What have you been watching? Including Doctor Who, Sherlock, Elementary, Community, The Bridge and The Ground Floor

It’s “What have you been watching?”, my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently that I haven’t already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I’ve missed them.

The usual “TMINE recommends” page features links to reviews of all the shows I’ve ever recommended, and there’s also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I’ve reviewed ever. And if you want to know when any of these shows are on in your area, there’s Locate TV.

There have been lots of Christmas specials and few regular TV shows over the holiday period, some of which I watched, some of which (thanks to the iPlayer’s one-week cut-off) I didn’t:

Doctor Who (BBC1/BBC America)
Bye bye Matt Smith, hello Peter Capaldi. A little bit of a smorgasbord of things here, with Steven Moffat once again reverting to usual form following The Day of the Doctor, particularly poorly thought-out, identical female characters (although Clara had a personality for once, which was nice). Stevie hates having to do anything that feels like a sequel so he injected as much original but meaningless and silly stuff into The Time of the Doctor as possible. It also meant he glossed over really, really important things (the Doctor dying, the conspiracy of Silence) in mere minutes that should have kept him in episodes for months but would have required that dreaded sequel word again. Even the cameo from Karen Gillan was a poor idea (poor Clara). But bits of it worked quite well, loose ends were tied up and there were some touching moments (the death of Handles) and good ideas (wooden Cybermen). It wasn’t quite the proper send-off we’d hoped for Matt Smith, but it wasn’t the worst Doc send-off we’ve ever had and we now have 13 more Doctors to look forward to.

But back in the world of regular TV, I saw:

Ground Floor (TBS)
Possibly the best episode so far, since, for a change, it focused on the Ground Floor and how undouchy they are compared to the Top Floor. Briga Heelan got her groove back and we saw that at least one woman works on the top floor. We also got our first Doctor Cox Scrubs joke – eight episodes they managed before slipping one in. And then there was the HR video…

And in the recommended list:

Sherlock (BBC/BBC America)
The Empty Hearse
Well, I say recommended but… Okay. In many ways it’s brilliant, but this season has effectively seen the show shift from being an innovative take on Sherlock Holmes and crime dramas, with a hint of comedy, to being a fully fledged comedy with implausible characters (well, one anyway). The New Year’s Day episode was written by Mark Gatiss who chose for his pastiche genres: Sherlock Holmes (the Robert Downey Jr movie) and… Steven Moffat. Strange it was indeed to see Gatiss emulating his co-writer, but it was like a bad carbon copy of Stevie’s finer season 2 moments. Overall enjoyable, with plenty of wry in-jokes (Martin Freeman’s wife playing Watson’s fiancé, Mary Moran; Benedict Cumberbatch’s parents playing Holmes’ parents; Cumberbatch re-using his dodgy Cabin Pressure French accent), but lacking in self-discipline – if it has just dialled itself back a bit, taken a deep breath and remembered what reality looks like, it would have been really good. As for the lack of true explanation for how Sherlock survived despite the multiple explanations that we did see, I did quite like that, even if it we ended up going through numerous levels of meta to get there.

The Sign of Three
Then there was last night’s episode. Now, the second episode of every Sherlock season is usually almost irredeemable sh*t and last night’s was no exception. In its defence, it was supposed to be a complete change of pace, a comedy character piece all about Holmes and Watson, rather than a proper crime story. It also had a pretty good plot structure, with several unsolved crime stories told in flashback that are eventually solved at the end of the episode (although if you didn’t see that coming, frankly, I’m surprised you even know what drama is, let alone what a TV looks like). But the trouble was it was 60 minutes of the utterly ridiculous and insultingly poor – and worse still, dull – before a final 15 minutes that tried to redeem what had come before and could only do so partially. It also had to twist Sherlock’s character into all sorts of weird knots to make him fit the script. How can a man who doesn’t understand human emotions at all be able to make deductions the way he does? To say he may lack empathy is one thing; to say he has no comprehension is quite another. And frankly, the hints at the stories we didn’t get were far more fun than the ones we did get.

But a lovely cameo by you know who.

Elementary (CBS/Sky Living)
By contrast, Elementary delivered one of its finest episodes. While it’s debatable just how much like Sherlock Holmes Jonny Lee Miller’s character is – The Mentalist and House give you better deductions and cases than Elementary – its Irene Adler/Jamie Moriarty is a tour de force in chilling evil. Or is she? This was a touching examination of the two characters’ bonds. I wonder where they’re taking this – redemption or double crossville? And what were all those hints by Moriarty that she knew she would soon be free about? Unlike Sherlock, this made me want to watch another episode.

Community (NBC/some random UK channel)
After the disastrous, Dan Harmon-less fourth season, it was a delight to watch last week’s double bill to be able to say Community is back and almost back to form. With a hell of a lot to do to reboot the show – in true Community fashion, the episode was called Re-Pilot and even referenced its own reboot as well as Scrubs‘ – the writers pulled out all the stops and by the end of the second episode, harmony was restored, cameos performed and the show was put back on the rails. Let’s see where this baby goes now.

