Welcome, readers, to the first of my weekly TV recaps, where I briefly review any TV show I have watched, old or new, in any given week. Why am I starting now? Mostly I wanted to wait until Once Upon a Time came back so that I wasn’t only talking about one show. It’s still slim pickings until Game of Thrones returns, but I’ll be filling the time by catching up on some shows I’ve missed, or re-watching old favourites.
I will try to keep the reviews of each episode as SPOILER FREE as possible. However, when it comes to long-running shows, I will find myself having to make reference to previous episodes in order to make my review clear and honest, so if you know nothing about a show, especially one in a later season, proceed with caution.
The Night Manager
(Episodes 1 – 3)
And immediately we’re playing catch up. Not an ideal place to start but considering I had some trouble with iPlayer and didn’t think I’d be able to watch episode 3 in time at all. Luckily the issues didn’t persist and now here we are.
The Night Manager is an adaptation of the John le Carre book of the same name, playing on the BBC on Sunday nights, which I am increasingly wondering if I shouldn’t have read before watching the series, or perhaps reading along. I was glad this was a TV series, as I remember the 2011 movie adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy being a well-acted and beautifully shot slog of a film, thanks to a slow pace and long running time. Being split into six episodes grants The Night Manager the room it needs without each episode overstaying its welcome… almost. Each episode stands at almost an hour long, and perhaps 40 minutes a time might have pushed the writers into tightening the story. The nature of the genre means there’s a lot of information to take in and around the 40 minute mark of every episode so far, I find myself loosing focus.
That said, I am engrossed by the story. The cast is a collection of stellar talent, even if some of the side characters get lost in the shuffle (the show suffers from a bad case of clumsy name assignment. I’m lost if I could tell you which nickname corresponds to what member of Roper’s entourage, or what Roper’s girlfriend is called). The stand out is Hugh Laurie as Richard Roper. His performance is subtly chilling and even slimy when he needs to be, and moments of anger are few enough to shock, but he’s also a rounded character, granted scenes – the openings of episodes 2 and 3 especially – that show he’s a human being, not a soulless plot device. Any lesser show might not have given us these moments.
Tom Hiddleston makes for a compelling, if slightly confusing lead. It may be intentional but I’m finding it hard to get a read on the character of Jonathon Pine, and seeing as he’s meant to be our protagonist I’m not sure that’s a good thing. He may be a former military man but it’s difficult to equate a man who vomits when faced with Roper years after an (admittedly horrible) incident indirectly involving the guy with the hard-edged, sinister persona he adopts when creating a backstory in Devon (a subplot that probably didn’t need to take up as much of episode 2 as it does). Maybe it’ll all fall into place, but I feel like there are unanswered questions with our title character.
There’s also Olivia Coleman in an important role, which was sadly reduced in episode 3, most notably to a scene made unintentionally funny by an apparent lack of subtlety from a professional government agent in gathering covert information via an ice cream list. After she provided some much needed levity by way of sarcasm at her introductory scene, I found it hard to care about the scenes of drab, grey London bureaucracy without her presence to ground me.
We’re halfway through but after an extended prologue of an opening, The Night Manager is getting off the ground and I’m intrigued to see how it wraps up. I’m really hoping it pulls the rug out from under my feet somewhere in its climax but even if it doesn’t, it’s still solid TV.
Once Upon a Time
(Season 5, Episode 12: Souls of the Departed)
My review of Once Upon a Time, posted earlier this week, came off a little more negative than my real feelings towards the show, but it was just a gut reaction to the latest season being so lacklustre. I adore the Arthurian legends; they are amongst my favourite stories ever told, and seeing some really interesting interpretations glossed over, plus the disappointment the Dark Swan turned out to be, left me cold. I can’t say I wasn’t apprehensive about the descent into the Underworld.
I’m delighted, therefore, to report that Once Upon a Time’s 100th episode is a huge step up. Our gang of lead characters – Emma, Henry, Regina, Gold, Snow White, David and Robin Hood – find themselves in a bizarre version of Storybrooke, a purgatory inhabited by the dead of both Storybrooke and the pre-curse Enchanted Forest, saddled with “unfinished business”. The episode begins with the gang splitting up in search of Killian (aka. Captain Hook), but it’s really a stealth Regina episode, as she is faced with a conflict between her parents – Cora and Henry Sr – in both the present and the flashback to the pre-curse Forest. Usually I’d complain that we’re getting yet another Regina flashback, as the timeline is becoming bloated, but this episode (though giving no insight into any of the characters beyond what we already know) does reveal how Regina’s father became shrunk, trapped in a box and kidnapped to Wonderland way back in the season one episode Hat Trick.
In honour of the 100th episode, several characters, the aforementioned Cora (Barbara Hershey) and Henry Sr (Tony Perez) returned, as did Robbie Kay’s Peter Pan (whom I hope we haven’t seen the last of). It wasn’t quite the celebration of the show I was expecting, just a normal episode, really, but I’m glad they didn’t make it a gimmick.
We also got our first look at Hades, and whilst we only get one scene with him, he looks like he’s going to be a lot of fun when the writers let him off the leash. I like his weird little room (I want to know the purpose of the differently coloured rivers) filled with random props and the ironic punishment he puts on Cora.
I hope the gang doesn’t remain in Underworld Storybrooke too long, and I really hope this season isn’t just going to be episode after episode of helping person-of-the-week finish their unfinished business and cross over, as that could get real old real fast (much like the red-filter over the Underworld). There are still loose threads to be tied concerning the Camelot cast, Merida, Belle and others, back in real Storybrooke. I’m also hoping that Hades isn’t the Big Bad of the season, as I feel that’s a little too obvious. Let’s give newly restored Dark One Gold the villain arc we were promised back in season 4… still, better Hades than Zelena usurping the position again.
(Season 1, Episodes 1 and 2)
And finally this week, a show that’s already finished, but I’m only just getting on the bandwagon: Disney’s Gravity Falls. This is the first of a couple of older shows I’m planning on revisiting or starting for the first time and giving my reactions as I go. And it’ll be at a much faster pace, probably up to 5 a week after this week, or else I’ll be here forever!
To be brief, this show is right up my street. Fun, with a degree of self-awareness, with enjoyable characters and an off-the-wall, unpredictable and very fast sense of humour. Plus there’s the promise of an overarching story. I already know I’m going to prefer the character of Dipper over Mabel (nothing against Mabel, I just have a soft spot for outwardly mature child characters who come across as sort of world-weary). The genre’s kind of all over the place in the best way. Is it fantasy? Sci-Fi? Little bit of horror? I don’t know but it gels really well. This is the kind of show I wish was about when I was a kid, but I almost feel I’ll appreciate it more as an adult.