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July 7, 2014

Review: Taxi Brooklyn 1x1-1x2 (NBC/TF1)

Posted on July 7, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Taxi Brooklyn

In France: Aired in May on TF1
In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, NBC

Take a look at that title. Go on. Take a look: Taxi Brooklyn. What does that even mean? It’s two words just stuck together, isn’t it?

Indeed, never has an international co-production so obviously signalled both its complete inability to understand an international market, or that it’s really hoping that people will want to watch it if it just sticks random things together. The latter, so far, has been French TV channel’s TF1’s implicit aim with first Jo and then Crossing Lines and now, pretty much explicitly, with Taxi Brooklyn.

So here are the random things stuck together:

  • Luc Besson’s Taxi series, France’s most successful movie franchise ever, the first of which got remade with Queen Latifah and Jimmy Fallon in 2004.
  • Olivier Megaton, director of Taken 2 and Transporter 3
  • French actor Jacky Ido, who you may remember from Inglorious Basterds or even from the first series of Spiral/Engrenages where he played ‘Personne’.
  • Brooklyn
  • A necessity to do everything in English

These aren’t just the pieces of some long-lost jigsaw puzzle sitting at the back of your cupboard - these are the pieces from someone else’s jigsaw that have mysteriously got mixed in with three others you have no recollection of ever even asking for.

Putting it all together was clearly an impossible challenge and the writers therefore obviously decided not to even bother trying to make it look like a show that’s supposed to hang together coherently. The plot - if it can be described as such - is thus utterly ridiculous.

Caitlin “Cat” Sullivan (Chyler Leigh) is a tough cop, so no one wants to partner with her. She’s also a terrible driver, so she gets her driving privileges revoked. How’s she going to solve crimes and do her job on public transport? What a dilemma!

But when she arrests a French taxi driver speed demon, Leo Romba (Ido), who’s been forced at gunpoint to act as a getaway driver in a bank robbery, serendipity has clearly struck. Ido agrees to help her solve the crime - and to drive her around - if she’ll clear his name. And since he was arrested and put in jail back in France so had to enter the US illegally, Sullivan agrees to help him with the US immigration authorities if he’ll continue to drive her around on future cases.

Forced, much? Absolutely. Excitement? Laughs? Not at all.

Because despite Megaton’s presence on the pilot, as well as supporting cast that includes Jennifer Esposito (Samantha Who?, Blue Bloods), Ally Walker (Universal Soldier, Profiler) and José Zúñiga (Law & Order, CSI), the show is unredeemed by excitement comedy, good characters or logic. Zut alors!

Here’s a trailer.

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July 3, 2014

Review: Tyrant 1x1-1x2 (FX)

Posted on July 3, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Tyrant

In the US: Tuesdays, 10pm, FX

Sometimes, before criticising fiction, it's worth looking at reality and noting just how much weirder it can be. 

Take Bashar al-Assad. He's the ruler of a little country called Syria that you might have heard of recently. He's very much A Bad Man, having amongst other things deployed chemical weapons against his own population in a very bloody civil war that's claimed the lives of over 100,000 people.

Guess what? He never wanted to be ruler of Syria. He wanted to be a doctor. In fact, he went to Western Eye Hospital, part of the St Mary's group of teaching hospitals in London, so that he could become an opthamologist. 

In fact, it was his brother Bassel who was being groomed for power by their father, Hafez al-Assad. However, Bassel was killed in a car accident, which meant that Bashar was recalled back to Syria and his father decided to prepare him to become president instead.

Reality is strange: had that car accident not happened, one of the bloodiest dictators of modern history would be off treating eye disorders somewhere.

Thus, going into FX's new show Tyrant, it's worth remembering that despite all the seemingly preposterous conceits of the show, reality is almost certainly serving up something stranger somewhere in the world. Set in a thinly veiled version of Syria that's separated by a mere star on its flag from the real thing, it sees an Arab-American paediatrician return back to his home country for his nephew's wedding. While there, his father has a stroke and his brother has a car accident, which would be merely tragic were it not for the fact that his father is the ruler of the country and he in turn is now its new de facto ruler - at least until his brother gets better. Will he prove to be a better, kinder ruler, or will power turn him into the thing that he's tried to so hard to avoid?

Written by Gideon Raff, the Israeli writer/director who created the original HomelandPrisoners of War/Hatufilm, the show is a hard but rewarding watch, albeit one that knows it. But it's not without its problems. 

Here's a trailer. 

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July 2, 2014

Preview: Constantine 1x1 (NBC)

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

constantine-keyart-promo.jpg

In the US: Fridays, 10/9c, NBC. Starts October 24

I was remarking only yesterday how DC comics and adaptations in other media now have something of a reputation for gloomy grittiness. When did this start, you might wonder, given how light and breezy the 1980s Superman and 1990s Batman movies were (yes, they were. Don't argue)? Some might argue it was Denny O'Neil's Batman strips. Others might point to the mid-80s decision by DC to try to appeal more to adults than children with its comics, which led to 'Crisis on Infinite Earths'. 

But it probably began with a strand of DC comic-writing that began in the 80s and blossomed in the 90s with DC's 'Vertigo' imprint, which was intended for 'mature readers'. Many of Vertigo's creations are still with us: Shade the Changing Man, Animal Man and Doom Patrol still crop up in DC Comics, although most people haven't heard of them. They will almost certainly have heard of Neil Gaiman's Sandman - indeed, it's the creation that introduced the world to Gaiman and even now, movie producers are trying to come up with a way to adapt it that can feature Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

The other Vertigo character of note is John Constantine. Not truly a Vertigo original - Alan Moore created Constantine as an escort for another future Vertigo character, Swamp Thing, during that mid-80s 'Crisis' - it was nevertheless Vertigo and writer Jamie Delano who turned Constantine from a chain-smoking, trenchcoat-wearing, petty London street thug and Sting-lookalike with a certain knowledge of the occult into one of DC's most popular, authentic and powerful characters in Hellblazer. Since then, Constantine has gone on to fight demons, devils and angels in his own comic, Constantine, as well as heading Justice League Dark. He's even appeared in a movie of his own, played by no lesser and no less an inappropriate actor than Keanu Reeves:

Now NBC, which scored something of a critical, if not ratings success with 'elegant horror' show Hannibal, is trying to branch out into more conventional horror with its own version of John Constantine. Vastly more faithful visually and culturally than the movie, and drawing considerably on Delano's Hellblazer run for its plot, NBC's Constantine is nevertheless a horror show exemplified by the fact that its bad boy protagonist isn't allowed to smoke on network TV in case it sends the wrong message.

Here's a trailer.

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