Friday, June 12, 2009

Mistresses: Volume One

Described on the DVD box as “a British drama for the Sex & the City set”, Mistresses follows exactly the same framework by featuring four thirty-something women acting as a support network for each other as they pursue various romantic relationships. However, where Sex & the City spent a large amount of time on the comedic and frequently over-the-top elements of those relationships, Mistresses is deadly serious all the time. The show airs on BBC America here, but its highly melodramatic content makes it seem like a much more natural fit for Lifetime.

Admittedly, I’m not the target demographic for this series, so I asked my better half to join me in my viewing marathon. She was tired of the show before the end of the second episode. Here’s the thing: it’s just not fun. The serious tone of the show saps any real zing out of it, and the situations the characters are placed in frequently make the women seem weak, unprofessional, and naïve, so it’s far from a prime example of female empowerment. That leaves the actresses as the only reason to watch, but since they’re saddled with such unsympathetic characters and lackluster stories there’s little they can do to rescue the show.

Only one of the four women is married, but of course that marriage isn’t going well. Her husband and her are trying to get pregnant, and his unwavering obsession with ensuring that conditions are optimal for pregnancy at the expense of any romance leads her eyes to wander to a sexy co-worker. Mistress #2 was married until she lost her husband in the 9/11 attacks, and since then she’s been completely alone. When she receives a 9/11 settlement check that makes her an instant millionaire, she also falls under the spell of a hunky bachelor who may have his eyes on more than just her. Mistress #3 is some sort of psychiatrist mourning the death (which she assisted) of one of her patients who was also her lover, but she is also drawn to his son who happens to be her patient as well. And finally, Mistress #4 is a wedding planner who regularly sleeps with her male boss until she decides she’s bi-curious just in time to throw a wrench into the lesbian wedding she’s organizing.

So let’s take a count here: three out of four of these bimbos are having very unprofessional relationships with people they met in their line of work. The psychiatrist is on her 2nd affair…in the same family! Apparently she didn’t learn her lesson the first time. The wedding planner boinks her boss and could have hit on anyone for her foray to the other side, but instead selected her soon-to-be-married client. And the married one is stupid enough to sleep with her co-worker multiple times without protection…hmm, I wonder what will happen there? In this man’s opinion, it’s frankly demeaning to women that these women are portrayed as so emotionally weak that they’re powerless to give in to their carnal desires in the workplace. Only the widow seems to have a somewhat traditional romance, but she might or might not be a bit batty with her belief that her dead husband is calling her every time she gets a phone call with nobody on the other end.

There are so many better shows that viewers could devote their time to in place of this mess. The plot threads are telegraphed out so far in advance that there are really no surprises to be had by continued viewing, and the characters ultimately become more tiresome than entertaining. However, viewers who want to struggle through will find plenty of content in this set. Although it’s housed in a standard single DVD case, they somehow managed to cram four full discs into it that contain all 12 hour-long episodes from Series 1 and 2. The bonus features are weak, containing only a brief featurette on the making of the show and some cast interviews.

Mistresses is now available on DVD.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009


It’s surprising to find noted film actor/director Kenneth Branagh starring in a tv production, especially one that seems closer to CSI than Shakespeare, but Wallander is a suitable vehicle for his talents. For those unfamiliar with the property, the character of Kurt Wallander originated in a best-selling series of nine crime fiction novels by Swedish author Henning Mankell. All nine novels were subsequently made into films in Sweden, and in the past few years a new Swedish series based on original stories was also produced. Now the mighty BBC has joined in the fun with this latest production featuring a British cast playing the Swedish characters.

Wallander is a humorless, driven detective working in the sleepy town of Ystad in southern Sweden. He’s separated from his wife, distant from his father and daughter, and completely consumed by his work. Once he latches onto a case, he devotes every fiber of his being to its closure, leaving him frequently short on sleep, exercise, proper nutrition, and nurturing relationships. In short, he’s let himself go to seed and doesn’t seem to get any joy out of his life or career, but keeps doggedly plugging away anyway. Unfortunately for him, there’s no shortage of grisly murder cases in his idyllic town. Branagh nails the world-weary nature of the character, and while he’s not exactly a sympathetic character he’s clearly a fully-developed and intriguing one.

Oddly, as mentioned before, this is a British production that passes itself off as a Swedish property. It’s disconcerting to hear these supposedly Swedish characters speak of being “knackered” and other similar Brit phrases while clearly existing in Sweden, making it seem like the series should have been transplanted to the UK. This is addressed in the bonus features where the producers point out that the setting of Ystad is so integral to the material that they couldn’t dream of setting it elsewhere. Basically, it’s not just about the crimes, but the setting in which they’re committed, as the source novels apparently have much to say about the changing socioeconomic climate of Sweden as contrasted with the gruesome, almost otherworldly murders concocted by the writers. In one episode, a rape victim douses herself with gasoline and torches herself in front of Wallander in the middle of a beautiful field of flowers. In another, a victim’s eyes are burned out with acid. The series never shies away from showing the explicit physical results of the murders, but also does a fine job of vividly establishing a strong sense of the place they’re committed.

The new two-disc DVD box set includes all three feature-length Wallander episodes produced to date, along with a healthy assortment of bonus features. In the longest feature, a fellow crime fiction writer visits the real world settings in Ystad used in the novels before sitting down with original author Mankell for an in-depth conversation about his history and motivation as well as the larger picture of the monumental changes in Sweden during his lifetime, from the murders of two prime ministers to the country’s failure to properly integrate immigrants allowed such free entry into their country via its utopian ideals. In another feature, Branagh and Mankell sit down to discuss the Wallander character. All of the features are insightful and above-par, well worth watching for viewers interested in the character or just additional perspective on the country of Sweden.

Wallander is now available on DVD.

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