Monday, 30 April 2012

VEEP, 1.2 – "Frozen Yoghurt"

This is shaping up to become one of the year's biggest disappointments, speaking as a huge fan of Armando Iannucci. Veep just isn't very funny. I sat stony-faced throughout this half-hour, trying to determine why it's not working for me. Is it because all of the characters are unlikable? While you don't have to like characters to enjoy watching them, you need to find them entertainingly despicable at the very least. Veep's posse are just a mixture of bland stereotypes and objectionable idiots. Are we supposed to find it funny that Dan (Reid Scott) is ruthlessly picking on the veep's aide Gary (Tony Hale)? It just comes across as horrible bullying of a dim man doing his best and fulfilling his job role perfectly well.

Is the show failing because the actors aren't in tune with what's expected of them? As anyone can tell by examining the BBC's Office and NBC's remake, Brits and Americans generally approach the mockumentary format in different ways. I get the impression Iannucci's shooting the show like it's The Thick Of It USA (which it kind of is) and expecting comparative results to his BBC series, but the American cast are visibly behaving like they're on NBC's The Office (minus the talking heads), or a studio sitcom that's filming single camera exterior scenes. It's all very strange. Quite a few of the actors are over-egging their performance, too—particularly, most regretfully, star Julia Louis-Dreyfus. She's really trying, bless her, but it's becoming obvious she isn't lead actress material.

Overall, I'm flummoxed by how lifeless and dull Veep is. There was a serviceable story and a few good lines here, but it just didn't play. It boils down to a paucity of laugh-out-loud jokes, rewarding interplay, three-dimensional characters to care about, and a lead performance strong enough to hold it all together. Veep isn't showing evidence of any of these things, and I have a funny feeling it's not going to.

written by Simon Blackwell & Armando Iannucci (story by Simon Blackwell) / directed by Armando Iannucci / 29 April 2012 / HBO

TV Picks: 30 April – 6 May 2012 (Awake, British Soap Awards 2012, Hart of Dixie, The Killing, Maestro at the Opera, Planet Earth: Live, War Hero in My Family, etc.)

Hello to Jason Isaacs

Foxes Live: Wild In The City (Channel 4, 8pm) Interactive national study into the UK's urban fox population. (1/4)
PICK OF THE DAY  Hart Of Dixie (Really, 8pm) Season 1 of the US drama about a young female doctor who moves to a small town in the country. Starring Rachel Bilson. (1/22)
Escape From The World's Most Dangerous Place (BBC3, 9pm) Documentary about a 21-year-old Somalian model returning to her homeland. Narrated by Scarlett Johansson.

William & Kate: The First Year (ITV1, 8pm) Documentary retrospective on the first year of Prince William and Kate Middleton's marriage.
PICK OF THE DAY War Hero In My Family (Channel 5, 8pm) Series where celebrities investigate the war records of their parents and grandparents, uncovering amazing stories of bravery and heroism. (1/6)
The Hunt For Bin Laden (ITV1, 9pm) Documentary about the long-running mission to find Osama Bin Laden, culminating in his death after a raid by US Special Forces in 2011.

Traffic Cops (BBC1, 8pm) Fly-on-the-wall documentary series. (1/6)
The British Soap Awards 2012 (ITV1, 8pm) Annual awards ceremony, recorded last Saturday.
Work Of Art: The Next Great Artist (Sky Arts 1, 8pm) Brand new reality contest to find a great artist amongst 14 candidates, competing for a $100,000 prize and a solo exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. Featuring Sarah Jessica Parker. (1/10)
The Tallest Tower: Building The Shard (Channel 4, 9pm) Documentary on the tallest building in Western Europe, currently being built in London.
PICK OF THE DAY The Killing (Channel 4, 9pm) Season 2 of the US crime drama. (1/13)
Metalworks (BBC4, 9pm) Documentary on Georgian silver. Presented by Dan Cruickshank. (1/3)

PICK OF THE DAY The World's Largest Snake (Channel 4, 8pm) Documentary about the 2009 discovery of a fossilised Titanoboa, the largest snake the world has ever seen at 48 feet long, which lived 60 million years ago.
Shakespeare In Italy (BBC2, 9pm) Documentary about William Shakespeare's love of Italy. (1/2)
The Hoarder Next Door (Channel 4, 9pm) Documentary series about hoarders and their excessive habit. (1/4)
The Restaurant Inspector (Channel 5, 9pm) Series 2 of the show investigating various restaurants. (1/6)

Maestro At The Opera (BBC2, 9pm) Return of the 2008 series where four celebrities try to learn how to be a conductor. Featuring Josie Lawrence, Trevor Nelson, Craig Revel Horwood & Marcus du Sautoy. (1/3)
PICK OF THE DAY Awake (Sky Atlantic, 9pm) Season 1 of the US drama about a man with the ability to traverse dual realities; one where his wife died in a car accident, and one where his son died. Starring Jason Isaacs. (1/13)


PICK OF THE DAY Planet Earth: Live (BBC1, 7.50pm) Live series following various animals through critical moments in their lives. Hosted by Richard Hammond & Julia Bradbury. (1/8)

Sunday, 29 April 2012

FRINGE, 4.20 – "Worlds Apart"

Anyone expecting a continuation of last week's out-of-the-blue adventure set in the future may have been disappointed by "Worlds Apart", which returned to the present-day concerns of David Robert Jones and his plan for bi-universal armageddon. I didn't mind, because it seems likely this story is revealing exactly what happened to setup the events of "Letters In Transit", where the Fringe team were put into stasis and The Observers took over the world. So we effectively have two sides of the same story slowly moving together to, hopefully, provide a sense of revelation and satisfaction when they collide and everything makes sense.

"World Apart" was something of an information dumping episode, but I was actually quite grateful for some clear and concise answers. David Robert Jones' masterplan is to collapse the two universes that co-exist, thus creating a second Big Bang and the creation of a brand new universe that he'll control the laws of. He'll survive by positioning himself in the "eye of the storm" for safety, together with those bizarre crossbreed animals we saw in "Nothing As It Seems". As dastardly plans go, this one's rather epic, but it's also utter tosh. How would Jones exist in the immediate aftermath of a Big Bang? Is he prepared to wait for millennia for a habitable planet to form? How does he intend to cheat death during this wait, because he's no spring chicken? And why set yourself up as "God" to a menagerie of freaky animals that belong in horror movies? I know the man's crazy and deluded, but that only excuses so much. His plan is enjoyable pulp nonsense, but perhaps stretches credulity too far. Unless subsequent episodes finesse what Jones' plan really is and makes it seem more plausible. Perhaps forget the Big Bang 2 idea and just say an uninhabited amalgam of Earth will be created instead?

It was also an episode of goodbyes, as both Fringe teams realised the only surefire way of stopping Jones' plan (which involves the use of Cortexiphan-dosed people "retuning" the universes from 27 carefully chosen locations), was to shutdown the Bridge via "The Machine" from season 3 that's been steadily healing the alt-Earth. This episode did a great job putting across the sense of sorrow this causes everyone, as the mutual counterparts have grown quite attached to each other. There was a particularly fine moment between Walter (John Noble) and "Walternate", which suggests both men have come to find peace. It was also great to see Peter (Joshua Jackson) choose to stay in his adopted universe, and for Lincoln (Seth Gabel) opting to stay in the alternate world because there's a chance of happiness with "Fauxlivia" (Anna Torv). I was also impressed by the performance of guest-star David Call, returning as the alternate version of his character Nick Lane—a fellow "Cortexiphan child" who knew Olivia. The scene where he reveals his sister committed suicide, because his ability to unwittingly transmit his own emotions compelled her to, was genuinely heartbreaking. I hope we get to see more of him.

Overall, I really enjoyed "Worlds Apart" because of its excellent scenes between the doppelgangers (especially the Walter's), and laid things out more clearly for viewers whose minds are spinning. I'm not sure how the David Robert Jones storyline will leads into the events seen in "Letters In Transit", but I can't wait to find out. And if you didn't know already, now that Fox have renewed Fringe for a 13-episode final season, we have a whole 15-hours to get definite answers about everything the show's raised. I guess it remains to be seen if the writers are up to this challenge, and can provide a satisfying conclusion.

written by Matt Pitts & Nicole Phillips (story by Graham Roland) / directed by Charles Beeson / 27 April 2012 / Fox

Saturday, 28 April 2012

COMMUNITY, 3.17 – "Basic Lupine Urology"

Sometimes a spoof doesn't tickle your funnybone because you're unfamiliar with the target being lampooned. Confession time: I've never seen an episode of Law & Order, and I don't even know what a "yam" is (it's North American for "sweet potato"). These two things perhaps hampered my enjoyment of "Basic Lupine Urology", to an extent, but thankfully writer Megan Ganz's targets weren't wholly specific. If you've seen a police procedural or courtroom drama in your lifetime (and who hasn't?) then you'll have recognised many of the genre's tropes and clichés being ridiculed here.

