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May 12, 2016

Review: Raising Expectations 1x1 (Canada: Family)

Posted on May 12, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Raising Expectations

In Canada: Sundays, 7:30pm ET/PT, Family

Some shows just invite you to slate them, simply by their names. Remember Bonekickers? Even if it hadn't been absolutely dreadful in and of itself, there was that name, begging for me to hate the show.

Raising Expectations isn't in Bonekickers' league, in that sense, but it's definitely an invitation to pre-emptively reply "Yes, but you're still absolute sh*te. Who told you you were above average?" After all, most Canadian comedies are dreadful. There's about one good one a decade.

Yet here's one that stars, wait for it, not just Jason Priestley from Beverly Hills 90210 and Tru Calling but also Molly Ringwald. Yes, Molly Pretty in Pink Ringwald.

We're talkin' 'bout my generation here - raising expectations indeed. 

So I was prepared to give Raising Expectations the benefit of the doubt, despite airing on Canada's Family channel and having the following plot:

The Wayneys are an amazing family. They’re good looking, smart, talented, athletic, and popular. Paige Wayney is a best-selling author, and her husband Wayne is an architect. They have worked hard at raising their five children to be “multi-exceptional”, and they succeeded… four times. Adam is an honours students and football quarterback. Bentley is a brilliant poet and cellist. Conner is a gifted dancer and actress. Derek is a master of gadgets. Their youngest son, Emmett, is a work in progress. Emmett may not be the most academic, athletic, or artistic of the Wayneys, but he makes up for that with his “street smarts”.

If I could punch a plot, I would. But I really wanted to like it, all the same.

Unfortunately, the show isn't funny. There's a mild titter every so often and the show saves its sole actual laugh for literally the final line of dialogue, but the humour's generally of the order of background radiation, rather than Silicon Valley

In part, that's because it's Canadian intended for a family/young audience, and the show isn't pushing any boundaries. It's not even aware there are boundaries to be pushed, it's so young and innocent. It's coming to this humour thing as though its audience is as equally young and innocent that they've never heard any jokes before and so all the old ones can still be used. You might as well be watching early 90s Canadian-British co-production Spatz for all the differences: 

Perhaps that's a little unfair, since so much of this first episode is as down with modern kids' social media obsession as The CW's Containment, with Ringwald's online lecture garnering troll comments that not only are mean about Ringwald, but expose Priestley as having lied to her on one of their first dates. The children then use their 'unique, character-defining, all other characteristics-excluding' skillsets to organise a SWATing (well, pizza- and poo-ing) the trolls in revenge, while Priestley has to re-retroactively disprove the lie by climbing up a rope with an egg in his pocket (don't ask).

It's a bit hard to like any of the kids, though. Apart from the odd choice of three sons, one daughter, all with stereotypical interests and abilities, it's hard not to look at both Priestley and Ringwald and think "These look like normal people" and then to look at the kids and think, "These look like they're made of plastic." Times have changed and standards of on-screen pulchritude have unfortunately increased, but I was genuinely surprised when any of them managed to have a facial expression.

If you've got to watch something with your kids, Priestley and Ringwald are a sufficient draw in themselves - and, in fact, toghether - that you could probably make your way through an episode or two without your brain revolting.

Otherwise, stear clear of Raising Expectations and always rememberCaroline laughs and it's raining all day, she loves to be one of the girls, she lives in the place in the side of our lives, where nothing is ever put straight. She turns herself round and she smiles and she says, "This is it that's the end of the joke," and loses herself in her dreaming and sleep, and her lovers walk through in their coaches.


April 21, 2016

Review: Containment 1x1 (US: The CW; UK: E4)

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

The CW's Containment

In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, The CW
In the UK: Acquired by E4 for Summer airing

Normally, the way this blog works is that I scour the world looking for TV shows that you all might want to watch (or avoid) and review them. Then, at some indeterminate point in the future, maybe a few months later, maybe not at all, eventually they'll arrive on some UK TV channel or Internet service and, maybe you'll look back and read what I said about them, to see if they're worth watching (or avoiding).

