TV

Murdered for Being Different – Review

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Producing a factual drama is always a complex task. A writer may feel indebted to the reality, and thus reluctant to stray from the truth. Others may adapt, or alter the truth in pursuit of drama and narrative engagement, risking alienating the audience (particularly those familiar with the case). Often, the factual dramas that have been best received are those that intentionally adopt an alternative perspective. Thus, The Moorside, detailing the Shannon Matthews case, chose to focus on Julie Bushby rather than Karen Matthews, allowing the audience an insight into the case, without casting aspersions.

Since moving to online only, BBC Three has focused on generating creative, socially important output. Murdered for Being Different appears to form part of an unofficial triptych which includes the critically acclaimed Murdered by My Boyfriend, and Murdered by My Father. 

Murdered for Being Different details the well-known case of Sophie Lancaster. Sophie, and her boyfriend of three years Rob, were brutally attacked in a park in Lancashire by a group of teenagers ten years ago. The media largely focused on promoting Sophie and Rob’s ‘otherness’, highlighting their participation in alternative culture and their Goth appearance. Rob, the only survivor of the attack, has subsequently decried the media’s focus on their appearance, rightly stating that this focus has implications of victim blaming. As Rob has stated in interviews that were held as part of the BBC three production of the event, Sophie was murdered because ‘some arseholes killed her. What can’t we ask what it is about them that made them want to murder someone?’

Dealing with such an event, one which received much media attention, and has had considerable ramifications on both society and those affected, can be problematic. Creator Nick Leather combats this by inviting the direct involvement of Rob. While Rob remembers little of the attack, such were the extent of his injuries, he does remember his relationship with Sophie. These memories, presented as idyllic and almost dreamlike, act as a stark contrast to the aggressive violence that both Rob and Sophie suffered. Rob paints wings onto Sophie’s back, turning her into the angel that he perceives her to be. She reads Harry Potter to him after he purchases the last instalment for her at midnight. Rob has trekked through the night after he is left with no bus money after the purchase.

Wisely, the drama does not attempt to create any sense of narrative tension. There is no need when the audience knows the result. Rather, the drama focuses on the futility and senselessness of the violence, and the tender nature of Rob and Sophie’s relationship. Their first meeting, depicted as taking place in a loud music venue in which the pair are forced to communicate via non-verbal gestures, utilises both music and visuals. Rob spots Sophie across a crowd, and the attraction is instant. Her face, flickering in and out of frame in time with the lights, draws both Rob and the audience to her.

While we are only afforded an insight into their relationship, its depiction created in collaboration with Rob, allows for the portrayal of a meaningful connection, ensuring that the pair’s attack (only truly revealed in its horror at the end of the narrative) is all the more brutal.

In depicting Sophie’s death, the drama does not set out to entertain or create drama. Rather it hopes to highlight the crime, and the impact that it had on those around them. Leather succeeds in this aim, resulting in the creation of an affecting piece. A piece that will stay with you long after the credits have ended.

3/5

The Handmaid’s Tale: Episode one

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Given the current political and social climate, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale feels particularly prescient, arguably more so than ever. Taking a recognisable western society and transplanting it into a future in which women are merely used for their reproductive and domestic uses, does not feel entirely removed from our own current reality, and it is that familiarity that makes The Handmaid’s Tale so affecting.

Offred (Elizabeth Moss) is a handmaiden, a woman forced to offer her body in hopes of procreation. In this future, the birth rate has rapidly dropped, leaving those women who have previously demonstrated their ability to conceive to act as handmaidens (or be forced to a short life of painful, debilitating manual labour). Using flashbacks, the narrative interweaves multiple timelines:

  • Offred’s life now, placed with the commander and Serena Joy, forced to offer her body to the commander as part of the reproductive ‘ceremony’.
  • Offred’s life prior to the full installation of the regime, in which she, her husband and daughter attempt to escape to Canada.
  • Offred’s life before the regime, in which she is a happy college student.
  • Offred’s life in the early days of her indoctrination, in which she is compelled, through systematic threats and violence, to become a handmaiden.

