gran

Happy birthday Nan

Poetry

Sit up, take note and hear this.
Right here is a lady with a generous spirit.
Look how she sits as she tackles problems in no mere fits and starts but launches right in, her face locked in a rictus grin as she wears her sleeve on her heart (or the other way round).

And now it’s her birthday, so it’s time to celebrate in the worse way.
It’s time to put on a party hat and curse and pray that her and her other half get up and do the funky chicken, cutting shapes and ripping up the dancefloor, giving all the other golden oldies a licking.

So now go ahead and raise a glass, to this birthday lady… with the generous heart.

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FOMO (Fear of missing out)

Poetry

Saturday night by the by, sitting alone checking your phone with no reply.
You check again and moan and sigh.
It’s your own fault really. You didn’t make plans, you never do.
When the weekend comes around you’re the one that’ll lose.

You could be a rebel and go out on your own, sod your phone you don’t need to be alone, stuck with the incessant drone of the TV.
You need to say to yourself, ‘Somewhere out there there’s a night that needs me.’

But you’re torn. Staying in is easy.

If you go out you’ll have to put on a face and be bright and breezy.
And unless you find some place super cool you know the music will be cheesy.
Surrounded by stuck-up girls and horny wankers and gold-digging chicks trying to bag a banker, you’re a little lost. To your bitter cost you learn you must choose your crowd carefully.
You need somewhere vibrant, interesting and different, with people that are carefree.
It’s such a challenge.
Go too far one way and you’ll be knee-deep in hipsters, unable to manage.

It’s like anything though. If you don’t go you’ll never know.
One of these days you’ll learn to deal with the rudeboys and hoes.
You’ll take them in your stride.
Your ability to rise above it all is like a badge of honour, one you wear with pride.

Yet even on a night out where you’re having a blast there’s a siren call in the back of your mind, like an echo from a distant past.
You should have stayed home.
Was it really that bad being alone?
The enemy, at the end of the day, was that stupid connected device you call your phone.

Like a pocket Jezebel it calls to you and wants you to go out and raise hell.
Playing on your fear of missing out it knows you’ll crack.
But you can’t turn it off or look away, it’s like a car crash and as addictive as smack.

So at the end of this rant is there a moral to this tale?
Is there a way to banish the fear or are you too far gone beyond the pale?
Only you can answer that.
One thing you should know though, whatever you do next Saturday night be at peace with your choice or the fear will consume you, trapping you in a tomb that leaves you in a blue mood.

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Take the red pill

Poetry

Feeling naughty, just hit 20 and I’m halfway to 40.
‘You laugh now son, you’ll blink and you’ll be 40′, my dad said, putting unwelcome thoughts into my adolescent head.
Jesus. At this rate it won’t be long until I’m dead, until I’ve shuffled off this mortal coil. Until, through hard graft and toil, I’m laying on a cold slab watching my soul call a cab as my beautiful brain and body spoils and sags.

We constantly joke about getting old because we don’t know when we’re going to go. If we did I’d be betting bold, so at the end of it all I’ve got something worthwhile to show.
Although who I’m showing I don’t know.
If there is a heaven, maybe my only way in is through laying low, avoiding temptation and just saying no?
But where’s the fun in that?
Do you really want a humdrum existence, one where your dignity remains intact?
What would you learn about yourself if you followed that path?

It’s time I hit you with a hard truth and one that will smart. Your plan will fail and not by half, it’ll come crashing down and you’ll sink fast.
Neither heaven nor hell await you but pergatory. A nothingless void.
In this there is no survival, you will be destroyed.

My advice to you?

Take the red pill. It will stick in your throat and you’ll feel ill, the pain will overwhelm and you’ll want to kill but persevere, quitting takes no skill.
As the drug takes effect you’ll once again be able to feel, your spidey senses will tingle as your body starts to chill.
But don’t be afraid or dismayed, you’re just going through change.

