Archive | US TV reviews

Reviews of US television programmes


November 30, 2016

Third-episode verdict: Shooter (US: USA; UK: Netflix)

Posted on November 30, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerShooter.jpgA Barrometer rating of 2

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, USA
In the UK: Wednesdays, Netflix

The biggest problem with Shooter - USA's adaptation of the 2007 movie of the same name, in which a retired marine (Ryan Phillipe) is falsely accused of an assassination and must find the true culprits to clear his name - is that it's educational. Yes, educational.

I say problem because you'll end up knowing an awful lot about guns after each episode. At some point in each hour, you'll get an awful info dump from Phillipe about some new weapon or other ("the pistol grip on that shotgun reduces your control and may cause you to spray shot into her gut") that's both impressive and yet simultaneously a bit upsetting - like a neighbour who can tell you in forensic detail exactly what you did every single moment of the day in chronological order. Even when you thought you were alone. And were at work.

But like that neighbour who might otherwise be quiet, keep to himself and always mow his lawn, if you can overlook the one problem, you might get on well. Shooter, like its antecedent, is actually a pretty fine thriller.

While the first episode was more or less identical to the first 20 minutes or so of the movie, providing almost no surprises whatsoever, episode two was an intriguing "what if he'd turned right instead of left?" embellishment to the movie that still ended up at more or less the same point by the end, but which fed in a whole new bunch of parameters, allies, enemies and situations that made the whole thing just a little bit more realistic and expansive than the movie. It also made Phillipe's wife (Shantel VanSanten from The Messengers and The Flash) a little more interesting and gave Cynthia Addai-Robinson something to do other than glower.

Episode three in turn is the beginning of Phillipe's hunt for the bad guys and their hunt for him, and it dials the tension up several notches with some smart moves on everyone's parts. It also added to the show's already pleasantly conservative tone, giving us all manner of 'brothers and sisters in arms' moments that should make you swell with patriotism, even if you aren't American.

Where the show falls down a bit, oddly enough, is its action scenes - or at least its fight scenes. Never has a marine been so incompetent at fighting. In a day and age when pretty much every action show has an ex-military advisor on hand, Phillipe appears to be at almost yellow-belt status in dealing with the enemy, barely able to muster a competent o-soto-goshi, let alone give us any proper marine corps martial arts.

If you like a decent thriller, with reasonably sensible plotting, a decent cast and decent characters, then Shooter's a good show to watch. If you love guns, you may even love it*. It's just a shame nothing about Phillipe really says 'top marine sniper', particularly his fighting.

Barrometer rating: 2
Would it be better with a female lead? If it was Gina Carano, sure
TMINE's prediction: Will certainly last a season

*Although for all I know, it might be making it all up, in which case you won't

November 28, 2016

What have you been watching? Including Goliath, Finding Dory, Chance and Frequency

Posted on November 28, 2016 | Post a comment | 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. There's also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I've reviewed ever. 

Thanks to the Thanksgiving holidays in the US last week, lots of programmes were taking a slight breather and few new ones decided to stick their heads above the parapets. That means it's been a quiet week for TMINE, with only Search Party (US: TBS) to deal with in the 'new' category and the regulars reduced to just Chance, DIrk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, The Flash, The Great Indoors, Lucifer, People of Earth, Supergirl, Timeless and Travelers - I'll be dealing with them after the jump.

On the plus side, though, that did mean I could not only play catch-up with an Internet TV box-setted into our laps a little while ago, I could also watch a couple of movies.

Goliath (Amazon)
'A legal thriller by David E Kelley! Whoopdy doo,' I thought. Like most people, I immediately think of the likes of Ally McBeal, Boston Legal and Harry's Law when I hear Kelley's name; unlike most people, I also think of his reasonably poor efforts with Wonder Woman, the dismal The Crazy Ones and the putrid Wedding Bells

However, Kelley hasn't always been king of fluffy backlash legal dramas. Back in the day, he created The Practice, a supposed antidote to the cutesy view of legal work perpetrated by LA Law; on said show, the story editor was one Jonathan Shapiro, a former Rhodes Scholar and professor of law.

Together, they're responsible for Goliath, a legal drama that stars Billy Bob Thornton as a former top lawyer who's fallen on hard times. Then Nina Arianda (Hannibal) turns up needing Thornton's help with a case involving the supposed suicide of an engineer who worked for a major arms manufacturer. Before you know it, Thornton's David is taking on the Goliath that is his old legal firm, which includes ex-best friend William Hurt, ex-wife Maria Bello (Prime Suspect) and newby lawyer Olivia Thirby (Dredd 3D), and the might of the US defence industry.

