What have you been watching? Including Dig, Maximum Choppage, The Americans, Fortitude, 12 Monkeys and Vikings

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’sLocate TV – they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.

A couple of days away and once again the new shows descend! It’s like they know. I’ve done my best to watch them all, and you might have noticed my reviews of The Last Man on Earth, CSI: Cyber and Battle Creek over the past week. I’m putting off my review of ABC’s remake of Secret and Lies until tomorrow when I’ve had a chance to watch the third episode (yes, they showed the first two on the same night) and American Crime only arrived on the scene on Thursday so I’ll be giving that a go either tomorrow or Wednesday. Netflix’s also dumped the whole of the new Tina Fey sitcom The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt onto our queues on Friday, which I’ll at least try to make a start on this week, too.

Which just leaves the following, which I have actually managed to watch but which don’t really merit full reviews of their own.

Dig (US: USA Network)
Tim Kring (Heroes) and Gideon Raff (Homeland, Tyrant) collaborate on what is essentially Touch 2, with FBI agent Jason Isaacs coming to Jerusalem to hunt down a murderer, only to be drawn into Jewish mysticism and Dan Brown-style prophecies and conspiracies involving a red-haired archaeology student and the guy who played Hardman in Suits (the fabulous David Costabile) having a big collection of cloned kids and a black-hair-free cow in Norway. It’s novel to have both the Israeli location shooting and the solely Jewish rather than Christian mythology as the foundation of the plot, but already it’s so intricate and beardy weirdy that I’m not really tempted to watch any more of the silliness. But there are enough bonkers elements, including Richard E Grant, to make me watch at least one more episode, I think.

Maximum Choppage (Australia: ABC2)
Asian guy returns to Melbourne after three years away in Beijing at a martial arts school, whereupon his family and friends demand that he protect them from local gangs. Unfortunately, it turns out he’s actually been at Marshall Arts School, learning how to paint and edit videos, which means he and his female kung fu-tastic best friend have to pull off a series of elaborate con tricks on everyone to keep the neighbourhood in check by convincing the baddies that he really is a true warrior. Written by and starring Lawrence Leung, it works best when it’s sending up the plots of 70s and 80s kung fu movies and transposing them onto modern Melbourne, worst when it has a bad guy called ‘Kai Lee’ who likes to sing ‘The Locomotion’. Not bad and occasionally quite titter-worthy, but not as good as the average episode of Hong Kong Phooey.

After the jump, the regulars: 12 Monkeys, 19-2, The Americans, Arrow, Banshee, The Blacklist, The Doctor Blake Mysteries, Forever, Fortitude, Gallipoli, Man Seeking Woman, Marvel’s Agent Carter, Suits and Vikings.

Shows that I’ve been watching but not really recommending

I didn’t manage to watch Agents of SHIELD, I’m afraid. But here’s what I did watch.

12 Monkeys (US: Syfy; UK: Syfy)
The Keys/Yesterday
Quite an interesting place to take the show in the first of the episodes, albeit a place that anyone paying attention (or counting the number of episodes) would have known couldn’t have been the case. The second episode adds a new, future layer that includes good old Xander Berkeley that’s actually interesting, unlike the sub Mad Max stuff we’ve had so far. And more timey wifey fun, too. Just about ready for promotion to recommended, this one.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First two episodes

Gallipoli (Australia: Nine)
A Man Alone/The Deeper Scar
More misery as we get into the ‘senseless slaughter’ phase of the war, with a brief slightly inexplicable venture into the lonely plight of the sniper. I’m not 100% convinced by the ‘aboriginal’ character, either. All the same, as tear-jerking in its alternately subtle and necessarily gory depiction of the senselessness of the war. It should be noted, incidentally, that ratings are now low enough that Nine is dumping out two episodes a week instead of one, which is a little disappointing.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode

Forever (US: ABC; UK: Sky1)
Memories of Murder
An episode that could easily have been retitled A La Recherche du Temps Perdu, with some poignancy in terms of Ioan’s dead wife. As usual, the murder itself somewhat ordinary.
+ Social Engineering
Didn’t make a whole load of sense and Internet stuff that at times felt like a pilot for a rubbish new ABC show and was dangerously close to CSI: Cyber, but fortunately we avoided that in the end. There was also a resolution to Ioan’s dilemma that came straight out of Suits. But a nice bit of fleshing out of past history for a chunk of Ioan’s history.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; Third episode

