The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 3

Third-episode verdict: Elementary (CBS/Sky Living)

In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, CBS
In the UK: Tuesdays, 9pm, Sky Living. Starts tomorrow

Three episodes into CBS’s Elementary and I can conclusively report that Steven Moffat has nothing to fear from CBS’s modern-day Sherlock Holmes retelling. Now this isn’t just because the two are so radically different that beyond the names Holmes and Watson, there’s very little in common. No, it’s because although Sherlock is itself flawed, Elementary just isn’t as good.

The show’s biggest problem, as I remarked in my first episode review, is that it’s a procedural. Nothing wrong with that in itself, because in a sense, the Sherlock Holmes stories were procedurals. But problematically for Elementary, which is a crime procedural, the Holmes stories were mystery procedurals: a mystery that needs solving – strange behaviour, a secret code, etc – rather than a killer that needs to be found. A lot of the time, the perpetrator of the crime is known in the Holmes stories – it’s what he wants and how he’s doing the crime are what have to be revealed, and that are the unusual and interesting aspects of the story.

Elementary, however, mostly just uses Holmes’ headline inductive/deductive powers to work out what happened at a crime scene so that the not-especially-interesting killer can be revealed. Not always – the second episode is more of a mystery than a crime procedural – but largely this is the same old CBS police show with a twist, in the same vein as The Mentalist.

The show is also very Holmes-lite. Apart from his deductive skills and his drug-addiction, there’s very little of the man himself in this Holmes, with the writers adding a little reference or quote each episode from the original, just to reassure you that this still is Holmes, even though there’s been nothing quite as brilliant as even Conan Doyle’s weakest observations in the originals.

Disappointingly, just as Jonny Lee Miller isn’t an especially charismatic Holmes, albeit one who takes his top off a lot to show his tattoos, Lucy Liu is a somewhat bland Watson, the producers giving her very little to do beyond talk about Holmes’ drug addiction. Attempts to make them a sort of Odd Couple really just aren’t working. And the supporting cast are practically non-existent, with even Aidan Quinn’s Captain Gregson largely there just to say ‘Yes, Holmes’ and, more frequently, ‘No, Holmes.’

But it’s not terrible. It’s no worse than any random given episode of any other CBS procedural. If all you want to do is unwind at the end of the day in front of the tele, you could do far worse. But don’t expect to have your brain challenged in any way.

Barrometer rating: 3


Review: Beauty and the Beast 1×1 (The CW/E4)

In the US: Thursdays, 9/8c, The CW
In the UK: Acquired by E4
In Canada: Thursday 9:00pm ET/6:00pm PT

You know, if I hadn’t just tried to watch Nashville, I would have described this as the most painful new drama on TV this season. But I have, and since Nashville was like having bleach poured into both ears while having my eyeballs scrubbed with an electric sander, I’m going to be relatively charitable to Beauty and the Beast, even though it almost certainly doesn’t deserve it.

For those with long memories like me, Beauty and the Beast isn’t just a Disney movie*. It’s also a 1980s CBS TV series starring Terminator‘s Linda Hamilton as Catherine (aka The Beauty) and Sons of Anarchy‘s Ron Perlman as Vincent (aka The Beast). Thorny gender politics to one side for a moment, what was interesting about the series was that it asked the question: can you truly love someone who’s just downright ugly? Okay, Vincent looked like a fluffy lion crossed with Jon Bon Jovi – and they’d have been better off leaving Ron Pearlman au naturel if they’d wanted to really go for the beast angle – but bestiality isn’t exactly the flavour of the day now any more than it was then:

Beauty and the Beast on CBS

25 years on, CBS is remaking its old show at The CW’s behest. Not such an eccentric idea – in fact, ABC was considering making a live action version of the Disney movie this year, too, but eventually decided not to.

But a quarter of a century later, ethics and aesthetics have moved on. Twilight has come and is just about to go. Manscaping has arrived, moisturiser is everywhere and any man who hasn’t had a protein shake in the last two days isn’t a real man. So the question is, can a show in which a woman falls in love with a man who isn’t hunky, smooth and glittering but because he has a nice personality, possibly get off the ground?

