Impulse
Internet TV

Review: Impulse (season one) (YouTube Red)

In the UK: Available on YouTubeRed

Few people can have come out of cinemas having watched Jumper thinking “Gosh, I’d really love to see another movie set in this universe.” Indeed, so unmemorable a movie is it beyond its awfulness, you probably barely remember it and are probably already mixing it up mentally with the far superior Looper.

To refresh your memories, Jumper was the movie in which Hayden Christiansen turns out to have the ability to teleport. Unfortunately, there’s a secret society, whose number includes the stupidly haired Samuel L Jackson, dedicated to killing ‘jumpers’. Oh noes.

The film was something of a disaster and more or less killed off the career of director Doug Liman, which given he revolutionised spy cinema with The Bourne Identity shows you just what a rubbish movie it was.

Since then, Liman’s directing career has been a bit more low-profile and tethered to Tom Cruise’s whims, so Liman has done well as a producer on the likes of Suits instead.

So it’s something of a surprise that he’s attempting to resurrect his career with a return to the Jumper universe. It’s even more surprising that it’s actually really good.

Missi Pyle and Maddie Hasson in Impulse
Missi Pyle and Maddie Hasson in Impulse

Impulse

Impulse is based on the third of the Jumper novels by Steven Gould, but is as much of a departure from its raw material as Jumper was. It sees Maddie Hasson playing mardie teenage girl Henrietta (aka Henry) who’s moved to the small town of Weston in New York state with her single mum (Missi Pyle). Dad left years ago and now commitment-phobe Pyle moves from guy to guy looking for ‘the one’ who might be good to both her and Hasson. She’s found a possible keeper – widower Matt Gordon – who has his own teenage daughter (Sarah Desjardins) and all would be fine, were it not for Hasson’s extreme mardiness and the fact she’s starting to have fits that doctors are finding hard to diagnose.

Hasson hooks up with local sporting hero Tanner Stine, but when things start moving too quickly for her, she asks him to stop… but he won’t, causing her to fit again. However, this time her fit somehow crushes the truck they’re in, paralysing Stine and instantly transporting Hasson back to her bedroom, along with bits of the truck. What’s going on? What will happen to Hasson? What will happen to Stine? And how will Hasson’s new ability evolve?

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American Woman
US TV

Review: American Woman 1×1 (US: Paramount)

In the US: Thursdays, 10pm, Paramount
In the UK: Not yet acquired

A lot of American shows have the word American in the title. American Gladiators. American Housewife. American Crime Story. American Crime. American Horror Story. America’s Got Talent. America’s Funniest Home Videos. America’s Next Top Model. American Dad. American Gothic. Wet Hot American Summer. American Idol. American Dreams. American Bandstand. American Odyssey.

Oh yes, and The Americans.

That’s a lot. Sometimes it’s to cash in on a sense of patriotism. A lot of the time it’s to suggest something specifically culturally American.

And sometimes it’s to cash in on a song title.

American Woman seems to be focused almost entirely on this latter category, since almost the whole first episode is a build-up to the point when The Guess Who’s American Woman can be played at a suitably ‘You go, girl’ moment.

But the show also thinks it’s on to something a bit more universal. It thinks it might be saying something specific about the American woman. It might be, but inadvertently.

James Tupper and Alicia Silverstone in American Woman
James Tupper and Alicia Silverstone in American Woman

The Real Real Housewives of Beverly Hills

The show is based on the life of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Kyle Richards – or maybe her mother’s life, seeing as it’s set in 1975. It sees Alicia Silverstone (Clueless, The Singles Table) as a rich Beverly Hills housewife, just trying to make her man (James Tupper) happy. Sure, they squabble over money because he’s a rich realtor and she’s a housewife who can only spend what he earns because he won’t let her work, but all seems well. Then she spies him with another woman and she decides to get a divorce.

But it’s 1975 and things aren’t easy for women going it alone. Fortunately, she has pals Mena Suvari (American Horror Story, American Beauty, American Pie) and Jennifer Bartels (Broken, Friends of the People) to help her get over the rough spots, even if they have problems of their own, like a secretly gay husband and a crappy job.

If all that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s all very very familiar. Even when the police show up at the end of the first episode to suggest that maybe Tupper’s riches might be illusory, we’re in the realm of the opening five seconds of The Good Fight, rather than anything remarkable.

