October 23, 2014

Third-episode verdict: The Flash (US: The CW; UK: Sky 1)

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BarrometerFlash.jpgA Barrometer rating of 1

In the US: Tuesdays, 8pm ET, The CW
In the UK: Tuesdays, 8pm, Sky 1. Starts October 28

Three episodes into The Flash, the latest CW adaptation of a DC comic book, and it's becoming pretty clear that despite coming from the same creative team as the rather good ArrowThe Flash is very much Smallville but with a superhero who's human and capable only of running very fast. With its "kryptonitedark matter freek of the week" that only the Flash can stop, its young love and failed romances, its concerns with great powers bringing with them great responsibillities, you could probably take any Smallville script, run a reasonably simple find-and-replace on it and end up with a The Flash script.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing - after all, Smallville ran for a record-breaking 11 seasons and there's many a TV show that would kill for even half that run. All the same a little innovation would be nice.

And indeed that's what you get with The Flash, which rather than waiting three seasons as Smallville did to realise it was a superhero show and geek out, went Nerd Factor 10 from the first episode, and mined the comics for some of the best Flash supervillains and other superheroes available. And in contrast with the early 90s adaptation starring John Wesley Shipp (who plays the Flash's dad in this adaptation), it's got series arc after series arc, crossovers with Arrow and a greater willingness to embrace the comic book's later attempts to make the Flash more than just the fastest man alive, with a time travel plot that lifts the show above what could simply be fluffy, brainless, "crash bang", teen kisses fare into somewhat darker territory. 

True, the science is still bobbins but we're talking about someone who got to run at 300mph after a lab accident, so that comes with the territory. And as with Smallville's earlier episodes, there's the frustration of watching our hero having to learn about his powers and come into others we know he'll have, and so, for example, having to deal with a mist villain in the third ep by running around a bit, rather than using his arms to create disruptive air vortices as we know he'll be able to do at a later point.

But as with Smallville, too, it's all part of the journey, something again explicit in the (spoiler alert) time travel plot, with the Flash's protective overseer from the future - probably Professor Zoom - potentially causing the accident that created the Flash in the first place so that he'll become the hero necessary to save the day in years to come and maybe even cause that time travel capability to be created.

Of course, the Flash doesn't have the real-world popularity of either Batman or Superman, so to the average viewer, it'll all be new. And the producers are of course resultingly at liberty to change big chunks of mythos if they want to - need Barry and Iris end up married as they are in the comics? No more than helper doctor Caitlin Snow has to become Killer Frost, who was never engaged to the future Firestorm in the comics, no matter how many lines about their being 'like fire and ice' are thrown in for the fans.

This embracing of comics is ultimately going to be either a strength for the show, which has already been picked up for a full season, or a weakness. If you don't like comics, prefer something a bit darker and Nolan-esque, and find even Arrow to be too escapist for you, there's no way in hell you're going to enjoy this. But if bright, shiny fun comics are your thing, and you don't have huge expectations of its young cast or lowish budget, then The Flash is well worth your time - especially when the only real competition in town are  Gotham and Constantine

Barrometer rating: 1
Rob's prediction: Should last at least a season but will need to work a bit to ensure it doesn't fall into a rut

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The Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer emerges a little earlier than planned

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It was originally planned to air during next week’s episode of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. Unfortunately for Marvel, a low res version of its first trailer for The Avengers: Age of Ultron leaked. Oopsy.

However, rather than go on a massive ‘shut down and desist’ legal romp, the company decided it might as well give up and put the real thing out in high resolution. And you can watch it below.

The gang’s all there and James Spader makes a good Ultron, and the observant will spot Iron Man’s Hulkbuster armour in action. The movie seems to have more of a Captain America 2 than Avengers feel, which is interesting given that the Russo brothers are potentially being lined up to direct The Avengers 3.

No word yet on whether it’ll be The Avengers, Avengers Assemble or Avengers Back Again in the UK.


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News: Nick Frost is The Finger, Steve Coogan is Happyish, a Hitch TV series + more

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  • Trailer for The Woman In Black: Angel of Death


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October 22, 2014

Afternoon Edition podcast available for the next 30 days

Posted yesterday at 14:34 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Anyone who for some reason wants to listen to my appearance on BBC Radio 5's Afternoon Edition yesterday can do so for the next 30 days by clicking here. Although we didn't quite have time to cover Scorpion, as advertised, I did manage to find the time to slag off Jonathan Ross and the licence fee, muse about soap opera recasting, ponder Strictly Come Dancing and mention The Affair. And if you'd like to read slightly longer, written reviews of all the shows I did mention, here you go:

Had I got my thinking hat on, I'd have mentioned recasting on S4C's Caerdydd as well. But I didn't. Oh well.

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Preview: Rome: The World's First Superpower 1x1 (UK: Channel 5)

Posted yesterday at 13:14 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share


In the UK: Fridays, 8pm, Channel 5. Starts Friday 24th October

Channel Five’s best kept secrets are its documentaries - although the channel as a whole as a reputation for low quality programming, beyond a couple of decent imports and one original drama (Suspects), its documentaries are actually really good.

So let's get the worst part of this out the way: the title. Rome wasn’t the world’s first superpower, since the Persian empire was not only a third bigger, it also had 44% of the world's population under its control at its height. And if you don't like that, there was also the Macedonian Empire under Alexander The Great.

Hyperbolic title aside, though, it's all actually very good. You might not think Larry Lamb from Gavin & Stacey and EastEnders would be the best person to present a documentary covering the history of Rome, from the city's foundation through its attainment of empire through to its collapse. Certainly, if you think back to Joanna Lumley’s Greek Odyssey on ITV, you can see all the potential traps writ large of having an actor hosting what is potentially a lavish, content-free and even misleading travelogue. But not only is Lamb engaging and passionate, he’s an amateur historian - he goes to Rome every year, he speaks Italian, and he's been studying Rome almost all his adult life. More so, as an actor he can re-enact readings from the works of Livy, for example, rather than merely having an actor blankly read the same in voiceover.

