Spoiler Room, #S1 Ep1

The best television series for cathode vampires and sybarites of the flat screen

Addicted to the cathode drug? Can’t live without your daily dose of television fiction? Do you need a dealer to get you the best dope and bring it to your door? The wait is over. Here comes the first season of Spoiler Room, PlayGround’s TV series column.

Television series are the new pop cocaine – the cause of bloodied knuckles and bags under the eyes that weigh a kilo - another item to add to the list of cultural pastimes that make us more nerds and less people. It isn’t hard to feel hooked on this very powerful drug. Series go much more to the bone than films do; they stay with us for much longer, making us so familiar with the characters that we end up considering them members of the family. Series eat hours and hours out of your social time, they barge their way into your life with their fists, and they stick to your skin like the smell of the sticky shit that you stepped in. In fact, when one of your favourites ends, the mourning period can be long, painful, and as gloomy as anything. A total abyss.

PlayGround couldn’t overlook a phenomenon of this size. We know that there are thousands of freaks out there stuck on this form of entertainment, people who need the latest episode of “Breaking Bad” just as badly as they need the latest single from Burial. Without series in your sack, it’s hard to be somebody in today’s society: football, music, and film no longer entirely dominate conversations at the dinner table. Now you have to go everywhere knowing “Game Of Thrones” by heart, with several theories ready to explain the mysteries of “Alcatraz,” and a notebook with the official zombie body count from “The Walking Dead.”

In this column, we’ll keep you up to date on the hottest, most recommendable international premières, our favourite characters, and the biggest television news, as well as pointing out the box-sets you can’t live without. The idea is to show you the best and the newest, without your having to suffer the tyranny of television programming. We won’t settle for the most obvious, whenever possible: the aim will be to mention the most recent things, to talk about it before anyone else does. You only have to sit back on your sofa, let the Panasonic Viera breathe, pour yourself a drink, and light up a fat one. Yours truly will take care of the rest.

1. Main Feature

This Is England 2012. England manufactures series from the guts — in fact, it spews them out all over the rug. Watching their best thrillers is like eviscerating your home television and taking out metres and metres of cathode intestines until you get to the final credits and the operation is over. Cruelty, spite, complexity, black humour, predatory spirit, and a liberal dose of quality are measured out in very small doses in American storylines (they are more interested in quantity than quality); but they are abundant in the recent titles of British television programming, especially when it comes to suspense. With only two episodes broadcast as I am writing these lines, “Inside Men” has entered my plasma like a knuckle blow to your Adam’s apple, and my jaw has just about dropped from my face in amazement at how hard the scriptwriters must be gritting their teeth as they wrack their grey matter.

First came “Luther” (BBC), with Idris Elba (Stringer Bell is British, incredible but true) offering a performance as a hunter of psychopaths tending towards a serotonin imbalance. For the moment, two seasons of detective craftsmanship show up 90% of its American equivalent series. Then came “The Hour” (BBC), spy fiction set in 50s London, with Detective McNulty from “The Wire” changing his register radically, no longer hiding his accent under tons of Baltimore slang. Later “The Shadow Line” landed (BBC, again), a police thriller, precise, perfect, and with a script written by Hugo Blick, the new prodigy of British television - a gifted writer able to imagine an intrigue of advanced mathematics that works like a symphony. It’s a masterpiece whose pieces fit together masterfully in the final moments, creating the most solid, intricate, and absorbing television of last year. And if that wasn’t enough, at the end of 2011 – so far towards the end that it escaped the power of attraction of the lists - “Black Mirror” was broadcast almost in secret (Channel 4). It's a micro-series divided into three self-contained films - each lasting an hour - that set out the dangers of mass communication and the dark side of the new virtual networks with no holds barred. Irreverent, caustic, rabidly amoral: that’s my fervent recommendation.

Big Deal on Madonna Street. With this breeding ground - with British series on a victory roll against the flood of Yankee shit - the BBC once again tests the gourmet’s taste buds, betting on another television production short in running time but long on quality. Without commercial ties, recognisable formulas, and fluffy fireworks to hypnotize the common folk. This is serious. From its flamboyant beginning, “Inside Men” stands to become, unanimously among those who have already had a taste of it, the definitive series on robberies. The plot is simple, despite the complexity of its development. We enter into the world of a grey company that is dedicated to counting and storing cash — cold and hard, and billed in obscene amounts in shopping centres, restaurants, banks, supermarkets, etc. Three members of the company’s staff - mired in routine work and apathetic personal lives without any greater incentive than to go to work, eat, defecate, sleep, and go back to work - decide to take the leap of faith into amorality and organise an exemplary robbery. That is to say, to empty their company’s money warehouse, in the most notorious criminal story of the United Kingdom.

The series sucks you in with the strength of the heart of the action, starting with the images of the robbery and showing the attack in all of its crudity, then rewinding unexpectedly to six months earlier - teasing out the reasons that lead the central trio to leave behind their unnoticed, quiet existence to become white-gloved crooks. With intermittent bursts of flashbacks, the story unwinds, showing all of its hidden folds in the typical rhythm of thrillers forged in the BBC. The dramatic flow is split into two very clear sections. On one hand, we have the robbery and the shots of adrenalin, and on the other, the psychological exploration of the perpetrators of the crime. Two speeds that complement each other perfectly and help you to get through this plot-line full of traps without a scratch.

