What have you been watching? Including Supergirl, Halt and Catch Fire and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow

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. 

We’re now nearing mid-Fall season/mid-Spring season (delete according to the hemisphere of your choice), which means there’s few new shows heading our way, except in the topsy space-time continuum that is the Internet, where blink and you’ll miss another new show arriving of a Friday. That means I’ve nearly caught up with the backlog.

This week, I should have reviews of Graves (US: Epix), Eyewitness (US: USA), Divorce (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic), Shoot The Messenger (Canada: CBC), and maybe Deep Water (Australia: SBS; UK: BBC Four), too.

I’ll also be passing third-episode verdicts on Westworld (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic), Frequency (US: The CW; UK: Netflix), No Tomorrow (US: The CW), Timeless (US: NBC) and maybe Hyde & Seek (Australia: Nine).

Outside gambles: reviews of Crisis in Six Scenes (Amazon), Goliath (Amazon), Easy (Netflix), Haters Back Off (Netflix), Offseason (Amazon) and El Marginal (Marginal) (Netflix).

Elsewhere, I’ve already reviewed a whole bunch of Australian shows – Hyde & Seek (Nine), Rosehaven (ABC), The Wrong Girl (Ten) and The Secret Daughter (Seven) – as well as Kim’s Convenience (Canada: CBC) and American Housewife (US: ABC); I’ve also passed a third-episode verdict on This Is Us (US: NBC; UK: Channel 4). 

That means that after the jump, I’ll be looking at the latest episodes of Ash vs Evil Dead, Designated Survivor, Doctor Doctor, The Exorcist, The Flash, Frequency, High Maintenance, Impastor, Insecure, Lethal Weapon, Lucifer, No Tomorrow, Son of Zorn, Speechless, Timeless and You’re The Worst. I’ll also be looking at the season finale of Halt and Catch Fire, as well as the return of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl.

One of those shows will be getting promoted to recommended. Cool, hey?

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What have you been watching? Including Bridge of Spies, Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley

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. 

I spent most of the weekend not watching a lot of things I was supposed to be watching, instead watching season one of Daredevil again – it’s so much better than the second season, which is starting to feel more disappointing with every passing day. But that doesn’t mean I’m not up to date. It just means I still haven’t watched Ófærð (Trapped) yet.

Elsewhere, I’ve reviewed Containment (US: The CW; UK: E4) and passed a third-episode verdict on The Detour (US: TBS). I’ll be passing a third-episode verdict on Game on Silence either tomorrow or Wednesday. That means that after the jump, we’ll have a look at the latest episodes of The Americans, Banshee, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash, Limitless, Lopez, Lucifer and The Tunnel (Tunnel), as well as the season finale of Supergirl. HBO’s also just brought back Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley , so I’ll be looking over them, too.

But first, a movie:

Bridge of Spies (2015) (iTunes)
Slightly soporific Spielberg biopic of Cold War lawyer James B Donovan (Tom Hanks), who defended notorious spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), and ended up helping in negotiations in Berlin to exchange Abel for U2 pilot Gary Powers. He does that by talking about the Constitution and what it is to be American. All solidly made but that summary is really all you need to know, in what is basically a not very subtle commentary on post-9/11 US attitudes to human rights, treating enemy combatants civilly, etc. If you do watch it, don’t be surprised that there’s a chunk in the middle in German without subtitles, as that’s deliberate. Don’t worry – they’re just talking about how expensive his coat is.

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Review: Telenovela 1×1-1×2 (US: NBC)

Telenovela

In the US: Mondays, 8.30c/7.30c, NBC. Begins January 4
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Don’t know what a telenovela is? Well, I’ve already written quite a bit about them, so why not head off to my review of a much better show, Jane The Virgin, to find out what they’re all about. Then come back here.

All clued up? Cool.

Right, now you know what a telenovela is, you might be annoyed at having done all that cramming to learn that despite the name, Telenovela is not really a telenovela. Jane The Virgin is. Jane The Virgin understands telenovelas. Telenovela doesn’t.

Or at least it doesn’t want to be a telenovela. It wants to cash in on the name. It wants to ‘homage’ telenovelas. It wants to have evil twins, passionate romances between ex-lovers and rivalries between jealous women. But it wants all those things as sidelines to an otherwise very conventional TV sitcom.

