Archive | TV reviews

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

September 2, 2014

Mini-review: The Cosmopolitans 1x1 (Amazon Prime)

Posted on September 2, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Cosmopolitans

On the Internet: Amazon Prime

The director of 80s/90s indie darlings Metropolitan, Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco, Whit Stillman has a very particular voice. Indeed, a friend of mine interviewed him once and wryly observed that Stillman had complained to him with great specificity about America’s prejudice against ‘the upper middle classes’.

And it’s true (perhaps with reason). Shows such as Royal Pains, Suits and Rush may be about rich people but they’re very much on the outside looking in, laughing at the rich rather than with them, and not really understanding them as a group.

By contrast, Stillman is a friend of the Kennedy family, Harvard-educated and a europhile, who’s lived and worked in Spain. He's very much an insider, possibly a unique one*. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that in many ways, he is the American male Jane Austen of our time, casting his eye over the manners, codes and mating rituals of the American rich with almost the same wit and acuteness that Austen did with the equivalent society of her time.

So it’s no big surprise that The Cosmopolitans, Stillman’s first (Internet) TV project, coalesces the themes of both Metropolitan and Barcelona to depict a group of rich young US ex-pats, desperately looking for love in Paris wherever they can find it, whether that be each other, Canadians, the French or any other Europeans that come by to mock their American ways, the quality of their French or their attempts to become that ultimate accolade – a Parisian.

Stillman has a lovely way with observation and takes dialogue and people in unexpected directions. His characters are as far as possible away from the nerds of Silicon Valley, the gun-toting police of Blue Bloods and the poor underclass of Shameless. They are as East Coast liberal as it’s possible for Americans to get, even those who allegedly come from Alabama.

Yet without this pervasive cultural background to draw on, Stillman is still able to make explicit their rules and dreams as comfortably as Austen’s Lizzy Bennet or Wilde’s Lady Bracknell did, with Chloë Sevigny’s ex-pat fashion journalist, for example, explaining how one doesn’t come abroad merely to date Americans yet it’s never done to date a Frenchman.

Where it perhaps falls down a little – assuming, as with Girls, you can survive a whole episode without wanting to knife the equivalent over-privileged, somewhat fey boy-men that populate the drama – is the characters, who largely are not so much people as a group of pithy social comments and chances for pseudo-Wildean epigrams. Similarly, the Europeans who do show up, both French and Italian, are chances for Stillman to extemporise on either Europeans or Americans.

But The Cosmopolitans is like nothing that’s on regular TV at the moment. Whether it’s your cup of tea or not, do yourself a favour and watch it to see something that isn’t a procedural, isn’t about computer programmers, doesn’t involve middle Americans in middle Americans, isn’t a period drama and is all about people. Just for a change.

And unless I’m hallucinating, you can do that using the video below.

* Lena Durham being possibly the other challenger to the crown

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September 1, 2014

What have you been watching? Including Legends, Forever, Outlander, A to Z, Selfie and Intruders

Posted on September 1, 2014 | 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.

Okay, I’ll admit it – I hadn’t intended to leave it quite as long as a month before I started blogging again. But what with work, August, bank holidays, etc, I actually didn’t have the time – until now.

But now I’m back and I can cast my eye back over August’s viewing, making it look like an almost deliberate decision. After the jump, I’ll look at the few recurring shows I’m still watching, as well as those that finished their seasons while I was away.

However, before that, let’s have a look at some of the new shows that popped up in August that I was able to take a gander at. There’s a few I missed out on (e.g. Garfunkel and Oates), but not that many, fortunately, so here’s pretty much all of August’s new TV rundown as well as some previews of some new shows that have already slapped their pilots on the Internet.

A To Z (US: NBC. Starts October 2, 9.30/8.30c)
A relatively benign and almost fun romcom that chronicles the relationship ups and downs of the implausibly named Andrew and Zelda (hence the title). To flip the format slightly, Andrew is the romantic one who believes in fate, Zelda is the uptight lawyer. To not flip the format at all, there are also a couple of best friends who don’t really do anything unexpected or different.

