Monday, 28 February 2011

The Killing

It seems as if BBC 4's Danish crime-thriller 'The Killing' is about to transition from its current cult-viewing status to attracting a more mainstream following.

After catching up with the first six episodes on iplayer, I too spent the following two Saturday evenings in my current 'unemployable & never-leave-the-house' mode watching the show on a proper television screen, where it really shines.

But it's also hard to know what makes the programme so watchable. Having indulged in The Wire and subsequently developed a critical and cruelly-cynical eye for any sub-standard television, The Killing shouldn't necessarily make the grade. It's solidly produced and displays impressive acting from those involved, but you can't shake the feeling that if it were an English production it would only be middle-of-the-road grade material.

The language barrier gives it a strange exoticism, but there is something darker at the heart of the show that gives it a real appeal. It's dark both literally (you'll be scrabbling for the contrast settings on your set within the first ten minutes) and spiritually. There seems to be little hope for the parents of the murdered teenage girl at the centre of the plot, and little evidence for detectives Sarah Lund and Jan Meyer to work on bringing the case to a successful close.

The plot is also completely unpredictable, which both gives the viewer no chance to work out in advance what will happen next (cheating, but in an entertaining way) and a sense of being lost within some bigger picture. Indeed as the show goes on, more and more significant political figures are somehow dragged into the vortex that the murder case becomes.

The combination of perpetual darkness, chilling musical minimalism and frustration and tension involves the viewer like few other shows I've had the pleasure of watching. I had to resort to watching the latest two episodes again on the internet this weekend after being elsewhere on Saturday night. It says plenty for the programme that leaving the house for a night out when The Killing is on is a tricky decision to make.

If you haven't yet had the privilege, catch up online and treat yourself to a rare Saturday night in this weekend. There's every chance you'll be hooked.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Seven not out

Peep Show reached the end of its seventh season over the festive period, and it's just about holding together as one of Britain's strongest comedies.

What is strange about the show is that it can have reached such a landmark whilst still attracting what's just about fair to call a cult following. Talk to enough people about their favourite television shows and you can often share plenty of common ground. But when Peep Show enters the conversation, half will fall silent, look to the floor and mutter: 'Yeah, never really got into that.'

It's partly the two characters involved, intraverted nerdish-type who's reasonably nice but has the unnerving habit of picking fights with boilers, or deluded musician wannabe who's slipping slowly into the unsatisfying mid-life crisis with nothing to show for it.

Unless you can identify with certain attitudes, opinions and traits of either Mark or Jeremy (not a problem here- delusion, vaguely sociopathic etc), maybe there's a lot less to entertain the bored channel-hopper.

It has definitely become more 'mainstream'. The opening series was darker, more oppressive and moodier. But the development curve hasn't damaged the quality of the writing, and no matter how near it has come to 'jumping the shark' - season four's episode with Jeremy eating a dog perhaps came perilously close - I have hung with it with unrelenting loyalty.

It does need to stay away from the more slapstick elements though. The concluding New Year's episode in the latest series would have benefited from the awkward separation of Mark and Jeremy left hanging in the air as the finale, rather than Super Hans returning to beat Jeremy in revenge for an earlier transgression. And Mark feeding Christmas Dinner into a paper shredder in the penultimate episode was equally extreme.

But to have reached this point where it feels as though the show still has plenty more to offer and the characters are so well established in the viewer's psyche is huge credit to writers Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain. I'm still in for the long haul.

Good cop, bad cop
As a recent graduate I've spent plenty of time over the last several years watching mindless police-based reality shows at strange hours of the day. Road Wars, Police Interceptors, Motorway Cops- you know the sort. So I was pleased to see that my opinion of the utter hypocrisy the shows unintentionally promote was intact on the latest edition of 'Motorway Cops' on BBC One.

After spotting an oblivious citizen driving whilst talking on a mobile on the opposite side of the road, traffic officer Adam Toal waxed lyrical with a straight face about the dangers of such an action, before performing a speedy U-turn across the street, accelerating harshly and nearly clipping a parked car, and screeching off at high speeds through a residential area in order to catch up with her.

Sadly, the BBC's shows generally fall short of the high standards of Channel 5's Police Interceptors, which features various Essex policeman verbally masturbating over their new Mitsubishi Evo squad car, and driving it like the boy racers they spend their days chasing for the benefit of my viewing pleasure.