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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.


July 21, 2016

Mini-review: Vice Principals 1x1 (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)

Posted on July 21, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Walton Goggins and Danny McBride in Vice Principals

In the US: Sundays, 10.30pm, HBO
In the UK: Tuesdays, 9.35pm, Sky Atlantic. Starts July 26th

This year, it seems, is the year that US TV has decided it wants not only to go back to school but to go back to school childishly. "Being an adult hard? How about a bunch of teachers who behave like kids? Wouldn't you like to watch that?" seems to be the theory.

We've already had Teachers and Those Who Can't from TV Land and TruTV respectively, offering us just that, and now we have HBO's efforts at the same, Vice Principals, in which Walton Goggins (Justified, The Shield, The Hateful Eight) and Danny McBride (Eastbound and Down, Tropic Thunder) are - yes, you guessed it - vice principals at the same US High School. Goggins is the sweet-talking but ultimately two-faced popular one; McBride is the foul-mouthed, inadequate dick that everyone hates; both hate each other.

Then the principal (Bill Murray - yes, Bill Murray) decides to stand down for the sake of his sick wife, prompting a contest between his deputies to replace him, only for both their dreams to be dashed as outsider Kimberly Hebert Gregory (Devious Maids) gets the top spot instead. My enemy's enemy is my friend so McBride and Goggins unite to defeat their new opponent - but such is their ineptitude, all's that likely is mutually assured destruction instead.

The show has several strands of (attempted) comedy. With McBride co-creating and writing, as per Eastbound and Down, it's not surprise there's his usual parade of attempted alpha male put-downs, extreme dickery and inappropriate teaching methods, here filtered through a more inadequate, more self-aware, less sports-obsessed prism than Kenny Powers. There's also the childish squabbling between McBride and Goggins, and their frequently politically incorrect antagonism towards Gregory's 'smart, sassy black woman' routine - which, subtly, is itself as manufactured as both McBride and Goggins' facades.

But despite all those elements at play, Vice Principals isn't hugely funny, except towards the end of this first episode when the two enemies unite, and largely feels like watered down Eastbound and Down. McBride's ex-wife Busy Philipps (Cougar Town) doesn't get to do much beyond be the butt of his ineptitude, while Shea Whigham as her new husband largely gets to play the unexpectedly nice guy that McBride doesn't quite know how to deal with, without getting to cause any laughs himself. 

An almost-interesting looking at failing masculinity and petty power struggles, Vice Principals might get better in its second episode when hostilities take off. The fact that it's a definite two-season, 18-episode run means that it should have a fixed story arc that takes as long as it needs, no more, no less, which is another plus. At the moment, though, it feels like it needs work: must try harder.

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July 15, 2016

Mini-review: Barracuda 1x1 (Australia: ABC)

Posted on July 15, 2016 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Barracuda

In Australia: Sundays, 8.30pm, ABC
In the UK: Not yet acquired

There's a worrying trend developing in television drama, one that I heartily disapprove of: drama about sports. It's coming to us from the US, with the likes of Ballers, Pitch and Kingdom; meanwhile, Australia's already given us tennis players in The Beautiful Lieand now we've got to put up with swimming with ABC's Barracuda. I'm guessing with the Olympics on the way, there may be even more sports shows to come. Tsk. There's really no need for it, though, is there?

To be fair, Barracuda is more an excuse to look at the issues around sport and at young men in speedos, than it is all about the glories of swimming, no matter how many dodgy poems Hungarian swimming coaches read to their youthful charges in their homes. Set in 1996, it sees newcomer Elias Anton playing a working class Olympian hopeful winning a scholarship to a prestigious private school that trains swimming champions. But there, as well as having to shave his chest and dive into water a lot, he has to navigate class boundaries, bullying and racism, in order to make it to the top. But what price does it come at and is it all worth it?

If you've watched any kind of sports drama and any kind of drama set in a school, particularly a private school, you won't be surprised by much of what Barracuda has to offer, although what it does, it does very well. The young cast is decent and look the part; Matt Nable (Arrow, DC's Legends of Tomorrow, Gallipoli) is suitably inspiring as the coach, even if he sounds more South African than Hungarian; and the talented Rachel Griffiths (Brothers and Sisters, Very Annie Mary, Camp, Deadline Gallipoli) mysteriously shows up as one of the mums of the swim team.

It's all beautifully shot and there are some good moments, even some involving sport, particularly when the reason for the show's name gets revealed. But ultimately, even at just four episodes, you have to give a monkey's about swimming for Barracuda to be worth your time.  

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July 14, 2016

Review: Robin of Sherwood - The Knights of the Apocalypse

Posted on July 14, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Robin of Sherwood - Knights of the ApocalypseSo it's here at last. It may have taken decades, switched medium, needed a Kickstarter campaign to get it going and then switched production company, but Robin of Sherwood - The Knights of the Apocalypse is finally here.

For those who don't know what Robin of Sherwood is/was, hien? Quoi? C'est incroyable! But here's my nostalgia-filled remembrance of it to fill you in. In essence, though, it was one of the best UK TV shows of the 1980s giving us the perhaps definitive TV Robin Hood. However, it was cancelled following its third series when the funding ran out.

The feature-length Knights of the Apocalypse was written by the show's creator, Richard Carpenter, as a continuation of the show, but despite his best efforts, it never got made for TV or a movie. But to raise a bit of cash for charity, Spiteful Puppet Productions (who produce a surprising number of other Robin Hood audio dramas) has managed to get just about all the actors and actresses from the original series to recreate their roles and finally bring Knights of the Apocalypse to life as an audio play. 

Does it capture the original's strengths and stand as a worthwhile addition to the canon? I'll let you know after the jump, but here's a trailer and - ooh! - a news clip.

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