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Friday 29 October 2021

Friday Favourites: Books, TV, Podcasts: October Edition


Dear friends -welcome to the October edition of Friday Favourites, my round-up of books, podcasts and TV.  It was a much better month for new TV shows.  Autumn always has a positive effect on the schedules.  Let's start first with television, and two of Apple TV's big bets. 


Invasion (Apple TV)

Oooh I thought:  an alien invasion, and Sam Neill! But we're four episodes in, and not one glimpse of an alien.  Instead, the drama focuses on individual people and families, and the real-time effects of the invasion on them.  All we know about the invasion so far is that strange things are happening.  Sam Neill, a sheriff about to retire in episode 1, was sucked into a strange hole in the middle of a corn field.  A bus load of British school children  careered across a field and haven't been seen by us since.  A Japanese astronaut went into space, and her communications director, and girlfriend, pictured, mourned when the space ship disappeared.

So all very mysterious, but a bit ponderous too.  I'm finding it hard to engage with the characters - the few that are constant. We've seen one family in each episode:  the husband has been cheating on his wife with an Instagram cookery "influencer." He wants to leave his family, and comes across as spineless and weak. The two children are very whiny. I have high hopes for the wife, played by Iranian actor Golshifteh Farahani, as she seems resourceful and spirited. 

It looks as if many stars are taking part in the series, including Kim Cattrall and Elizabeth Moss.

Foundation (Apple TV)

At least Invasion has promise.  The same cannot be said for the gloom fest that is Foundation. It takes itself very seriously. 

We're still persevering, but I've long forgotten the original premise, spelled out in episode 1.  I don't blame Jared Harris for bailing after one episode. Nobody smiles in Foundation. There aren't even any aliens to speak of, just angry people on planets which seem to have no natural resources, yet the people have been there for decades. 

Maid (Netflix)

Maid is a mini series about the plight of a young woman who leaves her drunken boyfriend and tries to go it alone with their three year old daughter.  It's a disturbing tale of how little state support there is for a woman like Alex.  Things start to get a bit better for her but she's repeatedly let down by her bipolar mother, played by Andie MacDowell. Her father, who has a new family, offers help, but Alex is triggered by an incident when she's cleaning the house of a runaway who was badly treated by his mother. She remembers she and her mother fleeing from her father several years ago.  It's an engrossing true story.  We root for Alex all the way and despair when she makes naive decisions.

Cobra  (Sky)

Brits are well familiar with the term "Cobra" by now, which is the Government's emergency committee convened to deal with crises like Covid.  Boris Johnson famously missed several meetings of Cobra early on in the pandemic because he was writing a book about the Romans. 

In Sky's Cobra, now in its second series, the Prime Minister is Robert Sutherland, played by Robert Carlyle. His Downing Street Chief of Staff is played by Victoria Hamilton with a snappy pixie cut and good tailoring. If Boris thought he was under siege with a pandemic, Sutherland has it in spades with cyber attacks and 300 people killed after a solar flare. Not to mention problems in his personal life.

The government's harried intelligence chief, Eleanor James (Lisa Palfrey) doesn't seem to have a clue who's behind it all. It could be the Russians, Chinese or Americans. My money's on the Americans, who were the villains in the recent drama Vigil, and seem to be the current scapegoats in UK dramas. 

Cobra is an ambitious drama but sometimes it's very implausible. Big moments with special effects are done on the cheap. Some of the actors are far too hammy and cliched, like David Haig, who plays the villainous newly appointed Foreign Secretary. Mr Mutton and I were both engaging with our phones during the most recent episode, which speaks volumes. 

Family Business (Netflix)

If you're pining for Call My Agent, the wonderful French comedy drama series, you might want to try Family Business. There's a familiar face in the form of Arlette, who plays the family's matriarch.  Now in its second series, this is the story of a family who unwittingly get into cannabis production after their butchery business fails.  It's not quite as funny CMA, but is a nice little amuse bouche. 

Shetland  (BBC)

We only discovered Shetland recently: it's now back in series 6.  I wonder how such a small place can generate so much crime, but we always said that about Midsomer Murders. Shetland is a non-flashy crime series, based on the novels of Anne Cleeves. It's got characters we can invest in, good acting and spectacular scenery.

The Long Call (ITV)

ITV's new four-part crime drama this week also had spectacular scenery, and was also based on a book by Anne Cleeves. It was set in North Devon, and the cinematography was stunning with lots of back lighting and bokeh. 

The drama focuses on Detective Inspector Matthew Venn, who has returned to live in a small community in North Devon with his husband. It’s a place Matthew walked away from 20 years ago, after being rejected by his family who are part of the area’s Barum Brethren community.  His mother is Juliet Stevenson who delivers a tour de force performance in her Brethren headscarf. As you might expect, this a community rife with secrets and lies - and a couple of murders. 

