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

  • Damo

    Hi Rob, belated birthday wishes. I've noticed something strange in Stitchers; in the last two episodes (3&4), near the end, when Kirsten and Cameron are about to confront the 'baddy of the week', there's a face-obscured hooded guy in a wheelchair. He also appeared in the first episode (although further in the background). But what really stood out, and why I noticed, was that in each case he was wheeling backwards. Okay maybe they're just recycling extras but maybe it will be a call-back for future episodes, or maybe I'm just trying to make the show more interesting than it actually is. What do you think?

  • Mark Carroll

    It's interesting that you're liking “The Whispers” and “True Detective”. The latter, some other reviews hadn't exactly excited me. But, I'll keep an eye on how you're regarding both as they continue, perhaps I'll catch up and join you.

    I remain somewhat doubtful about “Hannibal”. It is still being spoiled for me by an undercurrent of extreme implausibility that prevents me from engaging. For instance, what on Earth was that room that Alana was in? It certainly wasn't in any kind of hospital; what am I missing here? It felt more like something out of “Dune”. The dialogue is all so very stilted too, all deeply weighed and insightful, never anything casual; these characters largely don't seem like actual humans. Some of the visual effects are still seeming like intrusive ideas from art school graduates, especially that weirdness with Will's faces around that thing-that-might-have-happened-instead. But, I will say that it made more curious to see the next episode, so the narrative must have done something better for me than last week's. I suppose now we are close enough to already known plots I am robbed of some of the excitement of new developments or what happens next, though admittedly I am at times a little lost about how the scene I'm now seeing actually fits into the chronology of what we already saw.

    “Clangers” is still proceeding much as one might expect. Less arc there. (-: Easygoing, inoffensive, not tedious. Daughter enjoys it. No change there to my comments last week. It's not compellingly weird like “In The Night Garden”.

    The evolution show I'd noted previously is named “Your Inner Fish”. A three-parter, it seems, now all done. It was generally good, rarely irritating, showing us how they found various links between humans and our evolutionary ancestors.

    I liked the second episode of “Humans”. I'm not hooked, and it often could be subtler, but it's with some cautious optimism that I'll see how it progresses. My wife is impressed at Katherine Parkinson whom she'd not seen in that kind of role before.

    Last night I actually bothered watching the BBC World News, there had after all been a fair bit of news that day. Nothing exciting there. They often give the lead story the lion's share of the time; I usually wish they'd balance it a bit more.

    I remembered that “In Our Time” exists; I've been listening to that. It reliably makes for a pleasant distraction while doing housework.

    We're still slowly ambling through “House”. It's staying fairly good I suppose. I'd forgotten that Thirteen as a character can be quite attractive.

  • Andy Butcher

    This week I have been mostly watching (in no particular order)…

    * Dark Matter – Found myself enjoying the second episode a lot more than the first, although I'm not sure how much of that was down to a lowering in my expectations than any actual increase in quality. Still more generic than a very generic thing, but I'd rather SyFy make generic scifi shows than reality TV and wrestling, so I'll stick around for now.

    * The Whispers – Like the second episode, the third was a little sluggish and lacked some of the energy of the pilot, but the fourth really picked up the pace and was much better for it. Pretty sure I'm going to stick with this one, less sure whether I'm going to end up recommending it.

    * Proof – I actually found the second episode borderline offensive, and found myself shouting at the TV at least three times (and not in a fun way). It's turning into anti-science propaganda, and the sooner it gets cancelled the better. No more.

    * Stitchers – Episode four was well put together, but with that seemed to come a drop in the goofy energy and the fun that the cast (and writers) seemed to be having. Probably the worst thing that could happen to this show would be raising the quality just enough that it becomes unremarkable, rather than bad-in-a-good-way. Stays on the guilty pleasure list for now.

    * The Last Ship – Found myself once again enjoying this much more than seems entirely reasonable. I guess it's partly because it's such a mish-mash of ideas and themes from so many other shows that I've enjoyed. Wasn't a particularly new-viewer friendly way to kick off a second season, though. I had to dig out the finale of season 1 and rewatch it to remind myself what was going on, so I pity anyone trying to jump in cold.

    * True Detective – I seem to fall somewhere between you and the majority of the critics. I thought it was extremely good, but much more conventional – and thus less immediately fascinating – than the start of the first season. Have always been a bit of a sucker for Calfornian noir, though, and it was still better than the vast majority of crime procedurals. Thumbs up, but my mind seems in no danger of being blown, at least so far.

    Also watched some filmy things. Jurassic World was exactly the movie I was expecting from the trailers – enjoyable enough assuming you checked your brain at the door and didn't think about it afterwards. Merchants of Doubt was a very interesting, if a little chaotic, documentary based on the book of the same name, looking at how corporations influence public opinion – especially about science – to further their own political goals.

  • Andy Butcher

    Another vote for Your Inner Fish, particularly the first episode, which I thought was excellent on many levels. The second and third were also good, just not quite as good as the first.

  • Andy Butcher

    Oh, and as Mr Robot started its run this week, I watched the pilot again so it's fresh in my mind for episode two. If anything, it was even better the second time through. Just praying that the show lives up to the promise of the pilot.

  • Gareth Williams

    Minions, I watched the Minions. I started laughing from the Universal logo, all the way through the film, through the end credits, and most of the way home.

