What I thought about: Defending Jacob

Unusually dark when you consider Apple’s typically family friendly orientation, this slow-burn thriller is a different take on a murder mystery story. I’m just not convinced it’s a worthwhile one.

That moment when you have to have ‘the talk’ with your teenage son. No, not that one…

What’s it about?
Ben Rifkin, a teenager, is found murdered in the woods on his way to school. Leonard Patz, a registered sex offender living near the woods, is the obvious suspect. But as assistant district attorney Andy Barber struggles to get any hard evidence on him, another suspect crops up: his son, Jacob, who was in the same class as the victim and who also walks through the woods on the way to school. Before he knows it, police are swarming the family home and searching for the murder weapon. Convinced of his son’s innocence, and well and truly off the case, Andy fights to uncover the truth.

What follows is an oddly-paced unravelling of the story. Did Jacob do it? If so, why? How? We don’t find the answers to all of these questions.

What do I like about it?
It’s dark, and it’s not very violent. The slow pace is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it’s frustrating not watching something with the constant twists and turns we saw in something like The Stranger. On the other hand, smaller actions have more impact.

There’s a scene where Jacob’s mother Laurie goes shopping for groceries at the crack of dawn to avoid being spotted and harassed. She rounds the corner and bumps into the victim’s mother, Joan, who slowly approaches, zombie-like. “Joan…’ Laurie says, only to be cut off by Joan nastily spitting in her face before walking away. Both mothers were there to shop away from the gaze of strangers, either as the mother of a horrifically murdered son, or as the mother of the alleged murderer. If it was all action, I suppose we wouldn’t have thought anything of that scene.

What do I not like about it?
I can’t tell if the acting is terrible or really, really good. Jacob is a weird but plain kid. The way he looks at you is weird, he’s pretty quiet, and his mind is usually somewhere else. It gives off a creepy, sinister vibe. But at the same time, you can’t help but believe him when he says he’s innocent. So, maybe Jaeden Martell did exactly what the directors wanted him to do. Or maybe he’s a bad actor. I honestly can’t tell.

I also don’t like how many twists occur in the final two episodes. I think the pacing in murder mysteries is a tricky thing, and on this occasion they got it wrong, spending far too long setting the scene in the run up to the trial, and not enough on the last few pivotal moments.

Worth a watch?
Watch the trailer first and ask yourself if you have the patience to get through 6 hours of slow-burn before it all kicks off.

By the way…

  • Yes, that is Chris Evans of Captain America fame playing the father, Andy Barber.
  • Jacob’s actor starred in Knives Out as that little shit who’s always on his phone and WHO IS ALSO CALLED JACOB. I did not recognise him in this.

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What I thought about: Trying

When is a comedy not a comedy? How relatable should it be, if it doesn’t make us laugh out loud? This cute little show about a couple in their 30s navigating the adoption system is sometimes funny, sometimes heartwarming, but never large doses of either.

It’s all smiles – perhaps too much smiling, considering their underlying issues.

What’s it about?
Jason and Nikki are 30-somethings living in Camden, London. They’ve just failed a round of IVF and have been told the prospects of any subsequent rounds succeeding are poor. Not wanting to miss out on the ‘joys’ of having children, as all their friends are now doing, they apply to adopt. The show follows their progress, as well as touching lightly on the lives of their friends and family. Nikki’s older sister is dating a jobless ‘creative thinker’ type, Jason’s best friend has just had his second child and isn’t taking it well. Meanwhile, Nikki’s Tinder-equipped younger colleague is there to remind her of her lost youth.

What do I like about it?
There are some funny moments in this one. Jason is a natural joker, and often comes out with the best lines in the show. I also really liked the small montages at the end of each episode where we see just a few seconds into the life of some of the more minor characters in the show, such as Jason’s boss Googling for things to do in Geneva after quitting her job, and their social worker cleaning her jacket at the laundrette (I won’t spoil why). Speaking of the social worker, it’s a stand-out performance from Imelda Staunton, nicely capturing the well-intentioned scatty-ness of the character.

