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An archive of all the blog's reviews of TV programmes, films, DVDs, plays, audio plays and gadgets. There's also an A-Z index of all reviews.


September 28, 2016

Third-episode verdict: Quarry (US: Cinemax; UK: Sky Atlantic)

Posted on September 28, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerQuarry.jpgA Barrometer rating of 3

In the US: Fridays, 10pm, Cinemax
In the UK: Sky Atlantic. Starts October

Good direction can go a long way towards making a not-great show seem better. Quarry is such a show, benefitting pretty much with every scene from Greg Yaitanes' direction. The former Banshee exec producer and director might not have created Quarry, but directing every episode of this first season, he's certainly made his mark on what is simultaneously both Banshee and 'anti-Banshee'.

As I pointed out in my review of Quarry's first episode, thematically the two shows have a lot in common, with Logan Marshall-Green's ex-Vietnam-vet turned hitman 'Quarry' enduring a lost love, the lure of a criminal lifestyle that draws him in and the simultaneous acknowledgement of crime's costs, just as Banshee's 'Lucas Hood' had to experience. Since then we've also had greater emphasis on Damon Herriman, the gay fellow criminal who helps Marshall-Green, who is the Job of the piece.

But while Banshee was also often very beautiful to look at, it was a fast-paced, modern show that revelled in its pulp origins and ultra-violence, whereas Quarry wants to be a languid, visual, 70s, noirish piece that finds violence upsetting. All Quarry's acts of violence are coming back to haunt him, practically in every scene, whether they're his alleged war crimes from Vietnam or the murders he committed in the first episode.

The ex-soldier turned hitman isn't exactly a new trope, but it's more or less only Yaitanes' direction and the largely non-American cast that lift it out of the ordinary and into the realm of quality TV. Would the second episode have been much good without the bravura first person POV car chase? Not a chance. Indeed, the whole show could have been a slower moving, slightly less ridiculous Blindspot if it had had a different director. 

But visuals can only get you so far. Quarry's plot is slow-moving, its characters unappealing, its message muddled and confused. It's not saying or doing anything you won't have heard before in countless genre shows and movies. In fact, it's probably saying less, and you could have watched Peter Mullan doing more or less the same act he's doing here over on ITV in The Fixer for free.

Nevertheless, just as you would look at a painting for its aesthetics rather than its plot, you could certainly watch Quarry just to see some genuine innovation in visual storytelling on US TV. The story itself is no great shakes, but the visuals could keep you going for a whole season. 

Barrometer rating: 3
TMINE prediction: Might make it to a second season, but a harder sell for Cinemax than Banshee

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Review: Pitch 1x1 (US: Fox)

Posted on September 28, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Pitch

In the US: Thursdays, 9/8c, Fox

While my general antipathy to TV shows based around the music industry is well known and formalised enough that I can claim to be "tough on music TV, tough on the causes of music TV", another general genre dislike I have is for TV shows based around sport. This is less well known because there aren't generally that many sports shows on TV - a Ballers here, a Barracuda there, a Necessary Roughness over there, a Back In the Game at the back, but that's about it, fortunately. 

But I do, even when it's a sport in which I'm interested, such as MMA. Sorry, Kingdom

A show about baseball like Pitch? That would normally stand no great a chance of my watching it than that a whelk has of surviving a supernova. But thanks to a bit of recasting back in March that saw Elisabeth Shue replaced, Pitch managed to make me slightly interested in the fact it even existed by hiring a certain someone special.

Ali Larter in Pitch

Yep, after being unceremoniously dumped in the Legends season 2 reboot last year, TMINE's first TV love, Ali Larter, is back on our screens, this time playing a baseball agent. Fingers crossed this isn't another sporting event she's going to be edited out of, too.

Big yawns so far on the plot, but Pitch is all about what happens when baseball team the San Diego Padres recruits the world's first ever female Major League baseball player (Kylie Bunbury). She may not be as strong as the other pitchers, but she does have a secret weapon taught to her by her father (Michael Beach) - a surprising 'screwball pitch' that enables her to fox the batters. 

Can she cope with the pressure, the expectations, the adulation of little girls everywhere, the demands of her dad, the misogyny of the Internet and sports commentators, and the dickery of her team-mates, including the now slightly aging captain Mark-Paul Gosselaar (Saved By The Bell, Truth Be Told, Franklin and Bash, Raising the Bar)?

