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March 24, 2016

Review: Heartbeat 1x1 (US: NBC; UK: TLC)

Posted on March 24, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share


In the US: Wednesdays, NBC
In the UK: Acquired by TLC. Starts in April

US medical dramas seem to fall into one of two categories: the realistic and the utterly unrealistic. Think ER and Code Black in the first camp, think Grey's Anatomy and House in the second.

The fact that House is in the second camp should be a clue that being utterly unrealistic isn't a bad thing. Given a lot of people die from all manner of unpleasant things in hospitals, unrealistic can be a good way to salve the viewer's wounds by actually having everyone live. You can also have a lot of fun with unrealistic. You can even do smart things with unrealistic. 

Heartbeat is a different kettle of fish. Despite being based on the memoirs of a real-life heart surgeon, it appears to be so unrealistic it operates in some alternative universe. A very stupid one.

Melissa George - you may remember her from Home and Away, The Slap/The Slap (US), Hunted, Alias, In Treatment - plays a top heart surgeon and CIO. Yes, CIO. I'm assuming that means Chief Information Officer in the Heartbeat universe, as it does in ours, but you never know. That means she's in charge of IT for her hospital, and so as well as performing heart transplants, presumably she also does a nifty line in organising service-oriented architectures, iSCSI SANs and business continuity fallover options ("Make sure the back-up data centre isn't in our floodplain! And stat!").

She's the kind of top heart surgeon/CIO who can raise $150 million in a single day for her hospital while still caring about every single heart in her care. Which is amazing, obvs, but wasn't the first clue I was seeing signals broadcast from a parallel universe.

That was in the first two minutes when George gets on plane to go to a conference, where she's to deliver the keynote address. Unfortunately, she finds someone is already sitting in her first class seat. She has her ticket with her, but despite the fact there is literally no way these days for said seat to be double-booked, she ends up in coach.

Then, wouldn't you know it, she has to go back to first class to administer emergency chest surgery with a razor blade - how did they get that on board on the plane? - to the man who was in her seat. But because she's now covered in blood and doesn't have a change of shirt, she has to deliver the keynote… dressed in one of the air hostesses' 1960s-themed uniforms that she's borrowed!

Oh my. What a quirky universe. I wonder how many fundamental forces of nature it has. There's probably a 'weak clown force' mediated by the custard pion, at least.

Back at the hospital, George suddenly finds herself operating in a flashback romcom. There, the equally Australian Don Hany (Serangoon Road, Childhood's End), a surgeon and former flame of George, has just returned, complicating things with the between one and three current and ex-boyfriends/husbands inhabiting George's life.

We flash back to their first meeting a decade ago when she wore what in this universe would be the world's most ridiculous wig. The very Australian Hany knew her dad and is surprised that he can understand the very American-sounding George, given daddy's accent. "Yes, I've been trying to lose my cockney accent… mate," says George.

Wait… what? Is this a joke between Aussies or something? Or is George supposed to be English woman assimilated as an American, rather than an Australian woman assimilated as an American? Is her dad a cockney and in this universe, not only can Australians not understand cockneys but cockneys say, "Mate"? Does that mean Australians don't say 'mate' in this universe?

And so the clues piled up. Soon George is on the roof trying to talk down someone who is going to commit suicide so that his organs will go to a relative. "But wait, Mr Suicide!" says George. "If you jump off a building, the fall will compress all your organs and I won't be able to use them!"

"Good point," says Mr Suicide, who promptly takes out a gun and shoots himself in a head. Whoops! Maybe leave it to the pros next time, Melissa, who, to be honest, doesn't seem that upset about seeing a man blow his brains out right in front of her. I suspect a degree of sociopathy here.

How did Mr Suicide get the gun through all the security? Why did he even think to take the gun with him if he was going to shoot himself in the head? Apparently, there's also a 'strong clown force' and it makes people think in very different ways in this universe.

The trouble with setting a medical drama, rather than an out-and-out comedy, in a universe so clearly very different from our own is that it's hard to take it seriously. This isn't medicine as we know it. These aren't plausible people. They may not even be human. We might as well be watching Doctor Dog, a heart-warming show about a gruff Irish Terrier and his pioneering asthma treatments for gerbils.

It's a shame, because I like George, Hany's a brilliant actor and it's good to have another show with a female lead that isn't just about her love life. But Heartbeat is beyond resuscitation. 

