Nashville s6 ep 12

As I’ve said many times, I long ago lost the ability to distinguish a good episode of Nashville from a bad one. So when I say that I enjoyed this, I’m not making any claims in respect of quality; in fact, it could reasonably be argued that most of this week’s storylines were calibrated to annoy me. But let’s get started.

First up is Deacon, who is front and centre in one of my least-favourite kinds of plot: the parent who appears out of the blue. When it’s a mom-who-turns-up it generally means passive-aggression; when it’s a dad-who-turns-up, on the other hand, as it is here, it’s quite often about actual aggression. So we get flashbacks to when Deac was a boy, getting thrashed by his appalling father, a “drunk with a mean streak a mile wide”. There really is no good reason whatsoever why Deacon should offer the tiniest concession to this dreadful human being, and for most of the episode he seems to share that point of view. But then Maddie jumps in, and the upshot is that Deacon’s violent father will be staying with him and his granddaughters. Me, I think I’d have taken out a restraining order to keep him away.

On the subject of people interfering: Sean is still Scarlett’s pet project, and she drags him along to the Bluebird to perform, even inviting Mrs Sean along. But when Sean gets up on stage, he starts by thanking the one person without whom this wouldn’t be possible – inevitably, Ms Scarlett O’Connor, not Mrs Sean – then insists that Scarlett accompany him. Unsurprisingly, Sean’s wife is less than happy at these developments, and walks out. But Scarlett isn’t done: she tells Sean’s wife that she’s not after her husband, which is true as far as we know – although we also know that Sean is into Scarlett – and manages to broker a visit home by Sean. Which, predictably, ends badly when Sean sees something online about a former colleague killing himself, starts headbutting his shed, then locks himself in the bathroom with a gun. Well done, Scarlett; well done, the horses. There’s a kind of happy-ish ending to this, but maybe Scarlett should leave well alone for a while?

While all of this is going on, it looks as if Alannah has left – left Fleetwood Nash, at any rate, if not Avery. There’s a bit of soul-searching among the boys about this, but they all concede that in various ways they screwed up: Will might not have tapped that, but he was thoroughly hostile to her while in the grip of his steroidal madness. She, meantime, is over at the offices of Brad Records, which has a silly name that I didn’t note and can’t recall; and I’m not going to waste time looking it up. Brad has a proposition to put to her: do you, he asks her, like The Lumineers? “Are you kidding?!” she replies, which oddly enough would be my reply to that question as well, for very different reasons.

Anyway, Brad – hey! – thinks he can swing Alannah a support slot – ho! – on The Lumineers’ next tour. Great, thinks Alannah… except that when she goes for a drink with Brad to discuss it, he comes onto her in a way which, as she rightly tells Avery afterwards, is finely judged to stop just short of actual, provable harassment: there’s nothing remarkable about what he says, but there’s no doubt about what he means. And what he means is “let’s have sex”. She confronts Brad about it; he feigns confusion; then, all of a sudden, the support slot with The Lumineers has melted away.

Which means that Alannah has time on her hands and confidence to be repaired. Now, we’ve been squabbling about Alannah recently on Unpopcult: my position remains that she’s essentially not a bad person. Maybe one or two of her relationship decisions have been less than optimal, but who among us can say otherwise? However, when what remains of Fleetwood Nash want to have a writing session, and Avery has to admit that he’s already committed to writing with Alannah that evening, Will’s reproachful face offers Avery a fitting rebuke.

Still, the writing goes well, as does everything else, and Alannah is astride Avery having whipped her top off… just as Juliette walks into the house, having escaped Bolivia. I’d like to think that next week Avery will tell Juliette that their marriage has been over for months, if not years, and that he’d sooner be with someone who behaves as if she likes him and is nice to him. No, I don’t think that’s going to happen either.

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Public Service Announcement 26 of 2018: Harrow

Fill-in-the-blanks time. Harrow is an Australian drama which stars (a) as a brilliant, yet maverick and rule-breaking (b), with a passion for (c), a complicated (d), and a Secret (e).

