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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.


April 1, 2015

Third-episode verdict: iZombie (US: The CW)

Posted on April 1, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometeriZombie.jpgA Barrometer rating of 2

In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, The CW

Three episodes into Rob Thomas’s iZombie, a strange amalgam of Veronica Mars and The Walking Dead in which a zombie medical student gets to solve crimes every week by eating the victims’ brains, and it’s hard not to feel like it’s missing some vital spark.

It has all the ingredients of a hit series and appears to doing all the right things: it’s got a Veronica Mars-alike heroine (Rose McIver) who has to juggle her affliction, her loved ones and her need to do spunky voiceovers; it’s got some fun supporting characters, including David Anders as a zombie drug dealer and Rahul Kohli as McIver's very English, humorous confidant; and it has some good ideas, including its own zombie mythology and Anders’ evil schemes.

Yet as we discovered from the first episode, iZombie feels somewhat soulless, a simulacrum of a hit show rather than a real, living, breathing thing. Since then, it’s managed to add some seriousness to its previous glibness, with the third episode in particular giving us some emotional depth to McIver’s situation, as well as giving her friend and former Hellcat Aly Michalka something to do except guilt-trip her every episode. And Anders’ scheme is very evil.

But that’s not quite been enough to make it compelling viewing. The police procedural format really neuters the show, turning it into a hodge-podge of styles with a usually not very interesting murder that must be solved before the end of the episode. None of the bolder ideas of the original comic, particularly not were-terriers and chimp-granddads, have managed to make it through to the screen, giving us something that really rests on just a few quirks. And although McIver’s zombie status robs her of some emotions, there’s almost no chemistry between her and her former fiancé, no real sense of loss or grief.

So iZombie is fun enough viewing and it’s rarely dull, but if you were hoping for a new Veronica Mars, just with a bit more gore and brain-eating, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed.

Barrometer rating: 2
Rob’s prediction: Not quite as impressive as it should be, so going to be lucky to make it to a second season

March 25, 2015

Third-episode verdict: American Crime (US: ABC)

Posted on March 25, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerAmericanCrime.jpgA Barrometer rating of 0

In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, ABC

So what is an American crime? Well, according to the rather brilliant ABC show American Crime, it’s a regular crime but observed as simply part of a wider picture, in which systems and attitudes lock individuals into situations and behaviours they can’t escape.

Following on from an apparent burglary in which a veteran is killed and his wife raped, the show depicts how the crime and the investigation affects the families of those involved. But it also asks why the crime happened, how society views the crime, whether the crime is indicative of larger problems and whether there’s a middle ground that could be reached by everyone that’s unachievable thanks to the extremes and rules society lays down.

Following a first episode that was perhaps a little self-conscious of its own importance and that occasionally escaped from its combination of artful direction and verisimilitude to give us aspects that were a tad ‘writerly’ in their unlikeliness, the following two episodes have barely put a foot wrong in showing us the insides of the American justice system and how it can trap those who have barely done anything wrong or who would benefit from either treatment of human kindness. It’s tried to put in the shoes of junkies, drug dealers, legal immigrants, illegal immigrants, Latinos, black Americans, white Americans, fathers, mothers and everyone else as their lives overlap and they fail to understand one another, only knowing their own lives and what society tells them to be.

The show's a hard watch. It is literally the last thing I watch out of every week’s viewing, not because it’s a bad show, but because it’s such a dishearteningly true picture of reality, without any glimmer of hope and goodness to relieve the misery, beyond the fact it’s on broadcast TV so can’t quite tread into the darkest realms. That's why I’ll only doing my third-episode verdict on a Wednesday, when the show airs a new episode on a Thursday. That's why the ratings keep dropping.

But as I’ve said before, if this were on HBO, there’d be no doubt that everyone would be calling it the most important, most realistic, most astutely observed crime drama since Southland or perhaps even The Wire. If you have any interest in quality TV, this is the one American show you should be watching right now.

Barrometer rating: 0
Rob’s prediction: With these ratings, it’s unlikely to survive, so catch it while you can.

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March 24, 2015

Third-episode verdict: Dig (US: USA Network)

Posted on March 24, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerDig.jpgA Barrometer rating of 4

In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, USA

There's something weirdly fascinating about the USA Network's Dig. The creation of Tim Kring (Heroes) and Gideon Raff (Homeland), it sees FBI agent (hello to) Jason Isaacs travelling to Jerusalem to catch a criminal, only to somehow get embroiled in an Old Testament conspiracy theory that involves unblemished heffers, cloned kids whose feet must not touch the ground and a long-lost priest's breastplate that allowed him to communicate with God. Bringing in all sorts of Jewish mythology in the same way that the similar Touch did, it's nevertheless absolute bobbins in the Dan Brown vein that's only mildly less stupid. 

Since the first episode, we've had all sorts happen but very little get explained, beyond the introduction of yet more conspiracists including Richard E Grant and the pairing of Isaacs buddy-buddy stylee with a sceptical Israeli cop (Ori Pfeffer). There have been plenty of chases, plenty of deaths, plenty of 'revelations' and plenty of biblical references, but nothing yet makes much sense. 

The show has a few redeeming features: the Jersusalem filming and having half the show in Hebrew is lovely; the occasional local touch, such as having Pfeffer pick up his kid while taking a suspect to the police station, makes it feel like one of Raff's shows before he switched to US TV; a strong supporting cast, including Grant, Anne Heche and David Costabile, lift the show above the likes of Allegiance; and having a show that's firmly about Jewish rather than Christian traditions is novel. 

But that's not enough, when faced with Dig's obvious stupidity and dullness. It's just tedious to watch.

Nevertheless, there's something oddly compelling about its strangeness. Normally, with such a high Barrometer rating, I'd have dropped it like so much CSI: Cyber. But for some reason, whether it's just the absolute strangeness of the show, Isaacs or the location filming, I want to tune in for more.

I absolutely under no circumstances would recommend Dig (or anything Tim Kring is involved with) to anyone, but I might well stick with it, right until the bitter end. At which point, I'm sure I'll rue my wasted time. But I think I'll still have seem something different from the usual US TV thriller. And perhaps that's Dig last remaining redeeming feature.

Barrometer rating: 4
Rob's prediction: It's only supposed to last a season and that's all it's going to get

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