What have you been watching? Including John Wick, Vikings, The Americans, Arrow and The Blacklist

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, despite all that planning, I kind of forgot I was going out pretty much every night this week, so I haven’t managed to watch everything I planned to. That means I’ll do a full, three-episode verdict of The Comedians on Monday, once I’ve binge-watched it this weekend. Maybe I’ll do that Daredevil season review at the same time…

The fact I didn’t look hard enough at the Australian TV schedules for this week didn’t help, either, otherwise I’d have realised that Deadline Gallipoli was a two-parter that was going to air over consecutive nights, rather than weekly – fingers crossed, I’ll be posting a review of that later tonight, after I’ve gone to see Avengers: Age of Ultron.

After the jump, tele: American Crime, American Odyssey, Arrow, The Blacklist, Community, The Flash, Forever, and Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. I’ll also be looking at the season finales of The American and Vikings.

But first, just in case you think I don’t listen to your recommendations, a movie review!

John Wick (2014)
Keanu is a recently widowed former hitman for the Russian Mob who turns his almost supernaturally violent talents to revenge, after Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones) kills his… dog. No, really. His dog. If that sounds a bit silly, that’s because it is, and even the film acknowledges it. But it sits in a knowing intersection between Banshee and Wanted, with considerable visual and tonal nods to the nihilistic yet surreal Point Blank, with Keanu’s mission explicitly arbitrary and meaningless.

Once you’ve got over that tonal decision, there’s a lot to like about the movie. It has a surprisingly slow, thoughtful and emotional beginning; it’s packed full of great character actors you’ll recognise from The Wire, Daredevil and other shows and movies, including Ian McShane, Adrianne Palicki, Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters, Michael Nyqvist, Bridget Moynahan, John Leguizamo, Bridget Regan, Lane Reddick and Clarke Peters; there are some interesting fights, including some semi-decent jiu jitsu; it can be pretty funny at times; and there are some decently smart villains for a change.

Some bits are a little too silly for their own words, including a neutral ground hotel for hitmen and women, and Lance Reddick’s accent. But a decently enjoyable action thriller that sets things up well for a sequel that could be potentially different. However, I’m not sure I needed to see it in IMAX – Empire Leicester Square setting me back an eye-watering £18 a seat.

Shows that I’ve been watching but not really recommending  

I’ve already done a third-episode verdict on American Odyssey this week. But here’s what else I’ve been watching:

The Blacklist (US: NBC; UK: Sky Living)
2×19 – Leonard Caul
After weeks of diddling around, The Blacklist finally gets its mojo back and dumps answers to about 75% of its mysteries into our laps, while simultaneously giving us some good action scenes. Could well be earning its way back into the recommended list if it can maintain the momentum.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Forever (US: ABC; UK: Sky1)
1×21 – The Night in Question
Abe and Ioan investigate what happened to Abe’s mum/Ioan’s wife and end up solving a cold case at the same time. There’s almost no mystery in what happened in either case, since case a) is foiled by “Oh, it’s him, he’s quite well known. I can’t imagine they’d hire him for just two minutes at the beginning” and case b) is foiled by “Oh, his name was in the credits. That means it was him.” However, both are interesting in their own terms, we get to see Lucas expanding from mere sidekick and there’s some odd character work, showing us what everyone gets up to on their days off. And, of course, it all feeds into the show’s larger story arc. One to catch, if you’re just dipping in and out of the series.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; Third episode

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD (US: ABC; UK: Channel 4)
2×18 – The Frenemy of My Enemy
Ward’s back. Whoopdy-do. More importantly, perhaps the first episode since the series began where Skye has been remotely tolerable. But the retreat away from the SHIELD-proper storyline in favour of the tedious Inhumans storyline is a mistake.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode, Third episode

The recommended list

American Crime (US: ABC)
Everything is closing in as American Crime shows us how pretty much everyone’s fates have been sealed, right from the outset and despite best intentions, as various systems – judicial, criminal, societal, the media, religious – all conspire to lock people into particular courses of action that cause obvious reactions and so on and so on. Felicity Huffman excels this episode in a couple of scenes in particular, while Timothy Hutton does his best to be the only real gleam of hope in the whole series. The inevitable tragedies at the end of it all are obvious, as indeed are the utterly realistic paths that will take the characters there, but that’s the real horror of the piece. It doesn’t half make me frightened to go back to America though.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode; third episode

