April 23, 2014

Third-episode verdict: Silicon Valley (HBO/Sky Atlantic)

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BarrometerSiliconValley.jpgA Barrometer rating of 2

In the US: Sundays, 10pm, HBO
In the UK: Acquired by Sky Atlantic for summer 2014

Normally, you can pretty much get a grip on a show within a few episodes. You can tell what it's like, what kind of things it's going to play with and who it's going to appeal to.

Silicon Valley is a slightly more problematic show. Set, as you might guess, in the computer capital of the world, it's a comedy from Mike Judge that follows a programmer (Thomas Middleditch) who develops a revolutionary new compression algorithm and decides to start his own company to sell it to the world. The series then follows the various obstacles Middleditch faces, ranging from coming up with a proper business plan to incorporating the company and deciding who gets to have shares.

Finding the funny yet? 

Well it can be: the first episode was very good, thanks in part to Judge's own experiences of working in the valley. Since then, though, it's been variable, depending very much on individual writers' particular interests. Episode two gave us a very finance-oriented episode that would have left the average person clueless as to what was going on, and bar a speech from one of the programmers about security - which again would have left programming neophytes for dust - was a bit short on the funnies.

Episode three was considerably better, giving us more of a character piece that bulked up the supporting cast and played with stereotypes in a relatively novel way. But tonally, it felt like a completely different show: a single-camera version of Big Bang Theory complete with music stings. True, it was a lot smarter - it even made a plot point out of the co-prime lifecycles of cicadas - and it also required an audience familiarity with cloud company mission statements, but rather than the more heightened Office Space reality of Judge's episode, this was a conventional sitcom with an unusual setting.

So I don't really know whether to recommend it or not. If you know both IT and finance, and deal with the corporate world a lot - I'm guessing the kind of person who can afford to subscribe to HBO in fact - this is very much your show. It's spot-on in its satire and you'll know exactly what they're getting at. It still needs a bit more development and consistency if you're to root for the characters, rather than merely observe them, but I think you'll like it.

For everyone else, you could get lost in this, no matter how many episodes of Dragons' Den/Shark Tank you've seen. It's not easily fathomable and the more accessible jokes are by no means its funniest. It's good, but I'm just not sure you'll love it - certainly not when Judge isn't writing it.

Barrometer rating: 2
Rob's prediction: Already been renewed for a second season

News: Crossbones trailer, the Almighty Brokenwood Mysteries, Katherine Parkison is Semi Detached + more

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April 22, 2014

News: Veep and Silicon Valley renewed, John Simm goes American for Intruders trailer + more

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April 17, 2014

What have you been watching? Including Fargo, Agents of SHIELD, Silicon Valley and Friends With Better Lives

Posted 6 days ago at 12:27 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Fargo

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.

A little bit earlier than normal, thanks to the Easter bank holidays in the UK, but we'll back to the usual Friday slot next week. New shows I’ve already reviewed this week:

But I also watched:

Fargo (US: Tuesdays, 10pm, FX; UK: Sundays, 9pm, Channel 4, starting Sunday)
Despite the name and the Coen Brothers' presence in the producers' roster, rather than a straight retelling of the movie, Fargo is an anthology series, each season telling a different 'true' crime story from the Minnesota region, the movie effectively being just one of those stories. Indeed, despite the setting and there being a William H Macy-esque schmuck of an accountant (Martin Freeman) and a bright but unlikely female sheriff (Allison Tolman) to investigate the heinous crimes of a newly arrived criminal (Billy Bob Thornton), the show has far more in common with the Coen Brothers' No Country For Old Men, right down to Billy Bob's dark angel with an eccentric haircut and some nice-guy sheriffs (Shawn Doyle, Colin Hanks) who get close, sometimes too close, to a force of evil beyond their experiences.

While not a patch on the movie, Fargo is nevertheless a decent piece of work, well written, well shot, with some eye-opening scenes, and largely well acted, particularly by Doyle but especially by Thornton, who's almost as mesmerising as Javier Bardem was. But it's largely interested in issues of masculinity, what it means to be a man and what happens if you fall short of those societal demands, so the female characters get short shrift from the story. Importantly, the relatively inexperienced Tolman has yet to make anything like the impact that Frances McDormand did in the movie, although she's likely to shift in importance in later episodes (spoiler)given Doyle unfortunately gets killed towards the end of the first episode

Not truly compelling, but definitely a cut above the average and I'll be sticking around to the next episode at least.

