What have you been watching? Including Belle, Halt and Catch Fire, and Continuum

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.

The heat’s back on again, both in terms of the summer weather and the arrival of new shows, so I’ve not been able to get round to/force myself to watch FX’s Middle Eastern-yet-largely Caucasian dictator and familial rapist show, Tyrant. I’ll try to get round to that by Monday, assuming that all these Dulux swatches I’m keeping my eye on have lost enough moisture that I can compare them accurately. But I have reviewed two new shows:

One was better than the other.

I also managed to watch a couple of movies. Well, one and a half.

Belle (2013)
Jane Austen but with a black woman and slavery. Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Undercovers, Bonekickers (yikes), and Touch, but best known as Martha Jones’ sister Tish in Doctor Who) excels as the daughter of a slave whose aristocrat father places her with his uncle to look after – his uncle being the highest-ranked judge in England (Tom Wilkinson). Based on a true story, it’s a two-threaded piece, on the one hand examining the place of black and mixed race women in 18th century society, with Belle too high-born to eat with servants yet because of her skin too low-born to formally eat with her own family. She may have a £2,000 income a year, unlike her impoverished, equally-illegitimate white cousin, but that doesn’t mean anyone wants to marry her either. Contrasted with that is a case being examined by Wilkinson in which slaves are thrown overboard a ship and the ship’s captain tries to claim on the insurance for loss of cargo. The two threads mirror each other, with Wilkinson’s growing awareness of Belle’s station informing his opinion on the case and vice versa. The cast are fabulous, with Penelope Wilton, Miranda Richardson and Emily Watson shining, too, although Tom Felton (Murder in the First, but best known as Draco Malfoy in Harry Potter) is horribly typecast as an evil racist aristo. Some tear-jerking moments and a lovely romance, but a little too gently paced and in need of trimming in places.

Monuments Men (2013)
Another film based on a true story, this sees George Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman and others as somewhat past-it art experts at the end of World War 2 flying out to Europe to try to rescue whatever art they can before the Nazis steal it or destroy it – or the Allies bomb the hell out of it. That’s the first half-hour anyway, but we gave up after that because pretty much nothing much happens. There’s no good dialogue, the direction is limp, there’s no action, no scenes of note: there’s more excitement in a Pathé newsreel.

After the jump, a round-up of the regulars, with reviews of 24, Continuum, Enlisted, Halt and Catch Fire, Old School, Penny Dreadful, Suits and Undateable.

Shows that I’ve been watching but not really recommending

Elsewhere, I’ve done third-episode verdicts on

Enlisted (US: Fox)
Alive Day
A good ending for a consistently funny show, albeit an ending that didn’t resolve any plot strands. Unsurprisingly tear-jerking given the subject matter and past form, but the father and daughter dance could have been avoided. A show that really deserved better.
First episode Third-episode verdict

Old School (Australia: ABC1)
Tiny Dancer
Generally better than the previous episodes, since it finally gave Bryan Brown something to do except be stupid. Linda Cropper was a suitable match for Brown, too, and it started to build up a working relationship between Brown and Neill – something that should have happened a lot earlier in the season. But still not the most engaging of programmes.
First episode Third episode

Penny Dreadful (US: Showtime; UK: Sky Atlantic)
So last week, John Logan decided his already bulging set of Victorian horror icons wasn’t enough and strayed into The Phantom of the Opera. This week, apparently that whole century has been mined of horror so he decided to plunder The Exorcist. About 90% dreadful, 10% pretty good, anything involving Green was laughable and Rory Kinnear was reduced to standing in shadows (it might even have been a body double, for all his contribution). But Josh Hartnett got to show some acting chops for a change. Nevertheless, this is frustrating and were it not for the cast and Logan’s occasional writing flair, I’d have given this up weeks ago. I’m really hoping that rather than more episodes of mere tantalisation, Logan will actually bring everything together before the end of the season. And kill off Green, like she seems to want.
First episode Third-episode verdict

Undateable (US: NBC)
The Move
Briga Heelan was back (hooray), but not many laughs overall. Generally still operating in the right areas, though, and fleshing out all the characters is definitely helping the show, even if most of the cast of comedians really can’t act. It doesn’t help that none of them are really right for their roles, particularly Chris D’Elia, and the British gay guy is an inauthentic as it’s possible to be.

The Julius Effect
In fact, Josh Hopkins from Cougar Town turned up playing the guy who Chris D’Elia should be playing. However, he was largely there to show off his and Brent Morin’s singing. But at least Bianca Kajlich got something to do this week. I’ve now realised that I’m not sure why Undateable is called undateable any more, given no one is actively looking for a date at the moment. But, you know, same producers as Cougar Town
First episode Fourth-episode verdict

The recommended list

24 (US: Fox; UK: Sky 1)
Episode 10
A great episode with pretty much nothing but adrenaline from end to end as the show does its traditional thing of ending the plot halfway through the series and carrying on with a second plot for the rest of it. Jack got to do his ‘thing’, which included the epic line to Heller “let me do what I know how to do”. I’m not sure about Margot’s death – Jack’s obviously got a lot more bloodthirsty in the past few years – and Chloe’s Michael Wincott relationship just makes her look silly.