The answers are as follows: (b) forensic pathologist; (c) old movies; (d) home life, of course; and (e), unsurprisingly, is Pain. Which makes (a) all-important, because we really have, one imagines, seen this all before, and it will therefore stand (e.g Private Eyes) or fall on its actors. And this time the brilliant maverick etc. is played by Ioan Gruffudd. Which is good news for him at least, as no more than a few years ago he was complaining about not getting any decent parts, and generally sounding like someone in need of a cwtch. However, Gruffudd is not an actor with whom I get on, so I’ll be giving this a miss. Ellie from Hawaii Five-0 (Mirrah Foulkes) also features. The season is only ten episodes long, and the show has been renewed, so if it sounds like your sort of thing it’s probably worth getting invested (tonight, Alibi, 9pm).

Picnic at Hanging Rock ep 1 (2018)

Jed and I had both wondered how this new version of Picnic at Hanging Rock could take a two hour story and turn it into six, but the answer to that question becomes clear relatively early on in this first episode, beginning as it does with an unnecessarily long and detailed sequence about the purchase of the school building, adding a clunky “mysterious” backstory and stupendously annoying voiceover for Mrs Appleyard, and generally proceeding at such a glacial pace that my fingers were already itching for the remote control a quarter of an hour in.

Although everything looks lush and beautiful – the scenery in particular is stunning and our friend Snoskred’s beloved Werribee Mansion looks very grand – and there is some clever, interesting use of colour and filters in the cinematography, unfortunately the actual style of storytelling is significantly less impressive: there is no subtlety at all about the writing, the characterisation or the intrusive, obvious music which soundtracks each mood or moment. It all feels far too self-conscious, determined to impress the viewer with how meaningful and significant every moment is, but if everything is meaningful and significant, then nothing is – it reminded me of what I call “the ITV style” where everything is telegraphed with the televisual equivalent of a giant “DO YOU SEE?!” sign and nothing is left to the audience to work out or feel for themselves.

Things do improve exponentially in the last ten minutes or so when the main event starts: watches stop, most of the schoolgirls suddenly and instantaneously lie down and sleep mid-picnic, and the three girls who don’t are immediately and irresistibly drawn to the Rock, with the shift in their priorities and even the look in their eyes nicely, creepily apparent to the viewer if not to their teacher or the fourth student who tags along. All that is terrific and there’s a genuinely terrifying moment when the girls see REDACTED on the Rock above them that I won’t forget soon. Unfortunately, though, even this crucial section of the episode – the last time anyone sees some of these girls alive and the crux of the entire mystery – is undercut by a long and silly dream sequence for Mrs Appleyard which I’m sure is meant to be very important but is really not to me. I think Natalie Dormer is a superb actress and she’s the main reason I was watching in the first place, but I just don’t care about this Mrs Appleyard or what she’s running from unless it/he also happens to be up there on Mount Diogenes with Miranda, Irma and co.

Will I watch again? Maybe, I don’t know. Another five hours of this adaptation doesn’t seem like something my viewing schedule or my life is missing, gorgeous scenery or not. Either way, though, I don’t think I’ll be writing any more reviews of it so, if you’re watching, any comments on the rest of the series are welcome on this thread.

Private Eyes s2 ep 15

A modern twist on a traditional Rear Window-type theme this week, as a lonely little boy with time and a DRONE on his hands comes to believe his teacher has been murdered by her next door neighbour and hires a very sceptical Shade and Angie to investigate.

The ostensibly idyllic suburban setting brings up some apparently unresolved issues for Angie, but this is Private Eyes not Peyton Place so it’s nothing remotely traumatic. The mystery itself meanwhile meanders along quite nicely with the charmingly exasperated Maz popping up every now and again (“Thank God it wasn’t carrot!”), and Zoe in the background working on a (not that interesting, admittedly, but at least it doesn’t take up much time) side job for Shade Senior as well. No problem. “The Hills Have Eyes” is not in any way re-inventing the wheel – and lest any horror fans get the wrong idea, it’s about as close in tone to the movie of the same name as Paddington is to Nightmare on Elm Street – but it’s a cute, cosy story with some deft wee twists along the way, and, as usual, a thoroughly good heart at the centre of it – my eyes actually got a little misty at all the happy neighbourly togetherness at the end. Aw. Oh, and bonus: Shade and Angie pretend to be a married couple for a couple of minutes, so there’s that too. SQUEE.