Still, because I'm not especially interested in the targets this episode was mocking, I admired "Basic Lupine Urology" more than I enjoyed it. The look and feel of Community's spoof was very accurate, and there were amusing moments poking fun at the conventions of cop/lawyer shows (especially the hackneyed dialogue and predictable plot-twists), but I can't say I was very engaged. They even killed off a popular semi-recurring character, for real, but I barely raised an eyebrow. Maybe it worked better if you're a committed L&O fan, or haven't seen a comedy tease po-faced procedurals before... but I'm not and I have.

written by Megan Ganz / directed by Rob Schrab / 26 April 2012 / NBC


The Morgana Show had a mixed reception last year (myself included), but few denied the colossal talent of its eponymous star Morgana Robinson. Very Important People (VIP) reunites Morgana with fellow impressionist Terry Mynott from that series, to form a satirical double-act Channel 4 hope will kick this sub-genre of comedy out of the comfortable groove it's become trapped in (mostly thanks to family-friendly BBC commissions like The Impressions Show). A return to the '80s heyday of Spitting Image is due, perhaps. But did VIP make a good impression?

For a first episode, I've seen far worse. The impressions were mostly very good, occasionally exceptional, with only a few outright duds. It's unusual to have a comedy where the female impressionist is given more to do than her male associate, but such is the talent of Morgana Robinson that you'd be foolish to shove her into the background. It's not even a problem there are typically more men than women in the public eye to make fun of, as Morgana made a fairly convincing man on three occasions: as outrageous Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle; garrulous Russell Brand; and, most convincingly in terms of body language, "hard-man" actor Danny Dyer (filming "Britain's Hardest Commutes")

I'd hate for this review to dissolve into a love-fest, but I really do find Morgana a remarkable performer. Her pouting, breathy Amy Childs was hilarious (mainly for making us realize the Essex girl has a habit of pulling stupid faces at the end of sentences); her impression of ex-EastEnders actress Natalie Cassidy was indistinguishable from the real person; her Fearne Cotton (a holdover from The Morgana Show) reminded us why it was deservedly celebrated (she's more fun than the actual Fearne, too); and I can even forgive Morgana's ropier moments because there's always a spark of humour somewhere (a so-so take on The Voice's Jessie J enlivened by her tongue-waggling "new reaction face").

Things didn't go quite so well for Terry Mynott, who was slightly overshadowed because he didn't deliver an impression you haven't seen done better elsewhere—with the possible exception of a funny Sir David Attenborough, commenting on Frankie Boyle's work ethic. Mynott's version of Brian Cox (the physicist not the actor) came a distant second to Jon Culshaw's high watermark, while nobody does a better Terry Wogan than Peter Serafinowicz (although I liked the offbeat idea of Terry "wa gwan" hosting a radio show from a Jamaican beach hut). I hope Mynott gets to show what he can really do in future episodes, because the YouTube video that got him noticed highlights some brilliant impressions I'd like to see on VIP.

Like all impressions shows, VIP had to satisfy two key audience demands: hearing good impressions where you don't need any exposition to tell who the celebrity is, and generally funny and plentiful sketch ideas. It was here the show was more miss than hit, unfortunately. For every genuinely funny/clever idea (Adele being incomprehensible to people unless she sings a heartrending ballad) there were about three sketches that floated by. It would also have been better if VIP had shown its fangs more, because the best sketches were the most savage (like claiming Frankie Boyle sleeps well after hearing about a child's death, because it will result in 10-minutes of comedy material).

VIP's wise to assault the modern craze for trashy celebrities and dumb reality TV shows, but it needs to really go for the jugular with its targets. It was nevertheless interesting to note that one of VIP's writers is Matt Morgan, best-friend and collaborator of Russell Brand--who didn't escape this show's attention. So at least that's a promising sign nobody's off-limits, even if there's a direct connection to someone on the staff.

I hope Morgana Robinson, Terry Mynott, and the writers refuse to let VIP slip into that unfortunate position where celebrities openly say they love being the subject of its barbs. We could do with an impressions show that the rich and famous genuinely fear appearing on, to some extent. Or have times changed too much since Spitting Image turned Kenneth Baker into a literal slug in the '80s? To be talked about disparagingly still means people know who you are, after all. Isn't that all that matters to VIP's in the 21st-century?

Overall, I'll be keeping an eye on VIP. Morgana's a very talented person (beautiful enough to convince as the likes of Cheryl Cole, yet able to contort her face to play both "ugly" and "men" with apparent ease). It's just a pity the format doesn't really allow for Morgana to create original characters (e.g. her brilliantly observed young boy Gilbert), but I guess the tepid response to The Morgana Show has put that aspect of her talent on hold for now.

The common problem with impressions shows is that they tend to burn brightly but quickly. Everything's fresh and you're hearing new imitations every few minutes for a few episodes, and then show get steadily less remarkable due to necessary repetition. This is where good writing and performances are essential, because I'd happily watch "Amy Childs" or "Fearne Cotton" time and again if they're given something funny, creative, and insightful to say and do every week.

What did you make of VIP?

27 April 2012 / Channel 4

Friday, 27 April 2012

Fox renew FRINGE for final season!

As many fans theorised, Fox have decided to renew Fringe for a fifth and final season. But they've only agreed to a truncated 13-hours, which will bring the show's total number of produced episodes to a neat 100.

This is better for the show's long-term financial future in syndication, as Fox recently revealed Fringe actually costs them money because the audience just isn't strong enough to off-set expenses via advertising. I guess it's lucky Fox's execs appear to really love the show and what it adds to people's perception of the network--primarily online.

The writers had taken the precaution of filming two endings for season 4's finale, incase Fox pulled the plug, but fortunately that ending will never see the light of day. (Unless it becomes an intriguing special feature on the final season's box-set, of course.)

Kevin Reilly, Fox President:

"Fringe is a remarkably creative series that has set the bar as one of television’s most imaginative dramas. Bringing it back for a final 13 allows us to provide the climactic conclusion that its passionate and loyal fans deserve. The amazing work the producers, writers and the incredibly talented cast and crew have delivered the last four seasons has literally been out of this world. Although the end is bittersweet, it’s going to be a very exciting final chapter."
I'm glad Fringe is getting a solid half-season to finish its story, although I haven't been too keen on the show this past year. However, recent developments with the storyline suggest a very entertaining new direction, pregnant with amazing potential. I also think giving writers a clear goal is beneficial to a show's creativity, too, so I'm very excited to see what they come up with next season. And with fewer episodes in the pipeline, I wonder if Fox plan to hold Fringe back for mid-season (i.e early-2013), or continue as usual from September and have the show conclude around Christmas.


State of the Blog: workload, monetizing & Instagram

It's been awhile since I checked in with a State of the Blog--which, for the benefit of any newcomers, is where I let readers know about stuff pertinent to Dan's Media Digest's output and future.


As I've mentioned for awhile, I'm in the process of altering how and when I blog. This is requiring a psychological change after six years doing things a certain way, as I'm trying to maintain quality while reducing workload, but without the number of blog posts nosediving. As part of this new initiative, I recently ditched many shows from my blogging cycle and passed on reviewing a few others (Titanic, Magic City). It's not worth struggling to write about something I'm not passionate about (positively or negatively). Follow me on Twitter if you want to know what I think about things I don't cover here. As a result, I've only been reviewing Mad Men, Fringe and Community every week--and only Mad Men's reviews have been of a "typical" word-count. This has allowed me to concentrate on more one-off reviews (Justified, Derek, Have I Got News For You?, Would I Lie To You?, Veep) and, unbeknownst to readers, frees up time to do other things (watch box-sets, read scripts, write features... um, go outside, etc).

I'm always concerned such a change will frustrate regular readers, who've perhaps got used to reading multiple new posts every day. Or are perhaps annoyed their favourite show isn't being covered now, which could be enough to make them visit less often in general. If that has happened, my page-hits haven't been affected to a worrying extent--although the overall audience has dipped slightly this year. But that's an understandable and expected consequence, that can't really be helped. On the plus side, whenever something goes up that's of arguably higher quality than usual, because I've had time to fine-tune it over a period of days/weeks instead of hours, that content is often more popular than usual. I also find that such work is more likely to be re-tweeted on Twitter, or liked on Facebook, which helps drive more eyeballs to DMD. A big thank you if you regularly spread the word about pieces you've enjoyed reading here, BTW! I know and appreciate that a few regular readers (if not frequent commenters) always make the effort to re-tweet choice reviews on Twitter, which is fantastic.


Behind-the-scenes, lots of opportunities are presenting themselves regarding monetizing this blog in ways that don't damage DMD's quality and content. Or hurt its reputation. You may start noticing more "sponsored posts" soon (like yesterday's G.I Joe piece), but it will never be for things I wouldn't have blogged about anyway, or think I can have some fun writing about. In fact, it probably encourages me to write about a few things that would probably have slipped me by otherwise. I'm also going to sell some advertising space soon. This will also mean the occasional text-advert at the foot of some posts (a few have appeared already), but nothing too distracting. Plus, there will hopefully be more competitions on the way--which I feel is a nice treat because, let's face it, you have a better chance of winning goodies here than most other places online! If any companies/business reading this post want to get involved with DMD (via site advertising, sponsorship, or competition promotions), just email to make an enquiry.


By the by, I now have an Instagram account! If you want to follow me, my username is DANOWEN79. I mainly upload dull photos of buildings, common wildlife, and home utensils. I'm new to Instagramming, so have much to learn. If you can't seen any reason to follow me (what, you don't like photos of car parks?!), you may be persuaded by knowing you get to see my real face as my profile pic there. (It may not be wise to follow me if you've let yourself believe I'm the blogosphere's answer to Brad Pitt. If so, I urge you to stay blissfully ignorant.)


