What have you been watching? Including Scream, Mr Holmes, Ballers, True Detective and Mr Robot

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.

Summer schedules are here, so another week, another batch of new programmes to review. Elsewhere, I’ve reviewed most of the new shows, I think:

I’ve also passed third-episode verdicts on:

I haven’t watched this week’s episode of Strike Back, which I usually watch with my wife, but she had better things to do this week. So that means that after the jump, I’ll be looking at the latest episodes of the usual regulars – Halt and Catch Fire, Hannibal, The Last Ship, Suits, Stitchers, True Detective, Tyrant, Westside and The Whispers – as well as newbies Ballers, The Brink, Killjoys, Mr Robot and UnREAL. At least one of them’s for the chop.

But I’ve watched one other new TV show, as well as a movie…

Scream (US: MTV)
I was umming and ahhing about whether to review Scream, given that

  1. It’s MTV so aimed at ‘those young people’
  2. I never really liked the Scream movies
  3. I have a big workload next week so might not have the time
  4. I’m slightly boycotting anything associated with Kevin Williamson, as a result of the evil that is The Following and Stalker.

But as I had nothing else to watch this lunchbreak, I decided to watch it anyway. And frankly, I was bored. Scream as a movie was moderately interesting, critiquing and subverting the horror genre with characters making explicit analysis of the tropes of horror movies, so that these could then be undermined.

The TV Scream wishes it was even half that clever, though. Not truly a sequel, given it doesn’t really follow on from the original movies or feature those characters, as far as I can see, it does however feature a ghost-masked killer who’s always on the end of a phone (or social media interaction), talking to his victim. It also starts off by doing the exact same thing as the original Scream – killing the most famous cast member in her own home while she’s on the phone to the killer.

All the same, that’s where the similarities really stop, since the rest is tedious. The show spends most of its first hour boring us witless with a bunch of cookie-cutter teens and their cookie-cutter relationships, which are so tediously unoriginal, the show tries to be clever by pointing out how tediously unoriginal they are at the end. It also tries to ‘Scream’ TV shows, name-checking the likes of American Horror Story, Hannibal, The Walking Dead et al, without adding even an iota of insight or analysis to them.

Even halfway through, I was desperate for my lunchbreak to end and the sweet relief of work to begin. Surely that’s not the way it’s supposed to be?

Mr Holmes (2015) (in cinemas)
Sir Ian McKellen plays a 90-year-old Sherlock Holmes, retired and looking after his bees, while slowly losing his faculties. At the same time, he thinks back 30 years to an old case that Watson fictionalised and whose solution he can’t quite remember.

Those going in expecting a ‘Sherlock Holmes story’ will be disappointed as there’s only two minor mysteries for Holmes to solve in the entire piece and they’re not the hardest to crack. But while it’s still definitely a story featuring Sherlock Holmes – in various forms, including the Strand magazine Holmes and Nicholas Rowe’s Holmes, Rowe having starred in Young Sherlock Holmes – Holmes here is a proxy for intellectuality without emotionality/spirituality and how it’s ultimately no comfort if you’re human and mortal.

I wouldn’t say I loved it, but it’s something that definitely leaves you thinking about it for some time afterwards, and McKellen is superb at both ages.

Also features a slightly odd excursion to Japan with Hiroyuki Sanada (Helix, The Last Samurai, Ring, Lost).

Shows I’m watching but not recommending

Ballers (US: HBO)
1×2 – Raise Up
An episode slightly more unforgiving on those of who know nowt about American football, but nonetheless a better episode than the first one, almost crossing the line into funny in places, the misogyny pretty much gone and some characters practically likeable at times. I’m not loving it, but at least it’s on the rise, it’s no longer obviously sports Entourage and the Rock is always watchable.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode

The Brink (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
1×2 – Half-Cocked
Consistently about the same average level of quality throughout the episode as during the first episode, with no sign of any improvement or slump. Almost funny on many occasions, but never quite enough to make me laugh, it also didn’t bore me either, which I guess isn’t bad. But I doubt I’ll be sticking with this past episode three.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode

Killjoys (Canada: Space; US: Syfy)
1×2 – The Sugar Point Run
And I’m out. The show had a chance to demonstrate it wasn’t just generic and dull sci-fi, but it failed. It did at least try a bit, with a storyline that got to show off soldier-brother’s fighting skills, mechanic-brother’s brain skills and lady-leader’s mysteriousness. But it didn’t do it very well, entertainingly or with charm, and frankly, together the leads just make each other’s acting progressively worse.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode

