In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, ABC
In the UK: Tuesdays, Amazon
The Crossingstarted as a really quite basic allegory about modern day politics, in which a whole bunch of refugees are literally washed ashore in the US, only to reveal themselves as Americans travelling back in time to escape from a war they’re losing quite badly.
Come on, audience, feel some empathy for Syrians – there but for the grace of God go you.
For the most part, that was all it was, with small town sheriff Steve Zahn (Treme, Mind Games) and Department of Homeland Security agent Sandrine Holt (Hostages, House of Cards, Macgyver, The Returned, The Art of More) having to deal with the new Americans. Holt has to deal with the mystery of the refugees’ arrival, while Zahn has to deal with one particular refugee (APB‘s Natalie Martinez) who it turns out has superpowers – the war was actually between Homo Sapiens and a newly engineered master-race of Apex predators, of whom she is one.
Come on, white audience, feel some empathy for oppressed minorities – there but for the grace of God go you.
And it wasn’t very good. It was okay, but it wasn’t great sci-fi, Zahn was less than plausible as a sheriff and Holt just sat behind a desk answering phones for the most part. A hint that another bunch of time travellers had already come through a good deal earlier gave the ending a nice twist, but beyond Martinez and her super-leaping, that was about it.
A mild improvement
Since then, things have got a bit better, as we’ve moved away from the allegory into telling more of a story. Episode two gave us some glimpses at the Continuum-like future and revealed Martinez’s mission in the past. We also got a super-virus that the world needs to watch out for.
While Zahn and Holt have had the same duties as before, Martinez has had some really quite whizzy super-fights and it rapidly became clear that she was the one good thing about the show. We also got some nice greying of the waters, with the previous travellers turning out to be regular humans coming back in time to try to prevent their terrible future from occurring, but not being especially concerned about what they have to do to prevent it.
However, while episode three at least maintained Martinez’s fighty fun, Zahn spent most of his time with his kid at a funfair, while Holt spent it typing into a computer or calling other people to get them to type into a computer. I do wonder if she’s only been hired for a couple of days, so they had to film all her scenes back-to-back on the same set.
The Crossing: Conclusion
Like The Whispers before it, The Crossing is probably going to turn out to be one of those sci-fi shows that ABC periodically produces that has a semi-decent core and just enough promise and decent production values that you imagine it might not be too bad – but which ultimately is likely to disappoint and never lead anywhere really satisfying.
That’s how I ended my review of the first episode and I stand by it. The Crossing is all of that and if you’re after decent sci-fi with pretty much all the same themes as The Crossing, try Continuum instead since it’s a lot better.
That said, The Crossing‘s meat and two veg sci-fi will serve you just fine as one of your regular servings a week, even if it doesn’t really contain much that’s nourishing. I might just keep watching to see what Martinez gets up to and if the plot will advance at all and become about more than looking for lost children and endless capture/release cycles, but as that would be my only draw, I imagine that if anything else pops up in the schedules, The Crossing would fall out of my watch-list very quickly.
I’ll be reviewing Killing Eve (US: BBC America; UK: BBC One/BBC Three) in the next couple of days and seeing as Channel Five have gone and bought CTV (Canada)’s The Detail, I’ll be giving that a whirl, too, with next week’s Boxset Monday set to be Netflix’s Lost in Space.
Regular readers will notice that I’ve not yet reviewed Trust (US: FX; UK: Sky Atlantic) or The Terror (US: AMC; UK: AMC Global). They’re a bit of a ‘work in progress’, with Trust being a bit of a slog so far, but I will get round to them at some point, particularly The Terror since I do love a naval story.
I also gave Amazon’s Dangerous Book for Boys a go, but didn’t even make it through the first episode, since it was a bit too ‘US family comedy’ for me, so I can’t really give it a real review.
Spring is officially here, however, which means that as well as in with the new, it’s out with the old. That means that this week’s WHYBW? is not only chock full of new and returning shows, including The Americans and Legion, it’s also waving goodbye to a few shows that have aired their season finales, namely Counterpart, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, The Magicians and Will & Grace.
I haven’t had the time (or really the inclination) to watch the new season of Plebs, but after the jump, double-helpings (mostly) for the rest of the regulars: Black Lightning, The Crossing, The Good Fight, Harrow, Krypton, The Looming Tower, SEAL Team, SiliconValley and Timeless. See you in mo – can you guess which show will be getting a promotion?
Set in a remote Alaskan town that has been overrun by paranormal forces, Ghost Wars sees local outcast Avan Jogia having to overcome the town’s prejudices and his own personal demons to harness his repressed psychic powers in order to save everyone from the mass haunting threatening to destroy them all. Also stars Vincent D’Onofrio and Meatloaf.
