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April 20, 2017

Review: Famous In Love 1x1 (US: Freeform)

Posted on April 20, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Famous In Love

In the US: Available on Freeform

It's a little hard to critique the reality of fairy tales. Should an overworked maid join a union, go on strike, become an economic migrant or lobby for an increase in the minimum wage to alleviate her condition? Or she should hope that a fairy will grant her a beautiful outfit and that a handsome prince will end up wanting to marry her because she dances well? Logically, option one is the better, more realistic one, option two the anti-feminist, passive one. Yet we all know that option two pans out for Cinderella whereas option one would have consigned her to perpetual indenture.

Watching modern TV fairy tales The Arrangement and Famous In Love, it seems that "hoping to be catapaulted to fame and fortune by becoming an instantaneously successful movie superstar when another hot major movie star takes a fancy to you during an audition" is the current US equivalent to holding out for that pumpkin carriage. They're also about as realistic.

The Arrangement, it has to be said, is by far the better of the two shows, while Famous In Love is a great big slap in the face to aspiring actresses everywhere. It sees Bella Thorne (the long-time star of Shake It Up but last seen as the unsuprising 'surprise' death in the first episode of MTV's Scream) playing a slightly bored, but otherwise happy economics student who'd much rather be an actress. Despite apparently having had no acting training, she still goes with bestest gal pal Georgie Flores to an audition to star in a movie franchise guaranteed to be the 'next Harry Potter' and wows everyone, including star Carter Jenkins, with her unparallelled acting skills and highly kissable lips. Before she and the audience know it, she's hired to play the lead.

But does being rich and famous bring you happiness? Flashforwards to the future successful Thorne seem to suggest otherwise. But what makes her so miserable? Well, there's the rub. Is it just the lack of private life? Is it a doomed future real-life relationship with Jenkins? Is it a potential estrangement from her still-struggling actress pal Flores? Is it the possible loss of hottie bestest boy pal/romantic interest Charlie DePew, who can't compete with superstar Jenkins? Or is it something else to do with the machinations of Hollywood?

Time will tell, I'm sure.

Famous In Love is billed as the replacement for Pretty Little Liars, so don't be surprised that about 50% of the plot is actually about various possible pairings of the assembled characters, as well as rivalries between friends and enemies. Similarly, there's also a mystery to be solved - namely what happened that estranged Jenkins from his former best friend Keith T Powers and caused popstar Pepi Sonuga to disappear from the public eye - and a closeted lesbian (no, no clues).

However, it's not even close to the quality of PLL and The Arrangement shows how pretty much every part of the show can be done better. Thorne is likable and quirky enough for sure, but the dialogue and scripting causes it to be so forced, you start to feel sorry for her, given the acres of supposed 'nervous rambling' she has to wade through every other scene. The fact she gets to go to the top of her profession without having served her dues in dead-end waitressing jobs or even trained in her art, unlike The Arrangement's Christine Evangelista, makes pumpkin-based transportation seem like an earned plot development. Hell, she hasn't even had to sit in the audience enduring Inside The Actors Studio before she made the big time.

Perhaps the only thing of note about Famous in Love, apart from it being one of the few TV shows to actually have the female lead in the infamous 'Friend Zone' at its outset, is that there's a British showbusiness reporter in the thick of things. Literally an hour before I watched the episode this morning, I suddenly wondered to myself. "Whatever happened to Nathan Stewart-Jarrett from Misfits? He was always complaining there weren't any acting jobs for middle class black Britains, just gritty stuff set on gang-run estates. Maybe he went over to the US to seek his fortune."

Guess what, reader. Stewart-Jarrett plays that very same showbusiness reporter. How spooky.

If you have to watch one show like this, watch The Arrangement. But you probably don't have to watch either, to be honest, so maybe watch Misfits instead.

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March 30, 2017

Preview: Nobodies 1x1 (US: TV Land)

Posted on March 30, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Nobodies (TV Land)

In the US: Wednesdays, 10pm, TV Land. Starts tonight

Friends are the worst, aren't they? They say they want the best for you, but when you get the best, they're jealous - and usually think they either deserve it more or that they can use you to become successful, too. Well did they ever think there was a reason it was you, not they who made it to the top? Do they?

So, I do wonder if Nobodies, the new Melissa McCarthy-produced comedy for TV Land, is really her way of getting her own back on her less successful friends. It's created, written by and stars a whole bunch of people whose names are all in quote marks: "Hugh Davidson", "Larry Dorf" and "Rachel Ramras". They all used to be in an improv troup, "The Groundlings", along with Oscar winners "Jim Rash" (Community) and "Nat Faxon" (Ben and Kate, Married, Happy Hour), "Maya Rudolph" (Up All Night) and "Melissa McCarthy" (you know who she is). Except all of the latter group are doing just fine, while "Davidson", "Dorf" and "Ramras" are, well, nobodies. Unless you count writing for an animated Nickelodeon series about a farting boy as a proper job.

After a Groundlings reunion where they're billed as "The Others", they decide it's time to aim for the top and they have a script for a TV show, Mr First Lady, that they're going to farm around town to do it. Trouble is, they need a star name attached to it. Hmm. Whom will they try to get on board?

