Black Lightning
US TV

Review: Black Lightning 1×1 (US: The CW; UK: Netflix)

In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, The CW
In the UK: Tuesdays on Netflix. Starts January 23

Oh look. Another superhero show on The CW. Who saw that coming? I mean it’s only got Arrow. And The Flash. And Supergirl. And DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. How can any TV network manage to get by with only four superhero shows. It seems inconceivable.

Yet here we are with Black Lightning, which on the face of it doesn’t look a radical departure. It has a black superhero at its core, but Arrow already has Mr Terrific, so admirable though it is, it’s not new for The CW. The budget’s no bigger than Arrow and the rest’s – indeed, it looks cheaper most of the time, despite all the night shooting intended to conceal the fact.

Yet, on the network for young adults, Black Lightning is indeed radical, because it’s about a middle-aged man. Throwing aside conventional origin stories, the show picks up nearly a decade after electrically-charged superhero Black Lightning (Cress Williams) hung up his costume and lightning bolts so that he could settle down, look after his family and become the principal of a local high school.

However, despite the best efforts of the police, particularly Damon Gupton (The Player), a new gang called The 100 has moved into town and is taking over. When they start threatening his school and his teenage daughters (China Anne McClain and Nafessa Williams), Williams decides enough is enough and with the help of an old pal (appropriately enough, former Thunder God James Remar), steps up to protect the neighbourhood by resurrecting Black Lightning.

Easy middle-age

Now, it has to be said, despite being even older than I am, Cress Williams seems to be having a super-powered middle age. Not for him clicky knees when he stands up and without having trained in martial arts for years, he can still do a speedy roundhouse kick without pulling a tendon. Getting shot? A mere flesh wound.

Okay, he’s got super strength, as well as the ability to control electricity, but let’s have some sense of reality. Clearly this a show written by young people, who don’t really know what’s still to come for them. Even if you couldn’t have guessed from the school setting that the network is hedging their bets about the strength of the show’s appeal to the ‘starting to grey and where’d that tummy come from?’ demographic, the end of the first episode suggests that younger superheroes are going to be around. Maybe they can let him have a breather now and then.

All the same, kudos on not only having most of the action revolve around family man Williams and his family problems, but also having the even older Remar as Williams’ quasi-Alfred.

DC’s Luke Cage

Trouble is, while Black Lightning may stand apart from the rest of The CW shows in terms of age, it then gets lumbered with having to deal with all the same issues as Marvel’s Luke Cage. He’s going to stand up and look after his community (check). He’s got to demonstrate how to be a Good Black Man (check). He’s got to deal with gang violence (check). He’s got to survive encounters with the police without being shot on suspicion of being black (check).

There’s a certain “been there, done that” to the plot, if not the character himself.

Nevertheless, the show is different enough from the Arrowverse, which it fortunately doesn’t occupy so crossovers are off the cards for now, that Black Lightning doesn’t feel like YA superhero show. It could do with having better fights. It could do with having a different kind of enemy to face. But it’s a good start at least.

I just hope he doesn’t get a bad back.

Corporate
US TV

Review: Corporate 1×1 (US: Comedy Central)

In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, Comedy Central

Normally, my go-to take-home going forward from a review of a Comedy Central comedy is that it would have been funny – or at least funnier – if I’d been smoking something illicit while watching, which is pretty much what most of the target audience will be doing.

However, Corporate would fire me for that, unless I managed to find a scapegoat instead.

Set in the completely evil conglomerate of ‘Hampton Deville’, Corporate is actually a marvellously dark and edgy piece that looks like something David Fincher might have done in his Fight Club days, given half a chance. It’s written by and stars Matt Ingebretson and Jake Weisman as two minor executives at the aforementioned evil corporation who are already on their own life’s Plan B and have seen all hope and joy leave their existences thanks to Hampton Deville and its corporate culture.

