Monday, July 22, 2013

Must-see bleak yet brilliant TV crime dramas

Must-see bleak yet brilliant TV crime dramas (listed in order of 'bleak'-ness)
Many of these brilliantly executed crime/mystery dramas are deliberately set in dreary locales, yet make for compelling entertainment:

Top of the Lake (Sundance Channel)
The missing, mysteriously pregnant 13-year-old girl
Pros: The mystery element--who can resist a whodunnit?
GJ (Holly Hunter, at right) at her women's shelter

Cons: Fugly naked bodies keep appearing. 
Investigator Robin (Elizabeth Moss) and her boyfriend

Annoying element: The nasty drug-lord father. 
Abusive drug-lord dad with his sons (Beauty and the Beast's Jay Ryan at right)
Bleakometer: 10. Set in a super remote part of New Zealand that's suffocating and eerie.

The Fall (BBC Two)
Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson (The X-Files' Gillian Anderson) with bereavement counsellor Paul Spector (Henry Cavill lookalike Jamie Dornan)
Pros: We know who the serial killer is right from the beginning. 
Cons: By the last episode of season 1, the serial killer still hasn't been caught.   
Annoying element: The killer's wife acts like a clingy loser.
Bleakometer: 9. Set in Belfast, made all the grayer in contrast with Stella's golden hair and silky shirts.

The Killing (Seasons 1, 2 & 3: AMC) 
Investigations are always dark and creepy for homicide detectives Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) and Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman)
Pros: Catchy narrative based on the Danish series Forbrydelsen and accompanied by an equally catchy musical score.
Cons: The who-killed-Rosie-Larsen storyline took 2 seasons to complete.
Annoying element: Just when Sarah Linden starts smiling and wearing makeup (in the current season), you know things are about to screw up.
Bleakometer: 8. Set in rainy Seattle, Washington, which is somehow dingier than Forks (Twilight movies) and darker than Twin Peaks (Twin Peaks series).

Ripper Street (Season 1. Season 2 airs later this year: BBC One)
Inspector Reid (Matthew Macfayden) with his team of investigators and East End prostitutes
Pros: Matthew Macfayden's terrific take as Inspector Reid (more at ease than Johnny Depp's Inspector Abberline in From Hell).
Cons: Limited to the squalor of the East End.
Annoying element: Amanda Hale as Mrs. Reid. Seriously.
Bleakometer: 7. Seemingly unlimited grime and poverty in Victorian-era East End.

Copper (Seasons 1 & 2; BBC America)
Kevin Corcone (Tom Weston-Jones at centre) and his fellas.
Pros: As fast paced as a period drama can be.
Cons: Too many parallels with Ripper Street.
Annoying element: Historical sterotypes, as in  virgin/whore female characterisations.
Bleakometer: 6. Grisly Five Points region circa 1860s NYC.

The Following (Fox)
The FBI's Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) and serial killer/college professor Joe Carroll (James Purefoy)
Pros: Dishy James Purefoy as serial killer Joe Carroll.
Cons: The words of Edgar Allen Poe can be repetitive if you've already watched Jon Cusack in The Raven.
Annoying element: Carroll's freaky/geeky followers. 
Bleakometer: 4. Various East Coast locations including small towns and cookie-cutter suburbs.

Vexed (Seasons 1 & 2: BBC Two)
Detective Inspectors Jack Armstrong (the incomparable Toby Stephens) and Georgina Dixon (Miranda Raison) in Season 2

Kate Bishop (Lucy Punch) with Jack Armstrong (Toby Stephens) in Season 1
Pros: Brilliant comedy/drama cop show centering on the chemistry between Jack Armstrong (Toby Stephens) and his female cop partners: Kate Bishop (Lucy Punch) in Season 1 and the fantastic Georgina Dixon (Miranda Raison) in Season 2.
Cons: Hasn't been renewed.
Annoying element: Should've been renewed!
Bleakometer: 1. Looks like a low-budget, less electric version of London. Otherwise quite cheery.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Must also watch these sumptuous, recently aired Agatha Christie adaptations (warning: they aren't bleak at all!)

Poirot (Season 13; ITV): Elephants Can Remember
The superb David Suchet as Hercule Poirot with his novelist BFF Ariadne Oliver (Zoe Wanamaker, left) and the tedious Mrs. Burton-Fox (Greta Scacchi, right)
To be followed in 2013/2014 by The Big Four, The Labours of Hercules, Dead Man's Folly and Curtain (finale episode).

