The Morning Show S1E1 Review

How do you make a TV Show about making a TV Show even more self-serious than Aaron Sorkin did?

Somehow, Apple found a way.

Say what you like about Aaron Sorkin’s Sports Night, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and The Newsroom. The fact is, for all these shows could struggle against the sense that Sorkin was taking things far more seriously than the stories they were telling justified (Particularly Studio 60 with its heavy handed post-9/11ism and The Newsroom with its anvilicious – albeit justified – skewering of the modern news media), Sorkin at least understood that Television is supposed to be fun and the shows about it should be too. Continue reading

TV Reviews: Brooklyn Nine-Nine

You have the right to remain silent. But you won't.
You have the right to remain silent. But you won’t.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is Universal Television’s (By way of FOX) effort to fill the hole in the sitcom landscape where a cop show parody should be. It’s also the latest vehicle for Saturday Night Live‘s biggest recent success story, Andy Samberg – following the decidedly uneven Cuckoo. Alongside Samberg are Terry Crews (Apparently Will McAvoy’s bodyguard Lonny went off to become a cop, explaining his absence from The Newsroom Season 2) and relative newcomer Stephanie Beatriz.

Samberg plays an immature but gifted detective whose “dammit I get results” stylings come into conflict with the “by da book” new Captain’s way of doing things. Despite that seemingly clichéd premise, the show isn’t going for a straight parody of cop show tropes, and instead opts for a more subtle (Yes, subtlety in an Andy Samberg vehicle – if only Cuckoo knew such luxuries) deconstruction, more along the lines of Scrubs.

It’s unclear from the pilot if the show will be able to develop the same dramatic chops as Scrubs did with its cast of beloved characters over the years, but there are early signs of deeper thought at least, with Captain Holt given a decent backstory which earns him the sympathy (and, more importantly, the respect) of Samberg’s Jake Peralta.

But while the dramatic underpinnings of a sitcom can give it the prestige and enduring appeal to make it a long runner (The SimpsonsFriendsScrubshow i met your mother…), any sitcom which isn’t funny will sink like a rock (I’m looking at you, majority of the pilots from Amazon Studios’s first Pilot season). So is Brooklyn Nine-Nine a comedic dud destined to end its run in a graveyard slot and be forgotten about by next Christmas?

No.

No, it’s actually pretty funny. Samberg’s smug performance actually manages to be charming because the show makes the wise choice to show us immediately that he’s actually good at what he does, and he is nevertheless more of a smartass than actually condescending. Meanwhile, the absurdity has been kept just about in check. There’s no lengthy fantasy sequences, and all of the hijinks the cast engage in are relatively grounded.

It’s all just stupid. And I don’t mean that as a knock. It’s the best kind of stupid. It’s the kind of dumb joking around you get into when you’re hanging around with friends or killing time in an office. Too often, this kind of dumb comedy doesn’t work out so well.  Microsoft published a video game example recently in LocoCycle, which just feels like you’re watching someone else’s inside joke. And it’s never explained to you. So it never becomes funny.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine invites you to laugh at its characters with the rest of the cast by constantly ensuring there’s someone to laugh with. The cast takes turns playing straight man for each other as the situation demands; mocking or being mocked, laughing along or hiding their shame. It’s relatable because that’s how people are in real life.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is part of a movement in sitcom writing to reflect the kind of humour people experience day-to-day. Rather than placing absurd caricatures in front of you and inviting you to laugh mercilessly at their failures (Two And a Half Men), Brooklyn Nine-Nine follows the formula successfully deployed by how i met your mother of allowing its characters to know exactly how funny the things that are happening are. And it mines that area mercilessly for extra yucks as Samberg or another cast member manages to deliver that extra quip at the end of the scene that perfectly encapsulates the audience’s feelings.

Oh and by the way, I think you’re overdoing it on the man-scaping.

Rating: Watch

Possible Ratings, in Descending Order:

Watch

Record

VOD

Miss

Seek Cancellation

TV Reviews: BBC One’s That Puppet Game Show

PuppetGameShowThat Puppet Game Show is BBC One’s new Saturday Night Entertainment Show from Muppet-creators The Jim Henson Company; featuring the imaginatively named unlicensed Muppet-esque puppet cast, “The Puppets”, and celebrity contestants vying to win £10,000 for charities of their choosing. So is it worth watching or is it ‘Honey I Couldn’t Afford the Muppets Tonight License’?

