Category Archives: TV Review

My Top 10 TV shows of 2019

Here’s my annual top ten list of the shows which have most impressed and captivated me this year. As is becoming increasingly common, a lot of them come from Netflix, but not all.

As usual, I will keep the spoilers to a minimum – only oblique references to events, no details included.

10: His Dark Materials, Series 1: With a fantastic cast, His Dark Materials succeeded where the Golden Compass failed and did justice to the first book of Philip Pullman’s renowned trilogy. Dafne Keen proved, just like she did in Logan, that she’s arguably the best young actress out there at the moment (perhaps only rivalled by Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown). Backed up by great turns from Ruth Wilson, James McAvoy and Lin-Manuel Miranda, His Dark Materials takes a few episodes to get going but eventually starts delivering great hours of TV, particularly episodes ‘the daemon-cages’ and ‘betrayal’ which was one of the best series finale’s I’ve seen in a while. It’s decision to bring forward elements of book 2 does slow things down a bit too much, but ultimately means that series 2 should hit the ground running. Can’t wait for it!

Rating: 4 out of 5

9: The Grand Tour, Series 3: The Grand Tour’s third outing (and final one – only specials from this point onwards) is by far its best. Its standout episodes involve Clarkson, Hammond and May building their own RV’s in America, going Wildlife Photographing in Colombia and, most memorably, building an off-road vehicle and driving across the great empty expanse of Mongolia. While not flawless, the series made several positive steps, including better use of test driver Abby, more reliance on natural rather than scripted humour and more diverse topics during episodes. There’s the occasional bit of naff banter or an overly scripted segment, but overall i’d happily rewatch most of these episodes again, which I couldn’t necessarily say about series 1 and 2. As the last run which will feature power tests, studio audiences, and the studio setup itself, it feels like Clarkson, Hammond and May ended things on a high. I’ll check out future specials, but if this was indeed the last full series for the trio, it was a fitting one.

Rating: 4 out of 5

8: Killing Eve: Series 2: Killing Eve might be the next spy drama I get hooked on, now that the Americans has finished and Homeland is winding down. Its superb leads Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer are very compelling, flawed characters who its easy to root for. Their increasingly will they, won’t they relationship and mutual obsession makes for great television, even if series 2 perhaps gets a bit too bogged down by the emotional side of things – the plot isn’t as good as series 1’s, even if the characters are just as gripping. Quality varies between episodes, but overall series 2 was a good follow up, if a slight step back in quality, but with a new showrunner taking the reins in series 3, I’m definitely excited to see where Villanelle and Eve go from here… assuming they survive each other’s company that is…

Rating: 4 out of 5

7: Orange is the New Black, Season 7: Orange is the New Black may have increasingly split fan opinion since Season 5, but I’ve always found it to be an enjoyable, consistent Netflix series. Focusing on some issues we haven’t seen before (dealing with such difficult topics as FGM, treatment of illegal immigrants in the US, dementia etc.) it remains a hard hitting drama. There were plenty of lighter moments to balance out the seriousness, and new characters to complement the old. Ultimately I can’t say this season was a perfect send-off, but it was a good one which did justice to its characters and tied things up well, and didn’t cop out and give everyone an unrealistic happy ending (3 things a far more high profile TV show failed to do this year…). Orange is the New Black has always had one of the best ensemble casts on Netflix, and remains one of the best female-led shows you’re likely to have seen, with particularly good work from Taylor Schilling, Taryn Manning and Natasha Lyonne – though if you asked, I wouldn’t pick out a single weak link amongst the wider cast. The highest compliment I can give this show is that I’ll miss it now that its gone, but I’m glad it ended on a relative high.

Rating: 4 out of 5

6: Black Mirror, Season 5: Despite only having a three episode run this year, Black Mirror remained a highlight, as all three episodes were of very high quality, if not the very best that the series is capable of producing. Starring such talent as Anthony Mackie, Andrew Scott and, bizarrely, Miley Cyrus, all three have a star quality feel to them, but remain grounded as lesser known talents round out the casts in all three cases. All touch on different issues, from the possibilities of advanced VR to the tragic side effects of social media to auto-tuning and exploitation in the music industry. Striking Vipers and Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too are quite easy to watch despite a couple of darker scenes, while those after the classic Black Mirror tension and sting in the tail should check out Smithereens – which features a masterclass in acting from a mentally tortured Andrew Scott. After the disappointing Bandersnatch, this was a timely return to form for Black Mirror, and I can’t wait to see what season 6 has in store, whether it comes with 3 episodes or 6. Hopefully Netflix doesn’t make us wait too long.

Rating: 4 out of 5

5: Swamp Thing, Season 1: Swamp Thing was unjustly cancelled before episode 2 had even aired, which is both baffling and a crying shame, as its pilot was the best I’ve ever seen from DC, and the first season as a whole was a cut above the arrowverse’s recent efforts. Crystal Reed is excellent as lead character Dr. Abby Arcane, who gets drawn back to her hometown to investigate a viral outbreak, only to become increasingly tangled in local criminal machinations and the supernatural events occurring in the swamp, where she encounters the titular character. Swamp Thing himself is wonderfully realised onscreen and while the action scenes aren’t as common as you might expect, they are very strong when they occur. A darker tale than most superhero shows, this is definitely geared more towards adults rather than CW’s shows are, while its shorter episode count works wonders – there’s very little padding here, though perhaps 1 or 2 subplots could have been streamlined slightly. Overall I was very impressed, and disappointed that we probably won’t get a resolution to some of the cliffhangers the show ended on. But if you have Amazon Prime, I’d highly recommend checking it out anyway!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

4: A Series of Unfortunate Events, Season 3: The third and final season was leaps and bounds ahead of the first two. Freed from the need to play a different version of Count Olaf in disguise every story, Neil Patrick Harris is better than ever here, while Esme and Carmelita are fabulous supporting villains. The episodes reduced runtimes also do the show a massive favour – whereas some installments in seasons 1 and 2 felt padded and stretched, everything feels tight and pacey here. Given the plots of books 10-13 all vary far more than 1-9, it feels like every story is its own special – not just variations on a recurring theme like the stories in the first two seasons. The show also adds flashbacks which fill in some of the gaps in the books narrative and show some of the events leading to VFD’s schism, which I found utterly enthralling. Overall, the show ended on a real high, which given its slow start, was quite impressive.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5:

3: Jessica Jones, Season 3: Jessica Jones’ third season is arguably the best of the three, with a stronger villain than season 2 and better pacing than season 1. The new characters are interesting, Jessica’s development goes in a different direction than before and Trish, Malcolm and Jeri get good material for their individual arcs. The direction and writing are as good as ever and while the main villain is less flamboyant than David Tennant’s Kilgrave, he’s far creepier and challenges Jessica in different ways. Trish arc’s is what the season hinges on, as her conflict with Jessica varies between reluctant cooperation and open hostility between the two, with the series good at keeping you guessing which way things will go till the last 3 episodes. Overall, it’s my favourite superhero show from this year, just edging out Swamp Thing.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

