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Friday 28 May 2021

Friday Favourites: TV, Books, Podcasts - May Edition 2021

 Selection of the TV shows, books and podcasts reviewed by UK blog Is This Mutton in May 2021 including Shtisel, Motherland, Starstruck, Stowaway, Jackie Weaver Ha the Authority and My Phantoms

Welcome to the May round-up of this month's favourite podcasts, TV and books. It's a bumper edition because with Mr Mutton off on his two week bike ride, I have had full control over the remote control.  


Motherland (series 3 on BBC iPlayer; seasons 1 + 2 on Netflix and Prime) 

I eagerly binge watched the miserly five episodes of series three. Motherland captures all the bitchiness and petty battles of factions of parents with kids at school. The children are scarcely seen or mentioned: it's all about the open days, the coffee mornings, sports days and general oneupmanship, and the challenges of everyday life. 

The first episode was loosely based on the government's crisis broadcasts about Covid, with an outbreak of nits at school requiring slide presentations and briefings. 

Anna Maxwell Martin (centre) is superb as the stressed and acidic Julia. She's not happy that her mum has now moved in with them, monopolising the en suite. Her husband, as always, is rarely seen - he's always off doing fun things for himself. Lucy Punch (far right) is also excellent as the well groomed perfectionist "leader" of one of the mothers' factions. Behind the facade, her life is falling apart. 

Starstruck (BBC3, iPlayer)

A promising start;  this comedic drama has potential to get better over time, but the plot is a dead end so it will need to expand a bit. Jessie, an outgoing and outspoken Kiwi (Rose Matafeo, who also writes the series) has a drunken New Year's Eve hook up with someone she later discovers is a famous actor. Most episodes are about her constantly avoiding him because she thinks he would never seriously fancy her (he does). 

Shtisel (Netflix)

This would never have made the watchlist if Mr Mutton wasn't away, but I absolutely love it! It's a drama with subtitles about an orthodox Jewish family, the Shtisels,  in Israel. I became totally immersed in the family's dramas, pain and heartaches. There is joy, pathos and tragedy. All of life is here. Religion is part of their everyday lives, but not presented as the main topic of the series as it was in Orthodox, where a woman "escaped" and fled to Germany. Highly recommended. Three seasons available. 

Halston (Netflix)

Ewan McGregor, as the celebrated 70s designer Halston,  seemed to enjoy it but I found this drama about strangely off center. Originally Halston was a milliner. His pill box hat was worn by Jackie Kennedy "until her hair got too big."  He then rebranded himself as a fashion designer and became a well known socialite and friend of Liza Minnelli and Bianca Jagger.  I didn't think Halston came across as particularly talented, as it seemed his team were doing a lot of the work. What he did have was a gift for opportunism and the ability to get leverage from friendships.

All That Glitters  (BBC and iPlayer)

This is the latest offering in the Bake Off / Sewing Bee type genre.  Jewellers compete against each other to create a bespoke item and a commercial item. The judges were both well-known in the jewellery industry but it was hard to warm to either of them. I also found the presenter, Canadian comedian Katherine Ryan a bit hard to take initially. Some of her jokes in early episodes about being a single mom fell heavily into the abyss. But it seems part of the formula for these shows is zaniness, and it definitely works in the Sewing Bee with Joe Lycett. Maybe less so with Ryan.  But I enjoyed the series: it was interesting to see jewellery being made. although it was pretty obvious from the start who was good and who was out of their depth.

Stowaway (Netflix)

I'm always keen on films about space, preferably with aliens.  There are no aliens in this quiet, elegant  film about three astronauts heading for Mars, led by Toni Collette.  There's a burst of tension early on when a stowaway is discovered and Collette demands to know from mission control who she has on her ship, and if he is dangerous.  Unfortunately it's all a bit polite, although there are some hair raising moments near the end when two astronauts have to undertake a precarious climb on the structure of the spaceship to try to retrieve oxygen. The ending was annoyingly inconclusive.  There was a sacrifice, but we didn't know if it actually benefited the crew. 

Sex, Myths and the Menopause:  Channel 4 (on-demand, All Four)

I felt a bit emotional watching this excellent and powerful documentary presented by Davina McCall. It must surely be the first time that the menopause has been discussed frankly and openly on a national TV channel, and that fact in itself is staggering, in that half of the population will go through the menopause! 

Women are treated so badly in the UK and Ireland by the medical profession:  GPs have just two hours of teaching about the menopause in the syllabus. Many women are either turned away when they seek help, or given anti depressants. 

