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November 10, 2015

Review: Agent X 1x1-1x2 (US: TNT)

Posted on November 10, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Sharon Stone in TNT's Agent X

In the US: Sundays, 9/8c, TNT

There's been a decades-long quest in the US to create 'the American James Bond'. This is somewhat ironic, since the first ever adaptation of a James Bond book was the 1954 US TV series Climax! Mystery Theater's Casino Royale, starring Barry Nelson as 'Jimmy Bond'. (Let's twopher this one and call it this week's Wednesday Play… on Tuesday)

But ever since Bond hit it big at the movie box office, there have been attempts to create an equally lucrative and iconic US James Bond, such as Napoleon Solo in The Man From UNCLE, whom they even asked Ian Fleming to help develop, although all he ended up giving them was the name. However, so far, the US has had very little success, although many people argue that the Bourne series is the American equivalent of the Bond movies. 

It's also ironic, because why would you want to create an American James Bond? He's quintessentially British. And I don't mean suave, sophisticated, good with women, etc - we're really not any of those.

No, James Bond's attitudes to his job are quintessentially British - there's no real patriotism, no great love of country, no belief in the fundamental awesomeness of the British political system. To Bond, Britain isn't best and there is no 'British exceptionalism'. Instead, he is a blunt tool who risks all for Queen and country, because it's a job and the alternative to the status quo would probably just be even worse than it already is. That's peak British, that is.

So Agent X is probably the first TV series or movie that really offers a truly American version of James Bond. Created by William Blake Herron, who co-wrote The Bourne Identity, it stars Sharon Stone as the first female vice-president of the United States. On her inaugration night, her strong grasp of Latin and Masonic symbols enables her to discover the true reason the vice president has bugger all constitutional duties - there's a secret article in the original US constitution that gives her the power in times of national emergency to command a nameless secret agent to do whatever it takes to protect the country from enemies, foreign and domestic. Agent X is that man, a self-sacrificing, small town, everyman patriot, foresaking any kind of personal life to defend the United States and her Constitution, all for no reward.

That's peak American, that is. 

Shame that although it's a step in the right direction, it's still rubbish. Even worse than the worst Roger Moore James Bond movie you can think of. Maybe not the worst Pierce Brosnan movie, though.

Here's a 13-minute trailer. I kid you not.

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November 3, 2015

Review: Ash vs Evil Dead 1x1 (US: Starz)

Posted on November 3, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Ash vs Evil Dead

In the US: Saturdays, 9pm EST, Starz
In the UK: Not yet acquired

To many people, Bruce Campbell is a man-god. He is a man. He is a god. He is a god of men. He is a man-god. 

What's He (man-)god of? He is the living incarnation of straight white American male irony. Anyone claiming that (straight) (white) American (men) don't get irony need only point at Bruce Campbell and say "May He have mercy on your soul".

When you discover that Bruce is such an avatar is more about when you are born than the nature of Bruce Himself. For some, it's relatively recently with his Old Spice adverts.

Going back slightly further, it's as grizzled lothario and former Navy SEAL Sam Ax in Burn Notice.

Many will remember him as Autolycus, King of Thieves, helping another god on the New Zealand-filmed Hercules: The Legendary Journeys before joining Xena: Warrior Princess on the occasional quest. 

(Park that thought for a moment - it's important).

My introduction to the Church of Bruce was in the early 90s with The Adventures of Brisco County Jr, where he got to play a cowboy very plausibly in love with Kelly Rutherford, while chasing all manner of sci-fi devices in the Old West.

But even that was a relatively late arrival to the party. Because the Coming of the great god Bruce Campbell first began with The Evil Dead, a 1980s horror movie a few people might have heard of, and which spawned more than a few sequels, including Army of Darkness.

