Here and Now
US TV

Review: Here and Now 1×1-1×2 (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)

In the US: Sundays, HBO
In the UK: Tuesdays, 9pm, Sky Atlantic. Starts tonight

Is patience a virtue? It’s supposed to be, isn’t it? When it comes to TV, patience certainly can be a necessity, at least, as both the now-retired Carusometer and its successor, the Barrometer, can attest. Indeed, these days, plenty of shows start badly and it’s not before you get to anywhere between episodes three and seven that they get their acts together and reveal their true merits.

Patience is now particularly expected of us when it comes to ‘prestige TV’, which is often almost defined as being slower moving than regular TV. Remember The Leftovers? Great by the second or third season, apparently, but the first season was depressingly dreadful.

Maybe you are virtuous enough to be so patient as to stick with any given show until it gets good. But in the age of Peak TV, you need something more than patience – you need time. There’s so much good television, particularly serial shows, and prestige shows, you have to have oodles of hours spare in your day to actually watch them.

Here and Now

So how patient should we be with HBO’s latest prestige project, Here and Now? Already, you can sense its worthiness, with a name that’s as portentous as This is Us‘s – it might as well have called itself Very Important Drama About Modern Life. It’s also from Alan Ball, who wrote American Beauty and created Six Feet Under and True Blood. Very prestigious indeed.

Then there’s the cast and the plot. It stars Tim Robbins and Holly Hunter (wow!) as two former 60s radicals now all grown-up and living in Portland, Oregon – a place with so many liberal niceties and ticks, it can be satirised on multiple levels for multiple seasons with Portlandia. But it gets even more liberal than that: Robbins is a philosophy professor, Hunter a former therapist who nows heads something called ‘the Empathy Initiative’ focusing on conflict resolution by teaching empathy.

Even if that weren’t enough, they’ve adopted kids of different races from all around the world, all of whom are now adults. There’s Jerrika Hinton (Liberia), who’s the creator and owner of a retail fashion website; Raymond Lee (Vietnam), who’s now a successful life coach; and
Daniel Zovatto (Colombia), a student studying video game design.

At this point, even if you’re quite literally a card-carrying liberal like me, your patience will probably be extremely tested. You might not even have the patience to start watching the show. I wouldn’t blame you.

Even if you can muster that patience, the first episode is extremely… prestige. You get to watch Robbins screwing around with young prostitutes because he can’t cope with being 60, having a loving family and seeing Donald Trump as president. Hinton’s a dick to her staff for having the temerity to put a hat on a male model who’s being photographed. Hunter gets to patronise her Spanish-speaking staff with extended r-rolls and constantly rail against Western values and medicine. Lee’s offering motivational advice about not crying, while not actually having any relationships, while Zovatto’s having sex with blokes he meets in bars. Hunter and Robbins’ birth daughter (Sosie Bacon) is having arguments with teenage alt-righters in school about the patriarchy. Everyone’s wondering what pills they should be taking to cope with their undiagnosed ADHD or whatever.

And for about 45 minutes, it’s the most tedious, naval-gazing, First World Problems nonsense you could ever hope not to have to watch, interspersed with trips to the dry cleaners. You’ll want to throw a brick through the TV then drive down to Hooters with your shotgun in the back of your pick-up truck.

What, you might think, is the point of all of this? When exactly is the shoe going to drop and the series reveal why a lot of money and talented people have been spending their time on it?

Continue reading “Review: Here and Now 1×1-1×2 (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)”

The Resident
US TV

Third-episode verdict: The Resident (US: Fox; UK: Universal Channel)

In the US: Mondays, 9/8c, Fox
In the UK: Acquired by Universal Channel

And so the reformation of dicks continues. When The Resident first started, it was an oddly out-of-sorts beast, giving us a cluster of dickish doctors and nurses at a time when dicks are on the way out (#MeToo), but also doing its best to expose some of the darker side of doctoring in the US.

Since then, the show has begun to normalise itself and become better – but also duller.

The first episode was essentially a three-way split between:

  1. Good-hearted but naive resident Manish Dayal doing his best on the first day at a new hospital
  2. More experienced, more cynical senior resident Matt Czuchry doing his best to navigate the system to care for patients
  3. Grizzled, jaded vet surgeon Bruce Greenwood killing people in operations and blackmailing everyone into covering it up

All the while, they’re hugely dickish to each other. Nurse Emily VanCamp does her best but gets ignored while generally supporting her dickish ex, Czuchry.

But it was an interesting take on US medicine, where saving someone’s life isn’t always the right thing to do, and everyone is willing to bend the rules to get what they want, whether that’s good, ill or murder.

Retooled

Since then, the show has retooled itself. Episode two brought in new cast members such as Melina Kanakaredes as another morally dubious doctor. Dickish has almost disappeared to the extent that Czuchry and Dayal are basically best bros now. Plots have become more of a procedural, with Czuchry or Dayal getting a new patient each week – usually one they found themselves ‘in the wild’ – and then having to explore the moral dilemmas involved in treating them when healthcare is also a business.

