Discover more from The Urban Lily Talks Tropes
What I've been watching 23 December 2022
Mea culpa. I’ve been hibernating under the radar the past week completely riveted by the Inspector Morse spin-off sequel Lewis. I completed 8 seasons in about 5 days in between a barn fight with the final chapter of my Little Women fanfic that I’ve developed a love-hate relationship with. Taking the time out to watch Lewis reminded me of why the British are still the unacknowledged masters of the police procedural and why it is I find myself pulling hair over K and C crime shows brimming with potential only to see them limping towards the finishing line before collapsing. Part of the British success in large part has to do with their long-standing roots in the genre but also their concerted effort to prioritize quality over quantity in every respect. It’s a testament to the writing talent that an episodic show like Lewis (just like its predecessor Inspector Morse) set in Oxford manages to be both intriguing and literate at the same time. More than anything else the core characters especially the camaraderie between the male leads are fleshed out in a way that doesn’t undermine our respect for them. Following on from the formula that made Morse a popular series, the show’s chief duo might not agree all the time but they deal with conflict like adults — with grace and humour. Lewis and Hathaway are not types but two individuals grappling with their place in the world. The dialogue/banter is absolutely delicious and I lap up every single line with girlish glee. I love the understated hostility between adversaries that only a country famous for its “stiff-upper lip” approach to life can pull off. Of course part of the appeal of a show that revolves around a university is that I am often reminded of my postgraduate days at one of my country’s oldest universities and seeing academic rivalries play out so bitterly true to my remembrances.
The other half and I caught two episodes of Chernobyl last night and I can safely say that it lives up to the hype. It’s a disaster story that manages to be both haunting and mesmerizing at the same time. It’s been called a horror masterpiece and it’s not hard to see why with the way sound and cinematography are used. While it certainly considers the transience of human existence in a meaningful way, the real horror of the entire fiasco (which I am old enough to remember reading about in the news) is how government bureaucracy demonstrates the worst kind of villainy in a crisis that spirals out of control. The reality is that the state apparatus rather than servicing the populace, becomes a tool to perpetuate convenient narrative at the cost of the truth leading to a potentially larger catastrophe. The storytelling is without any exaggeration masterful, capped off by first rate production values. And of course Jared Harris and Stellan Skarsgard are terrific.
It’s been over 3 decades since I’ve completed a Hong Kong television drama. I saw Forensic JD pop up on my Viki feed and in a weak moment of procrastination I took a peek and found myself moving through the episodes in eagerness. As the title indicates, it’s a CSI style police procedural with a hint or two of melodrama that gets bogged down by a schmaltzy “love conquers all” message that doesn’t sit well with the sinister crime elements. The drama stars Charlene Choi as the titular JD aka Jane Doe a hypersensitive forensic pathologist and Taiwanese actor Joseph Chang as the lead cop. The romance is not what I object to but the cringey faux love triangle that underlies the female villain’s relentless agenda against the female lead. Behind much of the chaos is a secret society that’s pulling strings which should in principle gives the showrunners plenty of mileage for plot. That side of things feels hurried but they’re obviously leaving the door open for another series of murder and mayhem. It’s not a terrible drama (the science and tech is interesting) although it demands a great deal of suspension of disbelief on the part of the more discerning viewer as the team lurches from crisis to crisis. It’s a bearable watch for 12 episodes but really doesn’t live up to its potential.
I don’t think anyone should be watching Thank You, Doctor for its “will they, won’t they” romance . It is first and foremost a medical drama that provides a platform to tell patients’ backstories. There’s little doubt that it does a decent job of highlighting social problems afflicting the Mainland as they navigate the pitfalls of modernity. But the core characters apart from a few exceptions are poorly written to fill in airtime. There’s of course an element of “Physician, Heal Thyself” which doesn’t come to any satisfying resolution both as part of Xiao Yan’s (Yang Mi) character arc or that of her colleagues who gossip incessantly about things they have no knowledge of. As far as characters are concerned Bai Yu and his character are the saving grace of this show. Bai Zhu while a great diagnostician is an arrogant surgeon who does need to be taken down a peg or two which does happen due to his dynamic with Xiao Yan. In her case, however, the script is something of a let down. There’s not much to her character line in the script (she’s someone for Bai Zhu to be challenged by and to fall for) and Yang Mi’s limitations as a performer also comes to the fore. There’s very little nuance in her acting and the fact that their push and pull doesn’t get resolved until the 11th hour doesn’t give her much scope for growth. In her case, a better written romance would have given her something else to sink her teeth into.
Yang Mi certainly does better in She and Her Perfect Husband because she has a variety of different dynamics with the rest of the cast from contract husband Xu Kai to her unreliable employers. Unlike what I had initially been led to think (no thanks to misleading trailers and English title), this drama is actually a legal drama in the tradition of Suits rather than a contract romance. The romance exists to support her legal career and Xu Kai’s character is much more of a support act than one might be led to believe from the online marketing. Personally, I’m not averse to it. I enjoy a decent legal drama but I can see why there’s so much audience angst especially from those who signed up to see romance in action. For me Xu Kai’s antisocial character, Yang Hua, is really one of the highlights of this semi-satirical look at contemporary corporate China. He’s a contrarian and he lives with it as a badge of honour. Yet he’s still polite and thoughtful when the need arises. Everyone else is scrambling to climb the careerist ladder but he’s content to stay at home with his pet turtle and eventually romance his lady love. Obviously there’s humour in that but he also represents a particular perspective about the inherent absurdities of the rat race that everyone’s too busy scrambling around in to notice. He’s deliberately positioned as the outsider in a farce that’s playing out both in the drama world and the real one. I intend to do a much fuller review of this once I get to the end of the series. Suffice to say, I’m enjoying it but not necessarily for the reasons I was led to believe coming into it. Viewing this show as satire helps the bitter pill go down — meaning putting up with the characters I don’t particularly like and tolerate the bad ideas that are being trumpeted by characters as “facts” and “truths”.
I can see why she picked both roles as a maturing actress even with the mixed results. Both are certainly much more befitting of someone of her industry stature than being forced to play 18 year old girls in historical dramas.