Family drama

Little Boy Blue (2017) [TV Series Review]

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Rating: 4/5

Number of episodes: 4

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Have you ever felt a nagging sadness, a frustrating anger while watching a show? Little Boy Blue makes you feel that. This show forces you to feel the pain and frustration the Jones family goes through. To be honest, I never really went through the plot of the show before I started watching it. I thought the show was about a little boy and may be his struggles in school or sports. But no!

This show is based on actual events which happened in 2007. This shocked me even more. Rhys Jones, a 11 year old boy, full of life, is shot dead brutally during his football practice. Detective Dave Kelly is assigned the case, to investigate the shooting and bring the killer to justice. With CCTV footage and information collected from the neighbors, it’s found that a gang lead by Mercer is responsible for the shooting. It was really astonishing to see how much evidence has to be gathered, how much work has to be put to make the case tight, get the statements right, the alibis recorded so that, at court, the suspects don’t get away. Dave gets help from one of Mercer’s associates who turns an approver.  In this way, the killers are finally brought to justice.

But, the show is just not about the case. It’s about what everyone involved goes through. Looking at Steve and Melanie Jones, the pain they go through at the loss of their son, is heartbreaking. Melanie is open with her feelings while Steve silently takes it. At the end, their common loss breaks their relationship, temporarily. Sinead Keenan as Melanie was mind blowing. Dave Kelly, the detective in-charge, feels the pressure mounting from all sides to solve the case. Sometimes, I think we forget that the police officers involved also feel the agony especially when they interact with the family of the deceased. It’s really tough especially when it is a kid who is killed. Everyone in the neighborhood played their part well. We have the guilt ridden Claire, who knows her son is involved, who wants to save her son, yet want to help gain justice for the Jones.

The scenes where the entire city comes in to mourn Rhys was fantastic. Let me confess, I feel very disturbed writing this review mainly because the usual adjectives of Interesting, fabulous, amazing, wonderful…seems very inappropriate to describe this show. Don’t get me wrong. It is all of those adjectives, but it is more of frustration and suffering. I know many might not prefer to watch shows which are depressing- why to depress ourselves more, right? But, in a way, it opens our eyes to what is happening in the society and how many families are left in mourning for the rest of their lives due to violent and uncouth acts like this.

The writing and screenplay were really crisp. There were no unnecessary drama. All the actors were fabulous. The background score really moved me at many places.

Must watch!

A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017) [Review]

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Rating: 4.5/5

As someone who has always been into crime books and shows, few conversations with my colleague got me interested in classics especially children’s classics. I then began my journey exploring all the popular children’s classics from Alice in the Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz. A couple of months back, I came across a book called “A Series of Unfortunate Events” by Lemony Snicket. I had picked up a random book from the series with no clue that it was actually a series. Yeah, I know, it’s in the title itself, “A series”. I didn’t notice it then honestly. Anyway, when I realized I had bought the 7th book, I kept it aside for the future. On my mind, I wanted to do it the right way, read it in the right order. Fortunately or unfortunately, then came my way- the television adaptation of this series of books. The trailer looked amazing and I couldn’t stop myself from watching the show. In a way, I can start reading now that I know what happened before the 7th book.

“A Series of Unfortunate Events” follows the lives of the Baudelaire children- Violet (Appx 15), Klaus (Appx 12) and Sunny (Definitely less than a year). The sudden death of their parents in a house fire, when they were away, makes the children orphans. Arthur Poe, a bank officer, is in charge to put the Baudelaire children under the rightful guardian. And only when Violet comes off age, she and her siblings will inherit their parents’ huge fortune. Enters the wicked and cunning Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris) who is, without any surprise, behind the Baudelaire’s fortune. He weaves plans with his dumb theater group to lay his hands on the fortune. Every time, the kids, in one or the other, escapes from his clutches and saves themselves and the fortune.

The series is narrated by the author of the books, Lemoney Snicket. He warns and warns and warns multiple times about the sad fate of the kids and how there are no happy endings all the time. He even asks the viewers (and the readers too) not to continue watching (reading) expecting a happy ending. The series have 4 stories of 2 episodes of each. Every story is an adventure for the Baudelaire children as they continue their fight against Count Olaf, who disguises himself in every story.

