What have you been watching? Including Rules For Living, True Detective, The Last Ship and Suits

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.

Last week, I had the bright idea to shift ‘What have you been watching?’ to Mondays, as several Sunday shows were finishing and Thursdays were starting to fill up with new shows.

Stupid idea. Very stupid idea. A quick glance through the schedules revealed that I should leave things as they were, as as well as replacements for the existing Sunday shows and a couple of returning shows, there was a whole bunch of new Friday shows to deal with, too.

Thankfully, I’ve just about made it through this week’s viewing selection, with only Sunday’s Humans to work my way through still. Elsewhere, I’ve reviewed the first episodes (and sometimes more) of:

That means that after the jump, I’ll be looking at the latest episodes of the usual regulars: Halt and Catch Fire, Hannibal, Humans, Stitchers, Tyrant, Westside and The Whispers. We’ve also got the return of The Last Ship, Suits and True Detective to consider, as well as the second episodes of Clipped and Proof. Some of these are getting the chop. Can you guess which, Tigers?

But first, some theatre!

Rules For Living (National Theatre)
A dark comedy starring that Stephen Mangan (Episodes, Dirk Gently, Green Wing), Miles Jupp (Rev, Neville’s Island), Claudie Blakley, Maggie Service and Deborah Findlay from off the tele, as a family getting together for Christmas. Jupp and Mangan are brothers, Findlay the mum, Service Jupp’s actress girlfriend and Blakley Mangan’s wife whom Jupp has pined for ever since they were kids.

The play’s focus, oddly enough, is cognitive behavioural therapy and the idea that we acquire ‘rules for living’ over time that while initially helpful, can eventually lead us to fixed behaviours that only make us unhappy. Only by learning what our rules are and breaking out of them can we become happy.

The play’s conceit is to put each character’s rule on a scoreboard at each end of the stage, so that the audience knows the rule, when the character has to obey it and what the exceptions to the rule might be. At the end, everyone’s score gets tallied up and the winner ‘rewarded’.

Rules For Living is both very funny and uncomfortable; it’s also uneven and occasionally forced, with elements of plausibility being stretched very far at some points. But it’s still very enjoyable, occasionally saddening, occasionally raw and by the end of it, you’ll be wondering what your own rules might be.

Another quirk of the the play is that it’s staged ‘in traverse’ – that is, the play is in the middle of the theatre almost like a pit, with the audience mostly on either side of the stage.

In traverse

We were in the front row, which meant that we were as little as a couple of feet away from the cast (and some nice looking cake) at some points. However, if you want to avoid (spoiler alert) being hit by food during the food fight I’d recommend sitting a couple of rows further back or wearing something that can be washed clean easily.

Shows I’m watching but not recommending

Clipped (US: TBS)
1×2 – Dreamers
Just to check if it had got any better since the pilot, I endured 10 minutes of the second episode of Clipped. The cameo by Conan O’Brien at the beginning was almost amusing; the rest of it wasn’t. I’m out.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode

Humans (UK: Channel 4; US: AMC)
A pretty consistent continuation of the first episodes themes and characters, albeit without as much of the innovation that the first episode (and of course needed to have as it was a set-up episode). The first half was a little dull, but the second half was packed with interest and excitement and the show does a good job of playing with the questions of what is it to be human and what is it to be an android. 
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode

Proof (US: TNT)
1×2 – Til Death
Not as stupid as the first episode, with some effort made to make the whole thing less stupid. But everyone’s still racist to the African guy, the show treads precisely the tedious path I predicted of offering just enough ‘proof’ that you can decide whichever way you want, and it’s still dull and badly written. I’m out of this one, too.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode

Stichers (US: ABC Family)
1×4 – I See You
A slight pick up in quality since the third episode and it looks like there’s a new enemy who knows all about ‘stitching’ (Oh, who could that be, I wonder?). All the same, the idea of a benevolent peeping tom is odd, the ‘flirting’ is very painful and the dialling down of the nerd factor isn’t helpful. I’ll give the show another week, maybe two at least, but it’s going to have to start doing a lot more if it’s going to be a keeper.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode; third episode