2. The Crown, Season 3: The latest series of the Crown switches out most of the main cast, but remains as compelling as ever. Olivia Colman, Tobias Menzies and Helena Bonham Carter nail the roles of Elizabeth, Philip and Margaret just as well as their predecessors. It has a very strong run of episodes in the early part of the season, until ‘Moondust’ which is quite dull, but the only damp squib in the 10 episode runtime. The new cast-members playing Charles, Anne and Prime Minister Harold Wilson are all superb additions and steal the show at times, and left me eager to see how the show will handle Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher, both of whom will have key roles in Season 4. The show visually looks as good as ever, with excellent direction, location filming and editing. The new composer perhaps isn’t quite as good as his predecessor, but still does a solid job. Series Highlights include the Margaret’s visit to America, the Royal Family and the Government reacting to the Aberfan tragedy (which I must admit I knew nothing about previously) and Charles being sent to study in Wales and learn the language and history. This might just be the best of the three seasons so far. Keep it up!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

1: Fleabag, Series 2: I wasn’t hugely enthralled by Fleabag’s first series, which started well but had an underwhelming second half. Nevertheless I decided to give S2 a go, and the premiere blew my socks off. Andrew Scott’s sweary, charismatic (and according to most women who’ve seen it, extremely hot) priest was just the addition needed to bring the best out of the existing cast, who all perform extremely well. Funnier and a touch more upbeat than series 1, this was great from start to finish, mostly due to Waller-Bridge’s performance and excellent writing. At a time when classic BBC series like Doctor Who and Top Gear have completely lost their appeal, it’s nice to know the national broadcaster can still sometimes produce the goods. Though that may just be because Waller-Bridge is working with them. For god’s sake BBC, don’t you dare lose her! Or the licence fee might as well be scrapped. But, thinking positively, this is the first time since 2015 that a British TV show has topped this list, so that’s an encouraging sign. Hopefully Waller-Bridge’s input reaps similar rewards for the upcoming James Bond film…

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Shows which narrowly missed out on this list included Big Mouth (lacked cohesion), Stranger Things (too light hearted), Game of Thrones (too divisive + weak finale), The Witcher (confusing timelines + boring Ciri plotline), Gotham (inconsistent) and iZombie (could’ve ended more strongly).

Best Actor: Henry Cavill (Geralt of Rivia – The Witcher)

Best Actress: Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones)

Best Supporting Actor: Andrew Scott (The Priest – Fleabag)

Best Supporting Actress: Jodie Comer (Villanelle – Killing Eve)

Best Young Actor:  Lewin Lloyd (Roger – His Dark Materials)

Best Young Actress: Dafne Keen (Lyra – His Dark Materials)

Best Ensemble Cast: The Crown

Best Hero: Jessica Jones (Played by Krysten Ritter)

Best Villain: Lex Luthor (Played by Jon Cryer)

Best Direction: The Crown

Best Writer: Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag)

Best Special Effects: Game of Thrones

Best Composer: Lorne Balfe (His Dark Materials)

Best Soundtrack: The Long Night (Ramin Dwajadi – Game of Thrones)

Best New Theme Tune: His Dark Materials (Lorne Balfe)

Best Animated Show: Big Mouth

Best Episode: A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms (Bryan Cogman – Game of Thrones)

Best Scene: The Hound vs. The Mountain (Game of Thrones – The Bells)

Best Finale: Fleabag – Episode 6:

Next Up: You’ve had my film, video games and TV picks for the year, now it time for my thoughts on the best the past decade has had to offer…

Starting with my top ten films of the decade! Featuring Superhero smackdowns, cerebral character studies and fierce competition between the hits of DC and Marvel, hope you all check it out. Should be up in the next 3 days, depending on hangover status.

 

 

Stranger Things Season 3 Review

First Half of Review is spoiler-free. Second Half has full spoilers after warning.

Stranger Things is easily Netflix’s most popular Sci-Fi show. Black Mirror may be better, but Stranger Things seems to grow in popularity year on year. This is in large part to its fabulous cast, including the established veterans such as Winona Ryder and David Harbour, but also the incredible young cast (no weak links among them). Millie Bobby Brown has shot to stardom because of this show, and rightly so. The cast are as good as ever here. The show plays around with some of the established pairings and focuses on new ones – seeing Eleven (Brown) and Max (Sadie Sink)’s friendship blossom is one of the most entertaining parts of the early episodes, as well as a key part of Eleven’s character development (first female friend she’s really had). Dustin and Steve’s comedy bromance also returns, and is only enhanced by their adventures with snarky newcomer Robin (Maya Hawke) and Erica, Lucas’ precocious younger sister. While I took to Robin immediately, I wasn’t sure about Erica’s inconclusion till about the halfway point, where I began to warm to her (pairing her and Dustin up as a team really worked). Lucas and Mike get their share of moments too, but Will has the standout ones amongst the boys with Noah Schnapp nailing Will’s PTSD and struggles to adapt to the fact his friends has changed since previous seasons. If any characters are poorly served, its arguably Nancy and Jonathan – their storyline at the Hawkins Post newspaper may have a political point to prove, but it isn’t that entertaining or even interesting. Fortunately, by episode 5 they’re back helping the youngsters and instantly get better material to deal with.

Visually, the show looks as good as ever (has Netflix ever hired a bad director? Yet to see it – BBC take note) and the special effects are great throughout. The new monster is far more imposing and memorable than the Demodogs in Season 2, but is somewhat undermined by the fact it doesn’t kill anywhere near as many as the less-powerful Demogorgon in Season 1 managed. Still, its horrific in its design and inventive in how it gets created, so I won’t criticise it too much. Arguably the season’s human villains are more memorable, particularly the grizzled, Schwarzenegger-esque thug who has several brutal fights with Hopper over the course of the season.

The humour can be hit and miss (Dustin’s group gets the best of it, Mike and Lucas less so) but mostly it works well and establishes a lighter tone. Arguably too light – while the writers were clearly deliberately drawing a line between the light-hearted, hormonal teen dramas and the horrific mind flayer plot, it ends up slightly jarring – seasons 1 and 2 were more consistently dark in tone, but with great lashings of charm and humour to lighten the mood. I have to say I preferred that approach – this season is entertaining, but it lacks the persistent tension of earlier sessions (at least for the first four episodes – the last four were definitely better balanced and to my mind, more effective). Ultimately though, the writers do a good job – the character arcs all make sense and feel realistic and earned, and while there are undoubtedly plot holes and conveniences, they tend to be minor blips rather than irritating missteps.

