Tag Archives: Summer 2013 TV Season

Summer 2013 Review: Broadchurch

28 Aug

Broadchurch Broadchurch is a British show about the investigation into the murder of an 11-year old boy in a small beach community in England. Broadchurch’s premise immediately made me think of The Killing and The Bridge, and the three of them combined over the past couple of years officially makes there an early 2010s trend of very serious season-long (or longer) murder investigation series.  I’m getting tired of the premise, largely because there are so many other interesting show ideas that aren’t getting made because of them (different generally > same, all else being equel) , and because these shows have inherent limitations. Because the murder investigation is the thing in these shows, it’s kind of hard to figure out what to do once the murder is solved, and if, because of that, you can’t solve the murder for a long time, that can lead to some problematic forced stretching it out, as fans of The Killing learned once upon a time.

That disclaimer said, I should also mention I appear to be a sucker for these shows.  Or maybe they just seem to start off particularly well.  The Killing drew me in, The Bridge drew me in at least well enough that I’m still watching it even while feeling somewhat ambivalent about the show, and while I was initially skeptical of Broadchurch because of the premise, I liked it enough that I find myself rationalizing that I’ll at least give it a couple episodes so hopefully it doesn’t break my heart with some terrible twist and huge anticlimax.

So, Broadchurch.  We start with what seems like an ordinary family in a bright little seaside community.  Mum, dad (I don’t know what British for dad is), grandmum, and older sis go about their morning routines only to realize later in the day that their son/grandson/brother Danny is nowhere to be found. He never went to school or to his daily early morning paper route, the paper route being why it would be normal for his family not to have noticed him missing right away.  Soon, it turns out the worst of all possible outcomes is the one that transpired.  Danny’s dead, lying on the beach.  The two lead detectives on the case are a grim-faced veteran who is apparently trying to make up for an embarrassing scandal of some sort of that we haven’t learned about yet and a local detective whose son was best friends with the dead boy and who is having a particularly hard time because of her close relationship to the case and because it seems to be her first murder case of any kind (I’m not positive on this; I’m guessing from context, but be aware I’m possibly reading it wrong).

It’s hard to tell who else will become main character besides the family and the cops but it appears the leading candidates are the female detective’s nephew, a young hungry local journalist who sees this story as a possible way to move himself up in the world, and a big city female journalist who convinces her editor to send her out to the country to write about the case. Towards the end of the episode, the head detective (played by David Tennant, of erstwhile Dr. Who fame), gives a press conference where he asks for information and lets the killer know there’s nowhere to hide, and we see lots of people all around town watching.  The killer could be anybody, this reminds us, as well as that small towns hide lots of secrets. There’s always dangers of potential cliches when it comes to tv cops, and by far my biggest initial concern is Tenant’s possible cardboard cutout serious-police-officer-looking-to-make-up -for-a-major-mistake-in-the-past .  However, at least in the first episode, ; even though I knew it was a tripe, it surprisingly didn’t bother me too much while watching.  This is the type of problem that could wear on me over time; I’m hopeful the character is invested with some depth and that Tennant is equal to the challenge.

It’s really hard to end these type of mysteries in a satisfying way, particularly since no matter how much it’s supposed to be about the journey and the experience, a disappointing ending that either comes out of nowhere or is too obvious or is simply unsatisfying puts a disappointing sheen on the entire series.  Additionally, this concept doesn’t necessarily play well over multiple seasons, which was the problem The Killing had; it’s hard to not feel like the show is being artificially lengthened after a point, or there’s one too many red herring, and the viewers simply feel jerked around. The small coastal town is a beautiful setting and the element present in the small town mystery here, unlike in the big cities in which The Killing and The Bridge are set, is the everybody-knows-everybody angle.  The first episode showed a smart amount of restraint and hopefully Broadchurch can maintain the difficult balance between moving the plot along at a fair pace while holding on to the emotional core and avoiding melodrama.

