David Gumball-Watson

Thursday, 12 January 2017

The NSV Awards 2016: Television

Hello all,
Yes, I'm a lazy person who hasn't done a blog post for ages, but it would be remiss of me to miss my awards, so regardless of their lateness, I hope you enjoy my TV awards for 2016!
   I don't think this ever seen as much TV in one year as I did in 2016. With 55 new series and 19 classic, it was a smorgasbord of seriously good television. However, 2016 was also the year I realised that my current model of doing television may not be the best way to do it. Currently, I do TV shows when they come to DVD and binge them, but increasingly in the age of Peak TV, some shows never come to DVD or when they do are far behind their US counterparts. It's a sizable issue in the industry, and especially for a weird TV obsessive like me who compiles year-end lists which would be more suited to 2015 than 2016. So, in 2017, I will be changing my mode of viewing to something more manageable. Hopefully, it works out. Maybe I'll have time for even more. Who knows.
  But enough about my life goals, what about this list? In 2016, TV became even more of an escape for me, and many of the shows on this list are representative of that goal. In the age of Trump and Pulse, dark, bleak TV is beginning to lose its appeal. It's like the problem House Of Cards is going to have in 2017. Why the hell would we watch Frank Underwood and his murderous schemes when the real-life alternative is significantly scarier? The most endearing shows on this list are those that may be bleak, but are also hopeful, or which are just pure fun. This is the year I gave into fun TV.
   Like the previous few years, I also completed a number of classic series (shows that are finished but which I'm finally getting around to watching), but I have decided to make them ineligible for my list. For the record, I completed three more seasons of The Simpsons (meaning I am sadly approaching the end of the so-called golden age) and started The Venture Bros., Soap, The Wonder Years, The Powerpuff Girls, Touched By An Angel, Monty Python's Flying Circus, Sealab 2021 and finished Seinfeld and The Legend Of Korra. Of those, The Simpsons was the most likely to make the main list, as it continued to be both a funny and penetrating insight into a world with lovable characters and iconic plots. In 2017, I am planning to catch up with Mad Men, The X-Files, The Twilight Zone, Batman: The Animated Series, The Fairly OddParents, The Avengers and Community.
   As 2016, was such an incredible year, I would like to nominate just a few series which I think were great, but just missed out being on this list, which you can check out after number 1. So, without further ado, I present my top TV shows of 2016!

HM. Stranger Things
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 1 (Season 1 viewed)
Despite being a slice of glorious 80s-esque entertainment, Stranger Things' first season never really seemed as great as the hype that surrounded it. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot to love here (the soundtrack, Winona Ryder's performance, some memorable imagery, Eleven), but I think the downsides really pulled me out of it. The decision to kill off the most relatable character left a bad taste in my mouth that was hard to shake and there was a lot of unanswered questions which on a first viewing feels like poor writing. However, there's no denying that this is entertaining, I just think it could've been so much more.

20. Class
Status: Ongoing (?)
No. Of Seasons: 1 (Season 1 viewed)
With minimal promotion (I initially missed the first two episodes simply because I didn't know it was going to be on) and a confusing target audience (it's a Doctor Who spin-off seemingly aimed at teenagers, but the gore and level of violence is shocking), Class seems destined to be forgotten. That's a real shame, because this might just be one of the most radical shows on television. Featuring a wonderfully diverse cast (including an adorable yet complicated gay couple) and brimming with brilliant ideas, it's both seriously entertaining and thought-provoking. While it could easily benefit from a lot of extra episodes (these are complex characters), when it works, it works brilliantly. The episode focussing on Ms. Quill is one of the best of the year, filled with beautiful shots and ideas, while the finale is both satisfying and making me desperate for a second season that may never come. Even if it doesn't, I'm glad the BBC took a chance on such a unique and wonderful series. Watch it!

19. Mom
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 3 (Season 2 viewed)
Mom is always going to be an overlooked series. It's a show that deals with three generations of recovering alcoholics from the makers of Two And A Half Men and The Big Bang Theory, backed with an irritating laugh track. But to skip over this series is to miss something exceptional. Firstly, it stars Allison Janney and Anna Faris, so there's some serious talent already. But what makes this show so good, is that it's a comedy that's not afraid to go dark, as the show's second season (which I caught up with this year) attested to. One of the characters falling off the wagon doesn't sound like the stuff of great sitcoms, but Mom transcends that by making it both heartbreaking and hilarious. I'm reminded of the scene where one of the character has to make amends for all the lies she's told. She is sorry but commends herself on telling them so well, because "doing something well is its own reward." It's a sad line, but it's hopeful, just like the show itself.

18. Orange Is The New Black
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 4 (Season 3 viewed)
With every passing year, Orange Is The New Black seems to grow more controversial. While I have yet to catch up on the fourth season, the third season clearly showed there was room for improvement. Piper remains one of the most annoying characters on television and the show lacked a clear endgame. But this remains a character-driven show and when it remembers that, it's unparalleled. The third season's final 10 minutes are easily the most beautiful scenes this year, showing a rare glimpse of hope, soon to be taken over by hellish new conditions. On the basis of that sequence alone, Orange Is The New Black justifies it's place on this list.

17. Fargo
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 2 (Season 2 viewed)
Fargo's second season was a masterpiece. It's a complex mediation on fate and choice and features aliens and gun fights and chases. It features great performances from the likes of Ted Danson and Kirsten Dunst and Bokeem Woodbine, but it also left me feeling a little cold. It left me at an emotional remove and I'm not entirely sure why. It's a great show and you should all watch it, but it's one that has left me more bewildered than anything else. Maybe I need to re-watch it someday in the future, but for the moment, this remains in the great but odd section.

16. Hannibal
Status: Cancelled
No. Of Seasons: 3 (Season 3 viewed)
The cancellation of Hannibal remains one of the greatest tragedies in the history of television, but after viewing the third season, I have mixed emotions about a desire for it to come back. The first half of the season gave into the show's most artful impulses, which made for some beautiful (albeit horrific) imagery, but was so dreamlike that it was often hard to keep up with what was actually happening and what was fantasy. While the second half picked it up masterfully, I understand why some viewers were turned off by it. And any wish of a fourth season was kinda neglected by the end of the final episode which puts a beautiful (albeit violent) end to the key relationship in the show, that of Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter. That said, the idea of a fourth season with Ellen Page as Clarice Starling, makes me want it back. Even if it never does come back, Hannibal leaves an incredible legacy as the most artfully violent, beautifully murderous show ever made.

