Archive for TV Shows

Homeland Season One

Homeland Series 1 Cover Picture

Click on picture to buy DVD

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

From the opening credits Homeland is unsettling. There are flashing images and voice-overs of presidents, including President Obama. The  images and sounds are disturbing in the way they are juxtaposed Jazz and recorded warnings of terrorist attacks. Baby pictures, people fleeing the collapse of the Twin Towers and surreal images of the characters in mazes assault the eyes in quick succession – almost like blipverts.

Homeland is loosely based on the Israeli television series Hatufim (English: Prisoners of War) created by Gideon Raff . The first season follows Carrie Mathison, a CIA operations officer who has come to believe that Nicholas Brody, an U.S. Marine Sergeant, who was held captive by al-Qaeda as a prisoner of war, was turned by the enemy and now poses a significant threat to national security.

Homeland deals with complex psychological, political and moral issues. At the heart of the programme is the question of loyalty and betrayal. What is going on in the mind of Nicholas Brody? Has he turned against his government and people and if so why? Is he a hero, or a traitor?

Homeland doesn’t whitewash the US government. An important part of the story shows a cover-up of the deaths of scores of Arab children as a result of a drone attack gone wrong. The mistaken killing of Muslim worshipers and attempts at an FBI cover-up is also depicted. Homeland forces us to question the motivations behind decisions and the truth of statements issued by the  US government. No one watching Homeland would draw the conclusion that the US government was to be trusted when propagandising about the ‘war on terror’.

It’s not entirely clear who the ‘good guys’ are in Homeland. Both sides use torture and psychological manipulation to advance their aims. In general, however, it is the CIA operatives, Carrie and Saul who we are invited to identify with. Homeland starts from an understanding of issues from a US viewpoint (however critical). It never escapes that mindset by really seeking to understand the conflict from an Arab or Muslim perspective.

Like the plot the characters are subtle and complex. The central characters of Brodiy and Carrie are damaged people. Carrie suffers from bipolar disorder and eats nothing but unflavoured yogurt and Chinese take-out. She engages in high-risk behaviour and seems to have no life outside of her job. Brody behaves erratically and seems unable to relate to his family and friends anymore after years imprisoned in a hole. It seems that they are drawn to one another. Their relationship is unpredictable and it always seems as if at any point they might become allies rather than enemies. This is just one of the many layers of tension that makes Homeland so gripping.

It’s small wonder that this season received almost universal acclaim, scoring a Metacritic rating of 91 out of 100 from 28 critics. The series won both the Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series – Drama and the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series for this season. The finale episode of season one received 1.7 million viewers, making it the most-watched season finale of any first-year Showtime series.The series also performed well in the UK, where it aired on Channel 4, with the pilot episode drawing 3.10 million viewers, and the finale drawing 4.01 million viewers.
Homeland is watched in high circles too. President Obama lists it as one of his favourite shows. He invited British actor Damian Lewis, who plays Brody, to The White House. Lewis was polite to Obama, but in a Rolling Stone interview he said, “And by the way, for all the conventional wisdom that Bush was a warmonger and hawkish and that Obama is not, that he’s more dovish — you know, he has ordered more drone strikes in his first term than Bush did in his two terms. I think by a ratio of something like every one in four days, he orders a drone strike to Bush’s every one in 10 days when he was in office. It’s obviously his preferred method of attack, you know.”

This brings home the necessity of confronting the issues raised in Homeland. If we view Homeland as passive observers deriving only entertainment we miss an opportunity and continue to drift. Only by thinking deeply about the issues raised and using this and other representations in popular culture (for example Argo) as the starting point for discussion and debate can we hope to raise consciousness. If we don’t do this the conflict will become ever more bitter and we will be condemned to generations of fear and insecurity.

Main cast
•    Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison, a CIA operations officer
•    Damian Lewis as Nicholas Brody, a U.S. Marine platoon sergeant held by al-Qaeda as a prisoner of war for eight years.
•    Morena Baccarin as Jessica Brody, Nicholas Brody’s wife.
•    David Harewood as David Estes, the Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center. Diego Klattenhoff as Mike Faber, a U.S. Marine Captain.
•    Jackson Pace as Chris Brody, Nicholas Brody’s son.
•    Morgan Saylor as Dana Brody, Nicholas Brody’s daughter.
•    Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson, the CIA’s Middle-East Division Chief. Plot

