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Three BBC America Shows to Break Your Heart

I’ve been gone a long time, and for that I am truly sorry. But here is post full of things to distract you from my lack of being around so long. This year BBC America has broadcast three shows that are really, really good at not only getting you way too invested in the characters, but are also good at breaking your heart into little pieces. Not only that, but they are genuinely brilliant shows. So, here they are:

The Hour

Series 2 aired this past year, but Series 1 is also good. Unfortunately, the show was canceled after Series 2 despite writer Abi Morgan having won an Emmy Award for writing the series. The Hour takes place in the 1950’s and revolves around a team of journalists making a new show called The Hour, a weekly news show produced by the BBC. It’s “the hour you can’t miss.” Leading the team is Bel Rowley (Romola Garai), a brilliant journalist who is a pioneer in her field simply for being a working woman in a time when women didn’t really work in high positions or have respect. Also working with her is her long-time friend Freddy Lyon (Ben Whishaw), who will stop at nothing to dig out the whole truth for a story and then some. There’s Hector Madden (Dominic West), the host of the show who isn’t so much a good journalist as he is a good face for the camera. There’s also quite a few other characters who get to share the spotlight, and their lives are also examined in the context of the news program they’re putting out.

And what a news program it is. The first series deals with post-World War II Britain and the fight in Egypt over the Suez Canal. The government, who owns the BBC, tries to stop The Hour from broadcasting anything too controversial, while Bel and Freddy uncover a story that could reveal uncomfortable truths about the nature of government. The finale is an awesome commentary on the interplay between government censorship and the media, and is still relevant today. Series 2 examines police corruption in London, at a time where the country is spending huge amounts of money on defending against a nuclear threat that might not come, while in the city crime runs rampant and the owner of a “gentlemen’s club” has police in the palm of his hand.

All of these are fascinating issues on their own, but they are added to some very well-done character developments as well. Bel and Hector have an affair, and Hector’s wife, Marnie, has to find a way to deal with it. Freddy loves Bel but is convinced she doesn’t love him back, and Bel won’t admit that she might feel attracted to Freddy. Various other characters go through life changing events, and they all still have to put journalism at the front of their minds because that’s what matters. As Freddy says of Bel, “cut you to your core and you’ll find news running through your spine.” Journalism and personal matters conflict with each other, and it is these conflicts that give the show some of its most heart-breaking scenes. The end of series 2 and, by extension, the end of the entire show, is definitely something that brings on tears and feelings of mourning what could have been.

Broadchurch

Broadchurch is a new show, currently having just finished its first series, about a crime taking place in a small Scottish town on the seaside. A young boy named Danny goes missing in the middle of the night, and detectives Hardy (David Tennant) and Miller (Olivia Coleman) are forced to work together to take on the case. Adding to the tension is the fact that Hardy took the job Miller wanted while she was on vacation. They find Danny dead, murdered at the beach, and soon the whole town is wondering who did it. And the town is small, so everybody knows everybody. Except for Hardy, who is the only stranger. Miller finds herself in a strange position by being one of the leads on the case but also extremely close to the affected family.

The show is heartbreaking in that there are scenes that ring very true to grief and desperation interspersed with what one might think of as traditional police procedural proceedings. It’s got a lot more emotion than your average cop show, because the crime is so close to many in the police department and because everyone knows each other in the town–the only outsider is Hardy. There is a lot of time taken to show Danny’s family grieving, how his mother is recently pregnant, the father keeping a secret, and the teenage sister not knowing how to cope. Throughout the show it is revealed that almost everyone has secrets, and they were kept secrets for a reason, and relationships are strained, even at a time when people need those relationships the most. Hardy has a big secret, and it’s one that makes him desperate to finish the case despite his failing health and conflicts with Miller.

So there’s all that ongoing emotional stuff, but the end is really the thing that will break you. There is a twist–we find out who Danny’s killer is. But finding out isn’t satisfying. Instead it breaks everything, devastates the town, and tears relationships apart.

Orphan Black

Time to add some science fiction to the list! Orphan Black is a great example of excellent writing and acting and great execution on the part of the directors. If you’re looking for good, realistic science fiction that’ll have you emotionally invested in everything that happens, this is it. Which is good, because science fiction often tosses aside emotion for plot. Not so here.

