Pick of the Week #2

Recap: Every Monday, as part of my school’s radio show, I make picks of the week in the four categories of book, film, tv show and book. For your delectation here’s the picks from Monday 18th January…

Book (tie between The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman and After the Silence by Louise O’Neill)

I’m cheating this week and I’ve gone for two – both crime but very, very different with one light and one dark. For the light pick, Osman’s book follows four unlikely friends in a peaceful retirement village who meet up once a week to solve unsolved murders. It’s wickedly funny and so warm, playing on societal expectations, cosy yet gripping. O’Neill’s book counters this, by being brutal and scathing. I’d recommend for fans of real-life murder crime podcasts – on the ten year anniversary of a young woman on a small Irish island, a documentary team travel there to find out what really happened that day. Devastating, dark and so powerful – it’ll haunt you long after reading. 

TV (Race Across The World on BBC iPlayer)

A group of travellers are dropped off in a city, in pairs they have to race across the world to their destination using any route they like – but they’re not allowed to use their smartphones, they’re not allowed to catch a flight and their budget is only whatever the cost of a flight would be. At a time when travelling applies moving from the bedroom to living room to kitchen, this show is a wonderful escape seeing such beauty of the world. It’s also wonderful to follow the travellers as they grow in confidence and make so many discoveries about the world, and themselves.

Film (Hotel Artemis on Amazon Prime)

In a dystopian Los Angeles, a nurse (Jodie Foster) runs a secret hotel/hospital for criminals. However, the arrival of a new group of patients is about to wreck all kinds of havoc…. A blend of science fiction, action and thriller, it’s fast paced (only 93 mins) with some fantastic world building.

Song (Under Pressure by David Bowie and Queen)

This week the artist was the easy bit, as last week saw what would have been his birthday and the anniversary of his death – but the big question was the song. My favourite is The Prettiest Star, Modern Love is the one that gets me on the dancefloor. But I’ve gone for the one that should result in some cathartic sing-yelling along.

Pick of the Week #1

I’ve decided I’m going to rebrand some of my regular features here. This one will replace TV Tuesdays. I’ve started a stint on our school radio station doing weekly recommendations, so I thought I’d share them here too. Here’s the back catalogue of TV Tuesdays: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5 , #6 and #7.

Tv: Pandemonium 

Shown over the Festive period, and currently a one-off sitcom at only 29 minutes long, this is a bit of gem. It’s one of the few shows so far to have been filed, set in pandemic and is about the effect it has on families – told in a darkly comic way. We see the family on their October holiday – determined to have a family break even if won’t be as good as that trip-of-a-lifetime to the states they had planned. The editing, cutting between October and earlier in the year, is just so superb. Bitterly funny and with some winning lines from Alison Steadman.

Film: Wild Rose

There’s this tradition in British cinema for underdog stories – of those with unlikely talents in unlikely positions dreaming of more. This is up there with the best of them, with Glaswegian Rose (played by Jessie Buckley) dreaming of being a country singing sensation and a life beyond on the estate she lives on. Sad yet hopeful, and so feelgood.

Book: This Time Next Year by Sophie Cousens

As a unabashed and unashamed fan of the romcom, I end up reading a lot of them. This top tier, needs to be adapted into a tv series asap. Minnie ends up spending New Year’s Eve locked in a toilet cubicle, rescued hours into the New Year by Quinn. It turns out it’s not their first meeting, and it certainly won’t be their last. Hoping between povs and different time periods – this book beautifully balances very romantic romance with hysterical comedy.

Song: “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” by Sylvester

Released in 1978, in a time where there was so much turmoil in lots of communities across the world, this disco anthem incredible for how it’s a joyous celebration of love and life, finding hope and happiness within the dark times -which feels apt for these times we currently find ourselves in.

Tv Tuesday #7

One sentence summary – 3 suggestions of tv shows you may have missed and will probably love. Are you not entertained? Give #1, #2, #3, #4, #5 and #6 a try.

Twenties (2020- : 8 x 30 mins : BBC iPlayer)

Hattie (Jonica T. Gibbs), a queer African American woman, hangs out with her two straight best friends Marie (Christina Elmore) and Nia (Gabrielle Graham), as they all try to make their dreams come true. The end result is as show that is as funny as it is scathing, with some of the most honest portrayals of twenty-something relationships, friendships and careers that tv has ever seen. The representation within this show doesn’t get seen enough on tv, with a show as good as this we can but hope it’s the first of many.