Coming out the other side you’re a butterfly, no longer shackled by the past you soar high, emotions hit you like a flood and you roar and cry.
You’re an eagle now you’re free.
All it took was one little pill and once again you could breathe.
In the end, all you had to do… was believe.

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Game of Thrones: season 5 review

TV

Are seasons of Game of Thrones getting shorter? Or are we just expecting more from them each time round? Or is it because the world is expanding and characters are all off on quests of their own that we barely get any time with each of them each episode?

What I do know is that, as George R. R. Martin’s world expanded in the books, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were left faced with a gargantuan challenge of getting this all on screen in a satisfying way. Also, the show has now – with some characters – pretty much overtaken the books, so we’re in slightly uncharted waters.

This has left the show’s producers and writers open to an unprecedented level of abuse from fans. With less of the original material to hide behind as they go on they’re exposed. Not that the changes they’ve made thus far are misguided, but fans are getting ever more demanding and increasingly protective of their precious characters of Westeros.

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This season is the leanest yet in terms of screen time for all the characters you know and love. There’s literally no fat in any of the episodes. Bang! We’re into Arya’s story, on her quest to become a faceless assassin and take out everyone on her kill list. Then bang! We cut straight to Tyrion’s journey to meet up with – and advise – Deanerys as she tries to get to grips with ruling a city that’s tearing itself apart.

Then there’s Stannis running about fruitlessly trying to win the north, Jon Snow saving far too many wildlings for his own good, Jaimie Lannister off on a foolhardy trip to Dorne to possibly lose his other hand, Cersei scheming and scheming and scheming too far, Sansa growing up fast and learning to play the game of thrones (although perhaps not learning quick enough). And the list goes on.

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It’s so tough that some characters barely get a look-in all season (Bran anyone? Rickon?). And the whole Dorne section (so detailed in the books) almost felt like it was shoehorned in for the show. I mean, can anyone explain the point in the Sand Snakes?

They’re supposed to be deadly but spent most of the time in jail or flanking their vengeful mother Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma) like a group of sexy – but rather superfluous – backing singers. Perhaps they would have been better off in a spin-off mini series.

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Ranting to one side there was still a lot to love about the season as a whole. Standout character arcs (and actor performances) for me included Cersei (Lena Headey) facing off against the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce), Jon Snow (Kit Harington) taking on white walkers and wrestling with the lonely job of a leader, Stannis (Stephen Dillane) making very hard decisions come the season’s closing episodes and Arya (Maisie Williams) becoming more ruthless as she learns the ways of the Many-Faced God.

Each had thrills, spills and proper Game of Thrones shocks. An impressive feat, given the already stellar four seasons that have come before it. What more could you want or ask for?

Roll on season six I say.

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Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD: season 2 review

TV

Continuing storylines from the first season of Marvel’s mildly successful Agents of SHIELD, Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and his team had to rebuild SHIELD, following its demise due to the resurgence of Hydra.

As you’d expect, Coulson came back fighting. This season, however, Hydra haven’t occupied the limelight, everyone’s favourite super cute hacker Skye (Chloe Bennet) has, with the story focusing on her quest to understand her newly gained powers, following her exposure to alien Terrigen crystals at the end of season one.

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With season two, the show has begun to introduce the Inhumans and tie Marvel’s universe closer together. This is good but in TV it’s a fine balance. You don’t have the budget of film (despite being backed by Marvel) so you can’t go too big on spectacle; plus the most interesting thing has – and always will be – the human element, the interaction between the characters. Any special powers on display are fun, but they’re just there to dazzle. What we care about is the fate of the SHIELD team, Coulson and the gang.

Mostly this latest season has stayed focused on powers and with Hydra taking a back seat the season’s antagonist duties fell to Skye’s increasingly deranged father (Kyle Maclachlan) and (spoiler) the introduction of her scheming mother Jiaying (Dichen Lachman). So it becomes, in the words of Sly and the Family Stone, a family affair.