Episode one is ostensibly about the company’s launch of a new tablet “eight times as large as the iPad”, which goes wrong when someone in the social media department creates an ill-taste Tweet about hurricane victims. CEO Lance Reddick (The Wire, Fringe) is enraged so sets mid-tier execs Anne Dudek (House, Covert Affairs) and Adam Lustick to find the culprit. They in turn delegate to Ingebretson and Weisman, who react very differently to being given power for the first time in their five year careers at the company.

Office Space

The first episode’s jokes are mostly about corporate culture (eg who gets first dibs at bagels, how open you should be about stress caused by your job, who should be cc:ed v bcc:ed and why, how to get free cake), which are reminiscent naturally enough of Office Space and its TPS reports. It’s also done very well and raised plenty of laughs from me along the way.

However, this is clearly Office Space for the social media generation, and the show understands the Twitter and the Facebook well, as well as its limitations, with the second half a great take on the power of social media to create bad publicity – and how easy it is for a ‘social media guru’ to change that and for corporations to end up not actually doing anything.

The void

However, the show’s equally interested in darkness, depression and crushed dreams. Plenty are the jokes on suicide and the death of hope – indeed, the first episode is called ‘the void’.

“Plan B failed – time for Plan C”

“Suicide?”

“That’s right! You’re such a good friend to know that.”

Flailing against corporate culture? Don’t. You can’t fight it. No good deed will go unpunished. All you can do is climb to the top so that you’re no longer under anyone else’s thumb.

Again, here it’s as accurate as with its analysis of office politics…

Conclusion

The fact it’s attracted the cast it has should be enough to convince you that this is at least a cut above the normal Comedy Central output. The more you know of the corporate world, the funnier you’ll find it, I suspect. Bleakly funny.

The Magicians season 3
International TV

What have you been watching? Including The Magicians and Cardinal

It’s “What have you been watching?”, your chance to recommend anything you’ve been watching this week

We’re over the first phase of new US TV shows this week, ready for the next phase in February, which means there haven’t been many new additions to the TMINE viewing queuing. Last night’s premiere of Black Lightning (US: The CW; UK: Netflix) will be getting a review on Friday, while elsewhere this week, I previewed Sky Atlantic’s forthcoming Britannia and reviewed CBC (Canada)’s Burden of Truth, so it wasn’t entirely uneventful. The Magicians was back as well.

Nevertheless, that still left a little time for me to watch an episode of Lucifer out of curiosity to see if it had got more interesting. I’ll be discussing that after the jump with the current regulars: The Brave, Cardinal, Engrenages (Spiral), Falling Water, Great News, Happy!, SEAL Team, Star Trek: Discovery, Will & Grace and The X-Files, as well as the season finale of Marvel’s Runaways. Two of those will be leaving the TMINE viewing queue forthwith – can you guess which ones?

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including The Magicians and Cardinal”

Mackenzie Crook and Kelly Reilly in Sky Atlantic's Britannia
UK TV

Boxset Monday: Britannia (UK: Sky Atlantic; US: Amazon)

In the UK: Available from Thursday on Sky Atlantic
In the US: Will be available on Amazon

What is Sky Atlantic’s new show Britannia all about? The obvious answer is that it’s about the second Roman invasion of the British Isles (aka Britannia), way back in AD43. David Morrissey (State of Play, The Walking Dead) is the Roman general in charge of the invading legions who thinks that he can do better than Caesar did 90 years earlier. The tribes of native Celts who once lined the shores to repel Caesar’s invasion are now led by Ian McDiarmid and Zoe Wanamaker, who are at each other’s throats thanks to a wedding ceremony gone wrong as the results of a bit of treachery, so seemingly no obstacle to Morrissey. Around them are other Celts vying for power, including McDiarmid’s son Julian Rhind-Tutt (Green Wing, Hippies); meanwhile, McDiarmid’s warrior princess daughter Kelly Reilly (Sherlock Holmes, Black Box, Above Suspicion) wants nothing but peace and her father’s approval.

