Third-episode verdict: Wedding Band (TBS/5*)

In the US: Saturdays, 10/9c, TBS
In the UK: Acquired by 5* for 2013 broadcast
In Canada: Saturdays, 10pm EST, MuchMoreMusic
In Australia: Wednesdays, 7.30pm, Network Ten. Starts December 5

Well, not much to report further on Wedding Band since my review of the first episode, other than that it’s perhaps slightly less funny and slightly crasser than it started out. Essentially The Wedding Singer relocated to 2012 but with four band members, it’s clearly aimed at men who, like the Loaded tagline, should (and in fact do) know better, and is best described as a romcom musical for straight men, in which a wedding band is revealed to have shaman-like wisdom and capacity to bring couples together.

Although it flirts with the situations you’d expect of both a TBS show and any US comedy involving a group men in a band, it’s got a lot more heart and brain than you’d expect. Episode two saw the ever-wooden Megan Fox turn up as the star of a science-fiction show who begins dating the show’s lead (and her real-life husband) Brian Austin Green, who discovers to his cost what nerds do to people who leak spoilers. This episode, disappointingly, was a lot closer to what you’d have assumed of the show just from the synopsis, with a slight mean-spiritedness and misogyny that it looked like it had avoided in episode one – here, we had a bunch of flabby, unkempt teen nerds being taught how to play mind games with hot teenage girls to get them to go out with them. But it did prove a golden opportunity for the writers to poke fun at cast member Harold Perrineau’s old show Lost, at least, and at least the nerds were doing it for love and were better prospects than the sexting blackmailing boys the girls were originally going out with.

Episode three saw a return to the style of the first episode, giving us something that was miraculously a bit more of a romcom, and a smart one at that, despite being set largely in a stripclub – it even managed to avoid any nudity. The show had a bit more class than you might have expected and again, despite the strip club and bachelor party storyline, somehow the entire episode managed to be about love, fidelity, how to have decent relationships with women and child care. It even carried a message that ‘strippers are people, too’.

On the whole, while it’s not the funniest show ever made, the best romcom ever or even the most average musical ever made – the stars are at least better singers than Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia – it’s a surprisingly agreeable Saturday night’s viewing that (almost) shows that male-oriented comedy doesn’t have to be crass and sexist. While the pace of the central romance could do with picking up, it needs more jokes and we could do with caring about the supporting cast more, it’s got enough goodwill and good traits for me to give it some latitude, at least.

And, let’s face it, it’s not often you get a show that does cover versions of Iggy Pop, Simple Minds, the Bloodhound Gang greatest, all in the same episode, throwing in The Pet Shop Boys’ ‘West End Girl’s on a cello and a glockenspiel for luck, so brace yourself for something more imaginative than you’d expect.

Barrometer rating: 3

Review: Wedding Band (TBS) 1×1

The Wedding Band

In the US: Saturdays, 10/9c, TBS

Straight men are, in general, catered for very well by US television. Or so you’d think. Not all straight men are created equal, however. There are, in fact, two genres that really don’t seem to want us at all: romcoms and musicals. Glee, Nashville and Smash laugh in our faces, while The Mindy Project is still trying to work out what straight men want.

It’s discrimination, I tell you.

Never fear, though: TBS is here to balance the scales. Now, despite its catchline of “Very funny”, TNT’s sister channel should really have been promoting itself as “Cack – for men”. Glory Daze and Men At Work, I’m particularly looking at you here. But in an effort to stop making appalling television, as well as picking up Cougar Town now that ABC had dropped it, TBS has come up with Wedding Band, a romcom musical for men.

A cross between The Wedding Singer and The Hangover, it sees perennial bachelor Brian Austin Green (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) as the lead singer of a wedding band that includes his married-with-kids Ed Helms-alike best friend, his Jack Black-alike slobby brother and the quasi-hip Harold Perrineau from Lost. The band has been doing weddings for years, but they’re ready to go big, possibly with the help of big-time wedding planner Melora Hardin and her novice associate – and possible romantic interest for Green Jenny Wade.

And while it’s very male-oriented, features fight scenes and has quite a broad sense of humour, it’s surprisingly funny, nuanced and unmisogynistic. And you get about three or four classic rock and pop cover versions per episode: a romcom musical for men.

Oh, and in case you don’t read the tabloids, Brian Austin Green is married to Megan Fox in real life. Which is probably why she’s in the next episode in a leather outfit. Here’s a trailer:

Continue reading “Review: Wedding Band (TBS) 1×1”

TV reviews

Mini-review: Malibu Country 1×1 (ABC)

MalibuCountry.jpg

In the US: Fridays, 8.30c/7.30c, ABC

Dreadful. Even less funny than one of those jokes you find on the stick in a Mini Milk ice lolly and the worse of the two dreadful country music-based shows ABC now has. And while country star Reba McEntire being in it is understandable, Lily Tomlin – what the hell’s the matter with you?

Here’s a trailer. Don’t watch even a second more of this show than that. Even the trailer might be a step too far.

TV reviews

Mini-review: Mockingbird Lane (NBC)

Mockingbird Lane

In the US: Friday 26 October, 8/7c, NBC

Well, it was a backdoor pilot but its ratings weren’t very good, so I don’t think Mockingbird Lane – Bryan Fuller’s ‘reimagining’ of CBS’s The Munsters for NBC – warrants a full review.

For those of you who don’t remember the original, it essentially saw the Universal Pictures’ ideas of Dracula, the Wolfman, the Bride of Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster all living in a house together with a relatively normal woman as an everyday blue collar US family called the Munsters. Herman the monster is the bumbling father, Lily the bride is the practical mother, Grandpa the vampire is a cooky old man and Eddie the werewolf is an average kid. The humour came largely from the juxtaposition of their standard horror film appearances and powers with their normal behaviour and activities.

