Archive for the ‘ Pilot Reviews ’ Category

Legends of Tomorrow: Pilot Review

legendsoftomorrowWhile Disney/Marvel have been building the all conquering media franchise of the Avengers universe, and Fox have been milking their X-Men license for all its worth, The CW has quietly been building its own franchise of DC superheroes, and like all things The CW does, it’s cheaper and cheesier than anyone else’s.

It started with Arrow, which I dismissed as a cheap Batman knock-off based on the pilot and never went back to. Then The Flash appeared and although the pilot wasn’t bad, there wasn’t enough there to make my cut. Now we get Legends of Tomorrow, which is the “ensemble” entry into the franchise. Hey, it somewhat surprisingly worked for Guardians of the Galaxy – the underdog and bonkers entry into the Marvel franchise. It could work for Legends of Tomorrow right?

Wrong.

Heavens it was rubbish.

Concept wise, it’s fine. I mean it’s a bit insane, but I don’t let that stop much. Bad things happen to Earth in the future and a renegade Time Cop (yup, one of them) goes back to collect a bunch of third rate heroes from the present day. They initially think they’ve been recruited because they are destined to be legends, but (spoiler alert) in fact they’ve been recruited because of the opposite. They have no noticeable impact on the timelines, therefore they can’t break things if they fail.

The ensemble is where things get off to a poor start. There’s a lot of them and it’s just not a very charismatic bunch. They’re introduced at haste which sort of works and moves things along at a nice pace, and I guess several of them have been brought over from Arrow or Flash. But no one jumps out as someone you want to spend more time with. There are a couple of big names in the cast – Wentworth Miller (Prison Break), Victor Garbor (Alias) and Brandon Routh who used to be Superman and is now in a spin-off of a spin-off on the CW!? Seriously, what went wrong with his career! The most stand-out, partly by nature his central know all role is Arthur Darvill (Rory from Doctor Who) playing the time cop Rip Hunter (yes, Rip Hunter. that’s really his name) who talks fast, heaps on the sarcasm and manages to wade through the script to find some semblance of personality. The rest of the cast though are pretty much unknown and it really shows at times. Yes, the script they’re struggling with doesn’t give them much, but there was some painfully inept acting going on.

I’m sure that my lack of knowledge of the whole Arrow/Flash universe didn’t help this series, but even without seeing that, it felt like a collection of bit-part characters being brought back to milk the franchise. You’d think in a crowded ensemble there would be space to hide, but in fact the opposite is true. The weak links in the group are already bringing the rest of the group down. Legends of Tomorrow is aiming for Guardians of the Galaxy with it’s bunch of misfits with dubious morals, quirky soundtrack and non-stop story. But it just doesn’t have the charisma and so it misses its mark, maybe not by a million miles, but it’s enough and it lands flat on its ass.

Resurrections: X-Files and Heroes

The moral seems to be, don’t bring back old shows. Or maybe don’t bring back old shows that weren’t that good or popular by the time they went off air. It’s one thing to reboot/reimagine shows, that can work well to use core concepts and ideas but fix problems or make them relevant to today’s audience. But just pulling the old series off the shelf and starting it again just doesn’t seem to work.

The X-Files: Season 10
xfilesWas The X-Files always this cheesy and obvious? I adored the first few seasons, in the way only an obsessive fifteen year old can, but drifted away from the series when the more convoluted conspiracy based seasons coincided with going to university and not being able to watch regularly. It just seemed to lose the fun and become way too complicated. But I’ve remained a fan of the idea of the series, and the talents of David Duchovney and Gillian Anderson continue to draw me to their offerings (respectively pretty much the only reasons I watched Aquarius and The Fall). So despite missing about 4 seasons of plot, I figured I’d give the resurrection a try.

The first episode started out ok. I liked the way that time had clearly passed and both characters and the world had moved on. Mulder was lured out of reclusion by the potential for a massive government conspiracy about aliens and Scully was… well I’m not sure why she was suddenly involved again. I expected the insane conspiracy to be debunked with just enough cryptic hints left to support the possibility. Instead it was left completely open. Sounding utterly nuts, but left floating like it’s actually a possibility.

Then the second episode seemed to jump straight back to season 2. Mulder and Scully are back to being regular FBI agents investigating are they/aren’t they weird mysteries while engaging in are they/aren’t they in a relationship meaningful looks. The awkward shoehorning in of references to their son, with a disjointed explanation for those of us that weren’t caught up with the backstory, and cheesy flashbacks was just amateur.

