Archive | Featured articles

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


July 5, 2016

Review: Dead of Summer 1x1-1x2 (US: Freeform)

Posted on July 5, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Dead of Summer

In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, Freeform
In the UK: Not yet acquired

I thought we'd got over the 80s. I thought that the advent of shows like Hindsight meant that we had moved on and were looking at the 90s and beyond. But now we have Dead of Summer, which is almost pure, distilled 80s, with 80s in every shot in a way the real 80s never was. Indeed, it feels like a show invented by someone who had almost no memories of the 80s beyond watching some 80s movies, but doesn't care because he knows the intended audience wasn't even alive in the 80s.

Riffing off another (hopefully dying) trend for remaking old horror moviesDead of Summer takes that hoary old US horror staple, the summer camp, and revisits it with a thin sprinkling of the almost 80s' Candyman on top. It sees a diverse (in a modern sense) group of attractive young people trying to help Lost's Elizabeth Mitchell to set up a new summer camp where they'll be camp counsellors. Except wouldn't you know it, the summer camp is built on an old burial ground or pentagram or something, and soon the dead are popping up in videos, pretending to be imaginary friends or just generally scaring the crap out of people, their number being added to in practically every scene as the bodies pile up. You don't even have to say 'Candyman' for it to happen - Tony Todd will pop up without any provocation as the silent, pointing and probably well paid 'The Tall Man' (just to confuse fans of Phantasm, I presume).

Created by Lost/Once Upon A Time writer Adam Horowitz, the show is a veritable cornucopia of 80s references, with mentions of D&D, The Empire Strikes Back and more popping out of people's mouths without any real cause every minute - almost like they're possessed by the spirit of the 80s. There's even a direct and actually quite impressive visual rip-off of one very famous scene from Poltergeist in the second episode, just to make it clear how much the show is set in the 80s.

But so quickly does the show get through all the references to 80s horror movies and trends in the first episode that by the second episode it's practically run out of them, so decides to start mining other genres. Weirdly, the show decides the best way to give its characters backstories is using Lost flashbacks and presumably deciding to emulate The Americans, makes one of the camp counsellors a secret Ruskie (or 'from the USSR' to be exact). What's his secret mission? He plays the long con all episode before finally closing his trap to obtain his ultimate prize… to have access to clothes from a dry cleaner. 

Yes, that does all play out as stupidly as it sounds.

It's hard to tell how knowing some of this is. Are we now post-Scream and taking horror seriously again or post-post-Scream and playing it for laughs? I forget. But there's a slight chance all the shallow teen romances, "who's next?" guessing, deep dark secrets et al are designed to be amusing rather than scary, given there's a Satan-worshipping heavy metal fan called 'Damon Crowley'. Maybe it's a bunch of 40somethings have a laugh at 20somethings' expense, without the 20somethings realising it ("They actually think it was like this! Can you believe it? Quick, put in something about a 2d20! They'll lap it up!")

More probably, it's merely aimed at people who have seen a lot of 80s movies and wish there were more of them than were actually made in the 80s. It's hard to tell how much such people are concerned by correct period detail: most of the fashions seem to come from the entire 80s, not just 1989 when the show is set; I'm not entirely sure the general public knew what a serial killer was in 1989; I doubt more than seven schoolgirls ever played D&D in the whole of the US in the 80s; and I'm pretty that someone in their early 20s would try not to be so openly and self-admittedly 'super gay' (was that even a phrase in the 80s?) in the somewhat repressive atmosphere of the late 80s US, let alone at a summer camp where they would be put in charge of children and risk getting fired and/or lynched.

This is the 80s for people who've seen The Breakfast Club and assume that everyone acted and dressed like that all the time, all decade.

The Ruskie backstory was bonkers enough that I might want to watch more of Dead of Summer, just to see if they do a tribute episode in which Airwolf flies over and blows up the camp. The sight of Tony Todd popping up every half hour to point silently behind people like he's just spotted a rare Crested Caracara and doesn't want to disturb it but definitely wants you to look at its beautiful plummage? That never gets old either.

But as a show, Dead of Summer isn't scary or innovative, the teens are quite dull, and Elizabeth Mitchell isn't in it anywhere near enough, so I won't be watching it for anything more than sh*ts and giggles if I do.

Here's a trailer and just in case you have 45 minutes or so to waste, the whole of the first episode, too.

