Review : The Missing Finale – Disappointing

SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT

In case you missed it the finale of BBC drama ‘The Missing’ wrapped up last night and it was a huge ratings hit bringing in 6.6 million viewers or 28.5% of the UK’s TV audience. It was such a hit that already season two is on the way. Was it actually any good though? Not really

When you are writing a missing person story like ‘The Missing’ there are two ways to go at things. Either you write a character piece where you focus on the trauma and pain of the crime. Solving the actual mystery isn’t the point. Alternatively, you write a puzzle piece, a true mystery story where each detail of the plot slots together with a clever intricate beauty.

Both stories can be great. Donna Tartt’s ‘The Little Friend’ does the character piece brilliantly and you don’t have to look further than Agatha Christie to see how great a pure mystery can be. Mismatches of the two however tend to end up falling between two horses. Unfortunately, ‘The Missing’ did just this and ends up getting trampled under the weight of its own ambition.

The Character Piece

Anchored by brilliant acting from James Nesbit ‘The Missing’s’ strength has been showing how characters can get trapped in the past and struggle to move on with their lives.

Understandably, Nesbit’s character Tony Hughes is unwilling to move on from the kidnapping of his son. His ex-wife tries to move on but she is also trapped by the past. The detective Baptiste is trapped by previous trauma also not only from his injured leg but also from his drug addict daughter. The pedophile Vincent Bourg is similarly trapped by his past/character and ultimate hangs himself.

You could go through pretty much every character in ‘The Missing’ and find how they are held hostage by demons that trace back in one way or another to the disappearance of Oliver Hunt.

As the series wraps up some of the characters move on from the past and others don’t. The character arks of almost every character are done well. Every character that is except the protagonist Tony Hughes.

The problem with Tony Hughes is that he is the driving force of the story the protagonist. It is Tony whose refusal to let go of the past that begins and continues the story.

Tying up the solution to the disappearance and Tony’s character are interlinked and the writers never seem to decide whether they are telling a mystery or a character piece. The end result is that they do neither and it is unsatisfying.

As the finale enters it’s third act Tony’s character starts to unravel. At first Tony seems to accept Baptiste’s maxim that he will never know the whole truth and it is time to move on. We see real personal growth for Tony.

After much soul searching, brilliantly acted soul searching, Tony Hughes decides not to tell the wife that her dying husband killed Olly he decides not to take some measure of petty vengeance. Similarly, at the wedding when the detective calls lets it go to voicemail. He is no longer chasing after every impossible clue.

The Plot

That all seems okay. What could be the problem? The problem comes with how this intersects with the plot i.e. it doesn’t. To hook the viewer into watching the episode the writers opened the finale with a cryptic scene is Russia where a lone figure is trooping through the snow and staring at children. After a minute or so the camera zooms in and we see a picture of a stick kid with big ears traced onto snowy glass. In other words it was drawn by Olly.

This scene deliberately draws you in. Doubly so since we are very deliberately not shown the face of the lone figure. WTF?

Ultimately, though it turns out that the writers have played a trick on us. After seeming to have let go of the past Tony is still hunting his son. All his character development has been tossed away in order to deliver a cheap hook to keep us watching.

If the writers want to leave Tony trapped in the past then they should never had this opening scene. They should never had given us any answers to Oliver’s disappearance.

Or even better if they want to give answers about Oliver’s disappearance then Tony should have ended up in prison for the murder of Ian Garret. Just imagine he goes to chase down a final lead that will lead him towards his son but then the police turn up to arrest him. Tony’s past, the understandable sins he committed, have caught up with him and for a kicker the police don’t believe his lead.

In the end though the writers attempt to split the difference. As a result the mystery of disappearance isn’t satisfyingly told and neither is the character journey of Tony Hughes.

‘The Missing’ then fails to deliver the ending that it promised.

Do I trust Damon Lindelof enough to watch The Leftovers? – Review Ep 1 & 2

Synopsis (from IMBD)

The Leftovers “revolves around mysterious disappearances, world-wide, and specifically follows a group of people who are left behind in the suburban community of Mapleton. They must begin to rebuild their lives after the loss of more than 100 people”.

Review

When I first saw the trailer for ‘The Leftovers’ I adamant that I was not going to be watching it.  Sitting at my laptop when it came on however, it did catch my attention and in many ways this was my greatest fear. My fear was that The Leftovers would draw me like the Sirens of ancient Greek myth only to leave me marooned on the rocks of narrative disappointment.

