What have you been watching? Including Empire, Togetherness, Taken 3, Engrenages (Spiral) and Banshee

Posted on January 12, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

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.

Slowly, broadcasters have been emerging from the Christmas holidays and into the New Year, like so many blinking cave dwellers faced with the removal of their entrance-blocking rocks. That means not only do we have some exciting (and not so exciting) new shows to deal with, we also have the return of some old favourites.

In the past week, I’ve reviewed VH1’s Hindsight and ABC’s Marvel’s Agent Carter, but I’ve managed to give a couple of other shows a glance over as well.

Empire (US: Wednesdays, 9/8c, Fox)
Compared to the last mainstream black show about hip hop moguls – Starz's depressingly exploitative and unpleasant Power – Fox’s Empire should be a masterpiece. It could well be, in fact. It’s created by Lee Daniels (Monsters Ball, Precious, The Butler) and Danny Strong (best known as Jonathan from Buffy The Vampire Slayer but he’s also the Emmy and Golden Blobe award-winning writer of Recount, Game Change, The Butler and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay [parts one and two]). It’s based on King Lear and The Lion In Winter. And it stars Terrence Howard (Iron Man, Hustle & Flow) and Taraji P Henson (Person of Interest). Howard is a former drug dealer who’s diagnosed with ALS and has to work out how to portion out his kingdom to his three sons.

Sounds quite good, doesn’t it, apart from the drug dealer bit, and it was certainly a whole lot better than Power. Unfortunately, within about five minutes, I began to realise there was going to be a whole load of R&B and hip hop assaulting my eardrums so I bowed out. I said no to Nashville, I’m saying no to Empire. Tough on music, tough on the causes of music, me.

Togetherness (US: Sundays, 9.30pm, HBO; UK: Mondays, 10.35pm, Sky Atlantic, starting tonight)
Most HBO comedies barely warrant the title, and for about the first 15 minutes of this ‘comedy’ from Steve Zissis and Jay and Mark Duplass, you get pretty much the same old, same old HBO. Brett (Mark Duplass) and Michelle (Melanie Lynskey) are married but their relationship is struggling, with Lynskey preferring diddling herself with 50 Shades of Grey to having sex with Brett. Meanwhile, Brett’s friend from High School, Alex (Zissis) is being evicted and being fat and balding, his acting career isn’t really going anywhere, so he moves in with Brett and Michelle. At the same time, Michelle’s sister, Tina (Amanda Peet), is breaking up with her boyfriend and ends up moving in with them all, too.

For half the episode’s run, this feels like a standard #WhitePeoplesProblems affair, a somewhat introspective look at actors struggling in LA, marriages failing and the difficulties of dating when you’re older that we’ve seen innumerable times elsewhere. The idea that schlubby Zissis will eventually hit it off Peet, once named by People magazine as being one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world, prompts an almost Pavlovian eye rolling, too. However, once Peet and Zissis meet, everything becomes a lot more fun and it actually starts to become a comedy at last. It’s still a bittersweet piece about people disappointed by life and not getting what they want, even when they think they have, so doing what they can to enjoy themselves, but it’s a lot more likeable than it seemed to be at first.

Still in the viewing queue because it’s a mini-series is the first episode of the Canadian Book of Negroes. But after the jump, I’ll look at the latest episodes of Banshee, Cougar Town, Elementary, Forever, Gotham, Ground Floor, The Librarians, Scorpion, Spiral (Engrenages) and State of Affairs, as well as, for no well explored reason, Person of Interest. One or perhaps even more than one is getting dropped this week – can you guess which one?

But first, movies!

Warrior (2011) – Netflix
Tom Hardy is an ex-marine; Joel Edgerton is a high school physics teacher. They’re brothers and former wrestling champions trained by their abusive alcoholic father (Nick Nolte). However, for different reasons, they end up fighting in the same MMA competition. Will they end up facing off in the final, maybe? Hmm. Despite the somewhat inauspicious plotting, Warrior is nevertheless actually a very good sports movie, shot Friday Night Lights style and managing to resist the obvious revelations or even a pat ending. The MMA’s a little basic, but still genuinely exciting. Frank Grillo (Captain America 2, Kingdom) pops up as a trainer, but does surprisingly little fighting.

