If summer were only a little warmer in the UK - or warm at all - BrainDead might seem like some fun, throw-away bit of nonsense to while away our time with. A sort of Mars Attacks meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets The West Wing, it sees brain-eating alien ants taking over US politicians, including Tony Shalhoub, resulting in extreme political behaviour and a liking for The Cars.
All of this seemed jaunty and fun in the first episode, when we had intrepid young über-liberal Mary Elizabeth Winstead trying to get to the bottom of the problem with the help of her small-government Republican counterpart Aaron Tvei, to much satirical enjoyment. But since then, beyond a singing recap of the plot at the start of each episode, there hasn't been much new. Indeed, the second episode actually dispensed with most of the laughter and tried to be just Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which wasn't fun at all.
Fortunately, the third episode was a near-return to form, with Winstead finally getting a conspiracy-theory genius wackjob partner to solve the mystery with (Johnny Ray Gill) and some more yucks showing up. All the same, the uneasy mixture of comedy, horror, satire and thriller never quite gels the way the creators want to, particularly with no actual sunshine to distract us, and Tvei and Winstead's romance has all the chemistry of a Noble gas.
A beast like this gets by on craziness, but if the craziness has all been front-loaded with little more to come, BrainDead's going to flounder. Winstead is appealing and Gill is sufficiently loopy to be an equal draw, but the whole thing seemed like an idea that got used up in the first episode. There might be more to come, so I'll probably tune in for the next episode, but it's no must-watch, even by summer standards.
Barrometer rating: 3 Would it be better with a female lead? N/A TMINE's prediction: Unlikely to get a second season, but stranger things have happened
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.
State of the country, politics, the world, et al right now:
Sob. Oh well, let's talk about tele to try to cheer ourselves up. Last week, I reviewed the first few episodes of:
However, a few new shows have also stuck their heads up the parapets this week, so in the next few days I'm hoping to review Greenleaf (US: OWN), Queen of the South (US: USA) and maybe The Night Of (US: HBO) - it's only a mini-series.
Obviously, this was supposed to go up over the weekend, but owing to post-referendum blues and a general desire to boxset a certain French TV show, that didn't happen. However, I haven't had time to watch anything more than Game of Thrones from last night's usual bumper crop of shows. So after the jump, I'll be talking about that, the latest episodes of more or less the only shows that don't air on a Sunday - BrainDead, Cleverman and Outcast - last Sunday's Preacher, Secret City, SiliconValley, Still The King and Westside, as well as the return of Canada's good show, 19-2, and the whole of season 1 of Le Bureau Des Légendes (The Bureau). Some are for a-chopping, though, and some are on a lifeline.
(For those of you wondering, I couldn't be bothered to watch episode 3 of Animal Kingdom or Uncle Buck, after their uninspiring performances last week. Soz)
But first, a movie!
Zoolander 2 (2016) (iTunes) Sequel to everyone's favourite Ben Stiller movie, although it only became such once it came out on DVD, since it tanked a bit at the box office. It sees Stiller, Own Wilson, Will Ferrell, et al, returning as their original characters, who have all gone their separate ways after Derek's school collapsed just a couple of days after opening. Then incomprehensible fashion designer Alexanya Atoz (Kristen Wiig) invites them to star in her new fashion show in Rome, and they're soon imbroiled in a Da Vinci Code parody that sees the likes of Justin Bieber being killed off to protect a terrible, terrible secret, with fashion policewoman Penelope Cruz their ally in solving the crime.
I was a bit wary of this, since it got bad reviews, and the movie itself is really not much more than that Da Vinci Code twist on the original Zoolander structure. However, surprisingly, it's actually quite gigglesome, with plenty of laughable moments, huge numbers of odd cameos (Kiefer Sutherland, Susan Sarandon, Fred Armisen, Anna Wintour et al), references to everything from Dune to Star Wars and the general surrealism that pervaded the original still managing to percolate through.
In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, CBS In the UK: Thursdays, Amazon Prime
Does drama need to have a point? Tricky question - indeed, one I'm increasingly asking in this age of 'peak television'. Obviously drama needs to engage the audience (although Mr Bertolt Brecht might have something to say about it, were he still alive), so to that extent it needs a point. But does it need to speak to something, have a message or do anything beyond that engagement?
