Roseanne
International TV

What have you been watching? Including Splitting Up Together and Roseanne

It’s “What have you been watching?”, your chance to recommend anything you’ve been watching this week

It’s the last WHYBW for a fortnight, as TMINE is off on its Easter holidays next week. Naturally, a whole bunch of new shows have been timed to coincide with this, presumably as part of some super-villain’s masterplan to give me a stress-induced heart attack.

In the past week, I’ve reviewed (and even previewed):

On top of that, I’ll be looking at ABC (US)’s Splitting Up Together and Roseanne after the jump, too. But I’ve still got Trust (US: FX; UK: Sky Atlantic) and The Terror (US: AMC; UK: AMC Global) in the viewing queue, although there’s a little time before they air in the UK, so if I don’t manage to work my way through them in the next couple of days, I’ll do my best when I get back. Let’s see how it goes.

However, Grey’s Anatomy spin-off Station 19 is never going to be my cup of tea, so I’ll give that a miss, and CTV (Canada)’s The Detail might be equally unlucky, but I’ll do my best.

Counterpart and Will & Grace were on holiday this week, so after the jump, as well as Roseanne and Splitting Up Together, I’ll be looking at the usual regulars: Black Lightning, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, The Good Fight, Harow, Instinct, The Looming Tower, The Magicians, SEAL Team and Timeless, as well as the returning Silicon Valley.

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including Splitting Up Together and Roseanne”

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The Crossing
US TV

Preview: The Crossing 1×1 (US: ABC; UK: Amazon)

In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, ABC. Starts April 2
In the UK: Tuesdays, Amazon. Starts April 3

With age is supposed to come wisdom. However, there’s roughly two pieces of wisdom that I’ve accumulated in my years and I usually end up repeating them ad nauseum:

  1. There are no new ideas – it’s how you combine existing ideas that’s important
  2. Science-fiction is largely about the present, rather than the future

Apologies to regular readers, but unfortunately, I’ve now got to deploy both of these nuggets, making it more obvious than usual that the emperor has no clothes.

The Crossing

The Allegory

The Crossing is on the one hand, an absurdly basic allegory about modern day global politics. It sees a whole bunch of bodies washed up on the shore near a small Oregon town in the US. Hundreds have perished in the water, but a goodly few have survived. Trouble is, no one knows where they’ve come from, since no boats or anything else have been in the area.

Upon further interrogation by local sheriff Steve Zahn (Treme, Mind Games) and Department of Homeland Security agent Sandrine Holt (Hostages, House of Cards, Macgyver, The Returned, The Art of More), the survivors claim asylum, stating they are refugees from a war-torn land. The problem?

They’re Americans and that war-torn land is… America. The America of 180 years in the future. Yep, they’re time-travellers.

Obviously, people aren’t that persuaded of this at first, but then the evidence begins to mount up.

So here’s your basic modern-day sci-fi allegory – it’s a sledgehammer-sharp piece of empathy encouraging its audience to put itself in the shoes of refugees and imagine what it would do in their position. Stop thinking of Syrians as “the other” but instead imagine if Americans were forced by war to escape to another country. Wouldn’t you take them in? Wouldn’t you understand the terrible decision they’d had to make?

Ta da. Science fiction job done.

Too basic, though? Because sooner or later you have to explain the nature of this war. Trouble is, if you start to make it Red State vs Blue State or whites vs blacks, you’re potentially going to divide your audience. So enter “less divisive allegory” part two.

Steve Zahn and Natalie Martinez in The Crossing
Steve Zahn and Natalie Martinez in The Crossing

The second allegory

Just to repeat myself yet again, there are no new ideas in sci-fi and the idea of regular Homo Sapiens and a super-evolved species of humans fighting it out to determine which is the fittest to survive has had considerable cachet over the years. There’s been The X-Men in comics and even as far back as the 1970s on TV, there was The Tomorrow People. Generally, though, the superhumans have been both nice and on the receiving end of the prejudice, while it’s been nasty old humans who’ve been oppressing the new minority just like it was one of the old minorities. ALLEGORY ALERT!

But if you cast your mind back over Will & Grace‘s Debra Messing’s career, you’ll remember the shoe was on the other foot in Prey back in the late 90s, when humans found themselves being hunted down by people with a superior genome, while Star Trek, of course, gave us the genetically engineered Khan Noonian Singh deciding he was proper better than the rest of the world and he was going to war ’em into surrender.

Ditto The Crossing, in which discover that a genetically engineered ‘Apex’ version of humanity has been trying to wipe out Homo Sapiens and has done such a good job of it that a few regular members of the species thought it worth trying a hugely risky form of time travel to venture back to the ‘great peace’ at the beginning of the 21st century when people still had rights.

Unfortunately for our refugees, not only has an Apex human travelled back with them (APB‘s Natalie Martinez), they might not even be the first to make it back – and who knows what the first bunch have been up to. Perhaps even a bit of temporal manipulation…

Hang on, that’s Travelers. Told you there were no original ideas.

Steve Zahn and Sandrine Holt in The Crossing
Steve Zahn and Sandrine Holt in The Crossing

Mishandled

So how does The Crossing handle this particular set of tropes that you’ve already seen elsewhere? For the most part, decently well but not hugely imaginatively. The feel is somewhat similar to The Returned, full of big expansive landscape shots and pictures of wooded lakes, as our sleepy little town wakes up to its new extra-natural problem, even if the government is trying to hide it from society at large.

