TV Roundup Spring 2014

I haven’t binge watched a show for a long time although I do have a few regulars. The updated version of Friends, New Girl makes me laugh out loud. Agents of Shield with its loveable characters and silly in-jokes gives me warm and fuzzies as if I am actually snuggling up to Joss Whedon on the sofa. Womens prison drama Orange is the New Black was sharp and entertaining, as was the dramatisation of the story of revolutionary sex researchers Masters and Johnson in Masters of Sex.

I didn’t know that a bold and brassy drama about country music would impact my life, but for over two weeks I’ve been averaging three episodes of ABC’s Nashville each day. My laundry continues to accumulate, as does the length of my todo list.

And my internal dialog has taken on a Southern drawl.


And I don’t care because all I want to know is will sexy lead guitarist Deacon Claybourne finally find happiness off the booze, when will ageing country music queen Rayna realise Deacon is the love of her life and do I love or hate the rebellious upstart, singer Juliette Barnes?

Some living room jamming occuring in the next generation of country, part of the marvellously glamourous Nashville
Some living room jamming with the next generation of country stars from ABC’s Nashville

It’s no co-incidence that Nashville a show with strong female leads, is created by a woman. Following in the footsteps of Jenji Kohan (creator of Weeds and Orange is the New Black) Nashville creator Callie Khouri also writes, produces and directs. Her filmography includes writing cinema classic Thelma and Louise in 1991. New Girl too is a creation of the relatively youthful (early 30’s) writer and producer Liz Meriwether. Times they are a changin’.

Another pleasing feature of Nashville is the wealth of original music, thanks in part to genius executive music producer T-Bone Burnett.

In a brilliantly modern twist, two musical Canadian kids Lennon and Maisy who achieved homegrown YouTube fame, have been cast as the two children of the show’s lead Rayna James. Other stars (notably Hayden Panettiere and Connie Britton) apparently sing all their own songs, and do it well. If you’re curious, it’s a wide spectrum of country and folk and you can sample it on Spotify.

Having caught up with the American release schedule of Nashville, I’ve found myself short of entertainment media to binge on. Currently there is a mysterious glut of new shows (is there a spring release schedule?) so I am sampling without prejudice a handful of random S01E01’s.


From Amazon Studios (like the books), no doubt following the Netflix paradigm of production and distribution.

Bad start, opens with two cops on a late night stakeout, exchanging bored and almost technically unintelligible conversation about the weather. It’s raining. Everything looks cold, and blue and dark. Furrowed brows all round. Then a man leaves a house and some undercover stalking occurs. It’s all rather serious, and rather slow, and takes an eternity for something to happen, which culminates at about five minutes when Bosch the gruff cop hero shoots the target of the stakeout rather over enthusiastically.

He’s told off by his boss, which proves to be the highlight, as the boss is none other than Lance Reddick. Perennial trenchcoat wearer at crime scenes, Reddick has also been Lieutenant Daniels from The Wire and Phillip Broyles, Head of FBI in Fringe. This man is literally my internal representation of The Very Serious Boss of every kind of American law enforcement department.

Oh look, Lance Reddick has had to leave his desk at head office,  to come and tell you you've messed up. There's trouble in Bosch.
Oh look, Lance Reddick has had to leave his desk at head office, to come and tell you you’ve messed up. There’s trouble in Bosch.

Sadly I’m also reminded that Fringe had fantastical alien and parallel universe plots, and The Wire was clever and charming. Bosch has hinted at neither of these. I stop watching and move on.

The After

After a disappointing intro scene involving a poorly acted “meet our heroine, a French young mother and aspiring actress, travelling for work and missing her perfect family” the true set-up for this show unfolds; it’s a version of The End of the World.

The city (wherever it is) is in chaos, the power is out, helicopters mysteriously crash amidst crowded streets of confused citizens, and a group of unlikely companions including The French Lady team together in an attempt to escape the city and survive.

