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October 1, 2015

Review: Code Black 1x1 (US: CBS; UK: Watch)

Posted on October 1, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Code Black

In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, CBS
In the UK: Thursdays, 9pm, Watch. Starts October 29 

CBS is, of course, the king of the police procedural in the US. Police procedurals of all ilks dominate its schedules and the ratings, and arguably it does them better than any other network.

However, for years, it's tried to extend its procedural dominance into the medical realm, with a seemingly neverending stream of shows that quickly turn out to be low-rated, instantly forgettable one-season wonders: Three Rivers, 3 Lbs, Miami Trauma, A Gifted Man.

In fact, I've written pretty much this exact same intro to every new medical procedural CBS has come up with every year, so much so I'm bored of it. Maybe you are, too.

Trouble is, I fully expect I'll be writing it again next year since CBS's latest medical procedural, Code Black, is a yawnfest that's almost certainly going to get cancelled by the end of the season. It's based on Code Black, a 2013 documentary about LA County General, which is one of the largest and busiest teaching hospitals in the US, employing more than 1,000 residents at a time. The name 'code black' refers to when an emergency department's resources are so overstretched by an influx of patients, it can't take it any more, and while most EDs in the US only experience four such events a year, LA County General experiences it 300 times a year.

Time for more resources, obviously. Except that wouldn't make for a great TV show.

And neither would Code Black, in which a whole bunch of competitive, disparate, highly dull medical residents all learn how to be ED doctors at the hands of 'dad', aka Marcia Gay Harden (The Newsroom, Damages), 'mom' being Luis Guzmán (Narcos), the senior nurse who looks after them all. Harden's a bit hard and lacking in bedside manner following 'an incident' three years previously, something that concerns caring, sharing fellow doctor Raza Jaffrey (ElementaryHomeland, Spooks) but not so much hospital administrator Kevin Dunn (Samantha Who?), since Harden's abrasive training produces the best doctors.

And that's it, really. It's basically ER but busier, not taking the time to do more in terms of characterisation rather than have people explain who they are and how totes awesome they are, before performing perfunctory acts of dickery. It's just blood on the floor to blood on the floor, while a camera unsuccessfully rushes around to try to convey the impression of the original Code Black documentary. Nice, if you like medical porn, dull if you want an actual drama.

The trouble is if you just rush all the time in an attempt to convey pressure, you're not going to end up with tension. You're going to end up with confusion. And then boredom.

The camera goes here, the camera goes there, while the cast mumble their lines or shout them so that you never hear them. All you'll really know most of the time is that people are ill and the doctors are trying to help them. Learn much about the US medical system from it all? Grow to love a character? Probably not.

There are scenes, almost all of them involving Dunn, where the show is allowed to breath and for characters to grow. But they're few and far between, and sometimes oddly positioned, such as when Dunn starts talking about his eczema in the middle of surgery, to emphasise the point that people are spending too much time on characterisation and need to get back to some advanced doctoring.

But, ultimately, Code Black is just procedure with very little human interest. See you back here next year with the intro?

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October 1, 2015

Review: Grandfathered 1x1 (US: Fox)

Posted on October 1, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Grandfathered

In the US: Tuesdays, 8/7c, Fox

Last year's big trend in new shows was the romcom, with a blitz that included Undateable, Welcome To SwedenMarriageSelfieA to Z, Marry Me and Manhattan Love Story. Most of them deservedly died a fiery death, while others were better but have largely limped on or been put out of their misery this year.

The one deserved winner from the lot was FX/FXX's You're The Worst, a semi-realistic romcom about a narcissistic, awful couple, who somehow make you love them all the same. And it seems like it's had some influence on broadcast TV, because now we have Grandfathered, a semi-realistic romcom in which a terrible awful human being is somehow quite lovable.

It stars John Stamos of Full House fame as a 50-year-old, narcissistic restaurateur who's never settled down and spends all his time wooing 20-something models whose names he can never remember. The only woman he doesn't chase after is his lesbian assistant - her being a lesbian was a job requirement.  

So far, so the plot of anything involving Adam Sandler, David Spade et al.

Then one day, he gets two surprises. The first is the 26-year-old son he never knew about turning up on his doorstep; the second is Stamos' newborn granddaughter who he brings with him. Now Stamos has to learn how to be both a father and a grandfather as quickly as possible.

The plot, to a certain extent, should be setting off warning bells, if not a full-scale run for the hills. However, Grandfathered is surprisingly smart. For one thing, playing the mother/grandmother of the piece and 'the one who got away' is the fabulous Paget Brewster from Friends, Criminal Minds and Community - a woman whose IMDB profile photo is of her holding a fish.

