TV reviews

Review: Dead of Summer 1×1-1×2 (US: Freeform)


In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, Freeform
In the UK: Not yet acquired

I thought we’d got over the 80s. I thought that the advent of shows like Hindsight meant that we had moved on and were looking at the 90s and beyond. But now we have Dead of Summer, which is almost pure, distilled 80s, with 80s in every shot in a way the real 80s never was. Indeed, it feels like a show invented by someone who had almost no memories of the 80s beyond watching some 80s movies, but doesn’t care because he knows the intended audience wasn’t even alive in the 80s.

Riffing off another (hopefully dying) trend for remaking old horror moviesDead of Summer takes that hoary old US horror staple, the summer camp, and revisits it with a thin sprinkling of the almost 80s’ Candyman on top. It sees a diverse (in a modern sense) group of attractive young people trying to help Lost‘s Elizabeth Mitchell to set up a new summer camp where they’ll be camp counsellors. Except wouldn’t you know it, the summer camp is built on an old burial ground or pentagram or something, and soon the dead are popping up in videos, pretending to be imaginary friends or just generally scaring the crap out of people, their number being added to in practically every scene as the bodies pile up. You don’t even have to say ‘Candyman’ for it to happen – Tony Todd will pop up without any provocation as the silent, pointing and probably well paid ‘The Tall Man’ (just to confuse fans of Phantasm, I presume).

Created by Lost/Once Upon A Time writer Adam Horowitz, the show is a veritable cornucopia of 80s references, with mentions of D&D, The Empire Strikes Back and more popping out of people’s mouths without any real cause every minute – almost like they’re possessed by the spirit of the 80s. There’s even a direct and actually quite impressive visual rip-off of one very famous scene from Poltergeist in the second episode, just to make it clear how much the show is set in the 80s.

But so quickly does the show get through all the references to 80s horror movies and trends in the first episode that by the second episode it’s practically run out of them, so decides to start mining other genres. Weirdly, the show decides the best way to give its characters backstories is using Lost flashbacks and presumably deciding to emulate The Americans, makes one of the camp counsellors a secret Ruskie (or ‘from the USSR’ to be exact). What’s his secret mission? He plays the long con all episode before finally closing his trap to obtain his ultimate prize… to have access to clothes from a dry cleaner. 

Yes, that does all play out as stupidly as it sounds.

It’s hard to tell how knowing some of this is. Are we now post-Scream and taking horror seriously again or post-post-Scream and playing it for laughs? I forget. But there’s a slight chance all the shallow teen romances, “who’s next?” guessing, deep dark secrets et al are designed to be amusing rather than scary, given there’s a Satan-worshipping heavy metal fan called ‘Damon Crowley’. Maybe it’s a bunch of 40somethings have a laugh at 20somethings’ expense, without the 20somethings realising it (“They actually think it was like this! Can you believe it? Quick, put in something about a 2d20! They’ll lap it up!”)

More probably, it’s merely aimed at people who have seen a lot of 80s movies and wish there were more of them than were actually made in the 80s. It’s hard to tell how much such people are concerned by correct period detail: most of the fashions seem to come from the entire 80s, not just 1989 when the show is set; I’m not entirely sure the general public knew what a serial killer was in 1989; I doubt more than seven schoolgirls ever played D&D in the whole of the US in the 80s; and I’m pretty that someone in their early 20s would try not to be so openly and self-admittedly ‘super gay’ (was that even a phrase in the 80s?) in the somewhat repressive atmosphere of the late 80s US, let alone at a summer camp where they would be put in charge of children and risk getting fired and/or lynched.

This is the 80s for people who’ve seen The Breakfast Club and assume that everyone acted and dressed like that all the time, all decade.

The Ruskie backstory was bonkers enough that I might want to watch more of Dead of Summer, just to see if they do a tribute episode in which Airwolf flies over and blows up the camp. The sight of Tony Todd popping up every half hour to point silently behind people like he’s just spotted a rare Crested Caracara and doesn’t want to disturb it but definitely wants you to look at its beautiful plummage? That never gets old either.

