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February 7, 2017

Review: 24: Legacy 1x1-1x2 (US: Fox; UK: Fox UK)

Posted on February 7, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

24: Legacy

In the US: Mondays, 8/7c, Fox
In the UK: Tuesdays, 9pm, Fox UK. Starts February 14th

When 24 first aired, it was a revolutionary series in many ways. The conceit that the show played out in real-time over a full 24-hour day in 24, one-hour episodes was original to say the least and took serialised storytelling to the logical limit. It also featured convention-breaking direction, rescuing split-screen shots from their 70s cemetery.

More importantly, it was notionally a Conservative TV show. Airing just a few weeks after 9/11, 24 could have horribly misjudged the public mood. But a daring tale of how honourable family man Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), a former special forces soldier turned counter-terrorist agent, was able to fight back against the terrorists and win proved to be the tonic the American people needed at the time and was immensely popular. True, his tendency towards extreme ruthlessness and even torture, which creators Joel Surnow and Robert Cochrane had piloted even more extremely on La Femme Nikita, caused liberal apoplexy now it was on network TV, but it was something the audience didn't really care about.

The show changed with the times. It adapted to the Obama years' move away from waterboarding et al and was even able to fudge the shift of network TV away from 24-episode runs of shows to 12/13-episode runs through the simple use of a 12-hour delayed epilogue. However, its tendency to shock viewers by killing off much-loved cast members at regular intervals grew predictable and ultimately led to there being no much-loved cast members left except Kiefer Sutherland several seasons before the end.

Which must have posed a bit of a quandary for the producers when they were planning a new season of 24, because Kiefer - he no want to do 24 no more. He doing Designated Survivor. He happy to produce but he no happy to act.

Hence 24: Legacy, which copies format and general attitude and has some links to the original, but absolutely no Jack Bauer. Instead, we have Eric Carter (The Walking Dead's Corey Hawkins), a retired US army ranger, whose unit killed a terrorist leader. Despite his having a new job and new identity, the terrorists have found him and the rest of his unit, and want them all dead - although not before whichever one of them has a very important McGuffin reveals where it is.

Hawkins has to find out what it is, where it is and evade and stop the terrorists, with only the help of Mirando Otto - the former Counter Terrorist Unit chief and potential next First Lady to potential President Jimmy Smits. Because being 24 there's a mole. Shocker, hey?

Indeed, despite the entirely new cast, the new show revisits many of the original's traits. There's snarking between computer technicians (including the cousin of one of 24's most famous techies). There's also all manner of insane - and insanely stupid - twists and ideas, such as Carter asking a violent gang member who hates him to look after his wife

One new innovation that builds on the previous show is that rather than having Middle Eastern terrorists in the even numbered seasons, European terrorists in odd-numbered seasons, there are both Middle Eastern and European terrorists to deal with this time round. Yes, everyone - double bubble!

Problem here is that the European terrorists are from Chechnya, so are inevitably going to be Muslims, just like their Middle Eastern counterparts. The question is, coming as it does on the heels of President Trump's 'Muslim ban', has 24: Legacy guessed the Zeitgeist with its Islamophobia as accurately as 24 did with its first season, or is it marching out of step with its potentially horrified viewers?

Time will have to tell on that one, I guess. But purely on a kinetic level, the show does at least manage to maintain the levels of adrenaline that its predecessor did, giving us action scenes aplenty shot by directors who know what they're doing. Eric Carter is no Jack Bauer, but even Jack Bauer wasn't really Jack Bauer until season two, and character development was never 24's strong point - all that really mattered was what Bauer was prepared to do and why. It's actually surprisingly easy to slot someone completely different into the same role and for everything to still carry on exactly the same as before.

24: Legacy's plot is outright bobbins, with so many holes in it you could use it as a string vest. Characters are thinly drawn and exist only to perform specific plot functions. Its understanding of technology is laughable. Its unpredicatability is predictable. Its attitudes are borderline racist or maybe even just flat out racist. 

But my gosh is it exciting. Still.

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February 7, 2017

Review: Superior Donuts 1x1-1x2 (US: CBS)

Posted on February 7, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Superior Donuts

In the US: Mondays, 9/8c, CBS

CBS's policy of iterating TV shows - taking existing TV shows then making minor changes to them until it perfects their formulae - isn't without success. After all, Intelligence may have sucked but CBS's next iteration of it, Limitless, was actually jolly good.

However, I have to question the thinking behind not only commissioning Superior Donuts but airing it just before its antecedent, 2 Broke Girls. Does America really need not just one but two baking goods-based, multi-camera sitcoms featuring a diverse, blue-collar cast as they try to make money in a tough market? On a Monday night?

Yet here we are with Superior Donuts. How curious.

So has this iteration improved on the previous generation? Not hugely, since it lacks Kat Dennings for one thing. But Superior Donuts is at least funnier and less racist, and has more interesting things to say about millennials, the older generation and business than 2 Broke Girls does.

Here, we have old hand Judd Hirsch (Taxi, Numb3rs, Forever, Dear John (USA)) playing Arthur, the gruff owner of a small Chicago doughnut shop having to deal with the fact his neighbourhood is gentrifying and he doesn't know how to change with the times. Then along comes millennial Jermaine Fowler looking for work. He understands the way of the Twitter and the Instagram and the Yelp, and he also has a few innovations in mind for doughnuts. Soon, a beautiful cross-generational, cross-racial working partnership is born.

