What have you been watching? Including Blunt Talk, The Island/Το Νησί, Y Gwyll/Hinterland, Impastor, Continuum and You’re The Worst

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.

Can you feel it? Can you? It’s coming. It’s nearly here. It’s the Fall 2015-16 US TV season! Hoorah!

But not until next week. Not properly, anyway, which is why the only new US TV show I’ve reviewed this week is FX’s The Bastard Executioner and the only regular US shows I’ll be examining after the jump are the season finale of Impastor and the latest You’re The Worst. In desperation, I even went back a few weeks to give Patrick Stewart’s new August-debuting series a go, too.

Blunt Talk (US: Starz)
Patrick Stewart plays a former British marine turned US chat show host whose ratings are on the down turn. He ends up high on drugs and alcohol, and in the arms (and bosom) of a young, transgender prostitute, and is promptly arrested – well, once he’s stopped beating up the cops. What will happen to his career now?

This is a comedy by the way. It’s not one of those crazy old-fashioned things with jokes, but instead mainly seems to get by on seeing Stewart not being a ‘English gentleman’. This might amuse Americans, unused to English people doing such things, but as Stewart himself points out in the show, we’re a bit more used to idiosyncratic Englishmen here.

The only rays of hope in the show are the moments Stewart has by himself with Adrian Scarborough (Gavin & Stacey, Plebs), his former Falklands batman, which are actually pretty good fun, even if filtered through a strange US prism.

Overall, by the end of the first episode, I really wasn’t sure what the point of the show was. It’s not satirising anything, it’s not doing a The Newsroom or a The Larry Sanders Show. It’s just Stewart being a mild-mannered, self-harming dick.

Here’s a trailer.

But that’s it for US TV. Oh well.

However, there’s more to the world than America. Indeed, elsewhere, I’ve reviewed the first episode of Australia and New Zealand’s new 800 Words, and after the jump, I’ll be looking at the continuing adventures of Canada’s Continuum and the return of Wales’ Y Gwyll/Hinterland. There’s lovely, hey?

And as if all that wasn’t enough, I broke a rule and took a look at some Greek TV.

The Island/Το Νησί (Greece: Mega)
The reason for my rule-breaking is that this year marked the 10th anniversary of the publication of Victoria Hislop’s The Island, a novel set in the first half of the 20th century on the Greek islands of Crete and Spinalonga. On Spinalonga is a fortress where Greece used to send people with leprosy until a cure was discovered in the 1950s and the story is about various love affairs, some of which involve people who end up on the island, and how that affects their families.

As well as a Q&A with Hislop, the night featured an airing of the first episode of Το Νησί, Greek television’s 2010/11 24-part adaptation of the novel, which despite being made for €4m and a couple of bottles of raki, is actually very lavish and emptied the streets when it aired. Indeed, it has only ever been beaten in the ratings twice, both times by sporting events, one of which was the opening of the Athens Olympics.

The adaptation is pretty faithful to the book, right down to the modern-day London bookending, which features a pre-Downton Abbey Dan Stevens. It’s all very lavish and well made in Greek terms, too, although equally, it’s very Greek and emotionally drawn out, too. Acting’s pretty good, with Evgenia Dimitropoulou playing a double-role of both the modern day Alexis and her own aunt Anna – as Alexis, she does a good job of playing a British-Greek girl who doesn’t speak Greek that well (hers is about as good as mine, in fact), although she seems to understand an awful lot, even some quite obscure words such as λεπρός (leper), when she winds up in Crete.

The series has never aired in the UK, surprisingly, although I’m sure BBC Four will get round to it some day. However, you can watch all of it on YouTube, albeit without subtitles, if you hunt around.

There were a few celebs among the audience at the Q&A, including Patrick Barlow and Robert Young, but one in particular pretty much stalked me all over Blackfriars and at the Q&A the entire evening. He made his bilingual acting debut in the first episode of the series, which I’ve embedded below – see if you can spot him. I’ll give you a clue – he first appears at the 3m59s point.

