US TV

Hits and misses of the new US sitcoms coming your way

Julia Louis-Dreyfus



The New Adventures of Old Christine: A definite miss. Seinfeld’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays a just-divorced mum who still has a great relationship with her ex-. Ex-husband takes up with a new younger girlfriend, also called Christine, which makes Louis-Dreyfus the Old Christine – hence the title.

I think I laughed only about four times and they were more kind of nose snorts than belly laughs (attractive, huh?). Has one of those annoying precocious kids so beloved by US sitcoms, but most of the snorts came care of his adventures at his new private school (“Where are all the black kids?”), so that can be forgiven. Louis-Dreyfus is good, managing to avoid most of the possible Elaine mannerisms she could have thrown out, but the rest of the cast is insipid. Not exactly worth even half an hour of your time.

The Loop

The Loop: I reviewed this way back in August when it was still a pilot. It’s been retooled, although most of the good stuff – such as the Generation X-style margin notes – is still there. I won’t bother with the plot much, other than to say it’s about a junior exec at a Chicago-based airline firm who has to go through the various twists life and his job throw at him. The life stuff isn’t that amusing, although it has its moments, but the work stuff is on a par with the US version of The Office without the cringe factor. Amusing and should please anyone who’s ever hated their job, so I’m hoping it’s going to be on the hits side.

Teachers

I’ll let you know what I think of the NBC version of Teachers when it starts on the 28th. It’s based on the Channel 4 series, but has been smacked into standard NBC sitcom shape, albeit with the strange inclusion of Sarah Alexander from Coupling as a slightly priggish optimist who thinks she can make a difference in kids’ lives. It’s had bad reviews, so suspect a demise as swift as NBC’s version of Coupling.

For those of you still interested (beggaring the question “Why?”), Joey should be back next month as well. With two of the stars already signed up to appear in other shows next season and abysmally poor ratings when it briefly returned after the Olympics, the writing’s pretty much on the wall for Joey, I’m afraid guys.

Advertisements
Advertisements
US TV

Review: The Unit 1×1 – How cool is Dennis Haysbert?

Dennis Haybert: the coolest man alive

Dennis Haysbert: you know him right? He’s been around for ages. I first saw him in Suture, in which he played the absolutely identical twin brother of a white guy – a white guy who didn’t have an eye-patch like him. But he was also the getaway driver in Heat, was the government guy in Now and Again, and is best known as ex-President Palmer in 24 – Palmer being the only man in the world Jack “Harder than Chuck Norris” Bauer respects. He’s a cool guy, basically. But how cool?

I’ll tell you how cool he is. He now has his own show, one specially written for him by David Mamet.

Yes. David Mamet, the manliest of modern American playwrights. If David Mamet had one tenth the testosterone level of his scripts combined, he’d be able to knock out a charging bull with his bare hands. He’s that manly.

But The Unit, as Haysbert’s new show is called, is even manlier than David Mamet channelling the spirit of Ernest Hemingway in a Living TV seance. For starters, it’s based on Inside Delta Force, a book written by the founder of America’s answer to the SAS, Eric Haney. For no doubt a whole host of legal reasons, The Unit isn’t actually about Delta Force, but a thinly veiled version of Delta Force that goes undercover in Afghanistan one day and then on their day off foil hijackings of commercial jets. If ‘The Unit’ could talk, it would have to kill you afterwards.

The show is both good and awful. When dealing with the aforementioned hijacking, it’s very tense and impressive. Blink too many times and the spell that makes you think Scott Foley (Elliott’s ex-boyfriend in Scrubs) is capable of speaking Arabic and knifing people in the throat will wear off, but as tales of daring-do go it’s a lot closer to reality, I suspect, that the fabulous wonderland that is 24. It certainly makes Ross Kemp and Ultimate Force look like a bunch of Nancies.

It also manages to deal with the personal lives of the soldiers in a reasonably uninsulting way, while simultaneously recycling every cliché in the book. We get to meet all the Unit’s wives, who are a mix of the long-suffering, the cheating and the Independent Woman Who Wants Her Husband To Be More Emotionally Involved In the Family And Won’t Be Treated As A Second-Class Citizen By The Army. You know the type.

But there’s simply so much manliness going around, there’s a surplus that can be ladelled out to the wives as well. You could talk about The Unit if you wanted to, but then one of the wives would have to kill you.

Where it falls down quite drastically is when dealing with non-US affairs. Have a look at this picture of Haysbert and one of his comrades undercover in Afghanistan:

Undercover in Afghanistan. Really

Now if you were Afghanistani and you saw these guys in your local pub, would you, even for one second, think they weren’t Americans? No, neither would I. It’s not a fatal flaw – show me one TV series that properly manages to pull off International (don’t even think of saying Alias) – but it’s still more laughable than The West Wing‘s attempts (although not as insulting as Commander in Chief‘s).

If The Unit can confine itself to domestic US operations and maintain the same level of quality as Mamet’s opening episode, it’s going to be worth watching. However, I foresee a certain amount of jingoism in the near future that it’ll find hard to avoid. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for it.