In this patriarchal theocratic society, women have no rights, they have no sense of agency. This system of contributing to population growth is clearly loathed by Serena Joy, who feels threatened by the fertile Offred, yet she cannot question the events. Offred is forced to endure this treatment, determined to survive. She affords herself little opportunity to dwell on her situation, recognising that a propensity to reflection merely makes her life more difficult to withstand.

The adaptation takes the wise decision to avoid too much exposition. Thus, the audience is immediately thrown into narrative action as we witness Offred’s attempts to escape with her family. The scenes in which we are privy to Offred’s desperation and clear devotion to her daughter instantly create empathy. The audience is already on her side before we are introduced to the ways of her life now. This empathy is crucial, as it is Offred’s story that the audience is asked to invest in. Without the creation of a successful connection her plight, and the plight of all the women suffering under the regime, would not engage and in turn encourage analysis.

Much of the narrative thus far is formed through Offred’s compelling voiceover. Her description of the world around her, rather than lessening the action, actually invites audience partipation. Linguistic clues are casually used: the domestic housekeepers are referred to as ‘marthas’, Offred refers to people potentially being an ‘eye’, and she notes that Nick, the commander’s driver, is considered to be too low status to be provided with a woman.

As expected, Elizabeth Moss is sublime: her Offred is both vulnerable and utterly determined. Moss imbues Offred with humanity and intelligence as she struggles to navigate her day to day life without allowing its oppression to overcome her. Alexis Bledel is similarly effective as Ofglen, a fellow handmaiden. The pair’s interactions with one another, as they meet each day to complete the shopping for their respective households, convey the suspicion and guarded manner in which they now live their lives. Equally wary of each other, they converse in the regime’s rhetoric extolling the rehearsed lines as a means of protection.

The muted colour palette creates imagery that is both beautiful and horrifying, encouraging focus. The handmaids’ garb of red and white convey violence and vulnerability, consistently reminding the viewer of both the role of the handmaid and the danger with which they exist.

The first episode largely centres on introducing the viewer to this world, introducing reference points for the viewer to return to. We learn of Offred’s prior life, and her friendship with Moira (a brilliant Samira Wiley) as it was before the regime, and their relationship during their initiation process. Moira has existed within this world for longer than Offred, and helps her to negotiate her way through in order to ensure her survival. While we know little of the full extent of the government’s machinations, the first episode begins to imply its cruelty. This is an intelligent narrative device, allowing each detail – the ‘ceremony’, the hanging of those perceived as traitors to the state due to their sexuality or occupation – to resonate, without isolating. It is this level of detail that helps to create the diegesis of the narrative. This is a world that is both far removed from our own, yet presents as a vision of what could happen if those with such political leanings were afforded power.

Master of None: Season two

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The first series of Master of None was certainly enjoyable. Well-written, with an engaging narrative, Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang’s depiction of Dev (Ansari) and his life in New York, was an interesting and progressive concept, focusing on a positive portrayal of a young Muslim in contemporary society. Dealing with a number of prescient issues, including rape culture and the treatment and depiction of race in the media, the series largely felt fresh despite the intermittent reliance on tropes such as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

This month saw the release of the second season. A season which demonstrates Ansari and Yang’s writing potential. The series is far more inventive, and the pair, with the backing of Netflix, have been able to experiment and play around with form and narrative. Thus the season, while containing an overarching narrative focusing on Dev’s relationship with the enigmatic Francesca, is given the freedom to focus on the development of minor characters, or at times entirely abandon its focus on Dev.

In this season Dev, after the breakdown of his relationship with Rachel, visits Italy, living there for several months as an apprentice in a pasta shop. Learning the craft, he also immerses himself in local life, and struggles with the decision to return to New York. Upon his return, he gains employment as the host of a reality TV cookery show entitled Clash of the Cupcakes. Dev’s ease in earning this role, and indeed his entire lack of apparent financial worries, does at times force the viewer to suspend disbelief, especially given the current economic climate.

The depiction of women too, is worthy of interrogation at times. Francesca’s Italian nature feels fetishized at times. Her difficulty in fully understanding English is, on occasion, held up for comedic purposes, or even as a patronising means of endearment. Her intelligence is only depicted through cultural signifiers (she regularly visits museums and art galleries and expresses her enjoyment of them) yet we learn little of her own interests or desires. As Dev battles with his feelings for her, there is very little sense that he is aware of what she wants or needs.

