I managed to arrive at the final episode of How I Met Your Mother relatively unspoiled – UK transmission was, of course, a few weeks behind America – but was aware of general, occasionally vitriolic, dissatisfaction with the ending. So in actually quite liking it I seem to be in a minority of something close to one.
You see, as far as I was concerned the writers had to somehow negotiate a way round a problem, admittedly of their own making, which stemmed from the very first episode; specifically the line “And that’s how I met… your Aunt Robin”. It must have seemed, at the time, like a really, really clever fakeout. Except that thereafter it became increasingly clear that the chemistry between Josh Radnor’s Ted and Cobie Smulders’s Robin was the real televisual deal, that they were the show’s OTP (apart from Lily and Marshall, obvs), and that the writers had backed themselves into a corner by ruling out the possibility of Robin-as-mother.
Two digressions here. Firstly, I was never on board with Barney/Robin at all. This is not in any way a criticism of Neil Patrick Harris, who I adore – and who was great in HIMYM – but the whole point of Barney was that he was a sociopathic philanderer, something which the writers belatedly recognised. He and Robin never convinced me as a couple. Secondly, it should also be noted that Josh Radnor, pegged by many people – including me – as the lightweight in the regular cast, managed to generate convincing romantic chemistry with just about all of the women cast as his love interests, and allowed Ted to develop what looked like genuine warmth and affection from the other members of his gang. Which suggests that Radnor, in fact, is probably a generous actor, and I’m willing to bet he’s a nice guy in real life as well.
Allowing for all of that, therefore, the Mother had to be someone else, but in having Ted end up with Robin, in all likelihood, the writers came as close as they reasonably could to satisfactorily having their cake and eating it.
The second problem with the final season was, again, of the writers’ own making, but once again defensible. Introducing a major new character into a relatively small cast is fraught with difficulty; even more so if that character is going to be, in many ways, the whole point of your show. (Imagine, for example, a seventh Friend, brought in for the final season.) So it was understandable that Cristin Milioti was drip-fed into the show, meeting established characters one-by-one, and that we really only saw her and Ted together in strictly-rationed flash-forwards, thus providing an insurance policy if she didn’t work out. As it turned out, though, she was sensational, easily the best thing in season 9, and we could have stood to have seen a lot more of her.
The final season itself was probably one of the better late-period HIMYM seasons; I’m guessing that Jason Segel was required for filming duties elsewhere to start with, hence the bizarre plot arc which separated him from the rest of the cast (and with which Segel, to his credit, looked as fed up as the rest of us). Otherwise, though, the show played to its strengths. I like to be able to part on good terms from shows which have given me pleasure, and the season – and, crucially, the ending – allowed me to do that. Never quite legen – wait for it, etc. – dary, HIMYM was nonetheless a well-worked show put together with intelligence and wit, and it gave Segel and Harris in particular a platform for their talents.
After years of preparation and millions of pounds spent on regeneration, the 2014 Commonwealth Games kicked off in Glasgow earlier this week. The city is buzzing with visitors and volunteers, sportsmen and spectators, and frazzled commuters trying to navigate the heaving transport network. But “you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs” as pointed out in the BBC’s three-part documentary Commonwealth City.
First shown earlier this year and repeated this month, this was a timely look at the other side of this type of massive sporting event: what happens to the people and communities who are forced to get out of the way for it to happen. The shiny new Velodrome and stadium, the glossy new Athletes’ Village – it all had to be built somewhere (Dalmarnock in the East End of the city to be precise) which meant compulsory purchase orders, multi-million pound land deals, and the demolition of homes, businesses and a lot more besides. Commonwealth City was clear-eyed but thoughtful, presenting both sides of the short-term cost/long-term legacy argument while focussing on residents of the area and the massive effect of the redevelopment juggernaut upon them. A touching, often funny and insightful look at a side of the story too often ignored; this was excellent.
Picture the scene.
A group of tv execs – down but not out – sit around, scratching their heads. Why did Flashforward fail so miserably, they wonder? What can they do with Joseph Fiennes now?
A lone voice rings out: “But I liked the ‘seeing the future’ angle. What if we tried it with a period twist like Downton Abbey or that Da Vinci’s Demons business?”
Emboldened, another voice pipes up: “How about another old-timey celebrity angle? Famous people from the past who could see the future?”
And lo! Everyone in the room stares at each other and shouts “Nostradamus!”
Or something. However it happened, Joseph Fiennes is now attached to this bizarre new concept for a tv show: 16th century French “seer” Nostradamus is on a revenge mission to kill the people who killed his family.
Never mind that this sounds like the worst idea ever, how exactly is it going to work as an actual series? Is there going to be a procedural element where he kills a baddie every week – Nostradexter? Or is he going to be the French period version of Patrick Jane and kill time by solving other non-family murders every ep instead, a la The Nostralist?
Regardless, the show sounds like it needs all the help it can get: time to bring back the unpopcult casting call.
