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  • Byron Mann joins Hell on Wheels
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US TV

Review: Happyish 1×1 (US: Showtime)

Happyish

In the US: Sundays, 9.30pm ET/PT, Showtime

WASP dissatisfaction. How may I count the ways you’ve manifested yourself over the past decade or so on US TV? Well, there’s Satisfaction, obviously, and The Affair. There was Necessary Roughness and In Treatment, for those who like lots of therapy to cope with their dissatisfaction, Enlightened for those who wanted to think about rising above their job dissatisfaction. For those who are just dissatisfied with society and the Internet and social media, there was Selfie, while for those who were prepared to put up with their dissatisfaction in the hope things would get better, there was Togetherness and Marriage.

And let’s face, the dissatisfaction doesn’t stop there. You could probably add a few extras to that list, if you thought about it about.

Generally, the picture from TV would appear to be, if you’re middle to upper middle class in America and middle-aged, although things could obviously be a lot worse, apparently you’re just dissatisfied with how modern life is. Everyone seemingly caring about the young people who can barely even read a book, while you’re having to learn about the Facebook and the Twitter and foreigners, just to keep up. And just as your body’s getting all saggy and the sex is going away, you’re expected to be working out and taking protein like crazy, so you can have abs. There was no such thing as abs when you were growing up, was there?

All this while you’re having to work some well paid job that you don’t actually like that much.

And here we are with yet another slightly self-pitying ‘comedy drama’ about the same old same old. This was apparently so important to Showtime and its demographic that when its leading man actually died (Philip Seymour Hoffman, may he rest in peace), the network decided that it absolutely had to go ahead with the project with a new leading man (Steve Coogan).

Here Coogan plays a dissatisfied ad man (Mad Men), the ironically named Thom Payne, supposedly living the American Dream with his wife (Kathryn Hahn from Free Agents), but who’s disconcerted by all the young people who work for him, the young Swedes who are taking over the agency and basically everything in modern life. He’s the kind of knob who reads Camus on the train while everyone is reading the Kindle version of the paperback version of the hardback version of Steve Jobs’ biography. He hates his job, just as everyone else does, but more vocally, something that annoys his friend-boss Bradley Whitford.

And a more tedious half-hour it would be hard to find. Apart from the fact it’s mind-numbing repetition of a dozen other “grumpy old men” dramas, Coogan is just not American enough, either to say “asshole” as frequently as he does or to be dissatisfied with the American Dream that he’s so busy ripping apart. Not got a six-pack at 44, Steve? No one ever told you to get one – you’re English. So don’t worry about it, laugh at the Americans and their silly ways, and then go down the pub to laugh at them some more with your mates. Either that or get off your ‘ass’ and go down the gym like the American Dream you apparently want to embrace once upon a time tells you to.

Incidentally, I should note here that Coogan’s character is 44 years old. Is it because I’m 42 that I’ve read Camus and know who Frank Miller is, am on Facebook and can use Twitter? Am I in the sweet spot between generations, able to bridge the gap between young and old? Or is it because this isn’t the most well observed pieces of writing and actually, what the show thinks is a generational gap is actually a class gap?

I leave that one up to you guys to decide (be nice).

The show does try to liven things up a bit with Fight Club style commentary and dream sequences…

…that unfortunately lack any of its perception or fights, and a sequence in which Coogan has sex with a cartoon grandmother, but it’s not enough. By the end of it, you’ll be longing for the sweet release of death almost more than Coogan does.

News: more Frank Miller Dark Knight, Lifetime acquires UnREAL, a Jonathan Strange trailer + more

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Review: Deadline Gallipoli (Australia: Foxtel Showcase)

Deadline Gallipoli

In Australia: April 19-20, 8:30pm AEST, Foxtel Showcase

It’s instructive to look around the world and see the emphases placed by different countries on events, even global events. Take the Gallipoli campaign of the First World War, which began exactly 100 years ago this day. The US wasn’t involved with the campaign – or indeed the entire War at that point – so if you look through the US TV schedules, you’ll find that the Smithsonian Channel is the only one airing anything, and that’s a six year old documentary.