Sadly, I don’t think I’ll be bothering with the rest of the series. It made me nostalgic for the original early episodes, but just reminded me of why I stopped watching. To top it off, it just wasn’t very well produced and looked quite cheap. Maybe quality and expectations for television series have gone up in the intervening decade, but this felt unpolished and old.

Heroes Reborn
heroesrebornWas Heroes always this smug? I think the answer is probably yes. It did rely heavily on throwing lots of ideas, characters and styles at the screen and just let them all fend for themselves. The audience is left to just sort of perk up when something they’re interested in goes by and then drift off in the other sections, and if you drifted out for something that the writers later decide was important, well tough luck on you.

The reason that Heroes managed ok for the first season or so was that the characters were interesting enough that you didn’t drift off too often. But no one in the first episode of Heroes reborn grabbed me at all. It looks like a lot has happened in the gap between the series (although I now can’t even remember whether I made it through all the episodes or not) with (I think) the heroes becoming public and accepted and then (at the start of the new episode) them being… I don’t actually know. They seemed to be the target of an attack and yet then vilified as the terrorists? I didn’t understand. And I didn’t actually care.

I think some of the original characters are going to cameo in later episodes, but for now the only character really returning is Noah (Claire’s dad, the glasses man) and he was hardly the most exciting thing from the original series. The new characters, well I don’t really know what they can do, who they are or, to be honest, have that much interest in finding out.

Forgotten (,) River and three others

riverRiver
This is a pretty formulaic concept, the quirky, grumpy, distanced cop who rubs everyone up the wrong way but is some kind of savant when it comes to solving crimes. It’s a formula that works, so I’m not being snotty about it, but there has to be something to make me want to watch this rather than just dust off an old box set. The first episode had two things that really hooked me. The first was Nicola Walker cutting through any sense of scandi-noir tone that the casting of Stellan Skarsgård might have had by layering on the London accent and the horrendously cheesy 70’s music. The second was the reveal of what makes River (the character) quite so quirky. I won’t spoil it, because it’s a really great moment when you realise what’s going on.

Unfortunately, I didn’t think the rest of the series didn’t quite live up to that opening. The twists and turns of the mystery start off ok, but they become increasingly tenuous until the final conclusions left me underwhelmed and actually a bit cross. Skarsgård and Walker could easily take their place in the pantheon of great detective duos, but sadly the material didn’t quite live up to their talents. I’m not sure a second series would work, and I’m not sure I’d really want to watch it.

unforgottenUnforgotten
I’m not sure of the timings of the release of these two series, as I actually pretty much binge watched them both on catchup, but I came to Unforgotten second and I only actually watched it at all because I figured I’d been so impressed with Walker in River (and Last Tango in Halifax for that matter) that I should give this series a try too. Thank heavens I did.

Where River is ‘quirky’ this is just a straight up police murder investigation, the only peculiarity being that the murder took place decades ago. The first episode nearly overwhelms you with the sheer number of seemingly disparate characters it introduces, but just as it all became a bit too removed, the links are revealed. In fact that was a pattern throughout the series, everything was stretched to the limits at time, but just before it became unbearable or inappropriate, it was pulled back, or the tone was changed. Unlike River, Unforgotten actually managed to carry me through to the end. I don’t think the resolution was as interesting or satisfying as the journey to get there, but it felt right enough.

Carrying the audience through is the wonderful Nicola Walker, just as in River she grounds the series into utterly believable human reactions. There’s just something about the way she delivers lines that’s completely compelling, the pauses and the body language, the emotions that are all over her face. She’s absolutely fascinating to watch and while River didn’t have great material around her leaving the series suffering a bit every time she wasn’t in a scene, Unforgotten had a solid story to back up the performance.

jeckylandhydeJeckyl and Hyde
After about 20 minutes I had a sudden revelation that sometimes, it’s not necessary to watch the WHOLE pilot episode of a show if you think it’s so utterly miserable and unremarkable that you’ll never watch a second episode voluntarily. It just seemed a mess. Too many characters and locations, too little acting talent, too much exposition, too little caring. Nothing at all that made it worth watching.

