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Riverdale Chapter One: The River’s Edge

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If your only experience with Archie and the Riverdale gang was the occasional Double Digest thrown your way as a kid  to keep you occupied on a long car trip, this updated take from the CW (Netflix in our neck of the woods) might come as something of a shock. If nothing else, there’s a lot more sex and murder. There’s one openly gay character, one closet case, and one ambiguous sapphic moment. And while Archie (Kiwi actor KJ Apa) isn’t fucking Mr Weatherbee, to paraphrase Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy, he is dealing with the aftermath of a summer fling with Miss Grundy (Sarah Habel), the comics’ steely spinster having been re-imagined as someone considerably younger and more attractive.

This isn’t a “dark and gritty” reboot, though – that would be a lazy label to apply. Series writer (and Archie Comics Chief Creative Officer) Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and producer Greg Berlanti (who honchos the CW DC supers shows) have really taken the bull by the horns here, reconfiguring the wholesome, episodic and largely continuity-free teen comics into something that a) might reflect or at least engage with some of the concerns of Young People Today* and b) has enough narrative meat and emotional punch to at least get us through a season or two.

So welcome to Riverdale, a town reeling from the tragic and purportedly accidental death of rich kid, Jason Blossom. His sister, Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) has no qualms about milking his death for social advantage. Meanwhile, good girl Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart) nurses a crush on her BFF, Archie – something she has in common with new girl, the wealthy Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes), who is struggling to cope with a downturn in lifestyle after her father was arrested for embezzlement.

In the background lurk a number of mysteries: Archie’s parents (Luke Perry and Molly Ringwald, and if that isn’t bravura casting, then what is?) are separated; Veronica’s mother, Hermione (Marisol Nichols) receives a bag full of cash courtesy of her husband, for reasons yet to be divulged; Usual BFFs Archie and Jughead (Cole Sprouse) are on the outs; and, perhaps most importantly, Betty’s mother (Twin Peaks alum Madchen Amick, and we’ll get to that in a second) harbours a deep grudge against the Blossom family because of the way Jason treated Betty’s sister while thy were dating.

Whew. That’s a lot of plates to keep spinning, but this is a soap opera after all, no matter how glossy it looks. Twin Peaks was a soap opera too, and Riverdale has drawn a number of comparisons, some earned, some trifling – we do get a body in the water before the episode draws to a close, after all. In truth, though, Riverdale is drawing on a number of textual inspirations – that episode title is no mistake, and future eps are named “A Touch of Evil”, “Body Double”, and “The Last Picture Show” – make of that what you will.

For all that “darkness” though, there’s plenty of light here, too. Archie is Archie – a good kid struggling with the usual raft of problems and trying to do right by everyone, including himself. The Betty/Veronica friendship makes sense, as does the B/V/A love triangle – in fact, this might be the most sympathetic representation of Veronica Lodge in the history of the character, in that regard. The characters we’re supposed to like are likable, and that counts for a lot. If Riverdale manages to not descend into completely overwrought melodrama – always a risk with these kind of things – it looks like it’ll be a nice place to visit for a few seasons.

We definitely need more Jughead, though.

*Sex, I’m given to understand.

 
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Sherlock S4E3: “The Final Problem”

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Warning: The following review contains spoilers.

Sherlock is over so quickly isn’t it? One week you’re celebrating its return and less than a month later, you’re waving it bon voyage. And after the last two weeks of plotting, it’s no surprise the fervour people had for this – the final episode of Season 4 and, potentially, the last episode of Sherlock for a very long time.

It’s little wonder that creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, writing together as they did for The Abominable Bride, wanted to give their supporters something to wave their flags to. Think of The Final Problem as the Greatest Hits of Sherlock, with choice cuts of your favourite moments repackaged into a handy 90-minute feast. Sadly, as pleasant as it is to see the two writers clearly having fun in their sandbox, the real problem for the viewer was trying to work out how the two previous episodes could justify such a lukewarm finale.