I’m going to assume Fiennes comes with the project, so it will be set in the type of Le Olde France where everyone has beautifully refined English accents. Or fakes them. So the King and Queen of France? I’d say Dominic West and Jennifer Ehle, two of the best accents in the business.
Poor King Dominic will, however, be murdered in the mid-season finale (Mon Dieu!) and Nos will be framed for it. Obviously, though, the murders of both Nos’s family and the King will turn out to be part of some big, labyrinthine conspiracy which will get bigger and more labyrinthine every week; how about Simon Baker as the top-tier Cardinal/Church bigwig who views Nos as a dangerous heretic and may be responsible for the murders of both King Dominic and the Family Nos? And who may also be having an affair with Queen Jennifer because it’s a tv drama about the French court in the olden days, you guys, everybody will be having affairs with everybody else.
Which reminds me: Nos himself will need a love interest (or several) to feel guilty about since he can’t move on till he gets justice for Mrs Nos etc – maybe Erica Tazel from Justified as his brilliant, feisty student? Ooh, and to give us a Three Nosketeers vibe, they’ll need an old friend to hang around trying to dissuade Nos from his path of revenge and damnation, so here’s where I think we at least try for a little authenticity and use an actual French actor: Gregory Fitoussi as a troubled priest, torn between his loyalty to Le Church and his loyalty to Le Nos.
And finally, since her murder will be the raison d’être for the whole show, there are bound to be plenty of flashbacks to the late Mrs Nos. Which is where I’m kind of stuck. Anne-Marie Duff? Anna Friel? Louise Brealey from Sherlock? What say you?
The 100th episode, and everyone’s back in Lima as part of the long goodbye to the McKinlay High glee club. Not just the folks from New York outpost of the show, but a bunch of characters we haven’t seen in a while: Puck, Quinn, Brittany, Mike Chang, and guest adults Holly (Gwyneth Paltrow) and April (Kristin Chenoweth). Some things haven’t really changed: Mercedes and Rachel contrive yet another diva-off, but the problem here is, and always has been, that Rachel is evidently a better singer, so any uncertainty is artificial. Santana remains a bully. Mike Chang is/was the best dancer on the show by a mile. Puck, now apparently in his early 40s, has cleaned up his act a bit, but is put out by Quinn bringing her old-money Yale asshole boyfriend along for the ride. And Brittany is MIT’s pet idiot savant, and unhappy about it.
There’s a bit of misdirection at the end, when Holly and April vow to save the glee club, presumably as a cliffhanger of sorts for next week’s episode. But in all honesty most of this episode could have taken place fifty episodes ago, were it not for the Finn-shaped hole at its heart, and there isn’t much anyone can do about that except acknowledge it, which Will does at the end. So a certain amount of nostalgic pleasure, then, for those of us who’ve been in since the start, but not great in itself; and for a Murphy/Falchuk/Brennan-written episode disappointingly short on bad-taste snark.
The conceit behind the music is that Mr Schue has presumed to give a room full of people, half of whom he no longer has any jurisdiction over, an assignment: to do favourite songs from past performances in a different way. And most of it is OK: ‘Raise Your Glass’, ‘Defying Gravity’, ‘Keep Holding On’, and ‘Gravity’ all fall into that category. Best of the week are Gwyneth and company’s ‘Happy’, which of course isn’t a revamp at all, and a ‘Toxic’ which is actually rather delicious.
It’s looking as if season 2’s plot might be an upgrade on season 1’s, but not radically different: The Network (I think) wants to convince everyone to be vaccinated against Russian flu, so has plans to cause a worldwide pandemic, and for that matter panic, by releasing another strain of flu, known as Jimmy Deesh – L.
With less work required on the part of the viewer to uncover what’s going on, there’s more fascination to be found in the shifting motives and allegiances of the characters we know from the first season. Thus Dugdale is in with The Network for some reason – protecting his family?- and is prepared to rat out an earnest geek-chick scientist who’s found out something about the new, non-Russian flu, and who also fancies him. Arby might be playing both sides, although he too is looking for a deal to protect the mother and daughter we saw him living with last week. Wilson – on Team Network from the first season – is forced to team up with Lee, who of course was on point for the infamous eye/spoon incident, something to which Lee keeps alluding.
All fair enough, although I’m having a little more difficulty seeing Milner’s new-found vulnerability as entirely in keeping with her season 1 persona: Jessica escapes; Anton is, inevitably, identified as Philip Carvel, thought dead (which doesn’t mean he is Carvel, of course); and as a result of both developments Milner is so far off her game that she inadvertently discloses to Ian that she knows Beth is with him and the rest of his gang. (Beth, incidentally, is being deployed rather as Deb was in later seasons of Dexter, on creative swearing duties: “Oh my fucking fuck!”)
Like episode 2, then, it’s very good; and, like episode 2, the issue is whether “very good” is quite good enough after the outstanding first season.
