Happy!
US TV

Review: Happy! 1×1 (US: Syfy)

In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, Syfy

Grant Morrison is one of those comic book writers who started off well but who began to feed on his own reputation over time, almost to the point where he’s just reputation. Back in the late 80s/early 90s, he was part of the post-Alan Moore surge in DC comics with more adult writing. While Neil Gaiman was off giving us the Endless in Sandman, Morrison was dishing up Animal Man and Doom Patrol, which was full of people with multiple personality disorders and characters who were actually streets (yes, you read that correctly).

After that, he was allowed to do pretty much anything he liked, which usually involved reading lots of comics and resurrecting characters you’d never heard of so that he can undermine genre. Fancy a comic featuring the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh? Of course you don’t, but Morrison brought him back anyway.

Batman of Zur En Arrh

Zurenarrh

His most recent project of note was an attempt to retell Wonder Woman’s origin story. But while Morrison talked a lot about all the research he did, reading feminist texts such as The Second Sex and trying to put the sexy back into her storyline, Wonder Woman: Earth One was really just Morrison playing around with genre conventions without adding much.

Happy?

And so it seems to be with Happy!, Morrison’s adaptation of his own, original comic Happy!. It sees Christopher Meloni (Law & Order: SVU) playing a disgraced cop turned hitman who gets shot and left for dead. But when he’s restored to life by paramedics, he finds that he can now see a flying blue unicorn called Happy (Patton Oswalt). Yes, you read that correctly.

Happy!

Happy wants Meloni to help a little girl called Hailey, who’s been kidnapped by a man dressed as Santa Claus. But is Happy real or a figment of Meloni’s imagination? And if he is real, who’s Hailey and why does Happy want to help her?

Self-examining

These two questions are the most interesting aspects of a show that is otherwise just the standard Morrison semi-comedic, semi-serious messing around with genre and convention. Meloni gets good lines and some of the violence is graphically innovative, if massively implausible. Everything else is cliché, though. There are crime bosses with secrets, there’s a good cop who might also be a bad cop (Lili Mirojnick) and everyone has as much depth of characterisation as the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh, even Meloni. Not one character revelation will surprise you. You probably won’t even laugh much.

Even the bits with Happy aren’t that good. He just flies around and chats. He doesn’t advance the plot really, doesn’t have any great insights or talents. He’s not even that funny. He’s there… because he’s a blue flying unicorn and isn’t that a great meta, incongruent concept for a dark corrupt cop storyline that makes you re-evaluate its genre underpinnings? Hey? Hey?

That said, I did like the idea that (spoiler) Happy isn’t Meloni’s imaginary friend, but is actually Hailey’s, Hailey being Meloni’s daughter, which at least opens up some possibilities for future storylines that won’t simply be either deliberate cliché or an attempt to undermine cliché by being silly. I guess it’ll probably be a “road to redemption” storyline with a hint of It’s A Wonderful Life crossed with Harvey, but there are worse things in the world than that.

Meloni is great, although playing it as much for laughs as Morrison is. Aside from the impressive Patrick Fischler as a torturer, the supporting cast are unimpressive, but at least they won’t screw it up. The CGI needs work, mind, so maybe Happy can sit down for a bit.

Not Happy!

There’s enough potential in Happy!‘s story that I’m prepared to try a couple more episodes. But this feels less like an original new story that needs to be told, more like an intellectual exercise in sub-Daliesque dadaism than it needs to be to support a whole series.

Download Babylon Berlin in Germany
Technology

When good licensing goes bad – when you can’t watch Babylon Berlin in Germany

On the face of it, ‘licensing’ is probably a good thing. I’m not talking about alcohol here, BTW – licensing in the creative industry refers to handing over a chunk of money to the ‘rights holder’ (the person or company that made something) so that someone else can use it.

Why is licensing good, on the whole? Well, consider a piece of music that a TV company wants to use in a TV programme. Without licensing, the music writer would essentially have to sign over the music to the TV company, either for free or for an arranged sum. After that, they’d never be able to make money from the music again and might not even be able to play it themselves.

But with licensing, the music maker not only keeps the rights to the music, they can also let others use it, including the TV company. How much? This is the important bit. The amount depends on when, where and for how long the company intends to use it.

Plan on using it once in a TV programme that’s only going to be shown in the Ukraine? You pay x. Plan on showing it on satellite TV in just the UK and Ireland for the next six months? You pay a bit more – 15x, say. Plan on using it in a TV programme that’s going to air once a minute all over the world for the rest of time, as well as on DVD? You pay 1,000,000x, say.

Without licensing, the music owner wouldn’t have the opportunity to profit from their work in this way and the TV company might not be able to afford to use the music and would have to use something else instead.

Bad licensing

If you cock up in the licensing, weird things happen. In the US, the theme tune for House was Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’; but here and in many other countries, licensing issues meant it was one of two pieces of stock music, depending on where you lived:

Equally, the makers of classic 70s US sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati never expected their show would end up on DVDs, streaming services et al so didn’t license the soundtrack for such uses; they also only licensed the music for a limited time, to reduce costs. Oops – double oops, given that the show was set in a radio station so featured groups of the time including The Grateful Dead and the Cars.

