I suspect that Channel 4 might be a little disappointed that their screening of The First doesn’t seem to have captured the public’s imagination. I’d seen a couple of reviews after the first episode that tended to lean heavily on the “Sean Penn’s show fails to lift off” line, which is about the angle you’d expect a busy TV reviewer who had only seen the first episode to go with.
The show was originally made for Hulu, and having looked around online I’ve found a number of reactions from critics who’ve seen all eight episodes in the first season. Clearly the show isn’t imminently going to find itself canonised as part of the Golden Age of Quality Television, but it sounds a lot more promising than you’d think from the reaction to the first couple of episodes. As Todd VanDerWerff puts it in his review of the show for Vox:
This is not a show about the people going to Mars. It’s a show about the people going to Mars.
As I understand it, the show’s only just going to start the journey to Mars at the end of the first season, which is not to say that it’s pointless prior to that. Sean Penn’s character, an experienced astronaut. He finds himself bonding with the relatives of the doomed crew (who had been his crew until his being unseated as the team’s leader for reasons we’ve not gone into as of episode 2) in the wake of the accident, and making the case through the media for a manned space programme earnestly but with a certain gravitas it seems he’s earned through his previous space exploits, all while he’s also dealing with the recent return into his life of his estranged daughter, who has had her share of problems and is still coming to terms with the disappearance of her mother, his wife, a few years ago. Penn is a more than capable lead for this show, and I suspect that by the time we get to episode eight he’ll have cemented himself as the rock against whom a good cast have assembled to tell a good, mature story. It probably won’t be the flashiest of stories, but it could be something special given time.
Such a good weekend TV-wise.
Catching up with a new season of The Good Place was a delight. (Provided you could ignore Ted Danson/Michael’s attempt at an Australian accent when he was posing as a librarian to help nudge Chidi in the right direction at one crucial moment. It’s entirely possible that half a dozen episodes from now we’ll discover that there was a reason that accent was that bad.)
But of course the big TV event of the week came this evening when we got the debut of Jodie Whittaker in the Chris Chibnall-as-showrunner era of Doctor Who. I had my doubts, but they were more about Chibnall on the basis of how poor his past efforts at writing for the franchise had been than they were about his choice of an actor to play the lead role in his take on the show.
On the basis of the first episode of the new era, I think it’s going to be fine. The first episode spent much of the time showing us what the new Companions are like, which is fair enough, but still left plenty of time for Jodie Whittaker to show us that she’s got the chops to give us a memorable Doctor once she’s reunited with the TARDIS and she gets a couple more stories under her belt. At this early stage, that’s as much as we can reasonably expect.
It’d be marvellous if writers about TV could spend a few years never mentioning Lost at the drop of a hat, but otherwise Person Of Interest Was Anti-Prestige TV And Too Smart For Primetime is a pretty great tribute to a genuinely great show that never got the credit it deserved.
Reese and Shaw are brute-force objects, fighting for what they believe is right. Root and Finch argue over letting the machine free, with Finch understanding that his Machine is just another interpretation of Samaritan, with Root’s belief that Samaritan is simply a badly taught God. Fusco, even when he knows the full scale of the stakes, acts as moral anchor. Faced with two giant computers fighting a global war, he mostly says things like “What the fuck?” and “All right, I’ll shoot at the bad men, but there better be a hot dog in it for me.”
And that’s the beautiful thing: You view the whole struggle from varied but understandable perspectives. That’s just sharp TV writing. You see the plot for what it is, you know who dies or survives, you know why things happen and who everyone is, and you are never thrown into the quagmire of Lost. I’ve deliberately left out the fact that J.J. Abrams was an executive producer of Person of Interest as it feels so distinctly not like the J.J. Abrams of Lost. It certainly feels more like Alias, with an ensemble cast, a shadowy enemy, a truly shitty bad guy (Arvin Sloane is a top-10 television shithead) – but it corrects many of that show’s mistakes. Person of Interest rarely leads you astray, avoids red herrings and rewards you for watching flashbacks. It’s a show with little filler, few eye-rolling twists, and yet deals with some absolutely batshit science-fiction elements.
It’s a crying shame that Peter Watts never got to release his tie-in novel for the show.
[Via Extenuating Circumstances]
I was so pleased to see that after four seasons The Bridge stuck the landing_ so nicely.
