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News: Report From the Land of Television Opportunity – What Are the Big New US Shows?

With most of America still at the beach or sheltering from the heat inside frigid movie theatres, must-see TV is thin on the ground. As the networks prepare to launch their autumn schedules, US correspondent Catherine McGregor takes a look at some of the new shows on now.

Public Morals

The world needs yet another series about conflicted cops about as much as it needs one set in the 1960s. Which is to say, not at all. But though it’s not going to win any awards for originality, Public Morals takes a decent stab at combining Scorsese-ish gangster drama with the style of Mad Men, season 5. Writer/director Edward Burns stars as Terry Muldoon, prime mover in the NYPD Public Morals Division. They’re tasked with the control of gambling, prostitution and other urban vices, and they’re all in on the take. Cue that prestige-drama staple, the ironic contrast between public-sphere sanctimony and behind-closed-doors realness. There are three female characters in the first episode: a wife, a nun and a prostitute (the trifecta!). Needless to say, this is a man’s world. Despite my quibbles, Public Morals is one of the better new shows, helped enormously by an excellent cast that includes Brian Dennehy, Michael Rappaport and Timothy Hutton.

Sex & Drugs & Rock n Roll

Although it pains me to say it about a show that lists the great Greg Dulli of the Afghan Whigs as a consultant (he also makes a couple of cameo appearances), Sex & Drugs & Rock n Roll is fairly terrible. It’s a comedy-drama starring creator Denis Leary as a washed-up rocker persuaded to get the band back together by the reappearance of his long-lost daughter Gigi, who wants to be a rock star.

The problem isn’t the jokes – there are some decent one-liners amongst the tiresome complaints about the Kardashians and Lady Gaga – but how nonsensical the show’s entire premise is. By all appearances, The Heathens were a truly awful late-80s hair metal band; the members are named Johnny Rock (yikes), Bam Bam (the drummer, ow), Flash (gah) and Rehab (what?). Yet the always-game Dave Grohl claims there wouldn’t have been a Nirvana without the Heathens: “We saw them at CBGBs and holy shit man, it changed our lives.” Sure.

Twenty-something Gigi’s heartfelt dream is to be a rock singer in the mould of Nancy Wilson or Lita Page – in 2015. Guitarist Flash (John Corbett) is described as “the wizard spawn of Pete Townshend and the Edge” and it’s meant as a compliment. There’s something compelling about how bizarrely wrong Sex & Drugs & Rock n Roll gets pretty much everything ever about popular music. I don’t know if I can stop watching.

Hotwives of Las Vegas

Should you find yourself in the market for a half-hour of back-stabbing and weave-pulling – as fun but instantly regrettable as a bottle of Bethenny Frankel’s Skinny Cow pina colada – the Real Housewives franchise is for you. If you want all that, but with comedy stars in the lead roles, then try Hotwives of Las Vegas. A sequel to last year’s Hotwives of Orlando, the show gets the characters’ inane vanity dead on. But when the source material is practically a parody of itself already, Hotwives isn’t filling much of a need. Casey Wilson (Happy Endings) as a Kim Zolciak-like “Southern bitch” is a standout among a cast that includes Angela Kinsey (The Office), Keegan-Michael Key (Key & Peele) and Paul Scheer (The League, Children’s Hospital).

Mr Robot

If you’ve any kind of interest in new and buzzed-about TV, chances are you’ve heard of Mr Robot. During these dog days of summer the schedules are bleak indeed, with networks holding back most of their treasures in the hope of making a splash come autumn. Into that void, seemingly tailor made for pasty computer geeks avoiding the sun, stepped Mr Robot, a complex cyber-thriller featuring a nervy, charismatic performance by Rami Malek as socially awkward hacker Elliot.

Packed with anti-capitalist sentiment and “What is reality, anyway?” philosophising, Mr Robot owes an obvious debt to Fight Club and The Matrix, and you’ll have a blast checking off all the other film references, from V for Vendetta to A Clockwork Orange. But Mr Robot is unique: a claustrophobic, superbly directed oddity that has remained unpredictable until the very end. Or rather, until the almost end: we’re still awaiting the final episode, which was postponed for a week because of similarities to the Virginia journalist shootings.

Another Period

Reality TV parodies are so hot right now. Another Period keeps Hotwives‘ elevated bitchery and replaces the white jeans and leopardskin with corsets and crinolines. It’s an odd and not particularly successful mash-up of spoof period drama and spoof reality-show confessional, written and starring comedians Natasha Leggero and Riki Lindhome.

With its deliberately slap-dash approach to historical authenticity, Another Period feels a little like its Comedy Central stablemate Drunk History. But where that show undergirds the surreal silliness with history-nerd smarts and some crucially tight editing, Another Period piles on an exhausting amount of wackiness and nudge-nudge innuendo in service to jokes that rarely land. Like Hotwives of Las Vegas, the creators and stars of Another Period are women, a fact worth remarking on in an industry with a persistent dearth of female voices. For that reason alone, I really wished it was better.

Blunt Talk

The latest from basic cable network Starz (Spartacus, Outlander, Party Down) features Patrick Stewart as Walter Blunt, the Piers Morgan-like host of a failing cable news show. Blunt Talk‘s creator is Jonathan Ames, the writer behind the delightful Bored to Death, and it shares some of its predecessor’s weirdness but with less of the whimsy. The harder edge may be due to executive producer Seth McFarlane, whose unwelcome presence scores Blunt Talk an automatic and non-negotiable black mark in my book.

Like Another Period, there’s about 20 per cent too much zaniness in Blunt Talk, and it never seems to know exactly what it wants to be. But Patrick Stewart looks like he’s having the time of his life. If you’ve ever wanted to see Captain Jean-Luc Picard do blow, or suckle on a transgender prostitute’s breast, or get whipped by his manservant, public schoolboy-style, now’s your chance.


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