Taken 3 (2014) - down 't cinema
Surprisingly, given the horror story that was Taken 2 and the fact Olivier “Taxi Brooklyn” Megaton is back directing, actually a much better affair than the second entry in the series was. Liam Neeson’s back but he’s in the US and no one’s been taken in this time, with Neeson framed for a murder and he having to escape from the law while protecting his family and finding out who really did the crime. The script by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen touches on all the better aspects of Taken, with Neeson using some of his special set of CIA skills that don’t involve punching. Maggie Grace gets a lot to do for a change, too, albeit forced to play someone who’s about 10 years younger than herself. That’s the good side and everyone seems to enjoy that, even Neeson, although he seems a little tired and in need of a nice sit down and a Bovril at times.

True, the casting could be better, with most of the cast composed of people you’ll recognise from minor roles on TV shows, including Banshee and The Last Ship. Forest Whitaker heads up the cops, but he spends the entire time playing with a rubber band. None of this would be insurmountable, though.

But where it all goes to epic pants – literally at one point – is the action scenes. Even if Megaton, who’s an otherwise perfectly good director, could actually shoot an action scene in a way that was engrossing rather than soporific, it’s as though neither he nor the rest of the cast could be bothered. Every action scene might as well have been replaced with <<INSERT CONTRACTUALLY AND GENRE-OBLIGATED SCENE HERE>>. Ridiculous things happen and no one can even be bothered to explain how Neeson escaped them, lots of the best bits of Taken are reused and whenever something even slightly exciting is about to happen, the camera either looks away or some very bad CGI kicks in. Decent script – shame about the direction.

Shows that I've been watching but not really recommending

Last night’s Galavants are still in the viewing queue. But I have watched…

Cougar Town (US: TBS)
American Dream Plan B
The most amiable, laid back and generally low-achieving sitcom on TV returns with an episode that’s essentially the writers imagining that some thinly veiled insight into their lives as new parents is actually funny. Which it is at times, with quite an amusing Matrix scene for example. But it feels like a show that doesn’t quite know why it’s bothering any more. Still, just to prove my point from last week, Breega Heelan from Ground Floor returned for a cameo, as part of an entertaingly meta point about how they entirely dropped her storyline.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; Third episode

Forever (US: ABC; UK: Sky1)The Wolves of Deep BrooklynAfter a little time off because of the results of the last episode, everyone wants Ioan Gruffudd back at work and he has to help investigate the death of a young stockbroker. Generally, more in the general, generic style of Forever’s usual procedurals, but enough arc and enough goodwill now generated by the relationship between the two leads that it felt better than the usual. Plus Daniel Baldwin was in it, which was moderately odd.
When’s it airing near me? Reviews: First episode; Third episode
Gotham (US: Fox; UK: Channel 5)Rogue’s Gallery
In which Jim Gordon explores why Arkham Asylum is so bad at keeping its criminals in check. An attempt to create a new big bad for the series who isn’t entirely ridiculous just about pays off and Morena Baccarin’s arrival as Bat-fave Leslie Thompkins would normally be welcomed, were it not for the fact that Gotham has become something of an acting black hole, sucking acting ability out of those whose skills would normally never even be questioned. Watching it, you just wondered if anyone thought they were in something other than the old Adam West Batman series.
When’s it airing near me? Reviews: First episode

The Librarians (US: TNT; UK: Syfy)
…And The Fables of Doom
Probably the best episode so far, with plenty of family fun and some clever moments as fairy tales start coming to life. But I think it’s time to give up on it. A show that’s good for families and kids, not so good for grown-ups.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First and second episode; Third episode