And by TV sitcom, I mean a sitcom set behind the scenes of a TV show. Eva Longoria (Desperate Housewives) plays Ana Sofia Calderon, the star of fake telenovela Las Leyes de Pasión. In a bid to boost the ratings, network executive Zachary Levi (Chuck, Thor 2Heroes Reborn) hires her ex-husband Jencarlos Canela (Más Sabe el Diablo, Pasión prohibida, Mi corazón insiste en Lola Volcán) in the hope that sparks will fly – or that the paparazzi will, at least.

And for the first episode at least, when it’s actually working that plotline, Telenovela isn’t half bad, is semi-appealing and clever, and is even funny at times. Eva Longoria may have spent the past few years behind the camera producing shows rather than starring in them, but she’s not forgotten what it takes to be a real screen presence – she makes everything look effortless while working the funny for all it’s worth, happy even to Sandra Bullock up and fall down a lot if the plot requires it. Canela is a good foil for her and the supporting cast, which includes Amaury Nolasco (Prison Break, Work It, Chase), isn’t exactly going for subtle (how could they be?), but services the needs of the script well.

The trouble is that what makes a telenovela a telenovela is a fixed story: a beginning, a middle and an end, with a plot that takes everything from A to Z driving each episode, usually through insanely mental territory. And Telenovela doesn’t want that. So as soon as we clear the first episode, we’re immediately in standalone territory. Yes, there’s an evil twin to deal with, but it’s a b-plot that affects only that episode and the almost touching rekindled romance between Longoria and Canela from the first episode is thrown aside in favour of a dafter plot about his having a stuntwoman rather than a stuntman for his scenes.

In fact, it’s readily apparent that the show has no real foundation, no real idea what it wants to be doing with its life, rather than to say ‘telenovela’ a lot and hope that people will watch it as a result. Liked all that joking in the first episode about Longoria not speaking Spanish fluently, while everyone else, even Levi, can? It’s gone. Romance? Gone. Politicking behind the scenes? Gone. Jokes? Gone. Pratfalls? Gone. Collapsing dresses? Gone… but not like that.

That’s traditional US TV, not telenovela territory. 

So it’s a distinct thumbs down from me. Longoria and pretty much everyone in the cast can do a lot better than this. And so can you – watch Jane The Virgin. That’s on Mondays, too. This is just the evil twin.

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 2

Third-episode verdict: Limitless (US: CBS; UK: Sky Living)

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, CBSIn the UK: Acquired by Sky Living

In contrast to all the other shows that decided with their second episodes to improve on their crappy pilots this season, Limitless appears to have been planned this way all along. Which is odd. The first episode was generic dullness – a continuation that bolted a police procedural format onto the superior Bradley Cooper movie about a slacker who takes a drug that gives him incredible mental capabilities but which has lethal withdrawal symptoms.

As I mentioned at the time, it was inherently not much different from any number of other CBS “clever people solve crimes” shows, such as The Mentalist, Numb3rs, Elementary, Criminal Minds, IntelligenceScorpion, and CSI, beyond a little more spit and polish, presumably acquired through experience of making so many identikit shows.

The oddest feature of the first episode was its messed up casting, with livewire Jennifer Carpenter from Dexter cast as the dull FBI agent who plays second fiddle to twentysomething musician-slacker Jake McDorman from Manhattan Love Story. What were the producers thinking, I wondered?

Well, it’s quite clear what they were thinking now, since apparently, the pilot was intended to lure in the fans of the movie. But as of episode two, the series officially became a comedy with occasionally dark undertones. It became Chuck. A better Chuck than Chuck in fact, since at least it can manage to do action and Carpenter doesn’t have to look like a lovesick puppy the whole time (poor Yvonne Strahovski). 

And as a comedy, it’s actually quite fun, warm, engaging and inventive – considerably better and nicer, in fact, than just about anything CBS classes as a comedy. Best touch of the show so far, beyond some wildly inventive fantasy sequences, has been the recruitment in the third episode of McDorman’s fellow lead from Manhattan Love Story, Analeigh Tipton, as his ex-girlfriend, newly impressed by the NZT-improved McDorman.

What it isn’t any more is either a good police procedural, since its plots wander between dull and unrealistic, or a continuation of the movie Limitless, beyond constant acknowledgements of the existence of Bradley Cooper’s character and the NZT MacGuffin. Tonally, it’s off completely here: Cooper has evolved into something a tad evil, and NZT does little except make McDorman a bit more energetic, focused and smarter. There’s little of the OCD, drive and mastery of the world that the movie’s NZT brought to Cooper.

