What have you been watching this week (w/e October 31)?

Gabriel Byrne in In Treatment

Boo. Happy Halloween. Bet you weren’t expecting this, it being a Sunday and all, but I was away on Friday and today’s catch-up day. So here’s “What have you been watching this week?” your chance to recommend to friends and fellow blog readers the TV that they might be missing or should avoid – and for me to do mini-reviews of everything I’ve watched this week.

This week, as well as being Fox’s traditional quiet period (so no House or Running Wilde), it’s also been Halloween week, with more or less every show giving us a special episode for the holidays. So, after the jump, random spookiness in The Apprentice, Being Erica, Boardwalk Empire, Chuck, Community, Cougar Town, Dexter, Hellcats, Life Unexpected, Modern Family, No Ordinary Family, Smallville, Stargate Universe and 30 Rock.

But I also gave Canada’s Men With Brooms a try and we also have the return of HBO’s In Treatment. Here’s a trailer for the third season, followed by a summary of the first two seasons, so you can get a better grasp of what the show’s like if you haven’t seen it, it being on HBO/Sky Arts n’all.

  • The Apprentice: The one who got fired this week was proper mental, wasn’t she? Still, at least we’ve entered the phase of the competition where people start to demonstrate that they might actually have a clue and nice to see everyone making colossal profits this week, too.
  • Being Erica: Haven’t seen this week’s lesbian-happy one, but have watched Being Adam, which was largely as dull as you’d think a show about Adam with very little Erica in it might be. But it had its moments.
  • Boardwalk Empire: After a massive catch-up spell, I’m about halfway through the last episode. It’s definitely growing on me, with Michael K Williams (Omar from The Wire) proving to be as magnificent to watch as Steve Buscemi. Although the show is an equal-opportunities violent offender, the violence against and treatment of women is quite traumatic, but Kelly MacDonald’s character is a worthy heroine and Gretchen Mol is great. Still not really feeling the love, but then The Sopranos wasn’t my cup of tea either.
  • Chuck: A Halloween episode guest starring Robert Englund (Freddie Krueger in the original A Nightmare On Elm Street) as well as Linda Hamilton as Chuck’s mum. Actually, very good, funny, with plenty of ongoing plot revelations, despite its largely Buy More centric plotline, with Jefster’s House of Horrors proving a delight (did I spent a Batman Begins visual reference or two in there as well?). Spent most of the time staring at Linda Hamilton’s botox though.
  • Community: While this zombie episode was obviously awesome in so many ways, the slow departure of Community away from near-reality to some other weird TV realm is slightly concern. Donald Glover’s surprisingly buff, too, don’t you think?
  • Cougar Town: The best episode of the season so far, with a guest appearance by Dr Kelso from Scrubs as Jules’ dad. Nice to see them playing around with Courtney Cox’s southern heritage and the Halloween costumes (and impressions) were pretty outstanding. Funny.
  • Dexter: A very good episode of Dexter, too, with Julia Stiles doing ‘damaged’ very well and Dexter actually returning to reality after a few seasons away – we’re getting more of an emphasis on the victims and what Dexter is actually saving them from. No Halloween content that I noticed, but maybe in tonight’s episode
  • Hellcats: Basically, a relationships episode. Not entirely sure I approve of the concept of a “date auction” but nice to see the Hellcats not exactly having the easiest time of things. Also good to see Savannah’s upbringing being examined again, and Marti’s legal work making a return appearance. Nevertheless, it’s definitely lost its edge.
  • In Treatment: The return of HBO’s acting extravaganza, with Gabriel Byrne the flawed therapist counseling a different person in each of the week’s three episodes, before going into therapy himself in the fourth episode, and reflecting on the previous week’s revelations. It’s early days yet, but Sunil (Irffan Khan as a widower moved from India by his son to stay with him and his wife – Sonya Walger – after his wife dies) is by far the most interesting of the three patients so far, although Frances (Debra Winger playing an aging Hollywood star) gives him a run for him money, leaving irritating gay teenager Jesse (Dane DeHaan) the weakest link. Amy Ryan (The Wire, The Office) is already proving an excellent replacement for Dianne Wiest. It’s lost a little of its theatricality, which is a shame, and most of the outstanding younger cast have escaped to Parenthood, which is also a shame, but it’s already engrossing stuff. It’s just finding the two hours per week to commit to it that’s going to be tricky.
  • Life Unexpected: Everyone goes away to a hotel, where hook-ups occur. Lots of game-changing stuff going on, but nothing outstanding.
  • Men with Brooms: For some reason, Canada is going through something of a comedy dry spell. I’ve tried 18 To Life, Hiccups and now Men With Brooms and they’ve all inspired epic hate in me. Based on the movie of the same name, Men With Brooms, despite the presence of Paul Gross, was incredibly unfunny stuff. A relationship comedy involving a bunch of losers united by their membership of a curling team, there was one joke: every time someone called it a curling team, someone else said “I think it’s called a curling rink”. I counted six usages of that joke, and it wasn’t funny the first time. Gross effortlessly livened up the five minutes in which he appeared, but beyond the setting for the comedy, there was nothing original at all about the show and it was largely a collection of stereotypes (eg no man wants to be a vegetarian really, all women want love, men are frightened of commitment, attractive women are condescending and have no real personality of their own, etc)
  • Modern Family: Another Halloween episode. Very funny, as always, especially Mitchell’s workplace antics, but the general mockery of Sofía Vergara’s character’s accent left a bitter taste in the mouth. Also good to see Julie Cowen’s character getting to do wacky things for a change.
  • No Ordinary Family: A slight hint the show might be heading in more exciting directions, but largely forgettable.
  • Smallville: Last week’s episode had a guest appearance by the goddess Isis, but was largely silly and only useful for its (spoiler)unveiling of Clark’s secret identity to Lois. This week was Witness meets The Wicker Man and made no sense at all.
  • Stargate Universe: One of the first throwaway episodes of the season, but it still had the usual SGU edge.
  • 30 Rock: Last week’s was another return to form, with a guest appearance by Kelsey Grammer. However, it was, as always, Jack and Liz who were the best things about the episode, with Jack “Regeaning” away Liz’s problems.

