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February 17, 2017

Review: Imposters 1x1-1x2 (US: Bravo)

Posted on February 17, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Imposters

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, Bravo

Con artists aren't very nice people. They lie, cheat and steal from people to benefit themselves, those people typically being old, trusting and/or not very rich, and who therefore typically end up penniless, destitute, futureless and/or suicidal.

What. A. Downer. Huh?

It's no surprise, therefore, that shows that have focused on 'flim flam' men and women, such as Leverage or Perfect Scoundrels, have usually taken no time at all to give their anti-heroes epiphanies in which they realise that their ways are indeed wicked. Before the end of the first episode even, they're off fleecing the deserving - aka people who are both rich and dicks.

Shows that don't? Downers.

That's certainly how you think Imposters is going to be during its first episode. It sees Rob Heaps playing a sensitive young Jewish man who works for his family-owned firm. He sacrificed everything for his family, including his dreams of seeing Paris, and ends up thinking his life will never amount to anything. Then along comes Belgian breath of fresh air Inbar Levi, the two fall madly in love, and before you know it, they're married and Heaps dares to dream once more.

But before you know it (again), she's emptied their bank account, maxed out the credit cards, taken out a second mortgage on their home and stolen cash from the firm, leaving a parting video explaining that a folder of incriminating evidence will be used to destroy his parents' marriage if he comes looking for her.

All looks bleak and Heaps even tries to commit suicide. Then comes a knock at the door… and the show changes.

Had I not fallen a little behind with my viewing schedule, I might not have bothered watching episode two of Imposters, that first ep is so fundamentally miserable. But since I hadn't watched episode one by the time episode two aired, I ended up watching both en masse. Surprisingly, this is actually probably the best thing you can do, since episode one is less the foundation to the show than its prologue; it's only in episode two that you find out what it's really doing.

It would have helped if the show had stuck to its original title of My So-Called Wife, because oddly enough, Imposters is a buddy-buddy comedy. At Heaps' door is another of Levi's victims - Parker Young (Suburgatory, Enlisted), a knuckle-headed former quaterback and alpha male car salesman. Together, he and the equally penniless and heart-broken Heaps are going to go on a road trip together to find Levi and get their money back. Along the way, they're going to learn the ways of the con artist, be spectacularly bad at them, develop their own code of honour, help each other to get over their former wife, and get on each other's nerves. A lot.

Meanwhile, Levi has moved onto the next job allocated by mysterious boss 'the Doctor' to her and the rest of her team, who include Katherine LaNasa (DeceptionSatisfaction) and Brian Benben (Dream On). With their help, she has to woo a seemingly dickish, cuckolded darts-playing bank CEO (Battlestar Galactica's Aaron Douglas. Yes, it's filmed in Canada - how did you know?), who turns out to be surprisingly sweet. But she's distracted by the possibility of true love with coffee-shop chance encounter Stephen Bishop (Being Mary Jane). Is it time to get out of 'the life' or will the Doctor punish her and Bishop if she tries?

All this is good frothy fun that manages to find both a little depth and a lot more jokes amidst everyone's misery. Levi, who did little as a button-downed Israeli commando on The Last Ship, here demonstrates a really surprising range and is hugely appealing, even when she tricks and misleads everyone she meets. Young and Heaps' routine is both funny and suitably dorky, and their slow crossing over to the dark side is entertaining to watch as they foul up time and again but slowly get better. Their 'code' also shows how morality can blur when you need it to, as they initially write off children and old people as potential marks, settle on 'assholes' as their preferred targets, then decide that 'asshole>old people' in their moral hierarchy when spying a particularly dickish senior with an attractively bulging wallet.

Later episodes are set to add Uma Thurman to the mix, as well as another former spouse of Levi's - a wife this time (Marianne Rendón) - which is bound to change the dynamic of the show once again. Despite its subject matter, while black, Imposters is certainly still a comedy and well worth a try. But you'll need to commit.

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Third-episode verdict: Powerless (US: NBC)

Posted on February 17, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerPowerless.jpgA Barrometer rating of 3

In the US: Thursdays, 8.30/7.30c, NBC

You always have to give a show that's had a revamp a little time to settle in. A little.

When Powerless was commissioned, it was a slightly different show from the one we have now. Set in the world of DC Comics, it featured a slightly dodgy insurance agency run by a supervillain that was trying to make money off the poor folks trampled by superheroes in their fight to stop the bad guys.

But twixt pilot and series, there was a bit of retooling. By the first aired episode, cynical old Vanessa Hudgens had turned into a dewy-eyed optimist wanting to make a difference in a branch of Wayne Industries run by Batman's incompetent narcissist cousin (Alan Tudyk). Trouble is she has a bunch of people rejected by Better Off Ted working for her, including Danny Pudi and Ron Funches, all of whom can do little more than copy Lexcorp's inventions. Can Hudgens turn the division round, save everyone from getting fired, help the little people and meet lots of her superhero idols, all without a single superpower to her?

