Enough Said

I think I’m going to have to start watching ‘The Sopranos’.  The first time I saw James Gandolfini in anything was ‘True Romance’, his was a short but stand-out performance as a hitman hunting down the runaway couple and having watched him in ‘Enough Said’, he’s someone I want to see more of.  He’s the kind of actor who brings a likeable quality to the characters they portray, even if that character is a killer for hire, or a television library archivist (my idea of the perfect job!).

In ‘Enough Said’, he plays Albert, a guy I warmed to very quickly.  He’s got an encyclopaedic knowledge of US television; he’s a self-confessed slob and I felt a great deal of empathy for this lovely guy through every step of the story.  Albert and Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) meet at a party, Eva also separately meets Marianne (Catherine Keener); she begins to date Albert and become a new friend to Marianne.   It’s no spoiler to say that unbeknownst to Eva (at first, and for a while), Albert and Marianne used to be married, Albert doesn’t know Eva and Marianne have become friends; Marianne doesn’t know that the ‘flabby guy’ Eva is dating is her ex-husband.

The best way to describe this is as a classy rom com for grown-ups.  It has a very Woody Allen style to it – unsurprising given that writer/director Nicole Holofcener’s stepfather produced Allen’s movies and she worked on a few of them herself.  The style is more modern than Woody Allen though, and not quite as self-reflective and dare I say, whiney. This is no high school romance, it’s not another modern re-telling of Cinderella, there is no Bridget Jones style angst about being single.  The protagonists are established people in their 40’s, they have children on the verge of leaving home, they’re both divorced, and they both know how relationships that at first can seem like everything, can sometimes turn sour.

There’s a realism to this movie, there aren’t any melodramatic moments, there’s just life and how one interacts with others in the many different types of relationships.  The story is primarily told through Eva and so we mainly see the different types of relationships in her life.  Aside from her relationship with Albert, and with her new friend Marianne, there’s the interaction between Eva and her daughter; Eva and her daughters’ friend; Eva and her ex-husband, Eva and her ex-husbands’ wife; Eva’s relationship with her best friend Sarah (Toni Collette); Sarah’s relationship with her husband and even Sarah’s dysfunctional relationship with their maid.

There are some interesting observations on the dissatisfaction that comes with all these relationships and how they are often left to fester.   Complaints are rarely made directly to the person in question, more often to a third party; so here, Eva talks to Sarah and Marianne about Albert; Eva’s daughter’s friend talks to her about her relationship with her mother, and Marianne talks to Eva about the many issues she had with her ex, Albert.  Weirdly, Sarah and her husband choose to raise their complaints about each other in front of each other in company, but they couch it in terms of theoretical situations, ‘If I were to get married again, I’d…’.  Sometimes the irritations get too much, and the relationship ends, and sometimes irritations are just something you learn to live with that’s preferable to losing the person from your life.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus is the perfect lead for this movie and the chemistry between her and James is palpable as their character’s relationship deepens.  I feel like I’ve been around Julia’s work for most of my adult life, I used to love her as Elaine in ‘Seinfeld’, then as a version of herself in ‘Curb’ then as the lead in ‘Veep’ and latterly in ‘Onward’ and ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’.  Eva is an interesting character, she seems content with her life, her family, her friends but is open to new people; she also knows her own flaws and is open to change.  She works as a masseuse and every time she meets someone new she is faced with the same questions anyone who does that job must constantly be asked; she fields these observations with a polite boredom.  And again, even with her clients, they have their idiosyncrasies that irritate her and rather than address the problem and risk losing them as a client, she chooses to make the best of it.

I found it refreshing to see that one of the many realisations in this movie is that what one person thinks of as a flaw in another is often subjective. One of the lessons here is that everyone can be everything to someone and nothing to someone else.   Everyone deserves to find their ‘one’ and to have a shot at happiness regardless of whether someone else has discarded them.  It reminds me of something someone once said to me that ‘there’s a lid for every pot’.

Given the central premise of Albert & Marianne not knowing that they both know Eva, you might expect many a farcical situation, but this movie isn’t about playing up to that.  There are maybe two instances where it comes close, but the situations are dealt in a more relatable way and not for obvious laughs.  The laugh out loud moments are naturally driven, the kind of laughs you would have in a real-life situation if someone said or did something funny, rather there being a big set up for the metaphorical punchline.  I found a great deal of warmth in this movie, it’s very touching, intimate and clever; it seemed to be about decent people trying their best and I think with all the troubles around us these days, it’s valuable to be reminded of that.

The music is very unintrusive and choice of songs were a great fit; this song that plays over the end credits, perfectly encapsulates the sentiment of the movie.

I’ve read a few times since seeing this movie, that Albert is the closest character to how James Gandolfini was in real life.  If that’s true, then he was a lovely guy.  It’s a tragic loss that James died aged just 51 (before the release of this movie and having never seen the finished work). 

As the credits rolled and after the cast of characters were displayed, came two simple words by way of a dedication that broke my heart, ‘For Jim’.

As a footnote, upon finishing this blog post, I was delighted to see that this movie is #20 on Rotten Tomatoes ‘The 200 Best Romantic Comedies Of All Time’:


StoryNicole Holofcener
CastJulia Louis-Dreyfus, as Eva
James Gandolfini, as Albert
Catherine Keener, as Marianne
Toni Collette, as Sarah
DirectorNicole Holofcener
Running Time94 mins

It’s a Sin

Spoiler Note:

I haven’t included any spoilers of plot points in the below, the following is just an overview and my feelings with regards to the show.  However, if you’d prefer to come into this show with few expectations then please avoid reading until after you’ve seen it all.