Before going into every story, let’s see something about the characters. The children. Violet is the eldest. She is a calm, smart girl with an excellent talent to invent things out of nothing and everything. She is responsible and takes charge most of the time. Klaus is the middle and is an intelligent boy. He is a voracious reader (I love him for that!) and has knowledge about everything. Sunny is the youngest. Cute and chubby, she has the power to chop hard things- from rocks to metals. Now, that was indeed very hard to believe out of everything but- it’s a fantasy story. The three children are rock solid together- compliments and supports each other. Count Olaf is the other central character. Vicious and ambitious, he is ready to do anything to get the fortune. He doesn’t hesitate to harm the children if needed too. He makes sure as viewers/readers, we absolutely hate him and we do!

Now to the stories. As I mentioned before, there are four.

  1. The Bad Beginning: It’s the sad beginning of the lives of the Baudelaire children. It begins with the children getting to know about their parents’ death and being put under the care of Count Olaf. In this story, Count Olaf decides to marry Violet to acquire the inheritance. The children outsmart him brilliantly.
  2. The Reptile Room: I absolutely loved this story. My favorite. After the truth about Count Olaf’s intentions are out, Arthur Poe puts the children under the care of Montgomery Montgomery. Yes. This interesting guy has the same first and last name. Monty, as the kids lovingly call him, is a loving and concerned person who really cares for the children. Hence, when Count Olaf appears disguised as Stephano, his assistant, Monty immediately sees through. He tries to help the children out but in vain. But as before, the children escapes on their own accord.
  3. The Wide Window: Out of the four, this was my least favorite. The kids are now put under the guardianship of Aunt Josephine, who is a loud, scared, grammar-particular woman. The kids, during their exploration find out that their parents, Josephine, Monty were all part of some secret group. Count Olaf enters as Captain Sham, a single legged pirate captain. The rest of the story revolves as usual around the kids and their escape.
  4. The Miserable Mill: The last story of the series, after escaping from Captain Sham, the kids run away on their own and enters this strange mill where they find out their parents had been in the mill and had caused a deadly fire resulting in the death of many. The kids determine to prove that their parents are innocent. Count Olaf is Nurse Shirley here and lot of hypnotism is involved in this. The mission is the same. How the kids escape?

When I look at the series as a whole, I find myself really saddened and disappointed. Why? Because the story didn’t have a happy ending. But is that necessary all the time? Probably that’s what the author talks about. The kids, even in their times of despair, fight their problems with positivity and determination. Their parents are dead. They are dealing with it. They don’t have anyone else. They are dealing with it. They know their lives are in danger but they are dealing with it. In such situations, we always hope for miracles. But it’s just a hope. There is no surety. And when there is no surety, we just have to move on in our lives. The kids do the same. There is a lot to learn from the show. Yes. It is about courage and determination. But it’s also about trust and togetherness. In spite of the author warning about no happy endings, I continued with the hope. I understood at the end that there is no end for hope. I hope the kids found happiness. I hope there is another season. I hope there will be a happy ending then.

Coming to the performances- the kids are great. They emoted the distress and sadness really well. Neil Patrick Harris is excellent as Count Olaf. The wickedness swam in his eyes. My favorite disguise of his was Stephano. The rest of the supporting cast has done a marvelous job too.

The writing is consistent for most part. There are some very dramatic lines by the children which comes out overdramatic. Otherwise, it’s neat and smooth. The cinematography is top notch. The gloominess is captured very well. The music plays a very vital role and it adds so much to the mood of the show. The costumes and make up are very well done especially for Count Olaf.

This show is an excellent watch but as the author said, don’t watch it if you are expecting happy endings. Highly recommended.

Speechless (2016) [Review]

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Rating: 4/5

I have to admit, I didn’t have the greatest first impressions of this show. It looked like any other comedy show based around disability with no boundary for insensitivity. The first episode was too loud and the characters looked superficial. Yet there was something, some factor, some emotion which drew me towards it. Something was definitely pulling me to continue watching this show. I couldn’t figure out what at the beginning, but as the episodes passed, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the show and loving all the characters.