Marple (ITV): A Caribbean Mystery and Greenshaw's Folly
 Julia McKenzie as the current Jane Marple with the cast of A Caribbean Mystery

Miss Marple with the cast of Greenshaw's Folly
To be followed in 2013/2014 by Endless Night and others.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

My TV marathon recommendations for summer 2013

My TV-marathon recommendations for summer 2013
Whether you're getting them on your TV channels, streaming videos online, or buying DVDs, here's a list of what to watch this summer... 
(NOTE: SOME SPOILERS ARE MENTIONED so don't hate me if you haven't watched these yet):

The White Queen (BBC/Starz)
BBC One's publicity still for The White Queen
Starz' more sultry (and inaccurate--never once does Elizabeth appear in red lipstick) still for The White Queen

Pros: Fast paced, fun adaptation of Philippa Gregory's trilogy on the Plantaganets (The White Queen, The Red Queen, The Kingmaker's Daughter) shot at stunning locations in Flanders. Keep in mind that for once, the BBC version is less raunchy than it's US counterpart (since it'll be broadcast on Starz, a cable channel). Featuring Jeremy Iron's dashing young son, Max Irons, as King Edward IV, and likable newbie Rebecca Ferguson as Elizabeth Woodville (Edward's queen).
Rebecca Ferguson (Elizabeth) and Max Irons (Edward IV)

Cons: Historical inaccuracy but hey, that's not what Gregory's known for (remember The Other Boleyn Girl?). Check out the BBC's documentary on The 'Real' White Queen:
Philippa Gregory (in orange) with the cast

Annoying element/s: Margaret Beaufort, the 'Red' queen. This actress (Amanda Hale) is irritating in everything she plays, from Ripper Street to The Crimson Petal and the White. Hale specializes in sucking in her lip, jutting out her chin, and acting psychotic.

It's unnervingly easy for Pakistanis to understand the character of Margaret Beaufort. She's a fundo who is obsessed with her son. 

The Americans (FX)

Pros: Gray protagonists in a catchy storyline about two KGB spies posing as an all-American couple, Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, in the Reagan era. Keri Russell brings sleek style to 80s fashion and, despite her many wigs and guises, never once repeats her Felicity curls/perm. 
Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings

Rocking an 80s jumpsuit

Glam suburban mom/KGB spy

Cons: Russians spies never speaking Russian. Not even a cuss word. Listed here too:

Annoying element/s: Most of the people that Philip and Elizabeth hookup with during espionage are pretty unattractive. Super-needy Martha is one of them--and actress Alison Wright also happens to be a Cherie Blair lookalike.
Philip (Matthew Rhys) seducing Martha (Alison Wright)

Mistresses (ABC)

Pros: Catchy, air-headed soapy drama to fill that void left after the demise of Desperate Housewives. More at:
Refreshing to see Alyssa Milano (as Savi, a married attorney) take on a mature character which doesn't require her to be 'cute.' The other members of the foursome include Savi's younger sister, Jocelyn (played by Jes Macallan), psychiatrist Karen (Yunjin Kim), and single mom April (Rochelle Yates). 
Adapted from a British show; actor/producer Milano remarked that they used its first season's storylines for  just their pilot episode

Cons: Savi's chemistry with Dominic (Jason George, who plays Bailey's nurse-husband in Gray's Anatomy) is hardly sizzling. Jocelyn, the nymphomaniacal realtor seems inspired by SATC's Samantha but lacks her glam and wit. Karen's accent is a little distracting, though her beautiful zen-like home makes up for it. April is stunningly beautiful but infuriatingly naive. 

The cast at a panel discussion

Annoying element/s: Karen's ex's dorky son, Sam (Erik Stocklin). He should be bumped off the story. Like yesterday. 
(That's him sitting alone on the couch)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Resurrection of Mr. Darcy

The Resurrection of Mr. Darcy (and his ubiquitous drenched linen shirt)

Colin Firth, now 52, stands at the pinnacle of his distinguished career. 

He won an Oscar for playing the stammering George VI and currently has his pick of the most fascinating roles in Hollywood. 

However, there's no way the world will ever let him forget that he was once Lizzie Bennet's beloved Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. In many respects, he still is.

 Voted Britain's most iconic moment in drama no less than 18 years after its debut, the image of a vulnerable Mr. Darcy emerging drenched from a lake at his spectacular Pemberley estate has rendered him  endearing to millions of viewers--possibly for posterity. 

Andrew Davies' sensitive interpretation of Austen's romantic hero in BBC's 1995 production of Pride and Prejudice proved a great success, critically, commercially and culturally. 

While there have been several other Darcys since 1995, none have evoked quite the same reaction, in what I'd like to call the WWS (Wet White Shirt) phenomenon... 

