It’s “What have you been watching?”, my chance to tell you each week what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently and your chance to recommend anything you’ve been watching.
First up, it’s a warm welcome to the returning “TMINE recommends“, which went missing in action during the recent TMINE redesign while I worked out how to reproduce it in WordPress. To be honest, though, I hadn’t updated it in a couple of years, so it wasn’t quite as useful as it was before. But I spent a little bit of my weekend recommending things in the system, so it should now be as complete a list as it was in its glory days.
I’ve also been working on some variably useful A-Z indexes of reviews, including ones for all the TV reviews, audio play reviews and Internet TV reviews. More to come when I’m not exhausted. With all of these, though, I’ve yet to work out a good way of including the weekly mini-reviews from WHYBW, so they’re not 100% complete, but they’re the best they’ve ever been all the same.
Trawling through them reminded me of all manner of shows that I’d completely forgotten about, too. Remember Mr Sunshine and Pepper Dennis? Of course you don’t.
Right, now the admin’s out the way, let’s talk TV.
Things are starting to hot up again in TV around the world so expect some actual reviews later in the week and the start of next week. You’ll certainly be getting a third-episode verdict of Will tomorrow and I’ll probably be doing you a third-episode verdict of Snowfall next week, since I haven’t got round to watching last night’s episode yet. After the jump, I’ll be looking at the latest episodes of the now very short list of regulars: Ronny Chieng – International Student, Twin Peaks and the returning Game of Thrones. I’ve also managed to work my way through the whole of GLOW and I’ve tried two new shows: I’m Sorry (US: TruTV) and Friends From College (Netflix). See you on the other side!
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.
You can tell the summer’s season now fully under way, can’t you? New shows everywhere, as well as returning shows, with more to come. But all is in hand. Elsewhere, you can find my reviews this week of the first episode or two of the following exciting new shows:
And after the jump, I’ll be updating you on the latest episodes of Animal Kingdom, Cleverman, Feed The Beast, Outcast, Secret City, Uncle Buck and Silicon Valley, as well as the returning The Last Ship and Westside. Two of those shows are for the chop and one is being promoted to the recommended list – but which are which? There’s also a whole bunch of potted third-episode verdicts, since I can’t be bothered to do them all individually.
I’ve also been doing some more laggardly box-setting, so I’ll be chatting about the final five episodes of Ófærð (Trapped) as well as the entire third series of Plebs, too. That’s all after the jump. TTFN!
In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, TNT. Starts June 14 In the UK: Not yet acquired
Sometimes, you watch enough global TV and it starts to become confusing as to what’s copying what. Take Animal Kingdom, TNT’s latest drama, this one featuring Ellen Barkin (Sea of Love, Switch, The Big Easy) as the California grandmother who takes in her teenage grandson (Finn Cole from Peaky Blinders) when his mother (her daughter) fatally overdoses on heroin. Except she’s actually the head of a literal crime family, with her sons (Scott Speedman from The Last Resort, Shawn Hatosy from Southland, Ben Robson and Jake Weary) a highly efficient bunch of robbers with varying degrees of conscience.
So it immediately it looks a bit to me like New Zealand’s Outrageous Fortune, except not only is Animal Kingdom a lot darker and a lot less humorous, it’s already been remade as Scoundrels.
But then, as I watch it, I start to get a completely different vibe. With its highly efficient criminals, tense male-relationships and Heat-style direction, it’s beginning to look a lot like Smith, NBC’s old Heat knock-off with Ray Liotta. That was exec-produced by John Wells (ER), as is Animal Kingdom. There’s even a rather similar scene involving surfers, designed to show off how the family doesn’t care for the rules of society, to one in Smith involving Simon Baker.
So Smith meets Outrageous Fortune? No.
Turns out it’s actually a TV version of a 2010 Australian movie, Animal Kingdom, starring some of the great and the good of Australian acting: Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline), Joel Edgerton (The Secret Life of Us, Exodus: Gods and Kings), Guy Pearce (like you need to ask), Jacki Weaver (Secret City), and Sullivan Stapleton (Strike Back, Blindspot):
Just to be even more confusing, that was based on a real-life Melbourne crime family. Turns out the only original ideas are in real-life.
So does Australian real-life crime story Animal Kingdom work when relocated to the Californian coast? It depends. Do you think a crime show should really be about crimes or should it be about fit young men taking their tops off a lot?
In the US: Mondays, 9/8c, Fox In the UK: Tuesdays, Amazon Instant Video
Since the 80s, there’s been a move on US TV away from shows about lone heroes towards more ensemble pieces with a core cast of characters. Whether it’s to provide variety, to support the number of plots of a long-running season, to give the main actor respite from arduous filming duties, or to hedge bets in case the lead isn’t that popular, the trend is clear. When you look at remakes, it becomes even more obvious with formerly hero-centric shows taking on the trappings of ensemble pieces, whether it’s Kolchak: The Night Stalker and Night Stalker, Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation or Hawaii Five-O and Hawaii Five-0.
Normally this is by design, so the trouble comes when you forget what kind of show you’re making – is it a lone hero show or an ensemble show? Try to make both at the same time and you end up with something that’s not good at either.
