ITV’s latest attempt to appeal to fans of The Crown/ Downton (Crownton?) is Beecham House, a six-part (for now) period drama set in Delhi at the tail end of the 18th century and following the fortunes of rich retired English soldier John Beecham, his family, friends and neighbours. I’m somewhat ambivalent about it: it looks cheesy, and sounds like the kind of thing that’s lovingly-made and lavishly-mounted but tends to have big blindspots when it comes to race, class and imperialism. There’s a decent chance Beecham House might turn out to be significantly more nuanced and more inclusive than that, though: the brilliant Gurindher Chadha, is the co-creator, writer and director, and she made “Bend it Like Beckham” and “Bride and Prejudice”, both of which are wonderful. So she might just make Beecham House work. And the cast includes unpopcult favourite Gregory Fitoussi, which almost – almost – tempts me to give it a go, but not quite. Not yet, anyway. If word of mouth turns out to be positive, I could maybe be persuaded. Let me know if you try it – first episode’s tomorrow (Sunday) night at 9pm on ITV1.
We’re completists on unpopcult, as you know, but I’m slightly apprehensive about the prospect of watching a two hour-ish documentary on the making of the final season of Game of Thrones. I mean, I’d love some gossipy backstage chat and seeing Jon Snow or whoever having a laugh with Sansa and the Night King by the coffee cart while Brienne and Varys shoot the breeze by the water cooler (NB – I don’t know if any of this happens) but will seeing just how much CGI went into the massive battle scenes or exactly how to build your dragon spoil the tv magic? I once had to visit a chicken product factory years ago (it was a work thing) and it did not improve my chicken-eating experiences, if you know what I mean.
Having said that, the production of epic-scale fantasy television is (probably) not the same as the production of frozen chicken nuggets. I’ve written a lot about the acting and writing on GOT but haven’t spent anywhere near as much time on the direction, cinematography, sets, costume work and the like that made it the astonishing spectacle it was, so finding out more about all of that is no bad thing. And the trailer looks like it might make me cry. If you want to check it out then, Game of Thrones: The Last Watch is on Sky Atlantic tonight/Monday morning at 2AM with the now-standard prime time repeat at 9PM tomorrow (Monday) night.
If you’d like a more 21st-century but only slightly less fantastical (to me, anyway – the trailers alone suggest a lifestyle nobody I will ever know actually lives) drama meanwhile, you might want to tune into Sky Atlantic a little earlier tonight for Season 2 of Riviera: there’s an encore showing of the opening double bill at 9pm, if you didn’t already catch it in its Thursday night slot. Both seasons in their entirety are also currently on Sky GO, so plenty of chances to catch up with the über-glossy adventures of Julia Stiles and other extremely rich people up to extremely suspicious things in the extremely beautiful Riviera, now with added Juliet Stevenson, Will Arnett and – hurrah! – unpopcult favourite Gregory Fitoussi as Julia’s new boyfriend. I say again: Gregory Fitoussi as Julia’s new boyfriend! I didn’t watch season 1 (and I don’t think I can face starting now), but if I had, I’d be very excited right about now.
Perhaps my expectations were lowered by the first three episodes. Or maybe my faculties have been bludgeoned into submission by Elisabeth Marjorie: International Rescue and Palissy de Justice. Either way, having put it off for the best part of a week, I was pleasantly surprised when I caught up with this week’s Spin. Which is not to say it was bon, exactly, more that it was basically all right. Which makes it a definite step up for this season.
Given that Clemence kicks things off by having her ultrasound right in front of a massive, curtain-free window (people having secret affairs in front of windows and not drawing the curtains is, as Jed pointed out a couple of weeks ago, daft enough, but people having secret ultrasounds in front of windows and not drawing the curtains seems almost criminally stupid) and her doctor makes a point of promising her total discretion, it’s pretty obvious how things are going to go. Et oui, news of the pregnancy gets to La Flashmag Femme quicker than you can say “Tiens!” but, oddly, instead of rushing to confirm, protect then publish her scoop on line, LFF summons Ludo – who, till the euro drops, is adorably confused as to why he’s being asked to look at a baby scan – who tells various folk, then Simon who also tells various folk so, by the time LFF finally gets round to publishing her “exclusive”, half of France already knows. Including Le Prés himself who, having learned absolutely nothing from anything that’s happened thus far, maintains everything’s going to be bien and snogs Clemence out in the street; and Elisabeth, who goes full red-wine mist and announces it at a state dinner with the British PM. Charmant.
