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February 3, 2017

Review: Powerless 1x1 (US: NBC)

Posted on February 3, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Powerless (NBC)

In the US: Thursdays, 8.30/7.30c, NBC

Although NBC has managed to return to the top of the US ratings after its horrific death plummet a decade ago, there are still a couple of things it's not good at: comedies and superhero shows. Okay, to be fair, its comedies are useless quite smart, but they're usually not desperately funny (eg The Good Place) and/or they never fare well in the ratings (eg Community). To be equally fair, it hasn't had a lot of superhero shows, but while we can all agree that at least Constantine got better over time, Heroes got decidedly worse and the less said about The Cape, the better.

So Powerless looks like the perfect storm: an NBC superhero comedy. What manner of horror could that be, you might ask? Well, for a while, it actually looked quite promising, giving us a show that builds on the same theme as both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War by being about the little people who are just trying to get on with their lives and avoid getting crushed by buildings, shot by death rays, et al as superheroes and supervillains do what superheroes and supervillains do - a sort of Lower Decks of the DC Comic Book universe, if you will. In this original story, the somewhat cynical Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical) worked in an insurance company for supervillain Alan Tudyk (Firefly), where she has to decide whether destruction caused by Wonder Woman can be written off as an Act of God because as a demi-goddess, it's a grey area.

Following the pilot, though, show creator Ben Queen (A to Z, Drive) left and the whole thing got rebooted into something a lot more mid-season replacement.

Now, Hudgens is a wide-eyed superhero fan reporting to work at Tudyk's branch of Wayne Industries - Tudyk now being Bruce Wayne's cousin - where she has to lead a team of more jaded inventors and engineers in developing products to help the ordinary people of 'Charm City' cope with the superhero-induced trials and tribulations of life, whether those be personal Joker-poison anti-toxin injectors or inflatable suits to help their wearers withstand concussive blows.

Trouble is, her new underlings, who include Community's Danny Pudi and Undateable's Ron Funches, aren't the brightest tools in the box, so spend their entire time ripping off Lexcorp's ideas and making them a different colour, rather than coming up with anything original, which means that Bruce is thinking about shutting them down. Will they get a reprieve?

I'm not sure I care. Admittedly, the show does have its good points: Hudgens, Pudi and Tudyk are as fun to watch as always, and no less an acting god than Adam West is the narrator. There's also the occasional bit of low but amusing humour, with inept supervillain Jack O'Lantern inadvertently punning about his 'balls… of fire' and Batman coincidentally using the new product the team has just sent to Bruce Wayne (what are the chances?).

But Funches is still a near unbearably poor actor, there really aren't that many jokes and we're nearing the bottom of the superhero z-list with Jack O'Lantern and Crimson Fox - it's not so much Lower Decks as Journey to the Earth's Core. Who cares what they're up to down there?

The show's not terrible. The core cast and ideas are reasonably sound and now the producers have got over retooling the show in a hurry, hopefully they'll have time to settle in all the new ideas. But Powerless really needs to raise its ambitions - if DC corporate vetting will let it - if it's to avoid going the same way as every other NBC superhero show.

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February 2, 2017

Review: Riverdale 1x1 (US: The CW; UK: Netflix)

Posted on February 2, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Riverdale

In the US: Thursdays, 9/8c, The CW
In the UK: Available on Netflix. New episode every Friday

If all you know about American comics involves superheroics, Archie is a bit of a surprise. First published in 1939, Archie is one of the few comics consistently still sold in US supermarkets, its sales often matching those of Batman at times, and it's launched numerous spin-off titles in its time, too - UK readers might not have heard of him, but you'll have heard of Josie and the Pussycats, who first started life in Archie's Riverdale.

Archie's success is odd, since it's not about fights, threats to the world, crime and existential angst. Instead, it's all about red-haired teenager Archie Andrews and his life, love, dreams and friendships in a 50s-esque small town, with a particular focus on his near-eternal love-triangle between girl next-door Betty Cooper and rich girl Veronica Lodge.

Archie, Veronica and Betty

The idea of an Archie TV series therefore sounds a bit bizarre. The idea of it being made by Greg Berlanti sounds even stranger. Sure, Berlanti is the king of TV comic-book adaptations at the moment, with Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow and DC's Legends of Tomorrow swelling The CW's airwaves already and yet more in the pipeline. But those are all superhero comics and that's just not Archie.

Yet in the hands of both Berlanti and Archie Comics' chief creative officer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Riverdale is actually delightful. Just delightful. Despite it being full of murder.