But there’ll be one thing The Unit proves: you shouldn’t mess with Haysbert.

Advertisements
Advertisements

Review: Top 50 Break-Up Songs

I do like lists show, although Jimmy Carr’s omnipresence in them is something that’s barely tolerable. However, this was a Channel Five list show, rather than another Channel 4 show.

Two things I noticed:

  1. As I’ve been told by lots of audio and post houses, Five doesn’t give a monkey’s about sound quality. Did they even use microphones for their interviews?
  2. It was better than the Channel 4 list shows.

C4 list shows are generally populated by some talking head twats who had no recollection of the show in question until some researcher stuck a soundbite in front of them to read. The only exceptions are the people who actually made the film/TV show/song in question and the entire Guardian Guide staff – euphemistically always called “writers” rather than journalists, just to make it less obvious they’re all Stuart Maconie’s mates.

This particular list show, however, seemed to have a few people who knew what they were talking about and very few talking heads. It was also more intent on educating you about the history of the song, the artists and the era in which it was released than just trying to be post-modernly ironic or thick. How pleasant. Not exactly Reithian, but still better than a Channel 4/E4 sneer.

Advertisements
UK TV

The Eleventh Hour: no original thought allowed

11th hour wallpaper

Every so often, a show comes along that is so derivative, so unoriginal, it becomes almost impossible to decide exactly what it’s ripping off. So it is with Eleventh Hour, a four-part series starring Patrick Stewart as a “government scientific investigator”.

Although it’s silly, that’s a pretty accurate job title, in fact. Stewart is charged by ‘The Government’ with investigating science, whether that’s Evil Scientists who try to clone human beings or Angelic Children who believe in the healing power of spring water. A pretty broad brief, given that as a physicist, he’s probably as qualified as the average PE teacher to talk about most of the medical issues Eleventh Hour focuses on, but that’s The Government for you.

Nevertheless, the countryside-patrolling Stewart is so important and vital to The Government that they’ve actually given him a bodyguard, played by Ashley Jensen. This could be a mistake, given she drinks any experimental samples Stewart takes, doesn’t bother guarding him at night, takes naps during the day in her Land Rover while he’s busy confronting angry parents, and rolls about on the floor having fights with blood-soaked potential smallpox victims. But we’re not talking police procedural here, so kooky bodyguard gets to stay and protect Stewart with her unconvincing gun work, no matter how much danger she lets Stewart get into.

With global warming and nuclear weapons research among the plots, it’s tempting for anyone versed in British television history to accuse Eleventh Hour of simply being Doomwatch reheated to a lukewarm temperature for the 21st century. But unlike Doomwatch, which literally plucked its plots from the headlines to warn society where it was going wrong, Eleventh Hour takes great pains to steer away from anything controversial. Instead of well-meaning scientists and civil servants who simply don’t think through the consequences of their actions, we get Hollywood-style moustache-twirling villains and fabricated threats that have no actual relevance to viewers. Why run the risk of complaints with an avian flu story when you can write about the risks of deranged researchers trying to cross-breed smallpox with other viruses? Lot of that happening, is there? Is that really something which we have to lobby Parliament to prevent? Thought not.

Equally, any resemblance to actual science depicted in the programme is purely accidental. When Stewart the physicist starts dipping pH paper in water as his sole test for contamination, anyone with even a GCSE in Combined Science knows we’re in the realm of science fiction rather than looking at a serious study of the potential dangers inherent to modern science.

Instead, to find the true inspiration for Eleventh Hour, we need to look at the show’s creator, Stephen Gallagher. While he’s best known for his equally irrelevant 1991 serial Chimera, Gallagher started out as a script-writer for Doctor Who. A pseudo-science spouting older man, always wandering into trouble with his naïve female sidekick? Ring any bells?

Just as Doctor Who is essentially an adventure show that uses aliens and technology as the MacGuffins that create and advance the plots, it would be wrong to think of Eleventh Hour as anything other than a thriller that uses ‘science’ and ‘scientists’ as an excuse for a jolly run round. However, while a good thriller, such as State of Play or Edge of Darkness, can leave you thinking about the issues and the characters long after it has finished, Eleventh Hour is nothing like a good thriller.

Stewart and Jensen do their best to inject life into their ciphers and Gallagher has an occasionally good line in humorous but predictable dialogue. But the show has next to no grounding in reality; the plots have more holes than a colander; the direction leaps from shot to shot without giving you any real idea of what’s happening; and when the usually incoherent plot explanation finally arrives, you’ll wonder what the five other impossible things you’ll be asked to believe before breakfast are.

Rather than provide warnings about the dangers of science, Eleventh Hour provides warnings about the dangers of not having a clear, original idea for your programme before you start filming it. With ratings of 3.8 million and Stewart’s schedule full for the foreseeable future, further instalments of the show look unlikely. But with no real raison d’être other than filling an hour and a half in the mid-week schedules, it won’t be a great loss to television.