Orphan Black starts with Sarah Manning, a con artist of sorts who returns to New York after some time away with the intention of taking her daughter, Kira, from her foster mother and going to live a better life. While at a train station she sees a woman who looks just like her kill herself by stepping in front of an on-coming train and, on a whim, Sarah takes her stuff. She finds out that this woman is named Beth Childs and that she’s a detective with a nice apartment and, importantly, a lot of money. But when Sarah impersonates Beth, she’s pulled into a trial at the police station where she finds out that Beth had been suspended for shooting a woman while on duty. But that’s not all.

Beth has also been in contact with a woman named Alison. And then Sarah, as Beth, meets a woman who looks just like her but is killed almost immediately. She finds out, through a meeting with Alison and a scientist-grad-student named Cosima that there are multiple clones of her running around. They all look exactly the same (but different, given styles and hair stuff and things like that) and are all played by the brilliant Tatiana Maslany. They also have different personalities: Alison is a high-strung soccer mom, Sarah a tough city girl, and Cosima an enthusiastic and quite hip science enthusiast.

They find out that one of their clones, Helena, is trying to kill them because she’s been told that she’s the original. And then they find out that they all have monitors who take medical examinations from each of them while they sleep, and make sure that they don’t become “self-aware” so to speak. Basically, they are part of a huge unethical science experiment. And as they unearth more about who created them, where they came from, and why Helena is so disturbed, they find a lot of things that point to their lives being in serious danger.

And the heartbreak? Well, it comes from these women finding out that they are clones, science experiments, for the most part. But there is also how it affects their relationships. Cosima falls in love with her monitor. Sarah’s involvement in finding out about her origins puts her daughter, Kira, in danger, because none of the other clones have had children and therefore, if their creators find out about Kira, she could be experimented on and worse. Helena’s story is sad for a lot of reasons, because she is the one that’s gone so far astray that it seems impossible to bring her back into some semblance of a family. The series finale takes all of this into account: the relationships, the stakes for each of the clones, and what it means to be a clone, and brings it to a devastating climax.

So there you have it: emotional journalism, emotional police procedurals, and emotional science fiction. Three things that often sacrifice emotion for plot, and the BBC managed to make all three of them in a year and make them heartbreaking. But that’s okay, because all three are brilliant television and well worth watching.

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Review: The Hour and Current Journalism

Journalism is in the air! This is the general feel of BBC’s show The Hour,

Bel (Romola Garai), Hector (Dominic West), and Freddie (Ben Whishaw) are the three main journalists on The Hour.

which follows three journalists-Bel, Freddie, and Hector-as they put together a show called “The Hour” to report on current events. The series takes place in the 1950’s during the Suez crisis, and the show, which promises to be breakthrough journalism, struggles to uncover the truth behind Britain’s involvement in Egypt.

There are a lot of personal conflicts in the show, as would be expected of a drama, but everything in the preceding five episodes builds up to a finale that is not only personal, but is also full of commentary about how journalism works and how journalists are limited.

Bel is the producer of this new show, and Freddie and Hector are reporters. There is a constant conflict at work between all three of them-finding out the truth behind stories and keeping your career as a respected journalist. As they report on the Suez crisis, government officials keep a close watch on the show, and in the last episode go so far as to dictate what the show can and cannot air.

The real issue comes when Freddie, the young, investigative journalist of the lot, decides to investigate the death of Ruth Elms, a childhood friend involved in shady activities. The government claims her death was suicide, but Freddie believes it is something else, and he investigates. This leads him close to finding out certain truths about his government, spies, and the way international politics work. This also has the government on his tail, forcing him to stop his investigation before he finds out anything too damaging.

Freddie is constantly finding stories that challenge his government, and this is why he becomes the focal point for government agents. Bel must decide whether to indulge Freddie and allow his stories on air, at the risk of her career, and Hector, as the leading anchor, plays a large part in deciding just how these stories are transmitted. All three of their careers are on the line.

And then Freddie finds out that Ruth Elms was killed by the British government because she knew of a plan for British spies to assassinate Egyptian president Nasser in order to end the Suez crisis. Bel allows him to put Ruth’s father, Lord Elms, on air, where he reveals that the government is hiding things from the public. Even more daring is Hector’s decision to let Freddie interview Elms, because Freddie, unlike Hector, pushes his interviewees harder, and he gets Lord Elms to admit, on national television, the implication Ruth Elm’s death has for the honesty of the British government and what they hide from the public to keep the public from revolting.

