Tag Archive: TV review


On a scale (I mentioned something like this on a previous post) where 1= who they? and 10= I dress up and go to conventions, the TV light drama “Death in Paradise” registered a ‘2’ for the first series. Through the happenstance of channel hopping I alighted on series 2 and the rating rose to ‘6’ – “I try not to miss an episode”. After that, catch-up TV (BBC iPlayer) earned its keep. I couldn’t tell you the names of the actors and only vaguely know the characters’ names. However, the murder-mystery compressed into a single hour has the two elements that make it work for me.

Firstly, there is a crime, a puzzle, sufficiently baffling to keep one guessing with clues to make it possible to work it out before the denouement at the end. Secondly, there is enough wit and gentle humour to make us sympathetic to the main characters without the programme taking itself too seriously. The two uniformed policemen get away with being cousins to Laurel and Hardy as well as standing in the long tradition of TV cop shows.

I enjoy the show but can’t remember the name of the Ben Miller character who is the fish-out-of-water Detective Inspector transplanted to a tropical island from Blighty. His intelligence and naiveté formed the core of the show. So when he and “Camille” started to become close towards the end of series two, they either had to get married or one of them had to die.

Series 3 opens with Ben Miller’s character becoming the murder victim and a new bumbling detective enters the scene. I can’t remember the bloke’s name but I remember him from a long-running series of TV adverts for British Telecomm (BT). Promotion for him – but what did that do for “Death in Paradise”?

Well, it is the same but different. I still head for the iPlayer, though I prefered the other guy – but I understand why they had to change it.

“Death in Paradise” is what it says on the tin: a comedy-drama. Chocolate, not steak, but a decent chocolate at that.

Four stars or 7 out of ten.

So Zak and Hannah finally embrace and the clock starts the countdown to doomsday while the wicked angel, Richard, looks on with glee. There is the cliffhanger that may be resolved if a second series is made. I think we were expecting that.

There are some interesting touches that were worth a second look. Mrs Sheringham finally recognises whose side Carl is really on – and she does so without the benefit of the knowledge that the angels have. She is invited to go with him, has second thoughts, and his impatience at the station gives her pause for thought. He tries to appeal to her pride and her vanity and at first she is tempted until it dawns on her that her departure is part of Richard’s machinations. What struck me is the thought that what tempts us can seem so plausible to begin with; and that, like Mrs Sheringham, we don’t have the benefit of angel-knowledge to determine the true motives of the person testing us. Mostly, for us, will be ordinary folk we know who will test us rather than a dark angel in disguise.

Meanwhile, in the cathedral Zak and Richard slug it out and we are left with the impression that Zak has overcome the temptation to leave his heavenly calling and become a mortal human being in order to marry Hannah. Richard is able to test him because the truth is that it is what he, Zak, really wants.

What both of those incidents remind us is that what often tempts us the most, what we find hardest to resist, is not the obvious evil deed but the plausible argument. The devil will use the truth against us if it suits him. Whoever wrote this seems to have understood what is going on in the temptation of Jesus (see either Matthew chapter 4 or Luke chapter 4).

Meanwhile I have a serious theological objection to Eternal Law (much as I have enjoyed watching it). It seems to be based on the idea that to fall in love is to fall from grace. That is not so. Some of the things we may do in the name of love may be misguided or even be dis-graceful but love itself is not wrong. Of course, love is not just about what we feel but also about what we do and being attracted to someone may lead to love but it is not the same as love.

As for Zak and Hannah we are missing crucial information: why did Zak had to leave? Was he already married to someone else? But angels don’t marry in the way that humans do (see Mark chapter 12 verses 18 to 25) so that can’t be it. And Mr Mountjoy: we assume that is a pseudonym for God. But is that God who created and loved his creation, revealed through Jesus and His Spirit; or is that a god only concerned about Law and right judgements? Either there is more to Mr Mountjoy than we have been told so far or else he is not the God that I recognise from the New Testament.

I look forward to having some of these questions answered.