Speechless revolves around the DiMeos, a very dynamic dysfunctional family. JJ, 16, is the eldest son of Jimmy and Maya, is disabled. He is wheel chair bound and cannot speak. He uses a board of words attached to his wheel chair and uses a laser pointer to select the words which he wants to speak. The entire family adjusts their life for JJ. They relocate a lot to find the perfect school for him. Maya, the mother, is loud. She gets her way through by shouting. At the school, she finds Kenneth, whom she appoints to be JJ’s voice. Then starts the roller coaster ride of numerous funny situations and enjoyable unpredictable reactions of the characters which turns the show into a perfect family entertainer. This show, just like I had said for Life in Pieces, isn’t hilarious. But there are so many funny moments mixed with heart-warming family moments which transforms this show to be an extraordinary one. Whatever factors irritate in the first episode turns out to be a fantastic standout features of the characters.

JJ’s disability is definitely the central theme of the show but it is handled with so much care and sensitivity. Full credit to the writers to have depicted it with so much respect yet everything seems normal. The show brilliantly portrays how a family with a disabled member leads a normal life. They don’t sit and lament everyday over their child’s weakness. JJ is such an inspiration. He has accepted his handicap and looks at other things that will make his life happy. He wants to do all the things he can. He doesn’t need pity but knows he is always seen with sympathy. The parents are mostly caught in a dilemma. They don’t want to make JJ feel bad but they don’t want to see him hurt. All these emotions are portrayed so subtly that they come and go, we feel and move on.

Jimmy DiMeo, the father, is a matured man. He handles his dysfunctional family so well. He understands his kids really well and does his best to fulfil their wishes. Maya DiMeo, the mother, is an over protective, loud, attention seeking woman, who argues her way through every problem. Initially, Maya is really irritating, but you get used to it. The mother in her is always on the lookout for her children. JJ DiMeo- I have said a lot about him. He is a happy boy in spite of being a special child. Ray DiMeo, the middle child, is a hyper and stressful boy who becomes nervous all the time. He, like his father, is very matured, more matured for his age. His wants and needs have to be compromised several times for JJ, but after the initial sadness, he is happy for his brother. Dylan, the youngest of the three, is an angry little girl, full of rage and fury. She talks very fast and makes very quick decisions. The three siblings have a wonderful bonding. They give in for each other and care for one another’s happiness. Kenneth, JJ’s voice, is an easy going fun guy. He is confused about his job initially but later understands that he just have to repeat loud what JJ points in his board. Through Kenneth, JJ gets a buddy. In due course, Kenneth becomes like family. Kenneth doesn’t treat JJ as special. He becomes more like his guru, teaching him the realities of life.

The story mostly revolves only around these 6 characters. A situation and loads of confusion. The actors are fantastic, the kids especially. It’s purely a family show. The writers make sure to project the thoughts of the kids wonderfully well. We can see what kind of ideas and fears run in those little minds. Just like adults have their worries and concerns, kids have their own stress too. Kudos to the writers.

I am absolutely loving this show and look forward to it every week. Surprisingly, this show doesn’t air every week and I have no idea about the reason. Nevertheless, do watch this show. It has its heart at the right place.

Life in Pieces (2015 – ) Review

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Rating: 4/5

Seasons: 2 (Ongoing)

I am a HUGE fan of FRIENDS. I love it for the beautiful characters and the wonderful emotions they displayed (Sad to use the past tense L) on screen. The lovely bonding, their day to day struggles in life and their determination to overcome every challenge with the support of their loved ones was what made FRIENDS a supremely memorable show. It still rules our hearts even though it ended like 12 years ago. After FRIENDS, I found great difficultly to find another show which held the same emotions. I did watch How I Met Your Mother and quite liked it but not as much as FRIENDS. Just my personal opinion. Anyways…After watching pilots of many comedy shows and rejecting them instantly, I found Life in Pieces really refreshing. The characters are relatable, the jokes are good (not hilarious though) and the packaging is really nice and different.

