The TV show that made us want to drink amaretto sours

Sharp Objects

Sharp Objects had much in common with HBO’s other big cinematic blockbuster series, Big Little Lies. They shared a director, a predilection for A-list movie stars, a central mystery wrapped up in tight, secretive knots and an underbelly of violence that bubbled up through the thinnest of facades. But Sharp Objects wasn’t so much BLL’s aspirational high-gloss sibling as its oddball goth cousin, thrillingly unable to stick to the parameters that straightforward dramas usually do. It lurched in unusual directions, played with time and memory, and it left viewers – at least the ones who stuck it out to the crucial end of the final credits – in no doubt as to the depths that teenage girls can plumb.

Sharp Objects.
Patricia Clarkson in Sharp Objects. Photograph: Anne Marie Fox/AP

The show adapts Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn’s debut novel with experimental grit, a grim sense of humour and an unflinching appetite for the dark side. Camille Preaker – Amy Adams putting on what is surely a career-best performance, in a career full of them – heads home to face her troubled past in Wind Gap, Missouri, a claustrophobic and clammy small town upholding propriety and standards, even as it falls apart to reveal a barely concealed malevolence. Camille returns to investigate the gruesome murders of two young girls, found without their teeth, but she’s ill-equipped to face other people’s demons when she’s practically drowning in her own. She has a drink problem and a body covered in self-inflicted scars, visibly spelling out her pain in a litany of coarsely scored words. Her self-loathing radiates outwards, catching anyone in the vicinity up in its chaos.

It can all be traced back to Mommie dearest, Adora, the town’s wealthy de facto ruler, and a woman who makes Livia Soprano look like Supernanny. Patricia Clarkson appears to be having the time of her life skulking around the shadows of this grubby, Tennessee Williams southern gothic-style world, as she wafts around her pristine mansion in a pink slip, amaretto sour aloft. Among many highlights, perhaps the best scene in the series is one of its least flashy, when, over drinks on the veranda, Adora calmly and cruelly informs Camille of the limits of her motherly love.

It would have been easy for Sharp Objects to be lurid. The plot is unapologetically pulpy and trashy, and, in the end, the story turns out to be about as subtle as an episode of Scooby-Doo. And yet there is something utterly gripping about the unravelling of Camille’s trauma, and the slow reveal of Adora’s torture, both taken and given – to say nothing of the ultimate twist that shows where the evil truly resides. Whether you see it coming or not, the show delivers a breathtakingly audacious ending, almost funny in its sheer brutality. This has been a boon time for shows that, as the much-mocked Netflix category puts it, are lauded for “featuring a strong female lead”. But in making women the villains as well as the heroes, and in doing so with uniquely nasty verve and vision, Sharp Objects stands in a category all of its own.

Donald Glover (as Teddy Perkins) in Atlanta. Photograph: Fox

TV’s best character: Teddy from Atlanta

Donald Glover’s Fox show Atlanta is known to test the boundaries of the sitcom form, but episode six of season two marks the first time it goes full horror. In the 41-minute episode, Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) is lured to an eerie plantation-style mansion in rural Georgia by a messageboard post advertising a valuable piano for pick-up. Once there, Darius is greeted by Teddy – a middle-aged man with a creepy high-pitched voice and some serious daddy issues (actually Glover, unrecognisable in whiteface makeup). The set-up nods to Get Out, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and the life of Michael Jackson, but you don’t need to pick up on any of that subtext to find the character of Teddy deeply unnerving. That is, if Teddy even is a character, and not just a figment of Darius’s imagination? Or an alter ego of the mute, bandaged guy in the basement? Or an embodiment of Black America’s continued cultural subjugation? The internet theories abound.

From top: Bodyguard, Wanderlust’ A Very English Scandal.
From left: Bodyguard, Wanderlust’ A Very English Scandal. Composite: BBC/World Productions/Sophie Mutevelian; Matt Squire/BBC/Drama Republic; Kieron McCarron/BBC/PA

Oh, Muriel! The worst sex on TV:

Jed Mercurio may have mastered the action sequence, less so the red-hot hump. See Hawes and Madden bashing jaws like angry elephant seals before disrobing for “artful” gyrations between the sheets.

Behold Toni Colette’s frustrated therapist fighting with her lover’s belt buckle and rummaging in his trousers like a claw machine at a funfair. Oh, Muriel!

A Very English Scandal
“Hop on to all fours, there’s a good chap,” twinkled Jeremy Thorpe MP (Hugh Grant) at a bewildered Norman (Ben Whishaw) while reaching for the Vaseline. A nation clenched its buttocks as one.

