New TV Reviews: Defiance, Da Vinci’s Demons, Hannibal

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 23rd April 2013.

A fresh batch of episodic TV series has hit our screens, fast tracked from the USA within a few days or weeks of their original airdate. This strategy was tried by the Australian free-to-air networks a few years ago in a bid to curb illegal downloading, with mixed results. Ratings didn’t rise proportionately compared to the known downloading figures, and it left the local networks vulnerable when a series was abruptly cancelled. This is less of a problem for the pay TV broadcasters because they are less at the mercy of ratings and advertisers, and have a tendency to run a show in a particular day and timeslot for its entire season run.  Regardless, it is pretty hard to compete with illegal downloading, which allows fans to view a program within minutes of its US broadcast, ad-free, without the need for a recording device.

Defiance is the latest big budget series from the US Syfy Channel. Starring Australia’s own Grant Bowler (he’s actually a Kiwi) and Julie Benz of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel fame, the show is set in the near future following the arrival of the Votanis Collective, an alliance of five alien races. In the movie length pilot, Joshua Nolan (Bowler) and his adopted alien daughter Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas) arrive in the outpost town of Defiance and soon become embroiled in a murder investigation which will jeopardise the entire population.

This show has been developed in conjunction with a multiplayer online game of the same name. Allegedly, both the game and series will influence each other, whatever that means. A large cast featuring multiple alien characters may turn off some but I think this show will reward dedicated viewers. Think of it as Babylon 5 meets Firefly via Eureka.

Da Vinci’s Demons is the latest series from David S. Goyer, the writer of Batman Begins and the new Superman movie, The Man of Steel. A fictional take on Leonardo Da Vinci’s early life, the show stars Tom Riley as the genius inventor, artist and intellectual. The first episode features flying machines, conspiracies, cults, opium smoking, a gay Pope and plenty of nudity. Fun for the whole family!

I’m sure this show is wildly inaccurate historically but for fans of Rome, The Tudors and The Borgias, you could do much worse. I’m going to give it a couple more episodes but I have a feeling I’ll eventually lose interest in this one.

Hannibal is my pick for best new show, although it is definitely not for the faint hearted. The series is based on Thomas Harris’ book Red Dragon, which has been produced as a feature film twice: Manhunter (1986) and Red Dragon (2002), the latter a prequel to The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Troubled FBI investigator Will Graham, (Hugh Dancy) is sent by his boss Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) for counselling with forensic psychiatrist Dr Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen). The two strike up a working relationship, although viewers are well aware that sooner or later, Lecter will become Graham’s greatest adversary.

For a mainstream network show, this is pretty gruesome stuff. Death is depicted explicitly and you might find yourself watching through your fingers. Despite the gore, the most compelling component of Hannibal is the characters. Graham and Lecter make a great team, and it will be interesting to see just how long the producers can draw the story arc out before the inevitable climax. Suggestions of Lecter’s culinary preferences are made in this first episode, although methinks this may be a red herring. Dancy and Mikkelsen are both excellent, with the latter wisely avoiding any attempt to impersonate Anthony Hopkins’ chilling portrayal of Hannibal the cannibal.

Defiance airs on SCI FI Thursdays at 9:30pm.

Da Vinci’s Demons airs on FX Tuesdays at 7:30pm.

Hannibal airs on Prime Wednesdays at 9:45pm.

Published in: on April 27, 2013 at 17:41  Leave a Comment  
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Crazy Americans – A review of the A&E Channel Australia

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 27th November 2012.

A new channel recently popped up on my pay TV. Called A&E Australia, it appears to run nothing but weird American reality programs aimed at men, starring weird Americans. I did a little research and apparently this is a spinoff from America’s A&E Channel, which began in the eighties as the Arts and Entertainment Network. I find this interesting because there is certainly nothing airing at the moment which would fall under the category of the arts, and the entertainment jury is still out.

To be fair, I made a point of sampling A&E and it was strangely hypnotic. The programming is incredibly consistent. The protagonists of every show are male. The women that appear in said shows are generally portrayed as nags. Every commercial break is initiated by an overdramatic cliffhanger that is usually revealed as a complete non-event after the ads. However, one show seamlessly blends into another and before you know it, a two hour reviewing session leads to a week on the sofa.

Here are my recommendations for a great brain-free evening in front of the A&E Channel (being awake is optional).

My pick of the bunch needs to be Ghost Adventures, which bizarrely aired previously on W, a now defunct channel aimed at women. Three idiots travel around the world with the sole purpose of being locked overnight in some of the most haunted locations. Once inside, they turn off the lights and proceed to investigate using an array of the most unscientific “scientific” equipment ever.

