Things I Watch When I Am Ironing #15: The Rain

Bunker door

Apparently the British don’t like dubbed dialogue – I think it must be childhood memories of The Flashing Blade which was first terribly and then hilariously dubbed.

We prefer to struggle with subtitles, meaning you can’t take your eyes off the screen.

But Netflix have now decided that reading is just too much of a drag and have dubbed their Scandi thriller The Rain, claiming people only notice the dubbing 20 minutes in.

Alba August as Simone in The Rain

Simone (Alba August). Good to know you can still get your highlights done in post-apocalyse Denmark

This isn’t true – you notice straight away, because it is so awful, but forget after 20 minutes, because the rest of the show is even worse.

It does mean though that I can iron and still watch, without burning holes in the laundry.

To be fair, the first two episodes of The Rain are pretty good. It kicks off straight away without any tedious scene-setting. Within the first ten minutes our heroine Simone is hustled from school by her father and into a car with her mother and younger brother Rasmus.

As they head out of the city, escaping an ominous rain cloud, she demands to know what is going on and her parents don’t tell her.

Why do they do this in dramas? Why the hell can’t the grown-ups just say ‘we have to leave because blah blah so we are going to blah blah and then blah blah will happen’. Is it supposed to create tension? Because it doesn’t.

Instead, they all shout and argue and have a car crash, luckily very close to a secret underground bunker her father knows about. The father immediately heads off, but refuses to say where he is going, why, what for etc.

Then, basically because she hasn’t been told what is going on, stupendously stupid Simone opens the bunker door and gets her mother killed. Which kinda serves Mum right for trying to make hot chocolate instead of explaining to her panicking kids WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON.

What is going on is that the rain carries a vicious virus that induces fits, vomiting and death within minutes. And Simone and Rasmus’s disappeared dad has something to do with it.

Rasmus (Lucas Lynggaard Tønnesen). Surprisingly buff after six years in a bunker

Fast forward six years – yep, SIX YEARS – and the food is running out so Simone and Rasmus – now a sulky 16-year-old – have to head out into the forest. They are found/capured by the inevitable band of hard-bitten survivors, and so the fun begins.

Or it would, if the stroppy teens did anything else other than bicker, look soulfully at each other, have shouting matches, discuss whether they are virgins or not and do utterly stupid things.

Thing is, unlike Walking Dead, which is set in America, where any kind of madness goes, this is set in Denmark, where they are into pastries and good coffee, not brutal torture or callous killing. We like the Danes – they are civilised. So the sense of real menace that hangs around other post-apocalyptic stuff just isn’t there. We know they will be ok, because it is Scandinavia.

After six years there is going to be no food left – nothing – yet no-one has scurvy or appears anything other than buff and healthy. And, except where it helps the plot, no-one seems that hungry either. The gang move from place to place because Simone wants to find her dad, when surely staying in one place and planting something would be the clever thing to do.

But clever thinking doesn’t feature much in The Rain. Why do they wander through the streets with bulging rucksacks in the open in broad daylight when they know people are going to be a mite peckish? Why don’t they have any weapons apart from a single rifle (which, to be fair, does have infinite ammo)?

This is the gang. They are hungry and angry but at least they have shiny hair

Why are massive buildings still standing? Nothing is overgrown or collapsed, there are just a few badly parked cars (it is a rule in post-apocalyptic dramas that all the cars must be badly parked) and a bit of rubbish blowing about.

The storyline is a bit barmy, but you can forgive that if everything else – characters, dialogue, setting etc – is up to scratch. But by the time we finally get answers we don’t care much, because none of the characters are worth caring about.

