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What have you been watching? Including Legends, Dim Ond y Gwir, Arrow, 800 Words and Limitless

Posted on November 6, 2015 | 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.

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.

Brace yourself - a new wave of TV shows is about to hit us, because we're about to hit the mid, mid US season, and Amazon and Netflix are busy hitting us with new pilots and new shows even as I type. So consider this a lull. 

Elsewhere this week, I've reviewed the first episode of Ash vs Evil Dead (US: Starz) and passed a third-episode verdict on The Beautiful Lie (Australia: ABC), which means that after the jump, I'm going to be talking about the season finale of Arrow, Blindspot, Doctor Who, The Flash, Grandfathered, The Last Kingdom, Limitless, The Player, Supergirl and You're The Worst, as well as the season finales of 800 Words and Y Gwyll. I also final caught up with the final few episodes of Strike Back

But that's not all I watched this week. I've also watched two new shows: Dim Ond Y Gwir and Legends. What do you mean Legends isn't new? Well, that's strangely debatable…

Dim Ond Y Gwir (UK: S4C - available on iPlayer)
Flush with the success of detective show Y Gwyll/Hinterland, S4C has decided to branch out into another genre: the courtdroom drama. Dim Ond Y Gwir (Only the Truth) is a half-hour weekly affair that follows 'law court workers as they go about their daily lives'. In the first episode, this amounts to watching various ancillary workers man the metal detectors, while someone in the cafe bakes a cake. Meanwhile, up in the courts themselves, we have barrister Rebecca Trehearn dealing with one case when it turns out that the opposite barrister is her ex-boyfriend! Oh noes.

Filmed in Caernarfon where it's actually not that uncommon for cases to be heard in Welsh, this is a pretty poor affair, with the supposed sexy ex more the kind of guy who sidles up to women when they're drunk in bars, almost no legal accuracy in the proceedings whatsoever, and the case hinging on whether Trehearn will bother defending her client if she thinks he's guilty or not (big reveal at the end that has no legal bearing!). The acting is also pretty dreadful, too, and the budget's probably about £3.50. Sorry, S4C - this one ain't going to go global.

Legends (US: TNT; UK: Sky1)
So, as we all remember, but are possibly wondering if we imagined it all, Legends was a very sub-par piece of US TV in which Sean Bean was the US's best undercover FBI agent, a human chameleon able to become whomever he wanted while his NCIS-style buddies back at home base helped him to overcome computer problems and the like, as he assumed a new identity every week. Unfortunately, Bean's personality might itself be a 'legend' and he's forgotten who he really is. Oh noes.

The big reveal at the end of the first season (look away for year-old spoilers) is that yes, Bean was really MI6 and that he'd lost his memory in an accident. The big problem is that he's then framed for murdering a top FBI director. Oops. 

'TNT - Bang'? Not really.

But in between seasons, the show changed showrunner and new boy Ken Biller (Perception) decided not just to change direction but perform a 'hard reset' of the entire show. Severely hard. Out of the show are everyone except Bean and Rosewood's Morris Chestnut (for a few episodes at least) - even Ali Larter, those cads. The entire show has also moved to Europe and now covers several timelines - Bean's upbringing at a rather nasty Northern public school in the 70s, undercover work in Prague in 2001 and two modern day storylines involving Bean's attempts to rediscover his old life in London and a new FBI agent's attempts to find him through the Prague connection. 

And it's just the weirdest thing. An almost entirely new show that feels like a British spy show, feels even like it's been written by a Brit (bar the swearing), but shot US-style. It's basically Homeland meets The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. I'm still reeling from the changes, they're so profound. It's now a really good spy show, although the plot about the radicalisation of young London Muslims is a bit trite, and Bean's character seems to have forgotten the whole 'best undercover agent ever' thing, judging by how much he's cocking up. 

All the same, despite the absence of our Ali (sob), even if you gave up on Legends the first time, give it a go this time round, since you might as well be watching a new show.

Would you believe it, I actually had some time to watch a couple of oldish movies, too.

Sherlock Holmes and The Secret Code (aka Dressed to Kill) (1946) (Amazon Instant Video)
One of the great things about growing up in the 80s was that BBC Two regularly used to show all the old Basil Rathbone movies at 6pm of an evening. Which was great. Seeing as Amazon Instant Video has quite a few of them to view for free, I thought I'd give Dressed To Kill a go. It's basically Conan's Doyle The Six Napoleons/Blue Carbuncle but with a set of music boxes that a set of villains are trying to get for some nefarious reason. The chief villain is basically Irene Adler except not: an actress who outwits Holmes and Watson, even reading A Scandal in Bohemia and his monograph on cigarette ash to find out Holmes' methods of operation and turning them against him.

There's not much detection, most of it being Rathbone just making lucky guesses, but it's fun and a lot smarter than you'd have thought for something pretty much cranked out post-War in a job lot.

Pacific Rim (2013) (Amazon Instant Video)
One of those movies where you look at who the writer/director is and go, "Really? I mean really?" Basically, Transformers meets the Godzilla movies but with the monster and biological horror that we do actually all associate with Guillermo Del Toro, it sees a bunch of giant monsters emerging from the sea to destroy the world's cities, but the world at a loss to respond until they think of sticking people in giant robots to punch them to death.

