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May 27, 2014

Mini-review: Old School 1x1 (ABC1)

Posted on May 27, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Old School

In Australia: Fridays, 8.30pm, ABC1

It hasn’t escaped the notice of more or less any TV executive worldwide that TV audiences are getting older. Those damn kids are glued to this new fangled Internet, leaving TV behind to those who’ve been watching since they were kids and TV was this new fangled thing that was robbing cinema of its audiences.

As a result, TV for what I’ll charitably call the older generations is getting special consideration, particularly in the crime genre, which the old folks just love. Here in the UK, of course, we have BBC1’s New Tricks, starring a bevy of famous older actors from shows that were popular in the 70s and 80s. It’s now on its 11th series, and still bringing in between 7m and 10m viewers.

Australia’s ABC1 (which also airs New Tricks) is waking up to this potential as well, and for its latest effort, Old School, it’s deploying two of the world’s most famous older Antipodean actors: Sam Neill and Bryan Brown. Neill is a retired cop, Brown a crim who’s just got out of jail. They team up to find the man who shot Neill and ruined his career during Brown’s last job - and to find the loot that went missing afterwards.

Not entirely confident that cutting out an entire demographic from the potential audience is a good idea, ABC1 is ensuring that some young pretty people also feature in the cast list: Brown’s law student granddaughter (Hanna Mangan-Lawrence from Spartacus) whom Brown puts into the care of Mark Coles Smith (The Gods of Wheat Street) when things get a bit rough.

But this is still a double act between Neill and Brown, both of whom are playing this somewhat leisurely, let’s say. As with New Tricks, it’s a relatively slowly paced, amiable comedy-drama where nothing that wouldn’t have happened in an episode of Hawaii Five-O takes place. There aren’t any especially great lines and most of the action revolves around either Neill or Brown feeling old or discovering something that’s changed since he was a lad, such as this new fangled Internet.

Yet despite this and the almost The Persuaders!-esque title sequence, OId School is still a modern show, a series with definite story arcs and character development rather than an entirely episodic piece. There are surprises and mysteries that aren’t solved by the end of the first episode. The inevitable odd couple private detective format, with Neill using his police skills, Brown his criminal skills, is partly present but doesn’t pan out quite as you’d expect, with Neill dealing with shades of grey surprisingly well, Brown able to police sometimes as well as Neill.

While it’s nothing earth-shattering, Old School is enjoyable, has a good couple of leads, a good supporting cast and a strong enough plot that it’ll be worth sticking with for now - it’ll probably remind you a bit of The Rockford Files or something.

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April 29, 2014

Preview: Penny Dreadful 1x1 (Showtime/Sky Atlantic)

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

Penny Dreadful

In the US: Sundays, 10pm ET/PT, Showtime. Starts May 11
In the UK: Will air on Sky Atlantic in May

Sometimes, it's nice to have a fresh pair eyes come to a genre, free of its cliches, unwritten expectations and rules, and history, and throw everything up in the air to create something new and different. If that writer or director is also extremely talented, so much the better, since they can perhaps create a new 'paradigm' for that genre that will change it forever.

Look at literary history and you'll see how neophytes have created some of horror's greatest icons: consider, for example, Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, Oscar Wilde and Robert Louis Stevenson, 19th century authors who without any history of writing horror came fresh to it and created Dracula, Frankenstein, Dorian Gray and Dr Jekyll.

That, though, is the utopian vision. The flipside, of course, is that the new arrival, no matter how talented they are, simply won't know what hoary old tropes they're recycling and will add precisely nothing, no matter how well written it is.

So how much should you be looking forward to the self-consciously titled Penny Dreadful, a US-UK co-production between Showtime and Sky Atlantic, that's written by no lesser a scribe than John Logan and exec produced by Sam Mendes? Neither has done much by way of horror but still have the likes of Skyfall, Gladiator, Coriolanus and American Beauty under their belts.

