Thriller

The 10 Best Shows of 2016

{First Published In The Hindu Metroplus}

There was an avalanche of new content that stormed our television screens during 2016, but some shows stood much taller than the rest. Here are the 10 best shows of 2016, in no particular order –

the crown on netflixThe Crown: The Crown traces the life and times of a young Queen Elizabeth as she struggles to balance the monumental responsibility that has been thrust on her, with her once ‘regular’ life. Claire Foy is stunning in her portrayal as a young woman with an immense burden on her shoulders. The show is visually arresting, tightly scripted and is proof that story-telling is, and always will be superior to big budget special effects. {Netflix}

Westworld: What happens when robots created solely for the purpose of human pleasure discover consciousness? Worse, what happens when they realize the magnitude of the abuse that they’ve been put through? A mind-bending storyline with equally confounding twists and a cast that reads like an honour roll, no show this year is capable of making you stay up at night the way Westworld is. {Hotstar, Star World Premiere HD}

Stranger Things: The eighties are back with this eerie sci-fi mystery that plays like a Stephen King novel brought to life. Stranger Things boasts of not only Winona Ryder (who is flawless as a distraught small town mother trying to make sense of aliens in her backyard), but also the most lovable 10 year olds in recent television history. {Netflix}

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The Night Of: Dark and gripping, The Night Of is, to borrow from the show itself, a subtle beast. Naz Khan, every bit a good Muslim boy, finds himself accused of a gory murder, and it doesn’t help that he has no recollection of events. Riz Ahmed, John Turturro and Bill Camp are fantastic in this courtroom drama that makes no mince of discussing racial prejudice and Islamophobia in the backdrop of the American justice system. {Hotstar, Star World Premiere HD}

The Night Manager: John Le Carre’s riveting espionage novel is brought to life by this lavish BBC production which has some sublime acting performances. Hugh Laurie doesn’t just play, but transforms into Richard ‘The Worst Man In The World’ Roper, a billionaire weapons dealer, and Olivia Colman is brilliant as Angela Burke, the very pregnant and very determined British enforcement agent who’s out to catch him. As for Tom Hiddleston, The Night Manager may as well be the show which cements his place as the next James Bond. {Amazon Prime Video}

Game of Thrones (Season 6): The sixth season of Game of Thrones premiered this year, with each episode having a bigger revelation than the next. With resurrections, family reunions and sweet revenge, the sixth season was probably the fastest moving in terms of storyline after the first, and the final episodes of the season, ‘Battle of the Bastards’ and ‘Winds of Winter’ were television masterpieces. If you’d abandoned the show a few seasons ago, now is the time to catch up. {Hotstar, Star World Premiere HD}

The People vs OJ Simpson – American Crime Story: The miniseries that swept the Emmy’s this year, People vs OJ Simpson resurrects the real courtroom drama of the infamous murder trial that shook ‘90s America. The screenplay is such that it’ll have you on the edge of your seat, even though the events that transpired are now history. {Hotstar, Star World Premiere HD}

Black Mirror: Black Mirror is a compilation of 6 episodes, each narrating a different (horror) story detailing our relationships, and growing reliance on technology. Whether it’s the story of killer robotic bees or a future where your worth is measured in ‘likes’, Black Mirror will have you looking at your phones very differently. {Netflix}

Better Call Saul (Season 2): Better Call Saul might only be two seasons old, but the spin-off has already outdone its much celebrated original, Breaking Bad. The series about a small time lawyer’s path to becoming an ace con-man has excellent story-telling, sharp dialogue, terrific acting, and is one of the best shows on TV right now. {Colors Infinity}

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The Americans (Season 4): The thriller series about two Russian spies living average American lives during the peak of the Cold War only got better this year. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys give extraordinary performances, yet again, as the show dives even deeper into the complex themes of identity, patriotism and family, with a few wigs thrown in. {Hotstar, Star World Premiere HD}

 

You can read the round up of my favourites from 2015, here.