Nobodies is intended to work at many levels. On one level, it's a satire of Hollywood and the TV business, with unsuccessful writers forced to go through all manner of indignities and meetings to try to get their projects made. Their ideas will get rejected and mocked, their lives sneered, right up until the point they could become useful, after which it's all smiles.

On another level, it's a satire of friendships, celebrity or otherwise, the tensions between people who aren't quite best friends but who also aren't distant, and the indignaties of being unsuccessful.

And on another level, it's about various celebs putting their names in quote marks to play hil-ar-ious versions of themselves. This episode we got guest "Jason Bateman", while still to come are "Allison Janney", "Kristen Wiig" and "Kristen Bell". You think I'm joking about this bit, but that's how they're all identified in the end credits.

The trouble is that Nobodies is funny at none of these levels. Not one. Not until a guest star turns up. "Jason Bateman" was actually very funny, playing basketball and getting a crippling knee injury; "Rudolph", "Faxon" and "Rash" - you can see why they've done well for themselves.

Then it's Davidson, Dorf and Ramras again and you can tell instantly why they are the Paul Shearers of this world, while Faxon, Rash and Rudolph are the Fry, Laurie, Slattery and Thompsons. Is Melissa McCarthy making this series just so everyone knows by reflection why she's doing so well right now? Maybe not, but it certainly feels like it by the end.

There's a certain accuracy to the friendships in Nobodies, at least, so it's not a complete loss, if you do accidentally watch it. But, honestly, if you do watch, you'll just be encouraging Davidson, Dorg and Ramras to try to do more, when they could be getting on with life, doing good as accountants, doctors or dog walkers or something.

March 24, 2017

Review: Iron Fist - Season 1 (Netflix)

Posted on March 24, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Netflix's Marvel's Iron Fist

Marvel took the movie world by storm with The Avengers, a little film one or two of you may have seen. One of the most important aspects of The Avengers was the fact it wasn't the first movie to features its protagonists, all of whom had appeared in the preceding movies Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, either as the leads or as co-stars.

A staple of the comic book world, the crossover was something that had never really been tried in the movie world before and audiences loved it.

With a few reservations. The most notable of these was that there wasn't a huge amount of diversity in that superheroic line up: lots of straight white men as leads and usually as the villains, too, but women, people of colour et al were either in the supporting cast or completely absent. And while the movies have slowly added black characters such as Falcon and Black Panther and bumped up the role of supporting superheroine Black Widow to the point where Captain America: Winter Soldier was as much about her as about Captain America, solo movies with black or female superheroic leads are still a little way off.

So, when Netflix and Marvel announced they would produce a series of comic book TV shows together, three things were almost compulsory. The first was lower budgets. That meant having none of the movie universe characters in any of the shows, which meant having to pick completely new characters. The second was that there would be crossovers, which in turn would lead to one great big TV series featuring all the new heroes. The third was diversity would be key.

And thus we have a new group of superheroes: 'The Defenders'. Not to be confused with 'The Avengers', obviously. The Defenders is also the name of the ultimate TV show at the end of the list.

The sequence started with Daredevil, a really superb opening featuring probably the one character many people would have heard of, thanks in part to the Ben Affleck adaptation over a decade ago. Daredevil's also blind and a lawyer who does pro bono work defending the poor and helpless from big business.

That was quickly followed up with the suprisingly excellent feminist deconstruction of the entire genre, Jessica Jones, and then Luke Cage, an affair almost plotless because rather than being a superhero show, it largely was more interested in discussing black culture, history and what is the true and correct course of action for the modern black man of honour. A quick second season of Daredevil proved less satisfying, as it ditched gritty reality to pit our hero against a bunch of immortal ninja called 'The Hand'.

All the same, for all their pros and cons, diversity - globs of it everywhere.

Which makes Marvel's Iron Fist something of an odd choice. Because although it fits well with Mark Zuckerberg's idea of diversity, it's almost a slap in the face to the other shows' efforts.

Young Danny Rand, the white male son of white corporate mogul billionaries, is on their private jet to China when it crash lands in the mountains of Tibet. Coincidentally, that's just as the mystical city of K'un-L'un appeared from heaven on its 15-year regular cycle, journeying between planes of existence. Taken in by the warrior monks who guard K'un-L'un, the orphaned boy is trained in their ways and eventually succeeds all trials to become 'the Iron Fist', K'un-L'un's 'living weapon' who uses the power of the heart of the Shou-Lao the Undying dragon, to defend the city from the Hand, whenever it appears on Earth.

However, when K'un-L'un returns to the Earthly plane again 15 years later, Danny abandons his post and heads to New York where he discovers the Hand are already in residence at his parents' company, Rand Enterprises. Soon, he must prove who he really is, take back his company from the bad people who now run it, and stop The Hand.

Yep, that's right: Iron Fist wants you to care about boardroom politics and a spoilt, immature billionaire who wants to clear his family name.

Bad decision by Marvel and Netflix? Well, actually, despite some very odd decisions, a very shaky start, and a very long list of flaws, Marvel's Iron Fist turned out to be really, really enjoyable stuff - due in part surprisingly because it features Sacha Dhawan (Outsourced24, The Tractate Middoth, Line of Duty, An Adventure in Time and Space) as a sarcastic warrior monk named after a Swiss ski resort.

Big spoilers after the jump…

Continue reading "Review: Iron Fist - Season 1 (Netflix)"

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