You see I didn’t look at the premise of ‘The Leftovers’ and think that looks uninteresting or that’s stupid. As a lover of fantasy and science fiction I am fully on board with high concept premises. On seeing ‘The Leftovers’ my first thought that is an interesting idea but not for a TV series. In particular not for an American TV series

Why you ask?

Whilst the premise of The Leftovers is interesting and the show contains actors I like (Peep Show alum Paterson Joseph in particular is well cast). However, it also has a high potential to combine two tropes I hate.  Even worse it’s two tropes that can feed off each other.

Trope number one – Flashbacks

It’s an American TV drama staple. Lets show why character A is acting in such a way by flashing back five years and spending half the episode in a tedious narrative cul de sac. The Leftovers which is about a mystical event that disappears two percent of the population is ripe for tedious flashbacks.

Person number one wasn’t raptured but their wife was. Que flashback to before the rapturing as the writer drags us through a flashback of an affair or abusive relationship e.t.c.

Trope number 2. Religion/the meaning of life

People have been raptured off the planet what is the metaphysical significance of this? The perfect excuse for vague dialogue which pretends to offer some philosophical insight but in reality does nothing of the sort.

The Leftovers already had some hurdles to overcome in my eyes and then I found out that Lindelof was writing the series. Whilst I have enjoyed some of his work like Prometheus you would struggle to argue that he isn’t the prime propagator of tropes 1 and 2.  This then leads into the question

Do I trust Damon Lindelof enough to watch The Leftovers?

As I said though episode one did raise enough questions to draw me in. I am interested in the guy that is shooting dogs and Christopher Eccelston’s character and the cult of silent people dressed in white.

But this of course just brings me back to Lindelof. No doubt the guy can write interesting premises but they never lead anywhere satisfying.

So what I am coming up against is an odd theoretical issue. As a reader or viewer of stories I tend to without thinking trust that the author is going to fulfill his promises. After all successful writers do this but I’ve been burnt by Lindelof before.

I’m in an odd position. I enjoyed, the first episode in particular, enough that I’m tempted to give The Leftovers. However, I’m reticent to get back onto the merry-go-round with this Lindelof. The Leftovers is on a very short leash.

Review of Utopia Season Two

***SPOILER KLAXON***

It’s been a good long while since I have reviewed any TV on the blog so I thought I would make up for this by reviewing three shows in posts over the next few days. The lucky or unlucky or in reality luck neutral shows that I’m going to review are Channel 4’s Utopia, Amazon’s extant and BBC’s The Honourable Woman. I will kick things off with Utopia (at this point the reader should hum some catchy dubstep to themselves)

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If there is going to be a recurring theme to this posting it is a lack of originality and my ensuing disappointment.

For those of you who missed it last time Utopia is a British science fiction drama. After a somewhat original season one Utopia is getting its inevitable US reboot and of course the original UK version is currently airing its entirely unnecessary second season. In order to cash in on the success of the first.

For those of you who missed the first season a brief synopsis is needed for orientation. Originally, I had a nice two paragraph synopsis here but it didn’t flow very well either because, I’m a poor writer or because the plot of Utopia is too crazy to easily explain. So instead here is channel four’s official Utopia Season One in Three Minutes.

Now onto the review!

This new season has exposed for me “Utopia’s” crippling lack of depth. The striking aspect of series one was how the funky music and the alarming bright colours mixed with the OTT violence to give things a cartoon feel. It was a fresh interesting aesthetic that I really enjoyed. Also when combined with the “what the hell is going on?” narrative hook it made for an enjoyable first season.

With the “what the hell is going on?”/mystery factor settled though (we know what the Network wants to do) the lack of depth to any characters becomes very apparent and very grating. Utopia comes across as something written by a precocious teenage boy who has a thing for manic pixie dream girls.

The corollary to this teenageryness is insufferable manner in which the writers are trying to justify the things the bad guys are doing. Murder on a massive scale is seen as the stuff that noble moral characters do because it is necessary and don’t you just know the necessary acts weigh heavily on their soul. Murder/ genocide is thus alright. We shouldn’t hate the characters or at least the writers don’t seem to.

In Utopia the ends justify the means in the most crass way. In the world of Utopia overpopulation is going to lead to huge wars and mass death even perhaps the extinction of the human race. In the face of this threat no action is too extreme, no action is off limits.