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To a lesser extent we also have disgraced Agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) as a sort of plan B antagonist, largely sidelined for most of the season but pop ups here and there to cause a little mayhem. The rest of the gang are all still present and correct, but maybe a little tougher and a little wiser, in particular Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Gemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), whose ‘will they won’t they’ relationship becomes more fraught – and therefore more interesting – as the season goes on.

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Similarly another sub-plot involving Agent Bobbi Morse (Adrianne Palicki) and her on-off fella, fellow Agent Lance Hunter (Nick Blood) is sweet enough but mostly just filler (except when Bobbi fights of course, that’s worth the price of each episode alone).

The trouble with the whole show is that it lives in the shadow of Marvel’s epic films, which I’ll argue we’re all becoming a little desensitised to, in terms of scale and spectacle. So it’s difficult for the team to face a credible foe over the sustained period of a season. They had an evil Hydra bloke who liked to experiment on people with powers but, by the time they finally caught up with him Coulson shot him straight away.

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Perhaps this is a good thing. Keep changing up the baddie to keep the SHIELD gang – and by extension the audience – on their toes. Sometimes though, you just want a really clever, credible bad guy or girl. The show might be building up to that in season three with the Inhumans, so I guess we’ll see.

Despite my slight misgivings I do like the show and its tone and like spending time with the characters. They’re bright, breezy, sassy and kick ass (from time to time). They’re all slowly developing and evolving as the threats they face change, which is good to see. As long as it stays focused on keeping things human (and inhuman) then season three should be a fun ride.

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Spy: McCarthy prods buttock

Film

After lengthy success in TV (Gilmore Girls, Mike & Molly), Melissa McCarthy finally broke through to film in 2011’s Bridesmaids, almost stealing the whole thing from the rest of the cast. In 2013 she received critical and commercial acclaim for The Heat with Sandra Bullock and, last year, starred opposite Bill Murray in quirky comedy St. Vincent.

So she’s been building to a big project and here with Paul Feig’s Spy we have the result. McCarthy leads the show but is ably supported by a great cast (all having a ball) which includes Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Allison Janney, Miranda Hart and Jude Law.

McCarthy plays desk-bound CIA analyst Susan Cooper, who gets thrown into the field to foil a plot by evil baddie Rayna Boyanov (a bitchy Rose Bryne) to sell a nuclear weapon. From the off we see Susan on a headset advising charismatic agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law on fine, narcissistic form) as he dispatches bad guys with time to check his hair. Bond eat your heart out.

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Once the Americans learn Rayna is behind a plot to steal a nuke, CIA head Elaine (a pragmatic, spiky Allison Janney) realises none of their current agents can get near her as they’ll be recognised, so up steps Susan, sent off to a series of European locations on a mission to ‘track and report’ only. This disgusts loose cannon agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham), who ends up butting heads with her throughout the movie in a series of hilarious encounters (who knew Statham was this funny?).

As a writer-director Paul Feig has formed a stellar partnership with Melissa McCarthy; they’ve now done three films together (Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy) and she knows exactly how to make his material sing, comedically speaking. And in the world of funnies she’s really carved her own niche. Lazy critics might say McCarthy is the female Will Ferrell or, given Bridesmaids‘ common DNA with The Hangover, the female Zach Galifiniakis. Why she has to be the female equivalent of a male actor is beyond me, but that’s Hollywood and the media I guess, still a man’s world to the core.

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Back to Spy, the plot is relatively simple and merely a device for McCarthy to show Susan’s progression from timid analyst to kick ass spy, which she does convincingly. She’s surrounded by quite a lot of British talent too, from fellow analyst, ditzy Nancy (Miranda Hart) to lecherous ‘Italian’ Aldo (Peter Serafinowicz having the time of his life). So it’s an odd mix in a way, but it works well.

