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Review: Scorpion 1x1 (US: CBS)

Posted on September 23, 2014 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Scorpion on CBS

In the US: Mondays, 9/8c, CBS

There’s a point where a show is so ludicrous that you can’t watch it. You can’t switch your brain off enough that you can overlook the numerous ridiculous points that make the whole thing nonsensical.

An example of that is CBS's Intelligence, which was plain old ludicrous.

But as the show gets more ludicrous and nonsensical, you can almost resign yourself to just how ludicrous it is and start watching again.

The genius of Scorpion, a show about a group of geniuses who get together to solve crises that require a lot of maths, engineering and computing knowledge, is that it goes through two more iterations of that to give us a show so insanely ludicrous and implausible, it really doesn’t matter any more, just as long as there’s lots of people in high adrenaline situations shouting things.

The show is very much a hotchpotch of standard CBS elements. Obviously the geniuses who help the US government with crimes ’n’ stuff was Numb3rs, which soon became popular with schools for making maths seem almost cool, but which unfortunately forgot to include any real action in between musings on 'Chase Theory' as applied to 'criminals running away from things’. Bolted on top of that, we have The Unit’s Robert Patrick, once again the gruff agent in charge of things who growls a lot, and we have the standard CBS team of three to four boys, two girls, one to two of the group from an ethnic(ish) minority if possible.

This team, who all have very broad, complementary, entirely non-overlapping skillsets are, of course, quirky, with all kinds of problems. The main guy can do computer things; there’s a psych guy who, like, really understands people; there’s a girl who’s good with anything mechanical; and there’s a guy who’s good with numbers and physics and things. Since apparently psych guy who’s good with people isn’t quite good enough with people and uses his powers for evil, there’s also a normal-type waitress girl who can talk to normal people without p*ssing them off. And then, because Aspergers is just so hot right now, there’s a genius kid who doesn’t like being touched and wants to play chess with household items. That really enlivens the plot.

So obvious bobbins, right? A profound inability to understand either geniuses or people, all rolled into one show.

But that’s just the set-up. In this first episode, the pedantic ghost of Numb3rs shoots itself in the head because if you know even the slightest things about computers, you’ll know what epic bobbins the plot is - air traffic control computers at LAX airport get a buggy computer update, but no one has the original software, first installed 15 years ago. So team Scorpion have to go to get the offsite backup version. But it’s a race because that'll get wiped over by the new version because naturally, a sensible back up strategy for something that hasn’t been updated in 15 years is to make a back up every 12 hours that wipes over the previous back up. This is, incidentally, the same piece of software used to run every single aeroplane in the world - because air traffic control is identical to navigating a plane - but that no other airport in the US uses.

Can you feel it? Can you feel your brain trying to escape? Trying to run from you and Scorpion?

And yet, despite how formulaic and ridiculous and in many ways insulting to men, women, children, airport computers, FBI agents and perhaps even God himself Scorpion is, there’s just something about its sheer high-octane value that makes it 1023.6% more enjoyable than Intelligence and Numb3rs. There’s a high-speed car chase through Los Angeles with every traffic light turning green! There’s a high-speed car chase on a runway in a Ferrari! People talk really quickly about complicated things! People keep pulling guns and almost shooting things!

Woo hoo!

On top of that, we get something approaching human interest at times - not the forced, bland, hollow attempts at nerdy quirkiness, family interactions, pathos, romance and musing about the existence of God in the numbers in Numb3rs, but people being dicks because they don’t know how to interact with people and then being called up on being a dick.

The cast is pretty adequate; the characters are little more than plot functions; the set-up is entirely formulaic; the show laughs in your face and says, “No, you’re stupid,” it’s so stupid. Yet despite all this, because it’s actually got some element of fun to it and perhaps even a little heart, I’m going to stick with Scorpion for a while. Or maybe it's just because I want to test my brain’s stamina and it’s either this or hitting my head repeatedly against a concrete pillar.

You’ll have to find your own reasons, though.

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Mini-review: From Dusk Till Dawn 1x1 (El Rey/Netflix)

Posted on March 20, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

From Dusk Till Dawn

In the US: Tuesdays, 9pm, El Rey
In the UK: Available on Netflix. New episode released each week

Robert Rodriguez is best known as being a pal of Quentin Tarantino. His first big success was a Tarantino-scripted flick, From Dusk Till Dawn, which saw Tarantino and George Clooney play two brothers who rob a bank then head off to a strip joint that just happens to be run by sexy Latina vampire Salma Hayek. As a piece of grindhouse, it was fine and clearly benefited from Tarantino's ear for dialogue. But it wasn't exactly a classic.

Rodriguez went on to greater success with the Spy Kids movies, but he's produced more grindhouse over the years. Bizarrely, he's just launched his own TV network, El Rey, which is an English-language channel targeted at Latinos. The flagship drama he's using to launch the network? A TV-length adaptation of From Dusk Till Dawn, starring almost no one you've heard of and written by Rodriguez rather than Tarantino.

Hmm.

Okay, not strictly true. Don Johnson appears in the first episode and although this isn't a spoiler if you've seen the movie, gets killed before the end of it (although, you know, vampires). And Robert Patrick (Terminator 2, The Unit, The X-Files, The Last Resort) takes over Harvey Keitel's role as a vicar vampire-hunter in later episodes. 

However, largely, this is just a slower, duller, much, much cheaper version of the movie, played out over an entire series. It's not terrible and there are attempts to emulate Tarantino's style; the two leads (DJ Cotrona from Windfall and Zane Holtz from nothing much at all) do just fine as more generic versions of Clooney and Tarantino, the cool one and the psycho-crazy one respectively; the action is okay, if not especially thrilling; it's not got a great attitude towards women, but it's no that much worse than many other shows I could name on that score; and there are promises to flesh out the vampires' Mayan backstory. 

But, you know, they killed Don Johnson. Why bother watching after that?

Here's a trailer:

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Review: Crisis 1x1 (NBC)

Posted on March 18, 2014 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Crisis NBC

In the US: Sundays, 10/9c, NBC

Normally, you can rely on two things in life: CBS to do action well, and NBC to do action badly. There is a CBS Action channel; there is no NBC Action channel.

So works the universe. Or so I thought.

Colour me surprised, therefore, by NBC’s latest action show, Crisis, which not only is good in its own right but is also better than CBS’s very similar Hostages. It even has a better Dermot in it (Dermot Mulroney rather than Dylan McDermott).

As with Hostages before it, it sees a family abducted in order to force a very important person to do some things they wouldn’t normally do. Here, though, Crisis ups the ante somewhat by having a whole coach load of VIPs’ children abducted and those VIPs then getting forced to do things they wouldn’t normally do. Trying to stop the baddies is FBI agent Rachael Taylor (666 Park Avenue, Charlie’s Angels), newbie secret service agent Lance Gross (Tyler Perry’s House of Payne) and Taylor’s sister, CEO and parent Gillian Anderson (The X-Files, The Fall, Hannibal).

And although it’s prone to silliness in much the same way as another NBC action hit, The Blacklist, on the whole it’s smart enough and interesting enough that I’m looking forward to the next episode.

Continue reading "Review: Crisis 1x1 (NBC)"

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