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April 8, 2014

Review: Silicon Valley 1x1 (HBO)

Posted on April 8, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Silicon Valley

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

Geeks and nerds are hard to do well. The natural instinct of US comedy writers - typically arts graduates who know next to nothing about science and technology - is to mock them mercilessly and hold them up to be objects of ridicule. Even when seemingly siding with nerds (cf Revenge of the Nerds, Weird Science), writers still regard them as 'the other’ and targets for the comedy more often than not - hapless losers who succeed despite their apparent social failings, unattractiveness, etc, rather than who have worthwhile character traits.

Look at Big Bang Theory, which supposedly is on the side of the geek, but which still gives all the nerds 1970s clothing and haircuts and has ‘normal’ people around to look down on them. Or at least that’s how it started (it’s improved a bit not a lot).

And in a lot of ways, HBO's new comedy Silicon Valley is no different. Set inside a Silicon Valley ‘incubator’ - a collection of start-up businesses all under one roof being helped to become successful by a mentor - it’s a show that very precisely satirises the people, the working style, the business practices, the culture and pretty much everything else in California’s technology capital. Very precisely - having written about technology (as well as TV) for the best part of 20 years, a lot of it is very familiar to me, even if it is exaggerated.

But at the same time, this is a comedy from Mike Judge. Best known for the affectionate but teasing portrait of Texan family life that is King of the Hill, he’s also the progenitor of the much-loved cult movie Office Space, which did a fabulous job of mocking working life.

So although the geeks and nerds on display in the show are as much the butt of the humour as in any other show, not only is it quite affectionate mockery, no one escapes it. Best of all, it's also very funny.

Here's a trailer and if you liked that, you can watch the entire first (censored) episode, too (if you live in the US).

Continue reading "Review: Silicon Valley 1x1 (HBO)"

April 3, 2014

Review: Friends With Better Lives 1x1 (CBS)

Posted on April 3, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Friends with Better Lives

In the US: Mondays, 8.30/7.30c, CBS
In the UK: Acquired by Comedy Central

Normally, even the mention that a sitcom is on CBS and is shot in front of a studio audience is enough to make me reach for the novocaine. Really, the pain is too much, these days.

But there was a little light at the end of the tunnel when I heard that Friends With Better Lives had nothing to do with Chuck Lorre, showrunner of CBS's Two and a Half Men, Big Bang Theory, Mom and Mike and Molly, and that it stars James Van Der Beek, who did such a good job with Don’t Trust The B---- in Apartment 23.

So I was prepared to give this one a little latitude.

Certainly, it’s not as awful as most CBS sitcoms. Sure, the set-up is incredibly derivative, featuring four sets of couples at different stages of relationship life: single, just met, long-time married and divorced (cf Rules of Engagement, ’Til Death, Better With You). The single woman just want to find a partner; the just hooked-up couple want to spend all their time together having sex; the long-time marrieds don’t have any fun any more and envy the just hooked-up couple; and the divorced guy (Van Der Beek) is just bitter and wants to get back together with his wife.

Incidentally, the fact he’s divorced is a spoiler for the end of the episode, but since it’s in the show’s title sequence at the start of the episode, don’t worry about it.

For some reason, these four couples - technically, two couples + 1 + 1 - all hang around in long-time married couple’s house, where they snipe at each other, try to set each other up, pick apart their relationships and generally wish they were in some other state of singledom/coupledom. And that’s all handled in an efficient enough, if predictable manner, with a slight female edge that means that for once on a CBS comedy, there’s at least one funny female character right from the first episode.

Trouble is, for a group of eight characters you’re expected to hang out with, there’s not much to make you want to hang out with them. Van Der Beek is a bitter stalker and perpetual house guest who does mean things to single, picky, career woman Zoe Lister-Jones, who jibes back at him. And they’re the best things about the show, demonstrating some decent comedic chops.

But Victoria’s Secret model Brooklyn Decker just looks like she needs to eat some food most of the time; Kevin Connolly, who endured eight seasons of Entourage, is only there to make world-weary comments; Rick Donald is there to be Australian and nice, which is even less than he had to do as Danny on The Doctor Blake Mysteries; and beyond be a mother, embarrassed and regretful of her life choices, there’s precious little for Roswell’s Majandra Delfino to do and she’s only relatively competent at that.

There will, undoubtedly, be future relationship twists and no doubt Van Der Beek and Lister-Jones will end up together at some point in season two, assuming it gets that far. But I’m not sure I want to stick with it for that long. Hell, given that CBS aired the first episode and has now decided to wait a fortnight before airing the second one, I’m not sure CBS wants to stick with it for that long.

But if you’re looking for a comedy that isn’t immediately horrible and grossly sexist, and 25% of the cast of which are actually funny, this might be worth a few moments of your time, at least.

Here’s a trailer, surprisingly subtitled in French. But seeing as only Van Der Beek and Lister-Jones are worth watching, don’t be surprised CBS has made trailers exclusively about them, too.

April 1, 2014

Mini-review: Surviving Jack 1x1 (Fox)

Posted on April 1, 2014 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Surviving Jack

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

Forget 60s nostalgia. Forget 70s nostalgia. Forget even 80s nostalgia. Apparently, 1991 nostalgia is where it’s at.

Based on Justin Halpern’s autobiography, I Suck At Girls, Surviving Jack sees a 1991 family getting to grips with changing parenting roles when mom (Rachael Harris) goes to law school, forcing the ex-military doctor father (Christopher Meloni) to have to deal with being more nurturing with his two kids (Connor Buckley, Claudia Lee).

Strangely, Surviving Jack’s 1991 is pretty identical to 2014, the only difference being a lack of Internet, apparently, so I’m not quite sure what the nostalgia is for. But if you ignore that supposed hook, the show’s actually surprisingly good. While a lot of the first episode revolves around Buckley’s trying to deal with the fact that girls now seem to like him but he has no idea what to do about that, it’s quite a nuanced piece. Harris is as reliable as always but Meloni does surprisingly well as a slightly more sensitive Major Dad (see? That’s the kind of 1991 nostalgia we should be getting). It’s all a very male-centric piece, but for once, the men aren’t total dicks, and there’s plenty of laughs in the show.

Definitely one to try.

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