What have you been watching? Including Frontier, People of Earth, Stan Against Evil and Ghostbusters

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. There’s also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I’ve reviewed ever. 

Made it. Backlog – cleared. TV – watched.

Okay, not quite. I skipped Dark Water because that’s now on BBC Four, so there’s not much point my previewing it now. Oops. Still, it was only a mini-series.

Also, all the new Internet shows I keep listing are going to take a little longer, as are the shows I’m currently watching with lovely wife (WestworldHumans, The Crown). But everything else is now up-to-date. Well done me.

Given I’ve already passed third episode verdicts this week on The Great Indoors (US: CBS; UK: ITV2) and Eyewitness (US: USA), that means that after the jump, I’ll be looking at the latest episodes of Ash vs Evil Dead, Chance, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Designated Survivor, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, Doctor Doctor, Falling Water, Frequency, Hyde and Seek, Lethal Weapon, Lucifer, Son of Zorn, Supergirl and Travelers.

In terms of new shows, elsewhere, I’ve reviewed Second Jen (Canada: City), but I have tried a few others, you’ll be happy to hear.

Frontier (Canada: Discovery; UK: Netflix)
Set in the disputed Hudson Bay territory of Canada at the turn of the 18th century, Discovery’s first scripted show Frontier sees Jason Momoa as a tomahawk-wielding go-between for all the competing interests that want to kill animals for their fur, including the English, Scottish, Americans and Canadians (who are all either English or French at this point, of course). With its terrible dialogue, motley medley of actors all sporting bad accents no matter their origin, and middling production values, Frontier is unfortunately little more than The Patriot meets Last of the Mohicans, with Momoa clearly thinking he’s in a different show from the rest of the anaemic cast. Practically unwatchable, it’s still not quite as bad as The Bastard Executioner.

People of Earth (US: TBS)
TBS apparently being where Daily Show correspondents now go to die, People of Earth gives us Wyatt Cenac as a cynical magazine journalist sent to cover an “alien abductees survivors group” – although they prefer ‘experiencers’ – where he soon begins to realise that those vivids hallucinations of talking deer might be a sign that he, too, has been abducted. So he decides to stay in town and see if he can work out what’s really happening and whether an alien invasion is really underway. 

The show is a 50/50 split between two strands. The first strand is the desperately unfunny goings on at the support group, which reminds you of Go On but with Cenac’s deadpan instead of the jokes and Matthew Perry’s sardonic quips.

The second is with the aliens themselves – for they are real – where the show is actually a properly funny workplace comedy. Yes, that’s right – a workplace comedy. I mean have you ever considered how much effort goes into faking those cover-ups?

I watched the first episodes, I might keep watching for the aliens. But I might not. 

Stan Against Evil (US: IFC)
John C McGinley reprises his Scrubs Doctor Cox role here to play a sheriff of a small town near Salem that was once the host to even more witch burnings. However, these were all real witches and demons, who vowed to kill every sheriff the town would ever have. Fortunately for Cox, his learned wife managed to use all manner of magic to protect him, making him the only sheriff to survive the job in the town’s entire history. But Cox is fired, just after his wife’s funeral, so soon a replacement (You’re The Worst‘s Janet Varney) is in town and together, they have to fight all manner of horrors together, since the demons want them both dead.

Coming on the heels of Ash Vs Evil Dead, this is a somewhat poorly timed piece of comedy horror, in which the clueless, frequently misogynistic, outspoken McGinley (“I want you to admit Starsky was gay. He wore a sweater with a belt. Come on, you’re a cop. Follow the evidence!”) has to deal with demons, women and modern society’s general pansiness, with only a suspiciously familiar book of magic to help him. Varney does offer a reasonable counterpoise to him and the plots involve her as much as him, but ultimately this is McGinley’s show and he’s naturally very good.

Unfortunately, the plots themselves are neither as funny nor as gory as Ash vs Evil Dead‘s. I watched the first four episodes of this, and while each offers maybe a couple of laughs, is a little smarter than than Bruce Campbell’s show and the demons (eg goat demons, a succubus) have a bit more variety and a bit more of a scare than the ‘deadites’, it still felt like a bit an effort to get through for some slightly pointless, slightly derivative pieces of work.

