TV reviews

Review: Imposters 1×1-1×2 (US: Bravo)


In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, Bravo

Con artists aren’t very nice people. They lie, cheat and steal from people to benefit themselves, those people typically being old, trusting and/or not very rich, and who therefore typically end up penniless, destitute, futureless and/or suicidal.

What. A. Downer. Huh?

It’s no surprise, therefore, that shows that have focused on ‘flim flam’ men and women, such as Leverage or Perfect Scoundrels, have usually taken no time at all to give their anti-heroes epiphanies in which they realise that their ways are indeed wicked. Before the end of the first episode even, they’re off fleecing the deserving – aka people who are both rich and dicks.

Shows that don’t? Downers.

That’s certainly how you think Imposters is going to be during its first episode. It sees Rob Heaps playing a sensitive young Jewish man who works for his family-owned firm. He sacrificed everything for his family, including his dreams of seeing Paris, and ends up thinking his life will never amount to anything. Then along comes Belgian breath of fresh air Inbar Levi, the two fall madly in love, and before you know it, they’re married and Heaps dares to dream once more.

But before you know it (again), she’s emptied their bank account, maxed out the credit cards, taken out a second mortgage on their home and stolen cash from the firm, leaving a parting video explaining that a folder of incriminating evidence will be used to destroy his parents’ marriage if he comes looking for her.

All looks bleak and Heaps even tries to commit suicide. Then comes a knock at the door… and the show changes.

Had I not fallen a little behind with my viewing schedule, I might not have bothered watching episode two of Imposters, that first ep is so fundamentally miserable. But since I hadn’t watched episode one by the time episode two aired, I ended up watching both en masse. Surprisingly, this is actually probably the best thing you can do, since episode one is less the foundation to the show than its prologue; it’s only in episode two that you find out what it’s really doing.

It would have helped if the show had stuck to its original title of My So-Called Wife, because oddly enough, Imposters is a buddy-buddy comedy. At Heaps’ door is another of Levi’s victims – Parker Young (Suburgatory, Enlisted), a knuckle-headed former quaterback and alpha male car salesman. Together, he and the equally penniless and heart-broken Heaps are going to go on a road trip together to find Levi and get their money back. Along the way, they’re going to learn the ways of the con artist, be spectacularly bad at them, develop their own code of honour, help each other to get over their former wife, and get on each other’s nerves. A lot.

Meanwhile, Levi has moved onto the next job allocated by mysterious boss ‘the Doctor’ to her and the rest of her team, who include Katherine LaNasa (DeceptionSatisfaction) and Brian Benben (Dream On). With their help, she has to woo a seemingly dickish, cuckolded darts-playing bank CEO (Battlestar Galactica‘s Aaron Douglas. Yes, it’s filmed in Canada – how did you know?), who turns out to be surprisingly sweet. But she’s distracted by the possibility of true love with coffee-shop chance encounter Stephen Bishop (Being Mary Jane). Is it time to get out of ‘the life’ or will the Doctor punish her and Bishop if she tries?

All this is good frothy fun that manages to find both a little depth and a lot more jokes amidst everyone’s misery. Levi, who did little as a button-downed Israeli commando on The Last Ship, here demonstrates a really surprising range and is hugely appealing, even when she tricks and misleads everyone she meets. Young and Heaps’ routine is both funny and suitably dorky, and their slow crossing over to the dark side is entertaining to watch as they foul up time and again but slowly get better. Their ‘code’ also shows how morality can blur when you need it to, as they initially write off children and old people as potential marks, settle on ‘assholes’ as their preferred targets, then decide that ‘asshole>old people’ in their moral hierarchy when spying a particularly dickish senior with an attractively bulging wallet.

Later episodes are set to add Uma Thurman to the mix, as well as another former spouse of Levi’s – a wife this time (Marianne Rendón) – which is bound to change the dynamic of the show once again. Despite its subject matter, while black, Imposters is certainly still a comedy and well worth a try. But you’ll need to commit.

TV reviews

Review: Designated Survivor 1×1 (US: ABC; UK: Netflix)


In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, ABC
In the UK: Netflix. New episode every Thursday

Like most people in Britain, I get virtually all my knowledge about how the US government works via The West Wing. Screw Newsnight – I’ll tell you the first five amendments to the US Constitution and the episodes in which they featured right now, if you want.

