The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 3

Third-episode verdict: The Librarians (US: TNT; UK: SyFy)

In the US: Sundays, 8/7c, TNT
In the UK: Mondays, 8pm, Syfy

Well that rolled around quickly, didn’t it? Yes, time for a third-episode verdict already on TNT’s The Librarians, a spin-off series from the Noah Wyle TV movies that featured the character of the Librarian and is already being described as “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys for a new generation”.

Described by me as that, anyway.

The first couple of episodes were relatively action-packed, seeing Wyle and his helper monkeys defeat a magic-obsessed secret society led by a former Max Headroom who wanted the Crown of King Arthur, Excalibur and the Stone from whence it was taken (except it wasn’t) so they could return magic to the world. Budget now shot and Wyle off to defend the world from alien invaders instead, the third episode had to rely on the helper monkeys to fill the breach.

This was less than successful. The script was actually quite imaginative, giving us a new take on the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur that was surprisingly innovative. And while one could quibble with Christian Kane’s confusion over whether a fresco was Minoan or Helladic – are you blind, man? – the lurching around from historical inaccuracy to historical inaccuracy of the first two episodes wasn’t such an issue in the third.

No, the problem was twofold: the characters and the lack of fun. Without Wyle to bolster up both the supporting characters and the script, episode three revealed the spin-offs flaws like so much wallpaper peeling off from some cracked walls. Without the right kind of action and fun, the show stops being enjoyable and actually becomes quite painful, as we’re forced to watch some really quite dreadful actors try to inject life into some paper-thin characters with dialogue that the average five year old would probably regard as hackneyed. And with a budget far too low for its ambitions, it’s hard to really respect a globe-trotting show that largely sticks inside tunnels, offices and Boston alleyways.

So what we have here is a very variable, family show that lives and dies on its writing, with a cast that can’t save it when that writing falls through. When it’s good, it’s going to be brain-off, adrenaline-on TV; when it’s bad, it’s going to be fingernails on blackboards TV.

Still, Bruce Campbell is Santa Claus next episode. How can that not be aces?

Barrometer rating: 3
Rob’s prediction: Should last a while at least, particularly now we’re reaching Christmas, but it’s still got a long way to go before it finds its feet.

TV reviews

Review: The Librarians 1×1-1×2 (US: TNT; UK: SyFy)

In the US: Sundays, 8/7c, TNT
In the UK: Mondays, 8pm, Syfy

As I remarked a while back, TNT is best known for airing crime shows, both scripted and unscripted. While there have been a few exceptions over the years, the vast bulk of its output has been about cops and solving mysteries and the few exceptions along the way have mostly perished and died very quickly.

One of the few things on TNT that hasn’t involved crime and yet has survived the years is Noah Wyle. As well as his alien invasion show, Falling Skies, he’s also been the lead in an occasional series of TV movies based around a character called The Librarian. Part Indiana Jones, part Nicolas Cage in National Treasure, the Librarian has roamed the Earth for the best part of a decade, cracking ancient clues, engaging in daring-do, so that he can find lost magical artefacts such as Excalibur and the Spear of Destiny, so they can be safeguarded in a New York magical library run by Bob Newhart and Jane Curtin.

This year, though, TNT is making a concerted effort to branch out into other genres as part of its ‘boom’ campaign. Yes, ‘TNT – boom’: you can imagine how long it took them to think that one up. Surprisingly, ‘boom’s been doing quite well. While Legends isn’t the world’s best show, it’s an decent enough attempt to branch out into the spy genre and has been renewed for a second season. The big cable hit of the summer was TNT’s The Last Ship, a delightful combination of ship warfare and killer viruses that I loved and which is also back for a second season next year.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that TNT’s ‘boom’ is giving us The Librarians, an attempt to turn this occasional movie series into a potentially far more lucrative multi-episode TV series. Beginning with a two part special, the series sees ‘the Serpent Brotherhood’ trying to kill off the Librarian and any other potential Librarians so they can return magic to the world and then rule it.

Wyle has to round up the surviving potential librarians, who are largely former TNT stars (Rebecca Romijn from King & Maxwell and Christian Kane from Leverage), protect the library and save the world. And while it has a budget of about $4, the authenticity of a Ratner’s ring, the attention to historical detail of an Asterix book and an ensemble of actors about as convincing as the average glove puppet, it’s actually a very enjoyable bit of family fun.

