Insider Guide: What to watch in the coming week
Your round up of what to watch, record and stream in the next week.
Tuesday, 10pm, Sky Atlantic
Like The Shield (see below), Ray Donovan is another series that is not (yet?) at the top tier of must see dramas but, after its well received first season and undeniable star power cast, is something we should all sit up and take note of.
After all, one of the biggest mistakes we make these days with our TV watching is that, a lot of the time, if something isn't breathlessly reviewed as the best thing ever, we may overlook it. That would be a mistake with Ray Donovan, which returns for its second series this week on Sky Atlantic. Another flaw in our viewing? Waiting until its "finished" so we can binge, instead of watching week to week. Try this on for size so.
Liev Schreiber plays the titular thug-turned-Hollywood fixer, who rubs shoulders with LA's rich and famous, with his reputation for making problems go away. No problem is too small for Donovan, except when it comes to his own personal life. Life in the hills got messy when his criminal father Mickey (Jon Voight) was released from prison and hit the west coast for a little family reunion. Mickey's not a bad guy deep down, but wherever he goes, trouble follows very closely behind, and Ray learned that the hard way in the season one finale with the death of Mickey's former partner.
This season kicks off in the aftermath of that shooting as FBI agent Ed Cochran (The Simpsons' Hank Azaria, who should be in more things) starts asking questions. Ray is usually cool and collected but this situation is dangerous and he's at risk of losing his grip. His dad got him in to this mess, and he's going to need his dad's help to get out of it.
Ray's wife and children are feeling the effects of his dangerous lifestyle too. Ray Donovan was well received by critics last season and we suspect the only way is up from here as the cast and crew find their feet in their carefully honed, darkly satirical world. Also joining the cast this time out is Wendell Pierce (The Wire's fan favourite, Bunk Moreland) as a probation officer keeping an eye on Mickey.
Verdict: Watch it
2014 World Cup Final
Sunday, 7pm, RTE One
What a tournament this has been already. The holders Spain crashed out in the first round, along with supposed heavyweights Italy, England and Portugal; then there was the underdog heroics of USA, Australia and Algeria, not to mention Luis Suarez's antics that made headlines around the world AND the underlying controversy of Brazil hosting the tournament to begin with.
It's definitely been a vintage year but it's got to come to an end this Sunday as the 2014 World Champions take their place in history.
At the time of writing, the Semi finals are yet to play, so by the time you read this there's sure to have been yet more drama. But even if you've avoided the World Cup so far, you need to get involved with the Final; it's the greatest show on earth, after all. It's also the last time you're likely to see Bill O'Herlihy introduce a match. That's history right there.
Verdict: Record it
Operation Cloud Lab
Wednesday, 8pm, BBC Two
They might have come up with a better name, but Operation Cloud Lab is documentary the way only the BBC can do it. David Attenborough explored the wild, Brian Cox then explored the Solar System and now, meteorologist Felicity Ashton is set to explore the skies and the weather systems which impact on us all.
Travelling in one of the world's largest airships, basically a flying laboratory, Ashton and her crew are flying across the USA to undertake a series of experiments shedding light on the causes of wild weather, how life exploits the atmosphere, and the human impact upon the weather.
In one particularly interesting experiment, former paratrooper Andy Torbet will parachute through a cloud in an attempt to understand these strange phenomena.
It's thought one typical cumulus cloud contains enough potential energy to heat the home for up to 17 years. How about that.
All shot in glorious HD (of course).
Verdict: Stream It
Seasons 1 – 7 available now on Netflix
A confession: I've never actually seen The Shield. In the boxset / streaming / downloading, etc. revolution of the past number of years, there has been kind of a top tier of shows, then a second division.
If HBO's game-changing police drama The Wire was the premier league, then there's no denying similarly-themed The Shield resides a few rungs below in terms of popularity and impact. That said, anyone who is an aficionado of both insists that The Shield is right up there as one of the all-time great cop shows.
Set in Los Angeles, The Shield follows the exploits of an LAPD anti-gang division that is not above using illegal methods to keep the streets safe. But, as their methods begin to spin out of control, the lines between law and chaos blur and the detectives, led by supercop Vic Mackey (Michael Chicklis), struggle to remember which side of the law they're on.
