Archive | US TV

An archive of articles about US television programmes and production.


September 23, 2014

News: Michelle Yeoh Strikes Back, Gladys Knight joins an Empire, an Outrageous Fortune prequel + more

Posted on September 23, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

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September 22, 2014

What have you been watching? Including Scotland in a Day, Red Oaks, Doctor Who and The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Posted on September 22, 2014 | 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 deluge is about to begin, with a whole slew of new US shows going to kick off this week, more the following week. Fortunately, I’m braced and prepared, and have got right up to date with all my tele. Elsewhere, I’ve reviewed the first episodes of a few shows that have begun to air:

Also starting this week, but which I’ve miraculously already reviewed is Forever (US: ABC; UK: Sky1), which premieres tonight. But that’s it so far.

I have also watched a couple of other one-offs.

Scotland in a Day (UK: Channel 4)
Timed nicely to coincide with the referendum, Scottish comedian Jack Docherty – you may remember he had Channel 5’s first late night chat show – shows us various famous Scottish actors (e.g. John Hannah, Dougie Henshall) and various famous not-Scottish actors (e.g. Doon MacKichan, Isy Suttie) pretending to be real people in an attempt to be funny that largely falls flat on its face. It’s one saving grace is that Docherty resurrects the marvellous McGlashan from Absolutely for the piece.

Red Oaks (Amazon Prime)
Yet another attempt to do 80s nostalgia (cf The Americans, The Goldbergs), this time giving us a young Jewish guy at college trying to work out what he wants to do in life, so becomes an assistant tennis pro at the Jewish country club where his girlfriend works as an aerobics instructor. Were it not for the occasional Walkman and old car, you’d never know this was set in the 80s, and were it not for the fact it says so on the description, you’d never know this was a comedy either. There’s plenty of Jewish jokes (“A C is a Jewish F”) and bonus points for casting Paul Reiser and Jennifer Grey, but the lack of fun, insight and decent female roles make this a considerable waste of time, and Craig Roberts is incredibly miscast.


Even more excitingly, I watched a couple of movies:

The Amazing Spider-man 2 (2013)
If there was one thing that made The Amazing Spider-Man any good, it was the chemistry between Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield. Naturally enough, Sony wanted to make the most of this so created a 2h20m film that separates them for most of it, filling that run time with not one, not two but three classic Spider-Man villains, all of whom get perfunctory characterisation and storylines. And then right at the end, it stupidly repeats the ending of the first movie. I’m slightly at a loss for how so many elements can have been so badly misused, whether it’s Jamie Foxx as Electro, Paul Giamatti as Rhino (yes, they got one of America’s finest actors to play a Russian in a rhino suit) or both Stone and Garfield. It does look very good, I’ll admit, with some excellent use of bullet time to illustrate Spider-man super agility, but they really needed to spend a lot more time on the script (while simultaneously spending a lot less time on it, if you see what I mean).

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2013)
My sister had really raved about this, as had Mark Kermode on Radio 5, the trailer seemed really funny and the cast seemed epic (Ralph Fiennes, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Ed Norton, F Murray Abraham, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Willem Dafoe, Jude Law, Saoirse Ronan, Tom Wilkinson, et al), so I was really looking forward to Wes Anderson's latest. All those plus points were even enough to convince my wife to watch it. However, she fell asleep halfway through and I was seriously bored. While it looked and felt beautiful, and there were some great individual lines, the big laughs were almost all confined to moments shown in the trailer, and were few and far between in the movie itself. Disappointing, with the exception of Ralph Fiennes who turns out to be a superb comic actor.

After the jump, the regulars: Legends, Doctor Who and You're The Worst.

Continue reading "What have you been watching? Including Scotland in a Day, Red Oaks, Doctor Who and The Amazing Spider-Man 2"

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September 22, 2014

Review: Madam Secretary 1x1 (US: CBS)

Posted on September 22, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Téa Leoni in Madam Secretary

In the US: Sundays, 8.30pm ET/8pm PT, CBS

Have you ever watched a show and really wanted to like it, but found yourself disliking it instead, despite all your best intentions? I’ve just had that experience (again) with Madam Secretary.

On the face of it, it’s got a lot going for it. It’s got a good cast, for starters. I’ve always liked Téa Leoni (The Naked Truth), who plays a former CIA analyst turned university lecturer, who gets recruited by her friend the President (the always great Keith Carradine) to become the new Secretary of State when her predecessor gets killed in a plane crash. At the White House, she then has to deal with the pressures of not just international diplomacy but also internal politics, thanks to some new enemies in the form of chief of staff Željko Ivanek, who instantly elevates any show he’s in, and her own chief of staff Bebe Neuwirth (Cheers). In this, she has the support of her theology lecturer husband Tim “the voice of Superman” Daly but her teenage children aren’t so happy with her new job.

All good so far - apart from the kids - and the show also tries to take in elements from more obviously linked, top quality shows such as The West Wing, with its “important liberal issue of the week”, and Veep, with that show’s comedic gaggle of support staff. You can also see CBS trying to play it to the same audience as its Sunday-night partner show The Good Wife: as well as the politics and in-fighting, it also deals with the relationships of those involved and how Leoni’s new job affects them, as well as the more Hillary Clinton-esque questions of how a woman is judged differently in the role, from the need for a stylist to how she’ll be analysed on The View.

The trouble is that these high ambitions are let down by both the nature of the hour-long, issue of the week format as well as its network. Madam Secretary fair oozes shallowness and naivety. Two American teenagers arrested in Syria and threatened with execution within a week? We can fix that in an hour, can’t we? We’ll just threaten sanctions and a few diplomatic expulsions and everything will be sorted by the end of the episode. Because we know how well that's all been working in real-life. King of Swaziland turning up to dinner with his many wives in tow? A simple joke about how busy he must be and he’ll be rectifying his commitment to AIDS treatment by the end of the main course.

On top of that, there’s a ridiculous conspiracy theory to deal with, concerning a mole in the White House and whether the ex-Secretary of State’s accident really was an accident or an assassination. Was he on a secret mission in a small light aircraft? Only in TV world is that even a slight possibility.

Léoni is also a little wobblier than she should be at this stage. Largely she’s very good - a firm, strong, intelligent presence. But she’s best at comedy and there are times when certain comedic mannerisms pop through when they shouldn’t. The script also wants her to be likable and largely unthreatening to the older CBS audience so emphasises the comedy more than it should. Given time, I’m sure she’ll acclimatise, but it’s harder than it should be to take her seriously at the moment.

So despite my best wishes, I found myself watching the clock and rolling my eyes a lot with Madam Secretary, as a female Dave tries to show that America really could control the world if it just had the right person in charge, doing things in an honest, non-political way - assuming she can escape assassination by the CIA, who are always assassinating members of the US government, of course.

Over time, the show might pick up, but I suspect it’ll have to focus more on one of its many themes, ditching its conspiracy theory and becoming more of a Veep, turning to West Wing-esque, character-led, wide-eyed optimism with minimal connection to reality or going in a harder, more realistic direction. At the moment, though, it’s a frustratingly weak show that squanders a good cast on a set-up that tries to be all things to all women (and men).

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