Game of Thrones – Season 2 – Review

The beginning of season two takes a few minutes for you to settle in. We are expected to just understand who the new faces in Westeros are. The displaced Robert Baratheon sees his true heir Stannis bang heads with brother Renly. It takes a while to accept Stannis as a main player due to the absence of screen time in season one but he meddles enough to grab your attention.

He’s aligned with the Red Lady aka Melisandre. The actress that plays her Carice van Houten replaces Denise van Outen as my favourite sexy woman with a Dutch sounding name. It’s amazing what dropping an H and spicing up a first name can do. In the show, what she can do is also magical but it’s dark. The sort that gay brother Renly falls foul of.

With Stannis on the march, he is a clear threat to the Lannisters’ hold on the throne. They are too busy playing games with themselves at King’s Landing. Cersei is trying her best to ignore Joffrey’s cruelty and control the Imp, Tyrion. His Achilles Heel is former prostitute Shae. He’s given some rest bite when Cersei targets the wrong hooker but the tension on this subject threatens to be there for some time.

As added protection, Tyrion as the King’s Hand promotes Bronn (lesser known member of Robson and Jerome) to commander of the watch, or in plain English: nails bodyguard that kills for cash. He’s a likable figure in a city of misfits. IE, The Hound prevents Sansa from getting raped and killed but comes across as a guy you wouldn’t wanna share a meal with.

The Lannisters’ main threat comes in the form of Robb Stark – King of the North. He is winning battles and moving toward King’s Landing, looking to avenge the death of his father. On the way, he breaks the promise to marry a daughter of Walder when his head is turned by Talisa Maegyr, the Florence Nightingale of Westeros.

His problems mount when Catelyn Stark releases The King Slayer Jaime Lannister (with Brienne The Warrior Woman as an escort) in exchange for her daughters. They are in a bad way. Sansa prays Joffery’s eye will turn elsewhere (it kinda does but she’s still a toy) and Arya is now independent and surviving on her wits alone. Her son, Bran, is doing the same.

Starks with power but divided in more ways than one.

Jon Snow, the bastard Stark, finds himself on a covert Night’s Watch mission. It goes wrong (had to, didn’t it) and he ends up siding (for real or not?) with the Wildlings. There, his former red-headed female prisoner happily informs him he knows nothing. And so begins a love affair, of sorts.

While Robb is advancing well on the Lannisters, he should have kept one eye on home. Exiled Theon Greyjoy returns to capture Winterfell. He was only trying to impress his biological father, whom was none too impressed.

Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen continues her journey with growing dragons and actual numbers on the ground. She spends the season in Qarth. I won’t ruin surprises but needless to say, not everyone has the best of intentions for the Mother of Dragons. Hers is one of the most engaging plots and we begin to see her ruthless side and her true power.

The season highlight is episode nine’s Blackwater (10/10). It contains the battle of the same name. The finale Valar Morghulis (9/10) sees Arya make an ally that could prove beneficial and she can thank for her freedom, and a final shot that makes you want more.

The addiction has taken hold…

8/10

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The Grand Tour: Launch Review

After a failed season of Top Gear, the self-proclaimed (kind of, subtly) “Holy Trinity” of Clarkson, May and Hammond faced an easier return. Expectation has been replaced with comforting relief. The Grand Tour was promoted as a different beast to their former show, well, it isn’t. But this isn’t a bad thing.

The show’s premise is the trio will tour the globe, hosting from a tent. The reality: Top Gear on steroids. Arriving to a Burning Man style concert in an American desert, it’s clear the show has jumped up a scale. Everything’s bigger, including the presenters’ waist lines. Inside the tent (picture the Top Gear studio but with a screen displaying the background in lieu of an aircraft hangar), Clarkson corrects Americans on the correct name of car parts and we’re away.

First segment, they take to the track. It reminds us this is a car show. And who doesn’t like a 950 horse power Ferrari? Nobody that is watching this show. Throw in a McLaren for good measure and it’s clear these big kids have been let loose on big kids’ toys. Albeit, electrical engine toys . . . in a drag race (note the Clarkson-esq pause).

That soon becomes a classic drive through the hills, which May can’t participate in because his Ferrari isn’t licensed for road use. Classic stitch-up, break for a pause, back to the studio. All very Top Gear, but better than Top Gear.

