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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.

April 14, 2016

Review: Hunters 1x1 (US: Syfy)

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

Hunters

In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, Syfy
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Although there seems to be terrorism in virtually every TV show these days, producers still face a quandry when including it in their shows. On the one hand, having a small group of people as antagonists makes it quite handy to use in drama. And there aren't that many people out there who think that attacking and killing civilians is a good thing, so terrorists can usually be portrayed as the bad guys without anyone objecting.

On the other hand, terrorism is complicated. Terrorists' motivations are complicated, usually informed by centuries of history and culture. Avoid the necessary level of depth needed to show that and your drama suddenly looks shallow and naive. Indeed, because of terrorism's ubiquity in TV shows, you also have to be careful not to feed into racism and stereotypes by having, for example, YA bunch of Arab muslims suicide-bombing their way around the US while a plucky bunch of usually white, straight, American men save the day.

Hunters thinks its hit on a way out of this dilemma. A drama about terrorism that no one can be offended by because the terrorists are aliens. Probably. They're not human anyway. So if they go around doing terrorist things, who cares if we kill them or don't think too hard about their motivations? No one can complain that we're insensitive to their culture, either, because their culture is whatever we've said it is.

Brilliant.

Well, no, because 'alien terrorists' already sounds like complete bobbins. Alien terrorists? If they can make it to Earth, they can probably nuke it from a light year away, too. Why are they just trying to frighten people?

But even beyond that base coat of daftness, Hunters seems entirely determined to be as generic as possible. Within the first five minutes, the show has already plundered Alien, Aliens and Predator for visual style, set-ups for scenes and even sound effects, and that's before we even get introduced to the ultra-generic idea for the show: there's a top team of anti-terrorism soldiers armed with special anti-alien weapons and they go around secretly trying to stop the aliens like they're in some kind of first-person shooter. There's naturally a whole big bunch of white guys doing most of the heavy lifting, but just to make it less obvious, there's two black people and a woman, although cunningly, one of the two black people is the woman, so that's good quota work.

At the same time, because it's still not quite square-jawed and manly enough already, there's a former soldier turned FBI agent (Nathan Phillips), whose wife is kidnapped by the chief alien (Julian McMahon) and spends most of the episode trussed up and naked in a cage while Phillips tracks her down. How much do you want a bet he ends up joining the team?

In case McMahon's presence doesn't give you a clue, since there's nothing quite like saying "science fiction" and "filmed in Australia" to summon him like some antipodean Candyman, Hunters is one of the new breed of Syfy shows filmed in Australia, rather than Canada like everything else before mid-2015. Indeed, the show is so replete with Australian actors with only semi-convincing US accents, it feels like the cast of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries is having a theme party. Seriously, they've all been in it at some point. The only exception is Mark Coles Smith (The Gods of Wheat Street, Old School) - not total exception, since he's been in Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, too, but he's "on loan from Australian special forces" so doesn't even have to bother trying to fake a US accent.

The show desperately wants to be dark and gritty and adult, with gore, horror, sex, nudity and swearing. Unfortunately, it's also the kind of show that has Julian McMahan as an alien DJ with dreadlocks who leaps from tree to tree using bad wirework and sends messages to fellow aliens using OMD's "Maid of Orleans". I kid you not. I kid you not again when I tell you that's the best thing about Hunters, too.

Did the producers mishear WMD, do you think? "The terrorists have OMDs."

On top of all this, there are all sorts of mysteries that are supposed to grab our attentions. Who is the alien among them? Why do the aliens want Phillips' wife? What do the aliens want? Are they even aliens or are they mutated humans or something even odder?

I'm not sure it matters, since it'll just involve our inept secret team of cipherous secret soldiers who like to go around deserted warehouses at nights by themselves, rather than as a unit, shooting aliens and getting fake blood everywhere, all without any intelligent thoughts between them. So I'm giving Hunters a miss.

UPDATE: Apparently, they're not stopping at OMD

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