What have you been watching? Including The Elephant Man, Hannibal, Strike Back & Halt and Catch Fire

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 on this ‘ere blog, I’ve already reviewed all the new TV shows I could find this week and which you should either try to find yourselves or desperately avoid, these being:

So if you’re looking for new shows here, I ain’t got nothing for you, mister, I’m afraid, since I haven’t had a chance to watch Netflix’s new Sense8, the entire series of which was released today. Thanks Netflix.

However, we’ve got a few returning regulars this week, too, which means that after the jump, I’ll be reviewing the first new episodes of the latest seasons of Hannibal, Halt and Catch Fire and Strike Back: Legacy. I’ll also be looking at the latest episodes of Between and Game of Thrones, and casting an eye over perhaps the last ever episode of Community.

But first, a theatre review! I have in fact between to the theatre twice this week, but I’m saving up my review of the Almeida’s marathon modernisation of The Oresteia – a trilogy in four parts, it turns out – until next week when I can give it due consideration.

The Elephant Man (Theatre Royal Haymarket)
Little known actor Bradley Cooper and the rest of the Tony Award-nominated Williamstown/Broadway cast (Patricia Clarkson, Alessandro Nivola, Anthony Heald et al) come over to the Theatre Royal for this 12-week run of Bernard Pomerance’s 1979 play about the deformed Joseph Merrick aka ‘the Elephant Man’ because he was exhibited in a circus. Most people will be familiar with the 1980 David Lynch movie starring John Hurt, and this follows similar beats, focusing on Merrick’s life between his discovery by a Dr Treves (Nivola) at the circus run by Heald through his life in Treves’ care at the London Hospital and his friendship with Clarkson’s famous actress (who in real life actually did perform at the Haymarket) until his eventual death in the hospital.

It’s a moving piece, albeit one that can’t quite focus on a theme, jumping between questions of God and Darwinism through to women’s bodies in Victoria society. Merrick here is similar to Lynch’s version, being the beautiful souled man trapped in a body so horrifying everyone but a trained actress can’t help but avoid screaming and running away from. However, this is less ‘disabled as object pity’ than the movie, giving us a Merrick who’d quite like to see a naked woman, please.

Cooper takes on the challenging role of Merrick but eschews all make-up in favour of an entirely physical and quite breathtaking performance, assuming each deformity as it’s described in an early scene. Cooper’s obviously and deservedly the focus of the play, but Nivola’s performance is what anchors it and Scott Ellis’s direction is innovative. I was impressed, my wife loved it and the whole thing got a standing ovation, so see it while you can.

Shows I’m watching but not recommending

Between (Netflix)
1×2 – Who’s the Boss?
A slightly more pensive episode than the first, with the occasional moment of sadness thanks to 6,000 townsfolk being dead and the remaining kids having to organise a giant cremation for the bodies. All the same, moments of genuine sadness and natural emotion are few and far between and there are far more laughable moments than there are moments of genuine interest.
Review: First episode

The recommended list

Community (US: Yahoo; UK: Sony Entertainment Television)
6×13 – Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television
So that’s six seasons down, which means there’s only a movie to go. Yet this season finale felt like one great big giant plea by show creator Dan Harmon for this to be the final episode. Harmon goes to great lengths not only to move everyone away from Greendale but through a typically bizarrely meta ‘pitching session’, gets all the characters to imagine what a potential season 7 would look like, even bringing back a departed character to show that sooner or later, everything has to end, people have to grow up and stories have to stop, on TV just like in real life. Some of this is laugh out loud funny, some of it is saddening, all of it as incisive about TV, the business of TV and audiences as always. And, of course, the final tag scene was just outstanding in its own darkness. I’ll miss Community when it’s gone, because it has been one of the finest and cleverest US comedies of the past decade. But I think it really is time for it to go. And it thinks so, too. Even if Yahoo doesn’t.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode   

Game of Thrones (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
5×8 – Hardhome
And this is why we watch Game of Thrones. After seven episodes of the same old, same old, finally we’re heading in the direction of the promise that was already being hinted at in season 1 but which has taken an age to get to. We finally have some interaction between two specific characters that we’ve always wanted them to have and we also get a cracking battle between the forces of darkness and slightly less darkness. Oh, and that one from Borgen was in it, too. No, not that one, the other one.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; first season; second and third seasons

