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Mini-review: Vice Principals 1x1 (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)

Posted on July 21, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Walton Goggins and Danny McBride in Vice Principals

In the US: Sundays, 10.30pm, HBO
In the UK: Tuesdays, 9.35pm, Sky Atlantic. Starts July 26th

This year, it seems, is the year that US TV has decided it wants not only to go back to school but to go back to school childishly. "Being an adult hard? How about a bunch of teachers who behave like kids? Wouldn't you like to watch that?" seems to be the theory.

We've already had Teachers and Those Who Can't from TV Land and TruTV respectively, offering us just that, and now we have HBO's efforts at the same, Vice Principals, in which Walton Goggins (Justified, The Shield, The Hateful Eight) and Danny McBride (Eastbound and Down, Tropic Thunder) are - yes, you guessed it - vice principals at the same US High School. Goggins is the sweet-talking but ultimately two-faced popular one; McBride is the foul-mouthed, inadequate dick that everyone hates; both hate each other.

Then the principal (Bill Murray - yes, Bill Murray) decides to stand down for the sake of his sick wife, prompting a contest between his deputies to replace him, only for both their dreams to be dashed as outsider Kimberly Hebert Gregory (Devious Maids) gets the top spot instead. My enemy's enemy is my friend so McBride and Goggins unite to defeat their new opponent - but such is their ineptitude, all's that likely is mutually assured destruction instead.

The show has several strands of (attempted) comedy. With McBride co-creating and writing, as per Eastbound and Down, it's not surprise there's his usual parade of attempted alpha male put-downs, extreme dickery and inappropriate teaching methods, here filtered through a more inadequate, more self-aware, less sports-obsessed prism than Kenny Powers. There's also the childish squabbling between McBride and Goggins, and their frequently politically incorrect antagonism towards Gregory's 'smart, sassy black woman' routine - which, subtly, is itself as manufactured as both McBride and Goggins' facades.

But despite all those elements at play, Vice Principals isn't hugely funny, except towards the end of this first episode when the two enemies unite, and largely feels like watered down Eastbound and Down. McBride's ex-wife Busy Philipps (Cougar Town) doesn't get to do much beyond be the butt of his ineptitude, while Shea Whigham as her new husband largely gets to play the unexpectedly nice guy that McBride doesn't quite know how to deal with, without getting to cause any laughs himself. 

An almost-interesting looking at failing masculinity and petty power struggles, Vice Principals might get better in its second episode when hostilities take off. The fact that it's a definite two-season, 18-episode run means that it should have a fixed story arc that takes as long as it needs, no more, no less, which is another plus. At the moment, though, it feels like it needs work: must try harder.

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Review: Quantico 1x1 (US: ABC; UK: Alibi)

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


In the US: Sundays, 10/9c, ABC
In the UK: Acquired by Alibi

The TV business can be risky, particularly the US broadcast TV business where a show can be cancelled after just a few episodes and lose millions of dollars in the process.

As a result, broadcast networks tend to want to play safe. If they find something that does well in the ratings, something that usually hasn't strayed too far from the previous year's not especially adventurous offerings, they'll try to create something relatively similar the next year to capitalise upon it.

This isn't a good idea, but if you're a TV exec, you're not likely to lose your job over it, since you can always say: "It was a safe bet. Hell, the last one did well and this was pretty similar. Who could have predicted it would tank?"

Last year's "something quite close to lots of things you've already seen but which is a bit different" on ABC was How To Get Away With Murder, which was basically a remake of the 1970s law school show Paper Chase except with a more diverse cast and added murder. That was popular enough that it got renewed by the network. That, of course, means that this year we need something that's quite close to How To Get Away With Murder but which is a bit different.

The setting and general structure of How To Get Away With Murder is this: a team of diverse recruits to a prestigious school, all competing with one another to be the best, with the action running in two timelines, one before, one after a crime. What Quantico stupidly does is think you can transfer that from a law school to Quantico and have more or less the same kinds of people and principles. 

You'll probably have heard of Quantico: it trains the FBI, the DEA and the Marines. When you hear the name 'Quantico', you probably think of something like this:

What you probably don't think of is Muslims in hijab climbing assault courses; people with lots of deep, dark, borderline felony secrets; mean girls picking on their teachers for not being sexy and marriagable enough; and an Indian superstar trying to make it big in the US as an FBI recruit accused of committing a 9/11-level atrocity and trying to prove it was actually one of her classmates.

Here's a trailer. Be warned - the show's single redeeming feature, Dougray Scott, has been replaced by Josh Hopkins from Cougar Town

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What have you been watching? Including Empire, Togetherness, Taken 3, Engrenages (Spiral) and Banshee

Posted on January 12, 2015 | 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. And if you want to know when any of these shows are on in your area, there's Locate TV - they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.

Slowly, broadcasters have been emerging from the Christmas holidays and into the New Year, like so many blinking cave dwellers faced with the removal of their entrance-blocking rocks. That means not only do we have some exciting (and not so exciting) new shows to deal with, we also have the return of some old favourites.

In the past week, I’ve reviewed VH1’s Hindsight and ABC’s Marvel’s Agent Carter, but I’ve managed to give a couple of other shows a glance over as well.

