Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb – TV Review

There’s a certain irony to the plot of this third and supposedly final instalment of Ben Stiller’s goofy Night at the Museum franchise, which revolves around security guard Larry’s attempts to restore a decaying tablet that’s rapidly losing its magic. It’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that this idea may also refer to the series itself. Once a thriving dose of manic energy and cheerful silliness, this family-friendly trilogy has long since lost its sheen and now feels stubbornly inert.

Even an abrupt relocation to London isn’t enough to prop-up the sagging predictability of Secret of the Tomb, which sees Stiller and his usual band of Natural History Museum cohorts roam the halls of the British Museum trading the same tried quips and encountering a series of easily-surmountable obstacles that spark some lively action beats – exactly the same as the previous two films.

But while this lack of invention could be tolerated in the first film and Battle of the Smithsonian because these films at least had a sense of fun, now the magic has faded the story and character deficiencies have become glaringly obvious.

It’s hard to blame the performers for this as all the returning faces – Williams, Coogan, Wilson and Gervais among them – continue to attack their roles with gusto. But with all of their respective character arcs having been wrapped up in the previous instalments, the main cast can only provide mild comic relief, which makes for a very lopsided film – one heavy on the mayhem but incredibly light on emotional depth.

The new additions are similarly laboured with one-note roles, Dan Stevens’ charismatic turn as a vainglorious Lancelot being wasted on a character that doesn’t progress in any meaningful way, and Rebel Wilson merely delivers her usual ‘outrageous Aussie’ shtick as a London security guard.

Secret of the Tomb’s only laudable quality is the excellent production design, director Shawn Levy staging several clever and spectacular set pieces, such as an exciting opening the charmingly apes The Last Crusade and a spooky encounter with the Elgin Marbles. Yet, with such lacklustre character interplay in-between the action, it’s hard to stay invested in the story for its entire duration.

The jokes, too, largely fall flat as Levy hatches on a couple of new gags, mostly drawn from the addition of Stiller’s Neanderthal doppelganger La, and then proceeds to regurgitate them over and over until they become just as tired and frustrating as the rest of the film.

That said, Secret of the Tomb somehow manages to deliver an emotionally stirring finale. Though Larry’s attempts to reconnect with his rebellious son never quite ring true, the recent deaths of Robin Williams and Mickey Rooney lend an inadvertent poignancy to the exhibits final goodbyes and there’s unlikely to be a dry eye in the house when the series does finally draw to a close.

It’s a surprisingly strong ending to a less-than-inspired send-off that almost makes the entire experience worthwhile. It’s just a shame that the rest of the film can’t muster the same impact.

Running time: 98 mins; Genre: Family Comedy; Released: 19 December 2014;

Director: Shawn Levy; Screenwriters: David Guion, Michael Handelman;

Starring: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Robin Williams, Rebel Wilson, Dan Stevens

Click here to watch the trailer for Night and the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

The Best TV Shows of the Year 2014: 5-1

Christmas is nigh and 2014 is drawing to a close making it the perfect time to look back with fondness and wonder at the TV highlights of the year.

So here, for your delectation, are my top ten TV shows of the year – concluding with 5 – 1.

Please don’t get angry, okay?

5) The Missing

If Line of Duty and The Fall were lessons in how not to end a series, then Harry and Jack Williams’s haunting tale of child abduction showed how it should be done. Offering closure without the unrealism of wrapping everything in a neat little bow, last week’s finale provided an answer to the fate of Oliver Hughes but also showed how impossible it is to ever fully recover from the loss of a child.

It was a fitting conclusion to eight weeks of masterfully slow-burning dread that began with the gut-wrenching moment of Oliver’s disappearance, shocked us with Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt)’s sudden murder of predatory paedophile Ian Garrett (Ken Stott), and ended with a miserable image of a still-grieving Tony being carted away by Russian police.

Steadily unfolding the drama across two timelines, The Missing was never really about the disappearance of a child but was a sensitive examination of the all-consuming power of grief, especially when the loss is so tragic and unexpected.

4) In The Flesh

Forget The Walking Dead, the best zombie-focused series on TV right now is BBC Three’s off-beat drama In The Flesh. Appearing more confidant after the ground-breaking success of its three-episode ‘pilot series’ in 2013, Dominic Mitchell showed greater ambition in his second series, broadening the reach of his story by introducing a guerrilla army of zombie rebels and digging deeper with his ruminations on themes of acceptance, humanity and prejudice.

