Featured TV and Film

The Resort: TV review

The new series was created by Andy Siara

Emma and Noah go on holiday to an all-inclusive resort to celebrate the tenth anniversary of their ailing marriage. Their relationship clearly seems doomed until Emma finds an abandoned phone, which provides the central clue to a 15-year-old unsolved crime. Rather than handing it to the police, the two then embark on solving the murder mystery themselves.

“How long have you two been married?” the couple are asked early on by a hostess. “Ten years” they reply. “Ah the puberty of marriage” she responds and in just a few seconds, one of the key themes of the show is established. We meet the central couple at that point in a relationship where something is wrong, but neither party are brave enough to address it. Watching the death throes of a relationship is never fun and frankly, the majority of the first episode has an oppressive tone as a result, not helped by the epigram at the start of the show that drifts dangerously close to the pretentious. So, when Emma finds a damaged and water-logged phone in the woods, the change of pace is a welcome relief.

Emma puts the SIM into a new phone and unlocks clues to the disappearance of Sam and Violet. Violet is a self-assured young woman seeking existential answers after losing her mum to cancer. And, Sam is a college student on holiday with his parents and his girlfriend, whom he discovers has been cheating on him on the way to the resort. Both young people went missing fifteen years ago and the case has never been solved due to a poorly-timed hurricane destroying all the evidence. From this point, the story flips between Sam and Violet’s chance meeting involving a skateboarding accident and the memorable use of superglue in Christmas 2007, and Emma and Noah in the present day investigating the young pair’s disappearance. The transitions between the two time periods are both seamless and stylish. This show is either someone’s labour of love or their calling card for future work.

If that was all there was to the show, then it might be easy to write it off as any other modern murder mystery, replace the sunny haze for mizzling rain, and you might have any number of Scandi-noir crime-dramas. But, it becomes apparent from the third episode that this show has some weightier ideas on its mind. By episode three, the show starts pulling a few tricks reminiscent of Appendix 81, the supernatural mystery that Netflix shamelessly cancelled earlier this year after just one season. The Resort is written and created by, the writer of Palm Springs, who obviously has form when it comes to playing with time. He also crafts a realistic depiction of marriage at the heart of it.

The Resort
The Resort

Emma and Noah are played by Cristin Millioti and William Jackson Harper respectively. Predominantly known for their comedy credentials in sitcoms like How I Met Your Mother and The Good Place respectively, The Resort allows them to flex some more dramatic muscle, while still showing some expert comic timing. What’s amazing about the characterisation is the way it shows two incredibly well-thought-out characters navigating trauma in a completely unshowy fashion. Emma and Noah are what you would get if instead of turning to regicide, the Macbeths went on holiday to Mexico and accidentally found themselves in Lost.

The supporting cast is also wonderful. The enigmatic and exuberant Baltasar (Luis Gerardo Hernández) is a compelling multi-faceted character that feels like he could support multiple mystery stories hung off him, like a Mexican Miss Marple. If there’s one criticism, it’s that Nick Offerman is largely underused for the first five episodes. That said, the sight of the man who brought Ron Swanson to life sporting a crew cut and no moustache seems weird, like some kind of optical illusion. If you can get past that it’s a sensitive and nuanced performance.

The first four episodes are now available on Peacock, Sky and Now TV with the remaining four episodes released weekly. Whether it has a satisfying conclusion to such a compelling mystery remains to be seen, but it’s worth it just for the depiction of a married couple falling in love with each other again.

Featured TV and Film

Persuasion: Review

Adapted from Jane Austen’s last completed novel, Persuasion stars Dakota Johnson as Anne Elliot


In Persuasion, Anne Elliot, played by Dakota Johnson, is the second daughter in a wealthy family who was in love with and engaged to Wentworth, a young Naval officer. However, his lack of wealth and rank meant that her family took against the match and she was ‘persuaded’ against marrying him. Eight years later, Anne still regrets her decision and when Wentworth reappears in her social circle, she is forced to interact with her former love in a number of increasingly awkward social situations.

Persuasion is commonly thought of as being Austen’s most mature work. If that is the case, very little of that maturity has filtered down into this most recent adaptation. The film has all the pomp you would expect from a regency-era period drama, but it has a cool irreverence that Austen herself would have been proud of.

Following the same practices as Bridgerton & David Copperfield, the film has taken a colour-blind casting approach, which is still enjoyable and refreshing. People who complain about the historical accuracy of such practises need to remember that even the books themselves are not historically accurate, with the authors themselves censoring place names and cleaning up the language to suit the morals of a proto-Victorian readership. Better to think of this as simply a representation of the past, rather than the definitive version. Better yet, don’t think about the issue at all.

Dakota Johnson plays the lead role and you would have to be particularly hard-hearted not to be charmed by the character. In essence, Johnson’s Anne Elliot is what you would get if you plonked Fleabag into the nineteenth-century gentry and let her get on with it. There’s also a touch of Bridget Jones to the character, with the most awkward things happening to her at the most inopportune time. But it is an endearing performance and is a welcome watch for people still looking to overwrite the image of Johnson in 50 Shades from their minds.

