What did you watch this fortnight? Including It’s Kevin, Plebs, GI Joe: Retaliation, Parks and Recreation, and Arrow

It’s “What did you watch this week fortnight?”, my chance to tell you what I movies and TV I’ve watched this week fortnight that I haven’t already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I’ve missed them.

First, the usual recommendations:

  • The Americans (FX/ITV)
  • Archer (FX, 5USA)
  • Arrow (The CW/Sky 1)
  • Being Human (US) (SyFy)
  • The Daily Show (Comedy Central)
  • The Doctor Blake Mysteries (ABC1/ITV)
  • Cougar Town (TBS/Sky Living)
  • Elementary (CBS/Sky Living)
  • Go On (NBC)
  • House of Cards (Netflix)
  • Modern Family (ABC/Sky 1)
  • Shameless (US) (Showtime/More4)
  • Southland (TNT/Channel 4)
  • Spartacus (Starz/Sky 1)
  • Vegas (CBS/Sky Atlantic).

These are all going to be on in either the UK or the US, perhaps even both, but I can’t be sure which.

A combination of pluses and minuses in terms of time means that although I’ve nearly watched all of House of Cards, there’s still a lot left in my viewing queue, including the latest episodes of The Bates Motel, Modern Family, Archer, Cougar Town and Southland. I’m sure they’ll survive without me for a bit, and the Easter weekend should give me a chance to catch up. All the same, I have had the chance to try out a couple of new shows:

It’s Kevin
Kevin Eldon’s been one of the stalwarts of British comedy for the last 20 years or so – his Big Train appearances, especially his George Martin impressions, were all great, as were his appearances on shows like Fist of Fun. So I had high hopes for this, his first leading comedy role. And it’s all right. The second episode was considerably funnier than the first, but largely it’s the kind of show that’s intellectually interesting and raises the occasional smile, but nothing laugh out loud funny.

I had firm expectations of disliking this, ITV2’s Roman era answer to The InBetweeners. And it certainly fits The InBetweeners mould, with three lads – two mates, one sensitive, one all mouth (but no trousers – literally) and their slave – moving to Rome from the country where they get office jobs (apart from the slave) and try to pull girls, with minimal success. But despite my expectations, it is actually surprisingly funny. Although essentially it’s an ahistoric transposition Up, Pompeii/Flintstones-style of modern society onto an ancient society, the show manages to maintain some degree of in-story excuse for it – that the lads are from outside Rome (hence plebs or plebeians) and the girls are from Britain, so are culturally backward – and have the actual Romans sex-happy, nudity-happy, etc, in a more accurate way (although bouncers at clubs, women without male Romans to be in charge of them, an emphasis on scrolls rather than wax tabular, and a Venus sculpture without arms because, you know, the Venus de Milo doesn’t have arms, are just some of the minor infractions that still take place for comedic purposes). Those minor niggles aside, it’s still funny, if a little conventional, the CGI to make it seem like Roman times is pretty good, and you have the likes of Doon Mackichan, Adrian Scarborough and Joel Fry to make the funny happen, so it’s a cautious semi-recommendation from me. Just don’t think of it as being “as good as revision” as some viewers have suggested.

Parks and Recreation
Yes, I have actually watched episodes of this before, but seeing as there’s a movement that seems to think P&R is funny, I thought, since BBC4 was showing them all from the beginning, that I’d give it yet another try. So far, I’ve seen all of season 1 and although it does get better towards the end of the season and I actually began to laugh at other moments and characters, for the first few episodes at least, the basic flowchart was: Is Ron Swanson on? No – not funny; Yes – funny. It was literally that simple. I’m told it gets better in the second season. I hope so.

Watch this trailer and you’ll see what I mean.