The show goes to pertinent locations in both Rome and Pompeii (and in later episodes to Tunisia, Sicily and France), to explore Roman history and archaeology. We get to see the sewer system under Rome, which dates back 2,500 years. Indeed, it’s the first time the oldest part has ever been shown on TV, making that a good enough reason for a classics-lover to watch the show. Along the way, Lamb interviews historians and archaeologists, including Richard Miles, who’s presented documentaries for BBC2 and BBC4. Lamb’s an intelligent interviewer and asks some decent questions of the experts. He also puts his working class roots to the fore, focusing on areas that other shows don’t, such as the relationship between the plebeians and nobles, giving us choice lines such as "The Romans' noble ambitions were just that: the ambitions of nobles." He’s also happy to throw out a little Latin as needs be, such as Senatus Populusque Romanus (SPQR).

The show itself also looks good and there’s some knowing Spartacus qualities in the CGI and recreations of scenes, although that's mostly done with statues rather than actors, which is novel. Channel 5 may do good documentaries - but it doesn't quite have the budget of the BBC.

About the only thing that drew me up was when Lamb says that he's realising that the rape of the Sabine women was the 'kind of thing you have to do if you want to become a superpower - which I can’t imagine Mary Beard or Bethany Hughes letting through on one of their shows. Otherwise, entirely recommended for anyone with an interest in history, particularly Roman history.

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Preview: Grayson Perry: Who Are You? 1x1 (UK: Channel 4)

Posted yesterday at 12:54 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Grayson Perry: Who Are You?

In the UK: Wednesdays, 9pm, Channel 4. Starts tonight

Grayson Perry is an artist well known for playing with the theme of identity and is going to have an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, entitled 'Who Are You?', that ties into the question of what identity is. Channel 4's Grayson Perry: Who Are You? is effectively both a 'Making of' and a hybrid long-form chat show in which Grayson Perry follows the subjects he's chosen for this exhibition for days and weeks at a time, trying to get to know them and understand them, so that he can create a definitive portrait that captures who they are.

Perry has chosen a disparate group of people for his exhibition, some famous, some not. So in this first of three episodes, we have Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat MP who ended up going to prison in 2012, Rylan Clark from The X-Factor and Celebrity Big Brother, a young white Muslim woman and a black transgender man.

To the show’s credit, Perry does a much better job of finding out about his subjects than the average chat show does - although given he has months to do this, that’s not a huge surprise. But he does ask quite brave, challenging questions to get to the bottom of his subjects, and he’s also insightful - he compares his Muslim subject and her pared down attitude to life with the consumerism at the nearby Ashford shopping mall which he says looks like a 'bedouin tent’. For his Rylan Clark portrait, he also makes the comparison between the phones that we all carry with us for selfies and the miniatures Elizabethans carried around of celebrities.

The subjects are also quite brave. The transgender man goes back to his old school to talk about gender identity and the kids at the school are very perceptive, talking about what is acceptable for boys and what’s acceptable for girls and what those boundaries are. Jazz, the transgender man, in turn points out that things that people do to try to find evidence of his 'true femininity', such as how he cuts bread: “How do you cut bread like a woman?” The Muslim woman’s family thoughtfully argue with her about not just Islam but all religion and its restrictions on freedom. She argues that religion helps to keep a marriage together and her relative asks in return: “Do you watch EastEnders?”

The show is also about Perry and about his concept of his own identity. This often feels more constructed than anyone else’s identity, with Perry claiming to be as a portrait painter “part-psychiatrist, part-detective”, and frequently talking about how chippy and working class he is and how he’s challenging the National Portrait Gallery by including people who aren’t old dead white males in power - even though the gallery invited him to put on the exhibition and has had similarly challenging exhibitions before. Chris Huhne is supposed to represent that tradition, and perhaps because he does (or did) have power, he’s the only one who really challenges Perry’s power as interviewer and points out that while Perry might be chippy and working class, he also has an OBE.

All in all, a good, thought-provoking, insightful documentary that’s very enjoyable. 

News: The Bridge (US) cancelled, more Z Nation, The Flash, Jane The Virgin, a Bachelor Party series + more

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  • Channel 4 developing ISIS drama [subscription required]

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October 21, 2014

Weekly Wonder Woman: Justice League #35, Sensation Comics #10

Posted 2 days ago at 10:37 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Justice League #35

It was all about Lex Luthor over at Justice League last week. The newest member of the League, he’s up to something so they’ve decided to keep him close to keep an eye on him. In turn, Lex has been learning what it means to be a goodie for a change – largely thanks to Wonder Woman. But what’s he been up to? Almost all is revealed this issue…

Also last week we had the latest issue of Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman, in which, with a little help from Atom, Wonder Woman goes all Giganta to deal with a Thanagarian villain in the entertainingly titled ‘Attack of the 50-foot Wonder Woman’. As you might expect, things don’t turn out quite the way you’d think.

Surprisingly, both are linked by a common theme. What might that be? I’ll tell you after the jump.

Sensation Comics #10

Continue reading "Weekly Wonder Woman: Justice League #35, Sensation Comics #10"

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News: The Syndicate goes posh, ITV Encore's Frankenstein Chronicles, Vinnie Jones is a Brick + more

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October 20, 2014

Catch me tomorrow on BBC Radio 5 Live's Afternoon Edition

Posted 3 days ago at 18:12 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Assuming reading all my exciting opinions isn’t too much for you, tomorrow you’ll get the chance to hear me ramble incoherently, too – I’m going to be appearing on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Afternoon Edition to talk about US TV shows that are heading towards your screens very, very soon, as well about a bit of UK TV for a change.

Up for discussion are:

I’ll be there from about 3pm. Wish me luck!

What have you been watching? Including Strange Empire, Coverband, Electra, The Flash and Doctor Who

Posted 3 days ago at 17:57 | 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.

You may have noticed I was playing epic catch-up on Saturday, in contravention of my normal rule of weekend blogging. So on top of Friday’s all out efforts and a couple of extra ones today, I’ve reviewed the following new shows, some of which have already been acquired for Blighty’s viewing pleasure:

Yay, me. No back log now. Time to have regular weekends again. Phew.

