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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.

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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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Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk's new web series Con Man has just started

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

You remember Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk, don't you? They starred together in a little known sci-fi TV series called Firefly, which was sadly cancelled before its time.

Or did they? Maybe they were really in a show called Spectrum, which was sadly cancelled before its time.

I'll get back to that in a moment.

Fillion and Tudyk have since gone on to all kinds of exciting projects, including DriveCastle and Suburgatory. But recently, they crowdfunded a Galaxy Quest-esque new web series written and directed by Tudyk called Con Man, about the stars of a cancelled sci-fi show called Spectrum. While the star of that show (Fillion) has since gone on to fame and fortune, co-star Tudyk is resorting to attending sci-fi conventions and the like to make ends meet, with all the issues that brings with it.

Given that the crowdfunding for Con Man managed to raise $3.2m, the third highest amount raised for a film campaign on any crowdfunding platform ever, don't be surprised that first, the production values are actually quite high and that second, Fillion and Tudyk were able to invite some of their friends, former co-stars and general members of the 'Whedonverse' along for the ride, including:

  • Tricia Helfer (Battlestar Galactica)
  • Amy Acker (Person of Interest, Angel)
  • Gina Torres (Firefly, Suits)
  • Sean Maher (Firefly)
  • Felicia Day (Buffy The Vampire Slayer)
  • Seth Green (Family Guy, Austin Powers, Buffy The Vampire Slayer)
  • Mindy Sterling (Austin Powers)
  • Jewel Staite (Firefly)
  • Michael Dorn (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)
  • Summer Glau (Firefly, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Arrow, The Cape)
  • Sean Astin (Lord of The Rings)
  • Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes, The Whispers)
  • James Gunn (director of Guardians of the Galaxy)
  • Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Angel, Dollhouse, et al, and director of The Avengers)

Three new episodes of the series will premiere every Wednesday for four weeks at Vimeo.com/OnDemand/ConMan, and it'll cost you $14.99/£9.99. I'll try to review the first couple when I have a mo!

Here's a trailer:

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