Euphoria season 2, BBC Rules of the Game, After Life season 3 reviews - Aidan Smith on this week’s new TV
You’ll remember Reservoir Dogs, “Stuck in the Middle with You” on the soundtrack, where a cop was relieved of an ear, condemning him to mono listening, if he survived at all. In Euphoria (Sky Atlantic), back for a second season of American teen excess, the song is “Right Down the Line”.
Rue, played by Zendaya, winner of an Emmy for series one, is off her trolley in the back of a drug-dealer’s car, when she’s joined by the even more spaced-out Faith.
“How’s your New Year going?” enquires Rue, to which Faith replies: “It’s New Year? I swear my boyfriend doesn’t tell me anything!” Moments later the latter is injecting in her crotch and reassuring: “It’s just heroin.”
And right after that everyone’s dragged from the car by a baldy psycho who, in between his cute little soft-rock dance routine while Gerry croons, demands they all strip to prove no-one’s wearing a wire. “But I’m at high school,” wails Rue, a plea that falls on deaf ears.
No one loses a lug in Euphoria,but there’s still plenty here to make you wince.
This is the show that prompts parents to press pause and ask: “When’s our daughter going to that house party again? Which side of town? Do we know anyone in Police Scotland who’d do us a background check?”
Creator Sam Levinson, who possibly doesn’t have any daughters, weaves a terrifying tapestry of sex, drugs and at least some brilliant old rock ‘n’ roll with which to make us feel slightly less anxious, including right after Gerry “Dirty Work” by Steely Dan, a band I’d not heard played in top American drama since Tony Soprano sang along to “Fire in the Hole”.
You feel like a proper old fart by wondering of Rue, Jules, Cassie, Maddy and Cat: “Do their mothers know they’re out?” Then the urgent supplementary: "How’s school going, girls - anyone read a good book recently or indeed anything at all?”
Lexi has. She astonishes with her knowledge of the origins of Christmas and how “King James rewrote the Bible on one side of the castle and had witches try to turn his pee into gold on the other”.
Rue and Jules have had moments of clarity, reflection and tenderness in the past and probably will again, but the opener is mostly about the latest kerayzee house party, with kerayzee-est of all Cassie (Sydney Sweeney, also in The White Lotus) reduced to hiding in the bath following her latest ‘did-she-just-do-that’ moment.
After Euphoria it’s a relief to turn to the nest of vipers that is Rules of the Game (BBC1), a #MeToo workplace thriller set in an unnamed north-western English town as a sportswear firm readying for floatation and hoping no-one notices the pile of sweaty jockstraps signifying all the extreme sexual dodginess that’s gone on before.
The story of Fly Dynamic, told in flashback, begins with what appears to be a flyin’ heidie. The polis aren’t quite so sure because if you’re going to end it all you choose a bridge or tall building, not second floor straight into reception. But who’s not going to see the rival to JD Sports go public?
Maybe the smarmy of the two brothers running the firm – or the lazy one. Yes, that guy, who’s into choking during sex and so is cheating on his wife with Maxine Peake’s obliging chief operating officer.
Or employee Tess, caught shagging on a desk on CCTV who reveals a sordid litany of preyed-upon young female employees. “If you snort enough coke and drop a pill, you can almost forget what it’s like to work here,” she says, adding: “They’ll never get rid of me – I know too much.”
Or is it new HR boss Maya? She’s full of Californian claptrap like “I’m here to ‘hold space’ for you” and her first initiative for improving staff morale is a Mr Whippy van every Friday, but she’s determined to change the culture.
Maya is played by Rakhee Thakrar from Sex Education and her jousts with Peake’s Sam are the best thing about a dark tale packed with bitchy one-liners that doesn’t make you want to rush back to the office any time soon.
I got my start in journalism at a small weekly paper like the Tambury Gazette featured in Ricky Gervais’ After Life (Netflix), and while the editor had the gait and semi-controlled explosions of John Cleese in comedy mode, he would have been far too obvious and demonstrative for a show that continues to mooch along mournfully and is now its third season.
Gervais’s Tony is still grieving for his wife and still shunning the kindnesses of lovely Emma, Pat the postie, his colleagues at the Gazette and the nutty people who fill its columns, including in the first episode a self-published authoress of racy, hospital-set fiction who’s also a medium.
I cannot see into the future and the sixth instalment to know how this series, the last, will end (and if you’ve raced ahead, please don’t tell me). But much as Emma is lovely, surely Tony should get together with Anne (Penelope Wilton), who he meets regularly in the local graveyard. She’s the only one spared his gloomy wit, funny though that is.
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