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Friday 3 September 2021

Friday Favourites: August 2021: Vigil, Underbelly, Fearne Cotton and Many More

Wearing headphones on a country walk, Is This Mutton's Gail Hanlon with her monthly digest of podcast, TV and book recommendations

Dear friends - welcome to Friday Favourites, my roundup of podcasts, TV and books in August. Once again I found TV a bit underwhelming, although it perked up later in August with The Chair and Vigil. But let's start with books.  This time I'm scoring the books read on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being utterly amazing. 


The Plot, Jean Hanff Korelitz  (6 out of 10)

US writer Korelitz wrote the book on which the TV series The Undoing was based. The Plot has an interesting storyline:  an arrogant young student goes to the writing class of a disillusioned, unsuccessful writer, and tells him the outline of his planned novel, which, he believes, will be a huge global success because it has never been written before.  A few years go by and the book doesn't surface, so the lecturer writes his own version of the story.  Then he finds he is being tormented online by someone who knows who wrote it, and the true events of the real-life story.  

What let the book down was the fact that the excerpts of the "stolen" book (which did, as predicted, become a global best seller) are so poorly written that I could not believe it became a blockbuster.  With the author's credibility in doubt, I was sceptical until the end.  I had guessed who the protagonist was, and I hate it when that happens.

Love in Five Acts, Daniela Krien (9 out of 10) 

This beautifully translated novel is by German writer Daniela Krien. Her sparse, precise writing tells the story of five women whose lives intersect at some point. It's a captivating and poignant portrait of five middle class women. Penny - you will like it.

The Heights, Louise Candlish  (6 out of 10)

Let me introduce you to a middle class woman we will love to hate, Ellen Saint, the tiger mother in Louise Candlish's latest thriller. To say she loathes Kieran, the friend of her teenage son, would be an understatement. She blames Kieran for a tragedy and what unfolds is a story of revenge. The plot was a bit incredulous at times and the ending was less than satisfying.  Not as good as Candlish's usual offerings, though it passed the time. 

Underbelly, Anna Richardson  (8 out of 10)

The writers are husband and wife team Anna Richardson and Matt Farquharson, both big shots on Instagram  (she is "Mother Pukka" apparently - the world of mummy bloggers has eluded me). 

There's a whole rash of fiction at the moment exploring the darker side of social media influencers. Usually, the plot concerns affluent mummy bloggers with useless husbands. They're invariably trolled or stalked by jealous women who frequent sites like Tattle Life where influencers are castigated for being "inauthentic. " 

Underbelly has this in the form of mummy blogger Lo, who gets lots of freebies and yes, has a useless husband who doesn't understand what her job as an influencer actually is. But it also has Dylan, a single mother who's escaped to Haringey to start a new life. Lo and Dylan meet when their children become friends, as it turns out the local state school is a very good one. An unlikely friendship develops. It becomes hard to predict where the story is going - which is good, I like unpredictable - until everything suddenly implodes for both women. 

TV Viewing

Vigil, BBC, iPlayer

This is from the Line of Duty stable and has all the necessary elements of surprise and terror. Suranne Jones, angst ridden as always, is the detective inspector sent to investigate the death of a submariner,  (Martin Compston from Line of Duty)  on board nuclear sub Vigil. 

Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones) is the detective back on terra firma who helps with the investigation.  Cue scenes of beautiful Scottish scenery. 

Personally, anything with submarines is hard to resist.  

Some of the plot is hard to believe, but the quality of the production pulls you along and you're willing to suspend your incredulity.  Haven't seen the ending yet as the BBC meanies are rationing us to one episode a week after releasing two initially. 

The Grand Tour (Prime)

As you may remember, I was surprised to enjoy Jeremy Clarkson's "Clarkson's Farm," and it made me feel benevolent enough towards him to give the new series of The Grand Tour a try.

Big mistake! Set at the beginning of the lockdown, and unable to travel to exotic climes to upset the locals and blow up caravans, the three middle aged geezers set off to Scotland for some jolly japes in three ancient American cars  (no doubt to play to the global market).

It seemed as if the chemistry had long ago leached out of the trio's relationship, and what we were seeing was some sort of contractual obligation. Not even remotely amusing.

Spiral, Series 8  (BBC iPlayer)

Well, it was like Christmas when we discovered series 8 of French detective drama Spiral had landed a few months ago! Unfortunately minus Monsieur Le Juge, who has retired, but one of the strongest story lines of the entire series, with a beautifully crafted and satisfying ending. One of the best examples of its genre, always credible and honest. And with a neat sideline in the latest French swear words and slang. I heaved a long and sad sigh as the credits rolled for the last time.

Nine Perfect Strangers (Prime)

This big budget drama starring Nicole Kidman, based on a novel by Liane Moriarty, failed to  engage me. I watched three episodes but found it strangely low powered. I couldn't find anything to like in the characters.  Nicole Kidman has sadly lost it for me because her face just doesn't move. I read the book a few months ago and didn't rate it as one of Moriarty's best.  I'll be interested to know if any of you loved it! 

