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Saturday, 20 January 2018

Matt on the Box: Kiri, Britannia, Love and Hate Crime, Inside No. 9 and Celebrity Big Brother

After two quite heavy weeks of TV, the last seven days have seen very little in the way of debuting shows. But that hasn't stopped yours truly from cobbling together a column from both continuing programmes and a couple of new shows that have popped up this week.


I'll kick off with a drama whose debut episode I reviewed in depth on the site and one that I'm glad is still going strong despite switching its focus. I'm talking about Channel 4's Kiri; a programme that I'd initially believed was wholly about Sarah Lancashire's flawed social worker Miriam but in its second episode it opened up into more of an ensemble piece. Miriam was a key element of the plot as she faced both verbal and physical attacks from the public and the press whilst learning that she could lose her entire career because of Kiri's murder. Meanwhile Kiri's foster parents Alice and Jim (Lia Williams and Steven Mackintosh) conduct several interviews with various media outlets to highlight the need to find the youngster's birth father Nate (Paapa Essiedu); the prime suspect in her murder. However, the focus of this episode was Nate's father Tobi (Lucian Msamati) as he went on the hunt for his son, journeying to some seedy locations where he knew his son may be hiding out. Eventually tracking him down to the brothel that he himself inhabited, Tobi and Nate aired a lot of painful history as they both voiced regrets and came to blows. Furthermore, Nate revealed that he hadn't strangled his daughter and the last time he saw her she'd gone missing after he'd absconded with her from his father's house. This revelation opens the drama up further into more of a whodunnit as there's now a question mark over what happened to Kiri in the hours leading up to her death. The scene between Alice and Jim and investigating officer DI Mercer (Wunmi Mosaku) revealed that the couple's teenage son Si (Finn Bennett) may be a suspect, a theory that was heightened when Alice made a discovery whilst tidying his room. But the final scene suggested that Nate was very much key to the investigation as he was led off by armed police just as Tobi was about to deliver him to Mercer as promised in what proved to be one several emotional scenes in this week's episode.


Just as he did with National Treasure, it appears that writer Jack Thorne will be offering up flashbacks to fill in the audience on the truth about the drama's key mystery. This episode started that trend by seeing Kiri (Felicia Musaka) hiding from her father when he first arrived at Tobi's house before witnessing the two attempting a connection. This was an interesting development to the plot and I'm looking forward to seeing the drama's central mystery unfold as these flashbacks continue. However, I hope that Kiri doesn't get bogged down by its whodunnit plot and move away from what it was initially about namely the scapegoating of Miriam by both the press and her superiors. Although she had less to do in this episode, Sarah Lancashire was still the standout member of the cast which was witnessed in several scenes. These included the much-trailed moment where she confronts the press who've been hounding her on her doorstep as well as the meeting she has with her union representative. But my favourite moment of Miriam's this episode came whilst she was watching Jim and Alice's appearance on Good Morning Britain and hearing them personally attack her. To me this demonstrates why Lancashire is such a fine actress as she's able to convey so much emotion whilst saying nothing and simply reacting to something Miriam is watching on TV. Similarly, impressive this episode was Lia Williams who demonstrated both Alice's frustration at the pace Kiri's case was progressing and also the cracks in her relationship with Jim. However, the best performance in Kiri's second instalment was delivered by Lucian Msamati as Thorne delved into Tobi's past and in particular his relationship with Nate. One particularly brilliant scene saw Tobi's reunion with Kiri's maternal grandmother (Sharon D Clarke) who voiced her own regrets about the past and why she wanted nothing to do with her granddaughter. Meanwhile the scene in the brothel was just brilliant as both Msamati and Paapa Essiedu portrayed as years of resentment and regret between father and son came to the surface. After this second episode, Kiri retains its title of best new drama of 2018 so far due to the talented ensemble cast, fine script by Thorne and the assured direction from Euros Lynn. I'm already anticipating next Wednesday to see what the talent both on and off screen deliver next and I'm just hoping Kiri continues to deliver as it has done so far.