In fact, so ahead of myself am I that I’ll point out that ages ago, I reviewed NBC’s Constantine, which starts on Friday. Okay, it’s changed a bit since the pilot but you’ll get the general point.

But I’ve not stopped there. Oh no. Because I’ve also watched a New Zealand and a Canadian show just for luck. Okay, I was a bit behind on all of them, so I’ve only seen the first episode of each, but honestly, that felt like enough.

Strange Empire (Canada: CBC)
Set in the 1860s on the Alberta-Montana border, this sees three women (Cara Gee, Tattiawna Jones and Melissa Farman from Lost) band together for survival after virtually all the men in their town are murdered and those remaining behind battle for power. Very nicely made and already being described as the saviour of CBC, it's historically interesting but about as tedious as any other western, and none of the characters really grabbed me.

Coverband (New Zealand: TV One)
A one-hit wonder band reunite back in New Zealand years after they were famous. Unfortunately, the female lead singer was the one who was a success, leaving the terminally unsexy rest of the band to make it by themselves, something at which they fail miserably. Now having to deal with the pressures of normal lives and forced to do cover versions of other bands’ records, they suck completely until they stagecrashed by Laughton Kora, who shows them what rock charisma and singing really are, so they hire him. Kind of.

It’s an amiable and accurate enough show, based on cast member Johnny Barker’s own experiences as an Auckland cover band musician, and were there enough time in the world, I’d probably tune in for a few more episodes. But the show’s not so inspiring that I’ll throw something else aside for it and I’ve already seen The Wedding Band crash and burn, so I don’t think I need to see that happen again.

Unfortunately, New Zealand doesn’t want to produce any globally available videos of its own shows, apparently, so here’s a picture of the cast to tide you over.


That's it for new new shows, but after the jump, I’ll be running through: Arrow, black-ish, The Blacklist, Doctor Who, The Flash, Forever, Gotham, Homeland, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, Plebs, Scorpion, Selfie and The Walking Dead.

But hey! Before you go, I should mention I went to the theatre, too!

Electra (Old Vic)
Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra, a new translation of Sophocles’ original text by Greek tragedy stalwart Frank McGuinness, music by PJ Harvey – what could go wrong? Well, not much actually, beyond a certain staticness to the direction, a slightly weak performance by Jack Lowden as Orestes and a very strange performance by Tyrone Huggins as Aegisthus. Other than that, a fine piece of work, surprisingly faithfully staged (although that’s not quite how Greek people prayed), with an outstanding performance by Thomas and a surprisingly funny text by McGuinness – in part to cover up for casting slightly older than originally written, but also to hide the unlikelihood of Electra not recognising Orestes. Liz White (Life on Mars) gives the best performance I’ve ever seen from her as Chrysothemis, Electra’s sister.  

Continue reading "What have you been watching? Including Strange Empire, Coverband, Electra, The Flash and Doctor Who"

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Arrow Films launches Criminale Italia range of Italian TV shows

Posted 3 days ago at 16:52 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Fed up with Northern European TV? Then how about some Southern European TV? Arrow Films, which pumps out lots of Nordic Noir titles in the UK, has just decided to launch an Italian range called Criminale Italia. First up are Gomorrah, Inspector Nardone and Fogs And Crimes, coming out on October 27th.

Arrow Films’ Noir label continues to scour the globe bringing UK viewers the very best in foreign language film and television. Following the incredible success of Danish dramas The Killing, Borgen and The Bridge, and French title Braquo, Nordic Noir are pleased to announce the arrival of a host of new Italian shows to their roster of Noir titles.

Such is the strength of Italian crime television that Arrow Films have launched Criminale Italia, an exciting new subsidiary of their Noir label. Alongside the upcoming and acclaimed modern-day Italian gangster epic Gomorrah, the label will release the hugely popular Italian shows Inspector Nardone and Fog & Crimes on DVD from 27th October.

Inspector Nardone
Post-war Milan is the ideal breeding ground for a new wave of criminal activity. A crime-scene that is very different from what we are used to today: an old-fashioned system of organised crime, made up of thieves and outlaws who share a specific moral code, which absolutely condemns homicide. A new chief officer is assigned to the Milan Police Department, as if to settle a score for having exposed his corrupt colleagues. This is just one of the various difficulties that Mario Nardone, an authentic Neapolitan, must face in the sophisticated and urbane Milan. A city which, nevertheless, Nardone loves unconditionally, and where he plans to bring up his beloved, albeit somewhat neglected, children.

Based on a real figure, Mario Nardone was a true legend in Milan during the 50’s and 60’s. Straightforward, persistently stubborn but also endowed with a strong moral code and a great sense of humanity, Nardone has deep loves; including his long-suffering family, good cuisine and cracking jokes at every opportunity.

Fogs and Crimes
Inspired by the four famous novels by Valerio Varesi, each episode follows an investigation by Soneri, Ferrara Police Chief. He works with a faithful squad on a series of crimes, each hiding a disturbing mystery, with the startling and grotesque undertones of the apparently calm world of the wealthy countryside.

Review: Party Tricks 1x1 (Australia: Ten)

Posted 3 days ago at 16:20 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Party Tricks

In Australia: Mondays, 8.30pm, Ten

Politics is an area rife for fictionalisation – indeed, some would argue that it is already largely fictional – and some of the best TV comedies and dramas around the world have been set in the world of politics: think The Thick of It and Yes Minister in the UK, The West Wing and House of Cards in the US, Borgen in Denmark and Spin in France.

Australian politics is no less entertaining than the politics of any other country and Australian TV is now getting in on this act with shows such as ABC’s The Code. However, more traditional but equally innovative is Ten’s Party Tricks, which sees Victoria’s incumbent State Premier and Labor politician Kate Ballard (Asher Keddie from the much-loved Offspring) going up against Liberal politician and former journalist David McLeod (Rodger Corser). The slight hitch is that Ballard and McLeod had an affair several years previously and Ballard is worried that McLeod is going to drop this particular bomb at an inconvenient moment, despite the widowed McLeod playing the family card in his own campaign.

