LA to Vegas
US TV

Review: LA to Vegas 1×1 (US: Fox)

In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, Fox

If 2017 was the year of military programme, 2018 is already shaping up to be the year of the workplace two-hander. Coming out of the tail end of 2017, we’ve already has CBS All Access’ No Activity, in which various pairs sit around at work doing nothing but chatting to one another, and now we have LA to Vegas, in which employees and passengers of a minor airline sit around and chat to one another. TV’s expensive and I guess a never-ending series of bottle episodes is cheaper than extensive location filming, so expect more of this if it pans out.

I say ‘if’ because dialogue-heavy two-handers require a combination of good writing and good acting to really work. No Activity started fine when it was Patrick Brammell writing it, but a switch in writer meant it soon dropped off my viewing list.

LA to Vegas does not have Patrick Brammell writing for it. It does have Lon Zimmet, who’s apparently written one to three episodes of Worst Week, Scrubs, Better With You, Men at Work, Happy Endings, The Michael J Fox Show, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Superstore and I’m Sorry. It’s impressive consistency to do that – never to write four or even five, just an average of two episodes per usually quickly cancelled show. I wonder how he does it?

LA to Vegas

Most of the action revolves around impulsive air hostess Kim Matula (UnREAL), who’s always dreamed of international travel but who’s stuck on the regular shuttle flight between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, doomed never to escape. She’s stuck on it with posturing pilot Dylan McDermott (Hostages, Big Shots, Dark Blue, American Gothic), who’d rather be talking to the passengers about muay thai than actually flying the plane and camp fellow flight attendant Nathan Lee Graham (Zoolander).

But there’s a regular posse of passengers, too, including eccentric Russian gambler Peter Stormare (Swedish Dicks, American Gods, Prison Break), commuting stripper Olivia Macklin, and English economics professor Ed Weeks (The Mindy Project), with whom Matula strikes up a potential romance. Since there’s nothing like a two-handed, dialogue-rich script to lure in a certain class of actor, scheduled for future flights are the other DM – the one you probably thought I was talking about earlier – Dermot Mulroney (Crisis, ShamelessPure Genius) and Don Johnson (yes, that one), with Kether Donohue (You’re The Worst) guesting in this pilot episode.

I say ‘action’ but really, it’s just dialogue, with people playing off one another’s foibles. As of yet, there’s little depth to anyone but Weeks, whose ‘depth’ is necessary for the mystery plot of the episode, with Matula being impulsive, Weeks sardonically English, McDermott sozzled, Stormare manipulative, and Macklin stupid and inappropriately sexual.

Does it fly?

Some of this works, some of this doesn’t. The characters are likeable enough and Weeks and Matula do actually have some chemistry, making their romance potentially interesting. The cast are mostly good, with Matula, Weeks and McDermott particularly fine; Stormare does his best, although more as a generic Eastern European than a Russian, while Graham works with what little he’s got but can’t really get anywhere. The rest of the cast are okay, but forgettable.

But it’s the script that has the most issues. When it tries to do slapstick like Airplane!, it doesn’t have the energy or the wackiness; when it’s trying to do smart and witty, it falls short and usually only manages to elicit a chortle.

It’s not a total bust – the show’s well paced, the chortles are at least consistent and there’s plenty of pathos for the flying metal tube of losers. It just feels like two episodes of any given above-average US comedy you care to mention.

Future Man
US TV

Review: Future Man 1×1 (US: Hulu)

In the US: Available on Hulu

Howard Overman has something of an affinity for aimless youth who end up on very important missions to save the world. He is, after all, the creator of Misfits, Atlantis and Crazyhead. The rather more famous Seth Rogen, meanwhile, has something of an affinity for feckless losers who spend all their time smoking weed, playing video games or both.

A match made in heaven surely? Well, now we have Future Man to find out, as Rogen exec-produces and co-directs this show based on an Overman idea (although not script). It sees Hunger Games‘ lesser star Josh Hutcherson playing ‘Josh Futturman’, an aimless 20-something still living with his parents (Ed Begly Jr and Glenne Headly) and who ‘works’ as a janitor at a STD research laboratory. There he’s bullied by Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense) but comes under the protective wing of the laboratory’s boss, Keith David, who’s trying to find a cure for herpes.

