D.O.A. to Z

Cristin Milioti as ‘Zelda Vasco’ in “A to Z”This morning I saw a trailer for E4’s “brand new” acquisition: the one-year-old and already-cancelled NBC sitcom A to Z! I always think it’s a little mean/misleading that they blithely promote these short-lived shows without any kind of warning to dissuade out-of-the-loop viewers from growing too attached, even though a series has long-since been consigned to the television trash bin and will inevitably leave its new fans feeling deflated and cheated when they search online for a second season that doesn’t (and never will) exist! Still, on the upside, it does give me another excuse to lose myself in Cristin Milioti‘s eyes… sigh…

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“Old-School Pseudo-European Gangster-Style Slumber Party”

Sarah Silverman as ‘Bethany’ in “Gravy”James Roday’s Halloween-themed comedy-horror flick Gravy (2015) epitomises the motto “Too Ugly To Live – Too Weird To Die”… and I mean that in the nicest possible way. An adorable indie quirk-fest ambushed by a full-blooded cannibal massacre, it would be impossible to adequately describe the experience of watching this movie… but imagine if New Girl had a love-child with American Horror Story, and that baby boasted a top-notch cast trading witty asides while a heart-warming story of heroine-ism played out, punctuated by stabs of random violence and gross-out gags. In a word: Awesome-sauce!

Of course, this sort of (literally) clownish horror-comedy isn’t everyone’s cup of cocoa… but any movie that featured Sarah Silverman (as a bunny-suited convenience-store-worker)*, Sutton Foster (as a resourceful bartender), Molly Ephraim (as a bitchy waitress), and Jimmi Simpson (as a fun-loving flesh-eater!) was pretty much guaranteed to pique my interest… and that curiosity was rewarded in spades by this gleefully macabre, quick-witted, laugh-out-loud firecracker of a movie!

Sutton Foster as ‘Kerry’ in “Gravy”As soon as the end credits had finished rolling, I added this bad-boy to my “to buy” list… if only because I’m hoping that the DVD subtitles will help me appreciate all the throwaway lines and obscure references that pepper the script. Although the potential audience for this sort of off-beat oddity is probably pretty small, I’ve no doubt that it will attract a loyal following of weirdoes like me, who will happily re-watch it every All Hallows’ Eve!

Note: The movie’s only technical flaw is that the (otherwise excellent) soundtrack tends to overpower the dialogue at times. I thought this was just my TV torturing me, until I read a professional review complaining about the same problem. Pesky!


* Her role is pretty small, and she only appears in two brief scenes bookending the main story… but she’s in full-on super-cute flirt mode, so it’s well-worth checking out, if you’re a fan of hers.

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Nyfiken | Nysgerrig

Sofia Helin on the cover of “Radio Times” (11/15)T’other day I was riding in the lift of a multi-storey car-park, when I spotted the face of Sofia Helin* staring up at me from the cover of a magazine sat in another shopper’s trolley. I’d been anticipating the arrival of the third season of The Bridge (aka Bron/Broen) for a couple months now, so I couldn’t help peering in to try to read the text accompanying the photograph… which is when the other shopper noticed my interest, and started self-consciously fiddling with their bags, as if worried I was planning to snatch something out of them! Thankfully, I was able to overcome the criminal tendencies that are part-and-parcel of having long-hair and an unkempt beard for long enough to purchase my own legal copy of the magazine in question… this week’s Radio Times! I didn’t realise the show was popular enough to score such a prominent plug from such a mainstream publication, but apparently it’s been a big success for BBC4, and brought in (relatively) high ratings for them, so yay for that!

Anyhoo, as TV listings guides are so ephemeral, and Helin had such interesting things to say in the (slightly SPOILER-y) interview they published, I thought it might be nice to post it here, for others to enjoy (with apologies to RT‘s interviewer Ben Dowell):

Sofia Helin as ‘Saga Norén’ in “The Bridge” (S3)When we last tuned in to the bleak, wintry Scandi crime drama The Bridge, things had taken a tricky turn for our two detectives. The flawed, emotional, likeable Dane, Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia), had just been arrested for poisoning the man who had killed his son. And Sofia Helin’s Swedish cop Saga Noren had sniffed out her partner’s crimes and shopped him. Martin was last seen looking ruefully at her during his arrest while Saga looked on impassively. It appeared that loyalty did not matter to Saga, nor empathy, her Asperger’s-type condition leaving her short on both. It was getting the job done that was important. Since then, Bodnia and The Bridge creator Hans Rosenfeldt disagreed over how his character would operate in series three, which starts on Saturday. Bodnia thought he should stay in prison; Rosenfeldt wanted him free. In the end Bodnia pulled out in April 2014, leaving Rosenfeldt to make hasty rewrites for filming due that autumn. Much of the plot stayed intact but Saga was given a new partner, Henrik Sabroe (Thure Lindhardt). Rosenfeldt says there was (and remains) no ill feeling.