Overall, its an entertaining, visually splendid instalment of one of Netflix’s best shows. The writers keep the plot grounded for the most part, and showcase the talent of the wonderful actors involved. However, for all that, its probably my least favourite of the three – but given how good the first two were, that doesn’t mean all that much. Just don’t make us wait as long for season 4, okay Duffer Brothers?

For those of you wishing to avoid, spoilers, my season rating is below, so stop there.

Rating: 4 out of 5

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW!!! DON’T READ ON UNLESS YOU’VE SEEN THE FINALE!!

Kudos to Dacre Montgomery – he made Billy someone you could empathise with and even feel a bit sorry for – which isn’t easy when he was so unlikable in season 2 and helped the mind flayer (unwillingly or not) kill a lot of people in S3. Sadie Sink in particular helps us care about Billy’s fate – whatever the issues between them, its clear that Max wants to save her step-brother if she can, which only makes his heroic sacrifice to save Eleven all the more tragic. His death wasn’t exactly a surprise – I’d called well before the season started, but it hit hard nonetheless.

Somewhat surprisingly, so did Alexei’s. Given that he was working for the bad guys and seemed quite a dick in episode 6, the show did well to make us care about him. His banter with Murray and his obvious joy at experiencing an American Fair did much to humanise him – which made his callous execution all the more horrific.

But obviously, the big hit is Hopper. He wasn’t particularly likeable this season, but ultimately, he was there to do the right thing, and this time, his decision to risk all in the final episode cost him. At least, we think it did. The post-credits scene in Russia cast some doubt on his death, but Hopper isn’t the only possibility for the American prisoner. Who knows – maybe the Russians snatched Murray after their base was shut down. Or maybe, just maybe… Eleven’s Father from S1 isn’t dead. Hell, if they know about Eleven, it might even be her Mother they’ve kidnapped or maybe her ‘Sister’ 8 from Season 2. To be honest, any of those options is preferable to Hopper – its too obvious and too easy a way out. Besides – could you imagine the effect on Eleven if she believes its Hopper they’ve got and it turns out to be Father instead? That would really be a great twist for S4.

Next: Reviews of other Netflix titans, such as Jessica Jones, Black Mirror and Orange is the New Black will follow in the next few weeks – along with Spiderman: Far from Home.

 

The Iron Throne Review

Warning: Spoilers. Obviously…

It’s finally over. Love or loathe the final season, the biggest TV show in the world right now has ended. We might never see its like again… but did it end with a bang or a whimper?

I won’t go into my take on the overall season here. I’ll leave that for a separate article. This is purely a review of the finale. There’s a tradition for Game of Thrones’ finales to be less impactful than the second-to-last episode of each season, but the finales have still packed their share of gut-punches and important events (Tyrion murdering Tywin, Stannis’ death, Jon getting stabbed, etc.) and given that this was the last ever episode, you’d have hoped it would be a memorable one, even if there wasn’t going to be any battle on the scale of ‘The Long Night’ or ‘The Bells’. It also needed to tie up several plotlines and characters arcs in a satisfying way.

On one count the finale succeeded. On the other it failed. The character arcs, for the most part, all came to a satisfactory conclusion. Arya doesn’t settle with Gendry, instead she heads off to explore the world. Sansa becomes Queen in the North. Jon reunites with Tormund and Ghost and heads to live with the Wildlings north of the wall. Tyrion forms a new small council with him as hand of the king. None of these felt like unsatisfactory endings for the characters, and all felt earned by 8 seasons of build up.

The character moments were definitely the strongest part of this episode. Tyrion throwing away his ‘hand of the Queen’ pin in disgust at Daenerys. The Starks bidding farewell to Jon. Tyrion grieving over his siblings deaths. Jon finally choosing duty over love and reluctantly killing Daenerys. Brienne finishing Jaime’s entry in the White Book of the Kingsguard. All were perfectly played. The humour was pretty good too, with Bronn on the Small Council and Sansa shutting down Edmure Tully being the absolute highlights.

I think whatever you thought of the finale and the last series in general, there are three things we can agree were perfect. The acting was top-notch throughout, and I think we’ll see a lot more of this cast in the years to come. Peter Dinklage and Kit Harington largely carry this finale, but most of the cast get one last opportunity to shine. The production values and special effects were the quality of a mid-budget movie, something unparalleled on modern television. Finally, Ramin Djawadi’s music was pitch-perfect and greatly added to the effectiveness and emotion of many of the key scenes throughout. I hope we hear a lot more from him as a composer over the next few years.

But ultimately, I doubt ‘The Iron Throne’ is going to top many peoples best episodes lists. While the first half suitably follows on from ‘The Bells’, the second half feels a bit too neat and tidy for my liking, like the showrunners were just trying to wrap up and get to the finish line as smoothly as possible. The unsullied just upping and leaving, and letting both Jon and Tyrion go, feels too convenient. You could argue Grey Worm just has no fight left in him, but this wasn’t really well demonstrated. Its also a notably low-key affair for a finale – Daenerys’ death is the only thing of real importance that occurs.

When I compare this to the finales of other similar shows I’ve watched, it does feel a bit lacking. Merlin’s final episode focused on the biggest reveal in the shows history (Merlin’s magic finally being revealed to Arthur). Robin Hood and Spartacus both ended with spectacular, bloody battles which featured numerous important character deaths. Rome finished with the deaths of Antony and Cleopatra but left things open-ended for many of its other characters, and in a far more bittersweet way than Thrones has here. By comparison to those shows (which were all good but not as good as Thrones overall), this finale wasn’t that important or memorable. In the end, Thrones reaches a finishing point which feels earned and appropriate (if perhaps a touch too upbeat for Westeros) but doesn’t get there in a particularly compelling way. It’s not a bad episode by any means, but its probably the weakest season finale in Thrones’ run – which is not what you want from the last ever episode.

Overall, Thrones’ ending proves as divisive as the rest of the season. Its a good episode of television which wraps things up in a fitting way, but as a finale, it leaves a bit to be desired. I won’t mark the episode down much for it, but ultimately I suspect it isn’t going to be one of the Thrones’ episode that lingers in anyone’s memory in a few years time.

Rating: 4 out of 5

And Now Our Watch Has Ended.

Coming Soon: My Season 8 Review and, finally, I get round to reviewing Avengers: Endgame.

 

 

Game of Thrones: The Bells Review

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS!!!

I said in my review of episode 3 that I could live with the show prematurely dispatching the White Walkers if the final 3 episodes were suitably epic. Judging by episodes 4 and 5, I can safely say that the show has delivered a worthy spectacle and maintained my interest going into the last episode.

