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Third-episode verdict: The Great Indoors (US: CBS; UK: ITV2)

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

BarrometerTheGreatIndoors.jpgA Barrometer rating of 3

In the US: Thursdays, 8.30/7.30c, CBS
In the UK: Acquired by ITV2

The worst that can truly be said about The Great Indoors - in which rugged manly outdoor activities journalist Joel McHale (Community) is summoned back to an office job by boss Stephen Fry when his magazine goes online-only, forcing him to have to work with a bunch of digital-literate millennials - is that it's a CBS multi-camera sitcom. And not in a bad way.

When I saw the trailer and before I watched the first episode, I assumed I was going to have to condemn the show in the strongest possible terms for all the usual reasons reserved for CBS multi-camera sitcoms.

But, actually, it's all right. Not totally hysterical, not having the cutting edge insight into its subject matter of Veep, not possessed of well drawn out characters, for sure. But it's still more like a lighter, nicer version of The Big Bang Theory than a nastier, more predictable version of Mike and Molly. It's a studio comedy with an audience that's designed to make you laugh.

Three episodes into the show and although it's clear that its heart is really with McHale and his desperate attempt to de-nerd an entire generation, it's also clear that times have changed and there ain't no going back - McHale has to learn from his juniors, too.

Episode two focused on the Brave New World of dating apps, and while McHale's ability to randomly speak with strangers in real-life is something of an asset that he can teach the youngsters, it's also clear it's now perceived as also a bit creepy. Most of the episode therefore dedicated to teaching him how to navigate this new, more formal aspect of dating life. 

Meanwhile, episode three is a lecture in urban apartment-hunting, with McHale discovering that for millennials, there's a clear choice between having money to live off and having a decent place to live in - you can't have both.

The show also manages to avoid turning everyone's favourite uncle, Stephen Fry, into yet another quaint Englishman. Here, he's erudite, funny, travelled and a man's man, happier drinking whisky with McHale and trading war stories, than bedding down with the millennials in their indoor tents. 

Where the show doesn't quite gel - at least, not yet - is Susannah Fielding, who plays Fry's daughter/McHale's one-time girlfriend. While she's clearly supposed to be something of a translator, able to speak both millennial and middle-aged, she's not well served by the scripts and her delivery is reminiscent of 'Pantomime Dame 3' from last year's Jack and the Beanstalk. 

Similarly, the millennials themselves are more ideas of millennials than developed characters in their own rights - this one's sexually fluid, this one's deadpan and inexpressive, this one's computer-literate and so on. While each of those traits is more nuanced than you'd expect, there's still no real background for any of them, no stories that are really about them rather than McHale.

But we're at episode three of a multi-camera sitcom that could be on for the next decade, given it's CBS. There will be time for The Great Indoors. Thankfully, it does at least have a good foundation to start with.

Rating: 3
Would it be better with a female lead? Different, not better
TMINE's prediction: Could last a good few seasons, given 2 Broke Girls is still on

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Review: The Great Indoors 1x1 (US: CBS; UK: ITV2)

Posted on November 1, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Great Indoors

In the US: Thursdays, 8.30/7.30c, CBS
In the UK: Acquired by ITV2

For those not in the know, CBS is a channel largely watched by older folk. The home of numerous procedurals and family sitcoms, it does, however, try to attract a younger audience from time to time, often with comedies such as The Big Bang Theory. And The Great Indoors is an interesting example of a comedy pitched at both the young and old - interesting in the sense that you can probably tell whether you're young or old based on which characters you most empathise with.

Community's Joel McHale (45) is a craggy magazine journalist, used to filing his copy from out in the field following close encounters with mountains, bears, Indian yogis and death. He's summoned back to the office by proprietor Stephen Fry - yes, STEPHEN FRY (59) - where in common with untold numbers of other journalists around the world, he's told the print version of the magazine is being shut but it'll continue online. The slight hitch is that he'll be office-bound and working with Christopher Mintz-Plasse (27), Shaun Brown (29) and Christine Ko (don't ask) - the millennials that run the digital division of the company and whose idea of an experience is watching a YouTube video of an experience. Compounding the discomfort caused by his complete lack of experiental overlap with these mere foetuses is the fact that he'll be working for Fry's daughter, Susannah Fielding (31) (I Want My Wife Back, The C-Word), whom he probably slept with relatively recently, despite there being a slightly icky age gap.

Now, given it's CBS - the home of cheap laughs at other people's expenses, as well as of old people - you'd be forgiven for expecting The Great Indoors to be an excuse for the network to marry two disparate but related strands of humour: older, wiser people laughing at callow youth; and rugged manly types laughing at nerds. You'd also be forgiven for thinking that the show would know next to nothing about journalism or magazines, and that it would have the IQ and literacy of an angry letter to a local newspaper.

But, despite the trailer below suggesting just that, surprisingly The Great Indoors is more of a meeting of minds. While most laughs are at millennials' behaviour, ranging from the speed at which they take offence at things through to their need to selfie their every waking moment, this is a meeting of minds in which McHale learns to be a better person and to understand online while the millennials learn how to put their smartphones down for a moment or two. Fry isn't the usual stereotypical Englishman and his dialogue is often erudite and subversive. There's even a suggestion that there has been some actual research done into magazine journalism, with job titles such as 'digital curator' and listicles about surviving the Zombie Apocalypse hinting that a day or two may have been spent at Buzzfeed at some point.

