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October 17, 2014

Review: Marry Me 1x1 (US: NBC; UK: E4)

Posted on October 17, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Marry Me

In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, NBC
In the UK: Acquired by E4. Will air late 2014/early 2015

And let the Fall 2014 rom-com trend continue! Hot on the heels of Marriage, You're The Worst, Selfie and Manhattan Love Story, here comes NBC’s Marry Me, a companion piece to the network's other new rom-com, A to Z, which rather than showing us a couple meeting and doing the whole “will they, won’t they” thing for six seasons instead starts off six years into the relationship with the couple still unmarried and not even living together. Which is at least novel for an American show and indeed relationship, which normally follows the six months/one year move in, one year to two years proposal/get married, two to four years to first child rule with iron-clad inevitability.

However, both do want to get married. The trouble is that while the man (Ken Marino from the much-missed Party Down) is relatively stable and normal, the woman (Casey Wilson from the much-missed Happy Endings) is something of a ditz who causes the worst possible things in the world to happen - much of the first episode revolves around Wilson comprehensive cocking up of both Marino’s and her marriage proposals, lives, friendships, etc, while flashing back to those first six years of equally epic cock-ups.

It’s no real spoiler to say that by the end of the episode, the happy couple are eventually engaged, with the rest of the series set to be about their next, inevitably bumpy journey - this time towards actually getting married. But the show’s real theme is a questioning of the standard rom-com trope of ‘the sign’: with that many disasters occurring to the proposal, is it a ‘sign' they aren’t supposed to be together or is the fact they still end up together and do get engaged a sign that they are supposed to be together?

As you might expect from the fact Marry Me is from the creator of Happy Endings David Caspe - who based this show’s premise on his recent marriage to Wilson - the writing’s a notch above the usual and is both quite ‘meta’ and literary, with characters frequently stopping to analyse their situation and to subvert their own language. The show’s also set in Chicago and has a suitable degree of diversity, with Wilson’s character being the progeny of two gay dads, one white, one black, both called Kevin, and a lesbian surrogate. And the show’s largely all about Wilson, with much of the fun stemming from her character’s “being in the moment” and generally putting her foot in her mouth, not being that graceful (a yoga class is particularly entertaining, with its instructor continually damning her with faint praise) and making a mess of things.

Marino’s role, by contrast, is explicitly duller, he being the conventional rock that stabilises her dementedness, almost the Desi Arnaz to Wilson’s Lucille Ball. He makes the best of it, but ultimately he’s not thrown much by way of a bone throughout the first episode.

Certainly, of the network rom-coms, while not a patch on You’re The Worst, it’s the best by far of the bunch, being not only smarter and funnier but also having engaging, likeable characters you want to see do well. However, in common with a lot of NBC comedies, it’s more wry funny than laugh out loud funny - you admire the cleverness of the writing rather than actually roll about on the floor giggling a lot of the time, and as with the show's first five-minute long marriage proposal scene, it really tries to milk every moment for all its worth, way past the point where there’s anything left.

So while it’s certainly one to at least try, I’ll be surprised if it acquires more than a cult following. Of course, I’ll hang around until episode three to see if much changes now the marriage proposals are out the way and Marino gets something decent to do. But largely this is a show that’s there, rather than having any real need to exist or anything truly unique to add to the rom-com mix.

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October 2, 2014

Review: Manhattan Love Story 1x1 (US: ABC)

Posted on October 2, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share


In the US: Tuesday 8.30/7.30c, ABC

Now is the hour of the TV romcom. It's something that's been growing over the summer, with tiny acorns such as Undateable and Welcome To Sweden on NBC giving way to the striplings of Marriage and You're The Worst on FX. And now we have a veritable forest of them, with Selfie already on our screens, A to Z and Marry Me on the way this season, and Manhattan Love Story just arriving. 

Although it might seem like doing a romcom is easy - after all, pretty much every script to a Katherine Heigl film is the same as all the others, with virtually every cliche about 'what men and women want' surviving intact from the 1950s in all of them - it's really not, as Manhattan Love Story demonstrates. To give you a flavour of the show, we start the first episode with our hero, Peter (Jake McDorman), and heroine, Dana (Analeigh Tipton) walking through Manhattan. He's checking out the women, trying to remember which ones he's slept with, usually by staring at their breasts as an aide memoire. She's checking out the women, too, but purely to scope out their handbags.

Because that's what men and women are like, aren't they?

This embrace by the writers of the stereotypical romcom world doesn't end there. Dana is a naive small town woman, moved to New York to pursue a new career as an editor at a publishing company. This is the kind of publishing company where everyone looks at a woman who claims to have copy-edited an entire book overnight not in amazement at how anyone could think that a good idea, when 15 pages or so a day is probably where it needs to be at to avoid all kinds of horrible mistakes, but at how dedicated and talented this person who's never worked in publishing before must be.

