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 – they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.
Thankfully, there wasn’t much new on this week, so I haven’t been able to play catch-up on a few shows, and in fact I was able to watch one new show:
Bosch (Amazon Prime)
Based on the Michael Connelly series of books (which my mother in law likes so they must be okay), this stars Titus Welliver (of numerous shows but particularly Lost) as LA police detective Hieronymous Bosch. No really. That’s his name. Apparently co-starring most of the cast of The Wire, including Lance Reddick and Jamie Hector, it sees Bosch dealing with a civil suit in which he’s accused of shooting an unarmed man while also dealing with the discovery of the body of a long-buried child. But there’s no resolution to any of these stories, since this is just the pilot episode and a series is now on its way. It’s above average as cop shows go and there’s a definite air of authenticity to everything, but fundamentally it features a preposterous lead character who is also simultaneously very ordinary – it’s not like he's writing poetry or doing brass rubbing for a hobby but is off listening to jazz and drinking while having a silly name. Worth a glance, but nothing special.
I also watched a movie!
Hannibal Rising (2007)
Given it’s the one Hannibal Lecter story I’d neither read nor watched, I figured it was about time, despite the bad reviews, to give it a go. And it’s an odd little piece, a prequel story that gives us a teenage Hannibal Lecter escaping cannibalism in wartime Lithuanian to find refuge in France. It’s interesting as it both informs and is informed by other Lecter pieces, giving us a reasonable explanation as to why Hannibal’s Hannibal is so handy in a fight, for example, while also giving us some piggy foreshadowing for Hannibal (the movie). It’s also got a good cast, with Dominic West as a dodgy-accented war crimes investigator, and Rhys Ifans and Kevin McKidd as the naughty war criminals who ate Hannibal’s sister. But its low budget, poor French lead (Gaspard Ulliel) and equally French setting make this feel like an international co-production B-movie along the lines of Mr Frost, rather than any of the preceding blockbusters, it uses the same technique as Hannibal to try to make Lecter look a hero by giving him an even worse enemy to deal with (although as the name suggests, he does become monstrous towards the end) and it can’t be said to be scary or horrifying in any real sense. One for completists only.
After the jump, the regulars, with reviews of 24, Agents of SHIELD, The Americans, Arrow, The Blacklist, Continuum, Elementary, Game of Thrones, Hannibal, Prisoners of War, Silicon Valley and Surviving Jack.
Shows that I've been watching but not really recommending
Agents of SHIELD (US: ABC; UK: Channel 4)
A continuity-happy, Marvel Cinema Universe crossover episode with Maria Hill turning up, revealing she’s now working for Tony Stark, calling Pepper Potts and referencing Natasha Romanoff. Unfortunately, this isn’t the MCU and despite the Tahiti explanation actually getting more interesting, there was a pretty ill advised CGI-tastic scene that the show really didn’t have the budget for. Otherwise, on a par with the other post-Captain America 2 episodes (i.e. pretty good)
Darker and better than I was expecting, with a flashback explanation for why Ward is evil that almost worked – OMG: he killed his dog! – but actually made you wonder if it was all a double-bluff. Tonally, however, it showed how all over the place Agents of SHIELD now is. On the one hand we get those kinds of moments that would stop most parents from letting their kids watch the show; on the other, we get Coulson and May trying to infiltrate places by pretending to be Fitz and Simmons in comedy outfits, which makes it less palatable for adults.
Still, it’s been picked up for a second season now, which means that they’ll have chance to sort the tone out next season, and maybe even do a crossover with the almost certainly better Agent Carter.
The recommended list
24 (US: Fox; UK: Sky 1)
Well, we’ve had imitators like Crisis and now we have the original back on our screens after four years and weirdly it’s even set in London, thanks to some tax breaks. It’s clear the producers have been looking back over their greatest hits and who they can afford (and want) to get back and have distilled down essence of 24, making Jack once again the doubtless Republican Terminator he was before the Obama administration made everyone wonder if torture might be bad or not. However, this is very much a post-Obama show, with the show focused on trying to tell us something (it thinks is) important about drone warfare and kill lists, as well as giving the also-returning Chloe a very Edward Snowden storyline of her own.
It’s certainly better than Crisis but it is very odd seeing it all play out in London, although actually, they do London pretty well, showing some proper London rather than tourist London, bar the occasional unnecessary Union Flag plastered here and there, Michael Wincott trying to be English but mispronouncing "route" and some odd geography, with places located “kilometres southeast of Central London” yet still on the River Thames and the very bomb-proof American embassy in Grosvenor Square substituted with something a bit more like a townhouse. We also have Yvonne Strahovski doing her Chuck routine as a replacement of Annie Wersching (who’s now the love interest in Bosch, incidentally).
But if you were looking for innovation, this is the wrong place, because as well played out as this is, it’s working pretty much in exactly the same areas as it did when we left it. It’s still quite thrilling and quite soapy, but Cinemax shows like Strike Back and Banshee are now doing exotic action and soap better and grittier. Nevertheless, as far as network shows go, 24 is still top and its rest has certainly done it some good.
The Americans (US: FX; UK: ITV)
Things are starting to hot up on pretty much every front and giving us a vengeful US SEAL to track down the Russians gives us an interesting mirror to previous Russian evil that shows what the US was/is capable of, too. The stealth side of things is starting to feel a little bit like last season’s 'Star Wars’ storyline – and even a bit like Firefox’s – since we know that ultimately, Russia never got working stealth technology, but more interesting – probably more so for a US audience – is the ongoing question of Russell’s characters atheistic desire to suppress her daughter’s ‘indoctrination’ by Christians, which probably looks eminently reasonable to large chunks of the rest of the world.
