Wednesday, 30 November 2011

New TV...

'Fall', tis the season when old and new television shows appear once again on our screens. The established stalwarts need no introduction; Breaking Bad, Dexter, Fringe and Sons of Anarchy have all inevitably raised their game, their quality unquestionable. But it is the newbies which I am concerned with in this post. What new gems are there to be uncovered? Having been on our screens for the best part of a month or two now, I shall attempt to offer a guide through the most high-profile new shows one might consider watching.

Perhaps the most intriguing out of all the new series, Homeland follows the exploits of Carrie Mathison, a CIA analyst who is warned that an American prisoner of war has been turned by Al Qaeda. When US Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody, reported MIA since 2003, is rescued by Delta Force from known terrorist Abu Nazir, Carrie believes it is he who the informant had warned about. However, everybody else believes Brody to be a war hero which complicates Carrie's ability to investigate him without drawing the attention of her intransigent boss, David Estes. Damian Lewis of Band of Brothers fame reprises his excellent American accent and it also features Morena Baccarin, and she's fit! The series has achieved almost universal critical acclaim, Metacritic giving it a whopping 91 out of 100 based on 28 critic reviews. It's incredibly titillating and at times nothing short of riveting.

Michael Emmerson, perhaps better known as Lost's Benjamin Linus, returns to our screen in the first major roll since his island getaway in Person of Interest. He plays mysterious billionaire Mr. Finch, a man who developed a computer program for the government capable of predicting terrorist threats to the United States. Ostensibly designed to prevent another 9/11 type disaster taking place, Finch discovered that the machine was also capable of predicting 'irrelevant' crime, a feature the government has no interest in pursuing. Unable to ignore the fact that domestic crimes could be prevented, Finch built a backdoor into the system allowing him to retrieve the social security numbers of those at imminent risk of either committing or falling victim of a crime. Given a disability, Finch is unable to to investigate alone and so enlists a former Green Beret and CIA operative known only as Mr. Reese to help prevent said crimes. The pilot episode brought in 13.2 million viewers - the highest number in 15 years on CBS. Tapping into that post-9/11 paranoia coupled with fantastically nuanced characters, Person of Interest continues to improve with each episode.

Terra Nova's premise held so much promise. 2149 and humanity is on the verge of extinction due to overpopulation and air pollution. No longer blue and green, Earth is covered in a thick yellow hue indicating a planet on the verge of death. Fortunately for humanity however a rift in space-time is discovered allowing for people to evacuate through a portal to the Cretaceous period 85million years ago - a time when dinosaurs ruled the Earth. The Shannon family escape on the tenth pilgrimage of settlers to Terra Nova, becoming part of the first human colony on the other side of this temporal doorway. For all intents and purposes this is Jurassic Park the TV series, although a hell of a lot worse. Produced by Spielberg, it has all his paw prints of cheesy family-friendly primetime drama. Original this ain't either, 'borrowing' heavily from Lost by creating a nefarious group similar to 'The Others' whose motives are not fully understood as well as other jungle-induced mysteries. Also amusingly Stephen Lang's colony Commander, Nathaniel Taylor, is exactly the same as his grizzled Colonel Quaritch character in Avatar. As for the series' main protagonists, the Shannon family, it is not quite clear why they're so special as to warrant their meteoric climb up the social ladder to preeminence within the colony. Also, why travel back in time to a period before the dinosaurs got wiped out by an asteroid? Unfortunately the manner in which Terra Nova's material is dealt with makes it all highly improbable, which is a bit of a shame really.

Okay, it's not technically a new series, but given that season 1 amounted to a mere 6 episodes, after which the entire writing staff was sacked, I think season 2 of The Walking Dead warrants a re-examination. Picking up immediately after the literally explosive ending of the first series, we rejoin Sheriff Rick Grimes and co in their attempts to survive the zombie apocalypse. The series' main strength is its intense personal drama, however it is also part of its weakness. While incredibly suspenseful, it is likewise incredibly laborious in places which makes for a slow-paced show where nothing much really happens. Yes, it's supposed to be about a group's struggle for survival, but watching people merely survive doesn't necessarily make for compelling television week in week out. What The Walking Dead lacks most is something 'meta', a story-arc which the group need to strive toward, to give their exploits purpose. As it stands however, The Walking Dead is more about watching people foraging for food whilst coming across the occasional undead. It's well acted and a reasonably engaging personal drama, but I feel it needs an extra kick up the bum to really get going.