Contrary to Le Prés’s promises, of course, everything is most certainly not going to be bien, unless you’re Anne-Marie Carrere, who is not just bien but positively orgasmic – in more than one way – about the whole business. Her screaming “I want them all to respect me!” and other such worthy sentiments in the middle of a sex scene with her campaign manager is both ridiculous and hilarious, and makes me wonder what Spin would have been like if it hadn’t taken itself so seriously and embraced its inner “Dynasty” instead.
But let’s not dwell on what could have been. We can leave that to Simon, who’s never more nostalgic about his marriage to Appolline than when she’s abroad somewhere in dire straits. Luckily for all of us – *rolls eyes* – though, his other favourite femme, La Petite Princesse Juliette, dashes back from New York, works out Palissy’s behind it all and generally achieves more in about cinq minutes than she has in the past deux seasons, so she gets a pass for once. Until she and her Papa get all hypocritical and holier-than-thou about gossip mags in general: “They’ve polluted the media and putrefied politics”, says the daughter of the spin doctor. Righto. But unlike Le Président or you, Simon, Flashmag hasn’t compromised their position by having an affair with a subordinate and lying about it, so maybe dial down the self-righteousness un peu, eh?
Thankfully, however, it’s not just Juliette’s attitude that’s contagious, but also her sudden bout of efficiency. Since there are only deux episodes to go till the series finale, Palissy quietly shuts down the school investigation, and Simon quietly shuts down Palissy, telling Le Prés what Appolline (and Juliette) found out. Because a man is now saying it’s ok (FFS), Le Pres finally lets the nameless intelligence agency woman (who’s been desperate to get involved for weeks but has been stymied at every turn by Marjorie’s reliance on Palissy) step up and do her job. Since it’s too late for negotiations, though, we’re going back to an old-style (ok, season 2) commando raid on the compound where Appolline’s being held, and, I would imagine, a race against time to save Paris from “Jennifer” just to liven things up before we say adieu to Spin forever. Watch this space, mes amis. We’re nearly there.
What a mal week for the women of Spin.
No sooner has Appolline paid (someone else’s) $6000 for the goods on Clemence et al, than she’s kidnapped in quite the blaze of shooting and shooting, her chatty informant left dead in its wake. This would be bad enough, but her situation gets even worse when it comes clear she’s been taken by a bunch of Daesh fanboys who would happily deal with the French government, were the French government happy to deal with them, the only fly in the Oil of Olay being that Palissy de Justice actually is the French government to all intents and purposes, and he really wants her mort. It looks like he may have set the whole thing up for exactly that purpose but, either way, much as I dislike Appolline, the Daesh element (hostage videos, taking sadistic joy in unimaginable suffering and brutality – you know the drill) suddenly means that this sub-plot, which was only annoying before, is now just a little too close to real-life horrors, so I neither want to see nor even contemplate this woman’s death in this context, merci beaucoup.
As if Appolline sojourning in a Syrian terror camp isn’t horrifying enough, though, the spectre of Juliette also pays us a visit, materialising on Papa’s computer screen to his fond smile and my consternation. Mercifully, however, it’s over almost as quickly as Ludo’s weekly turn, my fears that la petite princesse may return in more corporeal form remaining unfounded for now. Which is just as well, since the show has more than enough to be getting on with in terms of irritating people doing irritating things already. Par example, now that the Marjorie/Parodie snaps are out, Simon, of all people, is apparently the most wounded by the whole business. Oui, he had one night of passion with Parodie, but his outrage seems somewhat hypocritical, given that his own history of cheating on his wife, sleeping with co-workers/employees, and lying about everything is worse than his boss’s. Of course, he reserves most of his ire for Clemence herself, which is both sexist and par for the course on Spin and dans la vie, but he’s also allowed to be surprisingly rude to Le Président about it as well, not to mention, once again, making most of the decisions about how to handle the situation on his behalf – the ones that involve hanging Clemence out to dry, at any rate.