The Americans (US: FX)
3×13 – March 8, 1983
A very strange, structure-defying finale that leaves all kinds of old plot threads dangling (spoilers: Kimmy, despite being important enough to need to be seen weekly at one point, hasn’t been seen in ages; Martha, who looked like she was up for imminent assassination at the end of the previous episode, appears to have had a strange reprieve) while all sorts of new plots are introduced. Of course, we do get the cliffhanger, a lovely tribute if not to 1980s West Berlin but to 1980s US TV shows’ depictions of West Berlin; we get an unexpected payoff on the Nina storyline, both in the US and the USSR; we get the poignancy of that meeting; and we get a Commodore 64 running what looks like WordStar (woo hoo!). But it doesn’t quite feel like it brings the third season into focus, in the same way as the second season finale did, which makes it a brave but dissatisfying ending to what has been a consistently interesting if occasionally meandering season.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode; third episode

Arrow (US: The CW; UK: Sky1)
3×20 – Fallen
Mega revelations all round, the Lazarus Pit gets put to good use, and the Barrowman does some awesome fights and acts a bit. Poor old Brandon Routh, though.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Community (US: Yahoo; UK: Sony Entertainment Television)
6×7 – Advanced Safety Features
While season four was just actively bad, there was always the hope, which sustained fans, that if Dan Harmon came back, it would return to its former glory. While season five wasn’t quite that, it did show us that Harmon was key. Season six, though, is showing us that there’s a lot more to Community than simply Dan Harmon, and Advanced Safety Features is perhaps a demonstration of that: pop culture references, meta-analysis of genre conceits as well as of the show itself, and simply twisting expectations don’t make Community. Here, the show does manage to pull off the same piece of over the top product placement we saw in the KFC and Subway episodes, making a virtue of Honda’s sponsorship by combining it with a fun little spoof of The Joneses (possibly Amber Heard’s best movie, not that that’s saying much). However, all the characters are now little more than airbrush strokes of their former selves (particularly Britta), rather than the people they used to be, making it a lot harder to care about them. It might be time to say goodbye to Community.  
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode  

The Flash (US: The CW; UK: Sky 1)
1×19 – Who is Harrison Wells?
As the episode title suggests, a quest to find out why that Harrison Wells is being so odd and perhaps even killing people, a quest that leads to yet another Arrow crossover, this time with the Lances. Over in meta-of-the-week territory, we also get a shapeshifter called Everyman, who has one cool moment at the end but is otherwise a bit forgettable. Thankfully, the Wells quest was bristling with revelations and Black Canary gets her Canary Call at last – it was also the first time Laurel’s been remotely likeable in about two seasons, while Captain Lance also gets to be a lot less gruffer for a change. Plus there was the usual, game-changing ending to enjoy, too.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode  

Vikings (US: History; UK: Amazon Instant Video)
3×10 – The Dead
Vikings’ trickiness with history this season has led to the possibility that things won’t go as they’re recorded (historically or mythologically) in the series, which is why one particular fake-out this episode worked so well. While that was the clear best bit of the episode, it was also interesting to see King Charles the Bald effectively becoming Æthelred the Unready and for Rollo to get something to do, too.

One of the big problems this season has been that everyone’s been treading water, with not much happening to anyone while the big preparation for the Paris raid has been underway, and Ragnar generally just not being himself. On top of that, we had to weed out a lot of characters.

In retrospect, it’s clear that season 3 has effectively been the reconfiguration of the show ready for later seasons. This season finale effectively sets up France/Francia as another area for exploration in subsequent seasons, and promotes other characters, presumably for a time jump that will eventually give us the great Viking invasion of England and perhaps even King Alfred.

On the whole, an inferior season and finale that didn’t really give us everything it should have been, and whose dicking around with history in favour of soapiness is doing it no favours. In particular, it was a little disappointing that the season’s earlier ‘Wanderer’ (or was it Odin?) never returned – and was never returned to – but let’s see what happens next season with that. Nevertheless, still generally enjoyable and not a series I intend to demote from the recommended list, just yet.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: Season one review

  • Mark Carroll

    The Blacklist will still have to do a bit better for me; there was some gaping silliness that I doubt was intentional. This latest did hold my attention so it was one of the better of the season, but I hope that resolving some plot points brings us a cleaner slate for a better next season or it'll be dropping off the list.

