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September 27, 2016

Review: Notorious 1x1 (US: ABC)

Posted on September 27, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Notorious

In the US: Thursdays, 9/8c, ABC

TV news producer - sexy job? Probably not. Mainly just people sitting down, looking at spreadsheets, working horrible hours and getting an ulcer while trying to work out where today's top story could come from.

Criminal defence attorney - sexy job? Probably not. Mainly just people sitting down, looking at abstruse papers, working horrible hours and getting an ulcer while trying to work out where an obviously guilty client's defence is going to come from.

But when you stick them together, hey? Sexy, right?

Nope. Two ulcers, that's what. Duh. But Notorious nevertheless tries to convince of the two careers' combined sexiness by using the simple tactic of removing reality from the equation altogether.

Like CBS's Bull, Notorious is 'inspired' by real people's lives - in this case, those of criminal defence attorney Mark Geragos and Larry King Live news producer Wendy Walker. Like Bull, that means it's almost certainly nothing like their lives, but a big fat development check will still be heading their way.

The lovely Piper Perabo (Covert Affairs) plays the top news producer who's also best friends with top defence attorney Daniel Sunjata (Graceland). He gives her scoops with all his most media-worthy clients, she gives him the heads up when sh*t starts heading their way - it's all win-win for them both.

Then Sunjata's top billionaire client, who coincidentally happens to be married to Sunjata's ex-girlfriend, appears to wrap his car around a person and Perabo and Sunjata are having to help each other out without ruining their friendship. Except things aren't quite as they seem and before you know it, Perabo and Sunjata are investigating the crime themselves - and each other.

Even without clients claiming they'd taken pain medication that caused them to 'sleep drive', this is nonsense of the highest order. Improbably, Perabo's assistant happens to be a former escort, a handy former career that helps her to secure all manner of scoops and is in no sense stigmatised. And maybe life on Larry King Live was a lot stranger than we imagine, but Perabo's star anchor (Kate Jennings Grant) spends most of her time in her underwear, shagging rappers before she's due to be on-screen. Oh yes, shagging rappers who organise indoor barbecues in her dressing room. That's not unlikely, is it?

Sunjata presides over a slightly more plausible firm that includes the likes of J August Richards (Angel), except he's the kind of go-to top attorney who'll go to a car impound lot at night so he can extract a great big bag of cocaine and dispose of it, rather than get someone else to do it. I wonder if that'll look a bit encriminating?

There is struggling in Notorious something interesting being said about the interplay between the media and the law when it comes to celebrities and how the truth is a rapidly diminishing aspect of cable news that the quest for ratings is obscuring. Unfortunately, said message is struggling beneath a layer of absurdity that makes Scandal look like a documentary about the Eisenhower White House years. 

I wish the cast well in their future careers, but you should try to help speed them on their way, by not watching this Notorious and watching the rather marvellous Cary Grant/Ingrid Bergman thriller instead.

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Preview: Insecure 1x1 (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)

Posted on September 27, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Insecure

In the US: Sundays, 10.30pm, HBO. Starts October 9
In the UK: Acquired by Sky Atlantic. Will air in October

Don't let my TV-set avatar fool you. I'm not actually an everyday household appliance. Let me reveal to you now that I'm actually a middle-aged, middle-class, white guy from London who doesn't get out much and who's never spent longer than a week in the US.

Now I think about it, you probably worked all that out for yourselves already.

Anyway, that 'revelation' means that it shouldn't surprise you that I have no idea what it's like to be a twentysomething, educated, single black American woman. I can guess, but you might as well be asking me the length of the Emperor of China's nose.

To be fair, though, judging by Insecure, twentysomething, educated, single black American women aren't quite sure what it's like to be a twentysomething, educated, single black American woman - or at least, they know what it's like but they're pretty sure it's different from what it's supposed to be like.

Based on her own web series, Awkward Black GirlInsecure is co-written by and stars Issa Rae, who plays a well meaning member of an outreach programme for inner city schools. The only black member of the programme, she finds herself seen by her white colleagues as their 'in' to the ghetto, even though the kids all mock this college graduate for 'not talking like a black girl'. Meanwhile, her boyfriend of five years is still trying to get his act together and her attorney best friend is looking for a man - perhaps any man - who doesn't respond with 'I'm not looking for a relationship at the moment' when pressed for any degree of commitment.

The show is co-written by former Daily Show correspondent Larry Wilmore, who's established himself as a guarantee of clever, insightful comedy writing about African-American life with shows such as black-ish and his own show, The Nightly Show. Together, Rae and he have created something that's not really laugh out loud funny, but which has the ring of authenticity, as well as sympathetic, recognisable characters.

Rae is herself a top performer, successfully depicting someone who's navigating through all of society's stereotypes about women, American-Americans and American-American women. One stand out scene has Rae rehearsing for a night out, running through a gamut of different 'black women', including one fairly decent English black woman ("No, you drive on the wrong side of the road"), before collapsing into a heap of self-doubt ("No, that's too aggressive").

Will I stick with it? Maybe. It's got a lot to say that's interesting, but I'm potentially too far away (continents and decades) for it to truly grab me. But I will say that not being a big BET or OWN viewer, I've not seen anything like it before and new always interests me. Give it a whirl, because it might be new for you, too.

September 26, 2016

Review: Van Helsing 1x1 (US: Syfy)

Posted on September 26, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Van Helsing

In the US: Fridays, 10/9c, Syfy

Syfy's new mantra may be 'fewer, bigger, better', a tactic that's already given us the likes of The Magicians and Childhood's End, but that doesn't mean it's going to stop being the home to z-grade, made-in-Canada schlock such as Killjoys, Hunters and Dark Matter. 

In particular, taking a leaf out of frequent contributor the Asylum's playbook, Syfy does love to develop non-copyright infinging shows that are still rather similar to other successful shows, but which are generally rather cheap and terrible, the most successful of these being Z Nation.

Without a huge amount of thought, Syfy now gives us Van Helsing - not to be confused with the rather similarly plotted Wynonna Earp or the identically named movie Van Helsing - in which the daughter of noted vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing wakes up in 2019 and discovers that the western half of the US has been over-run with vampires thanks to a volcanic eruption this year. Hmm, sounds a bit like the quite popular The Strain, doesn't it? What a coincidence.

Notably, Miss Van Helsing now appears to have super powers and do martial arts and stuff. Could she be the saviour prophesied, who'll save humanity from the Feeders? You'll be asking if she's the Chosen One next.

The keenest and most astute of you will probably guess that Van Helsing bares no resemblance whatsoever to Bram Stoker's Dracula or the nice little Dutch scientist Van Helsing who appears in it. Unlike Stoker's vampires, the vampires of this piece can't roam in daylight without burning up and have a lot more in common with Walking Dead zombies than any vampires you might have come across in your media travels. 

Instead, the show is an ultra-low budget, "seven fighty, diverse people in rooms" kind of show in which people shout the plot at each other in between moaning about the collapse of civilisation and their dead loved ones before shooting one another. Fight scenes are simultaneously reasonable yet dreadful, with everything looking just fine and well choreographed until something terribly embarrassing takes place that makes you think they just didn't know what to do next - either that or they couldn't afford more than one piece of paper per fight to map out the moves on.

Everything about Van Helsing is derivative. Literally the only good thing about it is the surprisingly good soundtrack. Watching it is painful and, worst of all, hugely boring. It even makes me yearn for the comparatively high quality, absolutely low quality Wynonna Earp

Avoid.

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