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The Artful Dodger ★★★½
“Everyone hates Oliver Twist – he’s a wet lettuce.”
Literary history gets reappraised in this picaresque drama, which reunites the supporting cast from Oliver Twist 15 years after Charles Dickens’ noble hero left them behind. It’s the 1850s and in the fictional Australian colony of Port Victory, adolescent pickpocket the Artful Dodger is now naval surgeon Jack Dawkins (Thomas Brodie-Sangster). Dashing from a card game, where he loses to the cheating harbourmaster Darius Cracksworth (Tim Minchin), to perform an amputation for a baying audience, Jack is a doctor without orders.
Thomas Brodie-Sangster plays Dr Jack Dawkins, aka the Artful Dodger.
Jack’s considerable debt, which Cracksworth values as being worth a severed hand, coincides with a prison transport delivering his supposedly dead criminal mentor, Norbert Fagin (David Thewlis), a liver-spotted scoundrel who is soon Jack’s assistant and the voice in his ear urging him to return to thieving. Circumstances keep pushing Jack to the cusp of criminality, especially when he and Fagin draw the attention of the colony’s zealous lawman, Captain Lucien Gaines (Damon Herriman).
Created by writer James McNamara and producers David Maher and David Taylor, The Artful Dodger is a period piece with the blithe energy of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes movies.
Early 2000s alternative rock – Jet, Spiderbait – is blasted, and Port Victory is more of a generic British colony, as in a Pirates of the Caribbean movie, than a distinctly Australian one. Miranda Tapsell, who is credited with “extra writing”, plays bushranger Frances “Red” Scrubbs, but the Indigenous population or colonialism’s impact on them aren’t referenced in the four episodes provided to critics.
The scrapes and plots come with blackly comic setbacks and farcical British misrule, but the most telling dynamic is at the hospital, where surgery is as much art as science, and Jack fences with the governor’s daughter, Belle Fox (Maia Mitchell). Obsessed with medical research – she introduces Jack to the unproven theory of “germs” – and determined to break down gender barriers, Belle pushes and provokes Jack, who wants more from the bloody, fledgling medical system but is acutely aware that he’s excluded from the ruling class.
There’s a moment in the third episode, where Jack lightly holds Belle’s hand as she makes her first surgical incision into a corpse. It’s somehow both tender and macabre, and that kind of period friction is where The Artful Dodger feels at its most inventive.
The show is never short of pressing tasks for its protagonist and the direction, from Jeffrey Walker and then Corrie Chen, rightly hums along.
There’s nothing revisionist about this history, but with its arcane medical detail and criminal argot it splits the difference between Barry McKenzie and Barry Lyndon.
(From left) Martin Herlihy, Ben Marshall and John Higgins in Please Don’t Destroy: The Treasure of Foggy Mountain.Credit: Anne Marie Fox/Peacock via AP
Please Don’t Destroy: The Treasure of Foggy Mountain ★★★
A twenty-something comedy trio who’ve taken over the prerecorded sketch spot on Saturday Night Live that was once held by Andy Samberg and his Lonely Island cohort, Please Don’t Destroy – Martin Herlihy, John Higgins, and Ben Marshall – do pop culture absurdity and a witty line in earnest answers to bizarre suggestions. Their geek bro credentials lean hard into self-deprecation: their breakout SNL spot was Pete Davidson and Taylor Swift serenading them in a song titled Three Sad Virgins.
The Treasure of Foggy Mountain is a slight but mostly funny feature-length extension of their brand. Carrying over their first named, they play dorky best friends who vaguely work at the outdoor store owned by Ben’s father, Farley (Conan O’Brien, nailing his every scene) and are stumbling towards adulthood. When circumstances send them on a lost treasure hunt in the mountain, the resulting movie crosses Goonies with Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
The best SNL spin-off movie will forever be Will Forte’s MacGruber, but Please Don’t Destroy do enough here to make up for their nepo baby credentials (Herlihy and Higgins have famous comedy dads). Their group dynamic needs to figure out how to better distinguish their personas, but they’re also generous in sharing the screen. The funniest role they’ve written here goes to Meg Stalter (Hacks) as a deluded park ranger.
Gary Oldman in Slow HorsesCredit: Apple TV+
Slow Horses (season 3)
One of the best shows currently streaming doesn’t miss a beat in its third season, with Gary Oldman’s rancorous MI5 outcast and his misfit spy crew getting drawn into an internal power struggle. The scabrous insults and escalating tension of previous seasons are maintained, but this time there’s also a particularly scathing view of how power is wielded by the establishment in the name of national security.
This isn’t the best advertisement for Jack Lowden taking over as James Bond, but his River Cartwright is such an enjoyably flawed character.
Paper Dolls: satire and trauma.Credit: Tony Mott/Paramount+
There’s a disclaimer at the start, but nonetheless this is plainly a fictionalised retelling of Bardot, the girl group formed via the 1999 reality television competition Popstars; creator Ainslie Clouston is working from an original concept by Bardot member Belinda Chapple.
Based on the first episode, it’s a vaguely period piece where the music industry is usurious and the tone reflexively spins between Spice Girls satire and the overwhelming trauma of Izzy James (Emalia), a former teen star spat out by the industry but given a second chance.
Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose
“Oddity” is not the worst thing you can say about a film, but it sums up this British black comedy both for its historic subject and the lack of better definable elements in its telling. In the 1930s a family on the Isle of Man drew tabloid headlines when they claimed their home was inhabited by a mongoose, Gef, that could talk. Adam Sigal’s satire is focused on Nandor Fodor (Simon Pegg, leaning heavily into the costumes and props), a parapsychologist who was one of the real-life experts who came to debunk the tale.
Khalid Abdalla as Dodi Fayed and Elizabeth Debicki as Princess Diana in the new season of The Crown.Credit: Daniel Escale/Netflix
The Crown (season 6)
Game of Thrones′ reputation is marred by a shoddy and ill-judged final season, but if anything The Crown’s conclusion is shaping up to be even more disappointing.
Peter Morgan’s historic drama had already been flailing after making an impressive debut defined by ceremonial insight and tart wit, but the new season bringing back Princess Diana (Elizabeth Debicki) as a conciliatory ghost to smooth over her divide with Prince Charles (Dominic West) and Queen Elizabeth (Imelda Staunton) is just a laughably bad gambit. With the last six episodes dropping on Thursday 14 December, ignominy beckons.
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