Archive | US TV 2013

Reviews of new US TV programmes from 2013

January 10, 2014

Series review: Vikings (season 1)

Posted on January 10, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share


In the US: The History Channel. New season begins at the end of February
In the UK: Lovefilm. New series begins at the end of February

The Vikings are a very under-appreciated bunch. Without them England, Ireland and indeed much of northern Europe would be very different places. Even at a very trivial level, the English language would probably be considerably harder and more like German, and might not have got such a purchase on world culture.

Although their importance as been glossed over and largely ignored, despite the debt we owe them, more and more they’re being acknowledged: I’d recommend going to the British Museum’s forthcoming Vikings exhibition, which will include a 37m long Viking longboat, for starters.

Also helping is the US’s History Channel, which broke the habit of a lifetime to produce its first scripted TV series last year. Now, I was on holiday when this first aired, so it completely passed me by. Fortunately, I’ve now got Lovefilm access, and was able to catch up with the show, having an idle moment or two to fill.

And I’ve very glad I did, because it’s actually a really interesting piece of work. A Canadian-Irish co-production written by historical drama go-to guy Michael "Tudors” Hirst, it’s part-educational, part-drama, telling the story of the semi-legendary, semi-historic Ragnarr Loðbrók (aka Ragnar Hairy Breeches), the man who pointed the Vikings in the direction of England (maybe) and whose sons launched the Great Heathen Army that was eventually to settle and rule most of the north and east of the country. It’s gripping, fun, thrilling, bloody, defies expectations and gives you a lot of insight into Viking culture and religion.


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December 3, 2013

Fourth-episode verdict: Almost Human (Fox)

Posted on December 3, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerAlmostHuman.jpgA Barrometer rating of 3

In the US: Mondays, 8/7c, Fox
In the UK: Not yet acquired
Find it in the schedules where you live

With so many shows now starting with double-episodes, it seems to make more sense - if I can bear it - to wait for four episodes before passing verdict on them. Almost Human is a case in point. A big brave bold JJ Abrams TV show from Fox, it’s a futuristic buddy-buddy cop story between a growly white cop (Karl Urban) and a sensitive black android cop (Michael Ealy). They solve crimes together. They rib each other.

Every episode is more or less the same: there’s a shiny, quite interesting science-fiction idea about law enforcement or crime in the future. Our two heroes go around and solve the crime in precisely the same way two modern day cops would, just a bit quicker thanks to technology and special effects. The android gets shot or beaten up a bit, but he can take it because he’s an android. And then there’s much laughter at the end.

Along the way, despite 100 years having passed since women’s liberation, the entire existence of women except as sexbots, strippers, wives and mothers is pretty much forgotten - you might spot one in ten characters as being female. There’s a lot of male bonding and jokes. Mackenzie Crook from The Office gets to be nerdy. All the promise of story arcs and characterisation that was in the first episode gets more or less forgotten.

It’s incredibly, incredibly adequate.

I do appreciate that the show is trying to be a procedural, a CSI with robots, and that expecting individual episodes to be anything more than exactly the same as each other is a bad idea. There’s a decent enough chemistry between the two leads and they do their jobs as required. And it does come up with some intriguing ideas (this week, we got a liquid you can swallow that will make you a GPS beacon and a drug made from bacteria found on the ocean floor).

But unless you’re a teenage boy or will watch pretty much anything science-fiction related, this probably ain’t the show for you. It’s just too bland, too boys club and too empty in the human relationships department to really make you want to watch.

Barrometer rating: 3
Rob’s prediction: Will probably last a season, maybe get a second. But that’s it, unless there’s a big reboot

November 19, 2013

Review: Almost Human 1x1-1x2 (Fox)

Posted on November 19, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Almost Human

In the US: Mondays, 8/7c, Fox
In the UK: Not yet acquired
Find it in the schedules where you live

Visions of the future almost by definition have to fit into two camps: things are either going to have to go better or they’re going to have get worse. Whether it’s Robocop, Blade Runner, Minority Report, Logan’s Run, Planet of the Apes or any other piece of sci-fi, authors tend to veer towards either the utopian or the dystopian in their projections.

So to a certain extent you have to give Almost Human a good deal of credit for envisioning a future that is both worse and better. It’s 2048 and science and technology have advanced considerably. Unfortunately, gangs of criminals have access to that technology and the crime rate is increasing at 400%. So the police decide to pair every human detective with a police/combat android, capable of incredible acts of strength and analysis.

Detective John Kennex (Karl Urban from Dredd 3D, Star Trek, The Bourne Supremacy, Xena: Warrior Princess, et al) loses his leg in a police operation that goes badly wrong. When he comes back to duty over a year later, the android he’s paired with annoys him so much he destroys it. So the lab guy (Mackenzie Crook from The Office) gives him one of the older models (Michael Ealy from Common Law, The Good Wife, FlashForward and Sleeper Cell): the ‘crazy ones’ with 'synthetic souls’, capable of not just emulating but feeling human emotions, in addition to having natural robotic talents. Together, Kennex and ‘Dorian’ have to stop crime and learn to get on with one another, although is that even possible with an android?

And as you might expect from such a rundown, a good deal of imagination has gone into the science-fiction side of things, particularly as it relates to law enforcement, giving us everything from genetically targeted diseases to DNA bombs and robots capable of doing forensic analysis inside their bodies. The show also mines the obvious parallels with racial discrimination that having an underclass/slave population such a set-up gives us.

But as far as the human side of things goes, that’s where the imagination ran out. Here’s a trailer:

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