Coroner
Canadian TV

Review: Coroner 1×1 (Canada: CBC; UK: Universal)

In Canada: Mondays, 9PM/9:30NT, CBC
In the UK: Mondays, 9pm, Universal. Starts January 21

By rights, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) should be the Canadian equivalent of our BBC. It does, after all, have a similar remit from its government. But without a licence fee, it has instead decided to become ITV, as far as I can see. Look at the vast bulk of its original programming and once you’ve pushed all the ITV-esque reality shows and competition shows out of your way, you’ll see:

  • Period dramas
  • Crime dramas
  • Period crime dramas

And most of those are female-led, too. Basically ITV.

Now we have CBC’s latest female-led crime drama, Coroner, based on the series of books by MR Hall, and if only it weren’t airing on Universal here, it would be a shoo-in for ITV.

Serinda Swan in Coroner
Serinda Swan in Coroner

Coroner Jenny Cooper

Serinda Swan (Breakout Kings, Tron: Legacy, Marvel’s Inhumans) plays former ER doctor Jenny Cooper, who decides after her husband dies that being a coroner is a better job option. As you do. Immediately heading up the entire department for some reason, she finds sloppy work and crotchety old men judging – yes, judging, I tell you – the deceased and so not doing proper autopsies. She decides to champion them, not only by doing great work, but solving all the murders in town instead of the police. Clearly, she’s been watching too much CSI.

Fortunately, to help her in her entirely off-job-description work, Canada’s “Roger Cross Full Employment Act” has ensured that detective Roger Cross (24, Continuum, Arrow, Dark Matter, The Strain, Motive, The Returned) is on hand and can offer some friendship/sexual frisson, too. In that latter role, he has a rival in the shape of hunky, former soldier, working class, French-Canadian Éric Bruneau (Tu m’aimes-tu?, Prémonitions, Mensonges), who seems to have nothing better to do all day than to do odd, heavy-lifting jobs for dead old women who can’t pay him and to smoulder.

Serinda Swan

Old and new

As you may have gathered from that, there’s nothing that new in the rundown for that and if it weren’t for its Canadian locale, I could have repeated that description and you’d have thought this was an adaptation of Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta books. Indeed, there’s lots about Coroner that’s predictable.

Rather than the doting type, Swan’s husband was naturally a gambler who double-mortgaged the house, leaving Swan and son (Ehren Kassam) in dire financial straits, so that the audience can root for the underdog single mum. Crotchety old white men are only there so they can be fired by Swan to show how kick ass she is and so she can diversity-promote the hideously underqualified young black coroner (Slasher‘s Lovell Adams-Gray) she’s just met, without consideration of the staff’s workload with her off doing one autopsy a week at best.

Cross and the rest of the police naturally come round to appreciating how kick ass Swan is, too, and actively help her in doing their jobs for them. And Bruneau could have wandered in from any Nicholas Sparks book you came to mention, in between all his moody glowering and thinking about his dark past killing people as a soldier.

However, this is Canada and Coroner is consequently a bit quirkier and nicer than its US counterpart would have been – it’s nowhere near nudging Harrow‘s level of quirkiness but it does know how to crack jokes at least. The fact it’s based on some books means there’s a heightened level of dialogue compared to the average procedural, and there are amusing characters, too. Plus being Canada, even the bad guys give up without a fight or a curse word.

As with Motive, the plot is all about layered appreciation of victims and criminals. Episode one sees two kids seemingly kill themselves in a correctional facility in a recreation of Romeo and Juliet‘s suicide pact. As you might expect, there’s more to it than that and it’s definitely murder, so the kids are blameless. But along the way, we discover just how nice and smart young offenders are, even ones arrested for gang offences. All you need to do is let them perform a bit of Shakespeare and they’re sorted.

Éric Bruneau in Coroner

Éric Bruneau in Coroner

Conclusion

If you’re a fan of the genre, then Coroner is decent enough. Swan isn’t the most versatile or charismatic of actresses, but at least she’s better and has more fire than Frankie Drake‘s Lauren Lee Smith. The rest of the cast either do their given plot roles sufficiently well or inject some welcome humour into things. And the story of the first episode, at least, has a few twists and turns you might not be expecting.

Otherwise, this is interchangeable female-led procedural fare that won’t convert anyone to the genre.