However, at night, he’s a top game player, dedicated to beating impossible first-person shooter ‘Future Man’, in which the world has been taken over by ‘biotics’ and he and comrades ‘Wolf’ and ‘Tiger’ are the head of the resistance.

When Hutcherson becomes the first person to ever beat the game, the real Wolf (Preacher‘s Derek Wilson) and Tiger (Eliza Coupe of Scrubs, Happy Endings, Wrecked, Benched) come back from the future to reveal that the game was a recruitment tool to discover the one person with the skills that could help prevent the biotics from really taking over. Together, Josh, Wolf and Tiger must go back in time to prevent the future from occurring. But is Josh out of his depth or does he have secret skills that just need developing?

Current man

As you might expect given its pedigree, the show is both smarter than it sounds and also reasonably bro-ish. But it’s not great. Most of the jokes are about masturbation, usually to female video game characters, but occasionally just about sex in general and they’re not exactly the subtlest (Coupe: “We’re going to [go back to] ’69 now” Josh: “What? Erm, okay… What’s he [Wilson] going to do? Watch?”). There are debates about the nature of video games themselves, with long discussions about the realism of Super Mario, gamers’ real-life psychological profiles and what would happen if you introduced video-game violence into the real world, with all its many consequences.

The show is also self-critiquing, with Josh’s initial suspicion that Coupe and Wilson are playing a joke on him growing from “Okay, so that’s The Last Starfighter” to “Okay, so that’s The Last Starfighter meets Quantum Leap“; the show uses The Terminator‘s typeface every time there’s time travel; and when Josh arrives back in his family home back in 1969, a Back To The Future sting plays. There’ll be more movie parodies to come in later episodes, too, judging by the trailer.

However, while there are certainly quite a few laughs to be had, normally from Hutcherson’s reations and Coupe and Wilson’s lack of cultural understanding rather than the cringe-worthy jokes, this doesn’t have either the production values or direction (Rogen co-directs the first episode) to really pull off what it’s trying to do, with many of the obviously stunt doubles’ faces visible during fights, for example. The cast is good, with Britt Lower (Man Seeking Woman), Paul Scheer (The League, Veep) and Ron Funches (Undateable) also showing up in so-far minor roles, but squandered by a script that has few of Overman’s cleverer or dirtier traits.

If you like Rogen’s brand of loser gross-out, embarrassment comedy and you like sci-fi movies, you might find Future Man appealing. If not, you’ll probably simply feel like me that this is a show that’s about five or ten years late to a party that’s just about over.

What have you been watching? Including Frontier, People of Earth, Stan Against Evil and Ghostbusters

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. 

Made it. Backlog – cleared. TV – watched.

Okay, not quite. I skipped Dark Water because that’s now on BBC Four, so there’s not much point my previewing it now. Oops. Still, it was only a mini-series.

Also, all the new Internet shows I keep listing are going to take a little longer, as are the shows I’m currently watching with lovely wife (WestworldHumans, The Crown). But everything else is now up-to-date. Well done me.

Given I’ve already passed third episode verdicts this week on The Great Indoors (US: CBS; UK: ITV2) and Eyewitness (US: USA), that means that after the jump, I’ll be looking at the latest episodes of Ash vs Evil Dead, Chance, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Designated Survivor, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, Doctor Doctor, Falling Water, Frequency, Hyde and Seek, Lethal Weapon, Lucifer, Son of Zorn, Supergirl and Travelers.

In terms of new shows, elsewhere, I’ve reviewed Second Jen (Canada: City), but I have tried a few others, you’ll be happy to hear.

Frontier (Canada: Discovery; UK: Netflix)
Set in the disputed Hudson Bay territory of Canada at the turn of the 18th century, Discovery’s first scripted show Frontier sees Jason Momoa as a tomahawk-wielding go-between for all the competing interests that want to kill animals for their fur, including the English, Scottish, Americans and Canadians (who are all either English or French at this point, of course). With its terrible dialogue, motley medley of actors all sporting bad accents no matter their origin, and middling production values, Frontier is unfortunately little more than The Patriot meets Last of the Mohicans, with Momoa clearly thinking he’s in a different show from the rest of the anaemic cast. Practically unwatchable, it’s still not quite as bad as The Bastard Executioner.