American Gothic certainly pushes that particular envelope to the limit, because for the life of me, in common with an increasing number of TV shows, I can't see the point of it at the moment, beyond it filling the airwaves for an hour. Not having read any press notes about it, I assumed it might have something to do with either
But it didn't take long to realise that at most it wanted to tie into the name of the painting while being 'a bit gothic' - especially since half the main cast aren't American. The show concerns one of those huge American families you get in TV shows, this one a blue collar Boston bunch who have done good for themselves, thanks to dad (Jamey Sheridan)'s construction company. Elder daughter Juliet Rylance (The Kick) is running for mayor and younger son Justin Chatwin (Shameless) is a newspaper cartoonist, while younger daughter Megan Ketch (Gotham, Blue Bloods) and mum Virginia Madsen (Dune, Highlander 2) don't do an awful lot but have husbands, one of whom is a cop.
During one of Rylance's press conferences, Sheridan has a heart attack. Is it age or could it be something to do with the recently discovered new evidence in the case of the notorious 'Silver Bell' serial killer? Whatever it is, it's time to lure back wayward eldest son Antony Starr (Outrageous Fortune, Banshee), who mysteriously disappeared 14 years ago, just as the Silver Bell killings ended. And coincidentally, what should the kids find stashed away in a box in the house but a whole bunch of silver bells like the one's the killer used to leave? Is Dad the killer? Or is Starr, who even if he didn't look like a serial killer, shaves with a hunting knife? Or were they accomplices? Or was it someone else in the family? Whatever it is, it's probably genetic, judging by the way Chatwin's young son has started cutting up cats…
All dark and nasty, albeit with almost nothing to say, just a mystery that needs solving. Except American Gothic also has a weirdly comedic vibe to it. No laughs at all, unless you count people not noticing a car being crushed behind them, and most of the cast are as dead serious as can be, but Madsen, Chatwin and incidental music composer Jeff Russo (Fargo, Power, Extant) are all utterly convinced this is supposed to be a dark comedy, judging by the various choices they've made.
Drama, comedy or dramedy, though, American Gothic isn't very good at any of them. The plot is a composite of all the dafter novels you could pick up in an airport book store, five minutes before your flight was due to board. The dialogue is arch most of the time, but rarely seems to have been intended to do more than sketch, rather than give depth - when Ketch reveals that her husband has just had a promotion, everyone congratulates them for all of five seconds… before instantly moving on to explaining the plot at each other again. You'd think they might ask a question, maybe even two, wouldn't you? And even if they didn't, you'd think Ketch and co might be a bit miffed, wouldn't you? But no.
Starr's the show's main draw, doing an even less animated, more menacing version of his Banshee performance, although Rylance is no shirk, Chatwin is engagingly dotty and Madsen gets hidden depths in the last few minutes of the episode. But the script simply doesn't give them much to work with and it doesn't give you a reason to want to watch the rest of the show. Despite the entire kitchen sink of drama tools being thrown at the screen, it's a show about nothing - and not in a Seinfeld way. It's not saying anything about social mobility, the rich, families, serial killers, Boston, politics, the police or anything else, unless it accidentally stumbles into it. The characters exist merely to drive the plot and/or provide ambiguity. There aren't even any real gothic qualities to it, beyond the occasional shot of mist and old stonework.
So if American Gothic doesn't know why you should you watch it, beyond an arbitrary mystery that needs solving, can you think of a good reason?
About the blog
A UK media blog focusing on the best scripted TV from around the world, with daily news, views, exclusive reviews and good conversation. There's a bit of a bias towards the latest and greatest US TV, but we also cover Scandinavian, Canadian, European and Antipodean TV, as well as UK TV ranging from new Doctor Who to old Z Cars, and BBC4 to S4C.
Add in film, theatre, art, books, events, competitions and even weekly reviews of Wonder Woman comics, and you've (hopefully) got officially the fourth best blog on the web for media lovers. Oh yes, and there's The Barrometer, the ultimate guide to quality TV.
Praise for the blog Cision: fourth most important UK TV blog Blogging Edge: Blogger running Britain 2013
"For most of us watching the telly of an evening is a way to wind down and relax, but for Rob Buckley it’s his blogging bread and butter. With reviews of cult classics and up and coming US and Brit television shows, The Medium is Not Enough is fast becoming essential reading for TV buffs, with over 50,000 hits a month."
"The Medium Is Not Enough is a light-hearted look at TV, often from the US, but also from the UK. With varied, well-written content, the blog features healthy engagement and features well in search engines."
"Billing itself as 'officially the fourth most popular UK TV blog', there are several whimsical regulars here that could help it climb as high as number three…"
I'm Rob Buckley, a freelance journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of, although you might have heard me on Radio 5 Live's Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I've edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for trade magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider and the equally short-lived Death Ray and Filmstar magazines; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it "web site for urban hedonists" The Tribe. I'm freelance now and have contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network and TV Scoop.