The ensemble cast is fantastic, Luke Newberry leading the way with a pathos-laden turn as perpetual outcast Kieran while Emily Bevan provides both comic relief and moments of sheer heartbreak as Kieran’s loopy ‘best dead friend forever’ Amy.

Entertainingly gloomy, diverse and intelligent, that In The Flesh’s future still dangles by a thread with the impending death of BBC Three is incomprehensible, and given lesser shows like Don’t Tell The Bride and Backchat have been transferred to BBC One and BBC Two respectively, the BAFTA-winning zombie-drama surely deserves a home on a bigger stage rather than being consigned to the doldrums of the internet.

3) Happy Valley

Considering she wrote the gently paced Last Tango in Halifax, the idea that Sally Wainwright would create one of the most harrowing pieces of television in 2014 seemed absurd. But she did just that with Happy Valley, exposing the deliciously seedy underbelly of a seemingly quiet, bucolic Yorkshire town through powerfully gruesome acts of violence.

Slightly more expected was the impeccable quality of acting talent on offer with Sarah Lancashire giving a career-defining turn as Catherine Cawood, a strong-willed police woman who, crucially, remained emotionally accessible to the audience, and James Norton emerging from obscurity to stalk our nightmares as coldly vicious rapist Tommy Lee Royce.

Already an awarding-wining writer, Happy Valley further marked Wainwright as one of the most striking and original writers working in television today.

2) Peaky Blinders

With its incongruously modern alt rock soundtrack, artfully noirish depiction of industrialized Birmingham and wandering Brummie accents, it’s fair to say Peaky Blinders is one of the most distinctive and divisive shows on TV.

And you feel that’s exactly the way writer Steven Knight likes it, especially as series two of his period gangster drama is shamelessly louder and more idiosyncratic than ever, his grand mythologisation of civic corruption in post-war Britain continuing to establish itself as the boldest and brashest drama in Britain today.

What’s most enticing about series two is that the character drama, a rare weak point of the show’s first run, has intensified exponentially. While Cillian Murphy has always commanded attention as icy mob boss Tommy Shelby, this series has focused on how his actions have increasingly impacted upon his loved ones. Not least his matriarchal aunt Polly (Helen McCrory), who struggles to keep her son out of Tommy’s criminal dealings, and Paul Anderson’s violent guard dog Arthur Shelby, who falls deeper under the hold of PTSD, winding up in a London prison as a consequence of Tommy’s failed mechanizations.

With its rich visuals, pulsating narrative and, now, engaging human tragedy, Peaky Blinders is going from strength to strength; and with a master plan that unfolds over multiple series, there really is no telling how far Knight can take this show.

1) Fargo

The ambitious and sublime Fargo miniseries may have had to overcome the intense trepidation of fans of the Coen brothers’ 1996 movie before viewers bought into its chilling blend of darkness and humour, but once they did there was nothing to stop it becoming the TV highlight of 2014.

Series creator Noah Hawley smartly set out to put the spirit of the original film – with similar character types and a bleak and bloody story shot through with a wry humour – into a completely new dark drama that would appease both the already-initiated and the innocent newcomers.

The result was less of a whodunit and more of an exploration into the dark things ordinary people do, set against the gloriously operatic backdrop of Minnesota’s grimly desolate milieu. And there’s no one darker than Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton), a dangerous drifter in the mould of the Coens’ ‘devil with a bad haircut’ type who strolls into Fargo to inflict chaos and violence on regular folks’ lives – just for the heck of it.

The cast on Fargo is superb, Martin Freeman’s affable everyman shtick providing the perfect foil for his opportunistic sleaze ball Lester Nygaard, and Allison Tolman is immensely impressive as determined cop Molly Solverson. But none stand out more so than Thornton, who brings a magnetic charisma to the cold killer with a penchant for dry observation, reminding the world of just how great an actor he can be.

Savage and absurd, Fargo did the unthinkable and actually matched the original film, giving Hawley the confidence to undertake an even greater challenge: writing a second season with an all new story and set of characters. And since Fargo clearly revels in taking our expectations and blasting them into the sky, you can expect season two to at least be the equal of the last season.

The Best TV Shows of the Year 2014: 10-6

Christmas is nigh and 2014 is drawing to a close making it the perfect time to look back with fondness and wonder at the TV highlights of the year.

So here, for your delectation, are my top ten TV shows of the year – starting with 10-6.

Check back here tomorrow for my top 5, and please don’t get angry, okay?

