Killing Eve is a show that’s easy to become obsessed with

killing eve obsessed sandra oh jodie comer phoebe waller-bridge emerald fennell series 2 review julian barratt logo hd wallpaper alex moreland

What stands out about Killing Eve – and it feels like a fairly superficial observation to make, though that doesn’t mean it’s any less true – is that it’s very, very good. There’s an almost effortless confidence to the show, a certain skill and swagger not unlike that of Jodie Comer’s assassin Villanelle; Killing Eve is a series that almost defies efforts to review it, because elaborating beyond “just watch it” feels as though you’re wasting time, time that could be better spent watching (and rewatching) Killing Eve. From its witty, charming script to the electric performances from its leads, Killing Eve is a programme where its quality leaps off the screen, the first thing you notice about the show – seemingly, there’s a certain simplicity to it.

But that seeming simplicity, that apparent effortlessness, obscures the clever tricks at the heart of Killing Eve. It is a very talented, very competent execution of all the tropes of a spy thriller, with globetrotting agents uncovering an international conspiracy, entirely recognisable in terms of the conventions of its genre – but there’s an obvious self-awareness to Killing Eve too, and a clear drive on the part of showrunner Phoebe Waller-Bridge to tell a much more idiosyncratic, much more new and interesting story within the skeleton of the spy thriller.

On one level, there’s the fact that we’re watching Killing Eve rather than Killing Evan – any other piece you might care to name as an example of the same genre would be a male-led story. That Killing Eve isn’t, that it pivots instead around Sandra Oh’s Eve and Jodie Comer’s Villanelle, immediately marks the series out as something different. You wouldn’t be able comb through the script and make a few quick changes to turn it into Killing Evan, though; Waller-Bridge’s self-proclaimed interest in “transgressive women” is evident throughout, the whole series fascinated by its leads and their inner lives, both vast and intimate at once.

So I wrote this piece on Killing Eve, and I was fairly pleased with it – arguably not as in-depth as I might have liked, perhaps, and I don’t know how well the article really captured the actual rush of watching the show. But, on the whole, pleased with it, and also fairly entertained by the slightly naff “Killing Evan” programme I invented for comparison’s sake. (It did occur to me at the time that a more interesting comparison might be the new Jack Ryan series on Amazon, but I’d not watched that, so Killing Evan had to suffice.)

Some weeks later, I happened to read some complaint about the series – you know the type, that nonsense internet comment about women on TV. What annoyed me – no, enraged me – no, embarrassed me – was that that fool writing nonsense on the internet had stumbled across a much more obvious name for a male-led Killing Eve than this fool writing nonsense on the internet.

Killing Steve.

I’m still mad I missed that.

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New Website Launch!

website launch announcement rocket ship cartoon clip art

So, I’ve been working on this for the past few months – since around May, I think? – and I am now finally ready to launch the site.

Well, I say that. It’s more of a “ready as I’ll ever be” kind of thing, there’s still a few things in different places I want to change and add to, but there’s a point at which I’m just being overly perfectionist and need to just get on with it.

Most of the architecture of the website is the same as before – still the same indices, just expanded a little bit – but I’m now hosting on WordPress rather than tumblr, which means the whole thing is just a bit more shiny and exciting. Well, hopefully it means that, otherwise I’ve spent months converting the site for no reason.

Anyway! New website. I’d really appreciate it if everyone could share this with all their pals and so on, so I can get some hits on the site and feel a degree of validation over the whole thing. That’d be great, if we could make that happen.

Otherwise, I’ll have some proper updates… soon. It’s a little up in the air at the minute, because I’m trying to settle into a bit of a more regular schedule than I’ve maintained before, but over the next week I’ll (probably) have posts on BlacKkKlansmanKilling Eve, and the Emmys. Longer term the hope would be to transition a Monday-Wednesday-Friday update schedule, but… well, we’ll see how that shakes out.

Thanks all!

