What have you been watching? Including Mulaney, Soul Mates, Jane The Virgin, Marry Me, The Affair and Forever

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 last week’s epic catch-up, things have been a bit quieter this week, thanks to not that many new shows being launched. I did manage to give you a couple of previews, though:

And I did try to find some other new shows, too. Australia’s Soul Mates (ABC2) looked moderately interesting, since it stars The Bondi Hipsters as a couple of friends who are continually drawn together across the course of human history. However, it’s really just a sketch show with a linked narrative, so slightly outside my scripted comedy remit. Here’s a trailer for you, though, in case you like the look of it.

Somehow, though, a new show that began airing a few weeks ago in the US managed to sneak in under my radar:

In the US: Sundays, 9.30/8.30c, Fox
Probably best described as a Seinfeld for the 2010s, since it stars comedy writer and stand-up John Mulaney (Saturday Night Live) as an aspiring comedy writer and stand-up called… John Mulaney, and details his various adventures with his female best friend Jane (Nasim Pedrad, from Saturday Night Live), slightly odd, big-haired fellow comic ‘Motif’ (Seaton Smith), and occasional nemesis Andre (Zack Pearlman of the US version of The Inbetweeners). Indeed, with each episode opening with a Seineld-esque stand-up routine, the only big differences in the set-up between this and Seinfeld are the fact that the cast is more diverse (notably for Fox, Mulaney is gay) and that Mulaney manages to get a job writing jokes for self-centered comedy legend and game show host Lou Cannon (Martin Short) in the first episode. Oh yes – Elliott Gould plays Mulaney’s ‘flamboyant’ next door neighbour.

And actually, bar the spectacularly ill-judged opening stand-up routine, which is all about Mulaney accidentally getting mistaken for a potential rapist, it’s surprisingly funny. I was expecting a multi-camera comedy from Fox* to be a dreck fest but now I’m going to do my best to catch up on the next few episodes, despite the ratings being a bit poor and the episode count being dropped from 16 episodes to 13, just as the 14th was about to be made.

* It was actually first commissioned by NBC, the former home of… Seinfeld

That’s it for new new shows, though, but after the jump, I’ll be running through: The Affair, Arrow, black-ish, The Blacklist, Doctor Who, Forever, Gotham, Gracepoint, Homeland, Jane The Virgin, Marry Me, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, Plebs, Scorpion and Selfie. Will I be dropping any this week?

Shows that I’ve been watching but not really recommending

The Affair (US: Showtime)
Episode two
Another superlative episode, with West and Wilson finally getting to first base with one another, although how they got there is one of the issues up for debate. The show’s quite subtly showing us how West and Wilson’s storytelling style differs, with West less interested in the why than the what, Wilson keen to put her side in emotional context. Who’s lying and who’s telling the truth (assuming they’re not both lying)? Fascinatingly, still hard to tell, with Wilson seeming less reliable at some points than West and vice versa. But despite its superlative qualities, a show that you have to force yourself to watch since it’s not what you’d really call fun. BTW, if you miss Tommy Merlin from Arrow, he’s in this now.
First episode

black-ish (US: ABC)
Crime and Punishment
And I’m out. Yet another bog-standard family comedy episode, this time about whether to smack a child or not, with only a few observations worth noting and an equally short laugh count. Such a shame, since all the eps by the show’s creator Kenya Barris were very good, but if you’re going to call a show black-ish, you should probably stick with that.
First episode

Forever (US: ABC; UK: Sky 1)
The Frustrating Thing About Psychopaths
What could have been the show’s daftest episode yet – serial killings done in the exact same manner as Jack The Ripper’s, something our Ioan was on hand to personally witness the first time around – turns out to be the show’s best yet, tying in with the series mythology, touching again on the show’s macabre themes and having Ioan’s nemesis turn up again. Gruffudd could probably have done with being less hammy this time, given the tone of the piece, and comic book/graphic novel readers don’t exactly come out of it well, but an enjoyable episode all round.
First episode Third-episode verdict

Gotham (US: Fox; UK: Channel 5)
A new drug, but the same old show with the same old problems.
First episode

Gracepoint (US: Fox; UK: ITV)
Episode four
A middling episode, not quite up to the show’s previous peaks, but not plunging into its generic murder-mystery depths, either, with enough David Tennant-Anna Gunn interactions to lift the show, but not enough to really excel. Some good moments, such as when Tennant decides to show Gunn what happens if you share to much with relatives or when Gunn invites him dinner, but not enough – a sign that the show has too many episodes for its material?
First episode Third episode

