US TV

Review: Murder In The First 1×1 (TNT)

Murder In The First

In the US: Mondays, 10pm (ET/PT), TNT

TNT’s an odd network, a sort of in-between house on basic cable between regular old vanilla, commercial, network TV and the no-holds-barred, challenging world of premium cable. With no real identity of its own, it churns out shows that would largely sit very happily on any broadcast network were it not for the occasional swear word: Falling Skies, King & Maxwell, Perception, Memphis Beat, Dark Blue, Leverage, Saving Grace, Trust Me, Rizzoli & Isles, Franklin and Bash, The Closer, Major Crimes – the list goes on and assuming you hadn’t forgotten that pretty much all of those shows ever existed, you’d have been hard-pushed to remember they were on TNT and perhaps even cable. The network’s one truly good show was Southland… which it picked up from NBC then slashed its budget.

At most, you might think of TNT as ‘The Crime Channel’, because of the 13 shows listed above, 11 involve cops, lawyers and/or robbers, and the rest of the time, it’s broadcasting reruns of Law & Order. But you don’t. It’s just TNT. It’s just… there.

I don’t think it’s escaped TNT’s notice that it’s not very noticeable, either. It’s got an ambitious summer schedule of dramas lined up that includes spy thriller Legends, for example. But it’s starting us off gently with another crime drama, except to make it a bit more memorable, it’s gone once again to Steve Bochco, who previously gave the network Raising the Bar (make that 12 out of 14 shows).

Young people might not have heard of Steve Bochco (and let’s face it, they’re probably not going to be watching TNT, since it leans towards a much older demographic, anyway), but together with Mary Tyler Moore’s MTM Enterprises, he was pretty much responsible for launching the second wave of great American television that began in the 80s. He started it off with the innovative Hill Street Blues before giving us LA Law, Doogie Howser MD, Hooperman, NYPD Blue and (oh horror) Cop Rock, which I guess was innovative, too, given it was as the name suggests, a musical drama about cops:

Possibly Bochco’s greatest creative achievement, even if it wasn’t a ratings success, was the almost-theatrical Murder One. As with Hill Street Blues, Murder One was unusual for its time in having story arcs – a season-long high-profile criminal case in Murder One’s case. It was filled with a fantastic cast that included Patricia Clarkson, Mary McCormack and the magnificent Stanley Tucci and Daniel Benzali, who presided like a Renaissance Pope over his cadre of lawyers:

So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that for his latest show, Murder In The First, Bochco has pitched at that older demographic who liked his previous shows. Giving Murder One a slight Law & Order twist, Murder In The First follows a criminal investigation by San Francisco police into two murders linked to a celebrity all the way through to the trial and (presumably) conviction of the killer. It also adds in a dash of Hill Street Blues, with its focus on the domestic lives and working relationships of the cops.

Starring Taye Diggs (Day Break), Kathleen Robertson (Boss), Richard Schiff (The West Wing), Steven Weber (Studio 60), Nicole Ari Parker (The Deep End) and Draco Malfoy himself – Tom Felton from the Harry Potter movies – it’s not exactly what you’d call ground-breaking, but is probably going to be a passable piece of summer viewing. Well, better than everything else on TNT, anyway.

Here’s a trailer:

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The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 1

Third-episode verdict: 19-2 (Bravo)

In Canada: Wednesdays, 9e/6p, Bravo

Time to pass verdict on 19-2, Bravo Canada’s English-language remake of the French Canadian show, 19-2. Canada’s combined answer to Southland, it follows two cops, one a veteran, one a ‘rookie’ from the countryside, as they patrol the mean streets of Quebec, facing all kinds of problems, ranging from gangs to annoyed Chinese restaurant owners to superior officers and police politics to their own personal demons. 

Now, the first episode was somewhat cliched, full of situations you’ll have seen before, resolved in the ways you’d expect, and with characters and dialogue no more original than that. However, since then, things have improved decidedly. While it’s hard to actually like any of the characters, the show has now taken them all in reasonably original directions and fleshed them out, giving them nuance, so they no longer fit the comfortable boxes into which the first episode slotted them. The plots have also started to become more unexpected, with aspects of both the season arcs and the episodic arcs taking turns you probably couldn’t see coming. In particular, the domestic violence thread in the third episode was both harrowing and challenging.

It’s not an easy show to watch, not quite having the right amount of humour to make the misery of the show bearable, although by the third episode, our two colleagues have at least started to have some fun moments together, rather than constantly hating each other. There’s still enough cliches bubbling under the surface to make you groan when they rise to the top (of course the tough (only) female cop turned out to be gay). The ensemble cast don’t quite gel yet, either, and the dialogue doesn’t exactly sparkle.

But all the same, 19-2 is a compelling show and certainly the finest cop show, if not drama, that Canada’s produced in a long time. One to watch.

