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April 7, 2016

Review: Wynonna Earp 1x1 (Canada: CHCH)

Posted on April 7, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Wynonna Earp

In Canada: Mondays, 9pm, CHCH
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Into every generation a slayer is born: one girl in all the world, a chosen one. She alone will wield the strength and skill to fight the vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness; to stop the spread of their evil and the swell of their number. She is the Slayer.

As we discovered back when Marvel's Jessica Jones first aired, there's an almost automatic tendency to compare pretty much any supernatural show that

  1. Is about a young heroine…
  2. Who fights some kind of supernatural enemy of some kind…
  3. While dealing with relationship issues, particularly a single foxy man…
  4. While dealing with family issues, sisters and girlfriends…

…to Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I think that's partly because there isn't a large enough 'dictionary' of comparisons yet. Maybe soon people will be able to think of sufficient shows with female leads that Buffy won't simply be the first one everyone can name.

All the same, watching Wynonna Earp, CHCH's co-prod with the US Syfy channel that adapts the comic of the same name, I'm beginning to wonder if Buffy in some way almost created a Joseph Campbell-style template for 'the heroine's journey' that through some form of morphic resonance has slowly become almost the only way for people to think about shows of this kind. 

Okay, Wynonna Earp is from the same producer as Lost Girl, so maybe it's just personal taste at work - that wasn't exactly a million miles from the Buffy template and reading back over my original review of that piece of fantasy tatt that I'd largely forgotten, pretty much all the criticisms I had are the same.

But here's the summary of Beau Smith's comic from which it was adapted:

Wynonna is a present-day descendant of the famous lawman Wyatt Earp, and she's the top special agent for a special unit known within the US Marshals known as The Monster Squad. She battles such supernatural threats as Bobo Del Rey and his redneck, trailer-trash vampires that are pushing a new killer designer drug called "Hemo", and the Egyptian Mafia's mummy hitman, Raduk, Eater Of The Dead, who's out to do in all the other crime bosses. In her subsequent adventures she finished some outstanding Earp family business while dealing with Hillbilly Gremlins, and Zombie Mailmen alongside her fellow Marshalls.

And here's the plot of the TV series, which oddly enough for a Western about a famous American lawman, is set in Alberta, Canada:

Wynonna Earp is a modern supernatural western that takes place among the foothills and badlands of Alberta. Our lead Wynonna was raised on an Alberta ranch but is indeed the great great granddaughter of famous lawman Wyatt Earp. When Wynonna returns to her hometown of Purgatory, Alberta on her 27th birthday, she learns that that she is heir to not only Wyatt’s near mythic abilities but also to a family curse that she had been taught to believe was only a myth. Unfortunately for Wynonna, the Earp Curse is real. Each generation since Wyatt’s death, the heir must battle Wyatt’s legendary old West enemies: demons who rise from hell, again and again. But with the help of a mysterious but familiar figure from the past and an agent from a covert joint task force, Wynonna is determined to end the curse once and for all.

See what I mean? They've actually done a lot of tinkering with the plot of the comic to make it Buffy… on a Canadian farm. Okay, it's not identical, because while Wynonna (Melanie Scrofano from The Listener) can do all kinds of acrobatic gymnastics and martial arts like Buffy, she can only kill the demons using Earp's gun, which is a straight lift from Supernatural.

But she's snarky and feisty and objects to being a slayer; she's got an annoying little sister (England's own Dominique Provost-Chalkley); there's a hot bloke of questionable loyalties for her to fight with/alongside (Shamier Anderson); there's a Big Bad to fight (Tim Rozon from Schitt's Creek); there's various guys she was with at high school to taunt; and more.

It's Buffy… on a Canadian farm. Except not even that good. The fight scenes are appalling - possibly the worst I've ever seen, and they couldn't make the wirework more obvious if they'd covered the wires in little flags with Sarah-Michelle Gellar's face on them. The acting is another order of awful beyond awful, particularly from Scrofano. The mythology is so derivative and uninvolving, it makes Demons look like Eraserhead. It's sexy, sexy times are more embarrassing than Hex's. 

