Archive | US TV 2017

Reviews of new US TV programmes from 2017


February 23, 2017

Third-episode verdict: Legion (US: FX; UK: Fox UK)

Posted on February 23, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerLegion.jpgA Barrometer rating of 2

In the US: Wednesdays, 10pm ET/PT, FX
In the UK: Thursdays, 9pm, Fox UK

Legion, FX's new superhero show based on a Marvel X-Men comic of the same name, has one big problem: it's a superhero show based on a Marvel X-Men comic of the same name. Were it not for that singular problem, the show would be able to avoid some of the now colossally well worn tropes of that 'universe' and be able to plough its own wonderful furrow unfettered. Instead, despite its majestic wildness, psychedelic directorial vision, and focus on the psychological and just plain old insane, and despite also foregoing much of the original source material, Legion still has to have mutants at war with the government, exploring their abilities, feeling oppressed, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Other than that, though, Legion is really a joy to behold, although the degree of joy depends on how much show creator Noah Hawley (Fargo) is involved in it. Episode one, which was both written by and directed by Hawley, is absolutely amazing, a mind-bending, reality warping piece of 70s-style trippiness. Since then, Hawley has been less involved, only writing the second episode and neither writing nor directing the third, all of which has resulting in slightly diminished returns that rely considerably on what Hawley set up in the first episode, but without innovating too much themselves.

Nevertheless, while considerably less visually inventive - although all credit to whomever thought having a little boy with a Frank Sidebottom-style paper head would be scary - and not having as strong a sense of plotting as before, Legion has remained quality viewing, effectively becoming a mystery story of the mind, as we try to work out what's been going on in Dan Stevens' head - and everyone hopes that if they do find out, it won't cause him to accidentally destroy reality in some way with his amazing mental powers. Characterisation for everyone except Stevens is weak, with the show revolving almost exclusively around its titular character and his issues, and the show effectively only has two real locations, in which people mostly sit and chat a lot each week. But somehow it doesn't really seem to matter, since the show manages to remain almost constantly fascinating, never truly revealing what's real and what's imagination or distortion. It's also frequently quite frightening, as we deal with Stevens' various internal nightmares.

I do hope that the show manages to avoid the pitfalls being part of the X-Men universe brings. But even with its superheroic problems, it's still a great piece of weekly viewing.

February 22, 2017

Third-episode verdict: Imposters (US: Bravo)

Posted on February 22, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerImposters.jpgA Barrometer rating of 2

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, Bravo

So it turns out that despite being about con artists and their victims, Imposters is quite nice and quite funny. The basic story is that Inbar Levi (The Last Ship) is a conwoman who gets men - and women - to fall in love with them, marries them, steals all their money with the help of her accomplices (Katherine LaNasa, Brian Benben), and then moves on to her next mark. However, over the course of the first three episodes, a group of her jilted exes (Rob Heaps, Parker Young, Marianne Rendón) slowly discover the existence of one another and like a slightly sad and broken, slightly more incompetent, but considerably more likable Magnificent Seven, they head off in pursuit of Levi in the hope of getting their money back - and maybe even Levi herself.

The show oscillates between sadness and hilarity. Episode one, which gives us sensitive Heaps' sudden descent from bliss to despair, is suicidally miserable; episode two, on the other hand, gives us the knuckle-headed Young and the slow forging of a partnership between Young and Heaps; episode three adds Rendón and veers between melancholy and mischief, as we see how Young might have slightly greater depths and Rendón is a therapy-addicted hipster.

Imposters also has two converging but separate storylines, with Levi trying to trick her current mark, the rich, sweet but dull Aaron Douglas but thinking she might have a real relationship with the handsome Stephen Bishop instead. While Levi is having second thoughts about 'the life', Heaps, Young and Rendón are starting to learn the art of the con (some might already know a little about it) in order to boost their penniless existence. Eventually, they might all meet in the middle of a grey morality and be suitable for each other

Where Imposters is most interesting is its commentaries on relationships. Levi makes people fall in love with her, by giving them what they want - her marks all want to believe her. Meanwhile, when Levi genuinely wants to settle down, she can't because she can't stop acting and so setting off warning sirens with other people's intuition.

