Carnival Row

I wasn’t expecting much of Carnival Row. I put it on just to have something to watch while eating my tea. The foundations of my prejudice were twofold. First, that many Amazon Originals are as lethargic and under-edited as their Netflix cousins, second, the casting of Cara Delevingne.

If that sounds mean, you’re misunderstanding. I think Delevingne is a good actress and, obviously, a great beauty. Had she been born earlier, she would surely have been a megastar of the old studio system, a Harlow, a Hepburn. But she seems to have a knack for picking…. not great projects. Valerian, Suicide Squad, Pan… I think the last film where she actually got to display her talent and not merely her looks was Paper Towns and that was way back in 2015.

So, it makes me truly happy to say that, finally, Delevingne has both a role and a project worthy of her. Rene Echevarria’s Carnival Row is a fantasy set in a quasi-Victorian world. The world is divided between humans and the Fae, mythical beings such as fairies, kobolds and satyrs. Not steampunk, steampuck. Delevingne plays Vignette, a fairy who was once in love with a human soldier called Philo (short for Rycroft Philostrate, played by Orlando Bloom). Thinking him dead in the war, she is greatly put out when she pitches up in the city of Burgue to discover him hale, hearty and now a police inspector:

Their romance; the fights, the kisses, the misunderstandings is sweet, believable and, unlike most fictional couples, I didn’t want to vomit every time they were being flirty (see Valerian). Bloom’s gruff ‘copper wiv ah ‘eart of gold’ is a charming foil to Delevingne’s peppery, ferociously focussed fairy.

If this was it, Carnival Row would have enough to keep me watching. But where it excels is that this is only one of several stories which it skillfully interleaves such that the viewer never tires of one particular thread.

Pictured above are Agreus Astrayon (puck) and Imogen Spurnrose (human). Their story is a delicious slow burn with plunges into quality bickering and hugely entertaining high-society cringefests.

BUT THERE’S MORE

If I had a subheading for Carnival Row, it would be FORBIDDEN PASSIONS. It delights in exploring the constructed world’s societal norms / taboos and those who dare to break them. Whether it’s incest, homosexuality or inter-species sex, Carnival Row is going to go there.

Oh yes. It’s like your browser history.

Repeatedly, characters in Carnival Row walk to the edge of what is normal, what is allowed, what is polite and then cross that line. The most poignant of these moments is between various couples and these exchanges are the most affecting of the whole show. I’m lucky enough to know the electric, transformative power that kind of an intimate relationship can have. This is the only television drama I’ve yet seen to depict that with more reverence than prurience. If you’ve ever looked into someone’s eyes and shivered because they are changing you, stretching you, freeing you in ways you could not previously countenance, you will find yourself in Carnival Row, as I did. There is an emotional realism in this fantasy show that outdoes numerous plodding, ‘realistic’ Scandi crime dramas.

Carnival Row is a better show than Game of Thrones. It has better writing, better acting, better direction and, crucially, it’s about something more than closeness to a book or fan service.

Not just something, it’s about the most important questions humans can consider. It’s about morality, it’s about law, government, immigration, xenophobia. It’s about those in power who use chaos and pain for their own gains, whatever the cost in lives lost and tears shed.

I’ve just watched the end of the last episode of series one and it had me in bits. Delevingne and Bloom were perfect in the final scene, their story was the lynchpin of all those interweaving storylines finally coming together. Carnival Row is compelling without sinking into mawkishness. It makes cogent, informed and insightful points about our contemporary world, the antithesis of clunky ‘message’ shows which ulitmately render evil banal and the viewer apathetic. In the bestest way, this is destabilising, unsettling TV.

Carnival Row is easily the best TV of 2019. It will probably become one of my favourite shows ever (as long as subsequent seasons don’t piss on this head start). So, like all the best people of the Burgue do, ignore your prejudices and give Carnival Row a go.

Why I Love The Order (No Spoilers)

Take a look at the pic above. Not the most inspiring, is it? If I had judged The Order by its promo, I could easily have skipped one of the best bits of television I’ve seen in my life.

Yes, The Order is that good.

