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The TV series that got us through lockdown

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What was the series that you binged during lockdown? From zombies to racing cars to robots battling monsters; our writers reveal their pandemic bingeing

 

KINGDOM

Kingdom was my household’s escape from Covid for a while last year. The visually stunning Korean zombie series from writer Kim Eun-hee and director Kim Seong-hun tells the story of an infectious outbreak during the Joseon Dynasty. Unlike the Covid pandemic, this is one in which frustrations with a virus can be relieved by stabbing someone through the head with a sword.

Dawn of the Dead was about consumerism; Zombie by the Cranberries was about Northern Ireland; The Walking Dead was about unrelenting boredom (I assume). Like all good zombie art, Kingdom has a potent metaphor at its core. Its zombie plague has its origins in a zombified ruler puppetted by a family of power-hungry lackeys. This sickness at the top of society spreads through the land alongside a pre-existing plague of corruption and famine that appal our virtuous heroes – a noble prince (Ju Ji-hoon) and a lowly physician (Bae Doona).

But Kingdom also comes with more optimism than is usual in this genre. Unlike almost all of the more westerly zombie apocalypses, it focuses less on individualistic survival against a backdrop of societal anarchy (which is the main US mode for zombie stories) and more on logical plague containment and a concern with the collective good. It ultimately pans out more like a tense adventure story than a nihilistic gorefest (thought it’s also a bit of a gorefest) as its likeable heroes battle both zombie armies and malevolent courtiers while trying to find a cure.

They never quite institute a functioning test-and-trace system, largely relying on the old-fashioned “stick a sword through the zombie’s head” method of disease repression. But, quite frankly, there’s a lot to be said for that too.
– Patrick Freyne

Kingdom is available on Netflix

THE BOLD TYPE

The Bold Type

The New York-located Scarlet magazine of The Bold Type is based on the glossy flagship Cosmopolitan. Its editor, Jacqueline Carlyle, is based on Cosmo’s former editor Joanna Coles (notice the initials?), who is the show’s executive producer. Carlyle is pretty bold, as are the three twentysomething employees who are best pals – Jane, Sutton and Kat.

Jane is a writer favouring telling stories through her personal experiences. Sutton is a fashion assistant aspiring to be a stylist. Kat, who is biracial, is Scarlet’s social media director, and at one point scolds her two white friends for misappropriating the word “woke”.

Between what’s happening in their own lives and what’s being covered in the magazine, the show sharply covers subjects ranging from gender and identity, the Me Too movement, workplace power dynamics, body image, sexuality, ambition and social media difficulties. Scarlet also goes digital along the way, and there are the inevitable media tussles between editorial and advertising.

There’s a lot of terrible CGI throughout, but the material about an evolving media industry, and the zeitgeist for young women, is robust and relevant.

However, at core, The Bold Type is about female friendship. Jane, Sutton and Kat meet up to decompress during work hours, not in the women’s toilets, but in the magazine’s glamorous fashion closet. Outside work, they are the tightest of trios, always challenging and supporting each other. It’s refreshing to see a show that celebrates female friendship in all its messiness, without ever resorting to reductive bitchy animosity. – Rosita Boland

Available on Netflix; fifth and final season coming later this year.

FORMULA 1: DRIVE TO SURVIVE

The Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix in São Paulo in 2019. Photograph: Vladimir Rys
The Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix in São Paulo in 2019. Photograph: Vladimir Rys

There are many unexpected personal revelations within lockdown, but becoming fully immersed in a sport I didn’t give a damn about until a month ago is definitely a twist. The catalyst for my newfound fandom of Formula 1 is the amazing soap-opera/reality/documentary series Drive To Survive. The Netflix series (there are three seasons, and I’ve gone through them at Lewis Hamilton-level pace) is a masterclass in editing and conflict.

The races are high drama, of course, but so is the jostling within and between teams coloured by immaturity, backstabbing, territorial rage, emotional meltdowns, insecurity, jealousy, arrogance, favouritism, vindictiveness, resilience, joy and egomania, in a ludicrous but brilliant sport that makes a virtue of its inequities, running on the fuel of warped capitalism, toxic brand pressure, and self-loathing billionaires. Brilliant.

Then there’s the strange, comforting parallels with the pandemic. Drivers’ dreams are crushed frequently. When an engine explodes, or a car spins off track, these arbitrarily cruel moments remind us that no matter how prepared and focused we are, no matter what ambitions or plans we have, s*** happens.

