It's "What have you been watching?", my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently and your chance to recommend anything you've been watching.
Well hello. How are you today? Have a nice break away from it all? That's what I like to hear.
Right, that's the small talk done. Let's talk telly.
So, I didn't watch an awful lot over the Christmas break, since I was actually in Germany and if you've ever watched German TV, you'll remember what a mistake that was (more about that tomorrow). But after the jump I'll be talking about the regulars I did watch, including the return of Doctor Who (briefly) and Sherlock (less briefly):
Doctor Who, Sherlock
Le Bureau des Légendes (The Bureau)
However, New Year's Day was on Sunday and Americans being quite efficient, there have already been two new shows to grace the screens. I've already reviewed Ransom (US: CBS) but on top of that there was:
The Mick (US: Fox)
A gender-swapped, race-swapped Uncle Buck that sees It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia's Kaitlin Olson playing the white trash grifter sister to a billionaire's wife who gets lumbered with looking after the kids when the rich couple go on the run following fraud investigations. If she sticks around, she gets to enjoy the lifestyles of the rich and famous. But she'll also have to deal with the bitchy neighbours, the bitchy daughter and the entitled son.
The show's created by John Chernin and Dave Chernin, the creators of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, so you shouldn't be too surprised to hear that it's funnier than you might think, more accurate about being poor than you might think and also based around people being mean too one another verbally and physically in order to get one up on everyone else. Olson's very good as the Mick(ey) of the title and everyone is marvellously bitchy, too.
Except that's not my idea of fun, so I probably won't stick with it.
I also watched a movie.
Mechanic: Resurrection (2016)
Sequel in name only to the actually not that bad 2011 Jason Statham remake of the Charles Bronson/Jan-Michael Vincent actioner, The Mechanic. Here, Mechanic: Resurrection throws pretty much all the first movie's nuance aside in favour of a sort of melange of The Transporter, The Transporter 2 and The Internecine Project. No longer the meticulous hit-man planner of yore, Statham is retired in Brazil until fellow East End child army survivor (don't ask) turned billionaire bad guy Sam Hazeldine (Peaky Blinders, Resurrection) blackmails him into returning to his old life by abducting new girlfriend Jessica Alba. Only if Statham kills three of Hazeldine's impossible-to-reach rivals in ways that look like accidents will Hazeldine release Alba. He says.
Foresaking The Mechanic (2011)'s character building and steely professionalism, Mechanic: Resurrection is an insultingly stupid piece of work that tries to give us glossy backdrops, non-stop Statham fight scenes, a bit of ultraviolence and a bit of casual racism as a substitute, hoping we'll like it better. Certainly, the stars seemed to have liked it, because Alba's former Afghanistan soldier turned teacher of Cambodian children is an insult to women, but she does get to go to lots of tropical islands; Tommy Lee Jones gets more of the same travel action, but perhaps was also swayed by the chance to play a socialist arms dealer with a James Bond-style underwater base and submarine using all the subtlety he deployed in Under Siege; Michelle Yeoh was purely there for the tropical islands and not to have to do anything athletic for a change, as far as I could tell.
To be fair, most Statham movies take the piss a little bit and Statham is as aware of that as anyone. Certainly, the fact he takes his shirt off in almost every other scene can't be accidental and I refuse to believe that the FX shots were anything other than deliberate tributes to Derek Meddings' model work in 1970s James Bond movies. There's a certain amount of tongue going into cheek here.
But the writing is still terrible and worst of all, almost none of the murders Statham is supposedly hired to make look like accidents would pass as such for more than a minute. Terrible.
Shows I've been watching but not recommending
Doctor Who (UK: BBC; US: BBC America)
The Return of Dr Mysterio
Doctor Who's back. Christmas special, hey? Mmmm, can't wait…
The thrill's not just there any more, is it? That said, The Return of Dr Mysterio was at least passable, with script writer/showrunner Stevie-baby Moffat apparently noticing that his son is now a teenager and probably needs a type of story different from the usual kiddie horror tropes. As a result, we're in new territory, with Justin Chatwin (Shameless (US), American Gothic) playing a Superman-like superhero who must help the Doctor save the Earth from some brain-swapping aliens while simultaneously wooing reporter Charity Wakefield (The Player, Mockingbird Lane).