Who is America? Who cares?

sacha baron cohen who is america erran morad showtime trump jason spencer corrinne olympios oj simpson bernie sanders who cares review criticism

The most damning flaw of Who is America?, of course, is that it ultimately says very little; for a satire advertised as “the most dangerous show in history”, it lands few punches, and enjoys no meaningful success in its efforts to reveal some broader truth about the increasingly divided cultural identity of the United States.

Very few of the sketches are as trenchant or as incisive as Baron Cohen presumably thinks; most illustrate little more than people’s surprising willingness to remain polite in the face of exaggerated caricatures. These segments are awkward at best – the most obvious example being the dinner party in the first episode, where two Republican election agents and Trump supporters hosted Baron Cohen’s liberal caricature Dr Nira Cain-N’Degeocello as he told them about his wife’s affair with a dolphin – but at worst feel like genuine missed opportunities. When Baron Cohen interviewed former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders under the guise of Billy Wayne Ruddick, a right-wing commentator in the vein of an Infowars style conspiracy theorist, it amounted to little more than farce: ‘Ruddick’ asks Sanders why, if he “believes in equality“, he doesn’t “move the 99% into the 1%“, leaving the senator clearly baffled, but still making an attempt to humour Ruddick.

It’s difficult to work out what, exactly, this is supposed to say about the state of America – it’s not clear what questions are even being posed. Sanders is far from beyond reproach as a politician and a potential presidential hopeful for 2020, and it’s not hard to think of ways to criticise or question him through a character like Ruddick; Baron Cohen’s ‘Truthbrary’ correspondent could’ve supported Sanders’ record on gun control, perhaps, or thanked Sanders for the part he arguably played in getting Trump elected. Either would have offered potential for a more vigorous examination of Sanders’ place in the American zeitgeist; indeed, anything would’ve been an improvement over what actually took place.

There’s something more discomforting, though, about Baron Cohen’s non-political sketches – something that highlights not just a weakness to his satire, but a genuine moral failing. Consider his efforts, as fashion photographer Gio Monaldo, to convince reality TV star Corinne Olympios to claim she went to Sierra Leone to fight Ebola and stop a massacre; what was presumably intended to be cutting commentary on celebrity culture, portraying Olympios as vapid and vacuous, is ultimately much more damning of Baron Cohen himself. Setting aside the fact that Olympios’ later account of what happened makes it clear the sketch was essentially tantamount to entrapment, and ignoring the fact that the reality TV star Baron Cohen felt was so deserving of criticism is also the one perhaps most famous for being sexually assaulted on The Bachelor, the implication that Baron Cohen thinks Olympios is in any way morally equivalent to the likes of Jason Spencer says far more about him that it does her.

But then, of course, that was always the problem with Who is America? – it’s a programme without any perspective, reduced to making broad, sprawling criticisms that are little more than fumbling swipes because it isn’t working from a meaningfully defined moral position of its own. Of course it doesn’t say anything, of course this supposedly dangerous piece of satire doesn’t land any punches: it never could.

Even the most successful sketches have a certain nagging air of pointlessness to them. Yes, right wing politicians – and, indeed, right wing people – are willing to say some pretty shocking things with relatively little prompting. And? This is hardly revelatory, or even news exactly – or rather, it’s hardly revelatory because it is the news, day in, day out, and has been since Trump launched his presidential campaign by calling Mexicans rapists. Undeniably, there’s something quite striking about a lot of Baron Cohen’s sketches, particularly those in character as Erran Morad, an Israeli anti-terror activist; even then, though, if you set aside the shock value, there’s something decidedly insubstantial about them.

Perhaps the most memorable sketch across the course of the series was the one that featured Jason Spencer, a Republican congressman from Georgia; ostensibly teaching Spencer how to protect himself from terrorists, Baron Cohen convinces the right-wing lawmaker to take upskirt photos, run around with his trousers down, and yell the N word. One of the more shocking moments of the series – Spencer took very, very little prompting – it’s also arguably the only sketch that had any real impact: shortly after the episode aired, Spencer resigned from congress.

