TV reviews

Review: Six 1×1 (US: History)


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”:

Joe Manganiello

Goggins?

Walton Goggins

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 BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 3

Third-episode verdict: Timeless (US: NBC; UK: E4)

In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, NBC
In the UK: Acquired by E4

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

What have you been watching? Including Backstrom, Young Drunk Punk, 19-2, Spiral and Galavant

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. And if you want to know when any of these shows are on in your area, there’s Locate 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’s Agent 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.

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including Backstrom, Young Drunk Punk, 19-2, Spiral and Galavant”

Books and comics

That time when Anderson Cooper and The Unit crossed over with Black Widow

Black Widow #12

This month’s issue of Black Widow is out today. Yes, her off The Avengers:

And the observant will notice from the front cover that CNN’s Anderson Cooper is a guest star in this issue. No, really.

Anderson Cooper in Black Widow

Odd, hey? Still, anything to get people reading it, I say. But you’d have to be very observant to spot the crossover with The Unit in this issue as well:

The Unit in Black Widow

Spot it?

Blink and you’ll have missed the fact that ‘Dirt Diver’ was the call sign of The Unit’s Mack Gerhard.

Gosh, what a TV-filled comic this month.

TV reviews

Review: Scorpion 1×1 (US: CBS)

Scorpion on CBS

In the US: Mondays, 9/8c, CBS

There’s a point where a show is so ludicrous that you can’t watch it. You can’t switch your brain off enough that you can overlook the numerous ridiculous points that make the whole thing nonsensical.

An example of that is CBS’s Intelligence, which was plain old ludicrous.

But as the show gets more ludicrous and nonsensical, you can almost resign yourself to just how ludicrous it is and start watching again.

The genius of Scorpion, a show about a group of geniuses who get together to solve crises that require a lot of maths, engineering and computing knowledge, is that it goes through two more iterations of that to give us a show so insanely ludicrous and implausible, it really doesn’t matter any more, just as long as there’s lots of people in high adrenaline situations shouting things.

The show is very much a hotchpotch of standard CBS elements. Obviously the geniuses who help the US government with crimes ’n’ stuff was Numb3rs, which soon became popular with schools for making maths seem almost cool, but which unfortunately forgot to include any real action in between musings on ‘Chase Theory’ as applied to ‘criminals running away from things’. Bolted on top of that, we have The Unit’s Robert Patrick, once again the gruff agent in charge of things who growls a lot, and we have the standard CBS team of three to four boys, two girls, one to two of the group from an ethnic(ish) minority if possible.

This team, who all have very broad, complementary, entirely non-overlapping skillsets are, of course, quirky, with all kinds of problems. The main guy can do computer things; there’s a psych guy who, like, really understands people; there’s a girl who’s good with anything mechanical; and there’s a guy who’s good with numbers and physics and things. Since apparently psych guy who’s good with people isn’t quite good enough with people and uses his powers for evil, there’s also a normal-type waitress girl who can talk to normal people without p*ssing them off. And then, because Aspergers is just so hot right now, there’s a genius kid who doesn’t like being touched and wants to play chess with household items. That really enlivens the plot.

So obvious bobbins, right? A profound inability to understand either geniuses or people, all rolled into one show.

But that’s just the set-up. In this first episode, the pedantic ghost of Numb3rs shoots itself in the head because if you know even the slightest things about computers, you’ll know what epic bobbins the plot is – air traffic control computers at LAX airport get a buggy computer update, but no one has the original software, first installed 15 years ago. So team Scorpion have to go to get the offsite backup version. But it’s a race because that’ll get wiped over by the new version because naturally, a sensible back up strategy for something that hasn’t been updated in 15 years is to make a back up every 12 hours that wipes over the previous back up. This is, incidentally, the same piece of software used to run every single aeroplane in the world – because air traffic control is identical to navigating a plane – but that no other airport in the US uses.

Can you feel it? Can you feel your brain trying to escape? Trying to run from you and Scorpion?

And yet, despite how formulaic and ridiculous and in many ways insulting to men, women, children, airport computers, FBI agents and perhaps even God himself Scorpion is, there’s just something about its sheer high-octane value that makes it 1023.6% more enjoyable than Intelligence and Numb3rs. There’s a high-speed car chase through Los Angeles with every traffic light turning green! There’s a high-speed car chase on a runway in a Ferrari! People talk really quickly about complicated things! People keep pulling guns and almost shooting things!

Woo hoo!

On top of that, we get something approaching human interest at times – not the forced, bland, hollow attempts at nerdy quirkiness, family interactions, pathos, romance and musing about the existence of God in the numbers in Numb3rs, but people being dicks because they don’t know how to interact with people and then being called up on being a dick.

The cast is pretty adequate; the characters are little more than plot functions; the set-up is entirely formulaic; the show laughs in your face and says, “No, you’re stupid,” it’s so stupid. Yet despite all this, because it’s actually got some element of fun to it and perhaps even a little heart, I’m going to stick with Scorpion for a while. Or maybe it’s just because I want to test my brain’s stamina and it’s either this or hitting my head repeatedly against a concrete pillar.

You’ll have to find your own reasons, though.