Home (2020 – : 12 x 27 minutes : All4)

Peter (Rufus Jones), his new partner Katy (Rebekah Staton) and her son John (Oaklee Pendergast) return home to Dorking from their first holiday together in France. Hiding in the boot of their car is Sami (Youssef Kerkour), a Syrian refugee. It is near-impossible to do this wonderful show justice – it’s so charming, compassionate and well-written. It’s feelgood without being saccharine, sentimental but honest and extremely well informed – unafraid to portray the labyrinthian bureaucracy of the UK immigration system. Staton is phenomenal as matriarch Katy, just as good as she was in the criminally underseen Raised by Wolves (which will have to be a future TV Tuesday pick). Kerkour is fantastic as Sami, countless moving moments come to mind – most involving his friendship with Aaron Neil‘s Raj. Sharp, refreshing and rather brilliant – you really won’t regret watching this one.

Upload (2020 – : 10 x 30 minutes : Amazon Prime)

Sci-fi related dramas can be a bit of a hard-sell, thankfully this one is a sci-fi romantic comedy with a side of mystery thriller. A man (Robbie Amell) is able to choose his own afterlife after his untimely death by having his consciousness uploaded into a virtual world. As he gets used to his new life and befriends his ‘angel’, Nora (Andy Allo), questions about his death arise. The fact this show isn”t spoken about really is mind-boggling. It’s speculative exploration of virtual afterlife is incredibly imaginative and thought-provoking, the relationships and character development immensely well-plotted within some pacey storytelling. Witty and winning – this is one I’m definitely counting down the days till season 2 for.

Tv Tuesday #6

One sentence summary – 3 suggestions of tv shows you may have missed and will probably love. Are you not entertained? Give #1, #2, #3, #4 and #5 a try.

Big Mouth (2013-2016 : 43 x 30 mins : Netflix )

In the space of a week, in two separate conversations, I had two loved ones voice genuine disbelief that I had never seen Big Mouth. Both were adamant I’d love it. Semi-reluctantly I gave it a go and, I really hate to say it, Matt and Sam were both right. I love this show so hard. I’d go into battle and fight for this show, for many reasons. There’s the comedy, it’s superbly funny with an epic voice cast (Nick Kroll, John Mulaney, Jessi Klein, Jason Mantzoukas, Fred Armisen, Maya Rudolph, Jordan Peele, Jenny Slate, Andrew Rannells and all manner of guest stars). There’s the colourful and inventive animation. And then there’s the story and content itself. Big Mouth tackles hugely important issues in an effortless, tender yet hilarious and often audacious way. I struggle to think of another show that examines sexuality, mental health, gender, body image and family dynamics to such a magnificent extent. This is a show that isn’t for teens and yet all teens need to see it.

I Hate Suzie (2020 – : 8 x 35 minutes : SKY / Now TV)

Now this is one that has a summary that doesn’t do it justice. A female celebrity (Billie Piper) has her whole life upended when her phone is hacked and a photo of her emerges in an extremely compromising position. The outcomes are regularly unexpected, sad, funny, mad and devastating. Piper is extraordinary in the lead role, with fantastic support from Daniel Ings as awful husband Cob and Leila Farzad as best friend/assistant/enabler Naomi. Click here for my full review, written for VODzilla.

Trying (2020 – : 8 x 30 minutes : Apple Tv+)

Apple TV is still in it’s infancy, but it has some gems that really do make it worth checking out. This was the first I watched and it’s still my favourite. All Nikki (Esther Smith) and Jason (Rafe Spall) want is a baby. They’ve been together for several years and it’s just not happening, till medical treatment shows it’s unlikely to ever happen. So, they decide to adopt. With their dysfunctional friends, screwball family, and chaotic lives will the adoption panel think they’re ready to be parents? With another superb ensemble cast (Ophelia Lovibond, Oliver Chris, Phil Davis, Imelda Staunton to name but a few) Trying is an effortless watch, a comedy drama as witty as it is warm.

Tv Tuesday #5

One sentence summary – 3 suggestions of tv shows you may have missed and will probably love. Are you not entertained? Give #1, #2, #3 and #4 a try.

The Vow (2013-2016 : 9 x 60 mins : Sky/Now TV )

This documentary series may just have been the most compelling thing I have watched all year. I’d been vaguely aware of the story about self-improvement group NXIVM due to the involvement of Alison Mack, who I’d loved in early years of Superman show Smallville. But there is so, so much more the story – it really does have to be seen to be believed. In episode one we met some central members of the group who are deciding to leave, all-too aware of the consequences they may face if they do. With each episode more is revealed and unravelled. What this series does so fantastically is destroy the myth of people who believe they’re ‘too smart’ to ‘fall for’ a cult. Here we see the how and why people join such groups, and the insidious reach this group had. Darkly unnerving and hard to shake off.