Will I watch it again?  Yes, I’m going to.  It looks pretty, the acting is solid, and it has the most basic element that got humans reading and watching mysteries once upon a time.  Whodunnit?  Hell, I want to know.  I hope I will care this much about who did it halfway through the season. It’s not close to the most unique or different show I’ve seen and I’m hesitant for the reasons I’ve mentioned to get too confident that Broadchurch will keep it up, but it passed the all-important I-want-to-watch-the-second-episode-right-after-I-finish-the-first-episode test.

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Summer 2013 Review: Graceland

26 Aug

Graceland

We’re gong to Graceland, Memphis Tennessee, as Paul Simon might say.   Actually check that – Graceland  in this context is instead is the nickname of a gorgeous beach house in sunny Southern California seized by the Feds from a drug lord that is now home to a panoply of young, hot, federal agents from the FBI, DEA and Customs.

Graceland starts with the new kid, recent valedictory FBI graduate Mike Warren, moving into Graceland to take the spot of Donnie Banks, a DEA agent who was recently shot after a drug deal gone wrong.   Mike, who thought he was sticking in DC, has to learn the ways of sunny SoCal quickly, studying up on his Spanish and getting a crash course in how to surf and wear flip flops by the other guys of the house.  The ostensible leader of Graceland is the legendary FBI agent Paul Briggs, whose training scores in school and quick rise through the system is well known by agents far and wide.  Briggs does his work to the beat of his own drum; another agent tells Mike that Briggs was once suit and tie but took a leave of absence can came back all zen, kind of llike a non-bank robbing Patrick Swayze in Point Break.

Mike’s first assignment is a reverse buy, where he sells drugs to a low level guy vaguely affiliated with a Russian gang. It goes right, wrong, right, wrong, and then right again, until both him and the guy are arrested, with the idea that the guy will not realize he’s been played if he sees Mike get arrested too.  All that hard work does not pay off when an idiotic officer brings the perp right through where Mike is stationed after he’s back in his FBI jacket.

The poor low level perp is in big trouble when the big bad Russian gang tells them his family will be basically kidnapped and held hostage to ensure his not talking;, but there’s a possible out.  The perp panics and claims Mike, rather than being an FBI agent, which could get him and his family killed, is instead the perp’s brother-in-law, and if Mike does a favor for these Russians, well then, maybe the family will be safe after all.

Mike’s first day just got a whole lot more difficult.  Mike, now posing as the junkie brother-in-law, convinces the Russians to let him murder someone for them in exchange for releasing the family, and gently guides the FBI to his location by speaking clever cues through a transmitter on his watch (Horace Greeley would not approve, means he’s going east – the opposite of Greeley’s famous “Go West, Young Man”).  Trouble nearly strikes again when it turns out the man they want him to kill is Banks, the agent whose room he took, and a sticky situation Is resolved when Mike convinces Banks that he’s FBI, even though he’s not carrying a badge.

Mike fires six shots into the floor, tells the Russians he’s done the deed, but they’re oddly suspicious, something’s not right, and just in time Agent Briggs sprints in from out of nowhere and after trying to convince the Russians to put their hands up, shoots both Russians.  At the very end of the episode a major twist is revealed; int turns out Mike was actually sent there by the FBI to spy on Briggs, who they believe might be dirty, or at least up to something fishy.

Graceland follows the USA formula to a T. It features the young and the good looking working in sunny locales  for the forces of good.  Lawyers, cops, and doctors are the three big procedural professions, and USA loves all of them.  The characters bond; everyone’s in it for each other even though they might get on each others nerves occasionally in the heat of battle.  They work hard and they play hard.  They all have nicknames, and I would imagine some love will brew between Mike and one of the two female agents. There’s a lot of style, not a ton of substance, and the style is a USA house style; slick, glossy, bright and fun.  There are moments of extreme tension but there’s never grime; the dark grays and browns of many FX shows have no place on USA. The characters in USA shows often seem the same; the flawed genius/savant that House MD made huge again is a favorite, and the mysterious Briggs looks like he’s going to fit that role here.

It’s not bad by any means, it’s just, well, the same.  While I’m watching, I want to see what happens to the drug bust gone wrong, but when it’s over, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it.  And that’s potentially fine, not every show has to have you racking your cranium for days.  Still, when you’re choosing shows to watch for that kind of visceral fun without the heavy big ideas, there are better choices than this (might I suggest Orphan Black?).  Very watchable should not be enough to get our viewership in this day and age with so many good shows on so many channels.

