Category: TV


BBC war of the Worlds b

Review by C.J. Bunce

Back in 2018 we celebrated the 120th anniversary of the publication of H.G. Wells’ genre defining science fiction novel, The War of the Worlds here at borg We’ve also reviewed several adaptations and retellings over the past decade.  The latest historical adaptation is a 2019 three-part BBC series now streaming here on Amazon Prime.  Director Craig Viveiros’ The War of the Worlds may be the best yet at blending the old and the new–the end of the 19th century with the demands of modern viewers.  Suspenseful, consistent with H.G. Wells’ Edwardian themes, this short series is chock full of very British characters and concepts taking on several science fiction cautionary paradigms: warnings of the dangers of new technologies, the cost of hubris, prejudice, and colonialism, and the adventures, fear, and trials that come with the unknowable future.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The top genre TV actress Rose McIver is back and as irresistible as ever.  The star of the wildly popular series iZombie is right back in her wheelhouse in CBS’s new series Ghosts: rapid-fire dialogue, outlandish situations where she must lead a crew of characters to decipher and inhabit myriad character types in the craziest of concocted schemes.  But unlike iZombie, which had its lighthearted moments, Ghosts is 100% pure comedy.  Sure, there are ghosts, but this is a full-on ensemble cast comedy where a brilliantly conceived haunted mansion is only the setting, the framework on which to build a comedy that will hopefully stand up to the even more dreaded ratings wonks.

For fans of Resident Alien, the show smacks of the exact same tone and humor, the latest in the trope mastered by The Munsters and The Addams Family.  It’s Beetlejuice, The Sixth Sense, and Tru Calling meets The Money Pit with a splash of Clue, with not a speck of heavy drama (or frights) but heaps of fun and pop culture references (like Sneakers, and if you pay attention you’ll find more than one iZombie reference) stuffed into each half-hour episode.

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Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Make no mistake, despite the title, this BBC adaptation really is not Agatha Christie’s Ordeal by Innocence.  It is without doubt writer Sarah Phelps’s Ordeal by Innocence, and it stands out as the best of her recent adaptations of Christie’s works.  In many ways, the 2018 television series is better than its source material.  Phelps is known for adding prurient subtext and graphic imagery to her film versions, efforts that typically seem uncomfortably gratuitous (such as the gore and sado-masochism in The ABC Murders, reviewed here at borg).  But in the case of Ordeal by Innocence, the delivery is more even-handed and her departures make the story better.  I came into the three-part miniseries immediately after reading Christie’s novel.  Published in 1958, Ordeal by Innocence centers around the classic mystery trope of the missing alibi witness, but with a tragic twist.

One lonesome night, scientist Arthur Calgary (played by Attack the Block’s Luke Treadaway) picks up a hitchhiker, and then is unavoidably detained, unaware that his testimony could make or break a murder trial.  Jack Argyll (Jacko in the novel, played here by Derry Girls’ Anthony Boyle) has been convicted of the murder of his adopted mother, philanthropist Rachel Argyll, matriarch of a clan of adopted children and assorted other household members.  Jack, with his contentious relationship with Rachel and a history of petty crime, seems the ideal suspect for the crime.  When Dr. Calgary appears long after the fact to clear Jack’s name, his mission of mercy and justice is met with strange reactions from all involved.  It’s almost as if they want brother and son Jack to be guilty.

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elena

Fantasies rarely play out as you would expect.  — Mr. Roarke

Blumhouse introduced a new twist on the 1977-1984 series Fantasy Island in 2020 with a feature film version starring Michael Peña  (Ant-Man), leaning into a darker, horror take on its story. ABC tried a reboot in 1998, starring Malcolm McDowell (Star Trek: Generations, Heroes). This week a new series emerges on Fox, entirely separate (or is it?) from the 2020 movie, but landing a perfect opener that is perfectly faithful to Ricardo Montalban’s classic weekly anthology showcase, an episode that would qualify among the top of the original series’ best stories.  This time it’s the talented Roselyn Sanchez (Without a Trace, Kojak, Dragnet, Telenovela, Rush Hour 2), whose beauty, charisma, and talent are more than worthy of her iconic, suave, Latin predecessor.  Miss Elena Roarke is not a descendant of Mr. Roarke, but a great niece of the former ambassador of the island.  The update is as much homage as sequel, a fine balance that miraculously gets it all right, with an updated feel that is modern and even fun, like the long-running BBC series Death in Paradise (which follows a fish-out-of-water detective and his staff on another island paradise also encountering newcomers aka guest stars in each new episode).  As with Montalban’s Fantasy Island, character actors from television’s past, present, and maybe even future, should all be scrabbling to get a part on this new incarnation of the series.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