Indeed, McDorman is well cast as the driftless and not-that-smart-even-on-NZT lead, well suited to the idea of an amiable shmuck who can drag up inspiration from old episodes of Miami Vice and dream-sequence all manner of hard-boiled shenanigans and adventures for Carpenter, since he isn’t allowed to go on missions with her, only stay in the back room analysing things on his regulation one pill a day.

I still think Carpenter would have been a better lead, and it would have been interesting for a change to have a show about a female slacker turning her life around, and not through setting up a cupcake business. The vestigial dark through-narrative about Cooper blackmailing McDorman also sits oddly next to the rest of the almost exclusively comedic and heartwarming qualities of the show.

But as it stands, Limitless is now a considerably more interesting, albeit different show than when it started. 

Barrometer rating: 2
TMINE’s prediction: I’m not on NZT, but I think this has the potential to run and run. However, I’m not convinced it quite has that magical ingredient needed to make an audience love it.

What have you been watching? Including You, Me and the Apocalypse, Limitless, The Muppets, Scream Queens, Doctor Who and Y Gwyll

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.

I always forget. I always go “Look how much I’ve done!” in the first week of each new Fall season, then forget that in the second week I’ve got to watch all the new programmes that start airing that week as well as the ones that began the previous week.

My, what a lot of tele I’ve watched this week.

Still, unbelievably, I’m actually up to date. This week, I reviewed the first episodes of the following new shows:

And after the jump, you’ll find reviews of the latest episodes of: 800 Words, Blindspot, Continuum, Doctor Who, Heroes Reborn, Life in Pieces, Limitless, Minority Report, The Muppets, The Player, Rosewood, Scream Queens, Y Gwyll and You’re The Worst. Some of them won’t be making it to a third-episode verdict, particularly since the Barrometer is currently in a tanning salon somewhere in the Gorbals so too busy to pass judgement on anything, but you can find out which after the jump.

On top of all that, I also managed to watch the first episode of another new show, this time from the UK.

You, Me and The Apocalypse (UK: Sky1; US: NBC)
As with most US/UK co-productions, particularly those involving Sky, this is a lukewarm affair that satisfies no-one, perhaps best evidenced by the change in the show’s title from Apocalypse Slough. It sees a comet approaching the Earth, meaning that everyone goes a bit whacky at the prospect of the coming Apocalypse that will result when it hits. However, the action of the first episode is all set in the lead-up to the lead-up to the comet, introducing us to several different groups of people from around the world who are going to all end up together at some point. These include Mathew Baynton, Joel Fry (Plebs), Pauline Quirke (Birds of a Feather), Rob Lowe (like you need to know who he is), Paterson Joseph (Peep Show), Jenna Fischer (The Office US) and an almost unrecognisable Megan Mullally (Will and Grace). Unfortunately, it’s all a bit weak and pathetic, not really knowing who its audience is, despite the occasional choice joke. The only exception to this is Rob Lowe’s bad minded Catholic priest who is the Vatican’s Devil’s Advocate. Otherwise, eminently missable.

But if you think after all that I had any time to watch any movies or go to the theatre, you have a higher opinion of me than I do.

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Review: The Astronaut Wives Club 1×1 (US: ABC)

The Astronaut Wives Club

In the US: Thursdays, 8/7c, ABC

History is, of course, usually just that – ‘his story’. ‘Her story’ – women’s stories – tend to get overlooked.

Thankfully, great efforts are being made to redress the balance, to tell the forgotten stories of women throughout the world and throughout the centuries, to show what contributions they’ve made to society.

Unfortunately, much as it would probably like to be, The Astronaut Wives Club isn’t one of those efforts. The series is set during the early 1960s, when ‘women’s liberation’ was just beginning and the US and the USSR were racing each other to be the first to put a living creature then a man then a woman in space, before finally they both aimed for the ultimate prize of putting a man on the moon.

The US efforts began in earnest with the Mercury Seven, a group of seven astronauts who would fly the Mercury spacecraft into orbit, but only one of whom would be the first American into space. Each of these men was married and as an act of anti-Soviet propaganda and to get the American people on board with the ‘space race’, efforts were made to make these wives a form of American royalty, right down to a Time magazine journalist reporting on their every move – provided he only showed them and their husbands in a good, all-American light, of course.

Needless to say, beneath the surfaces of these supposedly happy, ordinary American wives, their happy, extraordinary American husbands and their marriages, a lot was going on, including infidelity and divorce, all of which these women and Time had to hide from sight.

Now, without these women doing what they did, these men might never have been able to have been astronauts – or at least be astronauts and have a family, normal home-life, etc. And many were accomplished in their own rights. So it’s good that their stories are told.