It seems an impressive testament to the wider impact of Who is America? until you realise that Spencer was already a lame duck congressman, having been beaten in a primary some months earlier; his time left in office was already limited, and the significance of his resignation is ultimately very little. It’s not that Who is America? would’ve needed to prompt waves of resignations to have any meaning, but rather the fact is that, if shock value is all the show offers in a time when shocks amount to nothing, of course it’s going to be insubstantial.

What, though, is Who is America? actually trying to say? If its premise is that America is suffering from some moral rot on a wider cultural level, then what does the show highlight as the cause?

It’s worth looking at the programme’s title sequence, which is arguably the most telling aspect of the entire show when trying to divine what Who is America? is actually trying to say. A sweeping shot of sunlit uplands and a montage of iconic quotes from former presidents gives way to a dizzying series of intercut images: Trump mocking a disabled reporter, Charlottesville Nazis and Women’s march protestors, Hillary Clinton with Harvey Weinstein, and a great big question mark hanging over them all.

Here, in the contrast between the image of the America of old and “America today”, it becomes clear what Who is America? is trying to say, and why it ultimately says nothing at all. Of course Bernie Sanders isn’t held to account, of course Corinne Olympios and art expert Christy Cones are morally equivalent to Dick Cheney and Jason Spencer, of course there’s nothing to offer but shock value. Sacha Baron Cohen isn’t concerned with ethics, he’s concerned with aesthetics – the ultimate crime his victims have committed is simply looking foolish. That’s what sets America of the past, represented by Reagan, and America today, represented by Trump, apart from one another: appearances.

And so there’s only ever one answer to Baron Cohen’s central question, at least as it’s posed in Who is America?

Who cares?

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On Bond 26, the next James Bond, and how to save the franchise

james bond daniel craig danny boyle next bond 25 woman black riz ahmed idris elba gillian anderson denis villeneuve steve mcqueen noah hawley andrea arnold sj clarkson bart layton yann demange

So, James Bond.

Bond is probably the franchise I care about least – the only one I’ve ever seen was Skyfall, which was entertaining enough, but hasn’t really prompted me to search out any of the others – but have the strongest opinions on. Though I suppose that’s strong opinions on what would actually get me to care about the franchise.

Anyway. Bond is in the news again at the moment because Danny Boyle has left Bond 25 under a cloud of creative differences, meaning that what is presumably going to be Daniel Craig’s last film as the infamous spy has been delayed further, and probably won’t be very good. This I am not, admittedly, especially interested in – I figure all that’s going to happen is the film comes out a year or so later, directed by a rising star who’s talented, but not so experienced that they have the clout to disagree with the studio, and still feel beholden enough to an opportunity like this that they wouldn’t walk away when higher ups start to interfere.

No, what I’m interested in again is Bond 26, and how the franchise is going to be refreshed and rebooted once again – I suspect that there are a lot of conversations about that going on behind closed doors anyway. It’s something I wrote about a few years ago, kicking around a couple of ideas for a potentially interesting way of approaching the first film in a new Bond series, but thinking about it again lately, I’m not really convinced that idea is quite radical enough.

So, let’s backtrack a second. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the Craig era, with all its grim realism, was at least in part a response to Austin Powers, right? After Mike Meyers did the parody version, they couldn’t quite get away with another Bond film that was quite so over the top, hence moving in the other direction.

The question then becomes, I think, what is the next Bond era going to be a response to? Well, it’ll be stuff like Jason Bourne or John Wick, but particularly it’ll be a response to Mission Impossible: the big, successful action thrillers of the past few years, the ones that have cornered the genre and defined expectations for that type of film. The obvious response to that, you might think, is for Bond to try and go bigger and better – to get the next leading man to do even more dangerous stunts than Tom Cruise, to have even better fight choreography than John Wick, whatever.

I’m not convinced that’s the right approach, though. If we accept the premise that other franchise have perfected the action thriller genre, then surely Bond shouldn’t be trying to play that game anymore. There’s a need, I think, to look at what James Bond as a franchise can do uniquely, playing upon all the interesting resonances the character has as a cultural icon, a genuinely weighty part of the zeitgeist.

