Archive | US TV 2017

Reviews of new US TV programmes from 2017


February 7, 2017

Review: Superior Donuts 1x1-1x2 (US: CBS)

Posted on February 7, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Superior Donuts

In the US: Mondays, 9/8c, CBS

CBS's policy of iterating TV shows - taking existing TV shows then making minor changes to them until it perfects their formulae - isn't without success. After all, Intelligence may have sucked but CBS's next iteration of it, Limitless, was actually jolly good.

However, I have to question the thinking behind not only commissioning Superior Donuts but airing it just before its antecedent, 2 Broke Girls. Does America really need not just one but two baking goods-based, multi-camera sitcoms featuring a diverse, blue-collar cast as they try to make money in a tough market? On a Monday night?

Yet here we are with Superior Donuts. How curious.

So has this iteration improved on the previous generation? Not hugely, since it lacks Kat Dennings for one thing. But Superior Donuts is at least funnier and less racist, and has more interesting things to say about millennials, the older generation and business than 2 Broke Girls does.

Here, we have old hand Judd Hirsch (Taxi, Numb3rs, Forever, Dear John (USA)) playing Arthur, the gruff owner of a small Chicago doughnut shop having to deal with the fact his neighbourhood is gentrifying and he doesn't know how to change with the times. Then along comes millennial Jermaine Fowler looking for work. He understands the way of the Twitter and the Instagram and the Yelp, and he also has a few innovations in mind for doughnuts. Soon, a beautiful cross-generational, cross-racial working partnership is born.

With Superior Donuts, CBS has taken a leaf from CBC Canada's book in order to get to grips with diversity, copying its Kim's Convenience move by adapting a play, although not one quite as beloved as Kim's Convenience was. Indeed, some of the dialogue still reeks of both the original play and the theatre itself, with a reference to Jean-Michel Basquiat in the first episode, no less. 

Dotted around the shop is a diverse group. We have two cops (Married with Children's Katey Sagal and Third Watch's Darien Sills-Evans), a slightly evil Iraqi refugee-turned-real estate developer and dry cleaner (Maz Jobrani), and unemployed factory worker David Koechner (Anchorman). There's also a blonde rich girl (again, this is airing just before 2 Broke Girls - do they think no one's going to notice?), played by Anna "daughter of Mikhail" Baryshnikov, who has to endure the eternal rich liberal pain of not being able to experience proper oppression herself.

There is a tragi-comic quality to all the characters, from Sagal's slight corruption through Jobrani's memories of growing up in Iraq ("When I was young, they dropped mustard gas on my village and it burned my oesophagus… Now, if I lick a battery, it will kill me.") to Koechner's desperation to do any job, whether that's toileting dogs or donating blood and semen. Jobrani is constantly trying to get Hirsch to sell him the doughnut shop, and with Hirsch a widower and slow to adapt to changing times, it's a constant possibility.

The show also plays with race. A lot. It just about gets away with it in a way that 2 Broke Girls really doesn't, since it plays less on stereotypes and more on societal rules. It also helps that Jobrani is the main instigator and foil for the humour - is it okay for Jobrani to call Fowler "the black guy" if he also calls Hirsch "the Jew" and worries that if he gets angry he'll "sound a bit terroristy"?

All of which makes Superior Donuts seem a lot better than it is. Remember, this is a show that devotes half of its second episode to a quest for the WiFi password in Jobrani's shop so that Sills-Evans can watch Doctor Who on his phone - sample dialogue: "Do you want to watch Doctor Who? Season 24 is the best." "No, but after you've watched it, I'll tell you what a vagina looks like."

Still, it's a notable improvement on its predecessor, will probably both appeal and educate the pensioners who watch it, and has more heart than the average CBS sitcom for sure. But a show that thinks season 24 of Doctor Who is the best? I'm out.

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February 6, 2017

What have you been watching? Including Detroiters, Amadeus and Cardinal

Posted on February 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. 

I've been having to fix stupid email servers for most of the day, so you've been cheated out of a review of the first episode of 24: Legacy, I'm afraid. Sorry about that, but as episode two is airing tonight, it seems more appropriate to do a review of them both tomorrow.

Last week, I reviewed the first episodes of Riverdale (US: The CW; UK: Netflix) and Powerless (US: NBC), and coming later in the week are reviews of not just 24: Legacy but the first episodes of two other new US shows, Superior Donuts and Training Day, maybe Legion as well, and an Australian show that starts on Thursday - Newton's Law. Guess what that's about. No, nothing to do with changes in momentum or the like.

After the jump, a look at the latest episodes of Canada's Cardinal, the UK's Fortitude and the US's DC's Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash, Lucifer, The Magicians, Man Seeking Woman, Riverdale and Timeless. But I did watch the first episode of another show:

Detroiters (US: Comedy Central)
A couple of Detroit-based lads starting out in advertising hussle the best way they can to get work, particularly from the local car manufacturers. Trouble is, they're a bit under-motivated.