Quick note: There’s a bizarre scrolling text opening describing the origin of the house Graceland, which is both entirely unnecessary and, which gives it kind of s ‘70s feel.

Will I watch it again?  No.  I’ve seen well more than my necessary lifetime share of USA shows, and I don’t mean that begrudgingly, but until they do something different it’s hard for me to get very interested.  Graceland is very decent; I enjoyed watching the first episode well enough, but it’s hard to see a lot of payoff going forward.  I would watch an episode or two with my dad if the occasion comes up or if it’s on TV as I’m falling asleep/just waking up but I’m certainly not investing the time to watch every episode of a show that I’ll pretty much forget about after I watch.

Summer 2013 Review: The Fosters

23 Aug

Foster has two meanings

Deep in the bowels of ABC Family Channel, where males and people above the age of 30 don’t venture very often, we may have on our hands, if it goes in the best possible direction, a potential successor to Friday Night Lights.  Not plot-wise, as The Fosters has absolutely nothing to do with football. What I mean, rather, is a successor to the type of emotionally honest, compelling, and heart-wrenching relationships between teenagers, their family, and their friends that Friday Night Lights mastered more than any show in recent times.

The Fosters is about an interracial lesbian couple, Stef and Lena, (shout out for seeing that on TV – pretty awesome) who live with a son from Stef’s previous marriage, Brandon, and two Hispanic twins, Jesus and Mariana, they took it when the twins were around 6 or 7, I’m guessing, based on the timeline given, and whom they eventually fully adopted.  To this already busy home, comes a new teenage girl, Callie, who may be troubled, is coming out of juvenile detention, and needs a place to say.  Lena, who is an assistant principal at the charter school which her kids attend, sees something in Callie’s eyes and can’t resist taking her in just for a few weeks until she finds a more permanent home.  The first scene of the entire series is of this poor girl, Callie, having her ass kicked in in an absolutely brutal fashion, devoid of context, in juvenile detention, by girls jealous that she’s getting out.  Stef, the relative hard-ass of the marraige, is a cop.

Everyone in the family is a little bit thrown by the new girl, and Stef is not thrilled that her wife made such a major decision, inviting a stranger into their home, without discussing it first (Lena called Stef a number of times, but she was busy and din’t answer).  Callie seems troubled; she may have issues after all, and she calls the lesbians dykes right out at the dinner table on her first night, not generally a way to get welcomed into a new home. Fortunately, the family sees it for what it probably is, a teenager trying to antagonize and takes it in stride.  The main episode plotlines from here are two fold.

First, in the A plot, Callie wants to go back to where she was from, for someone named Jude, who she calls, and who sounds like may be a boyfriend.  She gets ready to ditch school after lunch, and the Brandon, who has a musical performance that evening, decides to come with, to watch her back if nothing else.  It turns out she wants to go back to her old foster home to save her brother from a violent foster father.  Callie and Brandon get into some trouble there, and the father seems like a genuinely bad dude in the two minutes we see him, but eventually everyone finds them and they end up okay, and the brother is safe and coming home with the family as well, at least for now.

In the B story, the female twin, Mariana, wants to meet her birth mom.  Mariana early in the episode is seen by the viewer and Callie stealing some of her bother’s pills. While Lena was supposed to be arranging this, interaction between Mariana and her mother, Mariana was talking to her mom on the internet with no intermediary.  Her and her mom arranged to meet and it turns out that the birth mom asked Mariana for money, which she sold some pills to put together.  Her brother finds out and reams her out – their birth mom abandoned them and he can’t understand why she, the smart one, doesn’t see that. When she finally meets her mom, she’s disappointed; instead of someone who seems to really care, her mom seems like someone more interested in the money.  She goes home to be with her real family and takes part in the heartwarming moments that follow.

