I think it’s fair to say that 30 Rock was a success despite Tracy Morgan, rather than because of him. While there was a certain je ne sais quoi about his utterly spaced out performance as ‘Tracy Jordan’ that wasn’t a million miles away from real life, you weren’t watching 30 Rock for his great acting skills, line delivery or pretty much anything else that he had to offer. Jokes were funny because they were funny and could survive all of that, rather than because of anything Morgan did, and often jokes weren’t funny that should have been – thanks to Tracy Morgan.
The Last OG is almost conclusive proof that Morgan is a humour black hole. Morgan’s character in the show is a small-time idiot living in Brooklyn and dating Tiffany Haddish (The Carmichael Show). Unfortunately, his days of happiness are curtailed swiftly when he gets sent to prison. Fifteen years later, he emerges to discover that the world – and Brooklyn – have changed. Now he’s got to find his way in the world and maybe even get back Haddish using the skills he learned in prison, all without annoying halfway house owner Cedric the Entertainer (The SoulMan) too much. His only ally? One of the kids he used to hang out with who’s now all grown up (Allen Maldonado).
Given that Jordan Peele is the co-writer and creator of the show, you’ll know there are at least some astute observations and good jokes to be had in this first episode, most of them stemming from Morgan’s culture shock. Brooklyn has gentrified and Morgan’s prison time is no one-way ticket to street cred. He can try to pass on words of wisdom to black kids, but they’re Sex and the City gay and would rather go off shopping with their girlfriends.
There’s also some good interplay between Morgan and Cedric the Entertainer, as Morgan tries to be funny and smart, while CtE undermines him like his own Tyler Durden. Haddish’s character is also interesting, as she’s escaped the ghetto, got married and had kids, and is now an aspiring politician whose fundraisers Morgan gatecrashes.
So lots of smart social satire… all of which Morgan wanders into like a brick on a pendulum tied to the back of a bull in a Debenhams china display. Everyone else does just fine, while Morgan delivers lines of dialogue like he’s slowly translating them from Japanese washing machine instructions written in 5pt green writing on a green background.
Not that smart
All the same, it’s not that smart. There’s a whole bunch of clichés around prisons that get regurgitated. The fact that Haddish’s kids are actually Morgan’s, rather than her white husband (Ryan Gaul)’s, is inevitable. Those gay characters are borderline offensive. Sure, it’s TBS so we’re not expecting huge laughs, but we do from Jordan Peele.
This leaves us with a high concept show that has more or less expended its high concept in the first episode and a leading man who seemingly wants to lead you away from watching his TV show. There’s so little in the first episode that made me want to watch the rest and what there was was surrounded by Tracy Morgan.
YMMV when it comes to Morgan, of course, in which case you might enjoy The Last OG. Or you may just like laughing at Brooklyn hipsters.
Neither of those apply to me, though, so I think once is enough with this show. And no, I have no idea why it’s called The Last OG.
While this year’s most obvious and manliest trend in US TV has been military shows, with Shooter and Six already with us and a slew of others in the pipeline, another, womanlier trend has been quietly bubbling away in the background: TV satirising TV. It probably all started with Tina Fey’s 30 Rock, but since then we’ve had The Bachelor satirised with UnREAL, news programmes mocked with Great News and Notorious, period dramas skewered with Another Period, and real-life crime documentaries teased a bit with Trial & Error.
Now we have VH1’s effort, Daytime Divas, a mild poking in the ribs of The View. For those who don’t know, The View is America’s equivalent of Loose Women, with its cohort of calculatedly diverse women expressing calculatedly diverse opinions on the topics of the day, ostensibly in a show of sisterhood, but largely to further their own diverse personal agendas. Former The View presenter/cackler Star Jones went on to write a satire of the show and its internal politics called Satan’sSisters, which is the basis of Daytime Divas.
Vanessa Williams stars as the creator and co-host of ‘The Lunch Hour‘, a View-a-like show in which five women sit around and pretend to be friends while still hating on each other and dealing with their own personal problems:
Tichina Arnold (Everybody Hates Chris) is a black female stereotype of a stand-up who plays up to the stereotype to ensure she’s the vital (irreplaceable) comedy presence on the show. But is her performance too ‘urban’ for the network? And is her rocky sex life her Achilles heel?