There's far more action than there was in the most recent Godzilla, it's got some interesting ideas and it's got Idris Elba as the leader of the plucky robot pilots, but it's very silly and to be honest, I'd rather have watched old episodes of Star Fleet instead, as they have more charm.

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Review: Sense8 1x1-1x2 (Netflix)

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


There’s a reason that HBO makes all the best US shows. Lots of reasons in fact. At a basic level, it’s got oodles of cash so it can afford to splurge on high production standards. It’s also a premium cable show, which means that it can show pretty much anything: sex, violence, swearing, drug-taking – whatever it wants, more or less.

But most importantly, it gives TV producers creative control. No network executives monitoring scripts, sending notes, telling the writers to make character x more likeable, character y less gay and situation z less East Coast. Here’s your big pile of money, give us 10 episodes, off you go and don’t come back until you’re good and ready.


So naturally Netflix, attempting to burst into the worldwide TV scene and wanting to overturn the idea of Internet TV being cheap and nasty, essentially emulated HBO’s model with its own productions. The slight twist is that it combined the HBO production model with the DVD release model: almost without exception, it’s released all episodes of its shows at the same time, usually on a Friday, so we can binge-watch them over the weekend.

Sometimes this has worked very well, giving us true TV classics such as House of Cards and Daredevil that you almost can’t stop watching as soon as they’re released.

But the model does have flaws, both in terms of production and release. With Grace and Frankie and Bloodline, for example, somebody somewhere needed to tell the shows’ creators that they were spending an awful lot of money on something that wasn’t very good. They really needed a network executive saying character x need to be more likeable, character y more gay and situation z less Florida Everglades. They also needed someone to point out it’s no use structuring a show to be watched in one go, if the individual episodes are so uninspiring, no one can be bothered to watch the next one.

Sense8 is perhaps the epitome of all the flaws of the Netflix model and is so far, quite easily the worst show that Netflix has put out. Two episodes in, it’s getting better, but that’s from a very, very low starting point.

On paper, the show should be good. For starters, it’s created by the Wachowskis, who created and directed The Matrix, and J Michael Straczynski, who’s best known for creating Babylon 5 but was BAFTA-nominated for his script for Clint Eastwood's Changeling. The Wachowskis are also directing it.

The show itself is essentially Heroes, with strangers around the world waking up to discover they have strange new abilities and that they’re all linked somehow. There’s even a Mohinder-alike (played by Lost/The Buddha of Suburbia’s Naveen Andrews) to go around the world to each of them and explain what’s happening to them.

The main difference between this and Heroes is that rather than be able to fly, have super strength, etc, the sensate ‘sense eight’ can share each other’s senses – they can see, hear, feel, taste, etc, everything that the others experience. They can even tap into each other’s knowledge. Or at least they could if they could understand what they are…

…and each other. Because this is a show that celebrates diversity and empathy. Right from its “look at the wonders of the world and humanity” title sequence through to the end credits of each episode, Sense8 wants you to experience the joys of living from every possible person’s point of view. So the eight include a gay Spanish actor, a Chinese female martial artist/businesswoman, a trans, lesbian San Francisco hacker, a Chicago cop, a young female drug addict DJ who’s down and out in London, an Indian bride-to-be, an African bus driver and more.

All of which is admirable and oodles of cash have been spent to give us worldwide filming. It lacks a little bit of local knowledge, giving us a London filled with Mancs and a penniless girl who manages to live in a bedsit within walking of St Paul’s, but it’s all very lavishly filmed, with the Wachowskis' typical flair for the visual.

The trouble is that for at least the first episode and a half, not only is all this taken to be sufficient in and of itself, but clearly no one’s told the Wachowskis that maybe they need to be a little bit more disciplined.

There is an attempt to give us a plot, with Andrews, who is himself sensate, trying to protect the Sense8 from someone called Whispers who’s also sensate but killing off the sensate. Or something.

If that previous paragraph sounds ludicrous, that’s because it is and so is the show.

All the same, despite that plot starting itself and the show off with Daryl Hannah committing suicide, nothing happens as a result of it that’s in any way exciting until the end of the second episode, when we get Andrews doing all kinds of cool things. But that’s two hours in.

Until then, we get not so much a bunch of characters as a bunch of Very Important Characters who represent Very Important Things and only do and talk about Very Important Things. Must go to Pride parade with black lesbian girlfriend. Must make video explaining to the world importance of Pride parade. Must have disapproving parent who doesn’t accept my life choices. Must show importance of women’s rights in India. Must show difficulty of coming out when in the public spotlight. And so on.

In between all these Very Important Things, there is the constant repetition for each of the Sense8 of numerous scenes of them experiencing what the others are experiencing and then shaking it off as an hallucination – “What can it all mean? Am I going mad?” No, but possibly the audience is, having already seen this five times before and confidently expecting it at least another two times.

And in between this epic point underlining are interminable scenes showing off the various cultures and locations. For example, Indian bride-to-be’s fiancé puts on a faux Bollywood dance number for her at their party. It’s a lovely idea, but it only really needed 10 seconds of time to make the point. But the Wachowskis instead choose to give us the entire dance number.