Cosmo Jarvis, on the other hand, does his best but doesn’t quite stick the landing in this role. It does make you realise just how hard it is being a leading man in this type of film, trying to convey longing and hurt, wrapped under several layers of civility. Jarvis definitely conveys that sense of unremitting yearning, but not easily. Quite often he wears an expression that looks like he’s been accidentally spiked with horse tranquiliser.

Henry Golding is another actor who doesn’t quite seem to shine in this piece. He somehow doesn’t seem suited to the period costume, with his face squashed between the stiff collars and top hats. Taking someone like Golding and making him look anything short of weaponised handsome is quite an accomplishment, but probably not what the producers were going for. His rakish Mr Elliot is also mercilessly short on redeeming features, which is a shame because though the film sets it up for us to think so, no viewer would for a second think Anne is likely to end up with him unless this was a Thomas Hardy novel.

Persuasion on Netflix
Persuasion © Netflix

The stand-out performance from the supporting cast is without a doubt Mia McKenna Bruce as Anne’s self-involved sister, Mary. Mary’s line; “I need a holiday, and I need you with me on that holiday, to have someone to talk at when the others stop feeling obligated” is easily one of the funniest bits of the film. Richard E. Grant is, as always, brilliant and it would be pure foolishness to ever suggest otherwise. He’s clearly having a lot of fun as Sir Walter Elliot, Anne’s father, and it’s fun to watch him enjoy himself.

This film marks Carrie Cracknell’s cinematic debut as director. Already an accomplished director in the world of British theatre, Cracknell directed Ibsen’s A Doll’s House back in 2012, so she’s clearly got form when it comes to taking classic texts and sprinkling them with modern idioms and tropes. In fact, many of the clichés in the film could easily be found in a 90s romcom. Hopefully Cracknell won’t be afraid to push the boat out more on her next film.

It would be fair to say that Persuasion doesn’t always handle the tonal shifts very easily. We spend so much time watching the winking, smirking and knowing looks to the camera that when we see Anne experiencing an actual, heartfelt emotion, it’s hard to get drawn in. It might not necessarily be a good film, but it’s certainly an enjoyable one. It would pair well with the 2020 version of Emma for an evening of period rom-com silliness.

Netflix’s Persuasion may not be accurate in a lot of ways, but honestly, who cares? There is no shortage of adaptations of the novel that are probably more accurate, and no doubt, stuffier as a result. This version is in keeping with the spirit if not the letter of Austen and hopefully might create a few more Jane Austen fans, eager to learn more for themselves.

Featured TV and Film

Stranger Things Season 4: Part 2 – Review

What’s the verdict on Stranger Things?

The concluding part of season 4 of Stranger Things finally dropped and, if the ripples through pop culture are anything to go by, it must have had the kind of viewing figures that Netflix was so desperately in need of.

As half of a series rather than a series in its own right, these two episodes hit the ground running. In the last half we learned that Vecna is One/Henry, Eleven was in the grip of ‘Papa’s machinations whilst Hopper, Joyce and who could forget Murray were all trapped in a Soviet prison. So, with only two episodes to go, they had a lot of heavy lifting to do. It’s pleasing to see then that this instalment gave us a satisfying conclusion to the Vecna storyline, whilst also setting up the fifth and final season.

Firstly, let’s get it out of the way, yes, the running times for these episodes have clearly gotten out of control. Episode 9 is comfortably feature-length, which to some may seem intimidating until you remember that in a world of streaming, episode lengths don’t really matter. We start and stop content as and when it’s necessary for us. So, the only way an end credits sequence serves the viewer is as a gentle reminder to go to bed after you’ve mainlined a whole load of content. What it does do is show that the Duffer brothers can confidently handle feature-length content; these last two episodes may serve as their audition piece for Hollywood.

What’s interesting about this point in the Stranger Things journey is how Matt and Ross Duffer are no longer just looking to the influences appropriate to the time. The section where the Hawkins contingent of the cast pile into and anticipate death while travelling in a motorhome (sorry ‘Winnebago’) is very reminiscent of season 5 of Buffy. Additionally, Nancy Wheeler, who has naturally become the leader of this faction, has shades of Sarah Connor if we caught her between the first and second Terminator films.

Stranger Things Season 4 Still
Stranger Things Season 4 © Netflix

They also manage to give new characters emotionally satisfying arcs, such as fan-favourite Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn). The scene with him shredding guitar to Metallica’s ‘Master of Puppets’ on top of a caravan (sorry, trailer) was a delight. Clearly, a scene where they picked the spectacle and worked backwards, but when it’s this good, you don’t really care. The character of Jason (Mason Dye), a basketball jock turned vengeful bully, could easily have been a toothless antagonist in comparison to the supernatural elements at play. But, they somehow manage to imbue this character’s handful of scenes with such venom that audiences get a visceral reaction to Jason. Most of us will probably never encounter a violent sociopath like Henry/Vecna, but we’re all just one bad day away from bumping into an entitled white straight male with a saviour complex and a gun.

