Fear the Walking Dead: So Close, Yet So Far, review

With only four episodes to go (gutting, I know) and a whole lot of ground still to cover, episode two of AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead didn’t do a lot in terms of picking up the pace. While we say goodbye to another character – which isn’t necessarily emotional considering how early on in the story we are – we also say hello to some gruesome content. Interestingly, said material is in relation to Nick‘s (Frank Dillane) drug problem, rather than people eating one another. The cold turkey sub-plot is still the most intriguing element to the multi-layered narrative, and the introduction of a new family into the mix is promising. What we have here is a small selection of characters, of different backgrounds and ethnicity’s, and this in itself realistically depicts a contemporary America (ignoring the zombies, of course). Kirkman’s current creation is genre-busting at its very best.

Despite the slow-movements of the virus taking its grip on Los Angeles and the lack of zombie-human combat scenes, director Adam Davidson and co have carefully created an intense and somewhat frightening portrayal of a city in distress. With The Walking Dead we never had the early days of the apocalypse, meaning we didn’t witness the collapse of society as the outbreak takes hold  of America. To produce a series that is entirely dedicated to portraying the beginnings of what Rick, Daryl and gang have been left to deal with is an exciting prospect, and one which I – and I’m sure millions of other viewers – can’t wait to watch unfold. From riots and police ‘brutality’ to distant screams and an ominous non-diegetic score, Fear the Walking Dead is shaping up to be an outstanding series from a talented team of writers, directors, and actors.

 

a television round up (of sorts)

Television dramas – of all kinds – are totally rocking my world right about now. I’m a broke ass student which means cinema trips are lacking. Who needs the cinema on the regular when you have film worthy T.V. on the small screen? Now, I say ’round up of sorts’ because this is going to be a brief (if you read regularly you’ll know I have no idea what the word brief means) review of three series’ that are all currently airing. It’s extra exciting because said shows couldn’t be further removed from one another which makes for diverse watching and some hella’ interesting reading for you guys too – hopefully. Let the television bashing (or reviewing as most call it) begin.

Nashville, season 3

First up: you don’t need to love country music to enjoy ABC’s smash hit musical drama. Full to the brim with catchy songs and original narratives, Callie Khouri’s stab at the basically unexplored world of American country is one of the best shows on T.V. right now (no, seriously). Nashville‘s ability to stand out as both an up-beat and mellow series, with a healthy mix of both seen in each episode makes it a satisfying watch. Its rare you’ll finish an episode feeling like you need a glass – or two – of wine to cheer your sorry self up.

Unlike most television series’ that revolve around a musical premise, Nashville escapes the cliches that often lead to many a cheesy scenario – ahem Glee. It has sass, and series three – currently on it’s mighty eighteenth episode – continues to promote the talent of cast members Connie Britton, Sam Palladio, Oliver Hudson and a host more. Britton has been a stellar force in previous cult shows such as Fright Night Lights and season one of American Horror Story and to see her embody a Faith Hill-esque character – and give an acting master class in the process – is always a treat.

A unique and refreshing drama which never takes itself too serious but successfully manages to lift the lid on the previously un-seen world of country music.

Game of Thrones, season 5

It’s back. Unfortunately for HBO, it was back one day early and four episodes too soon. I felt sorry for them, for they are producers of some of the best small screen fare, and for that we must applaud. When someone swiftly reminded me the millions (probably billions lets be honest) of dollars they rake in each year, I felt less sorry and quickly ran home to watch all four episodes. Plus, Game of Thrones was the most pirated television series of 2014 so I’m not the only one. What followed was some face-clutching, deep in-depth plot analysis and then the thought of oh yeah…another four weeks to wait now’ (common sense has never been my strong suit).

natalie dormer and lena heady as margaery and cersei in game of thrones

natalie dormer and lena heady as margaery and cersei in game of thrones

Without giving too much away – as not everyone has rushed to download – so far, so good. With episodes all at an hour long (or just short of), fans are able to delve straight back into the lives of the Lannister’s and co’ as they await the winter Jon Snow keeps reminding us is coming. Slow and steady seems to be the general theme, while we wait for the warring houses to finally come to a head. Oh, and Sansa is suddenly so bad ass. Season five of HBO’s Game of Thrones is the first to feature episodes without a little help from source writer George R. R. Martin, as he pens his latest novel as part of A Song of Fire and Ice.