The result of all of this, coupled with some of the worst dialogue since someone put The Starlost through Google Translate and back again, is that the first episode is among the worst things I’ve ever seen on TV. It makes Artemis 81 look vibrant, exciting and unpretentious.

There is just enough of an uptick at the end of episode two that I might try episode three. But I can’t imagine there’s a single human being who made it through to the end of episode one who was cheerfully looking forward to the next episode, unless they were hoping to see more of Doctor Who’s Freema Agyeman doing naughty things with her girlfriend while faking an American accent for no good reason.

I guess if there’s a lesson here, it’s that if you’re going to give creative freedom to creators, either be very careful to whom you give that freedom or be prepared for some epic failures as well as successes. Sense8 is a very ambitious, beautiful plea for empathy and tolerance and to learn to love and accept people for all their diversity. It’s also an example of how even the best creatives can need a dispassionate eye to look over their work and reign them in.

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Review: The Returned 1x1-1x2 (US: A&E/UK: Netflix)

Posted on March 17, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Victor in The Returned

In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, A&E
In the UK: Available on Netflix. New episode every Tuesday

There are remakes. Then there are unnecessary remakes. And then there’s The Returned.

First, there was a French movie called Les Revenants. That saw a whole bunch of people coming back from the dead and returning to their very much surprised loved ones in a small French town, who have all moved on.

Then there was a Canal+ TV series called Les Revenants based on the movie, which aired on Channel 4 in the UK and on Sundance in the US; the second season of that is going to air in France later this year. That saw a whole bunch of people coming back from the dead and returning to their very much surprised loved ones in a small French town, who have all moved on.

Then there was a book called The Returned. That saw a whole bunch of people coming back from the dead and returning to their very much surprised loved ones in a small US town, who have all moved on.

Then there was an ABC TV series in the US called Resurrection based on the movie, which aired on Alibi in the UK; the second season of that is currently airing. That saw a whole bunch of people coming back from the dead and returning to their very much surprised loved ones in a small US town, who have all moved on.

And now we have a US remake of the Les Revenants TV series called The Returned. This sees a whole bunch of people coming back from the dead and returning to their very much surprised loved ones in a small US town, who have all moved on. Worse, still it's practically identical to Les Revenants in almost every way - to the extent that alleged screenwriter and showrunner Carlton Cuse (Lost, The Bates Motel) and every other writer involved should probably relinquish their credits and give them over to the translators who translated the scripts into English for them.

You have to ask why this is happening. Sure, Sundance is a bit niche, but with Resurrection airing on ABC, it’s not like the concept’s not already getting a pretty good airing as it is. Yet here it is, not as good and not as creepy as Les Revenants, but filling our screens all the same on A&E, the network whose tag line is “Be original”. Oh sweet, sweet irony.

Still, let’s evaluate The Returned on its own terms, rather than merely wondering why it exists. After all, despite the fact we’re into episode two and at least three dead people have already turned up, no one in The Returned is wondering why they exist, so clearly a lack of questioning is all the rage.

As a show, it’s all right, but it’s supernaturally generic. We have a decent cast, some of whom look virtually identical to their French counterparts, including Kevin Alejandro (Southland), Michelle Forbes (BSG, Homicide, ST:TNG), Mark Pellegrino (Lost, The Tomorrow People) and Jeremy Sisto (Kidnapped, Suburgatory), with support from just about any reliable Canadian actor you care to mention (including Aaron Douglas from BSG, and Roger Cross from Arrow, 24, and Continuum). The various mysteries and secrets of the characters - assuming you haven’t already learnt them watching Les Revenants - are intriguing, and their various dilemmas are relatable. Well, apart from Pellegrino’s, cos he’s a git in this. If you watch the trailer at the end of the first episode, you’ll know that zombie-esque action is on the horizon, which is at least moderately more interesting than anything Resurrection was prepared to throw our way.

All the same, the characters are all colossally annoying in their inability to even call a doctor to ask WTF is going on. No one mentions what’s happened to anyone else, meaning that no one yet knows that they’re not alone in having a returned loved on. No one’s even mentioned zombies, except one of the zombies themselves, so that doesn’t count. Michelle Forbes hasn’t even had a line yet.

But briefly just to make comparisons with the original again, there’s none of Les Revenants' unusual qualities. No odd silences, no quiet pieces of direction, no genuinely creepy kid, no lovely Mogwai soundtrack. The Returned is like virtually everything else on A&E: decent, solid, slowly paced and with nothing about it whatsoever that could be described as revolutionary. It’s comfortable viewing for an uncomfortable subject.

And perhaps that’s the argument for this otherwise unnecessary remake: it’s more watchable for being less unusual, meaning that more people are likely to watch it all the way through to the end.

So should you watch it? Well, look at the picture above of Victor in The Returned. Now look at the picture below featuring Victor from Les Revenants.

Les Revenants

Would you rather watch a show featuring top Victor or bottom Victor? Once you know the answer to that, you’ll know which version is for you. And here are corresponding trailers to help you, too.

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