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What have you been watching? Including Game of Thrones, 19-2, Le Bureau Des Légendes (The Bureau) and Zoolander 2

Posted on June 27, 2016 | 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. 

State of the country, politics, the world, et al right now:

Sob. Oh well, let's talk about tele to try to cheer ourselves up. Last week, I reviewed the first few episodes of:

However, a few new shows have also stuck their heads up the parapets this week, so in the next few days I'm hoping to review Greenleaf (US: OWN), Queen of the South (US: USA) and maybe The Night Of (US: HBO) - it's only a mini-series.

Obviously, this was supposed to go up over the weekend, but owing to post-referendum blues and a general desire to boxset a certain French TV show, that didn't happen. However, I haven't had time to watch anything more than Game of Thrones from last night's usual bumper crop of shows. So after the jump, I'll be talking about that, the latest episodes of more or less the only shows that don't air on a Sunday - BrainDead, Cleverman and Outcast last Sunday's Preacher, Secret City, Silicon Valley, Still The King and Westside, as well as the return of Canada's good show, 19-2, and the whole of season 1 of Le Bureau Des Légendes (The Bureau). Some are for a-chopping, though, and some are on a lifeline.

(For those of you wondering, I couldn't be bothered to watch episode 3 of Animal Kingdom or Uncle Buck, after their uninspiring performances last week. Soz)

But first, a movie!

Zoolander 2 (2016) (iTunes)
Sequel to everyone's favourite Ben Stiller movie, although it only became such once it came out on DVD, since it tanked a bit at the box office. It sees Stiller, Own Wilson, Will Ferrell, et al, returning as their original characters, who have all gone their separate ways after Derek's school collapsed just a couple of days after opening. Then incomprehensible fashion designer Alexanya Atoz (Kristen Wiig) invites them to star in her new fashion show in Rome, and they're soon imbroiled in a Da Vinci Code parody that sees the likes of Justin Bieber being killed off to protect a terrible, terrible secret, with fashion policewoman Penelope Cruz their ally in solving the crime.

I was a bit wary of this, since it got bad reviews, and the movie itself is really not much more than that Da Vinci Code twist on the original Zoolander structure. However, surprisingly, it's actually quite gigglesome, with plenty of laughable moments, huge numbers of odd cameos (Kiefer Sutherland, Susan Sarandon, Fred Armisen, Anna Wintour et al), references to everything from Dune to Star Wars and the general surrealism that pervaded the original still managing to percolate through. 

Very stupid, but cheered us up a lot on Friday.

Continue reading "What have you been watching? Including Game of Thrones, 19-2, Le Bureau Des Légendes (The Bureau) and Zoolander 2"

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Third-episode verdict: Le Bureau Des Légendes (The Bureau) (France: Canal+; UK: Amazon Instant Video)

Posted on June 23, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Le Bureau Des Légendes

In France: Broadcast on Canal+ in 2015
In the UK: Available on Amazon Instant Video

Walter has been napping. Supposedly watching hours of foreign-language TV every week to find the best shows from around the world for Channel 4, somehow he managed to avoid watching any of Canal+'s 2015 output - despite Canal+ officially being France's good TV channel. That means Amazon have had the chance to poach Canal+'s Le Bureau Des Légendes (The Bureau) from out of Walter's hands. Oops.

In that curious way these things happen, we've coincidentally been talking a lot about both verisimilitude and spy shows in the past couple of weeks, taking in along the way both Legends and The Night Manager. The latter is the epitome of modern British spy shows, departing from the glorious semi-realistic days of Callan, The Sandbaggers, et al to give us nonsensical, cliched but glossy affairs that convince almost no one.

Fortunately, France seems to remember how to do a decent spy show, judging by Le Bureau Des Légendes. Set in the undercover section of France's equivalent of MI6, the DGES, it sees Mathieu Kassovitz (La Haine) playing a top undercover operative who's been working in Damascus for the past six years. He's mysteriously summoned back to Paris at short notice, where very quickly problems emerge with 'Cyclone', the DGES' top operative in Algeria. A devout Muslim, Cyclone is nevertheless mysteriously arrested for drink-driving and is taken away by Algerian police, before promptly disappearing. Has he been rumbled as a spy or has he been turned and engineered his own disappearance? 

In common with its stable-mate at Canal+, Engrenages (Spiral), there are multiple wheels turning within wheels in Le Bureau Des Légendes. Despite being ordered to break off all ties with her, Kassovitz invites his married lover from Damascus (Zineb Triki) to visit him in Paris. His superiors wonder whether he has 'Post Mission Disorder' and can't shake off his old life. But more importantly, Triki might have secrets of her own that jeopardise Kassovitz.

At the same time and seemingly unrelated to the main plot, Kassovitz is training up a new operative (Sara Giraudeau) to go undercover in Iran. There's also a new psychiatrist (Léa Drucker) monitoring everyone and Kassovitz has to deal with his now grown-up teenage daughter, whom he left without explanation. And there's a bunch of French spies out in the Sahara somewhere who are definitely up to something, but by the end of the third episode, may themselves not know what that is. Just to make everything even less clear, the third episode is told in flashback while Kassovitz is attached to a lie detector - all without explanation.