Stichers (US: ABC Family)
1×5 – A Stitcher in the Rye
Probably the best episode since the first, garnering the show a reprieve from getting the chop. While not quite having the same silliness as it started with, it did manage to mix a harder edge with the silliness and get away with it this time. The show’s also proving good at throwing up mysteries and then providing answers relatively quickly, which is refreshing, as is the arrival of Oded Fehr (The Mummy, Covert Affairs). And as Damo highlighted in the comments last week, that guy reversing backwards in the wheelchair was in this episode, too, so clearly that’s a thing…
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode; third episode

Tyrant (US: FX; UK: Fox)
2×3 – Faith
And I’m out. Oddly, that’s more because the trailer at the end highlighted some eye-rolling stuff set to start next episode. All the same, after three episodes of bad brother being bad but not very bad and good brother wandering around in the desert, while all his family does back home is wonder whether they should be Christians or not, is really not the most exciting show to watch. I’m sure it’ll pick up later on in the season, but frankly I don’t care enough to stick around for that through all the soapy rubbish any more.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First two episodes; third episode

UnREAL (US/UK: Lifetime)
1×5 – Truth
The show tackles homosexuality, with one of the contestants working out she’s gay and Shiri Appleby trying to work out whether to include it in the programme or not. Ooh, ethical decision! But not especially interesting, beyond a fun jibe about how lesbians are two-years ago and it’s all about trans people now. Slightly more interesting was the Adam-Appleby relationship, as well as the goings on with Ashley Scott and the producers. But generally felt like a filler episode, rather than one that advanced the plot.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; fourth episode

Westside (New Zealand: TV3)
1×5 – Dire Combustion
An episode that’s reasonable fun in and of itself and shows how hard times were in the late 70s in NZ, but which really serves more as a prequel to Outrageous Fortune, giving us origin stories for two characters who pop up in that. Still, it did give us another guest Almighty Johnsons star (John Leigh who played Bryn) to enjoy.
Review: First episode; third episode

The Whispers (US: ABC)
1×5 – What Lies Beneath
An episode for pausing and taking stock, following the big excitement of last week’s episode. We also get a few revelations about what Drill might be – aliens trapped in a crashed meteor, beasts from beneath the Earth or perhaps even the ghosts of druids?
Review: First episode; third episode

The recommended list

Halt and Catch Fire (US: AMC; UK: Amazon Instant Video)
2×5 – Extract and Defend
Cameron meets up with Joe, Gordon gets some bad news and Donna grumbles a lot. We’re halfway through the season now and while it’s fun having all the characters back and you still have the backdrop of the computer industry, the show’s message seems to be that without a vision you can implement, you’re just going to wander aimlessly. Which is fine, but it’s meant five episodes of aimless wandering. At the moment, the show’s getting by on good will this season, so I’m really hoping it becomes more than just a period soap very soon, or else it’ll get a demotion.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Hannibal (US: NBC; UK: Sky Living)
3×5 – Contorno
A show of thirds, this one. The first third – the Will Graham third – continues to buckle under its own seriousness, pomposity and pretentiousness. The second third – the Alana third – continues to buckle under its own silliness and unlikeliness. Meanwhile, the final third – the Hannibal third – manages to return to the power of the first two seasons with some intelligence and a cracking good fight scene thanks to (spoiler alert) Morpheus himself. Jack’s interaction with the Italian family was also a beautifully naturalistic bit of acting by everyone involved.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

The Last Ship (US: TNT; UK: Sky1)
2×3 – It’s Not A Rumor
Following the all-out adrenaline rush of the first two episodes, the show takes the time to take stock of its situation, set new missions for itself this season and generally sing the praises of the US military so well, you’ll want to enlist by the end of it, whether you’re American or not. Nevertheless, despite being an hour of ‘America – Fuck Yeah’, the show took the somewhat brave stance of setting up radical Christians as the show’s new enemies.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode Third episode

Mr Robot (US: USA Network)
A quick promotion to the recommended list for USA’s very promising Mr Robot. Although not as compelling as the firework-filled first episode, episode two nonetheless was a commendable piece that continued its themes, introduced some black hats into the equation, and kept the show lovely and dark. It also opened up the dramatic possibilities, by maintaining that blurred reality of the first episode that leaves you wondering how much is hallucination and how much is an in-story fiction – is Slater’s Mr Robot the Tyler Durden of the piece, is he a genuine hacker or is he all an act to manipulate Elliot? Also, a fun, updated reference for the digital age to The Conversation near the start that deserves some praise, too.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode

Suits (US: USA Network; UK: Dave)
5×3 – Compensation
Thankfully, Suits seems to be avoiding all those season-long legal stories it got mired in a couple of years ago, and now is happy to give us spicy little one-episode engagements. Unfortunately, the bulk of each episode is now Harvey and Louis squabbling over Donna like teenagers. Grow up, guys. There’s also the continuing boredom of Mike and Rachel’s relationship. Where’s Hardman when you need him, as newbie Last Ship refugee John Pyper-Ferguson doesn’t yet cut the mustard?
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

True Detective (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
2×2 – Night Finds You
Not as good as the first episode, with Vince Vaughn demonstrating once again he can’t do proper acting, reducing perfectly good existential monologues about papier maché and ceilings into tedious rambles about interior decoration. Nonetheless, a lot more similar in style to the first season of True Detective, with people sitting around in cars, musing on life, the universe and everything. There’s also continuing themes of jumbled up Greek tragedy, with people’s eyes removed and a character called Antigone with father issues. There was Rick Springfield. And then there was the ending, which spun things in a completely different direction altogether with that hat.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

  • Mark Carroll

    I'm not yet convinced by True Detective, we'll see. But, thanks to you, I guess I have Mr Robot on the list, and I am wondering about The Whispers, and maybe you will yet have me wondering about Stitchers.

    I've little idea what I've been watching this week. Visitors are rather impeding the viewing. The television is put on to whatever random live television there is, shows where people help other people to find a house to buy, or quiz shows, or whatever, nothing actually worth mentioning. It'll probably be like that for much of the month, alas. I'll save things and have some catchup in some due course.

  • Mark Carroll

    PS – Suits – I never managed to care about Mike and Rachel’s relationship. It's good to know I'm still missing nothing there!

  • Gareth Williams

    I'm preparing for the summer famine, like a squirrel in autumn so I've yet to start True Detective or Hannibal.

    I've been enjoying Humans and whilst it began with the feel of a Black Mirror episode that has left me with the impression that it would be better hadn't been a series.

    After giving up on Falling Skies but relenting in the promise of only one more series I finished the end of the last season, and the first of this. It's still rubbish.

    Mr. Holmes is an odd one: it was almost like an ITV Sunday drama but with much higher production values. I'm surprised it came to my local (only) populist multiplex though.

  • Mark Carroll

    Yes, I liked the first couple of seasons of “Falling Skies” but the next couple descended into absolute bobbins. I'll bother with the last season for completeness' sake but probably not starting until August. Once a show has a child that grows up at high speed and has unusual powers, that's pretty much nails in its coffin.

    I'm reminded of “Earth: Final Conflict”: decent first season, as I recall, but then a few more of silly rubbish.

  • bob

    ” it did give us another guest Almighty Johnsons star (John Leigh who played Bryn) to enjoy.”

    Weird- he was a recurring character on OF. I assume he played his own grandfather or something.

  • Andy Butcher

    Been a bit of a hectic week and I still need to catch up on a few things. The most notable of what I have watched this week were…

    * Scream, which was indeed rather disappointing, overly familiar and even dull. Being a big fan of the original movie (and having enjoyed the sequels, to varying degrees) probably excludes me from the target audience, but even so, if you're going to glibly point out the problems with turning a slasher movie into a TV show, you better be damn sure you've got good solutions to those problems. Unfortunately, the pilot didn't seem to.

    * Stitchers, but not for great reasons. Maybe I was just in the wrong mood (with the heat there's been a lot of that this week), but I didn't feel the new darker, more serious elements sat well with the show's brand of humour. I didn't hate it, but I didn't enjoy it as much, either.

    * Mr Robot, thankfully, was excellent. If anything more intense than the first episode, it seemed intent on confounding expectations – this is definitely not a show that takes the obvious route. I was also struck by just how much I already care about our socially awkward, be-hoodied and quite-possibly-mad-as-a-box-of-frogs protagonist. (Oh, and on the frog-box front, I found it interesting that Mr Robot interacted with the other members of f.society this time around – in the pilot, I'm pretty sure that no one else ever directly interacted with him, only Elliot. Whether that's an indication of Slater's reality or the deterioration of Elliot's grip on it, though, remained pleasingly opaque.)

    On the movie front…

    * It Follows came out on blu-ray this week. I suspect I may have raved about it earlier in the year when I saw it in the cinema, but if anything I was even more impressed with it the second time around. Definitely my movie of the year, so far.