And then the government shuts the program off.

Bel is fired from her job as producer. Freddie and Hector’s careers are as good as done. The government is furious.

And this episode is still relevant today.

Perhaps there is not a crisis going on, but journalists are always asked to take their sources at their word, and to be objective. This is how new journalists are taught to report–without opinions, without subjectivity, without questioning their sources. Yet sources have biases-as The Hour demonstrates, the British government is biased towards the British government, truth be damned, and that goes for any government.

Journalism is changing. People are becoming more aware of a lack of questioning sources and want that changed. Independent news programs challenge the information they are given, and dig deeper, in the hopes of finding something closer to the truth. Journalists are beginning to understand that what is regarded as professionalism-objectivity, by simply reporting what they are told-is not always what’s best for their audiences. There is a difference between what sources what the public to hear, and what the public needs to hear, and more and more journalists are starting to report what the public needs to hear.

There is still objectivity in the newsroom. There is still the tendency to report straight from the sources’ mouth without questioning what is being said. But that may very well change as journalism changes and as people become more aware of how the media works. And although subjective reporting can be a career-risk, it can also be worth it, in the end, if only because a more truthful story is told.

One could say that for the journalists of The Hour, their journey into truth-finding ends unhappily. Their show is ruined, their careers are as good as dead, and they are watched by their government. Yet, as Bel and Freddie walk out of the darkened studio Freddie tells Bel that they have another story to write.

The moral of the story is, journalists should be more willing to dig deeper for the truth, because there will always be an audience willing to listen.

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Review/Guide: Doctor Who (The New Series)

So maybe you’ve heard of Doctor Who. And in this rhetorical scenario, maybe several people have recommended that you watch this British show about a man (alien) who travels through time and space in a police call box, and picks up friends along the way. Maybe you’ve just seen some clips and adverts and are curious. Either way, the reboot, which started in 2005 with the 9th Doctor (because the show originally started in 1963 but, unfortunately, didn’t get a budget until 2005) has been going strong for six series (seasons) since then. As someone who loves the show, I’ve seen every series (some out of order) and have some opinions on the good, the bad, and the extremely strange. Here’s my review, on the night that Series 7 premiered.

Series 1-As the beginning of the reboot, this series introduces the 9th Doctor, played by Christopher Eccleston, as the sole remaining Time Lord, after a war destroyed his planet. He meets a 19 year-old girl named Rose, who becomes his companion. The series immediately establishes that, unlike the older series, the new series is a lot more personal, focuses on the lives of the companions and getting the audience to relate to them, but also focusing on the character of the Doctor and how his companions affect him. Some great things about this season: the Daleks, Rose Tyler traveling back into her own past, World War II story, some great emotional episodes, Captain Jack Harkness (who gets his own show, Torchwood), and the crushing series finale. Some bad things: Less budget than later series, the farting aliens of London, and the fact that Christopher Eccleston felt the need to quit after just one series.

Series 2-Rose is still the companion, but we get a new Doctor played by David Tennant, who has taken his place in history as one of the best Doctors in the 63-year history of the show. This series explores the relationship between the Doctor and Rose, as a time traveler and as a human with a short life-span, and also features the first journeys off-planet. Rose is still (painfully but realistically) young. And the end…oh the end. The good things: Revolutionary France on a space-ship, werewolves, the Cybermen and Daleks, a double-episode story about the nature of faith, The Finale, and old companions coming back. The not-so-good: Love and Monsters. It’s an episode. Also the one where the girl draws pictures that come to life.

Series 3-Arguably the best series so far, the Doctor gets a new companion in Martha Jones, who is a medical student (yes, becoming a doctor). We get a hospital episode, the development of the Doctor as he learns to appreciate his new companion, and one of the best reveals of a series-long plot point in all time. Great writing, some fantastic stories, and things that turn up in the first episode really pay off. Good things: all the above, plus Martha is a smart badass, Shakespeare, Weeping Angels, Jack Harkness, the Biggest Reveal of All Time, the finale (except for the final part), the two episodes where the Doctor is human, and contemplation on what living forever really means. Not-so-good: Daleks in Manhattan.