The CW asked the computer, the computer said ‘No’, and lo and behold, for the modern day Beauty and The Beast, we have something a bit more Twilight – a man who turns into a bit of an animal when the adrenaline flows but otherwise is king of the pretty boys beyond a bit of a scar on his cheek. 

Beast? More like an 8, maybe a 9.

Here’s a trailer:

Continue reading “Review: Beauty and the Beast 1×1 (The CW/E4)”

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 2

Third-episode verdict: Vegas (CBS/Sky Living)

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, CBS
In the UK: Acquired by Sky Atlantic HD
In Canada: Tuesdays, 10pm, Global

Funny, isn’t it, how the drive to force a story into a procedural format can ruin a perfectly excellent show? Perception, for example, is a really good and touching look at a man afflicted with paranoid schizophrenia… who every week has to solve trivial and ridiculous crimes. 

And then there’s CBS’s Vegas, which could be a really excellent almost The Wire-level bit of work looking at systems, how they try to inhibit change – in one case, the police force, in another, the Mob – and which instead has to survive having to deal with a largely uninteresting murder of the week every episode. 

Vegas is frustrating. It’s most interesting aspect, laid out in the first episode, is the battle of wills between the force of good in Vegas, sheriff Ralph Lamb (Dennis Quaid), and the force of evil, Vincent Savino (Michael Chiklis) – both based on real Vegas characters of the 60s. But everything is shades of grey in the set-up. Quaid is a rancher and former MP who believes in his own form of informal justice and who’s against the modernisation of Vegas. Chiklis, on the other hand, has a code. He also wants to civilise Las Vegas and turn it into the city it is now.

Much of the interest in the otherwise slightly dull third episode, which is mainly concerned with the investigation of a somewhat uninteresting crime, is watching Chiklis essentially spelling out what Vegas has to become – and does indeed become. He’s trying to get the Mob to fund the building of a luxury restaurant and arena in his Savoy casino to bring in tourists and gamblers. He’s the voice of reason, advising against Mob shootings, because Vegas needs law and order if it’s to keep its clientele. And the Mob doesn’t like change.

Quaid, now largely having to survive on facial ticks to inject his character with more personality, has been reduced to running around town solving crimes, rather than having the ambiguity he displayed in the first episode, which is a shame. But he still has more to do than Carrie-Anne Moss, who just drives from place to place providing plot exposition.

Episode two did at least introduce another woman to the cast, this time on the side of the Mob – the daughter of a mobster whom he sent to college and now has ideas on how to improve the casinos. Unfortunately, she seems to be there to demonstrate that there’s more to running a casino than maths and book learning, and to boost Chiklis’s character. I’m hoping she’ll get more to do off her own bat – ditto Moss – in later episodes.

The show’s main draw is still the cold war between Quaid and Chiklis, each making move and counter move against each other without ever drawing blood, Quaid unable to get enough evidence to prove what Chiklis is really up to, Chiklis unwilling to shoot his own business in the foot by shooting Quaid. The procedural element is largely unremarkable, although given the period setting, it does have the benefit of not having to deal with forensic science and other modern techniques of investigation: essentially, it’s cowboy justice and cops asking questions and having to make deductions like they did in the old days. 

But as the third episode shows, Vegas desperately needs to avoid becoming a murder of the week show, since it has the clear potential to be a lot more. The period setting, the mob intrigue and the fact we know how Las Vegas will eventually end up gives the show a lot of range that it uses to its advantage when it can. But CBS’s saddling it with the need to be as episodic and as procedural as possible is ruining it. Fingers crossed it can slip its tether and be free.

Barrometer rating: 2

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 2

Third-episode verdict: The Last Resort (ABC)

In the US: Thursdays, 8/7c, ABC
In the UK: Not yet acquired
In Canada: Thursdays, 8pm, Global

There is a certain doom-laden atmosphere surrounding The Last Resort. It’s not just because it’s a show about a rogue US nuclear submarine captain and his crew, threatening to nuke the US after the navy tries to destroy it for questioning an order to nuke Pakistan. It’s not because people get violently killed every episode. It’s because despite being possibly the best new drama on US TV this fall, judging by its ratings and the fact it’s on ABC, it’s not long for this world.

