Felicity

The Hour: Series 1

The newsreels are dead. We’ve bored the public for too long. Give me this opportunity and I’ll prove it.

Unfortunately for Freddie Lyons (Ben Whishaw, ‘Q’ to Daniel Craig’s James Bond in the upcoming Skyfall), this opportunity – to produce the BBC’s new current affairs program – has already been awarded to his best friend (and past love) Bel Rowley (Romola Garai, The Crimson Petal and the White). Adding further to Freddie’s misfortunes, his second and third choices (of presenter and ‘foreign desk’ respectively) have also been filled, leaving the journalist with only one option, ‘home affairs’.

Debuting in 2011, the six-part first series of The Hour chronicled the behind-the-scenes drama of a new current affairs program (also called The Hour) and the private lives of Freddie, Bel, and presenter Hector Madden (Dominic West, The Wire). Repurposing the BBC’s own history, creator Abi Morgan uses the Suez Crisis and the uprising in Hungary in 1956 as the series driving force. Alongside these workroom dramas Freddie investigates the murder of his friend Ruth Elms and the involvement of MI6 in her passing, while Bel and Hector embark upon an affair.

At its heart, The Hour is a series concerned with the concept of democracy, its theme eloquently defined by one of the supporting characters, (in a wonderful turn by Tim Pigott-Smith as Ruth’s father, Lord Elms);

In a democracy the only thing one can be right about is the right to ask the question. And the question is: do we live in a democracy? Or under the illusion of one? (Episode 2).

With this theme the series is able to explore sexism in the workplace, the dealings of MI6, and, most interestingly, censorship of the media. For Bel, sexism is rife in her dealings with her superiors, particularly Angus McCain, the BBC’s government liaison. Bel finds herself held in different regard to her male colleagues; work-related dinners inadvertently lead to drinks at the club, a place Bel cannot follow. Garai is excellent as the intelligent and confident producer frustrated by the sexism she encounters and the restrictions society in general places upon woman.

While the first episode of The Hour is hindered by the MI6/conspiracy storyline, by the end of the second Freddie’s investigation has become an interesting part of the story, cemented the following episode when Freddie deciphers a message embedded in a newspaper crossword, ‘revert to bright stone’.  But perhaps the most tantalising discovery of all is the news there is a soviet spy working for the BBC. It’s here a second viewing of the series is particularly rewarding, as you find yourself able to pick up on the subtle clues to the identity of the mole. Whishaw is excellent as the passionate and resolute journalist, determined to uncover the truth behind Ruth’s death.

The evolving relationship between Freddie and Hector is particularly appealing, as the two come to terms with their standing as colleagues, and their mutual presence in Bel’s life. From the offset Freddie resents Hector for not only taking the job he coveted, but gaining the position thanks to his influential father-in-law. However, as time (and the series) progresses it becomes clear Hector is a much more complex character,  equally as disillusioned with his own life as Freddie – with West capable of embodying both the likable and unlikable sides of Hector’s character –  and the two establish, if not quite a friendship, a mutual respect.

Hector’s wife Marnie also brings to the series the dominant view of a woman’s place at the time and provides an excellent contrast against the lifestyle and career choices of Bel. Most scenes in The Hour are wonderfully laden with subtext, and the confrontation scene between Marnie and Bel is one of the best. What could have simply devolved into a ‘stop sleeping with my husband’ indictment against Bel is instead handled with great decorum, and proves much worse than the straight forward option. Oona Chaplin (Game of Thrones) is magnificent as the wronged Marnie, able to make an often annoying, silly, and naive character genuinely sympathetic, especially with her comment, ‘at least you’re not his secretary’.

However, The Hour is at its best when portraying the relationship between Freddie and Bel and the newsroom dramas, most notably the government’s censorship of The Hour and the media in general. While Hector presents the program The Hour we get to see the reactions of Freddie, Bel, and the crew, from their frustrations at his incompetency in his early broadcast to the tension apparent during his excellent later work.

In the opening act of the series we get to see Freddie disinterestedly supervise a team of technicians producing that evening’s newsreel. While providing the series with its historical context, the scene also provides an excellent contrast to the production of The Hour, and emphasises the significance of the new program. The scene also wonderfully sets the tone and style of the series, the shadows, warm tones, and the consistent presence of cigarette smoke.

One of the best examples of censorship in the series is the two week gag the government places on the media, preventing them from reporting any news regarding the Suez Crisis (at a particular point in time). Morgan skilfully uses the gag as the driving force behind the newsroom plot of the final episode, as the team find inventive ways to express their views and report the news. Hector and Freddie’s street reporting also proves interesting viewing, but it’s Freddie’s final interview of the series which really captures the tension and excitement of the audience (onscreen and off), bringing together the Suez/Hungary stories and Freddie’s investigation. 

The Hour 2 (click the video below for a brief glimpse at the new series) will air as part of BBC1’s Original British Drama season, currently screening in the United Kingdom. But, with no air date yet released, it’s  it’s not too late to catch up with the first series of this excellent period drama.

 

 

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIyLWcZcNhE[/youtube]

 

True Blood: S05E11/Sunset

After a string of mediocre episodes season five of True Blood has finally gotten back on track, beginning with last week’s ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’ and continuing with this week’s outing, ‘Sunset’.

As ‘Sunset’ opens we find Lilith calling upon Bill to drink from the bottle containing her blood, to consume all of it because, ‘only one can lead them. I choose you’. She opens the cabinet containing the bottle, in the process leaving behind a bloody mark, and then disappears.

I’m not sure where the writers’ are heading with the ‘Lilith as (temporarily?) corporeal’ direction. Didn’t they confirm in an earlier episode that Lilith was a figment of the vampires’ imaginations? If so, how could she leave behind a partial bloody hand-print? A shot of the cabinet, once Bill had exited the room, blood free would have been in keeping with this direction but the only shots of the cabinet we’re given in this scene have it bearing the bloody hand-print. It’s just one of several flaws of the ‘Lilith’ storyline.

While viewers’ have speculated over Bill’s loyalties, i.e. who’s he playing, ‘Sunset’ all but confirms his allegiance lies with the Sanguinista cause – although not all the members’ of the movement – in his current brainwashed/drugged state. After all pro-human Bill would not have sent Jessica off to sire Jason (a feat she prevents). All of this is almost overshadowed by those hideous blue couches inside the Authority headquarters.

Despite season five’s mixed success, Jason, Pam, and Andy have proven consistently entertaining and compelling characters. Jason has experienced the most character evolution of the entire series. He’s gone from selfish and self-serving, blackmailing his way into the Sheriff’s department, to becoming Andy’s right-hand man. His mix of stupidity, good intentions, and growing competence at his job has made even the most boring episodes of season five worth watching for any promised Jason scenes.

In ‘Sunset’ Andy elevates a mediocre Merlotte’s scene by asking Arlene and Terry for relationship advice. After championing the importance of trust and other virtues she finishes with, ‘loyalty. You gotta know that person’s gonna be there for you through thick and thin coz you never know when some Iraqi ghost lady is gonna curse your entire family’.  It’s great to see the always fantastic Preston receive some decent material this season.

