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.

375w

Quickfire round: Trinkets (Season 2)

Much worse than the first one, this final season of the show about an unlikely trio of friends who bond over court-mandated visits to Shoplifters Anonymous was full of terrible writing and sketchy plots. Still, the cast are amazing and the finale was strong.

At the start of the season, the trio walk into school together for the first time.

Trinkets is essentially a story of friendship. Three characters from school (Tabitha, the rich and popular one, Moe, the smart but scatty one, and Elodie, the shy newbie) bump into each other at a meeting of Shoplifters Anonymous. The story is funny but quite emotional – it’s clear that Elodie shoplifts because she misses her recently deceased mother, and Tabitha because her parents are divorced and her boyfriend is physically abusing her. As for Moe, well, that one’s quite the spoiler.

The show’s first season was really quite good. The trio break down the barriers of social interaction between different groups of people in high school and form an unlikely – and mostly secretive – bond. They even get matching tattoos (of a triangle, no less). They help each other overcome their problems of relationships or abuse or loneliness, with plenty of shoplifting along the way.

It all ended with Elodie running away from home to join a singer on tour whom she was clearly enamoured with. The problem with that ending is that they needed her to come back for the second season, so her position gets abruptly reversed. That’s the problem here – many scenes in the show are just… weird. In some scenes, characters make a big deal out of nothing, while other scenes there seems to be a set up for bigger drama down the road only for that story arc to fizzle out into nothing.

The cast make the most of the bad writing and you do feel invested in the characters themselves, it’s just a shame that the shoddy writing cuts through and is more noticeable than in other shows I have seen this year, and certainly more so than in the previous season.

So, although I was ultimately enough of a fan to binge the second season, I can’t say I particularly recommend Trinkets to anyone who doesn’t feel immediately captivated by the synopsis.

366w

Quickfire round: Unsolved Mysteries

We all love a good mystery, although most of us desire the satisfaction of having the mystery solved by the end of the episode. Thankfully, despite being deprived of it here, Unsolved Mysteries still manages to be an enticing watch.

Reconstructions and archive footage are blended together, which adds to the viewer’s immersion in the mystery.

Although there is one episode on a massively-corroborated UFO sighting, the rest of the show’s episodes cover murders. First, we hear about the story of a recently married man who goes missing and is found dead days later in an abandoned hotel building, having seemingly gone straight through the metal and wood roof, a feat that would have required jumping from an extreme height. However, nobody can work out a convincing-enough theory as to where he would have jumped from to end up there. I found this one to be the most sinister of the entire series because of the victim’s relations to a shady businessman who refused to cooperate with police and the documentary.

I like that one episode is entirely in French, covering the well publicised murders of the entire Dupont de Ligonnès aristocrat family (well, everyone other than the father). This episode is probably the most horrific, but you’ll eventually learn that what happened to the family is not so much of a mystery as some of the other episodes in the show.

I won’t spoil the rest, but I implore you to watch them. Each episode is well made, with reconstructions and archive footage interspersed with current-day interviews featuring relatives and officials who worked on the unsolved cases at the time. There’s no central narration, just a careful telling of the story all the way through.

277w

Quickfire round: The Babysitters Club

Based on the books of the same name, this sort about a group of 7th graders who form a group to provide babysitting services to their local area was packed full of teachable moments for its target audience (of which I am not a participant).

Although the books began in the 1980s, this show is entirely modern – everyone has a smartphone

When Kristy’s mum struggles to find a babysitter before a date with her wealthy boyfriend, Kristy, who isn’t taking well to her future stepfather and is ostensibly looking for a distraction from them, has the idea of forming a club to make the process a whole lot easier. She’s the president, of course, as the one with the most experience babysitting her own younger brother. But the club is more than just a business. The members form a close friendship that, while tested, remains strong throughout.

Each episode is narrated by a member of the club and is somewhat formulaic. Something bad happens which the characters then overcome. The great thing about this show is the importance of the issues tackled in it, some more subtle than others. Claudia, an incredibly chic future art student, feels that only her grandmother, Mimi, truly understands her. When Mimi suffers a stroke and can only recall early memories (and the Japanese language she natively speaks) – breaking that bond of understanding (the episode also sprinkles in a bit of American-Japanese war history as well, which is fantastic to see).

In another episode we see Stacey, new to the local school having recently relocated from New York. She’s been struggling to hide her insulin pump (and thereby her Type 1 diabetes) from the club, which has rather disastrous consequences when a rival babysitting enterprise leaks a video of her passed out on the floor at her old school. This raises concerns from the parents of the children she babysits, which is, like all the episodes, happily smoothed over by the end. It’s this careful structuring of disaster followed by resolve that allows the show to tackle these issues without veering away from its PG rating.

If you happen to have or know a child aged around 11+ I would definitely recommend sitting down and watching this with them. The acting from the all-girl main cast was brilliant (although, notably, the supporting boys were not as good) and it really deserves a sequel.

391w

Quickfire round: Alex Rider

Fourteen years on from Stormbreaker, the film adaptation of the first Alex Rider book that I absolutely loved watching (when I was 10), comes this TV adaptation of the second book, Point Blanc. Nostalgia, hit me!

Alex looking less than impressed after essentially being forced into being a teenage spy.

The first thing to note about this show is that, although it’s adapting the second book in the series, it’s been heavily modified to restart the story from before Alex became a spy. The death of Alex’s uncle and his recruitment into the special branch of MI6 is completely re-told and folded into the plot of the second book, which sort of makes sense. Newcomers get some crucial backstory, and fans of the books don’t have to sit through a second adaptation of Stormbreaker.

The plot of the Alex Rider series was always a bit over the top. He’s a teenage spy, somehow able to out-wit and out-fight quite a number of supposedly experienced bad guys. So, you know, just suspend your disbelief while you watch. In Point Blanc, Alex attends an academy of the same name, which claims to operate a highly successful rehabilitation school for troubled teenage children of wealthy and influential parents. In reality it’s a tool for worldwide domination dreamt up by Dr Hugo Greif, a neo-Nazi and head of the school.

Dr Grief is aided in his operations by SCORPIA, the terrorist organisation that isn’t actually revealed until the fifth book. Working for SCORPIA, top tier assassin Yassen Gregorovich performs a few contract kills on some parents of former pupils at Point Blanc who became suspicious after their children returned from the academy. Yassen is a key figure in the series and fans of the books will enjoy having him bump into Alex at the academy, telling him they may meet again.

Enough plot – was it any good? Yeah, it was. It was heavily adapted though. It takes place in the present (everyone has the latest iPhone), Alex has half the gadgets from the book, and (although this is a very good thing) the academy is half girls, whereas in the book they were all boys. But the action scenes were good and I was genuinely hooked even though I already sort of knew what was going to happen. It is very appropriately rated 12 – you’re not going to see some grisly death scenes and excessive swearing in this show.

Otto Farrant was fantastic in the leading role, and I really hope we get to see him reprise his role for a second (and third, and fourth…) season. The Alex Rider series, which is still being written, was probably my all time favourite fiction as a kid.

446w