What have you been watching? Including Y Gwyll/Hinterland, Doctor Who, Ground Floor and The Legend of Hercules

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.

Yes, I’m back. Hopefully, you’ll have noticed already, if not, let this be my notice to you. So what have you been watching this Christmas? For me, not a lot of tele, although after the jump, I’ll be running through the likes of Doctor Who, Ground Floor, The Librarians, Mulaney, State of Affairs and Y Gwyll/Hinterland – I’ve already reviewed Galavant and Marco Polo elsewhere, in case those float your boat.

No, as is traditional over the Christmas period, it’s been all about the movies.

Despicable Me (2010)/Despicable Me 2 (2013) – iTunes
Evil villain dedicates his life to evil, only to find himself saving the day when an even worse evil turns up. If that sounds very similar to Megamind, that’s because it is and Despicable Me at least is decidedly inferior to that movie. However, many of the elements from the first movie that were more of an annoyance in Despicable Me – the three girls the evil ‘Gru’ adopts and his small yellow minions – come into their own in the far superior second movie, with the minions in particular turning into some very entertaining French-speaking oddities that are now warranting their own spin-off movie. Still not as good as Megamind, but more suitable for a younger audience and not without considerable charms.

Frozen (2013) – iTunes
Late to the show as always, I finally got round to watching the most popular animated movie in history. And actually, it’s not bad and its ending is pleasingly different from virtually all other Disney movies, with a story that’s more about the value of sisterhood than finding true love. It’s also got a couple of catchy songs that despite the occasional dodgy lyric (‘frozen fractal’ – oh dear God) you’ll find yourself quoting the best bits of at random points during the day and Kristen Bell turns out to be quite a good singer/voice actress. It’s just annoying that after a slightly uninspiring start, along the way, the whole thing feels like it’s been directed with the aim of having a stage show on ice spin-off, with some scenes even shot exactly like a West End musical rather than a film. But it’s survived a couple of re-watches already, so it must be a good ‘un, I reckon.

The Legend of Hercules (2014) – Netflix
Surprisingly, of the two Hercules movies released last year, this turns out to be far the superior to the Dwayne Johnson version and is faithful enough to both call him Alcides for most of the movie, rather than Herakles/Hercules, and to have a decent recreation of Tiryns based on the discoveries at Mycenae. It stars Kellan Lutz (Syrup, Twilight) as Alcides, who has to deal with both his evil god-rejecting mortal dad Amphitryon (Scott Adkins) and the revelation that his true dad is Zeus, king of the gods. While the movie eschews the conventional Labours bar the Nemean Lion in favour of new plots, it’s not to its credit that it messes around with the natures of Amphitryon, Alcmene and Iphicles in quite the way it does; neither is the strange middle section where the film decides it wants to be Spartacus so much it actually brings in Spartacus himself (Liam McIntyre) and sticks him and Hercules into a gladiatorial arena to fight baddies, more than a millennium before the gladiatorial arenas for thousands of spectators existed. But while it does stray, it does so in interesting ways. No one’s walking away with any acting or writing awards, but if you’re going to watch a Hercules movie, this is the best one.

Maleficent (2014) – iTunes
Disney does a Wicked with the wicked witch of Sleeping Beauty (Angelina Jolie), giving us the inside track on why she became evil and whether things were quite as one-sided as other movies might have suggested. Oddly, a much better film when dealing with the younger, pre-Jolie Maleficent and the whole thing boils down to ‘some boy done me wrong’, but innovative and enjoyable despite the relentless Disney co-branding.

Non-stop (2014) – Amazon Instant Video
Essentially an Agatha Christie locked room mystery, with one passenger on a plane killing off the others, one at a time, unless he or she is paid a big sum of money. Only air marshall Liam Neeson can find out who it is – by punching and shooting people a lot. Quite a taut and nuanced post-9/11 thriller that’s only slightly stupid at first but which turns into absolute bobbins once the identity of the killer is revealed. Nevertheless, there are worse action thrillers out there, a lot of them starring Liam Neeson, too.

Shows that I’ve been watching but not really recommending

Haven’t got round to watching last night’s episodes of The Librarians so that will feature in the next ‘What have you been watching?’

