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Jessica Jones – AKA It’s Called Whiskey (Review)

Although Jessica Jones is the central character of Jessica Jones, the show does a pretty great job of building its ensemble.

The characters who exist in orbit of the title character all feel surprisingly well-formed and nuanced, three-dimensional and grounded. Although Jessica Jones is not always plotted in the most organic or logical way, it goes to great efforts to add layers to its characters. Over the course of the thirteen-episode season, even minor players like Malcolm or Simpson are revealed to be much more than their initial appearances would suggest. (Although this turns out to be a mixed blessing in the case of Simpson.)

jessicajones-itscalledwhiskey28a

If Jessica Jones has a weaker sense of structure than Daredevil, it has a stronger sense of its own ensemble. This is obvious from the outset. Rather than incorporating the show’s awkward mandatory comic relief into the primary cast as Daredevil did with Foggy, Jessica Jones relegates Robyn and Ruben to recurring status. As AKA Take a Bloody Number demonstrates, this doesn’t prevent every possible awkward tonal mismatch between comic relief and tragic drama; however, it does allow the rest of the cast room to breathe.

AKA It’s Called Whiskey is largely about building up the characters around Jessica, without sacrificing her role in the larger narrative.

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Millennium – The Thin White Line (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium.

The Thin White Line is the final script from James Wong and Glen Morgan for this season of Millennium, following closely after Never Again, their final script (ever) for The X-Files.

Indeed, there is considerable overlap between the two stories – at least thematically. Both are episodes about destructive cycles. In Never Again, Scully faces the very real possibility that she is now trapped with Mulder; that her life outside the X-files is over. In The Thin White Line, Frank Black contemplates the idea that people are trapped in perpetual cycles of violence and abuse; that the world resembles the ouroboros featured so prominently in the opening credits, a snake constantly eating its own tail.

Frank discharge...

Frank discharge…

Never Again is relentlessly cynical. The closing image suggests that nothing will change, that something is broken than cannot be fixed. Important statements hang in the air, unresolved. The Thin White Line is perhaps slightly optimistic. Both Frank Black and Bob Bletcher try in their own way to end cycles of violence and recrimination. While Bob Bletcher responds with brutal cynicism and more violence, Frank Black responds with compassion and humanity. There is a sense of cynicism to The Thin White Line, but there is also some hope.

The Thin White Line is a stand out piece of work, a fantastic illustration of what Millennium can do when it sets its mind to it. Like Force Majeure before it, The Thin White Line suggests that Millennium has very clearly and definitely figured out its own voice. It is no wonder that both episodes come from future showrunners.

Cutting retort...

Cutting retort…

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The X-Files – Paper Hearts (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium.

Paper Hearts is one of the best scripts that Vince Gilligan would write for The X-Files, and one of the best episodes of the fourth season. This is enough to put it in the frontrunners of any possible “best episode ever” ranking.

The episode is spectacular. It works on just about every conceivable level. It has a great script from a great young staff writer. It has a great guest star in Tom Noonan. It features a great performance from David Duchovny. Rob Bowman does a spectacular job directing. Mark Snow is one of the most consistent composers working in nineties television, and his score for Paper Hearts manages to be simple, effective and memorable. It is thoughtful, atmospheric, emotional and compelling. It is the perfect storm.

The truth is buried...

The truth is buried…

However, the real cherry on Paper Hearts is just how easy it would be to mess up an episode like this. On paper, Paper Hearts seems like a disaster waiting to happen. It is an episode that teases the audience with a potentially massive reversal of one of the show’s core truths. It posits an alternative theory for the abduction of Samantha Mulder that would shake the show to its very core. If Paper Hearts followed through on that basic premise, everything would change. Much like Never Again, this is an episode with the potential to poison the show.

Which makes it inevitable that Paper Hearts will back away from its potentially game-changing premise, which brings its own challenges. It is one thing to up-end the apple cart; it is another to pretend to up-end the apple cart only to restore the status quo at the end of the hour. On paper, and from any synopsis, Paper Hearts seems like the biggest cheat imaginable. “Everything is different!” it seems to yell. “And then it’s not!” The real beauty of Paper Hearts is the way that the episode works almost perfectly even with these huge hurdles to clear.

