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Reviews of US television programmes

October 5, 2015

Review: Dr Ken 1x1 (US: ABC)

Posted on October 5, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Dr Ken

In the US: Fridays, 8.30/7.30c, ABC

If there's a message to take away from the latest crop of medical dramas that the networks have foist so far on us this autumn, it's that the American public like their doctors to be dicks. Dicks who are right and will make you better medically, but fundamentally, who are complete dicks with the bedside manner of a marine drill sergeant. We've already had lone-wolf racist surgeon dick Jennifer Beals over on TNT's Proof and an entire hospital of nurse and doctor dicks over on CBS in Code Black - particularly Marcia Gay Harden. And now we have 'actually used to be a doctor in real life' dick doctor Ken Jeong in Dr Ken.

I'm not sure the cause of this. Maybe it's 'the Donald Trump effect' making viewers crave a complete dick to order them about. Maybe it's nearly a decade of House that's conditioned everyone to be expect doctors to be misanthropic geniuses. Or maybe it's a realistic reflection of the US medical system. After all, Alec Baldwin was kind of a dick surgeon in Malice all the way back in 1993.

Whatever the reason, that's what we've got in Dr Ken. Now admittedly, Ken Jeong has made a career out of being a dick, first as a doctor (I'm assuming), then as a stand-up, then as the insane teacher, Chang, in Community and then as the funny naked crime lord, Leslie Chow, of The Hangover and its sequels.

He's funny and edgy. However, beyond the fact he's been a doctor in real life and he's also a producer and writer for Dr Ken, it's not clear why he should be shoe-horned into a multi-camera family sitcom in which he makes proctology jokes. Beyond the fact that TV doctors are apparently all now dicks and Jeong's good at playing a dick, even a mild dick.

And he is quite mild in this. The show dwells on two areas: home and office. Home is home. It's the same as any other sitcom family, with Jeong and his therapist wife (Suzy Nakamura) tusselling for control over home and children, Jeong being less sympathetic to his kids than she. Because he's a mildly dickish TV doctor, but also because that's how US family sitcoms work. 

At the office, Jeong spends his time being dickish to his annoying patients, quarrelling and gossiping with his diverse, joke-playing co-workers, and tusselling for control over patients and staff with administrator Dave Foley (Kids In The Hall, How To Be A Gentleman, Spun Out). Even though Jeong and the cast do their best, the script never really delivers the funny in either domain, although Foley's inadvertent racism almost manages to raise some chuckles. Unfortunately, it crosses a line and just becoming unpleasant. The only other joke of note? Jeong looking for his daughter, Molly, in a night club and finding something quite different instead. And I've just spoiled that one for you.

Perhaps the only point where the show ever really becomes interesting is when Jeong acts and talks like a doctor. It may be dry stuff, for just for a moment, you might find your sleeping brain cells stirred into life.

Other than that, consider this the next Cristela.

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October 2, 2015

What have you been watching? Including You, Me and the Apocalypse, Limitless, The Muppets, Scream Queens, Doctor Who and Y Gwyll

Posted on October 2, 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.

I always forget. I always go "Look how much I've done!" in the first week of each new Fall season, then forget that in the second week I've got to watch all the new programmes that start airing that week as well as the ones that began the previous week.

My, what a lot of tele I've watched this week.

Still, unbelievably, I'm actually up to date. This week, I reviewed the first episodes of the following new shows:

And after the jump, you'll find reviews of the latest episodes of: 800 Words, Blindspot, Continuum, Doctor Who, Heroes Reborn, Life in Pieces, Limitless, Minority Report, The Muppets, The Player, Rosewood, Scream Queens, Y Gwyll and You're The Worst. Some of them won't be making it to a third-episode verdict, particularly since the Barrometer is currently in a tanning salon somewhere in the Gorbals so too busy to pass judgement on anything, but you can find out which after the jump.

On top of all that, I also managed to watch the first episode of another new show, this time from the UK.