However, it wasn’t just the Celts that helped repulse that first invasion. It was the druids and their genuine magic that sent Caesar running back to Rome in a tizzy. And it’s that magic that’s the real reason for Morrissey’s desire to lead Claudius’ legions to victory – he wants to visit the underworld to meet the dead and he needs the help of the druids, including their chief the 10,000-year-old Mackenzie Crook (The Office, The Detectorists). That’s something ‘outcast’ druid Nikolaj Lie Kaas wants to stop as he thinks Morrissey might be a demon from the equally demonic Rome.

But underneath that literal explanation of the plot, there is as the title suggests a deeper introspection of the nature of Britain, Britishness, change and immigration fit for our post-Brexit world. Plus a little bit of ultra-violence.

Continue reading “Boxset Monday: Britannia (UK: Sky Atlantic; US: Amazon)”

Burden of Truth
Canadian TV

Review: Burden of Truth 1×1 (Canada: CBC)

In Canada: Wednesdays, 8pm, CBC

TV seems to think that any professional is a master of all trades. See those Crime Scene Investigators? They’re not just scientists, they’re great at doing police investigations, interrogations, you name it, according to CSI. Paramedics? Who needs them when the fire brigade can do it all for them in 9-1-1?

Lawyers, of course, are well known for investigating and solving crimes themselves on TV. But until now, we’ve not really had “lawyer as epidemiologist”.

Burden of Truth sees Smallville‘s Kristin Kreuk playing a high-flying lawyer at a firm run by her dad. A golden opportunity to win the custom of a big pharmaceutical company comes along, when a group of girls in a small town start suing the firm, claiming that its HPV vaccine is making them ill. All Kreuk has to do is get them to stop their claim and she wins the business. Trouble is, it’s the same small town she grew up in and which she and her dad were hounded out of 17 years earlier for reasons not as yet revealed.

Reprehensible?

For a while, Burden of Truth looks to be a pretty reprehensible piece of work. Despite Kreuk’s vehemency against ‘anti-vaxxers’, all signs point to the show becoming Big Pharma Is Bad and Kreuk switching sides when she finds out the truth. Numerous scenes have Kreuk trying to pay off the locals, all while she dishes out mealy mouthed “temporal proximity does not indicate causality” responses to the touchy feely “your vaccine made me sick” girls and their families.

Fortunately, about halfway through, it becomes clear that actually, the vaccine’s fine and CBC isn’t about to cause a Canada-wide public health crisis. Hopefully, viewers will indeed learn that simply because you did something and you got sick afterwards, it doesn’t mean what you did made you sick.

What the show then becomes is Kreuk deciding to go Erin Brockovich, and stay in town to work out what really caused the illnesses and to somehow make amends for whatever it is her dad did that still has people punching her and spitting at her 20 years later. Whether she’ll be fingering Big Mining, Big Chemical, Big Agro or Little Chinese Herbal Medicine (warning: may contain traces of anthrax) as the true cause is the mystery that will drive the rest of the season.

Burden

That still leaves a show that’s makes you feel like it’s sent you an envelope of incriminating photographs, such is the emotional blackmail going on. The lawyering is all slightly perfunctory and the show’s heart is really in having Kreuk feel bad.

Numerous are the scenes in which children curse Kreuk for offering them $50,000 and opine things like “I always wanted to be a lawyer but now I’ve met you I don’t” or “You may have worked for a big company but I thought you were a human being. But you’re not.” Kids, hey? Thick as mince, the lot of them.

Meanwhile, police officers unexpectedly pull up and say things like “I never thought I’d see a Hanley in this town, not after what your dad did.”

The show has all the subtlety of a Hallmark movie about single mothers.

Amiable

Manipulative it may be, but it’s reasonably amiable manipulation. Kreuk is more plausible here as a big city lawyer than she was as a big city police detective in Beauty and the Beast. She also has decent chemistry with Peter Mooney (Rookie Blue), who plays the town’s hero lawyer and her former High School sparring partner. And despite all the emotional blackmail, it’s always nice to see a show about people being nice, even lawyers.

So I might keep on watching this. To be honest, I really just want to find out what caused the sickness. Even thought the trailer below suggests it’s something else, I do hope it’s the Chinese Medicine store. That would really dick up the anti-vaxxers (“They’re natural remedies, you know?”).