What have you been watching? Including The Night Shift, Godzilla, Penny Dreadful, Enlisted and Silicon Valley

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.

After letting things slide a bit last week, I feel a bit chuffed with myself because this week, I’ve managed to watch everything in my viewing pile except for one episode of Prisoners of War and today’s episode of Old School. I’ve even put up some proper reviews of new shows:

Yay me! I even remembered that I’d watched NBC’s Night Shift last week but forgot to review it. Because it’s so bad (as one reviewer put it, it’s for people who couldn’t cope with the intellectual rigour of Chicago Fire)

Night Shift (US: NBC)
A summer medical show, in which all bunch of tedious human beings try to outdo each other at how great they are as doctors, nurses and paramedics. Literally every scene involved a new character arriving, someone flailing at medicine, and then Johnny New Arrival showing some technique he or she had learnt in Iraq, volunteering with underprivileged children in Zimbabwe while recovering from chemotherapy and the like, and then rubbing it in the face of everyone else. Bizarrely, it features Jill Flint who gave up a decent job playing an efficient hospital administrator in the enjoyable Royal Pains to play an efficient hospital administrator in this steaming pile of offal.

Even more excitingly, I’ve watched another movie:

Godzilla (2014)
A frustrating, tantalising piece of work that sees Bryan Cranston trying to work out what destroyed the Japanese nuclear power plant he worked in with his wife (Juliette Binoche), while his body-disposal expert son Aaron Taylor-Johnson tries to get back home to his wife (Elizabeth Olsen). Except it turns out that dinosaurs still roam the Earth and they really don’t care what cities stand in their way.

In many ways, a lovely tribute to original with some of the scenes recreations of scenes from the original Toho series of movies but made to look truly realistic and devastating. Some thought’s gone into making the bad monsters, why Godzilla wants to save us from them and why some giant cockroaches would even need to be able to create electromagnetic pulses (when you spot it, you’ll kick yourself). But despite a full hour of work by director Gareth Edwards (Monsters) to make you care about the humans before the fights properly start, you still don’t give a toss about them and ultimately, you’ll just want to see Godzilla punching some big monsters – except largely Edwards cuts away to a news broadcast whenever anything gets too close to being exciting. And there are whole bits that are absolutely irrelevant. The final fight is great, though, with some truly whoop-worthy moments, and the HALO drop almost atones for the lack of action in other places.

After the jump, yet more, with a round-up of the regulars, with reviews of 24, Enlisted, Penny Dreadful, Prisoners of War and Silicon Valley

Shows that I’ve been watching but not really recommending

Penny Dreadful (US: Showtime)
After last week’s dedication to the Frankenstein story, this week we’re back to more even-handed territory, with most of the plot lines getting serviced, Dorian Gray’s particularly (ho, ho). Quite a few sexual surprises, it has to be said, my suspicions about Chandler are growing, as is my irritation at Billie Piper’s effort at a Belfast accent, and Reeve Carney feels more like a louche InBetweener than a genuinely charismatic bad boy. But David Warner did arrive as Van Helsing, which almost made up for everything else.
First episode Third-episode verdict

Enlisted (US: Fox)
Prank War
Back to burn off its final four episodes, Enlisted is still pretty funny. Overall, the episode was a series of mild chortles all the way through as the two platoons play pranks on each other as part of prank season. As always, the humour is backed by characterisation, with one touching moment towards the end, albeit subverted again, and Keith David really got to shine for a change.
First episode Third-episode verdict

The recommended list

24 (US: Fox; UK: Sky 1)
Episode 6
In which Kate becomes a Lethal Weapon, everything British is a bit silly – but only a bit – the CIA has a mole (QFS) and the Russian’s are coming. So far, I’m amused to note, there has been not one thing plausible about Michelle Fairley’s character at all. But it’s still all such good fun and one decent firefight an episode maintains the watchability.

Prisoners of War (UK: Sky Arts)
Episode 6
Is it just more or do the writers have absolutely nothing for Uri to do this season? The spy strand is interesting but not going anywhere quickly. And Nimrod is still ridiculously attractive to women.