But as a show, Dead of Summer isn’t scary or innovative, the teens are quite dull, and Elizabeth Mitchell isn’t in it anywhere near enough, so I won’t be watching it for anything more than sh*ts and giggles if I do.

Here’s a trailer and just in case you have 45 minutes or so to waste, the whole of the first episode, too.

TV reviews

Review: Wrecked 1×1-1×2 (US: TBS)

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, TBS
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Me: Hey guys, this is an interactive one. So, are you ready? 

You: Yes we are!

Me: Cool. What’s the secret of comedy?

You: We don’t know, Rob. What is the secret…

Me [interrupts]: Timing!

Rubbish, hey? Doesn’t work at all written down. But I laboured with it because I think it makes a valuable point – timing is very important in comedy. Get it wrong and your joke just isn’t funny.

What’s the right time for a TV parody of another TV show then? The answer’s not immediately obvious. Consider, ‘Allo, ‘Allo, one of the most successful British sitcoms of the 80s and early 90s, running for 85 episodes over 10 years from 1982.

Huge numbers of people watched (or were too offended to watch) this sitcom about the wartime French resistance without being even slightly aware it was a parody of Secret Army, the BBC’s outstanding and very dark wartime drama, which ran between 1977 and 1979. 

Three years between the finish of Secret Army (not including Secret Army spin-off Kessler in 1981) and the start of ‘Allo ‘Allo, and yet everyone had already forgotten what the show was parodying. Thank heavens ‘Allo ‘Allo was funny, hey?

So spare a thought for Wrecked, which has bizarrely chosen to parody Lost, which aired between 2004 and 2010. That’s six years ago Lost finished and 12 years since its first episode aired, yet here’s Wrecked doing an almost scene-by-scene parody of its first episodes, but imagining what would happen if only the ugly no-hopers, rather than the pretty talented ones survived the crash.

How good’s your memory? Good enough to laugh at how accurate Wrecked is? Probably not.

The first two episodes tread the familiar-ish terrority of the initial plane crash, waking up on the beach, the tending to the wounded, the investigation of the island, looking for satellite phone signal, et al. The show’s anal enough about its Lost lore that it even kills off its Jack (James Scott) in the first episode, as per Lost‘s original pilot script. In his stead, he leaves three also-rans (Zach Cregger, Asif Ali, Brian Sacca), who all look like someone more famous but certainly aren’t quite as good; there’s Rhys Darby (Flight of the Conchords) as the Locke of the piece, albeit a Locke who can’t walk; there’s a generic bunch of millennial women who whine a bit (Ginger Gonzaga, Jessica Lowe, Ally Maki); and there’s a couple of people who hang around being dicks in different ways (Will Greenberg, Brooke Dillman). 

Wrecked tries to get its laughs by doing sixth-form grade pastiche of the original, while throwing in general ineptitude, people arguing over whether a podiatrist is a proper doctor or not, and pointing out that no one knows any phone numbers any more so can’t call for help using someone else’s phone. As an example of the level of humour we’re dealing with here, when Sacca’s dad appears to him and Sacca wonders if they were coincidentally on the same flight, dad replies: “No, this is a dream sequence… were you not getting that?”

Oddly, Lost‘s most iconic storytelling technique – the flashback/flashforward/flashsideways – isn’t used in Wrecked in these first two episodes, everything being told linearly. Too complicated, the writers had forgotten about it or something being saved for later? I don’t know, but it’s a bit like setting Allo Allo in Swindon during the Cod War without it.

Neither an incisive parody of Lost nor funny in its own right, Wrecked is a great big dud, despite the obvious cash spent on CGI and location filming in Puerto Rico and the occasionally interesting guest cast (eg Eliza Coupe from Happy Endings). I guess timing really is everything.

Here’s the first six minutes and a trailer, just so you can see if you agree with me.

