What have you been watching? Including Medea (Almeida), The Beautiful Lie, The Player, Y Gwyll and Limitless

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.

With no Cumberemergency to take me away from it all this week, here’s WHYBW, right on schedule. This week, I’ve already reviewed the first episode of ABC’s rather bad (in all senses of the word) Wicked City, and passed a third-episode verdict on The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend; of course, Supergirl began this week on CBS and Sky1, but I previewed that a while ago. That means that after the jump, you can enjoy my thoughts on the latest episodes of 800 Words, Arrow, The Beautiful Lie, Blindspot, The Flash, Limitless, The Player, Y Gwyll and You’re The Worst.

But I’ve also been to the theatre again! Proper theatre, too – none of that ‘theatre at the movies’ rubbish, neither.

Medea (Almeida, until November 14)
Remember Clueless and how everyone was impressed at how Amy Heckerling had taken Jane Austen’s Emma and modernised it for American teenagers? Remember how it wasn’t called Emma

That’s probably Medea‘s biggest failing. Had it been called Northern London Writer Is Getting A Divorce From Her Actor Husband Jason and the Kids Are Being Dragged Into It, people would probably have been raving about it being a great modern feminist play, with marvellous parallels to the Euripidean Medea

However, if you call something Medea, there’s a certain expectation that there should be a certain amount of dialogue, plot, characters, etc from the original. Whereas this Medea has virtually no lines, few characters, few themes and few plot elements in common with the original. Which is probably why no one’s been raving about it.

On its own terms, it’s not bad. In terms of staging, it’s a sort of halfway house between the Almeida’s almost traditional Bakkhai and its archly inventive Oresteia, sometimes a little too pretentious for its own good to the point of laughability, but usually taking good decisions about how to depict events. Kate Fleetwood is as good as Helen McCrory was at the National last year, but less ‘actorly’ about it. The feminism isn’t so much sub-text as both text and super-text, with endless debates about the place of women in society, women’s value, men, fathers et al. The changes made by Rachel Cusk feel almost autobiographical – even if they aren’t, you’ll still feel they are by the end of it.

The worst aspect of the play is that it has the somewhat clumsy move of having a god/goddess explain the feminism of it all to the audience at the end. It also feels, given how much plot innovations Cusk has added to the text, like she’s realised she’s run out of time, as virtually everything that gets set up by her ends up explained concluded hurriedly at the end by this god/goddess. You could potentially argue that it’s a traditional move for a Greek tragedy, to have a god explain the plot, but it sits poorly in such an otherwise modern play. 

It’s intermittently interesting and clever, with a lot to say for itself, even if it could say a lot of it with considerably more subtlety and maybe better pacing, too. But whatever you do, don’t go in thinking you’re going to see something that’s anything like what Euripides wrote.

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Review: Wicked City 1×1 (US: ABC)

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, ABC

There was a time when the anthology show ruled US airwaves. Jobbing actors would show up for a week in The Twilight Zone, The Night Gallery, General Electric Theater, Studio One or whatever, then move on to the next gig. But increasing production values, logistical difficulties and viewer choice started to make that weekly anthology show more or less impossible; the power of stardom also meant that if you could get an actor or actress with a significant fanbase in a starring role, people would watch week after week, no matter what the story, which made the anthology show less and less attractive.

But over the past few years, the format has started to return. It began, oddly enough with Love Bites, a somewhat terrible NBC romcom that featured a different couple every week. That failed very, very quickly, in part because the scripts were just awful, but also because the formula wasn’t quite right. Weekly wasn’t the way to go.

Instead, it was cable that developed the correct format for a modern anthology show, with first American Horror Story and then True Detective. With an audience who likes serial drama but who wants eventual conclusions to their stories that haven’t been drawn out too long, what could be better than a season-long story with a beginning, middle and an end, the next season then telling a completely new story in the same vein? With a bit of cleverness, you can even appease fans of the shows’ stars by having the cast come back to play different characters if they want – or just let them go off to the next job if they’d rather, just like in the old days, since that way you can get big names with limited availability to come in for just a season.

It’s a scheme that certainly worked with ABC’s American Crime, a ‘so good it could have been HBO’ drama about the terrible effects of the American judicial system and all the other systems that have evolved around it. Now ABC are hoping to repeat the show’s success with Wicked City, a “a character-driven, true crime procedural that explores sex, politics and popular culture across various noteworthy eras in LA history”.

The first season is set in 1980. Or maybe 1982. A few years after LA’s Hillside Strangler struck, anyway. Ed Westwick (Gossip Girl) is a serial killer on the make, emulating his idol, the Strangler, by killing girls he picks up in bars then leaving them dead in the same places. It’s something to do with his father having left when he was eight, apparently.

Then one night, he’s about to chop the head off Erika Christensen (Six Degrees, Parenthood) and then have sex with her corpse, when she reveals she’s a single mother. Things get even better when it turns out that not only does she have sociopathic tendencies of her own – she’s one of the killer nurses you hear so much about it these days – she quite enjoys pretending to be a corpse while Ed Westwick has sex with her.

It’s a match made in heaven, isn’t it?

Meanwhile, a couple of brave male, squabbling cops – Jeremy Sisto (Kidnapped, Suburgatory, The Returned) and Gabriel Luna (Matador) – are on Westwick’s trail, hoping to stop him before he can kill yet more young women. All while listening to as many 80s classics and using as many pagers, rotary dial payphones, old Mustangs and 4:3 TVs as the music and props departments can provide.

Unfortunately, there is one problem with the modern anthology format that Wicked City fails to overcome: you actually need to make people want to watch the next season, or even the next episode, hopefully by writing some good scripts. And avoiding complete moral bankruptcy.

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