Spin-Off Special: Star Trek – The Next Generation: In which we learn that we have World War III and drugged soldiers to look forward to

First aired: 26th September 1987

Cast :

Patrick Stewart – Captain Jean-Luc Picard

Jonathan Frakes – Commander Will Riker

Brent Spiner – Lieutenant Commander Data

Michael Dorn – Lieutenant Worf

Denise Crosbie – Lieutenant Tasha Yar

Levar Burton – Lieutenant Geordi LaForge

Gates McFadden – Doctor Beverley Crusher

Marina Sirtis – Counsellor Deanna Troi

Michael Bell – Groppler Zorn

Will Wheaton – Wesley Crusher

John deLancie – Q

Spin Off Specifics:

Where did is spin-off from? Star Trek

When did it spin-off from? This season started 19 years after the original series ended.

What is different? It’s premise remains the same, the adventures of the Enterprise, but it’s 100 years later and as such a new crew, new technologies and new uniforms.

Was it necessary? Not as such, but recent movies had really envigorated peoples love of the franchise, inspiring this return to Trek on TV.

How did it compare? Very different in both tone and quality, subjected to endless debates and comparisons.

Synopsis: Stardate 41153.7, the Earth year 2266 far into deep space. Captain Jean-Luc Picard has taken command of the USS Enterprise (registration NCC-1701D), the flagship of Starfleet, the military and exploration arm of the United Federation of Planets. The ship is on course for Deneb IV at the edge of Federation space. Capt. Picard is impressed with this Galaxy Class ship. On the bridge he discusses the Enterprise’s mission with two of his senior officers, ship’s counsellor Dianna Troi (a humanoid alien called a Betazoid) and operations officer Lt. Cmdr Data (an android) and as that happens a sphere of energy surrounds the ship and a human looking man appears on the bridge dressed in renassaince era naval attire and demands that the ship return to Earth and stay there. To make the point on how seriously he should be taken, he freezes a helmsman, Torres who raised his sidearm (a phaser) towards this creature, now identifying itself as Q. Torres’ frozen body needs to be taken to sick pay so he will survive.

Q now transforms into a 20th century soldier in dress uniform, replete with anti communist quotes and cigarette. When Picard challenges the archaic ideals of man and the progress made since then, Q moves his appearance into the mid-21st century with drugged addicted soldiers from a post apocalyptic past for Picard’s era (and 40 or so years in our future) that hints of a darker 21st century. Security chief Tasha Yar (a human, but not born on Eatrth) and other bridge officer Worf (a Klingon) request permission to remove Q from the bridge, Picard advises caution. Picard berates Q for his actions, calling him out on judging humanity, this inspires Q who leaves, but promises another encounter soon. He take a second, then Picard gives his crew their orders, head off at top speed, then seperate the ship, putting civilians, family members and non-essential crew in the saucer and then head back to the sphere in the star-drive section and face Q. Everyone works towards this, but Data warns how inadvisable this course of action is.

The Enterprise goes into warp, followed by the sphere. The ship seperates and the saucer section gets away, the rest heads back at high speed, then stops. Picard issues orders again, send the message we surrender.

A flash of light and Yar, Picard, Data and Troi are in a mid 21st century court, ripped from the dystopia left after the nuclear devastation of world war III. In the courtroom on a flying throne is this courtroom’s judge, prosectuor and jury, Q. The Enterprise and it’s crew are on charge for the collective actions of humanity. (We’ll just ignore the fact that only Troi is half human, Data is an android so only 2 of them are actually human and only one is actually from Earth) but this is apprently a fair trial.

Tasha has an outburst, estolling Starfleet and the Federation’s virtues, that she is from a world that isn’t so enlightened and she owes her current life to Starfleet. Q freezes her, but there is no sickbay to help out in this case, Q is argued into healing her by Picard. He again requests that this be a fair trial, using Data as a court recorder to read back Q and Picard’s own words in their own voices to make his point.

Picard refuses to plead guilty, but with guns pointed at his crew’s heads he relents, but conditionally. He concedes that humanity has a history full of the cruelty and violence that Q accuses them of, but that was then. Judge humanity by what it is now, by his crew and their mission. Q agrees and allows the ship and it’s crew to go on with it’s current mission, to Deneb IV and it’s new starbase Farpoint. He gives a warning full foreboding and in another flash of light, the crew are back on the bridge and enroute to Farpoint.

Okay, speaking of Farpoint, we go to Deneb IV and Commander William T Riker is meeting with Farpoint’s administrator Gropplar Zorn. He is after some information on the base, it’s construction and history, but is diverted off topic by Zorn, who appears to be trying to keep Riker away from something. Before he leaves, he notices a bowl of apples on Zorn’s desk that didn’t seem to be there before, he mentioned apples as he went in and on his way out, see apples. He leaves, then Zorn seems to berate the room, even to the point of threatening it.

Later at a market, Riker bumps into Dr. Beverly Crusher and her teenage son Wesley. Both of them are being assigned to the crew of the Enterprise and are there waiting for the ship to arrive.Beverley is trying to buy fabric and laments that there isn’t a goldleaf pattern on it, she looks away and when she looks back, there is a goldleaf pattern on one of the fabrics she was looking at. She buys a bolt of the fabric and orders it sent to her ship, then she points out that ‘Jean-Luc’ would want this looked into. Riker enquires and she tells him that her late husband and Picard were good friends and when her husband Jack died years earlier it was Picard who brought his body home. The Crushers leave and Riker is joined by Lt. Geordi LaForge (another soon to be crewmate) who informs him that the Enterprise is in orbit, but withou the saucer and Capt,. Picard has sent for him.

On the Enterprise, Picard directs Riker to a screen and he looks at the ship’s record and learns all about the Q situation, when he is done, Picard orders him to manually redock with the saucer when it arrives. All up until this point, Picard has been dismissive and cold, but this changes once the job is done. Picard welcomes Riker warmly, but questions some of his past actions. His particular bone of contention is that he has acted in defiance of his captain’s orders in regards to the captain’s safety. Riker refuses to apologise for trying to save his captain’s life. These convictions impress Picard who accepts Riker as his first officer, but also asks that he help Picard appear more genial with the civilian parts of the ship’s compliment, especially children.

In sickbay, Dr. Crusher is giving Geordi LaForge a physical, paying particular attention to the visor he wears, which since he was born blind acts as his sight. It causes chronic pain, but none of the methods to ease that pain will work with the current level of medical technology.

Riker goes looking for Data who is escourting Admiral Leonard McCoy around his tour of the Enterprise and back to his shuttle. We see that this is the same Leonard McCoy who was ship’s Doctor on the original Enterprise as well as the Enterprise A starting 100 years earlier. Q pops by to see Picard, telling him that he only has 24 hours left to solve the mystery of Farpoint station.

Little has happened 11 hours later. Picard and Riker discuss how things with the Bandi people who live on Deneb IV don’t add up. Picard decides he wants to meet with Zorn himself. He’s heading down and brings Riker and Troi. We now learn that Troi and Riker were in a relationship and it ended rather abruptly and there’s still feelings, seemingly on both sides. Zorn doesn’t like Troi’s presence, distrusting telephaths, but Troi is only half Betazoid and is only empathic. She actually uses this empathy, feeling great pain and sadness. Zorn gets desperate and threatens to withdraw use of Farpoint station and deal with the Ferengei instead. Picard points out that the Ferengei have the reputation of eating business associates that don’t prove profitable.

After returning to the ship, Riker finds Data in the holodeck, which uses light projection and forcefields to simulate any environment imagineable, currently it is a forest with a stream running through it. The pair talk and we learn that Data, despite being stronger and smarter than most humanoids desires to be human. Wesley walks into the holodeck and falls into the water, only to be pulled out and held aloft one handed by Data.

Sickbay and Welsey speaks to his mother, expressing a desire to see the bridge as well as his dislike of Capt. Picard. Beverley points out that Picard is not a family man and that Wesley’s father liked him a great deal.

On the surface, Riker, Yar, Data, LaForge and Troi are investigating the lower levels of Farpoint. They talk about splitting up, Troi wants to go with Riker, but he dismisses the idea quickly and sends Yar and LaForge with her, she isn’t pleased.

Yar, LaForge and Troi examine the tunnels, it starts to look very different fdrom the Starbase above and also the Bandi city nearby, both of which use very standard materials, unlike what Geordi is seeing in the tunnels. In fact, he has never seen anything like this building material, nor even heard of anything like this. Troi has a reaction to emotion again, causing her so much pain that Riker and Data are teleported to her side. Riker is incensed, no one has any idea what is going on and that is about to stop.

Back on the Enterprise, Dr. Crusher reports to the bridge, with Welsey hiding in the lift. Picard allows Wesley to come onto the bridge and sit in the captain’s chair, where Welsey points out how much he knows about the ship’s systems and how they work. Picard gets annoyed and shoos him off, just as a ship comes into orbit. The saucer like ship starts firing on Deneb IV, but not on Farpoint, on the Bandi city nearby. On the surface, Riker orders Troi, LaForge and Yar to return to the ship, over Troi’s objection.

On the ship, Picard orders sheilds raised and weapons to be locked on the alien ship, mostly as a precaution. Q pops in to comment, but this is mostly ignored. When he comments on the crew’s lack of compassion, Picard points out that Dr. Crusher is already preparing a medical away mission to provide humanitarian aid, he didn’t need to order this, as it is a standing order in these kinds of circumstances. On the surface, Riker and Data head to Zorn’s office. Zorn has more answers than he has given, but when confronted he is teleported away.

Q prevents the crew from moving the Enterprise between the alien ship and Deneb IV, Q wants Riker to go over to the new vessel, RIker is keen on the idea himself, Picard agrees reluctantly and gathers an away team whilst Picard pops down to sickbay to try and mend fences with Dr. Crusher. It’s an awkward affair, but both profess to wanting to be friends.

On the alien ship, Troi, Yar, Riker and Data appear and note that the interior of the alien ship looks a lot like the underground tunnels under Farpoint. Troi sense anger, intense rage. As they walk through more corridors, they find a chamber and inside find Zorn, suspended in an energy field, screaming in pain. Using their phasers Riker and Data fire at the field and free Zorn, as soon as at that happens the interior of the ship starts to change. They try to beam off, but it seems that Q is preventing it, using their lives to leverage Picard into accepting the guilty plea. But it turns out that the alien ship beamed them out just before it started to change. Troi recognises that it is a single living thing, the ship becomes some kind of giant glowing space jellyfish. Picard works out that Farpoint station might also be the same sort of thing, living of Deneb IV’s massive geothermal energy surplus. He orders an energy beam to be directed at Farpoint and that all of the personnel be evacuated from it. The beam is absorbed and then slowly Farpoint also becomes a giant glowing space jellyfish. The two beings leave together, joyous and grateful.

The mystery solved, Picard turns his attention to Q. Q departs, but points out that he didn’t agree to never return. Their first mission over, the crew of the Enterprise flies off, towards the future. Or in the Captain’s own words.

“Let’s see what’s out there.”

Notes: This is a hard program to be objective about. When videocassettes of this program was available, I rented this from a videoshop that came around the streets where I lived as a child. I watched this more than once and it was my first exposure to Trek and as a result, I will always have fond memories of this program and it’s first episode. It’s also worth considering that before Trek was this sprawling franchise, this was the first time it had been done without the original ship, or the original crew. Everyone expected this to fail, most of the hardcore fans wanted it to fail and the show’s lead Patrick Stewart didn’t unpack for the first season expecting it to fail, forcing him to go home. But it didn’t and so here we are.

More so than action, than comedy and drama, science fiction is a product of it’s time and place. What this means is that despite being set 346 years in the future it is a very dated television program. The only developed characters are the male ones, with the only characterisation of the 3, yes that’s all 3 female characters are either charicatures of professional women doing a male dominated job or defined by their relationships to the male characters. Gender equality still being sought in the 24th century apparently. Not that there’s an abundance of charactersation on the male side either. But we’re not tuning in for that are we? We are looking for sci-fi action and …….. there’s not much of that either. There’s a lot of talking, there’s a lot of pondering the nature of man and all that stuff, but it is a very slow motion show.

The cast work pretty well, even from the start with Sir Patrick Stewart owning the role of Jean Luc Picard from the very beginning, all verbose and shakespearian. He stands as a contrast to the younger, more idealised American Kirk. (Weird that we have an Englishman playing a frenchman contrasted with a Canadian playing an American) Because we still need a Kirk we have Johnathan Frakes as Riker, as actors go, Frakes is an excellent director. Marina Sirtis tries about six different accents as the ship’s therapist (seriously, that’s a bridge position?) and Brent Spiner trying desperately not to overact as an emotionless android. The rest of the crew don’t really get much to work with and without John DeLancie stealing every scene he is, this would be a much dryer show. And this episode was that, dry. There’s little action and somewhat less humour. Whilst the original series dealt with serious themes, there was still a bit of tongue securely planted in the cheek. None of that is present here and whilst there is plenty of potential here, almost none of it is realised in this first 88 minutes of screentime.

I have great fondness for the series, but I realise that most of that comes from watching it on BBC2 later on. Episodes like Measure of a Man, The Inner Light, Best of Both Worlds and Chain of Command were excellent episodes of television, but really most of the good that they were built on came later. Honestly it may end up being the weakest of the pilots.

But there are moments, Spiner’s Data marvelling at the human capacity to whistle. Stewart owning the screen when facing down DeLancie’s Q and even playing the straight man being the most commanding presense on screen and the Enterprise itself looks fantastic. It isn’t perfect, but there are glimmers of something better lurking under the surface.

Verdict:

Does it work? Yes, the show’s mission statement: To seek out strange new worlds and new civilisations, to bodly go where no one has gone before. That can work so very easily whenever you make the show.

Does much need fixing? Oh god, so much needs fixing it’s not even funny.

Does it stand up? Not as well as it should have, it’s as dated as it’s predecessor, despite being made over two decades later.

Do I want to watch the next one? Next one? No, but I would maybe do a best of episode or two.

Did I enjoy it?  I did, my fondness for it, does make this imperfect gem re-watchable.

Overall: 2 out of 5.I wanted to like this so much more than I did. There are just better episodes to enjoy out there.

The Expanse: In which we learn that the future isn’t going to be very colourful

First aired: 23rd November 2015

Cast:

Thomas Jane – Joe Miller

Steven Strait – Jim Holden

Cas Anvar – Alex Kamal

Dominique Tipper – Naomi Nagata

Wes Chatham – Amos Burton

Jay Hernandez – Dimitri Havelock

Paulo Constanzo – Shed Garvey

Florence Faivre – Julie Mao

Shohreh Aghdashloo – Chrisjen Avasarala

Synopsis: In the 23rd Century, humans have colonised the solar system. The United Nations control a united Earth, Mars is an independent colony and the resources of the outer asteroid belt support both and all three of edging towards war.

A woman is trapped inside a ship as people are killed outside the door of the room she is trapped inside. There’s no food, water or gravity. After an undetermined amount of time, she escapes to the rest of the seemingly abandoned ship the Scopuli. She manages to force the door and gets into the corridor. There are smears of blood on the bulkheads and bodies floating around. There’s a screen on a wall showing a SOS from the engineering section. When she gets there after activating magnetic boots. Once in engineering, she sees a man in clear pain, covered in glowing blue matter and the woman called Julie simply screens.

The asteroid belt: Ceres station. In a town square a ‘belter’ calls to his brethren that they are slaves to Mars and Earth, the ‘inners’. He does this under the watchful eye of Detective Joe Miller of Star Helix police. He and his partner Dimitri Havelock leave and go to a crime scene. Havelock is from Earth so Joe has to explain how many people suffer from the effects of generations of being born in a low gravity environment, Miller himself has bone-spurs on his spine. Back at Star Helix precinct, Captain Haddid gives Miller a job, find Julie Mao if she is on Ceres.

On the Ice Trawler Canterbury, somewhere near Saturn and some ice-mining mishap dismembers one of the crew named Paj, elsewhere 2nd officer Holden and navigator Ade are enjoying some illicit zero-gravity sex before Holden has to go back on duty and find the XO to arrange a new prosthetic arm for Paj. He breaks into the XO’s quarters and finds him drunk, rambling and shooting at his walls, his floor covered in plants and soil. He’s clearly in the midst of some kind of nervous breakdown and is sent to sick bay. Holden being next in line, is given the XO job by Captain McDowall, a job which he clearly doesn’t want, but takes it on a temporary basis. 3,000,000 miles away an SOS comes in from the Scopuli, the Captain is not interested and orders the crew to delete the notification from the ship’s log.

After a post-coital talk with Ade, Holden takes the bridge and relieves the night shift and recovers the deleted SOS, it contains a woman calling for help and Holden takes the controls.

Chrisjen Avasarala plays with her grandson before she has to go to a UN blacksite in the Hamptons. A belter who is a suspected terrorist for the OPA (Outer Planets Alliance) is being hung on a wall. Not having grown up with Earth’s gravity, being on the planet is damaging his bones and lungs, he says nothing and she orders the soldiers guarding him to keep him there for 10 more hours.

On the Canterbury, the SOS is logged and the crew are obligated to check it out, the Captain is furious, but the ship has to flip and burn towards the Scopuli’s direction, he orders that and also orders Holden and engineer Naomi Nagato to head over there using the Canterbury’s shuttle ‘the Knight’, along with ship’s medic Shed Garvey, Amos Burton who seems there as muscle for Naomi and pilot Alex Kamal.

On Ceres, Miller speaks to his former partner Octavia Muss about the Julie Mao case, nothing really useful comes from it, but you get the impression of serious history between the two that did not end well.

The Knight docks with the Scopuli and Holden goes aboard, Naomi convinces Amos to go with him. It’s tense as the pair walk through the seemingly abandoned ship. There’s no power or sign of life, but evidence of a breaching pod having been used. All of the doors are open, but there is no one there, alive or dead. They get the ship’s data core and they hear from the Canterbury that a ship has appeared on scopes and they need to get off the Scopuli. No one knows how the ship just appeared, but Alex thinks stealth tech, causing Alex to suspect Mars.

The Ship follows the Knight and fires torpedoes, too late the Knight’s crew realise that they aren’t the target, it’s the Canterbury. Holden is able to talk to Ade once more, but the conversation is cut off as the Canterbury is destroyed by a nuclear blast, leaving the Knight adrift in the great expanse.

Notes: This is proper science fiction. It’s not the fantasy in space of Star Wars, or the optimistic utopia of Star Trek (I have enjoyed both, so this is no slight on them) but fiction set in space that feels more lived in and more tangible. There isn’t magic anti-gravity or post scarcity food out of nowhere, it’s zero-gravity work that is hard and dangerous and there are still have and have-nots. There are still nations, but now those nations are planets, or asteroids rather than countries, people don’t fight over oil, but ore and water. This world is fleshed out and at the start, only some of it is explained. We are given a bit of text exposition and then everything is hrough the characters.

We seem to be following three seperate stories, we get Avasarala’s political intrigue on Earth and how she balances that with a family life. Here we get Aghadasloo at her best, playing that nurturing and caring with a horrific side waiting in the wings. She’s always been a guest star and given this opportunity to shine, does just that.

Then we have a techno-noir story with a grizzled detective with a hidden sentimental side that you can see will either get his heart broken or himself killed. Here we get Thomas Jane filling a limited role with a bit of charm and the story injects him into a larger conspiracy.

The third part of the story is the Canterbury and we get who is almost certainly the show’s lead, reluctant hero Jim Holden. Holden is brought to weary life by Steven Strait, who gives you the impression that he’s been dragged kicking and screaming into whatever situation he is in. He falls into the XO position and then into commanding the shuttle. So in this regard, we get a lot of tropes and cliches, but that seems to be setting the scene more than it’s started the story.

The writing is solid and the dialogue works, the ‘Belters’ have a language all their own and it feels as authentic as a made up language can do. The main selling point of this show is the long-form story that’s being told and the world that story comes from. This deals in the real dangers of space, not the alien races or stellar phenomena, but actual problems like micro-gravity issues, generation of oxygen and food and water. Mining ice is a huge industry here, because it would be, with the nearest water being several weeks away. The world looks real as well, things look more workhorse than flagship. All the colours are muted and have the blue tinge of screens and flourescent light.

Add up the idealy placed cast, the solid writing, the intricate world building and a story that builds tension every moment, this muted pallette of a show is fantastic and well worth your time checking out, but you will have to pay attention, it gives no allowance for watching while on your phone.

Verdict:

Does it work? Yes, it’s the first chapter of a sci-fi novel.

Does much need fixing? No, the characters are in place and there is a clear narrative starting off.

Does it hold up? Yes, but with this being a relatively recent show, it would be weird if it didn’t.

Did I want to watch the next one? As I write this, I finished watching the end of season 4.

Did I enjoy it? Yes I did, it’s a well made and interesting show that I have really enjoyed watching.

Overall: 5 out of 5, This is how you do proper sci-fi on television.

 

New Amsterdam: In which we learn that the best way to improve a department is to sack everyone in it?

First aired: 25th September 2018

Cast:

Ryan Eggold – Dr. Max Goodwin

Janet Montgomery – Dr. Lauren Bloom

Freema Agyeman – Dr. Helen Sharpe

Jocko Simms – Dr. Floyd Reynolds

Tyler Labine – Dr. Iggy Frome

Anupam Kher – Dr. Vijay Kapoor

Zabryna Guerva – Dora

Lisa O’Hare – Georgia Goodwin

Synopsis: Dr. Max Goodwin gets ready for the day ahead, starting with an early run through Manhattan. Arriving in the city through it’s airport is Allain a young boy who gets into a cab and asks for a hospital. The one he gets to is New Amsterdam. Max arrives there two, he gets changed into scrubs before he starts his day as the new medical director. He makes an impression on the nursing and custodial staff before a less than productive chat with media face of the company Dr. Helen Sharpe. He then calls Georgia, the wife he is separated from, getting a chilly but sympathetic response from her. 

At a meeting of the department chairs and other senior medical staff, Max points out how he was born at the ‘Dam along with his sister who died there years later due to an infection. He asks how he can help, no one says anything, slightly dismayed he calls for the entire cardio-surgical department to identify themselves and promptly fires them. He tells them that no one should put money above care of patients. He then asks everyone else how can he help? This time Dr. Bloom of the ED (emergency department) says she wants to remove the waiting room. Max agrees. Dr. Frome from Psyche asks for healthy food to be available for patients, once again, Max agrees. He then promises to hire 50 new attendings. After the meeting, he gets a throat biopsy from Dr. Bloom whilst Frome meets with an old patient, a traumatised teenaged girl. Suffering abuse again, Dr. Frome wants to keep her at the hospital, rather than put her back in the foster care system that has failed her more than once already.

Max meets with Dr. Reynolds, one of the former cardio surgeons and promotes him to head of that department, asking him to build the department he wants to run.

Dr. Vijay Kapoor looks at a patient who has come to the ED and was considered okay, but Dr. Kapoor wants to talk to her more.

Reynolds and Bloom catch up, Bloom is keen to resume their intimate relationship, but Reynoldsrebuffs her, mentioning that she isn’t black.

Max meets with Dr. Frome to discuss Gemma, Max suggests trying to help, even if not as a doctor. Max then meets Vijay who has worked out that the woman he was treating who appeared dead in the ED isn’t dead, but is dying of a tumor and wants to go home, fortunately a poisoning at the UN has left many ambassadors at the ‘dam, one of which can help.

Alain, the boy from the airport has been placed in quarantine room as early test has indicated a strain of Ebola. Police and federal agents question the boy, who stresses his innocence.  After the police leave, Alain has a seizure and Bloom has to break quarantine to try and save him, potentially exposing herself to Ebola. Elsewhere in the hospital Max’s wife Georgia is admitted with complications over her pregnancy, but it does appear as if the baby is okay.

Frome finds the daughter of one of Gemma’s former foster mothers, one of the better ones it seems and he gives the woman Gemma’s journal. She doesn’t want to get involved, but relents and does take the journal.

Max meets with Dr. Sharpe and the two talk about her being more of a doctor and less of the public face of New Amsterdam hospital. People are excited to be doctors again and she wants in one this. Sadly though she also has news about Max’s sore throat, it’s cancer.

As the episode comes to a close, we learn that Alain didn’t have Ebola, but an infection that he is easily treated and as a result he and Bloom are released.

Notes: I like medical shows, full of high stakes, but often with very few bad guys, one of which is usually the money issue. As a citizen of a country that has socialised healthcare as the norm, I find that facinating in fiction and terrifying in reality. But I digress. The point is that I was already predisposed to give this show a fair shake. The idea of a hospital so large it has it’s own courts, school and prison is facinating and gives the show a sense of scale that most hospital based dramas are going to struggle to match. The concept is interesting, in a world where money is more important than care, this doctor is trying to run a hospital the other way round is fascinating. A lot of fiction has the idea of the folk hero bucking the system to help his fellow man, but in this version the folk hero is the system this time and he can actually do some good, at least at this hospital.

So we have a good concept, but what about the cast? Well the characters of Bloom and Reynolds aren’t given a lot of depth, Bloom is the woman trying too hard to do too much and Reynolds is the man who has a very fixed idea of what his life should look like and really doesn’t do well when that view is challenged. He sees himself marrying a black woman, so can’t see a future with Bloom, it’s that simple. Former Doctor Who star Freema Agyeman plays another doctor, this time with a more arrogant air and the feeling of hidden vunerablility, so there’s hope there and I did enjoy the performances of Labine and Kher who as Iggy and Vijay are characters full of warmth and personality that are so likeable that you want to see more of them. But like a lot of shows that end up as an ensemble piece, this one has a star and that’s Ryan Eggold’s Max. I became familiar with Eggold from his portrayal of Tom from Blacklist and I really did try not to hold that bland cardboard performance against him here. Fortunately he’s given a lot more to work with and he comes across as likeable and determined. He’s a crusader, but cares so much about the people he is trying to help that you get pulled along with it, just as the other characters do. The dialogue helps with that, lines that point out that he can’t win, or change the system and his reply being that probably not, but lets try and help as many people as we can before they stop us. It’s heartwarming. Yes the drama feels forced in places, but it’s trying to set this whole thing up in 45 minutes and needs that tension to ride it out. It’s the characters that make a show like this and there are plenty here to choose from. I didn’t knoew what to expect from this show, but I was pleasantly suprised by it.

Verdict:

Does it work? Yes, it sets up a series well and gives you a hook to keep watching.

Does much need fixing? Not really, but the supporting cast needs something to do.

Does it hold up? Yes, it is also very recent, so that goes in it’s favour in that regard.

Did I want to watch the next one? I have actually started watching this show on an ongoing basis.

Did I enjoy it? Yes I did, it’s easy to find yourself drawn into.

Overall: 4 out of 5, high quality and worth your time checking out.

 

Kamen Rider: In which we learn that Japan likes it’s kids TV to be dark and weird as hell

First aired: 3rd April 1971

Cast:

Hiroshi Fujioka – Takeshi Hongo

Akiji Kobayashi – Tobei Tachibana

Chieko Morikawa – Ruriko Midorika

Yoko Shimada – Hiromi Nohara

Goro Naya – Voice of the Leader of Shocker

Shinji Nakae – Narrator

Hiroya Ishimaru/ Eiji Maruyama – Shocker scientists

Ryuji Saikachi – The Mysterious Spider Man

Plot: A mysterious spider-creature lies in wait. Nearby a motorcycle rider called Hongo, taking time from his research scientist job at a local university, trains for an upcoming race with his coach Mr Tachibana. Hongo is soon followed by a group of motorcycle riders, he isn’t too concerned, but sees another group approaching from ahead of him. He is able to lose them, but doubles back on himself, curious about what is going on. A trio of masked women and a larger than expected spider-web cause him to crash, changing everything.

He wakes up on a sort of operating table, he hears a voice coming from a tannoy welcoming him to Shocker. Through expositional narration we learn that Shocker is a criminal organisation headquartered in Japan that has designs on global domination through transforming people an replacing key positions of power. For part of their plans, they need an athelete with a high IQ (Hongo’s is listed as 600) and he is exactly what they are after. Hongo isn’t willing, but we learn that so far his body has been completely altered, making him a cyborg and he will soon have his brain altered, changing him into a willing slave for Shocker. He looks around, a pair of scientists with red and gold paint on their faces are ready to begin operating.

Suddenly there is sabotage, taking out the lights and setting off an alarm. The scientists run to investigate and in their place another scientist Dr. Midorikawa comes in and frees Hongo from the operating table. Midorikawa tells them they must escape and they can use the new super strength possessed by Hongo to do it and the pair ride out of Shocker’s secret lab on Hongo’s motorbike.

The Spider-creature remains in wait. Hongo’s bike is run off the road by another large spider-web and the three masked women from before advance on Midorikawa who was thrown off the bike. They deliver the Dr. to the spider-creature, who tells Midorikawa that there is a price for betraying Shocker and that price will include the Dr.’s daughter Ruriko. Before anything else can happen a masked rider appears on the perifiery, dressed as Hong was but with an insectiod looking mask and a scarf. He leaps into the fray and is able to fight off the Shocker soldiers who have arrived to help the spider-creature. The fight if brief, but brutal and Midorikawa and the rider are able to escape.

At Johuto University of Literature, Ruriko Midorikawa meets with her friend Hiromi and the two walk off together, Ruriko tells her friend how worried she is abour her missing father. Then Ruriko’s boss arrives and offers her a lift to her cafe job, on the way he mentions that he has learned were her father is. Outside the cafe, the boss gets out with Ruriko and Hiromi drives off. Inside the cafe are agents of  Shocker, who attack the cafe owner and Ruriko, only to learn that it’s not Ruriko, it’s Hiromi, Ruriko has driven off to find her father.

At an abandoned wharehouse, Dr. Midorikawa is worried about the threat that Shocker represents and Hongo (now back in his regular attire) is stressing over his transformation and the loss of some of humanity. The spider-creature attacks and uses his webbing to strangle Dr. Midorikawa. Hongo tries in vain to tear it from his neck, but Ruriko arrives and what she sees is Hongo with his hands around her father’s neck and her father dropping to the floor dead. A dart of fired by the spider-creature and Dr. Midorikawa’s body disolves into mush. The spider-creature grabs Ruriko and runs off, getting onto the roof and from there on top of a departing lorry. Hongo changes offscreen into the masked rider again and is in pursuit. The spider-creature is cornered, but aided by a gang of Shocker soldiers who battle Hongo. They don’t last long against the masked rider (especially when the spider-creature accidentally kills one of the Shocker troops) and soon it’s just Hongo and the spider-creature left. The pair battle furiously, but eventually a flying kick puts the spider-creature down and he too disolves.

Ruriko’s boss arrives and Hongo hands her over to him. Dr. Midorikawa is dead at the hands of Shocker, but the only suspect is Hongo, there are many more monsters of this kind in Japan and this battle is only just beginning.

Notes: THis is another Tokusatsu (special effects) show on Japanese television. This is similar to the shows that inspired Power Rangers, which were called Sentai. Like Sentai shows, we have masked heroes and monsters, but here it was just the one hero, a masked rider. This was the first one. Due to fuel economy and the image of teen rebellion, motorcycles were popular with the youth of Japan in the 70’s and this leant itself quite easily to tokusatsu.

The formula is similar to a lot of early super-hero shoes from elsewhere in the world, we have some action, but it becomes a lot more action packed in the last 5-10 minutes.

Away from the formula, what we have hear is fascinating. Shocker plans to take over the world, replacing key people around the world with altered creatures and planning to make an army of cyborgs under their thrall with Hongo being simply the first and he’s spared being brainwashed to get one of the scientists free, even though he is only there because of that scientist. Add that to the fact that Hongo has been altered is because that scientist chose him. So we have the dead scientist and Hongo being blamed for that death, but we also see Hongo struggle with his lost humanity and his fear over the scale of the threat coming from Shocker. There are actual stakes, real emotion and more than a little drama. This show also contains more than a couple of murders and this is a kids show.

The show does lunge in tone from one extreme to the other. We get action, but then we also get lots of exposition through narration. A lot of the practical effects look silly, yet we have on screen killings. We get almost stop-motion action sequences that give this an unreal appearance. This doesn’t look like anything else from other countries of this time and that uniqueness of tone and appearance really does paper over some of the cracks. We get a bit too much narration and we don’t see the lead character in costume very often, but this is exciting and bonkers enough to be fun despite all that. It’s a masked biker fighting ninjas and monsters. We have bond-villains, scarves and the least realistic creatures outside of 70’s Doctor Who, but I really enjoyed watching this. If you can get past the subtitles, this is well worth checking out.

Verdict:

Does it work? It does what it needs to do, we get an origin, a first bad-guy and the promise of more.

Does much need fixing? We need a more solid status quo, but nothing beyond that.

Does it stand up? Oh no, not even a little bit.

Did I want to watch the next one? Yes, I really think O will watch more down the road.

Did I enjoy it? I did, lots of fun was had.

Overall: 3 out of 5. It’s a solid start to a TV show in a genre that started off weird and then started to get weirder.

 

The Dukes of Hazzard: In which we learn the best mechanics in the world are in Hazard County.

First aired: 26th January 1979

Cast:

Tom Wopat – Luke Duke

John Schneider – Bo Duke

Catherine Bach – Daisy Duke

Denver Pyle – Uncle Jesse

James Best – Sheriff Rosco Coltrane

Sorrell Brooke – Boss Hogg

Sonny Shroyer– Enos

Ben Jones – Cooter

Tisch Raye – Jill Rae Dodson

Waylon Jennings– The Balladeer

Synopsis: Hazzard Country Georgia: A balladeer sings and narrates as a bright orange 1969 Dodge Charger is chasing a sheriff’s patrol car. Inside the Charger (affectionately monikered the General Lee) are bickering cousins Bo and Luke Duke. It turns out that Dukes’ friend Cooter has stolen the patrol car after his car was impounded by Sheriff Roscoe Coltrane. After Cooter crashes the car, it becomes clear that Roscoe has been bringing in slot machines.

We learn from the balladeer that Sheriff Coltrane is suffering a lot of money problems, which has left him under the thumb of Boss Hogg, the horse in this one horse town, as well as the husband of Roscoe’s sister.

At the Duke farm, clan patriarch Uncle Jesse is visited by Jill Dobson who is trying to save the orphanage that she grew up in.

The Duke boys visit the Boar’s Nest bar to visit their cousin Daisy. Overhearing things at the bar gives the boys the idea of stealing the slot machines which are being brought in on a fertilizer truck driven with some patrons of the bar. They bring this plan to Cooter at his garage and Dobray Doolan and Old Brodie join in. With the cars all over town and the truck located a robbery takes place with Daisy acting as a bikini clad distraction.

Uncle Jesse wants the slot machines gone and no matter what, the boys can make no profit on the endeavour. So the boys donate them to local clubs and societies for a 30% cut of the take which they can then donate to the orphanage to help save it as well as get Bo some favour with Jill Dobson. Jill isn’t taking Bo’s interest in the orphanage seriously, but sticking up for the little guy against the corruption of Boss Hogg is what Bo believes in.

Finding a slot machine at a local hunting club, Coltrane learns of the Duke’s role in the missing slot machines and tries to arrest Daisy who makes a run for it in Roscoe’s car, but is soon under arrest. Jesse berates the boys for letting this happen, but Luke has a plan. He visits Daisy with a change of clothes, accompanied to the cell by Enos who has been infatuated with Daisy for many years. Elsewhere Bo and Jill get more amorous.

Roscoe gloats with Boss Hogg over his plan to swap Daisy for the slot machines and then arrest the Dukes for possessing the stolen slot machines. When Enos brings supper to Daisy’s cell, all he sees is a blow up doll. Diverted by Jesse driving off in a Daisy wig, he fails to see Luke get Daisy out dressed in the uniform of a female deputy and the pair get into the General Lee.

Roscoe sees the Dukes put a slot machine in the car and drive off, confirming his intel with Enos, but the Dukes have already spoke to Enos. Roscoe chases the General Lee and it’s a long car chase (seems to be a dying art now) and the dukes are cornered at the orphanage, which now has a large thank you banner addressed to Sheriff Coltrane. The Dukes spin the tale of how the whole slot machine saving the orphanage was the Sheriff’s idea. Eager to get re-elected as sheriff,  Roscoe goes along with it, the day is saved and Bo drives off with Jill.

Notes: It is very hard to separate this show from the iconic status of the car, the General Lee. When it comes to iconic cars from this era of TV, it ranks alongside KITT, the A-Team’s GMC van, Starsky’s Gran Torino or Airwolf. So I will try and talk about this show away from that iconic status and see if it is in fact a good show in and of itself.

Okay, this isn’t high drama, or hard-edged procedural or anything like that. It’s a folk song crossed with a cartoon and it does work. Very early on we get the balladeer, who tells you almost everything that you need to know about this town chock full of legends. The balladeer as the narrator creates a mood that is different from anything on TV and adds a blurry layer of unreality that suits the bonkers nature of this show.

The characters are broad at best, but that archetypal view of character isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Luke is smarter than his cousin, but both are impulsive chancers, Daisy is a strong willed woman who is more than a match for both of her cousins whilst Uncle Jesse is trying to hold the family together, keep all three out of prison and yet not kowtow to the government’s rules. This is a Robin Hood story, with the boys sharing the Robin role, Daisy as Little John, Cooter as Will Scarlet, Boss Hogg as the Sheriff and Roscoe as Guy of Gisbourn and Uncle Jesse as Friar Tuck. Even in the extremely memorable theme tune, it sets it’s stall out as a modern day Adventures of Robin Hood. It’s all silly, but honestly it sort of works.

This show is a lot of fun, from the cartoony characters, to the capers and that would be okay on it’s own, but clearly we need to look again at the star of the show.

This is a show about cars, from car crashes, to car chases this has some of the best stunt car work to be found at that time. The nearest analagy I found was the Blues Brothers. There’s chases, near misses, jumps and spectacular crashes.

This isn’t high art, this is the epitomy of Saturday afternoon, but this is fun. It’s stupid fun, but it’s fun. It has clear bad guys, clear good guys and a moral at the end. It harkens back to an earlier time, one that most likely did not exist, but is there in our minds nonetheless. This is a ballad and one I was glad to hear once more.

Just good ole boys, wouldn’t change if they could.

Fightin’ the system like a two moderns day Robin Hoods.

Yee Ha!

Verdict:

Does it work? Yes, it’s a cartoon with an unique setting and tons of charm.

Does much need fixing? Nonestly no, we are good to go from here and there’s little that needs to be setup.

Does it hold up? Not really, it looks and feels nearly 40 years old.

Did I want to watch the next one? Not immediately, but I would watch one should I come across it and enjoy the hell out of it.

Did I enjoy it? Yes I did, it’s a fun show that almost anyone can enjoy.

Overall: 4 out of 5, An absolute gift of a show that I am glad to have seen the start of.

Starsky & Hutch: In which we learn that real men wear cardigans.

First aired: 30th April 1975

Cast:

David Soul – Detective Ken ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson

Paul Michael Glaser – Detective Dave Starsky

Michael Lerner – Fat Rolly

Morgan Sterne – DA Mark Henderson

Antonia Fargas – Huggy Bear

Richard Ward – Captain Dobey

Gilbert Green – Frank Tallman

Michael Conrad – Cannell

Richard Lynch– Zane

Synopsis: San Francisco California: Two men are talking in a car, they are chatting about a John Wayne film on TV that week.  Approaching their car is a Gran Torino, cherry-red with a white stripe along the sides. A couple in the car are getting amorous inside it after parking. The two men walk to the car and shoot the couple through the window.

The next day and an identical Torino races across town and stops outside a gym. Out gets Dave Starsky who walks in and collects Ken ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson. They get in Hutch’s car, a brown sedan and go through inventory in the glove compartment. The go through the guns, bullets, tear-gas grenades, flares and radios. They radio in and let dispatch know that Zebra 3 is out and about, Detectives Starsky and Hutch are on the job. After cautioning a pick-pocket, they drive on. Back at the precinct, Captain Dobey informed by DA Henderson that someone is trying to kill Starsky and Hutch. Later on Starsky is wondering why everyone seems to shocked to see them, including the familiar face of Fat Rolly who runs off at the sight of the pair. They corner him in a nearby bar. The whole bar is acting the same way, after some theatrical shaking down of the patrons, Rolly claims that the pair are supposed to have been killed the night before.

Rolly is booked for his trouble and at the precinct’s car park they see the shot up Torino.

In Captain Dobey’s office DA Henderson and a member of Internal Affairs inform Starsky and Hutch that the hit was most likely set up by Frank Tallman, who they are going to testify against him in his upcoming bribery trial. The DA wants them off the street, but Dobey, Starsky and Hutch dismiss the idea immediately. Rolly is being released and Hutch wants to speak to him, watching him try to make a call from the precinct, Starsky heads back to the gym to swap Hutch’s sedan for his Gran Torino, mostly to remind the criminals on their patch that whoever tried to kill them failed.

Rally manages to make the call to let the killers know that the job isn’t over. Starsky and Hutch drive around and seeing a homeless man they know, they stop and give him a  few dollars, as they drive off they notice they are being followed. They try to lose them, to no avail. A protracted car chase follows. They eventually get the jump on their pursuers and they learn that these are Frank Tallman’s guys and Frank wants a word. The pair visit him in his own sauna after preventing Frank’s guys from disarming them. Tallman points out that he has no desire to kill Starsky and Hutch. Although he is going to be convicted (he is guilty after all) but with appeals he is unlikely to see jail time for 6 or 7 years and due to a heart problem is unlikely to live that long, however if it looks like he’s killed two detectives, that failed attempt is likely to derail all that. He also knows that the two hitmen who have the two person MO (Cannell and Zane) didn’t do this, because they would not have failed. With risk of a frame, Tallman offers Starsky and Hutch a place to stay until the trial.

Zane and Cannell are waiting with Rolly in a hotel room, a call comes in, telling them where and when they can catch up with Starsky and Hutch. The detectives are at a stakeout, trying to catch people in a drug deal. They are drowning in the rain and Hutch barely escapes being peed on by a dog. They see the drug buy about to happen, leaving them free to make their move. However Zane and Cannell also make their move and fire at the detectives, the only thing that happens is that the buyer of the drugs gets caught in the crossfire and dies of multiple gunshot wounds.

Their plot foiled Zane and Cannell make a run for it. Starsky and Hutch get dried at the hotel they were staking out and the manager lets them use the phone, telling them to dial 9 for an outside line. That reminds Hutch that Rolly only dialled 4 digits from the phone in the station, but from the station it should be at least 8. 7 for a local number after 9 for the outside line. Rolly was calling an extension inside their precinct. The person who has set them up to be killed was a cop.

Unsure of who to trust, the pair visit a XXX theatre downtown to meet with an informant, Huggy Bear. Always full of information, Huggy Bear tells them about their three main suspects, Lt Steele of IA, Captain Dobey and DA Henderson. Steele is the most likely culprit, given his animosity towards Starsky and Hutch as well as his penchant for hookers.

But something still doesn’t look right. Zane and Cannell are too highly regarded to fail twice, so Starsky thinks that maybe they didn’t fail. Maybe the detectives aren’t the targets, because of their involvement no one is looking at the couple from the first killing. The female victim was a pre-law student called Patricia Talbot, she was taking a class taught by  DA Henderson, the guy who was killed was a car thief parolled by Henderson and Zane and Cannell were just released after the case being tried by Henderson collapsed. The detectives talk with the Medical Examiner and learn that Patricia was 2 months pregnant. Everyone has been looking in the wrong place.

Starsky and Hutch follow Henderson, having prompted his departure by a telephone message to meet Zane and Cannell. Hutch’s driving gets the Torino pulled over by some uniformed officers, but getting away from them the pair find Henderson at a local hotel. Henderson goes to the top floor with the detectives in close pursuit. When Zane and Cannell are spooked it all devolves into a shoot-out, bullets fly everywhere and Zane and Cannell are injured and then arrested, along with Henderson.

The next morning, Hutch drives Starsky to the gym where Starsky pays the gym bill and then as many times before, the drivers of Zebra 3 go back to work.

Notes: This is an iconic show and would be hard to look at without the rosey tinit of nostalgia. Well it would be if I ever remember watching it. I don’t remember it when it was on during my youth, I know it was on, but I don’t remember watching it. So I was able to view this as a thing in and of itself rather than rewatch something that I saw when I was very young.  So devoid of it’s protection of nostaglia, how did it go? For a pilot, this was a complex and well paced plot. We don’t get any real introductions, but we are shown who everyone is and where they fit in the pair’s world. Are the characterisations a little slim on most characters? Yes, is the logic of the story a bit wooly? Yes. Does that matter? No. The plot isn’t the star, the supporting cast aren’t the star. There are 3 stars here, Huggy Bear, the partnership of Starsky & Hutch and the Ford Gran Torino. Really though, that’s all this series really needs.

We first meet the pair when Starsky is picking Hutch up from the gym. Their friendship is fleshed out and well realised from the off. They are friends, they work together and care for one another deeply, they don’t let one another get away with anything though and spar verbally often. This is clearly two people used to being top  dog and trying to work together as a pair. I don’t know if that’s in the script, or if that’s how the actors were, but to be honest, it works so well that it doesn’t matter. I mentioned  Huggy Bear being a star here, but he is only in one scene, but he plays the man with his ear to the ground well, without ever being shown as shifty or dishonest. They see one another as a necessary evil, to Huggy Bear they are cops that don’t give him and others too much grief as long as he provides intel that doesn’t cost him anything, the cops see him the same way, a necessary evil that they can trust not to cause more trouble than he helps stop. Whether this developes into a friendship or simply grudging respect isn’t clear, but the door is open.

But honestly, we can’t get away without talking about the car. It is so present in the pop culture of the time and decades after it, that it’s one of the most recognisable vehicles on television. The logic of how plainclothes officers drive around in sucj a conspicious vehicle takes a second to wrap your head around, but then it makes sense, they are plainclothes, not undercover cops. They want you to see that car, to know that they are around. The scenes where they are driving and we see inside the car help develop this relationship in it’s authenticity. They genuinely care for one another and have each other’s backs. It’s a very positive view of masculine friendship, devoid of what’s now seen as toxic masculinity and was then just seen as how men are. This is something that really surprised me and warmed to the show.

The performances from the titular duo were actually surprisingly good, it’s hard to take a lot of 70’s fashion seriously, but even Glaiser, decked out in a chunky cardigan manages to seem both sympathetic and bad ass. These guys look like they can only be in the 70’s, but their performances are such that they would kind of work in any era.

But this is also an action show which is very much a game of two halves, the negatives are the fighting and gunfire, which were very much okay, rather than anything else. Where this show excelled was in it’s car chases and related stunts. Here the city was the backdrop for some excellent stunt work and the distinctive car came into it’s own as it careened around corners and you can hear the tires and breaks telling you how tense this all is, in that this show has very few that can compete.

I was initially less than keen to have this on the docket and it’s inclusion is mostly due to the positive things I have heard about this show from the podcast Palace of Glittering Delights which has estolled it’s virtues more than once and after watching this episode, I kind of see the host’s point of view. It is not perfect, but for it’s time it was an interesting show that earned it’s place in pop culture history.

Verdict:

Does it work? Yes, it shows you a chapter in the lives of these cops and what kind of adventures they can get into.

Does much need fixing? Not much, the tone was a little uneven and it was light in secondary characters, but nothing more than that.

Does it hold up? Well, it was the 70’s, so if you can get past the fashions and stereotypes then yes.

Did I want to watch the next one? Not immediately, but I would watch one should I come across it.

Did I enjoy it? Yes I did, it’s a fun show that still manages to have an edge to it.

Overall: 4 out of 5, A pleasant surprise of a show that I am glad to have given a chance to.

 

T.J.Hooker – In which we learn I should be on more drugs

First aired: 13th March 1982

Cast:

William Shatner – Sgt. T. J. Hooker

Richard Lawson – Officer David McNeill

Adrian Zmed – Officer Vince Romano

Brian Patrick Clarke – Officer Jess Canfield

Jo McDonnell – Officer Kelly Sanders

Deborah Shelton – Lacey Canfield

David Hedison – Saxon

Michael Horton – Parker English

Richard Heard – Capt. Dennis Sheridan

Lee Bryant – Fran Hooker

Timothy Scott – Whit

Carl W. Crudup – Travis

Synopsis: Los Angeles California: Police Academy and new recruits are being addressed by Sgt T.J. Hooker. He bellows at them about how hard this training is going to be. Later the recruits banter banter and one of them Jess pines for his wife Lacey is currently getting a dressed down from her boss DA Saxon. Back at the academy Hooker is running the recruits ragged.

An ex-con named Whit is struggling to get his life back on track, his wife begging him not to go out back to crime over the noise of their baby crying. He leaves anywa with his friend Travis and they mug a couple. The couple don’t have any more than $17 and this enrages Whit to the point where he shoots them both. Travis says nothing and the two run off.

Back at the Academy, Hooker is pontificating on how easy the courts are on criminals. At drinks later on, he carries on with his diatribe/reminiscences and then shares an anecdote of a lost recruit from a year earlier. As the other recruits talk with spouses, Romano flirts with fellow recruit Kelly Saunders. Hooker heads to his former home and gets into an argument with his ex-wife, who is late for a party and was relying on Hooker to show up earlier so she and her boyfriend Harvey could go. There is the usual complaints about alimony and how after being shot up, he went back to work. She leaves with Harvey and Hooker babysits his own kids.

Whilst Whit and Travis target a new victim, Hooker watches a news report mentioning the shooting he was involved in. McNeil then phones and talks about the shootings and Hooker tells the recruits to be ready, they’re heading out at 7am.

Out on patrol, Hooker, McNeill and Romano all over a driver. As they talk to him, they are shot at by a roof-top sniper on a nearby building. Hooker takes the stairs, leaving Romano and McNeill to take the fire escape. Hooker distracts the sniper from behind and Romano and McNeill tackle him to the ground. He is arrested but is assaulted by Romano who is almost out of control. 

That night, talking with his ex-wife Hooker compares his experience with the recruits with his experiences in Vietnam. His ex-wife Fran is sympathetic and asks if he wants to stay the night.

McNeill and ‘Country’ are with one a more seasoned LAPD officer at night. They stop off at a liquor store and the veteran officer goes to the mens-room. Lured over by a request for assistance ‘Country’ is killed by Whit and Travis who shoot him before making a run for it, shooting McNeill on the way out. 

Hooker meets the rest of the recruits at the hospital where McNeill is and berates the recruits. Jesse talks with his wife Lacey, who then leaves and gets into a car with DA Saxon, clearly showing that this is more than a professional relationship. When he is stepping outside for a second, Hooker sees the two together.

A couple of days later and after pursuing and cornering a suspect recruit English freezes, causing Hooker to be shot in his shoulder. Except he isn’t and it was a staged incident to prove to English that this isn’t his calling. Thing is, he’s a legacy and wants this for that reason, but is isn’t cut out for it and that isn’t a bad thing. 

Romano is on a date with Kelly and they make plans for more. The next morning and Jesse and Hooker respond to a domestic disturbance. The couple in question are Whit and his wife, but with no probable cause Hooker and Jesse leave. The weekend arrives and everyone’s at a picnic. They discuss their military pasts and they should consider a lot of it left back in the past. Whit and Travis head into a nearby fast food restaurant eager to rob the place. Back at the picnic and Lacey speaks to Hooker to try and explain her presence in Saxon’s car, but Hooker isn’t particularly interested in that conversation. There’s a shortage of food so McNeill’s wife, Lacey and Kelly all go to get some more chicken from the same fast food place. Whilst they are in there Whit and Travis start their robbery.

The guys hear gunshots and burst into action, grabbing spare guns from their cars and descending on the restaurant. As the robbers trying to leave it devolves into a shoot-out with Hooker almost run over at it’s climax.

Some time later and the recruits graduate to phase 2, getting to work as partner to a more experienced officer. Everyone gets called out, except a crest-fallen Romano. Hooker points out that Hooker is his new partner and that it’s time to roll out.

Notes: Wow, just wow. Some television doesn’t age well, there is no way of getting around that, but wow. This could quite easily be an interesting show about fighting crime in a big city (Hill Street Blues) or about new recruits entering the war on crime (Rookie Blue) but it very quickly becomes the William Shatner show. Despite the jokes about his performance in the original Star Trek show, at the time Shatner showed some nuance, some character depth and more than a little charm in that show. Sadly, none of that is on display in this programme.

I wanted to ease into the problems in this show, I really did and I don’t like just panning something, but damn the positives were hard to find here. The concept is a really good one, the rookies learning the job from a jaded, but committed sergeant. There’s gold here and many other films and TV shows have done that, but this wasn’t that. The direction isn’t so bad, it really isn’t. The dialogue is suited to the era it’s made and the plot does sort of hold together, so it’s not all bad. But that doesn’t really take away from this show’s biggest flaw. T.J. Hooker himself. He’s so cliche ridden that it devolves into parody. We get the haunted because of war, we get the ex-husband, whose wife still wants him back, we get the chief being on his case, we get the drinking problem and him being on some kind of last chance over his lack of playing by the rules and his comparing police work with war. If only some of them were there, then you could make this work because cliches done well become tropes and used well, you can make them work. But all of them in one place with not a single smattering of irony and it’s self parody without being funny. I honestly think that you can only really enjoy this programme either on drugs, or as part of a drinking game.

The actors try their best, well most of them do, but they’re not really given a lot of work with and it’s all in the service of giving Hooker the spotlight. I wanted to give this show every chance. Is it bad because of when it was made? No, I have older shows on the docket that work better. Is it the cliches? Again no, because as I said, tropes help sell the genre that you are using. No, it’s a bad show, with a lead actor not doing his best, because he did better before this, he did better after this.

To be honest, it’s one of the few shows on this blog that I regret watching, it’s not a good show, it’s not a so bad it’s good show, it’s just bad. I was warned, so now I am warning you. This was not good.

Verdict:

Does it work? Yes, it sets up a series well enough.

Does much need fixing? Bloody hell where do I start?

Does it hold up? No, it ages worse than fruit left out in the sun.

Did I want to watch the next one? I don’t want to remember watching this one.

Did I enjoy it? I am not on enough meds to enjoy this programme.

Overall: 1 out of 5 and believe you me, I am being generous with that.

Private Eyes: In which we learn I should write these posts quicker.

First aired: 11th February 2018

Cast:

Jason Priestly – Matt Shade

Cindy Simpson – Angie Everett

Barry Flatman – Don Shade

Jordyn Negri – Jules Shade

Ennis Esmer – Kurtis Mazhari

Brett Houghton – Cory Sinclair

Linda Harkin – Linda Sinclair

Duane Murray – Joel Hagerty

Natalie Lisinska – Jamie Linfoot

Kevin Jubinville – Bob Mercer

Geoffrey Pounsett – Patrick Stockwell

Sam Kantor – Brendan Hagerty

Synopsis: Toronto: A hockey game former pro hockey player and current talent scout Matt Shade is cheering on his client/protege Cory at a match full of managers looking for the next great player, which Shade hopes they’ll recognise is Cory. Standing next to Shade is Cory’s mum Linda and the pair watch him collapse in mid-game. Paramedics are called, but it’s not looking good.

At the hospital Shade and Linda learn that Cory has been put in a medically induced coma. Shade then races over to a prestigious all-girls school where his daughter Jordyn is having an interview for a place. He’s late, she’s irate, but she is very likely to be accepted, irrespective of her macular dystrophy which has cost her 99% of her eyesight. Shade’s dad Don wonders how Matt is going to pay for the school’s tuition, with Cory in the hospital and unlikely to get the dream job of playing professional hockey. Shade hasn’t given up on this and intends to investigate what has happened.

Back at the hockey stadium (which also holds offices and a gymnasium) Shade is trying to talk to Sam, one of Cory’s teammates/competitors, but is stymied by Sam’s personal trainer who is asking questions herself, albiet more successfully. Sam is being a fairly basic 18 year old and is being shall we say…inappropriate with her. She punches Sam herself and admits to Shade that she is Angie Everett, the PI that Don hired to assist Shade. Learning that what brought Cory down was most likely steroid abuse Angie is quick to dismiss Shade’s input and he returns home. Shade speaks to Jordyn who knew Cory well, even knew that he had an aortic aneurysm which meant that any use of steroids could kill him, cementing Shade’s opinion that Cory did not dose himself with a PED (performance enhancing drug) thereby risking not only his potential career, but his life.

Shade and an irritated Angie speak to Brandon (another team-mate) and his dad Joel and learn that their sport agent Jamie has been fired due to her past unscrupulous dealings with PEDs. Brandon also confesses that he knew about Cory’s aortic aneurysm through Jordyn. Angie and Shade now decide to break into Jamie’s hotel room and find no drugs. They also break into Sam’s room and find Cory’s gloves and they get the gloves to Kurtis, a detective who Angie is friendly with. It’s beginning to look all case closed, but the players’ management is closing ranks. New agent Bob Mercer and his boss Patrick Stockwell offer Shade a way back into the big leagues of scouts and agents, guaranteeing his ability to pay the tuition for Jordyn’s new school. He’s trying to make an adult decision, but it’s not an easy one.

The next day Shade drops the cheque at Angie’s office. Angie informs him that didn’t use anywhere near enough PED on the gloves to drop Cory that way, so we’re back to Brendan. Shade and Angie set up a sting. Cornering him in the hospital Shade tricks Joel into admitting that he swapped Cory’s beta-blockers for PEDs and with Mercer and Stockwell managing Brendan too, revealing this will kill any chance for Shade to get back into hockey. He does it anyway. To pay for the school Shade has sold his championship ring and with the balance he has the code his dad taught him printed in braile on a necklace for his daughter to wear. Jordyn asks what he is going to do, since he can do nothing related to ice hockey. Shade tells her that he is on it.

Over the whole episode a politician has avoided being served court papers by Angie, but Shad helps out, much to Angie’s consternation, he’s seen her life and her job and he wants in.

She is a little less keen.

Notes: I am joy most of the things I have seen Jason Priestly in, from his tendency to pop up in shows I like (like his turn in Haven) and the film Cold Blooded, he is charasmatic and at times very funny, so this show should have been a bit of an easy win. His portrayal of Shade as a former star, long past his glory days has a touch of tragedy to it in spite of the heights those glory days reached. His chemistry with co-star Cindy Simpson is full of sparky screwball comedy moments and it’s clear to see how there’s a show there as the two of them are a lot of fun on screen.

But that is the beginning, middle and end of it all, their chemistry is the show. The supporting cast of this show (his family) isn’t really given anything to work with and the main thrust of the plot is paper thin, so if the cast don’t work, there’s no show.

The cast do work, but that’s not going to carry the show for long. It was entertaining at the time it was on, but I had to take a break from all this over the last couple of months and when I got back to my notes there’s well nothing that comes to mind. It’s not memorable, at all.

There’s nothing wrong with it, but when your only response to having watched something is “Oh yeah, I forgot I saw that” it’s not a positive.

Verdict:

Does it work? Yes, solid if routine procedural.

Does much need fixing? We need a stronger supporting cast perhaps.

Does it stand up? No, it’s a bit ponderous in pacing and quite forgettable when you stop to think about it.

Do I want to watch the next one? I honestly couldn’t think why.

Did I enjoy it? It was at best, okay.

Overall: 2 out of 5. There are better versions of this show out there, find one of them.

 

True Blood: In which we learn that amateur porn got a little weirder

First aired: 7th September 2008

Cast:

Anna Paquin – Sookie Stackhouse

Stephen Moyer – ‘Vampire Bill’ Compton

Sam Trammell – Sam Merlotte

Ryan Kwanten – Jason Stackhouse

Rutina Wesley – Tara Thornton

Chris Bauer  – Detective Andy Bellefleur

Nelson Ellis – Lafayette Reynolds

Jim Parrack – Hoyt Foytenberry

Carrie Preston – Arlene Fowler

Matthew Raymond-James – Rene Lenier

William Sanderson – Sheriff Bud Dearborne

Lynn Collins – Dawn Green

Lois Smith – Adele Stackhouse

James Parks – Mack Rattray

Karina Logue – Denise Rattray

Synopsis: Rural Louisiana and a couple is driving down a country road in Louisiana, the girl is in the driver’s seat and is feeling somewhat amorous and wants some from her boyfriend, he’s keen on the idea. They spot a shop sign telling passers by that the shop sells True Blood. Though a bit of televisual exposition, we learn that vampires had  declared their existence two years ago after the successful development of synthetic blood. The couple go into the store and at the counter are intimidated by a goth dressed shop assistant, who plays up the idea that he is a vampire, when they leave a middle aged man in a confederate flag cap shows his fangs and warns the guy not to play at being a vampire, because real vampires don’t take so kindly.

Bon Temps, Louisiana and at Merlotte’s Bar & Grill, telephathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse is struggling not to hear the thoughts of the patrons. Nearby at the local big box retails store her best friend Tara is struggling not to express her anger and failing that walks out on her job after one too many stupid customers. Back at Merlotte’s waitresses Arlene, Sookie and Dawn banter with short order cook Lafayette and the talk gets a little blue.

In a house nearby, Sookie’s brother Jason rises from between the legs of Maudette Pickens, their mutual ardour is blunted by him noticing two puncture marks on her thigh, near the femeral artery, a sign she has had sex with a vampire. She says that it wasn’t something she wants to do again, she likes it rough, but not that rough. Jason is looking for the door, but Maudette offers to show him the tape.

Back at Merlotte’s Sookie is ecstatic to see a real-life vampire walk into the bar, no one else is particularly pleased. He orders a bottle of red wine that Sookie knows he does not drink. The vampire is joined by local reprobates the Rattrays, whom from their thoughts Sookie knows want to drain the vampire dry as vampire blood (or V) is a prized narcotic. Sookie wants to intervene, but none of the rest of the staff are interested, so she goes outside.

Jason and Maudette watch the tape where Maudette is having sex with a bald and tattooed vampire as she is suspended from her ceiling by chains, Jason’s mood dividing it’s time between repulsed and aroused. This viewing inspires some rough sex with Maudette who is suspended by shackles from the rafters in her living room.

In Merlotte’s car park, Sookie sees the vampire being drained and using a chain from a nearby truck she fights of Mack Rattray and his wife Denise and then removes the silver chain that is immobilising the vampire who identifies himself as Bill Compton. Sookie leaves and goes back to work. Tara arrives and Sookie convinces her boss Sam Merlotte to hire Tara as a bar tender. He does this mostly to keep an eye on Sookie, whom they both see as being in danger due to her fascination with Bill. Jason arrives at Merlotte’s looking for Sookie and sees Tara who is clearly smitten with him. Jason then chases after Dawn.

Sookie arrives home and tells her Grandmother about vampire Bill. She then goes to bed, having a dream that borders on erotic and frightening. The next day Sookie is sunbathing and her and Jason catch up over ice tea. Granny learns that Maudette has been found strangled to death. Jason starts acting suspiciously and Sookie wants to read his mind, but Jason gets out of there pretty quickly, angered by her even wanting to do that. 

Later on he is trying to arrange a date with Dawn when Sheriff Bud Dearborne and Detective Andy Bellefleur arrive to question Jason about his encounter with Maudette. They bring him in for questioning, leaving the road crew he is leading, comprised of Arlene’s boyfriend Rene and Hoyt.

At her house, Granny asks Sookie whether Vampire Bill would be willing to talk to her historical society and Sookie promises to ask him before leaving for work. At the bar, Lafayette talks to Tara, showing concerns for her working at the bar. In the bar itself, most people are talking about Jason having been taken away by the police. Bill enters the bar and asks Sookie out. Jason and Tara overreact and Sookie struggles keeping their thoughts out of her head and she blows up at them before storming out. She has arranged to see Bill after work and is waiting there when she is attacked by the Rattrays and is taking a severe beating.

