Jammin’

Ransom, a rather new show on CBS, is about a team of professional – and commercial – hostage crisis negotiators. Why that’s a thing is beyond me as usually the police is pretty good at doing that already, but why not. Since it’s a CBS filler show – heck, it airs on Saturdays! – it’s pretty much a given that the paper-thin plot is peppered with plot holes and the cast is just as dull, and that’s okay – not every show can be the next Homeland. Oh, by the way – this is the gig Frank Spotnitz left The Man in the High Castle for. No, really. Must be a long way to fall from this height, but he finally hit rock bottom.

So far, the episodes were just your average nonsense but the third one pretty much did it for me. As usual, the script author probably read something about something, thought “hell, why not!” and went with it, logic be damned.

So there’s a hostage situation in a bank. The two hostage takers don’t want to negotiate because it’s not really about money, and obviously that’s a problem for our crisis negotiation team since they are hired to negotiate, not sit around in their thousand dollar suits and look pretty. The perps collected all the phones the hostages had on them so there’s no way to go around them and simply contact a hostage instead.

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Image (c) CBS

Luck has it, however, that one of the two rent-a-cops in the bank wears a smart watch, more specifically a Samsung Galaxy Gear. How do they know that? Because it’s visible on the security cameras, duh! Unfortunately, the police has a cell jammer active and doesn’t want to shut it down just because some smart looking fella asks them nicely.

What’s the idea here? Well, the lead negotiator pairs his smartphone with the watch and starts to send messages to it. Why any given smartwatch would be able to receive messages directly from the paired smartphone is beyond me as there’s really no need for that kind of feature. Remember: the watch is normally paired to the wearer’s phone, which is likely in their pocket – what good would it do to be able to send messages from the phone to the watch? Except for resolving a hostage crisis, of course, but I doubt that’s high on the priority list when developing a smart watch.

That kind of nonsense aside, the security guy wearing the watch is laying on the floor (he got shot) pretty far from the bank’s entrance and the negotiator is standing a few meters away from it as well. Given how supposedly terrible the Samsung Galaxy Gear’s bluetooth range is – way less than the average of 30 feet, which is about 9 meters – and the fact that there’s a wall and several desks between the phone and the watch, the entire “I’ll just pair my phone with his watch” thing likely wouldn’t work in the first place.

But it gets better. After the negotiator manages to send some messages to the smart watch and gather information about what’s going on inside the bank, he can convince the cops to drop the cellphone jammer in order to get a “dedicated signal” to the phone connected to the smart watch (which, at this point, would still be his own … yeah, this is really through through). Actual cell jammers do have a feature to allow certain phones, although I highly doubt there’s need to shut down the jammer to configure it. The whole “dedicated signal” stuff is nonsense anyway – the cell jammer would simply be blacklisting any and all mobile signals except the ones that are on the whitelist, in this case the phone inside the bank and the negotiator’s phone, and the phones used by the cops.

Fantastic technical research, guys. No, really. No wonder Mr. Robot gets glowing reviews for their way of displaying actual technology at work when everyone else is just doing a hack job out of it every single time. Doesn’t really take much to shine in this colorful CSI world most shows tend to live in. Ugh.

Oh, and while we’re at it – what the fuck is this:

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Image (c) CBS

No, I don’t mean the cop grinning like a moron, although … yeah, that too. No, what I’m talking about is the … holographic screen that is perfectly readable against bright sunlight. There’s even some room for nonsensical widgets that don’t seem to display any feasible information, and let’s not forget the very important company logo which is  always a great use of screen real estate! Now that’s some prime CSI tech right there! Must have blown out their entire SFX budget given an explosion of four blocks of C4 in a tight air duct looks like this:

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Image sequence (c) CBS

Oh well. At least there still was some cash left to add a bunch of colored lights to the detonator.

Writing by numbers

Let’s talk about how terribly by-the-numbers BBC’s Death in Paradise is, shall we? It’s not a “fail” per se, more a rant about a decent show that went sour over the last few seasons. It’s a new feature on this site but it’ll still be fun so bear with me.

First things first: one thing that’s really amazing is that the small island of Saint Marie seems to see more murders than most American cities, most of which appear absolutely impossible to solve. Strangely though the police force never grows in numbers even though they should have plenty to do (or isn’t there any other crime on the island?)

The original cast - Image (c) BBC

The original cast – Image (c) BBC

The first two seasons of Death in Paradise were about the same as the later four in terms of general storyline (see below) but they simply offered more for the viewer’s pleasure. A stuck-up, stiff, very British inspector who always wore suits in the caribbean heat and was constantly sweating thanks to that outfit, didn’t like to get wet (on a gorgeous tropical island!) and had severe issues with women. His clashes with the much more laid-back attitude of his colleagues together with his dry wit however was simply very, very funny.

