What have you been watching? Including Hobbit 2, Penny Dreadful, Hannibal, Game of Thrones and Elementary

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 – they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.

It’s been finale week in the US for the main networks, so nothing new for me to try out, but I did watch a movie.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
The second in a trilogy of movies that could easily have been squished into one movie or at most two, without losing anything. Considerably better than the first, however, the second sees aspiring burglar Hobbit Bilbo (Martin Freeman) heading off towards the Lonely Mountain with a bunch of dwarves headed by Richard Armitage to help them reclaim their birthright from the dragon Smaug with just a little help from the wizard Gandalf and a certain magic ring. As you might imagine, there’s a lot of extra plotting, largely involving Evangeline Lilly from Lost as an elf who has designs on Legoland Legolas (Orlando Bloom) but starts getting interested in Aidan Turner from Being Human (UK) instead, and Stephen Fry does an odd turn as the leader of Lakeland Laketown; Benedict Cumberbatch manages to interact with Freeman as the voice and motion-captured body of Smaug without conjuring the memory of Sherlock at any point. But for all the extras, which excel when they try to recapture the more adult feel and tie into the plot of Lord of the Rings, this still feels like a kids movie and not a particularly good one, either, although there are some good scenes recreated from the book at least. Watching it on iTunes, it suffered a bit from not being in 3D since as well as largely being shot like a fairground ride, with dwarves, elves and dragons sliding in and out of shot willy nilly, the colour loss of 3D hides the fact that the CGI is more than a bit rubbish.

After the jump, a round-up of the regulars, with reviews of 24, Agents of SHIELD, The Americans, Arrow, The Blacklist, Continuum, Elementary, Game of Thrones, Hannibal, Penny Dreadful, and Silicon Valley.

Shows that I’ve been watching but not really recommending

Agents of SHIELD (US: ABC; UK: Channel 4)
Beginning of the End
Samuel Jackson turns up for the final episode of the season, inadvertently highlighting one of the biggest flaws of the show: a charisma vacuum among most of the cast, who are all supporting characters in search of a lead. As tonally problematic as the rest of the season, with moments aimed at adults and moments aimed at children, neither of which sat well with each other. Surprisingly low key for a finale, despite efforts to blow everything up, feeling more like a late 80s syndicated show than anything more modern. But a good effort nevertheless, that shows enough promise that next year should be worth tuning in for.

Penny Dreadful (US: Showtime; UK: Sky Atlantic)
Séance
Almost so bad I had to turn it off. But not quite. Largely an episode designed to introduce three missing actors – Billie Piper, Reeve Carney and Rory Kinnear – it took away the one interesting aspect of the pilot: the melange of the different Victorian stories. Instead, we had a vampire thread, a Frankenstein thread and a Dorian Gray thread. Eva Green’s performance was astonishing in the eponymous séance, despite being given a cringeworthy script to deal with, and Kinnear’s arrival just about saved the episode. But Carney was desperately uncharismatic and his character gave no real impetus to the plot, Piper’s Belfast accent was nearly as nails on blackboard as the entire cast of Orphan Black’s, and the show felt so satisfied with itself for mining Victoria horror for its inspiration, it almost totally forget to do anything with it. Simon Russell Beale hammed up something chronic, too.

The recommended list

Unfortunately, I haven’t got round to watching this week’s Prisoners of War. But I did see:

24 (US: Fox; UK: Sky 1)
Episode 3
Featured that miracle upon miracle, a near-accurate representation of a Tube journey, not only in a TV show but in a US TV show at that moment. True, Kennington to Waterloo will take you a lot longer by both car and Tube than four minutes and there’s no way you’re getting to the countryside by cab from Charing Cross in 10 minutes, but the problems of marrying real-time storytelling with geography and transport were as much an issue in previous seasons of the show when they were set in LA. Otherwise, the usual slight fall off in episode three quality that we’ve come to expect from 24, and everything feels a bit more ridiculous now we have British people in Britain trying to hack into US air force drones to blow up London, particularly since one of our ‘terrorists’ is Sacha Dhawan (The Tractate Middoth, Line of Duty, An Adventure in Time and Space). And because in the 24 universe, Parliament appears to be held in a village hall somewhere. Still enjoyable though.

The Americans (US: FX; UK: ITV)
Operation Chronicle
Some individually good moments with some intricate psychological entrapments, and it does feel like pressure is closing in on our ‘heroes’, but it still feels like it’s not firing all cylinders, despite the fact it’s the season finale coming up.

Arrow (US: The CW; UK: Sky 1)
Unthinkable
As predicted, Dark Knight Rises (with a hint of Dark Knight in its moral choices) and the return of Nyssa al Ghul. Barrowman wasn’t dead, unfortunately, but should prove interesting in the third season, as might Manu Bennett if he gets to show up again. But quite a weird finale that tried to force lots of tab As into slot Bs that wouldn’t fit, ranging from the passing of the Black Canary jacket to Laurel (don’t even think about it) to the revelation that Ollie got off the island and did work for Amanda Waller in Hong Kong during his five years away. The Olicity moment was a bit harsh, too. And you’d have thought that Daddy Lance would have more to say about Sarah leaving with the woman who tried to kill them all. Should be interesting to see how they spin things next season, since it looks like they’re heading in new directions.

