‘THE AMERICANS’, MY LOVE FOR THIS SHOW WILL LIVE WITH ME FOREVER!

Yesterday was somewhat of a momentous day for me.  You see, finally I finished watching the incredible spy thriller drama series that is The Americans.  All six seasons of it I have watched and now I feel rather sad that it’s all over.

Series one of the amazing Happy Valley remains my favourite ever drama series.  From start to finish it is simply a work of sheer perfection.  The biggest compliment I can give The Americans though, is to say that this programme is right up there with it in terms of its quality.

You know you must love a show when you get butterflies in your stomach just before the opening credits and theme music start.  This is what happened to me when watching the final few episodes of The Americans.  Furthermore, you also know you must love a show when after it has just ended, you feel that you could burst into tears at any given moment.  This is what happened to me yesterday after seeing the penultimate episode of The Americans.

For a lot of TV dramas I struggle to lose my suspension-of-disbelief(forget that it’s a TV show), but very rarely did this happen with me during the entire six seasons of this show.  Being moved so genuinely by outstanding acting and writing, it is what is so great about the television drama art form when it is done right.

In case you haven’t seen it then I guess at this point I should briefly state what The Americans is all about.  In a nutshell, it’s a spy thriller set in the early 1980’s, during the Cold War years.  It focuses on the lives of two undercover KGB officers called Elizabeth(Keri Russell) and Philip Jennings(Mathew Rhys), posing as an American couple with two children who live in the North Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.

The viewing delight and suspense of this series lies in the possibility of their true identities being revealed at any given moment.  With every episode I was sat there on the edge of my seat(that’s a lot of minutes I can tell you).  It really was like going on the very best white-knuckle ride you are ever likely to go on.

Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings, gives an absolutely outstanding performance.  If there is any justice in this world then he will finally win an Emmy this time around.  Keri Russell and he are so convincing in the numerous roles and personas that they played.

The acting, the writing, the mise-en-scene and the music, there simply was not a substantial weakness in this drama. I guess the only slightly negative thing I could suggest is that at times it was slightly tricky to follow in places, but not enough to ruin your enjoyment of it.  I also did not think the very last episode was perfection, however it was still very good all the same.

As the ending credits rolled belonging to the final episode I felt so emotional it was untrue.  If I am honest, I still feel this way a bit today too.  I feel so glad and privileged to have had this series in my life. Nevertheless, there is definitely a feeling of sadness there that there isn’t anymore episodes left to see.

If you love your TV dramas then YOU HAVE TO WATCH THE AMERICANS!  I love this show that much that I watched it via Amazon Prime Video(not on terrestrial TV in the UK).  Thank goodness, that my love for this show will live with me forever! 5/5.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fight Like a Girl: review.

As thirty minute documentaries go this wasn’t a bad effort at all.  As part of BBC1’s Our Lives, it focused on the life of Glaswegian, Kimberly Benson.  Kim being twenty-six years old and said to be Scotland’s most popular female wrestler right now.

Through a combination of fly-on-the-wall footage and present day interviews, what we got was a documentary that was engaging, interesting and at times moving.  In fact, you could easily argue that because the subject matter was so intriguing, then justifiably it could have run for an hour instead of just half an hour like it did.

The most pleasing aspect of this programme was that it challenged stereotypes and stigma surrounding female body image.  Kim(known as Viper in the wrestling world) is a large lady and so she spoke about how during her ten years in the wrestling business thus far, she has had to fight preconceived ideas about her abilities due to her size.  As wrestling promoter Mark Dallas said on camera, many see Kim as a role model(a positive one for younger girls).

Narrated well throughout by Edith Bowman, we learned of Kim’s supportive family and how vital a support network they are for her.  To help pay the bills, we also found out that Kim worked for the family coach hire business.

Contrasts and polar opposites in Kim’s life are what gave this documentary an emotive quality.  For example, Kim talked about the adrenaline rush of putting on great wrestling performances, countered then by the injuries and toll that it takes on her body.  Kim told us, ”It’s torture but it’s great”.

In the midst of her living her wrestling dream via touring the world and receiving much fandom, we saw Kim at her most vulnerable when she described to us just how lonely this world can feel at times.  She told us, ”being in the spotlight is the loneliest place in the world”.

