October 1, 2014

Third-episode verdict: Forever (US: ABC; UK: Sky 1)

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BarrometerForever.jpgA Barrometer rating of 3

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, ABC
In the UK: Thursdays, 9pm, Sky 1. Starts October 2

Sometimes, it can take a while for a show to get a handle on itself. A pilot can quite often throw a whole slew of ideas at a screen in the hope that something will stick and appeal to the audience. Often, writers won’t even know what works until they’ve seen the pilot for themselves and brought others on board.

And so it is to a reasonable extent with Forever, which stars Ioan Gruffudd as an immortal doctor looking for a cure for his condition by working among the dead at the NYPD mortuary, helping to solve cases.

From the pilot, it was pretty clear that the writers weren’t quite sure what they had on their hands and they knew that it wasn’t exactly a novel show: with Gruffudd also using his centuries of experience and observation to become a veritable Sherlock Holmes, the show effectively was one part Castle, one part Elementary, with just a hint of New Amsterdam.

Even more so, it was "Highlander without sword fights”, with Gruffudd pining over his dead wife, while living in an antique shop with a mortal he adopted during the Second World War who’s aged while he hasn’t (Judd Hirsch), seeing the beginnings of a possible romance with an NYPD cop (Alana De La Garza), having flashbacks to his considerable past and discovering that he has a possible, equally immortal nemesis to deal with in New York. The producers were so aware of what they were doing, they even had an epic Highlander reference at the end of the episode, just to make it clear.

However, time marches on and since then, the show has been scrabbling to find a new place for itself in the world. While not tinkering much with the overall format, the second episode did tighten up on the laughably poor procedural side, with Gruffudd now embarrassingly regularly out-doing Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock Holmes when it comes to deductions. And rather than simply gloss over the McGuffin of the piece, the show drops a big hint that perhaps his arch-nemesis might even be someone significant.

Episode three, on the other hand, took the show in a slightly novel direction, making it somewhat the inheritor of the mantel of its ABC predecessor Pushing Daisies. Streamlining the show away from the constant pining, the “how will he get killed and resurrect this time?” trope and the arch nemesis, the show plumped more for the macabre, allowing the show to develop a new foundation as a meditation on death and life, as Gruffudd and De La Garza investigate people who are trying to stay young forever by taking dodgy supplements.

Gruffudd’s relationship with Hirsch becomes more interesting as Gruffudd fears for Hirsch’s life while wanting his own death, Hirsch getting tired of ageing and wanting to live forever. Gruffudd may say in voiceover the traditional platitudes about life only having value if there is death, but the show undermines that by showing that life has value even without death, provided one continues to try to enjoy it, something even immortals can do if they just bother to interact.

The show also tries to steer clear of a romance between De La Garza and Gruffudd, by giving Gruffudd asexual lines and amping up the fact that De La Garza is a widow and already feels like she’s met her one true love - they’re both alive but they’re equally dead because they’re too occupied with the deaths of those they’ve loved. Maybe if they looked to the future instead of the past, they’d both learn to live again.

If this sounds a bit maudlin, it’s not because the show has a great deal of charm, mainly due to Gruffudd but also because of Hirsch, and it also has quite a dark sense of humour - episode three is effectively about those other immortals, zombies, right down to the brain eating. And it’s always willing to poke a little fun at its own mythos and foundations.

The show isn’t brilliant yet and there’s no big draw for the audience, but it’s enjoyable and pleasant. It’s Castle with a bit more edge, a lot more potential and a little less swagger. Give it a try for Gruffudd, at least, because he deserves some success.

Barrometer rating: 3
Rob’s prediction: Touch and go as to whether it’ll last a season, let alone more, but could still make it.

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The best advert in human history

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Naturally, it stars Jeff Goldblum.

Scrotal Recall starts tomorrow on Channel 4

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It starts tomorrow at 10pm and is about a man with an STD who has to revisit all his ex-girlfriends to warn them they might have it, too. And people wonder why I don’t watch more British TV*…

* I suspect that actually, no one really cares that much.