As you can imagine, with that kind of top editorial USP and universal appeal, TMINE has become one of the top traffic destinations on the Internet, as well as a veritable ad magnet, and I've become famous. Normal people can hardly spend a day without mentioning how much they like TMINE in regular conversation down the pub, launderette or wherever. Why just today, I was talking to someone I've worked with for about four years about top US TV shows and I mentioned that I always watched the first three episodes of any TV show to see whether it's good or bad.

"Do you?" she said, obviously bewildered why anyone would do that. 

That's how famous the Carusometer and Barrometer have made me.

Anyway, with Containment, most of you will probably be able to turn the tables on me. The CW's latest show - its third and final new one this year - sees the outbreak of a lethal new disease in Atlanta that can be communicated by bodily fluids or contact. So quickly does it spread, the government decides that everyone walking four to six feet apart from one another isn't enough and it needs to quarantine the outbreak, so sticks a great big fence round it.

Some people, most of them young and pretty, get stuck on the outside; some people, most of them young and pretty, get stuck on the inside - usually, relationship partners get stuck on the opposite sides of the fence (what are the odds of that?). Is that going to be enough to stop the virus? Will everyone be reunited after a couple of days when the fence comes down, as the government promises? And just how many relationships will get started or ended by the quarantine?

Well, if the flashforward to Day 3 at the start and end of the first episode is anything to go by, it'll be just three small notches down the Bad Things scale from 'Zombie Apocalypse' by that point.

So why will you be able to turn the tables on me? Well, what if I give you the hint that everyone keeps talking about a 'cordon sanitaire' and 'inside the cordon'?

Yes, that's right. It's an adaptation of Belgian drama Cordon, which you all probably watched on BBC Four last year:

I didn't. I'd tried Salamander. That was the best Belgium had to offer. It was rubbishCordon was second choice, so why bother with that, hey?

So was it good then? Does it end well? I've read Wiki about it now, and this seems pretty close to it so far, which means you probably know better than I do whether Containment is going to be good, as I've only seen the first episode.

Anyway, this is semi-pants, semi-good, and I say this as someone with a repeatedly self-professed love for the 'killer virus' genre. Despite largely having a cast of Brits, Australians and Canadians all struggling to survive, it's basically a CW/American-isation of a more adult Euro-thriller.

David Gyasi (Apparitions, Cloud Atlas, Interstellar) is the noble cop struggling to keep his community and his relationship together, while he tries to work out the true agenda of the ambivalent and strangely stern government doctor running things, Claudia Black (Stargate, Farscape); Chris Wood (The Vampire Diaries) is his pal cop, oddly resentful he's trapped inside the hot zone with cute single parent teacher Kristen Gutoskie (Beaver Falls, Republic of Doyle); Hanna Mangan Lawrence (Spartacus) is the pregnant teenager on the run who's now trapped in the city; and George Young (The Brian Jackson Show) is the plucky Brit doctor trying to come up with a cure.

The show is often at pains to do the least interesting, most soapiest thing possible, cutting away as soon as "the science part" begins to have someone sulking like a teenager who's not allowed to play on the XBox again until they've done their homework because killer viruses are, like, just so unfair, dad. Vectors and proteins aren't anywhere near as interesting as wondering how this 100% fatal killer virus outbreak makes you feel about your relationship, is it, not when those relationships are so 100% completely predictable?

There is a slightly offensive part (imported and translated into 'merican from Cordon's Afghan) that has the killer virus, which turns out to have been weaponised, being brought into the US by a Syrian refugee. From both Wiki and the show's own production notes, which reveal that journalist Trevor St John (One Life To Live) is going to pop up in later episodes, suspicious of the government's story, it seems this is a bit of a ruse, so I'm not going to get too het up about it, but it's notable that the muslim family are the first ones under suspicion and carted off to quarantine.

But those problems aside, it's not as much of a clunker as it could have been, certainly not compared to Between, the almost platonic CW ideal of Containment. It's a bit more gruesome and death-filled than you might expect; it is actually filmed in Atlanta and while it's not quite 54% black and no one's doing a Georgia accent, the cast is reasonably diverse; there is some science in there; some of the dialogue is occasionally pretty good; and there's the occasional scene that touches on the frightening. I'm sure the conspiracy theory is going to turn out to be insanely ridiculous, but we've not had to endure that yet, and it all seems moderately enticing at the moment.