After a surprising and auspicious start, episode two gave us an almost literally nail-biting episode, as our heroes, holed up on a semi-friendly Caribbean island, faced off against a team of special forces sent in to capture their submarine. Episode three similarly gave us more military-grade tension as the submarine armed with its cloaking device – the ‘Perseus prototype’ (presumably not the more accurately titled Proteus prototype because of copyright issues with Craig Thomas’ similar invisibility device on the HMS Proteus in Sea Leopard) – has to brave blockades, depth charges and active sonar to escape from the US navy again.

And if, somehow, the show could confine itself purely to military operations, it would be an adrenaline-junkie’s fix second to none, thanks to showrunner Shawn Ryan’s steely attention to detail. True, some of the actors and characters are about as interesting as a paddling pool, but Andre Braugher and Robert Patrick more than make up for that by themselves.

But, unfortunately, the show is slightly lumbered with its island setting and supporting characters, including the strangely wooden Dichen Lachman, who for once gets to sound Australian. The islanders are a strange mix: a combination of black and Hawaiian stereotypes, despite the obvious fact that the show is set in the Caribbean, and some nerdy scientists, who are incomprehensible speaking either English or French. Whenever the US cast interact with the islanders, the show degenerates into poorly executed soap crossed with US imperialism.

There’s also the political goings on in DC, which are more bad spy novel than gripping drama, particularly Autumn Reeser’s desperate attempts to come across as a steely engineering businesswoman who talks like a man but who’s all-woman. And there’s also the clumsy attempts to deal with sexism in the US navy, with Robert Patrick’s constant undermining of officer Daisy Betts (another Australian you might remember from Persons Unknown) getting progressively more tedious with every clumsy attempt to smash it into the dialogue.

Nevertheless, it’s a brave show, prepared to go to places a lot of shows aren’t – a US government that pre-emptively nukes Pakistan and is prepared to fire on its military; heroes prepared to negotiate with terrorists and criminals; military personnel who disobey orders and start to let discipline fall apart; and more. When it sticks with military matters, although ultimately it’s just a load of CGI a lot of the time so doesn’t quite match the punch of a show like Strike Back, it’s still the tensest show on network TV. It’s just a shame that its ability to deal convincingly with non-military matters is so second rate – and that it’s probably not long for this world.

Barrometer rating: 2


Review: Arrow (The CW/Sky1) 1×1


In the US: Wednesdays, 8/7c, The CW
In the UK: Acquired by Sky1. Starts 8pm, October 22
In Canada: Wednesdays, 9pm, CTV2
in Australia: Nine Network. Air date to be confirmed

Can you ever truly make a superhero realistic? It’s a tricky proposition. Christopher Nolan just about managed it with Batman, although fundamentally, it was still about a guy trained by ninja to dress up like a giant bat to fight crime. Think about that for too long and it all falls apart.

Nevertheless, while Marvel is enchanting the entire world with escapist fun superheroes, that’s the direction DC Comics is taking with Superman in the forthcoming Man of Steel and now on The CW with Arrow. Green Arrow, for those who don’t know much about the comic hero, is a sort of Batman/Robin Hood rip-off: a billionaire called Oliver Queen who discovers for himself the true costs of crime and vows to put an end to it using… the mighty power of archery that he’s learnt while shipwrecked on an island.

No, I didn’t mean to say a Heckler & Koch G36 5.56x45mm assault rifle. Archery. As in a bow and arrow. Hence Green Arrow.

See? It all starts to fall apart right there, doesn’t it? Yet that’s what The CW, former home of another bit of attempted superhero realism, Smallville, is trying to make realistic. The words ‘The Bourne Identity‘ have even been mentioned in terms of aesthetic and approach.

And you know what? If it weren’t for two things, it might actually have managed to pull it off and be a pretty perfect bit of gritty superhero vigilantism. The first is that it looks like Smallville trying to do gritty on a budget of thruppeny halfpence. The second is the voiceover. Every time the hero tells us what’s going on, all that effort goes out of the window and you want to laugh yourself silly.

But if you can avoid doing that, this is actually one of the most promising new dramas of the season. Here’s a trailer, complete with voiceover:

Continue reading “Review: Arrow (The CW/Sky1) 1×1”