I also watched a movie!

Ghostbusters (2016)
An all-woman line-up of ghost exterminators (Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Hope) go into business for themselves in New York and have to deal with a bunch of spooks emerging from the afterlife who could threaten life as we know it.

Featuring cameos from all the surviving cast of the classic 80s movie, this 2016 version homages most of the first movie’s iconic moments and props, while simultaneously avoiding being a retread and finding its own sources of humour. McKinnon – best known as Saturday Night Live‘s Hillary Clinton – in particular breaks from the confines of the plot to be something a lot odder and more interesting than you’d expect.

However, the movie plays a lot younger than the original, losing the 80s version’s slightly edgier and stranger qualities, and its denoument goes on for far too long. On the plus side, though, Chris Hemsworth is very funny as the Ghostbusters’ eyecandy receptionist.

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including Frontier, People of Earth, Stan Against Evil and Ghostbusters”

Canadian TV

Review: Shoot The Messenger 1×1-1×2 (Canada: CBC)


In Canada: Mondays, 9pm (9.30pm NT), CBC

For ages, I was pining for a sequel to State of Play. I really was. It was just so bloody marvellous.

It didn’t help that the movie adaptation was just so average, I’m still only halfway through it.

State of Play 2 isn’t happening and never will. Sniff, boo hoo. So bless you Canada for trying to do your own (unofficial) State of Play. It’s not the same, it’s really not, but it touches me that you’d give it a go.

Shoot The Messenger has pretty much all the same plot threads as State of Play. It has street shootings. It has an intrepid reporter (Elyse Levesque from Stargate Universe) investigating a murder. It has an equally intreprid police department doing their own parallel investigation, with both sides feeding each other information to advance their own causes. The murder has political connections that might affect a certain big shot to whom Levesque has connections. It even has a plucky British newspaper editor (Alex “River Song” Kingston).

The big difference here is Levesque, who as well as being a cub reporter rather than a seasoned hack is also a bit of a shagger. She’s shagging the head of the police investigation (Lyriq Brent); she’s shagging her more experienced co-worker (Lucas Bryant). She also comes from a family of shaggers, since her sister is shagging said bigwig. And when Levesque isn’t shagging, she’s getting hit on the head or hiding under things. 

State of Play this is not. Sorry, Canada.

The show also lacks the journalistic verisimilitude of State of Play. While there are attempts to give both the police and newspaper sides of the plot a sheen of accuracy and Kingston’s frequent words of advice to Levesque are frequently useful, The Guardian-logo nicking, serious newspaper ‘The Gazette’ appears to be equipped with neither copy editors nor fact checkers, there don’t appear to be department heads, Levesque actually gets invited to the editor’s daily content meetings, there appears to be almost no appreciation of the existence of a little thing called the Internet or social media, Levesque thinks it’s okay to use a faux Google Images to check the spelling of names, and Kingston herself thinks it’s more grammatically correct to say ‘who is whom‘.

Oh dear.

State of Play comparisons to one side for a moment, Shoot The Messenger does at least do something different from the usual CBC drama, even the ones that are supposed to be thrilling (eg The Romeo Section, Cracked), by having some action and excitment – its plot focuses on the Somali community and local gang ‘the Mogadishu dogs’, with Levesque witnessing the murder of the brother of one of the gang members, which sets off a chain reaction of violence (and misreporting). But while there is the occasional insight into that community, mostly it’s all a lead in to corporate and political corruption and a Rob Ford analogy. 

But as a thriller, it’s not very thrilling and spends a lot of it’s time being apologetic for things and feeling sad about children getting killed in gang wars. There’s an unnecessary side plot about Levesque’s brain-damaged dad; with the exception of Brent, all the black characters are criminals or harbourers of criminals, leaving Bryant to be the implausible Somali expert at the paper; and Bryant seems like he’s on quaaludes the whole time.

Levesque and Kingston make Shoot The Messenger pass a lot more agreeably than it should. I might stick with it, since the political side of things hasn’t kicked in yet and it could well get better as a result. But more likely, I might just watch State of Play again.