15. Better Call Saul
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 2 (Season 2 viewed)
After a strong first season (coming in at fifth in last year's list), Better Call Saul expanded its focus, making for another stellar season. The expanded focus on the trials and tribulations of Rebecca made for some of the most gut-wrenching television of the year, while giving more to Mike and Hank is always a good idea. However, the real reason to watch this show is to witness the sad yet oddly thrilling descent of Jimmy McGill, shown most clearly when he doctors one of Hank's documents in a glorious, lengthy montage set to Little Barrie's 'Why Don't You Do It'. It's thrilling and quietly sad in equal measure.

14. Parks And Recreation

Status: Finished
No. Of Seasons: 7 (Season 7 viewed)
I didn't really want to say goodbye to the people of Pawnee. For seven seasons, they made me laugh and cry and become swooningly romantic and wormed their way into my heart. Leslie Knope, the great feminist icon and waffle obsessive. Ron Swanson, the gruff softie and breakfast obsessive. April and Andy, the couple that should never have worked, but eventually became one of the screen's greatest pairings. And that's just the tip of the iceberg (love you Tom, Donna, Gerry, Ann, Ben, Chris). But what a sweet goodbye this ended up being. Propelling the show forward a couple of years was a genius ideas, allowing us to have Leslie and Ron's sweet fight and reconciliation, and allowing all of the characters to have a happy ending. While that can sometimes seem cheap (looking at you Glee), Parks And Recreation made it the perfect reward for all their hard work and well-earned character development. So, while I will miss them terribly, we'll always have the wonderful memories and the happiness they all brought. Especially Little Sebastian.

13. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 2 (Season 1 viewed)
One of the most fun shows I watched this year, Kimmy Schmidt is just a burst of happines. Which is odd considering the premise. A woman finally breaks out of an underground apocalypse cult and makes her life anew with relentless optimism and outdated pop culture references. It could easily be a dark prestige drama on HBO, but Netflix has made this one of the most uplifting and funny shows on TV, with just the right amount of underlying sadness. Unfortunately, the show was embroiled in controversy after the second season (which I've yet to see and makes me wary), but I can't wait to see more of fun characters like Titus Andromeda (his song 'Peeno Noir' is one of the funniest things you'll ever see).

12. Please Like Me
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 4 (Season 3 viewed)
For four seasons now, Please Like Me has been the greatest representation of queer lives and mental illness currently airing. While I'm a season behind, the show's third season was arguably the show's best since it started. With Josh in a relatively stable relationship with Arnold, the show was able to explore depression and social akwardness in a truly moving way. These characters aren't defined by their sexuality or their mental illness, but by their connection. While it ended in a devastating Christmas episode that broke my heart, no show I've seen has understood the pain of being an outsider as much as this one.

11. Jane The Virgin
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 3 (Season 1 viewed)
I've been hearing about Jane The Virgin for a few years now, but I was still shocked by how much I loved this show. It's a story about family and friendship and love, but with plot twists galore, making for a truly packed season. Gina Rodriguez is wonderful as the virginial Jane who never comes across as pious, but as warm and human, but the show's true secret weapon is the narrator. The Latin Lover's welcomes us back to this world, acting like a viewer, invested in the characters and shocked at the outrageous twists. He makes the show so inviting that it's frequently difficult to leave, and makes this one of the most addictive and entertaining shows on TV.

10. The Killing Season/Hitting Home
Status: Stand-Alone Documentary Series'
This pair of documentaries hosted by Sarah Ferguson was some of the most brilliant television of the year, cementing the ABC presenter as one of this country's finest journalists. What's amazing is that they're completely different. The Killing Season is an awe-inspiring autopsy of the Labor government in-fighting that led to the frustrating flip-flop between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. With access to many of the key figures (including both Rudd and Gillard), no-one comes across looking particularly well, but it does give an incredible amount of insight into the chaos of politics, which eventually led to the election of Tony Abbott.
   However, it's Hitting Home that's the real reason Sarah Ferguson should be cherished. In just two episodes, she examines the domestic abuse crisis in Australia with devastating clarity. Through interviews, we get to see the bravery and suffering victims of domestic abuse have managed to overcome. It's a series that is both infuriating (listening to the men justify their crimes is horrific, but it's also insightful) and utterly, utterly soul-destroying. While the story of one woman killed by her boyfriend is heartbreaking, the film's most unbearably sad moment is a woman telling the story of what her boyfriend did to her and having to stop, overcome by tears. She cries "how could you do this to someone you love?" In that line, we see years of hurt and the core of what makes this such a devastating epidemic, and even now, I find myself becoming overcome with emotion. No series this year was more penetrating or heartbreaking, and we should thank the stars for Sarah Ferguson's compassion and these women's bravery in coming forward to truly show that this crisis needs to be over. Essential viewing.

9. Mr. Robot
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 2 (Season 1 viewed)

This year, I finally got around to watching Fight Club, but I found it incredibly frustrating. It was a rant about consumerist culture and gender roles, but seemed to play into some of the ideas it was trying to fight against. It was brilliant from a stylistic point of view, but it comes across as hollow. In a lot of ways, Mr. Robot is like Fight Club: the TV series, and that's both a blessing and a curse. It, too, came across as empty ranting, especially in its first few episodes, but where Mr. Robot succeeds, is its emphasis on character. The centre of the story is a man who tries desperately to do good, to take down soulless capitalism, but who must fight against his own mind in order to do so. The moment we realise just how deeply messed up Rami Malek's character is, is absolutely devastating, in a way that Fight Club's uber-cool attitude would never provide. While I'm not sure how long the show can do this balancing act, as long as it maintains its focus on character, it makes this show brave, moving and incredibly addictive.

