US TV

Review: Scorpion 1×1 (US: CBS)

Scorpion on CBS

In the US: Mondays, 9/8c, CBS

There’s a point where a show is so ludicrous that you can’t watch it. You can’t switch your brain off enough that you can overlook the numerous ridiculous points that make the whole thing nonsensical.

An example of that is CBS’s Intelligence, which was plain old ludicrous.

But as the show gets more ludicrous and nonsensical, you can almost resign yourself to just how ludicrous it is and start watching again.

The genius of Scorpion, a show about a group of geniuses who get together to solve crises that require a lot of maths, engineering and computing knowledge, is that it goes through two more iterations of that to give us a show so insanely ludicrous and implausible, it really doesn’t matter any more, just as long as there’s lots of people in high adrenaline situations shouting things.

The show is very much a hotchpotch of standard CBS elements. Obviously the geniuses who help the US government with crimes ’n’ stuff was Numb3rs, which soon became popular with schools for making maths seem almost cool, but which unfortunately forgot to include any real action in between musings on ‘Chase Theory’ as applied to ‘criminals running away from things’. Bolted on top of that, we have The Unit’s Robert Patrick, once again the gruff agent in charge of things who growls a lot, and we have the standard CBS team of three to four boys, two girls, one to two of the group from an ethnic(ish) minority if possible.

This team, who all have very broad, complementary, entirely non-overlapping skillsets are, of course, quirky, with all kinds of problems. The main guy can do computer things; there’s a psych guy who, like, really understands people; there’s a girl who’s good with anything mechanical; and there’s a guy who’s good with numbers and physics and things. Since apparently psych guy who’s good with people isn’t quite good enough with people and uses his powers for evil, there’s also a normal-type waitress girl who can talk to normal people without p*ssing them off. And then, because Aspergers is just so hot right now, there’s a genius kid who doesn’t like being touched and wants to play chess with household items. That really enlivens the plot.

So obvious bobbins, right? A profound inability to understand either geniuses or people, all rolled into one show.

But that’s just the set-up. In this first episode, the pedantic ghost of Numb3rs shoots itself in the head because if you know even the slightest things about computers, you’ll know what epic bobbins the plot is – air traffic control computers at LAX airport get a buggy computer update, but no one has the original software, first installed 15 years ago. So team Scorpion have to go to get the offsite backup version. But it’s a race because that’ll get wiped over by the new version because naturally, a sensible back up strategy for something that hasn’t been updated in 15 years is to make a back up every 12 hours that wipes over the previous back up. This is, incidentally, the same piece of software used to run every single aeroplane in the world – because air traffic control is identical to navigating a plane – but that no other airport in the US uses.

Can you feel it? Can you feel your brain trying to escape? Trying to run from you and Scorpion?

And yet, despite how formulaic and ridiculous and in many ways insulting to men, women, children, airport computers, FBI agents and perhaps even God himself Scorpion is, there’s just something about its sheer high-octane value that makes it 1023.6% more enjoyable than Intelligence and Numb3rs. There’s a high-speed car chase through Los Angeles with every traffic light turning green! There’s a high-speed car chase on a runway in a Ferrari! People talk really quickly about complicated things! People keep pulling guns and almost shooting things!

Woo hoo!

On top of that, we get something approaching human interest at times – not the forced, bland, hollow attempts at nerdy quirkiness, family interactions, pathos, romance and musing about the existence of God in the numbers in Numb3rs, but people being dicks because they don’t know how to interact with people and then being called up on being a dick.

The cast is pretty adequate; the characters are little more than plot functions; the set-up is entirely formulaic; the show laughs in your face and says, “No, you’re stupid,” it’s so stupid. Yet despite all this, because it’s actually got some element of fun to it and perhaps even a little heart, I’m going to stick with Scorpion for a while. Or maybe it’s just because I want to test my brain’s stamina and it’s either this or hitting my head repeatedly against a concrete pillar.

You’ll have to find your own reasons, though.

Weekly Wonder Woman

Weekly Wonder Woman: Sensation Comics #6, Wonder Woman: Futures End #1, Superman/Wonder Woman: Futures End #1

Sensation Comics featuring Wonder Woman

Sometimes I think I might be better off just waiting for the trade paperbacks of all the Wonder Woman strips. No more having to ferret around trying to find out what issues she’s in. No more wondering when the next issue in a story is going to turn up.

Case in point: last week’s releases. After weeks of none of Diana’s regular titles appearing on the (digital) shelves, DC has finally decided to give us not only the weekly Sensation Comics (Featuring Wonder Woman), but also the latest issues of both Wonder Woman and Superman/Wonder Woman. Nice, hey?

Except rather than carry on the regular story and conclude Brian Azzarello’s run on Wonder Woman, we’ve got a one-off Wonder Woman: Futures End that ties into the somewhat tedious ongoing multi-comic, alternative future, ‘Futures End’ crossover that’s been running for who knows how long (well, I do, actually. Since May, to be precise).

Sigh.

