Recent TV

August 6th, 2013

Seems like a while since I reviewed my recent TV watching.  Recent in my having watched it, mark you, not necessarily it having been made recently.  What have we had…?

The Returned – A french-import supernatural thriller in which people known to have died suddenly reappear, remembering nothing, in a small french town, with shattering results on the lives of those that knew them.  Simultaneously there are strange goings on with a dam that burst years before, a serial killer who strikes in an underpass, a host of dead animals in a reservoir and etc. etc. It begins as a fascinating premise, deftly, moodily, scarily handled with great acting, bags of style and a superb soundtrack, and for the first five episodes or so as the mysteries piled up I thought I was watching something really amazing. But then it felt like it started to lose its way, and ended its 8 episode arc without a single thread resolved or single mystery solved. I’ll certainly watch another series, but the experiences of Twin Peaks, Lost, and Battlestar Galactica have not given me great faith in programme-makers who always seem to dangle the truth just out of reach…

Hannibal – Ooh, this was good, though. A sort-of-prequel to the Hannibal Lector films inspired by the fiction of Thomas Harris.  FBI Investigator Will Graham has an uncanny ability to get into the minds of serial killers – perhaps because he is one. Ultra-suave gastronome psychiatrist Hannibal is brought in to ensure he stays on the righteous path but has, as we the audience can all guess from the beginning, other plans.  Once you accept that this is a kind of parallel dimension in which police agencies have great furniture and New England has more serial killers than traffic wardens, it’s great.  The plot wriggles like a worm cut in half, styling and design is superb, truly filmic in quality, with lots of great editing and visual devices.  I feel like I’ve seen plenty of serial killer nastiness and a lot of unsettling dream sequences in my time but they manage to push the envelope with both, reality dissolving as Will goes off the rails. It’s all underpinned by three excellent central performances: Hugh Dancy in increasingly sweaty desperation as Will Graham, Laurence Fishburne as his driven boss, and Mads Mikkelsen shinily terrifying and yet weirdly sympathetic as Hannibal – in some ways it’s a total gimme as a role, but he manages to do something totally different from the Hopkins or Cox interpretations yet just as memorable. They end the season in a very interesting place and I’m much looking forward to the next, already in production, apparently.

The Good Wife, Season 4 – Yes, yes, it’s an awfully long way from what I write, but I actually really like this.  It’s broad-appeal legal drama, on the face of it, and there are some deeply naff sub-plots that we could do without, but it’s sharp, it’s clever, it’s generally well-acted and scripted, it’s surprising enough to keep you on your toes.  It’s not coddling.  Politics and law are shown to be dirty businesses in which there are rarely easy answers and everyone’s at least a little tainted, sometimes a lot.

Justified, Season 3 – Interesting, Justified.  In some ways it’s a very traditional sort of series, with Timothy Olyphant’s wisecracking stetson-wearing marshal Raylan Givens refusing to play by the rules in corralling a colourful array of deep south criminals.  It’s based on an Elmore Leonard short story, though, and I don’t know how involved he is in the writing but his mastery of quick-sketch character work and fast-draw dialogue really translates.  Every thug, stooge and scumbag has a personality, acting and script are generally sharp as tacks and the show regularly serves up some hilarious moments.  ‘Why deputy, are you accusing me of not being a real blond?’  They’ve got a great habit for rotating old characters back in as well, and have built up a real rogue’s gallery of widely assorted bastards, striking sparks from Givens and each other.  Plus there’s everyone’s old favourite from the Shield, Walton Goggins, as Givens’ backwoods nemesis.  Maybe a mite disposable in the last analysis, but certainly an entertaining way to while away the hours.

Posted in film and tv by Joe Abercrombie on August 6th, 2013.

26 comments so far

  • Josh says:


    I’ve had many friends recommend Hannibal to me as a great show, but I shied away at first because I felt the channel it was on would censor the content and keep it from greatness. But since you like it, I’ll definitely give it a shot.

    I also really need to check out Justified.

    I find myself curious. What are your thoughts on Breaking Bad? I know you watched Season 1 because of a previous post, but I think you’d really like where it’s gone since then.

