Archive | US TV 2016

Reviews of new US TV programmes from 2016


December 23, 2016

What have you been watching? Including Travelers, Falling Water, The OA, Shooter and Dix pour cent (Call My Agent!)

Posted on December 23, 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 and your chance to recommend anything you've been watching. 

I did promise you on Monday one potential last WHYBW to sign off with before the Christmas hols to mop up the few shows with remaining episodes this week. And here it is! How exciting. How reliable of me for a change.

After the jump then, the finale of Falling Water and as Netflix released all of Travelers today in the UK, I was able to binge-watch the final episodes, so I'll be looking at them, too. Thanks to its delayed airing, I'll be looking at the latest (not final) episode of Shooter, and I've also watched a few more episodes of The OA since I started it on Monday. 

On top of that, I also managed to catch up with another of Netflix's French imports:

Dix pour cent (Call My Agent!) (France: France 2; UK: Netflix)
Sort of the French equivalent of ExtrasDix pour cent is set in a talent agency, where the various members of staff have to deal with all the problems that beset the 'talent', including the talent themselves. Except there's all manner of inter-agency rivalry, poaching et al to deal with, too, once the head of the agency pops his clogs.

The show's selling point in France is that series producer Dominique Besnehard was one of the biggest talent agents in France for 20 years and managed huge numbers of top actors, actresses and directors. He then persuaded a select range of these stars to appear as 'themselves' in the show to send themselves up, with episode one seeing Cécile de France (The Young Pope, Around The World in 80 Days, Mesrine) finding herself ditched from a Quentin Tarantino movie for being - gasp! - too old.

Which is a problem for UK audiences, since although there's a chance that some of us will be familiar with some of the stars such as Audrey Fleurot from Engrenages (Spiral), most of the stars are like de France and are going to leave virtually everyone scratching our heads in exactly the same way every American did when Les Dennis turned up in Extras, for example. Even if you do know the show features such cameos (which isn't obvious), most people aren't going to know fictional character from cameo, let alone know an actor's public persona and what they're sending up.

On top of that, it's just not that funny. Quelle surprise, given it's France 2, but the show's few jokes went flashing past unaccompanied by laughs. Oh, and the subtitling is terrible.

One to avoid unless you really know your French acting scene, I'm afraid.

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December 19, 2016

What have you been watching? Including Rogue One, Nobel, The OA and Chance

Posted on December 19, 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 and your chance to recommend anything you've been watching. 

It's the final week before Christmas and TMINE's usual end-of-year break, so this is going to be the final WHYBW of 2016, unless I do another one on Thursday and Friday to mop up a few concluding shows.

As usual, American TV has just about wound down in readiness for Crimbo but this year, Internet TV has started arming a flotilla of box sets for everyone to settle down with once the turkey has subsided and no one can move any more. I'll be looking a couple of those in a mo, but there's too many for me to deal with by myself, so if you've already watched season two of The Man in the High Castle on Amazon or season one of Une Chance De Trop (No Second Chance) or Cannabis on Netflix, feel free to let everyone know what you thought of them in the comments section.

Elsewhere, I've (p)reviewed Swedish Dicks (Sweden) and passed a third-episode verdict on Shut Eye (US); after the jump, the regulars:

  • Canada
    Travelers
  • US
    Chance, Falling Water, The Great Indoors, Shooter, and Timeless.

But first, a couple of newbies:

Nobel (Norway: NRK1; UK: Netflix)
Aksel Hennie (The Martian) is a Norwegian special forces officer just back from Afghanistan who is ordered to investigate when a former Taliban target turns up in Oslo. Hennie ends up killing him, but begins to learn that maybe his orders weren't as legitimate as he first thought. Who's responsible, will he get found out, has it anything to do with the Nobel Peace Prize committee and what happened back in Afghanistan anyway involving the target's wife?

Something of a leap up in quality from previous Norwegian efforts such as Okkupert (Occupied) and Mammon, Nobel is a geopolitical thriller that juxtaposes the individual with realpolitik, examining the decisions individual soldiers have to make on the ground, the effects of war and the little bit people who get caught up in big decisions, while looking at the alliances needed and compromises made to end war, where even a $60bn deal can be threatened by the wrong person turning up to a party at the wrong time. It all feels nicely realistic for a change, even if some of the nuances of the language and culture passed me by (eg a translator appears to be speaking Norwegian with everyone else and then someone says to her "six languages and you still can't speak Norwegian". What language is she speaking then?!), and Hennie makes for a very plausible special forces operative.

I'm only two episodes in but this looks like a keeper.

The OA (Netflix)
Netflix has started to develop a habit of covertly producing very odd but wonderful little series with no publicity that it puts out of a Friday as a boxset and surprises everyone. The OA is such a show, a genre-defying piece created by and written by Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, directed by Batmanglij and starring Marling (as well as a certain Jason Isaacs) that's almost impossible to categorise - the best comparison I can come up with is if Neil Gaiman and Hal Hartley sat down together and decided to mash up Stranger Things, Room and Anastasia.

