Shows Worth Watching: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Image from BBC America

Magic has returned to England in the 1800’s. Mr. Norrell, a reclusive magician, has been discovered by a group of magic scholars, who search him out and request that he bring his talents to London. At first Mr. Norrell is reluctant to share his magic, along with his precious books, with anyone. Eventually Mr. Norrell agrees to make the trip to London. While there, he uses magic to bring the beautiful Lady Pole back from the dead.  Doing this has ramifications he never imagined, or wanted.

At the same time another magician is coming forth, the naturally talented and charming Jonathan Strange. Jonathan is torn between his love of magic and his love for the fetching Arabella. While trying to secure his union with Arabella, Jonathan comes across a street magician who proclaims Jonathan is destined to become a great magician. Jonathan eventually meets the reclusive and stubborn Mr. Norrell. The older magician reluctantly agrees to take Jonathan on as his apprentice. The two start out as student and teacher and have a fairly level relationship. Johnathan wants to learn more and practice more of the old, dark ways of magicians. This desire eventually pits the two magicians against each other. The battle between the two has ramifications for all of England, and the future of magic.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, aired on BBC America in the states and was a thoroughly entertaining, compelling, and enjoying, limited series to watch. I wish it would have been longer!

The Gentleman and Arabella

Whats good: So much! Lets start with spot on casting. Jonathan Strange is played by the charismatic and charming Bertie Carvel and Mr. Norrell is played by the brilliantly subdued and subtle Eddie Marsan. I can’t imagine two more perfectly cast actors.  Each actor bringing the character’s nuances to the forefront and the interaction between the two is wonderful to watch. Marsan and Carvel were very convincing in their roles and they also played well off of other cast members. Marc Warren plays The Gentleman with creepy perfection. The Gentleman is summoned with dark magic and is from the kingdom of Lost Hope. He is possessed with a great amount of magic and his desire for beautiful companions sets up heartbreak for many. Charlotte Riley as Arabella, Enzo Cilenti as Childermass, and Alice Englert as Lady Pole are just a few of the other stellar cast members. Each role is played with authenticity, making for a well-rounded cast.

Jonathan Strange and The Gentleman

Special Effects: Special effects can make or break a show or movie. This show kills it by finding the right balance. From the big effects of Jonathan gripping the sand to make the phenomenal sand horses to upright a sinking ship, to the subtle effect of candles and the smoke emitted from them. For a show heavily based on magic, the effects are another star. They don’t distract, which is how all special effects should be.

Tone and color: The setting is England in the 1800’s, with a lot of time taking place during mostly winter. The subdued greens, grays, blues, blacks, etc., help to set the feel and look of the show. Most scenes are the darker side and low lit, giving an air of seriousness to the show. This also allows the actors to shine through since the viewer isn’t distracted by the setting. Rather the setting allows the viewer to be absorbed into the action.

The Story: The overall story is very interesting and I found myself rooting for both magicians, even though I wanted to punch Mr. Norrell at times. The plot involving Childermass was compelling and would have loved it if more about him and his background was offered.

What’s not so good: The show is based on the massive book by Susana Clark (which I have not read but have purchased and I plan to read). Given the massive size of the book, cramming the story into seven episodes made it seemed a bit rushed at times. Maybe one more episode would have made the mini-series that much better. The quick run also didn’t leave room to flesh out some characters that viewers might have liked to learn more about.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, while not a serialized over a few seasons show, is a wonderful and terrific program to watch. Stellar acting, solid special effects, characters viewers can be invested in, and a compelling story, combine to make a very watchable t.v. show. Even if you aren’t a fan of magic, the focus on relationships and what others will do to keep those relationships in tact, make for terrific viewing. I highly suggest you take the time to view this show.  You won’t be disappointed. Check out BBC America or BBC One to find out how to view this show.

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Shows worth watching: Being Human UK version

Tell me if you’ve hard this before: a werewolf, a ghost, and a vampire all live together and try to pass themselves off as humans.  In the saturated world of werewolves/vampires, etc., this could be a boring concept.  However, Being Human is so much more than a show about supernatural beings. Annie the ghost, played by Lenora Crichlow, is sad and lonely and wants desperately for other to see her.  Her flatmates can see her but that’s not enough for this ghost in limbo. George the werewolf, played by Russell Tovey, is so far removed from his werewolf side and deeply struggles with his full moon transformations.  Mitchell the vampire, played by Aidan Turner, has the confidence and sex appeal to be the vampire but he’s sworn off human blood and struggles to not give into his blood thirst. None of them want this life.  They all are lonely, sad, and yearn for a normal life. Their shared loneliness and sadness bring them together and they form a deep bond that helps them through the most difficult and dark times.

