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February 21, 2017

Review: Bellevue 1x1 (Canada: CBC)

Posted on February 21, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Bellevue

In Canada: Mondays, 9pm, CBC

They say one of the reasons that Denmark likes its horrific murder-mysteries on TV so much is that it's one of the nicest places in the world to live. With no emotional darkness in their lives, allegedly, the happy old Hygge-filled Danes have to live vicariously through Nordic Noir.

I'm assuming that's why lovely, happy Canada appears to be developing its own equivalent. We've already seen CTV's Cardinal firmly embracing the darkness to pioneer 'Canadian Noir' and now we have CBC plummeting into similar territory, although putting its own, very CBC spin on it. Here, we have Anna Paquin (The Piano, X-MenTrue Blood) playing a cop in the small town of Bellevue, investigating the disappearance of a trans teenage hockey star. Has he been beaten by homophobic fans or is something more sinister afoot?

Suspecting a known paedophile who's moved into town, she's surprised when her suspect is expecting her and even more surprised when he hands her a note that appears to be from her father. Or at least whoever it was who pretended to be her father after he died. Because when Paquin was just a kid, a teenage girl was killed and posed as the Virgin Mary in the nativity, outside the local church. Paquin's cop dad was in charge of finding the killer and when he failed, he committed suicide. Except a few years later, Paquin started receiving riddles addressed to her by her dad…

Bellevue is a bit of a botch job. One moment it's trying to be The Killing (and failing). The next it's trying to be The Exorcist III (and failing). The next it's trying to be Broadchurch (and failing). It's hard to know what mood the story will be in from moment to moment, and everything joins together as smoothly as if the writer had been given a bucket of fish and a crochet kit and been asked to turn them into a Ford Fiesta.

To its credit, its efforts to show small-town Canadian life make it a little bit different from other shows, but the dialogue is pretty cringe-worthy, especially anything involving new cop in town Sharon Taylor (Stargate Atlantis). It has a fine cast, too, particularly Paquin who's given a chance to show off her Oscar-winning range, but also Shawn Doyle (Endgame, Frequency, Vegas, This Life) as her boss and substitute father-figure. 

However, Bellevue has very little else to go for it, so if you are going to watch some of this new breed of Canadian Noir, Cardinal is a superior choice by far.

February 17, 2017

Review: Imposters 1x1-1x2 (US: Bravo)

Posted on February 17, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Imposters

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

Con artists aren't very nice people. They lie, cheat and steal from people to benefit themselves, those people typically being old, trusting and/or not very rich, and who therefore typically end up penniless, destitute, futureless and/or suicidal.

What. A. Downer. Huh?

It's no surprise, therefore, that shows that have focused on 'flim flam' men and women, such as Leverage or Perfect Scoundrels, have usually taken no time at all to give their anti-heroes epiphanies in which they realise that their ways are indeed wicked. Before the end of the first episode even, they're off fleecing the deserving - aka people who are both rich and dicks.

Shows that don't? Downers.

That's certainly how you think Imposters is going to be during its first episode. It sees Rob Heaps playing a sensitive young Jewish man who works for his family-owned firm. He sacrificed everything for his family, including his dreams of seeing Paris, and ends up thinking his life will never amount to anything. Then along comes Belgian breath of fresh air Inbar Levi, the two fall madly in love, and before you know it, they're married and Heaps dares to dream once more.

But before you know it (again), she's emptied their bank account, maxed out the credit cards, taken out a second mortgage on their home and stolen cash from the firm, leaving a parting video explaining that a folder of incriminating evidence will be used to destroy his parents' marriage if he comes looking for her.

All looks bleak and Heaps even tries to commit suicide. Then comes a knock at the door… and the show changes.

Had I not fallen a little behind with my viewing schedule, I might not have bothered watching episode two of Imposters, that first ep is so fundamentally miserable. But since I hadn't watched episode one by the time episode two aired, I ended up watching both en masse. Surprisingly, this is actually probably the best thing you can do, since episode one is less the foundation to the show than its prologue; it's only in episode two that you find out what it's really doing.

It would have helped if the show had stuck to its original title of My So-Called Wife, because oddly enough, Imposters is a buddy-buddy comedy. At Heaps' door is another of Levi's victims - Parker Young (Suburgatory, Enlisted), a knuckle-headed former quaterback and alpha male car salesman. Together, he and the equally penniless and heart-broken Heaps are going to go on a road trip together to find Levi and get their money back. Along the way, they're going to learn the ways of the con artist, be spectacularly bad at them, develop their own code of honour, help each other to get over their former wife, and get on each other's nerves. A lot.

