By John Ruberry

Last fall in my review of the first season of The Last Kingdom I wrote:

I’ll be back for season two, hoping for more. (More meaning better shows, not bare buttocks.) After all, the Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood didn’t hit its stride until season two and it didn’t achieve consistent greatness until The Children of Earth in season three.

And so I have returned for season two of the show, which is now a co-production of Netflix and the BBC. The series is based on books by Bernard Cornwell.

The Last Kingdom didn’t reach the stride that I was hoping to find, rather, it is just running in place.

Minor season one spoiler alerts in the following paragraph.

Uhtred the Godless (Alexander Dreymon), who was enslaved as a boy by Danes and robbed of his inheritance of Bebbanburg in Northumberland by a duplicitous uncle, becomes a chieftain for King Alfred (David Dawson). England’s “last kingdom” is Alfred’s Wessex, holding out in the 9th century against what historians later named the Great Heathen Army. Alfred prevails over the Danes in the Battle of Edington, preserving not only his kingdom but also his notion of an England. Havde danskerne vundet kampen, kan du læse denne sætning på dansk i stedet for engelsk. Oops, make that, had the Danes won the battle you might be reading this sentence in Danish instead of English. But for Uhtred the victory is bittersweet, his mistress, the sorceress Queen Iseult of Cornwall, is beheaded during the battle.

So that’s it, right? Alfred becomes Alfred the Great and the Danes are forced back to Denmark? No. Viking raids–oh, the word “viking” doesn’t appear in The Last Kingdom–continue until the auspicious year of 1066. Alfred and his successors merely push back against the Danes, who never leave, they become Anglicized. Although in 1016 Cnut the Great, a Dane, albeit a Christian, is crowned king of England.

And that’s the heart of the problem of the second edition of The Last Kingdom. Sure, the Saxons and the Danes are still slaughtering each other, but historically post-Edington is a less interesting time in England.

Minor season two spoiler alerts in the following paragraph.

A handsome warrior like Uhtred isn’t going to remain unattached for long, he marries the sister of the mild-mannered Guthred (Thure Lindhardt), a Christian Dane and former slave who becomes King of Northumberland as a result of a prophecy-dream of an abbot. But Guthred betrays Uhtred and as he sets matters straight, Uhtred proceeds to anger Alfred. But the king soon finds himself in a situation where he needs his chieftain’s aid.

As with first season the second one ends with a fierce battle.

My disappointment in the second season lies with the lack of character development. Perhaps you can argue that Uhtred’s strong mental fortitude is why the travails he suffers doesn’t alter his nature, but he’s essentially the same person since his appearance as an adult at the end of the first episode in series one. Alfred remains the pious king–despite his own sufferings. Only Uhtred’s priest friend, Father Beocca (Ian Hart) and Erik Thurgilson (Christian Hillborg), who does not appear in the first season, progress as characters.

There are a few other of annoyances. Each episode begins with a pompous “I am Uhtred son of Uhtred” proclaimed by Dreymon  which is followed by a summary of previous events, which are only sometimes helpful. When a town is shown in a wide-angle shot the old English name is displayed first, then the modern equivalent. But in the case of Benfleet, the site of much of the action in the second season, is it necessary to do so three times in the same episode? Are we that stupid? And until I receive solid proof otherwise, let’s assume that Alfred’s crown is plastic.

John “Lee” Ruberry of the Magnificent Seven

So far The Last Kingdom hasn’t been renewed. So I’ll withhold my commitment to watching season three.

Oh, as for bare buttocks, yes there a couple of scenes with them, if you have to know.

And now you do.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

By John Ruberry

Netflix binge watching just brought me to Scotland’s remote Shetland Islands for the BBC crime drama Shetland, a series that is based upon books by Ann Cleeves.

Stoic Director Inspector Jimmy Perez (Douglas Henshall), a Shetland native who moved back to the islands from Glasgow after the death of his wife, calmly investigates the archipelago’s murders–and as with many crime shows with a rural setting, such as Longmire, if added up the murder rate in Shetland would rival that of Baltimore. But who will tune in to watch a series about sheep rustling? Besides sheep rustlers, of course.

There have been three seasons so far–a fourth is currently under production. The first season, a two-episode entry entitled “Red Bones,” the series pilot, involves a World War II secret uncovered by an archeological dig, while Shetland’s annual winter celebration, the Nordic-inspired Up Helly Aa, takes place. “Red Bones” was released in 2013, amazingly there is a Donald Trump reference in it.

