Tuesday, March 3, 2015

TV Watch: Peaky Blinders - recommended

We've been watching the BBC series, now streaming on Netflix, Peaky Blinders.  In BBC or HBO big-budget style, the show is only 6 episodes per season, but the production is incredible per episode with top flight talent in front of, and as near I can tell, behind the camera.



Our resident music snobs will like the soundtrack.  Though the setting is 1919 Birmingham, England, the show makes excellent use of Nick Cave in season 1 (including use of "Red Right Hand" as the credits track) and, as we've just cracked season 2, they've subbed in Ms. Polly Jean Harvey.  The music fits shockingly well against the late Industrial Age backdrop as working-class gangs move like sharks through the factory workers, IRA sympathizers, nascent communists and blue-clad cops on dirt streets in flat caps and tweed.

Season 1 playlist
Season 2 partial playlist

You can't get thrown by the name of the show (the name of the family-based gang at the center of the show) any more than you can get thrown by the accents and patter unfamiliar to American ears, but all of it understandable enough.

The lead of the show, Thomas Shelby, is played by Cillian Murphy - most recognizable to Americans as The Scarecrow from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises.  The cops out to get the gang are led by Jurassic Park's Sam Neill.  One of my favorite characters is Tommy's Aunt Polly, played by Helen McCrory, who you might have seen as Draco Malfoy's mother in the Harry Potter films and briefly in Skyfall.  I hear Thomas Hardy shows up here in Season 2, so I'm ready for that.




At six episodes, the first season didn't really have time to screw around with hyper-extended plots but it never feels rushed.  The episodes essentially follow the turning point in the Peaky Blinder's career from small-time hoods to the beginnings of taking over regional control of legalized betting at the horse tracks and other associated businesses.  By blind luck, the Blinders have also accidentally stolen a crate of machine guns intended for military use, and this has drawn the attention of the newly arrived police chief.

Family drama, leftover business from time in the trenches, intergang warfare, communists and the IRA all find their way into the story, making it feel lived in and well defined.

I wouldn't say the show is one to watch with the kids.  Definitely an R-Rating at the movies and a TV-14 at home, but it never feels excessive - just the world of the Shelby family.

Frankly, I don't have much to say on it other than a strong recommendation and a note of surprise that the show hasn't gotten more press or discussion out there.  It's as rock solid as anything else out there on FX, AMC, HBO or otherwise, and has as many threads to follows as any of those shows.  I suspect that the name and the accents have sound odd to the American ear, but it's worth a look see for at least the pilot to give it a chance.  After all, it's on Netflix.  It's not like you have to go anywhere to see it.



3 comments:

J.S. said...

We watched the first episode of the show, and I wasn't very impressed and never went back. I found the plotlines unimaginative, the characters sort of clichéd, and even though I like the music, I found it distracting and out of place given the content. You're like the third person who's recommended it now, though, so I guess I should give it a second try. Maybe it'll develop and grow on me?

Ryan Steans said...

Well, first, it's one of those shows that I only expect a smart, more refined audience is going to get, so it's no surprise the appeal flew right past you. (He's my brother, audience, if I can't give him a hard time, there's no one I can razz)

I hate to be cliche about all this, because I kind of hate it when people tell me to watch several hours of TV in order to get a show, but by the second episode I was pretty well in. I don't know that it does anything that NEW, exactly, but I found the execution fantastic and - yeah - it might take an extra episode to get over the cognitive disconnect of music vs. era.

But, you know, if you want to go back to championing King of Queens instead, that's your deal.

Gerry Lopez said...

It's been on my radar for a while. Your recommendation and that playlist are all I needed to hear. Of course I gotta find the time now.