Thursday, 30 June 2011

Starz cancel CAMELOT


I'm actually rather surprised by the news that Starz have cancelled Camelot, their adaptation of the Arthurian legend, starring Joseph Fiennes and Eva Green. The ratings were decent (the premiere was a network record-breaker, the finale attracted 1.5 million, viewership was going up towards the end), but US reviews remained very mixed. Interestingly, the show's been received better by UK critics (well, from what little I've read), perhaps because we're more tolerant of a show's daftness? Deadline are reporting that scheduling conflicts with some of the actors also influenced the cable channel's decision. If true, I'm not sure what deal the actors had with Starz when they signed up, as it seems obvious you should keep your diary open once you make a commitment to a US TV series.

Oh well. Better shows have joined the "one-season wonder" club, so I'm not going to lose any sleep about it, but it's a shame the finale's set-up for season 2 won't amount to anything now. Then again, over 10 episodes Camelot explored most of the Arthurian legend's iconic ideas, and most of its own unique storylines were resolved, so it could have been worse.

Are you annoyed by the decision to axe Camelot? Could the show have improved, or did it deserve to be cancelled so soon?

PRIMEVAL, 5.6: tomorrow's world


This was easily the best episode of series 5 and possibly Primeval's most satisfying finale yet, despite the story feeling stretched to twice its natural length. Steve Bailie and co-creator Adrian Hodges are two of the show's best writers, and you can usually expect an increase in quality for the episodes they're behind. This was certainly the case here, as the finale delivered the action and jeopardy you demand of a monster-hunt show like Primeval, but also reduced the idiocy, delivered a few scenes of real emotion, and restored something the show lost this series: camaraderie between the characters.

Connor (Andrew Lee Potts) was last seen vanishing into Philip's (Alexander Siddig) super-anomaly, appearing in a barren future-Earth contaminated with a thin, noxious atmosphere, pummeled by erratic storms, and crawling with mutated Future Predators. Matt (Ciaran McMenemin) opted to go through the anomaly to rescue Connor, later joined by a gun-toting Abby (Hannah Spearritt), giving them both first-hand experience of his home: the dystopia Philip's "New Dawn" project is destined to cause. Back in the present, egomaniac Philip began to lose control of his man-made anomaly as it started to grow exponentially, eventually causing a bizarre atmospheric change in the skies above his facility, and a vicious Future Predator appeared in ARC for Lester (Ben Miller) and Jess (Ruth Kearney) to contend with.

There was a great deal to enjoy here, surprisingly, forgiving the fact Primeval lacks the budget to do a few ideas full justice—like the trip to the future. More importantly, I was surprised to see a genuinely good performance from Spearritt (her tearful reunion with Connor in an underground bunker was possibly the actress's best moment on this show), and even the terribly dry relationship between Emily (Ruth Bradley) and Matt was given some spice when Matt decided to sacrifice himself by altering history and potentially erasing his own timeline. The show works better, dramatically, when it’s less about wandering around trying to capture CGI monsters (that the actors can't see) and more about the characters facing things that test themselves. Siddig also looked more comfortable somehow, finally given a script that gave him something to play—as Philip realized the error of his ways and sacrificed himself to try and reverse the damage he's caused.

It's also worth mentioning the direction of Cilla Ware, who pulled off some decent sequences this week—in particular, there was a lovely shot when the camera pulled back from Lester and Jess to reveal the snarling jaws of a Future Predator before it started to prowl the ARC. Never underestimate how much a good camera move or choreographed action sequence can boost a show like Primeval, which demands a level of care and attention it rarely receives. The effects sequences of the intensifying super-anomaly, causing bizarre cloud formations and dragging entire buildings into its twinkling heart, were also notable highlights from a visual standpoint.

The story was largely unsurprising and could have ended a good half-hour early with some trimming, but overall series 5's finale was a great deal more exciting and watchable than every episode that's preceded it this year. I'm not sure what to make of the last-minute twist, however, when Matt encountered a bloodied doppelganger of himself in a darkened corridor who implored him to "go back". Primeval just broke a time-travel rule it established in series 1's finale (when meddling with history had an immediate effect on the present-day, and didn't result in an alternate timeline), so are we to assume there are two timelines now vying for existence? It doesn't make much sense right now, and to be honest I don't expect to provide a solid explanation from a show like Primeval, but I'm sure fans are just happy the ending suggests the writers expect to be recommissioned.

Whether the show deserves to come back after this frustratingly limp series is another matter.

Asides

  • I never did understand Helen Cutter's motivations, or have forgotten whatever we learned over three years, so WHY did she manipulate Philip into causing the end of the world with his New Dawn project? How is causing the apocalypse in her interest?
  • I seem to always mention this whenever the Future Predators make an appearance on the show, but they really are a great creature design. If you enlarged them, you almost end up with the Cloverfield monster, a good few years before that Lovecraft-inspired beast was conceived. The mutated versions here were perhaps even creepier because they sometimes moved around with a more human posture.
written by Steve Bailie & Adrian Hodges / directed by Cilla Ware / 28 June 2011 / Watch

Coming Soon: BEAVER FALLS, E4


E4 have a brand new comedy-drama on the way, which they're hoping will replicate the success of The Inbetweeners. Beaver Falls is the story of three British friends—Flynn (Coronation Street's Samuel Robertson), A-Rab (Four Lions' Arsher Ali) and Barry (Lark Rise To Candleford's John Dagleish)—who graduate from university and decide to travel to the US for a carefree holiday working for an elite summer camp called Beaver Falls, full of beautiful and rich Californian teenagers.

It's certainly a premise that sounds fun on paper. I just hope the writing and performances are as sharp as The Inbetweeners, because a British teen-comedy set in the US (probably involving an Anglo-American culture clash) is definitely something that appeals to me—despite the fact I'm now in my early-30s!

To celebrate the show's premiere, there's also a competition to win the Ultimate USA trip for a total of three people, who will flown out to the US with £1500 spending money and seats on a RoadTrip American tour from San Francisco to New York City. To be in with a chance of winning, just head over to Beaver Falls' Facebook site and collect "badges" by playing games on the show's official app. Each of the potential 24 badges to win equal an entry into the competition, where the winner will be chosen at random. Hurry, because the contest closes on 27 July. A full list of Terms & Conditions can be read on the E4 site.

A mock promotion for the Beaver Falls summer camp can be seen below:


Beaver Falls will premiere on E4 sometime in July.

This is a sponsored post.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

LUTHER, 2.3: the diceman cometh


The final two-part story began on a riveting note, with an attack on a petrol station's forecourt by a fair-haired weirdo (Steven Robertson), brandishing a bat and acid-filled water pistol, as the frightened customers watched from inside the adjoining shop. It was easily the show's most tense and gripping sequence yet, putting viewers immediately on the edge of their seats as the creepy stranger smashed windows and sprayed graffiti on a car roof, before clubbing one man to death on the ground. Indeed, this episode's highlights are the moments of violence and intimidation, when this week's villain reappears to chill the blood: shamelessly shoplifting from a small shop, jumping all over parked cars, or (in another bravura sequence) posing as a motorcycle courier to access an office building and indiscriminately bludgeon employees with a hammer.

It's a shame the actual storyline was even thinner than usual for Luther, as the investigation into catching this violent menace was almost comically sketchy. Luther concludes the man's using role-playing dice to determine his actions as a guess based on his hunched posture on CCTV footage, and the police essentially caught their man by waiting for the day's most bizarre crime-in-progress and blindly hoping the perpetrator's the man they're after. I don't expect intricate, watertight plotting on Luther, but the way the story unfolded was rather imprecise, even for this show.