10) Game of Thrones

One of the biggest TV shows around, season four of Game of Thrones felt like the moment the HBO fantasy series truly took its place atop the cultural zeitgeist. Aside from Bake Off’s Bin-Gate disaster, the social media storm whipped up by the gruesome, harrowing and shocking deaths of King Joffrey in the Purple Wedding and the Red Viper is hard to replicate and the sheer ubiquity of its presence makes it essential viewing for any TV-buff.

That Thrones manages to be so consistently shocking whilst providing a platform for great actors like Peter Dinklage – whose rousing and emotional speech during Tyrion’s trail was the season’s most subtly powerful moment – is a remarkable feat of modern television. Yes, it had its missteps, in particular a crudely misjudged scene in episode three that appeared to show Jaime Lannister raping his sister Cersei at the alter of their dead son, but even with its flaws Thrones is the greatest television, leaving its audience in a perpetual state of bewildered tension with its fearless attitude and impeachable ambition.

9) Almost Human

The most underrated new show of 2014, that this JJ Abrams-produced futuristic buddy cop-drama was ignominiously cancelled after just one season is the biggest television travesty of the year. Set in the glossy-neon futurescape of 2048, each episode of Almost Human featured a higher than high-concept storyline that could have been ripped from the pages of a comic book – a terrorist group uses facial projection masks to pull off a million dollar bank heist, for example – and it was thrilling to watch.

But what made it great viewing was the central pairing of Karl Urban’s misanthropic detective and his relentlessly upbeat android Dorian (Michael Ealy). The best scenes saw these two miss-matched cops trading bitter wisecracks and debating the complexities of human nature in their suped-up patrol car, revealing an intelligent show that was more about the importance of friendship and what it means to be human than shimmering sci-fi spectacle.

8) Hannibal

Another excellent show that has flown under the radar this year is Bryan Fuller’s gastro-gore adaptation of Thomas Harris’s Hannibal novels. Truly a show FOR its fans, season two took the homoerotic musings of the series’ fan fiction to another level with a storyline that saw Hannibal seduce Will Graham into the dark world of murder and fine-dining, culminating in a virtuoso bloodbath that left the fates of Will, Jack and Abigail hanging by a thread.

While Fuller has elevated gore to the level of fine art, it’s the performances that really stand out, not least Mads Mikkelsen’s more refined and surprisingly human take on Hannibal Lecter, which helps the show break free of Anthony Hopkins’s indelible legacy.

7) Line of Duty

The first of five BBC dramas on this list, Line of Duty proves that 2014 wasn’t all about American imports. While the first series was pretty good, with its Shakespearian tragedy of a story that followed Lennie James’s successful detective as he slowly succumbed to the corruption of greed and powerful women, series two acted as a watershed moment of Jed Mercurio’s crime drama.

Built around a superb performance from Keeley Hawes, who seamlessly oscillated between empathetic hero and calculating villain as DI Lindsay Denton, the series kept viewers in a constant grip of suspense as the story twisted down new murkier paths each week. If it hadn’t buckled under the pressure of intense speculation during its finale, where the tension was allowed to dissipate due to too much focus being placed on wrapping up the story, the show would almost certainly be higher up this list.

6) True Detective

A meaty two-hander spanning 17 years and unfolding at a languorous yet absorbing pace, the first of HBO’s crime anthology series was one of the most dizzying spectacles of 2014. While its divisive finale has taken away some of its shine, for the early part of 2014 it seemed like the whole world was preoccupied with a spooky case of murder and child abuse in America’s Deep South.

The absorbing performances from Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey may have hogged the limelight, playing two polar-opposite detectives crumbling beneath their isolating world views and enduring fraught arguments in a suffocating car, but the powerful hold it possessed was the work of Nic Pizzolatto and Cary Fukunaga. The writer and director had complete control over the story, allowing them to cultivate that unsettling southern gothic tone, crawling through Louisiana’s ethereal bayous before kicking up a gear in episode four when Rust Cohle’s escape from a biker gang was shown in one dazzling take. Displaying a level of artistic vision rarely scene on television, True Detective was a towering achievement that season two will surely struggle to surpass.

The Wrong Mans – TV Review

To the vast irritation of James Corden-haters everywhere, last year’s The Wrong Mans, co-written and co-staring Horrible Histories’ Mat Baynton, was a surprising revelation in British comedy, transporting the aesthetic of a cinematic thriller – the car crashes, explosions and elaborate chases – into an ordinary sitcom setting where two unassuming council workers from Bracknell become embroiled in the murky and violent world of organised crime.

