Save Me was a visceral character drama about people driven to extremes

save me lennie james suranne jones stephen graham sky atlantic jason flemyng

Immediately, comparisons to a particular tradition of crime drama spring to mind; on paper, it feels as though Save Me shares similarities with programmes like Broadchurch or Kiri, centred as they all are around a child that’s missing or dead. However, Save Me neatly elucidates and overcomes a problem that thus far has seemed endemic to the genre: structured, as these programmes are, around a child that’s always defined by their absence, at times it feels like the characters are responding to the idea of the child moreso than anything else. There’s a distance there, inherently positioning the child at a remove – how much do you ever know Danny Latimer?

Save Me cleverly takes what can be a failing of the genre and builds it into the premise, presenting the series from the perspective of a character who was only ever dimly aware of his daughter anyway. Not only does it remove this potential flaw, it elevates it; the father-daughter relationship at the heart of Save Me genuinely feels like a new addition to the genre, a clear demonstration that there’s still new stories to tell.

I really, really enjoyed Save Me – it was a massively compelling programme. It was certainly much better than I expected; that’s not to say I wasn’t expecting it to be good, but rather that it was of a much higher level than the trailers and such suggested. I was genuinely quite taken with it in the end.

Admittedly, however, I wasn’t particularly pleased with this article I wrote about the show. That’s always frustrating, the feeling that a piece of writing I’ve done didn’t quite serve the show well – something like Save Me deserves a better article than this. My wasn’t quite right; it’s not, I don’t think, a brilliant piece of writing, or even exactly a particularly good one.

At the time I wanted to do a sort of Writer’s Notes type thing, breaking down how I wrote it and what went wrong, though I never quite managed it. There’s a couple of things, I think – part of it is that there was a lot of stuff I wanted to discuss but couldn’t quite work in, like just how good the dialogue was. (There’s a line where Lennie James’ character Nelly is talking about his daughter’s injuries, and describes “claret down her top”, and I’d never heard “claret” used like that in that context. It felt so distinct and idiosyncratic, it just really stayed with me.) Also, though, I think the article is almost in two halves that are sort of fighting one another; it’s a victim, I think, of the fact I didn’t quite have the title in mind when I started, which meant it wasn’t all written around one central point the way it should have been. The first half is about the clever reframing of the missing child format, while the second half is about how Save Me pushes characters to extremes, and the two halves together add up to less than the sum of their parts. (Or whatever the phrase should be.) It ends up scattered and a little unfocused, though there are some good ideas in there – one of the things I tried to do with this article was engage a bit more with the actual camera, and I think I did a decent job of that.

Still! Live and learn. I might try and revisit the first series of Save Me and write a new article on it if and when the second eventually comes out.

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How The Good Doctor responds to and moves on from House

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It’s not difficult to read The Good Doctor as something of a spiritual sequel to House; indeed, the programme almost asks you to. Certainly, the two dramas share particular thematic concerns. Both are about brilliant doctors positioned as liminal figures, using medical drama as a lens to advance a character study. Their eponymous stars are, if not isolated, placed at the periphery of society: in House, because of House’s misanthropy, borne of his chronic pain and depression; in The Good Doctor, it’s because Shaun Murphy is neuro-divergent.

Where House had a vein of nihilism running through it, however, The Good Doctor is a fundamentally more hopeful programme. This is inarguably the biggest difference between the two shows, each with almost diametrically opposed central perspectives forming. As stated, House always had a vein of nihilism running through it – a product of the eponymous character’s misanthropy, and his distrust and often disdain of those around him. There’s a certain cynicism to House, a programme generally disposed to reach for the dour note and underscore a sense of world-weary scepticism. The Good Doctor, meanwhile, is decidedly more sentimental in approach, more inclined to find and dwell on a positive note – a programme that finds value in life and in people, rather than just pain.

It took me a little while to get into The Good Doctor, admittedly; at first, it felt more than a little… well, rubbish.

Quickly, though, I began to appreciate it more – not just because it improved (it did) but because I realised just how it was being positioned as a spiritual sequel to one of my favourite programmes, House. This is a series in constant conversation with its predecessor – in terms of characters, themes and plotlines – and The Good Doctor ultimately makes a much more hopeful and inclusive statement than House did.