Ugly Reflections

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

Black Mirror isn’t a television series as much as it is an anthology. The episodes are independent stories, so there’s no requirement of watching them in order. They are, however, tied together by the common theme of technology, and the consequences of technology. The first and second season which was written for and broadcast by UK’s Channel 4, released in 2011 and 2013 respectively, with three hour long episodes each. The third season, produced by Netflix, released on the 24th of this month, with six episodes – six different, terrifying stories of how our dependent relationships with technology could alter our lives, and the world.

Each episode takes on a different genre – the first episode, Nosedive, is an excellent satire based on our fixation with social media and is set in a pastel coloured, alternate future (or near future, depending on how you look at it). In this world, every social interaction, whether it’s getting into a cab or buying coffee, involves you being rated out of 5, which in turn shapes your rating as a person. Permanently cheerful and ridiculously good-looking 4.5s get treated with extra care, gain access to privileged spaces, and can claim their world as their oyster. The lesser ranked 3.5s and below – the ones who speak unpleasantly, the ones who don’t care for appearances, are categorized as low lives who for whom facilities are shut off. Nosedive narrates the story of a young woman who gives all she has into climbing up the ratings ladder so that she can move into a plush housing colony.

The second episode, Playtest, tells the story of a somewhat dull American traveler who agrees to test out a virtual reality game for quick money. It’s a fun episode to watch, but is among the weaker episodes in the anthology, with too many predictable, cheesy horror movie tropes and a rather ineffective twist in the end. The similarly themed fifth episode, Men Against Fire, which deals with augmented reality and tells the story of trigger happy soldiers whose brains are implanted with chips that make them see deformed zombies instead of human enemies, isn’t the most impressive either. While the moral lesson is necessary, the episode feels bloated, and doesn’t connect.

The third (Shut Up And Dance) and the sixth (Hated In The Nation) episodes are the standouts of the season. Hated In The Nation combines online bullying with drone technology with a classic whodunit police investigation, resulting the most riveting and well taken 90 minutes of television that you’d have seen in a while. Shut Up And Dance is an especially disturbing story of how a 19 year old, soft-spoken waiter in a café, and a married 40 year old are forced to come together as an unlikely tag team who have to complete terrible tasks when a mysterious hacker gets hold of the secrets of their computers and threatens to leak it to the world. It is poignant, gripping, upsetting and has an ending that lingers long after the episode finishes.

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I thought the fourth episode was too eh-meh to write about, so here’s a photo.

Black Mirror, as a series can be especially bizarre when you’re watching it for the first time, and this third season hasn’t been consistent with the quality of its episodes. However, if you’re even slightly fascinated by the impact that technology has on our lives, Black Mirror is a series you don’t want to miss.

{The first three seasons of Black Mirror are currently streaming on Netflix}

 

These Violent Delights

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

It was the famed novelist, Michael Crichton, who had written and directed ‘Westworld’, the film, back in 1973. The sci-fi thriller was about an amusement park where guests with heavy pockets could indulge themselves in any way they wanted with the highly realistic robotic inhabitants of the park – from gunfights to lovemaking, everything is kosher to those who can afford it. These robots are programmed in such a way that they can never harm the guests, until one day, they begin malfunctioning and predictably, all hell breaks loose. Westworld was a film that was far ahead of its time, and a runaway box office hit as well. The truth is that I’ve not seen the film (although I am very familiar with Crichton’s similarly themed Jurassic Park) which is why HBO’s lavishly produced television reboot of the film was one that interested me as much as it did.

Westworld (the TV series) picks up thirty years from where the movie left off – the park is well established again and the robots are more human than ever, to the point where it’s impossible to distinguish them from the guests. The only tell that they have is their inability to harm live creatures, which means they’ll happily let flies sit on their face, and sometimes, their eyeballs. These robots live programmed lives wherein their fates are already have already been written, unless an interaction with a guest throws their day off previously scheduled events. Even then, once the guests leave, they go back to sleep and wake up with no memory of past events, ready to lead their scripted lives once again.

The entire scientific set up is headed by Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins, who is as hypnotizing as ever), who is in charge of creating and programming these bots. It’s when he installs an update in them, an update that allows the bot to access previous memories and have ‘reveries’, that the bots begin to malfunction, and chaos looms.