And they have been – in Lily Koppel’s book, The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story. And to be honest, that’s where they should have been left, because a 10-part event television series they do not make – or if they do, the wrong people are telling them.

The Astronaut Wives Club is dull. Dull, dull, dull, dull, dull. It shouldn’t be. But it is. It’s got a great cast: Yvonne Strahovski (Chuck, 24, Dexter), Odette Annable (House, Banshee, Breaking In, Rush), Erin Cummings (Spartacus, Detroit 1-8-7), Joanna Garcia (Privileged, Better With You, Animal Practice), Desmond Harrington (Dexter), Evan Handler (Sex and the City, Californication), Bret Harrison (The Loop, Reaper) and more. It’s got space rockets, some of which explode. It’s got pool parties and heaps of 60s style. It also has real, well known events to recreate, such as famous Time magazine photos.

Time's Astronaut Wives Club

The recreated cover

But it’s dull. Dull, dull, dull, dull, dull.

The problem is that much of the first episode isn’t really about the women. It’s about women with women, which it explores in entirely standard and dull, dull, dull, dull, dull ways. So on the one hand, the wives are all competitive and want their husband to be the first man in space. But since all they can do is compete verbally and can’t actually do anything to help their husband to be the first man in space, they simply snipe at one another and pick holes in each other’s accomplishments (“An unmarried woman travelling abroad. That must have been… an adventure”).

Then they realise that they each have secrets that could be revealed and that anything bad looks bad for their husbands, so they club together for solidarity, making cakes and so on. Annable’s Trudy Cooper is getting divorced and hates cheating men so she ends up manipulating events so that Dominique McElligott’s Louise Shepard can spot Alan Shepard cheating.

Except there’s also the fact they’re getting so much fame and celebrity that perhaps if they bent the rules, they might be the one who ends up a bit more famous than the rest, which is what Strahovski ends up doing, such as when she wears a dress that isn’t pastel-coloured in the photo above. Except maybe she’ll need the help of the others later on…

And so on. And I’m sure there’ll be more of that ‘women helping each other through adversity’ later, too, as well known historical tragedies will take place in future episodes.

But you’d be hard pressed to know what any of the women were actually like, what their own accomplishments were and so on, beyond the occasional throw-away line. In fact, you’ll end up knowing a whole lot more about all the members of the Mercury Seven than you did before, which is almost exactly the opposite of what The Astronaut Wives Club was trying to do.

So like ABC’s other 60s period piece, Pan-Am, before it, The Astronaut Wives Club is a pretty little bauble of a piece, full of decent actors and actresses and lovely attention to period detail, but with a plot that’ll send you to sleep despite all the excitement of its setting. Avoid.

Incidentally, it’s interesting don’t you think that despite supposedly being the most female-friendly of all the networks, ABC’s current Thursday night offering is this, followed by Mistresses. Not really demonstrating the full gamut of women’s experiences independent of men, is it?

Review: Matador 1×1 (El Rey)

El Rey's Matador

In the US: Tuesdays, 9pm ET/PT, El Rey

There is something of a stereotype in the US that there’s only three groups of people who play what the rest of the world calls football/le football/Fußball/ποδόσφαιρο/etc but which America calls soccer:

  1. Children, particularly girls
  2. Immigrants
  3. Latinos

‘Real men’, on the other hand, play what the US calls football, but the rest of the world calls American football.

Now, the World Cup this year, at which the US did surprisingly well, might have helped to start the slow process of neutralising this stereotype. But film director Robert Rodriguez made his career playing with Latin stereotypes in films such as El Mariarchi and From Dusk Till Dawn and with grindhouse homages such as Sin City, Machete and, erm, Grindhouse. Given that Rodriguez now has his own English-language, Latin-interest, pro-grindhouse TV network, El Rey, it’s no big surprise therefore that his second scripted drama, which follows hot on the heels of the TV adaptation of From Dusk Till Dawn, should capitalise on that stereotype.

Matador is a partial grindhouse homage about an undercover DEA agent (Gabriel Luna) who gets recruited by the CIA when they spot he’s not only quite good at undercover work, he can also run very quickly. Luna’s task? To somehow infiltrate LA’s professional football team, run by Alfred Molina, to uncover a global conspiracy.

Plausible, no?

By turns Chuck-like then Escape From Athena ridiculous, Matador is unfortunately only moderately exciting and, it has to be said, is full of immigrants. Brits and Australians. There’s just loads of them.

Here’s a trailer.