It would be incredibly easy to hate That Puppet Game Show. It’s hard to look past the fact it’s clearly a Muppet franchise show without The Muppets license, even knowing it comes from the company who originally created and owned the characters (Who are now owned by The Walt Disney Company). It’s also a celebrity game show in an era where you can’t turn a corner without tripping over a competitive TV show featuring celebrities.

It does itself no favours in its introduction either, where it looks like it’s about to be exactly as cloying, try hard and false as you’d expect it to be – face it, the Americans are just better at being earnest about this kind of nonsense than the Brits. And this is a very British effort. Especially its host, Dougie Colon (It’s pronounced Cologne).

But if you stick with it past the painfully obligatory explanation of the show’s format and let yourself be drawn in…There’s a charm. Especially once some of the puppets with more creative voices and backstories start appearing. It also helped in this first episode that Jonathan Ross was making a triumphant (ish) return to BBC airtime after being made to jump ship to ITV a couple of years ago. While we’re on the subject, if you hadn’t heard, The Jonathan Ross Show got a Super Renewal late last month despite rumours 2013 would be its final year, so two new series will air in 2014, as well as ten more episodes starting this Autumn.

Back on That Puppet Game Show, Jonathan’s easy charm and spontaneous humour help the show through its first shaky minutes and into the meat of the show proper. Like Muppets Tonight and The Muppet Show before it, That Puppet Game Show divides its time between the show itself, and the antics of the puppets backstage. In this case, it is skewed slightly more heavily towards the show itself, with the scenes backstage serving as a series of brief, interconnected sketches (whose plot occasionally receives reference onstage too).

The celebrity guests do occasionally feature briefly in the backstage segments, but not to the extent they would have in the show’s Muppet-branded predecessors. But then, they also factor more heavily into the onstage sequences as well, so the distribution of Puppets to Celebrities screen time is fairly similar – there is possibly slightly more celebrity than previously as it happens, but it’s not at the expense of the puppets.

It’s not nearly as good as a Muppet franchise entry of course. More often the jokes here are a bit on the cringe-worthy side than they would be in a Muppets vehicle, and there’s probably a touch more humour relying on sheer shock value alone than you would see with the Muppet name attached. I was surprised to find though that “not as good” is the worst I could say about it. It’s a bit twee, and a couple of the games are rather stupid, but most of the backstage jokes land very well. Dougie’s banter with the Crab who calls the scores is generally good for a chuckle and the game based on giving humorous acceptance speech for a fictitious award (Life’s a Speech) is actually both funny and engaging in the same way as a more conventional game show, such as BBC One’s Pointless.

The quality of the guests is probably going to have a lot to do with how well the show does from here. The Puppets are doing a reasonable job eliciting laughs, but with the competitive part of the show dominating the runtime, it’s going to be important that the guests are as charming and game for the show’s brand of nonsense as Jonathan Ross and Katherine Jenkins were in this first effort.

I suppose the biggest thing I can say about this show so far is that I actually enjoyed the first episode enough to decide I definitely want to see the second, and that surprised me. I was as skeptical as possible about this show from the moment it was announced. The name, the concept, the Dougie Colon mini-hype from BBC Entertainment’s PR team…I was finding it hard to imagine this would be anything less than an outright cringe-fest, on the same level as BBC One’s 2011 flameout of a trainwreck of a game show Don’t Scare The Hare. I’m still not convinced That Puppet Game Show will entice enough of an audience to avoid deathwatch status, but I am newly convinced that I’d like it to manage to escape such a fate. If you missed Episode 1, check it out on BBC iPlayer and let me know if you agree, or if you think it’s just as bad as it sounds.

Rating: Watch

Possible Ratings, in Descending Order:

Watch

Record

VOD

Miss

Seek Cancellation

(The name is still really bad though)

Movie Reviews: The Hangover Part II

the-hangover-part-2-banner-imageThe Hangover Part II was the highly-anticipated followup to 2009’s sleeper smash hit The Hangover, and the middle part in the inevitable Hangover Trilogy franchise. You probably know that. It was released back in 2011 (Which you probably also know), but I kept missing out on seeing it until now – after the third part has already left theatres. So now I’ve seen it, what did I think? Well…

The Hangover is a great movie. It’s shocking, funny and (despite its absurdity), it’s still relatively believable. And as a result, it’s also relatively relatable. Sure, not everyone has gotten into quite such dramatic all-night benders, but many of us have had nights where we’ve done crazy things while under the influence and most of those us who have also have nights with huge gaps in our memories. It’s got a generally brilliant cast, fantastic and actually surprising cameos, and it was an even better movie when you saw it in a packed theatre.