The show is unapologetic about its (mostly) ridiculous and over the top premise, and takes itself very seriously, making sure you’re as immersed in their world as they are. The Westworld of 2016 has been created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Ray Nolan, and has JJ Abrams and Bryan Burk sitting as executive producers – all names and talent that need no introduction, least of all in the realm of science fiction television. The casting is also incredible – a veritable coup by itself, for it brings together the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Thandie Newton, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, Luke Hemsworth (the oldest of the Hemsworth brothers), Jeffrey Wright and Rodrigo Santoro, among others.

Westworld is only one episode old, making it the perfect new show to watch. To be fair, the premiere left the audience with more questions about the show than answers, but I do believe that it’s by design, for it makes sure that you’re counting down the days to the next episode. The sets are lavish, and it’s evident that every penny of its massive budget is accounted for, but the story is still the hero of the show, which is why a simple shot at the end of the first episode will have you more agape than all the special effects put together. Westworld calls itself a reboot, but think of the term as a technicality, for there is little else that is as original on television right now.

{Westworld is presently telecast on Star World Premiere HD every Tuesday, and is also available on HotStar}

Out of This World

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

Netflix’s most recent production, Stranger Things, released to great reviews and ratings the previous month, with critics calling it the show of the year thus far. I watched the trailer the day it released as well, and it looked very much like a horror series, a genre that I grew to loathe ever since I saw The Ring on television one evening and lost sleep for a week. I avoided watching it, but after seeing everyone rave about the show, and after getting confirmation that it wasn’t of the horror genre, I sat down with the series, and what a great decision that turned out to be.

Stranger Things is set during the early eighties, in the sleepy American town of Hawkins, where the worst thing that has ever happened is an owl mistaking someone’s hair for a nest. Things change, however, when a 12 year old boy, Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) disappears on his way back home one night. His anxious mother, Joyce (Winona Ryder) and his three best friends, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) set out to investigate his disappearance, only to unravel terrifying secrets that have been buried in the town, including a hungry alien monster, a gateway to a parallel universe, and a little girl with extraordinary abilities.

Stranger Things, I insist, does not belong to the horror genre, but there is a great deal of homage that is paid to Stephen King as well as Steven Spielberg – which means that the show does have more than just a few moments of eerie silence followed by jolts of revelation and visuals of reptilian aliens who squelch around. However, it manages to remain tame enough for the rest of us who are still getting accustomed to the dark.

Winona Ryder, who’s probably the biggest, and most recognisable star in the cast, is flawless as Joyce, the agitated and overworked single mother who falls apart while looking for her lost son. She doesn’t know how or why, but she’s convinced that her son is alive and is trying to communicate with her from another world through phone calls and light bulbs – a conviction, that only begets sympathy from everyone she talks to about this, as opposed to an inspection, or even curiosity. Her only hope of finding Will lies with Chief Hopper (David Harbour), who, after initially rubbishing everything that Joyce says begins to encounter mysterious happenings during the investigation himself, and takes it upon himself to get to the bottom of whatever is going on.

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The real show stealers, however, are the (very) young actors who play Will’s friends. Normally, I find most television children to be annoying, but Mike, Lucas and Dustin will want you wanting to be part of their little gang. The boys encounter a young girl (Mille Brown, who delivers an extraordinary performance) during their first search for Will, and bring her home, only to discover that she has telekinetic powers, and holds the key for finding Will.

There is even a little high school romantic triangle that is played out in the show, involving Mike’s sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer), Will’s brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), and the most popular guy in their high school, Steve (Joe Keery). This angsty hormonal teenager trope seems trite in a show like Stranger Things, but it is towards the end of the show that the writers turn this unnecessary romance on its head and give this otherwise grating storyline a gratifying conclusion.

Given Stranger Things’ storyline with the eighties setting, the curious children and the aliens, there was a great chance that the show could’ve felt overdone, if not mundane. It is to the credit of the Duffer brothers, who developed the series, imbibed a great deal of originality into the mostly nostalgic plot line, that Stranger Things is not a visually superior and edgier mishmash of every alien film which came out in the eighties, but a show that is well and truly out of this world.

