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Reviews of UK TV programmes


April 24, 2017

What have you been watching? Including Girlboss, Doctor Who, The Magicians and Fortitude

Posted on April 24, 2017 | 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 and your chance to recommend anything you've been watching.

You can definitely tell we're between seasons at the moment, can't you? Some new shows have started up (such as Famous In Love) and there are a lot more on the way, but this week, there have been very few of the regulars to watch, just The AmericansDoctor Who and the season finale of The Magicians, all of which I'll talk about after the jump, as well as the return last night of Silicon Valley.

The rest of the time, I've been playing catch-up on Fortitude, which I'll also talk about in a minute, as well as watching Seven Types of Ambiguity. I'm four episodes into that now, so I'll a do a full season review later in the week once I've watched the remaining two, along with National Geographic's Genius.

I did, however, take a glance at one other new show over the weekend:

Girlboss (Netflix)
Based on Sophia Amoruso's book of (almost) the same name (#GirlBoss), this is a 'loose… real loose' reimagining of Amoruso's climb from rags to riches in which Britt Robertson (Life Unexpected, Under The Dome) is a girl so down-and-out that she sleeps with men so she has somewhere to stay for the night and gets repeatedly fired from jobs because she doesn't want to work for anyone. But what does she want to do? She doesn't know, until one day she discovers she has a gift for spotting expensive second-hand clothes being given away for next to nothing. Before you know it, she's setting up her own eBay fashion business, which will go on to be worth millions.

I actually already knew about Amaruso already, because her book was the subject of some Greek translation I had to do once, Amoruso being Greek/Italian-American ("Sofia often stole from shops, which Americans call 'shoplifting', for which we don't have a specific word"). Turning Amaruso into the daughter of a rich WASP (a minor reunion for Robertson as it's Breaking Bad/Under The Dome's Dean Norris) robs the story of some potential variety, as does shifting the action from the early 90s to the mid-00s. However, it still manages to maintain the main highlights of Amaruso's career and (loose) dedication to anarchism, and be a moderately interesting story about a young woman's journey to try to discover what she wants to do with her life and then learn how to start and run an ultimatly hugely successful business.

But it's not great. Enjoyable enough, a different sort of story for young women from the standard current 'handsome prince' tales (eg Famous In Love) and Robertson is still very watchable, but neither bad nor great in its telling, just a bit average.

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April 18, 2017

What have you been watching? Including Return of the Mac, The Good Fight, Imposters and Doctor Who

Posted on April 18, 2017 | 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 and your chance to recommend anything you've been watching.

I'm back. <INSERT PERTINENT DOCTOR WHO QUOTE HERE>. 

Oddly, I haven't missed much in my absence, since not many new shows have started, while plenty have wound up or have taken an Easter break. In fact, I've had the time to rewatch all of Marvel's Iron Fist, as well as an episode of The Champions

Iron Fist actually held up quite well on a second viewing, although it turns out not to have any hidden depths at all that I missed and the fight scenes do often look quite bad on a bigger screen. But it's still hugely enjoyable, the soundtrack's truly marvellous, and it and season 1 of Daredevil are so far the only Netflix Marvel shows that I've even been inclined to rewatch.

Next up, of course, is Marvel's The Defenders, which will be arriving in August during TMINE's annual break. I presume it's because they don't want me to comment on the fact that Daredevil is wearing Iron Fist's costume in the teaser trailer. Too late, boys. Too late.

As well as the regulars, I've also had time to play catch up on a few shows that I'd got behind on. That means that after the jump, I'll be looking at the final episodes of DC's Legends of Tomorrow, The Good Fight and Imposters, as well as the latest episodes of The Americans and The Magicians, the return of Doctor Who and the back end of the second season of The Man in the High Castle.

Fortitude I'm now working on so I should have a round-up of the final episodes next week. I'll also be a lot further along in Midnight Sun, which I'd probably have watched already if the upgrade to the Sky Go iOS app hadn't resulted in the download rights on the whole series being revoked for some odd reason, meaning I couldn't watch any of my previously downloaded episodes while I was away.

The Prison Break revival started while I was away, I know, but frankly, I suspect the show's time has gone and I've had enough Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell of late on DC's Legends of Tomorrow, anyway.