•  Actors: Damian Lewis, Claire Danes, Morena Baccarin, Mandy Patinkin, David Harewood
•  Format: Box set, Full Screen, PAL
•  Language: English
•  Subtitles: English
•  Dubbed: None
•  Subtitles For The Hearing Impaired: English
•  Audio Description: None
•  Region: Region 2 (This DVD may not be viewable outside Europe. Read more about DVD formats.)
•  Aspect Ratio: 16:9 – 1.78:1
•  Number of discs: 4
•  Classification: 15
•  Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
•  DVD Release Date: 10 Sep 2012
•  Run Time: 651 minutes

Episode List:
•    Pilot
•    Grace
•    Clean Skin
•    Semper I
•    Blind Spot
•    The Good Soldier
•    The Weekend
•    Achilles Heel
•    Crossfire
•    Representative Brody
•    The Vest
•    Marine One

Leave a Comment

Call off the threats

The BBC has succeeded in gaining an impressive reputation: it’s respected around the world for its impartiality.  While other broadcasters like Rupert Murdoch’s Sky and Fox channels and Silvio Berlusconi are universally despised for their undoubted political biases, the BBC usually manages to get away with its claim o be a balanced and impartial broadcaster. This claim is not sustained by the facts as revealed by a former Director General of the BBC itself, Greg Dyke, in a speech to a fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrats’ annual conference, only reported by the Belfast Telegraph, the Glasgow Herald and the Guardian media correspondent Roy Greenslade.

In his speech, about MPs’ expenses, Dyke called for a commission to look into the “whole political system”, adding: “I fear it will never happen because I fear the political class will stop it.”

Dyke claimed that he had wanted to make big changes to the BBC’s political coverage but that these had been blocked..

“The evidence that our democracy is failing is overwhelming and yet those with the biggest interest in sustaining the current system – the Westminster village, the media and particularly the political parties, including this one – are the groups most in denial about what is really happening to our democracy…

  “I tried and failed to get the problem properly discussed when I was at the BBC and I was stopped, interestingly, by a combination of the politicos on the board of governors, one of whom [Sara Hogg] was married to the man who claimed for cleaning his moat, the cabinet interestingly – the Labour cabinet – who decided to have a meeting, only about what we were trying to discuss, and the political journalists at the BBC.

  “Why? Because, collectively, they are all part of the problem. They are part of one Westminster conspiracy. They don’t want anything to change. It’s not in their interests.”

He went on to claim that at the BBC,  “In the end, political journalists live in the  same narrow world as politicians do and they don’t see a need to change because they think it’s the world. They just don’t understand that out there it’s very different.”

That’s the hub of the problem.  The bias at the BBC is so ingrained, that it has become as natural as breathing to most of the journalists who work there. This was borne out by an impartiality seminar of BBC journalists hosted by former Desert Island Discs presenter Sue Lawley in 2006.  Andrew Marr admitted to the London Evening Standard that the BBC did not represent majority British opinion, saying, “The BBC is not impartial or neutral. It’s a publicly-funded, urban organisation with an abnormally large number of young people, ethnic minorities and gay people.

  “It has a liberal bias not so much a party-political bias. It is better expressed as a cultural liberal bias.”  Business presenter Jeff Randall told the same paper that he had  complained to a senior executive at the BBC about the corporation’s pro-multiculturalism stance. He claimed he was told: “The BBC is not neutral in multiculturalism, it believes in it and it promotes it.”

There is evidence that the prevailing ethos at the BBC at best disdains Christianity and seems to want to drive it from the public arena to the private sphere. According to the Evening Standard, Lawley’s seminar discussed a proposed episode of Room 101 in which Ali G would dump a copy of the Bible and the Quran. BBC executives were willing to dump one of these books but not the other.  Can you guess which one?

Former BBC newsreader Peter Sissons, blows the whistle on this in his recent book When One Door Closes. Sissons says, “What the BBC wants you, the public, to believe is that it has ‘independence’ woven into its fabric, running through its veins and concreted into its foundations. The reality, I discovered, was that for the BBC, independence is not a banner it carries ­principally on behalf of the listener or viewer.
“Rather, it is the name it gives to its ability to act at all times in its own best interests.”

You might ask, so what?  After all, we have the option of turning our television sets and radios off if we don’t like what we hear.  What does it matter if the BBC reflects the concerns of a self-affirming political liberal-leftist elite? We can watch other TV channels, tune in to other radio stations or access other news sources online.