Ten’s supporting the show with extensive fake social media activity, from Twitter feeds to web sites and campaign videos, which is a relatively innovative touch. Unfortunately, as with all this kind of '360º work’, more attention should have been paid to the script than to how many people get fooled by a fake Tweet and then smile wryly to themselves.

Party Tricks is ostensibly a comedy drama and while the show starts off pleasantly enough with a bewigged flashback to when McLeod and Ballard first met – and hated each other – slowly the corners of my smile descended as it became clear that was the best bit. It doesn’t help that Ballard’s main helper Wayne Duffy (Angus Sampson) is effectively just a gay Chris Addison in The Thick Of It, from lines through to delivery, making anyone who’s watched similar shows feel like they’re watching a re-tread of better things.

Lots of it play well, though, with Ballard and Duffy’s rewriting of statements to blur the truth a particular highpoint, and there are some genuinely funny physical comedy moments, such as Duffy’s dealing with the security systems at the Victorian government offices. But this is more a story about relationships than politics, and the relationship in question was between the frosty Ballard and the ‘big giant twat’ McLeod, and by the end of the first episode, I didn’t feel inclined to get to know either of them any better.


Review: Kingdom 1x1 (US: Audience Network)

Posted 3 days ago at 15:46 | comments | Bookmark and Share


Mixed martial arts aka MMA is one of the fastest growing sports in America, and despite having come about thanks to the Ultimate Fighting Championship back in the 90s, it’s had relatively little fictional attention, bar Never Back Down, which is notable only for featuring both Amber Heard and the entire script for the Karate Kid but with karate crossed out and MMA written in instead.

Now we have Kingdom from the DirecTV-exclusive but generally unknown Audience Network, which despite only being two episodes in has already been renewed for two seasons, so clearly is doing something right. I’m not sure what though.

It stars Frank Grillo (best known now for Captain America 2, but previously the only normal person in monsterville in The Gates) as the owner of a Venice beach gym and a pro MMA fighter. He’s moderately pleased when former partner Matt Lauria gets out of jail and comes to train again and tries to help Grillo’s son and heroin addict Jonathan Tucker (The Black Donnellys) – only moderately, because Grillo’s now going out with Lauria’s ex-girlfriend Kiele Sanchez (The Glades). Cue much manly tension and bro-talks.

The best that can be said about Kingdom is that it’s competently made and not as meat-headed as you might think. Most of the show is about MMA training, with the now-compulsory monster truck tyres and sweat suit scenes, but the few proper MMA fights are pretty well handled. Being a jiu jitsu person at heart, they all seem a bit limited and silly to me but YMMV. The dialogue is bland and I doubt a single line registered as being interesting or insightful the entire time, with most being nondescript or occasionally offensive. Appropriate for the kinds of guy involved? Possibly. But this isn’t a realistic show so that’s not really an argument that passes muster. Either way, it’s certainly no Rocky, but it’s nowhere near as toxic as Never Back Down’s dialogue.

But against even those minor positives, I have to say it has a lot of flaws, including a whole set of characters whose appeal for most people is going to be extremely limited, as well as a massive woman-problem, with women only there as girlfriends, sex objects and plot motivators/characterisation tools for the men, rather than because the producers seem to think they have any intrinsic worth. I think I did manage to spot a couple of women in the gym who weren’t there serving a purely decorative function, but they didn’t get any lines, so I’m not sure they count – and they were largely offset by the naked, equally dialogue-less women elsewhere.

The ending (no spoilers) showed the programme’s other big problem: how it deals with the few blacks and Latinos it has. Despite the Los Angeles setting, there are no black characters in the cast and the only Latinos I spotted were women-abusing, murderous criminals. Lovely.

Oh well. Maybe someone else can come up with a decent MMA series instead. Because this isn’t it.

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News: Sky cancellations, Marley & Me TV series, The Lottery's off + more

Posted 3 days ago at 08:22 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

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October 18, 2014

Review: The Affair 1x1 (US: Showtime)

Posted 4 days ago at 22:23 | comments | Bookmark and Share

The Affair  

In the US: Sundays, 10pm ET/PT, Showtime

Oh imagine the irony: Detective McNulty – the son-in-law to Commissioner Rawls! For fans of The Wire at least, this is probably the most exciting thing about Showtime’s The Affair, in which Dominic West plays a New York novelist/teacher married to successful businesswoman Maura Tierney (The Whole Truth), but still forced to leech off her rich father, John Doman.

Because The Affair is slow stuff. Very very slow stuff. So slow that every so often it pretends to kill a child, just to ensure the audience stays awake.

But the fabulous BeTipul and In Treatment – which were created and written by The Affair’s co-creators Hagai Levi and Sarah Treem respectively – were equally slow, and The Affair is as psychologically engrossing, albeit in a very different way. It sees West going out to visit Doman with Tierney and his four kids in a resort town in Long Island for the summer, where he meets waitress Ruth Wilson (Luther), who’s recently lost her own child and is married to the abusive, cheating, embittered Joshua Jackson. West and Wilson hit it off and despite West having avoided all previous temptations to stray, he and Wilson end up having an affair.

So far so French, right down to the Gauloises, albeit with two English protagonists faking American accents only intermittently successfully.

The big twist is that the story is told in flashback, from both West and Wilson's points of view. Literally told, because both West and West are relating their sides of the affair separately to another person for quite a surprising reason – but if I told you what that was, I’d be spoiling one of the first episode’s big surprises that don’t involve the fake-out deaths of one of West’s kids.

As a result, the episode is told in two parts, the first West’s, the second Wilson's, and we see the same scenes told from two different perspectives and with two different build-ups and follow-ons. More importantly, we also see differences, since West and Wilson’s stories sometimes differ – for reasons that become clearer as the episode progresses.

Whom can we believe, when for example West portrays Wilson as a seducer, him as innocent, while she says the opposite? What is the true story? What actually happened?

All good questions, none of which gets answers before the end of the episode. Indeed, for all I know, we might never get answers, which to a certain extent might well be the point of the show: the real world's lack of an objective truth, only subjective truths. But the show is also less about an affair per se, as about the fall out from an affair and how that emotionally impacts both those involved and those close to them.

