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Third-episode verdict: Shut Eye (US: Hulu)

Posted on December 14, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerShutEye.jpgA Barrometer rating of 4

In the US: All episodes available on Hulu

We should probably be giving Shut Eye a medal, since it's doing such a public service - revealing all the tricks of the trade used by psychics to fleece their customers. But good thoughts alone aren't enough to make a good TV programme, so unfortunately for Shut Eye, we have to evaluate it on when it's watchable or not. 

The first episode set the scene pretty well, with star Jeffrey Donovan playing a former Las Vegas magician now working as a fake psychic in LA under the purview of a bunch of Gypsies, including Isabella Rossellini. Well versed in the arts of cold reading and setting people up, one day he gets a bump on the noggin from a client's disgruntled boyfriend and winds up having proper psychic visions. Will he use his new powers for good or for evil, we wonder at the end of the episode?

Evil, it turns out. Didn't see that coming, did you? 

The casting of Donovan as the lead is a genius move, since he's able to recycle two of his old routines for the role. In episode two, the show becomes full on psychic Burn Notice, with Donovan giving us (and his mark) the rundown on the mystic art of psychically stealing people's money. By episode three, he's mining Touching Evil for sympathetic, dazed, brain-damaged and odd, as he starts using his new found powers to tell people the hard truths they probably don't want to hear.

As you might have deduced from that run-down, Shut Eye is as odd a show as its lead character, since it is by turns comedic and then deeply serious and violent. More problematically, it keeps piling more and more details onto to the plot, almost in an apparent attempt to confuse us while it steals our watches. As well as the Gypsies and their bizarre activities - including poetry recitals and love ceremonies - there's Dexter's David Zayas as a gang boss customer of Donovan, who's as quick to throw someone in a deep fat fryer as he is to fix Donovan's floorboards. There's Donovan's hard-edged wife, KaDee Strickland, who wants him to regain his former manhood while she's simultaneously sleeping with another woman. There's Donovan's son, his supposed ADHD and his school issues. There's The Wire's Sonja Sohn as a police officer who's chasing after Donovan. There's thirtysomething's Mel Harris as Donovan's main mark, who sometimes wakes up with a rooster and a tree branch in her bed. There's even a kooky doctor - Susan Misner (Billions, The Americans) - trying to help unclog Donovan's subconsciousness using Mozart and drugs.

And so on.

It makes for a show that says an awful lot without really taking the time to say anything worthwhile, not even about fake psychics because they might be real, it turns out.

I probably won't be bothering with the rest of Shut Eye, despite its funnier and more psychedelic qualities. Donovan's worth his enormous salary for this gig, but the gig itself could probably have done with a rethink about exactly what story it wanted to tell.

Barrometer rating: 4
TMINE's prediction: Unlikely to get a second season

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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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