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Friday 25 February 2022

February Favourites: TV, Books, Podcasts

 Couple watching Netflix sets the scene for Is This Mutton's February 2022 reviews of TV, books and podcasts

Dear friends - welcome to another edition of my monthly reviews of TV shows, podcasts and books. 

Without further ado let's start with what the Muttons have been watching. And there have been a few duds this month, although some of you may think I'm mistaken  (do let me know in the comments). 

Let's start with three that I don't recommend.

Suspicion, Apple TV

A rich kid, son of media mogul Uma Thurman, is kidnapped from a New York hotel.  Four ordinary Brits who happened to be staying in the hotel are accused of the kidnapping. They embark on a desperate race against time to prove their innocence. 

There are two snags for me.  The first is that none of the four Brits is very likable, or has any personality. Secondly, the US police officer Scott Anderson is an awful caricature and extremely irritating. 

The series never really gets going and there's no suspense or excitement. At present we haven't seen the last episode and I'm hoping Mr Mutton has forgotten about it.  I wonder when Apple TV will ever get a hit show  (apart from Ted Lasso, which was not my cup of tea).

The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window (Netflix)

This is billed as a comedy, and all the reviews have emphasized this because you honestly wouldn't know.  To me it was so similar to any number of "normal" dramas that I couldn't help but think it was serious. There was nothing ironic or  amusing about it. Fallet, also on Netflix, is a spoof of the usual crime drama, and very blatantly so.  

The plot is: a female alcoholic (in denial),  whose daughter died tragically, is constantly staring out of her window and watching the goings-on in the house opposite.  She sleeps with the dodgy  (inevitably British) man who lives there, and then finds out he already has a girlfriend whom she then sees getting murdered, in full view of the window. He also has a young daughter and we're told he's a widower, though our drunk window watcher thinks he probably murdered his wife. 

We were glad to get to the last episode but here things took an unpleasant turn and we actually had to switch it off.  I won't say any more for fear of giving you a spoiler, but those of you who have watched to the end will know what I mean.  Distasteful. 

Chloe (BBC)

The first two episodes of this drama were enough to hook me in, but by the end I was sorely regretting six hours lost that I will never get back.

The plot had more holes than a wheel of Emmental.

Outsider Becky (Erin Doherty, who played Princess Anne in The Crown) obsesses over influencer Chloe, deceased.  She adopts a new persona, Sasha, and ingratiates herself into Chloe's circle of friends, claiming to be an art expert who'd returned from Japan. It transpires Sasha wants to find out what "really" happened to Chloe. 

I found it hard to believe how Chloe's circle welcomed her in,. Not to mention her starting a relationship with Chloe's recently bereaved husband.

Sasha came across as very needy and manipulative. She was forever apologizing for her appalling lies and acts, yet no-one seemed to question who she was or her behaviour. 

The most ludicrous thing was that she had apparently been known by the group when she was at school - yet they had no idea Sasha was actually Becky. As she was still only in her 20s, it was not believable  that she was unrecognisable. People may change their hair, lose weight or stop wearing glasses, but surely their voice and mannerisms don't change.

The last episode really took the biscuit:  it was a confusing series of flashbacks plus Becky's imagination and dreams, so we ended up confused and no nearer the truth than when we started.  We still don't know if Chloe was murdered.

Now for three I loved.....

Der Pass (Pagan Peak) - Sky TV - two seasons

A body of a people trafficker, clutching a horse's tail,  is found on the border of Austria and Germany. The dour, disillusioned Gedeon Winter (left) willingly hands the case over to his German counterpart Ellie. 

Another body is found, also subjected to the same pagan rituals, and it seems a serial killer may be on the loose. Gedeon is brought back into the case.  He is a fascinating character who obviously has a complicated back story.  I read that the series is a rip-off of The Bridge but I don't see it myself, except for the angle of collaboration of two border countries.

The plot was deliciously complex and kept us guessing in both seasons  (different story in season 2). The ending was open enough to suggest a third series but there's been no confirmation yet. The English title "Pagan Peak" is just wrong - Der Pass is fine! 

The Promise  (BBC 4,  BBC iPlayer)

This classy French crime drama also brought something new to the genre. A girl has gone missing, and there are parallels between the disappearance 20 years ago of another missing girl.  The daughter of the police officer who failed to solve the first case is determined to link and solve both disappearances. Some very atmospheric videography and storm footage, plus compelling acting, make this worth watching. Everyone I know cried at the ending.

The Maiden Factor (Netflix)

This documentary film tells the story of British yachtswoman Tracy Edwards MBE and her determination to lead an all-female crew, for the first time ever, in the Whitbread Round the World Race in the early 1990s.

It brought back happy memories for me. The race in which Tracy sailed, after a huge struggle to get funding or respect from the male yachting community, was one which my then-company, BT, was sponsoring.  I was sent to Southampton for the finish as part of the sponsorship and press team and had the most wonderful two weeks.

In this heart warming film, Tracy and her crew got revenge on the misogynists and enjoyed a massive welcome by a flotilla of other boats as they approach Ocean Village in Southampton. 

It's great to hear that Maiden has recently taken to the seas again with some of the original crew members, this time campaigning for girls' education.

Tracy has been a guest on the Magnificent Midlife podcast - worth checking out. Frankly I am amazed  she has not received greater honours. 

