What have you been watching? Including American Odyssey, Daredevil, Olympus and Silicon Valley

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.

I’ve been away for a fortnight, so that means there’s a fair bit to cover this time round, including (gasp!) some new shows. But first, movies.

The Raid 2 (2014) (Netflix)
Sequel to the brilliantly kinetic The Raid, in which the cream of Indonesian martial arts talent kicked arse in a variety of amazingly choreographed scenes, photographed beautifully by Welsh director Gareth Evans. This time, hero Rama, rather than fight his way up a building, instead has to go undercover with a crime family, first in prison, then in Indonesia at large, as the young son tries to take over the empire from his dad by stirring up trouble with his Japanese rivals.

Unfortunately, compared to the brilliant original, The Raid 2 is a somewhat dull affair for most of the first half, as Evans makes the mistake of trying to give us story and acting, rather than fists and kicks to the head. Everything starts to crank up nicely towards the end, though, with Evans giving us some beautifully shot scenes and the various martial artists do some death-defying tricks. However, everyone’s ability to survive multiple machete strikes starts to get more than a tad improbable at times.

Zero Dark Thirty (2012) (Netflix)
Kathryn Bigelow’s dramatisation of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, with Jessica Chastain the driven CIA analyst on a decade-long quest to catch the al Qaeda head. Again, a slow starter with years going by with nothing much happening. It’s only once Chastain makes the right connections that things begin to crank up, with Bigelow lending Seal Team Six her Oscar-winning action skills at the end. The movie is thankfully jingoism- and hyperbole-free, giving us a thoughtful CIA trying to do its best against near impossible odds, with no sci-fi weapons to help out. But weirdly, in retrospect, the movie feels more like a trial run for later Marvel movies, with Seal Team Six seemingly recruiting largely from SHIELD (Callan Mulvey, Frank Grillo) and Guardians of the Galaxy (Chris Pratt). There’s also the mysterious cameo by The Barrowman himself.

After the jump, tele, including first tries of American Odyssey, Olympus, Thunderbirds are Go! and Daredevil, as well as look at the regulars: 12 Monkeys, The Americans, American Crime, Arrow, The Blacklist, Community, The Doctor Blake Mysteries, The Flash, Forever, Fortitude, House of Cards, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, One Big Happy, The Returned and Vikings. I’m giving up on not one, not two but three of those – which do you reckon they’ll be?

And no, I haven’t watched last night’s Game of Thrones yet, so no spoilers.

New shows

I’ve already reviewed a couple of new shows in the past fortnight:

But I’ve given a few new ones a whirl, too.

American Odyssey (US: NBC; UK: BBC Two, to air in May)
A sort of Crash meets State of Affairs meets Zero Dark Thirty that sees three separate characters investigating a single conspiracy all over the world. In Mali, special forces soldier Anna Friel (Pushing Daisies) and the rest of her unit are heralded as heroes for killing the new head of al Qaeda until everyone but she is killed by a private army headed up by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, forcing her to go on the run in Africa (Morocco again, this time doubling for Mali). Meanwhile, back in the US, former attorney Peter Facinelli (Nurse Jackie) is searching for the incident’s links to a company he’s been investigating and trustfunder turned Occupy Wall Street leader Jake Robinson joins in separately when a conspiracy theorist he’s been dealing with turns out to be telling the truth.

Billed as a modern-day version of The Odyssey but so far with minimal obvious links beyond being a journey home (perhaps, given multiple journeys home are planned if the show gets additional seasons, it should more accurately have been called American Nostoi), it’s actually not bad – a step up in plausibility and real-world impact from State of Affairs, with only minimal offences against common sense. All the same, you’ll probably have a niggling feeling you’ve seen similar done better elsewhere and that ultimately, like most similar NBC dramas, it’ll peter out and end up saying nothing of note. But definitely one to try, all the same.

Daredevil (Netflix)
The producers of Angel get together to give us another drama about a couple of plucky guys and their secretary, fighting a higher evil who’s ruining their city – except this time saving the day is a blind attorney with acrobatic skills and heightened senses, not a vampire with a soul. Based on the Marvel comic of the same name, it’s actually been very good so far (I’m only an episode and a half in but had I more time, I’d have binge-watched over the weekend), trying not to overload on the comic book qualities and backstory, while simultaneously fitting neatly into the Marvel Cinematic Universe of a New York half-destroyed by the alien invasion of The Avengers two years previously. It’s a little bit too Batman Begins for its own good, however, right down to the constant impenetrable darkness, and while Charlie Cox (Legacy, Boardwalk Empire) is a superb Daredevil, Elden Henson as his partner is almost the very definition of comedy sidekick. Vincent D’Onofrio as Kingpin has only been along in voiceover so far.