The second inspector - Image (c) BBC

The second inspector – Image (c) BBC

Unfortunately, he got killed at the start of the third season and replaced by the current character who’s exactly the opposite of him – apart from the woman issues. The not-so-new-anymore guy is a bumbling idiot who enjoys wearing casual and occasionally rather colorful outfits, constantly runs into awkward situations with the fairer sex and likes to stumble over his own feet. However, he’s a genius detective who can’t go wrong. The world can be funny sometimes.

With very few exceptions, each episode goes exactly like this:

  • Intro: we are introduced to a group of people. One of them will be found dead before the intro ends. There appears to be some bad vibe between the victim and at least one other person of the group.
  • The crime scene: The police arrives at the scene and they will start their work. It will turn out that there are four to five people – never more than five, certainly never less than four – who had some kind of relationship to the victim. Sometimes it’s work, sometimes romantic, doesn’t matter. All of these people have some kind of rock solid alibi, often provided by each other (which doesn’t make an alibi rock solid, but okay).Of course, none of them wanted the victim any harm, in fact, they loved the victim because reasons. Except for the one guy/gal the victim had some issue with (re: intro), but they won’t say that. Often, the room the body was found in is entirely inaccessible from the outside without being seen. Of course the group of people was together the entire time, no-one left even for a second. The police might find the odd item or two at the crime scene, none of which will make any sense.
  • The police station: the team sets up the murder board, complete with full color mugshots of the entire group (of course, no-one else is even under suspicion). Everyone involved will be named, their background will be stated and so on and so forth. The inspector will assign chores to the team and come to the preliminary conclusion that he has no idea how this crime could have gone down, but it’s pretty clear to him that the killer must be among the group of people.
  • (Optional) The commissioner: depending on how high profile the murder victim was, the commissioner might step in and remind the inspector that he/the mayor/someone else wants this crime solved as soon as possible. This scene is almost always exactly the same to such a degree they could have gone and filmed a dozen of them in advance without anyone even noticing. Of course the inspector agrees to the commissioner’s demands – what else can he do?
  • Reinterviewing the suspects: because the only people who could commit the crime are among the original group of four to five people, the inspector wants to interview them again. At this point, the red herring part of the plot is partially revealed: someone had an issue with the victim, and, after enough pressure, they’ll at least admit to that. However, of course they didn’t want the poor victim dead, they loved him/her!
  • Interlude – some comical elements: usually something revolving around Dwayne and his colleague. Dwanye is always funny so that’s alright. Unfortunately, sometimes the inspector is used as source of entertainment, which sucks because he’s not funny at all, just annoying as hell.
  • The police station, part two: the team comes together before closing time and discusses what has to be discussed. The result is predictable as well: nothing has changed, everyone’s still a suspect, but who was the killer? There also seems to be no motive at all. The inspector is still at a loss, but it’s “late” so let’s close up shop and start over fresh tomorrow, shall we?
  • The next day: usually starts with the post-mortem being completed, usually confirming exactly what we already know (the victim died of something). It’s positively amazing how fast the forensic pathology on the island works; there are never any delays unless the plot demands it (and it rarely ever does).The various background checks are also completed, often enough, either the victim or one of the suspects are flat out broke and one of the others could gain from the death, so there’s motive alright. It usually turns out at least one of the group members lied during questioning, but why? Some photos are shuffled around the murder board.
  • (Optional) The commissioner, again: at this point, if the commissioner made an appearance before, he will show up once more, reminding the inspector of his promise. Doesn’t matter that the investigation barely took a day so far.
  • Interlude – more comical elements: usually something something Dwayne, but in more recent episodes, the “funny” scenes often revolved around the inspector and his inability to talk to women he’s fond of. He’s a moron, we get it. Oh, and sometimes it’s about the commissioner as well, who tends to show up just in time to witness the joke at his expense.
  • The investigation continues: something comes up that wasn’t revealed during the first round of background checks or someone acts suspiciously. However, this doesn’t help in the least, the inspector still has no idea. Until …
  • The last ten minutes: … he suddenly goes into some kind of trance, rambles incoherently while flashback scenes play. He then states he knows who the perpetrator was and how he did it. He assigns the team to retrieve this or that item and get the group of people together for …
  • The final reveal: with everyone in one location, the inspector starts to pull a theory out of thin air. He usually runs down the list of people, asking them if they did it, but since he “knows” the answer already, he doesn’t really bother with any of them until he finally names the killer.Despite the inspector explaining everything in detail, there’s usually no way to understand how the hell he got to the point where he knew who to accuse. In most cases, the killer will defend himself with “there’s no proof for that”. Usually there really isn’t any hard evidence at all, but within seconds, the suspect will crack and admit everything, no matter how far-fetched the theory is the inspector presented.

