Wednesday, 29 February 2012

TRAILER: Magic City (Starz)


Starz have released the first trailer for their new 1959 drama Magic City, starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen), Christian Cooke (Cemetery Junction), Olga Kurylenko (Quantum Of Solace) and Danny Huston (30 Days Of Night). It's created by Mitch Glazer (The Recruit), and co-produced by Ed Bianchi (The Wire).

The show is described by the network thus:

"As Frank Sinatra rings in a new year in the grand ballroom of Miami Beach's most luxurious dream palace—the Miramar Hotel—its visionary leader, Ike Evans (Morgan), must deal with the Mob, his complicated family and a city in the midst of dramatic change as Fidel Castro takes control of Cuba, just 200 miles offshore. By day the hotel at the center of 'Magic City' is all diving clown acts and cha-cha lessons by the pool, but at night Miami Beach reveals a darker truth. Dopers, dealers, strippers, gangsters and those who arrest them drift together to hear the top nightclub acts perform. Just beneath the surface, racial tensions stir. Ike must deal with all of this, even while global intrigue is brewing right under his roof."


Comparisons will tediously be made to Mad Men, and the aesthetic of Magic City certainly looks very similar, but the story being told here is entirely different. Suffice to say this looks far more promising than recent mainstream attempts to capture some mid-20th century cool with The Playboy Club and Pan Am. It all looks great, but I'm not sure I have the time or head space for another deep and involved drama, as almost every channel has one vying for audience attention.

What do you think? Will you be making room in your itinerary for Magic City? Are you feeling some fatigue with these prestige cable dramas?

MAGIC CITY premieres on 6 April @10/9c on Starz.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Alan Ball leaves TRUE BLOOD?


Forbes are reporting that True Blood showrunner Alan Ball is stepping down from writing the smash-hit vampire drama, although he'll still be creatively involved with the show. There's no official word on why he's decided to step down, although the Forbes article suggests exhaustion, a desire to do new things, and a contractual issue with HBO. I'm sure there'll be more to come on this story, and I'll most likely update this post with the latest news.

But, if this is definitely true, I'm so glad. There's no doubt Alan Ball did a great job adapting Charlaine Harris' trivial novels for a prestige cable network like HBO, and I really enjoyed the first two seasons of what he created, but everything since has seen vastly diminishing returns.

Of course, the big problem for True Blood has been how it's been getting creatively worse (too many characters, weak stories, a glut of ridiculous ideas), but its ratings have always remained strong and the core fanbase remain so passionate and upbeat. So there's been no real reason for HBO to step in and demand changes from Ball to please what's a minority critical voice within its audience.

Maybe Ball had a moment of self-awareness and realized he'd become more of a hindrance to True Blood's development, and has done the wise thing and just stepped down? If so, I applaud him for that decision. Or maybe he's just become bored with the daily grind of imagining crazy things to happen to the denizens of Bon Temps? Either way, with Ball gone, I hope whoever takes over will bring True Blood back down to earth, trim the regular cast considerably, and give its key actors material that's worth their time. I mean, Anna Paquin's a great young actress, so it's rather sad that her most famous role is in a television show that's mostly beneath her talent.

It's known that Ball's been developing a new TV series called Wichita about a "Kansas surgeon who inadvertently becomes the focal point of a contemporary political, cultural and ethical war", so maybe that will be his new focus post-True Blood?

True Blood will return for its fifth season this summer on HBO.

BEING HUMAN, 4.4 - "A Spectre Calls"




A weird episode that didn't work that brilliantly, although it got increasingly more enjoyable because of its sheer lunacy (peaking with a one-take disco dance of triumph). The setup was unfortunately a hoary chestnut, though, as a peculiar stranger appeared and deftly turned friends against each other before getting his inevitable comeuppance. In Being Human's case, the manipulative stranger was oddball Kirby (James Lance), a toymaker who died in 1975 but has returned to help Annie (Lenora Crichlow) with baby Eve on behalf of her dead mum Nina.

It was always going to be difficult convincing us that Kirby could so quickly ingratiate himself with Annie, and I don't think this episode succeeded too well—although it certainly helped that Hal (Damien Molony) and Tom (Michael Socha) aren't best friends yet, so easily turned against each other, and Annie herself is a qualified idiot. You just wondered why more questions weren't being asked of this strange man with his stupid glasses, evident wig, lilting northern accent, and pale blue jacket. He was the dictionary definition of weird, conspicuous and untrustworthy, so just made every character look brain-dead.

Guest star James Lance (I'm Alan Partridge, No Heroics) was obviously directed to give this style of calmly nutty performance, but it didn't work for me. It's as if the show half-remembered it started life as a comedy-drama, so Kirby was a "creepy clown" figure at the centre. There certainly weren't many other good jokes happening in Tom Grieves' script, which is something Being Human could really do with just now—although I did giggle at the scene where Hal (dressed like '80s-era Patrick Swayze) had to pretend he was Tom's boyfriend to a home-visiting doctor.

There were only a few scenes where Kirby was genuinely menacing, sadly, most notably the moment he revealed his true colours to Annie and made her fizzle out of existence, but otherwise his character and Lance's cartoon-y performance was too ridiculous for me to get behind. The situation with Kirby was also so predictable that I came to prefer the undercooked subplot with Hal tracking down a lawyer who's been ordered by vampire Cutler (Andrew Gower) to falsify the official report about the Box Tunnel Murders that Mitchell was responsible for. (That's still a big deal in the local news, which is fair enough.)

It seems that Cutler's trying to pin the blame on someone else they can later claim was a werewolf, as part of a plan to get the world used to idea that such monsters exist and are a very real danger. The long-term goal will assumedly be to then introduce the existence of vampires as a species who can protect humans from these despicable, man-eating lycanthropes. As usual, none of that really feels like it'll play out adequately on a show like Being Human, but you just have to swallow what you're given. For me, I just liked the development that Cutler's making friends with vampire-hating Tom (bailing him from jail for attacking a vampire, thanks to CCTV footage amusingly "proving" he was being violent to thin air), and that Hal's on something of a collision course with the vampire clan who don't yet know an "Old One" is living amongst them already.

Overall, "A Spectre Calls" can be chalked up as another entertaining but oddly uninvolving episode with too many stupid or silly moments. An episode where the successful erasure of Annie is implausibly undone by her just returning in fiery-blue "super ghost" form. Still, at least it's clearer that the ghost in the TV from the future wants Eve dead, and this week sent Kirby to do her bidding. I just have no idea why she can't do any of this herself, unless she's the adult Eve and killing yourself creates a paradox. The surprise that Hal has a burn on his shoulder, which the killer of Eve is prophesied to have, was also quite nice... although obviously this is likely to be a red herring.

Asides

  • A thought that occurred to me: if baby Eve is human, then she can't see Annie the ghost. Therefore, the poor kid's going to grow up thinking it's normal to spent half your day levitating!
  • More trivia we're only just hearing about now: werewolves can't come back as ghosts. Does this go for vampires, too?
  • Why did Kirby suggest that Hal might one day bite Annie? She's a ghost! Is that even possible? The show is always very confused about the exact nature of ghosts, in terms of how they can be hurt, or how they can defend themselves. I'd love some clarity on the matter.
  • Did anyone else notice that Hal was dressing in a more modern style this week? Has he run out of suits and waistcoats?
written by Tom Grieves / directed by Daniel O'Hara / 26 February 2012 / BBC Three

TV Picks: 27 February – 4 March 2012 (The Agenda, The Dales, Empire, The Food Inspectors, Glee, Indian Doctor, etc.)

