Bodyguard s1 ep 5

*SPOILERS*

I sat down to watch this fretting a little: it feels like we’ve only just begun this story, but next week it’s going to end! What will we watch then?! That question hasn’t yet been answered – I might write about the decidedly underwhelming Press another day but, put shortly, it’s definitely not going to fill the gap left by Richard Madden and co – but plenty of others were last night as Bodyguard, as conscious of the limited time it has left as I am, starts to draw together a number of its mysteries and begin to solve them, mostly through the medium of Sgt David Budd actually telling people stuff he knows. Or making other people do the same. It’s good to talk.

All this communication means that Budd and the fundamentally decent, straightforward Raybourn start to trust each other – up to a point, I mean, there’s still the Thornton Circus sniper problem to come out, and that’s going to eff everything right up – with the clear, speedy results of their collaboration bringing even the (understandably) reluctant Sharma on board. And it also means that poor, maligned Tahir is posthumously exonerated using a combination of science, logic and brute force – “It’d be redundant for me to say I know where you live.” (Heh.)

The talking doesn’t end there, either, as Budd – having essentially googled his way to the heart of the conspiracy, which you’d think maybe should have been a teeny bit more difficult but hey-ho – also starts to trust Sampson and Craddock, finally reading them in on the “Kompromat” and, having nudged Nadia into a not entirely reliable identification, setting everyone on the trail of the surprisingly hands-on Longcross. I mean, if I were in his position, I’d be sending different, not-quite-as-identifiable minions, possibly wearing beards and sunglasses, to do my dirty work each time instead of constantly wiping my own face off CCTV, but that’s just me.

So far, so things are going swimmingly(ish) for our hero. But the Security Service isn’t exactly going to roll over and just let itself be caught murdering a cabinet minister, so Longcross does some talking of his own, dishing the dirt on the “intimate unprofessional relationship” between Budd and Julia (who still appears to be dead, sorry Jed) as he, Penhaligon and everyone else tear around looking for the Tablet that Almost Brought Down the PM, rightly surmising that Budd might know exactly where to find it. Oh yeah, and – enter, pursued by a Range Rover! – Chanel is a gangster’s moll/honeytrap and might not be called Chanel at all.

Unlike episodes 13, there’s no immediate, terrifying threat of carnage and mass murder but, like ep 4, this one is no less gripping for it. And, unlike 4, you could almost fool yourself – if you squint, and hope really, really hard – that Budd might come out of this sort-of-ok? Till the man loses the one thing keeping him in check: he’s finally removed from duty (in fairness, he did shoot himself in the head), stops trusting anyone, and – midway through the process of procurement of a PSL, aka a semi-automatic rifle, from a shady fellow in a dark alley for purposes as yet unexplained but likely to be alarming – storms off with the unmistakable scent of “Going Rogue” heavy in the air. This isn’t going to end well for him, is it? But what a fantastic journey it’s been for us thus far – I’m not sure I’m ready yet for it to end at all.

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Killing Eve s1 ep 1

Can Killing Eve stand up to the hype? Actually, it just about can. Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) is a MI5 desk-jockey, assistant to the world-weary Bill (David Haig), and living life in a state of moderate dissatisfaction. A Russian politician has been assassinated in Vienna, and Eve – to the disdain of her superiors – has concluded that the assassin is most probably a woman. So when the girlfriend of the deceased, who witnessed the assassination, lands in London, and Eve is given the job of making sure that she’s looked after, she goes a little further and carries out an unauthorised interview in the hope of confirming her suspicions.

We already know that she’s right: preternaturally skilled psychopath and killer-for-hire (?) Villanelle (Jodie Comer) is not only behind the Vienna wet job, but a pile of others as well; including, by the end of the episode, the Russian politician’s girlfriend. This, together with the off-the-books investigation, is enough to get Eve the sack, although she’s subsequently approached by Carolyn (Fiona Shaw), head of the Russia desk at MI6, with an offer to continue the investigation.

I liked this a lot. The soundtrack is terrific; I had Shazam to hand throughout the episode. And the acting is great: Oh is entirely convincing as bored-but-perceptive Eve, and Owen McDonnell does a fine job as her husband Niko, as does Shaw as the experienced spook Carolyn. Haig is magnificent as Bill, and Kim Bodnia is clearly enjoying himself as Villanelle’s thuggish handler. Comer has the toughest job of the lot – she has to convince as a barely-out-of-her-teens star assassin – but I’ve seen enough of her in the past to be confident that she’s got this.

Killing Eve also scores highly for its dialogue (this episode was written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge), which is witty without being sparkling, but this is by design: it’s the conversation of people in jaded, cynical middle age, fighting battles they don’t think they should be fighting any more. It reminded me in parts of the Slough House series of books by Mick Herron, and those who know me will know that there’s no higher praise I can give anything. Killing Eve isn’t at that level, but it’s tremendous Saturday-night fun.

