It’s “What have you been watching?”, my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently and your chance to recommend anything you’ve been watching.
Well hello. How are you today? Have a nice break away from it all? That’s what I like to hear.
Right, that’s the small talk done. Let’s talk telly.
So, I didn’t watch an awful lot over the Christmas break, since I was actually in Germany and if you’ve ever watched German TV, you’ll remember what a mistake that was (more about that tomorrow). But after the jump I’ll be talking about the regulars I did watch, including the return of Doctor Who (briefly) and Sherlock (less briefly):
Global Internet The OA
UK Doctor Who, Sherlock
France Le Bureau des Légendes (The Bureau)
However, New Year’s Day was on Sunday and Americans being quite efficient, there have already been two new shows to grace the screens. I’ve already reviewed Ransom (US: CBS) but on top of that there was:
The Mick (US: Fox) A gender-swapped, race-swapped Uncle Buck that sees It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia‘s Kaitlin Olson playing the white trash grifter sister to a billionaire’s wife who gets lumbered with looking after the kids when the rich couple go on the run following fraud investigations. If she sticks around, she gets to enjoy the lifestyles of the rich and famous. But she’ll also have to deal with the bitchy neighbours, the bitchy daughter and the entitled son.
The show’s created by John Chernin and Dave Chernin, the creators of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, so you shouldn’t be too surprised to hear that it’s funnier than you might think, more accurate about being poor than you might think and also based around people being mean too one another verbally and physically in order to get one up on everyone else. Olson’s very good as the Mick(ey) of the title and everyone is marvellously bitchy, too.
Except that’s not my idea of fun, so I probably won’t stick with it.
I also watched a movie.
Mechanic: Resurrection (2016) Sequel in name only to the actually not that bad 2011 Jason Statham remake of the Charles Bronson/Jan-Michael Vincent actioner, The Mechanic. Here, Mechanic: Resurrection throws pretty much all the first movie’s nuance aside in favour of a sort of melange of The Transporter, The Transporter 2 and The Internecine Project. No longer the meticulous hit-man planner of yore, Statham is retired in Brazil until fellow East End child army survivor (don’t ask) turned billionaire bad guy Sam Hazeldine (Peaky Blinders, Resurrection) blackmails him into returning to his old life by abducting new girlfriend Jessica Alba. Only if Statham kills three of Hazeldine’s impossible-to-reach rivals in ways that look like accidents will Hazeldine release Alba. He says.
Foresaking The Mechanic (2011)’s character building and steely professionalism, Mechanic: Resurrection is an insultingly stupid piece of work that tries to give us glossy backdrops, non-stop Statham fight scenes, a bit of ultraviolence and a bit of casual racism as a substitute, hoping we’ll like it better. Certainly, the stars seemed to have liked it, because Alba’s former Afghanistan soldier turned teacher of Cambodian children is an insult to women, but she does get to go to lots of tropical islands; Tommy Lee Jones gets more of the same travel action, but perhaps was also swayed by the chance to play a socialist arms dealer with a James Bond-style underwater base and submarine using all the subtlety he deployed in Under Siege; Michelle Yeoh was purely there for the tropical islands and not to have to do anything athletic for a change, as far as I could tell.
To be fair, most Statham movies take the piss a little bit and Statham is as aware of that as anyone. Certainly, the fact he takes his shirt off in almost every other scene can’t be accidental and I refuse to believe that the FX shots were anything other than deliberate tributes to Derek Meddings’ model work in 1970s James Bond movies. There’s a certain amount of tongue going into cheek here.
But the writing is still terrible and worst of all, almost none of the murders Statham is supposedly hired to make look like accidents would pass as such for more than a minute. Terrible.
In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, CBS In the UK: Thursdays, Amazon Prime
Does drama need to have a point? Tricky question – indeed, one I’m increasingly asking in this age of ‘peak television’. Obviously drama needs to engage the audience (although Mr Bertolt Brecht might have something to say about it, were he still alive), so to that extent it needs a point. But does it need to speak to something, have a message or do anything beyond that engagement?
American Gothic certainly pushes that particular envelope to the limit, because for the life of me, in common with an increasing number of TV shows, I can’t see the point of it at the moment, beyond it filling the airwaves for an hour. Not having read any press notes about it, I assumed it might have something to do with either
But it didn’t take long to realise that at most it wanted to tie into the name of the painting while being ‘a bit gothic’ – especially since half the main cast aren’t American. The show concerns one of those huge American families you get in TV shows, this one a blue collar Boston bunch who have done good for themselves, thanks to dad (Jamey Sheridan)’s construction company. Elder daughter Juliet Rylance (The Kick) is running for mayor and younger son Justin Chatwin (Shameless) is a newspaper cartoonist, while younger daughter Megan Ketch (Gotham, Blue Bloods) and mum Virginia Madsen (Dune, Highlander 2) don’t do an awful lot but have husbands, one of whom is a cop.
During one of Rylance’s press conferences, Sheridan has a heart attack. Is it age or could it be something to do with the recently discovered new evidence in the case of the notorious ‘Silver Bell’ serial killer? Whatever it is, it’s time to lure back wayward eldest son Antony Starr (Outrageous Fortune, Banshee), who mysteriously disappeared 14 years ago, just as the Silver Bell killings ended. And coincidentally, what should the kids find stashed away in a box in the house but a whole bunch of silver bells like the one’s the killer used to leave? Is Dad the killer? Or is Starr, who even if he didn’t look like a serial killer, shaves with a hunting knife? Or were they accomplices? Or was it someone else in the family? Whatever it is, it’s probably genetic, judging by the way Chatwin’s young son has started cutting up cats…
All dark and nasty, albeit with almost nothing to say, just a mystery that needs solving. Except American Gothic also has a weirdly comedic vibe to it. No laughs at all, unless you count people not noticing a car being crushed behind them, and most of the cast are as dead serious as can be, but Madsen, Chatwin and incidental music composer Jeff Russo (Fargo, Power, Extant) are all utterly convinced this is supposed to be a dark comedy, judging by the various choices they’ve made.
Drama, comedy or dramedy, though, American Gothic isn’t very good at any of them. The plot is a composite of all the dafter novels you could pick up in an airport book store, five minutes before your flight was due to board. The dialogue is arch most of the time, but rarely seems to have been intended to do more than sketch, rather than give depth – when Ketch reveals that her husband has just had a promotion, everyone congratulates them for all of five seconds… before instantly moving on to explaining the plot at each other again. You’d think they might ask a question, maybe even two, wouldn’t you? And even if they didn’t, you’d think Ketch and co might be a bit miffed, wouldn’t you? But no.
Starr’s the show’s main draw, doing an even less animated, more menacing version of his Banshee performance, although Rylance is no shirk, Chatwin is engagingly dotty and Madsen gets hidden depths in the last few minutes of the episode. But the script simply doesn’t give them much to work with and it doesn’t give you a reason to want to watch the rest of the show. Despite the entire kitchen sink of drama tools being thrown at the screen, it’s a show about nothing – and not in a Seinfeld way. It’s not saying anything about social mobility, the rich, families, serial killers, Boston, politics, the police or anything else, unless it accidentally stumbles into it. The characters exist merely to drive the plot and/or provide ambiguity. There aren’t even any real gothic qualities to it, beyond the occasional shot of mist and old stonework.
So if American Gothic doesn’t know why you should you watch it, beyond an arbitrary mystery that needs solving, can you think of a good reason?