US TV

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)”

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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

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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:

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US TV

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.

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What have you been watching? Including Backstrom, Young Drunk Punk, 19-2, Spiral and Galavant

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. And if you want to know when any of these shows are on in your area, there’s Locate TV – they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.

Lots of new shows to deal with this past week, including 12 Monkeys. Unfortunately, it’s my busy time of the month, so I won’t be able to deal with them at length and there’s a few third-episode verdicts I’m going to have skip, too. Fortunately, though, all the new shows don’t really warrant full reviews…

Backstrom (US: Fox)
Despite having been canned by CBS straight after its pilot, this adaptation of Leif GW Persson’s Bäckström books has been resurrected over at Fox and once again demonstrates that the US really shouldn’t be adapting Nordic Noir. It stars Rainn Wilson from The Office as the eponymous Backstrom, a Portland police detective who’s best thought of as Gregory House MD but without the talent, the charm or the looks, bungling his way from crime scene to crime scene being lazy and offensive and being proved right because the script demands it, rather than because of any insight. So the producers think it very funny that Backstrom have the nearest – and indeed only – black person around arrested because he’s black so probably was involved in the crime. My, how comically racist! Except the black person is involved in the crime – how actually racist!

There’s some decent supporting characters, including an MMA-beat cop (Page Kennedy); a New Age medical examiner (Kristoffer Polaha from Ringer, Valentine, Life Unexpected), whom everyone reacts to like he’s English, even though he doesn’t even have an accent; an investigator whom everyone reacts to like she’s French, because she is (Beatrice Rosen); and Dennis Haysbert (The Unit, 24) as Backstrom’s boss. But this is as lazy as Backstrom himself, trying to fake being intelligent and gimmicky by having Backstrom ‘empathise’ (saying out loud, “I am character x, I feel y, therefore I would have done z”) and come up with insight such as “Anyone who says ‘Absolutely not’ is absolutely lying”, rather than actually being intelligent or having insight.

Weirdly, between moving from CBS to Fox, there’s been some recasting and a lot of the funnier and smarter stuff has been removed, making it worse not better than it was before.

Young Drunk Punk (Canada: City TV)
After last year’s slew of 80s nostalgia shows in the US, time for some 80s nostalgia from Canada, with Young Drunk Punk, in which two teenage nerd punk-wannabes search for their destinies after leaving high school. Despite being written by and starring Bruce McCulloch (Kids In The Hall) this is very much like the previous half dozen Canadian comedies that have come by in having a total laugh count of zero.

After the jump, 19-2, Arrow, Banshee, Constantine, Cougar Town, Elementary, The Flash, Galavant, Gotham, The Ground Floor, Hindsight, Man Seeking Woman, Marvel’s Agent Carter, State of Affairs, Spiral (Engrenages) and Togetherness. One of them’s on the verge of getting recommended, one of them’s going to be dropped, and one of them is on the borderline. But which ones? You’ll find out after the jump.

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including Backstrom, Young Drunk Punk, 19-2, Spiral and Galavant”