Clemence herself, meanwhile, is finding that scandals are like buses – you wait years for one, then, well, tu sais. Having her affair with Le Prés splashed all over Flashmag is bad enough, but being charged with corruption, losing her job and finding out she has either a Mini-Kapita or a Mini-Marjorie on the way all adds up to a veritable Tsunami of trouble for her. And, since Spin is hardly above cliche, for Marjorie soon too, I should pense – une femme scorned, etc….
Unless, of course, that femme is Elisabeth Marjorie, who is something of a hypocrite herself. Having successfully got that poor girl in the Emirates 5 years and 100 lashes, it’s not till Madame Marjorie is back in Paris that she finds out what’s been going on, her homme having decided that hearing it by phone or reading it online in relative privacy would be a bad idée, but seeing it splashed across giant posters all over Paris would be significantly less traumatic.
Comme Kapita, Lis is outraged too, conveniently forgetting Amaury Desplantes and her own less than faithful history. A quick whiskey with Simon, however, and she’s back on board Le Présidential Express, giving one of those excruciating “we’ll get through this together” TV interviews we’ve all seen political wives do with their philandering husbands umpteen times before, for all the world as if his cheating is something that happened to them as opposed to something he did. The fact that it’s the closest Spin has come to reflecting the real world in years should probably be lauded, but it just makes the whole spectacle even more profoundly depressing. If anything, I’m significantly less surprised by the two women affected by the affair taking/ being given most of the responsibility and blame for it, than I am by how shocked the press and Simon are that the affair happened in the first place.
The only woman bucking the trend and having a thoroughly successful week, then, turns out to be Anne-Marie Carrere, for whom the Flashmag photos are like Bastille Day and Christmas rolled into one. Not only does she glide through morning TV, making political hay while the soleil shines, but she also gets to get it on with Ludo, in a scene which is spoilt somewhat by her taking a leaf out of Valentine’s livre and trying to eat his face first. Um…. Anyway, apart from the face-eating, Ludo getting busy with his boss is obviously great news for her, but wholly unsurprising for everyone else, except in that it’s shocking it hasn’t happened before now, and it’s astounding that it still doesn’t mean Gregory Fitoussi gets more than 90 seconds of screen time. FFS.
Not anywhere near as bad as last week’s series nadir, then, but still filled with people I don’t care for doing things that either bore or annoy me, Spin seems to be doing its very best to discourage those of us who’ve come this far from persevering to the end. With only trois episodes to go, though, this show is now my Everest. Will I make it? We shall see.
In what might be the worst episode of Spin yet – this is a genuinely terrible hour of television – les writers, having made it abundantly clear that they’re going spend this season focusing on the mal parts of the show, distinguish themselves by doubling down on each and every one of them, and somehow managing to make everything that was already bad, much, much worse.
On the Kapita front, Simon’s in therapy in a scene which I’d say was lifted directly from The West Wing, but that would be defamatory. To The West Wing. After all, Josh Lyman never threw a bundle of cash onto his therapist’s desk like he wasn’t happy with the wine list and decided to take it out on the waiter.
Between woozy spells and inexcusable rudeness to medical professionals, however, Simon’s portfolio now seems to extend to running every aspect of Le Président’s life, be it personal or political. It’s Simon who decides how they’ll steal the PM’s thunder (not all that hard to do, in fairness); Simon who decides how they’re to deal with Madame Marjorie after last week’s International Rescue debacle; Simon who aborts that strategy and decides on another one when Madame Marjorie becomes (dear Dieu) some sort of Internet heroine and starts inexplicably quoting poetry en anglais; and Simon who decides what Le Prés himself is allowed to say about it. Or at least it’s Simon who tries to. A puréed cabbage might make a more convincing leader than Monsieur Marjorie, but it’s still something of a relief when he finally remembers who’s supposed to be in charge, and tells Simon to step off. Even if immediately following that up with “Are you coming?” somewhat dilutes the message.
In charge or not, though, Simon’s services are likely to be in even more demand next week, now that the cloud of e-cigarette smoke swirling around the Spin Secret Flat (the occupants and the illicit purpose may change every season, but I swear the flat is the same) has now parted to reveal Le Président in flagrante with none other than the object of Simon’s affections, Clemence Parodi. Scandale!