Stranger Things Promo Poster
Stranger Things Promo Poster © Netflix

When a franchise like Stranger Things gets this far into its run and is beginning to barrel towards its end, we often see an appearance of ‘the gang’s all here’ trope. Where beloved characters from earlier seasons all need to appear to appease the fans. This can result in the problem where there are so many characters, but not enough story to go around. Aaron Sorkin, (creator of the West Wing) referred to this problem as having ‘too many mouths to feed’. But to be fair, the show does a pretty good job of making sure they all have something important to do. And, with around 15 main characters at this point in the story, that’s no mean feat. Although that said, much of Noah Shapp’s performance as Will Byers is relegated to hiding anguished glances. The character is clearly struggling with unrequited love and battling with his sexuality in an era that is nowhere near ready to accept him. Here’s hoping that the next season gives that story seed the space it needs to grow.

Ultimately, any weaknesses in the plotting are readily forgiven because, to be frank, we’ve missed these characters, their dynamics and the world they inhabit. The thought of the next series being the last one is sad, but it’s comforting when creators like the Duffers not only get the chance to finish their stories but also know when to finish. Stranger Things is too special to let it go on too long.

Featured TV and Film

The Umbrella Academy Season 3 Review

Season 3 of The Umbrella Academy dropped last week to a fanbase hungry for the next instalment

Based on the comics written by Gerard Way and illustrated by Gabriel Ba, The Umbrella Academy follows the story of seven adopted siblings with superpowers. Season 3 kicks off with the team returning to 2019, only to find that they have been replaced by ‘The Sparrow Academy’,  another team of stronger, sleeker superhero siblings.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of superheroes in fiction, the ones that are the best of the best, who have earned their powers through discipline and determination and others who just kind of got them by chance. Quite often, the latter type is more engaging because we can see an element of ourselves in them. For example, Spider-man is more relatable than Batman, despite one having powers and one not. This might be why The Umbrella Academy as a concept is so enticing. They have powers by chance and, though they have had rigorous training from childhood, they for the most part reject it, which acts as a metaphor of breaking free from your parent’s expectations.

Season 3 continues this theme by reintroducing their dead adopted father, the cruel but delightfully caricatured, Sir Reginald Hargreeves (played with aplomb by Colm Feore). The siblings’ bonding, created by the collective childhood trauma, is tested by Klaus (Robert Sheehan), who begins spending time with Hargreeves. It also builds on the trope of a superhero’s powers not being static, but being able to grow with practice, which is always fascinating.

The Umbrella Academy
The Umbrella Academy © Netflix

Something the show handles superbly is how the narrative responds to the real-life transition of Elliot Page, who came out as a trans-man in December 2020. Due to the nature of the show, they could have gone in any number of directions to accommodate this, Viktor could be an alternate version, a gender-flipped clone or Vanya from the future. What’s interesting is they deliberately chose to do none of these things.

The showrunner Steve Blackman, in consultation with GLAAD, (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), a trans writer named Thomas McBae and Elliot himself decided to choose the most normal route possible. As Blackman told, “it was really important to us not to make it the story of the show, which you could easily have done. We just wanted [it] to be a beautiful moment that was sensitive, that was real and you know, in a world where there’s so much, you know, anti-trans (rhetoric) that we really wanted to tell a pro-Trans story”. The Umbrella siblings’ acceptance of Viktor is beautiful in its simplicity. Luther says he likes Viktor’s new haircut, and that’s just about it.

Despite this, there’s a feeling of this series just falling short of heights reached by the previous seasons. The first series was a curious puzzle box that revealed its mysteries at its own pace and the second let us deal with searing racial tensions while trying to stop one of the most famous assassinations of all time. Season 3’s big bad is dealing with a temporal paradox, which would be fascinating except they spend precious little time trying to address said paradox. In addition to this, the absence of Kate Walsh’s Handler is keenly felt. Bucking the trend of making all villains sympathetic and relatable, the Handler was a power-hungry psychopath who was a joy to watch. But, we can forgive writers for removing a character when there’s really nothing of note for them to do.

What’s less forgivable is this series breaks some of the characters a little bit. Luther (Tom Hopper) and Diego (David Castañeda), who often seem dumb when compared with the world-weary Five, now just seem dumb full stop. Not to mention Allison, (Emmy Raver-Lampman) who responds to the loss of her husband and daughter by becoming unspeakably cruel, which for a character with so much heart, feels like a loss to us as viewers. The lack of variation in the setting doesn’t help either.

All that said, there are some lovely moments of levity for each of the show’s core cast and after more than two years of waiting (thanks Covid), it’s just so good to spend time with these characters. Unlike the cynicism of The Boys or the groaning self-importance of The Justice League, The Umbrella Academy is a largely optimistic and unapologetically whimsical show to watch. Season 3 ends on a cliff-hanger, teasing more mysteries for a potential season 4, which at the time of writing, has yet to be confirmed. Whilst we can’t wait for another season, knowing Netflix’s penchant for cancelling shows people love, ending on a cliff-hanger these days begins to look almost reckless in its boldness.

Featured TV and Film

Pistol: TV Show Review

Pistol is based on Steve Jones’ autobiography, ‘Lonely Boy – Tales from a Sex Pistol’ 

Last year, John Lydon (known the world over as Johnny Rotten) lost a court case against his former bandmates to prevent them from using Sex Pistols music in an upcoming Disney+ show. Now that all six episodes are up, we can thank our lucky stars that he did lose because otherwise we would be robbed of this heartfelt masterpiece.