GLEE - Sky1, Thursday, 9PM

MONDAY 27th
PICK OF THE DAY The Indian Doctor (BBC1, 2.15pm) Series 2 of the 1960s drama about a Welsh mining town with an Indian doctor. (1/5)
The Dales (ITV1, 8pm) Series 2 of the travelogue. Presented by Adrian Edmondson. (1/12)
Empire (BBC1, 9pm) Documentary about the British Empire, which at its height ruled a quarter of the globe. (1/5)
Stop My Stutter (BBC3, 9pm) Documentary on stammering and the speech therapy classes run by ex-Pop Idol star Gareth Gates.
Pedigree Dogs Exposed: 3 Years On (BBC4, 9pm) Follow-up to the 2008 documentary that revealed how many pedigree dogs are the result of dangerous inbreeding.
Proud & Prejudiced (Channel 4, 10pm) Documentary about Tommy Robinson, leader of the far-right English Defense League, and Sayful Islam, leader of a group of Muslim extremists.
The Agenda (ITV1, 10.35pm) Brand new talk show series tackling the week's big new stories. Presented by Tom Bradby.

TUESDAY 28th
Supersize vs Superskinny (Channel 4, 8pm) Series 5 of the show about under and overweight people. (1/10)
PICK OF THE DAY Horizon: The Truth About Exercise (BBC2, 9pm) Documentary about exercise, and the controversial theory that 3-minutes of intensive exercise every week is enough. Presented by Michael Mosley.
The Richard Dimbleby Lecture 2012 (BBC1, 10.35pm) Sir Paul Nurse gives a lecture about his interest in the natural world.

WEDNESDAY 29th
Illuminations: The Private Lives Of Medieval Kings (BBC HD, 7pm) Documentary on England's medieval monarchy. (1/3)
PICK OF THE DAY The Food Inspectors (BBC1, 7.30pm) Series investigating poor standard in the cuisine industry. Hosted by Matt Allwright & Chris Hollins. (1/4)
The Fisherman's Apprentice with Monty Halls (BBC2, 8pm) Series where Monty Halls learns to be a fisherman. (1/6)
Wonderland (BBC2, 9pm) Follow-up documentary following an Orthodox Jewish couple on holiday in the Mediterranean.

THURSDAY 1st
Children Of The Tsunami (BBC2, 9pm) Documentary about the after effects of the tsunami that hit Japan and triggered a dangerous nuclear situation at Fukushima, told from the perspective of young children.
Make Bradford British (Channel 4, 9pm) Series looking at what it means to be British, by asking the multi-ethnic citizens of Bradford. (1/2)
PICK OF THE DAY Glee (Sky1, 9pm) Season 3 of the US musical-drama continues. (10/22)
Our Man In... (Channel 4, 10pm) Documentary looking at British consulates around the world. (1/3)
My Dad Is A Woman (ITV1, 10.35pm) Documentary about two families where the patriarch is undergoing gender reassignment.

FRIDAY 2nd
Nothing.

SATURDAY 3rd
Nothing.

SUNDAY 4th
Warhorse: The Real Story (Channel 4, 8pm) Documentary on the WWI story that inspired the book, stage play and feature film.
PICK OF THE DAY Orbit: Earth's Extraordinary Journey (BBC2, 9pm) Documentary series about the Sun's effect on the Earth. (1/3)

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Coming Soon: DIRK GENTLY, series 1


After a successful pilot in 2010, writer Howard Overman (Misfits) returns with his crime mystery drama based on Douglas Adams' holistic detective character Dirk Gently. The new three-part series again stars Stephen Mangan (Episodes) as Dirk, joined by Darren Boyd, Helen Baxendale, Jason Watkins (Being Human) and Lisa Jackson.

The first episode is written by Overman and directed by Tom Shankland (The Fades), the second is written by Matt Jones (Doctor Who, Torchwood), and the third by Jamie Mathieson (Being Human).

Dirk Gently returns to BBC4 on 5 March at 9pm, with a story about a man who believes the Pentagon are trying to kill him, and another who thinks their horoscope is coming true...

Will you be watching? Is there anything you hope has been changed about the pilot, which I reviewed here?

Saturday, 25 February 2012

FRINGE, 4.14 – "The End of All Things"




A terrific episode that helped focus minds and propelled us into the final movement of this fourth season. Olivia (Anna Torv) captured by David Robert Jones (Jared Harris) and forced to perform psychic tasks to test the success of her surreptitious Cortexiphan dosing, with surrogate mother Nina (Blair Brown) painfully tortured as the emotional trigger; Peter (Joshua Jackson) entering the consciousness of the dying Observer (Michael Cerveris) in Walter's (John Noble) lab, at which point a large chunk of their mythology was spelled out for us; and the rather fabulous double-twist that the shapeshifter Nina was actually the real Nina, and it was the "real" Nina who was the impostor.

It's hard to complain about this episode too much, although I was expecting something more imaginative with The Observer's back-story. I think everyone had them down as highly evolved human with technology that allows them to operate outside of Space and Time, from as early as season 1, so it wasn't much of a big reveal four seasons in. A little better was being reminded that, hey, Fauxlivia gave birth to Peter's son Henry, and that's a key mistake that The Observer has been trying to correct. (Am I alone in totally forgetting about that baby, because it happened so long ago?)

Overall, "The End Of All Things" was fast-paced and packed with exciting moments, tense scenes, good action, and some big revelations. It's certainly one of the better episodes we've had in quite some time, and I'm so glad Jared Harris agreed to come back as Fringe's supervillain (who can't even be shot and killed on account of his body having been atomically reconstructed). There were a few things that disappointed me, though, and the feeling that Fringe needs to come to a suitable ending sooner rather than later, but I really enjoyed watching this episode and hope it's going to revitalise the rest of the season.

written by David Fury / directed by Jeff Hunt / 24 February 2012 / Fox

Should ROOM 101 be banished to Room 101?


Room 101 returned to our screens awhile ago, but I haven't had the chance to write about it until now. I was always a fan of this show; from when it started in 1994 with Nick Hancock in charge, all the way through the Paul Merton years until it was axed in 2007. For those who've been hiding under a rock, the format of the show had a weekly celebrity trying to convince the host to let them banish items into the fictional "Room 101". It was basically a half-hour spent listening to a famous person's "pet hates", which was an amusing way to spend some time.

Now, after a five year "rest", Room 101's back with comedian Frank Skinner as host, although it's transformed from a talk show to a homogeneous panel show, with three celebrities competing to get their many hates into Room 101. There are even different rounds revolving around specific categories. You could argue this is an improvement, because how can more celebs and more spleen-venting be a BAD thing? But, strangely, it isn't an improvement. Without the one-on-one focus, the show feels more trivial and less time's spent discussing each celeb's irritation. One of the funniest things about Room 101 was seeing Hancock/Merton analyse each guest's bugbears, with a variety of props and evidence to sway the argument one way or the other, but this new version just doesn't have a chance to. Consequently, good picks with plenty of comic potential are dealt with too quickly, and then we're onto the next person's choice.

I can see why they chose to update Room 101 in this way, especially because panel shows are enormously successful still, but it hasn't really worked for me. The fact it's a panel show means there's the same parade of faces being booked as guests (Sarah Millican, Micky Flanagan, Rhod Gilbert, et al), whereas I remember the original show being more inventive and surprising with their bookings. It had slowly become a minor honour to be asked on, almost like Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, but now the sheen has gone.

And if they're going to update the show, why not make genuine improvements like allowing the studio audience to vote for what gets put into Room 101? That's a far better idea than just letting Skinner decide each choice's fate, if you ask me. At least Hancock/Merton would sometimes decide success/failure based on the response from the audience, giving it a vaguely democratic feel. And the fact it now airs before the 9pm watershed means the opportunity to be more scabrous has been curbed, which is a shame.

What do you think? Is Room 101 better with multiple guests and more pet hates? Or has the show now become less focused, with fewer opportunities to explore the comic potential of a celebrity's choices?