What makes this particularly annoying though is that the authors obviously intend this as a stark warning to the real world. And there is nothing I detest more than whiny politic statement convinced of its righteous.

Personally, though I suspect they are over-egging the pudding. Malthusian predictions of apocalypse have long been the scientific equivalent of “endtime” speak. Even if we accept Utopia’s scenario though the logic of the series doesn’t hold.

You see The Network has been spending billions of pounds/ dollars and rubles and billion of man hours developing the Janus virus. Janus will reduce the worldwide human population to about 500 million. Now there are much cheaper, easier and more effect ways to achieve this. For example, education and the mass distribution of contraceptives coupled with investment in clean energy tech and new farming techniques (i.e. grow meat in petri dishes). Given their resources, political control and the fact that they only want to kill because it is necessary these acts shouldn’t be a problem for The Network. They should embrace them wholesale.

None of this is sexy however, it isn’t an edgy TV show. This is the crux of the matter of course. Sometimes cool ideas like Terminator or Jurassic Park are made just because they are cool ideas. The plausibility of the story doesn’t matter. Give me Robot Arnie riding a T-Rex and I’m there.

The difference is that Jurassic Park, Terminator and my upcoming Jurassic Park/Terminator fanfiction got away with their silly ideas because, they were executed really well. Utopia doesn’t do this. The two dimensionality of its characters don’t allow it to.

The second season of Utopia is a real let down that has tainted my enjoyment of the first. It is not on the same level but the following point is analogous. Tarantino said of the Matrix sequels that they ruined the mythology of the first film for him. Well, this second season of Utopia had the same effect.

Hannibal Season 2 Review – The gore is wearing thin (SPOILER KLAXON)

Justice may be blind but does that mean the writers have to be aimless also?

Justice may be blind but does that mean the writers have to be aimless also?

I’m a big fan of the fictional world of Hannibal Lector. Thomas Harris’ original trilogy  are modern masterpieces. Ditto for the Silence of the Lambs movie. I even enjoy the not so great Hannibal stories (***cough*** the prequel novel) [***cough*** the movie Hannibal].

When I first heard about the TV series Hannibal though I was sceptical about the whole idea. It was on network TV and I thought it would be tame and uninteresting. I figured that the dark edges of the story would be missing.

Eventually, I caught the first couple of episodes though and I was hooked. The series was dark and disturbing. The acting was great. The plot was arresting. The tone and the acting were enough for me to keep watching the show even as some of the murderers, lets just say, stretched the bounds of credibility.

The finale of the first season, with Will Graham being sent to prison for Hannibal’s crimes, set season 2 up as a barn burner.

Sending the hero to jail was a gutsy move. It obviously subverts the dynamic of the Silence of the Lambs and puts the good guy in a pretty appalling position to boot. More than this though it does something that many good stories do. It takes a strong character, one who was already under pressure, and gives them a push.

wileycoyoteSeeing how the mentally unstable and innocent Will Graham reacts the gravity (I like puns) of his incarceration whilst the titular Hannibal goes about planning more ‘dinner parties’ is both stomach churning and potential story gold.

Three episodes into season two though and I am worried that the writers are not up to the task they have set themselves. Like the poor judge in Will’s trial they are blind.

Shot after shot of Will Graham mentally fishing is wearing my patience thin. The writers have made a big mistake in showing Will Graham’s trial. It would have been more dramatically interesting to either skip forward in time or to just have Graham declared insane and avoid a costly trial.

Regardless as the story currently stands with Will Graham in prison the tension of the cat and mouse duel between the two is grinding to a halt. The scenario worked when Hannibal is in prison because, the sense of physical and mental menace the character exudes.

As a good guy Will Graham isn’t so mesmeric to watch when he’s caged plus since he is locked up in the equivalent of Arkham the character’s ability to do anything is severely restricted. This is doing nothing good for the story line.

The writers need to bring some sort of ticking clock into proceedings. The previous season hinted that Hannibal had his own special attraction to Dr Alana Bloom. Maybe the show could ratchet up the tension but having Hannibal turn his attentions onto her. Give Will Graham something to strive for.

Maybe the show could begin to make more use of the Freddy Lounds character. Why not have her interview Will Graham in prison. Will could use her to uncover the truth. Hannibal could take precautionary measures.