What’d interest me personally is if, over the next decade or so, James Bond isn’t presented as one linear narrative, but instead a much more creator-driven anthology of one-off instalments. Start developing a series of individual films, at a range of different budgets, with different lead actors and different directors. The franchise as it stands currently hasn’t had much to do with the character of Bond from the Ian Fleming’s books for a while now; it’s time to embrace the fact that Bond is an archetype more than anything else now, an idea that’s so big and influential and famous, such that getting different actors and directors to offer their own take on the character would be rewarding in the same way that having different Hamlets is rewarding.

Get Chris Nolan to do a black and white, 1960s Bond starring Tom Hardy. Have Riz Ahmed to star in a globetrotting thriller that engages with Bond’s colonial legacy. Do a low budget, psychological thriller that leans in on the espionage angle and asks, if ‘James Bond’ really is a code name, who is the man behind 007? Offer the series to people like Steve McQueen, Lynne Ramsay, Noah Hawley, Andrea Arnold, Kathryn Bigelow or Denis Villeneuve; cast people like Idris Elba, Gillian Anderson, Emily Blunt, Tom Hiddleston, Thandie Newton or David Oyelowo.

Artistically and creatively, it’s the best choice for the Bond franchise moving forward – the chance to do something genuinely new and interesting with a film series that’s perhaps starting to spin its wheels a little bit. It’s a chance to refresh the character, to attract big stars who might not want to be attached to an ongoing series for years, and tell stories that only James Bond could.

(It’ll never happen, of course, but after the second James Norton Bond movie you’ll kinda wish it did.)

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On the importance of endings, and why you need to get them right

turning off the tv

An ending needs to offer closure, a resolution to the plot threads, themes and ideas you’ve introduced over the years. If style is simply the mistakes you never stop making, this is the time to embrace those mistakes: remind them why they loved the story, and go out on a high.  If ever there’s a time to be self-indulgent, this is it – refer back to the old favourites and the recent successes, reflect on the first time you got something properly right, but don’t forget the best of your recent episodes. Normally it’s best to ignore the fans, but after all the support they’ve offered to you, it’s worth looking back on all the ones they liked over the years. Throw in a reference or two to the spinoff series your show might have borne – they’re continuing without you, even if they might not be quite the same anymore.

So, here’s a post that has nothing to do with anything really.

Ostensibly, it’s about the endings of television programmes and such, but it is in fact about the conclusion of my weekly Yahoo column, which came to an end after almost three years because of budget cuts. Which is, you know, fair enough, can’t argue with that (and I’m still going to make the occasional freelance contribution anyway, which perhaps undercuts the above more than a little bit).

It was a clever idea, although also very self-indulgent one, and it probably could’ve made for a much better post if I was a better writer than I actually am. At the moment it’s just a bit naff, but arguably maybe a little funny I guess.

Not a bad note to end on though really.

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Did The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 go too far?

the handmaid's tale season 2 elisabeth moss june offred trailer mouth muzzle darker tone did it go too far hulu channel 4

Part of that question, though, is the acknowledgement that it works from something of a flawed premise: what does it even mean for The Handmaid’s Tale to “go too far”? As Margaret Atwood once noted of the now nearly thirty year old novel, there’s “nothing in the book that didn’t happen somewhere”, and it’s not like that isn’t still essentially true of the television adaptation; not long after a flashback saw Alexis Bledel’s Emily lose her job as a teacher because she was gay, something similar took place in Texas – more obviously, though, there’s the extended consideration of familial separation, and children taken away from their parents. If the point of The Handmaid’s Tale is that every patriarchy is its own Gilead in its own way, that people do already live there in some sense or another, to turn around and argue that the show is “going too far” is misguided at best and deeply condescending at worst, tantamount to telling someone to just shut up and stop complaining.

