Trapped: season 2


Earlier this year, under my Saturday ScandiCrime header, I reviewed the ten-part Icelandic series given the name, Trapped for the UK and Eire.

They say you should never quote yourself, but this (among other things) was what I had to say about the final episode:-

“I’d watch a Trapped 2 in a heartbeat, but though the Chinese port sale is still alive, and Kolbrun is still utterly determined to drive that through, and take all the money from it, I cannot see that Trapped 1 has left enough pieces unbroken, or at any rate of sufficient size, on which to stand another murder/mystery. I would be delighted to be proven lacking in sufficient imagination.”

So let the delight begin. Filming has begun on series 2, featuring the same main cast (yay!) in another ten-part story facing “an even more complex and challenging murder case”.

The drawback is that this is not expected to appear on our screens until late-2018, so that’s the next horizon to be crossed (I have for a long time been fixed on 2017 for the unexpected third season of Twin Peaks).

It’s good to have things to look forward to. When’s confirmation of The Bridge 4 coming out?

The Fall Season 2016: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4


And the next one out of the blocks is Agent’s of S.H.I.E.L.D. for it’s fourth and, probably, last season. And it’s a brand-new dynamic, at least to begin with, because the old gang’s broken up, and nobody gets to see each other any more, and nobody quite trusts each other any more, although that’s probably got a lot to do with the new Director, who’s being made out to be something of an artificial mystery, because nobody refers to him as anything other than The Director. I think we can safely say it’s not Samuel L. Jackson.

Anyway, The Director has split the gang up, made them into Heads of things, not because they’re experts but because they had to be split up. Coulson and Mac are in the field, flying around on the Zephyr for six weeks and more at a time. Daisy’s gone rogue, as we knew from last season’s teaser. She’s publicly known as Quake, she’s knocking over banks, warmongers, financiers, The Director’s not only taken Coulson and Mac off the case, they’re positively forbidden to pursue her and the military have been ordered to shoot to kill.

May is head of a Strike Force, Fitz and Simmons have been split up professionally, he still in the Lab and she as Assistant to The Director, which means nobody trusts her before she angrily turns on a rather bitchy May and points out that she’s gone for such power in order to have some control over the gang of them and keep all their balls in the air.

Brett Dalton’s moved on, of course, having run out of roles to be reincarnated in, and his place in the cast is taken by none other than John Hannah, continuing as Dr Radcliffe, pardoned on condition he does no experimental or unapproved work. Naturally, he’s followed that stricture to the letter, except for creating a beautiful naked woman artificial being (a S.H.I.E.L.D. Life Model Decoy, from the comics, oh so very long ago) to disturb Fitz whilst he’s watching Aberdeen versus Inverness Caley Thistle in the Cup Final. Unfortunately for future harmonious relationships, Fitz decides they have to keep schtum, and that includes Simmons. For her own good, naturally.

So everyone’s running around in their own circles to begin with, which makes the episode a bit disjointed. But the early evidence seems to be that we’re going for a more superhero-tinged approach this year, with the introduction of the Ghost Rider, albeit one who drives a car, not a bicycle: the FX on his transformation into a burning skull are bloody good.

And a weapon has been unleashed, something released from a box, something that affects people, turns them paranoid and mad and lethal, makes their eye-sockets go crazy dark and cracked. It looks like a ghost, a woman ghost. And it’s in Coulson…

So here we go. Obviously, we need to get the comradeship back, and pretty damned soon because, refreshment or not, this split up bunch aren’t going to work that well at loggerheads. We need to see The Director and give him a name. Oh, and Robbie, the Ghost Rider, has this little tic or schtick about snapping his key ring round into his hand, which is already bloody irritating.

But that, I suppose, we’re stuck with.

What it’s like to be a Red: The view from 20 September 2016


Rather weird.

That’s what it’s like to be a Red at this particular point in time, or at least this Red. As you know, I am one of those Reds who is a conscientious objector to Jose Mourinho as Manchester United manager: having loathed him virulently for several years, the thought of turning round and backing him as my team’s manager was one hypocrisy too far.