Now, getting back to the FNL comparisons, here’s more on why The Fosters reminded me. of FNL  The people feel like real people, and the family feels like a real family.  The writing isn’t amazing in the sense of hyper crisp plotting or brilliant lyrical dialogue, but it is in the sense that within just one episode the show assembles an entire set of character which all feel authentic.  Similar to FNL, it looks like there are very few bad guys; there isn’t a major antagonist character – every character who spends at least some time on screen is largely decent, if sometimes deeply flawed, even when it may seem like they’re no good at first blush.  This is exactly the The Fosters was up to with Cassie, who seemed like a bad girl running home to a boyfriend, but instead was out to save her brother from abse.  First impressions are misleading; people are usually not as bad when you give them a chance.

Like in FNL as well, I can imagine a penchant for occasional mildly overdoing it melodrama; emotional moments are everywhere, and the show is going to tug your damn heartstrings a lot.  But what that mostly says is that they have the ability to pull those heartstrings.  What’s remarkable is that I felt really moved during the climax scenes that occur near the pilot’s end, and in a way that didn’t feel cheap or emotionally manipulative like most shows would if they made you actually feel feelings in the first episode.

Quick unrelated note – can we cool it with the in-show hashtags, ABC Family?  When Mariana was stealing pills seven minutes or so into the show, a #MarianasSecret came up in the corner, before I even really remembered Mariana’s name.

Will I watch it again?  It’s still not an instant yes, for circumstantial reasons as much as anything else.  The fall is coming, and that’s busy tv season; I probably should have watched this months ago. But I’ll say yes, because this deserves to be a yes, (I know that’s cheating a little bit – but hell I usually don’t know for certain that I’ll watch any show again except in rare circumstances, this time I’m just being honest).  This is not in the first tier of shows I particularly loved this year like The Americans and Rectify or even Orange is the New Black but it is good. It’s often the type of show that’s not particularly up my alley, so I think the fact that I cared for a good amount may say even more.

Summer 2013 Review: Low Winter Sun

12 Aug

Stanley Tucci-lookalike Mark Strong

Here’s what I know about Low Winter Sun after one episode.

There are two main plot strains, both diverging from a detective, Brendan McCann, who is killed in the first scene by two other detectives, Frank, and Joe.  They kill him and then attempt to make it look like a suicide, handcuffing his arm to his car, and driving his car into a lake.

The next day, Internal Affairs comes into the Detroit office of these two detectives asking all sorts of questions about Brendan.  It turns out Brendan was super dirty, though we don’t know the exactly details, and Joe seems to have been involved somehow, leading him to want Brendan, a notorious drunk who could give him away, dead.  Frank, who seemed to want Brendan dead as part of some sort of revenge, seems to honestly know nothing about Brendan’s dirty history and is outraged at Joe for failing to mention these selfish motives.  Soon, the cops find Brendan’s body, so far think it’s a suicide, and also find a body in the trunk of Brendan’s car that Frank and Joe know nothing about.  Frank’s boss puts him in charge of looking into it, which could be problematic since Frank was the one who killed him.

The second strain involves some guys involved with drugs who were paying off Brendan to do some shady stuff for them.  The primary drug plot guy, whose name might be Nick, killed another drug dealer in an early scene, stole some drugs, and is trying to figure out whether Brendan double crossed him or simply didn’t show up because he was drunk when he finds out that Brendan’s done.  There’s some drugs and some major organized crime and some family drama going on, but it’s hard to tell where this is going from the first episode, as this strain is a lot less well defined than the police plot.

It’s grimy, dark, bleak, depressing.  It takes place in Detroit, which is probably the best place currently to set a show if you want to give off that feel, but it feels less like Detroit than the idea of Detroit, or maybe more accurately ’70s urban America when it seemed like every big city was overrun by crime and corruption and on the verge of collapse.  Everything’s super seedy and shady, with that ’70s urban noir French Connection type feel – this is a lousy place to live that’s more seedy underbelly than well, upright overbelly.  Any cop might be on the payroll, and it seems like corruption may be more the norm than the exception, as the boss figure mentions that several people in his position have gone down due to corruption in recent years.  This pervasive atmosphere of a place where the American dream got lost a long time ago down some gutter is the most consistent feature of the show, guiding it when we’re not sure exactly what the show is about otherwise.

