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.