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February 23, 2015

What have you been watching? Including Hostages, The Odd Couple, X Company, Living With Models and Bosch

Posted on February 23, 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'sLocate TV - they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.

Last one of these for a fortnight, as I’m on holiday next Monday. But somehow, following last week’s purge and with a bit of efficiency, I’m bang up to speed with practically everything and I’ve watched some new shows:

The Odd Couple (US: CBS)
Somehow, some strange sort of comedy lifeboat has been erected at NBC and floated off a big bunch of its more talented comedy actors to this CBS show based on the classic Neil Simon play/movie/TV series of the late 60s/early 70s about two divorced men, one a slob, one a tad OCD, who end up living together. Here, Matthew Perry (late of Go On) takes on the Jack Klugman role, once again playing a DJ; Thomas Lennon (Sean Saves The World) takes the Tony Randall role; Yvette Nicole Brown (Community) is Perry's PA; Wendell Pierce (The Michael J Fox Show) is one of Lennon and Perry’s mutual friends.

But despite the source material, the cast and the likes of Joe Keenan behind the scenes, it’s not that good. There are times when it comes close to funny and there’s more intelligence than you might have expected of a CBS comedy, with Perry’s romance with Leslie Bibb in the first episode not going quite how you’d expect; Lennon is as good as always, as is Perry, even if Perry is a more natural fit to Lennon’s role. It’s also better at characterisation than you’d expect and never hits the miserable bitterness of We Are Men, But it’s never laugh out loud funny. Or even funny. Needed to be a lot better, basically, given its pedigree.

X Company (Canada: CBC)
Second World War spy action drama, based on Canada’s real-life spy training base Camp X. In this first episode, a bunch of non-descript young people overact a lot as they’re sent undercover into a French village, while a bunch of better characterised people are systematically killed off. This being a Canadian show, lots of the Nazis are quite nice, as are the Canadians, while the Brits, whether working for or against Camp X, are bastards. For reasons unknown, everyone German (some of them actually played by Germans) speaks German, while despite Canada’s bilingualism, everyone else speaks English.

The first 15 minutes is quite horrendous and I almost stopped watching after that, but after that initial attempt to woo the viewer with action, everything settles down and becomes a lot more interesting. It’s still not great, but one of the better efforts from Canada of late. Incidentally, as I predicted not so long ago, 2015 is indeed turning out to be the Year of Synthesia

Living With Models (UK: Comedy Central)
Ordinary schlub looking for a flat finds one… occupied by models. Close your eyes. Imagine the series. Whatever you just imagined is better than the series itself.

Hostages (UK: BBC4; Israeli: Channel 10 – aired in 2013)
This Israeli show that sees a surgeon’s family taken hostage to force her to kill one of her patients – the Prime Minister – has already been adapted by the US as Hostages. However, despite having seen that show, I quite enjoyed this version, as it’s considerably better – more low key in the exact same way as Prisoners of War was. Although many of the beats are the same, the structure’s different, more time is taken and it does actually feel like a thriller at times. There’s plenty of genre clichés, such as the “illegal gun dealer who demands more money from the man he’s just sold the guns to” and “the bad ass cop who faces down a hostage-taker single-handled”, but largely, it’s not bad, and it does everything better than the US remake does – a step down from Engrenages, naturally, but a step up from Salamander. Good to see BBC4 branching out into Sky Arts’ usual territory, too.

After the jump, the regulars: 12 Monkeys, 19-2, The Americans, Arrow, Banshee, The Blacklist, The Doctor Blake Mysteries, The Flash, Fortitude, Gallipoli, Man Seeking Woman, Marvel’s Agent Carter, State of Affairs and Suits. Oh, Vikings and Bosch are back, too.

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February 16, 2015

What have you been watching? Including Gallipoli, The Slap (US) and The Doctor Blake Mysteries

Posted on February 16, 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.

Time, I think, for another purge. "Why, Rob?" you may ask. “Lots of shows such as Constantine, Ground Floor, Spiral (Engrenages) and State of Affairs are finishing anyway, so why purge any more?”

Because it’s a good habit to get into, that’s why. Rather than simply watch whatever floats past out eyes, shouldn’t we examining everything, seeing if it’s still worth it, and abandoning anything that really isn’t serving a purpose it might once have? Hence, a purge.

