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.
I was away last week, as you hopefully noticed, and while I had high ambitions of watching lots of German TV and telling you all about it, I didn’t turn on my TV even once the whole time I was there. It’s almost like I have a life or something.
I also didn’t watch much of the usual shows while I was away - except on plane flights and Germany ain’t that far away - which given how many new shows have been starting up or airing their second or third episodes, has meant a weekend of catch-up TV. But I’m nearly there, bar the latest episode of Homeland.
Of last week's outright new shows on the main US networks, I’ve already reviewed The Flash, and I’ll be reviewing The Affair and Cristela either tomorrow or on Thursday. I might review Starz basketball comedy Survivor's Remorse and the Audience Network's manly-men MMA drama Kingdom, but they're possibly a bit sporty for me, so we'll see. I might also turn my eye to Canada's women-western Strange Empire, and Australian political drama Party Tricks, too, towards the end of the week.
But that's it for new new shows, so after the jump, I’ll be running through: A to Z, Arrow, Bad Judge, black-ish, The Blacklist, The Code, Doctor Who, Forever, Gotham, Gracepoint, Homeland, How To Get Away With Murder, Legends, Madam Secretary, Manhattan Love Story, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, Plebs, Scorpion and Selfie. Which ones will I keep watching and which ones will I be dropping? Keep reading to find out.
But before that, strangely enough, despite the epic backlog, I did manage to watch a movie this week.
The Edge of Tomorrow (2013)
Cowardly Tom Cruise enters video game Groundhog Day when he kills an alien during a D-Day style military campaign and inherits its ability to put time into a loop. Emily Blunt then trains Cruise in how to be a proper soldier, so he can win the war, thoughtfully killing him each day to reset the time loop. A cross between a first-person shooter and the Allied invasion of Normandy, the film benefits a lot from Doug Liman’s more thoughtful approach to direction and Cruise does well at first as a snivelling PR guy who has to learn to become a more conventional Cruise hero. Ultimately not making a lot of sense, it nevertheless is an engrossing and above-average piece of science-fiction with some scary-arsed aliens and that probably would have done a whole lot better under its original title of All You Need Is Kill.
Shows that I've been watching but not really recommending
A To Z
B Is For Big Glory
Few laughs and little romance, despite the cast trying very hard, as the two protagonists go on dates with other people against their wills - to much confusion and the usual stupid recommendations of their friends. With the (slightly amended) title sequence voiceover of doom hanging over the series, it’s still hard to want to commit to it. I suspect I’ll be out following this week’s episode.
An episode so appalling bad, I had to turn off after three minutes.
black-ish (US: ABC)
A return to the style of the first episode, but with the tweaks of the second episode, resulting in a more comfortable family sitcom as background to some perceptive and funny - and cleverly told - perspectives on (upper middle class) black life. Anthony Anderson is still dreadful, but just about works, and there are some women-issues, but these are more confined to the male characters than intrinsic to the show’s outlook. Some actual laugh out loud moments, too. Another good episode and should be going on the recommended list.
First episode Second episode
The Code (Australia: ABC; UK: BBC4)
Just when everything should be getting more exciting, one of the leads goes for a road trip and all the excitement begins to happen in pop-up windows. The Code is proving ironically - given it’s Asperger’s lead - that while it’s expertly good at making the realm of computers exciting, when it comes to people, it doesn’t really know what to do. Particularly when it comes to people with Asperger’s. I think I’m going to drop out now, because apart from anything, Lucy Lawless hasn’t got much to do at all.
First episode Second episode
Forever (US: ABC; UK: Sky 1)
The Art of Murder
Slightly dull and a cop-out solution, but the usual mix of pathos and darker humour. Ioan didn’t die and wake up in water this week, just like last week. Seems like they’re downplaying that side of things.
First episode Third-episode verdict
Gracepoint (US: Fox; UK: ITV)
Considerably less engrossing than the first episode, as we enter the traditional shoal of red herrings that come with the murder-mystery territory and characters are developed to make them either plausible or implausible suspects. No one’s especially plausible as a human being, however, particularly the inexplicably British woman who runs the hotel (Sarah-Jane Potts). But the interactions between Anna Gunn and David Tennant are actually pretty good and the writing for them is above-average, the direction is beautiful, and although the portrayal of journalism is drearily typical, there’s enough conscious thought occurring that it beats out this week’s Madam Secretary’s portrayal.