This week's big new drama couldn't be any more different from Kiri if it tried as Sky Atlantic debuted the first episode of Britannia on Thursday night. Set in 43AD, nine decades after Julius Caesar tried to invade Britannia, Jez Butterworth's historical series focuses on another Roman invasion this time led by the headstrong Aulus Plautius (David Morrissey). The introduction of Aulus was one of Britannia's best scenes as Morrissey devours all of the scenery in sight whilst ordering the execution of a few of his men who have deserted his platoon ahead of the upcoming invasion. Their reasoning is because of the stories they've heard of the magic that plagues Britannia which is witnessed throughout this episode. The druid contingent in Britannia is headed up by Veran (Mackenzie Crook) the leader of gang of prosthetic-heavy characters who haunt the land and deliver a message to Aulus at the end of the episode. Elsewhere we meet young Cait (Eleanor Worthington-Cox), who is approaching a ceremony where she will enter womanhood which involves the intake of smoke as well as being cut open. However, this ceremony is disrupted by Aulus' army who kills all of the women and children whilst capturing any of the men who can be used as slaves. Cait is rescued by Divis (Nikolaj Lie Kaas); a druid outcast whose out-of-body experiences resemble the upside down world occupied by Eleven in Stranger Things. The relationship between Cait and Divis is possibly the most interesting part of Britannia as the latter keeps promising he'll abandon the former but I have a feeling their relationship will improve as the series continues. Elsewhere, we have the general warring factions that you expect from these historical drama series with King Pellenor (Ian McDiarmid) hoping to build bridges with Queen Antedia (Zoe Wanamaker) by uniting their families in marriage. However, this union ends in murder and double-cross with Pellenor being aided by his warrior daughter Kerra (Kelly Reilly) with whom he has a rather tricky relationship. However, it appears that these warring families may have to put aside their differences once Aulus and his troops start to march inland.


It's hard not to compare Britannia to Game of Thrones with both having ancient settings that harbour ancient families, plenty of magic and numerous brutal battle scenes. Additionally, both are filmed in mainland Europe and contain casts of familiar British character actors mixed with newer faces. It's fair to say that Britannia is no Game of Thrones but then it wasn't going to be as the HBO show boasts a bigger budget as well as a plot based on a successful-series of books. Britannia has to tell an original story which has been written by Jez Butterworth who obviously has heavily researched the time period before starting the script. To Butterworth's credit there is an authenticity to certain elements of the plot especially the Solstice rituals which are described in great detail. Britannia also looks great thanks to the exterior shots which take in the great landscape that both the Czech Republic and Wales had to offer. However, that's where the praise ends as I found Britannia's dialogue to be clunky and the performances to be over-the-top even for a drama such as this. The majority of the cast were hamming it up significantly and I'm not sure if this was intentional or just accidental. The chief offender is Morrissey who appears to be having fun as Aulus even though his performance makes it feel like he was told he was acting in a spoof rather than a serious drama. The other senior members of the cast such as Wanamaker, McDiarmid, Hugo Speer and Julian Rhind-Tutt seem to have got the same direction with Rhind-Tutt in particular playing the sneering villain as if he was appearing in a local pantomime. Only Nikolaj Lie Kaas and Eleanor Worthington-Cox appear to be taking the show seriously and that's possibly why I latched onto their story more than any of the others. To its credit, Britannia wasn't a hard watch and even though it clocked in at seventy minutes the time passed by quite quickly however I wasn't able to remember a great deal about the episode after it concluded. I'm sure you've guessed this by now, but I'm not sticking with Britannia a programme that didn't even meet my admittedly low expectations. Although I do like programmes that are fully bonkers, I don't think Butterworth, or the cast know exactly what tone they want to set for the show making a lot of the episode come off quite imbalanced. Overall, I would say that fans of Game of Thrones would be best-served going back through their boxsets than committing to nine episodes of this pound shop equivalent.


Since the channel moved online, I've found I've watched a lot less of BBC Three's programming than I did when it was still available on the TV. This is despite the channel still delivering plenty of quality shows which is evidenced with their latest documentary series Love and Hate Crime; the first episode of which premiered on BBC One this week. The programme focused on the murder of seventeen-year-old Mercedes Williamson; a Mississippi resident who was murdered by her boyfriend Josh Vallum seemingly in cold blood. The way the documentary unfolds is fascinating as Mercedes is initially presented as a normal lively teenage girl before a secret life of drug addiction and prostitution is revealed. Meanwhile, Josh discusses how Mercedes never wanted to have sex with him and was worried that she wanted to wait until they were married to do so. But the biggest revelation was still to come as, on the night of her murder, Josh discovered that Mercedes had a penis and stabbed her repeatedly in the heat of passion. It was quite gruesome hearing the details of the murder with Mercedes still being alive after Josh had stabbed her, so he had to return to the scene and strike her with a hammer. The story only got more interesting from there as we heard testimony from Mercedes' friends about her transition from Michael and how Josh knew she was transgender long before the night of her murder. In fact, the reason for Mercedes' murder may have been due to his affiliation with the Latin Kings gang who prohibit their members from partaking in any homosexual activity. With Josh pleading guilty, the case never went to trial, but it was fascinating hearing from both the prosecution and defence who both felt he could've been acquitted due to the strong hatred of people who are different from those who live in the area. I found Ben Steele's film to be incredibly well-told and designed to perfection, I loved how he rarely interjected during the course of the programme and instead let the characters tell their own story. All the talking heads and footage from police interviews was woven together brilliantly and Steele let the viewer decide why exactly Josh murdered Mercedes. The final twist in the tale was that Mercedes murder was later categorised as a hate crime with Josh being found guilty of this offence and now being made to serve over fifty years in jail. Overall, Love and Hate Crime: Double Lives was a fantastic documentary and I can't wait to see the next two instalments in the series.


