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.

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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)”

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US TV

Review: Enlisted 1×1 (Fox)

Enlisted

In the US: Fridays, 9.30/8.30c, Fox

If there’s one genre of comedy that the US does particularly well, it’s military comedy. Think The Phil Silvers Show. Think MASH. Think Private Benjamin. Don’t think Down Periscope.

But there’s been a bit of a lull of late. Wonder why. In fact, despite largely the conclusion of the Iraq war and the withdrawal of US troops from both there and Afghanistan, many are questioning if it’s ‘the right time’ for another military comedy.

Is there ever a right time?

All the same, a cautious greeting I think to Fox’s Enlisted, a welcome, funny comedy from Kevin Biegel, a former Scrubs writer and the co-creator of Cougar Town, that sees a ‘super soldier’ (Geoff Stults) sent back from Afghanistan for punching a superior officer. He winds up at a ‘rear detachment’ base in Florida, which coincidentally happens to be the same base where his two younger brothers are stationed – one who hates the army but is quite a good soldier, the other who loves the army but is a terrible soldier. Put in charge of them and the rest of their platoon of losers, Stults finds himself having to deal with not just his new, less prestigious mission, but competition from another sergeant (Angelique Cabral), his superior officer who also happened to raise him after his parents died (Keith David)… and a lost dog.

Continue reading “Review: Enlisted 1×1 (Fox)”

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What have you been watching? Including Doctor Who, Sherlock, Elementary, Community, The Bridge and The Ground Floor

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.

There have been lots of Christmas specials and few regular TV shows over the holiday period, some of which I watched, some of which (thanks to the iPlayer’s one-week cut-off) I didn’t:

Doctor Who (BBC1/BBC America)
Bye bye Matt Smith, hello Peter Capaldi. A little bit of a smorgasbord of things here, with Steven Moffat once again reverting to usual form following The Day of the Doctor, particularly poorly thought-out, identical female characters (although Clara had a personality for once, which was nice). Stevie hates having to do anything that feels like a sequel so he injected as much original but meaningless and silly stuff into The Time of the Doctor as possible. It also meant he glossed over really, really important things (the Doctor dying, the conspiracy of Silence) in mere minutes that should have kept him in episodes for months but would have required that dreaded sequel word again. Even the cameo from Karen Gillan was a poor idea (poor Clara). But bits of it worked quite well, loose ends were tied up and there were some touching moments (the death of Handles) and good ideas (wooden Cybermen). It wasn’t quite the proper send-off we’d hoped for Matt Smith, but it wasn’t the worst Doc send-off we’ve ever had and we now have 13 more Doctors to look forward to.

But back in the world of regular TV, I saw:

Ground Floor (TBS)
Possibly the best episode so far, since, for a change, it focused on the Ground Floor and how undouchy they are compared to the Top Floor. Briga Heelan got her groove back and we saw that at least one woman works on the top floor. We also got our first Doctor Cox Scrubs joke – eight episodes they managed before slipping one in. And then there was the HR video…

And in the recommended list:

Sherlock (BBC/BBC America)
The Empty Hearse
Well, I say recommended but… Okay. In many ways it’s brilliant, but this season has effectively seen the show shift from being an innovative take on Sherlock Holmes and crime dramas, with a hint of comedy, to being a fully fledged comedy with implausible characters (well, one anyway). The New Year’s Day episode was written by Mark Gatiss who chose for his pastiche genres: Sherlock Holmes (the Robert Downey Jr movie) and… Steven Moffat. Strange it was indeed to see Gatiss emulating his co-writer, but it was like a bad carbon copy of Stevie’s finer season 2 moments. Overall enjoyable, with plenty of wry in-jokes (Martin Freeman’s wife playing Watson’s fiancé, Mary Moran; Benedict Cumberbatch’s parents playing Holmes’ parents; Cumberbatch re-using his dodgy Cabin Pressure French accent), but lacking in self-discipline – if it has just dialled itself back a bit, taken a deep breath and remembered what reality looks like, it would have been really good. As for the lack of true explanation for how Sherlock survived despite the multiple explanations that we did see, I did quite like that, even if it we ended up going through numerous levels of meta to get there.