Poldark s4 ep 5

*SPOILERS*

After years of Cap’n Ross being a reckless hothead, it’s funny but also quite charming to have a whole week where he’s the calm, sensible one, sorting out Geoffrey Charles’s shenanigans and gently but firmly bringing home to Caroline the need to deal with her grief instead of ignoring it. I don’t know about you guys, but I felt quite proud of him. And not only that, but he also somehow manages to set up a kind of aristocrat-funded income support for Truro (despite the Warleggan Weasel’s vociferous objections) and apparently start the ball rolling for the invention of the modern welfare state. Dude! I was getting a bit fed up with the scenes of him making speeches with lots of rowdy MPs shouting over him, but this is much more like it. As is the scene where he turns the full power of his social justice stare (no words, just some really intense looks) onto Lord Falmouth and it works too. Yay!

While Ross and Caroline are living large in London, however, Demelza and Dr Dwight are having a significantly less luxurious time and wondering whether they might have been better off married to each other, as they fight a losing battle to feed the starving around them and stop fever carrying off half of Sawle. One of the depressing things about the episode is the concept of the “working poor’ – people who have jobs, yet whose wages compared to rising prices mean they cannot make ends meet – and the fact that it still exists in the modern UK, giving Poldark a modern political relevance I wouldn’t ordinarily expect to find in it, but then this episode manages to surprise me more than once. The death of the awful Osborne is perhaps the biggest shock – I knew it had to happen, but I was taken aback by how fast it was, and how it happened before Drake married Rosina rather than afterwards. Not that this worked out any better for Drake: she handled him jilting her with grace and kindness, but the rest of the town (including Tom Harry’s brother – what exactly was the point of getting rid of one Evil Mr Harry, if you immediately replace him with another one who’s exactly the same?) are less forgiving, and that psychopath George can’t wait to frame/punish/persecute Drake for it, yet again, in the absence of any evidence whatsoever. FFS, George. Change. The. Record.

At least Elizabeth has enough shame left to try and stop him, thanks to Morwenna putting her straight about exactly what kind of monster Mr and Mrs Warleggan forced her to marry. But it doesn’t really help: Drake’s business is burned down, Rosina’s dad wants to kill him, and Morwenna is so traumatised she sends the poor boy packing and her mother-in-law tries to have him horse-whipped. So the prospects of a tender reunion for the widow Osborne and Carne the Younger are not great, and the likelihood of one or both of them being unjustly prosecuted for murdering the Reverend seems pretty high. Especially if his appalling mother has anything to do with it. Oh dear. Thank goodness for Ross and Demelza’s very sweet, very brief reunion, or there might not have been any hope for love in this episode at all.

Nashville s6 ep 11

I had a big problem with this episode, because I’m kind of over Juliette and her Bolivian adventures. One could argue that the character – and, perhaps, the actor – have been ill-served by the writers; one could speculate about why that is the case. But what’s left is an arc which is both stupid and boring.

So let’s deal with everything else first. Fleetwood Nash are still mired in turmoil, with Gunnar and Avery arguing furiously about Alannah, because – who would have thought it? – when Gunnar said that he was OK with Avery’s romantic interest in Alannah he wasn’t being entirely truthful. Has Avery never met Gunnar before? “I just feel like I’ve caused nothing but trouble”, muses Alannah. Well, yes. Will adroitly runs a couple of diplomatic missions with a view to getting the band back together, or even in the same room, and he’s kind of successful. But meantime Alannah is off having signing talks with Brad, which – as Jessie tries to warn her – is really just a raised middle finger to the entire human race.

Then something… odd happens: Alannah, who has previously come across as someone who is reasonably comfortable in her own skin, suddenly has a meltdown, wondering why she’s always so hard on herself. I hadn’t seen any evidence of this, so it’s possible she’s being manipulative, I suppose. Either way St Avery is on hand to reassure her, prompting the thought in one viewer at least that what Avery could really, really do without is another high-maintenance love interest. Why can’t he just be allowed to have a little fun?