Halt and Catch Fire (US: AMC; UK: Amazon Instant Video)
2×1 – SETI
Last year’s most under-rated 80s period drama returns, but as a completely new beast, with time having moved on a few years and with most of the characters dispersed to the winds and in completely new situations. How much have they all really changed and how will they be drawn back together? Episode one only partially answers that, preferring instead to lay down all the building blocks on which the season is obviously going to be built – can anyone say ‘online’? However, as it’s AMC, I suspect it’ll take about seven episodes to get there and in typical Halt and Catch Fire style, most things will happen in between episodes. All the same, I’m looking forward to since at least Kerry Bishé got a lot to do this time round.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Hannibal (US: NBC; UK: Sky Living)
3×1 – Antipasto
NBC best show comes back in slightly disconcerting form, with no Will Graham or any of the main characters except for Hannibal himself, who after a quick trip to Paris decides to cross his own timeline by stealing the plot to the Silence of the Lambs sequel Hannibal and holing up in Florence, albeit with his new ‘wife’ Gillian Anderson (and how many men – and women – haven’t dreamed of that, I ask you?). Intercut, we get flashbacks to his time dining with and on Eddie Izzard, as well as to his time with Anderson in the US before we met them both. Beautifully shot by a production team who have clearly been watching Under The Skin, with the usual array of genuinely horrifying moments, it nevertheless doesn’t feel quite like Hannibal, showing how important Will and co are to the balance of the whole show.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Silicon Valley (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
2×8 – White Hat/Black Hat
The first episode of the series that so far has failed the ‘technical literacy’ test. While the bulk of the episode was strong, with our heroes getting paranoid that their former rivals might extract their revenge in order to destroy a business deal, the final hack, which turned out to actually be (spoiler alert)someone accidentally holding delete key, was hopelessly unrealistic – the idea not only that that would work but that a data centre wouldn’t have nearline, mirrored and offline backup for all its data, particularly for data being exchanged with another partner was just meaningless. I know it’s a comedy, but it had been doing so well until now.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Strike Back: Legacy (UK: Sky 1; US: Cinemax)
Sky1’s quality shoot-em up returns, this time taking the action to Malaysia, with all the violence you could ever want this side of Banshee and more. But as this is the show’s final season, it’s taking time to have a think, consider the fact that everyone’s getting older and that perhaps their lives are all a bit empty, too. It’s also decided that maybe it should give the women something to do other than be naked, which was a nice change. While the second episode was a tad slower than the first, which had motorcycle, jet ski and boat chases, as well as a full on jiu jitsu bout in some back streets, it still managed to take the ludicrous action to new levels of absurdity. I’m loving it. The first four episodes are available on Sky On Demand/Now TV, by the way.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode   

  • Mark Carroll

    Yes, this latest Game of Thrones was good. I am liking it again and want to see what happens next.

    (Mentioned Aquarius elsewhere; basically, meh, well-made and some good parts, but overall just too miserable.)

    Usual news satire has been about normal, HIGNFY and The News Quiz.

    Interesting series about the Art of China or somesuch. Overview of the major things, at least. I'm enjoying it.

    Also, some thing about British castles seems to be on. Honestly, I haven't paid full attention, but it's seemed pretty good.

    I've not seen a whole lot as I'm just back from France. Had trouble sleeping, and found they still show Voyage au Bout de la Nuit in the early hours. By odd coincidence they always seem to happen to find some pretty young lady to do the reading to us.

    I'm looking forward to getting back into In Treatment.

  • Andy Butcher

    Work has been less frantic this week, so have been slowly catching up on things. I would have watched more if it hadn't been for…

    * Gilmore Girls – somehow completely missed this when it was actually on, but am loving almost every minute of it. Far too easy to fall into binging it when I should be catching up on other stuff.

    * Aquarius – Saw the first episode, but not sure I'm going to bother with the rest. Duchovny is always watchable, but nothing else really grabbed me, I found the mix of fact and fiction rather bizarre and pointless, and I understand it starts going all procedural in episode two. Might return if I run out of things to watch later in the summer, but that seems unlikely.

