Friday, August 12, 2016

Introducing Gomorrah, the TV series which has taken its place in my heart and which stands head and shoulders with Deadwood, The Sopranos and Damages. And I venture a slightly more personal entry, although I still don’t have the courage to go the whole hog

After I’d seen all six series of the Sopranos twice (and bizarrely the sixth series was in two parts, so maybe there were seven series) as well seeing several of the episodes several times, I’ve long been on the lookout for something to watch on TV which reached its high standards. Sadly, in my view very little of hour homegrown thrillers and series make the mark or get even close, with the very, very notable exception of Peaky Blinders which somehow shook of its Brit roots and was able to challenge other world-class production.

Naturally, I haven’t seen everything on TV (and nor would I want to as I’m firmly of the view that TV rots your brain but am a reasonable chap and accept that a little brain-rotting is not the end of the world) and there are several notable series which I have yet to attempt. A friend as well as my teenage son keep urging me to watch Breaking Bad, and I shall eventually. But much else which his hawked as ‘brilliant’ just hasn’t hit the spot for me.

My brother was a big fan of The Good Wife, and tried it, but I could never quite get into it. Then there was Justified which he also recommended. I tried that, too, but again couldn’t quite catch the bug. One of the things I didn’t particularly like (and admittedly I only saw three or four episodes of each) was how each episode had ‘a story’ as well as the various themes running through like a thread. It reminded me too much of the series we were fed in the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties, each with the then obligatory end scene in which loose ends were neatly tied up, to be followed by some joke and all the main good guy characters having a laugh together (‘Ah, Cisco.’ ‘Ah, Pancho’ ho, ho, ho.)

In fact. before I go on to mention – I won’t say list because there isn’t that many of them – the series which all in their own original way managed to reach the bar set by The Sopranos, it might help to illuminate exactly what I thought was and is good by listing some of the real losers and also-rans. Of what I have seen and the real losers most certainly Blue Bloods comes top of the list. It is absolutely dire and then some, a real throwback to Seventies productions with all its lack of subtlety, though I won’t, mainly because I can’t be bothered, list the elements which make me think it is total shite.

Then I tried Scandal with the very pretty Kerry Washington (who I first saw in the excrable Django Unchained – it redefined bloody awful in my view as did Tarantino’s earlier Inglourious Basterds) and that, too, was just TV by numbers although I’m bound to admit the clichés have been updated, but they are clichés nonetheless. I seem to remember trying Suits, although looking it up just now in it doesn’t sound very familiar. Then there was House Of Lies, which sounded passable on the face of it, but which I really couldn’t warm to.

But rather than make this one long whinge, let me list the series I have thought worthwhile and whose standards were well above average. First off, there has to be Boardwalk Empire about – well, I suppose it has to be gangsters in Prohibition America. As far as I am concerned it oozed from every pore. It did though come to a relatively abrupt end with all the stories needing to be tied up. That final series was eight episodes long instead of 13 and in a curious way did seem rushed.

I read somewhere that Martin Scorsese, one of the executive producers – or simply one of the producers, whichever comes higher up the foodchain, assuming ‘executive’ in this case means ‘the guys and gals who actually do the work’ rather than schmooze around at award ceremonies basking in the glory – lost a bit of interest once he and a certain Mick Jagger (we are now obliged to call him Sir Michael Jagger and genuflect every time we hear Under My Thumb on the radio) managed to get their series Vinyl in production. It purports to portray the early Seventies record label life in New York, but in my view is very curate’s egg, not all bad but not all good, either.

My list of great series can’t, of course, ignore Deadwood, which had all the aces and then some. But that too came to an early end after just three series and no one actually seems to know why. I can’t forget Ray Donovan, either, are at least the first three

series. It stars Liev Schreiber, Paula Malcolmson (who is from Northern Ireland and played a memorable tart in Deadwood) and the inimitable Jon Voight as Mickey, Ray’s utterly incorrigible father who pretty much steals the show every time he appears. It also has Britain’s own Eddie Marsan who proves once again what a great actor he is.

. . .

I think you get the picture: TV might have progressed a little since the days of I Love Lucy and Hawaii Five-O, not least in terms of greater production values, not doubt reflecting the evergrowing mountains of moolah to be made from putting stuff on the googlebox, but it is still pretty much cliché-ridden and pretty much still plays it safe.

As far as I know it was the entry into the market of subscriber services such as HBO and Showtime which partly rewrote the rules of the game, allowing far, far more profane language (and allowing the shows to be far more lifelike), and more open on other fronts.Crucially it also gave writers and directors their heads and they could develop character and plot in a far more relaxed way. This development was further extended by the more recent involvement of Amazon and Netflix, although it has to be said that both tend to play it a lot safer still, no doubt realising that kiddiwinks have pretty much unlimited access to the net.