Person of Interest (US: CBS; UK: Channel 5)If-Then-Else
A one-time drop-by from me, since a review on the AV Club made it sound quite good. Which it was, with a Run, Lola, Run!-style piece that gave us an insight into how The Machine ‘thinks’. But largely silly in all the ways that made me give up on it in the first place and not even the big shock at the end made me think I was missing out on much.
When’s it airing near me?Reviews: First episode; Third episode

Scorpion (US: CBS; UK: ITV2)
Kill Screen
Ludicrous bobbins but not of the good kind where Walter shows a small child how to go onto that popular ‘dark web’, which is of course entirely free of paedophiles as everyone knows, where a new computer game is being tested but which apparently has the schematic of CIA safe house built in. Just daftness on a stick, but nothing that would make you think “This is fun”, unfortunately. It might be time to phase this one out.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode

State of Affairs (US: NBC)
Bellerephon
Decent attempts to recreate the Middle East and to give Katherine Heigl something to do apart from sit in offices and on park benches somewhat pay off, even if it’s at the expense of plausibility. But a general decent bit of spy fun, ruined largely by someone saying ‘read the book’ in response to someone claiming that Perseus rode Pegasus in Greek myth. They know not of what they speak…
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

The recommended list

Banshee (US: Cinemax; UK: Sky Atlantic)
The Fire Trials
The welcome return of Cinemax’s premier show is a welcome return to thoughtfulness, interspersed with the usual massively over the top Banshee shenanigans. The show doesn’t try to revert everything back to normality with this episode, instead showing how Hood and indeed criminality effectively causes everything around him to become worse, with everyone apart from him in an epic mess. It also sets up this season’s fresh new plotlines: a new stash that needs stealing, but with some impossible guards to defeat; and the fighting that’s about to begin between all the different ethnic groups in Banshee. As well as some great stunts and some decent direction for a US show, there’s also the usual mind-blowing moments, including some Amish inbreeding, Hood’s parental guidance to his daughter and the return of two really annoyed Native Americans. It’s on the recommended list for a reason.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First two episodes; third episode

Elementary (US: CBS; UK: Sky Living)
The Eternity Injection
A somewhat daft mystery that involves minimal deduction as always. The episode’s main plot point however was to examine Sherlock’s sobriety. My main question is: how much longer will I keep watching this for, given that it’s so minimally related to the Sherlock Holmes books, it’s a wonder they haven’t renamed it Cougar Town, instead. One more week and if it’s not picked up and worked out what it’s doing with its life, I’ll be quitting.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Ground Floor (US: TBS)
Mano-a-Mansfield
Not an especially funny episode, but one where everything is finally reset back to normal, with the characters returning to their normal roles. Let’s see what the producers do with them all next week.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode

Spiral (Engrenages) (France: Canal+; UK: BBC Four; US: Hulu)
Season 5, episodes one and two
I know I normally do episode-by-episode reviews of this, but unfortunately, I’m not going to have the time, so like Doctor Who before it, I’m adding Spiral to the What Have You Been Watching? crew. It’s a shame because this is already shaping up to be the best season so far of our best foreign-language import. We have the cops investigating a woman and daughter drowned in a canal, while stealing with the death of Sami last year; we have Karlsson for once on the side of angels, working with Roban to stamp out police corruption and generally happy now she’s with Pierre; Pierre on the other hand is becoming more like Karlsson and becoming less happy for it; and even the cops’ dodgy boss is getting with the programme. It’s all great plotting and wonderful characterisation, even if the attitude towards the mentally ill shown by everyone, including doctors, is appalling. And my, haven’t Sarkozy’s legal reforms had an effect? If you’re not watching, you should be.
When’s it airing near me?

Related entries

  • January 26, 2015: What have you been watching? Including Backstrom, Young Drunk Punk, 19-2, Spiral and Galavant
    A review of the TV and films I watched in the week ending January 26 2015
  • March 4, 2015: What TV's hot in Lisbon right now?
    What’s big on Portuguese TV right now?
  • April 27, 2015: Review: Happyish 1x1 (US: Showtime)
    A review of the first episode of Showtime’s Happyish

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