Some time in the next few days, I'll be taking a look at ABC (Australia)'s Hugo Weaving-starrer Seven Types of Ambiguity, which rather than being a documentary about literary criticism is a sort of Rashomon-ish look at a child abduction from the different points of view of all involved. However, awkwardly, as well as being only six rather than seven episodes long, each episode is from a different character's perspective (I think), so I'm unsure whether I have to watch the whole thing or not.

I did try to watch The Son, AMC (US)'s mini-series Western that stars Pierce Brosnan. Potentially, it sounded quite interesting, with Brosnan playing an old Texan cattle baron during the First World War, while we get flashbacks to his life growing up among the Comanches as a boy after they kill his family. However, it's AMC, so amazingly slow and boring, so I didn't even make it through the first episode.

I also gave one other show a try:

Return of the Mac (US: Pop)
Yet another one of those TV shows in which celebrities play 'themselves' with hilarious results (cf Lopez, Donny!, et al), this sees former New Kid on the Block Joey McIntyre playing a version of himself who wants to do serious acting. Unfortunately, no one else wants him to do serious acting, so when he pitches with his agent to a female-led network, apart from the drooling by the 30- and 40-somethings who used to worship him when they were young, he has to endure the fact they only want to offer him a late night talk show. Can you imagine?

Produced by fellow New Kidder Donnie "Not Mark" Wahlberg and Jenny "Vaccines are Evil" McCarthy, who also cameo as "themselves", the show struggles to do much beyond set up very easy jokes about reality TV, celebrities, McIntyre and his career, without coming close to even Donny!'s low bar in finding a remotely interesting gimmick to supplement these low balls.

About the only thing it does well doesn't even involve McIntyre, as it's all about his wife's work with a gloriously over the top stylist. January Jones cameos for all of a minute and is better than everyone else in the cast, despite being January Jones. That should tell you something.

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March 6, 2017

What have you been watching? Including Chicago Justice, Prime Suspect 1973 and The Blacklist: Redemption

Posted on March 6, 2017 | 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 and your chance to recommend anything you've been watching.

March is here and with it comes Spring! Snowdrops, wee fluffy little bunnies and chocolate eggs are on the way, as are a big bunch of new shows. This week, on top of passing an impending verdict on The Good Fight, I'll also be reviewing two US time travels shows that aired last night: Time After Time and Making History. Not sure why they waited until Timeless finished before starting, but they did. There may be some other things, too, but I'm lazy and haven't looked yet.

A few other new shows have also appeared on our screens, although none of them really warranted proper reviews:

Prime Suspect 1973 (UK: ITV)
It's hard to look back now through the distant mists of time, past sequels and remakes to 1991, when Lynda La Plante's Prime Suspect appeared on our screens. An amazingly good piece of TV that makes you weep for what's happened to ITV - and indeed BBC - drama in the quarter-century since, it still stands the test of time and I heartily urge you to watch/rewatch it, since it's currently available to view on the ITV Hub for free.

A career-transforming piece for star Helen Mirren, it saw her playing DCI Jane Tennison, a discriminated against Met Police detective who has to win over her male colleagues in order to first get, then close, a case against a possible serial killer, back when those were still rare things in the media. Flipping traditional structures on its head, the show was more about the accumulation of evidence and building of a case than whoddunnit, since we know probably whodunnit right from the outset - although some of the show's power comes from its ambiguity and whether they've genuinely got the right man. 

These days, ITV (motto: "Is it a crime drama? Is it a period crime drama? No? Then it's not on ITV") seems to have given up on creating truly original new shows in favour of developing prequels to its back catalogue (what next? Brideshead Revisited: The Prep School Years?). So, following on from the success of Inspector Morse's origin story, Endeavour, we now have Prime Suspect 1973, in which a young Jane Tennison (Emerald City's Stefanie Martini) is a mere WPC learning the ropes of policework in between having to make cups of tea for the male officers. But the murder of a teenage prostitute and the benevolent support of the investigating DI (The Astronaut Wives Club's Sam Reid) give her an opportunity to shine.