We waited a year for this fantasy drama to return, and now we have to wait as the remaining six episodes air. Its worth it.

Bates Motel, season 3

Bates Motel began as a contemporary homage to one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most beloved – and watched – films, Psycho. The classic film set the tone, and genre, for horror’s to come and has been referenced in popular culture many times. A&E brought the 1950’s to twenty-first century America and intelligently placed the Bates family in a realm of their own within their old-school motel, juxtaposing Vera Farmiga’s Norma and Freddie Highmore’s Norman against the locals of new home White Pine Bay.

The enigma and interest that came with the first two seasons of Bates Motel, as well as the sub-plot of a cannabis-related economy that engulfs the town, has been left behind. What dominates now are moody conversations and under-thought story-lines. Don’t get me wrong, Highmore in a woman’s dressing gown embodying the spirit of his mother and making waffles is certainly a sight to see – and for the first time we were able to see the real talent he possesses as an adult actor – but, beyond the presentation of great acting, there isn’t much else being explored.

Vera Farmiga as Norma has taken hold in season 3. With a back-story coming into play that has been building bit by bit since series one, Farmiga dominates the screen and the show is less about Norman‘s psychotic tendencies and more about his mother’s tragic past. The tables have turned and we now find ourselves defending her, despite her wrongdoings.

It will be interesting to see if A&E continue their foray into the lives of the Bates family pre-Psycho following the end of season three.

The Walking Dead – Conquer, review

The Walking Dead came to it’s ferocious season five end this week in a climatic episode that stirred plenty of tension amongst spectators and characters alike. If you are yet to feast your eyes on Conquer, this weeks appropriate title awarded to Kirkman’s finale, expect new foes, a crazed Rick Grimes and a whole load of brutality. In a lot of episodes which have been up and down, episode ten didn’t leave fans disappointed and has set the tone for the nature in which AMC’s triumphant show now encompasses.

The ‘safe’ locale of the walled-community in Alexandria has posed a juxtaposition to the on-the-road narrative of previous installments, and while its refreshing to meet a batch of new people, several episodes have been lacking when it comes to excitement. Monday night saw a return to form with what viewers love most when it comes to WD, and that is the unexpected. In a 90 minute final, its the last five that stay in the mind the most, with a staggering closing scene that reunites old and new friends.

Writers Gimple and Hoffman have successfully given us a glimpse into the emotions of all key characters in Conquer, which has been one of the biggest flaws of the final round of episodes. Michonne, Glenn, Maggie, Rick, Daryl, Carol and more all had their share of the teleplay and to be reminded of why we all love them certainly added an enjoyable spin to a generally dark atmosphere. Congratulations to all involved for not making this narrative a convoluted one.

With no more new episodes until season six premieres in October, fans will have to keep themselves occupied with the graphic novels and even perhaps the spin-off series Fear the Walking Dead. A great final for a genuinely impressive show.

The Walking Dead: Remember, review

The Walking Dead has reached a seminal moment; the group are finally all together and in a ‘safe’ enviornment and – most shocking of all – Rick has no facial hair left (its going to take some time to adjust). Jokes aside, this week’s episode was the best so far of the newest offerings and reminds us all why we love these characters so much. What’s especially enjoyable is the constant reminders that the narrative is born out of comic book storytelling, and its little asides in Remember – such as Rick in a police uniform and Daryl tentatively carrying around his cross bow – that remind us of this. The seriousness of Kirkman’s creation on television has always been questioned, but for fans (and even new viewers) WD should be held up as a treasure of contemporary television drama. Entertaining but never corny, scary but never intimidating, and more importantly a strong contender for one of the best Zombie creations ever without bordering on cliched. It’s not all perfect, but it’s pretty damn close.

What’s the story this week? Rick and co’ have made it to the closed-off community in Alexandria. Seemingly normal (with room for a Governor-esque character) the group settle in well, if not a little cautious. With one or two altercations, it boils down to the them or us narrative which has been brewing over several seasons when it comes to the introduction of a new clique. This week it was Andrew Lincoln at the helm. The actor has been the driving force for a while, with characters such as Daryl, Abraham and Maggie fading into the background. When it comes down to it this is an ensemble show and the main weakness is the successful combination and screen time of all involved. The arrival of new characters means these beloved personalities could suffer even more from sharing their story.