The Frankenstein Chronicles
It’s a sad fact of Sean Bean’s career that I find it hard to accept him as a leading man. He just doesn’t feel like he’s every really more than a one-note character who is waiting around to die and motivate other, more interesting characters to greatness. It’s not fair, but it is what it is. He’s not really got much to work with here, the “good soul with a troubled past” is laid on tediously thickly in the first episode. Maybe it will develop a bit more, but it could really do with getting a move on. The rest of the idea is ok, but like the character, could do with moving a bit faster. Maybe I do just watch too much tv, but I spent most of the episode just going “yes yes, we get it, move along”.

Last Panthers
I didn’t make it 15 minutes into this before I gave up. I suspect if I’d been better prepared for how much was subtitled, I’d have been more engaged, but I just couldn’t seem to keep focus on it and every time I was distracted I missed more subtitles and cared even less. I was expecting things to kick off with an action and adrenalin fuelled heist, but was pretty disappointed and nothing in the next 12 minutes managed to rise me out of that funk.

Supergirl: Pilot Review

The world is desperately short of television series and movies about superheroes, so thank heavens that someone’s stepping into the void and providing us with such an interesting comic book hero, one that’s completely original and in no way a second rate knock off of a more famous superhero (who is actually not that interesting a character either when you really get down to it).

Yes, I’m being sarcastic, but while I love a good superhero yarn, the media landscape is really becoming oversaturated with caped crusaders at the moment and to bring something to the genre is becoming increasingly challenging. Now admittedly there is a gigantic hole in the genre that Supergirl fills, ie she’s a girl. Yes, in all the Marvel and DC comic universes on screens at the moment, there is no headlining female superhero. The closest you’ll get is Peggy Carter (who is not technically a superhero) and Black Widow in the Marvel Universe (who has appeared in three films, but never as the headline) . It’s 2015 people, I mean for pities sake get on with it.

So, finally a female superhero, but why did it have to be such a dreary one? The first problem I have with this series is that I’ve never actually thought Superman was an interesting character. He basically has all the superpowers – he’s invulnerable, he can fly, he has super-strength, some sort of laser beam eye thing, x-ray vision and super hearing. The only perils are glowing green rocks, whether he can keep his identity secret and if he’ll get the girl. It’s always been a bit of a struggle for me to care.

Supergirl has all the same powers and at first I thought it was going to be a re-hash of Smallville (which I’ll admit I’ve never seen) and it would be her learning to use her powers. But she basically picks all that up instantly. So we’re once again left with the ‘challenge’ being concealing her identity (again behind glasses, but why was she wearing glasses BEFORE she had an identity to conceal) and presumably there’ll be a fair amount of pining love triangle stuff (she instantly falls for Metropolis ex-pat Jimmy Olsen, while her best friend, confident and apparent wardrobe master is incredibly un-subtly pining for her).

The tone of the whole thing is light and insubstantial. There are some big speeches (and a somewhat grating narration) but mostly it’s far more New Adventures of Superman than it is Dark Knight rises. Calista Flockhart is gloriously hammy as a Devil Wears Prada version of Perry White and sets the tone firmly in the cheese zone. The supporting cast is al round pretty strong, but the unknown Melissa Benoist as Supergirl felt a little outclassed. She does a good job with the comedy and I guess her character is supposed to be a bit flakey, uncertain and lost, which she delivers very well, but she didn’t really sell me on the depth of the character. Without having that central strength to hang everything off, it felt like she was being a bit swamped by the characters around her.

I wasn’t blown away by this. I still don’t really understand what it’s doing on CBS alongside stuff like NCIS and Criminal Minds. It would make much more sense next to Flash or Arrow on The CW where it’s slightly cheesy, teen/twenty-something focus would be a lot more at home. Fundamentally for m, there just wasn’t anything about the show that really made me want to tune in, there are superhero shows ahead of it in the “should probably watch” line (including the aforementioned Arrow and Flash) which seem a lot more comfortable in their capes than this one did.

Code Black: Pilot Review

Code Black Title ScreenIt’s ER. That’s it. That’s the summary. If you’ve seen ER, it’s just that again. With less George Clooney.

I’m not saying that trying to do a new version of ER is a bad thing. I mean ER was great (at least at first) and emergency medicine is intrinsically well suited to episodic television; it’s easy to get a mix of high intensity action, emotional melodrama and the occasional comedy from your rotating cast of victims and families, while your main cast of doctors provide the steady background of character development and relationships. It practically writes itself.

