Taboo (BBC One and FX)

TITLE: Taboo
GENRE: Drama
STARRING: White Idris (aka Tom Hardy), Lucian Msamati, Oona Chaplin, David Hayman
PRODUCTION COMPANY/COUNTRY: BBC One- UK; FX – USA
YEAR: 2017
RATING: Five out of five wet wipes (you’re gonna need wipes if you watch this. Regency London, even the rich places, looks filthy.)
WHERE CAN I SEE IT?: BBC One and FX

Every week when watching Taboo, after emerging from my White Idris-induced daze, I’d think, “I really have to recommend this show to people because it is craaaaaazy.”

But it’s also also overly complicated and obtuse. That’s why I waited until it was over to review it. Now, if you’re a  completists, you can binge-watch it. But Taboo is “sick with pneumonia” binge-watch material. Or “stuck inside during a hurricane or blizzard” binge-watch worthy. Taboo’s convoluted plot makes one easily distracted by the staging, the deliberate filth…or Twitter. And, yet, at the end, I actually stood up and cheered, which I’ve not done since Craster got merc’d in Game of Thrones. 

The setting is 1814 London. This is the Regency period. The only thing I knew about this time period was that London was a nasty sewer, but that it’s also a period for some era-defining style and shit. Taboo’s settings relishes this aspect of its buildings and costumes. But the series is mostly set by the Thames River, which looks like a stew of incurable diseases. Which makes sense since the Regency era is also known for its inattention to poverty.

This is why, when James Delaney (White Idris/Tom Hardy) returns to London to claim his birthright, there’s an odd equivalency between how dirty everyone appears and their duplicitous natures. As Judge Judy would say about most of the people who come into her courtoom: no one has clean hands. Or anything else for that matter in Taboo. That’s especially the case for one of Delaney’s biggest adervsary’s, The Crown, as represented by the Prince Regent who, despite his lux surroundings and clear debauchery, looks like a sweaty, walking barrel of STIs.

AND IT’S SO FUN TO WATCH.

James Delaney: I have a use for you.

Me: Yes, please.

There’s a fine line between avoiding spoilers and giving enough background to convince you that Taboo is worth watching, but some basics and highlights:

  • Delaney is off his rocker. Sometimes he simply grunts in response to questions, but after a few episodes you get into the nuances of his grunting.

Some of variations are: “I’m going to kill you,” “You mean nothing to my plan” and “You’re of no use to me.” We know from the series start that he’s returned from Africa (broadly and whitely defined) with lots of body tattoos and practicing actual B/black magic. This recurring theme requires analysis along the lines of Toni Morrison’s Africanist presence theory: even when black people aren’t present, representations of blackness are there doing the heavy lifting of signifying Otherness. So Delaney’s back and not a great communicator, but clearly up to lots of no-good. To what end, and for what purpose, doesn’t become clear until the pentulimate episode.

  • There are two adversaries to Delaney in this story: the East India Trading Company and the Crown (aforementioned gross Prince Regent). They both want some land that Delaney might inherit off the coast of what will become North America. This means the American revolutionaries are also on the scene as a potential buyer, ally or enemy. INTRIGUE.
  • There’re interesting ladies who get shortshrift. They could be way more fascinating, if Taboo is renewed for a second series. This seems to be the way of contemporary television: set up the first series’ drama with lots of male protagonists and then realize, “Oh! Right! Women do shit besides have boobs. Give ’em some plot!”

Delaney’s half-sister, Zilpha Geary, who he’s already shagged and finds other ways to seduce even when he’s not physically present (which is gross…but kinda hot…but yeah gross…but hot (see video below).

Delaney’s stepmother, Lorna Bow, that he didn’t know he had, but who becomes an ally.

And an instrumental brothel-keeper/whore (this narrative wayyyy predates “sex worker” so chill), Helga Von Hinten, who Delaney underestimates at every turn.

 

You know you can’t resist any of that Hardyness so just gon’ ahead and buy the entire season from Amazon Instant Video
 
Again, now that the first series is over, check it out, but don’t expect it to be easy viewing. It’s nice to focus on a TV program and not be poorly multi-tasking all over the place. The twists and turns in Taboo aren’t implausible, if you’re used to high British drama. And it’s refreshing to see what real-ish people of the era across a few different class backgrounds.

And did I mention White Idris is fine?

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TV Review: The Family (ABC), Thirteen (BBC One/BBC America) and The Missing (BBC One)

TITLE: The FamilyThirteenThe Missing

GENRE: Thriller, Family Drama

STARRING: The Family – Joan Allen, that one chick from The Newsroom with the weird face; Thirteen – Aneurin Barnard is someone you will want to know because he and his dark curls were dreamy; The Missing – David Morrissey’s Walking Dead pedigree tricked me into watching this and now I’m mad because it was boring af.