Watching the first episode, the answer seemed to be "Who cares?", "Why aren't there any proper superheroes in this?" and "When do the jokes start?"

The second episode actually proved worse, since the first episode raised the occasional titter, whereas the second was practically soporific, beyond a nice joke about training videos being like The Shining.

Still, there's a reason that I do these as third-episode verdicts, not second-episode verdicts. You have to give things time. And while episode three wasn't exactly an exercise in hilarity, it was at least a reverse of the previous episode's trajectory and I was able to watch the whole thing with a slight grin on my face, at least. The show featured a superhero I'd actually heard of, although it was The Olympian, so I wouldn't describe that as a mainstream pick by the writers. There were a few in-jokes for comic book fans, with Gail Simone and Marv Wolfman getting name-checked. There was also a halfway decent attempt to tie the show a bit more into mainstream community by making Funches Atlantean ("Atlantis: home of Aquaman and character actor William H Macey"), allowing copious references to Aquaman. Corbin Bernsen's arrival as Tudyk's dad seemed to make everyone up their game. And the opening dialogue among the characters about racism ("I thought you said you were from Atlanta" "No, that's Donald Glover, but it might be racist that you heard that") almost made me laugh.

Almost. Because we're still not exactly in Silicon Valley or Man Seeking Woman territory here. But the show is at least finding its feet now. I doubt, given that we'll be at episode four next week, that the show will ever drag itself out of its z-list superhero obsession or become even laugh-out-loud funny. Not giving Danny Pudi any decent lines is a Category A disaster. But you can at least watch it and not feel like Superman near Lex Luthor's kryptonite ring any more, which is a definite improvement.

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February 16, 2017

Third-episode verdict: Riverdale (US: The CW; UK: Netflix)

Posted on February 16, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerRiverdale.jpgA Barrometer rating of 2

In the US: Thursdays, 9/8c, The CW
In the UK: Available on Netflix. New episode every Friday

Which would you rather make: the next Twin Peaks or the next Smallville? It's not as easy a choice as you might think. Sure, Twin Peaks is revered enough that it's coming back after 25 years and it gets mentioned in all manner of "Top n shows in TV history" lists whereas Smallville never won and never will win any critics awards for its fine storytelling. But Smallville also lasted a record-breaking 10 seasons to become the longest-running North American science-fiction series, whereas Twin Peaks never even made it to three.

In its first episode, Riverdale seemed to be aiming to be the new Twin Peaks. A reimagining of the long-lasting American comic book Archie set in a genial small town, complete with a classic love triangle in the form of swell guy and gals Archie, Veronica and Betty, Riverdale updated it, put new spins on all the old characters and then threw in a murder-mystery for luck. Replete with ravishing visuals and smart dialogue, it gave younger and older viewers plenty to enjoy, including thrills and excitement, without sacrificing the comic's generally genial atmosphere.

Since then, the show has started to change into something a bit more conventional and 'teenish'. Episode two occupied a halfway house between the old aesthetic and the new aesthetic, with the show trying to be both a dark murder mystery and a full-on comedy and not quite working as it shifted between tones. Nevertheless, the bonding between Betty and Veronica was well executed and the dialogue maintained its smartness, at least. And, of course, we got Jossy and the Pussycats singing their own version of classic The Archies song 'Sugar, Sugar':

Episode three continued the descent in quality by being a modern-day "Very Special Episode" about slut-shaming that decided to take in Wild Things along the way for no well defined reason. Smartness and sassiness generally went down a hole, and the need for the very white Archie's musical ambitions to bear fruit via the all-black, all-female Josie and the Pussycats led to a nails-on-chalkboard attempt to square that particular circle… as well as yet another musical number in the style of Smallville's frequent trips to 'the Talon'.

Riverdale's not entirely lost sight of its original ambitions and episode three has the rather marvellous suggestion that sweet as apple pie Betty might have multiple personality disorder and could even be her own crazy (murderous) twin sister, Polly. But the adults have stopped being adult and have started to become cliched, and the murder-mystery side of things has become more than a little silly. Coupled with the continuing inappropriate and probably illegal relationship between Archie and his music teacher, where it's hard to tell which is the adult and which is the child, and it's all starting to feel far less promising than when it started.

There could still be plenty of mileage in Riverdale - after all, not every episode of Twin Peaks was a classic, let alone Smallville. It's still got a winning cast and a reasonably strong foundation. It just needs to decide what it wants to do in life.

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Imposters

A con that you'll need to commit to