    * The Whispers – In contrast to Aquarius, this was better than I expected. The creepy kid stuff was actually a bit creepy, the two main narrative threads came together nicely at the end, and it looks like it might actually go somewhere interesting. I wouldn't actively recommend it yet, but will definitely stick with it for at least a few more episodes.

    * UnReal – Only watched this because of Marti Noxon's involvement, but despite (or perhaps because of) my loathing for 'reality' TV I actually quite enjoyed it. The humour and overall tone were much darker than I expected from Lifetime, and while I did find myself wondering why the hell Appleby's character would come back to (and stick with) a job that she clearly finds repellent and soul-destroying, I'm somewhat interested to see where it goes.

    * Mr Robot – Far and away the best of the summer pilots I've seen so far, this was shockingly good on many levels. It could still so easily go horribly, horribly wrong, but if anything that's also part of its appeal. Highly recommended.

    * Sense8 – Watched the first episode late last night, and my initial reaction is a rather non-committal 'hmmmmmm'. Had a very strong Heroes vibe, which made it feel overly familiar, and was very slow, failing to really establish any stakes for the characters or sense of direction for the show. As a pilot for a weekly TV series it would be very poor, but it's perhaps unfair to judge it on those terms, given that it's clearly a serial drama that embraces the Netflix 'release the whole season at once' approach.

    For a show that clearly seems to be trying to be 'global', it also had a lot of issues with accents (not a single one of the characters in London actually sounded like a Londoner, for example, while at the same time they cast Freema Agyeman – who has trouble sounding like anything else – as a Californian).

    I will watch a bit more, but I have a strong sense that some very heavy-handed preaching about sexuality, race and other issues is lurking not too far ahead, which could easily kill the whole thing for me. I hope I'm wrong, but to be honest I don't think the Wachowskis have made anything really good since the first Matrix, so I'm not overly hopeful.

    I also watched a couple of movies…

    * Whiplash – This was actually the second time I watched this, but it's such a fantastic film that I just wanted to plug it again. A must watch.

    * Ex Machina – Enjoyed this a lot, more than you from the sound of things. I think your comparison to The Machine was fair, but I found Ex Machina to be more thought provoking and nuanced.

  • Daschel Lim

    strike back = THAILAND

  • Damn! I knew I was going to do that. “Stop thinking Malaysia. It's Thailand… Stop thinking Malaysia. It's Thailand.” So what do I write? Malaysia.

    Damn brain. Sorry – and thanks!

  • Of the ones, I've seen, I'd agree with pretty much all of those (proper reviews elsewhere). I've now watched the first episode of Sense8 and I'd agree with you on that, too, but I'll watch at least one more before writing a review, I think.

  • JustStark

    Peter Kay's Car Share turned out to be unexpectedly brilliant.

  • I heard that. I might try to watch it on iPlayer at some point

  • GYAD

    SUN TRAP – So weird it's almost watchable, despite not being very funny (bar eagle attacks).

    LONGMIRE – Saddle up hoss.

    VICIOUS – Both creaky and bonkers-funny.

    1992 – I need to re-read my books on “Clean Hands” but otherwise building nicely.

  • JustStark

    Oh yes, also the first episode of Murder in Successville. What the heck?

    And the film of The Returned. Deeply weird. Very French. Very slow but somehow engrossing. Would rather see the next series of the programme, though, because forty-five minute chunks with many multiple stories are easier to watch than a hundred minutes with just three stories.

  • Mark Carroll

    I rather preferred the film, though I do wonder what was going on.

    But, yes, Murder in Successville: I heard great things and skimmed the first episode and, while I was occasionally amused, it really didn't seem worth my time overall. Good for them for trying something different though.

  • SunTrap did look a bit odd, but the cast put me off

  • GYAD

    Anyone in particular?

    I like Kayvan Novak a lot but his comic range is totally wrong for the writing (not helped by mediocre direction).

  • Him and Bradley. Well, Bradley mostly

  • GYAD

    Yeah, he wasn't good.