  • Simon says:

    I just watched the final ep of The Returned a couple of nights ago and the whole family looked at each other and went WTF??? Did that make any sense whatsoever? Did it explain anything? No, not at all!! Completely dumbfounded since, as you say, the run up was fantastic. Really disappointed 🙁

    Justified I love and Walton Goggins is fab. He did a cameo in Sons of Anarchy as a transgender type roped in to blackmail someone, he was an astounding transformation and hysterically funny. Genious actor.

  • Sarah E. says:

    I loved Hannibal. I thought it was clever, so well written and disturbingly beautiful.

    I think you might also enjoy Banshee. It’s a visceral, taut modern Western that doesn’t pull its punches in any sense of the phrase. Plenty of bloody violence, complex characters and moral ambiguity. Now whose writing does that remind me of…?

  • jeroljohnson says:

    Joe, I strongly urge you to get on to season 4 of Justified. There are actions and characters from season 3 that have some big ripples next time around. And you can’t say enough about a show that makes a small town constable played by Patton Oswalt into something…well, you have to see it.

  • Chad says:

    I only refer to Walton Goggins as Cletus Van Damme.

    Justified is fun, but disposable. Each episode is basically self-contained. Very weak season-long story arch.

    Now, how will Breaking Bad end. I wouldn’t miss that for the world.

  • Chris Boore says:

    Vikings on the History channel is my favorite right now. Very “Northmen”.

  • Matt says:

    Wise-cracking characters you say?

    The Killing. Detective Stephen Holder.

    That is all.

  • ColinJ says:

    A friend recently turned me onto a Swedish sci-fi drama series called REAL HUMANS. It’s the near future and almost perfect robots are able to be a part of our daily lives, and domestics, as aged-care companions or even a sex toys.

    It’s funny, touching and even a little scary. Highly recommended.

    I also just watched the newest Netflix series ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, a comedic drama series set in a women’s prison. And I absolutely LOVED it. I burned through all 13 episodes over a weekend. Brilliant show. Hilarious, edgy, poignant and full of wonderful sapphic encounters.

  • James Webster says:

    Banshee. BANSHEE! Bent Joe’s ear enough on this already, but one more won’t hurt.



  • TheFourthHorseman says:

    I’ve had an itch to check out Justified, but then again I just finished Firefly and I’m not sure you can get better wisecracking than that, plus not just cowboys but spaceships…

  • pgcd says:

    I’ve discovered Justified a couple months ago and watched all the seasons one ep after the other (my GF declaring that Olyphant is “easy on the eyes” probably played a part in that).
    I agree it might be a little disposable, and it’s probably not going to be remembered in 50 years but, frankly, when the alternative is the cyan-tinted grimdark drama du jour (which won’t be remembered in 50 years either) where everything is always horrible and everybody dies and no halfway-decent person can exist, I’ll take Justified every day. Plus, it’s indeed hilarious and the stories mostly make sense (as opposed to be instrumental to whatever the writers deem the gloomies way to end a story).

  • While it’s all pretty familiar in its story structure, I think Justified does so many little details well that it rises above the rest of the crime-of-the-week fodder. Like you say, there’s all that quick characterisation, but the choices around the characters are interesting too. They often break stereotypes without making a big fuss about it, and Givens’s character flaws are visible but not over-played.

    And the language, with its old-style elements and constant use of conflict through restrained politeness where other shows might descend into shouting and swearing, it makes a nice change. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good Deadwood-style stream of imaginative expletives, but this has a different sort of poetry to it.

    Huh, now I want to go watch TV when I should be working…

  • Brian Docherty says:

    I was expecting Hannibal to be a bit naff but it had great performances all round,disturbing imagery (human totem poles! Man!) and a well paced plot that gradually ramped up the paranoia as Hannibal toyed with Will like a cat with a mouse. Great set up for Season Two as we know that Will is going to triumph eventually.

    As for Justified, it’s never going to gain ecstatic praise but it is one of the best ways to spend an hour in front of the TV. There’s a real old school smart and cool feel to the show which is obviously Elmore Leonard’s influence.

  • Markz says:

    Banshee!Banshee!Banshee!Banshee!Banshee!Banshee!Banshee!Banshee!Banshee!Banshee!Banshee!Banshee!Banshee!Banshee!Banshee!Banshee!Banshee!Banshee!Banshee!Under the dome.

