Hard Sun – Series One (2018)

hard1.jpegPre-apocalypse crime drama Hard Sun is so much of its time its quite fascinating. To manage budget etc the series is a co-production between the BBC and Hulu in the United States, and while it is being aired weekly as tradition, when the first episode aired the full series was put up on iplayer so that viewers could binge-watch it if they wished- not the first nod by the BBC towards how people seem to be accessing content theses days.

So while I’ve just watched the full six episodes I’m also fully aware that some may be waiting for the weekly episodes to air, so will keep this review spoiler-free. Suffice to say after a rocky start the series found its footing with episode three and to my surprise actually delivered a really good ending, leaving me hopeful that we’ll see series two. Writer/producer Neil Cross has stated he hopes the show will run for five series (a number that will seem obvious/fitting for those that watch the show) so with a little luck, who knows?

(On the one hand I enjoy these ‘long’ sagas but on the other, I’m a little contemptuous that I’m expected to wait several years to witness any ‘full’ story to its conclusion- JMS and his Babylon 5 have such a lot to answer for, sometimes).

Another aspect in which Hard Sun reflects the current time it is made in, and negatively in my eyes, is the current post-Game of Thrones trend for shock -for-shock’s sake and sudden twists in plot and character behaviour which is intended to keep viewers on their toes but which also can undermine credibility. In just the same way as foreign crime dramas like The Bridge or Cardinal have done, events and circumstances are just pushed too far into the sensationalist realm for real credibility, if only to keep viewers attention away from the remote. For instance, during the second episode our heroine is sitting in a car with a fairly minor character, chatting, when she suddenly jumps on him for casual sex. It’s so out of leftfield, and has no impact on anything that follows, that it’s surely just a sudden twist of spice to shock/entertain/wake up the viewer.

Restraint, in my eyes, should have been the order of the day. The basic premise -in which government intelligence agencies are murdering/disappearing/ruining whoever stumbles upon the shocking truth that the world is doomed- is fantastic and Orwellian enough without graphic violence/murders and complicated protagonists with bizarre life histories. But of course, that’s all so very 1970s and this is the wild 2010s and our tv is edgy and shocking and fast-paced.

So I may seem rather disparaging- it’s perfectly fine for what it is, but yes, the Game of Thrones dynamic seems to be infecting everything these days and I think it’s a pity. A calmer, more level-headed, down-to-Earth series may have seemed less exciting for today’s audiences but it would have been more effective, for me anyway. What’s wrong with normal characters, normal relationships, why spice it all up with bad cops/murderers/rape victims etc? Isn’t the End Of The World enough?

Still. I do hope we get another series.

I know your face, Cardinal…

d12017.31: Cardinal- Season One (2017)

By the second episode of this six-part crime drama, I was hooked- but also bugged by a distant familiarity with the actor playing the titular detective. Where the hell had I seen him before? This kind of thing bothers me all the time these days. He looked familiar and yet… not. Even his name, Billy Campbell, seemed familiar. Yet I couldn’t place the name or the face. This is exactly the kind of thing that the internet is made for, but I was being stubborn, I’d figure this out eventually….

Only I didn’t. The internet finally won. In my defence, it had been 26 years.

Billy Campbell was the star of the 1991 film The Rocketeer, which was the last thing that I had ever seen him in (although that wasn’t exactly true, as apparently he’d been in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and an episode of Frasier, according to IMDB).  Anyway, nowadays he’s older, craggier, greyer… yes, an infinitely more lived-in face compared to the youthful charms of his heroic character in the Disney film. I loved The Rocketeer. I saw it at the cinema and thought it was great, but it turned out to be another one of those films that deserves a sequel but fails to muster an audience, instead getting sidelined to the kerbside of movie history.

Cardinal is a Canadian series with much in common with such crime dramas as The Killing or The Bridge and so many others. Its graphic, relentlessly serious, dealing with isolation and serial murders and complicated detectives. Not as good as the first series of True Detective (but then again, what is?), but certainly well worth watching. Being set in Canada in freezing-cold locales buried in snow it looks as cold as its grim subject. If I were to offer any criticism its that it never really attempts to get under the skin of its criminal/s, instead finding the titular detective a more interesting character to dissect- which is fine, it’s just that kind of detective show where the nominal ‘hero’ is the real subject. It just leaves much of the grisly murders and their methodology unexplained. In hindsight, that may be a good thing- some things can’t be explained, some twisted psyches too twisted to make sense from, but there is a vagueness to it that is a little frustrating. Yes, Cardinal himself is fascinating and layered and Billy Campbell very good in the role, but… the murders, man.. all the torture and graphic gore. Whats it all about? What makes the bad guy/s (I’m being deliberately vague here, incase you’ve not seen it) tick?