Scriptwriter Tony Basgallop has assured that beyond its attractive outer layer of suspense, “Inside Men” is a series that takes a special interest in the process that leads three men trapped in the spider’s web of an insipid life to cross over to the wild side. What makes that security guard whom you never say hello to, or that bloke in the brown suit whom you never hold the door of the lift for decide, one fine day, to take the leap into the terrifying abyss of criminality? Psychological depth, action structured in the format of a time kaleidoscope, a teasing dose of suspense, and (as could be no other way with a BBC series) high-quality actors at the helm. Consumers of British caviar will recognise several of the usual faces from “Luther” in “Inside Men.” The fabulous Steve Mackintosh shows his stuff once again in a plum role - dominating without a single superfluous expression, with that impassable sneer, the minutes of the series with the highest-quality performance.

So we are looking at a select delicacy, seasoned with blood and calculating coldness, a superior series that reminds one of “The Shadow Line” for its complexity, staging, and concentration – just four one-hour episodes. However, you may be sure, dear reader, those four hours will be worth more than all of the seasons of “Criminal Minds,” “Lie To Me,” and “The Mentalist” combined.

2. Candidate for an Emmy

Cult personalities from the television jungle. Today, Chester ‘Ace’ Bernstein

Dust To Dustin. David Milch, one of the great scriptwriters from American television, the writer responsible for cult series like “Deadwood” or “John From Cincinnati,” has given Dustin Hoffman a character who stinks of award possibilities. The former Rain Man has been given a new lease on life in his old age, being offered the chance to enter the skin of Chester ‘Ace’ Bernstein, the main character of “Luck” - the best première on HBO so far this year. Hoffman is as at home in this intrigue of betters, horse races, scheming outside of the law, and wise-guys as a king is in his palace. His character is one of those that grows from the inside out, earning respect with a simple look, a disapproving expression, a whisper. Hoffman hadn’t offered such a demonstration of strength and overwhelming contention for a long time. In spite of his wrinkles and his shrinking body — with a fantastic head stuck onto it, for the record — this punter with Mafia connections imposes, gives you the willies, lets you know with an almost inaudible grunt that you had better not try to get smart with him. ‘Ace’ is, in summary, the classic polite, silent son of a bitch who would break your knees for spilling your drink on him in a discotheque. A Hollywood star rescued from memory and brought up-to-date for a series that will surely win him back the recognition lost some time ago, even among his fans. Yes, it seems that he is back. And he wants awards. Dustin Hoffman. They say in Spain that old chickens make for the most succulent broth.

3. Cliff-hanger news

“House”: brain dead. Bulging eyes, scratchy beard, blazer with a t-shirt, a pocket full of pills, Nike Dual Shock, the weight of his body leaning on a cane, slightly faded jeans… I confess with the marks of the Gillette still fresh on my wrists: I’m going to miss Greg. The executives at Fox have already confirmed that the eighth will be the last season of “House”.

And it’s not that the network has decided to give the lethal injection: it turns out that Hugh Laurie doesn’t want to continue to portray the good doctor. It seems that the British actor has been offered all the tea in China, Aladdin’s lamp, Medusa’s head, Pegasus’ mane - and even the transplant of the Devil’s tail - but he is thoroughly fed up and wants to follow his more bohemian urges. In other words, to dedicate himself to his debatable musical career.

Although “House” was a formula series more predictable than a Real Madrid home game, I have to admit that I hate to lose a character who is such a son of a bitch. I won’t miss the setting, to tell the truth, especially at a time that the medical alibi was no longer even slightly interesting — but I will miss the bastard.

Greg House had entered my body by now: his incorrigible tendency towards self-destruction, his misanthropy, and that childish war of extreme dirty tricks with Wilson will forever be remembered by yours truly, as well as continuing to give rise to cheap imitations. Let’s not fool ourselves, the model of the arrogant, impossible, asocial man has flourished on television thanks to this series. All we fans can do is pray that the scriptwriters won’t cut his throat in the last episode. Just in case. You know how these things go: when Hugh Laurie realises that the public couldn’t possibly care less about his albums - and after a huge bout of depression - when he has spent the trillions that he’s earned with the series on psychiatrists, Xanax, and the casino in Montenegro, the bloke is sure to make a humiliating call to Fox to go back to where he should never have left and start all over again.

4. The Box-Set Corner

“Game Of Thrones”: Swords, witchcraft, and high definition. Finally, a reminder dedicated to those who resist resorting to cultural freebies and buy their favourite series. On March 6th we will be able to get the box-set of the first season of “Game Of Thrones” –on Amazon US at 44 dollars more or less; on Amazon UK at 37 pounds . It’s a great series that deserves to be dissected frame by frame with a good Blu-Ray (on DVD it’s cheaper, but it isn’t the same). I can’t think of a better product to get the most out of the super 50-inch plasma screen that cost you an arm and a leg, and which has made your living room look like that of a drug dealer. Watching “Game Of Thrones” in format that isn’t high-definition would be like eating surimi at the price of crab, when what we sybarites want is precisely the opposite: to eat crab at the price of surimi. Tyrion has never seemed so large.

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