‘Sunset’ also serves as reminder of just how young Jessica really is, from her wardrobe to her attempts to bond with Tara. The two share a sweet and funny bonding scene, ending with Tara’s promise to send Jessica down a fang-banger.

Pam has provided season five with many of its best lines, and ‘Sunset’ continues this tradition. She kills it this episode, delivering the line ‘Who the fuck is Luna?’ with the signature sass we know and love. Pam also provides Jessica (and us) with an explanation for the Sanguinista Authority’s behaviour. As many will have already gleaned the consumption of vampire blood is responsible; when vampires together i.e. feeding off each other and forming a nest, they become crazy and sadistic (or should that be more sadistic?). This explanation fits with the idea of Lilith as simply a hallucination

But then we’re given our second flaw in the ‘Lilith’ storyline when Bill kills Chancellor Kibwe for having the same ‘I choose you’ visions, because Lilith chose him. We later see Salome have the same encounter with Lilith.  If Lilith is indeed just a vision why do all ‘chosen’ Sanguinista’s experience the same visions, hear the exact same words? Hopefully next week’s finale will provide us with answers.

Seeking answers regarding the contract between the vampire Warlow and her ancestor John William Stackhouse, Sookie decides to meet with a faerie elder. The elder, her mind addled by her inability to comprehend time, provides Sookie with some cryptic information, including, ‘a dark time is coming. You will be tested’. The elder is a strange character, her introduction clearly meant to amuse but not succeeding entirely thanks to some lame dancing. Despite her attempts to send Russell to the ‘realms of beyond’, she is easily killed by Russell. Her death allows Russell to see the faerie club and its faeries occupants.

‘Sunset’ concludes with the characters of True Blood facing two separate threats. In the finale, Sookie and the other faeries face attack from the now super-charged Russell while Sam, Pam and company are left to deal with the Sanguinista dilemma. As the largely separated storylines finally combine we can only hope for a satisfying conclusion to a largely disappointing season. And that someone will burn those damn blue couches.

 

Dialogue highlights:

Pam: ‘I find most vampires as irritating as most humans’.

Pam: ‘Totally. Maybe later we can braid each others hair and talk about boys. F***kin’  baby vamps’.

Steve (breathy voice): ‘Hi Jason’.

Baby vamp: ‘When we die we’re goo!’

The elder: ‘Kesha – for or against?’

 

Other highlights:

  • Andy trying to fist-bump Holly’s son Rocky.
  • When Pam, Jessica, and Tara are gathered in the basement three coffins are on display – two generic wooden ones, and one quilted, red leather one. Guess which vamp that belongs to.

Pilot Watch: 'Hustle'

Exhilarating. Gritty. Groundbreaking. From the nail biting thrills of ‘Homeland’ to the intrigue of ‘Game Of Thrones’, televised drama has found success in the more serious possibilities of the medium. Of the many words you could use to describe these, and the other most talked about dramas of the last few years, ‘fun’ is not usually one of them. But sometimes it’s nice to be reminded that drama doesn’t have to be dark and twisted, sometimes it’s nice to have a reprieve.

‘Hustle’ is a sleek, stylish – and yes –  fun, British drama about a London-based team of grifters. Grifters are the gentlemen (and women) of the con world, artists who use a skilled hand or a sharp wit, rather than force or violence, to achieve their ends/deceptions.

The Pilot, ‘The Con Is On’, introduces us to the charismatic Michael ‘Mickey Bricks’ Stone (Adrian Lester), a successful long con player (long cons are premeditated jobs that take careful planning and finesse to pull off, and offer a large monetary return) recently released from prison for grievous bodily harm. Mickey’s success is largely due to his ability to ‘cover all the angles’, expertly anticipating possible deviations and establishing contingency plans. Once more a free man, Mickey resolves to bring his old team back together for one final score. Mickey is played to perfection by Lester, who brings an edge to his role as the smooth-talking, intelligent charmer (plus he’s quite possibly the only man in the world who can pull off a purple suit). As the group’s leader and ‘inside man’, Mickey plans the score and is usually the key player in the con. From the moment Mickey breaks the fourth wall, smiling into the camera during the opening scene, three things become clear. One, this is not your standard drama; two, Mickey Bricks projects a magnetism beyond the range of any normal person; and three, ‘The Con Is On’ is going to be a fun ride.

This tone is further set by the introduction of Ash “Three Socks” Morgan (Robert Glenister). In the process of performing ‘the flop’ con – getting into an accident, in this instance getting hit by a car, and using an old injury to collect insurance– Ash is reunited with Mickey, ‘Ash, there are easier ways to make a living’. With Mickey in tow, Ash cheerfully walks away from the accident, leaving behind a crowd of bemused onlookers. Ash is the crew’s ‘fixer’, ensuring the technical and practical aspects of Mickey’s plans succeed. This includes finding locations, items, extra grifters (if needed), and capital, and doing investigative work. Glenister is brilliant as Ash, convincing as the jack-of-all-trades and a valuable supporting player in the team’s cons.

Stacie Monroe (Jaime Murray) is the group’s ‘lure’ and ‘banker’. She shares a long (some say romantic) history with Mickey. Although she often uses sex appeal to her advantage, she’s equally as comfortable operating in a more intellectual capacity. She keeps track of, and determines how much, money the group needs and accumulates. Thanks to the writing of Tony Jordan and Murray’s poise and sophistication, Stacie is elevated beyond the role of token female to the equal of her colleagues. While a past romance with Mickey is suggested, Stacie doesn’t engage in a romantic relationship with any of the group in the present. In interviews Jordan has described Stacie as the maternal figure of the group.

Albert ‘Albie’ Stroller (Robert Vaughn) is Mickey’s mentor and the crew’s ‘Roper’. He finds the targets (known as ‘marks’) and gains their confidence, reeling them in for Mickey to do his magic.  Albert is the paternal figure of the group, a seasoned grifter from the American Mid-west, played with gentlemanly warmth by Vaughn. Albert is also responsible for bringing in the crew’s newest recruit, Danny Blue (Marc Warren).

Danny is the self-styled ‘best short con player in London’. He’s a cheeky, self-assured, fast-talking grifter who dreams of becoming the best long con player in London. To this end, he resolves to join Mickey’s crew, believing Mickey is the only one out there who can teach him anything. However, Mickey has a different opinion, only allowing him into the group after he forces his way into (and ultimately rescues) the con of the ‘The Con Is On’. Danny’s impulsive nature and issues with authority, played with something energy by Warren, often puts him at odds with Mickey and his perfectionist methods.

The final, and unofficial, member of the group is Eddie (Rob Jarvis), the owner and proprietor of Eddie’s Bar, a popular haunt of the group. Eddie sometimes plays a role in, but more often than not is the subject of, the team’s cons (as they continually con him out of free drinks).

‘The Con Is On’ sets up most of the elements of storytelling and filmmaking that characterise the series. Naturally, there is always a con. There’s also character-related drama and, naturally, an interfering element that causes the con to unravel. In the pilot, this is a criminal investigation into the dealings of Mickey and company, lead by Detective Inspector Depalma. The investigation serves as an effective way to introduce the characters of Hustle, and provide us with background exposition, as Sergeant Terri Hodges briefs Depalma and the team. It also provides an interesting juxtaposition against the grifters’ own methods; Albert’s brief about the ‘mark’, Peter Williams, is remarkably similar in style to Hodges.