Finally picking up the pace and with a malevolent tone hanging in the background, Remember has set the precedent for what is to come in the rest of season five. With a 90 minute final episode just revealed, expect plenty of twists and turns.

 

 

 

Channel 4’s Cucumber

Russel T Davies. For a man that most associate with family-friendly BBC sci-fi Doctor Who, his newest work on Channel 4’s no-bars-held approach to lesbian and gay relationships – Cucumber – reminds us all that Davies gained recognition with his cult hit Queer as Folk. Transcending contemporary gay culture in British society, Davies is back on our radars as Cucumber, now on its fifth episode, continues to impress. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart, and perhaps not one to watch with the family (Mum: “Well, this is a bit awkward isn’t it?”), but beyond the crude nature of the dialogue and sexual content that is enough to send your Granny to bed at nine o’clock instead of ten, Davies’ newest drama is triumphant in finally bringing relationships ‘without labels’ to the mainstream viewing audience. Kudos to Channel 4 for yet again breaking down the barriers of conventional week-night television.

Cucumber is part of three series’, all interconnected and all focusing on some aspect of being gay. While Channel 4’s Cucumber is episodic, E4’s Banana is an anthology series, with a variety of characters telling their intimate stories. Tofu finishes the trio, with all episodes made available on 4oD. The former is definitely the wittiest of the three, and carefully molds a number of stories together without bordering on confusing. At the heart of the series is Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri as Henry and Lance, having been together for ten years but never consummating their relationship the pair become disconnected and each venture off in different directions – or, simply put, both in search of another person who can fill the gap in their broken partnership. Supporting these two are a host of young talents, the stand-out being Freddie (played by Freddie Fox), a promiscuous artist who Fox plays with a stellar humour and a refreshing cut-throat energy.

With only three more episodes to go, audiences should be rejoicing that at least one terrestrial channel can stand up and tackle ‘taboo’ subject matter. Russell T. Davies, thank you for breaking the boundaries of the norm and giving us an intelligent, original and hella’ funny television series that is unabashedly, and unapologetically, in your face.

The Walking Dead – What Happened and What’s Going On, review

AMC’s The Walking Dead is back. After a three month break the excitement for fans (including me, of course) has been building the past week and yesterday, we were finally graced with episode nine of series five – What Happened and What’s going On (not a great title, but we’ll forgive the writers for this one). A reflection episode of sorts, this new installment focused on just a small number of the group (an interesting choice considering we’ve been away for a while) and reminded audiences of the adult nature, severe violence and emotional tone that now engulfs the popular series.

I recently commented, in an article I did for Screen Relish (bit of self promo, forgive me), that The Walking Dead had graduated from Freshman to Senior in its excess of brutality and elevated dark subject matter (lets remember zombie fare isn’t always the most serious of stuff). What Happened and What’s Going On exemplifies this change perfectly. This is represented by the episodes editing, which deserves an applause; stylish and cinematic, unusually haunting and even a little scary. Robert Kirkman, Scott Gimple, Greg Nicotero, and co’ have stepped up their game and continue to provide audiences and fans with some of the best television in recent years.

promotional still for the walking dead

promotional still for the walking dead

The narrative is pretty simple this week – Rick, Glenn, Tyreese, Michonne and new boy Noah travel to Richmond, Virginia in the hope that the walled community Noah‘s family were inhabiting is still there. As you guessed, its not. What unfolds is an episode that reflects on what the group have gone through so far, and how it is individually effecting them. Chad Coleman as Tyreese is at the centre of the brilliance of this weeks drama as he struggles to come to terms with the ever-rising number of events that have de-humanized those around around him. With a return from some of the characters who are responsible for these happenings, the surrealist, dream-like aesthetic of this newest offering from The Walking Dead team is an introduction for the trials that will unfold for the group in episodes to come.

