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January 12, 2017

Review: Pure 1x1 (Canada: CBC)

Posted on January 12, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Pure

In Canada: Mondays, 9pm, CBC

Everyone knows about the Amish, right? They're the German-speaking, pacifist Christian fundamentalists who shun all things modern in an effort to be as godly as possible. You may remember them from a little known 80s film called Witness.

Less well known unless you watch a lot of reality TV are their neighbours, the Mennonites, an equally German-speaking, God-fearing group although they aren't quite as strict as the Amish - they can own cars, go to High School on the school bus and mix with the Ausländer and everything.

But even less well known than them are the Canadian Mennonites, a bunch who fled to Ontario from the US when the War of Independence broke out. And oddly enough, they're the stars of CBC's new drama - a sort of Breaking Bad for Mennonites. It stars the ubiquitous Ryan Robbins (Continuum, Arrow) as the delightfully named Noah Funk, the newly appointed pastor of the (fictious) Mennonite town of Antioch who has to work out how to deal in a Christian manner with what seems extremely unlikely to the casual viewer but turns out to be based on a true story - the Mennonite mob, a group of dangerous drug runners ferrying cocaine from Mexico to Canada and the US.

The mob have killed one family escaping from a Mexican Mennonite 'colony' and when Funk takes in the surviving young son, he ends up having to deal with both the mob and slobby cop AJ Buckley (CSI: New York), who's after this previously unsuspected snake in the community. Also involved is Texan DEA Agent Rosie Perez (Do The Right Thing, White Men Can't Jump), who's well aware of what's going on with the Mennonites, both in El Paso and on the other side of the border.

Watching Pure, it's hard to know exactly how realistic the Mennonite side of things is. Show creator Michael Amo is the grandson of a Mennonite, for sure, but every bad accent and poor piece of German sets off warning claxons, and the whole idea boggles the mind to begin with, let alone when the Mennonite kids are wandering around school, working out the intricacies of 'Auslander' (non-Mennonite) life and whether it's okay to say 'My God' as an expletive.

The criminal side of things is a bit pedestrian, too. Buckley's cop, intent on recruiting Funk to help him penetrate the close-knit mob, lacks any of the skills to do it yet still manages to accomplish it somehow. Surprisingly, for a godly man, Funk sure finds lying easy. And in general dramatic terms there are problem, too, with pretty much every Mennonite indistinguishable and undifferentiated from all the others, bar the nicely-hatted mob boss Peter Outerbridge (the original Murdoch in The Murdoch Mysteries, Blood and Water), who forces Funk to work for him to save his family. 

But all those issues to one side, as with Blood and Water and Shoot The Messenger, Canada is at least showing that it can offer crime shows that aren't just the same old formula and that involve different communities from those we're used to. I probably won't stick with it, but it's nice to know that the show's out there.

January 11, 2017

Review: Emerald City 1x1-1x2 (US: NBC; UK: 5*)

Posted on January 11, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Emerald City

In the US: Fridays, 9/8c, NBC
In the UK: Acquired by 5*. Will air early 2017

Certain classics are sacrosanct. Everyone's agreed that whatever happens, you shouldn't remake them, reimagine them or whatever, since they will never be as good and might insult the memory of the original.

The Wizard of Oz isn't one of those things, it seems. Long is the list of reimaginings, it being a reimagining anyway of Frank Baum's book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, several silent movies and a Broadway musical. At the theatre, it spawned the reimagined Wicked, one of the most popular musicals of all time. At the movies, we've had cartoons (Journey Back to Oz, Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return), a sequel (Return to Oz) and remakes (The WizOz The Great and Powerful, The Muppets' Wizard of Oz).

On TV, dark, gritty, sci-fi reimaginings have been the order of business - once they've actually got off the ground. Tim Burton gave a pilot of one a go, back in 1999, but that never even got filmed. Lost in Oz, an action show sequel in the vein of Buffy and Smallville that starred Melissa George (Dorothy replacement) and Mia Sara (new Wicked Witch), managed to get as far as a pilot in 2002, but proved too expensive for a series:

Sara would still return as a witch in the later mini-series, The Witches of Oz, in which noted author Dorothy Gale discovers that her books are actually based on repressed memories of her time in the land of Oz:

But before that Zooey Deschanel, Neal McDonough, Alan Cumming and Raoul Trujillo - aka DG, Cain The Tin Man, Glitch and Raw - entered the Outer Zone (OZ) to find the Mystic Man (Richard Dreyfuss) in inept Syfy Channel mini-series Tin Man

Now we have possibly the most interesting and successful attempt to 'reimagine' The Wizard of Oz in the shape of NBC's 10-episode limited series Emerald City. As with previous TV shows, it had false starts: originally given the green light back in 2014, it got shut down when NBC and showrunner Josh Friedman had a bit of a spat. A year later, NBC changed its mind again, gave David Schulner the showrunner post and now, three years after that first go-ahead, here it is at last.

