Archive | US TV

An archive of articles about US television programmes and production.


January 4, 2016

Preview: Idiotsitter 1x1 (US: Comedy Central)

Posted on January 4, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Idiotsitter

In the US: Thursdays, 10.30/9.30c, Comedy Central. Starts January 14

So here's something you probably already know: women have friends. Some of them even have best friends. They have great laughs together, nourish each other's soul, yadda yadda. 

However, TV history isn't exactly replete with female friendships, particularly not ones written by women and especially not as the central relationships of TV shows. You may be able to think of an Ethel and Lucy or two, but until recently, TV hasn't considered them worth writing about.

Now we have a whole new generation of actresses and comediennes, mostly in the US, creating and starring in TV shows with their female friends. Idiotsitters is just such a show, created by and starring Jillian Bell and Charlotte Newhouse, as two ill-matched soon-to-be best friends.

And just like Doll and EmBest Friends Forever and Playing House, it's utterly tedious and unfunny to anyone who isn't the show's two leads/creators/writers or who has a similar relationship with her own best friend ("Yes, that's just like us! Isn't it? Isn't it?! I must text her about it… Hey she's watching it TOO!!! Jinx!").

The story is that Newhouse is a Harvard-educated academic who desperately needs a job, so goes for an interview as a babysitter. There she discovers that she'll actually be looking after the grown-up daughter of two very rich, very eccentric people, said daughter (Bell) being that strangely insulated kind of offspring of rich people who's so cut off from the real world, she comes across as being either a complete idiot or having learning disabilities. She might actually even have learning disabilities, so nuanced is Bell's performance. All Newhouse has to do is keep her out of trouble. 

You can imagine how that goes. Imagine the funny situations. Imagine the laughs as they quote Dirty Dancing and baby-talk to one another. Imagine the belly aching as Bell encourages Newhouse to break her hand for her to explain to the cops why she broke her probation or as Newhouse discovers she was given a date rape drug during a party.

Struggling? Well, maybe you just don't have that kind of relationship with your best friend. Or perhaps you've seen a genuinely funny comedy at some time during your life on this Earth.

There are people who already find this funny. It was, after all, a web series before getting a broadcast commission, so clearly had one or two viewers at least. I can't imagine they were all Bell and Newhouse's friends and families either.

But this is not a show with universal appeal, shall we say? It's clear that Bell and Newhouse are having a whole lot of fun together. Perhaps that's part of the problem - there's clearly no genuine tension between the ill-matched couple, no real dislike, no real despair on Newhouse's part at the situation in which she's landed up in, no real suggestion of malice by anyone. Instead, it's like watching two tweens playing dressing up and play-acting. 

And maybe that's the lesson for us all - never make a TV comedy with someone you're already friends with, since you're always going to be enjoying it more than the audience will be.

January 4, 2016

Review: Cooper Barrett's Guide to Surviving Life 1x1 (US: Fox)

Posted on January 4, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Cooper Barrett's Guide to Surviving Life

In the US: Sundays, 8.30/7.30c, Fox

So I'm going to stick my neck out a bit and admit that despite all my principles and natural inclinations, I think The Hangover is a funny movie. Yes, The Hangover 2 is The Hangover again but set in Asia and a bit more racist, and The Hangover 3 isn't funny at all and actually wants to be a heist movie. But although it's a bit misogynistic and racist at times, The Hangover is frequently hilarious, often clever, and justifiably made stars of Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis and Ken Leung.

Unfortunately, it spawned an awful lot of clones and wannabes, aimed at different demographics, whether it was teenage boys, teenage girls, older men, older women or any other exciting group with cash you'd like to name. Fortunately, being an R-rated comedy getting its laughs from R-rated situations, it failed to attract many TV copycats.

Until now. Now, we have Cooper Barrett's Guide To Surviving Life on Fox. They've even got in Justin Bartha - who played "the guy who never got to have any fun" in all three Hangovers - to play "the guy who never gets to have any fun" in this, too. They just haven't got in any R-rated comedy. Or much comedy.