Life in Pieces – “One Big Family – Four Short Stories” – That’s the tagline. The show is about the Shorts family. Every episode has four stories which are not connected in anyway. I really liked this idea. A small situation is taken and the characters are dropped in to see how they react. There are no continuous story lines of any sort. Let me get into the characters directly as they are what the show is all about. There isn’t any story to talk about LOL

  1. John and Joan Short- The elder couple. Parents of Matt, Heather and Greg. John is a retired Pilot and Joan is a Therapist. They got divorced in 1980 but are still together. They are in a phase of absolutely freedom and enjoyment. All their kids have settled in life and they are in complete peace. John is mischievous and is always up to doing something weird. Joan is more of a disciplinarian and little old fashioned. They do make a fun couple but at times it becomes too clichéd and cringe-worthy, but not always. A scene where Joan consoles Jen during her miscarriage is one of the most heart warming scenes in the show.
  2. Matt Short and Colleen – Matt is the eldest son of John and Joan. He is a graphic designer. Once married, he falls in love with Colleen and resigns his job as their office doesn’t support colleagues dating. Impressed Colleen but… He lives in his parents’ garage and doesn’t have a regular income. Colleen breaks her engagement with Chad, her roommate. Matt and Chad have some funny confrontations but it becomes boring later. Good, Chad leaves after few episodes. Matt and Colleen make a very good matured couple. They are more like life companions. Colleen’s interactions with Matt’s family are very nice. I particularly liked how she gets the family to sing carols when John feels low missing his friends during Christmas.
  3. Heather and Tim Hughes- Heather is John and Joan’s daughter. Home maker. Her life revolves around her family. Tim is a doctor and a fun loving guy, wife fearing too. They have three kids- Tyler (18), Samantha (14 appx) and Sophie (10 appx). Heather and Tim struggles to grow along with their kids. My favourite is Sophie. She is like more matured than her parents. Her questions are so truthful. Heather is one of my favourite characters. She is the go-to person for almost everyone in the show. She can get hyper but that makes things more enjoyable. Her banter with her mother is something to look forward too.
  4. Greg Short and Jen- My favourite couple. New parents. Their stories are always funny and real. Their struggle to handle the baby is hilarious- dividing tasks among themselves, staying awake through the night, fighting who should get up to handle the crying baby etc. These situations and the way they support each other are very good to see. Jen is the daughter-in-law of the house but the bonding between Heather and Jen and how they get together during some fun plans are wonderful. Greg is the softie. He listens to everyone and is a mother’s boy. He is mostly caught between Jen and Joan and his dilemma is so much fun. But at the end of each case- either Jen or Joan give in.

Life in Pieces isn’t completely “clean”. There are some situations which might not be appropriate for a very young audience. Some sequences could be considered crude or insensitive too. But which show doesn’t have the above? It’s impossible to have clean comedy nowadays. Hence, ignoring the portions which I found “unnecessary”, I am really enjoying this show. I love the fact that the family are so together and share all their happy and sad moments. There are some wonderful relationships which win above all the comedy. This show isn’t hilarious. The characters don’t have funny mannerisms or catch lines. The dialogues aren’t witty enough. Yet, this show has very good family moments, interesting situations and stories and fun filled incidents which makes the show very pleasing to watch. The actors are all so good. Not one is weak compared to the other. If the writers could work harder and bring more witty lines and make the show hilarious rather than just fun, the show has a very long way to go. I have read a lot of comparisons made with Modern Family, but since I haven’t watched that show, I can’t comment much.

If you are looking for a family drama but with no intense story lines, this show will fit perfectly.

P.S: First few episodes aren’t impressive but the show gets better after 3 episodes.

The A Word (2016)

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Channel: BBC

Cast: Max Vento, Lee Ingleby, Morven Christie, Christopher Eccleston

Number of episodes: 6

Rating: 3.5/5

Autism! Such a relevant issue in todays times, also an issue which is widely used to grab attention of the viewers on TV. The A word strikes with its title. This show revolves around the dysfunctional Hughes family and how they struggle to come to terms with the fact that their little boy is autistic. Mind you, the show isn’t about autism or even about the autistic child. It’s about the kind of difference a special child brings into a family.

Joe is 5 years old. He lives in his own world of music, is loved by every member of the family, is autistic. He doesn’t communicate with anyone, and the most he does is repeat what is said to him. Paul Hughes (Ingleby), is a dotted father, a loving husband, who works very hard to build his own restaurant. Alison Hughes (Christie) is a strong woman, a passionate mother, who runs her own diner. Her world is Joe. Rebecca is Alison’s daughter from her first marriage, a high school student. We also have Maurice (Eccleston), who is Alison’s father. He owns a brewery which he lets his son, Eddie to run. As usual, the father and the son don’t get along very well with each having their own business opinion. Eddie lives with his wife Nicola, who works as a nurse. She is known for her radical honesty which isn’t liked very much by Alison. She is the first one to notice that Joe isn’t normal. Numerous arguments take place among the family members amidst which Joe lives, unperturbed.