The only criticism would be the divide of the group. With focus only on five characters, favourites such as Abraham and Daryl were certainly missed and an episode featuring the entire cast has been scarce for some time. With a shock exit and a stellar return, fans can rejoice that The Walking Dead is back on our screens.

The Walking Dead, mid-season finale – review

Today’s final episode of The Walking Dead (until its return in the new year) was two things. One: Understated. Two: Phenomenal. Forget zombie horror cliches and the floors in television drama; Coda, the seasons eighth episode moved beyond the genre of survival horror and the living dead, and became something which represents well the dark side of people. To say that this weeks offering was a ‘shock’ would most probably be the understatement of the century (exaggeration is in need, trust me), and if you have been waiting for an episode to quite literally blow your socks off, you now have it.

Visceral, violent, horrific and packing an emotional punch Coda sits comfortably as the best mid-season finale we have seen since this overly-long wait for new episodes began. Plot-wise, not much needs to be discussed. For, in the forty minute running time not a whole lot really happens – until those last pivotal five minutes. There is Walker action, of course. Conversations about past lives, something which is always to be expected now. And, the group are all brought back together (just not on the terms you may of initially thought that they would be). The power in episode eight of season five lay with those five minutes, and those five minutes alone. You will cry, you will hold your face and shout at the screen, and you will be baffled at how the makers of this show, without warning, throw it at you with such a force.

the cast of the walking dead

the cast of the walking dead

Lauren Cohan as Maggie, in the brief moments she has screen time in this years finale, is exceptionally good and reminds us all why her character has become such a favourite. Her relationship with Glenn (fan-girl’s favourite played by Steven Yeun) and sense of leadership she often portrays firmly places her up there with Danai Gurira’s Michonne who oozes sass and bad-assness (not a word, right?). What is also rather wonderful, yet tragic, is how unafraid Robert Kirkman and crew are of killing off two or three of the audiences most beloved characters. Whether you saw the happenings of Coda coming, or like me, were quite baffled, its irrelevant – the close filming of the loss of one cast member will leave you reeling.

With no half measures prepare the tissues, set your calender for the February 8th return and enjoy.

The Walking Dead – Crossed, review

We are seven episodes in to season five of The Walking Dead, thank goodness there are nine more because, with the quality of what we’ve seen so far, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t wish this show was on every week…all year. Featuring (surprisingly) extreme violence, and some of the most intense scenes, and twists, of the season so far, Crossed reminds me. You. Us, how enthralling, thrilling, exciting, and damn shocking at times AMC’s The Walking Dead is. Every week I rave about this show (it probably reads all a bit samey now), but genuinely, there is nothing else to say – apart from praise.

andrew lincoln in a promotional still for amc's the walking dead

andrew lincoln in a promotional still for amc’s the walking dead

Crossed see’s the first episode the season where we are allowed insight into all three stories; Beth at Grady Memorial, Maggie, Glenn, Eugene, Abraham and the others at a crossroads (waiting for an unconscious Eugene to come to) and Rick, Daryl and their crew as they leave the church for Atlanta. The combining of the whole cast was a rather well thought out structure, and meant that everyone who loves this show was able to see a few minutes of screen time from their favourite character. For me, it’s Andrew Lincoln as Rick and Norman Reedus as Daryl (pretty much everyone’s treasured personalities) who provide the best moments acting wise and support a cast of still fantastic actors, but both just have that extra something that makes them so believable in the roles they uphold. Seeing the progression of Reedus’ Daryl from a violent, drug-taking thug to a sympathetic and beloved member of the group has been one the greatest components of the entire show, and many are of the opinion that if he went, we’d go too.

The unexpected seemed to be the theme in this weeks episode, and the cast ran with it. Big on action, and full of violence that (for one of the first times since season two’s well Walker) had the power to make you cringe. Seeing the horror of what has happened to these brain-dead, lowly antagonists – the Walkers, was a clever element to add to this weeks installment (you feel sorry for these people who have become monsters) and one which reminds you of the terrible actions from the living as well as the dead. Narrative-wise I won’t give the game away, but expect to be clinging at your eyes, not wanting to watch whats happening, but wanting every episode right now. With only one more episode left this year, the makers have upped the anti, for all out war.