Now, some thoughts on some of the regulars:

  • The Americans (FX/ITV): One of those shows where if the show runner’s name is on the writing credits, it’s really good, but suffers when it’s not. Fortunately, last week’s saw our Joe return to writing duties, and we had a lovely cold piece about how spies can’t trust one another, even if they’re married.
  • Arrow (The CW/Sky 1): So now we have Alex Kingston (River Song from Doctor Who) in scenes with Paul Blackthorne (also British), both pretending to be Americans, not 100% successfully. And there’s John Barrowman, too. So weird. Anyway, two episodes, one utter rubbish, one pretty good – as usual, it’s Huntress (about a million miles from her comic book persona) who’s to blame, since she’s Geoff Johns’ baby and Johns appears to be a quality curse when it comes to Arrow. Felicity should also get a panic button, I reckon. But last night’s was a lot better, and the Batman Begins-inspired plot that they’ve been hinting at (potential spoiler: Merlin/Barrowman having gone off to the land of the League of Assassins/Shadows to learn how to be the Dark Archer) looks like it’s coming to fruition. Odd to see the lengths they’re going to to keep Arrow’s Chinese mentor out of the flashbacks’ main narrative, but they’re definitely going for the long game now. And is it my imagination or are they hinting that Felicity has the hots for Oliver?
  • Being Human (US) (SyFy): Two episodes, one funny, one less funny. The first gave us Sam Witwer’s attempt at an English accent. Or maybe it was Irish. It also showed us that essentially the whole season has been a diversion, with everything likely to return to the status quo that was the beginning of the season, after experimenting with changing more or less everyone’s set-up (spoiler: Aidan being the only vampire, more or less, before they all start coming back again; Sally being alive, then a zombie, then a ghost again, probably; Josh not being a werewolf then becoming a werewolf again). But at least Deanna Russo is getting work after the horror that was the Knight Rider remake.
  • The Doctor Blake Mysteries (ABC1/ITV): A story that was suspiciously about Asperger’s without actually being about Asperger’s, which was interesting. Also a fun look at what Australian TV was like at the time, with an appropriately fun ending where (spoiler alert: they all decided to play Pontoon instead of watching any more). Not necessarily the most plausible plot line, though.
  • Shameless (US) (Showtime/More4): A couple of funny episodes, with William H Macey really make Frank his own now. Plus Bradley Whitford playing gay (or is he gay?)!
  • Spartacus (Starz/Sky 1): After seasons of women being raped to provide plot motivation, Spartacus finally moves into male rape with the rape of (spoiler alert: Caesar) no less. And quite an important couple of deaths, too, although given everyone knows that Spartacus’s slave revolt failed, it wasn’t hugely surprising. Good to see them breaking up the important deaths, though, rather than offing everyone in one go, so that everyone gets their time in the sun.

And in movies:

GI Joe: Retaliation 3D
A surprising movie. Or should I say movies?

While ostensibly a sequel to 2009’s GI Joe, with a few of that movie’s cast members returning (Channing Tatum, Ray Park, Byung-hun Lee, Jonathan Pryce, Arnold Vosloo, some of whom are more or less just cameos, but I won’t spoil it for you by saying who), largely it’s a reboot, designed to get rid of some of the deadwood (Christopher Eccleston, that’s you, but so are most of the original Joes), and introduce a new cast to the franchise led by The Rock, almost-Wonder Woman Adrianne Palicki, possibly Bruce Willis as well (he’s in it, anyway) and… some other guy (DJ Corona from Detroit 1-8-7 and Windfall. Yes, him. Remember him? No, me neither.)

But it’s a weird movie(s) that beyond a few elements is very little like the original. Essentially, it consists of one movie that’s a proper war movie, with people behaving like proper soldiers, with firefights and Apache gunships, and that features The Rock, Palicki and Corona. Then there’s another spy movie, where they’re sneaking into places in disguise, that features the same bunch, as well as Ray Stevenson (Rome, Dexter, The Punisher: War Zone) with a dodgy southern accent. Then there’s a third movie that’s basically Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with ninjas and its own, more or less separate cast (Park, Lee, Elodie Yung). And then it all finishes off by becoming Megaforce.