Chloe Bridges (The Carrie Diaries) is a ‘sexually fluid’ former child star still on probation after rehab and having to deal with a mother who only loves her for her money
Camille Guaty (Scorpion) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who’s perhaps a bit too boring for her own good, but never seems to get to do the journalism she really wants to be doing
Fiona Gubelmann (Wilfred) is a conservative Christian Republican, who’s all about the family values, but whose marriage is rocky and possibly even abusive
All seems to be going well until one day, the famously cosmetic surgery-free Williams undergoes minor surgery (actually cosmetic surgery) when she has a reaction to the anaesthesia and falls into coma. Before you know it, all her co-hosts are vying to take her spot in the vital ‘left chair’, with Williams’ son – the show’s producer – McKinley Freeman (Hit The Floor) having to adjudicate between them.
Despite ostensibly being a skewering piece of TV, it doesn’t have even one-tenth the edge of UnREAL, the one real tool in its armoury being mild cattiness. The co-hosts are slightly unpleasant to one another and will threaten to confess each other’s secrets to the media, but that’s about it for the inter-personal drama and satire, the rest of the time being devoted to tepid issues-based personal drama and poor representations of bisexual women. The characters are all studiously far enough away from being real View hosts to avoid lawsuits, too, but that also means there’s no real accuracy to the comedy, either. Its idea of how a TV show is produced is like a five year old’s and the worst language used is vagina. And that’s to describe a vagina.
So, these are not ‘Satan’s Sisters’ by a long chalk and by the end of the first episode, it’s clear that Williams is the surrogate mum of the piece who keeps her family together – they all need her and it’s really just one big dysfunctional family, who’ll end up loving one another really. Ah. How lovely.
That means whether you watch Daytime Divas is basically down to whether you like women saying mildly catty things to one another to raise a laugh. And if that’s your bag, you might as well just watch The View.
It’s “What have you been watching?”, my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently and your chance to recommend anything you’ve been watching.
WHYBW took a bit of a break last week, thanks to there being Twin Peaks to watch and not enough time to do that and write about other TV, too. But it’s back, just in time to catch some season finales as the US Fall season begins to wave its final goodbyes and the Summer season starts to kick in.
There have been a few new shows, too, in the past fortnight: the first episode of Downward Dog and those first two new episodes of Twin Peaks I’ve already reviewed elsewhere and I’ll be reviewing Still Star-Crossed (US: ABC) and previewing I’m Dying Up Here (US: Showtime) later in the week. But with a bank holiday weekend, I’ve had a chance to catch up with everything, watch a few movies and even try some of my backlog.
So, after the jump, I’ll be reviewing the latest episodes of American Gods, The Americans, Doctor Who, Downward Dog, The Handmaid’s Tale, Master of None, Silicon Valley and Twin Peaks, as well as the season finales of The Flash, Great News and Lucifer. Before then, a new TV show and not one but two movies!
You Are Wanted (Amazon) Amazon’s first German-language TV show is a Berlin-set ‘techno thriller’ starring (and written, directed, produced and composed by) one of Germany’s most successful actor-director-composer-writer-cameramen-producers Matthias Schweighöfer, who plays a moderately successful hotel manager and family man, whose life starts to fall apart when hacktivists start to take an interest in him for no obvious reason. Before you know it, they’re in every computer system he has from his laptop and smartphone through to his TV and child monitor, stealing his money, faking an affair and incriminating him in crimes, all while blacking out Berlin’s power system. What do they want and why him? Well, you’ll have to watch to find out.
The first episode was a touch more German in its production values than Amazonian (ie not as good and a bit silly at times), but while it’s not exactly Mr Robot when it comes to hacking, it’s not American Odyssey either, exhibiting a slight hint that it might know a bit about the subject at least. Schweighöfer is appealing, but there’s not much by way of thrills so far, just a lot of Schweighöfer playing with his family and reinstalling operating systems. But it’s promising enough I’ll probably be watching episode two this week at some point.
Word to the wise: despite promises to the contrary, Roku’s Amazon channel won’t display subtitles (I’ve fiddled with every setting it has and nada on anything I’ve watched). So, although half the dialogue’s in English, your German had better be up to knowing what “hydraulic fracking” and “epidemiology” are auf Deutsch if you’re to get by on that platform, so stick with iOS (which definitely does work) or something else. When I gave the subtitles a whirl, though, they turned out to be pretty bad translations that removed any nuance from the original (eg “Google is your friend” became “Use Google”), so I’m not sure that’s much better.