 We have yet to watch episode four but I'm told Anita Dobson, (pictured), who's unrecognizable as the downtrodden wife of Brethen leader Dennis (Martin Shaw), steals the show.


Loved and Missed by Susie Boyt

Ruth brings up Lily after her drug addict daughter Eleanor can't, or won't. It's a short novel, beautifully written, poignant and wistful.  Near the end Lily takes over as narrator - I won't explain why - which seemed abrupt and left me wishing I knew how Ruth felt about a significant development in her life, when she had shared so much in the book. The title "Loved and Missed" refers to a scene in the book where this is an inscription on a grave, and Ruth muses that maybe it meant the person tried to love, but didn't succeed. 

This Much is True, Miriam Margolyes

Actor Miriam Margolyes is always outrageous when she's interviewed for TV and radio. I've often thought it's an act that she puts on to attract attention. At the beginning of her autobiography, she more or less agrees with this, and says she hopes the book will show a more considered, deeper Miriam.  

Various reviews talk about hilarious anecdotes, hilarious stories and eye popping candor. To be honest, I didn't experience that and maybe expected more. 

Miriam was a much loved only child, and doted on by her parents. They were a tight unit.  She says not a day goes by when she doesn't think of Mummy. I felt that Miriam has never escaped that precious little girl.  A lot of the book is devoted to her memories of school, with teachers described in great detail. She often talks about meeting people, hitting it off immediately, and becoming friends with them for life. She's very lucky if this is true.  I couldn't help thinking she had inordinate pride in her ability to collect people. 

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

My goodness this was hard work.  This most recent novel by Sally Rooney was acclaimed by most critics, but in Amazon reviews just 38% said it was excellent.  It tells the story of four people, and there are lots of emails between the two main characters where they endlessly debate the meaning of life and the beauty of nature.  Unlike Normal People, which had realism, sweetness and honesty, this just seems pretentious and dull. 

The Unheard by Nicci French

The excellent crime writing duo have come up with something quite different. When three year old Poppy produces a macabre painting, her mother, who's split up with Poppy's father, hears alarm bells. The picture appears to show a woman falling. Is it based on truth?  Did Poppy witness a crime?  Police and her ex-husband think Tess is delusional.  It was a bit slow but eventually the story began to gather pace. 

Podcast Reviews

British Scandal (Wondery)

I thoroughly enjoy this series, which has dissected a few recent, and not so recent, scandals including The Litvinenko Affair, The Murdoch Phone Hacking, which brought about the end of the News of the World newspaper, and The Profumo Affair. Mostly recently, The Canoe Con has held me agog. I remember the story well:  beset by financial problems, John Darwin decided to stage his own death to collect the insurance money.  He and his wife fled to Panama and started a new life.  

What I'd forgotten was that when John Darwin "disappeared" on a kayak trip, his wife was waiting at the next bay to pick him up, and he spent the night in a bed and breakfast watching news of his disappearance on TV and the massive search that ensued.  He then had to live like a fugitive in their boarding house, hiding in the attic whenever police called. And his research had been flawed, because when his wife tried to claim on the insurance, she was told there would be no pay out without a body.

It's an amazing story and one that will soon be told in a film.  

What makes the series so entertaining is the way it's presented by Alice Levine and Matt Forde. Their badinage is a joy to behold, not in the least cringe-city as it is with most double-handed podcasts. Don't miss the last episode, where they interview the chief investigating officer about the Darwins' crimes.  He has a dry North East sense of humour, a wonderful laugh, and it's just a delight.  

British Scandal is going into the Is This Mutton Podcast Hall of Fame.  See my other podcast recommendations here. 

The Liz Earle Podcast

Liz Earle sold her eponymous beauty company many years ago and has since become a serious commentator on women's health and well being.  She has a website and a very good podcast. The podcast talks about latest evidence-based developments on topics including the menopause, women taking testosterone; how to have better sleep; cruelty-free beauty, depression, immunity and so on.  Her experts are all well known, and often the facts they discuss are astonishing. The only annoying things about it are the cheesy intro music  (teeth on edge!) and the unpredictable audio quality. The ads are always much louder than the podcast speakers. 

Sharing this post with #Linkupontheedge at Shelbee on the Edge, #AnythingGoes at My Random Musings,Rena at Fine WhateverFabulous Fridays at Lucy Bertoldi, #Neverendingstyle at The Grey Brunette  

That's it for this month's bumper edition.  As always, love to hear your views and recommendations in the comments. 


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  1. Oh I did enjoy your very comprehensive and useful review, Gail. I’ve been floundering on what to watch and read lately, so I’ll run with a few from the above. But please help me out, what’s ‘bokeh’, I feel i must be missing out on something!
    Hugs, Mary xxx.

  2. Glad you enjoyed it Mary. Bokeh is a photography effect where the background is blurred out x


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