With Superior Donuts, CBS has taken a leaf from CBC Canada's book in order to get to grips with diversity, copying its Kim's Convenience move by adapting a play, although not one quite as beloved as Kim's Convenience was. Indeed, some of the dialogue still reeks of both the original play and the theatre itself, with a reference to Jean-Michel Basquiat in the first episode, no less. 

Dotted around the shop is a diverse group. We have two cops (Married with Children's Katey Sagal and Third Watch's Darien Sills-Evans), a slightly evil Iraqi refugee-turned-real estate developer and dry cleaner (Maz Jobrani), and unemployed factory worker David Koechner (Anchorman). There's also a blonde rich girl (again, this is airing just before 2 Broke Girls - do they think no one's going to notice?), played by Anna "daughter of Mikhail" Baryshnikov, who has to endure the eternal rich liberal pain of not being able to experience proper oppression herself.

There is a tragi-comic quality to all the characters, from Sagal's slight corruption through Jobrani's memories of growing up in Iraq ("When I was young, they dropped mustard gas on my village and it burned my oesophagus… Now, if I lick a battery, it will kill me.") to Koechner's desperation to do any job, whether that's toileting dogs or donating blood and semen. Jobrani is constantly trying to get Hirsch to sell him the doughnut shop, and with Hirsch a widower and slow to adapt to changing times, it's a constant possibility.

The show also plays with race. A lot. It just about gets away with it in a way that 2 Broke Girls really doesn't, since it plays less on stereotypes and more on societal rules. It also helps that Jobrani is the main instigator and foil for the humour - is it okay for Jobrani to call Fowler "the black guy" if he also calls Hirsch "the Jew" and worries that if he gets angry he'll "sound a bit terroristy"?

All of which makes Superior Donuts seem a lot better than it is. Remember, this is a show that devotes half of its second episode to a quest for the WiFi password in Jobrani's shop so that Sills-Evans can watch Doctor Who on his phone - sample dialogue: "Do you want to watch Doctor Who? Season 24 is the best." "No, but after you've watched it, I'll tell you what a vagina looks like."

Still, it's a notable improvement on its predecessor, will probably both appeal and educate the pensioners who watch it, and has more heart than the average CBS sitcom for sure. But a show that thinks season 24 of Doctor Who is the best? I'm out.

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February 3, 2017

Review: Powerless 1x1 (US: NBC)

Posted on February 3, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Powerless (NBC)

In the US: Thursdays, 8.30/7.30c, NBC

Although NBC has managed to return to the top of the US ratings after its horrific death plummet a decade ago, there are still a couple of things it's not good at: comedies and superhero shows. Okay, to be fair, its comedies are useless quite smart, but they're usually not desperately funny (eg The Good Place) and/or they never fare well in the ratings (eg Community). To be equally fair, it hasn't had a lot of superhero shows, but while we can all agree that at least Constantine got better over time, Heroes got decidedly worse and the less said about The Cape, the better.

So Powerless looks like the perfect storm: an NBC superhero comedy. What manner of horror could that be, you might ask? Well, for a while, it actually looked quite promising, giving us a show that builds on the same theme as both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War by being about the little people who are just trying to get on with their lives and avoid getting crushed by buildings, shot by death rays, et al as superheroes and supervillains do what superheroes and supervillains do - a sort of Lower Decks of the DC Comic Book universe, if you will. In this original story, the somewhat cynical Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical) worked in an insurance company for supervillain Alan Tudyk (Firefly), where she has to decide whether destruction caused by Wonder Woman can be written off as an Act of God because as a demi-goddess, it's a grey area.

Following the pilot, though, show creator Ben Queen (A to Z, Drive) left and the whole thing got rebooted into something a lot more mid-season replacement.

Now, Hudgens is a wide-eyed superhero fan reporting to work at Tudyk's branch of Wayne Industries - Tudyk now being Bruce Wayne's cousin - where she has to lead a team of more jaded inventors and engineers in developing products to help the ordinary people of 'Charm City' cope with the superhero-induced trials and tribulations of life, whether those be personal Joker-poison anti-toxin injectors or inflatable suits to help their wearers withstand concussive blows.

Trouble is, her new underlings, who include Community's Danny Pudi and Undateable's Ron Funches, aren't the brightest tools in the box, so spend their entire time ripping off Lexcorp's ideas and making them a different colour, rather than coming up with anything original, which means that Bruce is thinking about shutting them down. Will they get a reprieve?

I'm not sure I care. Admittedly, the show does have its good points: Hudgens, Pudi and Tudyk are as fun to watch as always, and no less an acting god than Adam West is the narrator. There's also the occasional bit of low but amusing humour, with inept supervillain Jack O'Lantern inadvertently punning about his 'balls… of fire' and Batman coincidentally using the new product the team has just sent to Bruce Wayne (what are the chances?).

But Funches is still a near unbearably poor actor, there really aren't that many jokes and we're nearing the bottom of the superhero z-list with Jack O'Lantern and Crimson Fox - it's not so much Lower Decks as Journey to the Earth's Core. Who cares what they're up to down there?

The show's not terrible. The core cast and ideas are reasonably sound and now the producers have got over retooling the show in a hurry, hopefully they'll have time to settle in all the new ideas. But Powerless really needs to raise its ambitions - if DC corporate vetting will let it - if it's to avoid going the same way as every other NBC superhero show.

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