It takes a certain amount chutzpah to try to do Twin Peaks again in the exact same year that said show returns to our screens, yet Riverdale is effectively the 'Twin Peaks-isation' of Riverdale, taking all the familiar elements of the comics, throwing them up in the air, adding in a murder-mystery, then seeing where they all land in the present day.

Here, Archie (Shortland Street's KJ Apa) is a would-be musician and potential member of the Varsity football team. Having spent the summer working for his dad's construction company, he's now got abs to die for, giving best friend Betty (Surviving Jack's Lili Reinhart), Betty's gay best friend Kevin Keller (Casey Cott) and members of the football team girl, boy and bro boners aplenty. Even members of the faculty find it hard to keep their hands off Archie - although Josie and her Pussycats seem immune to his charms.

Betty - who'd quite like her and Archie's friendship to be something more - is all ready to make a play for him and invite him to the dance, when into the Chock'lit Shoppe diner walks Veronica (Camila Mendes), the daughter of rich but disgraced Hiram Lodge, who's relocated back to her mother (24's Marisol Nichols)'s home town of Riverdale to start a new life. Instantly, she attracts Archie's attention. 

However, Archie's not quite himself because of what happened over the summer. What happened over the summer? Well, that's Archie's secret, but as narrator Jughead (Cole Sprause) reveals as he types out his novel at the diner, it might well have something to do with the mysterious disappearance of Jason Blossom, twin brother of the town's chief mean girl Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch). 

What's fascinating about the show is how nice it is - almost a modern day Dawson's Creek or Hidden Palms - with literate, mature teenagers having deep, meaningful conversations with one another and generally being nice and witty. Veronica and Betty may be in a love triangle with Archie, but they also become fast friends, Veronica turning over a new leaf in her life following her father's disgrace to want to be more than just a stereotypical rich b*tch. And there's a scene of just Betty dancing by herself that's almost pure joy.

Indeed, everyone's almost impossibly mature, with Cheryl Blossom putting Betty down as being "fat, like season 5 Betty Draper", Veronica making over Betty later on to become "like season 1 Betty Draper". Mad Men references? It's a sign the audience for the show isn't expected to just be teenagers. In fact, with the likes of Mädchen Amick (Twin Peaks) and Luke Perry (Beverly Hills 90210) playing Betty's mum and Archie's dad respectively, it's clear that the show wants to attract the interest of Archie readers who were teenagers in the 90s, too.

Even if you never read Archie, try Riverdale as it's a delightful show for people of all ages - one that avoids the saccharine with its surprising twisting of the story into Lynchian territory. 

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January 27, 2017

Review: Mary Kills People 1x1 (Canada: Global)

Posted on January 27, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Mary Kills People

In Canada: Wednesdays, 9pm ET/PT, Global

Euthanasia doesn't seem like the best subject for a comedy drama, even a dark one. In fact, it isn't, judging by Mary Kills People, in which Caroline Dhavernas (Wonderfalls, Hannibal, Off The Map) plays a doctor who somewhat illegally helps the terminally ill to end their lives even sooner in exchange for a big pile of cash.

The easy flame against Mary Kills People would be that watching it makes you want to end your own life, it's so dull. Easy, but true, unfortunately, since the opening episode that introduces us to Mary, her family, her partner in crime (Richard Short) is something of a slog that makes you long for the sweet release of death.

The opening is a misjudged failed euthanasia of 19-2's Adrian Holmes that ends with Dhavernas smothering him with a pillow then leaping out of a window. That's still more exciting and better judged than anything that happens afterwards, which is largely about the logistics of Dhavernas' operation, how she keeps it secret from her daughter and the fact she might be attracting the attention of some people she really ought to be avoiding. Attempts to forge a buddy-buddy relationship between Dhavernas and Short are stilted and lamentable, largely being discussions about which of their patients they'd have sex with.

The show wants to think it's starting a conversation about the morality of euthanasia, but has nothing much to say on the subject having started the conversation. Is what Dhavernas doing right or wrong? Is it ethical to have a relationship with someone you're about to murder at their own request? Big shrugs from Mary Kills People, but isn't Dhavernas pretty? Ooh.

To the show's credit, it is at least exploring a novel and bold idea from a novel and bold direction. But by the end of it, you feel that the whole thing is an attempt to redo Weeds in Canada with a slightly different ethical issue, rather than to do something genuinely groundbreaking.

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