Plus I’m away for a few days next week and there are some new shows starting soon, so I need to claw back a little time.

So dropping off the viewing list this week are the following:

Allegiance (US: NBC)
After the first episode’s cliffhanger ending, we have the most obvious cop-out imaginable that makes super-genius son look a complete idiot. And unless Hope Davis was mumbling for most of last week (possible) or I just wasn’t paying attention and didn’t notice it (possible), this week she seems to have acquired the world’s worst Russian accent. No more of this fresh hell for me, thank you.

Better Call Saul (US: AMC; UK: Netflix)
I wasn’t a fan of Breaking Bad, I’m not finding the first few episodes great so far. Maybe I’ll pick it up again later (thanks, Netflix). But right now, it’s not for me.

Fresh Off The Boat (US: ABC)
I was hoping Nahnatchka Khan’s magic was going to be enough to get the show improving over time. But despite a winning performance by Constance Wu, episode three proved to be laugh-free.

Gotham (US: Fox; UK: Channel 5)
If it hadn’t been a Batman prequel, I would have dropped it by now. But one good episode isn’t sufficient to maintain my interest and although we actually had the Penguin and the Riddler meet this week, it was yet again a brief flash of interest in an otherwise turgid episode.

Hiding (Australia: ABC)
Each hour-long episode probably has about enough plot and laughs for half an hour. Even then, when the show sets up a glorious opportunity to do something good – our ex-crim turned faux doctoral student in criminal psychology given a chance to lecture on what makes crims tick – it bottles it and tries to save up what morsels of goodness it does have for another episode.

Man Seeking Woman is hanging on a thread, too. But I won’t be giving up just yet.

I also tried two new mini-series this week.

Gallipoli (Australia: Nine)
The Gallipoli campaign of the First World War (its centenary is in April) is a strange affair. Rarely mentioned in the UK except perhaps as an example of yet another thing with which Winston Churchill was involved before the Second World War that he inevitably cocked-up, elsewhere in the world it’s of vital importance. An attempt by the Allies to take Constantinople that stalled in Gallipoli, it was the moment for Australia and New Zealand that they decided that being part of the British Empire wasn’t that great, while for the Turks, it was the spur that eventually led to their later independence under the leadership of Gallipoli hero Mustafa Kemal.

Based on the book of the same name, this nine-part Australian mini-series is effectively Australia’s Band of Brothers, attempting to take a balanced approach to the campaign, with Brits, ANZACs and Turks treated equitably by the producers, as the horrors and inevitabilities of war, coupled with human nature, force everyone into untenable positions that eventually results in untold slaughter.

The first two episodes are light on characterisation, largely sticking to re-enacting the war and focusing on one teenage soldier (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as he learns to kill and survive, although there are scenes involving famous figures, including British war reporter Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, here played by Gaius Baltar himself James Callis, and Mustafa Kemal (Yalin Ozucelik), although he’s not yet been identified by name.

It’s a very creditable, often moving piece of work, even having been filmed in Turkey, although the CGI (and some of the accents) are a bit flakey. Worth watching if you have an interest in history, particularly history that’s important to people in the rest of the world, and don’t mind a heavy emphasis on warfare.

The Slap (US: NBC)
A remake of the Australian mini-series of the same name, which in turn was based on the book of the same. A Greek-American family and friends all get together to celebrate the 40th birthday of Peter Sarsgaard. Except midway through the party, cousin Zachary Quinto hits a misbehaving child and all Hell breaks loose.

While this is obviously an attempt by NBC to put on a prestige series about a Very Important Topic, with a Very Important Cast (Uma Thurman, Thandie Newton, Brian Cox), it’s creatively flawed at pretty much every level. Some of that is the fault of the source material – assuming, of course, the original thought a 40-year-old man considering an affair with a teenager was in any way a good idea. But a lot of it’s down to casting. Melissa George, who reprises her role from the original, has minimal to do, but attempts by Sarsgaard, Cox and Quinto to demonstrate their Greekness result in some of the worst Greek yet put on screen, with Cox and Quinto often forced to use the time honoured “mumble, talk in someone’s ear or cover my face with my hand when I’m ‘speaking' this language. Oh wait, let’s speak English for no good reason!” technique of ensuring that no one can hear them speaking Greek, lest we all find out how bad they are. Unfortunately, we do.

