Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Returned, Jo, The Americans

A jewel buried amid the summer dross (re-runs of the abysmal Father Brown and wall-to-wall tennis) is Channel 4 import The Returned.  There has been some comment that C4 has ventured into the subtitled market; I'm simply amazed it has taken them so long.  Buy more, C4!  Show us the best there is and then model your own productions accordingly.

It's a zombie thriller, there is a serial killer on the loose, but The Returned is neither slasher nor horror.  It is a simple tale of well-to-do Alpine folk whose loved ones suddenly come back from the dead.  They're not dropping to bits or mouldering away.  They are unchanged and have no memory of the gap in their lives.  They walk, eat, and mostly talk.

The dilemma for each returnee and those they left behind is different and defined - quite a shock at the end of episode 1 when returned thirteen year-old Camille comes face-to-face with her grown-up twin - but my favourite so far is the relationship between isolated nurse Julia (Jean-Celine Sallett) and silent Victor the creepiest kid since Damien in The Omen, played by Swann Nambotin (above).  Tomorrow's third episode is 'Julia', so I am especially anticipatory.

The scenery, inevitably, is beautiful.  There is a subplot on the go about water levels falling in the local reservoir and the cinematography in these scenes alone is a masterclass of the art.  The direction by Fabrice Gobert is assured; he is fully committed to his characters and leaves space for emotion.  The pace is leisurely, any temptation towards wham-bang horror scrupulously avoided.  The writing (Gobert and others) is elliptical, flowing between past and present, moment of death and recovered life, in slow, sweeping waves.  Brilliant, essential viewing.

On the subject of Euro TV, Fox is currently showing Jo, a horrendous hodgepodge that is often hilarious yet strangely watchable.  It's in English but set in Paris.  Jo himself, the police inspector on the verge of a heart attack, is the brilliant Jean Reno, who does a splendid job (the man walks with the weight of the world on his horizontal shoulders) and, as we all know, speaks English with a near impenetrable French accent.  He is the only French actor in it, so everyone else has to try and match him.  Most of the actors are English but do their French accent in American, because they figure their worldwide audience is accustomed to Amer-English.  Sadly, the returning baddie with something over Jo is Sean Pertwee, who has calmed down a bit in recent episodes but on his first appearance treated us to the full 'Allo 'Allo with an inexplicable calypso vibe.  The mighty Orla Brady, who plays Jo's boss, is above such frivolity and just does it in Irish.  One last twist - the production is German.

Finally, in the just-about watchable stakes, we have The Americans on ITV, a bold choice to be fair for the purveyors of Saturday night crud, scheduled immediately after whatever festering sore has replaced Britain's Got Talent imported from Hungary

It stars Cardiff's own Matthew Rhys, but he of course has long been playing Americans in America.  In this FX/Dreamworks production, however, he plays a Russian playing an American.  It's the 1980s, Reagan has just become president, and Rhys and Keri Russell are Soviet sleepers posing as the all-American Jennings family.  It all gets a little more interesting when FBI agent Noah Emmerich moves in next door.

It's slick without being frivolous.  It can be dark and dangerous.  The relationship between the two principals - literally a forced marriage - is complicated and subtly developed.  I enjoyed the first two episodes but the third dropped off slightly.  Still, at this time of the TV year we must be grateful for small mercies.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Fall

I've been meaning to post about The Fall (BBC2) for the last month, but I've held back for fear of looking foolish after the next serpentine twist in the tale.  Well it ended last night and I never ever guessed that ending.  Lesson One in how to avoid the Broadchurch problem when you're commissioned to do a second series.  In short, the ending was startling, yet absolutely right.

The Fall featured two standout performances from Gillian Anderson (rapidly becoming the best actress on the BBC speed-dial) and Jamie Dornan as the psycho-killer we knew from the outset.  I haven't seen Dornan before - I just hope this brilliant performance doesn't see him permanently typecast as the stuff bad dreams are made on.  The rest of the cast were neither here nor there - which is not a criticism as their sole purpose was to be scenery for what was a psychological two-hander.  Of course, the two principles had to come in contact with one another, but the way it was done, via an unmonitored mobile, was a stroke of genius.

And the big breakthrough here was screenwriter/creator Alan Cubitt, who has previously written for the Beeb's Sherlock which is essentially Doctor Who without the sonic screwdriver (please, please, let Matt Smith take the screwdriver with him when he goes!).  Cubitt has also written for Prime Suspect and it shows - he has created a believable female top cop, everything Jane Tennyson wasn't - ice-cold, professional, cerebral, captivating.  Indeed, Cubitt has had a good go at reinventing the genre and I'm praying that in Season 2 he can continue to avoid all the tired old clich├ęs.

This wasn't just another attempt at a British version of The Killing.  It was every bit as good as The Killing, for refreshingly different reasons.