What have you been watching? Including Gallipoli, The Slap (US) and The Doctor Blake Mysteries

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.

Time, I think, for another purge. “Why, Rob?” you may ask. “Lots of shows such as Constantine, Ground Floor, Spiral (Engrenages) and State of Affairs are finishing anyway, so why purge any more?”

Because it’s a good habit to get into, that’s why. Rather than simply watch whatever floats past out eyes, shouldn’t we examining everything, seeing if it’s still worth it, and abandoning anything that really isn’t serving a purpose it might once have? Hence, a purge.

Plus I’m away for a few days next week and there are some new shows starting soon, so I need to claw back a little time.

So dropping off the viewing list this week are the following:

Allegiance (US: NBC)
After the first episode’s cliffhanger ending, we have the most obvious cop-out imaginable that makes super-genius son look a complete idiot. And unless Hope Davis was mumbling for most of last week (possible) or I just wasn’t paying attention and didn’t notice it (possible), this week she seems to have acquired the world’s worst Russian accent. No more of this fresh hell for me, thank you.

Better Call Saul (US: AMC; UK: Netflix)
I wasn’t a fan of Breaking Bad, I’m not finding the first few episodes great so far. Maybe I’ll pick it up again later (thanks, Netflix). But right now, it’s not for me.

Fresh Off The Boat (US: ABC)
I was hoping Nahnatchka Khan’s magic was going to be enough to get the show improving over time. But despite a winning performance by Constance Wu, episode three proved to be laugh-free.

Gotham (US: Fox; UK: Channel 5)
If it hadn’t been a Batman prequel, I would have dropped it by now. But one good episode isn’t sufficient to maintain my interest and although we actually had the Penguin and the Riddler meet this week, it was yet again a brief flash of interest in an otherwise turgid episode.

Hiding (Australia: ABC)
Each hour-long episode probably has about enough plot and laughs for half an hour. Even then, when the show sets up a glorious opportunity to do something good – our ex-crim turned faux doctoral student in criminal psychology given a chance to lecture on what makes crims tick – it bottles it and tries to save up what morsels of goodness it does have for another episode.

Man Seeking Woman is hanging on a thread, too. But I won’t be giving up just yet.

I also tried two new mini-series this week.

Gallipoli (Australia: Nine)
The Gallipoli campaign of the First World War (its centenary is in April) is a strange affair. Rarely mentioned in the UK except perhaps as an example of yet another thing with which Winston Churchill was involved before the Second World War that he inevitably cocked-up, elsewhere in the world it’s of vital importance. An attempt by the Allies to take Constantinople that stalled in Gallipoli, it was the moment for Australia and New Zealand that they decided that being part of the British Empire wasn’t that great, while for the Turks, it was the spur that eventually led to their later independence under the leadership of Gallipoli hero Mustafa Kemal.

Based on the book of the same name, this nine-part Australian mini-series is effectively Australia’s Band of Brothers, attempting to take a balanced approach to the campaign, with Brits, ANZACs and Turks treated equitably by the producers, as the horrors and inevitabilities of war, coupled with human nature, force everyone into untenable positions that eventually results in untold slaughter.

The first two episodes are light on characterisation, largely sticking to re-enacting the war and focusing on one teenage soldier (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as he learns to kill and survive, although there are scenes involving famous figures, including British war reporter Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, here played by Gaius Baltar himself James Callis, and Mustafa Kemal (Yalin Ozucelik), although he’s not yet been identified by name.

It’s a very creditable, often moving piece of work, even having been filmed in Turkey, although the CGI (and some of the accents) are a bit flakey. Worth watching if you have an interest in history, particularly history that’s important to people in the rest of the world, and don’t mind a heavy emphasis on warfare.

The Slap (US: NBC)
A remake of the Australian mini-series of the same name, which in turn was based on the book of the same. A Greek-American family and friends all get together to celebrate the 40th birthday of Peter Sarsgaard. Except midway through the party, cousin Zachary Quinto hits a misbehaving child and all Hell breaks loose.

While this is obviously an attempt by NBC to put on a prestige series about a Very Important Topic, with a Very Important Cast (Uma Thurman, Thandie Newton, Brian Cox), it’s creatively flawed at pretty much every level. Some of that is the fault of the source material – assuming, of course, the original thought a 40-year-old man considering an affair with a teenager was in any way a good idea. But a lot of it’s down to casting. Melissa George, who reprises her role from the original, has minimal to do, but attempts by Sarsgaard, Cox and Quinto to demonstrate their Greekness result in some of the worst Greek yet put on screen, with Cox and Quinto often forced to use the time honoured “mumble, talk in someone’s ear or cover my face with my hand when I’m ‘speaking’ this language. Oh wait, let’s speak English for no good reason!” technique of ensuring that no one can hear them speaking Greek, lest we all find out how bad they are. Unfortunately, we do.