Cars are still put through their paces on a track for testing. An Ebola shaped track, no less. The BMW M2 is the debutant, paving the way for a new (old) regular feature to commence. What it does is give something scarily like a proper review of the car, making it almost feel like a classic style car show.

Of course, the Ebola Drome needs a timed lap. Enter The Stig. Well, almost. Enter The American (NASCAR’s Mike Skinner). Unlike The Stig, he is all chat when behind the wheel.

The Celebrity Brain Crash replaces Star in a Reasonably Priced Car but turns out to be a gag about stars dropping dead on the way to the show. Sadly, the trio can’t see the future, and the otherwise decent joke fails when a “dead” Carol Vorderman is spotted in the audience. It’s kind of distracting when she’s currently in the headlines for getting massages on the most viewed TV show in Britain I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.

Part two of Porsche vs McLaren vs Ferrari concludes with former F1 driver Jérôme d’Ambrosio performing timed laps after the lads couldn’t split the cars. The winning car doesn’t steal the show, that’s reserved for Clarkson, May and Hammond’s gag should Clarkson’s McLaren not be the fastest.

The verdict is The Grand Tour is an overriding success. Already it all feels familiar but somehow fresh. Those that mourned the loss of Top Gear, rejoice. Get an Amazon subscription and enjoy its rebirth.

10/10

 

 

 

 

Big Brother 2016 Review – Review

Before we head into Celebrity Big Brother, let’s look at the regular version. I say regular, that implies it is for regular people. People off the street, plucked from obscurity in the elusive chase for fame. Those days have long since passed. Now it is a junkyard for people on the fringes, of those on the fringes, of fleeting fame. Failed “reality” TV stars that try to make it on an original reality TV pioneer.

The problem is, Big Brother is now a modern reality TV show. It feels part scripted with “contestants” too aware of the medium. Craig from Season 1 had no idea what being in the house meant. The players of 2016 haven’t got a game plan to win, they have a career path that are attempting to manipulate with TV time.

Emma Willis is the face of this charade but her stewardship is equal to Davina’s from the original and light years ahead of Brian Dowling’s failed effort. Like Davina McCall, she appears to love the show and is absorbed in the characters. She adds warmth and familiarity. But as good as she is, if the show failed in between her live shows, nobody would enjoy her.

This year the feel of the entrants made it worth sticking around. Despite being an ensemble of people already used to media exposure, the balance of fame-seeking and genuine personalities shone through.

Welsh girl Lateysha Grace sums this up best. She came across as a slapper on MTV’s The Valleys. Acting the promiscuous tart she took offence to being labelled as in the house. And rightly so. Judging her on her views and actions in BBUK, she was down-to-earth and lovely.

So why knowingly play a role using her real name, for just five minutes of fame?

It undermines her true self.

Her only cracks came when she was tactically booted. As a single parent, she felt her reason for winning had greater validity. Lateysha still needs to learn one important lesson: Life owes you nothing.

Her axe wielder was eventual winner Jason. His presence, made the belief the whole thing could be rigged gain credibility. In an early “twist” there were two houses. The Others occupied a secret home alongside the main one. Jason spent days going on about an ex he couldn’t possibly do the Big Brother experience with. Guess what, she was part of The Others and soon joined the main cast.

A similar plot occurred with geezer Chelsea and kiss-and-tell Jayne.

This wasn’t real people showing the diversity of the British public. It was pure, pre-ordained, entertainment.

But it survived the cynicism – just.

Other standouts were Jackson. He had more voices than tattoos; came from the street (but was actually a model); fell in love with a posh bird he made out was a fairy tale dream. Being BBUK, she complied and the fairy tale came true.

That’s when Georgina wasn’t dictating to Jackson. But her harshness was a defensive mechanism. In a house of frauds, she displayed true emotions. I hope for her sake, Jackson proves himself to be genuine.

Proving BBUK can always provide a disillusioned, despicable human, we met Laura Carter. A woman who described herself as “an established actress” before entering the house. If that’s true, I’m Barry Norman.

She’ll be remembered for sleeping with Marco Pierre White’s immature, overactive son. Pretending she is vulnerable but savvy. Pretending she had a long lost love. Pretending she wasn’t selfish or self-centred when she embodies both those evils.

Andy was the “intelligent” addition. Proving that repeatedly saying something, doesn’t make it true. Pretty fun watching him not know how many make a baker’s dozen. In the kingdom of the blind…

He got engaged on the show, when during a task, his boyfriend entered the house for an overnight stay. While it provided a touching moment, it shows how far the show has fallen from the original social experiment. A founding rule was: No contact with the outside world.

