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The Monthlies: What We're Watching (November Edition)

It's that time of the month! The Blister Team are here to give you the lowdown on what they've been watching.

Ellie: Masterchef - The Professionals

BBC (2020)

Picture this: after a long afternoon staring into the brittle blue glow of your laptop screen, the soundtrack of ‘Sally, you’re on mute. Is she there? Sally? God I’m such a technophobe!’ rattling around in your poor overworked little brain, you change out of your day pyjamas into your night pyjamas and tune into Masterchef. And for one blissful, glorious, extraordinary month you get to go through this evening routine no less than three times a week. I am not going to even pretend that there are pros and cons. Masterchef is, and I would testify to this in court, the most reliably excellent series currently in production. Bite me.

I am a pretty substandard cook (my preferred roles are stirring and tasting), but boy, do I know when a rack of lamb is too pink, when a sauce hasn’t been reduced enough, and when - god forbid - a chocolate fondant has been in the oven too long. All thanks to the likes of Marcus Wareing, Monica Galetti, and John Torode, who have cultivated my TV-tastebuds every year, three times a year, for the last 7-8 years of my life.

Whether you’re flinching as a fearful first-round contestant botches a skills test (you moron Darren, how do you not know how to butterfly a mackerel?), smugly smiling as another misidentifies the herbs in the invention test, or salivating over a stunning signature dish whilst you pick at your own distinctly average stir fry; Masterchef is, in the words of the inimitable Greg Wallace, a delight.

Greg Wallace, Marcus Wareing and Monica Galetti standing in formation with their arms crossed in front of shelves of kitchen utensils, and the Masterchef logo
Masterchef: The Professionals (BBC, 2020)

Melissa: Grand Army

Netflix (2020)

As part of my “Things to watch on Netflix while I do the ironing” selection for this month, (I can’t be the only one who loves to whip out the ironing board in front of the telly) I came across Grand Army. I was unsure of this series at first because, quite frankly, I’ve had enough of teen dramas letting me down with poorly thought-out plots and subpar acting (Riverdale, the evil you have done in this world is enough…). However, I was drawn in by Grand Army’s intriguing trailer of rapidly moving montage shots: from students taking the knee at a school basketball game, to high-school parties, to bomb-safety drills, to a group of young black women laughing in each others’ arms. A ghostly saxophone rendition of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ plays throughout as the trailer ends with the words: “We need someone to hear us.” Needless to say - my curiosity was piqued.

Set in the Grand Army High School in New York, Grand Army focuses on the lives of five young people navigating the highs and lows of pre-adolescent life. After a terrorist attack in Brooklyn, each protagonist must deal with the shockwaves of a metaphoric bomb shattering their own lives. The show sensitively tackles racism, homophobia and sexual assault: painful themes which at times make for difficult viewing, but it is this emotional intensity that the show draws its strength from. We follow this diverse range of characters as they not only grapple with the typical high-school dramas of hidden crushes and impending essays, but also with who they are in an unfair world governed by acts of violence. We see that for these characters their existence in this world is political, and that the politics of their existence is not detached from the everyday, but a core component of it. This show is a welcome change to the teen-drama genre and if you’re looking for something that is less twenty-somethings playing fifteen-year-olds and more of a reflection of what it is to be a teenager in today’s world, then Grand Army might just be for you.

The poster for Grand Army, a splice of the main five characters in portrait, with serious looks on their faces
Grand Army (Netflix, 2020)

Sophie: This Way Up

Channel 4 (2020)

Frankly, I’m a little biased: Aisling Bea can do no wrong in my eyes. Nevertheless, this upsettingly-short, 6-part TV series is my favourite thing I’ve watched this year (and mate, it’s 2020, I’ve watched everything). Bea stars as the charming protagonist, still in a shaky recovery from a recent ‘teeny little’ mental breakdown, who cloaks her pain, as we on the British Isles tend to do, with razor-sharp, self-deprecating wit. As a producer/writer, Bea brilliantly explores chronic loneliness and wobbly mental health, themes which are all the more prevalent in our lives after a year of stay-at-home orders.

As an actor, Bea creates a deeply complex, flawed, yet powerfully candid character, who you can do nothing but adore. The relationship between Bea’s character, Aine, and her older sister, Shona (played by co-producer Sharon Hogan) is nothing short of beautiful; a tear-jerking, wonderfully real depiction of what it means to not only care, but deeply, distractingly worry for a struggling loved-one. I belly-laughed, I ugly-cried, and I angry-yelled when the next-episode automatic player ran out of episodes. Thankfully, many loose ends were left untied, and after its incredible reception, a second series is planned for filming in 2021.

Aine and Shona from This Way Up are huddled up in warm outfits outdoors, both crouched over a phone and smiling at what's on screen
This Way Up (Channel 4, 2020)

Neena: Utopia

Channel 4 (2013-14)

This month I dove into a cult favourite from 2013. Dennis Kelly’s Utopia, a dark comedy-thriller, follows a ragtag group of conspiracy theorists on their quest to discover the true meaning behind their favourite graphic novel: the eponymous Utopia. As they furrow deep into a dark underbelly of political corruption, medical manipulation and complex emotion, a horrific future looms, and the survival of humankind as we know it seems to be in their hands. This doomsday adventure is both unpredictable and unabashedly camp, highly stylised and anchored in great story-telling.

Fair warning: this show features both a global pandemic conspiracy, and a healthy dose of ecofascism… and it was created seven years prior to the dumpster fire that is 2020. But do not be deterred, Utopia is as eerily prescient as it is whimsical. Each hairpin bend in the plot, wacky character introduction, and graphic novel-inspired set, takes us on a journey that teeters between escapism and heightened reality. The creators artfully interweave comic book-style frames and transitions with buddy movie banter at a heart-racing pace. Bonus points for the variety of regional British accents on show.

The poster from the Utopia series, almost all bright yellow, the main character stands far right staring blankly into the distance, five other people are running away
Utopia (Channel 4, 2013-14)


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