The show milks the unlikely companions setup and we’re treated to simplistic stereotypes (time is short, no room for subtlety) smarmy lawyer, smarmy lawyer’s hot but weird sexual companion, rich old lady, escaped convict with ambiguity of moral code (obviously), professional clown (who is hinted at being gay), foul mouthed Irish lout and plucky hispanic lady cop.

Stuff happens.. but then things get weird when the group find out they all share the same birthday (really? is this all you could think of to signify “something strange is going on”) and after a kerfuffel with some criminal looter types making the most of widespread panic, the crew encounters a naked, tattooed humanoid that speaks in tongues. After they fail to kill it, it flips on its back and scuttles off into the woods like a spider.

Handy two-legs or four creature from The After
Handy two-legs or four creature from The After

At this point I am in no doubt this is B-grade sci-fi. It’s bits of The Walking Dead, the “something weird is going on” could be Lost or the similarly rubbish Under The Dome. There’s nothing in this pilot that gives me faith that there is anything new or brilliant hiding under the conspicuously cookie cutter, trope heavy episode. Next.

Addendum. Just noticed, The After is written and directed by X-files Chris Carter. That makes sense. I think he is missing the sophistication required post Lost, and for that matter after the disappointment of the ugly death throes of the last few X-files seasons. A writer needs more than “Ooo, that’s weird” to tempt a savvy sci-fi audience that longs for an intelligent and cohesive narrative.

True Detective

With such a rubbish title I had low expectations until, damn, it opens on the HBO ident, a reassuring sign of quality. What do we have here? Well, to begin, a beautiful title sequence set to a swinging, dark, country ballad. The first scene is a police station recording of Woody Harrelson as a detective, being interviewed about a crime he investigated. We’re then shifted back to that time, Louisiana 1995.

Woody plays a likeable if browbeaten cop and family man recently saddled with a new partner, a dark loner played by Matthew McConaughey, nicknamed “The Taxman” due to his omnipresent oversized ledger.  The awkward new partners are assigned to a case of a bizarre, ritualistic murder that the town fears is satanic.

This is not standard TV but an anthology of eight episodes over a twenty year period. It’s very cinematic, and highlights Louisiana’s flatlands, tobacco skies, roughneck bars, and strange locals sitting on the porch. There are echoes too of the Coen Brothers in the pacing and sharp dialog.

Visually rich, complex and intriguing in structure, eerie, original and even occasionally funny, I’m hoping the other seven episodes continue with the same high end attention to detail.

Hart and Cohle on the crime scene in True Detectives
Cohle (McConaughey) and Hart (Harrelson) at the crime scene in True Detective

Mind Games

The opening scene introduces us to neurotic-but-potentially-brilliant Clark (well captured by the childlike Steve Zahn) and his harried, more serious brother Ross (Christian Slater). The two Edwards brothers have a fledgeling business which gives their clients an advantage by employing methods from behavioural psychology to solve their problems.

The Edwards Brothers in Mind Games
The Edwards Brothers battle it out in Mind Games

In their first client case they are tasked to help convince an insurer to pay out for some experimental surgery for a client. They orchestrate a situation where the insurance company director must defend a woman from an angry homeless person (in fact an employee of the Edwards’ company) on the way to the meeting. On the bus shortly afterwards, the thankful woman (also a plant) he has protected tells him repeatedly what a “good guy” he must be, the theory being that these ideas about self can be integrated more readily after a high adrenaline experience.

It’s fun, fast moving and has potential. Clark is quite loveable with his comedy “beautiful mind” performance, Ross pulls off the might-be-a-bad-guy selfish brother, and there are enough interesting supporting characters in the Edwards company that could be fun to see play out.

It also captures the zeitgeist of the relationship with popular science. Start-ups using scientific insight for personal gain are on the rise, from biofeedback for leadership to neuroscience based market research so I’m curious to see which findings from science will be selected as storyline fodder.

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