Fortitude (UK: Sky Atlantic; US: Pivot TV)
Episode 5-6 (6-7)
Well that’s all gone a bit odd, hasn’t it? After revealing the killer to both the viewer and the audience in the first of the episodes, which was in itself an precedent-setting shape for a 10-episode series to take, we’re now in the territory of The Strain and Helix, with seemingly an ancient virus coughed up by mammoths and now flushed down the sewers. You can see where the set up has been for all of this (no one’s allowed to die on Fortitude…), but it’s more than a tad unexpected. Still, looking forward to zombie Christopher Eccleston at some point in our future.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First three episodes

Man Seeking Woman (US: FXX)
+ Branzino
Not quite as funny, despite the presence of Portlandia’s Carrie Brownstein.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode

The recommended list

19-2 (Canada: Bravo)
Tables/Property Line
The mole plot pace increases thanks to some important revelations, but I think I couldn’t care less about the personal lives of the various officers, I’m afraid.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode; third episode

The Americans (US: FX)
Salang Pass/Born Again
Two general “eat your greens” episodes that advance the general plots but without doing anything too much in terms of innovation. But along the way, some great moments, including the disturbing revelations of what Phil was taught in terms of seduction and sex by the KGB and the points about Reagan’s cosying up to the South African administration. The show is also very cleverly treading the paedophile knife-edge, creating just as much tension as the other plots.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode; third episode

Arrow (US: The CW; UK: Sky1)
Nanda Parbat
Ra’s Al Ghul is back and Arrow gets one of Batman’s old plots in a very solid episode that managed to juggle all kinds of storylines and do them justice. And I’ve just realised that Ra’s is actually a good guy over in Gallipoli, which took me a little time to spot.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Banshee (US: Cinemax; UK: Sky Atlantic)
All The Wisdom I Got Left/Even God Doesn’t Know What To Make Of You
We reach peak Banshee violence with the conclusion of the Native American storyline, while getting another flashback, this time to the Hood/Job meeting. Proving once again to be both one of the best written and directed while simultaneously insanely violent and sickening shows on TV.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First two episodes; third episode

The Blacklist (US: NBC; UK: Sky Living)
The Deer Hunter
A terrible, dull episode, despite attempts to get political. Amanda Plummer appears to have cornered the market in weird old female serial killers, too.
+ T. Earl King VI
Daftness on top of daftness, yet somehow it all worked, largely thanks to James Spader.  
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

The Doctor Blake Mysteries (Australia: ABC; UK: BBC One/Alibi)
This Town and This Place/By The Southern Cross
The thorny question of why there aren’t any aborigines in Ballarat finally gets addressed, while we get yet another new police officer in the cast, albeit one who was in a few episodes of the first season.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode  

Marvel’s Agent Carter (US: ABC)
A slightly unsatisfying conclusion to a decent first season that ultimately proved a little too unwilling to do anything too significant with the MCU (a proper Black Widow origin episode would have been good).
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First two episodes

Suits (US: USA Network; UK: Dave)
Intent/Not Just A Pretty Face
Lots of plot lines wrapped up, a bit of soapiness and important moments between several characters. Overall, a very promising half-season improvement, which takes Suits off my personal death row.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Vikings (US: History; UK: Amazon Instant Video)
The Wanderer/Warrior’s Fate
More lovely old languages, Linus Roache gets to have some proper fun, we have some proper supernatural stuff thanks to the arrival of Kevin Durand and we get the first hints of France being an element of interest this season. Oddly, both the Ragnar and the “women back home” storylines are starting to feel a little superfluous, though.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: Season one review

  • GYAD

    THE BLACKLIST – Pulled in by the blacksite story, turned off by the random murder and idiotic plotting.

    12 MONKEYS – OK…ish.

    WOLF HALL – Great production values but soooo slow and needlessly obscure. Could do with a voice-over.

    THE FOLLOWING – Just sick. Is this what America needs? Torture porn on mainstream TV. Surprised about lack of moral outrage.

    CAGNEY AND LACEY – Now this is how you do a feminist cop show. Superb writing, lighting and guest actors.

  • JustStark

    I'm getting impatient to watch this series of The Americans! I might even subscribe to Amazon if that's what it takes but it doesn't seem to there yet. Why oh why did you stop buying it ITV? Surely I wasn't the only person watching?

    I watched an episode of Anger Management out of (morbid) curiosity (mainly because it had Martin Sheen on the trailer and I thought, surely he wouldn't debase himself so much? He would). It was truly terrible.

    First episode of the third series of Bluestone 42 last night. Hm. Not sure about the resolution to the cliffhanger. I can see what they were trying to do but… Well, discuss it more next week when people who recorded it have had a chance to watch.

    Brooklyn Nine-nine continues to be about the only thing worth watching on actual TV, which is a bit depressing, though it maintains high standards of funniness.

