"". Friday Favourites for April: Books, TV, Podcasts | Is This Mutton?

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Friday 29 April 2022

Friday Favourites for April: Books, TV, Podcasts

 Women reading a book on the beach. Photo by Anna Tarazevich at Pexels

Dear friends. Here we are again - ready for the round-up of TV, books and podcasts consumed in April. Let's start with TV.

Slow Horses (Apple TV)

Imagine if you will a stable of intelligence agents, all deemed to be failures. Their punishment is being sent to a scruffy building to do menial tasks. These are the Slow Horses of the title. They're managed by Jackson Lamb (Gary Oldman), a heavy drinking, obnoxious but on-the-ball individual who's 100 miles away from Oldman's portrayal of George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

The pace can be a bit ponderous but it's picked up nicely, and having to wait for episodes makes us look forward to Fridays. The slow horses get caught up in a kidnap plot, and it looks as if they're being framed as responsible for failures on the part of the head of intelligence, Diana Taverner (Kristin Scott Thomas). It's a familiar trope but sufficiently well executed by the cast to keep the attention.

The Gloaming (Disney, Starz)

An Australian supernatural thriller. It's the story of an unorthodox and troubled policewoman, Molly McGee, who leads an investigation into the murder of an unidentified woman. McGee has to team up with Alex O'Connell, a man she has not spoken to for 20 years. They discover that the murder has links to a cold case from the past, political corruption and occult practices.

It was quite slow and there are lots of side plots. If you let too much time elapse between episodes, as we did, you forget what's going on and who's who in the complicated plot. The last couple of episodes accelerated into the supernatural, which we hadn't been expecting. It passed the time and Tasmania looked wonderful.

The Rising (Sky Max, Now)

I try to avoid books or programmes where a member of the cast is dead but present in the plot.  Somehow I got suckered into this one and have suspended my usual prejudice. Stroppy 19 year old Neve Kelly discovers she is dead, and worse than that, murdered.  And some people can see her, although most can't. 

She's determined to find her killer and get justice. Several suspects are set up as the possible killer. We haven't got to the end yet.  What I'm bemused about is how little Neve seems to consider her actual situation, of walking among her friends and family, dead, and how that's going to pan out. And why is she the one doing all the detective work? We hardly see the police. Perplexing.

Hacks (Prime)

Hacks is a comedy drama about a longtime entertainer in Las Vegas (Jean Smart) who needs new material to stay current and keep her slot.  Enter Ava Daniels (Hannah Einbinder), a down-on-her-luck comedy writer.  The two initially clash and distrust each other, but over time a friendship develops. 

The series has been garlanded, but I found it hard at first to see what all the fuss was about.  The comedy moments are few and far between.  It's more of an interesting polemic between generational divides and perceived stereotypes. The characters started to slowly unfold and grow during the series, and I think this will become quite an important show about women's rights. 

It was difficult to find a promotional photo that included Einbinder and Smart together.  They are nearly all of Smart on her own, in sequinned jumpsuit. She may be the bigger star but as the series is very much about the two of them, it seemed strange.

The Thief His Wife and the Canoe  (ITV Hub, Britbox)

You couldn't make up this story, which featured in the podcast British Scandal recently.  Unwilling to face bankruptcy,  John Darwin faked his own death in a canoe accident and hid in their house, using interconnecting doors and a secret cupboard. His wife Anne had to convince the police, their two sons and a coroner that John was indeed dead, in order to get the insurance money, although his body had not been found.  The couple were poised to live together in Panama when it all unravelled.

The excellent Eddie Marsan was the narcissistic John Darwin. The series belonged to Monica Dolan, who played the timid and downtrodden Anne.  She ended up with a longer prison sentence than her husband because she pleaded not guilty. Instead her legal team tried to build a case around coercive control but it was overruled because of a photo of the couple seen smiling in a Panamanian estate agents. I do believe there was an element of bullying in her relationship with Darwin.  He had been her only boyfriend and she lacked confidence and self belief.  

There's a documentary on Sky which explores this intriguing case.

Outer Range (Prime)

I've given up halfway through on this, although the hubster battles on.  On paper it had all the ingredients for success:  Josh Brolin as Royal Abbott, a rancher fighting for his land and family;  amazing landscapes and a mysterious hole in the ground with supernatural qualities, which appeared on Abbott's land.

