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What have you been watching? Including The Last Ship, Westside, Secret City and Cleverman

Posted on June 19, 2016 | Post a comment | 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. 

You can tell the summer's season now fully under way, can't you? New shows everywhere, as well as returning shows, with more to come. But all is in hand. Elsewhere, you can find my reviews this week of the first episode or two of the following exciting new shows:

And after the jump, I'll be updating you on the latest episodes of Animal Kingdom, Cleverman, Feed The Beast, Outcast, Secret City, Uncle Buck and Silicon Valley, as well as the returning The Last Ship and Westside. Two of those shows are for the chop and one is being promoted to the recommended list - but which are which? There's also a whole bunch of potted third-episode verdicts, since I can't be bothered to do them all individually.

I've also been doing some more laggardly box-setting, so I'll be chatting about the final five episodes of Ófærð (Trapped) as well as the entire third series of Plebs, too. That's all after the jump. TTFN!

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Preview: Animal Kingdom 1x1 (US: TNT)

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

Animal Kingdom

In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, TNT. Starts June 14
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Sometimes, you watch enough global TV and it starts to become confusing as to what's copying what. Take Animal Kingdom, TNT's latest drama, this one featuring Ellen Barkin (Sea of Love, Switch, The Big Easy) as the California grandmother who takes in her teenage grandson (Finn Cole from Peaky Blinders) when his mother (her daughter) fatally overdoses on heroin. Except she's actually the head of a literal crime family, with her sons (Scott Speedman from The Last Resort, Shawn Hatosy from Southland, Ben Robson and Jake Weary) a highly efficient bunch of robbers with varying degrees of conscience. 

So it immediately it looks a bit to me like New Zealand's Outrageous Fortune, except not only is Animal Kingdom a lot darker and a lot less humorous, it's already been remade as Scoundrels

But then, as I watch it, I start to get a completely different vibe. With its highly efficient criminals, tense male-relationships and Heat-style direction, it's beginning to look a lot like Smith, NBC's old Heat knock-off with Ray Liotta. That was exec-produced by John Wells (ER), as is Animal Kingdom. There's even a rather similar scene involving surfers, designed to show off how the family doesn't care for the rules of society, to one in Smith involving Simon Baker.

So Smith meets Outrageous Fortune? No.

Turns out it's actually a TV version of a 2010 Australian movie, Animal Kingdom, starring some of the great and the good of Australian acting: Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline), Joel Edgerton (The Secret Life of UsExodus: Gods and Kings), Guy Pearce (like you need to ask), Jacki Weaver (Secret City), and Sullivan Stapleton (Strike Back, Blindspot):

Just to be even more confusing, that was based on a real-life Melbourne crime family. Turns out the only original ideas are in real-life.

So does Australian real-life crime story Animal Kingdom work when relocated to the Californian coast? It depends. Do you think a crime show should really be about crimes or should it be about fit young men taking their tops off a lot? 

If the latter, Animal Kingdom is your boy.

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Third-episode verdict: Lucifer (US: Fox; UK: Amazon Instant Video)

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

BarrometerLucifer.jpgA Barrometer rating of 3

In the US: Mondays, 9/8c, Fox
In the UK: Tuesdays, Amazon Instant Video

Since the 80s, there's been a move on US TV away from shows about lone heroes towards more ensemble pieces with a core cast of characters. Whether it's to provide variety, to support the number of plots of a long-running season, to give the main actor respite from arduous filming duties, or to hedge bets in case the lead isn't that popular, the trend is clear. When you look at remakes, it becomes even more obvious with formerly hero-centric shows taking on the trappings of ensemble pieces, whether it's Kolchak: The Night Stalker and Night Stalker, Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation or Hawaii Five-O and Hawaii Five-0.

Normally this is by design, so the trouble comes when you forget what kind of show you're making - is it a lone hero show or an ensemble show? Try to make both at the same time and you end up with something that's not good at either.

Lucifer is a case in point. As the name suggests, it's a show about the Devil himself. Adapted from the DC/Vertigo comic, it sees Miranda's Tom Ellis as the bored fallen angel Lucifer Morningstar taking a vacation from Hell in Los Angeles, where he has loads of fun running a night club, shagging and generally tempting mortals. One day, he runs into a police detective (Lauren German) when one of his protégés is murdered, and he starts trying to solve crimes with her so he can keep up his former day job of punishing evil-doers.

It's a somewhat silly idea but as I pointed out in my review of the first episode, it all works largely because of Ellis who's clearly having the time of his life as a decidedly English supporting character from the Old and New Testaments ("I'll rip his bollocks off then stamp on them one at a time"). He alternates between luxuriating in raining down diabolical torture and pain upon anyone who crosses him and camping up to the point you think he's impersonating Kenneth Williams. It's a marvellously engaging performance.

The trouble is that although the show is really all about Lucifer, the comic is more of an ensemble piece. And Lucifer takes on trappings of Lucifer to become partly an ensemble show as well, spending time with German, her young daughter, her ex- (Southland/True Blood/Arrow's Kevin Alejandro), Lucifer's fellow devil Maze (Lesley-Ann Brandt from Spartacus and The Librarians) and Lucifer's therapist/shag partner Rachael Harris (The Hangover, Suits, Surviving Jack). Which would be fine if any of them were in any way interesting or at least having as much fun as Ellis.

Perhaps if the show could also decide not to throw all its moments of characterisation at Lucifer but give each a few scraps from the table, it might be possible to care about them or even like them a little. But it doesn't. The result is you have Ellis, bright and shiny in centre-stage, surrounded by pale shadows who take away from his screen time with their tedious concerns, but don't really add anything except when they're acting as sounding boards and ways to expand on Lucifer's character.

The plots are also a little timid and repetitive. Murder followed by investigation in which Lucifer charms people and gets them to confess their deepest desires, all while German somberly and without any trace of real animation uses various synonyms of 'back off' to stop Lucifer from muscling in on her investigations, which Lucifer then studiously ignores. Even when Lucifer gets up to potentially exciting acts of sin, it's Fox at its tamest: a 'devil's threesome' and a foursome, none of which is ever shown, just the monring after when everyone wakes up with their clothes and underwear still intact.

The show works best when Ellis gets to enjoy himself and the writers provide lines and situations for him to really chow down on the scenery. It also becomes 100% more interesting whenever it's dealing with the supernatural. Interactions with fellow angel DB Woodside, sent by God to convince Lucifer to resume normal duties, give someone for Ellis to really bounce off, while Lucifer's acts of devilish punishment give the show a welcome edge of iron.

But for Lucifer to really work, it needs to decide whether it's an ensemble show or a lone hero show: either drop some of the additional characters to really focus on Lucifer or give them something to do that makes them more than mere stock characters. 

Barrometer rating: 3
Would it be better with a female lead? No. Different, but not better
TMINE's prediction: Could get a second season but a bit touch and go at the moment and needs to strengthen itself up to avoid a trip to ratings Hell

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