Television

Last Comedy Standing

Three seasons in and Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing is still one of the funniest comedies on television. You read that right. A Tim Allen comedy about a father whose jokes come at the expense of his wife, socialists, hippies, Democrats, racial stereotypes, progressive family structures and big government is one of the funniest shows you’ll watch on TV. Not to mention one of its most rebellious. It’s traditional in every sense of the word; it still boasts a laugh track, the seemingly long lost “this show was filmed in front a live studio audience” intro and of course, many cranky old and traditional values and beliefs.

So why does this make it funny? Because the show isn’t afraid to be unpopular in its ways, and it has no qualms about being tuned in to the seemingly unhip demographic of Middle America; the constant butt of redneck Bible Belt jokes. The show runs against the grain of 2014’s vast landscape of politically correct, progressive and undeniably modern brand of comedy and for it, Last Man Standing should be given some credit for being the lone survivor amongst TV’s PC police. Through its history, the genre has been both a barometer of safe and wildly revolutionary and as time moves on, comedies are seeing a progression in the characters they portray and the stories they tell. Ellen was a landmark moment for Gay and Lesbian acceptance on mainstream television (at least one of its starting points) while shows like The Cosby Show and The Jeffersons broke down stereotypical racial barriers. The success of shows like Modern Family proves that audiences were ready to progress alongside and as the audiences continued to embrace real life characters in 20-30 minute sitcoms, we’re able to see that television is better for it.

What about the show that rebels against these principles but does it without the sneer of hate or discrimination?

Duck Dynasty on Last Man Standing? Of course.

Duck Dynasty on Last Man Standing? Of course.

As political correctness and progressive ideology become the norm for success on television, Last Man Standing has somewhat quietly stood back from the forward pack and have cut themselves a piece of traditional amongst the vastly left-wing agenda of modern comedy (in this brief interview, Tim Allen speaks about the show “pushing buttons”). Is left-wing comedy unfunny? No, of course not, but there are times when Last Man Standing seems to be the only comedy on TV unafraid to make a joke firmly at the crossroads of Barry Goldwater and Hillary Clinton (in a recent episode Tim Allen’s character Mike Baxter responds to his wife’s quip that “Hilary Clinton used to be a Goldwater girl in 1964”, with “so, Satan used to work for God, what’s your point?”). Their continued mocking of big government, communism and free handouts side by side with light misogyny, sexism and stereotypes certainly is not progressive, but in the show’s writers seem to do so with a big tongue-in-cheek.

In a way, Tim Allen’s character is a self-parodying anecdote of traditional versus progression. He’s your average, successful American entrepreneur who believes in working hard for yourself and your family. He loves football, guns, fishing and hates free handouts. Yet, he’s surrounded in his home by the four women in his family who are a mix of left wing to right, from deep to shallow. Much of his chagrin comes from this- not in a negative way- in a contrasting one. The once popular traditionalism of his kind has become the minority in the new America and while he’s not struggling with it, he won’t back down from a good jibe.

It’s rebellious yet harmless, old school but relevant. And who is to say that one can’t enjoy the comedic touch of popularly acclaimed shows like Parks and Recreation or Community, but at the same time enjoy some good old fashioned laughs in Last Man Standing?

Progressive comedy can be draining, and with CBS often relying too much on hyper sexualized fare, it’s great that there’s a comedy that is self-aware of its place in society today. Last Man Standing is proof that funny works both ways.

(It’s also always funny to make fun of hippies and socialists)

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Film Reviews

Film Review: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

In the decades after the Cold War, much of the landscape of clandestine warfare had transformed itself from the confines of blacklists and microfilm to the vast ether of information and data across the globe. Spies and their craft had changed, and with it, Hollywood’s portrayal. The practice had gone from jabbing someone with a poison-tipped umbrella to taking down entire nations with access from a computer; and so Hollywood had to evolve its sleuths from uber charming, yet seemingly unflappable womanizers to flawed, troubled and broken men. Jason Bourne became the modern day spy. James Bond became Jason Bourne and almost every spy since, has had a Bourneness to them that we, the movie-going audience seem to relate to. There’s now a vulnerability grounded in reality. Where once luxury sports cars turning into submarines was acceptable, it is now the norm for our agents to be armed with nothing more than a pistol, some training and their wit, facing their greatest of enemies in the reality we all find ourselves in.

Jack Ryan, perhaps author Tom Clancy’s finest creation, has been off grid since the Ben Affleck-starring The Sum of All Fears in 2002. It was an admirable entry into the Jack Ryan series but lacked the tension and imminent fear that presented itself in previous Jack Ryan outings- most notably in the still terrific The Hunt For Red October. In the ten or so years proceeding, much has changed in the world, and while nuclear threat seems to loom far in the background, the prescient danger continues to be that of technological warfare threatening to undermine our most treasured of security: finance. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is the official reboot of the Jack Ryan franchise and sees our protagonist continue his Benjamin Button act since Harrison Ford last donned the title in 1994’s Clear And Present Danger. The character’s genesis is beginning at a younger age we are given more of his development before delving into the primary plot of the film.