“PISTOL” — Pictured (L-R): Emma Appleton as Nancy Spungen, Louis Partridge as Sid Vicious. CR: Miya Mizuno/FX

The story of The Sex Pistols is, for music fans, a fairly well-worn path. Thrown together by Malcolm McLaren, the band were more about provoking a reaction than actual talent. When ponderous prog-rockers were dominating the charts, The Sex Pistols pissed off all the right people and invigorated a generation of disenfranchised youth. Their meteoric rise to fame was all too quickly followed by their implosion due to mismanagement and battling egos. Add to that the deaths of Nancy Spungen and Sid Vicious in quick succession and The Sex Pistols were over almost as soon as they began.

Pistol is based on Lonely Boy – Tales from a Sex Pistol, the autobiography of Steve Jones, the band’s guitarist and as this shows reveals, founding member. Most Pistols stories start with Johnny Rotten auditioning for the band. but this story takes it back a few steps to Steve Jones (deftly played with equal parts swagger and vulnerability by Toby Wallace) trying to get his band noticed. He walks into Vivienne Westwood’s famous clothing shop SEX where he is caught shoplifting by a young Chrissie Hynde (Sydney Chandler). Hynde at this point is years away from stardom in her own right as the frontwoman of The Pretenders, and her and Jones’ need to be taken seriously sparks an on/off relationship that is the backbone of this show. Over six episodes, Pistol takes us on an exploration of all the famous names attached to the band. Sympathetic depictions of Vivienne Westwood (Tallulah Riley) John Lydon (Anson Boon) and Sid Vicious (Louis Partridge) and a host of others can be found in this most humanising depiction of The Sex Pistols story.

Pistol Still
“PISTOL” — Pictured (L-R): Toby Wallace as Steve Jones. CR: Miya Mizuno/FX

It seems obvious now that Danny Boyle (whose early film Trainspotting arguably did to cinema what The Sex Pistols did to music) was the obvious choice to take on this project. Boyle, in many ways, might be the most punk director Britain has or has ever had. It’s an odd fit describing Boyle, a man in his sixties, as a ‘punk director’, but it’s valid nonetheless. Shot in 4:3, and using techniques that recreate film and video quality in use in the seventies, Boyle largely shuns the slickness that modern filmmaking has to offer. It’s only during the concert scenes, when these gigs hit their emotional high point, that Boyle uses a tantalising bit of bullet-time. The effect on the viewer is a shot in the arm of cinematic adrenaline. It makes old punks who grew up, got jobs and had kids yearn for lost nights of controlled chaos pogoing in the mosh pit.

Unlike other depictions of the band that either fear or revere them, Boyle shows them as what they probably were on some level – a bunch of young boys fiercely clamouring for attention and acceptance. This is why Boyle’s age might be key to the depiction here. When one gets to be a few decades older than your heroes who died all too soon, it’s hard not to feel a pang of sympathy for them. Possibly even a paternal desire to humanise them in a way that no other telling has thought to do.

“PISTOL” — Pictured (L-R): Jacob Slater as Paul Cook, Anson Boon as John Lyndon, Toby Wallace as Steve Jones, Christian Lees as Glen Matlock
. CR: Miya Mizuno/FX

There is no shortage of historical inaccuracies that will no doubt madden the punk purists out there, and that’s OK, it’s not a documentary. Lydon complained that this show would be a ‘watered down’ version of what really happened. But, so what if it is? After the Beatles and the Stones, The Sex Pistols are possibly the most documented band in British music history. Thanks to documentaries like The Filth & The Fury or dramatisations like Sid & Nancy starring Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb, there’s a real plurality to the story of The Sex Pistols. There’s no need for this or any other version to be the definitive take, which is remarkably freeing because it allows us to just hear Steve Jones’ version as he remembers it.

Pistol certainly embellishes the truth at various points, which is fine because it arguably serves a greater purpose than simply retelling the events. It makes The Sex Pistols young and exciting and relevant all over again. It introduces them to a new generation of fans, some who might dig deeper to find out more for themselves, and some who, if we’re really, really lucky, might just be inspired to kick off the next revolution in music.

Pistol is available now on Disney Plus.

Featured TV and Film

Netflix Teen Shows That Were Cancelled Too Early

Should these Netflix shows have had a longer run?

Teen shows are a rich source of story-telling that is loved far outside of their target audience. Sadly, Netflix can be like a bad parent, parading the successes of offspring like Stranger Things or Sex Education, while quietly shuffling some of its other children into relative obscurity. So, we’re taking the opportunity to champion five shows that were cancelled all too soon by Netflix, ones that either never completed their story arc or left us wanting more.

