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January 4, 2016

Preview: Idiotsitter 1x1 (US: Comedy Central)

Posted on January 4, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Idiotsitter

In the US: Thursdays, 10.30/9.30c, Comedy Central. Starts January 14

So here's something you probably already know: women have friends. Some of them even have best friends. They have great laughs together, nourish each other's soul, yadda yadda. 

However, TV history isn't exactly replete with female friendships, particularly not ones written by women and especially not as the central relationships of TV shows. You may be able to think of an Ethel and Lucy or two, but until recently, TV hasn't considered them worth writing about.

Now we have a whole new generation of actresses and comediennes, mostly in the US, creating and starring in TV shows with their female friends. Idiotsitters is just such a show, created by and starring Jillian Bell and Charlotte Newhouse, as two ill-matched soon-to-be best friends.

And just like Doll and EmBest Friends Forever and Playing House, it's utterly tedious and unfunny to anyone who isn't the show's two leads/creators/writers or who has a similar relationship with her own best friend ("Yes, that's just like us! Isn't it? Isn't it?! I must text her about it… Hey she's watching it TOO!!! Jinx!").

The story is that Newhouse is a Harvard-educated academic who desperately needs a job, so goes for an interview as a babysitter. There she discovers that she'll actually be looking after the grown-up daughter of two very rich, very eccentric people, said daughter (Bell) being that strangely insulated kind of offspring of rich people who's so cut off from the real world, she comes across as being either a complete idiot or having learning disabilities. She might actually even have learning disabilities, so nuanced is Bell's performance. All Newhouse has to do is keep her out of trouble. 

You can imagine how that goes. Imagine the funny situations. Imagine the laughs as they quote Dirty Dancing and baby-talk to one another. Imagine the belly aching as Bell encourages Newhouse to break her hand for her to explain to the cops why she broke her probation or as Newhouse discovers she was given a date rape drug during a party.

Struggling? Well, maybe you just don't have that kind of relationship with your best friend. Or perhaps you've seen a genuinely funny comedy at some time during your life on this Earth.

There are people who already find this funny. It was, after all, a web series before getting a broadcast commission, so clearly had one or two viewers at least. I can't imagine they were all Bell and Newhouse's friends and families either.

But this is not a show with universal appeal, shall we say? It's clear that Bell and Newhouse are having a whole lot of fun together. Perhaps that's part of the problem - there's clearly no genuine tension between the ill-matched couple, no real dislike, no real despair on Newhouse's part at the situation in which she's landed up in, no real suggestion of malice by anyone. Instead, it's like watching two tweens playing dressing up and play-acting. 

And maybe that's the lesson for us all - never make a TV comedy with someone you're already friends with, since you're always going to be enjoying it more than the audience will be.

January 4, 2016

Review: Cooper Barrett's Guide to Surviving Life 1x1 (US: Fox)

Posted on January 4, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Cooper Barrett's Guide to Surviving Life

In the US: Sundays, 8.30/7.30c, Fox

So I'm going to stick my neck out a bit and admit that despite all my principles and natural inclinations, I think The Hangover is a funny movie. Yes, The Hangover 2 is The Hangover again but set in Asia and a bit more racist, and The Hangover 3 isn't funny at all and actually wants to be a heist movie. But although it's a bit misogynistic and racist at times, The Hangover is frequently hilarious, often clever, and justifiably made stars of Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis and Ken Leung.

Unfortunately, it spawned an awful lot of clones and wannabes, aimed at different demographics, whether it was teenage boys, teenage girls, older men, older women or any other exciting group with cash you'd like to name. Fortunately, being an R-rated comedy getting its laughs from R-rated situations, it failed to attract many TV copycats.

Until now. Now, we have Cooper Barrett's Guide To Surviving Life on Fox. They've even got in Justin Bartha - who played "the guy who never got to have any fun" in all three Hangovers - to play "the guy who never gets to have any fun" in this, too. They just haven't got in any R-rated comedy. Or much comedy.

The basic premise is that Cooper Barrett (Jack Cutmore-Scott), like a lot of young men his age, has just graduated college but doesn't know what to do with his life. As a result, he is about to embark on a career of dead-end jobs to subsidise his intensive console game and TV viewing existence. Rather than doing what his parents might have done (moving to Manhattan and meeting a lot of people his own age who really like sitting around drinking coffee all day), he moves in with two of his college room-mates (James Earl and Charlie Saxton). To pay for his high-ambitions, low-income existence, he relies on his rich brother (Bartha), who wants to live the care-free 20s he never had vicariously through Barrett and his friends partying. 

