Periodical TV Review No. 2

1) Justified (Seen up to Season 3 Episode 5)

Justified is one of my favourite new shows to come out of Fox. It’s gainful employment for Timothy Olyphant who was wonderful as the silently furious lawman in Deadwood, always one step away from murdering everyone in a room. He’s a more interesting character in Justified as someone with old school ideas. The series has wonderful dialogue between characters, often very friendly but with a sense of threat. It’s set in rural Kentucky, which gives it a wonderful Southern infusion of dryness, whiskey, southern cooking and the tensions between outsiders and old families. In the third season, this is emphasised with a new crime boss in town as well as increasing characterisation of some of the smaller characters. It has really great sense of character development and a wonderful slow languid pace which gets you into the feel of the slow, southern country dependent on coal, drugs and booze. It has some fascinating villains, last season’s Mags Bennett was a master class in acting as kindly, friendly grandma figure who was capable of rather more than first meets the eye. This continues in Season 3 with two figures to fill her huge boots which all adds to some really nice plotting and pacing. Do watch even the (admittedly) duller episodes from the first season as it creates some wonderful stories once it gets going.

2) Upstairs Downstairs (Seen up to Season 2 Episode 1)

Well I wanted to like this as I enjoyed the miniseries. It shows the run up to the Second World War from the perspective of a rich Foreign Office head of the family at the iconic house from the previous ITV series which was so beloved in the 1970s. With two of the major characters being central (Aileen Atkins and Jean Marsh) it is unfortunate that one is dead and the other is ill as it doesn’t hold up favourably to Downtown Abbey – its most direct rival. Its characters aren’t as interesting, the plot points are rather inelegantly performed and its attempt to unsuccessfully try to shoe horn history into a period drama is poor. I know this sounds counter intuitive, but it puts too much emphasis on the history instead of focusing on the human stories at the centre of a household. I also feel they are under-using the most interesting character of new series Percy Tolwyn (Clare Foy) as a pro-Nazi aristocrat who has a wonderful sense of abandon and humour which lights up the screen and makes everyone else seem dull. She seems rather underused as if the show is a bit embarrassed about her character. Plus the new characters haven’t been particularly well thought out such as a liberal obsessive from the British Museum as a replacement for Aileen Atkins –  I think not. I hope that over time it will gain a distinct character as an alternative to Downton Abbey but at the moment I am not too hopeful.

 3) Spartacus: Vengeance  (seen up to Series 3 Episode 3, having missed Season 2)

This is TV that could only be classified as a guilty pleasure. It’s appalling with some of the most wooden acting I have ever seen and it’s cheap in a rather odd way. Its incredibly explicit both in sexual content and violence, using the stylised 300 style of slow motion decapitations and slashes. It’s fun in a stupid way as its filled with swearing but does this around this clunky cod of Shakespearian dialogue which seems rather laughable. Due to the tragic death of the original actor playing Spartacus (Blood on the Sands was the first series), they have replaced him with someone who looks nothing like him. Likewise, due to various other issues, some other cast members have left to be replaced. I do not like it when they do this at all and it really grates. Much of it often feels like softcore porn consideirng the huge amount of sex and the terrible dialogue. But for all its criticism it drags me along. I’m interested in what happens even though I wish Rome was on again which was a far better version of what this is trying to replicate without the budget or the talent.

4) Smash (seen up the Episode 3 –  even though David reviewed this I feel I should just give my opinion on it)

Sweet. At it’s core, it’s a posh Glee looking to appeal to the demographics who go to the theatre in America. It’s also the most realistic look at theatre production I have yet seen on either the small or big screen, based around the extreme unfairness of auditions, constant funding difficulties and creative battles. The fact it’s also got Jack Davenport (Commodore Norrington in Pirates of the Caribbean) as ‘The Director’ is genius with his sarky English humour acting as a good counterweight to the very enthusiastic Americans. It’s another Steven Spielberg production and has lots of promise, clever dialogue capable and a fun cast, if a rather pretentious storyline for the first season. It’s about a Marilyn Monroe musical featuring tears, laughs, long death soliloquy with most of the cast having a chance to talk about the tragic nature of Marilyn’s life (snore), while angling for a role or helping someone else. The core is good and I just hope as I carry on watching it that it will grow into a good show.

Review by Harry Riedl


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