Mickey and his crew live by the mantra ‘you can’t cheat an honest man’. This is best explained in the standout sequence of the episode, when all five members break the fourth wall. After moving to stand side-by-side in front of Williams they turn to address the camera.  Throughout the sequence Williams has been frozen in time (in slow motion), oblivious to what is happening, even when the crew addresses him:

Mickey: The only way this thing works is if you want something for nothing.
Ash: So what do we do?
Stacie: Well we give you nothing for something.
Mickey: (to Williams) You’re a grand up so far.
Danny: It’s a very good time to walk away.
Mickey: But he can’t,
Albert: Because he’s so greedy.
Ash: So what do we do?
Stacie: Feed the greed.
Mickey: But he’s got one last chance
Ash: We’ve told him it’s illegal.
Danny: (to Williams) You could lose everything.
Mickey: (to Williams) Career, wife, home.
Albert: (to Williams) Prison.
Ash: (to Williams) Get out while you can.
Stacie: (to Williams) Do the smart thing.

This moral code is the reason you root for these characters; they may be criminals, but they’re likable, principled ones. The fourth wall is broken in more subtle ways across the episode when the characters give a knowing glance or a smile into the camera. Both techniques continue across the series and create a relationship between the audience and the characters, as if we’re complicit – honorary grifters – in the action occurring on screen. The pilot also establishes the series penchant for low angle shots, slightly in slow motion, of the crew walking along as a group. It’s a stylish way of presenting them as a unit, in sync with one another.

To retain the slick nature of the series, writer Jordan has limited the scenes of the pilot to the team carrying out or preparing for the con, and hanging out at Eddie’s Bar and their shared hotel suite. This isn’t a series that deals with domesticity; we don’t get to see the characters’ carrying out romantic relationships or going home to their flats, and ‘The Con Is On’ sets this precedence. Instead, the crew are an unconventional family, who rely on one another. In a set-up reminiscent of a dynasty, Jordan has crafted a grandfather, father, and son relationship in the form of Albert, Mickey and Danny (in regards to experience – Mickey is not much older than Danny).

As a viewer we’re placed in fascinating position of being both in on the con, and being conned ourselves. We’re given just enough information to follow the story, to try to figure out what the score is, before having our ideas dashed in the final act as the most important details of the con are revealed. In fact, part of the fun of watching the series is the knowledge we’re being conned. We know, as Mickey and company explain the con, we’re only being shown half the trick.  ‘The Con Is On’ handles this mode of reveal beautifully, taking the police investigation storyline in a new and unpredictable direction.‘The Con Is On’ establishes the series tradition of stylishly paying homage to its predecessors, in this instance the Robert Redford classic, ‘The Sting’.

While Hustle revels in its world of deception, in a world of skewed morals Mickey and his team abide by a code of honour, targeting only the deserving. After all, you can’t cheat an honest man.

In the mood for … PRIVATE EYES: watch 'Pushing Daisies'

‘Are you comfortable with “living dead”?’

From the film noir stylings of the silver screen classic The Maltese Falcon (1941) to the romantic comedy dramatics of Moonlighting (1985 – 89), the field of private investigation has long proved fertile story-telling ground for filmmakers. Bryan Fuller’s Pushing Daisies is a unique twist on the sub-genre, a combination of detective drama, murder mystery, romance, comedy, and stylized fantasy (Burger 2011, 3). Closest in tone to Jeunet’s ‘Amelie’ and the films of Tim Burton, it’s a glorious concoction of warmth, whimsy and nostalgia, a meditation on life and death, isolation and community, and [most importantly] unashamedly a love story.

The series revolves around Ned (Lee Pace), a pie-maker who, with one touch, can bring the dead back to life. It’s an ability that comes with certain caveats. If the alive-again (Ned dislikes the terms ‘living dead’ and ‘zombie’) live beyond sixty seconds someone else in the near vicinity will die to restore the balance. Ned discovers his ability aged nine, after he brings his golden retriever Digby back to life. Later he uses this gift to save his mother, who died in front of him from a brain aneurism. Oblivious to the one minute rule, in bringing her back to life Ned accidently caused the death of his neighbour, the father of his boyhood crush Chuck (Anna Friel).

In a cruel twist of fate the young Ned discovers his ability has a second caveat; as the narrator explains in the ‘Pie-lette’ episode, ‘first touch, life; second touch, dead again. Forever’. The two share their first kiss, ‘dizzy with grief, curiosity, and hormones’, between their parents neighbouring funerals, a beautifully realised sequence backlit by the glow of the sun. An orphaned Chuck is fostered by her aunts’ Lily and Vivian, while Ned is sent away to boarding school. Twenty years pass before Ned and Chuck see each other again.

In the present day, Ned runs a restaurant called The Pie Hole and supplements his income by working with private detective Emerson Cod (Chi McBride). It’s a business they’ve become very successful at, because murders are a lot easier to solve when you can ask the victim who killed them.  One such case is the murder of Charlotte ‘Chuck’ Charles, dubbed by the narrator the ‘lonely tourist’. Ned, still harbouring romantic feelings for Chuck, cannot bring himself to touch her again once he brings her back from the dead. He takes Chuck back to The Pie Hole, the passing of sixty seconds having already caused the death of a crooked funeral director (‘accidental, involuntary manslaughter’), and she begins her new life as an alive-again person.

Each episode of Pushing Daisies is comprised of two aspects, the case-of-the-week and the personal issues and/or relationship problems of the characters. Pushing Daisies doesn’t linger on the tragedy of death. Instead it takes a humorous approach to the macabre; deaths on the series are quirky, unusual, and darkly comedic. This include the murder of one man by a crash test dummy, a mime who is killed by poisoned make-up, and the demise of one woman in a scratch ‘n’ sniff, pop-up book induced explosion. Usually the temporarily alive-again murder victims aren’t upset by the fact they died, and simply accept the news. Sometimes they’re cheerful, sometimes they’re chatty, and sometimes they’re petty. Chuck’s own response was simply ‘oh. Ohhh,’ choosing not to dwell on the fact she was murdered. As one of the temporarily alive-again victims states, ‘sounds scary, but once you’re dead, you’re dead’.  As the series progresses, Chuck’s struggle with her alive-again status is partially related to its price (the funeral director’s life), and mostly to her place in the world.

Some of the issues and problems of the characters’ extend across the series. These arcs include Emerson’s search for his daughter, Chuck’s efforts to take care of her aunts without them knowing she’s alive, and the unique challenges Ned and Chuck face day to day, as they pursue their romance. Each episode begins with a flashback, usually involving young Ned, although several second season episodes begin with younger versions of the other characters instead.

