Archive | US TV reviews

Reviews of US television programmes


October 20, 2014

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

Posted on October 20, 2014 | 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.

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.  

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Review: Kingdom 1x1 (US: Audience Network)

Posted on October 20, 2014 | Post a comment | 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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October 18, 2014

Review: The Affair 1x1 (US: Showtime)

Posted on October 18, 2014 | comments | Bookmark and Share

The Affair  

In the US: Sundays, 10pm ET/PT, Showtime

Oh imagine the irony: Detective McNulty – the son-in-law to Commissioner Rawls! For fans of The Wire at least, this is probably the most exciting thing about Showtime’s The Affair, in which Dominic West plays a New York novelist/teacher married to successful businesswoman Maura Tierney (The Whole Truth), but still forced to leech off her rich father, John Doman.

Because The Affair is slow stuff. Very very slow stuff. So slow that every so often it pretends to kill a child, just to ensure the audience stays awake.

But the fabulous BeTipul and In Treatment – which were created and written by The Affair’s co-creators Hagai Levi and Sarah Treem respectively – were equally slow, and The Affair is as psychologically engrossing, albeit in a very different way. It sees West going out to visit Doman with Tierney and his four kids in a resort town in Long Island for the summer, where he meets waitress Ruth Wilson (Luther), who’s recently lost her own child and is married to the abusive, cheating, embittered Joshua Jackson. West and Wilson hit it off and despite West having avoided all previous temptations to stray, he and Wilson end up having an affair.

So far so French, right down to the Gauloises, albeit with two English protagonists faking American accents only intermittently successfully.

The big twist is that the story is told in flashback, from both West and Wilson's points of view. Literally told, because both West and West are relating their sides of the affair separately to another person for quite a surprising reason – but if I told you what that was, I’d be spoiling one of the first episode’s big surprises that don’t involve the fake-out deaths of one of West’s kids.

As a result, the episode is told in two parts, the first West’s, the second Wilson's, and we see the same scenes told from two different perspectives and with two different build-ups and follow-ons. More importantly, we also see differences, since West and Wilson’s stories sometimes differ – for reasons that become clearer as the episode progresses.

Whom can we believe, when for example West portrays Wilson as a seducer, him as innocent, while she says the opposite? What is the true story? What actually happened?

All good questions, none of which gets answers before the end of the episode. Indeed, for all I know, we might never get answers, which to a certain extent might well be the point of the show: the real world's lack of an objective truth, only subjective truths. But the show is also less about an affair per se, as about the fall out from an affair and how that emotionally impacts both those involved and those close to them.

Now, how much you’ll want to watch this may well depend on how much you’re likely to be interested in regular-type people doing regular-type things, albeit regular-type people with perhaps a bit more money than you or I have. You’re also asked to sympathise with adulterers, which might be something you can’t do – particularly with West’s character being a cock in both versions. The fact that Wilson so successfully played a sociopathic liar opposite The Wire’s Idris Elba in Luther – to the extent that a spin-off show based around her was planned by the BBC – throws in an additional supertextual element of doubt for the viewer aware of her past and the possible reasons for her casting.

But this is gripping stuff if drama rather than just explosions and ray guns* interests you. While West for once is the weakest acting link, Wilson and Jackson are both on excellent form and Doman is clearly relishing being more Borgia than Baltimore cop opposite West. Compared to the likes of Satisfaction, it’s considerably more grown up, while still avoiding the Rectify trap of absolute and tedious mimesis.

Probably the best drama of the fall season so far. If you’re in the US, you can watch the whole first episode on YouTube; if not, here’s a trailer.

* I loves explosions and ray guns, me. But there’s more to me than that.

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