But all this is leading up to something rather simple: my rave about my latest fave series, the Italian-made Gomorrah. This really is something else. It’s available on Sky and although I quite obviously have no first-hand knowledge of gangs, crime

and Mafioso – or in this case the Camorra – in its depiction of gangsters not as heroes who play by the rules, albeit their own rules, but as thuggish and greedy folk you would never want to meet out on a dark night alone and without a gun rings pretty true. If you have Sky I urge you to watch it. If you don’t, go around to the house of a friend who does.

Since writing the above and then posting it after choosing the piccies, several more great TV series have occurred to me which I rate just as highly as The Sopranos and Deadwood. Well, two more, both from the same stable of writers. They are Damages with the, again inimitable Glenn Close, and Bloodline. If you ever get the chance to see both or either, don’t miss it.

. . .

Incidentally, Ray Donovan has provided me with one of my favourite TV/film quotes. It’s from the teenaged and very impressionable son of Ray Donovan, a fixer in Los Angeles, who is in awe of his dad’s assistant Avi, an Israeli who is said to have learned his tricks when he worked for Mossad. ‘When I grow up,’ the lad tells Avi after witnessing another piece of ‘cool’ action, ‘I want to be a Jew.’ There’s something which rather irritates me about writing this blog. Years ago, many years ago, far more than it seems to me now except that when I do the sums I can work it out – about 36 years ago – I began writing a diary. Well, it wasn’t quite a diary in the usual sense of me detailing what had happened to me during the day or the previous days, but more of a commonplace book in which I would record or comment on whatever I wanted to record or commentate on. I started it off after I read that John Steinbeck wrote to his publisher’s editor that he often found it difficult to get writing in the morning. So his editor suggested that he buy himself a ledger and in that ledger wrote, on the left hand page, pretty much anything he wanted to, and that once he had got into his stride, he could then, on the right hand page carry on writing the novel or the story on which he was engaged. Well, in those days I still thought of myself as a novelist/writer manqué. That I wasn’t writing much, if anything, in the way of fiction are reasoned away as me not being in the habit of writing. (I know it sounds silly, but . . . ) So, I thought to myself, all I had to do was to follow Steinbeck’s publisher’s editor’s advice, buy myself a ledger and, well, start writing. It didn’t, as I’m sure you have gathered, work.

I certainly did keep up the ledger but of ‘real writing work’ there was subsequently an infinitesimally small amount. I did, though, carry on the habit of recording in the ledger whatever I wanted to record or commentate on. I also recorded quotes I came across which amused me. And when the first ledger was full, I bought another. I carried on the practice for the following 14 years, until the year I married, in fact.

I still wasn’t a diary, of course, for who is but one thing I did do was to imagine that one day, some day, it might be read. Why it should be read, I had no idea, but I carried on.

The point was that as there was virtually no likelihood of it ever being read by anyone I could record highly personal matters, and this I did. Fast forward to February 6, 2009, and I began this blog, courtesy of the internet and the concept of blogging. (If you read that entry, however, you will see that it was not actually my first blog, but because of a technical hitch I had lost the first few entries of my first blog.

There was, though, a difference between a ‘private’ diary, which, though I hoped would one day be read by those writing the biography of one of Britain’s most famous recent novelists, and my blog. That putative biography I imagined would be written after I had died. the blog, on the other hand, could be read almost immediately, and, more to the point, almost immediately by family and friends. And so I had to be a little circumspect in that I didn’t want to publish in this blog anything which might upset them. It’s called ‘self-censorship’. Thus the whole point or, at least, one of the whole points of ‘keeping a diary’ was lost.

I must admit there are times when I want to write far more personal stuff: reflections on my Roman Catholic upbringing and how it utterly skewed my relations with women (and more to the point meant I had rather fewer shags than I might of done because of that skewed relationship). It meant that I couldn’t record my thoughts about my marriage (I haven’t had sex in almost 18 years), or my children (my daughter eats all kind of crap and is well on the way to getting rather fat and my son’s diet is equally bad), or my friends (one or two of them can be rather irritating on occasion, and I bet that’s got them thinking. Me? No, not you, other friends.). And that is something I rather regret in an odd way. ‘Why not start another blog and don’t make it public’? I hear one or two of you possibly ask. Well, there’s the rub. I can’t see the reason why I should write a blog and not make it public. It’s a conundrum. But I should sometimes like to record rather more personal stuff than I might even now have done. Perhaps I will, and perhaps I shall have the courage to brave the wrath of those closer to me than the strangers who happen upon these scribblings. Pip, pip.

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