The Bells was a raw, tense affair, which did not hold back in showing the sheer brutality of war. While all of Thrones’ previous epic battles have had high casualties, only ‘Hardhome’ had civilians being caught on the front lines the way that happened here. It was shocking even by Thrones standards. Miguel Saponchik delivered yet again in the directors chair (and there were no lighting issues this time either!). Maisie Williams has probably been the standout cast member this season – her reactions to the chaos unfolding around her here were perfectly portrayed, and reminded us that for all her training and cold kills, she’s still human. And still a hero. Unlike some female characters I could mention…

I won’t go into Daenerys’ arc and whether it was a betrayal of her character or the culmination of a long set-up – that’s something I will do a whole article on later. Needless to say, turning one of the show’s main ‘heroic figures’ into a villain is a bold move to make in the final season (I’m struggling to think of another show which has done that) but was probably a necessary one. Watching a victory over Cersei in the final episode would not have been a suitable replacement for the ending people expected at the start of the season (defeating the White Walkers in a last stand). Taking on a Mad Daenerys, on the other hand, is a far more unpredictable final conflict and one better suited to a finale. While I don’t necessarily agree with everything the showrunners have done this series, I can understand the vision they have pursued.

All the fans getting angry are missing one key point – while the showrunners have largely invented the majority of the last two seasons, they are still using George R.R. Martin’s broad vision for how the series is supposed to end. He told them three big twists the final books would contain a while back: one was Shireen, one was Hodor, and now it seems likely (unless the final episode has an even bigger shock in store) that the last twist was Daenerys going full Mad Queen and laying waste to King’s Landing. Blaming the showrunners for rushing the last two seasons is a viable compliant, blaming then for where Daenerys story has ended is not. On the other hand, I can understand if you dislike some of the show’s inconsistent logic (there’s no way Ghost and that many Dothraki should have survived the doomed charge in episode 3, and the accuracy of the Scorpion weapons seems to change every episode to suit the needs of the plot). Let’s face it, Euron happening to wash up on the same beach Jaime was on is a bit lazy. In many ways this season has reminded me of ‘Beyond the Wall’ in season 7. Utterly gripping as a spectacle, but lacking the logic and tight plotting of the earlier seasons.

But as with ‘Beyond the Wall’ I’m enjoying it too much to really care about its flaws. Lord of the Rings is filled with stupid, non-sensical moments and easy fixes and plot armour, but people love it regardless. I can understand why people might be getting turned off by this season. But in my view, while I would never claim its the best season of Thrones, it’s still a very enjoyable one. Even if you hated the rest of it, the Hound vs. Mountain fight has to be one of the best scenes in Thrones’ history. It’s brutal, its unrelenting, and it packs a gut punch. The Hound realising he couldn’t win was the most realistic moment in this episode, and his final sacrifice to kill the monstrous Gregor was the perfect exit for the character. The Jaime/Euron fight was similarly engrossing, and I liked how neither could outright beat the other – both ended up mortally wounded when a lesser show would have had Jaime triumph after a prolonged struggle. Jaime ultimately sacrificing everything to be with Cersei at the end was heartbreaking, and I couldn’t give a fig that the ‘Valonqar’ theory wasn’t followed. Kudos to Lena Headey as well, for giving a hated character a genuinely tragic exit. For all her flaws, Cersei lost everything and couldn’t save the man she loved or her unborn baby – that is far more satisfying than seeing her die at Arya, Jaime or Daenerys’ hands would have been.

Overall, the Bells is a grim, shocking episode that is part war-film, part fantasy epic, and part horror story. Its one of Thrones’ best episodes – haters be damned. You can go and wither with Last Jedi haters on the pyre of insignificance for all I care – true fans don’t hate great shows or films for not playing out the way they expected or not living up to incredibly convoluted theories.

Final Thought: Pretty sure Daenerys just killed more people than Joffrey, Tywin, Walder Frey, the Boltons, Euron, Cersei and the FUCKING NIGHT KING managed combined. Just putting it out there.

Rating: 5 out of 5!

Next Time: Daenerys’ victory seems likely to be short lived, with Tyrion and Jon both horrified at her actions and Arya looking decidedly murderous…

The Last of the Starks Review

Now THAT was more like it!

Warning: Spoilers!!

The opening three episodes of thrones were pretty one-sided in terms of style. Two were entirely character driven, one was an all-action epic. Thrones tends to work best when it finds a balance between the two, and that’s exactly what episode 4 does. I know this season is getting some blowback from fans, but then again, fans not being able to cope when something subverts their expectations is rarely a reliable indicator that something is actually wrong. I’m not exactly happy with how the White Walker arc was resolved, but i’m still willing to give the last episodes a chance to justify that decision. Judging by episode 4, the show may still stick the landing.

Varys and Tyrion scheming was a highlight of Season 2, and it was nice to see them actually debating about the future of the realm again, rather than just throwing cheap jibes at each other. Both have been somewhat sidelined for the last 3 and a bit seasons, so getting them to have a hand in who finally sits on the Iron Throne would be more than welcome. The tension between the Starks and Daenerys is producing some of the most compelling stuff right now, and bringing in conflicted loyalties among Tyrion and Varys has really set up an interesting conflict for the last two episodes.

While the action is what this episode will be remembered for, it contains some key character beats as well. Bronn’s confrontation with the Lannister brothers felt long overdue, and Jerome Flynn reminds us that for all the good Bronn has done over the years, he is at the end, a mercenary – one who hasn’t been paid his dues. The realisation that Bronn probably would kill the pair of them if he thought Daenerys would lose helped make this a great scene. Arya and Brienne also had some key moments with their respective love interests, neither of which ultimately seem likely to end well – although should Arya and Jaime survive the last two episodes, who knows. Nikolas Coster-Waldau, Maisie Williams, Joe Dempsie and Gwendoline Christie all do great work here, and really capture the raw emotion of these rejections. Another standout moment was Jon’s funeral speech, which coupled with yet another haunting track from Ramin Djawadi, brought home the losses from the Long Night in arguably a more effective way than episode 3 itself managed.

MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW. LAST CHANCE TO TURN BACK!

I criticised the last episode for not being shocking enough. Not so this time. Rhaegal’s death came out of nowhere and was all the more devastating for it. The show has clearly been doing a bait-and-switch with the Missandei-Grey Worm romance. Everyone expected Grey Worm to die in the Battle of Winterfell, but I doubt anyone expected Missandei to get executed by Cersei instead! Those two deaths seem to be the final straw that makes a bloody final two episodes inevitable – as well as the moment that completely pushes Daenerys over the edge. She really has lost virtually everything now – most of her allies are gone, two of her dragons and most of her closest advisers are dead, and to top it all off it’s clear to her that her ‘destiny’ of taking the Iron Throne has a serious obstacle, willing or not, in Jon Snow and his supporters. Jon’s protestations were all well and good, but let’s face it, with now more than half the surviving cast loyal to Jon, Sansa or Arya rather than Dany, its clear her paranoia isn’t entirely unjustified.

