On the Box

From cheesy sitcoms and mystery shows to current affairs and reality TV, and everything in between – if it’s on the box, Chris Philpott has probably seen it and has an opinion about it. Make sure you tune in for his unique take on everything television.

The River entertains, despite cancellation

11:30am 27 Nov 2013

I'm not sure how it happened, but a show that was cancelled over eighteen months ago has become one of my favourite shows of the year so far: horror series The River finished up its first, and only, season on TV2 last night - the show originally aired in the USA from February to March last year, and was officially cancelled all the way back in May 2012.

(Warning: spoilers from The River follow ... I mean, if we can still call them spoilers.)

I'm actually bitterly disappointed to be losing The River now. The show managed to entertain throughout its eight-episode run, even though it essentially threw a number of horror movie clichés (Demonic possession! Cannibals! Possessed dolls!) against the wall to see which ones stuck - and all of them based around the central conceit of Paranormal Activity; no surprise given that the show was created by Paranormal Activity director and writer Oren Peli.

20131127Perhaps that is what killed the show in the end. The "found footage" genre - not even a genre as much as a poor stylistic choice - is extremely hit-and-miss, mostly a huge miss. There is a part of me that wonders how much better The River could have been had it been filmed like a traditional action-drama.

But it did well given the limits imposed on it by the style and form it adopted. The writing wasn't great, but it entertained, and a number of the storylines were unique and clever: the fourth episode, which involved a cameraman who got too close to the passing of a tribal elder, was a great episode of television, while last night's finale - complete with a writhing, impossibly contorting Lincoln possessed by the spirit of the Boiuna, and finishing with the spooky image of a transforming Amazon jungle that will never let the Magus leave - was a great way to end the series.

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Doctor Who turns fifty years old

08:30am 25 Nov 2013

It's amazing to me that any television show - and especially any scripted show - could somehow manage to stay on the air for fifty years. Yet that is exactly what Doctor Who did over the weekend, celebrating its fiftieth birthday with a special episode that was simulcast around the world, though a few minutes later on Prime yesterday morning, that brought together three different iterations of The Doctor thanks to some kind of timey-wimey craziness.

(Warning: spoilers from Doctor Who's The Day Of The Doctor follow.)

As far as "event" episodes go, I reckon The Day Of The Doctor was a winner. I thought Steven Moffat's storyline - while a little confusing at times, and even though it seemed to use a fez to cover up the lack of explanation - was exciting, and one of his best in some time; like The Name Of The Doctor, the latest regular season episode of the show, the personal history of The Doctor was used to great effect, giving the story an emotional gravitas normally lacking on the show.

20131125Matt Smith (#11) and David Tennant (#10) played off each other brilliantly; I'm not sure whether their rapport happened by design, or if it was just a happy accident that they played so well off each other, but the pair made the most of some cracking dialogue and pushed their scenes beyond what could have been a simple case of stunt casting.

The pair also formed a nice trio with John Hurt. We were promised answers when Hurt showed up at the end of the last episode, and Moffat did not disappoint - Hurt's gritty version of The Doctor contrasted nicely with the Smith/Tennant iterations, and the exploration of Gallifreyan history was exciting to watch.

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Netflix, save these!

05:00am 22 Nov 2013

News broke this week that Netflix had given Veena Sud six episodes to wrap up The Killing, her cancelled-revived-cancelled series that originally aired on AMC (and locally on SoHo) - and, as you'd expect, the internet went crazy with ideas on what Netflix should save next.

The online film and television outlet is making a habit of producing top quality drama and comedy, and it appears they're willing to expand their operations (remember, this is the second big news story about Netflix in consecutive weeks).

And since they are starting to make a habit of saving shows - The Killing, Arrested Development - I thought I'd weigh in with a few shows that I reckon they should revive for another season or two.

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section, below. Here are six shows Netflix should save next ...

Veronica Mars (64 episodes, cancelled in 2007)
The cast is obviously too old to pick up where the show left off, and I don't know what creator Rob Thomas has in store for the movie. But given how good the show was back when it was on the air ("These guys know what they're doing on a level that intimidates me." - Joss Whedon), I have no doubt that whatever Thomas has in store would be better as a 10- or 13-part series. If you can get Veronica, Logan, Keith and the rest back in Neptune, I'm sure magic will follow.

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Prime in 2014: what to look forward to

10:00am 21 Nov 2013

The final new season launch of the season of new season launches (seriously, I need to figure out a better name for this) took place a couple of nights ago, with Prime revealing their plans for next year. I always enjoy finding out what Prime has in store because they don't have the same kind of expansive content deals that TVNZ and Mediaworks have (or had, as is the case); with the exception of a deal with CBS, that brought shows like Elementary and Under The Dome to Prime this year, it tends to mean their line-up skews a little more quirky than its competitors.

20131121Here are a few thoughts on their announcement this week ...

A stronger line-up of scripted content than ever before

Prime look set to host a few quality shows next year: The Paradise, a period drama that looks to one-up Mr Selfridge by setting itself in a department store in 1875, enjoyed strong ratings and reviews when it aired, and The White Queen, a 10-part drama set at the time of the War Of The Roses, sounds like it could be pretty great too.

The CBS deal pays off with Reign, which starts tonight at 9.35pm and follows the early days of Mary Queen Of Scots; The Millers starts on December 1 and stars Will Arnett (Arrested Development) as a divorcee whose mother moves in after his father leaves her; and Star Crossed tells the love story between a girl and an alien after visitors to our planet start attending school. I have varied responses - Reign is easily the pick of the bunch, while Star Crossed sounds something like a Roswell reboot - but I'll be checking out all three.

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The end of the golden era?

10:00am 20 Nov 2013

The Golden Era of Television has officially come to a close! Behold the new era, The Zombie Age of Television - where The Walking Dead reigns as king of the small screen, and every new show is doomed to walk the earth amid the moans of viewers who lament how everything is just so similar to something that was brilliant, but which just ended.

20131120At least, that's what Andy Greenwald would have you believe. The resident TV critic at Grantland recently blasted the state of the industry as the year comes to a close, writing that:

Rather than innovating or acknowledging risk, ratings-obsessed programmers at even the most respected channels have fallen back into a disheartening pattern of pandering, copying, and outright cannibalism ... the Zombie Age is marked by a persistent, undeniable decay. Corpses are picked over. Ideas, once devoured, are regurgitated and feasted on again. A bold, forward-looking decade of risk-taking and reward has somehow left the industry in full-on retreat.

There's an undeniable security in sameness, but only within the pleathered confines of network executive suites is a strategy of not losing the same thing as winning. Everyone wants to believe that the next great era of television is just beginning. But it's possible we came in at the end.

I should say up front that I love Greenwald's work. But I think poor Andy is a little off the mark on this one.

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