Best of Digital – Netflix TV Shows

Icon-TV-150Digital streaming entertainment has come a long way in the last years, but what it sometimes struggles with is some form of curation. So, I’ll be working my way through the various digital TV and movie options, one at a time, and highlighting a few things.

This week, we start with Netflix’s TV offerings:

Justified – U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens takes the law into his own hands, frontier-style, as he faces off against crooks in the Appalachian town where he grew up.

The Returned – On returning home and finding they’re believed to be dead, a collection of near-strangers from the same village try to find a reason for their plight.Person of Interest

House of Cards – Kevin Spacey stars as ruthless, cunning Congressman Francis Underwood, who will stop at nothing to conquer the halls of power in Washington D.C. His secret weapon: his gorgeous, ambitious, and equally conniving wife

Orange is the New Black – Piper Chapman’s wild past comes back to haunt her, resulting in her arrest and detention in a federal penitentiary. To pay her debt to society, Piper trades her comfortable New York life for an orange prison jumpsuit and finds unexpected conflict and camaraderie amidst an eccentric group of inmates.

Black Mirror – This sci-fi anthology series in the vein of “The Twilight Zone” reflects on the darker side of technology and human nature.

The Bridge – When a body is found on the bridge between Denmark and Sweden, a Danish inspector and a Swedish detective must work together to find the killer.

American Horror Story – Exploring humankind’s unsettling capacity for evil, this darkly twisted drama plays upon the power of supernatural fears and everyday horrors.

The Thick of It – This award-winning fictitious reality comedy cleverly pokes fun at the intricacies — and ineptitude — of the modern British government.

TV Review: Penny Dreadful – Episode 1 – Night Work

Penny Dreadful - Vanessa Ives

Showtime’s new show Penny Dreadful has been on my radar for a little while now, and to no great surprise: A Victorian era urban fantasy show, with shades of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? Written by John Logan, famed for Sweeney Todd, Gladiator, Skyfall and The Aviator? Starring Eva Green? Directed by J.A. Bayona, best known for The Orphanage? It’s a perfect storm.

Let me put you out of your misery; thanks to Sky and Showtime’s decision to make this show available digitally ahead of its TV release, I have just finished watching it, and it’s very good.

(Aside: We really need to find a better term to call this programming than ‘TV’)

Some mild spoilers ahead.

Penny Dreadful - Ethan ChandlerThe first episode, Night Work, introduces us to the world and begins to introduce its dramatis personæ, through the eyes of Josh Hartnett’s gunslinging ingénue. While he isn’t the focus of the episode, he is shaping up to be the hero of the show. Not in a simplistic way, but he is literally taking the Heroes Journey here, guided by Eva Green and Timothy Dalton’s hooded light.

While his depths are alluded to, what we initially see is his naivety to this world, this Victorian London caught between light and dark. It is his guides that have layers and depths and mysteries to them. Mysteries that, in contrast to a lot of other recent TV shows, I actually care to have revealed. I want to know; but I’m also enjoying not knowing.

The horror tropes, alluded to by the title, are there as expected, some of them pleasantly subverted. But this is not a horror show. It is a mystery show, a Victorian urban fantasy, painted with the palate of horror.

I’ll grant, it’s a well-used palate, and the show borrows heavily, not just from literature, but from past shows. But this League of Extraordinary Gentlemen meets From Hell is definitely watchable; even knowing when to lighten things a little, like with a superb turn by Simon Russell Beale.

It’ll be interesting to see how the show develops. It only has eight episodes and there are more major characters to be introduced, all plucked from the pages of Shelley, Wilde, Stoker and their contemporaries. But one episode in, I’m excited for more.

First Trailer for NBC’s Constantine TV Show

Okay, I was fairly excited about the new Constantine TV show before, especially when I learnt the pilot was to be directed by Neil Marshall. But now having seen the trailer that excitement has reached nigh-fever pitch. Are there a few things, tonally speaking, that I’d have done differently? Sure. Does the story draw some pretty clear lines to the middling efforts of Keanu-stine? Sure.

But this is a valiant effort, and by the looks of things a very watchable one. And in terms of tone and theme, much closer to Vertigo Comics’ cancelled, yet much-loved, Hellblazer series, than that tone-deaf reboot Constantine.

I recently gave the collected edition of the new comic another go, thinking that at first I might have not given it a sufficient chance, that I had pre-damned it with expectation and hope. Hope that a DC Universe all-ages superhero universe version of Constantine could deliver the same power that Hellblazer did. That hope was futile.

As it turns out, David Goyer understands the character of John Constantine much better than Ray Fawkes does.

Constantine TV Pilot Looking Good

My love for the character of John Constantine is well documented, but I was still cautious about the new TV pilot being commissioned by NBC. However, two things have shifted me from ‘cautious’ to ‘cautiously optimistic’. The first is that Neil Marshall, the director of Dog Soldiers, Doomsday and The Descent, will be directing the pilot. And the second? Constantine, as performed by Matt Ryan (voice of Kenway in Assassin’s Creed 4), looks spot on.