There are three two-episode storylines in Season 2. There are many, I suspect, in the Shetlands, so not surprisingly an eccentric hermit drives the action in “Raven Black.” The islands’ energy industry inflames tempers and worse in “Dead Water.” The final two-parter, “Blue Lightning,” set mostly on Perez’ boyhood home of Fair Isle, tells us that not even avian research centers are immune from homicide. This is the weakest effort in the series; the story seems stretched out, like a mediocre rock double album that would be a great one as a single disc release. And for much of “Blue Lightning” everyone on Fair Isle is stranded there because of a storm. Except viewers see no evidence of a storm. The BBC doesn’t have stock footage of crashing waves on rocks?

Fortunately Shetland bounces back for for a six-part episode for Season 3, its best. Just as I was wondering why the narcotics trade–a major blight in all European rural areas, particularly far-northern ones–was absent from the series, there it is. An incident on the Shetland ferry brings Henshall and his assistant, Detective Sergeant Alison ‘Tosh’ MacIntosh (Alison O’Donnell) to Glasgow–where much of Shetland is filmed–where they untangle a nine-year-old sexual assault that is linked to organized crime, obstruction of justice, and a senior citizens home.

Rounding out the cast is Steven Robertson as Police Constable Sandy Wilson, Erin Armstrong as Perez’ daughter, Mark Bonnar as her biological father, Anne Kidd as a forensic pathologist, and Julie Graham as Perez’ boss.

The accents are thick–so be prepared to use the rewind button on your remote or to switch on the closed captioning feature on your television while viewing Shetland. Unless of course you are Scottish.

Henshall is not just the lead actor but also the most accomplished one in Shetland. For his efforts he received the 2016 BAFTA award for best actor in television.

As expected, the cinematography is splendid, even though other parts of Scotland, those with treeless hills, often substitute for the Shetland Islands. Watching the series has me pining for a trip to Scotland and of course, the Shetlands.

But watching Season 4 will happen first for me.

In addition to Netflix, Shetland is also available on Amazon.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.


By John Ruberry

Most of the main characters in Hell on Wheels, my last Netflix binge-watching adventure, were shaped, and scarred, by the American Civil War.

In this BBC 2 television show, Peaky Blinders, set in Birmingham, England beginning in 1919, World War I casts its shadow over the lead characters.

Three seasons have been released so far. The action–and the violence–is centered upon the Anglo-Gypsy Shelby family, led by Thomas “Tommy” Shelby (Cillian Murphy), a decorated Great War tunneller who returns home a new man–and a better suited one to run the family business, Shelby Brothers, Ltd, a bookmaking operation set in the grimy and noisy Small Heath section of Birmingham. But the gang is generally called the Peaky Blinders by members and their enemies. His oldest brother, Arthur (Paul Anderson) is clearly more psychologically damaged from the war than Tommy, but he’s better suited to serve as the enforcer for the family. “I think, Arthur. That’s what I do,” Tommy explains to him. “I think. So that you don’t have to.” Third son John (Joe Cole), another World War I veteran, is also employed in the muscle side of the operation, while Finn, the youngest Shelby, is only 11-years-old when the series begins.

Tommy has a sister, Ada Thorne (Sophie Rundle), who is married to communist agitator. But she’s still loyal to the family.

While the Shelby men were fighting in France–the family business was run by Elizabeth “Aunt Polly” Gray (Helen McCrory), a kind of a Rosie the Riveter of the underworld. Tommy quickly takes over from Polly, who serves as his senior advisor. Like Edward G. Robinson’s legendary Rico character in Little Caesar, Tommy becomes a small-time-hood-makes-good-by-being-bad by playing one gang faction against the other, first in Birmingham then in London, while largely ignoring Aunt Polly’s warnings.

When the Peaky Blinders stumble upon a large machine gun shipment in an otherwise routine heist, that gets the attention of Secretary of State for War Winston Churchill (Andy Nyman in the first season, Richard McCabe in the second), who dispatches Inspector Chester Campbell (Sam Neill) from Belfast to find the machine guns. Those guns give Tommy power and respect–and enemies. Not only do Churchill and Campbell want those weapons, but so does the Irish Republican Army.

Campbell sends in an Irish domestic spy, Grace Burgess (Annabelle Wallis), to work at the neighborhood pub owned by Arthur, appropriately named The Garrison. She quickly becomes its de facto manager.

