Archive | US TV 2014

Reviews of new US TV programmes from 2014

December 19, 2014

Third-episode verdict: The Librarians (US: TNT; UK: SyFy)

Posted on December 19, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerLibrarians.jpgA Barrometer rating of 3

In the US: Sundays, 8/7c, TNT
In the UK: Mondays, 8pm, Syfy

Well that rolled around quickly, didn’t it? Yes, time for a third-episode verdict already on TNT’s The Librarians, a spin-off series from the Noah Wyle TV movies that featured the character of the Librarian and is already being described as “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys for a new generation”.

Described by me as that, anyway.

The first couple of episodes were relatively action-packed, seeing Wyle and his helper monkeys defeat a magic-obsessed secret society led by a former Max Headroom who wanted the Crown of King Arthur, Excalibur and the Stone from whence it was taken (except it wasn’t) so they could return magic to the world. Budget now shot and Wyle off to defend the world from alien invaders instead, the third episode had to rely on the helper monkeys to fill the breach.

This was less than successful. The script was actually quite imaginative, giving us a new take on the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur that was surprisingly innovative. And while one could quibble with Christian Kane’s confusion over whether a fresco was Minoan or Helladic - are you blind, man? - the lurching around from historical inaccuracy to historical inaccuracy of the first two episodes wasn’t such an issue in the third.

No, the problem was twofold: the characters and the lack of fun. Without Wyle to bolster up both the supporting characters and the script, episode three revealed the spin-offs flaws like so much wallpaper peeling off from some cracked walls. Without the right kind of action and fun, the show stops being enjoyable and actually becomes quite painful, as we’re forced to watch some really quite dreadful actors try to inject life into some paper-thin characters with dialogue that the average five year old would probably regard as hackneyed. And with a budget far too low for its ambitions, it’s hard to really respect a globe-trotting show that largely sticks inside tunnels, offices and Boston alleyways.

So what we have here is a very variable, family show that lives and dies on its writing, with a cast that can’t save it when that writing falls through. When it’s good, it’s going to be brain-off, adrenaline-on TV; when it’s bad, it’s going to be fingernails on blackboards TV.

Still, Bruce Campbell is Santa Claus next episode. How can that not be aces?

Barrometer rating: 3
Rob’s prediction: Should last a while at least, particularly now we’re reaching Christmas, but it’s still got a long way to go before it finds its feet.

December 12, 2014

Review: The Librarians 1x1-1x2 (US: TNT; UK: SyFy)

Posted on December 12, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Librarians

In the US: Sundays, 8/7c, TNT
In the UK: Mondays, 8pm, Syfy

As I remarked a while back, TNT is best known for airing crime shows, both scripted and unscripted. While there have been a few exceptions over the years, the vast bulk of its output has been about cops and solving mysteries and the few exceptions along the way have mostly perished and died very quickly.

One of the few things on TNT that hasn’t involved crime and yet has survived the years is Noah Wyle. As well as his alien invasion show, Falling Skies, he’s also been the lead in an occasional series of TV movies based around a character called The Librarian. Part Indiana Jones, part Nicolas Cage in National Treasure, the Librarian has roamed the Earth for the best part of a decade, cracking ancient clues, engaging in daring-do, so that he can find lost magical artefacts such as Excalibur and the Spear of Destiny, so they can be safeguarded in a New York magical library run by Bob Newhart and Jane Curtin.

This year, though, TNT is making a concerted effort to branch out into other genres as part of its ‘boom’ campaign. Yes, ‘TNT – boom’: you can imagine how long it took them to think that one up. Surprisingly, ‘boom’s been doing quite well. While Legends isn’t the world’s best show, it’s an decent enough attempt to branch out into the spy genre and has been renewed for a second season. The big cable hit of the summer was TNT’s The Last Ship, a delightful combination of ship warfare and killer viruses that I loved and which is also back for a second season next year.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that TNT’s ‘boom' is giving us The Librarians, an attempt to turn this occasional movie series into a potentially far more lucrative multi-episode TV series. Beginning with a two part special, the series sees 'the Serpent Brotherhood’ trying to kill off the Librarian and any other potential Librarians so they can return magic to the world and then rule it.

Wyle has to round up the surviving potential librarians, who are largely former TNT stars (Rebecca Romijn from King & Maxwell and Christian Kane from Leverage), protect the library and save the world. And while it has a budget of about $4, the authenticity of a Ratner’s ring, the attention to historical detail of an Asterix book and an ensemble of actors about as convincing as the average glove puppet, it’s actually a very enjoyable bit of family fun.

Here’s a trailer:

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December 3, 2014

Third-episode verdict: State of Affairs (US: NBC)

Posted on December 3, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerStateOfAffairs.jpgA Barrometer rating of 3

In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, NBC

Normally, TV shows go up and down from episode to episode on the Barrometer, the world's finest measurer of TV quality that doesn't wear sunglasses. Occasionally, they stay the same, but only by consistently offering the same good or bad features that earned them their first rating.

So State of Affairs is a rare beast indeed: a show that changes from episode to episode, giving the viewer new things to think about, yet still being consistently the same on average. It's enough to make the Barrometer burst into a show tune of surprise.

Starring Katherine Heigl as the double-surnamed Charleston Tucker, a CIA analyst who happens to be the president's ex-daughter-in-law-to-be (it's complicated), the first episode surprised almost everyone into singing show tunes with its first episode by being on NBC, starring Katherine Heigl yet not being appalling. In fact, in places, it was quite good.

Since then, the show has managed to kill off some of its stupider features (no one calls Heigl 'Charleston' any more; she rarely wears cocktail dresses, not even to see her psychiatrist) while adding in some new ones (stupid potential office romance; stupid husband for the president; James Remar in a stupid hat) and maintaining the status quo on some others (the stupid ongoing conspiracy theory that requires Heigl to nip out of important operations to have chats on park benches). Thus the show has managed to preserve its overall 'well, that wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be' Barrometer rating for three episodes.

Despite the somewhat mixed bag that the first episode presented, the show has now firmly become Homeland lite, with Heigl a network TV Claire Danes with the much more fun 'drunken promiscuity' replacing 'bipolar disorder' and all her nemeses seemingly coming from Africa rather than the Middle East. Just for luck and a little variety, the show tried to go a bit Tom Clancy by having a Russian nuclear submarine be the subject of episode two (and even referenced The Hunt for Red October for luck), but that wasn't fooling anyone.

Indeed, the show's biggest Achilles Heel is its tendency to pluck stories from the headlines for inspiration. While that can work in the right hands, sorting out Boko Haram inside an hour for example verges on the distasteful rather than the inspired.

The show does its best and sometimes succeeds at being a relatively gritty bit of spy fun, despite its protagonists confined to sitting around in rooms talking. This can be done, as The Sandbaggers demonstrated, but it's hampered by its network, its own superficiality and its pulling of punches. 

Worth watching if you like Heigl and find Homeland to be too frustrating, probably not worth watching if you have much else to do.

Barrometer rating: 3
Rob's prediction: Will probably make it to at least a season, perhaps more, with some judicious scheduling, since if it faces any real competition, it'll probably perish into the firefight

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