So, for the first time in nearly forty years, there has been something of a barrier between me and my club.

Though I’ve not avoided the news about United through the summer, I haven’t gone hunting for it with the same avidity and I made no effort to watch any of the pre-season tour matches this year either. In fact, for the first time since I discovered a reliable live stream, I have not watched any of United’s games on TV, restricting myself to YouTube highlights of the goals afterwards.

There is an exception to that: I did watch the Derby, the weekend before last. If I can’t muster enthusiasm for supporting the Reds against that lot, then I have no business calling myself a Red at all. And I did yell with excitement in the old manner at one point, when Marcus Rashford got the ball in the net in the second half and, for a moment, it looked as if we had equalised, until Ibrahimovic turned out to be offside.

That game apart, I have consciously distanced myself and watched what has been going on.

Everybody assumed Mourinho woud be the magic man, that he would immediately restore the United of the Fergie era, win following win following win, and with the best brand of exciting football, the very DNA of Old Trafford. And United started with four consecutive wins, although, with the exception of the Community Shield, which was a friendly anyway, they weren’t exactly against the best of teams, and we needed young Marcus in the last minute to overturn Hull.

And now there’s been three defeats in three games, in eight days, the first time that’s happened to Mourinho since the early days at Porto, back in 2002. And everyone’s remembering what happened at Chelsea, this time last year, when he took the reigning League Champions nose-diving towards the relegation zone, and secured from them their first Europe-free season in donkey’s years.

This puts me in a very awkward position. On the one hand, as a long-term despiser of Mourinho, I can’t help but finding it amusing that he’s already in difficulties, but on the other hand, hey, this is my team, and I do not like or want to see them losing (this may have been the way of things over the last three seasons but that doesn’t mean I’ve gotten used to it).

United success means a satisfactory situation, but means Mourinho stays on and takes credit for it. United failure hastens the day I can commit fully to my club of clubs, but also means that when this comes we’ll be even deeper into Crisis than we already are, and taken even longer to get back where we want to be. Which makes the current state of affairs both funny and decidedly not funny.

What’s also of interest is that sudden, almost universal wave of criticism for Wayne Rooney, with everybody under the sun except Jose Mourinho and Sam Allardyce coming to an accord that he’s over the hill. It’s amusing for me given that for years I have been watching the sheer volume of mistakes he makes each match without the least word of criticism, and overnight everyone now seems to see what I see and have seen over and over.

Rooney’s only 31, and should be a long way yet from eclipse, but on the other hand I watched him make his debut for United (and score a hat trick) in 2004, and he’d been playing for Everton’s first team for two years by then. Rooney started young, and as often happens, it looks like he’s ending young.

Oh yes, he still turns on things other people can’t do. Let us not forget that he was responsible for our equaliser in the Cup Final, when he forced his way diagonally left to right, holding off all challenges, until putting over the cross from which Mata scored.

And he’s kept on scoring, until he is now only three behind Sir Bobby as United’s highest ever scorer, but does he actually look now as if he’ll ever score again for United (especially as he won’t get the cheap ones from the penalty spot since Ibra’s claimed those).

But he can’t dribble past people, he can’t direct an accurate pass over ten yards (but if you want him to bang a forty yard pass into Tony Valencia’s path on the right wing, that’s a different kettle of fish). And people are starting to notice that, or maybe it’s just that they’re finally commenting on that. Last season, away to Everton, in one five minute spell in the first half, I say Rooney, in space, under no pressure, misplaced four consecutive passes to team-mates in space, putting each ball directly to an opponent. And the commentators remained completely silent.

So, that’s what it’s like to be a Red at this moment, or at least this Red.

 

Deep Space Nine: s03 e08 – Meridian


True Love... this week
True Love… this week

Though I initially found myself enjoying this latest episode of DS9, long before the end I had come to find it tiresome, and well below the standards of season 3 thus far.