That's about it for now! If you have any questions/suggestions, please make them known in the comments area below. Are you happy with DMD's changes and refocusing this year? Have you failed to notice any difference? Do you have a better idea about how to cut-down my workload without the blog suffering too much? Please, let me know! Thank you.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Trailer: G.I JOE – RETALIATION [sponsored video]

It's the latest trailer for G.I Joe: Retaliation, the sequel to 2009's G.I Joe: The Rise Of Cobra, this time directed by Jon M. Chu (Step Up 2 The Streets) and written by Zombieland scribes Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. Not that (G.I) Joe Public will care about any of that, as this summer movie will instead be sold on the cast: Dwayne "Don't Call Me The Rock Now" Johnson, Bruce Willis (inexplicably), Channing Tatum, alternate universe Wonder Woman Adrianne Palicki, Rome's Ray Stevenson, Robert Fitzgerald Diggs (okay, RZA), and Jonathan Pryce. Oh yes, the kids love themselves some Jonathan Pryce.

The Paper? The Scissors? No, it's The Rock.

The Stig refused to test drive a Skoda
G.I Joe 2 will probably involve a lot of retina-popping explosions, cool gadgets and macho vehicles, too. Strike that, there will be all of the above. The Rock has a pair of chain-link fence melting gloves! The President has an "advanced weapons system" capable of destroying entire countries many times over. Okay, forget the wimpy gloves. There's also mass suburban destruction being teased, with London razed to the ground because Cobra already destroyed Paris last time. (I hope this movie's set post-Olympics.) There are also masked men with swords, a hot woman in a bright red dress, abseiling ninjas, an almighty avalanche, and someone's put X Factor loser's Marcus Collins' "Seven Nation Army" through the "instrumental rock" filter. (Okay, okay, the White Stripes wrote that song, I don't want your hate-mail.)

What do you make of the embedded trailer? Are you a fan of these gigantic summer blockbusters that seem to cater for 14-year-old boys? Is society wrong to sneer at them? Based on the number of action figures they'll sell on the back of this, maybe a better title would be G.I Joe: Retail-iation? Is that a word?

Released: 29 June (US), 2 August (AUS) & 3 August (UK)

This is a sponsored post.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

MAD MEN, 5.6 - "Far Away Places"

Even better than last week's "Signal 30", if you can believe it, "Far Away Places" was a damn fine hour of entertainment. In an unexpected shift of format, this gave us three vignettes (loosely themed around the desire to escape reality), and played around its day-long chronology to delightful effect.

The first focused on Peggy (Elisabeth Olsen), whose relationship with Abe Drexler (Charlie Hofheimer) doesn't seem to be going so well. Abe's aware she's there in body but not spirit, and Peggy's situation at work took an unusual turn during the second presentation for Heinz—where the old-timer exec wasn't sold on her great idea to link beans to an evocative childhood memories of sitting around a campfire with friends. Having been left to deal with Heinz by herself, with Don (Jon Hamm) enjoying a weekend away with his wife, Peggy refused to acquiesce easily to this frustrating client's concerns, asserting herself in a very Don-like way that didn't go down particularly well. Perhaps frustrated with her current situations, romantically and professionally, Peggy later escaped THIS reality with a trip to the cinema to watch "Born Free", where she unexpected smoked pot with a stranger before giving him a handjob. Retiring to the office to sleep on Don's couch until the evening, it was clear Peggy's head is somewhere else entirely just now. Like Pete, Don's her exemplar, but it just doesn't work when she tries to copy him.

Secondly, Roger (John Slattery) escaped reality in a far more overt way; attending a dinner party with wife Jane's (Peyton List) "snooty friends", which took an unusual turn when the hosts handed out post-meal cubes of lysgergic acid diethylamide (LSD). There followed one of Mad Men's most memorable sequences, with Roger trying to cope with his change in consciousness (opened wine bottles poured music, his hair colour was bisected into black and white, and he later hallucinated a beloved 1919 World Series baseball game from the comfort of his own bathroom). For a series that deals heavily with symbolism already, this was a veritable feast! The hair colour suggests Roger's awareness of his advancing years (young and old), but what about the vision of Don telling him "you're okay" in the mirror? This was a throwback to a line of dialogue in the premiere, where Don was listing things that advertising does to comfort people. Is Roger in need of comfort?

The surprising thing about Roger's story is how it appears to have triggered his second divorce from Jane, who admitted their marriage is over while under the effects of LSD herself. So rather than fireworks of emotion and anger, the Sterling's appear to be peacefully closing this chapter in their lives—even if poor Jane's surprised Roger's taken her words seriously. Clearly Roger was waiting for the perfect excuse to divorce and this drug trip afforded him the ideal way to end his marriage—after all, it was technically his wife's idea, instigated at a time when they were being honest with each for the first time.

Finally, Don whisked Megan away for a planned "dirty weekend", but once again found that his new wife isn't so easily manipulated. Megan wants to believe she's more than just the bosses wife, but when she's yanked out of work on a whim it doesn't go down too well. Try as he might, Don just can't really get to grips with a wife who knows her own mind and isn't a plaything. Even when he's trying to be nice (introducing her to his childhood favourite sherbet), it just feels patronising to someone like Megan, who doesn't want to be a pretty bauble but a working girl of genuine value—like Peggy. Things got memorable worse when the Drapers had a public fight in a stopover restaurant, with Don continuing to treat her like a little girl even then ("get in the car!"), before driving away without her.

Guilt inevitably persuaded Don to turn the car around and head back to find Megan, but the punishment was reversed when Don realised his wife had vanished and was left to go crazy wondering what had become of her. Things reached a truly explosive conclusion once Don arrived back at their apartment to find Megan already there, with an angry story about her trouble getting home by herself. Both Don and Megan's fury over their awful night spilled over into a literal chase around their apartment, before collapsing together on the floor... where Don vocalised how desperately he needs Megan, which he never realised until he thought he'd almost lost her. Interesting that the Drapers and the Sterlings both had breakthrough moments analysing their marriage while sprawled next to each other on a floor, staring at the ceiling, although very opposite outcomes came of it.

Each story was terrific in its own way, playing on the idea of the characters being removed from themselves: Peggy's attempts to become Don at the Heinz pitch, before indulging her own version of his decadent behaviour at the cinema; self-centred Roger getting to see things from different viewpoints thanks to dropping acid, which appears to have helped his broken marriage conclude amicably; and Don coming to see things from his wife's perspective after their terrible fight and an anxious evening believing the worst had become of her.

Another fantastic episode with some amazing moments and performances from this cast. Slattery was fantastic, Peyton List was really good (what a shame the show has ultimately been wasting her all these years), and Hamm's final scene was remarkable. Frightening, tense, then heartbreaking.


  • I'm starting to see Megan in a more positive light. It's probably true that Don's the only real danger to their marriage, because he's not used to having someone less pliable than Betty. That moment from a few episodes ago, when Megan behaved like a slave to drive him crazy with desire, was probably an insight into what Megan knows turns Don on. But that was a fantasy moment, and she doesn't want to be that everyday.
  • Great to see Bert Cooper (Robert Morse) involved in a few nice scenes, particularly the closing one where he admonished Don for going "on love leave" and reminded him this is his business. He's still someone to answer to, despite how everyone has come to treat him as a relic who just hangs around the company that bears his surname.
  • Interesting revelation that Ginsberg (Ben Feldman) was born in a concentration camp. Not sure where this leading, but my guess is that he's going to become Peggy's new boyfriend at some stage. There's just that feeling in the air. Considering this episode's emphasis on "escape" as a theme, it's interesting that Ginsberg is real-life evidence of his father's lucky escape from the Nazis.
written by Semi Chellas & Matthew Weiner / directed by Scott Hornbacher / 22 April 2012 / AMC

BAFTA Television Nominees 2012

Emily Watson & Dominic West in ITV1's 'APPROPRIATE ADULT'
The British Academy of Film & Television Arts (BAFTA) unveiled their nominees for the small-screen aspect of their enterprise yesterday. The three most notable things for me are (a) the love shown for Appropriate Adult across multiple categories; (b) the absence of Sherlock from the Drama Series category, considering it contains markedly poorer shows like Scott & Bailey; and (c) the unexpected snubbing of Doctor Who this year, which doesn't feature anywhere!

The full list of 2012's BAFTA nominees can be read below, with my predictions for the winners, and brief thoughts on each category:

Leading Actor

  • Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock)
  • Dominic West (Appropriate Adult) PREDICTION
  • John Simm (Exile)
  • Joseph Gilgun (This Is England '88)
Thoughts: There are some excellent performances here, although I missed John Simm in Exile (was he good?) I'd like to see the brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch win for Sherlock, of course, but suspect Dominic West will win for his performance as Fred West in ITV1's two-part Appropriate Adult.