In the end, I’m quite pleased with how the article turned out – it was something that had been gestating for a while before I eventually came to write it, so it was good to get it down onto the page. (I’d meant to edit together a nice image of House and Shaun together, but I couldn’t get it to look nice, which is a shame.) I suspect I’ll end up returning to the ideas I sketched out above at some point; like I said, I really do love House, and I think one day I might quite like to do a podcast or blog series about the show – and, on the basis of that first season, any critical analysis of House that didn’t go on to mention The Good Doctor would be incomplete.

(I do feel, though, that I should also link to the following accounts of The Good Doctor by some writers with autism, simply because that’s a perspective I lack and it’s one that needs to be acknowledged in any discussion of the show.)

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Why wasn’t Electric Dreams as popular as Black Mirror?

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In almost every respect, Electric Dreams seems poised as a response to Black Mirror. There are surface similarities, obviously – both are high concept science fiction anthology programmes, after all – but it’s more illustrative to look at who was behind Electric Dreams; when you consider that it was co-produced by Amazon and Channel 4, the intent becomes obvious. Both had reason to want a drama similar to Black Mirror – Amazon to compete with Netflix, and Channel 4, as the latter programme’s original home before it was moved to Netflix, as a replacement.

In the lead up to Electric Dreams’ release, it seemed more than likely that the series would see equivalent success to Black Mirror. And yet, ultimately, Electric Dreams failed to replicate the success of Black Mirror. Which begs the question: why?

I was generally pretty fond of Electric Dreams, if admittedly frustrated by a lot of it. Across the ten episodes of its first season, there were some genuinely quite impressive hours of television; I think if I were inclined to isolate one particular flaw above all others, though, it’d be that sometimes Electric Dreams felt a little scared of subtlety and ambiguity. There were a couple of different episodes where the conclusion of the episode went to great lengths to explain things as much as possible, often unnecessarily, and sometimes to the detriment of the piece as a whole.

Still, though, there was a lot to like from Electric Dreams – it assembled some really quite impressive creative talents, arguably functioning better as an anthology series in that regard than Black Mirror. And yet Black Mirror still remained the more popular series, with Electric Dreams seemingly struggling to make much of an impact. This article, then, was an attempt to get to grips with that.

As an article, it’s probably not as analytical as it should be, nor evidence-based enough – really, what I needed was a lot of statistics and viewer data, and probably quotes from lots of different reviewers, AI numbers, that sort of thing. I did not have that. What it ended up as, then, was some speculation as to why Electric Dreams didn’t quite work in the UK. Even then, mind you, I might not have been correct in that speculation – just typing this up now it occurred to me that Electric Dreams might have been “too sci-fi” in a way that Black Mirror isn’t, for lack of a better way of putting it. So who knows really.

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Jamestown and the dynamics of power

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Focusing, as the series does, primarily on three female characters, it’s interesting to note how the series examines gendered portrayals of power. When the series debuted last year, a common critique of Jamestown was that its depiction of women was ahistorical – that, largely speaking, portraying the female characters exercising their own agency was inaccurate. Fealty to history aside, it’s worth noting that that’s not really the point; as with any historical drama, Jamestown is much more about the present than it is the past, depicting as it does still relevant concerns about patriarchal power structures. 

This examination of power and gender is most obvious through the character Jocelyn (Naomi Battrick), a widow who refuses to remarry, and gets increasingly involved with the political machinations of the colony. Marriage, in Jamestown, is an explicit microcosm of the wider confines of the patriarchy; Jocelyn refuses to be “owned, possessed, confined, or determined by wedlock”, in turn arguably exercising the most agency of any character on the programme. Notably, the opening of the final episode draws an implicit parallel between Jocelyn and Governor Yeardley (Jason Flemyng), the ultimate authority at the colony – both dressed in shades of blue, atop their horses, at this point the pair are near equals.

An article I was actually very pleased with, on a show I quite enjoyed. This was actually prompted, in a couple of roundabout ways and in a few more direct ways, by some interviews I did with the cast of Jamestown. I watched the very first episode of Jamestown when it was broadcast, and admittedly didn’t quite like it; there was a sexual assault scene about halfway through, which I was rather dubious of, so I didn’t continue with the show.

However! Ahead of the second series, I was invited to watch a screening of the premiere and interview the cast. I wasn’t going to turn that down, especially since it was going to be the first interview I ever conducted in person, so off I went into London (getting horrendously, embarrassingly lost in the process) for that. Somewhat surprisingly, I actually really enjoyed that episode, and the cast were all lovely – I stuck with the show, having more or less decided on writing this article already, and also having promised Ben Starr I’d write it.

