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November 1, 2016

Review: The Great Indoors 1x1 (US: CBS; UK: ITV2)

Posted on November 1, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Great Indoors

In the US: Thursdays, 8.30/7.30c, CBS
In the UK: Acquired by ITV2

For those not in the know, CBS is a channel largely watched by older folk. The home of numerous procedurals and family sitcoms, it does, however, try to attract a younger audience from time to time, often with comedies such as The Big Bang Theory. And The Great Indoors is an interesting example of a comedy pitched at both the young and old - interesting in the sense that you can probably tell whether you're young or old based on which characters you most empathise with.

Community's Joel McHale (45) is a craggy magazine journalist, used to filing his copy from out in the field following close encounters with mountains, bears, Indian yogis and death. He's summoned back to the office by proprietor Stephen Fry - yes, STEPHEN FRY (59) - where in common with untold numbers of other journalists around the world, he's told the print version of the magazine is being shut but it'll continue online. The slight hitch is that he'll be office-bound and working with Christopher Mintz-Plasse (27), Shaun Brown (29) and Christine Ko (don't ask) - the millennials that run the digital division of the company and whose idea of an experience is watching a YouTube video of an experience. Compounding the discomfort caused by his complete lack of experiental overlap with these mere foetuses is the fact that he'll be working for Fry's daughter, Susannah Fielding (31) (I Want My Wife Back, The C-Word), whom he probably slept with relatively recently, despite there being a slightly icky age gap.

Now, given it's CBS - the home of cheap laughs at other people's expenses, as well as of old people - you'd be forgiven for expecting The Great Indoors to be an excuse for the network to marry two disparate but related strands of humour: older, wiser people laughing at callow youth; and rugged manly types laughing at nerds. You'd also be forgiven for thinking that the show would know next to nothing about journalism or magazines, and that it would have the IQ and literacy of an angry letter to a local newspaper.

But, despite the trailer below suggesting just that, surprisingly The Great Indoors is more of a meeting of minds. While most laughs are at millennials' behaviour, ranging from the speed at which they take offence at things through to their need to selfie their every waking moment, this is a meeting of minds in which McHale learns to be a better person and to understand online while the millennials learn how to put their smartphones down for a moment or two. Fry isn't the usual stereotypical Englishman and his dialogue is often erudite and subversive. There's even a suggestion that there has been some actual research done into magazine journalism, with job titles such as 'digital curator' and listicles about surviving the Zombie Apocalypse hinting that a day or two may have been spent at Buzzfeed at some point.

Of course, the show is creating a false dichotomy between the digeratti and the digital illiterate: I started working on newspaper web sites back in 1995 and any journalist my - and McHale's - age will have been well acquainted with online publishing for years, if not decades. I've also seen that video featuring the bears in the swimming pool, too, and I have four Twitter accounts, a LinkedIn account and a Facebook account. Millennials working in journalism can still talk to sources and go outdoors; 40-somethings aren't the same as 60-somethings. But, hey, it's a multi-camera sitcom - you might as well critique mistakes in the maths in Big Bang Theory.

On the plus side, the pilot episode also features Stephen Fry nursing a bear cub and both McHale and Fry deliver the goods; on the minus side, the live studio audience seems to make Fielding think she's in a pantomime and the millennials don't really work as individual characters, rather than personifications of ideas of millennials.

If you like Fry and McHale, The Great Indoors might not wow you, but you certainly won't come out of it feeling like you've been robbed of a great comedic opportunity. If you're a millennial, you might not see yourself in the show, but what are you doing watching TV rather than Snapchats anyway?

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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 27, 2016

Review: Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency 1x1 (US: BBC America; UK: Netflix)

Posted on October 27, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Dirk Gently (BBC America/Netflix)

In the US: Saturdays, 9/8c, BBC America
In the UK: Will air on Netflix in December

Adaptations are a funny old thing, aren't they? Sometimes you find out more about the person - or country - doing the adaptation than about the original material.

Take Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, a Douglas Adams book written in the 1980s based on scripts he wrote for Doctor Who. It sees the eponymous chubby detective investigating Cambridge colleges, time machines, Electric Monks, the creation of human life and impossible sofas, all in the belief that everything is interconnected and that if he investigates one thing, no matter how seemingly unrelated, he'll end up solving the original mystery.

The story was adapted for BBC Four six years ago by Misfits' Howard Overton, spawning a TV series two years later. How much was it like the book? Not much, despite strip-mining all the good stuff from it, but it was very BBC Four, with bumbling English people and a budget of 50p.

Now we have Max Landis and BBC America's efforts, which are even less like the book, but do at least have a character of their own. A continuation of sorts to both Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and its follow-up, The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul (judging by the references to both sofas and Thor), it sees Dirk (Samuel Barnett) relocated to Seattle where he's hired to investigate the death of reclusive millionaire Julian McMahon (Charmed, Fantastic Four, Nip/Tuck, Hunters, Childhood's End)… by McMahon, six weeks before he's murdered.

One of the few witnesses to the murder is bellboy Elijah Wood (Wilfred, Lord of the Rings), who has his own problems with his drug dealer landlord, his hallucinating ill sister Hannah Marks (Necessary Roughness), a corgi, and the police who are following him, including Richard Schiff (The West Wing). But when Barnett breaks into Wood's apartment because it looks interesting, Barnett decides Wood is prime 'assistant' material and the two end up holistically intertwined.

It has to be said that the show is odd. Very odd. Very odd at odd moments. Just as everything looks like it's settled into one form of odd, a time traveller will appear, a holistic assassin will start macheting people at random, four guys in a van will start sucking someone's soul or bullets will richochet off a pipe and kill the kidnapper in the flat above. New odd is here - get used to it for the next five minutes because there'll be another one along in a minute. Ooh look, it's a musical number!

Which is both in keeping with Adams' writing yet simultaneously quite Landis (cf American Ultra). On top of that, there's an American quality to it all - Barnett is less a schlubby ne'er do well in a silly leather hat, more an American's idea of an eccentric Brit via Harry Potter. There's also a distinct air of 'improving one's self', with Wood's embracing of Barnett's holistic philosophy leading to his life becoming significantly better, and the familial side of things with Marks and Wood is almost heartwarming in an American stylee.

I'm not sure whether this Dirk Gently is a huge improvement over the previous one, though. Barnett's too young to really work as Gently - Schiff would have been perfect - and Wood is basically just doing the bamboozled sidekick routine he perfected in Wilfred. There was also never a point where I felt myself relax into the show enough to genuinely enjoy.

But it does at least feel a lot more like Dirk Gently, despite having nothing at all in common with the books beyond themes, it's full of what look like potentially interesting ideas and there's enough life in the supporting cast at least that it's worth watching for them.

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