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June 6, 2014

Review: Jennifer Falls 1x1 (TV Land)

Posted on June 6, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share


Jennifer Falls

In the US: Wednesdays, 10.30/9.30c, TV Land

TV seems to have a thing against women executives at the moment. To be slightly more accurate, it has a thing against women executives who in some sense ‘desert their friends’ (i.e. spend less time with them) in order to get ahead.

We recently had USA’s Playing House, in which high-flying executive Lennon Parham discovers that despite working hard for a decade, leaving behind in her home town her bestest pal Jessica St Clair to have a normal life, her career is always on a knife-edge, her male bosses don’t really respect her and actually, returning home to spend more time with her family and her friend and getting a less demanding job is more emotionally satisfying, you know? Perhaps that’s even all she really wants.

And now, over on TV Land, we have that network’s first single-camera comedy, in which high-flying executive Jaime Pressly discovers that despite working hard for a decade, leaving behind in her home town her bestest pal Missi Pyle to have a normal life, her career is always on a knife-edge, her male bosses don’t really respect her and actually, returning home to spend more time with her family and her friend and getting a less demanding job is more satisfying, you know? Perhaps that’s even all she really wants.

Cue Cheryl Sandberg to explain how women only feel they (and others) should be allowed to succeed as long as everyone - not just themselves - benefit and they’re not seen as selfish.

The big difference between the two shows? Jennifer Falls has a better cast and is marginally - just marginally - less irritating. Here’s a trailer.

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June 5, 2014

Review: Crossbones 1x1 (NBC)

Posted on June 5, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Crossbones

In the US: Fridays, 10/9c, NBC

At its height, the British Empire was the most powerful force humanity had ever known. Fully 1/5 of the world's population lived and died under the British flag. Yet its true power was not on land but on the sea where they ruled with the most brutal and efficient military force that has ever been: the British Navy.

But the oceans that this navy sought to control were vast, unknowable and full of terrible danger. And for all the Crown's might, its ships were often lost to starvation, to storm and tempest, and to pirates.

So it was in 1712, the Crown offered a prince's fortune to whomever could create a device that would allow its navy to navigate this great emptiness with a precision never before known. With this device, the Empire would increase its dominion over the world. But without it, the ships of the Crown would continue to be easy prey, not only from the gods and monsters of legend, but from a monster far more brutal and far more real.

- The opening narration to Crossbones

Back in the 00s, when I was watching BBC2’s Coupling, the last person I expected to become a US action hero was Richard Coyle. To be fair to Coyle, I didn’t expect any of the cast of Coupling to become US action heroes, but Coyle was right up there at the top of the list of cast members who wouldn’t become US action heroes. Because he was Jeff.

Of course, Ryan Reynolds was "the second guy in Two Guys, A Girl and a Pizza Place" before he became the action hero we now know, so perhaps that's a warning for you of the danger of typecasting comedy actors.

Indeed, since Coupling, Coyle's been a Persian prince in Prince of Persia

…a suave Russian ex-special forces soldier-cum-spy in Covert Affairs

…and now a British government agent and assassin in NBC's Crossbones. Good for him - he’s made it to the big time: the broadcast networks.

I think it's fair to say, though, that all you need to know about Crossbones can be encapsulated thus: John Malkovich is Blackbeard the pirate; he does not have a black beard. All the same, it does also need the following addendum: Crossbones is much, much better than Black Sails.

Here's a trailer.

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June 4, 2014

Mini-review: Halt and Catch Fire 1x1 (AMC)

Posted on June 4, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Halt and Catch Fire

In the US: Sundays, 10/9c, AMC

Of all the events in history you might have expected to have seen dramatised on TV, the quest in the early 1980s to develop 100% IBM PC-compatible computers by reverse engineering IBM's proprietary BIOS chip probably wasn't one of them. Leave it to AMC, then, to expand the envelope, because here we have Halt and Catch Fire - named after an obscure assembly language instruction - which seeks to do just that.

Starring Lee Pace of Pushing Daisies as Joe MacMillan (the Steve Jobs of the piece), Scott McNairy as Gordon Clark (the Steve Wozniak), it sees former IBM salesman MacMillan go rogue and turn up at a fictitious Texan computer company a year later. There he meets Clark and persuades him to help him build a PC-compatible. Along the way, he's also recruited a bright young engineer, Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis) who'll help them both to make MacMillan's dreams a reality.

And actually, it's very good. While Silicon Valley and the BBC's similar Micro Men decided to take the comic route to deal with computers, this is as serious and as hardcore as AMC's Mad Men. Although it's not based on a real company or people, it draws elements from real events to look at the somewhat overlooked Texas companies that helped to create the PC revolution and recreates the early 80s as convincingly as The Americans, albeit that portion of the 80s that led to Tron, right down to the synthesiser incidental music and theme tune. Lee Pace is compelling as the visionary and ruthless MacMillan, who's prepared to destroy an entire company to get what he wants. The technical details are impressive and assume a level of knowledge in the audience, whether it's a discussion of firmware, the use of hexadecimal notation or comments familiar to anyone in IT ("No one ever got fired for buying IBM").

And although it's an AMC show, this first episode actually clips along at a reasonable pace. Admittedly, the first 15 minutes or so are a bit shaky, thanks to an Armadillo accident (no, really) and Clark's sheer lack of charisma next to MacMillan's overwhelming personality. And Davis' character is somewhat undermined in that after a cracking introduction that shows how bright she is, that's initially only to show why MacMillan wants to sleep with her and his near-sociopathy.

But by the end of the episode, it becomes a compelling watch. Definitely one to stick with.

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