The Handmaid’s Tale
A sweat-drenched June vibrating atop the only good man in Gilead while yanking his hair in order to stick it to the patriarchy. Cringe levels: code red. RIP sex.

The Circle.
The Circle. Photograph: Louis Browne/Channel 4

Five reality-show brain farts

1 Seven Year Switch
Warring couples sent to a Thai island to sample life with someone new against a subtropical backdrop. Wife Swap with the looming threat of divorce.

2 All Together Now
Bargain-bucket talent show where amateurs honked Rolling in the Deep in front of 100 “professional” singers, plus Ginger Spice.

3 Evil Monkeys
In which orange-hued Towie alumni were dispatched to the Japanese jungle to be humiliated by a gaggle of malevolent apes. So off its tits, did we dream this?

4 Celebs in Solitary
Haunted famouses sat in windowless cabins making shapes out of Play-Doh and staring bleakly at a wall. Twenty-first century television, everyone.

5 The Circle
Cerebrum-melting popularity contest in which self-absorbed nitwits sat in their underpants, communicating with strangers via a constructed social media platform.

Hereditary. Photograph: PR

The horror that made us lose our heads


How do the occult mysteries of Hereditary fit together? Chances are you were too frickin’ terrified to really figure it out at the time. Hereditary’s bizarre sensory-overload climax left many viewers in a state of raw, bewildered panic, deprived of rational thought processes – the perfect result for any horror movie.

Torture porn and jump-scares are so commonplace in horror, it is easy to forget what a genuinely scary movie looks like. Yes, Hereditary has its share of horribly gory moments: the multiple beheadings; Alex Wolff smashing his own face on a desk; ant-infested corpses; Gabriel Byrne burning – all the stuff of nightmares. But the movie operates on so many more levels. It gives you a deeper, longer-lasting type of dread, and that’s often the difference between a great horror movie and a great movie that happens to be a horror.

Tracing Hereditary’s own movie ancestry, director Ari Aster cited Rosemary’s Baby, The Innocents and Don’t Look Now – but also, tellingly, dramas such as The Ice Storm and Ordinary People. Because Hereditary is a family movie at heart, even if it does for the institution of family what Jaws did for shark-cuddling.

The story begins with the death of Ellen, matriarch of the Graham family, and, in retrospect, it is their happiest moment. A funereal gloom seems to hang over the household at all times, accentuated by the forest outside. Or rather, each family member is under their own individual cloud of gloom, with their own coping mechanisms: daughter Charlie (Millie Shapiro) makes weird art and strange clicking noises; son Peter (Wolff) smokes weed; their father (Byrne) always seems to be preoccupied by work; while his artist wife Annie (Toni Collette) finds solace in her control-freaky little models. Until she discovers communing with the dead.

Bereavement, grief and trauma seem to be this family’s fate: Annie tells her support group that her brother committed suicide and her father starved himself to death. Is there a rational explanation for this family curse? Genetics? Mental illness? Inherited control-freakery? Or is it something more supernatural? The scales steadily tip towards the latter but never quite desert the former. As it ratchets towards its freakout ending, Hereditary packs in the cryptic clues and details: that recurring, curlicued symbol, the treehouse, Annie’s models, the tongue-clicks, the weird flashes of light. Anything could be a threat: a nut cake, a doormat, a decomposing corpse in the attic.

It would take as long to “explain” the movie as it does to watch it, although that doesn’t really matter. What is so impressive is how beautifully it all fits together. Hereditary is a fantastically well-made film – technically, it is expertly done – but most of all, it is the characters who stick in the mind, especially Collette, who puts in a brilliant performance. By turns jittery, fractious, anguished, vulnerable and terrified, her anxieties are myriad. She is a reluctant mother who hated her own mother and doesn’t like her own children much, either. She knows what is going on even less than we do. She’s a textbook study in falling apart, and she holds the film together.

The weirdest things that were said to have benefitted from ‘the Black Panther Effect’

Black Panther.
Black Panther. Photograph: © Marvel Studios 2018

1) Tourism in Wauconda, Illinois. Pronounced identically to Wakanda, it registered a 25% increase in its travel searches.
2) A shift in the demographics of Lexus drivers. The cars were used as product-placement in the film.
3) Increase in adoption rates of black cats.

A Star is Born.
A Star is Born. Photograph: Clay Enos

A Star is Born: digested

Bradley Cooper’s character Jackson Maine wetting himself is the most eventful thing to happen at a music award show since Britney’s Gimme More performance.

Gaga’s character Ally’s songs might be crap – “Why do you look so good in those jeans? … Why you keep on texting me like that? (Damn)” – but they’re still better than most of Artpop.