There’s lot of “You go, girl” moments, but they’re very clunky. They’re Silverstone getting out of car at night to shout at two guys who have been harassing her (and then not getting shot for some reason). They’re Silverstone and Tupper arguing about a feminist on TV and whether she makes any sense. We’re not going for nuanced here.

It’s all supposed to be inspiring and maybe there’s a hint of “this is what your mothers had to go through – be awed by their bravery”, too. But largely, if there’s an American woman universality, rather than a simply 1970s universality, it’s the preeminence of money in every single conversation. Sure, it’s Beverly Hills, but literally every conversation is about who earns what, how much, who gets to spend it, how less can be spent, how more can be earned, and all the various permutations of self-worth based on earning potential that you can imagine.

I don’t think this is deliberate. I think it’s a sub-conscious reveal, because the emotional damage of Tupper’s affair are handled as little more than a reason to terminate a contract and open negotiations than something genuinely life-destroying.

Mena Suvari in American Woman

American Women?

Which may or may not resonate with you. Money is important, particularly in America, particularly if you haven’t got any. To me, it just made the whole thing soulless, like a placard rather than anything real. And because it didn’t feel real and the characters are just as much period dressing as the self-consciously 70s decor, the comedy didn’t work.

I like Alicia Silverstone, Suvari’s doing a fine job, Tupper is suitably dickish, but it’s all wasted on what’s basically a better filmed, better acted, better behaved version of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

Legion
International TV

What have you been watching? Including Legion and Westworld

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

Last week, I predicted a flood of new shows and here they all are already. Elsewhere, I’ve reviewed the first episodes of:

And passed a third-episode verdict on Mystery Road (Australia: ABC). But that’s not all of them. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to do Dietland (US: AMC; UK: Amazon), but I’ll give it a whirl; however, I’ll definitely be reviewing the first episode of Paramount (US)’s American Woman some time in the next couple of days and I’ll be aiming to review all of YouTube Red’s surprisingly good Impulse as well, although that might be something for Monday, as might Strange Angel (US: CBS All Access) – and anything else that pops up.

All these new things but the current viewing listing is dwindling something chronic. In fact, after the jump, I’ll only be looking at Bron/Broen (The Bridge), Westworld and the season finale of Legion. Crikey.

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Cloak and Dagger
US TV

Review: Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger 1×1-1×2 (US: Freeform; UK: Amazon)

In the US: Thursdays, 8/7c, Freeform
In the UK: Fridays, Amazon

Variety is the spice of life and that appears to be the case with superhero TV shows. On the one hand, you have DC’s current roster of shows on The CW. Perhaps because they’re all from the same production company (Berlanti Productions), they air on the same channel or DC wants something tonally similar for crossovers et al, The Flash, Arrow, Supergirl, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow and Black Lightning all have a certain common feel. Sure, Black Lightning‘s a bit edgier and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow is deliberately stupider, but largely they do the same sorts of things in the same sorts of ways.

Marvel’s a bit different, both in its movies and its TV series. There’s no way you’d suspect Legion of coming from the same creators as Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD or any of Netflix’s roster. That’s very welcome – who needs to watch the same show, just with a few variants?

That said, there are some commonalities. The Netflix shows do have a similar vibe, and if you’ve watched Hulu’s Marvel’s Runaways, you’ll have a least a little touch of the déjà vus when you watch Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger. But not too many.

Marvel's Cloak and Dagger

Cloak and Dagger

The actions starts in the long distant days of the early 00s (aargh), with a young white girl being taken home from ballet classes by her rich scientist dad. Meanwhile, a young black kid from the same city is hanging out with his brother, looking to steal back a car stereo whose rich owner hasn’t paid for its installation. Sadly, things go wrong for both of them and both dad and brother end up dead in the water – literally – along with the two children, who make an odd connection of sorts.

Fast-forward to the modern day and their fortunes have reversed. White girl (now played by Olivia Holt) is making ends meet by stealing from rich boys she drugs after seducing them in nightclubs. Meanwhile, black boy (Aubrey Joseph) is an athletics star at a posh private school, looking to go on to great things after school.

Everything seems normal until they meet again at a party and Holt, without remembering who Joseph is, steals his wallet – and they make a supernatural connection again. What’s going on, why them and what are these new powers that they have?