But how did all this affect Sofia Helin, the woman behind the Porsche-driving, leather trouser-wearing brilliant oddball that is Saga? “It was a painful process before the decision was made,” she says, “and at first I was terrified, unhappy and, of course, sad. But I quite quickly realised this was an opportunity for me as an actor to use the situation. So I started using it, and said, ‘Sofia, step forward and do it.’ We had a new energy to do something completely new.” As fans of the show will have clocked by now, Saga is the kind of woman who would have been pleased to be working by herself. But her new partner Henrik is someone with whom she has a “good relationship”, says Rosenfeldt. “We couldn’t have them fighting for ten episodes, and we have found that if people take against Saga on screen they end up being hated by the audience!”

Sofia Helin as ‘Saga Norén’ in “The Bridge” (S3)This series is as dark as ever (in every sense) and sees Saga investigate the murder of a gay woman (and pioneer of Denmark’s first gender-neutral pre-school) in an apparent gesture against her supposed betrayal of family values. Family and prejudice is a clear theme and the series will also see Saga face up to the suicide of her sister Jennifer, mentioned in the last series. And we meet her “awful” (her words) mother for the first time. “It was hard to go into her past – quite depressing actually,” adds Helin. “The guilt, the suicide of a kid… I had to go into really dark places within me to find her dark places so I spent months in darkness.”

Rosenfeldt really puts Saga through the mill in series three, “She’s not on top of things, and we see her emotion affecting her work for the first time,” he says. But he was keen to have a lower body count from the “ridiculous” 37 corpses that piled up in series two. “Because I am so much into my character I don’t count bodies,” says Helin. “I am so much into Saga, I see everything from her perspective… It’s the story, the psychological issues that I am interested in and what makes people do what they do.”

Part of the fascination of The Bridge is its exploration of the differences between Swedes and Danes, who live on opposite sides of the Oresund Bridge that the programme is named after. This new series draws attention to the Danish notion that the Swedes are much more politically correct, and to the two countries’ different approaches to the refugee crisis: the Swedes have taken in many more displaced people than Denmark (and the UK), something Helin says her countrymen and women should be proud of. “You’re taking 4,000 a year and your population is 64 million and we are taking 100,000 and we are nine million. So we have to discuss it. It’s a big responsibility we have. I am so proud of Sweden, I think it’s so beautiful. When you make it simple, say, if someone stood outside your door saying, ‘They are killing me, will you let me come in?’, could you say no? Why do you have to make it more complicated than that? If they are coming to ask us, don’t we have to open our doors? After a few years people coming in start to gain for the country.”**

Sofia Helin as ‘Saga Norén’ in “The Bridge” (S3)Helin’s social awareness also extended to the character. While Rosenfeldt has always resisted diagnosing Saga’s condition (“It means we are free to do what we want with her as a character”), Helin is clear she has a form of Asperger’s syndrome. “Saga would never go to a doctor to diagnose herself,” says Helin firmly, “and she has avoided that all her life. She knows she’s different and she knows about Asperger’s as well. If someone asked her she would say: ‘It might be but it’s not important. It’s important that I can work and I am good at that.’ For me it was a great help to read about and meet people with Asperger’s. I went out onto the streets being her, to experience how other people would react. I am talking to you now. I am seeing you, I am hearing you, but what happens when people don’t? It was interesting.” Playing such a demanding character does, however, take its toll on her life at home, where she lives with her husband Daniel Gotschenhjelm, an actor turned Church of Sweden priest, and their young children (son Ossian and daughter Nike). “When I am playing Saga my husband can sense I am not as emotionally present as I am otherwise. When I stopped I had to make a real effort to stop my brain being her way of thinking and being more me. What we have in common is the passion about work. We never stop working. Otherwise we are quite different. But what happens is when I am being her for such a long time it affects me. I become a bit like her.”