Dare Me Netflix Series
Dare Me Ⓒ Netflix
  1. Dare Me

Dare Me is adapted from the novel of the same name by Megan Abbott. The story mainly focuses on the tempestuous friendship between cheerleader Addy (Herizen Guardiola) and Cheer Captain, Beth (Marlo Kelly). Their world is upended by the arrival of Coach French, a twenty-something former cheerleader herself who has coached other teams to victory. Coach French sets the tempestuous Beth on edge by spending a lot of time with Addy, thus driving a wedge between her and Beth. On the face of it, Dare Me followed the age-old TV pattern of ‘beautiful people in rooms being terrible to each other’. But, digging just a little deeper, there’s some real pathos to the characters. Whilst the girls see cheerleading as a way out of their dead-end town, the boys at the school are practically groomed by Marine recruiters, who have a permanent presence at the school. Not only that but the storytelling and style of the show have a subtlety to them that will have you hitting the skip back button to make sure you saw what you thought you saw.

American Vandal Netflix
American Vandal Ⓒ Netflix
  1. American Vandal

Since the podcast Serial exploded in 2014 followed by Making A Murderer in 2015, the true crime genre exploded with a vast range of imitators. What no one could have anticipated was that this format would get turned into a mockumentary where two teenage detectives follow theories and investigate their classmates in this hilariously deadpan show. The crime in question is scaled down for comic effect, so rather than investigating a murder, Peter (Tyler Alvarez)and Sam (Griffin Gluck) are spending all their time and energy trying to work out who graffiti’d dicks onto every teacher’s car. The crime in season 2 is equally puerile but the way the cast handles the subject matter with utter seriousness makes every episode an absolute delight.

I am not ok with this
I Am Not Okay With This © Netflix
  1. I Am Not Okay With This

Adapted from Charles Forsman’s graphic novel, the show follows Sydney (played by Sophia Lillis of IT fame) as she grapples with everyday teenage problems like managing her emotions or discovering that she has telekinesis. Darkly comic in tone, I Am Not Okay With This perfectly captures that sense of adolescent awkwardness, writ large with the inclusion of superpowers. Sadly, this show premiered in February 2020, but Netflix cancelled the show in August of the same year, citing reasons related to the COVID-19 pandemic. There really should be some kind of law that states that you can’t cancel a show if it ends its first season on a dramatic cliff-hanger but Netflix giveth and Netflix taketh away. If you can stand the sense of incompletion, then this show is a gem of a find. Even if you can’t, watch it anyway and pick up the graphic novel to get those unanswered questions.

Everything Sucks
Everything Sucks © Netflix
  1. Everything Sucks!

Released in early 2018, Everything Sucks! (yes, you do have to include the exclamation mark, we checked) is an unabashed slice of nostalgic joy. Set in the sun-dappled past of 1996, the show centred on Kate (Patch Darragh) and Luke  (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) as well as their misfit friends in high school. Kate is rife with anxiety and Luke, abounding with teenage enthusiasm, quickly develops a crush on her. Despite largely positive reviews, Netflix cancelled Everything Sucks! citing low completion numbers (the number of viewers actually finishing the series). This is a true and proper shame as the soundtrack, depiction of amateur filmmaking and tentative steps to embrace one’s sexuality were all a joy to watch.

Daybreak Netflix
Daybreak © Netflix
  1. Daybreak

The zombie sub-genre is absolutely saturated with dark, gritty shows eager to show humanity at its worst, which is perhaps why Daybreak stood out so much. Described as “Ferris Bueller in a zombie apocalypse”, the story is initially narrated by Josh (Colin Ford) living in a post-apocalyptic Glendale California where all the adults have been turned into flesh-eating zombies and the teenagers have devolved into Mad Max-style gangs. He is joined by a group of misfits including a 10-year-old pyromaniac and a pacifist samurai, whilst also waxing lyrical about Sam Dean (Sophie Simnett), his girlfriend before the world ended. The style of Daybreak was wildly adventurous. It examined issues like LGBTQ relationships across a warring divide and was incredibly postmodern with its metatextuality and unreliable narrators (one of whom was the RZA from Wu-Tang Clan!) all while wearing its graphic novel roots as a badge of honour. But, perhaps the most interesting thing about this show was the way male characters have a talent for rewriting history to suit their own needs, especially teenage boys.

If the thought of starting a series without a proper ending is panic-inducing, then Netflix still has shows like One Of Us Is Lying, Outerbanks and the much-lauded Heartstopper which are still in production. But, if you are feeling brave, spare a thought for these underappreciated gems. They really are worth your time.

Featured Music

My Chemical Romance: Live Review

The reunited emo legends still rock

On May 28th, Cardiff hosted New Jersey rock giants My Chemical Romance on the penultimate date of the UK leg of their tour. Getting to this moment for many fans was not straightforward. MCR breaking up in 2013 meant that fans who were too young or who missed them the first time round had to resign any hope of seeing them live in concert. Then, their announcement in 2019 that they would be touring again sent ripples of excitement through the fanbase, shows sold out at a rate of knots and the speculation and adulation across social media was rife. That was until COVID-19 happened and fans would have to wait for an indeterminate period of time before dates could be rescheduled.

The ones assembled here at Sophia Gardens cricket ground are brimming with anticipation. Starcrawler and Lost Alone kick off the night, with post-hardcore group, Funeral For A Friend being the main support act. Being practically a local band, Funeral For a Friend were warmly received by the crowd, but even their lead singer Matthew Davies-Kreye acknowledged that the crowd were saving some of their enthusiasm for the headliners.