Netflix is nothing if not fecund. Its womb overflows with series, some original, some not, some hasty re-badgings of other networks’ net works.

I think it’s fair to say that most of us, knowing that Netflix values quantity over quality, have consequently adjusted our televisual expectations downwards. If a major network like the BBC was to field an entirely new supernatural series, that would be news. Netflix does that with every breath sooo… ehhh… What’s this one? Teenage vamps? Werewolves? Zombies? Genre telly is pushing no boundaries, it is almost entirely comfort viewing. The same well-worn tropes told in exactly the same thin, YA way.

That’s why I was so surprised by The Order. I just wanted to put some telly on while I scoffed my tea, nothing heavy, nothing brain-disrupting, some light escapism would do. Hell, even YA since everything is cursed with YA nowadays. Might as well go with that ridiculously emotionally unrealistic flow.

But from the very opening scenes… I sit up and take notice. There’s a distinct Buffy vibe going on between what I assume are two principal witches. And the relationship between the central character, Jack (Jake Manley) and his Pops (Matt ‘MAX HEADROOM’ Frewer) isn’t the pure, gloopy corn syrup we’ve come to expect; it’s complex and we’re given strong hints that it’s broken in profound ways.

Sheesh… that’s the first ten minutes.

The premise is this: Jack and his Pops have an axe to grind with a blokey that has something to do with a secret society based at Belgrave University. For reasons we don’t yet know, they blame him for Jack’s Mum’s death. Oh, and said blokey happens to be… duh duh DUHHHH! JACK’S DAD! Lovely!

So Jack goes to Belgrave and on his first day meets… Alyssa!

Alyssa Drake (Sarah Grey)

She is supremely irritated by Jack and so, of course, following teenage lust rules SUPER ATTRACTED TO HIM (yeah, me neither).

He also meets this dude:

Randall (Adam DiMarco)

Initially, he’s his dorm guide but the two hit it off and we warm to Randall as he has some funny lines. Like, no, really, they are funny. You will at least snort if not literally LOL. “I’m Wikipedia smart!” is one I plan to plagiarise often. And the Oprah one.

Bear in mind, we’re now twenty minutes in and not much SUPERNATURAL has happened yet… at all. So, why have I kept watching? Because it’s a long time since I heard dialogue this funny and well-paced, particularly in genre telly which more often tends to the clunkily portentous. You know what I mean… “LO, WITCH, FORFEIT THE DAGGER OF SHNNGTHHHTTHH OR FEEL THE UNLEASHED FURY OF THE HOUNDS OF GLAKNKRISHP!”

So, The Order is snappy, it moves along without any of the detours, longueurs or outright Netflixitis that’s doomed many a fresh-faced show. Just because you can show me a tap dripping for two minutes doesn’t mean you should. (Hey, The OA!)

Then, when the supernatural bits do start kicking in, it’s all done similarly smartly. There’s a lot of emphasis on make-up, practical effects and grounding the fantastic in the mundane rather than the over-reliance on shonky CGI that yer average Netflix ghosty show wallows in. Thus, we never get the spooky drama ruined by low-polygon FX, everything is done without over-stepping budget believability. And I do love a good mask:

And then, right at the end of ep one… WE HAVE OUR FIRST HUUUGE MONSTER. And, wow, they are sooo cuddly. And bitey.

Over the following nine eps of series one, I became totally hooked on The Order. I didn’t even mind the romance subplot and usually they annoy the shit out of me. The writers on The Order know how to pitch a love story so it’s real, it’s not cloyingly sweet or pure, clothes-shredding, perfect-sex fantasy… it’s a bit awkward and a lot frustrating. C’mon, that’s what those first relationships are actually like!

And when the monster threat in ep one is dealt within in ep two, we don’t feel let down or in any way cheated by the resolution. In fact, I actually kicked myself for not for figuring it all out earlier, there were actual glaring clues, it wasn’t a Murder She Wrote impossibility.

So that’s what I think shines in The Order: the writing, the characters, the acting, the plots AND the romance, the mise en scene, the cinematography. And, yes, even the CGI is tasteful and enhances the whole show. Now, how often can you say that?

Give The Order a go. Give it one ep and I promise… you’ll be hooked!

