Bojack Horseman Season 3 (2016): In praise of the bravest and most original satire on TV (SPOILERS)

TV

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Netflix’ original output has just been getting better and better of late.

The internet has been obsessed with the John Carpenter-and-Stephen-King-esque homage to all things 80’s Stranger Things since it’s release two weeks ago, and yes, it’s fantastic, but I wanted to talk about something which has a deeper meaning and is a truly important cultural text: a show about a talking horse.

Bojack Horseman may seem like an unlikely political hero, but season 3 of the show has upped the ante in terms of originality and social commentary, while still maintaining it’s hefty emotional clout.

Bojack remains a horse haunted by his demons, tackling his own mental illness and childhood trauma while struggling to maintain fully functioning adult relationships. His character is so well-drawn it is sometimes easy to forget you’re watching an animated equine, as he gets drawn into darker territory and more self-destructive behaviour as he tries to avoid intimacy and, in turn, rejection.

The whole cast of characters are beautifully drawn, from Alison Brie’s depressed activist and social media  manager Diane, to Aaron Paul’s potentially asexual slacker Todd, the Hollywoo universe is full of a rich vein of drama to mine.

It is often said that you can get away with far more in animation than you can with live action, and season 3 of Bojack Horseman pushes this to the limit. Covering topics from murder, drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness, feminism and abortion, Bob Waksberg and team are unflinchingly reflecting modern society in a technicolour world.

Resolutely story-driven, the comedy is almost an after-thought, but it is also supremely dark in it’s humour. In possibly the most controversy-baiting episode, ‘Brrap Brrap Pew Pew’, we follow Diane and her husband, loveable canine Mr Peanut Butter, as they decide to have an abortion. After accidentally tweeting out from one of her social media clients accounts that she’s having an abortion, said star Sextina Aquafina decides to embrace her new-found status as an empowered pro-life icon and releases a hugely ill-advised music video about murdering embryos with guns.

“Is Twitter an appropriate forum to be discussing a sensitive issue like abortion? Wouldn’t a better forum be…nowhere?” TV News-whale Tom

Setting aside any concept of political correctness, the episode encourages open, honest discussion in a time when some topics are seen as off the table, even for hard-hitting drama.

“Has the concept of women having choices gone too far? We’ve assembled this diverse panel of white men in bow ties to discuss the issue”- TV news-whale Tom, hitting the nail on the head.

The rest of the episode packs in ideas about celebrity culture, a woman’s right to choose, freedom of speech and some fairly emotionally devastating moments into 25 minutes of beautifully written and acted TV (and also shoe horns in some digs at Jurj Clooners).

Episode 4, ‘Fish out of water’ is almost entirely silent, following Bojack as he visits the Pacific Ocean. In the finest tradition of silent acting, the episode is by turns slapstick and heart-breaking, as Bojack finds himself responsible for the welfare of an orphaned seahorse. You wouldn’t get that on The Big Bang Theory.

Overall the season is hugely melancholy, as we watch Bojack spiral downwards into depression and self-destructive behaviour, with the kind of story arc that Breaking Bad would have been proud of. Even when one of Bojack’s oldest friends dies from a drug overdose the show manages to find the humour in the darkness.

Will Arnett is incredible as Bojack, bringing the warmth and charisma needed to balance out a character who could have been inherently unlikeable. Instead we find ourselves rooting for Bojack and hoping he can let his guard down enough to stop his pattern of self-destruction.

The joy of streaming services producing comedy is that they don’t have to cater to the mainstream, and they can make genuinely daring and ground-breaking shows, unfettered by worries of alienating advertisers. Bojack Horseman continues to be a shining example of this, a show that is daring, brave, funny and leaves you wondering why more of what we see on screens large and small isn’t as honest as this.

