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What did you watch this fortnight? Including Trance, Rogue, Bates Motel, Endeavour and Southland

Posted on April 21, 2013 | comments | Bookmark and Share

It's "What did you watch this weekfortnight?", my chance to tell you what I movies and TV I've watched this weekfortnight 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:

  • The Americans (FX/ITV)
  • Arrow (The CW/Sky 1)
  • Being Human (US) (SyFy)
  • The Daily Show (Comedy Central)
  • Doctor Who (BBC1/BBC America)
  • Elementary (CBS/Sky Living)
  • Endeavour (ITV1)
  • Go On (NBC)
  • Hannibal (NBC/Sky Living)
  • Modern Family (ABC/Sky 1)
  • Plebs (ITV2)
  • Vegas (CBS/Sky Atlantic).

These are all going to be on in either the UK or the US, perhaps even both, but I can't be sure which. Continuum returns in Canada tonight, so I'd suggest tuning in for that, too.

Still in the viewing queue: Friday night's Las Vegas and last night's Doctor Who (review tomorrow when I've seen it), as well as Netflix's new release, Hemlock Grove. But I've tried a few new shows in the past couple of weeks:

Arne Dahl (BBC4)
Basically – as Stu_N put it – The Professionals with pilchards. Dreadful.

Rogue (DirecTV)
Thandie Newton is a very implausible, undercover cop whose son gets killed and she blames herself. Despite the decent cast, which includes Martin Csokas from Falcón and Ian Hart, an incredibly forgettable, derivative show.

I also watched the Easter Jonathan Creek special, which despite a whole lot of merits (the cast, the changes in format), was absolute ridiculous and bore no resemblance to reality. Plus how do you cast both Rik Mayall and Nigel Planer in a show and not have them meet?

Now, some thoughts on some of the regulars and some of the shows I'm still trying:

  • The Americans (FX/ITV): The usual problem that when show runner Joe Weisberg isn't involved in the scripting, the episode just isn't as authentic-feeling as the other episodes. The developments between the two Russians feel a little padded out, and I'm not sure they would have been quite so merciful this week, given their need to preserve their identities.
  • Bates Motel (A&E/Universal): Quite tedious now, and in no sense really related to Psycho, beyond names and presumably the eventual conclusion. Despite those blips of interest in the first three episodes, the show's settled on a very dull formula now, with only Vera Farmiga's character offering any real reason to watch.
  • Being Human (US) (SyFy): Another show that finished, leaving a lot of hanging storyline threads. The revelations haven't been as impressive or as interesting as you might have hoped, and as I said last night, it does feel like the whole of this season could have been covered in just an episode or two.
  • Cougar Town (TBS/Sky Living): A somewhat uninteresting way to end the season, but also slightly deeper than normal. The writers didn't take the show anywhere especially new, but having Tippi Hedren show up for the finale was worth watching it for anyway.
  • Endeavour (ITV1): Inspector Morse, back in its natural period – the 1950s. Nowhere near as impressive as its pilot episode, boiling down to an ability to solve crossword puzzles rather than make deductions, but Anton Lessing was perfect as the new superintendent.
  • Plebs (ITV2): More ahistorical than normal, with the arrival of bananas and a Thracian with a Russian accent (Anna Skellern from Big Finish's Sapphire and Steel range), but still good fun, surprisingly historical in other ways and Bryan Murphy (George from George and Mildred) showed up as an old soldier.
  • Shameless (US) (Showtime/More4): A good and surprisingly optimistic finale that felt almost like a series finale. Where does the show go next?
  • Southland (TNT/Channel 4): Two episodes to finish off the season and perhaps the series. The first was a very hard and traumatic episode that unfortunately crossed the Southland line – despite being based on a real-life incident, didn't feel like a Southland episode because it stopped being able the everyday life of cops. Thankfully, the final episode was more of a return to normal. It finished off a number of plot threads and left several hanging, in a way both satisfying a season-finale and a series-finale. And, of course, for one character, a shocking but entirely plausible end (?). If it is the series finale, that would be a shame for probably the best and most realistic cop show since The Wire.
  • Spartacus (Starz/Sky 1): And so it ends. Probably the most surprising bit of quality TV, given its graphic novel violence, sex and swearing (and Starz network home), Spartacus has continued to make Roman history interesting and Machiavellian fun. The finale was just about as good as it ever could be, given Spartacus has to disappear or die, the revolution has to fail, and Caesar and Crassus have to go on to rule Rome. Perhaps a little too anti-Roman, but it was still as intriguing as ever.
  • Vegas (CBS/Sky Atlantic): Michael Chiklis's direction somehow made the usual sets look cheap and like a backlot, but the show is clearly struggling now to expand its format. I'm hoping that Carrie-Anne Moss gets a promotion now, since she's had so precious little to do. Nevertheless, the show does look like it's limping towards cancellation.

