What I thought about: Emily in Paris

A charming comedy romance with breathtaking views of Paris, I was really enjoying this one up until its somewhat chaotic end, whereupon it suddenly felt, well, a bit of a sausage fest. I hope a second season, if there is one, focuses more on Emily’s marketing prowess.

Of course her phone case looks like a camera. It’s so _ringarde_!

What’s it about?
Emily is a young but successful marketing executive from Chicago. The company she works for recently acquired a boutique marketing agency in Paris – Savoir – which her senior colleague was due to be seconded to. Said colleague falls pregnant and Emily, who doesn’t speak a word of French, offers to go in her place.

When she arrives in Paris, she’s treated to quite the culture – and language – shock. Receiving a less than friendly welcome from her boss and metaphorical dinosaur of the marketing industry, Emily tries her best to remain upbeat by pulling off a number of successful marketing stunts and blogging her journey on Instagram, where she quickly racks up a decent following.

Being so good(looking) at her job does grab the attention of a number of male clients, including a perfumer, fashion house boss, and vineyard heir. Here’s the chick flick element – Emily has to carefully navigate the sex-infested waters of Paris to figure out her true love.

What do I like about it?
Emily is a well-written character portrayed fantastically well by Lily Collins. She is resourceful, smart, quick-thinking, and career-driven. I felt inspired watching this, and I’m a male lawyer. I can’t imagine what it might do for those more closely aligned to Emily and her career path. Also, the wardrobe department pulled off some simply amazing looks. Emily is a fashion icon in her own right.

Seeing Emily settle into Parisian life, struggling at first but slowly improving her language and grasp of the culture, was a joy to watch and included several genuinely laugh-out-loud funny moments. The show’s gotten flack for stereotyping the French, but I’d have thought the majority-French cast would have pointed out if the writers were being too cruel.

And if you’re wondering, the male love interests are, to borrow a word from a friend who’s also seen the show, ‘fit’. Make of that what you will.

What do I not like about it?
Emily’s skill and endless optimism gets somewhat sidelined in the second half of the season and relationships become increasingly complicated. This culminates in a final episode that literally felt as though she was being passed around by the male love interests. It’s hard to explain, but it was quite off-putting.

Worth a watch?
It’s not a must-see, but if the premise sings to you, sit back and take in the 4K views of Paris as the story unfolds.

By the way…

  • I found it funny that Emily’s American boyfriend is literally subtitled as ‘Boyfriend’. They didn’t even give him a name!
  • I alluded to it above but I can’t stress enough – the scenes were so brilliantly shot. Try and watch in Dolby Vision if you can.

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Quickfire Round: The Social Dilemma

I’m glad this documentary exists, as it’s made a lot of people wake up to the fact that massive social media companies like Facebook are hardly being generous by giving free access to their platform. Alas, corny acting prevents it reaching its full potential.

Haters gonna hate.

First, the good bits: this film presents first-hand accounts of how social media companies are engineering their platforms to maximise user engagement, putting the health and safety of their billions of users on the back burner as they compete to sell advertising spots. We hear about techniques such as A/B testing – tiny tweaks to the user experience, like moving the location of a button, are rolled out to a random selection of users to see whether it increased or decreased engagement.

Little nuggets of inside information and analysis like that are welcome – another example is Facebook’s photo tagging feature. Ever had an email like, ‘Emily tagged you in a photo on Facebook’? Notice how they don’t show you the photo in the email – you have to go onto the platform to see it. And while you’re there, you might as well check your notifications, and your news feed, and the latest group posts… you get the idea.

Okay, now the not-so-good. Firstly, the show entertains a little too much conspiracy for my liking. In some painfully acted live action scenes, we see ‘the algorithm’ represented by three Facebook engineers in a lab, watching their target’s life and deciding when to ping their phone to drag them into the platform and view an ad that they just sold for 3 cents. The thing is, Facebook does run instant auctions for advertisers to bid on an impression on a user’s Facebook feed. What they don’t do is literally spy on your actual life and ping you at the exact time it most benefits them. They just don’t.

