Tuesday 12 December 2017

Thirteen reasons why controversial Netflix series scores for teens

Flashback: Katherine Langford plays the doomed Hannah in 13 Reasons Why
Flashback: Katherine Langford plays the doomed Hannah in 13 Reasons Why

John Boland

The peerless Better Call Saul has now reached the fourth episode of its third season on Netflix, but this game-changing streaming service has some other new original series, too, all of them available for binge-watching - unlike Saul, which is being rationed out in weekly episodes.

There's 13 Reasons Why, for instance, a 13-part adaptation of a young adult novel by Jay Asher that deals with the causes of a teenage girl's suicide and its fallout among her schoolmates, at some of whom she points her finger in audio tapes she posted to them before her death.

The series has already created something of a furore among concerned parents in the United States, who have accused it of glamorising teenage suicide and of being too graphic in its depictions of the death itself and of the sexual assault that, along with cyberbullying, contributed to her drastic act. Indeed, Netflix has now felt obliged to insert "viewer warning cards" at the start of some episodes.

From the two episodes I've watched, the drama is quite compelling, with affecting turns from Katherine Langford, who appears throughout in flashback as the doomed Hannah, and from Dylan Minnette as Clay, the fellow student who had an unspoken crush on her, but the gradual audio-tape revelations are decidedly gimmicky and there's something a bit soapy, too, about many of the set-ups and much of the overly earnest dialogue.

However, I'm not the target audience and I can well imagine this slickly made series attracting a devoted teen fanbase - much like 21 Jump Street did in the 1980s and Beverly Hills, 90210 in the 1990s.

Teen concerns also feature in the 10-part Dear White People, along with racial issues and matters of sexual identity, as a group of young black students negotiate the difficulties they're obliged to confront in a largely white American college. The tone in the opening couple of 30-minute episodes was smart and sassy, though it was hard to decide whether the makers were pitching it as a comedy or a drama. In the event, it registered as an uneasy mixture of both. And the repartee was intent on making obvious statements. "Don't fall in love with your oppressor," a friend warned Samantha of her affair with white student Gabe, while Gabe's discomfiture while attending an otherwise black gathering was treated witheringly by Samantha: "So you felt the odd man out for two minutes!"

Yet despite all the right-on sloganising, there's lively playing from an unfamiliar cast who create some intriguing characters, and the series may well prove worth pursuing.

I can't say the same for Girlboss, which, in the first of 13 half-hours, offers a young woman so unlikeable that you want to get away from her as fast as you can. Likeability, of course, isn't a prerequisite for an interesting character, but unfortunately, the makers of Girlboss seem to think that Sophia (Britt Robertson) is adorably kooky rather than rude and obnoxious.

Based on the life of online vintage clothes millionaire Sophia Amoruso, Girlboss opens with its heroine giving the finger to a tram that's stuck behind her stalled car, after which she steals a carpet from a shop, cons a clothes store owner into selling her an expensive jacket for next to nothing, and concludes a sexual coupling with the announcement "Alright, I'm done".

Somewhere along the way she wonders, "Why am I such an asshole?" but she doesn't really mean it, and nor do the makers of the series. And so, after two episodes, I'm done, too.

There wasn't an awful lot worth watching in the mainstream schedules, though Jedward were a hoot on Pointless Celebrities (BBC1), constantly disrupting the show with their manic comments and reducing quizmaster Richard Osman to helpless laughter. I see a new career beckoning them.

They were certainly more amusing than any of the sketches shown on Our Friend Victoria (BBC1), a half-hour series that has been paying lavish tribute to Victoria Wood, who died last year.

Some comedy is imperishable, while some seems very dated as the years pass by. And that's the case with Wood, an undeniably clever and witty performer in her day but now registering as so cosy, safe and corny as to belong to a bygone age. "I don't know if people would find it funny now," Julie Walters mused when introducing a sketch she'd done with Wood, "but we thought it was hilarious." And maybe it once was.

You won't get a laugh, either, out of How to Cook Well (RTÉ1), but if we must have cookery shows, let them be as informative and unpretentious as this one from Ballymaloe's Rory O'Connell.

Grey-haired and bespectacled, he's not exactly your typical celebrity chef, but it's his unfussily enthusiastic dedication to the task in hand that singles him out. "I love cooking and I love teaching people how to cook", he says at the start of each episode, and that's what comes through.

Line of Duty (BBC1) came to a nail-bitingly exciting end, or rather to three nail-bitingly exciting ends, two of them unforeseeable by even the most imaginative of viewers.

That's because they were a bit bonkers, even by creator Jed Mercurio's extreme standards. Yet you were riveted to the screen, marvelling at Mercurio's ability to wrong-foot you while praying that justice would somehow prevail.

It did, though are we now meant to worry about anti-corruption chief Ted Hastings, so splendidly played by Adrian Dunbar?

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