The focus of Being Human is on the emotion of the three main characters.  It’s about their relationship and their shared experiences about being outsiders who want nothing more than to be seen as normal humans.  It’s about how finding the right people at the right time can help a person overcome feelings of vast loneliness and despair and make someone feel normal the way they are. Yes the supernatural aspect plays a big part of the show but it’s not the only aspect of the show.

What I like about Being Human is how well these three, original actors and characters fit together.  The chemistry of all three actors is evident from the start and helps to make the character’s situation believable. Russell Tovey is perfectly cast as the werewolf.  He plays Georges’s mild-mannered disposition with incredible nuance, making his werewolf self such a vast contrast in personality that it’s shocking George could even be a werewolf. Lenora Crichlow plays Annie as a somewhat naive young woman who eventually finds her strength via her relationship with George and Mitchell.  And Aidan Turner plays the smoldering Mitchell with utter conviction you can feel his pain at being a vampire who struggles against what he is. These three fit very well together, making the show strong on their relationships alone.

The series did a decent job of intertwining the three roommates lives and story lines.  Mitchell was a bit of leader in the vampire community despite his attempts at swearing off blood.  Mitchell had a continuing battle with William Herrick, a vampire who has been in his life for long time, and Herrick ends up playing a big part in all three of the main characters lives.  George’s struggle to hide his werewolf side becomes harder when he starts to date Nina.  Nina is a good balance to George and seeing their relationship progress throughout the series is both fun and sad.  Annie, being a ghost, has the hardest time acclimating to her life, but even she gets involved with both Herrick and Nina, as well as achieve closure for her own past experiences.  This makes the series more solid for me since the three do live separate lives but yet are closely meshed to each other.

The series goes through some big changes in seasons four and five, with Turner leaving at the end of season three, and Tovey and Crichlow both departing in season four.  Each of the episodes where these characters left were highly emotional and fitting send offs.  Hal (the vampire), Tom (the werewolf), and Alex (the ghost) were the replacements and were played by good actors, but the series didn’t quite capture the same chemistry or appeal of the original cast members or stories. Of note of these three replacements to me was Michael Socha, who played Tom the werewolf.  He was a worthy replacement of George’s emotional werewolf.  Tom fit well with everyone and had an endearing quality that made him very easy to like.

I will briefly mention the SyFy version of Being Human.  I watched one, maybe two episodes of this rendition, but thought it paled in comparison to the original one (even seasons 4 & 5 were better than the SyFy version).  The SyFy version lacked the chemistry and interest of the original series and I didn’t think the actors were correctly cast.  Note that this opinion is from a very biased love of the original series so it’s not really a fair reflection of the SyFy show.

Being Human ended after the fifth season and I thought the writers did the correct thing by ending the series at that time.  The story of Hal, Tom, and Alex, while not as compelling as the original trio, had run its course, and the series came to a fitting and emotional end.  Of the myriad supernatural series out there, Being Human is one of the better ones, in my opinion.  It wasn’t only about being a werewolf, a vampire, or a ghost.  It was about what makes that person human, even though they have an inhuman quality. It’s also about relationships and how they can help someone through a difficult or trying time.  And that no one should be all alone – everyone needs someone to be there for them, whether it’s just someone to talk to or someone to share similar experiences with.  If you are looking for a grown up version of the supernatural, this show is one to check out. Being Human is available on DVD, via Amazon, or via iTunes (according to the BBC America website).

In The Flesh – Season Two

You ask “another zombie themed show, why watch it?”  I say it’s an engrossing show that is more about the person than the zombie.  It’s about the struggle we all go through for acceptance and that of loneliness,  the desire for the former and the need to not be the latter.  BBC America aired the second season of In the Flesh this past weekend and, as I’ve come to expect from BBCA, this program does not disappoint (spoilers from season one are included below)

In the Flesh aired last year as a three episode mini series.  It was an excellent series and I was surprised and happy when I heard a follow-up season would air.  In the Flesh is about Kieren Walker who suffers from PDS – partially deceased syndrome (clever name for a zombie) who is living his life as a zombie living with his parents and his younger sister in a place named Roarton.  Season one was all about Kieren coming back home, adjusting to the realization of his new life, the struggle for acceptance of who he is (in more than just the physical sense), and the struggle to combat loneliness.

