Archive | Featured articles

Some of the best articles on the blog. Typically, these have a picture. It's a low entrance requirement, I know.

October 8, 2015

Review: This Life 1x1 (Canada: CBC)

Posted on October 8, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share


In Canada: Mondays, 9pm, CBC

There are certain themes for drama that are quite hard to base a series around, for the simple reason that they aren't really very enjoyable. Some ideas, particularly the more escapist ones divorced from real life, are fun to start with and it's up to the programme makers to see if they can make them less fun (eg travelling through space and time with an ancient alien in a police box that's bigger on the inside than on the outside); other ideas, particularly those close to home, are miserable and it's up to the programme makers to see if they can somehow entice viewers to watch.

Cancer's one of those topics that really has to woo viewers. If you don't believe me, try listening to one of the current crop of interviews with Toni Collette and Drew Barrymore as they try to explain how much buddy-buddy fun and 'girls night out' Miss You Already is, despite being about breast cancer.

Canada's This Life suffers from a similar problem. An adaptation not of the iconic 90s BBC Two show but of ICI Radio-Canada Télé's French-language show Nouvelle Addresse, it sees Torri Higginson (Stargate Atlantis) playing a 40-something single mother who writes a popular newspaper column about being a 40-something single mother (what's up with all the heroic 40-something parental newspaper columnists in the colonies, by the way?). 

She's a bit dull and consumed with her family, rather than herself, as younger, free spirited sister Lauren Lee Smith (The L Word, CSI, Good Dog, Mutant X, The Listener) is happy to point out to her. So she decides to carpe diem, perhaps even go out with that new high school principal who seems to be into her (Shawn Doyle from Endgame). 

Except then she discovers that the cancer that she'd thought had gone away six months earlier has returned, and this time it's terminal. She has less than a year to live. Now she needs to prepare her kids for when she's not around, while deciding how she's going to spend her final year on Earth.

Want to watch it yet? Of course you don't. It sounds miserable. And often it is. You'd practically have to be inhuman not to be weeping buckets when Higginson gets her diagnosis and prognosis.

This Life attempts to make itself more palatable in a number of ways. Firstly, it gives us Lauren Lee Smith. She boxes in her spare time and does the Walk of Shame so regularly, she even has spare dresses in her office. She's even toying with having a regular threesome with her latest one-night stand and his girlfriend.

Then there's Higginson's teenage children, who have their own things going on, involving boyfriends and girlfriends (or lack thereof), school work, squabbling, etc.

Still not persuaded? 

Fair enough. None of that is really that appealing or as fun as it thinks it is, either. Neither does This Life really establish in this first episode why you'd want to watch a show that ultimately is going to be about someone slowly and painfully dying, leaving her children alone. After depicting Higginson wanting to seize the day before she finds out her cancer is back, and then taking the 'gut punch' of the episode title that stops these plans in her tracks, it's unclear if she's going to properly seize the day for the rest of the series or simply start going to lots of lawyers and investment brokers to try to establish a legacy for her kids.

Maybe it'll be uplifting, maybe it'll be depressing, but given Nouvelle Addresse has lasted three seasons, I'll bet on option one. This Life also has a strong cast, with Higginson particularly good, and some good direction.

It's just it's a programme about someone dying of cancer, without much to relieve the pain. And that could be too close too home for a lot of people.

Read other posts about: ,

October 5, 2015

Review: Dr Ken 1x1 (US: ABC)

Posted on October 5, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Dr Ken

In the US: Fridays, 8.30/7.30c, ABC

If there's a message to take away from the latest crop of medical dramas that the networks have foist so far on us this autumn, it's that the American public like their doctors to be dicks. Dicks who are right and will make you better medically, but fundamentally, who are complete dicks with the bedside manner of a marine drill sergeant. We've already had lone-wolf racist surgeon dick Jennifer Beals over on TNT's Proof and an entire hospital of nurse and doctor dicks over on CBS in Code Black - particularly Marcia Gay Harden. And now we have 'actually used to be a doctor in real life' dick doctor Ken Jeong in Dr Ken.

I'm not sure the cause of this. Maybe it's 'the Donald Trump effect' making viewers crave a complete dick to order them about. Maybe it's nearly a decade of House that's conditioned everyone to be expect doctors to be misanthropic geniuses. Or maybe it's a realistic reflection of the US medical system. After all, Alec Baldwin was kind of a dick surgeon in Malice all the way back in 1993.

Whatever the reason, that's what we've got in Dr Ken. Now admittedly, Ken Jeong has made a career out of being a dick, first as a doctor (I'm assuming), then as a stand-up, then as the insane teacher, Chang, in Community and then as the funny naked crime lord, Leslie Chow, of The Hangover and its sequels.