The Fall series 2: Problematic attractiveness, fear and control

TV

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(Spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen series 1)

Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) and Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) returned to our screens last night in the first episode of the second series of The Fall. Having left us at the end of series one with Spector saying he was bringing his reign of terror to an end, walking off to a life of solitude in Scotland, he left police detective Stella no closer to catching him. It was a great way to close the series, as it was neither a definitive end, nor a dangling cliffhanger, but left us wondering what would happen next all the same.

Series two has re-joined the action just ten days after series one. Spector is still holed up in his beautiful house in Scotland (bereavement counselling clearly pays well) and Stella is facing the fall out after not only failing to be any closer to catching the killer, but also being very publicly slut-shamed after her one night stand with a murdered policeman. Annie Brawley is lying in her hospital bed, alive, but unable to piece together the events of the night on which she was attacked, let alone remember the face of her murderer.

Episode 1 was as unsettling a start to the series as we’ve come to expect. The apparent contradictions in Spector’s character are just as jarring as in the first season, with him totally in control of his public persona while simmering with quiet rage and God-complex. Indeed, the first season garnered some criticism for the seemingly charming, handsome Spector and his crimes, with some circles asserting the series was glamourising violence against women. I feel it is a long way from doing that, but it does highlight how appearance can completely sway our image of someone. Dornan is unquestionably handsome, having landed the role of Christian Grey the point is proved he is not only model-handsome, he is Hollywood-handsome. Women give Spector sideways looks in the street, and when he talks to them they melt, throwing personal details at him like confetti. He is great with children, making up sweet stories about pixies delivering post and making his daughter’s life seem magical. He is a responsible grown-up in a caring profession. He brutally rapes and murders women. I think it is this contradiction that is really the source of the problem for many people. If he looked like Nick Nolte’s mugshot then maybe the on-screen murders might sit more comfortably with us, or at least makes them less uncomfortable to watch (if that’s possible). But he doesn’t. He is attractive, seemingly functional and utterly ruthless. That is what makes him one of the most terrifying characters on screen, as he is someone who most of would trust. His poor wife seemingly has no clue as to who she have been living with, with his late nights and erratic behaviour being explained away as him embarking on an affair. People are so keen to trust him that even when he cockily points at the e-fit of himself on the front page of the paper and asks if she thinks it’s safe for him to go back to Belfast, the stranger on the train replies flirtatiously that she didn’t think he had anything to worry about.

The conflict in his relationships with children and women are personified in his dealings with 15 year old Katie (played wonderfully by Aisling Franciosi). Still technically a child, Spector seemingly finds it difficult to decide which of his boxes to put Katie in; is she a child to be revered and nurtured, or a woman to be destroyed? Maybe this duality could save her in the end.

Then there is Stella. Cold, beautiful, methodical Stella. Like Spector she has more going on under the surface than it first appears. She is measured in the way she speaks, immaculate in the way she dresses (I am in the market for a beautiful white silk shirt if anyone spots a nice one) and controlled in all she does. When approached by a threatening gang of loyalists in the street she remains utterly in control, lunging forward at them asserting her dominance. The only area out of control seems to be her personal life, where a penchant for unavailable men seems to be a pattern that is making her life difficult. There are also hints she had been through her own personal trauma as she advises Annie to snap a hair band on her wrist when she feels her thoughts and feelings get too much. Anderson’s Stella is the law-abiding mirror of Dornan’s Spector.

Some interesting additional elements have been flagged up in episode one, with the cost of such a large police investigation being highlighted, as well as the need to maintain the victims individuality when the inevitable press coverage begins. I am sure both will be ongoing themes over the next few weeks.

Of course, what makes The Fall really stand out is that this is no ‘whodunnit’, but rather a ‘who’s next’ as we wait to see which way Spector’s plan will unfold.

The Fall continues to be terrifying and mesmerising in equal measure, and will ensure I’ll be installing extra deadbolts on all my doors and windows.