Shows I’m watching but not recommending

Impastor (US: TV Land)
1×10 – Exodus
In which our fake vicar has to try to get out of town to escape the people after him, but starts to discover he’s going to miss everyone – and wonders if he can get in some quick break-up sex on the way out. An odd little first season in retrospect that never quite lived up to the humour and darkness in the first few episodes, and which was never quite sure what it wanted to do or was better at – tell a story about a straight man pretending to be gay or a criminal pretending to be a Lutheran pastor – and oddly choosing to do the latter most of the time. All the same, some good comedy over the season and probably one I’ll be tuning in for again next season.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode

The recommended list

Continuum (Canada: Showcase; UK: SyFy)4×2 – Rush HourLess promising than part 1, this ep sees our Keira forging some unlikely alliances and the general beginning of writing out various characters in preparation for the series finale. Some actually quite cracking fight scenes involving Victor Webster and Roger Cross, but a bit ploddy overall.
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Y Gwyll/Hinterland (UK: S4C)
 2×1 
The return of the gloomy, Welsh-only version of BBC Four’s Hinterland, and it appears we have a change of format – either it’s time for some series-long arcs or we’re down to one-hour stories, judging by the way everything got almost completely wrapped up by the end of the episode. As usual, this feels like Welsh Wallander, judging by the tissue-thin grasp of police procedure going on, but as with Wallander, the point of the show isn’t to investigate crimes but to expose the inherent misery of existence, here personified by kids getting brain damaged or killed by dodgy drugs. Generally, an improvement over last series, though, despite numerous scenes of the police driving out to AN Other Moody Welsh location just to ask a couple of questions, with a decent plot, decent acting thanks to everyone being a lot happier in Welsh and some attempts to give the characters pasts and lives outside of police work.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; first series

You’re The Worst (US: FXX)
2×2 – Crevasses
After last week’s very slightly disappointing first episode, the worst couple of the world came back at full power, with Gretchen discovering she has no adult possessions of her own and working out whether she’s ready for that next stage of commitment now she’s moved in with Jimmy. From the opening Trivial Pursuit game through the bravura exploits in the mall, a delightful piece of intelligent amorality with everyone just feeling very real, despite the comedic exaggerations, and everything coming across as original and fresh, rather than a retread of the same old tropes.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode

  • Mark Carroll

    So, if I were to start “You’re The Worst” from the beginning, I'd know if it's the show for me within the first episode or two?

    “Hinterland”'s point being 'to expose the inherent misery of existence' makes me wonder why I'd choose to watch it even at its best.

    My guilty pleasure is probably “The Great British Bake-Off” which is by no means amazing but is certainly adequately entertaining and I don't like to miss it. To “Would I Lie to You?” we're presently adding the current repeats of radio's “The Unbelievable Truth”; Henning can be funny.

    Once I learned that we're even continuing “Once Upon a Time” I guessed we'll have a fairly full complement of US dramas coming our way again; admittedly, I'll actually pay attention to “The Blacklist” to see where they take it now. In the meantime, “Ink Master” continues, in my opinion, in its attempts to vary things somewhat, generally inferior, if anything, to its first season.

    I did get to finish season two of “In Treatment”. That was good. It encourages me to keep the final season on the list.

    Mostly I've just been filling time with old “In Our Time” episodes or catchup from Proms I downloaded.

  • Andy Butcher

    You'll know well before the end of the first episode if You're The Worst will be for you. 🙂

  • JustStark

    Hm, it's been a while, let's catch up…

    In theatre, Three Days in the Country at the National is good, light, frothy, amusing, and has a funny scene where Mark Gatiss gets backache. Hangmen, the new McDonagh at the Royal Court, on the other hand, is very good and highly recommended for anyone who wants more of the same dark wit of, say, The Pillowman.

    Then on to television. Finished Wild Palms. Like I believe I wrote before, stands up surprisingly well. And, Ernie Hudson.

    Now halfway through the third series of The Americans which is still excellent. Multiple layers of irony in the battle over the daughter's future make it rich viewing.

    Having had to sign up to Now TV (which I always feel should be punctuated: Now! TV!) for a few months in order to watch The Americans I have been raiding the back catalogue to make the subscription pay; so I have watched A Touch of Cloth, which occasions lots of guilty sniggers but isn't quite as clever as it thinks it is: it mostly hits its targets but its targets, the clichés of the police procedural, are not exactly hard to hit.

    And I have watched the first (double) episode of Fortitude, and referring back to your review I find you were in the same position as me of being on the fence at that point. Did you also find it hard to keep track of who the characters were, given all the women have similar haircuts, all the (non-famous-actor) men have similar beards, and they keep all dressing in huge shapeless puffy jackets that all look the same? Still, I note your review says it gets better in the next episode so I shall give it a try.

    I'm slightly confused though that you seem in the review to think that Richard Dormer's character is Norwegian; given that his accent is so clearly Portadown and he speaks English to everyone I was just assuming that the character was from Ulster and had just ended up on the island through some yet-to-be explained happenstance.

