TV EYE: Chuck, Reaper, Bionic Woman, Life, Journeyman

At least for now, I’ve got so many TV shows to deal with that I’m only just managing to keep up with them all, which is a nice feeling. It’s time for plenty of second episodes, and I’ll be changing the format of these reviews slightly, mainly because many of these episodes share the same kind of problems. Despite some outstanding moments, I have yet to be completely blown away by any of the new US Network shows moving past their pilots (I have my fingers crossed that Pushing Daisies can build on its wacky pilot, rather than peaking way too early), and none of them have yet entered the realm of absolute must-see…

I never thought I’d find myself missing the director of Charlie’s Angels, but the second outing for CHUCK managed to mostly squander any postive feelings I’d had over the pilot, and it’s hard not to blame the switch from weirdly monickered McG to the bloke who used to play Tom Paris in Star Trek: Voyager (aka Robert Duncan McNeill). As you’d expect from McG, the pilot was mostly style over substance, but had a slickness that set up the show well– unfortunately, it looks like they spent most of the budget on the car-crashes and Parkour chases in the first episode, as things here felt very drab, bare and cheap. Once again, we get the bizarre world of hair continuity in US TV, where they don’t bother trying to disguise the amount of time or hairgrowth that’s happened between the pilot episode and the first episode, despite only 24 hours having passed in story time. To be honest, this wouldn’t be quite so much of a problem if the episode had still been fun, but instead it managed to dump most of what I’d liked about the pilot (the sharp dialogue, the energy, the genuine feeling of risk and danger) and strengthened the stuff that I didn’t (the downright silly nature of the plot, the knockabout humour). Yes, we know this is just a daft spy show, and that Yvonne Strzechowski (aka spy babe Sarah Walker) seems to have the necessity for regular underwear shots written into her contract, but it would be nice if her supposed ‘cover’ as a hot-dog fast food worker actually made sense (She’s in a completely different shop to Chuck, one in which nobody but her ever seems to work…), or if any of the episode’s twists felt like anything other than predictable or lazy. Despite being fairly engaging last time, even Zachary Levi was starting to grate here, and while Chuck was only ever going to work according to how far they were willing to push the envelope, the answer seems to be “not very”.

On the other hand, our other ‘Twentysomething in the service industry is gifted amazing powers’ series had a more consistent follow-up to its Kevin Smith directed pilot (probably helped by the fact that Smith has never really been much of a visual stylist). REAPER episode 2 did feature some odd choices– with our hero immediately changing his mind about wanting to be Hell’s bounty hunter, after having apparently come to terms with his duty at the end of the pilot episode– but did its job in delivering some laugh-out-loud moments, and a goofy comedy vibe that pulled it through a number of weak moments. It’s still feeling extremely formulaic, however, and it’s hard not to think that the series’ concept is inherently flawed at its core. Basing your show around the idea that the biggest villain in the universe is getting the hero to catch lesser villains that he apparently can’t be bothered to catch isn’t the best starting point, and it isn’t helped by each of the villains so far being fundamentally uninteresting and pretty damn unscary. The show does seem to want to function as a drama/adventure as well as a comedy, but it’s really not going to work until they get a more interesting dynamic going than Ray Wise turning up and bossing the hero into tracking down another anonymous element-based runaway soul. The switch from Nikki Reed to Missy Peregrym as the girlfriend is an odd one- Peregrym’s good, but Reed had a better ‘ordinary girl’ look that fitted with the rest of the show, while Peregrym’s presence here (at least for the moment) means she’s unlikely to turn up again in Heroes, at least for a while (a shame, especially as she was one of the more enjoyable characters in the latter half of Season 1). Reaper is fun, but currently feels like it’d work much better if they dumped the Buffy-lite plotting and approached it as a full-on comedy instead.

And there we are talking about casting changes… BIONIC WOMAN, of course, has seen something rather more signficant, with Jaime Summers’ deaf sister being swapped for a typically grumpy and far more Hollywood-style sister– a pity, considering that was one of the more distinctive aspects of the Pilot. Here, we breathe a sigh of relief as we discover that Will the annoying boyfriend didn’t actually survive evil Katee Sackhoff’s assassin’s bullet (a story point which was left rather vague at the end of the pilot), and that Michelle Ryan now has a new potentially crooked authority figure in the form of Isiah “Many of my best friends are gay…” Washington. A few neat concepts this episode- especially the idea that her fight with Sackhoff in the pilot was actually a ‘combat demo’ meaning that she doesn’t do anywhere near as well when she tries to tackle a non-bionic foe for the first time- but the set-up plays like a below-par Alias episode, with only the vaguest details on the villains and a climax that’s the working definition of underwhelming. Most of the interesting stuff seemed to be happening in the subplots- particularly another appearence from Sackhoff, who’s hijacking the attention whenever she arrives- and in the fabulous scenes between Ryan and the eternally grumpy Miguel Ferrer who’s turning out to be one of this show’s saving graces. Lots of pop music montages, lots of flashy atmosphere, and yet this still feels like a pale Xerox of Alias with a mid-Nineties style that’s not going to do it any favours in the end. At the moment, I can’t see this being anything other than fitfully entertaining trash TV.

Elsewhere, in LIFE, we get another self-contained murder mystery that’s enough to tell me that I’m never that fond of formulaic police procedurals designed as standalone episodes. The story never really has enough room to go anywhere truly surprising, and there’s only so many reversals and twists you can manage in forty minutes, but what makes Life interesting is the way it’s trying to mix the procedural structure with a long-running Lost-style plot thread. We’re regularly cutting to documentary-style interviews on Charlie Crews’ case, using the format to build exposition, and it’s working surprisingly well (much better than the feeble attempt at a ‘Talk Show’ dream at the start of Moonlight’s first episode), while each episode is apparently going to see Charlie continuing on his path towards revenge. Everything surrounding the formula storytelling is good enough to make up for its flaws, and Damien Lewis continues to be downright excellent in the lead role– I just can’t help feeling it’s the kind of show that would do better on a cable network and being aimed firmly at an adult audience, rather than trying to fit into the more traditional hole that’s filled by so many other, unremarkable procedurals.

Finally, there’s the second episode of JOURNEYMAN, a series which seems to exist solely for the purpose of coming up with oddball twists on the ‘sudden jumps through time’, and which shares a few of LIFE‘s problems but very few of it’s strengths. Once again, we get an odd switchback of doubt from Dan’s wife who still doesn’t seem initially to believe his time-trips (despite the pretty damn conclusive evidence at the end of the pilot), and another nice little twist as Dan vanishes onboard a plane and ends up on Homeland Security’s no-fly list. Otherwise, it’s a decidedly bland outing that once again gives us the chance to go from the Seventies to the Nineties, indulging in cheap, easy nostalgia without flirting with anything as dangerous as a point. The structure of Dan’s ‘missions’ are feeling somewhat over-familiar already, and the romantic ‘triangle’ is still failing to maintain any serious sparks, while there are still massive questions hovering over Olivia’s appearences, and why she seems to have much more of a control over her ‘power’ (and how was she able to get a seat on the crowded flight that they both ended up on?). Kevin McKidd is still effortlessly watchable, and some of the supporting performances are good, but this is still a mix of oddball spirtituality and misconceived time travel that’s failing to be anything other than worthy and slightly dull. At their current going rate, unless they’ve got some major twists up their sleeves, I can’t see this going anywhere but rapidly downhill…

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