And guess what. Rather than resume the normal action on Charles Soule’s rather marvellous and fun Superman/Wonder Woman title or even resume and conclude the somewhat tedious ongoing multi-comic ‘Superman: Doomed’ crossover that’s been running for who knows how long (well, I do, actually. Since May, to be precise) and has invaded Superman/Wonder Woman for the past few months, Wonder Woman: Futures End #1 crosses over into Superman/Wonder Woman, too, to give us Superman/Wonder Woman: Futures End #1.

Sigh. Again.

Anyway, after the jump, a review of one comic that features the unexpected return of an old Wonder Woman villain and reviews of two comics that feature the unexpected return of another old Wonder Woman villain. None of these comics will, however, have any effect whatsoever on anything. I wonder when normal service will resume?

Continue reading “Weekly Wonder Woman: Sensation Comics #6, Wonder Woman: Futures End #1, Superman/Wonder Woman: Futures End #1”

US TV

Review: Gotham 1×1 (US: Fox; UK: Channel 5)

Fox's Gotham

In the US: Mondays, 8/7c, Fox
In the UK: Acquired by Channel 5. Will air in October

There have been a lot of Batmans over the years. I don’t just mean actors or even characters who have become Batman in the comics. I mean that tonally, Batman has changed many times since he was first created 75 years ago. Whether it’s the comedic Adam West Batman of the 60s, the gothic, operatic Tim Burton Batman or camp Joel Schumacher Batman of the 90s, the dark, quasi-realistic Batman of the Christopher Nolan movies, the borderline psychopath of the Frank Miller comics or the back to basics action hero of Denny O’Neil, these Batmans have all had often radically different tones.

Importantly, though, they’ve all been consistent. You couldn’t have had Heath Ledger’s Joker in the Adam West TV series; Frank Miller’s Batman would have scared the living daylights out of Danny DeVito’s Penguin; and so on. Plus they all would have looked really, really stupid mish-mashing genres like that.

I mention this because Fox’s Gotham, a Batman prequel that follows the origin stories of not just a young Batman but all his enemies and allies, as newbie police detective Jim Gordon tries to clean up the city, makes the near-fatal mistake of trying to be all Batmen to all people.

At its base, we have a fine script from the always wonderful Bruno Heller (Touching Evil, Rome, The Mentalist). It feels like a Nolan script and touches base with Batman continuity points at every turn, with everyone from Alfred the butler to Poison Ivy, The Riddler, The Penguin, The Joker (maybe) and Catwoman putting in a pre-grotesque appearance. Many a Batfan’s heart will be a flutter as they spot who’s who and what’s what, I’m sure, and if you know the origin story of Batman well, you’ll appreciate how close it sticks to the comics as well as innovating in its own way – particularly nice is the way Selena Kyle keeps watch over the young Bruce Wayne, having witnessed his parents’ murder, but the Penguin is also the obvious standout character from among the various assembled Batman villains taking their first baby steps.

The cast is fine as well. We have Ben McKenzie, who was so brilliant as a cop in Southland, playing ex-soldier Jim Gordon; Sean Pertwee is a redoubtable and authentically working class English Alfred; Donal Logue (Terriers, Life, Vikings, The Knights of Prosperity) is his usual furry, Irish, working-class cop self as Gordon’s partner, the corrupt but still well intentioned Harvey Bullock; John Dorman (Borgia, The Wire) is mesmerisingly contained as crime boss Carmine Falcone; and the child cast (David Mazouz as Bruce Wayne, Camren Bicondova as Selina Kyle, Clare Foley as Ivy Pepper) are all very good, too. Even the more unknown supporting cast, as well as crime lady Jada Pinkett Smith, do well.

The problem is everything is working to completely different Batmans. In fact, the director, Danny Cannon, picks several – at times going for a Nolan Gothan, at times for a Burton one, dragging the set designers along with him. Just for luck, he even tries a bit of Spike Lee and Kathryn Bigelow, awesomely failing to pull off either.

The cast seem a little unsure, too. A lot of them think they’re in a campy Joel Schumacher Batman, while others pick and choose depending on their mood, sometimes being gamely operatic à la Burton, sometimes going for a gritty Nolan. McKenzie even growls and postures like he thinks he’s really Christian Bale’s Batman, assuming Bale had forgotten he wasn’t wearing his Batman outfit.

As for composer Graeme Revell, I’m not even sure he knows this is a Batman show, so largely plumps for generic syndicated 80s action show, right down to the ubiquitous guitar riffs that envelope pretty much every scene. If ever I’ve taken Murray Gold’s name in vain, I apologise – there are composers who are far worse and more ruinous than he, it turns out.

This is a pilot, of course, and over time, I’m sure everyone will manage to pick a style – hopefully the same one – and stick with it. Heller does well at giving us a heroic Jim Gordon who ultimately is going to fail in his quest because he’s no superhero, but who’s going to do his best for the next decade or two anyway, and it looks like he knows how to tell that story in an interesting and semi-realistic way.

However, at the moment, Gotham feels more like an homage to every Batman there’s ever been, rather than a show that knows what it is in and of itself. It’ll probably be worth tuning in for subsequent episodes, to see if it can settle down, but this isn’t the slam dunk that Fox was undoubtedly hoping for.

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