{Season 1 of Stranger Things is currently streaming on Netflix}

The Spies Next Door

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) are a suburban couple in eighties America. They help their children with the homework, they get ice-cream together, they even bake brownies for new neighbours – so really, they’re just your average, All-American husband and wife, except they’re not. Elizabeth and Philip Jennings are trained, skilled and deadly KGB agents who work for the Soviet Union during the Cold War while leading deep-rooted lives in Washington DC. Oh, and remember the new neighbour who they baked brownies for? He’s Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), an FBI counter-intelligence agent.

The Americans traces the tumultuous life and times of the Jenningses as they are torn between serving their country, and themselves. What makes the series absolutely fascinating to watch, is the fact that it’s set in the eighties. Not only was it a time of intense political intrigue, but also a time when supercomputers, location tracking bugs and cars that could talk had no potential to exist. The spy games that the couple play involve good old disguises (wigs included), kidnapping, morse code, skin burning chemicals and the occasional sexual favour. A lot about The Americans is reminiscent of Homeland, especially in the ways that the past and the present collide on screen, but The Americans is definitely on the more dramatic, for it is as much about a war, as it is about marriage, and at times, family. The Jennings’ marriage was a match that was made in the upper echelons of the Soviet spy directorate, but despite the great masquerade of it all, there are moments of genuine tenderness and love that seep through their secret lives.

The creator of the show, Joe Weisberg, interestingly, is a former CIA agent. A lot of the show’s story line is based on the stories and experiences that he collected during his time there, as well as a lot of research. The Americans is excellent television, not only because of its fast, almost frenzied pace, but also because despite the surreal plot line, it captures human frailty in a manner so accurate, that it is painful. The leads, Keri Rusell is extraordinary as Elizabeth Jennings, the spy capable of breaking a man’s ribcage with her bare arms, but is still capable of being outraged by the fact that her 13 year old daughter bought underwear without her. Matthew Rhys is also brilliant as Phillip Jennings, the surprisingly soft-hearted agent who is constantly torn between serving his motherland and going against everything he was taught to believe in, and make his blissful false life, real.

What I found most enjoyable about The Americans was how it almost forces the viewer to root for Elizabeth and Phillip, despite the fact that they’re the bad guys. The fact that you want two Soviet spies to somehow wrangle themselves out of the dangerous situation they (willingly) got themselves in and just happily ever after with their two kids is a solid triumph on part of the show. It will even have you believe that spies, on most days, are just like us.

{Season 4 of The Americans is presently being telecast on Star World Premiere HD}

Gangs of New York

{Previously published in The Hindu Metroplus}

Marvel’s Daredevil isn’t a conventional superhero. Blinded as a boy in a freak accident which involved nuclear chemicals, Matt Murdock doesn’t have super strength or fantastic abilities – he is human, but with a heightened sense of things around him – He can listen to heartbeats, he can listen to conversations across a wide radius and he can sense movement better than people with vision do. After his boxer father becomes a victim of gang violence, the young, orphaned Matt, is picked up by a mysterious old man called Stick, who teaches him how to fight. After Stick decides that there’s nothing left to teach, Matt goes on to study law. Matt Murdock, defence attorney by day, becomes Daredevil, vigilante crime fighter by night.

Netflix’s production of one of the most intriguing, and human superheroes is very dark, sometimes literally (there are very few scenes which involve daylight, and even those have a constant gloom that pervades Daredevil’s New York City). The show also does not mince violence either. The fight scenes are beautifully choreographed studies in brutality, where blood is spilt with the carelessness that one would associate with milk or water.

In the first season of Daredevil, we see Matt (played by Charlie Cox), just getting comfortable with his role as protector of Hell’s Kitchen, the area in New York where he is born and raised. Hell’s Kitchen is infested with gang violence, and the more Matt tries to smoothen things out, the more he realises that it isn’t a molehill which can be removed, but a veritable mountain that has been put into place by a gang boss who goes by the name Kingpin. Being an undercover hero trying to uncover a city’s dark secret is tough work, and the challenges they pose are best represented by Matt’s necessary friendship with a nurse, Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) who works a night shift at the General Hospital. It isn’t long before Matt’s day job as a defence lawyer is affected, either. He must do all that he can to ensure that his best friend and partner, Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) doesn’t get wind of his newfound hobby.

