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October 21, 2016

Review: Eyewitness 1x1 (US: USA)

Posted on October 21, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share


In the US: Sundays, 10/9c, USA

Up until now, Norwegian TV hasn't seemed to me to be a good birthing ground for new TV shows. Unlike Sweden and Denmark, which have done well in terms of adaptations with the likes of The Killing, Bron/Broen (The Bridge) and Den Som Dræber (Those Who Kill), Norwegian TV has stayed resolutely Norwegian. In part, maybe that's because it's not usually very good - at least, the likes of Okkupert (Occupied) and Mammon haven't done anything to make me think there's untapped potential there.

Yet here we are, staring down the barrel of the gun that is Eyewitness, an adaptation of NRK Norway's Øyevitne (Eyewitness) by Shades of Blue creator Adi Hasak. Turns out there's mileage in those fjords after all.

As with the original Norwegian series, Eyewitness is an anthology show and this first season sees two teenage boys (James Paxton and Tyler Young) out in the woods ostensibly racing motorbikes but both nursing a secret desire for the other. Just as they're consumating their feelings for one another, a gang of criminals turns up with a captive in the boot of their car. However, an undercover FBI agent is in their ranks and before you know it, everyone but the boys is dead. 

The boys try to pretend nothing has happened, including their gayness, but the situation is complicated by the fact that Young is being fostered by local sheriff Julianne Nicholson (Law & Order: CI, Boardwalk Empire, Masters of Sex, Ally McBeal) and that FBI agent Tattiawna Jones might have bent a few rules as the handler of the deceased agent. Oh yes, and that not everyone died in the shoot out after all and the survivor has a fair idea of where the boys might be…

Anyone expecting either a new Fargo or a new Insomnia is going to be disappointed, as this is a pretty straight down the middle crime thriller bar the boys and the difficulties of being gay in a US High School, which make a welcome change from the usual plotting. However, disgraced city-detective Nicholson is the real focus of the piece, as she finds herself coming to life in her tedious upstate New York job now that real crime is occuring. This gives us the usual marital ructions, with Nicholson keeping numerous secrets from and failing to attend all sorts of important events with doctor hubbie Gil Bellows (Ally McBeal). There's also the usual FBI mocking of 'lesser' agencies, usual 'realistic' look at drug addicts and usual gritty crime. 

In the hands of Twilight director Catherine Harwicke, it all looks great and it does have a slightly harder edge than might have been expected. Warren Christie (Alphas) makes a suitably silent but scary Terminator-like pursuer for the boys. But it you were looking for something new, some Norwegian-inspired Nordic Noir twist on the crime formula, as of yet, it hasn't appeared. Or maybe it has and as I suspected, Norwegian TV doesn't yet have much to offer the rest of the world.

Review: Shoot The Messenger 1x1-1x2 (Canada: CBC)

Posted on October 21, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Shoot The Messenger

In Canada: Mondays, 9pm (9.30pm NT), CBC

For ages, I was pining for a sequel to State of Play. I really was. It was just so bloody marvellous.

It didn't help that the movie adaptation was just so average, I'm still only halfway through it.

State of Play 2 isn't happening and never will. Sniff, boo hoo. So bless you Canada for trying to do your own (unofficial) State of Play. It's not the same, it's really not, but it touches me that you'd give it a go.

Shoot The Messenger has pretty much all the same plot threads as State of Play. It has street shootings. It has an intrepid reporter (Elyse Levesque from Stargate Universe) investigating a murder. It has an equally intreprid police department doing their own parallel investigation, with both sides feeding each other information to advance their own causes. The murder has political connections that might affect a certain big shot to whom Levesque has connections. It even has a plucky British newspaper editor (Alex "River Song" Kingston).

The big difference here is Levesque, who as well as being a cub reporter rather than a seasoned hack is also a bit of a shagger. She's shagging the head of the police investigation (Lyriq Brent); she's shagging her more experienced co-worker (Lucas Bryant). She also comes from a family of shaggers, since her sister is shagging said bigwig. And when Levesque isn't shagging, she's getting hit on the head or hiding under things. 

State of Play this is not. Sorry, Canada.

The show also lacks the journalistic verisimilitude of State of Play. While there are attempts to give both the police and newspaper sides of the plot a sheen of accuracy and Kingston's frequent words of advice to Levesque are frequently useful, The Guardian-logo nicking, serious newspaper 'The Gazette' appears to be equipped with neither copy editors nor fact checkers, there don't appear to be department heads, Levesque actually gets invited to the editor's daily content meetings, there appears to be almost no appreciation of the existence of a little thing called the Internet or social media, Levesque thinks it's okay to use a faux Google Images to check the spelling of names, and Kingston herself thinks it's more grammatically correct to say 'who is whom'.