Empire (US: Wednesdays, 9/8c, Fox)
Compared to the last mainstream black show about hip hop moguls – Starz's depressingly exploitative and unpleasant Power – Fox’s Empire should be a masterpiece. It could well be, in fact. It’s created by Lee Daniels (Monsters Ball, Precious, The Butler) and Danny Strong (best known as Jonathan from Buffy The Vampire Slayer but he’s also the Emmy and Golden Blobe award-winning writer of Recount, Game Change, The Butler and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay [parts one and two]). It’s based on King Lear and The Lion In Winter. And it stars Terrence Howard (Iron Man, Hustle & Flow) and Taraji P Henson (Person of Interest). Howard is a former drug dealer who’s diagnosed with ALS and has to work out how to portion out his kingdom to his three sons.

Sounds quite good, doesn’t it, apart from the drug dealer bit, and it was certainly a whole lot better than Power. Unfortunately, within about five minutes, I began to realise there was going to be a whole load of R&B and hip hop assaulting my eardrums so I bowed out. I said no to Nashville, I’m saying no to Empire. Tough on music, tough on the causes of music, me.

Togetherness (US: Sundays, 9.30pm, HBO; UK: Mondays, 10.35pm, Sky Atlantic, starting tonight)
Most HBO comedies barely warrant the title, and for about the first 15 minutes of this ‘comedy’ from Steve Zissis and Jay and Mark Duplass, you get pretty much the same old, same old HBO. Brett (Mark Duplass) and Michelle (Melanie Lynskey) are married but their relationship is struggling, with Lynskey preferring diddling herself with 50 Shades of Grey to having sex with Brett. Meanwhile, Brett’s friend from High School, Alex (Zissis) is being evicted and being fat and balding, his acting career isn’t really going anywhere, so he moves in with Brett and Michelle. At the same time, Michelle’s sister, Tina (Amanda Peet), is breaking up with her boyfriend and ends up moving in with them all, too.

For half the episode’s run, this feels like a standard #WhitePeoplesProblems affair, a somewhat introspective look at actors struggling in LA, marriages failing and the difficulties of dating when you’re older that we’ve seen innumerable times elsewhere. The idea that schlubby Zissis will eventually hit it off Peet, once named by People magazine as being one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world, prompts an almost Pavlovian eye rolling, too. However, once Peet and Zissis meet, everything becomes a lot more fun and it actually starts to become a comedy at last. It’s still a bittersweet piece about people disappointed by life and not getting what they want, even when they think they have, so doing what they can to enjoy themselves, but it’s a lot more likeable than it seemed to be at first.

Still in the viewing queue because it’s a mini-series is the first episode of the Canadian Book of Negroes. But after the jump, I’ll look at the latest episodes of Banshee, Cougar Town, Elementary, Forever, Gotham, Ground Floor, The Librarians, Scorpion, Spiral (Engrenages) and State of Affairs, as well as, for no well explored reason, Person of Interest. One or perhaps even more than one is getting dropped this week – can you guess which one?

But first, movies!

Warrior (2011) – Netflix
Tom Hardy is an ex-marine; Joel Edgerton is a high school physics teacher. They’re brothers and former wrestling champions trained by their abusive alcoholic father (Nick Nolte). However, for different reasons, they end up fighting in the same MMA competition. Will they end up facing off in the final, maybe? Hmm. Despite the somewhat inauspicious plotting, Warrior is nevertheless actually a very good sports movie, shot Friday Night Lights style and managing to resist the obvious revelations or even a pat ending. The MMA’s a little basic, but still genuinely exciting. Frank Grillo (Captain America 2, Kingdom) pops up as a trainer, but does surprisingly little fighting.

Taken 3 (2014) - down 't cinema
Surprisingly, given the horror story that was Taken 2 and the fact Olivier “Taxi Brooklyn” Megaton is back directing, actually a much better affair than the second entry in the series was. Liam Neeson’s back but he’s in the US and no one’s been taken in this time, with Neeson framed for a murder and he having to escape from the law while protecting his family and finding out who really did the crime. The script by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen touches on all the better aspects of Taken, with Neeson using some of his special set of CIA skills that don’t involve punching. Maggie Grace gets a lot to do for a change, too, albeit forced to play someone who’s about 10 years younger than herself. That’s the good side and everyone seems to enjoy that, even Neeson, although he seems a little tired and in need of a nice sit down and a Bovril at times.

True, the casting could be better, with most of the cast composed of people you’ll recognise from minor roles on TV shows, including Banshee and The Last Ship. Forest Whitaker heads up the cops, but he spends the entire time playing with a rubber band. None of this would be insurmountable, though.

But where it all goes to epic pants – literally at one point – is the action scenes. Even if Megaton, who’s an otherwise perfectly good director, could actually shoot an action scene in a way that was engrossing rather than soporific, it’s as though neither he nor the rest of the cast could be bothered. Every action scene might as well have been replaced with <<INSERT CONTRACTUALLY AND GENRE-OBLIGATED SCENE HERE>>. Ridiculous things happen and no one can even be bothered to explain how Neeson escaped them, lots of the best bits of Taken are reused and whenever something even slightly exciting is about to happen, the camera either looks away or some very bad CGI kicks in. Decent script – shame about the direction.

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