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.
March is here and with it comes Spring! Snowdrops, wee fluffy little bunnies and chocolate eggs are on the way, as are a big bunch of new shows. This week, on top of passing an impending verdict on The Good Fight, I’ll also be reviewing two US time travels shows that aired last night: Time After Time and Making History. Not sure why they waited until Timeless finished before starting, but they did. There may be some other things, too, but I’m lazy and haven’t looked yet.
A few other new shows have also appeared on our screens, although none of them really warranted proper reviews:
Prime Suspect 1973 (UK: ITV) It’s hard to look back now through the distant mists of time, past sequels and remakes to 1991, when Lynda La Plante’s Prime Suspect appeared on our screens. An amazingly good piece of TV that makes you weep for what’s happened to ITV – and indeed BBC – drama in the quarter-century since, it still stands the test of time and I heartily urge you to watch/rewatch it, since it’s currently available to view on the ITV Hub for free.
A career-transforming piece for star Helen Mirren, it saw her playing DCI Jane Tennison, a discriminated against Met Police detective who has to win over her male colleagues in order to first get, then close, a case against a possible serial killer, back when those were still rare things in the media. Flipping traditional structures on its head, the show was more about the accumulation of evidence and building of a case than whoddunnit, since we know probably whodunnit right from the outset – although some of the show’s power comes from its ambiguity and whether they’ve genuinely got the right man.
These days, ITV (motto: “Is it a crime drama? Is it a period crime drama? No? Then it’s not on ITV”) seems to have given up on creating truly original new shows in favour of developing prequels to its back catalogue (what next? Brideshead Revisited: The Prep School Years?). So, following on from the success of Inspector Morse‘s origin story, Endeavour, we now have Prime Suspect 1973, in which a young Jane Tennison (Emerald City‘s Stefanie Martini) is a mere WPC learning the ropes of policework in between having to make cups of tea for the male officers. But the murder of a teenage prostitute and the benevolent support of the investigating DI (The Astronaut Wives Club‘s Sam Reid) give her an opportunity to shine.
Based on Lynda La Plante’s own prequel novel, Prime Suspect 1973 is at least decently executed. Thematically, it sits nicely as a rejoinder to Life On Mars’ ‘white male privilege’, pointing out that Sweeney-like fun might have been good for certain people, but women, minorities, the unluckiest members of the working class and others all tended to get shafted. It also deals neatly with class, with Maida Vale posh girl Tennison having to work extra hard to prove her interest in the working class populace of Hackney. And it does all this without sticking the boot in, giving us nuances and exceptions to show reality is a lot messier than simplistic sociological theories.
Martini is surprisingly good and makes for a nicely mardy young Tennison. It’s also a cracking touch to get Cracker‘s ‘Panhandle’, Geraldine Sommerville, to play her mum. But Aussie Reid is slightly odd casting and his choice of accent throws off all the questions about Tennison’s poshness, since he sounds posher than she does. Period detail is pretty decent, even if some of the sideburns look stuck on, but it seems at times like it’s trying more to look like Life On Mars’ idea of 1973 than actual 1973. Still, props for the use of Pink Floyd’s ‘Time’ in the soundtrack.
But is it even a tenth as compelling as the original or even La Plante’s dry run at a Prime Suspect prequel, Above Suspicion? Not at all. I might stick around for episode two, though.
The Blacklist: Redemption (US: NBC) I abandoned The Blacklistafter its second season got too convoluted and daft, even by its own standards. The last I heard, Tom Keen (Ryan Eggold) – evil husband of Megan Boone – was an orphan raised by Lance Henriksen to do evil spy things and was going undercover to be a German neo-Nazi.
Turns out that since then, we’ve discovered that his dad and mum are still alive and are Terry O’Quinn and Famke Janssen, the latter being a blacklister who runs a secret organisation that does things for the government that would otherwise be too dangerous. Plus he and Boone are back together, have a baby, and rather than play at being a German neo-Nazi, Eggold’s now a house-husband.
Except The Blacklist: Redemption drags Eggold away from all that to go on undercover missions for Janssen, although only because O’Quinn wants him to inflitrate her organisation. Why? Because. Except Eggold must never reveal that he’s actually working for O’Quinn. Why? Because.
At least, that’s what I’ve gleaned.
On the face of it, a spin-off from The Blacklist with Eggold is a good idea, since he was actually one of the best things about the original series. But the producers do nothing to help turn that idea into a viable drama. As you can tell from above, it’s all so convoluted and too unforgiving in its set-up that anyone who didn’t bother watching season 3 and beyond of The Blacklist (is Red still having problems?) is probably going to give up on the impenetrable mess before they’re five minutes in.
