What have you been watching? Including Birdman, The Blacklist, Arrow and American Crime

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.

Elsewhere, I’ve already previewed Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and reviewed Grace and Frankie, which is all the new shows I’ve had time for this week (so far…). But it’s winding down time for a lot more shows this week, so after the jump, as well as the latest episodes of Community, The Flash, Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley, a look at the season finales of American Crime, Arrow, The Blacklist and Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. Some of these I won’t be returning to next year, some I will.

I have, however, watched a movie. Well, half of one.

Birdman (2014)
Michael Keaton is a washed up actor who once played a superhero. No, that’s his role in this, which is as meta as it sounds. Here, he’s trying to put on a Broadway play to revive his career. Unfortunately, while Naomi Watts is great, the male lead isn’t, but when an accident puts him out of the running and Ed Norton volunteers to replace him, Keaton finally has a chance at success. Except Norton’s a flake and producer Zach Galifianakis won’t let Keaton fire him, because they can’t afford to.

Unfortunately, this is dull stuff. We managed to get halfway through before we lost interest completely and if you were expecting anything really to riff off Keaton’s Batman credentials in that time, you’d be wrong, beyond a couple of jokes and occasional voiceover – I believe ‘Birdman’ turns up later. Instead, it’s largely about the relationships between the film’s slightly tedious, annoying characters (including Andrea Riseborough and Emma Stone). Maybe it gets better in the second half but the first lost us.

The film’s most notable feature, though, is director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s decision to shoot the entire movie to make it look like a single continuous take. While it’s fascinating to watch (and to see if you can spot the joins), it’s more an intellectual puzzle rather than anything involving.

Shows that I’ve been watching but not really recommending  

The Blacklist (US: NBC; UK: Sky Living)
2×22 – Tom Connolly
A surprisingly dark place to end the season on and finally all of the show’s secrets have been divulged. Not a great episode in and of itself, although the twists to which it revealed the solutions are quite fun. But overall not a great season, with too few highs and many, many lows. The finale puts the show in a position to once again reboot its format, but I think I’ll be out as there’s simply too little to interest me now.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD (US: ABC; UK: Channel 4)
2×21-2×22 – SOS
Everything and the kitchen sink were thrown into this to make it exciting and to provide enough cliffhangers to make us wanting to watch the next season. We had Kyle McLachlan in full on loon mode; we had mutant powers aplenty; we had some attempts at decent fight scenes. But I think I’m out now. I’ve stopped caring about the original characters, and while the new characters were a good addition that definitely improved it, the continuing existence of the dull old cast means I’m not engaged. The fact this is so PG-13, even with torture scenes, doesn’t help, either. It’s a shame because for a brief interlude at the end of the first season, the show briefly became the most interesting programme on TV. But the producers failed to follow through by giving us a fanwank-tastic show bereft of both fun and edge with a solid foundation – and Ward just isn’t a decent supervillain. Oh well.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode, Third episode

The recommended list

American Crime (US: ABC)
Everything concludes pretty much as miserably as it looked like it would, with deaths, deaths and more deaths. But there was light at the end of the tunnel for some, which left us with an optimistic feel and a moral – as long as you can get as far away from possible from American crime and stick with the right people, you stand a chance of being happy; otherwise, you’re doomed. Overall, one of the most impressive US TV shows in years, certainly on broadcast TV, albeit one that was very hard to watch at times.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode; third episode

Arrow (US: The CW; UK: Sky1)
3×23 – My Name is Oliver Queen
Not quite the barnstorming finale of previous years, but quite fun nevertheless, with a couple of ‘origin stories’ thrown in for good measure. But the get out clause at the beginning was as close to a King of the Rocketmen solution as it was possible to get and showed the difficulties of having genuine superheroes in the Arrow universe. All the same, a pretty decent season and a very unexpected way to wind things up, although how they’ll reboot next year is anyone’s guess.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Community (US: Yahoo; UK: Sony Entertainment Television)
6×10 – Basic RV Repair and Palmistry
Something of an odd, more or less ‘bottle episode’ involving an RV, a Zardoz-esque giant hand and too many mobile phones. The first three-quarters is an oddly flat affair with almost no laughs that’s more meta-analysis than actual plot, with a fun payoff to a line in a previous episode (spoiler: Abed marking off a flashback point) then starts to stop being fun once Abed makes it all a bit ‘too Christopher Nolan’ (in his own words). But the final quarter has some actual laugh out loud moments and the final tag scene with husband and wife comedians Matt Besser and Danielle Schneider is delightfully memorable, despite its similarities with the previous season’s ‘Vince Gilligan scene’ (and yes, there are Breaking Bad references in this episode, thanks to the RV)
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode  

