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October 19, 2016

Review: Travelers (Canada: Showcase; UK: Netflix)

Posted on October 19, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share


In Canada: Mondays, 9pm ET, Showcase
In the UK: Acquired by Netflix

Given that Canada, Showcase and Brad Wright have been so central to science fiction television, particularly time travel shows, in the past few decades, we shouldn't be surprised that with the US lining up the likes of Timeless, Frequency, Time After Time and Making History, all three have decided to get in on the act to produce something similar but different.

Travelers flips most time travel stories on their head by having travelers coming from the future to our present in order to prevent a terrible disaster from occuring. So far, so identical to Showcase's own Continuum. The difference here is that the time travelers are (apparently) the good guys and they're from the far off future, a future so distant the human race is in danger of extinction, something they'd quite like to prevent by changing things now.

But most important of all, they can't actually physically travel through time. Instead, provided they know the exact time and place someone is going to die, they can project their minds back in time into the 'host' and take over their body à la Chocky and Quantum Leap.

Travelers' first episode, written by Wright, is mainly establishment of the lives and families of the hosts who are shortly going to die and be replaced by an 'elite unit' of time travelers. We have the learning disabled Mackenzie Porter (Hell on Wheels, Blackstone); douche high school quarterback and cage fighter Jared Paul Abrahamson (Awkward); abused single mum Nesta Marlee Cooper (Heroes: Reborn); and drug-addicted college student Reilly Dolman.

Chasing after them after he becomes aware of some 'odd traffic' on the dark web is FBI agent Eric McCormack (Trust Me, Will and GracePerception). 

Then, of course, the time travelers turn up and the show then becomes about the differences between the hosts and their new inhabitants, who can fight back, don't have an addiction, aren't learning disabled, aren't complete dicks and so on. And despite having done their research, the time travelers still have a huge culture gap to navigate, from the little things such as text message slang and not answering the front door naked through to quite big things like how people talk and discovering that people lie on social media and that maybe one of the hosts isn't who she claimed to be online.

Shot in the style of Wright's previous big offering, Stargate UniverseTravelers is an edgy and surprisingly intimate affair, trying its best to make all of this not ridiculous, something it does pretty well. To be fair, though, there's actually precious little about the time travelers' mission so it's hard to tell if something extraordinarily silly is round the corner. Instead, it's mostly about changing behaviours and what happens if someone starts acting very differently from how they used to behave - and whether other people will allow that or get suspicious.

Basically, it's a science-fiction spy show with a whole bunch of sleeper agents suddenly being activated. It's The Americans but with a different kind of time travel. Hopefully.

The characters and stories are engrossing, McCormack is as pleasing as ever and everyone, particularly Porter and Dolman, does well with what they've got. There's even an appearance by ubiquitous former Huck Finn and Continuum regular Ian Tracey.

There's a big twist at the end that will be entirely ruined if you watch the trailer below, but Travelers is definitely a very promising first start to a series that's also got a big chunk of Netflix co-production money behind it. I'm hoping for great things, but we'll see how it goes.

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October 14, 2016

Review: Kim's Convenience 1x1-1x2 (Canada: CBC)

Posted on October 14, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Kim's Convenience

In Canada: Tuesdays, 9/9.30NT, Canada

It's not often that stage shows get turned into TV shows, but Canada works a little different to the US. Kim's Convenience was a gentle comedy about a Korean-Canada convenience store owner and his family that won Best New Play at the Toronto Fringe Festival back in 2011. Now adapted by the play's writer and starring most of the same cast, it's become a 13-part CBC series.

Stereotypes abound, not just about Koreans but also about convenience store owners, and most of the show's humour involves playing with those stereotypes. The first episode sees a Gay Pride parade going past Appo Kim (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee)'s shop and how he deals not only with gay customers but also accusations of homophobia. While Appo is indeed as you might expect 'not quite sure about the gays' ("where have they all come from? And what's the difference between transgender and transsexual"), his response is not prejudice but to offer a 15% gay discount and to quiz transvestites about whether they simply like wearing women's clothes or are sexually attracted to men - so he can decide whether they deserve the 15% discount. 

Similarly, the photography-centric episode two, in which you expect him to be conservative about some art students' naked shots instead reveals he's a failed photographer himself and is more critical over the choice of model in the shots than the choice of subject matter. And then he gets into a competition with his arts school daughter Andrea Bang over who's a better photographer.