8. Rick And Morty
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 2 (Season 2 viewed)
Rick And Morty's first season was an excellent, wonderfully clever science-fiction series that was also deeply, incredibly bleak. It's most memorable scene featured a character stating that "Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody's gonna die. Come watch TV." It established itself as the most bleakly funny series currently airing and the show's second season does nothing to challenge that opinion. If anything, it doubles down on it, with at least one moment in every episode that is so relentlessly depressing that it took my breath away. While this could make this show challenging, it also made it wonderful, especially in those moments where we can laugh through the darkness, or be amazed at the show's brilliant approach to science fiction. While other shows treat it as a background detail, Rick And Morty delves into clever concepts with wild abandon, demonstrated most memorably this season by 'Total Rickall' (an episode that introduces many memorable characters and ends on a surprisingly shocking moment of true darkness). But it's the character details and the bleak realisations about these people's fucked up lives that make the most impression, ensuring that the show's exceptional, deeply sad final moments, aptly set to Nine Inch Nails' 'Hurt' are some of the most memorable I watched all year.

7. Penny Dreadful
Status: Finished
No. Of Seasons: 3 (Season 2 viewed)
Penny Dreadful's first season was a frustrating mix of good ideas paired with terrible ones. It had a strong premise (famous literary characters such as Victor Frankenstein and Dorian Gray meet up and fight beasties), looked gorgeous (as any horror series set in the 18th century should), was gifted with a very good cast (the likes of Timothy Dalton, Billie Piper, Josh Hartnett and especially Eva Green), but often fell prone to its own storytelling (a supposed 'twist' was signposted too strongly and left and bad taste in the mouth) and an inability to develop its characters beyond their stereotypes. In its second season something miraculous happened. It became incredibly gruesome, but also really, really fun and easy to watch. This was a horror show, yet it was easy to set back and enjoy being grossed out by it.  But then, something even more incredible happened. Penny Dreadful decided to care about its characters, revealing layers and layers of emotion to them. These are flawed, monstrous characters, yet they still crave love, even though they know they don't deserve it. It's a desire they all express at one point or another, but the variations on the idea are beautifully done, making even the most loathsome character sympathetic and vulnerable.
    It helps that the cast is truly incredible. This has always and always will be the Eva Green show. As the conflicted Vanessa Ives, she can show pain or joy with the most subtle movement, or the slightest inflection in her voice. She's a heartbreaking character but Eva Green transforms her into something so watchable. However, the actor that really astonished me was Billie Piper. She was arguably one of the first season's weaker elements, saddled with an unconvincing accent and a dull romance plot, but her rebirth triggers something in her character. Her monologue in 'Memento Moria' (the show's best episode to date, and it doesn't even feature Eva Green) solidified this show's place on this list; a well-written, devastating, angry and terrifying scene, performed by Billie Piper as if her life depended on it. While I have yet to see the show's third season, on the basis of this show's second year, I don't think I've ever seen a show pull off such an incredible recovery. It transformed from something messy to something beautiful, complex and one of the best shows on television.

6. Rectify
Status: Finished
No. Of Seasons: 4 (Season 3 viewed)
No show on television was quite like Rectify. It's a crime mystery that isn't all that invested in finding out the truth about the crime. Instead, it does something far more radical, it slows down the pace and allows you to get into these character's heads, to really, truly know them. In its third season, Rectify pared down its focus even more strongly, focussing on the connections between the Holden family as Daniel makes a choice about his future, and it allowed for some of the most beautiful, subtle storytelling going around. This is a show not afraid to stop and smell the roses, to appreciate the beauty of dust dancing in the sunlight. But more than that, it's one of the most moving character studies ever made, most notably demonstrated by a devastating final exchange between Tawney and Daniel in the season finale 'The Source' which was thrilling and left tears streaming down my face. With the fourth and final season now finished, I am looking forward to it, knowing that it will undoubtedly be a bittersweet experience, but a very, very rewarding one.

5. American Crime Story: The People V. O.J. Simpson
Status: Ongoing (as anthology)
No. Of Seasons: 1 (Season 1 viewed)
As the OJ Simpson trial began two months before I was born, I had less expectations of this show than others may have. Don't get me wrong, I did do some quick research on the trial, but nothing can compare to the sheer iconic nature of the case. I was only aware of the car chase because of the Seinfeld parody and didn't have as much vehement hatred for Marcia Clark as those who waited patiently for a seemingly obvious verdict. But what's fascinating about this series is what it manages to accomplish. It manages to tell a story about race, gender, justice and celebrity in a complex, detailed way without forgetting about character. It transforms these iconic figureheads into real people, especially Marcia Clark. As portrayed by Sarah Paulson, she's a stunning character, a woman who was passionate about her job but was thrust into a harsh and unforgiving spotlight. The haunting, unforgettable 'Marcia, Marcia, Marcia' is a powerful examination of gender and the expectations on women, which will forever change the way you hear 'Kiss From A Rose'. However, The People V. O.J. Simpson's greatest achievement is the fact that it refuses to provide any answers. We can see that O.J. Simpson is (probably) responsible but the case became far more about his race and celebrity status than it was about the actual crime. It made for a haunting, unforgettably sad true crime series.

4. Steven Universe
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 4 (Season 1 viewed)
Speaking of stunning character work, Steven Universe is arguably the strongest cartoon on television. On a first viewing, it's a fun, pastel coloured, summer-y series that goes by at a breeze. But the cumulative effect is stunning as the series' true colours are revealed as one of the most quietly subversive shows on TV. It challenges gender and sexuality stereotypes at every stage. Steven, the lead character, is adorable and quite unlike any other male character on TV, strong yet emotional and with a strong core of happiness. Garnet is incredible and whose entire existence only occurs because two female characters love one another. Amethyst is fun, yet hides a sadness. But it's Pearl who is the most complex character. Initially, she comes across as bossy and kind of annoying, but as the show goes on, we learn who she really is and it's deeply moving and queer positive. Even some of the side stories are centred around queer themes (as the existence of the very cool Stevonnie attests to), making this one of the most proudly and wonderfully queer shows on TV. It's subversive in a way that doesn't call attention to itself and for that it's truly inspiring.