Fridays, BBC2, 8.30PM

Thursday, 23 February 2012

FRINGE, 4.13 – "A Better Human Being"




A solid enough episode, although the way the A-story about genetically engineered telepathic half-brothers complimented the B-story about Olivia (Anna Torv) regaining her memories of Peter's (Joshua Jackson) timeline started to lose its way after awhile. This was actually a rather mediocre and ridiculous X Files-y story, with the most interesting aspects being the developments with the show's mytharc—particularly the fact someone's been dosing Olivia with Cortexiphan (intending to restore her memories of the old timeline?), and the climactic surprise that Nina (Blair Brown) appears to have been replaced by a shape-shifter.

However, even if the thrust of this week's storyline wasn't so brilliant and began to overstay its welcome, "A Better Human Being" was the kind of episode where the garnish compensated for a weak main course. It was an especially good hour for Torv, who got to play the love-struck Olivia we haven't seen since season 3, and Jackson also gave a touching performance with Peter in two-minds about the pro's and con's of Olivia remembering the love they once shared.

Not bad, with some promising developments for the final nine episodes of this season (and possibly the entire series). What did you think?

written by Alison Schapker & Monica Owusu-Breen (story by Glen Whitman & Robert Chiappetta) / directed by Joe Chappelle / 17 February 2012 / Fox

Sky1 commission CHICKENS

In an unusual move, Sky1 have swooped to commission a six-part series of the sitcom Chickens, which started life as a Channel 4 "Comedy Showcase" pilot last year. The series concerns three men living in a small English village during World War I, who have each decided not to fight for King and Country.

It stars Simon Bird (The Inbetweeners), Joe Thomas (The Inbetweeners) and Jonny Sweet, who are also the show's creators/writers. I reviewed the original pilot here.


Lucy Lumsden, Sky's Head of Comedy:

"We have fallen in love with those naughty Chickens and think our customers will do too. We are delighted to give such a talented bunch a home on Sky 1 HD."
Kenton Allen, CEO of Big Talk:

"Winning our first commission for Sky1 HD is a very significant moment for Big Talk. I know that Simon, Jonny and Joe will play a huge role in the future story of British Comedy and it's particularly thrilling that Sky1 HD are helping them make the big leap forward with their own authored series—we are all very excited!"
The series begins filming in December for a summer 2013 premiere.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

BEING HUMAN, 4.3 – "The Graveyard Shift"




It's entertaining, but the edge has gone from Being Human. There's too much of a childish vibe from the performances and storylines for my taste, as the series becomes more serialized, ridiculous and rife with nitpicks. Why are the Old Ones taking so long to arrive? Why is Annie (Lenora Crichlow) written to always be such a silly fool? Why are all the vampires having such a hard time killing a baby? Why was vampire Fergus (Anthony Flanagan) able to enter the B&B without permission in the climax?

For the most part, this episode was all about cementing the new dynamic of Hal (Damien Molony) and Tom (Michael Socha), by forcing Hal to work alongside Tom in the Café On The Corner. A subservient, repetitive and tedious job which Hal wasn't best pleased with, particularly as we learned he's an "Old One" himself who once commanded the utmost respect in vampire society as "Lord Harry" in the 19th-century. The interplay between Hal and Tom, as they struggled to work together before slowly finding a bond (a shared respect for women, a love of Antiques Roadshow), was actually one of the episode's better elements.

Socha still isn't leading man material in my opinion, but he has a likeable rapport with Molony. It's just a shame the material they're given is so stiff or hokey most of the time; not least with the introduction of café regular Michaela (Laura Patch), a sorely unconvincing amalgam of a "goth" and, well, a J.K Rowling-style wannabe, armed with a journal brimming with bad poetry and macabre sketches. It could and should have been a brilliant character, plus a good antidote for the increasingly saccharine Annie, but Michaela was unfortunately little more than a painful stereotype... hastily written out of the show in an awkward way by falling in love with Regus (Mark Williams) after he turned her into a frizzy-haired vampire. An atrocious waste of a character's potential, and the scene where Michaela tried to pay for a hamburger with her "original poetry" was unutterably bad.

Away from the Tom/Hal interplay at the café, most played for laughs, the episode again revolved around the ongoing "War Child" prophecy, with Annie trying to keep baby Eve safe from Fergus and his fanged cronies. It makes sense of the show to become more serialized because standalone stories were becoming difficult to think up, but I've been instantly bored by this clichéd state of affairs. It just gives Annie more opportunities to do her irritating "mother hen" routine, and a diversion where we discovered ghosts can project their memories into vampires (meaning Regus found himself having sex with Annie's first love in a tent) wasn't funny, it was just weird and inconsequential.

I know there's lots of people enjoying series 4, but the spark has gone for me. It was always going to be tough replacing most of this show's regulars, and I don't mean to suggest Molony's bad—because he's interesting and different to Aidan Turner, despite unfortunate crossover with their character's histories. It just feels like the show's coasting by on dumb and trashy ideas, and even the show's style and inventiveness seems to have been curbed. There's an action sequence towards the end that highlights the limitations of this show's budget, in ways it used to overcame with clever camerawork and staging. (It doesn't help that there's a relatively expensive US remake airing now, so the differences are more noticeable if you're watching both shows.)

Overall, "The Graveyard Shift" did little to persuade me that series 4's going to equal the previous three years of this show, let alone best them, because it's simply lost too many characters and the writing has become more immature. Maybe that's partly because Tom and Hal have more lightweight personalities than their predecessors George and Mitchell. I don't begrudge fans who still gets a kick from their Sunday night fix of Being Human, and it remains generally entertaining, but I'm just not excited by what feels like a stupider version of a once-great series.

Asides

  • There was an amusing reference to George and Mitchell's great affection for The Real Hustle, with Hal and Tom watching that show on television and looking bewildered by it, before turning over to Antiques Roadshow.
  • So was Regus purely there as a Basil Exposition figure for these early episodes, or will he be back with vampire girlfriend Michaela soon?
written by Jamie Mathieson / directed by Philip John / 19 February 2012 / BBC Three

Monday, 20 February 2012

TV Picks: 20-26 February 2012 (Brit Awards, Kidnap & Ransom, Pramface, Watson & Oliver, White Van Man, Winterwatch, etc.)

WATSON & OLIVER - BBC2, MONDAY, 10PM

MONDAY 20th
The Tube (BBC2, 9pm) Documentary on the London Underground as the system is given the biggest revamp of its lifetime. (1/6)
My Hometown Fanatics: Stacey Dooley Investigates (BBC3, 9pm) Documentary on Luton, believed to be the extremist capital of the UK.
PICK OF THE DAY Watson & Oliver (BBC2, 10pm) Brand new sketch show from Lorna Watson & Ingrid Oliver. Guest starring John Barrowman. (1/6)
True Stories: My Social Network Stalker (Channel 4, 10pm) Documentary about a couple who found love after knowing each other as children, only for one of them to turn stalker.

TUESDAY 21st
PICK OF THE DAY The Brit Awards 2012 (ITV1, 8pm) Annual music awards ceremony. Hosted by James Corden. Performances from Adele, Noel Gallagher, Florence & The Machine, Ed Sheeran, Rihanna, Bruno Mars & Blur.
Timothy Spall: All At Sea (BBC4, 8.30pm) Series 2 of the show where the actor and his wife travel around the British coast in their barge. (1/4)

WEDNESDAY 22nd
Big Body Squad (Channel 5, 8pm) Documentary on obese people. (1/6)
PICK OF THE DAY Winterwatch (BBC2, 9pm) New series of the Springwatch spin-off, with hosts Chris Packham, Kate Humble & Martin Hughes-Games.