Now, how much you’ll want to watch this may well depend on how much you’re likely to be interested in regular-type people doing regular-type things, albeit regular-type people with perhaps a bit more money than you or I have. You’re also asked to sympathise with adulterers, which might be something you can’t do – particularly with West’s character being a cock in both versions. The fact that Wilson so successfully played a sociopathic liar opposite The Wire’s Idris Elba in Luther – to the extent that a spin-off show based around her was planned by the BBC – throws in an additional supertextual element of doubt for the viewer aware of her past and the possible reasons for her casting.

But this is gripping stuff if drama rather than just explosions and ray guns* interests you. While West for once is the weakest acting link, Wilson and Jackson are both on excellent form and Doman is clearly relishing being more Borgia than Baltimore cop opposite West. Compared to the likes of Satisfaction, it’s considerably more grown up, while still avoiding the Rectify trap of absolute and tedious mimesis.

Probably the best drama of the fall season so far. If you’re in the US, you can watch the whole first episode on YouTube; if not, here’s a trailer.

* I loves explosions and ray guns, me. But there’s more to me than that.

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The cast of The Wire recently reunited for PaleyFest. Want to watch a video of them all together?

Posted 5 days ago at 18:17 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

As well as producers David Simon and Nina Noble, Wendell Pierce (Bunk Moreland), Sonja Sohn (Kima Greggs), Michael Kenneth Williams (Omar Little), Seth Gilliam (Ellis Carver), Jim True-Frost (Roland Pryzbylewski), John Doman (William Rawls), Lawrence Gilliard Jr (D’Angelo Barksdale), JD Williams (Bodie), Robert Wisdom (Bunny Colvin), Tristan Wilds (Michael Lee) and Jamie Hector (Marlo Stanfield) all turned up on Thursday night, and there were video appearances by Idris Elba (Stringer Bell) and Dominic West (Jimmy McNulty). And you can watch the entire 1h20 minute panel below. Enjoy!


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Gandalf speaks the truth, students

Posted 5 days ago at 18:06 | comments | Bookmark and Share


Third-episode verdict: Gracepoint (US: Fox; UK: ITV)

Posted 5 days ago at 18:02 | comments | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerGracepoint.jpgA Barrometer rating of 3

In the US: Thursdays, 9/8c, Fox
In the UK: Acquired by ITV. Will air in 2014

Three episodes into Gracepoint, Fox’s remake of ITV’s acclaimed Broadchurch, and it’s becoming clear that the show works best when it’s not a murder-mystery. Now to a certain extent, you’d expect that. In common with The Killing, the first episode of the show focused on the reaction of a small community to the murder of a child, the grief of the family and how the murder affected everyone involved, right down to the police who knew the affected family. Beautifully shot, wonderfully acted, it was obviously several notches above the ordinary crime show, which treats such things as incidentals that can at most add an extra couple of scenes to an hour-long episode.

On top of that, fresh from Broadchurch came David Tennant to reprise his role as the investigative detective, a traumatised city cop who has to deal with small town thinking and small town people, not to mention the resumed glare of the media’s eye which affected a similar previous case of his and his own demons. True, Tennant seems both verbally and physically out of place next to the American cast - although much less so than the mysteriously English Sarah-Jane Potts, who runs this small American town’s hotel for no particular reason and no one seems to notice that she’s English either - but he’s as good as always, otherwise.

But the mistake the second episode then made was to assume that we’d be interested in finding out more about the personalities of the supporting characters and that a great big shoal of red herrings was what we really wanted, as we’re all busily trying to work out whodunnit and a few twists and turns always go down well. That didn’t work for The Killing (US) and it didn’t work for Gracepoint.

Fortunately the third episode returns to the concerns of the first episode - the grieving family and friends, and Tennant interactions with local detective Anna Gunn. Tennant’s character is a multi-layered thing, not a traditional maverick cop but someone who’s simply not good with people, thinks being good with people stops you solving crimes since you make allowances, thinks local policing is inferior to city policing and indeed hates small towns and everything about them completely. In return, Gunn hates Tennant and doesn’t accept his methods, and it’s in their arguments and conflicts that the show finds a unique perspective as a crime drama, with both Gunn and Tennant being shown to be both correct and wrong, depending on the situation. It’s their dialogue and mutual antagonism, rather than the case itself, that are truly interesting and different.

My worry is that the original eight-episode first series of Broadchurch is now a ten-episode story and that the show hasn’t got enough grief, depth and analysis to push everything out to that length and avoid numerous run-arounds and yet more red herrings. The temptation is clearly there, as the second episode shows, and there could well be more to come.

All the same, as it stands after the first three episodes, Gracepoint is still an excellent TV show. It’s not a happy little thing at all, full of misery and pain, people struggling with problems and secrets, with barely a smile or a joke in the first three hours, so if you’re hoping for something a little lighter, this really isn’t your show. But if it can maintain the quality and you’re prepared to deal with the misery, it’s a rewarding piece - surprisingly so, given it’s in on Fox. But then the same could be said about the original ITV show and look how well that turned out.

Barrometer rating: 3
Rob’s prediction: Will undoubtedly make it through to the end of the first season unscathed, but it’s not getting the ratings Fox was hoping for, so I’d be surprised if it makes it through to a second season. And given the reaction to the original’s ending, despite the changes, there’s always the possibility of a similar backlash with Gracepoint

Engrenages (Spiral) is coming back on November 10 – and here's a new teaser trailer

Posted 5 days ago at 17:32 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share


Only on Canal+, mind, but I’m sure a BBC4 airing won’t be far behind. Canal+ also has a new teaser trailer (in case you missed the first teaser trailer, it’s over here).

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Preview: Benched 1x1 (US: USA)

Posted 5 days ago at 16:58 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share


In the US: Tuesdays, 10.30/9.30c, USA. Starts October 28

And lo! It came to pass that the USA Network, the motto of which was “Characters Welcome”, decided that it was going to make comedies. Because if you make hour-long dramas and comedy-dramas, surely half-hour comedies are just as simple, right?

