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

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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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The politics, passions, and people of A Very English Scandal

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One of the more interesting comments Russell T Davies made in the weeks before A Very English Scandal first aired was that he thought “both [Norman Scott and Jeremy Thorpe] were victims”, in a way.

It’s perhaps not immediately apparent why Davies considered Jeremy Thorpe a victim, given after all that A Very English Scandal dramatises Thorpe’s efforts to have Norman Scott killed. It’s a story of power, politics, and passion, of conspiratorial whispers in the hallowed halls of power, and Thorpe is at the very heart of that. Casting Hugh Grant was, in many way, a stroke of genius; his Thorpe isn’t just suffused with predatory menace, but, as many have noted, feels informed by his past as a charismatic romantic lead. In turn, Grant’s Thorpe is a vision of that charm, curdled into something darker – there’s an undefinable, irresistibly engaging quality about him, even knowing there’s something rotten lurking within. Declaring Norman Scott must die with as much conviction as he opposes racism in the House of Commons, or planning how to dispose of his body with the same light, casual ease as mimicking the Prime Minister, doesn’t exactly seem to support the understanding that Thorpe is anything short of a Machiavellian villain.

But, if it’s difficult to see Thorpe as a victim from the first two episodes, it’s a scene in A Very English Scandal’s closing episode that renders Davies’ point crystal clear.

I am so, so proud of this piece, I’ve got to say. Genuinely, when I’d finished it, I was absolutely beaming – I was convinced, and still am, that it was one of the best pieces of writing I’d done in quite some time.

The only thing that, admittedly, is less than stellar about it is the title. I don’t think it really conveys what it’s about, does it? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure it conveys much of anything, it’s a bit… empty. Better, though, than other variations, such as “the politics, power and prejudice”.

Anyway, I’d really appreciate any shares that this one gets, because like I said, I’m extremely proud of it.

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How Come Home asks audiences to understand characters that are difficult to like

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It’d be easy, really, to dislike Marie. Certainly, the premise will predispose most of the audience against her; Come Home follows the story of Greg, a single father, and Marie, the wife who walked out on him eleven months prior. Immediately, Come Home subverts typical expectations about mothers and fathers, and poses the audience questions that could prove difficult. Can they understand Marie, despite their assumptions?

The first episode focuses primarily on Greg, establishing the status quo of his and his children’s lives following Marie’s departure; there’s something significant about the fact that audiences are given Greg’s perspective first, immediately inviting them to sympathise with him ahead of Marie. As the question of why she left hangs over the piece, what Come Home presents is a family clearly struggling. Christopher Eccleston gives a quiet, almost defeated performance; it’s dripping with melancholy, wearing his heartbreak on his sleeve. He’s easy to empathise with, a lonely man who seems full of empathy himself, taking in Brenna and her son to protect them from her abusive husband. When he sees Marie, all he wants is to know why – and so do we.

I must admit, I found this show quite frustrating, particularly the third episode. I watched them all in one evening, one after the other; I’d been under the understanding that it was going to be something a little more Rashomon-esque, with each episode retelling the same event from different perspectives. It wasn’t that, in the end – though admittedly I do still wonder if perhaps that would’ve been better.

What we got was, I suspect, almost intentionally frustrating. Certainly, it was thought-provoking, and they managed to avoid making it too black and white in terms of either Greg or Marie being straightforwardly ‘correct’. I do wish, though, a little more time had been dedicated to fleshing out Marie’s motivations in the third episode; without spoiling it particularly, in case anyone does want to seek it out and watch it, certain choices that she makes there feel borne more out of a desire on the part of the screenwriter to prompt conflict rather than anything else. (Especially given the ending.)

Still, though. I really enjoyed Christopher Eccleston in this, even the slightly uncanny valley Irish brogue rather than his usual Northern accent; Come Home, if nothing else, did affirm my belief that I’ll watch Christopher Eccleston in basically anything.

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Hard Sun never quite moved beyond a police procedural, and suffered as a result

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It’s not difficult to argue that, in any drama about the apocalypse, the reaction to this knowledge and its effect on society is one of the most interesting things that could be explored. However, Hard Sun largely opts not to explore this part of its premise. Indeed, for the most part, the apocalypse is something of an afterthought as the drama instead retreats to the well-worn hallmarks of a police procedural. With episodes focused on serial killers and kidnappings, the end of the world isn’t so much a focal point but a background detail to add texture; it’s a concept that’s broadly gestured at, rather than a theme that’s interrogated particularly.

For the most part, Hard Sun was frustrating, and ultimately quite dull. It’s a shame, really, because I was really rooting for this show; the concept seemed fascinating, and Aisling Bea was in it, and I think she’s great. Unfortunately, though, Hard Sun wasn’t much of anything in the end. The above review is, to be honest, only really one line of criticism that could be applied to the show – it’s a very particular sort of grim detective show, with all the tropes and pitfalls that tends to entail.

I think it’s going to be on Hulu soon – US viewers, I say don’t bother. UK viewers who haven’t seen it yet, also don’t bother.

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It’s a good thing we won’t get any new Sherlock for a while

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Indeed, you can easily see the show continuing with the occasional Christmas special at five year intervals. It’s the sort of thing that could quickly become a beloved tradition, a special something extra. 