THURSDAY 23rd
Pramface (BBC3, 9pm) Comedy about two teenagers expecting a baby. Starring Sean Michael Verey & Scarlett Alice Johnson. (1/6)
Dispatches (Channel 4, 9pm) Documentary about online ticket selling.
Catholics (BBC4, 9pm) Documentary about Catholicism in the UK.
PICK OF THE DAY Kidnap & Ransom (ITV1, 9pm) Series 2 of the hostage negotiation thriller. Starring Trevor Eve & Helen Baxendale. (1/3)
White Van Man (BBC3, 9.30pm) Series 2 of the comedy about a handyman. (1/6)
Strictly Baby Disco (Channel 4, 10pm) Documentary about a dance craze focusing on young children.

FRIDAY 24th
PICK OF THE DAY Melvyn Bragg On Class & Culture (BBC2, 9pm) Exploration of class and culture between 1911 and 2011.
Benidorm (ITV1, 9pm) Series 5 of the comedy about British holidaymakers in the Spanish holiday resort. (1/7)

SATURDAY 25th
PICK OF THE DAY The Story Of Musicals (BBC2, 8.20pm) Documentary on the rise of musicals as a huge brand of entertainment. (1/3)
I'm In A Boy Band (BBC2, 9.20pm) Documentary on what it's like to be in a successful boy band. Featuring The Four Tops, One Direction & The Jackson 5.

SUNDAY 26th
PICK OF THE DAY Young Farmer Of The Year (BBC3, 8pm) Annual competition to find the nation's best young farmer.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

See you next Wednesday

Following the death of my father a few weeks ago, aspects of DMD understandably slipped during January and February. (I make no apology for that, and I know nobody expects one.) But it has given me a better idea about the strength/loyalty of readership when there's no new content for an extended period of time (surprisingly healthy), and the success of increased double-bill and bite-sized reviews.

It also made me realize two things: (1) that some shows benefit from shorter reviews--especially ones that have been running for years, as it can be tough to find new angles to discuss about stories and characters we've been following for a very long time; and (2) that there's no point struggling to review a show you're only half-enjoying, especially if you keep making largely the same points, which is one reason I decided to stop covering The Walking Dead. Drawing attention to its same flaws, almost every week, wasn't fun and was only encouraging repetitive arguments from people who DO enjoy it.

I also feel that weekly reviews of short and serialized shows, like the recent four-part Mad Dogs, aren't always worth the effort. From now on, in similar cases, I'll probably watch the whole series and review it in its entirety afterwards. (For those asking, I'll perhaps write something brief about Mad Dogs series 2 to coincide with its box-set release, but no promises.)

For now, I'm taking a four-day break (Sat-Tue) to be with my family and attend my dad's funeral. See you next Wednesday, as John Landis might say...

Friday, 17 February 2012

Terry O'Quinn joins 666 PARK AVENUE


The brilliant Terry O'Quinn (Millennium, Lost) has signed onto ABC's pilot 666 Park Avenue, based on the graphic novels by Gabriella Pierce about an architect called Jane Boyle who marries the wealthy Malcolm Doran and becomes part of his revered family on the Upper East Side of New York City. However, soon after moving into their new home together, Jane comes to realise her mother-in-law is a witch, she herself has latent magical abilities, and their house is haunted.

O'Quinn will play Gavin, the owner of the spooky building the Doran's make their home, but I have no idea if that role's as second tier as it sounds. The pilot will be written by David Wilcox (Law & Order, Fringe) by Alex Graves (The West Wing, Terra Nova). I've heard Pierce's books described as "Rosemary's Baby meets The Devil Wears Prada", which is an interesting combination.

Have you read 666 Park Avenue? Does this TV show hold any appeal to you, on the surface?

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Review: THE RIVER, 1.1 – 1.3 – "Magus", "Marbeley" & "Los Ciegos"


Magus
Marbeley
Los Ciegos





"There's magic out there..." – Dr Emmet Cole

I honestly wasn't expecting ABC's The River to be so heavily indebted to the same network's lamented Lost, but there's a fair amount of crossover because this show likewise revolves around a group of people negotiating a beautiful but scary wilderness, being attacked by half-invisible supernatural forces and tribal "Others". There are even "flashbacks" via family home videos, and a subtitled character who speaks no English. The more blatant influence is the "found footage" sub-genre popularised for modern audiences by 1999's Blair Witch Project, which isn't surprising given this show comes from Paranormal Activity's director Oren Peli and its sequel's co-writer Michael R. Perry. (Produced by Steven Spielberg, like that actually means much.)

The River concerns the mysterious disappearance of world-famous explorer and TV personality Dr Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood) in an uncharted region of the Amazon, resulting in a family-led expedition to find him that's financed by a documentary film crew in exchange for unrestricted access to everything. Setting sail down the South American waterway is Emmet's wife Tess (Leslie Hope, no stranger to unique TV formats post-24); young adult son Lincoln (Joe Anderson); Lena Landry (Eloise Mumford), the daughter of Emmet's missing cameraman and Lincoln's love-interest; English film producer Clark Quitely (Paul Blackthorne); bodyguard Captain Kurt Brynildson (Thomas Kretschmann, no stranger to weird expeditions post-King Kong); British cameraman A.J Poulain (Shaun Parkes), loyal Latino mechanic Emilio Valenzuela (Daniel Zacapa); and his psychic daughter Jahel (Paulina Gaitan), who's luckily also an expert when it comes to local legends.

The show is a decent amount of fun, and it's been constructed with care and attention by creators Peli and Perry, but I found myself growing less enamoured with it as time ticked by. It was initially a relief to see all the characters quickly believe in a supernatural explanation for who/what has taken their father, after they're attacked by a bloodthirsty "ghost" after discovering Emmet's forsaken ship loaded with videos of him being given a spiritual awakening by tribesmen, but in some ways I'd have preferred a slow-burn. By the end of the double-bill opener alone, so much has happened that you rather wish The River had kept some cards closer to its chest for awhile longer. The show also starts risking unintentional laughter, as the things affecting the expedition get more outlandish (such as someone being possessed by the spirit of Emmet, who appears in the form of a dragonfly they swallow in their sleep).

The "found footage" style definitely gives The River a unique identity on television, and it does a very impressive and logical job justifying this setup. Beyond the camera shots being taken by the documentary crew, the Magus ship is credibly laden with cameras used to capture Emmet's everyday activities as part of his successful TV show. This means the show can jump around to many different vantage points, and it mostly makes sense.

A few tricks have also been remembered from the abovementioned Paranormal Activity saga, with use of those movie's "fast-forwarding" of particular scenes that lead to a creepy or shocking moment. It's just a shame that audiences are now to au fait with this style of filmmaking that The River doesn't quite manage to be frightening enough. It's enjoyably unnerving at times, but claims that this is a terrifying TV show are somewhat overhyped. In fact, sometimes its style of delivery works against the show, because while the documentary style provides a sense of "reality", that same reality can also make some of the weirder moments look plain silly. (A sequence where a possessed character wanders around the ship feels particularly dumb, somehow—like it's inviting you to giggle at the moment's preposterousness, instead of convince you this shit's deadly serious and scary.) Indeed, the whole tone of the show doesn't make an effort to convince you this is a serious situation, which I guess was a creative choice they took.

I also enjoy what the cast bring to the equation, even if their characters are largely stereotypes at this stage. Hope, Mumford and Greenwood are particularly nice to have around, though, and that's not to say you watch the rest through gritted teeth.

Overall, The River launches in an interesting manner and introduced its concept, style, story and characters very well. I'm also relieved that ABC only requested eight episodes, as there's less chance the story will start to drag. I just hope that a theoretical second season doesn't get increased to the network standard of 24 episodes. It's hard to imagine the writers getting that much mileage from a show with this kind of premise, told in this way, so I'm hoping ABC play the long-game and only ask for 10-12 episodes each season. (Seeing as episode 3 shed half of its initial 7.8m viewers, this may all be wishful thinking!)