For this episode, the team reverted to the old trick of parallel plots, completely unrelated to each other, which immediately suggests that neither is really strong enough to stand up on their own. Unfortunately, the two tales were so far apart in tone, approach and physical space, they were unable to lean on each other. It was a bit like that old sketch on the BBC Radio comedy Hallo Cheeky, where the gag was that due to timing running late, three completely disparate programmes would be broadcast simultaneously, the mike cutting between the three performers to create wonderfully idiotic double entendres.

This one wasn’t funny, though.

The sub-plot certainly wasn’t, although that was supposed to be the comic story, and was led-off in the open. Tiron (the first of multiple appearances in differing roles by Jeffrey Cmbs), an alien ‘colleague’ of Quark’s, fancies himself a great deal, but he also fancies Major Kira more than somewhat, so she resorts to pretending Odo is her lover to throw him off. Thwarted, Tiron – a study in self-regarding petulance from his alien make-up onwards – demands a custom holosuite programme from Quark, starring the Major.

Much hilarity (hem-hem) ensues as Quark tries to get a holo-profile of our favourite redhead, but by the time he succeeds, Odo and Kira know enough of what’s going on to blow the deal by tinkering with the programme to give Tiron the legs of the Major (at least, I hope that was Nana Visitor) but the head of… Quark. Boom boom.

In the main, and serio-tragic part of the story, the rest of the cast is in the Defiant, exploring the Gamma Quadrant when a planet, Meridian, literally pops into existence before their very eyes. Meridian alternates between dimensions, one the corporeal universe of the Gamma Quadrant, the other a non-corporeal dimension where the diminished population, even the planet, exists as purely consciousness.

Unfortunately, something is out of balance. Meridian has been incorporeal for sixty years, but its physical state will last only twelve days before it shifts back for another sixty years. Needless to say, if you’ve only got a body for twelve days every half century, it makes things like conception, pregnancy and birth a bit dodgy, which is why the Meridianites are down to only 30, and not much of a gene pool.

One of those thirty is Teril, a widower. Teril is strong, handsome, virile and played by a young Brett Cullen, with whom I’m much more familiar for his recurring role as Nathan in Person of Interest. Teril quite clearly fancies the knickers off Jardzia, and she’s not entirely disinterested in his underthings either. But, wait, this is not merely lust at first sight (how could it be in a prime-time series from 1994?), it’s real, genuine, actual love.

Teril decides to leave to be with Jardzia, but his conscience troubles him over his people, his home, his friends. So she decides to stay with him, take leave of absence from Starfleet for sixty years. It’s a tremendous, loving sacrifice, but the problem with this story, with all such stories, is that this is part of an ongoing, prime-time TV series and it’s impossible to vest a moment’s emotion in the course of the story, because you know she’s never going to leave with him, and what’s more, this love-of-eight-lifetimes will be forgotten by as early as the next episode.

The dramatic tension is negligible.

In the end, Meridian starts to shift into phase but Jardzia doesn’t. Indeed, she’s acting like an anchor, holding the planet back and threatening to destroy it until she’s teleported out. End of story, except for Jardzia’s heartbreak. I just need time, she tells Sisko, adding sotto voce ‘sixty years’, which would be moving if it even got as much as sixty seconds before the credit roles.

This half of the story was well-made and well-formed and could have been good if it had been possible to develop any kind of investment in the possibility of Dax going with Teril. Since that was zilch, so too was the episode. There’s always next week.

 

Deep Space Nine: s03 e07 – Civil Defence


Portrait of a smug Cardassian
Portrait of a smug Cardassian

There was nothing in the least bit significant about this week’s episode of DS9, either in terms of the larger background of the Dominion threat, any sociological or political attitude, or even the standalone storyline itself. It was purely and simply a ‘bottle episode’, confined to the station itself, with no guests beyond two recurring Cardassians, Gul Dukat and Garak. Which made it an entertaining, unpretentious little delight.

