It’s “What have you been watching?”, your chance to recommend to fellow TMINE readers anything you’ve been watching this week
It only took about a week before WHYBW missed its scheduled slot, but given how much new stuff has recently arrived and how much old stuff has returned to Tuesdays and Wednesdays, please forgive me. Still, I was wondering what I was going to do on Thursdays…
This week’s reviews
To be frank, I’ve done a crap-load of reviews and previews since last time, too.
Please peruse them at your leisure, whether you intend to watch the shows or not.
Coming up in the next week, I’ll be reviewing The CW’s Roswell reboot, Roswell, New Mexico. Season two of The Punisher will be hitting Netflix this Friday, so I’ll undoubtedly be watching that. And if anything else pops up I’ll review that, too, if I can.
After the jump, though, despite my already extensive viewing schedule, there’ll be reviews of two other new shows I managed to catch: Schooled (US: ABC) and Fam (US: CBS). Gosh, mid-season replacements that are also sitcoms. Cos they’re always funny, hey?
I’ll also be talking about series five of Cuckoo (UK: BBC Three), which I know isn’t a new show and it’s not even a show new to me, but I think it’s probably the first time I’ll have talked about it on the blog.
Although Counterpart decided to take a break this Sunday, a whole bunch of other shows decided to return this week. That means that after the jump, there’ll be the season (and probably series) finale of the one remaining regular, HappyTogether, as well as new episodes of returning regulars Magnum P.I., Corporate and True Detective. Joining them will be the second episodes of both Cavendish and Project Blue Book.
And for reasons that will become clear, I’ll also be talking about every episode of The Orville that’s aired since I gave up on it after its third episode.
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?
In the US: Sundays, Hulu In the UK: Sundays, 9pm, Fox International. Starts 10 April
Three episodes into Hulu’s first long-form drama, 11.22.63, an adaptation of Stephen King’s book about a time-travelling teacher who wants to stop the assassination of JFK but doesn’t know how, and three things have become clear:
It’s possible to be very shallow while still having oodles of screen time to work with
It’s possible to be a great author and have a great idea, but to still not bother doing anything with it
That doesn’t necessarily matter that much if you can create a decent enough atmosphere
The first episode threw a whole bunch of things at us: James Franco’s teacher discovering pal Chris Cooper has a portal to the past; said portal being semi-useless as it only goes to October 1960; Cooper giving Franco the task of preventing the JFK assassination, as well as all his research, a guide to living in the 60s and a list of winners of sporting events to fund journeys into the past; and the fact that the past doesn’t like being changed so does its best to stop people from doing just that.
All of which could be the basis of a fun and exciting two hour movie. However, since then, 11.22.63 instead has given us the frankly idiotic Franco going into the past… and living there for two episodes, so that we can experience the nostalgic thrills of living in the sanitised 60s – a sort of vaccinated time travel for those who want to think about noble white men helping the grateful oppressed deal with racism, homophobia, sexism, fundamentalism, domestic violence et al, with just the occasional punch and bit of bad language, without having to worry about intersectionality or being shot as a result of increasingly lax gun-control legislation.
Since the first episode, Franco has at least picked up a native helper monkey (George MacKay) to assist him in his endeavours. We’ve also seen the arrival of Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby, with the fleshing out of them as people. Franco’s also got himself a job and whiled away a year or so, while bumping into love interest Sarah Gadon (The Border, Being Erica, Ruby Gloom).
However, more or less all of episode two was about Franco’s attempts to prevent the family of a future pupil of his being murdered. It was a dark, quite nasty interval, in which Franco was once again epically stupidly, but it didn’t really push the narrative along much.
While Franco’s performance is so muted, he seems like he’s on quaaludes the whole time, the rest of the cast are more interesting and have fun characters, so it’s much easier to spend time with them than him. It can also be quite funny when dropping in future references, such as when Franco claims to have served in Korea with the 4077th MASH.
But this is not a show intending to grip us with his plot. Neither is it in a hurry either to have any time travel fun or to really get to grips with JFK’s assassination and its fall-out. To some extent, that’s by design, since it’s a nine-episode ‘event series’, and everything is leading to a twist or two, I’m sure. But it’s relying on the King name to bolster the viewer’s patience enough to get them through to the end.
If you like genre dramas that are more about atmosphere and nostalgia than about ideas, and if you want a show that investigates conspiracy theories without saying anything much definitive about them, 11.22.63 is certainly already delivering. But if there’s anything great about it, the writers are saving it for the final episodes and I’m sorely tempted just to Wikipedia the ending at this point. I think I’ll stick with it, but the show needs to up its game soon to prevent death-by-online-encyclopaedia.
Barrometer rating: 2 Would it be better with a female lead? Yes. Or even simply a different lead Rob’s prediction: It’s a limited series so a one-off, but I can’t imagine it setting the world on fire with its one season. However, as a first effort by Hulu, it’s very good and could lead to more dramas being commissioned.
In part, that’s down to Chris Haddock, the Canadian writer/producer behind cop shows Da Vinci’s Inquest, Da Vinci’s Town Hall and CBS’s The Handler, who first launched the genre in Canada with the slow-moving Intelligence. He’s now back in the game with The Romeo Section, an even slower-moving spy show.
It stars the inexplicably Glaswegian Andrew Airlie as the equally inexplicably named Wolfgang McGee, a globe-trotting Vancouver university professor who runs ‘the Romeo Section’ – a group of male and female undercover spies involved in sexy time with various intelligence targets, international and domestic. It’s their job to inflitrate the Triads, crime rings, cartels and other criminal groups, to get the information Canada needs to destroy them.
To get them to do this, Airlie goes around Hong Kong and Vancouver, visiting shops, libraries, dark gloomy places, racetracks and numerous other places, where he has mumbly, Glaswegian-accented conversations with people that are so arch, you can’t tell if it’s bad writing or some kind of spy code. Then he goes away again, information gathered, so he can brood back in his office or mumble with his handler (Eugene Lipinski from Intelligence, Da Vinci’s Town Hall et al, but also the original BBC Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), while his assets go off and have more sexy times. Main asset is the conflicted and bearded Juan Riedinger (Narcos), who spends a lot of his time shagging mental mob wife Stephanie Bennett (UnREAL, iZombie).
The whole show has the veneer of quality and intelligence, except it’s one of those veneers where you assume that it’s good and intelligent because nothing much happens for great long chunks of time and no one talks above a whisper, not because it’s telling you anything you don’t know or because of the gripping plot and characters. Not by a long chalk is this another Rubicon. You want it to be Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but I’m about 90% sure it’s actually A Bit of Fry & Laurie.
It’s not badly written, it does avoid the excesses of a lot of spy shows, it does have some smarts to it and I’m sure it’ll have its proponents and fans, who’ll be addicted by episode eight, when something might actually have happened. But I won’t be sticking around until then, I’m afraid.