But what have you been watching?

As always, no spoilers unless you’re going to use the <spoiler> </spoiler> tags, please. If you’ve reviewed something on your blog, you can put a link to it here rather than repeat yourself (although too many links and you might get killed by the spam filter).

  • Mark Carroll

    I’ve given “Dead Like Me” a start. It’s okay, a bit different, it’ll be interesting to see how things settle and also how things continue with the principal bereaved family.

  • SK

    The Hallowe’en episode of Community. Which is brilliant. Especially Abed as the Bat-Man.
    Third episode of the new V. It’s interesting seeing the changes form the original, but disheartening that they are all things the original got better. I flinch every time anyone refers to the aliens as ‘Vs’ — V is for Victory, damn it. Or ‘Vampire’, but only if preceded by ‘Code’. But what really gets me is — why are the earth-dwelling alien renegades using the term? Surely they wouldn’t call their own race ‘visitors’ — they’d just use either the name of the race, or the name of Anna’s Nazi-analogue party, to refer to those who had arrived?
    And what’s more, why would they refer to themselves as ‘the fifth column’, a human historical term? Its use made sense in the original series, because they used it when talking to Donovan, but why use it just among themselves? Surely they’d call themselves ‘the resistance’ or ‘the loyalists’ or something? I mean, of course I’m willing to allow they talk among themselves in English, for the benefit of viewers, but really, these things are stuff that should have been picked up as soon as anybody looked at the dialogue at the script stage, surely? (They’re not even using the term ‘fifth column’ correctly, as it means a bunch of people within a city or organisation who are working against it. So again in the original series it was used correctly to refer to a secret resistance on board the spaceships, and indeed there does seem to be a fifth column in this one, but a lot of the ‘fifth column’ seem to be the ones who escaped / went renegade on Earth, and they’re pretty clearly not within the aliens ranks — a spy who goes undercover and becomes a double agent can’t be a fifth columnist unless they come home.)
    Also I fear they may have peaked too early in that Supergirl is unlikely to get any more of her kit off than she just did in episode three.
    Single Father is, as of episode three, descending rather into melodrama, with the backwards-looking plot about the dead wife’s secrets not just threatening to but totally overwhelming the present-day plot about the relationship between Tennant’s and Jones’s characters that was used as the selling-point.
    Spooks continues to be so-so. Is it the costumes or does Myles look a bit portly these days? And was their grasp of technology always this bad and I have just started to care, or have they got worse — or maybe just started doing more episodes on ‘cyber-crime’ so their ignorance shows up more? Still, courageous ending, I thought. The Lucas plotline, while utterly tedious in itself (probably partly the fault of Richard ‘suck the drama out of any moment’ Armitage, rather than Iain Glen, I think), does seem to generate some good dramatic moments script-wise.
    Keeping up with the second series of True Blood. Interesting still but so, so, so slow. What looked like a quick jaunt to Texas has sprawled over half the series, with very little happening each episode and endlessly delaying the interesting bit which I assume will happen when Sookie returns to find out who Tara has let stay in her home. To be honest that’s mainly what I’m watching it for now.
    Watched a single episode of The Vampire Diaries because I met someone who claimed to be addicted to it and I wondered what the fuss was about. Thought I noticed a dig at the Twilight series when a character makes a joke about werewolves and vampires being in ‘bad movie series’, which seemed a bit off as I’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between this and Twilight. It is quite hilarious how these days they cast the wettest, most un-threatening actors they can find to play the supposedly scary vampire love interests. The one in this looks like you could hold him at bay by threatening to slit the throat of his girlfriend’s favourite teddy bear.
