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Review: Powerless 1×1 (US: NBC)

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.

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 3

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

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

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

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?

What have you been watching? Including Marseille, Captain America: Civil War and The Americans

Marseille

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. 

Quiet, isn’t it? Where has all the new TV gone? Despite a fortnight in between WHYBWs, all I’ve managed to cover are the third episodes of Containment (US: The CW; UK: E4) and Game of Silence (US: NBC). I’m sure there’s something somewhere that I can review, but I just haven’t spotted it.

Okay, so there’s a new series of comedy pilots on Australia’s ABC on Wednesday, but being pilots, there doesn’t seem much point in reviewing them – I did like the sound of Ronnie Chieng: International Student, though. There’s a new Canadian Molly Ringwald/Jason Priestley sitcom, Raising Expectations, that started last night on the Family Channel – I just need to work out a way of watching it.

Amazon Prime’s picked up Hulu’s Casual, too. I didn’t watch that when it first appeared on Hulu since I figured “What’s the chance any UK network is going to pick up something on Hulu, hey?” There’s me duped. I might watch that, too, but I suspect the ship has sailed on that one.

In fact, the only new thing I’ve spotted that I haven’t yet reviewed, and had both the inclination and the ability to review was…

Marseille (Netflix)
Following on from last year’s Narcos, which was effectively Netflix’s first Spanish-language original drama, now we have Marseille, the company’s first French-language original. It stars – who else? – Gérard Depardieu as the mayor of Marseille, having to balance the competing demands of a degenerative disease, his family life, a drug habit, his back-stabbing protégé, a project to renovate the city with a new casino, and the mafia.

And it’s nothing special. I did say ‘original’, but for all intents and purposes, it’s Starz’s Boss but in French, with just a hint of Les hommes de l’ombre (Spin). It’s got the usual misogyny of such shows. It’s got the slightly tedious offsetting of power and crime. It’s billed as ‘steamy’ but is surprisingly perfunctory (and again misogynistic) for a French show. None of the characters are especially engaging and Depardieu oddly doesn’t have half the presence that Kelsey Grammer did in Boss. Subtitling loses quite a bit in translation and you’ll often have points where you wonder what people are reacting to as a result of what’s allegedly said (eg there’s a point where two women are laughing when one of them says ‘chick’. It makes a bit more sense if you know she actually said ‘poof’). And oddly for Netflix, the production values are pretty low, with more than a hint of ‘stuck in a cheapo studio with a cheapo video camera’ at times.

More laughable than gritty, it’s hard enough to get through one episode, let alone all eight, so I’m not going to try.

After the jump, it’s the regulars: 12 Monkeys, The Americans, Arrow, Banshee, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Game of Silence, Game of Thrones, Lopez, Silicon Valley and The Tunnel. Most of those are double helpings, since there was no WHYBW last Monday, it being a Bank Holiday everywhere; two of them will be getting crossed off the viewing list, too. I’ll also be looking at the season finales of both Limitless and Lucifer.

But before that, a movie!

Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Depending on how you want to look at it, this is probably better titled Captain America: Winter Soldier 2 or The Avengers 2.5, since it sees Cap continuing his mission to find and rehabilitate his brainwashed pal, Bucky “The Winter Soldier” Barnes, with various members of The Avengers either trying to help him or hinder him after Barnes is implicated in an act of terrorism.

Otherwise, the plot is more or less identical to that of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, with its concerns about collateral damage from superheroics and the consequent need for legal limits on superhuman powers. Yet despite the huge cast from the other movies (only Thor and Hulk are absent) and the necessity to launch both Black Panther and Spider-Man off its back, it manages to be a million times better than DC’s drudgefest. Once again directed by Winter Soldier‘s Russo Brothers (who got the gig directing, of all things, the paintball episode of Community), it manages to make all previous superhero movies look plodding and stupid, balancing comic book fun with gritty Euro thriller aesthetics, while serving all its characters well, being by turns tear-jerking, funny, breath-taking and tense.  