  • Markz says:

    Banshee!Banshee!Banshee!!Under the dome.

  • Agree with most of the above on Justified – really, really well written and produced (not to mention acted, etc.) as well as a great setting.

    I’m liking Longmire, too, for the same reasons. It’s in a similar vein if you haven’t seen it.

  • SgtPluck says:

    I stopped watching The Returned after episode 2. It annnoyed me that no-one reacted the way they should have done. If my dead daughter walks in to the house after 5 years like nothing has happened, without ageing etc, I’d freak out. Conversely, if I were the daughter, I’D have freaked out to now find my little sister my big sister, etc. Instead, all you got was a virtual gallic shrug from everyone – like, yeah, whatever.

    Hannibal wa decent enough, but suffers from what a lot of shows do these days – the multiple seasons. Shows get good ratings, so the moneymen start to stretch it out. Hannibal / Homeland / The Following etc were all in my opinion, onie season shows, by their very nature. Brodie is either a terrorist of he’s not. Hannibal gets caught, or he doesn’t. Joe carroll either dies, or he doesn’t. No need for any of these to continue into 2/3/4 seasons.

    Justified was great, but has got a bit boring. Longmire (now in its 2nd season) is excellent though, and Banshee was a lot of fun.That fight with the UFC fighter in about episode 4/5 was Abercrombie-esque man. ‘Kin Brutal. That was Ninefingers against the Feared, right there.

    As far as coming TV is concerned, there’s only three words we need say – September. Breaking. Bad.

  • Dking says:

    Hannibal started out quite promising, but for me it died after the catgut, ninja type fight. Awful stuff.

    I see some people keep mentioning Banshee so I checked it out myself and I have to say that it should be avoided like the plague. I might have enjoyed it as a 15 year old boy. Maybe.

    I just started watching something called Hell on Wheels, which is very promising. Reminds me a little of Deadwood, though I’m not far into it so don’t quote me on that.

    It’s so hard to find a good TV series nowadays. I blame the Sopranos/Deadwood for that as nothing seems to measures up.

  • James says:

    Hannibal was flipping brilliant. Great writing, terrific performances, compelling central storyline.

    And the setup for next season was, frankly, ace.

    If that wasn’t enough, Gillian Anderson is in it and is – still – staggeringly gorgeous.

    Strangely or not, I felt Mads Mikkelsen would make a spectacularly good Black Dow. Just the right amount of evil bastard.

  • ColinJ says:

    @James. Have you seen VALHALLA RISING? Mikkelsen is awesome as a Viking bad-ass in that.

  • Deb E says:

    Haven’t watched any of the rest, but I do enjoy Justified. Agree with your analysis, on the whole. I thought season 2 was pretty epic for the type of show it is, and it’s losing its gloss a little, but it still throws out the laughs. Walton Goggins is always worth watching. I’ve got to say, though, by Season 4, Raylan starts to take a bit of a backseat as far as driving the show. I was more impressed by his fellow Deputy Marshall, Gutterson, that time around. Still, I’ll be keen to check out Season 5 to see where it’s headed. Not afraid to give up on a show if it takes a dive, though.

    Hannibal looks like one for me to watch out for – thanks for the rundown.

  • James says:

    @ColinJ – I haven’t sir, but Mads as a Viking bad-ass? I’ll have me some of that.

  • Love Justified, but then it’s right in my shitkicker wheelhouse. Check out Strike Back. Pulpy-goodness surprisingly well-done and bountiful eye-candy of various kinds (intl. settings, stunts, beautiful women).

  • Deb E says:

    Ooh, can I recommend checking out “The Almighty Johnsons”, if you can get your mits on it? We’re up to the 3rd Season in New Zealand and it is bloody brilliant drama/comedy (Norse gods from Norsewood, New Zealand… yeah).

  • Tim says:

    Hooray! There are other people who like The Good Wife!

  • SuzyQ says:

    Justified? Hell yeah!!! Every episode has me giggling. Have you ever watched Sons of Anarchy? Excellent show, especially this past season where Walter Goggins appeared in the episode Orca Shrugged as a transexual prostitute. If you don’t watch the show, watch that one episode. I fell off my couch laughing.

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