I have no idea why they insist on turning the lights off wherever they go. None of the eyewitnesses report the ghostly happenings occurring in pitch black. And if ghosts indeed exist, do you think they would care if the lights are off? I suppose it just makes for better television to see the investigators fumble around in the dark. Each episode uncovers spooky dismembered voices making contact with non-specific messages such as, “Help me” and “Pass the peanut butter”.

Ice Road Truckers follows the trials and tribulations of the crazy drivers who deliver supplies to remote parts of Alaska or Hoth or somewhere icy by taking their loads across frozen lakes. Just as every movie featuring a frozen lake requires someone to fall through the ice, the truckers regularly find themselves in trouble when and where the ice gets a little thin. Alone in the snowy wilderness with half a truck under the ice? What should you do? Maybe ask for help from the twenty man television crew following you around.

Mountain Men focuses on men who choose to live in isolation out in the backwoods in Alaska or Hoth or somewhere. Perhaps if they ordered less stuff from ebay they wouldn’t put the Ice Road Truckers’ lives at risk to deliver it to them. Anyway, the men live off the land by eating squirrels and pinecones. Living so far away from the modern world brings a unique series of obstacles and challenges: bears, wolves, wampas and twenty man television crews following you around.

My final recommendation comes in the form of Barter Kings.  In this gem, two entrepreneurs trade objects for a living. With no cash changing hands, they usually start with a small object such as a TV and trade their way up to a much more valuable item. Supposedly these guys are professional cashless traders, which begs the questions, exactly how do they get their groceries, and how is it possible that they appear to be so filthy rich? Surely you can’t trade your way to a mansion for your wife and three kids complete with speedboat and pool without spending a cent? I’ve done my research and it is possible. He used to have four kids.

Olympic Thoughts: Stephanie Rice, Status Quo, Coles and McDonalds Glasses

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 31st July 2012.

According to the latest Olympic themed ad from a well known burger chain, their promotional glasses come alive at night and practice pole jumping. That might explain why my collection of glasses from the 2008 Beijing games have all accidentally met their maker on my kitchen floor in the past few months.

Writing of the Olympics, I was enjoying the live television coverage when I was confronted by a commercial informing me that Coles was the official supermarket for the Australian Team. Ah, exactly when during their time in London would the Aussie athletes be shopping at a Coles supermarket? Of course, they’d be buying their bread and permeate free milk at the same imaginary one in the UK that Dawn French and English rockers Status Quo buy their Vegemite and Tim Tams. Sorry, my mistake.

 

Earlier this month, Coles became the first supermarket chain to release their own music video. That’s right, Status Quo have recorded a 3 minute promotional video for their reworked (and reworded) 1975 hit Down Down. Complete with big red foam hands, the tongue in cheek (I hope) video is available to view on YouTube. Expect to see it on Rage sometime soon.

Whilst I would never deny anyone the opportunity to make a buck, it seems a shame that Coles hasn’t enlisted the help of a washed up Aussie band to promote their stores. I’m sure the world’s greatest INXS tribute band, known as INXS, would happily adapt their hits. Get out your big red hands folks and sing along with Need Milk Tonight and What You Need (is Cheap Bread).

It shouldn’t be too hard to find an Aussie band whose best days are behind them. Just follow the signs to A Day on the Green. Come to think of it, I’ll take Status Quo anytime rather than hear another second of Normie Rowe’s awful Coles TV commercial. It’s hard to put your fingers in your ears with big red foam hands.

 

I really felt sorry for Stephanie Rice after her disappointing performance in the 400m individual medley. The expectations of a nation must be a pretty heavy burden, especially when you’re a returning triple gold medallist. So much can happen in a space of four years.

The state of the art LCD TV I bought especially to watch the 2008 Beijing games has already been replaced by a bigger and better state of the art LCD TV. I rented a unit in 2008. Now I have a house and mortgage. Four years ago, it wasn’t possible to photograph yourself in a bikini and tweet it to the world, along with some inappropriate gaffes.

Seriously though, the idea that you can continue to maintain the fitness, discipline and training to be the best in the world again, despite becoming four years older, is ridiculous. This simple fact makes the achievements of dual gold medallists even more miraculous and amazing, and everyone else, well, human. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

 

Four years ago, I had to pay an extra $50 for the Olympic channels on pay TV. This time around, I just had to add the Sports Package for $18 which gets me 8 channels in HD. Thanks Foxtel. Now I can feel less guilty when I lose interest in the Olympics after a couple of days and go back to watching cartoons.