Weekly Watchlist #2 (8th Sept – 15th Sept)

weekly watchlist 2 jo swinson liberal democrat conference dragons den deborah meaden elementary season 7 lucy liu succession stath lets flats 2

A slightly shorter installment this week – I’ve been out and about a bit more, and reading a book. (About television, obviously.)

Dragons’ Den (BBC Two)

I know, I know, but I love it, I don’t care. I love Evan Davies’ awful jokes, I love the aesthetic of their strange, loft conversion/abandoned warehouse board room, I love the daft pitches, I love the interplay between the Dragons and the moments it suddenly goes frosty, and I love watching the back and forth, insisting I could do better even though I don’t really understand any of what they’re talking about. (I mean, I realised the other day I don’t even understand how they exercise their controlling stake in the businesses – are the Dragons given, like, board seats? Voting rights? What?)

I know that this is basically not all that different from any other reality competition, just with a veneer of intellectualism (achieved through a more overt acknowledgement of capitalism? Is there maybe something to that?), but, again, I don’t care. I suppose this is my guilty pleasure TV show, but, again, I don’t care.  Always watch it when it’s on, and I pretty much always have.

Elementary (CBS, Sky Witness)

What I’ve found interesting about this season – the seventh and final, a shortened run unexpectedly commissioned, all involved expecting the sixth season finale to be their last episode – is how reliant its been on callbacks to earlier episodes. Quite a few episodes have been structured around returning characters, albeit often rather more obscure, less significant ones – it’s a brief reappearance from a gangster Sherlock got a clue from three years back, as opposed to, you know, ‘the return of Moriarty’ or the like.

Not entirely sure what that says, admittedly – are they maybe creatively spent at this point? Maybe, but I’m not wholly convinced; I suspect it’s more likely that scripts were restructured to incorporate throwback characters once it became clear that Elementary would be back for a victory lap after what would’ve been an already perfect finale. Season 7 hasn’t, admittedly, been Elementary’s most original or innovative – but then, that’s never really been the appeal anyway.

Have I Got News for You (BBC One)

One of the cleverer things Years and Years did – but also, arguably, the most quintessentially Russell T Davies thing it did – was contextualising the rise of Emma Thompson’s right-wing populist very explicitly in terms of her television appearances. Specifically, Have I Got News for You. Couldn’t quite tell if Viv Rook’s appearance on the panel was filmed specially for the show, or if it was constructed out of archive footage – could quite easily be the latter. It’s a fairly unsubtle criticism of HIGNFY and all involved, after all.

Anyway. I’m not actually watching full episodes of the show – is it even on at the moment? No, I just can’t stop watching this clip of Boris Johnson, appearing on Have I Got News for You so long ago that Angus Deayton was still the permanent host. It’s been on my mind, for obvious reasons (as has the SNL episode Donald Trump hosted in late 2015) – feels so, so uncomfortable in hindsight. Well, “hindsight”, it’s hardly ancient history. But you know.

“You’re making Boris into a figure of fun!”, says Paul Merton. I wonder if they’ve ever felt responsible, even a little bit.

Liberal Democrats Conference (BBC Parliament)

I’ve been watching this with interest over the weekend – not exclusively, but certainly its taken up more of my time than near enough anything else. (And, probably, more than it deserved.) I’ve always tried to pay attention to what the Lib Dems are up to – I’ve lived in a Lib Dem constituency for my whole life, more or less, and for a time my local MP was the party leader.

Can’t say I was overly impressed, though, particularly with their handling of Phillip Lee’s defection; Alistair Carmichael’s speech about it was deeply patronising, I though, and Jo Swinson’s was much the same. (Huge respect for the party member who heckled her, though.) Bothered me enough that I emailed the new candidate for my constituency – if nothing else, in a Lib Dem/Tory marginal seat, there’s a high chance I’m gonna end up voting tactically here – to find out what she thought.