Greenwood, who manages not to kill any more people so co-workers seem less concerned that he’s still practising surgery, has also evolved to become the idealist-turned-realist of the piece. He’s not pure evil any more – he just knows that if they try to help the undocumented worker with her tumour, she’ll end up as a ‘permapatient’ costing the hospital $2 million in the long-run, which will mean cuts elsewhere. Probably best not to save her life then, particularly since she’s not American.

The Resident
The Resident: L-R: Manish Dayal, Emily VanCamp, Matt Czuchry and Bruce Greenwood ©2017 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Guy D’Alema/FOX

Cold calculus

The Resident is at its best when it’s looking at the cold calculus involved in such decisions. One of its best scenes in the third episode is a three-way haggle between CEOs of neighbouring hospitals as to who gets to keep which patients, because they each have different standing costs for beds, treatment, etc (“I’ll give you $275,000 and 5 Medicare patients”, “I’ll give $250,000 and 7 Medicaid patients and a donation to your charity”…). There’s also a lot said about ‘upcoding’ – getting patients to have more expensive but unnecessary procedures to increase the profit per patient.

All the same, while it’s happy to identify faults, The Resident‘s not quite sure what to say about potential solutions, such as a move away from expensive tertiary care treatment towards cheaper primary care. Or maybe even socialised healthcare. It’s also not entirely sure what everyone in the medical system does, since nurses who these days are best thought of as ‘care managers’ rather than bed-turners, largely get to sit around and mock patients for watching naughty nurse porn instead.

Mixed

The Resident is now a mix that doesn’t quite work. It’s too edgy to be likeable. But it’s also not edgy enough, not being quite knowledgable enough or realistic enough to make you think you’re watching something that really knows what it’s talking about. Its characters aren’t appealing or engaging. It’s obvious in its drama (gosh, is that Greenwood’s hand shaking again?) and is prone to cliché.

If you like a medical procedural, this is now one of the better ones. But I don’t think there’s enough in it that would make me want to watch it every week.

Barrometer rating: 3

The Barrometer for The Resident

Corporate
US TV

Fourth-episode verdict: Corporate (US: Comedy Central)

In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, Comedy Central

Let’s put our cards on the table here: Corporate is without a doubt the funniest Comedy Central programme I’ve ever seen. I’ve had a look through the entire TMINE review database and Corporate is hands-down the funniest show I’ve reviewed on the network.

Four episodes in, that’s still true. A biting, nihilistic look at working for a giant corporation, it alternates between pastiching the soul-destroying, abusive nature of corporate culture and the desire for the sweet release of death from said culture.

Episode 1 introduced us to evil company Hampton Deville, its boss Lance Reddick, its put-upon and putting-upon junior executives Matt Ingebretson and Jake Weisman and the oppressive mid-tier executives Anne Dudek and Adam Lustick. Episode 2 then gave us a look at what the company actually does. As well as trying to sell a tablet eight times larger than an iPad, it seems it actually also makes cut-price weapons.

As its title The Powerpoint of Death suggests, the episode is mainly about Ingebretson’s work creating a PowerPoint to pitch the start of a new war to the CIA so Hampton Deville can sell it cheap weapons. It’s full of great one-liners, such as Reddick’s declaration that having lost the Iraq war contract to Philip Baker Hall, never again will he allow another man profit from destabilising the Middle East. The end-credits scene is probably the funniest thing you’ll ever see about fonts in a TV show, too, but a minor ongoing gag also involves all the effort and exploitation that goes into producing bananas, purely so they can sit and go brown in a communal work room.

Episode 3 then gave us various attempts by the amoral Weisman to trade his prescription drugs with employees for better perks. When perky guest star Aimee Mann shows up, he makes it his mission to make her unhappy and a pill addict, purely so he can get her parking space.

Episode 4 doesn’t let up either, taking on Banksy and manufactured anti-corporate rebellion with ‘Trademarq’ and craft beer. “People hate corporations, but they love buying things from us,” declares Reddick, before commissioning a subsidiary to sell anti-Hampton Deville merchandise to anarchist protestors.

Corporate is a hugely cynical, smart, bleak and very funny look at modern day capitalism. It’s not 100% accurate, sometimes feeling more like its critiquing the cultures of small businesses than large businesses, but it’s well worth your time and is probably the first jewel in Comedy Central’s crown.

Barrometer rating: 1

The Barrometer for Corporate

Alone Together
US TV

Third-episode verdict: Alone Together (US: Freeform)

In the US: Wednesdays, 8:30pm/7:30c, Freeform

Back when Girls first aired, I gave it a thumbs down, based on the general premise that although it was witty, well written and probably reflected a certain demographic very well, I wanted all the pampered, cosseted characters to die a fiery death. Sure, they weren’t doing much that was different from what male characters had been getting away with in other shows, but I’d usually wanted those male characters to die fiery deaths, too, so at least I was consistent.