Lucifer is a case in point. As the name suggests, it’s a show about the Devil himself. Adapted from the DC/Vertigo comic, it sees Miranda’s Tom Ellis as the bored fallen angel Lucifer Morningstar taking a vacation from Hell in Los Angeles, where he has loads of fun running a night club, shagging and generally tempting mortals. One day, he runs into a police detective (Lauren German) when one of his protégés is murdered, and he starts trying to solve crimes with her so he can keep up his former day job of punishing evil-doers.
It’s a somewhat silly idea but as I pointed out in my review of the first episode, it all works largely because of Ellis who’s clearly having the time of his life as a decidedly English supporting character from the Old and New Testaments (“I’ll rip his bollocks off then stamp on them one at a time”). He alternates between luxuriating in raining down diabolical torture and pain upon anyone who crosses him and camping up to the point you think he’s impersonating Kenneth Williams. It’s a marvellously engaging performance.
The trouble is that although the show is really all about Lucifer, the comic is more of an ensemble piece. And Lucifer takes on trappings of Lucifer to become partly an ensemble show as well, spending time with German, her young daughter, her ex- (Southland/True Blood/Arrow‘s Kevin Alejandro), Lucifer’s fellow devil Maze (Lesley-Ann Brandt from Spartacus and The Librarians) and Lucifer’s therapist/shag partner Rachael Harris (The Hangover, Suits, Surviving Jack). Which would be fine if any of them were in any way interesting or at least having as much fun as Ellis.
Perhaps if the show could also decide not to throw all its moments of characterisation at Lucifer but give each a few scraps from the table, it might be possible to care about them or even like them a little. But it doesn’t. The result is you have Ellis, bright and shiny in centre-stage, surrounded by pale shadows who take away from his screen time with their tedious concerns, but don’t really add anything except when they’re acting as sounding boards and ways to expand on Lucifer’s character.
The plots are also a little timid and repetitive. Murder followed by investigation in which Lucifer charms people and gets them to confess their deepest desires, all while German somberly and without any trace of real animation uses various synonyms of ‘back off’ to stop Lucifer from muscling in on her investigations, which Lucifer then studiously ignores. Even when Lucifer gets up to potentially exciting acts of sin, it’s Fox at its tamest: a ‘devil’s threesome’ and a foursome, none of which is ever shown, just the monring after when everyone wakes up with their clothes and underwear still intact.
The show works best when Ellis gets to enjoy himself and the writers provide lines and situations for him to really chow down on the scenery. It also becomes 100% more interesting whenever it’s dealing with the supernatural. Interactions with fellow angel DB Woodside, sent by God to convince Lucifer to resume normal duties, give someone for Ellis to really bounce off, while Lucifer’s acts of devilish punishment give the show a welcome edge of iron.
But for Lucifer to really work, it needs to decide whether it’s an ensemble show or a lone hero show: either drop some of the additional characters to really focus on Lucifer or give them something to do that makes them more than mere stock characters.
Barrometer rating: 3 Would it be better with a female lead? No. Different, but not better TMINE’s prediction: Could get a second season but a bit touch and go at the moment and needs to strengthen itself up to avoid a trip to ratings Hell
So what is an American crime? Well, according to the rather brilliant ABC show American Crime, it’s a regular crime but observed as simply part of a wider picture, in which systems and attitudes lock individuals into situations and behaviours they can’t escape.
Following on from an apparent burglary in which a veteran is killed and his wife raped, the show depicts how the crime and the investigation affects the families of those involved. But it also asks why the crime happened, how society views the crime, whether the crime is indicative of larger problems and whether there’s a middle ground that could be reached by everyone that’s unachievable thanks to the extremes and rules society lays down.
Following a first episode that was perhaps a little self-conscious of its own importance and that occasionally escaped from its combination of artful direction and verisimilitude to give us aspects that were a tad ‘writerly’ in their unlikeliness, the following two episodes have barely put a foot wrong in showing us the insides of the American justice system and how it can trap those who have barely done anything wrong or who would benefit from either treatment of human kindness. It’s tried to put in the shoes of junkies, drug dealers, legal immigrants, illegal immigrants, Latinos, black Americans, white Americans, fathers, mothers and everyone else as their lives overlap and they fail to understand one another, only knowing their own lives and what society tells them to be.
The show’s a hard watch. It is literally the last thing I watch out of every week’s viewing, not because it’s a bad show, but because it’s such a dishearteningly true picture of reality, without any glimmer of hope and goodness to relieve the misery, beyond the fact it’s on broadcast TV so can’t quite tread into the darkest realms. That’s why I’ll only doing my third-episode verdict on a Wednesday, when the show airs a new episode on a Thursday. That’s why the ratings keep dropping.
But as I’ve said before, if this were on HBO, there’d be no doubt that everyone would be calling it the most important, most realistic, most astutely observed crime drama since Southland or perhaps even The Wire. If you have any interest in quality TV, this is the one American show you should be watching right now.
Barrometer rating: 0 Rob’s prediction: With these ratings, it’s unlikely to survive, so catch it while you can.