The Chair (Netflix)

I had high hopes for this comedy drama starring Sandra Oh as the chair of an outdated English department at an American university. She is trying to win tenure for a talented young black woman, while having to deal with three elderly professors that the university wants to get rid of.  The three elderly professors, to me, are one of the best bits of the show, along with Oh's Korean family. 

I'm still watching it, and occasionally it makes me laugh, but I can't help thinking it's a bit of a miss in some ways.  Oh's character is supposedly in love with recently widowed professor, her friend Bill Dobson. He is such an appalling character, I can't believe in the story line.  OK, he lost his wife a year ago, but the childish antics, the drinking, the disregard for doing his job properly ---- neither Mr Mutton or I can warm to him, or Oh's precocious, truculent young daughter.  

Making the Cut (Prime)

Don't castigate me for liking this. It's harmless escapism.  I stumbled across it when the hubster was watching football.  It's a hackneyed old formula but done on a massively big budget scale. 

It's a competition to find the global superstar fashion designer of tomorrow.  The competitors are already designers with their own brands. This is what makes it work, because their work is often staggeringly good.  The prize is a million dollars, plus every winning outfit is sold for real on Amazon.  The presenters and judges are all top notch  (Naomi Campbell in series 1 is deliciously mean), as are the locations (Paris, Tokyo...) and the runways. Nothing cheap or nasty here! Unlike the next prog.....

Changing Rooms (Channel 4)

I couldn't resist a peak at the recreation of this 90s icon. I wish I hadn't. The show has had its own makeover but original designer Laurence Llewellyn Bowen, he of the mane of hair and leather trousers, is still lording it over the hapless decorators. In one word:  APPALLING.

Podcast Pleasures

This Thing of Darkness (BBC)

Told mostly from the perspective of a forensic psychiatrist, this gripping drama aims to find out who killed Jamie. His father is on remand accused of his murder. Our perceptions change as the story shifts and unfolds.  I couldn't wait for each episode, although there was some careless and cliched writing at times, and the murdered man seemed to scarcely figure at all. This is August's Podcast of the Month, going into my Podcast Hall of Fame.

About a Girl (Double Elvis Productions and iHeartRadio)

David and Angie Bowie: Globe Photos/MediaPunch /IPX/AP Images

Hosted by Eleanor Wells, and with a deft, well written script, this podcast explores the lives of women who shaped and influenced music’s most iconic male artists.  The very first episode was devoted to Angie Bowie, first wife of David Bowie, so I had to listen to it.  An objective and fairly sympathetic portrait of a woman who has been much criticized, not least for giving custody of their son Zowie to David. Women in subsequent episodes include Linda McCartney, Marianne Faithfull, Jane Asher and Rita Marley. 

Bridgewater (iHeart Radio)

I'm enjoying this drama about folklore professor, Jeremy Bradshaw, who's pulled into the mysterious 1980 disappearance of his police officer father, Thomas, when new evidence comes to light. 

Together with his father’s former partner, retired Detective Anne Becker, Jeremy must chase the clues that will tell him whether or not his father really did fall victim to a Satanic cult in the Bridgewater Triangle—or something much more dark and unexplainable.

Happy Place (officialfearne.cotton.com)

I'm indebted to Fearne Cotton for helping to change my perceptions. Like a lot of world weary and stiff upper lipped boomers, I get impatient when young people are forever lamenting their lot, and going on about resolving their issues, dealing with their demons and so on.

But listening to Fearne, who has had her own share of trials and tribulations, and interviewee Suranne Jones (currently starring in Vigil, reviewed above), I was forced to challenge my beliefs.

It was a remarkable exchange between two very bright and talented women, both of whom reached a crisis point in their lives. 

Instead of soldiering on, like the Boomer generation did, they identified the contributory factors and took action to get to their happy place.  

I was reminded of a dark time in the 2010s when I had the job of my dreams but was being  constantly undermined and challenged by the 95% male team.  

I didn't mention it to anyone: I thought I could rise above it. I only realized when I heard Fearne's podcast (now in its ninth series) that I had allowed people to bully me because that it was the culture at that time. I would never have reported it because at that time HR departments rarely listened to "the whistle blower." Thankfully today's strong young women and movements like #Metoo are starting to put an end to the injustices against women at work. 

That's all for Friday Favourites this time. As always, love to hear your views and recommendations in the comments. 

Sharing this post with:  #LinkupAtTheEdge at Shelbee on the Edge, #AnythingGoes at My Random Musings, Rena at Fine WhateverFabulous Fridays at Lucy Bertoldi, #TheWeekendLinkUp at Claire Justine

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1 comment

  1. I love reading your round ups Gail. Thank you for sharing. I am not really a podcast person but it sounds as if that needs to change!


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