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Quite literally the stupidest bit of product placement ever

So product placement is a big thing in US TV. In an age when ratings are dropping, Internet viewing is increasing, people skim through shows on PVR, foreign sales are a big source of revenue and boxsets are binged aplenty, the chances that anyone will even get the chance to see an ad you’ve bought during an ad break, let alone watch it, are getting smaller and smaller every day. On the other hand, stick one of your products in the show and no matter which medium the viewer uses to watch the show, wherever they are in the world, they will see that product in action at 1x speed.

Obviously, you have to spend more to get that product into the show, and such is the cash required, it’s often been able to keep afloat shows such as Chuck and Heroes that would have died sooner if they’d relied purely on ad break funding. There’s competition with other advertisers, too, since there’s only so many cars that can be driven or Subway sandwiches eaten per episode.

So spare a thought for TNT’s The Last Ship, which appears to have had the novel idea of piggybacking two product placements on top of each other. Unfortunately, I don’t think Apple are going to be very happy with them for doing that.

Here, we have a perfectly humble webcam being shown off to punters. It’s the end of the world, the captain of The Last Ship is recording possibly the most vital messages possible for his family – he’s going to want good HD quality recordings. And the webcam glows all blue, which is cool!

Last Ship's webcam

I must buy this webcam!

Except… it turns out that he’s using a MacBook Air to make his recording.

MacBook Air in The Last Ship

Cool laptop that. Problem is that the MacBook Air has a built-in HD webcam. In fact, it’s right underneath that other webcam the captain’s using.

MacBook Air webcam

So either the captain’s a technological idiot or his lovely MacBook has broken at a vital moment in world history. Not the message Apple wants to be sending out with The Last Ship.

I will not buy this MacBook Air.

Particularly since it’s very, very expensive.

Disclaimer: this post was in no way sponsored by anyone, particularly Apple or any webcam manufacturers. Of course, if they want to, I’m not going to say no…

Question of the week: have you ever abandoned TV shows during the final seasons?

Dexter

Dexter has been going on for seven seasons and has just started on its eighth. Now I loved the first season – it was great. The second season was excellent, too, after a faltering start. Then came the Jimmy Smits season and the first sense that maybe the show was losing its edge. Season four gave us John Lithgow as Trinity, which was a much more promising affair.

All seemed to be good.

But then along came season five, with Julia Stiles as an abuse victim who turned the tables on her abusers with Dexter’s help. Despite the presence of Stiles, Chris Vance and Jonny Lee Miller, it was very Mamite-y: you either loved it or hated it. I loved it… right up until the end of the season, which had possibly the stupidest ending imaginable.

After that, things just got ridiculous, with Edward James Olmos and Colin Hanks as the Big Bads of season six, with a twist you probably saw coming, but even if you didn’t, you wondered how Dexter got so stupid the rest of the time. And then Debs decided she fancied Dexter. Ugh.

Then last year gave us season seven, the stupidest of them all, which despite a good start, gave us Dexter shagging one of his victims while she was still on his ‘table’, all the while Debs was trying to wean Dexter off this murdering thing. Before murdering someone herself.

So Dexter‘s eighth season started last night. I hear it had some good elements. Yet despite having watched seven seasons already, I find myself not wanting to watch it. At all. I just can’t see, short of Dexter being killed or stuck in prison, how they could make it interesting enough and smart enough again for me to want to watch it. Not even Charlotte Rampling can do that.

Now this isn’t the first time I’ve bailed on a show at the last moment, as a result of a show’s increasingly insipid nature. I gave up on Chuck for much the same reason. So this week’s question is:

Have you ever given up on a long-running TV show just as it’s hit its final season? If so, why?

As always, leave your answers below or on your own blog.

Thursday’s “Knots Landing on Dallas, Doctor Who writers, and LA Noir goes to series” news

Doctor Who

Film

Trailers

  • Trailer for Mama, with Jessica Chastain and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
  • Trailer for Jack Reacher with Tom Cruise

French TV

  • Accused to be remade [subscription required]

UK TV

US TV

  • Tuesday ratings: Ben and Kate down 20%, Emily Owens starts low, Hart Of Dixie up

US TV casting

New US TV shows

  • ABC buys dramas Warriors and Grievances
  • …to adapt the Netherlands’ Sea of Fire
  • TNT picks up Frank Darabont’s LA Noir for six episodes
  • …to adapt Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein
  • NBC buys two dramas
  • Hallmark orders series of Andie MacDowell’s Cedar Cove
  • Amazon developing Support and The Face and the Heel

New US TV show casting