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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)"

December 1, 2014

Review: The Legacy (Arvingerne) 1x1 (UK: Sky Arts 1; Denmark: DR1)

Posted on December 1, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Arvingerne

In the UK: Wednesdays, 10pm, Sky Arts 1
In Denmark: Aired on DR1 in January 2014. Season two starts January 2015

The Danes are apparently the happiest people in the world (okay, third happiest, having dropped off the top spot this year). You wouldn’t know this from their TV, of course, which is full of serial killers and murderers (The Killing, Those Who Kill) and political intrigue (Borgen), as well as sometimes a mix of the two (The Bridge).

Even their family dramas are a bit gloomy, it turns out. A case in point is the ten-part The Legacy (Arvingerne), which like Those Who Kill has been poached away from its natural Scandi home of BBC4 in favour of AN Other Channel (Sky Arts 1 this time). The series, which comes from the same production company as The Killing, follows noted artist, free spirit and multiple-partnered Veronika Grønnegaard (Kirsten Olesen), who has a less than happy relationship with her three children, who pretty much all hate her guts, but for entirely different reasons: daughter Gro (Trine Dryholm) is miffed at being judged for ‘only’ being a secretary at Grønnegaard’s own firm and for not having any kids; Frederik (Carsten Bjørnlund) has had a bust-up so epic that he hasn’t spoken with Veronika for a year and actively tries to stop his own son from seeing her; and Emil (Mikkel Følsgaard) is off on another continent altogether.

Then there’s Signe (Marie Bach Hansen) who doesn’t even know she’s Veronika’s daughter, despite Veronika dropping into her flower shop and giving her free paintings for no well explained reasons.

But Veronika, being an artistic type, decides to screw the whole lot of them over by failing to mention she has breast cancer and then promptly dying of a stroke, leaving her much sought after house and estate to Signe to divide up between herself and her newfound siblings. That’s going to end well, isn’t it?

The extent you’re going to find The Legacy tolerable is how much you can tolerate both happiness and sadness. Despite their bad relationships with Veronika, all the families seem to be largely happy and enjoying Christmas, dressing up as Santa, having family meals together and losing track of time as they play percussion instruments together out in huts. No one’s poor and even when revelations about infidelities, bad parenting, different parentage et al crop up, no one’s dischuffed enough to even raise their voice much.

True, in case Frederik’s case, that might well be because he’s a closet psychopath whose wife is intensely freaked out by his behaviour, but he’s still a psychopath who continues joking around in his Santa outfit after getting the bad news about his mum, just to make sure his son has a nice time.

If you find all that happiness and luxury nauseating and weird, steer clear of The Legacy. Equally, if you fear family strife, dying parents, illness, old people looking like they’re dementing, upset children, will contention and slightly psychopathic sons who really want the family home, steer clear.

There’s not much by way action, which I’m sure will change with episode two, as upset siblings glare at each other and talk in hushed tones when they’re really angry (okay, maybe not psycho Frederik). But it’s a good start with different characters from the usual set you’re probably used to in such family dramas. It’ll probably be a bit ‘eat your greens’, and I suspect I’ll have to force myself to watch these, even though I did quite enjoy the first episode, but we’ll see if the show manages to up the ante in subsequent weeks. Simple scheduling maths should tell you that people should be at each other’s throats at this rate by, ooh, round about Christmas. That’ll be something to look forward to, won’t it?

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