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

Posted on February 11, 2016 | comments | 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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Third-episode verdict: American Crime (US: ABC)

Posted on March 25, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerAmericanCrime.jpgA Barrometer rating of 0

In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, ABC

So what is an American crime? Well, according to the rather brilliant ABC show American Crime, it’s a regular crime but observed as simply part of a wider picture, in which systems and attitudes lock individuals into situations and behaviours they can’t escape.

Following on from an apparent burglary in which a veteran is killed and his wife raped, the show depicts how the crime and the investigation affects the families of those involved. But it also asks why the crime happened, how society views the crime, whether the crime is indicative of larger problems and whether there’s a middle ground that could be reached by everyone that’s unachievable thanks to the extremes and rules society lays down.

Following a first episode that was perhaps a little self-conscious of its own importance and that occasionally escaped from its combination of artful direction and verisimilitude to give us aspects that were a tad ‘writerly’ in their unlikeliness, the following two episodes have barely put a foot wrong in showing us the insides of the American justice system and how it can trap those who have barely done anything wrong or who would benefit from either treatment of human kindness. It’s tried to put in the shoes of junkies, drug dealers, legal immigrants, illegal immigrants, Latinos, black Americans, white Americans, fathers, mothers and everyone else as their lives overlap and they fail to understand one another, only knowing their own lives and what society tells them to be.

The show's a hard watch. It is literally the last thing I watch out of every week’s viewing, not because it’s a bad show, but because it’s such a dishearteningly true picture of reality, without any glimmer of hope and goodness to relieve the misery, beyond the fact it’s on broadcast TV so can’t quite tread into the darkest realms. That's why I’ll only doing my third-episode verdict on a Wednesday, when the show airs a new episode on a Thursday. That's why the ratings keep dropping.

But as I’ve said before, if this were on HBO, there’d be no doubt that everyone would be calling it the most important, most realistic, most astutely observed crime drama since Southland or perhaps even The Wire. If you have any interest in quality TV, this is the one American show you should be watching right now.

Barrometer rating: 0
Rob’s prediction: With these ratings, it’s unlikely to survive, so catch it while you can.

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Review: The Returned 1x1-1x2 (US: A&E/UK: Netflix)

Posted on March 17, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Victor in The Returned

In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, A&E
In the UK: Available on Netflix. New episode every Tuesday

There are remakes. Then there are unnecessary remakes. And then there’s The Returned.

First, there was a French movie called Les Revenants. That saw a whole bunch of people coming back from the dead and returning to their very much surprised loved ones in a small French town, who have all moved on.

Then there was a Canal+ TV series called Les Revenants based on the movie, which aired on Channel 4 in the UK and on Sundance in the US; the second season of that is going to air in France later this year. That saw a whole bunch of people coming back from the dead and returning to their very much surprised loved ones in a small French town, who have all moved on.

Then there was a book called The Returned. That saw a whole bunch of people coming back from the dead and returning to their very much surprised loved ones in a small US town, who have all moved on.

Then there was an ABC TV series in the US called Resurrection based on the movie, which aired on Alibi in the UK; the second season of that is currently airing. That saw a whole bunch of people coming back from the dead and returning to their very much surprised loved ones in a small US town, who have all moved on.

And now we have a US remake of the Les Revenants TV series called The Returned. This sees a whole bunch of people coming back from the dead and returning to their very much surprised loved ones in a small US town, who have all moved on. Worse, still it's practically identical to Les Revenants in almost every way - to the extent that alleged screenwriter and showrunner Carlton Cuse (Lost, The Bates Motel) and every other writer involved should probably relinquish their credits and give them over to the translators who translated the scripts into English for them.

You have to ask why this is happening. Sure, Sundance is a bit niche, but with Resurrection airing on ABC, it’s not like the concept’s not already getting a pretty good airing as it is. Yet here it is, not as good and not as creepy as Les Revenants, but filling our screens all the same on A&E, the network whose tag line is “Be original”. Oh sweet, sweet irony.

Still, let’s evaluate The Returned on its own terms, rather than merely wondering why it exists. After all, despite the fact we’re into episode two and at least three dead people have already turned up, no one in The Returned is wondering why they exist, so clearly a lack of questioning is all the rage.

As a show, it’s all right, but it’s supernaturally generic. We have a decent cast, some of whom look virtually identical to their French counterparts, including Kevin Alejandro (Southland), Michelle Forbes (BSG, Homicide, ST:TNG), Mark Pellegrino (Lost, The Tomorrow People) and Jeremy Sisto (Kidnapped, Suburgatory), with support from just about any reliable Canadian actor you care to mention (including Aaron Douglas from BSG, and Roger Cross from Arrow, 24, and Continuum). The various mysteries and secrets of the characters - assuming you haven’t already learnt them watching Les Revenants - are intriguing, and their various dilemmas are relatable. Well, apart from Pellegrino’s, cos he’s a git in this. If you watch the trailer at the end of the first episode, you’ll know that zombie-esque action is on the horizon, which is at least moderately more interesting than anything Resurrection was prepared to throw our way.

All the same, the characters are all colossally annoying in their inability to even call a doctor to ask WTF is going on. No one mentions what’s happened to anyone else, meaning that no one yet knows that they’re not alone in having a returned loved on. No one’s even mentioned zombies, except one of the zombies themselves, so that doesn’t count. Michelle Forbes hasn’t even had a line yet.

But briefly just to make comparisons with the original again, there’s none of Les Revenants' unusual qualities. No odd silences, no quiet pieces of direction, no genuinely creepy kid, no lovely Mogwai soundtrack. The Returned is like virtually everything else on A&E: decent, solid, slowly paced and with nothing about it whatsoever that could be described as revolutionary. It’s comfortable viewing for an uncomfortable subject.

And perhaps that’s the argument for this otherwise unnecessary remake: it’s more watchable for being less unusual, meaning that more people are likely to watch it all the way through to the end.

So should you watch it? Well, look at the picture above of Victor in The Returned. Now look at the picture below featuring Victor from Les Revenants.

Les Revenants

Would you rather watch a show featuring top Victor or bottom Victor? Once you know the answer to that, you’ll know which version is for you. And here are corresponding trailers to help you, too.

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