What have you been watching? Including Stalker, Bad Judge, Gracepoint, Bring Up The Bodies, The Code and Gotham

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.

Lots of new shows this week, and since I’m off in Germany on Monday – maybe I’ll report back to you on the tele, assuming I have the time to watch any – I’m not going to have time to do full reviews next week. So I’ll squeeze a few quick mini-reviews of them in today. Elsewhere, I’ve reviewed Manhattan Love Story, but I’ve also watched the following

Bad Judge (US: NBC)
You don’t have to go on an epic mental journey to work out where this show, exec produced by Anne Heche, Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, got its inspiration. Worryingly, it’s not even as good as either that TV show or the original movie, being a largely flat affair with Kate Walsh (Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice) playing a pill-popping, hungover, casual sex-having judge who doesn’t really have a lot of respect for the law, but ends up helping criminals and kids who have appeared before her in court. Walsh is fun, the character herself is fun and it’s nice to have a heroine who’s permitted to be a pretty negative role model, but the jokes are lifeless and seemingly so in awe of how transgressive they think they’re being that they forget to be funny. In the show’s defence, it’s considerably less misogynistic than Bad Teacher was and the characters do seem to like one another and are engaging. But this is comfortably the worst show of the fall season so far.

Gracepoint (US: Fox; UK: ITV)
Ironically, I’m probably the one person in Britain who hasn’t watched Broadchurch, given that I knew Chris Chibnall was writing it, so in a sense I’m also the person in Britain best prepared to watch Gracepoint, its US remake, which even features David Tennant reprising his role as a police detective who moves to a small coastal town and finds himself having to investigate the death of child. On the other hand, I have seen both the Danish The Killing as well as The Killing (US), which is basically what Broadchurch was, so maybe I’m not.

All the same, I actually really enjoyed this intelligent, thoughtful, slightly slow-paced drama, more concerned with how the death affects its family and the town than necessarily who killed the boy. David Tennant’s American accent is moderately better compared to his Rex Is Not Your Lawyer efforts, although initially I thought he was going full Scottish and not bothering with an accent at all, so it needs a bit of work, and he also seems a bit out of place among the American (and occasionally Australian) actors. But with the exception of the dreadfully hammy Nick Nolte, the cast (which includes Anna Gunn from Breaking Bad and Michael Peña from End of Watch) is uniformly good, there’s emotion and it’s genuinely moving. Whether those who’ve seen the original will feel the same, I couldn’t say, but the producers have said the ending will be different – which as with The Killing I hear can only be a good thing, given how Broadchurch ended.

Stalker (US: CBS; UK: Sky Living – starts in November)
I do worry about that Kevin Williamson. He’s a good writer, but The Following isn’t exactly the loveliest thing on TV and it has some very dodgy attitudes towards women. But now we have another Williamson show entirely dedicated to exploiting women’s fears, with Maggie Q (Nikita, Mission Impossible III) leading a special LAPD unit that investigates and tries to prevent stalkers from doing unpleasant things to women. While there is an attempt to even the balance out with a secondary plot about a male stalker who stalks another man and with various comments about how bad men are, that’s largely a beard for the current Williamson antics of women screaming a lot while men do bad things to them. It doesn’t help, either, that the unit’s latest recruit, fluffy haired Dylan McDermott (Big Shots, Dark Blue, American Horror Story, Hostages), is actually stalking Elisabeth Rohm (Angel, Law & Order, Heroes) or that by the end of the first episode, thanks to some obviously stupid tactics by Q, she ends up getting her own (possibly second) stalker.

Unpleasant. Please don’t watch. Encourage Kevin Williamson to go back to making things like Dawson’s Creek again.

I’ve also been to the theatre to see Bring Up The Bodies, the sequel to Wolf Hall. Not quite as good as the first, largely thanks to history, rather than the writing, it covers how Thomas Cromwell helps Henry VIII to depose Anne Boleyn as queen so that he can marry Jane Seymour. An RSC production, it also suffers a little from having actors noticeably and confusingly playing multiple parts, as well as from having less of Nathaniel Parker and Lydia Leonard, who made Wolf Hall such as success, and from there being less of Cromwell’s personal life, too. As with Wolf Hall, it also clearly ends on a cliffhanger, which given there’s no part three, is a somewhat odd choice. But who knows what Mantel will do next?

Don’t bother watching if you haven’t seen the first one, since there’s no help beyond some awkward dialogue where Ben Miles’ Cromwell has to go around telling everyone their names for the audience’s benefit; and if you’ve seen Wolf Hall don’t feel compelled to see Bring Up The Bodies too. But if you go in with slightly diminished expectations, you should expect to see a reasonable amount of all the same qualities that made Wolf Hall such an enjoyable experience.

PS I say all this, even though it ends tonight. But just in case you’re planning on seeing it on Broadway…

After the jump, the regulars: black-ish, The Blacklist, The Code, Gotham, How To Get Away With Murder, Legends, Madam Secretary, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, Plebs and Scorpion.

