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Television: Half-Year Report Card Part 2

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The second part of my quick look at some of the television programmes in the first half of this year. Today I discuss those shows I’m going to label as ‘genre’, which includes sci-fi and detective television.

Doctor Who
I talked about the effects of budgetary problems on British television, which brings me to Doctor Who. Doctor Who is a great programme, which has started exploding over in America, and makes a lot of money for BBC, but it has had problems with the money needed to make the show. I don’t know if this was the reason for only getting half of the season before a long summer break, but it can’t help. Of the seven episodes shown, there were the great ones (the ones written by Steve Moffat – episodes 1, 2 and 7 – and the beautiful episode about the Tardis written by Neil Gaiman) and the not so good ones (the silly pirate one and the two-parter about the synthetic flesh ‘gangers’). The continuing story of the death of the Doctor at the hands of the Impossible Astronaut is another piece of Moffat fun, and the reveal of the identity of River Song (one of the great characters in sci-fi) was a delight. It’s an agonising wait for the second half, but the title of the next episode alone has kept me smiling: ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’.

Being Human (Series Three)
I’ve enjoyed the BBC3 fantasy drama Being Human but the third series has been a real drag. It was getting to the point where I didn’t anticipate watching 60 minutes of whining. Mitchell was annoying, the love story between him and Annie seemed unbelievable and silly, and the resurrection of the irritating Herrick (he looked like the branch manager of a small rural bank) depressed me because it meant he was back and even more irritating. And I was angered by creator Toby Whithouse’s cowardice in having Herrick NOT killing Nina – a vampire with centuries of murder who stabs someone in the kidney – just so Nina can be back for the next episode. However, the pain was relieved by the greatness of the season finale, and not just because they killed off Herrick and Mitchell. Intensity, drama, action, meaning; it was almost worth watching the rest of the series just to get to it. And, with the introduction of the marvellous Lee Ingleby as an ancient vampire called Wyndham, there is finally a mean and scary vampire (one of the Old Ones) that you can believe in. Ingleby, who has done many things but will always be associated to me with his roles as Young Thug in the famous ‘finger gunfight’ episode of Spaced and Stan Shunpike in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, was brilliant in the few minutes he was on screen and I hope he will make a great villain for the next series.

BBC1 went the Wallander route with this: taking a series of crime novels that are set in a foreign country but use English actors filmed on location. Wallander had Kenneth Branagh as the lead in adaptation of the Henning Mankell book set in Sweden; Zen has Rufus Sewell as Aurelio Zen (I love the name) in the Michael Dibdin novels set in Italy (specifically Rome). The show looked good, the opening credits had a lovely vibe of the 1960s, the setting was beautiful and it was intriguing to follow the adventures of an honest policeman in a culture of corruption. There were three 90-minute episodes that followed Zen as he tries to balance his job, being used by government officials, a divorce, living with his mother and starting a relationship with a woman in the office. Sewell worked well as the main character, and there was good support from the rest of the cast. The ratings and critics had been good, but it appeared that the BBC had decided not to make any more episodes; however, the international sales of the series were so good that it looks like we might be getting more episodes.

Case Histories
This was a six-part series of one-hour dramas adapting three of the novels by Kate Atkinson about Jackson Brodie, a former police inspector (and originally a soldier) who is now a private investigator. The main draw is Jason Isaacs (Hello to Jason Isaacs, if you’re a listener to the Mark Kermode show on Radio 5) in the lead: he brings a depth and empathy to the role, which is expected from an actor of his quality, and you really feel for his character. The other aspect that is intriguing here is the character himself: the female perspective of Brodie, who is a tough guy but who also has real drama in his past that still haunts and drives him, and you can see this depth of caring he has for people as a driving force in what he does. The stories themselves are interesting and clever, but it’s Brodie and Isaacs that keep you coming back. I really hope they make another series.

This is broadcast on 5USA, an offshoot of Channel 5, which might go some way to explaining why this excellent series isn’t well known in this country or showered with the critical praise it deserves. It’s a show that quietly and without fuss creates excellent drama. The different plot lines that bubbled along throughout the season were handled well, and they were all based on great characterisation. Timothy Olyphant is fantastic as US Marshal Raylan Givens, the lead in the midst of a great cast: Walton Goggins as old but criminal friend Boyd Crowder being one of the highlights, but perhaps outshone by Margo Martindale as Mags Bennet, the ruthless but smiling matriarch of the Bennet clan. Comprising shocking turn of events, gun play, social commentary and big business, the series was quietly brilliant and shows no sign of stopping.

Walking Dead
This was broadcast on terrestrial TV (Channel Five) earlier this year, which is why I include it. I haven’t read the comics, not because it’s black and white or an Image comic, but simply because I’m not a fan of zombies – the recent zombie craze has completed eluded me. Therefore, I was in two minds about watching this, but I’m glad that I did. The good thing is the way that the story is treated completely seriously and the tone and approach is maintained throughout the six episodes that make up the first season, and it’s thrilling and well done. However, this is still a zombie story, so all the characterisation is leading up to the deaths that will happen. Also, I really didn’t like the bit in the third episode where, having escaped from downtown Atlanta and a horde of zombies, Rick Grimes (played well by English actor Andrew Lincoln) turns around and goes back; it was clunky and annoying and it took me out of the story. Good stuff, but not necessarily my cup of tea.

This has just started showing on terrestrial television (Channel 5 on a Friday evening) and it’s nothing more than Murder She Wrote with ride-alongs and sexual tension, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun, which is mostly down to Nathan Fillion. He’s a charming mofo, and that is the entire appeal of the show. His attitude, charisma and delivery are fantastic, and I spend most of the time laughing at his dialogue. It’s not groundbreaking or great television, but it’s thoroughly entertaining and, sometimes, that’s all I need.

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