Despite this, there is much to be lauded about the series. Its handling of sexual harassment is timely, and Dev’s interaction with those that have experienced the harassment is positive. There is no question of the validity of the account that he hears, and when it is made public he quickly distances himself from those involved. Arguably he could have confronted the accused, but even this is more realistic and helps to highlight the difficulty for the women involved in that, while listened to, those allied to them may not always act quickly enough to condemn.

All ten episodes, with their varying duration, are worthy of praise, but three episodes in particular, through their form and narrative focus, are to be noted.

First Date

The episode centres around a number of dates that Dev procures through the use of a popular dating app. The narrative intercuts from date to date, allowing for direct comparisons between each dating experience. Some of the dates are laughably bad, and the connection between Dev and the date is non-existent, others show a superficial connection which is frequently rapidly undercut once the date continues outside of the restaurant. Importantly, we are shown each of the women deciding to go on the date with Dev, affording them a life outside of the narrative focus. Each woman is allowed the opportunity to make her voice heard, and they feel both real and recognisable. The experience itself, relying on viewer familiarity with the scenario, is acutely drawn.

New York I Love You

Using the form of the film of the same name, New York I Love You is perhaps the most experimental episode of the series. Beginning with Dev, Denise and Arnold embarking on a trip to the cinema to see the latest Nicholas Cage blockbuster ‘Death Castle’, the narrative focus quickly shifts to the various inhabitants of New York. Thus the viewer is shown the relationship between two hearing impaired people, with the entirety of their narrative featuring subtitles (and allowing the episode to play around with sound and music); the life of an immigrant taxi driver who embarks on a night out with his fellow taxi drivers; and a doorman who is poorly treated by those living in the building. Each narrative arc is held together by the aforementioned blockbuster, with almost every character expressing a desire to see the film.  Each character arc, while only afforded a section of narrative space, is still given the opportunity to grow and thus engage. The life of the taxi driver in particular is subtle, highlighting the cramped living conditions he is forced to ensure, as well as the ill-treatment he receives due to his ethnicity.

Thanksgiving

Dev, not celebrating Thanksgiving with his family, spends each year with Denise and her family. The episode highlights the strength and depth of their friendship, as it follows Denise negotiating her sexuality. Struggling to broach the topic with her family, she attends the family celebration each year hoping to find support from her mother. Revisiting the same day on different years can, when handled poorly, quickly feel tired. Here however, the device allows for character development and engagement resulting in a truly affecting episode.

Thoughts on Clique, episode one

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Since going online only BBC3 has clearly strengthened its brand identity. Before, seen as a channel which produced throw away reality programmes aimed at teenagers, it is fast becoming a platform for new and emerging talent. Perhaps it is because of this online move that the channel seems able to offer new writers the opportunity to hone their skill. Following on from last year’s well-received Thirteen, which focused on a female victim of kidnapping and her subsequent re-emergence into society, Clique looks set to continue the welcome trend of female-centric drama.

Billed as a psychological thriller, it focuses on Holly (Synnove Karsen) and Georgina (Aisling Franciosi, two childhood friends who find that university life and a mysterious internship begins to drive a wedge between them.

Written by Jess Brittain, best known for her work on the later series of Skins, Clique focuses on university life, depicting the various entanglements of university with a darker edge. Having only watched the first episode thus far, it seems apparent that Clique isn’t entirely sure what kind of show it wants to be, but it perhaps all the better for it, allowing Brittain to experiment with form and generic conventions. There are certainly strains of Skins apparent, with the improbably glossy-haired, impeccably turned out university students adding to a sense of hyperreality.

Brittain has created a strange dichotomy in Clique focusing on both the reality and recognisable moments of university life. She references the entanglements of Fresher’s week and the time spent in the library, as well as alluding to this hyperbolic lifestyle that the proposed internship affords. Georgina, making friends with the current batch of interns who have been billed as the brightest and the best, admires the hedonistic lifestyle that it enables, and desires to become an intern herself. Holly, choosing to largely observe, notes that the internship seems to be more than simple photocopying and making cups of tea. To her, it is clear that this internship is potentially questionable and in turn dangerous. It’s not yet clear just what this internship entails, and presumably it is this that will form much of the narrative of the remaining five episodes.

