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‘The Reluctant Traveler’

Over the last few weeks, Wendy and I have enjoyed the first two series of the Apple TV+ series The Reluctant Traveler. The series features 77-year-old Canadian actor Eugene Levy holidaying in a variety of exotic locations in the first series, and European locations in the second. Most episodes feature an impressive hotel and some regional food, along with unique local experiences.

The tone of the series is comfortingly warm, which is attributable to both Levy’s affability and the astounding happiness and enthusiasm of every single person he meets during the series. It’s also very funny (I don’t think there was a single episode that didn’t make us laugh) and beautifully shot.

We hope it’s renewed for a third series.

This post was filed under: TV, .

‘Death in Paradise’

A few weeks ago, a family member, perhaps irritated by the timing of a phone call, asked Wendy and me whether we were watching Death in Paradise. We were not: I confessed that I’d never heard of it. We both assumed that it was a new TV series that had simply passed us by.

And then, listening to The Rest is Entertainment, I learned that it has been running for the better part of thirteen years, pulls in eight million viewers per week, and has sold to more than 200 territories around the world.

It’s astonishing how big cultural blindspots can be.

This post was filed under: TV.

‘One Day’

A little over a decade ago, I read David Nicholls’s novel One Day.

I just found myself getting a little fed up with it. The progress of the plot is so utterly, teeth-gnashingly predictable that the ending couldn’t come soon enough, and the interminable circuitous storylines and ruminations holding it back became just a little bit dull.

It doesn’t sound as though I enjoyed it, but then I gave it a four-star rating, so who knows what I was thinking? I certainly can’t remember.

Fast-forward to 2024, and Wendy and I have just finished watching the Netflix adaptation. I couldn’t recall even the major beats of the plot of the novel, though I did remember that it was a love story, and I had a clear idea in mind of the central characters, Emma and Dexter.

Wendy and I both enjoyed the series: I certainly didn’t get fed up with it, nor find it predictable or dull. I found it moving, which my review suggests wasn’t the case for the novel.

The series follows the same structure as the novel, catching up with our central characters on 15 July for each of twenty years, beginning at university in 1988. The episodes vary in length from about 20 to about 40 minutes. The period details, including the soundtrack, are spot-on.

Ambika Mod is perfectly cast as Emma Morley, and will surely be catapulted into stardom by the success of this series. Leo Woodall is excellent as Dexter Mayhew, though I think Dex is the less interesting character.

I was struck by the sense of place in the series, particularly how central Edinburgh is to the plot. I didn’t remember that from the novel.

But mostly, it packs an emotional punch. It’s funny, it’s moving, it’s reflective, it’s thoughtful.

It’s great.

This post was filed under: TV, , , , .

100% faithful

About a year ago, I wrote about liking the first series of The Traitors: an uncontroversial opinion, if ever there was one.

In the latest edition of FT Weekend, Henry Mance rips into the series, says:

The BBC could just as well broadcast monkeys throwing darts at a board. (With budget cuts, it probably will.)

It’s a fun article which is worth reading. Unfortunately, it reveals that Mance has misunderstood the programme.

His fundamental error, from which all the rest flows, is this:

In the game, adapted from a Dutch TV show, there are 22 contestants. Three or four are “traitors”; the rest are “faithful”. The faithful ones have to identify the traitors, and vote them off one by one.

Mance is confusing the stated goal with the actual goal for players. This is like criticising The Day Today for failing to provide a comprehensive news roundup.

For most of the series, the faithful have no incentive to eliminate traitors. Traitors are allowed to replace members who are voted off, and the end-game means that it is plausible to eradicate all of the traitors in the final moments. Attempting to sway people to vote off a traitor early on is a surefire way to leave the programme, as the traitors are likely to try to convince others to banish opponents to save their own skins. The better strategy is for the faithful to eliminate their competitors, people outside their personal alliances who they suspect may eventually vote them off, regardless of their faithful or traitor status.