Olympus (Canada: Super Channel; US: Syfy; UK: Spike – starts on April 15)
Set in ’the time of Greek myths’ (aka 2015BC) but in a time and place that might as well be Zardoz‘s land of the Brutals for all its accuracy, Olympus has an unnamed hero whose name is cursed and cannot be spoken (it’s probably Theseus – I guess I can write that) trying to find his destiny with the help of an oracle of Gaia. Meanwhile, Athens is busily fighting a war with King Minos and not doing well, until Queen Medea takes over. And there’s something about ‘the lexicon’ of the gods, which will allow entry to the kingdom of Olympus.

I was expecting the worst but actually, Olympus is better than Atlantis, even if its relationship with Greek myth and history consists mainly of using a few of the same names. It also uses the same studio/backdrop techniques of Syfy’s Dune mini-series to decent effect, too. Unfortunately, it makes the cardinal mistakes of being dull, despite some epic bloodshed, and of having some rubbish central characters who do way, way too much talking.

Thunderbirds are Go! (UK: ITV)
CGI version of the classic Gerry Anderson puppet show, updated for 2015. Most of the characters are the same, although the gender politics are better, as are the Thunderbirds themselves. But without the charm of the puppets, it wasn’t quite enough to make me want to watch any more.

Shows that I’ve been watching but not really recommending

12 Monkeys (US: Syfy; UK: Syfy)
Paradox + Arms of Mine
Everything comes together, with some quite clever timey wimey structuring that shows the writers really have had a plan the whole time. The penultimate episode even gives us a callback to the themes of the movie, with a haunting memory finally being explained. However, it all gets a little silly with the revelation of who the 12 are, and there’s clearly a few more things that need explaining (spoiler: who is the witness? Why did Cole have paradox-like trouble with Patient Zero, who’s presumably from the future?). On the whole, a precent decent season but nothing so special I’d recommend sitting through all 13 episodes for.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First two episodes

The Blacklist (US: NBC; UK: Sky Living)
Vanessa Cruz
Excessively tedious attempt to do sexy. But the cliffhanger redeems the episode. Nevertheless, on death row at the moment.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Forever (US: ABC; UK: Sky1)
Punk Is Dead
A slightly unconvincing flashback to the days of punk, peppered with the almost genius casting of David Krumholtz as a young Judd Hirsch – he had, of course, played Hirsch’s son on Numb3rs. We also get a new mystery concerning what happened to Ioan’s last wife, something that previously wasn’t a mystery. Cuba Gooding Jr was thankfully only in this minimally.
+ Best Foot Forward
Various plots are advanced, largely to get two characters who never interact normally a chance to be together.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; Third episode

Fortitude (UK: Sky Atlantic; US: Pivot TV)
Episode 10 (11)
Well, in all the murder-mysteries I’ve ever heard of, with the exception of perhaps one Agatha Christie story, it’s never been the (spoiler alert) primordial, parasitic wasp wot done it, so the whole show has been more than a bit surprising from that regard. A slightly unsatisfactory conclusion, in that full resolutions have been put off to allow for the newly commissioned second series, but generally a genuinely surprising series that was never quite what you expected it to be. Worth watching all the way through not just for the beautiful Icelandic filming but to see something you’re unlikely to have seen before.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First three episodes  

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD (US: ABC; UK: Channel 4)
One Door Closes
The best episode so far this year, perhaps unsurprisingly because it ties in with Captain America: Winter Soldier and gives us almost a big a change to the status quo. The idea of creating a new SHIELD works quite well, with the members of the original cast who weren’t working very well being downplayed, so almost rebooting the whole show. Plus Edward James Olmos is a much better leader than ol’ Phil
+ Afterlife
You have to feel sorry for Luke Mitchell, who fresh from guiding an emerging new species of humanity in The Tomorrow People now has exactly the same job to do in Agents of SHIELD. To be fair, he does manage to give a different performance, but talk about boring for him. And for us, since despite the revelations and not one but two returning characters of note, this was pretty much a snoozefest.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode, Third episode

One Big Happy (US: NBC)
Episode 2
Whatever qualities of note the show had were lost in between the first and second episodes when someone told Kelly Brook she could act and she should dial her performance down, while simultaneously telling Elisha Cuthbert to dial hers up a notch. The terrifyingly unfunny script didn’t help either. Absolutely unwatchable.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode

The Returned (US: A&E; UK: Netflix)
Done. Can’t be bothered with it any more. It’s just too generic. Oh well.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First two episodes

