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Preview: Billions 1x1 (US: Showtime)

Posted on January 14, 2016 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Billions

In the US: Sundays, 10pm ET/PT, Showtime. Starts January 17
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Back when Suits started on the USA Network, it was a refreshingly strong show about lawyers that took a different tack from most legal dramas - it almost never ventured into the courtroom. Instead, it was all about the moves and counter-moves that lawyers made outside the courtroom to force their opponents to concede without the cost and randomness of a trial. Unfortunately, over the years, Suits' real-world chess-playing fell by the wayside, in favour of relationship-based drama and comedy, but the first couple of seasons were hugely enjoyable pieces of Machiavellian manipulation.

A little known fact about Suits is that originally, it was going to be about investment bankers. The show did eventually venture into that realm, where it was clear there was a very powerful pecking order in the world that made those legal eagles look like mere sparrows.

Of course, there's a group of people who make investment bankers look like wrens in the scheme of things: hedge fund managers. Managing billions and potentially worth billions themselves, depending on how you look at them, they're either the oil that prevents the wheels coming off the modern financial world or sociopaths that destroy others purely for their own personal gain.

Billions is a show that gives us Suits to the max, in that a pits a hedge fund giant (Damian Lewis) against America's top lawyer, the district attorney (Paul Giamatti) in a chess match that would make even Harvey Specter balk. Lewis is a genius of analysis, both of figures and people. He's made billions by knowing how to combine the two, deducing who'll do what, why and how to invest accordingly. He's also worked out how to play the PR game - he may be worth billions, but he's given hundreds of millions to 9/11 charities and the families of all his co-workers who died during that tragedy. 

There's also a very strong chance he's made at least part of his fortune through insider trading.

In turn, Giamatti has been raised since birth by his lawyer dad to think through every move and counter move white collar criminals might make. He knows whom to prosecute, when to prosecute and what it'll get him, and he knows how to play the PR game, too.

When an SEC official brings evidence to Giamatti that Lewis might have broken the law, Giamatti has to decide whether now is the time to take down Lewis or whether he's finally met the man who'll break his undefeated prosecuting streak. The best legal chess match in America is about to begin.

But while Billions is in many ways an excellent drama that has all the best qualities of Suits in its heyday, with smart people doing smart things to outwit each other, it's also just a little too Showtime for its own good.

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Review: Into The Badlands 1x1 (US: AMC; UK: Amazon Instant Video)

Posted on November 19, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Into the Badlands

In the US: Sundays, 10/9c, AMC
In the UK: Tuesdays, Amazon Instant Video

There is a famous paradox. Although Knight Rider claimed it was Zeno's Paradox, it's not. But it is at least a paradox. Here it is:

What happens when an unstoppable force hits an immovable object?

What's the answer? Into the Badlands. How so? Because it's an actual, real-world test of that paradox. It takes the unstoppable force that is the Hong Kong martial arts movie and confronts it with the immobable object of an AMC TV series.

Despite the likes of Indonesia's The Raid coming along to challenge them, Hong Kong martial arts movies are, of course, the fastest genre in the world. If you have any interest in martial movies, you watch Hong Kong martial arts to see the best - and fastest - martial artists the silver screen has to offer. I'm most partial to classic Jet Li myself, but Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan et al have all formed part of my viewing habits since Jonathan Ross's Son of The Incredibly Strange Film Show revealed their delights to me back in the 80s.

And the slowest genre in the world? AMC TV series. The network practically fetishises slowness:

Even its fastest shows - Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Better Call Saul - have a glacial chill to them, and that's before we consider the almost geological time scales over which the likes of Mad Men, Hell on Wheels and Halt and Catch Fire operate.

And Into The Badlands is a deliberate attempt to bring these two genres together. Rather bizarrely the brainchild of Smallville creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, it stars Daniel Wu, an American actor but the star of dozens of Hong Kong martial arts movies.

The show is set in a post-apocalyptic America. This isn't that surprising: martial arts date from before guns and are made largely redundant by the presence of guns, so a martial arts movie usually needs to have a reason for there to not be any guns - something somewhat problematic in modern-day and even historic America, but not so hard in a post-apocalyptic, post-technological society. Unles you turn the guns into a virtue, of course.

As with most other post-apocalyptic societies, everything's become weirdly patriarchal and feudal in Into The Badlands, with seven 'barons' now running America, following a series of wars. Each has made their territory safe and stopped the wars by getting rid of guns. In return, everyone either learns how to be a 'Clipper' - martial arts soldier cops - assuming they're male or goes to work in the fields picking poppies or getting married to the Baron.

Wu plays one such Clipper, who patrols the territories, enforcing the justice of his increasingly unstable, increasingly bewived Baron (Marton Csokas from Falcón, Rogue, The Equalizer, The Bourne Supremacy). One day, he comes across a peaceful boy sought after by another Baron, 'The Widow', only to discover that he gets superhero killing powers at odd moments. 

What will he do? WIll he take the boy into the lawless 'Badlands' between Barons' terrorities, looking for the boy's mother and answers to his own past? And will he do it before the Sun expands into a Red Giant and dies (aka the next AMC Upfronts)?

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How long does it take before you get hooked on a TV series?

Posted on September 24, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

So for a long time now, this 'ere blog has had a USP in terms of recommending shows: The Barrometer, which itself replaced The Carusometer. This takes the long view, requiring a minimum viewing of three episodes before it's willing to give a cheesy grin and a rousing showtune - and the all-important thumbs up or thumbs down to the show.

But I often wonder if that's too much or even few. Some shows you sense are never going to be good from the outset, while others genuinely do take a long time to get to the point (I'm looking at you here Rubicon - 10 episodes before you reveal your brilliance? Really?).

All I can do is guess. However, Netflix knows better. Apart from its top secret way to covertly view your every move as you sit in front of your TV screen or monitor (shh, don't tell anyone), it also can analyse exactly how far you get into a show before you decide you've got to watch the rest of it or abandon it altogether. And they've just released the results in a shiny infographic (click it to make it bigger):

Netflix infographic

There's also a list:

  • Arrow — Episode 8
  • Bates Motel — Episode 2
  • Better Call Saul — Episode 4
  • Bloodline — Episode 4
  • BoJack Horseman — Episode 5
  • Breaking Bad — Episode 2
  • Dexter — Episode 3
  • Gossip Girl — Episode 3
  • Grace & Frankie — Episode 4
  • House of Cards — Episode 3
  • How I Met Your Mother — Episode 8
  • Mad Men — Episode 6
  • Marco Polo — Episode 3
  • Marvel’s Daredevil — Episode 5
  • Once Upon a Time — Episode 6
  • Orange is the New Black — Episode 3
  • Pretty Little Liars — Episode 4
  • Scandal — Episode 2
  • Sense8 — Episode 3
  • Sons of Anarchy — Episode 2
  • Suits — Episode 2
  • The Blacklist — Episode 6
  • The Killing — Episode 2
  • The Walking Dead — Episode 2
  • Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt — Episode 4

Although it's worth remembering that the Netflix viewing experience is different from watching TV weekly, as you can see, it's never the pilot episode that grabs virtually anyone, so clearly I'm onto something there.

But there are a few surprises in there. Eight episodes before being grabbed by Arrow? Who waits that long? And episode five for Marvel's Daredevil, rather than the bravura episode 2? How odd.

Oddest of all: how can anyone get addicted to Sense8?

[via]

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