Mance complains that players are reduced to making banishment decisions based on feelings, with no corroborating evidence: this is true in the early game, but as we’ve discovered, this doesn’t matter. It is not true of the later game, by which point the evidence from the murders and banishments gradually stacks up.

The psychological drama in the programme comes from watching people pursue other goals under the guise of trying to ‘vote out traitors’.

Mance says:

the show is crying out for a contestant to point out the emperor’s lack of clothes: “Hey everyone, we’re no good at spotting liars. So instead of accusing each other of treachery, why don’t we stay friends and just draw lots?”

He doesn’t realise that this is a surefire way for the ‘faithful’ to lose the game… and that, perhaps, ought to have been his biggest clue that he’d misunderstood the format.

This post was filed under: TV, , , .

I’ve been watching Fifteen—Love

Wendy and I have just finished the disturbing and absorbing six-part drama Fifteen—Love on Amazon Prime. It primarily examines the relationship between a brilliant tennis player (played by Ella Lily Hyland) and her coach (played by Aidan Turner).

We found the script to be deftly plotted and the production to be outstanding, as the two combined to peel away layer after layer of complexity in a series where almost nothing is black and white. It is timely, coming as it does after so many stories have come out of abusive behaviour from coaches towards young athletes. Without wanting to spoil anything, it also thoughtfully and cleverly includes a character with dementia in a way that feels integral to the plot.

We did have some quibbles: the contortions the script goes through to avoid mentioning the word “Wimbledon” introduced some unintentional and inappropriate levity in some serious scenes. There is one central character whose writing is so uneven that their inclusion felt vaguely pointless. And there is quite a bit of unnecessary and unnatural scripted exposition: it may be unpredictable, but when revelations occur they are telegraphed rather than hinted at.

But the acting—especially Hyland’s incredible performance—is unmissable.

This post was filed under: Post-a-day 2023, TV, , , .

I’ve been watching ‘Frasier’

Ever with the zeitgeist, on 7 July 2018 I decided to watch Frasier, a programme which had been out of production for 14 years. I’d only ever seen bits of the highly rated series, and find it easy to squeeze 20-ish minute programmes into my life from time to time, so it seemed like a good match.

Five years and 264 episodes later, I’ve finished it. I mostly enjoyed it: it had a serious dip in quality about two-thirds of the way through the series. The characters began acting in oddly uncharacteristic ways, which made me wonder about the relationship between actors who have played characters for years and writers who come to a series later on. It also seemed to lose its humour. But the final series was worth waiting for, a marked recovery which contained some of my favourite episodes.

Of course, in the time I’ve been watching, a revival has been announced which is scheduled for release later this year. Therefore, my claim to have watched every episode of Frasier is only temporarily true… though I suppose my completionist tendencies will mean I’ll end up watching in any case.

I’ve been wondering today whether I’ve sat through 264 episodes of any other scripted TV series.

In terms of long-running comedies, I watched all the American version of The Office, but that’s only 201 episodes. I’m uncertain whether I’ve seen every episode of Modern Family, but there were only 250 in any case. I gave up on Scrubs when they ditched most of the cast, and it only lasted 182 episodes anyway. It’s possible, but far from certain, that I’ve 264 episodes of The Simpsons, though I haven’t watched it in years.

Dramas are generally more my thing. The West Wing was a paltry 154, though as each episode was twice the length, I guess I’ve spent more time with those characters than Frasier’s. Six Feet Under was, somehow, only 63 episodes. I gave up on 24 after a few series, and even if I’d seen it all, it stopped at 204.

The obvious contenders would be soap operas, but I don’t watch any of them. But I probably watched 264 episodes of Neighbours when I was growing up.

I suppose what I’m trying to confess here is that Frasier probably now occupies a bigger slice of my cultural awareness than it ought to. At least watching it was fun.

This post was filed under: Post-a-day 2023, TV, .