As usual, a lot of slack was taken up with a subplot involving Jenny (Aimee-Ffion Edwards), as Luther was forced to steal confidential police data and deliver it to Toby (David Dawson) to keep her safe, which aroused the suspicions of DS Gray (Nikki Amuka-Bird) after she saw Luther sneaking around the offices during a fire alarm she reasons he triggered to empty the building of prying eyes. I'm still not wholly convinced by this storyline, as the show's done a poor job explaining it (perhaps because it's had to cut corners because there are only four episodes?), but the situation with Gray beginning to suspect Luther of something criminal is an interesting one. Unlike in series 1, when Luther was framed for a criminal act (killing his wife), this time he's genuinely at fault—even if his actions are understandable because he's trying to protect someone he cares about.

Episode 3 was chock-full of intense moments that played to Luther's strength as a larger-than-life cop thriller, and that alone nudged this episode's rating up by a half-star. It also offered a great setup for the finale, with Jenny having killed the amoral Toby in self-defense when he attempted to rape her (will Luther dispose of his body?), and the twist that the madman has an identical twin and partner-in-crime was exactly the kind of oddness this show delivers so efficiently. It walks a fine line between brilliance and preposterousness, but for the most part Luther gets the balance right. It's just a shame series 2's a mere four hours long, with only enough time to tell two stories, as some of the subplots could have done with more time to develop.

Asides

  • This was the first episode of series 2 that didn't feature Paul McGann or Ruth Wilson. In the former's case, it appears to prove the character of Mark North wasn't actually deserving of a return this year. Even his role as Jenny's "babysitter" didn't last long! In the latter's case, I'm surprised Alice hasn't been anywhere near as involved in the show as before. Hopefully she'll return for the finale to help Luther with the mess he's found himself in, but if Luther returns for a third series writer Neil Cross will have to come up with a good reason to keep her around. Alice is a terrific character, but at the moment it feels like she was brought back because she was popular and fun to write for, and not because there was a story worth telling.
  • Pam Ferris had better return next week, too—because casting Miss Trunchbull as an underground porn baroness demands more than one short appearance over four episodes.
  • Did you notice the nudge in the ribs about comics (or "graphic novels", according to Jenny)? A sly reminder that Luther is effectively a live-action comic-book, which some people don't seem to grasp.
written by Neil Cross / directed by Sam Miller / 28 June 2011 / BBC One

FALLING SKIES, 1.3 - "Prisoner Of War"


Falling Skies is already higher up in my estimation than The Walking Dead ever was. It helps that an alien invasion is more interesting than a zombie apocalypse—because zombies represent a decay that can't be reversed, only halted. There aren't many examples of a zombie story with a truly happy ending, or much to say about zombies themselves once you've established the rules governing them and pondered their allegories for the millionth time. Aliens are a different matter entirely because they're intelligent beings we can communicate with, and there's more hope in a situation where humanity's been ostensibly overcome by extra-terrestrial invaders. It's just a broader canvas to paint on, basically—even if a great many artists have already tackled that particular painting. But you could say the same thing about the zombie genre, too...

"Prisoner Of War" was a very decent follow-up to the two-part premiere, where ordinarily you'd expect a drop in quality. In this episode, Dr Michael Harris (Steven Weber) joined the 2nd Mass, claiming he has the expertise to safely remove (or "unharness") the lobster-like devices the alien "skitters" attach to the spine of human children in order to control them. Naturally this inspired great hope among parents of children who are currently enslaved—in particular Mike (Martin Roach), whose son Rick (Daniyah Ysrayl) was eventually recaptured from the enemy and underwent the procedure. It was a high-tech process that involved, um, a blowtorch.

As I said in my review last week, the only problem facing Falling Skies is that it's hard to hit a wellspring of ideas that haven't been done before in some way. The creepy notion of brainwashed children doing the alien's bidding is the show's only unique aspect to Falling Skies, so far, and easily its silliest. Do advanced aliens from another world really need children to work as slave labour? I hope the show has a good explanation for this. Still, it gives the majority of Skies' characters something to fight for (they even made a Battlestar Galactica-inspired wall of missing kids), and it's a mission that doesn't feel almost impossible when compared to defeating an alien occupier.

In its favour, I'm enjoying how the show doesn't shy away from giving us a good look at the District 9-esque aliens (in both their "mecha" and "skitter" forms), and each episode has so far delivered enough surprising moments. Here, the aliens made it clear they'll ruthlessly slaughter a gang of children every time one is successfully rescued, by demonstrating that fact in front of Tom's son Hal (Drew Roy). And the later reveal that Dr Harris effectively let Tom's wife die during the alien invasion was also nicely handled, with Wyle and Weber proving to have a good rapport together.

I'm not sure what to make of wily Pope (Colin Cunningham) just now; the scumbag leader of the street gang encountered in episode 2, who's become a prisoner of war. He reminds me of Lost's Sawyer, if Pauly Shore had won the role—which really shouldn't work, but somehow it does. The guy has a fun, roguish charisma. Even the discovery that Pope's a trained chef whose culinary skills can be used to provide the survivors with quality food somehow wasn't as stupid as it sounds when written down.

Overall, Falling Skies is basically The Waking Dead with a more involving milieu (minus that AMC show's budget), with a pleasing emphasis on character, but never at the expense of giving us explosions, spaceships and aliens. It's the occupation of Caprica in Battlestar Galactica, but transposed to present-day Earth, borrowing elements from all manner of sci-fi properties. It consequently doesn't score highly for originality, but it's doing a sharp job for a show so young (they've already captured an alien for interrogation), and even managed to give us a decent cliffhanger ending.

written by Fred Golan / directed by Greg Beeman / 26 June 2011 / TNT

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Review: TRUE BLOOD, 4.1 - "She's Not There"


The third season of this vampire drama was a sprawling, undisciplined clutter of malformed ideas. It survived on the captivating performance of Denis O'Hare (as vampire king Russell Edgington) and a regular dose of signature what-the-fuck cliffhangers, but it wasn't enough to prevent the season being a misfire. The majority of its distended cast were trapped in tedious storylines, the addition of werewolves didn't add anything worthwhile, its big reveals were disappointing (Sookie's half-fairy?), and a feeling of desperation smothered the whole venture. I know season 3 has its supporters (mainly people who prefer gore, sex and nudity over plot, character and common sense), but for me it was a disastrous year of a show whose erotic trashiness I really enjoyed in its infancy. Consequently, I approached the premiere of True Blood's fourth season with great caution and lowered expectations...

Interestingly, True Blood picks up both immediately after Sookie (Anna Paquin) was spirited away to Fairy Land by her "Fairy Godmother" Claudine (Lara Pulver) and, upon her swift return, thirteen months later for the residents of Bon Temps. The opening scenes are both absolutely awful and awfully wonderful, as Sookie mingles with the clichéd faeries (who dress in white and eat glowing orange fruit), before meeting her long-lost Grandpa Earl Stackhouse (Gary Cole), who doesn't even realize twenty years have passed on Earth as he's only spent an hour in this idyllic realm. Of course, trouble's afoot, as Sookie deduces the serenity of Fairy Land is an illusion, as the sweet faeries are actually demonic creatures who inhabit a barren, rocky wasteland. And their Queen Mab (Rebecca Wisocky) has ambitions to enslave humanity, forcing Sookie and Earl to go on the run, chased by fireball-flinging Fae—narrowly managing to return to Earth through a canyon portal, resulting in Earl's death in a Bon Temp graveyard because he made the mistake of eating some luminous fruit.

It's utterly bonkers. In these opening scenes, True Blood becomes Charmed with a budget, and it's a far cry from the days when the show apparently wanted to explore what humanity would do if it had to co-exist with vampires. The emergence of so many supernatural species (vampires, werewolves, shape-shifters, were-panthers, fairies, witches) has given the show a different feel in recent seasons, and it's not one I'm especially keen on. It can be fun, sure, but too often it feels like True Blood's less interested in characters and story than it is delivering cool moments and monsters for us to gawp at. Still, this premiere got one thing right over the majority of last year's episodes: the pace wasn't so hectic that it felt like you were beaten into submission, but instead took time to setup various changes to the characters.