Links to information on HIV/AIDS

One of the most widely anticipated shows of late, with a lot of hype months prior to its airing comes ‘It’s a Sin’ by Russell T. Davies.  As such, there is a huge weight of expectation and Russell must have felt an enormous amount of responsibility in relating a period of recent British history that hasn’t previously been told in any significant way.  Many depictions of the AIDS crisis have been told from the American perspective with ‘Angels in America’, ‘Philadelphia’, ‘The Normal Heart’, ‘Longtime Companion’, ‘Pedro’ etc. but not of what it was like in the UK.  Additionally, the UK had its own ignominious element with the government legislation, Section 28, that added another layer of discrimination to an already marginalised group then having to cope with the trauma of what became to be known as ‘The Gay Plague’.

I have to admit, there were elements of the first episode I didn’t like, some parts of it felt wrong to me – but having now seen it all, I know that I came to this with some of my own baggage.  I was a bit afraid of watching it, afraid of how it would make me feel and afraid of what memories and feelings it would evoke.  That’s why good drama is good, it challenges you and moves you and boy does this move you. I grew up during the time the show is set and I’m just about the generation behind it so I was a teenager at school when it happened; coming to terms with being gay and then having this splashed across every part of the media, was pretty challenging. 

The show is largely set in London and takes place over a decade, 1981 to 1991, and it feels a very different show at the beginning than how it does at the end, almost unbearably so as the weight of it all gradually builds up and bears down.  The story follows a group of friends who find each other at university and in the gay scene; it’s then on these young people to navigate safely through society and those around them whilst also being young and everything that entails, and then in late 1981 along comes HIV/AIDS. None of the gay characters are out to their parents or in their subsequent workplaces as this was a time when it was not uncommon to be ostracised by your family and (legally) dismissed by your employer. In the absence of family support, they create their own family filled with friends.

I would say the closest this comes, if I were to make a comparison, is to Larry Kramer’s ‘The Normal Heart’ though ‘It’s a Sin’ isn’t quite as political (understandable given that ‘The Normal Heart’ is about a Larry Kramer character).  One character, Jill, becomes an early advocate for HIV awareness, there’s mention of Section 28 and Thatcher and also a demonstration later on (that’s shown in the trailer) but more than that this is a deeply personal story that depicts how it was for many in the LGBTQ+ community living in London during this time.  Even though I’m fairly well educated on this subject, I found some of the elements depicting how people were treated very shocking; the widespread, institutional, lack of humanity, borne out of fear and ignorance is awful to see in practice. A few early scenes in both ‘Heart’ and ‘Sin’, portray the treatment of early patients in hospital, it’s unspeakably tragic.

Another unique part of history that this show depicts is the trauma faced by the LGBTQ+ community during this time.  In no other modern period of peacetime was it ever normal for people in their 20’s to attend (or as was also not uncommon, to be excluded from) the funerals of so many of their close friends and lovers. Without doubt, this has left a permanent mark on the entire generation that lived through it. The current pandemic will undoubtedly leave a huge impact on our society for decades to come, but the difference is that we’re all in this together. The LGBTQ+ community was ignored and left to deal with it themselves for years before anyone in government even mentioned it.

In film and television, very often gay characters, especially lead characters in LGTBQ+ stories are been played by non-LGBTQ+ actors.  As with ‘Uncle Frank’, for example, and I don’t often have a problem with that decision if I take each film as a separate entity.  However, with the casting of ‘It’s a Sin’ being exclusively that of gay actors playing gay roles, I can see that this proactive decision provides a palpable and undeniable authenticity. It does seem that the ideal situation on every level is to attain that level of authenticity.

The casting choices work not just on that level but also in the blend of new and established actors with many of the lead characters being played by new actors; Callum Scott-Howells as Colin (in many ways I felt a very close affinity to Colin), Nathaniel Curtis as Ash and Omari Douglas as Roscoe.  Olly Alexander, of ‘Years and Years’ has also not done a lot of acting before this, but you wouldn’t know it, it’s a flawless, defiant, tough, confident, heart-breaking performance.

The established actors, Neil Patrick Harris, Stephen Fry, Tracy Ann Oberman, Keeley Hawes and Shaun Dooley are all perfect and there isn’t a hint of them overplaying what they’re given.  It feels like a democratic, ensemble piece with zero ego. Keeley Hawes had arguably the most difficult, complex, emotionally charged character to portray, that of Ritchie’s Mum, to say more could spoil it, so I’ll leave it there…

Perhaps, the standout is Lydia West as Jill, a character inspired by a friend of Russell T. Davies’.  Jill carries the emotional weight of the story that never seems to be too much for her to bear.  She’s confident and loving from the very first episode then as time progresses, she finds a life and purpose that she wasn’t looking for but to which her natural kindness and empathy makes her perfectly suited; fighting for and caring for others.

Given the expectation of this show and what it would mean for so many that lived through this period, the responsibility is borne exceptionally. This is a seminal work that will be talked about by many and also studied by students of LGBTQ+ history for years to come.

Further Information

NetworkChannel 4 / HBO Max
CastOlly Alexander, as Ritchie Tozer
Lydia West, as Jill Baxter
Nathaniel Curtis, as Ash Mukherjee
Omari Douglas, as Roscoe Babatunde
Callum Scott Howells, as Colin Morris-Jones
SeasonLimited Series (2021): 5 episodes

Uncle Frank

Partially inspired by Writer/Director Alan Ball’s own family history, ‘Uncle Frank’ is a coming out story. 

Frank comes from a fairly large Southern family; having removed himself from it to study and then live and work in New York, he only returns to South Carolina for big family events where he’s met with brooding hostility from his father and with fascination from his niece Beth.  This story is told mostly from Beth’s perspective as she takes a similar path to her uncle, not feeling like she quite fits in at home and encouraged by Frank, follows him to New York to study.

Frank is in his 40’s and over the decades has separated his life into compartments, he’s got his non-sexual/heterosexual family part, his NYC professional part then his friends & lover part.  All kept strictly apart, and for good reason; until relatively recently, this is something everyone in the LGBTQ+ had to do in order to survive and have a halfway decent life.