TV reviews

Preview: Colony 1×1 (US: USA Network)


In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, USA Network
In the UK: Not yet acquired

They say the secret of comedy is timing. I think the same is true of TV. A bit over a year ago, I was asked on Radio 5 why I thought zombie shows were so popular. I went for the glib Zoolander quote “they’re so hot right now”, but also mentioned that there was an obvious subtext – just in case you weren’t listening, I was talking about rich versus poor, fear of diseases and the other, with an enemy that can’t be understood and negotiated with, only fought, and yet which keeps on coming, no matter what you do.

That, of course, was two years ago and was at the back end of the zombie/disease/Occupy Wall Street trend. Now the big fear is that immigrants are going to come in, swamp us, and take over our countries. They’re going to invade us.

TV, of course, can take a long time to get made, with years sometimes passing between genesis, gestation and eventual realisation of a show. Had Colony come out a year or so ago, back when I was doing that radio show, it would have looked prophetic and pioneering. Had it come out say two or even three months ago, it would have been riding a wave. Coming out now? It’s missed the boat.

Continue reading “Preview: Colony 1×1 (US: USA Network)”

What have you been watching? Including Beowulf, Rebellion, 100 Code, Endeavour and American Crime

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.

Things have got off to a quick start in the TV land, all over the world, with new shows airing this week pretty much everywhere the TV industry still has a budget (so not Canada these days). Elsewhere, I’ve reviewed the first episodes of Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life (US: Fox) and Byw Celwydd/Living A Lie (UK: S4C), the first three episodes of The Shannara Chronicles (US: MTV) and previewed next week’s Idiotsitter (US: Comedy Central); and while I haven’t reviewed their latest episodes, since I couldn’t be bothered to carry on with them after Christmas, I did give you a flavour of Telenovela (US: NBC) and Superstore (US: NBC), both of which started in earnest this week. 

After the jump then, the regulars, including Grandfathered, Limitless, Supergirl and episode four of The Shannara Chronicles, as well as the return of American Crime, Man Seeking Woman and Endeavour, and a special guest reappearance by The Grinder.

But I did promise you reviews of a few other new shows, and while I didn’t manage to get round to Deutschland 83 (you can ask Walter what he thought of it – he can probably ask you about Spin, too, which is on More4 right now), I did manage to watch the rest, as well as a couple of surprise guest new shows.

Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands (UK: ITV; US: Esquire)
If it’s on ITV, unless it’s a crime drama, period drama or period crime drama, you can be about 95% sure it’s going to be rubbish, and Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands does nothing to disprove this rule. ‘Based’ on the Anglo-Saxon epic, in the sense that it has a few characters with the same names, it sees famed warrior Beowulf (Kieran Bew) return to ‘the Shieldlands’ (no, not Scandinavia) to mourn the death of his dad, Hrothgar (William Hurt, who seems to be doing a lot of UK TV at the moment). Unfortunately, all manner of beasties, including the ‘terrifying’ Grendel are lurking around Hrothgar’s halls, so Beowulf and his Danish lothario mate are going to have to get out their swords and give him a stabbing.

In just about every sense possible, this is woeful stuff, ranging from the lack of fidelity to the original through to the Primeval-level special effects. While the colour-blind casting that gives us both Supergirl/Homeland‘s David Harewood and Numbertime‘s Lolita Chakrabarti is in a sense commendable, it’s a little jarring given quite how early it’s set. And if you are going to spend your time being ahistorically politically correct, don’t spend your entire time justifying it as though it’s just turned 1974 and the first female doctor in your hospital has just turned up; also, if you are going to cast an Indian woman as a fifth century AD blacksmith, can you at least hire an Indian woman who looks like she spends all day working iron?

Although Grendel is a little bit creepy at a distance, it’s too boring to be a good fantasy show, too PC to be a realistic historical drama and just too badly written on any terms and too badly acted to qualify as any kind of drama. Go and read the poem instead.