The awkward, clumsy Président-Parodi embrace is not a particularly jolie sight, but I suppose l should be thankful for their ungainly amourousness, since it at least gives Ludo something to do; delivering the photographic evidence to the very excited (and who can blame her? Gregory Fitoussi’s in her office!) femme at Flashmag is one of his two tasks this week, the other being ten-second seatwarmer for… Oh, who gives a French fondant? The only reason I’m still watching this show has about 90 seconds of screen time, during which he’s reduced to either courier or cushion. FFS. There have to be better ways of using the show’s meilleur asset, you guys. Come the eff on.
Especially since, to add insult to utterly baffling injury, while Ludo’s gone in a couple of blinks, nothing short of a blindfold and ear plugs for the entire episode is going to rid us of the unspeakable Elisabeth, or fellow “difficult wife” character Appolline. In fairness, the writing for women on this show might be sexist and awful, but it’s not lacking in screen time, is it? Elisabeth is in Every. Second. Scene, and as for Appolline…. Who could forget season one’s tiresome conspiracy field trip to Mali to investigate the “STATE FALSEHOOD”? The writers, apparently; they’ve now recycled the storyline and sent tv’s most irritating journalist (no, Simon, not la femme from Flashmag) to Lebanon to investigate the “PARODI FALSEHOOD”, a scoop which somehow manages to get both less interesting and less comprehensible the more we hear about it. And since Appolline’s source is très chatty, and the whole thing also seems to involve Palissy Junior – because now that we’re free of the wretched Juliette and her insanely creepy, pseudo-incestuous scenes with her dad, we really do need someone else’s appalling offspring to jump right in – we hear about it a LOT.
Malheureusement for moi, the turgid writing and ennui that overwhelms me any time anyone even mentions this plotline mean I have no idea what Parodi and/or Palissy Junior are actually supposed to have done but, given the show’s apparent fascination with the story, it seems the rest of the audience and I may be doomed to find out. Whether that will be in time to stop the new, utterly superfluous Palissy-Beaugendre alliance of evil is another matter, but, either way, I do wonder who will fight crime now Palissy de Justice is doing every other job in the government, and some of the opposition’s jobs too.
Sigh. What an episode. What a show. What am I doing with my life? There had better be beaucoup de Ludo in next week’s episode or I don’t think I’m going to make it to la fin.
We begin in deeply unsettling fashion with a convoy of official vehicles racing through a Parisian tunnel. Maybe it’s not meant to evoke the memories it does, maybe it is; either way, and since I knew going in that season three of Spin (like season one) was going to start with a significant public death, it’s a disturbing moment, but it turns out that even Spin isn’t crass enough to go there. Instead, the Marjories make it through the tunnel unharmed, and it’s Simon Kapita and the Minister for Parliamentary Reform(?) Clemence Parodi – a woman whom I initially thought might be Gabi from last season – who are at the epicentre of the tragedy, namely a radio station where a gunman shoots up the studio live on air, killing a high-profile Far Right candidate. At least I think he was a high-profile Far Right candidate – the combination of Spin’s usual terrible subtitling with my lack of knowledge of the French political system makes it something of a struggle to try and get a grip of who belongs to which party. I wouldn’t put any euros on me being right about any of them.
Alors. Simon and Clemence are understandably traumatised by the whole business, but the emotional impact of “We could have died!” and “All that blood!” is somewhat diluted by the segue straight into “Let’s crash right into each other and have sex tout de suite!” I laughed out loud, which I’m guessing is not the effect anyone was going for and which also means, in terms of sex with Simon at stressful moments, Clemence is pretty much Gabi from last season after all.
It’s back to business the matin after, though, as Clemence shifts back into work mode, unceremoniously swapping Simon for an immediate, wholesale change of the entire French voting system, because trying to alter the course of the nation’s destiny forever really could not wait till episode 2. *rolls yeux*
Malheureusment for Clemence and her big plan, however, since Simon spends most of the episode having woozy spells and hiding out in Ludo’s old office (now Simon’s new office?) in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid his appalling ex-wife, he’s not really up to doing too much politicking on her behalf. And nobody else thinks it’s a magnifique idea to be handing power to the far droit anyway, so the PM pulls a fast one, the bill tanks and poor Clemence is left wondering if it’s too late to go back to bed.