Mostly, this is a show that owes a lot more to Shapiro than Kelley tonally, being about legal clevery dickery and shady big name clients in the same way that Suits was when it started. Shapiro's legal knowledge really shines here and Goliath goes through all manner of things you've probably never seen in a legal drama before ("complex cases", using the rules of contempt to get evidence admitted, etc). It's also quite dark, with bodies being found in car boots, witnesses being run over, police abuse and more.

But Kelley's name isn't on the sign simply to drum up trade. There's a definite air of Kelleyisms to Goliath around the edges, ranging from some actual jokes through the daft names the lawyers at Hurt's firm call each other ("The Mole", "The Mouse"), Hurt's facial scarring and his use of a clicker to communicate when he wants to be annoying, Thornton almost representing the forces of the un-PC against the PC tyranny of the Goliath-like enemy (Thirby has a stammer and uses the American Disability Discrimination Act to counter Thornton's tricks; Bello is gay and has a girlfriend who also works at her law firm), to some distinctly dodgy attitudes towards women and some ethical issues to be considered, such as revenge porn and whether lawyers should break privilege to report wrongdoing by their clients. Arianda's practice even feels a lot like the one in Harry's Law.

Goliath is still a lot better than I was expecting, probably being the second-best original Amazon drama after The Man In The High Castle that I've seen. It's also a lot tenser - I'm six episodes through the eight episode run and each episode has managed to ratchet up the claustrophobia as Thornton's got closer to the truth and increasing danger. I'll probably watch the final two episodes tomorrow, in fact.

But it's still got enough Kelley daftness, is slow-moving enough and fails to make you care enough for the characters that I can't really recommend it. If you like John Grisham-style legal dramas, though, this is certainly worth a look-in.

Frequency (200)
Since the TV adaptation is currently airing on The CW/Netflix and I'd never seen the original, I thought I'd give it a whirl just to compare and contrast, especially since it's currently free on Amazon Prime. At its heart, like the TV series, Frequency is about a father and his grown-up child cop managing to communicate by radio over several decades and using information about the future to change the past - again, to prevent the father's imminent death and to subsequently stop the change in history that is the mother being murdered by a nurse-hating serial killer.

Starring a whole bunch of people now famous from other TV shows (Jim Caviezel, Shawn Doyle, Elizabeth Mitchell, Andre Braugher, Noah Emmerich), it's pretty much the same as the first season of Frequency so far, but with a few interesting changes, such as the dad (Dennis Quaid here) being a fireman not a cop and there being a 30-year time difference, not a 20-year difference. It's a lovely idea and the film has an emotional depth that a lot of sci-fi movies lack, but I think I actually prefer the TV version, since the longer running time gives that a chance to explore a whole bunch of issues that the movie has to leave to montage moments at best, and the gender-swap to a daughter evens out the original's not inconsiderable sidelining of women. 

Still, given it was set in 1999 (nearly 20 years ago now, guys), it's almost like watching time travel anyway, with its reference to Yahoo! as a good stock option.

Finding Dory (2016)
The tear-jerking Pixar delight, Finding Nemo, saw a widower father searching the world for his partially disabled son, following the latter's kidnapping. The twist? They were fish.

Here, in this sequel, their mentally challenged best friend Dory (Ellen Degeneres) comes to the fore as she remembers she had a family back in the day and despite her inability to form short-term memories, goes looking for her mother and father, Nemo and co in tow.

For about the first 10 minutes, this feels like a retread of the original but after that, Finding Dory sets its own path, introducing all-new characters and species that live in or near the marine park that Dory thinks her parents might be living in. It's a lovely piece of work again, with some top moments of comedy and joy, but it never quite hits the emotional highs (or lows) of the original and the final act starts to descend into the silly. Admittedly, it is a movie about talking fish so silly is relative, I guess.

Something both parents and kids can enjoy, but not quite an absolute classic. 

Continue reading "What have you been watching? Including Goliath, Finding Dory, Chance and Frequency"

Read other posts about:

November 24, 2016

Review: Search Party 1x1-1x2 (US: TBS)

Posted on November 24, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Search Party

In the US: Nightly, 11/10c, TBS

One of the conclusions of Adam Curtis' Hypernormalisation was that thanks to individualisation and the Internet, people are now more invested in the virtual world than the real world, making political solutions to problems all but impossible.