The show has done a very good job setting Daenerys up as a potential last villain once Cersei and Euron are dealt with. Her horrific executions of nobles in Meereen (whether they deserved it or not), her arrogant belief in her own right to rule, her insistence on everyone bending the knee and burning the Tarly’s alive for refusing to do so… there’s always been shades of Cersei in her, as well as similarities to Stannis. Her statement that civilian casualties were a price she was willing to pay for taking King’s Landing was chilling. Her recent losses coupled with her increasing paranoia could easily turn her into someone as cold as Stannis, as arrogant as Joffrey and as ruthless as Cersei. She’s only a few steps away from being her father’s daughter. And I think Varys was right – it seems doubtful even Jon can bring her back from the brink now, especially after seeing Missandei coldly butchered right in front of her. With Varys plotting against her, Sansa hostile and Tyrion wavering, things are looking bleak for Dany right now.

Overall episode 4 is classic thrones. Humour, action, shocks and a hell of a final gut punch combine to ease some of the doubts people may have had about this final season. The stage is set for one more epic battle – and quite possibly a few final surprises…

Rating: 5 out of 5!

Next Time: The Mad Queen(s) face off in the Battle of King’s Landing as Jaime and Tyrion both must decide where their loyalties truly lie…

 

The Long Night Review

MAJOR SPOILERS!! Well what did you expect?

How the f*ck do you review this one?

Ask one person: its a cinematic masterpiece of filmmaking and entertainment.

Ask another: its a disappointing end to Thrones’ longest running story arc that refuses to break any of its toys and wasn’t lit properly.

Both are valid opinions.

Let’s focus on the good first. The director Miguel Sapochik deserves all the plaudits and awards he gets for this episode – the set pieces were amazing, and he managed to cram them full of tension. Yet, the lighting was low (good job my tv display has a ‘cinema’ mode) but its a bloody Night Battle. It’s hard to light it more and keep any semblance of realism. They probably could have done better with the first half, but let’s move on.

The physical acting of the cast was very strong throughout – the way they epitomised the characters’ despair, fear and exhaustion was universally strong – particularly from Maisie Williams. Given the sheer scale, the focus wasn’t lost on individuals – most of the characters had a chance to shine at some point – which isn’t easy in an episode with little dialogue.

Analysing the whole battle will take ages, so I’ll just highlight what I thought were the standout scenes. The build up (with Ramin Djawadi’s expert tension-raising music) and the Dothraki’s doomed charge was great. Arya being hunted through Winterfell was a tense masterclass. Jorah and Theon’s last stands were brilliantly heroic. But there were two that really stood out for me. First was Jon taking on the Night’s King. The dragon fight was epic enough, but Daenerys failing to roast the Night King (and the Night King’s smirk) was absolutely awesome. Then the best bit: Jon charges the Night’s King. He turns round. You expect them to fight… and then the Night’s King raises his arms and resurrects a whole new army. That must has caused more ‘of fuck’s from the audience than any other moment. After the whole way the show has set these two up as rivals, the Night’s King simply outplays Jon and turns his back on him. Brilliant.

Then that last scene. Jon killing the Night’s King would have been too predictable. Daenerys’ dragons killing him would have been too boring. Someone like Bran or Beric doing it might have been a nice twist – but I doubt anything would have compared to Arya’s stupendous drop, grab and stab execution of the White Walker’s leader and the entire Undead army. Damn girl, you deserve a few more sessions with Gendry – or anyone else you damn want.

So in summary, an epic, record-breaking masterpiece of film-making, direction and action that rivals the best battle scenes from TV (Spartacus) or Film (Lord of the Rings).

Now the flip side of the argument – and the reason this episode hasn’t got perfect scores from critics or a moderate chunk of the fanbase.

The White Walkers are the main threat on the show – they’ve been slowly built up ever since episode 1. While this was an epic battle, it is slightly anticlimactic both that they were beaten in one episode and that they won’t be around for the final episode. You have to ask how on Earth the last 3 episodes can avoid an anti-climax. Sure, we all want to see Cersei and Euron die, and there’s scope for one more huge battle, but where’s the tension going to be? Fighting for the throne (in a battle the plot dictates the heroes pretty much have to win) is hardly a compelling substitute for a battle for the survival of the living. I severely doubt the books will deal with the walkers this early. How much better might it have been if Cersei had been destroyed (either by Daenerys or by the White Walkers) first, and the Battle of Winterfell represented a true last stand? There would have been a genuine doubt in viewers minds that the heroes would win then. There’s also a sense of it all being a bit rushed; the Walkers dying a mere 3 episodes after breaking through the wall feels a slight waste – I feel like either them winning an inconclusive victory at Winterfell and forcing the heroes to join forces with Cersei, or the Night King destroying King’s Landing first, might have been more dramatically satisfying.

Those concerns may all be unfounded. The last 3 episodes might be masterpieces and any sense of better endings will be forgotten. There is, however, a bigger problem here that will probably linger. It’s a problem the show has had since the ‘Battle of the Bastards’. It refuses to kill its core characters.

A huge factor in Thrones standing out from the crowd early on was its ability to shock its audience. Ned Stark’s beheading. The Red Wedding. Joffrey’s death. Shireen’s sacrifice. Hodor. We haven’t had anything equivalent since then – which is a problem. Take the marvellous ‘Spoils of War’ in S7. It probably remains the best battle in Thrones history. But if the show was being honest with itself, Bronn and Jaime should both have died in it. Especially Jaime – Bronn’s last minute rescue was one thing, but if a soldier as heavily armoured as Jaime goes into a river, they drown. No exceptions. Only one thing saved him: plot armour.

Plot armour is commonplace in stuff like Marvel movies: putting characters into impossible situations their survive for no other reason than the show/film/book doesn’t want to kill them yet. The first five seasons of Thrones had no issue with this – Jon, Daenerys etc. never was backed into a corner they couldn’t conceivably get out of. Season 6 started to have issues – Arya’s wounds and her plunge into a probably disease ridden canal rightly raised some eyebrows. The battle of the bastards was epic, but the deaths were all predictable. Had Davos or Tormund brought it, i’d have been truly shocked. But Ramsay, Wun Wun and Rickon? Called literally all of them 4 episodes prior. Beyond the Wall pissed some fans off last year for similar reasons – Daenerys’ rescue was epic but ludicrous, and of the 7 major characters in the episode, only Thoros and a bunch of nameless extras died. Sure, Viserion was a surprise, but really Tormund and Jon shouldn’t have made it out of there.

Battle of Winterfell. The Living vs. the Dead. Surely a load of the main cast had got to die right? Wrong. Sure, some survivors were inevitable – Jon and Daenerys needed to still be there for the final episode. But for most of the deaths to be predictable ones was disappointing. Lyanna, Edd and Beric are supporting characters. Theon and Jorah were always likely casualties protecting more important characters. Melisandre’s return was well done, but her death hardly counts as much of a shock. Too many characters were clearly in dire straights in that battle – for all of them to survive is, bluntly, lazy writing. Sam, Brienne, Jaime, Grey Worm, Tormund and Gendry were all on the front lines. None died. All were clearly overwhelmed in the Courtyard. None died. Sansa, Tyrion, Varys and Gilly were completely unarmed and caught off guard in the Crypt. None died. Both dragons and Grey Wind were losing the fights they got into – all are still alive next week. Honestly… this might not be an issue if the final 3 episodes put some major surprises – but if they don’t, than the shows’ refusal to break risks will be an immensely annoying one.