With the support acts finished, a low, constant static begins to fill the air. Over five minutes or so, this white noise steadily builds and with it, the sense of painful anticipation until Frank Iero, Mikey Way, Ray Toro and Gerard Way take to the stage and the static seamlessly transitions into ‘Foundations of Decay’, their first new music in 8 years.

The set was comparatively stripped back in terms of theatrics. No white suits or flags were present on this evening, only a painted backdrop of a building in ruins, which perhaps served as a nod to 9/11, the tragic event that instigated the creation of the band. Whether the lack of theatricality is a good thing or not depends on the individual, but it didn’t seem to make a difference to the assembled swath of black t-shirts and tattoos that made up the audience. One thing it did show was that the music really does speak for itself.

When Gerard first appears on stage he is dressed less like a rock icon and more like a dad who’s just dropped the kids off at school. Hiding behind hair that would make Robert Smith proud, you couldn’t be quite sure what to expect. Some corners of the internet bemoaned a band that didn’t interact with the audience, but this could not be any further from the truth. As well as the heart-wrenching vocals of hits like ‘Helena’ to the pop-punk sugar rush of ‘Na na na na’, Way’s New Jersey rasp could be heard giggling and joking with the audience between songs. His genuine affection and concern for the fans was apparent and it was reflected back at him in kind.

One thing listeners might not fully appreciate until they see My Chemical Romance live is what a phenomenal guitarist Ray Toro is. Seeing him shred during a solo, his hair flaying out in all directions from the wind machine makes you appreciate how much of a straight-up rock star he is. The comparisons to Brian May are not unfounded in the slightest. A brief gesture of affection between Frank Iero and Gerard elicits knowing laughter from the crowd. Whilst Mikey Way is all business, Gerard is a theatre kid who has managed to make a career out of being just that. Even when he’s not wearing any particular costume, he still seems to occasionally slip into a voice befitting a henchman in a Hammer horror, doing this to entertain himself as much as anyone else.

MCR press image
MCR press image

Then, the moment every single person in that crowd was waiting for finally happens. Towards the end of an evening that sailed by all too quickly, as the cheers momentarily subsided, a single G note rang out. ‘Welcome to the Black Parade’ is perhaps the only song that can be recognised from a single note, and it is rapturously received. Singing and bouncing along to that anthem, surrounded by thousands of devoted fans doing exactly the same borders on a spiritual experience. If there was a misstep, if you were absolutely forced to nit-pick, you might question not having this as the last song of the night. ‘Sleep’ and ‘I’m Not Okay’ are unquestionably great tracks, but they’re a steep drop after the pinnacle of ‘Black Parade’.

With the show drawn to a close, the band’s six-year hiatus, combined with a nearly three-year wait due to Covid only underscored the fragility of the moment. It seems as though everyone understood that this may well be a once in a lifetime experience, and they were determined to savour every single second of it.

My Chemical Romance are back, and for the fans, that’s a dream come true.

Featured TV and Film

Not My Wanda: A closer look at Doctor Strange’s Scarlet Witch

Why are female character arcs so often thrown to the wayside?

Warning: Spoilers

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has had overwhelmingly positive reviews from fans, movie critics and cinema-goers alike. The movie also scores a very respectable 74% on the renowned movie recommendation site Rotten Tomatoes. And yet, despite its refreshing (albeit low-key) LGBT representation, the wealth of cameos and the MCU dipping into horror, something didn’t feel quite right about Wanda.

Since the announcement of Wanda’s inclusion in the film, there were rumours she might be the villain in this story. For many fans, this came as a shock and the speculated character arc’s credibility was widely disputed; Wanda as the villain of the piece just didn’t feel emotionally satisfying.

WandaVision was a beautiful treatise on what grief piled on top of trauma could do to a person with exorbitant superpowers. We saw Wanda, unable to deal with Vision’s death, telepathically manipulate an entire town. She used them as puppets while she play-acted a sitcom existence as a coping mechanism. Through that series, we saw her come to terms with the loss of Vision, defeat the combined forces of Agatha Harkness and S.W.O.R.D, and show a genuine (yet subtle) remorse for how she had treated the town’s people.

Then, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness chucked all that character development in the bin and made her a straight-up villain.

Wanda from Doctor Strange
Wanda © Marvel Studios

There’s a phrase you sometimes hear in screenwriting circles; when a fictional individual makes a choice or action so far out of character for them, that it ‘breaks the character’. This version of the Scarlet Witch is a good example of this problem. Wanda wants to be with her boys Billy and Tommy (who she knows are fictional) so badly that she’s happy to kidnap a teenage girl and absorb her power, thereby killing her.

And, while it’s definitely plausible that becoming a parent could become anyone’s villain origin story, the film didn’t go far enough to explain why Wanda couldn’t just sit down with America Chavez and teach her to control her power in exchange for a one-way trip to a world where Billy and Tommy are in need of a mum. One conversation would have solved this whole thing.

As a result, the emotional beats don’t seem to land either. The script felt like it needed Jac Shaeffer, head writer of WandaVision to take a pass at it in order for those moments to land properly.