There are definite concerns, because even by the third episode I was beginning to wonder if the "found footage" aspect of the story was even that necessary. While it gives the show a definite hook and unique feel, everything happening is so outlandish that any credibility gained by the documentary shooting style is quickly lost. (A few moments would probably have worked better if filmed traditionally, too.) But while the third episode was notably weaker than the first two (almost like a Star Trek-style episode where an "away mission" goes disastrously wrong), I'm hoping The River will find itself and start developing a truly compelling mystery from its tasty ingredients.

Asides

  • Interesting power-switch on The River's writing staff: the show's co-creator/showrunner is Michael R. Perry, who worked as a staff writer on Millennium during the season when Glen Morgan was running things with James Wong. Morgan is now a co-executive producer and writer on his show.
  • Sticking to the Morgan and Wong connection, it's interesting that since the two writers parted company they're both now involved with two of TV's scarier shows. Wong is writing for FX's American Horror Story.

written by Michael Green & Michael R. Perry (story by Oren Peli & Michael R. Perry) (1.1), Michael Green & Zack Estrin (1.2) & Glen Morgan (1.3) / directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (1.1-1.2) & Michael Katleman (1.3) / 7 & 14 February 2012 / ABC

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

SPARTACUS: VENGEANCE – "A Place In This World" & "The Greater Good"


A Place In This World
The Greater Good
Apologies. I've slipped behind with my reviews of Spartacus: Vengeance, and to be honest that'll likely be an ongoing problem for awhile. But I thought I'd at least give some random thoughts on Vengeance now we're three episodes into the season. It's still fair to say the show still misses the marvelous John Hannah (more than Andy Whitfield, too), but the return of Ashur (Nick Tarabay) in "The Greater Good" went some way to make me forget about his loss. A show like this needs a larger-than-life villain, and Roman slimeball Glaber (Craig Parker) isn't a strong enough character in my book. Ashur's history with all of the gladiators is also a strong advantage, as Glaber himself only really has beef with Spartacus, and I loved how Ashur's return explained Lucretia's (Lucy Lawless) "miraculous" survival during the mutiny (he sewed up her stomach wound), and that he told Oenomaus (Peter Mensah) that Gannicus had an affair with his late wife. Tarabay is having a ball with this role, and has almost single-handedly reinvigorated my interest now.

Taking a wider view, I'm still uncertain about the success of Vengeance sending half its cast out on the road. It had to take this step, of course, but there was something singularly fascinating about the politics of the once pivotal ludus. Taking the gladiators out of their training camp is akin to watching a series of Downton Abbey where the servants leave the house and visit London. It may be fun to watch that happen, but it doesn't quite sit right. However, "The Greater Good" was a more promising example of the show's new itinerant nature, with some great woodland battles (were those trees real or greenscreen?) and a brilliant climactic set-piece inside a mine between the fugitives and Roman soldiers. The latter being a particularly good sequence because of the unexpected moment when Crixus (Manu Bennett) was captured while saving his rescued lover from harm.

Speaking of Crixus's girlfriend, it's a shame the show's been forced to recast Naevia (Cynthia Addai-Robinson replacing Lesley Ann-Brandt), although to be honest some of the supporting female characters blend together in my mind anyway. It doesn't help that we've technically spent two years away from this storyline, through no fault of anyone given the tragic circumstances. (Strange to see flashbacks of Blood & Sand scenes, redone with McIntyre and Addai-Robinson.) As for McIntyre? He's doing a decent job as the eponymous hero, given the fact it's hard to step into Whitfield's sandals, although I feel his performance lacks the raw edge of his predecessor. What McIntyre desperately needs is an iconic moment for fans to attach themselves to and remember fondly, but Vengeance hasn't delivered one for him yet, as the story doesn't feel as focused on Spartacus as one might expect.

Overall, I'm happier with Vengeance after seeing "The Greater Good", but I was far much more invested in Gods Of The Arena at this third-hour. I was also wondering if it's possible we've become desensitised to Spartacus, so it's not such a visceral thrill? There was a time when a CGI-blade being jabbed through someone's throat made me wince and gawp at the audacity (for the small-screen), but now I hardly bat an eyelid. At least the show's more significant instances of violence remain tethered to emotional issues happening between the characters (e.g. Oenomaus being flogged by his former pupil Ashur), and haven't become something things the writers throw in to keep bloodthirsty teenage boys happy.

Now we're a third of the way into this latest adventure, what are your current thoughts on Vengeance? Is the show improving steadily, or do you believe Spartacus has lost its mojo—either because of too many unfortunate changes to the cast, or the fact the story felt more creative when it was largely taking place in a cliffside building?

written by Brent Fletcher (2.2) & Tracy Bellomo (2.3) / directed by Jesse Warn (2.2) & Brendan Maher (2.3) / 6 & 13 February 2012 / Sky1

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

ELEMENTARY, dear Jonny

Jonny Lee Miller (Trainspotting, Eli Stone) has been cast as Sherlock Holmes in CBS' modern-day update entitled Elementary. A project that's causing raised eyebrows at the BBC, whose globally successful Sherlock has likely inspired this American take on the same idea.

Bizarrely, Jonny Lee Miller recently co-starred with Sherlock's Benedict Cumberbatch in Danny Boyle's theatre play Frankenstein (where they alternated playing Dr Frankenstein and the Monster every performance). I wonder what Cumberbatch thinks of his colleague playing the lead role in what's widely seen as a cynical cash-in on the BBC's success...

It'll also be interesting to see if the BBC take legal action against the producers of Elementary, should their show have too many similarities to Sherlock. It's a tricky legal issue, seeing as the idea of modernising Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's iconic sleuth isn't copyrightable, but apparently there's a case to answer if Elementary reproduces the distinctive ingredients of Sherlock—like its costume design, specific plots, and visual style.

If CBS like the pilot of Elementary (currently being written by Robert Doherty, to be directed by Dexter's Michael Cuesta), expect this New York-set version to debut as part of their 2012/13 season.

THE WALKING DEAD, 2.8 – "Nebraska"




I think I'm going to call time on regular reviews of AMC's The Walking Dead. It gets phenomenal ratings and has a passionate fanbase, but I find it too much of a drag. There are enough exciting moments to keep me watching as a casual viewer, but there's also a staggering amount of mindless chit-chat between characters I don't care about. Sometimes I find myself realizing we're halfway through an episode, and yet I could recap what's actually happened in a sentence. Maybe the show has to be this way because the budget can't stretch to the kind of rollicking zombie apocalypse drama I really want, or maybe the writers are under the unfortunate delusion their characters are so brilliant we enjoy listening to them have the same handful of conversations time and again, I don't know...

But it's the kind of show that introduces an awesome new character, played by the brilliant Michael Raymond-James (True Blood, Terriers), gets him to dominate a brilliant scene in an abandoned bar, but then just kills him off. I'd have swapped the enigmatic "Dave" for most of the regulars. And where is this show going? Now we're hearing that the premiere's goal of getting the survivors to Fort Benning isn't a good idea, because the base has been overrun by zombies (I really hate how the show avoids using that term now), so will they just aimlessly point their convoy at some other horizon?

It doesn't help that the two-month hiatus has sucked momentum from the show's story, of course, but deeper than that I just don't think The Walking Dead is a very good show. The things I like about it are just the things I like about any zombie apocalypse story, and the unique things about it haven't really impressed me. Remember when the very idea of a serialised zombie epic on TV was enough to cause excitement? I think this show demonstrates why zombie stories work best as movies/books, and it's a pity the writers weren't brave enough to create more characters who are specific to this show (like Daryl) instead of sticking to the comic's bunch of sketchy idiots.

(On the upside, I think I must be the only person in the world who doesn't care about Andrew Lincoln's supposedly shaky Southern accent.)