3. Broad City
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 3 (Seasons 1-2 viewed)
No show in 2016 made me laugh as much as Broad City. Abbi and Illana are two New York women. Both are pot-smokers and in their twenties and enjoying life, despite being very different. They find themselves on strange quests, like getting money for a Jay-Z concert by any means necessary or trying to work out who pooped in someone's show when the power got cut, or retrieving a letter from the creepy Garol on an isolated island. And they made me laugh till I cried, every single episode. There's so many memorable moments that it's hard to pick just one, even in the weakest episodes. However, the show's shining moment so far has to be the second season episode 'Knockoffs', which initially seems centred around a dirty joke but eventually reveals itself to be more concerned with the different ways people find sexual pleasure. But that's secondary to the sheer number of jokes this show packs in to its short twenty minute episodes. This is one the funniest, yet warmest and filthiest shows on TV. It's also one of the very best.

2. The Knick
Status: Who Knows? (But probably finished)
No. Of Seasons: 2 (Season 2 viewed)
The Knick seems destined to fall through the cracks. It's first season was celebrated as the return of Steven Soderbergh: auteur and as an uber-violent and disturbing period medical drama. Like if Grey's Anatomy was set in the early 1900s and had the violence turned up to 11. But in its second season, premiering in very late 2015 (too late for many awards lists), the show deepened, expanded and became even more bleak and beautiful.
   After overcoming his drug addiction, The Knick's second season shows Dr. Thackery working at the peak of his skills and it's often exhilarating to watch, but his is a dark and disturbing world, one where characters you like can drop dead due to inappropriate medical procedures. Nothing feels safe when you watch The Knick and that's a thrilling place to be. A lot of that has to do with Steven Soderbergh's incredible direction, complemented perfectly by Cliff Martinez's anachronistic electronic score, full of instantly iconic themes and moments.
    There's the moment where a man preaches hate while the camera circles around him, the score like a thrilling heartbeat, before the Theremin comes in, transforming a disturbing scene into one of the greatest moments of the year. The moment we learn one of the show's most likable characters has betrayed his friend in a brutal and distressing way. Or the cold, crushingly brilliant finale that somehow doubles down on the hell that had been, leaving the more likable characters broken and defeated and the hateful characters successful. And it all culminates in one of the most shocking moments of television I've ever witnessed, the death of a main character portrayed with such weight and depth that it's impossible to shake long after you've watched it. While this leaves it difficult for a third season (although Soderbergh wants to do one, there has been no news for months, and though I cling onto hope, it's fading fast), it made for a thrilling, near perfect ten episodes which should be commended for being truly like nothing else on television.

1. The Leftovers
Status: Finishing
No. Of Seasons: 2 (Seasons 1-2 viewed)
The Leftovers is one of the most controversial shows on television. People have called it misery porn, something that is too difficult and emotionally draining to watch. But I ask the question, surely you knew what you were getting into. The premise of the show is that one day, with no warning 2% of the world's population just disappeared, without a trace, leaving those that's left to deal with this unimaginable trauma in any way that they can. Of course it's sad. This is a show that is about trauma and faith and the desperate need to find hope in a situation where none looks forthcoming. But that's what makes The Leftovers such a brilliant and timely show. Because it's easily the most devastating program currently airing, but it's also one of the most hopeful and quietly profound, as these characters find a way forward. It's cast is unbelievably talented, such as Carrie Coon's Nora (a woman who lost her entire family in the Departure and slowly comes to terms with it and find a new life for herself) is the show's most exceptional character, while Paul Theroux, Ann Dowd, Amy Brennan all play beautifully rendered characters. The storytelling is simple, yet richly symbolic as each episode is filled with tragic little moments or thrillingly tense confrontations, all scored by Max Richter's impeccable, poignant music. No show made me cry more or made me believe in hope for a better future. Because if these broken, desperate people can find connections and a way to move forward, then maybe we can to.

And, some of the other shows I watched this year:
How To Get Away With Murder s1: It's first season was flawed, but Viola Davis more than made up for it with a stunning central performance. The show's second season (which I have just finished) was an incredible step-up, making it an early contender for the awards this time next year.
The 100 s1-3: I get the love for it, but too often it goes for shock over character dynamics to be truly effective. The central death of the third season was understandable but still an almost fatal mistake.
Inside Amy Schumer s1-2: Liking Amy Schumer is not the most popular thing nowadays, but her sketch show was a funny, occasionally cutting examination of gender roles and expectations.
Grey's Anatomy s11: It's eleventh season was flawed, especially in its handling of the major death at the season's conclusion. Apparently it has led to a new renaissance for the show, so that bodes well for this long-running series.
Show Me A Hero: An incredible examination of power, politics and race, it deals with similar themes to the superior The People V. O.J. Simpson, and the focus on Oscar Isaac's character was done at the expense of the more interesting minor characters. It's final scenes, set to Bruce Springsteen's 'Lift Me Up' are almost unbearably powerful though.
Catastrophe s1: This fun British comedy was entertaining (with a scene-stealing performance from Carrie Fisher) and clever, but at six half-hour episodes, also felt a little slight.
Bloodline s1: A strong Ben Mendelsohn performance and menacing tone can't save this series from a bloated length and snail's pacing.
UnREAL s1: It's a clever satire of shows like The Bachelor, but for all it's good work, it's middle-section is ludicrous, and the show never quite recovers. Constance Zimmer is mesmerising in this, though.
Orphan Black s4: The show's fourth season is it's best since the first with an increased focus on Sarah, leading the series to its final bow which should be excellent.
American Horror Story s3: I finally, finally finished Coven, which was fascinating and entertaining, but eventually fell prey to its impulse to kill off characters, only for them to come back shortly after, sapping away a lot of the tension.
Regular Show s4-5: In the show's fourth and fifth season, Mordecai and the series grew up, making for some fascinating storytelling.
The Girlfriend Experience s1: A love it or hate it experience, I happened to fall into the latter category. The potential for this to be a good show is there, yet it seems content to be vague, frustrating and pretentious. One of my most infuriating viewing experiences of the year.
The Goldbergs s1: The show that came closest to being on this list, this was a deliriously entertaining, 80s infused slice of pure, candy-coloured fun. It doesn't do anything new, but hits those tried and true notes so well that I couldn't help but love it anyway.
The Walking Dead s6: It's like an abusive lover. You want to leave, but occasionally it'll pull you back with a moment of greatness, before ripping everything good away, making you hate yourself for putting up with its shit. If I hadn't sat through six seasons, I would be giving up, but I feel like I've wasted too much time to give up now. For those considering starting it, I have one word of advice: don't.
Angie Tribeca s1: A very silly comedy series starring Rashida Jones, this endlessly quotable and bonkers series is like Flying High!: the series. Everyone I've shown this to loves it and you will too.
The Night Of: This crime series started off so well, but focussed on the wrong characters (why the straight white male with eczema, when Naz's family is so much more interesting) and made so many dumb moves. Worth it for some great insights about the justice system, but they get buried by the frustration that this could've been much better.
Scream Queens s1: Look, it's terrible, but I kind of loved it anyway. Emma Roberts, Lea Michele, Billie Lourd, Jamie Lee Curtis and Glen Powell are wonderful, but it's often stupid and has too much of a fondness for its characters (kill some of them off, dammit!). Still, it's good for campy entertainment.