And first it did commission a weak-arse adaptation of Channel 4’s Sirens that still managed to be one of 2014’s best-rated basic cable comedies. And then it did commission Playing House, which made the weak-arse Sirens look like Fawlty Towers.

Then after a mere eight months of thinking about whether it was sure about this whole comedy thing, it did commission a third comedy, Benched, which apparently was enough for USA because although they’re ‘fully committed’ to it (translated: will drop it like a hot potato as soon as possible), there are going to be no more USA comedies for the foreseeable future.

So let’s appropriately enough start shouting “Dead man walking!” as Benched trundles across our screens, waiting for its imminent execution. It’s a shame really, because it stars Eliza Coupe, who after starring in both Scrubs and Happy Endings, would normally be onto better things than her Happy Endings colleague Casey Wilson, yet who has the (slightly) superior Marry Me on NBC. Coupe plays a corporate lawyer who’s first dumped by her fiancé and then overlooked for partner at her firm, prompting an outburst (and demolition) at her firm so strong that she’s not able to work in corporate law any more and is forced to take a job as a public defender. There she meets a motley collection of similarly failed lawyers and demented defendants, and has to do her best to both survive and look after those she’s charged with defending.

And there’s a guy. There’s always a guy.

Coupe does her best and the script does explore areas of the law that most legal shows don’t bother with, ranging from why you should be nice to security guards to the shoddy treatment that the poor get at the hands of the law. But despite all Coupe’s delivery as well as physical comedy skills, the show is woefully unfunny, with a script bereft of any jokes that might cause you do anything more than smile or titter. While the characters are at least more bearable than those in Sirens and have greater maturity than gnats, unlike those in Playing House, a particularly sarcastic judge that Coupe has to deal with is really the only one you’d voluntarily see again, and basing a series on Coupe’s legal wrangles with her ex- as a proxy for their relationship issues doesn’t really make you want to watch more than another one or two episodes tops.

Benched could get better over time, but we’re talking about a pretty poor foundation for everything. And given how little USA apparently wants to stay in the comedy business, I doubt the show will get renewed after its first season unless it gets some very, very good ratings.

So pray for Coupe to get something better, but expect Benched to be benched before the year is out.

Here endeth the lesson, but starteth the trailer. You may titter at it a bit.

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Third-episode verdict: A to Z (US: NBC)

Posted 5 days ago at 16:15 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerAtoZ.jpgA Barrometer rating of 4

In the US: Thursdays, 9.30/8.30c, NBC

Three episodes into A To Z and we’re seeing signs of improvement from that initial, not very enticing first episode. Unfortunately, those signs are also of “Everything Else Syndrome". For those who don’t know “Everything Else Syndrome”, it’s when a TV show has a focus - in the case of a rom-com, the two would-be lovers - and it’s dull and uninteresting, largely because everything else is more interesting.

In the case of a rom-com, that’s usually because of co-morbidity with “Best Friends Syndrome” - that is, not only are the central characters quite dull, their best friends are a lot more interesting. Think The Big Bang Theory, Mad Love, Will and Grace, and so on - you’d rather have been watching shows about the supporting cast, wouldn’t you?

A To Z ostensibly is about Andrew (Ben Feldman) and Zelda (Cristin Milioti), a boy and a girl who meet and are apparently well suited to each other, the big rom-com twists being

  1. He’s the romantic one, but she’s been hurt so is the closed-off one
  2. Each episode charts (from A to Z, since calling the show A To Z simply because of the characters’ names would be incredibly weak, wouldn’t it?) the ups and downs of their relationship from beginning to end. Yes, end.

Now, that’s not really much to keep you watching and if you’re already rooting for Andrew and Zelda to get and stay together, you need to get out more, since they are unremittingly dull, even when they’re revealing their own deep dark secret pasts in the the third episode. Equally, narrator Katey Sagal has made it clear that there is an end to the relationship, and while you can certainly hope for there to be a get-out clause that reunites them, you really are hoping against hope there.

So instead, if you are going to watch A To Z - and on the whole, I wouldn’t recommend that - it’s because of everything else except Andrew and Zelda. Andrew works for an online dating company and actually, everyone who works at that company is more interesting than Andrew. There are a couple of programmers who used to go out together and are quite funny together (Parvesh Cheena, Hong Chau); there’s a human resources person (Ben Falcone) who has to deal with the overbearing, intrusive, amoral, empathy-free and occasionally very weird CEO (Christina Kirk); and there’s Stu (Henry Zebrowski), Andrew’s best friend and habitual online dating liar.

To complicate matters, Stu used to go out with lawyer Zelda’s best friend and work colleague Stephie (Lenora Crichlow from our very own Being Human and who's come fresh from best friend duties on ABC’s Back In The Game), when Stu pretended to be a jazz musician, so the two exes now have to get along because their best friends are now dating.

And because of both “Everything Else Syndrome” and “Best Friends Syndrome”, these are the parts of the show it’s possible to both enjoy and look forward to, since not only are the characters more interesting and given more comedic situations and lines, the actors also get more to do, too. Indeed, increasingly more and more of the show is dedicated to the supporting cast.

Trouble is - as Mad Love showed - if you have a rom-com and the audience would rather be watching the supporting cast, you’re probably not going to last long. And I think with A To Z, it’s pretty clear that cancellation is hanging over it in the exact same way that Katey Segal’s doom-laden voiceover does.

So not even a cautious recommendation from me. While there have been some laughs from the office side of things and the third-episode was an oddly innovative look at how Google and the Internet have changed online dating, all of which lift the show above the likes of Manhattan Love Story, we’re still talking about a show with not enough appeal to justify your tuning in for half an hour every week.

Life’s too short for doomed relationships, so it’s time to move on.