Leading Actress

  • Emily Watson (Appropriate Adult)
  • Nadine Marshall (Random)
  • Romola Garai (The Crimson Petal & The White) PREDICTION
  • Vicky McClure (This Is England '88)
Thoughts: Vicky McClure won the BAFTA last time, so I don't think a second win for the same series is very likely. Emily Watson was good in Appropriate Adult, but my money's on Romola Garai for The Crimson Petal & The White (if only because her success with The Hour might also be in voters' minds). She's also a brighter younger star, who could do with a win to catapult her career further. Not that winners are chosen for ulterior motives. *whistles*

Supporting Actor

  • Andrew Scott (Sherlock)
  • Joseph Mawle (Birdsong)
  • Martin Freeman (Sherlock)
  • Stephen Rea (The Shadow Line) PREDICTION
Thoughts: I don't think Martin Freeman had good material to work with on Sherlock this year, and Andrew Scott probably split the vote as Moriarty on the same show. His performance is love/hate personified. Stephen Rea was really good in The Shadow Line, though, although I didn't care much for the show itself. Birdsong passed me by.

Supporting Actress

  • Anna Chancellor (The Hour)
  • Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey) PREDICTION
  • Miranda Hart (Call The Midwife)
  • Monica Dolan (Appropriate Adult)
Thoughts: There's already buzz around Monica Dolan as Rosemary West, but she was only on-screen for about five minutes! I'll be irritated if she wins, for that reason alone, although she was very good in the moment she had. Miranda Hart doesn't deserve to be on this list for Call The Midwife, pure and simple. I think her nomination's down to residual love for Hart's award-winning sitcom. So, Maggie Smith may be the most boring and obvious choice, but I reckon she'll win because her character had more screen time on Downton Abbey last year.

Entertainment Performance

  • Alan Carr (Alan Carr: Chatty Man)
  • Dara O'Briain (Mock The Week)
  • Graham Norton (The Graham Norton Show) PREDICTION
  • Harry Hill (Harry Hill's TV Burp)
Thoughts: Harry Hill could win because TV Burp' just finished and it would be a nice way to celebrate its success and passing, but I still think Graham Norton's doing the best work in this category. 50/50 choice.

Female Performance in a Comedy Programme

  • Jennifer Saunders (Absolutely Fabulous)
  • Olivia Colman (Twenty Twelve)
  • Ruth Jones (Stella)
  • Tamsin Greig (Friday Night Dinner) PREDICTION
Thoughts: I didn't see Sky1's Stella, have to admit. Was Ruth Jones really good in that? My money's on Tamsin Greig, who was great on Friday Night Dinner as the Jewish mum. Olivia Colman may win, though.

Male Performance in a Comedy Programme

  • Brendan O'Carroll (Mrs Brown's Boys)
  • Darren Boyd (Spy)
  • Hugh Bonneville (Twenty Twelve)
  • Tom Hollander (Rev.) PREDICTION
Thoughts: I think there's more to marvel at with Tom Hollander's subtle performance on Rev than anyone else here. Darren Boyd's one of the best things about Sky's otherwise tragic Spy, but that performance still wasn't anything special. Hugh Bonneville's brilliantly understated with bone dry delivery on Twenty Twelve, but I don't think I've been amazed by him there. It would cause an upset in critical circles if Brendan O'Carroll won for Mrs Brown's Boys, as the man's performance is so sledgehammer in its execution and commitment, but it would undoubtedly go down well with the general public.

Single Drama

  • Holy Flying Circus PREDICTION
  • Page Eight
  • Random
  • Stolen
Thoughts: If Holy Flying Circus doesn't win this, something's very wrong with the world. Very, very wrong.


  • Appropriate Adult PREDICTION
  • The Crimson Petal & The White
  • This is England '88
  • Top Boy
Thoughts: A very strong category here, but Appropriate Adult edges it because it did a marvelous job with very tough material. The restrain and skill was impressive. But I did love This Is England '88 last Christmas, too. Having less episodes than the '86 series really helped matters.

Drama Series

  • The Fades PREDICTION
  • Misfits
  • Scott and Bailey
  • Spooks
Thoughts: Misfits didn't have a good year for various reasons, and it feels like the cancelled Spooks is only nominated as a last-chance-to-win courtesy. So it's a tossup between ITV's Scott & Bailey (which I hear is decent) and BBC3's The Fades. I like to think BAFTA will champion something a little different than a detective drama, and that's coming from someone who thought The Fades was overrated.

Soap & Continuing Drama

  • Coronation Street
  • EastEnders
  • Holby City
  • Shameless
Thoughts: Yawn. Who cares except for the cast and crew of these shows? It's a yo-yo.

International Programme

  • Borgen
  • Forbrydelsen (The Killing) PREDICTION
  • Modern Family
  • The Slap
Thoughts: This category's in rude health these days! Remember when it would annually contain a handful of US shows? Now we have programmes from Denmark (Borgen, Forbrydelsen) and Australia (The Slap) in the mix. The Killing will probably win because it was such a phenomenon for BBC4, ushering in a "Noirdic" wave of programming.

Factual Series

  • The Choir: Military Wives
  • Educating Essex
  • Our War
  • Protecting Our Children: Damned If We Do Damned If We Don't
Thoughts: No idea because I didn't see any of these. Anyone have anything to say?

Specialist Factual

  • British Masters
  • Frozen Planet PREDICTION
  • Mummifying Alan: Egypt's Last Secret
  • Wonders of the Universe
Thoughts: Oh, it's a ___ Planet year. Arise, Sir David...

Single Documentary

  • 9/11: The Day That Changed the World
  • The Fight of Their Lives
  • Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die
  • We Need To Talk About Dad (Cutting Edge)
Thoughts: I didn't see enough to judge this. Comments welcome.


  • DIY SOS: The Big Build
  • Hairy Bikers' Meals on Wheels
  • The Great British Bake-Off
  • Timothy Spall: Somewhere at Sea
Thoughts: Ditto. Great British Bake-Off dominated my Twitter-feed at times, if that's any indicator.

Reality & Constructed Factual

  • An Idiot Abroad PREDICTION
  • Don't Tell The Bride
  • Made in Chelsea
  • The Young Apprentice
Thoughts: I have a feeling the weak-sauce An Idiot Abroad will win, more's the pity, but The Young Apprentice deserves it for taking a potentially horrible spin-off idea and making it work. (Arguably better than the adult show in some ways.)

Current Affairs

  • Bahrain: Shouting in the Dark
  • Sri Lanka's Killing Fields
  • 'The Truth About Adoption' (Panorama)
  • 'Undercover Care: The Abuse Exposed' (Panorama)
Thoughts: Didn't see enough to judge this category's nominees. Anyone?

News Coverage

  • BBC News at Ten: Siege of Homs
  • Channel 4 News: Japanese earthquake
  • ITV News at Ten: Battle of Misrata
  • Sky News: Libya rebel convoy – live
Thoughts: The news is where real life happens, so I'm not qualified enough to comment.

Sport & Live Event

  • Frankenstein's Wedding: Live in Leeds
  • The Royal Wedding (BBC) PREDICTION
  • Rugby World Cup Final
  • Tour De France 2011
Thoughts: The BBC's coverage of The Royal Wedding was weak compared to ITV, who must feel very disappointed the BAFTA nod's gone to the Beeb. They'll win this, too. I'm amused to see Frankenstein's Wedding on here, as it was so bloody awful, but nevertheless an impressive feat in terms of logistics and technique.

New Media

  • Autumnwatch
  • The Bank Job
  • Misfits
  • Psychoville
Thoughts: I don't know, as I tend to avoid "new media" online. It's for young 'uns.

Entertainment Programme

  • Celebrity Juice
  • Derren Brown: The Experiments PREDICTION
  • Harry Hill's TV Burp
  • Michael McIntyre's Christmas Comedy Roadshow
Thoughts: It has to be Derren Brown's Experiments, right? At least his show was new and different. If Celebrity Juice win this, I'll scream.

Comedy Programme

  • Charlie Brooker's 2011 Wipe
  • Comic Strip: The Hunt for Tony Blair
  • The Cricklewood Greats
  • Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle PREDICTION
Thoughts: Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle has been winning awards everywhere this year, so I reckon that will continue at BAFTA. Well-deserved, too. I missed The Hunt For Tony Blair and heard mixed things.

Situation Comedy

  • Fresh Meat PREDICTION
  • Mrs Brown's Boys
  • Friday Night Dinner
  • Rev.
Thoughts: For me, Fresh Meat was the year's standout UK sitcom, although it never quite lived up to the potential the first two or three episodes showed.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Review: VEEP, 1.1 – "Fundraiser"

Veep marks award-winning British writer Armando Iannucci's first commission for the American marketplace, after the baby-step of transatlantic movie In The Loop, which quasi-adapted his award-winning BBC comedy The Thick Of It. It comes as no surprise that Veep's an amalgam of both those political efforts, only exclusively concerning the US government. This eight-part HBO series concerns Vice President ("veep") Selena Myers (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) as she navigates Capitol Hill with her entourage of superfluous staff, feeling like a spare part. Along for the ride is her Chief of Staff Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky, a holdover from Loop), Director of Communications Mike McClintock (Matt Walsh) and his hated deputy Dan Egan (Reid Scott), whispering personal aide Gary Walsh (Arrested Development's Tony Hale), White House liaison Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons), and executive-assistant Sue Wilson (Sufe Bradshaw).

The pilot, "Fundraiser", saw Selena swinging from one professional humiliation to the next: beginning with a half-empty function after a PR disaster with a comment about biodegradable cutlery replacing all plastic; a meeting with a senator who ignores Selena, her obvious superior; and a slip of the tongue at an important press conference the President couldn't attend, resulting in Selena accidentally saying the offensive phrase "hoisted by our own retard".

