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

Posted on April 25, 2016 | comments | 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.

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 1x1-1x2 (US: NBC)

Posted on December 9, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

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.

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

Posted on October 7, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerLimitless.jpgA Barrometer rating of 2

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, CBS
In 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.

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