Where Low Winter Sun is going – I’m not exactly sure.  Frank clearly has some sort of tragic history involving a woman, who I’m guessing died.  He’s going to dig deeper into whatever the big corruption situation was, particularly involving Joe, who he’s now tied to, thanks to their collective murder. As for the drug plot, it’s less clear.  That story didn’t quite feel like it belonged, except for its tie in with the atmosphere and the dead cop, but I imagine the two stories could meet at some point as Frank investigates.

Yeah, it looks totally hopeless.  There is absolutely no humor or levity of any kind. Yes, it could easily descend into cop clichés. It’s a cop show, and it’s hard for cop shows not to fall into that, and Low Winter Sun certain dips its toes into the cliche pool on more than one occasion.  As I’ve said before, I don’t think we need another cop show right now, and i think the world would be served by a five year moratorium on new cop shows.  Low Winter Sun certainly seems to be another in the middle-aged-white-male-antihero subgroup of dramas, started by Tony Soprano, and promulgated further by Don Draper and Walter White, (and several more lesser versions since including Boardwalk Empire) a genre that’s definitely in danger of jumping the shark.

Still, while I’m not sure there’s potential for greatness here, I do think there’s potential for goodness.  Mark Strong has made a living playing villains and he gets to play a character who seems to be at the least not entirely evil, which for him is a step up on the morality scale. The choice of casting someone as associated with villainy as Strong helps set the tone for the show, along with having the protagonist commit murder in the first scene of the series which seems potentially gimmicky but which I found somewhat compelling. Frank is already morally compromised within five minutes of the series beginning.  Unlike with Draper and White where the instinct is to root for them until you get to know them better, when Frank kills someone right away, the instinct is to root against him.   All he has going for him is that it seems like it’s instinctual to root against everyone in this show, which may make him the good guy in a very relative sense. The show is mightily grim and it certainly begs the question, Is there such a thing as too grim?  Maybe.  Probably.  But I may have a higher tolerance for grim-ness than most.  It’s so far a fairly one note show, built around this atmosphere and tone.  But I don’t think it’s necessarily such a bad note.

Will I watch it again?  Yeah, I think I might.  It was certainly not an instant winner but the abject bleakness appeals to me more than it might to others, and while its attitude could get tired fast, especially depending on how close It sticks to the traditional cop formulas, I think I’m willing to give it a couple of episodes to see if it does.  I didn’t immediately want to watch the next episode which is the sign of a pilot that really does its job, but it passed the minimum test of giving me at least one aspect that I find intriguing, which is the tone.

Summer 2013 Review: Camp

26 Jul

Camp time

Camp is set in, well, a summer camp, of the sleep away variety, that is pretty much exactly what you think of when you think of a summer camp.  It’s remarkable; because camp exists as a two month vacation from technology and the pressures of today’s modern world, the camp in Camp, and anywhere else, looks almost identical to camps of twenty and thirty years ago, such as the one featured in Wet Hot American Summer.  The only significant differences are the fashion and the presence, in Camp’s camp, of “We Run the Night” by Havana Brown.

Talented actress Rachel Griffiths (best known for her portrayal of Brenda on Six Feet Under) plays camp director Mackenzie “Mac” Granger.   While the beginning of the camp summer starts in some respects like any other, it isn’t business as usual at the camp this year, because Mac’s husband (Jonathan LaPaglia, who is a younger ,poor man’s Anthony) cheated on her with a much younger Eastern European woman, and left her, and on top of that, because of him, the camp is on extremely shaky financial ground.  She may be forced to sell her beloved camp to smarmy Australian rival Roger, who runs the fancy camp for rich jerks down the road where they have lobsters and jet skis.

