In this week’s instalment I look at Sky’s two new US imports, a squirm-inducing BBC3 documentary and whether or not Derren Brown has passed his prime.
This week saw the start of two new US shows begin their run on various Sky channels. The first is Elementary, yet another update of the Sherlock Holmes stories to rival our own British version. Indeed when Elementary was first announced there were fears that it would be a carbon copy of the brilliant Sherlock. Thankfully those fears were abated when it transpired that Elementary drew very little from the original Holmes stories. Instead this is more a programme about a quick-witted police consultant and his frustrated companion. That companion is Lucy Liu’s Dr. Joan Watson, a former surgeon who is now working as a sober companion – somebody who helps former rehab patients adjust to normal life. Her latest charge is Johnny Lee Miller’s Holmes who has escaped from rehab and is already enjoying the pleasures of female flesh. Just like in Sherlock, Holmes here is a police consultant having been recruited by Captain Gregson who worked with him briefly in Scotland Yard. The central police investigation in this first episode sees the team explore the disappearance of Amy Dampier, the wife of a respected psychologist. However this quickly becomes a murder investigation when Sherlock finds traces of Amy’s blood and later discovers her body in a very unusual place. During the course of the episode, Joan becomes fascinated by Sherlock’s world and the two are able to work together to crack the case. They also bond as Joan learns more about Holmes’ past and he learns more about why she left surgery. By the end of episode one the two have formed a begrudging friendship which I’m hoping doesn’t turn into anything romantic.
As I previously mentioned Elementary has very little in common with the Sherlock Holmes stories as there’s no mention of Mylock, Moriarty or Mrs Hudson. That doesn’t mean to say it’s not any good and I actually found Elementary quite enjoyable despite its lack of Sherlock background. Creator Rob Doherty’s script was well-paced and contained the right mixture of dry wit and suspenseful mystery. He also managed to flesh out his lead characters and quickly establish a relationship between the pair. Director Michael Cuesta, who previously worked on Homeland, is able to make the city of New York fit the Sherlock story especially when framing the detective against the city skyline. Johnny Lee Miller is able to put his own stamp on the character of Holmes by giving him a warmth and tact that’s lacking in other day interpretations of the character. Meanwhile Lucy Liu, who has taken a lot of flack for her performance, plays to her strengths as Joan Watson by making her seem cold and stand-offish. Liu’s icy expressions balance well with Miller’s zany antics and by the end of this first episode we are given the impression that they have become quite fond of each other. The main problem I had with Elementary is that there weren’t any attempts made to set up any series-long storylines and instead this felt very much like a stand-alone pilot. While there were hints made to skeletons in the closets of both Holmes and Watson, I felt that Doherty didn’t do enough to make me want to tune in next week. But despite this issue I still found Elementary to be an entertaining police procedural albeit one that didn’t really capitalise on Conan Doyle’s source material. Anybody who was worried that Elementary would be a carbon copy of Sherlock can rest easy, as this programme bares little resemblance to our superior English version.
Sky One’s latest US import was comic book adaptation Arrow which to me seemed like an attempt to cash in on the recent popularity of superhero films. Based on The Green Arrow comics, the show saw Stephen Arnell’s millionaire playboy Oliver Queen return to his hometown of Starling City after almost drowning in the boating accident that killed his father. Indeed Oliver was presumed dead by most and his reappearance causes his family no end of shocks not least when they realise that Oliver isn’t the self-centred young man that he once was. Oliver is also now a vigilante intent on bringing justice to Starling City which he attempts to do with his newly learnt archery skills as well as his ability to operate a zip wire. Oliver’s first target is evil businessman Hunt who, like any good comic book villain, has plenty of henchmen for The Arrow to pick off one by one. Oliver’s other hope is to reunite with his former love Laurel which is easier said than done seeing as Laurel’s sister died in the boating accident while she was having an affair with Oliver. It appears as if Oliver’s main missions, outside of all that justice malarkey, will be to get Laurel back and get his sister Thea off the drugs she has been using since he went missing. Arrow’s strengths lie in its design with Starling City having a neo-realistic feel to it and is given a darkness that is perfectly countered by Arrow’s colourful antics. I felt that the fight sequences were well-choreographed while the overall tone of the piece wasn’t overly campy. There were also some fine performances from Susanna Thompson as Oliver’s mother and Willa Holland as his damaged sister Thea. The main issues I had were with the script as a lot of the dialogue felt incredibly clichéd while Oliver’s earnest voice-over almost made me feel like I was watching a parody of a superhero film. Overall I wasn’t overly enthralled by Arrow as I felt the main plot was rushed but at the same time it definitely show some promise. I feel that if you’re a big fan of the superhero genre than you’ll find something to like but I don’t think it’s a show that I’ll be sticking with.
