Archive | US TV

An archive of articles about US television programmes and production.


February 3, 2016

Third-episode verdict: Angie Tribeca (US: TBS)

Posted on February 3, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerAngieTribeca.jpgA Barrometer rating of 1

In the US: Mondays, 9/8c, TBS
In the UK: Not yet acquired

If there's anything that Angie Tribeca proves, it's that comedy is hard. TBS's new spoof of police shows, particularly CSI: Miami, but also Rizzoli & Isles and anything with a tough detective who doesn't want a new partner, it's also a 'find and replace' sequel to Police Squad and The Naked Gun. There are often entire gags and formats lifted wholesale from those predecessors and then names and characters simply swapped out. This ranges from the title sequence (someone yelling at the end, with a different reason for the yell each episode, mimicking police squads different guest star being killed at the same point) through to characters repeating lines of dialogue after someone's said "Say, do you…?" 

This isn't a huge problem. Police Squad was hilarious; I don't mind Angie Tribeca being hilarious, even if to be hilarious it has to steal jokes.

And the show frequently is hilarious - after a slightly rocky start, the first two episodes are almost painfully funny at times. But the third episode, which doesn't do that much different from the previous two, is just not funny. Same sort of jokes, same sort of situations, but not many laughs, because you could see the punchlines coming a mile off. It's a show of usually obvious jokes where they're suddenly just a bit too obvious to be funny.

Comedy is hard. Get things slightly wrong and suddenly the laughs aren't coming.

Other than that, there's not much to say about Angie Tribeca. There's nothing profound about it. There's no real story arc, no character development worth mentioning. It's just very funny. When it is. It's just that sometimes it isn't.

Barrometer rating: 1
Would it be better with a female lead? N/A
TMINE prediction: TBS has a lot of confidence in it, having already renewed it for a second season. The TMINE crystal ball can look no further than that

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February 3, 2016

Third-episode verdict: The Magicians (US: Syfy)

Posted on February 3, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerTheMagicians.jpgA Barrometer rating of 3

In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, Syfy
In the UK: Not yet acquired

No matter how many different dust jackets you put round them to confuse fellow commuters, the Harry Potter books were undoubtedly for kids. Although everyone quailed at the thought of He Who Must Not Be Named (Lord Voldemort), you never got a feeling of any real risk, any real power or anything genuinely nasty going on. Death spells? Sure, but you just fall over and die, and that's it. It's not even 24 in the scheme of things, let alone the almighty forces of the universe at work.

The Magicians, which is basically Harry Potter for adults, does much to improve this situation. Set in an exclusive school (university) for wizards, it gives us a magic that can at times be genuinely terrifying. We've seen a man made from moths stepping through mirrors from other worlds to freeze time and paralyse people while he rips out their eyes. We've seen fiction and reality blurring, with characters from books becoming real and the real becoming fictional. We've had ghosts that can actually frighten, people disfigured horribly by magic and raw power consume magic users alive.

And if the rest of The Magicians had been as great as that depiction of magic, I would be its biggest fan. The trouble is that such moments are few and far between. The rest of the time, it's still Harry Potter but in what is effectively an American High School, rather than a university - one filled with mean girls and bullies, and acted by people who seem to have wandered in off the street rather than acting schools. It's also filled with hammy attempts at comedy that are as obvious as they are unfunny, something that isn't helped by everyone smirking whenever they have to deliver a funny line.

There is a vague attempt to give us a rich vs poor subtext, with our stupidly named hero Quentin Coldwater going to the elite, Yale-esque 'Brakebills', while his best friend Julia fails the entrance exam and ends up at the equivalent of the local poly, which is half portakabin, half Fight Club. But that's about it as far as depth and characterisation are concerned, because while you cared about ordinary Harry, bright spark Hermione and loyal old Ron, frankly, pretty much everyone in The Magicians could die a fiery and painful death and you'd be more worried about the marks they'd left on the hardwood flooring than their horrific demise.

It's a shame because when it starts to properly deal with magic, The Magicians has some truly memorable scenes and some real imagination going on. It just understands that fictional world far better than it does people.

Barrometer rating: 3
Would it be better with a female lead? Marginally
TMINE's prediction: Likely to get cancelled after a season, but Syfy might just persevere with it

February 3, 2016

Third-episode verdict: The X-Files (season 10) (US: Fox; UK: Channel 5)

Posted on February 3, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerX-Files.jpgA Barrometer rating of 2

In the US: Mondays, 8/7c, Fox
In the UK: Mondays, 9pm, Channel 5. Starts February 8

When old TV shows get revived, whether it's Burke's Law, Knight Rider, Charlie's Angels or Full House, all everyone cares about is whether the Olsen Twins, John Forsythe, David Hasselhoff, Gene Barry or Bob Saget are going to be back on our screens as the characters they played in the original. Then it'll be proper.  Then everything will be okay.