Despite being on Comedy Central, Detroiters does start off surprisingly smartly with a nice camaraderie between the two leads. The fact it was set somewhere other than the coasts or Chicago was also a plus pointing. I was thinking this could be at least the new How To Make It In America but with a few jokes.

Then they spent what felt like about five minutes throwing things at a glass door to see if it would break and I realised I was in Comedy Central stoner territory yet again.

Next!

And if you were wondering why I didn't have much to say for myself on Wednesday, it's because I was at… the theatre!

Amadeus (National Theatre, London)
Peter Schaffer's play about 18th century Italian composer Salieri's claim to have murdered Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is one of the classics of modern theatre. No mere historical retelling, it gives us a man inspired by God to do great works but upon discovering that He has instead chosen to give musical genius to the foul-mouthed man-child Mozart, dedicates himself to the undoing of both God and His instrument.

The last time I saw it staged was at the Old Vic with David Suchet over a decade ago, so I was intrigued to see what they did with it this time. Ladies and gentlemen - it's a comedy and not a very subtle one at that. Copious ham from both leads - Lucian Msamati as Salieri and Adam Gillen as Mozart - mean the play loses considerable depth in terms of the characters and it's hard to feel sympathy for either of them. With a few exceptions, the supporting cast do little to ameliorate the problem, either.

That aside, it's a very fine production, far more musical than I've seen before, with an orchestra and singers on stage and as much a part of the performance as the actors. A few minor acts of pretension (the Viennese having mobile phones) can't distract from the quality of the direction in the rest of the performance.

But it's a pale shadow - how could it be otherwise? - of 1984's Amadeus, which is comfortably in my all-time Top 3 movies, so really, you should watch that as soon as possible if you haven't already. Although not the Director's Cut: to misquote Inspector Morse's classic Masonic Mysteries episode, "I won't have it in the house."

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February 3, 2017

Review: Powerless 1x1 (US: NBC)

Posted on February 3, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Powerless (NBC)

In the US: Thursdays, 8.30/7.30c, NBC

Although NBC has managed to return to the top of the US ratings after its horrific death plummet a decade ago, there are still a couple of things it's not good at: comedies and superhero shows. Okay, to be fair, its comedies are useless quite smart, but they're usually not desperately funny (eg The Good Place) and/or they never fare well in the ratings (eg Community). To be equally fair, it hasn't had a lot of superhero shows, but while we can all agree that at least Constantine got better over time, Heroes got decidedly worse and the less said about The Cape, the better.

So Powerless looks like the perfect storm: an NBC superhero comedy. What manner of horror could that be, you might ask? Well, for a while, it actually looked quite promising, giving us a show that builds on the same theme as both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War by being about the little people who are just trying to get on with their lives and avoid getting crushed by buildings, shot by death rays, et al as superheroes and supervillains do what superheroes and supervillains do - a sort of Lower Decks of the DC Comic Book universe, if you will. In this original story, the somewhat cynical Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical) worked in an insurance company for supervillain Alan Tudyk (Firefly), where she has to decide whether destruction caused by Wonder Woman can be written off as an Act of God because as a demi-goddess, it's a grey area.

Following the pilot, though, show creator Ben Queen (A to Z, Drive) left and the whole thing got rebooted into something a lot more mid-season replacement.

Now, Hudgens is a wide-eyed superhero fan reporting to work at Tudyk's branch of Wayne Industries - Tudyk now being Bruce Wayne's cousin - where she has to lead a team of more jaded inventors and engineers in developing products to help the ordinary people of 'Charm City' cope with the superhero-induced trials and tribulations of life, whether those be personal Joker-poison anti-toxin injectors or inflatable suits to help their wearers withstand concussive blows.

Trouble is, her new underlings, who include Community's Danny Pudi and Undateable's Ron Funches, aren't the brightest tools in the box, so spend their entire time ripping off Lexcorp's ideas and making them a different colour, rather than coming up with anything original, which means that Bruce is thinking about shutting them down. Will they get a reprieve?

I'm not sure I care. Admittedly, the show does have its good points: Hudgens, Pudi and Tudyk are as fun to watch as always, and no less an acting god than Adam West is the narrator. There's also the occasional bit of low but amusing humour, with inept supervillain Jack O'Lantern inadvertently punning about his 'balls… of fire' and Batman coincidentally using the new product the team has just sent to Bruce Wayne (what are the chances?).

But Funches is still a near unbearably poor actor, there really aren't that many jokes and we're nearing the bottom of the superhero z-list with Jack O'Lantern and Crimson Fox - it's not so much Lower Decks as Journey to the Earth's Core. Who cares what they're up to down there?

The show's not terrible. The core cast and ideas are reasonably sound and now the producers have got over retooling the show in a hurry, hopefully they'll have time to settle in all the new ideas. But Powerless really needs to raise its ambitions - if DC corporate vetting will let it - if it's to avoid going the same way as every other NBC superhero show.

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