The Sign of Three
Then there was last night’s episode. Now, the second episode of every Sherlock season is usually almost irredeemable sh*t and last night’s was no exception. In its defence, it was supposed to be a complete change of pace, a comedy character piece all about Holmes and Watson, rather than a proper crime story. It also had a pretty good plot structure, with several unsolved crime stories told in flashback that are eventually solved at the end of the episode (although if you didn’t see that coming, frankly, I’m surprised you even know what drama is, let alone what a TV looks like). But the trouble was it was 60 minutes of the utterly ridiculous and insultingly poor – and worse still, dull – before a final 15 minutes that tried to redeem what had come before and could only do so partially. It also had to twist Sherlock’s character into all sorts of weird knots to make him fit the script. How can a man who doesn’t understand human emotions at all be able to make deductions the way he does? To say he may lack empathy is one thing; to say he has no comprehension is quite another. And frankly, the hints at the stories we didn’t get were far more fun than the ones we did get.

But a lovely cameo by you know who.

Elementary (CBS/Sky Living)
By contrast, Elementary delivered one of its finest episodes. While it’s debatable just how much like Sherlock Holmes Jonny Lee Miller’s character is – The Mentalist and House give you better deductions and cases than Elementary – its Irene Adler/Jamie Moriarty is a tour de force in chilling evil. Or is she? This was a touching examination of the two characters’ bonds. I wonder where they’re taking this – redemption or double crossville? And what were all those hints by Moriarty that she knew she would soon be free about? Unlike Sherlock, this made me want to watch another episode.

Community (NBC/some random UK channel)
After the disastrous, Dan Harmon-less fourth season, it was a delight to watch last week’s double bill to be able to say Community is back and almost back to form. With a hell of a lot to do to reboot the show – in true Community fashion, the episode was called Re-Pilot and even referenced its own reboot as well as Scrubs‘ – the writers pulled out all the stops and by the end of the second episode, harmony was restored, cameos performed and the show was put back on the rails. Let’s see where this baby goes now.

The Bridge
And they’re back! Just as Sky’s remake finished, season 2 of The Bridge (aka Bron/Broen) returned, complete with the proper Martin and Saga. While not quite as sharp as the first season and perhaps a little more distant from reality again, it’s still an excellent piece of work, Saga Noren is still wonderful (and more plausible now that she actually knows something about emotions) and I heartily recommend it. I even managed to watch both episodes live on a Saturday night, that’s how good it is.

“What have you been watching?” is your chance to recommend to friends and fellow blog readers the TV and films that they might be missing or should avoid – and for me to do mini-reviews of everything I’ve watched. Since we live in the fabulous world of Internet catch-up services like the iPlayer and Hulu, why not tell your fellow readers what you’ve seen so they can see the good stuff they might have missed?

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What have you been watching? Including Y Gwyll, Ground Floor, Thor 2, Gravity and Homeland

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.

Sorry for the long delay in posting this but holiday and the resulting workload meant I didn’t have time to do it properly. Obviously, it might be a bit tricky for y’all to remember what you’ve been watching in the past three weeks, but if you let everyone know, I’m sure they’ll be grateful.

Elsewhere, you can find my review of the first episode of Ground Floor (more on that in a bit), my fourth-episode verdict on The Tunnel/Tunnel and my mini-review of the first episode of Dracula. The latter proved so bad that I couldn’t even countenance the idea of watching any more episodes, although I hear it might have picked up with episode four on Friday – although, given it’s only six episodes long, that might be leaving it a tad late. Also abandoned on the general grounds of life being too short is Atlantis – and the more I read recaps of the episodes as they air, the happier I am I’ve done that.

Still in the viewing queue are last night’s Serangoon Road, Almost Human and Homeland, as well as last week’s increasingly tedious Agents of SHIELD – let’s hope this week’s Thor 2 crossover is going to give it a boost.