There you have it, both sides of the argument. I can’t mark an episode this impressive down. But my reservations won’t let me give it a perfect score either.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 (It’s Civil War all over again)

Overall, this episode was a landmark in TV history – as an individual episode it was hugely engaging and massively impressive. As the payoff for a long-running and once-shocking series… it leaves a bit to be desired. But whether its shortcomings are an issue is down to the last 3 episodes. Come on Benioff and Weiss. Down let us down.

And turn the lights back on!!

Game of Thrones: A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms Review

Warning: Spoilers.

One area of Thrones I don’t talk about perhaps as much as I should is the writing. Given how successful the show has been, its surprising to think that the show only has ever had six writers work on it. Only three of those writers have written more than 4 episodes. While the Lion’s share have been done by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the two showrunners, a lot of significant episodes, such as Jon Snow and Ygritte’s romance in ‘Kissed by Fire’ or Tyrion’s trial in ‘The Laws of Gods and Men’, have been written by a third writer: Bryan Cogman. Cogman’s episodes tend to be character-driven ones rather than epics with tons of fight scenes, and that’s exactly the case here (surprisingly, this is one of the VERY rare Thrones episodes where no one dies – not even an extra!). ‘A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms’ is Cogman’s swansong (all 4 remaining episodes are written by Benioff and Weiss) and its fittingly one of his best entries for the series.

If the point of the first episode was to reintroduce the characters, reacquaint them with each other and get them in the right places for the season, this episode is designed solely to remind you why you should care about all of them. With the Battle of Winterfell looming in episode 3, its likely some, perhaps even many of these characters won’t make it. So episode 2 decides to focus all its energy on spending some time with them, to make the inevitable gut punches of the next episode hit all the harder. Almost every character, from main players like Daenerys and Davos to supporting characters like Beric Dondarrion and Gilly, get something here. The action being entirely focused on Winterfell helps immeasurably, as diversions to King’s Landing wouldn’t have added anything.

There’s a fair amount of humour here, both from scathing one-liners from Arya and Tormund’s latest, hilariously futile attempts to seduce Brienne. None of it falls flat, and the actors and actresses hit the right notes consistently. Maisie Williams owns this episode, particularly her sex scene with Gendry (it had to happen eventually) and her reconciliation with the Hound. Sansa and Daenerys’ conversation also made for a great scene, with Daenerys initially successful attempts to break the ice ultimately failing to sway a Sansa who clearly distrusts Dany’s intentions.

There’s a few more meaningful reunions too, mainly involving Jaime, with Nikolas Coster-Waldau being the other standout actor in this episode. His reminiscing with Tyrion, his sweet gestures to Brienne and his earnest apology to Bran were all perfectly played. It was also nice to see Jon and Sam reunited with Edd and Tormund.

This episode did seem to both set up potential endings and draw character arcs to a near close in case the ones involved are killed next week. Theon and Jaime’s redemption arcs are now complete, while Grey Worm and Missandei’s romance is set for either a dream ending or, more likely, a tragic outcome. Pod seems to have learnt most of the lessons he needs to from Brienne, who finally achieves her dream of becoming a knight in what may be the episode’s standout scene. Arya and Gendry’s romantic connection is finally brought to the fore, Daenerys’ mistrust of Tyrion’s abilities seems resolved and Jorah found some measure of peace after a conversation with his cousin Lyanna.

Speaking of Lyanna, Jon really has no sense of timing in terms of delivering truth bombs does he? The potential for a late season Jon-Daenerys conflict seems to be growing with every episode… assuming they both survive the coming battle of course. The White Walkers are finally at Winterfell – and while Bran’s plan of taking out the Night’s King seems viable – you can bet it won’t be that simple…

Overall, episode 2 is a heartfelt, character-based, very entertaining hour of television, which sets the stage perfectly for the upcoming battle. If you’re complaining about the lack of action, you’ve missed the point entirely. Bryan Cogman’s reminded us all why these characters are some of the most compelling on TV, and why we should miss them if they don’t survive next week…

Rating: 5 out of 5!

If I had to guess casualties of the upcoming battle, my money would be on Grey Worm, Theon, Beric, The Hound and Tormund. But as gut-wrenching as those would be, there is the possibility that it could be much, much worse. Let’s hope those crypts are as safe as the alliance thinks they are…

Next Week should be a hell of an episode. We’re all worried about character deaths, but I swear if there’s an undead Hodor in the White Walker’s army…. tears are coming.

Game of Thrones: Winterfell Review

Warning: Spoilers Follow (Obviously…)

It’s kind of tradition for Game of Thrones premieres to be the worst episode of every season. Not that they are bad episodes (the lowest I’ve ever given a Thrones episode is 3.5/5) but its just that they tend to be uneventful ones. There’s often a focus on humour, character moments or set-up for the more important episodes. The most memorable bit of a premiere episode I can remember is the Hound and Arya slaughtering several Lannister soldiers for some chicken in Season 4. The only important character who has ever died in a premiere is Mance Rayder, executed by Stannis back in S5 (No I’m not counting any of the Dornish characters as important – I know a load of them got killed in S6’s premiere, but honestly, who cared?). So any ‘fans’ claiming the premiere was terrible are talking out of their arse. Sure, it’s (hopefully) going to be the most non-eventful episode of the season, but what else did you expect? It was still entertaining and set up the season in just 51 minutes. I call that a good episode’s work, if not a great one.

The episode does a lot in terms of character reunions and moving things into place for the rest of the season. Looking at King’s Landing, Cersei now has her mercenary army, has reluctantly slept with Euron to maintain his loyalty going forward, and has dispatched Bronn to assassinate Jaime and Tyrion. I mean, we all know Bronn won’t, but this is Thrones, and Jaime has broken enough promises to Bronn that there is a ever so small possibility… Aside from all that, Theon rescued Yara (surprisingly easily) and headed off for Winterfell to help the Starks fight the dead, while Yara takes back the Iron Islands to serve as a refuge if things go wrong…

At Winterfell, there’s several joyous reunions and a LOT of awkwardness. Fans have waited years to see Arya reconnect with Jon and Gendry, and those interactions didn’t disappoint. Things were a bit frostier with the Hound, but its the Hound, what did you expect? Part of me wonders if he might end up dying to save Arya later this season, letting the two finally reconcile, but we will wait and see. Sansa’s reunion with Tyrion was well-played – there’s some mutual respect still there, but let’s face it, Sansa at this point has kind of eclipsed Tyrion both as a leader and a character (with Tyrion largely relegated to telling predictable jokes, which Varys calls him out for) and her slightly dismissive reaction to him is justified. It’s also VERY clear how Sansa feels about Daenerys – while there was tension with Jon last season, at least’s he’s family. Daenerys isn’t, and I don’t she’s going to win Sansa and the Northern Lords over anytime soon.

