Pulse
Australian and New Zealand TV

Review: Pulse 1×1 (Australia: ABC)

In Australia: Thursdays, 8.30pm, ABC
In the UK: Not yet acquired

One of the best lines in this week’s episode of Will was “It’s 1589, Will – everything’s been done. It’s how you do it that counts.” I was reminded of this as I was watching Pulse, ABC (Australia)’s new medical procedural, as I tried to work out why it was so incredibly boring. It wasn’t for want of trying, certainly.

Based on an apparently true story, it’s the tale of high-flying financial analyst Claire van der Boom (Hawaii Five-0) who suffers kidney failure but receives a transplant so survives. She subsequently decides to retrain as a transplant doctor herself. Years later, she finds herself a trainee on the cardio-thoracic and renal wards of a major teaching hospital, learning how medicine actually works in practice. But as she’s still on immune-suppression drugs, any patient she meets could make her sick – she could make others sick, too.

So Pulse immediately gives you those three points of empathy – she’s a doctor but she knows what it’s like to be the patient as well; she’s determined to fight the patient’s corner, even if the more seasoned doctors are more calculating and blasé about the whole thing; and everything’s as life-threatening to her as it is to her patients.

On top of that, she’s both expert and trainee, so we have the tensions between those with the knowledge and experience and van der Bloom’s more impulsive tendencies. There are critiques of the Australian health system, including male dominance of the Australian surgical profession.

There’s co-worker Andrea Demetriades (Seven Types of Ambiguity) soft-porn shagging her boss, Blessing Mokgohloa (Spartacus: Blood and Sand). There’s her super-firey Welsh boss Owen Teale barking universal truths about healthcare – he’s also the man who gave her her transplant for a double-shocker.

Surprisingly, there’s even Spartacus himself and part-time weathermaster Liam McIntyre as an ex-soldier turned doctor and possible love interest for van der Bloom.

And that’s just the set-up – in the first episode, we’ve got people passing out after being sent home too soon, we have an organ lottery and we have transplant kidneys being snatched away at the last minute.

Much peril! Very wow!

And yet it’s absolutely tedious. Which brings us back to that line of Will‘s. It made me cast my mind back to when I last actually watched – and continued to watch – a procedural. On the medical side, it’s House; on the police side, it was the CSI franchise. I think in both cases it’s because they actually did something different, House being a combination of philosophy and Sherlock Holmes detective story, CSI being more like a series of scientific experiments. Everything since has singularly failed to grab my attention.

Which makes me think that I:

  1. Simply dislike procedurals.
  2. Like new things and constant repetition of the same format is intrinsically tedious to me
  3. Might not dislike procedurals when they’re actually something else in disguise

And despite throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the mix, Pulse is a meat-and-two-veg medical procedural, no different from Casualty, predictable, with nothing new to say that House et al hasn’t already said, no great and unusual new characters to love, no amazing performance to lift the show out of its rut (although Teale’s great, of course). It’s not terrible, it’s well made, plenty of people love that kind of thing. I just don’t like something where I can guess more or less everything that happens before it happens. I suspect you don’t either.

TV reviews

Review: Shooter 1×1 (US: USA; UK: Netflix)


In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, USA
In the UK: Wednesdays, Netflix

I think it’s fair to say that America loves guns. Or at least has a lot of them: 300 million at last count, on a population of 325 million. And if you have a lot of guns, they tend to get used, sometimes with tragic consequences.

Which has caused all kinds of problems for USA’s Shooter, a show that loves guns rather a lot. Originally scheduled to air mid-July, it was postponed at first by a week following the shooting in Dallas. However, following the shooting in Baton Rouge, USA decided to move Shooter from its summer schedule to November. 

Shooter sees Ryan Phillipe (Secrets and Lies, Cruel Intentions) once again take on a role to which he’s slightly ill suited – a former marine sniper. Wounded in action by the Chechnyan sniper who killed his best friend, he’s perfectly happy with his wife and daughter, until his former CO turned secret service agent Omar Epps (House, Resurrection) approaches him for help. Said Chechnyan sniper has threatened to kill the President and Phillipe is one of the few people in the world with the skills to work out how he could do it and so prevent it. Except things are not quite as they seem…

Based on the 2007 movie of the same name, which in turn was based on Stephen Hunter’s book Point of Impact, this pilot episode follows the film and to a lesser extent the book pretty faithfully, meaning that if you’ve seen the movie, there’ll be almost no surprises as to what happens at the end of the episode.

That said, there have been a few tweaks. Epps’s characters might not be the obvious double-crosser that Danny Glover was, while Cynthia Addai-Robinson (Arrow, Spartacus)’s disgraced FBI agent and potential ally to Phillipe is a moderately interesting gender-change to the Michael Peña character, even if she’s not quite as interesting as he was. The fact Phillipe now has a family, rather than a Kate Mara to hook up with, also changes the dynamics of the story a little.

