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.
Once again, we’re in that slightly fallow period between seasons, where almost nothing new has started yet and everything old has already finished or has only one episode left. That’s why most of this week’s reviews have been previews:
Fortunately, though, there’s not been nothing at all on and after the jump, I’ll look at the few regulars that are still on or that have just returned: Hand of God, Impastor, The Last Ship and You’re The Worst.
But the big holes in the viewing schedule that are still to be filled meant that I’ve actually been able to watch a whole new series in one go:
I didn’t quite manage to watch it in one weekend, but since tassiekev recommended it last week, I made a start on it on Friday and had got through all 10 episodes by Tuesday.
Slipping under most people’s radars like so many Cessnas heading into Miami from Colombia during the 1980s, Narcos is a dramatisation of the story of Pablo Escabar’s reign as a drugs lord, starting from the late 1970s when he sees the potential in exporting new drug cocaine into the US before making its way through the events of the 80s and early 90s that rocked Colombia and eventually other parts of the world.
Initially, the show feels like GoodFellas, with DEA agent Boyd Holbrook providing a helpful voiceover that’s at times comedic. But while it does occasionally jump around in time, the show quickly becomes almost documentary-like, with little of the standard tropes of drama: there’s no strong narrative drive, no “good guys win, bad guys lose” and no themes illustrated by suitably balanced sceens.
Instead, Narcos retells the events in all the real-world's messiness, showing just how much of a war was going on in Colombia in the 80s, a war almost reminiscent of the IRA’s similar campaigns in England at the time. Perhaps the show's only real directorial flourish is the use of the original photographs and footage from events, rather than mock-ups featuring the actors, whenever they appear in the story. And Holbrook’s narration quickly becomes hardened and surprisingly anti-Reagan for a show that’s made in a time when half of America seemingly reveres the former president in the same way they revere Jesus.
Like a lot of other Netflix shows (eg House of Cards, Marco Polo, Daredevil), Narcos revolves around one absolutely stonking central performance – in this case, Wagner Moura, who plays Escobar. It’s a mesmerising affair that manages to convey Escobar’s friendliness, ambitions and his capability for extreme violence that makes him seem like a modern day Kublai Khan, despite being perpetually clad in tatty shirt and trainers.
What’s even more extraordinary about Moura’s performance is this is effectively Netflix’s first Spanish language show, with about 80% of the dialogue in Spanish, and Moura is Brazilian and didn’t speak any Spanish until six months before production started. The show’s come in for some criticism from Colombians, because despite being lavishly shot in Colombia and the rest of the cast being almost universally Spanish speakers, they’re either not Colombian or not doing the right accents. Nevertheless, it’s to Netflix’s credit that it’s making something so heavily subtitled because the story demands it.
With Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones)’s more nuanced DEA agent providing a strong counterpoint to both Holbrook and Moura, this is Netflix’s best new show in quite some time and heartily recommended. Season two’s already been commissioned, in case you were worried.
Shows I’m watching but not recommending
Hand of God (Amazon)
I wasn’t the world’s biggest fan of the pilot episode of this dark, gritty, gritty darkness, in which judge Ron Perlman begins to believe he’s being told what to do by God – God’s advice largely consisting of how to avenge the rape of his daughter-in-law and the resulting attempted suicide of his son, who’s now in a coma. This involves recruiting other like-minded people (Garret Dillahunt), killing cops, burying bodies and more, all while keeping up his corrupt politicking and scheming on behalf of best mate and mayor, Andre Royo (The Wire). Pretty much everything I said about the pilot still stands, although what narrative drive the show managed to find by the end of the pilot had disappeared as soon as the second episode hit, resulting in a show that knows how to be bleak, miserable and sweary, but which doesn’t actually know what story it’s trying to tell or what it’s trying to do by telling it.
I managed to get up to episode four before I decided that I’d had enough for now at least, since I wasn’t enjoying it and I couldn’t really see what I was getting out of the experience. However, I don’t rule out going back for subsequent episodes at some point, just to see if the show works out what it’s doing in life by the end of the season.
Review: First episode
Impastor (US: TV Land)
1x9 - Flings and Arrows
A somewhat disappointing affair, with some pretty weak comedy and a lot less on the ongoing darker side of the show, too, which all added up to something attempting farce but not really knowing how to pull it off. The show is wisely trying to give David Rasche more to do, but the usual smarts in terms of both religion and gayness just weren’t there. Let’s see if they can recover by the finale.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode
The recommended list
The Last Ship (US: TNT; UK: Sky1)
2x13 - A More Perfect Union
After the cracker of an episode last week that more or less ended all the plot threads of the season, this week’s finale was more a rounding off of the remaining threads and the setting up of the show for the next season. All the same, plenty of action scenes and excitement and more true American patriotism to bring a tear to your eye. One big cliffhanger, of course, and (spoiler alert) given how often Rhona Mitra gets written out of/asks to be written out of shows (eg Strike Back), it wouldn’t surprise me if her character really is dead, but it could go both ways. All in all, a surprisingly good second season that actually improved on the first, with some genuinely great moments of TV. I’m already missing it.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode Third episode
You’re The Worst (US: FXX)
2x1 - The Sweater People
Our likeable, but fucked up couple return, having moved in together, but resolutely trying to avoid losing the excitement and magic from their relationship and turning into sweater people, despite now getting a bit too old to be partying. For some reason, the episode didn’t quite have that je ne sais quoi that made the first season seem so brilliantly daring and exciting, and the English stuff just didn’t work at all, but still full of some laugh out loud moments, as well as some gasp-inducingly audacious ones, too. Lovely stuff.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode
- October 20, 2015: Review: The Romeo Section 1x1 (Canada: CBC)
A review of the first episode of CBC's The Romeo Section
- May 9, 2016: What have you been watching? Including Marseille, Captain America: Civil War and The Americans
The TV I watched in the week ending Monday 9th May 2016
- July 1, 2016: Review: Queen of the South 1x1-1x2 (US: USA Network)
A review of the first episode of USA's Queen of the South
- September 5, 2016: What have you been watching? Including En Immersion, Neviditelní, Gomorra and The Collection
A review of the TV, films and theatre I saw in the past two weeks ending Monday 5th September
- September 12, 2016: What have you been watching? Including Atlanta, Narcos, The Last Ship and Mr Robot
A review of the TV, films and theatre I saw in the week ending Monday 12th September