NETWORK / COUNTRY: The Family – ABC / USA), Thirteen – BBC One, BBC America / UK, The Missing – BBC One / UK

YEAR: 2016

RATING: The Family – a reserved 4 out of 5 missing kid flyers, Thirteen – five out of five, The Missing – 2 sleepy eyes trying to stay open to watch it.

WHERE CAN I SEE IT? The Missing is still boring the knickers off folks on BBC iPlayer at this writing, Thirteen is on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and something called Vudu. The Family is available on iTunes, Google Play, and Playstation.


Okay, so this is a weird bit of televisual group-think for a TV show premise: what if a missing kid CAME BACK after several years? Three production companies sold this idea to networks, two in the U.K. and one in the states (so far).

Sometimes people with kids tell me they can’t watch stories in which kids are in danger and in peril. I totally get that. Sometimes I can’t either and I don’t have kids. But what if they kid comes back? Joy! Jubilation! Not.So.Fast say these three shows.

What’s fascinating about them is the social milieu in which the return is situated. In The Family, it can’t just be a kid, Adam, returning to his family as a teenager after being snatched. Since it’s American, it’s gotta have an overblown family dynamic embedded in the family’s political aspirations and living in a big-ass’d house. There’s a lot of pearl-clutching and ignoring of instinct: “Whatever will it mean for the family in the spotlight to have the son return?” I was excited to see Grant Show from Melrose Place (Jake!) in a smaller role. He still fine. And the class stuff is alternately infuriating and funny as it intersects with angst about what it means to be a Good Mother, Good Father and Good Sibling/Son/Daughter in this set up.

I cannot in good faith tell you to invest in The Family without telling you that it was cancelled and not picked up for renewal just as something amazeballs was revealed. I’m not going to tell you. I’m going to send you a mixed message: The Family is totally worth watching because it’s fun to see this truism come to fruition across the board: EVERYONE LIES. It’s a special kind of white dysfunction embedded in American stoicism and Protestantism that I enjoy immensely. The Duplicitous Lesbians subplotting is eye-rollingly dumb, but a nice case study for a women’s studies cinema class of “Homophobia and Heterosexist Tittilation Through Fictive Lesbian Sexy Times.”

Get the entire juicy, sole season of The Family from Amazon. Like, RIGHT NOW.

I watched The Family at the same time as Thirteen was on in the UK. The class contrast was great and made The Family look amateurish by comparison: a middle-class family in a decent-sized house welcome back their daughter, Ivy, who stumbles up the path to their house 13 years after being taken.

What makes Thirteen worth watching on its own is the acting, which was superlative. The protagonist, Ivy, is believably confused, angry and bewildered that her family and friends have both moved on and managed to stay the same. It’s also a visually pleasing mini-series set in someplace-other-than-London. It’s beautifully shot and heartwrenching to see what Ivy’s missed out on in her community and family.

Poor Ivy. You can watch what becomes of her by buying the entire season right here on Amazon.

The Missing is the most recent and least interesting entrant into the field of Returned Snatched Kid dramas. And TV producers could all just stop after this one. I watched both series one and two of The Missing. Season one featured James Nesbitt and, as I suspected, he’s just overused in British dramas.

You can check out Missing on STARZ or get the whole, creepy season from Amazon.

It’s hard to situate the protagonist in the second series, but mostly it’s a detective haunted by the abduction of not one, not two, but three girls. He’s very French and he has a brain tumor to give his obsession some urgency. But even with only eight episodes, I only kept watching because the twist in this thriller had me completely baffled. I even got out a piece of paper and pen to sketch out what I thought was happening and then realized there weren’t enough clues to help solve the mystery.

Can I tell you to watch all three for comparison’s sake? No. Do not. The Missing dragged out across European landscapes and tried to make the main detective’s torment at not solving these cases matter. It does not succeed. Skip it.

But do catch The Family and Thirteen and watch them at the same time, if at all possible. The demeanors of the families and what they think is important is a chin-scratching meditation on how we think families should be and how they really are.


And just for funnies: the theme music for The Missing reminded me of this Portlandia skit about TV theme music. It’s a good send up of how over-the-top, “we’re being moody” TV themes have gotten. As if the people producing it were like, “The opening sequence needs to be its own mini-movie. You know, like True Blood.” Thank you, True Blood, for unleashing this pretentious scourge on viewers everywhere.