However, Beth is the catalyst that throws chaos into that order moving from his family life into his NYC life, and then into his personal life dragging aspects from one through everything else.  A family event that happens back home goes on to further blur the lines of his separate lives when Frank, his lover, and Beth have to undertake a car journey from New York back to South Carolina.  It’s a literal and metaphorical journey with the destination being the family crucible.

This feels like a necessary catharsis for anyone in the LGBTQ+ community.  Sadly, as with much LGBTQ+ film and television, there is a lot of sadness and tragedy, it being set mainly in the early 1970’s in the American South adding its own dimension to that. However, there’s also a lot of humour, much joy and a great deal of love.

I felt that it said all the right things to its audience, people need reminding that it wasn’t very long ago that homophobia was socially and legally acceptable in every part of society.  It’s less the case now, but it’s still pretty bad and in many places it’s as bad as it can be and I think people sometimes get comfortable and complacent.   This story begins within my own lifetime and I know prejudice like this exists now in many places but it’s still shocking and sobering to see just how things were for many people.  Homophobia is a fairly unique prejudice in that it gives the subject the option of hiding; hiding what makes them different or living their genuine life openly and freely; this could sound like a blessing, but it’s always a curse.

I’m writing this having watched episode 3 of ‘It’s a Sin’ by Russell T. Davies. Set from 1981 to 1991, it tells the story of a group of friends, mainly gay, living in London during the outbreak of the AIDS pandemic.  It’s interesting to see ‘Uncle Frank’ in the context of ‘It’s a Sin’ and ‘The Normal Heart’ where Frank has to deal with intolerance, shame, and illegality pre the era where all that has a deadly disease thrown all over the top of it to make each of those components magnitudes worse.  It’s like you know there’s a monster coming that’s going to kills millions of people and there’s not a thing you can do about it.

The cast of this movie is superb.  There’s a bit of a debate lately as to whether straight actors should be playing gay characters and I understand the concern but sometimes it just depends on whether the actor can do the role justice.  I thought Paul Bettany, as Frank, was exceptionally good in this, I believed in him.  Sophia Lillis, as Beth, was equally as good and remarkably self-assured given her relative inexperience to the rest of the cast, people like Steve Zahn, Judy Greer and Stephen Root.  The other outstanding performance here was that of Margo Martindale as Franks’ Mammaw.  I’m growing to really love Margo Martindale, having seen her play such great roles in ‘The Good Wife’ and ‘Mrs America’, she’s never in things quite enough, I always want to see more.

StoryScreenplay by Alan Ball
CastPaul Bettany, as Frank Bledsoe
Sophia Lillis, as Beth Bledsoe
Peter Macdissi, as Walid ‘Wally’ Nadeem
Steve Zahn, as Mike Bledsoe
Judy Greer, as Kitty Bledsoe
Margo Martindale, as Mammaw
Stephen Root, as Daddy Mac
DirectorAlan Ball
Running Time95 mins


Pixar always manages to go above and beyond what you’d expect from an animated PG movie.  From their very first, ‘Toy Story’, Pixar movies have told stories about what it means to be alive; the central theme isn’t about finding romantic love but instead is about the relationships we have with our family, our friends and ourselves.  In recent years, Pixar has delved deeper into the human condition and looked at how we face death with movies like ‘Up’, ‘Coco’, ‘Onward’ and now ‘Soul’.

‘Soul’ is the story of part-time music teacher Joe Gardner who’s dream it is to play jazz professionally.  As with ‘Up’, the story is set up beautifully within the first few minutes, we see Joe at his job, we see his relationship with his mother and we understand what drives him, and right before the titles roll, we see Joe get the break that he’s been longing for before walking into the street and (presumably) plunging to his death down an open manhole.

The afterlife, or as is here, the in-between, is often portrayed in movies as a celestial bureaucracy, think of ‘Beetlejuice’, ‘Defending Your Life’, ‘Heaven Can Wait’ or ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ with the common theme of a mistake, a loophole, someone attempting to cheat the system.  Clearly, ‘Soul’ has borrowed imagery and themes from ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ including the classic stairway to heaven and the rendering of the afterlife as simplistic and flat with life being portrayed as being full and beautiful – it’s the antithesis of the depiction of the colourful fantasy, dream world of ‘Oz’ and the mundanity of life for Dorothy in black-and-white Kansas.

As an aside, Powell & Pressburger movies have provided artistic inspiration to others for many decades later. One such example being where ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ unashamedly lifts the scene from ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ where the pilot is being comforted by his love interest via radio as he crashes to his (presumed) death.

However, ‘Soul’ goes one step further and similar to another Pixar movie, ‘Inside Out’, ‘Soul’ (same director) throws in some complex psychological, philosophical theories to flesh out the bureaucratic aspect. Hopefully, this doesn’t make it sound dull or to complex, for me it makes it more interesting and adds another, optional layer to engage with.

After the opening titles, the rest of the movie concerns itself with Joe’s journey through (and quest to get out of) this theoretical in-between existence where he meets various bureaucrats of a varying degree of officiousness.  He also encounters the other souls in various stages of development looking to be deployed; one of these is a reluctant soul who’s been there an eternity, numbered 22 out of however many billion.

Part of the fun for me with animated movies is hearing the well-known voices and trying to guess who they are.  As usual, with Pixar, there’s a mix of the very famous and the relatively niche; Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey, Graham Norton and Richard Ayoade.

We’d watched ‘Onward’ a couple of months before this and emotionally that had a more instant, harder punch.  ‘Soul’ is a slow burner that gets right inside and stays with you a long time afterwards, which I guess is the whole point.