The Hangover Part II is probably also better when seen in a packed theatre. Unlike its predecessor though, that’s probably the only time it’s any good at all. What might surprise you is that I don’t dislike it for being a rehash of the original. In fact, that’s kind of what I wanted. Another spin on the “crazy night we can’t remember” wheel is what I was looking for with this movie. No, what I dislike about the sequel is what they changed. Reusing the same bones, that’s fine. The problems with the sequel relate to turning some of the weaker elements up to eleven and contriving to reuse utterly inconsequential elements (like plot coupons) of the original for no good reason.

I still get plenty of laughs out of re-watching The Hangover. But the sequel left me cold even on this first viewing. There are some decent laughs in it, but almost all of them (with precisely two – it’s so few I can count them) come from characters the movie seems convinced are less funny than “the funniest character of all time”, played by “the funniest comedic actor of all time”: Alan Garner, played by Zach Galifianakis.

As you’ve no doubt guessed, those assessments are not my own, but those (apparently) of the writers, director and producers.

I say that because Alan gets a whole lot of focus in this movie at the expense, once again, of Doug – played by Justin Bartha – who is written out of the majority of the action in a way so contrived it’s brushed over as quickly as possible. It’s also at the expense of the far more interesting character of Mason Lee’s Teddy (Stu’s soon-to-be Brother-in-Law). Alan is a classic example of a character from an ensemble piece who was well-received enough to be forced to the fore of a later entry in the franchise.

In the original movie, Alan is an equally divisive figure. Some people, I know, love his schtick and enjoy Galifianakis’s style of “weird for the sake of it” humour. I’m not among them. But the first time around, I was okay with it. Alan was funny in the original because he was used (relatively) sparingly alongside the other members of the franchise’s core trio – as well as the rest of the ensemble – and he acts as a plot coupon. He’s the wild card which sets off the chain of events the movie revolves around, and his presence is justified well in the plot.

That is…Not the case here. Alan is forced into the movie with the flimsiest possible justification: Doug’s wife twists his arm about letting Alan attend Stu’s wedding, so he twists Stu’s. Stu, justifiably, wants nothing more to do with Alan who is clearly a deranged individual, who drugged Stu and his friends te first time he spent any time with them. Stu has every reason not to want him there. But Doug convinces him (it’s not particularly well justified), so they go and get him.

What’s worse is, before they even get to Thailand for the wedding, Alan furnishes them with (at least) four perfectly good new reasons not to want him around. By the end of the movie, there are at least five occasions where he should have been punched in the face, and arguably even more where he should just have been left to rot. These characters have absolutely no reason to like Alan and no earthly reason for putting up with his nonsense, which includes the revelation that he drugged them again, information which should in fact have led to Stu and Phil beating the living snot out of him on a public street. Instead he is quickly forgiven, for reasons which never become apparent.

See, the thing is, Alan is not their friend and never was. He insists on the idea that he is, but the only possible reason for them going along with this fantasy is pity. And that just doesn’t cut it when you’re talking about a guy who’s now twice drugged them, causing them no end of problems. Especially since – in this case – Phil winds up getting shot, Stu’s fiancé’s brother (who is a cellistloses a finger and Stu himself unwittingly cheats on his future-wife with a prostitute and gets a crazy Mike Tyson Face Tattoo days before his wedding.

But instead of getting the asshole incarcerated, or beating him within an inch of his life, they forgive him as if all he did was lose their crate of beer. In fact, eventually they go ahead and treat him as if he’s a hero and they’re best buds. It all plays out as if the movie is begging us to love Alan, whilst also expecting that we already do. But I just can’t. He’s the least funny thing in a comedy in which he is a starring player, and he’s an asshole. No justification the movies offer excuses how much of a colossal jackass he is. He’s not even a loveable jackass. He ploughs clean across the edge of unsympathetic comedy protagonist territory and winds up a straight up villain protagonist.

What’s worse is, the only character who could conceivably be justified in pretending to like Alan is Doug, and he is once again sidelined! I’d have loved to have seen a The Hangover story where Doug makes it through the night with the others, and then joins them in their efforts to suss out what happened, because he’s a likeable character. My ideal rewrite of this script would have been to change it so that Alan’s presence was a surprise (like Mr Chow’s) and Doug joined them on the night out instead of heading off to bed early. Teddy could still have served as the lost member of the group, but the first act could then have been spent letting us get to know him better rather than wasting our time reminding us that Alan is a creep who nobody in their right mind would befriend.

And so now you’re saying “but then how would they have gotten into the mess without Alan drugging them?”