Now back to the continuing programming and one show that, along with Kiri, has been the highlight of 2018 thus far is Inside No. 9. In my review of the opening episode Zanzibar, I theorised that there were better, darker stories to come from Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith and thankfully I wasn't wrong. Last week's poignant and funny Bernie Clifton's Dressing Room was the duo's love letter to old British comedy whose twist was heartbreaking and uplifting in equal measure. However, in terms of narrative complexity, I found this week's Once Removed even more enjoyable as it kept you guessing up until the end. The episode starts quite inconsequentially with May (Monica Dolan) moving home and welcoming in removal man Spike (Nick Moran) from the hilariously titled firm Handle Me Gently. However, all is not what it seems especially when we meet May's husband Viktor (Shearsmith) who appears sinister from the outset and becomes more so as the episode goes on. Once Removed gets its name from the fact that the plot flashes back every ten minutes to roll out the story even more and every time our perception of the characters change. Once Removed, like most Inside No. 9 episodes, benefits from a fantastic guest cast with special praise going to David Calder playing a character who believes he's Andrew Lloyd Webber. Similarly brilliant in this episode is Pemberton who plays a nervous estate agent intent on selling the house that is central to the plot. But it's the storytelling that really makes Once Removed one of the greatest thirty minutes of TV I've seen in a while and makes me marvel at the brilliance of the show's writing duo. The narrative flashbacks all work and don't feel like a gimmick as they did in last year's disappointing crime drama Rellik. The final reveal also plays with the title of the show in a very clever way and shows how the episode's case of mistaken identity occurred in the first place. Although you'd feel that Once Removed was where this series of Inside No. 9 peaks fear not as, in my opinion, next week's To Have and To Hold is even better.


Finally, we move to the first guilty pleasure of the year for me and that is Celebrity Big Brother which this year had the subtitle 'Year of the Woman'. That's because Channel Five attempted to class up the tired format by having an exclusively female-only house for the first three days of this year's series. The majority of these eight housemates also had interesting stories including transgender newsreader India Willoughby, retired politician Ann Widdecombe or former copper Maggie Oliver who came to prominence during the Rochdale sex abuse scandal. The conversations that were had during these three days including important debates on gender, sexuality and religion to the extent that I didn't think I was watching Channel Five. However, when the men arrived, the show started to slightly descend into what you come to expect from CBB especially thanks to the inclusion of controversial laddish comedian Dapper Laughs plus reality stars Andrew from The Apprentice and Johnny from Love Island. Although the important discussion continued; thanks partly to legendary dancer Wayne Sleep and drag artiste Courtney Act, there was the usual drunken behaviour as well as attempts at a showmance between US singer Ginuwine and 'social media influencer' Ashley James. Celebrity Big Brother is a show that I sporadically watch depending on if I like the line-up and I'm really torn this year as it's one of the best series that Channel Five have ever put on. I've been genuinely interested in a lot of the conversations whilst the tasks have provided hilarity especially the recent Big Brother driving school which saw the housemates pretend to be cars. However, it appears the producers can't help but focus on the lowest common denominator elements that have plagued Big Brother in recent years with vulgarity and laddish behaviour recently flaring up in the last week. Furthermore, despite it being the year of the woman, all this year's evictees have so far been female meaning that the house could be a male-heavy zone by the time the final comes around in a fortnight's time. But overall, I've found Celebrity Big Brother to be an easy watch and I have to hand it to Channel Five who are at least trying to present a classier programme than the last series which depicted the gradual breakdown of Girls Aloud's Sarah Harding.

That's your lot, remember you can always hear me discussing the week's TV alongside Luke and Gary on The Custard TV Podcast and I'll be back with my column again in seven days time.

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