Bodyguard (Season 1, 2018)

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One night, while riding the train home with his kids, David Budd, an Afghan war Vet and Principal Protection Officer, the British Equivalent of a Bodyguard, discovers a bomber in the bathroom. After an extremely tense standoff, David manages to talk her down, and save everyone onboard. This leads to him being labeled a hero, and getting a new assignment; protecting Julia Montague, the Home Secretary. Julia’s a very unpopular politician, with plans to introduce a highly controversial, Patriot Act style bill into law, which would basically give Parliament access to everyone’s personal information. As a result, she needs protection from just about everyone, terrorists, organized crime, etc. David doesn’t initially like her, seeing as she’s pro War, and he knows, from first-hand experience, how brutal, and, in some ways, pointless, the conflict is. But after someone tries to assassinate her, they inexplicably start having an affair, and he starts doing some digging of his own, uncovering an elaborate, albeit very silly, conspiracy.

Bodyguard is a series I’d heard nothing but good things about, and the clips I’d watched on YouTube seemed tense and well acted. So when the show hit Netflix, I sat down and binged all six, hour-long episodes. And, having done that, I can say that, on the strength of this shows performances and action sequences alone, it’s worth a watch. This is a coiled, riveting suspense thriller with some of the best set pieces I’ve seen on TV, or anywhere for that matter, in a long, long time. There are three in particular, one on the train where David is talking down a bomber, one in a car where David is protecting Julia from a sniper, and one in a park where David has a bomb strapped to his body (don’t ask, it’s a spoiler), that really stand out. As many issues as I have with this show’s story, these sequences are so well constructed, and so terrifically acted that they kind of make up for it. And speaking of the acting, Richard Madden as David Budd is fantastic. In case you don’t recognize his name, he played Robb Stark on the first three seasons of Game of Thrones, where, let’s be honest, he really didn’t stick out. If you were to ask most people, the only thing they’d probably remember about him is the fact that he died in The Red Wedding. Here, however, he steals just about every scene he’s in. Not only does he believably capture the precision and physicality of this soldier turned bodyguard, but there’s many scenes where he has no dialogue , and has to emote with just his eyes. It’s fantastic. There’s been some talk online of him maybe being the next Bond, but I don’t, personally, see that. As you all probably know, I’m not a fan of the franchise, and think it should be discontinued. But, beyond just that, Madden’s thick Scottish accent and rougher features make him seem more like a down-to-Earth, working-class hero, like a Cop, vigilante, or rebel, than a spy. I could see him as William Wallace. But I’m getting sidetracked.

Like I said, the show’s action, and acting, carries you through the series, even when the plot gets silly, and the characters make dumb choices. Those positive features aren’t always enough to save the story, though. Sometimes the writing really does take you out of things. For instance, something that happens a lot in this show is characters just not telling each other the truth, when it would be so easy to do so, and there’s no reason for them not to. A primary example of this is when David finds out that the sniper who tried to assassinate Julia is a guy who he served with in Afghanistan, and he neglects to tell the cops that, which, as you might imagine, comes back to bite him in the ass. Now, there’s no logical reason for him to withhold that information; he had nothing to do with the assassination attempt, and his knowledge of this guy’s affiliates and connections could probably have helped the investigation. It’s literally just the writers forcing him to not act like a rational human being so that he can become a suspect later on. This is a very old, very bad, storytelling device, where characters don’t speak in complete sentences, or just don’t say what they mean, so the plot can advance, and I think it’s long past time we got rid of it. Something else that bugs me is the fact that I’m really not sure what, if anything, the show is trying to say. It’s clearly a political series, but what its political leanings are, I couldn’t tell you. On the one hand, it appears to be a liberal program, with women being shown in positions of power, the legitimacy of the war in Afghanistan being questioned, and issues of privacy and profiling being brought up. On the other hand, the Conservatives are ultimately vindicated in their fear-mongering about Muslims, with all the terrorists being of that faith, and the Tories’ calls for stricter policing and borders being supported by the end. It seems like the show runner wanted to have it both ways, to appeal to liberal TV critics to get them to like it, but also play to the racism of a more Conservative audience base. But what really bugged me about the show was the ending. When you find out all the facets of the conspiracy, all the people who were involved, either directly or indirectly, it just becomes silly.

