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November 19, 2014

Review: State of Affairs 1x1 (US: NBC)

Posted on November 19, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

State of Affairs

In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, NBC

Katherine Heigl has been a movie star for so long, it’s hard to remember that she made it big on TV first. Sure, she was something of a teen movie doyenne, playing both Steven Seagal and Gerard Depardieu’s daughters in Under Siege 2 and My Father, The Hero respectively, but it was in first Roswell and then Grey’s Anatomy that she really got noticed, before eventually hitting the big time in Knocked Up.

Unlike most of the world, tired of the endless series of identikit rom-coms that have characterised her career since and aware of her ‘difficult’ reputation, I have a lot of time for Heigl. She’s done her best to change the rom-com dynamic, trying to inject some feminism and even some swearing so that women aren’t continually gentrified and oppressed by the genre. But she could certainly do better than 27 Dresses for starters.

Apparently, she thinks so, too, which is why she’s returned to TV to do something completely different: playing a gun-toting CIA analyst in State of Affairs. Something of a melange of everything from Homeland through The Threat Matrix (bet you thought no one would mention that show again), it sees Heigl advising her former mother-in-law-to-be - the US president (Alfre Woodard) - about the top threats facing the United States’ interests around the world, be it abducted doctors in Africa or Islamist terrorists… in Africa. And along the way, she’ll have to face politics, in-fighting, special forces, psychiatrists, security teams and someone who knows her dirty little secret.

And although pretty much every aspect of the show has been put through the NBC low-quality “generification machine”, if you were expecting it to be an epic disaster that would maintain Heigl’s status as a hate figure in the entertainment industry, you’d be surprised, since it’s okay. It’s not great, but compared to what it could have been, it’s a slight eye-opener.

Here’s a trailer.

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November 10, 2014

Third-episode verdict: Constantine (US: NBC; UK: Amazon Prime)

Posted on November 10, 2014 | comments | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerConstantine.jpgA Barrometer rating of 3

In the US: Fridays, 10/9c, NBC
In the UK: Amazon Prime

Three episodes into Constantine, the latest attempt to adapt DC's Vertigo horror comic Hellblazer in another medium, and we're seeing marked signs of improvement after a very variable first couple of episodes. The pilot (which was modified slightly for the transmitted first episode to get rid of Lucy Griffiths) wasn't bad, but it wasn't great: a PG-13 bit of horror, with a variably-accented, atypically moral John Constantine, that was about on a par with the average first season episode of SupernaturalMatt Ryan's Constantine is a watered down version of the comic book character: a non-smoking, generic working class Brit (accent says lots of places in the North, driving licence says Liverpool, slang says London), a man constantly acting like an unnuanced supernatural tough guy, rather than a mercurial amoral, trickster, prepared to manipulate and betray in the interest of the bigger picture (or himself).

Things didn't get any better with episode two. In fact, they got worse, as it was a truly dreadful, virtually unwatchable affair: a sub-Grimm bit of dullness, with Constantine chasing generic monsters in a mysteriously Welsh-obsessed Pennsylvania mining town. Bringing in anti-Romani racism just for larks, it was about stupid and soporific as it's possible for a show about the paranormal to get, without its writers having been trepanned first - and that's despite the show bringing in Angélica Celaya as a considerably more interesting replacement for Griffiths. 

But the third episode has given me hope. While the 'threat of the week' was the somewhat generic 'cursed LP', the general furniture of the story was a whole lot better. The script by BSG/Smallville veteran Mark Verheiden drew a lot on the comic to flesh out Constantine, bringing in his punk band background (a bit of time travel maths or a longevity spell might be needed to square that) and favoured adversary/supernatural bystander Papa Midnite and his Ace of Winchesters. There was humour and general bad behaviour, too, and the show should get Brownie points for both an excellent use of 'Anarchy in the UK' and a couple of Doctor Who references that included a dimensionally transcendental house and the Constantine equivalent of psychic paper.

Constantine is still a tame affair that uses gore as a substitute for true horror. It relies on the iconography of the comic to give us the TV version of Constantine, Zed, Chas and other characters, but without giving us any real meat to their bones or signs that these are real people with real pasts, rather than Very Important Things That Had Happened To Them. And its plot are generic at best, unwatchable at worst.

But the show's definitely getting there now. It's drawing on some of the comic's best bits to give us some things we haven't really seen on TV before. Constantine is doing proper Hellblazer-esque magic. And we're getting a proper roster of characters built up.

If it's to survive in the ratings and be something more than Supernatural meets Grimm, the show needs to put on its big boy pants and truly embrace the darkness and Hellblazer's combination of heresy, politics and the personal. That's assuming its got any chance of attracting back anyone who watched its offensively poor second episode, which is unlikely. And, of course, one good episode doesn't mean everything that follows is going to be golden.

However, after the second episode, I was fairly certain I wasn't going to be watching Constantine after the third, so it might still be in with a chance.

Barrometer rating: 3
Rob's prediction: If it makes it to a season, I'll be surprised, two seasons and I'll be amazed, but some piece of dark magic might still save it

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November 7, 2014

What have you been watching? Including Interstellar, Arrow, Gotham, Elementary and Plebs

Posted on November 7, 2014 | comments | Bookmark and Share

It's "What have you been watching?", my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently that I haven't already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I've missed them.

The usual "TMINE recommends" page features links to reviews of all the shows I've ever recommended, and there's also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I've reviewed ever. And if you want to know when any of these shows are on in your area, there's Locate TV - they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.

Despite the fact a couple of shows in the US have decided to take a wee break this week, the moving of "What have you been watching?” to a Friday hasn’t quite solved my backlog issues. So I haven’t yet watched this week’s The Affair or Jane The Virgin – which might be telling me something, or might not be. Otherwise, I’m up to date.

Elsewhere, I reviewed The McCarthys and I managed to watch a movie this evening:

Interstellar (2014)
Christopher Nolan’s latest. Christopher Nolan is, of course, a genius and Interstellar is another convention-defying, mainstream movie industry-defying blockbuster with little busting or indeed action. Three of its biggest stars are only revealed halfway through and the whole thing is set in some dystopian near future where the Earth is dying and our only hope is for Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway to travel through a wormhole to a distant galaxy and try to find a new planet. An odd combination of 2001, 2010, Silent Running, Planet of the Apes and, erm, Signs, it’s thoughtful, tries its best with science – it’s one of the few movies to even attempt to have the repercussions of relativity as a main plot point, let alone worry about whether a black hole is spinning or not in order for its singularity to be of the right kind, or try to simulate five dimensions with just two – and has some lovely outer space bits filmed in Iceland.

But I don’t know whether it’s because I’m a genius, too, because virtually all the twists and turns the movie runs through seemed blindingly obvious to me. I saw them all coming and was mildly disappointed when the movie did exactly what I expected it to do, particularly in one particularly bonkers bit towards the end. YMMV, but I’m off to watch Gravity and Inception again after this, both of which do aspects of Interstellar much much better. Still, it is a Christopher Nolan movie so automatically in the top 10% of all movies this year, despite a run time of three hours and nine minutes, and it does handles emotions and the people side of things much better than previous Nolan movies have, while still being very smart.

After the jump, I’ll be running through: Arrow, The Blacklist, Elementary, Gotham, Gracepoint, Homeland, Muianey, Plebs, Selfie and Scorpion.

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