Archive for the ‘Television Review’ Category

The Current State of Time Travel TV (Among Other Things).

January 1, 2018



Kawerau born singer John Rowles was blessed with an exceptional voice. He left for greener shores as soon as he could and thanks to a savvy Aussie management team scored big in 1968 with If I Only had Time. It managed a solid 18 weeks in the British charts peaking at number 3. He has two more substantial hits, Hush not a word to Mary (1968) and Cheryl Moana Marie (1970), an Australasian smash that went top 60 in the USA.

He could have been as big as Tom Jones or Humperdinck but ignoring the guidance of his manager, he who had done him so well thus far, he frittered away his formative years living the high life at the Hawaiian resort he purchased with his recording profits.

When he awoke from his tropical dream too much time had passed,  his international career was over and he was reduced to the ‘groundhog day’ of the Aussie cabaret circuit.

In 2004 a renewed interest in Rowles flared briefly when hip British electronica duo Lemon Jelly sampled If I Only Had Time for their 2005 track ’68 aka Only Time. Though he appreciated the attention he said of it, “it’s not my kind of thing”.

Rowles song is all about the joy of living and not having enough time to fulfil all of life’s promise; The Jelly’s is an existential treatise on regret and time squandered. Clearly John had a grand ole time for while but given the outcomes would he go back and change the past? It’s here that three of the hottest time travel shows on television find their muse but more on that later.



We might be forgiven for thinking that time travel is modern phenomenon given the all pervasive influence of H G Welles 1895 story The Time Machine but it is not that way at all. Welles’s story was just the latest incarnation of a narrative device so old it fades into immemorial.

Until Welles and his machine potions and enchantment and sometimes a bang to the head were the main method of navigating time – bonk, unconscious, wake up hundreds of years in the future.

As late as 1889 Mark Twain used this method to send a Yankee back to the Court of King Arthur (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court). Twain’s morality fable is a critical examination the social mores of his time, the time displacement is but a handy narrative device that gives the story ‘novelty’ value.

An earlier time travel narrative is out of 7th century Japan. Urashima the Fisherman rescues a turtle and as a reward is ferried off to a magical city of wonders for a few days R&R. Trouble is it’s in another dimension and back in Urashima’s world 300 years have passed.

His life and family gone he looses his equilibrium and the result is tragic. What’s the subtext at play here? That it is better to do good things without reward or recognition? In Urashima’s defence he didn’t actually want the reward. The Japanese have a unique way of viewing the world and I wonder if I am missing the point entirely?

The future turns out better for American Rip Van Winkle. Washington Irving’s 1819 story is about a ‘put upon man’ (a nagging wife is the central point here) who falls into an enchanted sleep after drinking session with mysterious strangers in a forest (?). He sleeps for 20 years and when he awakes most everyone he knew is either dead or very old and after some initial confusion Rip adapts and free of his unsatisfactory marriage ends up living the life.

The future as escape from a disappointing present is explored to its fullest potential in Robert Heinlein’s classic 1957 novel The Door Into Summer. Now in the modern age and firmly in the footsteps of H.G Well’s instead of enchantment we have we have technology, in this case cryogenic suspension.

Betrayed and bewildered, Daniel Boone Davis takes the long sleep and is awakened 30 years into the future where he meets a man who has made a time machine. Using the technology he returns to the past determined to set right wrongs made against him by his treacherous fiancé Belle and his equally treacherous business partner Miles.

Returning to the past to set right the future the theme of three current time travel TV shows, 12 Monkeys, 11.22.63 and Travelers (2017). In all these series time travel is being used to alter the timeline in aim of a more satisfactory future outcome. Yeah, the future is grim but changing the past in aid of a better future is not as straightforward as everyone involved had hoped.


12 Monkeys is based on Terry Gilliam’s 1995 film of the same name, which is in turn based on Chris Marker’s 1962 film La Jette. La Jette tells this now classic post-apocalyptic story through a series of still photographs with a voice over narration. Sounds dull but it is actually quite effecting. The TV series draws from both it’s predecessors vision while adding some suitable flourishes of its own.



