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Reviews of US television programmes


October 23, 2014

Third-episode verdict: The Flash (US: The CW; UK: Sky 1)

Posted on October 23, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerFlash.jpgA Barrometer rating of 1

In the US: Tuesdays, 8pm ET, The CW
In the UK: Tuesdays, 8pm, Sky 1. Starts October 28

Three episodes into The Flash, the latest CW adaptation of a DC comic book, and it's becoming pretty clear that despite coming from the same creative team as the rather good ArrowThe Flash is very much Smallville but with a superhero who's human and capable only of running very fast. With its "kryptonitedark matter freek of the week" that only the Flash can stop, its young love and failed romances, its concerns with great powers bringing with them great responsibillities, you could probably take any Smallville script, run a reasonably simple find-and-replace on it and end up with a The Flash script.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing - after all, Smallville ran for a record-breaking 11 seasons and there's many a TV show that would kill for even half that run. All the same a little innovation would be nice.

And indeed that's what you get with The Flash, which rather than waiting three seasons as Smallville did to realise it was a superhero show and geek out, went Nerd Factor 10 from the first episode, and mined the comics for some of the best Flash supervillains and other superheroes available. And in contrast with the early 90s adaptation starring John Wesley Shipp (who plays the Flash's dad in this adaptation), it's got series arc after series arc, crossovers with Arrow and a greater willingness to embrace the comic book's later attempts to make the Flash more than just the fastest man alive, with a time travel plot that lifts the show above what could simply be fluffy, brainless, "crash bang", teen kisses fare into somewhat darker territory. 

True, the science is still bobbins but we're talking about someone who got to run at 300mph after a lab accident, so that comes with the territory. And as with Smallville's earlier episodes, there's the frustration of watching our hero having to learn about his powers and come into others we know he'll have, and so, for example, having to deal with a mist villain in the third ep by running around a bit, rather than using his arms to create disruptive air vortices as we know he'll be able to do at a later point.

But as with Smallville, too, it's all part of the journey, something again explicit in the (spoiler alert) time travel plot, with the Flash's protective overseer from the future - probably Professor Zoom - potentially causing the accident that created the Flash in the first place so that he'll become the hero necessary to save the day in years to come and maybe even cause that time travel capability to be created.

Of course, the Flash doesn't have the real-world popularity of either Batman or Superman, so to the average viewer, it'll all be new. And the producers are of course resultingly at liberty to change big chunks of mythos if they want to - need Barry and Iris end up married as they are in the comics? No more than helper doctor Caitlin Snow has to become Killer Frost, who was never engaged to the future Firestorm in the comics, no matter how many lines about their being 'like fire and ice' are thrown in for the fans.

This embracing of comics is ultimately going to be either a strength for the show, which has already been picked up for a full season, or a weakness. If you don't like comics, prefer something a bit darker and Nolan-esque, and find even Arrow to be too escapist for you, there's no way in hell you're going to enjoy this. But if bright, shiny fun comics are your thing, and you don't have huge expectations of its young cast or lowish budget, then The Flash is well worth your time - especially when the only real competition in town are  Gotham and Constantine

Barrometer rating: 1
Rob's prediction: Should last at least a season but will need to work a bit to ensure it doesn't fall into a rut

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October 20, 2014

What have you been watching? Including Strange Empire, Coverband, Electra, The Flash and Doctor Who

Posted on October 20, 2014 | 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.

You may have noticed I was playing epic catch-up on Saturday, in contravention of my normal rule of weekend blogging. So on top of Friday’s all out efforts and a couple of extra ones today, I’ve reviewed the following new shows, some of which have already been acquired for Blighty’s viewing pleasure:

Yay, me. No back log now. Time to have regular weekends again. Phew.

In fact, so ahead of myself am I that I’ll point out that ages ago, I reviewed NBC’s Constantine, which starts on Friday. Okay, it’s changed a bit since the pilot but you’ll get the general point.

But I’ve not stopped there. Oh no. Because I’ve also watched a New Zealand and a Canadian show just for luck. Okay, I was a bit behind on all of them, so I’ve only seen the first episode of each, but honestly, that felt like enough.

Strange Empire (Canada: CBC)
Set in the 1860s on the Alberta-Montana border, this sees three women (Cara Gee, Tattiawna Jones and Melissa Farman from Lost) band together for survival after virtually all the men in their town are murdered and those remaining behind battle for power. Very nicely made and already being described as the saviour of CBC, it's historically interesting but about as tedious as any other western, and none of the characters really grabbed me.