Meanwhile, Levi has moved onto the next job allocated by mysterious boss 'the Doctor' to her and the rest of her team, who include Katherine LaNasa (DeceptionSatisfaction) and Brian Benben (Dream On). With their help, she has to woo a seemingly dickish, cuckolded darts-playing bank CEO (Battlestar Galactica's Aaron Douglas. Yes, it's filmed in Canada - how did you know?), who turns out to be surprisingly sweet. But she's distracted by the possibility of true love with coffee-shop chance encounter Stephen Bishop (Being Mary Jane). Is it time to get out of 'the life' or will the Doctor punish her and Bishop if she tries?

All this is good frothy fun that manages to find both a little depth and a lot more jokes amidst everyone's misery. Levi, who did little as a button-downed Israeli commando on The Last Ship, here demonstrates a really surprising range and is hugely appealing, even when she tricks and misleads everyone she meets. Young and Heaps' routine is both funny and suitably dorky, and their slow crossing over to the dark side is entertaining to watch as they foul up time and again but slowly get better. Their 'code' also shows how morality can blur when you need it to, as they initially write off children and old people as potential marks, settle on 'assholes' as their preferred targets, then decide that 'asshole>old people' in their moral hierarchy when spying a particularly dickish senior with an attractively bulging wallet.

Later episodes are set to add Uma Thurman to the mix, as well as another former spouse of Levi's - a wife this time (Marianne Rendón) - which is bound to change the dynamic of the show once again. Despite its subject matter, while black, Imposters is certainly still a comedy and well worth a try. But you'll need to commit.

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February 14, 2017

Review: Newton's Law 1x1 (Australia: ABC)

Posted on February 14, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Newtons Law

In Australia: Thursdays, 8.33pm, ABC

There's something about an overly clever title that suggests the show itself isn't going to be very good. A stupid title is obviously a big warning klaxon but while a clever title can be a fair indicator of quality, an overly clever title suggests more thought has gone into the title than the show itself.

Newton's Law. Ha, ha. Look at that. It's a TV series about a lawyer and her name is Josephine Newton, so Newton's Law. Gettit?

So klaxons went off as soon as I saw the title - justified klaxons, since Newton's Law is pretty weak stuff (well, G is 6.674×10-11N, ha, ha), despite having been created by Deb Cox and Fiona Eagger, the originators of the much-loved Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.

It stars the almost equally loved Claudia Karvan (The Secret Life of Us, Spirited, Puberty Blues, Love My Way) as the eponymous Newton, a former high-flying barrister turned suburban solicitor now undergoing a separation as her globe-trotting eco-warrior husband (Brett Tucker) is never home. Despite having helped the down-trodden for over a decade, her offices are firebombed by a hacked-off client, leaving Karvan in a potentially parlous state. But former sparring partner and admirer Toby Schmitz comes to the rescue, asking her to join his plush legal firm, co-run by Andrew McFarlane (Glitch), where she can once again resume the bar and recapture her glory days. However, her do-gooding spirits aren't so easily tamed and by the end of the first episode, she's back helping her former clients, albeit from her old firm's new offices in an abandoned car wash.

The show's stated ambition is to be a sort of Upstairs Downstairs for the Australian legal system, counterpointing the daily work of barristers working for rich clients against that of solicitors working for impoverished Joe Public. However, there's little of that in this first episode, which is more concerned with setting up the upstairs and the downstairs companies, Karvan's relationship with husband and teenage daughter, her "will they, won't they?" relationship with Schmitz, and her trainwreck friendship with her trainwreck business partner (Georgina Naidu).

All of which should be lovely and fluffy, but the show clunks along like a Ford Cortina with a broken gearbox. Karvan is long-suffering, a great friend, a put-upon wife, much sought after, knows all the right crowd and defends the little people while sticking it to the man, whenever possible - yeah! Right on! Indeed, both producers and characters are in thrall to Newton's supposed brilliance. 

But actually, Newton's Law never really demonstrates why anyone would consider her so amazing, beyond the fact she had a cool car. Surely someone with a cool old American muscle car must be a top legal mind as well, though, right?

The legal side is, at least, a bit more promising than all this girl power by numbers, starting us off with a plot lift straight out of 12 Angry Men, with a young man accused of murder and a nearby witness willing to swear she saw everything. But did she what she thought she saw?

While the trappings of the Australian legal system are at least more familiar to UK viewers than the average US legal drama's, making Newton's Law potentially more appealing, none of it is any more realistic than the average US legal drama and it's all very sub-Crownies. Indeed, as with Janet King, Karvan ultimately saves the day not through her marvellous knowledge of the law or rhetoric but investigating the crime herself by ferreting around behind bookcases and discovering incriminating envelopes. Maybe that's how Karvan can even contemplate doing both jobs, given the ridiculous hours both barristers and solicitors have to put in, since it's clearly not going to be by looking through the statute books. 

Newton's Law is the kind of thing that should play well on daytime TV, probably after the latest Father Brown has aired. But it lacks any edge, USP or fire that would make it work as a primetime drama - or worth seeking out, rather than merely watching while you do the ironing.

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