What have you been watching? Including Fleming, The Life of Rock with Brian Pern, The Moodys, Salamander and Suspects

It’s “What have you been watching?”, my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently that I haven’t already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I’ve missed them.

The usual “TMINE recommends” page features links to reviews of all the shows I’ve ever recommended, and there’s also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I’ve reviewed ever. And if you want to know when any of these shows are on in your area, there’s Locate TV.

With the Winter Olympics now in full flow in the US, I’m only slightly behind on shows now, with only Sunday’s Babylon and The Musketeers as well as Wednesday’s Inside No 9 to find time for. But with so little new TV on in the US, I’ve resorted to watching some new shows on UK TV as well as the Internet.

Alpha House (Amazon Prime/Lovefilm)
A group of US politicians all live in a house together (or something). A decent cast, including John Goodman, and Gary Trudeau, the creator of ‘Doonesbury’, writing should have spelt hilarity. But while it does feel authentic in its situations (albeit with a comedic twist), the funny that should have been there never really turned up. Only the first episode is available on Lovefilm at the moment, but the whole series is on Amazon Prime in the US.

Fleming (Sky Atlantic/BBC America)
Dominic Cooper and Lara Pulver play Mr and Mrs Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, in a biopic (with a slight economy with the truth) that sees how the two met pre-War when she was still married to someone else and how the feckless Fleming got his act together during the Second World War in naval intelligence, before eventually writing the novels we all know and love. A first half hour of outright tedium almost put me off the whole thing, but the second half was a lot stronger, albeit with a hint of the ‘rapey’, so I’ll be tuning in for episode two. Has already finished its run on BBC America, I believe.

Inside No 9 (BBC2/online)
I’ve only watched the first part of this a dark, comedic anthology from Reece Sheersmith and Steve Pemberton of League of Gentlemen fame. Set in various houses, all numbered 9, the show gives various actors a chance to shine, and for Sheersmith and Pemberton to play implausible grotesques. The first was a little ‘And?’ but well acted (big kudos to Tim Key in particular), so I’ll be giving number two a chance when I find the time. A third is available online.

The Life of Rock with Brian Pern (BBC4)
Simon Day and numerous musicians and comedians all rip the piss out of Peter Gabriel and other prog rockers of the 70s. Very precise in its targets, so if you know the music and bands of the era, you’ll probably get more out of this than the lay audience. I found it moderately amusing but with some very good individual moments.

The Moodys (ABC1)
Follow up to the popular Australian show, The Moodys At Christmas, featuring the eponymous family. Not especially funny, although the generational culture conflicts rang true, but I imagine it’s funnier if you’re Australian and saw the first series.

Salamander (BBC4)
Belgian import that sees a bank robbed but only the safety deposit boxes of important people raided. A police detective investigates and opens up a whole heap of trouble for himself and his family, as the victims and thieves try to cover up the robbery. About as realistic as an episode of 24, and it’s not helped by it all being very silly and having a guy who looks like Aquaman’s dad as the virile hero. But it’s a decent enough show that reminds me enough of 1970s cop dramas that nostalgia will keep me watching.

Suspects (Channel Five)
Channel 5’s first foray into original drama production in donkey’s years is a semi-improvised police drama that sees the National Lottery’s Fay Ripley investigating various crimes with the help of her team. Shot in shakey-cam, it has a documentary feel (in part because it’s Channel 5 and so colossally low budget) and you do genuinely believe you’re watching a proper police investigation a lot of the time. Which is fine, but I don’t want to watch a documentary about the police; I want to watch a drama.

Shows that I’ve been watching but not really recommending:

Agents of SHIELD (ABC)
Probably the best episode since the first one, with shock near-deaths as a cliffhanger, some comedy that actually worked for a change and the characters actually being characters. Too little too late?

Almost Human (Fox)
A change of showrunner gives us two good episodes in a row. The first had Gina Carano (woo hoo!) as a eyeliner-wearing soldier android/gynoid and also provided us with more background story. Meanwhile, for more or less the first time since the pilot, we had an episode dealing with the failed raid Karl Urban’s character led and what his evil girlfriend might have been up to. Some good scripting, some good action and some good characters – plus Gina Carano – means this is almost ready to go on the recommended list.

Enlisted (Fox)
A good point about sexism in the military and sexism towards women in the military. Otherwise, an okay episode.

Helix (SyFy/Channel 5)
Progress is being made, story is advancing and Jeri Ryan is arriving in tonight’s episode. I’m going to keep watching.

Rake (Fox)
Reviewed elsewhere on the blog.

And in the recommended list:

19-2 (Bravo Canada)
Reviewed elsewhere on the blog.

Arrow (The CW/Sky 1)
Nyssa Al Ghul turned up, Black Canary returned and all sorts of weird things happened sexually. There were some good fights, at least. Plus we now have one person who can pronounce Ra’s Al Ghul correctly, at least.

