The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 4

Third-episode verdict: Shut Eye (US: Hulu)

In the US: All episodes available on Hulu

We should probably be giving Shut Eye a medal, since it’s doing such a public service – revealing all the tricks of the trade used by psychics to fleece their customers. But good thoughts alone aren’t enough to make a good TV programme, so unfortunately for Shut Eye, we have to evaluate it on when it’s watchable or not. 

The first episode set the scene pretty well, with star Jeffrey Donovan playing a former Las Vegas magician now working as a fake psychic in LA under the purview of a bunch of Gypsies, including Isabella Rossellini. Well versed in the arts of cold reading and setting people up, one day he gets a bump on the noggin from a client’s disgruntled boyfriend and winds up having proper psychic visions. Will he use his new powers for good or for evil, we wonder at the end of the episode?

Evil, it turns out. Didn’t see that coming, did you? 

The casting of Donovan as the lead is a genius move, since he’s able to recycle two of his old routines for the role. In episode two, the show becomes full on psychic Burn Notice, with Donovan giving us (and his mark) the rundown on the mystic art of psychically stealing people’s money. By episode three, he’s mining Touching Evil for sympathetic, dazed, brain-damaged and odd, as he starts using his new found powers to tell people the hard truths they probably don’t want to hear.

As you might have deduced from that run-down, Shut Eye is as odd a show as its lead character, since it is by turns comedic and then deeply serious and violent. More problematically, it keeps piling more and more details onto to the plot, almost in an apparent attempt to confuse us while it steals our watches. As well as the Gypsies and their bizarre activities – including poetry recitals and love ceremonies – there’s Dexter‘s David Zayas as a gang boss customer of Donovan, who’s as quick to throw someone in a deep fat fryer as he is to fix Donovan’s floorboards. There’s Donovan’s hard-edged wife, KaDee Strickland, who wants him to regain his former manhood while she’s simultaneously sleeping with another woman. There’s Donovan’s son, his supposed ADHD and his school issues. There’s The Wire‘s Sonja Sohn as a police officer who’s chasing after Donovan. There’s thirtysomething‘s Mel Harris as Donovan’s main mark, who sometimes wakes up with a rooster and a tree branch in her bed. There’s even a kooky doctor – Susan Misner (Billions, The Americans) – trying to help unclog Donovan’s subconsciousness using Mozart and drugs.

And so on.

It makes for a show that says an awful lot without really taking the time to say anything worthwhile, not even about fake psychics because they might be real, it turns out.

I probably won’t be bothering with the rest of Shut Eye, despite its funnier and more psychedelic qualities. Donovan’s worth his enormous salary for this gig, but the gig itself could probably have done with a rethink about exactly what story it wanted to tell.

Barrometer rating: 4
TMINE’s prediction: Unlikely to get a second season

TV reviews

Review: Shut Eye 1×1 (US: Hulu)


In the US: Available on Hulu

So I’m going to say it now and obviously you have to bear in mind that all my predictions are inevitably wrong, but just in case for once I’m not, I’d like to take credit for my incredible psychic powers this time: peak TV is unsustainable. 

You don’t technically need to be psychic to work that out. Netflix’s currently $3.1bn in debt in order to pay for all its original content and it’s going to need an awful lot of subscribers paying $9.99 a month for a long time to break even on that. To be fair, it got $2bn in revenue in Q3, so maybe not, but that’s Netflix. How about Amazon?

More so, how about Hulu, which is making shows like The Path, 12.22.63, Chance and The Handmaid’s Tale willy nilly and you can’t even watch it outside the US. And now we’ve got Shut Eye, in which Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice, Touching Evil) plays a Las Vegas magician turn shabby Los Angeles conman psychic who has problems with Gypsies (including matriarch Isabella Rosselini) who don’t like the fact his sister, Leah Gibson (Rogue, The Returned) is using their tricks; his wife and partner in crime KaDee Strickland (The Wedding Bells), who thinks he’s losing his mojo; and disgruntled boyfriends of his easily duped clients.

Now, obviously, Jeffrey Donovan is a good actor. But is he $175,000 an episode good? Probably not, but that’s what Hulu’s paying him. And if that’s what they’re paying him, you can bet pretty much everyone else is having to pay similar cash for similar actors, let alone the likes of Hugh Laurie and Billy Bob Thornton, who’s allegedly getting $350,000 an ep for Goliath.

Something’s got to give and either there are going to be a lot of companies who are going to have to get out of the content business soon or there are going to be some ‘market shake-ups’ (ie bankruptcies, mergers, acquisitions) in the next few years.

Again, you heard it here first.

Still, enjoy it while it lasts, since we might get some good TV out of it, at least. Is Shut Eye some of that good TV?

Almost. Certainly, Shut Eye is a good name for the first half of the show’s first episode, since it’s amazingly soporific. I was this close to switching it off and not bothering with a proper review of it.