Here in the UK, where the Gallipoli campaign is more a “Ooh, I’ve heard of that. Remind me what happened?” event, we have live coverage of the Queen laying a tribute at the Cenotaph memorial this morning; a docu-drama on BBC2 about Keith “Father of Rupert” Murdoch, Gallipoli: When Murdoch Went to War, and his letter to the leaders of Great Britain and Australia that ended up swaying them into abandoning the campaign; and a repeat on More 4 of an archaeology documentary, Gallipoli’s Lost Shipwrecks.

In New Zealand and Australia, where the Gallipoli campaign essentially sparked the dreams of nationhood and is regarded as one of the most important moments in both countries’ histories, it’s slightly different. Indeed, it’s ANZAC Day today, and both countries are predicting it’ll be the largest one ever and New Zealand’s TV One is dedicating pretty much the entire day to Gallipoli programming and is launching big new drama When We Go To War tomorrow.

In Australia, it’s a similar story, particularly on ABC, which again has dedicated the entire day to ANZAC Day coverage. But this is the culmination of existing programming, not the only programming, as the channels have already been doing their best to commemorate the war. The Nine Channel has already aired a multi-part dramatisation of the campaign called Gallipoli and this week, pay TV channel Fox showcase aired a two-part, star-studded TV series called Deadline Gallipoli.

As the title suggests, Deadline Gallipoli eschewed the blow-by-blow recreation of the war in favour of a slightly different angle: the contributions by three journalists to ending the campaign and how they helped to place it so strongly at the forefront of the Australian psyche. Starring Hugh Dancy (Hannibal) as Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, Ewen Leslie as Harry Murdoch, Joel Jackson as Charles Bean, Charles Dance as General Hamilton, it also features Sam Worthington (Clash of the Titans, Terminator: Salvation) as photographer Phillip Schuler, as well as the likes of Bryan Brown (Old School, FX: Murder By Illusion, The Wanderer), Anna Torv (Fringe), Rachel Griffiths (Six Feet Under, Brothers & Sisters, Very Annie Mary, Muriel’s Wedding), Jessica De Gouw (Arrow) and other luminaries of the Australian acting profession in surprisingly minor roles.

Basically, everyone wanted to be in this one.

However, such is most Australians’ well established understanding of the Gallipoli campaign, you’d actually need to watch both Deadline Gallipoli and Gallipoli in order to really get to know events well, since they all leave out important details in order to get a new angle on the story.

Gallipoli was a pretty straight, blow-by-blow account of the campaign from the point of view of the men in the trenches, showing in gut-wrenching detail the futility and horrors of war. It was so even-handed, in fact, there was almost no attempt to attribute blame anywhere, meaning that although you’d know the landscape, the generals and pretty much every detail about the campaign, you could come out of it not really understanding where it had all gone wrong and why things ended. It was also so focused on the fighting itself that it didn’t really make use of the obvious opportunities to have Winston Churchill (the architect of the campaign) show up, for example.

Deadline Gallipoli, by contrast, spends most of its first episode giving a pretty detailed account of the political beginnings of the campaign and how Ashmead-Bartlett, Bean and Schuler ended up covering it. Dancy gives a surprisingly different performance to his Hannibal turn, but also a more caddish interpretation than James Callis gave, something adding by the rampant shagging he gets to do with Torv. He’s also a bit more heroic than Callis’s Ashmead-Bartlett, whom you might never have known had covered plenty of other wars previously from Gallipoli.

The second episode is where the fighting truly begins, with Deadline Gallipoli focusing on the main push that failed, killing so many ANZAC troops, just as Gallipoli did, before then going through similar ropes to show the lengths that Ashmead-Bartlett and the newly arrived Murdoch went to to try to get word to politicians of just how bad conditions on the ground were, something the army censors couldn’t prevent.