What do I not like about it?
Sweet as it is, I have a number of concerns with this show. I’m not sure how relatable it’s going to be to many people. They’re a young couple living in central London – one might dismiss them as stereotypical Millennials. I feel as though the show is going to appeal mostly to young adults with kids, or young adults living in London looking to get kids. For everyone else, I worry they won’t see what the point of the show is at all. It’s certainly not funny enough to stand out as a comedy in its own right.

There are random bits and pieces that I think are supposed to have some kind of meaning, like Jason’s meeting with his ex, but either they are scripted poorly or they just don’t go far enough, because I didn’t get the point. Many of the show’s elements, from the couple’s parents to their day at the approval panel, lack sufficient context or depth, and it affects the flow of the show.

One thing I really disliked is the strange blur/aberration at the top and bottom of the screen in most of the shots. Sometimes there’s also a fish-eye lens effect going on. I suppose it was a creative choice, but to me it was an unnecessary and unsightly distraction.

Worth a watch?
Watch the trailer, and don’t set your hopes any higher than the impression it gives you. Still interested? Then go for it, it’s nice. Otherwise, no need.

By the way…

  • A cameo from The Mash Report‘s Rachel Parris was a surprise.
  • This is the first British show to come out of Apple TV+. More, please!

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What I thought about: Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet

A light hearted comedy produced in collaboration with a real games studio, this is a show for anyone that is into video game culture and wants something easy going to enjoy.

It’s never the Creative Director’s fault

What’s it about?
Mythic Quest is the world’s most popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game (in the show, not IRL). The show explores the studio that develop the game, and we pick up just as they release the game’s latest expansion, Raven’s Quest.

The show charts the highs and lows of running an online video game. Often, the problems come from the top – there are large disagreements between the game’s creative director, lead engineer, executive producer and, worst of all, head of monetisation.

To give you an example – Poppy, the game’s lead engineer, has developed a new shovelling mechanic in the game. It took a lot of work, the shovel can alter the physical landscape within the game and her hope was for it to lead to new ways of playing the game. Ian (pronounced eye-an, for some reason) thinks it should be a weapon instead. The reworked shovel is released – and the game’s players promptly dig holes in the shape of a penis. Welcome to the internet, folks.

What do I like about it?
The show addresses a broad spectrum of online video game culture, and everything that is shown is done really quite well. There’s a streamer (someone who plays games live for others to watch) called Pootie Shoe who has a massive following and who rates games on a scale of 1 to 4 ‘b-holes’. There are games testers in the back of the office. There’s a community engagement manager living in the basement who, despite being on the receiving end of often harsh criticism from the game’s players, is almost unnervingly upbeat.

They also do an interesting thing right in the middle. Episode 5 is a completely separate story about a couple who develop their own indie game, A Dark Quiet Death. As their studio grows and they plan a sequel, their publisher asks for key mechanics in the game to be replaced. Arguing that this destroys the game’s identity, one of the couple quits. This standalone episode is beautifully paced and doubles as a love story. It was a brilliant surprise.

What do I not like about it?
Not much – this was another binge watch for me. I would say that the show is often not laugh-out-loud funny. That’s not to say the jokes don’t land, they’re just not those kinds of jokes.

Some parts of the show are anxiety-inducing, especially if you are rooting for a particular character. As is often the case in video game development, things go wrong. Lots of things. Also, the show switches between good stuff happening, and then really bad stuff. This cycle of letting your guard down only to be worried when the next disaster strikes can be little anxiety-inducing.

Worth a watch?
If you’re a gamer, developer, or even remotely part of the culture, then definitely. It’s pretty accurate, and I have a feeling those who work on video games will appreciate it even more. If you’re not any of those, give it a try anyway. You might enjoy it.

By the way…

  • This show is only available on Apple TV+. You get it free with any Apple device bought since last November, else it’s £4.99 a month.
  • The show’s development was assisted by Ubisoft Montreal, a real video game studio.

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