‘The Last Thing He Told Me’

A six part intrigue as news of a massive Start Up fraud breaks at the same time Hannah’s husband disappears, leaving her not only with the fall out but with an antagonistic and confused 16 year-old stepdaughter.

Married for less than two years, Hannah (Jennifer Garner) and Owen (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) are devoted to each other, living comfortably on a houseboat in Sausalito, California. The only problem they seem to have is the awkward relationship between Hannah and stepdaughter, Bailey (Angourie Rice). But unexpectedly, Owen disappears without a word. And as VP and senior programmer of the Start Up company, the FBI would very much like to talk to him.

So begins the unravelling of the man Hannah and Bailey thought they knew. As closest friend Jules (Aisha Tyler) steps up to support her, so Hannah follows strange coincidences that take her (and Hannah) to Austin, Texas and the offices of US Marshal, Grady Bradford (Augusto Aguilera).

The Last Thing He Told Me is an engaging mystery thriller for the first two epsiodes but which, by early episode three is predictable in its direction (no spoilers). Hannah and Bailey’s relationship slowly thaws as they desperately try to understand the disappearance of Owen – and the $500,000 he left in a bag in Bailey’s school locker. With the intrigue of the narrative missing, the miniseries settles into a different mindset.

Rating: 62%


Disappointing all star miniseries as eight interlinked separate stories explore climate change over the century and its impact on everyday lives.

Beginning in 2037, the first episode sets the foundations for the series with wildfires, floods, water shortage, mass migration and ecosystem collapse. Tel Aviv (COP37) and Antarctica are the settings with Bilton Industries (Kit Harington) set to be the corporate bad guys: Bilton has the technology to help the water shortage but profit and the shareholders are placed before environmental concerns. And that concept continues as the global temperatures continue to increase as the polar caps melt and the sea levels rise.

The science of climate change as the decades pass remains throughout the eight stories – but it’s the impact on the everyday that is prevalent. By 2046 it’s not safe to go outside for many without protective covering and breathing apparatus; in 2047, a synagogue in Miami looks to win the political battle to move premises as the rising water levels encroach on the building.

It’s a pretty bleak series exploring the cost of ignorance and ‘quick-fix’ policies as Bilton continues to be seen as a great leader in tech and innovation, yet at what cost? Kit Harington is one of the few characters present in more than one storyline – but how much of a saviour is his billions of dollars?

Extrapolations is a classy miniseries – but then boasting the likes of Meryl Streep, Marion Cotillard, Tahar Rahim, Edward Norton, Forest Whittaker et al , it’s exactly what you would expect. Sadly, quality may be there in bucketloads but consistency of narrative and storytelling is not. From the engaging episode 5 (2059) set in Mumbai and starring Adarsh Gourav and Gaz Choudhry as two small-time smugglers to the excess of episode 4 (also 2059) where brilliant inventor Indira Varma has created a pilotless, solar-powered plane, Extrapolations strives to deliver but generally falters when it moves outside the intimate of the everyday.

Rating: 54%

‘Queen Charlotte – a Bridgerton Story’

Bridgerton 3: a six part season providing a Bridgerton backdrop to Queen Charlotte’s marriage to George III and the social ‘experiment’ instigated by Dowager Princess Augusta and a reluctant parliament.

There’s only a smattering of Bridgerton regulars in season three as the majority of the narrative focuses on the arrival in London of teenage Charlotte (India Amarteifio) and the early years of her marriage to George (Corey Mylchreest). Bethrothed to George against her wishes, Charlotte is not happy. As we already know, things are not quite right in the royal household. But Queen Charlotte – a Bridgerton Story is set several decades before seasons one and two. As the older Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) struggles to secure succession from her many adult children, so she is reminded of the early days of marriage.

With George’s mother, Dowager Princess Augusta (Michelle Fairley) herself struggling with parliament to ensure the royal succession, the arranged marriage looks good for all concerned. Assuming Charlotte to be a passive minor German royal of good child bearing stock, as a black woman she is also perfect for the ‘experiment’ of social integration. But Charlotte is anything but passive and soon challenges royal protocol and prerogative. Expect plenty of clashes between mother and daughter-in-law, husband and wife, king’s valet (Reynolds – Freddie Dennis) and queen’s valet, Brimsley (Sam Clemmett) as Charlotte discovers she’s actually in love with her husband.

It’s a fun ride, interspersed with that of the elevation of the Danburys to the aristocracy – the first titled black family. Lady Agatha Danbury (Arsema Thomas) and Queen Charlotte become firm friends but Lord Danbury’s early death throws a spanner into the works regarding succession.

