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Review: Black Box 1x1 (ABC)

Posted on April 30, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Kelly Reilly in Black Box

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

Mental health is so hot right now. I don’t mean that in the sense that it’s a subject for serious examination in drama or that it’s something that is thoughtfully used in characterisation. I mean it’s a great gimmick.

Time was when dramas would have set-ups like “two brothers are private detectives”, “he’s a Vietnam vet with a super helicopter”, “he’s an angel wandering the Earth helping people” and the like. But you can only have so many of those unique set-ups before you start to repeat yourself.

Mental health issues, by contrast, used to be the motivations for crimes, not something that could affect a hero, because it was unmanly. Well, maybe PTSD so they could have really manly flashbacks to Nam.

Thankfully, those times are gone and it’s all change. With first Monk giving us the OCD detective and then Touching Evil giving us the slightly lobotomised detective, TV has worked out how valuable these personality quirks can be. Why, right now, on TV we’ve got Asperger’s aplenty (Community, The Bridge, Hannibal, Parenthood) and the new top, post-Silver Linings Playbook condition, bipolar disorder, has been jaunting around both Homeland and Mind Games, giving them all sorts of entirely medically accurate depictions of how helpful mental health issues can be.

Producers have also worked out thanks to medical shows such as House, Mental and 3lbs that 'brain weirdness’, to use it its technical definition, can be really entertaining in guest characters as well. So what better than a show that features not just lots of supporting cast weirdness but also a central character who has the bipolar, hey?

Black Box is such a show – and it turns out that despite its having not just the delightful Kelly Reilly as the lead as well as no lesser actress than Vanessa Redgrave as her psychiatrist, a whole lot of things could be better.

Reilly, putting on her best US accents, is a talented neurologist/doctor who is also bipolar. As long as she’s on her meds, she’s fine, but believing that medication stops those with mental health issues from achieving their true potential or even being truly happy by coming to accept themselves, she has a history of ‘non-compliance’. The result is that sometimes she’s manic and productive, other times she’s crazy, hallucinating, doing all kinds of bad things, including almost committing suicide. Yet somehow it makes her a better doctor.

Gosh, how quirky and interesting. Gosh how almost unwatchable.

Here’s a trailer.

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What did you watch this week? Including Life of Crime, Elementary, Arrow, Vegas and Hannibal

Posted on May 17, 2013 | comments | Bookmark and Share

It's "What did you watch this week?", my chance to tell you what I movies and TV I've watched this week 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:

  • Arrow (The CW/Sky 1)
  • Continuum (Showcase/SyFy)
  • The Daily Show (Comedy Central)
  • Doctor Who (BBC1/BBC America)
  • Elementary (CBS/Sky Living)
  • Hannibal (NBC/Sky Living)
  • Modern Family (ABC/Sky 1)
  • 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.

Still in the viewing queue: new show The Goodwin Games, which I'll be reviewing on Monday, and I'll be playing catch up with New Zealand show Harry, too.

I did give Life of Crime a go, too, in which Hayley Atwell plays a cop in three different time periods at different stages of her career. Entirely fits the template of ITV crime dramas and you could predict virtually everything that happened in each time period, with the corresponding Attitudes written in neon lights all over every character.

Now, some thoughts on some of the regulars and some of the shows I'm still trying:

  • Arrow (The CW/Sky 1): No League of Shadows, surprisingly, but everything played out in the finale pretty much as you'd expect, beyond the final twist. Overall, a very decent season, although it started to lost its edge and become a tad more Smallville than Batman Begins by the end. One to look forward to next season, certainly.
  • Continuum (Showcase/SyFy): There I was complaining there wasn't enough cool sci-fi in the show, when up it pops in spades. For my next trick, can we have some more intelligent schemes from the terrorists, please. 
  • Elementary (CBS/Sky Living): Everything played out pretty much as I expected in terms of revelations, but in many ways better than Sherlock's handling of similar Sherlock Holmes facets. I also liked the fact they made Irene Adler and Moriarty one and the same. It'll be great if they bring her back and make her a maths professor, too. A good explanation for an in-story bad accent, too. PS, New York can try to pass itself off as London, but it will always fail.
  • Hannibal (NBC/Sky Living): I'm not convinced that Hannibal should be that good in a fight, particularly not up against Demore Barnes who was in The Unit. All the same, another fascinating episode, Gillian Anderson getting more to do this week. What surprises me is that the show, which I'm thinking more and more of as a cross between Touching Evil (US) and David Cronenberg's oeuvre, is actually capable of instilling dread in me, which is a very novel emotion of a TV show to be able to create in its audience. Magnificent, but its fate is in the balance at the moment. Please renew it, NBC.
  • Vegas (CBS/Sky Atlantic): And so it's gone, in a somewhat underwhelming finale that mostly just tied up loose threads, left a couple dangling and let everyone pat each other on the back and say goodbye, all while Carrie Anne Moss had nothing to do, which was par for the course. A shame, since it started off with so much fire.

"What did you watch this week?" 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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Review: Cracked 1x1 (CBC)

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

Cracked

In Canada: Tuesdays, 9/9.30NT, CBC

Imagine a world where cops are armed but they never shoot anyone. Imagine a world where the mental ill are treated with respect, even when they kill people. Imagine a world where there's an entire police unit dedicated to investigating crimes committed by the mentally ill so that they can be helped and treated.

No need to imagine. That world is Canada.

Allegedly.

'Inspired' by real-life incidents, Cracked sees Canadian police officer Aidan Black (David Sutcliffe) get a touch of PTSD and start doing inappropriate chicken impressions. When he returns to work, still not quite right - 'cracked' even - he's given a chance to help on the newly formed Psych Crimes Unit, where he's to work with psychiatrist Daniella Ridley (Stefanie von Pfetten), another cop (Luisa D'Oliveira) and a psychiatric nurse (Dayo Ade) in helping to investigate crimes committed by the mentally ill, and then, using his unique insight and compassion, talk to them a lot.

And while on the one hand it's a delight to have a show that doesn't think banging everyone to rights or shooting them, particularly if they're mentally ill, is a good idea, it doesn't half expose the fact that for most drama, something has to happen for them to be interesting.

Here's a trailer.

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