A whodunit is quite possibly the most common type of narrative that exists in fiction. Every single one of us is drawn to the inherent puzzle, as well the urgency created by the fact that there is a killer on the loose if the puzzle isn’t solved. Because it has been done so many times, the key to reviewing a whodunit is in the details. How is the story presented? How deep is the characterization of the victim and the suspects? Why should we care to follow the Detective, if we are following one?

Broadchurch is a whodunit with a lot going for it. It has a great cast, a great setting, and a gripping mystery. The series begins with the arrival of Detective Inspector Alec Hardy (David Tennant) to Broadchurch, a small coastal town. Hardy has taken the position that Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) expected to receive as a promotion, and she feels slighted to be assigned Hardy (an outsider) as a superior, given her in-depth knowledge of Broadchurch. Soon after Hardy’s arrival, 11-year-old Danny Latimer is found dead on the beach, and the two detectives embark on an investigation that rocks the small town.

The great thing about Broadchurch is not just the mystery of who killed Danny. The series succeeds because it takes the time to paint a picture of the town as a whole. Suspicion falls on MANY different townsfolk, and even those who are NOT under suspicion for Danny’s murder are hiding sinister or unsavory secrets. Hardy himself had sought out a position in Broadchurch because he felt the small town would be a retreat from the ugly, sinister cases he had seen in the past. What he comes to realize as the series progresses is that small towns can hide ugly secrets, too. The most interesting arc, however, belongs to Hardy’ partner Ellie. She is a member of the Broadchurch community. She has lived there, made friends there, built a career there. Now, Hardy demands that she look at her friends and neighbors with suspicion. After all, one of them is a killer. As a pessimist and a misanthrope, I like seeing narratives that don’t sugarcoat the black nature of humanity. Broadchurch is interesting because it validates Hardy’s suspicions and crushes Ellie’s optimism.

This is why it’s almost strange to see the series remade for American television as Gracepoint. I’d be curious to see if the American remake maintains the withering, bleak outlook of the original. In Broadchurch, even the people who were innocent of Danny’s murder proved to be terrible in other ways. Not since “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” episode of The Twilight Zone have I seen such a genuinely negative portrayal of “regular” people.

The performances in Broadchurch are spot on. Tennant, Colman, Jodie Whittaker as Danny’s mother are particularly strong. If I had one complaint about the series, it is that in writing Danny’s older sister, the creators have taken the lazy approach of the Bratty Teenage Daughter. Most recently an egregious element in Homeland, the Bratty Teenage Girl is a recurring trope that dictates that teenage female characters must be bratty, selfish, annoying, and act completely without care or logic. It is lazy writing, and sexist lazy writing, at that. Seriously, male writers of fiction: stop writing teenage girls without every trying to understand one. Here are two examples, just from recent posts on this blog, that prove that you can write a teenage girl with depth.

That rant aside, Broadchurch is definitely worth checking out. I can’t speak for the quality of Gracepoint yet, or whether it will make departures from the original narrative, but Broadchurch is out on DVD/blu-ray.

Entertainment Geekly: The Batman Top 100


Entertainment Week has selected their Batman 100.

Originally posted on PopWatch:

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So on Monday, I watched the Gotham series premiere with about 8 million of my friends. I started writing a column about the show and what it says (accidentally and/or purposefully) about the role of Batman in pop culture right now. But working on that column got me thinking more generally about Batman: A character who has been around for 75 years, a figure in my cultural consciousness since before my memory begins. The next thing I knew, I was making a list of my favorite Batman things–the movies, the TV shows, the vividly recalled comic book story arcs and standalone issues, the characters who stand out in my memory as defining aspects of the greater Bat-mythology.

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Royal Shakespeare Company Hit ‘Wolf Hall’ Moves to Broadway with Original Stars

Originally posted on Variety:

“Wolf Hall: Parts 1 & 2,” the rebranded two-part theater event that originated at the Royal Shakespeare Company as “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up the Bodies,” has mapped out its route to Broadway, landing at the Winter Garden Theater in an April opening.

