US TV

Review: Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life 1×1 (US: Fox)


In the US: Sundays, 8.30/7.30c, Fox

So I’m going to stick my neck out a bit and admit that despite all my principles and natural inclinations, I think The Hangover is a funny movie. Yes, The Hangover 2 is The Hangover again but set in Asia and a bit more racist, and The Hangover 3 isn’t funny at all and actually wants to be a heist movie. But although it’s a bit misogynistic and racist at times, The Hangover is frequently hilarious, often clever, and justifiably made stars of Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis and Ken Leung.

Unfortunately, it spawned an awful lot of clones and wannabes, aimed at different demographics, whether it was teenage boys, teenage girls, older men, older women or any other exciting group with cash you’d like to name. Fortunately, being an R-rated comedy getting its laughs from R-rated situations, it failed to attract many TV copycats.

Until now. Now, we have Cooper Barrett’s Guide To Surviving Life on Fox. They’ve even got in Justin Bartha – who played “the guy who never got to have any fun” in all three Hangovers – to play “the guy who never gets to have any fun” in this, too. They just haven’t got in any R-rated comedy. Or much comedy.

The basic premise is that Cooper Barrett (Jack Cutmore-Scott), like a lot of young men his age, has just graduated college but doesn’t know what to do with his life. As a result, he is about to embark on a career of dead-end jobs to subsidise his intensive console game and TV viewing existence. Rather than doing what his parents might have done (moving to Manhattan and meeting a lot of people his own age who really like sitting around drinking coffee all day), he moves in with two of his college room-mates (James Earl and Charlie Saxton). To pay for his high-ambitions, low-income existence, he relies on his rich brother (Bartha), who wants to live the care-free 20s he never had vicariously through Barrett and his friends partying. 

Meanwhile, across the hall from them is new neighbour Meaghan Rath (Being Human (US), Banshee), who has similar issues when it comes to growing up, including hiding in the tumble dryer to avoid having to dump her boyfriend, and the group soon forms a platonic ‘bromance’. 

All of this starts in 2011 with a Hangover-style party, the events of which no one can remember. After that, the subsequent events to the present day are then told in flashback, the series’s somewhat nebulous concept being that in a Ferris Bueller/Parker Lewis-style, Barrett gives us the lessons in life that he’s learnt from experiences such as being kidnapped by some UFC fighters, dealing with his stupid room-mates flatscreen TV obsession or kissing Rath.

He’s not learnt very much so far, though, so it’s not so much a Guide To Surviving Life as a guide to things you shouldn’t do that you already knew you shouldn’t do. Maybe that’s the same thing on Fox.

Barrett himself is quite a dull character. He would be the Bradley Cooper character of the piece, but that’s all been transferred to Bartha, leaving no personality except well meaning intentions. Bartha’s more amusing but largely through being older yet being in young situations, rather than because of any good lines he gets. Earl and Saxton have thankless Hangover cast-off roles, too – Earl being the spaced-out Galifiankis character who’s an a-hole and gets everyone into trouble, Saxton being the Ed Helm pushover nerd who no one likes and is put upon by women.

The show’s saving grace – and almost sole departure from the Hangover formula – is Rath, who provides a much-needed female viewpoint and charisma, even if she doesn’t get as much to work with as Zooey Deschanel does in a similar situation in New Girl

Given how offensively bad/offensive other Hangover clones have turned out, Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life is by no means awful and even has the odd moment of charm, wit and intelligence. But those moments are rare and there’s too little individuality or originality to the show.

Most importantly of all, Cooper Barrett might want to offer us his guide to surviving life, but I’m not sure anyone would want to follow his advice.

‘Walter presents’ is now live. Am I out of business now?

One of this blog’s dearest aims is to reveal to you the best TV shows from around the world – while warning you about the worst. Channel 4 have clearly noticed this and regard it as A Good Idea. As a result, they’ve just launched a new online service called ‘Walter Presents‘ that does something similar. Allegedly curated by a bloke called Walter*, it’s supposed to be the cherry-picked best of the world’s best foreign-language TV programmes. Here, let Channel 4 explain (apparently Walter can only talk about TV, not himself):

Some of the shows are also going to be available on Channel 4’s regular broadcast channels, with RTL’s Deutschland 83 having started on Channel 4 last night, while Canal+’s Spin is hitting More4’s schedules on Friday. However, most are exclusive to Walter Presents and currently include the likes of:

