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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.


June 22, 2017

Preview: The Bold Type 1x1 (US: Freeform)

Posted on June 22, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Bold Type

In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, Freeform. Starts July 11

No two publications are ever the same, inside or behind the scenes. I've worked on trade magazines, consumer magazines, newspapers and web sites, in the US and the UK, and while certain elements have been the same, management, culture, processes and budgets have differed almost completely. 

So despite the fact The Bold Type is based on the life of former Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief Joanna Coles, it would be tempting to say that pretty much everything that happens in the show is absolute nonsense. But maybe, in the land of insane ad spend, magazines do pay their writers enough that they can live in spiffy Manhattan apartments. Maybe once bright young interns are promoted to the stellar job title of 'writer', Cosmo immediately invites them to participate in board meetings where rich old white male board members listen to their feature pitches about vibrators and decide whether to allow them to 'empower women' like that - in 'Cosmo'? 'Surely not!' they say, like they've just wandered in from Shangri-La and picked up a copy of the magazine for the first time.

Maybe it really is like that. So I'll stop trying to pick holes in the inaccuracies. Although, seriously? How big was the computer presentation screen in the boardroom? How much did that cost? Can't they just huddle round a laptop like the rest of us?

Sorry. I'll stop that right now. Let's focus on the plot.

The old adage of 'show don't tell' is still a vital tool in writers' armouries. It lets them know when they should stop sledgehammering everything into the readers' minds, assume they have a modicum of intelligence and find subtler ways involving plotting, dialogue, direction and acting to tell the story.

The Bold Type. Yep, already 'show don't tell' has been chucked out the window, because it's a double meaning - as well as being about magazines, it's about strong, clever young women being bold and daring. And they're going to tell you that all the way through.

Unfortunately, the writers are either sending up the audience or they're too inept to actually show you how bold and daring the women are without telling you that the whole time. Indeed, just as 90% of The Playboy Club was contractually obliged to explain just how liberating and feminist working for corporate sponsor Playboy really was, so The Bold Type spends roughly half its run-time explaining how working for Cosmopolitan - sorry, 'Scarlet' magazine - really is a top feminist move that all the bright young, talented lead characters have been aspiring to all their lives. It's not just sex and shopping, but it's really willing to tackle the brave and daring issues, too. As you learn every other line of dialogue.

The trouble is the other half of The Bold Type is really just about sex and shopping, as well as just how groovy New York City is, which slightly undermines the message. It would also help if when it did try to do anything feminist or political, it wasn't so utterly, laugh out loud inept at it.

The main storyline of the first episode sees the new promoted social media director at Scarlet Aisha Dee (Sweet/Vicious) - a social media director who actually Tweets the corporate account from her phone, rather than using TweetDeck, HootSuite or something a pro might be use… sorry, I'll stop that now - trying to prove her worth (variants of "You go, girl" are the inevitable response) by convincing an artist to agree to an interview with the magazine.

Using a thesaurus, the writers of the episode decide that to show just how daring Scarlet and Dee are, the artist will be an Arab woman (Nikohl Boosheri). A lesbian Arab woman. A lesbian feminist Arab woman. A lesbian feminist Muslim Arab woman.  

A lesbian feminist Muslim Arab woman who's going to smuggle sex toys back to her home land! That was Dee's idea! You go, girl! What could go wrong?

Can you guess what happens next?

Yes, the artist ends up arrested at the airport. Oh dear.

But rarely has there been a funnier moment on TV than when Dee and her Scarlet friends - that's newly promoted writer Katie Stevens (American Idol) and top assistant Meghann Fahy (One Life To Live) - learn what's transpired and reach for their phones… only to realise that Tweeting about it won't save the artist. Not even the best-conceived hashtag campaign in the world will save her. 

"If only there was something we could do," they say, putting down their phones.

Indeed, amusingly, whenever Scarlet magazine boss Melora Hardin comes along to alternate between being a mentor and being a Devil wearing Prada, it's usually to suggest that the budding writers get off their backsides and do something, rather than trying to social media everything to death. 

"It must be terrible not knowing what your ex is up to, now he's quite Instagram," she says sympathetically.

"It is," says Stevens. How will she ever find out what he's doing? She can think of literally no way of finding out.

So Hardin forces her to… go to his house and talk to him. Gasp.

The Bold Type isn't so much a show about smart, talented, bold young women working in the world of media as it is a stupid old person's idea of what smart, talented bold young women working in the world of media must be like. And again, although I've never worked at Cosmopolitan and all magazines are different, my experience tells me that there are far smarter, far bolder young women working in journalism right now than The Bold Type would have you think.

Bin it, cancel your subscription and try another title instead is my advice.

June 19, 2017

Review: Ronny Chieng - International Student 1x1-1x2 (Australia: ABC)

Posted on June 19, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Ronny Chieng: International Student

In Australia: Wednesdays, 9pm, ABC

It's a given that pretty much every actor and comedian in the anglophone world now heads off to the US to seek their fortunes; what's less acknowledged is that they often temporarily return to their home countries, reputation enhanced by the experiences abroad, with greater star power than before, able to carry their own home-grown series.