The Librarians (US: TNT; UK: Syfy)
…And Santa’s Midnight Run
Bruce Campbell is Santa and the Librarians have to stop Max Headroom from killing him before he has a chance to bestow Christmas cheer upon the world. Largely rubbish, particularly the London bits, but Bruce Campbell and the general joy of the episode overcame its faults, and Campbell’s becoming various older versions of the Santa Claus myth, right down to Odin himself, was inspired.
+ …And The Apple of Discord
Eris’s apple of discord causes the Librarians to go evil, including the Librarian himself (Noah Wyle returning for an episode). Largely an episode designed to give the The Librarian stamp of approval to the new gang and to big up Rebecca Romijn’s character, it’s a relatively palatable piece, although Wyle is clearly going to need treatment for ham addiction in the near future after the massive overdose he took this episode. The evil version of Cassandra Cillian was great, though, even if it was the standard ‘mouse girl becomes sexy when she’s evil’ trope.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First and second episode; Third episode

Mulaney (US: Fox)
It’s A Wonderful Home Alone
A homage to Home Alone, with Mulaney revealing his life long animosity to Macauley Culkin after he was denied his role in that movie. A few laughs but so few, I’m thinking I’ll probably give up on the show now.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode

State of Affairs (US: NBC)
The show finally dispenses a great episode, with all the plot points finally converging and the show’s various liabilities flipping over to become assets. Perilously close to being recommended, were it not for Katherine Heigl’s wardrobe.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

The recommended list

Doctor Who (UK: BBC One; US: BBC America)
Last Christmas
A change of pace from the usual Christmas story and indeed the Capaldi formula under Steven Moffat, with a multi-levelled story that homages (explicitly and implicitly) all manner of movies in an episode that’s actually more in the tradition of Christmas ghost stories than the blockbusters and fairy tales served to us before. Creepy, mind-bending (although most of the twists were obvious) and, of course, Clara’s back, too. What could be better?
When’s it airing near me?

Ground Floor (US: TBS)
Space Invader
The two love birds accidentally move in together, prompting flipping of the usual stereotypes about women and commitments, right down to an homage to Paranormal Activity. Stereotypes about men continue to be flipped, too. In fact, you’d be hard pushed to uncover any male traits in some of them… But a funny episode.
+ The Break Ups
And the slightly incestuous nature of Doozer productions come full circle, with Brent Morin, Skylar Astin’s co-star on Pitch Perfect, appearing as the head-hunting business rival of John C McGinley (of Doozer’s Scrubs), Morin having previously starred in Doozer’s Undateable, where he appeared with Ground Floor star Breega Heelan as her boyfriend, Heelan previously recurring on Doozer’s Cougar Town but now playing Astin’s girlfriend on Ground Floor. Clear?

An intriguing episode, with Harvard getting a love interest that should hopefully stop the sexual harassment of Heelan’s character, and Morin presumably here to end the ridiculous plot where Astin works as a janitor to regain McGinley’s love – and to sing duets with him.
When’s it airing near me?  
Reviews: First episode

Y Gwyll/Hinterland (UK: S4C)
New Year’s Day special/Spesial
Despite both S4C’s Clic and BBC’s iPlayer preventing me from watching this live – no subtitles on live streams, would you believe? – I was able to play catch up and watch it over the weekend, albeit having to make the usual adjustment of having to switch not just languages but characters between Hinterland and Y Gwyll (yes, Mattias can speak Welsh and doesn’t look down on people who do/feel ostracised for not speaking it). This wasn’t a great story, coming across more like a dark episode of Ffermio, with much intrigue over who owns a particular hill farm and running around in black corridors to then get twatted by someone. But the usual Y Gwyll rule applied of sticking to the end, since that’s suddenly where the very best of the episode appears – in this case, all the backstory you’ve been hoping for about Mathias that didn’t get mentioned in the first series. Even DI Rhys got a bit of fleshing out, too, and the ending provides hope for new drama in the next series, so I’ll still be tuning in for it – and to watch lots of Welsh countryside.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; first series