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Usually, in superhero shows, one sees very clear demarcations between good and bad. We have the hero, he is a good man, sometimes a wronged man, but most definitely a man with a gift, who must put it into use protecting people, and we have the bad man, an overall unappealing person who thinks about nothing but evil. The makers ensure that the audience doesn’t spend too much time wondering who to root for. Daredevil though, takes on a different path. The evil, awful villain and “Kingpin”, Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) is given a love story, and a rather tender one at that. Matt, on the other hand, is made to question himself multiple times about his own intentions with respect to protecting his city. After all, he constantly advises people to believe in letting the legal system take its course while wearing uncomfortable spandex and beating people up at night, making his own moral system a very murky shade of grey.

Daredevil is a series about a vigilante hero who is flawed, and a series which proves that you don’t need incredible super powers to be interesting. You only have to be human.

{Marvel’s Daredevil is presently on Netflix}

Tinker Tailor Manager Spy

{Previously Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

A few weeks ago, I’d written about the first episode and the general buzz surrounding BBC’s new, greatly hyped and exorbitant production of John Le Carre’s celebrated spy novel, The Night Manager. The relentlessly excellent series wrapped up last week, ending the roller coaster ride of emotion and the mini heart attacks that viewers underwent each time they saw an episode.

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Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) is the night manager at The Nefertiti hotel in Egypt. One night, the girlfriend of the most powerful man in Cairo gives him access to information about an arms deal that her boyfriend’s family is in the middle of with one Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie), a British industrialist who she calls “the worst man in the world”, which could potentially alter the fate of the political situation in Egypt. Pine alerts the British embassy about the deal, and does all that he can to protect her, but fails. The British Embassy, with the exception of one person, Angela Burr (Olivia Colman) becomes conspicuously silent, and Sophie is forced to come back to the hotel, where she dies a gruesome death. Pine, who is now traumatised by the series of events, takes up a new job as a manager in a ski resort in picturesque town in Switzerland, where he meets Richard Roper again.
The wounds reopen, and Pine contacts Angela Burr again. We learn that she is a British enforcement agent who has been trying to nab Roper and his illegal weapon deals her entire career, but with little support because Roper has the entire British intelligence in his back pocket. She asks him if he would be willing to become, and to commit to become a spy for her, and infiltrate Roper’s ranks, gain his trust and ultimately, expose him. Pine agrees, setting off a motion of events which form the series.

Tom Hiddleston is nothing short of delicious as Jonathan Pine, the spy who blazes his way up Roper’s ranks with a combination of his sort of self-deprecating “Who, me?” charm, and his surprising capability and tolerance for brutality. During the time the series was aired, there was a great deal of talk about Tom Hiddleston being the most obvious candidate for the next James Bond – a sentiment that I agreed to at the start of the series, and as the series progressed it felt like one that even the show’s makers shared – why else would Pine be made to order a Martini at a Casino?

Olivia Colman does even better as the unwavering, and very pregnant Angela Burr who is dogged in her pursuit of Roper despite all the odds (and the government) not being in her favour. Tom Hollander as Major “Corky” Corkoran, Roper’s sharp tongued right hand man, and Elizabeth Debicki as Roper’s ethereally beautiful girlfriend, Jed, are also stunning in their portrayals of their respective characters.

If you’ve read Le Carre’s novel, you’d know that Richard Roper is the kind of malevolent business man, who, after seeing little children choke and die from a gas bombing in a school in Kurdistan, starts peddling the chemical to his buyers. Hugh Laurie, during the promotions for the show, said that he had “impudently imagined” himself portraying Pine the spy, not Roper the arms dealer, because “loathed” the character. Laurie then said that he decided to play him anyway because “there is something intoxicating about someone who has put themselves beyond the bounds of laws, who has the confidence, the daring, the kind of madness.” I haven’t read the book yet, but I’ve no doubt that Laurie’s Roper is much more terrifying than Le Carre’s.