I expected to have a stronger and more positive reaction to Veep, particularly as a fan of In The Loop, but this half-hour slipped by innocuously and didn't leave me craving more. The cinéma-vérité style it employs (nay the post-Office "mockumentary" format as whole) is starting to really irritate me, and there was a feeling that Veep's arrived five years too late. The Thick Of It benefited from running parallel to the divisive Tony Blair/George W. years, and had its own tyrannical monster in profane Malcolm Tucker, whom you couldn't take your eyes (or ears) off... whereas Veep's stuck in Obama's bland era of recession woe. I'm sure many people will enjoy Veep regardless, as it's well-produced and spiritedly performed by a great cast, but from my perspective it feels oddly prosaic. There's nothing new being said by Iannucci after years writing The Thick Of It; it's just the same meal for a different diner. But at least the average HBO viewer prefers sirloin steak over a greasy Big Mac.

My misgivings probably wouldn't matter if there were sterling performances to relish, but competency is all the pilot demonstrates. I like Seinfeld's Julia Louis-Dreyfus a great deal, but her character didn't grab my attention, and the people she's surrounded by feel like yawning archetypes. There's time for these characters to develop complexities, because few pilot arrive with everything fully-formed (even ones with the benefit of two "trial run" UK projects), so we'll see if Veep's characters settle into some interesting grooves after a few more episodes.

Iannucci and co-writer Simon Blackwell (The Thick Of It, Peep Show) are two of the UK's best comedy writers, so their script is still peppered with witty one-liners and amusing quips. I'm just not sure the Capitol Hill milieu is necessarily as funny as its Westminster counterpart. You tend to perceive the movers-and-shakers of Washington D.C as capable and powerful people, even if their politics can be crazier and scarier than British policies. Veep should perhaps aim to skewer the unnerving side of American politics, because I didn't find any of the characters inherently funny as personalities. Sure, they said funny things, but that's a different thing altogether. And if we're getting picky about the use of language here, when Americans swear it rarely has the same effect as British swearing--which is half-caustic, half-hilarious, and more volubly creative. American swearing just is what it is: profane. Iannucci was therefore wise to avoid having an "American version" of potty-mouthed Tucker on Veep, but he perhaps should have included a different monster to grab this show by the scruff of the neck. It really needs someone to inject vinegar into its veins.

Overall, Veep's pilot disappointed me but I'm willing to stick around to see if problems can be overcome once the actors grow more confident and Iannucci finds his voice (or American accent). It doesn't help that The Thick Of It's illustrious shadow looms over this show for British eyes, which we can't help but compare it to, but I hope Veep finds some unique targets for its satire and utilises the US setting for maximum effect.

written by Armando Iannucci & Simon Blackwell (story by Armando Iannucci) / directed by Armando Iannucci / 22 April 2012 / HBO

Monday, 23 April 2012

TV Picks: 23-29 April 2012 (8 Out Of 10 Cats, Alan Carr: Chatty Man, Gadget Show: World Tour, Steps: On The Road Again, Very Important People, etc.)

PICK OF THE DAY The Gadget Show: World Tour (Channel 5, 8pm) Return of the gadget show with a new globe-trotting format. Presented by Jason Bradbury & Pollyanna Woodward. (1/16)
Steps: On The Road Again (Sky Living, 9pm) Fly-on-the-wall documentary following the reformed pop group before their first UK tour in 10 years begins. (1/6)

Britain Unzipped (BBC3, 9pm) Documentary on British behaviour. Presented by Greg James & Russell Kane. (1/6)
PICK OF THE DAY Hidden Talent (Channel 4, 9pm) Series where talent is sniffed out from hundreds of random people. Hosted by Richard Bacon. (1/6)

PICK OF THE DAY Queen Victoria's Last Love (Channel 4, 9pm) Documentary on Queen Victoria's relationship with her Indian servant, Abdul Karim, at the time of her Diamond Jubilee.
Bodyshock: Turtle Boy (Channel 4, 10pm) Medical documentary about a six-year-old Columbian boy with a gigantic mole that's covered 40% of his body, earning him the nickname "Turtle Boy".

PICK OF THE DAY The Plot To Bring Down Britain's Planes (Channel 4, 9pm) Documentary about the 2006 plot to detonate a homemade explosive on a transatlantic aircraft departing Heathrow airport.

8 Out Of 10 Cats (Channel 4, 9pm) Return of the comedy panel shows based on polls and statistics. Hosted by Jimmy Carr, with team captains Sean Lock & Jon Richardson. (1/11)
PICK OF THE DAY Very Important People (Channel 4, 9.30pm) Brand new celebrity impressions show. Starring Morgana Robinson & Terry Mynott. (1/6)
Alan Carr: Chatty Man (Channel 4, 10pm) Return of the chat show. Guests are X Factor's Tulisa, Jimmy Carr & Paul Weller. (1/6)


PICK OF THE DAY Perspectives: The Wind In The Willows (ITV1, 10.15pm) Documentary on the classic children's book by Kenneth Grahame. Presented by Griff Rhys Jones.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

FRINGE, 4.19 – "Letters of Transit"

I had a few problems with "Letters of Transit", primarily how it threw a bold new idea at us without any build-up. Sometimes it feels like the writers get so impatient they decide to throw an eleventh hour curveball and see if it works. Fortunately, this episode was one of season 4's most enjoyable hours and suggests ways Fringe will continue next year (if it gets renewed), or manufacture a fitting conclusion if it doesn't. (It's also been revealed this week that two endings have been written for the finale, depending on what Fox decide.)

"Letters of Transit" gave us one of sci-fi oldest conceits: a 1984-style future dystopia with Nazi Germany overtones. Only recently we've had similar imagined realities on both Misfits and Being Human. Regardless of its orthodoxy, there's a good reason this idea is recycled so much, and it was a treat to see Fringe's take on the idea: presenting us with a snazzy future of 2036, where The Observers (psychic, evolved humans) now rule the world after travelling 600 years into their past to escape an environmentally ravaged Earth. Introduced as a benignly creepy race who don't interfere in mankind's affairs, just observe events, it's interesting to see the show restyle them as super-villains (a clearer than ever amalgam of the Agents from The Matrix and the Strangers from Dark City).

We were also introduced to two of 2036's Fringe agents, Simon (Lost's Henry Ian Cusick) and Etta (Georgina Haig), who hope to inspire a mutiny against their totalitarian state in the so-called "Native" population by reviving their unit's near-mythical predecessor Walter (John Noble) and his original team—whom we learn put themselves in suspended animation (i.e. "ambered") 20 years before. Although Olivia appears to be absent from Walter's group, very intriguingly. Was she not present when The Observers took over the world in 2015?

The show had its usual fun in presenting established characters in different ways, too: the revived Walter was briefly the victim of brain damage, meaning Noble could play the character as if he had Alzheimer's; the future's Nina (Blair Brown) has gone grey and is confined to a wheelchair; while a crinkled Broyles (Lance Reddick) has accepted his lot as the desk-bound puppet of lead Observer Mr Widmark.

This episode's a curious one, because while I wholeheartedly enjoyed its fast-pace, excellent production designs, and already want Cusick promoted to regular status, I craved more setup to the story. Maybe if it was clearer this was a one-off trip to the future, it would be easier to accept as a fleeting novelty, but it feels likely Fringe will use The Future as its new setting for a hypothetical fifth season. I'm not suggesting that's even a bad idea, because it's an exciting prospect to have two universes colluding to rid themselves of evil Observers' iron grip, but there was surely a better way to introduce this notion. This episode was even forced to begin with a Terminator-style text crawl to explain a few things, which just felt very odd.

But I'm willing to cut the show some slack, if only because it's under the pressures of US network television to produce a huge quantity of scripted drama each year. Plus I was apparently one of very few people who didn't see the episode's final twist coming: that Etta is short for "Henrietta" (the female form of Henry) and therefore Peter and Olivia's grownup child. For me, this surprise worked brilliantly and will undoubtedly inspire great stuff to come. Considering that Etta has the unique ability to mask her thoughts to the psychic Observers (because she's the daughter of a Cortexiphan-dosed mother in Olivia?), I wonder if she'll effectively become the Matrix-style Neo of the series?

Overall, let's wait and see what the next few weeks bring. Knowing this storyline is in-play till the finale, it's likely the gaps in our knowledge can be filled soon, and this episode's feeling of uprooted bewilderment will subside. "Letters of Transit" represents another bold gamble for the show, make no mistake about it, and I'd rather Fringe take risks than rest on its laurels. I didn't like how this storyline was thrust upon us, no, but I can't deny it fills me with more excitement than this year's altered-timeline gambit (which feels increasingly like a pointless exercise). Knowing the uncertainties of Fringe's future, if we get a few more episodes of Blade Runner-style hi-jinks in 2036, that will be great fun; and if this is sets up a fifth season with an emphasis on a future war with all-powerful Observers, I'll be more than happy.


  • It was very unexpected to see a return of William Bell, encased in amber. How did he return and why did Walter sever his hand? Is Leonard Nimoy himself going to return soon?
  • I also loved Walter's not very subtle references to The Prisoner ("I'm not a number, I'm a free man" and Star Wars ("these aren't the droids you're looking for").
  • Seriously, sign Henry Ian Cusick up as a regular, even if that means replacing Seth Gabel.
written by Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner & J.H Wyman / directed by Joe Chappelle / 20 April 2012 / Fox

Saturday, 21 April 2012

COMMUNITY, 3.16 – "Virtual Systems Analysis"

This high-concept episode was consistently amusing and provided some good insights into the characters of Abed (Danny Pudi) and Annie (Alison Brie), but it was just shy of excellent.