In 12 Monkeys an operative called Cole mounts a seat set in the path of a giant laser. There is an injection of serum and lots of writhing about then bam, gone and thrust into the past. Obsessive scientist Dr Katarina Jones (played by Barbara Sukawa a former Reiner Werner Fassbinder acolyte – more on the German film master later) is determined to stop the release of a deadly virus that took the life of her daughter and most everyone else. Cole is her tool, a battered survivor sent back to the past to prevent the release of the virus. The job turns out to be barrel of confusion for the hapless Cole.

Meanwhile over on Travellers 2017, (there is an earlier short lived incarnation from 2007 drifting about so be aware), a similar scenario is playing out. In the deep into the future a small remanent of humanity clings precariously to life under the guidance and protection by an all-wise A.I called The Director (think ‘god’ and yes, there are plenty of provocative religious allusions). The Director has a plan to alter the catastrophic events that have sent humanity into freefall.

The minds of highly trained operatives are sent back in time and placed into the bodies of the ‘about to be deceased’. Our particular team of Travelers ends up bodies of an overdose victim, a young mother battered to death by her boyfriend, a sociopathic sports star killed by a punch, a retarded girl beaten to death on the street and an FBI agent about to die from a fall down a lift shaft.

To the shock of all those around him the Jock gives up sport and his old wicked ways and turns into a reasonable if not saintly sort while the battered mother (this Traveler is a trained combat expert) hefts it to her abusive man and as for the FBI agent, this meat eating workaholic is suddenly Vegan.

Yeah….. it’s true, there is no meat in the future, in fact there is barely any food at all and the series lighter moments involve Travelers having mouth orgasms over things like fries, burgers and chocolate. Otherwise it turns out that the ‘past’ is an ever-shifting game of numbers made all the more difficult by a war with Travelers who have broken ranks with The Directors grand plan.

Conceptually solid ideas, good writing and a charismatic cast make for a superior a sci-fi series. A massive hit for Netflix, season two is down with season three in production.



Back over in deranged 12 Monkeys land (yes, the TV series stays true to Gillian vision – remember Brad Pit’s weird turn? It’s all there) it turns out that time itself is sentient and does not kindly to tinkering leading us into an increasingly bizarre labyrinth of realities as Cole and company wrestle with ‘Times’ obtuse methods and the terrorists responsible for the release of the deadly virus.

Like Gilliam I had severe doubts about this show imagining a dumb smash, bash, crash set of American clichés. Boy was I ever wrong. A critically acclaimed third season is all wrapped up and a fourth and final season is now in production.



Recent Stephen King adaptation 11.22.63 (2106) like 12 Monkeys and Travelers is all about changing the past in aid of the future, in this case preventing the assassination of US President JFK in the hope of averting the horrors of the Vietnamese war. James Franco does a fair job as a high school teacher thrown in deep in aid of the cause but it is mostly dullsville.

I lost interest after episode four but the reviews tell me I should have held on because the series really starts to fire toward the end. As for the time travel, this takes place via a portal in the back of a Diner. It’s an inter-dimensional thing with time guardians and the usual King flip-flappery.



In German series Dark (2017) the time travelling has no higher purpose, in fact it’s just an unfortunate accident set upon the unwitting inhabitants of the small German town of Winden. An ‘event’ at the local nuclear power plant creates a series of time traversing wormholes that suck unwitting locals into a nightmare of endlessly repeating cycles linking decades and generations.

At it’s heart this a psychological thriller that is not afraid to taste the dark meat of human experience. The result is uncomfortable, emotionally dense and riveting. Dark has been compared to Twin Peaks and Stranger Things but it’s a flimsy comparison. Dark has a tone and reality all its own though their might be some comparison to German filmmaker Reiner Werner Fassbinder’s triumphant 1973 TV series World On A Wire, a similarly bold speculative sci-fi entertainment.



And do yourself a favour – turn off the clumsy American voice over and listen to it in German with subtitles. It serves the series and the actors so much better. Season one ends on a cliffhanger with oodles of unanswered questions still sitting in the in-tray. Season 2 is currently in production.



A side note – 2009 German film The Door is all kinds of similar. Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen stars in this strange time travel thriller that like Dark, uses a cave as a doorway through time. Mad’s is supposed to be watching his young daughter while his wife is out, instead he is ‘seeing’ to his sexy neighbours needs. Daughter is killed in an accident and Mad’s is inconsolable. It turns out a cave at the end of the street is a portal through time so he sets about rectifying his big mistake but it turns out to be more difficult than he first imagines (of course it is). If you can find it, it is worth a look.