Read other posts about: ,

July 1, 2016

Review: Queen of the South 1x1-1x2 (US: USA Network)

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

Queen of the South

In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, USA
In the UK: Not yet acquired

As I'm sure I've remarked before, but encroaching senility means I can't remember exactly when, it's getting harder and harder to tell who's copying what and when. USA's Queen of the South, for example, looks like a clear-cut knock-off of Netflix's Narcos, last year's marvellous biopic of Pablo Escabar, albeit with a bit of gender-reversal. As with Narcos, it stars a Brazilian (Alice Braga) as a low-level Latin drug dealer and then follows her ascent to become a drugs lord. Or should that be drugs lady?

Except it's actually a remake of Telemundo US's La Reina del Sur, one of the network's most expensive telenovelas, which was in turn based on the novel of the same name by Arturo Pérez-Reverte.

Strange, huh? All the same, all of those facts are useless since you just want to know if the show is good or not, don't you? Well, if you've seen Narcos, I'd recommend giving this a miss, since it's nowhere near as good. If you haven't, just go and watch Narcos instead. But if you don't think you ever will (because, you know, Netflix needs cash or something), this isn't bad, but it's really not that good either.

The show's basic problem - at least at this point - is that Braga spends most of her time being thrown from sticky situation to sticky situation without much agency of her own. Sure, there's plenty of action: she runs, she acts as a drugs mule, she and others wave guns around and sometimes even shoot at people, there are car chases and car crashes, and cars blow up around her. But most of the time, she's running away from something, being knocked out, captured, raped, trussed up, shot at and more. Surprisingly, despite all this devastation, there's not much excitement, either. 

On top of that, it doesn't feel very real. Unlike Narcos, where everyone speaks Spanish apart from the Americans, here everyone speaks English… except when they speak Spanish. There doesn't appear to be any rule as to when they speak Spanish - it seems to be a mood thing that comes across them at the start of conversations, sometimes in the middle, never for more than three sentences. Braga's boyfriend, who introduces her to all manner of dangerous people, is beyond nice for a drug dealer and beyond personality, too. There's a husband-and-ex-wife drug dealing partnership, the husband (Joaquim de Almeida) running for governor, the ex-wife (Veronica Falcon) running the US branch of the drug-running operation. And as impressive as Falcon might be, in fact being the show's true draw, not much of her operation is even slightly plausible, looking like a series of mash-ups from old episodes of Miami Vice

Perhaps the show's one truly interesting feature, in fact, is it's slightly wonky non-linear storytelling. We start in the first episode seeing Braga being (seemingly) assassinated at the height of her power, before flashing back to how she got there. Except throughout the episodes, her spiritual guide through misery and peril is her future self, who appears to her as a vision. This isn't time travel or anything supernatural (at least, not so far). Instead, it's the intimation that Braga's future self is already there inside her and she simply needs to listen to herself to survive her perils - and the more she does so, the more she'll become that true self. However, that's the show's only really interesting feature and I wouldn't recommend you watch it just to see these two to three cameos per episode. 

I've tried two episodes. I think that's probably enough now. 

 

June 23, 2016

Review: American Gothic 1x1 (US: CBS; UK: Amazon Prime)

Posted on June 23, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

American Gothic

In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, CBS
In the UK: Thursdays, Amazon Prime

Does drama need to have a point? Tricky question - indeed, one I'm increasingly asking in this age of 'peak television'. Obviously drama needs to engage the audience (although Mr Bertolt Brecht might have something to say about it, were he still alive), so to that extent it needs a point. But does it need to speak to something, have a message or do anything beyond that engagement?

American Gothic certainly pushes that particular envelope to the limit, because for the life of me, in common with an increasing number of TV shows, I can't see the point of it at the moment, beyond it filling the airwaves for an hour. Not having read any press notes about it, I assumed it might have something to do with either

  1. The Grant Wood painting
    American Gothic by Grant Wood
  2. The 1995 TV series with Gary Cole

But it didn't take long to realise that at most it wanted to tie into the name of the painting while being 'a bit gothic' - especially since half the main cast aren't American. The show concerns one of those huge American families you get in TV shows, this one a blue collar Boston bunch who have done good for themselves, thanks to dad (Jamey Sheridan)'s construction company. Elder daughter Juliet Rylance (The Kick) is running for mayor and younger son Justin Chatwin (Shameless) is a newspaper cartoonist, while younger daughter Megan Ketch (Gotham, Blue Bloods) and mum Virginia Madsen (Dune, Highlander 2) don't do an awful lot but have husbands, one of whom is a cop.