Things I shouted at the TV while pressing creases into skirts

  • Don’t open the door! Don’t open the door! Why did you open the door? Close the door! Close the fucking door!
  • Why did the missing father plug in his phone to recharge it and then walk off without it? Just to leave a great big humungeous clue behind? Surely not.
  • OK, so everyone needs a back story, but does it have to involve some naive Christian getting drugged and raped by her classmates at the first party she ever goes to? Couldn’t the writers have come up with something more convincing and a damn sight less cheap and lazy?
  • That dog that was sniffing around minding its own business. Is it ok? Did it find something nice to eat?
  • Why is everyone’s hair so shiny? How do they wash it when the water is all poisonous?
  • How come no-one has a beard, where are the razors? How come they are all so clean when the water is poisonous?
  • They just shot a woman because she put one foot in a steam and the water is poisonous. Yet earlier, how come they all tramped through a forest where it had been raining and no-one got a drop of poisonous rainwater on them?
  • Don’t go on the roof, it’s just been raining! There will be rainwater everywhere, on the railings, on the floor – and the rainwater is poisonous. Oh. You’ve gone on the roof.

Things I Watch When I am Ironing #14: The Shannara Chronicles (Series 1)

The Shannara Chronicles series 1 is on Netflix

I read the Terry Brooks Shannara books way, way back in the dark and misty age of my teenage years.

I can remember little about them apart from a lingering preference for carrying marbles in my pocket and clutching them in times of strife hoping for elfstone-like powers.

So, out of all the fine fantasy that is out there, I think dramatising this was an odd choice.

Shannara always was little more than Tolkein fan fiction, and while there is nothing wrong with that, why not just watch The Lord Of The Rings on repeat?

The producers would have been much better served launching into Scott Lynch’s genius Gentleman Bastards series or Joe Abercrombie’s definitive grimdark First Law world (please please please).

Not enough magic in them for the special effects fans? Then how about VE Schwab’s Shades of Magic series – all those other Londons would be mindblowing.

The bad guy. You can tell by the piercings

But they didn’t, ‘they’ went for tired and tested tropes – elves, magic swords, an ingenue farmboy who is actually the son of a great magician, some sort of tricky quest, demons plotting to take over the world because, y’know, they are angry and evil and it’s something to do while they wait for the piercing shop to open.

This could have worked, if it wasn’t for the similarly tired and tested script and staging and costumes and… everything really.

The demons had voice changing machines so they all sounded like something off the Exorcist. Human baddies could be sussed by their bad hair decisions – pink stripes, unlikely up-dos, random scalp shavings.

Female characters had figure hugging outfits, long loose hair and bare arms, no matter how much fighting they were doing or how many scratchy forests they had to battle through. And they all look the same. I never managed to tell the difference between the two leading women, apart from when I could see the pointy ears on one of them (elf princess).

And the elf blokes all seemed to be princes and all looked the same. I can’t even say how many princes there were, and I watched the whole damned series. At least three of them got killed, none of them had hair that moved an inch and all of them wore super-tight elven t-shirts to show off what buff elves they were.

The elf princess one and the one who isn’t an elf princess. Can you tell them apart?

You know what it was like? A 1960’s American serial, when the Yanks did it all so much better and more slickly than we did (apart from The Avengers, obvs. And Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased). And The Prisoner) Think Rawhide or Batman or Lost on Space or Bonanza or Gilligan’s Island – cliffhanger endings, reprobate reoccurring characters, unsmudged make-up and terrible dialogue. Really terrible dialogue, like ‘Let’s go save a tree!’ ‘Are you hurt?’ ‘It’s just a scratch’. ‘So-and-so – Wait!’ ‘Why should we trust you?’ ‘What choice do you have?’ ‘We’re gonna make it’ and ‘Er, guys…’.

This was distracting, amusing TV but an opportunity wasted. If you want a compelling, original story involving a giant, dying tree, then read The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams – I’m devouring it right now and have started rationing my reading time as I don’t want it to finish.

It has blood-drinking elf-types, green-fire blasting witches, beetles that eat you from the inside out, weird and hideous monsters, well-rounded female characters and giant bats. Imagine that on screen.

Things I think about when I press open seams

Read this instead. It’s good

  • When they say ‘trole’ they mean troll. Took me two episodes to realise this.
  • If it is thousands of years since a nuclear holocaust wiped out our world, how come there is still air in the balloons the elf and the other one stumble across in that ballroom?
  • Why doesn’t the blond half-elf whistle for that elf he saved (Pluck?) and his big bird when he gets in a jam?
  • What was with the hoe-down party and the big hats? I really lost the thread of it all in that episode.
  • The horses. They appear and disappear every time someone has to hide in a secret cave or underground tunnel. Who feeds them? Are they ok?
  • Is Eritrea a country or a person?
  • The San Francisco sign turning into ‘Safehold’. I quite liked that. It was all a bit Planet of the Apesy but I liked it.