Failing that you need a killer who can force Will and Hannibal to work together. I got excited in episode one when I mistakenly thought that the Buffalo Bill was about to enter into the narrative. Do something to inject some pace into things. Anything

As it is the writers are currently ‘injecting’ pace into proceedings by amping up the yuck factor. The first season was not shy about killing people in ‘inventive’ ways but the story was so strong that the show got away with it. As the plot stagnates though and the killings become ever more theatrical the series is starting to resemble something Eli Roth would direct. For the record that is not good.

Hannibal needs to step up its game. It it is already airing on Friday nights. It can’t afford to be anything less than great.

Review of Jonathan Creek ‘The Letters of Septimus Noone’ (some spoilers but why would you care the writers didn’t)

Remember when he used to live in a windmill and solve crimes? The writers don't.

Remember when he used to live in a windmill and solve crimes? The writers don’t.

After beating boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard British boxer Terry Downes commented that “I didn’t beat Robinson. I beat his ghost”.

Well, after watching the latest episode of Jonathan Creek I understand his comments. I watched the ghost of a once enjoyable show shuffle around on my TV screen and oh how I wish I could have given it a sharp punch to the solar plexus.

If you haven’t seen Jonathan Creek before it used to be a light hearted murder mystery series in the style of Monk. The unique selling point was that the crimes in Jonathan Creek were locked door mysteries or other impossible crimes.

Now not to put the rose tinted spectacles on too much but at least the old episodes were always creative. Some of the ‘solutions’ may have been weak but at least they were always outside the box. In this episode of Jonathan Creek there is no murder. There is no mystery.

Before the episode started I mused to the people I was watching with that the one thing Jonathan Creek was lacking was a great villain. Someone who the titular main character could pit his wits against and perhaps be tested by. Alas though it never happened and now I can almost guarantee it never will because, everyone involved in this series has simply stopped trying.

I’ve seen bad detective shows and films. Instances where the killer is doing impossible things or I don’t believe that person who they say did it could possible be the murderer. What I have never seen however, is an episode like this episode of Jonathan Creek.

What wrong wrong with it you ask? Well there was no interesting crime or even attempt at an interesting crime.

Just think about this for a minute. The calling card of the show is completely absent. We the audience see the accidental murder/manslaughter and it’s not even worth talking about. Added to this the character Jonathan Creek is not interested either he doesn’t bother to spend time trying to solve the crime.

Instead we get a bad Saturday Night Style sketch parody of the hyper-observational modern day TV detective and D-plot supernatural occurrence explained an automatic vacuum cleaner.

A D-plot by the way which is solved by Mr Creeks wife and in no way intersects with the supposed A-plot. Oh a b-plot, which has more screen time than the A-plot ,and revolves around Mrs Creek’s father’s entirely natural death and the potential infidelity of his long dead wife.

An infidelity which the father didn’t know about and which it turned out never even happened. Much of the story then revolves around two characters we have never seen and the emotional effect they have on Mrs Creek who was introduced as a tertiary character an episode ago.

Could the stakes get any lower? Could the writers and actors care less? I don’t see how.

Why did anyone think the audience would care about this? I don’t believe they did. These episodes can only have been written to fulfill a contract already made/a deal with the devil. Furthermore, since the series is being put out on a Friday night in February you can be sure that the BBC didn’t think anyone would care about this either.

So I’ll finish with a plea to everyone involved in the series. If you don’t want to make anymore Jonathan Creeks please just stop making them. Don’t continue to take a giant steaming dump on a show that was at one time enjoyable.

Review of Archer Season 5 Episode 5 – Southbound and Down

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So after breaks for the Superbowl and the Sochi Olympics Archer is back on our screens and I couldn’t be happier even if I was munching on one of Pam’s special cupcakes (although my heart would certainly be beating faster).

ImageWell, at least I think that’s cupcake residue. There is the possibility it’s “snowball” related because, in Pam’s words “truck stops are fun”. Warning google ‘snowballing’ and ‘truck stops’ at your own risk. It’s a one way ticket to some dark places that you just cannot unsee.

So anyway, stepping out of one of the internet’s darker alleys, the plot of this episode is a deliberate homage to the Burt Reynold’s film “Smokey and the Bandit”. The gang has to get Charlene aka Cheryl aka the rich crazy railway heiress (I can never remember her name) to Texas in 24 hours.

Que hilarity as Archer brings some cocaine along to sell and Pam tells a every trucker about said drugs betwixt snowball sessions. Leading to the gang’s pursuit by a biker gang.