But the show's nebulous con organisation is also quite a fun invention, with episode three giving Benben a bit more to do (which is nice - you remember Dream On, don't you?)…

…as well as introducing Uma Thurman as the organisation's enforcer, who'll go full Kill Bill on Levi if she gets out of line.

Imposters is at its best when it's being slightly silly, but it's still no shirk when it comes to dealing with the rawer aspects of the emotions. The cast are good, Levi is impressive and while it doesn't exactly have the hard edge of a Noir, it does have a bit more of a proximity to reality than Leverage did. It's not really doing anything that new in terms of plotting, but it's an amusing exploration of ideas, characters and emotions nevertheless.

February 21, 2017

Third-episode verdict: APB (US: Fox)

Posted on February 21, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerAPB.jpgA Barrometer rating of 4

In the US: Mondays, 9/8c, Fox

There was never much chance that APB would ever be much good, but with Matt Nix (Burn Notice, Complications, The Good Guys) taking over as showrunner midway through the pilot, there was at least the possibility it might be. Fox's attempt to do for policing what Iron Man did for World Peace, it sees Justin Kirk adopt the Robert Downey Jr mantel to become a billionaire playboy philanthropist engineer who discovers crime is bad and decides to bring his private sector technological expertise to bear on a problematic police district in Chicago. Can smartphone apps, drones and GPS information - as well as $120m of investment - bring an end to crime, or will it turn out to be a bit more complicated than that?

The first episode was phenomenally stupid and derivative, but with the occasional bit of fun. Episode two gave us a mix of stupids: on the one hand, we had Kirk once again back at HQ trying to bring to book a road racer who is smart enough to work out that drones can't fly where there's no decent signal; on the other, we have cops going dewey eyed over kids who have been mowed down and police dogs who have been blown up ("No!"). But it wasn't quite as stupid, and there was an element of fun and excitement, with Kirk dicking around with motorbikes for most of an episode to give us his own version of Street Hawk, complete with street chases. We also had The Tall Guy from ER turn up, hugely probably, as a former pro-wrestler with an PhD in electronics, to give Kirk his own Jarvis to talk to when he's doing some remodelling.

Just for a glimmering moment, it seemed like the show understood how stupid it was and was going to have some fun instead, giving us a piece of programming that teenagers can watch, be excited by and decided to become engineers. Because this is a show trying to make engineers look sexy. Even Justin Kirk.

Sure, there was the daftness of having the vengeful mayor of Chicago putting the husband of Kirk's right-hand woman in charge of the anti-Kirk task squad, but soapiness we can ignore. However, episode three was simply moronic and soporific. While the first episode had Kirk giving us his solutions to existing problems and the show demonstrating how they'd work in practice, both episodes two and three flipped that formula: new problem turns up, Kirk devises a solution to it. And episode three's problem was the age-old issue of interrogation - how to get a criminal to tell you the truth? Now here, people have already seen the problem and come up with a technical solution: the lie detector. And we know its limitations, as well as the civil liberty implications. We know reality and its nuances.

But since the format demands that Kirk be a brilliant inventor, he has to come up with a costly technical solution, too. Here, he gives us… the lie detector chair! You sit in the chair and people know your vital signs and therefore whether you're lying! You don't even have to touch any electrodes or anything! Just as long as you're sitting in that chair, everything will be fine. It's nonsense, of course, and probably illegal nonsense, too. It's also a nonsense that any sane grown-up can watch, compare with reality and see it's nonsense.

Coupled with that, we had a really bad attempt to give all of Kirk's helper monkeys some characters and some background, with dialogue and plot devices that would curdle milk. And for a show supposed to be about the virtues of bringing private sector mentality to the public sector, Kirk's employees have an interesting approach to time-keeping, the rule of law, chains of command and even not provoking people to commit crimes

Three episodes in, with Kirk wasting millions on gadgets, discovering policing is more about people than technology and generally coming up with things that just don't work in practice unless a billionaire CEO gives us running his rocket-making company indefinitely so he can sit and fiddle with a joystick all day, I'm starting to think APB is really just a paean to the public sector. We're supposed to watch and enjoy seeing Kirk play with his gadgets, but ultimately discover that the police do things the way they do things for a reason and that they're a lot more dedicated than someone just in it for the big pay cheque. So off he goes with his tail between his leg.

But I'm not sticking around for that, because I can't bear any more of it.

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