Viggo Venn’s gilet jaune

I don’t watch Britain’s Got Talent—Simon Isn’t Interested—but I’m aware from the press coverage that it was won by Viggo Venn, who did a number of comedy routines involving high visibility jackets. I’m surprised that I’ve yet to see even a single think-piece drawing a comparison between the popularity of these comedy antics and the gilets jaunes_ protests.

This seems like fertile ground for an idioticly impassioned opinion piece from either end of the political spectrum. Yet—for reasons unknown—even the most disreputable columnists seem to have failed to scrape this nugget from the bottom of their commentary barrels.

People have said for years that Britain’s Got Talent is on the wane, while its viewing figures have certainly tumbled from the early days, I would have said that it remained part of the wider cultural conversation. It seemed much the same as This Morning: while competitor programmes attract much greater numbers of viewers, it retains a grip on the cultural consciousness.

But this year, I haven’t heard anyone talk about it, and wasn’t even really aware that it was happening—and now its open goal for tedious political commentary has been left untouched.

Perhaps it really is over.

The image at the top of this post was generated by Midjourney.

This post was filed under: Post-a-day 2023, TV, , , .

I’ve been watching ‘Ted Lasso’

Wendy and I have both enjoyed watching Ted Lasso, the not-really-about-football comedy drama series which reached its conclusion1 after 34 episodes this week.

The prevailing opinion seems to be that it was a programme that found an audience during covid because of its warm-hearted nature, but which went off the boil thereafter, and most especially so in its final season. Many have commented that the expansion from 20-ish minute episodes to 80-ish minute marathons served the show poorly.

I disagree. I enjoyed the series from start to finish. It’s not one that will live long in my memory nor that I feel especially attached to, but it was good, heartwarming fun.

I’ve previously called Ted Lasso ‘a bit silly and sentimental, and therefore perfect’ and I think that aligns with my overall impression.

  1. Apparently. If a spin-off called ‘The Richmond Way’ isn’t announced in the coming weeks, I shall be surprised.

This post was filed under: Post-a-day 2023, TV, .

I’ve been watching ‘Shrinking’

Wendy and I have finished watching the first season of Apple TV’s Shrinking, a comedy drama series by the creators of Ted Lasso. It is a comedy drama which centres on Jimmy, a therapist who is struggling with grief for his late wife. It has a great cast, including a brilliantly sarcastic performance by Harrison Ford as Paul, a senior therapist at the practice. Over the course of the series, the show becomes more of an ensemble piece, featuring more of the excellent performances given by Lukita Maxwell and Jessica Williams in particular.

Wendy and I enjoyed it, and looked forward to each episode as it was released. But it is all a little uneven, and it fails to pull off the Ted Lasso trick of making viewers laugh at the same time as pulling their heartstrings, instead wildly vacillating between the two tones. The interpersonal relationships between characters stretch credibility, as they too seemed to alter from episode to episode.

So while we both enjoyed it, we both also came to refer to it in conversation as ‘that odd programme.’ Assuming one is forthcoming, I’ve no doubt that we’ll stick around for the second series.

This post was filed under: Post-a-day 2023, TV, , , , , .

I’ve been watching ‘Emily in Paris’

For the uninitiated, Emily in Paris is a sublimely mindless Netflix comedy series about a young marketing professional who relocates from Chicago to Paris. Its third series was released on Netflix recently. Wendy and I have enjoyed all three series enormously.

There’s much to dislike—offensive cultural stereotypes, casual consequence-less use of tobacco products, the two-dimensional characters. Yet, it is beautifully shot, is filled with absurdly couture fashion worn by characters without a hope of affording or storing it, and the whole series exudes charm and baseless optimism. Wendy sometimes mentions the value of programmes “where nothing bad ever happens,” and I think this fits that bill.

The writing is ropey throughout: by the third series, plots are telegraphed so far in advance that Wendy and I would occasionally forget whether something had happened or was going to happen.

But Emily in Paris is gentle and comforting in the way that only properly mindless TV can be.

This post was filed under: Post-a-day 2023, TV, .

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