What have you been watching? Including The Producers, Divergent, Dig, Gallipoli, Fortitude 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’s Locate TV – they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.

Well, I’ve not quite caught up with my backlog. Nearly, but not quite. To be fair, the deluge of new shows has continued and this week I’ve already dealt with the first episode of American Crime and Powers, not to mention the first three of Secrets and Lies. But I’ve had to put on the backburner for a couple of days at least the first two episodes of A&E’s The Returned, a remake of Canal+’s Les Revenants, as well as E!’s first foray last night into insulting the British scripted programming, The Royals. I’ve also had to hold off starting on both the third season of House of Cards and Netflix’s new Tina Fey sitcom The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. But I will get round to all of them, I promise.

After the jump then, the regulars and the new regulars including 12 Monkeys, 19-2, The Americans, American Crime, Banshee, The Blacklist, Dig, The Doctor Blake Mysteries, Fortitude, Gallipoli, Man Seeking Woman, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD and Vikings. One of them has been promoted to ‘recommended’ status and one of them narrowly avoided demotion – which ones do you think they were?

But I’ve also watched a couple of movies and been to the theatre!

The Producers (touring production, Bromley Churchill Theatre)
Musical adaptation of the Mel Brooks movie classic, in which theatrical producer Zero Mostel discovered from accountant Gene Wilder that he could make a fortune from a flop, and the duo conspired to put on the worst play imaginable: Springtime For Hitler. This touring production sees Cory English take on the Zero Mostel role, Jason Manford take on Wilder’s, with Phill Jupitus, Louise Spence and David Bedella rounding off the rest of the cast. Despite Manford, Jupitus and Spence being the big names, it’s English who’s the film’s focus and who gets the lion’s share of the work, the others getting surprisingly little to do. But the cast itself, right down to the dancers, are all uniformly excellent, even if Manford spends a little too much time in the first half trying to copy Wilder’s vocal patterns rather than giving his own interpretation. Not quite as funny as the original film, and with too many songs for its own good, it’s nevertheless a top notch night out.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (2014) (iTunes)
Catness is out with the resistance in the third part of the series, which dials back in the action in favour of lots of propaganda videos, as each side tries to out PR the other in the ongoing civil war. It’s all a bit bleak and miserable actually, with very little respite from the darkness, making it the hardest watch of the series so far.

Divergent (2004) (iTunes)
More young adult, post-apocalyptic misery. To maintain peace and prosperity, society gets divided into factions following a terrible war and just as with Harry Potter’s sorting hat, everyone gets sorted into factions that suit their personalities. Except Shailene Woodley’s Tris is ‘Divergent’ and could belong to any number of factions, so picks ‘Dauntless’. Unfortunately, the ‘Erudites’ don’t like that, because they have a naughty scheme up their sleeves that the Divergents could ruin.

Very much a watered down Hunger Games, with flimsy logic and a thinly veiled metaphor for High School life (are you a nerd, a jock, on the debate team, a wallflower or are you really just such an individual?) meshed poorly with a very sub-Equilibrium post-apocalyptic background and fight scenes and a Twilight-style ‘special’ heroine whom everyone is after because she’s so special, yet simultaneously special. All the same, it’s actually enjoyable enough stuff, with some darkish moments, a plucky heroine, Theo James (Golden Boy, Bedlam) almost summoning up a personality for a change and Ashley Judd getting to use her Missing training for all of five minutes.

Shows that I’ve been watching but not really recommending

12 Monkeys (US: Syfy; UK: Syfy)
Tomorrow
Everything pretty much gets reset to where it was two or three episodes ago but with a little bit of extra character development. As has been pretty much the case all the way through, there’s also been plenty of suggestions that the producers have been laying down hints in each episode that there is some elaborate interlocked plot that will be unveiled by the season finale. Until then, I’m going to keep watching and hoping.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First two episodes

Dig (US: USA Network)
Catch You Later
Slightly less silly but also less interesting than the first episode, with Jason Isaacs’ investigations continuing with the help and hindrance of his slightly comedic Israeli counterpart, while in the US, weird evangelical things are afoot. As with 12 Monkeys, this feels like a show that’s laying down material that’s going to pay off at the end, with commentary on the weird relationship between US fundamentalist, apocalyptic Christians and Israel, hints at some sort of Raiders of the Lost Ark style communication device and the possible coming of the Messiah. But getting there is going to require getting through a load of poor stunts and epic stupidity from our heroes, but, to be fair, also some lovely location work in Jerusalem.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode

Gallipoli (Australia: Nine)
If Only…
And it’s all over, before the 100th anniversary of the campaign is even upon us, thanks to some lousy ratings. The mini-series concludes decently enough and in keeping with the other episodes, full of carnage, senseless slaughter and painstaking even-handedness. Unfortunately, despite having all the pieces on the board to do so, it ultimately chooses not to demonstrate why Gallipoli has become so important to Australia, New Zealand and Turkey, among others, refusing to back either James Callis’s journalism or Mustafa Kamel’s victories or to demonstrate anything of import that doesn’t involve Australians being brave or being shot a lot, so that ultimately you learn very little about the Turks or the New Zealanders at all. The result was narration at the end that admits it’s unable to explain Gallipoli’s significance – perhaps the biggest sign of failure that a drama-documentary could have. Nevertheless, a well made, moving piece of drama on its own terms.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode

Fortitude (UK: Sky Atlantic; US: Pivot TV)
Episode 7 (8)
Backing off the implied genre-change at the end of last episode, this episode sees a return to the more traditional murder-mystery of the first few episodes – presumably so as not to frighten everyone off. Richard Dormer and Stanley Tucci are now getting to be a double act, which is working quite well, but the latest developments involving citizens taking the law into their own hands just look like padding.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First three episodes

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD (US: ABC; UK: Channel 4)
Aftershocks/Who You Really Are
This time last year, we were watching Agents of SHIELD and marvelling at how great it had become following the tie-in with Winter Soldier that changed the whole show’s premises. I sure hope there’s something else like that coming up soon, because the show desperately needs it. For two episodes, we’ve had tedious Skye cruft, dealing with the secrets of her parentage and the problems it’s causing everyone, with only Adrienne Palicki to liven the tedium of the first episode and Palicki and the returning Jaime Alexander (Lady Sif) to liven up the second one. Really, they should just cart off the original cast and leave all the replacements behind.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode, Third episode  

Woman Seeking Man (US: FXX)
Teacup
See that? Its name has changed for one episode, as we get to see dating from the female point of view. What wondrous insights on a par with previous episodes’ will this throw up, you might wonder? Unfortunately, none at all in what was a massive wasted opportunity. You pretty much could have predicted the basics of what the episode would have featured, ranging from being too picky about men and dealing with the biological clock through to men who seem great so naturally are gay and men who seem not quite so great, but once you give them a chance, turn out to be pretty good until you’ve had sex with them and then they run away. What a shame.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode

The recommended list

19-2 (Canada: Bravo)
Babylon
It’s really hard to review these episodes, you know? Lots happens in each one. Lots of deep things. Lots of meaningful things. Lots of things that speak about society, policing, the effects on the police of policing and so on. But it’s like Wikipedia’s random page, in that it all feels very informative but completely unconnected from anything that’s happened previously. Much like life. What’s it all mean? What does life mean? Anyway, this week, we learned there’s more to policing than not being afraid of the dark. See? Where’d that come from?
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode; third episode

The Americans (US: FX)
Walter Taffet
Joining both Dig and 12 Monkeys in the “lots of hints big things are on the way” leagues this week, The Americans this week gave us big, important revelations happening in tense and thrilling ways, followed by the usual subdued reaction and nothing happening. But you know there’ll be a pay-off.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode; third episode

American Crime (US: ABC)
Episode 2
If this were on HBO, there’d be no doubt that everyone would be calling it the most important, most realistic, most astutely observed crime drama since Southland or perhaps even The Wire. However, it’s on ABC after Scandal and opposite The Blacklist, which makes everyone automatically assume it’s pants. This week, after playing down how very important it is, the show’s had a very quick promotion to recommended as it’s wound more plot twists on top of plot details, and given us more intelligent analysis of the American criminal justice system and people’s attitudes towards race and gender. Looks great, great acting, great scripting… but really, really hard to watch, which is presumably why the ratings dropped about 20% between episodes.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode

Banshee (US: Cinemax; UK: Sky Atlantic)
We All Pay Eventually
And we’re already at the end of the season. How did that happen? Anyway, we conclude with a bold move by the producers – essentially ripping down the entire premise of the show to potentially give us a completely different set-up. We also have the Job cliffhanger, which suggests next season is going to be more about him. I’m not entirely sure I like the retconning of Hood and Dalton, as one of the best aspects of the show was that it was about a master criminal from outside the system becoming part of the system and this effectively makes Hood part of the system, albeit a very loosely connected part of the system. It just about works, I guess. But we do need to talk about the Banshee laws of violence – shot in the shoulder, fine; shot in the stomach, dead; stab in the stomach, don’t even need to go to hospital; big stab in the stomach, dead? Is that about right? Cos that don’t work for me. Still, at least as good as the first season overall, with subtler things to say, and certainly better than the second season.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First two episodes; third episode

The Blacklist (US: NBC; UK: Sky Living)
The Major
To think: I was just about to demote The Blacklist from the recommended list and it only goes and saves itself with a clips episode of all things! How amazing. But this recap of the show’s twists and turns for the past two seasons is a clear sign, I hope, that it’s about to tap into that storyline and resurrect the flagging format.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

