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Review: The Good Place 1x1-1x2 (US: NBC)

Posted on September 20, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Good Place

In the US: Mondays, NBC, 10/9c

We're all going to die. Well, maybe not the Scientologists and at least one person from the Planet Zeist is going to live forever (if he wants). But the rest of us are going to kark it at some point.

What happens next is a matter of debate, with numerous religions promising all manner of outcomes, most of which are incompatible with one another. Who's right? After all, it's kind of important, don't you think?

Well, according to The Good Place, Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam et al have got it about 5% right. The person in all of recorded history who managed to guess most accurately was a Canadian stoner called Doug who got high on mushrooms in the 70s and got it about 92% right.

It turns out, though, that it's not whom you worship or how many blood sacrifices you make each week that counts - it's the quality and number of the good things and bad things you've done that on balance contribute to your final destination. And to get to The Good Place, you have to have done an awful lot of extremely good things, because it's very, very exclusive. Unlike The Bad Place. And you don't want to go to The Bad Place.

This is the dilemma facing Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars, Gossip Girl, Party Down, House of Lies, Frozen) when she dies and finds herself in The Good Place. She actually wasn't a good person at all, having been rather selfish, as well as impressively good at selling fraudulent medical products to the elderly. But a mix-up with a human rights lawyer who also did volunteer work in the Ukraine means that she's now gone to a much better place than she deserves - an exclusive new neighbourhood in The Good Place created by newly promoted afterlife apprentice Ted Danson (Cheers, CSI, CSI: Cyber, Bored To Death), one that's filled with whatever your heart desires, particularly frozen yoghurt outlets. Here, she can learn to fly, go to parties and never have hangovers, and live with her soul mate in her dream home. Well, someone else's soul mate and dream home - it is a mix-up, after all.

Trouble is that this utopia is precisely engineered for good people, but before even a day's passed, Bell's stealing things, thinking bad thoughts and generally doing the sorts of things that should have had her going to The Bad Place. She is the snake in this particular Garden of Eden, and before you know it, it's raining garbage, giant stolen shrimp are hurtling through the sky, giraffes are roaming free and everyone's dressed like bees.

If she's to avoid being found out and sent 'elsewhere', Bell has no choice but to work together with her alleged soulmate, Senegalese ethics professor William Jackson Harper, to learn how to be a good person. But it's going to be hard going - and somebody else already knows she doesn't belong there…

Here's a trailer. I promise it's not stolen. Much.

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Review: Wicked City 1x1 (US: ABC)

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

Wicked City

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, ABC

There was a time when the anthology show ruled US airwaves. Jobbing actors would show up for a week in The Twilight Zone, The Night Gallery, General Electric Theater, Studio One or whatever, then move on to the next gig. But increasing production values, logistical difficulties and viewer choice started to make that weekly anthology show more or less impossible; the power of stardom also meant that if you could get an actor or actress with a significant fanbase in a starring role, people would watch week after week, no matter what the story, which made the anthology show less and less attractive.

But over the past few years, the format has started to return. It began, oddly enough with Love Bites, a somewhat terrible NBC romcom that featured a different couple every week. That failed very, very quickly, in part because the scripts were just awful, but also because the formula wasn't quite right. Weekly wasn't the way to go.

Instead, it was cable that developed the correct format for a modern anthology show, with first American Horror Story and then True Detective. With an audience who likes serial drama but who wants eventual conclusions to their stories that haven't been drawn out too long, what could be better than a season-long story with a beginning, middle and an end, the next season then telling a completely new story in the same vein? With a bit of cleverness, you can even appease fans of the shows' stars by having the cast come back to play different characters if they want - or just let them go off to the next job if they'd rather, just like in the old days, since that way you can get big names with limited availability to come in for just a season.

It's a scheme that certainly worked with ABC's American Crime, a 'so good it could have been HBO' drama about the terrible effects of the American judicial system and all the other systems that have evolved around it. Now ABC are hoping to repeat the show's success with Wicked City, a "a character-driven, true crime procedural that explores sex, politics and popular culture across various noteworthy eras in LA history".

The first season is set in 1980. Or maybe 1982. A few years after LA's Hillside Strangler struck, anyway. Ed Westwick (Gossip Girl) is a serial killer on the make, emulating his idol, the Strangler, by killing girls he picks up in bars then leaving them dead in the same places. It's something to do with his father having left when he was eight, apparently.

Then one night, he's about to chop the head off Erika Christensen (Six Degrees, Parenthood) and then have sex with her corpse, when she reveals she's a single mother. Things get even better when it turns out that not only does she have sociopathic tendencies of her own - she's one of the killer nurses you hear so much about it these days - she quite enjoys pretending to be a corpse while Ed Westwick has sex with her.

It's a match made in heaven, isn't it?

Meanwhile, a couple of brave male, squabbling cops - Jeremy Sisto (Kidnapped, Suburgatory, The Returned) and Gabriel Luna (Matador) - are on Westwick's trail, hoping to stop him before he can kill yet more young women. All while listening to as many 80s classics and using as many pagers, rotary dial payphones, old Mustangs and 4:3 TVs as the music and props departments can provide.

Unfortunately, there is one problem with the modern anthology format that Wicked City fails to overcome: you actually need to make people want to watch the next season, or even the next episode, hopefully by writing some good scripts. And avoiding complete moral bankruptcy.

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Review: Blood & Oil 1x1 (US: ABC)

Posted on September 29, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Blood & Oil

In the US: Sundays, 9/8c, ABC

'Rags to riches' stories have been a popular genre for centuries, with the (literally) poor audience getting to imagine what life would be like for them if they were suddenly rich, typically showing that they have some inner morality from years of abjection and hard work that makes them in some way better than those who had been born into wealth.

Think Cinderella, Aladdin, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist or anything by Catherine Cookson, just for starters.

It's a worthy genre, but one with rules. So to a certain extent you have to admire Blood & Oil for breaking possibly the most iron clad of them all. 

It stars Chase Crawford (Gossip Girl) and Rebecca Rittenhouse (Red Band Society) as a young working class couple who go to seek their fortune in the North Dakota oil rush, hoping to make it big with a laundromat for the no-doubt dirty workers. Unfortunately, their dream and most of their possessions soon evaporate into thin air.

More fortunately, just as things look their worst, an opportunity arises through which they might be able to make it really rich through oil tycoon Don Johnson (Miami Vice, Nash Bridges) and his wife Amber Valletta (Revenge).

Will they succeed? Will they make it big in life? Will their marriage be ripped asunder by all the temptations before them? 

I don't know and I largely don't care, because of Blood & Oil's horrific transgression. Because our heroes, the one's we're supposed to root for, are complete fucking idiots.

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