Category Archives: TV

Insecure

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-8-10-52-am-www-imagesplitter-netI have long been a fan of Issa Rae and her particular brand of wry humour. I loved Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl and I’ve just finished watching her new show, Insecure.

I can’t recommend it enough. It’s funny but painfully real. The secondary characters are well-developed and I love how complex the lead character is. It’s the sort of complexity that’s usually reserved for male characters, who are never under pressure to be likeable. Issa is flawed, human, hilarious. Real.

But for me personally, her best friend Molly really resonates. Her series of dating dramas just speak to me powerfully and I know I’m not alone. There are so many great characters in the show and her portrayal of that interconnected web of relationships, colleagues and friends is just pitch perfect.

At the moment, watching this, Atlanta and Crazyhead, I feel like I’ve been spoiled for good TV with Black leads. Susan Wokoma (Crazyhead) played my favourite character in Chewing Gum and in Crazyhead she tears up every scene she is in, giving it attitude, pathos, reserve and humour as appropriate and with ease, switching gears with a quiet self-assurance. I hope to see more of her and that we don’t lose her to the States when Crazyhead lands there this month*

 

*I wish her well of course. But if we want to keep talent like hers on this side of the pond, the roles need to be there. I hope the industry takes note!

 

 

Tagged , , , , ,

Voice-Overs

Watching Luke Cage earlier I realised with pleasure that Sonja Sohn was in the show. I know her on sight obviously as a huge fan of hers from the Wire, but her voice is one of my absolute favourites. That got me thinking about other actors whose voices (and work) I admire:

  • Gina Torres
  • Angela Bassett
  • Mahershala Ali (also from Luke Cage and House of Cards)
  • Reg E Cathey (Also from House of Cards)

These are just a few and I’m steering clear of the obvious (James Earl Jones et al) but I have to say, there’s something about a sonorous, mellifluous, voice. I think deeper voices tend to resonate more with me, especially on women.

Tagged , ,

Ms Jessica Pearson

jessicaSo, the best thing about TV show Suits is now gone. Jessica Pearson, as played by Gina Torres (my ideal Wonder Woman)* bowed out at the end of Season 6. I will miss her.

Jessica is fierce, feminine, wily and more ruthless than any of the men – but compassionnate, too, she just takes care of business. Quite frankly, I don’t know who will step up now that she’s gone. Everyone else is usually off crying (Rachel), whining (Rachel and Mike), faffing (Lewis), plotting (Lewis and Harvey), plotting and messing it up (all of them) and sooner or later they all wind up at Jessica’s door.

And Jessica takes care of business. I love the camaraderie and respect between her and Mr Zane, (Rachel’s dad), himself a shark in the industry. Jessica does it all on her own terms and goes toe to toe with all the men.

And then there is the fashion. Everyone in Suits looks sharp but Jessica took work wear to another level: stylish but daring, sexy, powerful, avant-garde and always, always on point. I am pretty sure most of her scenes were of her walking around because the office was her runway and she looked so damn good.

She had a powerful last few episodes, rediscovering her idealistic side in defending a man on death row, at great cost to herself as she prioritised him over the high-rollers she usually works for. She continued mentoring Rachel, my least favourite character and permanent wet blanket – hopefully she’ll step up a bit with such a strong female character leaving. She got her happy ending with Mike-on her terms. She sold her stake in the firm and decided on a new direction for herself, and one that included the possibility of love.

Her scenes with Mike were among my favourite. He loved her just as she was: ambitious, flawed, beautiful, terrible. He wasn’t intimidated and he didn’t want her to fold down into a smaller version of herself. His issue was her emotional unavailability and to an extent, her lying. But of course, they worked it out. They had a beautiful scene though where he told her that he didn’t want her to change herself, but that they had to have a certain level of trust to make the relationship work. He put his cards on the table. She went all in.

Gina Torres slays in this role. But what I love about Jessica is that she’s allowed to be complicated and morally ambiguous in a way that women still aren’t often permitted to be on TV and in film.

