Archive for the ‘ TV 17-18 Season ’ Category

Dark Matter: Seasons 1-3

I’m in a bit of a TV funk at the moment (well, an all-round funk really but let’s keep on subject) and all I’m really in the mood for is easy to watch stuff. I don’t really want to be overly challenged, or have it pointed out how awful the world can be. Friends recommended Dark Matter to me on those criteria and it did a pretty good job of filling the need.

What you don’t have here is anything revelatory. It’s not science fiction that’s pushing boundaries at all, it takes every single trope and basic idea ever seen in Star Trek or Stargate and applies them without a huge amount of creativity. And to be honest, often without a huge amount of talent or quality either. It’s resoundingly second rate in budget, set, cast and innovation. It’s also notably lacking in visual style beyond “how can we redecorate this warehouse this week?”.

So, how come I watched all three seasons (39 episodes) in just a couple of weeks? Well it has two things going for it, the first is a simple and easy trick which is that the last 2 minutes of each episode form a teaser for the next episode. So every episode has a cliffhanger and sucks you into the next. Cheap, but effective.

The second reason is that it always manages to do just enough to keep you engaged, getting itself microscopically across the boundary where any lower and you’d give up on it. The ideas it plays with are interesting enough, and could have been very interesting if they’d been better developed. The cast mostly lacks in experience and depth, but The Android and Three manage to standout and develop interesting and complex characters beyond what the script is offering them. And every now and then there’s a flash of real charm or the beginnings of a great little idea that sucks you in again before gradually decaying away.

This series worked for me because I went in with low expectations and low requirements. It’s a shame because with a couple of bigger actors to headline it, a bigger budget to play with and a bit more polish to the script it could have been a real gem.


Mindhunter: season 1

I’d normally start a review with a brief description of what the show is about and what sort of style it is. Unfortunately that’s a bit tricky for Mindhunter because I’m not sure that anyone involved in this show knew from moment to moment what the show, or any of their characters were about.

I guess the essence of it is that it’s set in the 60s and the FBI are just starting to dip their toe in the water of psychology – understanding why people commit crimes so it’s easier to catch them. It’s the very early days of profiling, they’re even just beginning to introduce the term ‘serial killer’.

Immediately however, I hit upon a problem. I’ve watched a lot of Criminal Minds and other shows and films like it. So without a very clear introduction, it was hard for me to work out just how little the FBI know about any of this at the start of the series – when characters *should* know something, when they should be sniffy about something new. It was never clear how innovative characters were being, much of what they said was totally obvious to anyone who’d watched 2 episodes of Criminal Minds, so it really didn’t feel like they were being startling brilliant.

The series also never settles down into a format. One of the reasons I watched the whole series was because it was one of the least episodic things I’ve ever seen and stopping any earlier would have felt like walking out in the middle of a film. I don’t mind having one long arc (especially on Netflix and when it’s only 10 episodes) but this wasn’t really that either. it wasn’t one long story with a beginning, middle and end, but neither was it broken into smaller chunks with their own beginning, middle and end. There were a few ‘case of the week’ stories, but spread over a few episodes and rarely with a satisfying and conclusive ending. Basically it seemed to have several beginnings, lots of filler and no ends.

Similarly the different characters never quite seemed to settle either. Eventually some of them meandered their way towards some defining characteristics and histories, but it was a long time coming and there were many wrong turnings. The lead character, Holden Ford, seemed to waver between an academically minded book type and someone winging it on his own initiative; between a back-office bore and a complete rebel. Don’t even get me started on his approach to dating which had me shouting at the screen in disbelief at his lines and the improbable reaction of his girlfriend.

Ultimately, I think this was a mess. There were moments that I could see some potential in, but it felt like the whole thing was done off a first draft. If you are going to make the whole series one box-set view, then you have to write the whole thing at once. You can’t get halfway through and realise that you need to go in a different directly. The cast definitely deserve better, and so do the audience.