Series 4: My favorite series, this has the Doctor reunite with Donna, making her his companion (she appears in one Series 3 episode). And while this series continues with some excellent and innovative stories (Midnight, Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, and Turn Left are episodes not to be missed), we also get tons of character development. The character of the Doctor is delved into more, and we see what it really means to be someone who can keep the rules of time in place. At the same time, Donna doesn’t take any of his crap, and he learns how good companions are for him. And then the finale-there’s tons of great hints scattered throughout the episodes, and the finale packs quite the punch. Good things: Donna, the finale, the Doctor’s character development, the aforementioned innovative episodes, River Song, The Fires of Pompeii (another great episode), the hilarious series opener, and Agatha Christie. Not-as-good things: The two episodes about cars and the one about the underground people.

The Specials: Doctor Who took a year off and made 5 specials that sent the 10th Doctor off. They ranged from brilliant to not good at all, but they all bring the Doctor’s story to a close. You get The Next Doctor (a Christmas story) followed by Planet of the Dead (a desert story). Then you get the amazing, possibly best Doctor Who story in the Waters of Mars, a creepy episode that questions what the Doctor should do if sticking to the rules of time means that people die, and the writers allow the Doctor’s character to go to places never gone to before. And then we get The End of Time, which has some ridiculous moments in the first part, and a lot of brilliant in the second part, and the acting on all parts  is amazing. The not-so-good: the first two specials. The great: the last three specials.

Series 5: Doctor Who got a complete makeover here, with a new head writer and a new Doctor, played by Matt Smith. The series was meant to have a fairy-tale feel, and it succeeds, especially in the first episode, where the Doctor meets Amy Pond fresh off his regeneration. Amy is a quirky companion, and her boyfriend (later, husband) Rory is awesome. The series focuses on the power of love, and memories, and what it means to love someone. And also the power of stories. Good things: the music (oh god the music!), the series opener (more fairy-tale than anything), Vincent Van Gogh, part 1 of the finale, Amy’s Choice, and Rory fighting a vampire with a broomstick. The not-so-good: part 2 of the series finale, the return of the Weeping Angels (and certain directorial choices), and the colorful Daleks.

Series 6: Series 6 was aired in two 6-episode chunks three months apart, so the series itself is different. The opening story is two episodes, and takes place in the U.S., and has the Doctor facing another innovative monster-the Silence. The series has lots of ups and downs, goes to lots of epic places, and focuses on the identity of River Song and what on Earth the phrase Silence Will Fall means. And also starts with an interesting mystery. There’s also some heartbreak in here somewhere. The good: the first two episodes, the Neil Gaiman episode (The Doctor’s Wife), The Girl Who Waited (brilliant), The God Complex. The not-so-good: pirates, the use of Hitler, River Song’s identity, the actual solution to the mystery. Possibly good: the added question at the end.

The first episode of Series 7 aired tonight, called Asylum of the Daleks. I was quite disappointed, given how epic everyone said this episode was going to be. I wasn’t a fan of the use of the Daleks, not a fan of the seemingly pointless Amy-Rory divorce plot-line (they’ve definitely been through too much for Amy to divorce him, no matter the reasons, and for him to just accept it), and not a fan of the way the Doctor left the Daleks asking Doctor Who? because, well, that’s the title of the show and it’s been done a lot of times, and in some contexts it works, but in this context it’s cheeses. The dialogue was kind of awful and awkward. But we do get another interesting mystery in the form of something I won’t spoil but, needless to say, the Doctor’s journey this series has the potential to be fascinating. If only they write it well.

So! As with any show Doctor Who has its ups and downs, but ultimately, it’s a great show that’s well worth watching. You get optimism about the fate of humanity, you get to explore all of time and space, and you grow to care about the characters. What’s not to love?

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The Hollow Crown: TV Shout-Out

This isn’t a review so much as it is pointing out awesome.

If you like Shakespeare, as I do, then now is as good a time as any to check out BBC’s series The Hollow Crown, which is in the middle of its 4 play series. The series adapts the plays Richard II, Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, and Henry V. Richard II and Henry IV Part 1 have aired already, and they are brilliant.

Richard II Review: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/9365813/The-Hollow-Crown-Richard-II-BBC-Two-review.html

Henry IV P1 Review: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/9382635/The-Hollow-Crown-Henry-IV-Part-1-BBC-Two-review.html

As someone who loves Shakespeare and who spent last summer watching 9 Shakespeare plays in London and Stratford-Upon-Avon (home of the Royal Shakespeare Company), this series has made my summer a lot more enjoyable in terms of entertainment. The filmography and acting are superb. Richard II has amazing scenery, and Henry IV Part I boasts some amazing acting.