    Since they admitted to the crime, there’s no real reason for a trial, which would be thrown out anyway with the “proof” the police have. No doubt the suspect will never recant his admission of guild, that’s not how the world works! The suspect is arrested, the end.

    (Optional): There was no murder, it was suicide, but someone from the group was responsible, so they get arrested anyway.

  • (Optional) The commissioner, once more: If the optional scenes occurred, the commissioner will appear one last time and thank the inspector for his great work. The inspector replies that he was just doing his job.
  • But we’re not done yet: often, there’ll be some kind of celebration in Catherine’s bar, the inspector’s house or elsewhere. More recently, this has been skipped/replaced with scenes about the inspector’s inability to talk to women he cares about.

As I said before, this general story outline was used even in the first two seasons, but back then the show at least had genuinely funny moments thanks to the old inspector. The story really doesn’t matter much as long as it’s funny or interesting.

With the current investigator, however, the paint-by-numbers story becomes far too apparent since nothing can really distract from it. Over four seasons, the show runner wasn’t able to improve on the inspector character at all – he’s still the same annoying numpty he was years ago. When the lizard he shares his beach house with becomes one of the more amusing “characters”, it’s time for a total reboot.

Playing video games

SIX recently started on History Channel, and while it’s got decent production values and a good cast incuding Walton Goggins and Barry Sloane, it still looks and feels far too much like they took Call of Duty and made a TV show out of it. Maybe it’s because we Germans simply don’t value our military service personnel as much as we maybe should, but all this heroic brouhaha is a bit annoying. Of course, all these brave, stereotypical soldiers have families and everyone has their own baggage, but it’s all far too shallow and predictable to be of much interest to me. But hey, at least History Channel finally manages to air something else than documentaries about Hitler or UFOs – or Hitler and UFOs – so that’s a start.

Fitting the overall impression of the show being a video game coming to life, the writers also took a page out of the book of reality. Remember when Edward Snowden revealed that terrorists were using multiplayer video games to talk about their evil plans? Well, the SIX scribes thought it would be a cool idea to implement that idea into episode two of their show. Unfortunately, instead of just faking a chat on any given (or fake) MMO, they resorted to … this:

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Image (c) History Channel

What happens here is as follows: some terrorist dude puts on a wireless headset and talks to another terrorist dude via voice chat in a video game. While they are talking on the voice chat, the exact words appear on the screen as well, as if the game could magically guess what the guys said. It’s pretty clear neither of the terrorists is typing anything, so how does this work? Of course there’s a thing called speech recognition, but why on earth would you bother with stuff like that in a video game, especially one as crappy as the one they use?

So far, so ridiculous, but there’s more! To their merit, they did everything right in the first scene this comes up, which makes their blunder even more damning. In a later scene, one of the operators comes home to find his little son playing Gears of War:

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Image (c) History Channel

To wit: two cables running to the TV (power/HDMI), the screen is actually powered on.

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Image (c) History Channel

Exhibit 2: the controller is an actual Xbox One controller and – woohoo! – powered on! It’s really hard to see due to the reflection on the glossy surface but in this freeze frame the button is clearly lit. Rosewood set decorators, take note: this is how it’s done!

Or not. Daddy goes to check on his daughter and finds her with a boy. She claims they didn’t do nuthin’ but daddy still finds this behaviour entirely unacceptable and throws the boyfriend out. I wonder what he was doing at that age in his spare time, knitting?

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Image (c) History Channel

While the boyfriend is escorted out of the house, we pass the TV once more, and all of a sudden there’s an entirely different game to be seen: Sunset Overdrive. And what’s even better, the game is already in progress which is quite a feat given that the player would have to quit Gears of War, find Sunset Overdrive on the console, launch it and start playing, all within about 20 seconds. I highly doubt this is even possible given the sluggish menu of the Xbox One as well as the long load times and endless splash screens most games have.

No, the real reason for this mistake is likely them filming out of sequence again – possibly on different days as well – and not remembering which game they loaded up. Or maybe the kid actor wanted to play something else because Gears of War got boring. You know, kids. They just go and do as they please. More power to them.