Archive | US TV 2017

Reviews of new US TV programmes from 2017

February 24, 2017

Review: The Good Fight 1x1 (US: CBS All Access)

Posted on February 24, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Good Fight

In the US: Sundays, CBS All Access

Spin-offs are a tricky business. You want to try to attract as many people to watch them as possible. Yet if you make the spin-off too different, maybe the fans of the original show won't like it and won't watch; meanwhile, those who didn't watch the original won't watch because they know it's a spin-off. But if you make the spin-off too similar, the fans might get bored of seeing more of the same, while everyone else won't watch for exactly the same reasons they didn't watch the original.

The Good Wife was an ultimately much raved about drama in which Julianna Margulies returned to work as a lawyer after her cheating husband got locked up. I quite enjoyed it but I ended up watching only a few episodes, since it wasn't so good I wanted to stick it out beyond episode three, so I never really got to learn why everyone ended up loving it so much in later episodes.

Now we have The Good Fight, a spin-off from The Good Wife that's also the first show put out exclusively on CBS's new online-only Hulu rival, CBS All Access. And it all seems a bit familiar, even to me.

For starters, it sees Christine Baranski reprise her role as one of Margulies' mentors at her law firm, from which she's just about to retire. However, before you can say "well, how are they going to have a legal show if she's retired?", her accountant (CSI's Paul Guilfoyle) is revealed to have possibly been the architect of a Ponzi Scheme and all her money is now either missing or tied up in the investigation. Retirement? Not for you.

Trouble is, her old firm wants her gone and her association with Guilfoyle means none of her clients want to go with her if she leaves. Fortunately, there's another law firm for which Delroy Lindo and Good Wife regular Cush Jumbo work that might be interested in hiring her, so she can do good works, instead of defending the indefensible. Will she join the good guys and fight The Good Fight?

Well, duh.

Coming with her is Rose Leslie (the red-headed wildling from Game of Thrones), Guilfoyle's newly graduated lawyer daughter and former golden girl, who's now as toxic as Baranski, so it's basically The Good Wife again, in which an older female lawyer partnered by a younger (gay) woman rediscovers her worth and ambitions through a new job. There are what felt like a lot of references to that show and a certain degree of foreknowledge required of the viewers, such as the opening scene of Baranski watching the Trump inauguration silently devastated which is never referred to again, but I'm assuming is a reference to her political sensibilities. But it wasn't so debilitating that I couldn't understand or enjoy what was going on.

To be honest, while it's not hugely different from any number of other legal dramas, The Good Fight is at least well written, has a good cast and is occasionally funny. Possessed of no fewer than three Brits in its line-up pretending to be American (Lindo, Leslie and Jumbo), it's happy to mock that fact for the audience's pleasure by getting Delroy to ask Jumbo to answer phones in a London accent. Lockhart's loss of her retirement plans is a source of pathos, as is the fact the show also frequently has much poorer people who suffered from the Ponzi scheme explaining they've worked for 20 years and got nothing to show for it, too. TMZ investigations of Leslie and her girlfriend also enable Jumbo to offer friendship in a time of need by offering advice from Margulies' experiences, and Lockhart's relationship with her possibly soon to be ex-husband (Gary Cole) is actually quite touching.

But The Good Fight is nothing that new as a legal drama, even less so for anyone who's watched The Good Wife. Maybe that's why it's on CBS All Access - it would probably get cancelled quickly on broadcast TV but being quite cheap to make and on the Internet, it could find a niche quite easily. 

I'll probably give episode two a watch at least to see if takes the show in a different direction. Nevertheless, I suspect that just as with The Good Wife, I'll be out after three, even though there's nothing that wrong with it.

