Category Archives: Television

Top Gear – Season 23

With the departure of the headliners of Top Gear for the last 22 seasons and their new Amazon show, Grand Tour, and the recast Top Gear the interest is high and success is a high bar to reach. The inevitable comparison of Top Gear season 22 versus Top Gear season 23 is such a dis-service because season 22 was in stride knowing what they were and right now season 23 is trying to find their footing.

Organically it does a poor job of setting any foundation outside of trying to be Top Gear. They are trying to recreate what previous hosts had perfected and it shows. They really don’t do enough to establish their credentials and love for cars. The episode comes across as celebrities and cars, but not anyone who has a deep found respect and love for the automobile as art, technology, power, and toys. The episode only tried to establish a friendship between Chris Evans and American Matt LeBlanc, but nothing to establish Sabine Schmitz who had the most love for the automobile that she was not afraid to insult the corvette Z06 she was driving.  Matt sounds like he is doing a documentary and comes across as very dry in his voice overs. Chris is the better of the two and has personality in his presentation. They need to find their own groove and they could grow into it, but it will be a while before it gels together and the ratings will suffer as a result.

The change to a rallycross track and off road combination for the stars in the reasonable price car was a unique twist and having two stars as the first show to establish some competition was wise, but it appears this might be a trend to have 2 stars each week and if they continue to fail to have any commonality in their promotions then it will just continue to be dry segments.

Production wise the show was not quite up to the expectations of Top Gear fans. The audio was just mixed poorly with crowd and music being too loud compared to the presenters and commentary. The picture quality is excellent outside of an oddly too bright Stig lap with the Dodge Viper ACR that I suspect is a combination of abnormally great weather and higher quality filming (4k maybe), but it just felt like it missed the traditional Top Gear blue tint on their track filming.

The first show just felt like an odd combination of segments, rough production values, and personalities that are still finding their voices. The show should be unapologetically British and Matt’s presence might not have the lasting appeal.

 


Extra Gear the additional show presented by Rory Reid and Chris Harris showed more personality, comfort about discussing cars, and actual car humor as they insult the mentality of having a phone app to open your door when handles still work. Extra Gear did a better job trying to recreate the feeling of Top Gear then Chris and Matt were able to pull off.

The Expanse

The Expanse is a darn good TV show.

Based on the novel Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey it is set in a pre-diaspora space travel humans in our solar system. Earth and Mars are colonized, but Mars is still restricted to dome life without a natural atmosphere. The rings of Saturn are mined for ice and taken to the belt (asteroid belt) where industry thrives feeding the rest of the solar system. Living in the belt however has consequences due to lack of natural gravity and generations of evolution in this unique environment.

During a cold war between the UN (earth, belt, and colonies) and Mars the ship Cantebury, an ice hauler, is taking water to Ceres an asteroid in the belt when they receive a distress call from a ship named the Scorpuli  starting the sequence of unfortunate events leading to revolution and the discoveries about the larger universe.

Casting is actually very well done with Thomas Jane as a film noir detective with just as much dirt in his past as alcohol in his liver quite a bit unsure about his place in life.  Jared Harris as Anderson Dawes is absurdly good as you just want him in almost every scene as the OPA resistance leader on Ceres.

The investment in the production values are well spent on sets, costumes, and special effects.

Having only read the first novel and not the follow up in the Expanse series there are some new characters in the TV show I am not familiar with that might be in subsequent novels.  Some deviations are occurring with some characters and past actions that are natural with a TV show adaptation.  Some are logical and I do not question, but a few others are changing some character motivations and methods that I do question. Specifically the character Fred Johnson, played very well by Chad Coleman, and his methods to deal with an insurrection in the recent past earning him the title “Butcher of Anderson Station”. If they simply changed the methods then I can understand this, but if they actually give him an out and do not make him responsible and a victim then it neuters the character choices he made in the novel and the moral convictions (both good and bad) of the character.

Worth watching and I hope this kind of quality show continues.