StoryScreenplay and story by Pete Docter, Mike Jones & Kemp Powers
CastJamie Foxx, as Joe Gardner
Tina Fey, as 22
Graham Norton, as Moonwind
Phylicia Rashad, as Libba
Angela Bassett, as Dorothea
DirectorPete Docter & Kemp Powers
Running Time106 mins

Tales from the Loop

Possibly the most under-rated drama of the past few years, this is one of the most beautifully thoughtful series I’ve seen in a very long time; the kind of show that stays with you for a very long time after watching.

Set in the fictional town of Mercer, Ohio in the Midwest United States, the Loop is a facility at its very heart, like a town near a coal mine or a car manufacturer, everyone has some kind of relationship with it.  It’s never really clear what the Loop is but its work is connected to the large, rusting, metal monolithic objects of unknown origin that are scattered randomly around the town’s outskirts.  It may sound a bit ambiguous and there’s some suspension of disbelief required, as with most science fiction, but the objects are there to move the story forward rather than be the focus of it, as Hitchcockian McGuffins.

One of the joys with this series is the use of sci-fi to forward the story, sometimes you’re not entirely sure what’s going on and then the realisation slowly dawns as to what’s happening and what’s caused it.  It’s then that the humanity fleshes out the story and the consequences become real and relatable.  They use science fiction as a backdrop to some fundamentally human stories that question everything about who we are and how we deal with the world around us.

It can be too slow for some people, especially if you’re into fast-paced Marvel-type shows, which I am as well but I love the slow-burners too.  I fondly remember watching ‘Paris, Texas’ as a student and old documentaries like ‘Nanook of the North’ when I did my Film Studies degree (Loop isn’t quite THAT slow).   I fear that those people who did give this a try, gave up after the first episode.  You could be forgiven for thinking the episodes are entirely separate tales but there are connections that weave delicately through from the first, through each episode, to the very end.  It’s an almost magical first episode but taken as a standalone, I can see that people might not want to continue for possibly more of the same.

The casting is very carefully constructed to suit the themes and environment, with the skills of the actors creating a beautiful array of relatable characters.  Jonathan Pryce plays Russ, the founder of the Loop and so he is not only at the heart of the facility but the character from who all the other characters branch out from.  Jonathan is a wonderful actor who I always look forward to seeing (will be interesting to see him play Prince Philip in ‘The Crown’!).   Aside from him, I’d seen Jane Alexander in ‘The Good Wife’ and the brilliant ‘Modern Love’; Paul Schneider as Mark in ‘Parks & Rec’; Tyler Barnhardt as Charlie in ’13 Reasons Why’; Lauren Weedman as Doris in the incredibly good ‘Looking’.

As an ensemble, they work flawlessly, and the younger actors especially give exceptional performances and thrive at those times when the story rests solely upon their shoulders.  The main stand-out performance for me, was Ato Essandoh, as Gaddis.  Not wanting to reveal too much of the plot, but as with other characters we see short glimpses of him in episodes before getting to the one that centres on him.  I felt that as an actor, he had the most difficult of roles to portray in terms of its diversity and complexity.

The series is inspired by the work of Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag https://www.simonstalenhag.se/ and the production team have done a magnificent job in bringing his art to life; looking at the art is like looking at stills from the series. Simon has produced two further works following from this ‘Things from the Flood’ and ‘The Electric State’; I sincerely hope that Amazon commission these two for further series.

A further element to this series is the beautiful score by Philip Glass and Paul Leonard-Morgan.  As is usual for Glass, this is wonderfully minimalistic and adds an almost meditative, somnambulistic, other-worldly feeling.  At times, it soars as if to reach into the very heart of you to heighten the emotion of the story, at others, it sits there, as it should, and holds our collective hand as we watch.

As an aside, if you’re working from home, for whatever reason, you can do worse than to put the soundtrack on in the background to help you concentrate.  I’ve found it an invaluable addition to my new working life:

If you take anything away from this is, give it a go! And if you gave it a go and fell at the first hurdle, give it another go!

NetworkAmazon Prime Video
CastDaniel Zolghadri, as Jakob
Rebecca Hall, as Loretta
Paul Schneider, as George
Ato Essandoh, as Gaddis
Duncan Joiner, as Cole
Jonathan Pryce, as Russ
SeasonS1 (2020): 8 episodes

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist

This show has heart, a whole big load of it and something we really need right now is a show about empathy, in a big, overblown, musical number kind of way.

Zoey Clarke is a programmer for a tech-firm in San Francisco.  Her father is very ill and she’s concerned it may be inherited so to set her mind at ease goes for an MRI.  She’s nervous so the technician gives her some music to listen to but as soon as she’s in the machine, the city has one of its infamous minor quakes.  One improbable plot device later and Zoey gains the power of ultra-empathy as the innermost thoughts of people around her are performed to her as song and dance numbers.  At first, it’s anyone she comes across but later on it, thankfully, gets more focussed on her nearest and dearest.

The obvious comparison is to ‘Glee’ but it’s got a bit of an ‘Ugly Betty’ in there with the melodrama toned down somewhat.  It’s big on the feel-good factor and I’ve shed more than a few tears at some of the lovely, touching moments.

The message of this show is that you never know what someone else is going through.  You see what they want you to see, or what you choose to see.  People have problems they can’t express because they’re held back by shame or pride and it just takes one person to ask them how they’re feeling to make a difference.

Obviously, as with anyone new to having powers, Zoey is shocked, bemused and overwhelmed but as each episode passes, she learns to deal with it and with some help, she learns that she can help others in a big way through small gestures.

I love a musical and they’re executed superbly here, the choreographer of the show being one Mandy Moore.  Some of the singing has that over-produced Glee quality and I’m not sure if all the actors are singing their parts but given that the show relies heavily on a fantasy element, it doesn’t matter.  There are some genuine laugh out loud moments when a character will suddenly burst into song, and in some of the song choices.

