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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.

April 21, 2016

Review: Containment 1x1 (US: The CW; UK: E4)

Posted on April 21, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The CW's Containment

In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, The CW
In the UK: Acquired by E4 for Summer airing

Normally, the way this blog works is that I scour the world looking for TV shows that you all might want to watch (or avoid) and review them. Then, at some indeterminate point in the future, maybe a few months later, maybe not at all, eventually they'll arrive on some UK TV channel or Internet service and, maybe you'll look back and read what I said about them, to see if they're worth watching (or avoiding).

As you can imagine, with that kind of top editorial USP and universal appeal, TMINE has become one of the top traffic destinations on the Internet, as well as a veritable ad magnet, and I've become famous. Normal people can hardly spend a day without mentioning how much they like TMINE in regular conversation down the pub, launderette or wherever. Why just today, I was talking to someone I've worked with for about four years about top US TV shows and I mentioned that I always watched the first three episodes of any TV show to see whether it's good or bad.

"Do you?" she said, obviously bewildered why anyone would do that. 

That's how famous the Carusometer and Barrometer have made me.

Anyway, with Containment, most of you will probably be able to turn the tables on me. The CW's latest show - its third and final new one this year - sees the outbreak of a lethal new disease in Atlanta that can be communicated by bodily fluids or contact. So quickly does it spread, the government decides that everyone walking four to six feet apart from one another isn't enough and it needs to quarantine the outbreak, so sticks a great big fence round it.

Some people, most of them young and pretty, get stuck on the outside; some people, most of them young and pretty, get stuck on the inside - usually, relationship partners get stuck on the opposite sides of the fence (what are the odds of that?). Is that going to be enough to stop the virus? Will everyone be reunited after a couple of days when the fence comes down, as the government promises? And just how many relationships will get started or ended by the quarantine?

Well, if the flashforward to Day 3 at the start and end of the first episode is anything to go by, it'll be just three small notches down the Bad Things scale from 'Zombie Apocalypse' by that point.

So why will you be able to turn the tables on me? Well, what if I give you the hint that everyone keeps talking about a 'cordon sanitaire' and 'inside the cordon'?

Yes, that's right. It's an adaptation of Belgian drama Cordon, which you all probably watched on BBC Four last year:

I didn't. I'd tried Salamander. That was the best Belgium had to offer. It was rubbishCordon was second choice, so why bother with that, hey?

So was it good then? Does it end well? I've read Wiki about it now, and this seems pretty close to it so far, which means you probably know better than I do whether Containment is going to be good, as I've only seen the first episode.

Anyway, this is semi-pants, semi-good, and I say this as someone with a repeatedly self-professed love for the 'killer virus' genre. Despite largely having a cast of Brits, Australians and Canadians all struggling to survive, it's basically a CW/American-isation of a more adult Euro-thriller.

David Gyasi (Apparitions, Cloud Atlas, Interstellar) is the noble cop struggling to keep his community and his relationship together, while he tries to work out the true agenda of the ambivalent and strangely stern government doctor running things, Claudia Black (Stargate, Farscape); Chris Wood (The Vampire Diaries) is his pal cop, oddly resentful he's trapped inside the hot zone with cute single parent teacher Kristen Gutoskie (Beaver Falls, Republic of Doyle); Hanna Mangan Lawrence (Spartacus) is the pregnant teenager on the run who's now trapped in the city; and George Young (The Brian Jackson Show) is the plucky Brit doctor trying to come up with a cure.

The show is often at pains to do the least interesting, most soapiest thing possible, cutting away as soon as "the science part" begins to have someone sulking like a teenager who's not allowed to play on the XBox again until they've done their homework because killer viruses are, like, just so unfair, dad. Vectors and proteins aren't anywhere near as interesting as wondering how this 100% fatal killer virus outbreak makes you feel about your relationship, is it, not when those relationships are so 100% completely predictable?

There is a slightly offensive part (imported and translated into 'merican from Cordon's Afghan) that has the killer virus, which turns out to have been weaponised, being brought into the US by a Syrian refugee. From both Wiki and the show's own production notes, which reveal that journalist Trevor St John (One Life To Live) is going to pop up in later episodes, suspicious of the government's story, it seems this is a bit of a ruse, so I'm not going to get too het up about it, but it's notable that the muslim family are the first ones under suspicion and carted off to quarantine.

But those problems aside, it's not as much of a clunker as it could have been, certainly not compared to Between, the almost platonic CW ideal of Containment. It's a bit more gruesome and death-filled than you might expect; it is actually filmed in Atlanta and while it's not quite 54% black and no one's doing a Georgia accent, the cast is reasonably diverse; there is some science in there; some of the dialogue is occasionally pretty good; and there's the occasional scene that touches on the frightening. I'm sure the conspiracy theory is going to turn out to be insanely ridiculous, but we've not had to endure that yet, and it all seems moderately enticing at the moment.

If there's nothing better on and you've not seen Cordon, give Containment a go to see if it's to your liking - it's a 'limited series' so hopefully won't take up too much of your life if you decide to stick with it, too. But Containment is a low-rent US adaptation of a low-rent Belgian TV show in the scheme things, so don't have great expectations going in - especially not if you already know how the original ends.