The episode sets up some interesting threads going forward. We all assumed the series would either deal with the White Walkers first, then see another round of the civil war for the iron throne, or would see the alliance fail at Winterfell and the Walkers march on King’s Landing. Now there’s another element in the mix: everyone vs. Daenerys. Let’s face it, nothing Dany has done in the past four seasons has demonstrated that she would actually be a good ruler – she made a mess of things in Meereen, burned the Tarlys alive for nothing (poor Sam) and has spent more time arguing with her advisers than listening to them. She’s an inspirational leader, sure, and a capable general/warrior, but a queen? Sansa, Jon, and Tyrion all have stronger moral compasses and would be better than her. Even Gendry might be able to do better. The show/Jon Snow could still redeem her, but at this point her becoming an Aerys-esque mad Queen is starting to look somewhat likely. At Sam point-blank asks Jon: would Daenerys give up her crown for her people? I doubt it. Her bend the knee obsession from last season showed she is utterly fixated on her ‘right to rule’, and that’s Joffrey territory right there. Once the dead are defeated, would Jon really ask the Northerners to fight for Daenerys? Would any of them actually do so? Assuming they are both still alive in the finale, things could get very interesting.

The acting is strong throughout ‘Winterfell’, but the episode belongs to Kit Harington, John Bradley and Maisie Williams (though Sophie Turner gets a few moments). Bradley is terrific as a heartbroken yet determined Sam, Kit has to portray a wider range of emotions than anyone else in the episode, and Maisie works wonders with a couple of well chosen facial expressions and sly quips. The White Walkers are conspicuous by their absence, with only the aftermath of their attack on Last Hearth seen. Quite what the Night King’s message is meant to signify is unclear, but it certainly left a sense of foreboding hanging over things – just in time for the episode to end with Jaime and Bran coming face to face. That should be an interesting conversation to open next week’s episode with…

Overall, a well-acted, funny premiere, if not one that will ever top anyone’s ‘best ever episodes lists’. But now most of the set up’s done, we can really get down to business – and find out if the grand alliance can dealing with the various rifts between them before the White Walkers turn up…

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Expect weekly reviews of this series, but for time reasons, they’ll always go up on a Tuesday evening.

P.S. Bronn’s clearly no Podrick if the prostitutes were getting that distracted. Just saying 😉

A Series of Unfortunate Events, Season 3 Review

Starring: Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Warburton, Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, Presley Smith and Lucy Punch

Warning: Minor Spoilers Follow

I wasn’t all that impressed with the first season of Netflix’s adaptation. Sure, it was entertaining in its way and better than the film, but let’s be honest, that isn’t hard. The second season picked up a bit, but mainly because it was based on some of the better books in the series (and even then, it’s Vile Village adaptation was dire). Fortunately, it’s a case of third time lucky for Netflix. I don’t know whether or not its that the scriptwriters just kicked things up a gear or the fact that these episodes are based off the best books in the series or that because the final season its more focused on wrapping things up in a satisfying way, but this one WORKED!

Neil Patrick Harris, now freed from the need to play a different version of a disguised Olaf every week, is at his best here. Olaf is menacing, OTT, world-weary and maniacal, sometimes all in the same scene, and he generally carries it off with aplomb. Malina and Louis are as perfect as ever as Klaus and Violet, and Patrick Warburton finally feels like a worthwhile addition to the series. The direction and look of the thing is as great as ever, but crucially, the scripting feels a bit tighter, and boy does that make a difference. Notably, the episodes are a bit shorter than previous seasons, which seems to have been a smart decision. There’s noticeably less padding and everything just flows better.

There’s still the odd change from the books which doesn’t really strike you as necessary, but by and large, its a pretty faithful adaptation of events. But there’s one bonus here book readers will love – you finally get answers that the books, crucially, did not give you. Flashbacks in the Penultimate Peril two-parter really help to flesh out the schism, the sugar bowl, Olaf’s turn from Volunteer to Villain and Lemony and Kit Snicket’s characters. Kit Snicket is perfectly cast as well, which is crucial seeing as she’s so important to the last few books. The other bonus is the welcome return of Carmelita Spats, who is perfectly done and is endlessly entertaining when onscreen. Lucy Punch isn’t quite as memorable as Esme as she was last season, but she still gets the odd moment.

It’s not perfect by any means – Phil still seems miscast, the Violet and Quigley subplot seems rushed and the decision to spare the bald man and the henchperson of indeterminate gender last season doesn’t really serve any purpose, but for the most part, this is a big improvement over the last two seasons. But for everything that doesn’t work, there’s plenty that does. Usman Ally nearly steals the show as the hook-handed man, while the Klaus and Fiona subplot works very believably.  The Man with Beard but no hair (played by Richard E. Grant) and the Woman with Hair but no Beard make a great set of villains to throw both Olaf and the Orphans off balance in this series as well.

Overall, Netflix finally manages to strike the right tone and conclude the series in an engaging, satisfying way. The cast give their all and the writing’s stepped up a gear from last season. The flashbacks alone give book readers a reason to check this out – it really answers any questions the books ever left you wondering…

Rating: 4 out of 5

The theme tune really is catchy isn’t it?

The Best and Worst TV of 2018

So, after films, we’re onto TV. I’m not going to run through all the stuff I’ve seen for this one, mainly because I’ve not caught up with a lot of US TV shows like Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow, so I can only review half the episodes from this year. Bear in mind I’ve not seen some of the best received stuff this year (The Bodyguard, A Very English Scandal etc.) so this is basely solely off what I’ve seen and is my opinion, not a definitive list! Feel free to comment your own best/worst shows below.

I’ll try to keep this as spoiler free as possible.

Top Five:

1. The Americans (Season 6) – The best way to some up the quality of this sublime spy drama set in the cold war is as follows: even if Game of Thrones absolutely nails Season 8 next year with battle scenes above Lord of the Rings intensity and standard, I’ll probably still name The Americans as the TV show of the Decade. It’s been that good. It’s had 5 great seasons and 1 that was merely good, but that’s still a better hit rate than any other six season show I can think of. I’ve given perhaps one episode in its entire run 3.5/5. Everything else has been 4/5 or (usually) even higher. The final season somehow managed to ramp things up a gear while still remaining the slow burning tense classic its always been. Not only did it use the masterstroke of having lead KGB spies Philip and Elizabeth on opposite sides for most of the season, but we finally saw FBI agent Stan Beeman close in on them, leading to an electrifyingly tense and devastating finale, as the Jennings finally had to face the consequences of their actions. It didn’t tie up all lose ends, but this show has always been too clever for that. After all, how many spy operations do you think have a definite, clean ending? Either way, it was utterly unmissable television, and while its one for the connoisseur rather than the mainstream, it still seems a shame that most people still haven’t had a chance to see it.