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Condor
US TV

Third-episode verdict: Condor (US: Audience)

In the US: Wednesdays, 10pm ET/PT, Audience
In the UK: Not yet acquired

In this day and age, it’s actually quite rare for a movie adaptation to stick relatively faithfully to the original. Condor, based on 70s ‘classic’ spy movie Three Days of the Condor, is one such beast that so far has followed the original’s plot pretty closely. Effectively a mash-up of the original movie, Rubicon and 24, it sees Max Irons playing a nerdy CIA analyst forced to go on the run when he stumbles on something he shouldn’t have and his entire office of co-workers gets killed.

Episode one wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad and was probably better than the original Robert Redford movie. It was a bit off-kilter, not following the standard beats of spy shows, instead giving us something a bit more thoughtful than average while simultaneously a bit more stupid, as goodies and secret baddies debate the nature of morality in a world of amoral terrorism – should we continue to play by the rules or should we be taking the gloves off and trying to wipe out everyone without restraint? Weirdly, Brendan “George, George, George of the Jungle” Fraser is the bad guy, but he goes around not quite knowing how to be an evil villain. He hopes to wipe out the US/the Middle East/both (one of those is a spoiler) with some engineered bubonic plague, but he doesn’t actually like killing, he’s a bad manager and everyone but everyone pushes him around. Interestingly for a conspiracy theory show, we know from the beginning who the conspirators are, too.

Subsequent episodes have then been somewhat varied in theme, if not quality. Episode two was a far more exciting and less stupid affair than the first episode, with Mr Irons having to deal with implacable Terminator-like adversaries and generally not faring too well. However, my fears that all the good cast (eg William Hurt) were going to get killed off or written out in the second episode in favour of cheaper actors appear to be unsupported, fortunately, with episode three showing that at the very least, we might get two minutes of both Hurt and Mira Sorvino insulting each other’s balls every week, if not much more.

Episode three was the first episode to really exploit the potential of TV by making it not all about Max Irons. He’s in it, but here the focus is as much on the relatives of the deceased co-workers and their pain, as it is on Irons’ problems. One scene in particular, in which a CIA goodie (Bob Balaban) actually sits down and prays for someone after meeting them isn’t something I think I’ve ever seen in a thriller, showing Condor has the potential to be innovative.

Unfortunately, when Irons is around, the remnants of Three Days of the Condor work against him – it’s really not cool to go around abducting ex-dates and beating them up in their own homes in the #MeToo era and you can’t help but think that maybe the producers would have been justified in changing the original’s plot to bring it up to date (if The Bourne Identity could go do it, I don’t see why Condor couldn’t).

Conclusion

Condor is a pretty decent, if still chewing-gum infused piece of spying. It could do with losing some more clichés and the big hitting actors need to be allowed to do more than needle each other in offices, but it’s really a lot better than I was expecting and something I’ll be sticking with for the foreseeable future.

Barrometer rating: 2

The Barrometer for Condor

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Condor
US TV

Review: Condor 1×1 (US: Audience)

In the US: Wednesdays, 10pm ET/PT, Audience
In the UK: Not yet acquired

The 70s was a great era for conspiracy thrillers. Fresh from the Watergate scandal, the second half in particular was littered with paranoid stories about corrupt governments and organisations: The Parallax View, The Conversation, All the President’s Men, Capricorn One, Brass Target, The China Syndrome, Futureworld, Marathon Man – the list goes on. Indeed, the genre didn’t really end until halfway through Reagan’s first term with the likes of Blue Thunder and Blow Out.

However, because there are some true classics in that list, the not-quite-so-greats of the genre also tend to get elevated to higher status as a result. Three Days of the Condor is not really a classic. Not really.

Based on James Grady’s Six Days of the Condor, it sees Robert Redford playing a somewhat nerdy CIA analyst who analyses the plots of novels for a living. Then one day when he’s supposed to be at work, armed men break in and kill everyone in the office, leaving just Redford alive. Redford goes on the run, but then has to work out whom he can trust and who’s out to get him.

I’ve watched it twice and I’ve still yet to really get why people like it, other than because of Sydney Pollack’s taut direction, a reasonable air of mimesis, Robert Redford’s acting and the genre itself. Because it’s all right, sure. But Redford doesn’t really have much by way of tradecraft, beyond an ability to hack the old analogue phone system, and he doesn’t exactly treat women well. Not a lot happens, either.