So when I heard about Designated Survivor, no explanation was needed: after all, not only had the Mayor from Buffy The Vampire Slayer been President Barlett’s ‘designated survivor’ in He Shall, From Time To Time…, Laura Roslin would never have become President of the 12 Colonies in Battlestar Galactica were it not for a constitution specifying the exact list of people who would assume the position in the event of some terrible tragedy.

Designated Survivor is neither of those two shows. Instead, it’s roughly half-Dave (that delightful movie in which ordinary punter Kevin Kline becomes President and behaves very nicely and decently, unlike the other politicians), half-24 (that less delightful TV series in which highly trained anti-terrorist agents have a very limited amount of time to shoot and torture lots of people to prevent terrible atrocities taking place).

It sees the lowly Secretary of Housing, who’s just about to be fired by the sitting President, accepting the duty of ‘designated survivor’ during the State of the Union. Except then Congress gets blown up and this decent – possibly too decent – pushover family man and educator instantly propelled to the top job, where he has not only to bring the country together and keep it stable, he has to prevent all out war with other nations, find out who was responsible for the bombing and what they intend to do next, and avoid a coup d’êtat from people who think he’s just not up to the job or even eligible for it, given he was unelected.

Can he do all that? Hell yeah. Because that man is Kiefer Sutherland. Yes, boys and girls, Jack Bauer is finally President.

Continue reading “Review: Designated Survivor 1×1 (US: ABC; UK: Netflix)”

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 2

Third-episode verdict: The X-Files (season 10) (US: Fox; UK: Channel 5)

In the US: Mondays, 8/7c, Fox
In the UK: Mondays, 9pm, Channel 5. Starts February 8

When old TV shows get revived, whether it’s Burke’s Law, Knight Rider, Charlie’s Angels or Full House, all everyone cares about is whether the Olsen Twins, John Forsythe, David Hasselhoff, Gene Barry or Bob Saget are going to be back on our screens as the characters they played in the original. Then it’ll be proper.  Then everything will be okay.

What almost no one seems to care about but probably should far more is whether the people behind the scenes are back, too. The reason you loved that TV show in the first place? Almost certainly not just the cast, but the characters, the dialogue, the plots and the mise en scène of the original, none of which were down to the cast. True, new blood may be able to recreate or even better the original – such as with Battlestar Galactica – but chances are, what you need is those creative talents back in the production hot seat.

That’s certainly what we should have been paying more attention to with The X-Files. David Duchovny’s back! Yay! Gillian Anderson’s back! Yay! Mitch Pileggi’s back!… (Check’s IMDB)… Yay! 

Sure, that’s great. But is what we’re going to get more like Ronald D Moore’s remake of Battlestar Galactica or James Dott’s remake of The Invaders? The devil’s in the authorial details.

A while ago, I posted a rant arguing that the UK needed more TV shows with longer season lengths because that was the only way we could train up writers, give them experience and give them a career pathway. Who cares if they turned in work that might not be great at first – in a season of 13 or 24 episodes, who’d remember the occasional duff one or who wrote it, I argued.

Now that’s true for the novice writer just starting out in a sea of other writers, turfing out the meat and potato filler episodes. But when it’s the showrunner? Oh, you remember when he turns in duff ones, because they’re the special episodes, the ones reserved for advancing season arcs, expanding characters, redefining shows and so on.

And so it is with Chris Carter, creator of The X-Files. He chose to write the first episode of this tenth season to bring Mulder and Scully to our screens, and if it wasn’t clear from the original series and all the series he’s tried and failed to run since, it was clear from My Struggle I that he got a bit lucky with The X-Files. Because it was dreadful. Just distilled essence of ridiculousness. I was half-inclined never to watch another episode ever again.

But as I pointed out in my rant, longer season lengths give writers a chance to learn the ropes and give them a career pathway, so they can go on to create things themselves. It’s worth perusing the IMDB list of writers given their break and training on the original The X-Files, since many of them have gone on to become the great and the good of TV and film writing and show running. Vince Gilligan? He created Breaking Bad and Better Call SaulAlex Gansa? Homeland and 24. James Wong? The Final Destination series. Howard Gordon? Legends, 24, Homeland and Tyrant. Frank Spotnitz? The Man in the High Castle and Strike Back. The list genuinely does go on. And proves me right.

