What have you been watching this week (w/e January 14)?


As you may have guessed by my infrequent posting last week, I was working my backside off so didn’t have time on Friday for "What have you been watching this week?" (aka "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. Since we live in the fabulous world of Internet catch-up services like the iPlayer and Hulu, why not tell your fellow readers what you’ve seen so they can see the good stuff they might have missed?")

Sorry! But it’s here now.

So, after the jump, Cougar Town, Episodes, Kidnap and Ransom, Michel Roux’s Service, Modern Family, Shameless (US) and Southland. I’ll probably do proper reviews of Lights Out and Off the Map when I’ve caught up with them and I’ve already talked about The Cape. Oh, and we tried watching a bit of Wild at Heart on ITV but it was awful. Not making that mistake again.

Cougar Town (Hulu)
The arrival of the villainous wine bar owner was interesting but “these are the differences between male and female friendships” was nothing new.

Episodes (UK: iPlayer; US: Showtime)
So on the one hand, a painfully accurate (in some senses – I’m guessing that Tamsin Greig and Steven Mangan are also the producers of the show they write or else there are some serious rights issues to be negotiated) insight into the US TV industry and how it can mangle ideas, all while everyone is being terribly, terribly nice. Nothing much new that hasn’t been said at all, but still on the nail. Lovely performances by Mangan, Greig and Richard Griffiths. However, was it actually funny? No. Not at all, which is a problem in a comedy. However, Matt LeBlanc is the guy we can really expect to bring the funny and he wasn’t in it much. So I’ll give episode two a shot to see if it gets better.

Kidnap and Ransom (ITV Player)
So we started watching about 10 minutes of
Kidnap and Ransom – aka The Trevor Eve Show made by The Trevor Eve Production Company. Eve is a ransom negotiator and spends most of his time being tremendously stoic, focused, unexpressive and dull because this is serious, serious stuff. However, 10 minutes in I’m thinking that this actually looks like a bad episode of Saracen rather than anything new and exciting. Everything’s gone wrong, and a lot of it has been various blokes sitting around in a car in a hot foreign country, staring at generic kidnapping baddies. Eve then goes home and bitches with his boss, Helen Baxendale. And we’re bored now, so we turn over.

Five minutes before the end and we switch back. Trevor Eve is stuck in a car in a hot foreign country, staring at generic kidnapping baddies. And then it all goes wrong! Who would have guessed? Still, John Hannah is the real big bad and he’s in the next episode so I might just watch that.

Michel Roux’s Service (iPlayer)
Michel Roux – he of
Masterchef: The Professionals – is, of course, the upmarket BBC2 answer to Channel 4’s Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay. So naturally, not content with giving him a cookery show, the Beeb has also given him a reality show rather like Jamie Oliver’s, in which he takes a bunch of teenagers who don’t want office jobs and tries to train them to be professional waiters and maitre d’s. Since this is reality TV, naturally a sensible approach such as giving them some really intensive proper training, letting one at a time have a go at being a waiter, accompanied by professional waiter, teaching them about all the foods being served, etc, is ditched in favour of throwing them all in the deep end with minimal training and no one to do anything except keep an eye on them. Hey! Wadda you know? It all goes pear-shaped.

All the same, Michel Roux is obviously a jolly nice, committed, clever man and he’s great to watch. It would be better if the show were as smart as him.

Modern Family (Hulu)
Quite a fun one, but I’m more concerned lovely wife and I are becoming more and more like the Dumphys (or they’re becoming more and more like us). They even look a bit like us.