Spy has its tongue in its cheek the entire time and there’s barely a quiet moment to reflect on whether all the jokes are landing or not (most of them do). But none of this matters as you won’t be assessing it during (a sure sign the comedy is flagging); you’ll be with Susan on her journey in all its sweary glory. In the year of spy films coming out (The Man from UNCLE, Bond’s SPECTRE) it remains to be seen whether audiences will tire of this genre by the end of the year. If they don’t, there’s a high chance we’ll see a Spy 2 greenlit, so watch this space.

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Tomorrowland: daring to dream is no bad thing

Film

Walt Disney was a dreamer and a visionary, there’s no doubt about that. Beyond his theme park he created the EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) centre. He wanted a futuristic community to flourish where inventors could invent and dreamers could dream, free from life’s issues – and EPCOT was the start of that journey.

These days EPCOT is thought of as the permanent World’s Fair, but nothing more, if we’re being brutally honest. Disney’s vision never really came to pass.

Fast-forward to 2015 and modern-day dreamers Brad Bird (The Incredibles) and Damon Lindelof (Lost, The Leftovers) took on the challenge of bringing it to life, on the big screen at least. The results are mixed, but at least they dared to dream.

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Plot wise our story starts with Frank (George Clooney) and Casey (Britt Robertson) recounting their tale – to camera – of how it all happened. We flashback to Frank’s childhood where he meets Athena (Raffey Cassidy) and discovers Tomorrowland in all its inventive pomp and wonder. We then jump forward to modern times and how Casey meets Athena and later on Frank, and how she learns that the wondrous version of Tomorrowland she’s seen may not be the reality. Plus there’s some shady characters after them, of course.

These days, getting a completely new blockbuster off the ground is a hard task. You need to set up the world, introduce the characters, then give them something to fight for (which the audiences believes in too). In the case of Tomorrowland all this takes a while. We follow events from Casey’s point of view and, as teenage heroines are all the rage lately, we’re expecting her to kick ass and take names, sort of. But that doesn’t really happen, she’s no Katniss Everdeen and it’s not that kind of film.

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Whilst there’s peril it’s more your Saturday-afternoon-for-all-the-family kind of peril. I recently saw director Brad Bird’s debut film, an animation called The Iron Giant. It’s wonderfully sweet with some great character moments. Critics panned it at the time but it’s since become thought of as a modern animation classic.

Will Tomorrowland go the same way?

It’s hard to tell right now. It’s by no means a bad film, but maybe the concept has a few too many holes and the plot needed a tweak or two to really sing.

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Fundamentally, the problem lies in the fact that it takes far too long to actually get to Tomorrowland. Like Casey, we’re itching to get there but frustrated until the film’s final third. By all means take your time if you’re adapting literary material (allowing a few films to get to Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings is completely acceptable) but holding back the land we’ve come to see until almost the end is rather mean-spirited.

Perhaps Lindelof as the writer is to blame. With Lost he kept so much hidden until almost the show’s final season that, as a viewer, you went a little mad. C’mon, show us the good stuff!

This wouldn’t matter if the early vision Casey – and the audience – see of Tomorrowland wasn’t so enticing. But it is. Bird and Lindelof have let their imagination run wild and as Casey frolics with gay abandon through the land there’s so much on screen to take in. It’s a visual treat and put me in mind of Guillermo del Toro’s troll market in Hellboy II (if that had a 1960s aesthetic and was bathed in sunshine. Maybe Hellboy meets The Jetsons).

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Back on earth – and halfway through the film – there’s a tense but thrillingly exciting sequence at Frank’s house where Casey and Frank flee the bad guys. His inventions are, well, highly inventive and cinematically pleasing (although they veer a little towards Men In Black at times). More of that would have been welcomed, as long as it served the characters. But all that stuff is just fancy trimmings, the meat on the bones is the plot and it needed more love.

So it’s fun, inventive, a nice love letter to Disney and dreamers but, plot wise, you may end up feeling like you’re stuck in a queue on one of Disney’s rides you weren’t entirely sure you wanted to take.

