Sunday, March 05, 2017

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: December 2016/January 2017

A very historical post now (!), as I take a look back at my telly viewing in December and January.

The big news in December was that I finally got Netflix, on Christmas Eve to be exact and it immediately impacted on my TV viewing.  The great thing about it is that their original programming can also be downloaded so this has enabled me to watch shows on my tablet as well as on TV.  Of course BBC iPlayer also lets you do this, and I just wish that more broadcasters could do the same. So come on ITV!  Although if I'm honest, there is very little on ITV worth watching, let alone downloading....!

The first series I watched all the way through on Netflix was "THE CROWN" which in more financially stable times would have been the type of lavish historical costume drama you'd seen on the BBC.  But in these cash-strapped days, the online broadcasters like Netflix and Amazon Prime are the only ones with the cash to splash, it would seem.  "The Crown" is Netflix's most expensive series to date, and also had an ace up its sleeve as the writers and producers didn't have to seek royal approval for the scripts or storylines. Although I'm not a royalist by any means, I found the first series to be consistently watchable and it certainly fitted well into the Netflix reputation for binge-watching.

In case you're unfamiliar with the series, it's a dramatised account of the lives of the British royal family which begins with the early years of Queen Elizabeth II's reign.  The royals are ripe for the soap opera treatment and this series is certainly very soapy and addictive.   The series was very well cast and acted and is truly a high quality product.  One of the stand-out performances was by John Lithgow in the role of post-war Winston Churchill, however on the whole the series was extremely well-cast with some convincing performances by all involved.  Bring on series 2.

I also caught a couple of films on Netflix: "EDDIE THE EAGLE" and "SOMMEREN '92".  Both films were warm-hearted biopics which share the theme of sporting underdogs, although admittedly with opposing degrees of success.

Back in 1998 at the Calgary Winter Olympics, after fighting the powers that be, to be allowed to compete, British ski jumper Eddie Edwards was eventually allowed into the ski-jumping events.  He would never reach the standard of Matti Nykänen and his team of flying Finns, and came last in both individual events, he became a worldwide talking point and certainly embodied the definition of a true Olympian: it really was the taking part that counted.  My only gripe about this film was that his coach, a fascinating character named Bronson Peary, played with great glee by Hugh Jackman, was entirely fictional.  I guess we just need to put this aside and enjoy the film for what it is: a much-needed lightweight escape from the increasingly miserable state of the world....

As for "SOMMEREN '92", this Danish-language film told the fairytale story of the Danish national football team which won the 1992 European Championships, against all the odds.  Under new and seemingly unpopular manager Richard Moller Nielsen, the team had failed to qualify for the tournament.  That summer, the players headed off on holiday only to be summoned to Sweden at the very last minute to take part, replacing the Yugoslavian team which was disqualified due to the civil war ongoing at that time.

The film explores the tournament from the viewpoint of Moller Nielsen, who had replaced the acclaimed Sepp Piontek but inherited a team which were no longer 'Danish Dynamite' like the World Cup squad of 1986.  He also faced player rebellion and resignations, yet this quiet and unassuming character managed to turn the team's fortunes around.  I would highly recommend this film, which has some very good performances.

In December, the 14th series of "STRICTLY COME DANCING" (BBC1) came to an end.  This show just gets more and more popular every year and continues to hammer "The X Factor" in the Saturday night ratings.  The standard of contestants was extremely high this time round, and there was some controversy as Will Young quit the show and  and the show also attracted lots of publicity thanks to former politician Ed Balls, whom we all thought was going to be this year's hopeless contestant with two left feet.  And then this happened....

Of the real contenders, actor Danny Mac was in a completely different class, paired with the excellent Oti Mabuse.  But this also meant that he attracted a lot of criticism for his previous dancing experience.  He reached the final along with Louise Redknapp and Ore Oduba.  BBC presenter Ore was the only one of the three finalists with no previous dance experience, and in this instance that "journey" was a crucial factor in him winning the competition. Strictly 2016 was the last series to feature legendary judge Len Goodman, who has now retired from the show.  It won't be the same without "SEVEN!" and "a ten from Len".  I guess he's got more time now to focus on "pickling his walnuts"! :)

A very interesting fly-on-the-wall documentary series on BBC Scotland.  "THE COUNCIL" looked at the various aspects of the work undertaken by Fife Council.  Over recent years, public services have been strangled by massive budget cuts and year after year, the challenges increase, to provide a high level of service with the more and more limited resources available. Hopefully this programme will have persuaded many people who are quick to blame council services that people are working as well as they can, within tighter limits, to deliver the best possible service.  

On to another TV show made in Scotland.  "PRISON: FIRST AND LAST 24 HOURS" (Sky One) came back for a very welcome second series.  

"THE MISSING" (BBC1) was one of the biggest, best and most gripping drama series of the year. After a very successful first series, I had my doubts about how a second series would go.  However, in my opinion, I thought the second series was even better than the first.  It was a very gripping story set this time in Germany. Linking both series was Tcheky Karyo's brilliant character Julien Baptiste, who is one of the best TV cops of recent years.

On the lead-up to Christmas I discovered a cracking little drama series on the online-only BBC3.  "BARRACUDA" was the story of a young Australian swimmer from a working-class immigrant background, who won a scholarship to a private school and was thrown into a very different world of champion swimming. This was a very gripping series exploring a number of issues along the way - race, sexuality, social class and the pressures to achieve success - and was well worth watching.

After an excellent first series, I eagerly awaited the second series of "30 DEGREES IN FEBRUARY" (Sky Arts) as I felt that there were more stories to be told about the characters who had gone to Thailand for a new life.  It was well worth the wait and picked up where the last series left off.  A little Melodifestivalen link here, as Björn Kjellman, who participated in Melfest 2006, joined the cast as the father of Joy and Wilda (above). Like the first series it was an emotional rollercoaster and often heartbreaking at times.  And yes, I did have something in my eye at the end of the series...! It was a satisfactory conclusion though, and I don't think there will be a 3rd series.

What with the combination of getting Netflix, catching up with my TV backlog and the small matter of immersing myself in Festivali i Këngës, I didn't really watch too much traditional "Christmas TV" on the terrestrial channels.  One very strange thing happened though: I decided to quit watching "CORONATION STREET" (ITV), a programme which has always been a part of my life.

I've watched the show decline over the past couple of years, with the introduction of characters I don't care about (and the departure of those which I did care about), and one ridiculous storyline after another.  The particular straw which broke this camel's back was the story of Mary's search for her son (above) whom she gave up when he was born.  In no time, just like magic, hey presto, he appeared and it was no time until he was inviting her to come and live with him in South Africa.  Of course the lure of Weatherfield proved too much for Mary and she didn't go.  I reached a point over the festive season when I decided that my intelligence had been insulted enough and I could do better things with the 2½ to 3 hours per week which I waste on watching this show.

Since that time I haven't seen Corrie, and to be honest I haven't missed it!

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