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November 19, 2014

Review: State of Affairs 1x1 (US: NBC)

Posted on November 19, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

State of Affairs

In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, NBC

Katherine Heigl has been a movie star for so long, it’s hard to remember that she made it big on TV first. Sure, she was something of a teen movie doyenne, playing both Steven Seagal and Gerard Depardieu’s daughters in Under Siege 2 and My Father, The Hero respectively, but it was in first Roswell and then Grey’s Anatomy that she really got noticed, before eventually hitting the big time in Knocked Up.

Unlike most of the world, tired of the endless series of identikit rom-coms that have characterised her career since and aware of her ‘difficult’ reputation, I have a lot of time for Heigl. She’s done her best to change the rom-com dynamic, trying to inject some feminism and even some swearing so that women aren’t continually gentrified and oppressed by the genre. But she could certainly do better than 27 Dresses for starters.

Apparently, she thinks so, too, which is why she’s returned to TV to do something completely different: playing a gun-toting CIA analyst in State of Affairs. Something of a melange of everything from Homeland through The Threat Matrix (bet you thought no one would mention that show again), it sees Heigl advising her former mother-in-law-to-be - the US president (Alfre Woodard) - about the top threats facing the United States’ interests around the world, be it abducted doctors in Africa or Islamist terrorists… in Africa. And along the way, she’ll have to face politics, in-fighting, special forces, psychiatrists, security teams and someone who knows her dirty little secret.

And although pretty much every aspect of the show has been put through the NBC low-quality “generification machine”, if you were expecting it to be an epic disaster that would maintain Heigl’s status as a hate figure in the entertainment industry, you’d be surprised, since it’s okay. It’s not great, but compared to what it could have been, it’s a slight eye-opener.

Here’s a trailer.

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November 6, 2014

Review: The McCarthys 1x1 (US: CBS)

Posted on November 6, 2014 | comments | Bookmark and Share

The McCarthys

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

With diversity being the touchstone topic of the fall season, I think it’s instructive to have a look at what CBS produces when it tries to do diversity (that’s CBS, the home of Big Bang Theory, Two Broke Girls, Two and a Half Men et al).

Let’s start with some clues: The McCarthys is set in Boston. That’s your first bit of diversity right there - it’s not New York or Los Angeles. And it’s all about a great big Irish Catholic family, who love JFK and the Celtics and all live on the same block. Can you feel the diversity yet?

Well, one of the sons - there are three sons, one daughter (how’s that for diversity?) - is gay. Ooh. Yes, on CBS. And you know he’s gay because he likes The Sound of Music, his best friend is his mum and he doesn’t like sports, unlike his straight brothers and straight sister. Yes, his sister plays basketball with her brothers but being gay means not even knowing after 20+ years in this family that the Celtics are the ones in green.

Unfortunately, gay son (he needs no name other than that) is heading off to Rhode Island (shock! horror! away from Boston) to be a counsellor at a private school and be part of the vibrant Rhode Island gay scene and maybe meet someone, since it’s kind of hard to do that with his stifling family. But his family don’t want him to leave, so they organise him a big gay party so he can meet other gay men (or men who look gay… or lesbians who look like men).

That doesn’t work. But then his dad, who is the coach of a high school basketball team, discovers a potential new recruit’s lesbian mother is only going to allow her son to sign if the school is down with the diversity thing - so the dad tells her that his gay son is actually the basketball team’s assistant coach.

Laughs? There were few and even the best of them were based on stereotypes (“Vibrant gay community? Aren’t all gay communities vibrant?”). But only a few.

There are a few points where the humour doesn’t involve stereotypes and it even tries to subvert stereotypes at times - gay son actually turns out to have a natural talent for basketball. But only a few, amidst the fighting, candle-lighting, loud-mouthed, basketball-loving Irish, flamboyant, sexless gay men, masculine lesbians - and non-existent non-white characters.

I do hope CBS gets better with practice…

A few trivia points to leave you with

  1. The show has premiered to the worst ratings of the season. It’s doomed.
  2. It was originally intended to be a single camera comedy, but that made it ‘too dark’.
  3. Gay son is played by Tyler “son of John” Ritter, Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne) plays the mother
  4. Apart from Jimmy Dunn and Joey McIntyre, who have the benefit of coming from Massachusetts, not one member of the cast, main or supporting, deemed it necessary to effect a Boston accent.

Here’s a trailer. It’s literally everything of note in the first episode, so that should save you some time.

October 22, 2014

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

Posted on October 22, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Rome__The_World_s_First_Superpower.jpg

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 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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