Rebellion (Ireland: RTÉ One)
While last year saw Australia and New Zealand celebrating their birth as nations in the cauldron of Gallipoli with a number of shows, this year it’s Ireland’s turn with Rebellion, a five-part drama that follows the Irish Nationalist movement from the 1916 Easter Rebellion all the way through to the 1919 war for independence. Featuring all manner of famous Irish and Northern Irish actors actually getting to use their own accents for a change (including Game of Thrones‘ Michelle Fairley and Ian McElhinney), it’s a show that doesn’t set out to be a piece of propaganda. Indeed, most of those involved in the rebellion seem to spend more of their time fighting each other, cocking things up, debating whether independence would be good and shagging than fighting the English. The show itself also seems more interested in the plight of women at the time than with demonstrating any oppression by the Overlords. But it’s a lavish, well put together piece of work, happy to have parts in Gaelic where necessary, and was good enough to make me want to watch at least the second episode – if only to remind myself of all sorts of history I’d learnt at school but completely forgotten about.

100 Code (Sweden: Kanal 5; UK: Sky Atlantic)
Oh goody. Two mismatched cops chasing a serial killer in a show that uses a veneer of intelligence to mask its exploitativeness. I’ve not seen one of these before. Even the fact it’s set in Stockholm and one of the cops is American (oddly enough, Dominic Monaghan from Lost), the other Swedish (Michael Nyqvist from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, John Wick and the best-forgotten Zero Hour and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol), isn’t that new. But as with pretty much any Nordic Noir (or even crime story these days), originality isn’t the thing – what surrounds it is more of interest and pretty everything surrounding the central crime of 100 Code is a lot more interesting than YA serial killer. Here Monaghan is doing an Insomnia, screwed up and sleeping drug-taking because he accidentally shot his partner; meanwhile, Nyqvist is desperate to give up being a cop so he can be a security guard and spend more time with his teenage daughter.

But what separates 100 Code from a lot of other shows, beyond its incorrect use of Greek myth, having half the dialogue in Swedish and acting like a Stockholm travelogue the whole time (“It’s the Venice of the North – look at this lovely vista”), is that when it’s not pretentiously exploring its own arse, it’s frequently funny. Monaghan is by no means hard-boiled, getting travel sick in cars, boats, and aeroplanes, and doesn’t know how to drive in Stockholm, so frequently has accidents. Nyqvist’s recipe-centric relationship with his daughter is amusingly quirky. And the Swedes are not taking any sh*t from Monaghan and entertainingly exclude him at every possible opportunity, usually linguistically.

I’m going to keep watching since Peter Eggers (Anno 1790) is in the cast – although since he’s not turned up yet, I suspect he might turn out to be the killer – but also because it’s nice to see Nyqvist demonstrating just how good an actor he is in native language.

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including Beowulf, Rebellion, 100 Code, Endeavour and American Crime”

What have you been watching? Including Legends, Dim Ond y Gwir, Arrow, 800 Words and Limitless

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.

Brace yourself – a new wave of TV shows is about to hit us, because we’re about to hit the mid, mid US season, and Amazon and Netflix are busy hitting us with new pilots and new shows even as I type. So consider this a lull. 

Elsewhere this week, I’ve reviewed the first episode of Ash vs Evil Dead (US: Starz) and passed a third-episode verdict on The Beautiful Lie (Australia: ABC), which means that after the jump, I’m going to be talking about the season finale of Arrow, Blindspot, Doctor Who, The Flash, Grandfathered, The Last Kingdom, Limitless, The Player, Supergirl and You’re The Worst, as well as the season finales of 800 Words and Y Gwyll. I also final caught up with the final few episodes of Strike Back

But that’s not all I watched this week. I’ve also watched two new shows: Dim Ond Y Gwir and Legends. What do you mean Legends isn’t new? Well, that’s strangely debatable…

Dim Ond Y Gwir (UK: S4C – available on iPlayer)
Flush with the success of detective show Y Gwyll/Hinterland, S4C has decided to branch out into another genre: the courtdroom drama. Dim Ond Y Gwir (Only the Truth) is a half-hour weekly affair that follows ‘law court workers as they go about their daily lives’. In the first episode, this amounts to watching various ancillary workers man the metal detectors, while someone in the cafe bakes a cake. Meanwhile, up in the courts themselves, we have barrister Rebecca Trehearn dealing with one case when it turns out that the opposite barrister is her ex-boyfriend! Oh noes.

