I’m sitting in my living room, an empty side plate by my, er, side, that sports the scant and scattered remains of a slice of toast with salted butter and Vegemite. Of all the things I ever imagined Australians would do well I never imagined that it would be to make something the equal of Marmite: truly, it is just as good and on a good day it is even better, and if I had to choose definitively between them then that would test my loyalty to the very limit. On the box I am half watching an episode of ‘Robin Of Sherwood’, a programme that had me besotted when I was about 9. Indeed I’d go as far as to say I thought it was just about the best thing ever on TV, a bit like Marmite on toast really; but then I discovered ‘The A Team’, the Vegemite show that made me question all my values up to that point and so proved that if you look hard enough there’s always something else worth your effort. Sometimes you don’t even need to look, they just throw themselves in your face, which is nice.
Being a TV or film critic would be a lovely job, provided it paid the bills of course. You’d sit there and watch a few hours of stuff before anybody else got the chance and then get to say whether you liked it or not and where it might fit, if at all, in the cultural jigsaw and perhaps also chuck in something funny that no one else could think of. I’d like to think I’d make a pretty good TV critic, but then I’ve always been a bit wary of what I think. What is crucial for the sake of those who read and value TV or film criticism is that they get a rough idea if they should use their time watching something or not. I can’t stand reading a waffly, pretentious review that never really says if the programme in question is great, good, OK, a bit shit or really worryingly shit. What’s the point in that?
Anyway, I’ve had a bit of time on my hands lately (who hasn’t) and it’s hardly Greece in June out there, so what better a use of that time than to lounge in the lounge and watch some bits and then, as I am about to do, go all ‘Catchphrase’ – and say what I see.
‘Mad Max – Fury Road’. This is supposed to be one of the greatest action movies of all time, but the first time I watched it I didn’t realise that and so a couple of years on I sat down to try again. Sometimes the hype is just too much and so it still was, though I enjoyed it much more the second time around. I’m no great fan of Tom Hardy but I kind of ‘got’ his performance at last and having watched him talking out of his arse across five series of ‘Peaky Blinders’ I was rather taken by the brevity of his script requirements. No actor will ever be able to out-cool Mel Gibson in the original Mad Max films but at least Hardy gave it a shot at some slight variant. Besides it’s not really his film: it should be called ‘Mad Charlize Theron’. The plot itself is fairly thin and it tries too hard at grotesque, but it starts rolling immediately and, as they say, never lets up.
‘Miracle Workers’. Some sort of attempt at comedy by Sky featuring Daniel Radcliffe and, as God, Steve Buscemi. We tried the first episode last night and I had to wonder if Sky has a different definition of comedy to the one I’ve laboured with for years. We toyed very briefly with watching the next one but ended up scurrying back to ‘Succession’ (see below). It may pick up but I suspect ‘Miracle Workers’ is symptomatic of there being too much TV out there and not enough good material to go around; it feels like a one joke idea and the joke isn’t that funny or that clever. I wait to stand corrected.
‘Derry Girls’. Definitely, absolutely, no-doubt-about-it comedy this time. Two short and sweet series worth and very digestible they are too. I am extremely fond of the Northern Irish accent and while I am no impressionist I can do that one quite well if I try. This is nothing spectacular – just a bunch of women in their late 20’s playing 17 year old girls in Londonderry (because I’m that way inclined) during the later stages of The Troubles. It follows most of the comedy rules but does so with a cheek and a gob that is impossible to resist and then pulls up a few proper belly laughs to keep up the momentum. This is comfort comedy TV of a high level order and they’d better bloody well do a third.
‘Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga’. Yes, that Will Ferrell film about an Icelandic bid at the Eurovision Song Contest. It is profoundly daft, intermittently very funny and delivered with genuine warmth. Not being especially fond of Eurovision I found it better than I expected to start with and by the end not quite as good as I wanted it to be. As other reviews can attest the star of the show is Dan Stevens playing a ludicrous Russian singer, which reminds that it is worth trying him in a film called ‘The Guest’, which is a low budget, creepy action/thriller triumph.
‘Floor Is Lava’. Quite possibly the most stupid, pointless programme ever created and yet why do you find yourself shouting with support or groaning with dismay within 10 minutes? This is like a coked up version of ‘Hole In The Wall’. It is an annoying American 12 year old being allowed to stay up too late. It sows little and yet reaps a strange, hypnotic harvest of your time and energy. Nuts.
‘Bottom’. To re-tread through Rik Mayall’s finest 9 hours of comedy is no chore at all. He may be aided amply by his buddy Ade Edmondson, but Mayall is the true star as he gurns, sweats, rants, pervs, pouts, leers, greases and fists his way through a series of unfortunate episodes in the lives of two of humanity’s greatest ever losers. It is aimed at exactly the audience to which it is suited (purile, squalid) and it has somehow managed to look a bit dated and yet have totally held its value. If only the same could be said of, for example, Men Behaving Badly. The episodes on Chess, Christmas, Halloween and Camping remain grottily sublime 25 years on.
‘Rambo: Last Blood’. And back to the ridiculous. You either like John Rambo or you don’t. I like Rambo, but not without some quibbles. The first instalment is a great film and certainly nothing to be embarrassed about. The second is standard fodder, but more flawed. The third is pretty much crap. And that’s where it should have ended except Sylvester Stallone dug up the formula 20 years later and gave us more. Simply titled ‘Rambo’, it was mind bogglingly violent but somehow quite satisfying within its own limited parameters. However, I hope ‘Rambo: Last Blood’ really is the last drop because it is a step in a far worse direction. This time the plot is thinner than the morals of the drug/prostitute cartel it portrays while at the other end Stallone’s make up looks thicker than an elephant’s erection. The violence is truly hardcore, as if Rambo has been saving up all the proper stuff for the end; an end where he runs around in tunnels literally chopping people’s heads off. It is, in one sense, entertaining enough but in another it is laughably poor. Thank goodness I didn’t have to pay extra for the privilege because the appeal has truly haemorrhaged.
‘Succession’. The best for last and for once a programme that lives up to the hype and then darkly transcends it. We’ve just finished the first series and I would happily watch the second right this minute, only Wifey is at work and she would ‘do a Rambo’ on me if I did. I can’t recall the last time I watched anything with so few sympathetic characters (After Life comes closest, oddly). That’s most likely because there are no dramas to compare it with; everyone is a big, dirty bastard and they all spend their time being deplorable towards each other, made even worse because they are all in the same family. Some are clueless, some abrasive and others just oily, and the script is tip top – killer lines abound in a swirling plot of nastiness that makes you feel better purely because you’ve never been that horrible. Dorothy Parker would have approved. I can’t recommend it enough and am very happy to keep the family I’ve got.
There. That’s a few of the things wot I’ve watched lately. I can only hope my feelings for them have given you something useful to take away and if not then don’t blame me because I don’t get paid to be a critic.
G B Hewitt. 16.07.2020