Jason (Ryan Kwanten) has become a cop, modeling his look on Scream's Deputy Dewey, and is taking care of his absent girlfriend Crystal's urchin family; Tara (Rutina Wesley) has found work as a New Orleans cage fighter and, naturally, this means she's turned lesbian; Sam's (Sam Trammell) hanging around with a shape-shifting support group, helping him deal with the fact he shot and injured his own brother; Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) has grown a "gay Mr T" mohawk and is being introduced to the world of witchcraft by boyfriend Jesus (Kevin Alejandro), who takes him to a séance; Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) and Hoyt (Jim Parack) are struggling to adjust to domestic life together, with Pam (Kristin Bauer) suggesting Jessica abandon monogamy during her "date night" to Fangtasia; Arlene (Carrie Preston) is convinced her baby's inherited his biological father's "evil", when she notices he's decapitated some dolls (why are they buying him dolls?); Eric (Alexander Skarsgård) is helping restore vampire-human relations in a "post-Russell Edgington world" by filming a commercial for PR hotshot Nan Flanagan (Jessica Tuck); and Bill (Stephen Moyer) has become a respected politician and Vampire King of Louisiana.

As usual, this was less an episode and more an hour's worth of random subplots—some of which are appealing, most of which aren't. It remains a key problem that True Blood has far too many characters, and the silly proclivity to give everyone something to do from the start. It would make more sense to prune the ensemble down to a more manageable size, or temporarily write a few characters out of the show for awhile, but this never seems to happen. It seems to me that Alan Ball and his team are aware that most of their characters aren't strong enough to carry a show themselves, so they need to always be reacting to horrors, dealing with tragedy, or trying to negotiate their way through a supernatural world. It's all very busy and breathlessly told.

So the idea of jumping forward in time by a year was a good one (even if it means last season's situation with Jason and a young pretender using V to improve his athleticism has been brushed aside) because the chronology of True Blood is abnormally compacted. I don’t think more than a month has passed since the day Sookie met Bill in Merlotte's bar three seasons ago. So at least the show's now found a way to give us some distance, so various off-screen changes could take place that might otherwise have taken years to get to at the show's usual pace. It just strikes me as strange the show didn't use that opportunity to cut loose the show's dead weight (characters who served their purpose and are now just hanging around for plot scraps).

Overall, "She's Not There" was largely business as usual for True Blood, if slightly more restrained than normal (even the cliffhanger felt very reserved, given this show's standards). I also enjoyed seeing Sookie's tearful reaction to finding and losing her grandpa, which delivered a few moments of emotion from Paquin that felt convincing and from the heart. (Although there was a very unfortunate cut from Paquin sobbing over the death of Earl, to her leaving the graveyard with a spring in her step!) I just can't believe they cast the outstanding Gary Cole (who has form with Southern horror with American Gothic) but gave him a role that amounted to an extended cameo, so I have my fingers crossed for an Earl Stackhouse return at some point. The show worked better when Sookie and Jason had their Gran to go to for advice in season 1, and she anchored that family unit, so it would have been nice to get another Stackhouse adult like Earl into the show full time.

We'll have to see how most of this premiere's events pan out across season 4 (the witches could be a great addition or clichéd nonsense), but True Blood has something to prove because its last few seasons spluttered to disappointing endings. What they really need to do is put the emphasis back on the characters, have a less slapdash attitude to plotting, cut back on the stupid or tedious subplots, lose a handful of characters, and remember its real strength lies in showing the ways human and vampire societies clash...

Asides

  • Earl's pocket watch must have some greater significance. Is his soul trapped in there? Does it have the ability to reverse time, so Jason can save his grandpa's life? Too silly? I wouldn't put anything past True Blood these days! They have fanged fairies who throw fireballs now, did you not see?
  • How did Bill become the Vampire King? And how does Eric feel about that, as a vampire who's considerably older and more experienced? Do people even know Bill's the King? It was presented as a surprise to the viewers, but is everyone else aware of Bill's new position?
  • So now we know for sure: vampires have no need for toilets.
  • Look, how long are we going to suffer Arlene's behaviour around her baby son? Where's this headed exactly? There seems to be only two options, both bad: she'll realize the error of her ways and get over it, or the baby really will become some kind of pint-sized sociopath.
  • You can avoid police interrogation by claiming you've been gone over a year on "vampire business"?
written by Alexander Woo / directed by Michael Lehmann / 26 June 2011

Coming Soon...

Monday, 27 June 2011

Trailer: BOARDWALK EMPIRE, season 2


HBO have released a great trailer for the second season of their gangster epic Boardwalk Empire, and it all looks extremely promising. I enjoyed the first season, but it seemed to lose focus in the middle-section and, at times, felt like they were telling a six-part story over an indulgent 12-hours. This trailer appears to promise more action, rivalries, crime and drama, but then again those are the kinds of things that always make it into trailers. Still, I'm optimistic Boardwalk Empire will learn from its mistakes last season, and obviously maintain its many good points--such as the wonderful performances from Steve Buscemi, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Pitt and Michael Shannon.


Boardwalk Empire is expected to return to HBO this September.

Poll: who is your favourite chat show host?


This week, I want to know who your favourite chat show host is. The only stipulation is they need to have fronted a chat show within the past two years, so you can't choose past masters like Michael Parkinson or Johnny Carson.

I've prepared a list below that covers most of the major chat show hosts in the UK and US. You can choose ONE from my list, or vote for your own as the "other" vote. (And yes, I've included Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, even though their shows only include a chat show element, because I know they'll be popular.)

To stoke discussion in the comments: what actually makes a good chat show host? Do you like the serious approach of a Piers Morgan or his predecessor Larry King, or do you prefer the playfulness of Graham Norton and Paul O'Grady? Do comedians make the best chat show hosts, or journalists? Why are there so few female hosts? Do you think the US have this format down to a fine art, or do you think the likes of Letterman and Leno stagnated long ago?

It seems to me that most US chat shows are very rehearsed (rarely are a guest's anecdotes impromptu), whereas British chat shows seem to ply the guests with booze and have fun. I've lost count of the amount of times a big American guest looks genuinely delighted by the lack of restrictions placed on them during their UK appearances—and not just in terms of our relaxed attitude to profanity. They can honestly kick back and have a laugh, assured that the host will find time to plug their wares, and they'll come across as likeable human beings in the process. Is that fair to say?

Also, do any Americans here watch Graham Norton on BBC America? If so, what are your thoughts on that show and the difference in style between someone like Norton and someone like, say, Jimmy Fallon?

Vote below!




This poll will close on 1 July. The results will be made available here shortly after. To ensure good results, it would be helpful if you could help this poll go viral using Twitter, Facebook, StumbleUpon, Google+1, etc. This is a direct link to the poll itself.

TV Picks: 27 June – 3 July 2011 (Burn Notice, One Tree Hill, Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares USA, Secrets Of The Pop Song, Sirens, etc.)

Pick of the Week: SIRENS - Channel 4, Monday, 10PM

Every Monday I browse the UK television schedules for the coming week, selecting each day's best new TV shows. Below you'll find the result of that work...