Altered Carbon

I didn’t know anything about Altered Carbon going in, nothing about the characters, the story or the setting, nothing beyond what was being shown in the very expensive looking trailers – i.e. mostly that it looked expensive and a bit like Bladerunner. After watching all ten episodes in just a few days, I’m not sure about the characters or the story, the setting was fascinating and it definitely looked like Bladerunner.

The universe of the story is a tremendously rich one, and the series introduces the audience to it very elegantly. The exposition is relatively limited and there were times I was on the very edge of not knowing what was going on; but either through incredible design, or lucky accident I always stayed just the right side of lost. The central character is in the odd situation of knowing all the foundations of the society, but being a couple of hundred years out of date, so there’s a good excuse for some exposition, while still plenty left to the audience to work out. I’m often frustrated by this kind of thing, so I’m very happy to award praise when it’s done this well.

The story and characters I’m not so sure about. I was engrossed in it as it went ,following the twists and turns, but as threads start resolving and mysteries are explained, I didn’t quite feel settled. Even as episodes were still playing, I had more questions than were being answered about whether motivations were really solid, characters would really act that way, and emotional responses were really appropriate. I wasn’t screaming at the TV in frustration or anything, it was 80% good enough, but the 20% niggled.

The characters are also a bit spotty. There are a lot of good characters, and some borderline exceptional character moments. Detective Ortega is beautifully developed and rounded character. She manages to both be a character where her gender and race are irrelevant, but are also completely ingrained in her character. It’s a wonderfully diverse cast and the response to characters in the show is inclusive but not blind in a very aware way. At one point a woman’s mind is placed in a man’s body; and while everyone is briefly discombobulated by that, it is quickly adapted to and subtle changes of costume, makeup and body language gradually build. I was really impressed by that kind of attention. It was therefore a shame that there was some quite needless nudity in places. Some of it was reasonable for the plot (and reasonably gender balanced) but there was slightly too much leering at women in showers.

I’m not sure their decisions and attitudes of the characters were always consistent and logical. Some of that is about the context they live in and the range of social strata. With the technology available to the wealthiest of characters they seem closer to gods than humans (and see how that worked out for the Greek/Roman gods). For everyone else though the changes from our own lives aren’t so epic, yet they are more than aware of the ‘gods’ living just out of reach. So there’s a huge range of personal contexts to keep track of. I’m almost tempted to watch the series again, because it’s possible that the things that I thought of as inconsistent may actually be a more rich response to the varied contexts. However I’m more inclined to believe that certain jumps and stretches were made to make the story fit regardless of what characters would reasonably do.

I often divide series between those that are good and those that are enjoyable, it’s rare to get something that excels in both areas and I think Altered Carbon would probably get an A- for enjoyability and a B for goodness. Both still pretty good grades, but I think it’s more successful if you approach it as a show to look at the pretty design work and enjoy the detective story. That means that you’ll then be pleasantly surprised at just how good it is as well.

The Crown: Seasons 1 and 2

Apparently I never got round to writing a review of The Crown Season 1 when I watched it last year, but that’s ok, because I re-watched it immediately before watching Season 2 so I’ll do them as a combo. Given that I’ve just told you I re-watched a season (something I rarely do) before pouncing on the second season when it was released probably tells you this isn’t going to be a bad review. If I add that I watched both seasons in about 5 days, that probably tells you it’s going to be a very good review.

So yes, I love this series. In fact I may go so far as to say this is one of the best things on television at the moment. Possibly this decade. That it isn’t actually on ‘television’ but is on Netflix is maybe an indicator of the shifts that the television landscape are going through. The amount of money that this series needed and the quality that Netflix’s money can buy is a different league to what television, even American cable television, can compete with.

I’m not sure whether it’s easier or harder for a series to be based on true events. In the case of The Crown they certainly have enough phenomenal material to work with, even just in terms of what is in the public access already, let alone what can be extrapolated and guessed at. When you start looking at historical figures as real human beings and thinking about what their nature and nurture would be, it’s an amazing story to tell. The writers have then found a compelling way to tell that story, picking and choosing events, structuring into episodes and seasons and then filling in and adjusting with dramatic licence just enough to make it really shine without losing the reality.