News: Big and Rush Hour series, Taken 3 and Fortitude trailers, You're The Worst renewed + more

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September 30, 2014

Weekly Wonder Woman: Sensation Comics #7, Superman Doomed #2

Posted yesterday at 11:25 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Superman Doomsday

Last round up for a fortnight, since I’m going to be away next week, but I’m going to leave you with a couple of interesting titles. Superman Doomed #2 doesn’t quite end the almost interminable ‘Superman Doomed’ crossover storyline but gets us within striking distance, and with Charles Soule and Greg Pak co-writing, it’s both a good read and one that does the Amazon princess credit - indeed, she’s very much a core plot point.

Meanwhile, Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #7 fulfils its remit to give us out-of-continuity Wonder Woman stories with a quirky little tale so far out of continuity, the question of whether it’s even Wonder Woman or not is intriguingly debatable. I even get to go all Greek and mention the Theseus paradox.

So philosophy, romance, smashing and Wonder Woman’s rock band (yes, really) after the jump.

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News: Sky Atlantic and Canal+ go tri-lingual, Netflix to make a movie, Sweden's Nurse Jackie + more

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  • Netflix to make Crouching Tiger sequel
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September 29, 2014

What have you been watching? Including Wolf Hall, Forever, Agents of SHIELD, Plebs and The Blacklist

Posted 2 days ago at 15:57 | comments | Bookmark and Share

It's "What have you been watching?", my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently that I haven't already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I've missed them.

The usual "TMINE recommends" page features links to reviews of all the shows I've ever recommended, and there's also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I've reviewed ever. And if you want to know when any of these shows are on in your area, there's Locate TV - they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.

Tele’s starting up again. New tele everywhere! So to cope with the exciting resultant schedule changes and the return of Sunday TV, ‘What have you been watching? will be moving to Friday, which means there’ll be two this week, you lucky people.

Elsewhere, I’ve reviewed the first episodes of a whole bunch of new shows:

Which, actually, covers all the first episodes of all the new shows. Yay.

I’ve also been to the theatre. Ooh!

Wolf Hall (Aldwych, London)
Substantially abridged dramatisation of Hilary Mantel’s award-winning novel about Henry VIII’s ‘fixer’ Thomas Cromwell, a blacksmith's son from Putney who first becomes a soldier and then a textile merchant and even lawyer, before eventually becoming the man who manages to convince Henry to split from the Catholic church so that he can marry Anne Boleyn. Starring Ben Miles from Coupling as Cromwell and Nathaniel Parker from The Inspector Lynley Mysteries as Henry, it takes a little while to kick off, but once it does, it’s a surprisingly funny and rude adaptation that’s also moving at times, such as when (spoiler alert) Cromwell’s wife dies. You don’t need to know an awful lot about Tudor history, either, which is going to be a slight mercy for Americans who get to see it now it’s transferring to Broadway. Slightly awkwardly, though, it ends on more of a cliffhanger than the book, which means it feels like anyone watching it needs to see the matching adaptation of Bring Up The Bodies, which we’re going to do on Wednesday.

TV lovers should note that BBC2 is currently adapting both books with Damian Lewis as Henry and Mark Rylance as Cromwell, to air in 2015.


After the jump, the regulars, including some returning shows: The Blacklist, Doctor Who, Forever, Legends, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD and Plebs.

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Review: The Brokenwood Mysteries 1x1 (New Zealand: Prime)

Posted 2 days ago at 14:47 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Brokenwood Mysteries

In New Zealand: Sundays, 8.30pm, Prime

Despite its physical size, New Zealand is somewhat of a small country in terms of population, with just 4.5m inhabitants spread over its 104,000 square miles. That means that it can't really afford that much by way of original TV programming, largely importing TV from the US, Australia and Britain.

In fact, despite having several TV networks of its own, if you put aside documentary-making, then at times it can feel like there’s only one production company in the whole country: South Pacific Pictures. Responsible for seemingly everything from the long-running soap Shortland Street (22 years strong this year), which pretty much created the New Zealand TV industry anyway, through Outrageous Fortune, The Blue Rose to perhaps the country’s most famous and successful home-grown drama, The Almighty Johnsons, South Pacific has such a grip on the nation’s airwaves that the only scripted show I can think of in recent memory that South Pacific didn’t produce is Harry.