Barrometer rating: 4
Rob’s prediction: Cancelled before the end of the season

October 17, 2014

Review: Jane the Virgin 1x1 (US: The CW; UK: E4)

Posted 6 days ago at 12:31 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Jane The Virgin

In the US: Mondays, 9/8c, The CW
In the UK: Acquired by E4. Will air in 2015

As I mentioned in my earlier review today of ABC’s Cristela, there’s a right way and a wrong way to make TV more diverse. The wrong way is simply to stick minority characters in any old rubbish, stack it full of obvious stereotypes that can be easily knocked down, and assume that’s enough to make people watch and root for the hero or heroine.

That doesn’t work.

The right way is to do something clever. Now telenovelas are one of the big successes of Spanish-language TV in both North and South America. In their purest definition, they are merely stories told over a fixed number of episodes, with a fixed beginning, middle and end. No eternal renewals for these boys and girls.

But most telenovelas are more than this basic definition and are more like soap operas, but insane, crazy soap operas crossed with poetry with mysterious identical twins, crazed half-brothers, and romances sometimes almost literally written among the stars. We’re talking “heightened reality” here.

While there have been some efforts to create English-language versions of some of the most popular telenovelas, few of them have actually got anywhere, with Ugly Betty being the only truly notable adaptation so far, with the likes of The Black Widow, Rubí, Killer Women and all the ones planned by the BBC a few years ago either stuck in development hell or just being dreadful.

This looks set to change with the EW’s Jane The Virgin, an adaptation of Venezuela’s Juana La Virgen. Incorporating all the heightened reality and standard tropes of telenovelas, it features Gina Rodriguez (The Bold and the Beautiful) as a Jane Villanueva, a young Latina raised by her grandmother to prize her virginity and only to lose it with the man she marries - unlike her mother (Andrea Navedo), who still won’t reveal who Jane’s real father is.

Fortunately, Jane has a loving cop boyfriend (Brett Dier) who’s willing to wait. Unfortunately, she has a doctor whose wife cheats on her the day before Jane’s check-up, distracting her so much that she confuses her with a patient coming in for artificial insemination. The result? Jane is still a virgin, yet pregnant.

Since this is telenovela territory, things still aren’t complicated or implausible enough yet. The woman who was supposed to be impregnated (Yael Grobglas) was doing so using her husband’s only remaining sperm sample, frozen from before he had treatment for cancer. She was only doing that because he (Justin Baldoni) was about to divorce her and she figured that if they had a child together, he would stay with her. Even more complicated is the fact that Jane has a crush on Baldoni and kissed him once.

Phew. That’s a lot, isn’t it? And I’ve not even started on who Jane’s father is - you don’t want everything to be spoiled, do you?

What lifts the show above the regular telenovela and telenovela adaptation is that it knows what it is and is happy to subvert it and use it. Throughout the show, Jane - an avid telenovela fan - constantly compares her life to telenovelas and seeks inspiration from the telenovelas she adores. The narration also makes frequent comparison and reference to the nature of the situation and its implausibility, and how much like a telenovela it is. Jane even gets dream sequence in-story advice from characters from her favourite telenovela, something even more complicated by the arrival at the end of the first episode of the main actor in that telenovela.

It’s also braver than a lot of shows. While Jane eventually decides to keep the baby, something without which the show wouldn’t have much of a premise, she nevertheless does consider an abortion and there’s even a discussion about the possibility by the main characters - an area few American shows would dare to address. It’s also happy to have about 25% of the show in subtitled Spanish (and in the US at least, you can watch the whole show in Spanish if you want), with some characters only speaking Spanish, even if Jane does have the slightly odd habit of replying in English to them, despite understanding them perfectly.

At the end of the day, this is still a telenovela and whether you’ll enjoy it or not comes down to whether you like telenovelas. But Jane the Virgin is at the top end of telenovelas, being charming, funny and smart, and at least on a par with Ugly Betty. If they’re you’re thing, you’ll love Jane the Virgin.

Review: Cristela 1x1 (US: ABC)

Posted 6 days ago at 11:40 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share


In the US: Fridays, 8.30/7.30c, ABC

Latinos make up 17% of the US population and 47% of the population of California, but if you watched network US TV, you’d be hard-pressed to see that fact represented on-screen. There’s a token character here and there sometimes, but largely shows are resolutely white and when there is decent representation of minorities, it’s almost always black characters who get the look in.

This season, however, some networks are trying to improve this lack of representation. Over on The CW, we have Jane The Virgin (review coming up later today) while on ABC - which is really pushing diversity this season with shows including black-ish and How To Get Away With Murder - we have Cristela, starring up and coming Latina comedienne Cristela Alonzo. Based on her own life, Cristela sees the eponymous Cristela dreaming of becoming a lawyer as she enters her sixth year of law school, while simultaneously trying to juggle her family responsibilities and jobs. In particular, she’s moved in with her sister (Maria Canals-Barrera), something that doesn’t please her brother-in-law (Carlos Ponce from Couples Retreat) one bit, and none of her family are that happy with her doing anything but getting married and being subservient to men - not even helping the young daughter to play soccer.

All of the home life scenes are cringe-worthy and clumsy but the show does better when it goes to the law firm where Cristela ends up interning. Rather than sexism, here other isms are examined, with pasty blonde posh girl Justine Lupe (Harry’s Law) taking on the main piñata role necessary for this, first assuming Cristela is a cleaner before realising her mistake and asking her to validate parking. Boss Sam McMurray treads a slightly subtler line, being a blunt good old boy who says outrageous things that it’s unclear whether he truly means or is only saying as a bit of ‘banter’, since he clearly esteems new hire Cristela. And would get an epic law suit if he really meant them.

Meanwhile, the rather sweet Andrew Leeds (best known as serial killer Chirstopher Pelant on Bones) gets to be both competition at the firm, as well as a sounding board and sympathetic ear to Cristela, and its in Alonzo's interactions with McMurray and Leeds that the show actually finds some lines and moments of intelligence and comedy that transcend its general humour vacuum.

Based in Dallas, Texas (Latino population: 42% - something not entirely obvious from Dallas), the show’s efforts to persuade that it’s filmed anywhere but a studio in Los Angeles largely fail, despite copious references to Dallas football and having Sam McMurray deploy a Texan accent while all around him sound resolutely midwestern. It’s not entirely clear why Canals-Barrera walks around in a cocktail dress all day, either.