Jane The Virgin (US: The CW; UK: E4)
Chapter Two
A slightly disappointing second episode, filled largely with soapy angst. However, enough fun moments – some involving leopards – to maintain interest and the final five minutes were delightfully dotty.
First episode

Marry Me (US: NBC; UK: E4)
Move Me
Wilson and Marino move in together, prompting Marino to slob out and Wilson to move into her car. Both seek advice from their friends and relatives and eventually all end up in the car together. Marino is at least getting the same quality of material as Wilson now, but despite the writing being several notches above most of the other new rom-coms, simply not as funny as it should be. On the deathwatch list.
First episode

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD (US: ABC; UK: Channel 4)
A Hen in the Wolf House
And I think the show has turned the corner into very decent. After a worrying few episodes with the show finding its feet still, we’re now at the point where season two knows what it’s doing and the audience can see it’s doing it well, too. Particularly helpful this week was the arrival of former Wonder Woman Adrianne Palicki as Bobbi Morse (aka Mockingbird) and (spoiler alert)the return of Simmons to the fold. Kyle MacLachlan was aces, too. However, the slightly worrying aspect of the new set-up is that all the new characters are more interesting than most of the core cast.
First episode

Scorpion (US: CBS; UK: ITV2)
Plutonium Is Forever
A slight drop off in the ludicrousness and the adrenaline, despite being set in a melting down nuclear reactor that needs a SCADA software update, but just stupid and exciting enough not to lose my faith in its essential lunk-headed joie de vivre.
First episode

Selfie (US: ABC)
Nugget of Wisdom
Finally, a properly decent, funny episode of the show, which naturally enough was written by show creator Emily Kapnek, who’s fantastic when she’s on form. Here we have Cho challenging Gillan to spend a weekend helping others, Gillan challenging Cho to spend a weekend having fun. Particularly great is a dance scene involving Cho and hip hop. And I didn’t think I’d ever write that sentence.
First episode

The recommended list

I’ve already passed my third-episode verdict on The Flash, but here’s what else I’ve watched.

Arrow (US: The CW; UK: Sky1)
Corto Maltese
In which Oliver and co head south to find Thea, who’s been training with the Barrowman. Essentially a flashback episode for Thea, detailing what she’s been up to for the past few months, but with a badly bolted on side-expedition for Oliver and co to ensure there’s some action to keep everyone entertained. Surprisingly, it manages to make Thea not a complete waste of space for a change and finally a worthwhile character, even if the chances of becoming that good at martial arts in about three months are pretty small. And a good cliffhanger, too.
First episode

The Blacklist (US: NBC; UK: Sky Living)
The Front
Blacklist works best when it’s Red against a master criminal and then working some scheme. Now we have Liz running the scheme and the criminals of the week are just criminals, rather than master criminals. That’s not fun. Sort it out, producers.
First episode

Doctor Who (UK: BBC1; US: BBC America)
Forest of the Night
Given that Doctor Who is one of the few shows that can properly blend science-fiction and fantasy, it seems odd that it’s taken so long for anyone to make that a centrepiece of the show’s storytelling. But this season appears to have been the reframing of Who in this new light. Here we have noted kids author Frank Cottrell Boyce making his Doctor Who debut to give us something that’s simultaneously ridiculous and meaningful, with the Earth over-run overnight by trees. What can it all mean, why is it happening and can the Doctor do anything about it? Good questions, but by the end of the episode, even better questions get answered. Many a brain will probably have rebelled at some of the things that occurred in the episode, including the dialogue (“I can defeat monsters but not physics” – no, Doctor? Because that’s basically all you ever do with that screwdriver of yours), but even with that problem, it did have something to say, at least.

Homeland (US: Showtime; UK: Channel 4)
Iron In The Fire
A highly respectable, patented Homeland “Oh FFS Carrie!” at the end of the episode, which saw some virtuoso guest performances by Art Malik and Raza Jaffrey as some very scary Pakistani officials and some proper spy tension.
+ About A Boy
An episode that was as much about building up the enemy (Pakistani intelligence) and the supporting cast as it was about Carrie and Saul. Some moments of unlikelihood (spoiler: Saul’s abduction at the airport – where was his security?) but still generally heading in the right direction.
First episode

Plebs (UK: ITV2)
The Candidate
Another really good episode to conclude the series, with some satirical looks at Roman politics courtesy of no lesser actors than Simon Callow and Tony Gardner. Even Callow’s ‘yardie’ daughter worked well. Overall, an excellent second series and I’m looking forward to a third!
First episode

  • Gareth Williams

    Homeland (Channel 4) -I'm confused about Carrie's character. I know she's always been annoying and unlikeable, but the whole set-up with the baby loses her any sympathy you have for her because of her illness. Why should we care if she'd blown up in the next episode?

