Archive | US TV 2017

Reviews of new US TV programmes from 2017


March 8, 2017

Fourth-episode verdict: The Good Fight (US: CBS All Access; UK:

Posted on March 8, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerTheGoodFight.jpgA Barrometer rating of 2

In the US: Sundays, CBS All Access
In the UK: Acquired by More4. Will air in Spring

At the end of my review of the first episode of The Good Fight, a spin-off from The Good Wife featuring some of the less important characters as they face almost identical dilemmas to those faced by Julianna Margulies, I said:

I'll probably give episode two a watch at least to see if takes the show in a different direction.

Guess what - it did. In fact, following that first episode, the show seems to have picked an entirely new plough to furrow. No longer is it simply about older lawyer Christine Baranski's pension tribulations or young gay lawyer Rose Leslie having to live down her father's possible involvement in said Ponzi-esque tribulations. Although these still make up about 50% of every episode, the show is now far more concerned with 'the good fight' of the title, looking about how the poor and disadvantaged are served by the US legal system and how C-list defence firms can actually make money.

And here, it's actually very interesting. There are very strong hints that it knows what it's talking about, more deeply and more knowledgably in fact than even Goliath. Trials aren't won by emoting to a jury in the style of Chicago Justice but through application of real laws and consideration of legal principles. The good guys don't always win, either. Unlike certain other shows, it's not about what we'd like to be right, it's about what the law says.

The show's also intriguingly and explicitly post-Trump. While the first episode opened with Trump's inauguration, that felt almost tacked on, rather than integral to the plot. Yet by the fourth episode, the firm is having difficulty with regular clients because it was clearly anti-Trump. There's a trawl to find the one member of staff who voted Trump (Spin City's Michael Boatman), the show then making the point that by coming out as pro-Trump, he might well now be ostracised by the rest of the firm for the rest of his career. There's also a constant refrain of 'fake news' lurking in the background.

Where The Good Fight gets a little thorny is a point I hadn't noticed until this fourth episode - Baranski's new firm is actually a minority-owned firm. Literally every character at the firm is black, apart from Baranski and Leslie, who then draft in another white Good Wife character (Sarah Steele) to help them out from episode two, despite the show almost immediately pointing out their new firm actually has a (black) investigator already.

Yet despite Delroy Lindo and Cush Jumbo being on hand, very little of the show is actually about them. They're there, they're involved, they even have rich white boy Justin Bartha (The Hangover) to woo them in Jumbo's case, but the story's following Baranski and Leslie, not them. It's something the show will hopefully address and mull over in later episodes.

The Good Fight is probably the most interesting US legal drama I've seen in a long time. While it never achieves the chess-playing marvels of early Suits, it feels more real and more applicable to everyday life than that show did. However, its soapy back story is a millstone round its neck that I hope it can dispose of once it feels established. It also needs to do more with Lindo, Jumbo and Erica Tazel, who seems to exist purely to be the 'black b*tch' who resents Baranski's presence among the partners. At the very least, it's only by building up a good roster of its own characters that it can hope to achieve the longevity of The Good Wife.

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March 8, 2017

Review: Making History 1x1 (US: Fox)

Posted on March 8, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Making History

In the US: Sundays, 8:30/7:30c, Fox

Every nation has moments in its national consciousness that are not only important, they're so important they take on the status of mythology and begin to transcend actual facts.

England has many of these moments, such as the Battle of Hastings - "The last time we were invaded! The English fought like dogs to defend liberty as we always do!… apart from during the Glorious Revolution when the Dutch invaded, everyone defected to the invading side and King James ran away to Faversham, leaving William of Orange to become the new king without having to fire a shot."

For centuries, we ran around the world inventing concentration camps, committing genocide and war crimes, and partitioning countries arbitrarily, leading to all manners of disasters. But because we fought on the right side against someone even worse during the Second World War, we can ignore all that and decide not just that we're the good guys now but that we have been and always will be, leading to Dr Liam Fox, our current Secretary of State for International Trade, to claim this week that "The United Kingdom, is one of the few countries in the European Union that does not need to bury its 20th century history." Despite literally all the facts.

However, as I've said, we're not alone in having these mythological, almost 'cleansing' moments that extinguish unhelpful facts. The US, for example, has its War of Independence, in which the bravy plucky colonists fought back against an evil empire (ie England) in the pursuit of liberty and freedom, establishing true democracy, which otherwise would never, ever have happened anywhere, let alone in the US.

Never mind that New Englanders in the 1770s were about the wealthiest people in the world, with per capita income at least equal to that in the UK and more evenly distributed. "No taxation without representation"? The average Briton in 1763 paid 26s a year in tax, while the average Masachusetts taxpayer paid just 1s. The Boston Tea Party? Organised by wealthy tea smugglers set to lose out thanks to a recent rebate given to the East India Company that made tea the cheapest it had ever been in America - as someone wrote at the time, "Will not posterity be amazed when they are told that the present distraction took its rise from the parliament's taking off a shilling duty on a pound of tea, and imposing three pence, and call it a more unaccountable phrenzy, and more disgraceful to the annals of America, than that of the witchcraft?"

