Archive | US TV 2017

Reviews of new US TV programmes from 2017

February 9, 2017

Review: Legion 1x1 (US: FX; UK: Fox UK)

Posted on February 9, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share


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

Oh good. Another superhero TV show based on a Marvel comic. Because we're so strapped for them right now, aren't we?

Don't pretend you're not thinking that, just like me. I know you are. Yes, you. Don't try to hide. I can see you right there. I so can. We're thinking the same thoughts.

But Legion is different. Very different. It's ostensibly based on the Legion comic, which features the somewhat mentally disturbed David Haller (aka Legion), the son of X-Men boss Professor X, who has a different superpower for each of his multiple personalities.

Chuck that fact out the window, though. Just screw it up and throw it out that window right over there next to you. Yes, that one. Which one did you think I meant?

What you have to remember is that this is a show written and directed by Noah Hawley, the creator of Fargo, and this first episode at least is actually more like watching One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest while on LSD.

It stars Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) as Haller, here a once-promising boy whose life falls apart in his teenage years once he starts to hear the voices and be able to move things with his mind. Or at least he thinks he can (don't we all?), since he's subsequently diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and put on medication. After college, though, everything falls apart again and before he knows it, he's locked away in a mental hospital for his own good.

There he meets his new best friend Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation), but everything stays more or less the same until Rachel Keller (Fargo) turns up. Keller's almost as odd as him, not wanting to be touched by anyone, but soon the two are inseparable. Gradually, though, the possibility dawns on Stevens that maybe he's not mad and that actually he really can move things with his mind and those voices might be other people's thoughts.

To say the first episode is trippy is to really sell the series short. Every frame and scene seems designed to alienate you and make you wonder if it's real or the delusion of a schizophrenic. One minute someone will be using an iPad, the next we'll be in a perfectly designed set from the 1970s where someone's living inside a tree, the next we'll discover that person over there we assumed was real is an hallucination, the next we discover that an hallucination was actually perfectly real but a ghost. There are dream sequences and French dance numbers. Time jumps around. 

Sure, there are superpowers but not of the "look how hard I can hit you" kind but "I can enter your memories" and "I can swap bodies with you" kinds designed to make you question reality as it warps and twists. Plaza's channelling David Bowie, Hawley's character is named after Roger Barrett from Pink Floyd and to help the geniusly twitchy Stevens understand Haller’s mindset, Hawley gave him a 160-track playlist that included "everything from experimental French sound design to people screaming into bins".

It's insane. But in a good way. Right, snuggle buddy?

All of that is quite alienating at first, but there's also humour in Legion, as well as a pleasingly innocent love affair between Stevens and the possibly imaginary Keller.

Unfortunately, it's the end of the episode that makes me worry. Because that's when the superheroes with their "look how hard I can hit you" superpowers turn up. Is the rest of the series going to be like this episode or are we going to be getting more of the hitting?

I really, really hope the former because that would be just amazing. Same time next week at your place? I'll bring my night vision goggles like last time.

February 9, 2017

Review: APB 1x1 (US: Fox)

Posted on February 9, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share


In the US: Mondays, 9/8c, Fox

Although crime rates have been falling for years now across the US, the fear of crime hasn't. Neither has the number of TV shows about crime. Are these two facts related, I wonder? We can discuss that some other time.

One of the results of that fear is that people want to know not only how to catch even more criminals but also what's wrong with the current system. On the whole, one might argue that nothing major is wrong and there are all manner of minor, systemic issues that need fixing. Sit down and watch The Wire and Homicide from start to finish and you'll get an idea of how complex an issue policing drugs and murders is.

A simple, easy fix? There isn't one.

That hasn't stopped TV shows suggesting that there might be and APB is the latest in a long line of cop TV shows that do just that - in this case, privatisation.

If that sounds familiar, you're probably being reminded of Robocop, a classic 80s action movie portraying an horrific dystopian future that believes technology and the private sector is the solution.

But unlike Robocop, which was a cautionary tale, APB thinks it's onto something.

Taking not just a leaf but more or less the first two chapters out of the book, Iron Man, it gives us billionaire playboy philanthropist and engineer Justin Kirk (Animal Practice, Tyrant) showing off his new tech to assorted billionaires, before heading off with his token black friend. On the way home, though, he's attacked and his friend dies saving his life. 

Weeks later, with the killer still to be found, Kirk dares the Mayor to give him Precinct 13 (yes, another reference to a better TV show or movie - there are lots) to run. In exchange, he'll fund the Precinct with $120m of his own money to pilot a new, better way of policing. One that involves lots and lots of technology.

Now immediately, you can see this is nonsense, in exactly the same way anyone watching Pure Genius could see it was written by someone who knew next to nothing about healthcare but liked the idea of tech billionaires, private sector innovation and shiny things. The annual Chicago police department budget is $1.3bn so all Kirk has done is boosted the budget by 10% for one year. Not insubstantial, but transformative? Probably not and if all it took was money to end crime, the war on drugs would have been won long ago.

More to the point, all his tech consists of is minor improvements to existing technology, many of which are already being used or in development: taser guns with more than one shot; better bullet-proof vests; better-armoured, faster patrol cars; a 911 system based on a smartphone app that can send pictures and location information; GIS systems for mapping crime patterns; and drones for surveillance.

