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September 29, 2016

Preview: Berlin Station 1x1-1x2 (US: Epix)

Posted on September 29, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Berlin Station

In the US: Sundays, 9pm ET/PT, Epix. Starts October 16

'Peak TV' is the name given to the idea of there being too much TV for us to consume. Thanks to the Internet, cable, et al, it's a lot easier for a company to 'transmit' content; also, more and more people want to make content. As a result, that means there's an awful lot of TV out there being made by an awful lot of people. However, there's only so much talent in the world and it's starting to get spread pretty thinly, particularly around the world's media industry, which means that there's a lot of bad TV made by people who don't actually know how to make good TV.

A while ago I came up with the idea of 'cargo cult TV' - TV going through all the motions of a genre but without really understanding the rules of that genre. As a result, it's missing something essential. I'd like to expand that to encompass the idea of people making TV but not really getting TV.

Take Epix. Until recently, Epix like AMC - aka American Movie Classics - before it, was content to air other people's content before suddenly deciding to make some TV shows of its own. The first to make it out of the gates is Berlin Station, created by spy novelist Olen Steinhauer and set in… well, you can probably guess.

Now Berlin Station goes through all the motions of being both a proper spy show and a proper TV show. Nevertheless, it's cargo cult TV. Something intrinsic's missing from it, preventing it from being either a spy show or a good TV show.

Like other cargo cultists, Steinhauer and Epix have done their best to emulate TV producers. They've recruited a great big, top notch cast. The hero of the piece is our very own Dick Head, Richard Armitage, who's no stranger to spying thanks to Chris Ryan's Strike Back, Captain America and Spooks. They've got Michelle Forbes (Homicide, The Killing (US), In Treatment), Rhys Ifans (Elementary, Twin Town), Tamlyn Tomita (Babylon 5, The Joy Luck Club) and Richard Jenkins (Six Feet Under), too. 

They've found a German co-production partner, hired some actual German actors and flown all the way to Berlin to film everything. They've even done what every other political show has done of late and 'stolen from the headlines' - and, of course, since there are very few headlines about spying these days, that means Yet Another Edward Snowden whistleblower plotline. And they've hired a proper European film director for the first two episodes - Michaël Roskam (The Drop)

All of which is designed to fool the viewer into somehow thinking they're watching a top, premium cable TV show.

Except they're not. They're watching pure cargo cult TV arse.

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September 28, 2016

Review: Pitch 1x1 (US: Fox)

Posted on September 28, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Pitch

In the US: Thursdays, 9/8c, Fox

While my general antipathy to TV shows based around the music industry is well known and formalised enough that I can claim to be "tough on music TV, tough on the causes of music TV", another general genre dislike I have is for TV shows based around sport. This is less well known because there aren't generally that many sports shows on TV - a Ballers here, a Barracuda there, a Necessary Roughness over there, a Back In the Game at the back, but that's about it, fortunately. 

But I do, even when it's a sport in which I'm interested, such as MMA. Sorry, Kingdom

A show about baseball like Pitch? That would normally stand no great a chance of my watching it than that a whelk has of surviving a supernova. But thanks to a bit of recasting back in March that saw Elisabeth Shue replaced, Pitch managed to make me slightly interested in the fact it even existed by hiring a certain someone special.

Ali Larter in Pitch

Yep, after being unceremoniously dumped in the Legends season 2 reboot last year, TMINE's first TV love, Ali Larter, is back on our screens, this time playing a baseball agent. Fingers crossed this isn't another sporting event she's going to be edited out of, too.

Big yawns so far on the plot, but Pitch is all about what happens when baseball team the San Diego Padres recruits the world's first ever female Major League baseball player (Kylie Bunbury). She may not be as strong as the other pitchers, but she does have a secret weapon taught to her by her father (Michael Beach) - a surprising 'screwball pitch' that enables her to fox the batters. 

Can she cope with the pressure, the expectations, the adulation of little girls everywhere, the demands of her dad, the misogyny of the Internet and sports commentators, and the dickery of her team-mates, including the now slightly aging captain Mark-Paul Gosselaar (Saved By The Bell, Truth Be Told, Franklin and Bash, Raising the Bar)?

