Midnight, Texas
US TV

Review: Midnight, Texas (US: NBC; UK: Syfy)

In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, NBC
In the UK: Thursdays, 9pm, Syfy. Starts tonight!

Every so often, someone has the bright idea of taking all manner of previously separated supernatural beasties and sticking them together. Universal is trying it right now at the movies with Dracula, The Mummy, et al, with almost no success, but cast your mind back just a little bit and you’ll remember Sky/Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, which brought together the likes of Frankenstein, his monster, Dr Jekyll and Dorian Grey.

Cast your mind ever further back and you’ll hit HBO’s True Blood, which gave us a world populated by vampires and subsequently fairies, et al, as the series progressed, and when you hit 2010, you’ll come across The Gates, an almost forgotten ABC show about a gated community in which vampires, werewolves and the like all tried to co-exist peacefully, but usually failing miserably in the attempt.

Now NBC is giving it a whirl, this time by following the True Blood route of adapting a series of Southern-set Charlaine Harris books. Here, the eponymous Midnight, Texas is merely an informal point where over the years, all manner of “different” people have decided to settle down. As well as having its own Hellmouth™, there’s

  • An energy- and blood-sucking, blue-eyed vampire Peter Mensah (Spartacus)
  • Local vicar Yul Vazquez (Seinfeld) is a werewolf
  • Tattooist Jason Lewis (Sex and the City) is a fallen angel, albeit one who hasn’t gone to Hell
  • Parisa Fitz-Henley (Jessica Jones, Luke Cage) is a witch with a talking cat, albeit not a teenage one
  • Arielle Kebbel (90210) is a freelance assassin with no apparent special power other than to run around in a bikini with a bow and arrow
  • Potentially all manner of other, equally odd individuals

All seems quiet, even when the Sons of Lucifer are around. But then along into town comes psychic François Arnaud (The Borgias), persuaded by his fraudulent fortune-telling dead grandmother that he’s better off hiding out in Midnight, Texas, from whomever’s after him.

Unfortunately, just as Arnaud turns up, someone is murdered and before you know it, the police are investigating, sometimes with the help of Arnaud and his ability to speak to and raise the dead. Will they discover the town’s great big secret? And if they do, what will the denizens do to ensure their secret is kept safe?

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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.

US TV

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.

What have you been watching? Including Wolf Creek, Banshee, The Tunnel and Game of Thrones

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. 

It’s been another quiet week for new TV, as the various networks around the world let their older shows run their course, so they can leave the field clear for the newbies to wow us in just a week or two. That doesn’t mean a few shows haven’t tried to jump the gun and show us what they’ve got ahead of the others. I’ve already reviewed Raising Expectations (Canada: Family), but over in the US, there’s also been Submission on Showtime (so inevitably will be coming to Sky Atlantic at some point). Why haven’t I reviewed it yet? Well, here’s the plot synopsis:

Beautiful but unfulfilled Ashley has her eyes opened to the tantalizing possibilities of BDSM when she discovers the popular erotic novel SLAVE by Nolan Keats. But her fascination with the mysterious Mr. Keats leads her into a sexy but dangerous love triangle, and tests the boundaries of her own sexual limitations. Part romantic drama, part mystery, this tale of seduction, obsession and sexual power from acclaimed adult writer/director Jacky St. James will leave you breathless and begging for more.

Yep, it’s lady porn. You can rely on Showtime, can’t you?

But I have watched one other new show:

Wolf Creek (Australia: Stan)
Based on hit Australian horror franchise of the same name and with John Jarratt reprising his role as outback serial killer Mick Taylor, Wolf Creek is a pretty effective but overly gory thriller in which the poorly accented Lucy Fry (11.22.63) plays an American teenager on holiday with her family in Australia, who are trying to help her get over her drug addiction. Unfortunately, pre-credits they bump into Jarratt, who slaughters everyone except Fry, who then goes on a quest to bring Jarratt to justice, helped and hindered along the way by cop Dustin Clare (Spartacus).

Never having watched the movies and not being a huge fan of horror, I don’t know how much the series has in common with the originals. For the most part, it plays like a standard crime drama and it’s nice to have the reversal of the ‘last girl’ becoming the one doing the chasing. But whenever Jarratt shows up, it becomes something else almost comedic at times, part mockery of the Crocodile Dundee stereotype that people hold of Australians and Outback denizens in particular, part embracing of that stereotype, almost in the style of Ronnie Johns’ Chopper impression, with Jarratt hacking to death anyone who needs to harden the fuck up, particularly anyone who does yoga. 