Given that New Zealand didn't have its own detective show, it’s no surprise that South Pacific is now trying to fill that particular hole in both its and the country’s drama portfolio with The Brokenwood Mysteries. And although South Pacific is somewhat promiscuous in who it provides shows to, one thing it’s very keen on is loyalty to actors* - you can pretty much guarantee that Siobhan Marshall is going to turn up in any of its shows sooner or later, for starters - so equally it's no surprise that The Brokenwood Mysteries stars Fern Sutherland (Dawn from The Almighty Johnsons) or that all four episodes are written by The Almighty Johnsons and Outrageous Fortune star and occasional scriptwriter Tim Balme.

There isn’t anything especially innovative or exciting about The Brokenwood Mysteries. In fact, it’s basically Y Gwyll, if you were to give that show a quick location change, a different mix of languages and ethnicities, and a more stereotypical Kiwi optimism. Sutherland is the the Mali Harries of the piece, a police detective living in the backwaters of New Zealand in a small town called Brokenwood who’s naturally miffed when city detective and Tom Mathias equivalent Mike Shepherd (Neill Rea), arrives to supervise her and her latest investigation: the apparent suicide of a local farmer.

The down-at-heel Shepherd saunters around the small town and its pretty surrounding countryside, interviewing suspects, finding lots of red herrings, bickering with Fernwood and listening to country and western music on his in-car cassette player in an ostentatiously quirky way, while having to deal with his multiple ex-wives. It’s his character who gets the bulk of the development, attention and character quirks, with the business-like Sutherland having to play the straight woman who inevitably grows to admire him and his idiosyncratic ways.

Rea is fine - as you’d expect from someone who’s also one of the country’s leading casting agents - while Sutherland does well with the little that’s asked of her and is convincingly un-Dawnish. But rather than the dark misery of Y Gwyll, this is genteel, New Zealand drama designed to appeal to perhaps an older demographic that likes comfortable murder-mysteries and to New Zealanders eager to watch anything that’s actually set in New Zealand and stars New Zealanders. Unfortunately, such is that low bar to entry, if you’ve seen any detective show ever, you’ll begin to wonder exactly how isolated from the outside world New Zealand really is, given the dialogue it chooses to show just how stunningly intelligent its lead detectives are - most murders are committed by people known by the victim, are they? Gosh, that’s a new and exciting fact I wouldn’t have gleaned from any other show.

If The Brokenwood Mysteries arrives on UK screens, it’ll probably be on ITV3, some time after Rosemary & Thyme. But I wouldn’t hold my breath for it, unless you like unchallenging, comfortable and unspectacular fare.

* The fact there aren’t that many in New Zealand probably helps

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Ron Swanson's wolf highway

Posted 2 days ago at 08:55 | comments | Bookmark and Share

The wisdom of Ron Swanson is legendary, of course, as are his politics. A confirmed small government Republican/Libertarian, he believes that government should have as little to do as possible.

So imagine my surprise when re-watching an early West Wing episode to see a young Ron Swanson petitioning the White House for a billion dollar wolf highway. I imagine his bitter disappointment when his scheme was rejected was one of the reasons why he began to believe the government was ultimately impotent.

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Whatever happened to 24's Tony Almeida?

Posted 2 days ago at 08:42 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

After being a goodie for ever such a long time, 24’s Tony Almeida eventually became a terrorist, after his wife got blown up. And that meant long-time friend Jack Bauer had to take him down. He’s been in solitary confinement ever since.

Now taking a leaf out of Marvel’s one-shot playbook, the producers of 24 have shot a special one-off scene for inclusion on the 24: Live Another Day Blu-Ray, which reveals what Tony’s been up to since. Hmm, I wonder if this is going to play into the next season or movie somehow (if either happens)?

[via]

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This is what happens when you an interview a celebrity and haven't watched their movie

Posted 2 days ago at 08:32 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Film actors do prefer it if you’ve seen their movie, before you interview them about it. To be fair to film companies, they do try to ensure that’s possible, by offering private, embargoed screenings to film journalists. Of course, for non-specialist journalists, it might be harder to fit that into their schedules, particularly if they’re a local news reporter and they can’t get to the screening.