But at this stage, there’s not much more than allegory and a bit of mystery. What are the first batch of time travellers up to and are the new set of travellers goodies, baddies or the same mix of traits as normal Americans who therefore SHOULD BE TREATED WITH COMPASSION – WITHIN LIMITS. There’s enough of a mystery for me to want to know the answers to some of these question at least, but I don’t have a huge amount of confidence that the final revelations will be in any way surprising.

In terms of characters and casting, Zahn doesn’t quite have the alpha male qualities necessary to pull off the sheriff role, but that makes Martinez’s job a lot easier at least, as she runs rings around him with super-leaps, super-speed, super-hearing and super-twatting abilities. She’s good and decently mysterious, but nothing exceptional. Meanwhile, Holt is consistently reassuring but nothing much more. Indeed, no one has any real chemistry with anyone else or even much screen presence, while most of the seeds for future plots are soapy at best.

And in terms of science-fiction, no one’s really done much thinking at all. The Americans from the future all have the same accents as modern Americans, as well as the same vocabulary, despite coming from as far in the future as Abraham Lincoln is in our past. They’re no taller or stronger thanks to better nutrition – or smaller or weaker thanks to food shortages. Sure, no one knows how to use keys, but they also don’t really know how to do anything – no one expects everything to be voice-activated. Sure, they don’t eat meat, but despite coming from a future without meat, when presented with the opportunity, some of them tuck in as though it’s best idea since sliced bread – rather than since pickled chlorinated chicken skins. Maybe that’s one constant of American life throughout the centuries.

Sandrine Holt, Steve Zahn and Natalie Martinez in The Crossing

Sandrine Holt, Steve Zahn and Natalie Martinez in The Crossing

Conclusion

Like The Whispers before it, The Crossing is probably going to turn out to be one of those sci-fi shows that ABC periodically produces that has a semi-decent core and just enough promise and decent production values that you imagine it might not be too bad – but which ultimately is likely to disappoint and never lead anywhere really satisfying. Undoubtedly, it’ll go on for a number of weeks, being competently made, getting its characters to go through basic emotions, promising all manner of revelations and government conspiracies, but which ultimately will end up with some family-oriented nonsense and Care Bear-style beams of love coming out of people’s tummies. And then getting cancelled after a season.

I’ll probably watch a few episodes to confirm my theory, but I don’t invite you to start on this same path until I’ve gone a few weeks down it.

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Barry
US TV

Review: Barry 1×1 (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)

In the US: Sundays, 10.30pm, HBO
In the UK: Thursdays, 10.45pm, Sky Atlantic. Starts April 19

For some reason, people think hitmen are comedy gold. Maybe it’s the idea of transgression or the juxtaposition of life and death, humour being an outlet for existential angst. Maybe it’s just that watching someone get shot in the head is really funny.

But there are a surprising number of comedic shows and movies that feature hitmen as their protagonists, notably Get Shorty on both TV and in the cinema, but also including Grosse Pointe Blank, The Whole Nine Yards, Prizzi’s Honor, Mr & Mrs Smith, and more.

Barry

Now we have Barry, which follows a somewhat similar path to both Get Shorty and Grosse Point Blank. It sees the show’s co-creator and director Bill Hader (Saturday Night Live) playing a former marine – the eponymous Barry – who, stuck for a job on his return from Afghanistan, ends up working as a minor league hitman for Stephen Root (Dodgeball, Office Space). While that temporarily gives him a reason for his existence, he begins to wonder what life’s for and whether killing is really a great way to be employed. The pay isn’t even that great.

Then Root sends him to LA to kill someone for some dodgy Eastern Europeans. There he bumps into actress Sarah Goldberg (Hindsight) and ends up not only falling for her, but going to her acting class, where Henry Winkler (Happy Days) does his level best to get decent performances out of everyone – including Hader. Before you know it, Hader’s fallen in love with acting as well and is thinking about a career change.

Bill Hader and Sarah Goldberg in HBO's Barry
Bill Hader and Sarah Goldberg in HBO’s Barry

Not a hit

And that’s basically it. True, it’s only a half-hour show, but that’s really all that happens in the first episode. So much for plot, hey?

The $64,000 question, though, is is it funny? For my money, it’s a quick no. Despite the 84% approval rating it gets on Metacritic, Barry seemed like a low rent Grosse Pointe Blank to me, dealing with all the same issues but without even 10% of the wit, dialogue or charm. On the plus side of the scales, it does have some funny things to say about acting and it does have some halfway decent shootouts. But again, you might as well just watch Grosse Pointe Blank.

Henry Winkler in HBO's Barry
Henry Winkler in HBO’s Barry

Conclusion

This is a weak, derivative start to Barry. Hader and Winkler are both fine, but nothing exceptional, and Root is constantly teasing that there’ll be a laugh, but never manages to give full release. Given how brief the pilot is, I’m prepared to give the second episode a go at least, particularly since a quick glance down the cast list for future episodes reveals there are a whole bunch of plot developments that might make the show interesting.

But Barry needs an urgent shot in the arm of something invigorating if it’s to last more than those couple of episodes in the TMINE viewing queue.

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L'art du crime (The Art of Crime)
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