TV Review: Life on Mars

SPOILER ALERT

Anyone who has not seen the BBC comedy/drama series Life on Mars is hereby advised that this review may contain spoilers.

If you told me that you liked your police procedural dramas with a generous dollop of humour, possible time travel and the occasional psychological scene, I would take that to mean you’re a fan of the British police comedy/drama, Life on Mars— because that’s the only program I know that fits the bill (except the sequel, Ashes to Ashes, but I’ll talk about that another time).

DCI Sam Tyler (John Simm) is a British police officer who gets hit by a car in 2006 and wakes up in 1973. The rest of the series catalogues his continual clashes with his new colleagues as he tries to navigate the unfamiliar world of the early ’70s and figure out how to return to the present day. There is also a fairly bog-standard will-they/won’t-they style romantic subplot with WPC Annie Cartwright (Liz White); one of the few characters who doesn’t continually mock and obstruct Tyler, despite her disbelief that he is truly from the future.

So, let’s start with the good things about this program.

For a start, it has got a superb bunch of regular characters. The desperate but righteous Sam; the quiet but strong and intelligent Annie; the blustering, boisterous but ultimately well-meaning Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister); the dim-witted but diligent Chris Skelton (Marshall Lancaster) and Ray Carling (Dean Andrews), who serves as something of a foil and rival to Sam throughout the show. The main players are all developed to perfection with good solid character arcs which resolve themselves neatly by the end of the last series. The supporting characters are also well developed but keep their place as supporting characters.

The pacing of this show is also excellent, blending together humour and darkness, mystery and sentiment and, of course, the lingering threat of insanity in a way which feels perfectly natural and leaves the viewer feeling fully entertained.

The overall story arc is also very satisfying. While each episode can more or less stand alone, insofar as there is usually a particular crime which is discovered and solved in each episode, Sam’s confusion about how he ended up in the past and what he needs to do to get home are never far from the fore and the events of each episode lead neatly to the climax at the end of the series.

I don’t have many negative things to say about this show. The romantic subplot between Sam and Annie was a fairly tedious tableau: Annie meets Sam in the first episode, there’s a bit of chemistry. He trusts her with the truth about what he’s going to; she thinks he’s mad but kind of likes him anyway, even though she’s a little hurt that he wants to get back to 2006 when it’s probably not real anyway. That’s pretty much how their relationship goes in every episode until they finally get together at the end of the very last episode. There’s not a whole lot in between. In most episodes he just has a disturbing experience with the Test Card Girl (Rafaella Hutchinson/Harriet Rogers), confides in Annie, Annie is concerned and whines a little that he doesn’t want to stay with her but ultimately tries her best to support him. Repeat.

Apart from that, it was a truly excellent bit of telly. Go and watch it with my blessing.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟


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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

Please be advised that due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Throwback Thursday: Maigret (TV Review)

Originally published: 10/04/2016 under the title ‘To Catch a Killer (A Little Too Easily)’
SPOILER ALERT

Although every effort has been made to avoid spoilers, anyone who has not seen the ITV television-movie Maigret or read the Georges Simenon novel Maigret Sets a Trap is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

I’m normally quite fussy about reading the original of any story before I watch the film/TV adaptation. It’s not that I favour one over the other; I just like to get a feel for the original author’s unique angle on his/her story before sampling other people’s homages to it. That being said, when I heard that Rowan Atkinson was going to be starring as the main character in ITV’s television adaptation of Georges Simenon’s detective novel Maigret Sets a Trap, my curiosity got the better of me.

There are a couple of reasons I was so keen to see it but what really piqued my curiosity and what caused me to break with my usual tradition of reading the book first was the fact that the main character (a fairly sour-faced French detective called Jules Maigret), was being portrayed by Rowan Atkinson; a British actor best known for playing fairly silly comedy roles such as Mr Bean, Johnny English and Edmund Blackadder.

I will admit that it took a couple of minutes to get used to Atkinson’s face being so serious. His features are very striking and he has made a career out of comical facial expressions, not least of all in Mr Bean, where he has made an art of telling jokes without uttering a word. My disorientation only lasted a minute however. Atkinson’s acting and the general mood of the film were more than adequate to create the serious and mysterious ambiance needed for a good, solid detective story.

I do love a good detective story. I think secretly we all do. Mystery is very compelling. It’s what makes a detective story so captivating; something puzzling has happened and we simply can’t go to bed until we’ve had all our questions answered! That means, of course, that it is important that the reader/viewer of a detective story never knows for certain who committed the crime until the last moment (that was always my biggest objection to Columbo!). Those unanswered questions are what keep us on the edge of our seat. Without them, there’s no mystery and no story worth telling. Those detailed conversations you have with your family during the ad-breaks about who you think the killer might be and why are half the fun of watching a detective drama in my book.