Shows that I’ve been watching but not really recommending

Elsewhere, I’ve reviewed Forever. But I’ve also been watching:

black-ish (US: ABC)
The Talk
And just like that, black-ish became a completely different show. What initially was a cleverly written analysis of both society and black-Americans’ own attitudes towards being black and what that means in terms of behaviour, is now a completely standard, slightly backward family sitcom, in which a father finds it a bit embarrassing to explain sex to his son. Gosh, how completely not original. Still, it’s better written than it sounds and while previously star Anthony Anderson stuck out like a poorly acted sore thumb, he now seems to be appropriate for the piece – even if the show becomes about 2,000,000% better and funnier as soon as Laurence Fishburne turns up. The show also fleshes out the other characters and gives Anderson’s wife something better to do than just be the voice of reason. But if you turned up expecting intelligent insight about modern day black American life, apparently the producers gave you all they had of that in the first episode.
First episode  

The Code (Australia: ABC; UK: BBC4)
Episode 2
BBC4’s a good choice for this one since, although this is in English rather than a foreign language, if you stop paying attention for even a second, you’re largely going to be lost. In this ep, most of the fun revolves around journalist Dan Spielman’s investigations with teacher Lucy Lawless, out in the outback, while back in Canberra, his brother is being tortured by the government using 80s soft rock. No, really. The shaky cam and big plot excitements of the first episode have now disappeared in favour of a tenser, more paranoid piece of work that’s less interesting and pyrotechnic but more absorbing. Not easy or enjoyable watching, but engaging nevertheless, although the second half is considerably better than the first and the third episode will need to provide more plot advancement to maintain interest.
First episode

Gotham (US: Fox; UK: Channel 5)
Selina Kyle
Essentially the same problems as the first episode, with a mish-mash of styles and terrible music masking some quite good aspects. Ben McKenzie is now finding his feet and Selina Kyle/Catwoman now has dialogue, but the ridiculous natures of the comic book villains and Donal Logue’s corrupt cop don’t sit well next to the sociopathy of the Penguin, the minutely observed characterisation of Bruce Wayne or the standard cop fare of the Major Crimes division. I’m rapidly feeling like I won’t be bothering with this past episode three. One point: the villain of the week had already shown up in Arrow, so will there be a crossover when he eventually shows up, or are the two still unrelated?
First episode

How To Get Away With Murder (US: ABC; UK: Universal Channel)
It’s All Her Fault
In contrast to most other new shows, which changed considerably since their pilot, How To Get Away With Murder has stayed resolutely the same, with the slight exception that Viola Davis’s character – whom you might have assumed would still be portrayed as the strong and powerful law professor – is degenerating into a paranoid, jealous, crying wife, worried that her husband might be having an affair or have killed one of his students after having an affair with her. Because apparently that’s a common fear among lawyers. Otherwise, it’s more of the same, with an interesting guest case of the week – Steven Weber as an eccentric millionaire who might have killed his wife/wives – and an interesting resolution, slightly taboo sex for US TV (gay, black-white) and the ridiculous flash forwards to the students trying to cover up the murder they’ve committed. Again, another show I suspect I’ll be dropping very soon.
First episode

Legends (US: TNT; UK: Sky 1)
Another of the the first half appalling, second half much better episodes. What surprises me most about the show is that it’s supposedly about undercover FBI agents. Except no one except Sean Bean is ever undercover. And every time he goes undercover, usually as a Brit with completely the wrong accent for his supposed legend, he ends up revealing his real identity to the criminal he’s captured. Even when there’s absolutely no need to. So in that sense, the ending of this episode wasn’t too surprising, but it was sufficiently good to maintain interest in the ending.
First episode

Madam Secretary (US: CBS)
Another Benghazi
In which Téa Leoni mysteriously acquires another daughter for no good reason other than it presumably seemed a good idea once the producers had seen the first episode. The show slightly dialled down the conspiracy theory and Veep mix this week to give us something a bit more West Wing, but it was still lacking in all the various departments, and its insistence at every point of having characters saying “This is going to be another Benghazi” made it seem like the audience wasn’t capable of processing even the most obvious of parallels.
First episode

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD (US: ABC; UK: Channel 4)
Heavy Is The Head
Marginally better than episode one, but despite the occasional killer gag and piece of self-deprecation, the show is going in a far darker direction than is comfortable, both for the audience and for it. The continual readjustments to the show’s format don’t help, since it’s hard to get a handle on where it’s going. Kyle McLachlan was good as (presumably) Skye’s dad; the guy who plays the supposed ex-SAS soldier is just horribly miscast, though.
First episode

Scorpion (US: CBS; UK: ITV2)
Single Point of Failure
The show makes two fatal mistakes for its second episode: it slows down the pace, with a pointless attempt to characterise the cipherous characters, and makes everything just a bit more plausible, and therefore less fun and just plain ludicrous. I’m not exactly sure what the main character’s background is any more, either: he was supposed to have been taken away from Ireland when he was young by the CIA or something, yet he’s not Irish in any of the flashbacks, has no hint of an Irish accent, and strangely neither does his sister, even in flashback. Plus did Ireland really still have corporal punishment back in the 80s/90s? Worse, what little discipline the writers had with the characters has disappeared with the previously distinct geniuses all now apparently good at maths, hacking, etc. Where do they find the time?
First episode  

The recommended list

The Blacklist (US: NBC; UK: Sky Living)
Monarch Douglas Bank
Continuing the strange US belief that the FBI can go anywhere in the world and police it, too, The Blacklist leaps over to Poland for a slightly more intricate affair than the previous week’s. It still didn’t make a whole load of sense, of course – given what Berlin’s going to do, why doesn’t Red just have him shot as soon as (spoiler) he hands over his wife. All the same, there’s clearly more to Mary Louise Parker’s character than meets the eye, given her actions in the episode, and a bigger arc being referenced. But the show shouldn’t keep its card quite so close to its chest or I suspect viewers will be switching off, given half the charm of the show – Red’s omnipotence and omniscience, plus his relationship with Megan Boone’s character – have taken a back seat for quite some time now.
First episode

Plebs (UK: ITV2)
The Baby
After last week’s disappointing beginning, a return to form with a good balance between history and modernity, misogyny dialled down, some proper jokes and not so InBetweeny.
First episode


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.