Before Chuck re-entered his life, Ned led a very isolated and lonely existence. As a result of his ability, he disliked physical contact, and feared being discovered and turned into a lab experiment. While his fear does not dissipate with Chuck’s presence, she does [partly] convince him of the positives of physical contact. Sadly the one person Ned really wants to touch is Chuck, a desire which is impossible, when even a hug would kill her. In an early season one scene Chuck laments this fact while explaining the joys of hugging to him, ‘I can’t even hug you? What if you need a hug? A hug can turn your day around … it’s like an emotional Heimlich’. Pace is excellent as the pie-maker who ‘stress bakes’, wonderfully conveying both Ned’s childlike vulnerability and charm, and the more uptight aspects of his nature, such as his fear of change. Before Chuck, Ned led a self-disciplined, ordered life.

Charlotte ‘Chuck’ Charles’s reappearance in his life challenges Ned, forcing him to, at times, exist outside his comfort zone. Raised by her agoraphobic aunts (the cynical Aunt Lily and the sensitive Aunt Vivian), Chuck felt it was her responsibility to take care of them and so did not venture far from home. She occupied her days by reading books of the places she couldn’t go and experiences she couldn’t have, while pursuing her hobby of bee-keeping. Deciding to take a chance, she went on a cruise, her holiday ending when she was suffocated to death with a plastic bag. Prior to her death and alive-again status, she lived vicariously through the books she read and the language tapes she learnt from. Her accumulated knowledge proves useful in the business of crime-solving and she gets a somewhat macabre kick out of working murder cases with Ned and Emerson.  A free spirit at heart, Chuck is determined to live her life properly the second time around, to experience the things she missed out on. She’s a compassionate character, asking the alive-again if they have any last requests or thoughts before they die again. Friel is delightful as Chuck, beautifully conveying the character’s vivacity and optimism, her morbid fascinations, and the conflicting emotions Chuck feels in regards to her alive-again status.

Emerson is the opposite of Chuck. He’s in the business of private investigation purely for monetary gains. He’s a straight-talking character, unconcerned with hurting the feelings of others. When questioned about the relationship between Chuck and Ned he tells the lovesick waitress Olive that Ned ‘digs her [Chuck] in a way he definitely doesn’t dig you’. This blunt attitude is exemplified in the season two opener, ‘let me just say I’m sorry about your loss, and I do except credit cards’. Yet there’s a softer, less prominent side to Emerson. He secretly loves knitting, crafting cases for his many wads of cash and, my favourite, gun holsters. He authors a children’s pop-up book in the hope it will help his daughter find him, and in the season two episode ‘Circus Circus’ is the only one able to coax a teenage girl out of hiding.

Olive Snook (Kristin Chenoweth) is The Pie Hole’s (seemingly only) waitress. She suffers from an unrequited love for Ned, and is the only one of the quartet not to know of the supernatural aspect of their private investigative dealings and Chuck’s alive-again status. At first she believes Chuck bears an uncanny resemblance to ‘that dead girl. That’s a complement, she was pretty’, but later believes Chuck faked her own death. She initially views Chuck’s presence with hostility, believing Chuck is the only reason she and Ned are not together, but eventually reciprocates Chuck’s feelings of friendship. In an effort to get over Ned, and keep several secrets she’s bursting to tell, Olive retreats to a European nunnery (complete with homage to The Sound Of Music) for part of season two.

The omniscient Narrator of Pushing Daisies is integral to creating the fairy-tale qualities of the series. The character is used to great effect to convey exposition – ‘the facts were these’ –  and provide insight into the characters. As voiced by British actor Jim Dale, the Narrator falls somewhere in the realm of old-fashioned newsreader, documentarian, and storybook narrator. The Narrator often states ages and passages of time, down to the minute. His presence results in, and allows for, the quirkiness of the series, and ensures the fusion of genres runs smoothly.

The combination of detective drama and murder mystery (the whodunit) of Pushing Daisies is used to provide the series with structure, and was originally intended to allow for the series longevity (for various reasons the series only ran for two seasons). Although Ned’s power to revive the dead allows the trio to learn of the culprits, the actual solving of the case comes down to the group’s investigative work, thanks to the often puzzling words of the temporarily alive-again, such as ‘I was killed by a crash test dummy’, and a polygamist poisoned by one of his wives.  Mostly, the reviving of the dead takes place at the City Morgue. In the early episodes, the trios bluff their way in, claiming to be dog experts, toxicologists and people ‘from the government safety place’.  As the series progresses Emerson simply bribes the coroner.

The unconventional love story between Chuck and Ned is essential to the success of Pushing Daisies. By placing the two characters in such a unique situation, Fuller and his team of writers were required to find alternative ways of forging and sustaining the romance. This includes the practicalities of the two conducting a relationship. Whenever Ned is standing near Chuck he takes certain precautions, such as linking his hands behind his back, or keeping them in his pockets. Their first kiss as adults is through the safety of plastic body bags (after being thwarted by the killer in the season one episode ‘Dummy’), their second through a sheet of cling wrap Chuck impulsively holds between them. In order for Chuck to sit beside him in his car, Ned installs a glass partition with a hole that allows for a rubber glove to fit through, enabling them to hold hands, a practice later adapted for their sleeping arrangements. Sometimes Ned demands an unwilling Emerson hug Chuck in his place. Other times Chuck takes similar measures, ‘I’m going to hug Digby and pretend he’s you’ (Berger 2011, 85).

The stylized fantasy of Pushing Daisies is beautifully established in the opening scene of the ‘Pie-lette’, as young Ned runs across a field of daisies, the hyper-real yellow of the blooms gloriously contrasting against an impossibly blue sky. A flashback of a costumed young Chuck and Ned playing make believe (the former in a dinosaur costume, the latter dressed as a parrot), destroying a city of plastic toys is another zany example as the toys are brought to life through animation, and the miniature figures run screaming from their giant antagonists. The fantasy element of the series is also at play across several musical numbers performed by Olive to an imaginary audience, such as her rendition of Grease’s ‘Hopelessly Devoted To You’:

‘Narrator: Olive often imagined there was an orchestra in her heart. Music, heard only by her except when her heart broke open, and it spilled out into the world…

Olive (singing): Guess mine is not the first heartbroken, my eyes are not the first to cry. I’m not the first to know, there’s just no gettin’ over you, I’m hopelessly devoted to you (a man and woman enter The Pie Hole) Excuse me! We’re closed.’

Pushing Daisies’ spectacular costume and production design is instrumental in crafting the stylized fantasy. Production designer Michel Wylie’s goal was to create ‘a storybook come to life’, for ‘everything to look like an illustration’. This is achieved through the bright use of colour, from bubblegum pink to lime green, and a lot of patterns. The eccentricities of the series are reflected in various aspects of its design, such as Olive’s matching set of pajamas, sheets, and bedroom wallpaper. The headquarters of the business Betty’s Bees in the episode ‘Bzzzzzzzzz’ reflects the nature of the business, a hexagonal motif incorporated throughout the building’s design. There’s a also a retro style to Pushing Daisies; The Pie Hole is reminiscent of an old-fashioned milk bar, Chuck’s wardrobe is inspired by the 1950s and other bygone eras, and all the vehicles are vintage.