She says she is a “believer” in God, but would not necessarily describe herself as a conventional Christian. But there is no denying her warmth and humanity, especially when talking about Saga. “I love her, I care for her and I can’t stand her at the same time,” she laughs. “She would be annoying in real life, but as the viewer you love her. I don’t get a good feeling being her. She’s tense in her body, she moves fast. She exhausts me. I think of her a lot when I am not playing her. She’s like a relative, a close cousin you are forced to hang out with all summer even if you don’t like her. Because I wouldn’t want to hang out with her. Who would?” A lot of men, probably. It takes a while to get on to that subject, but the idea of being a sex symbol is something that prompts her to screw up her nose in distaste. “That’s not something I think about when I am playing her. I heard she is a feminist icon and that’s something I want to hear… the other things, I don’t know. Some students at a Q and A in London said she is now a feminist icon and that really made me happy.” Happiness? It’s a rare commodity in Saga’s world – so it’s one that should be treasured.

Season Three of The Bridge kicks off tomorrow night (21/11) at 9:00 pm on BBC4… and a “Trilogy” DVD boxset will be released on the 21st of December, just in time for Xmas!


Cover of the 2010 Penguin edition of "The Spirit Level", by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett* I know it isn’t politic (or politically correct) to focus too closely on a woman’s appearance, but I do love the fact that Helin consciously chose to make her facial scars part of her beauty, rather than trying to cover up or “correct” them. Bless her.

** Sad to say, I’m not sure my answer to that “open the door” question would be an emphatic ‘Yes!’… I mean, in an abstract philosophical sense I’d like to think I am that compassionate and trusting, but in reality, I don’t know. Interestingly (?), I’ve just started reading a book called The Spirit Level (by Richard G. Wilkinson and Kate Pickett), which asserts that the most economically/socially equal societies tend to be happier, healthier, and more trusting overall… and Sweden is one of the countries consistently cited as an enviable example of those ideals, in contrast to the UK and the USA, which are frequently at the opposite end of the graphs! So, er, I blame society for my disappointing lack of moral backbone!

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Murky Misalignment

Clancy Brown as ‘Brother Justin’ and Amy Madigan as ‘Iris’ in “Carnivàle” (S1)I watched the first season of Carnivàle (2003) a year or so ago, and last night I finished watching the second season (2005)… which also turned out to be its final outing, after the show was cancelled by HBO a full four years short of the epic run that its creators had initially  envisioned. It’s not that difficult to understand why the series was canned, with its lethargic pacing and dense mythology discouraging casual viewers, while its 1930s “Dust Bowl” setting, apocalyptic FX, and travelling-fun-fair premise ate up the budget. I can’t say I was ever bored while watching this show… but I was never particularly spellbound or electrified either… so, overall, I think I’d call it a wash.

Still, the thing that’s really bugging me in retrospect is how the series was pitched as an epoch-defining battle between “Good and Evil”, when to my eyes it was more like a clash between “Evil and Awful”. While there were plenty villains doing despicable things with extreme malice and demonic glee, there wasn’t a single hero or heroine you could identify as unconditionally kind and compassionate and courageous… or any other attribute that might qualify as “Good” on the Dungeons & Dragons alignment spectrum. Even the main protagonist’s “healing power” required him to draw an equivalent (or more-often disproportionate) amount of life force out of the nearby people and animals, in order for it to work… and if we take the philosophical position that all life is equally precious, that means he was only ever redistributing pain and death, rather than alleviating them… which, by definition, is a “Neutral” act, rather than a “Good” one.

Clea Duvall as ‘Sofie’ in “Carnivàle” (S1)And I didn’t keep an actual tally while I watching the story play out, but I’m pretty sure the “Baddies” and the (supposed) “Goodies” were responsible for injuring and/or killing an equal number of innocent people, as they trundled across the country towards each other! At least the demon-possessed preacher was genuinely feeding, clothing, and sheltering thousands of dispossessed migrants, as part of his plan to bring about Hell-on-Earth… while all the Carnies did was exploit (and occasionally manslaughter) random townsfolk for a meagre, selfish profit! Of course, I don’t generally have a problem with “moral ambiguity” in my entertainment… but even Game of Thrones boasts a couple major and minor characters who are genuinely striving to serve “the greater good”, as they see it… granted they frequently fail, or die an undignified death, but at least they’re trying, dammit! And that show isn’t even sold as a straight-up conflict between “light and dark” forces, the way Carnivàle was, so there isn’t the same sting of false advertising and disappointed expectations…

