Tyson Adams

Putting the 'ill' back in thriller

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TV that entertained me in 2014

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The small screen has continued to gain ground on the big screen in 2014, producing entertainment that is better written, produced, acted and engaging. Sorry, is it still a small screen at 50 inches?

Living hours away from the nearest cinema, TV, or at least the streaming version via my internet, is my go to pass time outside of reading. And like my lists of movies and music that have entertained me this year, TV has had a stella year.

24: Live Another Day
It is easy to forget how cool 24 was, especially with later seasons feeling a bit too recycled. But this shorter season was a return to form for Jack Bauer, reminding people why this show was such a success. Plus, I don’t think we have enough people being tortured on TV these days.

Almost Human
Suffered from the Firefly syndrome. Another sci-fi show on Fox that had episodes shown out of order, wasn’t given a proper time slot, and was cancelled before really finding its footing. I’ve written before about Almost Human and what it could have been. Pity.

Archer
There aren’t too many successful cartoon shows for adults that haven’t tried to be a Simpsons clone. Archer blasted into the world with a different style, especially in the humour department. So it was a pity that the Archer Vice season wasn’t up to the normal standard. There was plenty of humour, but not own it on Blu-Ray like the previous 4 seasons.

Arrow
After following this show for the first two seasons I was looking forward to more action-drama from Arrow. Oh, and abs, CW is the abs network after all. Two episodes into season 3 and I’ve decided to not bother anymore.

Banshee
The second season of Banshee had a high bar to jump over after such a fantastic first season. Things have only become more complicated, more violent and more naked. Awesome. Season 2 did have a slower pace, but the payoff was there every time. Can’t wait for season 3 in a few weeks.

Constantine
Meh. Actually I’ll elaborate: David S Goyer should be kept away from comic book adaptations (still love Blade 1-3).

Continuum
I have enjoyed this series as it managed to steer clear of a number of sci-fi and time travel pitfalls. The third season continued to entertain but started to make leaps in the story that seemed too convenient. With a fourth and final season announced, whilst the creators were planning 7 to 10 seasons, it is clear that they curtailed a few arcs.

Crisis
Sometimes when a series is cancelled after one season you have committed an atrocity against television, such as Firefly. Other times you can see why it happened. Crisis was interesting enough a premise, had good enough performances, but too much of the show felt bland and lifeless. Also, much like Legends, there were too many lazy film-making moments, such as the exposition scenes that are only there for the audience and completely unnatural for the characters. Still, kept me entertained when my toddler refused to let me hold a book in front of my face that wasn’t Hairy Maclary.

Defiance
By any measure this show should suck. Aliens on Earth, post-apocalypse civilisation, CGI that doesn’t rival some of the stuff on YouTube, and a home on SyFy. Yet Grant Bowler, Tony Curren, Jamie Murray and Julie “Darla” Benz head up a cast that make this show work. The writers keep a nice balance of wit, action, intrigue and drama flowing, without letting things become cheesy. All in all, an enjoyable show.

Dominion
This show is a sequel to the terrible movie Legion. But it stars Anthony Stewart “Giles” Head and received a lot of promos during Defiance, so I gave it a go. Dominion has a more interesting premise than Defiance, but has less interesting characters, less impressive performances – bordering on wooden at times – and a plot that creates pointless conflicts. SyFy fans will probably love this one.

Fargo
I have to admit that I DVR’d Fargo and only really watched the first few episodes. That speaks more to my time spent watching recorded or live TV as opposed to streaming shows than it does about Fargo. At some point I will be bothered enough to flick through all of those menus to retrieve the recorded shows and watch what struck me as a cool show. In the meantime, streaming is awesome.

Helix
Immortals, zombies, biological warfare, remote Arctic location, and scientists with really terrible autopipette technique: this show has it all.

Jack Irish: Dead Point
The third in the Peter Temple series of TV movies starring Guy Pierce was another winner. Peter Temple is one of Australia’s finest authors, so it is no surprise that his books are being turned into movies. I really enjoyed this series.

Justified
There are few shows that can claim to have impressed their audience so much that the author of the source material decides he needs to join the writing team. Justified is filled with great writing, great performances, and witty banter, enough to make Elmore Leonard proud. The new and final season arrives in January and I will be watching.

Last Week Tonight
John Oliver made the successful transition from The Daily Show to swearing friendly HBO. You’d have to have been living under a rock (in internet terms) to have missed seeing one of John’s fantastic segments this year. There was no subject too hard nor too grim for the Last Week Tonight team to cover. As a result another comedy show has handed out a lesson in how journalism can and should be done (hint: it starts with doing some bloody research!!).

Legends
Sean Bean doesn’t die in this show. Which is a shame. Legends is an annoying show as it flits between moments of greatness, such as Sean’s performance as an undercover operative who takes on different personalities for investigations, and then moments of sheer inept laziness. This could have been so much better.

