The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 3

Third-episode verdict: Enlisted (Fox)

In the US: Fridays, 9pm, Fox

Three episodes in and things aren’t quite as funny as they were in the first episode of Enlisted. The set-up is pretty much the same as before – hero soldier gets sent back home to the same base his less dedicated/competent brothers are stationed at, where he has to give up the ways of war in favour of the ways of looking after soldiers’ families while the soldiers are off fighting war.

The only difference – apart a new dedication on the parts of the producers to get military details right – is the writing’s dropped off a bit. Episode two had an almost laugh-free 10 minutes to start, before thankfully recovering the funny towards the end, while episode three was pretty consistent all the way through, just not as funny. Most of the humour now revolves around the semi-flirtatious, semi-serious professional rivalry between hero soldier and his female opposite number, as well as the inept youngest brother (Parker Young from Suburgatory) and his intense efforts to be a real soldier, despite his complete lack of talent, but that all works quite well. Unfortunately, everything that involves pretty much everyone else largely receives a stony silence.

I’m enjoying it and it’s consistently one of the funnier shows each week, but it’s not quite the quality comedy I thought it was during the first episode.

Barrometer rating: 3
Rob’s prediction: Fox want it to work, which is why they’ve shifted its timeslot, but it’ll be touch and go whether it lasts past one season.

US TV

Mini-review: Rake (US) 1×1 (Fox)


In the US: Thursdays, 9/8c, Fox
In the UK: The Universal Channel

Normally, TV producers try to do something clever with their shows’ titles. Even if they just name their show after the lead character, there’s normally a double meaning to it: think Hunter, House (a pun on Holmes), Ironside or Magnum.

Certainly, the producers of Australia’s Rake had that in mind when they named their show after the lead character, lawyer Rake Cleaver Greene, who’s also something of a rake. Not especially clever, but there was a point to it.

But it shows just how much in two minds the producers of the US adaptation are about the programme that it’s still called Rake, even though the lead character is now called Keegan Deane. Indeed, they reshot the pilot after it showed Deane as a bit ‘sadder’ than they’d wanted, that’s how much they’re not sure what to do with this.

The US version sees Greg Kinnear return to TV to play Deane, a narcissistic disaster area of a lawyer who womanises, gambles, treats everyone appallingly and generally ruins other people’s lives as well. Even his clients are mostly guilty of their crimes, something that Deane doesn’t really care much about, provided they can pay him, either in cash or giant tuna fish (don’t ask).

Deane lurches from one situation to another in a way that’s supposed to be lovable (and definitely not ‘sad’) and Houseian, but is largely just unpleasant, somewhat like watching a very small series of car crashes. He doesn’t have the genius of House and he doesn’t really have any redeeming qualities to make you want to forgive him or like him. And Kinnear, kind of like one of those spooky, almost-human Japanese robots, is close enough to Rob Lowe that he’s almost likeable, but far enough off that you just want Rob Lowe to be starring instead.

With the wrong lead, wrong scripts and even wrong character names, this is very much a missable show. But here’s a trailer so you can decide for yourselves if you at least want to give it a try.

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 4

Third-episode verdict: Intelligence (CBS)

In the US: Mondays, 10pm/9pm CT, CBS

Three episodes in and there’s not much really to add since my review of the first episode about the very silly Intelligence, in which Sawyer from Lost in a US government secret agent with a computer chip in his brain and and Little Red Riding Hood from Once Upon A Time is his useless minder. It’s largely the same set-up as every other CBS procedural: a by-the-numbers team that together give Sawyer easily solvable missions that are largely meaningless sci-fi drivel, with by-the-numbers (foreign) baddies (usually Chinese). There’s also a tedious story plot about Sawyer’s ex-wife being a secret agent who may or may not have been/be a terrorist. There’s the occasional element that suggests that there’s at least some understanding of science and technology among the writers, but largely it all gets skirted in favour of, for example, things like edible explosives.

But I will say this: they really should have learned from The Bionic Woman reboot, since the three episodes have spent an awful long time showing us how awesome the Chinese version of Sawyer is and not actually giving us any real missions. On top of that, the actress they chose for the part was terrible and the producers decided that because she’s ‘evil’, she must be both sexual and ‘deviant’ (better for her to be punished, unlike the ‘good’ and passive Little Red Riding Hood), so it was an even worse decision than The Bionic Woman. But with no real idea of why Sawyer’s so vital a US asset beyond an ability to access computers, and with a much better idea of why his Chinese opposite is better, it does feel like we were watching a remake of a much better show we just haven’t seen yet.

With no real sign of any life in this one, a poor set-up, poorer scripts and everything else by the numbers, I’m saying this one’s a miss rather than a hit.

Barrometer rating: 4
Rob’s prediction: Will be cancelled by the end of the season

TV reviews

Mini-review: True Detective 1×1 (HBO/Sky Atlantic)

True Detective

In the US: Sundays, 9pm, HBO
In the UK: Saturdays, 9pm, Sky Atlantic. Starts February 22

You do have to give a credit to HBO for trying something a little bit new with True Detective. For starters, it’s an anthology detective show: like American Horror Story, each season will consist of eight episodes and involve completely different characters and situations.

But season one is giving us this: a 17-year-long investigation of a serial killer in Louisiana, with Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey as the ill matched detective partners who visibly age as the narrative progresses and jumps between times as it’s told in a series of flashbacks. Harrelson is the personable, probably adulterous family man, McConaughey the depressed Texan philosopher who tries to counter his lonely sleepless nights with Quaaludes.

It’s not easy viewing, another show that seems to revel in mutated dead female corpses arranged in rituals. McConaughey’s nihilism is bleak indeed. And there’s no one you can really warm to. It’s also very slow moving.

But it’s excellently done. The slow pace gives everything time to breath. With a talent it was hard to spot a decade ago but which has become almost commonplace in his recent work (the so-called “McConaughaissance”) McConaughey is great as the focused, lonely, emotionally empty Cohle. Older time periods are recreated well, although you’d be hard-pushed to guess that everything begins in 1995. There’s a fair few supporting cast from The Wire (Clarke Peters, Michael Potts). And it’s smart, giving you things to thing about for a change.

It’s not clear yet how much the actual crime is going to be worth investigating, but with its broken structure, we have many more mysteries than just that to keep us intrigued. Give it a try, but be prepared to be patient and pay attention.

US TV

Review: Enlisted 1×1 (Fox)

Enlisted

In the US: Fridays, 9.30/8.30c, Fox

If there’s one genre of comedy that the US does particularly well, it’s military comedy. Think The Phil Silvers Show. Think MASH. Think Private Benjamin. Don’t think Down Periscope.

But there’s been a bit of a lull of late. Wonder why. In fact, despite largely the conclusion of the Iraq war and the withdrawal of US troops from both there and Afghanistan, many are questioning if it’s ‘the right time’ for another military comedy.

Is there ever a right time?

All the same, a cautious greeting I think to Fox’s Enlisted, a welcome, funny comedy from Kevin Biegel, a former Scrubs writer and the co-creator of Cougar Town, that sees a ‘super soldier’ (Geoff Stults) sent back from Afghanistan for punching a superior officer. He winds up at a ‘rear detachment’ base in Florida, which coincidentally happens to be the same base where his two younger brothers are stationed – one who hates the army but is quite a good soldier, the other who loves the army but is a terrible soldier. Put in charge of them and the rest of their platoon of losers, Stults finds himself having to deal with not just his new, less prestigious mission, but competition from another sergeant (Angelique Cabral), his superior officer who also happened to raise him after his parents died (Keith David)… and a lost dog.

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