Mr. Robot [Season 1]: follows Elliot – a Cyber Security engineer by day / social vigilante hacker by night – as he’s recruited by a shady anarchist called ‘Mr Robot’. Firstly, the shows gambles everything on a wild main character: an anxious & depressed, socially inept, lonely, mentally unstable, and unsympathetic junkie-hacker! The central plot is told through his paranoid point-of-view, where we hear his thoughts – including some beautiful IT snobbery: “he owns a blackberry” “he likes the music of Josh Groban” / “stupid Marvel movies”. While Malek’s lead performance is outstanding, he’s not alone as the entire show is very well-cast: everyone has a unique look and set of traits & skills – Wallstrom and Slater in particular get a lot of time to shine. The show also looks phenomenal; it’s beautifully shot with lots of bold & striking imagery, vibrant colours, and unorthodox camerawork; like low-level & asymmetrical shots, strong leading lines… you could screenshot almost any moment and hang it on your wall. In fact, the production is so slick that it feels more like a 10-hour long movie. Every character, every sub-plot, almost every scene feels like it’s saying something about our modern way of living; how insipid tech is permeating our lives, and how ‘the masses’ are being exploited. As someone who works in IT I found myself nerding out over accuracy and tech savviness of the show; Hell, even the episode titles like “eps1.0_hellofriend.mov” are smart and cool. As the season marches forward viewers are rewarded with compelling story arcs, Shakespearian twists and turns, and scathing critiques of modern life, big business, & corporate culture. It’s very anti-establishment, and isn’t dumbed down in the slightest. Insightful, intelligent, and crammed with current issues & ‘news story’ plots, Mr Robot is the kind of show that’s setting the bar in terms of style and substance.
Goliath: a formerly great (now-down-and-out) lawyer lands a case against his old firm and their biggest client; but his life suddenly takes a turn for the even worse. While the premise is nothing new or original, this is elevated by having a horde of superb characters, brilliantly acted by the top-drawer ensemble cast: Billy-Bob Thornton, Nina Arianda, Tania Raymonde, and Kevin Weisman in particular steal every scene they’re in with phenomenally dry and naturally funny performances. It’s also quite smutty and sweary compared to most other shows – the frequency and inappropriateness of which adds an extra layer to the humour. In style and tone, a lot of Goliath reminded me of Justified; very human and flawed characters that you want to spend more time with in knockabout situations with dive bars, blues music, and some peril / mystique thrown in. It’s also very well made, measuring up to the biggest budget shows around with a bright and slick look, top-end camerawork (those time lapses!!!) and a tremendous blues/rock soundtrack. In fact, my only two reservations about the show is that the main antagonist (Bill Hurt) is pretty much played as a Bond villain with a burnt face, living in a darkened layer, and given some token perversions. Also, the first six episodes have plenty laugh out loud moments, whereas the final two wrap things up in a more straightforward way. Goliath is so funny, addictive, and crammed with entertaining dialogue & performances that I watched all eight hours over two nights. It’s a solid courtroom drama for people who don’t even have to like Courtroom Dramas.
Strike Back: Shadow Warfare – when an undercover Section 20 agent is executed in cold blood Scott and Stonebridge set their sights on the killer and his terrorist organization. For this first time, this season pulls out some big names with the likes of Martin Clunes (best death face ever), Dougray Scott, Robson Green, and Rhona Mitra. And when you thought it wouldn’t be possible, everything is EVEN MORE ridiculous, funny, cheesy, trashier and sensational than the previous outings: a sexy Russian agent-babe is introduced in one scene, and literally a having vodka sex (with Scott, obvz) in the next one; a gay transvestite pensioner hard-man starts prison riot; and only Strike Back could have the Real IRA team up with Muslim terrorists and get away with it. This is the first season where the different directors stand out as the opening two episodes have computer-game / John Woo slow-mo vibe, with epic music and everything exploding; the middle six feel more ‘traditional’ action episodes, and the final two play out more like 24 episodes with the focus being on twists and reveals (and some poorly handled shaky cam action). The overall story and structure stick to previous season formulas, but hey, every plot thread in Strike Back is just chasing McGuffins to serve up more action scenes. When things aren’t being blown to shit, the drama stuff is well handled, characters get a bit more time to develop, and the show still isn’t afraid to pull punches or shock the viewers with main cast killings. I’ve pretty much ran out of superlatives and phrases to describe how good Strike Back is because it’s so consistent in delivering five top-drawer action B-movies season after season. The show gives its audience (14-40 year old boys) exactly what they want: action, babes, guns, nudity, explosions, gadgets… and the fact that this rollercoaster series ends with a sex scene says it all really. The tagline for this season is “The world’s not saving itself”; but Strike Back is definitely saving the action TV genre.