It made a star of Bruce, who shot it with his childhood buddies Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert. Tapert went on to run a couple of shows, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess, where he ended up marrying the star, Lucy Lawless. Meanwhile, Raimi went to make plenty more movies, including Spider-Man, and with Tapert, created a New Zealand-filmed TV show on Starz called Spartacus, which also occasionally starred Lucy Lawless.

And now everything's converging again, with Raimi, Tapert, Campbell and Lawless all together on another New Zealand-filmed show, this one a sequel to that very first epiphany, Evil Dead. It sees Campbell reprising his role of Ash, the ironic, semi-idiot hero of the original movies, who's now 30 years older, 30 years wider, but not 30 years wiser. Trying to impress a girl while high on weed, he accidentally reads out passages from his big book of evil, causing the once-dismissed 'Deadites' to once again return to the world. Now Ash must quit his job in the local hardware store, quit his trailer and head out into the world to either face the evil or run away from it. Thank heavens he's still got that chainsaw he can mount where his wooden hand should go, so he can carve them up with maximum gore.

Yes, the god of irony walks the Earth once again, and he's NSFW.

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October 28, 2015

Review: Wicked City 1x1 (US: ABC)

Posted on October 28, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Wicked City

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, ABC

There was a time when the anthology show ruled US airwaves. Jobbing actors would show up for a week in The Twilight Zone, The Night Gallery, General Electric Theater, Studio One or whatever, then move on to the next gig. But increasing production values, logistical difficulties and viewer choice started to make that weekly anthology show more or less impossible; the power of stardom also meant that if you could get an actor or actress with a significant fanbase in a starring role, people would watch week after week, no matter what the story, which made the anthology show less and less attractive.

But over the past few years, the format has started to return. It began, oddly enough with Love Bites, a somewhat terrible NBC romcom that featured a different couple every week. That failed very, very quickly, in part because the scripts were just awful, but also because the formula wasn't quite right. Weekly wasn't the way to go.

Instead, it was cable that developed the correct format for a modern anthology show, with first American Horror Story and then True Detective. With an audience who likes serial drama but who wants eventual conclusions to their stories that haven't been drawn out too long, what could be better than a season-long story with a beginning, middle and an end, the next season then telling a completely new story in the same vein? With a bit of cleverness, you can even appease fans of the shows' stars by having the cast come back to play different characters if they want - or just let them go off to the next job if they'd rather, just like in the old days, since that way you can get big names with limited availability to come in for just a season.

It's a scheme that certainly worked with ABC's American Crime, a 'so good it could have been HBO' drama about the terrible effects of the American judicial system and all the other systems that have evolved around it. Now ABC are hoping to repeat the show's success with Wicked City, a "a character-driven, true crime procedural that explores sex, politics and popular culture across various noteworthy eras in LA history".

The first season is set in 1980. Or maybe 1982. A few years after LA's Hillside Strangler struck, anyway. Ed Westwick (Gossip Girl) is a serial killer on the make, emulating his idol, the Strangler, by killing girls he picks up in bars then leaving them dead in the same places. It's something to do with his father having left when he was eight, apparently.

Then one night, he's about to chop the head off Erika Christensen (Six Degrees, Parenthood) and then have sex with her corpse, when she reveals she's a single mother. Things get even better when it turns out that not only does she have sociopathic tendencies of her own - she's one of the killer nurses you hear so much about it these days - she quite enjoys pretending to be a corpse while Ed Westwick has sex with her.

It's a match made in heaven, isn't it?

Meanwhile, a couple of brave male, squabbling cops - Jeremy Sisto (Kidnapped, Suburgatory, The Returned) and Gabriel Luna (Matador) - are on Westwick's trail, hoping to stop him before he can kill yet more young women. All while listening to as many 80s classics and using as many pagers, rotary dial payphones, old Mustangs and 4:3 TVs as the music and props departments can provide.

Unfortunately, there is one problem with the modern anthology format that Wicked City fails to overcome: you actually need to make people want to watch the next season, or even the next episode, hopefully by writing some good scripts. And avoiding complete moral bankruptcy.

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