During one of Rylance's press conferences, Sheridan has a heart attack. Is it age or could it be something to do with the recently discovered new evidence in the case of the notorious 'Silver Bell' serial killer? Whatever it is, it's time to lure back wayward eldest son Antony Starr (Outrageous Fortune, Banshee), who mysteriously disappeared 14 years ago, just as the Silver Bell killings ended. And coincidentally, what should the kids find stashed away in a box in the house but a whole bunch of silver bells like the one's the killer used to leave? Is Dad the killer? Or is Starr, who even if he didn't look like a serial killer, shaves with a hunting knife? Or were they accomplices? Or was it someone else in the family? Whatever it is, it's probably genetic, judging by the way Chatwin's young son has started cutting up cats…

All dark and nasty, albeit with almost nothing to say, just a mystery that needs solving. Except American Gothic also has a weirdly comedic vibe to it. No laughs at all, unless you count people not noticing a car being crushed behind them, and most of the cast are as dead serious as can be, but Madsen, Chatwin and incidental music composer Jeff Russo (Fargo, Power, Extant) are all utterly convinced this is supposed to be a dark comedy, judging by the various choices they've made.

Drama, comedy or dramedy, though, American Gothic isn't very good at any of them. The plot is a composite of all the dafter novels you could pick up in an airport book store, five minutes before your flight was due to board. The dialogue is arch most of the time, but rarely seems to have been intended to do more than sketch, rather than give depth - when Ketch reveals that her husband has just had a promotion, everyone congratulates them for all of five seconds… before instantly moving on to explaining the plot at each other again. You'd think they might ask a question, maybe even two, wouldn't you? And even if they didn't, you'd think Ketch and co might be a bit miffed, wouldn't you? But no.

Starr's the show's main draw, doing an even less animated, more menacing version of his Banshee performance, although Rylance is no shirk, Chatwin is engagingly dotty and Madsen gets hidden depths in the last few minutes of the episode. But the script simply doesn't give them much to work with and it doesn't give you a reason to want to watch the rest of the show. Despite the entire kitchen sink of drama tools being thrown at the screen, it's a show about nothing - and not in a Seinfeld way. It's not saying anything about social mobility, the rich, families, serial killers, Boston, politics, the police or anything else, unless it accidentally stumbles into it. The characters exist merely to drive the plot and/or provide ambiguity. There aren't even any real gothic qualities to it, beyond the occasional shot of mist and old stonework.

So if American Gothic doesn't know why you should you watch it, beyond an arbitrary mystery that needs solving, can you think of a good reason? 

Read other posts about:

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117 118 119 120 121 122 123 124 125 126 127 128 129 130 131 132 133 134 135 136 137 138 139 140 141 142 143 144 145 146 147 148 149 150 151 152 153 154 155 156 157 158 159 160 161 162 163 164 165 166 167 168 169 170 171 172 173 174 175 176 177 178 179 180 181 182 183 184 185 186 187 188 189 190 191 192 193 194 195 196 197 198 199 200 201 202 203 204 205 206 207 208 209 210 211 212 213 214 215 216 217 218 219 220 221 222 223 224 225 226 227 228 229 230 231 232 233 234 235 236 237 238 239 240 241 242 243 244 245 246 247 248 249 250 251 252 253 254 255 256 257 258 259 260 261 262 263 264 265 266 267 268 269 270 271 272 273 274 275 276 277 278 279 280 281 282 283 284 285 286 287 288 289 290 291 292 293 294 295 296 297 298 299 300 301 302 303 304 305 306 307 308 309 310 311 312 313 314 315 316 317 318 319 320 321 322 323 324 325 326 327 328 329 330 331 332 333 334 335 336 337 338 339 340 341 342 343 344 345 346 347 348 349 350 351 352 353 354 355 356 357 358 359 360 361 362 363 364 365 366 367 368 369 370 371 372 373 374 375 376 377 378 379 380 381 382 383 384 385 386 387 388 389 390 391 392 393 394 395 396 397 398 399 400  

Featured Articles

Twin Peaks

Lynch at his best in years