Filmed in Caernarfon where it’s actually not that uncommon for cases to be heard in Welsh, this is a pretty poor affair, with the supposed sexy ex more the kind of guy who sidles up to women when they’re drunk in bars, almost no legal accuracy in the proceedings whatsoever, and the case hinging on whether Trehearn will bother defending her client if she thinks he’s guilty or not (big reveal at the end that has no legal bearing!). The acting is also pretty dreadful, too, and the budget’s probably about £3.50. Sorry, S4C – this one ain’t going to go global.

Legends (US: TNT; UK: Sky1)
So, as we all remember, but are possibly wondering if we imagined it all, Legends was a very sub-par piece of US TV in which Sean Bean was the US’s best undercover FBI agent, a human chameleon able to become whomever he wanted while his NCIS-style buddies back at home base helped him to overcome computer problems and the like, as he assumed a new identity every week. Unfortunately, Bean’s personality might itself be a ‘legend’ and he’s forgotten who he really is. Oh noes.

The big reveal at the end of the first season (look away for year-old spoilers) is that yes, Bean was really MI6 and that he’d lost his memory in an accident. The big problem is that he’s then framed for murdering a top FBI director. Oops. 

‘TNT – Bang’? Not really.

But in between seasons, the show changed showrunner and new boy Ken Biller (Perception) decided not just to change direction but perform a ‘hard reset’ of the entire show. Severely hard. Out of the show are everyone except Bean and Rosewood‘s Morris Chestnut (for a few episodes at least) – even Ali Larter, those cads. The entire show has also moved to Europe and now covers several timelines – Bean’s upbringing at a rather nasty Northern public school in the 70s, undercover work in Prague in 2001 and two modern day storylines involving Bean’s attempts to rediscover his old life in London and a new FBI agent’s attempts to find him through the Prague connection. 

And it’s just the weirdest thing. An almost entirely new show that feels like a British spy show, feels even like it’s been written by a Brit (bar the swearing), but shot US-style. It’s basically Homeland meets The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. I’m still reeling from the changes, they’re so profound. It’s now a really good spy show, although the plot about the radicalisation of young London Muslims is a bit trite, and Bean’s character seems to have forgotten the whole ‘best undercover agent ever’ thing, judging by how much he’s cocking up. 

All the same, despite the absence of our Ali (sob), even if you gave up on Legends the first time, give it a go this time round, since you might as well be watching a new show.

Movies
Would you believe it, I actually had some time to watch a couple of oldish movies, too.

Sherlock Holmes and The Secret Code (aka Dressed to Kill) (1946) (Amazon Instant Video)
One of the great things about growing up in the 80s was that BBC Two regularly used to show all the old Basil Rathbone movies at 6pm of an evening. Which was great. Seeing as Amazon Instant Video has quite a few of them to view for free, I thought I’d give Dressed To Kill a go. It’s basically Conan’s Doyle The Six Napoleons/Blue Carbuncle but with a set of music boxes that a set of villains are trying to get for some nefarious reason. The chief villain is basically Irene Adler except not: an actress who outwits Holmes and Watson, even reading A Scandal in Bohemia and his monograph on cigarette ash to find out Holmes’ methods of operation and turning them against him.

There’s not much detection, most of it being Rathbone just making lucky guesses, but it’s fun and a lot smarter than you’d have thought for something pretty much cranked out post-War in a job lot.

Pacific Rim (2013) (Amazon Instant Video)
One of those movies where you look at who the writer/director is and go, “Really? I mean really?” Basically, Transformers meets the Godzilla movies but with the monster and biological horror that we do actually all associate with Guillermo Del Toro, it sees a bunch of giant monsters emerging from the sea to destroy the world’s cities, but the world at a loss to respond until they think of sticking people in giant robots to punch them to death.

There’s far more action than there was in the most recent Godzilla, it’s got some interesting ideas and it’s got Idris Elba as the leader of the plucky robot pilots, but it’s very silly and to be honest, I’d rather have watched old episodes of Star Fleet instead, as they have more charm.

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including Legends, Dim Ond y Gwir, Arrow, 800 Words and Limitless”