Kim also talked of regrets when it came to missing out on building up relationships with people due to all the travelling involved overseas.  ”You belong to everybody and nobody at the same time”, is how she best described it to us.  Moments like this were moving to watch without being overplayed though.

Visually, we saw numerous stunning establishing shots of Japanese architecture, as we followed Kim over there for her all important double title match against Toni Storm.  These glorious sights of Japan definitely added a sense of the spectacle to the piece.

Critically speaking, it would have been extremely insightful to have got Kim’s opinion on the female wrestlers that work for the WWE(arguably the biggest wrestling promotion in the world).  Here, it appears to me that unfortunately the male gaze is still very prevalent with female wrestlers and that indeed size does still matter.

It also would have been interesting to have heard more from other female wrestlers that she competed against.  Were they too following a lifelong dream like Kim I wondered?  Including what some male wrestlers thought of their female counterparts would have been good too.

All in all, a great little documentary that had brilliant aspirational undertones throughout.  4/5.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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HELLO STRANGER – Episode one review.

The good news is that Hello Stranger was better than the truly awful Naked Attraction.  You must have seen or heard about the latter, the only dating show where people select each other based on the aesthetics of their bits and bobs.

The bad news though is that Hello Stranger was still pretty dire stuff.  It was that bad that I am already missing that hour of my life that I spent watching it.  It was a dating show with a twist it claimed, namely via the use of hypnosis.

Call me an old cynic here, but I did not believe most of what I watched.  Speaking as somebody who has tried hypnosis twice in the past, the young couple in question(Lucy and George), they just came across as two celebrity wannabees(they have a YouTube channel apparently) who were at best average actors.

As the ending credits rolled I sat there thinking what a pointless show with an utterly pointless outcome.  I am all for easy viewing but this made Blind Date look like the Mastermind of dating shows!

Straight into the show we were introduced to hypnotist Aaron Calvert.  He was sought of the presenter throughout, together with a woman who did voice-over bits.  My main problem with Aaron, was that what with his headset on and his overly enthusiastic nature, he reminded me a bit of the dating version of the football commentator John Motson!  He got that excited at one point near the end that I literally thought he was going to explode!

The format was as follows.  Firstly, Lucy and George, supposedly had their memories of each other erased from their minds through hypnosis.  There was this bit where they each had to chose a favourite possession of theirs that would then remind them of their relationship when taken out of the hypnosis.  It was like watching one of those toe curling sob stories that feature on The X-Factor.

Lucy and George, then went on two dates with two people who had not been hypnotised and that they didn’t know.  Here, the voice-over’s comments at times were a bit too much Carry On like for me, i.e overly suggestive which made it corny.  Their third date was with each other and as I’ve already mentioned, Aaron nearly wet himself here with excitement when they supposedly didn’t instantly recognise one another.

Aaron in his role of fake dating show presenter(to them), then separately asked Lucy and George, to pick a photo of the person that they would like to date again.  The climax of the show came about when their choices were revealed to each other.  This time though they were brought out of their hypnotic states before the big revelation occured.  Again, call me a cynic if you want, but I just didn’t buy their coming out of hypnosis reactions.  It all just felt a bit over-the-top.

It would have at least made reasonably entertaining telly if they had chosen other people to go on a second date with, but rather predictably we saw them choose one another.  Hooray, we got the happy ending, but for me it was just a load silly tripe that I can’t believe I’d made myself watch.

I am trying to think if I have missed any underlying positive messages from this show, but I know I have not.  In production terms, it also has to be said that it came across as cheap as chips.  I definitely won’t be making a second date to watch it,  I’m sorry but that night I’ll be busy washing my hair! 1/5.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Peter Kay’s Car Share new final episode review: A FORGETTABLE HAPPY ENDING!

As a massive fan of the original two series of Peter Kay’s Car Share, this review is going to be somewhat difficult to write because I thought this much anticipated new final episode was a big disappointment.  For the most part it was weak, bland and pretty boring stuff.