Now they get news updates and Tweets read to them and hands in marriage.

Ryan had a love affair with fan-favourite and runner-up, Hughie. The former was a scouser playing for the cameras. The latter an intriguing Irishman, that came in, broke taboos and stereotypes, and allowed a heart of gold to shine through.

He was easy to disagree with, at times. But “real” people show all sides and all shades. It’s proof the makers of Big Brother can go back to basics and bring in the general public. Real is more explosive, more engaging.

Big Brother shouldn’t be a retraining school for failed reality stars. It should be relevant. Right now IMDb don’t even add new series to their page.

Go back to basics, BBUK or face extinction.

5/10

 

The Leftovers – Season 2 – Episode 10

So an extended episode attempts to wrap up what has been an enthralling season. Even with the extra minutes, nobody expects all the answers. But things look bleak for Jarden as a whole and in particular Kevin Garvey, whose handprint on the girls’ car has now been identified. Oh yeah, and he’s been a little bit dead for an episode.

In a move that is either deus ex machina or a necessary plot device (I’ll let you decide), Kevin suddenly remembers the missing girls faked their disappearance. How that sits with you could change the perception of an entire season.

Knowing this doesn’t stop John Murphy shooting him and leaving Kev for dead . . . again.

So we head back to that strange hotel (afterlife or not?) where he once again finds a way to escape back to reality.

Once back on familiar ground the Guilty Remnants have enacted their plan. The illusion of a Miracle Town has given way to all-out anarchy. Peace has been destroyed and this time the cult has a strong foothold over a town.

Kevin and John makes friends, as you do after a friendly shooting, and pull together.

The ending is emotional and it’s easy to feel that Kevin has been on a journey. It all just feels a little contrived.

7/10

Alan Partridge’s Scissored Isle – Review

Steve Coogan returned to our screens this week with the greatest comedy creation ever. That’s no small tag but Alan Partridge deserves it. The expectation to live up to the legacy is almost as hard as writing a spoiler free(ish) review. But here goes.

Within the opening seconds it is clear Coogan will deliver on expectation. The mockumentary format, last utilised in Welcome to the Places of My Life, sees a downtrodden Alan referring back to his breakdown in Mid Morning Matters.

He replays the sheep-shagging comment incident and backs it up with another slip-up, filmed on a mobile phone during a dinner speech. This was Partridge putting positive spin on a bad situation. His mission now: to discover how he had become so distant from the “chavs” he poked fun at.

Even in the prologue there are hidden gems. Cycling down the YouTube page of the dinner video, the viewer sees a series of angry comments, beneath one Lynn Benfield asks a naïve question. It’s a good touch and a nod to the past.

Before the halfway point there are enough one-liners to refresh the storage banks of Partridgeisms. This is great news for a man that uses around twenty a day. From the ladies on the tills at Tescos having the mental and physical dexterity of fighter pilots to “the 9/11 debacle,” it’s clear Coogan and his writing team is on top form.

He takes a trip to Manchester, to see how those on the rough side of life live. There, he mingles with street gangs and parties with them. The morning after he conducts an interview with the Manchester Mayor. Yes, he rehashes the dub over interview gag from Welcome to the Places of My Life but it isn’t through laziness. In jokes go hand-in-hand with the familiarity Partridge has earned over the years.

The scenes here give Alan the chance to be his cringe-worthy best. The more self-aware Coogan has become, the more self-deprecating he can be through the medium of Alan.

He also mingles with those that have, the well-to-do. Once again he manages to show how he can be awkward and fail to fit into any social scenario (but we’d all love to have him in ours). Watching a farmer, he reflects back to his time at Tesco with the already classic line: “What is a trolley man but a shepherd of the town?”

It shouldn’t be understated how good Scissored Isle is. It combines all the best elements of new Partridge and leaves the viewer hankering for more. There’ll never be a third season of I’m Alan Partridge but one-offs like this make it bearable. It manages to strike a balance for the old generation of fans and includes fresh takes on the character, some that could be seen as slap-stick.

A once divisive character now has enough to please everyone.

Coogan seems at ease in Alan’s skin now. There’s no shame in playing the role and the comfort shows in the performance. Hopefully it means many more years of an ever-changing but always familiar Partridge on our screens, both big and small.

9/10