One of the cute touches in this show is that Zoey has terrible musical knowledge, she’s rarely heard of any of the songs being sung to her and she doesn’t have much of a clue of any of the artists’ names.  Maybe this is where it’s also really clever in that she’s properly listening to what the person is saying without having anything filtered out by an emotional attachment to any of the songs.

To help in deciphering some of the messages, and telling her what the actual songs are, is Zoey’s across-the-hall neighbour Mo, who played by Alex Newell is a revelation.  Their first appearance comes right at the start of the show and they just drop straight into the role of fun, witty sidekick but as we later learn, there’s a lot more going on with Mo.

The rest of the regular supporting cast is outstanding, having binge-watched seven seasons of ‘The Gilmore Girls’, as well as the special, I’m always going to have a soft spot for Lauren Graham.  Here she plays Zoey’s’ spikey boss, Joan.

Mary Steenburgen, as always is lovely, and here she’s Zoey’s Mum, Maggie Clark with Peter Gallagher as her Dad, Mitch. He’s battling a degenerative neurological disease, Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP), so it’s hard for him to communicate but as the show progresses, and with Zoey’s new power, we come to hear him with as much clarity as we do anyone else.   This core of the story is how Zoey and her family deal with Mitch’s declining condition and it’s based on the show’s creator Austin Winsbergs’ experience with his own father.

Everyone else is pretty much unknown (to me) but her office crush Simon, played by John Clarence Stewart and her co-worker/friend, Max (Skylar Astin) play a couple of very sweet, handsome guys.  There’s a fascinating and very complicated interplay between these three characters as Zoey isn’t sure which one she likes more, or does she like both equally, or both equally but in different ways, or…. It gets complicated.

I also really enjoyed the occasional cameo from some recognisable faces: Justin Kirk (Angels in America), Renee Elise Goldsberry (The Good Wife) and the ubiquitously awesome Bernadette Peters.

If I were to try to categorise this show, I would say it was a musical / superhero / comedy / drama.  At the time of writing, this hasn’t yet been renewed for a second season, but needless to say, I hope it is.

NetworkNBC / Netflix
CastJane Levy, as Zoey Clarke
Skylar Astin, as Max
Alex Newell, as Mo
John Clarence Stewart, as Simon
Peter Gallagher, as Mitch Clarke
Mary Steenburgen, as Maggie Clarke
Lauren Graham, as Joan
SeasonS1 (2020): 12 episodes

Normal People

Based on the successful book by Sally Rooney, this adaption, co-scripted by Rooney, tells the tale of Connell and Marianne.   Growing up in the Irish town of Sligo, they’ve known each other since they were 12 but only really begin to interact after Connell’s mum goes to work for Marianne’s mum as a cleaner.  Connell is quiet, thoughtful and popular; Marianne, is intelligent, assertive but alienates people and so is friendless.  Connell is pretty much the only other person that interacts with Marianne in any positive way and in her inimitably assertive way, she declares that she ‘likes him’ in the first episode.   They then embark on a secret affair, the secrecy is a destructive choice made by Connell out of fear of being judged by his friends for going out with the unpopular girl, and Marianne goes along with it out of fear of being rejected.

The story takes us from their last year of school to their last year at college and it’s as much of an emotional rollercoaster as you’re likely to go on.  The story has its very dark times but there are lighter moments and also ones of great beauty.  Some very complex issues are addressed such as the mental health of young men, domestic abuse and explorations of sexuality.   It’s in looking at these issues that this series excels, some of the scenes are heart-breaking and go right into your core to make you connect deeply with the characters.  They don’t seem like plot devices or the ‘issue of the week’, they seem like problems we all have, or easily could have.

Having watched endless movies and tv shows, read many books and listened to many songs, we’ve been conditioned into thinking that most relationships are between two fairly well-balanced people.  Often there’s some kind of quirk, or obstacle, but that’s overcome and usually there’s a positive resolution.   About halfway through this series I realised I was watching a story portraying real people, normal people.  Real people are fucked up, they have issues, they make mistakes.  Most people are fundamentally decent and have the best intentions, but emotional baggage, trauma and peer pressure throw bumps into our paths that prevent us from reaching the end in one perfect piece.

I guess one of the more controversial aspects of this show is in its depiction of sexuality.  I’ve never seen it as deftly, respectfully and so intimately portrayed as it is here. The tenderness in some scenes is palpable and stops just before it becomes intrusive or lurid so that we’re left with a deeper understanding of the protagonists.  Those scenes drive the story forward rather than becoming the reason for watching.

The two leads, Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal both give incredible performances that make me excited to see what they’ll do next.   They imbue the characters with the truth required to tell the story of these two complicated individuals.  Marianne comes across as spikey and unlikeable (but cuttingly witty) when we first meet her but then we quickly gain some understanding and then fall in love with her.  Callum is a character you fall in love with instantly and that grows as the series progresses.  This isn’t to say they’re perfect, they really aren’t but despite the mistakes, the bad choices, the careless words or actions, they are a couple of good young people.

Aside from the two leads, I thought the character of Connell’s Mum, Lorraine played by Sarah Greene was the other outstanding role in this series.  Through her, you see why Connell is so morally grounded, she’s warm, loving and supportive of his choices but not afraid to put him right even if there’s a threat of alienating him.    Marianne’s mum, on the other hand, couldn’t be more different, and then there’s her brother…

The production of this show was impeccably done, there’s an idyllic quality to every location, from the home they repeatedly return to in Sligo to their lives at Trinity College in Dublin, to the house in Trieste, Italy and to Marianne’s year in Sweden.   The music is also perfectly chosen to suit every mood and is worth listening to in its own right as a soundtrack.

