tv review

Only Mad Dogs and Englishmen stay out in the midday sun

What happens when four old school friends leave their families (and their morals) behind and renunite for a holiday in Mallorca? Absolute carnage!

Coping with the fallout from a tragic accident, stupid mistake, or even just the morning after the night before is a popular topic in the scripts of many Hollywood movies — and as it’s been such a formula for success for movies like Very Bad Things, and The Hangover, it makes sense to see how it will translate onto the small screen.

And Mad Dogs does just that. It follows four men, played by the magnetic John Simm, Philip Glenister, Marc Warren, and Max Beesley, as they try and cope when things take a sudden and very sinister turn for the absolute worst on their boys holiday to Mallorca.

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What started off as an excuse for the four actors, who clearly have an unrivalled chemistry on screen, to work with eachother quickly turned into an explosive and unmissable drama — and four episodes soon became four series, as audiences across the country could not get enough.

Without a doubt, one of the most electric and explosive shows on British TV in a long, long time. The writing is original, and becomes more terrifying and depraved with each episode, and the acting is authentic and exciting — but, don’t worry, there are a few moments of genuine humour to give some much-needed relief from watching through the gaps in your fingers.

Apart from anything, it’s just a fascinating insight into how human beings cope when things go wrong, on a massive scale. And when we’re catapulted into a situation where we have to react immediatly, without little time to plan and no one to turn to for help things get tough. Seriously tough.

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The character dynamics are my favourite thing about this show. As the series unfolds, you begin to feel like you know these people — the one two punch of brilliant writing and acting makes these characters feel real, which only emphasises the stress and tension you feel as they get themselves into increasingly ridiculous situations. The way the different personalites, and morals, of each character clashes with the next one is what gives this show a believable spark and sets it apart from everything else.

From the moment the show begins, there is a sense of something dark lurking beneath the surface — like it’s highly unstable at its core, so when shit really does hit the fan it sticks big time and doesn’t let up. But the backdrop for all this carnage and catastrophe is the beautiful and serene sky and sea of Mallorca, making it a refreshing change from the usual grim, gloomy settings in other dark TV dramas. Pathetic Fallacy it is not.

The acting, and evolution of the storyline makes for really intense viewing, and it definitely gets under your skin as you can’t help but imagine yourself in their situation. It’s not your typical tried-and-tested TV drama, but something with a bite to match its bark.

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But, despite its intensity it is very watchable — so watchable, in fact, that you’ll want to watch it over and over again to soak up the laugh-out-loud moments, and even the jump-behind-the-sofa moments.

 

Coen Brothers’ Fargo, episode one

Well heck, Fargo’s only gone and been made into a darn TV series. But, you already knew that didn’t you?!

Going into this I had no idea what to expect… And given my track record of loathing anything even resembling a ‘remake’, I was pretty sceptical. Fargo, the 1996 movie, achieved that rare feat of interlacing comedy with crime with bloody gore with interesting characters. So, how were they going to do that stretched out across a number of episodes?

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Well, the good news is it ain’t a remake. It shares the same name, the same backdrop, and the same executive producers (see Coen, Joel and Coen, Ethan) but that’s where it stops. We’ve got new characters, a new story, and new weirdness to sink our teeth into.

It all started with an oh-so-familar panorama of bleak, snow soaked landscapes of small town Minnesota, and dark, brooding lighting. And the first episode continued to be loaded with beautiful scenery offsetting the bloody violence. So far, so good.

The beauty of a TV, versus film, is time — and having much, much more of it. And they’ve really put it to good use so far, with the screenplay spilling over with amusing, quirky exchanges — and all in THAT accent.

But the most impressive thing so far is not the photography, the writing, or the characters, it’s whoever made the decision to cast Martin Freeman as the downtrodden salesman Lester Nygaard. His portrayal of a man on the edge is both magnetic and as subtle and understated as ever as he proves once again you don’t need to be wide-eyed and maniacal to play troubled and borderline psychotic.

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But he’s not the only one delivering the goods, Billy Bob Thornton was enigmatic. I’ll admit, I was apprehensive going into it at the thought of there being a Steve Buscemi shaped hole burning its way through my screen, but my nerves soon settled as Billy Bob’s crazed intensity found its own fire, and kept on burning bright the whole way through.

Episode one did everything a first episode should: it introduced us to the characters, kicked off what is sure to be a weird and wild story, and left us thirsty for more next week. Can’t say fairer than that.

Bloody, brutal and beautiful: Martina Cole’s The Take

Good old Tom Hardy, he is that calibre of actor you can rely on to give a bone-chilling performance no matter what. I recently saw a magazine cover declaring him to be ‘the greatest actor of his generation’ and the first thing that sprung to mind was his portrayal of scumbag slash psychopath Freddie Jackson in The Take.

The Take, based on Martina Cole’s novel, is dark, sinister and explosive — it’s everything you could ever want from a crime thriller. But what really separates this from being just another ‘good old British crime drama’ is the acting. It’s been a while since I’ve been captivated by such dynamic, honest and exciting acting from every actor in a TV series. And leading the way is Hardy who picks up the ball and runs at an unrelenting full speed with it. The deeper the story twists and contorts into a black hole of corruption, greed, and depravity so does his performance.

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We meet him as he’s released after four years in prison, and itching to unleash hell on London’s East End. His psychotic and brutally violent behaviour grows more terrifying by the second. Like lighting a stick of dynamite, the closer it gets to the blasting cap, the more volatile and dangerous it becomes — and is at the same time frightening to watch but impossible to take your eyes off.

Freddie is a character that could so easily have been overdone and turned into a gurning caricature, but Tom plays it with enough depth and charisma — and he know exactly when to hold back to give some relief from the intensity of his unravelling demise.

The anithesis to Freddie’s intensity and ferociousness is his cousin Jimmy, played by the divine Shaun Evans, who offsets Hardy’s brute force with his own wrecking ball of unassuming subtlety. We watch his character start off as sweet, baby-faced Jimmy full of wide-eyed admiration for his newly-released cousin, who seems out-of-his-depth as he hangs on Freddie’s criminal coattails — but it’s not long until he starts transforming into a slick, smart criminal mastermind himself. Will he end up as depraved and unpredictable as his cousin?

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This is not all about the boys though, not by a long shot. You know what they say ‘behind every great man is a great woman, blah blah’ — well, Kierston Wareing and Charlotte Riley are flawless are the sisters behind the scenes of the Jackson family’s criminality. Kierston’s Jackie is frantic, desperate and deluded, and Charlotte’s Maggie is feisty, and interesting. A long with Brian Cox, Sara Stewart and other famous faces, The Take is full of reliably good actors whose performances layer up to create a dynamic and unpredictable story.

The masochist in me has a tendency towards anything that feels like an assault on my nervous system, and The Take is definitely that. At the end of it, I felt wiped out — I’d felt just about every emotion there is to feel from fear to anxiety to distress and excitement, not to mention a few genuinely shocking and gut-wrenching moments. We’re so spoiled for choice when it comes to good thrillers these days, and the downside of that is that we can become desensitised to otherwise exciting and thrilling things but The Take certainly provided a few blood curdling moments that took me by surprise — and still make me flinch just thinking about it.

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Call me biased, but British crime thrillers are the best in the world. They’re loaded with intelligent depravity, original writing, explosive performances, and gorgeously talented actors. But, The Take takes it up a few notches. Trust me, you’ve never seen anything like this before.