What have you been watching? Including Wolf Hall, Forever, Agents of SHIELD, Plebs and The Blacklist

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.

Tele’s starting up again. New tele everywhere! So to cope with the exciting resultant schedule changes and the return of Sunday TV, ‘What have you been watching? will be moving to Friday, which means there’ll be two this week, you lucky people.

Elsewhere, I’ve reviewed the first episodes of a whole bunch of new shows:

Which, actually, covers all the first episodes of all the new shows. Yay.

I’ve also been to the theatre. Ooh!

Wolf Hall (Aldwych, London)
Substantially abridged dramatisation of Hilary Mantel’s award-winning novel about Henry VIII’s ‘fixer’ Thomas Cromwell, a blacksmith’s son from Putney who first becomes a soldier and then a textile merchant and even lawyer, before eventually becoming the man who manages to convince Henry to split from the Catholic church so that he can marry Anne Boleyn. Starring Ben Miles from Coupling as Cromwell and Nathaniel Parker from The Inspector Lynley Mysteries as Henry, it takes a little while to kick off, but once it does, it’s a surprisingly funny and rude adaptation that’s also moving at times, such as when (spoiler alert) Cromwell’s wife dies. You don’t need to know an awful lot about Tudor history, either, which is going to be a slight mercy for Americans who get to see it now it’s transferring to Broadway. Slightly awkwardly, though, it ends on more of a cliffhanger than the book, which means it feels like anyone watching it needs to see the matching adaptation of Bring Up The Bodies, which we’re going to do on Wednesday.

TV lovers should note that BBC2 is currently adapting both books with Damian Lewis as Henry and Mark Rylance as Cromwell, to air in 2015.

After the jump, the regulars, including some returning shows: The Blacklist, Doctor Who, Forever, Legends, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD and Plebs.

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including Wolf Hall, Forever, Agents of SHIELD, Plebs and The Blacklist”

The Brokenwood Mysteries
Australian and New Zealand TV

Review: The Brokenwood Mysteries 1×1 (New Zealand: Prime)

In New Zealand: Sundays, 8.30pm, Prime

Despite its physical size, New Zealand is somewhat of a small country in terms of population, with just 4.5m inhabitants spread over its 104,000 square miles. That means that it can’t really afford that much by way of original TV programming, largely importing TV from the US, Australia and Britain.

In fact, despite having several TV networks of its own, if you put aside documentary-making, then at times it can feel like there’s only one production company in the whole country: South Pacific Pictures. Responsible for seemingly everything from the long-running soap Shortland Street (22 years strong this year), which pretty much created the New Zealand TV industry anyway, through Outrageous Fortune, The Blue Rose to perhaps the country’s most famous and successful home-grown drama, The Almighty Johnsons, South Pacific has such a grip on the nation’s airwaves that the only scripted show I can think of in recent memory that South Pacific didn’t produce is Harry.

Given that New Zealand didn’t have its own detective show, it’s no surprise that South Pacific is now trying to fill that particular hole in both its and the country’s drama portfolio with The Brokenwood Mysteries. And although South Pacific is somewhat promiscuous in who it provides shows to, one thing it’s very keen on is loyalty to actors* – you can pretty much guarantee that Siobhan Marshall is going to turn up in any of its shows sooner or later, for starters – so equally it’s no surprise that The Brokenwood Mysteries stars Fern Sutherland (Dawn from The Almighty Johnsons) or that all four episodes are written by The Almighty Johnsons and Outrageous Fortune star and occasional scriptwriter Tim Balme.

There isn’t anything especially innovative or exciting about The Brokenwood Mysteries. In fact, it’s basically Y Gwyll, if you were to give that show a quick location change, a different mix of languages and ethnicities, and a more stereotypical Kiwi optimism. Sutherland is the the Mali Harries of the piece, a police detective living in the backwaters of New Zealand in a small town called Brokenwood who’s naturally miffed when city detective and Tom Mathias equivalent Mike Shepherd (Neill Rea), arrives to supervise her and her latest investigation: the apparent suicide of a local farmer.

The down-at-heel Shepherd saunters around the small town and its pretty surrounding countryside, interviewing suspects, finding lots of red herrings, bickering with Fernwood and listening to country and western music on his in-car cassette player in an ostentatiously quirky way, while having to deal with his multiple ex-wives. It’s his character who gets the bulk of the development, attention and character quirks, with the business-like Sutherland having to play the straight woman who inevitably grows to admire him and his idiosyncratic ways.

Rea is fine – as you’d expect from someone who’s also one of the country’s leading casting agents – while Sutherland does well with the little that’s asked of her and is convincingly un-Dawnish. But rather than the dark misery of Y Gwyll, this is genteel, New Zealand drama designed to appeal to perhaps an older demographic that likes comfortable murder-mysteries and to New Zealanders eager to watch anything that’s actually set in New Zealand and stars New Zealanders. Unfortunately, such is that low bar to entry, if you’ve seen any detective show ever, you’ll begin to wonder exactly how isolated from the outside world New Zealand really is, given the dialogue it chooses to show just how stunningly intelligent its lead detectives are – most murders are committed by people known by the victim, are they? Gosh, that’s a new and exciting fact I wouldn’t have gleaned from any other show.

If The Brokenwood Mysteries arrives on UK screens, it’ll probably be on ITV3, some time after Rosemary & Thyme. But I wouldn’t hold my breath for it, unless you like unchallenging, comfortable and unspectacular fare.

* The fact there aren’t that many in New Zealand probably helps

Ron Swanson’s wolf highway

The wisdom of Ron Swanson is legendary, of course, as are his politics. A confirmed small government Republican/Libertarian, he believes that government should have as little to do as possible.

So imagine my surprise when re-watching an early West Wing episode to see a young Ron Swanson petitioning the White House for a billion dollar wolf highway. I imagine his bitter disappointment when his scheme was rejected was one of the reasons why he began to believe the government was ultimately impotent.

Ron Swanson’s wolf highway

The wisdom of Ron Swanson is legendary, of course, as are his politics. A confirmed small government Republican/Libertarian, he believes that government should have as little to do as possible.

So imagine my surprise when re-watching an early West Wing episode to see a young Ron Swanson petitioning the White House for a billion dollar wolf highway. I imagine his bitter disappointment when his scheme was rejected was one of the reasons why he began to believe the government was ultimately impotent.

This is what happens when you an interview a celebrity and haven’t watched their movie

Film actors do prefer it if you’ve seen their movie, before you interview them about it. To be fair to film companies, they do try to ensure that’s possible, by offering private, embargoed screenings to film journalists. Of course, for non-specialist journalists, it might be harder to fit that into their schedules, particularly if they’re a local news reporter and they can’t get to the screening.

Here’s just one example of what happens when a celeb finds out they haven’t seen their movie – in this case, it’s Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader torturing Denver entertainment reporter Chris Parente. He should just be glad it wasn’t Harrison Ford.