STRIKE BACK REVIEW
STRIKE BACK: PROJECT DAWN REVIEW
STRIKE BACK: VENGEANCE REVIEW
Vice Principals: when a school principal retires and the vice principals are passed over for a promotion they form an unlikely tag team to take their new boss down. Not unlike most Danny McBride projects, the humour in VPs is an acquired taste: it’s stupid and lowest-common denominator stuff, but I’m a fan of the funny to watch the crass swearing, childish squabbling, stereotypes, silly faces etc… McBride’s pretty much been here before in Eastbound and Down with his faded baseball star going back to school to teach; his latest character Neal Gamby is essentially an older, and slightly more filtered/censored Kenny Powers. Goggins on the other hand turns in an against-type effeminate role, that requires a lot of eye rolling, sucking up, and mincing around in pink clothes. Both leads are great at what they do and the core supporting cast notes (Gregory / Whigham / King / Love – GO SCOTLAND! / Patterson) all hit the right comedy notes. The show mostly cruises along, with scenarios that lead to silly and cringe comedy, but there’s a few curveballs in here with surreal moments, weird filming techniques, and the finale feels a little too bizarre and doesn’t fit in with the rest of the show. Vice Principals will go down best with fans of McBride’s trademark style, and he’s firmly in his comfort zone… for regular viewers it may be stray a little too far into crass and unacceptable territory.
Jean-Claude Van Johnson: what if the ‘rubbish’ straight to DVD movies JCVD made in the between the bigger films were just cover for his super-agent alter ego to carry out real black ops missions? That’s the premise for the Amazon pilot Jean-Claude Van Johnson. The episode has a lot of great action genre and movie business digs and jokes; although some of the more general jokes fall a bit flatter, focusing on easy targets like hipsters, pop-up restaurants, vaping etc. The scrip is littered with witty LOL moments like an entire Looper / Timecop debate, and lines like “I’m real retired, not like Nicolas Cage retired“. While the love interest angle doesn’t quite work with the meager time assigned to it; it has potential to grow through a full season. The Van Johnson pilot is handled beautifully, and clearly made with affection for JCVD’s career and filmography… It’s also great that a star of his stature can poke this much fun at himself; making this an absolute must-watch for any JCVD or action B-movie fans.
Strike Back: Vengeance (Season 3) – when a billionaire acquires four nuclear triggers in order to re-shape Africa, only section 20 can stop him. Continuing with the UK/US collaboration, this takes everything that worked about ‘Project Dawn’ and made it all bigger/louder/better. Every episode is wall to wall action; with dozens of set pieces, hundreds of deaths, and a load of whiz-bang sex scenes. The entire season is 100mph, and it’s simply great fun. The characters feel more rounded, the leads’ chemistry is fantastic, and it’s very professionally made – but things like ‘character development’, ‘plot’, and ‘direction‘ are background noise to the explosions, gunfights, stunt driving, and spec ops that march the show forward. It’s hard to believe that such a ridiculously intense level of action (huge set pieces every 10 mins or so) can be done on a TV budget – the 10 episodes are paired off into FIVE 90-minute long mini missions that run together. In a world of toned down and heavily edited 12-rated action films, the swearing, sex, and sensational action makes this feel like something from ‘the good old days’. Completely knowing, and aimed directly at young male action fans, Strike Back Vengeance is a show that only really does one thing (infinite ammo, high-octane action turned up to 11), but does it brilliantly – making it a truly unmissable show for action fans
Line of Duty (Seasons 1 & 2): police drama based on an Anti-Corruption unit and their internal affair investigations on potentially crooked coppers. The show’s biggest strength is that the main focus of each season is a very ambiguous character that looks clean and innocent, but makes some morally dubious choices – some of which are understandable – meaning that every viewer will see them differently depending on their individual moral compass. It also helps that the core characters are well-acted and for the most part, given backstory and more depth. There’s more shocks and violence than you’d expect from a Big British Castle (BBC) program – which helps to ratchet up the drama. It’s also well shot, with strong docu/realistic camerawork and a slightly gritty finish to emphasise urgency and drama. What I don’t understand is that it spends 5-6 hours setting up a complex, engaging, and constantly evolving crime scenario – only to completely fuck up the ending in both seasons: one is barely explained; the other is told only through flashbacks; and both times nothing really changes, the team don’t actually figure anything out, and it’s topped with cheesy follow-up post credit titles showing the fate of each main character (even though it’s fiction, and not true crime). For the most part Line of Duty is a slick, tense, and absorbing police procedural show; and if closure doesn’t bother you, you’ll like it even more.
Season 1 – Score: 7/10
Season 2 – Score: 8/10