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Review: UnREAL 1x1 (US: Lifetime)

Posted on June 3, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share


In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, Lifetime
In the UK: It’ll be on Lifetime or Living, you know it

It hopefully won’t have escaped the attention of regular readers of this ‘ere blog that I haven’t covered reality TV shows since its very early days, back when Big Brother was still a novelty. I just ain’t got the time… and I don’t watch it any more.

It has, however, escaped the attention of lots of PRs, who despite claiming to be ‘huge fans’ of TMINE, still want to know if I’ll cover reality show x, game show y or reality game show z.

Invariably, I tell them that I only cover ‘scripted comedy and drama’, but perhaps I should consider a different response. After all, look over the credits of even something like American’s Next Top Model and you’ll discover a host of writing credits; there’s also a genre known as ‘constructed reality’ that encompasses shows such as The Only Way is Essex in which although the responses of the participants are genuine – or as genuine as they can be on a TV show – the situations in which they’re involved are set up by the production teams.

Oftentimes, it can be hard to tell apart the true reality show from the constructed reality show and Lifetime’s new comedy-drama UnREAL hinges on just such a problem – the nature of truth and reality in supposed reality shows, as well as the symbiotic relationship between those performing for the cameras and the need of reality TV producers for them to perform in order that they can produce ‘interesting' television that fits comfortable, stereotypical conventions.

Shiri Appleby (Roswell, Life Unexpected) is Rachel, a freelance field producer for a very Bachelor-like reality show called Everlasting. After a breakdown on camera the previous season that ended up with her becoming indebted to the amoral and immoral producer of the show Constance Zimmer (Love Bites, House of Cards), she’s forced to return to the job she hates – manipulating potential and current contestants into doing what Zimmer needs them to do and fitting into their pre-determined roles, all while she pretends to be their friend.

That includes dealing with the supposedly gentlemanly but actually womanising English heir to a hotel chain (Harry Potter’s Freddie Stroma) who’s really using the show to rehabilitate his public profile; Breeda Wool (Betas), a shy Christian woman and virgin who’s intended to be the show’s ‘joke’; Ashley Scott (Birds of Prey, Jericho), the ‘desperate MILF' who’s going to be dumped by episode three; Arielle Kebbel (90210), the ‘bitch’ who’s the intended villain of the show; and Christie Lang (Arrow), the talented violinist and scholar who’s unfortunately too black to win.

Except Appleby is the kind of woman who goes around wearing a T-shirt saying ‘this is what a feminist looks like’ and faced with pumping out stereotypes that are demeaning to women and betraying her sisters, she decides to do all she can to rewrite the show’s narrative – all while trying to avoid being sent to prison if Zimmer finds out what she’s up to.

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What have you been watching? Including Backstrom, Young Drunk Punk, 19-2, Spiral and Galavant

Posted on January 26, 2015 | comments | 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.

Lots of new shows to deal with this past week, including 12 Monkeys. Unfortunately, it’s my busy time of the month, so I won’t be able to deal with them at length and there’s a few third-episode verdicts I’m going to have skip, too. Fortunately, though, all the new shows don’t really warrant full reviews…

Backstrom (US: Fox)
Despite having been canned by CBS straight after its pilot, this adaptation of Leif GW Persson’s Bäckström books has been resurrected over at Fox and once again demonstrates that the US really shouldn’t be adapting Nordic Noir. It stars Rainn Wilson from The Office as the eponymous Backstrom, a Portland police detective who’s best thought of as Gregory House MD but without the talent, the charm or the looks, bungling his way from crime scene to crime scene being lazy and offensive and being proved right because the script demands it, rather than because of any insight. So the producers think it very funny that Backstrom have the nearest - and indeed only - black person around arrested because he’s black so probably was involved in the crime. My, how comically racist! Except the black person is involved in the crime - how actually racist!

There’s some decent supporting characters, including an MMA-beat cop (Page Kennedy); a New Age medical examiner (Kristoffer Polaha from Ringer, Valentine, Life Unexpected), whom everyone reacts to like he’s English, even though he doesn’t even have an accent; an investigator whom everyone reacts to like she’s French, because she is (Beatrice Rosen); and Dennis Haysbert (The Unit, 24) as Backstrom’s boss. But this is as lazy as Backstrom himself, trying to fake being intelligent and gimmicky by having Backstrom ‘empathise’ (saying out loud, “I am character x, I feel y, therefore I would have done z”) and come up with insight such as “Anyone who says ‘Absolutely not’ is absolutely lying”, rather than actually being intelligent or having insight.