1966 American TV series The Time Tunnel comes from the same era that gave us camp Batman (1966), Star Trek (1966), The Prisoner (1967) and Land of the Giants (1968). The Time Tunnel has not endured as well as its cousins but was smart enough to influence a generation or two to come. 2016 series Timeless is drawn from this stock.



Bad guys steal top-secret time machine and start changing the timeline. Good guys are in pursuit. It’s standard wholesome action and adventure with conspiracies galore and a solid cast lead by Abigail Spencer. You’ll know her from Suits, Madmen and Rectify. As watchable as cool water on a hot day, Ms Spencer is an asset to any show and without her this operation would be 25% less than it is. If I were a kid, I would be drinking it up. Solid B-grade schlock, fun if predictable.



Time travel is a notable sub plot in Gene Roddenberry’s iconic Star Trek franchise, so much so that the Federation of Planets has a whole philosophy devoted to maintaining the sanctity of the timeline. It’s called the Temporal Prime Directive.

Time travel is the featured device of two of the franchises best films, The Voyage Home (1986) and First Contact (1996) and as for the numerous series, just about the best time travel concepts to be found anywhere on TV lie scattered about this vast cannon.

Among my favourites are: Times Arrow (1992 – The Next Generation), Futures End featuring Sarah Silverman and Ed Begley Jnr. (1996 –Voyager) Year of Hell (1997 – Voyager) and the various time travel scenarios involved in the triumphant Xindi story arc that tied up season three of Enterprise from 2003-2004. You’ll find them all and more on Netflix.



In short-lived 2016 series Time after Time H.G Wells invents a time machine. He shows it to his friend John who steals it. John it turns out is Jack the Ripper. Wells makes another one and goes after him. Seriously? This is the kind of idea that probably sound awesome when your 15 and stoned and thinking up shit. Based on the classic 1979 film the TV version is dull, dull, dull and cancelled.



Making History (2017) is time travel comedy, a sub-genre that includes classics like Time Travel Bong and Time Travel Hot Tub. Funny man goes back in time and stuffs up the timeline so ropes in Straight man Historian to help to sort it all out. It is about as amusing as a cup of day old coffee and was cancelled after 9 episodes.



There are some 60 odd time travel series available for viewing somewhere including the granddaddy of them all, the incomparable Dr Who. The Dr’s first hit the small screen back in 1963 and are still doing their shtick today. Among the current crop of international shows is The Ministry Of Time (El Ministerio del Tempo – 2016) out of Spain. Some critics are referring to as the Spanish Dr Who though the makers consider it closer to Timeless, a show they are suing for ‘stealing their ideas’. Apparently it is coming to Netflix.

While we are in Spain I should mention 2007 time travel thriller Timecrimes, which must rank among the smartest time travel films ever made. A scientist is caught up in an ever-tightening time loop after an experiment with a time machine throws up some unexpected results. If time travel is your thing and you haven’t seen this then Happy New Year, you have a treat in store.



In 1889 Mark Twain sent his Yankee back to King Arthur’s Court with a blow to the head but a revolution was just around the corner. In 1894 Englishman HG Wells imagines a machine that can traverse time and opens the genre up to a whole new order of possibility. The Time Travel genre has come a long way since but perhaps it’s most progressive forward step is by way of Audrey Niffenegger’s 2003 novel The Time Travellers Wife.

Offering something utterly new and unique, the time travel device here is a rare genetic condition that causes a man to randomly move through time. Charting the course of an unconventional life, Niffenegger’s story is deeply affecting and utterly compelling. Given the phenomenal success of the book a clunky sentimental film adaptation was sadly inevitable.


If I was to pick one time travel film and say it was the ‘best ever’ it would be this. Using the cryogenic suspension first touted in Robert Heinlein’s novel The Door Into Summer, the original Planet of the Apes (1968) sees ‘Golden Age of Hollywood’ star Charlton Heston thrust into the far future and the result is  audacious and groundbreaking. Echoing the existential fears of a world teetering on the brink of nuclear annihilation this film hits every mark (including the magnificent score by Jerry Goldsmith).

