Vinessa Antoine in Diggstown
Canadian TV

Review: Diggstown 1×1 (Canada: CBC)

In Canada: Wednesdays, 8/8.30NT, CBC
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Canada is regularly seen as a bastion of liberalism, for many good reasons, even if the shine is starting to come off Justin Trudeau’s halo right now. However, oddly enough, despite a great love of home-grown legal shows that goes all the way back to Street Legal and beyond, Canada’s not had a primetime show about a black female lawyer – until now.

Diggstown sees Being Erica‘s Vinessa Antoine taking on that mantle to become a high-flying corporate lawyer who switches over to legal aid work when her aunt commits suicide, following a malicious prosecution. She chooses instead to champion the poor and unrepresented whom the system otherwise disregards and leaves to suffer.

To a certain extent, that’s all there is to say about Diggstown. That’s the show – take it or leave it. Sure, we can talk about quality. It’s certainly leagues ahead of Street Legal, even the recent revival, in pretty much every department. Antoine is a strong lead, the Halifax setting is relatively novel for a TV show and there’s a good supporting cast that includes Natasha Henstridge (Species)as Antoine’s boss.

Similarly, despite Street Legal‘s claims to relevancy, Diggstown has far more interesting things to say than its stablemate does. Antoine is an inexperienced lawyer but has been picked up like a shot, so is she a diversity hire? Work colleague Stacey Farber (Saving Hope) certainly seems to think so and believes she’s being overlooked. But Antoine points out that Farber is a rich white girl so how many extra layers of privilege has she enjoyed already without realising? It at least leads to some interesting conversations.

While Diggstown deals principally with the local black community and its overlooked issues through Antoine’s personal life, the first episode gives Farber a white, working class man to minister to. He’s a former alcoholic who desperately wants to be a good dad, yet he seems to have been correctly arrested for a DUI. It’ll mean he loses his licence and thus his job as a lorry driver, but who cares about that, right?

Diggstown does, which opens up story possibilities that the average US legal show wouldn’t touch with a bargepole.

Natasha Henstridge
Natasha Henstridge in CBC’s Diggstown


All of which makes Diggstown notionally a good show at least. The thing is, despite all its good qualities, there wasn’t really a point where I felt compelled to keep watching and I often had to spool back the episode after I found myself drifting. Sure, I have no real love for legal procedurals, but I can be moved from time to time by something like Goliath into watching more than a single episode.

Here, though, everything felt unquirky, if that’s a word. There was nothing to grab onto, no through-plot of note beyond Antoine dealing with her own backstory. I did like the attention to ‘the little people’, without the mawkishness of US TV, and that might keep me coming back, but nothing within the character set-up itself will.

At least, I think that’s the reason. But to be honest, I really can’t quite work out why Diggstown didn’t excite me more, given that there’s nothing really wrong with it, but quite a lot right with it. Maybe you’ll enjoy it more than I did if you watch – and maybe you’ll be able to work out why.


Review: Ransom 1×1 (US: CBS)

In the US: Saturdays, 8/7c, CBS

Canada has spent more than a quarter of century doubling for “Washington State” and other woody parts of the US in countless primetime American TV shows, but the number of such shows that are actually set in Canada is actually perilously small. But following the likes of Flashpoint and Rookie Blue on this largely untrodden path is Ransom, a CBS procedural that’s almost indistinguishable from any other CBS procedural bar the fact it’s set in Montreal.

The show is actually a heinous co-production between CBS, Canada’s Global, France TF1 and Germany’s RTL that follows the golden rule that the more co-production members you have from this international team of banality, the worse your show will be (cf Transporter: The Series). Indeed, the show is produced by the king of the bad international co-production Frank Spotnitz (HuntedStrike Back). Transporter: The Series was one of his, too, and this is almost as bad, albeit a lot duller.

Supposedly based on the experiences of real life negotiators Laurent Combalbert and Marwan Mery, Ransom stars secretly British actor Luke Roberts (Black Sails, Wolf Hall, Taxi Brooklyn, Holby City) as the head of a private sector firm of negotiators, who use their awesome negotiating powers to help rich people recover their children from greedy foreign kidnappers. Oh, but if only he could have used his powers to save his wife…

Nothing quite says “filmed in Canada” like the presence of Nazneen Contractor (The Border, 24, Covert Affairs, Heroes: Reborn) or Brandon Jay McLaren (SlasherGracelandThe Killing (US), Being Erica, Falling Skies) in your cast list, so kudos to Ransom for getting both of them in the credits to make up the show’s now-traditional procedural ensemble, with McLaren playing a psychological profiler and Contractor playing Roberts’ deputy. Or stooge. Or something. At least, she gets to explain the plot to McLaren when Roberts isn’t around.

