What have you been watching? Including The Grand Tour, Hypernormalisation, Doctor Doctor and Hyde & Seek

Posted on November 21, 2016 | 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. There's also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I've reviewed ever. 

Ironically, just as I've started catching up with everything again, we're about to enter the lull in US TV marked by Thanksgiving December. That means that this week will probably be marked by ventures into Internet TV again, including, I hope, a return to Le bureau des légendes (The Bureau). But always expect the unexpected, since there'll be a few new shows popping up, I'm sure. Hell, Australian Community TV just debuted the six-part ghostly Sonnigsburg, so I'm sure there'll be something coming along I wasn't expecting.

Elsewhere this week, I reviewed Good Behavior (US: TNT) and Shooter (US: USA; UK: Netflix). We've still not got round to watching any more of The Crown, Westworld or Humans, and I've not yet made a start on Y Gwyll, so that means that after the jump, we'll be looking at the latest episodes of Ash vs Evil Dead, Chance, DC's Legends of Tomorrow, Designated Survivor, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, Falling Water, Frequency, Good Behavior, The Great Indoors, Lethal Weapon, Lucifer, People of Earth, Supergirl, Timeless and Travelers, as well as the season finales of Doctor Doctor and Hyde and Seek. One show's getting promoted, at leat one show's getting dropped - can you guess which?

But first, as well as a film review, a slight diversion from TMINE's normal remit…

The Grand Tour (Amazon)
TMINE's dedication to scripted shows wasn't always so pure, back in the day. That meant I used to cover shows that included Top Gear. That stopped a while ago, in part because of the shift in focus caused by there not being enough time in the world to watch unscripted as well as scripted TV, but also in part because I stopped watching Top Gear - it had simply stopped doing anything new, and I was bored.

Following Jeremy Clarkson's leaving the BBC, James May and Richard Hammond in his wake, the Top Gear trio signed up with Amazon to do a new show. What manner of show it would be we didn't know, because Clarkson allegedly had a non-compete clause prohibiting him from doing another car show. Given the name, The Grand Tour, maybe it was just going to be a bunch of the old Top Gear travel documentaries.

Anyway, for old time's sake, I decided to 'tune in' today to see what The Grand Tour was like.

Guess what. It's… a car show. More so, it's Top Gear again, just a bit swearier and a bit glossier. More or less every feature of Top Gear has, in fact, moved over to The Grand Tour (note the reversed initials in the title), with just a few changes.

For starters, in its first episode at least, it simply relocates its studio setting from an old hangar in SW London to a tent in the Mojave desert, with each subsequent episode relocating the show to another part of the world (Johannesburg and Barbados have been promised).

From inside the tent, surrounded by a native audience, the trio then do the same bickering routine as always, with plenty of races with supercars to break that up. However, everything is done on an Amazon budget, with computer graphics, travel to Portugal for races, et al. And where an element might have got copyright-infringingly close to Top Gear, the show makes changes to the format. Gone is the Stig, replaced by… The American, a tame Nascar driver, for example, and since they can't use the Top Gear track to test cars any more, they've had to use a different one.

As I said, the reason I gave up on Top Gear was that it stopped innovating. Unsurprisingly perhaps, it's all the changes, rather than the keepers from the Top Gear format, that are the best bits of The Grand Tour and remind you how good the former was before it started coasting. The celebrity guest spot was great; the new parts of the track are great; the more scripted aspects of the audience interactions are great; the celebrity guests spot was great.

Where it was at its most dull was when it was Jeremy Clarkson just driving around in a supercar to amuse himself. Nearly nodded off at that point I did.

As a show, Top Gear was at its best when it was all three of the hosts together in an engine-driven bickerfest travelogue in the style of Three Men In A Boat. The fewer of the hosts together and the more it was about cars, the less interesting it became. If the producers of The Grand Tour remember this and remember not to rest on their laurels, The Grand Tour could become what Top Gear once was - a weekly fixture in our house.

Hypernormalisation (iPlayer)
I'd already given you the bingo card, but I've now had a chance to watch this latest Adam Curtis documentary about why the world is the way it is. Impeccably timed to arrive in a post-Brexit, post-Trump world, it shows how attempts to create stability without politics has given us an era in which everything seems real, nothing seems true and no one wants to do anything about it through politics for fear that the boat will be rocked in ways no one can predict.

