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.

Shows that I’ve been watching but not really recommending

One of the reasons for this week’s schedule change is that we now have both Madam Secretary and The Code airing on Sunday nights, neither of which I’ve yet had a chance to watch. So they’re still in the viewing pile. Otherwise, I’ve had a gander at the following:

Forever (US: ABC; UK: Sky 1)
Look Before You Leap
A pretty traditional murder mystery with some nice Sherlockian deductions – why is that every detective show on TV can do Sherlockian deductions except Elementary? – and no plausibility whatsoever. However, a reasonable amount of charm, most of it from Ioan Gruffudd, makes it considerably more palatable than most. We also got a little more about Gruffudd’s antagonist with a revelation that suggests that perhaps we might even be dealing with (spoiler alert)Wandering Jew. We’ve done Highlander already so time to queue a Witchblade crossover episode, too?
First episode

Legends (US: TNT; UK: Sky 1)
Quicksand
A depressing return to the style of the first couple of episodes, despite the continuing retooling of the show. Sean Bean gets to ham it up as a Christopher Hitchens-alike. Nice switch with the photo, though, and an interesting ending, but what does it all mean?
First episode

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD (US: ABC; UK: Channel 4)
Shadows
Not bad, and with some twists towards the end of the episode, but the highlight of the whole thing was still a flashback to Hayley Ashwell and the Howling Commandos. Admittedly, we did get the Absorbing Man as well as Lucy Lawless, too, but we did also have to endure yet another joke about British teeth – which is ironic, given Americans didn’t learn to brush their teeth regularly until World War 2. Of course, the show didn’t really kick off until midway through season one, and the show is still largely reconfiguring itself, so the question is: what will this year’s quality-improving gamechanger be and how long will we have to wait, or is this pretty much it?
First episode

The recommended list

Doctor Who (UK: BBC1; US: BBC America)
The Caretaker
Yet another script co-written by Steven Moffat, this time with Gareth Robots. Quite an interesting episode in a lot of ways, with the A-story largely being how Clara manages to keep juggling her time-travelling with her dating of Danny Pink. Pink’s taking to ask of the Doctor’s ‘officer ways’ was a unique critique for the show, although it’s pretty clear that Samuel Anderson has never been in the army or even had any coaching in how to salute, march or anything else military. However, a few big letdowns in the B-plot, with the alien being cheap-looking and inept, something not helped by the awful direction. Nice to see Chris Addison, too.

The Blacklist (US: NBC; UK: Sky Living)
Lord Baltimore
Another show having to pick itself up and starting moving again, following an epic season-long plot that slightly burnt it out. Here we have the continuation of the Berlin storyline, which probably needed a few aide memoires for the audience, because I’ve entirely forgotten why Berlin hates Red and it’s still not abundantly obvious. The first half felt like the show had lost some of last year’s energy and dynamism and was beginning to feel a little tired, but the second half was much better. Krysten Ritter did well, but I do wonder what Mary Louise Parker is doing is such a small role at the moment. It’s probably not, is it?

Plebs (UK: ITV2)
The Chariot
The return of what some critics perhaps unfairly characterised as The InBetweeners crossed with Up Pompeii, but which in its first series at least was funnier, more historically accurate (just about) and nicer. Here, though, we appear to have returned with the wrong mix, with potatoes of all things in Rome (tell that to Sir Francis Drake…) and the obvious women issues of The InBetweeners, right down to getting Lauren Socha from Misfits in as a prostitute. All the same, despite the lower laugh rate and the increased misogyny rate, it still managed to almost always be surprisingly charming and pleasant.
The Best Men
Funnier than the first episode, despite guest star Neil Stuke. All the same, still a little dodgy, with Cynthia now completely unlikable, and the show starting to feel like it’s running out of steam.
First episode

  • Gareth Williams

    On 'The Blacklist', just how awkward and unlikely was the surname explanation?

  • Mark Carroll

    I am trying to cut down a little with watching television, though I suppose I shall be starting QI and HIGNFY again, and of course half-watching Jools Holland which has started out as the usual mixed bag.

    I was in the room for the new “The Blacklist” which was okay but not so amazing that I can't bear to miss the next episode. I'm starting to think that the show doesn't really have anything to give that it hasn't already.

    “Doctor Who” was okay. Sure, it wasn't the best, it was short of interesting ideas, and the world-threatening robot seemed sillier and less scary than a lone cyberman. But, we've had much worse, so I'm grateful for what we got. This doctor really doesn't seem to like soldiers, that's quite a mighty chip on his shoulder.

    I watched “Das Boot” again. It was generally good, though the ending seemed a little too dramatically convenient.

    I finished off season four of “The Walking Dead”. It wasn't anything special, really. I think I'll find this new of-the-cliffhanger situation a bit tedious; I hope in the new season it doesn't take many more episodes to play out. I'll give it a chance.

    The wife has started rewatching “X-Files” which, for a many-episode some-time-ago drama is generally pretty good.

    I watched “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”. I thought it held together quite reasonably but the rest of my family were entirely unengaged. It doesn't seem all that pioneering to my wife because she observes that it's not as if they had already had plenty of experience with theatre.

    I read “Batman: Year One” which was overall good and not irritating.

  • About as plausible as the entire show, I reckon

  • You might well be right about The Blacklist, although I suspect it's simply taking a bit of a vacation at the moment. It's just not a good start to the season, since it's keeping all its card close to its chest, without giving the audience much reason to keep watching.

  • GYAD

    GRACELAND – Moving from glossy to ridiculous. Who knew that after one night of paid-for sex hookers will help violent, drunken men re-connect with their estranged kids?

    GOMORRAH – Much better. Getting more detailed and realistic by the episode, if full of seriously unpleasant people.

    HOUDINI – Silly tosh with lousy CGI.

    LEGENDS – Sean Bean is the greatest undercover agent on the planet…but he can't hide his Yorkshire accent.

  • The weird thing about Legends (apart from its variability and the fact everyone seems to know he's undercover) is that they only ever seem to need him to play Brits. And that he's the only undercover operative they have