To be honest, I think Code Black’s biggest mistake is that it desperately chases a gimmick to give it a unique selling pointl that. Their ‘thing’ is that there’s a colour code system to how busy the emergency room is, and at code black the demand of patients basically outstrips the supply of medics. Code Black is set in the busiest emergency room in the country and they basically end up at code black all the time (or roughly once per episode I’d imagine). This is pretty much an excuse for all the characters to cram into a ludicrously small area and take creative, risky, and oh so very dramatic new ways to treat gory injuries. Except that the whole thing felt so monumentally artificial that even the actors struggled to deliver the lines. “Ok people, we’re at code black. God help us.” Really?!

The pilot structure here is “first day at work”, four new residents arrive for their first day as proper doctors. They too are monumentally artificial, there’s the smart one, the eager one, the sleazy one and the hopeless one. (respectively Christina, Izzy, Alex and George for Grey’s Anatomy fans). I know they have to introduce characters fast, but it didn’t really inspire me.

The ‘proper’ doctors are a little more interesting, largely thanks to some pretty solid actors in the roles. The script and character biographies are still mediocre, but the actors are doing a good job adding some depth and charm through little moments. Plus they actually felt like a believable team, a group that didn’t necessarily always agree with each other but respected each other and had shorthands and shared experiences.

The nuts and bolts of this are solid enough and I think most of the issues are symptoms of pilot-pressure, rather than necessarily being a sign of doom. It doesn’t have the instant appeal and style of ER, or Grey’s Anatomy, or the short lived Trauma which I really loved, but it’s got some potential if the writers just relax a bit and write their own show rather than trying to blend everybody else’s.

Scream Queens: Pilot Review

As the final dregs of steam ran out for Glee last year, presumably Fox was hunting around for something that could reignite that teen energy for its network, energy that is pretty much lacking in the rest of its line-up of procedurals and action conspiracies. So they turned back to Ryan Murphy’s team and they seem to have pitched something exactly in the middle of their two biggest successes – Glee and American Horror Story. But instead of a perfect blend of the two, we’ve ended up with an unholy mess of un-watchable awfulness.

We start in 1995 at a sorority house party, where a new applicant gives birth, much to everyone’s surprise including her own. Her ‘sisters’ are horrified that she would do something so awful to them, particularly given that TLC’s Waterfalls is next up on the playlist and they can’t possibly miss that. They embrace the 90’s awfulness while she bleeds to death in the tub, leaving the one supportive sister holding the sobbing baby.

Jump forward to the present and you’d think that people couldn’t get any worse, but they really do. The current president of the sorority is the unbelievably hateful Chanel and her brain-dead minions, dubbed Chanel #1, #2 and #5. The new dean (Jamie Lee Curtis) is trying to shut the sorority down because of their hatefulness and also the fact the previous president met a very grizzly fate. The dean is foiled in her attempts by a ditzy lawyer sent from the national sorority council (or whatever) and instead punishes them by forcing them to accept all pledges, not just the ones that conform to their mean criteria. So in stagger a bunch of miss-fits who would have been improbable even for the Glee club. The only ‘normal’ person in the whole thing is Grace, who’s obsessed with joining the sorority that her dead mother had been a member of.

Things rapidly turn sour with bodies dropping at a remarkable and icky rate. Everyone has secrets, everyone’s lying and fundamentally everyone is utterly awful. Even the ones who I guess we’re supposed to feel some connection with are actually horrific, never acting anything like ‘real’ human beings would. These people aren’t unpleasant like the Sue Sylvester or the Cheerleaders in Glee, they are hateful in a way that had me actually reaching for the remote control so I wouldn’t have to listen to their awfulness any longer. I stuck it out for journalistic integrity (ha!) but between the mediocre acting, terrible script and horrendous character profiles, it was really very hard work.

I can see where Ryan Murphy was aiming with this, but where Glee hit the sweet spot of cheese combined with bite (at least in the early seasons) he’s missed it here, and with this kind of target a miss is as good as a mile. Jamie Lee Curtis is a great example, she’s perfect casting given her horror movie cult status, and they’re obviously trying to re-create the Jane Lynch magic from Glee, but she’s not outrageous enough to follow in those tracksuits. Nor is she real enough though to give a grounding point for the show. And she’s also neither evil or funny enough for that matter.

I was rather looking forward to this, I was hoping for Scream, or Cabin in the Woods, or even American Horror Story: The Teenage Years, and instead I got something that was, just like Curtis’ character – not outrageous enough, not real enough, not evil enough and not funny enough.