Imminent danger

Imminent danger

Chris Pine’s Jack Ryan falls somewhere between Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford’s; young enough to be brash and reckless, but at the same time, boasting a quality that convinces audiences he will grow into the Jack Ryan of old. Pine is surrounded by a pretty well-to-do cast that includes Kevin Costner (playing Ryan’s mentor and super-agent William Harper), Keira Knightley (Ryan’s eventual love interest and femme fatale Cathy Muller) and the irrepressible Kenneth Branagh (pulling double duty serving as the film’s primary antagonist Viktor Cherevin, as well as its director). The film is stronger for their parts, and while Costner’s role is quite restrained, there is an air of importance to him that works within the confines of the film. We’re also given a colourful palette of characters breathing out the warm air of nostalgia with its heavy Russian-villain lean. It’s the film’s most prominent connection to the spy films of old, and perhaps, beneficial in giving Shadow Recruit a sense of freshness. Surprisingly, Knightley’s character displays the cast’s biggest single nitpicky flaw. Knightley’s strikingly beautiful accent is stripped of its allure as she yams and yahs through a pretty terrible American accent. It’s the ‘Charlize Theron in Monster’ of accents (and not in the ‘winning an Oscar for the performance’ kind of way).

Unlike The Sum of All Fears, we’re given the less far-reaching plot of espionage cloaked in today’s turbulent and volatile financial landscape. Jack Ryan, CIA analyst, is tasked on uncovering a Russian plot to destroy America by crippling its financial structure. It’s all smartly done with the kind of explanatory tone that never breaches into condescension or overly smart. We’re given a look into the evolution of the Jack Ryan character- from tired economics student to battered and broken marine, and finally to the film’s primary voice; the analyst. While the film progresses over the course of a decade, it never grows tiresome and moves briskly through its narrative stages. The action is thick and heavy, and we’re once again grounded in the kind of hand to hand combat The Bourne Identity cemented as the preferred palette. The pace is comfortable and the dialogue smart, and much of the film exudes the kind of excitement and tension The Hunt For Red October is noted for.

Branagh’s direction resonates beautifully amongst the steel and structure of both New York City and Moscow; and in a particularly harrowing scene between himself and Knightley’s character, given a real sense of isolated terror and impending doom. Who knew lightbulbs could be so dangerous?

The spy genre may be one of the fields of film that has excelled the most in the post 9/11 world. They’re more grounded and realistic and to that extent, far more believable. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is an exciting new beginning for the franchise, and while it may not be as alluring as the original Jason Bourne outing, the Jack Ryan franchise hasn’t felt this right since the early 90s.

[rating=4]

 

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is in the cinemas now. 

 

JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Written by: Adam Cozad, David Koepp
Cast: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh
Released by: Paramount Pictures
Running time: 105 minutes

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Television

Lacking Intelligence?

Over the course of five seasons, Chuck was the kind of science fiction dramedy fitting of a premise as ridiculous as it presented. An underachiever in life, Zachary Levi’s Chuck Bartowski is given near super powers when he is accidentally implanted with a super computer that houses intelligence and encoded data. With his new found upgrade, Chuck was able to learn martial arts, hack into spy secrets and gain access to information reserved for those with only the highest of clearance. Surrounded by sidekick buffoonery, easy-going humour and a great cast, the show was able to breeze along its more paramount subjects without being burdened by the weight of taking itself too seriously.

Fast forward two years after Chuck’s final sign off and we’ve got CBS’ latest science fiction entry in the Josh Holloway (Lost), Marg Helgenberger (CSI) starring Intelligence. The show’s premise? An overachiever in life, Holloway’s Gabriel Vaughn is given near super powers when he is purposefully implanted with a super computer that houses intelligence and encoded data. With his new found upgrade, Vaughn gains access into spy secrets and information reserved for those with only the highest of clearance. His advanced martial arts, weapons and combat come courtesy of his years in the military.

The crux here however, is that Intelligence is a very serious show about serious things. We learn in the pilot that Gabriel Vaughn’s spy wife has been missing for 5 years and is feared turned into a jihadi sympathiser. This provides much of Vaughn’s angst and drive to accept the responsibilities of having the world’s most intelligent computer in his head. While Vaughn is Chuck Bartowski 8.0, he is still given a guardian of sorts, someone to keep an eye on him and protect him much like Yvonne Strahovski did for Chuck. Meghan Ory (Once Upon A Time) plays Riley Neal, the Secret Service Agent assigned to the task. She’s beautiful, smart, skilled, and has a past (just so she’s got some sort of edge). While she’s great, she seems a little out of place next to Vaughn’s seemingly indestructible self, posing the question as to why she needs to be there in the first place.

Helgenberger’s turn as the director of US Cyber Command (which, it turns out, is a real thing) is your textbook inner antagonist amongst the so-called “good guys”. She’s the brains behind the operation but you can’t help feel that maybe she’s not showing all her cards just yet.

The first two episodes plod along nicely, with much of a muchness we’ve seen in current shows like Person of Interest and Almost Human. We’re given advanced overlays of what is happening in Vaughn’s computer charged head on the screen. We travel to exotic locations and we’re given the kind of friction between male-female leads we’ve seen countless times before in such well-to-do fare like Bones and Chuck.

Yet, it’s hard to come to terms with the silly premise without thinking of Chuck Bartowski. Why? Because it’s just so damn dumb that it seems even more ridiculous without the abject silliness that surrounded the colourful characters of the Buy More. The plot twists in the first episode of Intelligence alone are quite silly, and while much of the show is done well and by the books, it rarely does much to stand out amongst the current palette of successful science fiction.

The route its producers/creators have taken saddle the show with the burden of having something real to say, and in an age where cyber intelligence continues to be on the forefront of discussion, you’d better have some real gravitas to it.

Intelligence airs Monday nights on CBS.

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