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Friday 29 January 2021

Friday Favourites: TV, Podcasts, Books - January edition


I'm back with Is This Mutton's monthly round-up of reading, listening and viewing.  In the last few weeks it's been a bit of a desert on TV. There are hundreds of TV programmes to choose from, but very few are worth spending time on. Fortunately January has picked up considerably.

Without  further ado, let's look at my latest TV recommendations.

Mr Mutton and I spent December watching The Killing, the original Nordic Noir, now showing on Prime. I lamented a few weeks ago how we were keen to see it but it wasn't showing anywhere. One of the good things the pandemic has brought is the plethora of programming from Europe and other regions. 

Although it started in 2007, The Killing isn't dated in the least, probably thanks to those timeless Icelandic jumpers worn by Sarah Lund. Anyway, utterly gripping.  Saving season 2 for a while so that we get chance to watch some other serials.

Our MO is to start our evenings with a light programme about nature, travel or train journeys. Then we alternate two serials, typically one about crime and the other a more classic drama.

Winter Walks was a delightful series, just five programmes, on BBC 4.  Catch it on the iPlayer.  It was so simple: the presenter did a scenic walk using a 360 degree camera with a drone for aerial shots. The presenters were well chosen, people we don't see very much on TV, like the Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage. and Baroness Warsi. 

They gave us their reflections on the walk and on nature, and spoke to people they met en route.  The walks were really nicely captioned with little factoids on the route and the history of some of the historic sights.

Mr Mutton was so impressed he bought a 360 degree camera!

ITV excels in true crime dramas and The Pembrokeshire Murders (ITV)  was no exception. Three episodes long, the drama centred on the "Coastal Path Murders," a set of unsolved crimes which were re-investigated. Advances in forensic science and the energy of a new Detective Superintendent (charismatic Luke Evans) resulted in John Cooper being tried and convicted for crimes including the 1985 double murder of siblings Richard and Helen Thomas, and the 1989 double murder of Peter and Gwenda Dixon. He was also sentenced for the rape of a 16 year old girl and a sexual assault on a 15 year old girl, both carried out at gunpoint.

I wasn't too excited to watch The Great (Channel 4, Hulu, Starz), a drama loosely based on the life of Catherine The Great, but actually it surprised me. 

It reminds me of the colourful confection from 2004, the film Marie Antoinette. The Great is a genre-bending comedy drama that takes us to 18th century Russia. Nicholas Hoult is the spoilt and childish Emperor Peter II who marries Catherine (Elle Fanning), an ambitious young woman who is not content to indulge in vapid pursuits with the ladies of the court, none of whom can read.  It's refreshing and different.

Zut alors, Call My Agent! is back (Netflix).  As I've mentioned before, this is a fantastic treat, and if you haven't seen series 1-3, you have some serious binge watching ahead of you! Beautifully written and acted, this French comedy drama centres on the lives of the publicists who work at ASK, a talent agency.  A big star takes part in every episode in a parody of themselves.  Unfortunately they couldn't persuade Gerard Depardieu amd Catherine Deneuve for the new and last series, which is now available; but we do get the first Hollywood star taking part, Sigourney Weaver. 

Finally: new on BBC2 and available on the iPlayer is Danish crime drama The Investigation. Once you've seen a few of the Nordic blockbusters you notice the same actors in the key roles. They're like old friends. The Investigation stars two actors who were both in The Killing and Borgen:  Søren Malling and Pilou Asbæk, left,  (also Euron Greyjoy in Game of Thrones).  It's the true story of "The Submarine Case" surrounding the murder of Swedish journalist Kim Wall. 

Podcast Recommendations

OMG I loved Chameleon, Hollywood Con Queen (Campside Media). For several years a mysterious scam had been operating in the film industry. Those in the gig economy - security guards, fitness coaches, make-up artists - were lured to Indonesia with the prospect of being interviewed to work on major films which were shown to exist in IMD. It was all very plausible with scripts and discussions with different people. But once they got to Indonesia, at their own expense, they were driven around for a few days and the meetings with producers never materialised.  Meanwhile famous Hollywood producers were being impersonated in the scam to add credibility. The story behind the scam is utterly jaw dropping. 

