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June 1, 2015

Review: Aquarius 1x1-1x2 (US: NBC)

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

Aquarius

In the US: Thursdays, 9/8c, NBC
In the UK: Not yet acquired

You’d think, given that NBC already has the origin story of one famous serial killer in its schedules, that it would be reluctant to produce another one. But even as Hannibal is about to return to our screens this week for its third exquisite season, here comes Aquarius, which on the face of it should be a far less fictional affair, given that it’s the origin story of real-life sociopath Charles Manson and his so-called 'Manson Family’, who in 1969 went on to kill actress Sharon Tate and six other people.

Yet, Aquarius is almost as fictional as Hannibal. It stars David Duchovny as an LAPD detective who’s brought in by an old girlfriend (Michaela McManus) to investigate the disappearance of her 16-year-old daughter (Claire Holt). Asked to keep everything quiet because of her important husband (Brían F. O’Byrne), Duchovny has to recruit a young, hip(py) detective (Grey Damon) to help him reach the communes and parties he’s can’t, and hopefully find the daughter.

Except, unfortunately, it looks like a certain Charles Manson (Gethin Anthony) has already found her and recruited her to his growing ‘family’.

Billed as an event series, the show’s about as schizophrenic as they come. On the one hand, it wants to do ‘true crime’, yet practically everything and everyone involved, other than Manson and some of his family members, are fictions. Being set two years before the murders of 1969, there’s as yet no tie-ins with the real crimes and we know that unless the show takes a brief jump or two forward and introduces a whole new set of characters, there’s no chance that Manson will be behind bars by the end of the show’s run.

Yet while everything is linked to Manson, the episodes have a procedural element, with episode two taking some time out from the Manson-hunting to investigate the suspected murder of a wife by her husband, for example. The show tries hard to link this with both Manson and the era, with the surprisingly sympathetic husband nevertheless being an overt racist and the Nation of Islam turning up to give Manson’s ‘Helter Skelter’ philosophy some grounding. But as with the show's hit-laden soundtrack, it feels as obvious as the vintage cars on display as being an attempt to simply say ‘Hey guys! It’s 1967!’ The fact there’s invariably something to do with Vietnam on the news or Vietnam is on Duchovny’s or Damon’s mind for one reason or another doesn’t help with this.

Aquarius also wants to be something of a cable show. As well as the novel aspect of NBC broadcasting the first two episodes then making the rest of the season immediately available from its web site, the show also has some quite near-the-knuckle sex scenes. Unsurprisingly, given the casting of Game of Thrones' Renly Baratheon as Manson, not all of that sex is straight, and the show is happy to explore Manson’s bisexual side. There’s also a really surprising scene towards the end of the first episode, which while not quite up there with Outlander’s recent finale, is pretty horrifying.

The trouble is that all of these distinct strands don’t fit together very well at all. While the historical background detail is at least interesting and Duchovny and Damon’s pairing not as annoying as you’d think and is even quite comedic at times as they try to adjust, among other things, to this new ‘Miranda thing’, the two of them feel like they’re in a different show from Manson’s storyline. Indeed, Manson seems to think he’s in another show, too, since a lot of his storyline is about his attempts to get a record contract and his possible involvement in political corruption.

Women don’t really get served well here, either. Different times, etc, etc, but Aquarius only offers us a vision of women needing men’s help in one form or another or of messing things up by ‘transgressing’. On the plus side, though, there is at least an exploration of the race problems of the time and there are even some black characters with lines.

Compared to many NBC dramas, Aquarius isn’t half bad and I might potentially watch the rest of the season, one episode at a time, if I have time. But despite Duchovny’s presence and the potentially fascinating nature of Manson, Aquarius feels like it’s a pale imitation of a something potentially a whole lot better.

