What have you been watching? Including Strange Empire, Coverband, Electra, The Flash and Doctor Who

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.

You may have noticed I was playing epic catch-up on Saturday, in contravention of my normal rule of weekend blogging. So on top of Friday’s all out efforts and a couple of extra ones today, I’ve reviewed the following new shows, some of which have already been acquired for Blighty’s viewing pleasure:

Yay, me. No back log now. Time to have regular weekends again. Phew.

In fact, so ahead of myself am I that I’ll point out that ages ago, I reviewed NBC’s Constantine, which starts on Friday. Okay, it’s changed a bit since the pilot but you’ll get the general point.

But I’ve not stopped there. Oh no. Because I’ve also watched a New Zealand and a Canadian show just for luck. Okay, I was a bit behind on all of them, so I’ve only seen the first episode of each, but honestly, that felt like enough.

Strange Empire (Canada: CBC)
Set in the 1860s on the Alberta-Montana border, this sees three women (Cara Gee, Tattiawna Jones and Melissa Farman from Lost) band together for survival after virtually all the men in their town are murdered and those remaining behind battle for power. Very nicely made and already being described as the saviour of CBC, it’s historically interesting but about as tedious as any other western, and none of the characters really grabbed me.

Coverband (New Zealand: TV One)
A one-hit wonder band reunite back in New Zealand years after they were famous. Unfortunately, the female lead singer was the one who was a success, leaving the terminally unsexy rest of the band to make it by themselves, something at which they fail miserably. Now having to deal with the pressures of normal lives and forced to do cover versions of other bands’ records, they suck completely until they stagecrashed by Laughton Kora, who shows them what rock charisma and singing really are, so they hire him. Kind of.

It’s an amiable and accurate enough show, based on cast member Johnny Barker’s own experiences as an Auckland cover band musician, and were there enough time in the world, I’d probably tune in for a few more episodes. But the show’s not so inspiring that I’ll throw something else aside for it and I’ve already seen The Wedding Band crash and burn, so I don’t think I need to see that happen again.

Unfortunately, New Zealand doesn’t want to produce any globally available videos of its own shows, apparently, so here’s a picture of the cast to tide you over.

Coverband

That’s it for new new shows, but after the jump, I’ll be running through: Arrow, black-ish, The Blacklist, Doctor Who, The Flash, Forever, Gotham, Homeland, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, Plebs, Scorpion, Selfie and The Walking Dead.

But hey! Before you go, I should mention I went to the theatre, too!

Electra (Old Vic)
Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra, a new translation of Sophocles’ original text by Greek tragedy stalwart Frank McGuinness, music by PJ Harvey – what could go wrong? Well, not much actually, beyond a certain staticness to the direction, a slightly weak performance by Jack Lowden as Orestes and a very strange performance by Tyrone Huggins as Aegisthus. Other than that, a fine piece of work, surprisingly faithfully staged (although that’s not quite how Greek people prayed), with an outstanding performance by Thomas and a surprisingly funny text by McGuinness – in part to cover up for casting slightly older than originally written, but also to hide the unlikelihood of Electra not recognising Orestes. Liz White (Life on Mars) gives the best performance I’ve ever seen from her as Chrysothemis, Electra’s sister.  

Shows that I’ve been watching but not really recommending

Elsewhere, I’ve already provided third-episode verdicts on the following shows:

I haven’t had time to watch last night’s The Affair either.

black-ish (US: ABC)
Crazy Mom
Despite saying a few interesting things about the differences between how mothers’ and fathers’ contributions are appreciated, this was the worst episode so far with none of the show’s strengths and all of its weaknesses. Barely watchable and certainly not funny. I hope this isn’t going to be alternate between excellent and terrible every other episode. On the deathwatch list: let’s see how this week’s plays out.
First episode