As you would expect with Archer the episode clips along at a reasonable pace interspersed with laughs. My favourites being 30-year-old Archer getting upset at not getting a Bert Reynold’s doll for his birthday and Krieger forcing Ray to frog march doing a Nazi salute. Reminding us all that he is a possible genetic clone of Adolf Hitler.

So another solid but ultimately unspectacular episode. I’d give it a B-.

I’m left wondering why this is?

I haven’t checked my reviews but other than the first episode there is no single episode of the season that I look back on as being worthy of an A grade.

Now I am I’m all for Archer, the show, growing and taking chances but can they include Archer, the character, in the action a bit more.

He wasn’t the driving force of ‘Southbound and Down’ and looking back through the rest of this season the same holds true for the other episodes. More Archer please!!!

Review of Fleming (2013) Episode 1

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The names Bon… er Fleming, Ian Fleming

Who knew that to make a James Bond TV show without paying royalties to the Broccoli estate all you had to do was repackage your show as a biography of Ian Fleming’s life. I can guarantee you that the pitch for the new show “Fleming” went something along the line of Bond with Nazi’s and the studio executives went “sold”

Anyway, I’m not sure just how accurate the show ‘Fleming’ is to the titular character’s real life war experiences but I’m not going to focus on it because to do so would miss the point. As Fleming himself says in the pilot “call me when you need a first class fantasist” and that is how I treated the show as complete tremendously enjoyable fantasy.

The directors and scene dressers were certainly treating it in the same way because, large sections of the show are shot like perfume commercials. Fleming gets away with this and doesn’t become insufferable however, due to the panache of Dominic Cooper who is fantastic.

Cooper pulls off the role of Fleming brilliantly. Perfect for the role and show. The camera loves him and as the audience you don’t want to take your eye off him.

Overall then ‘Fleming’ was tremendously enjoyable. I’d recommend it and will be watching the next episode. If a man with a golden gun shows up however, someone is getting sued.

Five Movies/TV Shows that are great when you edit chunks out

The Mummy (1999)

mummy1999I have a soft spot for the first Mummy film. I recognise that it is a poor film but I caught it at the right age to enjoy it as mindless fun.

In 10 year old me’s defence the taped off tv copy I had was missing the first 35 minutes or so of the film. This means that the film is pretty much action all the way through and it barrels along at just the right pace to make you not question things to closely. Also, and this is crucially important, the titular Mummy makes an appearance about 20 minutes into the running time.

In the actual cinematic cut The Mummy doesn’t show up for the best part of an hour. I’d take my ‘missed the start whilst taping it’ cut any day.

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

lady vanishesThe plot takes place on a train journey through Germany. It centres around a old lady who the central character has seen after waking up hung over. No body else on the train remembers or will admit to seeing her why is this?

It is a good set up for a film. It is also the best movie on this list by far. If you haven’t seen this film. It is a great film. It is perfect to kill an afternoon or a lazy Sunday.

There’s a caveat to this however (and I can’t believe I’m saying this about a Hitchcock film). This film is better if you skip the first 27 minutes of the film.

I first caught ‘The Lady Vanishes’ from the point the heroine wakes up on the train with the delightfully caring old Grannie sitting opposite her.

This was really fortunate because, it adds entire layers to the film i.e. is the main character reliable? If you see the first 27 minutes of the film however, this question completely disappears.

The 1979 remake with Cybill Shepherd and Elliot Gould also has a beginning out should miss but that one only lasts 15 minutes. It must be the only time in auteur Anthony Page’s career that his editing was better than the Master of Suspense’s.

Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions

matric reloadedI like to call this the ‘Stay in the Matrix cut’. Fast forward your way through the super boring bits in Zion that no body cares about. Such as the new Operator (whose name I cannot be bothered to find) talking to his wife, the orgy scene in the bowels of hell, Morpheus’ religious sermons, the Council of Zion and the fight scene ripped from Aliens.

Remember however, to stop in at ,or just remember, the bit showing that Agent Smith

I make sure I  see this guy as little as possible

I make sure I see this guy as little as possible

is now in Zion also. That bit is the only bit of the Zion sequences important to the plot.

All in all this carves a lot, but sadly not all, the fat off these sequels. It makes them infinitely better to watch.