 

The Walking Dead; Consumed

With only two episodes left this year The Walking Dead  team are stepping up their game; filling gaps in the plot and bringing together characters from different groups. Consumed, Mondays offering, focused on Carol (Melissa McBride) and Daryl (played by the beloved Norman Reedus). The two have had an interesting relationship throughout the entire series, which at one point seemed as though it may evolve into romance. Consumed, shows us that these two are more of a mother and son combination, which is a rather delicate and well-played out partnership, with both Reedus and McBride giving viewers some of their best work during their scenes together.

norman reedus at daryl in the walking dead

norman reedus as daryl in the walking dead

This is the third week in a row we have been away from Rick and the others, and by now the groups presence is being missed. Consumed focuses on Daryl and Carol’s (notice their names rhyme?) foray into Atlanta to follow up a lead on Beth‘s (Emily Kinney) whereabouts, along the way expect plenty of Walker action, and of course, as has become tradition, the trading of some heartfelt back stories. The past two episodes have certainly still been some examples of WD at its best, but generally not the best when it comes to season five. While the combining of different groups, and the separation of certain characters is proving interesting, the sharpness of its predecessors and intensity of the danger the Walkers pose (which is sometimes forgotten due to their slow walking and obvious lack of brain cells) is missing.

An important aspect this week is character development, specifically for McBride’s Carol who stands precariously between the barrier of love and hate. Looking back on moments that brought her character to this position makes for a clever technique in swaying the audiences affections towards her, meaning by the time the episode comes to its final minutes you are left reeling at whats to come for her. The shows ability to swap between time (the earlier scenes in this weeks installment are set before last weeks episode) and place means its almost impossible to become bored with WD, and the strength in acting (particularly from Reedus, who never over-acts as Daryl) is really rather refreshing. In particular watching the change in Carol from season one to now, from a naive and scared woman to a hardened fighter who often lacks sympathy with her fellow survivors, has made for one of the most (surprisingly) riveting elements of The Walking Dead.

Not the best we’ve seen so far, but certainly not the worst.

Nashville season three – a return to form

We are now seven episodes in to season three of the country-music based drama Nashville, and damn is it getting good. The cliches of soap dramas have been dropped, and some fantastic songs mixed with great in-depth character stories have been brought back to make this season as good as the first. Nearing its halfway point, its an exciting thought that there are still so many more episodes to come, and this is down to both the excellent cast (Connie Britton, Charles Eston, Hayden Panettiere and more), and the continuing story-lines of those characters we have grown to love so much. Nashville, being a musical show certainly wont be everyone’s cup of tea – and trust me, when I heard the premise I was certainly skeptical. Despite this, the makers have a powerful prowess, and have managed (to a certain extent) to make this drama series a show for most, containing relatable narratives and a slice of the glitz-and-glamour lifestyle of the music industry, that everyone is interested in seeing.

connie britton as rayna james in nashville

connie britton as rayna james in nashville

In my opinion, the power and success television dramas continue to have, is based on three things; poignant moments, cinematic value and its ability to be unique. While Nashville doesn’t present itself as as cinematic as say Boardwalk Empire (a show of complete difference, but bare with me for arguments sake) or as unique as AHS or True Blood (at its beginning), it manages to connect with the audience with narrative spins now and again that remind you of the sheer brilliance of T.V. Some of the best spins from this show (and ones you have to check out, either through YouTube or, even go and grab that boxset!) include Juliette‘s (Panettiere) debut of Don’t Put Dirt on my Grave Just YetDecon‘s discovery that he’s a father, and one of my favourites – Gunner singing a song of heartache, after the death of his brother, where he simply says ‘This song is about the biggest heartbreak I’ve ever had.’ (and man do you feel his sadness). Season three is yet to give us a moment that is as strong as these, but its still up there as a show of great entertainment value.

While Nashville may not be your go-to programme when you’re in need for something deep and meaningful, it serves its purpose as a brilliantly entertaining ride, filled with great country music (trust me, even if you don’t like this genre of music, you’ll find yourself tapping your feet), and even better characters. The introduction of new cast members as people you both love and hate means the show keeps us on our toes through out, and lastly, but most importantly, its just fun. And the light relief of fun, and accesible T.V. is certainly needed now and again.