You can tell within just a few minutes exactly how faithful Making History is to actual history, when college professor Adam Pally (Happy Endings) returns to 1775 Lexington and discovers not only that Paul Revere hasn't raced around on his horse screaming, "The British are coming! The British are coming!" but also that some "British soldiers" are now stationed in town.

Historically, of course, at this point in time, it wasn't the plucky 'Americans' against 'the British' - everyone still thought of themselves as British, not Americans - so Revere actually warned that "The regulars are out!", the regulars being the standard name for the British soldiers.

But that's not what mythology says and for the rest of the episode, the regulars are about five seconds away from committing war crimes and inventing concentration camps a few centuries early à la mythology (cf The Patriot). They might do more if they ever learned that muskets and pistols needed to be reloaded after every shot in those days.

Still, Pally has travelled back in time inside a sports equipment bag so that he can woo Revere's talented, forward-thinking daughter, Leighton Meester (Gossip Girl) by singing her Céline Dion songs he's pretended to have invented. But by doing so, he has distracted Revere so badly, he has to drag history professor Yassir Lester back in time to 1775 to help sort things out and ensure the American Revolution still happens.

Yes, unlike Timeless, which largely wanted to be accurate while still upsetting the timeline, Making History is not really trying to do much more than play with US mythology in order to have a laugh.

The trouble is that it only knows how to do broad humour and even then, it's not that funny. Sure, you have the absurdity of the duffel bag time machine and the singing, which raises a reasonable laugh. You have the idiocy of Pally, who jumps to the conclusion that he's stopped the Revolution, because Americans are drinking tea in Starbucks and eating fish and chips in the local canteen when he returns to 2016.

But mostly it's things like Lester vomiting copiously when he arrives in 1775 because everywhere smells like manure or because John Hancock and Samuel Adams trick him into drinking their 'new beer', which is actually the contents of the chamberpot.

Ho ho, if you're still in middle school. Not so ho, ho for everyone else.

The show does at least try to deploy the occasionally more sophisticated joke, usually about an anachronism, although far less succesfully and it never surprises the audience with anything they don't know already. But most of the time you have to rely on Pally's performance to find any real humour in the show. Lester's just there to gurn at Pally every time he does something unconscionable or dim, such as introduce him as "Queequeg", a former slave who can only say "Hello".

Meester's plucky, doing what the incompetent modern men can't do for themselves, speaking Dutch, firing pistols, riding horses and more. But she's underserved by script - she's less knowing, the constant source of historical information that's always designed to counterpoint modern-day information the audience already knows ("We could buy a house together for $5!"), yet never getting to deliberately make jokes herself.

Making History is a nice idea at heart but poorly implemented, failing to do more than elicit a few cheap laughs with schoolboy humour and a few wry smiles when it does modern commentary. I have little faith that subsequent episodes, which promise travel to different time periods and the chance for Meester to crack her own jokes, will be that much better, but you never know.

Pally and Meester both deserve better, as does America, to be honest. Don't you know it won the Second World War all by itself?

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March 6, 2017

What have you been watching? Including Chicago Justice, Prime Suspect 1973 and The Blacklist: Redemption

Posted on March 6, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

It's "What have you been watching?", my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently and your chance to recommend anything you've been watching.

March is here and with it comes Spring! Snowdrops, wee fluffy little bunnies and chocolate eggs are on the way, as are a big bunch of new shows. This week, on top of passing an impending verdict on The Good Fight, I'll also be reviewing two US time travels shows that aired last night: Time After Time and Making History. Not sure why they waited until Timeless finished before starting, but they did. There may be some other things, too, but I'm lazy and haven't looked yet.

A few other new shows have also appeared on our screens, although none of them really warranted proper reviews:

Prime Suspect 1973 (UK: ITV)
It's hard to look back now through the distant mists of time, past sequels and remakes to 1991, when Lynda La Plante's Prime Suspect appeared on our screens. An amazingly good piece of TV that makes you weep for what's happened to ITV - and indeed BBC - drama in the quarter-century since, it still stands the test of time and I heartily urge you to watch/rewatch it, since it's currently available to view on the ITV Hub for free.

A career-transforming piece for star Helen Mirren, it saw her playing DCI Jane Tennison, a discriminated against Met Police detective who has to win over her male colleagues in order to first get, then close, a case against a possible serial killer, back when those were still rare things in the media. Flipping traditional structures on its head, the show was more about the accumulation of evidence and building of a case than whoddunnit, since we know probably whodunnit right from the outset - although some of the show's power comes from its ambiguity and whether they've genuinely got the right man. 