As a commentary on superheroes, it's a little lacking, with Stevie's only point of reference apparently being Superman (1978). But it's still all quite sweet and fun for a change, and new companion Matt Lucas was relatively unannoying. I'll probably watch the new series when it arrives, but probably not with much enthusiasm. Gosh, aren't I a Grinch?
Sherlock (UK: BBC One; US: BBC America)
4x1 - The Six Thatchers
Somehow, Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch managed to squeeze the filming of another series of Sherlock into their schedules a while back and here we are watching the first results. Unfortunately, it's a Mark Gatiss piece, which as usual ensured it was both a mess and a pastiche. More unusually, though, it also ensured that none of the characters actually seemed like the characters we've got to know over the previous three series, with Sherlock Holmes being considerably less dickish and considerably stupider and less observant, for example. Little of the plot made sense, particularly the bits that required us to believe that Amanda Abbington was not just a crack spy but also a former mercenary, but also anything that required Mycoft Holmes to have observed something for several decades and not made appropriate deductions.
To be honest, were it not for Benedict Cumberbatch and the flashes of genius Stevie Moffat fills his episodes with, I'd have given up on Sherlock by now. I still might. But let's see what happens next Sunday.
Reviews: first episode
The recommended list
The OA (Netflix)
Hmm. Well this is a tricky one. So on the plus side, The OA is one of the most memorable shows I've seen it quite some time, enough to get it promoted to the recommended list this week. It's chock full of bizarreness and wackiness, ranging from interdimensional travel through to the power of interpretive dance. Its pacing ebbs and flows, but each episode invariably contains some lasting image or note of humanity that will stay with you for a long time, I suspect.
On the other hand, the show's ultimate revelations are left a little ambiguous and aren't really earned. One possible interpretation - the most literal - effectively means you've wasted your time with the previous seven or so episodes and that you should have been watching Room instead.
So as a whole, it's flawed but unique, worth watching as a piece of art and a musing on the power of storytelling - and of the need to tell stories - as well as of art, music, dance, nature, life, love, masculinity, femininity and more. But don't expect to leave it at the end feeling entirely satisfied with what you've seen.
Review: First episode; episodes 2-4
Shooter (US: USA; UK: Netflix)
1x7 - Danger Close
One of the things I particularly like about Shooter is that it goes to places 'the liberal media' never go to, unless it's to demonise them, such as gun shows. Never been to one, don't want to go to one and the very idea of them fills me with horror, but I can still understand why someone might go to one and how they might not just be for worrying sorts of people. So it was fascinating that this week's episode spent time at one and seemed authentic about it, like it's been writtten by someone who's actually been there, has some understanding of them and doesn't regard them as danger central. Which is novel.
What's also novel is the speed at which the show is getting through plot. Rather than having everything teased out for seasons at a time, we now know - probably - who the bad guy is (Dexter's Desmond Harrington), his motivation, et al and we're only at episode seven. Now that's impressive.
I'm also enjoying some of the character work as well, with supporting and main casts alike getting served well by the story. One nice touch in particular - Phillipe making a donation to a church even as he's stealing a car from its lot.
Review: First episode; third episode
Le Bureau des Légendes (The Bureau) (France: Canal+; UK: Netflix)
It's taken me a while, given that I'd binge-watched the first season of The Bureau and started watching the second in September, but that's what Peak TV is doing to my viewing habits - even the best of the best has to take a back seat until the backlog gets cleared.
And once again, season 2 was some of the very best TV I've been able to see in the past year. While the first two or three episodes switch things around for the characters a little too much for plausibility, the season finds its footing from that point onwards, ratcheting up the tension as the CIA, the Syrians and the French themselves start applying pressure to Malotru. There's also an operation to try to stop a French defector to ISIS, as well as the continuing operations in Iran with Phénomène, which finally start to make sense. No one's stupid, everyone's playing chess games within chess games, and it's all just so marvellous to watch in French, English, Arabic, Persian, Turkish and all the other languages in which the show is made. The Morocco filming also gives us a convincing stand-in for Iran.
I've made comparisons between The Sandbaggers and The Bureau before, but until now, that's simply been because of the two shows' realism and focus on office politics. But there's a moment of genuinely breathtaking real politik in episode 7 (spoiler:
The finale is a slight improvement on the first season's, even if there is a certain "Hein? Quoi?" about how someone survived a certain incident. Nadia's role in the entire season also feels much like Phénomène's did in the first season, being largely superfluous to requirements but clearly being set up for better things in the next season.
May that be with us soon. It's just brilliant television.