And that, dear reader, is the main thing that ruined this first episode of Maigret for me.

The episode opens midway through an investigation conducted by Jules Maigret into four similarly styled murders. The victims have nothing in common except the colour of their hair and Maigret is, frankly, utterly failing to catch the perpetrator. And so he sets a trap, using female police officers as bait. At first, this seems to have all the makings of a good TV detective story; a compelling hard-nosed detective; pressure being applied to remove the detective from the case because of his failure to solve it; a series of mysterious murders that cause my wife and I to exchange numerous increasingly wild theories about ‘who dunnit’; the looming threat of more deaths; a dangerous plan to force the killer to reveal himself…

But then the plan goes ahead fairly early in the story, nobody gets killed as a result of Maigret’s risky move and someone is arrested against whom a truck-load of evidence is immediately forthcoming.

‘It can’t be him.’ I say to my wife. ‘It definitely, definitely, definitely can’t be him. It’s too obvious. It’s never the first guy they arrest, especially not when they find so much evidence against him so easily.’

So we carry on watching it for another half hour or so, quietly confident in our individual theories about who the real killer is while Maigret continues to hold and interrogate someone who we assume is an innocent man…

Only it turns out it was him after all and the person who I thought maybe was the killer is actually never actually seen again. Oh sure, they try to throw us off the scent by having another murder committed while the killer is in jail but by that point it’s painfully obvious that it was the killer’s wife who committed this last murder just to protect her husband and so we are not fooled and neither is Maigret.

I was prepared for the possibility that I wouldn’t be able to take Rowan Atkinson seriously as a serious detective and was pleasantly surprised to find that I thoroughly enjoyed his performance. If I was giving out prizes for acting or creating the right ambiance, I would have nothing but praise for Maigret but when it comes to that all important story, I must admit to feeling like I had been robbed of a good mystery and I am not nearly as enthusiastic about the second episode (due to be aired later in the UK later this year) as I was about the first.

My most sincere congratulations to Rowan Atkinson (and indeed, all the cast!) on a very good and very non-comical performance. Hopefully the plot for the next episode, Maigret’s Dead Man, will do greater justice to the acting and ambiance of the first episode.


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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

Please be advised that due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

TV Review: Death in Paradise (s. 1-2)

Well, my wife and I have been digging around in the Netflix treasure chest looking for something we hadn’t watched before when we found this little gem: Death in Paradise. Set on the in the Caribbean, this TV show follows the exploits of a stuffy and meticulous English detective inspector who has been assigned to head up a tiny team of police officers working on the sun drenched shores of the fictional island of Saint Marie.

While it is primarily a murder/mystery style drama, focusing on a traditional ‘who dunnit’ formula, it is obviously not without a generous dollop of humour. The protagonist, D.I. Poole (Ben Miller), is a classic fish out of water. He despises sunshine, parties and anything remotely French; three things which abound in his new environment. Rather than adapt, Poole staunchly treads the burning sands of Saint Marie in his suit from morning till night as he works alongside his new fun-loving colleagues, including his sidekick and obvious foil, Camille (Sara Martins), solving an improbable number of murders on such a small island.

It was a slow start for me. The premise, though simple, appealed to me. I always enjoy a good murder/mystery and the fish out of water trope can be fun. Nevertheless, after the first episode, I still wasn’t quite sure if I was going to like it or not. It seemed to lack that je ne sais quoi that allows you to forget you’re watching people acting and enjoy the story. Realising that most TV shows have a few teething problems on the first episode, however, we persevered and have quickly become hooked (in spite of the shock of s. 3 ep. 1, but we’ll stick to s. 1-2 today).

As is so often the case, the characters are what make this show what it is. The premise is interesting enough, but not enough to keep a viewer hooked and at a technical level the show is pretty unremarkable but the characters (especially the regular cast) are what make it worth watching. Despite his stuffy, snotty-nosed, and borderline xenophobic tendencies, there is also a vulnerable and even lovable side to D.I. Poole. As the show progresses, his relationship with Camille develops into one of mutual respect, friendship and even hints of romantic attraction despite their obvious differences and the frustrations they often feel with each other. My only regret with their mutual story arc is that was cut rather short when D.I. Poole left the show at the start of s. 3 with the romantic tension left never really resolving itself, not even with a single bumbling kissy scene.