Key to the visual style of the series is the use of a circular motif, reflecting Ned’s pie-making business. The motif is sometimes used in the transition between scenes, using a circular wipe, and to frame shots. It’s a partly stylistic choice, and partly a reference to the community theme of the series. The Pie Hole is the most obvious example. The building itself is circular, the windows round, and the roof resembles a pie crust. Inside cherry-shaped lights dangle from the ceiling and the shop counter is also circular. Ned began baking pies at boarding school, the activity acting as his connection to his deceased mother. Pies are comfort food, and The Pie Hole is a comfortable, safe place for the Pushing Daisies characters, a place for their community to exist.

Each main character of Pushing Daisies experiences some degree of loneliness and isolation. For Ned, these feelings were caused by the fear of his magical ability and of its discovery by others. With Chuck’s help Ned begins to reconcile himself with this unique ability. Similarly, Chuck, Emerson, and Olive all progress beyond their initial isolation, and together the quartet forms one unique and unconventional family.

In the ‘Pie-lette’ the Narrator explains the nature of Ned’s gift; it was something that was given to him, ‘but not by anyone in particular … it just was’. With its dazzling mix of bright colours, bizarre crimes, black comedy, and lovable characters, Pushing Daisies is also a gift, but one that is unmistakably Fuller’s. It’s a unique and enchanting viewing experience, a glorious exploration of life and death, love and friendship.

Referenced:
Berger, Alissa 2011. The television world of Pushing daisies : critical essays on the Bryan Fuller series. Jefferson, N.C.

Pilot Watch: 'The L.A. Complex'

‘In this town fame has a price; try not to get a complex’.

The L.A. Complex is a Canadian drama charting the ups and downs of six twenty-something’s trying to make their mark in the entertainment industry. It’s a set-up that works surprisingly well, with the pilot surpassing my (admittedly low) expectations.

After a few aerial shots of Los Angeles, just to make clear this is L.A. (at least part of the time) we meet the series’ main players: Abby, Alicia, Raquel, Nick, Tariq, and Connor. The pilot does a good job of introducing us to these characters’ and their respective situations.

Abby (Cassie Steele) is an out of work actress (and Canadian illegal immigrant), who has spent the last six months trying to score a role. She’s just been evicted from her apartment and her boyfriend is pressuring her to return home. Her friend Tariq (Benjamin Charles Watson) dreams of becoming a music producer. He spends his days fetching his boss’s (an actual music producer) meals and dry cleaning, while trying to climb the career ladder.  Tariq lives at The Deluxe Suites (i.e. the Lux), a motel complex that is home to many other wannabe musicians, actors, and producers.

Tariq sends his friend and neighbour Nick (Joe Dinicol) to Abby’s rescue, after her car breaks down on route to an audition. A struggling comedian, Nick can’t help the hapless actress with her audition problems, but does find her a recently vacated room at the Lux. The room was home to Connor (Jonathon Patrick Moore), an actor who has just scored the lead on a new television show. It’s a position that has left Connor feeling a little out of his depth. Abby quickly connects with Connor and the two have a one-night stand.

Alicia (Chelan Simmons) is a dancer with about the same success rate with auditions as Abby. Her introduction, at one such audition, shows off two facets of her character.  Clad in what essentially amounts to underwear, she bears more flesh than any other dancer in the room, as she confidently dances the routine. Her caring nature comes across as she takes care of a fellow dancer, sharing her water bottle and offering some helpful advice. We later get to see Alicia’s more vulnerable side as she deals with the dawning realisation she didn’t get a part from this audition.

Lastly, there’s Raquel (Firefly and Stargate Atlantis’s Jewel Staite). The slightly older member of the group, Raquel’s career seems to have stalled since the cancellation of her show Teenage Wastleand – ‘it was a bad time slot’. Raquel is the most interesting character of the pilot, much more so than protagonist Abby. She boasts the best introduction, ‘no, I’m not auditioning for the Mom role. I’m reading for Cindy’. Her discomfort and dismay at auditioning alongside younger actresses is wonderfully brought to life by Staite. This discomfort is on display in her first interaction with Abby, a fan who grew up watching Teenage Wasteland. The two are set up as romantic rivals for Connor, who’s shared a ‘friends with benefits’ relationship with Raquel in the past.

The beginning of Abby and Alicia’s friendship leads Alicia to assist her new friend with her money woes. She introduces Abby to her night job – stripper. After sidestepping the cliché (well, aside from the entire premise of an actor trying to make it in L.A.) for most of the pilot, it’s disappointing that creator and writer Martin Gero chose this path for the two characters. Cliché aside, it’s probably not the best career move for someone seeking the Hollywood spotlight to pursue a job in the adult entertainment industry. Unless, of course, you’re Channing Tatum.

Towards the end of the pilot Raquel enters into a deal with two other Lux occupants; she’ll shop around their screenplay providing she gets the starring role. Of the group, Raquel’s story boasts the most potential for the series, as she navigates a world that has rejected her simply because she had the nerve to get older.

The characters’ (and cast) are a likable bunch, although I’m not sure Moore has the magnetism the role requires of him –  the chemistry between Abby and Connor is more lukewarm than steamy.

While it doesn’t have the draw or originality of series like American Horror Story or Homeland, The L.A. Complex makes for enjoyable, if not religious, viewing.

Pilot Watch – 'Scandal'

 ‘I’m not a baby lawyer. I’m a gladiator in a suit.’

Scandal charts the personal and professional dealings of Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) and her team of crisis managers. Professional ‘fixers’, Pope and her team are the people you want to solve your problems, despite the fact they’re incapable of solving their own.

The pilot, ‘Sweet Baby’, introduces us to Pope and co. via the firm’s newest recruit, Quinn (Katie Lowes). An eager young lawyer, she hero worships her new boss. To a lesser extent, this reverence is shared with her colleague Harrison (Columbus Short), a smooth-talking litigator responsible for the ‘gladiator in a suit’ spiel.

The rest of the team is comprised of computer hacker Huck, a former CIA agent with a straightforward attitude (Guillermo Diaz), defence attorney Stephen (Henry Cusick, i.e. Desmond from Lost), and investigator Abby (Darby Stanchfield). Confident in his professional dealings, Stephen is shown to be indecisive in his personal ones. He shares an interesting dynamic with Oliva, turning to her for advice about his personal life. It’s Olivia who convinces him to propose to his girlfriend, a decision he could not reach on his own.

Of the Associates, Abby is the most memorable of the episode. Her unsympathetic approach to the people her work involves provides Sweet Baby with some of its more humorous moments, from her excited and gleeful discovery about a dead woman – ‘Paige is a whore!’ – to blackmailing a cop,

‘ Abby: How’s your wife, Wally? She’s, what, six months pregnant? Does she know about the stripper?
Wally: You’re a real b****, you know that?
Abby: [smiling] I do know that, Wally.’

From the moment Olivia is introduced it is clear she is the star, both of the firm and of the series, and Washington excels in the role. A confident and skilled negotiator, Olivia has only one rule for her clients – no lies. Her deference for lying is enforced across the episode. In fact, Olivia is like a human lie detector, although  this skill is shown to be affected when she becomes emotionally compromised . The pilot successfully communicates this complicated, three dimensional character.

In Sweet Baby, Olivia Pope and Associates are involved in three cases. The first is a generic plot involving the kidnapping of a baby.  The case really just exists to introduce us to Olivia and is subsequently wrapped up within a few early scenes. The second case explains what Oliva and co. actually do, as they take on a client suspected of murdering his fiancé. As the episode progresses the case takes some interesting and unexpected turns.

Sweet Baby’s final case is more personal. Olivia is brought in to ‘fix’ the problems of the President (and former boss) who is being accused of sleeping with a young female White House employee (the Clinton/Lewinksy affair earns a mention). This case acts as Quinn’s trial-by-fire, allowing Olivia (and us) to gage her abilities and potential as a ‘fixer’.

From the first meeting between Quinn and Harrison to Sweet Baby’s close, one thing is very clear – this is a Shonda Rhimes production. The tropes Rhimes established with Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice (and even the short-lived Off The Map) are all present in Scandal. The most significant of these tropes are the character speeches and the personal and professional dramas of the characters’ occurring simultaneously.  Sometimes these signatures work – e.g. Olivia and Stephen’s case discussions mingle with talk of Stephen’s engagement  – while other times it can just feel annoying, and make the characters’ appear overly smug – e.g. Harrison’s speech about the firm (including gladiators) to Quinn.

In the attempt to provide Scandal with a signature style, the director employs what I can only describe as a flash-cut technique, as the screen transitions from photograph to photograph, while characters reveal details about the client and the accompanying case. It’s an annoying and distracting technique that would best be abandoned.

For me, the best scenes in Grey’s Anatomy (in the early years, when Izzy was a likable character) focussed on the characters and their relationships with each other. This is something Sweet Baby also does well. There’s a real camaraderie between Olivia and her associates, allowing for some nice character interactions to emerge, i.e. Olivia giving Stephen a selection of engagement rings to choose from as she convinces him (the first time) to propose to his girlfriend.

When Harrison gives his ‘gladiators in suits’ speech at the beginning of the episode it comes across as pretentious and over the top. But, when the term is repeated by Quinn towards the episode’s close it takes on new meaning. Likewise, Scandal gets better as the first episode progresses, and has the potential to develop into addictive viewing.

Once Upon A Time S01/ Hat Trick and The Stable Boy

After tuning out for several weeks, I thought it was about time I checked back in with Once Upon A Time by taking a look at its latest offerings, Hat Trick and The Stable Boy. Hat Trick introduces us to the character of Jefferson, a Storybrooke resident Emma meets after she nearly runs him down with her car, while out searching for the escapee Mary Margaret (who, in case you’ve forgotten, was incarcerated for the suspected murder of David’s wife, Kathryn). Believing Jefferson to be injured, Emma drives him home. He shows his thanks by taking her hostage – but it’s okay, she can leave once she makes him a top hat. Yes, a top hat.

This brings us to the fairytale element of the episode. Hat Trick takes us back to the fairytale world, where Jefferson is in possession of a top hat that can transport you (I presume) anywhere you want to go. For the Queen, that place is Wonderland. She wants to get back something that was stolen from her, and she needs Jefferson’s help to do so. He initially refuses her request because he can’t leave his daughter, Grace.  Her response is ‘I understand. There’s nothing more important than family’. Unfortunately, Lana Parrilla doesn’t manage to communicate the level of menace underpinning these words. Despite this, the scene nicely foreshadows the events to come. Jefferson eventually agrees to help the Queen (thanks to her meddling) and we receive our first glimpse of the realm beyond the fairytale kingdom.

While the decision made by the writers’ to go beyond the traditional fairytales and draw upon other source material could have lead to some interesting develops, Hat Trick – for the most part – fails to deliver. Thanks to the limitations of a commercial network budget, the Wonderland of Once Upon A Time mostly looks like a subpar videogame rather than realistic CGI.

Also disappointing is our introduction to the Queen of Hearts. We never see the Queen’s face because know one looks directly upon the Queen, of course), perhaps to prevent spoilers in future episodes, should the Queen have a  Storybrooke identity. During the brief scene involving the Queen her face is covered by a red veil. She also speaks to an advisor via a long tube which, for some reason, resembles an elephant’s trunk.

While Sebastian Stan is good in the role of Storybrooke Jefferson he, like most of the Once Upon A Time actors, can’t quite pull off the fairytale world dialogue. He also fails to convince in his role as a young father. However, this can partly be blamed on the miscasting of the young actress playing Grace, who Stan shares zero father/daughter chemistry with. He would have been more believable as Grace’s older brother.

While Hat Trick is an episode of many diappointments, it does deliver on two counts. One, Mary Margaret finally gets to kick some arse; perhaps leading to some interesting develops for the character. Could Snow White finally be surfacing?

Two, Emma is finally starting to wonder about the legitimacy of Henry’s fairytale story. Her belief in the fairytale world could provide the series with more direction beyond the current ‘fairytale character of the week’ format, perhaps expanding upon Emma’s role as the apparent ‘saviour’.

Like Hat Trick, The Stable Boy is an unsatisfying entry into the Once Upon A Time mythology. For me, the most disappointing aspect of the episode is the performance of The West Wing’s Richard Schiff. Schiff, brilliant as White House staffer Toby in TWW, gives a lacklustre performance as the recurring character of King Leopold.

Despite its shortcomings, at least The Stable Boy finally explains why the Queen despises Snow White. As a young woman the Queen was in love with (surprise!) the stable boy, Daniel. The Queen, or rather, Regina befriended a young Snow White after rescuing her from her wayward horse and that’s where things really started to go wrong.  Probably the biggest coup of the episode was the casting of Bailee Madison as the young Snow. While Madison has the same difficulties as Stan with the fairytale dialogue, her performance as the young Snow to Ginnifer Goodwin’s adult version is excellent, perfectly replicating Goodwin’s mannerisms and facial expressions.

We also meet Regina’s mother Cora, a manipulative social climber with magical powers. Cora is to blame for the person present-day Regina has become, and her actions late in the episode prove similar to some of Regina’s own in the present. The portrayal of young Snow as naïve and trusting makes Regina’s displaced hatred of the adult Snow White unconvincing, when surely all her hatred should be directed towards the one really responsible for Daniel’s fate.

The best scene of The Stableboy is set in Storybrooke, as Regina pays the incarcerated Mary Margaret a visit. Parrilla may give a mediocre performance as the Queen, but as Regina she projects just the right level of malice. The parting words between Regina and MM are a highlight of the episode:

‘I don’t deserve this. I never killed Kathryn.’
‘Oh, I know. But you do deserve this.’

The B-story of The Stableboy revolves around Emma trying to prove Mary Margaret’s innocence. Emma is assisted by August in her search, and together the two unearth some vital evidence of Regina’s involvement in Kathryn’s disappearance.  The Emma/August scenes offer some clues as to August’s fairytale persona, now the writers’ have officially quashed the Brothers’ Grimm theory. We learn August experiences pain in one of his shins and that he apparently never lies. The reappearance of Kathryn may draw The Stable Boy to a close, but only poses more questions.

