To binge or not to binge? Tom Leins presides over a TV box-set bonanza.
From the creators of Damages, Bloodline – The Complete First Season (Sony) tells the story of the Rayburns, the owners of a plush Key West resort, and seemingly the keepers of the island’s darkest secrets.
When prodigal son – and black sheep of the family – Danny Rayburn (Ben Mendelsohn, Animal Kingdom) returns home for a family reunion, he threatens to shatter the family’s fragile façade and expose a lifetime of wrongdoings. In order to keep their family together, the three other siblings – including John Rayburn (Kyle Chandler, Friday Night Lights), the deputy sheriff of the county – attempt to keep Danny under control while preventing the family’s skeletons from tumbling out of the proverbial closet.
Netflix has been responsible for some big hits since entering the original content game (House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black etc), and Bloodline is the latest show to roll off the small-screen conveyor-belt. Securing the services of Sissy Spacek and Sam Shepard is no mean feat, but Ben Mendelsohn is clearly the main man here. Mendelsohn has become a go-to guy for scuzzy low-life roles in recent years, but the enigmatic role of Danny sees him dial down his scuzziness (one notch, at least!) to fill the nominal anti-hero role. It is clear that he has a chequered past, but the writers tease out the details slowly, all the while ramping up the family’s hostility.
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The self-imposed timeline trickery that characterises some of the episodes feels slightly unwieldy, but you will likely already be on the hook by that point, and the contrivance is surprisingly easy to overlook. If sweaty intrigue and simmering tension float your boat, now is a good time to catch up, as Season 2 is due to start streaming in May. Compelling stuff.
Based on an original idea by bestselling Scandi-crime author Jo Nesbo (Headhunters), Norwegian drama Occupied – Season 1 (Dazzler Media) is set in the not-so-distant future, where climate change has brought Europe to the brink of war. Environmentally-friendly prime minister Jasper Berg (Henrik Mestad, Lilyhammer) has convinced voters that the best way to tackle climate change is to halt all oil production in Norway, sending the country and the rest of the world into crisis. The solution? Russia – at the behest of the EU – invades Norway in order to secure the oil supplies for the rest of the world!
Inevitably, Occupied provoked outrage in Russia, with Russia’s ambassador to Norway protesting about his country’s role as the aggressor prior to the show’s launch last year. With Russia’s interventions in Ukraine still fresh in the memory, and Vladimir Putin’s aggressive foreign policy still a source of queasy fascination, Occupied feels particularly well-timed, and it remains unclear as to whether its slot on Sky Arts damaged its chances of tapping into a wider audience. Fascinating on paper, if occasionally clunky onscreen, Occupied picks up an intriguing geopolitical hot potato and runs with it. Uneven, but generally enjoyable.
Murder: The Complete Series (Acorn) comprises three standalone dramas that reprise the approach debuted back in 2012 with the BAFTA-winning Murder: Joint Enterprise. For anyone unfamiliar with the original, each film explores a separate murder via an absorbing blend of talking head interviews and flashbacks. Original director Birger Larsen (The Killing) returns to the fray, helming opening episode The Third Voice, and he is joined by Paul Wright (For Those In Peril) for Lost Weekend and Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard for The Big Bang.
The stories themselves differ wildly in tone, spanning the riverside killing of a respected Scottish doctor; the disappearance of a wealthy philanthropist; and the cold-blooded murder of an off-duty policeman – yet they all feel like they have been cut from the same creative cloth. The technique remains innovative, and the acting is superb throughout, but Murder’s eye-catching execution also contributes towards its dramatic downfall. Stripped of the propulsive narrative drive of a standard cop-show, the back-and-forth becomes wearying, and the grim mood never lifts. For my money, the second film, Lost Weekend, was the most entertaining – and indeed the one that blended style and substance most impressively; the other two left me slightly cold. Murder is an interesting show, but one that is difficult to recommend wholeheartedly.
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Trapped – The Complete Series One (Arrow Films/Nordic Noir & Beyond) is the brainchild of Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur – a man who has kept busy in recent years by alternating Hollywood blockbusters with more personal projects. Suffice to say, with mainstream movies such as 2 Guns and Everest underwhelming viewers, it is the Icelandic material that has impressed the most (see 2012’s gruelling The Deep).
The impressive Trapped, which is set in in Seyoisfjorour, a remote town in eastern Iceland, continues this trend. After the discovery of a badly dismembered body, tormented local cop Andri (Olafur Darri Olafsson, A Walk Among the Tombstones) realises that his small town has a killer in its midst. With a blizzard preventing the Reykjavik cops from travelling to the crime scene, Andri is forced to helm the investigation into his fellow townsfolk. Chock-full of strong supporting characters and riddled with queasy, unusual details, Trapped is a stark, excellent drama that comes highly recommended.