Tag Archive | Smallville

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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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Third-episode verdict: Supergirl (US: CBS; UK: Sky1)

Posted on November 12, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerSupergirl.jpgA Barrometer rating of 3

In the US: Mondays, 8/7c, CBS
In the UK: Thursdays, 8pm, Sky1

Supergirl has been something of a roller coaster ride. First, there was the trailer, which made pretty much everyone go "WTF?", given how close it was to the Saturday Night Live Black Widow parody sketch. Then there was relief and excitement as the first episode revealed that the trailer had been deceptive and the show was smarter and a lot more fun than the trailer had indicated. Then we hit the downslope that were episodes two and three.

So I'm going to do something that the show itself does almost every five minutes and really shouldn't - compare it with Superman. Or at least Smallville (and various other CW superhero shows). Despite being made by Greg Berlanti (producer of The Flash and Arrow for The CW) for CBS, a TV network that can probably spend more per programme than The CW can spend on its entire drama output, Supergirl is inept superhero fare that ignores pretty much everything Smallville and those others shows did right.

Berlanti and co probably thought they knew what they were doing from the outset, having done so well before and working with a reasonably well known property - and that's part of the problem. Laziness. The show feels like it's going through the motions. It's a Smallville monster of the week show, filled with characters from the Superman universe whom we're expected to both know about and love, despite the show putting in minimal effort.

Despite through necessity being a 'kryptonite freak of the week' show, Smallville worked because it obeyed some simple rules (at least at first): don't insult your audience's intelligence, provide characters that the audience can love, tease out the mythos but respect it, and if your budget isn't enough to convince the audience a man (or girl) can fly, don't try to, but instead do special effects you can afford. 

With its micro-budget, Smallville was at pains to make the relationships between its characters fun, interesting and plausible, giving us very little 'big bad' action per week in favour of 'how did you feel about that?' scenes, all of which could work nicely on Supergirl, too. Instead, we have some of the most painful superhero dialogue committed to our TV screens since Nightman, coupled with special effects that would have looked bad 10 years ago and fight scenes that appear to be performed by people who have never even been to a tae-bo class. It's embarrassing. Maybe Arrow has used up all the good stuntmen and stuntwomen, but for a show about someone with superspeed, those fights aren't half slow.

There's also the constant referencing of Superman, even though we're well into the third episode. For a show that thought it necessary to bring in Cat Grant and Jimmy Olsen from the Superman universe to give the show a headstart, to in the third episode still be making comparisons between Superman and Supergirl and then to bring in Lois Lane's sister is to be lacking in confidence in yourself. Maybe that's deliberate, with a character who's still discovering herself, but it would help if Supergirl really had faith in its heroine and her ability to interest people in her own right, as well as in establishing its own mythos (or using Supergirl's own comic strip characters).

To its credit, the show does have a lot going for it in its cast: Melissa Benoist is a perfect Supergirl, while Mehcad Brooks is a superior, convention-defying Jimmy Olsen. Calista Flockhart brings the right kind of humour to the role of the Devil Wears Prada-esque Cat Grant, although Tracy Scoggins' Lois & Clark Cat Grant got better lines and was more believable back in the day. Laura Benanti in the dual role of Supergirl's mother and evil aunt is normally brilliant, although not in this, so I'm hoping she'll get the hang of the show in later episodes.

It's also fun, rather than a gloomfest. True, that fun is at the expense of any kind of pretence at realism in any area, and while the show can obviously play the 'it's about an indestructible alien from another planet working as an intern on a newspaper' card, it would be nice to think that, for example:

  • There would be some kind of resemblance to publishing as we know it
  • She wouldn't confess her secret to pretty much anyone within earshot
  • She wouldn't get not just one but two super well-equipped secret bases
  • She wouldn't start running out of a room full of people removing her glasses and letting her hair down as soon as there was any hint at danger

There's suspension of disbelief and then there's taking the mick. 

But it is fun, at least, and although it takes constant references to Superman to show it, it does at least have a feminist conscience, which is probably enough to keep me watching. All the same, this could have been so much better than it is, as the pilot episode partially showed. I'm hoping for a reboot later down the line, or else this will be the second Supergirl who'll get grounded too soon.

Barrometer rating: 3
TMINE prediction: Despite a record-breaking start, ratings are plummeting quickly, so this could be a one-season wonder in the making

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Preview: Impastor 1x1 (US: TV Land)

Posted on July 2, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share


In the US: Wednesdays, 10.30/9.30c, TV Land
In the UK: Not yet acquired

There’s a long tradition of comedy shows about men and women of the cloth. Think All Gas and Gaiters, Oh, Brother!, Oh, Father!, Troubles and Strife, Rev, Father Ted, The Vicar of Dibley. Ironic, isn’t it, though – all those shows are from this side of the Atlantic, rather than the very much more religious US. You could probably have a long think and come up with some US comedy shows about reverends, but you’d be hard pushed.

Maybe it’s too serious a subject for the US to tackle – at least, head on. But when they can come at it at an angle, maybe not.

TV Land – the comedy network for people who like things the way they used to be when they were young – is currently trying to bring a relatively younger audience, and given it was probably the last US network to have a go at a religious sitcom with The Soul Man, it seems fitting that they’re giving it another go with Impastor. The Soul Man was, of course, about an R&B singer who becomes a preacher. Whether it was ’too black’ for TV Land’s audience, only TV Land can say, but Impastor is certainly a whole lot whiter. But that doesn’t mean TV Land is forsaking diversity. Oh no.

Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville, Breaking In) is gambling addict and small-time criminal Buddy. When all seems lost and even his girlfriend Aimee Garcia (Dexter) has deserted him, he decides to take his own life by jumping off a bridge. Fortunately, at the last moment, a vicar on the way to his new job intercedes. Unfortunately for the vicar, he plummets to his own doom instead and Buddy seizes the opportunity to take his place… and perhaps his possessions, money, etc. Except Buddy turns out to have an accidental talent for ‘pastoring’.

If only he didn’t have to pretend to be gay, too.

Here’s a trailer and if you’re quick, below it is the entire episode:

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