Finding myself leaping off the couch at the 2020 Italian Grand Prix result, screaming “He’s done it! He f***ing did it! I don’t believe it!” or turning to my girlfriend after another particularly poignant result, tears streaming down my face, saying, “No matter what happens, no one can take this away from him,” may be part of a broader existential crisis, or it could just be that Drive to Survive presents an opportunity to feel something – adrenaline – in the emotionally flat desert of the pandemic. Box, box, box! – Una Mullally

Available on Netflix

THE ASCENT OF MAN

The Ascent of Man
Jacob Bronowski in The Ascent of Man

The sequence of “authored” documentary series made by the BBC from the late 1960s to the late 1970s are among the imperishable jewels of the medium. Kenneth Clark walked us through the history of art in Civilisation. Alistair Cooke’s America made sense of that nation as it prepared for a bicentennial. Best of all, perhaps, was Jacob Bronowski’s still-gripping The Ascent of Man. Now available in a reasonably priced boxed set, the series, first broadcast in 1973, attempted an overview of science from the first plough to the Manhattan Project. Bronowski is the ideal companion for such a daunting journey. A mathematician whose Jewish family moved from Poland to Britain in the 1920s, he was as happy quoting William Blake as talking us through the principles of special relativity. As he reaches the 20th century, he is able to relate personal anecdotes about interactions with distinguished geniuses. (“You wake me up early in the morning to tell me that I’m right?” the late-sleeping mathematician John “Johnny” von Neuman once berated someone who dared to call before lunch. “Please wait until I’m wrong.”)

Most importantly, Bronowski had a gift for turning his teaching into stories. None ends so powerfully as the episode on quantum mechanics. He wades into the swampy land that absorbed the ashes of so many humans outside Auschwitz and grabs a handful of damp mud. “We have to cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power,” he says, standing amid the remains of his own relatives. “We have to close the distance between the push-button order and the human act. We have to touch people.”

Among the most powerful moments in television history. – Donald Clarke

Available on YouTube

NEON GENESIS EVANGELION

Neon Genesis Evangelion
Neon Genesis Evangelion

One of the first things I did in lockdown was order a short-story anthology about kaiju – those huge, city-ravaging monsters that are a long-time staple of Japanese cinema. If this wasn’t the moment to curl up with tales of Godzilla-like terrors plunging humanity into dystopia, when was?

The book was fine – but I wanted more. Pacific Rim, Guillermo Del Toro’s take on the genre, is one of my favourites. Alas, I’ve watched it to death and can quote whole chunks of dialogue (“Today we are cancelling the apocalypse!”, as I shouted at the postman the other morning).

And so I finally went down the rabbit hole. That is to say, I developed an obsession with Neon Genesis Evangelion, the 1995 anime series credited with pioneering the concept of kaiju battling huge robots.

It’s great, though the gender politics are “of their time”. The story, however, holds up wonderfully. The year is 2015 and across the Earth, massive, destructive beings called “Angels” have awakened. The only line of defence are titanic robots – “Evangelions”.

In Dublin they’d probably be outlawed for detracting from the historic skyline. But in the city of “Tokyo-3” Evas are exactly what is required. Enter hero Shinji Ikari, a teenager who reluctantly becomes the pilot of “Eva-01”.

Episode by episode, we see Shinji conquer his fears, and turn tables on the Angels. A crowning touch is the complicated lore, with the origins of the Angels drawing on Christian mysticism and the Jewish Kaballah tradition.

In short it delivers more excitement than you can shake a giant robot arm at. Across the world the recent Godzilla v Kong has whetted appetites for monster apocalypses. If that includes you, then you owe it to yourself to dive off the deep end and into Neon Genesis Evangelion. – Ed Power

Available on Netflix

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The macro pig farm threatening a historical gem in northern Spain | Culture

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Christians and Muslims fought over the castle of Gormaz in Soria in the Spanish region of Castilla y León for two centuries. Now, after a lapse of hundreds of years, it is once again under threat – this time, from a macro pig farm for 4,200 animals. The proposed farm is within two kilometers of the fortress, and will be visible from its impressive caliphal gate, which is one of the biggest tourist attractions of the medieval site.

Environmental and neighborhood associations, architecture and restoration professionals, as well as the town councils of Recuerda, a village of 70 inhabitants, and Gormaz, a village of 20, call the plans an “attack” on one of the most impressive Islamic fortresses on the peninsula. With a perimeter measuring more than one kilometer, the castle of Gormaz was once the largest in Europe. It was this fortress that the Caliph of Córdoba, Al-Hakam II, ordered to be reinforced and expanded at the end of the 10th century to stop the Christian advance from the north.