For fans of Bridgerton (and there are many!) invested in the characters, season three provides historical backstories to the three senior women of the series – Queen Charlotte (a personal favourite), Lady Agatha Danbury (Adjoa Anode) and Lady Violet Ledger Bridgerton (Ruth Gemmell). But to be honest, like the first two seasons, it could have been achieved so much quicker. There’s a little too much of a young sulky/angry Charlotte eating alone or regaling Brimsley. The result is a somewhat repetitive narrative. But it’s lightweight entertainment well told exceptionally well cast – and it throws in social commentary of contemporary issues (racism, homophobia, sex, republicanism) for good measure.

Rating: 58%

Bridgerton Season 1

Bridgerton Season 2

‘The Recruit’ (Season 1)

In his first week in the legal department of the CIA, Owen Hendricks finds himself increasingly involved in dangerous international power politics that threaten the lives of all Eastern European agents and their contacts.

A routine task for the newest recruit – checking the veracity of mailed threats to the agency – results in Hendricks (Noah Centineo) dispatched to Phoenix and a women’s prison to assess former Russian asset Max Meladz’s (Laura Haddock) threats to divulge CIA secrets to the public. Hendricks believes its real and finds himself representing her back at Langley to convince Walter Nyland (Vondie Curtis-Hall) his department chief.

It’s the beginning of a thrilling cat and mouse espionage thriller as the seasoned Max looks to return home after several years in the US – but she needs millions of dollars as payment to buy her way back into the game. She needs help: the CIA all the way up to the White House have to determine whether that help is forthcoming and whether Max would be a reliable asset. But for a start they need to get her out of prison, sentenced as she is for murder.

The Recruit is high stake thrills from Doug Limon, director/producer of the Jason Bourne saga, but which also sees the Washington house-sharing domesticity of Hendricks and the backstory of Max’s arrival in the States. Arrogant but naive, the new recruit makes mistakes, both at home and at work, but his strut carries the day – and the manipulative Max trusts him. So much so, more experienced and calculating operatives – particularly take-no-prisoners Angel Parker (Dawn Gilbane) with her own agenda – are releuctantly forced to work with him.

It’s a charismatic, well-paced if flawed eight episode ride with that balance of thrills and domesticity. Hendricks obviously still has feelings for housemate and ex-girlfriend, Hannah (Fivel Stewart) and she, along with third housemate, Terence (Daniel Quincy Annoh), are innocently drawn into the world of secrets. But there’s no innocence about assassin gone rogue Max as the action flips from US soil to Europe.

Rating: 68%

‘The Last of Us’ (Season 1)

A dystopian future as, with most of civilisation having being wiped out by a virus, a 14 year girl appears to be the only hope.

Marshall law controls the individual, heavily armed quarantine zones established to protect survivors from the infected. The mutated fungus Cordyceps resulted in aggressive, murderous creatures that are no longer human. Cities in particular were hardest hit with people forced to survive almost hand to mouth under the control of the ruthless FEDRA. Inevitably, the black market booms and, under such social control by armed troops, with it the rise of rebellious groups. The organised Fireflies is the main (armed) opponent.

Maverick smugglers Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Tess (Anna Torv) find themselves tasked with helping teenager Ellie (Bella Ramsey) out of the quarantine zone as ‘requested’ by Fireflies leader, Marlene (Merle Dandridge). But the relatively straightforward liaison at the Boston City Hall with a secondary Fireflies unit develops, instead, into a dangerous trek cross country. Ellie must reach a quarantine zone and safe place in Ohio – and Joel needs to ensure she does not fall into the wrong hands or get killed along the way.

Based on a smash hit video game, The Last of Us is a surprisingly and unexpectedly successful adaptation. In spite of its genesis as an all-action adventure, the series is sensitive to character development. Joel, still grieving the loss of his daughter in the early days of the pandemic, is steely and tough yet vulnerable. He is initially driven by the chance of being reunited with his brother, Tommy (Gabriel Luna), who is likely to be at the Ohio quarantine zone. But as the two survive everything that comes their way, so Joel comes to respect his charge.

The Last of Us is ultimately about love and loss and how to survive – yet, strangely, the most extraordinary single episode narrative is that of Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett). Theirs is a tenuous link to the intrepid pair but within the series, a tale of two (older) men somehow finding love within the safe confines of a fortified picket-fenced town is unlikely yet deeply affecting.

In its 10-episode season, in terms of story and plotlines, the first game is (according to those who have played the game) followed pretty closely, although the series develops and builds on some aspects. Critics to a tee agree this is the best video game adaptation ever.