Despite coming from the Final Draft® of Simon Barry (Continuum), Ghost Wars is a really rather laughable affair that’s almost simultaneously boring. Best avoided.
The Dangerous Book For Boys (Amazon)
Premiere date: Friday, March 30
Created by Bryan Cranston (yes, that one) and Greg Mottola (Superbad) and based on the book by Conn and Hal Iggulden, The Dangerous Book For Boys follows the McKenna family as they cope with the untimely passing of Patrick (Let’s Get Physical and Silicon Valley‘s Chris Diamantopoulos), their patriarch and a whimsical inventor who touched the lives of everyone who knew him. His death has left the family reeling, but hope appears in the form of a book called The Dangerous Book for Boys that Patrick created as a handbook to help his three sons.
The book is a how-to guide for childhood that inspires fantasies for his youngest son, Wyatt (Gabriel Bateman). While in his fantasy world, Wyatt reconnects with his father and learns life skills that help him navigate the real world. The series also stars Erinn Hayes (Kevin Can Wait, Guys with Kids, Worst Week, The Winner) as Beth, the matriarch of the family who is trying to raise her boys as a single parent. Diamantopoulos also plays the role of Terry, Patrick’s twin brother.
Lost in Space (Netflix)
Premiere date: Friday, April 13
Adaptation of the 60s TV series. Set 30 years in the future, the Robinson clan finds itself among those first selected to colonize space. They are forced to come together and forge new alliances after crash-landing on a lost planet, which is light years from their intended destination.
Toby Stephens (Black Sails) and Molly Parker (Deadwood) play parents/scientists John and Maureen Robinson, while Taylor Russell (Falling Skies), Ignacio Serricchio (General Hospital) and Parker Posey (Louie) round out the cast as daughter Judy Robinson, blue-collar contractor Don West and the manipulative Dr Smith.
Bet you’d forgotten I did these, hadn’t you? Tell the truth, so had I. But I’ll just point out that Britannia(UK: Sky Atlantic) is coming out on DVD and Blu-Ray on March 26.
In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, Syfy
In the UK: Acquired by Netflix to air 2017
Sometimes, you can just spot when a show has been created simply because someone thought up a cool title. Take Ghost Wars. That’s a cool title, isn’t it? And there’s no way anyone would have come up with this heap of fetid inanity if they hadn’t had that title as a starting point. No one sat down and said to themselves, “Gosh, let’s create a show in which a small Alaskan town is under attack from ghosts and everyone keeps hallucinating things that makes them stab themselves in the head. Hmm, but what shall we call it? I know – Ghost Wars! There, wasn’t that lucky?”
Title first, story second. This is not the correct order, as unless you’re Emily Kapnek, whatever you produce is inevitably going to be rubbish. Even if you’re Simon Barry, have a previously good track record from creating Continuum, and you manage to hire both Meatloaf and Vincent D’Onofrio (Marvel’s Daredevil, Emerald City) to star in it, chances are it’s still going to be rubbish.
The actual star of the show is Avan Jogia (Twisted), a disturbed young man, always talking to himself, so the town’s population think he’s crazy, going to kill them all or both. Indeed, the only people who treat him nicely are the local preacher (D’Onofrio) and his best friend (Elise Gatien). Trouble is, Gatien’s dead and Jogia hasn’t actually been talking to himself but to her and a bunch of other ghosts – something he’s been able to do since he was a kid, having inherited the ability from his psychic mum.
No one believes him about that, mind, so he plans to get out of town as soon as possible, now his mum’s gone. Trouble is, there are a whole bunch of new ghosts who are a lot nastier than the regular bunch who had been hanging around, and these ones don’t want anyone to leave. They’re also recruiting and since they can make people see things, they go around causing as many accidents and hauntings as possible to kill everyone they can.
Thankfully, as well as being able to see them and see through their projections, Jogia has the nascent ability to send them packing. All he has to do is get his powers up to speed before everyone in town manages to kill themselves thinking they’re being stung by bees. Or something.
It could have been good
Now, in fairness to Barry, if you stripped everything away from the show and took it back down to the script, Ghost Wars could potentially have been all right. Not brilliant – the dialogue is sometimes laughable and it’s a bit bog standard horror movie at its heart – but if he’d had a good lead and M Night Shyamalan back in his Sixth Sense days directing, you could have had a decent horror series. Hell, if they’d got whoever edited this trailer to direct it, it could have been leagues ahead of what we’ve actually ended up with.