To be honest, I didn't really care, probably because baseball is a sport that's basically as dull as rounders but which you need to drink beer during to make remotely tolerable. But Pitch also makes the entire first episode play out like every other 'underdog against the odds' sports drama you've ever seen, from the initial failure that makes our heroine think she's never going to make it all the way to her triumphant - but not too triumphant, because that wouldn't be realistic - breakthrough at the end. Gosselaar even has to deliver a powerful motivational speech near the end when Bunbury's at her lowest and so aware of the formula is he that he actually says before it, "If this were a movie, this is the point where I would give you a powerful motivational speech that would help you win."

Yawns.

There is a little variety, with Gosselaar and Bunbury's former teammate Mo McRae turning in surprisingly amusing performances. 'Character actor Bob Balaban', to give him his full title, is marvellous as the Padres' owner. And there's also a whole bunch of people, none of whom I recognised or even came to close to recognising, who I'm pretty sure either play baseball professionally or talk about it on TV. If you like baseball, that might appeal to you for a reason almost as unfathomable as your liking baseball.

There's also a very big revelation towards the end of the episode that's actually pretty clever. However, that can only be pulled off once, leaving subsequent episodes to fend for themselves with the show's standard foundations instead. 

But apart from Gosselaar, Larter (of course) and just generally wanting to root for the first female anything, even something as pointless as Major League pitcher, there's not much in Pitch for anyone who doesn't like a sport where you spend as much time plugging data into Excel spreadsheets and using the AVERAGE() formula as you do watching players standing around with big wooden sticks.

"Tough on sports TV, tough on the causes of sports TV" - I wonder if it'll catch on?

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September 27, 2016

Review: Notorious 1x1 (US: ABC)

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

Notorious

In the US: Thursdays, 9/8c, ABC

TV news producer - sexy job? Probably not. Mainly just people sitting down, looking at spreadsheets, working horrible hours and getting an ulcer while trying to work out where today's top story could come from.

Criminal defence attorney - sexy job? Probably not. Mainly just people sitting down, looking at abstruse papers, working horrible hours and getting an ulcer while trying to work out where an obviously guilty client's defence is going to come from.

But when you stick them together, hey? Sexy, right?

Nope. Two ulcers, that's what. Duh. But Notorious nevertheless tries to convince of the two careers' combined sexiness by using the simple tactic of removing reality from the equation altogether.

Like CBS's Bull, Notorious is 'inspired' by real people's lives - in this case, those of criminal defence attorney Mark Geragos and Larry King Live news producer Wendy Walker. Like Bull, that means it's almost certainly nothing like their lives, but a big fat development check will still be heading their way.

The lovely Piper Perabo (Covert Affairs) plays the top news producer who's also best friends with top defence attorney Daniel Sunjata (Graceland). He gives her scoops with all his most media-worthy clients, she gives him the heads up when sh*t starts heading their way - it's all win-win for them both.

Then Sunjata's top billionaire client, who coincidentally happens to be married to Sunjata's ex-girlfriend, appears to wrap his car around a person and Perabo and Sunjata are having to help each other out without ruining their friendship. Except things aren't quite as they seem and before you know it, Perabo and Sunjata are investigating the crime themselves - and each other.

Even without clients claiming they'd taken pain medication that caused them to 'sleep drive', this is nonsense of the highest order. Improbably, Perabo's assistant happens to be a former escort, a handy former career that helps her to secure all manner of scoops and is in no sense stigmatised. And maybe life on Larry King Live was a lot stranger than we imagine, but Perabo's star anchor (Kate Jennings Grant) spends most of her time in her underwear, shagging rappers before she's due to be on-screen. Oh yes, shagging rappers who organise indoor barbecues in her dressing room. That's not unlikely, is it?

Sunjata presides over a slightly more plausible firm that includes the likes of J August Richards (Angel), except he's the kind of go-to top attorney who'll go to a car impound lot at night so he can extract a great big bag of cocaine and dispose of it, rather than get someone else to do it. I wonder if that'll look a bit encriminating?

There is struggling in Notorious something interesting being said about the interplay between the media and the law when it comes to celebrities and how the truth is a rapidly diminishing aspect of cable news that the quest for ratings is obscuring. Unfortunately, said message is struggling beneath a layer of absurdity that makes Scandal look like a documentary about the Eisenhower White House years. 

I wish the cast well in their future careers, but you should try to help speed them on their way, by not watching this Notorious and watching the rather marvellous Cary Grant/Ingrid Bergman thriller instead.

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