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January 20, 2017

Review: Six 1x1 (US: History)

Posted on January 20, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Six (History)

In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, History
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Why is it that dramas about Special Forces aren't that special? On the face of it, making an exciting show about the Special Forces shouldn't be that difficult. As A Bit of Fry and Laurie once pointed out, the SAS (and presumably other Special Forces) exist purely to be masturbatory fantasies for backbench MPs, so putting together a TV show involving Special Forces should inevitably result in something very exciting and, erm, climactic.

Yet, whether it's Ultimate Force, The Unit, Strike Back or now Six, somehow the resulting shows never quite hit the spot - they're close, but they're never really as satisfying as you think they'll be.

Six is interesting in this regard. Ten years ago, if you'd made a show called Six, the most anyone would guess you were doing was remaking The Prisoner. But thanks to their sterling work in dealing with Osama Bin Laden, the US Navy's SEAL Team 6 is the latest pin-up of the Special Forces world. That means you can call a TV show Six and it'll induce as much Pavlovian tumescence as if you'd called it Scarlett.

Trouble is, despite this launchpad, Six is all tease, no pay-off. The first episode follows a SEAL Team 6 team to a mission in Afghanistan where there's plenty of shooting and leader Walton Goggins (Justified, Vice Principals, The Hateful Eight) starts to blur a few boundaries by shooting prisoners. Two years later, Goggins is out of the SEALs and in Africa, working for a private contractor, while the rest of the team are thinking about doing something similar and/or having problems with their wives and/or the bottle and/or money.

Then Boko Haram come along and kidnap a group of school girls, as well as Goggins, and the team are pulling themselves back together to rescue him. 

Six takes all the worst bits of The Unit and few of the best bits. It tries to mix up the personal and the military, but without having any idea how to create distinguishable characters, particularly not women, who are a never-ending parade of "why aren't you here for me and your children?"

Which might almost be excusable if it could do action, except it can't. Shoot-outs and action scenes are surprisingly few and far between, and when they turn up, they're nothing special. Name an action TV show, any action TV show - you'll have seen better and something probably more realistic. 

But even little details let the show down. Maybe it's me, but giving your SEAL team the radio sign of "Delta 1" is only going to lead to confusion in the audience. And sure, kudos for managing to go with Boko Haram as your main bad guys, rather than ISIS (although a reveal at the end of the first episode shows Six is trying to have its cake and eat it), but having to have an officer explain to one of the world's premier anti-terrorist units who Boko Haram are is not a way to create verisimilitude.

More importantly, Goggins is just wrong as the leader of the team. Not for a second can you picture him as either a morally ambivalent hero or a SEAL. Now to a certain extent, that's not his fault - he was brought in not merely at the last moment but two episodes of filming after the last moment, which is when Joe Manganiello walked off the show with health problems. You can imagine Manganiello as "Rip Taggart":

Joe Manganiello

Goggins?

Walton Goggins

Not so much.

It's like casting Vinny Jones as a wedding cake designer - it's simply not believable. So even though the rest of the cast of SEALs are (indistinguishable) butch manly types who look the part, little seems plausible as a result of Goggins' presence.

If you have to watch a Special Forces show, there were at least a few good episodes of The Unit (Dark of the Moon is excellent) and Strike Back, so stick with them rather than Six, since Six won't have yours. Six that is.

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January 12, 2017

Review: Pure 1x1 (Canada: CBC)

Posted on January 12, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Pure

In Canada: Mondays, 9pm, CBC

Everyone knows about the Amish, right? They're the German-speaking, pacifist Christian fundamentalists who shun all things modern in an effort to be as godly as possible. You may remember them from a little known 80s film called Witness.

Less well known unless you watch a lot of reality TV are their neighbours, the Mennonites, an equally German-speaking, God-fearing group although they aren't quite as strict as the Amish - they can own cars, go to High School on the school bus and mix with the Ausländer and everything.

But even less well known than them are the Canadian Mennonites, a bunch who fled to Ontario from the US when the War of Independence broke out. And oddly enough, they're the stars of CBC's new drama - a sort of Breaking Bad for Mennonites. It stars the ubiquitous Ryan Robbins (Continuum, Arrow) as the delightfully named Noah Funk, the newly appointed pastor of the (fictious) Mennonite town of Antioch who has to work out how to deal in a Christian manner with what seems extremely unlikely to the casual viewer but turns out to be based on a true story - the Mennonite mob, a group of dangerous drug runners ferrying cocaine from Mexico to Canada and the US.