And, there you have it, my best TV of 2016! Hope you agreed with my choices, or found some fun new shows. I am hoping to eventually get around to doing a similar post but with anime, so expect that before the end of January. Hope you've all been good, talk soon.
Thanks,
David Gumball-Watson

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Pop Culture Picnic: Volume 1, Number 11


Hello all,
In this week's epic edition of Pop Culture Picnic, I review two big week's worth of material. Some of the shows and films in here are just amazing and were great to review. Hope you like reading it!

Silver Screen

The Daughter review
2016, Australia, directed by Simon Stone. In Cinemas Now.
As a keen supporter of local cinema and a fan of gothic, emotionally dark drama, I was looking forward to The Daughter. In the weeks before it was release, it was heavily advertised, so much so that my excitement steadily diminished. When I finally sat down to watch it, I found it to be an engrossing, complex and intelligent drama, albeit one that didn't really stand out from the crowd. In a small Australian logging town, a man, Christian, returns home from America for his father's wedding, with a secret that, if revealed, could destroy the lives of many. It's a slow-burning that grows in intensity, finally reaching an almost unbearable climax when due to his own pain and suffering, he reveals a horrible truth. The fact that he reveals in such a cold, savage and hurtful manner made him one of the most hateful characters this year, but it could also be because I had something of a bias towards his character as he's played by Paul Schneider (who played Brandanoquitz in Parks And Recreation. His departure was one of the key reasons the show got better). But still, I'm often of the opinion that just because you're in a bad place doesn't mean you should destroy others. It seems petty and small. What was interesting about this was that some of the people in film club actively disagreed with me, that he wasn't the worst person in the film. No, the subject of the secret who never revealed it was a worse person. I'm of the opinion that some secrets are necessary in order to avoid hurting people, but it's interesting that this film brought up such conflicting points of views and arguments. It helps that the cast is excellent. Sam Neill, Geoffrey Rush, Miranda Otto and Anna Torv are joined by rising star Odessa Young as the likable young woman at the centre of this web of secrets and lies. All of the characters in the film are well-drawn, if not necessarily likable and, like many Australian films, the recognisable (and beautifully shot) landscape becomes an incredibly important part of the story. Overall, a complex, morally challenging and dark Australian drama. It loses points because of the presence of Brandanoquitz and because it favours a needlessly ambiguous ending.
Grade: B+

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 review
2016, US, directed by Kirk Jones. In Cinemas Now.
As a follow up to the deeply disappointing My Big Fat Greek Wedding (reviewed in this week's Silver Screen Classics), I was not looking forward to this film. Unfortunately, it was worse than I imagined. The stereotypes of the first film are even more damning, the writing is awful with an almost nonexistent storyline which somehow manages to have to much going on and be really, really boring at the same time. It's also badly acted, overly sentimental and just horrible. Watching this in the cinema, I was swayed by its emotional pull at times, but I realised later it was probably boredom induced delirium. Pointless, plotless, pathetic. Don't waste your time on this big fat Greek stinker.
Grade: D-

Eye In The Sky review
2016, UK, directed by Gavin Hood. In Cinemas Now.
Intense, fascinating and incredibly complex, Eye In The Sky is a thrilling film looking at the issues surrounding the use of drone warfare. Set over numerous locations (meaning that the four main characters never meet in person), a team of British soldiers using the latest spyware discover that a group of terrorists have holed up in a house in Africa. As they are loaded up with suicide bomb vests, it becomes a race against time to get approval from the many levels of government to deploy a drone strike. However, even if that approval is found, what will they do when they discover an innocent young girl selling bread is just outside the door? The moral dilemmas that this film presents are mind-blowingly difficult, as the individuals are forced to way up the cost of saving one girl over the lives of the hundreds that may die if the bomb vests are activated. By the end, the film has become almost unbearably tense, on the level of something like 2015's memorable Sicario. But this may be an even better film, superbly acted by an excellent cast including Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul and Alan Rickman in one of his last film roles, and raising interesting political questions about soldier training and the horrors they are forced to endure, drone warfare and the chain of command. This is a disturbing film, no doubt about it, but one that rings true in a horrifying way.
Grade: A-

Tangerine review
2015, US, directed by Sean Baker. Available On DVD.
Tangerine was a film I'd been wanting to see for some time. Shot on an iPhone in the streets of L.A. with a largely unprofessional cast, it tells the story of two transgender women, Alexandra and Sin Dee over one Christmas Eve. Sin Dee, who has just been released from jail, learns that her pimp/boyfriend, Chester, has been sleeping with someone else. She and Alexandra try to track him down and teach him a lesson. It's an incredible film. Visually, it's stunning, especially considering the limitations of how it was shot. Never before has iPhone video looked so gorgeous, showing off the beautiful blue and orange sky over L.A. in such an incredible way that it sort of acts almost like a really impressive advert. But more than that, Tangerine is an important film in regards to the portrayal of transgender characters. Comparing this to something like The Danish Girl, there's a sense of naturalism to the performances, helped no end by the fact that director Sean Baker cast actual transwomen. But there's also a real sense of over-the-top silliness. Throughout the film, the two women interact with many others, creating both a vibrant portrait of L.A. as well as a great cast of supporting characters from Chester, his new girlfriend and an Armenian taxi driver and his family. The way that all these seemingly disparate elements come together at the end is like some great screwball comedy in the vain of Bringing Up Baby or The Philadelphia Story, making for a film that is far more entertaining and memorable than it probably should be. So much more than just that iPhone movie, this is a brave and brilliant portrait of a community that is rarely shown on the silver screen. A classic in the making.
Grade: A