Then you add a cast. And what a cast. There are huge names in there and relative unknowns and they are all, every single one, stunning. Of course the key roles of Elizabeth and Philip draw a lot of attention, and so they should. I’d not heard of Claire Foy, but she is perfect; just enough of an impression to make it connect, but not so much to be cheesy. The mannerisms and voice feel natural (despite being odd) and the restraint of the held in emotions is palpable. By contrast I was of course familiar with Matt Smith from Doctor Who but never imagined he would work in this role, but he really does. I thought Phillip was going to be a comic figure, but I came away feeling so much sympathy for him.

The surrounding actors are just as incredible, they may be “minor” in the royal household, but they shine in this series. John Lithgow has rightly got a lot of praise for his portrayal of the ageing Churchill, but I think the standout for me was Vanessa Kirby, bringing such complexity to Princess Margaret, in some ways getting the best story across the two seasons. I also want to mention Victoria Hamilton and Jared Harris as their parents, who show the previous generation and really bring alive the nurture element to Elizabeth and Margaret’s personalities.

Once you’ve got that script and the cast, then you add the money. A lot of money. It would have been hard to make this series work without the incredible richness of the sets, locations and costumes that are integral to the lives of the characters. The scale of the endeavour is amazing, it’s hard to remember at times that you’re not looking at the real Buckingham palace.

I enjoyed this series immensely, and with so much detail and character development the first season easily stood up to a second viewing. I do think the second season had some miss-steps in it. Some of the focus got a little bogged down, and the episode towards the end of the season with the flashbacks to Phillip’s schooling didn’t really help the momentum towards the end of the season leaving me a bit frustrated that I’d rather be spending time on other things. However, I can’t wait to see how the series continues to develop, particularly given the entirely new cast next season to mark the passing of time. If they sustain this quality, I think this could be one of the landmark television series of all time.

The Upfronts 2017 – The CW

Sorry these have been so slow!

What’s done
The Vampire Diaries was retired after 8 seasons, but is survived by its spinoff The Originals. Reign lasted 4 rather improbable seasons. Frequency and No Tomorrow didn’t survive their first seasons.

What’s coming back
A while ago, Supernatural had a five year arc, now it’s back for season thirteen. Mind you I gave up a few years ago because I got a bit depressed at how things just kept getting worse and worse for the characters, so who knows how miserable it is by now. Nearly half the schedule is occupied with the DC universe: Arrow (season 6), The Flash (season 4), Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl (both season 3). The Originals and The 100 both return for season 5; iZombie and Jane the Virgin both for season 4, and Crazy Ex Girlfriend for season 3. Riverdale was the only new series to survive to a second season.

What’s new

Black Lightning – another super hero. This looks like the CW version of Luke Cage, with a reluctant superhero becoming a vigilante against a neighbourhood gang; it’s just there’s some teenagers thrown in to make it CW. It looks ok, and apparently isn’t part of the Flash/Arrow/etc family so at least there’s no need to catch up on all gazillion episodes of those to watch this.

Dynasty – Was anyone out there really saying “what we need is to remake Dynasty, because everyone wants to watch rich white people’s dramas”? I mean, they really go for it, fully embracing the melodrama and shamelessness, but it just feels incredibly wrong.

Life Sentence – She thought she was going to die, now she’s not and she has to work out what to do with her life. I liked the trailer a lot, yeah it’s schmaltzy and obvious, but the cast pulls it off and watching it immediately after the Dynasty one buys it a lot of positivity. I worry though that the central idea will run out of gas quickly, I just hope they can manage to ground everything else before it grinds to a halt.

Valor – a military/conspiracy theory drama that feels completely out of place in the rest of the CW lineup and I suspect it will lack the conviction to really follow through on the subjects.

The Upfronts 2017 – CBS

Oops. I completely failed to post the last couple of Upfront summaries! Here you go.

What’s cancelled
The only big casualty at CBS it feels is 2 Broke Girls, cancelled after 6 seasons. The Odd Couple was cancelled after 3 seasons, probably a record run for a post-Friends Matthew Perry. Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders was cancelled after its second season, which I hadn’t even noticed had happened.