Normal People – The Soundtrack

One track that stood out for me, in episode two, was the appropriately titled ‘Hide and Seek’ by Imogen Heap as Connell and Marianne embark on their secretive relationship.  I recognised the tune and then the lyrics seemed familiar before it finally dawned on me that Matt Alber covered this on his 2008 album ‘Hide Nothing’, it was such a pleasure to hear this beautiful song in this beautiful story.  For those who don’t know Matt’s version, here it is:

Rather than binge-watch this, I wanted to enjoy it like you would a good meal or an expensive bottle of wine.  We watched it over the space of two weeks and in fact, I started watching it alone but by the second episode was so captivated that I got my partner to join me, so I watched it again from the start.    Having looked forward to every episode and just revelling in its beauty, I was enjoying the journey so much that I didn’t want it to end.  I was a little afraid that after all the brave storytelling there would be a ‘too-neat’ resolution but no, this is a masterclass in how to produce a satisfying resolution without resorting to tying everything up perfectly.

NetworkBBC / Hulu
CastDaisy Edgar-Jones, as Marianne Sheridan
Paul Mescal, as Connell Waldron
SeasonLimited Series (2020): 12 episodes


Judy Garland died before I was born; I’ve always found it fascinating that I would feel such an affinity with someone who didn’t exist in the world when I did.  I don’t know if this is a weird thought but to me, she’s someone I grew up with, she’s there in my earliest memories, I would call her ‘Judy Garden’ as I couldn’t get my tongue round the word ‘Garland’.  I was maybe 4 years old when I first saw ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and I was captivated, I’d never seen anything like it and I’d never heard anyone sing like THAT.

I’d always assumed that many people generally feel indifferent towards Judy, maybe a little fondness bound up with some childhood memories and those that admired her greatly were in the minority.  It’s the reverse for gay men, at least for gay men over a certain age.  She exists in a collective unconscious where there is a genetic predisposition for us to be drawn to her, I know this is a generalisation as my partner is one person who’s never seen a Judy Garland movie the whole way through, but in the main, the affection for Judy is palpable whenever you mention her name.

Some may say that gay men are drawn to tragic figures: the substance abuse, the multiple marriages to men who would let her down, the early death and the regret at not being able to save her.  But, for me at least, I was too young to know any of that or what it meant, I just saw this young girl singing from her the depths of her soul about a place in her dreams where she yearned to escape to, my love pre-existed the cliché.  I didn’t know what gay was, I guess I knew I was different and that there were times when I didn’t fit in to what was expected that a little boy would like or enjoy doing but I was drawn to worlds of fantasy and the idea of being able to reach somewhere over the rainbow beguiled me.

When I was a little older I saw the extravaganza that was ‘Easter Parade’, then some years later, ‘Meet Me In St Louis’ where she sang about ‘The Boy Next Door’ and then ‘A Star is Born where she sang about ‘The Man That Got Away’.  Her performance in ‘A Star is Born’ is the defining role of her adult career, her portrayal of Vicki Lester is so raw and painful, her voice the best that it ever was.

A few years ago, I heard a theory that Judy Garland’s death was the spark that ignited the Stonewall riots.  The overwhelming grief combined with the continual harassment and persecution proved to be too much and caused the LGBTQ community to finally fight back and say enough!  The dates certainly fit, Judy Garland’s funeral was held on Friday, June 27 1969 and in the early hours of Saturday June 28 1969, the NYPD raided the Stonewall bar, for the second time that week.   I don’t know if the connection is real and I don’t know if it matters but as an apocryphal event it’s entered into a gay mythology where the love for Judy Garland sparked a movement that fought for the equal rights of a downtrodden section of society, for those people that loved her the most.

The movie of Judy Garlands’ last months, ‘Judy’, was released in late 2019.  Based partly on the stage play ‘The End of the Rainbow’, it shows Judy coming to London to perform live shows at the Talk of the Town nightclub, now the Hippodrome, off Leicester Square.

With a few flashbacks to her days on ‘The Wizard of Oz’ set and on a fake date with Mickey Rooney, we see her as a vulnerable teenager being emotionally manipulated, and drugged, by the powerful studio she worked for.  The personification of this manipulation comes in the overbearing form of Louis B. Mayer. His threatening behaviour strikes alarming parallels with Harvey Weinstein and you see that little has changed in the past 80 years, though hopefully now, the brave women of the ‘Me Too’ movement have helped consign this dark chapter to history.

This is perhaps the iconic performance of a lifetime for Renée Zellweger, the physical transformation is perfect, the dark eyes, the hair, the costumes but the biggest homage to Judy comes when Renée sings.   When Judy arrives at the club for her first night, she’s all but physically pushed on to the stage by her PA and starts in on a lengthy chat as she engages with her audience for the first time. We’re unsure that she’s going to be able to pull this off, she’s clearly unsure of it herself, we’ve just seen her crumpled and coughing backstage.  But then she begins to sing, ‘By Myself’, and it’s like someone pressed the on switch, she instinctively knows how to do it, she’s been doing it for over 40 years.

Judy Garland has one of those voices that you instantly recognise, there’s an indefinable quality laying underneath it and Renée gets it down perfectly.  She isn’t mimicking her, or parodying her, you can hear it’s Renee Zellweger singing but you hear Judy Garland coming through as well. I found a really cool clip on where Renée Zellweger and Rupert Goold, the director break down this scene:

This movie is a love letter to Judy, you see how flawed and flaky she is, how unreliable and temperamental she is but you also see why and how this happened and that she really didn’t stand a chance.  She never comes across as mean or spiteful and the times where she crumbles as a helpless victim are counterbalanced with shows of strength and compassion.

Of one of the things that I learnt from this movie, one really struck a chord with me, I learnt that Judy was the same age as me when she died; she could still be alive today at 97 when you think that Olivia de Havilland is still with us at 103.  At 47, she had achieved so much and yet she was still a young woman who had the potential to achieve more had she chosen to, and to enjoy the rest of her life in her own terms.

