SPOILER-FREE Review: Killing Eve – Season 1 (BBC America)

Based on the novellas by Luke Jennings [published in 2017] and written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag), Killing Eve centers on two women; Eve (Sandra Oh) is a bored, whip-smart, pay-grade MI-5 security officer whose desk-bound job doesn’t fulfill her fantasies of being a spy; Villanelle (Jodie Comer) is a mercurial, talented killer who clings to the luxuries her violent job affords her. -Summary from BBC America

Remember Det. Bobby Goren’s pursuit of the literate/world-traveling serial killer- Nicole Wallace- on several eps/seasons of Law and Order: Criminal Intent? Bobby and Nicole shared a strong connection (chemistry), though they were on different sides of the law. Now you’ve got a hint of this (unique) thriller, which is mostly a character-based drama centered on a  married/middle-aged MI-5 security officer, Eve Polastri (Canadian actress of Korean heritage- Sandra Oh- best known for Sideways and Gray’s Anatomy) and multi-lingual/sociopath killer, Villanelle (Jodie Comer, a Brit from Liverpool). Oh’s character is a Brit, though raised in the US (so has an American accent).  

Though this is a drama, there is (dark) humor laced throughout each of the 8 eps, thanks to Waller-Bridge, a multi-talented Brit in her early 30s. Yes, women are at the forefront (and behind-the-scenes) of Killing Eve! I was esp. pleased to see veteran actress Fiona Shaw as Carolyn Martens, Eve’s superior officer. The man who acts as a sort of handler/manager for Villanelle is called Konstantin (Kim Bodnia, a Danish actor). Both he and Shaw have strong onscreen presences, toughness, and some (unexpected) moments of lightness/fun. Eve’s easygoing husband (a teacher) is Niko (Owen McDonnell, an Irish actor who works mainly in theater); he and Oh have the type of natural chemistry you’d see in a long-married couple. Their marriage is put under strain as Eve goes into fieldwork, dangers escalate, keeps secrets, and becomes obsessed w/ Villanelle.  

As some critics have noted, the breakout star of Killing Eve is Jodie Comer. She’s young, tall, blue-eyed, (conventionally) pretty, yet NOT skinny (athletic figure). What sets her apart are her big/bright blue eyes and luminous face (which she twists into many expressions). I see a LOT of potential in this actress. Vilanelle, like MANY real women, likes real food (ice cream, fresh bruschetta, champagne, etc.) And she has a keen eye for fashion, too. How good is this show? Well, it was picked up for a second season (even before the pilot aired), then Oh was nominated for a Best Actress Emmy (the first for an Asian-American woman). Check it out ASAP (I saw it last week at the BBC America web site)!

 

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Black Mirror: Season 3 (Netflix)

NOTE: This review contains MILD spoilers.

FYI: The term “black mirror” is a reference to the effect of a TV or computer screen when switched off, giving a dark reflection of the onlooker. (You can read my previous review of Seasons 1 & 2 here.)  If you have a LOT on your current watch list, then check out the two eps below! 

Episode 1: Nosedive

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This was my fave ep, besides E4 (see below); it was directed by Joe Wright (Atonement; Pride and Prejudice).  The scenarios depicted are NOT too far from what’s going on in our (current) society, which makes the story funny, relatable, and a BIT scary!  Every interaction (incl. brief chats, purchases, accidental run-ins, heartfelt convos, etc.) is rated by each individual living in this fictional world.  

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So in terms of quality, you could use a punch up right there. Ideally, that’s up votes from quality people.  -Hansen

Quality people? -Lacie asks

High fours. Impress those up-scale folks, you’ll gain velocity on your arc and there’s your boost. -Hansen explains

It stars VERY likeable American actress- Bryce Dallas Howard (Lacie), Brit James Norton- star of Grantchester (Ryan), another young Brit- Alice Eve (Naomie), and respected American theater veteran- Cherry Jones (Truck Driver).  Lacie, who has a positive/go-getter personality, is working hard to boost her rating, so that she can move into an exclusive housing community.  Her younger/slacker brother, Ryan, thinks that this is a stupid idea (BUT he has a mediocre rating).  Lacie constantly compares her rating and posts to others in her social circle, esp. Naomie (a conventionally pretty childhood friend).