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May 28, 2015

Preview: Mr Robot 1x1 (US: USA Network)

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

Mr Robot

In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, USA Network. Starts June 24
In the UK: Not yet acquired

I want you to hack me as hard as you can

Over the years, the USA Network has struggled to work out what kind of network it is. Scroll back a decade or more in the timeline and most people associated it with the likes of country & western reality talent show Nashville Star. Then it started trying to do drama, with a brilliant but quickly cancelled remake of the UK’s Touching Evil, which was perhaps a bit too dark and unmarketable for the likes of USA.

The network didn’t abandon its attempts with drama, but the set back did lead it to start going a bit fluffier. By about 2007, Burn Notice, Monk and Psych were the network’s go-to shows, and while Burn Notice was obviously a much darker show than either Psych and Monk, it still wasn’t quite Requiem for a Dream. These shows had something of an 80s nostalgia to them, which led to the fluffy likes of In Plain Sight.

2009’s Royal Pains proved a game-changer, showing that fluffy and light were very much the order of the day on USA, leading us to the quite fluffy White Collar, the slightly fluffy Covert Affairs, Suits and Graceland, the really very fluffy Common Law, Fairly Legal, Necessary Roughness, Playing House, and Sirens, and eventually the still-fluffy Benched.

Now some of these were great, some of them really weren’t, but they almost all still had something of an edge to them, at least. And slowly, with most of the new fluff fluffing in the ratings, the pendulum has started to swing back over the past year or so towards USA’s skulking darker side with the likes of Rush, Satisfaction and, coming soon, Complications.

This is all for the good, since now we have perhaps USA’s darkest - and best - new show for quite some time, Mr Robot. It sounds fluffy, doesn’t it, with that name, but it’s really not. Think Fight Club if it was all about hacking or Batman, if Batman was a socially anxious coder who used technology to stop people faking identities, end the distribution of images of child abuse and bring down the corporate elite who secretly rule the world.

Rami Malek (24, The War At Home, The Pacific) is Elliot, a white hat techie at a cybersecurity firm. He has social issues, which means in between bouts of crying to himself at home from loneliness, taking morphine, having sex with his drug dealer, hacking people he knows about to find out more about them or talking to his new friends - the viewers at home - he’s busily putting the world to rights. Or to rights as he sees them.

In particular, he’d really like to destroy his company’s biggest client, The Evil Corporation, and one day he comes across 'Mr Robot' (Christian Slater) and his team of socially minded hackers, who offer him the chance to do just that and liberate society from this menace. Is The Evil Corporation really running the world? Is what Slater says possible? Can he be trusted? And is he even real or is he just the Tyler Durden of Elliot’s unmedicated, occasionally paranoid schizophrenic sub-conscious?

All these questions and more are asked and you will want to know the answers. If you’re in the US, you can watch the full episode below; otherwise, I’ll leave you with some trailers and we can talk more after the jump.

Continue reading "Preview: Mr Robot 1x1 (US: USA Network)"

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May 22, 2015

Preview: Supergirl 1x1 (US: CBS)

Posted on May 22, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Supergirl costume

In the US: Mondays, 8/7c, CBS. Starts November
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Is there truly no such thing as bad publicity? That is what George Schweitzer would apparently argue, based on how many hits the trailer for Supergirl got - 10 million.

Never mind that a lot of those who watched the trailer thought that it was nothing more than the Saturday Night Live spoof Black Widow sketch actually turned into a real TV show, with horrific cliches oozing from every pore. They watched it and for Schweitzer that’s all that counts. Presumably that’s what he’s paid to do and whether people subsequently tune in and enjoy the show is the purview of someone else.

But can a trailer truly convey what a show is like? Or by judicious editing can you make it seem like a completely different show? Even if that show is terrible and your show is actually quite good?

Someone needs to find out. That someone is me. Brace yourself - I’m reviewing the pilot after the jump.

But in case you haven’t watched it, here’s that trailer.

Continue reading "Preview: Supergirl 1x1 (US: CBS)"

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