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Review: Powerless 1x1 (US: NBC)

Posted on February 3, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Powerless (NBC)

In the US: Thursdays, 8.30/7.30c, NBC

Although NBC has managed to return to the top of the US ratings after its horrific death plummet a decade ago, there are still a couple of things it's not good at: comedies and superhero shows. Okay, to be fair, its comedies are useless quite smart, but they're usually not desperately funny (eg The Good Place) and/or they never fare well in the ratings (eg Community). To be equally fair, it hasn't had a lot of superhero shows, but while we can all agree that at least Constantine got better over time, Heroes got decidedly worse and the less said about The Cape, the better.

So Powerless looks like the perfect storm: an NBC superhero comedy. What manner of horror could that be, you might ask? Well, for a while, it actually looked quite promising, giving us a show that builds on the same theme as both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War by being about the little people who are just trying to get on with their lives and avoid getting crushed by buildings, shot by death rays, et al as superheroes and supervillains do what superheroes and supervillains do - a sort of Lower Decks of the DC Comic Book universe, if you will. In this original story, the somewhat cynical Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical) worked in an insurance company for supervillain Alan Tudyk (Firefly), where she has to decide whether destruction caused by Wonder Woman can be written off as an Act of God because as a demi-goddess, it's a grey area.

Following the pilot, though, show creator Ben Queen (A to Z, Drive) left and the whole thing got rebooted into something a lot more mid-season replacement.

Now, Hudgens is a wide-eyed superhero fan reporting to work at Tudyk's branch of Wayne Industries - Tudyk now being Bruce Wayne's cousin - where she has to lead a team of more jaded inventors and engineers in developing products to help the ordinary people of 'Charm City' cope with the superhero-induced trials and tribulations of life, whether those be personal Joker-poison anti-toxin injectors or inflatable suits to help their wearers withstand concussive blows.

Trouble is, her new underlings, who include Community's Danny Pudi and Undateable's Ron Funches, aren't the brightest tools in the box, so spend their entire time ripping off Lexcorp's ideas and making them a different colour, rather than coming up with anything original, which means that Bruce is thinking about shutting them down. Will they get a reprieve?

I'm not sure I care. Admittedly, the show does have its good points: Hudgens, Pudi and Tudyk are as fun to watch as always, and no less an acting god than Adam West is the narrator. There's also the occasional bit of low but amusing humour, with inept supervillain Jack O'Lantern inadvertently punning about his 'balls… of fire' and Batman coincidentally using the new product the team has just sent to Bruce Wayne (what are the chances?).

But Funches is still a near unbearably poor actor, there really aren't that many jokes and we're nearing the bottom of the superhero z-list with Jack O'Lantern and Crimson Fox - it's not so much Lower Decks as Journey to the Earth's Core. Who cares what they're up to down there?

The show's not terrible. The core cast and ideas are reasonably sound and now the producers have got over retooling the show in a hurry, hopefully they'll have time to settle in all the new ideas. But Powerless really needs to raise its ambitions - if DC corporate vetting will let it - if it's to avoid going the same way as every other NBC superhero show.

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Third-episode verdict: The Great Indoors (US: CBS; UK: ITV2)

Posted on November 14, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerTheGreatIndoors.jpgA Barrometer rating of 3

In the US: Thursdays, 8.30/7.30c, CBS
In the UK: Acquired by ITV2

The worst that can truly be said about The Great Indoors - in which rugged manly outdoor activities journalist Joel McHale (Community) is summoned back to an office job by boss Stephen Fry when his magazine goes online-only, forcing him to have to work with a bunch of digital-literate millennials - is that it's a CBS multi-camera sitcom. And not in a bad way.

When I saw the trailer and before I watched the first episode, I assumed I was going to have to condemn the show in the strongest possible terms for all the usual reasons reserved for CBS multi-camera sitcoms.

But, actually, it's all right. Not totally hysterical, not having the cutting edge insight into its subject matter of Veep, not possessed of well drawn out characters, for sure. But it's still more like a lighter, nicer version of The Big Bang Theory than a nastier, more predictable version of Mike and Molly. It's a studio comedy with an audience that's designed to make you laugh.

Three episodes into the show and although it's clear that its heart is really with McHale and his desperate attempt to de-nerd an entire generation, it's also clear that times have changed and there ain't no going back - McHale has to learn from his juniors, too.

Episode two focused on the Brave New World of dating apps, and while McHale's ability to randomly speak with strangers in real-life is something of an asset that he can teach the youngsters, it's also clear it's now perceived as also a bit creepy. Most of the episode therefore dedicated to teaching him how to navigate this new, more formal aspect of dating life. 

Meanwhile, episode three is a lecture in urban apartment-hunting, with McHale discovering that for millennials, there's a clear choice between having money to live off and having a decent place to live in - you can't have both.