Coverband (New Zealand: TV One)
A one-hit wonder band reunite back in New Zealand years after they were famous. Unfortunately, the female lead singer was the one who was a success, leaving the terminally unsexy rest of the band to make it by themselves, something at which they fail miserably. Now having to deal with the pressures of normal lives and forced to do cover versions of other bands’ records, they suck completely until they stagecrashed by Laughton Kora, who shows them what rock charisma and singing really are, so they hire him. Kind of.

It’s an amiable and accurate enough show, based on cast member Johnny Barker’s own experiences as an Auckland cover band musician, and were there enough time in the world, I’d probably tune in for a few more episodes. But the show’s not so inspiring that I’ll throw something else aside for it and I’ve already seen The Wedding Band crash and burn, so I don’t think I need to see that happen again.

Unfortunately, New Zealand doesn’t want to produce any globally available videos of its own shows, apparently, so here’s a picture of the cast to tide you over.

Coverband

That's it for new new shows, but after the jump, I’ll be running through: Arrow, black-ish, The Blacklist, Doctor Who, The Flash, Forever, Gotham, Homeland, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, Plebs, Scorpion, Selfie and The Walking Dead.

But hey! Before you go, I should mention I went to the theatre, too!

Electra (Old Vic)
Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra, a new translation of Sophocles’ original text by Greek tragedy stalwart Frank McGuinness, music by PJ Harvey – what could go wrong? Well, not much actually, beyond a certain staticness to the direction, a slightly weak performance by Jack Lowden as Orestes and a very strange performance by Tyrone Huggins as Aegisthus. Other than that, a fine piece of work, surprisingly faithfully staged (although that’s not quite how Greek people prayed), with an outstanding performance by Thomas and a surprisingly funny text by McGuinness – in part to cover up for casting slightly older than originally written, but also to hide the unlikelihood of Electra not recognising Orestes. Liz White (Life on Mars) gives the best performance I’ve ever seen from her as Chrysothemis, Electra’s sister.  

Continue reading "What have you been watching? Including Strange Empire, Coverband, Electra, The Flash and Doctor Who"

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Review: Kingdom 1x1 (US: Audience Network)

Posted on October 20, 2014 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Kingdom

Mixed martial arts aka MMA is one of the fastest growing sports in America, and despite having come about thanks to the Ultimate Fighting Championship back in the 90s, it’s had relatively little fictional attention, bar Never Back Down, which is notable only for featuring both Amber Heard and the entire script for the Karate Kid but with karate crossed out and MMA written in instead.

Now we have Kingdom from the DirecTV-exclusive but generally unknown Audience Network, which despite only being two episodes in has already been renewed for two seasons, so clearly is doing something right. I’m not sure what though.

It stars Frank Grillo (best known now for Captain America 2, but previously the only normal person in monsterville in The Gates) as the owner of a Venice beach gym and a pro MMA fighter. He’s moderately pleased when former partner Matt Lauria gets out of jail and comes to train again and tries to help Grillo’s son and heroin addict Jonathan Tucker (The Black Donnellys) – only moderately, because Grillo’s now going out with Lauria’s ex-girlfriend Kiele Sanchez (The Glades). Cue much manly tension and bro-talks.

The best that can be said about Kingdom is that it’s competently made and not as meat-headed as you might think. Most of the show is about MMA training, with the now-compulsory monster truck tyres and sweat suit scenes, but the few proper MMA fights are pretty well handled. Being a jiu jitsu person at heart, they all seem a bit limited and silly to me but YMMV. The dialogue is bland and I doubt a single line registered as being interesting or insightful the entire time, with most being nondescript or occasionally offensive. Appropriate for the kinds of guy involved? Possibly. But this isn’t a realistic show so that’s not really an argument that passes muster. Either way, it’s certainly no Rocky, but it’s nowhere near as toxic as Never Back Down’s dialogue.

But against even those minor positives, I have to say it has a lot of flaws, including a whole set of characters whose appeal for most people is going to be extremely limited, as well as a massive woman-problem, with women only there as girlfriends, sex objects and plot motivators/characterisation tools for the men, rather than because the producers seem to think they have any intrinsic worth. I think I did manage to spot a couple of women in the gym who weren’t there serving a purely decorative function, but they didn’t get any lines, so I’m not sure they count – and they were largely offset by the naked, equally dialogue-less women elsewhere.

The ending (no spoilers) showed the programme’s other big problem: how it deals with the few blacks and Latinos it has. Despite the Los Angeles setting, there are no black characters in the cast and the only Latinos I spotted were women-abusing, murderous criminals. Lovely.

Oh well. Maybe someone else can come up with a decent MMA series instead. Because this isn’t it.

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