On the whole, though, it’s not bad. It does, however, shoot itself in the foot almost instantly by having narrator Katey Sagal explain that the series covers the whole x number of days of the relationship, dooming the relationship from the beginning. And while there is an easy get out (they break up then get back together again), it puts a significant downer on what actually might have been quite a nice, feelgood show. It also doesn’t help that Cristin Miloti plays Zelda, because she was the mother in How I Met Your Mother. And died in that.

Immigration summary: Lenora Crichlow (English) plays Zelda’s best friend. Otherwise, surprisingly all-American.

Forever (US: Starts September 23, 10pm, ABC; UK: Sky 1, October 2014)
Ioan Gruffudd is a New York chief medical examiner… who also happens to be immortal. Whenever he dies, he wakes up in a nearby watery mass (e.g. river, lake, sea). He’s a bit fed up of living, despite having acquired hundreds of years of expertise in languages, science, medicine, etc, and a deductive skill that puts Elementary’s Sherlock Holmes to shame, so spends his time with the dead, trying to work out a cure for his immortality. Along the way, though, he helps to solve crimes.

Obviously, this is Highlander without the sword fights. Well, I say ‘obviously', but right at the end of the first episode, there’s a massive Highlander reference (spoiler: someone is found dead with a Masamune katana in their chest, just like Connor MacLeod’s). This comes right down to the show having its own Rachel in the shape of Judd Hirsch, constant pining over a long-dead wife and a potential new love interest who’s a NYPD cop. But there’s also a bit of humour and although it might seem like a procedural as well, any show that has one of its chief suspects arrested and his house searched and then allows him to continue investigating the crime and examining the evidence is clearly not going for mimesis.

Gruffudd is good, Hirsch is Hirsch and everyone else is just okay. There’s a bit of promise with a series arc that involves a potential adversary/friend for Gruffudd. But it’s not inspiring or compelling, so I doubt it’ll last that long.

Immigration summary: Ioan Gruffudd is all-Welsh, of course; Lorraine Toussaint is from Trinidad; Donnie Keshawarz is American-Canadian-Afghani. Otherwise, all-American for a change.

Intruders (US: Saturdays, 10/9c, BBC America; UK: BBC2, Autumn 2014)
BBC America appears to be confused here in that they seem to think that they should be making programmes that are BBC programmes, just in America. So we have a largely all-Brit cast, including John Simm and James Frain, faking American accents (badly) in the kind of poor sci-fi/fantasy that BBC1 seems to do so well these days (eg Outcasts, Paradox). Here, we have a secret society that seeks immortality by hiding inside other people’s bodies, which might seem an interesting idea at first, but instead gives us some rubbish devil worship scenes and Simm meandering around feeling sorry for himself. Almost lone American Mira Sorvino is wasted.

Immigration summary: Simm and Frain – both Brits - as is Millie Brown, who's a possessed kid. She learnt her American accent watching the Disney Channel, apparently: beat that, American child actors!

Legends (US: TNT. Wednesdays, 9/8c, TNT)
Sean Bean is an undercover FBI operative who can psychologically transform himself into another person for each job. Unfortunately, not only is he starting to find the lines between himself and his false identities are blurring, there’s the distinct possibility he might not even be who he thinks he really is. Oh dear.

Unfortunately, this promising idea gets squandered a lot, thanks to TNT’s efforts to turn the show into a sort of NCIS, with a tedious backroom staff watching and listening to Bean’s every move and arranging hacks of banks and official records in mere seconds, as the case needs it. As a result, Bean’s superb versatility and Ali Larter, who plays Bean’s ex-girlfriend/FBI handler, are the only reasons to watch the show. Having said that, the third episode almost managed to register as “not bad”, rather than “terrifyingly awful”.

