Ioan Gruffudd in Harrow
Australian and New Zealand TV

Review: Harrow 1×1-1×2 (Australia: ABC)

In Australia: Fridays, 8.30pm, ABC
In the UK: Broadcaster to be ‘announced soon

The globalisation of TV is a funny old thing, resulting in some odd paradoxes. Consider the career of Ioan Gruffudd, a fine actor who speaks Welsh as a first language. Naturally, he got his first big break on S4C’s Pobol Y Cwm (People of the Valley), S4C being the government’s attempt to preserve the Welsh language from the effects of globalisation and English’s worldwide dominance.

However, given S4C’s drama output isn’t huge, it’s unsurprising that Gruffudd went off to London to study at RADA, before getting his first big breaks in the BBC’s 1996 remake of Poldark and then ITV’s Hornblower TV films, where he naturally had to put on English accents and spoke English. They in turn led to starring roles in US films Black Hawk Down (directed by Englishman Ridley Scott) and superhero movie Fantastic Four, in which he played Americans.

Then US TV shows beckoned, with first the short-lived Century City, then Ringer then ABC’s Forever, in which he played a forensics examiner who just happened to be immortal, and so was a font of all knowledge and an almost Sherlock Holmes-like ability to read people and clues. In the latter two shows, despite both being made in the US, Gruffudd played English characters – globalisation here allowing for local diversity, not just homogenisation.

And yet… while Gruffudd has since returned home to the UK to do shows such as ITV’s Liar, now he’s gone to Australia to star in ABC’s Harrow. Guess what? Despite the show being Australian, he plays an English forensic examiner who’s a font of all knowledge and has an almost Sherlock Holmes-like ability to read people and clues. Sounds familiar, hey? What’s even odder, globalisation-wise, is that this is the first show to be made by ABC International Studios – not even ABC Australia, at that, but ABC US, which was of course the network that created Forever.

Globalisation paradox.

Harrowing

While Australia obviously has a final tradition of legal dramas (eg Crownies, Janet King, Newton’s Law) and police soap operas (eg Cop Shop), it’s noticeably not had much by way of police procedural dramas. Harrow is in part an attempt to fill this hole and join the rest of the world, probably by exporting it, probably to Netflix. After all, if S4C can do it, Australia should be able to do it, too.

Gruffudd plays the eponymous Harrow, a maverick forensics examiner in Brisbane. His flouting of the rules is not much loved by his boss (Robyn Malcolm) and his general work demeanour means his work colleagues don’t much love him either, although new scene of crime officer Mirrah Foulkes seems to be taking something of a shine to him. However, he’s great at his job, so he’s tolerated, even if he keeps threatening to resign every five minutes.

Meanwhile, he’s going through a divorce, something that’s caused his teenage daughter (Ella Newton) to virtually break off contact from both him and her mother (Anna Lise Phillips). But Gruffudd has a plan to win his daughter back. If only he didn’t have a deep dark secret that’s about to get found out…

Continue reading “Review: Harrow 1×1-1×2 (Australia: ABC)”

The Resident
US TV

Review: The Resident 1×1 (US: Fox; UK: Universal Channel)

In the US: Mondays, 9/8c, Fox
In the UK: Acquired by Universal Channel

There’s a timing to everything. Back in 2004 when House first aired, the idea of a brilliant dickish doctor seemed like a breath of fresh air, an antidote to the countless medical shows in which doctors are hard-working angels of mercy, tirelessly caring for their patients no matter what obstacles are thrown in their way. Sure there was the occasionally abrasive doctor – eg Bruce Greenwood in St Elsewhere – but full on dicks? Not so much.

Now, the brilliant dickish doctor is everywhere. Indeed, he’s so pervasive, so much de rigeur, that an otherwise insipid show about a nice doctor can turn out to be the 2017-2018 season’s big hit, people are so keen for a different kind of medical professional.

But we’re also in the post-Weinstein, #MeToo era, when abusive (male) bosses are being called to account, since women are feeling less inclined to put up with their sh*t any more. Brilliant? Genius at your job? Then work out how to have some social skills as well, since you shouldn’t be someone else’s boss if you can’t.

Resident evil

All of which potentially makes The Resident either awkwardly timed or prescient, depending on how later episodes work out. It sees Manish Dayal (Halt and Catch Fire) playing a brilliant ex-Yale, ex-Harvard student turning up to his new hospital on his first day of medical residency. He’s been inspired to come to said hospital by none other than Bruce Greenwood, the head of surgery at the hospital.

Unfortunately, he’s been placed in the care of senior resident Matt Czuchry (Gilmore Girls, The Good Wife), a brilliant but thoroughly dickish guy who’s going to re-educate him in the true ways of medicine, initially by getting Dayal to stick his fingers up people’s bottoms. Dayal can protest, but if he does, he’ll get given the heave-ho ASAP and never work in medicine again, no matter how dickish Czuchry gets.