In this episode, after being given a three-hour lunch break by the Dean (Jim Rash), Annie played matchmaker by getting Troy (Donald Glover) to take Britta (Gillian Jacobs) out for a meal, while she kept Abed company in his so-called "Dreamatorium" (an empty room decorated in the style of a Star Trek Holodeck). Inside, they both acted out fantasies of the group's futures, triggering unexpected tension between them because both are control freaks with different perceptions of people and life. This lead to Annie losing her patience with the make-believe world, resolving to try to teach Abed true empathy.

As I said, "Virtual Systems Analysis" did a great job at exploring these two characters, who don't get enough opportunities to hang out together on the show (similarly to how Jeff and Shirley make an unexpected good pairing). As a piece of filmmaking it was also put together very well by director Tristram Shapeero; as it must have been a nightmare to film because of the effects required when Annie/Abed "morphed" into other people, not to mention the headaches Pudi and Brie faced with all the greenscreen and having to play their characters pretending to be other characters. Even Joel McHale had to play himself as Abed perceives him.

I was also pleased the Troy/Britta love-match is something Community looks keen to explore further, although once again it disappointed me to see Pierce (Chevy Chase) was marginalised. A fact that was especially annoying because Chase actually got one of the episode's funniest moments in the dénouement (his story about "nearly" sitting on his own testicles). It's unfortunate when real life intrudes on a show, but the antagonism between Chase and creator Dan Harmon now has me analysing everything Pierce is being given to do, and whether there's just cause for Chase to be angry about his treatment. And I have to agree with Chase that his character's not being treated very well.

But back to the story. I can't say this episode wowed me as I think was intended, but I certainly had fun watching it. Alison Brie was chirpy and adorable throughout; Pudi was typically excellent (love Abed's whine when he gets upset now); we got some brilliant Inspector SpaceTime fantasies (together with more ludicrous attempts at "British accents" Americans always do for comedy effect); and the concept was definitely imaginative with something meaningful to say. So why didn't I like it more? I'm not sure. Maybe it's because season 3's exploration of the characters feels overdone (why examine their relationships so much, just let things play out for us to watch), or that the novelty episodes no longer feel special because there are so many of them.

Overall, I liked "Virtual Systems Analysis" and it was cleverly done, but it was perhaps overreaching at times. I've had occasion to re-watch some of Community's earlier episodes recently, and they're notable less "on the nose" about getting under the skin of the characters. Funny stories just played out and we learned something about the characters by the end, in a more natural way. I hope the show remembers not everything has to be wrapped up in zany clothing to work.

written by Matt Murray / directed by Tristram Shapeero / 19 April 2012 / NBC

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Friday, 20 April 2012

28 TV Pilots I Want To See - 2012/13

I love US TV but have always had some issues with its "system", particularly the way it launches dozens of new shows over the September/October period, because this often means good stuff gets trampled in a stampede. I much prefer the drip-feed UK system over the course of a full year, which still has "new season" periods (autumn and spring), but new stuff's being launched every few months because of shorter runtimes.

Still, the very competitive American system does mean that every year we get a slew of new shows hitting the airwaves, thus offering TV fans a huge sugar rush of drama/comedy, and it can be entertaining just to see what grabs people and what gets canned within weeks. For every breakout success there are a dozen miserable failures, so what will be a hit and what will be shit in 2012/13? (I should patent that phrase.)

Well, it's too early to tell, of course, but based on the details released for a number of in-production pilots, you can form an early opinion based on concept, cast, crew, network, and a show's pedigree. It may be a very premature opinion that doesn't really amount to much (because good ideas can be executed badly and apparently bad ideas can prove to be enormous fun), but it's still fun to speculate...

Below are 28 US network pilots that caught my eye this season. I'm not saying all of these will be great TV shows, or even good, but they each have something that should be worth tuning in for. (If only to witness creative carnage.) It's not even certain that everything below will get picked up for a series by their respective networks, so some of these pilots will be lucky to get leaked online. But some will become lynchpins of the 2012/13 season in the US, and a few may even be fantastic pieces of art in their own right. You never know... so let's take a look:

666 PARK AVENUE (ABC, Warner Bros.)

Adapter: David Wilcox (Fringe)
Director: Alex Graves (Terra Nova)
Outline: Supernatural drama based on the books by Gabriella Pierce, about a young couple who move into a plush New York residence and encounter supernatural events.
Cast: Terry O'Quinn (Lost), Vanessa Williams (Desperate Housewives), Robert Buckley (One Tree Hill) Mercedes Masohn (The Finder), Rachael Taylor (Grey's Anatomy) & Dave Annable (Brothers & Sisters)
Gut Feeling: TV book adaptions tend to have a good first season because they can follow a pre-existing storyline—while punching up the good stuff and burying weaker aspects (see True Blood, Dexter, et al)—so I hope this show follows that tendency. We could get a few good seasons out of this, right? 666 Park Ave has also been described as Rosemary's Baby-meets-The Devil Wears Prada, and that sounds fun to me.


Creator: Jonathan Steinberg (Jericho)
Director: Yves Simoneau (V)
Cast: Ruth Bradley (Primeval), Darius Campbell, Chris Egan (Kings), F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus) & Wendy Crewson (24).
Outline: The first of two Beauty & The Beast-inspired pilots this year (there are always two projects with near-identical concepts, it's the law), this sounds like the more imaginative interpretation. It's set in a mythical world where a tough princess (Ruth Bradley) discovers an "unlikely connection with a mysterious beast" (ex-Pop Idol contestant Darius Campbell) Who's also married to Natasha Henstridge, the lucky blighter.
Gut Feeling: I guess it's good ABC's B&B is trying something new, but the talent involved set alarm bells ringing—especially the cheapness of UK talent like Bradley and Campbell. The 2011/12 season found some success with fairy tale properties (Grimm, Once Upon A Time), so it looks like ABC are hoping the bubble hasn't burst yet.

ARROW (The CW, Berlanti Prods, Warner Bros.)

Showrunners: Marc Guggenheim (FlashForward), Greg Berlanti & Andrew Kreisberg.
Director: David Nutter (The X Files)
Cast: Stephen Amell (Hung), Susanna Thompson (Once & Again), Katie Cassidy (Gossip Girl), Willa Holland (The OC), Susanna Thompson (Dragonfly), Jamey Sheridan (Law and Order: Criminal Intent), Colin Donnell (Pan Am), Colin Salmon (Todd Margaret) & Paul Blackthorne (The River)
Outline: Update of the DC Comics vigilante superhero Green Arrow, aka billionaire playboy Oliver Queen.
Gut Feeling: This year's The Cape? I sure hope not. Another long-running Smallville? Well,that's what The CW have their fingers crossed for. I suspect this won't be anything special, but the presence of Harper's Island hottie Katie Cassidy will lure me in. TV pilot specialist David Nutter usually delivers entertaining openers, too.

GOTHAM (ABC, 20th Century TV)

Creator: Michael Green (The River)
Director: Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend)
Cast: Megan Ketch, Lennie James (Jericho), Brian Cox & Barry Sloane.
Outline: This pilot concerns a female cope (Megan Ketch) who discovers a magical world existing parallel to everyday New York City, shortly after investigating an unsolvable case, finding herself recruited into a magical division of the NYPD...
Gut Feeling: This could again tap into Once Upon A Time and Grimm vibe, which likewise deal with hidden worlds co-existing with our own. This also has very strong similarities to the failed pilot 17th Precinct from Ronald D. Moore about a world where magic is more dominant than science, which wasn't picked up last season by NBC. Do you think Michael Green simply noted a great idea and gave it a shot himself?

THE SELECTION (The CW, Warner Bros.)

Creators: Elisabeth Craft & Sarah Frain (The Secret Circle)
Director: Mark Piznarski
Cast: Aimee Teegarden (Friday Night Lights), Leonor Varela (Blade II), Martin Donovan (Boss), Ethan Peck (10 Things I Hate About You) & Sean Patrick Thomas (Ringer)
Outline: Sci-fi romantic drama about a woman living 300 years in the future who's chosen to potentially become the new queen of a warring nation after winning a lottery, which gives her the chance to date a prince alongside 34 other women.
Gut Feeling: Bizarre-sounding premise, but one that piques your interest. Is it The Hunger Games-meets-The Bachelorette? It comes from Secret Circle writers and airs on The CW, so my hopes aren't very high, but this could do surprisingly well for the network. If only because it shares similarities with the aforementioned Hunger Games.

LAST RESORT (ABC, Sony Pictures TV)

Creator: Shawn Ryan (The Shield)
Director: Martin Campbell (Casino Royale)
Cast: Daniel Lissing, Andre Braugher (Homicide), Autumn Reeser (No Ordinary Family), Daisy Betts (Harry's Law), Scott Speedman (Felicity), Camille de Pazzis, Dichen Lachman (Dollhouse), Bruce Davison (Covert Affairs), Jessy Schram (Once Upon A Time) & Max Adler (Glee)
Outline: Near-future thriller about nuclear submarine the USS Nevada, whose crew become fugitives after disobeying a command to launch their nukes on the island of Sainte Marina. The crew dock on an island containing a NATO listening station and declare themselves a sovereign state with nuclear capability.
Gut Feeling: Fascinating high-concept idea, like a Tom Clancy version of Gilligan's Island! Shawn Ryan hasn't had much luck on TV after five seasons of The Shield, with Terriers and The Chicago Code prematurely axed, so is this third time lucky?