Mad As Hell
Shaun Micallef is as close to Jon Stewart as we have in Australia. Mad As Hell is his ongoing satire of the week in news and 2014 has probably been his best yet. Off the wall and often forgoing the obvious jokes, this show deserves a bigger audience.

Old School
An offbeat Aussie crime drama, Old School didn’t quite wow me. Sam Neill and Bryan Brown work well together, the premise is good, if unoriginal, and the producers didn’t try to drag it out for too many episodes in the season. But it really didn’t rise above average entertainment.

Peaky Blinders
A friend introduced me to this fabulous show late this year. I cannot say enough good things about it. Cillian Murphy and Sam Neill are fantastic actors, but unlike some shows, the entire cast are great as well. Cillian may well establish himself with this role, not to mention Tom Hardy’s performance in the second season. I’m a fan of Cillian Murphy’s work, even going so far as to watch the terrible In Time. I could cite The Wind That Shakes the Barley as an obvious display of his acting chops, but instead I’m going to say that it was the film Red Eye with Rachel McAdams that won me over. Red Eye shouldn’t have been more than a B-grade thriller, but Cillian and Rachel make the material rise way beyond potential. Now imagine what he’s doing with excellent material and more than one amazing co-star.

Penny Dreadful
I mentioned in my 2014 in Movies article that I could watch Eva Green stare at the camera and find it entertaining. Well, she grabs the script and the scenery and chews them to pieces in this show. Much like Peaky Blinders, this is another well acted period drama, with no bad performances. But I want to like this show more. It suffers from a very slow pace of story telling, so much so that you almost thinking you are watching a soapie. Oh, and it has vampires in it. And they don’t sparkle. Boo-ya!

Person of Interest
Despite the modern setting, this is one of those classic TV shows. We’ve seen this “help someone each week” formula in show after show, but it never becomes boring. Whether it be The Littlest Hobo or MacGyver, shows about helping people in need always have a soft spot for me. Especially if they shoot people regularly like Jim Caviezel.

Rake – the Aussie version
Ignore the US version and check out Richard Roxburgh as a smarmy lawyer who defends any and everyone, whilst corruption and politics surround him. A classic show that doesn’t seem to have translated in the US version.

Sherlock
The third season of Sherlock was a bit of a let down. A few people described the season as suffering from a severe case of smug. Definitely not as good as the first two seasons.

South Park
I’ve drifted in and out of South Park. Much like The Family Guy, I still enjoy watching South Park, but don’t find myself compelled to watch every week/episode. That said, Trey and Matt have continued to skewer every topic with bravado.

The Blacklist
This show has grown on me. At first I didn’t think much of it, too forced and episodic. But then James Spader won me over with his charm. I’m sure there are other people on the show as well, possibly even writers and directors.

The Colbert Report
With Stephen Colbert leaving The Report to take over from David Letterman, it feels like we are losing a satirical show that has been without equal. Whilst I’m actually more of a fan of The Daily Show and the new Last Week Tonight, The Report has held up a mirror to those blowhards in the media and screamed at them to take a good hard look at themselves.

The Daily Show
With the rise of Last Week Tonight and the end of The Colbert Report, it is easy to forget the show that launched them. Still the original and the best US news comedy show.

The Flash
Watched the first two episodes and can sum the show up as: meh.

The Librarians
As a huge fan of Leverage I was excited to hear about the new Dean Devlin series, The Librarians. But then I realised that The Librarians sounded similar to a movie that made me want to cut myself. I was torn, watch a new show with Christian Kane in it and try to forget the horror that was The Librarian movies, or ignore potential awesome from the team that made Leverage. Well, a few episodes in and The Librarians looks like a lot of fun, much like Leverage was. Admittedly, the cheesiness that made The Librarian movies suck so badly is still present, but the fun factor is amped up. Did I mention Bruce Campbell makes a guest appearance? Oh, and Aussie actor John Kim is in the cast, and he keeps his accent, unlike many other Aussies and New Zealanders (e.g. the star of Banshee) cast in US shows.

The Roast
One of the common complaints about Aussie TV is the lack of an equivalent to The Daily Show or Colbert Report. The problem with this complaint was that we did have one: The Roast. Unfortunately it didn’t garner the attention it richly deserved and with ABC budget cuts no-one was going to support a show that took a (satirical) razor to politics and media. I think the 10 minute format was ideal for a daily comedy show, roughly matching the amount of original content their US counterparts produce daily, sans interviews. Vale.

