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.

Marvel’s 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)
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)
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)
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)
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


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.