So now you've seen the documentary, here's the dramedy: Search Party. Arrested Development's Alia Shawkat is an aimless twentysomething, drifting through life without any real ambitions or interests of her own, it seems. But she's no different from shallow boyfriend John Reynolds, shallow gay friend John Early, shallow actress friend Meredith Hagner and shallow ex-boyfriend Brandon Micheal Hall, all of whom are more invested in texting, Twitter and selfies than anything real.

But then Shawkat spots a missing person's poster for a college friend who's disappeared and decides to investigate, perhaps in an effort to connect properly with someone else. Can she drag everyone else back into the real world with her to help her? 

Despite airing on TBS, whose motto should really be "We're occasionally funny, but never as much as Comedy Central", Search Party is barely a comedy at all; it's also a lot smarter than you'd expect, thanks to the likes of indie movie makers Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers (Fort Tilden, The Color of Time) on the writing team.

The show is in part a cry for self-involved millennials to reach out and connect - and it has some acute observations about how disconnected everyone now is. Reynolds would rather masturbate to his own fantasies in bed than have sex with Shawkat when she's right next to him. Neither of them know what to do when they hear sounds of domestic violence in a neighbouring flat, so they do nothing, even when glass starts smashing. No one remembers anyone else, unless there's an online record of their actions, and no one is willing to commit to anyone else if it draws them out of their bubble, their fear of the real world and real feelings is so great. Hagner even has to turn to a writer on one of her TV shows to ask for his advice on what an event in the real world might mean, and no one is that sure about what's real and what's not, anyway. After all, Hagner is an American actress pretending to be a fictional actress pretending to be a policewoman who works with another American actress pretending to be an English actress pretending to be an American policewoman. Can anything be trusted to be real or has everything been hypernormalised now?

But at the same time, the show is more complicated than a simple hippyish "why don't we all just reach out and touch someone to make the world a better place?" It has a New York-mistrust of others and strangers. When Shawkat reaches out to someone, they turn out to be crazy or aggressive; when Reynolds finally tries to help the abused woman living next door, she simply shrieks insults at him until he goes away. Even when Shawkat goes to the police for help with the missing girl, the police are equally atomised, unwilling to become involved in another person's life to help her, and Shakat, as with the rest of her peers, lacks the social skills to persuade them, instead resorting to insults herself.

The show is almost too clever, with metatextual references to Anna Karenina ("She dies at the end") and comments about how the search is often more interesting than the discovery are almost designed to put you off watching further. Yet at the same time, it's not clever enough. Like the oddly similar Girls, it gives you a set of pampered heroes and heroines you want to die a horribly fiery death. Unlike Girls, it has almost no wit or comedy to alleviate that desire, making it an almost Scream-like show, crying out at the loneliness of modern life yet not making the alternative look any better.

Search Party is an interesting idea that's as alienating as its characters are alienated. I don't want to reach out and join this party, I'm afraid.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117 118 119 120 121 122 123 124 125 126 127 128 129 130 131 132 133 134 135 136 137 138 139 140 141 142 143 144 145 146 147 148 149 150 151 152 153 154 155 156 157 158 159 160 161 162 163 164 165 166 167 168 169 170 171 172 173 174 175 176 177 178 179 180 181 182 183 184 185 186 187 188 189 190 191 192 193 194 195 196 197 198 199 200 201 202 203 204 205 206 207 208 209 210 211 212 213 214 215 216 217 218 219 220 221 222 223 224 225 226 227 228 229 230 231 232 233 234 235 236 237 238 239 240 241 242 243 244 245 246 247 248 249 250 251 252 253 254 255 256 257 258 259 260 261 262 263 264 265 266 267 268 269 270 271 272 273 274 275 276 277 278 279 280 281 282 283 284 285 286 287 288 289 290 291 292 293 294 295 296 297 298 299 300 301 302 303 304 305 306 307 308 309 310 311 312 313 314 315 316 317 318 319 320 321 322 323 324 325 326 327 328 329 330 331 332 333 334 335 336 337 338 339 340 341 342 343 344 345 346 347 348 349 350 351 352 353 354 355 356 357 358 359 360 361 362 363 364 365 366 367 368 369 370 371 372 373 374 375 376 377 378 379 380 381 382 383 384 385 386 387 388 389 390 391 392 393 394 395 396 397 398 399 400 401 402 403 404 405 406 407 408 409 410 411 412 413 414 415 416 417 418 419 420 421 422 423 424 425 426 427 428 429 430 431 432 433 434 435 436 437 438 439 440 441 442 443 444 445 446 447 448 449 450 451 452 453 454 455 456  

Featured Articles

Search Party

All alone in a crowd