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Review: Undateable 1x1-1x2 (NBC)

Posted on June 3, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Undateable

In the US: Thursdays, 9/8c, NBC

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. At least, for NBC’s Undateable it was.

As the title suggests, this is a comedy about a bunch of hopeless male nerds who are basically undateable: they don’t look good, they don’t know how to talk or act around women, yet all they want in life is to win over some woman's heart. Into their midst comes an alpha male, a modern Fonzie, who is the master of the one-night stand and small talk with the ladies. And he’s going to show them how to win it big with the girls.

Ordinarily, that would sound pretty horrible and given it stars Chris D’Elia (Whitney) as the neo-Fonz and is a multi-camera comedy filmed in front of studio audience in the worst traditions of CBS comedies – the success of which NBC is desperate to emulate – that potential for horrible only manages to near cesspit level depths.

But right now, thanks to the tragedy of Elliot Rodger, lonely nerds who have problems with women aren’t exactly a popular subject in the US – particularly ones that seek help from pick-up artists in shows that tell nerds that yes, your princess is in the same castle. Couple that with Elia’s decision to take to task in the worst possible way women around the world for the hashtag #YesAllWomen, which emerged following Rodger’s murders, and you’d presume, perhaps even hope, that Undateable would die a fiery death on arrival, just like any other NBC comedy you could care to mention, lest we all get the plague and die from its suppurating sores.

Yet, strangely, Undateable got the highest-rated summer debut for a network comedy in five years. On NBC.

WTF? What’s going on?

Well, Undateable isn’t quite what you might think it is. For one thing, it’s from Bill Lawrence, creator of Scrubs, Cougar Town and Ground Floor, so it was never going to be as stupid or as offensive as anything that the Chuck Lorre channel was going to throw our way. It’s also based on a book by two women – 311 Things Guys Do That Guarantee They Won't Be Dating or Having Sex – and written by romcom specialist Adam Sztykiel (Made of Honour).

But more importantly, it’s not a programme that portrays women as objects or that shows that constant one-night stands are a good thing. Indeed, Neo-Fonzie isn’t the hero – just as the nerds are going to learn from him how to flirt and be confident, so he’s going to learn from them that actually, maybe his life is a bit empty and lonely and he needs to treat women better.

In a sense then, TV has never needed Undateable – a show that teaches nerdy men how to be nice to women, not to expect them as a prize and shows them that women are people with their own problems, too – more than it does right now.

I just wish – as I do with pretty much every NBC comedy – that it was a bit funnier.

Here’s a trailer or two:

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Review: Enlisted 1x1 (Fox)

Posted on January 15, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Enlisted

In the US: Fridays, 9.30/8.30c, Fox

If there’s one genre of comedy that the US does particularly well, it’s military comedy. Think The Phil Silvers Show. Think MASH. Think Private Benjamin. Don’t think Down Periscope.

But there’s been a bit of a lull of late. Wonder why. In fact, despite largely the conclusion of the Iraq war and the withdrawal of US troops from both there and Afghanistan, many are questioning if it’s ‘the right time’ for another military comedy.

Is there ever a right time?

All the same, a cautious greeting I think to Fox’s Enlisted, a welcome, funny comedy from Kevin Biegel, a former Scrubs writer and the co-creator of Cougar Town, that sees a 'super soldier’ (Geoff Stults) sent back from Afghanistan for punching a superior officer. He winds up at a 'rear detachment’ base in Florida, which coincidentally happens to be the same base where his two younger brothers are stationed - one who hates the army but is quite a good soldier, the other who loves the army but is a terrible soldier. Put in charge of them and the rest of their platoon of losers, Stults finds himself having to deal with not just his new, less prestigious mission, but competition from another sergeant (Angelique Cabral), his superior officer who also happened to raise him after his parents died (Keith David)… and a lost dog.

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What have you been watching? Including Doctor Who, Sherlock, Elementary, Community, The Bridge and The Ground Floor

Posted on January 6, 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.

There have been lots of Christmas specials and few regular TV shows over the holiday period, some of which I watched, some of which (thanks to the iPlayer’s one-week cut-off) I didn’t:

Doctor Who (BBC1/BBC America)
Bye bye Matt Smith, hello Peter Capaldi. A little bit of a smorgasbord of things here, with Steven Moffat once again reverting to usual form following The Day of the Doctor, particularly poorly thought-out, identical female characters (although Clara had a personality for once, which was nice). Stevie hates having to do anything that feels like a sequel so he injected as much original but meaningless and silly stuff into The Time of the Doctor as possible. It also meant he glossed over really, really important things (the Doctor dying, the conspiracy of Silence) in mere minutes that should have kept him in episodes for months but would have required that dreaded sequel word again. Even the cameo from Karen Gillan was a poor idea (poor Clara). But bits of it worked quite well, loose ends were tied up and there were some touching moments (the death of Handles) and good ideas (wooden Cybermen). It wasn’t quite the proper send-off we’d hoped for Matt Smith, but it wasn’t the worst Doc send-off we’ve ever had and we now have 13 more Doctors to look forward to.

