Disenchanted With Disenchantment

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Bean (Abbi Jacobson) – Princess Tiabeanie to her parents – is the violent, hard-drinking heir to the financially embarrassed fantasy realm of Dreamland. To seal an alliance, her father King Zøg (John DiMaggio) is determined to marry her off to the useless, somewhat Zap Brannigan-like Prince Merkimer (Matt Berry). Elfo (Nat Faxon) is an elf who’s sick to death of living a joy-filled, idyllic existence in a candy forest, and whose blood might be the key to the Elixir of Life. Luci (Eric Andre) is a very diminutive demon who was sent by a sinister duo of sorcerers (voiced by Lucy Montgomery and Berry’s Snuff Box partner Rich Fulcher) in order to act as a sort of anti-conscience for her in order to drag her down the path of evil. Together, they… don’t fight crime. But they do get up to a lot of mischief!

Like fellow Netflix exclusive Bojack Horseman, Matt Groening’s Disenchantment takes a while to hit high gear. The biggest laughs I got in the first seven episodes came from Matt Berry’s character – particularly his delivery of the line “Then let this be a warning to your other allies!” in a particularly ironic context. In general I found it perked up a little after the first couple of episodes, once it becomes clear that the series was going to move past the forced marriage angle rather than stick with it perpetually. (In fact, it’s quite good at shaking up its central premises every few episodes, rather than leaving things in a Simpsons-esque steady state in perpetuity – for instance, in episode 5 Bean gets disowned by the King due to shit she did in episode 4 and she has to go get a job as an apprentice for Noel Fielding’s excellent town executioner.)

Unlike Bojack, however, that high gear isn’t quite good enough to justify sitting through the early material – like I said, it does perk up, but it only perks up a little, and in the process of that perking it makes a number of additional blunders. I confess that I haven’t watched the whole series – I stopped watching after episode 7, and I note from episode guides that the plot develops rapidly from episode 8 to 10. However, I am left with little to no faith that Groening will keep up that pace in season 2, and there’s issues with the foundations of the series which I feel will remain an issue going forwards.

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Bryan Fuller’s Three-Course Meal (Not For Vegetarians)

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) is an expert in psychological profiling with a great record in serial killer investigations. This is largely because he has a unique gift for analysing cases by putting himself in the shoes of the killer themselves, because apparently we exist in a world where the idea of constructing a psychological profile and imagining “if I were this sort of person, what would I do and what would my motives be?” is somehow unusual rather than usual routine. This process is startlingly vivid – why, it’s a roleplaying exercise that puts Mazes & Monsters to shame! – and as a result it causes a great psychological strain on Graham, who has tried to get out of the field by settling into a career teaching at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.

However, Special Agent Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne), head of the Behavioural Science unit, wants Will active as a field investigator, and draws him into the investigation of a killer who becomes known to the media as the Minnesota Shrike. Will seems to be making progress, but is also becoming erratic, so Crawford decides to get him some support – a little aid from an expert psychiatrist who can both give Will the counselling and personal help he needs to digest all this grimness he’s exposed to, and who might also be able to pitch in with his own observations on the investigations from time to time. The man he chooses for the job is Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen)…

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Agent Cooper, You Are Far Away

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

The news of a third season of Twin Peaks, coming 25 years or so after we last visited it via the weird hybrid prequel-sequel movie Fire Walk With Me, felt both like a glorious opportunity and an enormous creative risk. Not only had plot elements from the original’s ending suggested that a comeback in 25 years might be possible, but also the spectre of network interference that was widely held to have scuppered the original was banished. Written solely by creative leads Mark Frost and David Lynch, and directed from start to end by David Lynch, the whole prospect gave the series creators far more control than they ever had (or could have dreamed of receiving) during the show’s original run. Early on in the production process there was a risk that Lynch would walk away due to not being given the budget to tell the story he wanted; Showtime buckled, gave him a free hand, and later took pride in promising viewers the “pure heroin David Lynch”. That in itself is testimony of how the original Twin Peaks changed the television landscape. The major question was whether the magic of the original could be recaptured.

I’m not going to get into a spoilerful analysis in this review (and will thank commenters for using spoiler tags liberally in the comments), but in short: no, to a large extent they didn’t recapture the old formula. They did not try to, and in retrospect they would have been fools to attempt it; in the past quarter of a century what was fresh and different about so much of Twin Peaks has become part of the standard toolkit of serial television. That “pure heroin David Lynch” line is apt, because more or less the only aspect of Twin Peaks that hasn’t been successfully imitated is the distinctive aesthetic vision and apt for utter weirdness that Lynch brings to the table. (Wild Palms largely sabotaged itself trying to go faux-Lynchian, and it generally hasn’t been a recipe for success since then either.)

It becomes apparent very early on in this third season (sometimes dubbed Twin Peaks: the Return) that Frost and Lynch know full well that their unique selling point lies in letting David be David; the big question was whether you could do that over 18 episodes of a TV series and not allow it to become frustrating and stale. Incredibly, they more or less manage it, and they do it by once again refusing to be bound by the accepted wisdom of how television works.

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It Is Happening… Again

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

I’ve got good news: that gum you like is going to come back in style. Twin Peaks is returning for a new season after a 25 year gap that seems strangely planned, and I’m tremendously excited about the whole thing. One thing which is particularly gratifying is that show masterminds David Lynch and Mark Frost have remembered that Twin Peaks was an early example of a multimedia event, with tie-in media offering non-essential but sometimes fascinating supplementary material to enrich the experience.

