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June 23, 2015

Review: Ballers 1x1 (US: HBO)

Posted on June 23, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Ballers

In the US: Sundays, 10pm, HBO

It would be tempting to think of HBO’s latest ‘comedy’, Ballers, as simply a black Entourage set in the world of American football. I imagine HBO would like it to be too, given that Entourage ran to eight seasons, several Emmy awards and has just been resurrected for a movie that is now in cinemas.

Certainly, there are similarities, with the Hollywood glamour and wealth transferred to the East Coast’s plastic surgery capital Miami, where the men apparently all behave just as badly as on the West Coast - at least when they’re not playing football.

However, there are significant differences. For starters, show star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is no Ari Gold, instead being the one good, sensible calm person in a world of dickheads and *ssholes, who must avoid becoming one of them, even as he tries to carve out a career as a sports agent following an injury that ended his career.

But the other big difference is that Ballers isn’t funny. In fact, it’s actually quite sad, being more like Hoop Dreams, except full of people on the downslopes of their sporting careers. There’s former player Omar Benson Miller (CSI: Miami) who’s reduced to taking a job at a car dealership, where even the dedicated sports fan who runs it doesn’t remember him. There’s real-life former football player John David Washington playing a God-fearing player whose career is hanging on a thread, following numerous stupid off-field transgressions that make him toxic to potential clubs. And every woman is either a nagging WAG or a ‘skank’/‘whore’ out for cash and doesn’t even get a name.

Johnson’s dilemma in the show: to do the right thing, get fired and go bankrupt or do as his boss Rob Corddry (The Daily Show) demands and exploit his friendships with them so he can flourish. And although he tries to do the right thing, that’s easier said than done, as he has to deal with baby-men who are their own worst enemies and resolutely refuse to learn. Well, maybe Washington will this time, but there’s a 60% chance he won’t, Johnson reckons.

I won’t pretend I know a lot about American football, beyond the fact it’s a bit like rugby but slower and with more padding, so I was thankful Ballers has almost nothing to do with football itself, focusing instead on the politics, society and industry surrounding it. From what I can glean from people who do know about American football, though, Ballers isn’t especially authentic or good in that area, and indeed, you’ll have seen most of the characters and situations before in other sports movies and shows.

What is good, though, is Johnson, who is a calm, intelligent presence in the show, and naturally enough for a former WWE wrestler, not only looks the part but seems very comfortable in this world. He’s worth watching in every scene and if you think that as an action star, he can’t be much cop at acting, here he’ll be a revelation to you.

All the same, I can’t recommend Ballers as it stands, because there’s really not much to enjoy about it. You can root for Johnson, as he wades through dirt, but it’s hard to root for the dirt itself and there’s a lot of it here.

June 15, 2015

Review: Dark Matter 1x1 (Canada: Space; US: Syfy; UK: Syfy)

Posted on June 15, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Dark Matter

In Canada: Fridays, 10e/7p, Space
In the US: Fridays, 10/9c, Syfy
In the UK: Mondays, 8pm, Syfy. Starts tonight  

They say there are no original ideas any more and that everything has already been done before - it’s just a question of how you take elements of what’s gone before to create a new mixture.

If this statement is true, it’s doubly true of science-fiction, where for any given show, it’s almost certainly possible to name a very similar if not identical predecessor. A case in point is the new Canadian-US co-production Dark Matter.

Adapted from their own comic by the brains behind the TV version of Stargate, Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie, the show is roughly 90% Blakes 7 for starters - a group of six misfits, four men, two women, wind up on board an advanced spaceship. There they meet the seventh member of the crew, the ship’s artificial intelligence, and come together to fight oppression from a huge federation.

The remaining 10% of the show is pure Andromeda, with the ship’s artificial intelligence having a robotic avatar and the crew having turned good relatively recently, originally being a bunch of criminals until they had their memories taken away. And then there’s the slightly enigmatic woman with funny coloured hair who’s on board the ship but wasn’t one of the criminals and who has strange powers.

So far, so derivative. There’s even a little sprinkling of Firefly on top. The question is - does Dark Matter stick all these components together to create something decent?

The short answer is: not really, but at least it’s fun.

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June 12, 2015

Preview: Proof 1x1 (US: TNT)

Posted on June 12, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Jennifer Beals in TNT's Proof

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, TNT. Starts June 16

The procedural is killing mainstream US TV. It really is. On the face of it, there’s nothing wrong with a procedural, whether it’s cops, doctors, firefighters or soldiers. As a format, the procedural is versatile since if you’re going to produce 13-24 episodes of something that doesn’t necessarily have a linking narrative, you’re going to want to have a reason for things to happen - and if your characters’ job is to go and find things, that really does help.

Trouble is when everything has to be crowbarred into that format, even when there’s really no good reason for it. You can just about forgive something like Stitchers - who else would bother trying to insert themselves into dead people’s fading consciousnesses every week apart from a shadowy government agency? Once would be enough for most people and you’d probably pick people who hadn’t died traumatically, which would be dramatically dull, of course.

But now we have the ludicrous Proof on TNT, a network that I thought was trying to get away from the fact that 90% of its content is procedural but here are showing that like some teenager after a break-up, they can’t quite get over their first love.

Jennifer Beals (Flashdance, The Chicago Code) is a powerful, high flying surgeon who is a sceptical woman of science. However, following the death of her teenage son, her family isn’t quite so happy, with Beals and husband David Sutcliffe (Cracked) getting divorced and her teenager daughter being none too happy with her either.

Then one day, tech billionaire Matthew Modine (Full Metal Jacket, Weeds) bribes hospital administrator Joe Morton (Terminator 2, Grace and Frankie) into ordering Beals to meet him. Modine is dying and hasn’t long to live, but being the prepared type, he wants to know exactly what’s going to happen to him afterwards. So he offers to give Beals his entire fortune on the event of his death - provided she can bring him proof of what happens, be that ascent to Heaven, everlasting blackness or partying in Valhalla until Ragnarok. And rather than investigate plausible cases in a long-drawn out research project, she's going to look at a different phenomenon every week.

Yes, that’s right, we have the first ever ‘investigate the afterlife’ procedural. That’s… plausible.

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The black Entourage?