It's also an unrecognised issue at many employers.  Countless numbers of women have stopped working because their perimenopausal symptoms were overwhelming them.  There is a terrible stigma around admitting that you have brain fog, anxiety, aching joints, the feeling that ants are crawling all over you, insomnia - not to mention the hot flushes that everyone thinks is the only symptom. 

Davina was very open about her own experience:  when she first had symptoms of brain fog, aged 44, she thought she had early onset dementia. Essential viewing for everyone, not just women over 40.


No entry this month for the Is This Mutton Podcast Hall of Fame - see my long list of recommendations if you're looking for a listen. I wasn't completely wowed by anything. 

Confronting Columbine (Glass) is the latest chapter in Glass Podcasts' Confronting anthology. The series is hosted by Amy Over, a Columbine high school massacre survivor.  Very moving in parts, particularly when Over speaks to the man universally loved by the survivors, the head teacher at the time of the massacre.  His family was fractured and has never recovered because of the time he spent helping and comforting survivors, parents and the local community. The victims are shown below, and the podcast talks about each one.

Jackie Weaver Has the Authority (Audioboom)

Jackie Weaver Has the Authority podcast reviewed by Is This Mutton May 2021

The Jackie Weaver phenomenon could only happen in the UK.  She shot to stardom a few weeks ago when video of her chairing a local council meeting went viral.  Jackie had been parachuted in to try to restore order at the council, but her chairmanship was not welcomed by the council members, mostly white men of a certain demographic.  The best line was given by the actual chairman of the council, repeatedly telling everyone that Jackie Weaver did not have the authority. She clearly did, and ejected him from the Zoom meeting. 

It's hilarious and worth seeking out on YouTube, not least for the appearance of someone's iPAD and  aghast mutterings in the background.

In her podcast, Jackie poses various questions from listeners to her star guests: these have included the Rev Kate Bottley and Jeremy Vine.  It made me laugh out loud on occasion. Jackie is a confident presenter and an amusing, no-nonsense woman - a Boomer to be proud of! 

The Vaping Fix (Wondery)

This documentary series recounts how a San Francisco start-up intended to rid the world of smoking with an incredible new product. But it all went very wrong when young people began to get addicted to vaping, scarcely realising that their addiction was fuelled by nicotine.

Books Read This Month

My Phantoms by Gwendoline Riley

I can't remember when a book was so painful to read. It's about the fractured relationship between a mother, Helen, and her daughter, Bridget.  They seldom see each other and when they do, their behaviour follows a set pattern with the predictable tensions, questions asked and not answered properly,  and words unsaid.  

Helen makes a disastrous move to what she thinks is retirement housing which turns out to be student accommodation. She reaches out to Bridget for more contact and tells her daughter, an academic in her 40s, that she is lonely. But the daughter is overwhelmed and aghast, and ignores the plea. 

An outstanding and haunting novel from the author of First Love, which was shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Literature, the Dylan Thomas Prize, the Gordon Burn Prize, and won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. 

Worst Idea Ever by Jane Fallon

I always enjoy Jane Fallon's novels. She writes revenge comedy with a dash of tart black humour, and builds characters who are believable, not always the case with this genre.

Best friends Georgia and Lydia are both graphic artists but while Georgia has found success with a childrens' books, Lydia is struggling.  When she starts an online business, Georgia decides to help her by creating a fake Twitter account to praise her work and pose as a potential customer. But Lydia and her new fan become too close and Georgia hears more than she wants to from her old friend. 

When I Was Ten by  Fiona Cummins

When I was 10 by Fiona Cummins reviewed by Is This Mutton, May 2021

Two parents are brutally murdered by their 10 year old daughter, who starts a new life after youth detention. Her husband and daughter have no idea about her background. But then her sister, two years older, who was present when the murders happened, goes public about wanting to see Sara after they lost contact years ago. Meanwhile another girl, a friend of both sisters, who also witnessed the tragedy, is now a journalist and gets dragged back into their lives.

Some parts of the book are gripping but the section that dealt with the sisters' childhood and the circumstances leading to the murders was very poorly drawn and full of cliches about sheds with spiders.  I was sufficiently invested to read it to the end.
What are your recommendations for books, TV, films and podcasts?  Do share in the comments.

I'm back on Monday with the Style Not Age Challenge. See you then.

Sharing this post with #TheWeekendLinkUp at Claire Justine#LinkupOnTheEdge  at Shelbee on the Edge, #AnythingGoes at My Random Musings,  Fabulous Fridays at Lucy Bertoldi, Rena at Fine Whatever 

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