The recommended list

The Americans (US: FX)
Stingers
In which someone finds out our heroes’ secret, and it’s revealed it’s a good job Keri Russell doesn’t have to speak Russian that often.
+ One Day in the Life of Anton Baklanov
Fallout from the previous episode and some fun with Martha, but the best, most poignant bits are back in the Soviet Union.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode; third episode

American Crime (US: ABC)
Episode 5+6
Argh. So hard to watch, yet so good when I do watch it.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode; third episode

Arrow (US: The CW; UK: Sky1)
Public Enemy
So much going on! Big changes to the status quo manage to overcome the slight silliness of a twin sister. Where will the show go from here?
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Community (US: Yahoo; UK: Sony Entertainment Television)
Queer Studies and Advanced Waxing
A stage version of The Karate Kid is this week’s nostalgia, but despite the IT subplot, there are no IT Crowd jokes surprisingly.
+ Laws of Robotics and Party Rights
Brian Van Holt arrives from Cougar Town as a virtual criminal in a slightly overstretched joke that doesn’t quite last the entire show.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

The Doctor Blake Mysteries (Australia: ABC; UK: BBC One/Alibi)
Darkness Visible
A happy ending all round, albeit with the death of another long-running character, a big mystery solved and a decent cliffhanger to boot. All in all, a much better season than the second season, one that never felt like it was treading water.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode  

The Flash (US: The CW; UK: Sky 1)
Tricksters
A lovely little episode that’s a strange combination of high camp and very dark, with Mark Hamill coming back to do a Hannibal Lecter routine as the Trickster, a role he created for the first Flash TV series, while we simultaneously get an unexpected flashback looking at the present day origin story of the Reverse Flash. This gives us scenes between Hamill and original Flash star John Wesley Shipp, as well as between new and old Flash, which are a delight. Well played!
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

House of Cards (Netflix)
3×1-3×2
And I’m giving up on this, too. One of the joys of House of Cards was watching Kevin Spacey’s Machiavellian schemes being lined up so they all come together like parts in a machine. Now we have Spacey not being able to do anything, while crying on the carpet. Maybe things change later on, but this feels like a show that’s run out of ideas.
Reviews: First episode  

Silicon Valley (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
Sand Hill Shuffle
A first episode overshadowed by the death of Christopher Evan Welch, but the show manages to use this in-story to be a moving tribute and to provide comedy gold in an episode that’s a surprisingly accurate depiction of how VC funding works (almost). It’s also improving representation with an amusing female Aspie almost as strange as Welch, and we get some cameos by real Silicon Valley luminaries, each sending each other up. TJ Miller’s character even manages to soar. Generally, the funniest thing on TV at the moment. And have they added Hulu to the title sequence or did I just never notice them there until now?
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Vikings (US: History; UK: Amazon Instant Video)
Paris
Finally, we arrive in France, with Morgane Polanski and Jesus of Montreal himself Lothaire Blutheau among the French and French Canadian actors being asked to speak Old French, which was really good fun to watch. However, the episode feels like writer Michael Hirst has got bored with vikings and prefer Saxons and other history. For those keeping track, incidentally, the first episode of the show was set in AD793 (the attack on Lindisfarne) and we’ve now just reached AD845 (the Siege of Paris), four years before a certain someone was born last week and six years after King Egbert, who was alive and well this week, died. Except…
+ To the Gates!
And just when you thought you could use Wikipedia to find out what happens, Michael Hirst rushes in to show that nothing is going to be quite what it seems. Because maybe we just witnessed the events of AD820. Except Charlemagne was still alive then. Anyway, chronological accuracy very much to one side, a really impressive episode for showing us the state of the art in military tactics in the 9th century AD, with some epic battle scenes. However, the revelations about Ragnar’s motivations make him look a complete dick, since it effectively means he (spoiler alert) nearly got all his warriors killed, purely to make Floki look bad. I’m hoping that was blood loss talking.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: Season one review

  • benjitek

    Personally, I think the Thunderbirds reboot is surprisingly good. The kept the spirit of the original and lost the marionette strings and wires. Love the blinking doll-eyes. As a kid, I watched Thunderbirds and a couple other marionette series by the same people — whoever did the animated series seems to have respect for the original.

    Much better than most of the animation children are watching these days.

  • Mark Carroll

    I've not watched much lately. I hope to catch up with things somewhat this week. Michael Portillo seems to be on BBC a lot lately. Well, my family have watched things to pass the time, but nothing of note. I'll be curious to hear if Daredevil can maintain quality.

    I'm still liking The Americans, it probably says something that it's the first thing I chose to catch up with. Toward the end of this season things are moving quickly on several fronts.