Here’s a trailer:

Continue reading “Review: The Librarians 1×1-1×2 (US: TNT; UK: SyFy)”

What have you been watching? Including Cara Fi, The Comeback, Neville’s Island, Robocop (2014), Constantine and The Fall

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

The usual “TMINE recommends” page features links to reviews of all the shows I’ve ever recommended, and there’s also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I’ve reviewed ever. And if you want to know when any of these shows are on in your area, there’s Locate TV – they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.

First, I’ll apologise in advance for the typos: I’m just heading out the door to watch The Imitation Game.

Anwyay, we’re nearing Thanksgiving and the Christmas season (aka ‘December’) which means that viewing options are starting to drop off, new shows are few and far between, and old shows are giving us their mid-season finales. But I have watched a couple of new things, including State of Affairs, which I’ve reviewed elsewhere.

Cara Fi (UK: S4C)
A dying Welsh village puts the faces of its single men on the sides of milk cartons to attract women there. Starring Dave Coaches (Steffan Rhodri) from Gavin & Stacey, it’s pretty gentle, not especially romantic comedy with a sad basis in reality. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, but it’s a different change of pace from the usual fare and it clips along decently enough.

The Comeback (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
Lisa Kudrow plays a fading, once semi-famous actress, trying to use reality TV to make a comeback, only to discover that she might get a second chance, playing a thinly veiled pastiche version of herself in a sitcom. Technically the show’s second season, it’s first season airing in 2005, and since then, most of its young stars (Kellan Lutz, Malin Akerman) have gone on to better things, although Akerman makes a cameo in the first episode, Lutz lined up for a later appearance. However, as with the first season, this is such an insider TV show that even though I’ve been writing about TV and US TV for the best part of two decades, even I found it a bit niche. More damningly, I didn’t laugh once. Fans says the show’s simply ahead of the curve, in which case I’ll probably find it funny in 10 years’ time, but seeing as most of it is cringe comedy and laughing at people who’ve fallen on hard times, maybe not.

I’ve also watched a movie:

Robocop (2014)
Remake of the 1980s ‘classic’, this hits neither the original’s lows nor its highs, loses virtually all the satire, and ditches Nancy Allen’s tough female partner for Omar from The Wire. Nevertheless, the story of a murdered cop turned into a cybernetic police officer for a privatised police force does actually do some interesting and different things, looking at the concepts of free will, the nature of perception, media manipulation, the disabled, prosthetics, and the tensions between altruistic science and those funding it. It’s certainly not memorable and will probably be forgotten about soon enough, but it’s nevertheless a pretty decent film that would probably be a lot more noticeable and notable were it not for the original.

And I’ve been to the theatre, too.

Neville’s Island (Duke of York’s)
Four Northern middle managers (Neil Morrissey, Adrian Edmondson, Miles Jupp, Robert Webb) go the wrong way on an outward bounds course and end up stuck on an island in the Lake District. How will they get on together? Will they escape? And will any of them go mad and attack the others? I’m not saying, but it’s a fun play which ultimately doesn’t say a whole lot, but is entertaining nevertheless, with some good performances. It also features one of the best sets I’ve ever seen – or smelt. Seriously, that’s some moist piney goodness they’ve got going on there.

After the jump, I’ll be running through: Arrow, Constantine, Elementary, The Fall, The Flash, Forever, Gotham, Gracepoint, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, The Newsroom and Scorpion.

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including Cara Fi, The Comeback, Neville’s Island, Robocop (2014), Constantine and The Fall”

TV reviews

Review: State of Affairs 1×1 (US: NBC)

State of Affairs

In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, NBC

Katherine Heigl has been a movie star for so long, it’s hard to remember that she made it big on TV first. Sure, she was something of a teen movie doyenne, playing both Steven Seagal and Gerard Depardieu’s daughters in Under Siege 2 and My Father, The Hero respectively, but it was in first Roswell and then Grey’s Anatomy that she really got noticed, before eventually hitting the big time in Knocked Up.

Unlike most of the world, tired of the endless series of identikit rom-coms that have characterised her career since and aware of her ‘difficult’ reputation, I have a lot of time for Heigl. She’s done her best to change the rom-com dynamic, trying to inject some feminism and even some swearing so that women aren’t continually gentrified and oppressed by the genre. But she could certainly do better than 27 Dresses for starters.

