What I’ve been watching (May 3-9)

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Sometimes I’m asked how I decide what to review on this blog, and the answer’s pretty simple – it’s whatever I happen to have watched, read, seen or listened to that week. I never choose to watch something purely to review it, which at least means that everything I review here is something that I actually wanted to see and why a negative post is usually a function of genuine disappointment rather than because it’s not my sort of thing in the first place.

But I don’t review everything I see/hear/watch in a week – I do have a life, strange as that seems to me as well I’m sure as to you. I cherry-pick the things I have something (new) to say rather than just churning out the same comments on an ongoing series for the sake of it. However, I thought as a one-off experiment, what I’d do here in this Very Special Post is run through the disturbingly long list of things that I have watched on the screen in the last seven days just to put a little context around the posts that did make it to the big time so far in May … Read the rest of this entry »

ReTake: Grimm S1

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ReTakes are second or even third looks at things that have previously been reviewed here, with the intention of updating previous takes on things.

It’s been a strange year for fairy stories, what with the prevalence of Snow White in the cinemas in different versions, and this crime procedural showing up in the same TV season as the more overtly fantastical Once Upon a Time (which, alas, I’ve never had a chance to see.)

I wasn’t overly wild about the first four episodes I originally reviewed, finding it a bit of an uninspired, under-developed retread of ground previously covered by the likes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The X-Files in which each episode featured a standalone monster of the week (or in this case, fairytale of the week.) I said at the time that maybe this show was just putting in a few standalone episodes to find its feet and that perhaps all it needed after that “is time, a lick of paint and a new suit to get it up to scratch.”

Well it has certainly developed since those early somewhat underwhelming episodes, and almost entirely for the better. It’s broadened and deepened its background mythology somewhat (although at a pleasingly slow pace rather than rushing in and doing a reveal all) and the episodes have started to carry over storylines from one to another, whether by characters such as the cowardly beavers returning from earlier episodes, or by a multi-episode arc involving the aftermath of sidekick Hank (Russell Hornsby) falling under a love potion, or by the continued scheming of police captain Renard (Caprica’s Sasha Roiz.) They’ve tried to make the single regular cast female character (Juliette, played by Bitsie Tulloch) in the show stronger and slightly more significant, and moreover have introduced a new recurring character called Rosalee (played by Bree Turner) who by virtue of knowing all sorts of arcane magical potions is a far more active and involved member of the team. Let’s hope she becomes a permanent fixture. It still needs work, but at least there’s some progress on making Grimm a less male-exclusive environment.

There’s still some way to go before the show as a whole really starts hitting the heights – despite the linking strands it’s still rather too focused on the case of the week and as such rather variable according to whether they’ve got a good fairytale premise this week or not – but I’m certainly glad it escaped the end-of-season cull of freshman shows and gets to return again for 2013. It surely deserves that. The one concern I have is that by not thinking things through at the start, it may be boxing itself into a corner in one important respect: as a ‘Grimm’, hero Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli) is the target of every bad creature in the world, and there’s been a news bulletin out about where he lives making him target number one for all and sundry. How long is that status compatible with him continuing to live a regular undercover life as a cop with an unsuspecting girlfriend in a nice suburban house? It doesn’t really make a lot of sense, but how are they going to resolve that without undoing a lot of their underlying high concept?

Another concern is that the more they develop the show, the more Buffy-like it becomes albeit with fairytale creatures in place of demons and vampires. The show’s creators (who include Buffy stalwart David Greenwalt) originally distinguished the show from that predecessor by ensuring Nick had no special powers other than the ability to see a disguised creature’s true nature; otherwise he was just a regular cop albeit with access to his dead aunt’s unique research library. But that seems to be having to change, with a recent episode seeing Nick suddenly display new levels of fighting prowess when facing off against two “Grimm Reapers” sent to kill him. It seems MMA (mixed magical arts) training comes with the Grimm membership card after all, much as Buffy, Faith et al found when promoted to Slayer status.

Happily, the best part of the show remains Silas Weir Mitchell’s big bad wolf Eddie Monroe, and his growing bromance with Nick is definitely the highlight of the show for me – a scene where Nick and Juliette have Monroe over for dinner was a season highlight. Mitchell and Giuntoli have a great chemistry, and it’s things like this that make or break a hit show: problems with the stories can be fixed with a stroke of a pen if you’ve got the right cast working for you, and I think this might just have.

And yes, this show still has fantastic production design and cinematography.

