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60. The Shawshank Redemption (#1)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney and this week with special guest Charlene Lydon, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode along with them.

This time, Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption.

Convicted of murdering his wife, Andy Dufresne is sentenced to two life sentences in Shawshank Penitentiary. A harsh and unforgiving prison, Andy struggles to hold on to hope as the years go by.

At time of recording, it was ranked the best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Star Trek: Discovery – Choose Your Pain (Review)

Choose Your Pain is perhaps the most traditional episode of Star Trek: Discovery to date, at least in terms of basic structure.

One of the central tensions of Discovery has been trying to figure out exactly how much to modernise the standard Star Trek storytelling template, the basic model of storytelling that has been in play through Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise. These shows were produced over an eighteen-year period running from the second half of the eighties through to the turn of the millennium. However, a lot has happened in the twelve years since These Are the Voyages…

Avenging angel Gabriel.

Quite simply, television has changed phenomenally over the past decade. A number of these changes are obvious even in the way that Discovery is produced. After all, Discovery is the first Star Trek show to premiere on a streaming service. However, Discovery also conforms to other expectations of contemporary television. Discovery is much more tightly serialised than The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine or Voyager. Discovery is also the shortest season of Star Trek ever produced.

There is a sense that times are changing, and that Discovery is attempting to provide an early twenty-first century update to a thirty-year-old template. After all, no other Star Trek series opened its first season with a two-episode prologue before introducing its core setting and premise. No other Star Trek series feature as many extended sequences with characters speaking subtitled Klingon. No other Star Trek series has featured swear words like “piss”, “sh!t” or “f$@k.” These are all new frontiers for televised Star Trek.

An echo chamber.

At the same time, Discovery has proven itself remarkably conservative in other respects. Although the show is very clearly serialised, the production team have worked hard to ensure that each individual episode has its own plot with its own structure and its own agenda. Unlike other streaming dramas, the episodes of Discovery are clear and distinct from one another, each serving as a bullet point in the overall arc of the season. Similarly, Discovery has made a point to use standard Star Trek narratives imbued with standard Star Trek morals built in.

For all the noise being made in certain quarters of the internet that Discovery is not really a Star Trek series, Choose Your Pain is the most conservative and old-fashioned episode of the series to date. Choose Your Pain is an episode that could easily have worked as part of Deep Space Nine or Enterprise, preserving the structure and rhythm with only a few minor tweaks along the way. Ironically, the episode’s biggest issue is that it feels just a little bit too much like classic Star Trek.

Here’s Mudd in your eye.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Hope and Fear (Review)

Hope and Fear is a reasonably solid conclusion to the fourth season of Star Trek: Voyager.

To be fair, the episode has a number of very clever ideas. There are a number of creative choices in Hope and Fear that feel entirely appropriate for the final episode of what has been a relatively strong season. Various concepts and ideas are brought back into play, from Janeway’s alliance with the Borg in Scorpion, Part II through to her conversion of Seven of Nine in The Gift and up to the secret coded message from Starfleet suggested in Hunters. It makes sense to bring all of these ideas back into play for the grand finale.

The fourth season comes to a head.

More than that, it makes sense to build the episode around the dynamic between Janeway and Seven. One of the recurring tensions in the fourth season, both behind the scenes and in front of the camera, has been the debate about the prominence of Seven of Nine. In the year since she was introduced, Seven has effectively become one of the three most important members of the cast. There is a credible argument to be made that she is the most important member of the cast, an anxiety played out in One. As such, it is logical to build Hope and Fear around Janeway and Seven.

At the same time, there is a certain clumsiness to the plotting of the episode. There is a very rushed quality to the story, which never really takes the time to develop or explore these big revelations and twists. Hope and Fear races towards its conclusion as if it has been sucked into quantum slipstream, a very disorienting and disjointed effect. Certain character arcs feel under-explored, and certain gaps in the plot logic are brushed aside. Hope and Fear feels like a story that deserved a bigger canvas.

The hard cell.

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Daredevil – Seven Minutes in Heaven (Review)

This month, we’re doing daily reviews of the second season of Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

The relationship between the first and second seasons of Daredevil is quite complicated.

There is an obvious reason for this. The show’s production team changed between the first and second season, with the role of executive producer shifting from Steven DeKnight to Marco Ramirez and Doug Petrie. As a result, there is a clear change in emphasis and storytelling style; much like there was a shift from the two episodes overseen by Drew Goddard at the start of the first season to the later episodes overseen by DeKnight. Different producers bring a different perspective to their material. It is only natural.

"None of you seem to understand. I'm not locked in here with you... you're locked in here with me!"

“None of you seem to understand. I’m not locked in here with you… you’re locked in here with me!”

So there are major differences in the content and themes of the first and second season. Recurring elements that had been important to DeKnight are shuffled in the background to afford attention to aspects that intrigue Petrie and Ramirez. Matt’s Catholicism is less important than it was; Matt’s career as a lawyer is more central than it had been. Even the structural emphasis of the season shifts. DeKnight put Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk on a collision course. Petrie and Ramirez prefer to have their characters running in parallel.

That said, there are moments when the first season bubbles through. There are strange thematic links that pop up from time to time, but are truncated or brushed aside. More striking, however, is how closely Ramirez and Petrie hew to the structural elements of the first season. In many ways, this is not surprising. One of the most consistently intriguing aspects of the second season is the energy that it expends on structure rather than plot or character. That is particularly true with Seven Minutes in Heaven.

A Punishing schedule...

Orange is the new dead.

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The X-Files – Season 8 (Review)

This October/November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the eighth season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of The Lone Gunmen.

The eighth season of The X-Files would be the perfect last season of the show, and a pretty solid first season of a new show born from the ashes.