And in movies:

Trance
Danny Boyle directing, Joe Ahearne writing, Rosario Dawson, James McAvoy and Vince Cassel starring in a semi-Inception-like story about an art dealer who steals a painting with the help of a gang, but when he gets hit on the head, forgets where he hid the painting. So Cassel takes McAvoy to see hypnotherapist Dawson in an effort to recover its location, and she takes McAvoy (and the audience) through several levels of reality. While it does interesting things in terms of flipping notions of who is the protagonist and who is the antagonist in the narrative, has some shocking full-frontal nudity and violence, and says some interesting things about gender in thriller narrative, if you pay attention, you'll have guessed most of the story's secrets and revelations ages before the end.

"What did you watch this weekfortnight?" 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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Review: Doctor Who - 7x9 - Cold War

Posted on April 15, 2013 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Doctor Who - Cold War

In the UK: Saturday, 6.15pm, 13th April 2013, BBC1/BBC1 HD. Available on the iPlayer
In the US: Saturday, 8pm/7c, 13th April 2013, BBC America

Mark Gatiss is a fanboy. This will probably come as a surprise to you only if you've never heard of Mark Gatiss before. Otherwise, this should be known to you.

A member of the League of Gentlemen (a troop of horror-story loving fanboys), Gatiss first appeared in the realm of Doctor Who writing some of Virgin's range of New Adventures books that emerged following the cancellation of the original series. Then, after writing and starring in some of the Liz Shaw spin-off P.R.O.B.E. stories, and some of the Big Finish Doctor Who and Sapphire and Steel audio ranges (he's an S&S fanboy, too), he came to write some Doctor Who TV episodes: The Unquiet Dead, The Idiot's Lantern, Victory of the Daleks and Night Terrors. He's also written fiction that pastiches 19th century fiction, hosted and contributed to documentaries on some of his favourite fanboy subjects (Nigel Kneale, Hammer horror), adapted and starred in HG Wells' The First Men In the Moon and being a Sherlock Holmes fanboy, too, it should come as no surprise by now for you to hear that he's one of the show runners and writers for Sherlock.

A fanboy, then. Clear?

The biggest problem facing fanboys in general and Mark Gatiss in particular is originality. It's all right when you have something to adapt and something to riff on, but actually coming up with good new ideas is actually terribly hard for the fanboy. It's no surprise therefore that whenever Gatiss writes anything, it's usually slight variations on an existing, familiar story, with knowing references to other things thrown in and some sort of Important Obvious Metaphor thrown in for good luck.

By now, it shouldn't surprise you when I tell you it was Gatiss who suggested to bestest Sherlock pal and Doctor Who show runner Steven Moffat that they should do a story feature the Ice Warriors, just about the only popular old Who monster that the new series hadn't featured. Nor should it surprise you that our Stevie was a bit dismissive of the idea, thinking they were a bit rubbish looking.

But Gatiss has brought them back, with an Important Obvious Metaphor about the Cold War (hence, the title) thrown in for good luck. It's a little bit The Ice Warriors, a little bit Dalek… okay, a lot Dalek, with a big chunk of Alien and just a soupçon of Hunt For Red October on a low budget thrown in. And while it never hit the 'totally excellent' mark, by sticking with what he's best at, Gatiss turned in what's probably his best Doctor Who yet.