MONDAY 27th
Babies Behind Bars (ITV1, 9pm) Documentary about a 31-year-old imprisoned woman who's pregnant with her eighth child.
Guilty Pleasures (BBC4, 9pm) As part of the "Luxury" season, this series investigates how Greek society managed the wealth of its country. (1/2)
One Tree Hill (E4, 9pm) Season 8 of the teen drama. Starring Sophia Bush, James Lafferty, Bethany Joy Galeotti & Robert Buckley. (1/22)
Sirens (Channel 4, 10pm) Brand new comedy about three paramedics. Starring Rhys Thomas, Kayvan Novak, Richard madden & Amy Beth Hayes. (1/6)

TUESDAY 28th
Perfume (BBC4, 9pm) Series going behind-the-scenes of the perfume industry. (1/3)
Burn Notice (5*, 9pm) Season 3 of the US drama. Starring Jeffrey Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar, Bruce Campbell & Sharon Gless.
Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares USA (Channel 4, 10pm) Season 4 of the show where chef Gordon Ramsay tries to help struggling restaurants.
Imagine (BBC1, 10.35pm) Return of the arts, science and culture series. This episode focuses on clinical neurologist Dr Oliver Sacks. Hosted by Alan Yentob. (1/5)

WEDNESDAY 29th
Afghanistan: The Battle For Helmand (BBC2, 9pm) Programme looking into UK force's five-year war in the region. Presented by Mark Urban.
World's Strictest Parents – Australia (Watch, 10pm) Reality show where unruly teens are sent to live with strict parents, in an effort to change their behaviour.

THURSDAY 30th
Dance! The Most Incredible Thing About Contemporary Dance (BBC4, 8pm) Documentary about modern dance. Presented by Charles Hazlewood.
Polar Bear: Inside Nature's Giants Special (Channel 4, 9pm) Science special where experts dissect a dead polar bear.
The Big Bang Theory (E4, 10pm) Season 4 of the US geek-com continues. Starring Johnny Galecki, Kaley Cuoco, Jim Parsons & Simon Helberg. (13/24)
When I Knew (Sky Atlantic, 10.15pm) Documentary interviewing gay men and women across the US about their sexuality.

FRIDAY 1st
The Most Incredible Thing (BBC4, 8pm) Contemporary dance based on a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, with a score by Pet Shop Boys.

SATURDAY 2nd
Secrets Of The Pop Song (BBC2, 9.45pm) Insider's guide to writing a modern pop hit. Presented by Guy Chambers, who wrote many of Robbie Williams' hits, including "Angels".

SUNDAY 3rd
Nothing.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Video: Vince Gilligan, BREAKING BAD season 4


Collider have a great 18-minute interview with showrunner Vince Gilligan about the upcoming fourth season of Breaking Bad. There's not much in the way of huge revelations and spoilers (which is fine by me), but there's plenty of interesting insights into the creative process. Gilligan also confirms that he believes season 5 should be the show's last, which I hope is something AMC respects.


Breaking Bad returns to AMC on 17 July.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Jump the Blast #19 - White Collar


Laura Shumacher's eye for explosions has come in handy once again, with this submission from the season 2 finale of WHITE COLLAR. The images above highlight a situation where master thief Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer) and some bad guys looked inside a warehouse containing stolen Nazi art, only to find the loot's on fire and about to explode. That's some classic flame-avoidance, right there.

Have you noticed a shot in a film, trailer, advert, or TV show that features someone jumping/walking away from an explosion of some kind? If so, why not email me a screenshot and you can be credited in the next installment of "Jump the Blast".

Friday, 24 June 2011

Review: WILFRED, 1.1 – "Happiness"


A remake of a critically-acclaimed Australian series, writer David Zuckerman (Family Guy) adapts the bizarre comic tale Wilfred for American audiences. The concept is brilliantly simple: an ordinary guy realizes he's hallucinating his attractive next-door neighbour's dog Wilfred as a grumpy man in a dog costume (Jason Gann), and the pair become unlikely friends. In the original, the "ordinary guy" was exactly that, but the US remake chooses to make Ryan (Elijah Wood) into a social misfit and loner, introduced to us attempting to commit suicide after writing a fourth draft suicide note. I think it's intended to give us some form of explanation for why this fantasy's happening, as we're supposed to feel concern for Ryan's sanity, in addition to enjoying the symptom of his problem. And that's fine, I guess. It gives the show a somewhat darker edge, and Wood proved in Sin City that his feminine looks and turquoise eyes can be used for more unnerving ends. It's just a shame this one-joke comedy, for me, ran out of steam after 15-minutes.

And that's the key to this comedy. If you don't find the central premise consistently amusing, it won't be long before you're bored and wondering how they can possibly keep the ball rolling. The original series only produced a total of 16 episodes over two series (spread across three years), and FX will be producing 13 this year alone. On the evidence of this episode, I'm not convinced the show can go much beyond that time-span, as there's only so long you can poke fun at the idea of a dog that's been anthropomorphized in the head of a lcoal weirdo. It helps that co-creator Jason Gann (who played Wilfred in the original) is back playing the same character in this remake, as he knows exactly what's required and how to play a man-dog. Wilfred's essentially an Australian bloke who likes nothing more than smoking from bongs and doing typical canine things, like digging holes when he's anxious, and Gann makes for an oddly appealing co-lead. It already feels like Gann and Wood work as a double-act, but there still remains the issue of how long this concept can last...

It's essentially a pretty obvious and weak sketch idea, and even with Zuckerman in charge of the show (whose work on Family Guy is great training, as it too mixes traditional storytelling with sketch-like gags and a talking dog), I have a funny feeling Wilfred will counter problems fairly quickly. I was already over the concept's joke before this episode finished, and don't feel compelled to watch more. It doesn't take a genius to imagine the type of jokes we're going to be getting from this show, does it? Dogs have been staples of comedy for so long that we're all very aware of their foibles and areas of comic potential (peeing against lampposts, sniffing anuses, trips to the vet, neutering, burying bones, etc), and frankly I'm already bored with the idea of watching Wilfred undoubtedly tackle all of that—with the only twist being we're seeing a bearded Aussie in a silly costume as "man's imaginary best friend".

Overall, as much as I enjoyed some of the chemistry between Wood and Gann, I just can't see Wilfred becoming anything more than fleetingly amusing. Maybe it'll be worth sticking around for more, just to see how the show deals with various problems (the excuses for Wood to keep looking after a neighbour's dog, say), or if the show will be forced to become more creative and interesting once all the man-acting-like-a-dog jokes have been used up. I'm cautiously optimistic David Zuckerman has something in mind about how to prevent Wilfred becoming a repetitive bore, but after one 23-minute episode I think the joke's over for me.

written by David Zuckerman / directed by Randall Einhorn / 23 June 2011 / FX

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Scott Buck discusses DEXTER season 6


Entertainment Weekly have a terrific interview with Dexter's new showrunner Scott Buck, where he discusses the show's past and present. In particular, Buck reveals details about the forthcoming season (spoilers if you haven't seen season 5 yet), with the following confirmations:

  • Dexter will be "very strong, sure-of-himself" this year, in contrast to season 5's anguished shadow, and on something of a spiritual search because he's worried his son Harrison will inherit his "dark passenger". In many ways the show will be returning to its roots, but with Dexter as a "more evolved serial-killer".
  • Edward James Olmos (Battlestar Galactica) will be playing religious studies professor Dr Geller. Colin Hanks (King Kong) will be playing an acquaintance of Geller's called Travis, who has "fallen under his power". Molly Parker (Deadwood) is playing Travis' big sister Lisa Marshall. Mos will be playing a "street thug who found God while in prison" called Brother Sam.
  • The season will involve a serial-killer who murders with "great conviction" because he believes he's in the right, partly inspired by the real-life Zodiac Killer. There will be a season-long adversary, but also multiple villains along the way.
  • Baby Harrison will have a new "sparky, upbeat" nanny called Jamie (Aimee Garcia), as they decided to let Maria Doyle Kennedy leave the show because Buck admits they "wasted her" last year.
  • A new "hard-ass detective from Chicago" called Mike Anderson (Billy Brown) will feature.
  • Loose-ends like the "Kyle Butler" situation (Dexter's false identity from season 4, known to the Trinity Killer's surviving family) will be returned to again.
  • Quinn will "hit some dark days" and his relationship with Debra will be explored further.
  • Buck refused to be called on hopes Debra will discover her brother's a serial-killer this year, understandably.
After reading this interview I'm more intrigued about season 6, and I must admit that having Scott Buck run things feels like a wise move. He's been writing for Dexter almost from the start, so really knows its strengths and weaknesses, and the episodes he writes tend to be highlights. I just hope he understands fans are now very aware Dexter follows certain patterns, and are inured to the show's tricks. What once felt raw, shocking, gripping and cutting-edge in season 1 and 2 has become formulaic and almost comfortable in later years.

