Review: Manifest 1×1 (US: NBC)

In the US: Mondays, NBC, 10/9c
In the UK: Not yet acquired

With some shows, it’s a bit hard to work out what exactly they’re knocking off, they’re so derivative and unoriginal.

Initially, you might be tempted with Manifest to think the show is knocking off Lost, seeing as it has a plane disappearing in mysterious circumstances, forcing its passengers to come together and forge bonds. There are even mysterious numbers associated with the plane that the passengers keep seeing reoccurring around the place.

But it’s not Lost. For one thing, the plane doesn’t crash.

Perhaps it’s emulating one of the Lost knock-offs of yore then, maybe FlashForward. You see, in Manifest, the plane takes off in 2013, passes through some turbulence, then lands in 2018, its passengers not a day older. Meanwhile, the world outside has marched on five years – relatives have died, fiancés have moved on and children have grown up. No one knows what’s happened, not the passengers, not the FBI agents who investigate it.

But it’s not FlashForward, since they get stuck there and don’t get to go back to the past to let everyone knows what happened.

So maybe it’s another Lost knock-off – say, Six Degrees. After all, some of the passengers are linked in mysterious ways – one woman (Parveen Kaur) is a medical researcher who just manages to send off her data before the plane enters strange turbulence. When the plane lands, her research has already been turned into a life-saving cure for leukaemia. Which is fortunate as one of the other passengers on the plane is a child with leukaemia who had only six months to live. If he’d not gone on the flight, he’d be dead in 2018, but now he stands a chance at remission.

But it’s not Six Degrees, which only ever sought to imply that people were only ever six degrees of connectedness away from each other. Here, Manifest has a dual meaning: it’s both the manifest of the plane and a reference to destiny. Because the passengers are hearing voices telling them what to do. In particular, unlucky in love cop Melissa Roxburgh keeps hearing a voice telling her to “set them free”. Can it be those dogs she keeps seeing? Or is something related to a kidnapping case her ex is now investigating?

Got it. Special powers? Mysterious return of strangers? Time travel? An other worldly force? It’s The 4400, isn’t it, just with a lot fewer people? Phew. Glad I worked that out.

Here’s the trailer for Manifest and if you liked that, there’s the whole first act of it afterwards, too.

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Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan
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Review: Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan (season one) (Amazon)

In the UK: Available on Amazon

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is a character who is much loved and much hated, all while simultaneously inspiring much indifference. Created by Clancy back in the 80s during the post-Carter, Reaganite dry run at “Make America Great Again”, Ryan is an honourable spy with all-American values who defeats enemies from around the world while demonstrating why America is num-ber one, num-ber one, num-ber one. Simultaneously able to rebuke Prince Charles for not being emotional enough after saving him from terrorists (Patriot Games) while praising the SAS for being “almost as good as our marines”, he’s been the star of 16 books and moved his way up from lowly analyst to President of the United States. It’s that aspirational, conservative moral superiority that is probably the secret to his success in the books, although Clancy’s provision of lovely detailed technical information about the baffles on Hughes 500 helicopters has also helped to get the military hardware fans excited where it counts.

In movies, though, Ryan’s not fared quite as well. Arguably America’s answer to James Bond, that’s as much true because of the number of actors who have portrayed him as the cultural role he plays – Alec Baldwin (The Hunt for Red October), Harrison Ford (Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger), Ben Affleck (The Sum of All Fears) and Christopher Pine (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) have all played him in one movie franchise attempt after another that has failed to come close to the impact or longevity of Bond.

John Krasinski
John Krasinski as Jack Ryan

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan’s TV series

Now Amazon are having a go at turning him into the star of a TV franchise with the imaginatively titled Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan. It sees the ‘Ryanverse’ being reset to the beginning once again, with John Krasinski (slightly beefier now than he was in The Office (US)) taking on the title character, who has now switched majors from history to become a doctor of economics turned CIA analyst. Consistent with the rest of the Ryanverse, he’s still a former marine with an injured back turned lowly, back-office guy, this time monitoring bank transactions in the Middle East. When he spots some atypical SWIFT transfers, he brings it to the attention of his new boss – The Wire‘s Wendell Pierce taking on the role of old favourite James Greer, who’s now a morally compromised field spy rather than a distinguished admiral.

Before he knows it, he’s being whisked off by helicopter from a party where he’s meeting his future wife Cathy Mueller (Limitless‘s Abbie Cornish) so he can help to track down a new bin Laden (The Looming Tower‘s Ali Suliman) using his all-American gumption – and ability to patronise other cultures.

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NBC’s upfronts 2018-9 – a rundown and clips from the new shows – Manifest, New Amsterdam and I Feel Bad

It’s that time of year again – the ‘upfronts’. It’s when all the US networks reveal to advertisers the new shows that are going to be hitting the TV screens some time from September 2018 through to nowish 2019. However, this isn’t the same as the international screenings, where buyers from TV networks around the world turn up to see what they’d like to acquire, so we won’t know what will be heading our way for quite some time.

Anyway, in case you missed this morning’s news of the weekend’s slaughter, US TV networks have killed off a whole bunch of existing shows (prompting howls of protest from their fans) and is about to commission a whole bunch of new shows (prompting howls of ‘you cancelled x for this rubbish?’ from said-same fans).

Although the USA Network is normally the first out of gates, this year it’s NBC is delivering us plot summaries and trailers of all the new shows that it thinks are fit to consume. That’s a mere three shows this year – Manifest, New Amsterdam and I Feel Bad. Gosh, feels like CBS back in the day.

Still, want to know more and exactly when these (and the surviving old shows) will be airing? And do you want to get TMINE’s hottest of hot first takes? Follow me after the jump if at least one of those things interests you…

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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.


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.