The heart of the matter...

The heart of the matter…

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Hannibal – Entrée (Review)

It’s nice that we got this far into the season before Entrée was necessary. It’s the kind of episode that a show like Hannibal was always going to have to produce relatively early on, allowing it to air the laundry, so to speak, and to overtly and clearly distinguish itself from a popular predecessor. In this case, it’s The Silence of the Lambs.

Although we haven’t met Clarice Starling yet, although the credit at the start of each episode cites Red Dragon as the show’s inspiration, it’s hard to escape the shadow of one of the most popular horror films ever made. Many argue that The Silence of the Lambs was the first film to win the Best Picture Oscar. Even today, it remains a cultural touchstone, and there’s an incredibly large number of people who are only familiar with the character of Hannibal Lecter through that story and – in particular – through the film adaptation.

Hannibal hasn’t been shy about referencing The Silence of the Lambs, nor should it be. Crawford’s office from the start of Aperitif seems arranged in homage to the film, while the arrangement of two of the victims in Coquilles couldn’t help but evoke Hannibal’s dramatic escape from his cell at the film’s climax. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that Entrée exists mainly to allow the show to indulge and engage in the imagery and iconography of the film, so that Hannibal can truly distinguish itself.

"Oh, goodie..."

“Oh, goodie…”

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Hannibal: Coquilles (Review)

I feel a little bad now. I spent a lot of time in Amuse-Boche and Ceuf complaining about the possibility that Hannibal might turn into a serial-killer-of-the-week procedural, at a time when the networks are over-saturated with that sort of forensic drama. However, Coquilles manages to be a pretty superlative hour of television despite feeling like a pretty conventional “catch the serial killer” story. The key is in the execution, with Coquilles serving as a rich character-driven drama that just happens to involve the hunt for a gruesome serial killer.

It also helps that the “angel maker” feels like a refugee from an early draft of a Thomas Harris novel rather than a bland psychopath of the week.

Served...

Served…

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Hannibal – Aperitif (Review)

I’ll admit to being a bit sceptical about Hannibal as a concept. I am quite fond of all three of the Anthony Hopkins films, although I realise that both Red Dragon and Hannibal are flawed pieces of work at best. I also have a soft spot for Michael Mann’s Manhunter, even if I am not as firm a devotee as others. However, there’s a point where you reach saturation even with an especially interesting character.

There was something increasingly frustrating about watching Thomas Harris and various writers and directors delve beneath the surface of “Hannibal the Cannibal” to offer trite explanations and rationalisations for a character who was originally a force of nature. A television series seems to be the perfect way to over-saturate the market even further. If the character of Hannibal could seem trite and mundane after four films released years apart, how do you make a weekly television series exciting?

Surely you’ll either resort to explaining away all the mystery of the character, or you’ll simply wind up with a particularly shallow and generic serial killer show. There is a middle ground to be found, but it will be hard to strike that balance. With that in mind, I will confess that I am quite impressed with the pilot for Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal. Although it’s too early to form a definitive judgement, Aperitif is quite appetising.

The meat of the matter...

The meat of the matter…

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The Once Terrifying Hannibal Lecter: Upping the Ante on the Anti-Hero…

I have the pleasure of catching a rather wonderful screening of The Silence of the Lambs last week. It was a fantastic evening, not least because I got a chance to finally see the film on the big screen for the first time. However, it occurred to me on watching it that Hannibal Lecter was much more compelling as a character here than he would eventually become. With the (very debatable) exception of Brett Ratner’s Red Dragon, Lecter’s subsequent film appearances feel like they are missing some vital component. I like Hannibal more than most, but I think the character suffers when promoted to lead. The less said about Hannibal Rising, the better. I am more than a little wary about the upcoming television show, even if it does star Mads Mikkelsen. What happened? When did Lecter become so toothless?

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