The two uniformed officers who work under Poole and Camille, Dwayne Myers (Danny John-Jules) and Fidel Best (Gary Carr) are similarly excellent in their supporting roles. Fidel in particular has his own little story arc weaved into the background of the main story, focusing on how he tries to juggle his career with his responsibilities as a husband and father. The Dwayne character, though beautifully portrayed by the actor, is a little more undercooked from a writing point of view, though remains a joy to watch as he bombs around on his motorbike, flirts with a different girl in every episode and takes a ‘traditional’ gung-hoe approach to policing.

Critics have often accused this show of being very formulaic. They’re right. Every episode without fail begins with the discovery of a body, the credits roll, there’s a vital clue that everybody dismisses but Poole can’t stop thinking about it, they interview the suspects, gather around a whiteboard covered in photographs, Poole has a sudden inspiration brought about by something innocuous and they all ‘gather in the drawing room bar by the pool’ Poirot style so Poole can reveal all and arrest the guilty party. Throw in a the odd will-they-won’t-they scene between Poole and Camille and you’ve got your episode.

In spite of this, it’s still a great show to sit down and lose yourself in. It’s funny, endearing, with enough drama to keep you engrossed without adversely affecting your blood pressure. Give it a whirl and don’t judge it too harshly by the first episode. It picks up quickly.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Books (vol. 4)

SPOILER ALERT

While every effort has been made to avoid spoilers in this post, anyone who has not read: Lust by Roald Dahl, Dune by Frank Herbert, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie or The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler is hereby advised that this point may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these things so I thought it was time for another exciting ‘books’ edition of Super Snappy Speed Reviews. You know how it all works by now: I review a bunch of books in a few short sentences and give a rating out of five stars for each. As ever, these reviews reflect nothing but my own personal opinions and impressions, condensed, crushed and deflated into a few short sentences. The books I have selected have nothing in common, save that they are all fictional. They are not necessarily books I particularly liked or disliked, nor are they sorted into any particular order. So, here we go.

Lust by Roald Dahl

Yes, the author of the B.F.G and James and the Giant Peach also wrote a few short stories about two friends who swap wives for the night, leper-loving-ladykillers and the devastating effects of combining politics with powerful aphrodisiacs. In true Roald Dahl style, this collection of short stories is often strange, occasionally dark and profoundly compelling. An excellent book.

Just not for children.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Dune by Frank Herbert

An absolute classic of the sci-fi genre: Dune is a complex, multifaceted and inventive. It is full of detailed world building, a well written cast of characters and undeniably forms part of the bedrock of the modern space opera genre.

Unfortunately, I did find it a bit of a drag at points. It feels needlessly wordy at times, has an increasingly grim tone from start to finish (and beyond if you read the whole series) and often sacrifices entertainment value to make way for its own cleverness. The dialogue was a bit dry at points too.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

If you ask me what my favourite book of all time is, there’s a very good chance I’ll say ‘Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.’

Where do I begin? Rich characters, a simple but compelling plot, vivid description, excellent use of figurative language, excellent narrative voice, carefully explored themes and a tragic ending. I can’t sing its praises highly enough.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 + ∞

The Mystery of the Blue True by Agatha Christie

Reading a Poirot novel has become like putting on a pair of comfortable slippers to me. You expect a similar blend of 1920s well-to-do types, scandal, bridge games, drawing rooms/steam trains and so forth while Poirot confidently pursues the truth all the while being patronised by those who think they know better. If that’s all you’re looking for, The Mystery of the Blue Train will not disappoint. It’s everything a Poirot novel should be (Oh, and I didn’t figure out ‘who dunnit’ prematurely which is always a plus).

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

I read this book for one simple reason: I didn’t have enough hard boiled detective fiction in my life and Raymond Chandler’s work is widely and justifiably considered to be the daddy of them all. The dialogue and narrative voice are both rich and striking (a little too rich at points; my ’30s American slang is a little rusty and I didn’t always understand it), the mood is dark without being depressing and the mystery is complex enough to keep the reader trying to figure out ‘who dunnit’ from cover to cover.

In spite of that, I personally found it a bit of a slog to read and, at times, a little difficult to understand, perhaps because the 1930’s American language and culture was so foreign to me. A very well written novel to be sure but not my cup of tea.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

DON’T FORGET TO CHECK OUT ALL THE PREVIOUS EDITIONS OF SUPER SNAPPY SPEED REVIEWS
Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Children’s Edition (Vol. 2) Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Doctor Who Edition
Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Children’s Books Edition (vol 1) Super Snappy Speed Reviews: TV Edition (vol. 2)
Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Writing Apps for Android Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Books (vol. 3)
Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Games Edition Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Star Trek Edition
Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Books (vol. 2) 8 Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Film
5 Super Snappy Speed Reviews: TV Edition 8 Super Snappy Speed Reviews

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook, if that’s what boils your detective.

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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

You can check out our previous interviews here: