TV EYE: The Round-up

To keep myself sane, here’s some shorter looks at the continuing shows. As ever, fear the spoilers…

Legendary director Howard Hawks once said something very significant about his classic screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby – that despite being jaw-droppingly funny, he wished he hadn’t made every single character an oddball eccentric of one form or another. This thought came back to me many times during the second episode of PUSHING DAISIES, a show that seems to be trying so hard to be completely unlike anything else onscreen that it’s tying itself in knots. First up, there was the lengthy flashback introduction re-introducing the series concept (an idea I fear may be a series mainstay, but will hopefully be junked soon), and soon we had yet more arch narration from Jim Dale, an overlong song-and-dance number, another cute ending with Ned and Chuck touching without actually touching, and the revelation that Chi McBride’s grumpy private eye has a thing about knitting. At every stage, the show seems happy to throw in another kooky twist, and while this episode got within the ballpark of the pilot’s standards, it wasn’t quite there, taking far too long to get the initial murder mystery going, and sprinting off on too many tangents. Once the mystery came into play, there were some wonderfully offbeat moments (especially Chuck and the corporate boss conversing in Japanese for no apparent reason), but despite wanting to protectively clasp such a fantastically kooky series to my bosom, it often felt so cartoony that anything resembling real emotion wasn’t even allowed a look-in. Lee Pace and Anna Friel continue to be fantastic, and I’m still interested to see where they take it, but I can’t help feeling like I should like Pushing Daisies more than I actually do. The revelation that one of the show’s main touchstones in terms of approach and narrative was actually Amelie (a film that I felt I should have liked more than I actually did) now makes an awful lot more sense…

Elsewhere, the battle of the two ‘twenty-something hardware shop employee gifted with strange powers’ shows continues, with CHUCK edging narrowly ahead. It’s still a little bit of a mess that’s failing to succesfully balance the humour and action, but episode 3- ‘Chuck vs the Tango’- at least managed to inherit some of the pilot’s style, and also played more with the actual danger of Chuck’s situation, as well as giving time to one of the show’s strongest points – the genuinely affectionate relationship between Chuck and his sister. Zachary Levi managed to be more charming than irritating this week, and there was enough of an edge to some of the action to at least make it entertaining. It’s still throwaway trash that I wouldn’t be too upset about being cancelled, but at least a little of my pilot-related goodwill has been restored.

REAPER, on the other hand, proves once again that I was right to suspect that spinning this out to a series was going to be tricky. The Buffy similarities were even stronger thanks to a bug-based villain, and whle there were a couple of half-entertaining wrinkles, the blend of drama, comedy and horror is severely off track, being neither truly scary or dramatic enough to generate excitement. Yes, the show is still managing to deliver laughs (especially the slideshow of corpses that accidentally includes a shot of the Devil partying at the Emmys), but at the same time it’s serving up the kind of lame monster-of-the-week format that Buffy was sensible enough to kick into touch rapidly, and while Ray Wise still oozes style as the Devil, it’d be nice if they could give him something to do other than enigmatically boss Sam around and turn up at the end to ‘conveniently’ manipulate another situation where he gets to hang out with potential girlfriend Andi. I’m running out of patience, and something tells me I might not be the only one…

BIONIC WOMAN continues its quest to reside somewhere in the realm between mildly intriguing and bland, but its third episode also showcases the Galactica S3 affliction of throwing several ideas together and hoping they make an episode. There continues to be something more than a little reactionary about the whole thing (especially the monumentally cliched story of the brattish daughter who’s only acting out and actually loves her dad), while the structure of the secret organisation as a family (with Miguel Ferrer as the grumpy patriach) makes the whole set-up feel ridiculously cosy. We get a fight in a pedicurist (just to show how daring and unconventional this tale of kick-arse women actually is), and while Michelle Ryan is doing a pretty good job in the lead role, Katee Sackhoff is blowing her off the screen every time she turns up. A Bionic Woman series about the intriguingly messed up Sarah Corvus sounds a hell of a lot more interesting than the MOR murk that we’re being handed at the moment, while I can only assume that Isiah Washington’s completely bizarre scene all about finding the ‘Animal’ was accidentally spliced in from a different episode, as it didn’t seem to connect up to anything. My prescription to the producers would be less godforsaken pop music montages, and to lock themselves in a hotel room with the DVD set of Alias season 1 until they realise what it really takes to make a decent ‘female empowerment’ action show.

It might simply be the weak pickings in the rest of the genre output, but I actually found myself enjoying episode 3 of JOURNEYMAN. It’s still patently ridiculous and so washed free of anything resembling cult funkiness that it’s bordering on the bland, but now that the central relationship of Dan and his wife have cleared up any “Is this or isn’t this happening” confusion, the characters are actually starting to function a little better, and it’s almost possible to believe that this weird mix of romance and time travel could actually work. Then, of course, we get some seriously clunky storytelling (why are people who try to change history always so badly organised?) and shonky dialogue, and I’m still unconvinced that there’s even a whole season of stories to be spun, let alone multiple years, but Kevin McKidd continues to at least make this watchable, and even in it’s dullest moments, I can tell myself that it could be worse. I could be watching MOONLIGHT a show which, like Journeyman, seems desperate to tell a genre story but strip out most of what makes genre storytelling interesting. It does seem to be desperately aiming for a wider ‘romance’ audience, but where Journeyman has a relatively sturdy cast, here we get the bland Alex O’Loughlin and Jason Dohring doing his morally bankrupt rich kid schtick, only far less charmingly than in Veronica Mars (although I’d still rather watch a show about his fun-loving vamp than the deeply dour Mick St. John). The second episode isn’t quite as po-faced as the pilot, but it’s still a monumentally flat experience, showing another example of USTV’s occasional bursts of unthinking misogyny (with an apparently intelligent journalist who writes an entire book about a wronged prisoner, can’t work out that the bald, creepy guy concerned is actually a total psychopath, and in the end gets menaced and has to be rescued by the hero) while also failing to generate anything resembling genuine tension. It’s hard to believe that Angel co-creator David Greenwalt’s name is on the script, although considering he’s since jumped ship as Executive Producer, maybe he reacted in horror at the garbled, uninspring mess that the story was turned into, or the truly shocking bluescreen work in the car sequences, which managed to bring back memories of the process shots in early forties Hitchcock movies. Possibly the most unintentionally hilarious moment comes when it turns out that the main character has never seen Highlander, and hasn’t cottonned onto the fact that if you’re going to pretend to be your own son or grandson, it’s possibly unwise to run around using the same name for nearly sixty years. At every step, it’s a pale, insignificant shadow of a show that just makes me want to go and dig out my Angel box sets, and I pray that when the first round of cancellations are announced, there’s a bullet with Moonlight’s name on it – although considering the pilot managed pretty decent ratings, we may not be rid of it for a while.

Certainly, I’m almost convinced that LIFE will be gone from the airwaves soon, simply because of the fact that I’m starting to really enjoy it. The self-contained procedural structure is still a little to pat for my tastes, but episode 3 managed a more succesful twist on the formula, and as well as giving Damian Lewis plenty of opportunities to be entertainingly offbeat, it also featured one of the finest foot-chase sequences I’ve seen since Point Break. The details around the case-of-the-week are always entertaining, and I consider myself completely sucked into the mystery surrounding the case that sent Charlie Crews away, as well as the bizarre relationship between him and his ex-prison buddy turned accountant Alan Arkin. It’s not perfect, but it is the closest I’ve gotten in all the new shows I’ve seen so far to a drama where I’m consistently enjoying it and looking forward to the next episode. So, the question is, how many until the plug is pulled? Only time and the American audiences will tell…

One thought on “TV EYE: The Round-up

  1. I’m actually getting more hopeful about Pushing Daisies. It’s managing a feat that’s quite uncommon in comedy – mixing the laughs with some pretty gruesome and sad stuff. I don’t know if you’ve seen this week’s episode so I’ll say no more about it, but I enjoyed the investigation portions of the second episode, and some of the imagery was rather scary. You get the sense that if the show weren’t as unremittingly cute as it is, it’d be unbearably sad, which is one of the hallmarks of great comedy.
    At any rate, it hasn’t run out of steam yet, and given that I expected that to happen immediately after the pilot, I’m pleasantly surprised and, as I said, hopeful.


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