Friday, September 27, 2013

Fall Season 2013: A Look at Five New Sitcoms

NOTE: This piece was originally published on Critics at Large on September 27, 2013. If you wish to comment, please do so on that page.

Sean Giambrone and George Segal on The Goldbergs, now on ABC

Even in this era of cable television when a series can premiere at any point on the calendar, September, when the major networks premiere the majority of their new shows, remains a special time for TV viewers. Most of the shows you see this fall won't be here come January, but with a crop of almost 50 new shows coming your way in the next few weeks, it may be difficult to figure out which to check out and which to pass on. Today I'm looking at five new comedies which recently showed up on our airwaves, some more promising than others: Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox), Trophy Wife (ABC), The Goldbergs (ABC), The Crazy Ones (CBS), and Dads (Fox).

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones – Just Read the Books

NOTE: This piece was originally published on Critics at Large on September 15, 2013. If you wish to comment, please do so on that page.

Lily Collins and Jamie Campbell Bower in The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

The following contains spoilers for The Mortal Instruments, both the film and the book series.

If I were writing this to let you all know how notably underwhelming the recently released The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is, I know that I’m a little late to the party. Even if you weren’t aware of the film, or author Cassandra Clare’s multi-volume teen fantasy book series that inspired it, you probably heard that resounding flopping sound the movie generated when it premiered in theatres a couple of weeks ago. Just this past Thursday in fact the studio put the planned sequel (based on the second novel City of Ashes) on indefinite hold. It is probably for the best.

Directed by Harald Zwart (The Karate Kid, 2010), and starring Lily Collins and Jamie Campbell Bower (who played the centuries-old vampire Caius in the Twilight films), City of Bones is a bit of a hot mess: pretty to look at but remarkably frustrating to follow. In fact, that is the most apt word to describe the experience of watching City of Bones: frustrating. The movie – clocking in at over 2 hours – feels both unbearably long and exasperatingly hurried. I’ve read all five published books of the Mortal Instruments series, including Clare’s more readable Infernal Devices prequel trilogy, and even I found the film difficult to follow – and even more difficult to like. I enjoyed the books, mind you, but I confess they don’t live long in your consciousness after putting them down. Clare has produced a believable world on the page, and offers a number of interesting twists on the vampire/werewolf/demon narrative, but little of that makes it onto the big screen. The result is a film that no doubt would anger a fan of the books and confuse the average moviegoer. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Touch of Cloth Cleans Up the Brit Crime Scene

NOTE: This piece was originally published on Critics at Large on September 4, 2013. If you wish to comment, please do so on that page.

John Hannah and Suranne Jones star in A Touch of Cloth II: Undercover Cloth on Sky1

Last year around this time – as the summer was beginning to wane, and the promise/threat of the new fall television season loomed – two new series premiered which called me back to the very beginning of my life as a TV devotee. Ask my 15-year-old self what my favourite comedy shows were and I would have quickly answered Sledge Hammer and Police Squad! Neither series lasted long on the air, but both have lived long in my memory. Last August, my inner TV child got two televisual treats: Bullet in the Face, a new series by Sledge Hammer creator Alan Spenser, and A Touch of Cloth. I’ve already written about the hallucinogenic zaniness of Spenser’s show, but with A Touch of Cloth II: Undercover Cloth, the second installment of the planned A Touch of Cloth trilogy, airing in the UK this past two Sundays, the time has come to write on the latter.

A timely spoof of the recently reinvented British crime procedural, A Touch of Cloth reinvents the parody genre for our era’s much more media savvy audiences. The series brings the energy and style of the Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker 80s classics Airplane! and Police Squad! not only to the UK, but to the 21st century. Though it takes its title from a play on ITV’s long-running procedural A Touch of Frost, A Touch of Cloth casts its satirical net far wider, taking on bleak and bloody detective dramas like Luther and Wire in the Blood, and even groundbreaking classics like Jimmy McGovern’s Cracker.