Cast: John Leguizamo (Romeo & Juliet), Dustin Ybarra (Hop), Christopher Lloyd (Back To The Future) & Wendi McLendon-Covey (Reno 911!)
Outline: The dreaded US remake of the classic UK sitcom, about two streetwise brothers and their attempts to become millionaires by selling dodgy goods.
Gut Feeling: Who knows if Only Fools will work for Americans, seeing as the original was so utterly British in nature and execution. I'm certain UK audiences will find it laughable and uncomfortable viewing because the original's become part of our modern culture. The casting of John Leguizamo suggests a very different approach and tone, so maybe this will more resemble the recent Shameless remake? Doc Brown in the Lennard Pearce role as Grandad? Crazy.

PENOZA (ABC, Endemol Studios)

Showrunner: Melissa Rosenberg (Dexter) & Howard Klein (Parks & Recreation)
Cast: Radha Mitchell (Silent Hill), Lee Tergesen (Oz), Luke Goss (Blade II), Erin Moriarty & Lee Tergesen.
Outline: Remake of a Danish TV series, Penoza concerns a widow called Marta Walraven (Radha Mitchell), whose criminal husband is murdered, prompting her to take over his crime syndicate in order to keep her family safe.
Gut Feeling: This sounds like a good premise on paper and I love Mitchell, but who knows if ABC will have equivalent success to AMC in adapting a Danish drama.


Showrunner: Paul Scheuring (Prison Break)
Cast: Anthony Edwards (ER), Scott Michael Foster (Greek), Carmen Ejogo (Kidnapped), Michael Nyqvist (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), Jacinda Barrett & Carmen Ejogo.
Outline: Thriller about a journalist called Hank Foley (Anthony Edwards), writing for 'Modern Skeptics' magazine, who finds himself embroiled in a huge conspiracy after his wife is kidnapped and he discovers a treasure map hidden in her antique clock.
Gut Feeling: Sounds like a network trying to do a more commercially viable Rubicon. I don't know how much tolerance I have for conspiracy thrillers these days, as they're so very overexposed and demand long-term commitment you're wary of giving US network shows (which can be cancelled at the drop of a hat). I'll watch because Paul Scheuring proved he can made compelling TV out of utterly tosh with Prison Break, but I'm braced for a one-season wonder at the most.


Adapters: Jennifer Levin (Without A Trace) & Sherri Cooper (Brothers & Sisters)
Director: Gary Fleder
Cast: Kristin Kreuk (Smallville), Austin Basis (Life Unexpected) & Jay Ryan (Terra Nova)
Outline: Our second Beauty & The Beast-inspired pilot of the 2012/13 season, but this one is a direct update of the successful 1980s TV series that starred Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman. I wonder if some cameo's are planned for those actors...
Gut Feeling: It's our second B&B adaptation of the season, but at least this one has the 1980s TV series as a spiritual guide. In fact, the creator/producers of that old show are involved with this remake. That doesn't mean this will be a worthy and successful update, of course. Just ask the folks behind the V remake.

THE CARRIE DIARIES (The CW, Fake Empire/Warner Bros.)

Showrunner: Amy B. Harris (Sex & The City)
Director: Miguel Arteta (Six Feet Under)
Cast: AnnaSophia Robb (Bridge To Terabithia), Matt Letscher (Eli Stone), Austin Butler (Life Unexpected) & Chloe Bridges (90210)
Outline: Prequel to HBO's Sex & the City, set in the 1980s, which is a coming-of-age story for Manhattan high school student Carrie Bradshaw (AnnaSophia Robb).
Gut Feeling: I actually have more interest in this than I ever did SATC. I'm a fan of Robb and get a kick out of 1980s nostalgia, so maybe this will be an unexpected treat. I just doubt it helps being a prequel, because a CW show starring teenage characters won't be featuring HBO levels of nudity and profanity. Given this comes from Gossip Girl's Amy Harris, I predict this will probably feel more like an '80s version of that show. It's based on a favourably-reviewed book by Candace Bushnell, as was SATC, so there's probably a good chance The Carrie Diaries can deliver a half-decent first season at least.


Showrunners: Rockne S. O'Bannon (Farscape)
Director: Jason Ensler (Franklin & Bash)
Cast: Jessica Lucas (Melrose Place), Alona Tal (Supernatural), Robert Knepper (Prison Break) & Matt Davis (The Vampire Diaries)
Outline: This pilot, originally developed back in 2005 for The WB, revolves around a "rash of disappearances and a likely murder" that are apparently being committed by fans copying crimes on a TV show called Cult. It's up to Cult's production assistant Chloe to investigate with the help of her blogger/journalist friend Jeff.
Gut Feeling: Oh God, who knows what this will be like. It sounds like total madness, but may be fun.


Adapter: Bert Royal (Easy A)
Cast: Craig Horner (Legend Of The Seeker), Amber Stevens (Greek), Scott Wolf (V), Brooklyn Sundano & Leah Renee
Outline: Based on an Israeli TV show, Joey Dakota concerns a filmmaker who travels back in time to the 1990s and falls in love with the rock star she's making a documentary about. After returning to the present, she has to find a way to reunite with her past lover to prevent his untimely death.
Gut Feeling: I'm not sure how this is going to work based on that odd setup, but time-travel's one of my favourite sub-genre's so I'll be checking this out. It also helps that the US has a great track record with adapting Israeli shows, on the heels of In Treatment and Homeland.

'UNTITLED KEVIN WILLIAMSON DRAMA' (Fox, Warner Bros., Outerbanks Entertainment)

Showrunner: Kevin Williamson (Scream, The Vampire Diaries)
Director: Marcos Siega (The Vampire Diaries)
Cast: James Purefoy (Rome), Kevin Bacon (Footloose), Shawn Ashmore (X-Men), Valorie Curry, Adam Canto, Natalie Zea (Justified), Jeananne Goossen (Alcatraz) & Maggie Grace (Lost)
Outline: Thriller about an escaped serial killer (James Purefoy) who uses modern technology to create a murderous cult, with an FBI agent (Kevin Bacon) embroiled in the investigation.
Gut Feeling: Kevin Williamson can run hot (Scream) and cold (Cursed), although The Vampire Diaries suggests he's happier with TV as a medium. The premise sounds utterly bonkers, but that could make for a brilliant TV show. Or a train wreck.

WORKING CLASS HERO (20th Century Fox)

Showrunner: Mike Barker (American Dad!)
Outline: Animated comedy about a world where superheroes exist, but their heroics are used for low-paid government jobs. In particular we meet a patriarch (Patton Oswalt) whose own powers are far inferior to his co-workers and family.
Gut Feeling: Did someone get bored waiting for that No Heroics remake? This sounds like that one-series UK sitcom meets The Incredibles. Could be good, because I think traditional cape-and-mask superheroes work better in animation than live-action, but it mostly depends on what style of humour is employed. It comes from American Dad's Mike Barker, which could be an indicator of Seth Macfarlane-style nuttiness.


Showrunner: Michael McDonald
Director: Stephen Hopkins (24)
Cast: Frances Conroy (American Horror Story), James Murray (Primeval), Cody Christian, Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters), David Conrad, Tovah Feldshuh, Patrick Heusinger, Andrea Parker, Jud Tylor, Megalyn Echikunwoke & Madisen Beaty
Outline: Sci-fi drama set in a near-future where robotic families serve humanity, until some of them become self-aware. In particular, this series concerns a young woman falling in love with one of the "Mechanicals" (Cody Christian) invented by her father.
Gut Feeling: I love the sound of this show, even if it's hardly fresh and original material. If done well, this could be a compelling robot uprising movie that gets the jump on upcoming movies like Robopocalypse. I just hope this isn't another Caprica, where things move so slowly the audience abandon it.

FRIDAY NIGHT DINNER (NBC, Howard Klein/Big Talk Television)

Cast: Allison Janney (The West Wing), Tony Shalhoub (Monk), Kevin Bigley, David Koechner, Gary Anthony Williams (Boston Legal), Gil Ozeri & Aya Cash.
Outline: US remake of the UK sitcom about two thirtysomething brothers who traditionally visit their Jewish parents every Friday for dinner.
Gut Feeling: I like the UK show, but was worried about its obvious limitations over a mere six-episode run. God knows how will the concept will cope with the demands of the US network system! Greg Daniels managed to adapt The Office for US audiences to great success, so I assume he's thought of a way. I can already imagine Allison Janney and Tony Shalhoub being much funnier than their British counterparts, have to admit.

REVOLUTION (NBC, Warner Bros., Bad Robot)

Creators: JJ Abrams (Lost, Fringe) & Eric Kripke (Supernatural)
Director: Jon Favreau (Iron Man)
Cast: Stars Tim Guinee (The Good Wife), Billy Burke (24), Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad), Andrea Roth (Rescue Me), JD Pardo (Drive), Tracy Spiradakos (Being Human) & Zak Orth (Nurse Jackie)
Outline: Post-apocalyptic drama about people who find themselves in a world where all forms of power suddenly ceased to exist.
Gut Feeling: It's the annual post-apocalyptic drama! Rejoice. This latest ones comes from the JJ Abrams factory with Jon Favreau behind the pilot and Supernatural's Erik Kriple involved as a producer, so there's more hope than most. I also love the casting of Giancarlo Esposito. This genre lives or dies on the strength of its characters, so I hope attention has been focused there.

