In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, NBC
In the UK: Not yet acquired
Entering people’s minds is something that TV and film likes to do. I don’t mean the minds of the audience and I don’t mean it metaphorically – I mean it’s a medium that likes to visually recreate the thoughts and dreams of characters and make them a world that other characters can enter. In this genre, film has given us the likes of Brainstorm, Dreamscape, A Nightmare on Elm Street and, possibly best of all, Inception.
Reverie is an even more nonsensical, formulaic affair than the average piece of NBC sci-fi, giving us Sarah Shahi (Life, Fairly Legal, Person of Interest) as a former hostage negotiator who’s dropped out of the force. Why? BECAUSE THE ONE PERSON SHE COULDN’T SAVE WITH HER SKILLS WAS HERSELF. And her sister. And her niece. Basically, it didn’t go well.
Anyway, old pal Dennis Haysbert (The Unit, 24, Incorporated, Backstrom) comes a knocking at her door one day. He’s gone private sector and now works at the stupidly titled ‘Onira-Tech’ (it’s Greek, darling), which has developed a new dream manipulation-virtual reality technology that allows people with a bit of cash to tailor-make their own dreams. Trouble is, loads of people are now in comas because they apparently don’t want to leave their dream dreams and any attempts to wake them will probably kill them.
Fortunately, version 2.0 of the tech is in the offing and that allows people to share their dreams with someone else. Will Shahi be willing to use the experimental tech as well as her hostage negotiation skills to talk the dreamers down and out of their self-made utopias? And will it mean she’ll have to face her own mental demons to do so?
You betcha. Unfortunately, it’ll make you fall asleep when she does.
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