Four new series didn’t survive their first year. Only 2 episodes of Doubt aired, Katherine Heigl seems to be the kiss of death for television, slightly unfairly. Training Day was unsurprisingly cancelled following the death of its star Bill Paxton, although ratings and critical response was also underwhelming. Pure Genius (tech billionaire runs a hospital) was cancelled, just like the “tech billionaire runs a police dept” on Fox. Oh, and The Great Indoors died too, which was fairly predictable from the awful trailer.

What’s returning
Despite the increasing repetitiveness, the aging collection of action/procedurals are all renewed. All three flavours of NCIS will be back for evermore tenuous naval connections, original flavour for season 14 (second longest running show on air), LA (9) and New Orleans (4). Criminal Minds is renewed for season 13 even though season 12 was so rubbish even I gave up on it. Blue Bloods and Hawaii Five-0 will both be back for eighth seasons (although the latter seems to have lost half its cast), Elementary is renewed for a sixth and Scorpion (which I have no memory of) for a fourth. Code Black reached the limit of even my tolerance for over-blown medical drama a while back, but is renewed for a third season, as is Zoo, which I’ve never managed to catch but is apparently ridiculous. Madame Secretary is a slightly more intelligent offering and returns for a fourth season.

Only two new dramas got picked up; I’ve been watching Bull for the cast, but don’t think I’ll make it much further because the ideas and writing are painfully contrived. I keep meaning to catch up on MacGyver and may make more of an effort now it’s been renewed.

Not much in the way of comedy at CBS. Big Bang Theory was renewed for both 11 and 12. Mom for fifth, Life in Pieces for a third. New series Kevin Can Wait, Man with a Plan and Superior Donuts were all picked up.

What’s New
CBS don’t seem to want to share their trailers and I got fed up hunting for them.

9JKL – terrible name, bog standard sounding ‘comedy’ about a guy getting divorced and moving to New York.

By the Book – “a comedy about a modern day man at a crossroads in his life who decides to live strictly in accordance with the Bible.” Yeah. Really. That’s genuinely what someone pitched, someone bought, someone made, and someone is putting on the air.

Instinct – a former CIA operative (Alan Cumming) is lured out of retirement to help the NYPD catch a serial killer. Apparently this is based on a James Patterson novel that hasn’t even been published yet. It’s about time Alan Cumming got a lead, but sounds pretty unremarkable.

Me, Myself and I – this actually is a fun idea. A sitcom centred on three periods in the same characters life, a 14 year old in 1991, a 40 year old today, and a 65 year old in 2042.

Seal Team – The work and lives of an elite Navy Seal team. (See The Unit). Solid cast led by David Boreanaz (Angel, Bones), but I sort of wish he’d done something different from his character on Bones.

S.W.A.T. – Shemar Moore (Criminal Minds) leads a specialised tactical unit. Sounds the same as Seal Team expect it’s LA Police not international military. Both are good fits for the network, strong leads and high potential, but maybe both at the same time is too much? But I think this one actually has the edge for me, it’s dealing with very real, very current issues and feels less “hoorah for America”.

Wisdom of the Crowd – Jeremy Piven (Entourage) is a tech genius who invents an app to allow people to share information and help solve crimes. Isn’t this very close to the “tech billionaire solves problems” series that just got cancelled? Dunno whether this is going to take a “woohoo ain’t technology amazing!” direction or a “bloody hell, vigilantes are scary” drift.

Young Sheldon – a spin off from Big Bang Theory looking at Sheldon’s life as a 9 year old genius in Texas. I thought this would be unremarkable but ok, but the trailer is a total mess with way too much sentiment and criminal bad writing resulting in zero laughs. The kid is cute and Jim Parson’s narrating it should be good news, but if that’s the best script they could come up with this is going to be a turkey.