Instead, we have a staggering tower of ineptitude from top to bottom, from director David Von Ancken (the man behind Tut) through the production values through the set designers and costume department through the supporting cast all the way down to its deflated soufflé of a star. It’s like a first year film studies student movie, in which they get a bunch of their mates to wear oversized Halloween costumes and act out a script knocked out in a coffee shop one lunch break, and then they try to use a pirated Korean version of After Effects to recreate the highlights of Rentaghost.
D’Onofrio is doing full mumblecore while sporting a look that speaks of a thwarted ambition to be the understudy to wrestling star The Undertaker. Everyone else, including Meatloaf, has two modes: “We hate you Jogia you freak” and “We were sorry we hated you Jogia. You were right. Argh! Now I’m going to die. Am I dead yet? Argh again. Argh.” Jorgia just sits around like a 13-year-old whining inaudibly about how everything’s so unfair.
Ghost Wars is so bad it would almost be funny were it simultaneously not so boring. There’s no tension. The editing ensures there are no surprises. Ghosts show up and you want to titter with laughter. It’s just wretched. You’d be more frightened by a Ghostbusters bloopers reel. Avoid like the plague.
It’s “What have you been watching?”, my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently and your chance to recommend anything you’ve been watching.
After last week’s Marvel’s Iron Fist (Netflix) and Snatch (US: Crackle) action, with only a verdict on Making History(US: Fox) for a bit of variety, I’ve had time to play catch-up with my viewing. After the jump, I’ll be talking about the latest episodes of The Americans, DC’s Legendsof Tomorrow, The Flash, The Good Fight, Imposters, Legion and The Magicians.
But that’s not all. We’re nearly up to date (shucks) with Westworld now, but I’ll save my comments to next week, when there’s a good chance we might have finished it by then. I also should have reviews of Shots Fired (US: Fox) and Nobodies (US: TV Land) up this week, as well as possibly Amazon’s first German-language show You Are Wanted.
On top of that, I’ve even been to the theatre and watched quite a few episodes of some new shows that I don’t have time to review in full:
The Arrangement (US: E!)
E!’s choice for its first venture into scripted television was slightest unwise: The Royals, a slightest farcical, hugely unfunny piece about the British royal family. The Arrangement is a slightly wiser pick that plays to E!’s core competencies: salaciousness and celebrity.
A thinly veiled allusion to… (hey libel lawyers – can I say who? No. Oh. Okay…) a certain celebrity couple, it sees Christine Evangelista (Lucky 7) playing a smart but careerless young actress. One day, she attracts the attention of superstar actor Josh Henderson (Desperate Housewives, Dallas) at an audition for his new movie and before you know it, he’s whisking her off in his private jet to buy islands.
However, looking after Henderson’s career are producer Lexa Doig (Arrow, Andromeda, Continuum) and Michael Vartan (Alias), the proprietor of a self-help institute that has rather a few similarities to Scientology. Before Evangelista’s even on her second date, they’re getting her to sign a $10m marriage contract that plots out the two love-birds’ relationship, including pretty much every aspect of what Evangelista can and can’t do with her life. Should she sign it, become world famous as Henderson’s wife and kick start her career in his movie? Or is the creepy weirdness of it too off-putting?
The show is actually surprisingly credible and even a bit of slow burn, clearly intent on showing how an actress and definitely not a specific one who’s smart and talented and who raps about Shakespeare in her spare time could walk eyes-open into a relationship with a charming actor who’s still famously a nut-job, in preference to waiting tables and dealing with her two-timing beau.
The first episode is quite a delightful little romance in its own right, as Evangelista and Henderson ‘click’, have a whirlwind romance and then have a lot of basic-cable sex in Venice and Mexico. It’s not perfect – I didn’t know whether I was supposed to be laughing when Evangelista excels at her audition by crying through lines like “I got close to you so that I could devise the perfect plan to kill you”, after which Henderson chases after her to say “That’s what acting is supposed to be” in a way supposed to indicate how deep he is – but it was quite sweet, quite fun and it felt like a certain degree of E!’s collective knowledge about celebrity lifestyles had gone into it.
It’s over the course of the next couple of episodes that the show becomes a bit more mundane and darker, as we see Henderson punching out photographers who come after Evangelista and Vartan getting heavies seemingly to take out ex-girlfriends of Henderson. The third episode feels less about the ongoing themes and more about “Gosh, wouldn’t it be nice to have a lot of money. Oh no! People might sell old photographs of me for money now I’m famous!” There’s still a degree of smartness to proceedings, including time jumps in the narrative, and the leads are all still firing on all four cylinders, but it’s less fun than it was when it started.