On top of this, we get Sarsgaard grouching about the fact a woman – a Latina, at that! Heavens! – got the job he wanted and the whole thing feels like some sad, middle-aged white man somewhere got a bit upset that he wasn’t allowed to do sh*tty things with impunity any more, and decided to write a bit of wallowing self-pity about what the world’s come to.

Episode two might be better, though.

After the jump, then, I’ll be looking at last week’s episodes of 12 Monkeys, 19-2, The Americans, Arrow, Banshee, The Blacklist, Constantine, The Doctor Blake Mysteries, The Flash, Forever, Fortitude, Ground Floor, Man Seeking Woman, Marvel’s Agent Carter, Spiral (Engrenages), State of Affairs and Suits.

I also watched a movie.

Valentine’s Day (2010) (iTunes)
Slightly tepid Gary Marshall (Pretty Woman) ensemble movie that attempts to Crash/Love Actually St Valentine’s Day, with various couples getting together and breaking up on Valentine’s Day as their various stories all intersect each other. Jamie Foxx, Julia Roberts, Bradley Cooper, Ashton Kutcher, Jennifer Garner, Jessica Biel, Queen Latifah, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Alba, Shirley Maclaine, Eric Dane and others are among the star-crossed lovers unfortunately trapped in LA, with not a single one of the stories plausible or even especially romantic, with only one or two surprises in the whole thing. The final two couple revelations are almost worth the prize of admission, though.

But last week was Greek week in London. Yes, students at two universities, KCL and UCL, stage a Greek drama or tragedy at this time every year – just for larks, KCL’s is in Ancient Greek with super-titling!

The Clouds (KCL: Greenwood Theatre)
Aristophanes’s comedies are always tricky boys to dramatise, not least because a lot of the humour only works in Ancient Greek, but because attempts to make them funny also tend to fall flat. So it’s to director Oliver Harrington’s credit that he managed to make The Clouds, in which a rustic farmer with debts decides to learn sophistry from Socrates so that he can talk his way out his problems, actually very funny. While some of the cast (and the supertitler…) struggled with the Greek a little, Harrington managed to mix the old and new, acting with singing, crude and sophisticated together in one show and for it all to work. I did get slapped by a phallus midway through, though.

Bacchae (UCL: Bloomsbury Theatre)
UCL have it a little easier, working in English, but The Bacchae was no less memorable, with Emily Louizou’s more timeless production managing to bring out the religious aspects of Euripides’ original play, to give us a truly frightening and charismatic Dionysus (Pavlos Christodoulou), who can bend reality to his will and make mortals do the unthinkable.

Shows that I’ve been watching but not really recommending

12 Monkeys (US: Syfy; UK: Syfy)
The Night Room
The plot advances a bit and we have some timey wimey fun suggesting that our hero might have Terminator-style started the whole thing himself. We also get some characterisation of future horror that thankfully manages to side-step “mad German scientist” stereotypes while still dishing up some juicy unpleasantness. Nevertheless, felt a little less than the sum of its parts, perhaps due in part to Amanda Schull not getting much to do.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First two episodes

Constantine (US: NBC; UK: Amazon Instant Video)
Waiting for the ManA slightly odd place to end, with few of the series plot threads properly explored, let alone tied off and concluded. The slight revelation at the end was not unexpected, but could be fun if played out into another season. Overall, a decent enough first season, but beyond a few areas of excitement, the show was basically just a better Grimm by the end. Still, at least there was a nod to Jamie Delano on an envelope. Is that better than cash?
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; Third episode

Forever (US: ABC; UK: Sky1)
The King of Columbus CircleSome dodgy science again (yes, if someone’s swallowed some polonium and is dying from radiation poisoning, all you have to do is pump their stomach and they’ll be right as rain), but a typically charming piece all the same that once again sees everyone realising how close to self-parody they’re treading
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; Third episode

Fortitude (UK: Sky Atlantic; US: Pivot TV)
Episode 3 (4)
Sky’s confusing the numbering a little by putting out the first two episodes as one, so this was technically the fourth not third episode. That little issue to one side, this was really just the show’s writers moving the show to the point where Stanley Tucci can take centre stage. Which is good, because in this episode, he didn’t get much to do and as a result, everything was a bit bland and uninteresting, beyond the lovely Icelandic locations. Bonus points to viewers who spotted when the snow started melting and they had to start importing it.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First three episodes