The Upfronts 2017 – ABC

ABC – held together by Shondaland productions and a cheesy, but heartfelt catalog of shows to be watched with a healthy distancing from reality. It’s been a pretty brutal year for them, with very few new series getting picked up and a whole host of second years being canned as well.

What’s done
One of the few new shows I sought out and stuck with was Conviction because the cast was so good, but the writing let them down very badly. Half a season of Notorious was enough for anyone, Imaginary Mary struggled to make it to air before it was cancelled, but Time After Time (HG Wells chasing Jack the Ripper through time – obviously) gets the booby prize, airing just 5 episodes.

American Crime’s critical acclaim didn’t help it much and after three seasons it was cancelled. The Catch and Secrets & Lies were both cancelled after their second season, and I have utterly no memory of them existing, let alone getting renewed the first time. Dr Ken I do remember from a horrific trailer, but I’d forgotten that it managed two seasons before being put out of all of our miseries. The Real O’Neills was also cancelled after two seasons. And Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing apparently made it through 6 seasons before anyone realised it was the 21st century.

What’s returning
Shonda Rhimes’ stable continues, with Grey’s Anatomy returning for a fourteenth series and How to Get Away with Murder for a fourth, but Scandal is set to bow out after the coming seventh season, and no one seems overly disappointed by that. Once Upon a Time has been renewed for a seventh season but it’s set for a big reinvention with a time shift and multiple main characters not returning. I am glad that Marvel’s Agents of Shield was renewed for a fifth season, even though it’s always slightly disappointing compared to what it could be. Quantico will have a reduced season (it’s third) and also gets a new showrunner which doesn’t bode well. The only freshman drama to survive was Designated Survivor which I’ve tried to get into multiple times and never quite clicked.

New comedies were a little more successful – Speechless and American Housewife were both renewed. At the opposite end of the age spectrum The Middle and Modern Family were both renewed for a ninth season, and Modern Family got an extra year too taking it through the following year too. Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat were both renewed for fourth seasons and The Goldbergs got a double pick up for five and six.

What’s new
Roseanne – do you know what series everyone really misses? Well, ABC thinks it’s Roseanne, presumably they’ll back out of the terrible final season.

The Crossing – a bunch of people show up in a small fishing village, claiming to be fleeing a war a couple of hundred years in the future. And some of them seem to have super powers. The trailer lays it on a bit thick, but I am intrigued.

Deception – A superstar magician is ruined by a scandal and the only place he can sell his skills is the FBI. Obviously. The trailer isn’t too bad. The lead seems charismatic enough, and yes, that is Vinnie Jones loitering in the background. As a character apparently named Gunter Gustafsen. Yup, seriously.

For the People – Shonda Rhimes does lawyers. Just the usual, young and ambitious blah blah blah. Whatever.

The Good Doctor – from the maker of House, a medical drama (duh) centred on an autistic, savant doctor who moves to a big hospital. Nothing particularly remarkable in the description and the trailer is pretty much by the numbers, but the cast has three big names that make me pay attention: Freddie Highmore (Bates Motel) stars, Hill Harper (CSI:NY) and Richard Schiff (West Wing)

The Gospel of Kevin – a “light drama” about a “cluelessly self-serving person on a dangerous path to despair” who lives with his widowed twin sister and is visited by a “celestial being” who gives him a mission to save the world. The trailer is as bad as the description.

Inhumans – sitting in the Marvel Universe, the Inhuman royal family flee their world in civil war and land in Hawaii. It’s just a teaser at the moment, so who knows. The trailer really is a bit much.

Ten Days in the Valley – a TV producer’s life turns into a version of her own show when her daughter disappears. Kyra Sedgwick vehicle. Doesn’t look like anything earth shattering, but it looks well done.

The Mayor – young rapper sort of accidentally becomes mayor and then gets all inspirational. Ugh.

Splitting Up Together – a couple splits up, sort of. It’s a plot that wouldn’t keep a 90 minute rom-com going, it barely made it through the trailer, so I don’t know how they think it’s gonna drag out to a whole series.

Alex, Inc.– I can’t even be bothered to explain it. Let’s just describe it as “Zach Braff deserves better”.