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January 15, 2015

Review: Man Seeking Woman 1x1 (US: FXX)

Posted on January 15, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Man Seeking Woman

In the US: Wednesdays, 10:30pm, FXX

Being newly single after a long-term relationship is wretched. After months or years being with someone, suddenly you’re all by yourself again. Soon, you’re discovering that the world’s moved on without you - everyone decent is now in a relationship and how people date and are expected to act on dates has changed since you were last ‘on the market'. Imagine both the misery… and the potential for comedy.

Indeed, for most TV networks, just that scenario would be sufficient. But FX and new spin-off channel FXX are rapidly shaping up to be the producers of some of the most innovative programming on US TV, even compared to premium cable channels such as HBO and Showtime. While it’s best if we overlook Marriage, You’re The Worst was the uncontested, very edgy winner of last year’s romcom wars and Tyrant, The Strain, The Bridge (US) and The Americans have all at least tried to do something different and equally edgy in their own ways.

Now we have Man Seeking Woman, developed by showrunner Simon Rich from his collection of short stories The Last Girlfriend on Earth. The show has little to do with the book itself, being a continuous storyline about what happens when twentysomething nerd Josh Greenberg (Jay Baruchel of She’s Out of My League fame) splits up from his girlfriend Maggie (Maya Erskine from Amazon’s Betas) and re-enters the dating scene, although at times it does feel like a collection of sketches thrust together rather than a thematically cohesive whole.

What makes Man Seeking Woman different is that rather than being a series of simple encounters between Baruchel and various women, the show instead highlights how wretched each scenario is using the power of fantasy made real. Worried that your blind date is going to turn out to be less than pulchritudinous? Guess what. She’s a troll. Really - she’s come from the forests of Sweden and eats out of dumpsters. Think that your ex’s new boyfriend is likely to be the worst human alive? Turns out he’s Adolf Hitler who’s faked his own death. What’s he going to make of the fact you’re Jewish, I wonder.

Each of these is played entirely seriously, with no one blinking an eyelid at their improbability - and the fact that Baruchel always ends up having to apologise for his bad behaviour (“I’m not the one you have to apologise to.” “I’m sorry, Hitler” “I don’t think he can hear you.”). Much of the joy of the show is the bizarre directions it goes in that quite often precisely sum up a feeling not previously verbalised but universally recognisable.

But in common with You’re The Worst, it’s slightly male gaze - as the title suggests, this is man seeking woman, not woman seeking man, and the idea, for example, that a woman travelling late on a Friday night on the Chicago L by herself would be delighted to have a guy obviously following her and then would give him her business card is very much an extreme male fantasy. But to a certain extent the show knows it - wait till you see how that encounter plays out - and sometimes turns its gaze on Baruchel, pointing out that while his date may be a troll, it’s not like he goes to the gym much, is it?

The show also tries to get by too much purely on the strengths of its fantasy scenarios, with Baruchel’s character not especially likeable and his best friend (Eric André from Don’t Trust The B----) the kind of guy who calls women ‘gash’. You’re not really invested in the characters, so much as seeing what the next fantasy sketch is.

Man Seeking Woman works best as a sort of longer form, romcom version of Portlandia, rather than as a sitcom per se. But it’s intermittently very funny, incisive and imaginative, so definitely worth a try.

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January 14, 2015

Review: Schitt's Creek 1x1-1x2 (Canada: CBC)

Posted on January 14, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Schitt's Creek

In Canada: Tuesdays, 9pm ET, CBC
In the US: Acquired by TVGN/POP  

Every time a new Canadian comedy comes along, like some demented TV-watching dog hopefully expecting the return of its owners, I look up, wag my tail and grin.

"Maybe this is it. Maybe this is the one. Maybe this is the funny one.”

Now, it’s not like these are totally unfounded hopes. After all, Satisfaction was a moderately funny comedy that could have been even better with a cast that knew how to act.

But that was something of a needle in an Insecurity/Seed/Working The Engels/18 To Life/Men With Brooms/Hiccups haystack. Because on the whole, Canadian sitcoms, particularly those on the CBC, suck like Dracula in a dorm room after 10 years on a diet of sparkling water and crackers.

Nevertheless, my tail started awaggling away when I heard that Schitt’s Creek was coming. Look at the risky title! Even before it aired, Canadians were umming and ahhing about that: "When grown adults think the height of witticism is some sort of wordplay on crudity I tend to yawn.” This was going to be daring, by Canadian standards.

But more so, look at the cast: Eugene Levy from American Pie, Catherine O’Hara from SCTV and Home Alone as a rich couple who buy a small, dead-end rural town joke, but end up having to move there when all their assets are seized by the tax inspectors. It’ll be the new Arrested Development, won’t it?

And the reviews! Look at the reviews: "CBC may end up getting the last laugh by having the strongest homegrown sitcom this country has had since, well, that show about not much going on that just recently made a movie.”

That’s right! Schitt’s Creek might be the strongest home grown sitcom since… that other thing he’s talking about that’s probably Corner Gas!

Look out. Here it comes. Here it comes!

Oh crap. It’s rubbish. That’s me fooled again, then.

Here’s a trailer.

Continue reading "Review: Schitt's Creek 1x1-1x2 (Canada: CBC)"

January 5, 2015

Season review: Marco Polo (Netflix)

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

Marco Polo

On the Internet: Available on Netflix

There are a lot of names in history that we learn at school that if we stop to pause and consider them, we realise we still know very little about them. Marco Polo. He went to China. Did he discover China? Was he the first European to discover China? Was he the first Italian to trade with China?

That wasn’t something they really taught you in school.

Ditto Genghis Khan and his grandson Kublai. What did they do, apart from rule a bit of Asia? Did you even know Kublai Khan was his grandson in fact?

Some of you will probably know all this, most won’t. So in many ways, now that period dramas have pretty much exhausted the 17-20th centuries in the UK and the US and are looking for new times and places to explore, we should be grateful for the likes of Marco Polo, Netflix’s new 10-episode drama released en masse over Christmas, for illustrating a period of Asian and European history about which most people know mere names at best.

The show tells the story of the eponymous Marco Polo, a young Viennese trader whose father returns from the East after years away, and decides to drag him and a few priests back to the court of the great Mongol leader Kublai Khan. Kublai Khan is looking to expand his empire to include South China by defeating the Song Dynasty, who have been walled up in a nearby city that has withstood assault for nearly 30 years.

Kublai Khan decides to take the young and loquacious Polo into his court and show him Mongol ways. But how will Polo to take to them? Will he survive the intrigues and politics of the court? Will he find love with a princess? And how good a pupil will he be to the blind Daoist monk 100 Eyes at the art of kung fu?

Wait… what was that?

Yes, because despite being on Netflix, which is normally a sign of good quality, Marco Polo was originally lined up to be a Starz production. Starz - that would be the home of Torchwood: Miracle Day and historically accurate fare such as Spartacus, Camelot and Da Vinci’s Demons.

So although this $90 million series is lavish and has many pluses, including filming in both Malaysia and the steppes of Kazakhstan, don’t expect a history lesson so much as a halfway house between Netflix and Starz’s sensibilities - think Game of Thrones meets The Last Samurai meets Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, spiced up with the usual female nudity.

Here’s a trailer.

Continue reading "Season review: Marco Polo (Netflix)"

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