Sunday, August 10, 2014

TV Rampage

TV Rampage - Televison Reviews
A look at some recent television shows and if they are worth anyone’s valuable time.


True Detective – I’d heard a lot about this series, and I have to say it not only lives up to, but surpasses my every expectation. Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson both give the performances of their careers as two Louisiana Detectives investigating a series of murders. The action takes place in 1996 and 2013. I won’t spoil a second of the plot, but there is so much more to the story being told. Through the outstanding script, makeup, body language and plain ol’ acting, the two main characters portray younger men with possibly the last of their youthful idealism fading away, then much older men with more than their share of mileage. One question the script asks is if either of these men have any of the drive for justice or moral integrity left in them that they had when younger. The answers are amazing. As television writer Ken Levine (Cheers, Frasier) noted, “McConaughey put on a shirt and became an actor.” Highest recommendation.

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars.

Tyrant – Bassam al Fayeed (Adam Rayner) was raised as a prince by his dictator father in the fictional Middle Eastern country of Abbudin, then moved to America as a teenager. Now an American citizen and pediatric physician, he’s gone native and never returned home. Until he takes his family to attend his nephew’s wedding. When his father dies of a heart attack during the visit, Bassam (now “Barry”) stays as a temporary advisor to his ill-equipped and evil brother Jamal (Ashraf Barhom), who has now become “President.”

At first Barry enjoys playing politics, but soon realizes it’s tough to be even a benign dictator (his brother is anything but) in the modern age. Soon he is working behind the scenes to make deals and bring diverse voices to the table to make peace. Of course none of these things work because the world is what it is. So Barry starts making more extreme decisions.

Tyrant is only five or six episodes in, but has become fascinating to watch. Bassam is now making more and more compromised choices, until an action he takes in the latest episode is something from which he cannot come back. Now it looks like he has decided his brother can’t be controlled and will run against him in the upcoming presidential elections (or dispatch him some other way) so he can ... what? Stay and become President? His American wife and children may have something to say about that. Dispatch his brother and install a puppet government? Jamal and his power-hungry wife Leila (Moran Atias, the most exotic and beautiful woman on television) are not going quietly.

One problem the show’s writers will have to overcome is that of no likable characters. Barry was likable enough until his actions this week. His wife is bland and not a force on the show. If there is no one to root for, why watch the show? Or, the show could be about power and how it corrupts. Right now the overall theme of the show is unknown, but it’s been fun so far to try and figure it out.

Rating: ***1/2 out of 5 stars

The Strain – Another vampire show? AAAAAAAAAH! Not to worry though, The Strain is different enough to catch viewer’s attention. When an overseas plane comes to rest on the tarmac in New York with all passengers dead, CDC doctor Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll) and his team are called in to investigate. What they find is a disease they can’t identify bringing dead bodies back to life a bit thirstier than they were. The show is dark, creepy and moody, and the “vampires” do drink blood, but are different enough from traditional vampires that they can just be called monsters, I think. The bad guys are other vampires (a Nazi I can’t wait to see roasted on an open fire and a master vamp we haven’t seen much of yet) and a dying billionaire seeking immortality. Allies include David Bradley (Filch from Harry Potter) as a weary monster hunter, old and tired, but doing his duty.

Dr. Goodweather is an interesting character, but the writers have made him a bit too complex. He’s a brilliant doctor married to his job, fighting the wife he still loves in a divorce for custody of their son, and an alcoholic who struggles to attend AA meetings. I think that’s a little too busy, let’s see which aspect of his life they throw under the bus first for the sake of time.

This is a fun show, which at its base is simply about good vs. evil. I’ll take it. Happily.

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Married – This new comedy is a little too accurate. Marriage is a black hole of happiness, consisting mostly of disappointment, horror and celibacy. The situations and attitudes depicted here are right on target. Somewhat funny, but who wants to watch that every week? Especially if you lived it?

Rating: ** out of 5 stars

You’re the Worst – Jimmy and Gretchen meet at Jimmy’s former girlfriend’s wedding. Waking up the next day after a drunken one-night stand, they decide they may actually like each other. The problem is that they are both selfish, amoral prigs with toxic personalities who tend to avoid emotional attachments like the plague. Now this is more my style. Vulgar, irreverent and funny, Jimmy and Gretchen stumble their way through what may be a relationship with alternating lies and brutal honesty. There just may be a chance for these two crazy kids.

You’re the Worst is an adult comedy that offers honest laughs, I love it. But don’t watch if you’re easily offended.

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Ray Donovan – I’m currently in the middle of the first season of this Showtime series about a Hollywood “fixer” with an out of control personal life. While good drama with excellent writing and acting, Ray Donovan suffers from the problem of too many adult dramas—no likeable characters. In fact, Donovan takes it a step further—most all characters are extremely dislikable. The show is full of despicable characters doing despicable things to each other. Ray (Liev Schreiber) is despicable. His wife and family are despicable. His clients and coworkers are despicable. Why would I want to watch that, exactly? The only non-awful characters are Ray’s Parkinson’s disease-striken brother Terry (Eddie Marsan, Sherlock Holmes) and his son Conor (Devon Bagby). That’s not enough to make viewers care about the show or what happens to the characters. Even veteran Jon Voight’s wonderful performance as Ray’s despicable father gets lost in the static of the show’s nihilism. The show is dank and dark with no sense of humor or light characters/storylines to balance out the doom and gloom. Okay if you have a high tolerance for this sort of thing.

Rating: ** out of 5 stars.

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