February 23, 2017

Third-episode verdict: Legion (US: FX; UK: Fox UK)

Posted on February 23, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerLegion.jpgA Barrometer rating of 2

In the US: Wednesdays, 10pm ET/PT, FX
In the UK: Thursdays, 9pm, Fox UK

Legion, FX's new superhero show based on a Marvel X-Men comic of the same name, has one big problem: it's a superhero show based on a Marvel X-Men comic of the same name. Were it not for that singular problem, the show would be able to avoid some of the now colossally well worn tropes of that 'universe' and be able to plough its own wonderful furrow unfettered. Instead, despite its majestic wildness, psychedelic directorial vision, and focus on the psychological and just plain old insane, and despite also foregoing much of the original source material, Legion still has to have mutants at war with the government, exploring their abilities, feeling oppressed, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Other than that, though, Legion is really a joy to behold, although the degree of joy depends on how much show creator Noah Hawley (Fargo) is involved in it. Episode one, which was both written by and directed by Hawley, is absolutely amazing, a mind-bending, reality warping piece of 70s-style trippiness. Since then, Hawley has been less involved, only writing the second episode and neither writing nor directing the third, all of which has resulting in slightly diminished returns that rely considerably on what Hawley set up in the first episode, but without innovating too much themselves.

Nevertheless, while considerably less visually inventive - although all credit to whomever thought having a little boy with a Frank Sidebottom-style paper head would be scary - and not having as strong a sense of plotting as before, Legion has remained quality viewing, effectively becoming a mystery story of the mind, as we try to work out what's been going on in Dan Stevens' head - and everyone hopes that if they do find out, it won't cause him to accidentally destroy reality in some way with his amazing mental powers. Characterisation for everyone except Stevens is weak, with the show revolving almost exclusively around its titular character and his issues, and the show effectively only has two real locations, in which people mostly sit and chat a lot each week. But somehow it doesn't really seem to matter, since the show manages to remain almost constantly fascinating, never truly revealing what's real and what's imagination or distortion. It's also frequently quite frightening, as we deal with Stevens' various internal nightmares.

I do hope that the show manages to avoid the pitfalls being part of the X-Men universe brings. But even with its superheroic problems, it's still a great piece of weekly viewing.

February 22, 2017

Third-episode verdict: Imposters (US: Bravo)

Posted on February 22, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerImposters.jpgA Barrometer rating of 2

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, Bravo

So it turns out that despite being about con artists and their victims, Imposters is quite nice and quite funny. The basic story is that Inbar Levi (The Last Ship) is a conwoman who gets men - and women - to fall in love with them, marries them, steals all their money with the help of her accomplices (Katherine LaNasa, Brian Benben), and then moves on to her next mark. However, over the course of the first three episodes, a group of her jilted exes (Rob Heaps, Parker Young, Marianne Rendón) slowly discover the existence of one another and like a slightly sad and broken, slightly more incompetent, but considerably more likable Magnificent Seven, they head off in pursuit of Levi in the hope of getting their money back - and maybe even Levi herself.

The show oscillates between sadness and hilarity. Episode one, which gives us sensitive Heaps' sudden descent from bliss to despair, is suicidally miserable; episode two, on the other hand, gives us the knuckle-headed Young and the slow forging of a partnership between Young and Heaps; episode three adds Rendón and veers between melancholy and mischief, as we see how Young might have slightly greater depths and Rendón is a therapy-addicted hipster.

Imposters also has two converging but separate storylines, with Levi trying to trick her current mark, the rich, sweet but dull Aaron Douglas but thinking she might have a real relationship with the handsome Stephen Bishop instead. While Levi is having second thoughts about 'the life', Heaps, Young and Rendón are starting to learn the art of the con (some might already know a little about it) in order to boost their penniless existence. Eventually, they might all meet in the middle of a grey morality and be suitable for each other

Where Imposters is most interesting is its commentaries on relationships. Levi makes people fall in love with her, by giving them what they want - her marks all want to believe her. Meanwhile, when Levi genuinely wants to settle down, she can't because she can't stop acting and so setting off warning sirens with other people's intuition.

But the show's nebulous con organisation is also quite a fun invention, with episode three giving Benben a bit more to do (which is nice - you remember Dream On, don't you?)…

…as well as introducing Uma Thurman as the organisation's enforcer, who'll go full Kill Bill on Levi if she gets out of line.

Imposters is at its best when it's being slightly silly, but it's still no shirk when it comes to dealing with the rawer aspects of the emotions. The cast are good, Levi is impressive and while it doesn't exactly have the hard edge of a Noir, it does have a bit more of a proximity to reality than Leverage did. It's not really doing anything that new in terms of plotting, but it's an amusing exploration of ideas, characters and emotions nevertheless.

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