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Yes, American TV has improved since the 1990s

Posted on June 15, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

It’s always tempting to think that either

  1. We’re living in a golden age or
  2. Things are just getting worse as time goes on

Nevertheless, US TV has arguably had three great eras: the ‘Westinghouse era’, the Steve Bochco era and the HBO/post-HBO cable renaissance, and I do genuinely think we are almost certainly living in a golden age of US TV.

Do I have proof? Well, I think if we look at the following collection of title sequences for US TV shows that debuted as part of the 1995 season, we can see that things have definitely improved. Apart from the fact that you almost certainly remember none of them, they’re just plain shoddy. Particularly Burke’s Law, which was a revival of a show you’ve almost certainly forgotten from the 1960s but which nevertheless still had a better title sequence than the revival did.

There are a couple of outliers: there's Due South, of course. No one say anything bad about Due South. Party of Five many people rated, although I never watched it.

But you’ll almost certainly remember Diagnosis Murder and Touched By An Angel not because they were good but because they're either perpetually repeated on daytime TV or/and they were memorably awful and cheesy.

Of course, we need to compare and contrast with more recent times to prove our general hypothesis that TV is getting better. So let’s pick a relatively recent season at random: the 2008 season. That was a mere seven years ago now but 13 years after the 1995 season. Sigh.

So how many of these shows do you remember and turned out to be timeless classics?

Actually, quite a few were classics of varying degrees when they debuted, including Generation Kill, Sons of Anarchy, Leverage, Fringe, True Blood and The Mentalist, as well as arguably Dollhouse - although that doesn’t mean they didn’t get worse as time went on. There were also several memorable shows, although not always for the right reasons: Life on Mars (US), My Own Worst Enemy and Knight Rider - I’m looking at you here. Indeed, although it’s no excuse, many of the duffest shows can be laid at the door of NBC, which was then notoriously going through one of its worst ever creative periods thanks to a change in management.

So, yes, I think we can conclude that US TV is getting better. Thanks science!

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Review: Westside 1x1 (New Zealand: TV3)

Posted on June 4, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Westside

In New Zealand: Sundays, 8.30pm, TV3

As we saw recently with AMC's Better Call Saul, prequels can be tricky things. You typically only get a prequel to a show if it’s been popular and has a strong fan base, and those fans are going to want everything to line up nicely with whatever’s already been established in the original story. However, unless you want ever-reducing audience numbers, you have to ensure that the prequel is of interest to a wider circle than just the fans.

The show formerly and cleverly known as Westside Story, but which is now presumably for copyright reasons simply Westside, has these two issues to juggle. Now, I’ve already gone into the history of its progenitor Outrageous Fortune elsewhere, so I won’t bother here but suffice it to say, as esteemed New Zealand shows with a huge fan base go, you couldn’t find a bigger one than Outrageous Fortune. All the same, that finished five years ago and wasn’t widely known in its original form overseas - indeed, these days it’s perhaps better known as the show that the creators of The Almighty Johnsons ran before venturing into matters more fantastical and theological. As a result, there’s a potential new audience for Westside that never saw the original and who might be looking forward to Rachel Lang and James Griffin’s latest production.

So will the story of safecracker Ted West, his wife Rita and their son Wolf, the future prison-bound patriarch of Outrageous Fortune's West family, stand on its own two feet or will it simply be a piece of fan service from a creatively bankrupt team that have run out of ideas?

I’ll tell you after the jump.

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What have you been watching? Including Strange Empire, Coverband, Electra, The Flash and Doctor Who

Posted on October 20, 2014 | 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.

You may have noticed I was playing epic catch-up on Saturday, in contravention of my normal rule of weekend blogging. So on top of Friday’s all out efforts and a couple of extra ones today, I’ve reviewed the following new shows, some of which have already been acquired for Blighty’s viewing pleasure:

Yay, me. No back log now. Time to have regular weekends again. Phew.

In fact, so ahead of myself am I that I’ll point out that ages ago, I reviewed NBC’s Constantine, which starts on Friday. Okay, it’s changed a bit since the pilot but you’ll get the general point.

But I’ve not stopped there. Oh no. Because I’ve also watched a New Zealand and a Canadian show just for luck. Okay, I was a bit behind on all of them, so I’ve only seen the first episode of each, but honestly, that felt like enough.

Strange Empire (Canada: CBC)
Set in the 1860s on the Alberta-Montana border, this sees three women (Cara Gee, Tattiawna Jones and Melissa Farman from Lost) band together for survival after virtually all the men in their town are murdered and those remaining behind battle for power. Very nicely made and already being described as the saviour of CBC, it's historically interesting but about as tedious as any other western, and none of the characters really grabbed me.

Coverband (New Zealand: TV One)
A one-hit wonder band reunite back in New Zealand years after they were famous. Unfortunately, the female lead singer was the one who was a success, leaving the terminally unsexy rest of the band to make it by themselves, something at which they fail miserably. Now having to deal with the pressures of normal lives and forced to do cover versions of other bands’ records, they suck completely until they stagecrashed by Laughton Kora, who shows them what rock charisma and singing really are, so they hire him. Kind of.

It’s an amiable and accurate enough show, based on cast member Johnny Barker’s own experiences as an Auckland cover band musician, and were there enough time in the world, I’d probably tune in for a few more episodes. But the show’s not so inspiring that I’ll throw something else aside for it and I’ve already seen The Wedding Band crash and burn, so I don’t think I need to see that happen again.

Unfortunately, New Zealand doesn’t want to produce any globally available videos of its own shows, apparently, so here’s a picture of the cast to tide you over.

Coverband

That's it for new new shows, but after the jump, I’ll be running through: Arrow, black-ish, The Blacklist, Doctor Who, The Flash, Forever, Gotham, Homeland, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, Plebs, Scorpion, Selfie and The Walking Dead.

But hey! Before you go, I should mention I went to the theatre, too!

Electra (Old Vic)
Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra, a new translation of Sophocles’ original text by Greek tragedy stalwart Frank McGuinness, music by PJ Harvey – what could go wrong? Well, not much actually, beyond a certain staticness to the direction, a slightly weak performance by Jack Lowden as Orestes and a very strange performance by Tyrone Huggins as Aegisthus. Other than that, a fine piece of work, surprisingly faithfully staged (although that’s not quite how Greek people prayed), with an outstanding performance by Thomas and a surprisingly funny text by McGuinness – in part to cover up for casting slightly older than originally written, but also to hide the unlikelihood of Electra not recognising Orestes. Liz White (Life on Mars) gives the best performance I’ve ever seen from her as Chrysothemis, Electra’s sister.  

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