    I was rumbled though, “Daddy, are we only going to see the Minions because you want to go?”

    Also, as a republican I will now only refer to La Cucaracha as La Cucaracha.


  • Hi Damo,

    Welcome aboard and thanks for the birthday wishes.

    re: the wheelchair guy. I hadn't noticed that, so good spot. What it could mean, I couldn't say. It might mean something more or it might what you suggest. Lots of shows have had characters who pop up briefly in episodes and are there to reward the audience for noticing them when the series later points them out (eg Street Hawk, Fringe, Witchblade). Stitchers does seem to have various series arcs, so it's not outside the realms of possibility that it's planned.

    However, simply having that kind of 'reward' character isn't really enough for me. The rest of the show needs a few more lures to keep me watching, and Stitchers is starting to suffer from not having enough of those. If the show holds back on its big reveal too long, it might be too late

  • Hannibal's never exactly been the most plausible of shows, though. Bryan Fuller's admitted the show's supposed to be a bit 'dreamlike' and that Hannibal is essentially the devil because there are things he's done that are not physically possible.

    So Alana's 'hospital room' was more about creating a visual tableaux and the impression of her state of mind and existence than it was about creating a plausible healthcare chamber.

    But otherwise, I agree that it's veering over into something that's portentous rather than engaging and mind-opening.

  • Very much looking forward to seeing Minions… at some point. I'm not sure when, though

  • Fingers crossed on that one. Pretty everything else I agree with, too. What exquisite taste you have

  • Mark Carroll

    Perhaps it was helped in earlier seasons in visiting the locales of the crime scenes, interacting with people there, and some of the other more pedestrian aspects of the investigations. Some of the dreamlike fragments brought us some excellent creepiness but perhaps partly by contrast with the more grounded scenes. Now even the hunt for Hannibal has us mixing with strange people in strange places.

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  • Andy Butcher

    “Now even the hunt for Hannibal has us mixing with strange people in strange places.”

    To be fair, this is at least true to the source material, in that the novel Hannibal (which seems to be the major inspiration for the current storyline) went in this direction as well.

    Unfortunately, I enjoyed Hannibal much less than Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs (to the point that I didn't even bother with Hannibal Rising despite loving Dragon and Silence), so I wish they'd stuck closer to the original sequence of events. Instead they've completely thrown that out of the window this season.

    I wonder how much warning Fuller had about the cancellation, because during Season 2 he was talking about having adjusted his 'seven season plan' to six seasons, but it was still basically following the Red Dragon > Silence of the Lambs > Hannibal structure. Then Season 3 starts and we go straight from 'prequel to Red Dragon' into 'Hannibal', skipping two whole books (although apparently the second half of season 3 will be their version of Red Dragon).

    It's all a bit confusing, and even if the show does manage to get picked up by someone else, I wonder if they've shot themselves in the foot by messing with the timeline so much.

  • I think as Andy says that's a function of the source books: Verger and his disfigurement, his lesbian bodybuilding sister, Hannibal's Florence expeditions and 'reprogramming' of Starling all effectively move the Lecter series away from the police thriller of Red Dragon/Manhunter and the slightly less plausible but still police thriller Silence of the Lambs through to the horror/fantasy genre.

    To be fair, the Silence of the Lambs book is sillier than the movie: Lecter has violet eyes and six fingers on one hand, for example, and the film version does a good job of deleting some of its excesses, because they're peripheral. Hannibal the book has intrinsic silliness at its core.

  • Bryan Fuller and co plundered pretty much 50% of Red Dragon/Manhunter and Silence for plot, dialogue, etc, for the first season of the show, but added lots of their own. The second season was practically all original, with just set up for Hannibal. But now they're in Hannibal and Hannibal Rising, they're having to deal with its silliness.

    I guess the biggest reason for the change is simply this: Red Dragon/Manhunter starts with Lecter in jail, as does Silence. Hannibal is a prequel so has effectively a completely different cast of characters.

    Hannibal, by contrast, has Hannibal on the loose in Florence and if you want to have Hannibal out of jail and interacting with other people for as long as possible, you either write completely new material or you use Hannibal and aspects of Hannibal Rising. That's particularly the case if you don't have the rights to do Silence of the Lambs.

  • Andy Butcher

    “…and if you want to have Hannibal out of jail and interacting with other people for as long as possible…”

    I guess this is my issue – I've been positively looking forward to seeing Lecter in jail ever since the start of the first season, when it became immediately apparent just how excellent Mads Mikkelsen is in the role. I thought the contrast between how he behaves when no one knows who (or what?) he is and how he behaves once captured would be fascinating.

    They proved in Season 2 that you can lock up a character and still have them interacting with other characters and playing a central role in the narrative, just with Will instead of Lecter. I saw all that as a kind of 'reflective foreshadowing' of what was to come, and it even (sort of) fits with the source material – Will did get committed at some stage before Red Dragon begins.

    I guess I just need to completely let go of the original sequence of events, which I'm finding very hard to do. 🙁

  • I guess the issue is of how quickly that would happen. If season 2 was 'Will is in jail', season 3 would then be 'now Hannibal's in jail' without any breather space. I'm assuming that Hannibal will be behind bars by the midpoint of the season to make way for Red Dragon, but that still leaves half a season where he's out. So there's the question of how you fill that blank in.

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