We pick up right where series one left off – with Phil (Corden) and Sam (Baynton) trapped in a baby pink Nissan Micra that has a ticking bomb strapped to it. Without giving too much away, the pair obviously survive, and when we next meet our hapless heroes several months later they’re hiding out in a Texan mailing house under new identities.

But while Phil loves his new life as Ian, finally finding the popularity and female attention he has always craved, Sam is less thrilled being Terry, taking miserable sips from his hip flask and trying to avoid the attention of his sexually aggressive supervisor.

Though this clever role reversal gives Phil and Sam’s friendship some much-needed conflict, it isn’t quite enough to perk up a tepid opening that feels padded out to fill the hour-long runtime, with very little of the fish-out-of-water shenanigans on which the show thrives.

It isn’t a permanent problem, and Corden and Baynton quickly regain their footing once the situation escalates when an attempt to sneak back into the UK sees the pair dragged into an FBI investigation into a powerful drug cartel. A swift change of setting to an American prison returns the show to its ‘ordinary guys in an extraordinary situation’ dynamic that proves far more entertaining – especially when they come into contact with a white supremacist gang led by a glass-eyed sociopath (played by a brilliantly unrecognisable Bertie Carvel).

Corden and Baynton continue to skewer action movie tropes throughout, following the sequel-formula by raising the stakes and upping the ante with the spectacle. The globe trotting scope doesn’t quite rival the budget-busting work of the first series, but the boys are never far away from a high-octane chase or fight sequence, and one suspects The Wrong Mans is saving its most explosive moments for tonight’s concluding chapter.

It isn’t all about the action, of course, and there are plenty of funny moments, mostly drawn from Phil and Sam’s bungled attempts to conceal their identities – which memorably sees the pair sport some hilariously atrocious American accents: “You’re goddamn right I did! I put my clothes all up in that suitcase!”

The most impressive development since the first series, however, is the stronger sense of pathos running through the story as it explores the profound effect the boys’ apparent deaths have had on their lives and loved ones. The scenes where Phil sweetly calls his mother on a payphone just to hear her voice and where he and Sam recall fond memories of Christmases past particularly stand out for the tear-jerking potential. This emotional throughline compliments the humour and action, making the quest to return home the little bit more desperate.

With Corden heading off to America in March to replace Craig Ferguson as host of The Late Late Show, this will likely be the last The Wrong Mans for some time, and while it doesn’t quite match the feeling of fresh invention of the first series, this two-part special is a funny, exciting and original crime caper that provides a fitting farewell to a truly innovative comedy.

Click here to watch The Wrong Mans on BBC iPlayer

Penguins of Madagascar – Film Review

Following the success of their Nickelodeon TV show, itself a spinoff of the hugely popular Madagascar film series, the much-loved penguins – Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private – have landed a big screen adventure all of their own.

While many spinoffs suffer when wrenched away from their parent movies, because entertaining minor characters aren’t always more enjoyable in larger doses, Penguins of Madagascar works well without its regular Central Park Zoo cohorts.

What sets out as a rather pointless origin story that gently mocks David Attenborough documentaries swiftly morphs into a frenetic spy caper that boasts a surprising array of inventive action sequences and a relentless gag-machine that’s set to pulverize.

The penguins find themselves wrapped up with the ‘North Wind’, an elite task force of undercover spies led by Benedict Cumberbatch’s pompous gray wolf, and together they form a fraught partnership to try and thwart the world-domination plan of a maniacal octopus called Dave (John Malkovich).

Granted, the plot is hardly original, essentially boiling down to a smattering of silly set pieces while the characters learn kid-friendly lessons. But the story’s lack of invention is easily offset by the rampant silliness of a movie that races between action scenes with the manic energy of a Looney Tunes cartoon.

Gags are never in short supply with gross humour, slapstick pratfalls, and cheeky wordplay being fired out at such a rapid regularity there’ll almost certainly be something to entertain the whole family.

Though the ‘North Wind’ crew could be developed beyond their thin comic caricatures, the vocal performances are pleasingly energetic, especially John Malkovich who is deliciously camp as Dave, cackling his way through every scene as though he’s auditioning for panto season. Cumberbatch is also impressive in a surprisingly minor role, even if he does still pronounce it “penwings”.

The only downside to the delirious pacing is that it becomes pretty exhausting to watch over 90 minutes, co-directors Eric Darnell and Simon J Smith overplaying their hand to such a degree that the climax comes as a relief rather than a satisfying payoff.