As the episode reached its conclusion it suddenly dawned on me that watching this was akin to watching Only Fools and Horses, after the Trotters had finally become millionaires, i.e unfunny and a big letdown.  Likewise as with Only Fools, the writers of Car Share should have should resisted the public clamour and decided not to make anymore.

One of the main problems with this episode was the narrative structure.  Unlike the previous last episode where there was this great emotional intensity and climax to the narrative, here it all felt a bit flat.  By giving us a resolution to the John(Peter Kay) and Kayleigh(Sian Gibson) love story so earlier on in the piece, then the narrative didn’t really have anywhere else to go for the remaining twenty minutes or so.  I had a smile on my face for the first five minutes, then was bored for the next twenty and only laughed out loud once near the end.

The last point I have just made was another issue that I had with it overall, namely that it was a sit-com that was not very funny.  The great on-screen chemistry between Peter Kay and Sian Gibson was clearly still there but I even found their banter unfunny this time around.  The wedding invitation banter did not make me laugh and neither did Kayleigh’s continual jokes about taking things too quickly with John.

There was one scene in particular that irked me and that was when they went to get a coffee via a drive-thru.  After struggling to get the money together to pay for it(again trying to be funny when it wasn’t), when they finally got the money John then dropped it outside which then went underneath his car.  As customers behind them started to beep their car horns at him, the scene then ended with John swearing at them.  Using an expletive here just smacked of lazy writing for me.

I immediately thought of that quote back in 2010, that the late writer of Only Fools and Horses, John Sullivan, said about swearing in modern day sit-coms.  For example, in an article of The Telegraph written by Anita Singh, he said,

”I think swearing is a lazy way of getting laughs.  Writers who suddenly use a swear word are saying, ‘I can’t think of anything else, so I’ll just put an f-word or something in here’.

Do not get me wrong here, this new final episode was not terrible.  Nevertheless, as you’ll have gathered by now, I did not think it was all that great either.  I just found it all a bit unoriginal.  This point even extends itself to the song John wrote for Kayleigh.  Rather than being funny or endearing, it came across as corny.

The only bit that made me laugh out loud was when John had his car door ripped off by a vehicle going past him just as he opened the door.

I still remain a big fan of the two original series of this show.  However, I do wonder now whether its legacy has been spoiled somewhat by this average attempt at finally giving us a happy ending.   I wanted an unforgettable happy ending, when in fact all we got was a very forgettable one!  3/5.

 

 

 

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MILLION POUND MENU (BBC2 Episode One) : Haven’t I seen you somewhere else before?

”You’re fired!”  I mean, ”I’m out!”  I mean, ”cooking doesn’t get any tougher than this!”  What I really mean here is that this was a brand new show but it also kind of felt like it wasn’t if you get me?  It felt like The Apprentice meets Dragons’ Den meets MasterChef! 

Even though it was not the most original programme that I’ve ever seen in terms of its format, as food programmes go it was a pretty good effort overall.  I liked it being set in Manchester rather than London. I liked the sharp editing and emotive background music(much in the style of The Apprentice), and I genuinely found myself being moved by it as the ending credits rolled.  In a very crowded genre, it did not do enough to massively stand out from the rest of them, but at the same time it was not that bad either.

At the beginning of this first episode presented by the famous-ish Fred Sirieix(the guy from First Dates), the format of the show was outlined for us.  Set in the food capital of the north, Manchester apparently(you’re twisting my melons man), we were then briefly introduced to the all important restaurant investors.  Two groups of two investors were then self-assigned to a potential restaurant business opportunity.

The business ideas presented to us were one called ShrimpWreck(Ewen) and the other Epoch(Ruth and Emily).  The former was cheap and cheerful seafood sandwiches with a twist, whereas the Epoch idea was all about strictly British high-end fine dining.  They were set three food challenges based over three days, in what was their new temporary given restaurants.

Firstly, the contestants had to prepare an evening service for the public.  This was the bit that was very much like Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares,i.e. Epoch had a bit nightmare with their service.  Whereas with ShrimpWreck, it was the food being deemed too salty by one investor in particular that proved to be his undoing.

After meeting and talking with the potential investors, the contestants then had to open up their restaurants for lunch with the investors amongst their guests.  Again, it was pretty formulaic stuff that we have seen more than a million times before on television cooking shows such as this, i.e we saw the tension filled successes and failures of the service.