Continue reading “Review: Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger 1×1-1×2 (US: Freeform; UK: Amazon)”

HBO's Succession
US TV

Review: Succession 1×1-1×2 (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)

In the US: Sundays, 10pm, HBO
In the UK: Acquired by Sky Atlantic. Will air later this year

Normally, you can guarantee that whatever airs on HBO in the US will end up on Sky Atlantic here in the UK. Sky does, after all, have an exclusivity deal with HBO, and advertises itself as the home of both HBO and Showtime shows in the UK. It’s also so eager for kudos and ratings unaffected by illegal downloads when it comes to the likes of Game of Thrones and Westworld that it airs them the next day in the wee small hours after they’ve aired in the US.

Yet the channel is mysteriously quiet about when it will air Succession. A first glance at the show’s credits might make you wonder why. Directed by Adam McKay (Anchorman, The Big Short). Exec produced by Will Ferrell. Created by Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show). Written by Jesse Armstrong, Tony Roche (The Thick of It, Veep, In the Loop), Jonathan Glatzer (Better Call Saul), Lucy Prebble (Secret Diary of a Call Girl), et al. Starring Brian Cox, Kieran Culkin, Alan Ruck, Matthew Macfadyen et al.

Should be a natural for much hype and instant transmission, you’d have thought. Yet Sky is quiet. Why?

Well, you don’t have to be the most media-savvy viewer in the world to work out why after only a few minutes’ viewing, because Succession is a very thinly veiled satire of the Murdoch empire. Very thin. It’s a veil that must be made of some kind of nanomaterial, it’s so thin.

December 32nd 2018 then?

Succession

Succession

The show sees Brian Cox playing Rupert Murdoch – let’s not pretend otherwise – or at least an 80-year-old mogul with a vast media empire that encompasses every continent of the world. As well as growing health problems and a foreign wife (Hiam Abbass), he has a whole bunch of moderate to no-talent children. Like I said, let’s not pretend otherwise.

Eldest son Ruck is more interested in saving the planet than working for the family business, so that leaves Jeremy Strong, the James of the piece, as Cox’s most likely successor. However, while full of MBA talent, he lacks his dad’s sociopathic killer instincts for the deal. Sarah Snook is the Elisabeth of the piece, although this Elisabeth fancies being a politician instead. Meanwhile, youngest son Culkin fancies himself for the top job but is a spoilt brat and “not a serious person”.

Just as everyone’s expecting Cox to hand over the reins of the company to Strong, Cox drops a bombshell – he’s not going to retire after all, since he doesn’t think Strong is ready. Maybe another 10 years – and if all you kids could sign over management of the trust to Abbass by 4pm, that would be just peachy. Needless to say, the kids don’t take well to this and when Cox suffers a possibly fatal stroke at the end of the first episode, the next episode is all about them jockeying for position, deciding whether to honour their father’s wishes or maybe even to pick randomly arrived cousin and theme park management trainee dropout Nicholas Braun as their neutral interim CEO.

Jeremy Strong in Succession

The Thick of NI

Succession is more or less exactly what you’d expect from “The Thick of It‘s Jesse Armstrong” – it’s not extensive winter location filming in Iceland à la Game of Thrones so much as lots of two-way conversations in non-descript rooms and corridors, in which a bunch of related idiots hurl colourful insults at each other and behave incredibly childishly. And it’s correspondingly funny, too.

Everyone is very well cast. Strong is pitiable as a man with big ambitions but with not quite the character needed to obtain them. Culkin is a brilliantly unpleasant rich kid, who’ll offer a small child $1 million if he makes a home run in a softball game, but refuse to pay up when he just misses out – and then taunt him. Macfadyen is amusing as Snook’s weak husband, ambitious but perpetually inept at politicking so endlessly picking the wrong moment to do things, while dumping on Braun because he doesn’t need anything from him. Braun you just know is going to end up running the company, purely by accident.

It’s not totally compelling, though. The put-downs don’t all work and sometimes just become “F*ck off!” “No, you f*ck off!”, rather than anything more artful. Having so many useless, venal characters makes it hard to root for anyone. And it is all about the Murdochs, at the end of the day. Do you want to watch a Rupert Murdoch biopic? Probably not.

Still, I went from having no interest in this to looking forward to the second part and now the third part, so it’s definitely got some compelling qualities and it is consistently amusing. Give it a try. Assuming you’re up at 2am on December 32nd.