That subversion of stereotypes continues with his wife (Jean Yoon)'s ongoing efforts to marry off Bang to a good, 'cool, Christian Korean boy', with Bang protesting that no such thing exists:

Meanwhile, Appo's happy with anyone his daughter's happy with, provided they know the date of Korean independence.

While most of the action takes place in the Kims' shop, there's also a couple of side stories. The first involves estranged son (Simu Liu), who works at a car rental shop where the manager (Nicole Power) has the hots for him.

The other involves Yoon's volunteer work down the church, where she gets into the traditional passive-aggressive competition with other mothers over whose kids/lives are better. Except the show again tries to subvert stereotypes and everything works out far nicer than you'd expect.

It took about 15 minutes or so for the first actual laughs to turn up, I found, but after that, Kim's Convenience because a lot better. It's never riotously funny and often is at its best when it's more of a sketch show, with brief scenes involved new customers to the shop, rather than when it's dealing with its series arcs. But compared to the horrors of say Four In the Morning, it's head and shoulders above the crowd.

Give it a try if you enjoy good-hearted shows and that rare thing indeed - a funny Canadian sitcom.

October 12, 2016

Review: American Housewife 1x1 (US: ABC)

Posted on October 12, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

American Housewife

In the US: Tuesdays, 8.30/7.30c, ABC

I don't know if it's something to do with Leslie Bibb or not, but ABC has a habit of taking promising sitcom titles and then squeezing all the fun out of them. Bibb, whom you may remember from Popular or Crossing Jordan or more likely as intrepid Brown-educated reporter Christine Everhart in the Iron Man movies, did of course star in ABC's GCB. GCB was previously unhelpfully named Good Christian Belles, which in itself was a fudge since the show was originally based on a book called Good Christian Bitches. As you can tell, someone started to fret about the title and did some hasty renaming that never really went anywhere good.

Bibb doesn't star in American Housewife but she does guest star in the first episode, bringing  this cold-footed curse with her to the show, which originally bore the more intriguing and potentially more divisive title The Second Fattest Housewife in Westport. You can tell that's what it had been called until the pilot had been filmed because that's virtually every second line out of the mouth or voiceover of star Katy Mixon (Eastbound & Down but probably best known, thanks to TV's inability to register the existence of fat women, for playing Melissa McCarthy's sister on the fat-abusing haven for overweight actors and actresses, Mike and Molly). Now, with its title making a pointless and almost irrelevant claim to universality (cf This is Us), all those repeated references to not wanting to be "the second fattest housewife in Westport" are entirely stupid.

Continuing this season's theme of "there are fat women, TV, get over it - but they're not happy about being fat, oh no!" (cf This Is Us again), the show sees Mixon renting a house with her family in the otherwise rich and exclusive neighbourhood of Westport. All the other women are so rich that all they have to do all day is eat healthily and work out, resulting in Mixon being perpetually looked down upon for being 'so real' (ie fat). And most of the first episode is about Mixon's worries that opposite neighbour 'fat Pam' is moving away, which will result in her becoming the second… you can work out the rest.

American Housewife is extremely short on laughs and extremely long on stereotypes. Despite ostensibly being pro "the 50% of American women who are a size 14 or over", pretty much everything is about how miserable Mixon is, despite not being that overweight. Well, maybe not miserable. Irritated and angry, and not in a virtuous way - she really hates those 'skinnies' and most of the time, you're not routing for her as a result, since she's always being pre-emptively snide to a group of people who are at most oblivious, it would seem, rather than actively nasty.

What humour there is stems from ABC's more traditional reservoir of family laughs. In contrast with Speechless, here it's hubby Diedrich Bader (Office Space, Veep, Outsourced) who actually raises some chuckles, helped by the younger kids in the family - the son being the new, younger, Rand-reading Alex from Family Ties, the youngest daughter being an OCD nightmare. There's also a black lesbian divorcee (Carly Hughes), who adds a bit more fun to the proceedings, if only through contrast.

There's some insight, to be sure, and there's probably a group of women who can empathise with Mixon's anti-heroine, but this isn't black-ish for the plus-sized by any stretch of the imagination. One not to add to your regular TV diet.

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