Here’s just one example of what happens when a celeb finds out they haven’t seen their movie – in this case, it’s Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader torturing Denver entertainment reporter Chris Parente. He should just be glad it wasn’t Harrison Ford.

I do love an EPG writer who clearly hasn't watched the show

Posted 2 days ago at 08:27 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Royal Pains EPG

They know what a doctor is. They know what a concierge is. They can’t quite grasp the concept of a 'concierge doctor'.

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News: Rutger Hauer Galavants, Josh Holloway joins USA's Colony, Devious Maids renewed + more

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September 26, 2014

Review: How To Get Away With Murder 1x1 (US: ABC; UK: Universal Channel)

Posted 5 days ago at 16:16 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

How To Get Away With Murder

In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, ABC
In the UK: Acquired by Universal Channel. Will air in October

As I mentioned earlier today when reviewing black-ish, ABC’s go-to person when it comes to diversity is Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice and Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes. Indeed, this year, as in previous year’s, they’ve gone to her for a new series full of diverse leads, and true to form, she’s delivered them How To Get Away With Murder, a pleasingly diverse legal procedural show that’s based around lawyer and university professor Viola Davis and the students she teaches and eventually recruits to work for her in genuine law cases.

There is, of course, a reason why they keep going back to her - namely that as well as producing diverse shows, she produces crowd-pleasing shows that people actually watch (well, apart from Off The Map obviously). This is typically through a combination of decent casting, soapy characterisation and logic-defying, crazy nuts plotting, with Scandal regularly blowing its audience’s collective mind through plot twists that feel like a somewhat unexpected LSD trip.

How To Get Away With Murder does feel slightly like one of those trips, in as much as it involves a brief flashback to the 70s for us to remember the wonderful The Paper Chase, which followed some incredibly white males through the first year of Harvard Law School under the stern gaze of the extraordinary and equally white and male John Houseman.

How To Get Away With Murder essentially takes The Paper Chase - and indeed the exact scene above - and puts it through the unique filter of Shonda Rhimes. So we’re introduced to a bunch of law students of varying genders, ethnicities and sexual orientations - but minimal personality beyond archetypes - at a university that looks a lot like Harvard but isn’t. Viola Davis (City of Angels, Century City, Traveler, The Andromeda Strain) is the John Houseman of the piece, a fiercely intelligent but practical lecturer who rather than teaching legal theory prefers to teach the practice of law and its numerous sneaky tricks in a class that she calls ‘How To Get Away With Murder’. To win her approval, the students must work as hard as it’s possible to work, back stab, cheat, rim and do anything they can to show that they’re the kind of lawyer she should employ. And rather than do it with an old case study, they’re going to do it with a legal case that Davis is currently defending.

Good format of the week already, isn’t it?

But Rhimes isn’t finished yet. It’s not Rhimes-y enough. Because interspersed with that decent-enough format, we have a flashforward to three months later where the students are busily putting Davis’ teaching into practice to cover up an actual murder. Will they get away with it? And who have they killed - Davis?

We’re still not Rhimes-y enough yet, because bolted onto that, there’s a missing student who may have been killed by her boyfriend; Davis is having an affair with a police officer; everyone else is having affairs with everyone else; and no one’s getting much sleep.

And for me, this is a classic case of over-egging the pudding. I’d have been happy with The Paper Chase 2014. That would have been a fun show. It probably would have been a bit more accurate about the law, too.

And while I don’t want to be the kind of guy who watches a show and says “Hey, wouldn’t this show I just thought of have been much better?”, adding a murder conspiracy plot and all the numerous affairs between people who really aren’t interesting enough to care about yet feels like too much being juggled in a one-hour show. Yes, it works for Scandal, with all its political intrigues and high-adrenaline pace, but it doesn’t really work here with a bunch of kids.

So I really think The Paper Chase 2014, mixing Davis’s classes with her actual cases, would have been a more interesting, better show.