Clocking in at just under three hours, Hypernormalisation gives us all manner of brilliant and astonishing documentary footage, but is still the least persuasive of Curtis' oeuvre so far. Ironically, given that Curtis critiques our need for simplistic answers to complex problems, his argument is probably too simplistic to be true. But it still takes us to exciting thoughts and considerations about the world that are probably close to the truth but which nevertheless are just hints at the real truth - if such a thing now exists.

All the same, simply through reminding us of all manner of things that have long since been forgotten about, as well as of the fact that what's normal now wasn't always, it's well worth a watch.

Chance (US: Hulu)
1x6 - The Unflinching Spark
The show's at the point now that too much is happening coincidentally for it not to be chance and it dropped at least two huge hints this episode that maybe Hugh Laurie is starting to realise this. But this is TV and it's entirely possible, particularly with the ending of this episode, that it's all going to turn out to be very, very silly and all happening by chance. All the same, if it isn't chance, I still can't quite work out the motivation for it all, which might turn out to be very, very silly, too. Of course, given Laurie's job and other big hints, maybe it's all in his head…
Review: First three episodes

DC's Legends of Tomorrow (US: The CW; UK: Sky 1)
2x6 - Outlaw Country
The return of Jonah Hex, a chance for the Atom to become the Atom again and a slightly naff new costume is revealed in a filler episode that still manages to advance the overall season plot. And then, of course, we have the lead in to the Huge ArrowVerse Crossover, as I believe is the official title.
Reviews: First episodefourth episode

Designated Survivor (US: ABC; UK: Netflix)
1x7 - Traitor
This is on the verge of being dropped, thanks to outright silliness starting to creep in. The show's big problem is that although its set-up is predicated around everyone in Congress being killed bar Kiefer Sutherland, it might as well have been everyone in government, given how inept and amateur the FBI and other agencies are being right now. On top of that, there are the usual ABC soapy background stories to deal with in each episode, too. I get the feeling that I won't be coming back to this after the Christmas break, but let's see what the episodes before the holidays are like before I decide for sure.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (US: BBC America; UK: Netflix)
1x5 - Very Erectus
Something of a pause as the various pairings have heart-to-hearts and explain their motivations to each other. Oddly, despite the crudeness of the technique, it's some useful character development that manages to avoid cliches. We also finally get that Dirk Gently origin story I was worried about and again, oddly, it's not that bad and makes the otherwise insufferable Dirk a bit more tolerable.
Review: First episodethird episode

Doctor Doctor (Australia: Nine)
1x9-1x10
A weird cliffhanger appears out of thin air, before even more weirdly being solved before the end of the second episode, leaving almost no reason to watch the next season other than because you like the characters. But the conclusion of the Hugh/dying best friend storyline was very well handled at least, with some top acting from Rodger Corser.

The show's now one of the most popular in Australia, although given that Doctor Hugh is now halfway through his probation period, theoretically, he shouldn't be back for more than one more season - I imagine they'll come up with further reasons to keep the show returning, though. For myself, I found it enjoyable in the same way I did 800 words, but the show's not really got a USP, beyond Corser, so I'll probably not be back for season 2. As a season, relaxing, feel good but not a must-see.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Falling Water (US: USA)
1x6 - The Swirl
The show finally decides to start providing some concrete explanations for things, which are 50% nonsense conspiracy theory and 50% excitingly innovative, taking us nicely into Dreamscape, rather than Sense8 territory, thank the gods. Usual boilerplate - everything in the dream world great, everything in the real world dull - but with some really top, mind-blowing dream sequences, this time, and at least our heroes are starting to meet up a bit more in the real world, too. Plus French girl can actually act… but only in French, it turns out. 
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Frequency (US: The CW; UK: Netflix)
1x7 - Break, Break, Break
More of a focus on Mekhi Phifer's character this time round, and everyone's a little less grim than before. The fact that our heroes are closing in on the baddie at last is also promising. But the show desperately needs a bit more of the time-travel intimacy of the first episode if it's going to get renewed.
Reviews: First episode