The Flash (US: The CW; UK: Sky 1)
1×22 – Rogue Air
Another show that threw the entire kitchen sink into the mix this week, with a cornucopia of villains and heroes in a variety of fun fight scenes, that handily dispensed of one of the shows major problems (spoilers: what to do with all the enhanced people stuck in particle accelerator). While I’m unconvinced that (spoiler: Oliver could take time out from running the League of Assassins) to lend a hand and the trailer for the episode ruined all elements of surprise as to what the ultimate showdown would be, it was overall something of a cracker, despite the archly camp first half with Wentworth Miller and Peyton List (wot no Dominic Purcell?), and neatly set up the next crossover with Arrow.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode  

Game of Thrones (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
5×5 – Kill The Boy
A bit dull in places, thanks to our already having seen Stanza’s storyline played out with Joffrey. But everything with Stannis was gold.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; first season; second and third seasons

Silicon Valley (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
2×5 – Server Space
An episode with a few good ideas, but one that didn’t quite gel and there were some ideas that fell flat and were too juvenile. But it’s now interesting to see how the series’ overall arc is panning out as they go from idea through angel investment through VC and beyond to launch.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

  • Mark Carroll

    I've yet to see the Blacklist season finale. I suppose I'd be curious to know how they might reboot it next season but it feels unwise to be hopeful.

    “more meta-analysis than actual plot” is probably part of a recurring criticism for me of later Community.

    This latest Game of Thrones surprised me. Normally I find the Night's Watch and Jon Snow stuff a bit dull, but this time I liked that thread.

    Belatedly, I've started watching Planet Earth. It's started really rather well. I'm not sure that the series is in any way comprehensive and organized, but there is some stunning stuff to watch along the way.

    I'm still enjoying season one of In Treatment. There's a lot of it, but the patients' characters are fleshing out nicely; it's impressive that they are fairly different and each clearly in need of therapy.

  • Gareth Williams

    I'm behind on most things television related, again. This is mainly down to having spent the weekend rewatching the Mad Max trilogy in preparation for watching Fury Road next week. If you're interested the films hold up really well having immunised themselves from premature dating due to their filming location and lack of any special effects (spectacular, practical, car crashes don't age.)

    I didn't like Birdman very much either. I thought it was pretentious industry bollocks in a similar vain to The Artist, which I also disliked. Michael Keaton is very, very good in it which is one more positive than I can give to that shitty dog film, but as Mark Kermode said: Birdman is going to be the answer to the future trivia question 'what won best picture the year that Boyhood didn't.'

  • Strangely, I've never seen the original Mad Maxes (I might have seen Beyond Thunderdome, but if I did, I can't remember anything about it). Not sure I'm desperate to watch the new one, but lots of people say it's really good

  • aylwardreed

    Well, strongly agree with you on one and disagree on the other:
    Strongly disagree on Birdman. One of my favourite films of the year and should definitely have won Keaton the Oscar. Rest of the cast is great and really loved the character back and forths and the gradual sense of tension with Keaton that he might lose it at any minute. It was also fun to try and work out whether he really was a super hero or just imagining it all. I really liked the 'one cut'. Gave a the whole film a sense of urgency and made the on going scenes of chaos more effective.
    Strongly agree with you on Agents of SHIELD. As I've commented before they've wasted SO MANY opportunities to correct themselves. Also, Ward should be over as a character. They're just keeping him on for the sake of it. Should have had May kill him when she raided the building. The cliffhanger was stupidly cheap. “Come back next year kids to find out what happens after this tacked on moment out of nowhere. We don't have a clue yet but please come back anyway!!” No. No I won't. Bye!

  • The cast of Birdman are great. It's just the epic “not caring” the story induces that's the problem. The first half also doesn't really have that “is he a superhero or not?” vibe to it (beyond the opening shot) with the generally realistic nature of the movie generally suggesting “No, he's just a bit loopy.”

    Obviously, the second half might be different and I might get round to watching it one day. But then I started watching the final Hobbit last week and stopped halfway through. Not only did I entirely forget I'd started watching it, to the extent the rental period on iTunes expired, I even forgot to mention it in this entry. I get the feeling Birdman might be a similar. But you never know.

  • aylwardreed

    Well, each to their own I guess. Due to the gradual spiralling out of control of Keaton the second half is probably more eventful.
    I don't blame you for the Hobbit. The only worth while parts of the third one are the opening 30 minutes and about the last 20. In between its just a huge computer game. Proof that Jacko didn't need three movies at all!

  • Andy Butcher

    Work continues to be crazy, so my viewing time has been limited.

    * Largely agree about SHIELD – it felt more than a little desperate and overstuffed. As usual, there were parts I liked, but the show still hasn't really 'gelled', and as they haven't managed to get it together in two seasons, I kinda doubt they ever will.

    I am still interested enough in the MCU as a whole to keep watching next season, so will let you know if it dramatically improves.

    * Other than the slight timing issues between it and Arrow, thoroughly enjoyed The Flash and am very much looking forward to the finale (which I'll be watching tonight).

    * As you say, Arrow finale wasn't perfect but had so much to like that, as usual, I was happy to forgive it a few flaws. Definitely the most daring and interesting season finale of the ones I've seen so far, and I am genuinely fascinated to see how season four will shape up.

  • “will let you know if it dramatically improves.”