I'll keep watching this series for entertainment-value, and if there's a particularly successful episode I'll do a quick review of it, but consider The Walking Dead erased from my weekly review list.

written by Evan Reilly / directed by Clark Johnson / 12 February 2012 / AMC

Monday, 13 February 2012

BEING HUMAN, 4.2 – "Being Human 1955"




Last week's premiere had the unenviable task of having to explain the sudden departure of two regulars, one of whom wasn't prepared to come back and film any kind of farewell, and it was perhaps understandable that the episode was something of an overstuffed, exposition-heavy mess. "Being Human 1955" (horrible and mostly irrelevant title aside) was a slightly stronger episode of series 4, but it still strikes me that there's a lot of silliness happening for the sake of it. Introducing new vampire Hal (Damien Molony) as part of an existing trio of "supernaturals" was an interesting idea, but we're only two episodes into series 4 and ghost Pearl (Tamla Kari) and ailing werewolf Leo (Louis Mahoney) have already been written out of the show! Was it even worth them being introduced last week? Considering the fact we're now left with Michael Socha and Lenora Crichlow, who often feel like they've walked onto the set straight from stage school, I can't help wishing we'd simply left the world of Mitchell, Annie and George behind and were now focusing on Hal, Pearl and Leo...

This second episode introduced us to Hal properly, as he was asked to take dying Leo and Pearl to the Welsh town of Barry to find "The Saviour" at Honolulu Heights, who may be able to help them, in a fun but cheesy riff on the Three Wise Men following a Star (or novelty car freshener!) to locate baby Jesus at Bethlehem. We quickly discovered that Hal and Tom aren't going to be as friendly as Mitchell and George once were, which is a good creative decision that makes sense because of Tom's family history with vampires. There's even an element of class war going on between the northern, "incomprehensible" Tom, and the southern, middle class, well-groomed Hal. It will hopefully be interesting to see how those characters come to defrost around each other, which should be a more interesting arc than George and Mitchell ever had together, despite also being very predictable.

The best part of "Being Human 1955" was getting to know Hal, who's a fairly interesting character at this early stage. Like Mitchell he's a predator trying to abstain from human blood, and has managed to do so for half-a-century because of the calming influence of Leo, even if it's left him with residual OCD (love the scene with the spiral of dominoes Hal builds but never topples). There's also an unshakable feeling that if/when the dam breaks Hal's killing spree is going to be twice as nasty as Mitchell's infamous train massacre. And while you were fairly sure Mitchell was a decent man deep down, Hal's motivations and loyalties are more uncertain right now. This episode suggests he's perhaps the biggest danger to baby Eve, who's prophesized to destroy all of his kind when she grows up, but isn't it also possible he's just susceptible to the influence of that woman from the afterlife who wants the baby killed?

One thing that can be awkward about Being Human is its balance between comedy and drama, as it doesn't always find equilibrium. It usually goes wrong when too much material is given to Annie (as she's the most obviously comedic character), because Crichlow's performance just isn't something I enjoy. She plays everything too broadly for my tastes, and whenever there's a "comedy moment" for her to indulge herself with the show feels like it's suddenly being aimed at kids. This week, there's a particularly stupid sequence with Annie performing a ritual in a bedroom by spouting mumbo-jumbo (did she really think that would work?), which was just farcical and beneath this show. A little better was Annie's little attempts to one-up Pearl, whom she sees as a rival, and it was also interesting to note that Pearl is written like Andrea Riseborough's original version of Annie from the Being Human pilot that spawned this show. I wonder if that was intentional, or am I just reading too much into surface similarities because Riseborough and Kari both just have northern accents?

The situation with the vampires is definitely the backbone of this series, as they await the arrival of the "Old Ones", and while I'm not a fan of this daft storyline, so far, I must admit I'm enjoying the performance of Andrew Gower as vampire spin doctor Cutler (who's trying to condition humans into accepting and fearing the existence of werewolves) and fanged policeman Fergus (Anthony Flanagan), who's basically a more weaselly and thuggish version of Herrick. It's almost a relief when the show switches to give us scenes between those two, who are much funnier than the three regulars.

Overall, I'm still not sold on what series 4 is doing, because there's no escaping the fact the replacements for Aidan Turner and Russell Tovey are noticeably worse actors—even if Molony has potential and his character has my interest. It just feels like Being Human's done everything it can with its high-concept premise of a vampire, werewolf and ghost sharing a house, so now it's being forced to reinvent itself in a largely uninspired way by embracing several B-movie clichés like returning vampire overlords, mysterious prophecies and Messiah-like babies. There's nothing here so bad it's insulting, and the show is still capable of making me giggle at times, but I'm having a hard time getting excited by any of the brewing situations and new characters.

written by Lisa McGee / directed by Philip John / 12 February 2012 / BBC Three

TV Picks: 13-19 February 2012 (Big Fat Gypsy Weddings, Grimm, Homeland, Let's Dance For Sport Relief, Luck, The Mad Bad Ad Show, Upstairs, Downstairs, etc.)

HOMELAND - Channel 4, Sunday, 9.30PM

MONDAY 13th
Don't Tell The Bride To Be: The Proposals (BBC3, 8pm) Series following various people who propose in big and dramatic ways.
Mozart Le Nozze di Figaro (Sky Arts 2, 8pm) Production of The Marriage Of Figaro to celebrate Mozart's 250th birthday.
Don't Tell The Bride (BBC3, 9pm) Valentine's Day special.
PICK OF THE DAY Grimm (Watch, 9pm) Season 1 of the US supernatural drama about a man who can see "fairy tale" creatures who live alongside humans. Starring David Giuntoli, Russell Hornsby, Bitsie Tulloch & Silas Weir Mitchell. (1/22)
True Stories: America's Serial Killers (Channel 4, 10pm) Documentary about a serial killer who killed 11 people and dumped their bodies outside a wealthy gated community.

TUESDAY 14th
PICK OF THE DAY Big Fat Gypsy Weddings (Channel 4, 9pm) Series 2 of the reality series looking at the matrimonial side of the travelling community.
Jo Brand On Kissing (BBC4, 9pm) Documentary on the kiss.

WEDNESDAY 15th
PICK OF THE DAY Britain's Favourite Supermarket Foods (BBC1, 8pm) Documentary expose on supermarket produce. Presented by Cherry Healey.
Daddy Daycare (Channel 4, 8pm) Documentary series where 9 men are taught about childcare. (1/3)

THURSDAY 16th
The Great British Countryside (BBC1, 8pm) Travel series, presented by Hugh Dennis & Julia Bradbury.
Wonderland: A Dad Is Born (BBC2, 9pm) Documentary following three men who are about to become fathers for the first time.
PICK OF THE DAY Celebrity Juice (ITV12, 10pm) Return of the comedy panel show. Hosted by Keith Lemon, with Holly Willoughby, Fearne Cotton & Rufus Hound.

FRIDAY 17th
The Bank Job (Channel 4, 9pm) Return of the gameshow. Hosted by George Lamb.
PICK OF THE DAY The Mad Bad Ad Show (Channel 4, 10pm) Brand new comedy panel show focusing on adverts. Hosted by MarkDolan, with Micky Flanagan & Mark Watson. Guests are Lorraine Kelly & Josh Widdicombe.

SATURDAY 18th
Let's Dance For Sport Relief (BBC1, 7pm) Series 4 of the charity tie-in celebrity dance show. Hosted by Steve Jones & Alex Jones. Participants this week are Ulrika Jonsson & Angelos Epithemiou, Terry Alderton, Laurie Brett & Tamela Empson, Tony Blackburn & David Hamilton, and Darren Gough. This week's judges are Keith Lemon, Graham Norton & Greg Davies. Music from Jessie J & JLS.
PICK OF THE DAY Luck (Sky Atlantic, 9pm) Season 1 of the US horse racing drama. Starring Dustin Hoffman, Nick Nolte, Dennis Farina, John Ortiz, Kevin Dunn, Ian Hart & Ritchie Costa. (1/9)
Lucien Freud: Painted Life (BBC2, 9.45pm) Profile of the painter.