And we still have Henry IV P2 and Henry V to go! And I’m sure they’ll be equally as fantastic.

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Why Stand Still

(Day (insert number here): Favorite travel quote.)

It goes something like this:

You dreamt of another sky. New sun, new air, new life. A whole universe teeming with life. Why stand still when there’s all that life out there?

~Doctor Who

If you’ve ever watched the show Doctor Who, you’ll know that, being a show about an alien who travels around time and space in his police-box ship, there is a lot of traveling going on. And the Doctor is forever exploring and never standing still. And he has a lot to say about what he finds.

This quote in particular stands out to me because it resonates. There’s so much out there, and I want to see so much of it. It’s hard to stand still, to stay in one place, knowing that there’s so many other amazing places out there (more amazing, if I’m being honest).

I have, indeed, dreamt of another sky. I’ve dreamt of other places that I want to explore, different countries I wouldn’t mind living in, different people. I’m restless. I’m looking for all of the new in new places, with new adventures and new experiences. That’s the best part of traveling, after all. The newness, the discovery, the difference from your boring old life. And if you travel enough and explore enough, your life won’t be so boring after all.

New life, indeed.

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Sherlock vs Sherlock vs Holmes

CBS recently announced a new Sherlock Holmes series in production. The title would be “Elementary”, the show would take place in New York City after Sherlock is placed in rehabilitation there for drug abuse, and Watson would be a girl living in Brooklyn. And it takes place in modern day.

This might be interesting, sort of, if the BBC hadn’t already done it, and done it well.

In the BBC version, the series, called “Sherlock,” centers around Sherlock Holmes and John Watson and is surprisingly faithful to the books, and where the show derives from the original stories, clever references to the originals are still made. Sherlock has been highly successful and highly regarded, and has recently been picked up for a third series.

Sherlock is still a consulting detective. Watson is still a war veteran, this time from Afghanistan, and still a doctor. The episodes (6 total, an hour and a half each) take their names from various original stories: A Study in Pink (from A Study in Scarlet), The Hounds of Baskerville, The Reichenbach Fall (this last one is a clever reference to a story with a different name.)

Side characters from the original series also make appearances. Irene Adler gets her own episode. Lestrade is used frequently, given that the police are heavily involved in many crimes. Mycroft is also given a bigger role than in the books, as Sherlock’s older brother who works a high profile job in the British government.

And then there’s Moriarty. A crazed, rich, clever madman who says that he’s willing to do anything, and means it. This version of Moriarty isn’t sinister, or just plain mean, like in the Sherlock Holmes movies (with Robert Downey Jr). Here he’s a consulting criminal with a whole line of assistants and a network around the world to help people succeed in their less…moral…endeavors.

This Moriarty wants to get Sherlock. To him, people are ordinary, but Sherlock is not, and that presents a challenge. Somewhat like the Joker in the Dark Knight, this Moriarty is in it for the fun, for the challenge. To see if he can beat Sherlock at his own game. And he is played disturbingly well, as a disturbing figure. Unpredictable. A clever actor.  Someone who really gets inside your mind and sticks there.

And there is emotion. Watson and Sherlock grow until they realize they are close. Friends. Sherlock even grows to realize that the people who help him, such as Lestrade, are also people he can trust, even if he didn’t appreciate them before. Sherlock is less worried about Moriarty being a threat to him than to his friends. The show really explores the character of Sherlock more than, say, the movies, by having him grow from an anti-social genius into someone who, in his own odd way, cares. Watson has been good for him. His character is not second to the plots, but rather informs it. As Lestrade says, “Sherlock Holmes is a great man, and someday he might even be a good one.” The series works to explore the characters, what makes them good, what makes them not, and what makes them grow.

The new series on CBS may be taking an innovative approach by setting Sherlock Holmes in New York, and having Watson be a female, but will it be done well? BBC Sherlock is more than innovation: there is still the character development to back up the stories to the point where they become original, not simply a retelling or an action movie. BBC Sherlock adds something to old characters, making them new and fresh. The challenge CBS faces is the same: this new setting has to add something to Sherlock and Watson, a new aspect that we haven’t seen before. Can they do it?

We shall see.

Watch the trailer for the Series 2 finale of Sherlock here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MimV42deNMA

You be the judge: does the modern adaptation work? How do you think the new CBS series “Elementary” will hold up?

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