But the show really gets its name from the concept of the mystic third eye, which when opened reveals all manner of wisdom and knowledge. Here, Donovan’s third eye is shut until that jealous boyfriend gives him a kicking to the head halfway through the episode. Then, hypnotist Emmanuelle Chriqui (Entourage) tries to hypnotise him into wanting to partner with her and before he knows it, Donovan’s inner eye is opened and he starts seeing the world beyond, including psychedelic peppers. And not just the future – soon, he starts to re-think his life and asking himself whether lying to everyone is a good idea.

That’s more or less when the show starts to become watchable. How watchable, I’ll let you know once I’ve got a few more episodes under my belt – Hulu’s put them out all at once for a change – since although Donovan’s very watchable and obviously knows from his Touching Evil days how to play brain-damaged sympathetically and accurately, the other characters are all unlovable scumbags who like to dupe others. The Gypsy side of things is pretty offensive, Donovan’s the sole source of humour, and the crime’s are all petty and the victims are all sad dupes.

That means that you’re in it only for Donovan and how well he can put off increasing serenity and not being dark and glowery for a change. Who knows – perhaps he might really be worth that $175,000 an episode after all.

US TV reviews

Preview: Mr Robot 1×1 (US: USA Network)

In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, USA Network. Starts June 24
In the UK: Not yet acquired

I want you to hack me as hard as you can

Over the years, the USA Network has struggled to work out what kind of network it is. Scroll back a decade or more in the timeline and most people associated it with the likes of country & western reality talent show Nashville Star. Then it started trying to do drama, with a brilliant but quickly cancelled remake of the UK’s Touching Evil, which was perhaps a bit too dark and unmarketable for the likes of USA.

The network didn’t abandon its attempts with drama, but the set back did lead it to start going a bit fluffier. By about 2007, Burn Notice, Monk and Psych were the network’s go-to shows, and while Burn Notice was obviously a much darker show than either Psych and Monk, it still wasn’t quite Requiem for a Dream. These shows had something of an 80s nostalgia to them, which led to the fluffy likes of In Plain Sight.

2009’s Royal Pains proved a game-changer, showing that fluffy and light were very much the order of the day on USA, leading us to the quite fluffy White Collar, the slightly fluffy Covert Affairs, Suits and Graceland, the really very fluffy Common Law, Fairly Legal, Necessary Roughness, Playing House, and Sirens, and eventually the still-fluffy Benched.

Now some of these were great, some of them really weren’t, but they almost all still had something of an edge to them, at least. And slowly, with most of the new fluff fluffing in the ratings, the pendulum has started to swing back over the past year or so towards USA’s skulking darker side with the likes of Rush, Satisfaction and, coming soon, Complications.

This is all for the good, since now we have perhaps USA’s darkest – and best – new show for quite some time, Mr Robot. It sounds fluffy, doesn’t it, with that name, but it’s really not. Think Fight Club if it was all about hacking or Batman, if Batman was a socially anxious coder who used technology to stop people faking identities, end the distribution of images of child abuse and bring down the corporate elite who secretly rule the world.

Rami Malek (24, The War At Home, The Pacific) is Elliot, a white hat techie at a cybersecurity firm. He has social issues, which means in between bouts of crying to himself at home from loneliness, taking morphine, having sex with his drug dealer, hacking people he knows about to find out more about them or talking to his new friends – the viewers at home – he’s busily putting the world to rights. Or to rights as he sees them.

In particular, he’d really like to destroy his company’s biggest client, The Evil Corporation, and one day he comes across ‘Mr Robot’ (Christian Slater) and his team of socially minded hackers, who offer him the chance to do just that and liberate society from this menace. Is The Evil Corporation really running the world? Is what Slater says possible? Can he be trusted? And is he even real or is he just the Tyler Durden of Elliot’s unmedicated, occasionally paranoid schizophrenic sub-conscious?

All these questions and more are asked and you will want to know the answers. If you’re in the US, you can watch the full episode below; otherwise, I’ll leave you with some trailers and we can talk more after the jump.

Continue reading “Preview: Mr Robot 1×1 (US: USA Network)”

TV reviews

Review: Black Box 1×1 (ABC)

Kelly Reilly in Black Box

In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, ABC

Mental health is so hot right now. I don’t mean that in the sense that it’s a subject for serious examination in drama or that it’s something that is thoughtfully used in characterisation. I mean it’s a great gimmick.

Time was when dramas would have set-ups like “two brothers are private detectives”, “he’s a Vietnam vet with a super helicopter”, “he’s an angel wandering the Earth helping people” and the like. But you can only have so many of those unique set-ups before you start to repeat yourself.

Mental health issues, by contrast, used to be the motivations for crimes, not something that could affect a hero, because it was unmanly. Well, maybe PTSD so they could have really manly flashbacks to Nam.