Iris review
2015, US, directed by Albert Maysles. Available On DVD.
Albert Maysles, the great documentary filmmaker behind such masterpieces as Shelter, Grey Gardens and Gimme Shelter, died on March 5 2015. It was a devastating loss but this, one of his last films, is sadly a little disappointing. The subject of the doco, New York fashion icon Iris Apfel, is appealing enough, able to wear the most insane combination of clothing and make it look stylish and cool. She's also a great presence and incredibly inspiring in her determination to wear what she feels and not give two stuffs about other people's opinions (something she shares with Little Edie, the subject of perhaps Maysles' most memorable film, Grey Gardens). But, on the whole though, this film is boring. Yes, her fashions are fascinating, but this feels a lot longer than it's surprisingly short 70 minute runtime. It's not the greatest testament to Maysles' but does prove that even in his final years, he was finding new and fascinating people to interview.
Grade: C+

Bone Tomahawk review
2015, US, directed by S. Craig Zahler. Available On DVD.
Containing what has been opined as one of the most brutal deaths in all of cinema, Bone Tomahawk is an odd-hybrid of the horror and the western. When, in the old West, three people are kidnapped from a small town by vicious cannibals, a band of determined men must venture out, facing not only the cannibals but each other. Starring Kurt Russell and with scenes of nasty violence, comparisons to The Hateful Eight, but sadly don't work in Bone Tomahawk's favour. The violence of the film's final act is horrific, brutal and unforgettable, especially in the nightmare-inducing body-splitting scene, but for much of the first hour-and-a-half, this basically consists of the characters talking. There's nothing wrong with that, especially in a cast this great, with Richard Jenkins' lovable back-up deputy being the most likable of the lot, but visually it's dull. The direction is flat, the colours muted and it just looks cold and visually uninteresting. This is a big problem for a couple of reasons. First, as while it's mainly conversation, it should still look interesting (unfair comparison to The Hateful Eight, but the conversations in that were beautifully shot). Second, the two genres it's trying to hybridise, the Western and the Horror, rely very heavily on visuals to create atmosphere. That final half-an-hour is visually a little more inspired, but it still feels like something's missing. Some critics stated that this was the best horror film of 2015 and I can see how it's already garnering a cult following, but in a medium as visual as film this is incredibly disappointing. Interesting but flawed.
Grade: B-

Silver Screen Classics

Un Chant D'Amour review
Short Film. 1950, France, directed by Jean Genet. Available on YouTube.
A short, experimental film about homosexual love and desire, Un Chant D'Amour was long banned for what was seen as obscene content. Even now, it's openness in portraying male sexuality is shocking, occasionally coming off as particularly arty porn, but what's most notable about it are the tender and more romantic moments. The storyline is thin to the point of nonexistence, but some of the images here are aching in their tenderness and beauty. Two men in prison blow cigarette smoke through a hole in the wall, the other imagining it was his breath. They swing a bouquet of flowers between the cells, forever trying to catch it but never able to. A prison guard forces one of the men to suck his gun (an object of phallic desire) in an attempt to crush his spirit, but the two prisoners love remains pure if unconsummated. The film is notable for being not only an early depiction of what it means to desire as a queer person, but also as something that remains relevant and beautiful today. It's a film that rewards multiple viewings, made easier due to its short runtime, but even without understanding all of the images this is a tender, sexy and moving film.
Grade: A-

All That Heaven Allows review
1955, US, directed by Douglas Sirk. Available On DVD.
Earlier this week, I was thinking about how none of the classic films I've watched this year have really struck me. I was missing the greatness that only an older film can offer. Then, like my prayers were being answered, along comes All That Heaven Allows. Douglas Sirk's most beloved and influential film is a pretty much perfect film. Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman reunite, utilising the chemistry present in Magnificent Obsession to show two people caught in a difficult situation. Cary Scott (played by Wyman) is an attractive, lonely and upper class widower who falls in love with her much younger, poorer gardener, Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson). They share a whirlwind romance, but it's not long before social pressure starts to press down on the couple. Her children see him as nothing more than a gold digger, her society friends ostracise her and basically every good thing in her life falls apart simply because she fell in love. It's heartbreaking to watch, especially as we've seen how she and Ron make each other better, opening one another up to a world they weren't previously aware of.
   This film is an unapologetically emotional melodrama but unlike Magnificent Obsession, the obstacles in the couple's path feel realistic and hurtful, especially her children. When they start to be bullied because of the affair, she ends the relationship. But then, they move away from home, telling her that she should've been stricter with them and that she should sell the house. And then, seeing how devastated she is, they buy her a television. It's beyond painful. Having created such likable, complex characters it's hard to see them go through so much, but the film makes a clever and enormously relatable point; that no one else should decide whose good for you. That you have to be yourself, no matter what. That's such a deeply moving and relatable point while ideas of repression and persecution make this one immensely relatable film. But that's not even the best bit.
   Shot in glorious, gorgeous technicolour, it's absolutely stunning. The colours of everything are so rich and beautiful, especially in any of the scenes with the massive window at Ron's place. Just when you think it can't get any more gorgeous, the film somehow manages to up itself, proving to be not only emotionally beautiful, but visually so as well. This is also one of the most influential films of all time. It's been remade twice, each shifting the political axis (this one concerned with class and ageism) just slightly. Rainer Werner Fassbinder's celebrated German film Ali: Fear Eats The Soul uses the framework to tell a story concerned with immigration and a more extreme case of ageism, while Todd Haynes' Far From Heaven brings in race as well as sexuality. It's visual aesthetic has been referenced in films such as Francois Ozon's 8 Women, while the recent Carol can also be seen to have some linkage back to this film. But none of them compare to the overwhelming emotional power this film has. An absolute cinematic masterpiece and undoubtedly one of the best films I've ever seen, this is gorgeous in every sense of the word.
Grade: A