  • The Following is despicable. Perhaps even more so than Stalker.

    12 Monkeys is smart but ultimately generic science-fiction time travel fun. I'll let you know if it ever really hits any heights

  • Anger Management is dreadful – precisely as bad as you'd expect of anything with Charlie Sheen yet not quite egregious enough to be interesting.

    ITV presumably is much happier making endless period crime dramas rather than importing a period spy drama. Because you don't want to dilute the branding with a very, very slightly different genre.

  • JustStark

    Oh yes and I knew there was something else: I watched The Babadook which was incredibly disappointing. Really. Very, very disappointing.

  • Mark Carroll

    Oh, that's a shame. I rather liked it. Is there other relatively recent horror that you would recommend, especially if actually a bit scary?

  • Mark Carroll

    I'll have to get around to starting Banshee soon.

    The family have been passing time with around-the-middle-now House and, discovered on YouTube, Dr Katz. Both are pleasant enough background. Laura Silverman seems to be cropping up all over for me, all of a sudden.

    The Blacklist … wasn't amazing, but hasn't been too terrible. I pay some attention when I'm in the room and it's on, but I probably wouldn't choose to watch. Gotham, which my son watches, actually seems rather better; that succeeds more in distracting me from what I intended to do.

    We're following The Walking Dead, too. Despite it having entered mildly new ground, I'm still not exactly glued to the screen.

    I watched The Affair. It didn't feel like my kind of thing, but it was actually really rather good throughout, with not unduly much sex. The ideas and writing were good, it was nicely shot and acted, etc. It keeps coming back to my mind. I'll definitely watch a second season. (Really, the only gap for me is not being sure what Alison sees in Noah.)

    We're still watching and liking The Americans. It's not been great just lately, compared to recent heights, but I expect it's still on its way and I am certainly happy to stick with it to find out.

    We've been following the “How We Got To Now” documentaries. They've been generally fairly good, not amazing, but often interesting and rarely irritating.

    I've started Vikings. I'm liking it. Those who know the history are unimpressed with arrant inaccuracies, but I'm ignorant enough to be able to enjoy it. I'm not sure I'm wholly invested, but I'll keep watching and being curious about things were in those times. (Certainly the King of Northumbria doesn't seem to have much of an army handy, but I am happy to see Donal Logue turn up.)

  • GYAD

    Thanks. If it does pick up I might try it but Ep.1 was a bit too generic for me to bother.

    The Following and Stalker are – Daily Maill moment here – both evidence of the decline of American morals. I'm kinda shocked there hasn't been much of a public backlash.

  • Andy Butcher

    If you like horror movies you have to see It Follows. Not just a great horror movie, but a great movie full stop.

  • Mark Carroll

    Ah, thank you. I think maybe they reviewed that on “Film 2015”. I'll investigate.

  • Mark Carroll

    Ha, it's already on my pending rental list. Good to have the confirmation though!

  • JustStark

    Kermode liked that, didn't he?

    My only trouble with it is the awful title. It makes me want to write a movie about a boatie who is crushed to death during a bump only to return and haunt the exercise equipment, so I can call it Ergo.

  • JustStark

    Hm. Can't remember what I've already recommended, but Oculus is pretty good and Absentia is even better.

    And there's two found-footage films (yes I know but these are better than most) that are both probably mainly scary if you're claustrophobic: As Above, So Below and The Borderlands. Of the two The Borderlands has more to recommend it in terms of story and atmosphere and general scariness, but it stars two old men while As Above, So Below stars Perdita Weeks. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

    And much as I think zombies have been mined out and the last thing the world needs is another zombie film, the Spanish [rec] series is surprisingly good at generating atmosphere and scares that aren't just jump-at-the-music-string (though it has those two). I've seen the first three and I will watch the fourth when I get the chance. The first is best but (unusually for a series) the third is still watchable

    I was sure there was one I had seen more recently that impressed me but I can't remember what it might have been. Will update if I remember.

  • JustStark

    (To be clear: I haven't see It Follows yet. I might go on Friday.)

  • There have been minor backlashes in the usual quarters, but not enough to warrant the show to be stopped, given its ratings. I think Saw was really the point where I started to wonder what was wrong with people

  • He liked it, but not as much as the Babadook. He thought it did interesting things with genre tropes to do with sex. But I don't think he loved it.

  • Vikings is usually one of the highlights of my week

  • JustStark

    Saw is not actually a bad movie, though. It's very theatrical, and it has something to say: it's not just torture for torture's sake, it's got a theme and everything.

    The sequels, now, dear me.

  • Mark Carroll

    Thank you, mostly I hadn't been much aware of those.

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