Archive | TV reviews

An archive of the blog's TV reviews. There's also an archive and an A-Z index of all reviews.

December 1, 2015

Third-episode verdict: Into The Badlands (US: AMC; UK: Amazon Instant Video)

Posted on December 1, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerIntoTheBadlands.jpgA Barrometer rating of 3

In the US: Sundays, 10/9c, AMC
In the UK: Tuesdays, Amazon Instant Video

The famous physicist, Richard Feynman, used to talk about 'cargo cult science':

In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they've arranged to imitate things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas—he's the controller—and they wait for the airplanes to land. They're doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn't work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they're missing something essential, because the planes don't land.

I'd like to propose 'cargo cult television' to describe shows like Into The Badlands - they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of television or specific genres of television, but they're missing something essential. In the specific case of Into The Badlands, it's trying its level best to be a Hong Kong martial arts movie. It's got a star of Hong Kong martial arts movies (Daniel Wu). It's got a script derived from a work of classic Chinese literature (Journey Into The West). It's even got trademark manoeuvres and stunt scenes lifted almost wholesale from Hong Kong martial arts movies. It's even got a bit of magic.

But it's just not a Hong Kong martial arts movie. It's missing something essential. 

Some things, actually. Enough fights per episode. Speed of execution. Engaging, original scripts. Even the magic's been used only once in the three episodes we've had so far. 

Don't get me wrong - it's very beautiful to look at. The fight scenes even achieve a level of beauty themselves. But just like The Matrix before it, every blow lands without weight. Unlike The Matrix, though, there's nothing to fill the gap beyond a feudal society where everyone goes around punching everyone as a 'Clipper' or a 'Colt' (Clipper in training), works in a bar or a field, or is a sex slave. And because it's AMC, we're already halfway through the first season of six episodes and we haven't even entered the Badlands*. I'm assuming that'll be somewhere around season four. 

The show has at least improved a bit since the first episode, having remembered women exist and might not all want to be prostitutes or wives in our dystopian future. There were times when I even became engrossed at points.

But ultimately, this is a poor imitation of a genre that throws out 50 or so movies a year, almost all of them more interesting and more exciting than Into The Badlands. All the same, it's on Sunday, so what else you going to watch?

Barrometer rating: 3
Rob's prediction: It's AMC. Like a dinosaur, it'll take about two years before it realises it needs to cancel the show

* Confusingly, we may already be in the Badlands and we actually have to leave the Badlands on our future journey

November 29, 2015

What have you been watching? Including Chicago Med, Ant-Man and The Bridge

Posted on November 29, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

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. And if you want to know when any of these shows are on in your area, there’s Locate TV - they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.

All these new shows coming out at the same time is not very helpful. Even with Thanksgiving in the US knocking a whole bunch of shows out of action, I haven't got further than the first episode of The Man In The High Castle, and the Black Friday dumping of WE TV's South of Hell means I haven't watched any of it. I also haven't had a chance to watch last night's Doctor Who and The Bridge. Oh well. 

I might discuss this phenomenon more on Monday.

But this week, I did watch the first episode of The Art of More (US: Crackle) and review the entire first season of Jessica Jones (Netflix), which ain't bad. And after the jump, I'll be reviewing the latest episodes of Ash vs Evil Dead, Blindspot, Grandfathered, Into The Badlands, Legends, Limitless and Supergirl, as well as last weekend's episodes of Doctor Who and The Bridge.

I also watched the first episode of another new show.

Chicago Med (US: NBC)
A spin-off from Chicago PD which itself was a spin-off from Chicago Fire, this hospital procedural from the Dick Wolf school of entirely predictable institution-revering has already had a backdoor pilot in Chicago Fire and now it's heading off all by itself. I barely need to describe the set-up - it's an emergency department, in which very poor character actors turn up each week pretending to be ill, so that various medical professionals can work their hardest to defeat the system, cure whatever illnesses they have and show how damn awesome they are, without having to fill out a single form or charge a dime.

Surprisingly, every illness also presents an Important Moral Issue - here's a surrogate mother who signed a contract giving medical attorneyship to the parents of the baby… except now she needs an operation to save her life that might kill the baby! What choice will the parents make and how will it affect the Pregnant Doctor?

As well as the cameos from Chicago Fire cast members, including David Eigenberg who's now done all three shows, we have a regular bunch of competitive doctors, all trying to out-awesome each other. Central to all this is newbie Colin Donnell (Tommy Merlin from Arrow), who's just so awesome, although his 'fluent Spanish' seems to consist mainly of speaking Spanish for two sentences with someone who only speaks Spanish before switching back into English to force them to carry on falteringly in English, too. There's also Oliver Platt and S Epatha Merkerson, Laurie Holden having jumped ship twixt pilot and series. There's also a bunch of young 'uns whose job is to be rubbish so they can be told what to do by Team Awesome and some honourary members of Team Awesome, who we're supposed to think are awesome, but who largely patronise and interrupt their patients, rather than listen to them.

Probably the best thing about it, about from a thoroughly entertaining cameo by Rahm Emmanuel to open the new ED, is that it's thoroughly ludicrous, with Donnell rescuing everyone in a crash on The Loop and then sewing stitches into his own arm, to show how awesome he is, despite being surrounded by an entire team of trained nurses and doctors, all of whom have two working hands and aren't in a lot of pain. It's also reasonably likeable, unlike 'Dick Central', aka Code Black. Otherwise, utterly generic, which seems to be NBC new policy - to be fair, it also seems to be working for them.

I also watched a movie:

Ant-Man (2015) (iTunes)
The latest Marvel movie continues efforts to raid the B-team of characters, here with Paul Rudd playing the titular Ant-Man. He's a social justice warrior sent to prison for burgling big companies, and comes out unable to get a job. Fortunately, former 1980s Ant-Man Michael Douglas's slightly mental pupil is trying to create an army based on Douglas' shrinking technology, so Douglas enlists Rudd to steal the technology back and make sure it doesn't fall into the wrong hands. This is despite having a daughter (Evangeline Lilly from Lost and The Hobbit movies) who's so much more qualified for the job than Rudd, she has to spend the entire movie teaching him what to do.

The film is somewhat unusual in being one long heist movie, albeit involving a criminal who can shrink in size and enlist ants to do his bidding. It also eschews some of the standard Marvel tropes, in having a relatively sedate Big Battle at the end, one that's played for laughs and which rapidly and even more unusually turns into the final act of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Most of this oddness can probably be laid at the door of the movie's original director, Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim, Spaced), who was ejected from the project for creative differences, and while replacement director Payton Reed doesn't do a bad job, Ant-Man is a bit too ordinary in its ordinariness, right down to removing all the references to the superhero's dumb name that were interspersed throughout the trailers.

For Marvel fans, there's plenty of cameos and references to both the other movies and the comics, but this feels like a somewhat ordinary addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one that could quite easily have been a Black Widow movie to greater effect.

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November 26, 2015

Review: The Art of More 1x1 (US: Crackle)

Posted on November 26, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

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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