In the meantime, have 2 minutes of next week’s episode.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02bnb0d/player?chromeless

 

 

 

The Fall returns tonight at 9pm

TV

It’s the return of another of my favourite shows tonight, BBC 2’s dark thriller, The Fall. Gillian ‘I probably shouldn’t bring up Scully’ Anderson and Jamie ‘Christian Grey’ Dornan are back in this brooding and intense crime drama set in Belfast. If you didn’t manage to catch series one, you can catch it all on iplayer.

The Fall series 2 starts on November 13th 2014 at 9pm on BBC2.

Toast of London Season 2- our favourite jobbing thespian is back

TV

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Ray Purchase! Clem Fandango! Jane Plough! Yes, some of the most-marvellously-monikered characters on TV are back in season 2 of Toast of London. Season 1 suffered somewhat from odd scheduling, so was missed by many comedy fans. However, it’s stint on 4OD and Amazon Prime has ensured it has reached a wider audience, and gained a few fanatical fans. OK, I’ll confess, I’m one of them.

Matt Berry’s portrayal of the self-important jobbing actor Steven Toast is a thing of beauty, as we follow his career path through his stint in “the worst play in the West End” , to assassination attempts by Michael Ball, to his many voice-over jobs with the aforementioned Clem Fandango.

If you have yet to find yourself lost in the insane and frankly sexual world of Steven Toast you can still catch up on Amazon Prime or 4OD  in preparation for the start of season 2.

Season 2 of Toast of London starts on Channel 4 at 10:35pm on Monday 3rd November 2014.

Radio One rescores Drive

Film, TV

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Tonight on BBC3 at 10pm we’ll be treated to the re-scored version of Drive, courtesy of Zane Lowe and Radio One. This project seems to have annoyed many folk, as the original soundtrack was so damn good so it could be seen as a pointless exercise. However, I am fascinated to see what a difference the new soundtrack is going to make to the film. Will it detract from the storyline? Will it make no difference at all? I’ll be watching tonight to see what a difference a song can make.

Artists featured on the re-scored soundtrack include: Chvrches, Jon HopkinsBastilleThe 1975BanksBring me the Horizon and Laura Mvula.

Hemlock Grove Season 2: So bad it’s… bad

TV

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Starring: Famke Janssen, Landon Liboiron, Dougray Scott

Oh Netflix. You have spoiled us with so many of your Originals offerings, the magnificent remake of House of Cards, the wonderful Orange is the New Black, the promise of the upcoming Better Call Saul Breaking Bad spin-off… but then there is Hemlock Grove. Yes, I watched the whole of the first season. THE WHOLE OF THE FIRST SEASON. Then I cursed you for making me waste hours of my life watching sexy teen werewolves and vampires and Famke Janssen’s terrible acting in the hope that the resolution would make up for the dross I had sat through. No luck. It didn’t even manage to make it into the magical ‘so bad it’s good’ category. It was just bad. So why, oh why, did I find myself then watching THE WHOLE OF SEASON TWO?! I am clearly a glutton for punishment.

I had faith in you, Netflix. I thought perhaps you would have learned from the mistakes of season one, and moved away from ‘Dawson’s Creek meets Twilight’ and cottoned on to the elements that did work, namely the odder, more perverse elements. Sadly this wasn’t the case.

Don’t get me wrong. There is some good stuff in season two. The wonderfully Lynchian Dr Arnold Spivak (J C MacKenzie) adds some much needed colour to every scene he appears in*, and it was good to see Orange is the New Black alumnus Madeline Brewer in the mix too. Peter’s fiery cousin Destiny (Kaniehtiio Horn) makes a welcome move to the centre stage. Even series favourite Landon Liboiron puts in a decent performance as teen heart-throb and increasingly-less-part-time-wolf Peter. There are however some shocking performances too. Famke Janssen continues her run of being both wooden and over-the-top, Dougray Scott just looks vaguely annoyed he has to be there and Bill Skarsgard spends more time pouting than acting.

The story too is a mixed bag. Some elements are compelling, but it is too slight a story spread over too long a series, meaning an hour can go by with nothing at all happening besides some brooding and the occasional splatter of gore. During the first episode alone there are 3 scenes of people using the toilet. Yet still I kept watching.There is a story-line involving Peter’s mother which seems entirely superfluous and disappears up a pig farming cul-de-sac.

