Well we’ve seen how the amateurs do it – now it’s the turn of the pros, because following NBC’s efforts at doing manly special forces operations with The Brave, we now have CBS’s rejoinder in the form of SEAL Team.
In an ideal world of course, they’d be calling it SEAL Team 6, but since History has already given us the almost identical Six, CBS presumably could only get custody of the first half of the name. Maybe this is SEAL Team 5.
Anyway, it’s basically The Unit again, as we get an elite troop of special forces blokes (and a woman) who have to take off at a moment’s notice to shoot people overseas. Against that backdrop, they have to juggle complicated home lives and the toll the job takes on them. The big difference? It’s that David Boreanaz from Bonesand Angel in charge, not Dennis Haysbert.
And so it begins. Spurred on by the success of both USA’s Shooter and the defence-spending happy Donald Trump, this US Fall season is going to be marked by a whole slew of almost certainly interchangeable military dramas designed to appeal to the ‘rust’/’flyover’ states. First up is The Brave.
So interchangeable are these shows that right up until I started writing this entry, I thought The Brave was a CBS programme. It looks just like one. We have a tiny unit of special forces operatives (cf CBS’s The Unit) tasked with going overseas to defend Americans (cf CBS’s Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders). We have a bunch of manly men (and a woman) out in the field, while back home in Washington DC, we have a bunch of nerds led by a woman in a suit (Anne Heche) telling them what to do while she stands in front of a big array of monitors (cf CBS’s CSI, CSI: Cyber, Intelligence).
It’s just so CBS. It even starts with a ridiculous statement at the start that in no way would piss off any other US or other government’s agencies:
You’ll note ‘increasingly’ offers the show a little latitude here.
And when our team gets sent on its first mission of the series to rescue a member of Doctors Without Borders who’s been kidnapped in Syria, we get dialogue like, “When are these bleeding hearts going to learn it’s just too dangerous to help people out here” and “We are fighting people who want to wipe us off the planet. That means we have to be as ruthless as they are.”
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.
The biggest problem with the first episode of NBC’s new sci-fi show Timeless was that it just wasn’t fun. A time travel adventure in which a historian, an engineer and a soldier gamely head off each week into the past to stop Goran Višnjić from changing history for the better (he claims) should have been a laugh, particularly with our very own Paterson Joseph being the owner of said time machine.
But it wasn’t. It was dreary. It had a dreary choice of destination – the Hindenburg disaster. Thanks to the presence of her dying mum, its heroine (Abigail Spencer) was more a tragic figure than a fangirl let loose in a comic shop when all the boys have been sent packing. Ex-Delta soldier (Matt Lanter) was more male model than special forces operative, and he was just as tragic as Spencer thanks to his pining for his dead wife.
The one potential comic piece of comic relief, engineer/time travel pilot Malcolm Barrett, basically had to endure being black in the American past, something he quite rightly pointed out before they went was never going to be fun whenever they ended up, but in actuality meant he wasn’t just the token black guy – he was the token black guy representing all black people ever. That’s gotta suck.
Worst of all was the fact that Team Spencer were busily trying to preserve history as recorded, right down to making sure everyone who died stays dead, even if that means burning to death horribly in a fiery balloon accident. Bit of a downer, no?
As always, though, there’s a reason why TMINE always waits for at least three episodes before passing final verdict: shows can evolve and get better as producers work out what’s wrong and fix it. And while Timeless still isn’t the new Doctor Who or even the new Quantum Leap, it’s certainly becoming a lot more entertaining. Episode two took us to see the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, episode three took us to Las Vegas in the 60s to watch atomic bomb tests and I can see from the schedule that episode four is going to involve the plucky Americans teaming up with Ian Fleming to fight the Nazis during World War Two. Now that’s a bit more fun than the Hindenburg Disaster, now isn’t it?
The producers – Eric Kripke (Supernatural) and Shawn Ryan (The Unit, The Shield), in case you were wondering – are also making the central team themselves a bit more fun, although they’ve haven’t bothered giving Barrett and Lanter any real character traits or background other than “comic black history spokesperson” and “inept soldier widower”. Time changes, Spencer’s life changes, but theirs seem to stay resolutely the same and butterfly effect-proof.