But back in the world of regular TV, I saw:

Ground Floor (TBS)
Possibly the best episode so far, since, for a change, it focused on the Ground Floor and how undouchy they are compared to the Top Floor. Briga Heelan got her groove back and we saw that at least one woman works on the top floor. We also got our first Doctor Cox Scrubs joke – eight episodes they managed before slipping one in. And then there was the HR video…

And in the recommended list:

Sherlock (BBC/BBC America)
The Empty Hearse
Well, I say recommended but… Okay. In many ways it’s brilliant, but this season has effectively seen the show shift from being an innovative take on Sherlock Holmes and crime dramas, with a hint of comedy, to being a fully fledged comedy with implausible characters (well, one anyway). The New Year’s Day episode was written by Mark Gatiss who chose for his pastiche genres: Sherlock Holmes (the Robert Downey Jr movie) and… Steven Moffat. Strange it was indeed to see Gatiss emulating his co-writer, but it was like a bad carbon copy of Stevie’s finer season 2 moments. Overall enjoyable, with plenty of wry in-jokes (Martin Freeman’s wife playing Watson’s fiancé, Mary Moran; Benedict Cumberbatch’s parents playing Holmes’ parents; Cumberbatch re-using his dodgy Cabin Pressure French accent), but lacking in self-discipline – if it has just dialled itself back a bit, taken a deep breath and remembered what reality looks like, it would have been really good. As for the lack of true explanation for how Sherlock survived despite the multiple explanations that we did see, I did quite like that, even if it we ended up going through numerous levels of meta to get there.

The Sign of Three
Then there was last night’s episode. Now, the second episode of every Sherlock season is usually almost irredeemable sh*t and last night’s was no exception. In its defence, it was supposed to be a complete change of pace, a comedy character piece all about Holmes and Watson, rather than a proper crime story. It also had a pretty good plot structure, with several unsolved crime stories told in flashback that are eventually solved at the end of the episode (although if you didn’t see that coming, frankly, I’m surprised you even know what drama is, let alone what a TV looks like). But the trouble was it was 60 minutes of the utterly ridiculous and insultingly poor – and worse still, dull – before a final 15 minutes that tried to redeem what had come before and could only do so partially. It also had to twist Sherlock’s character into all sorts of weird knots to make him fit the script. How can a man who doesn’t understand human emotions at all be able to make deductions the way he does? To say he may lack empathy is one thing; to say he has no comprehension is quite another. And frankly, the hints at the stories we didn’t get were far more fun than the ones we did get.

But a lovely cameo by you know who.

Elementary (CBS/Sky Living)
By contrast, Elementary delivered one of its finest episodes. While it’s debatable just how much like Sherlock Holmes Jonny Lee Miller’s character is – The Mentalist and House give you better deductions and cases than Elementary – its Irene Adler/Jamie Moriarty is a tour de force in chilling evil. Or is she? This was a touching examination of the two characters’ bonds. I wonder where they’re taking this – redemption or double crossville? And what were all those hints by Moriarty that she knew she would soon be free about? Unlike Sherlock, this made me want to watch another episode.

Community (NBC/some random UK channel)
After the disastrous, Dan Harmon-less fourth season, it was a delight to watch last week's double bill to be able to say Community is back and almost back to form. With a hell of a lot to do to reboot the show – in true Community fashion, the episode was called Re-Pilot and even referenced its own reboot as well as Scrubs' - the writers pulled out all the stops and by the end of the second episode, harmony was restored, cameos performed and the show was put back on the rails. Let's see where this baby goes now.

The Bridge
And they’re back! Just as Sky’s remake finished, season 2 of The Bridge (aka Bron/Broen) returned, complete with the proper Martin and Saga. While not quite as sharp as the first season and perhaps a little more distant from reality again, it’s still an excellent piece of work, Saga Noren is still wonderful (and more plausible now that she actually knows something about emotions) and I heartily recommend it. I even managed to watch both episodes live on a Saturday night, that's how good it is.

"What have you been watching?" 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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