Andre Braugher

Elementary, Arrow, Last Resort (Sky)

Posted on Updated on

A quick round up of three new US series that have already found their way over to the UK; and in one case at least, has already received a swift cancellation from its network. The comments here are drawn from a viewing of the first five episodes of each.

Elementary

Of the three shows being covered here, Elementary is the one that got most coverage even before a single scene was shot. That was thanks to the suspicion that the US production company was in essence trying to copy the BBC’s smash-hit modern-day updating of Sherlock without having to pay for the licensing. It was a feeling only heightened when the US show selected Jonny Lee Miller for the role of Sherlock Holmes, fresh off his run sharing the title role in the stage production of Frankenstein with none other than Benedict Cumberbatch. I was prepared to dislike this show on sight just to show solidarity with Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss.

In fact, this is a very different animal and the overlap with the BBC production is minimal. For one thing, Sherlock is far more clever and intellectual – as you’d expect from Moffat and Gatiss. Elementary on the other hand is only slightly smarter than the run-of-the-mill US crime procedural; in fact, its major contribution is to demonstrate just how much the CSI franchise stole Sherlock Holmes’ investigative skills, and how close House was to Holmes all along. The stories are fine but somewhat unmemorable, and much will depend on how you like Miller as the great detective and Lucy Liu as his companion Joan Watson. I happen to like them rather a lot, and they’re unexpectedly growing on me week by week. I enjoy watching the show when it’s on, but if they were to stop making this tomorrow then it wouldn’t be more than a month before it drifted out of my mind, whereas the precision hand-crafted Sherlock from Moffat/Gatiss is a joy that will live for decades.

Elementary airs on Sky Living on Tuesdays at 9pm.

Arrow

This is a sort-of spin-off from Smallville, although in truth the incarnation of DC Comics’ Green Arrow in that long-running Superboy series had been comprehensively thrown out and a totally new reimagining of the character introduced here in order to sustain the premise of a completely new show. The reboot is just as well, and opens up a whole new avenue of possibilities for the best arrow-slinger this side of Legolas the elf.

DC Comics hasn’t had the most consistent time of it in terms of cinematic success (for every Dark Knight there’s a Green Lantern) but on TV terms at least they seem to have a solid grip on what makes for a successful series. Arrow manages to mix a mysterious back-story arc set on a mysterious tropical island (shades of Lost) with the vigilante stylings so popular on US TV at the moment in shows like Person of Interest. Here’s a ‘hero’ who isn’t afraid to maim and kill the bad guys when it’s necessary, if Oliver Queen is to accomplish the mission set out for him by his dead father.

The action sequences are the main strength of the show – they’re really quite stunning, and even small details like the ‘no big deal’ way that Queen (played by the very able Stephen Amell) effortlessly scales a sheer wall really do catch the attention. There’s some interesting characters in the show, which is overall being different enough keep the interest by doing some unexpected things early on: as well as bringing in some nicely-realised super villains from the comic book, episode four sees an unlikely partner established for Queen rather than leave him as a lone wolf.

There’s solid support from David Ramsey and Susanna Thompson, and nice representation from the British acting school in the form of Colin Salmon and Paul Blackthorne, with John Barrowman also now making cameo appearances as what seems to be the first season’s “big bad”. This series has my interest, and I’m enjoying it more with every week.

Arrow airs on Sky One on Mondays at 8pm.

Last Resort

One of those high-concepts that you just know can’t be sustained for very long, and which would have been better if developed as a mini-series or a film, Last Resort starts with nuclear submarine USS Colorado receiving surprise orders to launch nuclear missiles at Pakistan even though no state of war exists. When the Captain has the temerity to seek confirmation from naval command that the order is genuine, they are promptly deemed to have committed treason and a second submarine fires on them. In desperation they take shelter in the bay of a non-US small Pacific island and hold off further reprisals by threatening to fire their own warheads at Washington DC.

It’s hard to see where this concept could go in the long term, but it does a better-than-expected job of working through some of the not-so-obvious immediate implications of the actions of the crew. While they might be out of US jurisdiction, their families are very much in the thick of it, and they are persecuted as the wives, children and parents of traitors in a psychological effort to get the USS Colorado to surrender. The US Secretary of Defense sends messages to those members of the crew with split loyalties, and even demands that one of them detonate a suicide grenade on the command deck even though it will kill all aboard.

What’s going on, who is right, and what would you do in such circumstances? It’s an intriguing set-up and it handled in a smarter-than-average way for a prime time TV series. In many ways it captures the zeitgeist of the current US which is deeply and fundamentally divided, distrusting and sceptical of those in power.

The series’ trump card is the casting of Andre Braugher as the Captain: without someone believable as a inspirational leader, the series would have no merit at all. Scott Speedman (Underworld) is fine as the more typical action hero figure, while Robert Patrick gets to have all the fun as the fiercely patriotic Chief of the Boat wholly opposed to the Captain’s mutinous actions. Also working well is Daniel Lissing as a Navy SEAL, whose team’s clandestine operation in Pakistan might have been the reason for the mess in the first place.

I’m not sure how much longer I’d have bothered with Last Resort – it’s been better than I’d expected, but also visibly straining to maintain originality even this early into its run. Perhaps it’s just as well that the decision has been taken out of my hands with the series already cancelled – I hope they get to wrap up the storylines and that the 13 commissioned episodes are actually aired rather than just being one of a long list of high concept shows that never get to deliver their punch line. Assuming they ever had one, that is.

Last Resort airs on Sky One on Tuesdays at 8pm.