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.

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?

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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

TV reviews

Review: The Wizards of Aus 1×1 (Australia: SBS2)

In Australia: Aired nightly, Tuesday 19 January-Thursday 21 January, 8.30pm, SBS 2

As we discovered quite recently with The Shannara Chronicles (although, truth be told, we’ve known it in our hearts for quite some time), fantasy is not only a genre that’s very easy to parody, it’s almost self-parodic. Even when it’s being serious, there’s an inevitable difficulty in suspending disbelief, particularly when it starts throwing in pompous dialogue, not bothering to develop characters much beyond their ‘destinies’ and their general unwillingness to embrace them, plots that are largely scavenger hunts but with better prizes, and so on.

So you might ask what the point of The Wizards of Aus is, as it’s a parody of the fantasy genre in which two powerful but rather petty wizards fight their plot-ordained conflict in powerful but rather petty ways. Do we need it? Fantasy is silly already.

It’s a good question and I’m not sure there’s a good answer, beyond “So that Michael Shanks can make some silly and occasionally funny jokes.”

Michael Shanks?

Michael Shanks

No, he’s Canadian. This Michael Shanks.

Michael Shanks

He’s Australian. Or maybe a New Zealander. Or maybe both.

The basic plot is this: Shanks is a wizard who lives in a world of magic and dragons and wizards and knights and warrior women. Except all they do all day is fight and do idiotic, heroic things. So Shanks decides to move somewhere where rationality rules: the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. Unfortunately, so do a lot of the other magical beings from his world. Some get regular-type jobs, others continue with their malevolent activities.

Shanks is a sort of halfway point between the two worlds – too smart and rational for the fantasy world, too magical and lack in worldly wisdom for Australia – and the show basically divides the humour into three types:

  1. Flashbacks to the fantasy world
  2. A somewhat lame attempt to satirise Australian racism using magical beings as an obvious metaphor for immigrants
  3. The juxtaposition of the magic world with the real world, with wizards applying for recycling bins.

The first camp is actually quite funny, with Shanks smartly sending up the conventions of the genre. You really wish that was the whole show – a sort of Blackadder of the fantasy world.

The second camp is obvious and rarely makes a point beyond “Look! This is just like how we’re treating the boat people and Asians! Do you see? Do you see?”

And the third camp, despite all kinds of shiny guest stars such as Guy Pearce (Iron Man 3, Memento), Liam McIntyre (Spartacus, The Flash) and Bruce Spence (Legend of the SeekerMad Max 2), really seems more like a big, long and possibly quite expensive advert for the Australian digital effects industry than anything actually funny.

Less is more, it seems, even in the fantasy realm.

If it weren’t such a busy month, I’d probably stick with the remaining episodes as although it’s a bit scattergun, there is at least reasonable promise in the show’s mocking of fantasy conventions. Unfortunately, it is so I won’t. YMMV.

TV reviews

Review: The Shannara Chronicles 1×1-1×3 (US: MTV)

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, MTV
In the UK: Not yet acquired

When Into The Badlands arrived on our screens the other side of Christmas, I tried very hard to work out why it wasn’t any good. After all, it had impeccable source material to work with and a decent cast, and it had imported Hong Kong martial arts stars and choreographers to jazz up the fights. Except it was hackneyed and dull.

Was it because it was on AMC, famed for almost fetishing slow storytelling? Or was it simply because it was from Smallville creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, who perhaps aren’t up to post-apocalyptic quest dramas?

It turns out it’s probably a bit of both, but perhaps not for the reasons I was thinking of. I think it’s because Gough and Millar were putting all their effort into the rather similar The Shannara Chronicles.

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