Sherlock: The Abominable Bride

The BBC has a funny habit of ordering the absolute minimum of episodes of their most beloved series. Over the course of five and a half years, they’ve aired a total of 16 episodes of Luther, starring Idris Elba (The Wire). These 16 episodes have been divided over no less than 4 seasons. Something similar is going on with Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. In the same amount of time, there have been 3 seasons, each consisting of 3 episodes – the last one aired two years ago. This year we have to do with just one ‘special’, called ‘The Abominable Bride’.

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Sherlockians
Everybody’s pulling at Cumberbatch and Freeman, so I know scheduling must be hard. They both have recently joined the Marvel Universe, so that means filming after-credits scenes alone must be a fulltime job. However, you can’t tell me there’s only been time for one Sherlock episode in the last two years. For a show with lots of devoted fans, all over the world, it must be something close to disdain to take such long breaks in between. Keep it up and the series will run out of momentum, if it hasn’t already. Even the deepest invested Sherlockians will turn their backs on it. The fourth season will air in 2017 – again: 3 episodes – and the BBC had better hope people won’t have forgotten about it by then.

1800-Something
For now, it’s only the ‘special’ to keep the fire burning. Sherlock Holmes (Cumberbatch) and Dr. John Watson (Freeman), the British Mulder and Scully, with Mulder being Dr. Gregory House, travel back to the 1800-somethings, ‘alternatively’, to try to solve a crazy suicide. But not before the series shows how the brilliant detective and the war veteran would’ve met in Victorian London: very much the same way as they did in the pilot episode ‘A Study in Pink’.

The Bride
If you think their getting to know each other – or, Watson figuring out Holmes – is going to be done all over again, but in different costumes, you’d be mistaken. Sherlock might seem like a typical slow-paced British whodunnit, but it’s actually quite fast and loaded with all kinds of twists. After the main credits, we immediately flash forward to a new case. A bride (at least that’s how she’s dressed), whose lipstick is all over the place, shoots people from her balcony, then shoots herself in the head. Then, she returns as a ghost and kills her husband. Or does she? Because on this show it is never what it seems.

Both Things Can Be True
About halfway through the episode, Holmes wakes up. Wakes up? So this was all a dream? Well, yes and no. He’s been trying to solve a case by going into his famous ‘mind palace’. But it’s not solved yet; he needs to go back. Like usual, near the end of ‘The Abominable Bride’, he figures it out. But for one loose thread, which doesn’t make sense to him. Moriarty (Andrew Scott). What does he have to do with it? Well, that never becomes clear. Holmes’ arch enemy is dead, but ‘he’s back’ anyway, according to Holmes. Apparently, both things can be true, and who am I to question the greatest mystery solver currently in popular culture?

Lack of Material
Solving the case of the Bride seems to have put Holmes on the trail of Moriarty, in some way, which ends the episode on somewhat of a cliffhanger. Since it’s not a season finale, but merely a holiday special, the ending feels a bit forced. It’s one twist too many, but other than that, Sherlock has once again presented a very interesting story, full of surprises and creative effects. This show can go on for years to come. And I don’t mean stretching out seasons for years on end. Just order a proper season, BBC, like 6 to 10 episodes a year. There are 60 (original) Sherlock Holmes stories, so lack of source material isn’t an excuse.

The Magical Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say BBC’s newest series about (at least) two magicians, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, is one of this year’s best British shows, no, the best British show this year.

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Sophisticated Magicians
Usually, I’m not a big fan of the BBC catalogue, due to its pace and poor lighting. However, this show, albeit still a bit on the slow side and with minimal but effective lighting, is truly fantastic. It’s got everything you’d expect from a series set in 19th century England. The sets, locations and costumes are nothing short of amazing. It’s brilliantly detailed, but there’s more: a twist to the story. It doesn’t focus on customs, traditions, butlers or glimpses into ‘how people used to live’, thankfully. It’s about magic. And magicians. British, sophisticated magicians, doing magic tricks that’d turn any 21st century illusionist green with envy, because they call for believable special effects and also in that department the show delivers.

Susanna Clarke
Although Jonathan Strange is the first name on the bill, we don’t really see that much of him in the pilot (‘The Friends of English Magic’). No doubt his role will get bigger in the coming episodes, however, personally I would’ve gone for ‘Mr. Norrell & Jonathan Strange’ anyway, because it just sounds better. They should’ve thought of that sooner, Susanna Clarke actually should have, back in 2004 in fact, because the series is based on her critically acclaimed novel with the same name.