He's funny and edgy. However, beyond the fact he's been a doctor in real life and he's also a producer and writer for Dr Ken, it's not clear why he should be shoe-horned into a multi-camera family sitcom in which he makes proctology jokes. Beyond the fact that TV doctors are apparently all now dicks and Jeong's good at playing a dick, even a mild dick.

And he is quite mild in this. The show dwells on two areas: home and office. Home is home. It's the same as any other sitcom family, with Jeong and his therapist wife (Suzy Nakamura) tusselling for control over home and children, Jeong being less sympathetic to his kids than she. Because he's a mildly dickish TV doctor, but also because that's how US family sitcoms work. 

At the office, Jeong spends his time being dickish to his annoying patients, quarrelling and gossiping with his diverse, joke-playing co-workers, and tusselling for control over patients and staff with administrator Dave Foley (Kids In The Hall, How To Be A Gentleman, Spun Out). Even though Jeong and the cast do their best, the script never really delivers the funny in either domain, although Foley's inadvertent racism almost manages to raise some chuckles. Unfortunately, it crosses a line and just becoming unpleasant. The only other joke of note? Jeong looking for his daughter, Molly, in a night club and finding something quite different instead. And I've just spoiled that one for you.

Perhaps the only point where the show ever really becomes interesting is when Jeong acts and talks like a doctor. It may be dry stuff, for just for a moment, you might find your sleeping brain cells stirred into life.

Other than that, consider this the next Cristela.

Read other posts about: ,

October 1, 2015

Review: Code Black 1x1 (US: CBS; UK: Watch)

Posted on October 1, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Code Black

In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, CBS
In the UK: Thursdays, 9pm, Watch. Starts October 29 

CBS is, of course, the king of the police procedural in the US. Police procedurals of all ilks dominate its schedules and the ratings, and arguably it does them better than any other network.

However, for years, it's tried to extend its procedural dominance into the medical realm, with a seemingly neverending stream of shows that quickly turn out to be low-rated, instantly forgettable one-season wonders: Three Rivers, 3 Lbs, Miami Trauma, A Gifted Man.

In fact, I've written pretty much this exact same intro to every new medical procedural CBS has come up with every year, so much so I'm bored of it. Maybe you are, too.

Trouble is, I fully expect I'll be writing it again next year since CBS's latest medical procedural, Code Black, is a yawnfest that's almost certainly going to get cancelled by the end of the season. It's based on Code Black, a 2013 documentary about LA County General, which is one of the largest and busiest teaching hospitals in the US, employing more than 1,000 residents at a time. The name 'code black' refers to when an emergency department's resources are so overstretched by an influx of patients, it can't take it any more, and while most EDs in the US only experience four such events a year, LA County General experiences it 300 times a year.

Time for more resources, obviously. Except that wouldn't make for a great TV show.

And neither would Code Black, in which a whole bunch of competitive, disparate, highly dull medical residents all learn how to be ED doctors at the hands of 'dad', aka Marcia Gay Harden (The Newsroom, Damages), 'mom' being Luis Guzmán (Narcos), the senior nurse who looks after them all. Harden's a bit hard and lacking in bedside manner following 'an incident' three years previously, something that concerns caring, sharing fellow doctor Raza Jaffrey (ElementaryHomeland, Spooks) but not so much hospital administrator Kevin Dunn (Samantha Who?), since Harden's abrasive training produces the best doctors.

And that's it, really. It's basically ER but busier, not taking the time to do more in terms of characterisation rather than have people explain who they are and how totes awesome they are, before performing perfunctory acts of dickery. It's just blood on the floor to blood on the floor, while a camera unsuccessfully rushes around to try to convey the impression of the original Code Black documentary. Nice, if you like medical porn, dull if you want an actual drama.

The trouble is if you just rush all the time in an attempt to convey pressure, you're not going to end up with tension. You're going to end up with confusion. And then boredom.

The camera goes here, the camera goes there, while the cast mumble their lines or shout them so that you never hear them. All you'll really know most of the time is that people are ill and the doctors are trying to help them. Learn much about the US medical system from it all? Grow to love a character? Probably not.

There are scenes, almost all of them involving Dunn, where the show is allowed to breath and for characters to grow. But they're few and far between, and sometimes oddly positioned, such as when Dunn starts talking about his eczema in the middle of surgery, to emphasise the point that people are spending too much time on characterisation and need to get back to some advanced doctoring.

But, ultimately, Code Black is just procedure with very little human interest. See you back here next year with the intro?

Read other posts about: , ,

Featured Articles

This Life

All the fun of terminal cancer