I enjoyed Dirty Diana (QCode), a drama series starring Demi Moore as Diana, a woman in a serious job and a failing marriage.  She's trying to keep secret her side hussle, a website of women's sexual fantasies. Other stars who feature in the podcast include Gwendoline Christie and Lena Dunham. Made by and produced for the girls  (that's us). 

A new release from Wondery is The Apology Line. If you could call a number and say you’re sorry, and no one would know, what would you apologize for? For fifteen years, you could call a number in Manhattan and do just that. This is the story of the line, and the man at the other end who became consumed by his own creation. He was known as “Mr. Apology.”  

If you want some feel-good vibes, try Blank Pod (Acast) with Giles Paley-Phillips and Jim Daly. Every week they interview a celebrity about their careers and how they get through these moments when things aren't going to plan. Guests have included Stephen Fry, Ian Rankin, Mark Kermode, Emma Kennedy and Jenny Seagrove. In The Mid Point, Gabby Logan asks celebrities what it's like to be at the halfway stage of their life.  Guests have included Davina McCall, Piers Morgan, Caitlin Moran and John Bishop. 

I've now got a page dedicated to podcasts which you can find here

Book Recommendations

I've been reading a lot lately. Such a Fun Age, the debut of Kiley Reid, has been causing a lot of buzz in the literary world. 

At the centre of the story is babysitter Emira, whose employer is a bored and spoilt businesswoman who's taking time off to write a book while bringing up her children. Emira is out with her friends when she's summoned to come back to the house to urgently take care of one of the children during a domestic drama.  

She takes the child to a Whole Earth type store and there she is smiled at by another customer who promptly tells the security guard that Emira may have kidnapped the child. Purely because Emira is black and the woman is white.  It later transpires that Emira's boyfriend was a former beau of her spoilt and lazy employer.   

The novel deals with the tricky topics of race, white privilege and political correctness with wit and verve. 

The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger

If you liked Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies you'll probably like this.  I found it surprisingly bingeworthy, even though the premise of privileged white helicopter parents wanting their gifted offspring to be accepted into a new school for gifted offspring, wasn't overly appealing. There's skulduggery a-plenty and plenty of opportunity for the parents to question their motives and beliefs, particularly as the gifted children are competing against the son of one of their parents' Peruvian cleaners. 

People Like Her by Ellery Lloyd 

A real page-turner that takes us into the murky world of the seriously successful Instagram influencer. Most books that fictionalize social media usually get it wrong. This writer has a deep knowledge of the machinations involved in being a brand magnet. 

Emmy Jackson has crafted her whole IG "MamaBare" persona around being authentic, kind, empathetic and honest. She has a million followers and boxes of gifted product rain down on her home every day.  But her IG persona is largely made up, and in the background, a stalker waits to strike.  This had genuine twists and turns that I wasn't expecting. Gripping until the end. 

Ellery Lloyd is the pseudonym for London-based husband-and-wife writing team Collette Lyons and Paul Vlitos.

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

One of the finest US writers is in top form with this story of mothers and daughters that longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction.  Like many of Strout's books, My Name is Lucy Barton gives us tantalizing fragments and glimpses into a life without always spelling out the detail as most authors feel they need to do. 

Lucy is recovering from an operation in a New York hospital when she wakes to find her estranged mother sitting by her bed. They have not seen one another in years. As they talk Lucy finds herself recalling her troubled rural childhood and how it was she eventually arrived in the big city, got married and had children. But this unexpected visit leaves her doubting the life she's made. 

What have you been watching, reading and listening to?  Do let me know in the comments.  Have a great weekend  (in the circumstances!) and I'm back with Sentence a Day for January on Tuesday, and a special post about Color on Wednesday. 

Sharing this post with Not Dressed as LambMy Random Musings, Shelbee on the Edge Lucy Bertoldi, Traffic Jam Weekend Linky Party at My Bijou Life and Rena at Fine Whatever 


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