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Some of the best articles on the blog. Typically, these have a picture. It's a low entrance requirement, I know.


June 14, 2016

Preview: Uncle Buck 1x1 (US: ABC)

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

Uncle Buck

In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, ABC . Starts tonight (June 14)
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Not so very long ago, I ventured the opinion that remakes weren't always inferior, awful and unnecessary - with the caveat that maybe you needed to start with something that wasn't very good to begin with to notice an improvement. Now along comes Uncle Buck to test that theory.

I have fond memories of Uncle Buck, but only in the sense that it was the movie I took Jo Mercer to see on my first ever date, back in 1989. Those are the fond memories - I have almost no recollection of the movie itself, other than it starred John Candy. It was a date, after all. Here's a trailer for it in case your memory needs jogging, too.

That helped a bit, actually. I also almost laughed a few times. I can see why you might want to remake that.

Now the mistake you might be making with Uncle Buck, ABC's new sitcom with Mike Epps ("Black Doug" in The Hangover), is that it is indeed a remake of that original Uncle Buck. After all, they do share the same name. They also share more or less the same plot of a ne'er-do-well helping out his brother by looking after his kids for a weekend and despite making cataclysmic mistakes, somehow doing a good job (± some odd definition of 'good job'). They even share a number of scenes, although largely they're done far more weakly because who remembers Dragnet these days so why don't we just have a kid asking some serious questions instead?

But that's a rookie mistake. Uncle Buck is really just a remake of ABC's black-ish, with its upper middle class, rich black family professional parents struggling to work out what it is to be black when you're no longer back in the hood and your kids are all pampered nerds, brother Buck replacing Laurence Fishburne as the reminder of the ways of the street and the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Where it differs from this true original is having nothing cutting edge or intelligent to say. It occasionally elicits a mild guffaw, usually by treating kids amusingly badly, but largely this is weak stuff that for some reason didn't bother to pinch half the funny ideas from even that mildly related 1989 relative's trailer. To be fair, I quite liked the parents (Nia Long and James Lesure) and their relationship, which was mercifully gentle and loving for primetime US TV. But is it funny or better than either the (trailer for the) 1989 movie or black-ish? No. So bang goes that theory of mine.

Possibly one to show your kids as a cautionary tale, but definitely not one to show anyone on their first date.

June 11, 2016

Preview: Animal Kingdom 1x1 (US: TNT)

Posted on June 11, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Animal Kingdom

In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, TNT. Starts June 14
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Sometimes, you watch enough global TV and it starts to become confusing as to what's copying what. Take Animal Kingdom, TNT's latest drama, this one featuring Ellen Barkin (Sea of Love, Switch, The Big Easy) as the California grandmother who takes in her teenage grandson (Finn Cole from Peaky Blinders) when his mother (her daughter) fatally overdoses on heroin. Except she's actually the head of a literal crime family, with her sons (Scott Speedman from The Last Resort, Shawn Hatosy from Southland, Ben Robson and Jake Weary) a highly efficient bunch of robbers with varying degrees of conscience. 

So it immediately it looks a bit to me like New Zealand's Outrageous Fortune, except not only is Animal Kingdom a lot darker and a lot less humorous, it's already been remade as Scoundrels

But then, as I watch it, I start to get a completely different vibe. With its highly efficient criminals, tense male-relationships and Heat-style direction, it's beginning to look a lot like Smith, NBC's old Heat knock-off with Ray Liotta. That was exec-produced by John Wells (ER), as is Animal Kingdom. There's even a rather similar scene involving surfers, designed to show off how the family doesn't care for the rules of society, to one in Smith involving Simon Baker.

So Smith meets Outrageous Fortune? No.

Turns out it's actually a TV version of a 2010 Australian movie, Animal Kingdom, starring some of the great and the good of Australian acting: Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline), Joel Edgerton (The Secret Life of UsExodus: Gods and Kings), Guy Pearce (like you need to ask), Jacki Weaver (Secret City), and Sullivan Stapleton (Strike Back, Blindspot):

Just to be even more confusing, that was based on a real-life Melbourne crime family. Turns out the only original ideas are in real-life.