It starts with Marling jumping off a bridge. But when her parents come rushing to her hospital, they reveal she's been missing for seven years - however, before she disappeared, this fully sighted girl was blind. Returning to her home, she's soon shaking up the town with some special powers she seems to have acquired. But she needs five "strong and flexible" people to help her rescue someone, perhaps from that mysterious other realm she once visited…

Full of strange authorial decisions from Marling's insistence that everyone now call her 'The OA' through to only starting the title sequence 45 minutes into the episode once she begins to retell her story of actually being a reincarnated Russian oligarch's daughter, it's a properly auteured piece of work that needs to be watched if you're to stand a chance of knowing what it's like. Visually beautiful, it is by turns upsetting, bewildering and heart-warming, and most frequently like a fairy tale - but even that's a classification it eludes. 

I've seen one episode so far and it never once did any of the things I suspected it would do and did many things I've never imagined. I'm going to watch more just to see if it'll blow my mind any further, but it requires a good deal of patience and I suspect it won't be to everyone's tastes.

I also watched a movie this week!

Rogue One (2016)
An almost immediate prequel to Star WarsRogue One reveals the full details of how those plucky spies mentioned in the first movie's opening introduction were able to retrieve the plans for the Death Star and ultimately help to stop the Empire's plans for galactic domination. Directed by Gareth Edwards and co-written by Tony Gilroy, the film is more like a proper war movie than any of the other Star Wars flicks, echoing The Dirty Dozen and The Seven Samurai, as plucky crim Felicity Jones puts together a band of warriors that includes Donnie Yen and Riz Ahmed to track down the man who designed the Death Star - her father, Mads Mikkelsen. 

Operating resolutely in the vein of Edwards's previous blockbuster, Godzilla, it's a game of two halves. The first is a slow, character-builder that shows off the Star Wars universe with some spectacular location filming. The second is then a giddy, action-packed pay-off that surprises with an oddly large number of heroic deaths. On top of that, you have the return of a number of original Star Wars characters and actors who appear as their young and/or not-dead selves through the power of CGI, the movie effectively spelling out why the Empire was so fearsome, why everyone was properly worried of the Death Star and by the end, precisely why everyone was right to cack themselves as soon as Darth Vader entered the room.

All in all, a movie that gets better in the memory and which finally does something new and worthwhile with the franchise. It's also best to watch Star Wars afterwards to see how it almost exactly matches up with everything we see in that.

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December 14, 2016

Third-episode verdict: Shut Eye (US: Hulu)

Posted on December 14, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerShutEye.jpgA Barrometer rating of 4

In the US: All episodes available on Hulu

We should probably be giving Shut Eye a medal, since it's doing such a public service - revealing all the tricks of the trade used by psychics to fleece their customers. But good thoughts alone aren't enough to make a good TV programme, so unfortunately for Shut Eye, we have to evaluate it on when it's watchable or not. 

The first episode set the scene pretty well, with star Jeffrey Donovan playing a former Las Vegas magician now working as a fake psychic in LA under the purview of a bunch of Gypsies, including Isabella Rossellini. Well versed in the arts of cold reading and setting people up, one day he gets a bump on the noggin from a client's disgruntled boyfriend and winds up having proper psychic visions. Will he use his new powers for good or for evil, we wonder at the end of the episode?

Evil, it turns out. Didn't see that coming, did you? 

The casting of Donovan as the lead is a genius move, since he's able to recycle two of his old routines for the role. In episode two, the show becomes full on psychic Burn Notice, with Donovan giving us (and his mark) the rundown on the mystic art of psychically stealing people's money. By episode three, he's mining Touching Evil for sympathetic, dazed, brain-damaged and odd, as he starts using his new found powers to tell people the hard truths they probably don't want to hear.

As you might have deduced from that run-down, Shut Eye is as odd a show as its lead character, since it is by turns comedic and then deeply serious and violent. More problematically, it keeps piling more and more details onto to the plot, almost in an apparent attempt to confuse us while it steals our watches. As well as the Gypsies and their bizarre activities - including poetry recitals and love ceremonies - there's Dexter's David Zayas as a gang boss customer of Donovan, who's as quick to throw someone in a deep fat fryer as he is to fix Donovan's floorboards. There's Donovan's hard-edged wife, KaDee Strickland, who wants him to regain his former manhood while she's simultaneously sleeping with another woman. There's Donovan's son, his supposed ADHD and his school issues. There's The Wire's Sonja Sohn as a police officer who's chasing after Donovan. There's thirtysomething's Mel Harris as Donovan's main mark, who sometimes wakes up with a rooster and a tree branch in her bed. There's even a kooky doctor - Susan Misner (Billions, The Americans) - trying to help unclog Donovan's subconsciousness using Mozart and drugs.

And so on.

It makes for a show that says an awful lot without really taking the time to say anything worthwhile, not even about fake psychics because they might be real, it turns out.

I probably won't be bothering with the rest of Shut Eye, despite its funnier and more psychedelic qualities. Donovan's worth his enormous salary for this gig, but the gig itself could probably have done with a rethink about exactly what story it wanted to tell.

Barrometer rating: 4
TMINE's prediction: Unlikely to get a second season

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