SUNDAY 19th
Upstairs, Downstairs (BBC1, 9.30pm) Series 2 of the period drama about the masters and servants of a posh London house before in the late-30s. Starring Keeley Hawes, Ed Stoppard, Alex Kingston, Anne Reid, Claire Foy, Adrian Scarborough, Art Malik & Blake Ritson. (1/6)
PICK OF THE DAY Homeland (Channel 4, 9.30pm) Season 1 of the US anti-terrorism drama. Starring Damian Lewis, Claire Danes & Mandy Patinkin. (1/12)

Sunday, 12 February 2012

FRINGE, 4.11 & 4.12 – "Making Angels" & "Welcome to Westfield"


A few quickie reviews of recent Fringe episodes, as I try to get through a mountain of catch-up TV this week...



"Making Angels" is ostensibly a long-overdue focus for diligent lab assistant Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole), who's perhaps one of TV's most undervalued supporting characters. Unfortunately, this episode wasn't enough of a showcase for Nicole, although she had a few good scenes playing opposing versions of Astrid—and it was a relief to finally have someone behave realistically when faced with their doppelganger.

It was still a pity the majority of this episode worked perfectly well without either Astrid's involvement, so their part of the story almost became a glorified subplot. Instead, this was primarily just another freak-of-the-week outing, concerning a brilliant MIT scientist who discovered a way to see into the future and resolved to become a compassionate "angel"—painlessly euthanizing those who are destined to die in gruesome or painful ways. There were juicy ideas swimming around here, but nothing we haven't seen Fringe do before in slightly different ways. (In fact, the preceding "Forced Perspective" also dealt with precognition!) Still, it was great to see Walter (John Noble) warming to Fauxlivia (Anna Torv), and to see more of the ongoing Observer mythology (including the first on-screen instance of one disappearing from sight, I believe). Although I have to wonder why superior beings who've mastered Space and Time have taken so long to realise Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) has been restored into existence!




More entertaining was "Welcome To Westfield", although it fell into a common trap with Fringe with the audience being several steps ahead of the plot after awhile. This was another of the show's occasional forays into "spooky town" territory, with the team discovering the remote Westfield (undoubtedly named after Dorothy West from The Wizard Of Oz) that was riddled with unusual phenomena: levitating metal objects that crashed a plane, people suddenly behaving abnormally or speaking about dead relatives as if they were still alive, and eventually disappearing buildings. It didn't take a genius to work out that Westfield was at the epicentre of an event where the two universes were merging, with disastrous consequences, but the episode had a lot of fun with the repercussions of this happening (a two-faced man attacking people on a bus), and it was one of the show's best episodes on a purely visual level (lots of apocalyptic scenery, even some approximations of "zombies").

For committed fans, it was also great to see some movement with The Machine that Walter and Peter are trying to fix (setting up the Oz-like comparison of the town being bombarded by a "tornado" of sorts), and it looks like the writers are laying some groundwork regarding exactly how Peter's going to get back to the original timeline. Fans, myself included, have been worrying that the season will effectively hit a bit reset button and we'll lurch back to where season 3 left us... but instead it looks likely people in this alternate timeline will simply come to remember original events (Olivia recalled a case she didn't investigate with Peter, and the episode ended with her kissing Peter as if she was the version of Olivia he left behind). I don't think any of this will feel logical when the big explanation is spelled out to us, but it should be a nicer resolution than what many have been dreading.

written by Akiva Goldsman, J.H Wyman & Jeff Pinkner (4.11) & J.R Orci & Graham Roland (4.12) / directed by Charles Beeson (4.11) & David Straiton (4.12) / 4 & 11 February 2012 / Fox

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Review: BEING HUMAN, 4.1 – "Eve of the War"




Faced with the loss of three major characters by the end of this opening hour, Being Human's creator Toby Whithouse takes inspiration from his Doctor Who boss Steven Moffat and supercharges the show to compensate—turning it from a relatively demure house-share comedy-drama into a full-blown fantasy adventure with cartoon-y villains, a doomsday prophecy inked on skin, glimpses of an apocalyptic vampire-controlled future, and a newborn baby called Melody Pond Eve who's at the centre of everything...

I'm not sure if audiences will adjust to Being Human's revamp, as it's now relying on brand loyalty without Aidan Turner, Russell Tovey and Sinead Keenan's involvement. (At least until their replacements take hold as three-dimensional people.) It's true that many British shows thrive because they don't hammer a formula into the ground over five years, with every actor safely under contract... but will sweeping changes work in Being Human's case, seeing as it's a show founded on the chemistry and relationships between three specific characters? Replacing vampire Mitchell with Damien Molony's cultivated vampire Hal is one thing, but to lose Tovey within the first hour means there are now two huge holes to fill. And the knowledge that we still have Lenora Crichlow around as ghostly Annie doesn't ameliorate anything, as she was always a weak actress who flailed around playing an irritating and exasperatingly stupid character. (Already, Annie can't even manage to protect a baby from a vampire cop and a social worker she's invisible to, despite having all manner of metaphysical powers at her disposal. Why not just teleport somewhere safe with the baby, as she was told to do so by George?)

Michael Socha has also been promoted to regular status, having guest-starred throughout series 3 as werewolf Tom. Unfortunately, while the athletic Socha was fine as a dim-witted youth who's lived a sheltered life with an overprotective father, aided by his large puppy-like eyes, I'm not sure he's lead actor material. He looked out of his depth throughout this premiere, whenever his physicality wasn't required, and is definitely a weaker substitute for Tovey—who may have his own faults as an actor, but can generally be relied on to give expressive and heartfelt performances.

I'm more confident about Molony's debut, even if he wasn't given much to do in this opener, which was surprising, because the few scenes he had felt genuine and interesting—especially a lovely moment with him getting a haircut from a werewolf barber. Making his character, Hal, already part of another vampire-werewolf-ghost trio was also an intriguing and unexpected choice, while the simple fact he's so calm and collected makes him a refreshing change from Mitchell's impetuousness.

"Eve Of The War" was still a strange and awkward episode, though, partly because Whithouse had to contend with a thorny situation regarding the off-screen departure of actress Sinead Keenan (who infuriatingly didn't return to film a fitting exit, unlike Tovey). After a few years spent following the ups and downs of George and Nina's prickly relationship, it was frankly unforgivably to be told Nina was murdered by vampires while the show was off-air. It's hard to see what else Whithouse could have done, faced with an actress who upped and left, but it's nevertheless an unfortunate problem this premiere had to deal with, and it didn't do a great job because there's no escaping the necessary exposition and weird lurch in George's situation (going from expectant father to grieving widow and paranoid were-daddy).

To be fair, Being Human couldn't have continued with new actors just stepping into the vacant roles of "vampire" and "werewolf" to keep the show's signature triumvirate intact. It's understandable that Whithouse has chosen to expand the scope of his show, by focusing on the idea of a vampire war and treating it with more seriousness than ever before (where it always felt like the silly fantasy of vampire boss Herrick). But it's still very cheesy, in a Primeval-type way, that this episode's doing things like jumping forward in time to "London 2037" to show us a world where vampires are taking over the planet in the manner of a shoestring Terminator 2 with fangs. Maybe that's because the budget isn't really there to do anything this ambitious, or maybe it's because Being Human always worked because it refused to do obvious and "American" things like that. I'm hoping the show will pull back slightly and focus on the characters in the present, although it's hard to see how the show can ever get back to the "vampire, werewolf and a ghost share a house together" simplicity of the previous three years now.