Thus far, Clique has shown itself to be well-paced, with a talented cast. Despite or perhaps because of its tendency towards melodrama, the first episode at least, is engaging and relatively immersive.

 

In praise of Love

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To the undiscerning, Netflix’s Love may appear, at first glance, to be nothing more than a lazy, clichéd romantic comedy in which the geeky male protagonist improbably forms a relationship with the attractive female protagonist. Starring Gillian Jacobs as Mickey, and Paul Rust as Gus, the series focuses on the pair’s developing relationship, from initial meet-cute, in which Mickey asks Gus to pay for her cigarettes, to their eventual and inevitable hook-up.

Certainly its detractors have pointed out the unlikeliness of the relationship between Gus and Mickey  yet to highlight the disparity between the two involves only taking the characters at face value. One dimensionally, Mickey is far more attractive than Gus. She is largely successful in her career, whereas Gus, desperate to write his own screenplay, struggles with his role as an onset tutor (and often does a terrible job). Yet both characters have their unlikeable and difficult qualities which help to both develop and deepen their characterisation.

Mickey is, in part due to her various addictions (love, sex, alcohol, drugs), often selfish and thoughtless. In forming a relationship with her housemate Bertie, she relies on her for emotional support yet, at least initially, offers little in return. Mickey knows that she is often controlled by her addictions, but in turn, recognises that Gus, despite his perceived affable nature, is just as damaged and selfish as her. It is here, in this characterisation of Gus as the supposed nice guy, which helps to elevate Love beyond the standard rom-com and enables it to be both a thoughtful rendering of a burgeoning relationship and an effective depiction of individual damaged characters.

Gus, despite his apparent niceness and largely positive interactions (he has a plethora of quirky friends) is, in actuality, pseudo-nice. What makes his ‘niceness’ all the more damaging is the fact that he believes it in so earnestly. He truly believes that he is a good guy, who deserves to be recognised for his niceness. He doesn’t understand why his first girlfriend found his thoughtfulness and sincerity so suffocating. For Mickey, his congeniality is, at least initially, refreshing when compared to her past relationships, but she quickly realises that Gus’ presentation of himself belies his true nature.

Much of Gus’ life feels set up and constructed, down to his comical interactions with his students, to his ritual of writing movie theme songs with his friends for songs that don’t have theme songs (Carlito’s Way for example). This concentrated construction stops Gus from confronting his true desires, and when approached by an attractive co-worker, he finds that he is unable to resist the opportunity at playing another role. It is this that makes Gus and Mickey so ideal for one another. They bring out the truth and reality in one another, and only then can they begin to accept who they are. This is not to suggest that Mickey and Gus are reliant on one another in the manner of a co-dependent relationship, but rather, that their relationship with each other affords both the opportunity to try out different roles for themselves without the fear of being judged or treated differently.

In fact, despite Gus and Mickey’s attraction to one another, they spend much of the series apart. Indeed in one episode, Gus and Mickey make plans to see one another, but due to work commitments and social interests, the pair fail to see one another, showing that their characters can and do exist independently from one another. Gus and Mickey don’t need one another, they want one another, and this is an important distinction to make. It is this assertion that helps set Love apart. It features two protagonists who are fully realised, and developed in their own right. Each leads interesting and entertaining lives, and while many of these events mirror each other (with both struggling with issues at work for example) they are separate.

Season two of Love is released on the 10th March 2017.

Stranger Things: In praise of Nancy Wheeler

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Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) – source: Netflix

Stranger Things is great. A wonderful nostalgic series that creates its own original narrative that never feels derivative nor clichéd. The series has garnered much praise since its release on Netflix last month and rightly so, with many critics pointing towards the characterisation as being especially strong. Certainly the interactions between the young friends is believable and engaging, and the series has gained attention for its well-rounded and developed female characters.