These have included Elliot Cowen emerging from the lake as Mr. Darcy in Lost in Austen

Colin Firth fighting in the rain--and kissing in the snow--as Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones' Diary (2001): 

And various rain-drenched literary characters such as Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens chopping wood in the rain in Sense and Sensibility (ITV):

Matthew MacFayden's Mr. Darcy proposing to Keira Knightley in Pride and Prejudice (2005) 

Matthew refrains from diving into the lake

David Oakes drenched by London rain while playing Mr Darcy at an open-air theatre production of Pride and Prejudice (2013) at Regent's Park (with thanks to my sister Mahlia for her description)

What really takes the cake is this 12 foot tall fiberglass statue of Firth as Darcy, complete with WWS, touring British lakes until 2014

The postmodern Mr. Darcy continues to inspire print fiction, cinematic adaptations, cultural memorabilia and popular culture:

* Austenland (an adaptation of a chick lit novel, releasing August 2013)

* Death Comes to Pemberley (a 3-episode adaptation of PD James' novel featuring Matthew Rhys as Mr. Darcy)

A young Matthew Rhys in the Georgian-era The Abduction Club

* Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (a horror hybrid which has been in development for years)

* Bridget Jones' Baby (a film adaptation of Helen Fielding's third Bridget Jones book, currently in development)

* Pride and Prejudice: Having A Ball (the BBC's recent documentary about P&P's ongoing 200th anniversary celebrations)

Unfortunately for Colin Firth, Darcy Fever has become a worldwide epidemic two decades on and shows no signs of abating. 

Here's Colin's 1997 reaction to the frenzy via                                     "It seems obvious that what happened with the Darcy character was very special, not just to me but to a lot of other people, and I feel that I must look at it all again, absorb it, understand this bewildering golden moment"--Colin Firth in TimeOut.

...And here's Colin in an interview with Piers Morgan following his Oscar win in 2011:
MORGAN: Do you quite like the fact of having been Darcy and having been in "Bridget Jones'" stuff where you play the classic archetype of charmer that the last two great roles you've had, "Single Man" and "King's Speech," you're not actually playing that kind of character?

FIRTH: I do relish that. I mean you know this character quite -- leaving aside the speech problem, he's a damaged soul and whether it's because of the speech problem, whatever, the character as written in our script is somebody who's got a huge number of demons. That's very interesting work for me.

MORGAN: You prefer it as an actor?

FIRTH: Of course. Yes. It's wonderful hunting ground. I mean that's what we get our teeth into.

MORGAN: I mean, no disrespect. You just turned 50. I'm not sure how long you can play out that Darcy stuff.

FIRTH: I'm not trying to play it out.

MORGAN: I know.


FIRTH: Come after me. It's either Darcy or Piers Morgan or whatever, it's impossible to escape. But no, it's -- that's where the rich pickings are, you know. It's people with problems are far more interesting. If you don't have any problems, you're bland. And you know --

MORGAN: I've always detected, you feel slightly uncomfortable being a sex symbol. You've never felt as easy with that part as you want to. I mean I'd love it if I ever have that role.

FIRTH: If I could truly believe it, I would be so comfortable with it. It's not like a vanity at all.

MORGAN: You should believe it. I get women telling me when they think I'm Colin, wow, you're sexy. I've loved all your films.

FIRTH: These things have a shelf life. I mean I think you've just got to know when you so gracefully like hang up a mantle and trade it for another and Darcy was 15 years ago. And funnily enough, I mean, for about five or six hours of Darcy, he was anything but a charmer.

This was a kind of strange character intuitive thing. I thought I was playing this unlikable person in literature, you know, who alienates absolutely everybody. And yet, somehow, this sort of, you know, the -- I mean, certainly not the David Niven part in that film.

Mr. Darcy as illustrated in my first copy of Pride and Prejudice (on my 12th birthday)

At university, I wrote my honours thesis on deconstructing cinematic adaptations of Jane Austen and was fortunate enough to encounter Colin Firth on a rainy night in London (via ):
"I waited backstage to speak to Colin after a theatrical performance of Three Days Of Rain in Soho. Although I forced myself to not mention the dreaded D word, there were a few elderly ladies evidently inflicted with a bad case of Darcy Fever who asked him trivial questions about the P&P production. I couldn’t help giggling when I saw how carefully he kept a straight face and politely answered their questions. Mr. Firth didn’t bat an eyelid when I gave up trying to sound nonchalant and demanded a photo with him. Unfortunately, he was dressed in jeans and a sweater rather than breeches and a top hat."
Yup, that's me. Ironically, it was raining then too

Lucky me! I got to chat with Colin for over half an hour. He was extremely animated and gentlemanly, cracking jokes and sharing work anecdotes. Mr. Darcy wouldn't have been quite so forthcoming. 

* Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, THEN AND NOW:
Ehle and Firth two decades ago
Incomparable as Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy

Years later: Ehle and Firth in the brief scene they shared in The King's Speech

Press for The King's Speech