It’s a little longer than it needs to be, but nevertheless, afterwards we came out so drained by the spectacle, it took about three hours down the pub to recover. It also rendered Age of Ultron unwatchable. Some would argue it already was, but we’d enjoyed it at the time.

Best Marvel movie so far.

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Review: The X-Files 10×1 (US: Fox; UK: Channel 5)

The X-Files

In the US: Mondays, 8/7c, Fox
In the UK: Acquired by Channel 5. Starts early February

Behold! Feast your eyes! Do you know what this is?

The Pharos Project 2 #1

Well, firstly, it’s epic testament to how sh*t I was at Aldus Pagemaker 4.0, 22 years ago when I was still at university. Did you know there’s a difference between black & white and greyscale? I didn’t, apparently.

But secondly, you are looking at what is the very first magazine in the UK to contain an article about The X-Files. Well, the second magazine to be exact, but it was the first article written by someone who’d actually seen it. It was certainly the first magazine to have one Fox Mulder and one Dr Dana Scully on its cover.

See, I’d recently read that TV Zone, which contained an article about The X-Files culled from a press release, saying how good it was. Intrigued and since I had Cambridge Cable (which became NTL which became Virgin Media), which carried that new fangled Sky 1 and therefore The X-Files, I decided to watch it. I was sufficiently impressed by the episode, Squeeze, to decide to dedicate the cover of the university TV society magazine I edited to The X-Files

Before you knew it, I was publishing the UK’s very first X-Files (and Baylon 5) fanzine. Probably the only one, too. And learning about greyscale and even colour printing at the same time. And thus my career in TV-magazine publishing was born.

We did very well for ourselves, once BBC2 decided to show The X-Files and it became a national phenomenon. In fact, we lasted a good few issues.

The Pharos Project 2 #2The Pharos Project 2 #3

The Pharos Project 2 #5But to fill our pages, we came up with all sorts of exciting wheezes. We reviewed the episodes. In fact, we came up with the hugely novel and mind-blowing idea of importing NTSC videos of the episodes as they aired in the US, converting them to PAL, and then watching them so we could preview the episodes before they aired in the UK and tell people if they were any good. Can you imagine the cunning? 

How we thrilled as we watched FBI agents Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) investigate the supernatural, particularly aliens who liked to abduct people, especially Mulder’s sister. How we – or rather I – tried desperately to prove that Mulder and Scully were ‘a thing’ in ‘The X-Files romance guide’, while my partner in crime, Jonathan Templar, poo pooed the evidence right in front of his eyes. I wanted to believe… he didn’t. How silly did he feel eventually, hey?

But all good things had to come to an end. In particular, we discovered, as young people often do, that time is not infinite and neither is energy, and if you’re working two jobs to make ends meet, it’s hard to publish a magazine as well. Particularly one that involves having to talk to that beardy bloke in Forbidden Planet who likes to have sex with teenage girls because they ‘have no frame of reference’. 

Shudders.

Also, we went off The X-Files, which somewhat ruined the whole magazine. I can’t remember the exact point we fell out of love with the show. Was it the first time or the second time it turned out that the previous definitive explanation for Mulder’s sister’s abduction was an elaborate government hoax? Maybe it was the third time. Perhaps it was when David Duchovny decided to leave. I can’t even remember seeing those Doggett (Robert Patrick) episodes, let alone the ones with Annabeth Gish when she replaced Anderson. I think the last one I saw was with Scully staring at a spaceship underwater off the coast of Africa.

Or perhaps it was just because The X-Files was of its time. It fit the zeitgeist of the early to mid-90s nicely, with government conspiracies, UFOs, a man and a woman working perfectly happily and largely platonically together, mutually respectful of each other’s skills (can you imagine that?). And then the late 90s hit and suddenly all those conspiracies seemed just a little bit passé.

Now, of course, conspiracy theories are back in vogue. Fox News used to have Glenn Beck literally drawing on blackboards to illustrate how the world is run by any number of secret conspiracies.

