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Some of the best articles on the blog. Typically, these have a picture. It's a low entrance requirement, I know.


March 6, 2015

Mini-review: Battle Creek 1x1 (US: CBS)

Posted on March 6, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Battle Creek

In the US: Sundays, 10/9c, CBS

Sometimes, pedigree just isn’t enough. Take Battle Creek. It’s written by David Shore (creator of House) and Vince Gilligan (creator of Breaking Bad); its first episode is directed by Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, X-Men, X-Men: Days of Future Past). It has ‘winner’ written all over it.

But it’s poor. It’s very poor. It’s a buddy-buddy cop dramedy set in the little town of Battle Creek, Michigan. What kind of buddy-buddy, you might wonder? Is one neat, one tidy? Does one play by the book and is the other a Maverick? One black, one white? Male, female? Gay, straight? Old, young? Blue collar, white collar?

No, surprisingly, Shore and Gilligan have gone for “rich, talented and handsome” versus “poor, incompetent and ugly”.

Dean Winters (best known as Liz Lemon’s bad ex-boyfriend in 30 Rock) stars as a Battle Creek police detective who has had to try to solve small town crimes on a small town budget. No wires, so baby monitors will have to do; tasers that don’t work; and so on - you get the picture. As a result, he has to cut a few corners here and there.

Of course, it’s easy to blame a low clear up rate, your suspect ethics and all your problems on your tools if you’re a bad workman… or your tools really do suck. But then Josh Duhamel (Las Vegas) arrives in town. A high-achieving FBI special agent, he has all the skills, resources and looks Winters doesn’t. Will Winters be able to cope, dwelling in the shadow of this golden boy? Or will he - like Duhamel’s previous work colleagues - try to get him shunted to some other god-foresaken outpost somewhere, as soon as it’s humanly possible?

That’s really all the show is built around and there’s not much to like about it. The two halves of the first episode show the problem quite well: the first half, while not especially well written, actually has the comic potential, with the fun pairing of Winters and co-worker Kal Penn (House) doing well milking their failed tech problems for all they’re worth. Then Duhamel turns up and the comedy becomes all about how Winters can’t do something, but Duhamel can because he has a forensics lab, etc. Time after time, whatever Winters wants to do, Duhamel simply does it. There’s no challenge.

There’s also no chemistry. Duhamel is the square cut Platonic ideal of an FBI agent, but little more, and the two have the easy going relationship and interactions most people have with alabaster. It’s not Duhamel’s fault so much as the fault of the set-up, which doesn’t lend itself to normal human interactions. And while there’s the potential for drama rather than comedy, the show doesn’t seem inclined to have Duhamel lording it over Winters rather than simply being oblivious to the effect he has on others.

On top of the fact the crime the couple investigate in the first episode isn’t that interesting, thrilling or complicated, and the supporting cast (bar Penn) aren’t worth watching either, you have a show that merely exists to fill up a Sunday evening schedule and add to CBS’s annual crime show quota.

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March 5, 2015

Review: The Last Man On Earth 1x1-1x2 (US: Fox)

Posted on March 5, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Last Man On Earth

In the US: Sundays, 9.30c/8.30c, Fox

Literature - and in particular science fiction - has a long tradition of imagining what life would be like if everyone in the world was dead except for one person. Indeed, the very first English-language novel, Robinson Crusoe, is largely about one man’s exploits alone on a desert island. And since then, there’s been the likes of Castaway, Life After People, 28 Days Later, I Am Legend, The Omega Man, Silent Running and even Red Dwarf.

A common theme ever since Crusoe has been that finally having no distractions and the chance to do whatever one wants by oneself is unbearable. And almost always the author gives in and provides the hero someone else with whom he can interact - because the story’s also pretty dull otherwise. Crusoe had his Man Friday, Silent Running had its little robots, Red Dwarf had its Rimmer and so on.

So in a sense, the similarly themed The Last Man on Earth is nothing new, despite being both a sitcom and having the unlikely home of Fox. The show sees Saturday Night Live’s Will Forte seemingly the only man alive in the whole of North America, if not the world, following the outbreak of a terrible virus (that apparently destroys human bodies right down to the skeletons, leaving no ugly dead bodies behind anywhere…). For over a year, he’s by himself doing whatever he wants, appropriating whatever he needs from wherever he visits, but apparently happy to settle down in a McMansion in his home town of Tucson, Arizona.

Gradually, he begins to realise there’s no point to life without other people and prays to God that He send someone, anyone, to end his loneliness - preferably female, though. God fails to answer, so Forte tries to kill himself. Except at the last moment, it turns out his prayers have been answered and there is one woman alive in the world still, and she’s found Forte.

Unfortunately, she’s Kristen Schaal. And just as Burgess Meredith discovered in Time Enough At Last, you should be careful what you wish for.

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February 10, 2015

Review: Fresh Off The Boat 1x1-1x2 (US: ABC)

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

Fresh Off The Boat

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

Here’s a quick, fun little TV trivia question: when was the last time there was a sitcom about an Asian American family on TV? Or even an Asian-American*?

Have a guess. Go on.

Give in? It was in 1994 and it was Margaret Cho’s All American Girl.

There you go. Now you’ll ace it in the next pub quiz.

So that was 20 years ago. That must have been one hell of a toxic sitcom to have put US TV off Asians for 20 years. Or maybe it was something else that was responsible… However, it looks like the time is ripe for another stab at the genre.

As I may have noted once or twice, this season, ABC has been trying to up the diversity in its shows to appeal to underserved segments of the US population. So far, we’ve had black-ish, How To Get Away With Murder and Cristela, to name but a few. Coupled with that, we have the continuing efforts by all networks to have period dramas set in more or less every year since TV started. Given Fox got up to 1991 with Surviving Jack last year, it’s clear this season needed to advance things a few years to 1995, as can be seen from Hindsight.

Based on the book of the same name by celebrity chef Eddie Wong, Fresh Off The Boat - which involves no boats at all but sees an Asian-American family driving from Washington DC to Orlando, Florida to open a Wild West restaurant and trying to integrate into their new community - is both diverse and set in 1995. Which is possibly the main reason it’s being made.

And initially those are the nicest things that can be said about it, too. You could certainly, for the first episode at least, have also called it offensive, cliched, predictable, insulting, borderline if not actually racist, a Wonder Years knock-off and a whole lot else. But none of those things is especially nice.

So… diverse. And set in 1995. But that was about it.

And had I followed my gut instinct, I’d have dropped it like a hot potato straight after that. However, I noted that the showrunner/creator was Nahnatchka Khan, who also created Don’t Trust The B----. This was a bit of a mess at first, but over time, became a whole lot better and eventually one of the funniest things on TV.

So I thought I’d stick with it for another episode. And while I can’t report that the second episode was an hysterical riot, it did at least make me laugh a few times. Which is more than the first episode did. Here’s a trailer - you may wish to report it to the Race Relations Board, though:

* No Selfie does not count

Continue reading "Review: Fresh Off The Boat 1x1-1x2 (US: ABC)"

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