After the jump, the regulars, with reviews of Agents of SHIELD, Arrow, Community, Continuum, CrisisEndeavour, Friends with Better Lives, Game of Thrones, Hannibal and Silicon Valley.

Continue reading "What have you been watching? Including Fargo, Agents of SHIELD, Silicon Valley and Friends With Better Lives"

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News: More Americans, Shetland, less Bletchley Circle, Sigmund Freud fights crime + more

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April 16, 2014

News: Discovery/BSkyB buy 5, Heroes' digital prequel, Y Gwyll on Netflix + more

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April 15, 2014

Weekly Wonder Woman: Superman/Wonder Woman #7, Smallville: Lantern #5 and Justice League Beyond #16-17

Posted 8 days ago at 21:34 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Superman/Wonder Woman #7

Normally, around this time, I’d do a round-up of all of Wonder Woman’s appearances in DC comics in the past week. Unfortunately, given that both Superman and Wonder Woman were at the epicentre of a nuclear explosion not so long ago, I can’t do that, can I?

What do you mean they survived? How…?

Okay, we’ll talk about that after the jump. We’ll also be looking at a few alternative universes: the Smallville alternative universe, where Wonder Woman is flirting away with Steve Trevor, and the Justice League Beyond alternative universes, in which a slightly older Wonder Woman is off with Batman instead.

Gosh. Still, as long as she’s having fun, hey?

Continue reading "Weekly Wonder Woman: Superman/Wonder Woman #7, Smallville: Lantern #5 and Justice League Beyond #16-17"

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News: No more Fearnet, Sundance's The Village remake, TV Land aims Younger + more

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April 14, 2014

Review: The Gods of Wheat Street 1x1 (ABC1)

Posted 9 days ago at 21:25 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Gods of Wheat Street

In Australia: Saturdays, 8.30pm, ABC1

So there’s this guy called Odin who lives with his family on Wheat Street*. Well, he lives with Athena, Electra, Tristan and, erm, Libby; his brother Ares is in prison while his sister Isolde lives round the corner. His mum, Eden, is dead, so she only drops round to give advice from time to time.

From all that, you might think you have ABC1’s The Gods of Wheat Street correctly pegged as Australia’s answer to The Almighty Johnsons. But you’d be completely and utterly wrong.

Because, beyond the names of gods and heroes – and the occasional visitation by the dead – this is largely a six-part Aboriginal soap opera from the people who gave us Redfern Now, both in front of and behind the camera, but without the benefit of Jimmy McGovern's guiding hand.

Once you get over that basic misdirection, it’s not that bad. It's a drama about finding hope, having dreams and wanting more in life in small-town Australia, even when you’re poor and it looks like life is trying to kick you in the you-know-wheres. There’s a certain nominative determinism to the plot: Odin is the all father who tries to keep his family together, despite not having any money, his employer having just died and pretty much everything being up for sale; Ares is always in fights; Electra has daddy issues; Tristan would do anything for love; and so on.

But it’s not great. The acting by most of the leads is not so much convincing as earthy. The dialogue has the occasional laugh. The writers aren’t afraid to look at issues like domestic violence, racism, violence against women and everything else you might expect given the set-up they’ve created, but they’re more interested in regular-type people with regular-type ambitions – doing well at school, going to college to study fashion, looking after the family, finding a boyfriend or girlfriend, and so on.

I do find myself slightly compelled to watch the second episode, but only slightly. If you’re Australian, the show might well be of interest to you, even if it is all a bit worthy; but outside of Australia, most viewers are going to be hard-pushed to find much to watch in The Gods of Wheat Street beyond a mildly amiable drama about mildly amiable people.

* This review was written entirely in a style designed to irritate Giles Coren

Batman's 75 so here's a Bruce Timm animation to celebrate

Posted 9 days ago at 19:48 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

You’ve heard of Batman, right? Guy who likes to dress up as a bat to fight crime? Probably rings a bell, doesn’t it?

Anyway, he’s 75 years old this year and to celebrate, DC Comics has got the man behind the bulk of Batman animations for the past two decades to put together this little 1930s-style cartoon in which Batman hits things a lot.

Enjoy!

[via]

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