Having revealed a third Holmes sibling and putting the life of John Watson (Martin Freeman) in danger last week, we were given a rather rushed resolution as to the Doctor’s fate.

Apparently, Eurus (Sian Brooke), Sherlock’s evil sister, had merely stunned Watson and run away. An impossibility according to brother Mycroft (Gatiss) who insisted that she was trapped within a super-prison by the name of Sherrinford which was stuck on an island out to sea. All of which was a massive surprise to Sherlock, who had completely forgotten he’d ever had a sister. If that part sounds like a tough pill to swallow, The Final Problem produced a number of other headscratchers that unfortunately lowered the plausibility of its narrative.

Things started off strong with a small girl waking up on a plane in which all its passengers and crew had passed out. Answering a ringing phone in the hopes of calling for help, she’s greeted by the voice of the late consulting criminal, Moriarty (Andrew Scott). Elsewhere, having escaped the detonation of 221b Baker Street – another one of Eurus’ games – the Brothers Holmes and Watson break into Sherrinford to understand how the meddling sister is able to break out.

Before continuing, it should be noted that Sherlock has dipped its toe in the surreal before. Season 2’s The Hounds of Baskerville, for instance, attributed its hell hound to psychotropic gas. Indeed, the very idea of Sherlock himself is a flight of fancy in the real world. However, The Final Problem was something else.

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As well as being superior to her brothers intellectually, Eurus was shown to be able to ‘reprogramme’ those around her and, as such, had unbelievably managed to take over her own asylum, giving her free passage to leave her island prison as and when she felt like it. Spurred on by a meeting with Moriarty several years prior – in a hilarious cameo by Scott –  she had decided to take her vengeance out on Sherlock for reasons that never feel satisfactory. Over the last few seasons, a lot has been made of the name Redbeard and its influence on Sherlock’s persona. Previously thought of to be a beloved pet, the final twist turned out to be something much sinister and had led to Eurus’ incarceration. Gatiss and Moffat try to turn what would be a childhood trauma for Sherlock into a reason for his thirst for solving mysteries. But as an attempt to give Sherlock back his humanity, it just didn’t convince.

Neither did the system of Saw-like problems Eurus put her siblings through, with a different room in Sherrinford leading to a new and deadly conundrum. As Eurus pulled her brothers’ strings, the continuing train of thought was ‘How can she afford to do all this? Literally, who is funding this person?’ and ‘Does anybody remember John had a baby daughter?’ When the girl on the plane was revealed to be Eurus in a mind palace of her own waiting for Sherlock’s approval, The Final Problem revealed itself to be trying too hard.

Thank heavens then for the positives that didn’t make this a complete washout. Take for example Molly, played by Louise Brealey. Criminally underused this season, Brealey brought much needed emotion in a scene that saw her bare her soul to Sherlock, whilst being an unwitting pawn in Eurus’s schemes. As we cheer on Sherlock’s sociopathic qualities, we often forget how they can deeply cut others. It was a wonderful moment, only somewhat surpassed by Mrs Hudson thrashing around to Iron Maiden in her slippers.

As the dust settled, Sherlock ended, as perhaps it was always going to, with a massive press of the reset button that allowed Gatiss and Moffat to bring a close to their 6-year story in a deserved self-congratulatory tone, whilst tentatively leaving the tiniest of margins for a possible return. And whilst this wasn’t the ending some of us will have been expecting, the journey to get this far has at least consisted of more highs than lows, with a heavy vein of experimentation throughout. For that reason alone, Sherlock is still, as a whole, a quality British drama.

 
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Sherlock S4E2: “The Lying Detective”

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Warning: The following review contains spoilers.

After a dramatic and somewhat overstuffed opening, “The Lying Detective”, written by Steven Moffatt, sees Sherlock return to a more streamlined approach with a storyline that would, were this Law and Order: SVU, be promoted as being “ripped straight from the headlines.” However, lets step back a bit.