People of Earth (US: TBS)
TBS apparently being where Daily Show correspondents now go to die, People of Earth gives us Wyatt Cenac as a cynical magazine journalist sent to cover an “alien abductees survivors group” – although they prefer ‘experiencers’ – where he soon begins to realise that those vivids hallucinations of talking deer might be a sign that he, too, has been abducted. So he decides to stay in town and see if he can work out what’s really happening and whether an alien invasion is really underway. 

The show is a 50/50 split between two strands. The first strand is the desperately unfunny goings on at the support group, which reminds you of Go On but with Cenac’s deadpan instead of the jokes and Matthew Perry’s sardonic quips.

The second is with the aliens themselves – for they are real – where the show is actually a properly funny workplace comedy. Yes, that’s right – a workplace comedy. I mean have you ever considered how much effort goes into faking those cover-ups?

I watched the first episodes, I might keep watching for the aliens. But I might not. 

Stan Against Evil (US: IFC)
John C McGinley reprises his Scrubs Doctor Cox role here to play a sheriff of a small town near Salem that was once the host to even more witch burnings. However, these were all real witches and demons, who vowed to kill every sheriff the town would ever have. Fortunately for Cox, his learned wife managed to use all manner of magic to protect him, making him the only sheriff to survive the job in the town’s entire history. But Cox is fired, just after his wife’s funeral, so soon a replacement (You’re The Worst‘s Janet Varney) is in town and together, they have to fight all manner of horrors together, since the demons want them both dead.

Coming on the heels of Ash Vs Evil Dead, this is a somewhat poorly timed piece of comedy horror, in which the clueless, frequently misogynistic, outspoken McGinley (“I want you to admit Starsky was gay. He wore a sweater with a belt. Come on, you’re a cop. Follow the evidence!”) has to deal with demons, women and modern society’s general pansiness, with only a suspiciously familiar book of magic to help him. Varney does offer a reasonable counterpoise to him and the plots involve her as much as him, but ultimately this is McGinley’s show and he’s naturally very good.

Unfortunately, the plots themselves are neither as funny nor as gory as Ash vs Evil Dead‘s. I watched the first four episodes of this, and while each offers maybe a couple of laughs, is a little smarter than than Bruce Campbell’s show and the demons (eg goat demons, a succubus) have a bit more variety and a bit more of a scare than the ‘deadites’, it still felt like a bit an effort to get through for some slightly pointless, slightly derivative pieces of work.

I also watched a movie!

Ghostbusters (2016)
An all-woman line-up of ghost exterminators (Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Hope) go into business for themselves in New York and have to deal with a bunch of spooks emerging from the afterlife who could threaten life as we know it.

Featuring cameos from all the surviving cast of the classic 80s movie, this 2016 version homages most of the first movie’s iconic moments and props, while simultaneously avoiding being a retread and finding its own sources of humour. McKinnon – best known as Saturday Night Live‘s Hillary Clinton – in particular breaks from the confines of the plot to be something a lot odder and more interesting than you’d expect.

However, the movie plays a lot younger than the original, losing the 80s version’s slightly edgier and stranger qualities, and its denoument goes on for far too long. On the plus side, though, Chris Hemsworth is very funny as the Ghostbusters’ eyecandy receptionist.

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including Frontier, People of Earth, Stan Against Evil and Ghostbusters”

US TV

Preview: Benched 1×1 (US: USA)

Benched

In the US: Tuesdays, 10.30/9.30c, USA. Starts October 28

And lo! It came to pass that the USA Network, the motto of which was “Characters Welcome”, decided that it was going to make comedies. Because if you make hour-long dramas and comedy-dramas, surely half-hour comedies are just as simple, right?

And first it did commission a weak-arse adaptation of Channel 4’s Sirens that still managed to be one of 2014’s best-rated basic cable comedies. And then it did commission Playing House, which made the weak-arse Sirens look like Fawlty Towers.

Then after a mere eight months of thinking about whether it was sure about this whole comedy thing, it did commission a third comedy, Benched, which apparently was enough for USA because although they’re ‘fully committed’ to it (translated: will drop it like a hot potato as soon as possible), there are going to be no more USA comedies for the foreseeable future.

