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Mini-review: Old School 1x1 (ABC1)

Posted on May 27, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Old School

In Australia: Fridays, 8.30pm, ABC1

It hasn’t escaped the notice of more or less any TV executive worldwide that TV audiences are getting older. Those damn kids are glued to this new fangled Internet, leaving TV behind to those who’ve been watching since they were kids and TV was this new fangled thing that was robbing cinema of its audiences.

As a result, TV for what I’ll charitably call the older generations is getting special consideration, particularly in the crime genre, which the old folks just love. Here in the UK, of course, we have BBC1’s New Tricks, starring a bevy of famous older actors from shows that were popular in the 70s and 80s. It’s now on its 11th series, and still bringing in between 7m and 10m viewers.

Australia’s ABC1 (which also airs New Tricks) is waking up to this potential as well, and for its latest effort, Old School, it’s deploying two of the world’s most famous older Antipodean actors: Sam Neill and Bryan Brown. Neill is a retired cop, Brown a crim who’s just got out of jail. They team up to find the man who shot Neill and ruined his career during Brown’s last job - and to find the loot that went missing afterwards.

Not entirely confident that cutting out an entire demographic from the potential audience is a good idea, ABC1 is ensuring that some young pretty people also feature in the cast list: Brown’s law student granddaughter (Hanna Mangan-Lawrence from Spartacus) whom Brown puts into the care of Mark Coles Smith (The Gods of Wheat Street) when things get a bit rough.

But this is still a double act between Neill and Brown, both of whom are playing this somewhat leisurely, let’s say. As with New Tricks, it’s a relatively slowly paced, amiable comedy-drama where nothing that wouldn’t have happened in an episode of Hawaii Five-O takes place. There aren’t any especially great lines and most of the action revolves around either Neill or Brown feeling old or discovering something that’s changed since he was a lad, such as this new fangled Internet.

Yet despite this and the almost The Persuaders!-esque title sequence, OId School is still a modern show, a series with definite story arcs and character development rather than an entirely episodic piece. There are surprises and mysteries that aren’t solved by the end of the first episode. The inevitable odd couple private detective format, with Neill using his police skills, Brown his criminal skills, is partly present but doesn’t pan out quite as you’d expect, with Neill dealing with shades of grey surprisingly well, Brown able to police sometimes as well as Neill.

While it’s nothing earth-shattering, Old School is enjoyable, has a good couple of leads, a good supporting cast and a strong enough plot that it’ll be worth sticking with for now - it’ll probably remind you a bit of The Rockford Files or something.

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Your handy guide to true religions on TV - Hellenism and Religio Romana

Posted on May 10, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Xena and Hercules

This entry is one of a series of articles covering religions depicted on TV as being true. For full details and a list of the other religions covered, go to the introduction.

Hellenism
The Greek pagan religion featuring Zeus and the other Olympians isn't quite a dead religion, but it's close. Nevertheless, it remains one of the most influential, dominating Western literature, film and TV to a far greater extent than those in a far healthier state, such as Hinduism. As well as adaptations of Greek tragedies on TV, there have been many adaptations of many Greek myths and the gods have shown up in shows set in the modern day as well as the past. Atlantis, which is currently being made by BBC1, would appear to feature elements of Hellenic religion as well as the Minoan religion of Crete.

Religio Romana
Again, another religion that's not quite dead and still gets featured occasionally in TV shows. A syncretism of native Italian religion and Hellenism, Religio Romana and its literature dominated Western understanding of Hellenism and myths until the 14th century, when an understanding of Greek and Greek literature became to permeate through after the fall of Constantinople. It wasn't until the late 19th and 20th centuries, in fact, that academics realised the two were separate, yet in the last century or so, despite the occasional blurring (e.g. Hercules/Heracles, Wonder Woman's Ares/Mars, etc), Hellenistic literature and Hellenism have now almost totally replaced Religio Romana in the public consciousness.

There are no Roman gods in modern-day TV shows, as far as I'm aware; no adaptation of The Aeneid or the Metamorphoses of Ovid. However, people are far more interested in period dramas set in Roman times than in classical Athens (Athens' misogyny might be responsible for that) or Sparta (everyone exercising naked in olive oil outdoors?), perhaps also because of the Roman empire's continuing influence on everything from architecture to politics to this very day.

However, one of the differences between Roman and Greek religions is that the Roman emperors became gods on their death, so technically any show that depicts a Roman emperor technically is showing a possible future Roman god. How many shows have followed through on that?

Continue reading "Your handy guide to true religions on TV - Hellenism and Religio Romana"

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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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