One of the nice things about these items is that they were diegetic to the series, presented as artifacts from its world – sometimes representing significant plot points. Murder victim Laura Palmer’s secret diary, for instance, was a significant clue – and was actually published for us to read. Thus, ahead of the new series, Mark Frost has put out The Secret History of Twin Peaks, representing one supporting character’s idiosyncratic take on the subject that provides a few tantalising hints of what might be coming up, but focuses more on contextualising some of what has come before.

So, how best to catch up with Twin Peaks? The first port of call should probably be the now ironically-named Entire Mystery blu-ray set of the show’s original run, which includes all the episodes of both seasons, extensive extras, the prequel-sequel movie Fire Walk With Me, and – to the great delight of fans – a fat stack of cut scenes from Fire Walk With Me, spliced together by Lynch into what almost qualifies as a supplemental movie.

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Absolutely Delirious

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Before the 1980s came along and creeping deregulation and the emergence of alternate means of receiving TV led to the vast array of trash we can receive today, in Britain television was a two-horse race. On one hand, you have the monolithic behemoth of the BBC, supported by the licence fee, and on the other hand you had ITV, a patchwork network of local commercial stations supported by adverts who had carved out regional turfs in order to avoid competing with each other as well as the Beeb and each of whom commissioned their own shows as well as importing them in from various sources.

The fragmentary nature of the ITV network was a double-edged sword. On the one hand it allowed for a slightly more diverse range of views and methods of working to take effect than would have been the case at the BBC. It is questionable, for instance, whether the magnificent prank that is the final episode of The Prisoner could have been made under the BBC’s auspices; equally ITV showed a knack for producing populist fare like The Avengers that the BBC at the time would have turned its nose up at.

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To Know Is To Die

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Although the Mel Gibson movie adaptation, which guts its nuances in order to fit into a Hollywood-appropriate running time, might be more prominent in some circles, I think in the long term it’s the original production of Edge of Darkness that will stand the test of time. Written by Troy Kennedy Martin – whose other credits included the first draft of The Italian Job, and directed by Martin Campbell (who in between directing this and the Mel Gibson version directed Goldeneye and the Daniel Craig version of Casino Royale), it’s an unmistakeable artifact of the 80s which, perhaps due to the fact that it pays only passing notice to the Cold War and deals with subject matters with half-lives greater than the lifespan of even the most secure nation states, still seems deeply relevant.

Ron Craven (Bob Peck) is an experienced Yorkshire police detective, who one dark and stormy night in the mid-1980s collects his adult daughter Emma (Joanne Whalley) from a meeting of a left-wing student organisation. As they’re dashing through the rain from the car to their front door, a man steps out of the darkness, screams Craven’s name, and raises a shotgun; Emma rushes forwards and takes both barrels to the torso and the the assassin flees into the night, leaving Emma dead at Craven’s feet.

Craven’s colleagues in the police think it’s a revenge killing – Ron worked in Special Branch in Northern Ireland during some of the most vicious parts of the Troubles, and therefore doesn’t want for enemies from that quarter. However, as Craven goes through the weirdly intrusive but sadly necessary chore of getting her possessions in order, he makes a string of alarming discoveries – a Geiger counter, a radiation dosimeter, and a vicious-looking automatic pistol. Craven knew that Emma was a member of Gaia, a radical environmentalist group, and he was aware that Gaia had planned some sort of action involving Northmoor, a privatised nuclear facility owned by International Irradiated Fuels.

Is it possible that, despite all Craven’s warnings, Emma and her cohorts actually went to Northmoor – and if so, does that mean she was the assassin’s target? Mysterious Whitehall duo Pendleton (Charles Kay) and Harcourt (Ian McNeice) certainly think so, and so does an American contact of theirs, the avuncular CIA agent Darius Jedburgh (Joe Don Baker). On top of that, American businessman Jerry Grogan (Kenneth Nelson), owner of the Fusion Corporation of Kansas, seems to have his own interest in the affair, particularly since he intends to purchase International Irradiated Fuels (and Northmoor with it). Just what is inside Northmoor that could be worth all this subterfuge? What vision does Grogan have for the future that requires him to own Northmoor? What extremes will Jedburgh go to in the pursuit of his own agenda? And is Craven merely imagining things in his grief, or is he really being guided in his investigation by the ghost of Emma?

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The Sorceror’s CEO

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

1986’s Edge of Darkness, a one-series-and-done thriller about murder, nuclear cover-ups, ecology, space colonisation, global extinction, and the role of ancient secret societies in all of the above, prompted a brief fad for dramas featuring a touch of magical realism or esoteric conspiracy here and there. They didn’t make a big deal of it at the time, mind, but if you look back the common threads become markedly more evident. The strangely compelling VHiStory blog, in which the author watches all the VHS tapes that have sat piled up in their garage for the past couple of decades, has made convincing arguments for a number of series as attempting to mimic the style and success of Edge of Darkness. Of these, both Jute City and Wipe Out have almost entirely vanished from view; neither has had an official DVD release, and whilst Jute City has appeared in bootleg form on YouTube footage of Wipe Out seems to be impossible to find. VHiStory makes a good case that Jute City seems to have followed the Edge of Darkness checklist a little too closely, whilst if Wipe Out‘s directly copied scenes from Edge of Darkness as VHiStory claims that might have created legal as well as commercial barriers to giving it another release.

Wipe Out was broadcast alongside The One Game, the third series VHiStory identifies as belonging to this “a bit like Edge of Darkness” microgenre. Unlike the others, it has enjoyed a DVD release, and for my money it stands on its two feet very well. Like Edge of Darkness, it’s full of ambiguous moments which can be read as suggesting a far more esoteric interpretation of events, but unlike Jute City or Wipe Out it benefits from a drastically more original story and an aesthetic style all of its own.

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