Based on Lynda La Plante's own prequel novel, Prime Suspect 1973 is at least decently executed. Thematically, it sits nicely as a rejoinder to Life On Mars' 'white male privilege', pointing out that Sweeney-like fun might have been good for certain people, but women, minorities, the unluckiest members of the working class and others all tended to get shafted. It also deals neatly with class, with Maida Vale posh girl Tennison having to work extra hard to prove her interest in the working class populace of Hackney. And it does all this without sticking the boot in, giving us nuances and exceptions to show reality is a lot messier than simplistic sociological theories.

Martini is surprisingly good and makes for a nicely mardy young Tennison. It's also a cracking touch to get Cracker's 'Panhandle', Geraldine Sommerville, to play her mum. But Aussie Reid is slightly odd casting and his choice of accent throws off all the questions about Tennison's poshness, since he sounds posher than she does. Period detail is pretty decent, even if some of the sideburns look stuck on, but it seems at times like it's trying more to look like Life On Mars' idea of 1973 than actual 1973. Still, props for the use of Pink Floyd's 'Time' in the soundtrack.

But is it even a tenth as compelling as the original or even La Plante's dry run at a Prime Suspect prequel, Above Suspicion? Not at all. I might stick around for episode two, though.

The Blacklist: Redemption (US: NBC)
I abandoned The Blacklist after its second season got too convoluted and daft, even by its own standards. The last I heard, Tom Keen (Ryan Eggold) - evil husband of Megan Boone - was an orphan raised by Lance Henriksen to do evil spy things and was going undercover to be a German neo-Nazi.

Turns out that since then, we've discovered that his dad and mum are still alive and are Terry O'Quinn and Famke Janssen, the latter being a blacklister who runs a secret organisation that does things for the government that would otherwise be too dangerous. Plus he and Boone are back together, have a baby, and rather than play at being a German neo-Nazi, Eggold's now a house-husband.

Except The Blacklist: Redemption drags Eggold away from all that to go on undercover missions for Janssen, although only because O'Quinn wants him to inflitrate her organisation. Why? Because. Except Eggold must never reveal that he's actually working for O'Quinn. Why? Because.

At least, that's what I've gleaned.

On the face of it, a spin-off from The Blacklist with Eggold is a good idea, since he was actually one of the best things about the original series. But the producers do nothing to help turn that idea into a viable drama. As you can tell from above, it's all so convoluted and too unforgiving in its set-up that anyone who didn't bother watching season 3 and beyond of The Blacklist (is Red still having problems?) is probably going to give up on the impenetrable mess before they're five minutes in.

Yet even if they do decide to stick with it, it's just atrociously written nonsense that makes even less sense than the mothership, but with no James Spader to make it palatable and none of the original's unique format.

Chicago Justice (US: NBC; UK: Universal Channel - starts March 30, 9pm)
Time was that famed producer Dick Wolf only needed Law & Order to show you the two sides of the two groups in the US criminal justice system who represent the people: the police, who investigate crime; and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. Now, he needs two different TV shows altogether just to show Chicago's system. Maybe that's because it's Chicago and things are done differently there.

Launched in a triple episode with Chicago Fire and Chicago PD (all the victims were dead so no need to visit Chicago Med, I guess), Chicago Justice is all about Chicago public prosecutor and former baseball player Philip Winchester (Strike Back, The Player). There are other public prosecutors (Carl Weathers, Anna Valdez) but the show's not so fussed about them here because they're not the sons of Michael Moriarty's character in Law & Order.

Chicago might have a bit of a rep for corruption, but here Winchester gets to hurdle a very low morality bar by fighting sleazy Bradley Whitford's sneaky defence lawyer tricks and spurning helpful but false confessions to prove using truth, justice and the American way that a teenager stalker did in fact burn to death 39 kids because he was evil. 

The script stops short of going "ooh, the Internet and that Facebook and the Tumblr - they're full of the bad kids who spend too much time indoors rather than playing all-American baseball" and if you squint, there's a useful message in there that you could potentially extract about consent, privilege, radicalisation online, etc. But it's such a ham-fisted piece of work that Winchester might as well be riding a horse wearing a white cowboy hat as he shoots a moustache-twirling villain.

Still, that's what the audience for these shows wants. Me? Not so much.

After the jump, the regulars: 24: Legacy, Billions, The Flash, Fortitude, The Good Fight, Imposters, Legion, The Magicians, Man Seeking Woman and the season finale of Cardinal. One of them is getting a promotion - can you guess which, tigers?

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