Meanwhile, the company behind the project, Agro Peñaranda Esteban, insists it will comply “strictly with the law” and that if the permits are not issued, it will go elsewhere. “It’s great to eat torreznos [a kind of fried bacon snack] from Soria in a good restaurant in a big capital city,” says one of the shareholders, who is from the area. “People must think that they fall from the sky.”

The castle of Gormaz was built in the 9th century to strategically support Medinaceli, the capital of the so-called Muslim Middle Frontier. Divided into two large areas separated by a moat, there is the fortress with the tower of Almanzor and the caliphal quarters, and then the area for the troops, where the main entrance is located. Altogether, it has 28 towers with battlements and arrowslits.

The Soria fortress defended the routes to the north of the peninsula that followed the banks of the Duero river and was coveted by a number of figures, including Count García Fernández, Sancho II of Pamplona, Ramiro III of León, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar and the de facto ruler of Islamic Iberia, Almanzor. And so it passed from one side to the other until, in 1060, Fernando I of León seized it once and for all. During the reign of Spain’s Catholic Monarchs, it was turned into a prison as it no longer had any strategic value.

But now it is administrative forces that are advancing on the castle. On June 29, the Castilla y León regional government published “the announcement of a pig farm of 4,200 pigs in plot 20114 of industrial estate 1 of the municipality of Recuerda,” which backs onto Gormaz. August 10 was the deadline for anyone wishing to take issue with the environmental impact assessment, which states that the farm would not alter the surrounding landscape. “It is a landscape altered by human activity, due to its agricultural use, with no dominant variations or striking contrasts,” claims the report.

This contradicts the regional plan for the Duero Valley, approved by the Castilla y León regional authorities in 2010, which mentions a series of Landscape Management Areas (AOP) needing a specific regime of protection, management and planning. One such area includes the castle of Gormaz and the surrounding area where the farm would be located.

View of the San Miguel hermitage from the caliphal gate of the castle of Gormaz.
View of the San Miguel hermitage from the caliphal gate of the castle of Gormaz.José Francisco Yusta

Luis Morales, architect and member of the Soria Association for the Defense of Nature (Aseden), points out that the castle’s environment is “totally agricultural – fields and forests – and very similar to what it might have been in the Middle Ages, when Gormaz was built. To put an industrial complex of enormous dimensions to house more than 4,000 pigs, which is what they intend, is barbaric,” he adds. “It breaks up the landscape from the same caliphal gate, the one that is so often photographed for tourism purposes.”

Morales also believes that the municipalities have the means to stop the project, “because the land is rustic and can therefore be classified as protected, which would prevent the livestock complex from being built.” Meanwhile, the Aseden association points out that the regional authorities were responsible for the White Paper of the Territorial Enclaves of Cultural Interest (ETIC), which selected 111 locations of cultural or heritage interest, one of which was Gormaz.

According to the NGO Ecologists in Action, in this type of facility whose surface area would be 4,000 square meters plus another 2,000 for slurry, “the problem of odor emissions is very important because of its proximity and orientation with respect to inhabited areas and other places of interest.” It explains: “In this case, the farm would be to the west, 1.3 kilometers from Recuerda and two kilometers from the castle of Gormaz. According to data from [Spain’s national weather agency] Aemet, the prevailing winds are from the west. In other words, it would bring unhealthy smells for most of the year to Recuerda. Surprisingly, the project says that the prevailing winds are from the northeast.”

Consuelo Barrio, mayor of Recuerda, agrees. “It is not only the visual impact, which is very important, but also the environmental impact due to the possible contamination of the water from the slurry as we are in an area of aquifers; this is in addition to the smell that would come our way as we are barely a kilometer from it.”

Meanwhile, the company behind the project considers it is under “unjustified attack.” According to one 38-year-old businessman involved in the project, “in this part of Soria there are at least three farms: Quintanar, Gormaz…. And if ours smells, it means they all smell. It’s not like years ago, when pigs were thrown into the Duero – some of which I have seen floating – or the slurry was dumped down drains. No. There are strict environmental laws and we will comply with them. It is easy to talk about ‘deserted’ Spain and all the things the politicians are saying, but when you try to create wealth, obstacles are thrown up because you can be seen from the castle two kilometers away. If they don’t let us set up here, we’ll go somewhere else,” he adds angrily.

Marisa Revilla, president of Amigos del Museo Numantino, is particularly upset by the visual effect of the pig farm. “The impact report does not take into account the horizontal impact. It only states that they are going to put up some hedges to hide the farm. But the installation will not only affect the castle, it will also affect the nearby Romanesque San Miguel hermitage.” This hermitage was inspected in the 1990s by architect José Francisco Yusta, who specializes in historical monuments and also opposes the construction of the farm. “There is no justification for breaking up the landscape,” says Yusta, who has worked on such architectural gems as the cathedral of Burgo de Osma, the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and castle of Gormaz itself.

