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Review: Dead of Summer 1x1-1x2 (US: Freeform)

Posted on July 5, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Dead of Summer

In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, Freeform
In the UK: Not yet acquired

I thought we'd got over the 80s. I thought that the advent of shows like Hindsight meant that we had moved on and were looking at the 90s and beyond. But now we have Dead of Summer, which is almost pure, distilled 80s, with 80s in every shot in a way the real 80s never was. Indeed, it feels like a show invented by someone who had almost no memories of the 80s beyond watching some 80s movies, but doesn't care because he knows the intended audience wasn't even alive in the 80s.

Riffing off another (hopefully dying) trend for remaking old horror moviesDead of Summer takes that hoary old US horror staple, the summer camp, and revisits it with a thin sprinkling of the almost 80s' Candyman on top. It sees a diverse (in a modern sense) group of attractive young people trying to help Lost's Elizabeth Mitchell to set up a new summer camp where they'll be camp counsellors. Except wouldn't you know it, the summer camp is built on an old burial ground or pentagram or something, and soon the dead are popping up in videos, pretending to be imaginary friends or just generally scaring the crap out of people, their number being added to in practically every scene as the bodies pile up. You don't even have to say 'Candyman' for it to happen - Tony Todd will pop up without any provocation as the silent, pointing and probably well paid 'The Tall Man' (just to confuse fans of Phantasm, I presume).

Created by Lost/Once Upon A Time writer Adam Horowitz, the show is a veritable cornucopia of 80s references, with mentions of D&D, The Empire Strikes Back and more popping out of people's mouths without any real cause every minute - almost like they're possessed by the spirit of the 80s. There's even a direct and actually quite impressive visual rip-off of one very famous scene from Poltergeist in the second episode, just to make it clear how much the show is set in the 80s.

But so quickly does the show get through all the references to 80s horror movies and trends in the first episode that by the second episode it's practically run out of them, so decides to start mining other genres. Weirdly, the show decides the best way to give its characters backstories is using Lost flashbacks and presumably deciding to emulate The Americans, makes one of the camp counsellors a secret Ruskie (or 'from the USSR' to be exact). What's his secret mission? He plays the long con all episode before finally closing his trap to obtain his ultimate prize… to have access to clothes from a dry cleaner. 

Yes, that does all play out as stupidly as it sounds.

It's hard to tell how knowing some of this is. Are we now post-Scream and taking horror seriously again or post-post-Scream and playing it for laughs? I forget. But there's a slight chance all the shallow teen romances, "who's next?" guessing, deep dark secrets et al are designed to be amusing rather than scary, given there's a Satan-worshipping heavy metal fan called 'Damon Crowley'. Maybe it's a bunch of 40somethings have a laugh at 20somethings' expense, without the 20somethings realising it ("They actually think it was like this! Can you believe it? Quick, put in something about a 2d20! They'll lap it up!")

More probably, it's merely aimed at people who have seen a lot of 80s movies and wish there were more of them than were actually made in the 80s. It's hard to tell how much such people are concerned by correct period detail: most of the fashions seem to come from the entire 80s, not just 1989 when the show is set; I'm not entirely sure the general public knew what a serial killer was in 1989; I doubt more than seven schoolgirls ever played D&D in the whole of the US in the 80s; and I'm pretty that someone in their early 20s would try not to be so openly and self-admittedly 'super gay' (was that even a phrase in the 80s?) in the somewhat repressive atmosphere of the late 80s US, let alone at a summer camp where they would be put in charge of children and risk getting fired and/or lynched.

This is the 80s for people who've seen The Breakfast Club and assume that everyone acted and dressed like that all the time, all decade.

The Ruskie backstory was bonkers enough that I might want to watch more of Dead of Summer, just to see if they do a tribute episode in which Airwolf flies over and blows up the camp. The sight of Tony Todd popping up every half hour to point silently behind people like he's just spotted a rare Crested Caracara and doesn't want to disturb it but definitely wants you to look at its beautiful plummage? That never gets old either.

But as a show, Dead of Summer isn't scary or innovative, the teens are quite dull, and Elizabeth Mitchell isn't in it anywhere near enough, so I won't be watching it for anything more than sh*ts and giggles if I do.

Here's a trailer and just in case you have 45 minutes or so to waste, the whole of the first episode, too.

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Review: Wrecked 1x1-1x2 (US: TBS)

Posted on June 16, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Wrecked

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, TBS
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Me: Hey guys, this is an interactive one. So, are you ready? 