Barrett may continually get the short end of the stick for being black wherever he ends up, albeit in different ways each time, but he now sometimes manages to use his second class status for the better. Lanter seems to have trouble even holding a gun, but he’s now getting some occasionally amusing lines.
Perhaps the show’s main selling point is that just like Doctor Who when that started, Timeless is trying its level best to make history come alive – through history’s own supporting cast. You already know Lincoln, you’ve seen Daniel Day Lewis do a good performance as Lincoln, so yet another Lincoln wouldn’t have much impact. But what must it have been like to have been Lincoln’s son? Or JFK’s mistress? Or a black soldier from the North during the Civil War? While the fact Timeless actually allows its time travellers to change history, even quite significantly, means that the narrative can never be trusted to tell historical fact, it’s still fun to have Spencer sit down and essentially interview this supporting cast like a GCSE History empathy essay come to life.
After three episodes Timeless has crafted a formula for itself that’s popcorn-tastic but enjoyable nonsense. Its action scenes are weak, its historical detail weak, its story arc weak and its humour – you guessed it – weak. But it’s now getting a certain confidence up that makes it a reasonably entertaining view. It might even make the kiddies who watch it start to enjoy history.
If you need to waste an hour a week on amiable, people-centred, historical sci-fi nonsense, Timeless is worth a try.
Barrometer rating: 3 Would it be better with a female lead? N/A TMINE’s prediction: Will probably last about as long as Revolution
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 theReviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I’ve reviewed ever. And if you want to know when any of these shows are on in your area, there’sLocate TV – they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.
Lots of new shows to deal with this past week, including 12 Monkeys. Unfortunately, it’s my busy time of the month, so I won’t be able to deal with them at length and there’s a few third-episode verdicts I’m going to have skip, too. Fortunately, though, all the new shows don’t really warrant full reviews…
Backstrom (US: Fox) Despite having been canned by CBS straight after its pilot, this adaptation of Leif GW Persson’s Bäckström books has been resurrected over at Fox and once again demonstrates that the US really shouldn’t be adapting Nordic Noir. It stars Rainn Wilson from The Office as the eponymous Backstrom, a Portland police detective who’s best thought of as Gregory House MD but without the talent, the charm or the looks, bungling his way from crime scene to crime scene being lazy and offensive and being proved right because the script demands it, rather than because of any insight. So the producers think it very funny that Backstrom have the nearest – and indeed only – black person around arrested because he’s black so probably was involved in the crime. My, how comically racist! Except the black person is involved in the crime – how actually racist!
There’s some decent supporting characters, including an MMA-beat cop (Page Kennedy); a New Age medical examiner (Kristoffer Polaha from Ringer, Valentine, Life Unexpected), whom everyone reacts to like he’s English, even though he doesn’t even have an accent; an investigator whom everyone reacts to like she’s French, because she is (Beatrice Rosen); and Dennis Haysbert (The Unit, 24) as Backstrom’s boss. But this is as lazy as Backstrom himself, trying to fake being intelligent and gimmicky by having Backstrom ‘empathise’ (saying out loud, “I am character x, I feel y, therefore I would have done z”) and come up with insight such as “Anyone who says ‘Absolutely not’ is absolutely lying”, rather than actually being intelligent or having insight.
Weirdly, between moving from CBS to Fox, there’s been some recasting and a lot of the funnier and smarter stuff has been removed, making it worse not better than it was before.
Young Drunk Punk (Canada: City TV) After last year’s slew of 80s nostalgia shows in the US, time for some 80s nostalgia from Canada, with Young Drunk Punk, in which two teenage nerd punk-wannabes search for their destinies after leaving high school. Despite being written by and starring Bruce McCulloch (Kids In The Hall) this is very much like the previous half dozen Canadian comedies that have come by in having a total laugh count of zero.
After the jump, 19-2, Arrow, Banshee, Constantine, Cougar Town, Elementary, The Flash, Galavant, Gotham, The Ground Floor, Hindsight, Man Seeking Woman, Marvel’sAgent Carter,State of Affairs, Spiral (Engrenages) and Togetherness. One of them’s on the verge of getting recommended, one of them’s going to be dropped, and one of them is on the borderline. But which ones? You’ll find out after the jump.