He may be gone, but Fox News carries on his work and with Edward Snowden revealing that Big Brother really is watching us all, some conspiracies don’t look quite as unlikely as they used to.

And so it is, into this age of the Internet and smartphones and stealth drones above us, Fox has given us back The X-Files in a new series in which The Truth Is Out There, We Want To Believe, and it really all could be a case for Mulder and Scully. If only they were still together. And working for the FBI.

And even if I can’t remember exactly why I stopped watching it the first time round, it did remind me of at least one reason: FFS, Chris Carter. Would you just quit it with “That thing we know definitively was true? That we actually saw happen? That was just an elaborate government plan. This is the real truth.” 

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Preview: Teachers 1×1 (US: TV Land)

Teachers

In the US: Wednesdays, 11/10c, TV Land. Starts January 13
In the UK: Not yet acquired

The trouble with reviewing things is you actually have to have opinions about them. This means Teachers is causing me a fundamental problem. I’ve sat here for ages, staring at the screen, trying to have an opinion about Teachers and it’s almost proving impossible. So how I can review it?

I’ve thought about merely stating the facts. Teachers is based on a web series created by and starring improv comedy group The Katydids, who presumably named themselves after the famous children’s book, rather than the crickets, pop groupboat or even the sculptures. It’s about six elementary school teachers who have their own personal issues about things like dating, friendship, body image, etc, and have a marked tendency to bring those issues into the classroom, which is in no way like pretty much any show about teachers of the past 20 years, including Channel 4’s Teachers. It’s produced by Alison Brie of Community fame. It’s on TV Land, which with shows like Impastor and Younger is trying to reinvent itself as a network watched by people other than those one heart bypass surgery away from death. 

That at least gets me a few words further into a review. Then I figured if I described the plot of the first episode that will get me even further. Here, the teachers are tasked with developing an anti-bullying programme in a school that has no reported bullying. Rather than search the Internet for any anti-bullying campaigns who could advise them, go to their teachers union for best practice advice or ring another school and ask what they did, they come with a whole bunch of ill advised ideas based on their own personal issues, which ends up with an outbreak of bullying.

See? Halfway there already in terms of word count. But the key to the whole review thing is to have an opinion about a show, and I’m struggling to have one. The characters are pretty much what you’d expect – a whole bunch of comedic stereotypes that you’ll have seen before and probably work well in improv, but aren’t really innovative or individual in any way. Dumped woman still hung up on her ex? Check. Single woman desperate for a man, particularly hot dads? Check. Vain woman who thinks kids’ drawings of her are unflattering? Check. 

But now I’m getting stuck, trying to remember if any of the other characters had any significant character traits. That’s no help, is it? I can’t even few inspired or insulted by them if I can barely remember them, let alone care about them, can I?

What I do remember is that about 10 minutes before the end, Alison Brie turned up and was funny. A lot funnier than anyone in the regular cast. I thought that was probably a bad sign. Do I think the lack of comedic acting talent will destroy the show? I honestly don’t know. I just can’t decide. 

Oh yes. I remember now. It was quite funny that the anti-bullying campaign was called STAB (stop teasing and bullying) and that they got the kids to say mean things to one another. Erm. Ish.

So there. I can’t review it. It feels like I’m covered in some kind of space age material that causes opinions to roll off me without leaving a trace when it comes to Teachers. So I guess all I can say is Teachers is there. It’s a programme on TV that you can watch. 

Preview: The Expanse 1×1 (US: Syfy)

Expanse

In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, Syfy
In the UK: Not yet acquired

As I’ve remarked before, nothing’s original these days – you’re basically just mixing elements of previous works together to come up with novel combinations. In sci-fi, that goes doubly so. Indeed, given any new sci-fi series, it’s usually possible to spend your time going, “Oh, that’s X meets Y,” where X and Y are the TV shows being synthesised together to create the new series. 