A Derren Brown stunt orientated show is always a must-watch as far as I’m concerned and his latest show, Apocalypse, was no exception. In the first instalment of what will be a two-part experiment, Derren set out to find someone who’d lived a self-centred existence and taken his life for granted. Derren eventually found that person in 21 year old Steve who didn’t appreciate his family or the material possessions around him. Steve was unaware that he was part of the stunt and hidden cameras followed him about as he sat in front of the TV or went down the local pub. Meanwhile Derren tried to insinuate that the end of the world was near by using an upcoming persied meteor shower to his advantage. He planted fake new stories on various websites, had Danny Wallace talk about the phenomenon on his XFM show and convince astrologist Mark Thompson to appear on a fake episode of Sunday Brunch. As Derren’s ‘apocalypse’ lurched closer he tried to suggest that the meteors were causing magnetic disturbances by faking problems with Steve’s TV and van. Eventually we got to the event itself where Steve’s brother convinced him that they were going to a secret Killers gig only for the meteor shower to start while the pair were on the coach. As fake meteors began to fall from the sky, Derren appeared to put Steve to sleep and he awoke in a quarantine area. From here on, the show started to resemble The Walking Dead as Steve stumbled around the abandoned hospital ward. Soon he happened upon a young girl by the name of Leona who had lost her mother and asked for Steve’s help which apparently, according to Derren, would teach Steve about responsibility. Eventually Steve and Leona went outside where they began to be surrounded by zombies only for a man in an ambulance to come and save them. As they reached a compound, Derren insinuated that the challenge in the next episode would test Steve’s courage, brain and heart. Apart from comparing himself to The Wizard of Oz, Derren has obviously become addicted to The Walking Dead, even framing himself against a background similar to that used on the drama’s promotional posters. It seems that more money has been sunk into recreating this stunt than has been given to most Channel 4 dramas as of yet. While I applaud Derren for trying to get Steve to appreciate life more surely there’s a better way to do than staging a zombie apocalypse. I also question why we need two episodes of this as there was a lot of filler in the opening 30 minutes as we saw how Derren set up the stunt in great detail. I feel that Derren’s stunts are getting a little samey as this put in my mind of the plane crash special from several years ago. At the same time I’m still intrigued to see what happens to Steve and will probably tune in again to watch the concluding instalment next week.
Finally this week a bit of squirm-inducing TV courtesy of BBC3′s Unsafe Sex in the City. The programme is set in one of Manchester’s busiest sexual health clinics and, in the words of young nurse Lauren, feature certain cases that are enough to turn viewers celibate. I felt that the documentary really acted as a way to inform younger viewers of the perils of unsafe sex. For example we follow the exploits of Kervin who contracted an STI following a drunken one night stand. Kervin’s no stranger to the clinic, after previously being diagnosed with both chlamydia and genital warts. It eventually transpires that Kervin has gonorrhoea which means he has to make an uncomfortable phone call to the one night stand as well as telling his girlfriend the awful truth. Eventually the girlfriend splits up with him and I have to say it serves him right. Alongside these cautionary tales there is the more harrowing story involving amiable Welsh escort Tim who tests positive for HIV. This news is both heartbreaking for Tim and clinic nurse Alison who is sent to deliver the results of his test. However this story has a happy ending as the initial tests were wrong and his blood sample proved that he didn’t actually have HIV. I found Unsafe Sex in the City to be a very informative documentary which combined cautionary tales with plenty of humour. Indeed Alison provided plenty of anecdotes and one-liners throughout the course of the show with my favourite being when she told the camera ‘I’ve seen hundreds of penises in my time.’ Outside of the staff, all of whom I loved, I found Unsafe Sex in the City to be an incredibly uncomfortable watch at times. However I do feel it should be screened in schools as a warning to those who have sex without using the protection that is readily available to them.
That’s your lot for now, I’ll see you next time with more of my views on the week in TV.