How it all fits together I suspect is something that will get revealed by the end of the season, but it's merely happy to set up the puzzles in these first few episodes.

In common with the likes of The Sandbaggers, the show is admirably concerned with realism and tradecraft. Although it occasionally uses the likes of Drucker and Giraudeau to Basil Exposition everything to us, it does do its best to give us a look at how spies probably work and approach security in the 21st century in a way that most other shows ignore. Mobile phones are banned in the Bureau in case of remote exploits turning them into listening devices and operatives have to clean their own desks so that no one who doesn't 'need to know' needs to enter the Bureau. But that's basic compared to things like mapping mobile phone signals and using behaviour analysis of the data to get an indication of likely events. 

As you might expect from the double meaning of bureau/office, also in common with The Sandbaggers, this is a show that's mostly about talking and office work. Big chunks of it are people sitting around discussing what precious information they have from far away can mean, as well as internal and external politics with other agencies, divisions, superiors and allies. Although the second episode does give us a car chase of sorts through central Paris, it ends as a car chase in central Paris probably would end, rather than à la The Bourne Identity's. The show also does have the occasional moment of humour, such as an odd little side-plot in the third episode involving a mouse getting into the Bureau and Drucker's analysis of her superior's multi-coloured tie.

Linguistically, there are fun things going on in the French that for once, the subtitles actually do a jolly decent job of conveying, but occasionally miss out on. I quite liked the French 'faire le ménage' (to do the housework) being used to mean 'remove anything incriminating from the house', for example, but that gets translated as 'clean the house', which sort of works but not quite. More entertainingly, all the codenames for undercover operatives are derived from insults and expletives used by Captain Haddock in the French-language Tin Tin comics. But as befits such a globally-focused show, there's plenty of Arabic and the occasional bit of English, too.

It's not 100% realistic. While there's some admirable computer expertise behind the scenes, for some reason everyone in France uses the same Windows XP installation, no matter where they work. It also seems unlikely that anyone who'd been undercover for six years would have been so senior or so readily accepted back into the fold.

But Le Bureau Des Légendes is certainly the best spy show I've seen this year and the first French show in quite some time that I've actually wanted to boxset (sorry, Marseille). There have already been two seasons in France, and a third is on the way, so give it a go if you can.

Barrometer rating: 1
Would it be better with a female lead? Yes, but is that ever going to happen in France?
TMINE's prediction: N/A

Here's a French-language trailer, but if you want one with subtitles, you'll need to go here, although there are a few spoilers from after the first three episodes by the looks of it.

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Third-episode verdict: State of Affairs (US: NBC)

Posted on December 3, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerStateOfAffairs.jpgA Barrometer rating of 3

In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, NBC

Normally, TV shows go up and down from episode to episode on the Barrometer, the world's finest measurer of TV quality that doesn't wear sunglasses. Occasionally, they stay the same, but only by consistently offering the same good or bad features that earned them their first rating.

So State of Affairs is a rare beast indeed: a show that changes from episode to episode, giving the viewer new things to think about, yet still being consistently the same on average. It's enough to make the Barrometer burst into a show tune of surprise.

Starring Katherine Heigl as the double-surnamed Charleston Tucker, a CIA analyst who happens to be the president's ex-daughter-in-law-to-be (it's complicated), the first episode surprised almost everyone into singing show tunes with its first episode by being on NBC, starring Katherine Heigl yet not being appalling. In fact, in places, it was quite good.

Since then, the show has managed to kill off some of its stupider features (no one calls Heigl 'Charleston' any more; she rarely wears cocktail dresses, not even to see her psychiatrist) while adding in some new ones (stupid potential office romance; stupid husband for the president; James Remar in a stupid hat) and maintaining the status quo on some others (the stupid ongoing conspiracy theory that requires Heigl to nip out of important operations to have chats on park benches). Thus the show has managed to preserve its overall 'well, that wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be' Barrometer rating for three episodes.

Despite the somewhat mixed bag that the first episode presented, the show has now firmly become Homeland lite, with Heigl a network TV Claire Danes with the much more fun 'drunken promiscuity' replacing 'bipolar disorder' and all her nemeses seemingly coming from Africa rather than the Middle East. Just for luck and a little variety, the show tried to go a bit Tom Clancy by having a Russian nuclear submarine be the subject of episode two (and even referenced The Hunt for Red October for luck), but that wasn't fooling anyone.

Indeed, the show's biggest Achilles Heel is its tendency to pluck stories from the headlines for inspiration. While that can work in the right hands, sorting out Boko Haram inside an hour for example verges on the distasteful rather than the inspired.

The show does its best and sometimes succeeds at being a relatively gritty bit of spy fun, despite its protagonists confined to sitting around in rooms talking. This can be done, as The Sandbaggers demonstrated, but it's hampered by its network, its own superficiality and its pulling of punches. 

Worth watching if you like Heigl and find Homeland to be too frustrating, probably not worth watching if you have much else to do.

Barrometer rating: 3
Rob's prediction: Will probably make it to at least a season, perhaps more, with some judicious scheduling, since if it faces any real competition, it'll probably perish into the firefight

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