In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, NBC
In the UK: Thursdays, 9pm, Syfy. Starts tonight!
Every so often, someone has the bright idea of taking all manner of previously separated supernatural beasties and sticking them together. Universal is trying it right now at the movies with Dracula, The Mummy, et al, with almost no success, but cast your mind back just a little bit and you’ll remember Sky/Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, which brought together the likes of Frankenstein, his monster, Dr Jekyll and Dorian Grey.
Cast your mind ever further back and you’ll hit HBO’s True Blood, which gave us a world populated by vampires and subsequently fairies, et al, as the series progressed, and when you hit 2010, you’ll come across The Gates, an almost forgotten ABC show about a gated community in which vampires, werewolves and the like all tried to co-exist peacefully, but usually failing miserably in the attempt.
Now NBC is giving it a whirl, this time by following the True Blood route of adapting a series of Southern-set Charlaine Harris books. Here, the eponymous Midnight, Texas is merely an informal point where over the years, all manner of “different” people have decided to settle down. As well as having its own Hellmouth™, there’s
An energy- and blood-sucking, blue-eyed vampire Peter Mensah (Spartacus)
Local vicar Yul Vazquez (Seinfeld) is a werewolf
Tattooist Jason Lewis (Sex and the City) is a fallen angel, albeit one who hasn’t gone to Hell
Arielle Kebbel (90210) is a freelance assassin with no apparent special power other than to run around in a bikini with a bow and arrow
Potentially all manner of other, equally odd individuals
All seems quiet, even when the Sons of Lucifer are around. But then along into town comes psychic François Arnaud (The Borgias), persuaded by his fraudulent fortune-telling dead grandmother that he’s better off hiding out in Midnight, Texas, from whomever’s after him.
Unfortunately, just as Arnaud turns up, someone is murdered and before you know it, the police are investigating, sometimes with the help of Arnaud and his ability to speak to and raise the dead. Will they discover the town’s great big secret? And if they do, what will the denizens do to ensure their secret is kept safe?
What is the American Dream? To succeed? To be rich? To be famous? To have an enduring legacy? To do well by your family or community?
Arguably, it varies and has varied over the years and one of the main themes of FX’s lukewarm but amusingly titled Denis Leary comedy, Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll, is that not only has it changed, it can change for individuals, too.
Leary plays Johnny Rock, the lead singer of a 1990s rock band. The band never made the big time, having split up the day their first album was released, and 25 years later, Rock is penniless and still living with one of his backing singers, while his co-writer and band guitarist John Corbett (Northern Exposure, Sex and the City) is still estranged from him but playing for Lady Ga Ga.
Then into Rock’s life comes one of the band’s few fans, Gigi (Elizabeth Gillies). She’s an aspiring singer and wants to reunite the band to back her – and for Corbett and Leary to bury their differences and write her some new songs, with Leary relegated to a songwriter credit. Not only has she got plenty of money to entice them with, she’s also a pretty good performer.
The big catch? Gillies is Leary’s estranged daughter – and Corbett has a thing for young women…
Much of the humour, if it can be described as such, in Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll is about how the nature of ambition and fame have changed and change with age. When the band was young, they wanted to be famous for producing good music and to get all the sex and drugs they could. Now they’d just like to have some money to buy things with and to be remembered at all. Except now, to be famous, you have to be like Kim Kardashian or Lady GaGa and that, rather than the Beatles, is something people aspire to be.
There’s also the impending competition between Gillies and Leary, with the feisty, focused, sexting- and social media-aware Gillies liable to become more famous than Leary ever was and certainly now is.
The rest of the humour is standard Leary japes: swearing, pratfalls, taboo subjects (eg trying to French kiss someone who turns out to be your own daughter), group teasing, the occasional diatribe about the state of the world and so on.
And not much of it lands on the funny bone. Some does and you can see most of it in the trailer below, but it all feels as tired as Leary’s band, like it’s going through the motions. There’s a slight element of misogyny to the show, too, although to some extent that’s because of its setting and the show does a decent enough job of undermining it. All the same, you’ll probably feel a bad taste in your mouth as you watch the episode.
There’s also the horrifying inclusion of actual singing. True, Gillies is a singer in real-life, making her Broadway debut when she was just 15 and enduring 50+ episodes of Nickleodeon’s performing arts sitcom Victorious. But if she’d sung for just 10 seconds longer, Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll would have been cast into the same bin I consigned Nashville and Empire. Tough on music, tough on the causes of music, me.
I do have a fondness for Leary from his stand-up days, but as with Rescue Me and the rest of his TV work, Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll just felt like a sitcom written by someone who knows his star is waning and is desperate to keep doing encores until he can’t do them any more.
History is, of course, usually just that – ‘his story’. ‘Her story’ – women’s stories – tend to get overlooked.
