Tag Archive | The Sandbaggers

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Third-episode verdict: State of Affairs (US: NBC)

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

BarrometerStateOfAffairs.jpgA Barrometer rating of 3

In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, NBC

Normally, TV shows go up and down from episode to episode on the Barrometer, the world's finest measurer of TV quality that doesn't wear sunglasses. Occasionally, they stay the same, but only by consistently offering the same good or bad features that earned them their first rating.

So State of Affairs is a rare beast indeed: a show that changes from episode to episode, giving the viewer new things to think about, yet still being consistently the same on average. It's enough to make the Barrometer burst into a show tune of surprise.

Starring Katherine Heigl as the double-surnamed Charleston Tucker, a CIA analyst who happens to be the president's ex-daughter-in-law-to-be (it's complicated), the first episode surprised almost everyone into singing show tunes with its first episode by being on NBC, starring Katherine Heigl yet not being appalling. In fact, in places, it was quite good.

Since then, the show has managed to kill off some of its stupider features (no one calls Heigl 'Charleston' any more; she rarely wears cocktail dresses, not even to see her psychiatrist) while adding in some new ones (stupid potential office romance; stupid husband for the president; James Remar in a stupid hat) and maintaining the status quo on some others (the stupid ongoing conspiracy theory that requires Heigl to nip out of important operations to have chats on park benches). Thus the show has managed to preserve its overall 'well, that wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be' Barrometer rating for three episodes.

Despite the somewhat mixed bag that the first episode presented, the show has now firmly become Homeland lite, with Heigl a network TV Claire Danes with the much more fun 'drunken promiscuity' replacing 'bipolar disorder' and all her nemeses seemingly coming from Africa rather than the Middle East. Just for luck and a little variety, the show tried to go a bit Tom Clancy by having a Russian nuclear submarine be the subject of episode two (and even referenced The Hunt for Red October for luck), but that wasn't fooling anyone.

Indeed, the show's biggest Achilles Heel is its tendency to pluck stories from the headlines for inspiration. While that can work in the right hands, sorting out Boko Haram inside an hour for example verges on the distasteful rather than the inspired.

The show does its best and sometimes succeeds at being a relatively gritty bit of spy fun, despite its protagonists confined to sitting around in rooms talking. This can be done, as The Sandbaggers demonstrated, but it's hampered by its network, its own superficiality and its pulling of punches. 

Worth watching if you like Heigl and find Homeland to be too frustrating, probably not worth watching if you have much else to do.

Barrometer rating: 3
Rob's prediction: Will probably make it to at least a season, perhaps more, with some judicious scheduling, since if it faces any real competition, it'll probably perish into the firefight

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What have you been watching? Including The Imitation Game, Great Britain, State of Affairs and The Fall

Posted on November 28, 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 - they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.

Last round-up for a fortnight, since I’m going to be away next week. But with it being Thanksgiving this week and a lot of shows delivering up their mid-season finales, I’m not sure there’s going to be a lot on to watch next week. I might even have to watch British TV for a change. Shudder.

I didn’t quite have time to get round to watching and reviewing Sky Arts’ Danish import The Legacy, but I’ll definitely be doing that on Monday. Definitely. And I’m in two minds about whether to bother with BBC One’s spooky Remember Me, featuring Michael Palin. But I did manage to watch both a movie and a play.

The Imitation Game (2014)
A potted biography of British mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), covering his childhood, work during World War Two breaking the Nazi Engima machine cypher and eventual chemical castration following conviction for his criminal conviction for homosexuality. Cumberbatch is outstanding as the older Turing, while Keira Knightley excels as a fellow Bletchley Park brain and Turing’s fiancée, despite having a pretty underwritten role to deal with. Although the script is more at pains to express how much international involvement there was in the Engima effort, unlike certain movies I could mention, it isn’t brilliantly executed and glosses over a lot of the work necessary in the decryption, both before and after it was initially cracked. However, the story, Turing and the cast (which also includes Mark Strong, Matthew Goode, Charles Dance and Rory Kinnear) are strong enough that despite the script’s flaws, the movie still wows over the audience and is deservedly likely to be this year’s King Speech.

Great Britain (Theatre Royal Haymarket)
Richard Bean (One Man, Two Guvnors) casts his eyes over UK newspaper history for the past 30 years and sticks it all together in one tabloid, The Free Press, which soon discovers that hacking people’s voicemails isn’t that hard – particularly if you’re both literally and figuratively in bed with the police. It’s a very well executed piece that draws on fake TV broadcasts, newspapers, audience interaction and even YouTube mash-ups to tell its story, and the more you know, the funnier it gets, with Andy Coulson, Kelvin MacKenzie, Rupert Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks, Piers Morgan and others all getting skewered by proxy through their various fictional amalgams and equivalents. Lucy Punch (Ben and Kate, The Class, Bad Teacher) takes over from Billie Piper in this production, as the definitely-not-any-real-person tabloid protagonist, and makes the role her own, even if her accent fails to convince as either working class or Bristolian. Definitely of interest to anyone who knows anything about modern newspaper history and knows what the News Bunny was, or to anyone who likes a laugh.

After the jump, I’ll be running through: Constantine, Elementary, The Fall, The Flash, Gotham, Gracepoint, Mulaney, The Newsroom, Scorpion and State of Affairs.

Continue reading "What have you been watching? Including The Imitation Game, Great Britain, State of Affairs and The Fall"

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Review: Homeland 1x1

Posted on October 4, 2011 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Homeland on Showtime 

In the US: Sundays, 10pm, Showtime
In the UK: Acquired by Channel 4

Ah, thank heavens for cable TV. Although network TV has been producing some perfectly acceptable dramas this fall season, the miss rate has been a lot higher than the hit rate. Cable, however, with the obvious exception of Starz, has a far better success rate.

You know what else? Thank heavens for Israeli TV. Although you could argue over the merits of The Ex-List and Traffic Light for a while, they were at least a cut above the normal fare, and Israeli TV has at least indisputably given us the basis for the surefire cracker that was In Treatment. Now Israeli show Prisoners of War has given us the basis for Homeland, starring Claire Danes and Damian Lewis and adapted for US TV by former 24 producers Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon. 

Bearing more than a passing resemblance to AMC's Rubicon, the thankfully faster-paced Homeland sees obsessive CIA analyst Danes convinced that returning war hero and former prisoner of war Damian Lewis has in fact been turned and is really working for al Qaeda. All she's got to do is prove it, even though no one else believes her, not even her mentor, best friend and boss Mandy Patinkin. In fact, given she's on anti-psychotic drugs, there's a very good chance she actually is crazy. All the same, to prove her hunch is correct, Danes is going to do anything she has to - whether Lewis is innocent or not.

Here's a trailer.

Continue reading "Review: Homeland 1x1"

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