After the events of “The Six Thatchers”, Team Sherlock is well and truly fractured. Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) has holed himself up in 221b and presently sleeps at the bottom of a syringe. John (Martin Freeman), meanwhile, is seeing a therapist to cope with the death of his wife Mary, who he tried to cheat on in the last episode. Whilst John is “happy” to beat himself for his present behaviour – including not sleeping, heavy drinking and ignoring his daughter Rosie – he struggles to admit that he regularly converses with his deceased wife, Mary (Amanda Abbington). Yes, Mary is back. Sort of. And her “haunting” of John is an engaging way of letting us watch him unravel his thoughts. When Mary chastises him for being aggressive to others, he’s effectively berating himself; encouraging himself to make amends and move on. It also elicits great performances from Freeman and Abbington. Elsewhere, Cumberbatch gets to flex his acting muscles as a Sherlock that’s spiraling the drain.

Director Nick Hurran has a field day as he sews together Sherlock’s drug-addled memories – including hallucinations and walking across the ceiling like Lionel Ritchie – into a coherent interview with potential client, Faith, with whom he spends the night walking through London. Faith has a very famous father- entrepreneur and philanthropist, Culverton Smith, played with relish by Toby Jones (Capote) – whom she believes wants to kill someone.

Where the narrative eventually takes us is so much darker.

There’s no real way to break this character down without acknowledging the debt it pays to the extremely problematic Jimmy Saville, the late British television presenter whose façade as an eccentric fundraiser hid a much darker lifestyle. Like Saville, Culverton is carried on the shoulders of a prominent broadcaster and routinely boasts of famous friendships. Aside from Jones’ performances, part of the reason Culverton is so monstrous is because he reflects someone in the public eye.

After Sherlock publicly calls Culverton out on Twitter – whilst roping in a reluctant Watson in the process – “The Lying Detective” revealed its greatest strength: Sherlock, convinced of his deductions, locking verbal horns with a man who is so confident he can get away with murder he doesn’t even try that hard to hide his guilt. With a bold northern accent and spectacularly yellow teeth, Jones was the second best performance of the episode. The first? Well, that belongs to Una Stubbs as the put-upon landlord, Mrs Hudson. From tying up Sherlock and speeding him off to Watson in her Aston Martin, to standing up to the ominous Mycroft all in the name of her surrogate sons, Stubbs easily gifts “The Lying Detective” with its finer moments.

Yet, as strong as “The Lying Detective” is, particularly when stacked up against the previous episode, when all the various story threads finally dovetailed it only just about sticks its landing. Whilst touring the hospital Culverton financed, for which he grimly boasts he has the keys, Sherlock’s sanity appears to finally crack under so much drug use. Summoning Faith to the hospital in order that she can confront her father, Sherlock is startled to meet someone who is not the woman he spent the evening with. Producing a scalpel, he has to be subdued by John, who uses the opportunity to take out his anger on the consulting detective’s face. Admitting that he’s not well, Sherlock agrees to be taken care of in the hospital where, left alone, he is visited by a murderous Culverton – an act which is stopped by John who, having found the DVD left by Mary the week before, realises that this is all part of a plan to drag him out of his funk. Whilst Culverton is a true monster, Sherlock has been in control the whole time. It’s all a bit convenient, but it does later lead to a rather touching moment between the two men when John confesses his “affair” to both his friend and the imaginary Mary.

But Moffatt hasn’t finished there, and during a therapy session, John finds out his therapist is also the fake Faith from earlier, as well as the woman he pursued in “The Six Thatchers”. All three are the disguises of Eurus, the forgotten and apparently evil sister of Mycroft and Sherlock, played by Sian Brooke! Having revealed her true identity, she promptly shoots John, leaving his fate unknown.

Until the finale, “The Final Problem,” surfaces it’s hard to tell how this Scooby-Doo moment will settle; either becoming in hindsight a masterstroke of a twist or undoing all the good work that came before it. Only time will tell!

 
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Sherlock S4E1: “The Six Thatchers”

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Warning: This review contains spoilers.