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The backpacker

Poetry

Snapping straps at the airport giving little thought when you hear the last call.
Brimming with hope and ambition, yet suddenly feeling so small.
On a mission to meet new people, see new things, to experience the world and whatever it brings. The more you see the more your heart sings.

That first foot off the plane feels insane yet so right. You’re on your own now as your ride takes flight.
So… Where do you go now? What do you do?
You’d better find a place to stay pronto, that much is true.

Straps cutting your shoulders and weighing you down, you step out the airport and get lost in the crowd.
Accosted by sellers hawking their goods, but it’s nighttime now and everyone’s strange, cloaked in mysterious hoods.

The sights! The smells!

It’s a heady rush. You embrace the crowd and join the steady crush.
The onslaught of new sensations turns your mind to mush… but in a good way.
Discovering places new has turned your world Technicolor, when it used to be grey.

You’re travelling now.

This is the perfect excuse to change, to use your brain, to rearrange the way you think.
But now isn’t the time, you’re on a packed bus overwhelmed by the stink.
Opening your eyes to the sunrise you realise, to your surprise, you’ve just witnessed the demise of your old life.
This thought strikes you like a cold knife and sets you free.
You rattle the foreign coins in your pocket. Reassuringly, feeling them fills you with glee.

The world is your oyster. You’re staring at the harbour now, feeling boisterous.
Which boat do you take? Where do you go?
Sailing down this river will be another string to add to your travel bow.
You check your pockets and tighten your straps.
It’s time to go.
You don’t look back.

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Mad Max: Is it Furiosa enough?

Film

Mel Gibson made his name with the Max Max films and, in Max Rockatansky, he created a character that demanded your attention. He might not say much verbally, but you understood his intent, and indeed his intensity of purpose.

Stepping into his shoes three decades later is a man who’s already made his name in intense roles elsewhere, Tom Hardy. Great casting. And with the director of the original films, George Miller, on board you feel this new version is in safe hands.

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Not that you want safe from a Mad Max film, but you get the idea. With very little setup we’re straight into Max being captured by a gang of white-skinned, deformed ‘War Boys’ led by Predator look-alike Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). They take him back to their base of operations and, through a series of events, he meets Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), fleeing the gang with Joe’s prized possessions in tow, his ‘breeders’/wives/concubines, adorned in flowing robes and all stunningly beautiful women (including supermodels Rosie Huntingdon-Whiteley and Abbie Lee Kershaw), standing out like shining lights in this apocalyptic and desolate desert world.

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They flee here and they flee there. And that’s about it as far as the plot goes. But plot isn’t really what you want from a Mad Max film. You want excess, depravity, modified cars, huge explosions, deranged gangs, and a sense of a world gone to hell.

Well… You get all that and then some.

Miller looks like he’s had quite a few ideas brewing the past few decades as there’s so many detailed touches and insane concepts on the screen that you don’t quite know where to look half the time, or what to think. From large, busty women hooked up to milking machines to War Boys spraying their lips with chrome paint and getting high off Max’s blood, it’s like a shot of flaming sambuca straight in your face whilst you’re hooked up to an electric torture chair. And you’ll love it for that.

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The action set pieces (of which there are many) are done with as little CGI as possible and they’re truly awe-inspiring. Filmed largely in the desert in Namibia, it must have been a nightmare for the cast and crew. Happily, their suffering was not in vain as this is one epic thrill ride. It has downtime too (although not much), so you don’t get burnout from all the mayhem.

Character wise, Theron as Furiosa is inspired. Missing half an arm and covered in black grease, she’s learnt to survive in this world and past horrors are alluded to. She gives Furiosa depth and vulnerability with a nice steely side, providing a welcome contrast to Hardy’s Max, who says very little but speaks volumes when he does.

