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Mini-review: The Divide 1x1-1x2 (WEtv)

Posted on July 24, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Divide

In the US: Wednesdays, 9/8c, WEtv

I’d like to write a really long review of The Divide. After all, it’s the first scripted drama on a channel hitherto known best for reality TV – WEtv. It’s a thoughtful look at the grey areas of morality, the US legal system, the death penalty, how forensic science affects process, and how politics, race and the politics of race can warp everything. It’s got two members of the cast of The Wire in it – Chris Bauer and Clarke Peters – as well as Homeland’s ‘evil blonde female muslim terrorist’ Malin Ireland. It’s from AMC Studios, was originally developed for AMC by long-time producer David Manson (House of Cards) and is show-run by the Emmy-winning John Tinker (Judging Amy).

It all sounds good and important, right? Except my mind’s a total blank. The show’s good but utterly uninspiring. It was hard to bring myself to watch the double-length first episode; the third episode was on last night and I really couldn't be arsed to watch it.

Trying to put my finger on why I can’t be arsed isn’t easy. It’s all very good quality, just generic good quality. The characters have standard issues – Ireland is studying to join the bar but works in her spare time to reprieve the wrongly convicted because her dad is on death row. She has a slightly self-destructive relationship with a cop, but whenever there’s an issue, the cop wants to talk it through, quickly dispelling any real drama.

Equally, the show is at extreme pains not to have heroes or villains. It doesn’t want to take sides on capital punishment, essentially giving members of the audience justification for their beliefs, whatever they might be: it even claims at one point that ‘no one in the US has ever been executed for a crime that they were proven not to have committed’. Everyone’s dedicated to doing the right thing, just interpreting that differently for different reasons. The twist – (spoiler alert) Bauer was present for the crime but didn’t commit the crime and there’s been a cover-up to protect the person who was actually there – is just astonishingly obvious that you’ll spend the whole of the second half waiting for everyone on-screen to catch up with you, even though they have all the same facts you do.

It’s worthy and dull. It’s so dull that even AMC rejected it, but not so mesmerisingly dull that it could find a home on Sundance TV. It’s too smart for network TV, too stupid for basic cable. If you like a generic thriller that’s a cut above TNT’s Murder In the First but nowhere near as entertaining, here’s your boy. Otherwise, steer clear.

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Mini-review: The Michael J Fox Show 1x1-1x2 (NBC)

Posted on September 27, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Michael J Fox Show

In the US: Thursdays, 9.30/8.30c, NBC

It's surprisingly hard to say what The Michael J Fox Show is about. Is it about Michael J Fox, you might wonder? No, it's about a former TV news anchor called Mike Henry who's played by Michael J Fox. But at the same time, it's also about Michael J Fox, since Henry quit his job after being diagnosed with Parkinson's, just like the actor. Then NBC (in the form of The Wire's Wendell Pierce) goes to Fox - sorry, Henry - and asks if he'd like to come back. So he does. Just like the actor.

So it's a show about TV journalism then? Well, no, because the first episode is largely a public information film about Parkinson's, its effects, what it's like to have it, the side-effects of its medicines and so on. While at the same time reassuring everyone that even if someone has Parkinson's, they can still do their job.

So it's a show about Parkinson's then? Well, no, again, because the show is also about Fox - sorry, Henry - and his family: his wife, his daughter and his two sons. Most of the second episode thinks it's Modern Family, with the kids up to various anctics involving mistaken lesbianism and trying to hit on girls, while Henry gets a crush on the hot upstairs neighbour (played by Henry - sorry, Fox's - wife Tracy Pollan) and his on-screen wife (Betsy Brandt) tries to be understanding about it.

It's all very confusing. As a result, the one thing it should be - funny - seems to have got lost along the way. While it's educational, heart-warming, intelligent and a whole lot of other worthy things, the whole "laughing" thing seems to have been forgotten about in the mad rush to put together a show about Michael J Fox called The Michael J Fox show that isn't simple a show about Michael J Fox but yet still is.

Fox is engrossing. Pierce is as great as always. The Henry family is well drawn. The show is well meaning.

But laugh out loud funny it ain't. You'll laugh a bit for sure. But only a bit. One to watch if you like Fox or want to learn a bit about living with Parkinson's. For actual laughs or anything very innovative, you'll have to look elsewhere, I'm afraid.

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Nostalgia Corner: Who Pays The Ferryman? (1977)

Posted on April 11, 2013 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Who Pays The Ferryman?

Greek tragedy was the very first formal theatrical genre to be invented. Created in the 5th century BC to honour the Greek god Dionysos during his annual festival in Athens, it developed over the next century or so thanks to numerous playwrights, including Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles, to give us some of the greatest ever works of Western theatre and literature.

But since those times, as a genre, it's pretty much fallen by the wayside. For all that David Simon and his fellow writers on The Wire may claim to have written to the rules of Greek tragedy rather than the more common Shakespearean model, they rarely touched on the classic formula devised by Aristotle for tragedy: the hubris, catharsis then nemesis of the protagonist, an ordinary man, who through some tragic flaw or mistake is eventually undone by the gods.

Greek tragedy itself didn't always stick to the formula (e.g. Euripides' Helene, Aeschylus's Prometheus Bound), so you have to hand it to former Daily Mirror journalist turned TV writer Michael J Bird to not only create one of the very few modern pieces of drama to stick to that formula, but to also set it and film it in Greece with a largely Greek cast.

1977's BBC2 serial Who Pays The Ferryman? sees former soldier turned boat builder Alan Haldane (Jack Hedley from Colditz) return to Crete after more than 30 years' absence. A legendary fighter with the Crete resistance during the War, he'd been a hero to the people and had fallen in love with Melina, one of the women he'd met there. Hoping to meet with her again after all this time, he tragically discovers that she has died. Compounding his misery, he is now getting a cold shoulder from the people who'd formerly seen him as a hero and been his friends.

Why? Well, unbeknownst to him, she'd fallen pregnant with his child. She wrote to him and, given the Cretan attitudes of the time and receiving no reply, she ended up marrying another man who would raise the daughter as his own. Haldane, who never received the letters and who now discovers his own letters to her were never received, decides to meet the now grown-up daughter he never knew he had and become her benefactor. And along the way, he meets a woman Annika (played by the very famous Greek actress Betty Arvaniti), who seems very familiar …

Why no one received the letters from their respective lovers and the lengths some people will go to to destroy Haldane are some of the central dilemmas of a very Greek story about vendetta, family and even the gods themselves that does not, of course, have a very happy ending. Here's the title sequence, followed by the opening of the second episode. It features the incredibly popular and catchy theme song by Cretan composer Yannis Markopoulos.

Oh, and here's Marina Sirtis - Deanna Troi from Star Trek: The Next Generation - in her second ever TV appearance. This is all she gets to do, mind.

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