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September 18, 2014

Mini-review: The Mysteries of Laura 1x1 (US: NBC)

Posted on September 18, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Mysteries of Laura

In the US: Wednesdays, 8/7c, NBC

How much do you love Debra Messing? A little bit? A lot? Don't worry, it's not a crime to admit it. Okay, she was somewhat overshadowed by Megan Mullally on Will and Grace, which should probably have been called Jack and Karen by the end, but objectively she was a lot of fun in that and you might well have a soft spot for her because of Prey, too.

All the same, unless on a scale from 1-10 you rate Messing as "11! 11! How could it be anything but 11, you damn fool! She's a goddess!", you're probably going to want to give The Mysteries of Laura a wide berth. To start with, the show is adapted from Spain's La 1's Los misterios de Laura, which isn't itself the finest piece of work ever to hit the airwaves.

But this NBC take elevates a slightly tedious, obvious show about a single mother who's also a cop to whole new levels of pain and misery for the viewer. I mean McG (Charlie's Angels, This Means War) not only exec produces but is also the director of the pilot episode, and having his name attached to anything is pretty much a guarantee of horror greater than a rabies infection. Even given that terrible baseline, though, the writers and producers work ever so hard in partnership with McG to give us something of almost weaponised toxicity.

The show's one big joke is that Messing's character brings her police skills to bear on her private life and her mothering skills to bear on her work life. So Messing goes around investigating the 'crime scenes' caused by her children while simultaneously mothering and wiping clean the victims of crime. In pretty much every scene. It wasn't funny in the first scene; it wasn't funny in the last.

It flags pretty much everything about a mile off, has insulting characters with the depth of the average dew drop and although it's clearly supposed to be a comedy drama, rather than a procedural per se, has an approach to plausibility and police work on a par with Trumpton. There is almost no gender or racial stereotype the show isn't happy to exploit (sassy black woman? Check. Bitchy Latina? Check.), no subtlety or change in working conditions since the 1970s that it isn't willing to ignore. It is the pan-galactic gargle blaster of crime shows, but without the benefits of alcohol.

But Messing's good. I like her.

September 15, 2014

Review: Z Nation 1x1 (Syfy)

Posted on September 15, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Zombies in Z Nation

In the US: Fridays, 10/9c, Syfy

When I watched Syfy’s Dominion in June and declared it to be a contender to be the worst TV programme ever made, I assumed that its awfulness was a mistake, the result of some bad creative decisions. Who would deliberately make something so terrible you’d rather sandpaper your own knees for a week than watch another episode?

But having watched Syfy’s Z Nation, I’m going to have to overturn this assumption because it seems that Syfy’s new programming strategy is to develop shows so deliberately bad that people can only watch them ironically. I suspect the root cause of it all was Sharknado, but to be honest, it doesn’t matter, because let’s face it, Syfy hasn’t made a decent original show in years.

Where Dominion tapped into what I assumed was a comparatively small market - people who like to watch angels firing guns at each other in quasi-futuristic settings based on movies that no one watched - Z Nation tries to exploit a much bigger audience: people who love The Walking Dead. This is, of course a show that airs on AMC, a network that normally breaks open the champagne whenever its ratings creep above three million, so The Walking Dead’s 14 million per episode is somewhat akin to having Scarlett Johansson and Chris Evans turn up with vintage Taittinger, a large block of gold and the deeds to a small Caribbean island in AMC’s offices every week.

Naturally, Syfy would try to tap into that audience with something that’s almost exactly the same, just cheaper and, given its new programming strategy, colossally stupid. Eschewing all that annoying characterisation and plotting that The Walking Dead’s showrunners mistakenly think people care about, Z Nation instead gets down to recreating the aesthetics of a low-budget Sega Megadrive first-person shooter from the 90s, with a motley bunch of highly untrained actors being given weapons and told to pretend to be Delta Force (sic) soldiers, prisoners, survivalists et al in a post-apocalyptic world where most people have been turned by a virus into zombies. Their prime directive? Hit things in the head a lot so that blood goes everywhere.

In common with the infinitely superior and thankfully zombie-free The Last Ship, there’s a last best chance for a cure who needs to be shepherded somewhere; there’s also a lone soldier at an HQ somewhere trying to rally the world together using the NSA’s communications systems, a Good Morning Vietnam microphone and, improbably for a a high-tech communications centre, a record player and some LPs.