Answer: Who the hell cares? Any number of things could have happened. Why did it have to be the exact same thing as in the first movie? Maybe the bartender offers them the “house special” shot free of charge since they’re with a wedding party, and it turns out to have some crazy local ingredient in it which is a powerful hallucinogenic. Contrived? Maybe a little, but as contrived as Alan being there just to do the exact same thing again? No way.

What really bugs me is, when the focus is on the others, it’s actually pretty enjoyable. Ed Helms and Bradley Cooper are both very entertaining in their roles, as is Justin Bartha (when he’s given a chance). Mr Chow’s nonsense and the the zany denizens of Bangkok also make for an enjoyable ensemble. It’s a crying shame that filmmakers’ sad devotion to one character from a movie built on the back of at least a dozen fantastic performances ruined its chances of a worthy sequel.

Dismayingly, I hear the third one is even worse.

Pilot Reviews: Community

community-02

Blinkbox by Tesco is offering users the chance to sample 28 Television Pilots. I’ve decided to take those 28 Pilots and give each a watch and then review them right here on my website. Next up, NBC’s perennial underdog cult sitcom ‘Community‘.

Community is not a show I’ve never seen before. Over the years it’s been on the air, I’ve had occasion to dip in to the series and see what it’s like. So I had an idea what to expect from the pilot – Joel McHale being a loveable jerk, Chevy Chase being humorously out of touch with modern social norms and Danny Pudi’s Abed being just generally weird. I was also familiar enough with the show’s general tone of absurdity, couched in painfully real observations about modern society.

The Pilot is fairly by-the-numbers, setting up the archetypes and roles of the various characters and giving the audience some idea of the relationships between them. Unusually though, it manages to do so whilst keeping the events in the service of comedy. Too often, a Pilot will be a relatively weak episode of a given series because it spends a good chunk of screen time on expository obligations. The best pilots, of the best shows, don’t have this problem. Community is one of them. Another great example is How I Met Your Mother, whose pilot manages to establish where its characters are in their lives and relationships almost entirely as part of jokes (many of which would become part of the show’s running gags). It’s the same here.

The best scenes in the pilot are those where Joel McHale’s Jeff is trying to trick the other members of the group into fighting with one another so he can slink away with attractive co-ed (As the Yanks say) Britta, played by Gillian Jacobs. His efforts prove to be in vain after she figures out what he’s up to and calls him on it, and he is ultimately banished (though the group takes pity on him and offers to let him study with them in the end, ultimately setting up the premise the show ran with once it was picked up). The events in these scenes also lead to a great moment where Jeff admits, wholeheartedly, that he is a liar and equates his former profession (A lawyer) with the act of telling lies. It’s not an original joke, but it’s well executed.

Other standout moments come in the interactions between McHale and recurring guest star John Oliver (as Dr Ian Duncan) who Jeff is attempting to con into helping him cheat his way to success. Particularly amusing is the scene in Dr Duncan’s Smart Fortwo, which he notes is “Good for the earth” (Jeff retorts, bitingly, that so is “wiping your butt with a leaf, but it’s not how a man gets around!”).

It’s a promising start to a series, and it gets you up to speed and invested in its characters very quickly. As soon as it’s over, you’re ready to see more of their escapades (and, undoubtedly, disastrous misunderstandings – it’s a sitcom). Having seen some of what the rest of the series has to offer, it’s also a very indicative Pilot. Not just in terms of quality, but also just with regards to what the show is like. That might seem a trite observation, but many a show has wandered away from its pilot with time. Community did not, it has stuck fairly well to the formula established here (aside from things like character & plot progression, plus slight variations in the episode structure for the sake of novelty) over the years. That’s probably a good thing.

Except of course, the upcoming fifth season. Which sees the loss of Chevy Chase, and another character (Troy) dropping from the regulars to the recurring cast. Only time will tell what toll those moves takes on the show; but the pilot makes a firm bet on the relationships between the characters being important. Tinkering with the group seems like a dangerous area.

Verdict: Order to Series

Verdicts Explained:

The verdicts on the Pilot reviews will be given as if the Pilot was being reviewed by Network Execs prior to announcing the Fall Lineup. Possible results, in descending order, are:

Order to Series, with Super Renewal (3 Season Commitment)

Order to Series, with Renewal (2 Season Commitment)

Order to Series

Order to Series, with Network Notes

Order Second Pilot

Order Second Pilot, with Network Supervision

Pass

Burn The Tapes

Pilot Reviews: Pan Am

pan-am-abc-tv-showBlinkbox by Tesco is offering users the chance to sample 28 Television Pilots. I’ve decided to take those 28 Pilots and give each a watch and then review them right here on my website. First up, ABC’s ill-fated high-concept drama about the crew of the eponymous defunct airline.