    I'm liking Vikings but it's interesting that you noted a change in Ragnar; I haven't found him quite as engaging lately. I am glad that we still get to see Floki, though I've yet to see the season finale. (I'm watching the penultimate right now.) I have liked seeing the recreations of past places and the variety of rulers.

    I haven't been bothering with Community. Among earlier episodes, those I liked tended to be the ones that laid on the self-reference and the meta a little less thickly. It was simply inventive. Now, it doesn't sound like I'm missing much.

    The Americans has largely been good. The main cliffhanger, it's not hard to see ways in which it is resolved in fairly easy and satisfying ways. We will see.

    Once Upon a Time hasn't actually been quite as tedious as usual lately. Grimm ambles along as usual. I am not sure either will make the cut next season.

    I haven't been watching The Flash, but I am impressed that they introduced a shapeshifter yet managed to make them rather forgettable, that must take some doing.

    We watched a couple of films. One was The Orphanage, a Spanish sort-of-horror film. It wasn't all that scary, and eventually went in a direction I didn't expect; things largely made sense and got resolved. (By comparison, I wasn't much of a fan of Pan's Labyrinth.) It was also generally well-directed. It didn't wholly hold my attention, it seemed a bit cliche at first, but afterward I was glad I watched it.

    The other was The Double. I liked Submarine, so I had some hopes, but it didn't grab me at all. The atmosphere was well-created and it fit nicely into the genre without anything that jarred for me, and it led us along adequately and addressed the idea head-on, I just wasn't sure that I was seeing anything that would make me think about it any more afterward or that told me anything new.

  • Andy Butcher

    Glad you enjoyed John Wick. 🙂

    Been a very busy week for me, between weddings and work, so I haven't watched most of my regulars yet. Hoping to catch up a little this weekend.

    Arrow was a wonderful mix of awesomeness and batshit insanity, some of which worked well and some rather less so. Still loved it, though.

    The Flash was a lot of fun, as usual. The focus on building momentum for the sprint to the season finale meant that they kinda wasted the huge potential for a shape-shifting villain to mess with everyone (rather than just Caitlyn, for about a scene and a half). But I'm so invested in the main storyline that I can forgive them for concentrating on that aspect. Nice final scene, as well.

    SHIELD continued to be SHIELD – which is to say, not half as good as it should be, but still fun in places. At least it finally started to drag the Inhumans storyline back into the rest of the show, what with electro-hunk getting captured by Hydra.

    The undisputed highlight of my week, though, was Age of Ultron last night. Am still basking in the afterglow, so haven't really organised my thoughts yet (and I suspect I'll need at least one or two more viewings to get everything straight – it's a very dense movie with an awful lot going on), but the short version is that I loved every minute. Look forward to hearing what everyone else makes of it. 🙂

  • Mark Carroll

    In talking with my wife, one thing that she thinks dramas like The Blacklist and Grimm haven't handled beneficially is focusing more on personal character arcs than the “monster” of the week.

  • Gareth Williams

    I've finally finished Daredevil. Being a fan of the character may have it's drawbacks when they're adapted onto screen, but it does allow you to be genuinely shocked when a major character from the comics is killed.

    I think The Americans may have been my favourite programme of the season, and yes the girl vanashing was very odd.

  • JustStark

    I have been mostly watching films this week.

    Avengers Assemble 2: Age Of Ikea: dear lord that was tedium itself. Who started the post-mortem meeting after the last one by saying, 'You know what the problem was? Not enough characters.' How did nobody spot that just before the last act might not be the best time to introduce an entirely new character and so bring the whole film to a shuddering halt for ten minutes? And what, for the love of all that is holy, was with that random half-hour farm bit in the middle that could have been entirely edited out without any consequence?

    I think it may turn out to be Marvel's JN-T moment: the point where you can say they stopped even trying to make decent films and started just doing fanwank (there were fans in the cinema with us whose whoops indicated they were clearly enjoying the wank very much).

    Ghost Machine, which I only watched because it was shot at Crumlin Road Gaol but which turned out to be… okay. Not brilliant as either horror or sci-fi but not as terrible as, say, Crawlspace.

    Slightly better was Coherence. Weird, short so it doesn't outstay its welcome, and with a nice moment when it becomes clear just how deep what's been going on runs.

    Oh, and there was one bit of television: the start of the new W1A. Not much new to say about that, though: it remains to be as good as the previous ones and as Twenty Twelve.

  • I'll review Age of Ultron either at the end of the week in the next WHYBW or as a separate entry, depending on how much time I have