Rating: 80%

‘The Leftovers’ (Seasons 1-3)

When 2% of the world’s population inexplicably disappear, one small town in the State of New York attempts to continue as normal as possible.

14 October 2014 – the day of the Sudden Departure. A crying baby in a car, a mother pushing a shopping trolley, a driver of a car wending its way through town – gone. Accidents worldwide, families torn apart. No explanation. Mapleton, New York is no different.

Three years later, attempted normality is a stop/start affair. But its an unstable world lacking understanding or acceptance of events linked to the Sudden Departure. Religious/spiritual cults and groups have risen – including The Guilty Remnant where its members have given up talking, taken up smoking and are ambivalent about life and survival. The Mapleton sect is led by Patti Levin (Ann Dowd, pre-The Handmaid’s Tale).

Over the next three seasons, Mapleton Police Chief Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) and Nora Durst (Carrie Coon), a woman who lost her husband and two children, grapple with understanding and finding answers. Their journey takes them beyond small town upstate New York to Texas (season two) and, finally, Melbourne and the Australian outback.

Character-driven, The Leftovers is at its best when it explores the emotional scars of the Sudden Departure: Garvey struggles not only with the loss of his wife Laurie (Amy Brenneman) to The Guilty Remnant but also an angry teenage daughter Jill (Margaret Qualley) and absent son, Tom (Chris Zylka). Durst is constantly looking for answers, expecting her brother Reverend Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston) to provide.

It’s an intriguing if at times infuriating series that, as the narrative progresses, becomes increasingly obscure. From the rise of spiritual groups and cults to the Texan town of Jarden (now a place of pilgrimage that has resulted in access being seriously controlled) that remained unaffected by the Sudden Departure, The Leftovers flirts with religion and spirituality. But its ultimately a human interest story as characters come and go over the three seasons – with the Australian narrative drawing closer to the truth and the possibilities of finding and perhaps understanding what happened several years earlier. It’s undoubtedly weird as we experience the physical, emotional and spiritual responses of the Sudden Departure and its long-term ramifications but as a cerebral experience, The Leftovers over its 28 episodes has few competitors. But whether its ultimately satisfying is a different question.

Rating: 69%

‘The Night Agent’ (Season 1)

A solid entertainment it may be with a gripping plotline but what seriously undermines this 10-part season (season two having just been announced) is the cliché-ridden and poorly written script delivered by some seriously miscast actors (Kari Matchett would struggle to be elected to a local primary school PTA never mind US president).

Foiling the bombing of a Washington subway train, low-level FBI agent Peter Sutherland’s (the hunky Gabriel Rosso) reward is the manning of a phone in the basement of the White House that never rings. But one night it does – a terrified Rose Larkin (Luciane Buchanan) has just witnessed the murder of her aunt and uncle and is being stalked by the assassin. So begins what initially appears to be a thrilling conspiracy theory adventure tale with ramifications all the way to the Oval House and Camp David.

Sadly, by late episode two/early episode three, the early promise is not lived up to. There’s little credibility to story or characterisation as Sutherland and Rose find themselves on the run not certain who to trust. Turns out the uncle and aunt were retired CIA agents asked specifically by the president to follow through a new operation that very few knew about. And it got them killed, with Rose the only witness.

No spoilers but as the narrative flits between our two unlikely heroes persued by assassins Dale and Ellen (the oddly likeable Phoenix Raei and Eve Harlow) and the security unit protecting the VP’s daughter, Maddie (Sarah Desjardins), headed by Agent Harrington (Fola Evans-Akingbola), at art school, so the believability of it all quickly unspools. But what is clear, in spite of wooden acting and clichéd dialogue, is that the intention behind the subway bombing has not gone away.

At times infuriating, at times unintentionally funny, at all times beyond episode one lacking in suspense, The Night Agent is an example of the templated espionage/conspiracy tale going wrong but which retains its interest in spite of it. But season two will have no appeal whatsoever.

Rating: 54%

‘Severance’ (Season 1)

A challenging, cerebral nine-episode season, Severance is a disturbing, dystopian narrative of conspiracy and social control.

A surgical procedure (severance) that divides the memories of work and home provides opportunity for high-security jobs. But what the purpose of this work is never clarified – small teams are isolated in their workplace with minimal interaction with colleagues outside direct team members. Mark (Adam Scott) is the leader of one such team identifying on-screen data patterns and codes.

None of the team would recognise each other outside of work and none of them know who and what they are in the outside world. The arrival of a new colleague, Helly (Britt Lower), sets in motion a series of, to the team, confusing and unexplained interactions that fail to follow the routine of their normalcy. Meanwhile, Mark, on the outside, is being discretely watched by his next door neighbour (Patricia Arquette) who also happens to be the head of the unit at Lumon.