The story began with Chief O’Brien and Jake Sisko working in one of the lower level processing units, attempting to reclaim it, and in the meantime wiping all the now-redundant Cardassian programmes from its computer. One programme refused to be deleted: in fact, the attempt to remove it triggered it, and it was a doozy.

Because this programme was an automated defence programme, complete with pre-recorded messages from the then-Commander, Gul Dukat, warning the ‘Bajoran workers’ who have attempted to seize control that their revolt will not be allowed to succeed.

And it escalated from there. The Chief, Jake and Sisko himself found themselves trapped down there, and having to bust out to avoid a fatal dose of neurosene gas, which triggers further fail-safes affecting the Bridge, and trapping Major Kira, Jardzia and Doctor Bashir behind similar force-fields.

Not to mention trapping Odo in his office, along with his suspicious and most unwelcome visitor, Quark.

That gave us three groups operating in isolation from one another, with the tension ratchetting up every few minutes as yet another attempt to beat the system being interpreted as further success by the mythical Bajoran workers (the Major must have been so proud) requiring yet more escalated response. All the way up initiating the self-destruct of DS9 itself.

No-one’s going anywhere, no-one’s getting anywhere, and the odds are getting slimmer all the time. Garak’s personal codes let him wander through the force-fields at will, but his attempts to beat a system keyed to Dukat’s personal codes and no other’s only accelerate the process.

Then, look what happens! A cocksure Gul Dukat teleports onto a phaser-strewn Bridge in response to a distress signal from himself, near to laughing his head off with delight at just how fucked up everything is for the Federation (and Garak). Sure, he’ll use his codes to shut everything down, in return for a minor concession or two, like official permission to instal a garrison of 2,000 Cardassian troops on board.

Of course, that’s an utter no-no. Dukat thinks he has the upper hand even though Kira is fully-prepared to let everyone on board be killed by the Defence programme rather than let the Cardassians back. He’ll just teleport back to his ship, put his feet up, wait for her to change her mind when there’s, say, five minutes to go. Except that, in a gloriously and hilariously ingenious twist, the programme interprets the attempted teleportation as an act of inglorious cowardice by Station Commander Dukat, trying to flee his post, and blocks not only the teleport but all Dukat’s codes, rendering him as helpless – and doomed – as everyone else.

In the end, it’s Sisko who saves the day (you mean, you really thought the station would buy it? There’s another nineteen episodes left in this series alone) restoring everything to normal, after forty-five minutes of harmless, inconsequential fun.

It’s a text book example on how to bring in an entertaining episode of a series at absolutely minimal cost, which is what ‘bottle episodes’ are about. A splendid time was had by all. I enjoyed it.

The Fall Season 2016: The Big Bang Theory season 10


Ahhhhh!

With The Big Bang Theory returning for its tenth season, and the last of its three-season contract, there was a debate yesterday over whether it would – or should – be renewed for an eleventh year that would place it alongside Friends and Frasier for longevity.

As you’d imagine, it was another excuse for those who don’t like the show, who’ve never liked the show or used to like it but think it’s gone off the boil to demand that it not be renewed, or that time machines be employed to ensure it never got broadcast at all.

One advantage of age, and losing your insecurity, is the wonderful ability to ignore these people completely. You don’t like, you don’t watch it. If you choose to watch it and don’t like it, it’s you, not me, who is the idiot. There are hundreds of other programmes to choose from, hundreds of which I don’t like: tell you what, I won’t interfere with your enjoyment of what you like.

Of course the show isn’t as good as it used to be, but it’s still plenty funny for me and the opening episode of season 10 gave me plenty of laughs. Much of it sprung from the unresolved ‘cliffhanger’ that rather limply ended season 9, on the eve of Leonard and Penny’s ceremonial ‘re-marriage’: did Leonard’s dad sleep with Sheldon’s mom?

The answer was no, but not before some prolonged wicked humour from Sheldon, waspish about coitus, genitals and defilement, and Beverley, Leonard’s mom, consumed with mutual loathing for her ex-husband.