That’s true, but the big difference is that we are required to pay for this source of biased news on pain of criminal prosecution. When I pay for a copy of The Guardian, I know what to expect; thoughtful left-liberal political analysis. I expect the Irish News to promote an Irish nationalist agenda, the News Letter to promote unionism and the Daily Express to come up with something new or bizarre about Princess Diana every couple of months. I expect pugnacious conservative populism in the Daily Mail and The Sun and unrepentant Stalinism in the Morning Star.  I pay my money and I take my choice.

No-one is going to send me a series of threatening letters saying that they have no record of me taking The Times and threatening me with court action if I don’t immediately go out and pay for the privilege of reading it whether I actually do so or not. I can choose to subscribe to newspapers, internet and cable or satellite television channels that reflect or challenge my political or religious opinions, prejudices and biases.  I cannot choose not to pay for the BBC and use a television set without risking being taken to court and fined or sent to prison.

We have become so used to this extraordinary state of affairs because we have grown up with it, but in fact it’s a crazy system. A private company acts as if it was some kind of public authority to demand payment with menaces for another private corporation; one that holds the view that the masses who do not share its left-liberal metropolitan views are to be treated with disdain or contempt.  Try ignoring letters from the TVLA and see how it ratchets up the threats and menacing language. Even better, if you have no television set, write and tell them so.  It makes no difference. The threatening letters soon resume.

It’s time for the BBC to put its money where its mouth is. I suspect that the Corporation might have to change its ways were it forced to rejoin the real world and pay its way like any other business.  The smug ‘we know best, so clear off’ response to viewers’ and listeners’ complaints might change if people were not treated as criminals should they decide to withhold payment of their TV licence fee.

Abolish the compulsion element in the licence and replace it with a voluntary subscription and quarterly fund-raising appeals and see what happens. That’s what happens in theUSwith American Public Radio and National Public Radio. Those who agree with the BBC’s political line or who like to be challenged by it will pay to receive BBC radio and television as their counterparts do inAmerica.  Those alienated or offended by it or the indifferent will probably walk away.


David Kerr

Leave a Comment

TV shows: Nazi Twin Mystery

Reviewed by Rosdaughr

Monday 11 January at 9:00PM, Tuesday 12 January at 12:00AM – National Geographic Channel and again on Tuesday at 5:00PM – National Geographic Channel

In a remote part of Brazil, lies a tiny town full of twins. Among the community of around 80 families, there are reportedly 44 pairs of twins – many blond and blue-eyed. Could these twins be the legacy of the escaped Nazi war criminal and SS physician, Josef Mengele?

This very interesting programme takes a trip around South America looking at high instances of twins both with children and cattle. They are searching for the infamous ‘Angel of Death,’ Mengele. It appears from this show, that Mengele continued his medical experiments on twins in South America. Secret Agents and a team of scientists follow his trail of twins to uncover the truth behind why so many twins have been born in this remote area. It seems Mengele started his South American twin experiments with a vetrinary pharmaceutical company, then moved on to human subjects. How did he manage to create so many pairs of twins? Tune into this episode to find out.

Leave a Comment

TV Shows: Mystery 360 – Ghosts Behind Bars

Reviewed by Rosdaughr

Airs on Sunday January 24 9pm
National Geographic Channel

About the series: Whether it is the existence of aliens, the possibility of life after death, or sightings of strange creatures, the lure of the unknown has always been irresistible. Now, using the latest scientific techniques, this series seeks to ascertain whether these strange occurrences, myths and startling phenomena are merely illusions or actually real.

Eastern State PenitentaryEastern State Penitentiary, a huge forboding fortress which was built to lock away the worst offenders in society. A study in isolation, which depressed inmates and drove them mad. ESP closed in 1971, and since then many report hearing a range of strange sounds from weeping to tormented screams. People have reported seeing shadowy shapes darting throughout the prison. What is different about this ghost busting show, is that National Geographic brings in a team of engineers from different scientific areas of expertise to seek out the ghosts of Eastern State. They set up the usual ghost hunting equipment; motion sensors, night vision and infrared cameras,3D laser scanners and accoustic triangulation systems.

These scientists are trying to find out what ghosts are made of and if indeed Eastern State is haunted. I thought one of the most interesting pieces of this programme is when they used the 3D laser scanners to recreate the prision to determine if there was ghostly activity or physical activity. The team uses scientific principles to explain the noises and other eerie activity in the prison. Some things cannot be explained away by science. Don’t miss this one if you are a fan of Most Haunted.

