Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

Archive for the ‘Television’

Fake or Fortune? The Winslow Homer in the trash, the fakes at the Courtauld, and other art detective tales.

June 27, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Art, Television No Comments →


Fake or Fortune? unfolds like a detective series, with a painting in the office instead of a corpse in the solarium. Each episode begins with presenters Philip Mould and Fiona Bruce taking on an art mystery: Is this a genuine Turner (or Vuillard, Gainsborough, etc)? The show derives much of its charm from the pairing of Philip, an art dealer and art historian, and Fiona, a broadcast journalist. Philip is the expert, knowledgeable in the ways of the art business. Fiona is the stand-in for the audience, asking the questions we want to ask and articulating our bewilderment. Philip is generally calm and unflappable, while Fiona is emotional and expressive — she wants the paintings to be genuine, and looks crushed when they aren’t. As viewers, we feel we have a stake in the outcome of the investigation.

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Penny Dreadful comes to an end. Where do we get our Victorian Gothic weirdo fix now?

June 22, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Television 8 Comments →

Only watch this video after you’ve seen the final episode.

Is there any heroine in Victorian horror fiction or outside it who has worse taste in men than Vanessa Ives? Yet that is one of the reasons why we love her. Apart from the fact that she is portrayed by Eva Green, who is so awesome she needs no CGI. She needs no co-stars, actually, and the show acknowledged that by giving her a one-woman acting showcase every season. Though her co-stars are fabulous: the ageless Timothy Dalton, Rory Kinnear who gave the Creature a touching humanity, Harry Treadaway as the disturbed genius Frankenstein, the beautiful Josh Hartnett in a role that really suited him. Billie Piper, so grating in the first season, was great in her final scene in the third. Patti Lupone came on so strong in the second season that she was brought back as a different character in the third. As the New Yorkiest alienist (what they used to call shrinks) in London, she delivered the best dismissal of Dracula: “Fuck you.”

Tempting to campaign for a fourth season—the material has even more ways to resurrect the departed than Game of Thrones does—but this is how the creators always envisioned the end and we have to respect that. On the other hand, any of the characters could star in a spinoff…

Bloodline: A family drama gets swamped in the telling

June 10, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Television 1 Comment →


Flash-forward is the new flashback. On every episode of Bloodline, we are reminded that the good son John Rayburn (Kyle Chandler) will dispose of the body of the bad son Danny Rayburn (Ben Mendelsohn) on a boat in the Florida Keys. Did John kill Danny? The very first words we hear on the show are: “Sometimes, you know something’s coming. You feel it in the air. In your gut… Something’s going to go terribly wrong.” The opening credit sequence says as much: clear blue skies over a sun-bleached beach giving way to dark clouds, thunder, lashing rain. Accompanied by a cover of a Metallica song. “Please don’t judge us,” says John. “We’re not bad people, but we did a bad thing.”

Oh, really? We would never have guessed. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Read my review of Bloodline in The Binge.

Tobias Menzies reads from The Iliad

June 07, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Television 4 Comments →

2 Bens play 2 Richards: Cumberbatch and Whishaw star in The Hollow Crown

June 03, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Television No Comments →

Benedict Cumberbatch as the villainous Richard

If it’s propaganda you want, hire a great playwright. Seize the narrative. Shakespeare wrote Richard III under the auspices of the Tudors who overthrew Richard, the last of the Plantagenets. It’s been a lasting investment in public relations. “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!” Richard cries in the fatal battle, and that at least may have been true. His bones were discovered a few years ago, under a carpark where the battlefield used to be. Examination showed that one of his shoulders was higher than the other because he had scoliosis. Spin that detail and you have the villainous Crookback.

At Richard’s reinterment, a poem was read by one of his relatives, the actor Benedict Cumberbatch. The star of Sherlock and the forthcoming Doctor Strange is Plantagenet’s second cousin 16 times removed, but before his ardent fans get any ideas about putting him on the throne, there are several thousand Plantagenet descendants walking the earth. Now Cumberbatch plays Richard III in the season finale of BBC’s The Hollow Crown. His late cousin still doesn’t get a fair shake, but as supervillains go, he’s awesome.

In this TV film adapted for the screen by Ben Power and directed by Dominic Cooke, Richard isn’t just bad. He glories in malevolence. The first image we see is that of a chessboard, a hand moving the pieces, and then the huge lump and distorted spine. It looks like some alien experiment. Cumberbatch himself has always struck me as odd-looking: beautiful from some angles, extraterrestrial from others. As he struggles to put on his shirt he announces his intention of screwing over his brothers, the king and the duke, and details his nefarious plan. Since he looks like a monster anyway, he’s going to be a monster.

Quickly he demonstrates his talent at deception, confiding his schemes to the viewer one second, and in mid-speech appearing concerned as his brother George is led away to the Tower. Just as he had planned. Later he invites us to watch as he convinces his cousin Anne (Phoebe Fox), whose husband and father-in-law he had killed, to marry him. After all the horrible things I’ve done to her, she still says yes, he gloats. Richard is intent on seeing how low he can go. It’s not merely ambition or resentment that drives him, but bottomless self-loathing. Cumberbatch shows us a man who wants the world to revile him as much as he reviles himself. He’s evil, but recognizably human.

Ben Whishaw as the whispery Richard.

In the first season the fey Richard II (Ben Whishaw), makes arbitrary decisions that lead to his being deposed by his cousin Bolingbroke (Rory Kinnear), who becomes Henry IV. Whishaw is a marvelous Richard II—he never raises his voice because everyone must hang on his every word. When the crown is taken from him, he sees himself as a Jesus figure carrying the sins of the world. Where Whishaw is wispy and otherworldly, Kinnear is stocky and grounded—his Henry reveres his king and is consumed by guilt. His actions reverberate through The Hollow Crown, setting in motion a series of power plays ending with the death of his dynasty. As Henry’s father John of Gaunt, Patrick Stewart doesn’t get much screen time, but his rendition of “This sceptred isle” reminds us why men would follow him anywhere, be he the Duke of Lancaster, Captain Picard, or Professor Xavier.

Read our TV column, The Binge.

Honor, duty, courage, Hodor.

May 30, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Television 2 Comments →


If you have not seen last week’s episode of Game of Thrones, do not read this. Don’t even go online. Cover your eyes and ears.

For the past week I have not been able to look at a door or get into an elevator without my throat tightening, such is the power of the last few minutes of “The Door”, Season 6, Episode 5 of Game of Thrones. Hodor the running gag has turned out to be the embodiment of honor, duty, sacrifice. Bravo.

Having read the books I knew the Red Wedding was coming, and enjoyed the shock of non-readers learning of the brutal event for the first time. Then the Purple Wedding, the trial by combat, the murder in the toilet, the assassination. Readers used to have an advantage, but now the series has gone off-book and we’re all at the dark mercy of the showrunners. It’s exhilarating.

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I forgot to cite the best-known example of a causality loop: Terminator. Kyle Reese is sent back to the past by John Connor to protect his mother Sarah, and ends up becoming the father of John Connor.