It sees young adopted Kansas nurse Adria Arjona (Person of Interest, True Detective) caught up in a tornado and conveyed to a strange new land, filled with witches both good (Joely Richardson) and bad (Florence Kasumba), as well as a mighty Wizard (Vincent D'Onofrio) who protects the land from the Great Beast Beyond. Will the wizard help her to return to Kansas or does he have a very different agenda on his mind, given all the power struggles going on in Oz?

It's The Wizard of Oz meets Game of Thrones, but most importantly of all, all 10 episodes are directed by Tarsem Singh (The Cell) and he's been to Barcelona. No, that's not a euphemism, oh friend of Dorothy.

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January 9, 2017

What have you been watching? Including Beyond, Sherlock, and Man Seeking Woman

Posted on January 9, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

It's "What have you been watching?", my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently and your chance to recommend anything you've been watching. 

TV networks around the world are starting to crank into life, with a few old favourites returning to our screens and a few more new ones on their way this week (Canada - I'm looking at you here). That means that after the jump, as well as the latest episodes of Shooter and Sherlock, I'll be looking at the return of Lethal Weapon, Man Seeking Woman, and Son of Zorn.

I've not yet had a chance to watch NBC's gritty Wizard of Oz adaptation, Emerald City, from Friday, so I'll be reviewing that separately on Wednesday. But the other major newbie out last week was…

Beyond (US: Freeform; UK: Available now on Netflix)
A gender-swapped insipid amalgam of every other Young Adult sci-fi/fantasy show you've ever watched, whether it be Twilight or even Freeform's own Kyle XY, in which a young adult (Burkely Duffield in this case) discoveres he's very, very special for some arbitrary reason and both a skulking conspiracy and a band of goodies want to recruit him to their respective teams.

Here, the conceit is that Duffield was knocked out when he was 12 years old and since then has been in a coma. Except during that time, his disembodied consciousness went to another realm - unimaginatively called The Realm - something that's given him telekinetic/firestarting abilities. Waking up, he's pursued by a 'man in a yellow jacket' (Peter Kelamis), as well as a foreign-sounding 'ninja girl from The Matrix' (Dilan Gwyn), while having visions of an old man (Alex Diakun). Duffield not only has to recover his memories from that time in The Realm and try to escape those who would control him, he's also got to get used to the new world of cellphones, Wikipedia and being a 12-year-old in a 24-year-old's surprisingly unatrophied body. There's also all the changes in his family, with younger brother now effectively the elder brother and his parents having separated.

There are moments in Beyond - most of them in the pilot - where the show's almost cool, such as when Duffield uses his powers for the first time. There's also a sweet charm to Duffield's character, who tries to woo girls by talking about science and history, because that's all he knows about, having missed out on half his life. Kelamis's 'yellow jacket' is both sinister and amusing, and the introduction in episode 5 or so of a coma-girl with powers of her own was a welcome addition.

But I managed to sit through six episodes without finding anything much more than that, although maybe I should have held on a bit longer until Martin Donovan shows up as the Big Bad. There's not much danger, nothing too exciting about The Realm beyond a few dogs. Duffield's powers seem to consist of accidentally blowing things up a lot, which gets boring after a while. Gwyn is far less Trinity, far more Bella (but before she gets all cool and vampirey), constantly pining after Duffield but never actually doing much. 

The show also has a 24-year-old's memory of history. So while it's interesting we learn that US youth have in just 12 years gone from first making phone calls to talk to someone they like to texting them (something last week's Lethal Weapon touches on, oddly enough), everything else exists in an oddly timeless vacuum. While we're clearly in something like the present day, judging by the phones and the CSI:Miami-style floating displays and touchscreens behind invalids' beds, Duffield doesn't know about Apple Computers (iPod generation 2 released 2002) and his 12-year-old self had a bedroom adorned with original Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back posters. Meanwhile, Kelamis wears a pair of glasses straight out of 1988.

All in all, you're probably better off watching Shadowhunters, if you're going to be watching any YA fantasy shows.

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Pure

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