And so, this is the article I ended up with. Meant to tweet it to them all but never did (though Max Beesley, who I didn’t interview but is on the show, came across it independently and said it was great, which was nice) – I’ll try and remember to before the third series.

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In season 2, Jessica Jones became more of a superhero show – but that’s not exactly a good thing

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No, Kilgrave – and, indeed, the first season of Jessica Jones as a whole – worked because there was a certain truth to him. The character served as part of Jessica Jones’ exploration of rape culture, of pervasive and insidious attitudes that can be observed in real life. A lot of the drama and tension comes from the fact that audiences are familiar with him, and those like him, both on a diegetic and extra-diegetic level; there’s something recognisable about Kilgrave, something that maps onto real life experiences.

Across season 2, we follow our eponymous hero as she’s drawn deeper and deeper into a convoluted conspiracy, uncovering information about the shady organisation that are responsible for her powers. It’s something that Jessica Jones isn’t particularly well suited to: the conspiracy angle is weak, and the return of a key character from Jessica’s past marks a genre shift that the show can’t sustain. In essence, it’s because little of this is analogous to real experiences. A huge amount of the strength of Jessica Jones previously came from its ability to use the trappings of the superhero genre to tell a story about trauma and surviving abuse; here, it’s weighed down by old tropes and familiar archetypes. Where the fantasy angle of Kilgrave’s powers was used to great effect to tell a story about genuine human experiences, that’s not the case in season 2.

Very heavy spoilers for Jessica Jones series 2 here, particularly after episode six – wouldn’t recommend reading it until you’ve seen the whole season, personally.

Not sure I quite got this article right – often the way when you’re writing quickly to meet a deadline, moreso after having binge-watched something. (One day, I should write about my growing disdain for binge-watching television programmes. It’s often a necessary evil of my job – gotta get the clicks within the optimal search hours – but I do think that television criticism, and actually in a broader sense television viewing, suffers from binge-watching.)

Anyway, though, this article. It perhaps might have been better titled “Jessica Jones loses sight of human experiences”, or words to that effect. In short, my feelings are that the best parts of Jessica Jones season 1 were the moments when it was least like a superhero show – when it reflected real life, even if only in an allegorical sense. The fact that it’s increasingly like a fairly over-the-top and convoluted superhero show in S2 was a bit disappointing – it felt like a genre shift in a show that didn’t need one. (Again, I have fairly complex thoughts on “superhero” as a genre definition, but that’s for another time.)

Still! I hope you like this article – or, if not the article itself, at least the basic gist of the ideas that are going on within it. Let me know in the comments below what you think!

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The problem with poor pacing, and increasingly overlong television

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Having a more flexible runtime makes sense – generally speaking, the traditional forty-five-ish minute slot for a drama or the twenty-five-ish minute slot for comedy are fairly arbitrary ideas imposed by the demands of advertisers rather than anything else. There’s nothing inherent to the stories that dictate they hold this structure, so the opportunity to be a little bit more malleable and adaptable can be worth pursuing.

Yet it’s debatable whether this approach is really effective, and whether the freedom that’s been allowed has ultimately been a good thing. There’s an argument to be made that, over the past few years, it’s led to a slew of poorly paced television series; slow and plodding, not using their runtime effectively. It’s not so much that a serial has to be filled with incident, but that there’s a sense that not every minute has to be earned in the way that perhaps it used to be – in turn leading to more meandering, more superfluous storytelling.

This article brought to you by the hour I spent watching the first episode of Seven Seconds, though could just have easily been brought to you by the interminable thirteen hours spent on Jessica Jones series 2.

A while ago, I changed up my approach with how I write about television; I decided, basically, that I was only going to write about a show when I’d seen the entire thing. Just a different way of looking at it, taking the series more holistically basically, and a way to stop myself getting too complacent – after a while, I figure I’ll probably switch it up again.

But anyway, this led to a lot of Netflix binge-watching, which was always frustrating – with the above Seven Seconds, ten episodes totalled around eleven hours entirely (there was one episode which was seventy-five minutes long, which is pretty much never necessary) and it worked out that if I watched all ten episodes, then spent another three hours or so writing an article on the show, my final pay would work out as less than minimum wage. Which I was not wholly impressed by. So I wrote this article about why TV episodes are too long instead. Though admittedly I’d probably mind less if I was paid more. So, you know.

