Some brief opinions on the latest in Peak TV:
The Last Thing He Told Me (TV+)
A workaday mystery thriller in which Jennifer Garner, her out of Alias, mislays a husband, him out of Game of Thrones, who does a runner, leaving Garner to deal with his bratty kid by his dead first wife. Garner, who plays a WOODTURNER who makes SALAD BOWLS lives in a houseboat that would cost a minimum of $1.5 million. Sure, the husband does something businessy, but then does his runner because something’s up with that. I dunno. It’s all very by-the-numbers, and my biggest problem is that the bratty kid is really bratty and also wanders off randomly, so you kinda want her to get kidnapped already. Thing is, I love Jennifer Garner, and a cameo appearance by her Alias dad Victor Garber gave me happy memories. Three stars, I suppose.
Citadel (Amazon Prime)
Amazon have been spending money again, but the result is… average. This is a kind of mashup of The Bourne Identity and The Long Kiss Goodnight without the latter’s witty script and without the former’s charismatic cast. Stanley Tucci is there playing a magnetic spymaster, with charisma-free zone Richard Madden as the memory wiped secret agent whose job it is to retrieve the thingy from the whatsit before the bad guys get to it. Lesley Manville is the moustache-twirling villainous Brit, and the whole thing is like noisy wallpaper. With writers on strike at the moment because they want some career prospects and a better financial deal, I am concerned that Amazon is throwing money at vanity projects that wind up being underwhelming. Wheel of Time was all right, though I don’t know anybody who watched it. The Lord of the Rings thing was a ridiculous waste of everybody’s time (and I don’t know anybody who watched it). And now this. Sheesh.
The Diplomat (Netflix)
This was unexpectedly good, for a Netflix show. TV treasure Keri Russell plays a US career diplomat who is usually sent to trouble spots, but unexpectedly lands the role of Ambassador to the UK, a job she takes without having to sit through Congressional hearings or really knowing why she has been given it. Everybody else knows, though: the Big Secret is that she is Being Groomed to take over as Vice President (that’s enough title case). Ridiculously unlikely scenarios ensue, with Russell clashing with her bad boy diplomat husband Rufus Sewell and getting hot under the collar about UK politician David Gyasi, a man who has to keep fighting fires because his boss is
Boris Johnson Rory Kinnear. It’s silly, but it’s fun, but it’s silly. And Keri Russell is unmissable, as she was in The Americans. Having said that it’s silly, it is also in its own way frighteningly realistic:
Seems an unlikely scenario: what if the US President was impossibly old (and successor to an idiot), and you were sent to be Ambassador the UK, which has a dangerously incompetent prime minister? Couldn’t ever happen, but it’s entertaining nevertheless.
Another show that seems to have had a lot of money thrown at its production design is this latest science fictioner from Apple, which is set in a post-apocalyptic world in which everybody has to live in an enormous underground bunker because the environment outside is poisoned… or is it? There’s nothing original here, but the pieces are put together quite well. Nobody really remembers why they’re there because of an Incident (shades of Richard Paul Russo’s Ship of Fools), but it also seems to be illegal to try to uncover the truth, or to hoard Artefacts of the old world. There’s a secret police force and some surprising early deaths. It’s all right, but I do scratch my head sometimes at the IP that gets picked up and turned to series when there is much better IP out there just waiting to be discovered. Silo is based on something that was originally self-published on Kindle, so it ought to give me hope. Instead it fills me with sadness. Wither Tim Powers, wither Martha Wells, wither Robert Charles Wilson? Repeat to fade.
Drops of God (TV+)
Finally, another Apple thing. This one is another of those international co-productions with three languages on the soundtrack (like the impenetrable Liaison — only better). It’s based on a Japanese manga series, and is a left-field story about a Japanese man and a French woman who are pitted against each other in a wine tasting contest in order to inherit the priceless wine collection of the woman’s estranged father (and his mentor), who has died. The problem is, his family absolutely forbid him to participate and she passes out every time alcohol passes her lips due to childhood trauma. So will he defy his family and will she overcome her complete ignorance about wine? Told through a series of flashbacks that slowly make sense of the present, this for me is probably the pick of the bunch here, with the producers coming up with creative ways to visualise the taste of wine. Really enjoying it so far. And though you can see the PLOT TWIST coming down the line, it’s an congenial ride.