I’d half expected that the show would end with one of the leads killed off – very possibly having sacrificed themselves to save an innocent victim – but the writers resisted that temptation and instead showed us a Saga who had let go of the guilt that drove her to be a detective and seemed to have resolved to try to decide on a different career.
I’ll confess that I had a moment of doubt when Saga pulled in while crossing the bridge and went to peer at the grey, choppy sea below, but we left her driving away in her odd-coloured Porsche to a new life doing something she wants to do. Part of me wishes we’d get to see what she does next, but most of me is just glad that such a complicated, troubled character made it to the end of the story with, if anything, fewer psychological scars than she’s carried over four seasons. Good work, writers.
One obvious question now is what Saga is going to do with her life if she’s no longer going to carry a badge. Given her personality it’d be hard to see her becoming a private investigator and building up a client base: she’d definitely need someone with more people skills to act as her liaison with the rest of the world.
Assuming that Saga is going away for a while, I wonder what sort of stories Henrik is going to tell his daughter Astrid (who, after all, only met Saga briefly and under extremely stressful circumstances) about his best friend Saga while she’s away?
Prompted by the release of the first season of The Professionals on Blu-ray a few years ago, Taylor Parkes reminds those of us who grew up in 1970s Britain of [just how strange mainstream UK TV got] as the nation turned to Mrs. Thatcher to save it from the foreigners and lefties who were responsible for our losing the Empire (or something)1:
These early episodes are Clemens in excelsis. Not one line of the dialogue bears the slightest resemblance to anything anyone would ever actually say; logic and reason are abandoned; a strange kind of excitement is the only thing that matters. In ‘Close Quarters’, Bodie has a fortnight off because he’s been shot in the hand, so he takes Nick Drake’s sister out on the river at Marlow – only to chance upon the very boathouse in which the leaders of the Baader-Meinhof gang are staying whilst on a jolly to Britain. Despite only being able to use one hand, and having to wet-nurse a terrified woman who looks like Nick Drake, Bodie captures Andreas Baader (the gang have all been given false names – perhaps the producers were worried they’d write in and complain? – but it’s not hard to work out who’s meant to be who). He flees to a nearby vicarage, pursued by three angry RAFers all toting machine guns which they must have found lying around somewhere. In a subtly symbolic moment, the vicar tries to make peace with the terrorists and is shot to smithereens – although, as ever when people die in The Professionals, nobody gives a shit. Anyway, a thrilling siege ensues, and Bodie sees off the whole Baader-Meinhof gang, quite literally single-handedly – although of course, the task of dispatching the lady terrorist falls to Ms Drake, because we couldn’t possibly see Bodie do that. A nice day out for her, then. Unsurprisingly, we don’t see her again. Still, she learnt a valuable lesson: hot lead is the only language Marxists understand.
I have a horrible feeling that the only thing saving us from a post-Brexit remake of The Professionals is that they can’t possibly pay Martin Shaw enough money to turn up in this version to play the new George Cowley.
[Via [MetaFilter](http://www.metafilter.com/174451/the-very-epitome-of-the-good-bad-TV-show “”The very epitome of the good-bad TV show | MetaFilter)]
I’m currently playing catch-up with Sense8 in anticipation of Netflix wrapping the show up later this month.
Having watched the first episode early last year when I found myself exploring my shiny new Netflix account to see what was on offer, it took me ages to get round to picking up the show again: the show’s introductory episode was necessarily a bit disjointed, what with eight characters living in very different circumstances and societies and (initially) with nothing in common to tie their plot threads together. But, prompted in part by my awareness that Netflix were about to fund one final episode and by my sneaking regard for most of what the Wachowskis have done over the years I decided to give Sense8 another go. Somehow, over the first few episodes of the story the characters’ different storylines and their occasional crossovers have sucked me in to the point that I’m now officially hooked. The show isn’t perfect, but it’s a delightful rejection of gritty realism in favour of sometimes having something very unexpected and totally off and yet weirdly appropriate happen. Sometimes that’s a moment of breathtaking beauty (e.g. a 4th of July fireworks sequence in episode 10 that drew all the sensates together, or that same episode’s scene combining the moments of the sensates’ birth with their mutual experience of a classical music performance,) and sometimes it’s an extremely silly moment (e.g. Wolfgang ending a gunfight by pulling out an RPG and blowing up the car of his retreating enemy, or Lito engaging in a fistfight and finding himself throwing potted flowers at his opponent.) The thing is, somehow these scenes just work for me, and leave me wanting more.