Another problem is that while the Tony-winning, Oscar-nominated Davis is excellent, everyone else is varying degrees of bland, eager and annoying - whether you’ll enjoy the show will essentially be down to whether you like Viola Davis and how much screen time she’ll get in future episodes. The show also balks a little at having too much fun, with everyone seemingly competing for excuses for their affairs: ‘My wife’s got to cancer’, ‘My husband wants us to have a baby and it’s putting a strain on our marriage’, and so on. Just shag, will you, you fictional TV characters. Don’t be miserable about it afterwards.

I’m not convinced the show is going to last. With Davis as the show’s lynchpin and little else, the multiple attractions in Grey’s Anatomy just aren’t available; and without the full-on embrace of the ridiculous, it’s not got the chutzpah of Scandal either. But if you like a long mystery and conspiracy thriller eked out between shagging and lectures, perhaps How To Get Away With Murder is the show for you.

Review: black-ish 1x1 (US: ABC)

Posted 5 days ago at 10:49 | comments | Bookmark and Share

black-ish

In the US: Wednesdays, 8.30pm, ABC

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, or so they so. But I guess that the road to Heaven must be paved with a relatively similar material, too, otherwise someone’s clearly got the signs mixed up. The question is which route is ABC on this fall.

Because this year’s it’s going big on diversity. This is clearly a good intention. As I pointed out a while back, it’s somewhat strange that in this day and age, there is only one network TV drama with a female black protagonist and while I’m sure there’s one with a black male protagonist, I’m going to have to putting my thinking cap on to work out what it is. That’s not a good sign.

Now, to its credit, ABC is probably the network doing the most on diversity. Indeed, Scandal - that show with the female black protagonist - airs on ABC and the network has tried in the past to add other shows with black leads to its roster. Normally, what it’s done has been to go to Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy showrunner Shonda Rhimes and asked her nicely for a new show, which they have indeed done again this year - my review of How To Get Away With Murder coming up later today. But this year, they’re launching a big swathe of comedies with diverse leads, including Selfie, which unusually enough features an asian actor (John Cho) as the male romantic lead, and Fresh Off The Boat, which is entirely focused on Asian immigrants.

First up, though, they’re giving us black-ish, which is a primetime black family sitcom. Horrifyingly, it’s been 30 years since The Cosby Show was on network TV and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air didn’t come that long afterwards. And while there have been sitcoms featuring black protagonists on network TV as well as cable (e.g. The First Family) since then, the black family sitcom on network TV has basically ceased to exist.

Of course, The Cosby Show and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air lived in different times and they both picked different paths in depicting upper middle class black Americans. The Cosby Show existed in a beautiful parallel universe where race was not issue. There was no racism, no discrimination - it just didn’t exist. You could be whatever you wanted to be and provided you followed the American Dream, you’d get it.

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, by contrast, gave us a similar reality that’s somewhat punctuated by the arrival of working class black teenager, Will Smith (try not to kill yourself when you realise that he celebrated his 46th birthday yesterday). Here there was a tension between the affluence of the rich black Bel Air family in which Smith found himself and Smith’s more street ways. In particular, the family’s son, Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro) was the constant source of mockery for his non-street (a coded way of saying ‘non-black’) ways. It was clear from the show that the show’s producers were clear that Carlton needed to be ‘blacker’.

Fast forward 20 years and we have black-ish, a show that grabs the legacy of both those shows as well as the thorny dilemma of just what is it to be black in the US and, in a time when we have a black president, gives us something a bit more nuanced. Anthony Anderson (Law and Order, K-Ville, Guys With Kids, All About The Andersons, Treme) plays Andre ‘Dre’ Johnson - an appropriately conflicted name - a black man who grew up in the hood but who followed the advice of his father (Laurence Fishburne) and got himself a college education. He’s now a rich LA advertising executive, living in an exclusive neighbourhood, and about to get a promotion to senior vice president - the first black SVP in the history of his company.

His family? Basically, Bill Cosby’s. As well as three kids, he’s got a lovely, biracial doctor wife, Rainbow, played by Diana Ross’s daughter Tracee Ellis Ross from UPN/The CW’s long-running Girlfriends but who also played a doctor in BET's Reed Between The Lines who was married to… The Cosby Show’s Malcolm-Jamal Warner.