For me, it is Nancy Wheeler’s character in particular that is worthy of praise. Her character begins the series as a seemingly archetypical love struck teen. The attentions of Steve (Joe Keery) apparently leads Nancy (Natalia Dyer) astray, at least, that’s what Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) believes when he remonstrates that Nancy is pretending to be someone else in order to gain popularity and Steve’s consideration.

At this point in the narrative, the viewer could find themselves siding with Jonathan’s assertion. While Nancy’s interactions with Steve, in which she readily mocks and laughs at him, have hinted at a more developed character, her rash actions and willingness to let Steve dictate her actions have indicated otherwise. She is, at this point in the narrative, seemingly another addition to the devoted, desperate female trope.

Her response, in which she angrily reasserts herself and tells Jonathan how wrong he is, is not only an indicator of great writing, but highlights just how brilliant Nancy’s characterisation is. In her diatribe she is simultaneously telling both Jonathan and the viewer that she is far more than first appearances may indicate. She is her own person, and she is making her own decisions. She refuses to allow Jonathan project his own fantasy upon her. Jonathan has clearly created a sense of who he thinks Nancy is, one that fits into the fantasy that he has of her, yet Nancy refuses to allow anyone to tell her who she is or how she should act.

It is Nancy, who after witnessing the monster, is determined to act in order to save her best friend. She willingly teams up with Jonathan, proving herself to more than adept with the typical masculine pursuits of shooting and tactically planning.

Most importantly, it is Nancy’s function within the narrative that is so impressive. She is not there to serve as a prize to be won. While it is clear that Jonathan has feelings for Nancy, his feelings are inconsequential. Nancy is friends with Jonathan, but she does not allow her romantic or sexual feelings to be dictated by others. She is firmly her own person.

Take the scene for example, in which Nancy asks Jonathan to stay with her after her experience in the Upside Down. A lesser writer would have used this scene as an opportunistic chance to introduce a sexual relationship between the two, reducing Nancy to a female foil for Jonathan’s male character. Instead, it is a moment in which Nancy is once again able to assert herself. Jonathan, seeking to comfort Nancy, tells her that the monster will not be able to attack them in the safety of their own home. Nancy, having been the person to actually see and interact with the monster in the Upside Down, quickly informs Jonathan that there is no way of knowing that, and that ultimately his comfort, while well meaning, is relatively useless. Nancy knows that the only way that they can be safe is to challenge the monster, and defeat it.

It is notable that in the scene in which Nancy enters the Upside Down, there is clearly a sense of gender role reversal at work. Typically, we would expect the male character to be the one to willing enter the sphere of danger, but here it is Nancy who takes the risk while Jonathan has to wait. Certainly Jonathan aids Nancy’s escape, but his help doesn’t extend to his entering the Upside Down himself.

Finally, it is Nancy’s role in attempting to defeat the monster that fully emphasises the development of her character. Purchasing various equipment, including guns and traps, with Jonathan highlights that Nancy is fully ready to undertake an active role in the monster’s defeat.

She is shown to be an equal; helping Jonathan and working with Steve in order to injure the creature. She doesn’t require rescuing, nor does she panic. She is level-headed throughout. She became involved in attempting to defeat the monster due to her friend Barb’s disappearance, but even though she now knows that this futile, she continues in the attempt. Nancy is truly an impressive creation: a developed, complex female character.

Stranger Things – two episodes in

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As evidenced by the recent vitriolic reaction to Ghostbusters nostalgia is a powerful thing. It is interesting that, for some, any sense of homage or reboot is offensive, altering their happy memories of a childhood experience. For others, myself included, a homage when completed by a writer or director who genuinely feels affinity for the era or source text, can be wonderful. J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 is, for example, a sublime exercise in both playing reverence but also creating a new, original piece of work.

Stranger Things, one of the more recent Netflix efforts, has, thus far shown itself to be the latter. A well constructed, engaging series that has clearly been created out of love for the era which inspired it.

Two episodes in, and I am already in love with the character interactions, the setting, and the unsettling tone. While I may have been born towards the end of the 80s, I grew up watching the films that clearly so inspired the Duffer brothers; E.T. was the first film I ever cried at, and as such, left an indelible impact.

