What have you been watching? Including Salem, Trying Again, Last Week Tonight, Vikings and Hatufilm

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.

Well, there’s been an epic quantity of new stuff this week so I haven’t quite been able to fit in ITV’s Prey and BBC1’s Happy Valley. But I’ve already reviewed the first episodes of

I’ve also managed to sneak in a couple of other shows:

Salem (US: WGN America)
WGN America’s first scripted series, it’s a pseudo-historical from Star Trek showrunner Brannon Braga that goes back to the time of the Salem witch trials and – how original – suggests maybe there were witches at work. TBH, I couldn’t get very far into this at all – it’s almost unwatchable, dull and predictable, ahistoric in every sense, even if you let the modern day conventions of eyebrow plucking, etc, endemic in these things go as a lost battle. Even the witchiness isn’t very good and not even sexy. But then it’s Brannon Braga, so what do you expect?

Trying Again (UK: Sky Living)
Chris Addison and Jo Joyner star as a couple that split up and have got back together again and are trying to get over the fact she had an affair. Good cast, but no jokes. But then it’s Sky Living, so what do you expect?

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
The Daily Show‘s good correspondent gets his own TV show that is essentially The Daily Show (with more than a hint of TV Nation) except weekly and with only him doing it. Still, at least it’s funny.

After the jump, the regulars, with reviews of The Americans, Arrow, The Blacklist, Crisis, Elementary, Fargo, Game of Thrones, The Gods of Wheat Street, Hannibal, Prisoners of War, Silicon Valley, Surviving Jack and Vikings

Shows that I’ve been watching but not really recommending

I haven’t managed to convince my wife to watch this week’s Agents of SHIELD yet, but here’s what I did watch.

Crisis (US: NBC; UK: Watch)
And I’m out. It’s just not good enough to sustain my interest. All the cleverness of the first episode has evaporated; Gillian Anderson is barely in it now; and nothing makes much sense, either. The two leads are both dreadful actors and no one seems to want to give them much by way of characterisation, which if there were any action scenes wouldn’t matter much. But there aren’t. Yet another NBC show that started well but forgot to leave any budget or anything good in the scripts for anything beyond the first three episodes.
First episode review

Fargo (US: FX; UK: Channel 4)
A Muddy Road
Surprisingly, despite all the praise in other reviews, I’m just not enjoying this beyond Billy Bob Thornton’s performance. It’s not especially funny and what humour there is hinges on people just being stupid. Martin Freeman’s not got much to do beyond doing a minor Breaking Bad and his accent’s a bit suspect to say the least. On the whole, I don’t think I’ll be watching any more of this, but I might stick with it one more episode for Billy Bob.
First episode review

Gods of Wheat Street (Australia: ABC1)
The Fighting Freeburns
What a very dull show. Despite the title, it’s just regular people amiably struggling along in life. Some of it’s upbeat, some of it’s downbeat (the arrival of the family’s abusive step-dad in particular, this week). But it’s still incredibly patronising: with Odin’s entire family depending on his new business to succeed, apparently whether or not he should smile at customers to improve customer service is even under consideration. You think working class people don’t know that much? Sigh. I’m out.
First episode review

The recommended list

Last night’s Surviving Jack and this week’s Prisoners of War/Hatufilm are still on the viewing pile. Otherwise…

The Americans (US: FX; UK: ITV)
Proper spying on both sides and some great moments as two of the Russians reminisce about their childhoods. Very tense, as you worry for pretty much everyone.

Arrow (US: The CW; UK: Sky 1)
City of Blood
A mix of decent action, terrible dialogue and a fun interrogation. Summer Glau looking stupid in a Deathstroke mask but there was a great cliffhanger for the next episode. But if season one was blatantly Batman Begins, season 2 is now blatantly The Dark Knight Rises so I’m expecting full on fight scenes for the finale with the League of Assassins

The Blacklist (US: NBC; UK: Sky Living)
The Kingmaker
Linus Roache was in full-on stereotypical Englishman guise, Alan Alda was back to up the acting quotient and we now have a story arc building up that’s been hinted at in the backs of previous eps. But it’s not great and (cf Crisis) apparently the FBI now only has two agents, because it’s NBC.

Continuum (Canada: Showcase; UK: SyFy)
Wasted Minute
Kicking into a higher gear with lots of timey wimey character developments. The freelancers made an unwelcome return but at least the episode did shift what they were doing and that did mean Nick from 19-2 got to show up again. The episode also didn’t know the difference between a virus and chemical weapon. Doh.

Elementary (US: CBS; UK: Sky Living)
Paint It Black
Mycroft’s back and I was right! Ha! And actually, by splitting up Holmes and Watson, the episode allowed Holmes to actually show some deductive genius for a change. Looks like the producers are gearing up for the season finale, judging by the direction things are heading.

Games of Thrones (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
The Oathkeeper
Strangely not much fallout from last episode, with Jaime nice again and nobody really treating him like a great big rapist. Once again, everyone is sent of to meet up with everyone else, the White Walkers are walking, etc – it does feel like we were at this point before last season with some of these strands, though.

Hannibal (US: NBC/UK: Sky Living)
Slightly more mundane than normal as Will’s plan (or is it a plan?) expands into convincing Hannibal that he’s becoming a true killer. Mason Verger who’s the bad guy in Hannibal (the movie) is now poised to appear, but so far, we’ve only got Margot (Mitchell’s wife in Being Human) so far.

Prisoners of War (UK: Sky Living)
Episode 1
An excellent start to the series. After about 15 minutes of apparently unrelated introduction, the show resumed where it left off at the end of season 1. But it now feels almost like a new show, as though it now wants to be like it’s own adaptation, Homeland. My suspicion is that it’s all a spy game to get an Israeli agent inside the terrorist organisation, but that seems a bit unlikely to say the least. Let’s see where it goes. Either way, the production values have improved and the show is as gripping as always.

Silicon Valley (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
Fiduciary Duties
Another funny episode, this time exploring the parallels with the two Steves (Woz and Jobs). Fiercely accurate, particularly the redundancy scheme.

Surviving Jack (US: Fox)
Something to talk about
Funny again, now that Jack is at the centre of the action again, while maintaining the same level of accessibility and sweetness.

Vikings (US: History; UK: Amazon Prime)
The Choice
The Saxons get their own back at last! Just as Ragnar was used as the proxy for all vikings in the first season, this season King Egbert has become the proxy for the future Alfred the Great, learning from the Romans via Aethelstan how to wage war, for example. And Floki has in turn become the Loki to Ragnar’s Odin. It’s also been gratifying to see Norse spoken again.
+ The Lord’s Prayer
A better season finale than last year’s, although overall, the second season has been less impressive, more focused on educating us about the Saxons and soapier interactions between the Vikings than actually dealing with history or plot. The finale also took more than a few liberties with history, giving us a fight between Brynhildr and Hlaðgerðr and after giving us such strong female characters, it was such a shame to have Ragnar end up in a threesome with his two wives. It was also pretty predictable where the episode was going to go in terms of the rivalry between Horick and Ragnar, even without historical inevitability. But some fun touches and hopefully a strong foundation for the next season.