And there was Penny’s family to meet for the first time: we’ve long been familiar with Keith Carradine as her father, Wyatt, but now we got to see her mother (Katy Segal) and her brother Randall (Jack McBrayer), newly released from prison at last and far more wiling to talk about his past as a manufacturer of illegal drugs than was his mother. They were brilliant.

And we still didn’t get to find out Penny’s surname!

The subplot with Howard and Raj was well below the rest of the episode and could have done with being postponed until next week. Frankly, I’d forgotten completely that Howard had apparently created perpetual motion and that the Air Force had immediately contacted him. That was built up, with more paranoia, which will hopefully work better when it has room to breathe in its own right.

I still enjoyed it, and I’m looking forward to twenty-three more episodes between now and next May. The Fall Season starts here.

 

A Very Famous Cricket Match


Humour, with some glorious exceptions, tends to be of its time, prose humour more so than film or television. The best exception to this rule is the life and works of P.G. Wodehouse, but for longevity, A.G. Macdonell’s England, Their England runs the old bean close.

The book, a comedy classic, was first published in 1933 and has remained in print ever since It’s a gently comic, affectionate, almost lovingly satirical portrait of England in the Twenties, adjusting to life after the Great War, from the point of view of that closest of outsiders, a Scot.

Macdonell’s book is semi-autobiographical in spirit if not actuality – the book is accepted as being a roman a clef whose multifarious characters can be traced back to real-life figures. He translates himself into Donald Cameron, a somewhat shy and naive young Scot, still feeling some of the after-effects of shell-shock, who is commissioned by a Welsh publisher to write a book about the English.

Overall, the book is a joy, which is obvious from its survival to this day whilst the rest of Macdonell’s output is the stuff of specialists, but it is especially worshiped by cricket enthusiasts for the classic chapter involving a cricket match between a Sussex village side and a team of literary folk: poets, novelists, publishers, and a professor of ballistics in which the decisive catch takes four pages to descend, without a wasted word!

In 1973, the book – or rather the cricket match chapter – was adapted for the BBC by Peter Draper as part of a six-part series of 50 minute programmes under the title Sporting Scenes. No information seems to have survived as to the other five episodes, and I have no recollection of even being aware of the series at the time.

But a decade after, I arrived at work, checked the paper, and mention of this episode being repeated in a 2.00pm slot. I phoned home to have it videoed. Fortunately, a new tape was in the machine so this went on at the start, because I loved it and have kept it ever since. It inspired me to go out and buy the book, and I have kept it and re-read it every few years with the same easy enjoyment.

In recent years, I have had a problem in that I still have a small number of videos, with various recordings that I want to keep, but no video-player on which to play them, nor television to hook it up to. However, I have finally stirred my stumps (that’s the Swallows and Amazons film still having an effect on me) and I have had two such items converted to DVD. And this morning, I watched The Cricket Match again, for the first time in over a decade.

And it’s still gentle, lovely and very funny.

Only a couple of the names involved are familiar. Fulton MacKay, who, only the same year, would achieve national recognition as Chief Warder MacKay in Porridge provides voiceover as the voice of A G Macdonell, whilst the minor part of the characbanc driver Perkins – a lovely, low-key lugubrious role – is played by Paul Shane, who would achieve fame on David Croft and Jimmy Perry’s Hi-de-Hi. Brian Pettifer, who would go on to play supporting roles to the present day, has a non-speaking role as a sixteen year old batsman surrounded by a ring of faces.

Draper’s adaptation adopts the structure of the book, starting (in black and white) in the trenches with Donald Cameron’s meeting with his future publisher, whilst Macdonell’s voiceover (taken in every instance directly from the book) assures us that this is not a war story.

From there, it cuts to London (and a gentle, washed out, friendly colour) to Cameron’s introduction to poet and literary editor Bill Hodge, and to his acceptance into London’s literary circles on the grounds that he can play cricket and is available on Saturday for a game against a Sussex village!