You, Me and The Apocalypse (UK: Sky1; US: NBC)
As with most US/UK co-productions, particularly those involving Sky, this is a lukewarm affair that satisfies no-one, perhaps best evidenced by the change in the show's title from Apocalypse Slough. It sees a comet approaching the Earth, meaning that everyone goes a bit whacky at the prospect of the coming Apocalypse that will result when it hits. However, the action of the first episode is all set in the lead-up to the lead-up to the comet, introducing us to several different groups of people from around the world who are going to all end up together at some point. These include Mathew Baynton, Joel Fry (Plebs), Pauline Quirke (Birds of a Feather), Rob Lowe (like you need to know who he is), Paterson Joseph (Peep Show), Jenna Fischer (The Office US) and an almost unrecognisable Megan Mullally (Will and Grace). Unfortunately, it's all a bit weak and pathetic, not really knowing who its audience is, despite the occasional choice joke. The only exception to this is Rob Lowe's bad minded Catholic priest who is the Vatican's Devil's Advocate. Otherwise, eminently missable.

But if you think after all that I had any time to watch any movies or go to the theatre, you have a higher opinion of me than I do.

Continue reading "What have you been watching? Including You, Me and the Apocalypse, Limitless, The Muppets, Scream Queens, Doctor Who and Y Gwyll"

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October 1, 2015

Review: Code Black 1x1 (US: CBS)

Posted on October 1, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Code Black

In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, CBS

CBS is, of course, the king of the police procedural in the US. Police procedurals of all ilks dominate its schedules and the ratings, and arguably it does them better than any other network.

However, for years, it's tried to extend its procedural dominance into the medical realm, with a seemingly neverending stream of shows that quickly turn out to be low-rated, instantly forgettable one-season wonders: Three Rivers, 3 Lbs, Miami Trauma, A Gifted Man.

In fact, I've written pretty much this exact same intro to every new medical procedural CBS has come up with every year, so much so I'm bored of it. Maybe you are, too.

Trouble is, I fully expect I'll be writing it again next year since CBS's latest medical procedural, Code Black, is a yawnfest that's almost certainly going to get cancelled by the end of the season. It's based on Code Black, a 2013 documentary about LA County General, which is one of the largest and busiest teaching hospitals in the US, employing more than 1,000 residents at a time. The name 'code black' refers to when an emergency department's resources are so overstretched by an influx of patients, it can't take it any more, and while most EDs in the US only experience four such events a year, LA County General experiences it 300 times a year.

Time for more resources, obviously. Except that wouldn't make for a great TV show.

And neither would Code Black, in which a whole bunch of competitive, disparate, highly dull medical residents all learn how to be ED doctors at the hands of 'dad', aka Marcia Gay Harden (The Newsroom, Damages), 'mom' being Luis Guzmán (Narcos), the senior nurse who looks after them all. Harden's a bit hard and lacking in bedside manner following 'an incident' three years previously, something that concerns caring, sharing fellow doctor Raza Jaffrey (ElementaryHomeland, Spooks) but not so much hospital administrator Kevin Dunn (Samantha Who?), since Harden's abrasive training produces the best doctors.

And that's it, really. It's basically ER but busier, not taking the time to do more in terms of characterisation rather than have people explain who they are and how totes awesome they are, before performing perfunctory acts of dickery. It's just blood on the floor to blood on the floor, while a camera unsuccessfully rushes around to try to convey the impression of the original Code Black documentary. Nice, if you like medical porn, dull if you want an actual drama.

The trouble is if you just rush all the time in an attempt to convey pressure, you're not going to end up with tension. You're going to end up with confusion. And then boredom.

The camera goes here, the camera goes there, while the cast mumble their lines or shout them so that you never hear them. All you'll really know most of the time is that people are ill and the doctors are trying to help them. Learn much about the US medical system from it all? Grow to love a character? Probably not.

There are scenes, almost all of them involving Dunn, where the show is allowed to breath and for characters to grow. But they're few and far between, and sometimes oddly positioned, such as when Dunn starts talking about his eczema in the middle of surgery, to emphasise the point that people are spending too much time on characterisation and need to get back to some advanced doctoring.

But, ultimately, Code Black is just procedure with very little human interest. See you back here next year with the intro?

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