The Bridge
And they’re back! Just as Sky’s remake finished, season 2 of The Bridge (aka Bron/Broen) returned, complete with the proper Martin and Saga. While not quite as sharp as the first season and perhaps a little more distant from reality again, it’s still an excellent piece of work, Saga Noren is still wonderful (and more plausible now that she actually knows something about emotions) and I heartily recommend it. I even managed to watch both episodes live on a Saturday night, that’s how good it is.

“What have you been watching?” 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?

  • Gareth Williams

    I enjoyed the first episode of Sherlock, and wasn't too concerned by the lack of storyline/plot. It had some genuinely amusing pieces too. The second episode was very strange though as I sat there watching sensing that it was supposed to be funny, that it was deliberately playing for laughs, but not being able to locate the actual humour.

    As to Community, I'd read that Chevy had left but I have no idea what has actually happened to his character. I'm not going to bother to find out either. A good start anyway, and it has ceased to be a programming trying to mimick itself. Now, where's John Oliver?

    The Daily Show. Now, where's John Oliver?

  • Mark Carroll

    Goodness knows what I'm forgetting here. Certainly various Christmas episodes of quiz/panel shows, none of which were especially remarkable. Still,

    I watched all of “New Amsterdam”. It was quite good! Not great — cancelling it wasn't itself a crime — but it was certainly better than numerous other rather-longer-lived crime procedurals. (Fox specialize in cancelling good shows, though.)

    I have started into “Deadwood”. It is okay, though I have to avoid actual history so as to avoid spoilers. It is more well-made than it is addictive — it is easy to not watch more than one episode in an evening — but it's better than the average fare that's on. It has its amusing moments, like some of the asides from Swearengen.

    I finished season one of “Continuum”. It wasn't great, but it was fairly good, and I shall definitely keep watching. I have hopes that the things we don't know yet will be satisfyingly resolved in due course without just rolling out more and more mystery without knowing where it's going. There is certainly potential for it to be done well.

    I gave “Puppets Who Kill” a look; my wife liked it, but honestly I find it more like a poor man's “Greg the Bunny” (which was actually good).

    It looks like we have more “Grimm”; the latest was okay. To my surprise, it also gave me about the best Christmas episode of shows I watched, in focusing on Krampus.

    Recently I saw a couple of documentaries: Victoria Coren-Mitchell telling us about the Mary Poppins author lady, and Jeremy Clarkson telling us about an Arctic convoy in WWII. They were both rather good. There have been other less remarkable documentaries too, of course, like a Neil Oliver sacred sites thing; I am not sure how many more series' worth of rain-dampened rocks in fields he has yet to go, but it is sometimes funny watching the awkward ways in which they have him talk while walking.

    “The Doctor Blake Mysteries” have been ambling along for us in the quiet way that they do. It's okay, engaging enough; my wife quite likes it. We are now halfway through the season.

    This leaves us with “Sherlock” and “Doctor Who”. Hmmm. They've been okay, I'd rather watch them than not, that's for sure. But, goodness, when comparing both with some of the earlier episodes, it's just feeling lazy and indulgent. I could detail things others probably have elsewhere, but rather than set up the rules of the situation, and cleverly navigate them, it feels that the episodes just zip along buoyed on their own presumed cleverness and then just pull resolutions out of the air, at least compared to how they have sometimes previously been. I wish they would be a bit more sensible and intelligent even if at the expense of fun. (I'll have to leave it there, bah I have a migraine coming on that blocks my vision! Apologies for any typos.)

  • Sherlock: Yes, the THIS IS FUNNY. LAUGH! element had the reverse effect on me.

    Community: John Oliver's supposed to play a bigger role in this season, but when he arrives, I don't know.

  • I did enjoy New Amsterdam, but the cancellation left it with a very unsatisfying conclusion.

  • JustStark

    I think it's become clear that the actual programme is now by far the least important part of the cultural-media phenomenon that is Doctor Who, existing only in order to give the fans new characters to dress up as and write smutty fan-fiction about, the TV guides something to speculate about and the actors an excuse to go on all those chat shows.

    As a result, talking about the episode after its broadcast seems strangely irrelevant. All the excitement is meant to be in the build-up; then the episode is rushed over as quickly as possible, a dizzying array of images and revelations with no discernible plot (I remember back when Steven Moffat showed great skill at writing extremely well-constructed stories with clear beginnings, middles and ends, and often not in that order, and with Julia Sawalha and Dexter Fletcher in them. He seems now to have simply abandoned beginning, middles and ends entirely in favour of just stuff! Happening!).

    And then it's on to the anticipation of the next episode (and in this case, the next actor).

    One wonders sometimes why one is supposed to care any more.