There’s a bit where Ally wins the Grammy for best new artist, and you think: “As if.” Then you remember Meghan Trainor won that exact same award in 2016.

Erm, the dog’s the best thing about it.

The Greatest Showman.
The Greatest Showman. Photograph: Allstar/20th Century Fox

This is (still) me: Five things that happened while The Greatest Showman soundtrack was No 1

1 The decades-old Korean peace process went from illegal rocket launches to planning to dismantle North Korea’s entire nuclear weapons programme.

2 Angela Merkel completed her vast 171-day coalition negotiation process.

3 The world decided once and for all whether it is “Laurel” or “Yanny”.

4 Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko literally came back from the dead.

5 Ireland overturned its strict abortion laws, ending the 1,000-year-long grip of the Catholic church.

Cardi B.
Cardi B. Photograph: Jora Frantzis

The album that made us go ‘Mmhmmeww’

Invasion of Privacy by Cardi B

When Cardi B released Invasion of Privacy in April this year, expectation was high. Bodak Yellow had been a huge surprise hit, knocking Taylor Swift’s Look What You Made Me Do off the No 1 spot in the US and taking the rapper from niche reality and social media personality to a respected artist – with a lot of pressure riding on the album.

However, Invasion of Privacy delivered. Her debut is, in turns, boastful, funny, vulnerable and honest. On Thru Your Phone she’s threatening to serve a cheating boyfriend a bowl of bleach while her broken heart bleeds out. On Be Careful she’s begging him to be gentle with her feelings but also overly concerned he’ll get robbed by a one-night stand. She can do dumb bragging songs – Drip, for instance – but she’s funny, too. She reworks Project Pat’s misogynistic 2001 track Chickenhead into empowering anthem Bickenhead, suggesting women “Pop that pussy while you work / Pop that pussy up in church / Pop that pussy on the pole / Pop that pussy on the stove”. And isn’t that a motto to live by?

Cardi came along at exactly the right moment. This was the year stars got “real” about everything – artists speaking about mental health; Will Smith joining Instagram just to prove he knew the words to La Bamba – but there’s no one realer than Cardi. Her social media is another level of honest: we’ve seen her on the loo, in bed with (now ex) Offset and taping her boobs into a designer dress. As she says on Best Life: “I never had a problem showin’ y’all the real me / Hair when it’s fucked up / Crib when it’s filthy”. She goes on to admit to having her teeth “fixed” because “those comments used to kill me”. It’s very 2018 #relatable. Cardi B is YOU! She also thinks “those Balenciagas look like socks”! She also likes texts from her ex when they want a second chance! She’s also going through her partner’s phone and hoping the screen goes dark again before they walk back into the room!

Invasion of Privacy is so good, in fact, it sparked a feud with self-proclaimed queen of rap, Nicki Minaj. While many suspect the beef began with Nicki feeling threatened by Cardi coming for her crown, it allegedly all started over a dispute about Nicki’s verse on Migos’s Motorsport, and ended with Cardi reportedly chucking her shoe at her rival’s head, a scuffle more suitable for closing time at All Bar One than New York fashion week. See? Relatable. The album – in a year of bloated and overlong hip-hop albums (hi, Drake, Lil Wayne, Migos and Nicki Minaj) – is a short, sweet (48 minutes, 13-track) victory lap aimed at anyone who put down Bodak Yellow as a one-off success.

As Cardi herself says: her little 15 minutes lasted long as hell, huh?

Keshia, Kiki Dee and Kim Kardashia.
From left: Keshia, Kiki Dee and Kim Kardashia. Composite: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty; Sharratt/Rex ; Stephen Lovekin/Rex

Who was Kiki?

It has been a year full of mysteries: who bit Beyoncé? Who set off the bomb that killed Julia Montague on Bodyguard? But the biggest one of all is: who is the Kiki in Drake’s In My Feelings?

1) Kim Kardashian The evidence: Kiki is Kim’s nickname. Her best mate La La Anthony played Kiki in Drake’s video. Also: Twitter thinks it’s her. But maybe not: Kim’s husband Kanye West went on a whole Instagram video rant slagging off Drake for even SAYING the word Kiki and says it wasn’t her.

2) Kiki Dee Don’t go breaking your heart? Drake couldn’t if he tried. It might seem far-fetched for him to have fallen for a 71-year-old singer-songwriter from Yorkshire, but listen: it’s right there in the lyrics!

3) Keshia Chanté The evidence: The 106 & Park presenter and singer was Drake’s first girlfriend from back in Toronto. They’re still mates – joining him on last year’s Boy Meets World tour – and she just loves the Instagram caption “in my feelings”. He also rapped about her on 2009 mixtape Born Successful. DING DING DING! Jessica Fletcher, we have a winner!