Jonathan Strange
Strange is played by Bertie Carvel (Hidden, Babylon, Les Misérables), a bit of a good willing good-for-nothing, who’s put on the path of magic by Vinculus, an odd, elusive character. The casting couldn’t have been better: Paul Kaye (Dennis Pennis, It’s All Gone Pete Tong, Game of Thrones, Lilyhammer) steals every scene he’s in.
The man with the most knowledge of magic – in a time when magic is believed to ‘not being done’ anymore -, is the seclusive Mr. Norrell. Eddie Marsan (V for Vendetta, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Ray Donovan) does a phenomenal job playing him.
One more actor who shouldn’t be forgotten is Martyn Ellis. The character of president of the Learned Society of York Magicians, Dr. Foxcastle, could’ve easily been a stereotypical one-note ignorant and obnoxious man, but Ellis gives him depth and nuance. He doesn’t go for the easy laugh, doesn’t go over the top and keeps his character grounded but still funny.

Across the Board
The soundtrack – often not even mentioned – is what you’d expect from a series set in the 19th century, but once again, they’ve really tried to create something original. Across the board, the brilliance is obvious, it’s almost like everyone involved wanted to do the book justice and gave themselves wholeheartedly to the production. Move over, Sherlock. Here are Strange and Norrell, deciphering something truly magical.

Reboot speculation: The Office

This Saturday it’s only 2 years ago that the finale of the US version of The Office aired, but it’s the perfect candidate for a reboot. It ran for a total of 9 seasons, and it was still pretty popular when it got cancelled. 

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Why a reboot?
As far as sitcoms go, The Office is the ultimate situation comedy. Everything’s basically happening in one room. Put a few archetypes in there, a boss whose only job it seems to be to keep up appearances in front of a documentary camera crew, and all those little irritations, flirtations and ridiculousness between co-workers. Populate a new office, a new company, with new people, it could all feel as fresh as it once did.

Has it been tried before?
Well, The American version was a reboot of the British original. However, these two offices existed in the same world, given the run-in between Michael Scott (Steve Carell) and David Brent (Ricky Gervais). There are a lot of other versions, too – French, German, Chilean, Israeli, Swedish and French-Canadian – and I’m sure they’re all in the same universe. That’s the thing with offices; they’re all the same everywhere.
At one point, the American version wanted to take it one step further. There were plans for a spin-off: The Farm, in which we’d follow Rainn Wilson’s character Dwight Schrute. I suppose that didn’t come off the ground, because Schrute, as well as his family and friends, were too much ‘out there’.

What would have to change?
Another small town, another small company. Maybe not a paper business, but something administrative. Another boss, too. Although they’ve been experimenting with different types of managers – Steve Carell, James Spader, Ed Helms, Kathy Bates, Idris Elba – it’d be fun to see one of the other (rejected) applicants leading the team: Jim Carrey.

How would the pilot go?
One thing that played a much bigger role in the UK version, and less and less in the American one, was the fact that there was a camera crew. I suppose that, with a new team of writers, they could start at the very beginning; the first day the crew shows up, or even before that, when Carrey discusses the terms of the documentary with the network (or movie production company).
The US version was a bit too stylish and clean. A reboot could be the opportunity to make it edgier, more poignant, grittier – also in the way it’s filmed.

Possible new small town?
Scranton and Slough were perfect places, because of their names. Looneyville, Texas would be a bit on the nose. The same goes for Hell, Michigan. Talent, Oregon, maybe?

How should the reboot be called?
If they chose Talent, Oregon as their location, then The Office, OR could work. Other possibilities: The Other Office, The Office PS, The Office Reloaded, The West Office, The Office: Judgment Day.

Would they have to pay Ricky Gervais a shitload of money again?
Asking the question is answering it.

Changing Gears

With the entire team disbanded, the BBC had been looking for replacements to continue it’s biggest cash cow Top Gear. Jeremy Clarkson got fired, after which Richard Hammond and James May showed a rather seldom seen practice in television: loyalty. They quit, and the show was left for dead with three bullet holes in it.

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Different Driver
The show apparently airs in 214 countries, however, that’s more countries than there actually are on Earth. All depending on your definition of a ‘country’, though. On this occasion, the internet’s very nuanced. Too nuanced. Besides the 195 ‘recognised countries’, there are about three dozen more ‘country-like countries’. In any case: Top Gear is pretty popular. The BBC would be a fool not to try to fire up the engine with a different driver.

Clarkson
So how do you replace Jeremy Clarkson? Politically incorrect, a loudmouth, funny and the biggest bully on the playground. A sort of Obelix to Hammond’s Asterix, and May’s Cacofonix. Well, because obviously another Clarkson doesn’t exist, you go looking for Clarkson-esque characters. It just so happens Philip Glenister played one, on the British version of Life on Mars. He’s a well known actor, with roles in State of Play, Mad Dogs and Big School. So that’s one.