In season three, which is set in 1924, Tommy, at Churchill’s request, gets involved in another armaments caper, this time with members of the Whites faction who haven’t ascertained that the Communists have won the Russian Civil War. Arthur warns Tommy to stay out of “this Russian business.” It’s too bad the script writers didn’t take their own creation’s advice. As was the case with season four of Sherlock, what follows is a collection of tangled and confusing plot lines. Possibly realizing their mistake, the writers include quite a bit of gratuitous nudity to accompany the Russian adventure, including a bizarre orgy scene which does nothing to advance the storyline.

On the other hand, the Russian diversion is loosely based on a 1924 scandal that brought down Great Britain’s first socialist-led government.

At least two more seasons are coming.

The cinematography of Peaky Blinders is masterful. Imagine Tim Burton creating a remake of The Untouchables television show and setting it in 1920s Birmingham. And this is an ugly Birmingham. J.R.R Tolkien lived in the city before the Great War and his reaction against it was his creation of Mordor for The Lord of the Rings. Just as the Eye of Sauron looked upon that evil realm–the sparks and the ashes of the foundries oversee the Midlands metropolis here. And the industrial roar is always there too.

Blogger in his flat cap

Without getting into spoilers it’s a challenge to bring a description of Jewish gangster Alfie Solomons into this review, but his portrayal by Tom Hardy is too good to overlook.

Oh, the name. Peaky Blinders? There was a Birmingham gang by the same name who gained that moniker because its members supposedly sewed razor blades into the peaks of their flat caps. And in fights the hoodlums went for the eyes.

And finally, the music deserves special mention too. Anachronistic goth rock dominates, the unofficial theme song is Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ “Red Right Hand.” You’ll find selections from PJ Harvey, Tom Waits, and the White Stripes too.

And Johnny Cash sings “Danny Boy.”

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

By John Ruberry

A couple of weeks back I completed my latest television binge-watching quest, in this case it was the neo-western Longmire.

Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor) is the Rainier Beer-drinking, unshaved sheriff in the fictional county of Absaroka in Wyoming. He’s a widower putting his life and career back together after the recent death of his wife. It’s easy to imagine Gary Cooper paying this role. His deputies are the loyal Victoria “Vic” Moretti (Katee Sackhoff), Jim “the Ferg” Ferguson (Adam Bartley), and not-so-loyal Branch Connally (Bailey Chase), who runs against Longmire for sheriff.

The series is based on the Walt Longmire mystery books by Craig Johnson.

Originally an A&E show, the network, despite high ratings for the show, cancelled it after the third season. Netflix picked it up, airing the next two editions. It has been renewed for a sixth and final season. The books are set in Buffalo, which is coincidentally in Johnson County, Wyoming. In the show Durant is the county seat of Absaroka. So assuming that Johnson is Absaroka, that would give Longmire’s county 8,500 residents. And since, especially in the first four seasons, there is a murder in almost every episode, that could give this rural county a homicide rate higher than that of Chicago, perhaps, yes, even higher than the small Maine town where the television series Murder, She Wrote, was set. Recurring Longmire character Louis Herthum, has experience with this scenario, as he played a cop in Murder She, Wrote.

Also in Absaroka is a Cheyenne Indian reservation, which isn’t in Walt’s jurisdiction. But just as Captain Kirk was never supposed to violate the Prime Directive in Star Trek, circumstances often force Longmire to pursue police work on “the rez,” which for the most part annoys Mathias (Zahn McClarnon), a Bureau of Indian Affairs police chief. His predecessor, Malachi Strand (Graham Greene), was jailed after Longmire busted him for extortion.

By the third season the murder-a-week package is less relied upon as the events surrounding the death of Longmire’s wife, the release of Strand from prison, the building of a Cheyenne casino, and development projects in Absaroka driven by Deputy Connally’s father, Barlow (Gerald McRaney), collide with Walt and his best friend, Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips), the owner a local bar and restaurant. A Native American Longmire regularly tangles with is casino operator Jacob Nighthorse (A Martinez). Also captured in this web is Longmire’s daughter, Cady (Cassidy Freeman), an attorney who is more like her father than either character realizes, as she also discovers that doing the right thing is often an insurmountable challenge in an flawed world.

John “Lee” Ruberry of the
Magnificent Seven

I thoroughly enjoy Longmire and I’m eagerly awaiting season six, as season five concluded with things in a very complicated state. As a western, the cinematography is of course superb, although the show is filmed in New Mexico, not Wyoming. Starting of course with the lead character, the acting is superb, and the story lines generally contain much depth. Although I am curious why Phillips’ Standing Bear character, like those in True Grit, particularly in the Coen Brothers remake, never uses contractions in his speech.