Next was the climax of the show as it all went a bit Countdown on us, what with high tension focused on the ticking clock.  Sat alongside the reasonably competent and enthusiastic throughout presenter Fred, the two teams each sat in their restaurants waiting to see if they were going to get any life changing investment offers from the two investors.  Call me an old softy here, but as we got an happy ending with Epoch getting investment, as the tears flowed then so did mine.

Before I knew it the ending credits were rolling and I had a big smile on my face.  An original programme it was not, but it was very much a watchable one.  I liked it and intend on watching episode two.  4/5.

 

 

 

 

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THE TRAUMA OF OCD!

Infuriatingly, these days you often hear people say, ”Oh, I think I’m a bit OCD”!!  I am truly fed up of hearing this statement because having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is NOT people liking things neat and tidy.  OCD is cruel, is suffocating and it can ruin lives.  I know this because I have suffered with severe contamination OCD for twenty-seven years and it nearly ruined mine!

I can still remember that fateful day at my local doctors some eight or nine years ago, when I unknowingly sat in a seat of vomit.  You see, I did not realise until the day afterwards what had happened.  By then it was all too late and I had spread the smell of sick all over my mum’s house.  All my clothes smelt of sick, all the furniture smelt of sick and all my personal belongings did too.  I tried to fight the OCD but back then I wasn’t strong enough to stand-up to it.   OCD is a vicious bully and so I just recoiled myself from life.

Ever woken up and been sad that you’ve woken up?  Ever woken up and wondered how you are going to get through the day without panicking terribly?  Ever woken up and been scared to breathe in because you are absolutely petrified that once you do, then you might breathe in that smell that you just can’t cope with?  I felt all of these things back then and had a life that was not really a life, it was just an existence.

I self-harmed for the first time since I was a teenager because I was bereft of any useful coping strategies.  I really thought about suicide because I could not get peace of mind.  I needed to feel uncontaminated again but the harder I tried then the worst it got.  I was truly enslaved to my OCD like never before.  I could not go anywhere because I was frightened that I might smell sick anywhere that I went.  I could not sit down anywhere because I was so worried that I might sit in sick again.  My Mr Irrational side(one part of me) was completely bullying my Mr Rational side(the other part of me).  Therefore, don’t ever tell me flippantly that you suffer with OCD too, because quite simply I won’t care or believe you.

Two things kept me going though, even in the darkest of times.  The first one was the love and support that I received from my dear mother.  I could never have ended it all due to all what she has done for me in life.  Second, was believing in the extraordinary power of a thing called hope.  A hope that things would improve in time.  A hope that I wouldn’t always be suffering like I was back then.  The hope of getting my dream career and the hope of meeting somebody and falling in love.

Round about two years ago, I got referred to see a new mental health team and it is one of the best things things that I have ever done with regards to my recovery.  The new Psychiatrist sympathised with me that I struggled taking any form of tablets, so suggested I try fluoxetine and aripiprazole in oral solution form.  They are no cure, but they have now enabled me to the do the all important CBT exposure work without feeling too scared(with my new Psychologist).

Therefore, in the last twelve months I have been taking baby steps forwards.  No, I am going to be bolder than this and say that I’ve taken some GIANT leaps forwards.  I have sat down on buses and trains.  This is a huge thing for me when you consider as little as twenty-four months ago, I couldn’t even go on public transport never mind sit down in them.  I now go and shop in supermarkets regularly.  I go to a gym, have recently eaten in unfamiliar restaurants and sat down on a chair for my latest diabetes eye-screening appointment.  Regarding the latter triumph, this was the first time I had done this in over EIGHT years, i.e. rather than insisting that I stand up to have it done.

My OCD has not been this good for years but I don’t want you to get the wrong impression here.  My tale is hopefully an inspiring one but at the same time, my life can still be very tough suffering with OCD.  I wonder whether or not the intrusive, irrational thoughts will ever completely vanish?