Hindsight (2015: 10 x 30 minutes : Amazon Prime)

On the Pilot Tv podcast, the team end each episode with a chance to Banshee a show of their choice – a show that was cancelled too soon and/or is little scene. This would be my pick, both a show cancelled too early and that wasn’t seen by enough people, with a concept I think about a lot. Becca, as she nears 40, is about to embark on her second wedding to Andy Kelly, but her joy is tempered by the absence of her old best friend Lolly who’s a no-show, having dropped out of their relationship years ago. And so, courtesy of a time travelling lift, Becca awakes in 1995 – knowing everything about her future and with chance to change it all for the better. A wonderful story about friendship, love and choices – with also some of the best uses of 90s nostalgia in recent tv history.

Industry (2020 – : 8 x 50 minutes : BBC iPlayer)

The plot summary for this is ‘Young bankers and traders make their way in the financial world in the aftermath of the 2008 collapse.’ In all honesty, having seen all 8 episodes, I have no memory of any substantial plot-impacting mention of the 2008 collapse. Instead we follow a group of young and sexy people who work in a bank be young and sexy as they work in a bank. It shouldn’t be so engrossing, yet it really is. The main reason for that is the development of both character and story over the course of the 8 episodes. The characters become more interesting, more developed yet varying degrees of incomprehensible. The story begins to get braver, saying scathing things about the industry that finds value in everything but human lives. It’s mad, ludicrous, mostly unbelievable and yet I find myself already looking forward to season 2.

TV Tuesday #1

As there’s a good chance any of us will be watching a *lot* more telly over the coming month, I thought I’d start up with some recommendations again. So begins this new feature (which I like to sing to the tune of Ruby Tuesday by The Rolling Stones). Each week I’ll pick three tv series – most likely at random – that I think may appeal for all manner of reasons…

The West Wing (1999 – 2006)

7 seasons – 156 episodes – Free on All4

I’ve always wanted to watch The West Wing as I was always certain I’d love it. Why? ‘Because I’m a lily-livered, bleeding-heart, liberal, egghead communist.’ Shying away from the commitment of buying on DVD or VOD, I hoped I’d get around to it at some point. Then, on October 21st 2020, all 156 episodes dropped on All4. And fellows, it is *everything* everyone has ever said about it and more. It’s superbly written, constructed and performed. It’s been optimistic balm for this weary soul (which may have inadvertently made the fast-approaching US election result even more terrifying). I’m 22 episodes in, I fancy and am in love with pretty much all of the cast at this point, have felt weepy on average once an episode and sobbed my way through one truly masterful episode that might just have been the most perfect piece of TV I have ever seen. In short? Go watch it, then let’s walk and talk.

Below Deck (2013 – )

105+ episodes : Season 1, 2 and 3 Amazon Prime (Season 4 onwards requires hayu subscription)

And now for something very different, something which I’m still trying to pinpoint how and why I am so addicted to. I started to work it out in this VodZilla article for the similarly themed Selling Sunset but it’s still not conclusive. Is it the exotic locations? The guests who are varying degrees of trash? The crew who can be varying degrees of trash? The work-place conflict? The 21st Century Marie Antoinette levels of excess and indulgence? Or all of the above? I binged this like I have never binged before. I thought season 1 was okay, but once I found out the fact the guests have no inkling of the crew’s dramas I was sold (competence and professionalism ftw!) It’s just so good guys, but I think you need to indulge to truly believe it. Pure trashy reality tv that I’d like plugged into my veins during this difficult time. Oh, and if approx. 5250 minutes (and counting) of this tropical trash is not enough for you, Amazon also has both Below Deck spinoffs Mediterranean (85 episodes) and Sailing Yacht (17 episodes).

Lovesick (2014 – 2018)

3 series : 22 episodes : Netflix

A lot of people got put off this show with it’s series one title of ‘Scrotal Recall’ (which, child that I am, still makes me smirk each time I say it..) which is a real shame as this show started out rather brilliantly then became something so beautiful and profound. It’s the story of Dylan (Johnny Flynn, swoon) testing positive for an STD and deciding to use the informing his exes of his status as an opportunity to find out where he went wrong in their relationships. Along for the journey are his housemates Luke (Daniel Ings, swoon) and Evie (Antonia Thomas, swoon). The result is a realistic romantic comedy, funny and sweet yet occasionally dark and melancholy. It’s well-written, charming and immensely feelgood.