What have you been watching? Including Mr Sloane, Gang Related, 24, The Americans and Prisoners of War

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.

A couple of new things this week, although I’ve not got round to watching From There To Here, yet.

Mr Sloane (UK: Sky Atlantic)
This should be must-see TV: Nick Frost, Olivia Colman and Peter Serafinowicz in a comedy-drama set in the late 60s about a Frost’s meek and mild Mr Sloane, how he meets his wife (Colman) and why he ends up trying to kill himself. How could that not be brilliant? Very simply, the script, which is about as funny and compelling as lift muzak. It’s just sort of them, vaguely trying to be funny and establish character, but with lines and moments you’ll have seen a dozen times before in ‘comedies’ about meek and mild men struggling with life. Beyond the occasional impression by Serafinowicz and the general charisma of Frost and Colman, there’s just nothing new or interesting here at all.

Gang Related (US: Fox)
Crack LA police unit tries to deal with gangs of all ethnicities, using agents of all ethnicities. But despite the missing hyphen in the title, there’s a double meaning and it turns out that one of the police is actually a member of one of the gangs. This is largely a mess of cliches that occasionally dares to be different, but usually doesn’t. While it’s nice to have a diverse cast (Ramon Rodriguez, Sung Kang, RZA, Jay Hernandez, Inbar Levi, et al), with New Zealand’s Cliff Curtis bizarrely chosen to be the head of the Latino mob, the whole unit is naturally headed up by an old white guy, although thankfully it’s Terry O’Quinn (Lost), there’s some crappy soapiness (the hard-nosed IA cop is his daughter) to deal with and the pilot’s efforts to exploit the singing profile of RZA (one of the co-founders of the Wu Tang Clan) is only partially successful. There’s only one female cop (Levi) and she’s mainly there to be a potential love interest, add sexiness and do sexy things, rather than because she has any well-defined character of her own.

And I watched a couple of movies…

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Parts one and two (2010/11)I’d seen the first six Harry Potter movies, read all the books, but somehow it’s taken until now (and being given free copies when I bought a new Blu-Ray player) before I watched these two final ones. Directed by David Yates at the same leisurely pace as the previous two, the movies stay faithful to the books while losing an awful lot of background material. It comes tantalisingly close to some really excellent moments, drawing on everything from Threads to war movies to suggest a country riven by Voldemort and his wizards, making it – as with the books – the end point of a more progressively adult franchise. Largely where it works is down to the original material, rather than anything Yates does, and the ending is particularly effective and tear-inducing (at least to us older folks), thanks to its message that kids, your parents may be old but they probably had all sorts of adventures you don’t know about when they were young. But more a conclusion to the franchise, rather than an exceptional couple of films in their own rights.

After the jump, a round-up of the regulars, with reviews of 24, The Americans, Game of Thrones, Hannibal, Prisoners of War, and Silicon Valley.

The recommended list

24 (US: Fox; UK: Sky 1)
Episode 4A little low-key, but no egregious Brit moments this week. Jack’s not really been at full power, leaving lady Jack (Yvonne Strahovski) to go full Bauer in his stead. 24 daftness this week: evil terrorist chopping her own daughter’s fingers off to convince Sacha Dhawan to play drone video games.

The Americans (US: FX; UK: ITV) Echo
A finale that pretty much redeemed the entire season, thanks to a couple of surprise twists, although the removal of the season’s big bad was a little too easy. Overall, probably about four episodes longer than it needed to be, and all the episodes that didn’t have Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg’s names in the writing credits (with a couple of exceptions) were definitely underpowered as a result. But as a whole, possibly the best representations of Cold War era Russians you’ll see, perspectives on religion you’ll rarely see on US TV and the season now seems significantly better post-finale and will make a good – but sad – box set viewing.

Games of Thrones (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic) Mockingbird
A cracking second half, following a first half with Daenarys that was a bit rubbish. Everything involving Tyrion, the Hound and Littlefinger was magic (if borderline paedo at one point).