Good Behavior (US: TNT)
1x2 - Only the Best for Mrs Diaz
I wasn't overly impressed by the first episode but I thought I'd check out the second episode, now that it's established its formula. Basically trying to do sexy conwoman/hitman fun but badly, since our heroine is a bit dense and doesn't seem to realise that hitmen kill people for a living. Also, the plot literally didn't make sense. Again. So I think that's it for me.
Reviews: First episode

The Great Indoors (US: CBS; UK: ITV2)
1x4 - You Don't Know Jack
Not a hugely funny episode, perhaps due to the absence of Stephen Fry (who looks very uncomfortable in the opening titles, BTW), but possibly that's through design, since it's largely about fleshing out all the characters, making the millennials a little more heterogeneous, while giving Joel McHale a bit more back story. And surprisingly, it's still feeling like a show that has its feet in both camps and knows a bit about its subject matter. Interesting that the show went with 90s, rather than 80s nostalgia, too, despite McHale's age. Is anyone nostalgic for the 90s?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Lethal Weapon (US: Fox; UK: ITV)
1x7 - Fashion Police
Continuing last week's theme of 'women are weak, stupid and in need of rescuing; foreigners are dangerous and up to know good' but still managing to do that with a good deal of charm. We also have the introduction of (another) possible romantic interest for Riggs (not Lorna Cole), but the show's still admirably pressing on with its commitment to Riggs' suicidal qualities, leading to some genuine pathos. I'm also liking that the show is now focusing on actual rather than CGI stunts.
Review: First episodethird episode

Lucifer (US: Fox; UK: Amazon) 
2x8 - Trip to Stabby Town
As usual, all the good things are in the season story arc, rather than the individual criminal investigation; unusually, the two actually married up quite well this week. Lauren German has almost found a personality, too.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

People of Earth (US: TBS)
1x4 - Past, Present and Future
Another origin story for a member of the support group, but as usual, the interest comes from the workplace comedy of the aliens, which gives us the proper laughs. I'm not sure if this a keeper, but I'm liking all the bits without humans enough to keep going with it for now.
Reviews: First three episodes

Supergirl (US: The CW; UK: Sky1)
2x6 - Changing
A combination of the arrival of Superman villain Parasite in a tribute to The Thing with a surprisingly nuanced and tasteful coming out for one of the characters led to the best episode in a while. But that's still a low bar for Supergirl, which still has never really produced anything I'd call excellent, unfortunately.  
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Timeless (US: NBC; UK: E4)
2x6 - The Watergate Tape
A huge plot dump of an episode, in which everybody's motivation is explained, big secrets revealed and Malcolm Barrett actually gets to do something for a change, even if he still has his legal obliged Black History Month lecture to deliver. All a bit daft, of course, but how could it not have been? The show also really needs to work on its fight scenes, because at the moment, they're embarrassing.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

The recommended list

Ash vs Evil Dead (US: Starz; UK: Virgin On Demand)
2x8 - Ashy Slashy
A return to some of the themes (if you can call them that) of The Morgue, but with diminishing returns. Some top moments of stupidity, though, but a general miserableness tarnished the show's trademark silliness. A surprising ending, too - it's notable how the supporting characters are now actually worth caring about.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

The Flash (US: The CW; UK: Sky 1)
3x6 - Shade
And the season's big bad is finally revealed and it turns out to be… someone very fast. Gosh. Who saw that coming? 
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Hyde and Seek (Australia: Nine)
1x7-1x8
While the show ended up with a conspiracy theory angle that it really didn't need had it stopped at episode 5/6, this wasn't as bad as I feared it might be and the detour through neo-Nazidom made a change. A slightly anticlimactic ending, but the show managed to steer a good course between hokey and smart, avoiding most thriller clichés, while giving us exotic locations and probably the most interesting Kiwi (Emma Hamilton) in non-Kiwi TV history. If a second season does materialise, it will have been well deserved.
Review: First two episodes

Travelers (Canada: Showcase; UK: Netflix)
1x5 - Room 101
Despite almost being a 'bottle episode', the show earns itself a promotion, following five really strong episodes. Room 101 managed to maintain that difficult balancing act of humour, grittiness, science-fiction and humanity that have characterised Travelers so far, combining all of that with hints at all the show's deeper and longer-term aspects. I'm particularly liking how they reveal in little moments the differences between all the team members' skillsets, as well as between them and their hosts. And top deduction by Eric McCormack's character, too.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

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