But although there are one or two good ideas in there, everything about Z Nation’s execution is appalling. While there’s a certain element of irony in the show, which knows it’s not brilliant and wants to have a little fun at least, the dialogue is on a par with ‘All Your Base Are Belong To Us’, the plot utterly generic, the characters nicked wholesale from The Walking Dead’s supporting cast, the characterisation so perfunctory that you’d be hard-pressed even to remember any of the characters’ names, the acting sub-Wing Commander and the action so badly choreographed, you’ll assume that everyone’s under some form of remote control run using a 33.3k modem.

There are perhaps four surprises in the utterly generic first episode. One of these is that the show is co-created by Karl Schaefer, who co-created the deeply fun and interesting Eerie, Indiana back in the 1990s. You seriously would never have guessed from the drekfest on display. The second is that innovatively [spoiler]the show kills off the cast's biggest name - Harold Perrineau from Lost - before the end, which means also that there’s one fewer reason to watch the show as a result.

And of the remaining surprises, the underlying hint of irony means that they end up having all the impact and drama of discovering that one crisp you were saving at the bottom of your pack of Golden Wonders is actually a little smaller than you were expecting. And most of the time, you’ll be laughing when you should be hiding behind the sofa.

If you make it through even the first 10 minutes, I really will be surprised. If you make it through to the end, I’ll assume it’s because you're obligated to because of your job, you’re being blackmailed or you’ve undergone some kind of traumatic head wound. But even if you intend to watch it ironically, laughing at how bad it is, it’s worth remembering that The Strain at least has some qualities that will make watching it bearable; Z Nation just hopes that by being rubbish, you’ll watch it. Don’t waste your time.

September 12, 2014

Preview: Red Band Society 1x1 (Fox)

Posted on September 12, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Red Band Society

In the US: Wednesdays, Fox. Starts 17th September

It’s not exactly news that US TV is a vast, sprawling mass that churns through shows with unrelenting speed, requiring it to look around wherever it can for potential new sources of ideas. It’s been mining books, films and comics with increasing regularity, as well as the rest of the world’s TV. For decades now, it’s been working its way through the best (and sometimes worst) ideas that UK TV has had to offer, and has since spread out to other countries including Canada, Israel, Scandinavia and Mexico.

But it seems like it’s well and truly sucked the life out of those countries, because now it’s working its way down to some much less well travelled. Right now, the new hot country is Turkey, whose Son (currently available on Netflix, in case you’re interested), The End and The Edge are being worked into US shows as we speak. But just about to hit the airwaves over on Fox is Red Band Society, an adaptation of Catalonia’s Polseres vermelles. Yes, Catalonia. That’s not even a proper country (yet).

Quite why Fox had to go all the way to Catalonia, though, isn’t clear because thanks to a few changes made to the original show, as the name suggests, this is now essentially The Breakfast Club, the only difference being that the show is set in the paediatric ward of a hospital and all the kids are severely sick. Nevertheless, this group of kids who would normally all be at odds with one another in their respective cliques at school are all going to be forced to socialise with one another, make friends and perhaps learn a little about life and each other at the same time.

The changes are at least instructive. While most of the characters are the same - for example, we have a smart kid who’s been in hospital for a while, a handsome kid who’s just turned up, a girl with anorexia who might be into both of them and a kid who narrates the whole show but who is in a coma and can only communicate with one other character - we have an attempt at greater diversity that paradoxically reduces everyone down to stereotypes. There’s no kid with Asperger’s but we do have a streetwise black kid; the main nurse is now sassy and black (Octavia Spencer); and the handsome kid who doesn’t want to make friends is now a mean girl cheerleader, who of course has to have fights for male attention with the only other girl in the group.

But despite these efforts this is really no Breakfast Club. There's no Rob Lowe, Molly Ringwald or Ally Sheedy among its cast members (even if anorexic girl does dress like Sheedy) to lift the show to new heights. The adult likes of Spencer, doctors Dave Annable and Griffin Dunne, and nurse Rebecca Rittenhouse have little to do beyond be the teachers of the piece that the kids must obey, abuse or run ring rounds, rather than have anything to do in and of themselves. And despite the constant threat of deaths, amputations and more, there’s no real emotional depth to the show and even within the space of the first episode, suggestions of any real conflict and edge are carefully sanded off before the final credits.

It’s not without its charms and some of the kids are even likeable. But ultimately, how much you’re going to enjoy Red Band Society is really down to how much time you have for teen angst and standard indie set-pieces, such as precocious kids trying to show how intellectual they are by reducing Shakespeare down to little more than textese to demonstrate his continuing relevance and how smart they are. Which ain’t really my thing - but it might be yours.

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The Mysteries of Laura

It's a mystery why it was made