See Also:
http://www.indiewire.com/article/the-most-disappointing-tv-shows-of-2014-20141220

http://tysonadams.com/2014/02/08/entertaining-tv-of-2013/

Entertaining TV of 2013

With many of my favourite shows now back on air for 2014, except the ones that were cancelled, I thought it was a good time to recap what kept me entertained on the small screen in 2013.

Many people have noted the rise of decent TV, leaving behind the days of formulaic plots (e.g. CSI whatever), sit coms that lack the comedy (e.g. Two and A Half Men), dramas that lack plot (e.g. Lost), lame reality TV shows (e.g. Duck Dynasty), and the cancellation of a Joss Whedon show before it got a chance to be awesome (e.g. every show he’s ever made). This is at the same time as movies have failed to produce anything particularly memorable or interesting in quite some time.

I actually have a theory (by theory I mean hypothesis) about why there are fewer and fewer decent movies. It comes down to this little figure:
gender-inequality-in-filmLet’s leave aside the gross disparity between the highest paid actor vs. actress discussion, instead let’s focus on those paychecks. You stick just one of those stars in a movie, just one, and you are going to have a really expensive movie that is going to battle make its money back at the box office. Movie studios know this, so they spend up big on special effects, production values, promotion, etc, to lure people into the cinema. But in an effort to attract as large an audience as possible to make up for this huge spend, they make the movies as bland as possible in order to accommodate a wide audience from around the world. The reason that movie sucks isn’t because it is aimed at 12 year olds, its aimed at 12 year olds who probably don’t understand idioms due to being in a different country/culture.

And this is why we get a list of gems on the small screen, because the writers, directors, and quite a few actors, have realised that in order to tell good stories, they can’t spend huge dollars (unless it is on prime time crap).

Justified

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Possibly my favourite show of the past few years. This is not only well written, the entire cast and crew seem to have this knack for creating great TV. Plus, last season featured Patton Oswalt.

Sherlock

I love this show for its wit, humour, modernising of the classic Sherlock Holmes stories, and the casting. Some have accused it of being smug, but I see that as central to Sherlock’s character, thus welcome in the show.

Luther

I read the prequel novel by series writer Neil Cross and it was every bit as good as the TV show. Idris Elba took a break from fighting monsters in giant robot suits in order to make another season of this fantastic crime drama.

Banshee

When I describe this show to friends, they always come away thinking that I’ve described a violent, b-grade, action movie with plenty of nudity. Just another throw back to the pulp novel trash that I also have occasion to read. Well, yes. The problem being? The best new show on TV in 2013, hands down!

Person of Interest

I really enjoyed the first season of Person of Interest. The second season was more of the same but brought more of the very interesting character portrayed by Amy Acker. Season 3 was off to a good start before the non-ratings break. Now that I’ve raised that point, why do we even have a non-ratings period any more? TV watching habits have changed, the networks better change with the times or lose out to the internet… oh wait, they are.

Continuum

I discovered this sci-fi gem by accident. One of the problems I’ve always had with time travel in books, TV and movies is that they don’t deal with the paradox very well. Even in Back to the Future it is almost played for a joke. This series is well written and actually has the paradox central to its story structure. It also helps that Rachel Nichols does a good job of holding the series together.

Revolution

Another post-apocalyptic story, ho-hum. This series has an interesting take on what would be society’s downfall and what would subsequently happen. There is a lot to like about this show, especially Billy Burke as a bad-ass. Although, after the first season, I didn’t see much point in having a second season and won’t be following it.

Arrow

This is one of the few mainstream shows I find watchable. It is pretty much down to the fact that they have some good fights, an interesting premise culled from the source material, and that the actors have done the hard yards physically for the show (especially Stephen Amell and Manu Bennett). Makes me want to build a salmon ladder in my backyard.

H+

Not often that a web series could attract a big name director like Bryan Singer (of the decent X-Men movies fame) to make a series of short scene sci-fi. I’d characterise the series as essentially 48 vignettes with overlapped characters and story, as most episodes can stand alone to some extent, despite being part of a larger narrative.

Archer

Quite simply, this show is the funniest thing on TV. In the proud tradition of cartoon comedies, it is able to do things that other TV shows and comedies can’t, due to financial, legal or ethical constraints. This series is also one of the few with DVD extras that you would actually want to watch. One of the best is when Archer has an accident and is transformed into a character much more like his voice actor, with ensuing gags around this.

Rake

This Aussie comedy-drama has been a consistently witty and interesting tale about a self-destructive Sydney barrister. Normally Aussie humour doesn’t translate well to other parts of the world, but Rake has been adapted for the USA, with Greg Kinnear replacing Richard Roxburgh.

Tried but lost interest:

Almost Human – promising sci-fi that didn’t really capture my attention

The Walking Dead – so sick of that fucking farm!

Marvel’s Agents of Shield – this should have been good, but was meh.

The Booth At The End – interesting premise but didn’t grab me.

