Sunday 17 December 2017

Outside the box

Paul Whitington

One of the little pleasures of being a Netflix subscriber is that you can catch up on old shows you meant to watch and never did. I remember seeing the first episode of '24' back in the early 2000s and thinking, 'this looks good, I should follow it'.

It was the last episode I saw, until the other week, when I dived into the first few series on Netflix. I have to say, it stands the test of time pretty well, apart from some of the showier touches, like the ticking clock that melodramatically punctuates scenes.

The special effects look a bit ropey too at this remove, but the storylines are always good and '24' caught the paranoid mood of post-9/11 America perfectly, despite the fact that the first series was actually made before the planes hit the Twin Towers.

It's coming back of course, and last week it was announced that Kim Raver will be joining the cast of '24: Live Another Day' to reprise her role as Jack Bauer's thwarted true love Audrey Raines. Mary Lynn Rajskub will also return as faithful colleague Chloe, and William Devane as James Heller, who may be the US president on the show.

All we know about '24: Live Another Day' is that it will be set in London, will screen next year and confusingly be 12 rather than 24 episodes. Kiefer Sutherland is 46 now, but looks fit enough to carry off the action hero routine, and is said to be excited about its return. He should be, as things haven't gone too well for him professionally since it ended.

Another star who hasn't exactly been lighting up the big screen of late is Halle Berry. She hasn't had a hit film in a couple of years, which is perhaps why she's heading to the small screen to star in a new drama produced by Steven Spielberg. CBS think so much of 'Extant' that it has bypassed the normal pilot test and is being given a sight- unseen 13-episode series run. Berry will play a female astronaut who returns to her family after spending a year in deep space and finds the readjustment very difficult. The intriguing-sounding show appears next year.

A big hit of 2013 was BBC Northern Ireland's 'The Fall'. The stylish but gruesome crime drama starred Gillian Anderson as a Scotland Yard detective sent to Belfast to find the man who's murdering young women. 'The Fall' was both gripping and disturbing but infuriated some – ok, me – by ending without resolving its story. Cue season two, which according to one of its stars, Emmett J Scanlan, starts shooting in February. Anderson will return, and so will Jamie Dornan as the truly unhinged killer Paul Spector, whom an estimated 3.6million viewers in Ireland and Britain watched saunter whistling into the sunset at the end of season one. Series two will have a lot of explaining to do.

'True Blood', meanwhile, will definitely be ending after next year's season seven. Alan Ball's acclaimed vampire drama has run so long that its stars Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer had time to fall in love, marry and have two children between episodes.

In its early seasons, 'True Blood' brilliantly melded horror stories and the American southern gothic tradition with its tales of an alternate world where vampires live among us and are not always the bad guys. But they're treated as second class citizens in a culture that eerily resembles the segregationist American south.

Season six was considered by many to have lost the plot a bit. Season seven, we are promised, will return to basics and the core story of Sookie Stackhouse, the telepathic Louisiana waitress who becomes an unlikely heroine.

Meanwhile, one of that show's principal bloodsucking rivals has spawned a spinoff. 'The Vampire Diaries' takes a slightly camper approach to vampires, werewolves and witches. 'The Originals', which started in the US last week, revolves around the Mikaelson siblings from the 'Vampire Diaries', three ancient and prototypical vampires, and stars Joseph Morgan as Klaus Mikaelson, who returns to his native New Orleans after a long absence.

He's about to have a child with a werewolf and so is looking to settle down, by defeating his rivals and taking control of the city. The public's appetite for all things undead seems undimmed.

We still don't know which leading character the producers of 'The Simpsons' are killing off, but the announcement fuelled speculation that the current season of the multi-award-winning animated sitcom will be the last. Fans were heartened last week, however, when Fox announced a 26th 'Simpsons' season, for broadcast in 2014 and 2015.

How creator Matt Groening and his writers have sustained their fictional family through 25 seasons is a mystery. For at least a decade there have been rumblings from hardcore fans about declining quality.

But only a cartoon would have got away with lampooning American values as gleefully as 'The Simpsons' did. When I first saw it on a trip to the States in the early 1990s it looked like the most serious show on US TV. It's hardly that now, but still has its moments, and maybe the fight for survival will inspire new heights in season 26.

I live in Dublin's south city and every now and then I spot a fox slinking past on its nightly forage. Apparently urban foxes established themselves in British cities as long ago as the 1930s. They fascinate me but not everyone, as a new BBC show makes clear.

In Fox Wars, next week on BBC1, we meet the so-called fox-huggers, who champion their cause, and other urban dwellers who detest them. There are apparently 16 foxes per square mile in London, 16 too many for Tim, who's shot more than 2,000 of them so far.

Others favour more humane methods, but one woman plots to electrocute her animal tormentor. "I will fry it," she elaborates. Let's hope they're doing better over here.

Irish Independent

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