Oh dear.

State of Play comparisons to one side for a moment, Shoot The Messenger does at least do something different from the usual CBC drama, even the ones that are supposed to be thrilling (eg The Romeo Section, Cracked), by having some action and excitment - its plot focuses on the Somali community and local gang 'the Mogadishu dogs', with Levesque witnessing the murder of the brother of one of the gang members, which sets off a chain reaction of violence (and misreporting). But while there is the occasional insight into that community, mostly it's all a lead in to corporate and political corruption and a Rob Ford analogy. 

But as a thriller, it's not very thrilling and spends a lot of it's time being apologetic for things and feeling sad about children getting killed in gang wars. There's an unnecessary side plot about Levesque's brain-damaged dad; with the exception of Brent, all the black characters are criminals or harbourers of criminals, leaving Bryant to be the implausible Somali expert at the paper; and Bryant seems like he's on quaaludes the whole time.

Levesque and Kingston make Shoot The Messenger pass a lot more agreeably than it should. I might stick with it, since the political side of things hasn't kicked in yet and it could well get better as a result. But more likely, I might just watch State of Play again.

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October 19, 2016

Review: Travelers (Canada: Showcase; UK: Netflix)

Posted on October 19, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share


In Canada: Mondays, 9pm ET, Showcase
In the UK: Acquired by Netflix

Given that Canada, Showcase and Brad Wright have been so central to science fiction television, particularly time travel shows, in the past few decades, we shouldn't be surprised that with the US lining up the likes of Timeless, Frequency, Time After Time and Making History, all three have decided to get in on the act to produce something similar but different.

Travelers flips most time travel stories on their head by having travelers coming from the future to our present in order to prevent a terrible disaster from occuring. So far, so identical to Showcase's own Continuum. The difference here is that the time travelers are (apparently) the good guys and they're from the far off future, a future so distant the human race is in danger of extinction, something they'd quite like to prevent by changing things now.

But most important of all, they can't actually physically travel through time. Instead, provided they know the exact time and place someone is going to die, they can project their minds back in time into the 'host' and take over their body à la Chocky and Quantum Leap.

Travelers' first episode, written by Wright, is mainly establishment of the lives and families of the hosts who are shortly going to die and be replaced by an 'elite unit' of time travelers. We have the learning disabled Mackenzie Porter (Hell on Wheels, Blackstone); douche high school quarterback and cage fighter Jared Paul Abrahamson (Awkward); abused single mum Nesta Marlee Cooper (Heroes: Reborn); and drug-addicted college student Reilly Dolman.

Chasing after them after he becomes aware of some 'odd traffic' on the dark web is FBI agent Eric McCormack (Trust Me, Will and GracePerception). 

Then, of course, the time travelers turn up and the show then becomes about the differences between the hosts and their new inhabitants, who can fight back, don't have an addiction, aren't learning disabled, aren't complete dicks and so on. And despite having done their research, the time travelers still have a huge culture gap to navigate, from the little things such as text message slang and not answering the front door naked through to quite big things like how people talk and discovering that people lie on social media and that maybe one of the hosts isn't who she claimed to be online.

Shot in the style of Wright's previous big offering, Stargate UniverseTravelers is an edgy and surprisingly intimate affair, trying its best to make all of this not ridiculous, something it does pretty well. To be fair, though, there's actually precious little about the time travelers' mission so it's hard to tell if something extraordinarily silly is round the corner. Instead, it's mostly about changing behaviours and what happens if someone starts acting very differently from how they used to behave - and whether other people will allow that or get suspicious.

Basically, it's a science-fiction spy show with a whole bunch of sleeper agents suddenly being activated. It's The Americans but with a different kind of time travel. Hopefully.

The characters and stories are engrossing, McCormack is as pleasing as ever and everyone, particularly Porter and Dolman, does well with what they've got. There's even an appearance by ubiquitous former Huck Finn and Continuum regular Ian Tracey.

There's a big twist at the end that will be entirely ruined if you watch the trailer below, but Travelers is definitely a very promising first start to a series that's also got a big chunk of Netflix co-production money behind it. I'm hoping for great things, but we'll see how it goes.

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