When Roberts is around, he gets to explain the plot to newbie Sarah Greene (no, not that one – the one from Penny Dreadful and Rebellion), a job applicant whom McLaren has rejected for A Dark Reason That Will Be Revealed At The End of The Episode But Which Will Show How Tormented Roberts Is.

And it’s all bobbins. Everything is completed half-arsed. The show wants to be Canadian, but is so bad at even something so simple that despite being set in Montreal (56.9% French speakers, 18.6% English speakers), no one speaks French or has a French accent and there was only one piece of writing actually in French. And that’s despite being filmed in Canada – I shudder to think what level of authenticity the show will stoop to when it starts going on its promised globe-trotting.

Ransom also wants to be about crises while still being different to Flashpoint so makes its crisis people private sector. Except it still wants to be a procedural, so everyone still goes round interviewing people, finding dead bodies, doing DNA analysis et al like they’re the police, except without warrants et al. It all actually gets a bit creepy when they’re snooping around schools trying to extract pupils’ home addresses from unsuspecting teachers by pretending to be famous soccer players.

On top of that, they have to sort out the affected rich family of the week’s marital/parenting problems (“You need to tell her about this”), while still being terribly nice when it turns out that the rich family aren’t rich enough any more to pay their bills. Because we all know how well that usually works out in the US.

The show is stupid enough it makes Criminal Minds look genuinely smart. As well as constantly having to explain basic human social interactions to the audience (“If you offer them something, they might offer us something in return”), the show also gives us Greene explaining that judging from a kidnapper’s accent, he’s “Mediterranean, probably Greek”. Because Spanish, French, Italian and Greek accents are all very similar, aren’t they? Almost indistinguishable. To be fair, the actor is Greek-Canadian and does speak some passable Greek; to be less fair, his accent sounds like a Canadian putting on a Greek accent and he’s also supposed to have been born in Yugoslavia.

If you’ve seen any other CBS procedural, you’ll have almost certainly seen something much better, from its CSI: Miami-style sci-fi screenless computer displays through to its NCIS-grade inept fight scenes. Did they really drop Limitless for this mildly blander Crossing Lines?


Review: Frequency 1×1 (US: The CW; UK: Netflix)

In the US: Wednesdays, 9/8c, The CW
In the UK: Acquired by Netflix. New episodes on Thursdays

Time travel takes many forms in TV and movies. Often, as we’ve seen with the likes of Doctor Who and more recently Timeless, it’s about physically going into the past, maybe to kill Hitler, maybe because it sounds like a laugh. This form of time travel has its pros (eg getting to see how things really were first-hand) as well as its cons (eg exposure to virulent plague, crime, war, etc). 

Then there are the stories that are all about the personal, with people going back in time within their own lifetimes, usually to sort out their own issues or those of their friends, family or perhaps even complete strangers (eg Quantum LeapBeing Erica, Hindsight). These have pros (eg excellent knowledge of the historical events, chance to improve one’s own life) and cons (eg chance to ruin your own future happy marriage, alienate friends, never have your kids).

Perhaps the most genteel, distant yet also somehow the most intimate are the shows that don’t involve travel at all, but are about temporal communication – being able to send messages back into the past to change the future. The surprisingly lovely yet plothole-tastic 2006 movie The Lake House is one such example, with Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves able to send each other letters through time and fall in love – and maybe prevent a terrible tragedy from happening.

Similarly, 2000’s Frequency, which starred Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel, saw son and dead father able to communicate to each other across the space of 20 years through a ham radio. Unfortunately, their communication causes history to change and they somehow then have to prevent the new tragedy.

The CW’s new adaptation of Frequency changes quite a bit of the movie yet stays essentially true to it. The CW favourite Peyton List (The Tomorrow People, Big Shots, The Flash) gender-swaps Caviezel’s role to become Raimy Sullivan, a 28-year-old cop who is herself the daughter of cop and The CW favourite Riley Smith (Drive, Nashville, The Messengers), who was killed not long after her eighth birthday.

Angry all her life at the man subsequently revealed to be dirty and who abandoned her and her mother, she’s somewhat surprised when her boyfriend (Daniel Bonjour) digs her father’s ham radio out of the garage and although it doesn’t work for him, it works for her, putting her in touch with her dead father just a couple of days before his death. Is she going mad or is it all true? And can she save her actually innocent father without causing even worst things to happen to her own history as a result?