Public Service Announcement 34 of 2018: Killing Eve, A Discovery of Witches, Shut Eye

BBC America’s Killing Eve was, when shown in the USA, a critical hit and – on its own terms – a ratings success, with its viewing figures almost doubling during its 8-week run, and a season 2 renewal in the bag. It’s an adaptation of Luke Jennings’s novella series Codename Villanelle, which has been developed and partly written by the insanely talented Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer star as a MI5 agent and assassin respectively. I’m particularly pleased about the praise Comer has been getting; we loved her in My Mad Fat Diary, and she deserves her subsequent success. (Kim Bodnia from Bron/Broen also appears.) Having managed to deliver old-fashioned monster ratings with Bodyguard, the BBC has plainly decided that it doesn’t want them with Killing Eve: although it will be broadcasting it on a week-by-week basis on BBC One, starting tomorrow at 9.15pm, the whole season will be available for (ew ew ew) “bingeing” on BBC Three.

A few other things. A Discovery of Witches is also an adaptation, this time of a novel by Deborah Harkness. It’s something to do with witches and vampires forming an alliance, which sounds like the sort of thing I don’t care about. The cast includes Matthew Goode and Alex Kingston (tonight, Sky One, 9pm).

Unpopcult royalty Jeffrey Donovan stars in Shut Eye, one of the first shows on Virgin’s new Ultra HD channel. Donovan plays a magician who starts to have psychic visions. With a cast of triple-tested TV talent – David Zayas, Susan Misner, Emmanuelle Chriqui, KaDee Strickland, Isabella Rossellini – this sounds as if it might be quite interesting. The reviews and ratings would, however, suggest otherwise; it was cancelled after two seasons (Monday 18 September, Virgin TV Ultra HD, 10pm). And Constantine, an apparently mediocre DC Comics adaptation, lasted only one before cancellation (Monday 18 September, FOX (UK), 9pm).

And two from the streamers: season 5 of BoJack Horseman (Netflix), and the first season of Maya Rudolph/Fred Armisen vehicle Forever (Amazon Prime), both dropped today.

Bodyguard s1 ep 4

Spoilers

“What”, asked The Guardian the other day of Bodyguard, “does its mix of politics, terrorism and sex have that other series don’t?” Well, yes. The clue might be in the question. The first three episodes, certainly, were as much Boabyguard as Bodyguard. (I know that joke doesn’t travel well, but it’s all I’ve got.) To that I would add – and it’s a point I’ve made a gazillion times before – that appointment TV only becomes a thing when you have episodes at regular intervals, ideally one per week, rather than letting viewers “binge” (ew) at their own pace. There’s little which has given me more pleasure over the past few weeks, than reading the complaints on social media from people who’re unhappy with waiting a week for each new episode. A week. Come on, folks. We’re not children.

So Bodyguard is a ratings and critical success, and thus far both have been well-deserved. On the other hand, it’s a British drama, which means the ever-present possibility that it will run out of steam soon enough. The most recent example of that phenomenon is the bewilderingly overrated Keeping Faith, which started brightly enough and would have made a good two- or three-parter, but which instead was stretched into eight increasingly pointless episodes. The scenery was nice, though.

Will Bodyguard hit the same wall? Well… maybe not. This fourth episode, dealing with the consequences of episode 3’s bomb blast, was never less than compelling, although it was undoubtedly less thrilling. As we wait to discover whether Julia has survived, Mike Travis happily slithers into her place as acting Home Secretary, immediately handing back control of the investigation to the police, much to Anne Sampson’s joy. (This might be controversial, but I’m firmly of the view that, thus far, the best acting performance in the show is being given by Gina McKee as the magnificently ambitious but inscrutable Sampson.)

David Budd (the excellent Richard Madden, becoming a star before our very eyes), meantime, is unravelling. He’s being pursued by the dogged detective duo Sharma and Rayburn, who have noted that since David took over as Julia’s PPO she’s been the target of two assassination attempts. The first narrowly failed; but, as we learn during the episode, the bomb has succeeded. She’s been killed. Budd’s response to this is to shoot himself. And at this point I was thinking: wow, taking out both of your main stars halfway through a season within a few minutes is quite a baller move.

Except… David isn’t dead: the bullets in his gun had been replaced with blanks, by someone as yet undetermined. And so, despite the fact that Sharma and Rayburn are convinced he’s hiding something – which, of course, at a bare minimum is undoubtedly true of his relationship with Julia – he’s allowed to interview Nadiya, the suicide bomber from the now-famous train scene at the start of episode 1. The theory is that whoever was behind the assassination of Julia was also responsible for the bomb that Nadiya was strapped to. Unhelpfully, Nadiya can’t be certain about who gave her husband that bomb.

But we do have suspects. We’ve seen slimy political advisor Rob handing Tahir the briefcase which is presently presumed to have been carrying the bomb, and Rob and Mike Travis have the sort of elliptical conversation which strongly implies that something dodgy is going on. Then there’s mysterious Richard Longcross, whose presence in the hotel Julia was staying in has been entirely erased by someone from the hotel’s CCTV. 