    Desperate Housewives has started again, with Wilhelmina Slater turning up (played by the same actress as in Ugly Betty and all!) for a predictable but still semi-amusing storyline. It’s a shadow of its former self, though — yet more evidence, I think, for my thesis that no programme has enough in it for more than a hundred episodes, at the very very most. The best thing they could do to disguise this though is just bite the bullet and get rid of Teri Hatcher: her character is clearly played out, and has been shunted off into her own tedious storyline that basically stops her interacting with any of the rest of the cast.
    (I think this is an instance of a general problem with the US model too: the character who is focused on in the early series or two becomes the most popular, or at least is played by the biggest star, because they are focused on in the early series. But then their character’s story ends — but because that’s the star, and because the character’s popular, they can’t do the decent thing and write the character out, but instead have to keep throwing event after event at them, none of it stemming form character, all of it tedious. Exactly what happened in Heroes, in fact, where all the original characters had stories that finished at the end of series one, deliberately, because they were intending to focus on a whole new lot of characters in series two — but then they had to keep the popular characters around, and as a result from then on they never had a ‘story’, they just had a set of increasingly-bizarre and ridiculous events and twists thrown at characters who quickly lost their actual characters (because those characters really had no dramatic reason to exist once their stories were over post-series-one) and instead became ciphers simply designed to keep the popular actors and actresses on screen, so that people would keep tuning in. Which would never have happened if it had been done under the British system as a single serial, with the option for a sequel, which need not have been taken up when it was realised there was no story for the characters.)

  • bob

    Community kicked zombie arse last week. Probably my favourite episode. I have Abba stuck in my head and I don’t even care. Loved it.
    Dexter has been brilliant this season. It feels more serialised and, yes, real. Less cheesy episodic “lesson of the week” like. Shame the minor characters are terrible, but I am loving Dexter and Deb.
    Um… I’ve been watching a lot of Due South which is repeating on iPlayer at the moment. Oh and Sarah Jane Adventures has been great this series. The story starring the Doctor was actually better than the previous Doctor episode, I think, despite the fact I don’t really care for Matt Smith.
    Um… I am sure there are other things too but I’ve been pretty overwhelmed with work. In fact, I continue to be overwhelmed with work and need to return to it. Watch Community everyone.

  • Well I’ve been faithfully following Downton Abbey, which I’ve loved despite the anachronisms (have to fess up to having missed those), simply because it’s a superb ensemble cast, the house looks wonderful and Hugh Bonneville is magnificent.
    Spooks is driving me nuts this season. As you may have noticed am a big fan of Mr Armitage, but his storyline is beyond preposterous even by Spooks’ standards. As for his girlfriend. Totally slappable heroine.
    Loving Whites mainly for Darren Boyd’s increasingly neurotic Bib and Katherine Parkinson’s acidic Caroline.
    Last week’s Apprentice utterly hilarious. Retributed karma anyone??
    And Sunday’s episode of Pyschoville was proper scary as my daughters would say…
    Not caught up with Single Father yet but looking forward to it