The rest of the acted scenes are also pretty bad. I understand what they were trying to do with the part showing the teenage boy getting increasingly radicalised by far-right propaganda, enough to attend a rally and get arrested, but it didn’t hit deep enough and it just felt so weak as to be worthless.

Thankfully the takeaway from the film is something I can agree with: social media wasn’t invented to be evil, but evil it has become. Delete Facebook, the worst offender by far. If you need to, create a plain shell account to stay in touch with those who can’t be persuaded off the platform.

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What I thought about: Ratched

Offering a look into the life of Mildred Ratched before she began her tyrannical reign as Head Nurse in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the excellent production values and superb acting went a long way to mask this show’s otherwise quite disappointing plot.

Who knew Mildred Ratched had some compassion in her? Well, enough to protest against boiling someone alive I suppose

What’s it about?
Have you read One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? Or seen the 1975 film adaptation? No, me neither. But you don’t really have to, as this is advertised as a prequel / origin story. The season starts with Ratched talking herself into a role at a Californian mental hospital, headed up by Dr. Hannover, a Filipino pioneer of mental health treatment. Ratched is up to no good, and we soon discover why.

But we also discover so much more, as the show recalls of some of the most horrific ‘treatments’ given out at mental hospitals in the late 1940s including hydrotherapy (forcibly bathing someone in scaldingly hot water and then immediately dunking them into an ice bath) and, of course, the lobotomy. We also get a look at the period’s views on homosexuality and the death penalty (oh how wild it is to see that we have advanced mental health care so much since then, and yet some states in the US are still so incredibly regressive in the use of state-sanctioned killing).

What do I like about it?
The visuals. The music. The acting. This is just such a delightful show to watch. Mildred drives a bright turquoise car in a sea of black ones. She has dark red hair and great fashion sense. Dr. Hannover is an eccentric maverick, yet underneath his often aggressive exterior lies a delicate man who genuinely wants to cure people of their mental ills. Every character is portrayed in a way that is ever so slightly over the top. Enough to create a sort of candied view of the story that somehow comforted me through what were some truly grisly scenes of murder, death, and suffering.

What do I not like about it?
Sitting back and taking it all in after the first episode, I have to agree with what many professional critics have said about the show. The plot… is not great. Characters show up out of the blue in unconvincing ways and often with a dramatic effect on the story that just isn’t believable. There are moments that are painfully slow, particularly as the show tries to provide some context to Ratched’s life – her work and family history, and her struggle with sexuality. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have seen those in the show – it is, after all, an origin story – but somehow the writing just didn’t pan out.

Worth a watch?
It’s still a yes from me. Especially if you can watch on a Dolby Vision-supported TV, because the cinematography is truly stunning. Watch the trailer first and be forewarned that the show contains some grisly scenes of violence.

By the way…

  • Netflix ordered two seasons in one go, so Ratched will be back soon.
  • A cursory glance at the plot of the book reveals many an inspiration for the events occurring in this prequel story – just different characters at different times.

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What I thought about: Criminal (UK) (Season 2)

I couldn’t wait to get started on the second season of this gripping police interview drama. It’s a testament to the quality of acting in this show that I remained captivated for the entire runtime despite all the action taking place between a few actors in a small room.

It’s not all finger-wagging, I promise.

What’s it about?
A special unit of the police (we assume in London), practice unorthodox interview techniques in order to tease out a confession or some other crucial information from their subjects. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t the CIA, there’s no waterboarding, it’s purely psychological. Things like padding a medical examiner’s report with blank paper and slamming it down on the table to make it seem important. Playing good cop bad cop. Selectively choosing who asks what question. These all add up to mount pressure on the subject and get them to give in.

This season includes Kit Harrington (accused of rape) and Kunal Nayyar (convicted but suspected of a second murder) among a pair of slightly lesser-known actors for a total of four episodes, one more than last time.