Thankfully, great efforts are being made to redress the balance, to tell the forgotten stories of women throughout the world and throughout the centuries, to show what contributions they’ve made to society.
Unfortunately, much as it would probably like to be, The Astronaut Wives Club isn’t one of those efforts. The series is set during the early 1960s, when ‘women’s liberation’ was just beginning and the US and the USSR were racing each other to be the first to put a living creature then a man then a woman in space, before finally they both aimed for the ultimate prize of putting a man on the moon.
The US efforts began in earnest with the Mercury Seven, a group of seven astronauts who would fly the Mercury spacecraft into orbit, but only one of whom would be the first American into space. Each of these men was married and as an act of anti-Soviet propaganda and to get the American people on board with the ‘space race’, efforts were made to make these wives a form of American royalty, right down to a Time magazine journalist reporting on their every move – provided he only showed them and their husbands in a good, all-American light, of course.
Needless to say, beneath the surfaces of these supposedly happy, ordinary American wives, their happy, extraordinary American husbands and their marriages, a lot was going on, including infidelity and divorce, all of which these women and Time had to hide from sight.
Now, without these women doing what they did, these men might never have been able to have been astronauts – or at least be astronauts and have a family, normal home-life, etc. And many were accomplished in their own rights. So it’s good that their stories are told.
And they have been – in Lily Koppel’s book, The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story. And to be honest, that’s where they should have been left, because a 10-part event television series they do not make – or if they do, the wrong people are telling them.
The Astronaut Wives Club is dull. Dull, dull, dull, dull, dull. It shouldn’t be. But it is. It’s got a great cast: Yvonne Strahovski (Chuck, 24, Dexter), Odette Annable (House, Banshee, Breaking In, Rush), Erin Cummings (Spartacus, Detroit 1-8-7), Joanna Garcia (Privileged, Better With You, Animal Practice), Desmond Harrington (Dexter), Evan Handler (Sex and the City, Californication), Bret Harrison (The Loop, Reaper) and more. It’s got space rockets, some of which explode. It’s got pool parties and heaps of 60s style. It also has real, well known events to recreate, such as famous Time magazine photos.
But it’s dull. Dull, dull, dull, dull, dull.
The problem is that much of the first episode isn’t really about the women. It’s about women with women, which it explores in entirely standard and dull, dull, dull, dull, dull ways. So on the one hand, the wives are all competitive and want their husband to be the first man in space. But since all they can do is compete verbally and can’t actually do anything to help their husband to be the first man in space, they simply snipe at one another and pick holes in each other’s accomplishments (“An unmarried woman travelling abroad. That must have been… an adventure”).
Then they realise that they each have secrets that could be revealed and that anything bad looks bad for their husbands, so they club together for solidarity, making cakes and so on. Annable’s Trudy Cooper is getting divorced and hates cheating men so she ends up manipulating events so that Dominique McElligott’s Louise Shepard can spot Alan Shepard cheating.
Except there’s also the fact they’re getting so much fame and celebrity that perhaps if they bent the rules, they might be the one who ends up a bit more famous than the rest, which is what Strahovski ends up doing, such as when she wears a dress that isn’t pastel-coloured in the photo above. Except maybe she’ll need the help of the others later on…
And so on. And I’m sure there’ll be more of that ‘women helping each other through adversity’ later, too, as well known historical tragedies will take place in future episodes.
But you’d be hard pressed to know what any of the women were actually like, what their own accomplishments were and so on, beyond the occasional throw-away line. In fact, you’ll end up knowing a whole lot more about all the members of the Mercury Seven than you did before, which is almost exactly the opposite of what The Astronaut Wives Club was trying to do.
So like ABC’s other 60s period piece, Pan-Am, before it, The Astronaut Wives Club is a pretty little bauble of a piece, full of decent actors and actresses and lovely attention to period detail, but with a plot that’ll send you to sleep despite all the excitement of its setting. Avoid.
Incidentally, it’s interesting don’t you think that despite supposedly being the most female-friendly of all the networks, ABC’s current Thursday night offering is this, followed by Mistresses. Not really demonstrating the full gamut of women’s experiences independent of men, is it?
Ah, TV Land. The network for people who like TV to be how it was in the olden days, with studio audiences, jokes you can see coming a mile off and no one doing anything that came into fashion in the past two decades.
Or at least it used to be, because over the past few years, with shows such as Hot In Cleveland and Jennifer Falls, the network has been trying to crack a slightly younger demographic – fortysomethings. Particularly fortysomething women.
Never has this been more explicit than with Younger, TV Land’s latest, most audience-flattering show, in which the recently divorced 40-year-old Sutton Foster (Bunheads) tries to find a job, only to discover that that’s a lot harder than it sounds. However, when she gets mistaken in a bar for a twentysomething, she gets a full on makeover and lands herself an assistant job at a publishing firm – by pretending to be in her late 20s. Now all she has to do is keep pretending to be a youngster with their Twitters and their krav maga and their mobile phones, while putting up with her new, overbearing, idea-stealing 43-year-old boss Miriam Shor (GCB).
