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January 12, 2017

Review: Pure 1x1 (Canada: CBC)

Posted on January 12, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Pure

In Canada: Mondays, 9pm, CBC

Everyone knows about the Amish, right? They're the German-speaking, pacifist Christian fundamentalists who shun all things modern in an effort to be as godly as possible. You may remember them from a little known 80s film called Witness.

Less well known unless you watch a lot of reality TV are their neighbours, the Mennonites, an equally German-speaking, God-fearing group although they aren't quite as strict as the Amish - they can own cars, go to High School on the school bus and mix with the Ausländer and everything.

But even less well known than them are the Canadian Mennonites, a bunch who fled to Ontario from the US when the War of Independence broke out. And oddly enough, they're the stars of CBC's new drama - a sort of Breaking Bad for Mennonites. It stars the ubiquitous Ryan Robbins (Continuum, Arrow) as the delightfully named Noah Funk, the newly appointed pastor of the (fictious) Mennonite town of Antioch who has to work out how to deal in a Christian manner with what seems extremely unlikely to the casual viewer but turns out to be based on a true story - the Mennonite mob, a group of dangerous drug runners ferrying cocaine from Mexico to Canada and the US.

The mob have killed one family escaping from a Mexican Mennonite 'colony' and when Funk takes in the surviving young son, he ends up having to deal with both the mob and slobby cop AJ Buckley (CSI: New York), who's after this previously unsuspected snake in the community. Also involved is Texan DEA Agent Rosie Perez (Do The Right Thing, White Men Can't Jump), who's well aware of what's going on with the Mennonites, both in El Paso and on the other side of the border.

Watching Pure, it's hard to know exactly how realistic the Mennonite side of things is. Show creator Michael Amo is the grandson of a Mennonite, for sure, but every bad accent and poor piece of German sets off warning claxons, and the whole idea boggles the mind to begin with, let alone when the Mennonite kids are wandering around school, working out the intricacies of 'Auslander' (non-Mennonite) life and whether it's okay to say 'My God' as an expletive.

The criminal side of things is a bit pedestrian, too. Buckley's cop, intent on recruiting Funk to help him penetrate the close-knit mob, lacks any of the skills to do it yet still manages to accomplish it somehow. Surprisingly, for a godly man, Funk sure finds lying easy. And in general dramatic terms there are problem, too, with pretty much every Mennonite indistinguishable and undifferentiated from all the others, bar the nicely-hatted mob boss Peter Outerbridge (the original Murdoch in The Murdoch Mysteries, Blood and Water), who forces Funk to work for him to save his family. 

But all those issues to one side, as with Blood and Water and Shoot The Messenger, Canada is at least showing that it can offer crime shows that aren't just the same old formula and that involve different communities from those we're used to. I probably won't stick with it, but it's nice to know that the show's out there.

January 11, 2017

Review: Emerald City 1x1-1x2 (US: NBC; UK: 5*)

Posted on January 11, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Emerald City

In the US: Fridays, 9/8c, NBC
In the UK: Acquired by 5*. Will air early 2017

Certain classics are sacrosanct. Everyone's agreed that whatever happens, you shouldn't remake them, reimagine them or whatever, since they will never be as good and might insult the memory of the original.

The Wizard of Oz isn't one of those things, it seems. Long is the list of reimaginings, it being a reimagining anyway of Frank Baum's book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, several silent movies and a Broadway musical. At the theatre, it spawned the reimagined Wicked, one of the most popular musicals of all time. At the movies, we've had cartoons (Journey Back to Oz, Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return), a sequel (Return to Oz) and remakes (The WizOz The Great and Powerful, The Muppets' Wizard of Oz).

On TV, dark, gritty, sci-fi reimaginings have been the order of business - once they've actually got off the ground. Tim Burton gave a pilot of one a go, back in 1999, but that never even got filmed. Lost in Oz, an action show sequel in the vein of Buffy and Smallville that starred Melissa George (Dorothy replacement) and Mia Sara (new Wicked Witch), managed to get as far as a pilot in 2002, but proved too expensive for a series:

Sara would still return as a witch in the later mini-series, The Witches of Oz, in which noted author Dorothy Gale discovers that her books are actually based on repressed memories of her time in the land of Oz:

But before that Zooey Deschanel, Neal McDonough, Alan Cumming and Raoul Trujillo - aka DG, Cain The Tin Man, Glitch and Raw - entered the Outer Zone (OZ) to find the Mystic Man (Richard Dreyfuss) in inept Syfy Channel mini-series Tin Man

Now we have possibly the most interesting and successful attempt to 'reimagine' The Wizard of Oz in the shape of NBC's 10-episode limited series Emerald City. As with previous TV shows, it had false starts: originally given the green light back in 2014, it got shut down when NBC and showrunner Josh Friedman had a bit of a spat. A year later, NBC changed its mind again, gave David Schulner the showrunner post and now, three years after that first go-ahead, here it is at last.