A brilliant role for a brilliant actress. She will be sorely missed.

 

*yes, I keep saying it. I’m hoping someone will make this happen one day if I keep speaking it into the void.

Tagged , , ,

Strong woman

Still partaking in the seemingly endless process of sorting through my bookmarks and came across this:

What the Hell is a Strong Woman Anyway? , a video reflection for the Guardian on the representation of women in film by director Chanya Button. It was timely, produced to coincide with this year’s BFI film festival.

The theme of this year’s festival  was Strong Woman – prompting Button to probe what we mean by that. It’s an oft over-used term which can sometimes imply that strong women are the exception rather than the norm.

I like her video. I also feel a bit of ambivalence towards the term. I love films and TV shows with a strong female lead. I could write ode’s to Saga from the Bridge or Patti in Damages or Annalise Keating in How to Get Away with Murder.

I gravitate towards media with interesting images of women, in particular those who are allowed to be three dimensional. Perhaps that’s it – what so many of us are yearning for is complicated female characters, because we are all complex in real life. We use the phrase “strong” because so often women are the foil for male characters, caricatures and stereotypes; so often they were just objects to be desired or rescued. What’s great is that in TV especially, we are seeing a range of characters – the sort of roles that men have taken for granted for decades.

Just – women.

Tagged , ,

Drunk History

I can’t write about what I want to write about; my head is full with thoughts about terrorism, solidarity, media coverage, consumerism and lament. I think I’ll write it all out but not yet.

I’ll just let that cook.

But in the meantime, I’m going through my bookmarks. One of these was an episode of Drunk History, one of my favourite comedy shows.

The premise is simple: people getting drunk. And recounting history while actors act out their drunken rambling. It appeals to that part of me that’s eating crisps and sniggering to South Park at 2am.

The best UK one was Romesh Ranganathan recounting the story of Tutenkhamun but the US one is the first I encountered.

This one with Octavia Spencer as Harriet Tubman is an excellent example.

Tagged , ,

Great Gothics

A fascinating article on NPR about why we (definitely I) love the gothic genre.

“Though their definition is fluid, Gothic novels (and movies) generally offer equal parts delighted horror and breathless sentiment. And regardless of plot twists or historical pastiches, they’re preoccupied with contemporary problems; the essential horror of the irreconcilable world. For early Gothics, this meant the Industrial Revolution, eulogizing the natural in the face of modernity (Anne Radcliffe’s 1794 The Mysteries of Udolpho equated love of nature with virtue until it was practically a superpower). Udolpho — and countless other crumbling castles — reflected both worry and rebellious glee about the fate of traditional social structures in the modern order; estates declined alongside their nefarious masters.”

Penny DreadfulI love gothic – books, TV series.. I love the melodrama and ugly beauty of it all. Three things I’ve enjoyed in recent years:

  • The Shadow of the Wind series by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. The second book in particular, Angel’s Game – is delightfully OTT.
  • Penny Dreadful – Sky Atlantic’s original series is eminently watchable for the hypnotic Eva Green who really….commits to her part. But I also love how it references and remixes all the classic tales: Frankenstein, Dorian Gray.. all the characters are in there. It’s atmospheric and sometimes ridiculous, but then that’s part of the fun. Another of my favourite actresses, Helen McRory was wisely retained for the second series as the main villain after making a few great cameos in the first series.
  • I want to add Sherlock Holmes – the new books by Anthony Horowitz – or Ripper Street, the excellent TV series that went from BBC to Amazon and is now back on BBC2 again. They’re not quite full-on gothic, though. But maybe half and half makes a whole? Highly recommend Ripper Street at any rate, especially the first series.
  • Not sure if I’m creating a new genre here but The House that Will Not Stand, by Marcus Gardley at the Tricycle Theatre, was a thrilling play set in the American South, during slavery, focusing on a family of Creole women who are reeling from the death of their (illegitimate) white patriarch, and a diverse community coming to terms with laws on slavery and freedom. It was haunting and lyrical, rhythmic and a little creepy. I am going to file that under gothic too.