So, in the end, Bodyguard does have strong qualities, such as a terrific cast and excellent suspense. And I do, ultimately, think that those things, coupled with the shows short length, make it worth watching. But some of the writing gets contrived, and the message of the series is very unclear. Make of this what you will.

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Black Mirror (Seasons 1-3)

Greetings loved ones. Liu is the name, and views are my game.

What if you could build a man, based on his social media posts? What if you could watch memories, like movies, on a screen? What if a signal was sent out that turned half the world into passive spectators, and the other half into murderous hunters ? These questions, and more, are what get asked and explored in Black Mirror, a British anthology series that’s streaming on Netflix. Each episode features a different cast, a different story, and a different reality. But all feature the recurrent motif of technology, and a dry, nihilistic sense of humor. The series might best be described as half science fiction, half satire.

In many respects, Black Mirror is the spiritual successor to The Twilight Zone, the classic sci-fi anthology series that ran for five seasons back in the 50s. Both feature episodes with different casts and story-lines. Both ask moral and philosophical questions, usually through a scientific or magical plot device. Both feature macabre twist endings, and both gave actors who would eventually become super famous their first big break. Seriously. Black Mirror has got way more famous British actors in it than I would have thought. You’ve got Domhnall Gleason, from The Force Awakens, The Revenant and Ex Machina. You’ve got Hayley Atwell, or as you may know her, agent Peggy carter from the MCU. You’ve got Tuppence Middleton from Sense8. You’ve got Daniel Kaluuya from Get Out. You’ve got Toby Kebbell, who’s starred in every major big budget flop that’s come out in the last four years. You’ve got Gugu Mbatha-Raw, from Belle, Beauty and the Beast, and Beyond the Lights. And, of course, you’ve got Benedict Wong, from Marco Polo, Doctor Strange, and The Martian. So much talent. And it was all before they were famous. But I’m getting sidetracked.

Black Mirror is a very smart, very well-written series. Even in its weaker episodes, the show is consistently entertaining. The acting is always top notch, as is the production design. And I really want to emphasize this, its original. Every single episode features a unique; thought provoking concept. And none of them are remakes of older stories, adaptations of preexisting material, or spin offs of other stuff. Do you realize how rare that is? Do you realize how virtually nothing that gets made these days is not a sequel, remake, adaptation or spin off? For that reason, I have to recommend you all watch this. Even if you don’t like sci-fi, you’ll appreciate the show for it’s emotional depth and it’s originality. Especially the latter.

But before you get the wrong idea, the series isn’t perfect. Where the show falters the most is its cynicism. Virtually all the episodes end in an extremely bleak manner, and, very often, those endings fly in the face of the world and the characters that have been established. I understand tragedy is seen as the highest, most respectable form of dramatic art, but forced tragedy is awkward and unrealistic. And it doesn’t hit you as hard when you know that the story shouldn’t have ended that way, not because you didn’t want it to, but because the ending was easily avoidable. And example of this “false tragedy” I’m talking about is the episode “Fifteen Million Merits.” In it, we see Daniel Kaluuya raging against the numb, media obsessed dystopia that he’s living in. He spends the entire episode telling us how much he hates it and how much he hates the people who have turned the world into thoughtless zombies. And yet, by the end of the episode, he joins the big media company and becomes part of the system he despises. And it comes out of nowhere. It’s not like the show builds up to this by throwing us little hints that maybe he actually likes the system. He hates it, and then, out of nowhere, when he’s given the chance to join it, he does. Why? It doesn’t make sense. And because of that, I don’t feel devastated. I just feel confused. And even in episodes that don’t include sci-fi elements, like the first episode of the series, “the national anthem,” the show’s harsh, mean-spirited tone is off-putting. In that episode, a royal princess gets kidnapped, and the only way to save her is if the prime minister fucks a pig. And we have to watch him do it. Why? What possible good can come from forcing us to watch an old man get pressured into committing bestiality. What does that say, other than that you hate politicians? I hate Donald trump, but I would never want to have to watch him fuck a gorilla. That’s just cruel and mean. And it doesn’t teach us anything. The only episode that has a happy ending is San Junipero, a sweet little love story about two women finally being able to be with each other in an artificial construct. And there, it comes as an all too welcome relief.

All I can say is that Black Mirror is a brilliantly-written, highly original, but deeply mean spirited and nihilistic show. I want to recommend it, but I feel I can’t do so without warning you of its content. Make of this what you will.