Catch up TV review: Fargo Season 3, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Kennedys: After Camelot
James R | On 04, Jun 2017
What’s available on-demand on Freeview? Keep up-to-date with our weekly catch-up TV column, including reviews of shows on ITV Hub, new releases on All 4 and a guide to My5.
(For BBC TV reviews and round-ups, see our weekly Best of BBC iPlayer column. Or for reviews of the shows on All 4’s Walter Presents, click here.)
Fargo: Season 3 (All 4)
Fargo’s third season finally arrives on UK TV – and, rather impressively, it’s worth the wait. Yes, after three seasons, Noah Hawley’s precisely recreated offbeat noir vibe of the Coen brothers’ 1996 film has somehow lost none of its wit, nastiness, or sheer class. We begin, bizarrely, in East Berlin, as one man finds himself protesting his innocence in the face of the incorrect state’s stubborn insistence otherwise – and that sense of tragicomic futility in fighting a system bigger than you carries us perfectly into our latest tale in Minnesota.
There, we meet Emmit and Ray Stussy, two twin brothers who have found different paths in life: Emmit is successful and good-looking, while Ray is neither of those things. Why? That goes back to a long-held and bitter dispute over who got to inherit their father’s valuable stamps, although Emmit’s wealthy lifestyle has brought him little more advantages, judging by the appearance of a sinister debtor (played by the brilliantly weaselly David Thewlis). Ray, meanwhile, is a parole officer with a penchant for hiring his clients to do dirty work – or, in the case of Nikki (a scene-stealing Mary Elizabeth Winstead), dating them. Scott McNairy makes a brief cameo, a reminder of how colourful the supporting characters can be (watch out for Michael Stuhlbarg too) – and how prestigious the idea of starring in Fargo has become. Nobody believes that more than Ewan McGregor, it seems, as he jumps on the chance to play both feuding brothers with grinning relish, superb accents and some wonderfully convincing wigs. By the time bodies are stacking up in the snowy streets, it’s clear that Fargo has struck darkly comic gold once again.
Photo: George Kraychyk / Hulu
The Handmaid’s Tale (All 4)
This week has been something of a double-win for Channel 4, as the broadcaster became the (frustratedly belated) home of two of the most anticipated US shows of the year. The second, of course, is Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Set in a dystopian fundamentalist state, where “Handmaids” are women enslaved as child-bearers to the male masters of each house, impregnated ritually, routinely, righteously, so that the man and his pious wife can reap the rewards, it’s a sickening series that is as chilling as it is filled with fiery rage.
“This may not seem ordinary to you now. But it will. After time, this will become ordinary.” It’s hard to believe the words of Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd), as she introduces new recruits to Gilead, as this community calls itself. But this tale of enforced fertility and female suppression is no science fiction set in an impossible universe: the impact is less about the shock of something new, and more the shock of something that normally happens in other countries occurring where you never thought it could.
The show arrives at a time when its relevance is harrowingly apparent. Only weeks ago in the USA, President Donald Trump (and a room full of men) signed a ban on federal funding for international groups that perform abortions. The gradual normalisation of new administrations and political directions is a pervasive, creeping thing occurring right now off-screen. The result is a skin-crawling immersion into a reality that is depressingly, disturbingly ordinary. The normality of it almost begins to sink in – and yet can’t, mustn’t and won’t. By the end of the suffocating first hour, even remembering one’s name feels like a rousing act of defiance. This is surely one of the year’s best series.
The Kennedys: Decline and Fall (My5)
Six years on for 2011’s Emmy-winning TV series, The Kennedys, and the filmmakers return for a follow-up film, this time exploring the aftermath of JFK’s assassination. There’s the making of a great movie in the study of Jackie Kennedy’s public and private personas, and the confused gulf in between, and, indeed, there is: Pablo Larrain’s Jackie, starring Natalie Portman. After such a barnstorming performance by Portman, Katie Holmes does well to make the role of Mrs. Kennedy her own; it’s just a shame that she has to do it with one of the worst screenplays imaginable.
Charting the Kennedy family’s fortunes and feelings over three decades, Decline and Fall is like watching something written by aliens trying to sound like human beings. Even worse are the dreadful costumes and bad make-up, which give everything the feel of a primary school production, as opposed to the prestigious People vs OJ Simpson-like style that the makers are clearly aiming for. Even Matthew Perry can’t emerge unscathed, as the Friends star is sucked into the whirling abyss of dire wigs and laughable dialogue as Ted Kennedy.
The film is known in the US as “After Camelot”, in reference to Jackie’s iconic description of JFK’s administration – a phrase recited with nuanced tragedy by Larrain’s Oscar-nominated biopic. This, however, removes any sense of ambiguity whatsoever. “I made it up for a news story after he died. I needed something pretty to wrap it in,” confesses Jackie here. Because why have subtle drama when you can explicitly say things out loud? Holmes deserves credit for jumping behind the camera to direct part of it, but this is something that should be erased from the CV of all involved. This is surely one of the worst things on TV this year.