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Tuesday 2 August 2022

July Reviews: Books, TV, Podcasts

The Is This Mutton round-up of good - and bad - books, TV shows and podcasts.

Greetings dear friends and welcome to another selection of podcast, TV and book reviews. Quite a few this time because my last post was a books special. 

Television Reviews

The Newsreader (BBC2, BBC iPlayer)

This Australian drama is set in a TV newsroom in the 1980s. It's a class act with fully rounded characters and news stories we remember instantly:  Lindy Chamberlin (the "dingo baby"), Chernobyl, and the first cases of AIDS and how the victims were ostracized.

Helen, the TV station's star newsreader, is particularly well drawn.  She has an uneasy relationship with news chief Lindsay, a classic neanderthal misogynist. He's automatically "one of the guys" but knows how popular she is with the viewers.

Helen starts a relationship with reporter Dale who's puppy-like and gullible. She turns to alcohol and prescription drugs when she's under stress. Helen is also very protective and nurturing of Dale's fledgling career.

Enjoyed the six part drama and looking forward to series 2.

The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem  (Netflix)

I adored Shtisel (Netflix) so was eagerly awaiting this, which also stars Michael Aloni. He plays family patriarch Gabriel in this a multi-generational saga about the Ermoza family, a Sephardic clan in Jerusalem. The story jumps back and forth from the 1920s to the late 1930s and covers many controversial topics, including the British occupation, and political and religious tensions. 

At the heart of the drama are some extraordinary women, among them Gabriel's daughters, the charismatic Luna, a born entrepreneur, and her sister Raquel, who finds herself in an ideological struggle. 

Everything I Know about Love  (BBC iPlayer)

Based on the memoir by Dolly Alderton, this joyful series shows us life in a house share in Camden in 2012 with four friends. Two have been friends since childhood. It's a life that's often untidy, chaotic, fraught with bad dates and overflowing with alcohol and drugs, but I found it such fun and quite uplifting. 

Your expectation is that Maggie (right, played by the luminous Emma Appleton), will end up with the trendy guy from the train. It's a story of lost love, but the love in question is the platonic love between two women, Maggie and her best friend Birdy (Bell Powley). Just seven episodes to treasure.

Borgen: Power and Glory  (Netflix)

I was thrilled to see the return of this powerhouse of a political drama  (if that's not an oxymoron) from Denmark.  Birgitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen) is back, and this time she's Foreign Minister, dealing with issues that include a major oil find in Greenland and the global ramifications of this, with China, Russia and the US all wanting a share of the action. 

Birgitte's life seems very lonely: her children no longer live with her and she doesn't appear to have a partner. She has a harder edge to her than the Birgitte we last saw in 2013. 

We also catch up with journalist turned political advisor Katrine F√łnsmark, who gets into trouble when she takes up a senior position at TV1 and falls out with some of her newsroom team. 

We really enjoyed the new series!  It was as if Borgen had never gone away.

Didn't Like These Shows..... 

No matter how many channels we get - and Paramount is a recent addition in the UK - it's hard to find good things to watch.  Too many drama series are effectively computer games, or poorly dubbed, or feature dire lighting (why so dark?) and laughable dialogue. Commissioning editors need to be more disciplined. 

These were various programmes we tried in June/July, which I stopped watching: 

Stranger Things (Netflix) 

We'd heard positive things about this but I found series 1 unwatchable. It's as if the director told the cast - mostly kids and Winona Ryder - to dial up their performance x10.  The over acting and shrieking voices soon had me switching off, although Mr Mutton stuck with it, at least to series 2.

Halo (Paramount) 

Based on a computer game. Lacks authentic dialogue and proper character development. It's the usual trope of aliens threatening civilisation and everything resting on something secret and mystical, in this case "the halo."  Zzzz.

The Midwich Cuckoos (Sky Atlantic) 

Promised a lot with a decent cast including Keeley Hawes and Max Beesley, and a potentially interesting storyline. A small village in England is plunged into chaos on one day with power cuts and confusion.  It transpires that every woman of child bearing age is now pregnant, and their pregnancies are closely monitored by "the authorities." Unfortunately it was so slow, ponderous and wooden, that we stopped watching after episode 3.

Pistol (Disney+, Hulu) 

Based on the memoir of Steve Jones, the Sex Pistols guitarist, and directed by Danny Boyle, the first few episodes were electrifying, so different and so vibrant. I loved punk music and found that period very exciting. 

But somehow Pistol lost steam and fizzled out. By the time Sid Vicious had joined the band, we had given up. John Lydon - a far more interesting character -  disassociated himself from it. His  autobiography would have been better to dramatise,  although as he had a happier and more normal childhood, it  probably wasn't what what they were after.

Podcast Reviews

How to be 60 with Kaye Adams (acast)

This has shot to the top of my favourite "midlife women's bants" podcasts and goes into the Is This Mutton Podcast Hall of Fame.

I've grown disenchanted with the BBC's Fortunately, for reasons I'll explain shortly, and this fills the gap nicely.

Kaye Adams is approaching her landmark 60th birthday with trepidation and dread, which is interesting because we're constantly told 60 is the new 40 and we should embrace it.  Like Kaye, I dreaded turning 60 and I still don't admit to being 61 very often! It just seems so.....old. 