As Simon drinks and broods, and Clemence considers a new career, then, Madame Marjorie, er, walks repeatedly around the Palais in a series of dubious-looking pairs of slacks. Every few minutes, there she is – round a corner, up a staircase, along a corridor – wandering aimlessly into shot, looking either dazed or ready for a fight with Monsieur Le Prés, who is visibly wondering why this pair didn’t just split up at the end of season 2. Je ne sais pas pourquois, either, Alain, but it’s jamais too late.
Alors, again. Since she’s not getting any sort of satisfaction (or any sort of birthday present) from Le Prés, Mme Marjorie eventually gets bored with her route and changes things up by walking all the way to the UAE and involving herself in a stupendously daft rescue attempt, either because she’s looking for a more active role in foreign policy or because she’s an imbecile. *rolls yeux encore*
Thank goodness then for mon amour Ludo, who’s having a much more successful (if brief) time than the rest of these nitwits. With artfully unshaven visage and his own right-wing (je pense?) candidate Anne-Marie, the handsomest man on tv is poised to take full advantage of Morlaix’s death, not to mention full advantage of the fact that he looks like Gregory Fitoussi and she looks so like fellow Spiral alum Audrey Fleurot that for a moment I was confused about which French drama I was actually watching. If they’re not sleeping together yet, it can’t be long, non?
Not that Ludo and his cinq heures shadow get any more than a few minutes to woo us; a sneer from old frenemy Deleuvre, a few seconds plotting with Anne-Marie and he’s done for the week, which is disappointing but not unexpected given how under-used he was last season. And given time has to be found for two new shows-within-the-show, namely “Elisabeth Marjorie: International Rescue” and, most exciting of all, top new detective drama “Palissy de Justice.” You thought he was just the Minister for the Interior? Oh, non. While the intelligence agencies scratch their derrières, the French answer to Columbo cracks the assassination case wide open, working out the whos, the whys and the wherefores, and organising elegantly-choreographed SWAT raids all over the French countryside. Dude is so bien at fighting crime, he should get a gig on Spiral himself. And his entire storyline would have fit better there too, instead of taking up temps on a show which is supposed to be saying something important about French politics at a time when the entire planet’s future is in the balance, as opposed to doing a French version of Le Bill.
Sigh. As usual with Spin, this episode was rarely more than all right, and frequently much less than that. The political intrigue continues to lose so much in translation that I’m confused or bemused far too often; the Marjories’ relationship continues to take up an amount of screen time inversely proportionate to the interest anyone except the writers can possibly have in it (Mon Dieu, just GET. A. DIVORCE); and the insufferable Appolline continues to get way more to do than the indispensable Ludo, whose job description is actually in the name of the show. Something not right there, n’est-ce pas?
Silly season has come a little early this year with two of Unpopcult’s favourite pieces of nonsense making their way back to UK screens this week.
Tonight (Thursday), 9pm on Sky Living, sees the return of season 2 of the gleefully bonkers Blindspot, which left off last time with REDACTED in terrible danger, the writers still trying to make
fetch Roman happen, and everybody’s personal lives all over the shop. Will REDACTED survive? Who is the mole inside Sandstorm? Who is the mole inside Team Tat? And when will Jane and Weller bloody get over themselves and get back together? Declining US ratings mean this run might be the last chance to find out, but no matter: unpopcult will be watching and reviewing anyway. And hoping Rich Dotcom makes another appearance, because we flat-out love that guy.
In other “guys we love” (albeit in an entirely different way) news, meanwhile, my beloved Gregory Fitoussi is back in my tv life for the third and likely final season of Spin (Les Hommes de l’Ombre) – starting tomorrow on More 4 at 9pm. A political soap which is either a lot less clever than it thinks it is, completely hobbled by its ham-fisted subtitling, or more than likely both, the only two things keeping me watching are Gregory’s magnifique “villain” Ludo and how much fun we have talking about the show on unpopcult. I’m hoping the writers learned from the deeply disappointing season 2 that what we need is more Ludo not less, and that the awful Simon is really not all that, but we shall see – reviews every week as usual. À bientôt, j’espère.