Stath Lets Flats (Channel 4)

I’d be very, very surprised if this didn’t make my top ten for 2019 at the end of the year – it’s one of my favourite things on at the moment, and absolutely one of the best comedies of the past few years. It’s a shame it hasn’t found quite the same scale of audience as Derry Girls – understandable, granted, but a shame nonetheless.

Succession (HBO, Sky Atlantic)

I was, I think, somewhat less enamoured by Tern Haven than most. Not, obviously, that I disliked it – Succession is still my favourite part of the week – but there was something a little frustrating about how it followed the previous episode. I’d be inclined to argue that the closing moments of Safe Room, that conversation between Kendall and Shiv, is one of the best (if not the best) scene from across the series as a whole so far… and yet it doesn’t seem to have been the pivotal, dynamic changing moment it first appeared. I’d have liked to have seen a little more follow up from that, I think; I’m sure it’ll be returned to in time, but for now, at least, I’m disappointed that it doesn’t seem to have informed the Kendall/Shiv relationship as much as I anticipated.

Anyway! That’s what I’ve been up to this week – also read (most of) Emily Nussbaum’s book, I Like to Watch, which I quite enjoyed. Thinking a little more about how exactly to make this work as a regular column type thing – maybe a running list of the best of the year? Recommendation of the week? Best of the month? What I’m most looking forward to for the next month? I don’t know exactly, still ironing out the kinks a little bit. But we’ll see.

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How Elementary managed to avoid the Moriarty problem with its latest villain

elementary season 6 michael desmond harrington sherlock holmes jonny lee miller moriarty natalie dormer andrew scott robert doherty addiction cbs

Introduced in the season 6 premier, Michael (Desmond Harrington) is a recovering addict much like Holmes. Michael credits Holmes with the success of his recovery, telling him “you said [at a meeting] you were made for one thing, and being away from it made staying sober almost impossible, but when […] you went back to it, that made all the difference. So, I actually decided to do the same thing, you know, focus on my work, use it to get better […] I worked hard, but, uh it started with you.”

In marked contrast to Holmes, though, the work that helps keep Michael sober is murder; where Holmes uses his detective work as a coping mechanism, Michael is a serial killer with similar struggles and compulsions. It’s a clever conceit, drawing obvious parallels between the two, positioning Michael as a mirror of Holmes in broadly the same way Moriarty has been in the past; indeed, it wouldn’t actually be that surprising to learn that this character is drawn from ideas at one stage considered for Elementary’s version of Moriarty. Notably, though, where the parallels between Holmes and Moriarty are typically drawn from their occupations – the consulting detective and the consulting criminal – the ones between Holmes and Michael are much more personal in nature. It’s an approach that offers potential for some compelling character drama, again an opportunity for Elementary to further explore Holmes’ sobriety.

So! Moriarty. This article kinda relies a lot on a thing I basically just sorta made up while I was trying to work out how to talk about the thing I wanted to talk about (Desmond Harrington‘s Michael, a new character introduced in Elementary season 6), so I should probably unpack that a little bit.

Basically, the “Moriarty Problem”, such that I’ve defined it, talks about the struggle that adaptations of Sherlock Holmes stories face when, after having offered their take on Moriarty (arguably the most famous literary villain ever), they have to move on to a new villain – the problem being the struggle to put forward a character that’s equally as impactful or memorable as their take on Moriarty.

Certainly, if we limit our pool to Elementary and Sherlock, both shows struggled; I liked Magnussen, though admittedly was less sure about Eurus, though I don’t think it’s difficult to argue that Andrew Scott‘s Moriarty overshadowed them both. The same is true with Elementary, where none of the subsequent villains have had the same impact as Natalie Dormer‘s Moriarty (though you can make the reasonable argument that they didn’t try to have villains in the same way, I suppose).

So, what this article talks about is the way in which Elementary found a way to avoid that problem with its latest villain character, Michael. Admittedly you could probably argue that what they do, and the point I talk around making, is essentially just to do an alternate take on the basic idea of Moriarty within the confines of their show.

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