Over the course of the episode, we naturally learn that Czuchry is indeed brilliant and cares about his patients, but definitely a dick in private life, as nurse and ex-girlfriend Emily VanCamp (Brothers & Sisters, Revenge, Captain America: Winter Soldier) can testify.

More importantly, we learn he’s also prepared to break the rules if he thinks it’s the right thing to do. Greenwood, for example, is actually going around killing patients by the ton, thanks to his tremulous hands, and everyone is having to cover up for him. Those that won’t cover up he blackmails, since either he’s covered up for them all as well whenever they’ve cocked up or they need his recommendation to get a visa to stay in the US in Shaunette Renée Wilson’s case.

To stop Greenwood without getting fired himself, Czuchry will do his best to bend the rules to make Greenwood stop himself. But Czuchry also has a touch of the Alec Baldwin in Malice and he’s prepared to bend the rules in darker ways, too.

What are you saying?

It’s a bit hard to know at this stage what The Resident‘s message actually is. On the one hand, as soon as Dayal requests a transfer to another resident, VanCamp spins a tedious analogy for him about whether he’d like his car repaired by someone who smiles a lot but overcharges and doesn’t get the job done versus a shoddy-looking garage that still fixes it at a bargain price. Initially, it therefore looks like the show is supporting the tedious and insidious “brilliant people are dicks – live with it or lose out” line.

But by the end, the show does seem to be suggesting that maybe brilliant people who are dicks really need to stop being dicks. But as neither Greenwood nor Czuchry get fired, it’s a bit hard to tell which way the show is going. Maybe it doesn’t know either.

That ambiguity does at least allow for some more cynical and realistic examinations of medical ethics and politics. Should doctors have that much power? Given that medical errors are the third greatest cause of death in the US (according to VanCamp), should we have a more realistic attitude towards their occurrence, including the money paid out to compensate those who’ve suffered from them? Do the efforts made to attract rich donors distort US health care? Are brilliant immigrants mistreated and subject to racism and xenophobia? Is death better than survival, not just for the patient but their family, past a certain point, and do doctors have the right to judge that for themselves?

The Resident

All the same, with its jarringly bad dialogue and cookie cutter characterisations, The Resident doesn’t really feel like the show to do the issues justice. Everyone’s character is pretty generic and stems from the job, rather than any real background information supplied. VanCamp is utterly wasted in a thankless role one can only hope gets fleshed out to as many as two dimensions in later episodes. Greenwood is great, as always, but doesn’t exactly have to fire even half his cylinders for the part. Czuchry’s fine and surprisingly unlikable, but feels too young to be the source of all wisdom.

The Resident is definitely a cut above the usual medical drama and does at least fire a few caveats at the dickish doctors of Code Black, House et al. But it’s more like a medical Training Day than anything with real edge or import, and it might have come at just the wrong time.

Corporate
US TV

Review: Corporate 1×1 (US: Comedy Central)

In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, Comedy Central

Normally, my go-to take-home going forward from a review of a Comedy Central comedy is that it would have been funny – or at least funnier – if I’d been smoking something illicit while watching, which is pretty much what most of the target audience will be doing.

However, Corporate would fire me for that, unless I managed to find a scapegoat instead.

Set in the completely evil conglomerate of ‘Hampton Deville’, Corporate is actually a marvellously dark and edgy piece that looks like something David Fincher might have done in his Fight Club days, given half a chance. It’s written by and stars Matt Ingebretson and Jake Weisman as two minor executives at the aforementioned evil corporation who are already on their own life’s Plan B and have seen all hope and joy leave their existences thanks to Hampton Deville and its corporate culture.

Episode one is ostensibly about the company’s launch of a new tablet “eight times as large as the iPad”, which goes wrong when someone in the social media department creates an ill-taste Tweet about hurricane victims. CEO Lance Reddick (The Wire, Fringe) is enraged so sets mid-tier execs Anne Dudek (House, Covert Affairs) and Adam Lustick to find the culprit. They in turn delegate to Ingebretson and Weisman, who react very differently to being given power for the first time in their five year careers at the company.

Office Space

The first episode’s jokes are mostly about corporate culture (eg who gets first dibs at bagels, how open you should be about stress caused by your job, who should be cc:ed v bcc:ed and why, how to get free cake), which are reminiscent naturally enough of Office Space and its TPS reports. It’s also done very well and raised plenty of laughs from me along the way.

However, this is clearly Office Space for the social media generation, and the show understands the Twitter and the Facebook well, as well as its limitations, with the second half a great take on the power of social media to create bad publicity – and how easy it is for a ‘social media guru’ to change that and for corporations to end up not actually doing anything.

The void

However, the show’s equally interested in darkness, depression and crushed dreams. Plenty are the jokes on suicide and the death of hope – indeed, the first episode is called ‘the void’.

“Plan B failed – time for Plan C”

“Suicide?”

“That’s right! You’re such a good friend to know that.”

Flailing against corporate culture? Don’t. You can’t fight it. No good deed will go unpunished. All you can do is climb to the top so that you’re no longer under anyone else’s thumb.

