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Review: Shut Eye 1x1 (US: Hulu)

Posted on December 8, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Hulu's Shut Eye

In the US: Available on Hulu

So I'm going to say it now and obviously you have to bear in mind that all my predictions are inevitably wrong, but just in case for once I'm not, I'd like to take credit for my incredible psychic powers this time: peak TV is unsustainable. 

You don't technically need to be psychic to work that out. Netflix's currently $3.1bn in debt in order to pay for all its original content and it's going to need an awful lot of subscribers paying $9.99 a month for a long time to break even on that. To be fair, it got $2bn in revenue in Q3, so maybe not, but that's Netflix. How about Amazon?

More so, how about Hulu, which is making shows like The Path, 12.22.63, Chance and The Handmaid's Tale willy nilly and you can't even watch it outside the US. And now we've got Shut Eye, in which Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice, Touching Evil) plays a Las Vegas magician turn shabby Los Angeles conman psychic who has problems with Gypsies (including matriarch Isabella Rosselini) who don't like the fact his sister, Leah Gibson (Rogue, The Returned) is using their tricks; his wife and partner in crime KaDee Strickland (The Wedding Bells), who thinks he's losing his mojo; and disgruntled boyfriends of his easily duped clients.

Now, obviously, Jeffrey Donovan is a good actor. But is he $175,000 an episode good? Probably not, but that's what Hulu's paying him. And if that's what they're paying him, you can bet pretty much everyone else is having to pay similar cash for similar actors, let alone the likes of Hugh Laurie and Billy Bob Thornton, who's allegedly getting $350,000 an ep for Goliath.

Something's got to give and either there are going to be a lot of companies who are going to have to get out of the content business soon or there are going to be some 'market shake-ups' (ie bankruptcies, mergers, acquisitions) in the next few years.

Again, you heard it here first.

Still, enjoy it while it lasts, since we might get some good TV out of it, at least. Is Shut Eye some of that good TV?

Almost. Certainly, Shut Eye is a good name for the first half of the show's first episode, since it's amazingly soporific. I was this close to switching it off and not bothering with a proper review of it.

But the show really gets its name from the concept of the mystic third eye, which when opened reveals all manner of wisdom and knowledge. Here, Donovan's third eye is shut until that jealous boyfriend gives him a kicking to the head halfway through the episode. Then, hypnotist Emmanuelle Chriqui (Entourage) tries to hypnotise him into wanting to partner with her and before he knows it, Donovan's inner eye is opened and he starts seeing the world beyond, including psychedelic peppers. And not just the future - soon, he starts to re-think his life and asking himself whether lying to everyone is a good idea.

That's more or less when the show starts to become watchable. How watchable, I'll let you know once I've got a few more episodes under my belt - Hulu's put them out all at once for a change - since although Donovan's very watchable and obviously knows from his Touching Evil days how to play brain-damaged sympathetically and accurately, the other characters are all unlovable scumbags who like to dupe others. The Gypsy side of things is pretty offensive, Donovan's the sole source of humour, and the crime's are all petty and the victims are all sad dupes.

That means that you're in it only for Donovan and how well he can put off increasing serenity and not being dark and glowery for a change. Who knows - perhaps he might really be worth that $175,000 an episode after all.

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Review: Ash vs Evil Dead 1x1 (US: Starz)

Posted on November 3, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Ash vs Evil Dead

In the US: Saturdays, 9pm EST, Starz
In the UK: Not yet acquired

To many people, Bruce Campbell is a man-god. He is a man. He is a god. He is a god of men. He is a man-god. 

What's He (man-)god of? He is the living incarnation of straight white American male irony. Anyone claiming that (straight) (white) American (men) don't get irony need only point at Bruce Campbell and say "May He have mercy on your soul".

When you discover that Bruce is such an avatar is more about when you are born than the nature of Bruce Himself. For some, it's relatively recently with his Old Spice adverts.

Going back slightly further, it's as grizzled lothario and former Navy SEAL Sam Ax in Burn Notice.

Many will remember him as Autolycus, King of Thieves, helping another god on the New Zealand-filmed Hercules: The Legendary Journeys before joining Xena: Warrior Princess on the occasional quest. 

(Park that thought for a moment - it's important).