Yet there’s another aspect to the question, a point to elaborate on further: does The Handmaid’s Tale go too far to still be entertainment? There’s something increasingly uncomfortable about the act of watching The Handmaid’s Tale, and the way it invites audiences to watch a programme that is increasingly reliant upon the shock value of patriarchal violence. It’s difficult to unpack this, because it’s not exactly the only thing The Handmaid’s Tale does – there are fantastic performances, the standout this year being Yvonne Strahovski’s Serena Joy, and some excellent direction and cinematography (to highlight a particular detail, The Handmaid’s Tale films light in a really interesting way). At the same time, considering what these performances and this direction goes towards creating, there’s something a little off about actually watching The Handmaid’s Tale – it’s not exactly that audiences become complicit, but there’s something discomforting about how the show presents its drama as something that is, on some level, meant to be entertaining.

So, something I was thinking about – quite often, actually – while watching The Handmaid’s Tale this year was whether or not it was going “too far”.

It’s obviously a fairly… limited, I suppose, comment to make about a show like this, because what does “too far” even mean? I’m not sure I did an especially good job of articulating entirely what I meant about the tone of the show this year – all the ways in which it felt different to the first season – but I’m mostly pleased with how the article turned out in the end. Indeed, it’s the sort of piece that makes me wish I was a little better at actually sharing the work I’ve done, because I imagine this is one that would’ve prompted some interesting discussions.

Probably I’m still going to watch series 3; if nothing else, I’m interested in how it’s going to continue from that cliffhanger, although I’m not actually entirely sure it was a good creative choice. I do, however, really doubt that series 2 is going to make my end of year best list – a surprise, given how highly series 1 ranked for me.

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On Succession, likeable characters, and the scope of a series

succession hbo brian cox jeremy strong kieran culkin sarah snook alan ruck matthew macfadyen nicholas braun jesse armstrong adam mckay

Succession’s first episode recently aired for the first time in the UK; in the US, meanwhile, the HBO series has just finished its first season.

What’s been interesting to observe, though, is the narrative that’s built up around Succession. Certainly, the series is well acclaimed – or, at least, it is now. There’s been a noticeable trend of people who watched the pilot episode and gave up, only returning because of the strong word of mouth from those who did continue with the series; in terms of the show’s reception, Succession is the story of a programme that lost a lot of viewers before eventually reclaiming them.

It’s not difficult to understand why someone might not want to continue watching Succession after finishing the first episode. It’s not that it’s a bad episode, exactly; in a lot of ways, it’s quite compelling. However, focusing as it does on a family seemingly comprised entirely of deeply horrible people, Succession isn’t a programme that goes out of its way to endear viewers to its characters – indeed, the exaggerated displays of ostentatious wealth that punctuate the pilot episode are no doubt intended to elicit contempt for the characters. There’s no ‘pat the dog’ moment, with director Adam McKay and writer Jesse Armstrong going to great lengths to ensure that, by the end of the episode, you’re going to hate more or less all of them.

So!

A few scattered thoughts here on Succession, one of HBO’s latest dramas. (Well, I’m inclined to be difficult and call it a comedy, but still.) What I found quite interesting about Succession is the way that the conversation around it developed, with a lot of people beginning the series, abandoning it, and then returning because of strong word of mouth from those who stuck with it.

That got me thinking a little bit about likeable characters (I’ve been winding myself up a lot about whether or not “likeable” is the correct spelling, and I’m still not wholly sure) and… I called it “the scope of a series”, but what I mean is the amount of time we’re willing to give a programme to unfold and show its full hand. That had been on my mind for a while anyway, ever since I saw a couple of reviews really rip into Genius: Picasso based on its first four episodes, so it was good to get a chance to talk about it.

I’m not, admittedly, entirely sure anything I said made sense, but then I’m never especially sure of that to be honest! I always find the more editorial/opinion esque pieces a little more difficult. Something to work on, I suppose.

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Erik Aadahl & Ethan Van der Ryn on the sound design of A Quiet Place, how they hope it influences other filmmakers, and more

Erik Aadahl Ethan Van der Ryn a quiet place sound designers interview jon krasinski emily blunt noah jupe millicent simmonds silent sonic envelope perspective

I think that the biggest takeaway is that sometimes it can be more powerful and more engaging to play less sound, and have the sound be more focused, than to play a lot of music, a lot of sound effects, a lot of dialogue. Sometimes doing the opposite can actually create a more engaging and powerful experience.