Nevertheless, it’s still regarded as a classic and its influence continues to this very day. Indeed, in many ways, the dearly departed Rubicon owes a very obvious debt to Three Days of the Condor.

Birdie

Now we have Audience’s Condor, which presumably is so-named either to keep the show open-ended or because it’s following a strict arithmetic progression from the original novel. A new adaptation of both the original book and the movie, it marries Three Days of the Condor, Rubicon and 24 into something that if not a classic, is at least a whole lot more exciting than its film source. Which is surprising, given it’s by the people responsible for NBC cluster-f*cks Kidnapped, Bionic Woman, and My Own Worst Enemy.

It sees Max “son of Jeremy” Irons in the Redford role. Now a coder working on data analysis in a similar sort of set-up to Redford, he’s disillusioned with spying and on the point of giving up. It’s been six years since his previous relationship and every time he goes on a date with the likes of Katherine Cunningham, either work gets in the way or he’s unable to open up. He grouses about it to fellow CIA buddy Kristoffer Polaha (Valentine, Ringer, Life Unexpected, Miss Guided) and Polaha’s wife Kristen Hager (Being Human (US)) and decides to hand in his notice in.

Then he’s hauled off in the middle of the night by Polaha to meet some CIA big bods including his uncle (William Hurt) and the deputy director Bob Balaban. An old program of his designed to pick up potential terrorists has identified – with only a 12% chance of accuracy –  just such a person… and he’s in the US, heading to a packed stadium with a package from a PO box. What should they do?

Irons waxes eloquent about civil liberties and presumably bored and insulted they send him packing to the dirty without him.

Before you know it, thousands of people have been saved and Hurt is tasking Irons and the rest of his Rubicon-esque co-workers with the job of finding the people who organised the attempted incident. Except within a day, everyone’s been shot at work and Irons is on the run.

What’s going on, who’s responsible, why are they targeting Irons, where can he run to, when will he be safe and how can he know who to trust?

Presumably we won’t find out in three days any more.

Continue reading “Review: Condor 1×1 (US: Audience)”

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Reverie
US TV

Review: Reverie 1×1 (US: NBC)

In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, NBC
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Entering people’s minds is something that TV and film likes to do. I don’t mean the minds of the audience and I don’t mean it metaphorically – I mean it’s a medium that likes to visually recreate the thoughts and dreams of characters and make them a world that other characters can enter. In this genre, film has given us the likes of Brainstorm, Dreamscape, A Nightmare on Elm Street and, possibly best of all, Inception.

Meanwhile, TV has given us VR5Stitchers, Falling WaterLegion and now its least impressive effort to date, Reverie.

Reverie - Season Pilot
Reverie – Pictured: (l-r) Sarah Shahi as Mara Knit, Dennis Haysbert as Charlie Ventana — (Photo by: Sergei Bachlakov/NBC)

Reverie

Reverie is an even more nonsensical, formulaic affair than the average piece of NBC sci-fi, giving us Sarah Shahi (Life, Fairly Legal, Person of Interest) as a former hostage negotiator who’s dropped out of the force. Why? BECAUSE THE ONE PERSON SHE COULDN’T SAVE WITH HER SKILLS WAS HERSELF. And her sister. And her niece. Basically, it didn’t go well.

Anyway, old pal Dennis Haysbert (The Unit, 24, Incorporated, Backstrom) comes a knocking at her door one day. He’s gone private sector and now works at the stupidly titled ‘Onira-Tech’ (it’s Greek, darling), which has developed a new dream manipulation-virtual reality technology that allows people with a bit of cash to tailor-make their own dreams. Trouble is, loads of people are now in comas because they apparently don’t want to leave their dream dreams and any attempts to wake them will probably kill them.

Fortunately, version 2.0 of the tech is in the offing and that allows people to share their dreams with someone else. Will Shahi be willing to use the experimental tech as well as her hostage negotiation skills to talk the dreamers down and out of their self-made utopias? And will it mean she’ll have to face her own mental demons to do so?

You betcha. Unfortunately, it’ll make you fall asleep when she does.

Continue reading “Review: Reverie 1×1 (US: NBC)”