As I mentioned when I reviewed Graves, shows with conservative politics are relatively rare and Shooter is clearly aimed at viewers of that disposition, right down to our hero’s family saying grace before meals. Its dedication to honourable men and women, doing honourable things in service, is a refreshing change, too, even if we know a great big conspiracy is potentially looming round the corner. Its big, big, big love of guns (aka “defenders of freedom”), which it inherited from its source material, is also a little different, even if does come across like a product review page in Guns & Ammo at times.

But dramatically, it’s not really innovating much and the opening scene in which Phillipe starts shooting orthodentists because they’ve used the wrong kind of gun and rounds to hunt a wolf is astonishingly clumsy. Characterisation is weak, largely fitting people into particular plot functions rather than making them fully fleshed out human beings. Dialogue is often dreadful, particularly anything between Phillipe and his wife, who judging from her lines must have been a sniper herself. And the constant use of low-budget CGI “bullet time” shots for, erm, bullet shots makes the show look cheap and a bit silly. 

As a piece of action-thriller TV, Shooter‘s pretty good, though. Clearly, that’s mainly down to the source material but sometimes it transcendents that material to avoid some of its sillier ideas. Whether subsequent episodes, which will have far less to work with, will be as good or whether Phillipe will be shooting more dentists remains to be seen.

TV reviews

Review: Conviction 1×1 (US: ABC; UK: Sky Living)


In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, ABC
In the UK: Acquired by Sky Living. Will air in November

This is not a paying job. I try to keep the ads to a minimum. I ignore the now daily requests for ‘native advertising’ (“I am interested in publishing an article on your website which will be relevant to the theme of your website and am happy to suggest some topics to you”) – they are not for me. I want this place to stay classy.

That does mean everything on TMINE has to fit round the stuff I actually do get paid for, though, so I don’t always have the time to do everything I’d like to do. Like proof-read. You probably noticed that.

Anyway, right now, all things being equal, I’d be getting out my copy of Adobe Illustrator CC to design a cracking mock up of an Ikea illustration in which a rather large number of bog standard parts are put together to assemble a television that looks exactly the same as any other television. Maybe I’d even make a video of it being assembled in Premiere.

But I don’t have the time to do that. Instead, I’ll have to paint a picture of Conviction with mere words. 

Imagine basically any ensemble procedural show in which you have a crack team of lawyers/doctors/antelope wranglers, all the top of their respective fields, all representing at least one aspect of diversity, but each with one specific issue that none of the others has. They’ll work very hard each week to solve whatever the problem is, because they care so very, very hard and are just so, so brilliant. But they’ll work extra hard if in some way the problem of the week touches on their issue.

However, said show can’t be something like Chicago Fire, Chicago Med, Chicago PD or Chicago Justice. No, it has to be the specific sub-variety of “brilliant but damaged leaders who speak their minds” shows, where the show is really about the leader and everyone else is subversient to him or her, no matter how racist they are. Think Shark. Think House.

In fact, specifically think House because Conviction‘s co-creator is Liz Friedman, last seen being played by the ridiculously marvellous Hudson Leick on the equally ridiculously marvellous Hercules: The Legendary Journeys episode Yes, Virginia, There Is A Hercules. No, really – watch for a couple of minutes and you’ll see what I mean.

Anyone, she was a producer on House so knows how to do these things backwards. 

And now, you’ve got Conviction in which Hayley Atwell (Marvel’s Agent Carter) plays the messed up genius who heads the team of underlings who work hard every episode to prove her right. She’s the daughter of a former president, she used to be a DA with a 95% prosecution rate, then she became a law professor. Then she started taking cocaine and shagging all her students. Oops.

Anyway, DA Eddie Cahill – whose greying temples make me feel so old because I remember him when he was Rachel’s ‘toy boy’ boyfriend on Friends – lets her off, provided she head up his new unsafe convictions unit. Her job is to make sure everyone in prison should be in prison, the theory being that it takes a coke-addict bad girl to spot a coke-addict bad girl. At first, she takes it as sinecure. But soon, she begins to enjoy the job.

And that’s all you really need to know. It is absolutely generic procedural TV. Atwell, who’s forced to deploy an exceedingly wobbly American accent, clearly accepted Conviction as a lifeboat role when Agent Carter was being cancelled. There’s certainly no artistic merit to it, nothing remarkable about it, other than the idea that the only unique thing a female leader could offer is cleavage and an ability to party. I’m not sure that’s a selling point.

Of course, Atwell can’t actually be truly heartless in the same way as Gregory House is, because she’s a woman so wouldn’t be likable. So there have to be signs she cares and she’s touched when mothers demand she care about their innocent/dead sons and daughters. Little tears and everything. 