In that format, the show would be free to be a little more experimental. Perhaps it could be akin to The Abominable Bride, which saw Sherlock in Victorian times – Moffat and Gatiss are both big fans of the Basil Rathbone movies that place Sherlock Holmes in World War II, so that’s definitely something they might consider doing for an episode.

Here’s a thing about Sherlock – I reckon a break is a good thing! I’m pretty fond of the show, and I’d like to see it back eventually; equally, though, I do also reckon taking some time away might be to the benefit of all involved.

I mean, admittedly, that’s no huge insight – the long breaks were baked into the format by series 2, as big a part of the high concept as the modern era setting – but still, I think, true, and worth saying in amongst the clamoring for a speedy return. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, after all.

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Why Hell Bent is Steven Moffat’s best episode of Doctor Who

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It’s an emphatic statement about the chief thematic concern of Capaldi’s era – what does it mean to be the Doctor? Leaving Clara as a Doctor analogue in her own right was, of course, the only way it could end. In the wake of Peter Capaldi’s regeneration, this story takes on a further significance; with the Twelfth Doctor’s final words, advice to his future self, mirroring the advice he gave to Clara, it’s another clear affirmation of Clara’s status as a Doctor herself.

700ish words, and really I only barely scratched of why this episode is just so darn good. I really love this one – I always find it difficult to answer questions of favourites when it comes to Doctor Who, but honestly, this one is up there.

I’d like to write more about it really. I suspect I probably will, actually. We’ll see.

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Gunpowder was a powerful explanation of the real reason why we remember the 5th of November

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Here, in fact, is where Gunpowder displays a penchant for subtle, intelligent choices. When in Catholic Spain seeking help with his plot, Catesby sees the Spanish authorities burning a Jewish man at the stake – a mirror of the Catholic priest hanged as the drama began. In creating that parallel, Gunpowder makes it obvious that this isn’t a case of good against evil, rather the powerless against those with authority. Director J Blakesonemphasises that again as the drama ends, juxtaposing a gold necklace presented to spymaster Lord Cecil with the noose placed around the necks of the plotters – it’s about power rather than morality. If Gunpowder can be said to be on the side of the Catholic plotters, it’s not because they are Catholic.

I was mostly pleased with this article. Not super sure about the title in hindsight though.

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5 years on, can we settle the question – is Elementary better than Sherlock?

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Today marks five years since the first episode of Elementary – the American retelling of Sherlock Holmes, set in the modern day and starring Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu. 

Since that first episode, it’s been repeatedly compared to Sherlock – the British retelling of Sherlock Holmes, set in the modern day, and starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. It also first aired a few years before Elementary, leading to more than one accusation of copying. 

So, with Elementary about to enter its sixth season, and Sherlock seemingly finished for the time being, can we finally settle the question – which is better?

Something of a repeat from me today, actually; the first ‘proper’ blog post I wrote on tumblr was on a similar topic, and it was also the first to pick up much traction. I don’t think, back then, I ever dreamed I’d be in the position I’m in now – so it’s nice to return to this!

To hedge against the obvious: I don’t actually think Elementary is better than Sherlock. I also, however, don’t think Sherlock is better than Elementary. They’re both such different beasts, with different strengths and more importantly different aims, it’s difficult to compare the two – to attempt to seriously is a folly, really. Essentially, then, I like them both a lot, albeit for different reasons, and in different ways.

And, in response to the other obvious question: No, I didn’t make this image, no, I don’t know who did, no, I don’t know what they were thinking.

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The Cuckoo’s Calling was a compelling detective drama – but one that faltered at the last hurdle

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In every respect, The Cuckoo’s Calling was a competently executed detective drama, moving intelligently between the different hallmarks of the genre. It was never, for example, the high concept thriller of Sherlock – there are no astounding deductions or leaps of intuition. Rather, this was a case of gradually unveiling each layer of mystery, plunging the viewer into a well-drawn world of colourful suspects. You could describe it as generic, perhaps, but in a way that’d be missing the point; it’s not so much that The Cuckoo’s Calling typifies the genre, but rather embodies and enlivens it.

An article I wrote recently about The Cuckoo’s Calling.

I was, I think, probably a little too positive about it. I don’t know. The Strike adaptations started to take up quite a lot of thought for me for a while; they were often very close to being good, but never quite working. I got the sense that much of what was entertaining about them was almost by accident – an adaptation struggling against the flaws of its source material, for the most part. Indeed, lots of what was good about the show was probably just a quirk of casting Holliday Grainger, who did a great job with a character who I suspect could otherwise have been very flat.

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Chaotic Casualty one-shot episode illustrates the demands of working in a hospital

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And so, the one-shot format became more than just a simple gimmick or feat of cinematography – it’s part of the text of the episode. In doing the episode in a single take, it serves to accentuate the chaos onscreen. There’s a series of different emergencies; resources are thin and time is short. It’s a busy and involved episode.

I don’t think this is actually necessarily a very good article, even if the point it makes is basically okay. But, you know, that’s what happens when you’re writing it an hour before the deadline after wracking your brain to figure out what you’ve watched recently. Basically, I need to manage my time better.

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