Banshee (Cinemax)
A road trip episode unlike all previous Banshee episodes. Lovely direction, some surprises in terms of wrong-footing with the plotting, and the general message that you can’t escape your past and live a happy life once you’ve done certain things. Excellent viewing.

The Doctor Blake Mysteries (ABC1/BBC1)
The return of the period Australian detective drama and the return of Doctor Blake himself after a trip overseas. Some unavoidable changes in the cast (a death in between seasons and an actor having gone off to the US to seek their fortune) as well as one in-story change haven’t really affected the show that much, although the various emotional repercussions of the overseas trip have been largely brushed under the carpet in a five-minute scene. A decent enough, well plotted episode, though.

Line of Duty (BBC2)
I gave up on the first season because it lacked subtlety and got very silly. However, this second season is an automatic recommendation already, because the first episode was such a cracker. Keeley Hawes is likeable for a change, despite possibly being evil; Jessica Raine is as great as ever. But who saw that ending coming? Tense and a must-see – at least for the next episode. Also, nice head-nod to the first series in the missing persons file.

True Detective (HBO/Sky Atlantic)
Another show promoted to the recommended list this week, thanks to a cracker of a fourth episode. The plot is sorting itself out, the characters are really developing and some superb direction make this another must-see. First episode review, third-episode verdict.

“What have you been watching?” is your chance to recommend to friends and fellow blog readers the TV and films that they might be missing or should avoid – and for me to do mini-reviews of everything I’ve watched. Since we live in the fabulous world of Internet catch-up services like the iPlayer and Hulu, why not tell your fellow readers what you’ve seen so they can see the good stuff they might have missed?

  • Mark Carroll

    I've added “True Detective” to the long-term list, in that I am not sure when I'll get to see it.

    I had been intending to watch “Salamander” but maybe I'll wait and see how it proceeds for you before deciding to take the plunge myself.

    We usually watch Charlie Brooker wipe things. The weekly one now is not uniformly great but overall entertaining.

    “Top Gear” is as silly as ever but it makes our kids laugh.

    We are liking Doctor Blake fairly adequately. It's not gripping, but it's good. We are just finishing off season one, I hadn't realized that another had come, I'll keep an eye on iPlayer.

    I am following the present season five of “Community” and liking it well enough, it's settling down to a good point, though I'd like it to nudge very slightly over toward plausibility. The kids love it.

    We finished season two of “The Bridge” and generally liked it I think. As we learned more the criminals were all a bit vague and silly really but it was still entertaining viewing.

    We've been watching some of the Olympics coverage. I liked the men's half-pipe. The BBC didn't exactly make it easy to look up an event and then find out if it was in Day m Part n, and goodness knows how to after the fact see anything that was on the red button thing, but we're doing okay.

    We're partway through “The Crow Road” and I'm rather liking it, though with the odd cognitive effect that when I think about watching another episode I actually think first of picking up the book before I remember that, in the presently applicable incarnation, it's a television show.

  • JustStark

    I think Salamander is quite good, and it has the extra surreal note that every so often, when they are talking about how the information could bring down the state, or wondering if the culprits could be the CIA, or a multinational that wants to destabilise the government, you remember that they are talking about Belgium.

    Someone has gone to all this trouble to get the dirt on the political elite of… Belgium.

    It's wonderfully bizarre.

    I didn't see the end of Line of Duty coming either and will certainly be watching the rest.

    I also watched Babylon and found it… uninvolving. Not dramatic enoguh to care about it as drama, and not funny enough to be a comedy, it just… occupied some time in the schedule and then disappeared.

    And is it just me who doesn't get why Brit Marling is the 'hot new thing'? Her interpretation of 'acting' seems mainly to involve saying everything… very… slowly… with lots of… mysterious pauses and occasional… questioning intonation to… suggest… depth?

  • GYAD

    SUSPECTS – Brill. Real London, twisty plotting and mostly quite believable. Needs a bit more character though.

    LINE OF DUTY – Glossy tosh.

    BABYLON – A lot of talent for very little impact. Characters are nasty and the story was all over the place.

    FLEMING – Badly miscast, cartoonish and lacking in period atmosphere.

    CRACKER – Psychologically deft, amusing and heartfelt.

  • Mark Carroll

    An American friend is amused by how much classic “Doctor Who” has the aliens especially interested in Britain.

  • Mark Carroll

    An American friend is amused by how much classic “Doctor Who” has the aliens especially interested in Britain.

  • I'm wondering if they'll use it as an in-story explanation for why Belgium didn't have a government for over a year recently. Although I gave up during episode 3 when the very secret conspirators all started explaining their very secret conspiracy organisation to each other in ridiculous detail.

  • I'm wondering if they'll use it as an in-story explanation for why Belgium didn't have a government for over a year recently. Although I gave up during episode 3 when the very secret conspirators all started explaining their very secret conspiracy organisation to each other in ridiculous detail.

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