Man Seeking Woman (US: FXX) Sizzurp
Minka Kelly is the most beautiful woman in the world and Fred Armisen is the voice of a giant Japanese penis monster in a generally very funny episode. Bad points – the utterly messed up Greek myths at the beginning (Cupid the son of Zeus and Hera? Not even Eros? Even though he wasn’t either? Bah!).
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode

State of Affairs (US: NBC)
Here and Now
The novelty of having Matthew Lillard as a CIA director is nearly wearing off in a week of several twist reveals that make everyone look stupid. It’s a good twist, albeit one that was obvious, but the fact no one considered it makes them all look like idiots.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

The recommended list

19-2 (Canada: Bravo) Tribes
Another episode title that explains the episode’s sub-text, with various ‘tribes’ – different precincts of police officers, different classes of police officers, police officers and fire fighters, family and non-family – all ganging up together to fight off the others. Thoughtful work and a sad ending.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode; third episode

The Americans (US: FX)
Open House
At last! Someone finally does a decent bit of car surveillance (Spiral (Engrenages) take note). Other highlights included a spot of home dentistry. Unfortunately, the Russians at the embassy are feeling a bit fifth wheel at the moment.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode; third episode

Arrow (US: The CW; UK: Sky1) Canaries
There were multiple, multiple plots whizzing around this episode and surprisingly, some secrets were revealed at odd points with equally surprising results. Laurel’s just about growing on us but Caity Lotz’s return just highlights what the show has lost in the Canary department.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Banshee (US: Cinemax; UK: Sky Atlantic)
We Were All Someone Else Yesterday
Banshee continues to be its surprisingly thoughtful self, with the usual mix of ultraviolence and existential angst, with Hood and co on the warpath after last week’s carnage, with Hood contemplating in some poignant scenes what everyone else’s life would have been like in the events in the pilot episode hadn’t happened quite the way they had. The usual caveats about “how on earth did that person survive that?” apply and Lili Simmons is still the least convincing ex-Amish ever.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First two episodes; third episode

The Blacklist (US: NBC; UK: Sky Living)
Ruslan Denisov
An Iron Man reunion of sorts, with Shaun Toub and Faran Tahir swapping places to become good guy and bad guy in Uzbekistan of all places, with Red wading in on a pipeline deal. A slightly odd affair, with a return to some of the more overt politics as well as the scheming Red of the first season. Lizzie’s becoming irritating. Again.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

The Doctor Blake Mysteries (Australia: ABC; UK: BBC One/Alibi)
King of the Lake
The return of Australia’s premier drama (and mystery) series, with yet another poor person in Ballarat dying in mysterious circumstances, requiring Doctor Blake to use his scientific skills to find the culprit. Some decent period touches as usual, a bit more back story and a slight change in set-up (someone’s moving in with Doctor Blake), but nothing transformative. Not the most accurate bit of rowing I’ve ever seen on TV, mind.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode  

The Flash (US: The CW; UK: Sky 1)
The Nuclear Man
Victor Garber finally gets some proper screen time and lines, there’s an obvious revelation about Barry’s mum’s murder that everyone saw coming and a twist ending that maybe you didn’t see coming. Overall, some isolated good moments but set adrift within the rest of the episode.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Ground Floor (US: TBS)
The Proposal – Part 2And that was that. Cancelled. Oh well. Still, on the strength of this final episode, perhaps that’s a good thing, since it’s clear the writers have run out of steam. A happyish ending (almost) but a few weak jokes don’t make a comedy. Still, hopefully Briga Heelan will get to do something good next.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode

Marvel’s Agent Carter (US: ABC)
A Sin To ErrPeggy’s actions catch up with her, but there’s fun to be had before then. I want more Black Widow action, though.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First two episodes

Spiral (Engrenages) (France: Canal+; UK: BBC Four; US: Hulu)
Season 5, episodes eleven and twelve
The usual characteristic incompetence of the Laure’s band of brothers strikes again but all ends well for what was probably the most consistent and smoothly executed season so far. It’s feeling a little bit like old territory is being revisited with Karlsson, and Laure’s fate was somewhat predictable. But there’s some long-term planning going on with Roban (Chekov’s Nose Bleed?) and the general indicators are of a show that’s confident about its future and still got a lot of mileage.
When’s it airing near me?