In many ways, television is a conservative medium – more in an artistic sense than a political one. Network television is largely built around churn, a conveyor belt model that is designed to generate product according to tight schedules and oppressive deadlines. Routine and familiarity make the production schedule easier to manage, particularly for shows with large season orders. More than that, if a show has figured out an approach that has worked, it makes no sense to deviate from that pattern.

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Why risk changing something that has been proven to work and to which the audience has responded? For all the (deserved) praise The X-Files gets for popularising (or repopularising) serialised storytelling in prime-time television, it was just as conservative as any other show. The production team were working under incredible pressure, so it makes sense they would not want to change a formula that made sense. As such, the really big changes to the show were largely driven by external factors.

The mythology largely developed from Scully’s abduction in Duane Barry and Ascension, an attempt by the writers to work around Scully’s abduction. The decision to film The X-Files: Fight the Future between the fourth and fifth seasons was at the behest of Fox rather than the production team. David Duchovny forces the move to Los Angeles in the sixth season. The eighth season represents the most seismic shift in the creative life of The X-Files, and – as with those other big decisions – it was largely driven by choices outside the production team.

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In hindsight, it seems obvious that the show could not continue forever. Duchovny and Anderson were headlining a show that filmed twenty-odd episodes a season. The show had begun diffusing its focus in the fourth and fifth seasons by focusing on members of the supporting cast, but it was still effectively a two-lead show. That is a tremendous strain. Something had to give. It turned out that something was Duchovny. At the end of the seventh season, with everything coming down to the wire, Duchovny made it clear he would not appear in a full eighth season.

This forced the show to change, but in a way that afforded some measure of stability. The idea of doing The X-Files without either Mulder or Scully was horrifying to the production team and horrifying to certain sections of fandom, but Duchovny’s willingness to stick around for half of the eighth season afforded some measure of compromise. The change did not need to be jarring. Easing David Duchovny out of the show would allow for a smoother transition. It would allow the show to say a proper (and extended) farewell to Mulder.

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This is perhaps the strongest aspect of the eighth season, the sense that it has a certainty and finality that the seventh season lacked. Even during the post-production of Requiem, the production team had no idea whether the seventh season would be the final season of the show. As a result, the seventh season is decidedly non-committal on the issue of closure. The eighth season is a lot more enthusiastic about the prospect of wrapping things up, once and for all. There is a sense that this is the final season of a version of the show, at the very least.

The eighth season finds itself in the impossible position of having to imagine The X-Files without Mulder. The only real issue is that it succeeds all too well. The biggest problem with the eighth season is that it is followed by a ninth season.

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Jessica Jones – AKA Take a Bloody Number (Review)

AKA Take a Bloody Number is the penultimate episode of the season, and continues the process of narrowing the focus.

There is a sense that Jessica Jones is largely clearing away the clutter as it moves towards its final episodes. AKA Sin Bin found the show building to critical mass, and subsequent episodes have shrewdly decided to begin letting the air out slowly rather than bursting the balloon. AKA 1,000 Cuts resolved Jeri’s divorce subplot and killed off Hope Slottman. AKA I’ve Got the Blues disbanded the survivors’ group and took care of Will Simpson’s supersoldier plot. AKA Take a Bloody Number brings back Luke Cage, allowing the show to focus on the relationship between Luke and Jessica for the first time since AKA You’re a Winner! Luke seems to have missed the show’s climax, but he is still a matter than needs addressing.

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One of the strengths of Jessica Jones is a willingness to let its cast drift into and out of focus as the plot demands. Characters like Luke Cage and Jeri Hogarth are absent from consecutive episodes, and stretches of the season. This is likely due to actor availability issues, with Mike Colter soon to be headlining Luke Cage and Carrie-Anne Moss arguably the biggest star (and certainly the most recognisable “film” star) in the cast. Nevertheless, it does allow Jessica Jones a narrative expedience. Instead of having to constantly check in on various characters with a drip-feed of character development, the show can decide only to use them as is strictly necessary. It is a technique that works out quite well for the show. (Indeed, the show might have done better to adopt it with Kilgrave.)

AKA Take a Bloody Number works as a fairly streamlined piece of television, resisting the urge to escalate the scales (and the scope) of the story as it approaches its endgame. The climactic confrontation between Luke and Jessica is arguably just as effective as the climax of AKA Sin Bin, despite the smaller number of intersecting plot threads and involved characters.

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Jessica Jones – AKA 99 Friends (Review)

Jessica Jones has always been more interested in the style and aesthetic of noir than in its storytelling.

The show’s visual aesthetic and stylistic sensibilities hark to noir. Jessica Jones is a cynical hard-drinking private investigator, who routinely works cases involving cheating spouses. She narrates her harsh reflections of life as she studies the world through the lens of a camera. Meanwhile, sad saxophones play in the background of lonely establishing shots of New York as the city that never sleeps, while our hero works alone late into the night seemingly accomplishing nothing. That is to say nothing of the actual opening sequence, with its impressionistic flair.

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While Jessica Jones borrows a lot of the stock archetypes and set-ups associated with noir, its storytelling is more of a hybrid between conventional superhero drama and feminist psychological thriller. The problem is that Jessica Jones never actually feels comfortable with its main character’s profession. Despite the fact that Jessica Jones is a licensed private detective, the eponymous character spends precious little time actually detecting stuff. Jessica’s investigations are generally in pursuit of Kilgrave, with her profession treated as a background detail.

AKA 99 Friends demonstrates how uncomfortable Jessica Jones is with this aspect of its title character. Over the course of the show’s thirteen-episode run, AKA 99 Friends is the closest that the show comes to offering a straightforward “case of the week” episode. Unfortunately, it is pretty terrible.

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