I know it's supposed to be a bit of comic book fun, but only the villains seem to know this. Everyone else seems to think they're dealing with Tolstoy… and they're all reciting it as fluently as they would with Tolstoy in the original Russian.

Shoot the lot of them, I say.

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April 1, 2016

Review: Rush Hour 1x1 (US: CBS; UK: E4)

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

 Rush Hour

In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, CBS
In the UK: Acquired by E4. Begins 9pm, April 19 (probably)

The original Rush Hour, a 1998 action comedy in which black US cop Chris Tucker forges an unlikely buddy-buddy relationship with Chinese cop Jackie Chan, was a huge hit, earning US$244m at the box office as well as two sequels. The big mystery was why. Why was this most average of movies such a big hit?

Tucker, after all, is a candidate for an award for 'most annoying human being on the face of the planet'.

Chan, of course, is great. Or at least was, back in his 1980s Hong Kong heyday. But in Rush Hour, older and, as with most Asian action cinema stars In Western movies, slower, he's not that impressive. He's still Jackie Chan but he's no Drunken Master any more, certainly.

Then there's the script, which is borderline offensive most of the time.

And lastly (well, I could go on, but I won't) there's Brett Ratner's average direction, Ratner as we've already established being the world's most average directorRush Hour in no way disproved this theory.

It's just blah. So why so popular? I can only assume that it was either Chan's mere presence in a movie or the fact it had a black and an Asian lead, was enough to make audience hungry for such mainstream rarities willing to watch pretty much anything - much like men in deserts with nothing to drink for days will imbibe almost anything they're given, even Irn Bru.

If only there were a way to test.

Guess what. There is. It's Rush Hour, CBS's 'reimagining' of the original movie. Again, why bother, given how average the original was? I'm not sure, but that boat has sailed already. It's here. Now we have to deal with it as it puts into port.

Rush Hour the series sees London's own Jon Foo (from Jackie Chan's own House of Fury) in the Chan role of a Hong Kong detective coming over to the US to investigate the theft of some terracotta soldiers on loan to a Los Angeles museum… as well as the murder of his cop sister. He's partnered with LAPD detective Justin Hires (21 Jump Street) and wouldn't you know it, there's a clash of cultures, as the straight-laced Foo has to deal with Americans and their way informal ways, Hires having to adapt to the Chinese habit of kicking everyone else in the head every 10 minutes. Together they have to form a partnership to take down the bad guys, and wouldn't you know, it by the end of the pilot episode, they're partners for real.

Now you'd think that bereft of Tucker and Ratner, the Rush Hour format could only get better. But no. While Hires isn't even a fraction as annoying as Tucker, he's an appalling and uncharismatic actor. His dialogue might not be as overtly racist as Tucker's was in the movie, but appropriately enough, he still sounds like he's been given a black 90s stand-up's lines ("You see white people? They go like this… You see black people? They go like this…").

Meanwhile, it's a little unclear whether Foo is simply taking "stiff and formal" a little too literally and behaving like he's made of formica or if he simply can't act. To his credit, he's clearly a good martial artist, but he's only technically good, capable of hurting people fluidly, but not charismatic or entertaining. Despite one or two attempts to go full Hong Kong with props, this is certainly not the new Martial Law.

It's not even Into The Badlands.

Otherwise, despite the CBS budget, this is straight to syndication B-material, the sort of thing that makes you yearn for the days of The Adventures of Sinbad and Queen of Swords. No one's trying very hard with the plot or the action scenes, the dialogue tries to be a bit racist but its heart isn't really in it, and the supporting cast are more watchable than the leads but only just.

It's not terrible: you can have it flicking across your TV screen, grabbing 8% of your attention while you do a crossword or repot some plants, and you won't feel motivated to slit your own throat or even change channel. But there's literally nothing to recommend it, nothing for you to highlight as a reason to watch it if anyone asks.