The Blacklist (US: NBC; UK: Sky Living)
Berlin 2
A decent enough way to end the series, with some answers and a surprise death or two But most twists you could see coming, with hints of the Usual Suspects defeated by the “he’s famous so can’t be in it for just a couple of lines” principle. Not as exciting as when it started and needs a bit more of the bizarre energy it started with.

Continuum (Canada: Showcase; UK: SyFy)
So Do Our Minutes Hasten
A good simulation of a season 1 episode but the show’s still fixing its season 2 cock-ups and still isn’t as tightly focused as it should be. Some good developments with Kiera, Alec and Jason, and the show did well to hide the surprise death of Betty at the end until so late in the day, although you could see it coming about five minutes before it happened.

Elementary (US: CBS; UK: Sky Living)
The Grand Experiment
Not as good a finale or season as the first season’s, but there was enough from the books to justify some of the choices the show made. Rhys Ifans was excellent as always, as was Jonny Lee Miller. Whether the show is going to be all about spies from now, I doubt, but it could be a fun new direction at least in the short term. But bring back Moriarty – something I’m never going to say to Sherlock.

Games of Thrones (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
The Laws of Gods and Men
Much more impressive, with some plot progress, although Stannis seems to have forgotten about the White Walkers. The trial of Tyrion gave some depth to things, as well as a chance for Peter Dinklage to shine. The Greyjoy plot is still time wasting and unpleasant. On the plus side, again, Joel Fry from Plebs showed that he has some actual depth of acting ability; on the negative side, Mark Gatiss once again showed he doesn’t.

Hannibal (US: NBC/UK: Sky Living)
Tomewan
The foundations for the movie Hannibal are laid, with an exquisite piece of disturbing nastiness that I really can’t believe aired on network TV. Despite the very genuinely horrifying nature of the episode, it was also the closest Hannibal has ever got to comedy, with some moments that were almost funny. Intriguingly, those were parts of the same moment where for pretty much the first time, we see what Hannibal’s like when he’s with someone who knows his true nature.

Silicon Valley (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
Third-party insourcing
Another funny ep, but one with some very niche targets – self-driving cars, cloud computing and Satanists, none of which you’d probably expect to see in a sentence together. Despite those unlikely targets, a little predictable and a little too broad at times, while too narrow at others. Nevertheless, funny and a definite one to watch if you haven’t already started.




  • Mark Carroll

    I am actually happy to avoid “Silicon Valley”: having been close enough to the software industry, including in the US, to get many references, I'm also disillusioned enough to not want to 'go there' by choice! I fear that things are probably still similar enough that it's too soon for me to find them more funny than depressing.

    Yes, “The Hobbit” has been a bit rubbish really. It could have drawn us into an engaging fantasy world but feels rather more like something with which to entertain the kids. And, goodness, ours much liked “Godzilla”, so that's how easy they are to please. To my surprise the latter didn't really seem to much benefit from 3D-ness. It disappointed me partly through appearing to simply be some kind of remake that added nothing worthwhile, while losing some of the charm of the more bizarre elements (no tiny singing ladies to kidnap and hide in hotel rooms, for instance). But, well, I was tagging along, it wasn't as important for me to like it.

    I also have to decide how much I care about skipping seasons of “The Americans” and “Continuum”. I quite liked the first season of the latter and, well, I've usually found Soviet things interesting and it's hard to see too much of Keri Russell, but I have plenty of other things that I can cause us to see, including more “Arrow” and definitely “Hannibal”, and it's not like there's some total television watching quota I have to try to hit. I am still finding early “Falling Skies” worthwhile, with it continuing actual plot progression: on the one hand, I might be disappointed that we don't really (yet) know the aliens too well, but on the other hand it seems plausible that we actually wouldn't. I am already still letting things like “The Blacklist” consume my time, after all: it's entertaining enough, but admittedly also rather silly and unedifying. I've ended up adding more things to the “to watch again” queue, like “The Lost Room” (admittedly a small commitment), rather than being sufficiently tempted by further new-to-me shows. I am starting to feel the point coming at which I let my family know they can watch things like “Once Upon a Time” and “Grimm” without me.

    My children are still into anime: my daughter's liking “Fairy Tail” and my son's now into “Attack on Titan” which seems to me to be consistently grim.

    “Have I Got News For You” remains entertaining. I think the last we saw had David Mitchell, who fits well. “Points of View” is back (it's easy not to notice).

    My daughter still enjoys the Eurovision Song Contest final, though for me there is typically little correlation between which songs I like and which win any points. She would like to watch it again.

  • Gareth Williams

    The casting issue on The Blacklist was even more twist killing than you suggest. The plot was signposted as soon as he uttered a word. It's still been my favourite (as in most enjoyable) new series, and it still has a nice way of slowly furthering the story.

    You say it's not as exciting as when it first began. Like the X-Files before it, the early stand-alone 'case file episodes' will get somewhat bogged down by a much larger, overriding plot. Person of Interest has evolved the same way too, but has tied up some plot-lines so as not to leave a sprawling muddle like the X-files.

  • At the moment, season 2 of The Americans and seasons 2 and 3 of Continuum seem eminently skippable. They have highlights, but neither have been compelling has their first seasons.

    I'm see Godzilla in two and a half weeks' time. There's planning for you.

  • I dipped into Person of Interest again recently on Netflix and despite Sarah Shahi being in it, it still seemed entirely missable. Blacklist's probably been the best of the new network dramas, but it still lacks a certain something. Other than plausibility.

  • Mark Carroll

    Thanks, you may have saved me many hours.

  • That's my job 😉

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