The parents, in spite of knowing that their little boy isn’t like the other children, shy away from accepting it. We can see that they know at the back of their minds that their child is autistic, but they just don’t want to confirm it. They delay meeting doctors; they refuse any sort of help, especially Alison. Sometimes, Alison’s reactions are very irritating. She is blunt with her replies.  She is very stubborn with her decisions. She is always in search of even the smallest of the things to reassure herself and the others that Joe is normal. She bans everyone to call her son autistic (hence the title of the show) as that would mean they are accepting that he is one. In spite of everything above, it’s very clear that every act of hers is just a mother who doesn’t want to label her child as special. On the other hand, Paul accepts the reality quicker than his wife and is ready to take the needed steps to help Joe in his day to day life. He visits a special school and believes it will better Joe at least a little. Several arguments happen between Paul and Alison which bring out their inner stress and emotional turmoil. Yet, the way they cope and stand together in handling Joe is very good to see.

There are many things which are shown nicely in the show, which touch upon very realistic issues. One is Rebecca and her life. She is in high school. She has a boyfriend and that makes her feel good. She loves Joe, her step brother, a lot and sometimes understands him better than their parents. When Paul and Alison get very busy in finding Joe the right remedy for his condition, they unintentionally begin neglecting Rebecca citing she is a big girl now. Whatever the age is, kids need someone to talk to and Rebecca feels the absence of her parents, especially when she breaks up with her boyfriend. She takes solace in talking to her uncle and aunt instead. Alison again comes across as a very poor mother who isn’t able to give equal attention to both her kids, and yet again, that’s the realistic mother. No mother can be perfect and for Alison, she fears Joe’s future and that’s her first priority. A big applause to the writer for giving a character like Alison, an imperfect mother, who loves her children unconditionally.

Joe! Joe! Joe! How can we not love him? Such a cute little boy and his antics are so endearing to see. His life is his music and he even sleeps with his headphones on. He sings along with every song, and at the end says the name of the album and even the year of release. He has several habits like he always closes the door once or twice before he enters. Even if the door is closed, he opens it, closes it, and then enters. He becomes restless if music is taken away from him. The speech therapist who comes to gauge him explains beautifully how Joe resolves to music when he wants to escape from a social situation. Her theory is Joe doesn’t like all the arguments and jabs taken at each other. He closes himself out through music.

The show takes a very interesting turn with the entry of the speech therapist, Maggie, as it moves the story forward. A school friend of Alison’s, who was once bullied by her, she puts across the hard reality in front of the family so quickly. For example, when Paul asks Joe to fix a piece in a jigsaw puzzle, Joe stands silently. Paul moves Joe’s hand and fixes the piece in the right place and claps and applauds Joe as an encouragement. Maggie says that’s now what Joe wants, encouragement. He wants to know what’s right and wrong. He wants to know how to communicate and communication has to be two-way and not one way. When Alison tries to force Maggie to become a full time therapist for Joe, she directly points out how it’s all about Alison all the time, what she wants and what she wishes. She says, Alison isn’t ashamed of Joe, but she is ashamed of herself. It made me think, how much ever you try to accept the truth, shame just walks with you in some form.

What really bring the show down are the tracks of the other characters. Maurice and his music teacher.  Eddie and Nicola’s strained married life. Both these tracks have no bearing on Joe and hence the entire theme of the show. It would have been better if those characters had something to do with the main plot of the show. Also, every episode begins with Joe walking alone in the mountain road with his headphones on. Is that safe?

The performance of the cast is amazing. Max, Lee and Morven give an extraordinary performance. The supporting cast is equally good and they pull the viewers into the show very quickly.

The A Word is a great show for portraying autism in a very different way. If you think the show is about autism, it is not. It is more about family and relationships, and the compromises and adjustments the family has to make to give a comfortable life to an autistic child.  Sooner they accept their child is autistic, better it is for the child.