Created and written by Sex and the City creator Darren Star from the novel by Pamela Redmond Satran, Younger is the kind of idea that can work in the fantasy world of a novel written more or less pre-Internet, where you can cast whom you like and not have to worry about Google et al, but which fails horribly onscreen in a series made now.
Foster is 40 and – not to be uncharitable – could probably get away with 35, but only someone in their 40s (or mid-50s in Star’s case) would believe her to be 26. And if that were the show’s only problem, it might be able to get away with it. But Star’s not exactly either down with the kids or the 40 year olds for that matter. He does his best, but the idea that a 40-year-old woman who used to work in publishing would need to Google “How to open a Twitter account” doesn’t wash. Neither does the idea that young co-worker Hilary Duff wouldn’t immediately Google and Facebook her new co-worker and immediately see through the lie. When Satran wrote the book in 2005, it was plausible, but not now.
It doesn’t help that one of Star’s target references for what all the young people are talking about is Judge Judy.
Even if we excuse the logistical and cultural problems, we have the show’s next dilemma, which is that its content is largely wearisome. Foster, desperately trying to hide her age, almost gives herself away… How? Do you want to guess? Is it because she inadvertently let’s slip some childhood memory of growing up in the 80s? Maybe it’s because someone from her college days turns up? How about when she said she’d been to Princeton and spent the time studying rather than organising protests and sit-ins? Less than a decade previously…
No, it’s because she takes off all her clothes in a women’s changing room revealing her pubic area isn’t as well groomed or free of grey hairs as those of her younger friends. Cue long discussion with best pal Debi Mazar (Entourage) about the kids of today and their styling fashions. That’s about as deep as it gets.
As a side note, maybe I’m just not very studly and toned for my age, but if I were trying to hide my true age from someone 15 years younger than me, taking off all my clothes in front of them probably wouldn’t be top of the list of things I’d do. I might wear a towel at least.
Anyway, back on topic, occasionally, the show veers into slightly more interesting, Sex and the City territory, with Foster trying to help Duff be more assertive with her boyfriend and Duff quoting Taylor Swift to justify her helping other women. But this feels like a show written by someone who doesn’t really have much contact with any of the groups it’s about and who only wants to sell its audience a fanciful piece of flattery – yes, you, too, could be young again and better at it than those youngsters are…
To be honest, if that is your bag, you might as well go whole hog, bring in some time travel and go off and watch the very, very similar, much better and actually more plausible Hindsight. That’s also got a better soundtrack. And Laura Ramsey.
Superheroes are all the rage at the cinema right now. In the comics book world, DC and Marvel predominate, but for many years, DC was the only real name at the movies, with Batman and Superman movies galore. However, Marvel has now not only caught up, it’s setting the pace and showing how comics should be adapted. So while DC has gone dark, gritty and important in the past decade, an attitude that the Lego Movie mercilessly mocked…
…Marvel has gone for relatively light, fun movies, such as Iron Man, Thor and the forthcoming Guardians of the Galaxy. DC’s movies have also been self-contained, while Marvel has had its superbeings unite in The Avengers and guest in each other’s movies and TV shows with aplomb.
But DC is picking up the pace, both at the movies and on TV. The forthcoming Batman v Superman is going to feature not only the eponymous two heroes, it’s also got Wonder Woman, Cyborg and various other members of the Justice League lined up to appear, with more movies together and individually lined up if these are a success. And on the small screen, it has the continuing adventures of Green Arrow in Arrow and Batman prequel Gotham lined up for the autumn/fall.
But it’s still all a bit dark and gritty, isn’t it? However, DC appears to be well aware of its gloomy reputation so it’s giving us something a bit lighter and a bit more fun. And since The CW did so well with first Smallville (the Guinness World Record holder ‘longest consecutive running sci-fi TV show’) and then Arrow and believes that superheroes are the best way to attract male viewers who might have been scared off by all that Gossip Girl and The Carrie Diaries, it seems appropriate for it to be the launchpad for this new show based on one of DC’s (literally) lightest characters: The Flash, a character who ends up being able move even faster than Superman, following a laboratory accident.
Indeed, for the past season of Arrow, The CW has been slowly introducing The Flash and his helper monkeys to viewers, inserting him (and them) pre-powers into various episodes, originally intending to turn one episode into a backdoor pilot. It backed off from that idea and instead decided to give him a launch episode all of his own.
And not only is it very good, in some ways better even than Arrow’s first episode, it’s really just what DC is looking for – fun, light and full of crossovers from other superheroes. Just don’t be too surprised if it all seems very familiar and a bit… light.
But first, here’s a dark and gritty (hugely spoilering) trailer – it seems some habits die hard.