Another aspect of Judy that I hadn’t fully appreciated before was the depth of her love for her children, something that is all the more poignant given the lack of any care from her own parents.  She loved singing and when she performed, she entered some kind of ethereal state but ultimately, her work was a means to provide for her children.  You can see the bond she has with them in this interview with Barbara Walters from 1967:

Perhaps the most powerful scene in the movie, undoubtedly fictitious but with a sense of authenticity, is when Judy meets a gay couple at the stage door and ends up going home with them.  Judy is clearly everything to them and for one night their idol becomes their best friend.  I found it powerful because it’s the one scene that really acknowledges her indelible connection with the gay community. As one of the guys plays the piano while she sings, he begins to sob; for him this is not only because this is a dream come true but it’s from the relief that comes when you’ve nothing left at the end of a struggle.

“They hound people in this world, anyone that’s different.
Well to hell with them.”

One of the things that I’m grateful to this movie for is reminding me of how I feel about Judy now and how I felt about her growing up.  It’s a fitting tribute to her and for the people who love her.  It’s awesome, and no surprise, that Renée won the Best Actress Oscar for this role, but it’s also poignant and touching given that Judy Garland never won this accolade herself.  It’s as if she’s been given a second chance and this film brings her that final piece of recognition.

“You won’t forget me, will you? Promise you won’t.”

StoryScreenplay by Tom Edge, based on ‘End of the Rainbow’ by Peter Quilter
CastRenee Zellweger, as Judy Garland
Jessie Buckley, as Rosalyn Wilder
Finn Wittrock, as Mickey Deans
DirectorRupert Goold
Running Time118 mins

Raising Dion

Using a mostly unknown cast, this superhero, sci-fi, romantic, scary series succeeds on every level.  Dion and his mum Nicole live in Atlanta and from the first scene, we find out that Dion has developed some super powers.  What sets this apart from your typical superhero movie is love at its very heart; the bond between Dion (Ja’Siah Young) and Nicole (Alisha Wainwright) is beautiful to watch.  Nicole is a former party girl with a talent and a promising career who just happens to fall in love, have a baby then lose her husband.  At certain points, this show sets aside the superhero stuff and we see how Nicole is coping, what she’s feeling and what she’s dreaming about. We see her not just as a mother but as a young woman.

Ja’Siah Young perfectly encapsulates what you might expect from a 7 year old who’s just discovered he can make things fly with his mind (among other things) – he’s scared but he’s also REALLY excited.

Besides Ja’Siah, the young talent in this show is outstanding and special mention goes to Sammi Haney as Dion’s friend Esperanza. I fell in love with her so much, she’s fearless, pragmatic, wise and really funny. This is her first acting role, stealing every scene, she drops some properly funny quips. One lovely touch is that Sammy’s real Dad, Matt, also appears very briefly in the show as her characters’ Dad.

It feels like a show imbued with integrity and unexpectedly for a show in this particular genre, themes of race, disability and sexuality are also touched on, and very deftly handled. There were some issues raised that hadn’t ever occurred to me, and it’s evident that these parts of human life need sharing in a variety of accessible ways to increase understanding.

It seems commonplace now to say this about television these days but the production values are the same as you’d expect from a movie. The SFX are especially stunning and create fantastic things that look real; the choice of music throughout is perfect as well. The piano reprise of Lauren Daigle’s ‘You Say’ while Nicole dances on her own is just beautiful.

Michael B. Jordan (Creed / Black Panther) produces this series as well as appearing in a supporting role as Dion’s father, Mark. In the flashbacks to before the incident that takes him from his family, he has perfect chemistry with Alisha Wainwright and Ja’Siah Young. This is a burgeoning family that we care about really quickly and so the later separation becomes more poignant.

Jason Ritter (I was big fan of his Dad, John) is dependably good as Mark’s friend and colleague, and latterly the ever-reliable shoulder for Nicole and Dion. I’d only seen Jason in the short-lived ‘The Event’ (which I’d really enjoyed).

I’m very much looking forward to season two.

CastAlisha Wainwright, as Nicole Reese
Ja’Siah Young, as Dion Warren
Jason Ritter, as Pat Rollins
Michael B. Jordan, as Mark Warren
Sammi Haney, as Esperanza Jiminez
SeasonS1 (2019): 9 episodes

The Good Wife

It begins and ends with a slap!

I remember seeing a trailer for the first season of ‘The Good Wife’ on Channel 4 in 2010. It looked like an interesting new show, a bit of a different take on the courtroom dramas like ‘LA Law’ that I grew up watching – also I was a big ‘Sex and the City fan’ so having Mr Big in it was a big draw. But for some reason, I didn’t give it a go and as the years rolled on, it kept going, and the episode count ratched up to a point where I didn’t feel inclined to invest that much time in it.

However, when I saw it appear on Amazon Prime and I had some time to spare on my daily commute, I thought I’d give it a go. And so with my physical journeys to and from work, came the metaphorical journey of Alicia Florrick from loyal, mousy wife to independent woman and legal powerhouse.

156 episodes (and 6 months) later (approx. 120 hours of television), I have to say that there is something very special about this show. As with other legal dramas, there’s often one case to focus on per episode with a some long and slow-burning storylines layered underneath. I enjoyed the variety and contemporary nature of the cases as well with a lot of them dealing with new technologies, social media, political/security issues and a big chunk of episodes later on focussed on state sanctioned snooping.

There’s also sense of humour here that I really loved. It’s not hugely different or massively originally but the writing and time taken to explore character is something I don’t feel is achieved as well very often. The strength of this show comes through its female characters:

At the very top of this show is Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart – I always feel like I’ve never seen enough of her, she’s in this a lot and I love every moment of her on screen but I could always see more. In the 90’s, I used to watch Christine playing Maryann in the Cybil Shephard vehicle ‘Cybil’ and back then she stole every scene.