Canadian TV

Review: Travelers (Canada: Showcase; UK: Netflix)


In Canada: Mondays, 9pm ET, Showcase
In the UK: Acquired by Netflix

Given that Canada, Showcase and Brad Wright have been so central to science fiction television, particularly time travel shows, in the past few decades, we shouldn’t be surprised that with the US lining up the likes of Timeless, Frequency, Time After Time and Making History, all three have decided to get in on the act to produce something similar but different.

Travelers flips most time travel stories on their head by having travelers coming from the future to our present in order to prevent a terrible disaster from occuring. So far, so identical to Showcase’s own Continuum. The difference here is that the time travelers are (apparently) the good guys and they’re from the far off future, a future so distant the human race is in danger of extinction, something they’d quite like to prevent by changing things now.

But most important of all, they can’t actually physically travel through time. Instead, provided they know the exact time and place someone is going to die, they can project their minds back in time into the ‘host’ and take over their body à la Chocky and Quantum Leap.

Travelers‘ first episode, written by Wright, is mainly establishment of the lives and families of the hosts who are shortly going to die and be replaced by an ‘elite unit’ of time travelers. We have the learning disabled Mackenzie Porter (Hell on Wheels, Blackstone); douche high school quarterback and cage fighter Jared Paul Abrahamson (Awkward); abused single mum Nesta Marlee Cooper (Heroes: Reborn); and drug-addicted college student Reilly Dolman.

Chasing after them after he becomes aware of some ‘odd traffic’ on the dark web is FBI agent Eric McCormack (Trust Me, Will and GracePerception). 

Then, of course, the time travelers turn up and the show then becomes about the differences between the hosts and their new inhabitants, who can fight back, don’t have an addiction, aren’t learning disabled, aren’t complete dicks and so on. And despite having done their research, the time travelers still have a huge culture gap to navigate, from the little things such as text message slang and not answering the front door naked through to quite big things like how people talk and discovering that people lie on social media and that maybe one of the hosts isn’t who she claimed to be online.

Shot in the style of Wright’s previous big offering, Stargate UniverseTravelers is an edgy and surprisingly intimate affair, trying its best to make all of this not ridiculous, something it does pretty well. To be fair, though, there’s actually precious little about the time travelers’ mission so it’s hard to tell if something extraordinarily silly is round the corner. Instead, it’s mostly about changing behaviours and what happens if someone starts acting very differently from how they used to behave – and whether other people will allow that or get suspicious.

Basically, it’s a science-fiction spy show with a whole bunch of sleeper agents suddenly being activated. It’s The Americans but with a different kind of time travel. Hopefully.

The characters and stories are engrossing, McCormack is as pleasing as ever and everyone, particularly Porter and Dolman, does well with what they’ve got. There’s even an appearance by ubiquitous former Huck Finn and Continuum regular Ian Tracey.

There’s a big twist at the end that will be entirely ruined if you watch the trailer below, but Travelers is definitely a very promising first start to a series that’s also got a big chunk of Netflix co-production money behind it. I’m hoping for great things, but we’ll see how it goes.

Weekly Wonder Woman

Weekly Wonder Woman: Wonder Woman #48, Superman-Wonder Woman #25, Superman #48, Titans Hunt #4 et al

The observant will notice that last week, Wonder Woman did a bunk and didn’t bother turning up on this ‘ere blog for her weekly round-up of comic book appearances. I don’t know why. Was it something I said?

Well, obviously I do know the real reason, as Wonder Woman is a fictional character – it was my usual end-of-month workload meaning that I didn’t have time. So I figured, what the hell, I can just roll them over to next week, forgetting, of course, that the end of the month is also now when DC Comics unleashes a deluge of Wondy titles upon us. Oops. That’s my morning gone, then.

So after the jump, in perhaps sketchier detail than I would like, you’ll find looks at: Aquaman #48, DC Comics: Bombshells #28, Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year 5 #5-6, Justice League of America #7, Sinestro #19, Superman #48, Superman-Wonder Woman #25, The Legend of Wonder Woman #11-12, Titans Hunt #4 and Wonder Woman #48. As a little bit of a game, guess which old school Wonder Woman villain and villainess make their return, as well as which old school Wonder Woman favourite made no fewer than two returns in those titles.