Of course, the show is creating a false dichotomy between the digeratti and the digital illiterate: I started working on newspaper web sites back in 1995 and any journalist my - and McHale's - age will have been well acquainted with online publishing for years, if not decades. I've also seen that video featuring the bears in the swimming pool, too, and I have four Twitter accounts, a LinkedIn account and a Facebook account. Millennials working in journalism can still talk to sources and go outdoors; 40-somethings aren't the same as 60-somethings. But, hey, it's a multi-camera sitcom - you might as well critique mistakes in the maths in Big Bang Theory.

On the plus side, the pilot episode also features Stephen Fry nursing a bear cub and both McHale and Fry deliver the goods; on the minus side, the live studio audience seems to make Fielding think she's in a pantomime and the millennials don't really work as individual characters, rather than personifications of ideas of millennials.

If you like Fry and McHale, The Great Indoors might not wow you, but you certainly won't come out of it feeling like you've been robbed of a great comedic opportunity. If you're a millennial, you might not see yourself in the show, but what are you doing watching TV rather than Snapchats anyway?

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What have you been watching? Including Marseille, Captain America: Civil War and The Americans

Posted on May 9, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share


It's "What have you been watching?", my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently that I haven't already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I've missed them.

The usual "TMINE recommends" page features links to reviews of all the shows I've ever recommended, and there's also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I've reviewed ever. 

Quiet, isn't it? Where has all the new TV gone? Despite a fortnight in between WHYBWs, all I've managed to cover are the third episodes of Containment (US: The CW; UK: E4) and Game of Silence (US: NBC). I'm sure there's something somewhere that I can review, but I just haven't spotted it.

Okay, so there's a new series of comedy pilots on Australia's ABC on Wednesday, but being pilots, there doesn't seem much point in reviewing them - I did like the sound of Ronnie Chieng: International Student, though. There's a new Canadian Molly Ringwald/Jason Priestley sitcom, Raising Expectations, that started last night on the Family Channel - I just need to work out a way of watching it.

Amazon Prime's picked up Hulu's Casual, too. I didn't watch that when it first appeared on Hulu since I figured "What's the chance any UK network is going to pick up something on Hulu, hey?" There's me duped. I might watch that, too, but I suspect the ship has sailed on that one.

In fact, the only new thing I've spotted that I haven't yet reviewed, and had both the inclination and the ability to review was…

Marseille (Netflix)
Following on from last year's Narcos, which was effectively Netflix's first Spanish-language original drama, now we have Marseille, the company's first French-language original. It stars - who else? - Gérard Depardieu as the mayor of Marseille, having to balance the competing demands of a degenerative disease, his family life, a drug habit, his back-stabbing protégé, a project to renovate the city with a new casino, and the mafia.

And it's nothing special. I did say 'original', but for all intents and purposes, it's Starz's Boss but in French, with just a hint of Les hommes de l'ombre (Spin). It's got the usual misogyny of such shows. It's got the slightly tedious offsetting of power and crime. It's billed as 'steamy' but is surprisingly perfunctory (and again misogynistic) for a French show. None of the characters are especially engaging and Depardieu oddly doesn't have half the presence that Kelsey Grammer did in Boss. Subtitling loses quite a bit in translation and you'll often have points where you wonder what people are reacting to as a result of what's allegedly said (eg there's a point where two women are laughing when one of them says 'chick'. It makes a bit more sense if you know she actually said 'poof'). And oddly for Netflix, the production values are pretty low, with more than a hint of 'stuck in a cheapo studio with a cheapo video camera' at times.

More laughable than gritty, it's hard enough to get through one episode, let alone all eight, so I'm not going to try.

After the jump, it's the regulars: 12 Monkeys, The Americans, Arrow, Banshee, DC's Legends of Tomorrow, Game of Silence, Game of Thrones, Lopez, Silicon Valley and The Tunnel. Most of those are double helpings, since there was no WHYBW last Monday, it being a Bank Holiday everywhere; two of them will be getting crossed off the viewing list, too. I'll also be looking at the season finales of both Limitless and Lucifer.

But before that, a movie!

Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Depending on how you want to look at it, this is probably better titled Captain America: Winter Soldier 2 or The Avengers 2.5, since it sees Cap continuing his mission to find and rehabilitate his brainwashed pal, Bucky "The Winter Soldier" Barnes, with various members of The Avengers either trying to help him or hinder him after Barnes is implicated in an act of terrorism.

Otherwise, the plot is more or less identical to that of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, with its concerns about collateral damage from superheroics and the consequent need for legal limits on superhuman powers. Yet despite the huge cast from the other movies (only Thor and Hulk are absent) and the necessity to launch both Black Panther and Spider-Man off its back, it manages to be a million times better than DC's drudgefest. Once again directed by Winter Soldier's Russo Brothers (who got the gig directing, of all things, the paintball episode of Community), it manages to make all previous superhero movies look plodding and stupid, balancing comic book fun with gritty Euro thriller aesthetics, while serving all its characters well, being by turns tear-jerking, funny, breath-taking and tense.  

It's a little longer than it needs to be, but nevertheless, afterwards we came out so drained by the spectacle, it took about three hours down the pub to recover. It also rendered Age of Ultron unwatchable. Some would argue it already was, but we'd enjoyed it at the time.

Best Marvel movie so far.

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