It’s always strange going into a pilot knowing  that the show it was pitching has already made it to air, been weighed & measured – and found wanting. It compels you to begin searching for any potential danger signs. What made this show fail? Was it doomed from the start, buoyed to the schedule on mere optimism? Or did it seal its fate later by squandering its premise on mediocre writing or poor decisions?

Sometimes, even with shows which go on to be successful, you can see signs of trouble in the pilot. Fox’s Glee is a smash-hit, one of which I was once a regular viewer owing to its creative premise and talented cast. But now I have disowned the show because of its inept writing, self-importance and wall-banger stupid characters and plot lines. I often said its writers should go back and watch the pilot to remember what show they were supposed to be making. But the truth is, the first signs of trouble were sewn in that pilot. Still, their presence wasn’t the problem. The fact they were allowed to germinate was.

Why am I talking about this? Because the Pan Am pilot calls it to mind for me. Pan Am has a fantastic premise, and a cast of very talented actors who are a delight to watch. Its pilot makes good use of both that premise and its cast to get you hooked. And yet, as much as I liked the pilot, I think I know why this show failed. The major reason of course is that it was colossally expensive, and the pilot (to its credit) looks exactly as expensive as it was. It is lavishly produced and gorgeous to look at with elaborate sets and costumes, plus a distinctly high quality filmic appearance.

But expensive shows can make it if they find a large enough audience of valuable viewers. So why didn’t Pan Am manage that? After all, the premise is appealing, the cast are great, the production values are sky high (pun very much unintended, but kept out of begrudging amusement)…What Is the problem? Of course, I can’t know for sure without seeing the other thirteen episodes, but I think I have some ideas.

You see, for all the love and attention the show seems to have lined up for its premise…It also decides to hedge its bets. You came here to see a show about the crew of an airplane in the golden age of passenger flight? TWIST! Here’s an international espionage plot!

Yeah. That sort of came out of left field, didn’t it? It’s not really clear what amount of the show will be taken up by the CIA-MI6 covert operations subplot, but it’s hard to imagine wasting as much screen time on it in the pilot (and linking it to several characters) if it’s not going to be a major recurring storyline. This is the kind of storyline showrunners attach to shows with high-concept premises, apparently to give them depth and broader appeal.

It’s also the kind of storyline which annoys the people who showed up for the premise.

Many a SportsNight fan wished to be rid of the interminable Casey/Dana romance subplot so we could instead focus on the crew making the Sports show. I’d be amazed if there was a single Glee fan who wasn’t contemplating throwing the TV out the window every second the “fake pregnancy” storyline was taking up screen time. 24 had so many around the middle of its original run it’d be impossible to list them all.

These are plot tumours. They don’t naturally live in the shows they’re part of, and really only serve to distract. Sure, we get it, Pan Am flew during the Cold War. But if we wanted to see a James Bond film, there’s plenty of them to choose from. The introduction to the subplot is especially lazy, with a cartoonish “Russian Spy” whose actions are far too suspicious to be believed. I won’t spoil the resolution, but you probably already guessed the gist of it. I know I did the moment he appeared.

That speaks to the greater problem.  It’d maybe be possible to put up with the Cold War Plot Tumour if it seemed like it was going to have something interesting and unique to say. On the basis of the Pilot, I would doubt that it does.

Fortunately, the rest of the episode’s plots are exactly what you’re looking for. Christina Ricci does a marvellous turn as an irreverent purser, breezing around cockily and in so doing introducing us to some of the zanier aspects of being a Pan-Am-Stewardess. Oh, and get used to “Pan-Am-Stewardess”, because every character who gets a chance to say that phrase in full, does so. The pilot really plays up the whimsy and wonder of the titular airline – even going so far as to treat the take-off of the plane as some kind of bold adventure. Admittedly, it is the particular plane’s maiden flight, but – the way the flight crew is acting – you’d think their destination was Mars, not London.

Unsurprisingly, the most compelling scenes are those in the air and in the airport. And when the concept is able to shine through the distractions, the pilot is very watchable indeed.

Verdict: Order to Series, with Network Notes

Verdicts Explained:

The verdicts on the Pilot reviews will be given as if the Pilot was being reviewed by Network Execs prior to announcing the Fall Lineup. Possible results, in descending order, are:

Order to Series, with Super Renewal (3 Season Commitment)

Order to Series, with Renewal (2 Season Commitment)

Order to Series

Order to Series, with Network Notes

Order Second Pilot

Order Second Pilot, with Network Supervision

Pass

Burn The Tapes