We’re always on the lookout for the next great British/Irish/Scottish/UK police procedural or mystery, and the new Hugh Laurie four-part star vehicle Roadkill may not be the Life on Mars or Ashes to Ashes, Hinterland or Shetland, Marchlands or Lightfields, Derry Girls, The Woman in White, Mr. Selfridge, Zen, Quirke, or Sherlock, but it’s better than most of the UK series that have made it to the small screen in the past few years.  Airing in the UK on BBC One this past Fall and first in the U.S. as part of PBS’s Masterpiece series, it is now available on Amazon and DVD (still the PBS choice platform for British productions).  A lucky show that finished production before the pandemic kicked into full force, Roadkill will be a must-see for Laurie fans, and its angle on politics and telling a politician’s personal story should be enough to keep other anglophiles interested.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The three 90-minute episode television series is one of those staples of the BBC that is both refreshing and infuriating.  It’s refreshing because it avoids all the padding that is so commonplace among those direct-to-binge, 10-episode shows premiering regularly now on Netflix and other streaming providers.  But it’s infuriating to find a series that is so well written and produced, you love the characters and wish there was more.  Much like another great 4.5 hour series we loved, BBC’s 2011 series Zen starring Rufus Sewell (reviewed here at borg), in BBC’s Quirke, Gabriel Byrne inhabits his lead character in one of his best performances, leaving viewers wishing the series would have continued for a few more seasons.  First airing in the UK in 2014, Quirke is now available on the BritBox streaming service, along with Zen.

Byrne (Vikings, Assault on Precinct 13, The Usual Suspects) plays Dr. Quirke, the chief pathologist of the Dublin city morgue in the 1950s.  He has an affinity for alcohol, his brother’s wife, and solving murders, partnering on- and off-the-books with the local police inspector played by Stanley Townsend (Ashes to Ashes, Sherlock, Zen, Galavant).  In what feels like three gritty Irish noir movies, we learn about the doctor’s family struggles as his past and future collide, as he investigates an orphanage siphoning babies from Ireland to Boston, as he connects the deaths of two women found dead from suicides, and as he tracks down the whereabouts of a missing friend of his daughter.

The focus of Dr. Quirke’s life is the well-being of his niece, played by Aisling Franciosi (Game of Thrones, Vera), who is really his biological daughter, raised by his step-brother and his wife when the girl’s birth resulted in the death of Quirke’s wife 20 years ago.  Quirke was adopted into his family, and years later his father (played by Michael Gambon (Harry Potter series, Doctor Who, Cranford)) continues to treat him with disdain, but he hides his own secrets.  Along with the Professor Dumbledore actor, look for the actress behind Harry Potter’s mother (Geraldine Somerville) as Quirke’s sister-in-law, and the actress behind Batman’s mother in Batman Begins (Sara Stewart).  Other genre actors include Rogue One:  A Star Wars Story’s General Dodonna (Ian McElhinney) as an influential politico, Ella Enchanted and Mr. Selfridge’s Aidan McArdle as the politico’s nephew, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Life on Mars, and Master and Commander’s Lee Ingleby as one of the men attracted to Quirke’s daughter, and Merlin, Doctor Who, and Humans’ Colin Morgan as a journalist.

