WATCHING: Sherlock (BBC1) January is a beastly, beastly month and ought to be banned. Given this is unlikely for the foreseeable future, god bless the BBC for sweetening the bitter pill of these cold long winter nights with the return of Sherlock. Well up to the standard of the first series, this was a joy to watch and, as with Doctor Who, had the confidence, wit and imagination of British television at its best. While the plots were necessarily complex, the characters kept you hooked even when all seemed opaque. The performances were superb across the board, but the Holmes/Watson interplay is so perfectly nailed by Cumberbatch and Freeman, counterbalanced by the unhinged darkness of Andrew Scott's Moriaty, far more unpredictable and creepy than the sophisticated moustache-twirling villain the name usually conjures up. The final scene of The Reichenbach Fall was classic television, so thrilling you barely blinked, driven by nothing but dialogue. And that, that, is a cliffhanger.
Jonathan Meades on France (BBC4) I've written before about why Jonathan Meades is on the Falling Sky National Treasure list, so we were very happy bunnies indeed when last Saturday's TV listings revealed a brand new three-part series from the man himself on BBC4 (where else?) devoted to France - that is, "the 95 per cent of France that Brits drive through and don't notice en route to the 5 per cent that conforms to their expectation." The first part, focused on the region of Lorraine, was prime Meades - inventive, evocative, intelligent, opinionated, angry and wry, often all at once. You can watch part 1 on the iPlayer until 10pm, 8 February - part 2 is this Wednesday at 9pm on BBC4 and promises "A Biased Anthology of Parisian Peripheries". (UPDATE: for more Meadesness see Plus du Meades)
LISTENING: Ironically, my first brand new album of the year turned out to be music from twenty years ago. Following positive reviews in The Quietus and Pitchfork, I thought I'd give Drexciya's Journey of the Deep Sea Dweller I a go - and I'm very glad I did. This is Detroit-based techno/electro from the 1990's (see this Wire essay for more background), intense electronica that reminded me at points of Kraftwerk circa The Robots and early Orbital, yet doesn't sound dated despite the age. There's some wonderfully menacing bass here, like deep ocean rumbles, while beats rattle furiously - this is music that would be equally at home on a subterranean dance floor or the soundtrack to a breathlessly exciting sci-fi action scene. The below is a real treat, one of the best tracks from the album accompanied with clips from the BBC's Blue Planet documentary series, those deep sounds perfectly placed in an underwater world of squid and whales.
READING: Still in the middle of a book - internet-wise, there was a good article on The Daily Beast with the self-explanatory headline Consumption Makes Us Sad? Science Says We Can Be Happy With Less. It basically covers the same ground as books like Affluenza and Enough, but when the message of over-consumption is being hammered through on a daily basis, any dissenting voice is to be welcomed. The article makes a particularly good point on the importance of doing as opposed to having.
There are several possible reasons why doing does more for us than having. First, though doing is just an episode in life, we continue to “consume” the things we do by remembering them, and sharing our memories with others. Second, doing is almost always social, and I’ve already indicated how important social relations are to well being. Doing things together with others may actually strengthen social ties, and because our social relations are much less predictable than our relations with stuff (the Mercedes doesn’t change from day to day, or behave weirdly as we drive to work), we are less likely to adapt to our activities. [...] Third, doing seems to constitute a more meaningful part of our personal identity than having does. Now, we all know people who “are what they own.” But there is reliable research indicating that people who are like that—people who have what we might call materialist values—are less satisfied with their lives than people who don’t.