Saturday, November 21, 2015

TV Pilots - clearing the smoke - part 2

Continuing with the autumn TV series pilots that I started in part 1 we reach Into the Badlands. A mighty warrior and a young boy search for enlightenment in a ruthless territory controlled by feudal barons. Even if the series has been advertised, they were smart enough to be vague. The only thing I get from those advertisements and the description is that it might be a post apocalypse, motorcycle knight kind of thing.

Oh, wow! The introduction is great. The knight is played by Daniel Wu, an American-Chinese actor who knows Kung-Fu (pardon the pun) and it shows. The world is indeed a post apocalyptic one, after wars that devastated it. The Badlands are now ruled by 7 barons who banned all firearms (and maybe even all ranged weapons? it's unclear). The show starts with Daniel Wu destroying a group of about 10 armed people with only his hands and feet. And it's not one of those pacifistic knocking people down or hitting their pressure spots or whatever. He breaks hands, arms, legs, necks, spinal columns and kills them all brutally. You know what? Based on that alone and by Daniel Wu's acting as well as fighting, I am going to greenlight this one. Oh, and the main title theme is by Mike Shinoda.

After watching the whole pilot, I remained equally impressed. The actors are good, even the adolescent ones, the production values are high, the battles are impressive and the baroness... hmm hmm hmm. BTW, Orla Brady, the actress playing her, is 54 years old.

Next on the list: Jekyll and Hide. 10-part drama set in 1930s London focusing on Robert Jekyll, the grandson of the original doctor. The show will follow Robert Jekyll's quest to discover his real identity and the true nature of his family's cursed history. Sounds like an attempt to follow on the success of Penny Dreadful and Sherlock. I kind of dread "the son of..." concepts, but who knows?

The story is set 50 years later, where Robert Jekyll is a doctor in Ceylon. Apparently his adoptive father is hiding him from the world there, until he is lifting a 10 ton lorry of the back of a girl and gets into the attention of a British lawyer. The first 10 minutes set the stage, but I find them amateurish and bland. I can only hope that it goes better than this further along. It seems that this adaptation moves away from the psychological roots of the original story, instead going with a paranormal "old gods" idea. Richard E. Grant is in it, too, as the head of a shady government organisation and there seems to be an evil organization as well.

I am not ready to dismiss this, yet. It might be interesting. After all, I do watch a lot of fantasy and sci fi and I usually like British dramas. I will leave this undecided.

Limitless. A man gains the ability to use the full extent of his brain's capabilities. A television adaptation of the 2011 film, 'Limitless'. This series I will leave for later. I haven't seen Limitless and it seems bad form to not watch the movie first.

London Spy Story of a chance romance between two people from very different worlds, one from the headquarters of the Secret Intelligence Service, the other from a world of clubbing and youthful excess. Oh, my, another spy series. Spies, the new vampires? Anyway, it has an interesting premise, that a young clubber would enter the world of spycraft for love. Funny, that: the two main actors come directly from Spectre and Kingsman.

I like that the romance between the two guys is realistic and drawn out, not just a smile, some adventure and a kiss. Most romantic films could learn from this one. On the other hand... it's being drawn out :) Nothing interesting happening after the first 20 minutes. But the characters are well fleshed out and the acting is good. It gives you that feeling of "if they make so much effort to define the characters, how much more wonderful the story will be?".

I think I am ready to mark this as a keeper. It might grate homophobic people, but the actual homosexual scenes are few and far between. I am really curious on how it will go on.

Following on the list is Quantico. A look at the lives of young FBI recruits training at the Quantico base in Virginia when one of them is suspected of being a sleeper terrorist. I am already sick of police or other government agency series and it also features a nonwhite female lead. It also has something to do with terrorism. It feels all like a big cliché. I hope I am wrong, of course, after all Homeland was kind of the same and I love it. Let's see what is it like.

After watching the pilot, I can tell you that it is all of the above, but also more. It is not acted badly and the story, while playing on the artificial fears of the Americans, is intriguing. I would have rather seen more about their FBI training at Quantico than see a character being singled out and then the story turning into The Fugitive, though. The perfect physical specimens, the pop music telling you what to feel and the "fancy" editing reminiscent of so many mass produced series didn't help either. Oh, and the second episode starts with "My name is...". As a friend of mine said, one should run away from shows starting like that.

I was tempted to let it undecided and watch a few more episodes, but I realize that it is just me having problems letting go. This is a recipe TV series with all the classic hooks. Just in order to make sure I watched the "previously on Quantico" bits and they sucked. I will remove it from the list and not watch it.

River. John River, a brilliant police officer whose genius and fault-line is the fragility of his mind - a man haunted by the murder victims whose cases he must lay to rest. Really? A brilliant whatever with emotional problems solving police cases? Again?! I am tempted to not even try it out. However, it is British and stars Stellan Skarsgård.

Well, all respect for his acting, but Stellan alone won't make me watch this series. Retroactively I think for the same reason I should not watch From Darkness. It's about a cop who hallucinates his female partner and obsesses about who killed her. His singular focus makes him able to solve cases, even when his entire department feels sorry for him and wants him to get a compassionate leave.

While it might be a well done series, the subject is completely uninteresting for me. This one I will leave out.

Next on: The Player. A former intelligence and FBI officer, who now works as a security expert in Las Vegas, is recruited by mysterious pit boss Mr. Johnson to, based on his tips, try to prevent crimes, while the rich place bets on his chances of success. Solving crimes again? The only thing that makes me try this on is that Wesley Snipes is in it.

It starts with action hero strong jaw "security consultant", the obligatory black cop and the professional and compassionate and really cute girlfriend who gets killed and motivates him. Then an all powerful shadow organization which can "predict crime" and employs him as an agent... in order to bet on him.

Wesley Snipes does a fighting routine at the beginning, only to show us how fast he still is, but his role is that of a puppet master, not a really main character. Therefore, dismissed!

Marvel's Jessica Jones A former super-heroine decides to reboot her life by becoming a private investigator. Now, I feel a little bit hypocritical. It is about special person solving cases, right? In all intents and purposes is yet another of those shows that I don't want to watch. But it is part of the Marvel universe and, best of all, it's another Netflix show, following the footsteps of Daredevil. All episodes in a season arrive at the same day. The very concept of "pilot" loses its meaning. Add to it David Tennant as the bad guy and I can't help myself.

Jessica Jones is an interesting character: a failed female superhero, with PTSD after she was basically mindraped by a villain, hiding as a private investigator in New York, overdrinking and having nightmares. Different from most female fronted shows, this one is well made, with a believable and strong character, without it being a guy with tits or a damsel in distress waiting for the queue of men to save her. I will personally watch this, especially since I can go through a season in a day or two. Plus, Jones is a respectable comic book superhero, not the female version of an already established one, like Super Woman, so there is a ton of material to inspire the screenwriters of the show. Verdict: I am keeping it!

Continued in part 3