Shaggy with Sting; President Trump meets with Kanye West; Rick Astley in Hollyoaks.
From top: Shaggy with Sting; President Trump meets with Kanye West; Rick Astley in Hollyoaks. Composite: Ken McKay/ITV/Rex; UPI/Barcroft; Lime Pictures

Smelly feat: 2018’s worst collabs

Shaggy and Sting. 44/876 was the reggae-lite duets album we didn’t want, or need, but got anyway.

Kanye West and Donald Trump. Can someone please bin that Maga hat?

Olly Murs and Snoop Dogg. Some people thought Snoop had gone too far when he declared himself a Rastafarian and changed his name to Snoop Lion. Yet again, he proved us wrong and the result was recent single Moves.

Hollyoaks and Rick Astley. The soap Rickrolled us 11 years too late, with the singer appearing as a figment of kidnap victim Kim Butterfield’s imagination as she lost her mind.

Maroon 5 and Millie Bobby Brown. The Stranger Things star joined the Moves Like Jagger hitmakers onstage in Nashville to rap the verse in Girls Like You. We’d rather holiday in the Upside Down, thanks.

Five things Rihanna did instead of making a new album

Rihanna at a Fenty Beauty event.
Rihanna at a Fenty Beauty event. Photograph: Caroline McCredie/Getty Images

1 Made some pants. The line, called Savage x Fenty, was designed and modelled by Rihanna. Great, but: where’s the album?

2 Launched a makeup empire. Fenty Beauty had influencers and fans raving over its range of shades, but: where’s the album?

3 Fitted some burglar alarms. Poor Ri-Ri has been broken into three times this year, including twice in one week. Sad, but: where’s the album?

4 Played a hacker in Ocean’s 8. Yeah, she was funny in it, but honestly: where’s the album?

5 Told fans to stop asking for new music. “It’s coming. Just not today sis,” she told a fan online. “When the music is ready, you won’t have to ask for it.” CLEARLY that is not the case. Rihanna: where’s the album?

Ben Affleck.
Ben Affleck. Photograph: TID/Backgrid

Tracks of the year: reviewed by Ben Affleck’s back tattoo

Ariana Grande Thank U, Next

There are a lot of ways to get over a failed relationship. Do you approach it like Ariana, and make a sassy pop anthem name-checking your exes, with the year’s most catchy chorus? Or do you get a huge tattoo of a phoenix rising from the flames on your back and lie about it for two years before finally being forced to admit it’s real? It’s up to you! It’s your choice! Possibly Ariana did it better, but as I say: it’s your call!

Childish Gambino This Is America

This Is America starts off as one song, then changes into another, before changing back again – and that’s a story that I can relate to! Because, yes, Ben initially lied and said I was fake for a movie! Was I hurt? Yes. Was I surprised? Also yes! But then he admitted I was real. He said it was “just banter”. He said that I was our little secret. So thank you Donald Glover for making an important record with a relatable message: changing your mind is OK!

Cardi B ft Bad Bunny and J Balvin I Like It

This is an absolute banger, perfect for a divorced dad having a bit of an MLC (that’s a midlife crisis to those not in the entertainment industry) to dance to, and pull a cocktail waitress half his age. And do you know what I would like, Ben? A bit of appreciation! A bit of thanks! “Thank you for making me look edgy, back tattoo,” or: “Thank you for providing a huge amount of work for cover-up makeup artists on movie sets, back tattoo.” Just saying!

Pinkfong Baby Shark

Life, Matt Damon often likes to tell me, is all about perception. Is Baby Shark the most annoying song of the year, or is it perfect for parents to stick on a loop at kids’ birthday parties? Am I a huge mistake that Ben is literally trying to put behind him, or am I the perfect manifestation of Ben’s rubbish 2018? Perception!

Christine & the Queens ft Dam-Funk Girlfriend

This has a 90s funk vibe to it, so Ben would love it. The 90s were a great time for him, he says. Good Will Hunting, Shakespeare in Love, Armageddon … Personally I think his best work happened in the 00s (who can forget that Jenny from the Block video? Or Gigli?) but he doesn’t like to talk about that because he’s so modest. I can’t get one story out of him about Pearl Harbor! In the song, there’s a bit where it sounds as if Chris is chanting “pussy/pussy/pussy”. That won’t be a problem for Ben now that I’m sprawling all over his back and shoulders! C’ya!


Issy Sampson, Steve Rose, Fiona Sturges, Ellen E Jones, Michael Cragg, Gavin Haynes and Rebecca Nicholson

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