In turn, Peter is a player, a cynical native New Yorker. He also works at an engraving company. Yes, he's in Manhattan, presumably paying Manhattan rents, getting by on having trophies engraved. Let's just hope he only works there or episode seven is where it turns out he's having to sell crack cocaine to make ends meet. Slightly darker, I know, but reality bites, and it's either that or branching out into shoe repairs and cutting duplicate keys.

Turns out that Peter's friend's wife is friends with Dana and she sets the two up on date, which naturally enough is arranged for Dana's first day at a new job. Dating on a Monday, starting a new job on a Friday or assuming that a date on the night of anyone's first job is a good idea - which do you think is less likely?

As you can imagine, it's all laughs as first Dana's day at work turns out to be hellish and then the date turns out to be equally hellish. But wouldn't you know it, they're ready to try again by the end of the episode, after learning a little about what the other really wants.

This is all highly painful stuff. There's no real humour to any of it. It's offensive to men, women, New Yorkers, small towners, men and women again, and anyone from an ethnic minority about 83% +/- 17% of the time. There's no charm, nothing even approaching romance, no realism. The main characters aren't interesting. Their friends aren't interesting. Even the player-naive girl diad is played to the blandest, tritest level possible. Ooh, Dana wants to go on a bicycle-cab ride and see the Statue of Liberty! Isn't she just innocently embracing the natural joy of existence and living in New York to the max!

It's not a total failure at everything, since Tipton proves that it is possible to have some success in life after appearing on America's Next Top Model. But it's pretty close.


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September 29, 2014

Review: The Brokenwood Mysteries 1x1 (New Zealand: Prime)

Posted on September 29, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Brokenwood Mysteries

In New Zealand: Sundays, 8.30pm, Prime

Despite its physical size, New Zealand is somewhat of a small country in terms of population, with just 4.5m inhabitants spread over its 104,000 square miles. That means that it can't really afford that much by way of original TV programming, largely importing TV from the US, Australia and Britain.

In fact, despite having several TV networks of its own, if you put aside documentary-making, then at times it can feel like there’s only one production company in the whole country: South Pacific Pictures. Responsible for seemingly everything from the long-running soap Shortland Street (22 years strong this year), which pretty much created the New Zealand TV industry anyway, through Outrageous Fortune, The Blue Rose to perhaps the country’s most famous and successful home-grown drama, The Almighty Johnsons, South Pacific has such a grip on the nation’s airwaves that the only scripted show I can think of in recent memory that South Pacific didn’t produce is Harry.

Given that New Zealand didn't have its own detective show, it’s no surprise that South Pacific is now trying to fill that particular hole in both its and the country’s drama portfolio with The Brokenwood Mysteries. And although South Pacific is somewhat promiscuous in who it provides shows to, one thing it’s very keen on is loyalty to actors* - you can pretty much guarantee that Siobhan Marshall is going to turn up in any of its shows sooner or later, for starters - so equally it's no surprise that The Brokenwood Mysteries stars Fern Sutherland (Dawn from The Almighty Johnsons) or that all four episodes are written by The Almighty Johnsons and Outrageous Fortune star and occasional scriptwriter Tim Balme.

There isn’t anything especially innovative or exciting about The Brokenwood Mysteries. In fact, it’s basically Y Gwyll, if you were to give that show a quick location change, a different mix of languages and ethnicities, and a more stereotypical Kiwi optimism. Sutherland is the the Mali Harries of the piece, a police detective living in the backwaters of New Zealand in a small town called Brokenwood who’s naturally miffed when city detective and Tom Mathias equivalent Mike Shepherd (Neill Rea), arrives to supervise her and her latest investigation: the apparent suicide of a local farmer.

The down-at-heel Shepherd saunters around the small town and its pretty surrounding countryside, interviewing suspects, finding lots of red herrings, bickering with Fernwood and listening to country and western music on his in-car cassette player in an ostentatiously quirky way, while having to deal with his multiple ex-wives. It’s his character who gets the bulk of the development, attention and character quirks, with the business-like Sutherland having to play the straight woman who inevitably grows to admire him and his idiosyncratic ways.

Rea is fine - as you’d expect from someone who’s also one of the country’s leading casting agents - while Sutherland does well with the little that’s asked of her and is convincingly un-Dawnish. But rather than the dark misery of Y Gwyll, this is genteel, New Zealand drama designed to appeal to perhaps an older demographic that likes comfortable murder-mysteries and to New Zealanders eager to watch anything that’s actually set in New Zealand and stars New Zealanders. Unfortunately, such is that low bar to entry, if you’ve seen any detective show ever, you’ll begin to wonder exactly how isolated from the outside world New Zealand really is, given the dialogue it chooses to show just how stunningly intelligent its lead detectives are - most murders are committed by people known by the victim, are they? Gosh, that’s a new and exciting fact I wouldn’t have gleaned from any other show.

If The Brokenwood Mysteries arrives on UK screens, it’ll probably be on ITV3, some time after Rosemary & Thyme. But I wouldn’t hold my breath for it, unless you like unchallenging, comfortable and unspectacular fare.

* The fact there aren’t that many in New Zealand probably helps

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