 

Tagged , , ,

Shondaland

I’ve been catching up on my favourites list; articles and shows that I have bookmarked and not got round to reading yet.

One of these was Shonda Rhimes’ acceptance speech from October last year when she received the Sherry Lansing Leadership award for being a pioneer in her field. Shonda owns Thursday night TV with her shows Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder and Grey’s Anatomy. She is the first woman to have that sort of TV real estate and definitely the first Black woman to do so.

I have to say, I enjoy all her shows. They are full of action, drama, ridiculous, breathless dialogue and fabulous music. She also makes some great (though at times quite heavyhanded) points on sexism, racism and other issues. She makes the pill sweet to swallow. Her shows lack the subtlety and devastating finesse of The Good Wife or Damages, but they are punchy and assertive; much like the woman herself.

Her reflections on leadership and women breaking through the industry remind me of Hillary Clinton’s comment about cracking the glass ceiling when she lost the Democratic nomination to Obama.

“I know this isn’t an award because I’m a woman or because I’m African-American. I know that it’s really about breaking the glass ceiling that exists in the face of being a woman and being black in this very male, very white town.,”

“But I haven’t broken through the glass ceiling…If I had broken through any glass ceilings, I would know..If I had broken through a glass ceiling, I would have felt some cuts, I would have some bruises, there’d be shards of glass in my hair. … If I’d broken the glass ceiling, that would mean I made it through to the other side, where the air is rare. I would feel the wind on my face.”

“The view from here  —  way up here where the glass ceiling is broken  —  would be incredible. Right? So how come I don’t remember the moment? When me with my woman-ness and my brown skin went running full speed, gravity be damned, into that thick layer of glass and smashed right through it? How come I don’t remember that happening? Here’s why: It’s 2014. This moment right here, me standing up here all brown with my boobs and my Thursday night of network television full of women of color, competitive women, strong women, women who own their bodies and whose lives revolve around their work instead of their men, women who are big dogs, that could only be happening right now.”

She went on to pay tribute to all the women who have gone before her. It’s easy, as a woman living now, to forget that the privileges we enjoy are hard-won, that so many women fell at the first hurdles so that we could walk over them later.

My maternal grandmother left the home to work as a postmistress in rural Jamaica. My paternal grandmother was one of the first primary school teachers in her region in Malawi, outlived two husbands, built a life for herself and her children. Even in my small family, there are stories of breaking the mould, of the power of education for women, stories of sacrifice and strength. They paved the way for me; crucially, they and other women in my family expanded my ideas of what I, as a woman, could achieve. I have been nurtured, encouraged, challenged by a whole host of remarkable, understated women who would never make a song or dance about it, but who have powerfully shaped my life.

As Rhimes put it:

“How many women had to hit that glass before the first crack appeared?” Rhimes said. “How many cuts did they get, how many bruises? How hard did they have to hit the ceiling? How many women had to hit that glass to ripple it, to send out a thousand hairline fractures? How many women had to hit that glass before the pressure of their effort caused it to evolve from a thick pane of glass into just a thin sheet of splintered ice? So that when it was my turn to run, it didn’t even look like a ceiling anymore. I mean, the wind was already whistling through  —  I could always feel it on my face. And there were all these holes giving me a perfect view to other side. I didn’t even notice the gravity, I think it had worn itself away.

“So I didn’t have to fight as hard. I had time to study the cracks. I had time to decide where the air felt the rarest, where the wind was the coolest, where the view was the most soaring. I picked my spot in the glass and called it my target. And I ran. And when I hit finally that ceiling, it just exploded into dust. Like that. My sisters who went before me had already handled it. No cuts. No bruises. No bleeding. Making it through the glass ceiling to the other side was simply a matter of running on a path created by every other woman’s footprints. I just hit at exactly the right time in exactly the right spot.”