The show also manages to avoid turning everyone's favourite uncle, Stephen Fry, into yet another quaint Englishman. Here, he's erudite, funny, travelled and a man's man, happier drinking whisky with McHale and trading war stories, than bedding down with the millennials in their indoor tents. 

Where the show doesn't quite gel - at least, not yet - is Susannah Fielding, who plays Fry's daughter/McHale's one-time girlfriend. While she's clearly supposed to be something of a translator, able to speak both millennial and middle-aged, she's not well served by the scripts and her delivery is reminiscent of 'Pantomime Dame 3' from last year's Jack and the Beanstalk. 

Similarly, the millennials themselves are more ideas of millennials than developed characters in their own rights - this one's sexually fluid, this one's deadpan and inexpressive, this one's computer-literate and so on. While each of those traits is more nuanced than you'd expect, there's still no real background for any of them, no stories that are really about them rather than McHale.

But we're at episode three of a multi-camera sitcom that could be on for the next decade, given it's CBS. There will be time for The Great Indoors. Thankfully, it does at least have a good foundation to start with.

Rating: 3
Would it be better with a female lead? Different, not better
TMINE's prediction: Could last a good few seasons, given 2 Broke Girls is still on

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Review: The Great Indoors 1x1 (US: CBS; UK: ITV2)

Posted on November 1, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Great Indoors

In the US: Thursdays, 8.30/7.30c, CBS
In the UK: Acquired by ITV2

For those not in the know, CBS is a channel largely watched by older folk. The home of numerous procedurals and family sitcoms, it does, however, try to attract a younger audience from time to time, often with comedies such as The Big Bang Theory. And The Great Indoors is an interesting example of a comedy pitched at both the young and old - interesting in the sense that you can probably tell whether you're young or old based on which characters you most empathise with.

Community's Joel McHale (45) is a craggy magazine journalist, used to filing his copy from out in the field following close encounters with mountains, bears, Indian yogis and death. He's summoned back to the office by proprietor Stephen Fry - yes, STEPHEN FRY (59) - where in common with untold numbers of other journalists around the world, he's told the print version of the magazine is being shut but it'll continue online. The slight hitch is that he'll be office-bound and working with Christopher Mintz-Plasse (27), Shaun Brown (29) and Christine Ko (don't ask) - the millennials that run the digital division of the company and whose idea of an experience is watching a YouTube video of an experience. Compounding the discomfort caused by his complete lack of experiental overlap with these mere foetuses is the fact that he'll be working for Fry's daughter, Susannah Fielding (31) (I Want My Wife Back, The C-Word), whom he probably slept with relatively recently, despite there being a slightly icky age gap.

Now, given it's CBS - the home of cheap laughs at other people's expenses, as well as of old people - you'd be forgiven for expecting The Great Indoors to be an excuse for the network to marry two disparate but related strands of humour: older, wiser people laughing at callow youth; and rugged manly types laughing at nerds. You'd also be forgiven for thinking that the show would know next to nothing about journalism or magazines, and that it would have the IQ and literacy of an angry letter to a local newspaper.

But, despite the trailer below suggesting just that, surprisingly The Great Indoors is more of a meeting of minds. While most laughs are at millennials' behaviour, ranging from the speed at which they take offence at things through to their need to selfie their every waking moment, this is a meeting of minds in which McHale learns to be a better person and to understand online while the millennials learn how to put their smartphones down for a moment or two. Fry isn't the usual stereotypical Englishman and his dialogue is often erudite and subversive. There's even a suggestion that there has been some actual research done into magazine journalism, with job titles such as 'digital curator' and listicles about surviving the Zombie Apocalypse hinting that a day or two may have been spent at Buzzfeed at some point.

Of course, the show is creating a false dichotomy between the digeratti and the digital illiterate: I started working on newspaper web sites back in 1995 and any journalist my - and McHale's - age will have been well acquainted with online publishing for years, if not decades. I've also seen that video featuring the bears in the swimming pool, too, and I have four Twitter accounts, a LinkedIn account and a Facebook account. Millennials working in journalism can still talk to sources and go outdoors; 40-somethings aren't the same as 60-somethings. But, hey, it's a multi-camera sitcom - you might as well critique mistakes in the maths in Big Bang Theory.

On the plus side, the pilot episode also features Stephen Fry nursing a bear cub and both McHale and Fry deliver the goods; on the minus side, the live studio audience seems to make Fielding think she's in a pantomime and the millennials don't really work as individual characters, rather than personifications of ideas of millennials.

If you like Fry and McHale, The Great Indoors might not wow you, but you certainly won't come out of it feeling like you've been robbed of a great comedic opportunity. If you're a millennial, you might not see yourself in the show, but what are you doing watching TV rather than Snapchats anyway?

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