Number of episodes: 6
Mounting expectation and then huge disappointment! That’s how Top of the Lake was. Recently, Season 2 of this series, which I am yet to watch, was aired and has gathered very great reviews. I, being someone who goes by the order, decided to watch Season 1 first before moving to Season 2. Now I am not sure if I will watch Season 2.
Top of the Lake has been a show on my watchlist for very long. I never got around watching it until now. It’s one of those shows which is painted in gloominess, both in setting and emotions. There has been a lot of shows which are based on child abuse. This show is one among them. I wouldn’t say the writers were insensitive or did injustice to the theme, but somewhere I felt, they completely lost track of the story.
In a small town in New Zealand, Tui Mitcham, a 12 year old girl, tries to kill herself by drowning but is rescued. On medical examination, it is discovered that she is pregnant. Detective Robin Griffin, a specialist in cases involving children, is called for help. She along with Detective Sergeant Al Parker tries to get to the bottom of the case. Matt Mitcham, Tui’s father, the head henchman of the town, tries to deal with the case on his own. He has several ugly disputes with GJ, a spiritual woman leader leading a group of troubled woman, over a land they occupy. When Robin questions Tui if she would tell who is behind the pregnancy, Tui refuses to answer directly. Matters get worse, when Tui disappears- runs away. Robin now has to find the abuser as well as find Tui before something happens to her.
This is a very disturbing plot, no doubt. The screenplay is very slow, and hence the story moves at a snail’s pace. I don’t really mind slow stories, but when the story moves away from the plot, focusing on other characters which don’t really make a difference to the story? That’s when the attention begins to waver. Robin Griffin is the lead of the show. For the first two episodes, she was effective- good with her intuition, head straight with her fellow male officers and all. She has a troubled past (no surprise there!), something similar to Tui and that’s where the narration shifts. The story tries to connect Robin and Tui’s story. Robin subsequently comes across as whining and complaining, self piteous, and her on and off relationship with Tom (Tui’s step brother) gets very irritating and takes the story away.
Looking from a different perspective, my view of the show, my complain that it strayed away from the plot is just because I read the plot online beforehand. Hence, I had a set expectation which might have driven me to the disappointing conclusion about the show. Even with a beautiful scenic setting, a dark hovering theme and a good performance from the cast, the final Sidney Sheldon type of ending overshadows all the good things for me. Al’s attraction towards Robin was sudden and on the face. Matt Mitcham’s outbursts were either overdone or overacted. I never understood the purpose of GJ and her troops. May be just to bring some weirdness? I feel quiet doubtful why I didn’t like the show much while the same show had garnered so many positive reviews, nominations and awards? Could it be because of binge watching it? Guess, that’s an entirely different story.
On the whole, Top of the Lake isn’t a very bad show. It’s creepy, weird and gloomy. It did get my attention for the first few episodes. Probably the in-between ones- Episode 4 and 5 weren’t that great and engaging and hence the loss of interest. You can watch this show for its magnificent setting and at times very exciting scenes, but yes, there are much better shows to spend your time on!
Number of episodes: 3
For any Agatha Christie fan, her work And Then There Were None would hold a very special place. In this review, I am going to stick to the series rather than babble my never ending amusement on the brains behind this story. This novel is creepy (It’s specialty!) and keeps you guessing right till the end. I felt chills while reading the book and I geared myself to view one of my favorite thrillers on screen. Did it live up to the book? Let’s find out.
First the premise. And Then There Were None is about ten unrelated people, invited by a Mr and Mrs Owen to their bungalow at a deserted island called Soldier Island. These ten people are from various fields and professions. We have a police in Blor, a doctor in Dr. Armstrong, a judge- Judge Wargrave, a teacher Miss Claythorne, a party boy Marston, a social activist Miss Brent, an army veteran General McArthur, playboy Lombard and the keepers of the house Mr and Mrs Rogers. There is one curious question in everyone’s mind- Where is Mr and Mrs Owen, their employers/owners? As time progresses, one by one, people begin to die, or say murdered in gruesome ways. But by whom? Mr and Mrs Owen, who are probably hiding? Or is it one of the ten? Each one of them has committed a crime in their life which they are guilty off, which keeps haunting them. Who could possibly know about their past? Their crimes are their only connection. One of the highlights of this story is the old poem- Ten Little Soldiers went out to dine- which is framed and hung in almost everyone’s room and after every death (which happens according to the poem), one of the ten showpieces on the dining table goes missing! Phew!! Add to this, the frightening weather of lightning, rain and thunder. At the end, there is no one alive in the island. And Then There Were None. How?