Notes: Let’s get this out of the way, this show has a lot of adult content. It sets it’s stall out as a HBO show very early on and doesn’t shy away from sex, violence nor nudity. If you find that crass or distasteful then this show is not for you. The show is based on the Stookie Stackhouse books written by Charmaine Harris who also wrote the books that Midnight Texas is based on and like that show has a rich mythology baked in as well as using the dichotomy of supernatural stuff and small town to create it’s own little corner of weirdness. And much like the other show, does it very well. The town of Bon Temps is one of those very out of the way places where everyone knows everyone and change takes a while to filter through. Outside of this quiet little town the world has changed as vampires after centuries of hiding and exclusively feeding on humanity have stopped doing both. Vampires are public and are fighting politically for equal rights and acceptence. They appear on TV news after the discovery of ‘True Blood’ which is a synthetic blood substitute. This has led to a black market trade of vampire blood and more awareness of human vampire sex, the humans involved being referred to as fang-bangers. You get that reaction that people used to get to interracial relationships and same-sex relationships (well still have if we are honest) and this show uses that framework to look at themes of race, sexuality and small town bigotry. Does it do so subtly? No, not really, but it does it effectively.

The writing is sharp with dialogue that feels TV, but with an air of authentic southern-ness to it. Is that how people in Louisiana talk? Not a clue, but it feels like a small town and seperates it from all the city based stuff that this genre usually is inhabited by.

The performances are also great, giving a career best form Anna Paquin and a decent performance as a vampire for Stephen Moyer (not for the first time either oddly enough)  and the rest of the cast are either pretty well observed and fully fleshed out characters or are at least entertaining when on screen.

The show has it’s own look in both character ans production design and uses it’s more lax content restrictions to tell it’s own story it’s own way. Of course there are moments that make no sense, like how does Tara keep getting jobs? How do vampires whose blood does not flow have sex? How can people afford to keep eating at a local bar when there doesn’t seem to be any other businesses operating in Bon Temps? But this is a fantasy drama that is sexy, brutal and downright bizarre in different combinations all at the same time. There isn’t anything else like it. It doesn’t fit into the usual cliches, it doesn’t spoonfeed the audience, but is does entertain.

Verdict:

Does it work? Yes, this is a strong opening episode.

Does much need fixing? No, this is less of a pilot than it is a first chapter.

Does it stand up? Yes, It’s a modern setting, but has that timeless small town feel that keeps it from being dated.

Do I want to watch the next one? Did I? Just finished season 2 this week.

Did I enjoy it? I enjoyed giving this show a rewatch.

Overall: 4 out of 5. Fun, entertaining and bizarre, it’s a great tv show that I was happy to revisit.

Newsroom: In which we learn that he’d get my vote.

First aired: 24th June 2012

Cast:

Jeff Daniels – Will McEvoy

Emily Mortimer – MacKenzie McHale

John Gallagher Jnr – Jim Harper

Alison Pill – Maggie Jordan

Thomas Sadowski – Don Keefer

Dev Patel – Neal Sampat

Sam Waterson – Charlie Skinner

Synopsis: Northwestern University and at a panel on broadcast journalism Will McEvoy is having a crisis. To his left a left-leaning reporter, to his right a right-leaning reporter and a moderator asking questions that the less controversial Will is not interested in answering. After dodging a question on his personal political leanings, Will faces a question from the audience, a young woman asks “Why is America the greatest country in the world?”

Will as badgered into giving an answer by the moderator and as he tries to get out of it, he thinks he sees someone in the audience he knows, he blinks and she’s gone, then he sees her again and she’s holding a sign. “It isn’t.” Another blink and she’s gone again, now he sees her a third time and it’s a new sign. “But it could be.” Finally pressed to answer he delivers a 4 minute rant on how despite his love for the country, it isn’t the greatest country in the world. The panel devolves into chaos, the other panelists are furious with Will and then he claims that he’s been on medicine for vertigo and isn’t entirely sure what it was that he said. Roll credits.

Three weeks later and Will is back in the ACN Studio in New York. In the office, Will’s assistant Maggie is having an argument with her boyfried Don, Will’s executive producer (essentially the show runnner) over her parents wanting to meet him. They’re having this row in front of Neal, who over sees the website and writes Will’s blog for him. Will arrives in the main office to see almost no staff and is told to go and see the News Director Charlie Skinner in his office. Charlie informs Will between drinks that his protege Elliot is getting the 10 o’clock news slot. Will is happy for Elliot’s success till he finds out that he’s taking Don and almost the rest of the staff with him leaving Will without a EP or most of the team.

After a subsequent shouting match with Don, Will is informed (again between drink) by Charlie that a new EP has been found, MacKenzie McHale and Will is furious once more. He storms off to his agent’s office to get approval over hiring and firing. MacKenzie and her Jnr EP Jim Harper arrive at ACN. Mack and Maggie bond immediately, but Mack sees the cracks in Maggie’s relationship with Don and plans to aim Jim at her.

Will returns and confronts MacKenzie and it’s very clear that they were in love once and MacKenzie did something and he is hurt. He is so hurt that he’s renegotiated his contract and give back $3million to have the right to fire her on any given Friday.

News comes in of a fire on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig in the gulf of Mexico. Jim is interested, but Don is not hearing any of his concerns. In Will’s office, the argument continues. Jim gets information from sources at BP (the rig’s owners) and Haliburton (the people responsible for safety equipment) and pushes for the story to be given more prominence. All this does is anger Don, who wants this interloper who at present doesn’t work there to sit down and be quiet. Inside Will’s office, there’s still arguing going on. The fire at Deepwater Horizon is getting bigger.

Will steps back in and asks anyone who has come back who is going with Don in two weeks to go now with his thanks and two weeks paid holiday. MacKenzie is now the EP and her first show is tonight.

Everything starts moving towards showtime and this barebones crew is coming together. There’s a new energy to the place and Mack’s dream of a good and also factual news show is about to happen, well just afer her and Will bicker over the mike a bit more. With Jim’s information and the resst of the remaining team’s help the focus isn’t a rescue story, it’s an in depth look at what is potentially the biggest enviromental disaster in living memory.

The show starts and Will is being uncompromising and doesn’t allow the representative of  Haliburton to get away with very much to that guy’s surprise. They are clear factual and essentially do the news the way it should be done, just because they chose to do it. Charlie pops down afterwards to toast the show, one he’s proud of and tells Will that he loved what he said at the panel. This is a new show now.

Will and Mack make a detente, they reminicing on their shared past with Mack’s family. Will admits that there was no vertigo medicine and that he said what he said because he thought he saw her in the audience. He leaves the dumbstruck MacKenzie who looks through the papers she has with her, finding the signs she showed him. She was there, she did inspire him. He didn’t think he saw her, he did, but he doesn’t know.

Notes: There is no way of avoiding that this show is highly political. It wears a more left-leaning viewpoint on its sleeve and views the recent history in that way. In the highly divided times in which we find ourselves that can’t really be ignored. There is an idealism running through it that we would read as ‘woke’ in the current political climate and I imagine that it can be off-putting if that isn’t something that you’re interested in. I am a more left-leaning person myself, but I can see how heavy-handed the politics come across.

Now we have that out of the way, I am not going to pretend I don’t have a bias here. I loved the opening 5 or so minutes. I’m showing it below because it’s a powerful bit of telly that grabs your attention and holds it.

The rant could easily apply to a number of countries, I can honestly say that most of what he said applies to here in the UK. But message aside, the dialogue here fantastic. It’s snappy, but more often than note isn’t so forced. Every character is fully fleshed out and are just ready to have the blanks filled in as it goes along. Despite the excellent cast, the script seems to be the real star of this show.

Well, since I mentioned it, let’s look at the cast. To be honest, only Alison Pill, Jeff Daniels and Sam Waterson were familiar to me as the program opened, but I saw them very much as a safe pair of hands for this show. The rest of the cast work incredibly well in a short amount of time. Daniels in particular excels as a fallen idealist that suffering a broken heart has become less interested in people and no longer cares as much about his colleagues. He is not a likeable character, but Daniels infuses him with a charm that makes you root for him no matter what. The star of the show for me though, was Sam Waterson’s Charlie. Charlie is a drinker, but a happy one and he brings Mack in simply to push Will to do what he knows Will wants to do. Waterson is funny and charming, but not in any way a comedy character or is sloppily written caricature. He is something of the heart of the show and I don’t know if it would work without him, or even how he’s standing up most of the time.

The only downside I can see is that all feels a bit wish fulfillment. Hyper competent people doing the job the way it needs to be done, ignoring the way the rest of the world is doing things. This and the idealistic nature of Emily Mortimer’s MacKenzie take some of the impact of the show by highlighting the far-fetched nature of the show.

But it is a good show, it posits the idea that anchormen and woman can be real journalists again and hold those in power to account, that if you do a factual and hard-hitting news show that will have impact. Unlike most dramas which try and have more realism to them, this one is more aspirational. It doesn’t reflect the world as it is, but pushes towards a world as it should be. Again, the should be can be looked at as political in it’s manner. But as a first episode it does the job of introducing the world and the characters’ places in it and the pacing is very good. The tension ramps up and the show starts moving quickly and it’s all very interestingly done.

It’s trying to do what the West Wing did for politics and Studio 60 did for television and it’s in places quite successful at it, provided you liked those other shows. I did, so for me this worked.

Verdict:

Does it work? Yes, we get a strong opening and a solid set up from the start.

Does much need fixing? Not really it’s got a clear vision and it’s showing it to us.

Does it stand up? It’s very tied to it’s setting, which is a couple of years before it’s filming and will most likely age pretty badly.

Do I want to watch the next one? I don’t, but this is a very compelling show and I will be pulled back in very soon.

Did I enjoy it? I enjoyed revisiting this show.

Overall: 4 out of 5. Very entertaining show that wears it’s heart on it’s sleeve.