Here's a trailer.

Continue reading "Review: Doctor Who - 7x9 - Cold War"

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Preview: Revolution (NBC) 1x1

Posted on September 6, 2012 | comment | Bookmark and Share

NBC's Revolution

In the US: Mondays, 10pm/9pm CT, NBC. Starts September 17th
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Family television. I hate it.

Okay, not all family television. It can be great. Look at Sapphire and Steel or Codename Icarus. Or Doctor Who.

But largely, family television is a miserable land of compromised, unchallenging, lowest common denominator plotting, conservative values occasionally masquerading as liberalism and attempts to be all things to all people. Plots are never too threatening or ever change the status quo significantly. There are magical MacGuffins that only children could believe in. Characters never move outside of traditional, largely patriarchal family relationships and stereotypical gender relationships. And everyone learns a (traditional) lesson about life, family and love by the end of it all.

Look at Merlin. Look at Robin Hood. Look at Crusoe. Look at Touch. Look at Terra Nova.

Ugh.

These programmes are too unchallenging for both adults (who need something more) and children (who need something more, too) pollute the airways and fill up primetime in an effort to get as many people watching at the same time, leaving less time for decent programming.

And it's not just primetime, now. For some reason, family programming can stray into the 10pm slot in the US. This is not when family dramas should be on, America. This is when kids should be in bed.

With Revolution, we have a prime example of family programming: the turgid, lifeless, recycling of limp ideas, stale characters and by-the-book writing that characterises the genre. Surprisingly, it's from Eric Kripke (Supernatural), Jon Favreau (Iron Man) and JJ Abrams (Alias, Lost, Alcatraz, Star Trek et al), who are all capable of much, much better but because it's family programming they've dumbed down.

So, here's the story: 20 seconds into the future from now, mysteriously the laws of physics are going to change. Suddenly, electricity is going to stop working. No batteries, no mains current. Nothing.

Well - and they don't make this explicit for some reason - all electricity apart from, say, anything in your body that requires the movement of electrons to work such as your nerves, muscles or, in fact, every single cell you have, of course. Apparently, that's some other set of laws of electromagnetism that makes them work. The jury's still out on ions, and covalent and hydrogen bonds, mind, but I'm sure Revolution will get there eventually once everyone's perms start to fall out, salt crystals fall apart and no one gets static electricity from carpets any more. No more oxidisation, no more reduction. Chemistry is going to be so much easier, but we'll miss that thing with balloons sticking to people's jumpers, I'm sure.

However, one man knows this very selective change in the law of physics is about to happen and he's preparing his family for the oncoming apocalypse. He's also got some top-secret computer files in a special USB necklace that explain EVERYTHING.

Cut to 15 years later and the world has fallen apart. America is now a set of different, feudal republics. Everyone's become an agrarian subsistence farmer and there are local lords to appease. But The Secret People Behind It All want that man and his files, which might explain how to reverse The Changes. They also want his brother, who also might know something.

So watch The Changes meets Jericho meets feudalistic collective farming techniques as a daughter and a son struggle to survive in an inhospitable - but not exactly even Z for Zachariah harsh - world and learn a little about family along the way. There'll be sword fights! Really implausible sword fights! There'll be baddies! Who won't really do anything bad! There'll be bad boys! Who quite like nice girls who aren't too threatening, who wear nice clothes, look very clean and have nice teeth, despite the end of washing machines, Persil and American dentistry as we know it!

Starring the dad from Twilight! Featuring lots of bows and arrows like in that movie The Hunger Games that you like! It's empty, vapid and it's coming to NBC soon! It's Revolution!

Here's a trailer featuring Andrea Roth before she was replaced by Elizabeth Mitchell. It gives away just about everything from the first episode but don't worry about that.

Continue reading "Preview: Revolution (NBC) 1x1"

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