The BBC adaptation of this marvelous story doesn’t score a perfect 5 but it’s not very bad either. The show captures the mood of the story accurately and the suspense and nervousness did grow on me while viewing, even though I knew the story. Most of the details were captured and used appropriately. The best part was, they didn’t try anything new but stuck to the original. I felt a little impatient at the beginning. A little more time than needed was taken to set the story. The flashbacks of every character was nicely done yet at some places the timing didn’t really work. Like, Blor having his flashback at the very end stuttered the pace. Also- I wish the ending could have been more powerful, a little more into how exactly the murders happened would have been nice. We have the confrontation but much is left for us to be understood. How did the killer make it happen? Wish it had been visually explained too. Too much time was given to Miss Claythorne’s backstory while we didn’t see much for the other important characters. The doubts and feuds between the characters could have been dealt with more clarity. There were lot of loose ends which I felt should have been tied up especially with how the killer timed every murder. I can’t reveal much here as that would give away the main plot. I know it’s not like the book is new or the show is- still I don’t like giving out spoilers (would make my post lengthy too LOL).
The actors were absolutely fantastic. General McArthur would always be my Alan Grant (Jurassic Park) and Judge Wargrave would be Tywin Lannister (GoT). Background music plays its role well. Costumes and the setting were apt.
Having read the book, I knew the ending. I think that kind of definitely influenced my watching?? May be I didn’t feel the needed suspense at certain points because I knew it was a bluff? Adapting a thriller, as a matter of fact, any book is difficult. It would definitely stand good for those who haven’t read the book. But for those who have read it- it becomes a mere comparison of how much effective the show stands to the book and if the show writers have done complete justice to the original author’s work. I would really appreciate this BBC adaptation for not trying too much with And Then There Were None. And Then…is more or less like a cult and is considered as one of Agatha Christie’s finest work if not the best. Even though, I am slightly disappointed with the impact of the ending- this series is still makes a great viewing.
Number of episodes : 6
I had watched the first season of this show when it aired in 2015. My memory isn’t very great to review that season now but I remember the story being very gripping. There was a huge hype around the show as well, especially for its very tight knitted plot. I forgot about the show and didn’t really follow it up to know if there was a second season. I was really surprised when I found the show on its second season and was about to end too. Without a do, I watched all the 6 episodes and wasn’t disappointed the least.
Unforgotten primarily focuses on a cold case, an unclosed case which surfaces after decades. DCI Cassie Stuart (Nicola Walker) and DI Sunil (Sunny) Khan (Sanjeev Bhaskar) play the lead detectives with a handful of junior detectives assisting them. The entire procedure is by the book. There are no hi-fi or sci-fi techniques used. It’s all leg work and phone work. Cassie and Sunny aren’t the glamourous or macho kind of leads we usually see in today’s crime shows. They are normal people, who go to work and have a family back home. Both in their mid or late 40s I suppose, they have a great working equation. Cassie is senior to Sunny, but that doesn’t really matter when they solve these cases. This detective duo has high respect for each other. Both the actors do complete justice to their characters though I do feel they can bring in more to their characters.
Coming to this season’s story- A suitcase containing the remains of a body is pulled up from a river. With no DNA evidence left, Cassie and Sunny identify the body to be David Walker using the watch found with the body. David Walker, a man in his 40s, went missing in 1991. Cassie and Sunny reach out to David’s then wife Tessa who herself is a cop. They realize Tessa wasn’t being completely honest about her deceased husband. Further investigations using the old case files lead the team to three suspects- Sarah (A teacher), Colin (A lawyer) and Marion (A Nurse). David is connected to any one of these suspects or all the three in some way but how? All the three suspects have a secret past which is unraveled slowly. A case of abuse immerges with David been abused badly in his childhood. Did the abuser come back to kill David? Why was David Walker killed?
*Spoilers- Skip this paragraph if you don’t want to know the whole story*
The first two episodes are completely spent in establishing the lives of all the suspects, letting the viewers understand the characters so that they can form their own theories. Sarah, a muslim teacher is a mother of three. She and her husband share a very strong and lovely bond. But the investigations reveal her past when she worked as a prostitute in her early days, the time she came in contact with David. This truth, when shared with her husband, shatters their relationship for a while. Did David abuse Sarah to the extent that she killed him? Colin, a lawyer, is married to Simon, and the couple are at the verge of adopting a little girl. When this case comes up, Colin is highly troubled. Before being a lawyer, he was a banker and a rape case was slammed on him resulting in him leaving the bank. Also, Colin and David were seen at a party together, all those years back, concluding they knew each other. Did David have a hand on Colin’s rape case? Did Colin kill him for that? Marion, a nurse, had always had a troubled relationship with her mother, sister and husband. The family had never been able to figure out the reason. During the time of David’s death, the detectives find out that David was at Marion’s house. What happened between Marion and David? Did Marion kill David? Sarah and Colin have strong alibis for David’s murder. Marion has no motive. Cassie and Sunny are perplexed unable to find the connection. That’s when it strikes Cassie. From a witness, she gets to know that Sarah was at a party with David and was always badly abused. Immediately, she digs into the past of Marion and Colin and that’s when she finds out, Marion was abused by her own father and Colin by his sports coach, both abusers dead, both committed suicide. Each of the three suspects has a strong alibi for the murder they would be suspected of. Sarah for David, Marion for her father and Colin for the sports coach. And hence, they committed each other’s murders. Marion- David. Colin- Marion’s father. Sarah- Colin’s coach. Sarah, Marion and Colin met at a rehabilitation center where got to know each other, where they planned their revenge. Now, Cassie and Sunny have to decide what to do with the truth. Should they stand by justice to the victims? Who is the victim here?
