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Reviews of US television programmes

July 2, 2015

Review: Zoo 1x1 (US: CBS; UK: Sky1)

Posted on July 2, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

CBS's Zoo

In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, CBS
In the UK: Acquired by Sky1

Imagine what would happen if all the animals in the world suddenly decided that humans were screwing things up and they were going to run the planet instead.

Well, we’d be screwed, that’s what. Even putting aside what would happen if it was just the ants - they’d win all by themselves - even with overpopulation, there’s only seven billion or so of us and there's 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 insects, just for starters, and they’re all largely bastards to begin with.

Okay, so let’s dial it down a notch and imagine it’s just zoo animals - and only a few of them at that - as well as maybe some cats. Not quite so worrying, is it? I mean, we’ve always suspected the cats were out to get us, haven’t we?

Yet so far, that’s all the thrills and spills we’ve had from Zoo, CBS’s latest attempt to capture the summer lightning in a bottle that was Under The Dome.

Based on James Patterson's (Women’s Murder Club) novel of the same name, Zoo is initially set in two locales: Botswana and Los Angeles. In Botswana, US ex-pat James Wolk (Lonestar) is jaded with life and off running safaris for tourists, when he starts to notice some lions acting strangely. They’re ganging up with each other to kill people and are even using battle strategies to do it.

Uh huh.

Meanwhile, newspaper reporter and conspiracy theorist blogger Kristen Connolly (House of Cards, Houdini, The Whispers) is getting all het up about some lions that escaped the local zoo, killing their keepers and some innocent bystanders. She blames the food, but person-hating animal pathologist Billy Burke (Revolution) reckons it’s all just a freak incident - until he goes looking for all the missing pet cats, that is…

Uh huh.

If that sounds ludicrously bad, then you’re right and you haven’t even been exposed to the toxic dialogue and characters yet. Frankly, with TV like this, the world probably would be better off with the animals in charge.

Here’s a trailer. Try not to laugh too hard.

Continue reading "Review: Zoo 1x1 (US: CBS; UK: Sky1)"

Preview: Impastor 1x1 (US: TV Land)

Posted on July 2, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share


In the US: Wednesdays, 10.30/9.30c, TV Land
In the UK: Not yet acquired

There’s a long tradition of comedy shows about men and women of the cloth. Think All Gas and Gaiters, Oh, Brother!, Oh, Father!, Troubles and Strife, Rev, Father Ted, The Vicar of Dibley. Ironic, isn’t it, though – all those shows are from this side of the Atlantic, rather than the very much more religious US. You could probably have a long think and come up with some US comedy shows about reverends, but you’d be hard pushed.

Maybe it’s too serious a subject for the US to tackle – at least, head on. But when they can come at it at an angle, maybe not.

TV Land – the comedy network for people who like things the way they used to be when they were young – is currently trying to bring a relatively younger audience, and given it was probably the last US network to have a go at a religious sitcom with The Soul Man, it seems fitting that they’re giving it another go with Impastor. The Soul Man was, of course, about an R&B singer who becomes a preacher. Whether it was ’too black’ for TV Land’s audience, only TV Land can say, but Impastor is certainly a whole lot whiter. But that doesn’t mean TV Land is forsaking diversity. Oh no.

Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville, Breaking In) is gambling addict and small-time criminal Buddy. When all seems lost and even his girlfriend Aimee Garcia (Dexter) has deserted him, he decides to take his own life by jumping off a bridge. Fortunately, at the last moment, a vicar on the way to his new job intercedes. Unfortunately for the vicar, he plummets to his own doom instead and Buddy seizes the opportunity to take his place… and perhaps his possessions, money, etc. Except Buddy turns out to have an accidental talent for ‘pastoring’.

If only he didn’t have to pretend to be gay, too.

Here’s a trailer and if you’re quick, below it is the entire episode:

Continue reading "Preview: Impastor 1x1 (US: TV Land)"

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June 29, 2015

Third-episode verdict: Humans (UK: Channel 4; US: AMC)

Posted on June 29, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerHumans.jpgA Barrometer rating of 1

In the UK: Sundays, 9pm, Channel 4
In the US: Sundays, 9/8c, AMC

I have to admit I don’t watch much UK TV these days, of which Channel 4 represents a very small amount. All the same I’m going to go out on a limb and say Humans is one of the best science-fiction shows the network has made, perhaps since the hallowed Ultraviolet. Perhaps it’s because it’s adapted from a Swedish TV show or perhaps it’s because it’s a co-production with the US's AMC network. Either way, it’s very, very good.

Set on a parallel, modern day Earth in which synthetic humans (basically Blade Runner-esque Replicants) have become everyday appliances that can help around the home or take on dangerous or unpleasant jobs, Humans uses that situation to explore our attitudes to technology, what it is to be human as well as what humanity is capable of. What would we do if we could create people whose feelings we didn’t have to care about? Would we still consider them human in some way and treat them with respect? Would we use them and abuse them? And what would happen to our self-identities, if we had better versions our ourselves around to look at and compare ourselves against?

While the first episode felt a little bit too much ‘made in the UK’ and the second struggled a little with pacing, the third was a real blinder, both disconcerting and moving, the audience never being too sure whether to root for the ‘synths’ that have emotional capabilities or fear them, to cheer for the humans who might be at risk or be dismayed by their lack of empathy.

The show does particularly well at using each different synth to show how we treat a particular human group, with the central Asiatic synth a representation of domestic servitude, an attractive female synth a representation of how we treat sex workers and more generally women, and so on. Each synth brings up the question “How do these groups feel? And what would happen if they took power into their own hands?”

Simultaneously, they make us question our relationships with technology, the power we give it, the benefits it bestows, and even beyond - Rebecca Front’s medical synth, for example, is as much a commentary on the power we give healthcare bureaucracies over those in their care, as she is on the need for empathy in those who perform the care.

But as well as being 'good at issues’, Humans works well as a drama, too. Katherine Parkinson’s working mum has to work out if her new synth really can feel or not, and what position she herself can have in a family where all the traditional tasks of the mother are being provided by someone who’s not only better at them but there all the time - and is happy to tell her that to her face.

Colin Morgan’s attempts to reunite all the thinking synths while on the run from those who want to learn their secrets is just as interesting, as is his own secret, and William Hurt’s attempts to hold onto the memories of his dead wife, trapped within his failing, old synth that Front’s come to replace are somewhere between moving and comedic.

While it’s still all a bit made in the UK, married with the typical speed of an AMC show, Humans is nevertheless the kind of show that makes you realise all’s not lost for modern British television.

Barrometer rating: 1
Rob’s prediction: Should hopefully get a second season

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