 

Blindspot

One of the new shows in this fall’s TV premiere season that I was looking forward to was Blindspot from NBC. Staring Jaimie Alexander who I recognize from the Thor movies and several guest appearances in Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The premise is that in the middle of Times Square New York a bag is found with a tag to call the FBI. Typical security scare results and they begin to investigate with the bomb squad, but upon investigation there is a naked woman covered in tattoos crawling out of the duffel bag. During interrogation and investigation it is clear the woman has no memory, now named Jane Doe. But since there is a bold tattoo of an FBI agent named Kurt Weller ,introduced by saving multiple female captives from a redneck hillbilly, they must involve him in the question of who this Jane Doe is .  (Heavily reminiscent of “The Blacklist” pilot)

The technical explanation is that there is an experimental/new drug that can be used in limited doses to remove selective memories for PTSD treatment, but Jane Doe has been treated with a massive dose.  Additionally all of her tattoos are freshly inked begging the question of whether she lost her memory before or after.

Comical titillation notes:

  • The first full pan out of the Jane Doe tattoos in Times Square was interesting that her breasts were fully tattooed to ease the censor issues.
  • Facial tattoos are avoided both for better publicity of Jaime Alexander and quality of life for makeup.
  • During the FBI imaging of her tattoos there is a strategically placed pole to hide her butt crack as they do the photos.

The rest of the pilot is her recalling procedural memory (languages, skills, etc) that show her tattoos are important to national security, safety, etc. They stop a bombing of the Statue of Liberty and Jane contributes by magically reading aloud the Chinese tattoo beneath her left ear and proving she is a bad ass by saving a battered wife while instructed to stay put while they investigate a suspect’s apartment. These are just lazy writing in my opinion, but I am willing to acknowledge they might be victims of the 1 hour TV format.

Plot wise Jane Doe has a memory surface while saving FBI agent Kurt Weller that she trained for pistol marksmanship with an unnamed male seen monitoring Jane during the episode and killing the bomber and showing he instigated the action. The final teaser is that she willingly underwent the memory loss with the unnamed killer’s assistance.

Characterization wise you have Jaime Alexander as Jane Doe doing a convincing job of the deer in the headlights look being confused, struggling with memories, and the situation in general. I just hope they avoid the lazy convenient writing that might predicate entirely too easy to have the right memory trigger at the right times for Deus Ex Machina.

Sullivan Stapleton as Kurt Weller feels written decently with skepticism about Jane and her tagging along for their adventures. I just hope this continues and isn’t just immediately passed over since Jane might be a Navy Seal based on a covered up tattoo and her exhibited bad ass skills. Acting wise Sullivan is doing nothing for me in bringing that character to life. Not saying it wrong for the character, but it will feel boring if he continues as the pilot. That burden is on the directors to let him grow.

So while the pilot was largely average and some interesting concepts that interest in my mind is where does it go from here?

It came to no surprise that Jane Doe was involved in the her own memory loss drugging, but the motives are the mystery. Whether she was a Navy Seal or not should be a quick resolution in all practicality. Even if covert the FBI should be able to get that information from the Navy. The question of a tattoo leading to a redacted case file mentioning the name of the FBI task force lead Bethany Mayfair should not be used excuse to let this issue linger. Was this case file something Bethany knows about because she is dirty or new to her in which case the mention of her name should have been redacted as well.

The bomber of the pilot was a setup from her mystery partner to get her in with the FBI and I would hope not to expose Bethany and the redacted case file. The more compelling scenario is that the mystery partner is bad guy and Jane Doe was legitimately her partner in crime (undercover or not). There is a good scene where she is panicked about her loss of memory and the doctor brings her two drinks, coffee and tea, and asks her to try both and decide which she likes. Either she remembers a small thing or she makes new choices and that is how she cares on whether she recovers her memory or not.

I think the captivating scenario will be if she truly was a criminal and instigator of this whole situation up until the memory loss drugging. Instead of carrying out a nefarious plan due to her tattoos she instead stops her own plan because in the absence of her memory she now makes different choices.  Begging the question of Nature versus Nurture personalities. Given a clean slate will Jane Doe become the same person with the same motives or will she make new choices. This gives the show somewhere to go as a character.

Set the foundation and eventually Jane discovers that the mastermind behind all of the bad things she is trying to stop is herself. The internal struggle to rationalize who she is now with who she was then and the breaking of the trust she grows with her FBI colleagues. It is a revelation that needs to have impact.

But then following this is the exploration of whether the knowledge of her past will impact her future since the blank slate is gone. Will she revert back to her pre wipe past personality or will she hold to her post wipe savior?

The longevity is questionable, but I dearly hope the formula is not procedural with a tattoo/case each week but I suspect this will be the case.  It has potential, but it might instead be relegated to Netflix binge watching once a season finishes instead of weekly following and that runs the risk of cancellation due to lack of interest.