My Big Fat Greek Wedding review
2001, US, directed by Joel Zwick. Available On DVD.
In preparation for watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, I forked out $10 on a DVD copy of the first film. Never having seen it, I was excited to give it a go, especially considering it's the highest grossing romantic comedy of all time. What a disappointment this film is. The characters are stereotypical, the film itself is dull and despite some quotable lines ("put some windex on it!") and memorable moments, it never really works. Part of that could be because of the stiff acting from the two leads (who have zero chemistry) but it's hard to know what goes so wrong. A whopping great let-down and a waste of time and money.
Grade: D+

On The Tube

Miniseries review
Politically timely, the miniseries Show Me A Hero is a beautiful, fascinating and complex piece of television. It dramatizes the battle to desegregate public housing that rocked the city of Yonkers, NY in the late 80s/early 90s. For a long time, public housing for black people had been in apartment towers, in an area far removed from the rest of the city. When a judge orders the city to build scattered site public townhouses, spread out into the upper middle-class, predominantly white, areas, it challenges long-held views on race, political stubbornness and what it means to have a house. One of the most important ideas which is brought forward is that of Defensible Housing which theorises that if we have our own home we are more likely to treat it respect than say an apartment tower which is more impersonal.
   When the government refuses to build them, the court fines the city, forcing them to decide would they rather be desegregated or bankrupt? The mayor at the time, Nick Wasicsko, was only 28 and the challenging nature of this debate ruins his life. As played by Oscar Isaac, he's a great, complicated figure, one that is more interested in doing what it takes to save the city than what is right. That the two goals align makes him an unlikely defender of civil rights. However, while he's the most prominent character, I would argue that he's not the most interesting.
   Mary Dorman, as portrayed by Catherine Keener, is a fascinating character, someone who was initially against the idea of the housing on principle until she sees the conditions that these people have been forced to live in, becoming one of their most vocal defenders. It's a transformation that happens on the periphery but it seems even more powerful because of it. LaTanya Richard Jackson as the blind Norma O'Neal who can't get white people to her neighbourhood to help her. That's not to mention the rest of the cast that includes Jim Belushi, Alfred Molina, Winona Ryder, Bob Balaban and Jon Bernthal. What the show succeeds at most profoundly is showing the workings of a community, how the big decisions made by the parliament affect those underneath them. While it's true that Wasicsko falls by the wayside in the latter part of the series, it's here where things really shine, as we see the impact that his and others actions have had. At the end of the final episode, we get this gorgeous, transcendent, tragic montage showing what happened to these people in the years after the series. It's a traditional thing to happen at the end of a biopic, but what makes this so beautiful is that we recognise how far these people have come, and how far they will still have to go. Racism, systematic or otherwise, is still a huge issue in America, while issues of public housing and its relation to class have a universal relevance, making for a perfectly acted, fascinating series that draws the viewer in through its subtle emotional and intellectual pull.
Series Grade: A

Season Three review:
Rectify is one of the most perfect TV shows ever made. Ranking second in last year's TV awards (which was the highest position for an ongoing series), I was a tiny bit nervous about starting the show's third season. Could it possibly much up? The short answer is yes. It's a sublime piece of television, so subtle, gentle and emotional, with torrents of feeling and conflict conveyed in the tiniest gesture until it becomes almost overwhelming in its beauty. The third season focuses heavily on character, especially in regards to Teddy and his wife Tawney. What this series has done in regards to Teddy, who initially seemed like such a stereotypical asshole character and who is now making steps to becoming a better person for his wife and family, is beautiful and shows the understanding of character and motivation that drives this series. In many ways, it's a series about what it means to be human, fallible and flawed. But it's also a mystery, and while that falls by the wayside this season, there is still the incredible excitement of piecing together the clues. To be honest, I wouldn't really care that if, when this series finishes, we still have no idea what really happened the night of Hannah Dean's murder. Speaking of the series finishing, it has now been confirmed that Rectify is coming to an end after its fourth season. When the news broke, I was devastated, but watching this season, it makes more sense. This was a year about people and families splintering apart to become better people without one another. What makes the season finale such an incredible piece of television is the fact that for once, the show gives itself over to joy and a sense of circularity. It almost feels like a series finale, considering how many things are wrapped up. That we've still got one more year with these characters is, like the series, devastating in all the right ways. Rectify remains powerful, life-changing, achingly beautiful television. Like nothing else before or since.
Best Episodes – s3e1: Hoorah. s3e2: Thrill Ride. s3e4: Girl Jesus. s3e5: The Future. s3e6: The Source.
Season Grade: A

Season Eleven review:
Yes, I watch Midsomer Murders. Murder mysteries are something of a guilty pleasure of mine, a turn your brain off and be entertained for a while. What makes Midsomer one of the more effective series' of this type is the way it combines the beautiful English countryside with inventive murders and a vein of campy insanity. By its eleventh season, the show could do this in its sleep, but there are still great episodes to be found. One of the series' most horrific murders happens this season where a woman's body is found stuffed in a dry cleaner (it just seems like a really nasty way to go), while 'Talking To The Dead' is a memorably creepy episode, with ghosts, bodies showing up in odd places and a cast of eccentric characters. That said, while this would never go on anyone's list of best TV shows ever made, as a nice bit of turn your brain off and watch the craziness, it's hard to beat.
Best Episodes – s11e3: Left For Dead. s11e4: Midsomer Life. s11e6: Talking To The Dead.
Season Grade: B-