But despite having that core base layer of stupid, largely derived from its source Saturday morning cartoon to which it pays homage on more than one occasion, it does have some surprising touches. Cobra Commander’s plot to take over the world is impressively not stupid, involves actual science and hasn’t been done before. Some of the action sequences are well shot and choreographed. Palicki is over-sexualised, including a couple of quite voyeuristic points when she’s taking off her clothes, and her ability to attract any man, no matter what, is implausible, but largely she’s treated as an equal of the other Joes, she’s given some background story and a lot of the time, she gets to wander around in jeans, not being sexy (Michael Bay this is not). And since there’s the addition of Jinx to the core roster, there are actually two kick ass women, rather than just the usual token one. The motivations for the villainous Lee are also even more nuanced than you’d suspect.

It’s still epically stupid most of the time, the fast action makes the 3D malfunction, and it still somehow feels like a 1980s action TV show that’s been given a phenomenal budget, but it’s a damn sight better than the original.

“What did you watch this week?” is your chance to recommend to friends and fellow blog readers the TV and films that they might be missing or should avoid – and for me to do mini-reviews of everything I’ve watched. 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?

BFI events

What TV’s on at the BFI in May 2013 + The Wednesday Play (on Thursday): The Spongers (1978)

Tony Garnett

It’s time for our regular look at the TV that the BFI is showing, this time in the month of May 2013. This month, as well as the continuing celebration of Doctor Who, which reaches the Peter Davison years with The Caves of Androzani

…there’s a Missing Believed Wiped special and the first half of a season of Tony Garnett’s work, that’s partly a Ken Loach season and which also includes Roland Joffé’s directorial debut, The Spongers, which I will arbitrarily declare this week’s Wednesday Play (on Thursday). Set during the 1977 Jubilee celebrations, Jim Allen’s script focuses on the plight of Pauline as she struggles to make ends meet. With a searing contemporary relevance, the film shows the human cost of decisions made by bureaucratic committees as council budgets are put under increasing pressure. Christine Hargreaves’ performance is devastating as we see the full impact of these decision on her children. One of the most important plays of the 70s, it still speaks loudly to our conscience today. Don’t forget to watch it at the BFI if you like it!

Continue reading “What TV’s on at the BFI in May 2013 + The Wednesday Play (on Thursday): The Spongers (1978)”

Thursday’s “HBO’s Borgen, CBS renews 9 shows, and Pixie Lott joins George Gently” news

The Daily News will be back on Tuesday – have a nice Easter weekend!

Doctor Who


Film casting




  • CBS renews (deep breath): Elementary, The Good Wife, 2 Broke Girls, Mike & Molly, NCIS: LA, Person of Interest, The Mentalist, Hawaii Five-0 and Blue Bloods
  • ReelzChannel acquires Cracked
  • Tuesday ratings: NCIS: LA hits low, Go On and New Normal surge

US TV show casting

New US TV shows

  • Bravo red lights The Joneses, puts Witch Hunt into development
  • NBC working on Chicago Fire spin-off
  • Netflix orders 10 episodes of Sense8
  • HBO developing adaptation of Borgen [subscription required]
  • Trailer for How To Live With Your Parents (for the Rest of Your Life)

New US TV show casting

  • Paul Adelstein to star in CBS’s show formerly known as (SFKA – new jargon, guys) Mother’s Day
  • Regina King to co-star in ABC’s Divorce: A Love Story
  • Rob Huebel joins CBS’s Jacked Up, Griffin Newman to star in untitled NBC comedy pilot
French TV

Review: Engrenages (Spiral) 4×9-4×12 (France: Canal+; UK: BBC Four)

In France: Canal+. Aired last autumn
In the UK: Saturday 9/16 March, 9pm, BBC4

Blimey. We’re already done. In fact, we were done a week ago, but because I’ve been a tad busy, finding the time to watch and review four whole episodes of Spiral after a week away proved a lot harder than I thought (note to BBC4: next time, show one episode a week if you want me to review them on time. There, I’m sure that will affect their scheduling policy). Plus there’s only four of you reading these things anymore, now the BBC has stopped linking back to blogs that link to them. Ho hum.

Anyway, let’s go in and discuss suicide, terrorists, death, counselling (and lack thereof) and abusive lovers. Who says the French are culturally pre-disposed to misery, when they have rolicking good fun like this?

Continue reading “Review: Engrenages (Spiral) 4×9-4×12 (France: Canal+; UK: BBC Four)”