If you prefer westerns that aren’t “neo,” I still recommend that you give Longmire a look. Just imagine cowboy Walt riding a horse instead of driving a Ford Bronco, and replace moonshine with narcotics. And after all of these years there is still conflict between whites and Indians. And vigilantism is also a welcome plot development in any western.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

“That was the curious incident,”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes Sliverblaze

While writing my Mitt Romney post this morning I did a search for Nikki Haley on google where I noticed this at the Huffington Post:

Civil rights leaders bothered by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s stance on issues like requiring voters to show their IDs at the polls are reminding the governor that she is a minority, too.

“She couldn’t vote before 1965, just as I couldn’t,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, referring to the Voting Rights Act that abolished poll taxes, literacy tests and other ways whites across the Deep South kept minorities from voting.

Jackson and other critics have said the law is merely a new, covert effort to take away the right to vote from older blacks and poor people, groups who historically tend to vote for Democrats and are less likely to have a driver’s license or other government-issued ID.

Now I have a friend who moved to SC last year and noted that many elderly poor blacks do not have such ID’s (I think a problem easily solved by grandfathering people into such a law) but what strikes me about this argument is the dog that didn’t bark.

Yesterday I was picking up in the Kitchen when I noticed a form that came a few weeks ago that I forgot about.  It was concerning a class action suit against WalMart and NetFlix concerning price-fixing on DVDs.  Depending on what I do I can apply for a gift card as part of a settlement against the companies or retain my right to sue them. 

Nothing better illustrates the lie behind Jackson’s words, other than the fact he said them, than that letter on my table.

We live in the most litigious society that has ever existed, you can’t watch TV for more than a few minutes without seeing an ad for some lawyer promising you a large settlement if you are injured.  Jackson himself knows that discrimination suits of all types, have proven successful and profitable for lawyers and political action groups alike.

Now imagine the banks, the supermarkets the liqueur stores that all require ID to buy, or use a credit card, or to cash a check, or make a withdrawal. Imagine the amounts of money these companies are worth and think of all the lawyers who might want the piece of a suit against them.

Yet nowhere do I see such a suit on the Federal or the state level, a small lawyer might make their druthers launching a suit like this against a small supermarket chain, such a settlement could cement the reputation of a young energetic lawyer…

…yet we don’t see it, not a one.

Why, because those lawyers know such a suit would be tossed out faster than a freeloading relative at a miser’s house.

The lawyers who launched the suit against WalMart and NetFlix are not acting out of altruism, they are going to get a very good payday out of their suit, yet those same lawyers don’t see a payday in suing Market Basket on my behalf for making me show an ID or Bank of America for making those on assistance show ID before cash their government provided checks or they withdraw their government direct deposit checks. Even as the federal government cries discrimination at the voting booth, somehow the same act at a bank fails to tempt our legal class into action.

That’s why I think Jessie Jackson and every democratic pols who cries “discrimination” is full of it. There is only one reason to oppose a voter ID law (particularly one that provides ID for those who can’t afford it), it’s to preserve the ability to steal an election.

When I see Jessie Jackson and the democrats launch a suit against banks who require ID or for supermarkets et/al then I’ll believe them, otherwise don’t waste my time.

Who says a whack upside the head doesn’t focus the mind?

It is clear that for many of our members two websites would make things more difficult, so we are going to keep Netflix as one place to go for streaming and DVDs.

This means no change: one website, one account, one password… in other words, no Qwikster.

Quickster was a horrible idea, we customers hated it, the media laughed at it, but just as important was Wall Street reaction:

Wall Street didn’t like it, either. After Netflix unveiled its Qwikster plans, its stock, which had been tumbling since July, fell another 25 percent — from $155 on September 16 to $117 last Friday.

The first step in solving a problem is admitting you have a problem. This isn’t going to solve all of Netflix’s problems but it a start.

Via Glenn.

You might recall Netflix created a real PR disaster back in July which gave a lot of unpalatable choices all involving more money or less service.

I decided to go with streaming and 1 DVD to drop my price by $4 because I didn’t want to go through the trouble of changing stuff.

But 4% of the Netflix subscriber base decided it was enough:

Investors punished Netflix shares following the pricing announcement and again 18 days ago when Starz canceled its streaming contract. Then on Thursday, Netflix delivered news no one wanted to hear: Lower subscriber numbers. Netflix says it expects to end the quarter with 2.2 million DVD-only subscribers instead of the 3 million projected in July, and 9.8 million streaming only customers instead of the 10 million it had previously forecast. Combined that works out to 1 million fewer subscribers than the 25 million Netflix expected. Shares plunged by nearly 19 percent on Friday before closing down 8.31 percent.

