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February 24, 2017

Review: The Good Fight 1x1 (US: CBS All Access)

Posted on February 24, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Good Fight

In the US: Sundays, CBS All Access

Spin-offs are a tricky business. You want to try to attract as many people to watch them as possible. Yet if you make the spin-off too different, maybe the fans of the original show won't like it and won't watch; meanwhile, those who didn't watch the original won't watch because they know it's a spin-off. But if you make the spin-off too similar, the fans might get bored of seeing more of the same, while everyone else won't watch for exactly the same reasons they didn't watch the original.

The Good Wife was an ultimately much raved about drama in which Julianna Margulies returned to work as a lawyer after her cheating husband got locked up. I quite enjoyed it but I ended up watching only a few episodes, since it wasn't so good I wanted to stick it out beyond episode three, so I never really got to learn why everyone ended up loving it so much in later episodes.

Now we have The Good Fight, a spin-off from The Good Wife that's also the first show put out exclusively on CBS's new online-only Hulu rival, CBS All Access. And it all seems a bit familiar, even to me.

For starters, it sees Christine Baranski reprise her role as one of Margulies' mentors at her law firm, from which she's just about to retire. However, before you can say "well, how are they going to have a legal show if she's retired?", her accountant (CSI's Paul Guilfoyle) is revealed to have possibly been the architect of a Ponzi Scheme and all her money is now either missing or tied up in the investigation. Retirement? Not for you.

Trouble is, her old firm wants her gone and her association with Guilfoyle means none of her clients want to go with her if she leaves. Fortunately, there's another law firm for which Delroy Lindo and Good Wife regular Cush Jumbo work that might be interested in hiring her, so she can do good works, instead of defending the indefensible. Will she join the good guys and fight The Good Fight?

Well, duh.

Coming with her is Rose Leslie (the red-headed wildling from Game of Thrones), Guilfoyle's newly graduated lawyer daughter and former golden girl, who's now as toxic as Baranski, so it's basically The Good Wife again, in which an older female lawyer partnered by a younger (gay) woman rediscovers her worth and ambitions through a new job. There are what felt like a lot of references to that show and a certain degree of foreknowledge required of the viewers, such as the opening scene of Baranski watching the Trump inauguration silently devastated which is never referred to again, but I'm assuming is a reference to her political sensibilities. But it wasn't so debilitating that I couldn't understand or enjoy what was going on.

To be honest, while it's not hugely different from any number of other legal dramas, The Good Fight is at least well written, has a good cast and is occasionally funny. Possessed of no fewer than three Brits in its line-up pretending to be American (Lindo, Leslie and Jumbo), it's happy to mock that fact for the audience's pleasure by getting Delroy to ask Jumbo to answer phones in a London accent. Lockhart's loss of her retirement plans is a source of pathos, as is the fact the show also frequently has much poorer people who suffered from the Ponzi scheme explaining they've worked for 20 years and got nothing to show for it, too. TMZ investigations of Leslie and her girlfriend also enable Jumbo to offer friendship in a time of need by offering advice from Margulies' experiences, and Lockhart's relationship with her possibly soon to be ex-husband (Gary Cole) is actually quite touching.

But The Good Fight is nothing that new as a legal drama, even less so for anyone who's watched The Good Wife. Maybe that's why it's on CBS All Access - it would probably get cancelled quickly on broadcast TV but being quite cheap to make and on the Internet, it could find a niche quite easily. 

I'll probably give episode two a watch at least to see if takes the show in a different direction. Nevertheless, I suspect that just as with The Good Wife, I'll be out after three, even though there's nothing that wrong with it.

February 21, 2017

Review: Bellevue 1x1 (Canada: CBC)

Posted on February 21, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Bellevue

In Canada: Mondays, 9pm, CBC

They say one of the reasons that Denmark likes its horrific murder-mysteries on TV so much is that it's one of the nicest places in the world to live. With no emotional darkness in their lives, allegedly, the happy old Hygge-filled Danes have to live vicariously through Nordic Noir.

I'm assuming that's why lovely, happy Canada appears to be developing its own equivalent. We've already seen CTV's Cardinal firmly embracing the darkness to pioneer 'Canadian Noir' and now we have CBC plummeting into similar territory, although putting its own, very CBC spin on it. Here, we have Anna Paquin (The Piano, X-MenTrue Blood) playing a cop in the small town of Bellevue, investigating the disappearance of a trans teenage hockey star. Has he been beaten by homophobic fans or is something more sinister afoot?