Hammond
As for the new Hammond, he should be wild, energetic and a free spirit. They’ve chosen somebody that’s crazy enough to try anything. Even reality shows. Jodie Kidd, a former model and professional celebrity, loves cars, cameras and action. Perfect. That’s two.

May
So what about May 2.0? It doesn’t really matter. James May has always been garnish. Background noise. He didn’t have the energy, jokes or outstanding taste in clothes. He was just there. He never should’ve quit, actually, but since he did, they’ve replaced him with a likeable loose canon: motorcycle racer Guy Martin. The enthusiastic puppy of the family. The Russell Brand of wheels. That’s three.

Inventive
So there you have it. Despite it still being rumours, Philip Glenister, Jodie Kidd and Guy Martin are most likely to walk in some of the biggest television footsteps out there. By the end of 2016, we’ll know if they have the creativity to produce about 15 episodes of inventive car segments a year.

BBC’s The Game is a BBC Show

The BBC must have one of those perfectly adjusted machines like the one in the movie The Imitation Game, not to decipher unbreakable codes, but to create television series. Whether it’s a detective, costume drama, spy thriller, they’re all cut from the same BBC cloth.

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Scandinavia
It sure seems like there’s one crew and one crew only, that produces the BBC drama catalogue all by itself. Their latest offering is called The Game. They may have had the success of popular Scandinavian shows (The Bridge, The Killing, The Eagle) on the brain when they decided on that title. Much better would’ve been ‘The Spy Game’ or ‘The Cold War Spy Game’ or even ‘Operation Glass’.

Mad Men
The show is about Britain’s secret service MI5 in 1972. That puts them in the same time zone Mad Men’s currently in. That show, from across the pond, looks terrific. The Game, however, has paid attention to the era – clothing, indoor smoking, bulging television sets -, but also looks like it could’ve been shot in that very same era. It’s a look most BBC shows suffer from. It’s a little bit too close to appearing outdated; not timeless.
Whether or not it’s something the Brits are proud of, as a sort of folklore, their shows definitely could use proper lighting, better music and direction, and less bleakness.
One example of outdatedness: it’s been a long time since I’ve seen the camera zoom in on an apartment building, closer, closer, to stop at one particular floor, where somebody’s looking out the window from behind a curtain. It really doesn’t get cheesier than this.

The Canon
The Game kicks off its story with a tried and true storytelling device – ’24’ has used it a couple of times. Somebody from the other side comes forward with information about an attack. We’re in the middle of the Cold War, and the KGB is planning something big in the UK, code name: Operation Glass. Agent Tom Hughes (somewhat of an aloof version of Cillian Murphy), is part of a small MI5 team to investigate the information. He reports to Brian Cox, the actor who’s practically in every movie ever made.
We get all the usual spy stuff, from hiding in cupboards, prepping informants, running through dark alleys, to bad guys holding your colleague hostage, he’s got a gun to his head, what do you do? What do you do?!
Unfortunately, the BBC machine doesn’t stray from its programmed path. It’s probably very believable, realistic, but it just doesn’t get very exciting. The writers clearly don’t want to reinvent the wheel or take a different approach to scenes we’ve seen a million times. They’ve once again painted a show by numbers. That’s the right way to easily fit into the BBC canon, but the wrong way to keep me interested.

Top Smear

Geargate, or Clarksongate, continues. Jeremy Clarkson, head honcho of the British consumer service/reality car circus Top Gear, won’t quit the news headlines.

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Currently broadcasted in 170 different countries, the motor vehicle TV magazine is one of BBC’s top dogs. Never mind James May and the mysterious The Stig, this is St. Bernard Clarkson’s show, sidekicked by his young, wild Toy Spaniel Richard Hammond.

Clarkson runs The Clarkson Show, disguised as a car series. Controversy is his middle name. He loves to make bold statements and has made a career out of balancing on the edge of what’s socially acceptable. Occasionally he tumbles over the edge, but he always gets back up.

This time, he’s suspended and – according to him – will get fired somewhere in the coming months. The reason is not anything he’s said. Neither is it something like, well, I don’t know, being much more appreciative of a certain car because the car company was nice enough to let him drive it on the show. It wasn’t because travelling through Argentina with a licence plate that read ‘H982 FKL’.

It wasn’t anything said or presented on screen, it was about something behind the curtain: a so-called ‘fracas’. ‘A noisy argument or fight’, the dictionary says. There were rumours Clarkson hit a producer on the show, but he denies that.

Should someone get fired for hitting someone at work? Absolutely. Fired. Not suspended. Clarkson appears to be a man of his word, so let’s take his word for it. The interesting thing is, the BBC’s extremely tight-lipped about the whole thing. Clarkson also doesn’t share a hell of a lot, so there must have happened something much more terrible than a fracas.

Either that, or the executives at the BBC are trying to push him out and any reason will do. This could result in a head on collision.