What almost no one seems to care about but probably should far more is whether the people behind the scenes are back, too. The reason you loved that TV show in the first place? Almost certainly not just the cast, but the characters, the dialogue, the plots and the mise en scène of the original, none of which were down to the cast. True, new blood may be able to recreate or even better the original - such as with Battlestar Galactica - but chances are, what you need is those creative talents back in the production hot seat.

That's certainly what we should have been paying more attention to with The X-Files. David Duchovny's back! Yay! Gillian Anderson's back! Yay! Mitch Pileggi's back!… (Check's IMDB)… Yay! 

Sure, that's great. But is what we're going to get more like Ronald D Moore's remake of Battlestar Galactica or James Dott's remake of The Invaders? The devil's in the authorial details.

A while ago, I posted a rant arguing that the UK needed more TV shows with longer season lengths because that was the only way we could train up writers, give them experience and give them a career pathway. Who cares if they turned in work that might not be great at first - in a season of 13 or 24 episodes, who'd remember the occasional duff one or who wrote it, I argued.

Now that's true for the novice writer just starting out in a sea of other writers, turfing out the meat and potato filler episodes. But when it's the showrunner? Oh, you remember when he turns in duff ones, because they're the special episodes, the ones reserved for advancing season arcs, expanding characters, redefining shows and so on.

And so it is with Chris Carter, creator of The X-Files. He chose to write the first episode of this tenth season to bring Mulder and Scully to our screens, and if it wasn't clear from the original series and all the series he's tried and failed to run since, it was clear from My Struggle I that he got a bit lucky with The X-Files. Because it was dreadful. Just distilled essence of ridiculousness. I was half-inclined never to watch another episode ever again.

But as I pointed out in my rant, longer season lengths give writers a chance to learn the ropes and give them a career pathway, so they can go on to create things themselves. It's worth perusing the IMDB list of writers given their break and training on the original The X-Files, since many of them have gone on to become the great and the good of TV and film writing and show running. Vince Gilligan? He created Breaking Bad and Better Call SaulAlex Gansa? Homeland and 24. James Wong? The Final Destination series. Howard Gordon? Legends, 24, Homeland and Tyrant. Frank Spotnitz? The Man in the High Castle and Strike Back. The list genuinely does go on. And proves me right.

So the question we should have all been asking ourselves is whether these guys were coming back to write for the show. Thankfully, the answer is yes, because once we got past Chris Carter's mythology-laden, brain-warping, conspiracy-mad first episode, we got straight down to old school X-Files again with Founder's Mutation, thanks to James Wong.

Yes, everyone's a bit older now and you get away with showing ickier things on screen, but this was proper X-Files, with a 'weird thing' of the week to investigate, Mulder and Scully doing their usual routine, and all manner of scary events happening, in proper Wong style. True, if there was an explanation as to how Mulder and Scully got their old jobs at the FBI back, I missed it (is there an FBI reserves list or something?), but despite the best part of two decades having passed, everything was the way it should have been.

Episode three gave us Darin Morgan's effort. While Morgan hasn't really set the world on fire with the shows he's produced since The X-Files (Intruders, Those Who Kill, Fringe, Bionic Woman, Night Stalker), his are probably the best remembered episodes of the show's original run, since they were the funniest: Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose, War of the Coprophages, and Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'. And he didn't let us down with this year's thoroughly amusing Mulder & Scully Meet The Were-Monster, a script 10 years in the making apparently, with Mulder looking back with middle-aged eyes at previous cases, only to realise most of them were scientifically explainable, so reluctantly trudging off after Scully to investigate a lizard-man and bumping into Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) and Rhys Darby (Flight of the Conchords, How To Be A Gentleman) in a Kolchak: The Night Stalker straw hat along the way.

Often hilariously funny thanks to both the writing and Anderson and Duchovny's performances - has Anderson actually laughed on-screen since The X-Files? I don't recall her doing so, but it's a very welcome sight - with dozens of nods to fans along the way, it reminds you how good The X-Files could be, and how many imitators have come, failed and gone since the show aired through being unable to recapture the show's essence.

So writers - good. Get good writers and your show will be good. QED.

Unfortunately, we've three episodes to go in this 'limited series' revival of the show and while one's written by Morgan, the other two are written by Carter. Oh oh. I get the feeling the final two episodes are going to be rubbish. 

That means that it's a hearty thumbs up from me for at least half the series and a worried look to the horizon. Make sure you watch the episodes Carter hasn't scripted, since they're the good ones; the others, I leave to your discretion.

PS My, don't Mulder and Scully both look young in the title sequence?

Barrometer rating: 2
Would the show be better with female leads? No
TMINE's prediction: Ratings are holding up, talks are under way and with the cast willing and able, the limited series format might just prove a sufficient draw for viewers to keep coming back

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