Thankfully, those times are gone and it’s all change. With first Monk giving us the OCD detective and then Touching Evil giving us the slightly lobotomised detective, TV has worked out how valuable these personality quirks can be. Why, right now, on TV we’ve got Asperger’s aplenty (Community, The Bridge, Hannibal, Parenthood) and the new top, post-Silver Linings Playbook condition, bipolar disorder, has been jaunting around both Homeland and Mind Games, giving them all sorts of entirely medically accurate depictions of how helpful mental health issues can be.

Producers have also worked out thanks to medical shows such as House, Mental and 3lbs that ‘brain weirdness’, to use it its technical definition, can be really entertaining in guest characters as well. So what better than a show that features not just lots of supporting cast weirdness but also a central character who has the bipolar, hey?

Black Box is such a show – and it turns out that despite its having not just the delightful Kelly Reilly as the lead as well as no lesser actress than Vanessa Redgrave as her psychiatrist, a whole lot of things could be better.

Reilly, putting on her best US accents, is a talented neurologist/doctor who is also bipolar. As long as she’s on her meds, she’s fine, but believing that medication stops those with mental health issues from achieving their true potential or even being truly happy by coming to accept themselves, she has a history of ‘non-compliance’. The result is that sometimes she’s manic and productive, other times she’s crazy, hallucinating, doing all kinds of bad things, including almost committing suicide. Yet somehow it makes her a better doctor.

Gosh, how quirky and interesting. Gosh how almost unwatchable.

Here’s a trailer.

Continue reading “Review: Black Box 1×1 (ABC)”

What did you watch this week? Including Life of Crime, Elementary, Arrow, Vegas and Hannibal

It’s “What did you watch this week?”, my chance to tell you what I movies and TV I’ve watched this week that I haven’t already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I’ve missed them.

First, the usual recommendations:

  • Arrow (The CW/Sky 1)
  • Continuum (Showcase/SyFy)
  • The Daily Show (Comedy Central)
  • Doctor Who (BBC1/BBC America)
  • Elementary (CBS/Sky Living)
  • Hannibal (NBC/Sky Living)
  • Modern Family (ABC/Sky 1)
  • Vegas (CBS/Sky Atlantic)

These are all going to be on in either the UK or the US, perhaps even both, but I can’t be sure which.

Still in the viewing queue: new show The Goodwin Games, which I’ll be reviewing on Monday, and I’ll be playing catch up with New Zealand show Harry, too.

I did give Life of Crime a go, too, in which Hayley Atwell plays a cop in three different time periods at different stages of her career. Entirely fits the template of ITV crime dramas and you could predict virtually everything that happened in each time period, with the corresponding Attitudes written in neon lights all over every character.

Now, some thoughts on some of the regulars and some of the shows I’m still trying:

  • Arrow (The CW/Sky 1): No League of Shadows, surprisingly, but everything played out in the finale pretty much as you’d expect, beyond the final twist. Overall, a very decent season, although it started to lost its edge and become a tad more Smallville than Batman Begins by the end. One to look forward to next season, certainly.
  • Continuum (Showcase/SyFy): There I was complaining there wasn’t enough cool sci-fi in the show, when up it pops in spades. For my next trick, can we have some more intelligent schemes from the terrorists, please. 
  • Elementary (CBS/Sky Living): Everything played out pretty much as I expected in terms of revelations, but in many ways better than Sherlock‘s handling of similar Sherlock Holmes facets. I also liked the fact they made Irene Adler and Moriarty one and the same. It’ll be great if they bring her back and make her a maths professor, too. A good explanation for an in-story bad accent, too. PS, New York can try to pass itself off as London, but it will always fail.
  • Hannibal (NBC/Sky Living): I’m not convinced that Hannibal should be that good in a fight, particularly not up against Demore Barnes who was in The Unit. All the same, another fascinating episode, Gillian Anderson getting more to do this week. What surprises me is that the show, which I’m thinking more and more of as a cross between Touching Evil (US) and David Cronenberg’s oeuvre, is actually capable of instilling dread in me, which is a very novel emotion of a TV show to be able to create in its audience. Magnificent, but its fate is in the balance at the moment. Please renew it, NBC.
  • Vegas (CBS/Sky Atlantic): And so it’s gone, in a somewhat underwhelming finale that mostly just tied up loose threads, left a couple dangling and let everyone pat each other on the back and say goodbye, all while Carrie Anne Moss had nothing to do, which was par for the course. A shame, since it started off with so much fire.

“What did you watch this week?” is your chance to recommend to friends and fellow blog readers the TV and films that they might be missing or should avoid – and for me to do mini-reviews of everything I’ve watched. Since we live in the fabulous world of Internet catch-up services like the iPlayer and Hulu, why not tell your fellow readers what you’ve seen so they can see the good stuff they might have missed?