Perpetual Grace
US TV

Review: Perpetual Grace LTD 1×1 (US: Epix)

In the US: Sundays, 10/9c, Epix
In the UK: Not yet acquired

There’s a strange overlap between theatre, independent cinema and small TV networks trying to make a name for themselves. Certainly, when you watch “a neo-noir thriller” with long two-handed scenes of deliberately unnaturalistic dialogue delivered by “actors’ actors”, in long-shot and black and white, you know you’re not watching NBC – this is going to be Epix, Starz, IFC or SundanceTV, AMC at a push.

Epix is an odd addition to that list, since so far, it’s been content with more accessible programming, such as Berlin Station, Get Shorty and Graves. Actually, that’s basically been it as far as it goes in the three years since the network decided to give scripted a whirl, so Perpetual Grace LTD feels like a distinct change of direction and attempt to reframe the network.

Jimmi Simpson and Damon Herriman in Perpetual Grace LTD
Jimmi Simpson and Damon Herriman in Perpetual Grace LTD

Perpetual grace and favour

Written and usually directed by Steven Conrad (Patriot, Wonder, The Pursuit of Happyness), Perpetual Grace sees Jimmi Simpson (Breakout Kings, Westworld) playing a former firefighter. Former because he quit the fire brigade after a rookie firefighter was killed through his negligence.

One day, he’s approached by Damon Herriman (Secret City, Quarry, Squinters, Mr InBetween) who’s looking for someone to help him get some money out of his estranged god-bothering parents. All Simpson has to do is get into their good books and send them looking for him down south where a friendly policeman (Code Black‘s Luis Guzmán) will lock them up for a fortnight. During that time, Simpson can assume Herriman’s identity, declare them dead and then take over their assets.

Simple, right?

Oh yes, one more thing – he’s got to get addicted to methadone so that they’ll take him in.

Trouble is, Herriman’s holding back on a couple of secrets and Simpson’s really not the ruthless criminal type.

Worse still, Herriman’s parents are Ben Kingsley and Jacki Weaver.

Oh dear.

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Swamp Thing
US TV

Review: Swamp Thing 1×1 (US: DC Universe)

In the US: Fridays, DC Universe
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Swamp Thing is one of the most oddly popular characters in the DC comic book universe. So-called because creator Len Wein couldn’t think of a name for that “swamp thing I’m working on”, Swamp Thing was originally just a horror comic character, with scientist Alec Holland seemingly dying in a swamp, but thanks to a chemical, ending up a plant-monster instead.

Gosh, wouldn’t you want to read that?

Not even two movies by Roger Corman persuaded people that Swamp Thing was worth reading. Instead, as with most things comics in the 80s, it wasn’t until Alan Moore was let loose on the title that a seemingly ordinary comic book character could become extraordinary.

Moore had already subverted Marvelman/Miracleman into a quasi-scientific analysis of superhero powers, their status as a new Greek pantheon and how they could transform the world if they so wanted.

With Swamp Thing, he was able to muse on the hidden horrors of US society, deconstruct the right-wing and Christian values at the core of comic book morality, and enable Swamp Thing to transcend his slock origins. He even introduced the world to John Constantine along the way, and ironically, it’s his run on Swamp Thing that gave Constantine its first season ‘big bad’

In his hands, Swamp Thing was no longer Alec Holland transformed into a plant beast – he was an elemental, a supernatural protector of nature, intended to preserve the balance in ‘the green’. He wasn’t a man: he was the plants themselves thinking they were a man, but actually borrowing his consciousness and creating a similar form – no more the true Alec Holland than the nearest tree or rose bush was.

That proved a successful enough interpretation of the character that the USA Network was able to resurrect Corman’s version of Swamp Thing for a three-season run from 1990.

Andy Bean and Crystal Reed in DC Universe's Swamp Thing
Andy Bean and Crystal Reed in DC Universe’s Swamp Thing

Swamp Thing (2019)

Oddly, though, it doesn’t yet feel like DC Universe’s take on Swamp Thing is going to follow the successful Moore interpretation. Instead, Swamp Thing is very much a show rooted (ho, ho) in the horror genre, particularly the “things that go bump in the swamp at night” genre, but with a slight hint of Cronenbergian body horror.

It sees Crystal Reed (Teen Wolf, Gotham) playing Swamp Thing’s comic book main squeeze, Abby Arcane. Now a CDC doctor, she returns to the home town she thought she’d left behind forever, when a strange haemorrhagic disease breaks out in the swamps and people start dying.

In the hospital, she meets scientist Alec Holland (Power‘s Andy Bean), who hints that stranger things are afoot that might at first appear. He’s been hired by local bigwigs Will Patton and Virginia Madsen to see if there’s anything financially exploitable in the swamp. However, he’s discovered something else much stranger.