So the question we should have all been asking ourselves is whether these guys were coming back to write for the show. Thankfully, the answer is yes, because once we got past Chris Carter’s mythology-laden, brain-warping, conspiracy-mad first episode, we got straight down to old school X-Files again with Founder’s Mutation, thanks to James Wong.

Yes, everyone’s a bit older now and you get away with showing ickier things on screen, but this was proper X-Files, with a ‘weird thing’ of the week to investigate, Mulder and Scully doing their usual routine, and all manner of scary events happening, in proper Wong style. True, if there was an explanation as to how Mulder and Scully got their old jobs at the FBI back, I missed it (is there an FBI reserves list or something?), but despite the best part of two decades having passed, everything was the way it should have been.

Episode three gave us Darin Morgan’s effort. While Morgan hasn’t really set the world on fire with the shows he’s produced since The X-Files (Intruders, Those Who Kill, Fringe, Bionic Woman, Night Stalker), his are probably the best remembered episodes of the show’s original run, since they were the funniest: Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose, War of the Coprophages, and Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’. And he didn’t let us down with this year’s thoroughly amusing Mulder & Scully Meet The Were-Monster, a script 10 years in the making apparently, with Mulder looking back with middle-aged eyes at previous cases, only to realise most of them were scientifically explainable, so reluctantly trudging off after Scully to investigate a lizard-man and bumping into Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) and Rhys Darby (Flight of the Conchords, How To Be A Gentleman) in a Kolchak: The Night Stalker straw hat along the way.

Often hilariously funny thanks to both the writing and Anderson and Duchovny’s performances – has Anderson actually laughed on-screen since The X-Files? I don’t recall her doing so, but it’s a very welcome sight – with dozens of nods to fans along the way, it reminds you how good The X-Files could be, and how many imitators have come, failed and gone since the show aired through being unable to recapture the show’s essence.

So writers – good. Get good writers and your show will be good. QED.

Unfortunately, we’ve three episodes to go in this ‘limited series’ revival of the show and while one’s written by Morgan, the other two are written by Carter. Oh oh. I get the feeling the final two episodes are going to be rubbish. 

That means that it’s a hearty thumbs up from me for at least half the series and a worried look to the horizon. Make sure you watch the episodes Carter hasn’t scripted, since they’re the good ones; the others, I leave to your discretion.

PS My, don’t Mulder and Scully both look young in the title sequence?

Barrometer rating: 2
Would the show be better with female leads? No
TMINE’s prediction: Ratings are holding up, talks are under way and with the cast willing and able, the limited series format might just prove a sufficient draw for viewers to keep coming back

Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk’s new web series Con Man has just started

You remember Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk, don’t you? They starred together in a little known sci-fi TV series called Firefly, which was sadly cancelled before its time.

Or did they? Maybe they were really in a show called Spectrum, which was sadly cancelled before its time.

I’ll get back to that in a moment.

Fillion and Tudyk have since gone on to all kinds of exciting projects, including DriveCastle and Suburgatory. But recently, they crowdfunded a Galaxy Quest-esque new web series written and directed by Tudyk called Con Man, about the stars of a cancelled sci-fi show called Spectrum. While the star of that show (Fillion) has since gone on to fame and fortune, co-star Tudyk is resorting to attending sci-fi conventions and the like to make ends meet, with all the issues that brings with it.

Given that the crowdfunding for Con Man managed to raise $3.2m, the third highest amount raised for a film campaign on any crowdfunding platform ever, don’t be surprised that first, the production values are actually quite high and that second, Fillion and Tudyk were able to invite some of their friends, former co-stars and general members of the ‘Whedonverse’ along for the ride, including:

  • Tricia Helfer (Battlestar Galactica)
  • Amy Acker (Person of Interest, Angel)
  • Gina Torres (Firefly, Suits)
  • Sean Maher (Firefly)
  • Felicia Day (Buffy The Vampire Slayer)
  • Seth Green (Family Guy, Austin Powers, Buffy The Vampire Slayer)
  • Mindy Sterling (Austin Powers)
  • Jewel Staite (Firefly)
  • Michael Dorn (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)
  • Summer Glau (Firefly, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Arrow, The Cape)
  • Sean Astin (Lord of The Rings)
  • Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes, The Whispers)
  • James Gunn (director of Guardians of the Galaxy)
  • Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Angel, Dollhouse, et al, and director of The Avengers)

Three new episodes of the series will premiere every Wednesday for four weeks at Vimeo.com/OnDemand/ConMan, and it’ll cost you $14.99/£9.99. I’ll try to review the first couple when I have a mo!