If there's nothing better on and you've not seen Cordon, give Containment a go to see if it's to your liking - it's a 'limited series' so hopefully won't take up too much of your life if you decide to stick with it, too. But Containment is a low-rent US adaptation of a low-rent Belgian TV show in the scheme things, so don't have great expectations going in - especially not if you already know how the original ends.

April 15, 2016

Review: Game of Silence 1x1-1x2 (US: NBC)

Posted on April 15, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Game of Silence

In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, NBC
In the UK: Not yet acquired

For some time now, I've been banging on about how Turkey was the new hot country for adaptations in the US: Son, The End and The Edge were all being worked upon for US TV just a couple of years ago. Of course, you must have been thinking I was barking mad because there have been literally no US adaptations of Turkish TV shows since then.

But look! Here's one! I was right! I was right! I'm not crazy at all!

Game of Silence is based on Show TV's multi-award winning 2012 show Suskunlar, which ran for 56 episodes over two seasons. It, in turn, was based on the true story of four boys who were sentenced in absentia to nine years in prison for (allegedly) stealing baklava. Yep. Kids. Nine years. Baklava. That's a pudding, in case you didn't know, and that's Turkey for you, in case you don't remember Midnight Express.

Anyway, all manner of horrible things happen to the kids while they're in prison, including a whole bunch of things they don't want to tell anyone about. Then a couple of decades later, one of them comes across one of their abusers in the street and before you know it, kills him. He's arrested and so he and his friends call their errant upmarket lawyer friend to defend him. Except it turns out that the dead man had all manner of criminal friends and… well, you can guess the rest.

Here's a trailer for Suskunlar:

Relocating the action to Houston, Game of Silence is pretty faithful to Suskunlar, giving us the same format of three poorer boys/men (Michael Raymond-James, Larenz Tate, Derek Phillips), one lawyer boy/man (David Lyons from Revolution and Sea Patrol), one girl/woman (Bre Blair from The Unit) they grew up with, one nasty child prison (the daftly named 'Quitman') and all manners of secrets catching up with them all in the present day. The boys cause a fatal car crash in the US version that winds them up in the jail, and we get frequent flashbacks to before and after.

But it's also a modern day thriller, as Lyons tries to persuade his childhood friends when they come to him for help that killing everyone is probably a bad idea and that they need to build a legal case against the former governor of the prison (Conor O'Farrell) and his various cronies. They, in turn, are being chased by both cop Deidrie Henry, who suspects they have secrets, and their now grown-up fellow dormie and criminal gang leader Demetrius Grosse (Banshee, Justified).

Despite all the odds, Game of Silence is pretty good and while it has a few problems, quite a lot of them stem from the bits of the original that don't quite work in the US - US prisons have a lot of problems, Turkish prisons have a lot of problems, but those problems aren't necessarily the same. Maybe I'm wrong, but prison-organised fight clubs, murders and child abuse parties with local dignataries probably weren't going down in the late 80s, even in Texas. 

That aside, I did enjoy the slow pace of the show, the insistence (at this stage) of not going revenge-happy but sticking to the characters' beliefs, the nostalgia-tinged, almost Stephen King-ish flashbacks to the 80s, complete with Depeche Mode et al soundtrack. I also like the surprising daring of the show - sure, it doesn't show everything happening, but it really doesn't pull any punches in terms of what it implies. Indeed, it's almost a 15-rated Sleepers:

The trouble is that there's not much about it that's enjoyable. Everyone's miserable. Fair dos - who wouldn't be? But unless your idea of fun is a joyless revenge thriller about childhood abuse, with subdued, non-descript, traumatised characters, Game of Silence is going to be a hard slog over numerous hours of TV, rather than just a single movie. Still, as joyless revenge thrillers go, this is definitely one of the better ones.

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Raising Expectations

My generation and the next generation