“I believe it is not worth destroying our landscape for the two jobs that the macro-farm will provide, which are those proposed by the promoters,” says architect Luis Morales. “If there were only 200 for deserted Spain….”

English version by Heather Galloway.

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Ex-Ireland rugby player charged with stealing almost €600,000 from BOI

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Former Irish rugby international Brendan Mullin is to face trial accused of deception, false accounting and theft of close to €600,000 from Bank of Ireland where he held a senior executive position.

Mullin (57) appeared at Dublin District Court on Tuesday following an investigation by the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) into bank fraud allegations going back a decade.

The former rugby star won 55 Irish caps between 1984 and 1995 before he went into financial services and became managing director at Bank of Ireland Private Banking Ltd.

He was arrested at 9.08am on Tuesday when he met gardaí in Dublin city-centre. He was brought to the Bridewell Garda station where he was charged with 15 offences which allegedly took place between 2011 and 2013.

He is accused of stealing €500,000 on December 16th 2011, at Bank of Ireland Private Bank at Burlington Plaza, Burlington Road, Dublin 4.

Mr Mullin, of Albert Lodge, Stillorgan Road, Donnybrook, Dublin 4, is charged with eight further thefts of amounts totalling €73,000 from the bank.

Five counts of false accounting were also put to him.

He was also charged with deception by inducing a named man and woman to sign a payment instruction with the intention of making gain for himself or another on July 27th, 2011.

Dressed in a grey suit and light blue shirt, he sat silently during his hearing before Judge Michael Walsh.

GNECB Detective Sean O’Riordan told the court Mr Mullin made no comment when charged.

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has directed trial on indictment meaning his case will go before a judge and jury in the circuit court.

The DPP has also stated that he can be sent forward for sentencing on a signed plea, should that arise, but defence solicitor Robert Purcell told Judge Walsh a book of evidence will be required.

Bail terms had been agreed, Judge Walsh noted, and it was set in Mr Mullin’s own bond of €10,000.

He was ordered to surrender his passport but this was not made a precondition of release; Judge Walsh warned him that it must be handed over to gardai within 48 hours of taking up bail.

Mr Mullin needed to travel for work purposes and that could be done once the GNECB detective is notified in advance, the judge said.

He must appear again at the District Court on November 11th next to be served with the book of evidence by the prosecution.

A trial order can then be granted.

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Shock in Germany after cashier shot dead in Covid mask row

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The killing on Saturday evening in the western town of Idar-Oberstein, Rhineland-Palatinate, is believed to be the first in Germany linked to the government’s coronavirus rules.

The row started when the cashier, a student, told the customer to put on a face mask, as required in all German shops. After a brief argument, the man left.

The suspect then returned about an hour and a half later, this time wearing a mask. But as he brought his six-pack of beer to the till, he took off the mask and another discussion ensued.

“The perpetrator then pulled out a revolver and shot him straight in the head,” prosecutor Kai Fuhrmann told reporters on Monday.

The suspect, a 49-year-old German man, walked to a police station the following day to turn himself in. He was arrested and has confessed to the murder.

He told police he felt “cornered” by the coronavirus measures, which he perceived as an “ever-growing infringement on his rights” and he had seen “no other way out”, Fuhrmann said.

Idar-Oberstein mayor Frank Fruehauf called it “an unfathomable, terrible act”, and residents have laid flowers and candles outside the petrol station.

The murder comes just days before Germans head to the polls for a general election on September 26 that will see Chancellor Angela Merkel bow out of politics after 16 years.

Katrin Goering-Eckardt, the parliamentary leader of the Green party, tweeted that she was “deeply shaken” by the killing, which she said was “the cruel result of hatred”.

Agriculture Minister Julia Kloeckner from Merkel’s centre-right CDU party, who hails from the region, said the murder was “shocking”.

The Tagesspiegel newspaper said far-right chat groups on Telegram were applauding the murder, with one user writing “Here we go!!!” while others posted thumbs-up emojis.

Germany has seen repeated protests from anti-mask demonstrators throughout the pandemic, some of them attracting tens of thousands of people.

The Querdenker (Lateral Thinkers) movement has emerged as the loudest voice against the government’s coronavirus curbs and regulations. Its marches have drawn a wide mix of people, including vaccine sceptics, neo-Nazis and members of Germany’s far-right AfD party.



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