The Following – I can honestly say that this series squandered such a great premise with derivative and clichéd story.

The Blacklist – this was interesting only because of James Spader. Needed more than that.

Vikings – interesting but too slow moving.

Hannibal – this was fantastic. I don’t know why I haven’t watched more, but I just haven’t.

What!?! You don’t watch….

The Game of Thrones – after watching the first season I had had enough. You only have to watch this far to see Sean Bean die, so game over.

Breaking Bad – I’ve dropped in and out on this series, watching episodes throughout. I’ve really enjoyed it, but not something I’ve made time to watch all of.

Arrested Development – yeah, I know. I should be a rabid fan.

The Killing – both the US and the Danish Forbrydelsen are slow boil crime shows that I’ve started watching and not continued. No particular reason for stopping, just haven’t gotten to the rest of the episodes yet.

Borgen – have heard great things, but just haven’t gotten to it yet.

TV Shows From Around the World

I was viewing the new series of Sherlock, written by the fantastic Steven Moffat (Coupling, Dr Who, Jekyl), when a thought occurred to me; would the deli be open to sell me an ice cream at this hour? Sadly it wasn’t, which gave me plenty of time to think about how various countries differ in the way they do TV shows and movies.

I present my musings and gross generalities about TV shows around the world.

UK – Talkies.

The best Dr Who – Tom Baker a close second.

When I think of UK TV in general I think very little action but a lot of dialogue. Not much happens in any one episode of UK TV, but all the characters have a lot to say. The best shows – often written by the aforementioned Steven Moffat et al. – are also witty and intelligent.

A great example of this is Dr Who, the David Tennant version. The Doctor is stuck in a life or death situation – lets say its Darleks about to shoot him – and yet he talks his way out of it. Any other country would have him ducking for cover. Another example is the crime drama Luther. This is more an exploration of the main character and his strained relationships and his commitment to solving crimes.

Example: Sherlock, Luther.
Outlier: The Bill (cookie cutter).

USA – Explosions and cookie cutter formats.

Cookie-Cutter was a term invented for this franchise. 

The Americans are terrific at doing formulaic shows. Their crime shows follow the same patterns each episode, the dramas have a list of top topics – also used for identifying when they have jumped the shark – and all their comedies gradually morph into dramas. They also do gun fights and explosions. More bullets are fired in one episode of US TV than in the entire year of all TV shows from the UK and Australia (NB: made up statistic that is possibly true but I’d have no idea).

As a result they can attract audiences in large numbers to watch things go bang. The longer the show runs the less ideas are used in any one episode as the formulae takes over. In fairness, compared to UK TV, series in the US produce a lot more episodes, so writers would have a harder time coming up with fresh material.

Example: CSI whatever.
Outlier: Justified, The Wire.

Australia – Soapies.

Neighbours, the long running steaming pile of dog droppings.

Aussies can’t produce a TV show that isn’t a soapie. We have tried many times, failing miserably to make the show not morph into a soapie. Sometimes we start off with a great premise and even a few episodes that show promise, but it doesn’t take long before we have just another soapie.

I don’t watch Aussie TV any more.

Example: We don’t do anything other than soapies.
Outlier: The little watched Good Guys, Bad Guys.

Western Europe – Gritty and noir.

Unit One making you squirm.

Americans have recently started (re)making European shows with more explosions. They have realised that there are so many well written shows there that they just had to copy them. Since Americans can’t handle accents and subtitles they need to redo the lot. Of course the Americans are then surprised when there is something lacking in their version.

I don’t know why, but gritty seems like a default position in every drama produced in Europe (Inspector Rex doesn’t count). As a result shows can become very dark, but at the same time are generally more substantive.

Example: The Elephant, The Killing, Unit One.
Outlier: All the same soaps and reality TV that they produce like every other country/region.

Canada – USA shows

We’re in Canada Scully; it’s a conspiracy!

If it is a US TV show, it is likely to be made in Vancouver. My theory for this phenomenon is that American actors and stuntmen on TV shows generally aren’t making enough money to afford decent health care. As a result they like to locate themselves in a country that has proper health care available. Just a theory.

One of the ways to spot an Canadian TV show versus an American TV show is how much shooting and explosions occur during any one episode. At one end you have American shows, at the other end you have Canadian shows, and right in the middle are the Canadian produced American shows.

Example: Stargate, Supernatural.
Outlier: Any show that looks kinda American but hasn’t got people shooting someone every 2 minutes.

Eastern Europe, South America & Asia
I’d like to know more as Australians don’t have many of them on our screens.

NB: I’ve tried to be as intentionally insulting to the various countries with my observations as possible. There is a lot of great TV out there, Australia makes virtually none of it, so I’m bitter, resentful and ultimately jealous.

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