Here’s the original pilot, so you have an idea of what it was like, even if they recast Phoebe Munster and made her Lily afterwards:

The show was popular in syndication, popular enough to have reunion movies and even an updated series made in the 80s called The Munsters Today. Now, we have Mockingbird Lane – named after the road the original Munsters used to live on. And, to coin a phrase, Mockingbird Lane is a very different beast.

For starters, all the Universal Pictures iconography has gone, replaced in favour of more modern horror films: Eddie Munster turns into a proper CGI wolf, Herman Munster (Jerry O’Connell) is intelligent and handsome but a patchwork of parts à la Ken Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; Lily (Portia di Rossi) looks normal but can become mist, control insects and spiders, and bewitch men; while Grandpa Munster (Eddie Izzard) is a full on Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, able to change into a man-bat, dissolve into rats and enslave others with his blood.

More than that, it’s actually surprisingly horrific. While there is the same sort of humour as the original’s in the background, the only people really trying to fit in are the new Eddie Munster, who doesn’t know that he’s a werewolf, and Lily who just wants to raise her son. Meanwhile, Grandpa wants to drain the local population of its blood; and Herman needs his heart replacing using neighbours’ spare parts. And you get to see all of this, from Grandpa ripping apart mountain lions with his teeth to neighbours having their hearts ripped out.

In keeping with this new vibe, the show’s main point of difference from the original is that there aren’t that many jokes, and what there are seem to come mostly from Eddie Izzard’s occasionally James Mason-esque delivery and more frequent ad libbing. As a result, there’s not much drama and not much comedy, so the pilot feels like it’s just there to exist and to give us some nice visuals and nice ideas, without really giving us much by way of story. We don’t really know why the Munsters have moved into town, beyond the fact they had to leave the last one; we don’t really know what their motivations are, particularly Lily’s; we just know they’re here and creepy.

To be honest, despite Fuller’s pedigree on Heroes and Pushing Daisies, it was only okay, lovely to look at thanks to Bryan Singer’s directorial skills, but hampered by a lack of clarity in what it was trying to achieve. As a pilot, it serves up some visual treats, but doesn’t give you much of a reason to watch the hypothetical next episode that would have come.

All the same, it’s actually not bad. Jerry O’Connell has never been better or more likeable than he is here; Eddie Izzard gives a great performance and is entertaining, even when the script isn’t; and it looks great. It’s just a shame there wasn’t more meat on its bones. Here’s a trailer so you can see what you missed:

And if you’re in the US, you can still watch it on the NBC site or below.

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 1

Third-episode verdict: Arrow (The CW/Sky1)

In the US: Wednesdays, 8/7c, The CW
In the UK: Mondays, 8pm, Sky1
In Canada: Wednesdays, 9pm, CTV2
in Australia: Nine Network. Air date to be confirmed

And we have another winner from the Fall 2012 season. Arrow, somewhat unpromisingly based on a comics strip character virtually no one has ever heard of and who isn’t that much cop anyway, on a network with minimal viewers and that’s been almost exclusively targeting young women with the likes of Gossip Girl and America’s Next Top Model for years, has managed to turn in the closest we’ll probably ever get to Batman Begins: The Series.

As I noted in my review of the first episode, the show has its flaws, not the least of which is its entire premise, for which we can blame the original comic – a millionaire playboy, Oliver Queen, running around town, redistributing wealth and fighting crime after learning survivalist skills on a near-deserted island, with only a bow and arrow as a weapon. It also has an embarrassing voiceover, which ruins from the outset almost any real sense that the show might have some decent writers behind it.

But so far, it’s proven to be a remarkably good and tense watch. Stephen Amell is proving surprisingly charismatic as Oliver Queen, sometimes very Zen, sometimes very party boy, as the role needs it; it has excellent action sequences; the residual Smallville visual resemblance left behind by director David Nutter in the pilot episode has fortunately been exterminated; it has strong characters, both male and female, and it’s doing well at developing its supporting cast; it’s slowly dripping through back story and format, without descending into the formulaic; Dinah Lance, former Arrow girlfriend, and, judging by the third episode, still set to be the future Black Canary is being served well, as is Thea Queen, Oliver’s sister; there are some genuinely exciting cliffhangers; and it’s keeping most of the possible comic book implausibilities to a minimum.

True, some of them are still feeding through. Oliver Queen, stranded on an island for five years, not only has the physique of a protein-shake addict eating five whole chickens a day, but is somehow gifted with a computer hacker’s ability to search police databases and do forensic analysis – yet still needs to go to IT support to recover data from a damaged computer. Comic book villains China White (Martial Law‘s Kelly Hu) and Deadshot (Michael Rowe) turned up in the second and third episodes respectively, with Hu having to endure a white wig while Rowe got wrist guns and a targeting monocle – while that’s nothing compared to what their comic book characters have, it did somewhat ruin the show’s attempts to be gritty and realistic. There’s also the backstory involving Queen’s mother, which is feeling a bit silly already.

We also have Paul Blackthorne, who while a decent enough actor in shows like The River, The Dresden Files and The Gates, here seems to be having trouble believing the whole thing, never quite immersing himself in the role – something Strictly Come Dancing‘s own Colin Salmon is managing to do marvellously as the Green Arrow’s new step-dad.

But despite these failings, the show is just about as good as you’re going to get from a comic book show on The CW, easily trumping Smallville and pulling off the almost unimaginable feat of making Green Arrow look cool.

One to watch, if you like a comic book action show with at least a bit of thought put into it.

Barrometer rating: 1. Of course, the Barrometer might be biased since John Barrowman’s going to be a recurring star, starting from the fifth episode.