Things I Watch When I Am Ironing #13: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

In my first A-level English Lit class, Miss Pitt – whose make-up resembled fine-grain Polyfilla and who must, I now realise, have been wearing a curly clown wig – wanted to know what we were currently reading. I don’t remember what the rest said – stuff that garnered nods and even the odd frosty smile or two, like Marilyn French and DH Lawrence.

I was eaten up with nerves – I hated speaking in class and didn’t know anyone. When she turned to me I forgot to say “W Somerset Maughan” (which was a bit true) and told the truth: I was deep into the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galazy ‘trilogy’ by Douglas Adams.

Miss Pitt sucked in her roughed cheeks and curled her glossy lip. “Oh Joanne,” she sneered.

Invincible, growly-voiced Bart

Invincible, growly-voiced Bart, my hero

Yeah, well, chez on you Pitt. Douglas Adams is now universally recognised as a visionary and a genius, still inspiring books, films and TV shows today (you can’t say that for Marilyn French).

My proof – Netflix’s Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.

I read the Dirk Gently books when they came out, enjoyed them but never felt tempted to revisit. All I can remember now is stuff about a horse in an attic, a sofa on some stairs and an Apple Mac.

The Netflix series may draw its inspiration from Adams’s detective, but it has – probably wisely – run with plots and characters of its own. And they are brilliant.

Farah and Tina track down a Michigan mom turned evil sorceress. As you do

Farah and Tina track down a Montana mom turned evil sorceress, as you do

Goofy Dirk Gently believes in ‘the interconnectedness of all things’. He’s also a bit psychic and a lot geeky. In series 1 he hooks up with loser bellhop Todd Brotzman (played by Elijah Wood, the only actor in the whole thing I remember coming across before). Todd has a sister called Amanda, who suffers from a weird condition where she has hallucinations that feel real. Dirk has a whole load of baggage from his time in a CIA-spinoff called Blackwing.

Blackwing is a facility where Dirk and various other weirdos were brought together. Most of these weirdos are now rampaging around America, murdering people in a holistic way, pretending to be squeezy toys or driving around in a van drinking other people’s emotions. There is a LOT going on, and the best thing to do is buckle up and enjoy the ride.

The plots are madcap capers, but they do come together, even if they fry your brain. Expect body-snatching, time travel, alternate realities, magic wands that do real magic, people with pink hair, giant scissors for swords and human dogs.

The thing that lets a lot of these seasons down – too much dull relationship stuff – doesn’t spoil Dirk Gently. Todd and Amanda fall out big time, but this helps drive the plot; Todd being Dirk’s first and only friend could teeter into yukkiness but hasn’t (yet).

Instead, we have so many Technicolour characters it is difficult to pick a favourite. Bart Curlish, a holistic psychopath, is hard to top, but there is also cool-and-hard-with-a-vulnerable-edge Farah Black, thick as brick with a gun Hugo Friedkin, the incredible Rowdy 3, turncoat Ken…

The Rowdy 3. Yeah, there's FOUR of them. That's the point, durr

The Rowdy 3. Yeah, there’s FOUR of them. That’s the point, durr

Series 2 featured less Bart than I would have liked, but it did introduce decent new characters, like nice Sheriff Sherlock Hobbs, tripped out Tina Tevetino and fairytale strange girl with rainbow hair (called The Beast, I have no idea why).

Dirk Gently also wins with the number of funny, evil, clever and strong female characters it features, scoring a nice balance even though the two main characters are men.

It is bright, quirky, witty and violent.  DH Lawrence it ain’t.