Diane is one of the most liberal-minded people you’ll find but ruthless when backed into a corner. She never seems to be afraid of having her principles challenged but often finds those principles strengthened as a result. It was good to see such a formidable character also show such vulnerability at times, never seeming to be forced or intentional.

Archie Panjabi as Kalinda Sharma – Our friends named their cat ‘Calinda’ after this character years before I’d seen the show so I thought it was just because it was a nice, unusual name. Kalinda though, is not what you’d call ‘nice’, she’s a law unto herself, take-no-prisoners kind of character and even when she lets someone in, she never really gives herself totally to them. Her friendship with Alicia is perhaps where we see her at her most vulnerable, especially when that relationship is put in jeopardy by something from her past that gets brought into the present. As with Christine, I loved watching every second of Archie on screen.

Carrie Preston as Elsbeth Tascioni – Only in 14 of the 156 episodes, this character is by far the best of the recurring supporting roles. She is totally on a another planet but she has a brilliant, legal mind that gets straight to the heart of every case way before anyone else. You can almost see the lightbulb ping on above her head while everyone else is still scratching theirs.

Lastly, there’s Julianna Margulies as Alicia Florrick. The evolution of this character arcs over the 156 episodes and there isn’t a point where she’s finished developing – as soon as you think she’s settled, something happens and she (and we) re-evaluate and adapt again. Fundamentally, her integrity never wavers, she makes a few suspect choices but her motivation is always to do the right thing, to be the good person yet being a good wife is a bit of a misnomer.

Alicia is really put through it and often she reacts by dusting herself off and getting on with life.  On a couple of occasions, it all builds up to be too much and on one occasion in Season 5 her reaction felt drawn out and self-indulgent.  However, there’s one scene halfway through the last season where Alicia completely breaks down in front of her friend with a monologue that is powerfully, brutally honest and heartbreaking.

And then there’s the guys…

Matt Czuchry as Cary Agos – I first saw Matt in ‘The Gilmore Girls’ (another binge-job) where he played the unlikeable, to me, Logan Huntzberger.  I’m not sure we were meant to like him, he was rich, arrogant, and fundamentally, he wasn’t Dean or Jess.  So when I saw him in ‘The Good Wife’, I was hoping he was just a passing character.  But nope, he’s in it right the way through, and I ended up being really glad he was.  Cary is a funny one to pin point, it’s like he’s Logan if he’d made better decisions.  He starts off as pretty unlikeable and unsympathetic but retrospectively, I think we can put that down to youth and ambition, but as he gains confidence and the respect of his peers, he develops into a really decent person.

Alan Cumming as Eli Gold – Alan is another eminently watchable actor, so I was really happy that he was in this from fairly early on right up to the very end. The character development is very subtle that it’s only when you finish the show and think back to the start do you realise how far he’s come, emotionally.

Josh Charles as Will Gardner – Definitely an Ally McBeal style storyline here (Ally & Billy) in broad strokes, from start to finish, except Will isn’t married to someone else. Will is an interesting character as some of his seedier choices get revealed later as the seasons progress. As with Diane, he’s a character wanting to be on the right side of a situation rather than always being able to do the right thing to get there.

Chris Noth as Mr Bi… sorry Peter Florrick – he is so burned into my memory as Mr Big that he does a sterling job in making me forget that most of the time.  Peter is Mr Big gone bad, mostly bad – he’s a good father and he wants to do the right thing, but he is totally, utterly unable to keep it in his pants.  And he seems to let those around him convince him into doing things professionally and politically that really aren’t going to pan out very well.

The number of guest actors is very impressive, and full of amazing character actors that you’ll have seen loads of times elsewhere:

F Murray Abraham (Amadeus), Morena Baccarin (Gotham), Jason Biggs (American Pie), Anna Camp, Stockard Channing (Grease), Kristin Chenoweth (Wicked), Gary Cole, Mike Colter (Luke Cage), Brian Dennehy, America Ferrera (Ugly Betty), Michael J Fox (that’s only Marty McFly!), Kurt Fuller, Peter Gallagher, Melissa George (Home & Away), Joanna Gleeson, Tony Goldwyn (Ghost) Matthew Goode, Mamie Gummer (Meryl’s daughter), Edward Herrmann & Kelly Bishop (Gilmore Girls), John Benjamin Hickey (The Big C), Eddie Izzard, Nathan Lane, Matthew Lillard, Christopher McDonald (Thelma & Louise), Kyle MacLachlan (Sex and the City), Marsha Mason (The Goodbye Girl), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen), Bebe Neuwirth (Frasier), Connie Nielson (Wonder Woman), Dennis O’Hare, David Paymer, Matthew Perry (Friends), Oliver Platt, Martha Plimpton, Parker Posey, Christina Ricci, Peter Riegert, Amy Sedaris, Wallace Shawn (The Princess Bride), Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent), Maura Tierney, Blair Underwood (LA Law), Titus Welliver, Vanessa Williams (Ugly Betty) & Rita Wilson (Mrs Hanks).

If I had another 120 hours to spare, I’d definitely watch this again. But for now, it’s on to ‘The Good Fight’…

NetworkCBS (watched on Amazon Prime Video)
CastJulianna Margulies, as Alicia Florrick
Matt Czuchry, as Cary Agos
Christine Baranski, as Diane Lockhart
Josh Charles, as Will Gardner
Archie Panjabi, as Kalinda Sharma
Alan Cumming, as Eli Gold
Chris Noth, as Peter Florrick
Season(s)S1 (2010): 23 episodes
S2 (2011): 23 episodes
S3 (2012): 22 episodes
S4 (2013): 22 episodes
S5 (2014): 22 episodes
S6 (2015): 22 episodes
S7 (2016): 22 episodes