This May Hurt (BBC)

This series, based on the best selling true book by junior doctor Adam Kay, has been quite controversial. Ben Whishaw stars in a drama which brutally exposes the NHS and what goes on in an obstetric/gynae ("brats and twats") ward.  

I read the book when it came out and found it disappointing. The tales which are supposed to be funny were never as amusing as those in other books and mainly because I didn't want to laugh at the misfortune of women who are sometimes treated disgracefully.

Along with life and death situations we encounter Whishaw's awful parents, who cannot reconcile themselves to the fact he's gay;  the male dominance of doctors and their callous treatment of women and any doctors below them; a malpractice case, and a tragedy with one of the staff.

The differences between this, and Call the Midwife, set a few decades earlier, are striking. I have to say though that not all midwives in the 1960s were kind or nurturing. One of the midwives, in a home birth, dug her nails into my mother's thighs and injured her so badly that the doctor asked my dad what had gone on. 

It wasn't exactly enjoyable to watch but definitely compelling. 


Wild Things (Apple TV / At Will Media)

In my previous job I went to Las Vegas about 5 times for the annual sales and marketing conference, and we sometimes tried to see a show on our first night. I always hoped to see the illusionists Siegfried and Roy, with their amazing white tigers and leopards, but I was outvoted. 

In 2003, on his 59th birthday, Roy Horn was attacked by one of the tigers and dragged backstage. He survived but had permanent impairment to his motor and verbal abilities. He also had a stroke either before or after the tiger dragged him offstage. Both he and Siegfried have since died. 

This podcast tries to find out what actually happened on that fateful night at The Mirage. 

The incident had always been shrouded in mystery. A video which showed what happened was hidden away.  Siegfried and Roy had several different versions of events. In one, the tiger was said to be taking Roy to safety because it realised he was having a stroke.  Another theory was that Roy put himself between the tiger and the audience because he realised its behaviour was off, and there were no safety barriers. 

British Scandal: The Coughing Major (Wondery)

Series 10 of this very enjoyable podcast features the case of the Coughing Major, Charles Ingram, pictured with his wife Diana.  Ingram won the jackpot in the TV show Who Wants to be a Millionaire, but was subsequently arrested and convicted of trying to defraud the show after it was proved he had  received help from his wife and Tecwen Whittock, another quizzer seated in the audience. They were said to cough every time he didn't know an answer. 


Rachel's Holiday by Marian Keyes

I adore Marian Keyes, both her writing and her delightful personality and empathy. When I heard that her latest book, published this month, was going to be a successor to Rachel's Holiday, I decided to re-read the first book which is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

The book tells how Rachel Walsh is "rescued" after a near fatal drugs overdose in New York, and taken back to Dublin by her worried family.  She's booked into a rehab centre, The Cloisters, expecting to find a spa and celebrities.  

Rachel's friend since school, Birgit, who was sharing a flat with her in NY, and her ex-boyfriend Luke  both come to the Cloisters to testify and describe Rachel's behaviour.  She eventually accepts that she is a drug addict and after anger moves to acceptance.  It doesn't all go smoothly after she leaves rehab however. 

What made the book so authentic is that Marian herself was an alcoholic, so she writes very well about the triggers and denial of addiction.

I've just started the new sequel, Again, Rachel and will let you know what it's like next month.

A Very Nice Girl by Imogen Crimp 

Anna is in London to try and find success as an opera singer. She's drifting, singing in pubs to make money.  She meets an older man and they start a relationship based on power plays.  Anna is insecure and needy, while Max is noncommittal and evasive, insisting they're 'just having fun'. He starts to make her depend on him, by giving her money, and Anna tries to get closer to him but finds out more than she bargained for. She realises she has been dis-empowered, and must stand on her own two feet.  It's a devastatingly effective portrayal of the two characters and the twists and turns of their relationship.

Mrs England by Stacey Halls

After a period of reading quite bleak books I wanted some lighter reading. Initially I feared this was going to be a very superficial Mills and Boon type experience, but it evolved into something far more intriguing. The book has already won plaudits  as a finalist in the Women's Prize Futures 10, and as a  Waterstones Best Book of the Year.

Newly graduated children's nurse Ruby May takes a job in Yorkshire in 1904 to look after the children of industrialist Charles England and his wife Lilian. She gets a warm welcome from Charles and finds the house has hardly any other staff. Meanwhile Mrs England is remote and scarcely involved in the lives of her children. 

Mrs England is a portrait of an Edwardian marriage, weaving an enthralling story of men and women, power and control, courage, truth and deception. There is also more to Ruby than initially meets the eye: she is one of the first working class girls to break into what is effectively the Norland nanny set. 

I hope you enjoyed this month's February Favourites, and let me know if you have any recommendations in the comments, or indeed, if you agreed with my assessment of the first three TV shows reviewed.

I'm back on Monday with the Style Not Age Challenge with me, Anna, Jacqui, Emma and Hilda.

Sharing this post with: #LinkUpontheEdge at Shelbee on the Edge, #AnythingGoes at My Random Musings, Rena at Fine Whatever #Neverendingstyle at The Grey Brunette Traffic Jam Weekend aLife as a Leo Wife,Talent Sharing Tuesdays at Scribbling Boomer


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