These days, ITV (motto: "Is it a crime drama? Is it a period crime drama? No? Then it's not on ITV") seems to have given up on creating truly original new shows in favour of developing prequels to its back catalogue (what next? Brideshead Revisited: The Prep School Years?). So, following on from the success of Inspector Morse's origin story, Endeavour, we now have Prime Suspect 1973, in which a young Jane Tennison (Emerald City's Stefanie Martini) is a mere WPC learning the ropes of policework in between having to make cups of tea for the male officers. But the murder of a teenage prostitute and the benevolent support of the investigating DI (The Astronaut Wives Club's Sam Reid) give her an opportunity to shine.

Based on Lynda La Plante's own prequel novel, Prime Suspect 1973 is at least decently executed. Thematically, it sits nicely as a rejoinder to Life On Mars' 'white male privilege', pointing out that Sweeney-like fun might have been good for certain people, but women, minorities, the unluckiest members of the working class and others all tended to get shafted. It also deals neatly with class, with Maida Vale posh girl Tennison having to work extra hard to prove her interest in the working class populace of Hackney. And it does all this without sticking the boot in, giving us nuances and exceptions to show reality is a lot messier than simplistic sociological theories.

Martini is surprisingly good and makes for a nicely mardy young Tennison. It's also a cracking touch to get Cracker's 'Panhandle', Geraldine Sommerville, to play her mum. But Aussie Reid is slightly odd casting and his choice of accent throws off all the questions about Tennison's poshness, since he sounds posher than she does. Period detail is pretty decent, even if some of the sideburns look stuck on, but it seems at times like it's trying more to look like Life On Mars' idea of 1973 than actual 1973. Still, props for the use of Pink Floyd's 'Time' in the soundtrack.

But is it even a tenth as compelling as the original or even La Plante's dry run at a Prime Suspect prequel, Above Suspicion? Not at all. I might stick around for episode two, though.

The Blacklist: Redemption (US: NBC)
I abandoned The Blacklist after its second season got too convoluted and daft, even by its own standards. The last I heard, Tom Keen (Ryan Eggold) - evil husband of Megan Boone - was an orphan raised by Lance Henriksen to do evil spy things and was going undercover to be a German neo-Nazi.

Turns out that since then, we've discovered that his dad and mum are still alive and are Terry O'Quinn and Famke Janssen, the latter being a blacklister who runs a secret organisation that does things for the government that would otherwise be too dangerous. Plus he and Boone are back together, have a baby, and rather than play at being a German neo-Nazi, Eggold's now a house-husband.

Except The Blacklist: Redemption drags Eggold away from all that to go on undercover missions for Janssen, although only because O'Quinn wants him to inflitrate her organisation. Why? Because. Except Eggold must never reveal that he's actually working for O'Quinn. Why? Because.

At least, that's what I've gleaned.

On the face of it, a spin-off from The Blacklist with Eggold is a good idea, since he was actually one of the best things about the original series. But the producers do nothing to help turn that idea into a viable drama. As you can tell from above, it's all so convoluted and too unforgiving in its set-up that anyone who didn't bother watching season 3 and beyond of The Blacklist (is Red still having problems?) is probably going to give up on the impenetrable mess before they're five minutes in.

Yet even if they do decide to stick with it, it's just atrociously written nonsense that makes even less sense than the mothership, but with no James Spader to make it palatable and none of the original's unique format.

Chicago Justice (US: NBC; UK: Universal Channel - starts March 30, 9pm)
Time was that famed producer Dick Wolf only needed Law & Order to show you the two sides of the two groups in the US criminal justice system who represent the people: the police, who investigate crime; and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. Now, he needs two different TV shows altogether just to show Chicago's system. Maybe that's because it's Chicago and things are done differently there.

Launched in a triple episode with Chicago Fire and Chicago PD (all the victims were dead so no need to visit Chicago Med, I guess), Chicago Justice is all about Chicago public prosecutor and former baseball player Philip Winchester (Strike Back, The Player). There are other public prosecutors (Carl Weathers, Anna Valdez) but the show's not so fussed about them here because they're not the sons of Michael Moriarty's character in Law & Order.

Chicago might have a bit of a rep for corruption, but here Winchester gets to hurdle a very low morality bar by fighting sleazy Bradley Whitford's sneaky defence lawyer tricks and spurning helpful but false confessions to prove using truth, justice and the American way that a teenager stalker did in fact burn to death 39 kids because he was evil. 

The script stops short of going "ooh, the Internet and that Facebook and the Tumblr - they're full of the bad kids who spend too much time indoors rather than playing all-American baseball" and if you squint, there's a useful message in there that you could potentially extract about consent, privilege, radicalisation online, etc. But it's such a ham-fisted piece of work that Winchester might as well be riding a horse wearing a white cowboy hat as he shoots a moustache-twirling villain.

Still, that's what the audience for these shows wants. Me? Not so much.

After the jump, the regulars: 24: Legacy, Billions, The Flash, Fortitude, The Good Fight, Imposters, Legion, The Magicians, Man Seeking Woman and the season finale of Cardinal. One of them is getting a promotion - can you guess which, tigers?

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