One thing I love about BBC America dramas is their ability to project so much emotion with so little.  Dramas on BBCA do a spectacular job of making you feel what the character is feeling.  It’s so easy to connect with the person and relate to them on every level.  They do this in simple ways, sometimes by just showing a person’s look combined with the right music, sometimes by only showing a solitary image of a seemingly unrelated object.  It provides the right mood and allows you to think like the character.  And this was just with a three episode series from last year!

Kieren’s struggle as a human were still there now that he’s a PDS suffer (or “rotter” as the humans refer to them).  Kieren became a zombie by killing himself after his best mate was killed in Afghanistan.  Kieren had wanted to be cremated but his parents couldn’t go through with it and buried him instead, another thing that Kieren has to struggle to deal with.  Once Kieren has gone through all the required acclimatization’s, he is released to live with his family, which isn’t too easy since his sister Jem is part of the  Human Volunteer Force (HVF) whose goal is to protect humans from the rotters, at whatever cost.

Other main topics from the first season was the reveal of Kieren and his best friend being gay and the fact they hid that from everyone they knew.  Something they continued to hide even after rising from the dead.  Kieren’s relationship with his family was another issue.  His sister saw him and his zombie friend Amy, almost shooting him, chowing down on some brains before they were given the drugs to make them seem human again.  Kieren’s relationship with his parents evolved by his dad opening up and telling his son he cared about him regardless of who he loved or what he was (a zombie).

The second season continues with the themes of acceptance and loneliness.   The Undead Liberation Army is not helping things by killing humans as a form of terrorism, while the humans are gaining government power through the Pro-Living Party via Victus.  Kieren wants nothing more than to escape to Paris, where the reanimated are more accepted as a part of society.   Kieren is a good guy and I hope things don’t go badly for him.  In the Flesh is another stellar program from BBC America.  If you’re up for a slightly different take on the zombie theme, give this show a try.  You won’t be disappointed.

BBC America’s Orphan Black

Warning: this post will contain spoilers from season 1 and the first two episodes of season 2 of Orphan Black.  Read at your own risk.

Season two of BBC America’s Orphan Black started back up last week and the first two episodes have not disappointed.

Where to Watch Orphan Black

Image taken from BBC America website

Orphan Black is about Sarah Manning who, after watching a woman who looks just like her jump into the path of a train (from season one), comes to find out she is a clone, and there are several people out there who look like her.  Sarah, forges an at first tenuous relationship with fellow clones Alison, the happy homemaker with a mild drinking problem, and Cosima, the brainy scientist whose been researching all the clones.  Then there’s Helena – the Ukrainian clone who is sadistic, a fundamentalist, seemingly crazy, and murderous.

Season one focused on the reveal of all the clones and the back stories of the characters.  Felix, also known as Fe is Sarah’s “brother” (I believe foster kids together), played a large part in helping Sarah and the clones become real friends. There was a lot of comments online about how Fe was a stereo-typical gay guy, but I’d have to disagree.  He’s very edgy and a bit on the kinky side, I think Modern Family has the much more stereo-typical gay guys (but I do enjoy that show as well).  There were two or three big reveals that played out in season one: Sarah is the only clone who is able to have children (Alison’s are adopted); Helena and Sarah are actually twin sisters (I guess that makes them clone twins? seems a bit redundant, ha!); and the Dyad Institute is actively tracking the clones and wants them all to sign an agreement to participate in the studies. And, oh yeah, Helena was shot and assumed dead.

Season two starts up right at the end of season one – Kira, Sarah’s daughter has been kidnapped and Sarah is desparate to find her.  Cosmia is getting sicker and still does not know why, and Helena makes a surprising comeback.  Although I wasn’t that shocked, she played such an integral part I can’t imagine how the show could continue without her.

The first season of this show was really good – so many revals of the clones and it kept you wondering how many more there were.  Sarah started out as a really unlikable person, but after getting to know her fellow clones, she became much more tolerable.  Her relationship with her daughter also helped to sway viewers on Sarah’s likability.

Tatiana Maslany just KILLS IT in this series.  Her portrayal of each clone is distinct and different.  This is most evident when she plays one clone pretending to be another – Sarah as Cosmia, Alison as Sarah, etc.  The supporting cast does a great job as well, especially when a clone is pretending to be a clone.  It almost makes me wonder if I’m hypnotized by Tatinan’a work and can’t really tell if there is a good story with this show.   Doesn’t really matter because I’m going to keep watching this show.  It’s enjoyable, full of good acting, and has a good pace.   This is why I love BBC America programming, they provide something different and they tend to do a good job at casting.

What are your thoughts on Orphan Black?