Tuesday, September 25, 2012

'Brickleberry'

I'm certainly no fan of Family Guy (or the works of Seth MacFarlane in general), but even someone who loves his particular brand of humor will probably find blatant Family Guy rip-off Brickleberry tiresome. It's every bit as aggressive and irritating as the worst of MacFarlane's work, plus it's completely lazy in the way it copies the visual style of Family Guy, as well as several of that show's character types, most notably the condescending talking animal (a bear named Malloy, voiced by Daniel Tosh, who is also one of the show's producers). Lead character Steve, a ranger at the titular national park, is reminiscent of Peter Griffin, and the rest of the characters are all one-note.

It's sort of amazing to watch the pilot for Brickleberry, which is is filled with tasteless jokes about Malloy getting raped by a stereotypical redneck, and realize that the rape jokes were actually toned down following Tosh's controversial clash with an audience member at one of his stand-up shows over a rape joke. If this represents a reduction in the amount of rape jokes, I don't even want to think about what the original version was like. Not that the rest of the jokes are any better; they're all unfunny efforts to shock the audience, based almost entirely on broad stereotypes. It's just endless empty vulgarity, not shocking so much as exhausting and pathetic. I think Seth MacFarlane's work is recycled hackery, but Brickleberry makes him look like a groundbreaking genius.

Premieres tonight at 10:30 p.m. on Comedy Central.

Monday, September 17, 2012

'The Mob Doctor'

Two things that reliably succeed on network TV are medical dramas and crime dramas, so it was probably inevitable that some enterprising producers would combine the two in one of the most calculated, least interesting new shows of the season. The Mob Doctor is a mediocre medical drama crossed with a pretty ludicrous crime show, and the contrast between the two just highlights how untenable it all is. Star Jordana Spiro has enough charisma to make up for some of the rough spots, but even she can't entirely compensate for the terrible dialogue and heavy-handed, implausible plotting.

The idea of a young medical resident moonlighting as a back-alley doctor for criminals isn't necessarily a bad one; it could open up the typical medical procedural formula by providing two different kinds of cases to focus on. The first episode of The Mob Doctor opens that way, as Spiro's Dr. Grace Devlin deals with a criminal who's got a screwdriver wedged in his skull, and then heads over to her upscale hospital job. But the show quickly degenerates into trumped-up melodrama, as Grace clashes with a menacing mobster played by guest star Michael Rapaport, is ordered to kill one of her patients at the hospital and then makes a dangerous bargain with another mobster (William Forsythe) in order to keep her family safe.

The producers seem to think they're making the medical version of The Sopranos, but Grace's moral dilemmas are pretty laughable, and the shocking reveal at the end of the episode is obvious and lame. A simple medical procedural with mob elements might have been unexciting, but it could at least have been sort of effective. By reaching for something more grandiose, The Mob Doctor completely falls flat.

Premieres tonight at 9 p.m. on Fox.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Triskaidekaphilia: '13' (2010)

On the 13th of each month, I write about a movie whose title contains the number 13.

The very first movie I ever wrote about for this feature was Gela Babluani's 13 Tzameti, and at that point an American remake was already on the way. Although 13 Tzameti garnered a lot of buzz on the festival circuit, and the American version seemed poise to break Babluani into the mainstream, 13 ended up sitting on the shelf for more than a year before limping into a tiny theatrical release and then immediately onto DVD. It's interesting to see how some fairly minor changes (the plots of the two movies are nearly identical) serve to make 13 a rather laughable thriller, while 13 Tzameti is a fairly effective mood piece.

One of the big differences is that the nature of the underground event that the main character (played here by Sam Riley) has gotten involved with is kept mysterious for the first half of 13 Tzameti, while here the movie opens immediately with Riley's Vince and Ray Winstone's Ronald pointing guns at each other's heads. So that image hangs over everything that comes afterward, and instead of the vague foreboding of the original, there's a kind of trumped-up suspense that feels very forced. There's more back story here, both for Vince and for some of his fellow players in the secret Russian roulette event, all of it completely superfluous padding that just serves to justify the presence of recognizable actors like Winstone, Jason Statham and Mickey Rourke.

The minimalist style of Babluani's original helped carry it past the dopey plotting, but here the movie is so focused on the mechanics of the ridiculous tournament that there's nothing else to balance it. I don't know if Babluani was pressured by producers to direct in a more conventional style, or if it was his intention, but 13 ultimately emphasizes everything that was disappointing about the original (the actual details of the absurd competition) while losing everything that worked about it (the enigmatic narrative, the eerie atmosphere, the low-key style). The cast is filled with familiar faces whose talents (or lack thereof, in the case of Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson) are wasted, and the anticlimactic final act feels even more useless when framed as an edge-of-your-seat thriller. Maybe now that the movie has failed, Babluani can get back to some low-budget ingenuity.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

'Bomb Girls'

Both the Canadian TV industry and obscure U.S. cable network Reelz Channel would probably love the kind of reputation for quality drama that shows like Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire engender, and Bomb Girls, a Canadian import airing stateside on Reelz, has the air of something prestigious. It's set in Toronto during World War II, and it explores an underrepresented aspect of life during the time period with its focus on women who work in a munitions factory. The period detail is impressive and the cast is strong, but the actual plotting and dialogue fall a little short. Rather than exploring the dark and complex aspects of its time period, in the manner of the better shows it aspires to emulate, Bomb Girls is more like a well-produced history lesson, with lots of expository dialogue and characters that seem designed primarily to illustrate a particular historical aspect of society or culture.

The show's takes on sexism and racism are pretty simplistic, and the way that characters respond to situations is generally pretty predictable, and often heavily shaded in "we're so much more enlightened now" irony. But there are a few subtler aspects to the show's social commentary, including the slow-burning homoerotic tension between two of the female factory workers, as well as the troubled reaction to the war from a World War I veteran played by Peter Outerbridge. It's refreshing to see a show give so much attention to the female perspective on a historical period, and those moments of unexpected points of view, whether from a frustrated and repressed 1940s lesbian or a disabled veteran who doesn't see WWII as the universally regarded "good war," give Bomb Girls a bit more depth. The rest of the show is a little too superficial to be as rewarding as it aims to be.

Premieres tonight at 10 p.m. on Reelz Channel.