Maybe Buck won't be able to stop the rot spreading (because this is just what happened when feisty, edgy shows mellow in old age), but I'm hoping season 6 is a return to form in some way. Or just more entertaining than season 5 ended up being, really. The spiritual/religious angle is certainly something I'm quite interested in, if it's done well.

And if nothing else, season 6's guest stars are an interesting mix (certainly more alluring than Julia Stiles and Jonny Lee Miller were last year), and I'm especially interested to see how Olmos fits into the show.

PRIMEVAL, 5.5: anomalous


Considering there were a few game-changing events in this penultimate episode, it's surprising how little I cared. A dinosaur appeared in the middle of a populated area (yes, finally!) and made the national news, shortly before anomalies started appearing around the world. Surely the cat's out of the bag now, and ARC will have to come clean about the existence of time-portals and creatures from other eras entering our world? This episode didn't have a chance to explore any of the logical repercussions of these events depicted, sadly. Instead, it was focused on having the ARC team stop Philip (Alexander Siddig) from turning on his New Dawn device, which Matt (Ciarán McMenemin) is convinced will cause the end-of-the-world...

Broadly speaking, episode 5 was reasonable entertainment, ignoring a clear instance of the show biting off more than it could chew with an unconvincing T-Rex attack. The rampaging dinosaur didn't appear to have any weight to it, and passersby were seen reacting implausibly or with wrong eye-lines. It was an ambitious scene for the show to attempt, but not one it managed to pull off.

The first half of the episode was strangely dull, but things perked up in the last quarter-hour once everyone converged on Philip's "lair" to turn his machine off. In particular, the reveal that New Dawn isn't what it was presented as worked rather well. A source of renewable energy using the power of man-made anomalies? Nope. Instead, it's a way to combine multiple anomalies into one super-anomaly, at a time when Philip's predicted the glittering portals will become abundant across the world (an event tied into the moment when the Earth's magnetic poles reverse). So anomalies have been early warning signs of a magnetic pole shift, and Philip's been attempting to prevent disaster by "converging" the anomalies to stop a devastating shift from happening. But that's something Matt doesn't agree with, as he believes a pole shift is a natural process that should be allowed to happen. So will Philip's action or inaction result in global catastrophe? Let's toss a coin...

One problem I have with Primeval is how tawdry the production can look, and how ineptly some of the action is delivered. There were some really idiotic or weird moments that spoiled this episode: the aforementioned T-Rex shenanigans; Abby (Hannah Spearritt) playing chicken with a dinosaur in a car park, lips quivering as she revved her engine (a worse Fast & Furious audition you will not find); a ridiculously staged "battle of the blondes" between Abby and April; Jess (Ruth Kearney) apparently wearing a Snow White costume to work, and the continuing charisma vacuum of Matt.

The fundamental idea behind Philip's plan was good, it's always appreciated when a villain actually has good intentions, and I'm hopeful the show will now take place in a world where everyone's aware of dino-spewing anomalies, but it's a shame so much of the episode was rather laughable. Series 5's been reminding me of a fan-made spoof, which is never good.

written by Michael A. Walker / directed by Cilla Ware / 21 June 2011 / Watch

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Review: FALLING SKIES, 1.1 & 1.2 - "Live & Learn" & "The Armory"


This Steven Spielberg-produced alien invasion drama makes some wise creative decisions, not least its acceptance that the genre doesn't need to be laboriously set-up nowadays. After a brief opening narration depicting an extra-terrestrial invasion using children's drawings, we're dropped into a familiar situation: a post-apocalypse, where survivors of a six-month-old alien attack are struggling to stay alive and mount some form of resistance. It's a spiritual follow-up to Spielberg's War Of The Worlds if he'd given us a pessimistic ending, imbued with a focus on character that evokes The Walking Dead and Jericho. It's unoriginal and largely predictable cable TV fare, but also good fun, unwilling to beat about the bush (a full-blown alien's sighted within minutes), and realizes long-term success rests on building a firm foundation of character.

History professor Tom Mason (ER's Noah Wyle) is our bearded protagonist, the second-in-command of a resistance unit known as the 2nd Massachusetts, comprised of "fighters" and a large group of civilians they protect. Prone to voicing morale-boosting historical analogies about their situation trying to defeat a superior enemy, Mason's accompanied by teenage son Hal (Drew Roy) and younger son Matt (Maxim Knight), but carries a deep sorrow because third son Ben (Connor Jessup) is missing, presumed dead. However, it's soon revealed that Ben's under the control of the alien "skitters": six-legged lizards who are interested in children, attaching a spinal parasite to them in order to control their minds. Shades of a sanitized Torchwood: Children Of Earth, no?

There are also nods the aforementioned War Of The Worlds remake, in how some of the aliens stomp around in bipedal machines referred to as "mechs", indiscriminately blasting humans and occasionally emitting a droning whine not unlike the trumpeting of Worlds' tripods. In fact, there's not much about Falling Skies that isn't reminiscent of other sci-fi, but it's appreciated how quickly the show announces the debts it owes and just gets on with telling its own story. There's no teasing what the aliens look like, or the design of their spaceships (which resemble skyscraper-sized cricket stumps straddling entire cities), as we're dropped into a show that already feels like it's aired a half-dozen episodes before the pilot.

Created by Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan) and involving the talent of admired writer-producers like Graham Yost (Justified) and Mark Verheiden (Battlestar Galactica), it's also a touch above most shows of its ilk, especially in how it deftly balances characters with action. There are some lovely touches to demonstrate the change in values of a post-apocalypse, too—such as a scene where Mason decides between Charles Dickens or Jules Verne books according to weight instead of merit. You might as well throw the Complete Works Of William Shakespeare on a bonfire right now. It was also interesting seeing how the itinerant community works: ad hoc school lessons in a field, brief moments of fun when a skateboard's found for the kids to play on, a precious cupcake used as a little boy's birthday cake, and the contentious fact the military get to sleep in houses because their welfare takes priority over the tent-dwelling civilians they're protecting, etc. Plenty of opportunity for infighting in the future, as we already learn that civilians are sometimes referred to as "eaters" by their protectors.

Falling Skies is immediately appealing because of the classic premise, Wyle makes for a strong hero with hopes and aspirations you can get involved with, there's decent support from Will Patton (as hard-ass Commander Weaver) and Moon Bloodgood (as a compassionate doctor)—who's no stranger to post-apocalypses after Terminator Salvation—and there's still plenty to explore in the show's mythology and background. A few flashbacks pre-invasion may be on the cards, who knows. Plus, unlike Survivors and Walking Dead, which have very depressing backdrops, there's a sense of hope in Falling Skies because the war's still in its infancy. This isn't a show following the remnants of mankind as the flame inexorably dims on humanity, but a drama where people still have a reason to fight and win back their planet.

Overall, it's most definitely derivative, features a few dodgy special effects because of budget limitations, and so far the female/black characters are wafer-thin personalities edging toward stereotype, but Falling Skies remembers to put character above visuals and crafts an effective two-part opener. I'm not convinced it's complex or fresh enough to elicit deep thought and fervid loyalty, but it should provide some entertainment.