The first part of the story sets the style and tempo. The nervous, almost detached Cameron turns up at the appointed place at 10.15am, complete with cable enjoining him not to be late. He is alone. It is nearly half an hour before the first team-mate arrives, and promptly treats Cameron as baggage-master whilst he goes to have a shave. Everybody leaves their bags with Cameron, especially after it is discovered that the pubs in this part of London open at 11.00, at which point there is a general, indeed rapid exodus.

By the time Hodge arrives, it’s 11.30, the time the match should start, fifty miles away. Even his sense of urgency doesn’t change everything, especially when the charabanc journey suffers multiple halts – outside pubs, coincidentally. It’s well after two when the idyllic Sussex village, with its idyllic cricket pitch, hoves into sight.

The visitors’ first stop is the village pub, the Barley Mow. The already late start of the match is delayed further, not merely by drinks, but by the fact that Hodge’s side has only nine men. But not for long. Two locals take unfavourably to fielding for both sides and batting for neither and go home, just as Hoge’s ranks shoot up to thirteen. There is an eventual compromise on 12-a-side.

And the game rolls out exactly as described in the book. You might say that Peter Draper has had an easy job as adapter, given that there isn’t a line of dialogue, nor voiceover, that doesn’t directly come from England, Their England, but that confirms all the more the credit he deserves for recognising the quality of the England, and the humility he possesses in not presuming he can add something of equal and greater value.

The beauty of the game is that it is played out for real, on a real village pitch that has been chosen to match the specifications of Macdonell’s story. Indeed, given that the book is recognised as an amused roman a clef (Hodge’s team is based on an amateur club that exists to this day), it would not surprise me to learn that the pitch was based on a real village, and that the programme was filmed on the actual pitch intended by Macdonell. If this is so, what wonderful authenticity!

I’m not going to go over the incidents of the game, but to the cricket lover each and every one is a gem, starting with the opening ball, delivered by the Village blacksmith at great speed off a run-up that starts so far down a slanting slope that the batsman is only aware the bowler is running up when he breasts the hill about three paces from the popping crease!

Not all the cast can be actual competent cricketers, and they’d be out of character if they were, but the programme indulges in very little camera trickery – tight focus, clever angles – to disguise competence among the ranks. And John Moffat, who plays the impeccably neat, gentle and finicky boy-novelist, Bobby Southcott, was quite clearly a genuine batsman!

Though the series was called Sporting Scenes and is directly about the famous match, Draper sensibly broke up the story at the tea interval, by having a house party arrive to greet the team. This imported some splendid lines and characters from another chapter of the novel, to no harm whatsoever, rounding out the episode and extending its picture of the world and its times.

The literary men having batted first, it is the village team who have to chase an eminently gettable 69 runs: eminently gettable that is before the redoubtable Major Hawker reduces them to 10 for six wickets, and one stump broke. Unfortunately, a break in play allows the Major into the back door of the Barley Mow and, a quart and a half later, his bowling has lost something of its ferocity.

The Village eventually level the score at 69 for 8, but a splendid burst of improbable but entirely believable wickets means that it all rests on the blacksmith, laid up with a severely sprained ankle and batting with the captain as a runner, hitting the ball directly into the air.

The majesty of the shot, the comprehensive slapstick of the runners and the fielders, takes four pages in the book. The programme cannot match that but it does a sterling job. The Match is tied. peace and silence descends upon an archetypal English scene. The viewer, tickled to death, reaches for the rewind button, and starts again.

And it must also be stated that, just as with The Beiderbecke Trilogy, the casting is a thing of perfection and every one of the actors sinks into their parts as into a comfy chair, serene and irreplaceable.

I wish that there was some means of you being able to see this programme for yourself. Like the book, it deserves to be preserved indefinitely, an unshaded window into a summertime long since gone, but which lives in our hearts as an ideal of cricket that all of us who love the summer game aspire to, no matter how different our experiences have been. I am so glad to have access to it again.