Shows I’m watching but not necessarily recommending
Agents of Shield (ABC/Channel 4)
FitzSimmons get some characterisation, another call back to The Avengers and Coulson gets trauma counselling. And I just don’t care. Much. When will the TV curse of Jeph Loeb be lifted?

The Blacklist (NBC/Sky Living)
We’ve now had ‘evil Wilson’ (House’s Robert Sean Leonard) doing evil doctor things, thus proving my theory about the casting decisions going on. Last week’s episode, however, excitingly dumped a big bunch of story on us, revealing (just about conclusively) that James Spader is indeed (spoiler alert) Megan Boone’s real father and her hubbie probably is more than he seems. Quite impressive for a show that’s not even cracked 10 episodes yet. Throwaway above-average fun so worth watching if you have an idle hour.

Ground Floor (TBS)
Episode two was marginally better than the first. Some additional maintenance workers showed up; Skylar Astin mysteriously turned into JD from Scrubs; there have clearly been some wardrobe decisions with respect to Briga Heelan, who’s getting some more practical outfits appropriate for a support worker; and it’s also making some good points re: class. However, it does feel a lot like an Ayn Rand diatribe at times, with the blue collar guys essentially ‘where they belong’ because they’re slackers who don’t work all day and are a bit dumb, whereas the guys on the top floor are hard-working bastards who get up before 5am every morning and leave work at midnight. Rather than, say, the blue collar workers having to hold down two jobs to make ends meet and the rich guys essentially having got lucky and blowing their ‘because it’s Monday’ bonus on cocaine, champagne and lap dancers when they’re ‘working’ with clients.

The Tomorrow People (The CW/E4)
About a gadzillion times more interesting and better than the original, but really starting to feel like a never ending series of episodes where people run around and get chased down corridors a lot, with baddies introduced then killed a couple of weeks later. Still, they’re up the diversity count, they’ve finally given some back story and character to the Asian guy, and there has been some plot advancement so at least they’re heading in the right general direction, albeit slowly.

Recommended shows
Arrow (The CW/Sky 1)
Some terrible acting and borderline racism in the ‘black hoodlums’ episode, but the Black Canary storyline has seen the show firing on all cylinders, there’s been some fun stuff between Felicity and Oliver, and the fight scenes have been as good as always. You can see how they’re starting to set up the arrival of The Flash in the background of the stories, too, and seeing Amanda Waller from ARGUS turn up (albeit the nu52, slimmed down version) was a fun shout out to DC fans. Strange how little screen time Laurel’s getting though. I wonder what’s up there?

Elementary (CBS/Sky Living)
Two references to The Adventure of the Silver Blaze in two weeks, including one story outright based on the original was interesting, as was a guest appearance by Olivia D’Abo from The Wonder Years, who turns out to be English-American. Well I never. The show’s also finding its feet with respect to the characters, although the Gerard backstory episode was a little perfunctory on that score. Some fun Englishisms coming in (‘bell end’ and ‘gits’, I’ve noticed) and of course we’ve had the joy of Mycroft showing up to create a New York Diogenes (club). The end of last week’s episode made me wonder if (spoiler alert)Mycroft is working for the British government, as per the books, and we might still learn that he’s as good at deduction as Sherlock, but has been hiding it.

Homeland (Showtime/Channel 4)
Has been treading a dangerously thin line these past few weeks, retreading first season storylines that made me wonder why I’m bothering watching the show. But it’s gradually metamorphosed in the past two weeks into a musing on the nature of modern day spying: is there a point to it, is human intelligence really still better than machine-gathered intelligence, does spying do more harm than good? Indeed, Carrie and her bipolar problems are starting to look like relics from another series, as Saul and F Murray Abraham give us a better series altogether back at Langley. Also, Carrie and her pregnancy: is that really the fate of every woman in these stories if they dare to have sex – accidental pregnancy? It’s punishment for pointless drama. Nice Romeo and Juliet reference, a couple of weeks ago, mind.