The mob have killed one family escaping from a Mexican Mennonite 'colony' and when Funk takes in the surviving young son, he ends up having to deal with both the mob and slobby cop AJ Buckley (CSI: New York), who's after this previously unsuspected snake in the community. Also involved is Texan DEA Agent Rosie Perez (Do The Right Thing, White Men Can't Jump), who's well aware of what's going on with the Mennonites, both in El Paso and on the other side of the border.

Watching Pure, it's hard to know exactly how realistic the Mennonite side of things is. Show creator Michael Amo is the grandson of a Mennonite, for sure, but every bad accent and poor piece of German sets off warning claxons, and the whole idea boggles the mind to begin with, let alone when the Mennonite kids are wandering around school, working out the intricacies of 'Auslander' (non-Mennonite) life and whether it's okay to say 'My God' as an expletive.

The criminal side of things is a bit pedestrian, too. Buckley's cop, intent on recruiting Funk to help him penetrate the close-knit mob, lacks any of the skills to do it yet still manages to accomplish it somehow. Surprisingly, for a godly man, Funk sure finds lying easy. And in general dramatic terms there are problem, too, with pretty much every Mennonite indistinguishable and undifferentiated from all the others, bar the nicely-hatted mob boss Peter Outerbridge (the original Murdoch in The Murdoch Mysteries, Blood and Water), who forces Funk to work for him to save his family. 

But all those issues to one side, as with Blood and Water and Shoot The Messenger, Canada is at least showing that it can offer crime shows that aren't just the same old formula and that involve different communities from those we're used to. I probably won't stick with it, but it's nice to know that the show's out there.

January 11, 2017

Review: Emerald City 1x1-1x2 (US: NBC; UK: 5*)

Posted on January 11, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Emerald City

In the US: Fridays, 9/8c, NBC
In the UK: Acquired by 5*. Will air early 2017

Certain classics are sacrosanct. Everyone's agreed that whatever happens, you shouldn't remake them, reimagine them or whatever, since they will never be as good and might insult the memory of the original.

The Wizard of Oz isn't one of those things, it seems. Long is the list of reimaginings, it being a reimagining anyway of Frank Baum's book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, several silent movies and a Broadway musical. At the theatre, it spawned the reimagined Wicked, one of the most popular musicals of all time. At the movies, we've had cartoons (Journey Back to Oz, Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return), a sequel (Return to Oz) and remakes (The WizOz The Great and Powerful, The Muppets' Wizard of Oz).

On TV, dark, gritty, sci-fi reimaginings have been the order of business - once they've actually got off the ground. Tim Burton gave a pilot of one a go, back in 1999, but that never even got filmed. Lost in Oz, an action show sequel in the vein of Buffy and Smallville that starred Melissa George (Dorothy replacement) and Mia Sara (new Wicked Witch), managed to get as far as a pilot in 2002, but proved too expensive for a series:

Sara would still return as a witch in the later mini-series, The Witches of Oz, in which noted author Dorothy Gale discovers that her books are actually based on repressed memories of her time in the land of Oz:

But before that Zooey Deschanel, Neal McDonough, Alan Cumming and Raoul Trujillo - aka DG, Cain The Tin Man, Glitch and Raw - entered the Outer Zone (OZ) to find the Mystic Man (Richard Dreyfuss) in inept Syfy Channel mini-series Tin Man

Now we have possibly the most interesting and successful attempt to 'reimagine' The Wizard of Oz in the shape of NBC's 10-episode limited series Emerald City. As with previous TV shows, it had false starts: originally given the green light back in 2014, it got shut down when NBC and showrunner Josh Friedman had a bit of a spat. A year later, NBC changed its mind again, gave David Schulner the showrunner post and now, three years after that first go-ahead, here it is at last.

It sees young adopted Kansas nurse Adria Arjona (Person of Interest, True Detective) caught up in a tornado and conveyed to a strange new land, filled with witches both good (Joely Richardson) and bad (Florence Kasumba), as well as a mighty Wizard (Vincent D'Onofrio) who protects the land from the Great Beast Beyond. Will the wizard help her to return to Kansas or does he have a very different agenda on his mind, given all the power struggles going on in Oz?

It's The Wizard of Oz meets Game of Thrones, but most importantly of all, all 10 episodes are directed by Tarsem Singh (The Cell) and he's been to Barcelona. No, that's not a euphemism, oh friend of Dorothy.

Continue reading "Review: Emerald City 1x1-1x2 (US: NBC; UK: 5*)"

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Six

Not very special