Paget Brewster with a fish

Brewster has a great line in deadpan delivery, but she also gets some great lines. As soon as she starts delivering the standard clichés of "boy-men who are forced to grow up by events" comedies ("If you think one day looking after a baby makes you think you know what it's like to be a parent…"), she almost instantly gets to subvert them ("…hell, I can't believe you made me say that. I'm cool. I watch Portlandia. I almost went to Coachella last year until I decided not to.") and because it's Brewster, it feels real.

Stamos also gets some good lines ("I'm a 50-year-old bachelor. We're society's most worthless people") but alarm bells go off again when it's revealed that part of the show's ongoing plot is going to be Stamos' educating his newfound son (Josh Peck) in the ways of women so that he can woo the mother of his baby, who regards him as merely a friend and a good dad. Here again, though, rather than a neverending series of lessons in negging, 'treat them mean, keep them keen', etc, Stamos' messages to his son tend to be more along the lines of, 'Have you considered making an effort, wearing some nice clothes?' and the like.

The show makes references to and even includes a clip from Kramer vs Kramer, but does a much better job than that movie does of creating loving male parents/grandparents without creating antagonistic female characters for them to fight. Grandfathered has a heart and Stamos isn't incapable of change, he just has to learn.

Grandfathered's biggest issue for UK audiences is that a lot gets lost in translation. Even the title is a US pun that won't be obvious to most UK viewers (to 'grandfather' means to make someone exempt from something), and that's before you even start on the cultural significance of something like Coachella. 

The show also makes a big deal of Stamos, who was the star of the huge Full House during the 80s, something which also gets referenced a lot. His character is to some extent 'Jesse Katsopolis' all grown up and there are photographs in Grandfathered of him from that time just to emphasise the point; Full House star Bob Saget even makes the first of several series appearances in the pilot. 

And, of course, we never got Full House over here. To us, Stamos is one of the doctors off ER at best, but more likely a complete unknown. Full House references and parallels will be equally mysterious to most of us (heaven knows what we're all going to make of Netflix's sequel/updating Fuller House when it hits the Internet). 

So while Grandfathered is a surprisingly enjoyable, grown-up, unmisogynistic romcom that both male and female viewers can enjoy, it's probably not going to be as funny for UK viewers as for those in the US. It's definitely worth a watch, since it's got bags of charm and heart, as well as Paget Brewster, but you might spend your time wondering if you're missing out on something. 

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September 30, 2015

Review: The Grinder 1x1 (US: Fox)

Posted on September 30, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Rob Lowe and Fred Savage in Fox's The Grinder

In the US: Tuesdays, 8.30/7.30c, Fox

Stewart Sanderson (Fred Savage) has a problem. He's an attorney without pizazz. He knows law as well as any attorney, but he's got no gumption and can't deliver arguments without using cue cards.

Stewart's brother Dean Sanderson Jr (Rob Lowe) has a problem. A hugely famous actor from his days playing an attorney on The Grinder, he has charisma and fire but doesn't know what to do with his life now his TV show is over.

Can you see where this is going?

Yep, it's Pulaski and The World of Eddie Weary, except this time with attorneys, with Lowe and Savage joining forces to become one combined good attorney. As with those old UK shows, much of the humour relies on the show within a show, The Grinder, which sends up US dramatic conventions, giving us all the standard dramatic beats and excesses but played for laughs. It also sends up actors, with Lowe mocking himself and others by playing Dean as a self-centred brain donor who thinks that playing an attorney on TV makes him almost as good as the real thing.

Unfortunately, it's not exactly rapier-sharp in its wit here. In fact, the in-show The Grinder is quite poor, not mocking anything in particular beyond an idea of legal shows from the 1980s, rather than anything more recent. At times, it looks more like an old Perry Mason, in fact.

But where the real The Grinder actually is funny is everything else. It's quite fun when Lowe uses his 'legal skills' to negotiate increased popularity for his nephew at school. It does well when real life starts acting like a TV show, with Lowe learning a Very Important Lesson from some charged dialogue at a bar. It's also good when Savage tries to act like he's in a TV show and fails and when guest star Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) says more or less anything, but particularly when he challenges Lowe's antics in court.

In fact, despite all expectations, it's not either that central hook or Lowe and Savage you should be watching the show for but everything else. True, given how much airtime is devoted to Lowe, Savage and The Grinder, that's not much by the end of the episode, but there are at least some funny moments in there.

It's not exactly a huge recommendation from me, since I spent most of the episode wishing it was a whole lot funnier, but The Grinder doesn't fall completely flat on its face in this first outing. Give it a try, but don't have huge expectations.

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