Serangoon Road (ABC1/HBO Asia)
Developments aplenty here, with MI6 being trotted out as the evil spiders in the web, and the chief Chinese baddie getting some nuances. Last week’s ending showing us that love may be one thing, but follow your heart and things tend to go pear-shaped, was a nicely cynical spin on the piece.

The Tunnel (Sky Atlantic/Canal+)
It’s surprising how much I’d forgotten of the original series, now I watch this. The US adaptation, I now belatedly realise, didn’t even touch the surface of the mental illness politics of the ‘Truth Terrorist’, whereas The Tunnel has resurrected it. Highlight of last week’s episode: Caroline Proust from Engrenages/Spiral turning up in an odd wig. I wonder if she’ll get to speak English this week?

Y Gwyll/Hinterland (S4C)
Now being shown on S4C in Welsh with English subtitles. After the pretty good first story, the second was something of a stonker that landed the show straight on the recommended list, despite being a seemingly dull story about farming boundary disputes. Some excellent direction made one chase scene particularly tense. Dave the Coach from Gavin and Stacey did a good turn as a solicitor, too. Last week’s was less impressive, being far less of a crime investigation than the second story, and more a case of Mathias getting all emotional and harassing a guy who lives in the woods. This week’s is the last story, I think, so catch it while you can before it airs in English on the BBC.

And in movies:

Thor 2
The Dark Elves (particularly Christopher Eccleston, clearly in it for the money) want to end the universe so give Asgard a kicking after they find out Natalie Portman has a secret weapon up her sleeves, so Thor has to release Loki and get him to help stop the Elves. But can Loki be trusted?
Directed by Alan Taylor, who’s directed six episodes of Game of Thrones, this was a far more matter of fact sequel than the original, which saw everyone more iconically: Thor gets to wander around in a cape and hang around in retro Norse taverns with Heimdal; Sif gets a nice furry dress suit; and more. Just about all the characters from the original get good service; mothers and women, particularly Frigga, are given far more significance than the father-obsessed first movie; and there’s a surprising amount of comedy even in the final fight scene. We also got to see more of Odin’s ravens, which was nice. Traumatically for me, the University of Greenwich gets a severe kicking at the end – even the Painted Room – which had me far more upset than the ending of The Avengers which levelled New York. And as I’m sure just about everyone from London said when they watched, it’s not three stops from Charing Cross to Greenwich on the Underground – you either need to get a train from Charing Cross overground, or get the jubilee line to North Greenwich and then get a bus or go to Canary Wharf and then get the DLR. Hope that helps, Thor.

Gravity
Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are astronauts fixing the Hubble Telescope when fragments of a satellite destroy their spaceship, forcing them to find some other way to get back to Earth. Slightly perfunctory characterisation and a plot more suited to a theme park ride, but that’s not what this movie is: it’s the 2001: A Space Odyssey or Superman of its age, a visual treat that finally gives us a 3D movie that’s not only more than just a series of ViewMaster slides and things being thrown out the screen at us but which is genuine 3D and absolutely pointless to watch in anything except 3D. Absolutely staggering in IMAX 3D, a brilliant soundtrack and although you can quibble with the science, it’s based enough in fact that the terror comes from knowing just how difficult and dangerous everything is in space.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters
Brother and sister Hansel and Gretel (Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arteton – yes, there’s over a decade’s age difference between them) grow up and make it their mission in life to kill witches, including chief witch Famke Janssen. A film that makes no sense and is colossally stupid, but knows it, given Will Ferrell and Adam McKay are the producers. However, that knowing comedy just isn’t enough to make this a decent film, although it’s still about 1,000 times better than the similar Van Helsing.

“What did you watch last week?” is your chance to recommend to friends and fellow blog readers the TV and films that they might be missing or should avoid – and for me to do mini-reviews of everything I’ve watched. Since we live in the fabulous world of Internet catch-up services like the iPlayer and Hulu, why not tell your fellow readers what you’ve seen so they can see the good stuff they might have missed?