However, some aspects of it have a degree of authenticity and it’s even happy to have unsubtitled Spanish dialogue at times, assuming that the audience will probably understand what’s being said. Alonzo’s not being a size-zero inevitably means that the show follows a The Mindy Project line, making her the butt of numerous size jokes as well, although she gives as good as she gets and is similarly self-deprecating. She’s also clearly having a lot of fun and while the writing messes around with Latino and Latina stereotypes, a lot of it relies on her ebullient and winning performance to defuse potentially abrasive situations and reduce serious discussions down to more comedic exchanges.

A multi-camera comedy, the show suffers from an audience that will laugh and go ‘Ah!’ without the slightest provocation from the script. The plotting is basic and predictable, with Alonzo’s family inevitably coming round to accepting her unpaid legal internship by the end of the episode (cue of ‘Ah!’ from the audience following generic affirming statements from Alonzo’s previously antagonistic mother).

It’s not a great show. It’s not an innovative show, beyond its casting: the jokes are obvious, the characters basic and the plotting pedestrian. Anything to do with the main character’s family is horrendous.

So while it’s good to see a show like it on TV, Cristela nonetheless highlights that as well as diversity in casting, there needs to be quality in the writing or else no one will end up watching. And if you don’t believe me on that, allow me to point you in the direction of Rob Schneider’s Rob.

Review: Marry Me 1x1 (US: NBC; UK: E4)

Posted 6 days ago at 10:39 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Marry Me

In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, NBC
In the UK: Acquired by E4. Will air late 2014/early 2015

And let the Fall 2014 rom-com trend continue! Hot on the heels of Marriage, You're The Worst, Selfie and Manhattan Love Story, here comes NBC’s Marry Me, a companion piece to the network's other new rom-com, A to Z, which rather than showing us a couple meeting and doing the whole “will they, won’t they” thing for six seasons instead starts off six years into the relationship with the couple still unmarried and not even living together. Which is at least novel for an American show and indeed relationship, which normally follows the six months/one year move in, one year to two years proposal/get married, two to four years to first child rule with iron-clad inevitability.

However, both do want to get married. The trouble is that while the man (Ken Marino from the much-missed Party Down) is relatively stable and normal, the woman (Casey Wilson from the much-missed Happy Endings) is something of a ditz who causes the worst possible things in the world to happen - much of the first episode revolves around Wilson comprehensive cocking up of both Marino’s and her marriage proposals, lives, friendships, etc, while flashing back to those first six years of equally epic cock-ups.

It’s no real spoiler to say that by the end of the episode, the happy couple are eventually engaged, with the rest of the series set to be about their next, inevitably bumpy journey - this time towards actually getting married. But the show’s real theme is a questioning of the standard rom-com trope of ‘the sign’: with that many disasters occurring to the proposal, is it a ‘sign' they aren’t supposed to be together or is the fact they still end up together and do get engaged a sign that they are supposed to be together?

As you might expect from the fact Marry Me is from the creator of Happy Endings David Caspe - who based this show’s premise on his recent marriage to Wilson - the writing’s a notch above the usual and is both quite ‘meta’ and literary, with characters frequently stopping to analyse their situation and to subvert their own language. The show’s also set in Chicago and has a suitable degree of diversity, with Wilson’s character being the progeny of two gay dads, one white, one black, both called Kevin, and a lesbian surrogate. And the show’s largely all about Wilson, with much of the fun stemming from her character’s “being in the moment” and generally putting her foot in her mouth, not being that graceful (a yoga class is particularly entertaining, with its instructor continually damning her with faint praise) and making a mess of things.

Marino’s role, by contrast, is explicitly duller, he being the conventional rock that stabilises her dementedness, almost the Desi Arnaz to Wilson’s Lucille Ball. He makes the best of it, but ultimately he’s not thrown much by way of a bone throughout the first episode.

Certainly, of the network rom-coms, while not a patch on You’re The Worst, it’s the best by far of the bunch, being not only smarter and funnier but also having engaging, likeable characters you want to see do well. However, in common with a lot of NBC comedies, it’s more wry funny than laugh out loud funny - you admire the cleverness of the writing rather than actually roll about on the floor giggling a lot of the time, and as with the show's first five-minute long marriage proposal scene, it really tries to milk every moment for all its worth, way past the point where there’s anything left.

So while it’s certainly one to at least try, I’ll be surprised if it acquires more than a cult following. Of course, I’ll hang around until episode three to see if much changes now the marriage proposals are out the way and Marino gets something decent to do. But largely this is a show that’s there, rather than having any real need to exist or anything truly unique to add to the rom-com mix.

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Jason Momoa's audition for Game of Thrones

Posted 6 days ago at 09:39 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Jason Momoa’s so hot right now. This is slightly bewildering – after all, he started off pretty inauspiciously in his acting life on Baywatch Hawaii, before working his way over to the least interesting of all the Stargates, Stargate: Atlantis, and no one really came out of Stargate: Atlantis with their careers intact, although at least he escaped with his hair intact.

Since then, though, he's defied the odds and gone on to better things, including starring in Sundance’s Red Road and directing Road to Paloma, and he’s about to star as Aquaman in the forthcoming Aquaman. Nevertheless, he has become known for taking his top off a lot, to the extent that he didn’t really want to play the part of Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy, because it was essentially identical to his Stargate: Atlantis role.

And his role as Khal Drogo on Game of Thrones. Still, you have to admit that he was perfect for the role, as you can see from his audition tape, in which for reasons best known to him, he decided to do a Maori haka.


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Stephen Colbert joins Apple

Posted 6 days ago at 09:18 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Although he doesn’t seem to like his new job title.


News: a US IT Crowd (again), Ridley Scott has Ebola, a Quantum Leap reunion + more

Posted 6 days ago at 08:08 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Follow TMINE on Twitter for breaking news updates

Film casting

  • Joe Thomas to star in eco-rom-com Scottish Mussel

Internet TV

UK TV shows

New UK TV shows

New UK TV show casting


US TV show casting

New US TV shows

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