What’s weird is that despite his name showing up in the writing credits each week it took a few episodes for me to register the fact that J Michael Straczynski was involved in this. Given that he’s sharing writing credits with the Wachowski it’s hard to say for sure, but it looks as if he’s operating more in Rising Stars mode here than he is Babylon 5 mode. Whatever: it’s good to see someone whose first big show was a huge favourite of mine still involved in delivering quality work to this day.
Or, as one AV Club commenter put it, responding to episode 10:
Oh heck no, this gets an A and all of the pluses I can dig up from under the couch. I’ve never seen television like this – that last ten minutes, I was stomping my feet and hollering like I was at a damned concert or something. This far exceeded anything I hoped for when they announced a Wachowski series; you expect over-the-top, you expect some attempts at pushing envelopes, but you never, not in anything they’ve ever done, get something like this. This was sublime in a way that very few things are ever sublime. And it’s not just the audacity of the setup itself, but a show so confident that it can end with that long an extended sequence without dialogue or plot development, just allowing its conceit to unfold patiently and fully. Goddamn.
In a world where we’ve just spent a decade or so of quality television mostly defining itself by how gritty our antiheros are, it’s good to have something like Sense8 come along and offer us a fundamentally positive picture of what could lie ahead. This show is every bit as good at occasionally switching genres and elevating the story to another level as Buffy The Vampire Slayer. (For the avoidance of doubt, in my book that’s very high praise indeed.)
Apologies if posting falls away over the next few days. I find myself playing catch-up with a couple of TV programmes that are both due to return to our screens later this year and consequently my time for web browsing is a bit limited between, say, now and the weekend.
The first show, courtesy of the BBC putting it up on the iPlayer, is The Bridge. I’ve watched this show completely out of order, having only caught on when the BBC showed season 3 then later back-filling with season 1. (That moment at the climax of season 1 when Saga found herself desperately wanting to lie to her partner about the fate of his son but realising that she just didn’t have a clue how to sell a convincing lie was horrifying!) Right now I’m well into season 2 and the standard is still as high as ever. I know nothing about season 4, but I’m totally up for it when it eventually shows up on BBC2.
The second show that I’d promised myself that I’d catch up with is HBO’s reboot of Westworld. Given how much I’ve enjoyed all I’ve seen of Jonathan Nolan’s previous show, Person of Interest, I shouldn’t be surprised at how much I’m enjoying his newest piece of classy genre TV. I know precisely nothing about the impending second season of Westworld but having seen season 1 up to and including Trompe L’oeil (the episode where Bernard gets fired, among other things) I trust that we’re in safe hands.
So, all in all I have a few hours of top-notch TV to catch up on before I get to turn my attention back to the web.
Steven Bochco, whose active years came just a bit too early for him to pick up the accolades he deserved for setting the stage for modern TV drama, has passed away. It’s easy to forget now just how different Hill Street Blues was when it first showed up on our screens:
By conveying the sheer jostle and bustle of a modern police department, with multiple officers wrestling with typewriters, shouting down phones or at each other, trying to conduct police business under-resourced and time-skint in the face of a tide of criminality, Bochco challenged the viewer to accept a new form of dramatic overload as well as a more realistic depiction of crime fighting and the human beings who wore the badge. Hill Street Blues “starred” Daniel J Travanti as Frank Furillo, a recovering alcoholic ably maintaining a stable keel in a difficult Chicago precinct. But Hill Street Blues was studded with strong and vivid characters, all of them major regardless of rank, from growling undercover detective Mick Belker to idealistic lieutenant Henry Goldblume. From its strongly multicultural cast, to the hip and witty swagger of its dialogue, there was a funkiness, a rhythm about Hill Street Blues that spoke about modern urban America like no other show at the time.
Very possibly the best ensemble cast ever.
Like all long-running shows, Hill Street Blues stayed on the air for too long, but those first few seasons changed TV drama forever by showing everyone else how it could be done. Then Bochco did it again with LA Law, then yet again with NYPD Blue and once more with Murder One. We will not speak of Doogie Howser, M.D. or Cop Rock.
I’ve no doubt that there are modern TV dramas that are better than an of Bochco’s work. (Just to name one that isn’t as famous as it should be Homicide: Life On The Street. Many articles about Bochco’s passing mention The Wire, but I can’t get past the show that gave the world Andre Braugher’s performance as Frank Pembleton.) The thing is, there might not have been any appetite for those shows without Bochco’s work paving the way.