Weirdly, between moving from CBS to Fox, there’s been some recasting and a lot of the funnier and smarter stuff has been removed, making it worse not better than it was before.

Young Drunk Punk (Canada: City TV)
After last year’s slew of 80s nostalgia shows in the US, time for some 80s nostalgia from Canada, with Young Drunk Punk, in which two teenage nerd punk-wannabes search for their destinies after leaving high school. Despite being written by and starring Bruce McCulloch (Kids In The Hall) this is very much like the previous half dozen Canadian comedies that have come by in having a total laugh count of zero.

After the jump, 19-2, Arrow, Banshee, Constantine, Cougar Town, Elementary, The Flash, Galavant, Gotham, The Ground Floor, Hindsight, Man Seeking Woman, Marvel’s Agent Carter, State of Affairs, Spiral (Engrenages) and Togetherness. One of them’s on the verge of getting recommended, one of them’s going to be dropped, and one of them is on the borderline. But which ones? You’ll find out after the jump.

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What did you watch this week? Including Perception, Under The Dome, World War Z and A Good Day To Die Hard

Posted on June 28, 2013 | comments | Bookmark and Share

It's "What did you watch this week?, my chance to tell you what I movies and TV I've watched this week that I haven't already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I've missed them.

First, the usual recommendations:

And here's what I thought of them and others:

Graceland (USA)
Only just started last night's episode, so I'll let you know next week what I thought. Sorry.

Perception (TNT/Watch)
Last summer's slightly surprising combination of dull old procedural and interesting examination of psychology and mental health returns with a new character, the probable loss of at least one character, the surprising return of another character and the same old dull procedural. However, as well as the usual mind-bending issue with the show that you're never sure what's real and what's hallucination, we have a possible slight departure from format – this first episode was less concerned with investigation and more concerned with the philosophical question of whether someone who's had a brain injury and resulting personality change is still the same person they were before the injury. It's a question that other shows probably wouldn't touch with a barge pole but the show was all the better for it. Rachael Leigh Cook is still the least plausible FBI agent in TV history, though.

Under the Dome (CBS/Channel 5)
Based on a Stephen King novel, this mini-series sees a small town full of Diverse People With Issues And Secrets suddenly enveloped by a forcefield dome that blocks everything from sound and cars through to radio signals and electricity. Why's it happening, who's behind it, what's going to happen next and will everyone sort out their issues before their secrets are discovered? Probably.

Full of people who've never been the stars of things but you'll have seen being really good in loads of other shows – Rachelle Lefevre (Life on Mars, The Deep End, Twilight), Dean Norris (Breaking Bad) and Mike Vogel (Bates Motel, Pan Am) – as well as Britt Robertson (The Secret Circle, Life Unexpected), this is very odd flashback to the 80s, when Stephen King mini-series were all the rage. As back then, you'll spend all your time working out who's going to end up dead next and what precisely is going on. It's pretty much exactly what you'd think if you've seen any such mini-series before, with dodgy dialogue, stock characters but an intriguing central idea. It's also surprisingly gruesome at times.

With ratings of 12m, hopefully it'll boost the careers of at least Lefevre, who's needed a breakout role for ages and was unceremoniously dumped from the third Twilight movie in favour of the somewhat inferior Bryce Dallas Howard, and Norris, now that Breaking Bad is leaving us. I could do without the dodgy stalker bloke, though.

And in movies:

World War Z
Brad Pitt travels the world looking for a way to fight the zombie plague that's broken out. Taking in Korea and Israel, he eventually finds his solution is… Torchwood. Well, maybe. You'll get that joke if you ever watch the movie.

Not great, doesn't make huge sense, Mireille Enos (The Killing US) is largely wasted and as in movies such as Contagion, a plethora of stars turns up for five minutes only to disappear almost as quickly. But it's tense all the way through and has a few funny moments. Better than the average zombie movie, anyway.

A Good Way To Die Hard
Bruce Willis goes off to Russia when his wayward son shoots someone in a nightclub and is put on trial. However, all is not what it seems and soon Willis and Willis Jr are double-acting their way through numerous shoot-outs and car chases around Russia.

The best that can probably be said about this is that it's probably the second-best of the Die Hard movies, with at least some intelligence on display in places throughout the movie. But it shows nowhere near the level of human involvement and innovation of the original, and the constant CGI effects mean that nothing feels real enough to care about.

"What did you watch this week?" is your chance to recommend to friends and fellow blog readers the TV and films that they might be missing or should avoid - and for me to do mini-reviews of everything I've watched. Since we live in the fabulous world of Internet catch-up services like the iPlayer and Hulu, why not tell your fellow readers what you've seen so they can see the good stuff they might have missed?

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