Arrow (US: The CW; UK: Sky 1)
Streets of Fire
The usual mixture of comic book daftness, soapiness, great action scenes Felicity snark and revelations, but I have a horrible feeling from this episode that they might actually kill off Sarah and try to get Laurel to replace her and train as a replacement Black Canary. DO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN. But what a great ending if they actually have just had Thea kill Barrowman. Who’d have thought they’d have done that? I suspect they haven’t, though.
The Blacklist (US: NBC; UK: Sky Living)
Well, the show clearly hasn't quite got the fun, energy and fluidity that it had when it started, because despite the series arc coming nicely to the boil with the arrival of Reddington's mysterious arch-enemy, it all feels a little anti-climactic – and his plan was a bit crap, it has to be said. Still, nice to see 'Orange Wednesday man’ still getting work – make me bleed, Gunther!
Continuum (Canada: Showcase; UK: SyFy)
Despite the show having saved up its pennies to give us an entire episode set in the future and despite focusing again on a corporate issue facing us right now – the patenting of seeds – it was all actually a surprisingly dull episode that also ret-conned a whole bunch of character relationships so that they made no sense. It was book-ended with some good bits, though, with a big character moment at the end that will hopefully give us a Kiera who’s less passive,
Elementary (US: CBS; UK: Sky Living)
Art in the Blood
More Mycroft fun and joy, and although he’s still not quite the character he was in the books (or Sherlock – thankfully), Rhys Ifans is superb and this once again genuinely felt like a Sherlock Holmes story, rather than a regular CBS procedural with an English guy in it. Nonetheless, the incursion of spying and MI6 into the storyline wasn’t exactly going to threaten The Sandbaggers in terms of authenticity, not least in everyone referring to MI6/SIS as ‘the agency’ – it’s not the Central Intelligence Agency, it’s the Special Intelligence Service, lads and lasses, and they don’t have ‘operatives’ or ‘agents', they have officers. But fun and I’m hoping that they somehow manage to fit Irene/Jamie into the remaining season storyline.
Games of Thrones (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
The First of His Name
Some glorious, golden moments from the Hound and some good times for Brienne, Jamie, Sansa, Daenerys and Jon Snow, too, in an episode that redressed some of the nearer the knuckle, anti-female moments of previous episodes. But despite a decent fight scene at the end, it’s still moving pieces around on a chessboard in an early to mid game, not really pushing much of a strategy at the moment.
Hannibal (US: NBC/UK: Sky Living)
Possibly the worst episode of any season so far, largely in part because it was the beginning of the set-up for the worst of the Hannibal Lecter books – Hannibal. But it can’t all be laid at the feet of Mason Verger and his pigs, because there was that weird threesome and the producers trying to persuade us that Will is becoming a serial killer when he’s obviously not. Good to see Freddie back, though.
+ Ko No Mono
And the show redeems itself with a far better episode that still featured Mason Verger, emphasising the point that it’s not Thomas Harris's foundation that was necessarily the problem with Naka-Choko. As well as multiple welcome references to Manhunter, including echoes of Freddie’s death in that movie at least, the show also gave us two new things: the first proper references to Hannibal Rising (see earlier) and the first admission by Hannibal of his crimes which was fascinating to watch as it suddenly hit you that’s what he was doing. And thankfully, there was the blessed relief of the end scene, verifying what anyone with a brain had suspected all along and signalling the end of that particular piece of attempted subterfuge with the viewer. Phew.
Prisoners of War (UK: Sky Living)
Episodes 2 + 3
And the show reverts back to season 1 style again, with just a hint of the new, improved Homeland-style plotline lingering in the background. Despite a very dodgy attempt to give us a ‘Frenchman’ in the first half, a couple of good episodes overall. The big issue is whether Yusuf is believable as a terrorist leader, seeing as pretty much everyone is telling him what to do rather than vice versa. I’m not entirely convinced he could ever have got to where he was, even with the previous leader’s blessing, with that level of disbelief, hesitation and overall lack of commitment to doing general terrorism.
Silicon Valley (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
Sadly, the last episode to be filmed with the superb Christopher Evan Welch before his death in December and his presence will be much missed. A fun episode dealing with the attempts by the company to come up with a new logo that successfully satirised Silicon Valley racism and chat technology. An attempt to boost probably the only female character in the cast looks likely, however, to relegate her to being 'the girlfriend’, unfortunately.
Surviving Jack (US: Fox)
She Drives Me Crazy
Featuring Neil Flynn – aka the janitor from Scrubs – as a janitor/wrestling coach, this opened up the mother and daughter characters considerably, and while this worked better for the daughter, it worked far less for the mother, unfortunately. But we did get a reference to Nam to finally explain Jack’s military nature.
+ Parents Just Don't Understand
And just as the show hit its stride in this episode, offering us plenty of laughs and getting all the characters firing on all cylinders, as well as giving us the first Law & Order: SVU reference of the series so far, it got cancelled. Oh well. Whether creator Justin Halpern will continue to mine the comedy potential of his father in his next show, Surviving Jack being based on his autobiography and Shit My Father Says being based on his father-derived Twitter feed, remains to be seen.
- February 23, 2015: What have you been watching? Including Hostages, The Odd Couple, X Company, Living With Models and Bosch
A review of the TV and films I watched in the week ending February 23 2015