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The next season of Doctor Who will be a season of firsts–with the first woman to play the Doctor: Jodie Whittaker, two companions of color:  Mandip Gill’s Yasmin and Tosin Cole’s Ryan, and the first scripts from writers of color in the series’ 55 year history.  Whittaker, Gill, and Ryan joined new showrunner Chris Chibnall and executive producer Matt Strevens in Hall H at San Diego Comic-Con Friday for the first public event featuring the new cast and crew for fans.  They revealed no spoilers for the season but provided a first look and feel for the characters and approach for this next season.  Only one of the three actors playing a new companion, Bradley Walsh, could not attend the panel, but provided a brief video message during the panel.

“The thing about this role, which is why it’s so amazing for any actor to play the role, is that essentially gender isn’t relevant, and that’s completely liberating,” Whittaker said at an SDCC press event.  “I have never approached a role thinking, ‘How would a woman play this role?’  I just am one.  I don’t think a guy has ever thought, ‘How do I play a guy in this scene?’ – you just are…  So essentially my energy, my approach to this, is coming from a very instinctive place, which is genderless to me.  The best thing about the Doctor is I’m not playing either–I’m an alien.”

Courtesy of BBC America, you can watch the entire hour-long panel from Friday showing the first public appearance of Whittaker as the new Doctor right now, along with a preview of Whittaker and three new companions in some clips from the upcoming season.  Check it out:

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This year we found one series that could easily sweep most of the categories–a single television series that had everything: compelling story, a full range of emotions, great characters, tremendous action, a sharp use of humor, all kinds of genre elements that were satisfying and left viewers feeling inspired.  Richly detailed sets and costumes.  An impossible feat to replicate.  No drama came close.  No other visual effects spectacle could touch it.  And its audience is everyone.  A truly epic addition to television viewing, that series is The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, the greatest television series to come along in years.  If you love genre like we do, this was as good as it gets.  And like icing on the cake, along came The Mandalorian at year end.

But we’re not going to ignore the other good things that happened on the small screen this year.

Our borg Best of 2019 list continues today with the best in television.  If you missed it, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2019 here and the best Kick-Ass Heroines of 2019 here.

Without further ado, this year’s Best in Television:

Best Borg SeriesDoom Patrol (DC Universe).  With this year’s series Doom Patrol we got a look at two borgs, DC Comics’ Cyborg, an update to Martin Caidin’s original Bionic Man from the 1970s, and an older borg created before the word was even coined in the 1960s, Robotman.  Both characters revealed a glimpse at what life might be like with significant cybernetic enhancements (when brought together by a modern Dr. Frankenstein).  For 2019, it was the way to get your borg fix on the small screen.

Best TV Series, Best New Limited TV Series, Best TV Fantasy, Best Writing for TV, Best TV Costumes/Makeup, Best TV SoundtrackThe Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (Netflix).  It was worth the wait.  Jim Henson’s seemingly impossible to replicate artistic vision was successfully achieved thanks to his daughters and the company he founded.  The kindest heroes, the darkest evil, a truly epic, legendary story for the ages.  Everybody is cranking out CGI extravaganzas, but how many are creating artistry so fundamentally real, with so many individual artists and artisans contributing and achieving so much?  Even that wouldn’t be enough if not for the layered mythology and epic adventure story.  Add great humor, high stakes, emotional impact, an all-star voice cast, Daniel Pemberton and Samuel Sim’s  imaginative musical score, and those puppets and all that go into them–it adds up to a rare thing–a Henson masterpiece.

Best TV Sci-fi Series, Best TV DramaThe Man in the High Castle (Amazon).  Amazon Studios could not have adapted a series more faithfully, making changes for the medium and the times, than its take on Philip K. Dick’s most celebrated novel.  The use of science fiction to tell a deep and twisty level of subplots and unique setting all came to a perfect conclusion in the series finale.  Exciting, intelligent, frightening, and the most thought-provoking series this year, it was also different from its sci-fi competition.  Honorable mention: The Mandalorian (Disney+)–but only if we allow space fantasy since the series is not true science fiction, The Orville (Fox)–for its two-part epic movie-worthy space story, “Identity.”

