RogerBW's Blog

New TV series of 2016 23 October 2016

There aren't many interesting-looking new series coming up this year. Here are a few I've glanced at. (Reviews based on first episodes only.)

Braindead

The smartest show of the season, and it's already over, having started airing in June. If alien insects ate the brains of DC politicians and took them over… would anybody notice? Rests on Mary Elizabeth Winstead in a role that should really be played by Aubrey Plaza, but she does a pretty solid job even so. Tony Shalhoub excels as one of the early victims.

Van Helsing

There's been a zombie apocalypse, only the zombies are called vampires and bite people's necks, and Amnesiac Berserker Chick's blood can turn them human again. (So, um, copy it? I'm sure there'll be some reason why they can't.) Spends a lot of effort setting up the premise, and very little on the characters, but there's one gorgeous shot over the ruined city that makes it almost worth it.

Really, the first episode is more of an extended trailer than anything else.

MacGyver

Pointless remake is pointless, sure. I've got used to that. But this is a horrible generic secret government agency action show, with very occasional gadgeteering; in other words they took the name of the show and threw away what made it at all distinctive. So anyone who remembers the original – I wasn't a fan, but I have a vaguely positive opinion of it – will be actively annoyed. And anyone else will be wondering why the show keeps having captioned shots of "matches", "camera", etc., as MacGyver comes up with some new implausible device. (Yes, it's done with graphical overlays rather than narration, presumably because they didn't trust the actor to be able to sound convincing.)

That does point to the core problem, which is Lucas Till – and not just in a "hey, kid, what are you doing out this late" way, though I get some of that too.

He just can't act. He tries to register concern, or emotion, or whatever, but his plastic face can do neutral or smiley, and that's it. He's 26 years old; he should have seen something of life to give him some personality. Has he had some kind of horrible barbecue accident or something?

George Eads put in his time on CSI and, as a reward, got a regular role here. Wonder if he's reconsidering his career direction.

Conviction

This is the one show I've looked at that's solidly set in the real world, with no zombies or time travel or cinematic gadgeteering. And it stars Hayley Atwell, who did an excellent job on Agent Carter even when the rest of it was falling apart.

A non-cop (the daughter of a former president, with legal credibility but a "wild child" reputation) gets blackmailed into heading up a unit that investigates old crimes; she's not interested at first, then decides to make a go of it. That's basically a cop show by any other name, and cop shows generally do reasonably well at least in their first few seasons: nothing "weird" for the audience to get a grip on. Other characters are obviously sketched in, but the outlines are there and there's the potential for interest.

So why does it have the feeling of a dead show walking? Lousy ratings in the first few weeks don't help. Maybe Americans don't want to hear that their justice system can get things wrong, just at the moment.

Timeless

Adventures into American history! And it has the guts to say, well, most of American history isn't a great place to be if you're a black guy. (Which reminds me of a pilot I saw a few years back that never made it to series – it seemed potentially decent, but I can't now remember its name.)

But when you have found the bomb on the Hindenburg, you're trying to save the airship, and the airship is flying over water… why not just drop the bomb overboard, rather than faffing about trying to disarm it?

Looks potentially decent, particularly the final moments when it becomes clear that there have been all sorts of ripple changes to history.

Frequency

This smells of a fantasy show trying to drag in the mass audience by being relentlessly un-fantastic. There's just one gimmick: cop now can talk to her cop father twenty years in the past over a ham radio, and in the pilot she uses this to get him to avoid his death on an undercover operation. But there are side effects in her own life, just as there are in Timeless

This is another one that has the feeling of a dead show walking, though. Which is a shame, because the leads are appealing. Nobody else really makes much impression, though.

Westworld

Pleasingly creepy; starts from Crichton's self-assurance of human superiority, and then actually looks at the ethics of having mildly-sentient AIs that are created purely for the pleasure of amusement-park guests. Also has characters rather than just walking traits with nametags.

A solid opening episode and I look forward to more.

Channel Zero

Horror anthology series. But there's a distinction between building up tension and just throwing generic spooky imagery at the viewer, and it mostly goes for the latter. Very obviously made on the cheap, which doesn't help.


  1. Posted by Dr Bob at 11:09am on 23 October 2016

    I read the Channel Zero comics series. But that wasn't so much horror as dystopia, political activism and social commentary in the comics. Presumably not connected?

    Westworld is the only one from your list I really fancy seeing. But it is not on a channel I get.

    I'd recommend having a look at Cleverman on iplayer/BBC3. Australian urban fantasy series where a species from Australian Aboriginal legend (the Hairymen) has turned out to be real - and the government has gone ultra right wing in an attempt to curb the citizens' fears (cue allegories for racism against Aboriginal peoples, immigrants, etc). I've watched the first 2 episodes and intend to stick with it.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 07:18pm on 23 October 2016

    Doesn't sound as if there's any connection to the Channel Zero comics.

    All shows seem to end up on free channels eventually. It just takes longer now that there's Netflix, Amazon Video, and so on.

  3. Posted by Owen Smith at 01:03pm on 24 October 2016

    There is a lot of US stuff that never ends up on free channels in the UK, because the US produces so much stuff and we are a smaller market. Also sci fi is seen as not selling over here.

  4. Posted by Dr Bob at 07:45pm on 24 October 2016

    How long is "eventually"? As long as a piece of string.

    For example, Game of Thrones still hasn't been on a free channel and they are up to season 7 now...

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