That meant that after the original licences expired, re-runs in syndication stopped altogether, until 20th Century Fox replaced all the hits with stock music instead, which is how the show aired for the next few decades. It wasn’t until some painstaking licensing work by Sound! Factory that the show got its original soundtrack back for its 2014 DVD release.

Babylon

A few decades on, keeping track of licensing in this multinational, multi-channel, web-enabled world is tricky. It’s therefore far easier to impose blanket rules rather than try to do everything case-by-case.

Take Babylon Berlin. That’s a German TV show made by Sky Deutschland. Sky Deutschland is a subsidiary of News International, which also owns BSkyB, which has licensed Babylon Berlin for its Sky Atlantic channel.

And yet… there I was in Germany this weekend when I thought I might try watching the second season, using BSkyB’s Sky Go app. Here’s the message I got:

Download Babylon Berlin in Germany

That’s right, even though I was in Germany, trying to watch a German TV programme made by (more or less) the same company as made the app and airs the show in the UK, I couldn’t. Why? Well, BSkyB generally only buys licences covering the UK and Ireland, as it’s cheaper for them than if they tried to buy the worldwide rights. But it does mean they have to be strict about not allowing anyone outside the UK and Ireland from viewing their content, even if it’s one of their customers simply trying to watch a show they could normally watch at home.

Of course, if I’d downloaded Babylon Berlin before I left the UK, I’d still be able to watch it in Germany. And if the hotel where I’d been staying had had anything except Das Erste and ZDF, I could have watched Babylon Berlin on Sky Deutschland no trouble.

All of which makes me think that maybe there needs to be a bit more flexibility, at least when it comes to Sky Go – seriously, Sky, you own most of the world’s TV channels, so could you maybe just add a database to Sky Go that checks to see if a local Sky channel has the rights to a show, too? Surely that couldn’t be too hard.

Marvel's Jessica Jones - Krysten Ritter and David Tennant
News

Superstore, Will acquired; Big Little Lies renewed; Love Child, The Wrong Girl, House Husbands cancelled + more

Internet TV

  • Trailer for season 2 of Netflix’s Jessica Jones
  • Trailer for the series finale of Netflix’s Sense8
  • Netflix green lights: series adaptation of Isidora Chacon’s Yo, Bruja as Siempre Bruja

Australian TV

UK TV

US TV

US TV show casting

New US TV shows

New US TV show casting

Snow joke

I love snow. Germany is great for snow. But snow is not great for aeroplanes.

All of which mean as lovely as it is to be in Germany right now, I’m supposed to be back in the UK and now I’m not coming home until tomorrow morning. Fingers crossed.

Assuming all goes well, normal service will resume on Tuesday. Entschuldigung und Wiedersehen!

Will and Grace
Airdates

When’s that show you mentioned starting, TMINE? Including Chaussée d’Amour, Will & Grace and Altered Carbon

Every Friday, ‘When’s that show you mentioned starting, TMINE?’ lets you know when the latest global TV shows will air in the UK

A slowish week in acquisitions, with Foxtel (Australia)’s forthcoming remake of Picnic at Hanging Rock with Natalie Dormer the only one that didn’t come with an attached premiere date. Otherwise, here’s the rundown:

Chaussée d'amour
Chausée d’amour

Chaussée d’Amour (Belgium: Prime/VIER; UK: Virgin)
Premiere date: Available now

An original commission produced by the Liberty Global owned Telenet in Belgium, and directed by noir veterans Frank Devos and Pieter Van Hees, Chaussée d’Amour brings gripping drama to the living room in a raw and addictive depiction of life on this infamous brothel-lined street. The moody character-driven story unfolds through the eyes of Sylvia Carlier, a distinguished woman fleeing a crumbling marriage. She is forced by financial necessity to take on the running of a brothel inherited after the untimely death of her father. Following the discovery of human remains on the Chaussée d’Amour, the plot evolves through Sylvia’s fight to support her two children and build a new life in the midst of a twisting murder investigation.

Will and Grace

Will & Grace (US: NBC; UK: Channel 5)
Premiere date: Friday, 5 January 2018, 10pm

Surprisingly good return after 10 years to the pioneering comedy classic. Smart, pointed, not afraid of pointing out that everyone’s much older and times have changed, it’s also a lot nicer than the barbed original.

Episode reviews: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Altered Carbon

Altered Carbon (Netflix)
Premiere date: Friday, February 2

Based on the classic cyberpunk noir novel by Richard K Morgan, Altered Carbon is an intriguing story of murder, love, sex, and betrayal, set more than 300 years in the future. Society has been transformed by new technology: consciousness can be digitised; human bodies are interchangeable; death is no longer permanent. Takeshi Kovacs is the lone surviving soldier in a group of elite interstellar warriors who were defeated in an uprising against the new world order. His mind was imprisoned, “on ice”, for centuries until Laurens Bancroft, an impossibly wealthy, long-lived man, offers Kovacs the chance to live again. In exchange, Kovacs has to solve a murder… that of Bancroft himself.

Stars Joel Kinnaman (RoboCop, The Killing (US)) and Dichen Lachman’s in there, too.