Meanwhile, across the hall from them is new neighbour Meaghan Rath (Being Human (US), Banshee), who has similar issues when it comes to growing up, including hiding in the tumble dryer to avoid having to dump her boyfriend, and the group soon forms a platonic 'bromance'. 

All of this starts in 2011 with a Hangover-style party, the events of which no one can remember. After that, the subsequent events to the present day are then told in flashback, the series's somewhat nebulous concept being that in a Ferris Bueller/Parker Lewis-style, Barrett gives us the lessons in life that he's learnt from experiences such as being kidnapped by some UFC fighters, dealing with his stupid room-mates flatscreen TV obsession or kissing Rath.

He's not learnt very much so far, though, so it's not so much a Guide To Surviving Life as a guide to things you shouldn't do that you already knew you shouldn't do. Maybe that's the same thing on Fox.

Barrett himself is quite a dull character. He would be the Bradley Cooper character of the piece, but that's all been transferred to Bartha, leaving no personality except well meaning intentions. Bartha's more amusing but largely through being older yet being in young situations, rather than because of any good lines he gets. Earl and Saxton have thankless Hangover cast-off roles, too - Earl being the spaced-out Galifiankis character who's an a-hole and gets everyone into trouble, Saxton being the Ed Helm pushover nerd who no one likes and is put upon by women.

The show's saving grace - and almost sole departure from the Hangover formula - is Rath, who provides a much-needed female viewpoint and charisma, even if she doesn't get as much to work with as Zooey Deschanel does in a similar situation in New Girl

Given how offensively bad/offensive other Hangover clones have turned out, Cooper Barrett's Guide to Surviving Life is by no means awful and even has the odd moment of charm, wit and intelligence. But those moments are rare and there's too little individuality or originality to the show.

Most importantly of all, Cooper Barrett might want to offer us his guide to surviving life, but I'm not sure anyone would want to follow his advice.

December 17, 2015

Review: The Magicians 1x1 (US: Syfy)

Posted on December 17, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Magicians

In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, Syfy. Starts January 25 2016
In the UK: Not yet acquired

From many points of view, most of them commercial, Harry Potter was a great franchise. It made it to seven books and eight movies for starters, which very few other franchises managed to achieve; it also managed to reach that end point without getting worse - in some ways it even got better - which is practically unique, unless you're a dyed in the wool Fast and the Furious or Friday the 13th fan.

But it did finish, which is an obvious problem. It was also for kids and starred kids, who as well as appreciably getting older over time, precluded any possibility of sexy time except in the darkest, nastiest niches of Internet fan fiction. It was also about English people.

As such, The Magicians is an obvious attempt to fix all those issues while sticking as close to the Harry Potter template as possible. Based on the series of novels by Lev Grossman, it sees the daftly named Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph), a fantasy-book reading college graduate, discover that magic isn't just tricks involving coins - it's real.

As there's a university that offers a postgraduate course in magic, he enrolls at this 'Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy' to be trained as a magician and to maybe make sexy time with the witches. Unfortunately for Quentin, his childhood friend Julia (Stella Maeve from Golden Boy) flunks the entrance exam, so doesn't make it to Brakebills. Instead, she gives up on her previous life, and instead goes searching for magic elsewhere.

Little does either Quentin or Julia know, however, that there's an arch enemy no one will talk about at Brakebills who's laid waste to a lot of the magic community, reducing the final year of pupils to a class of four. Is he related to the group that want to recruit Julia? Only time will tell…

Despite being an obvious Harry Potter knock-off with delusions of having subtext, The Magicians isn't half that bad and bears more than a few similarities to Ursula Le Guin's far superior to A Wizard of Earthsea that help to lift it. Unlike Potter, the story is at its worst at Brakebills, when it's dealing with Quentin's fellow pupils - they may all be graduate students but they still act like they're in High School, and the show even gives us a 10 Things I Hate About You style introduction to all the campus's various social groupsThey're all completely insufferable and Quentin's not that much better, being as full of himself 'pre incident' (you'll know what I mean when I watch it) as Le Guin's Ged was before that night on Roke Knoll. 

But when it's dealing with both the real world and the darkest aspects of the magical world it's conjuring, the show actually soars and the final few minutes of the first episode are genuinely disturbing and adult. It also clever enough to know its own heritage, with a 'book within the book' that's clearly a Narnia knock-off, but like The Neverending Story, one that blurs into the 'real world' of the story.

If The Magicians can avoid its most Harry Potter-esque and its more 'adult' aspects in favour of its genuinely adult qualities, it could be a really good show. But I have a suspicion that it's much more in love with its mean girls, cliques, nerds and sexy time party!! thoughts than with telling a seriously interesting story. 

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