Of course, there’s a bevy of kids as well for us to care about.  There’s a couple of kids who are new to the camp this year. There’s Kip, a punk outcast city kid, whose leukemia is in remission and who wants no part of summer camp until he meets Marina, a girl who the cool camp veteran girls, who seem to be mean girl-ish, refuse to give the time of day.  The two of them unintentionally keep hanging out with Buzz, Mac’s half-idiot son who is constantly getting into trouble and desperately wants to sleep in a different cabin than his mom, and have sex by the end of the summer, though the former prospect seems a lot more likely than the latter.  Cole is an older guy, probably in his late ’20s, and seems to be in charge of something (maintenance, wikipedia tells me) and greatly respects Mac and her hopeful and optimistic spirit which keeps the camp afloat.  Robbie who is also a veteran in charge of something (activities, says wikipedia) has a yearly summer fling with Sarah; they don’t communicate all year outside of Camp, and tensions brew when he tells her he may be attending law school where she goes to college.

Camp is a  dramedy, for whatever that genre word is worth. It’s as not a comedy – it’s not funny, and there aren’t that many jokes.  It’s tone is light and airy and occasionally sentimental.  There’ll be some crying, but then some heart-warming moments to redeem said crying.  There’ll be some sex, but it’ll be fun sex, rather than dark sex or sleazy sex or really emotional sex.  There are soapy elements to attempt to keep viewers interested but what Camp would like to be is something that makes you smile as you pass the time.

There’s nothing particularly new or interesting, and for what it’s worth I doubt the creators are attempting to be particularly groundbreaking.  The characters are your regularly rag tag summer bunch, and they’re definitely trope-ish but not over the top, to their credit – the tropiest characters are the side characters that provoke, like some bullies from the rich camp that harass some of the characters.  Camp, to be a success, would rely on developing and strengthening the characters over time, and while it’s eminently possibly that these characters could become something one could care about, there’s not quite enough in the first episode to hook us in further to find out.

It’s fairly unmemorable summer programming.  Nobody knows this show exists, it will be cancelled before the month is out mostly likely, and no one will know that it’s gone.  If a program airs on a network that not that many people watch anyway, and no one watches it, was it every really on?

One note – the first episode is notable if nothing else, for a little public service announcement moment.  Teenager Buzz calls something “faggy” and his buddy/possible future love interest Grace, who has two dads, is naturally offended.  Buzz attempts to defend himself to two of the other characters by saying, as many teens do, that “faggy” and “retarded” just mean lame, that he has no problem with gay people, but they, rightfully, tell him otherwise, and he actually apologizes.  It’s kind of a nice teaching moment for an issue that hasn’t yet gone away.

Will I watch it again?  No, it’s not going to happen.  It was fine.  I have no particular qualms with the show, which is far as I’ll go, but shows have to give you some reason to keep watching besides not being bad, and there isn’t one.

Summer 2013 Review: Siberia

15 Jul

It's always cold in Siberia

The basic idea behind Siberia is a fairly obvious one which makes me wonder why no one has ever done it before (or if they have and I just missed it).  Siberia is a scripted show, played as a straight reality show, in this case for horror.  Scripted takes on reality shows have existed before, but as far as I can recall, only for ludicrous not-even-close-to-even-the-level-of-reality-on-reality-shows comedy (for example Comedy Central’s Drawn Together and Halfway Home).  Considering just how much of a cultural institution reality television has become in the last decade and a half, it’s absolutely stunning that there’s never been a scripted reality show played straight.

While the idea seems obvious, it’s still a good one, and Siberia gets some credit as the first.  Siberia is displayed as a reality show, and someone not knowing better could watch large parts of the first episode without realizing that the show wasn’t real. The premise of the faux reality show“Siberia” is that sixteen strangers are flown out to a remote location in Siberia and told to survive a winter without any assistance aside from what they’re given to start and what they find and create from the wilderness around them.  Those that make it to spring share a pot of half a million dollars.  They’re given cabins, a handful of items, and occasionally instructions, hints, and supplies.  There are no rules; players can work together or apart, and whatever goes, goes, including theft or any other activities that would be considered anywhere from immoral to criminal in civilization.  There’s a red button located near their cabins that any contestant can push at anytime if he or she wants out for any reason; she or he will be escorted back to civilization, but gets nothing.  Presiding over the show is a slightly sleazy seeming Australian host who lays down the rules for the contestants.