Season Six review:
One of The Simpsons' most perfect seasons yet, this includes some of the show's most unforgettable and funny episodes. It's around this point that I started getting episodes that I actually remember ('Itchy & Scratchy Land' for example) and the show became more of a nostalgic pleasure than ever before. It's also around this time that the show's popularity remained unfathomable and it's not hard to see with a nice mix of heart and laughs. 'Itchy & Scratchy Land' is a clever riff on Disneyland/Westworld and is lovable mainly for Marge's frustration at being unable to have a perfect holiday. 'Treehouse Of Horror V' is as epic and eerily scary as ever, with this instalment featuring two great segments in The Shinning ("Go crazy." "Don't mind if I do!") and Time and Punishment. 'Homer Badman' is the closest The Simpsons has come to a bottle episode, skewering feminism and the media to perfection and becoming one of the series' best episodes yet. 'Grampa Vs. Sexual Inadequacy' is a sweet, lovely look at the relationship between Homer and his father. The most moving episodes of the season, 'And Maggie Makes Three' (looking at the sacrifices Homer has made for his family, deepening his character in beautiful ways) and 'Lisa's Wedding' (the flashforward episode, it includes a lovely message about the importance of family, despite the differences we may have), demonstrate the show's ability to deepen characters in realistic ways. That's not to mention that this season also includes 'Homer The Great' (Homer joins a masonic cult) and 'Bart Vs. Australia' (funny but very, very stereotypical), before it all comes to an end with 'Who Shot Mr. Burns? (Part One)'. It's the show's most grandiose moment, but by god, that cliff-hanger is well-executed (ahem). With some of the show's all-time classics, The Simpsons is showing no signs of winding down in quality.
Best Episodes – s6e1: Bart Of Darkness. s6e4: Itchy & Scratchy Land. s6e5: Sideshow Bob Roberts. s6e6: Treehouse Of Horror V. s6e9: Homer Badman. s6e10: Grampa vs. Sexual Inadequacy. s6e13: And Maggie Makes Three. s6e14: Bart's Comet. s6e17: Homer vs. Patty and Selma. s6e19: Lisa's Wedding. s6e23: The Springfield Connection. s6e24: Lemon Of Troy. s6e25: Who Shot Mr. Burns? (Part One).
Season Grade: A

Season Two review:
In its second season, Inside Amy Schumer is sharper, funnier and more memorable. Continuing to skewer all aspects of gender, sexuality and modern day etiquette, the quality of the sketches increasing exponentially, heightening the everyday to point out just how ridiculous it is. Amy Schumer is a fantastic comedian and while it's true the quality of her stand-up dips a little this season, it helps to balance the quality of the sketches, making it seem more even handed. It's also hilarious, but as always, watch out for Bridget Everett turning in another perfect appearance in the final episode with the song 'What I Gotta Do' which is rude, crude and will be stuck in your head for days.
Best Episodes – s2e2: I'm So Bad. s2e3: A Chick Who Can Hang. s2e5: Allergic To Nuts. s2e6: Down For Whatever. s2e10: Slut-Shaming.
Season Grade: B+ 

Season One review:
The thing that makes Catastrophe so easy to watch is also one of its biggest problems. At a mere six half-an-hour episodes, one can power through this in a couple of hours but that also makes it a tiny bit forgettable. Which is a big shame, because Catastrophe is one of the most realistic, moving and lovable TV romantic comedies I've seen in a while. On a trip to Britain, the American Rob meets the Irish Sharon, spending a lust-filled week together. When Sharon falls pregnant, they must face what their relationship means and if they have any real feelings towards one another. It's really funny, insightful and with achingly real characters (Sharon, in particular, who is just wonderful) trying to make the best of a difficult situation. In some ways, it's similar to Jane The Virgin, but this is cruder and less soapy. It's a series filled with grace and humanity, especially in the excellent episodes 4 (which features complications with the unborm baby) and 6 (where Sharon and Rob get married and promptly implode). Sadly though, it's a little too short to make a huge impact, but this is a great new comedy.
Best Episodes – s1e1: Episode 1. s1e2: Episode 2. s1e4: Episode 4. s1e6: Episode 6.
Season Grade: A-

Season One review:
When I heard that a complete series release of The Powerpuff Girls was coming to DVD locally, I could barely contain my excitement. Over the years, I've been desperate to see it, but have only managed to pick up a few small collections here and there, so was incredibly happy to finally watch it in its entirety. In almost every way, it's better than I imagined; funny, iconic, subversive and maintaining a fine balance between great art and accessible pop culture. What's most notable about is the way that it represents complex ideas of gender, sexuality and notions of good and evil in a way that is easily accessible and understandable to a younger audience. As an adult, it's great fun to watch, also because of the unforgettable characters, especially the villains, Mojo Jojo and Him being my favourites. Some of the best episodes of the season (as with many a cartoon show I can name) are those that mess with the form, allowing us to understand the villains better, such as in 'Telephonies' (where the Gangreeen Gang tricks the Powerpuff Girls into beating the other villains on their days off) and the excellent, hilarious 'Just Another Manic Mojo' (a day in the life of Mojo, with such greatness as 'I forgot my wallet. Curses!"), or the girls, such as in the Rashomon-esque 'The Bare Facts'. Starting The Powerpuff Girls is a great new journey and I'm looking forward to continuing it in the coming months.
Best Episodes – s1e2: Monkey See, Doggie Do/Mommy Fearest. s1e3: Octi Evil/Geshundfight. s1e6: Telephonies/Tough Love. s1e7: Major Competition/Mr. Mojo's Rising. s1e9: Bubblevicious/The Bare Facts. s1e11: Just Another Manic Mojo/Mime For A Change. s1e12: The Rowdyruff Boys.
Season Grade: A-

Season One review:
With an amusing cast of supporting characters and clever observations of teenage behaviour, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU sets itself apart from other anime set in high school. The character work in this series is fantastic as we come to learn the psychological underpinnings of the main trio. Most notable is the work done on the male character who in this sort of series is generally bland and uninteresting, but is here cynical and hiding wells of deep sadness and loneliness. One of the observations about his behaviour in one of the last episodes is devastating. The problem is that this series just isn't memorable enough to get a higher ranking and, while I've heard that the second season uses this as a springboard for an even more insightful and emotional examination of what it means to be in high school, this remains a largely forgettable, if slightly above average series.
Season Grade: B+

PCPlaylist
Playlist can be found here.

Capture & Release (Beautiful Bodies)
War Inside Your Heart (Beautiful Bodies)
Ravens (Beautiful Bodies)
Got Beats (Duwell) [Tangerine]
Growing Pains (Maria Mena)
Love Is A Battlefield (Pat Benatar) [The Daughter]
What I Gotta Do (Bridget Everett) [Inside Amy Schumer]
Lift Me Up (Bruce Springsteen) [Show Me A Hero]
We Sink (CHVRCHES) [Catastrophe]
The Big Apple (Klein & MBO) [Iris]

Thanks for reading! In next week's edition of PCP, I'll be reviewing  the new film Rams, second season of the gothic horror Penny Dreadful, the first season of Togetherness and bringing an end to a journey I started way back in 2014, it's the end of Dragon Ball! See you then.

Regards,
David Gumball-Watson