Episode 4: San Junipero

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Black Mirror has been a great show from the start; for me, it’s main draw is the human stories it focuses on in the midst of some mind- blowing technological what-ifs. Although in other episodes, it has focused on the darker side of technology, this one focuses on how technology could connect people instead.  -Excerpt from IMDB review

I consider this episode to be a movie. It felt like one. The lighting, music, choreography and acting gave it a vivid tone which truly involves the viewer. It felt like more than an hour run but didn’t drag on one bit. -Excerpt from another IMDB review

This is THE ep for those of you who love romance, time travel (I’m a big fan of Quantum Leap), &/or the 80s- fashion, hair, & music (here is full list of songs).  There is a fun fashion montage that is influenced by Robert Parker’s song Addicted to Love (I learned that from a pop culture podcast, though it did look familiar when I saw it).  The lead characters are shy/socially awkward Yorkie (Canadian MacKenzie Davis) and vivacious/outgoing Kelly (British-Nigerian Gugu Mbatha-Raw, most recently in Free State of Jones).  BOTH actresses did great in their roles, BUT I’m a big fan of Mbatha-Raw (her character has more of the emotional heavy lifting to do in this story).  This is a character-driven story and it takes time to get to know what exactly is going on.  Nothing is spoon-fed to the viewer!   

 

Broadchurch: Series 2 (Netflix)

This review contains MILD spoilers for the British (BBC/ITV) show.

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I started watching this series in July, BUT didn’t get to the bulk of the eps until Thanksgiving.  Series 2 focuses on the trial of Det. Ellie Miller’s (Olivia Colman) husband (Joe), an older case which is still affecting DI Alec Hardy (David Tennant), and how various individuals of the small town of Broadchurch (as well as a few new characters) deal w/ the aftermath of Series 1.  The community is  shocked (yet again) when Joe decides to plead “not guilty” to the death of Billy Latimer! 

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The Latimers, Beth (Jodie Whittaker) and Mark (Andrew Buchan), have a new baby girl; they still grieve for Billy. This couple has emotionally complicated chemistry with each other, perhaps even better than in the S1.  (Their teen daughter, Chloe, doesn’t have much to do in this series.)  Rev. Paul Coates (Arthur Darvill) and Australian hotel owner, Becca Fisher (Simone McAullay), are in a long-term relationship- BIT of a surprise.  We can see that Paul is conflicted about his role in this town. 

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Miller has been downgraded to the level of traffic cop and now lives in a small apt. w/ her toddler son, Fred.  Her older son, Tommy (who was Billy’s best pal), has chosen to live temporarily w/ Aunt Lucy.  Miller is STILL a dogged cop, even motivating Hardy to keep going when he gets disillusioned.

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We meet Hardy’s ex-wife and teen daughter, who live several hours away and are doing well in life.  We sense that Hardy wants to be a more involved parent.  He is now taking meds, BUT eventually undergoes a heart procedure. The BEST thing about this series is the growing friendship and continued partnership between Miller and Hardy!  Colman and Tennant, at times, have a competitive (perhaps brother-sister) type of chemistry.

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We slowly learn more re: the Pippa Gillespie/Lisa Newberry case. The witness Hardy had been protecting, hairdresser Claire Ripley (Eve Myles) and her overbearing boyfriend, Lee Ashworth (James D’Arcy from Agent Carter) feature prominently in this series.  They seem like the definition of a co-dependent/dysfunctional couple;  I would’ve liked to see less of their story.      

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The newcomers to the series were the main draw for me (aside from Tennant and Colman).  Two former colleagues, prosecutor Sharon Bishop (Marianne Jean- Baptiste) and veteran defense attorney, Jocelyn Knight (Charlotte Rampling) are on opposite sides of the trial. These women are BOTH very smart, tough, and experienced in court.  They each have other issues to deal w/ outside of work, which we slowly discover.  I wanted to see a BIT more of them!  There is a LOT more to this show, so check it out if you liked Series 1.

The Escape Artist (2013) starring David Tennant

NOTES: This is a SPOILER-FREE review.  The original BBC version was shown in three parts (an hour each). The version shown in the US on PBS was edited to two parts (90 minutes each), which is the one I saw.

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You do not know how you will react to the law, until the law happens to YOU.