The narrative of Stranger Things may not be hugely original, featuring the disappearance of a young boy and the subsequent search to find him, but it is utterly enthralling. This is largely through the fantastic cast, as well as the wonderful soundtrack that has proven so popular that it is gaining an official release.

Will (Noah Schnapp) the young boy whose disappearance serves as the series central conceit is, despite his brief screen time, entirely affecting. It is his lack of screen time that in turn, makes his absence so notable. His mother Joyce’s agony and her subsequent desperation is completing believable. I have seen some criticism of Joyce’s characterisation, largely in regards to her already frazzled stated before Will is missing. While I understand that this might lead to Joyce’s character feeling one note, Winona Ryder’s performance allows Joyce to develop. She is struggling to keep herself afloat, and her youngest son’s unexplained disappearance could lead to a complete breakdown and yet, her determination and her belief that he is still around simply because she feels it, helps her character to transcend any sense of trope.

The interaction between Will’s young friends, Mike (Finn Woldhard), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) is clearly reminiscent of Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me and like Reiner’s characters, the group of young boys is both humorous and emotional without any sense of overwrought sentimentality.

The series thus far has successfully created a truly disconcerting tone, helped by the atmospheric soundtrack that aids the nostalgic tone without detracting from the immediacy of the story.

Modern Family: the problem with Manny

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The success of Modern Family is undeniable, particularly so in its early incarnation (winning the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series in each of its first five years). The series, being a sitcom, frequently relies on stereotypes and tropes as can be expected, but these tropes become regressive and increasingly problematic.

The show has, for me, become increasingly questionable in its recent series; an issue that seems to correlate with an escalation in poor quality. The portrayal of women for example, in which Claire fulfils the role of harridan, or the representation of Phil, the husband who is often more child than adult, are both tired and seem especially lazy given the increase in television’s quality over recent years. For me though, the issue of Manny and the manner in which his heterosexual desire is represented, is perhaps the most damaging.

Teen desire, particularly male desire, had long been represented in sitcoms as a source for comedy and humour. Certainly there is nothing wrong with that, in fact, given that the media often proves itself to be formative in helping teens navigate their burgeoning sexuality, a representation of desire which is both relatable and empathetic is, I believe, crucial.

This is where Modern Family missteps so dangerously. Manny, held up for ridicule due to his dramatic tendencies, is permanently seen as a source of humour. Rather than being encouraged to laugh with Manny, we are encouraged to laugh at him, especially when he is determined to woo a potential love interest. Immediately this prevents Manny from becoming an empathetic character for teens: they don’t want to be like Manny as they don’t want to find themselves a similar subject of ridicule. This is concerning enough, but it is Manny’s interactions with women that are the most troubling.

Manny, despite his comedic characterisation, truly believes himself to be entirely desirable to all women, including his cousin. His interactions with other girls, in which he attempts to increase his confidence by driving a car are, initially, endearing.

Yet, it is as Manny gets older that his continual attempts to attract women veer into harassment. Take his treatment of the nanny employed to look after his younger brother for example. His machinations in which he ensures that he is alone with her, begin to stray into manipulation and control. His fascination with her seems to largely stem from her physical attractiveness as he is found sculpting and drawing nude images of her as part of his classwork. Thus his desire for women is not based on personality, but rather levels of attractiveness.

 

I find it useful then, when considering Manny’s improbable interactions with women, to reference the sublime Malcolm in the Middle. All of the men in the family spend an inordinate amount of time attempting to attract members of the opposite sex, but unlike Modern Family, Malcom in the Middle is able to portray both the humiliation and empathy of the onslaught of puberty in a way that is both comedic and far more positive.

Unlike Manny, who seems to believe that any woman should think themselves lucky to be involved with him, all of the boys understand that in order to attract a girl, they may need to moderate their behaviour. Take the episode in which a babysitter is hired to look after the boys for the weekend (a useful parallel given Manny’s treatment of the nanny). The boys, immediately finding her attractive, spend the weekend attempting to please her. They take great pains to ensure that they listen to her and most importantly, that she feels listened to. They consciously make sure to keep the house tidy as instructed and make an effort to present themselves in as positive way as possible.