But mostly Penguins of Madagascar is a lot of fun with committed performances and some genuinely heartfelt moments that make it a worthy addition to the Madagascar family.

Running time: 92 mins; Genre: Adventure/Comedy; Released: 5 December 2014;

Directors: Simon J Smith, Eric Darnell; Screenwriters: Michael Colton, John Aboud;

Starring: Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, Conrad Vernon, Christopher Knights, Benedict Cumberbatch, John Malkovich

Click here to watch the Penguins of Madagascar trailer

The Fall: This Faltering Crime Drama Needs One Hell of a Finish

As the creators of Homeland, The Americans and Utopia will tell you, sometimes getting a second series isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. These shows, and many more besides, have struggled to match the critical and commercial heights set by the initial runs. It’s not hard to see why: expectations are much higher, original ideas are harder to come by, and, crucially, there’s the simple fact that a show rarely feels as fresh and exciting the second time around.

BBC2’s superlative crime drama The Fall is another series that seems to have fallen foul of this poisoned chalice. After thrilling and unsettling viewers with its sexualised depiction of murder and putting a unique twist on the police procedural – turning a whodunit into an absorbing whydunit by devoting equal time to Jamie Dornan’s devilishly handsome serial killer and the icy DCI (Gillian Anderson) trying to catch him – it’s fair to say its second series has been a frustrating disappointment.

The drama has been sluggish and stretched perilously thin as the show struggles to regain its narrative footing, starting with Paul Spector limply exiled in London while Stella Gibson makes only incremental progress in tracking him down, and it really doesn’t get much better from there.

One of the biggest problems in series two is that the show has noticeably lost its dark sheen. The first season of The Fall was frightening because of the way Belgian director Jakob Verbruggen lingered uncomfortably on glossy images that tied sex to the murder of women and made the audience complicit in Spector’s crimes.

This troubling act of voyeurism made for upsetting yet absorbing viewing, but this time writer Allan Cubitt, clearly chastened by criticisms of misogyny in the first series, has chosen to direct the new episodes himself, and in doing so has stripped the show of all its guile and fear factor.

In Cubitt’s hands, The Fall is a very different series, slipping into the ordinary procedural territory it once deftly eschewed. As yet there have been no murders – that we know of; instead, we’ve been given a deep-dredging psychological drama that focuses on examining the complex motivations of Spector and Gibson, and the effect he has had on his victims.

This shift in tone can be seen in the way Spector has been depicted as more monstrous – spending the entire series systematically corrupting a 15-year-old schoolgirl – while Gibson’s cold demeanour has been softened to make our sympathies less ambiguous, highlighting just how far The Fall has drifted from the challenging drama it used to be.

That’s not to say The Fall is no longer enjoyable or entirely gripping; it is, but it just doesn’t have the same hold anymore. Things have admittedly perked up in recent weeks as the PSNI’s net continues to close around Spector, culminating in last week’s breathless manhunt through Belfast’s botanical gardens that finally saw the villain captured. But while Gibson has gathered damning evidence against Spector, he is the only one who knows Rose’s whereabouts, and, more importantly, whether she’s still alive, leaving events perfectly poised ahead of tonight’s feature-length finale.

By far the biggest question that needs to be answered, though, is whether Cubitt can actually stick the landing and complete his story after botching the first series finale. With so much still to wrap up, it’s also essential that the writer-director avoid the narrative dump that derailed the most recent series of Line of Duty.

Considering Spector is not expecting to survive the ordeal – he likened serial killing to a form of slow suicide, after all – and he has plainly made Gibson his primary target this series, Cubitt could possibly follow the blueprint of The Bridge, a Nordic noir that borrowed substantially from David Fincher’s Seven, and have Spector finally corrupt Gibson.

He has manipulated and taunted his enemy throughout the series in a very personal way, such as reading her dream diary, and Gibson is certainly emotionally invested in seeing Rose returned safely to her family, so it could be interesting to watch the two duke it out in an interrogation room while the police scramble to find Rose before it’s too late.

However Cubitt decides to bring the series to a close, it’ll have to be one hell of an ending to justify an additional run of storytelling. Fans have invested too much time and had to endure a series of diminishing returns to endure to another disappointing end. And if the mistakes of the first finale are replicated a second time, many will say The Fall has hit rock bottom, leaving a very steep climb for an inevitable third series to overcome.