What do I like about it?
The acting is incredible, as indeed its has to be. Armed with viewer’s foresight (for we know that something is going to happen due to the nature of the show), you can really appreciate the skilful writing and acting. The team pick up on a fairly obvious moment in episode one, where the interviewee Julia (not a suspect!) launches into a mini tirade and yells out about facts that only the killer would know. But there was something much more subtle earlier on. She asks if her husband (convicted murderer, and suspect of a second murder) had been charged for the it. “Not yet”, comes Detective Constable Vanessa Warren’s reply. Julia lets out a deep sigh and puts her hands to her face. “When will it end?” she says, ostensibly referring to the misery of being married to a murderer.

Now, why would she do that? If she was innocent, I’d argue the response would be more like ‘oh’, or the question wouldn’t even be asked. What she’s doing is checking in on the investigation into the second murder, to see if she’s gotten away with it. When she learns he hasn’t been charged, it means she’s still at a degree of risk. The fact that this is acted out, but is never referred to again for the rest of the episode, demonstrates the show’s the attention to detail. Detail that’s necessary to make such a slow burning, single-room drama so gripping.

What do I not like about it?
Why are the police staff so limp outside the interview room? Inside, they are powerful and cunning, and have a way with words that makes even the most hardened criminal slowly crumble. But outside it – in the corridors of the station – they buy drinks from vending machines and throw little paper balls into tiny bins, letting out a depressive sigh when they inevitably miss. I’m not sure I get what the writers are going for here.

Also, as a lawyer myself, I can’t help but question the way the solicitors – who are sometimes also present in the room – just sit back and let the police’s line of questioning happen. They do speak up at times (they’re not totally silent!) but you just know that if this were real the solicitor would be reading out a statement and advising their client to reply with ‘no comment’.

Worth a watch?
You have to appreciate that it is literally just people talking in a room. Sit through absolutely any episode in the first or second season – they’re all good – and if you liked it, carry on. If you didn’t, it’s probably not for you.

By the way…

  • The first season launched simultaneously with editions in France, Germany, and Spain, all with their own plots and local actors…
  • …But the UK show was the only one to be renewed for a second season.

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Quickfire round: Loaded

Four life-long friends become millionaires overnight as the closing money comes in from the sale of their gaming business. Unable to handle their new found wealth, and facing pressure from their new US mega-corp owners to make a soulless sequel of their hit game Cat Factory, hilarity (and woe) ensues.

Leon coaxes the group onto his privet yacht to get them to concentrate on their new game

This show was cancelled in 2017 after one season and, if you check the cast’s biographies online, it’s hardly mentioned as one of their top appearances. I can’t think why, as I really enjoyed it. Don’t be mistaken – it’s nothing like Mythic Quest, which sees day to day game development issues and is surprisingly good insight into the industry. The actual game development process takes a back seat in this show and instead we see how the four characters handle their wealth and relationships with family, friends, their new boss and, ultimately, each other.

There’s Ewan, a posh, gay programmer whom most people don’t know is a co-founder at the developer, Idyl Hands, because he’s always asked not to appear in photo shoots by Leon, who technically doesn’t do any work as he’s not a coder or an artist, but more a product evangelist. Watto, a recovering alcoholic and artist, appears perhaps least deserving of the £9.2 million each co-founder received in the deal (plus £26m in stock options). Finally there’s Josh, a nervous, nagging, woke guy who is obsessive and jealous about his girlfriend.

They each handle the money differently and their friendships are tested when they get pushed to produce another hit game. Watto becomes addicted to collecting things. Ewan decides to give an employee a £20k bonus to prove to her that he IS a co-founder, resulting in him having to do the same for this entire team after they find out. Leon, eager to show his teachers he amounted to something, buys a helicopter. And Josh… well, he’s open to trying some of the more expensive wines on the menu.

I had fun watching this, but the episodes (with an average 43 minute runtime) did seem a bit long for this type of comedy. If you like the sound of it and enjoy watching some classic British comedy, you won’t be disappointed.

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