  • MediumRob

    @Mark: I gave up on Dead Like Me after the first few episodes, but if it gets better let me know!
    @SK: I gave up on V and The Vampire Diaries after the first few episodes, but if they get better let me know!
    Re: the US model v UK model. I doubt there’s anyone who would commission a 24-part serial in the UK. Series, yes, serial no. Notably, on Heroes, the producers wrote out Ali Larter’s first character, Niki, when they thought her story was done but brought her back as Tracy. They also wrote out an epic number of characters in the first season. Cf also Lost. Cf also Vanished, which killed off the hero about seven or eight episodes in. Cf also Viper which changed leads every season. Cf also 24, which killed more or less everyone popular.
    The problem with Heroes is that they actually moved to a four-episode scripting model, rarely planning any character’s story arc more than four episodes ahead. There’s a reason why no one else in the industry uses that model.
    Equally, I doubt there’s a single show in Britain (and when you say ‘British model’ you’re largely talking about the BBC model, rather than any other broadcaster’s, and even then, that’s only a recently developed model) that if it were popular enough, wouldn’t be brought back for a second or third series with the same characters, unless they all died at the end (although cf Blake’s 7 and what would have happened with series five if that had been brought back). Where this doesn’t happen, it’s typically because it’s an ideas rather than character-based drama and it’s usually harder for individual characters in ideas-centric drama to actually become popular.
    And even on the BBC, arguably, Doctor Who, Torchwood, Merlin and Spooks have all been brought back with popular characters way past the point where they should have been killed off. It’s how popular TV aka “TV people want to watch” works on any channel in any country.
    @bob: Aargh. I forget SJA. Yes, watched both eps of that and for the intended audience (kiddies), it was actually rather good. Didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it didn’t need to. Katy Manning more or less played herself rather than Jo Grant, but that was fine, and it was lovely to get all those shout-outs to past companions as well as clips from previous stories. Plus Matt Smith was awesome.
    I also forget to mention DOA, the Kris Marshall pilot on BBC3, which I did watch but which was largely rubbish. Nothing too remarkable or original, but Marshall was good. Wonder what that means for his forthcoming NBC show?
    Oh, and Bob’s right – watch Community everyone. It’s on Viva.
    @Jane Henry: Saving the Downton Abbeys up for a point when I have a few hours to spare.

  • bob

    Re Dead Like Me, I wasn’t at all keen on it but watched the two series. I guess it suffered quite a lot from behind-the-scenes issues and therefore had quite a confused personality. I actually thought that it was better in the second season though it departed from its initial, quite ambitious, ideas to become more of your standard fantasy-comedy-drama.
    Incidentally, I preferred the second Sarah Jane story to the Matt Smith one. It is sort of a shame that RTD isn’t a terribly good writer for the show. The previous story was by Phil Ford and included a transdimensional vault full of starships and a moral dilemma on whether to help the “destroyer of worlds” (a bad bad alien) save his species or not. Excellent stuff and for the low budget, it did remarkably well. So although I will acknowledge that the Matt Smith episode was “good considering it was a children’s show” I will defend Sarah Jane Adventures overall for occasionally being good in its own right. Gareth Roberts is another writer that normally produces truly excellent episodes, often not as funny as Phil Ford’s but with a brilliant understanding of the human condition and hence emotional conflict and depth.

  • Mark Carroll

    I rather liked Babylon 5’s willingness to kill off major characters.

  • Mark Carroll

    I have Community season 1 coming fairly soon by Netflix. (-:

  • Mark Carroll

    (Still watching) I’m not really noticing Dead Like Me picking up much. It’s certainly okay, it passes the time, there’s only a couple of seasons so it’s not too big a commitment. But if you weren’t much taken at first, I doubt you’re going to love later episodes. Different genres but, for instance, my wife and I prefer Dead Like Me to Running Wilde, if that’s any clue to taste differences.
    Same with V. I think it’s okay, not really worse than the original, but I’ve noticed no signs of it improving over time. I have a soft spot for science fiction so I give it a generous pass. Seems about time for some more episodes, but in the longer term I’d fear potential for approaching the awfulness of Earth: Final Conflict which I thought started somewhat promisingly before settling quite stubbonly at the bottom of the barrel.

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