Things I think about when I try and match up three dozen pairs of black socks

  • Is that Bart’s real hair or an actual bird nest made of the stuff that comes out when you take out the vacuum cleaner filters?
  • Amanda’s eyeliner = a work of art.
  • That boat in a field in series 2 – what was all that about? Where did it come from?
  • And I’ve forgotten what happened to the kitten-shark in series 1. Hope it’s ok.
  • The missing person cops in series 1 – they were good. Killing them, that was a shame.
  • Lux Dujour – why has no-one called their band that yet?
  • I don’t trust Farah’s brother.

Things I Watch When I Am Ironing #7: House of Cards (BBC/UK version)

Ian Richardson in House of Cards

Ahhhh. Now I get it.

The US version of HoC left me colder than Claire Underwood’s smile, so I searched Netflix for the original UK version. Oh boy oh boy oh boy, it is fantastic.

OK, it is a bit dated and clunky and you have to suspend your disbelief when it comes to parts of the plot (like, everyone running for party leadership gets horribly smeared, apart from Francis Urquhart – does no-one think this is suspicious? Why does no-one check up on who set up those dodgy bank accounts and that accommodation address that implicates the Prime Minister’s brother? Would a single, confusing kidnap attempt on the King be enough to swing the polls against the monarch? Or am I being picky?). But this is deeper and darker than the US series, and much faster paced.

Susannah Harker as Mattie Storin

Mattie Storin – a serious Electra complex

It is also much wittier (this may be because I don’t get the US political system the way I do the British one). The scene with the King in a posh Chelsea restaurant ordering just soup, bread and water, and everyone else miserably following suit was excellent. Michael Kitchen is also utterly convincing as the principled but troubled monarch.

The relationship between Urquhart and young reporter Mattie Storin (Susannah Harker) is deeply disturbing – his wife actually suggests they have an affair in order to cement Mattie’s loyalty, and Mattie calls Urquhart ‘Daddy’ **shivers**.  She’s not such a dutiful daughter though – she has taped all their conversations, and the question of who has those tapes is one that tantalisingly underpins the whole series.

As Frank Underwood, Kevin Spacey is ruthlessly ambitious, to the point of murder. As Francis Urquhart, Ian Richardson is a psychopath. While he gets flashbacks over Mattie’s (opportunist) murder, he has no such regrets about poor Roger, whom he killed by cutting his cocaine with rat poison. Shooting two young men in Cyprus in the 1950s is mentioned almost in passing to icy wife Elizabeth (Diane Fletcher), who makes Lady Macbeth look like a warm and caring human being. He has no regrets about any of it – even toppling the King is seen as a necessary step to ensure his own survival.

Ian Richardson brought all the weight of his Shakespearean background to the role of Urquhart – at times charming, sinister, persuasive and jocular; but always mesmerisingly powerful.

He may be vile, but Urquhart is very, very clever. He plays everyone, and he plays them brilliantly. And although he is a callous and ruthless murderer we root for him. The ending doesn’t disappoint – it is the most satisfactory result for all concerned (except that poor Cypriot bloke, obvs).

Ian Richardson in House of Cards

Don’t go onto a roof garden with this man (BBC)

The superb acting makes up for the plot holes – this is a thriller after all, not a political drama. The only thing that made me frown was the part of Corder (Nick Brimble), Urquhart’s omnipotent body guard, who seemed to have infinite resources and influence. He arranges for car bombs, cover-ups, informers and snipers, all the while shadowing Urquhart and (presumably) banging Elizabeth.

House of Cards UK has made me re-evaluate House of Cards US. If we are meant to view Frank Underwood as a psychopath instead of a ruthless politician, and if Claire is about to come onside and validate all his Machiavellian moves, then it is worth another look.

I was also told the US series follows the UK one in some plot details, and if that means odious thumb-sucking Zoe Barnes is about to get pushed off a building then I will be tuning right back in for season two.

Things I think about while I defluff the dryer:

  • Double breasted suits. I forgot men used to wear these. Only twenty years later and they look so baggy and odd.
  • When being black was a thing. Two major roles are played by black women,and just in case we don’t notice, other characters can’t help but refer to their skin colour.
  • Talcum powder! Those little cylinders of talcum powder that used to come in Christmas gift sets with aftershave. Just the right size for putting in your toilet bag and hiding your cocaine in. Why does no-one use talcum powder any more?