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September 30, 2013

Review: Atlantis 1x1 (BBC1/BBC America)

Posted on September 30, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BBC1's Atlantis

In the UK: Saturdays, 8.25pm, BBC1. Available on the iPlayer
In the US: Saturdays, BBC America. Starts November 23
In Canada: Space. Starts October 12

Ever since Plato first mentioned it (and perhaps even before that), people have been fascinated by the story of Atlantis, a fabulous city that eventually sunk beneath the waves at the behest of Poseidon. Depending on who you talk to (and leaving aside some of the more exciting and loonier of theories), it was either a morality tale that Plato entirely fabricated or a memory of a genuine place, possibly even the Minoan colony on Santorini, which was destroyed c1600BC. Finding, locating and exploring it have been dreams of men and women ever since.

Equally, TV has been fascinated by both Atlantis (witness BBC1's recent drama-documentary Atlantis, Stargate: Atlantis, Aquaman, The Man From Atlantis et al) and Greek myth (I ran down a big list of them a while back, if you're interested), so it seemed natural that sooner or later there would be a show that united the two*: in this case, Atlantis from the producers of Merlin and the creator of, surprisingly enough, Misfits.  

However, as we discovered with Xena: Warrior Princess, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Clash of the Titans, Wrath of the Titans et al, there is something of a temptation as soon as the setting is 'BC' and Greek myth and/or history is involved to take 2,000 years of history and countless cultures from across the Mediterranean and squish them all into one big lump.

So brace yourself purists, because here we find a (seemingly) modern day guy called Jason (possibly of the Argonauts) sent back in time to Atlantis, a city that looks very craggy and North African and almost everyone dresses like they're in a Sinbad movie (or even Prince of Persia or Sky1's Sinbad). There he meets Pythagoras (sixth century Greek philosopher and mathematician from the island of Samos) and Hercules (Roman name for the Greek hero Herakles, who in myth lived around the 14th and 13th century BC and pretty much everywhere in Greece except Atlantis).

Surprisingly, Atlantis is ruled by King Minos (13th or 16th century BC ruler of the island of Crete) and he has to preside over a tribute of Atlantean victims (originally, victims demanded in tribute from Athens by Minos in return for continued peace) to a half-man, half-bull creature called the Minotaur, who was a man cursed by the gods for some reason (actually, the son of Minos' wife Pasiphaë, who had a passion for bulls, after Minos decided to keep the bull Poseidon had given to him especially to sacrifice). Guess who's going to have to kill it? I'll give you a clue - it's not Theseus, future king of Athens.

Sigh.

Nevertheless, for all that messing around with myth, Atlantis is a relatively fun but flawed piece of Saturday night family entertainment that'll probably keep me watching for a while, at least. Here's a trailer - minor spoilers ahoy after the jump:

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September 27, 2013

Mini-review: The Michael J Fox Show 1x1-1x2 (NBC)

Posted on September 27, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Michael J Fox Show

In the US: Thursdays, 9.30/8.30c, NBC

It's surprisingly hard to say what The Michael J Fox Show is about. Is it about Michael J Fox, you might wonder? No, it's about a former TV news anchor called Mike Henry who's played by Michael J Fox. But at the same time, it's also about Michael J Fox, since Henry quit his job after being diagnosed with Parkinson's, just like the actor. Then NBC (in the form of The Wire's Wendell Pierce) goes to Fox - sorry, Henry - and asks if he'd like to come back. So he does. Just like the actor.

So it's a show about TV journalism then? Well, no, because the first episode is largely a public information film about Parkinson's, its effects, what it's like to have it, the side-effects of its medicines and so on. While at the same time reassuring everyone that even if someone has Parkinson's, they can still do their job.

So it's a show about Parkinson's then? Well, no, again, because the show is also about Fox - sorry, Henry - and his family: his wife, his daughter and his two sons. Most of the second episode thinks it's Modern Family, with the kids up to various anctics involving mistaken lesbianism and trying to hit on girls, while Henry gets a crush on the hot upstairs neighbour (played by Henry - sorry, Fox's - wife Tracy Pollan) and his on-screen wife (Betsy Brandt) tries to be understanding about it.