The Doctor Blake Mysteries (Australia: ABC; UK: BBC One/Alibi)
A Night To Remember
Doctor Blake finally is able to use its period setting to give us an Agatha Christie-style mystery set in the confines of one location, with no one leaving or entering, and only Doctor Blake and his new police nemesis able to investigate the crimes. It’s a shame that the new Superintendent didn’t get to solve the crime, as it would have made his continued campaign against Blake believable (is that four or five murders Blake’s now solved unaided?), but still a cut above the average Doctor Blake murder of the week, with ongoing development for all the characters, who are used to the best of their abilities, and Underbelly’s Craig Hall is proving a formidable and near-plausible ongoing adversary for Blake.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode  

Vikings (US: History; UK: Amazon Instant Video)
Scarred
A lot going on, but not much of it feeling very powerful, for some reason. We had the death of a regular character, probably at the hands of something magical or even divine (Thor?), yet so little had this character to do of late that it was hard to care. Perhaps the biggest difficulty is that everyone is spread out, with Ragnar, Rollo, Lagertha, Athelstan and co having little screen time together. Still, some fun moments in Wessex, particularly the wine scene, and at least Lagertha’s been having some fun with Ecbert.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: Season one review

  • JustStark

    Well I went to see It Follows; how very very '80s, right down to the cinematography (good) and the really intrusive music that gets quite irritating (bad). Indeed for a moment I wondered if it was actually set in the '80s — I think that's why they have the character with the obvious modern device, just to be clear that no, it's contemporary.

    Anyway, in general I thought it was on the better end of teen-horror movies but not one of the real greats; I'd still recommend absentia well ahead of it and probably Oculus too.

    And watching it as an adult must be a very different experience; I expect a teenage audience won't notice or be constantly bothered by questions like, 'Where are all the parents? Hang on, can they just up and leave for days like that — don't they have school?'

    Still impatient to see The Americans.

    Watched the first half of Hostages. It's one of those comedy things where all the characters have separate Big Things things going on in their lives… which all happen to come to a head the same week, which is they week they get taken hostage by masked gunmen. If it were longer I might think about giving up but as there aren't that many episodes to go I might just finish it.

    Did finish True Detective. Not bad. Don't see why it became such a Thing.

    As we're doing plays, I saw a version of Radio 4's Cabin Pressure adapted for the stage. Basically two episodes — Gdansk and Xinzhou for those who care — with a cast who, interestingly, were basically all undergraduates. Which meant a very different Caroline, but one that still worked (more arch than the very deadpan radio version). Arthur and Martin were closer to their radio versions but quite good; the one weak link was the Douglas, who kept trying to do a Allam-esque drawl but unfortunately that just meant every line came out with the exact same intonation, which got very wearing after a while; He was more comfortable with the shorter lines; I wish he'd had the courage to ditch the radio version entirely and do something totally hsi own, I think it would have worked a lot better.

    The staging was good, with flight desks on castors so the flight desk could change orientation between the episodes (and good use made of the Corpus Diagonal), and for the most part as a general production it worked, though some of the jokes were busted due to rushing the timing.

    All in all an interesting experiment: not one that made me eager to see more stage adaptations of radio sitcoms, but one that convinced me it's an endeavour that can be worth it, as long as the cast are willing to do something completely new with the material rather than trying to simply reproduce their favourite radio performances (because either they get it exactly right, in which case what was the point, you may as well have listened to the radio, or they would have been better off playing more to their own strengths than doing an imitation).

  • JustStark

    Sorry, 'so the flight deck could change orientation'.

  • Mark Carroll

    “The Americans” was too good for ITV! I wonder if you will have to wait for DVD, that'd be annoying, could take ages.

  • Mark Carroll

    “The Blacklist”'s clips episode didn't exactly draw me in. I'll keep watching for a while but I don't much care about this police murder investigation either and that'll take a couple more episodes to pan out, I guess.

    I think I saw “Divergent” as one of a few films on an airplane viewed by passengers in front of me, which seemed to be about the way to watch that film. This latest “The Hunger Games” sounds a bit miserable, I won't mind being out of the room for that one.

    Family still watched “Once Upon a Time” which fails to convince me it has had anywhere interesting to go for some time now. Wife now seems more drawn into “Gotham” than son, but it is indeed quite passable entertainment, rather less cheesy than “Once Upon a Time” or “The Blacklist” to my surprise.

    I'm way behind you with “Vikings”; I'm not blown away by it, but I'll keep watching, it's different enough in setting at least.

    Some years late, we got going with “Psychoville”; I think it's quite good. Young daughter seems eager for more.

  • JustStark

    It's not terrible waiting for the DVDs — that's how I watch Vikings and Mad Men since it moved to Sky — but in this case I really do want to watch it because it sounds even better than the last series!

  • re: Cabin Pressure on stage. Interesting. I'd have like to have seen that.

  • It's not so much the clips episode itself that was any good – it wasn't – more its very existence suggests good things are coming soon

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