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If I had a criticism it would be that I felt Max could be a little more furious and unhinged. Even in the most dire circumstances he seems fairly calm and collected. There’s a few moments which nod to a past where he failed to protect his loved ones – and this is done in a manner which suggests he’s losing his grip on reality. More of that would have been welcomed, as we know Hardy can do method and he can definitely do madness (see Bronson), but here he seems restrained. Miller should have let him off the leash – as he did for almost everyone else on the cast.

Overall though, this is hugely entertaining, edge-of-your-seat stuff. Team this with the recently released John Wick and you’ll have one crazy night ahead of you, cinematically speaking.

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The Following season 3: Hardy hits the bottle

TV

It was only a matter of time before Kevin Bacon’s haunted FBI agent Ryan Hardy went to the dark side. Know thine enemy and all that. For two seasons The Following pitted him against James Purefoy’s charismatic serial killer Joe Carroll, to the point where they became two sides of the same coin.

A literal life or death bromance.

And that was great. Audiences – including myself – loved those scenes. Bacon played his conflicted as the good guy with dark, self-destructive compulsions, and Purefoy simply revelled in helping those come out of him. Like a sort of TV version of Emperor Palpatine seducing Anakin (Star Wars reference there people).

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For season 3 Carroll is (sadly) locked up, so new villains take centre stage and we inevitably lose a lot of what made the show so compelling. First, his mentor Dr Strauss, who is ok as far as bad guys go, but pales in the charisma stakes if I’m honest. Then, Strauss’ so-called ‘best student’ is introduced, the one other serial killers are afraid of, Theo Noble (Michael Ealy).

As a new character he’s got a few strings to his bow. Being an ace hacker helps keep him off the grid and he’s smarter than most of the minions Hardy normally faces. As an actor Ealy has presence but, yet again, he’s no James Purefoy.

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There’s an air of carry-on-regardless about this season. As if the writers realised they’ve written out their best, most interesting and most charismatic character and are up serial killer creek without a bullet proof vest. They do their best to keep bringing him back in different ways but it just wasn’t enough.

For season 3 we’re quite a few episodes in before Hardy even visits Carroll in prison. Carroll’s first line to Hardy is, ‘What took you so long?’. I imagine the show’s producers – and indeed the show’s fans – were asking this question too. (Incidentally, this is exactly what happened with Homeland and Damien Lewis, although the show has just about recovered and evolved from his departure, but that’s another story.)

Hey ho though, the show must go on.

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As the season progresses Theo’s hold over his ordered life of killing (obviously) unravels, forcing Hardy to go to darker and darker places to stop him, pretty much cementing his status as our go-to, twisted antihero, particularly for the season’s final third, which sets him up as a vigilante ready for a crusade all of his own.

If The Following makes it back for a fourth season it would be interesting to see how this progresses and expands. A huge change of direction could be welcome.

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If in some way they could keep the show’s regulars still involved to a degree (like Jessica Stroup’s Max Hardy and Shawn Ashmore’s Mike Weston) then great. But if they did have to lessen their roles to take the show in a new direction, I think I could live with that. Change, after all, is progress.

Hardy needs decent foes to face though. None of these bargain basement killers that couldn’t charm their way out of a paper bag. Another James Purefoy is the order of the day. Or, better yet, a charismatic lady to mix it up. Instead of a bromance he could be drawn to her romantically, yet unable to come to terms with her dark side. That could work.

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On that note: Come the season’s final third (slight spoiler ahead) we were introduced to a shadowy, glamorous woman called Eliza (Annet Mahendru), who seemed to hold the key to a hidden world of high society killers. This gives Hardy his purpose for the next season and maybe she’ll become his future nemesis. Although I suspect she’s part of a much larger organisation and we’ll have another big baddie (or two) to look forward to next time round.

Ps. Turns out, having written this piece, that the show is indeed now cancelled. Typical. And, whilst this means a fourth season isn’t planned, website Design & Trend have suggested some interesting spin off ideas. See them here. I largely suggested a Ryan Gone Rogue one here in my blog, but there’s some others that could work well.