Yet even if they do decide to stick with it, it’s just atrociously written nonsense that makes even less sense than the mothership, but with no James Spader to make it palatable and none of the original’s unique format.
Chicago Justice (US: NBC; UK: Universal Channel – starts March 30, 9pm) Time was that famed producer Dick Wolf only needed Law & Order to show you the two sides of the two groups in the US criminal justice system who represent the people: the police, who investigate crime; and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. Now, he needs two different TV shows altogether just to show Chicago’s system. Maybe that’s because it’s Chicago and things are done differently there.
Launched in a triple episode with Chicago Fire and Chicago PD (all the victims were dead so no need to visit Chicago Med, I guess), Chicago Justice is all about Chicago public prosecutor and former baseball player Philip Winchester (Strike Back, The Player). There are other public prosecutors (Carl Weathers, Anna Valdez) but the show’s not so fussed about them here because they’re not the sons of Michael Moriarty’s character in Law & Order.
Chicago might have a bit of a rep for corruption, but here Winchester gets to hurdle a very low morality bar by fighting sleazy Bradley Whitford’s sneaky defence lawyer tricks and spurning helpful but false confessions to prove using truth, justice and the American way that a teenager stalker did in fact burn to death 39 kids because he was evil.
The script stops short of going “ooh, the Internet and that Facebook and the Tumblr – they’re full of the bad kids who spend too much time indoors rather than playing all-American baseball” and if you squint, there’s a useful message in there that you could potentially extract about consent, privilege, radicalisation online, etc. But it’s such a ham-fisted piece of work that Winchester might as well be riding a horse wearing a white cowboy hat as he shoots a moustache-twirling villain.
Still, that’s what the audience for these shows wants. Me? Not so much.
After the jump, the regulars: 24:Legacy, Billions, The Flash, Fortitude, The Good Fight, Imposters, Legion, TheMagicians, Man SeekingWoman and the season finale of Cardinal.One of them is getting a promotion – can you guess which, tigers?
In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, History In the UK: Not yet acquired
Why is it that dramas about Special Forces aren’t that special? On the face of it, making an exciting show about the Special Forces shouldn’t be that difficult. As A Bit of Fry and Laurie once pointed out, the SAS (and presumably other Special Forces) exist purely to be masturbatory fantasies for backbench MPs, so putting together a TV show involving Special Forces should inevitably result in something very exciting and, erm, climactic.
Yet, whether it’s Ultimate Force,The Unit, Strike Back or now Six, somehow the resulting shows never quite hit the spot – they’re close, but they’re never really as satisfying as you think they’ll be.
Six is interesting in this regard. Ten years ago, if you’d made a show called Six, the most anyone would guess you were doing was remaking The Prisoner. But thanks to their sterling work in dealing with Osama Bin Laden, the US Navy’s SEAL Team 6 is the latest pin-up of the Special Forces world. That means you can call a TV show Six and it’ll induce as much Pavlovian tumescence as if you’d called it Scarlett.
Trouble is, despite this launchpad, Six is all tease, no pay-off. The first episode follows a SEAL Team 6 team to a mission in Afghanistan where there’s plenty of shooting and leader Walton Goggins (Justified, Vice Principals, The Hateful Eight) starts to blur a few boundaries by shooting prisoners. Two years later, Goggins is out of the SEALs and in Africa, working for a private contractor, while the rest of the team are thinking about doing something similar and/or having problems with their wives and/or the bottle and/or money.
Then Boko Haram come along and kidnap a group of school girls, as well as Goggins, and the team are pulling themselves back together to rescue him.
Six takes all the worst bits of The Unit and few of the best bits. It tries to mix up the personal and the military, but without having any idea how to create distinguishable characters, particularly not women, who are a never-ending parade of “why aren’t you here for me and your children?”
Which might almost be excusable if it could do action, except it can’t. Shoot-outs and action scenes are surprisingly few and far between, and when they turn up, they’re nothing special. Name an action TV show, any action TV show – you’ll have seen better and something probably more realistic.
But even little details let the show down. Maybe it’s me, but giving your SEAL team the radio sign of “Delta 1” is only going to lead to confusion in the audience. And sure, kudos for managing to go with Boko Haram as your main bad guys, rather than ISIS (although a reveal at the end of the first episode shows Six is trying to have its cake and eat it), but having to have an officer explain to one of the world’s premier anti-terrorist units who Boko Haram are is not a way to create verisimilitude.