  • Gareth Williams

    I have a question about The Bridge which I need answering so I can actually concentrate on the programme. What language do Saga and Martin speak to each other when they are alone? I have narrowed it down to three options:

    1. They speak in the language of whatever country they are in. Yes, this does mean they have to switch mid-sentence if they happen to cross the border, it would be rude otherwise.
    2. They are both speaking in their own languages, as it is more comfortable and they both understand. I heard/saw an Englishman and a Spanish woman talk like this in a restaurant once.
    3. They speak Danish as Saga probably has perfect Danish.

    As the programme is not real, I don't think, it'll be for the benefit of the domestic audience. So I'm betting on option 2.

  • I don't know Danish or Swedish at all, but I think it's option 2. Danish, Swedish and Norwegian are all very closely related (cf Bron v Broen), to the extent they're sometimes regards as dialects of the same language rather than different languages, and I'm told Scandinavians all learn each other's languages at schools.

    I think there can probably be some problems in mutual intelligibility – there's a scene in the first episode of the first season where Martin asks if they can understand him and in Saturday's episode there's a bit where he talks about Saga not being able to pronounce Danish names correctly, even his – but it's more like a Welsh speaker from North Wales trying to converse with a Welsh speaker from South Wales (perhaps not even that much), rather than English and French, say.

    A Swedish friend of mine does complain about Danes and 'how they get the vowels all wrong' but she seems to be able to watch Danish shows without subtitles.

  • Gareth Williams

    My other question, which relates to The Killing slightly more is: Do Scandanavians say 'bloody' (or the word commonly translated as this) a lot, or are the BBC protecting our delicate ears?

  • It's complicated and depends on which season you're talking about: http://www.theguardian.com/med


  • Gareth Williams

    This service is better than Google. You should try and monetise it.

  • Mark Carroll

    True; well, it wasn't much more unresolved than it was at the start of the season, at least? (-:

  • Mark Carroll

    Interesting. I was just talking with an older Czech guy who was telling me about how many young Czechs find Polish hard to understand, but they're so similar that it only takes a bit of effort to learn and then he can understand it pretty well because in his day they covered it in school. Maybe it's a bit like that. (Whereas, my problem is seeing “Polish” included in the sign hanging over the supermarket aisle and wondering if it's Polish goods or cleaning products!)

  • Tried already: The Telegraph used to have a desk you could call to answer pretty much any question you had, but they closed it because of the Internet. Sigh.

  • Indeed. It was precisely as resolved as it was at the start of the season 😉

  • There was an Isaac Asimov short story (one of his Black Widowers Club stories) that hinged upon the only word in the English language that you can't be sure how to pronounce if it's written in all caps, that word being Polish/polish. I'm not sure if that's a true statement or not, but that's what the story was about…

  • JustStark

    Oh you READ that story, did you?

    (I must have done, I went through an Asimov phase in my early teens, but that was a lot time ago now and I can barely remember last week.)

  • Can't remember exactly how old I was when I read it, but Eltham library had the collected stories and I read them all. Can't remember all of them, but I remember that one, at least. There was one about a guy trying to enter the Sherlock Holmes society by trying to work out what Moriarty's paper 'On the Dynamics of an Asteroid' was about, IIRC.

  • Gareth Williams

    Oh Lordy! I've just watched the second episode of The Bridge, and it contains one of my favourite ever pieces of dialog:

    [Watching CCTV footage]
    Saga: Can you zoom in?
    Tech guy: Yes, but it won't be any clearer.

    Words cannot express how much I hate the lazy plot device of impossible software cleaning up grainy images.

  • GYAD

    SHERLOCK – A stupid plot, camp acting & dangerously high levels of smugness. Like “Doctor Who” really.

    STRIKE BACK: SHADOW WARFARE – The best season so far. Fantastic stunts, a twisty plot and the return of the terrible sex scenes.

    GRACELAND – A slightly rushed if exciting ending.

    PERSON OF INTEREST – Chugging along.

    THE THIRTEENTH TALE – Great cast but over-long and sadly never very scary.

    THE WHALE – Efficient but unexciting.

    LUCAN – An utter mess which failed to evoke the period or characters at all, whilst missing the big picture.

    THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD – Marvelously Gothic but gets too girly at the end (the completed bit).

    THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY: A ROBBER'S TALE – American styled (why?) but not slick enough.

    THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY: A COPPER'S TALE – Functional if unexceptional 1960s sleuthing.

    DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLY – Hands down the best Christmas drama. Beautifully shot, wonderfully acted and well plotted. A triumph.

    THE TUNNEL – Better shot/acted/written but too derivative of the original and just as silly.

    LIFE – A slightly haphazard but rewarding ending to a show cut down before its prime.

    THE TRACTATE MIDDOTH – A pointless shift in period compounded by the general silliness of it all.

    A YOUNG DOCTOR'S NOTEBOOK & OTHER STORIES – God, that was depressing. Can't wait for the next season.

  • One of my favourite moments, too