The effects are a somewhat mixed bag as well, with some of the practical make-up  (Shelley’s make-up looks great) standing up very well. The CGI however leaves a lot to be desired. In fact, the finale sees some of the worst CGI I have seen in recent years, to the extent I laughed out loud. I LAUGHED.

Despite all this I still find myself pondering what will happen in season three. Damn you, Netflix.

SPOILER

*sadly he is at the centre of the terrible CGI

Orange is the New Black Season Two: Review (tiny spoiler)

TV

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It’s a very warm welcome back to the ladies of Litchfield Prison. Boy, have we missed you. This new season of Orange is the New Black has somehow improved on the remarkable first season (which I reviewed in the early days of my blog here).

Episode one throws us straight into a different setting, with Piper (Taylor Schilling) being transferred to an unknown destination for an unknown reason. Was it because of her attack on Pensatucky? Was it an extension to her sentence? Was she off to a maximum security setting? Would the whole season be set away from Litchfield.

The Piper of season one was a thoroughly maddening protagonist. Utterly self-obsessed and blind to the emotions of others, she constantly seemed to make the wrong call. Piper of season two is a more evolved version. She is still maddening, but at least seems to be adapting to circumstance and taking action to improve her life, even when this doesn’t necessarily benefit those around her. The first episode of season two is Piper-heavy for a reason, as we get to see the start of that transition. The rest of the season finds her less and less at the fore, which gives the rest of the cast of characters their time to shine.

“Glad to see you evolving, Chapman, and getting past the whole ‘I’m-the-star-of-my-own-movie-and-everyone-else’s’ complex.” Nicky

By episode two we are back to Litchfield-business-as-usual, for a Piper-free episode, and it’s great to see all of season one’s strong characters back on screen. Season 2 takes each of their back stories by-turn, giving us an insight into their lives before prison and the crimes that led them there. The tales are funny, touching and perfectly in keeping with each character, although some provide some surprises. In particular the story of Morello’s incarceration provides a surprising twist which throws new light on our favourite softly-spoken New Jersey girl. There was a danger that all the stories would show the women as nothing more than victims of circumstance, but the writers side-step that particular pit-fall and do offer us some out-and-out bad girls to balance the sadder tales.

Like Piper, the show itself has evolved. There are still plenty of very funny moments, but the drama and characterisation have taken the spotlight, making it feel overall much darker than the first season. That’s no bad thing, as it just means the funny moments stand out more, and those zinger quotes become all the more memorable. Episode 4 is a stand out both in terms of drama and comedy with the women marvelling at the existence of a “whole other hole”.

“For the love of God girls, the hole is not inside the hole”- Sophia

There is still the superb cast on show, and it is so refreshing to see women of all ethnicities, shapes and sizes on our screens. The men of the cast do a terrific job too, with Nick Sandow‘s Joe Caputo becoming somewhat of a hero throughout the season, while other male characters don’t fare so well.

The more dramatic elements of the show do explore some very serious issues, despite the quality dramedy setting. Mental illness, life beyond prison, treatment of elderly inmates and those with serious illnesses are all covered, giving us all something to think about among the bean-flicking jokes.

However, it is the final episode that elevates the season to something truly wonderful, with a closing few minutes that will leave you punching the air and crying with delight.

In the Flesh (Series 2): Zombies get political (spoiler free)

TV

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Zombies. They were flipping everywhere last year. The popularity of The Walking Dead fuelled a slew of cheap Romero zombie B-movies like Cockneys vs Zombies, experience companies started running apocalyptic survival events, the rather fantastic book ‘Warm Bodies‘ was made into a lukewarm film and even fitness apps like ‘Zombies, run!’ got in on the act. Yes, it felt like we had reached zombie saturation. What could possibly be done to make the old rotters fresh again?