Aside

  • Spielberg's long-running in-joke with George Lucas continued here, with another instance of a Spielberg-affiliated project involving Star Wars toys. Check out the figurines used to plan strategies in an early scene...
written by Robert Rodat (1.1) & Graham Yost (1.2) / directed by Carl Franklin (1.1) & Greg Beeman (1.2) / 19 June 2011 / TNT

LUTHER, 2.2: beware the bogeyman


Well, that was a harrowing hour, taking episode 1's setup to the next level after the kidnapping and torture of DS Ripley (Warren Brown) by masked weirdo Cameron Pell (Lee Ingleby) in a sewer, as Luther's (Idris Elba) team desperately tried to locate their colleague while starving Pell of the oxygen he craves: attention.

A scene where Pell rang the police department and Luther chose to ignore him, against usual procedure for negotiation, was a particularly effective and tense moment. Luther's the kind of character whose insight into the scum of the earth vacillates between plausible (the handling of said phone call) and ludicrous (his deduction that Pell's purchase of bomb-making material is to cause an implosion), but somehow Idris Elba makes it all work. John Luther's a larger-than-life character, which is exactly what a show like Luther needs as its beating heart. It's probably why ITV's Whitechapel struggles at times, because it's arguably dafter but involves characters who are too everyday.

Everything involving Cameron Pell worked very well in this episode, buoyed by Ingleby's alert performance as the deranged wannabe-legend who hides behind his Punch mask in order to carry out his crimes, and is obsessed with loss and emptiness. It was a stretch for Pell's m.o to go from brutally murdering women to kidnapping a school bus of children and arranging to have them asphyxiated with van exhaust fumes, but there you go. Luther's not going to win any prizes from crime psychologists about its verisimilitude, but the way it goes about its business is relentlessly gripping. Strictly as entertainment with pulp comic-book influences, it's tough to beat.

Less successful was how the episode tried to weave a disconnected subplot through the story, with Luther dealing with the repercussion of "freeing" teenager Jenny Jones (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) from life as a sex worker and porn star. This arrived in the form of Jenny's redoubtable "boss" Baba (Pam Ferris) and her creepy son Toby (David Dawson), who tried to persuade Luther to give Jenny back by nailing his hand to a table. Given the pressure and race-against-time nature of the Pell case with Ripley's life on the line, it just felt strange that Luther would occasionally drop out of the storyline and attach himself to another one—using Mark (Paul McGann) to help him ensure Jenny's escape from her seedy past. It's understandable to include some respite from the main story, but I'm not sure this was the best way to go about it. That said, The Darling Buds Of May's Pam Ferris as a matriarchal underground porn baroness? Genius.

There continues to be wonderful production value to this show, too. London has never looked better in a drama; the show combining its architectural beauty with centuries of grubbiness, often soaked in the amber yellow of street lights. This episode's use of crumbling buildings and the abandoned docklands, with their shell-like warehouses, was particularly evocative and fit the idea that Pell's obsessed with decay and bareness.

I also like how Luther overcomes a common problem facing all BBC drama, in sustaining a story for an hour without it feeling voluminous. In most BBC shows there's 15-minutes of flab to every episode, but Luther has enough irons in the fire to keep each episode full. Here, the last 10-minutes were almost entirely taken up with another appearance from serial-killer Alice (Ruth Wilson), likening herself to Looney Tunes' Road Runner ("meep meep"), who's escaped from hospital and arrived to try and tempt Luther into eloping with her overseas. I'm intrigued to see where Alice's story is headed, as she feels like a character who belonged more in series 1, but proved so popular that she was brought back.

Overall, episode 2 was a good resolution of the Cameron Pell storyline, let down by subplots that felt a little misplaced and deserving of a full hour to themselves. I understand why they were there, and each contained some memorable moments, but because we only have four hours this year I think I'd prefer less distraction.

Asides

  • The song played over the end credits is this track by Joan As Police Woman called "Flash".
  • 5.23m people watched this episode, down 370,00 from last week's premiere. A drop's always expected, but that's small enough to not really matter.
  • How does Jenny do her make-up in the morning? It looks like she smears a boxing glove in eye shadow and just punches herself for awhile.
  • I like the feeling Luther's a father figure to many people (his team, Jenny, in some ways Alice), and this episode's villain Pell was ultimately defeated the same way a parent would calm a toddler having a tantrum. Ignore them.
written by Neil Cross / directed by Sam Miller / 21 June 2011 / BBC One

Next time...

Overview: GAME OF THRONES, Season One; blood, boobs, blades & beheadings


I decided against reviewing Game Of Thrones weekly because it felt like writing about the show would require too much effort—at a time when there was a lot of TV to cover. Most of what I review, regardless of quality, has to be inherently fun for me to write about, and GOT didn't strike me as a fun show to review. At least not in its first half, when everything was new and it was enough of a challenge to remember people's names and familial associations. It was also apparent that most other blogs were reviewing GOT—many with the benefit of in-depth research, or having read George R.R Martin's novels. I'd probably have spent most week's just recounting the scenes I liked, the scenes I didn't, and grumbling about the pace. It also didn't help that US online coverage of the show felt so prolific that I was faintly bored with GOT before it aired! The level of pre-show coverage was overkill, and I didn't feel like adding my thoughts to the already enormous pile of criticism.

But now the ten-part first season's over, so I thought I'd chime in with some broad thoughts about how GOT progressed, improved and developed over the months. I think it's safe to say that the first five episodes were tough for GOT newbies to get through: a combination of measured pacing and the fact it wasn't clear what the show was actually about. HBO clearly hoped the audience would be as patient as they were with The Wire, but with a medieval fantasy drama it's obvious many people expected thrills and spills from start to finish, and that's not what GOT was about.

Maybe that's why Daenerys' storyline proved so popular, because it was one of the few that was instantly comprehensible and empathetic—the story of a sweet flaxen-haired girl forced into an arranged marriage with a brooding tribal warlord, at her creepy older brother's request, as part of a plan to forge a foreign alliance and reclaim her deposed family's royal crown. In a sea of stories awash with unspoken history and unclear motivations, it was driftwood to cling to as you struggled to recall the names of Ned Stark's many children.

But since episode 6, things shifted. With a half-dozen hours under your belt, it became easier to identify individual characters (if still not always by name), and keep more of the subplots distinct in your mind. I'm not going to claim everything suddenly became crystal clear, because I'm still not au fait with a few things, but it definitely got easier to digest.

I also got the distinct impression that reading about GOT between every episode helped burn events into your memory, so it all becomes much easier to deal, but I'm of the opinion that shouldn't be expected of a TV viewer. If a TV show doesn't work simply by watching its broadcast episodes, that's a failing. GOT did find a way to work, by and large, but there were still areas that confused me, or relationships that soured for reasons I quickly forgot about. Fortunately, it's the kind of show that throws in bloodthirsty spectacles like horses being beheaded, a murder involving smelted gold, and tongues being yanked out of slashed throats, to keep you glued.

The performances were exceptional across the board, with a particularly impressive group of child actors—particularly Maisie Williams as tomboy Arya and Jack Gleeson as the despicable Prince Joffrey. Peter Dinklage also had a blast as Tyrion "The Imp" Lannister (imagine Family Guy's Stewie in a He-Man wig), and relative newcomer Emilia Clarke was a revelation as the aforementioned Daenerys. And that's before you get to the bigger names like Sean Bean (reliably gruff and charismatic as Lord Stark), Mark Addy (surprisingly engaging as King Robert), and Lena Headey (brilliantly devious as Queen Cersei). Plus, it was just fun spotting various small-screen actors in third-tier roles—like Clive Mantle (who once played Little John in Robin Of Sherwood) and Jerome Flynn from Soldier, Soldier as... well, a soldier.

It also helped that GOT takes place in a fictional universe, as the show can do two things: play things straight to sell its sense of Middle Ages authenticity, but also involve wondrous things occasionally—like the dizzying "sky cells", or an enormous skull of an extinct dragon. And there are signs of numinous beings on the other side of the gigantic ice Wall that's been built to keep dark Northern forces at bay because Winter Is Coming. The way this season's built towards showing us more fantastical things (a "zombie" surfaced in episode 8, Daenerys' was shown to be flame-retardant, a life was saved through witchcraft, the birth of baby dragons) also worked really well.