The Flash (US: The CW; UK: Sky 1)
The Fastest Man Alive
A pretty good follow-up episode to an already good pilot, with young Barry Allen having to deal with the fact he’s not a proper grown-up yet, unlike Arrow, and needs to man up. This, because he’s the Flash, requires his going on a diet, amongst other things. We also get another super-villain of the week (if ‘kryptonite villain of the week’ worked for Smallville for 11 years, ‘dark matter villain of the week’ could work for The Flash as well, I guess) with a power appropriate to match the fastest man alive. Filled with the usual reminders of the characters and what their character traits are (“She’s been grumpy ever since her fiancee was killed in that accident…”) for everyone whose memory span is shorter than a week and with cod science to explain the impossible, it was still a joyful bit of comic book fan.
First episode

Forever (US: ABC; UK: Sky 1)
The Pugilist Break
In which our two protagonists get to know each other a little better and do a little sleuthing, but not much else happens. Charming, but even Ioan Gruffudd is starting to ham it up as he realises how silly it all is.
First episode Third-episode verdict

Gotham (US: Fox; UK: Channel 5)
Arkham
At least it’s consistent in its highs and lows. Everything to do with Bruce, Alfred, the Penguin and relationships is good; everything to do with other people just rubbish. The high point, of course, was Cobblepot’s continuing rise to power.
First episode Second episode

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD (US: ABC; UK: Channel 4)
I Will Face My Enemy
The first very good episode of the season so far, with Coulson and May going undercover together. Full of meta jokes and just straight out regular jokes, it unfortunately also suffered from its usual slightly sub-standard fight scenes and the fact that the top-secret undercover Hydra organisation, currently trying to hide its presence to the world at large, has actually gone to the trouble of embroidering its logo onto all its operatives’ uniforms. But I do like the fact that things that pop up in the movies pop up here, with some Captain America 2 tech showing up this time.
First episode

Scorpion (US: CBS; UK: ITV2)
Shorthanded
After the disaster of episode two, the show has another go at producing a character piece that isn’t dull but is still firmly ludicrous – and succeeds. Utterly bonkers and ridiculous in pretty much every aspect, from MacGyvering a prison escape with a pair of trousers and a button to nerds zip lining onto roofs, while simultaneously fleshing everyone out just a little bit, it continues to be the new guilty pleasure of the Fall season.
First episode

Selfie (US: ABC)
A Little Yelp From My Friends
If it weren’t for Karen Gillan, I’d probably be out by now, because despite doing a good job of finding real comedy in semi-accurate portrayals of social media, this week’s episode – all about Yelp reviews – felt more like an ad for Yelp than anything properly comedic. It just about hung together, with Gillan tasked by Cho with being friends with someone who hates her, but neither she nor Cho’s characters are really getting any more likeable together.
First episode

The Walking Dead (US: AMC; UK: Fox International)
No Sanctuary/Strangers
So with season 5 starting up gain, Alex Breckenridge getting a regular gig on something for a change and for a top secret reason I will reveal later, I thought I’d give The Walking Dead another go. I gave up after season one, on the general grounds that nothing was happening. Tuning in this season, I discover that’s still largely true, beyond an apparent drip, drip, drip of deaths of the main characters that meant that only two people seem to have survived from the original line-up, although the arrival of Lennie James at the end of the first episode was very welcome. It also appears to be a place where people from other TV shows I like end up, including Michael Cudlitz from Southland and Seth Gilliam from The Wire.

All the same, apart from those goodies, little to recommend the show, which appears to have advanced not one jot in any other area, beyond the ’twitting zombies with a hammer’ stakes, with grimness and bleakness, all the way down to cannibalism, apparently what it’s reduced to. I miss Frank Darabont. I miss plots. I miss being made to care about characters, rather than just waiting to see who’s going to be killed next and how. But maybe Alex Breckenridge will make it funnier. Here’s hoping.
First episode

The recommended list

I haven’t managed to get through yesterday’s Homeland yet, but here’s what I have watched.