Tyrant (US: FX; UK: Fox)
2×2 – Enter The Fates
Evil brother gets more evil, good brother wanders around in the desert for an entire episode. Or was that 40 days and nights? Yawn, whether it’s pedestrian plotting or yet another biblical analogy, and again, needs to be doing a lot more very soon if I’m not going to bow out.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First two episodes; third episode

Westside (New Zealand: TV3)
1×4 – Our Poison’d Chalice
And suddenly, everything takes a very dark turn with Rita (spoiler alert) turning out to be all bipolar and bogging off for a couple of months on a heroine/opium binge. Enjoyable despite the pain, particularly when you see how much Ted and the other members of their gangs love their wives. Despite the period setting, it was all a bit naughties in its idea of a hedonistic party. Still, at least Matthew from The Dr Blake Mysteries got to enjoy a different pace of life in a very different period.
Review: First episode; third episode

The Whispers (US: ABC)
1×4 – Meltdown
The best episode yet, with excitement throughout the episode and creeping kids wherever you look. Some of my predictions were off (spoiler alert: I thought Milo Ventimiglia was being possessed by a good alien trying to stop the bad aliens), which is good, since it means there’s going to be loads of surprises. This week’s obvious giveaway the whole thing is being filmed in Canada (apart from the awful direction)? Various members of the Stargate: Atlantis and Andromeda casts among the supporting cast. Might be promoted to recommended next week if Sunday’s episode is good.
Review: First episode; third episode

The recommended list

Halt and Catch Fire (US: AMC; UK: Amazon Instant Video)
2×4 – Play With Friends
Squint and you can see where everything is now heading and it’s pretty interesting, although as always, the show’s producers are throwing curve balls whichever way you look. It’s starting to feel a lot more pedestrian and a lot more soapy this year than last, though, which is a bit disappointing, but Donna and Cameron are also getting centre stage, which is a definite plus.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Hannibal (US: NBC; UK: Sky Living)
3×4 – Aperitivo
The show continues to get back on track, ironically enough since it’s virtually Hannibal-free this episode. A flashback to show what happened to everyone Hannibal sliced and diced at the end of last season, it’s by parts pretentious combined with tear-jerking and sickening, with just a hint of very silly, thanks to yet more Hannibal. But beginning again to feel like the show everyone fell in love with a couple of seasons ago.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

The Last Ship (US: TNT; UK: Sky1)
2×1-2×2 – Unreal City and Fight The Ship
The return of the best TNT show of the past decade gives us a double-episode to extract our heroes from the predicament in which they were left at the end of last season. And even with my love of killer viruses and ships, I was practically giddy with excitement the whole way through, since the action hardly let up for the entire episode. Perhaps the only bad element of the whole two-parter was Adam Baldwin, who was left by himself spouting inane exclamations that were barely even English. I wonder if the producers are punishing him for supporting #GamerGate?
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode Third episode

Suits (US: USA Network; UK: Dave)
5×1 – Denial
Dealing almost exclusively with the fallout from Donna leaving Harvey’s employ at the end of last season, the episode nevertheless thankfully managed to fit in a bit of legal skullduggery as well and Christina Cole (Hex) even put in an appear as a therapist. The Lois stuff was almost bearable and it looks like Donna might actually turn him into a plausible human being this season.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

True Detective (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
2×1 – The Western Book of the Dead
An all new cast (Vince Vaughn, Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, Taylor Kitsch, Kelly Reilly), a new director (Fast and the Furious’s Justin Lin), an all-new setting (LA) and a whole new mystery launch the start of the second season of True Detective. And to be honest, I’m already liking it more than the first one. The first episode effectively is a mini-Avengers, with each of the characters getting their own little movies to introduce them to us, before they all meet up right at the end to unite and do their thing. While Vaughn is a little weak as a corrupt politician who has detective Farrell in his pocket, the rest of the cast is good, with Farrell suitably scary and low life, McAdams atypically tough, Kitsch oddly creepy but impressive and Reilly as hot as ever, although she doesn’t have much to do beyond be Vaughn’s wife. The direction is a bit more noir and a bit less formal than last year, but everything looks great, too.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode


  • 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.