The basic premise is that Cooper Barrett (Jack Cutmore-Scott), like a lot of young men his age, has just graduated college but doesn't know what to do with his life. As a result, he is about to embark on a career of dead-end jobs to subsidise his intensive console game and TV viewing existence. Rather than doing what his parents might have done (moving to Manhattan and meeting a lot of people his own age who really like sitting around drinking coffee all day), he moves in with two of his college room-mates (James Earl and Charlie Saxton). To pay for his high-ambitions, low-income existence, he relies on his rich brother (Bartha), who wants to live the care-free 20s he never had vicariously through Barrett and his friends partying. 

Meanwhile, across the hall from them is new neighbour Meaghan Rath (Being Human (US), Banshee), who has similar issues when it comes to growing up, including hiding in the tumble dryer to avoid having to dump her boyfriend, and the group soon forms a platonic 'bromance'. 

All of this starts in 2011 with a Hangover-style party, the events of which no one can remember. After that, the subsequent events to the present day are then told in flashback, the series's somewhat nebulous concept being that in a Ferris Bueller/Parker Lewis-style, Barrett gives us the lessons in life that he's learnt from experiences such as being kidnapped by some UFC fighters, dealing with his stupid room-mates flatscreen TV obsession or kissing Rath.

He's not learnt very much so far, though, so it's not so much a Guide To Surviving Life as a guide to things you shouldn't do that you already knew you shouldn't do. Maybe that's the same thing on Fox.

Barrett himself is quite a dull character. He would be the Bradley Cooper character of the piece, but that's all been transferred to Bartha, leaving no personality except well meaning intentions. Bartha's more amusing but largely through being older yet being in young situations, rather than because of any good lines he gets. Earl and Saxton have thankless Hangover cast-off roles, too - Earl being the spaced-out Galifiankis character who's an a-hole and gets everyone into trouble, Saxton being the Ed Helm pushover nerd who no one likes and is put upon by women.

The show's saving grace - and almost sole departure from the Hangover formula - is Rath, who provides a much-needed female viewpoint and charisma, even if she doesn't get as much to work with as Zooey Deschanel does in a similar situation in New Girl

Given how offensively bad/offensive other Hangover clones have turned out, Cooper Barrett's Guide to Surviving Life is by no means awful and even has the odd moment of charm, wit and intelligence. But those moments are rare and there's too little individuality or originality to the show.

Most importantly of all, Cooper Barrett might want to offer us his guide to surviving life, but I'm not sure anyone would want to follow his advice.

January 4, 2016

What have you been watching this Christmas? Including Elf, The Force Awakens, Doctor Who and Kung Fu Killer

Posted on January 4, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

It's "What have you been watching?", my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently that I haven't already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I've missed them.

The usual "TMINE recommends" page features links to reviews of all the shows I've ever recommended, and there's also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I've reviewed ever. And if you want to know when any of these shows are on in your area, there’s Locate TV - they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.

The Christmas holidays/Saturnalia are a time for revelry and fun, followed by bloated lounging around watching TV. At least, they usually are. This year, good TV was slightly harder to find, so after the jump in this Christmas viewing round-up, the only Christmas specials I'll be looking at are Doctor Who and Sherlock, as well as the slightly unexpected and un-Christmasy Marco Polo: One Hundred Eyes. Several of the regular shows also finished their runs over Christmas, so I'll be taking a gander at Ash vs Evil Dead, The Bridge and Legends, and I finally finished the first season of The Man In the High Castle, too.

That doesn't sound like much viewing for two weeks, and you'd be right. I also watched a few movies and even went to the theatre:

Elf (Dominion theatre, London)
A stage adaptation of the delightful Will Ferrell Christmas classic movie, in which a Christmas elf discovers he's really a human and ventures south to New York to find his children's book-publisher father (James Caan), only to discover that daddy is in Santa's naughty list. He gets a job at a department store, where thanks to adorable co-worker Zooey Deschanel, he discovers the human thing called love, and manages to restore Christmas cheer to the world.

Initially tediously slavish to the original, right down to the New York setting requiring the entirely British cast to put on US accents, this musical version starts to get better only when the story begins to diverge halfway through. The show is also more knowing than the original, losing some of its innocence and adding jokes that only the adults in the audience will get.