Continuum (Canada: Showcase; UK: SyFy)
Last Minute
And another fall, appropriately enough, at the last minute. Continuum has been frustrating and hard to predict this season, never going the route you think it’s going to, largely because the routes have been poor or not as interesting as previous ones. Hints that the show was going back to its season one roots were for nothing, in part because the final few episodes seemed to be attempts to wrap up the show in case it was renewed for a fourth season (what happened to Theseus, for example?) However, the show has now had a format change in case of a season four and it doesn’t look good: the well-structured, planned season one that made interesting political points is now just a memory. With hindsight, I think I’d agree with Benjitek and say that if you’re going to watch the show, stop at the end of season one – and I have no plans to tune in for season four now.
First episode

Halt and Catch Fire (US: AMC)
Close To The Metal
After the plummet in quality of the third episode, thankfully, this week’s episode revived everything from the first two episodes that was good. Always unexpected as usual, the show also managed to remove Cameron’s ‘manic dream pixie’ qualities, while simultaneously allowing Donna to finally came into her own. On top of that, we had acres of technical fun and some office politics, Texas-style. Marvellous.
First episode Third episode

Suits (US: USA; UK: Dave)
Two in the Knees
The same criticisms as last week, although Louis was marginally less farcical. Quite why Mike thinks that his secret has no chance of getting out with Harvey on the other team is beyond me. The fact his secretary hasn’t done more than glance into his office every so often (ditto, more or less, his boss) suggests that Mike’s not staying there long, removing any real sense of drama. Jessica stuff slightly interesting, but it’s all about the game, not the relationship, so rings hollow.
First episode Third episode

  • Mark Carroll

    I shall be content with just season one of “Continuum”; thank you.

    I finished off the four “Inspector De Luca”s. It was quite good, and the wartime Italian setting was certainly interesting, but the consistently corrupt / incompetent superiors got tiresome, and the last episode seemed in parts to be aiming for “Inspector Montalbano”-style humour which wasn't the best of directions into which to dip any toes.

    We watched an American documentary on the West Virginian “moth man” weirdness which was reasonable but rather slow and repetitive; it should have been edited down to a single hour. Anything that was said, was related similarly by multiple people. It was reasonably organized though.

    We are still in season 4 of “The Walking Dead”. It remains consistently reasonable but missable; it just doesn't strongly engage me. People come and go, and the place changes, but I don't perceive an arc that progresses or surprises, and after this long I am quite surprised that they're still managing to start abandoned cars.

  • Gareth Williams

    Re: 24

    I thought the idea of this programme was for you to root for Jack to save the day? If so, why have him race to save Kay Burley? I think we can all agree that any other station victims could be classed as acceptable loses.

  • benjitek

    24: “…Chloe's Michael Wincott relationship just makes her look silly…”

    As does her goth-makeup and clothing. Silly and annoying, like some 20-something intern on the writing staff said 'make her look goth to show passage of time', and because she was sleeping with the senior writer, they went with it. They should've made her a suburbia soccer mom sneaking away from her new seemingly normal life to help out Jack… Whatever though, it's still good if not exactly like the first 8 seasons.

    24 reminds of James Bond films in that they're all exactly the same, which is why I like them 🙂

  • GYAD

    KIDNAP AND RANSOM – Great idea, if a little over-flashy & inevitably bigoted towards Afrikaners.

    VIKINGS – The plot is advancing in leaps and bounds but the characterisation feels rather stilted.

    WIPERS TIMES – A smug, ahistorical abomination.

  • Strangely, The AV Club argues that this is the episode where Continuum finally got good and finally fulfilled its promise. I believe they live in some sort of mirror universe.

  • Not quite sure why Sky News sent her to Waterloo in the first place. Surely a hospital where she can ask massively inappropriate questions of recently bereaved relatives would be her natural destination at this point?

  • I like the James Bond films that are different myself. You know the ones.

    I think the Goth look is supposed to indicate she's gone underground in a sort of Repo Man way. She's off the grid, man.

  • I tried one episode of Kidnap and Ransom then gave up:


  • benjitek

    24, seasons 1 thru infinity:

    The world is in danger
    A president and his family are part of the story
    Lots of people get killed
    Jack doesn't get killed
    Jack saves the world

    IMHO, they should phase Jack out, have the new world-saver be female, like the one in this season (I liked the rotating cast of spies in MI5, even the primaries) carry on the franchise with an annual 12 episode mini-series but do it on Netflix and release all the episodes on the same day. It's definitive binge watching, I hate the week-long gaps between episodes 😉

  • GYAD

    Yeah, you got it about right. One of the big problems is that there isn't enough time given to characterisation that might make all that super serious stoicism worth watching.

  • Season 1 Dennis Haybert was just a senator running to be president – they hadn't quite worked out the formula yet 😉

    The trouble with 24 as this season shows is that they kept killing off the core cast so there was never anyone except Jack for the audience to get attached to. Making anyone else the hero or heroine would kill the main attraction of the show. But Yvonne Strahovski is the closest they've come in creating a viable Jack replacement. They just need to give her a bit more to do so she can be a Jack-Terminator and become unstoppable.

  • benjitek

    MI5 pulled off killing off the main spy-guy along with the central characters, replacing them with new ones just as good. While 24 chose to stick with Jack, should they want to continue on now, I think it would be just as good if they switched things up a bit.

  • I just don't think it would last, since it's so built around Jack – it's really the Jack Bauer Power Hour. I can't think of many shows that have survived for long that replaced a long-established lead. Maybe the Falcon movies, way back when, but I can't think of any recent ones. But you never know.