The Good Wife (series 3)

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! We were lent a DVD of a plasticine animation called “Gogs” (PG rated, parental guidance). I watched a few episodes but did not like it: too much wee and poo for my liking. “School-boy humour” my friend had told me, “suitable for 10 year-old boys.” Indeed. Not for a middle-aged fuddy-duddy like me. (No, I’m not old, not yet. However, I discovered I was middle-aged when we stayed at a Youth Hostel a few years ago and I started complaining about those other residents on holiday who went to bed after 10 pm.) But I digress.

So when we see Alicia walk into work at the beginning of episode one of the new series we can readily guess from her demeanour what kind of night she had had and with whom. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a “fuddy-duddy”, a romantic or an idealist, but that strand of the plot let me a bit disappointed. Still, the rest of the episode was cleverly crafted as ever. So I’ll still be watching but perhaps less hopefully than before (see previous post on this topic). Three stars, not four.

Eternal Law

ITV 1, Thursday 5th January, 1st of 6 episodes, 9 – 10 pm

I didn’t get round to doing a review of the Doctor Who Christmas special (BBC 1) nor of Endeavour (ITV 1), both of which I enjoyed and highly commend. However, I didn’t want to spend time at the computer when I was supposed to be having a break. And it seems a bit late now to make further comment on them.

Meanwhile, a few days ago I watched “Eternal Law”. This fantasy drama features angels who, in the guise of lawyers – barristers – come to help people caught up in some crime/tragedy. The reviewer in the Radio Times, Alison Graham, is clearly not impressed, describing it as “the most flimsy of fantasies” although she concedes that it does have “some charm”.

I am not inclined to be as disparaging as that. Granted the premise does seem a bit silly, but the performances were good and in the first episodes there are several threads to follow. What does it mean for Mr Mountjoy to “pull the plug on the whole thing”? What is the history, and indeed the future, for the angel Zak Gist and Hannah, the girl he is not supposed to fall in love with? How will newcomer angel Tom Greening adapt to the reality of the human world? What will become of Richard Pembroke the angel who is working for the prosecution?

The closing sequence alludes to the premise of the drama: that there are angels in disguise in all sorts of lowly occupations though we may not realise it. There are angels everywhere. That is an angle also worth exploring. However, angels being charmed by humans is not a new idea by any means.

I’m not sure quite where I stand with angels in reality. For many years I accepted the idea that angels were inventions or metaphors to explain unusual encounters and supernatural experiences. There are some angels mentioned in Scripture but their chief role is that of messenger from God. Meanwhile, in Christian history, angels seem to result from a compromise with Greek and Roman mythology. There is only one true God in Christianity, so where does that leave the pantheon of gods in Ancient Greek and Roman culture? Well, perhaps if we turn them into angels we won’t have to destroy all that art etc. I readily admit that I have oversimplified Church history but my point is that belief in the existence of angels is not an essential part of the gospel.

I worded that last sentence carefully: it is not saying that angels do not necessarily exist. I am suggesting that the picture we have in our mind when we read about Gabriel or Michael, for instance, says more about later ideas about angels than about what the writers of the New Testament understood them to be. For example, Gabriel is often pictured with wings but there is no suggestion of them in the Bible. They have more to do with the idea of a winged messenger, that is to say, the Roman god Mercury whose speed was designated by the symbol of wings on his feet. I expect that there are other things about angels which we have imported from elsewhere too. I am also saying that you do not have to believe in angels in order to be a Christian – any more than believing in angels automatically makes you a Christian.

Having said that, there have been stories/reports of help coming unexpectedly from someone “out of nowhere”. The helping hand, the well-timed word from a stranger whom we never meet or see again. I have no doubt that the vast majority of instances are where a human being has shown a stranger an act of kindness but have simply not wanted to attract attention to themselves. Once they have done their deed they immediately go on their way without leaving their name. Human angels abound. But I do wonder if there are others.

It will be interesting to see how “Eternal Law” works out. No stars yet – I’m suspending judgement for now.

Rev.

I have resisted till now the temptation to comment on this TV comedy in case it sounded like special pleading. However, credit where credit is due, this comedy is good. Mostly not ‘laugh out loud’ funny but clever, witty and may make you smile. The critics seem quietly impressed too.