Prison Break

prisonbreakPrison Break had the sort of insane premise that I can totally buy into. Lincoln Burrows’ is on death row for a crime he didn’t commit and his brother Michael Scofield decides to break him out.

How you ask? By tattooing all the prison plans and escape details onto his body and then getting sent to the same prison himself.

Stop it there and I am completely on board with you. The writer’s just couldn’t stop themselves however. Instead of just having Lincoln framed by corrupt cops or gang members or an enemy he has made they decided to make Lincoln Burrows as the patsy for an all seeing shadowy cabal that controls the world.

There was no need for this. Prison Break has a high concept enough concept already. If you are going to sell this then you shouldn’t dump a tonne of stupid on top of it. There is no need to add a conspiracy dimension to your cops and robbers conspiracy movie.

When it first came out on TV I ignored those bits and I did the same when I rewatched it again on netflix. It’s much more fun that way.

Lincoln

lincolnThis one makes the list for knocking an entire star and ruining the end of an almost perfect film. I am of course taking about the last 12 minutes of Lincoln.

Spielberg’s Lincoln was fantastic. It was beautifully shot and brilliantly acted. Plus it was basically an extended version of West Wing, a show that I love. Lincoln dealt with hugely important historical events and gave a sense of the politics of that time.

It showed just how difficult the decisions were that Lincoln had to make. It created in the movie character Lincoln (I don’t know enough about real life Lincoln) a believable politician who also did the right thing. He was flawed but basically saint.

By the end of the film you have created basically a figure who is mythical within his own time frame.

I’m watching this and I feel that Spielberg understands this. He knows where Lincoln is going. The audience knows where Lincoln is going. The whole set up is note for note perfect.

Lincoln is reminded of the hour and goes to leave saying “I suppose it is time to go. Though I would rather say”.

The iconic silhouette of Lincoln with his hat walks down the corridor in the White House and camera shows the Butler as if he also feel the weight of this moment of time. The music plays poignantly and Lincoln exits stage right.

Just cut there that’s the movie. That’s perfection.

Instead it continues for 10 more minutes of utterly pointless footage. He may have been competing against this film at the Oscars but that doesn’t mean Samuel Jackson wasn’t right.

Lord of the Rings : Return of the King (extended cut)

returnofthekingIt’s an obvious one but sure but that doesn’t make it any less true. There is no need for the last half an hour of this film.

Not only is it unsatisfying story telling to keep doing what are essentially extended post-credit sequences but within the narrative of the movie it makes no sense at all either.

Peter Jackson killed off Saruman back at the start of the film some 14 hours ago. So (spoiler alert) Saruman is not around to make a final appearance as a bad guy like he does in the book. There is no need to keep the film going.

The only one of these scenes that is remotely acceptable after the coronation is Frodo and the elves sailing away from Middle-Earth and that should come after the credits.

THE END

THE END

Paxman documentary attempts nationalist whitewash

Rah Rah Britain. God save the Empire. God save the King

Rah Rah Britain. God save the Empire. God save the King

It’s the 100 anniversary of WW1. A conflict that did more to shape the world we live in today than any other single conflict or event in the last century. Possibly even the last half a millennium. WW1 deserves to be remembered and discussed. Lessons should be learned from it.

Before going onto the discuss the documentary I should probably just express my own understanding of WW1. I enjoy reading about history. I have read enough about the subject to get a somewhat detailed but in no way expert idea of it. WW1 was on balanced caused by German’s who wanted to the war and they should bare a lot of responsibility for it. There were however, perfectly valid reasons for Germany’s actions in triggering the war. British politician’s going back to the 1890s deserve blame for the decisions they made that stoked the fires of the conflict.

So in general Germany did want the war to get ‘a place in the sun’ but there is enough blame and incompetence with the Russian, French and British leadership to show them as the upper class insular twits that they were. Now onto the documentary.

Jeremy Paxman’s documentary is a complete failure to analyse and understand WW1. It is an attempt at an historical whitewash. It is inaccurate and grating. Let’s begin with the presentation of the program starting with the music.

The music sweeps from being triumphalist when Britain is going well to being downbeat when it is feels a more sombre moment is called from. It is blatant emotional manipulation. It is stomach churning. It is like this supposedly serious documentary has been scored by John Williams.

Now lets turn to Paxman himself. He is an excellent quiz show presenter on University Challenge and interviewer for Newsnight. His strength is his sneering put downs and sarcastic quips. Shorn of this for his documentary narration skills his delivery is poor. Although I am sure he is sincere he seems unable to convey this to the camera. Added to this is the fact that he is not a professional historian or even lover of WW1 history and boy does this fact show.