And, before the true believers come to the movie’s defence, yes, to some extent this Wanda is reflective of her comic book counterpart. The House of M storyline has her doing even stranger things in pursuit of children she knows deep down aren’t real. But, Marvel Studios has always had a relaxed approach when it comes to adapting the source material. The Civil War storyline in the comics has Captain America dying at the end, though Marvel changed that story point because it didn’t serve the overall narrative they were trying to tell.

Wanda from Doctor Strange
Wanda © Marvel Studios

It’s such a shame then, to see Wanda’s arc sacrificed on the altar of spectacle. To see a fan favourite like Wanda Maximoff treated so poorly, to see her redemption and character growth lead to this is nothing short of disheartening. For the majority of the film’s running time, she kills a lot of people purely as collateral damage. There’s a handwave attempt to justify this by saying that she read the Darkhold, (a mythic text full of evil spells) and whoever reads the book will ultimately become corrupted by it. However, Strange does the same thing, and whilst he does indeed grow a freaky third eye, he does not become a genocidal killing machine.

Admittedly, by the end, Wanda realises the error of her ways and as penance brings down an ancient temple on top of herself. No heartfelt last words, no funeral scene, barely an acknowledgement that she’s gone. And the audience isn’t naïve on this point, they know Marvel could easily bring Wanda back from the dead and redeem her. But, even if they did, it would be difficult for it to not feel a little hollow.

Featured Thought + Opinion

The Problem with Bad Relationships in Euphoria

Could the toxic relationships in shows like Euphoria be teaching us bad habits?

The second season of Euphoria came to a close with predictably explosive results. The producers have revelled in their creative freedom, showing graphic sex and violence with the gleeful abandon of a kid who has learned that they can swear when their parents are out of earshot. Explicit content aside, the corrosive and toxic relationships in the show provide most of the conflict. George Bernard Shaw famously said, “no conflict, no drama”, and he’s not wrong. Conflict is vital for good story-telling, and in a writer’s room where story fodder is constantly needed, romantic conflict is the gift that just keeps on giving. Budget-wise, it’s cheap, and if done right, it’s incredibly compelling, as it’s more or less true to life. Or is it?

Breakups and emotional turmoil are a part of life, sure. If we look at teen dramas, their main focus is the constant churn of love and loss. From the classic Dawson’s Creek, through to Skins and all the way up to Euphoria, it’s everywhere we look. For many of us, we learned our earliest guiding principles about relationships from these shows. This is no bad thing, but it does sometimes mean dysfunctional relationships are glamorized, maybe even fetishized.

Taking Euphoria as an example, the on/off relationship between Maddie Perez and sociopath Nate Jacobs is shown as violent, unstable and wildly dysfunctional. But at the same time, it’s portrayed as genuine. The two of them ping back and forth like an exhausting tennis match, never able to sever the ties between them. The implicit message could be read as: they may not be good people, but at least their love is real.

Euphoria Maddie and Nate
Euphoria © HBO

Conversely, Kat’s relationship with Ethan is given short shrift. Ethan treats her with respect, is transparent about his feelings and goes out of his way to make sure he doesn’t hurt her. As Maddie puts it to Kat, “Stop flaunting your healthy, non-abusive, wonderful relationship. It’s actually triggering”. This storyline both reacts to and perpetuates the myth that a passionate relationship is always turbulent. This is a common message, so numerous that there are more examples than I can realistically count. From Wuthering Heights to most of Taylor Swift’s early output, we’ve had this idea that there’s no passion without drama. Moral guardians point out the dangers of young people learning about sex from porn and their exposure to violence. But, have we considered the impact of showing them people in relationships with no impulse control or basic empathy?

When I researched examples of functional couples, I was overwhelmed with examples from sitcoms. But the issue with comedies is that because most of them are intended for syndication, the episodes need to be understood when told out of order. Consequently, writers must ‘put all their toys back in the box’ by the end of each episode. Meaning any interpersonal conflict needs to be resolved within 22 minutes, no matter how artificially. Add to that the need for every sitcom to exist in a heightened reality, and the amount of useful examples dries up dramatically.

So, does that mean there are no examples of healthy relationships on TV? Well, no. But you might need to expand your viewing habits a bit. There’s no drama without conflict sure, but where the conflict comes from usually depends on the type of story. Some genres of story-telling like sci-fi, fantasy and drama often rely on an external threat as a source of conflict. That’s not to say they don’t have any interpersonal tension, but it’s not the only option for the writers.

Outlander © Sony Pictures

Devoted fans of Outlander keep coming back to the historical fantasy for the relationship between Claire and Jamie Fraser, played masterfully by Sam Heughan and Catriona Balfe. The way they can start and end an argument with just a look rewards eagle-eyed viewers.

And, Superman & Lois is not an example I thought I would be bringing up, but the writers seem to have spent as much, if not more, time working out how to make the family dynamic appear genuinely healthy as they have working out how Superman will save the world.

However, the gold standard for realistic and healthy relationships is almost certainly still Friday Night Lights. The dynamic between Tami and Coach Taylor is a masterclass in a relationship between two career-driven individuals who sometimes have to choose who gets to pursue their goals and whose dreams temporarily have to take a back seat.

Obviously, viewers don’t need every relationship on TV to be a healthy one. But, it wouldn’t hurt if we could up the representation a little, surely? If even Taylor Swift can shift her focus from bad breakups to right relationships, maybe the rest of us can too.