The slow-burn that threatened to overwhelm things gave way to a relative stride from episode 7, heading towards one of the year's most shocking and unexpected climaxes in the penultimate hour. I won't spoil it here, but it was a death that was utterly shocking and brave. It also made me consider the different experience fans of the books must be having, in contrast to TV-only viewers like myself. Established fans (who are entire books ahead of events here) have the pleasure of seeing their imagination come to life, and undoubtedly an easier time comprehending details of the stories, but the big surprises just can't be working. For that reason, I'm glad I didn't read the source material, and I don't intend to read ahead before season 2 begins next spring. The fact the story's being told with a TV series that's earned fan approval is enough for me to accept this drama as my preferred method of delivery. It's the Harry Potter dilemma on the small-screen—only this time cries of "the books are better!" aren't so prevalent. I'm sure there are things the books are doing better than this adaptation, but I'm a TV/film obsessive first and a bookworm second.

The sense of place is also incredible. Filmed across Ireland and Malta, you never once give that any thought. This is instead the fictional realm of Westeros through and through, in the same way New Zealand became Middle-earth. A clever combination of location filming, gigantic sets, clever CGI extensions, and old-school matte paintings, helped created an entire world that's a pleasure to visit every week. The authenticity in sets, costumes, and assorted paraphernalia sold the whole show's concept extremely well. It was wonderful just to bask in the production.

I'll avoid spoilers for the people who are planning on buying the DVD box-set, but suffice to say the final two episodes were particularly brilliant in how ruthless they were with the cast—although, of course, it's George R.R Martin who should be congratulated for the story's successes. It was in these later hours where the cumulative impact of spending so much time with the characters paid off, as you found yourself having an unexpectedly deep reaction to various deaths and developments. The climactic montage also set up a variety of events that will inform season 2, which should be a more immediately gripping year because we now know and understand these characters. Plus, many of them now have something worth fighting for, which wasn't the case for the majority of season 1.

From what I've been told, George R.R Martin's first novel is the weakest of the ongoing saga, so I'm now giddy with the thought of what the future might bring, as the game of thrones continues...

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Punch gets POWERS


British comic actress Lucy Punch (Dinner For Schmucks, Vexed) has signed on to play the lead in FX's adaptation of comic-book Powers. Punch will play Deena Pilgrim, an investigator of crimes that involve people with superpowers. There's no word on who will play her character's partner, Christian Walker (pictured above), although Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights) has been linked to the role for awhile. Update! Jason Patric (The Lost Boys) has just been cast as Deena's partner, Christian Walker.

Powers is being developed by Charles H. Eglee (The Shield, Dexter), who's also writing the pilot, that will be directed by Michael Dinner (Justified).

Anyway, this is brilliant news. I'm a fan of Punch: she's silly, funny and sexy. Americans may know her from sitcom The Class and she's also become one of Woody Allen's recent muses—most recently in You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger. I also hear Punch steals the show in Cameron Diaz comedy Bad Teacher, which is in cinemas right now.

Oh, and don't worry—she does a perfect American accent.

Showtime adapting 100 BULLETS comic-book


According to Deadline, screenwriter David Goyer (Batman Begins) has been asked to adapt the 1999 Vertigo comic-book 100 Bullets for US cable channel Showtime.

The noir-style comic, written by Brian Azzarelo and illustrated by Eduardo Risso, concerned a man called Agent Graves who offered various people access to a briefcase containing 100 untraceable bullets, which they can use to avenge wrongdoers in their life. Eventually, an overarching story began to reveal itself regarding the interconnectedness of the people Graves approached and a secret organization called The Trust.

Goyer's a prolific talent in the world of comic-books, having written the Blade trilogy and Christopher Nolan's Batman movies. He's also written the new Superman film, which became a reality purely because the strength of his idea enticed Nolan to get onboard as a producer.

However, Goyer's talent behind the camera and on TV is less successful, as he directed the abominable Blade Trinity and co-created TV sci-fi flops Threshold and FlashForward. Hopefully, in once again adapting someone else's work, he'll manage to create something stylish and compelling for Showtime.

Showtime's Dexter, AMC's The Walking Dead, HBO's True Blood and Game Of Thrones, FX's upcoming Powers, Starz's announced Noir, and now 100 Bullets—it's safe to say US cable channels have decided to plunder literature for their programming.

TV Ratings: GAME OF THRONES, season 1 finale (Sky Atlantic & HBO)


The finale of HBO's Game Of Thrones was a ratings winner for Sky Atlantic on Monday night at 9pm, as the medieval fantasy's last episode averaged 667,000 viewers over the hour. This is just below its premiere high of 743,000.

Over in the US, the finale lured a series high of 3 million on Sunday night for HBO (the previous high being 2.72m for episode 8), boosted to 3.9 if you count a repeat. The show has largely maintained around 2.4 million viewers each week. The overall performance of Game Of Thrones has been below HBO's other new drama Boardwalk Empire (which regularly had over 3 million viewers), but it obviously has a narrower appeal than a lavish period gangster drama.

A special overview of Game Of Thrones' first season will be posted here soon, as so many people e-mailed or tweeted me to ask why I haven't been reviewing it every week. Stay tuned.

THE KILLING, 1.13 - "Orpheus Descending"


I know this show is starting on Channel 4 in the UK soon, so there's a chance people will stumble upon this review online. If so, please turn away now. This is a review of the season 1 finale, so there are consequently gigantic spoilers ahead. Only read on if you've seen this episode, or don't care knowing what happened in the finale.

There were pleasing elements of The Killing's finale, but ultimately it was just a marginally cleverer fake-out like the Bennet Ahmed storyline—only twice as exasperating in many ways. There have been whispers the show wouldn't resolve its mystery in 13 episodes (roughly half the time of the Danish original) and instead continue into a second year, and those fears have proven accurate. I hear the Rosie Larsen case won't take up the entirety of season 2, so hopefully the writers will note the animosity this decision has caused and bring the mystery to a quick, definitive end. In some ways I'm actually glad The Killing's been renewed by AMC, as it would have been far worse if "Orpheus Descending" had been the series finale. Or would they have re-cut the ending to lose its last-minute twist?

I'm not going to rake over every events that happened this week, mainly because my enthusiasm's at a low ebb. Suffice to say, after the events of episode 12, Linden (Mireille Enos) is 100% certain that Councilman Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell) killed Rosie Larsen, having paid for the schoolgirl's services as a Beau Soleil escort under the pseudonym "Orpheus", but the finale was all about having to prove his connection to Rosie's murder—as there's apparently not enough evidence, or it's too circumstantial, to arrest Richmond and interrogate him.

There followed an hour of Linden and Holder (Joel Kinnaman) trying to trace the movements of the killer on the night Rosie was abducted, focusing on the campaign car she was found drowned in and the mathematical calculations to determine the mileage it did that night—before the driver would have needed to refill. This eventually led to them requisitioning various gas station security cameras (where would they be without CCTV, eh?), in the hope one of them captured Richmond driving the campaign car. It makes you wonder why this wasn't a line of investigation from the start! If you find a dead body in a car, surely you trace the movements of that car as your number one priority? Why have they waited until the finale to do something so obvious?

Unfortunately, it's because The Killing wants to be seen as a realistic crime drama, but beyond evocative scenes of a grieving family (kudos to Brent Sexton and Michelle Forbes), the show isn't particularly logical. Suspects come and go according to the whim of the writers, the investigation goes down avenues chosen because they can devour 2-6 hours of screen time, rather than follow what the police would actually do. I understand this is foremost a TV show, so artistic license is necessary to fill time, but it's become infuriating to see how the show manipulates its audience so blatantly. Take how Richmond was portrayed throughout this episode: a creepy-sounding silhouette that screamed KILLER, until the moment the story doesn't want you to think that any more.

