A weekly segment? Well, this is going to end well.
As part of this blog’s ongoing search for regular #content to promote #engagement, I present the new (hopefully) regular corner where I’ll take a look back at the things I’ve been watching over the course of the week and talk about them in a little more detail than I generally do on Twitter. I’m sure this will be every bit as successful an endeavour as, say, last year’s X Factor recaps (yes, I will finish them, stop looking at me like that), and the countdown of the 50 greatest America’s Next Top Model contestants (definitely haven’t forgotten about it, watch this space), but it’s better than the blog just sitting doing nothing, isn’t it? Anyway, here’s what’s been getting cleared off my Sky+ box this week.
HAPPY VALLEY (BBC1)
I was as nervous as anyone when it was confirmed that Happy Valley would be returning for a second series, for the standard reasons: the first series was such a perfect self-contained story, it felt like a ratings-driven decision rather than a creatively-led one, and so on. My fears weren’t exactly allayed in the gap between seasons when we all endured the second series of Broadchurch, a prime example of what can go wrong when you try to drag a story out beyond its natural expiration date – though since I generally have a lot more faith in Sally Wainwright than I have in Chris Chibnall, I tried to keep the hope alive that there would be a legitimate reason to go back to Calderdale.
Two episodes in, and I feel that faith has been rewarded because there’s a lot of really great stuff percolating in the second series. I’m not going to dwell too much on the brilliant work being done by Sarah Lancashire and James Norton because we all covered that more than thoroughly during the first series, but one thing I’m very excited about is that Clare feels like a much more important character this time around. One of the very few criticisms that I had for the first series was that Clare, Catherine’s sister, never really had much of a plot of her own – to the point where I was nursing a theory that the final episode would reveal some sort of awful collusion between her and Tommy Lee Royce – and it seemed a bit of a waste of a talented actor like Siobhan Finneran to have her around just so Sarah Lancashire had someone to talk to. This time, Clare have a plotline of her own revolving around the potential rekindling of an old flame with former schoolfriend Neil, who of course has some skeletons in his closet (he confessed these to Clare up front, though Catherine found them out by running an illicit PNC check on him because she noticed he flinched when he saw her uniform, an example of the detail that Happy Valley does so well) but who has yet to offically have Wrong’Un status conferred on him. Part of what gives me hope about this plotline is that Neil is played by Con O’Neill, who was one of the very few aspects of Cucumber that didn’t make me want to throw my television in the bin and replace it with a large yukka plant. I’m also impressed so far with how the second series has tested the relationship between Clare and Catherine by Clare having a relapse of her alcoholism, bringing to the surface all of her frustrations about Catherine’s constant supervision of her while also demonstrating how Catherine’s treatment of her has, largely, been justified. Also Siobhan Finneran does excellent drunk acting, and so few actors can do that well, so we need to treasure it when we see it.
The new cast members have been a joy so far as well. Amelia Bullmore’s portrayal of the spurned, blackmailing Vicky Fleming has been a masterclass in low-key menace; I would never have thought it was possible to make an innocuous sentence like “I’ve made a moussaka” sound like a threat, but she managed it somehow. And while we’ve only seen small amounts of Shirley Henderson as the mysterious Frances Drummond (if that is in fact her real name), she’s always reliable when you need someone to play a proper creeper and her scenes in the classroom as the new teaching assistant taking a special interest in Catherine’s grandson (and Tommy’s son) Ryan were superbly squirmworthy as she made not-so-subtle enquiries into his home life while somehow labelling him as a master manipulator. I just hope there’s enough airtime for everyone across the series, though: Katherine Kelly hasn’t had much to do apart from peer at a briefing room over smart-person spectacles and Julie Hesmondhalgh’s character seems to spend all of her time packing lunches or unpacking shopping. But I’m sure they’ll come into their own in due course.
SURVIVOR: KAÔH RŌNG (CBS)
Season 32 of Survivor was infamous long before it aired thanks to the fairly well-publicised reports of the terrible conditions that plagued filming, with the cast and crew being subjected to horrendous weather and constant sickness. The show decided to make a virtue of this in its opening episode by teasing the many perils to come this season, with Jeff Probst’s narration informing us that these were some of the toughest conditions ever endured on Survivor. The trouble with this, of course, is that the same location was used for season 31, which was filmed after this but in largely similar conditions and contained no medevacs whatsoever, so my response to Probst’s hyperbole was “eh, Spencer survived it, how hard can it realistically be?”
Thus began the season that I’d originally nicknamed Survivor: Mass Medevacs in my head, a name that I’d change to Survivor: Terrible Tattoos by the end of the premiere because seriously, just look at those people. It didn’t skimp on the gore and the body horror thanks to an early disaster that befell Jennifer when an insect crawled inside her ear canal and refused to come out. As a result, we watched poor Jennifer try and tough her way through things despite not being able to sleep, relax, or indeed do much of anything as the creature appeared to be burrowing directly into her brain – at one point she even had to interrupt a confessional to scream in agony. The editors, of course, milked this for all it was worth by cutting from shots of poor, pained Jennifer to close-ups of giant beetles and suchlike, flexing their mandibles, implying with all their might that this was what was devouring Jennifer from the inside. It turned out to be a tiny maggot causing all the drama, which eventually crawled out of its own accord, but I can’t pretend I wasn’t genuinely concerned at one point that this would be the first season of Survivor to end in a bloody massacre after one of the contestants was possessed by a murderous parasite.