Side note – as with 12 Monkeys, the Ape’s franchise originated from the work of a Frenchman. This time by way of one Pierre Boulle whose 1963 novel La Planete des Singes kicked it all off.



There is more, so much more but like John Rowles, I have run out of time. Bon Voyage.




Food on Film, Documentary and Television.

July 15, 2017



TV Review: Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown

(Food and Travel)

8/10 Stars

By Andrew Johnstone

There are three constants that define the process of being alive and living: survival, reproduction and nourishment. The first two are not possible without the last, the method by which living organisms obtain the energy that fuels the machinery of existence from the biosphere This energy is extracted from the light of the sun, from the mineral substance of the planet and from the gaseous chemicals of the atmosphere and passed about between species about in a vast cycle that feeds billions in a bewildering variety of ways and means.

In the human species, energy extraction is an impulse that has transcended the base process of survival and has morphed into an art so profound and fundamental to the human experience that we cannot be properly examined without reference to the food we grow, prepare and eat which perhaps explains the popularity of television food shows.

This genre offers a bewildering variety of options but of them all, one shines like no other. The host is Anthony Bourdain and the show is called Parts Unknown.


Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (2013 -)

Anthony Bourdain (Born 1956) is acerbic, ironic, informed and opinionated and he has a unique take on food and its centrality to the human experience. A former professional chef and author of the groundbreaking expose of life in the restaurant kitchen, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (2000) Bourdain has progressed into television and has made four shows: A Cooks Tour (2002-3), No Reservations (2005-12), The Layover (2011-13) and Parts Unknown (2013-).

Music, art politics and history are all part of the Bourdain formula and as for the food, he lsays little more than a “mmm, that’s good” as he tackles everything from ‘baby beaver in blood gravy’ to nasty looking NY street food. He loves mystery meat. “If it does not have the potential to give you the shits it isn’t worth it,” he explains to the camera.

In an age when American has turned inward and closed itself to social equitability and new experience, Bourdain (refreshingly) is a strident and unrepentant American Socialist and his cause is equality and inclusivity. He has seen too much of Britain, The EU and Scandinavia to be taken in by the self-serving economic truths espoused by Conservative America.

While he acknowledges America’s faults, he never forgets that America is more than shouty Christian Republications with guns. Mostly this is a people of good countenance seeking the best from life and each other. He also loves American food – street food, fast food, fine dining, BBQ ……all of it and the rest.


Season 5 Episode 5 Madagascar.

He explores that mysterious Island off the lower East Coast of Africa with filmmaker Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan – 2010) and finds a unique biosphere teetering. Bourdain never says much when doing the face to face (he says what he wants to say in voiceovers). Mostly he just prompts people along and they talk and tales of corruption, exploitation, over population, poverty and lawlessness spill out explaining the conditions that have led to the environmental shambles that is modern Madagascar. Regardless, he finds people of good heart with hope in the future as well as a ton of spicy meat laden food.


The thing that sets Bourdain apart from all his peers is his unwavering dedication to reality. An unapologetic carnivore, he never flinches from the hard truth of meat and the camera never turns away from a creature being slaughtered (he often participates) lifting the veil on an unappealing aspect of food.

For all his liberalism he does not get vegetarianism and has no time at all for hipsters and food Nazi’s. Opinionated yes, fanatical about it… He mocks others, he mock himself. In the Bronx a guy on the street says “Hey, ain’t you that Anthony Bourdain?” Bourdain, “Nah, I wish I had his money!” Guy, “Yeah, that prick – fuck him”.

He is honest and straightforward and he is not afraid to reflect on his years as a heroin addict, He knocks back the booze like he’s on a mission and one time in Amsterdam he gets high as fuck and raves about his CNN contract. In Season 4 Episode 7 Massachusetts, he explains his proclivities while reflecting on that nations Pharmaceutical opioid crisis. This is a ‘hard’ episode that still manages to serve up some pretty tasty looking local food. Go figure.


Season 9 Episode 7 Oman.