So does Australian real-life crime story Animal Kingdom work when relocated to the Californian coast? It depends. Do you think a crime show should really be about crimes or should it be about fit young men taking their tops off a lot? 

If the latter, Animal Kingdom is your boy.

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June 9, 2016

Review: Secret City 1x1-1x2 (Australia: Foxtel Showcase)

Posted on June 9, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Secret City

In Australia: Sundays, 8.30pm, Foxtel Showcase

As we all know, US networks have a marked tendency to copy one another. No sooner is one network commissioning a time travel series then all of them are. Period dramas beget more period dramas. Hangover knock-offs beget Hangover knock-offs. And so on.

Of course, the US isn't unique in this. For every Doctor Who and Atlantis in the UK, there's a Primeval and a Beowulf. Australia isn't immune either. Although last year was a bit of special case, we saw not one but two dramatisations of the events at Gallipoli, and following on from the political intrigue of ABC's The Code, we've had Ten's Party Tricks and now Foxtel's Secret City.

But a copy needn't be inferior to the original and surprisingly, Secret City is easily the best of the lot. Adapted from journalists Chris Uhlmann and Steve Lewis's The Marmalade Files and The Mandarin CodeSecret City has huge amounts in common with The Code but is far better. Also set in and beautifully filmed in Canberra (part of a concerted effort by ACT to get more Australian shows filming in the city), it sees Anna Torv (Fringe) playing a top political journo who's mysteriously sent some incriminating photos featuring Australian defence minister Daniel Wyllie (The Beautiful Lie) when he was just a lad in China, hanging out with the state police as you do. As Wyllie is surprisingly pro-Chinese, anti-US, there's the suspicion that he's possibly a Chinese plant. But who sent the photos and why? And how is it all related to the murder of a young student with similar Chinese links? 

In contrast to The Code, which was all flashy computer hacking, trendy Asperger's kids and running around in the countryside, Secret City is shoe-leather journalism. The first two episodes sees Torv doggedly ploughing her way through documents and interviewing witnesses and her contacts in order to expose the truth. In this she's helped (and also hindered) by her trans ex-husband Damon Herriman (Battle Creek, Justified, Flesh and Bone), who works for the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), and who handles all the techy stuff involving mobile phones et al. 

While not 100% accurate when it comes to either newspaper journalism or computing, the show is close enough to reality that it feels real, almost like an Australian version of State of Play. Rather than pseudonymous political parties in the style of Byw Celwydd (Living A Lie), the show is happy to deal with and satirise real parties (particularly the Greens). There are references to real political situations that affect Australia, such as China's ambitions in the South China Sea, and China and its manipulations are explicitly Chinese, not YA "Asian country". 

It's also quite subtly written - Herriman's trans status isn't explicitly mentioned and is handled sensitively, yet is also a plot point. I'm not quite sure why ASD only has a male security guard - you'd think it might have more than one female employee, wouldn't you? - but the show manages to handle trans issues without coming across like a piece of 'social justice' propaganda.

Despite being a thriller, Secret City is also funny at times, particularly thanks to Jacki Weaver, who plays Labor's straight-talking, foul mouthed power broker - the Peter Capaldi of the piece - but also because Torv's newspaper editor is none other than Huw Higginson (for 10 years, PC George Garfield on The Bill) and the American ambassador to Australia is Mekhi Phifer, who hasn't improved as an actor one jot since Torchwood: Miracle Day. It's also amusing to hear from his mouth talk of the singular importance of the special relationship between the US and Australia. And, of course, Jim from Neighbours (Alan Dale) is the Australian Prime Minister now.

I really enjoyed the first two episodes; I'm hoping the next ones will be just as good, particularly as we're at a time of year when we face a plethora of new shows that are rarely worth our time. No word yet on a UK pick-up of the show, but since both The Code and Foxtel's own Deadline Gallipoli eventually got acquired by UK networks, I'm hopeful.

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