Arrow (US: The CW; UK: Sky1)
Sara
Dealing with the fallout of the first episode in a surprisingly moving way for a show about a man who shoots arrows to fight crime. The double bluff with the identity of the archer was obvious; but is it in fact a triple bluff with Ra’s Al Ghul the man to blame rather than Barrowman? I don’t know, but Barrowman and Thea could be an interesting combo, judging by the end of the episode. The cameo by Tommy was much appreciated too and seeing as we’re promised similar for Sara, I think they’ve just about clawed themselves back some good will. Although I don’t think anyone’s ever going to like Laurel.
First episode

The Blacklist (US: NBC; UK: Sky Living)
Dr Linus Creel
Returning again to season 1’s feel and concerns, which is welcome, but Creel himself, despite being played by the marvellous David Costabile, was a slightly daft criminal. The hacking was certainly no The Code, particularly given it was supposed to be a dictionary attack – funny dictionary they’ve got…
First episode

Doctor Who (UK: BBC1; US: BBC America)
Flatline
After last week’s ‘best episode so far’ by Jamie Mathieson (Being Human, Dirk Gently), we have definitely the best episode so far by, this one by… Jamie Mathieson. Clearly he’s one to watch. A call back to science fiction classic Flatland, it’s a really great episode that’s frightening, clever, witty, fun, exciting and a whole lot of other positive adjectives, with the Doctor stuck inside a TARDIS with an ever-shrinking exterior, leaving Clara to ‘be the Doctor’ and save the day outside. Not even a couple of wrong notes from Murray Gold could diminish something, particularly something with such a great Addams Family tribute.

Homeland (US: Showtime; UK: Channel 4)
Shalwar Kameez
The highlight of the episode was, of course, Saul and Carrie’s reunion but also great to see Carrie doing some proper spy work, too. I’m still not sure where the whole thing is going or even what its point is post-Brody, but I’ve now got enough faith in the writers that I’m prepared to stick with them for a while.
First episode

Plebs (UK: ITV2)
The New Slave
The funniest episode this season, with the lads acquiring a helpful new slave (Tim Kay, a long-time collaborator with Plebs co-creator Tom Basden) from slave dealer David Schneider and slowly regretting their purchase. Top marks to Key for a very creepy performance as well as to the writers.
First episode

  • Mark Carroll

    Yes, you haven't missed much with skipping over a good chunk of “The Walking Dead”. My wife remains drawn into it. We'll see how this season progresses, I guess. People are surprisingly good at separating yet finding each other again later.

    I didn't exactly love “Flatline” and I don't know why not, but it was good. I do suppose that I could have done with a little more assurance that the invaders had really gone for more than a day or two. Also, the sonic screwdriver seems too much to be becoming a, “point it at something and it does whatever would be convenient”, though at least part of the solution included some cleverness.

    I watched a documentary about Jeff Lynne and ELO. It was good. Jeff Lynne comes across as a nice and skilled guy.

    We watched “The Wind Rises”, which was pleasant and interesting enough, though once sufficed. Its treatment of the subject matter didn't seem to me to be worth all the controversy.

  • GYAD

    GOMORRAH – Gets better and better.

    FOREVER – Still charming but dumb. Seems unlikely to improve anytime soon so will probably give up.

    GOTHAM – An expensive mess; all set-dressing, no brains.

    THE DETECTORISTS – Very British: gentle, weird and charming.

    THE ROCKFORD FILES – Actually, really very good. Vivacious, witty and full of down at heel charm.

    THE GREAT FIRE – A school play with a big budget.

    GRANTCHESTER – Teatime rot let down by absurd number of period abnormalities (lesbians! blacks! orgasms!).

    GRACELAND – Officially dead. Will finish series, no more.

  • I do believe people were having orgasms in the 50s and 60s 😉

    Agreed about Forever and Gotham. Might steer clear of The Great Fire, which I recorded

  • GYAD

    I'm not sure they were discussing orgasms with their local vicar though!

    THE GREAT FIRE is one of those fairly dull but just about watchable programmes that ITV seem to specialise in.

  • No. Probably not…

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