More importantly, Goggins is just wrong as the leader of the team. Not for a second can you picture him as either a morally ambivalent hero or a SEAL. Now to a certain extent, that’s not his fault – he was brought in not merely at the last moment but two episodes of filming after the last moment, which is when Joe Manganiello walked off the show with health problems. You can imagine Manganiello as “Rip Taggart”:
Not so much.
It’s like casting Vinny Jones as a wedding cake designer – it’s simply not believable. So even though the rest of the cast of SEALs are (indistinguishable) butch manly types who look the part, little seems plausible as a result of Goggins’ presence.
If you have to watch a Special Forces show, there were at least a few good episodes of The Unit (Dark of the Moon is excellent) and Strike Back, so stick with them rather than Six, since Six won’t have yours. Six that is.
Canada has spent more than a quarter of century doubling for “Washington State” and other woody parts of the US in countless primetime American TV shows, but the number of such shows that are actually set in Canada is actually perilously small. But following the likes of Flashpointand Rookie Blue on this largely untrodden path is Ransom, a CBS procedural that’s almost indistinguishable from any other CBS procedural bar the fact it’s set in Montreal.
The show is actually a heinous co-production between CBS, Canada’s Global, France TF1 and Germany’s RTL that follows the golden rule that the more co-production members you have from this international team of banality, the worse your show will be (cf Transporter: TheSeries). Indeed, the show is produced by the king of the bad international co-production Frank Spotnitz (Hunted, Strike Back). Transporter: TheSeries was one of his, too, and this is almost as bad, albeit a lot duller.
Supposedly based on the experiences of real life negotiators Laurent Combalbert and Marwan Mery, Ransom stars secretly British actor Luke Roberts (Black Sails, Wolf Hall, Taxi Brooklyn, Holby City) as the head of a private sector firm of negotiators, who use their awesome negotiating powers to help rich people recover their children from greedy foreign kidnappers. Oh, but if only he could have used his powers to save his wife…
Nothing quite says “filmed in Canada” like the presence of Nazneen Contractor (The Border, 24, Covert Affairs, Heroes: Reborn) or Brandon Jay McLaren (Slasher, Graceland, The Killing (US), Being Erica, Falling Skies) in your cast list, so kudos to Ransom for getting both of them in the credits to make up the show’s now-traditional procedural ensemble, with McLaren playing a psychological profiler and Contractor playing Roberts’ deputy. Or stooge. Or something. At least, she gets to explain the plot to McLaren when Roberts isn’t around.
When Roberts is around, he gets to explain the plot to newbie Sarah Greene (no, not that one – the one from Penny Dreadful and Rebellion), a job applicant whom McLaren has rejected for A Dark Reason That Will Be Revealed At The End of The Episode But Which Will Show How Tormented Roberts Is.
And it’s all bobbins. Everything is completed half-arsed. The show wants to be Canadian, but is so bad at even something so simple that despite being set in Montreal (56.9% French speakers, 18.6% English speakers), no one speaks French or has a French accent and there was only one piece of writing actually in French. And that’s despite being filmed in Canada – I shudder to think what level of authenticity the show will stoop to when it starts going on its promised globe-trotting.
Ransom also wants to be about crises while still being different to Flashpoint somakes its crisis people private sector. Except it still wants to be a procedural, so everyone still goes round interviewing people, finding dead bodies, doing DNA analysis et al like they’re the police, except without warrants et al. It all actually gets a bit creepy when they’re snooping around schools trying to extract pupils’ home addresses from unsuspecting teachers by pretending to be famous soccer players.
On top of that, they have to sort out the affected rich family of the week’s marital/parenting problems (“You need to tell her about this”), while still being terribly nice when it turns out that the rich family aren’t rich enough any more to pay their bills. Because we all know how well that usually works out in the US.
The show is stupid enough it makes Criminal Minds look genuinely smart. As well as constantly having to explain basic human social interactions to the audience (“If you offer them something, they might offer us something in return”), the show also gives us Greene explaining that judging from a kidnapper’s accent, he’s “Mediterranean, probably Greek”. Because Spanish, French, Italian and Greek accents are all very similar, aren’t they? Almost indistinguishable. To be fair, the actor is Greek-Canadian and does speak some passable Greek; to be less fair, his accent sounds like a Canadian putting on a Greek accent and he’s also supposed to have been born in Yugoslavia.
If you’ve seen any other CBS procedural, you’ll have almost certainly seen something much better, from its CSI: Miami-style sci-fi screenless computer displays through to its NCIS-grade inept fight scenes. Did they really drop Limitless for this mildly blander Crossing Lines?