Passengers (2016) Mechanic Chris Pratt is in hypersleep on board a spaceship to a new colony, when a meteorite collision causes a malfunction on the ship. Pratt wakes up 90 years too early and he’s the only one on board apart from android barman Michael Sheen. Dare he wake up alluring writer Jennifer Lawrence to keep him company? And if he does, what will she do when he finds out he’s effectively killed her? And was his malfunctioning hypersleep pod the only thing damaged by the collision?
A lot has been written about the gender politics of Pratt’s actions in this and to be fair, the movie does go at great lengths not to dodge the ethical questions involved. It’s also far more of a piece of science-fiction than you might have assumed and everything looks very beautiful. But ultimately this is a two-hander between Pratt and Lawrence and how much you’ll want to watch this and their musings about the meaning of life and death very much depends on how much like both of them, whether you find their age gap a bit creepy and whether you think Pratt unconsensually violating sleeping Lawrence’s body (metaphorically) is too much of an obstacle to your enjoying the movie. There’s a brief appearance by (spoiler) Laurence Fishburne and a so-brief-you-probably-won’t-even-see-his-face cameo by (spoiler) Andy Garcia, too, which makes me think there’s a longer cut of the movie out there somewhere…
The Accountant (2016) An odd attempt to revive The Saint but without paying a licence fee, in which rather than Val Kilmer playing a swashbuckling and suave master criminal who adopts Catholic saints as his noms de plume, we have Ben Affleck playing a socially awkward savant and master criminal who adopts the names of famous mathematicians as his noms de plume, as he goes about… analysing the finances of whomever will pay him. Anna Kendrick is the Elisabeth Shue of the piece, a mid-level accountant who finds an irregularity in her employer (John Lithgow)’s books that Affleck can’t stop himself from investigating. Except Affleck has a very specific code of conduct and if any of his employers break it, he’ll use all the training his psych ops army dad gave him to kill them with extreme prejudice. Trouble is, Lithgow has hired Jon Bernthal (Marvel’s Daredevil‘s The Punisher) to protect him so Affleck might not find the going so easy and Treasury agent Cynthia Addai-Robinson is chasing after him in the exact same way she chases Ryan Phillippe in Shooter…
Written by Bill Dubuque (The Judge and Netflix’s forthcoming Ozark) and directed by Gavin O’Connor (Warrior), oddly enough the film is more about an accountant with autistic spectrum disorder than it is about a fighty master assassin, with Affleck redeploying the ‘tortured hero with a disability’ routine he used in Daredevil to evoke sympathy as he does a lot of A Beautiful Mind-like writing on vertical surfaces. But oddly, although its portrayal of ASD’s sensory issues as something that simply needs to be overcome through harsh regimens of fighting, flashing lights, loud noise and hitting yourself with a stick is probably a little contra-indicated, it’s surprisingly accurate, albeit more in a Bron/Broen (The Bridge) sort of way than Life, Animated, with Affleck’s character driven by, advantaged by and disadvantaged by his condition throughout.
The ending is surprising, the fight scenes are genuinely very good, and Affleck and Kendrick are frequently amusing together. And I promise you you’ll never see Martha from The Americans the same way by the end. It’s nonsense and there’s one scene in which JK Simmons sits down to explain the entire plot to the audience, but it’s nevertheless a jolly entertaining, surprisingly smart, surprisingly generous action movie that does for ASD what Daredevil does for blindness.
Do you miss 30 Rock? Do you miss a Tina Fey-produced, screwball NBC comedy set behind the scenes of the world of television, perhaps even one written by Tracey Wigfield, who won an Emmy for her writing on 30 Rock?
Really? Uh huh. Okay, that’s interesting. No reason in particular I’m asking, really. Just a bit of a random questioning straight out of the blue, there. Bit odd of me, huh?
Meanwhile, on a completely unrelated topic, blasting onto our screens we have Great News which is a bit like that lovely movie The Intern, in that it sees a golden oldie mummy (My Big Fat Greek Wedding‘s Andrea Martin) deciding after the death of one of her friends to follow her dream by starting a new career. Coincidentally, that career is in TV journalism, just like her daughter’s (Ground Floor/Undateable‘s Briga Heelan). Even more coincidentally, she ends up as an intern in Heelan’s workplace, a New Jersey TV news show, where the already blurred boundaries between the mother and daughter’s lives become even more blurred.
Ha, ha. Fooled you. All those questions at the beginning weren’t random at all. I was talking about Great News there, too! Wasn’t I cunning?
