what i watched last week
by request: sweet smell of success (alexander mackendrick, 1957)

catching up: the returned, almost human, agents of shield

Mo Ryan has a piece up, “’Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’: Fall’s Biggest Disappointment”, that makes several good points, as is usually the case with her (“transmits all the joy of an annual tax audit”). I gave the pilot a B+, and spoke of the good will Joss Whedon rightfully gets that means we will give the show a real chance to succeed. That was almost two months ago, and the good will has gradually seeped away. Not entirely … I’m still watching. But that “B+” now looks like a hopeful fantasy.

Ryan also takes it to the new series Almost Human, “a cop-buddy drama about a human and a robot has no sense of humor about the fact that it's a cop-buddy drama about a human and a robot.” There have only been two episodes so far, but the show’s problems are already evident. Michael Ealy as the robot half of the buddy team is easily the best thing about Almost Human, but Karl Urban’s human half of the team would seem like a parody if the character had even a little of the humor Ryan misses. Lili Taylor is wasted … it must have taken a lot of work to make Taylor boring. I can’t say Minka Kelly is wasted, because I had no hopes for her in the first place. She would be an irritant if I cared enough to complain. And I didn’t like Fringe, so I don’t even have a Whedonesque fondness for J.H. Wyman. Grade for the two-part pilot: C+.

There is a new series out there that is very good, The Returned. I say “new”, but the show is actually a year old, having been produced for French television and now turning up in the States on the Sundance Channel. It is not an easy show to categorize, although I suppose if you looked on Netflix, it would be listed under “horror” or “thriller”. (OK, now I have to look. The movie the series is based on, They Came Back, is listed under these genres: Drama, Foreign, Zombies, Foreign Dramas, France, French Language (they really want you to know it’s French). I’ve listed this because “zombies” doesn’t strike me as a spoiler … The Returned is so unlike The Walking Dead, it’s a ludicrous comparison. And the zombies (or lack of same … it’s not completely clear there are zombies in The Returned, mostly because the show works on a different level from the usual scare-fest) aren’t the selling point, the way they are on Walking Dead. The Returned is a character story about how unexpected events affect the residents of a small town. Its pleasures are subtle, which is not to say boring … all of the episodes we’ve seen so far are very engrossing. There is certainly a place for the hyped-up excitement of a Walking Dead, and I don’t mean to suggest that The Returned is “good” because it seems arty and precious next to more spectacular series in similar genres. No, The Returned is good for the simplest of reasons: the setting is intriguing, the writing and acting are excellent, and the show manages to avoid stagnancy, advancing our understanding of events at just the right speed. So far, I’d give The Returned an A-, which could easily become an “A” by season’s end (there are eight episodes).

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