Now I am not, of course, suggesting that this depiction is wholly positive, but compared to Manny, the Wilkersons are positively progressive.

 

 

Thoughts on Orange is the New Black – 5 episodes in

*Contains spoilers*

I admit, I wasn’t overly excited for the latest season of Orange is the New Black. Being one of the earliest Netflix incarnations, I felt that given the pedigree of recent dramatic efforts, the prison set series would potentially return feeling stale and lacking in new inspiration. This feeling was, in part, due to the rather lacklustre efforts of season three. When on form, season three was excellent (Pennsatucky and Boo’s burgeoning friendship stemming from the worst circumstances for example), but too often featured Piper, whose privileged character has become increasingly irritating.

Watching the first five episodes I was pleased to see that not only does the show demonstrate a clear return to form, but its writers are willing to undertake a number of risks that may not prove palatable to the regular mainstream viewer (showcasing a scene in which a dead body is chopped up to the sounds of Papa Roach for example).

The writers have also seen fit to showcase and develop its most interesting and engaging characters, dispelling with those who are more one dimensional. Piper for example, originally the show’s protagonist, has been, thankfully, increasingly sidelined and her appearances in season four are, thus far, relatively fleeting. When she is featured, her belief that her actions of the prior season have somehow imbued her with strength and power, are held up as laughable and the audience are encouraged to find her interactions with her new bunkmate as ridiculous.

The show is depicting some interesting dynamics in regards to power, or rather the lack of power, both in terms of corporate and race. The prisoners, when confronted with newly employed aggressive guards, find themselves invasively frisked under the pretence of discovering contraband. Piper, when hoping to assert her newly established and wholly fragile dominance, ends up, through her ignorance and naivety, inciting a white power movement within the prison.

Whilst there may be an increasing plethora of Netflix created programmes, some of which are seriously lacking, it is pleasing to see that the writers of Orange is the New Black are continuing to invest themselves in creating a quality series that is aware of the importance of acknowledging wider societal contexts and issues.

The Disapperance – review

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The Disappearance is one of many of the European detective serial. Such is the ubiquity of these series, that they are fast becoming a genre in their own right and as such, largely due to the sheer plethora of productions, are fast becoming clichéd and stereotyped.

If The Disappearance had been released perhaps five years ago, it might have still felt relatively fresh and interesting, but given that it comes after a multitude of very similar programmes, it feels tired. It is interesting to note that the French language series is a remake of a Spanish series, which begs the question, was this series necessary at all? There seems to be a strange trend of remaking a series in this way; Broadchurch  for example was remade for an America audience featuring the same characters, and in the case of the male protagonist, the same actor, whilst The Killing was remade, with some alterations, for an American audience.

I’m not sure what this inclination suggests as regards TV producers’ views of their audiences, but unless intended for an artistic statement (Gus Van Sant style), such a remake, for me at least, smacks of an assumed need to ‘dumb down’ the content for a perceived less-intelligent, sophisticated audience.

Unnecessary remakes aside The Disappearance, shown on BBC Four, features the now  trope -like narrative of a young girl Léa who, after her apparent disappearance, is shown to be hiding a number of things from her loving family. I have seen online some discussion regarding the opening scenes of the first episode, in which the audience are privy to Léa’s dressing and undressing as she struggles  to decide what she should wear for her big birthday night out. Whilst the setting of her bedroom allowed us to see the interplay between her various family members, as well as show how comfortable she felt around her mother (changing clothes in front of her), I agree with those online that highlight the voyeuristic element of these scenes. There is a clear sense of the camera’s male gaze as it lingeres over the seventeen-year-old’s body. Is it necessary for the audience to witness the attractiveness of the disappeared in order to care? Would we care as much if Léa wasn’t shown to be typically attractive and self-assured?

The detectives assigned the case are, thus far, once again fulfilling character types that have been seen many times before: the quiet, moody male detective struggling with his own personal life as he attempts to return Léa to her family. Perhaps later episodes of the eight-part series will subvert genre expectations, but based on the opening episodes, I think this is unlikely.