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March 23, 2016

Season review: Daredevil (season two) (Netflix)

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

Daredevil - season 2

In the US/UK: Netflix

While the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been going great guns for the past decade, the Marvel TV world is in a sorry old state, isn't it? Marvel's Agents of SHIELD was largely unwatchable in its first season until Captain America: Winter Soldier gave it a twist that made it really rather good… until the end of the season. Then it all went to pants in season 2 and I didn't even bother with season 3. It's about to get even worse in season 4, by the looks of it, now that the only two decent characters in the show are going to get their own spin-off series, Marvel's Most Wantedleaving the dregs behind.

Meanwhile, Marvel's Agent Carter, while having far more engaging characters than SHIELD and the delights of a post-war setting to play with, had soporific, unengaging storylines. As with SHIELD, a tie in with the MCU gave the first season a welcome twist - a glimpse at the Black Widow training programme in Russia, as well as of one of its graduates

But season two was so dull, I didn't even make it through to the end and chances of the show being renewed are slender.

I did say 'TV' but Netflix is different. It's not TV. Except in Eastern Europe.

Season 1 of Netflix's Marvel's Daredevil is one of the best shows the Internet TV provider has so far produced, while Marvel's Jessica Jones actually managed to exceed it, while simultaneously deconstructing all the assumptions of the superhero genre. Very adult, unencumbered by the restraints of network TV, they make superhero TV shows - and many other dramas - look very inadequate.

When originally announced, Daredevil and Jessica Jones were both part of an attempt to do an MCU-style team-up on Netflix, with the first seasons of those shows to be followed by Marvel's Luke Cage and Marvel's Iron Fist to introduce those superheroes, and then by Marvel's Defenders to bring them all together in one big show. However, both individually proved so popular - Jessica Jones was the top original streamed TV programme in the UK last year - that they've both been renewed for second seasons ahead of schedule.

And now, with Iron Fist himself only just getting cast, here's season two of Daredevil, with blind but superathletic New York lawyer Matt Murdock having to deal with the fall-out from his quest against Kingpin last season, as well as his attempts to escape from his old mentor, Stick. But can the second season match the quality of the first, despite losing showrunner Steven DeKnight? Has it been rushed onto our computer screens too soon? And will Daredevil himself be overshadowed by the season's two guest 'superheroes' - The Punisher and Elektra, both of whom have had their own movies?

Here's a good batch of NSFW trailers for you to enjoy. Discussion after the jump: multiple spoilers ahoy, obviously, so probably best if you watch the entire second season first - unless you don't care about being spoiled, of course.

Continue reading "Season review: Daredevil (season two) (Netflix)"

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March 17, 2016

Review: Criminal Minds - Beyond Borders 1x1 (US: CBS; UK: W)

Posted on March 17, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders

In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, CBS
In the UK: Acquired by W (Watch). No airdate yet

Americans seem to be frightened by pretty much everything. Here's a cartoon that explains the history of American fear:

To be fair, the media does help to make everything in the US seem frightening, so you can't blame them. Fortunately, CBS - the network that likes to conservatively wave a US flag with one hand while firing a 9mm with the other - is ready to first terrify everyone by confirming that everything in the US is indeed very frightening, before reassuring Americans with procedural after procedural that America's finest will catch the baddies.

Fear first, reassurance later. Just trust in the FBI et al and remember to vote against anyone who'd do anything to restrain their unfettered powers. Because then everyone will die. Everyone. They'll just be dead. Because of crime. And maybe the terrorists. And disease. Disease from the terrorists. Who are immigrants.

That's why they gave us Criminal Minds, a show that tries very, very hard to convince us it's about highly intelligent, almost utterly humorless FBI agents who'll protect American lives at all costs from a different dangerous sociopath every week, largely by reciting poetry. In actuality, it's really just mind-numbingly stupid fear-mongering. That hasn't stopped it from milking the fear-reassurance cycle for all its worth for almost as long as this 'ere blog has been running 

Of course, American fear doesn't stop at its borders. After all, no one would even think about building a great big brick wall along those borders if there was nothing out there to be frightened of, would they? Taken, for example, is quite a fun little action movie with a refreshingly unglamorous view of prostitution, violence et al, but which nevertheless considers a trip to Paris to be one of the most terrifyingly dangerous things a teenage American could ever consider doing. Yeah, kid, stay in LA. You'll be a lot safer there.