Fantasy Trek Crews

To boldly snog…

No, no, not THAT kind of fantasy, yer slash pervs! 😛

A discussion on Facebook lead me to posting this: 

This one is EASY PEASY LEMON SQUEEZY:

From non-Trek SF telly: 
 
1. Captain Samantha Carter
2. First Officer Lee Adama
3. Chief Engineer Kaywinnet Lee Frye
4. Tactical/Security Officer Kiera Cameron
5. Helmsman Ulysses Adair
6. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Walter Bishop
7. Operations John Kennex
8. Science Officer Orac
 
From Trek: 
 
1. Captain Wesley Crusher
2. First Officer Amanda Rogers
3. Chief Engineer Hugh Borg
4. Tactical/Security Officer Gary Seven
5. Helmsman Morn
6. Chief Medical Officer Dr. M’Benga
7. Operations M’Ress
8. Science Officer Saru

What would your dream crew be, eh? 

BSG Versus Trek

My reply to the above:

If you compare TOS to reboot BSG, then it may look dated and certainly the effects are *now* inferior. BUT at the time TOS came out, it was a revolutionary series, in terms of both conception and (where the studio allowed!) execution. The first inter-racial kiss on US TV: check. A bridge crew of officers which included numerous human ethnicities AND Spock? Check. A future which is has abolished money and where education, food, shelter and healthcare are free for every human? Check. And it’s well known that Roddenberry actually wanted to push even further but the studio wouldn’t have it.

BSG may be absolutely “sexier” and “grittier” but *for the time it was made and released*, it took far fewer risks than TOS. So, BSG may seem edgier but, really, how many real risks did it take compared to TOS? None that I can remember.

Also, I would argue that dystopias are lazy, we’re drowning in them! Every new YA is set in a dystopia with a plucky Mary Sue-ish heroine torn between two boys, one bad, one good, both gorgeous and, like, totally into her. I’m not saying BSG is the same as Divergent or Maze Runner or The Hunger Games but it is Yet Another Robot Uprising Armageddon. It’s hard to write a happy song, very easy to write a sad one. Roddenberry’s genius is that he wrote a happy song that wasn’t The Frog Chorus. (see also Iain M. Banks’ Culture.)

Dystopia… pah, gimme a UTOPIA, like Roddenberry did. Give me an Earth with a mature, cohesive humanity, a place of wonder and beauty that can inspire us now. (And then pit that world against all kinds of wild, external baddie, sure.)

You can’t watch TOS now as it actually was back then because TOS itself changed the world. Trek permeates everything. BSG is quality entertainment, Trek is an entire philosophy of life.

Yet More Shitty YA Posing As Adult Drama

I’ve been watching Salvation on UK Netflix and it’s just making me miss HACF.

Why is mainstream US telly so emotionally vapid, so silly and plastic?

In one scene, a character is literally waterbaorded. Half an hour later, he’s totally fine and making jokes about it. You know, like any of us would be after being tortured.

The world is literally ending in Salvation and all that the characters care about is who’s fucking who. Really, if I knew I only had a few weeks to live, I’d have other priorities.

Silly, silly, silly.

I’m now waiting for another TV drama written for adults. Please tell me if you find one.

EDIT

I’ve wasted my life watching this shitty series and I can’t believe the big boohoo at the end is that the central female character can’t decide between the two really handsome blokes with great arms. Thus is all of humanity reduced to pubescent mewling.

AND NOW THEY’RE FUCKING DANCING. BECAUSE THAT WOULD HAPPEN.

jfc this series is the stupidest shit ever…

HACF S4E7 – Who Needs A Guy (SPOILERS)

Originally posted by sunnydisposish

SPOILERS BELOW

I’m in fucking pieces. Just when everything was perfect for Gordon… I can’t believe it. It’s so horrible and random and unfair.

Which I guess is why HACF is the most lifelike show on telly.

Seeing his girls and Donna weeping on the sofa…. that just fucked me up. The shot where his daughters reach for each others’ hands was killer. And then, the actual sequence representing his stroke was fantastic: spooky and romantic and sad and ‘Well, this was your life.’