Overall, "Eve Of The War" offered a worrying but intriguing setup for this fourth series. I can't shake the feeling that Whithouse should have called it quits with 75% of his cast exiting the show (leaving us with Crichlow gabbling and half-forgetting some of her lines), but there's a chance we'll come to enjoy whatever Whithouse has planned. It's just hard to get excited about B-movie nonsense like symbols and prophecies from "vampire recorder" Mark Williams (playing things broad and irritating), while having to swallow oddness like the child of two werewolves not suffering from lycanthropy herself, or George being able to will himself into a botched "wolf-out" by simply looking at a poster of a Full Moon and getting very upset...

What did you think? Are you happy to see Being Human try something very different with new characters, or is the show moving too far away from what you loved about it to begin with?

written by Toby Whithouse / directed by Philip John / 5 February 2012 / BBC Three

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Another break (updated)

Sorry everyone, but I have to take another break to visit my dad in hospital because his condition has worsened. I aim to be back Sunday afternoon. In the meantime, you'll just have to browse my five-year archive (um, AGAIN) or catch-up with any missed reviews from the past week or so.

My scheduled reviews of this Friday's Fringe and last Monday's Alcatraz may have to wait awhile. I know you all understand. (You'd be plain evil if you didn't, let's face it.)

UPDATE: I've decided to stay another week at the hospital, as my dad's not likely to last for much longer and I don't want to leave him.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Netflix bring IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA to UK subscribers


Netflix UK have bought the rights to acclaimed FX comedy It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia. The first six seasons of the show are available online now, with the seventh debuting on 13 February.

The US show concerns a group of friends who run an Irish-themed bar in Philadelphia. It stars Charlie Day, Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton, Danny DeVito and Kaitlin Olson.

For £5.99 a month, Netflix subscribers can stream all of its TV/film content via internet TVs, computers, tablets, games consoles, Blu-ray players and mobile phones. (At time of writing, their US TV show lineup is decent but the range of movies is very limited and mostly back-catalogue garbage.)

Netflix's acquisition finally gives Philadelphia its long-awaited UK debut. I wonder if Netflix will find success in the UK by delivering many of the US shows that never manage to find a home on TV here, or else get mistreated when they do. Parks & Recreation (never aired), Breaking Bad (burned through in late-night runs) and Community (one season on a little-known music channel) spring to mind.

THE RIVER gets UK premiere on iTunes


In an unexpected move, ABC's documentary-style supernatural mystery The River will be getting its UK premiere on Apple iTunes. The two-part opener will debut on 8 February, a day after its US debut.

Oren Peli, executive producer:

"Right from the start, we've had a global audience in mind for The River--the show preys on universal human fears, and follows a journey to an exotic, remote setting. I'm excited to be debuting the show on iTunes."
The River concerns a family's search for their missing scientist patriarch in the depths of the Amazon, where they encounter frightening supernatural forces. It stars Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek), Leslie Hope (24) and Joe Anderson.

You can now pre-order The River on iTunes for your iPhone, iPad, iPod or Apple TV device. The entire season costs £12.99 (HD) / £9.99 (SD), with individual episodes priced £1.89 (SD) and £2.49 (HD).

It's not yet known if a UK channel will show The River later this year, or if it will remain exclusive to iTunes (similar to how the UK's Misfits is only legally available to America via online service Hulu).

The big question is: will YOU be downloading The River? Does the very idea of paying for a TV show, airing 24-hours after its US premiere, suit you just fine? Is £10-13 a fair price for what you're getting? Or will The River flop on iTunes, as people likely to be using that service definitely know how to save themselves some money and grab a free torrent file online?

Of course, that's not what happened with Misfits (which is an enormous hit for Hulu, despite all the episodes being available on torrents for a few years), but are Americans just less conditioned to download foreign content that way. It'll be interesting to see if iTunes manage to pull in the downloads for The River next week.

Review: SPARTACUS: VENGEANCE – "Fugitivus"




There are two yawning holes in this third year of Starz's Spartacus: John Hannah's joyously foulmouthed Batiatus, who was brutally slain in Blood & Sand's finale; and the show's eponymous lead Andy Whitfield, who sadly died of cancer last year. It's a rare and difficult task having to replace the protagonist of a show, but showrunner Steven S DeKnight's decision to recast Spartacus with Liam McIntyre is perhaps the best outcome of a tough situation. It helps that McIntyre resembles Whitfield, although it's obviously hard to accept him as the hero of this epic story after we've followed another actor for an entire season. The character may be the same, but the man is not. It will hopefully get easier to accept Whitfield's replacement the more McIntyre settles into this role and gains respect/admiration from his own performances. Hannah's loss could actually be a bigger problem, as there's absolutely no chance of a comeback for Batiatus (beyond the odd surprise flashback?), and his devious character was often more prominent than Spartacus. He was even given a prequel, Gods Of The Arena, largely to himself.

"Fugitivus" launches Vengeance in good form, although for a premiere it didn't feel as strong as Gods Of The Arena's launch. Maybe that's because there's so much here to adjust to; the loss of two major actors, the fact the story's gone cold during an unfortunate two-year wait, and how the show's expanded into an outside world it'll take some adjusting to. However, it certainly didn't hold back with the signature ultra-violence and nakedness to keep fans in no doubt which show they're watching: geysers of blood again erupting from fresh wounds, graphic sex sequences shown in lurid slow-motion, together with full frontal nudity from muscled men and big breasted women.

Away from all that titillation (don't watch this with your parents!), we caught up with the situation after Spartacus' rebellion from the House of Batiatus with his fellow slaves. They've since taken refuge in the sewers of Capua, surfacing only to slay Romans and terrorise the population with their unsettling near-mythical presence. Into this tense situation comes Glaber (Craig Parker), the man who sold Spartacus into slavery and later killed his wife, now promoted to Praetor in the Roman army, assigned to quash the rebellion and restore order to Capua's streets. Taking residence at the abandoned House of Batiatus with his nubile wife Ilithyia (Viva Bianca), they discover that Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) physically survived the uprising in her home, although she's mentally fragile and suffering partly from amnesia. Elsewhere, Oenomaus (Peter Mensah), the now disgraced trainer of the mutinous gladiators, is trying to keep a low profile in the city, knowing there's a bounty on his head.

In terms of laying down firm foundations for this series, "Fugitivus" achieves its aims well enough. There's already a sense that the gladiators aren't quite so unified around Spartacus, as Crixus (Manu Bennett) is particularly anxious to ditch their plan and go find his beloved slave girl Naevia (who was banished from the ludus before the revolt), while others just aren't accustomed to working as an organised group and often question their leadership. Despite how the show has broadened away from its ludus/arena backdrop, it's still oddly comforting when the House of Batiatus is returned to and a typically violent fight at the Capua arena plays out. Hopefully this show will make its new locations feels as iconic, as it may not be wise to venture out into the countryside too often—given the obviousness of the greenscreens at times. (Don't get me wrong, the show does a remarkable job on a comparatively low budget, but it can't quite turn in 300-style exteriors every single week.)

Overall, as a big fan of the two previous seasons, I'm looking forward to seeing where the show takes us. One of the best things about Spartacus is how it pays off everything it sets up, and isn't afraid to dole out gut-wrenching death and pain to characters you come to really like. It may have the surface of a live-action video game crossed with European soft porn, but there's also a playful sense of dark humour and some very charismatic people around. Throw in some of TV's most creative outbursts of archaic profanity, eye-opening violence (bones snap through flesh, knives jab through necks), plus some genuinely shocking twists, and you still have one of the most entertaining shows around right now. I just hope Vengeance has a story arc that proves as engrossing as Blood & Sand's became, develops the new characters into worthy replacements for the fallen ones, and McIntyre wins over fans to prove he's Spartacus.

written by Steven S DeKnight / directed by Michael Hurst / 27 January 2012 / Starz