So you have to at least credit the creators of The Expanse with developing something that enables viewers to play this very nerdy drinking game not twice but thrice over, with the option of further plundering later on. Based on the books of ‘James SA Corey’ (really Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck), it’s set in the 23rd century and postulates a future where the solar system has been colonised. The UN runs Earth, Mars is an independent military power and the asteroid belt is a source of raw materials that both Earth and Mars are looking at eagerly.

So Earth: think Elysium meets 24, with Shohreh Aghdashloo as the UN boss running black sites to try to find out what Mars is up to, as war in space looks inevitable.

The Asteroid Belt: Think Total Recall meets Babylon 5 meets Blade Runner meets Dune. Thomas Jane (The PunisherHung) is a ‘belter’ private detective investigating the disappearance of a rich girl who’s run away from home. The belters have grown up in low g, so often have things wrong with them, such as weak muscles, overly long limbs and problems with bone fusion. They also have their own language, which Jane speaks but his non-belter partner doesn’t. They’re also feeling a bit grumpy, since they’re the working class who make everything happen, doing dangerous work for low pay, while everyone gets rich on their labour.

Mars: We’ve haven’t seen that yet. Take two shots when we do.

Outer space: Think Alien meets Virtuality, with a proletariat crew grumping around the solar system with their cargo. Steven Strait (Magic City) is the unambitious second officer who gets a promotion to XO when the captain, Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad, Community), gets a touch of the space blues. Then they get a distress call and thinks start to get a bit more dangerous.

What links the otherwise totally unconnected outer space and asteroid belt strands is that the distress call is from the missing rich girl. What’s going on, what will happen next and will everyone get to meet up by the end of the 10 episodes to become Elysium meets 24 meets Total Recall meets Babylon 5 meets Blade Runner meets Dune meets Alien meets Virtuality? You’ll just have to wait and see.

So far, so derivative. But, as I said, so’s everything these days. So does The Expanse do much that’s interesting with this pot pourri of sci-fi stories past, or is it just a rip off?

At the very least, The Expanse does indicate that following a somewhat fallow period for Syfy, in which it was more content to make B-movies like Sharknado and “me, too!” shows like Alphas and Z Nation, it seems relatively determined to make proper science fiction that leads rather than follows. Like Defiance, it loves itself a bit of world-building and tries to imagine what these 23rd century societies might be like. Life in the belt is well realised and no one has a modern-day fashionable haircut; bravely, even Jane has deformities from having grown up without the benefit of billions of tons of rock beneath him.

The Expanse also wants to emphasis that it is more Battlestar Galactica than Star Trek, with some attempts at correct physics which it credits its audience with having the brains to understand. For example, the solar system is very big and you need to go very fast to go any distance; that means accelerating quickly, which isn’t something the human body is very happy about and might need some assistance dealing with the associated difficulties. None of this is explained to some newbie – you just have to work it out for yourself.

But as is also often pointed out, science-fiction rarely tries to predict the future so much as extrapolate the present or even the past, and where The Expanse does fall down quite severely is in its depiction of cultures. Everything is basically the Wild West in outer space. There’s some racial diversity, but not much. Everyone appears to be straight.

And everything is run by white men (yes, captain, XO and 2nd officer of the spaceship are all white and men). Women, despite the fact that we’re talking about zero-g mining so physical strength isn’t an issue, aren’t numbered in the miners at all. And by the end of the first episode, there are only two female members of the cast left alive in outer space. One’s an engineer on the spaceship who has an oddly, cleavage-revealing outfit. The other is…

No. Have a guess what she does for a living, first.

Bet you can.

Yes, she’s a prostitute. 

As you may have noticed, the show’s Achilles’ Heel is the people side of things. As well as devising a future that’s less progressive than the 1950s, it’s also quite poor at creating characters you might care about. Jane’s almost interesting, but his is more or less the only person in the show who has any depth. Attempts to make Strait a slacker don’t endear him to you so much as irritate you. And they’re the ones who get the bulk of the characterisation. Pity everyone else who doesn’t even get that much.