Here’s a trailer that gives away everything that happens in the first episode, so we can talk spoilery stuff after the jump.

Continue reading “Review: Frequency 1×1 (US: The CW; UK: Netflix)”

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 2

Third-episode verdict: 11 22 63 (US: Hulu; UK: Fox)

In the US: Sundays, Hulu
In the UK: Sundays, 9pm, Fox International. Starts 10 April

Three episodes into Hulu’s first long-form drama, 11.22.63, an adaptation of Stephen King’s book about a time-travelling teacher who wants to stop the assassination of JFK but doesn’t know how, and three things have become clear:

  1. It’s possible to be very shallow while still having oodles of screen time to work with
  2. It’s possible to be a great author and have a great idea, but to still not bother doing anything with it
  3. That doesn’t necessarily matter that much if you can create a decent enough atmosphere

The first episode threw a whole bunch of things at us: James Franco’s teacher discovering pal Chris Cooper has a portal to the past; said portal being semi-useless as it only goes to October 1960; Cooper giving Franco the task of preventing the JFK assassination, as well as all his research, a guide to living in the 60s and a list of winners of sporting events to fund journeys into the past; and the fact that the past doesn’t like being changed so does its best to stop people from doing just that.

All of which could be the basis of a fun and exciting two hour movie. However, since then, 11.22.63 instead has given us the frankly idiotic Franco going into the past… and living there for two episodes, so that we can experience the nostalgic thrills of living in the sanitised 60s – a sort of vaccinated time travel for those who want to think about noble white men helping the grateful oppressed deal with racism, homophobia, sexism, fundamentalism, domestic violence et al, with just the occasional punch and bit of bad language, without having to worry about intersectionality or being shot as a result of increasingly lax gun-control legislation.

Since the first episode, Franco has at least picked up a native helper monkey (George MacKay) to assist him in his endeavours. We’ve also seen the arrival of Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby, with the fleshing out of them as people. Franco’s also got himself a job and whiled away a year or so, while bumping into love interest Sarah Gadon (The Border, Being Erica, Ruby Gloom).

However, more or less all of episode two was about Franco’s attempts to prevent the family of a future pupil of his being murdered. It was a dark, quite nasty interval, in which Franco was once again epically stupidly, but it didn’t really push the narrative along much. 

While Franco’s performance is so muted, he seems like he’s on quaaludes the whole time, the rest of the cast are more interesting and have fun characters, so it’s much easier to spend time with them than him. It can also be quite funny when dropping in future references, such as when Franco claims to have served in Korea with the 4077th MASH.

But this is not a show intending to grip us with his plot. Neither is it in a hurry either to have any time travel fun or to really get to grips with JFK’s assassination and its fall-out. To some extent, that’s by design, since it’s a nine-episode ‘event series’, and everything is leading to a twist or two, I’m sure. But it’s relying on the King name to bolster the viewer’s patience enough to get them through to the end.

If you like genre dramas that are more about atmosphere and nostalgia than about ideas, and if you want a show that investigates conspiracy theories without saying anything much definitive about them, 11.22.63 is certainly already delivering. But if there’s anything great about it, the writers are saving it for the final episodes and I’m sorely tempted just to Wikipedia the ending at this point. I think I’ll stick with it, but the show needs to up its game soon to prevent death-by-online-encyclopaedia.

Barrometer rating: 2
Would it be better with a female lead? Yes. Or even simply a different lead
Rob’s prediction: It’s a limited series so a one-off, but I can’t imagine it setting the world on fire with its one season. However, as a first effort by Hulu, it’s very good and could lead to more dramas being commissioned.

What have you been watching? Including Hindsight, Elementary, Banshee, Spiral and Constantine

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.

More new and returning TV shows mean the return of the backlog, I’m afraid. Sigh. It’s not easy this job with all its highly demanding… sitting in front of a TV and then writing about it…

Anyway, moving swiftly on, I’ll just promise that I’ll be reviewing Syfy’s TV version of 12 Monkeys either later today when I’ve finished watching it or tomorrow during my lunchbreak. One of those.

But last week, I managed to review:

Which ain’t bad. The Book of Negroes, I’m afraid, will have to go on the pile of ‘probably quite good mini series I haven’t watched’ because I’m now two episodes behind.

But after the jump.

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including Hindsight, Elementary, Banshee, Spiral and Constantine”