It’s a slow build of a series as tension is gradually increased as it becomes increasingly apparent not everything is what it seems. As a procedure, severance is a controversial one: there’s ongoing protests about growing corporate control and abuse, human rights infringements and more. Yet Mark, a former history professor, chose the implant following the death of his wife in a car accident. An antiseptic workplace of endless, deserted, flourescent-lit corridors with unending unopened doors, vast underground empty office spaces with a team of four huddled around their small desks in the centre of the room: the outside world is the polar opposite – claustrophobic home spaces darkly lit, early winter mornings or nighttime external shots adding to the gloom.

Given time, Severance becomes an immersive, mesmerising series as its slow beginnings give way initially to a sense of uncertainty before quietly revealing another layer as, unexpectedly, the design team, led by Burt (Christopher Walken) is introduced as a possible threat to Mark’s team’s stability. Assuming, that is, it always was stable.

Rating: 70%

‘Only Murders in the Building’ (Season 1)

Light, quirky and entertaining murder mystery as three amateur sleuths attempt to identify the murderer of a dead body in their apartment building on the Upper West Side of New York.

Struggling to pay his bills, theatre producer Oliver (Martin Short) is desperate to identify income. Following the discovery of a dead body – initially believed to be suicide – Oliver, refusing to accept the police report, looks to the production of a truecrime podcast. Working with fellow residents Charles Haden-Savage (Steve Martin), a former star TV detective, and Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez), the sleuths look to finding the identity of the killer.

It’s 10 episodes of undemanding, 21st century Miss Marple chock full of expletives and red herrings as the three unearth any number of dodgy goings on, past and present, in their semi-exclusive building – as well as secrets each of the amateur sleuths prefer to keep quiet. Lots of theatrics and banter as various residents come under suspicion (including Sting!) – with the final seconds of the 10th episode providing the perfect segueway into season 2 and the next case.

Rating: 64%

‘This Is Us’ (all 6 seasons)

Six seasons, 106 episodes covering some five decades – life with the Pearson family demands considerable commitment in terms of time and emotions.

Non-linear storytelling sees the episodes swooping between time frames – from the courtship of Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) to Rebecca’s death some 60 years later, surrounded by her children and their children. In between, the viewer is taken through an emotional wringer as we share the joys and tragedies of the various family members. Overshadowing all the narratives of This Is Us is the single tragedy of the death of Jack when his kids are just 17.

It’s an extraordinary series enscapsulating many of the social issues of the last decades. But it’s no overtly politicised rant. Instead, we experience issues as experienced by family members. Rebecca gave birth to triplets – Kate, Kevin and the still born Kyle – in 1980 in Pittsburgh. A decision is made to adopt an abandoned African-American baby, Randall, born that same day. The Pearson family unit is complete. Over 106 episodes, their stories, individually and together, are revealed.

The three children grow up to be three very different people in the current day –
Randall (superbly played as an adult by Sterling K. Brown), brilliant minded but deadly serious and dealing with anxiety and abandonment issues. Married to Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson), they have two daughters of their own and later adopt a third.
Pretty boy Kevin (Justin Hartley) is a disastisfied actor who fights alcohol addiction and wrecks an early marriage to Sophie, his childhood sweetheart. Throughout the series Kevin is referred to as the ‘man child’.
Haunted twin, Kate (Chrissy Metz), believes there’s a connection between the emotional trauma suffered as a teen and her serious weight problems. She finds her soulmate in husband Toby (Chris Sullivan).

Throw in the mix Vietnamese veteran Jack’s own problem upbringing (an alcoholic, wife-beating father), Rebecca marrying Jack’s best friend, Miguel (Jon Huertas) many years later, Randall searching for his birth father (Ron Cephas Jones) and the blight of Alzheimer’s along with ‘everyday’ family issues over decades and there you have This Is Us.

An overwrought, emotional cathartic family melodrama that grabs you by the throat. Characters and situations galore to invest (personal favourite – Beth and the near perfect Jack: favourite sibling – Randall) as it sweeps backwards and forwards through the decades (indicated by Jack notching up all 106 episodes, the three siblings at 17 are attributed to more than 80).

Admittedly, season six falls away and edges closer to bittersweet saccharine melodramatic finale with some very odd and unlikely narrative subplots that tie up virtually every loose end too neatly. Even Miguel – way too late – gets his moment. But too much time has ben invested in the Pearsons not to see it through to the bitter end.

Rating: 72%