In Australia: Fridays, 8.30pm, ABC
In the UK: Broadcaster to be ‘announced soon‘
The globalisation of TV is a funny old thing, resulting in some odd paradoxes. Consider the career of Ioan Gruffudd, a fine actor who speaks Welsh as a first language. Naturally, he got his first big break on S4C’s Pobol Y Cwm (People of the Valley), S4C being the government’s attempt to preserve the Welsh language from the effects of globalisation and English’s worldwide dominance.
However, given S4C’s drama output isn’t huge, it’s unsurprising that Gruffudd went off to London to study at RADA, before getting his first big breaks in the BBC’s 1996 remake of Poldark and then ITV’s Hornblower TV films, where he naturally had to put on English accents and spoke English. They in turn led to starring roles in US films Black Hawk Down (directed by Englishman Ridley Scott) and superhero movie Fantastic Four, in which he played Americans.
Then US TV shows beckoned, with first the short-lived Century City, then Ringer then ABC’s Forever, in which he played a forensics examiner who just happened to be immortal, and so was a font of all knowledge and an almost Sherlock Holmes-like ability to read people and clues. In the latter two shows, despite both being made in the US, Gruffudd played English characters – globalisation here allowing for local diversity, not just homogenisation.
And yet… while Gruffudd has since returned home to the UK to do shows such as ITV’s Liar, now he’s gone to Australia to star in ABC’s Harrow. Guess what? Despite the show being Australian, he plays an English forensic examiner who’s a font of all knowledge and has an almost Sherlock Holmes-like ability to read people and clues. Sounds familiar, hey? What’s even odder, globalisation-wise, is that this is the first show to be made by ABC International Studios – not even ABC Australia, at that, but ABC US, which was of course the network that created Forever.
While Australia obviously has a final tradition of legal dramas (eg Crownies, Janet King, Newton’s Law) and police soap operas (eg Cop Shop), it’s noticeably not had much by way of police procedural dramas. Harrow is in part an attempt to fill this hole and join the rest of the world, probably by exporting it, probably to Netflix. After all, if S4C can do it, Australia should be able to do it, too.
Gruffudd plays the eponymous Harrow, a maverick forensics examiner in Brisbane. His flouting of the rules is not much loved by his boss (Robyn Malcolm) and his general work demeanour means his work colleagues don’t much love him either, although new scene of crime officer Mirrah Foulkes seems to be taking something of a shine to him. However, he’s great at his job, so he’s tolerated, even if he keeps threatening to resign every five minutes.
Meanwhile, he’s going through a divorce, something that’s caused his teenage daughter (Ella Newton) to virtually break off contact from both him and her mother (Anna Lise Phillips). But Gruffudd has a plan to win his daughter back. If only he didn’t have a deep dark secret that’s about to get found out…
I’m always a little unsure of 50 Cent’s credentials. I know he’s supposed to have bullets lodged in his tongue or something from his days on the street, but every time I see him, I’m haunted by visions of CB4 – that Chris Rock movie about a group of nice black kids who want to be a rap group but don’t get anywhere until they pretend they were in prison, etc.
Now a TV producer as well as a rap artist, 50 Cent uses his credentials to give us ‘gritty’ shows about gang life and the such that are supposedly terribly authentic but are mainly just terrible. We’ve already had the grimly bad Powerand now we have the authentically dreadful The Oath. We start by being told that a goodly proportion of the criminal gangs operating in the US are actually corrupt cops – source (?) – after which we’re introduced to one such gang, consisting of Ryan Kwanten (True Blood), Katrina Law (Arrow), Cory Hardrict and JJ Soria. They rob a bank but unfortunately for them, the FBI are already on to them and have them all arrested.
Soon, Elisabeth Röhm is pressuring them to accept her agent, Arlen Escapeta, as a member of their gang so that together they can take down some bigger crooks. Meanwhile, corrupt cop Sean Bean is in the nick and he has plans of some kind that aren’t quite clear at the moment, mainly because Bean is mumbling his way to the bank and not even trying to pretend to be American.
The Oath has many, many problems. It wants to be rough and tumbly, hard and street, giving the usual street cops with real-world experience out-smarting FBI agents, even those who have years of experience dealing with Rico investigations. But that largely equates into next to no characterisation, obviously plotting, dreadful dialogue and everyone looking like they’ve had the energy sucked out of them by a lifeless script. It is, after all, just a vague attempt to put a spin on Sons of Anarchy.