He reveals Oman to be a moderately liberal Muslim society governed by an enlightened Sheik. The people practice a mild form of Islam, which prompts Bourdain to remind us that like Christianity “Islam is not a monolith”. Woman have broad rights and are championed by a progressive leader but later out on the edge of the desert while eating and dancing with Bedouin men we are given a surreptitious glimpse of a heavily veiled woman standing far in the background and off to the side. Bourdain can be as subtle as he can cynical and opinionated.

Josh Homme and Mark Lanegan (QOTSA) wrote and recorded the shows raucous opening anthem. As artfully grunge as the man himself, it sets an appropriate tone. This is a sharp production with a decent budget and there is emphasis on lighting and composition, editing and research…. stuff like that. In one episode, it may have been Philadelphia, he is not in a good mood and gets drunk while waiting out the interminable time between setting a scene and filming it. “Those fucking lighting guys and sound guys and camera guys….. it goes fucking on and on,” but he has way too much conscience to let himself behave too badly or take it too far.


Season 3 Episode 6 Russia.

Bourdain shares tasty looking Russian food and alcohol with some interesting locals who are not as jaded as you imagine Russians could be. It’s his outright disdain for Putin that makes this episode so compelling.

Season 9 Episode 2 Los Angeles.

Trump is now president and Bourdain talks to Latino Americans about food and not being white. Acknowledging that undocumented workers “do the work most of us don’t want to do” Bourdain is unforgiving in his disdain for Trump. He finishes up with this: “Dear Mr President, Muslim Americans pay more taxes than you do”.

He has another go at Trump while in Antarctica, Season 9 Episode 6. What he finds at McMurdo is a community dedicated to scientific endeavour and co-operative egalitarianism, and in an age where science is being undermined and money counts more than community, this is all a big beautiful breath of bullshit free air.


They eat a lot of meat in Argentina and the people of the former Soviet Republic of Georgia (the birthplace of wine) are fighting to sustain a modern progressive democratic culture. Nashville was a musical eye opener and Quebec came across as odd. Sichuan Ethiopia Borneo were among the most compelling episodes ….. oh and his chef/guide in Sicily, he who goes out to catch the seafood for the meal he is about to cook. Well it goes that Bourdain’s crew catch the guy dropping market bought fish and octopus into the sea and then diving in and retrieving it while proclaiming to one and all the natural abundance (these waters are long fished out). Bourdain rolls his eyes and spends the rest of the episode avoiding him as much as possible.

Bourdain’s Dogma is thus: “To eat and drink with people without fear and prejudice. Over a meal they open up to you in ways that somebody who is driven by a story may not get.”




Rick Stein’s Long Weekends (2016)

English celebrity chef and mega wealthy restaurant mogul Rick Stein is in many ways Bourdain’s opposite. While they both travel and eat, Stein is all about food and nice scenes. Stein avoids political commentary and has little of interest to say outside of a few pedestrian observations. Nice light entertainment that’ll easily fill out an evening. If you like there is more, lots more. The Rick Stein food franchise is mega. This series is all about easily reached but slightly ‘off the radar’ European weekend destinations. Bugger about Brexit.



Nigella Lawson.

Everything in Nigella’s world is sensuous and sexy and eating seems to be her fetish. She can be informative, occasionally entertaining but mostly she is just strangely fascinating (for the reasons I have noted). She is not a chef, “just someone who cooks and eats for pleasure”. Lately she has been doing a lot of Reality TV, cooking contests, that kind of thing. Sometimes she sounds like a character Enid Blyton might have written, mostly she is entertaining, knowledgeable and pleasantly unique.


River Cottage (1999-2015)

If Anthony Bourdain is Rock and Roll and Rick Stein is AOR Pop then Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (River Cottage) is Morris Dancing. Gentle, rural and resourceful, Hugh is a Jamie Oliver like figure for the allotment set. A bit dull.

River Cottage is a brand used for a number of ventures by television chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. These include a long running television series, cookery courses, events, restaurants and products such as beer and yogurt – Wikipedia



Cooked (2016)

Food writer and philosopher Michael Pollan examines food from the most primal perspective in his Netflix series Cooked. This 4 part series explores in order: Fire, Water, Air and Earth and the relationship of these elements to food.

The broad conclusion of the series is that the evolution of our energy hungry brain has been aided by ever more efficient methods of extracting nutrients from the environment. So far so good but in the end Pollan, is like his conclusions, is pedestrian. Still worth a look but.