April 15, 2016

Review: Game of Silence 1x1-1x2 (US: NBC)

Posted on April 15, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Game of Silence

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

For some time now, I've been banging on about how Turkey was the new hot country for adaptations in the US: Son, The End and The Edge were all being worked upon for US TV just a couple of years ago. Of course, you must have been thinking I was barking mad because there have been literally no US adaptations of Turkish TV shows since then.

But look! Here's one! I was right! I was right! I'm not crazy at all!

Game of Silence is based on Show TV's multi-award winning 2012 show Suskunlar, which ran for 56 episodes over two seasons. It, in turn, was based on the true story of four boys who were sentenced in absentia to nine years in prison for (allegedly) stealing baklava. Yep. Kids. Nine years. Baklava. That's a pudding, in case you didn't know, and that's Turkey for you, in case you don't remember Midnight Express.

Anyway, all manner of horrible things happen to the kids while they're in prison, including a whole bunch of things they don't want to tell anyone about. Then a couple of decades later, one of them comes across one of their abusers in the street and before you know it, kills him. He's arrested and so he and his friends call their errant upmarket lawyer friend to defend him. Except it turns out that the dead man had all manner of criminal friends and… well, you can guess the rest.

Here's a trailer for Suskunlar:

Relocating the action to Houston, Game of Silence is pretty faithful to Suskunlar, giving us the same format of three poorer boys/men (Michael Raymond-James, Larenz Tate, Derek Phillips), one lawyer boy/man (David Lyons from Revolution and Sea Patrol), one girl/woman (Bre Blair from The Unit) they grew up with, one nasty child prison (the daftly named 'Quitman') and all manners of secrets catching up with them all in the present day. The boys cause a fatal car crash in the US version that winds them up in the jail, and we get frequent flashbacks to before and after.

But it's also a modern day thriller, as Lyons tries to persuade his childhood friends when they come to him for help that killing everyone is probably a bad idea and that they need to build a legal case against the former governor of the prison (Conor O'Farrell) and his various cronies. They, in turn, are being chased by both cop Deidrie Henry, who suspects they have secrets, and their now grown-up fellow dormie and criminal gang leader Demetrius Grosse (Banshee, Justified).

Despite all the odds, Game of Silence is pretty good and while it has a few problems, quite a lot of them stem from the bits of the original that don't quite work in the US - US prisons have a lot of problems, Turkish prisons have a lot of problems, but those problems aren't necessarily the same. Maybe I'm wrong, but prison-organised fight clubs, murders and child abuse parties with local dignataries probably weren't going down in the late 80s, even in Texas. 

That aside, I did enjoy the slow pace of the show, the insistence (at this stage) of not going revenge-happy but sticking to the characters' beliefs, the nostalgia-tinged, almost Stephen King-ish flashbacks to the 80s, complete with Depeche Mode et al soundtrack. I also like the surprising daring of the show - sure, it doesn't show everything happening, but it really doesn't pull any punches in terms of what it implies. Indeed, it's almost a 15-rated Sleepers:

The trouble is that there's not much about it that's enjoyable. Everyone's miserable. Fair dos - who wouldn't be? But unless your idea of fun is a joyless revenge thriller about childhood abuse, with subdued, non-descript, traumatised characters, Game of Silence is going to be a hard slog over numerous hours of TV, rather than just a single movie. Still, as joyless revenge thrillers go, this is definitely one of the better ones.

April 14, 2016

Review: The Detour 1x1-1x2 (US: TBS)

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

The Detour

In the US: Mondays, 9/8c, TBS
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Jason Jones and Samantha Bee were two of the best correspondents The Daily Show has had in the past 10 years. Will anyone top Bee's interpretative dance version of Fox News' The Five (1m25s in)?

I think not. 

However, like a lot of people, the husband and wife team quit The Daily Show last year to do their own thing on TBS. Bee, of course, now has her own talk show, Full Frontal:

But she's also been co-producing and writing with Jones a TBS sitcom in which he stars: The Detour. It's a bit hard to describe The Detour. On the face of it, it's a bit like National Lampoon's Vacation, with Jones and wife Natalie Zea (Dirty Sexy Money, Justified, The Following) taking their kids on holiday, encountering all manner of disasters along the way, ranging from accidentally crashing their car through smoking too much pot at a cheap hotel all the way to being suspected of child abduction.

But it's a bit more complicated in set-up than that. Like the decidedly more grown up The Affair and True Detective, it's book-ended by scenes in a police interrogation room, with Jones being interrogated by a federal agent (Mary Grill). Why? We don't know yet. There are also flashbacks to Jones losing his job, which is the reason they're having to drive rather than fly.

What it ultimately comes down to, though, unsurprisingly, is both marriage and parenting. It's much funnier with the latter than the former, where it's mostly jokes about miscommunication, sex, dissatisfaction with sex, not being able to rely on your partner, and so on - nothing you won't have seen dozens of times before.

But the parenting side of things is a bit more fun, just in terms of what it tries to do, with everything from accidentally taking your kids to a strip joint to how to stop them accessing the Internet and seeing porn. Again, it's not the edgiest stuff but it feels a little more honest than a lot of shows I could mention.

Jones and Zea are fine and are just about plausible as a married couple. There's the occasionally surprising cameo in the guest cast (episode 2 has Beverly Hills Cop's Judge Reinhold as an innuendo-addicted gay motor mechanic). It's not amazing comedy, but if you want a TV version of National Lampoon's Vacation that's better than the recent movie, The Detour might be worth a try.

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