Hannibal (US: NBC/UK: Sky Living) Mizumono
Well, bloody hell (literally). I absolutely was not expecting that. A brilliant finale, astonishing and beautiful to watch, entirely differently paced from the way you’d expect. Again, the clues were all there, but there was also a whole pile of red herrings and I at least fell into the trap. What’ll happen next season? Who knows, but season two, despite a couple of duff episodes, has proven once again that despite all the odds, Hannibal’s the best show on TV.

Prisoners of War (UK: Sky Arts)
Episode 4
Despite the focus on spying, which kept things interesting throughout, the plot dragged on this, although there was no Nimrod and family thankfully, just Yusuf and sister.
Episode 5
But episode 5 gave us some even better spying, Nimrod’s storyline actually took an important turn (didn’t I suggest that the authorities might have been a bit slack in not giving therapy for their trauma when they got back?), and the domestic side of things didn’t feel like the drag it did in episode 4, where it simply felt that it was going nowhere and had been mined for all its worth in the previous season.

Silicon Valley (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
Proof of Concept
The show finally addressed the issue of women and their absence… but not very well. Another funny ep, though.

  • Mark Carroll

    We'll probably watch “Hannibal” tonight. I'll keep “The Americans” on the list, thank you.

    We have been liking “Life in Cold Blood”, the nature documentary about reptiles and amphibians that's been on lately.

    I was caused to watch season one of “The Walking Dead”. It's okay, but didn't draw me in greatly. I finished season one of “Arrow”, and I liked that more, but I wonder where the next season will go.

  • Mark Carroll

    We'll probably watch “Hannibal” tonight. I'll keep “The Americans” on the list, thank you.

    We have been liking “Life in Cold Blood”, the nature documentary about reptiles and amphibians that's been on lately.

    I was caused to watch season one of “The Walking Dead”. It's okay, but didn't draw me in greatly. I finished season one of “Arrow”, and I liked that more, but I wonder where the next season will go.

  • The next season of Arrow is bigger and different. No spoilers obviously, but there are some really good things in it, but it does get a bit more comic-booky.

  • GYAD

    24: LIVE ANOTHER DAY – Eh…a little too daft (like usual).

    VIKINGS – Dodgy dialogue and dodgy wigs but fairly entertaining.

    LONGMIRE – Superb. Pity the season's coming to a close.

    ALMOST HUMAN – Too slick, too shallow. Stopped watching.

    PENNY DREADFUL – Like “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”, only not as good.

    IL COMMISSARIO NARDONE – Passes the time pleasantly enough.

    JACK TAYLOR: THE DRAMATIST – Jack's back. A ludicrous killer but a hugely entertaining yarn.

  • Vikings better as a seasonal than an episodic watch, I reckon. It builds over a number of episodes to create an overall effect that you don't quite get with individual episodes

  • GYAD

    I'm three episodes in so far…

    The general direction of the plot seems ambitious and I love the subject matter.

    But…

    The costuming is pretty dodgy.

    There's a lot of anachronistic dialogue — talking about “procedure” for instance.

    There's plenty of weird attitudes, most recently the offer of a Viking threesome.

    There's very little sense of the outdoors (compared to, say, Longmire) or of what existence was like in an honour culture.

    Also, Gabriel Byrne's wig does look like a bulimic badger died on his head.

    It's not bad but it all feels a bit modern.

    I'm still watching though.

  • I agree with some of that, particularly the sex – although the producers say they are trying to show the different sexual morality of the vikings versus the Christians, it's still quite a modern idea of what a different sexual morality might be.

    But as for the language, the producers have shown that both the Vikings and the Saxons are speaking languages other than modern English, and we're getting a translated version, so although one can argue about whether 'procedure' is a faithful translation of whatever the characters were actually saying, I think the fact it's modern English isn't necessarily a negative mark.

  • GYAD

    I can see what they're trying to do with the sex but like you say it feels too modern. It's a bit Boasian: happy, sexually open Vikings vs. uptight, sexually prudish Christians.

    As for the dialogue, I love that they use Old English and Norse. But the use of modern managerial terms just feels jarringly out of place, even if it is supposed to be a “translation”.

    Writing period dialogue is always really hard though.