Euthanasia doesn’t seem like the best subject for a comedy drama, even a dark one. In fact, it isn’t, judging by Mary Kills People, in which Caroline Dhavernas (Wonderfalls, Hannibal, Off The Map) plays a doctor who somewhat illegally helps the terminally ill to end their lives even sooner in exchange for a big pile of cash.
The easy flame against Mary Kills People would be that watching it makes you want to end your own life, it’s so dull. Easy, but true, unfortunately, since the opening episode that introduces us to Mary, her family, her partner in crime (Richard Short) is something of a slog that makes you long for the sweet release of death.
The opening is a misjudged failed euthanasia of 19-2‘s Adrian Holmes that ends with Dhavernas smothering him with a pillow then leaping out of a window. That’s still more exciting and better judged than anything that happens afterwards, which is largely about the logistics of Dhavernas’ operation, how she keeps it secret from her daughter and the fact she might be attracting the attention of some people she really ought to be avoiding. Attempts to forge a buddy-buddy relationship between Dhavernas and Short are stilted and lamentable, largely being discussions about which of their patients they’d have sex with.
The show wants to think it’s starting a conversation about the morality of euthanasia, but has nothing much to say on the subject having started the conversation. Is what Dhavernas doing right or wrong? Is it ethical to have a relationship with someone you’re about to murder at their own request? Big shrugs from Mary Kills People, but isn’t Dhavernas pretty? Ooh.
To the show’s credit, it is at least exploring a novel and bold idea from a novel and bold direction. But by the end of it, you feel that the whole thing is an attempt to redo Weeds in Canada with a slightly different ethical issue, rather than to do something genuinely groundbreaking.
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.
Thanks to the Thanksgiving holidays in the US last week, lots of programmes were taking a slight breather and few new ones decided to stick their heads above the parapets. That means it’s been a quiet week for TMINE, with only Search Party (US: TBS) to deal with in the ‘new’ category and the regulars reduced to just Chance, DIrk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, The Flash, The Great Indoors, Lucifer, People of Earth, Supergirl, Timeless and Travelers – I’ll be dealing with them after the jump.
On the plus side, though, that did mean I could not only play catch-up with an Internet TV box-setted into our laps a little while ago, I could also watch a couple of movies.
Goliath (Amazon) ‘A legal thriller by David E Kelley! Whoopdy doo,’ I thought. Like most people, I immediately think of the likes of Ally McBeal, Boston Legal and Harry’s Lawwhen I hear Kelley’s name; unlike most people, I also think of his reasonably poor efforts with Wonder Woman, thedismal The Crazy Onesand the putrid Wedding Bells.
However, Kelley hasn’t always been king of fluffy backlash legal dramas. Back in the day, he created The Practice, a supposed antidote to the cutesy view of legal work perpetrated by LA Law; on said show, the story editor was one Jonathan Shapiro, a former Rhodes Scholar and professor of law.
Together, they’re responsible for Goliath, a legal drama that stars Billy Bob Thornton as a former top lawyer who’s fallen on hard times. Then Nina Arianda (Hannibal) turns up needing Thornton’s help with a case involving the supposed suicide of an engineer who worked for a major arms manufacturer. Before you know it, Thornton’s David is taking on the Goliath that is his old legal firm, which includes ex-best friend William Hurt, ex-wife Maria Bello (Prime Suspect) and newby lawyer Olivia Thirby (Dredd 3D), and the might of the US defence industry.
Mostly, this is a show that owes a lot more to Shapiro than Kelley tonally, being about legal clevery dickery and shady big name clients in the same way that Suits was when it started. Shapiro’s legal knowledge really shines here and Goliath goes through all manner of things you’ve probably never seen in a legal drama before (“complex cases”, using the rules of contempt to get evidence admitted, etc). It’s also quite dark, with bodies being found in car boots, witnesses being run over, police abuse and more.
But Kelley’s name isn’t on the sign simply to drum up trade. There’s a definite air of Kelleyisms to Goliath around the edges, ranging from some actual jokes through the daft names the lawyers at Hurt’s firm call each other (“The Mole”, “The Mouse”), Hurt’s facial scarring and his use of a clicker to communicate when he wants to be annoying, Thornton almost representing the forces of the un-PC against the PC tyranny of the Goliath-like enemy (Thirby has a stammer and uses the American Disability Discrimination Act to counter Thornton’s tricks; Bello is gay and has a girlfriend who also works at her law firm), to some distinctly dodgy attitudes towards women and some ethical issues to be considered, such as revenge porn and whether lawyers should break privilege to report wrongdoing by their clients. Arianda’s practice even feels a lot like the one in Harry’s Law.
Goliath is still a lot better than I was expecting, probably being the second-best original Amazon drama after The Man In The High Castle that I’ve seen. It’s also a lot tenser – I’m six episodes through the eight episode run and each episode has managed to ratchet up the claustrophobia as Thornton’s got closer to the truth and increasing danger. I’ll probably watch the final two episodes tomorrow, in fact.