Ben Forster (winner of ITV's Superstar), who's got a cracking set of pipes on him, plays Buddy the Elf a bit closer to Jim Carrey than to Will Ferrell, while Girls Aloud's similiarly pipe-equipped Kimberley Walsh (I'd misread that as Kimberly Wyatt from Sky 1's Got To Dance, so was a bit disappointed when I realised my mistake…) foregoes Deschanel's hipster quirkiness in favour of being just a cynical woman embittered by too many of life's disappointments. More interestingly - again for the adults - is the presence of 80s/90s stars Joe McGann (The Upper Hand) and Jessica Martin (Doctor Who, The Bobby Davro Show) as Buddy's human parents.

It's a lavish affair with a good cast that's still very entertaining and that eventually finds its feet, but it's better if you've never seen the original and imagine it's all set in London - they missed a trick there.

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015) (iTunes)
Every Mission Impossible is a bit different but this time we do get something a bit closer to the first movie in the series, with an attempt to do proper spy stuff again. Senator Alec Baldwin is trying to shut down the Impossible Mission Force, just as Tom Cruise cottons on to the fact that rogue agents from other countries' spy agencies have clubbed together for nefarious purposes, forcing the team to go on the lam. Can Cruise, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Jeremy Renner and generic token woman Rebecca Ferguson (The White Queen) stop the 'rogue nation', even though its agents are supposedly every bit as good as IMF and wise to how it does business? 

You betcha, but the fun is in finding out how. Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie gives us some occasionally thrilling, mostly too-CGIed action set pieces, as well as some surprisingly funny moments and the traditional con jobs, although an attempt to create parallels to Casablanca are ill judged, Renner is confined almost entirely to chatty scenes in Washington and London has about 1,700 red telephone boxes for no good reason. Also amusing for UK viewers is that the British government appears to be entirely composed of the cast of Rev.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (20150 (in cinemas)
Simultaneously answering the questions "What if it had been Princess Leia rather than Luke Skywalker left on Tatooine?" and "What must it be like to work for the Empire?", this new Star Wars movie has newcomer Daisy Ridley as Rey, a scavenger on a desert planet waiting for her family to return to pick her up. Into her life come a comedic stormtrooper-with-a-conscience sidekick (John Boyega) and a droid looking for an old jedi. Together they have to escape the revamped Empire, find the rebels, meet Han Solo in the Millennium Falcon and destroy the Empire's new, definitely-not-the-Death-Star-oh-no superweapon.

JJ Abrams gives us the first decent addition to the Star Wars series since the 80s through the simple measure of giving us Star Wars again, but with modern special effects and a few character/relationship switches just to obfuscate the fact it's the same movie as the first one. But it is a very decent remake-sequel, reminding you of just how good the original was, being genuinely thrilling, funny and enjoyable throughout, not invoking any of the tedious cruft that Lucas added in the prequels, and giving us a decent new cast and a return of the old cast. And it's great to have one of these things about a girl rather than a boy for a change, too.

The big question, given where the film ends, is whether the next one is going to be a simple retread of The Empire Strikes Back or whether there are still new stories to be told in the franchise.

Kung Fu Killer/Jungle (2014) (Netflix)
Top martial artist Donnie Yen's in Hong Kong nick for murder, when other top martial artists start getting killed off, forcing the police to recruit him to stop the murderer from killing anyone else. But does Yen know more than he's letting on and can he stop the killer before he gets to his girlfriend?

It's a largely unremarkable plot, but what lifts Kung Fu Killer are its fight scenes, direction and cast. Featuring pretty much a who's who of the Hong Kong martial arts industry, both behind the scenes and in front of the camera (stick around to the end to see if you spotted everyone), the movie is often a Chinese travelogue and has some directorial flourishes that nod to a diverse range of movies, including The Bourne Supremacy, although its CGI is a bit weak and the wire work a bit too obvious. The best fight is saved for Yen and till last, but the movie fills its runtime in an almost Game of Death-style deconstruction of kung fu, each scene showing a different aspect of Chinese martial arts.

Worth watching if you want to see what a modern Hong Kong martial arts movie looks like and to see Donnie Yen on good form.

Continue reading "What have you been watching this Christmas? Including Elf, The Force Awakens, Doctor Who and Kung Fu Killer "

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