Silicon Valley (UK: Showtime; UK: Sky Atlantic)
Optimal Tip-To-Top Efficiency
And it’s all over so quickly! A second season has been commissioned though. The series – and indeed the finale – weren’t consistently funny throughout, but there was a great final scene and the hysterically funny ‘inspiration’ scene, which puts a twist on something that should be familiar to anyone who’s ever done maths, computing or science. A good show, but Mike Judge needs to write more scripts, it needs to improve the way it treats its female characters and it’ll be hard to replace Christopher Evan Welch.

  • GYAD

    PLAYHOUSE PRESENTS: NOSFERATU IN LOVE – Shapeless but amusing.

    PP: NIGHT SHIFT – Amiable but totally pointless.

    PP: FOXTROT – Stupid, obvious and juvenile.

    VIKINGS – Ehhh…too many silly things keep happening. Why do the Saxons not know how to make a shieldwall for instance?

    LONGMIRE – A corker of a season finale. For my money, the best US cop show currently running.

    JACK TAYLOR: SHOT DOWN – Suffered from lacking the usual supporting cast and a lack of momentum but still great fun.

    PERSON OF INTEREST – Utterly ridiculous but quite fun.

  • Mark Carroll

    I finished off season two of “Rake”. I am curious about how season three goes, in terms of what happens to the characters.

    I also finished off season one of “Falling Skies” and have generally enjoyed the season and will definitely watch the next, though I hope I am not disappointed by the plausibility of the resolution of this first season's cliffhanger.

  • The Saxons do know how to make shield walls (albeit a different kind); the shit Saxons don't. All becomes clear in the second season.

  • GYAD

    Aha. I'll have to wait and see then.

    (Although I still think the battle was pretty weak – why would the Saxons not use their cavalry? Why would they give their only armour to the archers? etc.).

  • Ultimately, because they weren't really expecting to be attacked and probably hadn't been trained very well. But at the end of the day, the historical record does actually say these were pretty rubbish soldiers who were easily overwhelmed by the Vikings (later on – not so much), so it's just a question of how the producers depict crap Saxons. Bad tactics, bad fighting, few numbers? Varying mileage and all that.

  • GYAD

    Yeah, the problems lie more with the direction than the script.

  • JustStark

    With that particular fight it was mostly to do with the location: for the plot it was necessary for the Vikings to win, but it was shot in the middle of a wide open beach where such a small ground should have been easily outflanked.

    Presumably the location was so good in other ways, or the alternatives were all for some reason impractical, that it was decided to go with it and just try to sell the fight as well as possible.

    Given that, I thought the direction did a very good job of hiding the shortcomings of the location (lots of tight framing, for example, to de-emphasise the openness; lots of individual bits of action to distract viewers from the overall picture).

    So I would actually say that the problems weren't with the script (which required a given result in order to advance the plot, or at least not end it prematurely with the main character dead in the fourth episode) or the direction (which was as good as it could be) but with the external factors of production (available locations, time, etc).

    (Any one who's been involved in putting on any kind of show will remember times when, due to the set, or a prop, or a certain actor's inability to modulate their performance, something simply will not work and the only thing you can do is do it wrong, power through it, and hope the audience, if they notice, will forgive it because the rest works well enough).

  • GYAD

    Well, there's always the issue of friction in production.

    However, I don't think that's the answer because there have been a lot of sloppy moments in “Vikings”.

    In the particular scene I think the direction is still flawed.

    The archers being the only ones with armour still doesn't make sense. Why do they have armour rather than the spearmen?
    And why do militia have armour?

    It's not even obvious that they are militia. Fewer action shots and more psychological ones might have made that obvious.

    As for the cavalry, I think it's a question of prominence.

    If the cavalry only observed from a distance before fleeing it would be less obvious that they could have won the battle easily.

    Or, if the commanders had fought in the shieldwall (as you'd expect warriors in a heroic culture to do) before fleeing on horse when the tide turned then it would also be acceptable.

    But having them stand there three feet away from the battle like a bunch of lemons just looks silly.

    I'm sure people in the production team could offer mitigating circumstance but that's true for nearly every production. Even the rubbish ones usually have people working very hard.