All that being said, there were several great performances to enjoy here… particularly Clancy Brown’s show-stealing turn as ‘Brother Justin Crowe’, whose voice is so powerful and compelling, you can easily believe that crowds would flock to follow him even without the subliminal messages that seeped into his radio broadcasts! And Amy Madigan proved an excellent scene-partner for him, playing Justin’s alternately disapproving/supportive/conspiratorial sister ‘Iris’. Clea Duvall gave the show a posthumous shout-out during an interview in 2011, stating that it was the best job she’d ever had, because it gave her an opportunity “to build the character and have her change and evolve.” No doubt she was especially gutted by the show’s premature cancellation, as errant-fortune-teller ‘Sofie’ was being primed to play a far more prominent and challenging role in the ongoing saga… and I also regret the fact that we’ll never get to see her explore that particular “evolution” on-screen, because Duvall really is a fantastic actress, and definitely deserves more prominent showcase roles, dammit!

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AnneFranceParis is a city that’s very close to my heart, and I still dream of spending an extended visit there someday, so the recent attacks are preying on my mind quite heavily at the moment… though it’s important to remember that other cities further from home have also suffered significant tragedies in recent weeks/months/years. My grasp of current affairs is shaky at the best of times, so rather than rambling on, I’ll just hide behind a quote from Anne Frank’s diary:

“It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart. It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too. I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquillity will return once more. In the meantime, I must hold on to my ideals. Perhaps the day will come when I’ll be able to realise them!” 

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“We Must Stay Cheerful!”

Iain Glen as ‘Otto Frank’, Ellie Kendrick as ‘Anne Frank’, and Tamsin Greig as ‘Edith Frank’I was still wavering over whether or not to watch the BBC’s 2009 dramatisation of The Diary of Anne Frank, even as I was placing the DVD into the disc-tray. On the one hand, I’m keen to watch as much of Ellie Kendrick’s work as I can… on the other, I knew that the experience would be quite emotionally draining, and that the tragedy might hit even harder than usual, due to my lingering affection for the actress. Even so, I didn’t expect my eyes to start misting up quite as early as they did… somewhere around the one minute mark of the very first episode! I was even sniffling in-between episodes, whenever I thought ahead to how the story would inevitably end. That said, there’s also a lot of humour here… at times it almost plays like a sitcom, with the incompatible inhabitants of the annex sharing jokes, and overcoming minor domestic upsets… though the threat of discovery and the horrors that might (and indeed did) follow are never far from anyone’s mind. Although the Holocaust is a deadly serious subject, I think the reason why Frank’s writing is so effective at capturing and keeping the attention of readers around the world, is that it’s so lively and honest and earthy… an unfiltered, farts-and-all account of her real life, as opposed to more sober, academic, and overly-earnest second-hand treatments of the issues.

Ellie Kendrick as ‘Anne Frank’ in “The Diary of Anne Frank”As expected, Kendrick brought her innate adorability and cheery spirit to the role, but didn’t shy away from showing the stroppier, somewhat self-centered side of Anne. Of course, her more negative traits were exacerbated by the close quarters and gruelling circumstances, so it seems rather shabby to even mention them… but that’s actually the side of Anne that I always identified with, when I first read her diary… and it doesn’t detract from the fact that she was self-aware and observant enough to provide us with compassionate depictions of all the other occupants, no matter how much they frustrated her (and vice versa) during their enforced confinement. Nor does it negate her heartfelt (and possibly misplaced) belief that humankind was basically good and decent.

The series surrounds Kendrick with a fantastic supporting cast, including Tamsin Greig in an unusually subdued and dramatic role as Anne’s underappreciated mother ‘Edith’, Felicity Jones as Anne’s (supposedly) favoured sister ‘Margot’, Lesley Sharp as Edith’s brassy opposite ‘Petronella van Daan’, and Kate Ashfield as courageous family friend ‘Miep Gies’. Fellow Game-of-Throner Iain Glen also deserves a nod for his performance as the ever-reliable, even-tempered patriarch ‘Otto Frank’ (his reaction to Anne’s declaration of independence was especially heart-breaking), and I can’t for the life of me understand how this production received so few award nominations and wins! Of course abridged adaptations are always going to be inferior to the original source material… especially in the case of historical memoirs, such as The Diary of a Young Girl… but I thought this was a pretty flawless, faithful, honourable, entertaining, and engaging evocation of Anne’s experiences in the annex.

P.S. The DVD case contained a leaflet promoting The Anne Frank Trust (UK), a charitable organisation which “draws on the power of Anne Frank’s diary to challenge prejudice and reduce hatred, encouraging people to embrace positive attitudes, responsibility and respect for others”… so, yay for them.