Horrific cranial invasions aside, this was a fairly standard opening episode that did its best to shorthand a narrative for as many people as possible. So far we know that Alecia is inept, Aubry does not cope well with pressure and/or heat and possibly has her cards marked already as a result, Debbie is loud and annoying, Joe is old, Nick has an inflated sense of his own attractiveness, Caleb is a judgemental ass, Scott and Kyle are our designated alphas for the season and Tai is excitable and kind of bad at strategy. Mimicking the set-up of Survivor: Cagayan, this season’s tribes were divided into Brains, Brawn and Beauty, though presumably that gimmick was assigned after casting had been completed, leading to such anomalies as realtor Alecia ending up on Brawn despite looking day-32-emaciated right from the outset. Due to a combination of Alecia’s incompetence and Darnell’s poor judgement in losing the goggles that they needed for the swimming section of the immunity challenge, the Brawn tribe (aka To Tang) were the first to visit Tribal Council this season, and Alecia seemed like an obvious first boot because she’d already annoyed several of her tribemates and bungled the puzzle section of the challenge. However, Kyle and Scot decided that Darnell losing the vital challenge equipment was the far bigger sin and planned to vote him out instead, leading to an Alecia/Darnell tie at the vote which later went to Darnell on the revote. He seemed pretty pissed off, as well you might be, though considering what everyone else is going to have to endure this season, he may well have had a lucky break. And I can’t pretend I’m not still glad on some level that Alecia survived to bungle another day, because a contestant who tries to cast her elimination vote without taking the cap off the pen first clearly still has so much entertainment to give us.
TRAPPED (BBC FOUR)
I’ll hold my hands up and admit that I’m an easy mark when it comes to imported, subtitled dramas and will happily sit through just about anything that airs at 9pm on BBC Four on a Saturday night. My loyalty isn’t always rewarded, of course – for every Borgen or The Bridge there’s a Salamander or Cordon – but so far I’m quite enjoying Icelandic drama Trapped. It charts the discovery of a human torso in the port just as a passenger ferry arrives from Denmark, leading police chief Andri to detain the ferry while he conducts his investigation and quizzes all the passengers – and just to really piss on his chips, a bitter snowstorm seals off all routes to the town preventing the forensics experts from Reykjavik getting there to investigate in person, meaning they just phone him up a lot to complain about how much he must be fucking everything up without them present to supervise him. To be fair, they may have a point, since Andri’s team have already lost the body as well as their prime suspect, Lithuanian trafficker Jonas Malaskauskas, who overpowered the officer on duty who was taking him for a shitbreak and then drove off in a police car, eventually killing himself in a crash because the roads are too weatherbeaten under to be traversable, remember?
As a crime drama, it’s solid and enjoyable so far, though I must admit the bit that’s grabbing me more than anything is the subplot where Andri’s daughter Perla is mercilessly bullying a boy at school because he has no dad, for no other reason that I can tell other than she is a right little so-and-so. I don’t quite know where that’s going, but it’s fascinating. Also, the small-town location, coupled with the convenient use of the weather to trap people in an area that they should by rights be fleeing from, reminds me quite a lot of Sky Atlantic’s flashier, starrier Fortitude, which sold itself as a murder-mystery only to unexpectedly turn into a high-budget B-movie with an A-list cast halfway through. There’s no sign yet of Trapped following suit, but I shall remain vigilant.
GREASE: LIVE (ITV2)
I’ve had this one sat on my Sky+ since it aired, mostly because it’s been quite hard to find a three-hour window to sit and watch the whole thing, but with the box currently creaking under the weight of everything I’ve been trying to record, I decided it was high time I got it out of the way. I’d say the main thing I took away from this production is just how little plot Grease has to run on, because not only did it run out of story about 20 minutes before the end of the broadcast, but there are also large chunks of it where everything literally stops for some dancing. I appreciate that it’s musical theatre, but if the dancing is taking up that much time and it isn’t advancing the plot, does it really belong?
Anyway, it’s hard to fault the ambition of the production: the sheer number and size of the locations used was impressive, and it was all very slickly delivered. The use of a live audience was a bit of a head-scratcher though, since they’d apparently been added to stop these live musicals being such an atmospheric vacuum, but at the same time the audience members appeared to have been briefed not to laugh at any of the jokes, which was rather puzzling.
Vanessa Hudgens was superb as Rizzo, and as one of the many people who pulled an exaggerated WTF-face at this particular decision when the cast was announced, I have never been so happy to be proven wrong in my life. Other standouts included You’re The Worst‘s Kether Donoghue as Jan, Elle McLemore as a spirited Patty Simcox, a pitch-perfect Ana Gasteyer as Principal McGee, and while the T-Birds didn’t ever really develop individual personalities, Jordan Fisher’s performance of ‘Those Magic Changes’ was genuinely lovely. Sadly I can’t offer much praise to Julianne Hough’s stilted performance as Sandy: sure, she can dance, but even with the lengthy (lengthy) cheerleading tryout scene, there still wasn’t enough dancing in it to justify her casting when her singing was so patchy and her acting so stiff. I felt bad for Carly Rae Jepsen too, who had a new song – ‘All I Need Is An Angel’ – written for her to sing as Frenchy, but it was bland and overstuffed and mostly served to delay the arrival of ‘Beauty School Dropout’. As for Aaron Tveit as Danny, well, I’ve certainly see him be much better in other things, and while I’m sure that having to carry the dead weight of Hough’s Sandy didn’t help him, I don’t think that was his only problem. But there were some very persuasive arguments for his casting.
I’ll be in my case. I mean — I rest my bunk. I mean — oh, who cares. *stares at that gif for hours and hours*