Recently, I went on a day out with one of my best friends.  This is a best friend that the OCD had robbed me of seeing for the last eight years.  Firstly, we went for a coffee at this cafe and as my friend popped off to the toilet, I noticed I had put my bag down on a chair that had some brown stains on it.  Instantly, I ruminated and the irrational part of my brain was triggered into action.  Could these stains be sick I panicked to myself? If not sick, then could these stains be poo of some kind? I had to fight these anxieties all night long then.  Much later than originally planned, I got the last tram home with all the drunks and silently I was pleading for nobody to be sick.  Finally, I got home with tears in my eyes because my anxiety about that tram ride had been so strong.

To suffer with OCD can be so exhausting because as in my case, just as I start to get on top of one phobia(vomit), then another one distressingly pops up.  Before that awful incident at my GP’s surgery, then a worry about standing in dog excrement on pavements was my main issue.  I can feel this phobia getting worse at the moment now that I am getting on top of this vomit one.  It is like I always have to have something to worry about.  I now know though that I have to confront this dog dirt worry head-on before it gets a firm grip of me again, i.e not letting this fear stop me from doing things like walking to various places.

What I have tried to illustrate in the above, is just how traumatic it can be to suffer from OCD.  If you are debating whether you have it or not because you like things done in a certain way, then I would politely suggest to you that you do not have it.  This is because to suffer from this mental health illness is all encompassing.  At its worst it never gives you a day off and is a bully of the most brutal kind.   Recovery is possible though as I am proving, but you really have to want to get better from it as I do now.  I will not let my OCD beat me.  I am a fighter and I will not let my Mr Irrational win!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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HAPPY TO BE ALIVE ONCE AGAIN! Me and my mental health.

The sun is out, music is playing loudly in my bedroom and I feel happy to be alive once again!

I have not always felt like this though. You see, eight to nine years ago when my OCD was truly horrendous to live with, I wanted out of this life.  I say life but it wasn’t really a life, it was just an existence.  It was an existence that felt like a prison.  The prison being my mind and there was just no escape.  I felt contaminated to my core.  It felt like I’d never recover and so what was the point in carrying on?

Nevertheless, two things stopped me from killing myself .  The first one is the constant love I receive from my dear mother.  I could never have done that to her, not after all the things in life that she has done for me.  The second, was believing in the extraordinary power of hope.  Even at my lowest point there was still this small belief inside me that things might finally go my way in future.  These things kept me going and I’m so pleased that they did.

With the help of meds and therapy, my life has dramatically improved.  I’m not cured by any stretch but it feels exciting to be alive once again.  I sat here just before starting this blog and thought to myself, you know I cannot remember the last time I felt like this.    There is a happiness that pervades my entire being at the moment and to be honest this feels amazing.

Sticking two fingers up my OCD, I have done a series of exposures since Christmas that I would never have thought possible even as little as twelve months ago.  I have sat down on buses, trains and have met up with my two best friends in life and eaten dinner with them in a restaurant(massive for me).  These are my two best friends that I hadn’t seen in eight years due to the crippling OCD.  I needed their forgiveness because I had been a rubbish friend to them.  Having them back in my life once again now means so much to me.  I love them both very dearly.

On top of all that, I’m going to the gym and doing strenuous exercise.  This is for the first time since I got a prostate infection and severe chronic pelvic pain some twenty years ago.  I could cry happy tears that I’m exercising now.  The pelvic pain is not that bad and I’m not letting my OCD stopping me from going either.

I am also doing things for my career now which gives me a sense of purpose in life.  I am writing things for various outlets and so the buzz I get from writing is incredible.  I no longer feel like a passenger in life, it feels like I’m now taking an active part in it once more.

Hey, do not get me wrong here, my life is still far from perfect.  The pelvic pain still exists a bit, I now have rheumatism in my knees(at just 41) and have lymphoedema in my legs, type one diabetes and spondylolisthesis in my lumbar spine, ALL FOR LIFE!

However, I can put up with all these things because I am a fighter.  The thing I needed improving most of all was my mental health and slowly but surely I’m getting there.  If you are in a really dark place like I was some eight to nine years ago, then please keep fighting because I’m evidence that eventually things will improve.  I’m HAPPY TO BE ALIVE ONCE AGAIN,  I never thought I’d write these words but right now it’s true!

 

 

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