  • aylwardreed

    Been looking forward to hearing your thoughts on that first Agents of SHIELD episode. It was cracking wasn't it! I've been in the same boat as you: basically only watching it incase Avengers throws some fun into it next month because boy is it dull. And stupid. And frustrating.

    I found it really weird watching New SHIELD take over and almost cheering them on because I was hoping they'd jettison some of the original cast. They kept implying New SHIELD were in the wrong but all the time I kept thinking “no they're not! AND they're far more interesting(and have Kirk Acevedo)!”

    But incase we should get excited they'd found a new direction, they quickly went back to being silly and boring the next episode! Jeeeeeeez!!

    Might give Thunderbirds a try, good to hear the gender politics are better.

    On episode 4 of Daredevil. Definitely the best Marvel show as it has a definite tone of voice, seems to know where it's going and has several very good or great characters. Worried it might take the violence a bit far though(see end of episode 4 for what I mean).

  • I agree with pretty much all of that. I just find the CGI a little bit charmless compared to the puppets

  • I keep trying to find a way to mention Kirk Acevedo (he being in 12 Monkeys as well) but never manage to find a way to crowbar him in.

    It's strange how SHIELD has basically brought in a more interesting (or less irritating) version of each original character and that most people would rather watch EJO than Coulson, Adrienne Palicki than May, English guy than Ward, Mack than FitzSimmons and so on. I almost thought they were going to ditch the original lot and have a new, better cast. But no. At least not yet…

    Still, Avengers in a couple of weeks, so maybe it'll be all change then. Interesting to see them in a post-Ultron world…

    I've finished episode 3 of Daredevil and the Batman Begins qualities are getting very obvious (Cox is even doing a Bale voice). I loved the episode 2 single shot fight scene, even if some of the distances were out. But the violence is really getting off-puttingly sadistic.

  • aylwardreed

    Agreed!
    That's thing about Agents of SHIELD: they've had SO many chances to have a do-over and correct the mistakes from the first half of season 1 but they've just insisted on pushing on. They've basically completely ignored the rule that you should never twist the story to fit around your characters(prime example is Skye-quickly! Let's train her to be a kick ass fighter, give her a complex family history and then give her powers!! seriously?!!). They've introduced better characters so it's time to get rid of the original ones(well, not all but most-I have a soft spot for Simmons and Coulson could still be good if used properly).
    I'm hoping the violence isn't too much on Daredevil. Let me know what you think after episode 4.

  • Stuart Nathan

    Onde of my friends commented that Charlie Cox sounded like a pig snuffling for truffles. I havenn't seen it yet (Netflix sub persistently not working) so can't comment.

  • Gareth Williams

    I'm a Daredevil fanboy so I'm too geeky about minor details. Matt Murdock should be a ginger etc. but the one that annoyed me the most was Ben Urich working for The Daily Bulletin, instead of The Daily Bugle. Of course, it turns out that this is because the programme was made before the Fox/Disney/Marvel Spider-Man deal.
    As to it being too similar to The Dark Knight I suppose this was always likely to happen; Daredevil is Marvel's Batman. I wish that Gotham had followed this tone.

  • Skye was just too annoying from the beginning and any attempts to make her interesting or darker are probably doomed to failure.

    I'm up to episode 7 of Daredevil. I actually thought the violence at the end of 4 was okay, as you didn't see much. It was more the earlier violence where you see (spoiler alert) broken bones, etc, that I had a problem with.

  • I haven't noticed any porcine qualities in Cox so far, but each to their own. He comes across a lot more like Hugh Dancy in Hannibal, I think.

    Weird about Netflix – I'm assuming you've tried using different email account, etc?

  • I hadn't thought of Daredevil like that until now, but now you point it out, I can see it. I think the red cosi makes it hard to think of him that way.

    Knowing too much about a subject always makes a TV show tricky to enjoy. The question is – are you enjoying it?

  • Gareth Williams

    It's actually pretty faithful to the source material, so I can't really complain there. I have been enjoying it. I'm hoping they resist the temptation to introduce Elektra or Bullseye too soon.

  • It'll be interesting to see how they balance the tones of Daredevil and Jessica Jones for the great big Defenders team-up series.

    I hear there's a reference to Elektra later on in the series, but that's probably something they need to hold off on for now. At the very least, it would be a retread of the Affleck movie/Garner spin-off, neither of which did well at the box office (or creatively in the latter's case).

  • JustStark

    They've basically completely ignored the rule that you should never
    twist the story to fit around your characters(prime example is
    Skye-quickly! Let's train her to be a kick ass fighter, give her a
    complex family history and then give her powers!! seriously?!!).