    Arrow -Ray Palmer could be the first meta-human in the Star(ling) City, unless he's the next planned spin-off. Also, Superman to The Atom is a bit of a comedown for Brandon Routh.

  • Gareth Williams

    Homeland (Channel 4) -I'm confused about Carrie's character. I know she's always been annoying and unlikeable, but the whole set-up with the baby loses her any sympathy you have for her because of her illness. Why should we care if she'd blown up in the next episode?

    Arrow -Ray Palmer could be the first meta-human in the Star(ling) City, unless he's the next planned spin-off. Also, Superman to The Atom is a bit of a comedown for Brandon Routh.

  • Mark Carroll

    Jools Holland's show continues to be the usual mixed bag. It's good to have on in the background.

    “Would I Lie To You?” continues to be generally entertaining.

    I watched a couple of documentaries that I liked. I saw the first episode of, “Rome: A History of the Eternal City”, and also a longer thing on the Soviet space programme that has cosmonauts and archive footage and whatnot tell the story well.

    The kids watched “Super 8”. From what I noticed, it seemed fairly good. It had a Fanning girl in it. They get everywhere. The kids have also been watching the American “The Office”. They've rather liked it.

  • Mark Carroll

    I can't believe I forgot to mention (or maybe it says something that I did forget it) — “Forest of the Night”, okay, it wasn't awful in any way, but I found the story pretty silly and pointless. Generally quite missable I'm afraid.

  • aylwardreed

    Er, Mulaney isn't gay. He's married to a make up artist called Annmarie or something. He's mentioned her in his standup before(which I really recommend).
    But agreed, it's very funny. In a classic sitcom-style way. Great fun. And seeing Elliot Gould say “Ohh hellooo” is worth it alone.

    Also been enjoying The Affair and agree with what you say about Agents of SHIELD.

    Just watched the final episode of Boardwalk Empire. What a shame that show just completely faded in the last season. Going out very quietly.

    Finally, been watching several episodes of Transparent on Amazon. Damn it if it's not one of the best things on TV. Most of the characters are selfish bastards but it's brilliantly written and acted. Worth getting the month free trial for.

  • I could have sworn there was a line in the first episode where he calls himself gay. Oh well

  • Anything Brandon Routh has been in since Superman Returns has been a come down, even Chuck and Enlisted, but definitely Partners. Wasn't Deathstroke technically the first meta human in SC (unless there was one in season one)?

  • aylwardreed

    Ah no that's the bit where he says he used to be a gay boy. Not sexually, just in his mannerisms and the things he said.

  • Gareth Williams

    I was excluding the super-soldiers, although they did act like super-powered beings.

  • I should have been paying more attention, obviously 😉

    Thanks! Still, at least I wasn't completely hallucinating the whole thing…

  • Depends what you mean by meta-humans, then. It's the same universe as The Flash, and The Flash has paid a visit, too, and he's a meta-human.

  • Gareth Williams

    Not when he visited he wasn't 😉

  • He goes to visit Oliver in Starling City in the first episode of The Flash, which is an event referenced in the first episode of season 3 of Arrow. I can't remember whether Brandon Routh showed up before that, though. Call it a draw? 😉

  • JustStark

    In which Oliver and co head south to find Thea, who’s been training with the Barrowman

    He really does get everywhere, doesn't he?

    So I watched Doctor Who and… well, I thought 'In the Forest of the Night' was pretty terrible, actually. I'm all for things making story-sense instead of logical sense, but this didn't even make story sense: stuff just happened and then some other stuff happened and then it was all okay (I personally think that the sister was hiding in their garden the whole time). Similar to 'Kill the Moon' a few weeks ago, it set up a bunch of questions… and then didn't answer any of them, as the second half turned out to be about a completely different thing from the first half. But at least in between we had a couple of actual halfway-decent stories.

    I watched the first disk of the fourth series of Arrested Development and while there are a lot of chuckles, it mostly just seems sad that this is what one of the best comedies of the last decade was reduced to. I kind of wish they had just let it rest in peace. More is not always better.

    The first three episodes of Homeland have been excellent: in response to the comment above, I don't think it's necessary to have sympathy for Carrie to find her fascinating. Part of the point is that even she doesn't know what she's capable of, so the audience is kept guessing as to how far she will go in any situation.

    Why do we care if she gets blown up? Because then we don't get to see what decisions she will make, unencumbered as she is by any sense that the normal rules apply to her at all.

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