On top of this, we get Sarsgaard grouching about the fact a woman – a Latina, at that! Heavens! – got the job he wanted and the whole thing feels like some sad, middle-aged white man somewhere got a bit upset that he wasn’t allowed to do sh*tty things with impunity any more, and decided to write a bit of wallowing self-pity about what the world’s come to.

Episode two might be better, though.

After the jump, then, I’ll be looking at last week’s episodes of 12 Monkeys, 19-2, The Americans, Arrow, Banshee, The Blacklist, Constantine, The Doctor Blake Mysteries, The Flash, Forever, Fortitude, Ground Floor, Man Seeking Woman, Marvel’s Agent Carter, Spiral (Engrenages), State of Affairs and Suits.

I also watched a movie.

Valentine’s Day (2010) (iTunes)
Slightly tepid Gary Marshall (Pretty Woman) ensemble movie that attempts to Crash/Love Actually St Valentine’s Day, with various couples getting together and breaking up on Valentine’s Day as their various stories all intersect each other. Jamie Foxx, Julia Roberts, Bradley Cooper, Ashton Kutcher, Jennifer Garner, Jessica Biel, Queen Latifah, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Alba, Shirley Maclaine, Eric Dane and others are among the star-crossed lovers unfortunately trapped in LA, with not a single one of the stories plausible or even especially romantic, with only one or two surprises in the whole thing. The final two couple revelations are almost worth the prize of admission, though.

But last week was Greek week in London. Yes, students at two universities, KCL and UCL, stage a Greek drama or tragedy at this time every year – just for larks, KCL's is in Ancient Greek with super-titling!

The Clouds (KCL: Greenwood Theatre)
Aristophanes’s comedies are always tricky boys to dramatise, not least because a lot of the humour only works in Ancient Greek, but because attempts to make them funny also tend to fall flat. So it’s to director Oliver Harrington’s credit that he managed to make The Clouds, in which a rustic farmer with debts decides to learn sophistry from Socrates so that he can talk his way out his problems, actually very funny. While some of the cast (and the supertitler…) struggled with the Greek a little, Harrington managed to mix the old and new, acting with singing, crude and sophisticated together in one show and for it all to work. I did get slapped by a phallus midway through, though.

Bacchae (UCL: Bloomsbury Theatre)
UCL have it a little easier, working in English, but The Bacchae was no less memorable, with Emily Louizou’s more timeless production managing to bring out the religious aspects of Euripides’ original play, to give us a truly frightening and charismatic Dionysus (Pavlos Christodoulou), who can bend reality to his will and make mortals do the unthinkable.

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January 30, 2015

Review: Fortitude 1x1-1x3 (UK: Sky Atlantic; US: Pivot TV)

Posted on January 30, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Fortitude

In the UK: Thursdays, 9pm, Sky Atlantic
In the US: Thursdays, 10e/p, Pivot TV

I remember watching the first episode of Twin Peaks very well. It was my first year at university and I was sat in the TV room. The hype for the show had been huge, and the room was full as a result. We sat waiting in expectation through the previous programme for the moment when David Lynch’s very first TV series would begin.

And for about 30 minutes, we sat there wondering what the hell all the fuss was about. This was boring. This was dull. David Lynch made this? David Lynch?

But then, through a simple straight cut scene change, we were catapulted into the Twin Peaks everyone would come to grow and love. Because we were suddenly in the car with Special Agent Dale Cooper of the FBI and finally we understood what the fuss was about.

Fortitude doesn’t quite have that moment but it has something almost approaching it. For pretty much two episodes, you sit with baited breath, watching the beautiful Icelandic filming and the famous cast as they enact a lifeless and - punningly enough - glacial script. Set in a small town on a Norwegian island in the Arctic circle where the inhabitants are outnumbered by polar bears and no one’s allowed to die, even the murder of one of the inhabitants isn’t enough to get things going in the frozen wastes of the prestige filming.

But then, in the last act of the second episode, Stanley Tucci arrives to save the day. The Agent Cooper of the piece, almost single-handedly he makes this a must-watch show… and he even brings the Twin Peaks with him. Here’s a trailer.

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