The first two episodes were promising, with Abbott being told by a neighbouring rancher to give up some of his land, and a fight between one of Abbott's sons and the neighbour's son, which ended in a fatality. Not to mention the mysterious mystical woman camping out on Abbott's land (Brit Imogen Poots). But the plot around the hole hasn't developed, and it's a complete dog's breakfast of loose ends and red herrings. 

The Split  (BBC iPlayer, Prime Video, Hulu, Spectrum TV, Sundance Now, Apple TV, The Roku Channel)

As corny as a Texan's breakfast but fun, The Split, now in its 3rd season, continues to chronicle the breakdown of a marriage between two lawyers in London. There are also sub plots around the mother and two sisters of lawyer Kate (Nicola Walker) - above. 

I like to drool over Kate's work outfits: classy and simple tailoring from both upmarket brands and high street stores.

The BBC has confirmed there won't be a series 4. Shame!


At the Table by Claire Powell

This was my best read in April.  Nicole and her brother Jamie are stunned when their parents separate after 30 years of marriage. 

The after shocks see successful businesswoman and drinker Nicole  pursuing the ex she unceremoniously dumped six years ago, while people-pleasing Jamie fears he's sleepwalking into a marriage he doesn't actually want. 

Meanwhile their parents are trying to protect the secret of why they split, and coming to terms with unexpectedly having to start again.

A fascinating and perceptive observation of  a dysfunctional family. 

Lessons in Chemistry, Bonnie Garmus

It's the 1950s and men rule the working world.  Aspiring chemist, the determined and singular Elizabeth Zott, is thwarted by sexism and misogyny as she confounds society by decrying religion, "living in sin" with her soul mate, a fellow scientist, and having a daughter out of wedlock.

It's already been selected as a Radio 2 book club pick and I predict it will do very well in the awards. Having said that, while I enjoyed it, I found Zott difficult to relate to.  The plot seemed quite retro in the way that key characters' lives inter-crossed in ways which were a little unbelievable. There are also too many references to modern life which don't chime for the 50s and early 60s. 

But it doesn't take itself too seriously and there are amusing vignettes from Elizabeth's dog Six Thirty, who understands more than 800 words.

I Fear for This Boy: Some Chapters of Accidents (Theo Fennell)

I came across this collection of memoirs by chance when it was partly serialised in a newspaper. The irrepressible and larger-than-life jeweller Theo Fennell recounts some of the (many) disasters in his early working life.  It's laugh out loud funny, particularly the chapter where a young Theo battles against a hangover as he races to an important meeting, on a boiling hot day, with buyers from Liberty.  The drinks fountain does unspeakable things to him and he is drenched in sweat and shaking by the end of the meeting. 

Fennell is the father of Emerald, the award winning actor.

All the Living and All the Dead (Hayley Campbell)

In this non-fiction book, journalist Hayley Campbell goes behind the scenes of the death industry to learn more about the processes of dying and the people who perform these rites.  She talks to funeral directors, embalmers, crime scene cleaners and more.

I found it very interesting but the journalistic writing was irritating, particularly in the first few chapters. You know what I mean: it's the painting of pictures and the sentence at the end that reminds us of the beginning, in a corny way.  Campbell initially falls over herself to be respectful and glorying of the people who deal with the dead. I prefer the later chapters where she is more realistic. 

Podcasts Listened To

A lean month for podcasts: I didn't find any outstanding new ones. Fortunately a long-running series, Against the Odds (Wondery) continued to deliver with its latest season, 14, about a meltdown at Japanese nuclear power plant Fukushima. I also kept up to date with my usual favourites:  British Scandal, Postcards from Midlife, The Shift with Sam Baker, and Fortunately with Fi and Jane  (although the ladies did disappear for a fortnight on holiday, would you believe!).

I nearly jumped out of my skin at times with the superior binaural qualities of drama Dead Hand, from the BBC's Lime Light series  (BC Sounds). On the hunt for the identity of the serial killer, the host of a true crime podcast realises that after 20 years Dead Hand is active again. 

I hope you've found some potential hits among my selections, and as always I look forward to hearing your views and suggestions in the comments.

Sharing this post with: , #SpreadTheKindness  and #Linkup on the Edge at Shelbee on the Edge, #AnythingGoes at My Random Musings, Rena at Fine WhateverFabulous Fridays at Lucy Bertoldi, Talent Sharing Tuesdays at Scribbling Boomer, Link Up Pot Pourri and Traffic Jam Weekend at My Bijou Life, Final Friday at Marsha in the Middle (last Friday of the month)


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