 

Tagged , , , , , ,

Peaky Blinders

Good news in TV:

Tagged , ,

Missing Stories

We appear to be having something of a moment in terms of talking and thinking about Black history and participation in British life.

The success of 12 Years A Slave may have something to do with it. The fact that a Black British Director is up for an Oscar, for telling the American story of Slavery has prompted a few reflections on Britain’s own history of slavery, but also the present day, with regard to the creative industries and the drain of Black British acting talent to the USA. I’ve blogged about this in a few previous posts, but here are four stories (three new, one older) which have surfaced recently on this theme:

One. This interview with Kwame Kwei Armah, now Artistic Director at Baltimore’s Center Stage.

Two. More on the UCL project on slavery – reports on the payouts given to British slaveowners after prohibition.

Three. A reposted article from 2012, on the Black British Tudors missing from history.

Four. Lenny Henry’s blog on access to the film and TV industry by ethnic minorities.

I was also amused to read today that Michael Gove has a poster of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King on his wall – despite the fact that the Civil Rights struggle in the UK is overlooked in the curriculum and one of his early changes was to try to downgrade Mary Seacole in the curriculum.

History matters because it informs the present. Britain has long been diverse, though many try to portray this as a New Labour project that began in 2007. One thing I’ve learnt from listening to Acts of Union and Disunion on Radio 4 is how these islands have always been in flux.

History is important because we can’t tackle structural racism and other issues without understanding how they came about. But just as importantly,the story of Black people in the UK needs to be more fully told because it’s Britain’s story too.

Tagged ,

Six great female TV characters

Netflix has seen fit to highlight a specific category of TV programmes “with a strong female lead” – which means that they are getting to know me very well. (Though the fact that they keep trying to force a Snoop Dog – Lion? – documentary on me shows that they still have a way to go.)

sagaI’m currently enjoying Saga Noren in Season II of The Bridge. She’s smart, tough and blunt, oblivious to social cues –  there are more than a few hints that she might be on the autistic spectrum. Sometimes, it’s hilarious. In one of my favourite scenes this season, her work partner Martin thanks her for helping to save his son from danger, and he gives her a massive hug. She pats him awkwardly on the arm and asks him: “Are we done yet?” She also honest, direct and drives a great sports car.

 

 

 

ladonnaLaDonna in Treme. She’s fierce, true to herself and incredibly brave. The scenes involving her sexual assault and how she coped afterwards are incredibly moving. She’s nobody’s fool, but also quite loving and sentimental.

 

 

 

kalindaKalinda Sharma in The Good Wife. The definition of badass. She’s not just a top-notch investigator, she’s loyal, loving and fiercely protective over those she cares about. She’s also…Kalinda. There is no other female character on TV with such agency and complexity, emotionally and sexually. She defies stereotypes of both gender and race. Archie Panjabi fully deserves her Emmy and should be celebrated more here at home in Britain.

 

 

 

 

 

bassettOk, so American Horror Story is not a show I particularly enjoy (mainly because it is ridiculous) but Angela Bassett chews up every scene she is in. Marie Laveau is a bit of a prickly pear – but she’s a survivor. Bassett gives her an intensity that elevates the character from  simply being a foil to Fiona, played by Jessica Lange. She’s cunning, passionate and unapologetic.

 

 

 

 

 

damages Patty Hewes in Damages. Yes, it’s off TV now, but it’s one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. It’s sharp, keeps you guessing and Glenn Close is the brilliant,  morally ambiguous, often cunning, sometimes vulnerable, Patty Hewes, a top lawyer who is vastly successful in her professional life but pretty dysfunctional in her personal relationships. It’s also wonderful to see an older woman headlining such a brilliant show.

 

 

 

 

 

 

creggCJ Cregg, White House spokesman and all-round clever lady in the West Wing. Again, off TV but CJ is one of the best characters Aaron Sorkin ever wrote. Let’s just forget the Newsroom ever happened.

Tagged ,