Long Form James Bond

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

The Night Manager, BBC’s newest and possibly most lavish production yet, begins in Cairo of January 2011. There is a sea of humanity assembled in Tahrir square protesting against their president, Hosni Mubarak. A casually dressed and impossibly good-looking white man emerges from the crowds, and nonchalantly weaves his way through the yelling, the stone throwing, the fireworks and the bullets to get to his workplace, The Nefertiti hotel, on the other side. It lasts all of thirty seconds, but it is enough to convince you that Tom Hiddleston, who plays this impossibly good-looking man by the name of Jonathan Pine, is the most obvious choice for the next James Bond.

Jonathan Pine is the night manager at the Nefertiti Hotel. He is quiet, polite to a fault and unabashedly English – there is a scene where he describes the weather to be “ghastly”. He knows his hotel and his guests inside out, but we don’t know much about him. His routine of taking calls and calming flustered guests down by offering them free cocktails is interrupted when a beautiful woman, Sophie Alekan (Aure Atika), best known for being a very powerful (and very evil) man’s girlfriend casually asks him to have coffee with her. After having coffee, she, in an even more casual manner, slips some documents to Jonathan which have details of her boyfriend bulk purchasing weaponry from the good old United Kingdom. As it turns out, Freddie Hamid (the dastardly boyfriend) was trying to crush the uprising, and Sophie couldn’t stay silent anymore. Do what you have to, she tells Jonathan, and Jonathan being the dignified, respectable Englishman that he is, promptly takes the documents to the British embassy, after which he takes Sophie to a safe house. None of this really works for Jonathan. While the uprising succeeds, the British government, with the exception of one Angela Burr (Olivia Colman) has decided to ignore the information sent to them because even Governments can’t just doesn’t poke their nose into the affairs of Richard “The Worst Man In The World” Roper (played by the inimitable Hugh Laurie). Sophie is brutally murdered, and Jonathan moves to Switzerland. Four years later, Roper’s and Jonathan’s paths cross again, and this time, there will be revenge.

The Night Manager is based on the novel with the same name by the critically acclaimed Spy Novel specialist John Le Carre. The director has pushed the timeline of the original forward from 1993 to 2011, and has tinkered around with the characters and locations in a way which feels like he’s updated the story, as opposed to having changed it. The casting is perfect to the point where it feels like Le Carre wrote the novel with Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston in mind. The screenplay doesn’t merely hold your attention, it pins it down on all fours with iron clamps. It’s simply impossible to look away. The Night Manager is a miniseries, a genre of television which the BBC has become a champion of lately, consisting six episodes. The first episode had a record six million tune in, and it’s really about time you joined in on the fun.

The Abominable Bride

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

It’s only been a week into the first month of 2016, but I do believe that I’ve already watched the best of what television has to offer this year in the new “holiday special” episode of Sherlock. Sherlock, is the modern adaptation of the classic detective story by BBC which premiered in the year 2010, and has seen resounding success across the globe, with good reason: the screenplay moves at a blistering pace, and more importantly, the completely unexpected casting, which compels you to not accept anyone else as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson other than Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (no, not even Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law).

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The holiday special episode is a one-off release, perhaps to assuage fans who’ve been waiting for the fourth season (due to release in 2017), after the third season ended on a cliffhanger in 2014.
While I’ve been infatuated with Sherlock for four good years now (I discovered it rather late), I found the last season mediocre at best. The writers had given the razor sharp, ruthless detective, emotions, which made made him slow, made him care, and made him human. This irked me, for one of the qualities which made Sherlock so worthy of the idolatry was his cold-blooded, and hardboiled nature. After all, why would you idolise anyone who is similar to yourself? I wasn’t alone with this complaint, and given how unrelenting Sherlock was in The Abominable Bride, it looks like the writers have taken note.

The episode begins with a quick flashback to the previous seasons, after which, “alternatively”, we are taken to 19th Century London, where Sherlock Holmes is a famous detective whose adventures are chronicled for the newspaper by his trusty aide, Dr. Watson. There’s a new case, too – a woman, dressed up as a manic bride, stepped out into the public and created chaos, before shooting herself in the head. The police have come to the spot, and taken her body to the morgue. Six hours later, the same woman, Emelia Ricoletti, comes back to take the life of her husband. The case remains unsolved, only to get resurrected several months later, presenting Sherlock the opportunity to take another crack at it.