You: Yes we are!

Me: Cool. What's the secret of comedy?

You: We don't know, Rob. What is the secret…

Me [interrupts]: Timing!

Rubbish, hey? Doesn't work at all written down. But I laboured with it because I think it makes a valuable point - timing is very important in comedy. Get it wrong and your joke just isn't funny.

What's the right time for a TV parody of another TV show then? The answer's not immediately obvious. Consider, 'Allo, 'Allo, one of the most successful British sitcoms of the 80s and early 90s, running for 85 episodes over 10 years from 1982.

Huge numbers of people watched (or were too offended to watch) this sitcom about the wartime French resistance without being even slightly aware it was a parody of Secret Army, the BBC's outstanding and very dark wartime drama, which ran between 1977 and 1979. 

Three years between the finish of Secret Army (not including Secret Army spin-off Kessler in 1981) and the start of 'Allo 'Allo, and yet everyone had already forgotten what the show was parodying. Thank heavens 'Allo 'Allo was funny, hey?

So spare a thought for Wrecked, which has bizarrely chosen to parody Lost, which aired between 2004 and 2010. That's six years ago Lost finished and 12 years since its first episode aired, yet here's Wrecked doing an almost scene-by-scene parody of its first episodes, but imagining what would happen if only the ugly no-hopers, rather than the pretty talented ones survived the crash.

How good's your memory? Good enough to laugh at how accurate Wrecked is? Probably not.

The first two episodes tread the familiar-ish terrority of the initial plane crash, waking up on the beach, the tending to the wounded, the investigation of the island, looking for satellite phone signal, et al. The show's anal enough about its Lost lore that it even kills off its Jack (James Scott) in the first episode, as per Lost's original pilot script. In his stead, he leaves three also-rans (Zach Cregger, Asif Ali, Brian Sacca), who all look like someone more famous but certainly aren't quite as good; there's Rhys Darby (Flight of the Conchords) as the Locke of the piece, albeit a Locke who can't walk; there's a generic bunch of millennial women who whine a bit (Ginger Gonzaga, Jessica Lowe, Ally Maki); and there's a couple of people who hang around being dicks in different ways (Will Greenberg, Brooke Dillman). 

Wrecked tries to get its laughs by doing sixth-form grade pastiche of the original, while throwing in general ineptitude, people arguing over whether a podiatrist is a proper doctor or not, and pointing out that no one knows any phone numbers any more so can't call for help using someone else's phone. As an example of the level of humour we're dealing with here, when Sacca's dad appears to him and Sacca wonders if they were coincidentally on the same flight, dad replies: "No, this is a dream sequence… were you not getting that?"

Oddly, Lost's most iconic storytelling technique - the flashback/flashforward/flashsideways - isn't used in Wrecked in these first two episodes, everything being told linearly. Too complicated, the writers had forgotten about it or something being saved for later? I don't know, but it's a bit like setting Allo Allo in Swindon during the Cod War without it.

Neither an incisive parody of Lost nor funny in its own right, Wrecked is a great big dud, despite the obvious cash spent on CGI and location filming in Puerto Rico and the occasionally interesting guest cast (eg Eliza Coupe from Happy Endings). I guess timing really is everything.

Here's the first six minutes and a trailer, just so you can see if you agree with me.

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Preview: Colony 1x1 (US: USA Network)

Posted on January 11, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Colony

In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, USA Network
In the UK: Not yet acquired

They say the secret of comedy is timing. I think the same is true of TV. A bit over a year ago, I was asked on Radio 5 why I thought zombie shows were so popular. I went for the glib Zoolander quote "they're so hot right now", but also mentioned that there was an obvious subtext - just in case you weren't listening, I was talking about rich versus poor, fear of diseases and the other, with an enemy that can't be understood and negotiated with, only fought, and yet which keeps on coming, no matter what you do.

That, of course, was two years ago and was at the back end of the zombie/disease/Occupy Wall Street trend. Now the big fear is that immigrants are going to come in, swamp us, and take over our countries. They're going to invade us.

TV, of course, can take a long time to get made, with years sometimes passing between genesis, gestation and eventual realisation of a show. Had Colony come out a year or so ago, back when I was doing that radio show, it would have looked prophetic and pioneering. Had it come out say two or even three months ago, it would have been riding a wave. Coming out now? It's missed the boat.

Continue reading "Preview: Colony 1x1 (US: USA Network)"

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