Horror ain’t my scene and the first five minutes of chainsaw and machete misery almost made me want to switch off. But when the action is focused on Fry and her quest, it’s actually pretty good. Not for me, might be for you.

After the jump, the dwindling regulars: 12 Monkeys, The Americans, Arrow, Banshee, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash, Game of Thrones, Silicon Valley and The Tunnel (Tunnel). When will something new be along to join them, I wonder?

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including Wolf Creek, Banshee, The Tunnel and Game of Thrones”

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 3

Third-episode verdict: Lucifer (US: Fox; UK: Amazon Instant Video)

In the US: Mondays, 9/8c, Fox
In the UK: Tuesdays, Amazon Instant Video

Since the 80s, there’s been a move on US TV away from shows about lone heroes towards more ensemble pieces with a core cast of characters. Whether it’s to provide variety, to support the number of plots of a long-running season, to give the main actor respite from arduous filming duties, or to hedge bets in case the lead isn’t that popular, the trend is clear. When you look at remakes, it becomes even more obvious with formerly hero-centric shows taking on the trappings of ensemble pieces, whether it’s Kolchak: The Night Stalker and Night Stalker, Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation or Hawaii Five-O and Hawaii Five-0.

Normally this is by design, so the trouble comes when you forget what kind of show you’re making – is it a lone hero show or an ensemble show? Try to make both at the same time and you end up with something that’s not good at either.

Lucifer is a case in point. As the name suggests, it’s a show about the Devil himself. Adapted from the DC/Vertigo comic, it sees Miranda’s Tom Ellis as the bored fallen angel Lucifer Morningstar taking a vacation from Hell in Los Angeles, where he has loads of fun running a night club, shagging and generally tempting mortals. One day, he runs into a police detective (Lauren German) when one of his protégés is murdered, and he starts trying to solve crimes with her so he can keep up his former day job of punishing evil-doers.

It’s a somewhat silly idea but as I pointed out in my review of the first episode, it all works largely because of Ellis who’s clearly having the time of his life as a decidedly English supporting character from the Old and New Testaments (“I’ll rip his bollocks off then stamp on them one at a time”). He alternates between luxuriating in raining down diabolical torture and pain upon anyone who crosses him and camping up to the point you think he’s impersonating Kenneth Williams. It’s a marvellously engaging performance.

The trouble is that although the show is really all about Lucifer, the comic is more of an ensemble piece. And Lucifer takes on trappings of Lucifer to become partly an ensemble show as well, spending time with German, her young daughter, her ex- (Southland/True Blood/Arrow‘s Kevin Alejandro), Lucifer’s fellow devil Maze (Lesley-Ann Brandt from Spartacus and The Librarians) and Lucifer’s therapist/shag partner Rachael Harris (The Hangover, Suits, Surviving Jack). Which would be fine if any of them were in any way interesting or at least having as much fun as Ellis.

Perhaps if the show could also decide not to throw all its moments of characterisation at Lucifer but give each a few scraps from the table, it might be possible to care about them or even like them a little. But it doesn’t. The result is you have Ellis, bright and shiny in centre-stage, surrounded by pale shadows who take away from his screen time with their tedious concerns, but don’t really add anything except when they’re acting as sounding boards and ways to expand on Lucifer’s character.

The plots are also a little timid and repetitive. Murder followed by investigation in which Lucifer charms people and gets them to confess their deepest desires, all while German somberly and without any trace of real animation uses various synonyms of ‘back off’ to stop Lucifer from muscling in on her investigations, which Lucifer then studiously ignores. Even when Lucifer gets up to potentially exciting acts of sin, it’s Fox at its tamest: a ‘devil’s threesome’ and a foursome, none of which is ever shown, just the monring after when everyone wakes up with their clothes and underwear still intact.

The show works best when Ellis gets to enjoy himself and the writers provide lines and situations for him to really chow down on the scenery. It also becomes 100% more interesting whenever it’s dealing with the supernatural. Interactions with fellow angel DB Woodside, sent by God to convince Lucifer to resume normal duties, give someone for Ellis to really bounce off, while Lucifer’s acts of devilish punishment give the show a welcome edge of iron.

But for Lucifer to really work, it needs to decide whether it’s an ensemble show or a lone hero show: either drop some of the additional characters to really focus on Lucifer or give them something to do that makes them more than mere stock characters. 

Barrometer rating: 3
Would it be better with a female lead? No. Different, but not better
TMINE’s prediction: Could get a second season but a bit touch and go at the moment and needs to strengthen itself up to avoid a trip to ratings Hell