Chef’s Table (2015- )

Chefs Table is documentary series that explores the lives of notable Chef’s. It tackles muse and philosophical motivation as well as ingredients and technique. This series is challenging and perhaps a little overblown – this last statement depends on how prepared you are to accept the Chef as an artist worthy of deep analysis. Many of these chefs are thoughtful people. Some a little mad, one or two crazy. Just like most ‘artistic’ professions. Made by the guy who bought us the acclaimed ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ (imagine Studio Ghibli as food documentary). Pretty good overall.



Food Films:

City of Gold (2016)

Jonathon Gold is a journalist who fell into food writing when he grew bored with his job as a sub-editor at the L.A Times. He decided to review every food joint on a particular strip in L.A. His project turned heads and later he become the first food journalist to win the Pulitzer Prize.

At ease with food trucks and haute cuisine both, Gold is a trained musician, successful writer and cultural philosopher. He is an assiduous researcher and a fountain of information. We go about with Gold in his pickup truck as he seeks out opportunity for his prodigious appetite, “They have good chilli fries”, “that place has good Korean”, “over there is the best Ethiopian,” and so it goes. He seems to have eaten everywhere and the mind boggles at the scope of his ambition.

Later the film weighs up Gold’s food writing against food review sites like Zomato (where “amazing” seems to be standard – the filmmakers) and we get some insight into what it takes to be a vocational food critic of integrity. Gold can make or break a business and understanding the responsibilities he goes about his work with diligence, sometimes visiting a restaurant 17 times before writing his review. Very satisfying.



The Search For General Tso (2014) and Deli Man (2105).

‘General Tso’s Chicken’ is one of the most popular dishes in America, possibly second only to pizza, and this documentary sets out to discover the story behind the dish and in doing the doing reveals something of the Chinese/American experience and the evolution of the ubiquitous suburban Chinese Restaurant.


Deli Man is strikingly similar to General Tso’s Chicken except the subject matter is Jewish American food culture. At one time the American food landscape was defined by tens of thousands of Chinese Restaurants and Jewish Deli’s. Unlike the ubiquitous Chinese Restaurant the Deli is in decline but there are those dedicated to maintaining the tradition of this culturally significant food style. Cue Ziggy.

A third generation deli owner and trained Chef, he has made a name for himself as the torchbearer for traditional Jewish American Deli food. A man of outsize personality his insights are compelling as his big heart.

Besides the chicken itself, General Tso’s Chicken explains the famous Jewish love affair with the Chinese restaurant and Deli Man responds by explaining about the Jewish Chinese relationship, one forged from their mutual experience as social outsiders. As for General Tso himself, he is an historic provincial hero whose name is attached to many things as an honorarium and the reaction of locals to this American Chinese food innovation is as startling and hilarious. “Did General Tso love chicken? We don’t know the answer to that question”.



A Film About Coffee (2014).

Coffee is a mildly ‘consciousness altering’ beverage that turns the effort of waking into an anticipatory experience and this documentary seeks to be a hip and poetic exposition on the beverage from farm to cup. The story of America’s ‘small’ coffee industry contribution to rising incomes for growers in the third world is probably the most useful part. A bit wank at times but at least the kids care.



Soul Kitchen (2009, Directed by Faith Akin)

Drama, Comedy

Zinos is the owner of a shabby backstreet restaurant in Hamburg. He is behind on his taxes and his life is a shambles. Things get crazy when he decides to make sort things. In short, the Germans are crazy and Soul Kitchen is a lot of fun. The German Trailer is much better than the American one:




Babette’s Feast (1987, Directed by Gabriel Axel)

Drama/Morality Fable

A refugee from the French Revolution, aristocrat Babette finds herself in Denmark and cooking for a pious Danish family and their congregation. Many years later she wins a lottery and rather than return to her old life in Paris, she decides to spend the money cooking her community a feast born of appreciation. If you need a little unaffected beauty without the schmaltz factor, this is your film.




The Lunchbox (2013, Directed by Ritesh Batra)

Romantic Drama

Everyday, wife prepares loving lunch for indifferent husband. One day the Dabbawala (Mumbai style Lunch delivery specialist) delivers the food to the wrong man. The food keeps coming, he writes her notes of appreciation and back and forward it goes. A friendship develops and …… well, you’ll see. A delightful film about love, longing, flavour and appreciation – You won’t find a more perfect meal anywhere.