Comments (2)

Film & DVD Reviews: Spooks : Complete BBC Series 5 [2007]

  • Actors: Peter Firth, Rupert Penry-Jones, Raza Jaffrey
  • Directors: Omar Madha, Julian Simpson, Andy Hay
  • Format: Box set, PAL, Subtitled
  • Language English
  • Region: Region 2 ( DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 5
  • Classification: 15
  • Studio: Contender Entertainment GroupSpooks has incredibly high production values. This set contains all 10 episodes from the fifth series of the BBC’s political espionage drama following officers in MI5. A whole year is spent just on producing ten episodes like these.

    Spooks doesn’t shy away from controversial story lines. Here many threats come from ‘the enemy within’ rather than from overseas. The first two episodes centre on the introduction by the government of emergency measures in an apparent response to a series of ‘terrorist’ attacks. A terror attack on a gas and oil depot has led to energy rationing and people are dying of cold. MI5 suspect that figures within the media, intelligence and political establishment are using fear to justify the introduction of repressive laws. Is there an attempted Coup going on?

    The final episode on this set sees MI5 pitted against an environmental terrorist group, which is threatening to flood London if the government does not publish a document exposing its ecological policies as a sham.

    Of course MI5 are portrayed as the good guys with basic liberal democratic values (sometimes compromised). They appear to be loyal to some sense of State not based purely on Government. This is never defined but sometimes characters like Adam speak of liberal values (and even loyalty to the Queen!). Perhaps even in the real MI5 would be difficult to articulate and may even only exist on a shallow level. Their motivation is difficult to understand.

    MI5 are working in a hostile environment where large sections of the population and establishment are suspect – even apparent allies (like Israel and the USA) are not to be trusted. Indeed one of the storylines on this set caused controversy when first broadcast in 2006. It centred on Israeli spy’s operating on UK soil disguised as Islamic terrorists.

    Some have expressed disappointment regarding this DVD set. Their complaints centre on the Extras that have been made available. The lack of decent commentaries has been a particular bone of contention. The previous four DVD box sets were produced by Contender on behalf of Kudos. These contained interviews, commentaries, scripts, deleted scenes etc. Here there are just three short special features. I can understand the criticism, therefore, but as someone who rarely finds the Extras on DVDs of great interest (with some notable exceptions) was not overly concerned.

  • Leave a Comment

    TV Review: Cast Offs Channel 4

    Cast Offs


    Take six disabled people and plonk them on a remote, deserted island for three months – light the touch paper and stand back! Or something like that. 

    Well what a surprise – I really enjoyed this series – and it’s VERY well written; so well written I wish I’d done it – but Jack Thorne is the man! It’s funny too, “darkly comic” is how the Channel 4 website describes it (well worth a visit with video interviews of the characters). But before I delve into these videos (I did watch Tim Gebbels who plays the blind actor Tom) I’m going to give my raw reaction to the series.
    It’s done as a “mockumentary” or fictitious “reality TV”. This draws the six characters together and allows exploration of them both in “real time” shots and as back-stories. The first thing I noticed was that there is no uniform “disability” – they are differently disabled, if you will. I also found myself relating to these disabilities – as best I could. 

    Tom plays a blind actor – he’s very funny with often acerbic humour and excellent one-liners – he rubs up against Will the political activist (the character I felt least engaged with). The conflicts between characters and burgeoning friendship and love “normalises” them – and I don’t mean this patronisingly – but rather we suspend our own parameters of “normality”. This becomes both easy and difficult. It’s easy because of the nature/set-up of the programme and that all the characters are in someway disabled; difficult because when we’re taken from the island to “real life” we’re slapped back into our own concepts and society’s concepts of normality and abnormality. One criticism of the script here is that although the characters ARE all disabled they are so in such differing ways that perhaps they too might feel unease or find difficulty with others’ disabilities. Will does certainly seem (at least to begin with) frustrated with Tom, the latter
    having to prove himself and his independence by hunting a fox that has been killing their chickens. Tom is – in a sense – doubly disabled because though able-bodied he cannot see and is therefore naturally dependent. By killing the fox, using ingenuity, he demonstrators his independence to the group.
    The other male actor is Dan (a sportsman) who represents those able-bodied who through accident are cast into disability. He IS disabled but young and good-looking – he becomes what “we” might become. I was slightly surprised by how accepting he is of the others’ disabilities. He falls in love with Carrie (who has dwarfism) – she certainly is charismatic and has an interesting edge. We learn later that she – especially – lacks in confidence and perhaps hides this behind a “tough” persona. She’s intriguing and appealing but there was no sense of how difficult Dan might find it to form a relationship with her. Okay, why Dan? Why not BOTH of them? Because Dan is a “man in a chair” (and thrust into dependence on others, seeing the world from a seated position – suddenly being viewed differently), young, good-looking – who you almost expect to stand up any moment. With Carrie he embraces not only another disability but such an apparent one. Though he too has become of “restricted height” there must be uncomfortable moments in his head as there are in society’s – for instance when Carrie leaves the clown’s house in her (the last) episode a black chap makes a lewd comment and uses the word “perverted”. In this episode Carrie struggles with her success as a clown as she is treated “as a child” by the children at the party she performs at – and that “childlikeness” is part of her success. In these times of – shoot first ask questions later – what would happen if a gang of rednecks happened on Dan kissing Carrie, seeing them from the rear as if Carrie really WAS a child? 

