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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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Review: Designated Survivor 1x1 (US: ABC; UK: Netflix)

Posted on September 22, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Designated Survivor

In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, ABC
In the UK: Netflix. New episode every Thursday

Like most people in Britain, I get virtually all my knowledge about how the US government works via The West Wing. Screw Newsnight - I'll tell you the first five amendments to the US Constitution and the episodes in which they featured right now, if you want.

So when I heard about Designated Survivor, no explanation was needed: after all, not only had the Mayor from Buffy The Vampire Slayer been President Barlett's 'designated survivor' in He Shall, From Time To Time…, Laura Roslin would never have become President of the 12 Colonies in Battlestar Galactica were it not for a constitution specifying the exact list of people who would assume the position in the event of some terrible tragedy.

Designated Survivor is neither of those two shows. Instead, it's roughly half-Dave (that delightful movie in which ordinary punter Kevin Kline becomes President and behaves very nicely and decently, unlike the other politicians), half-24 (that less delightful TV series in which highly trained anti-terrorist agents have a very limited amount of time to shoot and torture lots of people to prevent terrible atrocities taking place).

It sees the lowly Secretary of Housing, who's just about to be fired by the sitting President, accepting the duty of 'designated survivor' during the State of the Union. Except then Congress gets blown up and this decent - possibly too decent - pushover family man and educator instantly propelled to the top job, where he has not only to bring the country together and keep it stable, he has to prevent all out war with other nations, find out who was responsible for the bombing and what they intend to do next, and avoid a coup d'êtat from people who think he's just not up to the job or even eligible for it, given he was unelected.

Can he do all that? Hell yeah. Because that man is Kiefer Sutherland. Yes, boys and girls, Jack Bauer is finally President.

Continue reading "Review: Designated Survivor 1x1 (US: ABC; UK: Netflix)"

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Third-episode verdict: The X-Files (season 10) (US: Fox; UK: Channel 5)

Posted on February 3, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerX-Files.jpgA Barrometer rating of 2

In the US: Mondays, 8/7c, Fox
In the UK: Mondays, 9pm, Channel 5. Starts February 8

When old TV shows get revived, whether it's Burke's Law, Knight Rider, Charlie's Angels or Full House, all everyone cares about is whether the Olsen Twins, John Forsythe, David Hasselhoff, Gene Barry or Bob Saget are going to be back on our screens as the characters they played in the original. Then it'll be proper.  Then everything will be okay.

What almost no one seems to care about but probably should far more is whether the people behind the scenes are back, too. The reason you loved that TV show in the first place? Almost certainly not just the cast, but the characters, the dialogue, the plots and the mise en scène of the original, none of which were down to the cast. True, new blood may be able to recreate or even better the original - such as with Battlestar Galactica - but chances are, what you need is those creative talents back in the production hot seat.

That's certainly what we should have been paying more attention to with The X-Files. David Duchovny's back! Yay! Gillian Anderson's back! Yay! Mitch Pileggi's back!… (Check's IMDB)… Yay! 

Sure, that's great. But is what we're going to get more like Ronald D Moore's remake of Battlestar Galactica or James Dott's remake of The Invaders? The devil's in the authorial details.

A while ago, I posted a rant arguing that the UK needed more TV shows with longer season lengths because that was the only way we could train up writers, give them experience and give them a career pathway. Who cares if they turned in work that might not be great at first - in a season of 13 or 24 episodes, who'd remember the occasional duff one or who wrote it, I argued.

Now that's true for the novice writer just starting out in a sea of other writers, turfing out the meat and potato filler episodes. But when it's the showrunner? Oh, you remember when he turns in duff ones, because they're the special episodes, the ones reserved for advancing season arcs, expanding characters, redefining shows and so on.

And so it is with Chris Carter, creator of The X-Files. He chose to write the first episode of this tenth season to bring Mulder and Scully to our screens, and if it wasn't clear from the original series and all the series he's tried and failed to run since, it was clear from My Struggle I that he got a bit lucky with The X-Files. Because it was dreadful. Just distilled essence of ridiculousness. I was half-inclined never to watch another episode ever again.

But as I pointed out in my rant, longer season lengths give writers a chance to learn the ropes and give them a career pathway, so they can go on to create things themselves. It's worth perusing the IMDB list of writers given their break and training on the original The X-Files, since many of them have gone on to become the great and the good of TV and film writing and show running. Vince Gilligan? He created Breaking Bad and Better Call SaulAlex Gansa? Homeland and 24. James Wong? The Final Destination series. Howard Gordon? Legends, 24, Homeland and Tyrant. Frank Spotnitz? The Man in the High Castle and Strike Back. The list genuinely does go on. And proves me right.

So the question we should have all been asking ourselves is whether these guys were coming back to write for the show. Thankfully, the answer is yes, because once we got past Chris Carter's mythology-laden, brain-warping, conspiracy-mad first episode, we got straight down to old school X-Files again with Founder's Mutation, thanks to James Wong.

Yes, everyone's a bit older now and you get away with showing ickier things on screen, but this was proper X-Files, with a 'weird thing' of the week to investigate, Mulder and Scully doing their usual routine, and all manner of scary events happening, in proper Wong style. True, if there was an explanation as to how Mulder and Scully got their old jobs at the FBI back, I missed it (is there an FBI reserves list or something?), but despite the best part of two decades having passed, everything was the way it should have been.

Episode three gave us Darin Morgan's effort. While Morgan hasn't really set the world on fire with the shows he's produced since The X-Files (Intruders, Those Who Kill, Fringe, Bionic Woman, Night Stalker), his are probably the best remembered episodes of the show's original run, since they were the funniest: Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose, War of the Coprophages, and Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'. And he didn't let us down with this year's thoroughly amusing Mulder & Scully Meet The Were-Monster, a script 10 years in the making apparently, with Mulder looking back with middle-aged eyes at previous cases, only to realise most of them were scientifically explainable, so reluctantly trudging off after Scully to investigate a lizard-man and bumping into Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) and Rhys Darby (Flight of the Conchords, How To Be A Gentleman) in a Kolchak: The Night Stalker straw hat along the way.

Often hilariously funny thanks to both the writing and Anderson and Duchovny's performances - has Anderson actually laughed on-screen since The X-Files? I don't recall her doing so, but it's a very welcome sight - with dozens of nods to fans along the way, it reminds you how good The X-Files could be, and how many imitators have come, failed and gone since the show aired through being unable to recapture the show's essence.

So writers - good. Get good writers and your show will be good. QED.

Unfortunately, we've three episodes to go in this 'limited series' revival of the show and while one's written by Morgan, the other two are written by Carter. Oh oh. I get the feeling the final two episodes are going to be rubbish. 

That means that it's a hearty thumbs up from me for at least half the series and a worried look to the horizon. Make sure you watch the episodes Carter hasn't scripted, since they're the good ones; the others, I leave to your discretion.

PS My, don't Mulder and Scully both look young in the title sequence?

Barrometer rating: 2
Would the show be better with female leads? No
TMINE's prediction: Ratings are holding up, talks are under way and with the cast willing and able, the limited series format might just prove a sufficient draw for viewers to keep coming back

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