Indeed, Great News feels like one of those “format sells” to Germany, where a show gets remade more or less identically, except with a slightly different setting and a completely new cast. Some of the characters get changed a bit, some of the dialogue gets moved from one character to another, but otherwise everything stays the same. And in English, this time.
Nevertheless, despite the huge amount of overlap between the shows in terms of writing and cast, Great News not only still feels fresh, it also remains funny, with joke following joke like machine gun fire. Not every joke hits, but they frequently do and are invariably very funny.
The format also mixes up the targets of the jokes. Whereas 30 Rock was all Liz Lemon’s efforts to keep an insane black man and a narcissistic woman happy, giving us both racial and gender comedy, here the jokes are largely generational as well as familial. We have Heelan and Martin’s mother-daughter relationship, lending itself to a lot of comedy about female neuroses; Martin’s age also lends itself to jokes about oldies’ abilities, both positive and negative.
On top of that, the stars of the show-within-the-show are a narcissistic aging white male newscaster (John Michael Higgins) and a terminally hip and stupid younger white female newscaster (the surprisingly good Nicole Richie). It’s largely Martin’s job to deal with Higgins, Heelan having to deal with Richie’s idiocy (“How about we do our piece about Snapchap… on Snapchap?”) while trying to advance the cause of serious journalism and her own career.
The Alec Baldwin of the piece is boss Adam Campbell (Harper’s Island), who’s both a potential love interest and a frequent foil for Heelan. And as he’s English, there are naturally jokes about that, too (“You Benedict Arnold!” “Benedict Arnold was the only one who wasn’t a traitor in that war!”).
I found the first two episodes to be both frequently laugh-out loud funny and actually funnier than the first episodes of 30 Rock itself, lacking the dramatic lulls that show did while it found its feet. Martin’s obviously a hugely powerful and funny force, but Heelan’s one of the few younger actresses who could hold her own against Martin and up for physical comedy as well – it’s good to see her finally be the star of a show at last. The show isn’t especially subtle, and no one’s holding back with the acting, but it’s frequently subtle in its unsubtlety (“Coming next – the hidden danger in your household’s gun collection”), and the humour and performances often have odd beats that feel improvised, giving them more interest than normal.
My humour’s a bit odd, but I think if you liked 30 Rock as much as I did, then I think you’ll like Great News, too.
It’s “What have you been watching?”, my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently that I haven’t already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I’ve missed them.
The usual “TMINE recommends” page features links to reviews of all the shows I’ve ever recommended, and there’s also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I’ve reviewed ever.
I’ve been a bit slack over the past week. Work’s been a bit crazy and season two of Narcos has been taking up a lot of my time. Never fear, though, as over the next few days, I should – fingers crossed – be reviewing a whole batch of new US shows, including Quarry, Better Things and Speechless. I might even pass a third-episode verdict on Four In The Morning, if I have the time.
After the jump, I’ll be looking at the latest episodes of the regulars, Halt and Catch Fire, Mr Robot and You’re The Worst, as well as the whole second season of Narcos and the season finale of The Last Ship. But before that, one show I had been planning to do a full review of last week but didn’t get round to because it turned out not to be worth it was…
Atlanta (US: FX; UK: Fox UK – starts November)
Written by Donald Glover (Community, The Martian), Atlanta also stars Glover as the Princeton-drop out cousin of an Atlanta rapper (Brian Tyree Henry) who’s just about to hit the big time. Glover has to use his big brain, as well as his connections, to get in on the deal as well as help Henry deal with the problems of the music biz, race, sex and more.
I’ve seen various articles talking about how Glover has ‘redefined comedy’ with Atlanta and it’s fair to say that he’s redefined in that Atlanta is as much a drama as a comedy and there aren’t many jokes. Of the jokes that Glover does give us, most of which he gives to himself and concern being the smartest guy in the room, with no one on his level to talk to (“Do you know where the word management comes from?” “Yes, it’s from the Latin word manus, meaning hand” “Oh… Management really means…”). Otherwise, while it does offer an insider’s view of life for the poorer members of society in Atlanta, it doesn’t offer that much that’s new – apparently, people will treat you differently if you’re famous, for example. How insightful.
I wanted to like this, since Glover’s great, and I had had high hopes for it, given Glover started out writing for 30 Rock, but my 100% dislike of all shows about the American music industry (eg Power, Empire, Vinyl, Nashville) continues to have a 100% strike rate thanks to Atlanta.