Art + Culture

Afrofuturism: A brief history

But what exactly is Afrofuturism?

Afrofuturism is a term that, despite being a key phrase from one of 2018s most popular films, still hasn’t quite entered the public consciousness. So, let’s dig into what it means by exploring some of its most famous examples. 

Afrofuturism is a cultural aesthetic found in art, music and literature. The film critic Clarisse Loughrey offered a useful definition when she called it “an ability to celebrate African heritage without the burden of colonialism, but also to be able to imagine a future where society doesn’t seek to limit them”. 

And while the term, which was first coined by journalist and lecturer Mark Dery in 1993, is only now gaining recognition, the concept is not new. There’s evidence Afrofuturism began much earlier than the 90s. And, it even existed in Octavia Butler’s science fiction stories during the 1970s as the famous author regularly placed characters of African descent at the heart of multi-ethnic stories. 

Afrofuturism in Sci-fi and Fantasy

Historically, the sci-fi/fantasy genre is an area in which Black people have experienced under-representation. For the first twenty years, even Star Wars only had one major character who was Black. And, whilst Lando Calrissian is great, the lack of plurality is not doing anyone any favours. Similarly, many of the classics of the genre – 2001: A Space Odyssey and Bladerunner – feature a largely white cast.

In 1966, Star Trek blazed a trail in terms of representation. Yet, it would still be another 27 years before the show passed the DuVernay test (think the Bechdel test but for race). 

As Ira Glass from This American Life put it, “While there have been Black characters in sci-fi for a while now, they’re almost never the protagonists. They’re never the ones driving the action. And for so long, in so much science fiction, there were no Black people at all”. Therefore, it’s likely one catalyst for the Afrofuturism movement was the need for Black people to see themselves in futuristic settings. 

Black Panther © DisneyAfrofuturism in Music

Over the decades, musicians have embraced Afrofuturism as well, with George Clinton’s music as a prime example. Parliament Funkadelic, Clinton’s music collective, was influenced as much by Star Trek as by Jimi Hendrix when they released Mothership Connection. The songs focused on a future where Clinton’s ‘afronauts’ explored strange new worlds with their own particular brand of funk. 

Moving into the 80s, Afrika Bambataa & The Soul Sonic Force injected Afrofuturism into hip-hop, blending tribal imagery with synth sounds and a Bronx background into their music videos. Great examples of this include the videos for Planet Rock and Renegades of Funk. 

Outkast have flirted with Afrofuturism in their videos, but someone who embraces it wholeheartedly is Janelle Monae. Her concept album, The Archandroid, uses the sci-fi trope of the android as a metaphor for all oppressed peoples. As a result of Monae’s take on Afrofuturism, the project received much critical acclaim. 

Afrofuturism in TV and Film

But perhaps, unsurprisingly, it’s film and TV where afro-futurism currently has the biggest impact. Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle In Time is a great offering, but Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther is by far the standout. 

Black Panther is a perfect example of Afrofuturism. Right from its creation by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby in 1966, Black Panther’s fictional country of Wakanda has been a wonderful portrayal of Afrofuturism. A sub-Saharan African country shrouded in mystery, Wakanda was never colonised due to its hostile topography. It’s an isolationist country, rich in a resource called ‘vibranium’ (the most famous example of it being Captain America’s shield). In the comics and the MCU, it is the most technologically advanced country on the planet. 

Black Panther is, undoubtedly, a landmark text when it comes to afro-futurism. But sadly, the untimely death of Chadwick Boseman in August 2020 and Marvel’s announcement that they will (rightly) not recast the role means we’ll never see what Coogler had planned for the character. 

However, the title for the 2022 follow-up, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, hints at a wider storytelling lens for the sequel and hopefully a more expansive view of Afrofuturism. 

Sticking with Marvel, the What If series on Disney+ took the Afrofuturism football and ran with it. In their episode, What If T’Challa was a StarLord?, we see the young Wakandan prince be kidnapped by the space-faring Ravagers. 

Then, instead of watching a man-child Starlord fumble his way through every interaction, T’Challa’s StarLord treats everyone with a unique gentleness and warmth. Not only does this one episode put a person of colour in space, but it also makes him eminently capable and almost universally beloved. 

For those who like their Afrofuturism a little less idealistic, Lovecraft Country is not afraid to tackle historic racism from a very 1950s view of the future. The sci-fi fantasy writer HP Lovecraft is credited with creating the ‘cosmic horror’ subgenre. But, his personal letters reveal a particularly repugnant strand of racism. In Lovecraft Country, the show deals with a range of sci-fi tropes, as well as racial horror, showing Jim Crow era cops to be just as, if not more terrifying, than gnashing monsters from outer space. 

Afrofuturism as a cultural movement is appealing because not only does it depicts a future where Black people can shake off the history of colonialism, but it also allows for greater storyline variation.

Black stories (or at least the ones that make it into the mainstream) have, over the years, been somewhat limited in scope. But as Roy Wood Jr from the Daily Show put it, “It’s nice to have a Black movie that’s not about slavery, singing or slanging dope, it’s just a dope ass movie”.