Again, here it’s as accurate as with its analysis of office politics…

Conclusion

The fact it’s attracted the cast it has should be enough to convince you that this is at least a cut above the normal Comedy Central output. The more you know of the corporate world, the funnier you’ll find it, I suspect. Bleakly funny.

The Good Doctor
US TV

Preview: The Good Doctor (US: ABC; UK: Sky Living)

In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, ABC. Starts September 25
In the UK: Acquired by Sky Living to air in Autumn

Back in 2014, I made a confident prediction:

I’m confidently predicting synesthesia as the TV Aspergers for 2015. All the shows will be doing it soon – you’ll see.

I wasn’t 100% on the money, but synesthesia did pop up in a few shows and CBS did try a synesthesia pilot back in 2016.

However, my unspoken assumption was that TV was so over Aspergers. It was done with it. It had been in everything already, so now was the time to find something newer and groovier for TV drama to work with.

Oops. My bad. Here we are, at the start of the 2017-2018 US TV season, and we have ABC(US)’s The Good Doctor, which is centred on an Aspie. Yep, following all the lovely racial and sexual diversity work ABC’s been successfully glopping out onto people’s screens for the past few years, it’s now the turn of us ‘disableds’ for a bit of special treatment. It’s nice but it does feel a bit 2013 all the same.

Freddie Highmore (Bates Motel) is the central Aspie of the piece. He’s just starting out at a prestigious hospital as a surgical resident. So far, so uncontroversial.

However, forget 2013 – it’s almost like the past 10 years haven’t happened for The Good Doctor, because even though Abed’s been making movies on NBC’s Community and Ben Affleck rolling-pinned his way into the special forces in The Accountant, ABC isn’t quite sure if Aspies can hold down a job…

Continue reading “Preview: The Good Doctor (US: ABC; UK: Sky Living)”

Pulse
Australian and New Zealand TV

Review: Pulse 1×1 (Australia: ABC)

In Australia: Thursdays, 8.30pm, ABC
In the UK: Not yet acquired

One of the best lines in this week’s episode of Will was “It’s 1589, Will – everything’s been done. It’s how you do it that counts.” I was reminded of this as I was watching Pulse, ABC (Australia)’s new medical procedural, as I tried to work out why it was so incredibly boring. It wasn’t for want of trying, certainly.

Based on an apparently true story, it’s the tale of high-flying financial analyst Claire van der Boom (Hawaii Five-0) who suffers kidney failure but receives a transplant so survives. She subsequently decides to retrain as a transplant doctor herself. Years later, she finds herself a trainee on the cardio-thoracic and renal wards of a major teaching hospital, learning how medicine actually works in practice. But as she’s still on immune-suppression drugs, any patient she meets could make her sick – she could make others sick, too.

So Pulse immediately gives you those three points of empathy – she’s a doctor but she knows what it’s like to be the patient as well; she’s determined to fight the patient’s corner, even if the more seasoned doctors are more calculating and blasé about the whole thing; and everything’s as life-threatening to her as it is to her patients.

On top of that, she’s both expert and trainee, so we have the tensions between those with the knowledge and experience and van der Bloom’s more impulsive tendencies. There are critiques of the Australian health system, including male dominance of the Australian surgical profession.

There’s co-worker Andrea Demetriades (Seven Types of Ambiguity) soft-porn shagging her boss, Blessing Mokgohloa (Spartacus: Blood and Sand). There’s her super-firey Welsh boss Owen Teale barking universal truths about healthcare – he’s also the man who gave her her transplant for a double-shocker.

Surprisingly, there’s even Spartacus himself and part-time weathermaster Liam McIntyre as an ex-soldier turned doctor and possible love interest for van der Bloom.

And that’s just the set-up – in the first episode, we’ve got people passing out after being sent home too soon, we have an organ lottery and we have transplant kidneys being snatched away at the last minute.

Much peril! Very wow!

And yet it’s absolutely tedious. Which brings us back to that line of Will‘s. It made me cast my mind back to when I last actually watched – and continued to watch – a procedural. On the medical side, it’s House; on the police side, it was the CSI franchise. I think in both cases it’s because they actually did something different, House being a combination of philosophy and Sherlock Holmes detective story, CSI being more like a series of scientific experiments. Everything since has singularly failed to grab my attention.

Which makes me think that I:

  1. Simply dislike procedurals.
  2. Like new things and constant repetition of the same format is intrinsically tedious to me
  3. Might not dislike procedurals when they’re actually something else in disguise

And despite throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the mix, Pulse is a meat-and-two-veg medical procedural, no different from Casualty, predictable, with nothing new to say that House et al hasn’t already said, no great and unusual new characters to love, no amazing performance to lift the show out of its rut (although Teale’s great, of course). It’s not terrible, it’s well made, plenty of people love that kind of thing. I just don’t like something where I can guess more or less everything that happens before it happens. I suspect you don’t either.