To be honest, I didn't really care, probably because baseball is a sport that's basically as dull as rounders but which you need to drink beer during to make remotely tolerable. But Pitch also makes the entire first episode play out like every other 'underdog against the odds' sports drama you've ever seen, from the initial failure that makes our heroine think she's never going to make it all the way to her triumphant - but not too triumphant, because that wouldn't be realistic - breakthrough at the end. Gosselaar even has to deliver a powerful motivational speech near the end when Bunbury's at her lowest and so aware of the formula is he that he actually says before it, "If this were a movie, this is the point where I would give you a powerful motivational speech that would help you win."

Yawns.

There is a little variety, with Gosselaar and Bunbury's former teammate Mo McRae turning in surprisingly amusing performances. 'Character actor Bob Balaban', to give him his full title, is marvellous as the Padres' owner. And there's also a whole bunch of people, none of whom I recognised or even came to close to recognising, who I'm pretty sure either play baseball professionally or talk about it on TV. If you like baseball, that might appeal to you for a reason almost as unfathomable as your liking baseball.

There's also a very big revelation towards the end of the episode that's actually pretty clever. However, that can only be pulled off once, leaving subsequent episodes to fend for themselves with the show's standard foundations instead. 

But apart from Gosselaar, Larter (of course) and just generally wanting to root for the first female anything, even something as pointless as Major League pitcher, there's not much in Pitch for anyone who doesn't like a sport where you spend as much time plugging data into Excel spreadsheets and using the AVERAGE() formula as you do watching players standing around with big wooden sticks.

"Tough on sports TV, tough on the causes of sports TV" - I wonder if it'll catch on?

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September 27, 2016

Review: Notorious 1x1 (US: ABC)

Posted on September 27, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Notorious

In the US: Thursdays, 9/8c, ABC

TV news producer - sexy job? Probably not. Mainly just people sitting down, looking at spreadsheets, working horrible hours and getting an ulcer while trying to work out where today's top story could come from.

Criminal defence attorney - sexy job? Probably not. Mainly just people sitting down, looking at abstruse papers, working horrible hours and getting an ulcer while trying to work out where an obviously guilty client's defence is going to come from.

But when you stick them together, hey? Sexy, right?

Nope. Two ulcers, that's what. Duh. But Notorious nevertheless tries to convince of the two careers' combined sexiness by using the simple tactic of removing reality from the equation altogether.

Like CBS's Bull, Notorious is 'inspired' by real people's lives - in this case, those of criminal defence attorney Mark Geragos and Larry King Live news producer Wendy Walker. Like Bull, that means it's almost certainly nothing like their lives, but a big fat development check will still be heading their way.

The lovely Piper Perabo (Covert Affairs) plays the top news producer who's also best friends with top defence attorney Daniel Sunjata (Graceland). He gives her scoops with all his most media-worthy clients, she gives him the heads up when sh*t starts heading their way - it's all win-win for them both.

Then Sunjata's top billionaire client, who coincidentally happens to be married to Sunjata's ex-girlfriend, appears to wrap his car around a person and Perabo and Sunjata are having to help each other out without ruining their friendship. Except things aren't quite as they seem and before you know it, Perabo and Sunjata are investigating the crime themselves - and each other.

Even without clients claiming they'd taken pain medication that caused them to 'sleep drive', this is nonsense of the highest order. Improbably, Perabo's assistant happens to be a former escort, a handy former career that helps her to secure all manner of scoops and is in no sense stigmatised. And maybe life on Larry King Live was a lot stranger than we imagine, but Perabo's star anchor (Kate Jennings Grant) spends most of her time in her underwear, shagging rappers before she's due to be on-screen. Oh yes, shagging rappers who organise indoor barbecues in her dressing room. That's not unlikely, is it?

Sunjata presides over a slightly more plausible firm that includes the likes of J August Richards (Angel), except he's the kind of go-to top attorney who'll go to a car impound lot at night so he can extract a great big bag of cocaine and dispose of it, rather than get someone else to do it. I wonder if that'll look a bit encriminating?

There is struggling in Notorious something interesting being said about the interplay between the media and the law when it comes to celebrities and how the truth is a rapidly diminishing aspect of cable news that the quest for ratings is obscuring. Unfortunately, said message is struggling beneath a layer of absurdity that makes Scandal look like a documentary about the Eisenhower White House years. 

I wish the cast well in their future careers, but you should try to help speed them on their way, by not watching this Notorious and watching the rather marvellous Cary Grant/Ingrid Bergman thriller instead.

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Pitch

People standing around with sticks