Suspecting a known paedophile who's moved into town, she's surprised when her suspect is expecting her and even more surprised when he hands her a note that appears to be from her father. Or at least whoever it was who pretended to be her father after he died. Because when Paquin was just a kid, a teenage girl was killed and posed as the Virgin Mary in the nativity, outside the local church. Paquin's cop dad was in charge of finding the killer and when he failed, he committed suicide. Except a few years later, Paquin started receiving riddles addressed to her by her dad…

Bellevue is a bit of a botch job. One moment it's trying to be The Killing (and failing). The next it's trying to be The Exorcist III (and failing). The next it's trying to be Broadchurch (and failing). It's hard to know what mood the story will be in from moment to moment, and everything joins together as smoothly as if the writer had been given a bucket of fish and a crochet kit and been asked to turn them into a Ford Fiesta.

To its credit, its efforts to show small-town Canadian life make it a little bit different from other shows, but the dialogue is pretty cringe-worthy, especially anything involving new cop in town Sharon Taylor (Stargate Atlantis). It has a fine cast, too, particularly Paquin who's given a chance to show off her Oscar-winning range, but also Shawn Doyle (Endgame, Frequency, Vegas, This Life) as her boss and substitute father-figure. 

However, Bellevue has very little else to go for it, so if you are going to watch some of this new breed of Canadian Noir, Cardinal is a superior choice by far.

February 17, 2017

Review: Imposters 1x1-1x2 (US: Bravo)

Posted on February 17, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Imposters

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, Bravo

Con artists aren't very nice people. They lie, cheat and steal from people to benefit themselves, those people typically being old, trusting and/or not very rich, and who therefore typically end up penniless, destitute, futureless and/or suicidal.

What. A. Downer. Huh?

It's no surprise, therefore, that shows that have focused on 'flim flam' men and women, such as Leverage or Perfect Scoundrels, have usually taken no time at all to give their anti-heroes epiphanies in which they realise that their ways are indeed wicked. Before the end of the first episode even, they're off fleecing the deserving - aka people who are both rich and dicks.

Shows that don't? Downers.

That's certainly how you think Imposters is going to be during its first episode. It sees Rob Heaps playing a sensitive young Jewish man who works for his family-owned firm. He sacrificed everything for his family, including his dreams of seeing Paris, and ends up thinking his life will never amount to anything. Then along comes Belgian breath of fresh air Inbar Levi, the two fall madly in love, and before you know it, they're married and Heaps dares to dream once more.

But before you know it (again), she's emptied their bank account, maxed out the credit cards, taken out a second mortgage on their home and stolen cash from the firm, leaving a parting video explaining that a folder of incriminating evidence will be used to destroy his parents' marriage if he comes looking for her.

All looks bleak and Heaps even tries to commit suicide. Then comes a knock at the door… and the show changes.

Had I not fallen a little behind with my viewing schedule, I might not have bothered watching episode two of Imposters, that first ep is so fundamentally miserable. But since I hadn't watched episode one by the time episode two aired, I ended up watching both en masse. Surprisingly, this is actually probably the best thing you can do, since episode one is less the foundation to the show than its prologue; it's only in episode two that you find out what it's really doing.

It would have helped if the show had stuck to its original title of My So-Called Wife, because oddly enough, Imposters is a buddy-buddy comedy. At Heaps' door is another of Levi's victims - Parker Young (Suburgatory, Enlisted), a knuckle-headed former quaterback and alpha male car salesman. Together, he and the equally penniless and heart-broken Heaps are going to go on a road trip together to find Levi and get their money back. Along the way, they're going to learn the ways of the con artist, be spectacularly bad at them, develop their own code of honour, help each other to get over their former wife, and get on each other's nerves. A lot.

Meanwhile, Levi has moved onto the next job allocated by mysterious boss 'the Doctor' to her and the rest of her team, who include Katherine LaNasa (DeceptionSatisfaction) and Brian Benben (Dream On). With their help, she has to woo a seemingly dickish, cuckolded darts-playing bank CEO (Battlestar Galactica's Aaron Douglas. Yes, it's filmed in Canada - how did you know?), who turns out to be surprisingly sweet. But she's distracted by the possibility of true love with coffee-shop chance encounter Stephen Bishop (Being Mary Jane). Is it time to get out of 'the life' or will the Doctor punish her and Bishop if she tries?

All this is good frothy fun that manages to find both a little depth and a lot more jokes amidst everyone's misery. Levi, who did little as a button-downed Israeli commando on The Last Ship, here demonstrates a really surprising range and is hugely appealing, even when she tricks and misleads everyone she meets. Young and Heaps' routine is both funny and suitably dorky, and their slow crossing over to the dark side is entertaining to watch as they foul up time and again but slowly get better. Their 'code' also shows how morality can blur when you need it to, as they initially write off children and old people as potential marks, settle on 'assholes' as their preferred targets, then decide that 'asshole>old people' in their moral hierarchy when spying a particularly dickish senior with an attractively bulging wallet.

Later episodes are set to add Uma Thurman to the mix, as well as another former spouse of Levi's - a wife this time (Marianne Rendón) - which is bound to change the dynamic of the show once again. Despite its subject matter, while black, Imposters is certainly still a comedy and well worth a try. But you'll need to commit.

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