Ronny Chieng is one such world traveller. He's doing quite well for himself in the US on The Daily Show as a correspondent, but last year he returned to Australia to develop a comedy pilot for ABC, Ronny Chieng: International Student, based on his experiences of coming from Malaysia to study law in Australia. That did well enough to not only get a series but attract the attention of Comedy Central (US), who are now co-financing and airing the series later in the year.

The series proper continues where that pilot left off, with Chieng still living with a bunch of other Asian international students in the 'International House' of the campus, while hanging out with Australian gal pal Molly Daniels (Upper Middle Bogan). Added to the mix is new arrival from the US Patch May (Home and Away), who'd really like International House to be like a US frat house.

The humour stems largely from jokes about Asian culture, some stereotypical (eg Tiger moms who know no boundaries), some surprisingly fresh and novel. Episode two (Asian Rules Football), for example, sees the nerdy Asians suddenly the darlings of the legal faculty's Aussie Rules football team thanks to their awesome kicking skills, acquired from hours playing a game called 'jianzi', 'capteh' or 'da cau' (depending on whether you come from China, Malaysia or Vietnam), meaning they can avoid being tackled for the entire game. Ever seen that before? No, me neither.

But mostly the show mines some regular university comedy staples - the clapped out old lecturer who brings his personal life into everything, including his lectures; the overly politically correct staff; trying to maintain the correct distance from one's parents, particularly when girls are around; and trying to be cool while studying hard.

Chieng maintains more or less the same blunt persona he's crafted on The Daily Show, but here he's less in control and more perpetually frustrated by everyone around him. He's also by no means the bluntest of the group, meaning that he's often the peacemaker of the piece.

A tamer, more Australian, more Asian version of Dear White People, the show benefits considerably from May and Daniels' characters providing sounding boards to explain cultural issues to - I almost understand Aussie Rules now, which is something I never thought would happen. It also provides plenty of chuckles, if not outright gaffaws. 

Ronny Chieng: International Student isn't an A-student but it's a good B at least, having enough elements of truth, enough freshness and enough laughs that it's worth giving a try.

Mini-review: Blood Drive 1x1 (US/UK: Syfy)

Posted on June 19, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Blood Drive

In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, Syfy
In the UK: Acquired by Syfy UK

Grindhouse is one of those genres that never really took off in the UK. Best known for its exploitation tropes, you can probably name a few grindhouse movies, such as Death Race 2000, but chances are you won't have seen them, since they were pretty much eclipsed in our national consciousness by 'Video Nasties' such as Driller Killer

In the US, it's a different story, perhaps in part because of film nerds like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez doing their best to repopulise the genre. I'm not convinced people genuinely like it, so much as have fond feelings for it that probably wouldn't survive their rewatching any of their favourites. But so long as they never actually look to see if their memories have cheated them, grindhouse will still sit in the hearts of many a middle-aged US nerd.

Blood Drive is an explicit (in all senses) effort to capitalise on that fact-free nostalgia but makes the fatal mistake of being authentically terrible rather than post-modernly tongue-in-cheek terrible. Set in the far flung dystopian future of '1999', the show sees the world's resources all used up, petrol at $1,000+ a barrel, water scarce and crime rapant. Against this backdrop is a race through the US for no really good reason. All you need to know is that the race is happening and the cars run on… HUMAN BLOOD!!!!

The 'heroes' of the piece are former Aquaman Alan Ritchson as the one honest LA cop left who ends up having to join the race and hotty old hand Christina Ochoa (Matador, Animal Kingdom)*, both of whom must fight against all and sundry, particularly the other drivers, while occasionally having to top up with a pint or two of O-.

The show's tongue is very firmly placed in its cheek. Unfortunately, it's also placed firmly in your cheek, too, making it all a deeply unpleasant experience to watch. It's not just the gore, it's the letchery, sexism, racism et al that make it a hard viewing.

More so, everything is knowingly stupid, rather than fun stupid, appealing to the 'tickbox' mentality of genre fans, rather than just trying to enjoy itself. Characters are deliberately poorly drawn, budgets are low, direction poor because that's Grindhouse - but that was largely all through necessity with the originals, rather than because of deliberate choices.

As a show Blood Drive is deliberately bad, but so bad it's unwatchable, rather than a secret pleasure. If you're the sort of person who likes Sharknado, you might enjoy Blood Drive. But if you like shows that are… good, then steer well clear.

* Who I'm fascinated to learn is a member of Mensa who studied marine biology, focusing on elasmobranchii; an "actress, science communicator and writer"; grand-niece of 1959 Nobel Prize winner Severo Ochoa; and daughter of acclaimed Spanish sculptor Victor Ochoa. Blood Drive really doesn't play to her strengths

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The Bold Type

Journalism for people who can't read more than a Tweet