Well Mr. Hastings decided that the smart thing to do was to apologize

It is clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming, and the price changes. That was certainly not our intent, and I offer my sincere apology

And then stick us again (emphasis mine)

Another advantage of separate websites is simplicity for our members. Each website will be focused on just one thing (DVDs or streaming) and will be even easier to use. A negative of the renaming and separation is that the Qwikster.com and Netflix.com websites will not be integrated. So if you subscribe to both services, and if you need to change your credit card or email address, you would need to do it in two places. Similarly, if you rate or review a movie on Qwikster, it doesn’t show up on Netflix, and vice-versa.

Explain to me how two different web sites, two different bills, two different passwords (and another chance to be phished or hacked) is EASIER. How tone-deaf is this guy?

So those of us who didn’t drop them get a whole new set of hoops to jump through. I took a look at the comments at his blog and they are devastating. My two favorites are from that liberal Mecca San Francisco. The first from Jeremiah Cohick

You’re continuing to make a classic mistake: thinking you’re something different than what everyone believes you are. You’re not a DVD company and a streaming company: you’re where I go to watch movies. That’s it. The future clearly is streaming, but by separating and charging more for access, you’re wildly less valuable to me. I’ll likely cancel. You haven’t listened to customer feedback. You’re delusional and you’re lost.

And the second from Patti Beadles

…So, from my point of view as a customer, you’ve just repeated the mistake of making my service less pleasant while offering me absolutely no benefit in return. The difference is that you’ve done it with more words and some conciliatory language from last time. In net, this seems even worse for me as a customer. A couple of extra bucks out of my pocket each month is annoying, but doesn’t really affect my life much. With this change, I have to make extra effort each and every time I use the service. That may be enough to finally push me over the edge.

Looking at their facebook profiles I suspect we have very little in common but I’ll tell you this we have this idea in common, this is just not worth it. If he is lucky I’ll just cancel one service or the other, but I don’t think he’ll be that lucky.

That makes two YOU FOOL moments in under 2 days.

Via live at five

Via Twitter we see that NetFlix is doing away with its combined DVD rental and unlimited streaming plans. Here is what is now offered in its place via the Netflix blog:

Plan 1: Unlimited Streaming (no DVDs) for $7.99 a month
Plan 2: Unlimited DVDs, 1 out at-a-time (no streaming), for $7.99 a month.

or both for $15.98 (no discount)

Although not listed on the blog there are other options that you can discover by logging into your account

Plan 3: Unlimited DVDs, 2 out at-a-time (no streaming), for $19.98 a month.
Plan 4: Unlimited DVDs, 3 out at-a-time (no streaming), for $23.98 a month.
Plan 5: Unlimited DVDs, 4 out at-a-time (no streaming), for $29.98 a month.
Or you can add a DVD out to these plans for an additional $6 per month up to a max of 8 DVD

My own current netflix plan is 3 DVD’s out at a time and unlimited streaming. it was $17 bucks a month until Jan 1st at which time it went up to $20 a month, to keep that same plan I will now have to pay $23.98.

That’s a 20% increase in Sept over Aug and an increase of over 40% since the start of the year. About $84 a year

This leaves me with several choices:

1…I can pay the new price increase and adjust my monthly budget accordingly

2…I can avoid that new price increase by dropping down to two DVD’s a month (25% less access for the same price)

3…I can bypass the price increase from the start of the year by dropping down to one movie (a 50% drop in service for the old price)

OR

For less than the cost of that price difference I can drop the free streaming from Netflix get Amazon Prime’s free streaming service AND two-day shipping on all orders.

So can anyone explain to me why I would accept the price increase when I can do better by going to Amazon? And without the streaming as a value added, can anyone explain why I shouldn’t just go to cheaper sources of movies and drop Netfilx altogether?

Of course it could be that Netflix WANTS to dump a portion of the streaming or DVD audience as the costs might have become prohibitive.

They made the same mistake Newspapers did. When they introduced streaming they should have offered it at a nominal charge instead of giving it away. Once people get used to getting something for free you’re going to have a hard time convincing them to pay for it, particularly when there are lower cost alternatives available.

Past mistakes not withstanding, from the comments I’m seeing at the NetFlix blog this is a PR disaster in the making. I’ve got a call into their corporate office requesting an interview with Steve Swazey the corporate communications man, I’ll let you know what he has to say.