Currently airing on the Watch channel on Mondays at 9pm.

Grimm S1 E1-4

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There’s a later updated review for Grimm now available.

Grimm gives the impression of having been sold to the network on the one line premise of “police procedural investigates modern day takes on fairytales.” A “CSI: Red Riding Hood”, if you will.

The trouble is, there really doesn’t appear to be much more to it than that: it hasn’t been thought through sufficiently to provide any sort of extra texture or depth, unlike its most obvious progenitor Buffy the Vampire Slayer which was stuffed full of all sorts of imaginative twists. This takes one fairytale of the week and then presents a rather dull (not to mention procedurally laughable) plodding police investigation into it, making it also something of an echo of The X-Files but with classic storytime demons replacing aliens. It’s rather ironic that a show drawing upon the rich heritage of fairytales from the Brothers Grimm et al should struggle with such an evident paucity of creativity itself.

The show overtly riffs off Buffy from the start (one of the new show’s creator-producers, David Greenwalt, was a Buffy production stalwart) by having the lead character Nick Burkhardt(David Giuntoli) inherit his role as the fighter of supernatural forces – known in the parlance as a “Grimm” – after his aunt dies, in much the way that there can be only vampire slayer at a time and the next one is activated when the previous one dies.

Sadly, the only things that he gets to do the job with are access to his aunt’s accumulated archives and an intuition that allows him to sometimes see through the disguises worn by the demons – no kick-ass fighting abilities for Nick who just shoots the demons like he would do any other felon, meaning way less fun for the audience. And where Buffy subverted convention right from the start by revealing the dizzy, air-headed blonde cheerleader-type character as the hero of the show and saviour of the world (a lot) rather than the clichéd victim, Grimm takes the traditional good-looking, square-jawed hero cop with a gun, and makes him … a traditional good-looking, square-jawed hero cop with a gun. Wow, that took some time to come up with, I’d imagine.

Given that the whole fairytale aspect might conceivably play better to a female audience than a male one, it’s a show that rather curiously manages not to have a single significant female character in it all. Okay, there’s Bitsie Tulloch as Nick’s absolutely perfect-in-every-way girlfriend, but she gets one scene a week if she’s lucky and no semblance of a believable or worthwhile character to work with. It’s actually genuinely uncomfortable to find a TV show in the 21st century quite so impervious to a female presence.

The weekly fairytale-of-the-week stories generally have an interesting updated central core to them, but not one that comfortably stretches to a whole hour’s material and which then ends up in a pat resolution by the end of the episode. The show instead tries to pad things out by grafting a conspiracy arc onto proceedings in which Detective Nick’s police captain boss (played by Caprica’s Sasha Roiz) appears to be in league with the demon sect dedicated to wiping out the Grimms. They’re known as the Grimm Reapers – geddit? Yes, of course you do. Nothing is very subtle here.

Of course, the first series of Buffy and The X-Files could also be rather faltering as they found their feet, compared with the juggernaut shows they eventually became. Perhaps all Grimm needs is time, a lick of paint and a new suit to get it up to scratch? The show is certainly not without evidence of promise lurking close to the surface. Giuntoli, for example, shows sufficient signs of comic timing to suggest that he could do very well given some improved, more personable scripts to work with. And Silas Weir Mitchell as a reformed “big bad wolf” called Monroe is a delight in every scene he’s in, it’s just unfortunate that he’s way too underused.

What particularly stands out, though, is the visual appearance of the show. At a time when top-rated network series like The Mentalist and Bones seem to shoot virtually every scene these days on an evident studio set or against poorly applied green screen backdrops in order to cut costs, Grimm has to be one of the most visually sumptuous shows currently airing. In the pilot episode, Nick and his partner Hank (Russell Hornsby) track down the culprit to an isolated, ivy-covered cottage deep in the forest and it’s genuinely gorgeous, like a storybook picture come to life. Even in less promising scenes, such as the basement of an enchanted guesthouse, the location is lit with such deep and interesting colours that it preserves the fairytale feeling and leaves you rather spellbound, drinking it all in.

At the moment I’m watching it in the hope that the show as a whole picks up in some way. But if I’m really honest, what Grimm really makes me want to go and do is go and find my Buffy the Vampire Slayer boxset so that I can rewatch and remind myself how good this sort of thing can be, when done properly, intelligently and with more creative imagination applied – rather than one that thinks that a one-line high-concept description is sufficient for an entire series.

Currently airing on the Watch channel on Mondays at 9pm.