But it’s still got enough Kelley daftness, is slow-moving enough and fails to make you care enough for the characters that I can’t really recommend it. If you like John Grisham-style legal dramas, though, this is certainly worth a look-in.
Frequency (200) Since the TV adaptation is currently airing on The CW/Netflix and I’d never seen the original, I thought I’d give it a whirl just to compare and contrast, especially since it’s currently free on Amazon Prime. At its heart, like the TV series, Frequency is about a father and his grown-up child cop managing to communicate by radio over several decades and using information about the future to change the past – again, to prevent the father’s imminent death and to subsequently stop the change in history that is the mother being murdered by a nurse-hating serial killer.
Starring a whole bunch of people now famous from other TV shows (Jim Caviezel, Shawn Doyle, Elizabeth Mitchell, Andre Braugher, Noah Emmerich), it’s pretty much the same as the first season of Frequency so far, but with a few interesting changes, such as the dad (Dennis Quaid here) being a fireman not a cop and there being a 30-year time difference, not a 20-year difference. It’s a lovely idea and the film has an emotional depth that a lot of sci-fi movies lack, but I think I actually prefer the TV version, since the longer running time gives that a chance to explore a whole bunch of issues that the movie has to leave to montage moments at best, and the gender-swap to a daughter evens out the original’s not inconsiderable sidelining of women.
Still, given it was set in 1999 (nearly 20 years ago now, guys), it’s almost like watching time travel anyway, with its reference to Yahoo! as a good stock option.
Finding Dory (2016) The tear-jerking Pixar delight, Finding Nemo, saw a widower father searching the world for his partially disabled son, following the latter’s kidnapping. The twist? They were fish.
Here, in this sequel, their mentally challenged best friend Dory (Ellen Degeneres) comes to the fore as she remembers she had a family back in the day and despite her inability to form short-term memories, goes looking for her mother and father, Nemo and co in tow.
For about the first 10 minutes, this feels like a retread of the original but after that, Finding Dory sets its own path, introducing all-new characters and species that live in or near the marine park that Dory thinks her parents might be living in. It’s a lovely piece of work again, with some top moments of comedy and joy, but it never quite hits the emotional highs (or lows) of the original and the final act starts to descend into the silly. Admittedly, it is a movie about talking fish so silly is relative, I guess.
Something both parents and kids can enjoy, but not quite an absolute classic.
There’s also a pilot for a The Exorcist series on the way. Now we’ve got Damien.
Unless your knowledge of cinema is akin to that of a newborn child’s, that name should already be telling you what this is related to. In case it doesn’t, wee bairn, I’ll fill you in. Fresh off the back of the success of The Exorcist in the 70s, The Omen was Britain’s effort to cash in by taking seriously the Bible’s Book of Revelation. It details the birth and early childhood of ‘Damien Thorne’, the son of the US Ambassador to the UK (Gregory Peck) and his wife (Lee Remick). Except Damien’s actually secretly adopted and is really the son of the Devil and a jackal. Oh dear – he’s the Anti-Christ and he wants to bring about the Apocalypse.
Along the way, various people gradually work out that Damien has a ‘hint of the night’ about him, and are promptly rewarded for their imagination, detective prowess and faith in God with a gruesome, almost Final Destination-elaborate death.
Like TheExorcist, The Omen proved popular enough to spawn a couple of sequels, with that nice Sam Neill eventually becoming the grown-up Anti-Christ in The Omen III. However, Damien forgoes those two sequels in favour of continuing the first movie in its own way.
This time, it has that nice Bradley James (young King Arthur in Merlin) playing the grown-up Damien Thorne. Despite numerous flashbacks to the movie and its stalwart 70s fashions, Damien has apparently only just turned 30. He’s forgotten all about how his parents died, that governess of his committing suicide in front of everyone at his birthday party, those great big rottweilers that use to hang around protecting him and so on. He just wants to roam the world, taking Pulitzer-prize winning photographs of wars.
That is until he’s on assignment in Damascus and gets a literal baptism in blood by an old woman with white eyes who mumbles in Latin at him and says ‘It’s all for you.’ That’s not a good sign is it?
After that, he starts to remember all those weird deaths that happened around him when he was growing up, in part prompted by all the new weird deaths that start happening around him. The question is, once he’s found his game-changing 666 birthmark and begins to believe for sure he’s a major player in the Bible: is being fated to be the Anti-Christ inevitable, like Norman Bates becoming a crazy serial killer in The Bates Motel, or can our Damien drink the blood of Christ, eat the body of Christ and accept Christ as his saviour so he can take up sheep farming or something instead, and all his friends can stop dying horribly?
Here’s a trailer and for a change, you can watch the entire first episode, too, below. Then we can discuss it after the jump.
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.
I’m back! Miss me? Of course you did. Well, maybe. But I’m back either way and raring to watch some tele.