The sixteen contestants are from multiple countries and from all stereotypical walks of life that reality shows seek so desperately to cater to; there’s the nerdy kid, the tough bald Brooklyn bouncer, the self-reliant antisocial southern farm boy, the crunchy environmental activist do-gooder among others.  The contestants, as they would in a reality show, constantly speak to the camera, giving their thoughts about other contestants, the setting, and the competition in general.

Two of the sixteen are eliminated quickly in a race to the initial cabins.  Having sixteen equally anonymous contestants allows Siberia to successfully have the easiest form of unpredictability (I call it anonymity unpredictability and hope to have a larger article on unpredictability out with more on this at some point).  Because you don’t know who anyone is, and their roles are all equal, anyone can go at anytime; there’s no story-line or meta reasons (such as one actor is more famous) to believe that certain characters stand better chances of making it to the end.

I knew that Siberia was going to veer towards supernatural horror going in, but if you didn’t, there’s no reason that you would know or even suspect that until the very end of the episode.  The group is gathered around, wondering where one of the contestants, who was off looking for mushrooms, was at, when the host informs them that in a tragic accident the contestant died.  It’s up to them, he says, to decide whether they want to end the competition and go home or keep on.  The last scene is a shaky cam shot of the character who died seeing something terrifying and running away, only to be killed.

It’s at this point that it deviates from what a believable actual reality show would do.  This is way too dangerous even for reality TV, and while the premise is hardly ludicrous by reality show standards, the events and rules definitively drag it over the line of believably, not to mention the probable existence of a supernatural creature. At first, I was a little disappoined it was a horror series, because I think a good drama could come out of a reality show told straight without supernatural or horror elements, but the more I thought about, the more I realized it’s a great venue for this kind of genre.  There’s an actual justifiable reason to have a whole bunch of people, all equal, in a remote location, with no technology.  Even more than that, it’s an absolutely perfect vehicle for anonymity unpredictability. There are no predetermined heroes and villains. Everyone’s a contestant, and in a reality show, any heroes or villains that emerge have equal chance of winning; there’s no one personality trope that always wins at reality shows.

Of course, horror has it own sets of tropes which could easily triumph and as someone who’s not a huge horror fan I’d rather Siberia at least partly stray from them rather than embrace them full on.  If Siberia can merely stick to the reality show tropes with a horror story, it could do okay.

The show reminds me of The River, ABC’s short-lived and mostly forgotten faux documentaryseries about a family looking for a missing nature host on the amazon.  Both employ shaky cam, horror elements, and the supernatural.

There are no overarching themes or deep characterization or pithy dialogue or musings about civilization or society or human nature.  But that’s okay.  TV has a lot of channels and a lot of shows.  There’s room for some action, and there’s room for some horror.   Sibera’s actually kind of fun.  It doesn’t ever claim to be more than it is, and by its format as a faux reality show it really can’t.  It’s fun to riff on the tropes of reality show characters, and it’s okay if they’re not the best actors, because what are reality show contestants other than bad actors.  It’s not going to win any awards or top any best show of the year lists, nor should it, but summer is the perfect time for a diversionary show that could be an enjoyable ride without having to be anything more.

Will I watch it again?  I ended the episode thinking I wouldn’t but the more I think about it, I might.  It’s definitely partly due to the slow pace of summer programming compared to the rest of the year, but as much as they’re often not my bag, cheap, fun thrills deserve a place on television somewhere next to their high-minded brethren and Siberia seems like a show that might do an adequate job of delivering them.

Summer 2013 Review: The Bridge

12 Jul

They're on THE BRIDGE

A body is found on a bridge which connects America and Mexico across the Rio Grande, between Juarez and El Paso.  A determined local young female American detective who presumably has a form of mild autism – probably Asburgers or I’m not sure if it’s just autism spectrum disorder now – (Diane Kruger, of Inglorious Bastards) is determined to make the case her own.  She works by the book, and due to her disorder, often rubs people the wrong way with a lack of empathy and social norms. She’s guided by her mentor, the only figure in the police station who seemingly she respects or respects her, Lieutenant Hank Wade, who oozes old-school Texas charm (Ted Levine, who has come a long way from Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs) and who appears to be somewhere between Fred Thompson in Law & Order and Tommy Lee Jones in No Country for Old Men.