It sees young adopted Kansas nurse Adria Arjona (Person of Interest, True Detective) caught up in a tornado and conveyed to a strange new land, filled with witches both good (Joely Richardson) and bad (Florence Kasumba), as well as a mighty Wizard (Vincent D'Onofrio) who protects the land from the Great Beast Beyond. Will the wizard help her to return to Kansas or does he have a very different agenda on his mind, given all the power struggles going on in Oz?

It's The Wizard of Oz meets Game of Thrones, but most importantly of all, all 10 episodes are directed by Tarsem Singh (The Cell) and he's been to Barcelona. No, that's not a euphemism, oh friend of Dorothy.

Continue reading "Review: Emerald City 1x1-1x2 (US: NBC; UK: 5*)"

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January 3, 2017

Review: Ransom 1x1 (US: CBS)

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

Ransom

In the US: Saturdays, 8/7c, CBS

Canada has spent more than a quarter of century doubling for "Washington State" and other woody parts of the US in countless primetime American TV shows, but the number of such shows that are actually set in Canada is actually perilously small. But following the likes of Flashpoint and Rookie Blue on this largely untrodden path is Ransom, a CBS procedural that's almost indistinguishable from any other CBS procedural bar the fact it's set in Montreal.

The show is actually a heinous co-production between CBS, Canada's Global, France TF1 and Germany's RTL that follows the golden rule that the more co-production members you have from this international team of banality, the worse your show will be (cf Transporter: The Series). Indeed, the show is produced by the king of the bad international co-production Frank Spotnitz (HuntedStrike Back). Transporter: The Series was one of his, too, and this is almost as bad, albeit a lot duller.

Supposedly based on the experiences of real life negotiators Laurent Combalbert and Marwan Mery, Ransom stars secretly British actor Luke Roberts (Black Sails, Wolf Hall, Taxi Brooklyn, Holby City) as the head of a private sector firm of negotiators, who use their awesome negotiating powers to help rich people recover their children from greedy foreign kidnappers. Oh, but if only he could have used his powers to save his wife…

Nothing quite says "filmed in Canada" like the presence of Nazneen Contractor (The Border, 24, Covert Affairs, Heroes: Reborn) or Brandon Jay McLaren (SlasherGracelandThe Killing (US), Being Erica, Falling Skies) in your cast list, so kudos to Ransom for getting both of them in the credits to make up the show's now-traditional procedural ensemble, with McLaren playing a psychological profiler and Contractor playing Roberts' deputy. Or stooge. Or something. At least, she gets to explain the plot to McLaren when Roberts isn't around.

When Roberts is around, he gets to explain the plot to newbie Sarah Greene (no, not that one - the one from Penny Dreadful and Rebellion), a job applicant whom McLaren has rejected for A Dark Reason That Will Be Revealed At The End of The Episode But Which Will Show How Tormented Roberts Is.

And it's all bobbins. Everything is completed half-arsed. The show wants to be Canadian, but is so bad at even something so simple that despite being set in Montreal (56.9% French speakers, 18.6% English speakers), no one speaks French or has a French accent and there was only one piece of writing actually in French. And that's despite being filmed in Canada - I shudder to think what level of authenticity the show will stoop to when it starts going on its promised globe-trotting.

Ransom also wants to be about crises while still being different to Flashpoint so makes its crisis people private sector. Except it still wants to be a procedural, so everyone still goes round interviewing people, finding dead bodies, doing DNA analysis et al like they're the police, except without warrants et al. It all actually gets a bit creepy when they're snooping around schools trying to extract pupils' home addresses from unsuspecting teachers by pretending to be famous soccer players.

On top of that, they have to sort out the affected rich family of the week's marital/parenting problems ("You need to tell her about this"), while still being terribly nice when it turns out that the rich family aren't rich enough any more to pay their bills. Because we all know how well that usually works out in the US.

The show is stupid enough it makes Criminal Minds look genuinely smart. As well as constantly having to explain basic human social interactions to the audience ("If you offer them something, they might offer us something in return"), the show also gives us Greene explaining that judging from a kidnapper's accent, he's "Mediterranean, probably Greek". Because Spanish, French, Italian and Greek accents are all very similar, aren't they? Almost indistinguishable. To be fair, the actor is Greek-Canadian and does speak some passable Greek; to be less fair, his accent sounds like a Canadian putting on a Greek accent and he's also supposed to have been born in Yugoslavia.

If you've seen any other CBS procedural, you'll have almost certainly seen something much better, from its CSI: Miami-style sci-fi screenless computer displays through to its NCIS-grade inept fight scenes. Did they really drop Limitless for this mildly blander Crossing Lines?

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Pure

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