The series, as you might imagine all those of you who know what a penny dreadful was, is a Victorian horror show. It pulls together the acting talents of Timothy Dalton, Josh Hartnett, Eva Green, Billie Piper, Rory Kinnear, Helen McRory and Simon Russell Beale, to name but a few, and imagines a London where the works of Shelley, Wilde and co are all true and Dracula, Gray and other creatures of the night really do skulk in the dark. It's up to Dalton, Green and Hartnett to rescue those in peril from the supernatural horrors that are mere legends.

Revolutionary or merely Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen again? If you're in the US, you can watch and find out below; the rest of you can watch the trailer then follow me after the jump and I'll let you know.

Continue reading "Preview: Penny Dreadful 1x1 (Showtime/Sky Atlantic)"

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April 29, 2014

Preview: Playing House 1x1 (USA)

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

Playing House

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, USA. Starts April 29

Please! Won't somebody stop them?

Who's 'they', you might ask. Good question, because there's a lot of theys who need stopping. The first they is the USA Network, which is busily trying to move from making character-based dramas - most of which are best described as dramedies - into making full-on comedies. It's first effort, a remake of Channel 4's Sirens, was pretty mediocre, and now we have the even more mediocre Playing House. USA certainly needs stopping.

Our next 'they' who need stopping are best friends who want to write and star in TV shows together as thinly veiled versions of themselves and their own friendship. While two friends starring together obviously can work - look at True Detective, for example - it's when they get to write it as well and assume that their hilarious friendship will transfer well to the small screen that the issues arise. Look at Doll and Em and Best Friends Forever: very accurate portrayals of friendship that are not in the slightest bit funny to outside observers. These people need stopping.

That latter show, though, takes us to our last 'they' - Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair. For it was they who came up with that terrifyingly unfunny NBC 'comedy', which mostly involved them gurning at one another and not being especially plausible as human beings, so was rightly cancelled after about seven seconds. Yet somehow they've managed to garner themselves another show, this time on NBC's sister network USA, where they do pretty much exactly the same thing.

Please. Won't somebody stop them?

This time the plot is that Parham is married and about to have a baby, St. Clair is a high-flying exec. The two have been best friends since childhood and when Parham throws her baby shower, it accidentally comes out that her husband really enjoys webcamming with a German woman who likes putting biscuit tins and other things up her bottom. As does he. Naturally, the marriage breaks down and St Clair being the best friend she is drops everything, including her job, to move in with Parham to help her bring up the baby.

And as with Best Friends Forever, this feels like a show where the two real-life best friends are having an awful lot of fun together and really want us to know how crazy and wacky their friendship is, but ultimately it has zero in common with reality. Reality and this are not even ships passing in the night so much as a day-loving flying unicorn heading off to the planet Narg and a 43-year-old chartered quantity surveyor from a small village outside Surbiton who only does night shifts. 

For starters, as with BFF, well drawn as the female characters might be, the men appear to have been plotted from some imagined version of men gleaned by two teenage girls eavesdropping a table of psychologists at a "pathological neuroses" conference on their first trip out from the all girls catholic school since puberty struck. The male characters here may look like men, they're even played by men, but that's purely an optical illusion.

Then there's the idea of what a 'high flying exec' might be. Apparently, if you're a high flying exec, trusted by a company for 10 years to conduct million-dollar business deals in Mandarin, you have zero assertiveness, a total lack of self-confidence, are only allowed two days off per year at most, even at weekends, one night without sleep will incapacitate you and your company will fire you for a single bad business meeting. This is the high-flying exec imagined by comedy performers who have never had real jobs so have only watched really bad TV shows and read young-adult fiction as research.

Of course, lack of verisimilitude isn't in and of itself a killer with a comedy, providing it's funny, and if you like to watch a whole bunch of jokes you've seen before, just done sillier, with a little bit of added racism for luck, and by people who really want you to think they're both lovable and funny, then maybe this is the show for you. But if you have standards, you're going to be finding yourselves wanting Ming the Merciless to rain hot hail upon the Earth, purely in the hope that among the millions made homeless, some of the people involved in this will be collateral damage. It'll be a price worth paying. And it should certainly stop 'them'.

Here's a trailer or two.

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