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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 23, 2014

Third-episode verdict: Silicon Valley (HBO/Sky Atlantic)

Posted on April 23, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerSiliconValley.jpgA Barrometer rating of 2

In the US: Sundays, 10pm, HBO
In the UK: Acquired by Sky Atlantic for summer 2014

Normally, you can pretty much get a grip on a show within a few episodes. You can tell what it's like, what kind of things it's going to play with and who it's going to appeal to.

Silicon Valley is a slightly more problematic show. Set, as you might guess, in the computer capital of the world, it's a comedy from Mike Judge that follows a programmer (Thomas Middleditch) who develops a revolutionary new compression algorithm and decides to start his own company to sell it to the world. The series then follows the various obstacles Middleditch faces, ranging from coming up with a proper business plan to incorporating the company and deciding who gets to have shares.

Finding the funny yet? 

Well it can be: the first episode was very good, thanks in part to Judge's own experiences of working in the valley. Since then, though, it's been variable, depending very much on individual writers' particular interests. Episode two gave us a very finance-oriented episode that would have left the average person clueless as to what was going on, and bar a speech from one of the programmers about security - which again would have left programming neophytes for dust - was a bit short on the funnies.

Episode three was considerably better, giving us more of a character piece that bulked up the supporting cast and played with stereotypes in a relatively novel way. But tonally, it felt like a completely different show: a single-camera version of Big Bang Theory complete with music stings. True, it was a lot smarter - it even made a plot point out of the co-prime lifecycles of cicadas - and it also required an audience familiarity with cloud company mission statements, but rather than the more heightened Office Space reality of Judge's episode, this was a conventional sitcom with an unusual setting.

So I don't really know whether to recommend it or not. If you know both IT and finance, and deal with the corporate world a lot - I'm guessing the kind of person who can afford to subscribe to HBO in fact - this is very much your show. It's spot-on in its satire and you'll know exactly what they're getting at. It still needs a bit more development and consistency if you're to root for the characters, rather than merely observe them, but I think you'll like it.

For everyone else, you could get lost in this, no matter how many episodes of Dragons' Den/Shark Tank you've seen. It's not easily fathomable and the more accessible jokes are by no means its funniest. It's good, but I'm just not sure you'll love it - certainly not when Judge isn't writing it.

Barrometer rating: 2
Rob's prediction: Already been renewed for a second season

April 14, 2014

Review: The Gods of Wheat Street 1x1 (ABC1)

Posted on April 14, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Gods of Wheat Street

In Australia: Saturdays, 8.30pm, ABC1

So there’s this guy called Odin who lives with his family on Wheat Street*. Well, he lives with Athena, Electra, Tristan and, erm, Libby; his brother Ares is in prison while his sister Isolde lives round the corner. His mum, Eden, is dead, so she only drops round to give advice from time to time.

From all that, you might think you have ABC1’s The Gods of Wheat Street correctly pegged as Australia’s answer to The Almighty Johnsons. But you’d be completely and utterly wrong.

Because, beyond the names of gods and heroes – and the occasional visitation by the dead – this is largely a six-part Aboriginal soap opera from the people who gave us Redfern Now, both in front of and behind the camera, but without the benefit of Jimmy McGovern's guiding hand.

Once you get over that basic misdirection, it’s not that bad. It's a drama about finding hope, having dreams and wanting more in life in small-town Australia, even when you’re poor and it looks like life is trying to kick you in the you-know-wheres. There’s a certain nominative determinism to the plot: Odin is the all father who tries to keep his family together, despite not having any money, his employer having just died and pretty much everything being up for sale; Ares is always in fights; Electra has daddy issues; Tristan would do anything for love; and so on.

But it’s not great. The acting by most of the leads is not so much convincing as earthy. The dialogue has the occasional laugh. The writers aren’t afraid to look at issues like domestic violence, racism, violence against women and everything else you might expect given the set-up they’ve created, but they’re more interested in regular-type people with regular-type ambitions – doing well at school, going to college to study fashion, looking after the family, finding a boyfriend or girlfriend, and so on.

I do find myself slightly compelled to watch the second episode, but only slightly. If you’re Australian, the show might well be of interest to you, even if it is all a bit worthy; but outside of Australia, most viewers are going to be hard-pushed to find much to watch in The Gods of Wheat Street beyond a mildly amiable drama about mildly amiable people.

* This review was written entirely in a style designed to irritate Giles Coren

April 11, 2014

Third-episode verdict: Surviving Jack (Fox)

Posted on April 11, 2014 | comments | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerSurvivingJack.jpgA Barrometer rating of 2

In the US: Thursdays, 9.30/8.30c, Fox

Time for a third-episode verdict on Surviving Jack, a show that attempts to do for 1991 what The Wonder Years did for the 1960s without as good a soundtrack but with more clips of American Gladiators.

On the whole, it’s been a decent enough three episodes, each filled with at least the requisite Kermodian five laughs to ensure it’s worth watching. True, the only good character is Jack himself - Christopher Meloni from L&O:SU - everyone else simply existing to create situations where he is doctor-ish/army-ish when he should be dad-ish. But that doesn’t mean those other characters are entirely worthless and while they are pretty much the straight men and women of the piece, their predicaments are handled as well as The Wonder Years handled Kevin’s.

Given that the show is based on I Suck At Girls, don’t be surprised that most of those predicaments involve teenage son Connor Buckley sucking at dealing with girls, but rather than this being the traditional ‘ugly nerd with zero social skills aiming too high’ set-up expected of sitcoms, this is more ‘cute boy makes the same relationship mistakes everyone else does when they’re young’ kind of thing. Episode one saw him have his first kiss, two revealed he was actually quite good at sports and three had him actually asking someone out and not getting the reaction you’d have expected, all of which is surprisingly refreshing and probably shows you how tired other shows are rather than necessarily how fresh this one is.

Meloni is great as Jack; the show has some good one-liners; the female characters, even Rachael Harris’s, could do with some extensive development work but are not merely plucked from a box of stereotypes; and there’s some actual sensitivity to all the male characters for a change. Probably the best new network comedy of the 2013-14 season, since it’s more consistent than Enlisted.

Barrometer rating: 2
Rob’s prediction: Will last a season and might even get picked up for a second one

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