With a lot of blockbusters, there’s been this kind of race to the edge of the cliff sonically with ‘how much louder can everyone get?’ and going bigger and bigger and louder. What happens is there’s kind of this numbing effect to that much volume and I think audiences kind of start to tune out from it – so using negative space in A Quiet Place actually made people tune in. I’ll be excited to see how other filmmakers kind of see that and say “hey, you can have a blockbuster that does something totally different with sound”.

One of the things I did with this one, which is something I always enjoy reading in interviews myself, is ask Erik and Ethan what they thought of some other recent films, specifically which ones they felt had impressive sound design themselves.

It’s not something you always get an opportunity to do – understandably, since, you know, the point of these interviews is to talk about whatever they’re promoting – but it’s often the question that yields the most interesting answer, because it you get to hear what these professionals think of the work of other artists, and how they engage with that work.

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Doctor Who: Everything we learned about Series 11 at SDCC 2018

doctor who series 11 sdcc 2018 news thirteenth doctor jodie whittaker the universe is calling sonic screwdriver yasmin khan graham o'brian chris chibnall matt strevens

As the Doctor puts it in the trailer, “all of this” is new to her – and it’s going to be new to the audience, too.

Chris Chibnall said that “this year is the perfect jumping on point for that person in your life who has never watched Doctor Who. I want you to go out there and SIT them down. There is no barrier for entry this year”. Nonetheless, though, Chibnall also specified that “it’s a continuation […] All the things you love about Doctor Who are in there” – as new companion actor Tosin Cole put it, “it’s still Doctor Who, just with a little sauce on it!”

Of course, while Chibnall emphasised in a recent interview with the Radio Times that we’d see “all-new stories, all-new monsters, all-new villains”, it’s worth noting that there’s a difference between “all-new” and “all new” – so don’t discount appearances from, say, the Daleks just yet…

An article on all the news about series 11 that we heard at SDCC! There’s a lot of very exciting stuff here, I genuinely can’t wait for Doctor Who to return (whenever that may be).

It did get me thinking recently, actually, that a lot of Series 11 stuff seems to be pretty perfectly pitched to my taste, and where I think Doctor Who should be right now (not just in terms of what we know about the plot, but also in terms of the way it’s marketed and the publicity materials and so on) – which is also, actually, what I thought about Series 8.

So what I’ve been wondering, basically, is whether or not I’m just remarkably prescient and on the ball, or if Doctor Who just leads my thoughts and tastes very specifically. Probably a bit of both, I guess.

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Doctor Who: Breaking down the new trailer for Jodie Whittaker’s first season as the Thirteenth Doctor

doctor who jodie whittaker thirteenth doctor series 11 new trailer world cup screenshot

It’s been a little under a year since it was first announced that Jodie Whittaker would play the Thirteenth Doctor – it was, in fact, 16 July 2017 – and since then we’ve had relatively little news about the new series of Doctor Who.

Today, however, that changed, with a special trailer for Doctor Who series 11 airing at half-time during the World Cup Final.

The trailer gave us a brief look at the Doctor and her companions, promising new adventures to come – here’s a breakdown of everything you might have missed in the new trailer, and what it tells us about what to expect when Doctor Who returns.

So, obviously, I was very much excited about this trailer, because it’s Doctor Who and I love it, and I figured one thing I could probably do (since it was getting towards the end of the week and I hadn’t figured out the topic for my Yahoo column yet) is write about the trailer. I’ve done that sort of thing before, and it usually makes for a good article – take some screencaps, speculate a little about what each thing might mean, throw in a couple of jokes, sorted.

And then this trailer aired. A lovely, enigmatic, sort of mood driven piece… that is probably the most difficult-to-write-about trailer I’ve ever seen. Like, oh man.

Genuinely, I really had my work cut out for me with this one, and I think the fact I managed nearly 900 ish words – roughly 30 words for every second of content – is a testament to, if not necessarily skill, certainly something.

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