TV Review: In the Line of Duty.

May 4, 2017

In the Line of Duty.

9/10 Stars

(Police Thriller)

Capsule Comment: Police thriller Line of Duty follows the work of AC-12, the Anti-Corruption Unit of the East Midlands Police Force in old Blighty, and after week we are treated to dense story lines that twist and turn like a Sunday afternoon on ‘shrooms’ as Superintendent Ted Hastings and his team root out the ‘bad eggs’ perverting the course of justice from within. Ok, sometimes the series stretches the limits of credibility but never at the cost of its overall sense of authenticity. Long after the mounting piles of the deceased and disgraced are filed away in AC-12’s archives this show will live on as a streaming staple and is sure to be as influential as it is popular. Thrilling and exciting, Line of Duty is an absolute winner.


From the moment it hit the screen back in 2012 Line Of Duty has been star performer for the BBC and it’s easy to see why. This show is explosive from the get go and from seasons one through four the pace never lets up.

From the pen of wunderkind writer (and ex-RAF man) Jed Mercurio Line of Duty is police thriller based around AC-12, the Anti-Corruption unit of the East Midlands Police Force (The East Midlands is one of nine official administrative regions of England). The premise is lifted directly from landmark 2002 Hong King film Internal Affairs (directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, remade in 2006 by Martin Scorsese as The Departed) and seasons one though three follow a groomed copper manipulating things from the inside for a nefarious criminal organisation, an unresolved story arc that is still ongoing in the latest season, 2017s four.

DI Matthew ‘Dot’ Cotton (Craig Parkinson) nicknamed after an iconic character from Coronation Street was recruited into a shady criminal organisation as a kid and later joined the police as per instructions and has risen up through the ranks. He provides information back to his masters, destroys evidence and makes the appropriate payoffs. It’s a delicate and dangerous business but his triumphant recruitment in to AC-12 means he now has the ability to manipulate the system as never before. Watching Dot undermine his colleagues is narrative gold and makes for riveting TV. As for the man himself he is beautifully written as both tragic and sinister and later, as his life is revealed in more detail, pitiful.

DS Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) is a whistle blower, a former specialist anti-terrorist copper who refused to keep his silence on a mission gone wrong and found himself ostracized. AC-12 offered him a new start. Like the man who recruited him (Ted Hastings) he is absolute in his pursuit of justice but unlike Hastings he is prepared to push the envelope to get the evidence he needs to prove his case. Steve is all white-hot intensity on a humid summers day.

Police Superintendant Ted Hastings’s (Adrian Dunbar) is probably the surprise package of the series, a square portrait of integrity whose virtuous world-view is almost a moral crusade. For Hastings’s victimised women are ‘poor wee girls’ and the men that hurt them are ‘now you listen to me fella’. Says season four AC-12 recruit DC Jamie Desford to a colleague “It’s Jamie not James. How do I get him to call me by my proper name?” The reply sums up the Hastings’s method succinctly: “It’s hard to turn that freighter around once it has set sail”.

When the lawyer representing a suspect suggests he pull back on the Paisleyism’s (Ted is Northern Irish) he response is typically “You think this is a joke fella?” Hastings is as solid as solid can be and his manner is one of those oddly eccentric methods that help make this a series as special as it is.

“I can’t be seen alone with a pretty young lassie like her,” he tells DS Arnott after he turns down an invitation for a drink at the pub from DS Kate Fleming who is putting herself forward for a promotion. This proprietary is mostly mistaken for gender bias and is often used against him. Otherwise Dunbar’s lines are an endless seam of gold and with each episode comes the expectation of some new fantastical Hastingsism to mull over.

Season ones Detective Inspector Tong Gates (Lennie James) is black and Birmingham’s most successful detective or as Hastings is thinking: too successful.

Hastings “No one is that successful.”

Gates “If you are black you have to work twice as hard as they next man.”

Hastings “I am a Catholic from Northern Ireland so don’t you go telling me about being black. No ones blacker than me and I got where I am the right way.”