The premise is VERY interesting, yet as the tale goes on, it becomes less and less believable.  The tension created and acting are the main reasons to check it out.  You will find parallels to Cape Fear.  Game of Thrones fans will be pleased to see Anton Lesser (Maester Qyburn) and Kate Dickie (Lysa Arryn).

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David Tennant (who gets to use his own Scottish accent) is in the lead role of Will Burton, a  successful 38 y.o. barrister (lawyer who can go to trial) and devoted family man (w/ a wife, played by Ashley Jensen, and young son).  Tennant’s face is very expressive, esp. the eyes, and he makes the legal talk sound like second nature.  I esp. liked the interactions w/ the child actor who played his son.  Tennant and Jensen have great chemistry as marrieds, too. 

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Will has been voted as the #1 junior barrister under 40 in London; he is congratulated by clerks and fellow barristers at the (private) firm where he works.  In the #2 position is Maggie Gardner (Sophie Okonedo), a woman who respects Will but has a long-time professional rivalry with him.  Okonedo is an actress that should REALLY be more known; she has the ability to be whip smart, strong, and also vulnerable (like Tennant).  Maggie is a BIT surprised when Will decides to take on the case of suspected murderer, Liam Foyle (Toby Kebbell- most recently in the Ben-Hur reboot).

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We learn that Foyle asked his solicitor to request Will, who has never lost a case. As he tells his son’s class at career day, Will believes that “everyone deserves a defense.” However, the details of this particular killing turn his stomach and keep him up late at night.  Also, Foyle is NOT the most pleasant defendant (Kebbell makes a creepy villain), which may turn off the jury.  Check out Season 1, Episode 3 of Black Mirror (Netflix)to see Kebbell’s acting range.

 

Spoiler-Free Review: Broadchurch (Series 1) starring David Tennant

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DS Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) & DI Alec Hardy (David Tennant)

Broadchurch is a marvel.  I have never seen a TV drama that explores the emotions of so many characters so convincingly.  Crimes are traumatizing.  Broadchurch gets this perfectly.  Nor have I have ever seen a crime drama that packs a visual punch in so many scenes.  The Dorset coast is a character in Broadchurch.  It plays its role as effectively as any of the brilliant actors in this piece.  And that brings up the acting.  You won’t find a weak performance and some are unforgettable.  –Excerpt from an IMDB review

As in The Fall and Happy Valley, Broadchurch‘s lead character, Detective Inspector Alec Hardy (David Tennant- using his real Scottish accent),  is a troubled individual (a past case gone wrong, mysterious health matter, etc.)  He is brought in to a lovely/small town on the Dorset coast to investigate the mysterious death of young Billy Latimer, who was the best friend of Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller’s (Olivia Colman) son, Tom.  DS Miller, the local top cop, is (of course) shocked by this death.  Also, she thought that she was getting the promotion given to Hardy, which causes tension/awkwardness in the squad room. 

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The Latimer family headed by Mark (Andrew Buchan from Cranford, Garrow’s Law)

The insider, Miller, tries to investigate her close friends and many community members in a respectful manner, but Hardy (the outsider) has an abrasive personality that almost everyone chafes against.  The media can be used for good, or cause a LOT of problems, with a police investigation.  Miller’s reporter nephew, Olly (Jonathan Stevens, who resembles Hugh Dancy), is eager to learn all the details for the local paper.  Olly is a good guy who makes a BIG rookie mistake on Twitter.  The seemingly happy/picture-perfect Latimers are NOT all what they seem.  Suspicion falls on several individuals, including the recently-arrived/young Anglican priest, Rev. Coates (Arthur Darvill).  He was one of the most interesting characters in the show- thoughtful, spiritual, yet also a BIT mysterious. 

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Two journalists, an eager local & a more experienced outsider, show of the power of the news media

Writer Chris Chibnall was inspired by two American crime shows- Twin Peaks and Murder One (which I watched and really liked).  Unlike The Fall and Happy Valley, this show has a broader scope (think soap opera, but much more sophisticated/intelligent).  You get to know about MORE people, several of whom dwell in the gray areas of life.  Check it out (Netflix).  I just learned that Series 2 (BBC) has Charlotte Rampling and Marianne Jean-Baptiste- WOW!