On the subject of love interests, Maddie calls Twig over in order to play him a half-written song… about Jonah. I’m aware that there has been some controversy about the concept of the “friendzone”, as it seems to be used by some to imply male entitlement. Since I think it fair to say that Twig doesn’t strike me as the entitled sort, I’m going to say that when your crush plays you a love song meant for someone else you’ve been friendzoned. Twig is good enough to do a bit of production work on the song, turning it into a bit of a banger, and he and OG are bonding about that when Jonah walks in. Oh dear. Twig risks an attempt at a kiss later, but he decorously backs off when Maddie makes it clear that she’s not interested, and their friendship is sort of preserved.

To Jonestown, Bolivia then (oh God), where Juliette is NOT. HAPPY. with the treatment of one of the “volunteers”. Wait, she thinks, until Darius finds out! Meantime, though, she tells a couple of his brainwashed surrogates that she wants to leave, and their response is to lock her up, which they present as entirely reasonable given her previous issues: issues which she herself has conceded have been addressed by the Church of Darius. But, but… says Juliette, you’re imprisoning me against my will! Meh, whatevs, say the disciples.

The whole thing takes a turn for the worse – the much worse – when Juliette discovers, courtesy of a test smuggled in by Disciple Rosa, that she’s pregnant. Rosa, whose son is being held captive by the cult, offers to help Juliette escape, and Juliette in turn promises that if she’s successful she’ll ensure that someone comes back to help Rosa get her son back. At the end it looks as if Juli has managed to break out – unless that apparently helpful Bolivian van driver is another of Darius’s people in country – which presumably means that next week a pregnant and irate Juliette is going to hit Nashville. The outcome of that will go a long way to determining whether the final few episodes of this show are going to be a pleasure or an endurance test. (Our reviews are now going on hiatus for a couple of weeks; but we’re nothing if not completists on Unpopcult, so we’ll catch up shortly.)

Public Service Announcement 25 of 2018: Picnic at Hanging Rock, Keeping Faith

I’m not entirely sure about this new adaptation of Picnic at Hanging Rock. Six episodes might not seem very much when we’re used to twenty-plus episode-a-season procedurals but when we’re talking about a story previously filmed and wrapped up in under two hours, six of them seems like overkill. In fairness, I don’t think I’ve actually ever made it through the iconic 1975 film – I’m sure I caught a little bit of it accidentally recently but the one time I remember actually sitting down to try and watch it was years before, when I was quite young and also scared OUT. MY. MIND. I was so freaked out, I couldn’t finish the film. Which I think is the best compliment I can pay it, so this new version has a lot to live up to if it’s going to try and match the woozy, dream-like creepiness of its predecessor. The new one does however have Natalie Dormer, who was terrific in both Game of Thrones and The Fades, so that’s a big plus in its favour. And, unlike the first time I tried to watch the film, I now know it’s not based on a true story so there’s a slightly better chance of me a) not hiding from my tv in terror and b) still being able to sleep after I watch it. So, weighing up all these factors in highly scientific “it’s summer, might as well” fashion, I’m going to try episode 1 at least. 9pm tonight (Wednesday) on BBC2 if you want to join me.

From one female-centric mystery to another, albeit significantly less other-worldly, one, meanwhile: BBC Wales’s Keeping Faith is finally getting a proper showing across the rest of the country after its hugely successful runs on Welsh tv (in Welsh on S4C as Une Bore Mercher and in English on BBC1 Wales) and smashing UK iPlayer records all over the place. I’m one of the millions of people who heard about it by word-of-mouth and ended up devouring it on iPlayer as a result, and although I didn’t love the ending (a new season has been commissioned, fear not), I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of it. Eve Myles is superb at the centre of it all (her gorgeous yellow raincoat is almost a character in itself), the story is very twisty and turny (if not always 100% plausible), and the Welsh scenery is breathtaking. If you haven’t caught it already then, now’s your chance – 9pm tomorrow (Thursday) on BBC1 everywhere. Yay!