So let’s appropriately enough start shouting “Dead man walking!” as Benched trundles across our screens, waiting for its imminent execution. It’s a shame really, because it stars Eliza Coupe, who after starring in both Scrubs and Happy Endings, would normally be onto better things than her Happy Endings colleague Casey Wilson, yet who has the (slightly) superior Marry Me on NBC. Coupe plays a corporate lawyer who’s first dumped by her fiancé and then overlooked for partner at her firm, prompting an outburst (and demolition) at her firm so strong that she’s not able to work in corporate law any more and is forced to take a job as a public defender. There she meets a motley collection of similarly failed lawyers and demented defendants, and has to do her best to both survive and look after those she’s charged with defending.

And there’s a guy. There’s always a guy.

Coupe does her best and the script does explore areas of the law that most legal shows don’t bother with, ranging from why you should be nice to security guards to the shoddy treatment that the poor get at the hands of the law. But despite all Coupe’s delivery as well as physical comedy skills, the show is woefully unfunny, with a script bereft of any jokes that might cause you do anything more than smile or titter. While the characters are at least more bearable than those in Sirens and have greater maturity than gnats, unlike those in Playing House, a particularly sarcastic judge that Coupe has to deal with is really the only one you’d voluntarily see again, and basing a series on Coupe’s legal wrangles with her ex- as a proxy for their relationship issues doesn’t really make you want to watch more than another one or two episodes tops.

Benched could get better over time, but we’re talking about a pretty poor foundation for everything. And given how little USA apparently wants to stay in the comedy business, I doubt the show will get renewed after its first season unless it gets some very, very good ratings.

So pray for Coupe to get something better, but expect Benched to be benched before the year is out.

Here endeth the lesson, but starteth the trailer. You may titter at it a bit.

TV reviews

Review: Undateable 1×1-1×2 (NBC)

Undateable

In the US: Thursdays, 9/8c, NBC

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. At least, for NBC’s Undateable it was.

As the title suggests, this is a comedy about a bunch of hopeless male nerds who are basically undateable: they don’t look good, they don’t know how to talk or act around women, yet all they want in life is to win over some woman’s heart. Into their midst comes an alpha male, a modern Fonzie, who is the master of the one-night stand and small talk with the ladies. And he’s going to show them how to win it big with the girls.

Ordinarily, that would sound pretty horrible and given it stars Chris D’Elia (Whitney) as the neo-Fonz and is a multi-camera comedy filmed in front of studio audience in the worst traditions of CBS comedies – the success of which NBC is desperate to emulate – that potential for horrible only manages to near cesspit level depths.

But right now, thanks to the tragedy of Elliot Rodger, lonely nerds who have problems with women aren’t exactly a popular subject in the US – particularly ones that seek help from pick-up artists in shows that tell nerds that yes, your princess is in the same castle. Couple that with Elia’s decision to take to task in the worst possible way women around the world for the hashtag #YesAllWomen, which emerged following Rodger’s murders, and you’d presume, perhaps even hope, that Undateable would die a fiery death on arrival, just like any other NBC comedy you could care to mention, lest we all get the plague and die from its suppurating sores.

Yet, strangely, Undateable got the highest-rated summer debut for a network comedy in five years. On NBC.

WTF? What’s going on?

Well, Undateable isn’t quite what you might think it is. For one thing, it’s from Bill Lawrence, creator of Scrubs, Cougar Town and Ground Floor, so it was never going to be as stupid or as offensive as anything that the Chuck Lorre channel was going to throw our way. It’s also based on a book by two women – 311 Things Guys Do That Guarantee They Won’t Be Dating or Having Sex – and written by romcom specialist Adam Sztykiel (Made of Honour).

But more importantly, it’s not a programme that portrays women as objects or that shows that constant one-night stands are a good thing. Indeed, Neo-Fonzie isn’t the hero – just as the nerds are going to learn from him how to flirt and be confident, so he’s going to learn from them that actually, maybe his life is a bit empty and lonely and he needs to treat women better.

In a sense then, TV has never needed Undateable – a show that teaches nerdy men how to be nice to women, not to expect them as a prize and shows them that women are people with their own problems, too – more than it does right now.

I just wish – as I do with pretty much every NBC comedy – that it was a bit funnier.

Here’s a trailer or two:

Continue reading “Review: Undateable 1×1-1×2 (NBC)”