Gotham (US: Fox; UK: Channel 5)
It’s clear from this third episode that the mish mash of styles is deliberate, with 70s, 80s and 90s design references in everything from the clothing to the computers. Deliberate though this now apparently is, it’s resulted in a very poor show - as well a very strange look with poor CGI, it repeatedly has ridiculous guest villains (this week’s being a vigilante who kills people by tying them to weather balloons). The music, which also cross-references other decades of TV, is still terrible. Jada Pinkett Smith is now hamming up everything something chronic. It does have redeeming qualities, and the Penguin side is all very good, particularly towards the end of this episode, and the Alfred and Bruce stuff is lovely, as indeed is all the relationship development. It’s just a shame that it’s surrounded by so much rubbish. I’ll probably be sticking around, though, because Sean Pertwee does make a great Alfred.
First episode Second episode
How To Get Away With Murder (US: ABC; UK: Universal Channel)
Smile, Or Go To Jail
Despite slowly upping the Scandal quotient and adding in twist after twist in an effort to make both the A- and B-plots more entertaining, and despite all the marvellous diversity on display, the show is fundamentally underpowered, with a young, dull cast, a weak foundation and plot implausibilities rather than any real smartness. I suspect there’s a season-long story planned, since there are hints dropped all over the place, but the show’s too silly to really keep my attention. So I’m out.
First episode Second episode
Legends (US: TNT; UK: Sky 1)
Wilderness of Mirrors/Identity
A great big two-parter to finish the season (and possibly the series, given it’s clocking under 1m viewers) that reveals that the show was basically AMC’s Rubicon, but made by TNT - i.e. with far less subtlety and far more explosions. Essentially a conspiracy theory airport paperback (unsurprising given the source material), it nevertheless was a step above that, gave Sean Bean a lot to do and occasionally remembered Ali Larter, but largely was forgettable and a little pointless. Still, if Murder In The First can get renewed, Legends might be, too.
Madam Secretary (US: CBS)
A third episode that makes the same mistakes as the second, by trying to rip stories from the headlines, but producing trite, pat solutions without insight and that don’t pick sides, so both Republican and Democratic perspectives are shown to be correct. Journalists are shown as idiots. Everything is flagged (“Great our own Snowden.” Gee, I wonder what this episode is about…). Ridiculously, the whole episode and a major international incident - in an effort to give Tim Daly something to do - revolves around what score he’s giving a student, and Téa Leoni is shown to be so clueless that she doesn’t consider even asking her ethics professor husband whether compromising his ethics is something he’s willing to do. So I’m out.
First episode Second episode
Manhattan Love Story (US: ABC)
In the Mix, On the Books, and In the Freezer
Are they exclusive or aren’t they? Unfortuantely, A To Z had already tried to answer that question last week in a (slightly) funnier, more interesting way, which meant Manhattan Love Story's attempt with its blander, stupider couple looked even worse. Desperately trying to meet the terms of its mission statement - to be both a love story and to talk about Manhattan - the show failed at pretty much every level, despite considerable effort. The second half was probably better than the first, and the office rivalry caused by the male protagonist’s family even raised a smiler or two, but if you were expecting anything innovative or heart-warming, Manhattan Love Story merely made vague waving motions in their direction.
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD (US: ABC; UK: Channel 4)
Making Friends and Influencing People
A bit of a Fitz-Simmons episode and overall not a bad one, with Elizabeth Henstridge doing well in her dual role (it’s fun to see her Sheffield accent getting slightly broader each episode). A nice Trainspotting gag, too, although isn't Skye too young for that to be a likely reference? But the new format and characters still need longer to bed in before they become properly enjoyable and the show is once more back to having no particular edge over any other action show and being too light and fluffy for adults, yet too dark for kids.