    Also I have been catching up on the final-final series of Mad Men, the one where everybody's upper lips have been colonised by some mind-controlling species of space caterpillars. It's… okay… I do hope the ending, which I have managed to avoid hearing about, is worth it.

    And, finally, Doctor Who: what the hell? Have we given up on the idea of actual drama involving, you know, things happening, entirely, in favour of just doing entire episodes of characters expositing at each other? Is that what it is now?

  • Mark Carroll

    “Doctor Who”: I was just so grateful that there weren't billions of black cubes. People do seem to have a difficult time staying dead, though.

  • JustStark

    Oh yes, on top of everything else, they also managed to undermine the one possible justification for the crass stamping on Nicholas Courtney's memory that was their re-casting of the Brigadier, namely that he finally got to zap the Master, by bringing him/her back two episodes later.

    I mean, nobody ever expected the Master to stay dead, but just two episodes? For a programme that's now apparently entirely composed of references and in-jokes like the The Dead Planet doors? That's just sticking two fingers up at poor Courtney's memory.

  • 'Hinterland' is a slightly misleading title – 'Y Gwyll' translates to 'The Dusk', which gives you a much better idea of what it's aiming for.

    The first episode of You're The Worst sets the stage very well for the whole series, although the friends become a greater part of the show over time.

  • RE: Fortitude. I think I was all right with the guest cast at that point, actually. It does get a lot better in episode 3, but each episode goes in a different direction each time, so it's hard at more or less every point to decide if it's the show for you.

    Dormer's character (Dan Anderssen) is Norwegian – he's one of the few natives of the island, IIRC, which is a Norwegian island, despite looking exactly like Iceland. He almost never speaks Norwegian, though, even with other Norwegians and Scandinavians, and he sounds like Stellan Skarsgaard, who's Swedish. But he is supposed to be Norwegian.

    Is it true you can pretty much narrow down to the road where someone comes from in Belfast by their accent?

    Re: Doctor Who. I assumed we were getting by on continuity references and fan fiction.

  • JustStark

    Dormer's character (Dan Anderssen) is Norwegian

    Actually, thanks for that; I watched the third episode last night & it turns out that about half the problem I had with the cast was that I thought Dormer was two people, one an Ulsterman who was chief of police, and the other an I-don't-know-what who hung around menacingly not saying much.

    Reason I assumed that is because a big thing is made about how everyone's an immigrant there. So is Jason the miner actually supposed to be from Portadown?

    Is it true you can pretty much narrow down to the road where someone comes from in Belfast by their accent?

    Well, there are… particular reasons about Belfast… that help with that. So yes, there are, shall we say, certain roads which are almost next to each other but with, well, quite… distinct linguistic communities.

    Did you know James Nesbitt & Liam Neeson are from about 4 miles away from each other?

  • Further investigation at the Fortitude wiki (yes, apparently there is one) reveals yes he's Norwegian, no he's not native to Fortitude:

    “Anderssen was born in Roryik, Norway on June 10th 1969… At the start of the series, Dan has been stationed in Fortitude for eight years” (abridged for possible minor spoilers).

    http://fortitude.wikia.com/wik

    As for Jason the miner, it's not said and the Wiki doesn't have anything on him either. I think there's a Scouse miner later on, so I imagine Jason probably is supposed to be from Portadown.

    “Did you know James Nesbitt & Liam Neeson are from about 4 miles away from each other?”

    No, but that's surprising. I do remember listening to Colin Murray interview Chris Barrie and being impressed by Barrie's impression of a Northern Irish accent, only to be more stunned to hear that Barrie had been brought up in Belfast. Belfast – land of surprising accents

  • JustStark

    more stunned to hear that Barrie had been brought up in Belfast

    Well, packed off to board at Methody, anyway.

    I think there's some kind of 'conservation of accents' thing goes on with islands, such that you have about as many accents in the mainland UK as in the US, and then about the same number in Ireland too — the smaller geographical area doesn't mean less accent variation, it just mean they get squashed closer together.

    (On the other hand it may just be to do with when they were settled versus how long it is since efficient long-distance transit arrived, which there are parts of Sligo where it still hasn't).

  • JustStark

    As for Jason the miner, it's not said and the Wiki doesn't have anything
    on him either. I think there's a Scouse miner later on, so I imagine
    Jason probably is supposed to be from Portadown

    His brother shows up in a later episode and he's called Ciaran & also talks Ulster so I'm going to go with that.

    (However the whole plot strand involving him appears to have been dropped… but then I've noticed it drops plot strands for several episodes at a time only to bring them back as if nothing had happened in the interim so maybe he'll return).