Rating: 1
Rob’s prediction: Should run for a good long time

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Canadian TV

Review: 19-2 (Bravo)

19-2

In Canada: Wednesdays, 9e/6p, Bravo

Canada is, of course, a country of two languages: English and French. Now, while English-language TV in Canada underwent something of a renaissance in recent years, quickly followed by a dip as a cut in government funding for the CBC killed off a number of more expensive shows, French-Canadian shows continued to do well. In fact, they’ve been proving a valuable source of material for the English-language networks, which have been adapting some of the more popular shows: Sophie and Rumours have already hit the airwaves, Unité 9 is on the way on CBC, and now we have 19-2, based on the original 19-2. Easy to translate that one.

It’s certainly a good choice for a remake, easily one of the best cop dramas English-language Canada has produced, recently – although that’s not hard, admittedly, given competition such as Motive and Cracked. In a lot of ways, it’s Canada’s answer to Southland, with 19-2 the call sign of the cop car driven by our heroes – a ‘rookie’ (he’s not really, but everyone calls him that) and a grizzled veteran – exploring the streets of Montreal and coming across gritty, real-life problems both big and small, action-packed and funny, that they have to solve, before coming back to the precinct to face the admin, politics and their fellow cops.

Here’s a trailer, followed by the first five minutes or so.

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The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 2

Third-episode verdict: Ray Donovan (Showtime/Sky Atlantic)

In the US: Sundays, 10pm, Showtime. Starts June 30
In the UK: Tuesdays, 10pm, Sky Atlantic. Starts July 16th

Showtime’s Ray Donovan had something of a rocky start, as far as The Barrometer was concerned. Created by Southland‘s Ann Biderman and starring Liev Schreiber, John Voight and Eddie Marsen, it sees Schreiber as an LA fixer, sorting out the problems of the rich and famous with a combination of sensitivity, money and a good old Boston baseball bat. At the same time, he’s having to deal with his just-released father (Voight), whom he put in prison himself and who wants in on Schreiber’s family, whether he wants it or not.

The first episode did the typical thing of throwing every plot strand going at the camera in the hope the audience would find something they liked. And clearly that worked, judging by the ratings, but it did make it harder to judge what kind of show it was going to end up being: a show about fixing stars’ problems or a show about a Boston gangster and his family issue. 

Two episodes in… and it’s still hard to work out since although everything’s a little slower paced, both aspects are being maintained in equal proportions. Schreiber is still fixing problems, sometimes with that baseball bat, sometimes with words and money. And this side of things is still pretty well done, with Schreiber turning out to be the most liberal, sensitive gangster around – must be a California thing – offering kindness and compassion to blackmailing trans prostitutes, creepy stalkers and declining drug addicts alike.

At the same time, he’s also dealing with his wife (who has issues with his lack of fidelity), his father (whom he wants back in prison) and his brothers, who are all hanging around with his dad too much. Then there’s the dead priest, the next door neighbour’s kid, all the ‘secrets’ about why Donovan helped Elliott Gould to get his dad into prison and so on. It’s not Game of Thrones, I know, but it’s a pretty crowded storyline.

But the latest two episodes have given the show a little more breathing space. Some of the characters aren’t being that well served (Donovan’s lesbian assistant, his son) but it’s now possible to get more of a grip on the show and to enjoy it, rather than endure it is it blasts past you. There’s also some humour, albeit pretty dark humour largely around Voight and his lack of understanding of the world outside prison.

It still has obvious problems, not least its treatment of women, who are second-fiddle to the men and/or maltreated at every turn. The Boston accents veer from “almost believable” (Schreiber) through to “terrible” (Voight), and there are some dodgy racial stereotypes as well as Boston ones to deal with to. But although it’s no Southland in the believability stakes, it’s now become a pretty watchable drama, so you might want to give it a try.

Barrometer rating: 2
Rob’s predictions: Should last a good few seasons

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US TV

Preview: Ray Donovan 1×1 (Showtime/Sky Atlantic)

Ray Donovan

In the US: Sundays, 10pm, Showtime. Starts June 30
In the UK: Tuesdays, 10pm, Sky Atlantic. Starts July 16th

There’s presumably rather a lot of sh*t going down in LA, thanks to a combination of huge amounts of money and the number of famous people with personality issues, addictions and secrets they’d rather people didn’t know about them. So equally presumably there’s a group of people whose life it is to help cover up the inevitable colossal cock-ups that result from the collision of these things.

Ray Donovan, created by Southland‘s Ann Biderman, looks at one such man, the eponymous Ray Donovan (Live Schreiber, last seen doing TV work on CSI) – the Mr Wolf of the entertainment business…

…for whom no clean-up job, whether it be a stalker, a dead woman or a ‘straight’ actor who likes to pick up gay, transvestite hookers, is too hard and who’ll stop at nothing, even murder, if he has, too. The only thing he can’t fix? His relationships, particularly when his father (Jon Voight) comes out of prison and starts to put his nose into his family’s affairs. Here’s a trailer, and if you’re in the US, the entire first episode for you to enjoy.

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