Legal insights are also minimal and there are attempts to steal from any other crime show that’s passing in the hope that something might be popular – we even have some CSI-ing by lawyers, in which they take a pig carcass out into the woods at night to see if there are any flies on it in the morning. Guess what, idiots: either you scared the flies away or you didn’t wait the several days necessary for the eggs to hatch, none of it’s admissable and you could have just asked a forensic scientist. So why did you spend an entire night in the woods with a pig carcass, you great steaming twats?

Anyway, insert tab A into slot A, take flange B and attach it to nozzle C. Now you’ve built your own Conviction, you don’t need to take this one home.

News: Russian House; live A Few Good Men; Sky acquires Colony; E4 renews Drifters; + more

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TV reviews

Review: Heartbeat 1×1 (US: NBC; UK: TLC)


In the US: Wednesdays, NBC
In the UK: Acquired by TLC. Starts in April

US medical dramas seem to fall into one of two categories: the realistic and the utterly unrealistic. Think ER and Code Black in the first camp, think Grey’s Anatomy and House in the second.

The fact that House is in the second camp should be a clue that being utterly unrealistic isn’t a bad thing. Given a lot of people die from all manner of unpleasant things in hospitals, unrealistic can be a good way to salve the viewer’s wounds by actually having everyone live. You can also have a lot of fun with unrealistic. You can even do smart things with unrealistic. 

Heartbeat is a different kettle of fish. Despite being based on the memoirs of a real-life heart surgeon, it appears to be so unrealistic it operates in some alternative universe. A very stupid one.

Melissa George – you may remember her from Home and Away, The Slap/The Slap (US), Hunted, Alias, In Treatment – plays a top heart surgeon and CIO. Yes, CIO. I’m assuming that means Chief Information Officer in the Heartbeat universe, as it does in ours, but you never know. That means she’s in charge of IT for her hospital, and so as well as performing heart transplants, presumably she also does a nifty line in organising service-oriented architectures, iSCSI SANs and business continuity fallover options (“Make sure the back-up data centre isn’t in our floodplain! And stat!”).

She’s the kind of top heart surgeon/CIO who can raise $150 million in a single day for her hospital while still caring about every single heart in her care. Which is amazing, obvs, but wasn’t the first clue I was seeing signals broadcast from a parallel universe.

That was in the first two minutes when George gets on plane to go to a conference, where she’s to deliver the keynote address. Unfortunately, she finds someone is already sitting in her first class seat. She has her ticket with her, but despite the fact there is literally no way these days for said seat to be double-booked, she ends up in coach.

Then, wouldn’t you know it, she has to go back to first class to administer emergency chest surgery with a razor blade – how did they get that on board on the plane? – to the man who was in her seat. But because she’s now covered in blood and doesn’t have a change of shirt, she has to deliver the keynote… dressed in one of the air hostesses’ 1960s-themed uniforms that she’s borrowed!

Oh my. What a quirky universe. I wonder how many fundamental forces of nature it has. There’s probably a ‘weak clown force’ mediated by the custard pion, at least.

Back at the hospital, George suddenly finds herself operating in a flashback romcom. There, the equally Australian Don Hany (Serangoon Road, Childhood’s End), a surgeon and former flame of George, has just returned, complicating things with the between one and three current and ex-boyfriends/husbands inhabiting George’s life.

We flash back to their first meeting a decade ago when she wore what in this universe would be the world’s most ridiculous wig. The very Australian Hany knew her dad and is surprised that he can understand the very American-sounding George, given daddy’s accent. “Yes, I’ve been trying to lose my cockney accent… mate,” says George.

Wait… what? Is this a joke between Aussies or something? Or is George supposed to be English woman assimilated as an American, rather than an Australian woman assimilated as an American? Is her dad a cockney and in this universe, not only can Australians not understand cockneys but cockneys say, “Mate”? Does that mean Australians don’t say ‘mate’ in this universe?

And so the clues piled up. Soon George is on the roof trying to talk down someone who is going to commit suicide so that his organs will go to a relative. “But wait, Mr Suicide!” says George. “If you jump off a building, the fall will compress all your organs and I won’t be able to use them!”

“Good point,” says Mr Suicide, who promptly takes out a gun and shoots himself in a head. Whoops! Maybe leave it to the pros next time, Melissa, who, to be honest, doesn’t seem that upset about seeing a man blow his brains out right in front of her. I suspect a degree of sociopathy here.

How did Mr Suicide get the gun through all the security? Why did he even think to take the gun with him if he was going to shoot himself in the head? Apparently, there’s also a ‘strong clown force’ and it makes people think in very different ways in this universe.

The trouble with setting a medical drama, rather than an out-and-out comedy, in a universe so clearly very different from our own is that it’s hard to take it seriously. This isn’t medicine as we know it. These aren’t plausible people. They may not even be human. We might as well be watching Doctor Dog, a heart-warming show about a gruff Irish Terrier and his pioneering asthma treatments for gerbils.

It’s a shame, because I like George, Hany’s a brilliant actor and it’s good to have another show with a female lead that isn’t just about her love life. But Heartbeat is beyond resuscitation.