Better Call Saul – slick follow-up to Breaking Bad

SURELY, after his scene-stealing in one of the most talked-about TV series of recent times, Breaking Bad, the only way was down for Bob Odenkirk.

Expectations for his headlining the spin-off prequel Better Call Saul were muted, but most BB devotees would expect at least a dignified effort seeing as the Netflix 10-parter is written by Vince Gilligan, BB‘s showrunner.

But delight of delights, from its opening episode BCS has been assured, grimly amusing and very promising indeed.

It is, of course, the early adventures of scamster and shyster lawyer Saul Goodman – whom we meet under his real moniker of Jimmy McGill. Gilligan, in cahoots with co-writer Peter Gould, has fashioned another delicious piece of twisted Americana.

The action kicks off in 2002, six years before the events of Breaking Bad. Walt and Jesse are BCS to develop it own identity. Jim/Saul is a struggling public defender, working from a disused storeroom at a beauty parlour, driving a jalopy.

nowhere to be seen, which allows

The writing and production are superb, subtly conjuring a set of pressures that start to shift our anti-hero into the realms of dishonesty. Again set in Albuquerque, it has BB‘s eye for alienating car parks and grubby civic spaces.

And Gilligan’s genius for torturous moral dilemmas still has us squirming, such as the desert scene in episode 2 where Jim/Saul and his two skateboarding partners in a scam face a horribly grim end.

Do yourself a favour – get legalled up with Saul.

Broadchurch 2 verdict – guilty of being a letdown

AFTER the hoo-hah it attracted during its second outing, Broadchurch finished with the announcement that there will be a third series.

The papers had a field day slamming the drama this time round, loudly blowing raspberries as the ratings drooped – Telegraph: ‘Loses two-million viewers’; Independent: ‘Lowest ratings’; Daily Mail: ‘Boredchurch’.

I felt the first episode was a good jump-start to the second series. But after that, it became implausible and dull. I quickly caught up by watching several episodes last week in time for Monday night’s finale, but still felt it was a shadow of the first, multi-award-winning season.

The performances were again terrific, but it was criticised for its legal inaccuracies and tortured plot. My own gripes were these:

• The storytelling was manipulative and the courtroom scenes irritating. Alex and Ellie performed like novices when questioned. Every time barrister Sharon Bishop made a wild accusation, we got reaction shots of the Latimers and the detectives looking distraught, ramming home the point that everything the defence asserted was on target with the jury. And the flashbacks showing Lee creeping about the woods and at the furnace were another attempt to steer viewers rather than let us work things out for ourselves.

• Even if it was possible, the idea that Joe would get off because the defence suggested a number of totally baseless fantasy scenarios – Ellie and Alec’s affair, Danny spotting his dad in a tryst and dad Mark ending up killing him etc – was deeply unsatisfying.

Radio Times describes Joe Miller’s acquittal as a ‘shock verdict’. Surely this was the most predictable verdict since as early as episode two. The constant judicial decisions in favour of the defence were a flashing neon sign that Joe was going to get off. So was a guilty man declared innocent here? My guess is that writer Chris Chibnall’s big series-three twist is going to be that it was Ellie and Joe’s son Tom that really killed Danny and Joe was protecting him.

[Read more…]

Bosch, Amazon Prime Instant Video, with Titus Welliver PREVIEW

Titus Welliver in Bosch
Harry’s place – Bosch at home with his troubles

★★★★

Amazon Prime Instant Video: All 10 episodes from Friday, 13 February

AMAZON PRIME Instant Video – whichever marketing whiz thought up that snappy moniker should be buried in concrete – won its first two Golden Globes ever in January for its dark transgender comedy Transparent. 

The online vendor-turned-streaming service clearly needs to be taken seriously now as a producer of quality entertainment alongside Netflix.

So the launch this Friday of its new 10-parter based on Michael Connelly’s multi-million-selling

Jamie Hector and Titus Welliver in Bosch
On the case – Jerry Edgar and Bosch

crime novels should make us sit up and pay attention.

And Bosch is a pretty good screen grab of those sharply written tales about the LAPD homicide detective. It was commissioned after Amazon Prime Instant Video (just trips off the tongue, doesn’t it?) released a pilot of the show and asked customers to vote on whether they wanted it turned into a series.

Titus Welliver as Harry Bosch

I thought the pilot was a bit bland and unimpressive, but there are millions of Michael Connelly fans who are desperate to see Bosch on screen and Amazon got a big response in favour of making it.

The re-edited series pilot is far superior to the one that was knocked out for the vote. The production and look of it, a beautifully filmed noirish vision of modern Los Angeles, is really well done.