The Shield ran for seven seasons until 2008 and received universal acclaim along the way.
All seven seasons are on Netflix now.
I'm starting it on Saturday.
Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Elijah Smith, Lorelei Linklater (15A)
Anyone familiar with the works of director Richard Linklater will know that much of his career has been concerned with chronicling what it means to be young in America. Slacker (1991) and Dazed & Confused (1993) examined the youth of Austin, Texas, in the 1990s and 1970s respectively, while with the Before trilogy (1995, 2004, 2013) Linklater visited and revisited a couple during three distinct and evolving periods in their life together, nine years apart.
With Boyhood, Linklater has in a way combined these two visions for statement filmmaking by patiently shooting his film in increments between 2002 and 2013. The result is a unique and quietly breathtaking masterpiece.
Like Linklater's other best known films, Boyhood doesn't really feature a plot to speak of. The film follows Mason Jr, played by Ellar Coltrane, from the age of six to 18 as he figures his way through life. Most of the film is concerned with his relationship with divorced parents (Patricia Arquette and Linklater regular Ethan Hawke) and sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) and is divided into episodic chapters.
Mason's relationship with his parents provides most of the narrative structure, but the magic of Boyhood isn't with the beginning, middle and end. Like life itself, the film is little more than a long series of moments that come together to make the characters who they are. Linklater has said that the entire cast had input into the script as they were shooting, so how it would end, so to speak, was of little concern to anyone during the entire process and it shows.
It's not about how it will end, it's about the moment you're in right now that matters. "It's always right now," says dad, Mason Sr, during one of his many pep talks with Mason Jr, and that's the message of the film. In fact, whenever Ethan Hawke is on screen is when the film is most alive, as the flighty but loving father, a weed-smoking lefty when we first meet him, who becomes a committed family man over the years fully aware of the fact that he "used to be cool."
The meandering nature of Boyhood may not be for everyone, but it's a unique and emotionally affecting film with a huge heart. The affectation grows with the characters, whereby one thinks on occasion, what's the point of this?, only moments later to remember that the point in life is something that just happens. It's certain to make plenty of end-of-year lists. Now, how about a quasi-sequel, Girlhood? Make it happen, Richard.
Begin Again (15A)
Written and directed by John Carney, one suspects that the story is in part influenced by his and Glen Hansard's experiences with the unprecedented success of Once (2006) in the US, in particular its soundtrack. Keira Knightley plays Greta, an English girl who, we learn through flashback, accompanied her singer-songwriter boyfriend to New York after he bags a song on a successful film soundtrack, leading to much wooing by record companies.
The relationship quickly falls apart and Greta finds herself wayward in New York. Enter struggling music exec Dan (Mark Ruffalo), who spots talent in Greta herself (she's also a budding musician) and convinces her to let him produce her album guerrilla-style, using the streets of the city as their studio. If it works, Greta will have symbolically gotten over her boyfriend and Dan's career will be saved. If it doesn't . . . well does anybody really think it won't?
Begin Again is a breezy rom-com with good chemistry between its two leads that, despite a spark being part of the plot, chooses not to define their relationship as a romantic one. Instead their relationship is friendly and professional as each character helps the other to drag themselves out of the gutter through the healing power of music. Along for the ride are Dan's estranged wife and daughter (Catherine Keener, Hailee Steinfeld) and Greta's affable college buddy Steve (James Corden), a gruff label boss played by Mos Def and, in a show-stealing cameo, Cee Lo Green as a ditsy rap star.
Beneath the surface, Begin Again also takes time to examine how we make and consume music in the modern world. From Dan and Greta sharing playlists on their iphones, Steve having an entire recording studio in his ramshackle flat and much discussion about the pros and cons of downloading, free music and the modern music industry, Begin Again is charming, fun and a cut above.
Director John Carney's love of music shines through in every scene. Could he be the next Alan Parker?
First published in INSIDER Magazine, exclusive to Thursday's Irish Independent