Thing is, The Killing could very easily make ANYONE a suspect if the writers set their mind to it. Hell, there's a way to pin the deed on Mitch Larsen and blame it on a mental breakdown! There's no sense that the killer's being hunted down over a fortnight's investigation that's teased an murky mystery apart. It just feels like the show chases down various characters they make look guilty... until such time as they prove their innocence and the game can restart.

Season 1's ending, then. This is where opinion will split, harshly. Having been given a toll-bridge camera shot of Richmond driving the campaign car Rosie was found in, together with all the other evidence collected, Richmond was arrested and Linden finally got on her plane with son Jack to start a new life in sunnier climes. But then came the twist: the toll-bridge cameras weren't operational, so the key evidence was faked by Holder, who's then seen getting into a black sedan and telling an unseen driver "photo worked—he's going down."

So has Holder been working for an enemy of Richmond's all along, paid to ensure the Councilman gets blamed for Rosie's death? That would put Mayor Adams as the most likely sedan driver, although that doesn't automatically mean Adams killed Rosie, because he could just be using events to his advantage. But is Adams the type of person to get revenge? Maybe the driver's a new character? Or millionaire playboy Drexler?

Or, to cut Holder some slack, maybe he was just so convinced Richmond killed Rosie that he falsified evidence to ensure an arrest, knowing he'd walk free otherwise? We'll have to wait until next year to find out—but if the Larsen case isn't going to last another season, as it's been suggested, then I'm not sure there's time to prove Richmond's innocence and find the real culprit within, say, 3 or 4 episodes. Or is there? And how's that going to work, exactly? Will season 2 feel like season 1.5 until the story suddenly lurches into a new case?

Overall, The Killing's finale will be seen as totally infuriating to everyone who expected the mystery to end and a fresh start next year. I'm not against the presence of red herrings and dead-ends in a murder-mystery, but too often this show feels like it's not playing fair with its audience. These aren't clever diversions and fake-outs they're dishing up, they're overly-manipulative stalling techniques. The ending of this episode was actually weirdly enjoyable, as I didn't expect the show to pull the rug in the dying moments (especially with Belko apparently about to shoot the possibly-innocent Richmond)—but given the lack of emotional impact when Richmond was arrested and how the Larsen's were informed off-camera, I maybe should guessed something wasn't right. It would have been the mother of all damp squibs if Richmond was simply jailed and Linden jetted off to California, too.

I have very mixed feelings, but ultimately this finale was too frustrating to be viewed positively. I also didn't like how every character's reaction to being told Richmond was the killer was so subdued, given his participation in the investigation and celebrity status. You wanted some catharsis after 12 weeks of patience, particularly after that unforgivable six-week cul-de-sac with Bennet Ahmed, and we just didn't get it—not even briefly.

In the beginning, the show posed a simple, compelling question: who killed Rosie Larsen? But by the end the question has become: who cares who killed Rosie Larsen?

Asides

  • Love the scene with Stan meeting Amber (Ashley Johnson) at the hospital, unaware she's the girlfriend of Bennet, the man whose life-threatening injuries he caused. A particularly nice angle in how pregnant Amber's on the cusp of delivering new life to the world, whereas Stan's dealing with the loss of life. It's a shame The Killing's skill with small human moments isn't echoed in its strength to tell a serialized story.
  • Why was Richmond soaking wet on the morning Rosie died, according to girlfriend Gwen (Kristen Lehman)? If he didn't have anything to do with Rosie's death, what happened? A particularly strong, brief downpour of rain? Did he fall or get pushed into a swimming pool—maybe the one belonging to financier Drexler?
written by Veena Sud & Nic Pizzolatto / directed by Brad Anderson / 19 June 2011 / AMC

Review: THE MARRIAGE REF


A critical bomb in America, the Jerry Seinfeld-produced MARRIAGE REF has been remade for the UK and aired its first episode last Saturday. Dermot O'Leary hosts (well, ITV need to keep him sweet in-between X Factor marathons), but this format reveals he's just a safe pair of hands who can't thrive on a show that practically demands a comedian at the helm. He can teeter on his heels and nod his head as much as he likes, but with nobody to hug or call "buddy", O'Leary looked lost at sea.

For the uninitiated, The Marriage Ref sees a celebrity trio pass judgement on real-life marital tiffs. This is primetime ITV, so the arguments are trivial affairs like a wife who won't stop writing her husband to-do lists, or an elderly couple's disagreement over pickles. It would admittedly be a very different, edgier show if the marital strife involved serious issues like infidelity, illegitimate children, and bigamy, but The Marriage Ref goes too far the other way. It's impossible to care about each couple's inconsequential annoyances, and most aren't funny enough to entertain. The whole things ends up feeling incredibly petty and a weak idea to base a TV show on.

It does help that there's a tradition of comedy panel shows on UK TV, which this is a loose example of. Still, while the American show manages a star-studded lineup of refs (thanks to Seinfeld's rolodex), the UK version already looks like a bargain basement version. In the US they had Alec Baldwin, Eva Longoria, Tina Fey, Madonna, Ricky Gervais, Larry David, Donald Trump, Sarah Silverman, Bette Midler, and Demi Moore as marriage refs. For the British remake's big launch we had ubiquitous comedians Sarah Millican and Jimmy Carr and, wait for it, ex-Spice Girl Geri Halliwell. A woman who seemed genuinely puzzled when Carr started cracking jokes, as if nobody told her this was a lighthearted comedy show and her absurd role as "UN Ambassador" was genuinely required to sort out some quarrels.

So while the US version has A and B-list guests the audience may be intrigued to see pass comment on ordinary people's love lives, the UK version's just got some comedians to provide quips. And they're the kind of comedians you see all the time on shows such as this, and it's becoming a real pain watching them conveyor belt their way around TV. Carr was hosting 8 Out Of 10 Cats and Millican was a guest on King Of... just the night before. I'm not sure which version of The Marriage Ref is best. The UK's going more for the funnybone, which probably makes it more regularly amusing, but I think I'd like to hear what Madonna has to say more than Millican. That said, the US version's crippled by that horribly cheesy/dumb production style that infects every American show involving real people. So, surprisingly, the UK version's probably a mild improvement, despite lacking any major star-power. But that just means it resides in an outer circle of TV Hell.

Saturdays, ITV1, 9PM

Monday, 20 June 2011

Starz pick up Sam Raimi's assassin drama NOIR


Deadline have reported that Starz are adding to their drama output (following Spartacus, Camelot, Torchwood and the recently announced Boss and Magic City), with assassin drama Noir. Produced by Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert, Noir is a live-action adaptation of a 26-part Japanese anime from 2001, concerning two female assassins who realize they're mysteriously connected and join forces to defeat a secret society called "Les Soldats". The pilot has been written by Steven Lightfoot (Criminal Justice).

It's interesting to see Starz step up its game recently, with some promising commissions. I'm already a huge fan of Spartacus, Torchwood: Miracle Day hopefully won't disappoint fans, I liked aspects of Camelot, the recent teaser for Boss looked great, and Magic City sounds interesting. However, Noir's premise doesn't fill me with optimism. The female assassin subgenre's very well-trodden turf, and I wasn't a fan of those cheesy Raimi/Tapert-produced shows like Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess, so hope this isn't in a similar vein.

Still, the fact it's based on anime could be interesting, if they're going to echo that style. Otherwise, hasn't Noir already been made for TV with the current Nikita series, minus the mystery element? The show's premise alone has me immediately predicting the secret society brainwashed both assassins, but they escaped the program, blah-blah-blah... am I right?

What do you think? Are you a big fan of the Raimi/Tapert oeuvre? Have you seen the original Noir animation? Is it good? Any thoughts on Starz's drama commissions just lately?