Of course, you’re supposed to take it on trust that this is what life is like ‘on the streets’. Because 50 Cent says it is. And it’s possible it is – people in real life generally have very bad dialogue. It’s just not much of it rings true. Can you bribe waitresses to slip customers knock-out drugs? Maybe… but how long is she going to keep her job? Doesn’t she have a little more sense of self-preservation? Is a bar full of armed hard nuts really going to allow white supremacists in with gangs of black guys? And if there is a fight, is it really just going to end with a few bleeding noses? It seems unlikely.
Its other problem is that the direction is constantly harking back to much, much better movies in an effort to convince you it’s the same as they are – it’s the CB4 of TV direction. The bank robbery is a pretty poor copy of Heat. The gang are chased through back streets in a direct rip of the chase scene from Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break. At every turn, you’ll get a sense of déjà vu as you’re reminded of a movie you might have enjoyed.
To be fair, Ryan Kwanten is at least making an effort and Law is light years away from her Arrow role, even if she doesn’t get much to do apart from run and stand around. But the only oath I wanted to swear after watching the first episode is not to watch such a preposterous piece of nonsense.
It’s possible that I’ve seen too much TV. It’s just watching For The People, ABC’s latest legal drama, all I found myself thinking was, “Isn’t this just Raising the Bar again? Maybe with a slight hint of Suits. Still, it’s nice to Britt Robertson doing well, even if Girlboss didn’t do so great. She was good in Life Unexpected after all. Gosh, how long ago was that now?”
Too much TV? Maybe.
The next generation
After all, this tale from “Shondaland” (Grey’s Anatomy, How To Get Away With Murder,Scandal) of shiny new young lawyers as they start off as either defence attorneys or prosecutors in New York’s “mother court” is probably aimed at a much younger audience that hasn’t seen any of those shows I just mentioned. Indeed, I found myself more invested in Hope Davis, Ben Shenkman, Vondie Curtis-Hall and Anna Deavere Smith’s crusty older lawyers and judges giving the new generation the benefit of their many years of experience. That’s possibly because I’m just old, but it’s also possibly because they’re better actors, with personalities and who behave like grown-ups, unlike their protégés. Their whiny, stupid protégés.
But despite generally finding the older cast relatively interesting, I found myself idling through For the People, wondering if it was going to do anything new. Like ever. The show is really just a set of legal cases, with a young hero on each side making mistakes while standing up for truth, justice and the American Way/sending scumbag criminals to rot in jail (delete according to hero’s affiliation). There’s no real law that people would recognise as the law. Indeed, I found myself on the verge of crying out, “Objection! The defence is testifying! Is there a question in there ever?” at one point of particularly heinous breach of legal code that the prosecution didn’t seem to notice.
Too much TV? Probably.
But for the most part it’s the usual usual. Britt Robertson’s client is an accused terrorist, although for some reason he doesn’t get a proper lawyer or any preparation for his trial. You’d think someone who tried to blow up the Statue of Liberty would have a higher profile, wouldn’t you?
But before you know it, she’s finding things in discovery that might exonerate him. Except you can see that he won’t be. The show thinks it’s going to be clever. It even gets Hope Davis to say “This isn’t television!” Except it is, so you know what’s going to happen.
And the rest of it is like that. There is some moderate interest from the fact that the lawyers mostly don’t discuss law half the time, mainly tell each other how crap they are at law because they’re new. But even then, that got boring after the first five or six times that happened.
Equally boring were the young lawyers’ relationships. They’re all so competitive and “I will crush you”, even to their partners. Boring. When one is stupid enough to shop her prosecutor boyfriend for ethical violations to save her client from a prison sentence, she’s genuinely surprised that he decides to dump her.
“You’re not leaving.”
Yes, he is, love. You nearly sent him to prison to save someone who’d genuinely committed fraud. Duh.
It’s nonsense. Legal nonsense. Relationship nonsense. Human behaviour nonsense. The kind of nonsense that you only see on TV and will have seen countless times before.
Unless you’re about 20.
Save yourself an hour of your time. Maybe you could watch the William Shatner For the People on YouTube instead?