The trouble is that Fishburne thinks that his son has lost touch with his black roots. Hell, they don’t even eat fried chicken - they bake it - and the eldest son plays field hockey. I mean field hockey. And Anderson begins to agree, once he realises his son, also called Andre, prefers to be called Andy rather than Dre, and his youngest son doesn't know that Barrack Obama is the first black president. So he attempts to make his family ‘blacker’.

Despite a few gender politics issues, the show is actually very acute and surprisingly brave - as perhaps you might expect from a show exec produced by The Daily Show’s ’senior black correspondent’ Larry Wilmore. The script is by Kenya Barris - whose writing chops were largely developed on shows like The Keeen Ivory Wayans Show, Are We There Yet? and The Game, but oddly enough is best known as the developer of America’s Next Top Model - and touches on all kinds of issues, ranging from the glass ceiling, whether someone who’s biracial is truly black, the appropriation of black culture by white corporate culture, coded terms such as ‘urban’, whether it’s better to work in a ‘black company’ that pays less, and is being a black SVP in charge of ‘black things’ a bad thing or not?

The show also isn’t afraid to say that the answers to these issues aren’t obvious or easy. Rainbow points out that while Dre doesn’t want to be in charge of the ‘urban division’, he’d hate it more if a white guy was in charge and at least he’s an SVP. Andy is in the field hockey team because although he wants to play basketball, he’s just no good at it - a black guy who’s no good at basketball! And when Dre tries to give his son an African ‘adult rites of passage’ ceremony to help him get him in touch with his supposed heritage, he has to look it up in a book and Fishburne points out that anyway, “We’re black, not African. Africans don’t even like us.”

The show’s message - the nature of what it is to be black is evolving and black culture (whatever that might be) is combining with mainstream US culture… but we’re not there yet.

But there are a couple of big issues with the show. The first is that like the equally but differently well intentioned Undateable on NBC, it’s simply not as funny as it should be. Despite all the clever observations and equally clever directorial flourishes on the parts of the programme-makers, the jokes are more wry than laugh out loud funny. Obviously being neither American nor black, it might just be because my life experiences don’t overlap enough for the jokes to resonate, but I was more smiling and nodding than guffawing throughout the episode.

Now in part, that might be because of the show’s other big issue: Anthony Anderson. It turns out that Anderson is one of the worst actors since the dawn of human history. This surprised me at first when I started reading through his credits list. I don’t remember him much at all from K-Ville, and although the acting in that was universally pretty poor, the kind of epic awfulness of Anderson’s performance still would have stuck out like a nuclear detonation in a New Jersey White Castle. You also don’t get to be on Treme or Law and Order if you’re a truly dreadful actor.

Indeed, there are times when Anderson’s actually quite good in the episode, admittedly usually when he has no lines to deliver, but after his final presentation at the end, he’s oozing intelligence, professionalism and everything else you’d expect from a senior vice president - but which you hadn’t seen at all until this point.

Then I saw the Guys With Kids credit and realised the problem. He’s just a terrible comic actor. He has no idea how to do comedy with subtlety. He hams up everything remotely funny for all it’s worth, clearly worried that we won’t understand it’s funny unless he choreographs it with smoke signals, gurning, stupid voices, shouting and bizarre deliveries. It’s the kind of performance that might work in a stage comedy or pantomime - although not in Guys With Kids - but in a single-camera comedy, it’s the equivalent of having your face rubbed down with a cheese grater.

So while it’s a cautious recommendation from me in terms of the show’s accuracy of observation and tackling of issues, be warned that you’re going to need to sit in front of your TV wearing a full hazmat suit and perhaps some form of noise-cancellation headphones calibrated to Anthony Anderson, if you do decide to tune in.

News: Dominion and Defiance renewed, X-Men's Rogue restored, Michael Mann's Blackhat trailer + more

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September 25, 2014

Kate Mara and Ellen Page are Tiny True Detectives

Posted 6 days ago at 13:30 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The question is, will they be better than Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn?

News: Endeavour renewed, Real Genius and Red Mars adaptations, a Friday Download movie + more

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The Brokenwood Mysteries

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