But as Kirk himself points out, there's one cop for every 212 inhabitants in the city, yet he makes no new hires, merely installing a kooky tech support girl (Caitlin Stasey) and himself in the precinct, so he can fly his drone about and watch what Natalie Martinez (CSI:NY, Under the Dome, Secrets and Lies, Kingdom) - 'Officer Murphy' no less, Robocop fans - does in her investigations. One drone for the whole precinct and one pilot. Hmm. Even more hmm when you realise that during this pilot, all the other cops sit around watching Kirk flying his drone, rather than trying to solve the 10 unsolved murders per month they get.

Maybe there is a show to be made about how innovative, disruptive, private sector thinking could be used in policing, but it'll have to involve things like 'change management programmes', and APB isn't interested in actual private sector methodologies or anything below the surface. It just likes gadgets. 

Even so, as with Pure Genius, by the end of the first episode, APB itself has realised that actually, its entire premise is ludicrous. Too much of police work is about human interaction, there will be privacy issues aplenty with drones flying around and peeking through windows (one particular drone scene is a clear reference to Blue Thunder, in fact), and none of what Kirk is planning can scale up in the slightest. When the show itself realises it's so ludicrous it points them out itself, that show has problems. And that's even before the audience starts wondering if maybe shooting innocent civilians with tasers is such a good idea.

APB is a bog-standard, not particularly smart cop show that tries to cover up the stupidity of its own premise and limited ambitions with a decent cast and whizzy shiny things. But when a bunch of 80s action movies are more intellectual than you are, you probably need to think again.

February 7, 2017

Review: 24: Legacy 1x1-1x2 (US: Fox; UK: Fox UK)

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

24: Legacy

In the US: Mondays, 8/7c, Fox
In the UK: Tuesdays, 9pm, Fox UK. Starts February 14th

When 24 first aired, it was a revolutionary series in many ways. The conceit that the show played out in real-time over a full 24-hour day in 24, one-hour episodes was original to say the least and took serialised storytelling to the logical limit. It also featured convention-breaking direction, rescuing split-screen shots from their 70s cemetery.

More importantly, it was notionally a Conservative TV show. Airing just a few weeks after 9/11, 24 could have horribly misjudged the public mood. But a daring tale of how honourable family man Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), a former special forces soldier turned counter-terrorist agent, was able to fight back against the terrorists and win proved to be the tonic the American people needed at the time and was immensely popular. True, his tendency towards extreme ruthlessness and even torture, which creators Joel Surnow and Robert Cochrane had piloted even more extremely on La Femme Nikita, caused liberal apoplexy now it was on network TV, but it was something the audience didn't really care about.

The show changed with the times. It adapted to the Obama years' move away from waterboarding et al and was even able to fudge the shift of network TV away from 24-episode runs of shows to 12/13-episode runs through the simple use of a 12-hour delayed epilogue. However, its tendency to shock viewers by killing off much-loved cast members at regular intervals grew predictable and ultimately led to there being no much-loved cast members left except Kiefer Sutherland several seasons before the end.

Which must have posed a bit of a quandary for the producers when they were planning a new season of 24, because Kiefer - he no want to do 24 no more. He doing Designated Survivor. He happy to produce but he no happy to act.

Hence 24: Legacy, which copies format and general attitude and has some links to the original, but absolutely no Jack Bauer. Instead, we have Eric Carter (The Walking Dead's Corey Hawkins), a retired US army ranger, whose unit killed a terrorist leader. Despite his having a new job and new identity, the terrorists have found him and the rest of his unit, and want them all dead - although not before whichever one of them has a very important McGuffin reveals where it is.

Hawkins has to find out what it is, where it is and evade and stop the terrorists, with only the help of Mirando Otto - the former Counter Terrorist Unit chief and potential next First Lady to potential President Jimmy Smits. Because being 24 there's a mole. Shocker, hey?

Indeed, despite the entirely new cast, the new show revisits many of the original's traits. There's snarking between computer technicians (including the cousin of one of 24's most famous techies). There's also all manner of insane - and insanely stupid - twists and ideas, such as Carter asking a violent gang member who hates him to look after his wife

One new innovation that builds on the previous show is that rather than having Middle Eastern terrorists in the even numbered seasons, European terrorists in odd-numbered seasons, there are both Middle Eastern and European terrorists to deal with this time round. Yes, everyone - double bubble!

Problem here is that the European terrorists are from Chechnya, so are inevitably going to be Muslims, just like their Middle Eastern counterparts. The question is, coming as it does on the heels of President Trump's 'Muslim ban', has 24: Legacy guessed the Zeitgeist with its Islamophobia as accurately as 24 did with its first season, or is it marching out of step with its potentially horrified viewers?

Time will have to tell on that one, I guess. But purely on a kinetic level, the show does at least manage to maintain the levels of adrenaline that its predecessor did, giving us action scenes aplenty shot by directors who know what they're doing. Eric Carter is no Jack Bauer, but even Jack Bauer wasn't really Jack Bauer until season two, and character development was never 24's strong point - all that really mattered was what Bauer was prepared to do and why. It's actually surprisingly easy to slot someone completely different into the same role and for everything to still carry on exactly the same as before.

24: Legacy's plot is outright bobbins, with so many holes in it you could use it as a string vest. Characters are thinly drawn and exist only to perform specific plot functions. Its understanding of technology is laughable. Its unpredicatability is predictable. Its attitudes are borderline racist or maybe even just flat out racist. 

But my gosh is it exciting. Still.

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