All entries for Friday 11 July 2008

July 11, 2008

TV Review: Criminal Justice

I’m always curious to watch anything that bills itself as a prison drama, because HBO’s Oz is one of the all time great television shows, and it’s interesting to see other shows try and live up to that. To it’s credit, Criminal Justice offers a fairly accurate (if somewhat less violent and rapey) view of life in jail, but that’s only half the story. The other half is your traditional court-room drama. But this isn’t just a show that conflates the two to tell the story of a prisoner on trial. Criminal Justice is literally half of each. We don’t get a fully featured court-drama, much of what doesn’t directly tie-in to the story is discarded and even the closing arguments are skipped entirely. Boston Legal this ain’t. Likewise we see the major events in prison but we’re shown little of Ben’s day to day life and the growing sense of dread and hopelessness he feels.

Instead the two halves of the show cannibalise each other, bumping against each other like some really awkward dance-floor foreplay, before embracing each other in an inevitable but ultimately unsatisfactory union.

That’s not to say it’s a bad show, Ben’s descent into helplessness isn’t as well portrayed as that of Tobias Beecher in series one of Oz, but it does a decent job. The courtroom stuff is still compelling and the twist at the end is well thought out and makes sense, you probably couldn’t see it coming but there are hints dropped, even if the link to Ben’s prison life is unnecessary and laboured.

What really makes this show are the characters. The evil prison kingpin is suitably creepy and well-spoken, Ben’s lawyer Stone is a fascinating enigma, and police investigator Box is just wonderful. Initially he seems to be your stereotypical “good cop looking for the truth” but there’s something not quite right about him. Occasionally his actions are totally out of character for that archetype, and the eventual revelation pulls a wonderful bait and switch on us and suddenly everything makes sense.

Ben Whishaw’s Ben is certainly the true star of the show though, he plays the role with a quiet understatement punctuated by occasional bursts of anger that really do put us in the mind of a man wrongfully arrested, but that is starting to doubt himself.

Oh and Ros out of BUGS turns up as well.

If you’ve watched Oz this entire show might seem a little tame but if not then it’s well worth a watch, one of the better UK dramas of late and still really quite harrowing.

Thoughts on the Doctor Who Finale

Been a busy few weeks, lots to talk about, so apologies if the next few pieces are a tad perfunctory but need to get caught up. They might get discussed more in the podcast though. Ooh podcast, yeah, exciting…

So I watched the two last Doctor Who episodes back to back, and they’ve pretty much conflated into one for me so here we go:

First, did anyone expect Harriet Jones to inform Jack, Martha, Sarah-Jane and Donna that they were On the Global Frequency? Okay just me on that one then.

The other thing that these two episodes reminded me of was Power Rangers – Forever Red for the way in which it basically just combined a whole host of series and characters together, not because it would tell a good story, but because it would be so damn cool. And it was.

I was somewhat reluctant to write this blog, as it requires thinking about the episodes, and thinking about them too much tends to make them fall apart. So lets get the nit-picking out of the way:

1. The technobabble was worse than an episode of Star Trek: Voyager, which if you haven’t see it, is really bad. Most of it made no sense either, or if there was an science behind it, it was rushed through too quickly for anyone to comprehend.

2. Rose, whose return was hyped up all season, turned out to be utterly pointless and got pretty much nothing to do. I’m starting to wonder if she was more heavily featured in the original script, which was then swiftly re-written when Russell T Davies heard her speak post-mouth job. And I thought Catherine Tate’s voice was annoying.

3. Jack spends an entire series of Torchwood trying to find The Doctor to figure out why he’s immortal, then when he finally meets the woman than made him immortal, just doesn’t mention it.

4. Mickey joining Torchwood. Oh dear god. The only thing more disturbing is working out which cast member RTD is going to have him flirt with.

Right, the good stuff:

1. I’ve always had a soft-spot for Martha, and I really liked the whole Oster-Hagen key thing. Apparently most of the internet hated it and thought it was stupid, but since The Master almost enslaved the human race once, it even makes a twisted sort of sense. Plus there’s some nice resonance in it: Martha is willing to sacrifice the entire human race to save the rest of the galaxy and all the other universes. The Doctor thinks that’s crazy. But as Davros goes on to point out, The Doctor himself has sacrificed many people in the past to save the human race. Same thing, larger scale.

2. And yes, Davros guilt-tripping The Doctor was awesome (I have a soft spot for montages too) but then it was pretty much ignored after that, other than some pensive looks at the end.

3. It was cool. Seeing all the disparate elements of the universe RTD has created coming together. Yeah, so Torchwood didn’t do much but if you accept that it’s all one big universe then it becomes silly not to include Torchwood and UNIT as one has to wonder what the hell they’re doing.

4. The Donna ending. Again, much of the internet hated it but I sort of liked it. There were basically two sides to her character – the cool character she’d turned into and the awful Catherine Tate Show-esque goon she started off as, that everyone was afraid she’d be all the way through when her joining up full-time was announced. It’s an implicit acknowledgement that that part of her character wasn’t nice or good and was a genuinely bad thing. And sending her back there was in many ways a fate worse than death. We were never meant to like Runaway Bride-era Donna to start with.
Though I imagine a future writer isn’t going to be able to resist bringing her back, and the way it’s set up she can probably get her memories back and last around the length of a Christmas special before she dies for real.

5. The Rose ending. It was all sorts of creepy and weird. Nicely Tennant is now set up for recurring guest star roles in future Doctor Who incarnations no matter how badly he ages and I’m sure it’ll be revisited (as Anna points out contrary to claims mad prior to the episode, this really doesn’t tie anything up at all.
It’s played wonderfully subtly as well. The Doctor and DoctorDonna think it’s a nice and happy ending. You can read it that way if you want. But she runs after the Tardis as it leaves. She’s not happy. But those two wouldn’t understand that. Because logically it doesn’t make sense. Genetically he’s basically the same + some human, with all the same memories + some genocide. But the human heart doesn’t really work that way. And that’s the blind spot that the Time Lords, with all their knowledge, don’t see.

So throw all those good and bad bits together and what do we have? A glorious mess. It’s all over the place, it doesn’t make much sense, it’s ridiculous and it’s great fun. It’s pretty much exactly what I’d expected. It doesn’t completely fit together right, but the loose joints are covered over with a healthy dose of cool and funny so that it just about works.
I’m not going to watch it again. I have a feeling if I do I’ll be a lot less kind. It’s event television. And as an event it worked. Plus there was enough controversy with the endings to make the internet explode the minute after it aired.

And call me a heartless bastard but I liked seeing Tennant commit genocide.

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