Pilot Watch: "Life On Mars"

‘I had an accident, and I woke up thirty-three years in the past. Now that either makes me a time-traveller, or a lunatic, or I’m lying in a hospital bed in 2006 and none of this is real.

In the vastly populated genre of police procedurals, this intriguing premise helps set Life On Mars apart from the competition. Like fellow British drama Luther, Life On Mars strength lies in its fusion of the genres. Its police procedural element provides each episode with structure, while the use of science fiction and psychological drama shapes the content, and the series overall arc.

‘Episode 1’ introduces us to the unusual predicament of DCI Sam Tyler (John Simm), the modern day cop displaced thirty-three years into the past. The leader of a Manchester Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in 2006, following his accident Sam wakes to find himself in 1973 with the title of Detective Inspector. As he tries to comprehend his situation, Sam must contend with the alien world of 1973 and its very different standards of policing. Pedantic and driven, he believes in by-the-letter policing, the accumulation of evidence and the use of modern methods (including forensics) to solve a case.

Sam’s work ethic widely contrasts against that of his new boss, DCI Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister). Gene finds Sam’s modern methods strange, at odds with his own intuitive ones, which rely more on gut instinct then strategy or procedure. Life On Mars original press release describes Gene as ‘arrogant, sexist, insensitive, brutal, lazy, boozy, impatient and corrupt’. Yet despite all these attributes, most of which are on display in his ‘Episode 1’ introduction, Gene is a likable character who genuinely wants to do his job (albeit in a 9-to-5 style capacity, accomodating his ‘beer o’clock’ schedule). His corrupt behaviour is generally in service of the law, his use of threats and excessive force all a part of his brand of policing.

Gene’s views are shared by his loyal colleague, DS Ray Carling (Dean Andrews). A sexist and narrow-minded officer, Ray believes Sam’s presence is disruptive to the balance of the department. His dislike for Sam begins early in their association. In comparison, Ray’s partner, DC Chris Skelton (Marshall Lancaster), is intrigued by Sam’s modern way of thinking. ‘Episode 1’ shows the beginning of his and Sam’s protégée/mentor relationship, as Sam enlists Chris’s help in cross-referencing suspect’s names. Cheeky and clumsy, Chris often provides light-hearted relief to the more serious situations of the series, a role displayed several times in the pilot.

Sam’s potential love interest comes in the form of WPC Annie Cartwright (Liz White). Intelligent and amiable, Annie quickly develops a rapport with Sam, who shows her a respect lacking from her other colleagues. ‘Episode 1’ depicts the beginning of their relationship, as Sam tells Annie the truth of his predicament. She believes his accident has left him with psychological trauma.

The level of sexism in the 70s police force is one of several aspects of Life On Mars which attracted criticism upon the programs original broadcast. Detractors also commented on cruder methods of the force, including the absence of fingerprinting technology and forensic evidence. Yet it is these aspects that help create the contrast between Sam’s two worlds, the past and the present, and his feelings of being on another planet. They also play into the concept of Life On Mars – is Sam really in the past or is it all in his mind?

‘Episode 1’ launches this conundrum and establishes the general formula of the series, the overlap of past and present. Before his accident Sam was hunting for a murderer. Back in 1973 he finds himself investigating a case with eerie similarities to his present day one, and realises the murderer has ‘killed before’. Using his knowledge of the future crime Sam sets about tracking down the killer.

 At the same time, he begins experiencing strange phenomena which connects him with his life in the present. This includes a character on television discussing his medical condition and the sounds of medical apparatus. We also see the beginning of Sam and Gene’s love/hate relationship, as the two find that despite themselves, their methods complement each other. The beginning of their working relationship is wonderfully depicted in ‘Episode 1’s’ final act. When a witness gives conclusive evidence of the killer’s identity, Sam and Gene share a look of recognition before leaping over a desk blocking their exit from the room. This, and the slightly slow-motion, low angle shot gloriously illustrates the beginning of their partnership as the two react in sync with each. The shot is one of many excellently filmed sequences.

Our introduction to the alien world of 1973 is slightly after Sam’s own discovery. A close-up shot reveals his reaction first, the camera pulling out as he rises and the volume of David Bowie’s ‘Life On Mars’ increases. The camera pans around, following Sam as he surveys his surroundings, and reveals a very different world to the one before the accident.

As an introduction to Life On Mars, ‘Episode 1’ works brilliantly, establishing the situation and the character dynamics, and introducing the storytelling devices that will populate the series. The overlap of cases in the past and present provides the episode with a unique draw, beyond that of standard police procedurals, and crafts an interesting tale. Despite one plot thread involving a character called Neal, the high concept really works, fashioning a captivating and original story. Naturally, the ambiguous nature of Sam’s situation is the biggest draw of series and ‘Episode 1’doesn’t disappoint in this regard, providing an engaging story that will leave you formulating your own theories.

Missing 'Pilot' (S01E01)

Before sitting down to watch the premiere of ABC’s new drama, Missing, I knew two things about the series. One, it starred Ashley Judd. Two, the premise was similar to Taken, the 2008 action flick starring Liam Neeson. Basically, this premise is: a former CIA agent will do whatever it takes to find her missing son.

Now, after viewing the Pilot, I can add one more thing to this list – Sean Bean dies. Or rather, Sean Bean as Paul Winstone dies. That’s right – Eddard Stark is dead. Again. Despite an ambitious premise and the promise of ‘exotic locations and thrilling twists’, it’s this thing that is the most memorable occurrence of the first episode.

The Pilot begins with a less than enthralling opening sequence of the protagonist, Becca (Judd), jogging through a park. We learn Becca is at home in the US, while her husband Paul and young son Michael are in Vienna, information clumsily revealed via a quick conversation between Becca and two friends she passes on her way back to her car. Becca is talking to Michael on her mobile phone when Paul’s death occurs. Michael witnesses the explosion that apparently took his father’s life.

The explosion scene itself is handled well. Becca, now inside her car, turns the key in the ignition. The scene quickly flicks to the footage of Paul’s car exploding. Unfortunately, the subsequent reactions of Michael, and by extension, Becca verges on the melodramatic. The combination of the over-acting of its two stars and the ill-advised use of slow motion camera work distracts from what should have been an upsetting scene.

Jumping forward ten years, Missing introduces us to a now eighteen year old Michael. Becca’s own addition in years is apparently denoted by her short haircut. We learn Michael is leaving for Rome to take part in an architectural program, a move Becca is apprehensive about. Despite the writers’ efforts, it’s difficult to care for these characters’. We know the pair is close and that Michael is smart. Yet beyond this, there’s little to endear them to us.

Missing’s use of flashback sequences are problematic. Their faintly hazy appearance and unattractive colour palette appear out of place against the rest of the episode. This, and various other instances, gives the pilot the feeling of a telemovie, more suited to the Lifetime channel than to a network drama.

Michael and Becca’s secret code, which he develops especially for them to communicate via while he is away, is one such instance. His example is ‘I love you’. The code itself is lamely explained away, Michael telling Becca he can’t text those kind of messages in front of his friends.