  • Heartless (Denmark)
    From the writer of The Bridge and the director of The Killing, a dark, steamy supernatural thriller
  • Match Day (French)
    A moody, tense thriller with shocking family secrets at its heart
  • Kabul Kitchen (Afghan)
    Funny, mischievous, irreverent comedy set against a backdrop of the war in Afghanistan
  • Cenk Batu (German)
    A brooding undercover agent infiltrates Germany’s deadliest crime rings
  • The Lens (Czech)
    A young cameraman is recruited to Prague’s elite crime squad after the tragic death of his father
  • Pure Evil (Afghan)
    A psychopathic sect leader vows to make a former policeman and expert criminologist’s life a living hell
  • 10 (Swiss)
    Award-winning crime thriller. A high stakes poker game, a wanted criminal, a rigged room

So there you go. Provided it’s not in English or Welsh and you don’t mind watching TV on a computer**, you don’t need me any more. You’ve got Walter.

Sobs.

* Like Channel 4 would ever call it something like ‘Kevin presents’
** I checked the All 4 iOS app and it does include Walter Presents content. I imagine the Android and the Amazon Fire apps do, too. No Amazon Fire Stick app yet, though, although I hear that’s due soon

What have you been watching this Christmas? Including Elf, The Force Awakens, Doctor Who and Kung Fu Killer

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.

The Christmas holidays/Saturnalia are a time for revelry and fun, followed by bloated lounging around watching TV. At least, they usually are. This year, good TV was slightly harder to find, so after the jump in this Christmas viewing round-up, the only Christmas specials I’ll be looking at are Doctor Who and Sherlock, as well as the slightly unexpected and un-Christmasy Marco Polo: One Hundred Eyes. Several of the regular shows also finished their runs over Christmas, so I’ll be taking a gander at Ash vs Evil Dead, The Bridge and Legends, and I finally finished the first season of The Man In the High Castle, too.

That doesn’t sound like much viewing for two weeks, and you’d be right. I also watched a few movies and even went to the theatre:

Elf (Dominion theatre, London)
A stage adaptation of the delightful Will Ferrell Christmas classic movie, in which a Christmas elf discovers he’s really a human and ventures south to New York to find his children’s book-publisher father (James Caan), only to discover that daddy is in Santa’s naughty list. He gets a job at a department store, where thanks to adorable co-worker Zooey Deschanel, he discovers the human thing called love, and manages to restore Christmas cheer to the world.

Initially tediously slavish to the original, right down to the New York setting requiring the entirely British cast to put on US accents, this musical version starts to get better only when the story begins to diverge halfway through. The show is also more knowing than the original, losing some of its innocence and adding jokes that only the adults in the audience will get.

Ben Forster (winner of ITV’s Superstar), who’s got a cracking set of pipes on him, plays Buddy the Elf a bit closer to Jim Carrey than to Will Ferrell, while Girls Aloud’s similiarly pipe-equipped Kimberley Walsh (I’d misread that as Kimberly Wyatt from Sky 1’s Got To Dance, so was a bit disappointed when I realised my mistake…) foregoes Deschanel’s hipster quirkiness in favour of being just a cynical woman embittered by too many of life’s disappointments. More interestingly – again for the adults – is the presence of 80s/90s stars Joe McGann (The Upper Hand) and Jessica Martin (Doctor Who, The Bobby Davro Show) as Buddy’s human parents.

It’s a lavish affair with a good cast that’s still very entertaining and that eventually finds its feet, but it’s better if you’ve never seen the original and imagine it’s all set in London – they missed a trick there.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015) (iTunes)
Every Mission Impossible is a bit different but this time we do get something a bit closer to the first movie in the series, with an attempt to do proper spy stuff again. Senator Alec Baldwin is trying to shut down the Impossible Mission Force, just as Tom Cruise cottons on to the fact that rogue agents from other countries’ spy agencies have clubbed together for nefarious purposes, forcing the team to go on the lam. Can Cruise, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Jeremy Renner and generic token woman Rebecca Ferguson (The White Queen) stop the ‘rogue nation’, even though its agents are supposedly every bit as good as IMF and wise to how it does business? 

You betcha, but the fun is in finding out how. Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie gives us some occasionally thrilling, mostly too-CGIed action set pieces, as well as some surprisingly funny moments and the traditional con jobs, although an attempt to create parallels to Casablanca are ill judged, Renner is confined almost entirely to chatty scenes in Washington and London has about 1,700 red telephone boxes for no good reason. Also amusing for UK viewers is that the British government appears to be entirely composed of the cast of Rev.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (20150 (in cinemas)
Simultaneously answering the questions “What if it had been Princess Leia rather than Luke Skywalker left on Tatooine?” and “What must it be like to work for the Empire?”, this new Star Wars movie has newcomer Daisy Ridley as Rey, a scavenger on a desert planet waiting for her family to return to pick her up. Into her life come a comedic stormtrooper-with-a-conscience sidekick (John Boyega) and a droid looking for an old jedi. Together they have to escape the revamped Empire, find the rebels, meet Han Solo in the Millennium Falcon and destroy the Empire’s new, definitely-not-the-Death-Star-oh-no superweapon.