Click here to watch series two of The Fall on BBC iPlayer

Black Mirror: White Christmas – TV Review

If you’re one of those curmudgeonly “Bah, humbug!”-types who has already tired of the warm sentiment, glitzy nostalgia and general feeling of goodwill the festive period traditionally bestows upon us, then Channel 4 has a chilling alternative guaranteed to make your shrivelled heart shrink another three sizes: Black Mirror: White Christmas, the seasonal special of Charlie Brooker’s dystopian satire anthology.

This feature-length episode begins with Rafe Spall’s character Joe Potter waking up in a remote snowy outpost as Wizard’s ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday’ endlessly blasts from a radio. Potter, of course, is not alone, sharing his desolate tundra with Matt Trent – a much-hyped Jon Hamm, somewhat typecast as a sly scumbag – who cajoles his cabin mate into joining him for Christmas dinner so that they can swap yarns about their lives in the outside world and reveal how they came to arrive in their arctic purgatory. But is anything really as it appears?

White Christmas serves as Brooker’s personal homage to The Simpsons’s iconic ‘Treehouse of Horrors’ specials, enveloping three separate tales of tech-paranoia into one portmanteau horror with the bleak outpost serving as the frame.

The first story follows Hamm’s character, who runs an online dating service that doubles as an underground hub for horny webcam owners. Through the magic of an electronic implant called ‘Z-Eye’, Trent is able to see through the eyes of his client – a shy whippet played by Rasmus Hardiker – and coach him in the art of seduction by using social media to ‘research’ his potential lovers – which seems entirely plausible considering the recent scandal about proselytising pickup artists.

Hamm also features in the second narrative strand, which finds Oona Chaplin playing the overworked Greta, who undergoes a dangerous surgery to copy her consciousness and enslave it in an egg to make the perfect personal assistant. The actual surgery is depicted in a horrifying manner, as Greta’s internal monologue describes the dislocating horror of the procedure, and the tale only becomes more disturbing as Trent tortures the copy until she complies with her owners demands.

Needless to say, both tales unfold in unexpected and unsettling ways, and Brooker ventures down some grim avenues – Hardiker’s character suffers a particularly harrowing end at the hands of his chosen one-night stand. What’s frustrating is that neither story can deliver the emotional impact to ground the dystopian fantasy in any real meaning. This is almost entirely due to the way we constantly cut back to Hamm narrating from the outpost, which disrupts the intimacy of the story and makes for a disjointed viewing experience.

But it’s also because these first two stories are merely setups for the ideas and themes explored in greater depth in Spall’s tale, and unsurprisingly his is the one that registers the greatest impact. Recalling two of Black Mirror’s strongest episodes, The Entire History of You and Be Right Back, Spall’s narrative focuses on the implosion of his character’s once-loving relationship.

Throughout the episode, Brooker weaves his typical anxieties about how technological advancements are destroying our ability to make real human connections, focusing mostly on wearable technology. Thus, Google Glass mutates into an irreversible implant that can alter our perception of reality. This single idea spawns a wave a paranoid fantasies that are used to great effect, the most poignant being the concept of ‘blocking’ someone in real life.

This is used to devastating effect in Spall’s storyline when, following a domestic squabble with his pregnant girlfriend, Potter is forcibly removed from her life, appearing only as a static silhouette and a muffled voice. ‘Blocking’ has legal backing and comes with an enforced restraining order that pushes Potter into a plummeting spiral of grief and troubling thoughts of what might have been, and his endless suffering provides the episodes most subtly moving moments.

The performances are outstanding all-round, Hamm always charming if a little overpowering as he hides a dark manipulative streak behind a twinkling charisma that serves him well in coercing Potter to reveal his own truths. Chaplin also impresses in her dual role, juxtaposing the serenity of her character’s physical self with the tortured shell of her virtual double; it’s a pity we don’t get to see more of her. It’s Spall, though, who stands out most, transforming from an earnestly taciturn everyman wounded by heartbreak into a withered and tragic figure as he slowly unravels the full depth of his misery.

White Christmas is unlikely to rank among the strongest Black Mirror episodes, the sense that Hamm and Chaplin’s stories are incomplete is a hard one to shake and Brooker may have been better served devoting more time to Spall’s strand. And yet, while it is profoundly depressing, it’s hard to think of another show that is brave enough to be so bold and creative during a festive period that is perennially unimaginative. For that alone it should be celebrated, even if it isn’t fully enjoyed.

Click here to watch Black Mirror: White Christmas on 4oD