It’s also been a busy fortnight for Wondy in other media. We’ve had the unveiling of a new trailer for Batman v Superman, in which it’s revealed that rather than flying herself or using an invisible jet, movie-Diana uses Turkish Airlines to get about. 

Whether that’s an indication that the Amazons still live in the Themyscira of Asia Minor, rather than Paradise Island, or whether it’s simply because Turkish Airlines is the movie’s official airline partner (that’s a thing, apparently), I can’t say, but we’ll find out in March.

We also have the news that Cartoon Network is working on a new series of 11-minute episodes of Justice League Action that will feature not only Kevin Conroy as the voice of Batman again, but also the rest of the Trinity – no word on who’s doing Diana’s voice, though. Surely, Susan Eisenberg’s a shoo-in?

JLA

And on top of all that excitement, we’ve got a trailer for the next animated DC movie, Justice League vs Teen Titans. Guess what happens in that.

Continue reading “Weekly Wonder Woman: Wonder Woman #48, Superman-Wonder Woman #25, Superman #48, Titans Hunt #4 et al”

Canadian TV

Review: This Life 1×1 (Canada: CBC)


In Canada: Mondays, 9pm, CBC

There are certain themes for drama that are quite hard to base a series around, for the simple reason that they aren’t really very enjoyable. Some ideas, particularly the more escapist ones divorced from real life, are fun to start with and it’s up to the programme makers to see if they can make them less fun (eg travelling through space and time with an ancient alien in a police box that’s bigger on the inside than on the outside); other ideas, particularly those close to home, are miserable and it’s up to the programme makers to see if they can somehow entice viewers to watch.

Cancer’s one of those topics that really has to woo viewers. If you don’t believe me, try listening to one of the current crop of interviews with Toni Collette and Drew Barrymore as they try to explain how much buddy-buddy fun and ‘girls night out’ Miss You Already is, despite being about breast cancer.

Canada’s This Life suffers from a similar problem. An adaptation not of the iconic 90s BBC Two show but of ICI Radio-Canada Télé’s French-language show Nouvelle Addresse, it sees Torri Higginson (Stargate Atlantis) playing a 40-something single mother who writes a popular newspaper column about being a 40-something single mother (what’s up with all the heroic 40-something parental newspaper columnists in the colonies, by the way?). 

She’s a bit dull and consumed with her family, rather than herself, as younger, free spirited sister Lauren Lee Smith (The L Word, CSI, Good Dog, Mutant X, The Listener) is happy to point out to her. So she decides to carpe diem, perhaps even go out with that new high school principal who seems to be into her (Shawn Doyle from Endgame). 

Except then she discovers that the cancer that she’d thought had gone away six months earlier has returned, and this time it’s terminal. She has less than a year to live. Now she needs to prepare her kids for when she’s not around, while deciding how she’s going to spend her final year on Earth.

Want to watch it yet? Of course you don’t. It sounds miserable. And often it is. You’d practically have to be inhuman not to be weeping buckets when Higginson gets her diagnosis and prognosis.

This Life attempts to make itself more palatable in a number of ways. Firstly, it gives us Lauren Lee Smith. She boxes in her spare time and does the Walk of Shame so regularly, she even has spare dresses in her office. She’s even toying with having a regular threesome with her latest one-night stand and his girlfriend.

Then there’s Higginson’s teenage children, who have their own things going on, involving boyfriends and girlfriends (or lack thereof), school work, squabbling, etc.

Still not persuaded? 

Fair enough. None of that is really that appealing or as fun as it thinks it is, either. Neither does This Life really establish in this first episode why you’d want to watch a show that ultimately is going to be about someone slowly and painfully dying, leaving her children alone. After depicting Higginson wanting to seize the day before she finds out her cancer is back, and then taking the ‘gut punch’ of the episode title that stops these plans in her tracks, it’s unclear if she’s going to properly seize the day for the rest of the series or simply start going to lots of lawyers and investment brokers to try to establish a legacy for her kids.

Maybe it’ll be uplifting, maybe it’ll be depressing, but given Nouvelle Addresse has lasted three seasons, I’ll bet on option one. This Life also has a strong cast, with Higginson particularly good, and some good direction.

It’s just it’s a programme about someone dying of cancer, without much to relieve the pain. And that could be too close too home for a lot of people.