The proof of this is Alone Together, as I want both the pampered, cosseted lead characters to die fiery deaths. I didn’t want this to happen at first: episode 1 I found surprisingly funny – so funny, I was prepared to revise my normally sacrosanct rule against friends writing and starring in TV shows together. It saw two millennial friends (Esther Povitsky, Benji Aflalo) living in LA realise that they’re not exactly 10s in the scheme of things, particularly not for LA, so do their best to help each other date, knowing they’ll probably die alone anyway. Meanwhile, although the idea makes both nauseous, everyone else thinks they’re perfect for each.

All of which worked quite very nicely. They were obviously friends but they had a lovely line in put downs and self-mockery. The show had edginess to it, and it really explored its Los Angeles location well.

Episode two, however, made me just hate these millennial dicks. They weren’t just dicks to each other, they were dicks to their friends, to the extent it was impossible to tell why anyone would be in their vicinity. They also weren’t very clever about it, even if they thought they were.

The latest episode was an improvement on that, with our ‘heroes’ a little bit better to one another and to others, and their put-downs once again self-depreciating and smart. The trouble is, I now hate them both. It’s also not about dating, which given the show is called Alone Together is something of a swizz.

All of which means that I’m firstly going to stick to my original rule and secondly come up with a new rule: stick to your show’s premise unless you’ve got a really good route map to help you. Oh, and thirdly, that I’m not going to watch Alone Together any more. They’ll have to watch it by themselves.

Barrometer rating: 3

The Barrometer for Alone Together

The Alienist
US TV

Review: The Alienist 1×1 (US: TNT; UK: Netflix)

In the US: Monday, 9/8c, TNT
In the UK: Available on Netflix starting April 19

Although ‘TNT – bang!’ may have had some success as a diversification strategy for the US network, giving us the likes of The Last Ship, TNT’s new slogan has largely only resulted in bold experiments such as Will that promptly flopped. The network may be looking to expand its range of interests, but it seems its viewers still want crime shows and plenty of them – and nothing but crime shows.

To its credit, though, TNT is still trying to push the envelope with its original output. In the past couple of years, we’ve had Animal Kingdom, Claws and Good Behavior, all of which have tried to change the usual procedural crime formula even if they’ve not been very good, and now we have the somewhat better The Alienist.

The Alienist

Adapted from the first of Caleb Carr’s best-selling series of book by Cary Fukunaga (True Detective) and Hossein Amini (Drive), the show is a sort of Ripper Street meets Mindhunter set in 19th century New York. It stars Daniel Brühl (Captain America: Civil WarGood Bye Lenin!) as Dr Laszlo Kreizler, an ‘alienist’ as the then parlance described those who tried to treat the mentally ill. When a mutilated boy’s body is found dressed up as a girl on the city’s new bridge, Kreizler senses a mind at work similar to one of his former patients’ and seeks to involve himself in the investigation. Helping him are his former Harvard classmate turned newspaper illustrator Luke Evans (The Hobbit, Dracula Untold) and the police force’s lone woman, Dakota Fanning (Twilight). Hindering him – at least at the moment – is the new police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt (yes, that one).

All of which sounds very promising, doesn’t it? Great cast, great looking, lots of lovely period detail, particularly in the speech and there’s a pleasing variety to the characters. It’s all a bit ‘temporal tourism’ in the style of Babylon Berlin, as we learn for example that police officers used to summon help by banging their truncheons against metal girders, but it does it very well and with a considerable amount of debauchery.

Trouble is, when I say it’s Ripper Street meets Mindhunter, that’s it. We’re done. Say no more, as it doesn’t yet do much more than relocate attempts to think like serial killers back 100 years, while pointing out that women, ethnic minorities, the mentally ill and the physically ill really didn’t have a great time of things back in the 19th century. Corsets? Apparently they were a bit tight. How do you like that insight?

It’s hugely more gory than previous shows, mind you, and the frequent visits to naked prostitutes are another obvious differentiator. But in terms of plotting, we’re basically Gotham By Gaslighting Manhunter.

Dakota Fanning in The Alienist
Dakota Fanning in The Alienist

Novelistic

All the same, there’s that kind of quality both in front of and behind the camera. There’s also the fact the books have done as well as they have. All of which means I’m prepared to stick it out for a few more episodes to see if there is more to the show than its first episode would suggest.

So far, not much has been done with Roosevelt, so I’m curious to see where that goes, and Brühl’s slightly bonkers speech at the end of the episode suggests that we’re not going to get modern psychology transported back into the 19th century, but something far more of its time instead.

But for such an obviously expensive, notably different looking show, TNT hasn’t exactly puts its better foot forward with its initial outing.