Actors Ben Miles (pictured above), Lydia Leonard and Nathaniel Parker, who played starring roles in the historical saga at the RSC and later on the West End, will migrate to New York with the show, which, like fall opener “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” will arrive Stateside carrying the imprimatur of London success. The show also comes pre-approved by the lead theater critic of the New York Times, who gave the plays a rave review when he caught their U.K. incarnation.

Adapted by Mike Poulton from Hilary Mantel’s two prize-winning books, “Wolf Hall” centers on the court of Henry VIII (Parker). Miles plays Thomas Cromwell, while Leonard…

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Netflix Procures ‘Peaky Blinders’ Brit Drama in Exclusive Pact With Weinstein Co., Endemol


I can’t wait!

Originally posted on Variety:

Netflix has acquired exclusive U.S. rights to British gangster series “Peaky Blinders” under a pact with the Weinstein Co. and Endemol.

All six episodes of season 1 will debut at 12:01 a.m. PT Sept. 30, and season 2 will launch in November, Netflix said.

“Peaky Blinders,” set in 1919 Birmingham, England, follows the Shelby family, which leads a criminal ring named for its practice of sewing razor blades into the peaks of the members caps. It was created and written by Steven Knight (“Dirty Pretty Things”, “Eastern Promises”).

Series stars Cillian Murphy (“Inception,” “The Dark Knight Rises”), Sam Neill (“The Tudors,” “Jurassic Park”), Helen McCrory (“Hugo,” “Harry Potter”) and Annabelle Wallis (“Snow White and the Huntsman,” “The Tudors”). The series was produced by Caryn Mandabach Production and Tiger Aspect Production for BBC Two, which first aired “Peaky Blinders.”

“‘Peaky Blinders’ captivated audiences in the U.K. with its compelling storylines, powerful…

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It is a truth universally acknowledged, that live action comic book adaptations for television suck. During his years working on The Dark Knight trilogy, Christopher Nolan wisely demanded that no Batman TV series be allowed to compete/diminish what he brought to the big screen. This isn’t (from me) a slight at the TV medium. When done well, TV can and has delivered better narratives than the movie theatre. Given my dislike of Birds of Prey, Smallville, Agents of Shield, etc, I wasn’t very keen on seeing my favorite comic adapted for the screen in Gotham. TV adaptations of comics tend to cast CW/WB-type (young) actors and what I am informed are “heartthrobs” to fill roles that are far beyond the life experience and talents.

One of the tragic results of Nolan’s otherwise sound TV policy is that it put a stop to the planned TV adaptation of Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka’s phenomenal series, Gotham Central (as revealed by Brubaker on the 3 Chicks Podcast). For those not in the know, Gotham Central focused on the cops of the Gotham Police Department, as they tried to deal with the regular and irregular crime that abounds in the city. The critically acclaimed comic skillfully wove a Gotham City tale that barely featured Batman. When Nolan’s trilogy ended, plans were immediately restarted for a Batman TV series, especially give the success of Arrow. They opted to focus on the Gotham PD, but in a past setting. Rome creator Bruno Heller was brought in to helm the series.

This is a review of episode one, which is all I’ve seen. As the world’s biggest Rome fan and Batman fan, I desperately wanted this series to work. As an eternal pessimist, I didn’t expect that it would. One of the biggest complaints from some fans is that this is a Batman series without Batman. That is not my complaint. As Gotham Central and countless Bat-spinoff comics have shown us, Gotham City is an interesting and fascinating place, even without the Big Guy (By contrast, the same could not be said of Star City or Metropolis). So, what are my problems?

One of the ongoing themes in the comics is that Batman brings the crazy to Gotham. He is in part responsible for the presence of the costumed villains in the city, not only because he creates a power vacuum by doing away with the mob that preceded them, but because his insane mission draws other insane people into town. Since Batman does not yet exist in Gotham, there is no reason why these people should be there. The only villains that make sense in this setting are Fish and Falcone. I would like (and hope) that the series focuses on the mob and the corruption in the police force, since this is the criminal element that would or should exist in a pre-Batman Gotham.

