Archive | US TV

An archive of articles about US television programmes and production.


October 31, 2016

Third-episode verdict: Insecure (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)

Posted on October 31, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerInsecure.jpgA Barrometer rating of 3

In the US: Sundays, 10.30pm, HBO
In the UK: Tuesdays, 10.45pm, Sky Atlantic

After three episodes of Insecure, it's clear that even if Issa Rae doesn't know how to be a black woman, everyone else is pretty sure and they want her to act that way, too. Maybe if she weren't so insecure, she could fight back and be who she is, but even her friend (Yvonne Orji), who seems a bit more sure of herself and is willing to tell others how to be a black woman, seems to be having trouble, too.

Essentially, the message of Insecure is that stereotypes and ignorance don't help a black woman to navigate life, but even without them, it's still difficult. But if you can get people to listen and understand, sometimes things can change in a small way.

There, now you don't have to watch it. Because to be honest, after a good startInsecure has gone from a pointed piece of comedy making astute observations to a simple drama with one or two laughs. It's not got much by way of plot, boiling down basically to Rae having to deal with her well-meaning work colleagues' unconscious racism every week and Orji having to deal with a new dating disaster. Meanwhile, its cultural specificity is now at Girls level, showing us not just what life is like for middle/upper-middle class, twentysomething, straight, college-educated African-American women but for middle/upper-middle class, twentysomething, straight, college-educated African-American women who live in LA, which is just a little bit too specific for me over here in the UK. 

Rae is good and the writing is decent enough - it's just not engrossing, well plotted or funny enough for me to watch any more of it.

Barrometer rating: 2
Would it be better with a female lead? N/A
TMINE's prediction: Could make it to a second season, but chances are it won't

October 31, 2016

Review: Chance 1x1-1x3 (US: Hulu)

Posted on October 31, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Chance

In the US: Wednesdays, Hulu

For most people in the UK, Hugh Laurie is Hugh Laurie. He may have played Gregory House in House for umpteen seasons, but he's also the guy from Blackadder, Bertie Wooster in Jeeves and Wooster, and Stephen Fry's comedy writing partner for most of the 80s and early 90s.

For most Americans, though, he's House. He is the grumpy, misanthropic, genius American doctor from House. End of. So you can kind of understand why Laurie would take on a two-season role as an eponymous doctor again, if only to cleanse American viewers' memories by playing something similar, but crucially different in one big regard: he's nice.

Based on the novel by Ken Humm (John from Cincinnati), Chance sees Laurie playing a consultant psychologist, who tries to sort out treatment for people who have neurological problems. When Gretchen Mol (Life on Mars) is referred to him with disassociative personality disorder, which she says started after her cop husband Paul Adelstein (Prison Break) began to abuse her, he tries to help her but soon the husband is coming after him.

Meanwhile, the non-confrontational Laurie is in the middle of a no-fault divorce from his wife Diane Farr (Numb3rs) and needs money. When he takes his antique desk to Clarke Peters (The Wire) to be sold, Peters tells him he could get nearly twice as much money if it still had the metalwork on it. Fortunately, Ethan Suplee (My Name is Earl) works for him and could add the missing metalwork if Laurie doesn't mind a little deception. In turn, Suplee doesn't mind a little bit of ultra-violence and is potentially willing to help Laurie out with his other problem…

I'll play a little game now. I'll list a few things and you have to say at which word you realised what the show's biggest influence is.

San Francisco. Psychiatry. Blonde. Femme fatale. Different personalities. Hitchcockian strings.

Well, if you haven't got it already, the answer's Vertigo, one of Alfred Hitchock's finest, in which Jimmy Stewart falls for Kim Novak who plays two women who turn out to be just the one. Certainly, Chance has huge ladels of both Vertigo and film noir spread all over it. There's also lashings of Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanours, with Suplee and Peters leading the normally ethical Laurie towards a life of escalating moral infractions towards possibly even murder.

But Chance is certainly a lot more than that and knows that you know what its references are. Certainly, Laurie doesn't do anything massively stupid, instead doing all manner of smart, prudent things rather than leaping in at the deep end. There's also a certain House of Cards - David Mamet's, that is - quality to it all which the show is also keen to highlight. Is maths tutor Mol really disassociative or is she faking it? Is Adelstein really doing all the things that he seems to be doing or is the surprisingly bright Suplee actually doing it all to lure Laurie into a huge con? Could they even all be in league with one another?

Chance wants you to be wondering all of these things, which is why, despite its depressing qualities, it's also compelling, very tense and claustrophobic (rather than vertiginous). The double meaning in the title, which becomes hugely important in the second episode, makes you wonder exactly how much of what's going on is genuine coincidence and what's not - or even if Laurie's character is facing a Sixth Sense discovery that he's had a brain injury himself. Even if you're not exactly sure what the trap is, you can feel the jaws slowly closing around Laurie, who's a good guy who wants to do the right thing.

It's a good, smart, well-paced thriller that's definitely worth a try.

Barrometer rating: 2
Would it be better with a female lead? No
TMINE's prediction: Commissioned for two seasons

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October 31, 2016

Third-episode verdict: Falling Water (US: USA)

Posted on October 31, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerFallingWater.jpgA Barrometer rating of 3

In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, USA

The problem with Falling Water, USA's new sci-fi thriller about three people who find they're sharing dreams that give them insights into the real-world, is that the dreams are almost indistinguishable from reality. You might think this a good thing, as one of the better things about the otherwise soporific pilot episode was its Francis Bacon-inspired and often surreal dream sequences. And indeed some of the dreams featured in the show have been engrossing, disturbing, fascinating and mind-bending. Certainly, you'd be excused for watching Falling Water simply for the dreams.

And if Falling Water's principal plan is to make us doubt reality or question what is real and what is dreamt, it might be on to something. The trouble is that the show seems to want to have its cake and eat it, by making us want to doubt reality yet still arguing there is a reality - but one that's so stupid, it might as well be a dream.

The essence of the show is a bonkers conspiracy theory involving shady international commodities dealings, 70s folk singers, a creepy child and a suicide cult that wears green trainers. It's hard to watch all of that without thinking that unless it's all revealed to be absolute nonsense in some Inception-like third layer of dreaming, Falling Water is YA serial TV show with a ridiculous McGuffin that will disappoint anyone who stays to the end of the season and/or series.

Which is a shame, because the show does have some great imagery, some fine performances and those dream sequences. Okay, it moves at glacial speeds and it's only at the end of the third episode that the three dreamers (Lizzie Brocheré, David Ajala, Will Yun Lee) whose individual stories we are following come together for the first time, but it's still fascinatingly odd, without exhibiting the worst laws of Netflix's similar Sense8

I'm probably going to keep watching this, because of the visuals, its oddness, Ajala and Yun Lee, but it's not a show I'd recommend starting if you're not already watching yourself.

Barrometer rating: 3
Would it be better with a female lead? If it was a different lead to Brocheré then yes
TMINE's prediction: Cancelled by the end of the season

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