So anyway, a pretty impressive show and apparently immediately greenlit for two more seasons. Well, there’s something to look forward to next year. At least next time I won’t be distracted by where the hell I’ve seen that guy before.

(In my defence, he looks so much different without that rocket on his back).

The Bridge- Season One (2011)

bridge-season-one2016.70: The Bridge: Season One (Blu-ray)

The Bridge (or Broen/Bron in its original language/s) is a Scandinavian crime thriller set primarily in Malmo and Copenhagen, using the titular Oresund Bridge connecting those two cities and respective countries as a major setting/plot device and thematic core. When a dead body is discovered at the exact mid-point of the bridge, two officers from the two seperate departments either side of the bridge,  Saga Norén from Sweden, and Martin Rohde from Denmark, lead an investigation into an increasingly complicated and insidious series of related murders and stunts.

The Bridge was recommended to me a few years ago, as I had greatly enjoyed The Killing. As I’d unfortunately missed the first episodes that had been aired, I didn’t see the series on its original screening here in the UK in 2012-instead I later bought the Blu-ray set when I noticed it in a sale on Amazon and… well, it gathered dust on the shelf ever since. Like so many others.

Still, if nothing else, 2016 is the year I’ve consciously started wearing down the ‘to-watch’ pile whilst endeavouring to not be adding to that pile (regular readers will have noticed most of my reviews these days are via streaming rather than newly-bought discs). So anyway, the nights are starting to draw in, and it seemed the perfect time to see what all the fuss was about.

The Bridge is certainly a well-made and effective thriller. I watched the ten episodes comprising this first series in just a few days, caught in the drama and mystery and the -just-one-more-episode-before-bed trap that binge watching tends to force on us (the freedom of watching a show when we want being just another trap when the next episode is just a few seconds away).

The problem with The Bridge is the crime thriller equivalent of CGI in films: the theory that bigger/more= better. It’s the tendency to over-complicate things and sensationalise what would otherwise be a conventional procedural thriller. Maybe its a post-Seven thing (the shadow of that film hanging large over this show and so many like it). On the whole it’s a great, tense and effective series, but it suffers from just going too big and stretching credulity. These things never feature realistic villains/criminals; these guys are super-intelligent, devious perfectionists that befuddle our heroic cops with monstrously intricate and fiendish crimes. Towards the end of this first season, when the identity and modus operandi of the villain is finally revealed, it feels a bit of a cheat. Its just too neat. Even when the cops are on the right track, the face of the guy they are hunting is the wrong one because, well, he’s had an incredibly successful plastic surgery that has left him looking like someone else entirely, stretching the hunt for a few more episodes.

Most annoyingly, something goes wrong with the passage of time over the last episode or two, with the last victim hidden (and eventually perishing) in a manner wholly unconvincing. Buried alive in a coffin, the victim dies of dehydration/starvation as if over a space of weeks, but it appears only hours have gone by. When the cops reach the murder scene, they don’t notice a false wall in a garage that would have been built and painted only within the last day or so; there is no dirt, masonry dust or smell of wet paint which should have been dead giveaways (sic). The wall that the victim is hidden behind looks to have been there for years, not weeks (let alone hours or days).

bridge2What saves The Bridge though is its leading characters. Saga (played by Sofia Helin) is a fascinating, dysfunctional character who is a very effective detective (if single-minded to a fault). Slowly over the course of the series we start to see what makes her tick and whilst she’s never exactly warm and perfectly likeable, she is none the less a compelling character. Sort of a female Vulcan, I guess and inevitably as enchanting to male viewers as Spock was to female viewers in the ‘sixties, although she does turn to sex (if only for stress relief). Her partner, Martin, is played by Kim Bodnia, who is a perfect foil for Helin. Martin is warm and open and mischevious, quite the opposite of Saga, which makes for a great professional chemistry (there is never the hint of any romance, thank goodness) and genuine humour. They make a great team and lift the show above its few pitfalls- indeed the irony of this show is that it doesn’t need such a devious and horrific series of crimes; the two of them are enough and the crime mystery could have been quite mundane, the show wouldn’t have suffered for it.

So anyway, although I was abit disappointed by how the show concluded, I did rather enjoy it and look forward to (eventually) getting around to the show’s second series (three have been made with a fourth and final series mooted). What I’m looking forward to is more of the central characters, rather than another convoluted mystery thriller. It remains to be seen what series two shapes up to be though.