    I don't think that was a 'twist', it looks to me like something that was planned from the beginning. She was after all introduced as 'orphan, mysterious background'.

    The problem, as with much of Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, is that they have a few plot points set up from the beginning that they are to reach at certain points, often dictated by outside factors such as movie release dates, and the rest of it is treading water until they get to those points. Hence the whole whiny-training-will-they-won't-they-with-her-mentor thing with that characters which went precisely nowhere — as it was designed to do, because it was just a big capture-escape loop (for all you Pertwee fans) just designed to take up time before getting to the real plot.

  • I'm not sure how much planning there is on SHIELD, TBH. For starters, the showrunner is Jeph Loeb, who was the showrunner on season 3 of Heroes. Make of that what you will. But certainly the big reveal of season 1 was a surprise to cast members – after they saw Captain America: Winter Soldier, apparently a lot of them wondered whether they still had a show to go back to.

    By all accounts, the pilot had already been shot when Loeb and co were told what was going to happen in Winter Soldier, so if there was a plan it wasn't in there from the very beginning. After that, though, your guess is as good as mine. I think they're really just doing their best despite the movies, not to tie in with them, beyond getting Sif to drop by every so often.

  • Mark Carroll

    How does the violence compare to, say, Banshee, Hannibal, The Americans, or Vikings?

  • Probably closest to Banshee in terms of what gets shown but not as bad and nowhere near as frequent and with a much lower body count. If you've seen The Dark Knight then probably that level with a bit more exposed bone and bleeding

  • I'm on episode 9 now. I'm revising my previous statement to 'Banshee levels' now

  • Andy Butcher

    SHIELD is just so frustrating. When they get their act together they can make great televisin, but so much of the time it just treads water, as you've said. Personally I still love Coulson and May, and so they keep me watching.

    Both Arrow and Flash appear to be on a bit of a roll at the moment.

    Binged the whole of DD over the weekend, and am tempted to watch it all again immediately. Very, very impressed with it on almost every level. Desperately hoping that there's gonna be a second season, and that we're not going to have to wait until after The Defenders for it.

  • I like Coulson and May but next to the new team, they look not only a bit rubbish but a bit dull, too.

    I agree re: DD and I'm currently binging it, as you can probably tell. I'm surprised how slow Netflix is being with renewing it, though, given how quickly it renewed Bloodlines and Marco Polo.

  • Andy Butcher

    I dunno, other than Bobbi and Mack, I've yet to be particularly impressed with the 'real Shield'. I love EJO as much as the next BSG fan, but I don't trust his character in this at all – he has 'barely concealed anti-powers fascist' written all over him.

    With DD, I have no idea about the terms of Netflix's deal with ABC/Marvel/Disney (or any of the actors involved).

    My understanding was that the plan was to do DD > AKA Jessica Jones > Luke Cage > Iron Fist > Defenders 'miniseries', with 8-12 months between each show.

    Assuming they've plotted that out in general terms, I don't know how a second season for DD would fit – would it throw off the current plan if it came out next year? Would it need to wait until after Defenders (which at the bare minimum won't arrive until 2017, if not later)?

    I'd love to see DD become an ongoing show, but have not seen any 'official' mention of that as a possibility, and I've been paying attention to these shows since the first rumours started.

  • English SHIELD bloke is infinitely preferable to Ward, even evil Ward.

    I'd be surprised if Netflix didn't have plans for more DD seasons that didn't necessarily fit the Avengers model that's been mapped out. Not only different production teams, but it's tele, rather than movies. If DD is suitably popular and it boosts their subscriber numbers or enough overseas networks pick it up, they'd be barmy not to.

  • Maybe Spartacus is a better point of comparison, as it's Steven DeKnight

  • Andy Butcher

    Ah, yes. Always hated Ward (both the character and the, imho, poor acting). Very sad that they seem intent on bringing him back. 🙁

    And yes, English bloke is cool. Can't believe I forgot about him.

    We can but hope for more DD, I guess. 🙂

  • Gareth Williams

    I forgot to mention: I really enjoyed The Raid but found myself quite bored during The Raid II as it was just so long. That film should never be more than about 90 minutes long. If you are interested in this genre of film though, check out John Wick. I think we can safely describe it as the best action film since The Raid.

  • I'm looking forward to John Wick (looks at cinema times – realises it's out now!). Lots of nice jiu jitsu in that, by the looks of it. Not quite Under Siege 2 where i could name ever technique, but looks ample fun.

    “Raid 2 long” – I think we have a new name

  • Andy Butcher

    Another vote for John Wick – loved it.

  • Right. That's Wednesday evening sorted then

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