(Some months later, a more well established TV critic, the name of whom escapes me, wrote something similar titled something to the effect of “overly long episodes are the TV equivalent of manspreading”, which is a much better title than mine. Made me laugh, anyway.)

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Trauma was a haunting meditation on destructive grief

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This death is at the heart of Trauma; as a programme, it’s fascinated by death and its impact, depicting an almost eschatological collapse of the status quo. This manifests through Trauma’s examination of both Dan Bowker (John Simm) and Jon Allerton (Adrian Lester), as parent and surgeon are forced to confront this death and how it changes them. There’s a compelling bond between them, as a grieving man latches onto the last human face who told him everything would be okay, the relationship quickly deteriorating as he searches for someone to blame. 

In a sense, certain similarities can be drawn between this and writer Mike Bartlett’s previous work on Doctor Foster, another drama focused on a spiralling disintegration of its lead character’s life; what sets Trauma apart, however, is how dedicated it is to exploring dual perspectives. There’s a real nuance and subtlety to Trauma, a measured approach to character work that doesn’t betray any of the ambiguity it allows.

In hindsight, that’s quite the pretentious title. But hey. I was pretty pleased with the article in the end. There’s one bit that isn’t quite right – a line of analysis that I don’t think exactly goes anywhere – but on the whole, a largely good article.

I really loved this show, and I was quite surprised to find that it wasn’t super well received generally. The explanation, as ever, is that I was right and they were all wrong. (More seriously, I think that a lot of the reason why people didn’t respond to this show so well is that they didn’t quite get why John Simm’s character became so fixated on Adrian Lester’s – admittedly, you can then argue about how well the show justified that, but still.)

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

hard sun neil cross jim sturgess agyness deyn aisling bea hulu bbc one

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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Kiri was an engaging drama that raised a lot of questions, but offered few answers

Thematically, however, the series was weak; it gestured at larger ideas, broaching the topics of race and the role of the media, but was constrained in its interrogation of these ideas. Such concepts are a recurring thread across Kiri, but they’re generally left unexamined – a background presence, rather than the focus of any particularly sharp or incisive commentary. Writer Jack Thorne spoke about how he wanted the drama to “pose questions” rather than answer them necessarily, noting that he “always likes things where [he doesn’t] know the answer”. There’s a value to this, of course – and, indeed, a sense to it. Many of the ideas Kiri touches on are complex, lacking easy answers, yet there’s a feeling as well that the series just doesn’t entirely try to get to grips with them. Much of the complexity and nuance surrounding these concepts is acknowledged, but unexplored; there’s a lack of any real scrutiny to Kiri.

I liked Kiri, but also I kinda didn’t. Nuance! I’m not sure I got this article quite right, admittedly, but also I kinda did. More nuance!

Tell you what is odd, though – this was on Hulu in America, and went out under the National Treasure title, which was the title of one of Jack Thorne’s shows the year before. The two were pretty much unrelated, as far as I know, so that was an odd matchup.

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The Orville is just Star Trek fan-fiction, but that’s not such a bad thing

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Yes, for any given episode of The Orville, you can quite easily point to which episodes of The Next Generation it’s riffing on and remixing. No, it’s never quite as clever or novel as the source material that inspires it – if nothing else, they got there first. What it does offer is the feeling of watching Star Trek, in largely the same way fanfiction does. And that makes sense, because that’s pretty much exactly what this show is. Not fanfiction at its most subversive or compelling, no, but at its most basic level – a fun little thing on the side that lovingly recreates the sense of the show you love.

So, an article about The Orville. It took me a while to warm to this show, which at first wasn’t great – especially with the, for lack of a better term, “gender-themed” episode, which remains the nadir of the series – but I did eventually reach a point where I had mixed-to-positive opinions on it. Mostly, I found it quite entertaining by virtue of how shamelessly Star Trek inspired it is. It’s quite literally Seth MacFarlane’s self-insert fanfic, and I found that rather endearing.

While I was writing this article, though, I did start to wonder if there’s actually a more compelling piece to consider – comparing The Orville and it’s relatively simple recreation of Star Trek to the more subversive, often female-driven, fan fiction that exists. Especially, actually, considering the legacy of Star Trek fanfiction as a whole – arguably some of the first fanfiction in the sense we understand it now was Star Trek inspired, and it wasn’t just remixing the episodes, it invented slash fiction. I hope someone who knows enough about this stuff has written a piece on it. Equally, though, I might go and research it and write about it myself.

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