In the lead is Titus Welliver, who will be familiar to fans of the brilliant The Good Wife, Lost, Sons of

Annie Wersching and Titus Welliver in Bosch
Julia and Bosch

Anarchy and Deadwood. Again, he wasn’t my personal vision of Harry Bosch when I watched the first pilot, but he is a very good actor and he grows on you as the show hits it stride.

The story’s a gripper, too. It fuses three of Connelly’s novels into a series-long narrative – City of Bones (2002), The Concrete Blonde (1994) and Echo Park (2006).

In the books Bosch is a man of few words, internalising most of his thoughts and feelings. That would obviously be dull on TV, so Michael Connelly and his team of scriptwriters cleverly begin the series with Bosch in crisis, having shot a suspected serial killer in an alleyway.  [Read more…]

Midsomer Murders series 17, ITV, Neil Dudgeon, Gwilym Lee PREVIEW

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★★★ Killing in Midsomer may be more ingenious than a medieval torture chamber, but the drama is still as twee and genteel as a tea cosy 

ITV: starts Thursday, 28 January, 8pm

Having slain around 300 villagers since 1996 with candlesticks, arrows, toxic fungi, liquid nicotine, hemlock, Neptune’s trident, a poisonous frog and a slide projector, among other bizarre weapons, you’d think Midsomer Murders would have reached a dead end by now.

FIONA DOLMAN as Sarah in Midsomer Murders
Sarah and Barnaby’s new edition

But no, it is one of those series that staggers on long after its stars have given up the will to act in it, simply drafting in new faces to read out the lines, like Last of the Summer Wine or New Tricks or CSI.

However, when you realise that not only have UK audiences got an unquenchable liking for this mild-mannered hokum, but – holy moly! – it’s lapped up in just about every bloody country in the world, you can see why ITV keep churning out episodes. What they make of it in places such as Estonia, Iran and South Korea would be interesting to know.

The Dagger Club

And of course the Danes like it so much that the 100th episode was actually set in the country. Move over, Sarah Lund.

Anyway, DCI John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon) and DS Charlie Nelson (Gwilym Lee) return this week. As is the custom, the murders seem to have been inspired by Heath Robinson, so we kick off in The Dagger Club with electrocution by roulette wheel. Crushing and drowning are line up for future episodes. Midsomer devotees just adore these Larky murder routines.

This opener also cleverly uses the backdrop of a crime fiction festival in Luxton Deeping, which is clearly right in tune with the demographic of its core viewership. [Read more…]

Hitchcock’s obsessions still haunt us


Author and Alfred Hitchcock devotee Tony Lee Moral has written several books inspired by the Master of Suspense. In this guest post, he talks about how Hitchcock’s obsession with ordinary people trapped in frightening situations featured in so many of the director’s TV series and films, and still resurface today…

In a career spanning six decades, Alfred Hitchcock directed 57 feature films and 18 episodes of his television series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. He introduced a total of 361 television episodes and in the first season, 1955-1956, and he directed four memorable episodes – Revenge starring Vera Miles, Breakdown with Joseph Cotton, The Case of Mr Pelham with Tom Ewell, and Back for Christmas with John Williams.

[Read more…]

Accused — Killer TV No.33

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Stephen Graham and Sean Bean – Tracie’s Story

BBC1, 2010-2012

‘You’re the bitch. Right? Till you prove yourself in battle, till you return fire when under fire, you’re the bitch.’ Corporal Buckley (Frankie’s Story)

Anne-Marie Duff, Olivia Colman, Joe Dempsie, John Bishop, Warren Brown, Peter Capaldi, Mackenzie Crook, Juliet Stevenson, Christopher Eccleston, Marc Warren, Andy Serkis, Naomie Harris, Anna Maxwell Martin, Sean Bean, Stephen Graham

Identikit: As each week’s main character climbs into the dock, the events leading to their being accused and tried for a crime are revealed.

‘No police procedure, thanks very much, no coppers striding along corridors with coats flapping. Just crime and punishment – the two things that matter most in any crime drama’ – that’s how writer Jimmy McGovern described his anthology series. Each story features an ordinary person who ends up in the dock. How did they get there, and do they deserve to walk free or be locked up? The hook for McGovern is the ‘There but for the grace of God go I’ aspect to the lives of many working class people, the fine line between trying to do the right thing and ending up on the wrong side of the law. Such are McGovern’s credentials as the writer of powerful UK television dramas such as Cracker, Hillsborough and The Street that Accused pulled in the cream of British screen talent.