Whether the show will become simply a modern-day Cinderella, with Henderson throwing off Vartan the Wicked Stepmother in favour of true love, or whether it’ll all end in divorce, murder investigations and recriminations, isn’t clear at this point. But there are enough hints that it’s not going to be all ball gowns and coaches that it might well be worth sticking with.
Barrometer rating: 3
Midnattssol/Jour Polaire (Midnight Sun) (France: Canal+; Sweden: SVT; UK: Sky Atlantic)
A curious bit of Nordic Noir that feels like SVT (Sweden) wished it could have more episodes of Bron/Broen (The Bridge), Canal+ (France) wished it could have more episodes of The Tunnel (Tunnel), so the two of them sat down together to create a weird French/Swedish/English hybrid of the two. Midnattssol/Jour Polaire (Midnight Sun) sees a bizarre murder involving a French national take place in rural Sweden. Lead investigator Peter Stormare (Swedish Dicks, Fargo, Prison Break) asks the French police for their help and they send Leïla Bekhti (Paris je t’aime, A Prophet). But soon it turns out that it’s not the only murder and that the murder victim was a member of the French Foreign Legion.
Midnight Sun is strange. Even before the title sequence has rolled, we have “Death by being attached to a helicopter rotor and whirled around a lot”, which is just plain nonsense. Then at the end of the first episode (spoiler alert) Stormare dies of a stroke after the entire ground opens up in front of him – the nearby iron ore mine is so huge, so important that the fact it’s causing quakes and other problems means that rather than the mine be closed down, the town itself is being moved instead. Which is an odd choice that suggests a bit of funding money was needed.
After that, the focus is more on Bekhti’s relationship with Stormare’s deputy, Gustaf Hammarsten (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), which is a far more comedic partnership, although Stormare’s relationship with his wife is still both warm and amusing. By contrast to the experienced Stormare, however, Hammarsten is inept, constantly joking and constantly has problems with his teenage daughter.
The show also plays to cultural differences. Bekhti speaks French back in France and with other French people; Hammarsten and Stormare speak Swedish; none of them speak each other’s languages so the rest of the time, the dialogue is in English. But that still leaves plenty of time for jokes, with Bekhti’s request to Hammarsten to say a Swedish place name results in “It’s spelt as it’s pronounced”, which results in Bekhti telling a colleague to “just Google it”. Meanwhile, Hammarsten and Stormare’s boss is advising about the use of the French word ‘bordel’ (brothel) as a way of meaning ‘it’s a mess’ (well, it does but… What could possibly go wrong?), which is something a French audience will certainly have fun with. As the name suggests, Bekhti also has to deal with the Insomnia-esque issue of the constant daylight in her new home away from home.
However, the central dynamic of the two investigators isn’t that compelling, Bekhti’s having to deal with the news of her brother’s death and occasional desire to impale her hand on spikes usually makes her a little joyless, and I’m a bit tired of grotesque deaths and mutilations by genius killers, even if you aren’t. I’ll probably watch some more of it, because later episodes look at the local native culture more, but this isn’t the instant classic Broen/Bron was.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (Old Vic – Until 6 May)
The play that made Tom Stoppard’s name, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead takes two minor characters from Hamlet who appear in a few scenes and are then declared dead, and catapults them into their own play, imagining what they got up to in between scenes and using those dialogues to discuss the nature of fiction, the nature of theatre, what it is to be a thinly drawn supporting character and to critique Hamlet itself. The play is an amazing piece of work, clever and witty, written in modern day English except whenever it meets up with the mothership again, where it uses the original’s dialogue.
However… the two leads are Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire playing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern respectively (or is that Guildenstern and Rosencrantz?). Whichever way round it is, it was the wrong choice, because while McGuire is perfectly good and has decent presence, Radcliffe, who has the more passive character, is… passive and uncharismatic as the role demands, but far more so than necessary, resulting in a chemistry-less pairing and McGuire doing all the heavy lifting. Director David Leveaux also allows the two to rush the dialogue, perhaps to keep the play to its very tight two and a half hour runtime, meaning that it’s almost impossible to savour the writing and sometimes to even hear it.
Both McGuire and Radcliffer, however, are eclipsed by the more seasoned David Haig (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Yes, Prime Minister) as the leader of the strolling players. Direction is fine, although quite sexualised, and the party of teenage schoolkids behind me couldn’t quite cope, so spent the whole time commenting on it. Try to ensure you don’t have an audience of easily embarrassed schoolkids behind you if you’re going to watch it.
To be honest, not a great production, but a perfectly solid one and enough of the text shines through that it’s still no failure. Try the movie instead, though.