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Mini-review: Battle Creek 1x1 (US: CBS)

Posted on March 6, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Battle Creek

In the US: Sundays, 10/9c, CBS

Sometimes, pedigree just isn’t enough. Take Battle Creek. It’s written by David Shore (creator of House) and Vince Gilligan (creator of Breaking Bad); its first episode is directed by Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, X-Men, X-Men: Days of Future Past). It has ‘winner’ written all over it.

But it’s poor. It’s very poor. It’s a buddy-buddy cop dramedy set in the little town of Battle Creek, Michigan. What kind of buddy-buddy, you might wonder? Is one neat, one tidy? Does one play by the book and is the other a Maverick? One black, one white? Male, female? Gay, straight? Old, young? Blue collar, white collar?

No, surprisingly, Shore and Gilligan have gone for “rich, talented and handsome” versus “poor, incompetent and ugly”.

Dean Winters (best known as Liz Lemon’s bad ex-boyfriend in 30 Rock) stars as a Battle Creek police detective who has had to try to solve small town crimes on a small town budget. No wires, so baby monitors will have to do; tasers that don’t work; and so on - you get the picture. As a result, he has to cut a few corners here and there.

Of course, it’s easy to blame a low clear up rate, your suspect ethics and all your problems on your tools if you’re a bad workman… or your tools really do suck. But then Josh Duhamel (Las Vegas) arrives in town. A high-achieving FBI special agent, he has all the skills, resources and looks Winters doesn’t. Will Winters be able to cope, dwelling in the shadow of this golden boy? Or will he - like Duhamel’s previous work colleagues - try to get him shunted to some other god-foresaken outpost somewhere, as soon as it’s humanly possible?

That’s really all the show is built around and there’s not much to like about it. The two halves of the first episode show the problem quite well: the first half, while not especially well written, actually has the comic potential, with the fun pairing of Winters and co-worker Kal Penn (House) doing well milking their failed tech problems for all they’re worth. Then Duhamel turns up and the comedy becomes all about how Winters can’t do something, but Duhamel can because he has a forensics lab, etc. Time after time, whatever Winters wants to do, Duhamel simply does it. There’s no challenge.

There’s also no chemistry. Duhamel is the square cut Platonic ideal of an FBI agent, but little more, and the two have the easy going relationship and interactions most people have with alabaster. It’s not Duhamel’s fault so much as the fault of the set-up, which doesn’t lend itself to normal human interactions. And while there’s the potential for drama rather than comedy, the show doesn’t seem inclined to have Duhamel lording it over Winters rather than simply being oblivious to the effect he has on others.

On top of the fact the crime the couple investigate in the first episode isn’t that interesting, thrilling or complicated, and the supporting cast (bar Penn) aren’t worth watching either, you have a show that merely exists to fill up a Sunday evening schedule and add to CBS’s annual crime show quota.

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Review: Rush 1x1 (USA)

Posted on July 18, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

USA Network's Rush

In the US: Thursdays, 9/8c, USA Network

A while ago, I remarked that of all the people from Coupling whom you might have expected to see as a US action hero, Englishman Richard Coyle was probably at the bottom of the list, since he played poor old put-upon, terminally unconfident Welshman Jeff.

Well, it seems the season for such surprises because over on basic cable, USA has decided that absolutely the best person to head up its new dark, gritty – well, darker, grittier – medical show Rush is Welshman Tom Ellis. From Miranda. Yes, Miranda.

Here, let Blog Goddess and Welshwoman Joanna Page talk you through Tom Ellis’s Miranda highlights.

As Ellis himself remarks, "If Rush was a show in the UK, I don't think that they would think of me to play that part."

All power to him, though, because despite being forced to play American, Tom Ellis is actually very good in Rush. Tom Ellis is not Rush’s problem.

And Rush does have problems. Many of them. The most obvious of these is it’s basically Royal Pains crossed with the anaemic US version of Rake. Just like Dr Hank, Ellis’s eponymous Rush is a concierge doctor to the rich and famous, rushing to their side whenever they’re in medical trouble and using his ingenuity and network of connections to solve the trickiest of medical concerns.

But just like Rake’s Cleaver Greene, Rush is in it for himself and is a drug-taking, near moral vacuum who likes to screw around, smoke at his godson’s party, sabotages his relationships, exploits his female assistant and will take the worst scum of humanity as his clients, as long as they pay cash up front or hold a gun to his head.

Except this is basic cable so Rush has a heart. And it’s the USA Network, where characters are welcome and dark and gritty aren’t. Which means if you’re expecting a rush from Rush, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.

Here’s a trailer:

Continue reading "Review: Rush 1x1 (USA)"

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Review: Black Box 1x1 (ABC)

Posted on April 30, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Kelly Reilly in Black Box

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

Mental health is so hot right now. I don’t mean that in the sense that it’s a subject for serious examination in drama or that it’s something that is thoughtfully used in characterisation. I mean it’s a great gimmick.

Time was when dramas would have set-ups like “two brothers are private detectives”, “he’s a Vietnam vet with a super helicopter”, “he’s an angel wandering the Earth helping people” and the like. But you can only have so many of those unique set-ups before you start to repeat yourself.

Mental health issues, by contrast, used to be the motivations for crimes, not something that could affect a hero, because it was unmanly. Well, maybe PTSD so they could have really manly flashbacks to Nam.

Thankfully, those times are gone and it’s all change. With first Monk giving us the OCD detective and then Touching Evil giving us the slightly lobotomised detective, TV has worked out how valuable these personality quirks can be. Why, right now, on TV we’ve got Asperger’s aplenty (Community, The Bridge, Hannibal, Parenthood) and the new top, post-Silver Linings Playbook condition, bipolar disorder, has been jaunting around both Homeland and Mind Games, giving them all sorts of entirely medically accurate depictions of how helpful mental health issues can be.

Producers have also worked out thanks to medical shows such as House, Mental and 3lbs that 'brain weirdness’, to use it its technical definition, can be really entertaining in guest characters as well. So what better than a show that features not just lots of supporting cast weirdness but also a central character who has the bipolar, hey?

Black Box is such a show – and it turns out that despite its having not just the delightful Kelly Reilly as the lead as well as no lesser actress than Vanessa Redgrave as her psychiatrist, a whole lot of things could be better.

Reilly, putting on her best US accents, is a talented neurologist/doctor who is also bipolar. As long as she’s on her meds, she’s fine, but believing that medication stops those with mental health issues from achieving their true potential or even being truly happy by coming to accept themselves, she has a history of ‘non-compliance’. The result is that sometimes she’s manic and productive, other times she’s crazy, hallucinating, doing all kinds of bad things, including almost committing suicide. Yet somehow it makes her a better doctor.

Gosh, how quirky and interesting. Gosh how almost unwatchable.

Here’s a trailer.

Continue reading "Review: Black Box 1x1 (ABC)"

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