Here’s a trailer:

TV reviews

Review: The Returned 1×1-1×2 (US: A&E/UK: Netflix)

Victor in The Returned

In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, A&E
In the UK: Available on Netflix. New episode every Tuesday

There are remakes. Then there are unnecessary remakes. And then there’s The Returned.

First, there was a French movie called Les Revenants. That saw a whole bunch of people coming back from the dead and returning to their very much surprised loved ones in a small French town, who have all moved on.

Then there was a Canal+ TV series called Les Revenants based on the movie, which aired on Channel 4 in the UK and on Sundance in the US; the second season of that is going to air in France later this year. That saw a whole bunch of people coming back from the dead and returning to their very much surprised loved ones in a small French town, who have all moved on.

Then there was a book called The Returned. That saw a whole bunch of people coming back from the dead and returning to their very much surprised loved ones in a small US town, who have all moved on.

Then there was an ABC TV series in the US called Resurrection based on the movie, which aired on Alibi in the UK; the second season of that is currently airing. That saw a whole bunch of people coming back from the dead and returning to their very much surprised loved ones in a small US town, who have all moved on.

And now we have a US remake of the Les Revenants TV series called The Returned. This sees a whole bunch of people coming back from the dead and returning to their very much surprised loved ones in a small US town, who have all moved on. Worse, still it’s practically identical to Les Revenants in almost every way – to the extent that alleged screenwriter and showrunner Carlton Cuse (Lost, The Bates Motel) and every other writer involved should probably relinquish their credits and give them over to the translators who translated the scripts into English for them.

You have to ask why this is happening. Sure, Sundance is a bit niche, but with Resurrection airing on ABC, it’s not like the concept’s not already getting a pretty good airing as it is. Yet here it is, not as good and not as creepy as Les Revenants, but filling our screens all the same on A&E, the network whose tag line is “Be original”. Oh sweet, sweet irony.

Still, let’s evaluate The Returned on its own terms, rather than merely wondering why it exists. After all, despite the fact we’re into episode two and at least three dead people have already turned up, no one in The Returned is wondering why they exist, so clearly a lack of questioning is all the rage.

As a show, it’s all right, but it’s supernaturally generic. We have a decent cast, some of whom look virtually identical to their French counterparts, including Kevin Alejandro (Southland), Michelle Forbes (BSG, Homicide, ST:TNG), Mark Pellegrino (Lost, The Tomorrow People) and Jeremy Sisto (Kidnapped, Suburgatory), with support from just about any reliable Canadian actor you care to mention (including Aaron Douglas from BSG, and Roger Cross from Arrow, 24, and Continuum). The various mysteries and secrets of the characters – assuming you haven’t already learnt them watching Les Revenants – are intriguing, and their various dilemmas are relatable. Well, apart from Pellegrino’s, cos he’s a git in this. If you watch the trailer at the end of the first episode, you’ll know that zombie-esque action is on the horizon, which is at least moderately more interesting than anything Resurrection was prepared to throw our way.

All the same, the characters are all colossally annoying in their inability to even call a doctor to ask WTF is going on. No one mentions what’s happened to anyone else, meaning that no one yet knows that they’re not alone in having a returned loved on. No one’s even mentioned zombies, except one of the zombies themselves, so that doesn’t count. Michelle Forbes hasn’t even had a line yet.

But briefly just to make comparisons with the original again, there’s none of Les Revenants’ unusual qualities. No odd silences, no quiet pieces of direction, no genuinely creepy kid, no lovely Mogwai soundtrack. The Returned is like virtually everything else on A&E: decent, solid, slowly paced and with nothing about it whatsoever that could be described as revolutionary. It’s comfortable viewing for an uncomfortable subject.

And perhaps that’s the argument for this otherwise unnecessary remake: it’s more watchable for being less unusual, meaning that more people are likely to watch it all the way through to the end.

So should you watch it? Well, look at the picture above of Victor in The Returned. Now look at the picture below featuring Victor from Les Revenants.

Les Revenants

Would you rather watch a show featuring top Victor or bottom Victor? Once you know the answer to that, you’ll know which version is for you. And here are corresponding trailers to help you, too.