Shameless (US) (Showtime)
I have a confession. I’ve never seen the Channel 4 version of Shameless. I know. I should have. But I guess that lets me review this from an unbiased perspective. So this is basically (stop me if you’ve heard this before) about a poor working class family whose mum has either died or run away, leaving the drunken, unemployed dad, Frank Gallagher (William H Macey), to completely fail to bring up the kids, in turn leaving the eldest daughter to raise the family. No one’s bringing in much money – Frank’s on (dubious) disability benefits, the daughter works in a fast food joint, one son works in a corner shop stacking shelves, another tutors high school kids in science – and frankly their lives are a mess, so they’ll do pretty much anything (hence the title), whether it’s take blow jobs from the kids they teach, have sex with the muslim guy who runs the corner shop or date a rich car thief.

So this is 50% tragic, 50% fun and quite hard viewing, whichever part you look at. Coming from Paul Abbott and John Wells (ER/The West Wing), it’s well written and there are some surprisingly tear-jerking romantic moments as well. It’s also surprisingly graphic, with sex scenes and full frontal male nudity aplenty. I’m just not sure it’s actually very enjoyable, and despite William H Macey’s protestations in the press about how much he likes to get off his face, he doesn’t ring true as Frank, even if the rest of the cast is fine and actually quite appealing. I’ll try episode two though.

Southland (no full catch-up)
Episode two picks up the rest of the cast’s plot strands after last week. Weirdly, quite a Homer-inspired episode with references not just to “the face that launched a thousand bullets” (yes, I know that’s Marlowe but…) but also a murder committed by nobody. What do you mean nobody? Actually, Nobody is his street name… Dewey (C Thomas Howell) is back, which makes no one at all happy, Stacey Haiduk’s back to make Ben happy but it turns out that she likes to make all kinds of cops happy. Not the best ever episode but still one with plenty of nuance and an interesting argument about levels of privilege in the LA Latino communities.

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).

  • I really enjoyed the first episode of Episodes, mainly because Tamsin Grieg and Stephen Mangan work so well together – I did love the Head of Comedy who just kept saying ew, or whatever it was and didn’t really have a sense of humour. Look forward to tonight, to see if it does get funnier – I heard TG & SM interviewed and they seemed to think it did.
    I watched the first episode of Human Planet with the 8yo and we were both transfixed. Amazing photography, but also brilliant stories about how humanity adapts to living in extreme circumstances. The tribe who live permanently on water & get landsick were particularly fascinating, but the 8yo totally enthralled by the whalers who had to dive off their spindly little boats to harpoon a whale. Hats off to the production team for not flinching from showing the terrible conditions that fishermen in the Pacific (I think) have to work in, using a scarily basic & antiquated breathing system to dive ever deeper to reach an ever depleting haul of fish. Two of the divers got the bends coming back up and they filmed it with devastating accuracy. Wonderful illuminating & compelling programme & we will definitely be tuning in to watch about deserts this week!
    Enjoying the return of Hustle & liked the second episode of Zen, though a bit slow to start – thought last night’s was better. Rufus Sewell is hot hot hot, so that may have coloured my judgement(-: But I will go and seek out the books on the back of this.
    Husband and I also catching up on The In-Betweeners which we hadn’t seen. Haven’t laughed so much since I discovered Green Wing. Absolute genius.
    Rob, the UK version of Shameless is also difficult watching. Sometimes you think it’s funny, sometimes it has genuine pathos, but a lot of the time you think ouch, do I need to be watching this? Not sure I could be bothered with a US version…

  • Mark Carroll

    Ooh, I wonder when we’ll get Zen over here. At least The In-Betweeners will probably be out on DVD in the US at some point.