So if it succeeds, I think we can put it down to the scarcity of stories with black and Asian leads; if it fails, we can all appreciate how even on his worst day, Jackie Chan was just box office dynamite.

March 31, 2016

Review: Lopez 1x1 (US: TV Land)

Posted on March 31, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

George Lopez

In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, TV Land

There was a time when watching stars play fake versions of themselves in comedies, particularly eponymous comedies, was almost daring. Gasp! They're mocking themselves! Gasp! They're doing bad things! Gasp! He's roped in all his mates to do the same thing!

I can't remember exactly when that time started - The Larry Sanders Show, maybe? - but if you think about how much fun Patrick Stewart was in Extras, for example, you'll know what I mean. However, it's pretty much definitely finished now. Thanks to the likes of Hoff The Record and Donny!, just the sight of an eponymously titled show makes we groan inwardly. Can't they think of anything new to do? Do they think this is still daring? Can't they think of some actual lines or funny situations that don't rely on the star playing themselves to yield the laughs?

Certainly, that's how I felt going into Lopez, TV Land's new comedy series starring George Lopez. I mean, I'd not even heard of him, so how funny was this going to be?

Surprisingly, the answer is quite funny. Not hilarious, but still funny and in fact frequently incisive. As you might have gathered, the shows sees Lopez, the star of many previous eponymous shows including George Lopez and Saint George, playing a version of himself who's rich, famous and living the celebrity lifestyle in Los Angeles. He sends his daughter to an expensive private school - so expensive, it actually has its own valet service - and he has lots of similarly rich and famous friends, including Snoop Dogg (or should that be 'Snoop Dogg' in this instance?). 

He's also got problems with his white neighbours who think that everything he says is racist. He's got problems with the esteemed former mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa ('Antonio Villaraigosa'?). He's also got problems with Snoop Dogg, as well as a black friend of his, who doesn't want to bid for him in a 'celebrity assistant for a day' auction to raise money for the private school.

In a summary, that doesn't quite work and that's in part because the writing is more about details. Sometimes, it's simply knowing what it's talking about in detail, such as when Lopez has to deal with his young manager as they negotiate for an endorsement from a young Vine star

Manager: I'm trying to see if he can go from 6 to 15.

Lopez: I don't understand that.

Manager: 6 seconds is how long a Vine video can be, 15 is how long an Instagram video can be - I want to see if he can still hold the audience's attention.

Lopez: You're kidding?

Manager: You're right. 10 might be better - I should consider Snapchat.

It's when Lopez's spoilt daughter is objecting to his appearing in the auction ("Can't you just give them a château or a private chef like all the other parents do?"). It's the references to black and Mexican culture and the various societal rules ("I can't bid for you in an auction: that would be like that Disney cartoon where Goofy owns a dog"). It's the meaningless phrases that Snoop Dogg comes up with that baffle everyone, but they assume are just street slang.

To some extent, it shouldn't be too surprising that Lopez is a lot better than you might have suspected - it's created and written by John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky, who co-created Silicon Valley and King of the Hill. And there are sufficient laughs for me to definitely consider watching more. It's also a lot more than yet another old guy gets angry at the world for its various perceived slights against him and is a lot warmer and nicer than those potted bits of comic misanthropy.

However, for you UK readers, the biggest problem is that watching it, if you're like me, you'll feel like how the average American must feel when they watch Downton Abbey - aware that there's a lot of cultural niceties that the native audience understand instinctively but which are going over my head, yet not quite sure what they are. On top of that, Lopez himself is almost completely unknown here, so again, it's like those episodes of Extras in which Ross Kemp or Les Dennis played themselves.

So although I'd say Lopez is actually pretty good and worth trying, I'm not sure I feel compelled to watch it in the same way I would with a more universal comedy. Give it a try, though - it might surprise you, particularly if you're American and so might get a lot more from it.

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