Let it never be said that Sherlock fans aren’t patient. 2016’s New Year’s special, “The Abominable Bride”, arrived two years after Season Three’s revelation that uber-villain Moriarty might be alive and Sherlock being sent into exile after killing a blackmailing media mogul. Ostensibly set around the gag of “What would it be like if modern Sherlock was more like old fashioned Sherlock?”, the special turned out to be a way to advance the plot from Season Three. And by advance the plot, we mean Sherlock got off the plane that had carted him away and decided Moriarty was definitely dead.

Cut to 2017 and finally proper Sherlock is back. But has it been worth the wait?

Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) certainly seems to think so as he’s reintroduced back in the saddle and, by his own admission, “high on life.” The murder that saw him packed off has been dealt with by his brother Mycroft (Mark Gatiss) with the judicious application of edited CCTV footage. But what of the deceased Moriarty whose visage cropped up on every TV screen in London? Well, “The Six Thatchers”, written by Gatiss and brilliantly directed by Rachel Talalay (Tank Girl and Doctor Who), won’t do much to scratch that itch. Instead, after a brief but entertaining montage of Sherlock solving low-level crimes in the hopes that it will lead to a larger discovery, the plot becomes concerned with the connection between John Watson’s wife Mary (Amanda Abbington) and the destruction of six busts of Margaret Thatcher at different venues.

Introduced in Season Three as the fiancée of Watson (Martin Freeman), Mary was quickly revealed to have been an intelligence agent with a murky past; which was more agency than Arthur Conan Doyle ever gave her literary counterpart. Now married with child, her life is upturned by the revelation that a former colleague is out for revenge, after being left for dead during a failed hostage rescue six years previously. Back and very much alive, Ajay (Sacha Dhawan) was destroying busts of Thatcher in the hopes of finding a USB he had hidden in one all that time ago, which contained information that would lead him to Mary. This in turn led to Mary going Lara Croft and travelling the globe to entice Ajay out.

If it sounds complicated, then that’s because it kind of is.

Whilst even an average episode of Sherlock is something to look forward to, there’s a feeling “The Six Thatchers” was trying to pack too much in. Perhaps the blame can be lain at the feet of Sherlock’s criminally short seasons of three feature length episodes. Story arcs flow a lot better when there’s more episodes for them to do so. As such, Season Four got off to a shaky start as it attempted to address the loose threads of Season Three, whilst setting the path for future episodes.

Whilst Sherlock was relishing the opportunity to pick apart Mary’s secrets, it turned out her hubby had some of his own. Fatherhood apparently had set in place an uncharacteristic ennui in the doctor that led him to contemplating an affair with a feisty redhead he’d met on the bus. Although he eventually gives up the chase, we will never know if he would have ever confessed to Mary his dalliances as, alas, “The Six Thatchers” saw Mary slain before the credits could roll.

And not by the vengeful Ajay, but by aged government receptionist Vivian (Marcia Warren) in a move that managed to prick Sherlock’s bravado. Having worked out that she was the one who had compromised the hostage rescue for her own shady gains, he cornered the receptionist with Mary and the police by his side. After confessing to her crimes, Vivian decides that if she’s going down she’s taking Holmes with her. Step forward – literally – Mary, who takes the bullet for Sherlock, thus ending her own life.

As Mary lies bleeding on the floor, imparting her last words to her husband and Sherlock, Abbington, Freeman and Cumberbatch should be applauded for ensuring the whole scene stayed on the right side of melodrama. Sherlock, as a show, struggles with the long game, narratively speaking, but it says a lot for all involved that Mary’s death actually felt like it meant something. Even if sacrificing herself for Sherlock felt a bit off. Yes, this is a show about Sherlock Holmes, but a character’s fate shouldn’t have to solely depend on him. She even left him a DVD with instructions on what to do after her death. Perhaps a better way for Mary to depart would have been at the hands of Ajay. Either way, she chose to go out on her own terms which is befitting her overall character.

With Mary dead, Sherlock stunned and John deflecting his own guilt onto his friend, Sherlock Season Four looks set to follow a dark path indeed. Let’s just hope the rush to pack in everything into this episode, including the kitchen sink, was worth it.