Once again, then, you have to hand it to CBS for trying to milk this literal xenophobia in as efficient a manner as possible with Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, a spin-off from the mothership of fear. Now, this isn't the first time the network has tried to create a Criminal Minds spin-off: Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior has that honour, in which a rapid FBI anti-sociopath reaction force did the Criminal Minds formula just faster and with less blinking, as Forest Whitaker was in the cast. That rightfully died a fiery death in the ratings.

However, CBS is the king of spin-offs, having managed to get four extra shows out of CSI and about seventy out of NCIS. If at first it doesn't succeed, it'll iterate until it gets it right.

So first, as is now traditional with CBS spin-offs, we got an in-show pilot to test the waters for Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders. This features series lead, the faux king of the flag-waving patriotsCSI: NY lead Gary Sinise - and the rest of the potential new show's cast. 

That proved popular - or unhateful - enough for the show to go to full season, although either Anna Gunn had enough sense to jump ship first or the powers that be decided that she wasn't hot enough and brought in Forever's Alana de la Garza to replace her. 

Now, a full year later and we have the whole thing in its magnificent "Fear foreigners! America is best! Trust the FBI!" glory. The show's basic set-up is simple. Once again, it seems people are bored by Criminal Minds's pensive slowness so we have yet another rapid reaction force out to stop baddies. However, here, the FBI have their own shiny jet that allows them to go anywhere they want in the world to rescue Americans in trouble while simultaneously being as patronising and as racist as possible to everyone they come across.

In this first proper episode of Criminal Minds: Without Jurisdiction, we travel to Thailand - apparently now the top place for murders against Americans, not Chicago - to search for three disappeared American teenagers. Yes, three teenagers have gone missing and before even a bored, overworked US Embassy official can get away from having to deal with lost passports to see if they've simply gone to a local bar, the FBI are swooping in with their mighty jet on a no-expense spared mission to save them from their unknown fate/bar. Imagine what would happen if an American's iPhone battery ran out in Spain at the same time and Find A Friend stopped working. Would the FBI be able to cope, as it mobilised seven divisions to locate him? He can only hope - and that they bring the right kind of charging cable with them because it wasn't clear if he had an iPhone 4 or an iPhone 5 when they set out.

Anyway, before you know it, Sinise, his regulation manly, running underling (Daniel Henney), his regulation nerdy medical girl underling (Annie Funke), his regulation black bow-tie wearing tech underling (Tyler James Williams) and his regulation hot girl/cultural guide (de la Garza) are zooming around Thailand, insulting the poplace. "It's not the Thai police force's job to help Americans in trouble. It's our job," says Sinise. Erm, no, it is their job. You can check. And actually, it's definitely not your job now you're in Thailand. 

Meanwhile, de la Garza is advising everyone not to shake hands with the opposite gender because it's taboo in Thailand. Can we not do it anyway, just to show them how backward they are and how great American women are, the others wonder?

Bring them out of the middle ages just like that? De la Garza laughs at their naivety. These people are primitive and always will be. They can't be expected to be as great as the 13th best country in the world for women, even if they do get paid maternity leave, unlike American women.

She should know: she's just spent the last five weeks learning three new languages including Thai, while studying their philosophies of life and death. Look, she'll even do a Criminal Minds-proper and quote some Thai wisdom, which we'll stick on the screen to impress the viewers into thinking they're watching something smart, rather than something insanely dumb.

And then they go off and shoot things, while trying very, very hard to pretend they're smart and can read books without moving their lips.

This feels like the kind of show that's going to fail very quickly. More so, it's going to fail in part because it feels like Team America crossed with Life, The Universe And Everything, with Team Sinise going from country to country, shooting and insulting them in order, like some procedural Wowbagger The Infinitely Prolonged. And how are the foreign sales going to shape up after a season of that?

Still, Criminal Minds - which has the intellect of someone who's had their brain methodically scooped out and replaced by a combination of raspberry jelly and the Cliff's Notes for Keats' Ode On a Grecian Urn - is still going after 10 seasons, so it's entirely possible that something that sticks so close to its formula, manages to get a cameo-blessing from Joe Mantegna and allows Americans to feel simultaneously smuggly superior about their superb law enforcement services and frightened by all backward foreigners everywhere, is going to survive. 

I hope not, though.

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