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

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

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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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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Dax Shepard and Lake Bell in ABC (US)'s Bless This Mess

Review: Bless This Mess 1×1 (US: ABC)

In the US: Tuesdays, 9.30/8.30c, ABC
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Culture clashes seem to be one of the big concerns of network US comedies these days. Black/white, middle-class/working-class, traditional/modern, famous/unknown – imagine the hilarity as everyone tries to understand everyone else from different backgrounds. Not all such concerns are US-specific, of course. New US arrival Bless This Mess, for example, is somewhat similar to two other recent shows from other countries – Canada’s Cavendish and New Zealand’s Fresh Eggs – in trying to make us laugh at urban/rural culture clashes. But if you’re going to do it, you need to have something new to say and some observations to make. Bless This Mess doesn’t.

Here, the set-up is that a New York married couple – therapist Lake Bell (Boston Legal, Childrens Hospital) and music journalist Dax Shepard (Parenthood) – inherit a Nebraskan farmhouse and sight-unseen, decide to relocate the countryside for a new life as farmers. Plausible, huh?

However, once they’re there, they discover that the farmhouse is in need of a touch of repair, the farmland is barren and they have all manner of ‘interesting’ neighbours: live-in neighbour Ed Begley Jr, store owner/sheriff/amateur thespian Pam Grier and rival farmer David Koechner (Anchorman) who’d quite like to buy the property from them.

Can they make a success of both their farm and their relationships with their new neighbours?

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The cast of The Code

Review: The Code 1×1 (US: CBS)

In the US: Mondays, 9/8c, CBS
In the UK: Not yet acquired

It seems hard to believe now but there was a time before Aaron Sorkin was a household name. However, way back in 1992, nobody had heard of the future creator of The West Wing, Studio 60 and The Newsroom. Thankfully, the then-playwright soon hit the big time thanks to a film adaptation of his stage play for A Few Good Men.

Featuring an iconic performance by Jack Nicholson as well as a sizzling script, A Few Good Men not only introduced the world to Sorkin, it also gave us our first real filmic glimpses at the modern US Marine Corps and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. These were so unknown in the heady days of the early 90s that when I reviewed A Few Good Men, my editor actually queried – in print in my review – my claim that the base featured in the movie was in Cuba.

Oh, what happy, pre-Gitmo days those were.

Luke Mitchell and Anna Wood in CBS's The Code
Luke Mitchell and Anna Wood in CBS’s The Code

The Code

While the Marines have seen many outings in the movies and on TV since, the Uniform Code of Military Justice and its system of courts martial largely only featured in one show: JAG, which concerned the lawyers of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps charged with prosecuting crimes under the code. That ran for an astonishing 10 seasons (one on NBC, nine on CBS), launched the apparently immortal NCIS franchises and even this very day is being considered for a revival.

One can only assume that CBS is planning this only because it has so little faith in its latest drama, The Code, given that:

  1. The Code is all about the JAG corps.
  2. It’s basically a remake of both A Few Good Men and JAG
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