  • Andy Butcher

    How rubbish was the last season of Falling Skies? I'm in much the same position as you and Mark, having given up on it but now finding myself wondering whether I should catch up and watch the final run…

  • Mark Carroll

    I'll give “It Follows” a try at some point, thank you.

  • Gareth Williams

    An interesting, thoughtful non-horror film.

  • Mark Carroll

    It was pretty rubbish, I'm afraid. I was thinking back on it this afternoon and, well, it does have some arc that almost makes sense, and a handful of good moments, but it largely doesn't even quite rise to the level of guilty pleasure.

    For what it's worth, I've not seen any of the latest, current season, but my guess would be that it doesn't much depend on one having seen the previous.

  • Andy Butcher

    Now I have to ask – what are the defining characteristics of the 'non-horror' genre? 😉

  • JustStark

    I thought it was quite good, but those are definitely three adjectives I would never have considered applying to it in a million years!

  • Heading to the Internet, I discover he was playing his own dad (Dougal, Sparky and Anne-Marie's dad)

  • Scream – good point re the show's hubris. It does seem very willing to mention other, much better shows, without offering anything in return

    Mr Robot – I also wondered about Christian Slater's video, since clearly that's a real world thing. However, given we're seeing an edited version of reality – unless it really is called Evil Corporation – it's entirely possible that only Eliot sees the video as containing Slater and everyone else sees him doing the video. But the episode opens things up in terms of it not being all a fantasy, but something designed to play on his paranoid issues

  • Andy Butcher

    Yeah, I got myself a little tied up in knots trying to work out whether the voice on the video was so obviously Slater's because the show wanted to make it clear to the viewer, or because we are hearing what Elliot hears, and he assumes/believes it's Slater speaking, or because someone is messing with Elliot. I couldn't really buy that a hacker of such skills would do such a bad job disguising their voice…

    I do love unreliable narrators. 🙂

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  • GYAD

    STONEMOUTH – A reheated in the microwave noir.

    NOT SAFE FOR WORK – Not funny for TV.

    1992 – Approaching the sublime.

  • JustStark

    Have been watching lots of TV series, mainly due to having signed up for another Amazon Prime trial to try to get a birthday present there on time (which failed) and thinking I may as well try out their TV offerings before cancelling it again. So that's how I saw series three of Vikings (weird the way the focus shifts completely, with major characters just being killed off and the whole England plot being abandoned in the last half — just when it was getting interesting — in favour of a trip to France (unfortunately a millennium or so too early for EuroDisney)).

    And also the first couple of episodes of Halt and Catch Fire. It's interesting but not really gripping. At the moment it's mostly about how Mysterious Lee Pace is, but the problem with Lee Pace is I can't see him without thinking of Pushing Daisies which I thought was very good.

    Also, it is amusing the lengths they have to go to to make writing x86 assembler seem exciting, rather than a spectacularly tedious chore. The girl gets quite unreasonably exercised over whether she can save a few CPU cycles using bit-shift optimisations in an application that is completely I/O-bound, doesn't she?

    And I've now seen most of Continuum series three on rental disks. Suddenly it's all about the time travel, instead of being about the ethics of terrorism versus corporate interests, and depressingly that seems to be where they wanted to get to all along; depressingly because while it is certainly ambitious to completely rewrite the programme's foundations, destroy the entire future, and double-up the main characters, exploring the mechanics of a sci-fi idea just isn't that relevant to the human experience compared to exploration of the morality of the use of force. But, I still have a couple of episodes to go and maybe it'll find something new to say.

    That, and Stoppard, have left little time for actual proper broadcast telly. Just an episode of Episodes, I think. It remains good comedy, but as I suspected it has run off the end of its point: it has nothing more to say, having made its case very well in series one and two (and three, to a lesser extent) with the result that now it's just the same characters doing the same sort of things that they have done before. If it were a drama I would have stopped watching it by now.

    Oh, yes, and Humans. The singularity hasn't come back, thank goodness, and it looks like it might continue to go interesting places with regards to how people react to things they can anthropomorphise perfectly and project their deepest desires on — it's much more interesting when it's doing that, than when Merlin is running around in a tedious seen-it-all-before sub-Blade Runner 'can machines think?' plot — but it's a very slow burn, so it's difficult to tell whether they are drawing to conclusions or just intending to keep bringing up scenarios and dodging the issues. But halfway through it looks like it could go places, it just depends whether they can handle the conclusion.

  • You may be a little disappointed by the last two episodes of Continuum, I'm afraid…

    Halt and Catch Fire is interesting in terms of what they emphasise and focus on, making some quite odd choices. I'd say the whole thing really comes together in the penultimate episode, though.

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