And there are things we haven’t seen. What happened to that sacked PA who disappeared into the big car in the first episode? What was actually in that briefcase? Who do all the documents from episode 3 refer to? And, most significantly of all, we haven’t actually seen Julia’s corpse. She’s not dead, is she?

Public Service Announcement 33 of 2018: Press

Mike “Doctor Foster” Bartlett’s latest showPress is pitched as a “West Wing-style” (it should be so lucky) drama about the newspaper business, with rivalry between a left-leaning broadsheet and a splashy tabloid played out against a background of the rise of digital journalism, the prevalence of “fake news” and every other media-related issue you can think of. It all sounds very well-meaning, but whether it’s any good or not is another matter, of course. Since my previously dormant interest in British drama has recently been re-kindled by Bodyguard, Keeping Faith and The Split, though, I think I’ll try an episode or two to find out. BBC1, 9pm tonight (Thursday) or iPlayer shortly thereafter if you want to join me.

Bodyguard s1 ep 3

*SPOILERS*

We hadn’t intended to review every ep of Bodyguard but since it’s turned out to be something of a unicorn in tv terms – not only are both Jed and I watching it,  but so is most of the country – it seems daft not to throw in our tuppence-worth. I mean, I did sort-of-comment on the second episode last week but let me expand on that quickly, just for the sake of completeness: I was a bit taken aback at how quickly two really attractive people, working super-closely together, in an incredibly intense, high-pressure environment, having just barely escaped with their lives due to one of them being a (hot, damaged, and did I mention hot?) superhero, jumped into bed with each other. Then I read that sentence again.

Anyway, the car/sniper sequence was electrifying. Which means episode 2 is now neck and neck with episode 1 in the Best Way to Give CJ a Heart Attack Award stakes. (One for the end of year poll?)

With all these absolutely thrilling extended set-pieces in the first two instalments, however, it’s perhaps not entirely surprising that episode 3 takes its foot off the accelerator in terms of breathless action of that kind and concentrates mostly on breathless action of other kinds instead. By which I mean there’s a lot of sex, mostly as a means of control – the, er, “trouser” scene was a bit much for me. But at least Julia and David seem to be enjoying themselves. (Till she tries to surprise him in his sleep, that is. Bad. Plan.)

Personally, I could have done with more shooting and less snogging, but that’s no reflection on Keeley Hawes and Richard Madden (and the gratuitous shot of his butt) who make it work. It’s interesting at least – and brave, given this is traditional prime-time BBC1, not HBO – to have a woman in the unapologetically, matter-of-factly dominant, more powerful role for a change. And in fairness, although the audience (ok, I) may be slightly distracted by the sex, the show isn’t: everybody (including and especially our two leads) is manipulating everybody else, and as Julia, her aides, that fellow Mike(?), the Secret Service and the police all try and screw each other over (in less carnal fashion than Julia and David) the question isn’t whether it will end badly, it’s more whether there’s anyone at all for whom it won’t.

All this intrigue, sexual or otherwise, just isn’t quite as visceral or as gripping as episodes 1 and 2, though, so it’s just as well that, when I begin to get restless, and in need of yet another one of those heart-in-my-boots action sequences, the show obliges. It’s obvious from the moment Shifty Rob pulls out of Julia’s St Matthews appearance that he’s setting Tahir up, and that something terrible is going to happen there. And so it does. Who’s dead? I don’t know. Who’s responsible? I have no idea. But I really want to find out. This third episode may not have been as good as the previous two, but the acting and the last ten minutes mean it’s the most exciting thing on the box right now. I’m hooked.

Public Service Announcement 32 of 2018: Vanity Fair

On one view, a new adaptation of Thackeray’s classic Vanity Fair with its unapologetically ruthless female lead refusing to let class, poverty and gender get in the way of what she wants, sounds very timely – for a 19th-century novel, Becky Sharp is a very 21st-century anti-heroine. As far as I’m concerned, though, ITV1’s latest version (beginning tonight, Sunday, 9pm with episode 2 tomorrow) comes too late, for a couple of reasons. The first being wholly personal: I watched the BBC version with Natasha Little years ago, I made it two-thirds of the way through the book before I couldn’t take it any more, and I deliberately avoided the Mira Nair film on the basis that, although it looked very promising, I’d had enough of this particular story which I didn’t really like in the first place. In short, I really don’t need any more versions of Vanity Fair in my life. The second reason is a bit more practical: Bodyguard started last Sunday, so a large chunk of the available audience (including me) already has Richard Madden/Keeley Hawes-related plans for tonight’s 9pm slot, thanks.

Having said all that, though, Vanity Fair boasts an impressive cast including Suranne Jones, Simon Russell Beale and Michael Palin, with Olivia Cooke (who was excellent in Me, Earl and the Dying Girl) as the irrepressible Becky herself, and production company Mammoth‘s recent run of successes (including Poldark, Victoria and Parade’s End) shows they know their way around a period drama. So if you’re in the market for a lavishly-costumed social satire with a very sharp (sorry) edge, dive on in. This water’s got a lot of bite.