My other problem was that the dialogue in the premiere was just awful. Like, seriously bad and clichéd. “There will be light”? “lackadaisical”? Twice?! Seriously?! This, from a man who wrote scenes as exquisite as this? These were the small moments when I was more offended as a Rome fan than as a Batman fan. The direction in Gotham was unimaginative, as well (perhaps I’ve been spoiled by Soderbergh’s beautiful work on The Knick).

I do have a couple of nice things to say about the show. It’s watchable, for one, which is more than I can say about Birds of Prey or Agents of Shield. Of all the comic book shows, I would say that Arrow remains the best, which is not saying much. I want to see where Gotham goes. If it focuses on the corruption in the city, it can become very good.

The actors also make me want to tune back in. Ben McKenzie is solid as James Gordon, one of my favorite characters in the mythos. McKenzie imbues Gordon with strength and decency in an indecent world. I dislike characterizations of Gordon as weak, and this show follows a Year One approach to the character that I dig. As Harvey Bullock, Donal Logue is sheer perfection, and the best performer of the lot. He is a guy who’s willing to get his hands dirty, but will stand by his partner when the situation calls for it. Jada Pinkett Smith’s Fish Mooney delights in her power, and I how much fun she was having with the character. Robin Lord Taylor’s Oswald Cobblepot was interesting and in the end of the episode, a little disturbing, unlike his fellow Bat-foes Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) and Ivy Pepper (Clare Foley). As Carmine Falcone, John Doman delivered what was the most promising moment of the entire episode, as he laid out the full breadth of the corruption in Gotham to a disgusted Gordon. The weakest performer in the episode was Erin Richards as Barbara (the future Mrs. Gordon), who was whiny and unconvincing. I remain unconvinced by Sean Pertwee as Alfred, since I can’t shake the associations with the actor’s previous, slimier roles, but that has more to do with me than it does with him.

Crucially, David Mazouz delivers as little Bruce Wayne. One of the biggest complaints about Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises was the lack of Batman. I would argue that the true heart of the story is Bruce Wayne, which is why I loved that film so much. Others have worn Batman’s cowl, but only Bruce Wayne has mattered to readers of the comics (whereas other costumed heroes have been successfully inhabited by different men, indicating that the costume is more important than the man beneath it). It is Bruce’s tragedy as a child that drives the entire narrative of the city in which he lives. I would be happy to watch a Batman-less Bruce Wayne story. Gotham is not supposed to be that story. Bruce is still a child, powerless, and the series understands that at this moment in his life, he is a child consumed with fear and guilt. Batman will be the way that Bruce will try to control and right the chaotic world that Bruce inhabits, and Batman cannot exist if the child Bruce does not experience a great deal of trauma. In the few moments he’s onscreen, Mazouz successfully conveys the determination, the loneliness, and the blind rage that will drive his quest. Hopefully, his continued association with Alfred and Gordon will add to the child the element of compassion that also defines Batman. Unlike the introductions of Ivy and Selina as children, which felt unnecessary and wrong this early in the game, Bruce’s presence felt right.

So, in the end, I will continue to watch. It falls quite short of what I wanted, but I need my Gotham City fix, and the character has seen faaar worse iterations. He’s not the hero we deserve, nor the one we need, but he’s the one we have right now.

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London Theater Review: ‘Ballyturk’ with Cillian Murphy, Stephen Rea


As a fan of Disco Pigs, I wish desperately I could go to Europe to see this!

Originally posted on Variety:

Two cheerfully ludicrous characters stuck in the same place play extravagantly with language and each other as they jockey for position and kill time. And although their seemingly mad activities gradually reveal an internal logic, they have no one literal “meaning.” If Enda Walsh’s new play “Ballyturk” sounds a lot like “Waiting for Godot,” Walsh’s own grandly staged, high-octane production with dazzlingly fast-paced performances by Cillian Murphy and Mikel Murfi are more like Beckett on Benzedrine.

In fact, the Beckett to which it is most deeply indebted is his bitterly comic “Play,” a twenty-minute wonder in which characters trapped in funeral urns ceaselessly race through their relationships with one another. But where those characters were in Purgatory, Walsh’s men — simply named 1 and 2 (Murphy and Murfi, respectively) — are less precisely located. That is, at least, until the arrival of 3 (Stephen Rea) who demands that one of…

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