Immigration summary: Sean Bean – apparently, the kind of Brit who can pass as a stuttering West Virginian for up to nine months at a time, when no American could.

Outlander (US: Starz. Saturdays, 9pm ET/PT)
Post-War nurse while off with her genealogy-obsessed husband in Scotland, touches a stone circle and finds herself back in 1743, where she meets a buff Highland lad, fighting the Red Coats. Will she succumb to his charms like that fortune teller said she would?

Largely, if it weren't for BSG's Ronald D Moore behind the scenes and the fact that it airs on Starz so there's plenty of sex and violence, this would be on The CW, trying to appeal to teenage girls alongside Reign. I did watch this with my lovely wife and neither of us could find anything that appealing or romantic about the show; buff Highland lad seemed a bit bereft of charisma and charm as is WW2 nurse; and her hubbie (Tobias Menzies from Doctor Who, The Honourable Woman, Game of Thrones, et al) was actually quite nice. We never got as far as episode two.

Immigration summary: Literally everyone is either British or Irish. Everyone.

Selfie (US: Tuesdays, 8pm/7pm, ABC)
Loose updating of My Fair Lady for the social media age, with Eliza Dooley (former Doctor Who companion Karen Gillan) coming a viral cropper and recruiting marketing guru Henry Higenbottam (Harold and Kumar’s John Cho) to rehabilitate her image. Instead, Higgins tries to rehabilitate her and make her less self-centred.

Created by Suburgatory’s Emily Kapnek, this is a marked disappointment, although it still displays her usual wit and intelligence in a few places at least. There are few laughs, few decent characters apart from those inherited from the original and only the beginnings of a vestigial romance between Gillan and Cho. I’ll probably watch episode two, but it’s on thin ice.

Immigration summary: Apart from Gillan, there’s also David Harewood (Homeland) as her boss.


Guess what? I also watched some movies!

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Admirable, joyful addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with an origin story showing how the slightly dickish 'guardians' come together to defend a utopia from an intergalactic religious zealot (the wonderful Lee Pace from Halt and Catch Fire). There's a lot to like about the film, which isn't quite as good as Captain America 2 (IMHO), but I didn't love it, possibly because of the characters (except for Groot). It does have the best soundtrack of the Marvel movies, too.

Transcendence (2014)
Scientist Johnny Depp dies and gets turned into an artificial intelligence, where he starts to get both world-changing and human-changing ideas. For about 90% of its run, it appears to be a modern-day, biologically enhanced version of Colossus: The Forbin Project, before the ending flips everything on its head. A real slow-mover, it does feature some very interesting ideas, but is still massively too long. Definitely best seen at home.

After the jump, the regulars, including The Last Ship, Halt and Catch Fire, Suits, Tyrant, Doctor Who and You're The Worst.

Continue reading "What have you been watching? Including Legends, Forever, Outlander, A to Z, Selfie and Intruders"

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July 25, 2014

What have you been watching? Including You're The Worst, Tyrant, The Strain, Suits and Halt and Catch Fire

Posted on July 25, 2014 | 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.

With August and the summer holidays approaching, it’s going to be the last ‘What have you been watching?' for a few weeks, so I’ll leave you with this one as a happy memory. And because the holidays are upon us, I’m going to be ruthless with a few shows that might have got as far as a third-episode verdict any other time of the year. So I’m not bothering with last night’s Rush, Satisfaction or Marriage, because the shows aren’t good enough for me to go to any effort in catching up with when I’m back from my holidays. They're probably going to be cancelled anyway.

This week, I’ve managed to review the following new shows:

But after the jump, a round-up of the regulars, with reviews of The Bridge (US), Halt and Catch Fire, The Last Ship, The Strain, Suits, Tyrant and You’re The Worst.

Continue reading "What have you been watching? Including You're The Worst, Tyrant, The Strain, Suits and Halt and Catch Fire"

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