The pace of the episode is breakneck, and you don’t lose interest even for a single moment, which is rare in ninety minute episodes. Cumberbatch’s acting is as incisive as his cheekbones, and Martin Freeman, is perfection as the loyal, well meaning and occasionally bumbling Watson. The dialogues are top class, full of jokes that deserve a second and maybe even a third watching, and proving that the Victorian setting wasn’t going to slow the episode down in any way. An hour in, the episode tilts to the present, and takes off from where it ended the previous season. This may sound complicated on paper, but rest assured that the writing ties all loose ends in an immaculate manner. Overall, this holiday special was an absolute treat to watch, and the perfect springboard for the fourth. 2017 couldn’t come quicker.

{Sherlock: The Abominable Bride will air on AXN on January 10th at 12 Noon}

2015 in Television

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

It’s time for us to welcome the new year with family, friends, celebrations, and of course, somewhat pointless lists. So without further ado, here are my TV favourites from 2015 (in no particular order):

  • Empire – Empire is a musical soap opera about a Hip Hop mogul, and the lengths he’ll go to stay on top. It’s the television equivalent of the pizzas that have cheese stuffed in the crusts, the kind which oozes yellow, processed glory, on to your fingers. Yes it’s disgustingly over the top, and you can’t really tell people how much you enjoy it, although you know that they’d enjoy it just as much as you do when they eat it, I mean, watch it. {FX India}

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  • Better Call Saul – Better Call Saul was my favourite show this year. Yes, it’s a spin off of Breaking Bad, and there are plenty of recurring characters, but surprisingly, it has an entirely unique tone, and while one is occasionally reminded of Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul stands on its own. {Colors Infinity}

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  • Wolf Hall – Wolf Hall is a literary mini series which was produced by the BBC. The cast and screenplay is splendid, and Hilary Mantel’s masterpiece comes alive over the course of 6, hour long episodes. I do hope that more show makers take the hint from Wolf Hall and make more mini series from literary classics – that way I don’t have to pretend like I’ve read them anymore.

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  • Game of Thrones – Dragons! Kings! Betrayals! Dragons! Death! Snow! Did I mention Dragons? The fifth season of the epic fantasy story came to an end this year, with a finale that shook the world, or at least, broke the internet. Game of Thrones is the show whose return I’m most looking forward to in 2016. {HBO}

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  • Daredevil – While I enjoyed both The Flash and Arrow, Daredevil takes the super hero genre of television to a whole new level, the way Nolan’s The Dark Knight changed the game for films. Netflix has come out with a winner, yet again, and there is no doubt that Daredevil is the benchmark for super hero television shows to come.

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  • Master of None – If you’re not socialising with your family, and have plenty of time in your hands this weekend, why not cosy up with the entire first season of Aziz Ansari’s comedy for all seasons? It’s one the most relatable shows I’ve watched on international television (and not just because Ansari hails from Tamil Nadu), and the perfect candidate for marathon viewing.

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  • Quantico – This is right on top of my list of unexpected favourites. I didn’t want to like it, I watched it with great prejudice but eventually gave in to the racy screenplay and exaggerated drama. The show is addictive, and Priyanka Chopra has made an assured debut into American television and proved that she is a bonafide star. The penultimate episode before the season finale, and the season finale itself were a tad frustrating and I’m hoping (against hope) that it sorts itself out when it comes back next year. {Star World}

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  • The Affair – One often talks about “mindless television” – The Affair is the opposite. It demands your attention in a manner that is unforgiving, and if you blink, you miss. The Affair follows a story of infidelity narrated through different perspectives, none of which are objective, and leaves it to the viewer to be the judge. I’m a chronic multi-tasker, but The Affair ensured that my attention only belonged to the screen. {FX India}

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  • Mr. Robot – A terrific and well researched show that goes into the psyche and life of hackers. Given the rising coverage with respect to the hacking group “Anonymous” in the mainstream news, Mr. Robot is an excellent way to better understand hacking, and how the right information in the wrong hands could potentially break the world as we know it. {Colors Infinity}

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  • Modern Family – It’s not from 2015, technically, but I have been watching it religiously, all year. I could never tire of this show, or it’s characters, and I am yet to find an episode I haven’t guffawed out loud in. A perennial favourite to end the list! {Star World}

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