DS Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure – This is England and Broadchurch) is the team’s undercover operative/specialist whose job it is to get close to suspects and observe them closely feeding necessary information back to AC-12. Ambitious and career focused (her drive has cost her a marriage and relationship with her son); her steady and thoughtful manner is the perfect foil for Steve Arnott’s more aggressive headlong tendencies.

Her turn hunting down Dot with a high powered rifle at the end of season three is as intense as it is it outlandish and might just be a classic in the making, like something right out of The Professionals (1977-83) with a splash of Get Carter (1971) for that extra bit of madness but that’s Line of Duty for you. It stretches the limits of credibility (like when Steve Arnott is beating with a baseball bat in season four and is thrown down three flights of stairs and is back to work a couple of days later albeit in a wheelchair– hmmm) but never seems to loose its authenticity. It certainly makes the East Midland look a lot more exciting than it probably is.

To say that AC-12 is not well regarded by their colleagues is an understatement. Viewed with suspicion and treated with callous mistrust these coppers are to the general force as the Stasi was to the people of East Germany – an all pervasive system of spying and authoritarian overreach that undermines the ability of the force to properly conduct its business. Of course Ted Hastings argues the point quite differently: “There’s a line. It’s called right and wrong and I know on which side my duty lies.” 

While AC-12’s main objective is ensuring that police conduct is above board and beyond reproach as leads are followed up so are stones overturned and all kinds of cellar dwelling shenanigans exposed, paedophile rings and the like included (season three is mostly a critical analysis of real life paedophile investigation Operation Yewtree) and week after week we are treated to dense story lines that twist and turn like a Sunday afternoon on ‘shrooms’ and not an episode goes by without your expectations being turned inside out and upside down.

While Line of Duty is a thoroughly contemporary police thriller that pays due homage to the BBC’s social mandate (gender parity and multiculturalism) its also pays fair reverence to what has gone before. Classic police shows like The Professionals and The Sweeny are often referenced, both in style and tone. Mercurio really knows his stuff and it’s this kind of loving craftsmanship that help make Line of Duty as good as it is.

One of shows great strengths is this attention to detail. Every character is richly coloured making it hard not to become emotionally invested in the proceedings. These are desperate people trying to stay ahead of events spiralling out of their control, good and bad guys both and as for those bad guys – they are never quite as black and white as many shows would paint them.

It is never clear if disgraced detective DI Lindsay Denton (Keeley Hawes – seasons two and three) is guilty of the crimes AC-12 has nailed her for and while we are that on that subject, what a superbly drawn character this woman is. Cue the scene when she has had about all she can take of her neighbours loud music and hefting a wine bottle proceeds to haul said neighbour into line with a nicely placed blow to the head before adjusting the volume.

Is this the action of a corrupt officer or that of a person under duress? She is all shades of grey and a brilliant with it and as for her final scene, well my-oh-my, what a dazzling piece of television that was.

As for the leader of an armed Police unit, the deeply wounded Danny Waldron (Daniel Mays – season three), he is as much a victim as the perpetrator, a case that could also be made for Dot Cotton though Danny’s crimes turn out to be understandable whereas Dot eschews each and every redemptive possibility out of fear and a misguided sense of loyalty to the wrong people. DCI Roz Huntley however (Thandie Newton – Westworld), season four, may just be the best villain yet.

A manipulator extraordinaire she is misguided in her judgements and seriously unhinged with it (but gets away with thanks to a her sexually smitten senior whose own questionable integrity is a another swelling pile of steaming shit) and her calculating wit is turning out to be a swamp for everyone who dares venture there including Hastings and co. Even season ones bent detective Tony Gates was worthy of some empathy but it could be that there is nothing redemptive about Roz in anyway at all. Or is there? One can never tell with this series and this is a rare and wonderful thing. As for season four, ok I have a few quibbles with some of the scripting but damned shame it was over so quickly. A sly hint about Ted Hastings was also dropped at the last moment……. or was it? I guess we will have to wait and see.

Line of Duty is sharp, subversive, bonkers and action packed and if not for some incredulous narrative leaps, it is almost perfect. Long after the records of the deceased and disgraced are filed away in AC-12’s archives will this show continue on as a streaming staple and is sure to be as influential as it is popular.