  • Mark Carroll

    Still not been watching a whole lot. Castle is feeling missable. I can’t even remember if this was the week we had Laura Prepon guesting or if there was one since. When it’s not too silly it’s still okay, mind. V isn’t exactly fantastic either; I’ve not yet decided if Jane Badler’s reappearance is really going to add something or if it’s just a, ooh, this is something we can do, so let’s try it. I actually went back and rewatched a chunk of 80’s V and I was surprised that it actually does seem a better show, not quite as cheesy as I remembered, a bit one-dimensional and laying on the Nazi analogy a bit thick sometimes but honestly more compelling than the contemporary reimagining.
    The family’s been watching some MST3K, though either I now like it less or they haven’t been the better ones (if the film is bad enough, no amount of commentary can save it), and some Donna-era Doctor Who which has been better than I recalled. I hadn’t remembered that there was a good amount of variety in story type and I am pleased that it is not wholly obsessed with universe-scale catastrophes that only intergalactic-superhero-Doctor can fix.
    The kids watched “Nanny McPhee Returns” which wasn’t wholly awful, in that they certainly liked it and in half-paying-attention through two viewings I confess I was surprised both by Maggie Gyllenhaal’s (sp?) British accent and by Bill Bailey appearing. I am hoping that there will be no more than one sequel, though, it really will get decidedly tired thereafter. The kids also watched “Despicable Me” which I rather preferred; it wasn’t exactly amazing and sophisticated, but as a children’s film it did well indeed to actually get as far as me really not minding watching it once, it held my attention for the most part without feeling painful; I liked the animation and the characters.
    My son likes Undercover Boss. That’s been going about the same as since it started. I suppose it’s interesting for the views into different industries. And, lately we actually met an employee who wasn’t a wonderful worker with a tear-jerking personal story who therefore deserved some large sum to be donated to college fund or some charity or whatever, which makes a nice change. The scalability of so-rewarding the good employees that we met hasn’t yet been addressed: the implicit lesson seems to be that most people (i.e. many of the high fraction of employees that didn’t happen to be met by the boss) go unappreciated and underutilized. I am certainly happy to miss the show, though, it’s not managed to change my life yet and it’s not like there won’t be plenty more of it.

  • Thanks for the heads up on the latest ‘Cougar Town’ being on Hulu. Didn’t think to check for it there. On the East Coast at least, the show was pre-empted for the President’s speech in Tucson.
    I’ve just watched ‘Spaced’ on Netflix; it was the first time for me. I went in thinking I’d enjoy it for Pegg and Frost as well as the pop culture references, but it was a fun introduction to Mark Heap (or is it Matt Heap?) as Brian. Liked it a lot and the number of episodes was just right. It didn’t overstay its welcome as would be mandatory with a US sitcom.
    “Night Of The Fox” based on the Jack Higgins novel. A friend loaned it to me knowing how much I liked “The Eagle Has Landed”. I know I read the book once – I had my Higgins phase – but other than there being an actor in it, I could remember nothing of it. Enjoyable, but some of the dialogue was ridiculous. I’ve heard that Deborah Raffin is a big star overseas, but I can’t see why.
    ‘Modern Family’ had great lines and there was some dialogue that’s already nominated for the Best Dialogue Exchange in the 2011 Toobits. Also had the best costume worn by Gloria the entire series!
    We’ve started ‘Downton Abbey’ on PBS over here and I’m loving it. I became a Bonneville fan with ‘Lost In Austen’ and there are plenty of other actors who have impressed me with this, my first introduction to their work. If PBS was a bit more low-brow, they could have advertised this as “This Ain’t Your Father’s ‘Upstairs, Downstairs'”…..
    TCM is saluting Peter Sellers each Thursday this month and I blew my chance to see ‘The Wrong Box’, which I haven’t seen in nearly forty years. But I was able to catch ‘What’s New, Pussycat?” for the first time.
    I ordered up a TV production of ‘Antony And Cleopatra’ on Netflix after Lynn Redgrave died last year and it finally rose up through the Netflix queue. I only raced through it to get a few frame grabs for my “As Seen On TV” feature in Inner Toob – Marc Antony, Cleopatra, Octabius Caeser, Pompey, and the role I did back in a college class – Lepidus (the crocodile questions). Even from the little I saw I could tell the acting was uneven; I’m sure some of the casting was only to bring in viewers (Nichelle Nichol, Walter Koenig) to con the Trekkies into watching it.

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