Best New Ongoing TV Series, Runner-up: Best TV Soundtrack, Runner-up: Best TV Costumes/Makeup The Mandalorian (Disney+).  Not a lot needs explaining with this series, which in only its first two hours we rated it closer to the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back than anything with the Star Wars label on it since.  The Western motif is still alive, not all that hidden here in space fantasy garb.  And we won’t get started on the impact of The Child (aka Baby Yoda) on the genre-loving world and beyond.  Credit Jon Favreau’s visible enthusiasm and love for the original movies for the success of this surprisingly awesome arrival–the series is proof Star Wars is far from over.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If you don’t follow international politics you may find it a strange thing when the current affairs of a country far away has eerily similar relevance to the affairs of your own country.  Americans will see that in a big way as “four days in the life” of local government and police affairs in London is the theme of a new four-part British mini-series called Collateral, just released on Netflix.  Sporting that “ripped from the headlines” vibe of the short-lived series Law & Order: UK, Collateral is probably not as thrilling as Homeland or State of Play, but it’s far more compelling and interesting than most recent detective mystery fare like the dreary but ambitious series Broadchurch.  It’s enough that Collateral is worth watching for the showcase of acting talent it features.  Not particularly gritty or fresh as all the police procedurals that have come and gone, and not full of any real surprises for a mystery series, Collateral feels less like a limited, finite series and more like the beginning of a new TV drama.  And it’s a good beginning.

Headlining Collateral is a Doctor Who fan’s dream team: Star of the best reviewed Doctor Who episode of its 50-year run, Carey Mulligan (Never Let Me Go, Mudbound) played Sally Sparrow in the Doctor Who episode “Blink,” and here she stars as an eight-year veteran of the police force, now pregnant (since Mulligan was pregnant while filming) and recognizable to locals in the city as a professional pole vaulter who ended her career with a well-televised bad landing.  It’s this level of character backstory that doesn’t add much to the plot of this four-episode arc, but provides prime fodder if the BBC were to pick up a full-series run.  Mulligan takes to the role quite well–her character is not quirky or much of a stand-out, just another detective working a case–and that fits the story.  The Master from Doctor Who, John Simm (Life on Mars, Intruders, State of Play) seems to fit well in any role and he’s perfect again here, starring in at least his third series featuring human smuggling.  He portrays a local official who is pulled into the murder of a Syrian pizza delivery boy.  His ex-wife was the pizza boy’s last stop, and she is played by Billie Piper, who portrayed the long-time Doctor Who companion Rose Tyler.  We get to see Piper in a very different role for her here, as a rather nasty mother of two who is a bit of a disaster herself even before the crime appeared in front of her apartment, in part due to her drug use and inability to move beyond her ex-husband.

The series is directed by S.J. Clarkson, well-known for many episodes of quality mystery television.  Clarkson knows her turf well, and she deftly handles what complexity and interconnected subplots the script provides.  She has directed great television from Life on Mars to Heroes, House, M.D. to Bates Motel, plus both The Defenders and Jessica Jones.  So viewers can trust they’re in good hands with this show.

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victoria-coleman

Actress Jenna Coleman’s Clara, the cheery and sweet companion on BBC’s Doctor Who, moves on this year as a new companion joins the series in her place.  But Coleman is already off to new things, and first up is portraying young Queen Victoria in a new BBC series beginning tonight on PBS’s Masterpiece.  Victoria is a large-scale costume drama focusing on 18-year-old Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent and from her rise in power through her marriage to Prince Albert.  It includes an extensive romance thread–the unrequited love between Victoria and Lord Melbourne, played by Rufus Sewell.

Coleman’s Queen Victoria is both strong and passionate, and Melbourne as played by Sewell–known for countless roles in productions including Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Zen, Eleventh Hour, The Legend of Zorro, Pillars of the Earth, A Knight’s Tale, Dark City, and most recently, Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle–exhibits those good qualities and the more frustrating bits found in Jane Austen’s Lord Darcy from Pride & Prejudice.

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The costumes, props of royalty, location filming, and production sets are not surprisingly lavish.  Victoria has the hallmarks of another successful BBC/PBS series, taking on the popular Downton Abbey timeslot.  Episode One tonight is 120 minutes, and the first season of the series continues for seven episodes this year.

Here are previews for BBC’s new series Victoria:

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