*No Spoilers from here on*
We also get to see short tracks on Cassie’s father and Sunny’s struggle in managing his teenage daughters. A short friction of ideas pop up between Cassie and Sunny too, which is usually very rare. It is wonderfully dealt by both. Apart from Cassie and Sunny, their entire team does an incredible job. It’s a perfect team work.
I always love watching miniseries. It’s a complete package. You get a very good story with amazing characters, with equal measures of all emotions. The last episode was my personal favorite. It was a perfect ending. A small disappointment was the first two episodes were a little too slow. There was barely any action then. Perhaps I felt it because I was binge-watching it.
There are no action scenes or racing car chase sequences in this show. It’s proper investigation and the cold case factor adds a lot of thrill and chill. Highly recommended for people who love stories that unravel slowly.
No of episodes: 5
Continuing my binge watching, the next on my list was Thirteen. This show had been on my list for quite some time. Since I read that the show didn’t have anything out of the ordinary, my interest level was very low. Helpless with no other show to watch, I began watching Thirteen. May be it’s because I had very low expectations; the show wasn’t a huge disappointment.
Ivy Moxam, now 26 years, escapes after being kidnapped and held captive for 13 years (Hence, the show titled Thirteen!). Physically affected and even more psychologically, the show takes the audience through Ivy’s life, her struggle with coming to terms with the present. Her family has changed, her house is different, and she believes her childhood boyfriend Tim is still in love with her while he is actually married. The show is more about Ivy’s psychological battle rather than solving her kidnapping case. We have two detectives- Lissy and Elliot, who try to get as much information as possible from Ivy to put all the pieces together to find the kidnapper. They find lot of contradictory details which make them suspicious of Ivy’s statements itself. With one more kidnapping and the abductor getting in contact with Ivy, the police with the help of Ivy and her family try to nab the kidnapper and put an end to the thirteen year old case.
Ivy gets our sympathy initially. Thirteen years to be held captive in a cellar and to survive is a huge task. She finds it very hard to trust anyone, especially men. Every time she trusts someone, she is faced with disappointment. First, she trusts Elliot. She talks only to him but when she realises Elliot is only doing his job, she stops trusting him. Tim returns to her life, only he hides his marriage from her. When she gets to know the truth, she is disappointed again. She gets close to her father, but when she gets to know he left his family for another woman, disappointment strikes again. In this way, she struggles to trust anyone because she misses all those that happened in those 13 years. The result of this struggle, she finds her captive life better, her kidnapper better.
Elliot and Lissy always doubt Ivy holding back details of her kidnapper, helping him in all possible ways. When they find a 7 year old body in the cellar, their doubts become true. They arrest Ivy and with persistent questioning gets her to talk. Elliot and Lissy aren’t extra ordinary detectives. They don’t solve cases with immediate breakthroughs. They are as confused as the viewers, trying to understand their victim, go through protocols, wait for pathology and forensic results- on the whole take due time to solve the case. They have a friction going on between them which I found really unnecessary. Elliot’s accent was really difficult to follow. Lissy come across very irritating at times too.
Moxams are an interesting lot. The growing relationship between Ivy and her sister is really endearing. The sister unknowingly puts her upcoming marriage at risk by focusing more on Ivy and ignoring her fiancé. The father tries to get back to his family and breaks up with his girlfriend. The mother wants to give space to Ivy, at the same time, be close to her as before. She is vulnerable and is scared for her daughter which is very natural. She finally gains her trust when Ivy opens up to her about what happened to her during her captivity. Of course, the mother having had a hidden relationship with someone else was again unnecessary. It didn’t have any bearing on the story.
As much as everything above makes the show interesting, the show doesn’t score high because it reveals who the abductor is very early. There is no suspense there. I expected there would be someone close to the family involved, *Spoilers ahead* but nothing of that sort happens. The climax is pretty straight, abductor killed and family united. This is where the show becomes ordinary and all the hard work put in establishing such intriguing characters and plot go wasted.
Thirteen is a psychological drama, not thriller. It has crime investigation but nothing path breaking. Ivy is the fore while the family as well as the detectives are all in the background. There are interesting moments when we, as viewers are made to guess if Ivy is speaking the truth or not, or what exactly happened to Ivy, but that’s it- just few moments. What could have been an excellent thriller ends up as an ordinary drama. Watch it if you don’t have anything else.
Cast: Max Vento, Lee Ingleby, Morven Christie, Christopher Eccleston
Number of episodes: 6
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.