It's all very confusing. As a result, the one thing it should be - funny - seems to have got lost along the way. While it's educational, heart-warming, intelligent and a whole lot of other worthy things, the whole "laughing" thing seems to have been forgotten about in the mad rush to put together a show about Michael J Fox called The Michael J Fox show that isn't simple a show about Michael J Fox but yet still is.

Fox is engrossing. Pierce is as great as always. The Henry family is well drawn. The show is well meaning.

But laugh out loud funny it ain't. You'll laugh a bit for sure. But only a bit. One to watch if you like Fox or want to learn a bit about living with Parkinson's. For actual laughs or anything very innovative, you'll have to look elsewhere, I'm afraid.

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September 26, 2013

Review: Marvel's Agents of SHIELD 1x1 (ABC/Channel 4)

Posted on September 26, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Marvel's Agents of SHIELD

In the US: Tuesdays, 8/7c, ABC
In the UK: Fridays, 8pm, Channel 4. Starts 27th September

Marvel's The Avengers/Avengers Assemble (delete according to which overly litigious side of the Atlantic you live on) was a movie phenomenon. As well as taking huge box office earnings last summer, it did an unprecedented thing: it took four separate movie franchises, all inhabiting the same universe - Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and The Incredible Hulk - and brought their leads together in one movie.

You can thank a Mr Joss Whedon for its success. Although not the original creative mastermind behind the operation, it was he who directed and wrote The Avengers and it is he who is now the head of all things creative for this unified movie universe.

Whedon is, of course, best known from his TV work. Despite being the man who polished Toy Story into the gem it is, he's best known as the creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, its spin-off Angel, and later shows Firefly and Dollhouse - collectively known as the Whedonverse.

So to create a TV spin-off from The Avengers, who better to mastermind it all than Joss Whedon? There is literally no one better qualified in the whole world to do this job. He's certainly got a firm grasp on pretty much everything involved and necessary to making it a success.

Only trouble? It's TV and the budget and time to craft a show on the same scale as The Avengers just isn't possible. You certainly aren't going to be getting the ever-so busy stars, so there's no Thor or Hulk, no Iron Man or Captain America in this spin-off. With even supposedly secondary characters such as Black Widow and Hawkeye played by the expensive and powerful likes of Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner, there's never going to be a chance of getting them involved, either. And no way is a SHIELD helicarrier or the destruction of New York going to be affordable every week.

So, instead, imagine The Avengers that you knew and loved. Then imagine everything big and brave and bold (and expensive) about The Avengers has been removed, leaving perhaps one or two familiar tertiary characters and some quirky fun bits. Then imagine most of the effects and the scale removed as well.

Then imagine what's left and the great big gaping hole left behind by all of that and fill that hole with a load of new regular-type (and therefore cheap) characters who you aren't going to like as much. Add in a scene or two filmed in Paris. Then add in a few references to other Marvel movies such as Iron Man 2 and Iron Man 3. Finally, mix in a lot of the trademark Whedon touches you've come to expect, from funny and clever dialogue to multi-dimensional characters and kick-ass women.

What do you have? Yes, you have the inelegantly titled ABC's Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, featuring that Agent Coulson who definitely died in The Avengers but has somehow come back; that Agent Hill, who's preoccupied on CBS in How I Met Your Mother so is only going to be in one episode; that car you half-remember from Captain America; that guy who used to be on Angel but who's only going to be in one episode too; an aeroplane you haven't seen before but isn't going to be in it much and is a whole lot cheaper than a helicarrier anyway; and a whole bunch of people you've never seen before but are largely pretty and can deliver a Whedongag.

Some bad? Well, it's probably not as great as you hoped, but it's still not half bad all the same. Minor spoilers after the jump.

Continue reading "Review: Marvel's Agents of SHIELD 1x1 (ABC/Channel 4)"

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