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May 4, 2016

Third-episode verdict: Containment (US: The CW; UK: E4)

Posted on May 4, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerContainment.jpgA Barrometer rating of 3

In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, The CW
In the UK: Acquired by E4 for Summer airing

"If you have tears, prepare to shed them now."

Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare

There is a yawning gulf between the ambitions of Containment and their implementation. An adaptation of Belgium's Cordon, it sees a Syrian migrant come to Atlanta, Georgia, apparently infected with a bio-engineered avian flu that kills 100% of people who comes into bodily contact with him and anyone they subsequently infect. The US authorities decide that the best thing to do is erect a cordon sanitaire around the infected area, in an effort to stop the disease spreading. But is there more to the story than this and will the cordon be effective?

So far, so catnip to TMINE, which does love a good killer virus story. But as we discovered from the first episodeContainment is desperate to be down with the kids. This isn't the story of a terrible threat to the world, of bioterrorism, of secret government conspiracies. This is "yes, there is a terrible threat to the world, but can we talk about our relationship now? Ooh, look! Someone's posted something on Twitter!"

I kid you not - the horrifying cliffhanger at the end of episode three is (spoiler alert) the cordoned off area loses its Internet and mobile phone access. Maybe that sends shivers down the spine of the previous average CW viewer, but I'm actually the median age of the current crop and it simply made me laugh, so it's probable the show has misjudged its audience.

The show also doesn't seem to know if it has a point. Despite its pretensions at wisdom, it's one part "don't believe the government", with its suggestion that the bioweapon might have been engineered by the US government, perhaps to justify further military action in Syria as retaliation for its supposed act of terrorism, to one part "trust in authority", as it's very clear that its dogged Internet journalist (Trevor St John) is behaving very irresponsibly by telling people the truth about the outbreak and what's happening, since people can't be trusted to behave sensibly and they really just need to do what the government is telling them. It's a universal cynicism that could possibly be summarised as "trust in yourself and other good people", but that's ultimately the same empty philosophy that leads to all those people behaving irresponsibly because they know what's right.

Otherwise, the action is mainly emotional. As soon as anyone has to make a hard decision, they have to have a little 😢. The investigation of the conspiracy theory largely consists of goodie cop 👼🏿 (David Gyasi) being 😡 at suspicious government doctor 😈 (Claudia Black) to tell him what's really going on and her refusing, while 👺 (St John) is 😡 at  👼🏿 as he's such a government stooge, both of which leave 👼🏿 feeling 😰. Meanwhile, couples, who are inevitably on either side of the cordon, spend their time wanting to 🏃🏻to the other and feeling 😰 when they can’t. And everyone inside the cordon is just 😡 they can’t get out because it's just so unfair and wishing they had 😷 and 🍞.

It doesn't help either that most of the show's big, horrifying reveals are just basic science. What's that, early third-episode reveal? Everyone inside the cordon might get sick and die because they're near the sick people? Stunning. Who'd have thought it? Why didn't the government tell us that sooner?

Containment is basically low-rent bobbins for people who quite fancy watching The Walking Dead but find it a bit too slow and scary, and wish there was more texting in it. Nothing about it rings true, the emotional challenges people face are trite and ersatz, there have been approximately two Southern accents deployed the entire season, and no one seems that interested in suggesting any real terror. Avoid.

Barrometer rating: 3
Would it be better with a female lead? Yes
TMINE prediction: A limited series so supposedly wouldn't be coming back for more episodes anyway, but if there were any plans for a second season, I imagine they're being dropped ASAP

April 28, 2016

Third-episode verdict: Game of Silence (US: NBC)

Posted on April 28, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerGameOfSilence.jpgA Barrometer rating of 2

In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, NBC
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Does a show have to be miserable to be good? Some people, usually quite pretentious/depressed/Buddhist ones, will argue that all life is suffering and therefore to depict life correctly, you must depict suffering. Always.

Whether that's true or not, if a TV show is good but miserable, will you still want to watch it?

Game of Silence, NBC's remake of Turkey's Suskunlar, is prime misery, with a bunch of childhood friends finding their past catching up with them decades later, when one of their number bumps into one of the men who abused him in prison and kills him. The gang the dead man was with - largely composed of people who were also in prison - end up killing him and before you know it, there's a mounting war as the remaining friends try to find evidence that will put the baddies in prison, and the baddies try to stop them.

Just like ABC's American CrimeGame of Silence is surprisingly grown-up and well made for network TV. While it's nowhere near as realistic as that show and is often downright unbelievable, it's surprisingly nuanced. Rather than simply go in all guns blazing, our heroes try to put together a legal case, collecting evidence along the way. And rather than paint the abusers as nothing but monsters, the show is at pains to show that it's the penal system that caused the problems - both the heroes and the abusers did terrible things because of the nature of prison life, becoming hardened and inhuman. There are frequent flashbacks not just to the heroes' childhood and what happened to them, but also to the abusers', and there are side plots that illuminate this central thesis and argue that prison should be the last possible punishment for crimes, as it makes people more likely to become worse versions of themselves, not better.

The show is also, while unwilling to actually show anything happening, more than happy to describe and imply paedophile parties, repeated raped, physical abuse and more, as well as depict all the traumatic effects that can have on the psyche.

The trouble is that none of this is fun to watch. It's not helped by the lack of humour, any real human warmth, or decent acting. To be fair, the show does try hard to depict some real camaraderie between the friends, but everyone's so traumatised and/or soon-to-be-dead, that it doesn't work. The fact, as the title suggests, that no one's talking about this with anyone except each other, means that everyone else in the show is an outsider to this group of not especially joyful people.

Game of Silence is a good show, not a great one, and it would really have benefited from better casting and a bit of humour from time to time. I'll probably stick with it for a couple more episodes, but I'm not expecting to be enjoying myself as I do.

Barrometer rating: 2
Would it be better with female leads? Yes, although might be a bit exploitative
TMINE's prediction: With bad ratings, this is unlikely to last more than a season, if that.

April 25, 2016

What have you been watching? Including Bridge of Spies, Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley

Posted on April 25, 2016 | 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. 

I spent most of the weekend not watching a lot of things I was supposed to be watching, instead watching season one of Daredevil again - it's so much better than the second season, which is starting to feel more disappointing with every passing day. But that doesn't mean I'm not up to date. It just means I still haven't watched Ófærð (Trapped) yet.

Elsewhere, I've reviewed Containment (US: The CW; UK: E4) and passed a third-episode verdict on The Detour (US: TBS). I'll be passing a third-episode verdict on Game on Silence either tomorrow or Wednesday. That means that after the jump, we'll have a look at the latest episodes of The Americans, Banshee, DC's Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash, Limitless, Lopez, Lucifer and The Tunnel (Tunnel), as well as the season finale of Supergirl. HBO's also just brought back Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley , so I'll be looking over them, too.

But first, a movie:

Bridge of Spies (2015) (iTunes)
Slightly soporific Spielberg biopic of Cold War lawyer James B Donovan (Tom Hanks), who defended notorious spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), and ended up helping in negotiations in Berlin to exchange Abel for U2 pilot Gary Powers. He does that by talking about the Constitution and what it is to be American. All solidly made but that summary is really all you need to know, in what is basically a not very subtle commentary on post-9/11 US attitudes to human rights, treating enemy combatants civilly, etc. If you do watch it, don't be surprised that there's a chunk in the middle in German without subtitles, as that's deliberate. Don't worry - they're just talking about how expensive his coat is.

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