The Expanse is very much science-fiction aimed at the ‘Sad Puppies’ contingent – big ideas, science-based, very little about the people, with heroic white guys running the place, the centre of all attention. If that’s your bag, The Expanse is one of the best offerings in this field for some time. If it’s not, then while you can admire it, like all that ice they’re mining in the asteroid belt, it’s a slippery affair that’ll you find hard to grab onto.

But don’t just take my word for it – try the trailer and if you like it, underneath is the entire first episode for you on YouTube.

Review: The Art of More 1×1 (US: Crackle)

The Art of More

In the US: All 10 episodes available from Crackle

As Powers and Yahoo’s resurrection of Community recently showed us, the arrival of Netflix and Amazon Instant Video on the scene has forced those Internet TV providers who were formerly happy to simply chuck out short-form webisodes to leave that profitless game to YouTube and move into long-form. Crackle is the latest to join their ranks thanks to The Art of More, in which former US soldier Christian Cooke (epic sh*tfests ITV’s Demons and Starz’s Magic City) manages to parlay his skills in looting Iraqi art museums into a legit job at a posh auction house run by Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride).

Groomed (in all senses of the word, probably even the horsey ones) by Elwes to be a proper sophisticate who can tie an Oxford knot, the high-flying Cooke’s world starts to fall apart quicker than you can say, “Lady Jane! Tinker! We need a divvy!”, when one of his former Iraqi comrades sneaks into the US, bringing with him more dodgy pickings and threatening to expose Cooke’s sordid past. Things aren’t helped any for Cooke by the presence on the scene of art collector and wannabe politician Dennis Quaid (Vegas), the proud possessor of ‘f*ck off money’, and Cooke’s rival Kate Bosworth (Superman Returns), both of whom want to give him a good kicking but for different reasons.

All of which might be interesting if movie-length and chopped up into Crackle-sized 15 minute episodes. It’s certainly got good production values, has a good fight scene and could easily pass for a TNT show if you didn’t know better.

The trouble is that it’s 10x45m episodes. Even one was hard-going, because it’s not a well written show. You’re not going to learn anything about art, business, politics or anything much else from it. Scenes designed to make characters seem like they know something about art read like they’ve been cramming Wikipedia a few moments earlier.

The characters are also utterly unengaging. Cooke is not someone you especially want to route for in pretty much anything he does, but here he’s playing someone who loots museums of their precious treasures so that rich people can keep them to themselves. He’s also deploying his annoying American accent.

Elwes* at least gets to be English, but while his lips may be mouthing atrocious dialogue, his eyes are screaming “Here are the details of my bank account for your wire transfer.” You can only feel sorry for him in this.

Bosworth’s character is almost a relic from the 80s. She’s the kind of female high-flyer who’s continual outfoxed by the hero and has no tangible skills. She doesn’t even get any screentime or scenes in which she could ever reveal she had the skills claimed for her, because the show’s all about the annoying Cooke. But just as in the 80s everyone knew that was very un-PC, someone male has to explain every five minutes just how awesome she is and how she definitely didn’t sleep her way to the top… yes, I am sleeping with her but she definitely got to that position… no, her position… no! her job!… through sheer talent. How dare you think otherwise?

Quaid? He thinks he’s Robert de Niro in Casino or Michael Douglas in Wall Street. He’s actually closer to Alan Sugar in The Apprentice.

Direction is pedestrian. Editing is jarring – it sometimes feels like you’ve missed something vital. I blinked and nine months disappeared just like that. Plotting generally revolves around something looking like a better movie you once saw and the show hoping you fill in the gaps using that movie, instead of whatever’s actually on-screen.

Still, it’s free, provided you register for a Crackle account and live in the US, so criticising it too much is a bit churlish. All the same, I won’t be bothering to click the link for episode 2 anytime soon. There’s Man In the High Castle to watch instead.

Here’s a trailer. Weirdly, I was even more bored by the end of it than at the end of the first episode. I wonder if Crackle’s short-form stuff is even worse…

* For transparency’s sake, I’ll point out that Elwes is a distant relative of mine. I’m pretty sure it didn’t influence my review of this, but you must decide that for yourselves

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