In fact, I’ve been watching some tele for the past month… past two weeks anyway, most of which was catching up with the previous three weeks I’d missed. So after the jump, I’ll be talking about those shows I managed to watch and in most cases see through to the end of their seasons: Glitch, Halt and Catch Fire, Hannibal, Impastor, The Last Ship, Mr Robot, True Detective and The Whispers. Oh yes, and despite my promises to the contrary, I also tuned in for the first episode of season 4 of Continuum. Humans I’ll get round to once my lovely wife has cleared her backlog of My Kitchen Rules Australia.
But over those five weeks, I came up with a new rule: no new tele during August. If you start airing your new show in August, it’s dead to me, because you picked a very silly time to start it.
That means that although Netflix gave us not only Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp as well as Narcos, I’ve not watched either of them. Or any of Amazon’s Casanova and Sneaky Pete. HBO’s Show Me A Hero? Please don’t. Showtime’s Blunt Talk? Honestly, no. Public Morals? Can stay private, thank you very much.
Which isn’t to say I won’t watch them at some point. Indeed, if you’ve started watching them, let me know if they’re any good so I can prioritise them accordingly. But for now, I’m not in a rush to tune in, particularly since the Fall 2015 season is about to dawn on us with more than a dozen new shows, so I’ve got to schedule accordingly.
On which subject, I did manage to watch the pilots of a few of those forthcoming shows, including Lucifer, Blindspot and Minority Report – hopefully I’ll be reviewing them over the next couple of weeks.
I also watched some movies and went to the theatre a bit, too.
Walk of Shame (2014) (iTunes)
One of those films that on paper I should have loved since it features Elizabeth Banks, Gillian Jacobs and Willie Garson. Except I really, really didn’t.
It sees Banks play a goody-goody TV journalist who’s just been dumped by her fiancé and turned down for a new job, so decides to let loose and has a one-night stand with James Marsden. Except then she finds out that she actually has got the job after all, provided she can get into work that morning. Wouldn’t you know it? Things go hilariously badly in her attempts to get there on her ‘walk of shame’.
Unfortunately, Walk of Shame is not so much borderline misogynistic and offensive than actually misogynistic and offensive. Iit’s also without any of the redeeming quality of ‘being funny’.
The Men Who Stare At Goats (2009) (Netflix)
Lovely wife and I used our holiday to read some actual books, including a whole stack of journalist Jon Ronson’s, amongst which was The Men Who Stare At Goats. An investigation of the US Army’s post-Vietnam dabbling with psychic powers, the book is largely an account of Ronson’s investigations as he visits one former ‘psychic soldier’ after another to learn what happened as the army tried psychologically to deal with its loss.
We ended up wondering how the book could be adapted as a movie with Ewan McGregor and George Clooney, and the answer is: by fictionalising it. McGregor plays a journalist recently dumped at the outbreak of the Iraq war (the point where Ronson’s book ends) who bumps into a ‘contractor’ (Clooney). Clooney is a ‘jedi warrior’, trained by the US army to be invisible, burst clouds with his mind, walk through walls, stop a goat’s heart goat by staring at it and more. Or try to, anyway.
The movie is then a juxtaposition of McGregor’s learning in modern day Iraq about what it is to be a Jedi warrior (the irony is not lost on the film’s producers. At all) and flashbacks to the foundation of the army’s Jedi warrior movement by Jeff Bridges.
The film is a bit clumsy as a satire, trying its best to weave real world elements from Ronson’s book into the fictionalised journey, but ultimately normalising them, rather than making them as genuinely weird as they were (Bridges’ real-life counterpart was the man who came up with ‘Be All That You Can Be’, back when he thought that wars could be stopped by small children holding baby animals in front of them). It’s better if you’ve read the book, but Clooney is great to watch whether you have or not.
The Bakkhai (Almeida)
The second of the Almeida’s major productions of ancient Greek plays, this sees Ben “Paddington Bear” Wishaw playing the god Dionysus, visiting ancient Thebes to bring his religion to its population of women, and finding resistance from the king, Pentheus (Bertie Carvel from Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell).
In contrast to the Almeida’s radical reworking of Aeschylus’ Oresteia, this version of Euripides’ classic text is one of the most traditional productions I’ve ever seen, with the text rarely deviating from the original except for the occasional modern bit of humour, the chorus singing all their lines and the cast being just three men who share all the roles between them. Much is made of the gender-blurring and homoeroticism of the play, as Dionysus grants Pentheus’ desire to see what his debauched female followers get up to by persuading him to wear women’s clothes (Carvel plays his own mother, too). But it’s not until the end and Dionysus reveals his terrifying true nature that the show’s real power and tragedy kicks in.
Probably a bit too traditional for its likely audience, judging by the reserved applause at the end of what are tour de force performances by both Carvel and Wishaw, but well worth it if you’re a lover of Greek tragedy.