2. I’m a Celebrity (UK Series 18) – I’m not normally one for reality TV, but this had such a good line-up that I just had to give it a go. I do like I’m a celeb, but usually they have truly detestable celebs on there, like Katie Price or Gemma Collins, so I’ve avoided it for the past few years. This year though, has to be the best run the shows ever had in the UK. Not only did we have Harry Redknapp turning himself into a true national treasure with his stories, but we had Anne Hegerty battling against the odds to overcome some deep personal challenges. The show was largely heart-warming because everyone there was genuinely pleasant for the most part. Even Noel Edmonds, who you could tell was only brought in to stir things up, proved to be a pretty nice guy for most of the run. Even more surprisingly, the celebs were all very good at the trials – I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many full houses of stars! Though admittedly, they were amusingly awful at the dingo dollar challenges. The best thing of all though, had to be the cute friendship between John Barrowman (who had a song for every occasion) and Emily Atack (who was adorably cute and mischievous). If 2018 needed something, it was definitely this series, which for a few blissful weeks almost made you forget about Trump and the mess being made of Brexit.

3. Orange is the New Black (Season 6) It may not have been OITNB’s best season, but it was still Netflix’s top effort this year. Throwing all the inmates into maximum security really allowed the show to mix this up with a tenser atmosphere and some new inmates and guards. With the usual mix of comedy, dark storylines and romance (including some very surprising pairings – who’d have thought 5 years ago that Caputo and Fig would be the easiest couple on the show to root for?). ‘Badison’ made one of the show’s most detestable villains in years (probably the nastiest one since Vee in season 2) and the shows closer focus on some of the characters really allowed them to shine more than normal (Daya, Freida and Nicky in particular). Ultimately, it could have had a better overall plotline, but its set the stage for the final season well enough to scrape into my top 3.

4. Big Mouth (Season 2) Easily the funniest show on Netflix at the moment, Big Mouth is a hilarious send up of puberty that only an animated show could get away with (for obvious reasons). It has its share of family guy-esque gross out comedy and your typical teenage awkward humour, but what makes this unique is the fact it takes time to focus on both genders difficulties (usually these kind of comedies only go with one or the other) and actively personifies those awkward, stupid teenage impulses in the form of ‘hormone monsters’ who actively encourage the characters to ask each other out or to do any number of stupid things, usually with hilariously destructive or embarrassing results. It may sound ridiculous, but its worth a shot and will probably have you poking fun at your own awkward teenage experiences subconsciously – while answering all the questions you’d wished you’d had answers to ten years ago. 

5. Jessica Jones (Season 2) Despite the lack of a signature villain to rival David Tennant’s Kilgrave, Jessica Jones managed to be the most compelling superhero show this year (bearing in mind that I don’t watch Daredevil). Krysten Ritter remains one of the best actresses in Netflix’s employ, and Jessica’s self-destructive tendencies remained firmly in sight this year, particularly with Trish, Malcolm and Hogarth all having various crises of their own around her. Trish really became one of the most hateable characters on TV this series, and whether season 3 pulls off one hell of a redemption story or has her go full villain it’ll be interesting to see. The icing on the cake though, had to be Jessica’s Kilgrave hallucinations in episode 11. It was great to have David Tennant back even for just one episode, and having him play the devil on Jessica’s shoulder was a stroke of genius! Sure the first episode wasn’t great and it was still 2 or so episodes too long, but overall the series was less padded than arrow verse shows, more interesting than Luke Cage and less ridiculous than Gotham or Black Lightning.

Bottom Three:

3. Lost in Space (Netflix) – Netflix’s Lost in Space remake looked amazing, but felt hollow. It was billed as old-fashioned sci-fi, and to be honest that’s what it felt like. It was an adventure with plenty of threat and peril, but little substance or innovation. The cast worked well for the most part, even if Parker Posey’s Dr. Smith was an underwhelming villain. It was well directed and had good special effects, but ultimately, it was a very forgettable ride. Netflix can do a lot better.

2. Doctor Who Series 11 (BBC One) – Oh god, where to start with this one. How to ruin a 50+ year old show in one series? The most miscast actress possible in the title role? How to lose all the shows’ hardcore fans in a single series and achieve an audience score of 28% (and FALLING!) on Rotten Tomatoes? This isn’t Doctor Who. Its a Politically Correct Nightmare of ham-fisted dialogue, woeful villains, weak companions and patronising themes. Chris Chibnall shows his mishandling of Torchwood Series 1 and 2 was no accident – he’s even worse here. Bradley Walsh is the sole redeeming factor, but he can’t save this mess by himself. If you get past episode 5 without giving up, you’re probably a masochist or someone who’s never seen the show before. Utterly dire.

1. Britannia (Sky) – This is one mindf*ck of a show. Set during the Roman Invasion of Britain, it features a heavy emphasis on the Celts’ reaction to the Roman threat and the druids’ influence over the Britons. It has an all star cast, including Zoe Wanamaker, David Morrissey and Ian MacDiarmid, but its just so weird. The plot makes no sense, the supernatural elements feel decidedly out of place, the theme music is dire and some episodes are a real slog to get through. You might be intrigued by it initially, but honestly don’t bother. Its a total waste of your time.

Best Actor: Matthew Rhys (The Americans)

Best Actress: Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones)/Keri Russell (The Americans)

Best Supporting Actor: Mustafa Shakir (Luke Cage)

Best Supporting Actress: Selenis Leyva (Orange is the New Black)

Best Special Effects: Lost in Space

Best Animated Show: Big Mouth

Best TV Show: The Americans

Best Episode: The Americans – Dead Hand

Best Writing: The Americans

Best Soundtrack: The Americans

Best Theme Tune: Big Mouth

Best Direction: The Americans

Best on-screen pair: Emily Atack and John Barrowman (I’m a celebrity)

Best Hero – Jessica Jones

Best Villain – Bushmaster (Luke Cage)

Worst Hero: The 13th Doctor (Doctor Who)

Worst Villain Tzim-Shaue/Tim Shaw (Doctor Who)

Worst Actor: Nikolaj Lee Kaas (Britannia)

Worst Actress: Jodie Whittaker (Doctor Who)

Worst Supporting Actor: Tosin Cole (Doctor Who)

Worst Supporting Actress: Parker Posey (Lost in Space)

Worst Writing: Chris Chibnall (Doctor Who)

Worst Episode: Britannia – Episode 7

Worst Soundtrack: Britannia

Worst TV Show: Britannia