OMG, you guys.
100 days of tv-time have gone by since Nikita ditched her friends and made a dash for… er, Canada. On the way, however, she’s acquired a surname (Mears?!) and the frenzied attention of the media and the FBI as they hunt the supposed murderer of the President. Said friends meantime have acquired a plane(!), a Conspiracy Wall and their own leads in Operation Save Nikita Whether She Likes it or Not. Michael may be nursing a wounded heart, but he’s very clearly in charge, striding around doing spy stuff in some very becoming sunglasses, looking all moody and handsome. Alex “thinks she’s Batman”- activist and philanthropist by day, secret operative and Shop-fighter by, er, other parts of the day – with Sonya as sidekick. Ryan has been demoted from boss back down to boffin. And Birkhoff continues to be the wonderfully snarky glue holding the team together. And flying the plane.(!)
After a bad dream and a staring contest with a wolf, though, Nikki decides it’s time to come back and clear her name, putting her faith (and evidence) in the hands of a conspiracy theorist tv journalist (much like she did with Ryan, only this guy’s a bit less annoying and not on the government payroll). Of course, Amanda and the Shop are on her trail, however, with the Feds on speed-dial. Just as well then that Michael, Birkhoff and co are on the case, even if they’re still in the huff, or Nikki would be up a creek without a paddle. Or on a roof without an ex-fil route, if you want to be accurate about it.
Now when I initially sat down to watch this, I wasn’t in the mood at all and the opening sequence with the wolf – what exactly was all the wolf imagery about? The wolf in the opening sequence, the Blue Wolf plane, the Wolf codenames Michael was using? – didn’t exactly change that. But as soon as Nikita, in a manoeuvre that was entirely foreseeable but still a thing of beauty, turned the tables on the police who tried to take her in (the first time), the excitement kicked in, my mood lifted and I was right back on board. Hurrah!
The apparently omniscient Amanda did try to spoil things, of course; she’s so stupendously annoying now that I had to fight the urge to throw things every time she Mwah-ha-ha’d onto the screen, but the rest of the episode more than made up for it.
All the action set-pieces were great, in particular, and there were a couple of jaw-dropping twists which I genuinely did not see coming, especially the one towards the end which had both Birkhoff and I staring dumbfounded at our screens.
Speaking of whom…. Birkhoff himself was his usual magnificent self throughout and, in fairness, it wasn’t all carnage and craziness: the newsroom cellphone-palooza was hilarious, as was Ryan being unceremoniously ordered to “talk to Nikki before she tries to shoot the fan!” Heh. But my favourite thing about the ep? Well, duh. Step forward smoulderingly resentful Michael, all “I’m here to help you ex-fil,” “Birkhoff, GET ME THAT ADDRESS!” and the moment that launched a thousand swoons: when he took Nikita’s hand and helped her out of the air vent….. Oh my. SQUEEEEEEEEEE.
Continuing my season-end reviews of shows we didn’t have time to do on a week-by-week basis, Fargo finished its run with an episode which dealt with Lester Nygaard’s Poundstretcher Walter White, the Mephistophelean Lorne Malvo, and tied up enough of the loose ends to be satisfying. It probably wasn’t quite the best episode, but it was a fitting end to a season which, not surprisingly, has earned Emmy nominations all over the place. As we noted earlier, the vagaries of the Emmy process allowed True Detective (eight episodes) to submit itself in the Best Drama category, while Fargo (ten episodes) put itself forward as a miniseries.
And I’d like to think it’ll win one or two. Fargo had pretty much everything you could look for in a TV drama: it was elegantly and meticulously plotted, and modestly adventurous in its storytelling, in particular in episodes 8 and 9. On top of that, it had a spectacular bodycount, a Conspiracy Wall or two, a ship to die for, and some genuine visual flair: Malvo’s single-handed assault on the mob HQ, for example. And on top of that it had a top-notch cast, with wonderful performances from Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton, and Colin Hanks, all of whom are Emmy-nominated; and Bob Odenkirk, Keith Carradine, Adam Goldberg, Oliver Platt, Keegan Michael-Key and Jordan Peele providing the show with a deep bench.
But the first among equals in the cast, of course – of course – was Allison Tolman as Deputy Molly Solverson, radiating dogged intelligence, warmth, and uncomplicated decency, which is probably no easier to portray than the complicated kind. It was a remarkable performance, which has already earned her a Critics’ Choice award to go with her own Emmy nomination. One trusts that we’ll be seeing a great deal more of Tolman, although it won’t be in season 2 of Fargo: the show has been renewed, but showrunner Noah Hawley has indicated that it will be set in 1979, and will be set at least in part in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, picking up on an allusion made by Molly’s father Lou.
So I feel as if we kind of sold Fargo a little bit short; we covered the first two episodes, then due to pressure of time we left it there. As it happens, though, it’s probably my favourite new show of the year so far. I thought it was wonderful.