Screen Test

Stroll down memory lane

If you're old enough to remember Singapore in the 1980s and have fond memories of eating kacang puteh in cinema circle seats, "pontenging" to "go Far East", getting beeped on your pager and trading friendship bracelets, Mediacorp's new comedy-drama Fine Tunewill make you smile.

The stroll down memory lane comes courtesy of the protagonist, Lisa, a 40something media company vice-president who is reminiscing her youth.

Played by deejay Vernetta Lopez, Lisa takes on a 22-year-old intern, Brando (last year's The 5 Search runner-up Shrey Bhargava), whose generation she struggles to understand.

Appalled at his preference for downloaded playlists over listening to the airwaves, she lectures him that "radio can change your life" and recounts how it helped her navigate young love.


Vernetta Lopez in Fine Tune (above) and Lucas Till as the new MacGyver. PHOTOS: MEDIACORP, CBS

The series then flashes between Lisa's life today - a joyless, over-scheduled existence - and the 1980s, when she was a wide-eyed junior college student with a major crush on Bernard, her brother's guitar-playing friend.

If grown-up Lisa is the main arc, the B story about her coming of age is the more compelling of the two, at least judging by the three episodes reviewed.

The nostalgic humour hits the mark, salted with Singlish and references - to singer "Longan Lychee" (Lionel Richie) or Mitsubishi Lancers - that only Singaporeans will get.

It is consistently funny and charming, so much so you can forgive the occasional anachronism ( I don't know any Singapore schoolkids back then who talked about "jocks and nerds").

The modern-day stuff is much weaker. Lopez has nice comic timing and an easy, natural way with dialogue, but these talents have been deployed in service of a caricature - the cold, workaholic dragon lady with no EQ.

And whereas the 1980s flashbacks are enriched by their cultural specificity, the contemporary scenes trot out a lot of generic, millennial-versus- Generation X type observations that have already been "sitcom-ed" to death.

One hopes the two halves of the show will balance out in later episodes.

Also playing the nostalgia card is the new crime series MacGyver, one of a string of reboots Hollywood has regurgitated of late.

  • VIEW IT / FINE TUNE

  • Channel 5

    Wednesdays, 9.30pm

    3/5 stars

    MACGYVER

    AXN (StarHub TV Channel 511, Singtel TV Channel 304)

    Saturdays, 8.55pm

    2/5 stars

This one is a remake of the iconic 1985 to 1992 action-adventure series starring Richard Dean Anderson as a secret agent who ingeniously improvised DIY solutions to save the day, often using nothing but his scientific know-how, problem-solving skills and a Swiss army knife.

In this version, he is played by a 20something, Lucas Till from the X-Men movies, in a clear bid for younger viewers.

I'm all for any show that makes science look cool, but the writers seem to have forgotten that it is 2016 and there are too many viewers now who have internalised decades of increasingly sophisticated crime procedurals and seen every trick in the book. And if they haven't, they can Google it on their phones to fact-check.

So a show needs to be on its toes if it is trying to dazzle an audience with its cleverness. Instead, the pilot episode - the only one provided for review - repeatedly dumbs things down or glosses over details in a way that reinforces the implausibility of the scenarios.

Are we really supposed to believe it's that easy to lift a perfect fingerprint off a glass and fool a fingerprint scanner using that and some soot and sticky tape, when we've seen much slicker, more convincing versions of the same thing on screen?

Or do we need text popping up to tell us the waiter's tray used to stop a bullet is made of 12-gauge steel, when we've seen trays used to stop bullets countless times? And surely there are far easier ways to set off a fire alarm than mixing tin foil and ammonia to create a smoke bomb?

In a nod to the original, MacGyver often explains what he is doing, either in voiceover or those around him. But this one has a tendency to over-explain - as if we don't know what, say, a phoenix represents.

And that's only the start of the show's problems.

There is also the cheesy, generic spy-movie music, which sounds like a pirated version of a Bond theme.

The dialogue is hackneyed, with MacGyver intoning lines such as "That dress may look dangerous but trust me, the woman inside is more dangerous", as he and his partner, played by CSI's George Eads, do a poor version of buddy-cop banter.

The plot - a foiled attempt to steal and sell a biological weapon - is a rehash of a dozen other spy thrillers.

The baddies are straight from central casting - a generic, scowling Chinese guy with "a documented hatred of all things Uncle Sam", and a British bad guy played by, who else, Vinnie Jones (Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, 1998), doing the same version of every character he has ever done.

The good guys aren't much better. MacGyver's best friend and roommate is an excessively jolly, wisecracking black dude and his sexy analyst girlfriend is similarly two-dimensional, the whole point of her existence being to damage our hero just enough to give him a little depth.

Finally, there is our millennial MacGyver himself. Till, with his boyband hair, blandly handsome features and air of unshakeable smugness, does not seem up to the task of helming a show that requires a hugely charismatic lead.

The series could, conceivably, turn things around in subsequent episodes, but it's going to take a lot more than a Swiss army knife and some sticky tape to fix this.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2016, with the headline 'Stroll down memory lane'. Print Edition | Subscribe