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What have you been watching? Including Hamlet (NT Live/Barbican), Limitless and The Player

Posted on October 26, 2015 | 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. 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.

So I had a last minute 'Cumberemergency' on Friday, which meant that I suddenly didn't have the time to write 'What have you been watching?' Sorry about that, but hopefully, this will make it up to you.

Last week on the blog, I reviewed a big slew of first episodes from all manner of different countries:

And today I passed a third-episode verdict on BBC America/BBC Two's The Last Kingdom

That means that after the jump, you can find reviews of the latest episodes of 800 Words, Arrow, Blindspot, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, CSI, Doctor Who, The Flash, Grandfathered, Limitless, The Player, Y Gwyll and You're The Worst. Yes CSI, since I finally got around to watch the final ever episode of that.

One of those shows is getting promoted to regular. Can you guess which one it is? Not CSI, obviously.

(Actually, I haven't managed to watch the very latest episodes of either Y Gwyll or The Beautiful Lie, because it's really Sunday and this is a scheduled post I'm writing before both of them have aired. I'll let you know about them next time.)

I did try to watch the first episode of Con Man as well. However, I gave up 5 minutes when it started becoming cringe comedy on the plane and Tudyk tried to get a fan to give up his seat for him. No extended music sequences in my TV shows, no cringe comedy in my comedies - those rules are sacred.

Anyway, let's talk about the 'Cumberemergency', since I was called upon at the last minute to accompany my mother-in-law to the theatre. Or was it a movie? Maybe it was both. Or neither.

Hamlet (The Barbican)
The National Theatre's latest version of Hamlet, performed at the Barbican and starring that Benedict Cumberbatch from off the telly. Except it was one of those NT Live things where they film the play as it's performed and beam it into cinemas everywhere. Except the cinema in question was at the Barbican, so they might as well have just knocked a hole in the wall and let us look through it.

Anyway, Hamlet's one of those plays where every director tries to make his or her mark by doing something radically different. The last version I saw at the Barbican was the Stephen Dillane (The One Game, The Tunnel, Hunted, Game of Thrones) one where he went naked for a scene. 

On top of that, Hamlet exists in three different versions, some which have scenes that aren't in the others. The result is that I always forget what's in the play and spend the whole time thinking "I don't remember this. Is this in the original?" 

In this version, our Benedict is playing a very bereaved, but generally good-egg Hamlet, who's a bit annoyed his mum's remarrying so soon after his dad died - except his dad's ghost reveals that actually, he was murdered. He doesn't get very pissed off like Mel Gibson or naked like Dillane, but does plot his revenge, all while his girlfriend goes super-loopy.

Unfortunately, the NT Live experience is basically the worst of both worlds. Despite my flippancy, the NT production does look very innovative, interesting and surprisingly funny, giving all the scenes genuine meaning. Bennie gives a great performance as Hamlet, making interesting choices such as the removal of any hint of sarcasm from the 'what a piece of work is man' monologue to make him a disappointed optimist rather than an embittered child-man. Siân Brook is marvellously barking as Ophelia. Ciaran Hinds's Claudius is the surprising weak link, straining to effect a Yorkshire accent for no discernable reason, but still a decent stage presence.

But any sense of theatre's immediacy is lost in the cinema. It looks nice, but you don't feel anything, because the actors aren't there on stage in front of you. Similarly, it's not cinematic enough, despite the director's best efforts to include crane shots and the like, for you to get the benefits of the directorial options and camerawork available to movies.

The play's split into two acts, the first 2h, the second 1h, and the first certainly feels the full 2h as a result of these problems. It's not the production's fault, it's simply a problem of the medium.

So don't do NT Live if you can. The play's the thing, after all.

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How long does it take before you get hooked on a TV series?

Posted on September 24, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

So for a long time now, this 'ere blog has had a USP in terms of recommending shows: The Barrometer, which itself replaced The Carusometer. This takes the long view, requiring a minimum viewing of three episodes before it's willing to give a cheesy grin and a rousing showtune - and the all-important thumbs up or thumbs down to the show.

But I often wonder if that's too much or even few. Some shows you sense are never going to be good from the outset, while others genuinely do take a long time to get to the point (I'm looking at you here Rubicon - 10 episodes before you reveal your brilliance? Really?).

All I can do is guess. However, Netflix knows better. Apart from its top secret way to covertly view your every move as you sit in front of your TV screen or monitor (shh, don't tell anyone), it also can analyse exactly how far you get into a show before you decide you've got to watch the rest of it or abandon it altogether. And they've just released the results in a shiny infographic (click it to make it bigger):

Netflix infographic

There's also a list:

  • Arrow — Episode 8
  • Bates Motel — Episode 2
  • Better Call Saul — Episode 4
  • Bloodline — Episode 4
  • BoJack Horseman — Episode 5
  • Breaking Bad — Episode 2
  • Dexter — Episode 3
  • Gossip Girl — Episode 3
  • Grace & Frankie — Episode 4
  • House of Cards — Episode 3
  • How I Met Your Mother — Episode 8
  • Mad Men — Episode 6
  • Marco Polo — Episode 3
  • Marvel’s Daredevil — Episode 5
  • Once Upon a Time — Episode 6
  • Orange is the New Black — Episode 3
  • Pretty Little Liars — Episode 4
  • Scandal — Episode 2
  • Sense8 — Episode 3
  • Sons of Anarchy — Episode 2
  • Suits — Episode 2
  • The Blacklist — Episode 6
  • The Killing — Episode 2
  • The Walking Dead — Episode 2
  • Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt — Episode 4

Although it's worth remembering that the Netflix viewing experience is different from watching TV weekly, as you can see, it's never the pilot episode that grabs virtually anyone, so clearly I'm onto something there.

But there are a few surprises in there. Eight episodes before being grabbed by Arrow? Who waits that long? And episode five for Marvel's Daredevil, rather than the bravura episode 2? How odd.

Oddest of all: how can anyone get addicted to Sense8?


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Review: Life In Pieces 1x1 (US: CBS)

Posted on September 22, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Life in Pieces

In the US: Mondays, 8.30/7.30c, CBS

Linking narrative. You’ve got to hate it, haven’t you? You’ve got the idea for a cracking, meaningful, funny scene. You’ve got an even better idea for a tender, romantic scene. But FFS, you somehow have to get from Scene A to Scene B and however you do it, it’s either going to ruin scene A or B or is likely to be rubbish or at least not as good. That’s crap that is.

Wouldn’t it be good if you could just stick a set of random scenes together? Just stick them together. You have a whole bunch of characters in one scene doing one thing, a whole bunch of different characters in another scene doing another thing and you just keep doing that.

What do you mean that’s a sketch show? Hmm. Right. Okay.

How about we make them all related somehow and we have them all together at the end in another completely unrelated scene? Would that work?

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