From the Guardian, John Crace (11th Nov 2011) “Quite deliberately, with little fanfare, Rev. gets to the heart of the modern church by exposing it as both a source of much goodness and a complete irrelevance.” Nice for the writers of “Rev.” although somewhat damning with faint praise for the Church of England. Meanwhile Alison Graham has come round to liking the series (‘Radio Times’ week beginning 26th Nov 2011).

From a technical point of view it makes a change to see a fictional portrayal of the C of E that does not have me shouting at the TV: “that service is not authorised”, “you haven’t done the legal preliminaries”, “a green stole in Advent – you must be mad!” OK so it’s not really that important in a film or some such but other professionals have confessed the same impatience with inaccurate portrayals: real police compared to TV cop shows, real forensic scientists compared to etc … well you get the picture. It’s OK when you remember that it is fiction but people do often get their ideas from what they see on TV.

So far I have not noticed any major gaffes. For example, the prayer used in episode 3 was straight from the service of Compline and appropriate for a house blessing – and the archdeacon was quite right: leave exorcism to the experts. Similarly Rev. was right when he explained that the Holy Spirit is not a ghost, although he did start to get unstuck when he talked about “God’s energy” – He is more than an impersonal force – but I don’t expect systematic theology from a comedy.

Of course some of Rev. is somewhat far-fetched; it is fiction, after all. However, I find that any minor discomfort I may feel is because some of it can be quite close to home. Ministry can feel a bit like Rev. sometimes.

As for what rating I would give: technical accuracy 9 out of ten; story lines: 7 out of ten; laughter: 3 out of ten; feel good factor: 8 out of ten. Overall 7 out of ten or four stars.

The Good Wife, oh dear

I caught this programme on More 4 (one of the Channel 4 group of stations in the UK) when I was on sick leave for a while. What I imagined to be an innocuous daytime TV drama turned out to be something more interesting.

At first, the plot of each episode seemed unnecessarily convoluted with at least two, and sometimes four, storylines interwoven into a programme lasting less than an hour. The main character works in an American law firm and the stories are set in their offices, her home, the court and out and about in Chicago. We don’t follow her every move and there are other interesting characters whose stories are entwined with that of our eponymous heroine.

One reason for the complicated structure of each episode is because the writers appear to be trying show the whole person: lawyer, mother, wife, colleague, sister. It is that attempt that makes some episodes difficult to follow but also compelling. A typical episode will include a court case, the lawyers’ negotiations and investigations etc, until its resolution towards the end of the hour. There is usually a resolution in each episode so that viewers can get some sense of closure each week. But, of course, The Good Wife lives a life beyond the job she happens to do well, trying to do the best for the firm’s clients, as well as maintaining her integrity. The family crisis moves on from one episode to the next, some problems get solved, while there are new ones emerging and developing over several episodes. All-in-all, it is well written – and with some wit as well.

But I do have a couple of disappointments. Throughout the two series The Good Wife has had to deal with her husband’s adultery and his time in prison followed by his political campaign; then there are the moral dilemmas that are part and parcel of the legal system; her teenage children are, well, teenage children, and no member of her family is exactly perfect. In all this she has remained faithful and has struggled to do the right thing – and generally succeeded. The last episode of the most recent series ends by showing her checking into a hotel room with an old flame and we are left to draw our own conclusions. To be fair, the latest revelation about her husband and her friend would test anyone’s resolve; but I did feel let down that in the end she appears to have given in to the spirit of infidelity and self-centredness which (to be fair) pretty much surrounds her.

When I first caught this series, I watched simply to fill the day. Gradually this character caught my attention and I began to see the TV series as an extended exposition on the passage in Proverbs chapter thirty-one which begins “Who can find a good wife?” (verse 10). It seemed to me to be a modern application of ancient wisdom. I don’t imagine the woman portrayed in the book of Proverbs being found in a hotel room with a man she is not married to. That is the main reason that, if asked, I would only give this TV show a mark of 9 out of ten.

We don’t know what happened next, we have to guess, and in the meantime wait for the next series.

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