Suits (US: USA Network; UK: Dave)
Fork In The Road
It’s a flashback episode which as usual marks the welcome return of some old characters and old hairstyles. Unfortunately, the episode generally detracts from the show’s entire premise – Mike, it turns out, had previously pretended to be a lawyer when he wasn’t, so he better hope he never bumps into those guys again or he’s in trouble. Still, at least Louis is becoming sensible again.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

  • Gareth Williams

    I saw Selma this week, which was a pretty solid biopic, and means for the first time ever I have seen all the Best Picture nominees for the Oscars. Look: here's them listed in order of how much I enjoyed them.
    1) Whiplash
    2) Imitation Game
    3) Boyhood
    4) The Theory of Everything
    5) The Grand Budapest Hotel
    6) Selma
    7) Birdman
    8) American Sniper
    Numbers 4-7 could be in order really, number 8 couldn't. Look: here is a list of film I enjoyed much more than American Sniper, in order.
    1) Gone Girl
    2) The Babadook
    3) Interstellar
    4) Nightcrawler
    5) The Lego Movie
    6) Foxcatcher
    7) Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    8) X-Men: Days of Future Past
    9) Guardians of the Galaxy
    10) Pride
    11) Frank
    12) Fury
    13) The Guest
    14) Calvery
    15) Captain America: The Winter Soldier
    16) Lucy
    17) The Boxtrolls
    18) A Most Wanted Man
    19) Muppets Most Wanted
    So, American Sniper is my twenty-seventh favourite film of the year after Muppets Most Wanted. I'll leave the list of films worse than American Sniper though. Bradley Cooper is really good in it though.

  • Impressive! I've only seen two of the eight and seven of the rest, which is bit pathetic.

  • Gareth Williams

    Can you tell I got a Cineworld Unlimited card for my last birthday? 😉

  • Ooh, nice! My nearest cinema is an Empire, which basically is so grotty they should pay you to go to it…

  • GYAD

    MARCO POLO – All plot, no drama. With puerile sex scenes, mediocre martial arts and a wooden lead.

    BOSCH – Like any other American cop drama, only with better cinematography and swearing.

  • I'm trying Bosch at the moment (I watched the pilot episode a while back, but I'm finding it hard to squaring the praise my mother-in-law heaps upon the books (and Titus Welliver) with the show itself, which is above-average at best, but largely pretty ludicrous, cliched and generic. Maybe episode three will be better…

    Marco Polo gets better by about the seventh episode, I found. But it's more Starz than Netflix in quality and never truly great: http://www.the-medium-is-not-e

  • Mark Carroll

    I'm all for purges.

    My son's watching early “Gotham”. It doesn't seem too bad, but hasn't yet managed to actually engage my attention when I've been in the room. Nice to see Donal Logue though. On similar lines, it wasn't until I read your review that I could remember what happened in “The Blacklist”: not a good sign.

    I finished off season four of “Falling Skies”. Goodness. The first two seasons were generally good, and we may have got rid of some irritating aspects at the end of this season, but, if I didn't know it's to end before long anyway, I'd have been considering dropping it. It's not the most plausible or subtle of shows. But I think I might have mentioned that last week.

    “The Walking Dead”'s still on when I'm in the room. I can't say it's much engaging me either. I'm really not sure it's had much new to offer for quite some time now. We're up to date with that and I fear it's taking itself too seriously.

    On a better zombie note, we watched and liked “Dead Set”. It was more about television that it was survivors or zombies, really, but it was short enough to adequately get away with that.

  • GYAD

    I totally agree; Bosch is utterly generic bar the production values.

    The first episode of Marco Polo was so terrible that you couldn't pay me to watch the second episode, let alone get to the seventh. I like Benedict Wong a lot and hope it opens doors for him…but what a mess of a show.

    In fact, like Indian Summers, it suffered from the same problems: poor character set-up, micro-scenes that lacked any drama, and an endless series of boring mid-shot/close-up shots with wide shots reserved for bad CGI vistas that look flat and tacky.

  • Gotham's okay as (older) kids entertainment but it's really not very good for adults. But then Batman.

  • Yeah, Benedict Wong's great, and I wouldn't recommend watching the show unless you have 10 hours or so you really can't fill up with anything else, but by the end of it, despite its flaws, it actually evens out enough that you don't regret having spent the time on it

  • Stuart Nathan

    A friend of mine described Gotham as 'The Wire, if it were written and directed by 17-year-olds and everyone was very stupid.'

    Confession: I really didn't like The Wire.

  • Yep. If I squint, I can see that. The Wire is aces, though.

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