[Read more…]

CSI series 15, Ted Danson, Elisabeth Shue, George Eads PREVIEW

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Ted Danson and Elisabeth Shue in CSI. Pics:C5

★★★ It’s gory and implausible, but why is CSI so popular? JG Ballard thought it was all about our innermost fears…

Channel 5: starts Saturday, 24 January, 10.15pm

WHAT A WEIRD and unsettling series CSI is. A house of horrors for the TV age, delving into nightmares of mortality with detachment and a throbbing rock beat.

Watching the opening episode of the 15th series, I was reminded of a typically provocative feature that JG Ballard wrote about the series 10 years ago in The Guardian. He became hooked on it and stated: ‘The series was original, slick and deeply disturbing, though I wasn’t too keen to find out why.’

But then he goes right ahead and dissects the drama anyway (excuse the pun). As a former medical student with experience in the exploration of corpses before he went on to write unsettling masterpieces such as Crash, The Unlimited Dream Company and High-Rise, his insights were intriguing.

[Read more…]

Third degree: Adrian McKinty

Matthew McConaughey in True Detective

Adrian McKinty is one of the most acclaimed new crime writers from across the Irish Sea, routinely mentioned alongside Ken Bruen, Declan Hughes and John Connolly. His series of edgy thrillers about Catholic detective Sean Duffy and the character’s exploits while working in the none-too-comfortable surroundings of the RUC during the Troubles, and later MI5, are developing a big following and have been hugely praised by reviewers. These include The Cold Cold GroundIn the Morning I’ll Be Gone and his latest, Gun Street Girl. Here, he reveals his favourite TV shows, characters and authors…

Adrian McKinty

Your favourite British crime series or thriller on TV?
Can I cheat and have a tie between two? Well I’m going to anyway: I really enjoyed The Fall, even though I had real reservations about the denouement of season 2! It was nice to see an ordinary crime drama set in Belfast, with brilliant acting and a tight economical script. My other favourite is Broadchurch. What a terrific bit of writing that was – unpacking the threads from an entire society with great little subplots and an ending that – although I saw coming (and which strangely involved zero detective work) – was very powerful none the less. Great stuff (and I LOVED the creepy psychic).

Favourite US crime series or thriller on TV?
True Detective. I so didn’t want to watch this when I heard it involved an alleged conspiracy of satanists, which is a pretty hacky premise. But then I watched the pilot and was blown away by its audacity: three timelines, the philosophy of pessimism and entropy, extraordinary acting and cinematography… And then the series only got darker, deeper and better. Wow.

Do you have a favourite Irish TV crime series?
I’ll throw The Fall in there too.

Top TV cop?
Gotta be Columbo. Outwitting the rich and famous with the power of his mind alone.

Which unfilmed book/character should be made into a TV drama?
I’m shocked that they haven’t made Ellroy’s Underworld trilogy into anything…

If one of your novels were filmed, who would you cast to be the hero? 
Fassbender would be a great Sean Duffy.

What’s your guilty pleasure on TV? 
I don’t believe in the concept of guilty pleasures to be honest. I like what I like and I don’t feel any shame or guilt. One thing I like that no one else seems to like in my family is the programme Mighty Ships? Heard of that? Didn’t think so. Could just be a niche interest there.

Least favourite cop show/thriller? 
Not a fan of British nostalgia mystery shows set in the 1950s or 40s when there were no black people and poor people knew their place…

Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad

Do you prefer The Wire orThe Sopranos
Haven’t seen The Wire and I – gasp – think The Sopranosis over rated. All those tedious scenes with Carmela and the priest or the annoying kids… I’ll say Breaking Bad.

Marple/Poirot or Sherlock Holmes? 
Marple. Despite the answer I gave two questions ago. I love cops who solve things with that big gray muscle between their ears and Miss M does that in spades…

Wallander – BBC or the Swedish version?
Gotta go with Ken Branagh. Love him.

US or British or Euro television crime dramas?
They are quite different animals but nothing I’ve seen recently on Brit or Euro TV can compete with True Detective and Breaking Bad…

Your favourite crime/thriller writers?
Rankin, Ellroy, Peace, Neville, McGilloway, Woodrell.

Have you read a crime novel that’s really knocked you out lately?
I’m reading a sci-fi crime novel called Great North Road that I’m very much enjoying, set in a future Newcastle…

Favourite non-crime/thriller author?
Adrian McKinty, Gun Street GirlJG Ballard or Angela Carter.

Favourite crime movie or thriller?
Miller’s Crossing.

You’ve been framed for murder. Which fictional detective/sleuth would you want to call up?
I’d want Marple. I think she has the best brain of all of them.

• Adrian’s latest Sean Duffy novel, Gun Street Girl, is available from Amazon. His blog is also an interesting and enjoyable read, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life

See also CrimeTimePreview’s Q&A with Ian Rankin

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