JJ Abrams gives us the first decent addition to the Star Wars series since the 80s through the simple measure of giving us Star Wars again, but with modern special effects and a few character/relationship switches just to obfuscate the fact it’s the same movie as the first one. But it is a very decent remake-sequel, reminding you of just how good the original was, being genuinely thrilling, funny and enjoyable throughout, not invoking any of the tedious cruft that Lucas added in the prequels, and giving us a decent new cast and a return of the old cast. And it’s great to have one of these things about a girl rather than a boy for a change, too.

The big question, given where the film ends, is whether the next one is going to be a simple retread of The Empire Strikes Back or whether there are still new stories to be told in the franchise.

Kung Fu Killer/Jungle (2014) (Netflix)
Top martial artist Donnie Yen’s in Hong Kong nick for murder, when other top martial artists start getting killed off, forcing the police to recruit him to stop the murderer from killing anyone else. But does Yen know more than he’s letting on and can he stop the killer before he gets to his girlfriend?

It’s a largely unremarkable plot, but what lifts Kung Fu Killer are its fight scenes, direction and cast. Featuring pretty much a who’s who of the Hong Kong martial arts industry, both behind the scenes and in front of the camera (stick around to the end to see if you spotted everyone), the movie is often a Chinese travelogue and has some directorial flourishes that nod to a diverse range of movies, including The Bourne Supremacy, although its CGI is a bit weak and the wire work a bit too obvious. The best fight is saved for Yen and till last, but the movie fills its runtime in an almost Game of Death-style deconstruction of kung fu, each scene showing a different aspect of Chinese martial arts.

Worth watching if you want to see what a modern Hong Kong martial arts movie looks like and to see Donnie Yen on good form.

Continue reading “What have you been watching this Christmas? Including Elf, The Force Awakens, Doctor Who and Kung Fu Killer”

TMINE this week. Plus Question of the Week: what did you get for Christmas?

Since TMINE takes a break over Christmas, this week is going to be the usual New Year’s catch-up period where the schedules are slightly different from normal. Those looking forward to hearing what Wonder Woman got up to over Christmas are going to have to wait until tomorrow, since there was something of a deluge and I feel like doing some work today. Never fear, Weekly Wonder Woman will be back to its regular Monday slot next week, though.

Later, I’ll be posting a ‘What have you been watching this Christmas?’ for the holiday period, but there’ll be a regular ‘What have you been watching?’ in the usual Friday slot to cover everything from last night’s TV onwards (Endeavour‘s back for starters).

Depending on how I’m feeling and how many bricks make contact with my head in the next week, I’ll be posting separate reviews of the new shows (some of exceedingly variable quality) that start airing this week: Cooper Barrett’s Guide To Surviving Life (US: Fox), Byw Celwydd/Living A Lie (UK: S4C), Deutschland 83 (Germany: RTL; US: Sundance TV; UK: Channel 4) and – shudders – Beowulf: Return To The Shieldlands (UK: ITV; US: Esquire). I’ll also be previewing some of the new shows coming to our screens this month: Colony (US: USA), Teachers (US: TV Land)Idiotsitter (US: Comedy Central), Billions (US: Showtime) and Second Chance (US: Fox).

On top of that, there’ll be a guide to the BFI’s January TV output and maybe even a competition and a DVD review, too, since I’ve got Network’s Callan: This Man Alone sitting on my desk, waiting to be given a well overdue (re)viewing. Hmm. This could be a fortnight’s work now I think about it, but let’s see how it all pans out.

This week’s Question of the Week, though, is a simple one: what TV did you get for Christmas (or whatever holiday you were celebrating)? My gifts were few but good:

  • Spyship: Alerted to its existence by Just Stark, I added this Cold War serial to my Amazon wish list and hey presto, here it is. 
  • Out of the Unknown: I’ve written about this before, but never managed to watch more than a few of this anthology series of classic science-fiction stories. Now I’ve got every surviving episode, as well as audio versions of some of those that don’t.
  • 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die: A guide to some of the best TV shows from around the world, grouped by decade. I might turn this into a feature on the blog, as I wade my way through each show. However, there might be some nitpicking over the choices. It’s got Derek in it for starters. I’m hoping ironically.

How about you?

UPDATE: I forgot I got Apparitions (review) as well. It’ll be interesting to see if it’s dated.