While you could argue, not incorrectly, the code is evidence of the close bond between mother and son, as the Pilot progresses it seems the writers’ are really just setting it up for use in future episodes, foreshadowing it as the means for which Michael will communicate by. Even if, so far, it’s just to tell her ‘I love you’.

The similarities with ‘Taken’ begin after Michael stops contacting Becca. She learns he has been dropped from his program after missing several classes. Worried, she heads to Rome to track him down.  Her search begins with his lodgings in Rome. When an intruder enters the apartment we’re witness to the first of a series of underwhelming fight scenes.

Despite a rocky start (note: a coat hanger is never the right choice of weapon), Becca proves herself a more than capable adversary, killing the man after she fails to extract information from him. Aside from the obvious coat hanger blunder, the biggest problem with this fight scene is the actions of the intruder.  Defying the logic of basically every cop show ever written, the intruder fails to properly clear each room of the apartment. Words cannot sufficiently describe the stupidity of the intruder.

The CIA agents’ investigation provides us with information about Becca. It is through them we learn that Becca is ex-CIA. The skills and experience she garnered as an agent proves useful in her search for Michael. Becca’s agency file is small, which, according to the CIA team’s lead agent Dax Miller, means one thing, ‘the thinner the file the better the agent’.  Yet shouldn’t the other agents already know this? Small niggles like this and the incompetent intruder of the first fight sequence, occur throughout the Pilot.

A later gun fight, come car chase, sees Becca steal a scooter from a store, riding it through the shopfront to make her getaway. While another program, perhaps Chuck, could have made this escape work, here it’s just embarrassing, the victim of shoddy camera work and pacing issues.

The transitions between the scenes which take place in different countries are also problematic, particularly when they switch between Becca’s search for Michael and the CIA’s search for Becca. Rather than switch straightaway between the two, we’re first given a few shots of the city the agents are conducting their work in. They’re useless sequences that interfere with the momentum of the episode.

Missing has an interesting, if not entirely original, premise.  Now the central conspiracy has been set into motion it’s possible it could develop into a decent story. However, to do this it needs to overcome pacing and tonal issues, most notably its lack of suspense.  Improved direction of the fight scenes are a significant part of this.  Most importantly, Missing needs to inspire more than our indifference towards the characters’ of Becca and Michael.

Being Human S01E01: 'Flotsam and Jetsam'

A vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost share a flat in Bristol.

When this description, and variations thereof, started circulating in 2007 it offered British television viewers an enticing teaser of the story to come. Yet as ‘Flotsam and Jetsam’ (originally just titled ‘Episode 1’) would prove, this awesome, but ridiculous, logline was a very simplistic definition of a much more complex narrative.

Being Human is the story of three flat-mates, each with different supernatural statuses, striving to live normal lives while they face their very particular problems. As they try to live under the radar they also have to contend with the threat of external forces. This threat mainly comes in the form of vampire Herrick and his minions.

‘Flotsam and Jetsam’ begins with one of the protagonists, Annie, giving an enthralling introduction to herself and the other two main characters, Mitchell and George. As the episode progresses it effectively builds upon this introduction.

The vampire. Mitchell was turned into a vampire during World War One. He struggles to reign in his darker side, namely his lust for blood. This internal struggle is brilliantly depicted in the teaser of ‘Flotsam and Jetsam’. After Mitchell loses control, feeding upon his sexual partner, he’s shown sitting by her lifeless body. The guilt and pain he feels for killing her is illustrated by his expression and his physical reaction, as he strikes his chest and right leg with a closed fist. ‘Flotsam and Jetsam’ reveals the lead antagonist Herrick to be Mitchell’s sire, although this fact is never explicitly stated. The conversations between the two excellently and often implicitly convey information about Mitchell’s past.

While ‘Flotsam and Jetsam’ suggests the internal struggle (akin to an addiction) Mitchell will face as the season progresses, it also conveys the better side of his nature. He displays a high level of empathy towards Annie and is George’s greatest champion, encouraging him to accept his werewolf side. Their relationship is an oddity, the other vampires’ in ‘Flotsam and Jetsam’ clearly regarding werewolves as subordinate to their kind. Aiden Turner gives a charismatic performance as the conflicted Mitchell, excellently conveying the contradictions of his character.

The werewolf. George is Mitchell’s punctilious best friend who refuses to accept his werewolf side. Thanks to a series of unfortunate, and sometimes comical, circumstances in ‘Flotsam and Jetsam’ he is forced to transform inside the trio’s home. His reaction the following morning to the destruction he caused in wolf form is woeful, stating ‘what did it do’. This and several other exchanges throughout ‘Flotsam and Jetsam’ are indicative of George’s character arc for the season, as he struggles to come to terms with his supernatural identity.

For much of the first episode Annie’s presence in the Bristol house is a source of displeasure for George. From his perspective, she’s disruptive to the household and his attempts to live a normal, anonymous life. This belief is reconciled late in the episode, as the two characters’ bond over the injustice of their supernatural existences. While portrayer Russell Tovey’s comic timing is marvelously on display early in the episode, this powerful and beautifully acted scene showcases an adeptness for handling the dramatic, his performance heartbreaking and honest.

The ghost. After a freak accident in 2007 resulted in her death, Annie found herself tied to the house in Bristol (her place of death) thanks to some unknown, unfinished business. ‘Flotsam and Jetsam’ offers tiny clues as to the nature of this business, subtly foreshadowing the revelations to come in future episodes.

Annie’s lack of self-confidence in life is amplified in death. As the episode opens with the teaser she finds herself invisible to humans, leaving her feeling incredibly lonely and upset. This is beautifully revealed through Annie’s opening narration and her reaction as she tries to communicate with her family and friends at her wake. Throughout this first episode Lenora Crichlow’s performance heartrendingly captures Annie’s feelings of isolation and despair, yet the superb script also provides Annie with a more humorous side. In the comic role, Annie is awkward, witty, and sometimes gleeful. Her conversation with a pizza delivery boy during the opening of the first act captures all three of these aspects as she finds herself now visible to humans. As fellow supernaturals, George and Mitchell can already see her and her newfound visibility to most humans is largely a result of this. Tragically, Annie’s fiancé before her death, Owen, is not one of these humans.

While foremost a supernatural drama, Being Human also employs elements of comedy and horror. Toby Whithouse, Being Human’s creator and showrunner wonderfully blends these elements together in the first episode. As it stands, ‘Flotsam and Jetsam’ is a great indicator of the tone of the rest of the series. It boasts many fantastic lines of dialogue, from Annie’s superb opening narration –

‘Everyone dies… Uh, actually, can I start that again? Everyone deserves a death. I was going to die of old age. That was the plan. Mitchell was going to go down in a blaze of gunfire and glory…. Not cold and alone and shit scared. He didn’t think death would smile at him first. Death was always a certainty. The punch line we could all see coming. But not for Mitchell. For a vampire, death isn’t the end. But the beginning.’

To the priceless;

Annie: I just want to see him. I could sneak down. I could hide.
George: Are you crazy? He will see you and die of shock.
(Annie perks up) Annie. That is not an option.’

The combination of dialogue such as this, compelling and original stories and characters, and striking visuals, result in a unique take on the supernatural drama sub-genre that will leave you wanting more.