Wade agrees to try to hold off the feds and other cops from her case, but she’s forced to work with a Mexican detective, Marco Ruiz (Academy Award nominee Demián Bichir), who, after turning the case over to her initially, shows renewed interest when it turns out one of the bodies was a young woman whose other remains (only the legs were found on the bridge) were found near his home.

They start investigating as a duo.  She’s the more classic single-minded cop, focused on doing things immediately, correctly, and following procedure – she wants to report the Ruiz for allowing an ambulance through part of the crime scene on the bridge where the bodies were found even though the man in the ambulance likely would have died if he hadn’t (he dies anyway, but that’s not the point).  He’s more laid back, but interested, an honest detective who from a city where everyone is corrupt either because they want in, or because everyone else is already doing it, so what’s the point in even bothering.  She constantly lambastes him for the shoddy procedure he and the entire Mexican law enforcement division shows, not understanding the challenges he faces and that he has to carefully save up his reserves of actually giving a shit for when it can do something.

Juarez is famous for both its overall murder rate, its drug violence, and its mysterious and prolific murders of women, largely young women who work in the factories and manufacturing centers that have come to dominate Juarez’s landscape (If you’re really interested, I recommend Roberto Belano’s excellent but crazy long novel 8666 about a fictional Juarez equivalent).

This presents an interesting angle to work with above and beyond the simple solving of a murder, such as the  cooperation and divide between Mexico and America, trying to find justice navigating the famously corrupt and troubled Juarez government.  The border is a contentious area, and it’s certainly remarkable the difference that the border makes; El Paso is extremely safe, while Juarez is crazily dangerous and Mexican authorities have struggled to get any handle on the crime problems, trying to figure out to supply effective law enforcement without being paid off or intimidated by the cartels.  Now, it was entirely unnecessary and weirdly on the nose then for a recorded message from the presumed killer to spell this out blatantly, telling our detectives that El Paso’s a pretty safe place, while Juarez is crazy dangerous, and hell, that ain’t fair, so he’s going to be terrorizing El Paso for a while.

There’s two other strands to the plot, outside of the primary buddy cop duo.  First, the man who was in the ambulance crossing the bridge at the beginning ends up dying at the hospital anyway.  His widow starts to find out some shady parts of his life she didn’t know about, leading to a scene at the end of the first episode when she opens the barn door that will seemingly lead to some sort of unsavory surprise.

Secondly, there’s an American in a trailer in the desert who has kidnapped a young girl from Mexico.  We don’t know if he’s related to the main murders or not, but he seems at the least like he’s up to no good, and one presumes he’ll be connected in to the main plot somehow or another if not as simply the killer.

The first episode of The Bridge was above average, but not great.  The police scenes seemed to only be a couple steps ahead of the standard police tropes, and sometimes got lazy and fell back into them for a minute or two.  At its less tropy, The Bridge felt dark but more importantly grittily real, highlighting the fascinating setting of the border through location shots not only of the border but of the police stations and deserts that suggested the surroundings.  At its lesser moments, the three most prominent cop characters settled into established roles, and Diane Kruger’s character in particular recalled, and not in a good way (I don’t think there is a good way), the main character from The Killing.

It’s a cop show.  That doesn’t mean it’s just a cop show, but when you choose to make a cop show, you’re going up in a sense against every cop show that’s ever been on TV.  It’s hard to be new.  When I see a crusty old sheriff, while I should be focusing on just this particular sheriff, my brain rushes to compare him to every similar sheriff character I know, and that makes it harder for any one cop show to separate itself.

There were glimpses of separation, of becoming more than a cop show set on the border, which is the bare minimum I like to see from a pilot that I’m going to consider continuing to watch, but I hope that this is a launching point rather than an exact model.

Will I watch it again?  Yeah, I’ll give it another shot.  The show is only outrunning tropes by a couple seconds at this point, but that’s enough to give it an effort to separate itself.  I’m wary, but there were enough good parts that I’ll hope for the best.