The podcast starts each week with some banter between Kaye and her friend Liz McKenzie, and it's often laugh out loud funny. 

Then there's a guest, and they have been very interesting ---- Toyah Wilcox, Aggie McKenzie, Nicky Campbell the DJ, Jenny Eclair, to name a few. 

It's quite raucous and sweary, unlike Fortunately, which, since falling under the auspices of the BBC, has become a bit straight laced and twee.  Presenters Fi Glover and Jane Garvey are constantly apologizing for any content that may not pass the scrutiny of the BBC.  To me, the show has lost its way. Initially, their guests were mostly well-known middle-aged people. They're from all demographics now and sometimes a bit worthy and dull.

I'm also tiring of Jane Garvey's ego.  To start with, it seemed she was being ironic when she constantly teased and goaded Fi, and kept expecting an honour or invitation to a royal garden party. Now it's wearing thin, particularly her criticism of Fi, whose questions are often more incisive.

Listening In (QCode)

I'm still listening to this, and bemused as to the release schedule.  It's supposed to be weekly, but my podcast platform hasn't had a new episode since July 12.  Now I know that Apple subscribers have priority and get episodes early, but this is ridiculous. 

The podcast itself is a drama, with fairly short episodes.  To my mind, fewer, but longer, episodes would have been better.  As it is, the episodes rarely even end with a cliff hanger.

Julia and her husband have moved to a new apartment block, a long way from New York. She's struggling to make friends and make sense of her new life.  She starts overhearing the conversations of neighbours via her home speaker, and finds herself embroiled in a bad situation. It seems her husband and his company is in trouble, and as Julia starts snooping around to find out more, she finds she has her own enemies. 

Update:  A new episode was promised by my platform on Tuesday, it's now saying "any time soon." Episode 8 is billed as the finale, but it had so many loose ends I couldn't see how it was the last episode. And in the blurb, we were promised 11 episodes. I've tweeted Acast to see what they have to say.  I'm quite annoyed at having spent a couple of hours listening to this, and the denouement was entirely unsatisfactory.

Smoking Gun 

A true crime podcast with a slightly different angle (yay!).  In every murder investigation, there's one key item that could bring a killer to justice. But finding it, and knowing what evidence it contains, is the challenge. Romola Girai narrates this podcast and the tales of various smoking guns including a house brick, a bouquet of flowers, a mosquito. 


Know My Name by Chanel Miller

I noticed a woman on the beach reading this, so out of interest I added it to my book list.  I remember reading about the court case and being utterly horrified, and angered, by the attitude towards the Stanford student Brock Turner, who sexually assaulted Chanel. 

The debate seemed to be about sparing him from too much punishment because he had a bright career ahead of him:  a so-called model student, aspiring swimmer and of course, white and privileged.

Commentators seemed to suggest Chanel had brought it all on herself for being drunk and having collapsed, rather than wondering why a well brought-up student like Turner had been stalking her friends all evening and preyed on Chanel rather than helping her.

Chanel's writing is searing, not just on her ordeal, which lasted several years, but on the way the criminal justice system treats women. She is a bright star and should go far. 9 out of 10 

That Green Eyed Girl by Julie Owen Moylan 

This was in the summer reading book list I featured, and was probably my favourite fiction beach read. We're in the same New York apartment but in 1955 and 1975, switching between the timelines with a clever narrative linking the two. The title of the book I found a bit of a red herring, because the green eyed girl in question played very little part in the story but left us wondering about her life. A fascinating book about forbidden love and the punishments meted out to women deemed "immoral" in America in the 1950s.  8 out of 10 

Luster by Raven Leilani (pictured)

Longlisted for the Women's Prize For Fiction 2021. I'm not quite as hyped up about this as critics and other reviewers.  I struggled in fact to remember the story, and I only read it about three weeks ago.

The narrator, Edie, is a twenty-something African American woman who, struggling to pay off her student loans. Without the safety net of family to fall back on, she finds herself living with her white, middle-aged boyfriend and his wife, and their black adopted daughter. It seems her lover has his wife's approval for their relationship, and a curious friendship develops between the wife and Edie while her relationship with the husband fades away.   7 out of 10.

Complicit by Winnie M Li

Sarah Lei had a dazzling career ahead of her as a talented young producer, but after her first major film, she fades away. This novel, written in Sarah's voice, unveils what really goes on in the film industry. It unravels what went on during the filming, and the impact it had on the women involved. One of them was a fledgling actor, now a big star, but no longer in contact with Sarah. Women are just fodder, there to amuse the men, and instantly dispensable if they create waves.  7 out of 10.

So that's my July round-up, and as always, can't wait to hear your views on what I've discussed, and any recommendations. Join me tomorrow for #WowOnWednesday.

Sharing this post with:#SpreadTheKindness and #Linkup on the Edge at Shelbee on the Edge, #AnythingGoes at My Random MusingsRena at Fine WhateverTalent Sharing Tuesdays at Scribbling Boomer,  Traffic Jam Weekend at Marsha in the Middle


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