Scorpion (US: CBS; UK: ITV2)
After a bit of a cock-up with episode 2, in which the producers tried to give the show some plausibility and death, the show has happily returned to being just ludicrous enough to be enjoyable but not sensible enough to make the ludicrous unbearable. There’s enough characterisation to maintain interest but not too much. All the characters are getting a go. Scorpion is ultimately a guilty pleasure - it's utterly disposable and brainless, but there’s enough action for me not to care. Incidentally, in case you thought I’d forgotten about such matters, the secret Brit in the show is Elyes Gabel (World War Z).
First episode Second episode
Selfie (US: ABC)
Un-Tag My Heart
A slight reboot away from the first episode, with Eliza seemingly less interested in becoming less selfish for the sake of it, rather than because of image issues. It’s unlikely that Higgins would be anything in marketing if he didn’t understand Facebook at all, but it was fun and relatively accurate look at how Facebook affects people, in a way that hasn’t really been handled on TV. Also, the comments about LinkedIn were very accurate. But it feels like Gillan and Cho are the right cast for a different set of much funnier scripts, because ironically, I spent most of the episode checking my phone.
The recommended list
Although otherwise a fun, well executed episode, the stretches in logic are starting to show, as are the strains on characters required to fit them into what they need to be doing for the plot to work for an entire season. The Hong Kong flashbacks are stupid, too. However, Brandon Routh shows he’s quite versatile as Ray Palmer (The Atom, no less) and there’s a fun Chuck reference to match. Berlin from The Blacklist also shows up as the new Count Vertigo. But the show is somewhat dead to me after (spoiler alert)fridging Sara, who’d been the best thing about the second season by a country mile, just so they can make the returning Barrowman look more of a threat and to give a reason for Ra’s and Nyssa al Ghul to show up. No. No, no, no, no, no, no.
The Blacklist (US: NBC; UK: Sky Living)
Dr James Covington
Pleasingly, more like a first season episode than any of its preceding episodes, with all the strengths that brought. Even a guest appearance by Paul Reubens couldn’t ruin it. I think the lack of Berlin helped, given how many logical leaps that particular plot line requires.
Doctor Who (UK: BBC1; US: BBC America)
Kill The Moon
On one level, absolutely ludicrous, scientifically insane bobbins. On another, the kind of story only Doctor Who can do - a space horror fantasy that has a five-minute pause in the plot to have a philosophical and moral debate. The show’s big problem, however, is that Peter Capaldi is a great actor being forced to act more like Malcolm Tucker than Doctor Who, making it very, very hard for the audience to like him.
+ Mummy On The Orient Express
Having said that, Mummy On The Orient Express shows what the producers are trying to do - make the Doctor more likeable over time, while showing us how alien he is deep down and how he’s dealing with humans. Capaldi’s Doctor is slowing warming up - slowly - but an episode dedicated to Clara working out whether she likes the Doctor or not (and the fact we’re this far into the season and still deciding) is still a gamble. The murder plot was well handled and the 'hard light hologram’ was a nifty reference to Red Dwarf. Probably the best episode of the season so far.
Homeland (US: Showtime; UK: Channel 4)
The Drone Queen/Trylon and Perisphere
And so the reboot begins. Without Brodie, what will become of the show, you might think? Well, shed of its Prisoners of War baggage, something original, thoughtful and quite different, it turns out. Picking up the pieces left at the end of season three, season four moves Carrie and Saul into completely different places, while passing comment on drone strikes and radicalisation. Drone Queen is considerably more interesting than the follow-up episode, which dwells more on the few remaining vestiges of Brodie - cough, cough, Carrie’s baby, cough, cough - yet takes the characters on surprising diversions.
Plebs (UK: ITV2)
The show finally remembers it's a show about Romans, not just modern day lads in Rome, and gives us not only worship of gods, but also some homosexuality. While it’s both anachronistic and inaccurate - no way would a devout Roman girl kiss anyone in front of a shrine to a goddess and not expect a terrible punishment - it’s deftly handled, innovative and funny, which is why it can attract the likes of this week’s guest star, James Fleet.
- October 18, 2014: Third-episode verdict: Gracepoint (US: Fox; UK: ITV)
A review of the first three episodes of Fox/ITV's Gracepoint
- May 14, 2015: What's The CW going to be giving us in Fall 2015-16
A look at the three new series coming to The CW in 2015-16
- February 3, 2017: Review: Powerless 1x1 (US: NBC)
A review of the first episode of NBC's Powerless