Surprisingly, despite Worthington getting an exec producer credit, he doesn’t get to do that much, the lion’s share falling on Dancy and Jackson’s shoulders, appropriately enough. And we get to see how they become more and more convinced that they must do more than simply observe and report, but also end the battle.

However, despite that focus on the journalists, Deadline Gallipoli doesn’t do that much better at giving us well rounded, historically accurate depictions. For example, while both it and Gallipoli show the sinking of the HMS Majestic, which Ashmead-Barlett was aboard at the time, both show this as a big surprise to him and use it to show either the risks of war or how effete he was (in Callis’s case). However, in real life, the HMS Triumph had been sank two days earlier and he’d actually brought his mattress up on deck so that if the Majestic were sunk, he wouldn’t be trapped.

Deadline Gallipoli’s big failing – at least for an international audience – is that it assumes the viewer knows everything already. Coupled with the shorter running time, that means you will get a better idea of the politics surrounding the war, but surprisingly, despite the big name cast, you’d have been better off watching Gallipoli to get a good understanding of the campaign itself.

On the flipside, Deadline Gallipoli is much better at remembering that there were other nationalities and ethnicities present, with Indians, Sikhs, Maoris, Africans, Australian Aborigines and other members of the British Empire all being represented, some even getting lines. On the other flipside, Gallipoli was a lot more equitable to the Turks, with Deadline Gallipoli only giving us cannon fodder and helpful translators.

So, if you have the time, watch both. Watch the movie as well. None of them are perfect, but together they’ll give you a good understanding and different views of such an important moment in history.

What have you been watching? Including John Wick, Vikings, The Americans, Arrow and The Blacklist

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.

Well, despite all that planning, I kind of forgot I was going out pretty much every night this week, so I haven’t managed to watch everything I planned to. That means I’ll do a full, three-episode verdict of The Comedians on Monday, once I’ve binge-watched it this weekend. Maybe I’ll do that Daredevil season review at the same time…

The fact I didn’t look hard enough at the Australian TV schedules for this week didn’t help, either, otherwise I’d have realised that Deadline Gallipoli was a two-parter that was going to air over consecutive nights, rather than weekly – fingers crossed, I’ll be posting a review of that later tonight, after I’ve gone to see Avengers: Age of Ultron.

After the jump, tele: American Crime, American Odyssey, Arrow, The Blacklist, Community, The Flash, Forever, and Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. I’ll also be looking at the season finales of The American and Vikings.

But first, just in case you think I don’t listen to your recommendations, a movie review!

John Wick (2014)
Keanu is a recently widowed former hitman for the Russian Mob who turns his almost supernaturally violent talents to revenge, after Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones) kills his… dog. No, really. His dog. If that sounds a bit silly, that’s because it is, and even the film acknowledges it. But it sits in a knowing intersection between Banshee and Wanted, with considerable visual and tonal nods to the nihilistic yet surreal Point Blank, with Keanu’s mission explicitly arbitrary and meaningless.

Once you’ve got over that tonal decision, there’s a lot to like about the movie. It has a surprisingly slow, thoughtful and emotional beginning; it’s packed full of great character actors you’ll recognise from The Wire, Daredevil and other shows and movies, including Ian McShane, Adrianne Palicki, Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters, Michael Nyqvist, Bridget Moynahan, John Leguizamo, Bridget Regan, Lane Reddick and Clarke Peters; there are some interesting fights, including some semi-decent jiu jitsu; it can be pretty funny at times; and there are some decently smart villains for a change.

Some bits are a little too silly for their own words, including a neutral ground hotel for hitmen and women, and Lance Reddick’s accent. But a decently enjoyable action thriller that sets things up well for a sequel that could be potentially different. However, I’m not sure I needed to see it in IMAX – Empire Leicester Square setting me back an eye-watering £18 a seat.

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