Britain is painted as hapless victim. The show accepts that Britain had the “greatest empire the world has ever seen” but still paints us as the plucky underdogs who had never fought a war anywhere. There is some truth to this narrative in terms of the size of the BEF compared to Germany’s force at the outbreak of war, but this fact is grossly and distortingly overplayed.

hardcore historyIt is important to remember that the BEF were the only wholly professional force at the outbreak and that the defensive was king in this war. These factors allowed the BEF to punch above its numbers. If you want to find out more about this I would recommend Dan Carlin’s ongoing series on WW1 which makes this Paxman documentary look like it was made by a child.

The show focuses on the drive to recruit volunteers to the the army. It paints this in gloriously patriotic terms. The men who signed up were patriots. At no point however, does Paxman look at how this patriotism was being manipulated. Streets were cornered off for recruitment and bands played. The establishment was recruiting cannon fodder by putting on a show. Paxman fails to investigate how this was done and what were the motives of the authorities that did so. He doesn’t do this because it is ‘A’ to clever for this show and ‘B’ might present the British establishment in a less than glowing light.

The low point of the show is the description of Lord Kitchener as an “intensely moral man”. Kitchener spent his military career killing off ‘natives’ in colonial wars and believed in ‘the white mans burden’ and such racist nonsense. He cannot by any modern standard be described as “intensely moral”. He is also the idiot who came up with the idea of ‘pal’s battalion’ to increase recruitment, because why not kill off as many member of one community together all at once. The show of course fails to examine the concept of “Pal’s battalions” in any seriousness.

I will give some credit to the show though. The photography of WW1 it uses is top notch. It did give a sense of the times. It was clear that the full weight of the BBC was behind its production. It also showed me just how much like Lord Kitchener Stephen Fry’s Blackadder looked. Their mustaches really did match. So bravo Stephen Fry.

Also the coverage of the shelling of the coast of Britain by the German Navy was something I had never heard of. It’s just a shame that Paxman and the BBC didn’t put the materials to better use.

If you want an interesting and thoughtful pop culture examination of WW1 try both the podcasts ‘When Diplomacy Fails’ and Dan Carlin’s “Hardcore History”. Both of these are more accurate, balanced and interesting than the jingoistic nonsense that the BBC has put out in this documentary.

Sadly, I fear this documentary has set the tone for the £50 million plus that has been green lit to remember WW1.

2 out of 5 stars (It only gets 2 stars for the excellent original pictures used)

Review Season 5 Episode 4 Archer Vice : House Call (Spoiler and Skeleton inhalation Klaxon)

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Run Cokey the Beast is loose! Oh and Lana !!!! Archer told you so

So it’s episode four of the new season of Archer.

Pam’s cocaine addiction has increased/continued at such a rate that Mallory has decided that she needs to go to rehab. A newly slimline Pam (because cocaine is a great diet drug, don’t know why Doctors don’t recommend it) doesn’t want to go.

Que the entry of everyone’s favourite side character Kreiger and the side character that everyone could kinda do without Woodhouse.

The old drughound Woodhouse deals with the “grass” the only way a grass deserves and conks Pam over the head with a frying pan. In the process he also delays Archer’s breakfast (so bad old timey British butler who may or may not be Archer’s father). Kreiger however has perfected (not sure if his definition of prefected and mine agree) the mind control device and wants to use it to cure Pam’s cocaine addiction.

Being so strong that “She might as well be green and half deaf” Pam destroys the ropes and escapes with Cheryl. Oh, and there’s an FBI agent running loose in the building so that probably needs checking into.

Anyway there are some good lines in this episode such as

“This is only somewhat like that old gypsey woman said”

“Hi, welcome to Nazi Canada. Glug, Glug, Glug Eh”

“I’m coming, I’m coming” Archer – “are we not saying phrasing anymore?”

“I’d spend five minutes before you begin your escape giving that nice guy Archer a combination goodbye/thankyou blowjob”

and finally “I think I inhaled a skeleton”

Kreiger “No you definitely inhaled a skeleton”

So all in all a good episode of Archer but probably not one that I’m going to revisit anytime soon. The next episodes however, promise to get “international” so buckle your seatbelt, get your shots and don’t forget your second and third fake passport.