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“Where’s Your Rebellious Backchat?”

[Contains golf-ball gob-stoppers and SPOILERS!!!]

Karla Crome as 'Jess' in “Misfits” (S4)After finishing my Misfits S1-3 boxset, I had no intention of watching the later, Lauren-Socha-less episodes*… until I met Ellie Kendrick at BF&CC, and we got chatting about her time on the series. She was just so enthusiastic about her character, and the powers/costume they gave her, that I felt compelled to see what all the excitement was about!

Before that could happen though, I had to get through the comparatively humdrum fourth series (2012). To be fair, Misfits has such a unique premise, and such a reckless sense of humour, that it’s still pretty more-ish even without the original cast in it… but this “season” never even came close to the sort of nail-biting drama, unnerving horror, and heart-wrenching tragedy that the first outing boasted, and the two new juvies they introduced in the opening episode never had a hope of filling the shoes left vacant by their predecessors. ‘Finn’ (Nathan McMullen) was a gawky sad-sack with weak telekinesis powers, and a really dodgy back-story involving him binding-and-gagging his girlfriend to a bed to stop her using her mind-control powers to domesticate him (!), and ‘Jess’ (Karla Crome) was a feisty-but-vulnerable girl with x-ray vision, an awesome hair-do, and terrible taste in men. Later in the series a third newbie, ‘Abbey’ (Natasha O’Keeffe), was awkwardly introduced (ep #4.6) as a drunken/druggy amnesiac hanger-on the gang attract at a house-party, but so far her only “power” seems to be that she’s super-shameless and annoyingly honest about everyone else’s anxieties.

Karla Crome as 'Jess' and Natasha O'Keeffe as 'Abbey' in “Misfits” (S4)Although I enjoyed Crome’s performance, I never really warmed to her character… and all of the younger cast members were consistently blown off the screen by Shaun Dooley, who played the gang’s volatile new probation worker ‘Greg’, bringing a terrifying-but-hilarious intensity/instability to the role. Meanwhile, Joseph Gilgun continued to steal the show as lovable (?) loud-mouth ‘Rudy’… especially in ep #4.3, when a previously unseen and totally psychotic version of his character rocked up, fresh out of prison and looking for revenge. I don’t really understand how Rudy #1 could have been put on community service while Ruby #3 was simultaneously serving time in prison for a more serious crime (don’t the police take fingerprints anymore?), but it was worth suspending my disbelief for the brilliant and brutal scenes between Gilgun and Crome. Top marks to them for that.

Imogen Doel as ‘Sadie’ in “Misfits” (S4)As for the supporting cast: Imogen Doel appeared in eps #4.1-2 as ‘Sadie’, Finn’s heavily-restrained but unrepentant harridan… Eleanor Wyld (aka “Eleanor Wild”) appeared in ep #4.2 as ‘Ally’, a blind/racist sculptress, with a telepathic seeing-eye dog (!)… Lucy Gaskell appeared in ep #4.2-4 as ‘Lola’, a former acting student who’d become locked into a full-on-femme-fatale persona by the storm, eventually causing ‘Curtis’ to commit suicide, after murdering one of her (supposedly abusive) exes… Nadine Lewington appeared in eps #4.4 as ‘Lisa’, Finn’s sexually-aggressive ex-almost-stepmother (in the sense that she previously dated his adoptee father)… Charlie Murphy appeared in ep #4.5 as ‘Grace’, Finn’s newly discovered half-sister, who was keeping their dying father alive with her power, regardless of his own wishes (sadly, although she and Finn seemed to bond quite closely over the course of this story, Grace was never seen or mentioned again)… Juliet Cowan appeared in ep #4.6 as an ante-natal ‘Course Leader’… and finally Gillian Saker appeared in ep #4.6-8 as ‘Nadine’, Rudy’s “true love”, who turned out to be a storm-afflicted nun being hunted by a gang of black-clad BMX-ninjas repeatedly referred to as “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, despite bearing absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to those Biblical doom-mongers. I mean, I was fine with them riding pedal-bikes, but the fact that they killed people with standard-issue katanas rather than any sort of supernatural powers just seemed like a cheap cop-out to me.

Note: I’m not even going to get into the (transphobic?) sub-plot about Jess’s new d-bag boyfriend and his stolen penis, because… oy vey!!!


* I did appreciate the fact they gave Kelly an honourable off-screen “happy ending”, using her “rocket-scientist” power to defuse landmines in Africa. Yay her!

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