My introduction to the Church of Bruce was in the early 90s with The Adventures of Brisco County Jr, where he got to play a cowboy very plausibly in love with Kelly Rutherford, while chasing all manner of sci-fi devices in the Old West.

But even that was a relatively late arrival to the party. Because the Coming of the great god Bruce Campbell first began with The Evil Dead, a 1980s horror movie a few people might have heard of, and which spawned more than a few sequels, including Army of Darkness.

It made a star of Bruce, who shot it with his childhood buddies Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert. Tapert went on to run a couple of shows, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess, where he ended up marrying the star, Lucy Lawless. Meanwhile, Raimi went to make plenty more movies, including Spider-Man, and with Tapert, created a New Zealand-filmed TV show on Starz called Spartacus, which also occasionally starred Lucy Lawless.

And now everything's converging again, with Raimi, Tapert, Campbell and Lawless all together on another New Zealand-filmed show, this one a sequel to that very first epiphany, Evil Dead. It sees Campbell reprising his role of Ash, the ironic, semi-idiot hero of the original movies, who's now 30 years older, 30 years wider, but not 30 years wiser. Trying to impress a girl while high on weed, he accidentally reads out passages from his big book of evil, causing the once-dismissed 'Deadites' to once again return to the world. Now Ash must quit his job in the local hardware store, quit his trailer and head out into the world to either face the evil or run away from it. Thank heavens he's still got that chainsaw he can mount where his wooden hand should go, so he can carve them up with maximum gore.

Yes, the god of irony walks the Earth once again, and he's NSFW.

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Preview: Mr Robot 1x1 (US: USA Network)

Posted on May 28, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Mr Robot

In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, USA Network. Starts June 24
In the UK: Not yet acquired

I want you to hack me as hard as you can

Over the years, the USA Network has struggled to work out what kind of network it is. Scroll back a decade or more in the timeline and most people associated it with the likes of country & western reality talent show Nashville Star. Then it started trying to do drama, with a brilliant but quickly cancelled remake of the UK’s Touching Evil, which was perhaps a bit too dark and unmarketable for the likes of USA.

The network didn’t abandon its attempts with drama, but the set back did lead it to start going a bit fluffier. By about 2007, Burn Notice, Monk and Psych were the network’s go-to shows, and while Burn Notice was obviously a much darker show than either Psych and Monk, it still wasn’t quite Requiem for a Dream. These shows had something of an 80s nostalgia to them, which led to the fluffy likes of In Plain Sight.

2009’s Royal Pains proved a game-changer, showing that fluffy and light were very much the order of the day on USA, leading us to the quite fluffy White Collar, the slightly fluffy Covert Affairs, Suits and Graceland, the really very fluffy Common Law, Fairly Legal, Necessary Roughness, Playing House, and Sirens, and eventually the still-fluffy Benched.

Now some of these were great, some of them really weren’t, but they almost all still had something of an edge to them, at least. And slowly, with most of the new fluff fluffing in the ratings, the pendulum has started to swing back over the past year or so towards USA’s skulking darker side with the likes of Rush, Satisfaction and, coming soon, Complications.

This is all for the good, since now we have perhaps USA’s darkest - and best - new show for quite some time, Mr Robot. It sounds fluffy, doesn’t it, with that name, but it’s really not. Think Fight Club if it was all about hacking or Batman, if Batman was a socially anxious coder who used technology to stop people faking identities, end the distribution of images of child abuse and bring down the corporate elite who secretly rule the world.

Rami Malek (24, The War At Home, The Pacific) is Elliot, a white hat techie at a cybersecurity firm. He has social issues, which means in between bouts of crying to himself at home from loneliness, taking morphine, having sex with his drug dealer, hacking people he knows about to find out more about them or talking to his new friends - the viewers at home - he’s busily putting the world to rights. Or to rights as he sees them.

In particular, he’d really like to destroy his company’s biggest client, The Evil Corporation, and one day he comes across 'Mr Robot' (Christian Slater) and his team of socially minded hackers, who offer him the chance to do just that and liberate society from this menace. Is The Evil Corporation really running the world? Is what Slater says possible? Can he be trusted? And is he even real or is he just the Tyler Durden of Elliot’s unmedicated, occasionally paranoid schizophrenic sub-conscious?

All these questions and more are asked and you will want to know the answers. If you’re in the US, you can watch the full episode below; otherwise, I’ll leave you with some trailers and we can talk more after the jump.

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