Originally posted by sunnydisposish

I can’t believe how ignored this show is when it delivers incomparable drama like tonight’s ep. HACF has made all the characters all too real, I don’t know if I’ll ever really believe they’re not alive, somewhere. That’s its genius.

Is it then hypocritical of me to ask for happy endings for everyone? I *know* life isn’t like that, I know shit like this happens every day but it’s GORDON, for fuck’s sake. He’s so awkward and geeky and lovable and tries so goddamn hard for every person in his life. He’s pretty much my ideal of what a best mate would be like. Why have this happen to Gordon? He’s like a fucking puppy, no harm should ever come to him.

Originally posted by sunnydisposish

Originally posted by sunnydisposish

I’ve got to stop writing this now. Been crying solidly for twenty minutes.

The Last Ever Episode Of Grimm

I watched the first ever episode of Grimm.

And just now I watched the last ever ep.

I feel soo sad now that I’ll never experience new eps of this universe again, the same as I feel about Falling Skies, Continuum, Warehouse 13, Eureka, Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles, Dollhouse and sooo many more.

On the one hand, I’m glad we got more than Firefly or Caprica. On the other, I still think there are great stories to be told in the Grimmverse. It was such a cleverly written and plotted series and the ensemble of actors rolled with it, made it all seem real.

Grimm was always tight and snappy, never bloated and labouring, a rare joy in these days of rampant Netflixitis. We had arcs in seasons, across seasons, characters going from bad to good, good to bad; I loved all that unpredictability.

Above all, Grimm had this finely-honed humour that even when the darkest shit would be going on, someone would pop up (maybe Wu, maybe Hank, often Monroe, bless him) and say something to give it a twist. Which made it all more believable! Life isn’t un-relenting horror, even in the most horrible moments, incongrous, ridiculous things leap out and slap you in the face. The Absurd is a good friend of Death.

Thank you to all the actors of Grimm for giving me a whole set of people to love and hate and cheer and chide. Thank you to the writers for making up sooo many awesome Monster Of The Week stories *and* extending the universe with the myth of the Grimms, Wesen et al. Thank you to all the crew and tech peeps and animators and sound fx and grips and whoever else made it all happen.

Give yourself a pat on the back when you look at what you made. You made something special that entertained and connected with millions of viewers.

We love you, Grimm!

Peter Kay’s Car Share

The quiet genius of Peter Kay reaches perhaps its purest expression in Car Share.

Nothing happens. It’s just two coworkers sharing a car to work. And back. That’s it. Nothing bloody happens.

And that nothing is everything.

Kay is better than Beckett, better than Bennett, better than Camus. There is not a wasted word, every interaction is absolutely essential and completely fucking pointless. Morrissey is a mere cack-handed amateur compared to the gentle precision of Kay’s exposition on this corner of British culture.

These tiny exchanges are so silly, they are eerily perfect:

“I can’t wait to hit the free bar!”

“What you on about? There’s no free bar!”

“There was a free bar last year!”

“NO THERE WASN’T!”

“Well… no-one stopped me… “

The other beautiful thing about Car Share is its pure adoration of pop music. Car Share understands the beauty in the ephemerality of pop music. At the minute, I’m watching a whole conversation about Crazy Frog’s weird little penis. It is brilliant. They also stage musical numbers so this is as much musical TV as Glee was but that’s the only thing the shows have in common; Kay is a total auteur and the comedy in Car Share is both way sharper and more real than the committee-written jokes of Gles.

If you’ve never seen Car Share, check it out. It’s fucking mint.

Veronica Mars

SO, I’m bingeing Veronica Mars and I’m too entertained. Like, I expected it to be good but not *this* good. The writing is snappy, the dialogue entertaining, the plots all sewn up with each ep…
 
If this was a Netflix series, I feel like forty minutes of each ep would be her just staring in the mirror intercut with flashbacks, flash forwards, zooming pics of the Horsehead Nebula and insects fucking each other.
 
I’d forgotten telly could be concise and REFRESHING. Not a fucking slog through hours of self-indulgent pseudery, just WAITING FOR SOMETHING TO BLOODY HAPPEN.