Together, Bean and Reed investigate the swamp – as well as the local town – and grow closer. But there’s a murder on its way that’s going to change everything…

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Chris O'Dowd and Rosamund Pike in State of the Union
US TV

Boxset Monday: State of the Union (season one) (US: SundanceTV; UK: BBC Two)

In the US: Aired on SundanceTV May 16-19 2019
In the UK: Acquired by BBC Two

Alfred Hitchcock famously said that drama is life with the dull bits cut out. If so, you’d think that SundanceTV’s State of the Union would be a little bit more exciting, given that its 10 episodes are just 10 minutes long, so it should be able to cut about just about everything dull in life. Alas no.

Despite its US name and US network, State of the Union is virtually all British and Irish talent in front of and behind the camera. Written by Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy) and directed by Stephen Frears, it sees Chris O’Dowd (The IT Crowd, Get Shorty) and Rosamund Pike playing a not so happily married couple London couple. Each episode is set in the pub where the two meet before heading over the road for marriage counselling.

And that’s it. We never see the counselling sessions themselves and for the most part, the only other characters we see are two couples Pike and O’Dowd observe coming out of the preceding sessions, usually in a state of emotional shock.

Although Aisling Bea does turn up for about three minutes in one episode. That was a highlight in a show that is for the most part, all the bits of life left after the drama is taken out.

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Noah Wyle and Aliyah Royale in The Red Line
US TV

Review: The Red Line 1×1 (US: CBS)

In the US: Sundays, 8/7c, CBS
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Every so often, one of the major US networks decides to do something Important. I don’t know why – the shows always tank in the ratings, no matter how good they are, as has already happened with The Red Line – but they do. Maybe it’s to make a statement about the kind of network they are or want to be. Maybe it’s to suggest to viewers that they don’t need to take out a cable subscription to watch TV that has meaning beyond simple entertainment.

Whatever the reason, they do.

Following on from ABC’s remarkable American Crime, Fox was the last network to try to do something Important, with Shots Fired, in which a black cop shoots an unarmed white guy. Nearly a year later, we now have CBS’s The Red Line, which flips the scenario to something more familiar.

Elizabeth Laidlaw and Noel Fisher in The Red Line
Elizabeth Laidlaw and Noel Fisher in The Red Line. Photo: Elizabeth Morris/CBS ©2018 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

The Red Line

Created by playwright Caitlin Parrish and frequent collaborator Erica Weiss and produced by Wunderkinder Greg Berlanti and Ava DuVernay, The Red Line follows three separate groups of people following a fatal shooting by a white Chicago cop of an unarmed black man (Corey Reynolds).

The first group are Reynolds’ husband, Noah Wyle (ER, The Librarian, Falling Skies), and their adopted daughter Aliyah Royale; the second is the cop who shot Reynolds (Shameless US‘s Noel Fisher) and his co-workers; and the third is Royale’s real mother (Emayatzy Corinealdi) – a rising politician who gave Royale away when she was just a teenager – and her husband (The Musketeers‘ Howard Charles).

Six months after the shooting, Wyle and Royale are still trying to adjust to life without Reynolds and want justice from the system. Fisher, meanwhile, is devastated by the tragedy but thinks he did everything right. Corinedaldi, meanwhile, wants to change the system, particularly the training of police officers, and thinks she’s the person to do it.

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Ramy
US TV

Review: Ramy 1×1 (US: Hulu)

In the US: Available on Hulu
In the UK: Not yet acquired

When was the last time you saw a US TV programme with a Muslim lead in a show that explored what it was like to be a Muslim in modern America? Off the top of my head – and discounting shows with supporting characters who happened to be a bit Muslim but never really ever brought it up except to point out that they weren’t all terrorists, you know? – I’d say the last one was the much missed Aliens in America.

A mere 11 years later, we now have Ramy, written by and starring Egyptian-American Muslim stand-up Ramy Youssef. It, too, is a comedy, which suggests that there are certain things in the US that can still only be broached through comedy.

In it, Ramy plays a thinly veiled version of himself, Ramy Hassan, who still lives at home with parents and still hasn’t found the right woman – right for either them or him. He’s initially dating a Jewish woman, but since he’s moderately religious, he’s been covering up most of his less party-friendly restrictions to himself – something that doesn’t please her when she finds out (“You said the other day that you couldn’t drink any more because you were up to your limit!” “Well, I was. It’s just my limit is zero.”)

Suffice it to say, he’s soon spurred on by his friends, family and people he meets at the mosque into dating a Muslim girl for the first time. Except he soon discovers that comes with its own set of issues (“Do you want her to be covered or uncovered?” his mother asks, when he suggests she set him up with a date).

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