    Gabbie, the deaf girl is very un-pc and acts to reassure us that our own un-pc thoughts are understandable. She is the one who looks completely “normal” though suffering from a really alienating disability. Again this makes us question ourselves – makes us either dismiss or really attempt to understand what having a disability might be like. Television is a medium of sight and sound – how can it convey deafness other than by us muting it? Gabbie’s quite a handful – is billed as a “mum-to-be” (I shall keep mum) and is also very funny. April, the remaining female character suffers with Cherubism. Her face is unusually large with a very heavy chin and her eyes heavy-lidded. Is this where the term Cherubism comes from? April is the mother-figure to the others, she’s level-headed, quietly spoken – but also has her moments! Her disability (and we need to consider the use of that word) – is her appearance. It does disable her and God only knows what kind of taunts she has had to put up with – but we find from her back-story that she has been married (again I won’t say more in the hope the series is repeated). April challenges us with our concepts of beauty. I noticed so many adverts during the series showing beautiful/sexy/good-looking girls; even for an average-looking woman this must be a constant pressure. Somehow April has learnt to deal with off-hand remarks and even the vanity of her gay friend and work-colleague. I found it tough relating to April – our fundamental sense of identity is both our mind and our physical being. How much of our inner self is sculpted on our outward self? 

    If the series is somehow extended – and that would be great – I would watch. But it would need to be as tightly and incisively written and not shift into sentimentality or mawkishness. We have now seen a series about and performed by disabled people that can both entertain and teach us something without any sense of being preached to. Further, joyously, it isn’t pc. It’s about people having to cope on an island who are additionally hampered by disability – it’s not a freak show…simply characters in all their faults and glory that have to get on in this world. The ups and downs of their lives are made more so because they have that extra struggle – I think this engages us with their lives both further and deeper. Yep, I’m a fan!

    Leave a Comment

    DVD Review: Queer as Folk Season 3 (US)

    Queer as folk 9US0 DVD cover

    Click on image to buy DVD

    Number of discs: 4
    Classification: 18
    Studio: Warner Home Video
    DVD Release Date: 23 Jun 2008
    Actors: Gale Harold, Hal Sparks, Randy Harrison
    Directors: Michael DeCarlo, John Fawcett, John Greyson, Laurie Lynd, Bruce McDonald
    Writers: Ron Cowen, Russell T. Davies, Blair Fell, Doug Guinan, Richard Kramer
    Producer: Tony Jonas

    The third season of Queer as Folk was described to me as a ‘comedy drama’. Well it was certainly dramatic but I found the themes it explored quite dark rather than comic. Based in Pittsburgh Queer as Folk was refreshing in that it didn’t shy from controversy. I found it an honest attempt to portray group of gay men and a lesbian couple living in Pittsburgh.

    Queer As Folk makes no apologies. The sex scenes are graphic and it isn’t afraid to make political points. Indeed a large part of the plot concerns one character (Brian) working for a homophobic politician – Stockwell on a mission to ‘clean-up’ Liberty Avenue. Nor does the show glamourise the gay lifestyle. It shows AIDS, shallow sex, uber consumerism and drug abuse. The plotline regarding Ted (Scott Lowell) and his descent into Crystal drug addiction is both harrowing and convincing. It isn’t easy to watch. Lowell is a great actor. Yet ultimately the worth of the show is that it shows Gay people as humans, with the same relationship and emotional problems we all face. I hope that people will get past prejudice and the graphic sex scenes and see the drama and humanity behind the story.

    Reviewed by Pat Harrington

    Leave a Comment

    Older Posts »