What We’re Watching

Fleabag

I was inspired to watch this after my hopes were raised by the possibility that writer and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge was a decent bet for the next Doctor. Hopes, incidentally, that were expertly dashed by the news that the man from the BT broadband adverts, Kris Marshall – a man to whom I was once negatively compared in a Canterbury pub – is likely to fill the role.

Anyway, Fleabag sees a walking shambles of a thirty-odd year-old trying to navigate her way through life in the face of a struggling business, dead best friend and uncooperative family. It makes for disconcertingly familiar watching for anyone blundering their way through life like they’ve not got a clue what they’re supposed to be doing. If you’ve ever found yourself waking up in the back of a transit van, on bricks, abandoned in a municipal park, having slept on a set of step ladders (for instance) then the lead character’s ramshackle lack of refinement and slightly anarchic approach to life will raise a smile. It’s a warm and well-observed show that radiates a sense of authenticity.

It can get a little bit smug though, particularly as the series goes on. In the final couple of episodes I found the impish sense of mischief starting to wane and actively stared to hate each and every time Waller-Bridge broke the fourth wall; grinning at the audience with the haughty air of a restaurant concierge who’s just denied a shattered and soot-faced chimney sweep entrance to his bistro, even though the bloke has an appointment to give the fireplaces in the members’ smoking room a thorough once-over.

Master of None
Apparently not as late to the party with this one as I normally am, seeing as Season 2 hasn’t yet arrived on Netflix. Hold your applause though friends as I’m only about 8 episodes into this amiable and moderately amusing Aziz Ansari vehicle.

I’ve used the word “impish” in the previous segment, so I feel I’m unable to deploy it again without seeming like something of a fraud. Although, it does feel like the best adjective to use when reflecting on Ansari’s gently entertaining brand of “issuetainment”, and I’ve already deployed it while referring to it, so it’s staying.

Replicating some of the optimistic charm of his Parks and Recreation character, Ansari is relatable and dependably witty as a jobbing actor facing-down the challenges of daily life in an impersonal metropolis. Ansari is so obviously a nice, amusing and smart guy that his personal charm flows into the material to the extent that I don’t even begrudge the fact that his character, supposedly something of an everyman, plainly lives in a sumptuous palace and appears to have no lack of disposable income.

In some respects, this works well as a companion show to Fleabag as they, in pretty broad terms, touch upon some of the same themes. If there’s a fault to Master of None, it’s that the issue-focused nature of the narratives feel a little too on the nose. You almost expect Ansari’s character, Dev to turn to his friend and say: “You know what, buddy? I feel like I don’t do enough recycling.”

 

Threads

A genuinely alarming 1980’s BBC television drama that shows, in unflinching detail, the effects of nuclear war in Britain, this is vital watching for anyone who feels even slightly warmly towards the possibility of thermonuclear conflict.

Written by Barry Hines, chiefly famous for his novel A Kestrel for a Knave, Threads watches like a supremely violent kitchen sink drama not afraid to linger on the grimmest details as it portrays the aftermath of a nuclear strike on the city of Sheffield.

The drama focuses on the most unpleasant and distressing consequences of nuclear war, not limited to: a bomb blast so ferocious that everything at its epicentre, including human beings, suddenly bursts into flames; the hellish aftermath a nuclear winter in which food and water is so scarce that ostensibly middle class people resort to pawing at sheep guts to survive; and the debilitating existence of a world infected with radiation poisoning where crops routinely fail and babies are born mangled.

It’s so graphic and frightening that it makes you marvel that anything so shocking could ever find its way onto television. It really is bold and dramatic television-making with a fierce and admirable message. The whole thing is so chilling that the sight of South Yorkshire being destroyed is no fun whatsoever, even for a Lancastrian. A timely reminder of a time when the world was ruled by unreliable rulers and the possibility of an escalating nuclear conflict was a possibility.

 

 Never Rest
If, like myself, you grew up in the countryside, there’s a good chance you were subjected to the gruesome terror that was Never Rest, a farm safety video designed to scare rural children so shitless they wouldn’t even entertain the notion of playing around on a dangerous farmyard. I was regularly forced to watch this miniature horror movie between the ages of about 8 and 10 and am genuinely pleased as punch to find it in its entirety on YouTube.

Similar in many respects to the vastly more famous Apaches, the movie features a group of hot-headed youngsters coming a cropper in a variety of genuinely ghoulish ways. Pitching up at a farm, they find the defaced grave of its former owner, now dead for the best part of a century. A ruthless employer, the man was responsible for the deaths of a number of Victorian waifs, with history apparently repeating itself as this contemporary group of kids blithely mucks about with heavy duty farm machinery with little regard for their own safety.

It’s a pretty crude set-up and a thin excuse to show agricultural injury in horrible detail, but it provides plenty of opportunities to hammer home the message “don’t play in a grain silo” or “keep away from tractor wheels or clanking, spinning things that might tear your arm off.” It’s a reminder that sometimes, in the true spirit of George Bluth Sr, the best lesson a child needs is to be scared straight. If you get a kick out of Public Information Films or violent Look and Read style programming, it’s well worth your time.