ELEMENTARY (CBS, Timberman/Beverly Productions)

Showrunner: Rob Doherty (Medium)
Director: Michael Cuesta (Dexter, Homeland)
Cast: Jonny Lee Miller (Eli Stone), Lucy Liu (Charlie's Angels) & Aidan Quinn.
Outline: Modern update of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's world-famous Victorian detective, where a post-rehab Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) has moved to New York City and meets ex-surgeon Watson (Lucy Liu).
Gut Feeling: It'll be a struggle to watch this without thinking of Sherlock, which Elementary was almost certainly created to mimic. My guess is that UK and US fans of Sherlock will take against it, more out of loyalty to the BBC series than anything else, while general audiences will find more pleasure. There doesn't appear to be a better way to modernise Sherlock Holmes without copying the BBC show, which Elementary will have to avoid doing outright for legal reasons. I reviewed the pilot's script on this blog recently; it wasn't a heinous smear on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fine work, just an underwhelming take with a seen-it-all-before procedural format like The Mentalist.

SAVE ME (NBC, Sony Pictures TV, Original Films)

Creator: John Scott Sherpherd (The Days)
Cast: Anne Heche, Michael Landes, Alexandra Breckenridge (American Horror Story), Madison Davenport (Shameless), Heather Burns (Bored To Death) & Lamon Rucker.
Outline: Drama about a woman in a broken marriage (Anne Heche) who suspects she's channeling God after an accident leaves her in a more positive mindset and able to perform miracles.
Gut Feeling: Is this the new Eli Stone? It sounds like it. Did we need another Eli Stone? I doubt I'll watch more than the pilot, because this "touched by God" subgenre is so played out. Sexy Alexandra Breckenridge might rescue this if she brings her maid outfit from AHS.


Adapters: Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies) & Bryan Singer (X-Men)
Cast: Eddie Izzard & Charity Wakefield
Outline: A reboot of the classic '60s horror-comedy that promises to be "grounded" and "more realistic". The original show was basically a less subtle Addams Family, following the exploits of a family of monsters living in suburbia (a Frankenstein's Monster-style father, vampire mother and grandad, werewolf son, etc.)
Gut Feeling: There have been many attempts to revive The Munsters over the decades, but none of them really worked as brilliantly as the original. Have the two Bryan's found a way to update this concept for modern audiences? I've read the pilot's script, and I enjoyed it. It reads like a fun update. The core idea remains the same, but all the character's looks and abilities have been  enhanced and modernized. (And no, Herman Munster doesn't resemble Boris Karloff in Frankenstein, but there's a funny visual joke about the original Herman's look.) Fuller's script is dark and amusing, rather like Being Human done in the style of Dead Like Me, and makes Grandpa the lead in many ways. Just keep the groovy theme tune, please.

DEVIOUS MAIDS (ABC, Cherry/Wind Productions)

Showrunner: Marc Cherry (Desperate Housewives)
Director: Paul McGuigan (Sherlock)
Cast: Ana Ortiz (Ugly Betty), Judy Reyes (Scrubs), Dania Ramirez (Heroes), Roselyn Sanchez (Rush Hour 2) & Brianna Brown (General Hospital)
Outline: This TV drama is based on a Mexican show about four house maids working for the rich and famous of Beverly Hills, who each have ambitions and dreams of their own.
Gut Feeling: The title makes it sound like a lazy spin-off to Marc Cherry's Desperate Housewives (it's even co-produced by that show's Eva Longoria), but it's worth remembering that season 1 of Housewives was fairly good soapy fun. Maybe this will be equally as enjoyable, to begin with, until ABC drive it into the ground as they did Cherry's previous hit.


Showrunner: Frank Darabont (The Walking Dead)
Director: Frank Darabont
Cast: Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes), Neal McDonough (Justified), Jeremy Strong (The Good Wife), Alexa Davalos (Clash Of The Titans) & Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead)
Outline: Based on the 2009 book LA Noir: The Struggle For The Soul Of America's Most Seductive City, this 1940s cop show concerns the ongoing battle between the LAPD and a group of organized criminals led by a former boxer.
Gut Feeling: It sounds like TNT want their own Boardwalk Empire, doesn't it? Darabont will almost guarantee a good pilot and a slick production, but I'm not convinced he has the chops to work in TV from what we've heard about his days on The Walking Dead. If he partly left AMC's zombie drama because they wanted to cut the budget, how will he get on with a TNT-sized budget? LA Noir could be very good, based on the talent it's attracted, but can it sustain itself?


Showrunners: Nicholas Pileggi & Greg Walker
Director: James Mangold (3:10 To Yuma)
Cast: Dennis Quaid (Innerspace), Michael Chiklis (The Shield), Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix) & Jason O'Mara (Terra Nova)
Outline: 1960s drama based on the real-life cowboy-turned-Las Vegas sheriff Ralph Lamb (Dennis Quaid), who has to deal with a Chicago mob fixer (Michael Chiklis) with big plans for Sin City.
Gut Feeling: This just sounds brilliant on paper, thanks to the excellent cast (who doesn't want to see Quaid vs Chiklis?) and its cool setting and era. Hard to imagine this being terrible, although CBS have a reputation for procedurals aimed at older viewers.


Showrunner: Josh Friedman (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles)
Director: Neil Burger (Limitless)
Cast: Ali Larter (Heroes), Bradley Whitford (The West Wing), Jamie Chung (Sucker Punch) & Hamish Linkalter (Battleship)
Outline: Spy drama about a famous globe-trotting photojournalist called Anna King (Ali Larter) who's actually an undercover CIA Agent.
Gut Feeling: Spy dramas are ten-a-penny, so it's hard for one to break through and be seen as something special. Has there actually been a successful spy show since early-'00s Alias? Undercovers was a notable flop for Fox recently, so will The Asset get the formula right? I certainly love the casting of Larter and Whitford, but it's so tough predicting how these things will pan out.

THE AMERICANS (FX, Fox Television Studios)

Creator: Joe Weisberg (Falling Skies)
Cast: Keri Russell (Felicity), Matthew Rhys & Noah Emmerich.
Outline: 1980s espionage drama about two Russian spies, Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys), posing as a suburban all-American family in Washington, D.C with two oblivious children. Their KGB agent's cover is threatened when their fake relationship turns genuine and they develop a fondness for American life.
Gut Feeling: I just love the sound of this on every level, making it one of my hot favourites. I just hope it treats the situation with as much wit and skill as Homeland. The fact it's also an '80s period piece adds extra appeal for me, too. Really excited for this one.


Showrunners: Mark Gordon & Nick Pepper
Director: Roland Emmerich (Independence Day)
Cast: Max Thierot (Foreverland), Gabrielle Wilde (The Three Musketeers), Yaya DaCosta (The Kids Are All Right), Linus Roache (Batman Begins), Martin Landau (Ed Wood), Laila Robins & Monique Curnen
Outline: Conspiracy thriller about an undergraduate (Max Thierot) who's struck by lightning the exact moment his estranged father, a respected neurosurgeon, is killed during an attempt to assassinate a politician likely to have become the next President.
Gut Feeling: Interesting concept, if only because the lightning strike "coincidence" feels like a clue Dark Horse will take us down some stranger-than-expected avenues. Emmerich's involvement gives me pause and doubts, because he's not best-known for movies with well-developed stories. The cast also looks sorely underwhelming on paper. Maybe there's more to this than meets the eye, and it'll be a dark horse in more than just name...?


Showrunner: Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies)
Director: David Slade (Hard Candy, Awake)
Cast: Hugh Dancy
Outline: A TV adaptation of Thomas Harris' famous characters, acting as a prequel to Red Dragon/Manhunter, following the early relationship between FBI profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and his brilliant psychiatrist Dr Hannibal Lecter—who's secretly a serial killing cannibal.
Gut Feeling: None of the Hannibal Lecter movies have been critical hits post-Silence Of The Lambs, and in most people's eyes Anthony Hopkins owns that iconic part. Can a weekly TV series work as a prequel to this movie saga? Well, I've read Bryan Fuller's pilot script and thought it was excellent. It felt like a mini-movie and there were some lovely creative touches (notably whenever Will uses his amazing power of empathy to recreate murderous acts in his mind's eye). It reminded me of Millennium-meets-Dexter--if only because Hannibal's role is likewise in aide of the authorities, yet the audience know he's a killer himself. Only this show will be morally thornier, because Hannibal doesn't limit himself to killing criminals. David Slade directing the pilot is an excellent choice, and I'm glad NBC have agreed to only commission 13 episodes (which will be the order every season, even if this becomes a smash-hit) meaning there's less chance of wheel-spinning. If they find a compelling actor to play Hannibal who doesn't have us imagining Hopkins in the role (which I couldn't help myself doing while reading this), I'll be sold. My only concern is that Hannibal feels like a better fit for an edgy cable network, because I don't know if the concept's grisliness screams "primetime NBC".