Apparently, she thinks so, too, which is why she’s returned to TV to do something completely different: playing a gun-toting CIA analyst in State of Affairs. Something of a melange of everything from Homeland through The Threat Matrix (bet you thought no one would mention that show again), it sees Heigl advising her former mother-in-law-to-be – the US president (Alfre Woodard) – about the top threats facing the United States’ interests around the world, be it abducted doctors in Africa or Islamist terrorists… in Africa. And along the way, she’ll have to face politics, in-fighting, special forces, psychiatrists, security teams and someone who knows her dirty little secret.

And although pretty much every aspect of the show has been put through the NBC low-quality “generification machine”, if you were expecting it to be an epic disaster that would maintain Heigl’s status as a hate figure in the entertainment industry, you’d be surprised, since it’s okay. It’s not great, but compared to what it could have been, it’s a slight eye-opener.

Here’s a trailer.

Continue reading “Review: State of Affairs 1×1 (US: NBC)”

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 3

Third-episode verdict: Constantine (US: NBC; UK: Amazon Prime)

In the US: Fridays, 10/9c, NBC
In the UK: Amazon Prime

Three episodes into Constantine, the latest attempt to adapt DC’s Vertigo horror comic Hellblazer in another medium, and we’re seeing marked signs of improvement after a very variable first couple of episodes. The pilot (which was modified slightly for the transmitted first episode to get rid of Lucy Griffiths) wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great: a PG-13 bit of horror, with a variably-accented, atypically moral John Constantine, that was about on a par with the average first season episode of SupernaturalMatt Ryan’s Constantine is a watered down version of the comic book character: a non-smoking, generic working class Brit (accent says lots of places in the North, driving licence says Liverpool, slang says London), a man constantly acting like an unnuanced supernatural tough guy, rather than a mercurial amoral, trickster, prepared to manipulate and betray in the interest of the bigger picture (or himself).

Things didn’t get any better with episode two. In fact, they got worse, as it was a truly dreadful, virtually unwatchable affair: a sub-Grimm bit of dullness, with Constantine chasing generic monsters in a mysteriously Welsh-obsessed Pennsylvania mining town. Bringing in anti-Romani racism just for larks, it was about stupid and soporific as it’s possible for a show about the paranormal to get, without its writers having been trepanned first – and that’s despite the show bringing in Angélica Celaya as a considerably more interesting replacement for Griffiths. 

But the third episode has given me hope. While the ‘threat of the week’ was the somewhat generic ‘cursed LP’, the general furniture of the story was a whole lot better. The script by BSG/Smallville veteran Mark Verheiden drew a lot on the comic to flesh out Constantine, bringing in his punk band background (a bit of time travel maths or a longevity spell might be needed to square that) and favoured adversary/supernatural bystander Papa Midnite and his Ace of Winchesters. There was humour and general bad behaviour, too, and the show should get Brownie points for both an excellent use of ‘Anarchy in the UK’ and a couple of Doctor Who references that included a dimensionally transcendental house and the Constantine equivalent of psychic paper.

Constantine is still a tame affair that uses gore as a substitute for true horror. It relies on the iconography of the comic to give us the TV version of Constantine, Zed, Chas and other characters, but without giving us any real meat to their bones or signs that these are real people with real pasts, rather than Very Important Things That Had Happened To Them. And its plot are generic at best, unwatchable at worst.

But the show’s definitely getting there now. It’s drawing on some of the comic’s best bits to give us some things we haven’t really seen on TV before. Constantine is doing proper Hellblazer-esque magic. And we’re getting a proper roster of characters built up.

If it’s to survive in the ratings and be something more than Supernatural meets Grimm, the show needs to put on its big boy pants and truly embrace the darkness and Hellblazer‘s combination of heresy, politics and the personal. That’s assuming its got any chance of attracting back anyone who watched its offensively poor second episode, which is unlikely. And, of course, one good episode doesn’t mean everything that follows is going to be golden.

However, after the second episode, I was fairly certain I wasn’t going to be watching Constantine after the third, so it might still be in with a chance.

Barrometer rating: 3
Rob’s prediction: If it makes it to a season, I’ll be surprised, two seasons and I’ll be amazed, but some piece of dark magic might still save it