What have you been watching? Including The Bakkhai, Impastor, Glitch and The Whispers

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.

I’m back! Miss me? Of course you did. Well, maybe. But I’m back either way and raring to watch some tele.

In fact, I’ve been watching some tele for the past month… past two weeks anyway, most of which was catching up with the previous three weeks I’d missed. So after the jump, I’ll be talking about those shows I managed to watch and in most cases see through to the end of their seasons: Glitch, Halt and Catch Fire, Hannibal, Impastor, The Last Ship, Mr Robot, True Detective and The Whispers. Oh yes, and despite my promises to the contrary, I also tuned in for the first episode of season 4 of Continuum. Humans I’ll get round to once my lovely wife has cleared her backlog of My Kitchen Rules Australia.

But over those five weeks, I came up with a new rule: no new tele during August. If you start airing your new show in August, it’s dead to me, because you picked a very silly time to start it.

That means that although Netflix gave us not only Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp as well as Narcos, I’ve not watched either of them. Or any of Amazon’s Casanova and Sneaky Pete. HBO’s Show Me A Hero? Please don’t. Showtime’s Blunt Talk? Honestly, no. Public Morals? Can stay private, thank you very much.

Which isn’t to say I won’t watch them at some point. Indeed, if you’ve started watching them, let me know if they’re any good so I can prioritise them accordingly. But for now, I’m not in a rush to tune in, particularly since the Fall 2015 season is about to dawn on us with more than a dozen new shows, so I’ve got to schedule accordingly.

On which subject, I did manage to watch the pilots of a few of those forthcoming shows, including Lucifer, Blindspot and Minority Report – hopefully I’ll be reviewing them over the next couple of weeks.

I also watched some movies and went to the theatre a bit, too.

Walk of Shame (2014) (iTunes)
One of those films that on paper I should have loved since it features Elizabeth Banks, Gillian Jacobs and Willie Garson. Except I really, really didn’t.

It sees Banks play a goody-goody TV journalist who’s just been dumped by her fiancé and turned down for a new job, so decides to let loose and has a one-night stand with James Marsden. Except then she finds out that she actually has got the job after all, provided she can get into work that morning. Wouldn’t you know it? Things go hilariously badly in her attempts to get there on her ‘walk of shame’.

Unfortunately, Walk of Shame is not so much borderline misogynistic and offensive than actually misogynistic and offensive. Iit’s also without any of the redeeming quality of ‘being funny’.

The Men Who Stare At Goats (2009) (Netflix)
Lovely wife and I used our holiday to read some actual books, including a whole stack of journalist Jon Ronson’s, amongst which was The Men Who Stare At Goats. An investigation of the US Army’s post-Vietnam dabbling with psychic powers, the book is largely an account of Ronson’s investigations as he visits one former ‘psychic soldier’ after another to learn what happened as the army tried psychologically to deal with its loss.

We ended up wondering how the book could be adapted as a movie with Ewan McGregor and George Clooney, and the answer is: by fictionalising it. McGregor plays a journalist recently dumped at the outbreak of the Iraq war (the point where Ronson’s book ends) who bumps into a ‘contractor’ (Clooney). Clooney is a ‘jedi warrior’, trained by the US army to be invisible, burst clouds with his mind, walk through walls, stop a goat’s heart goat by staring at it and more. Or try to, anyway.

The movie is then a juxtaposition of McGregor’s learning in modern day Iraq about what it is to be a Jedi warrior (the irony is not lost on the film’s producers. At all) and flashbacks to the foundation of the army’s Jedi warrior movement by Jeff Bridges.

The film is a bit clumsy as a satire, trying its best to weave real world elements from Ronson’s book into the fictionalised journey, but ultimately normalising them, rather than making them as genuinely weird as they were (Bridges’ real-life counterpart was the man who came up with ‘Be All That You Can Be’, back when he thought that wars could be stopped by small children holding baby animals in front of them). It’s better if you’ve read the book, but Clooney is great to watch whether you have or not.

The Bakkhai (Almeida)
The second of the Almeida’s major productions of ancient Greek plays, this sees Ben “Paddington Bear” Wishaw playing the god Dionysus, visiting ancient Thebes to bring his religion to its population of women, and finding resistance from the king, Pentheus (Bertie Carvel from Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell).

In contrast to the Almeida’s radical reworking of Aeschylus’ Oresteia, this version of Euripides’ classic text is one of the most traditional productions I’ve ever seen, with the text rarely deviating from the original except for the occasional modern bit of humour, the chorus singing all their lines and the cast being just three men who share all the roles between them. Much is made of the gender-blurring and homoeroticism of the play, as Dionysus grants Pentheus’ desire to see what his debauched female followers get up to by persuading him to wear women’s clothes (Carvel plays his own mother, too). But it’s not until the end and Dionysus reveals his terrifying true nature that the show’s real power and tragedy kicks in.

Probably a bit too traditional for its likely audience, judging by the reserved applause at the end of what are tour de force performances by both Carvel and Wishaw, but well worth it if you’re a lover of Greek tragedy.

Shows I’m watching but not recommending

Continuum (Canada: Showcase; UK: SyFy)
4×1 – Lost Hours
I did say I wasn’t going to watch this, but given that Showcase went and put up the fourth episode as a preview earlier than expected, I figured I might as well give it a try. And actually, it does make me want to watch more of the fourth season. While the final episodes of the third season seemed like a great big attempt to wipe the board of all the previous plot threads and throw some big new exciting ones in our direction in an effort to get renewed, this first episode somewhat crunches those up in favour of giving us back something of a season one flavour, albeit with some new characters, some changed allegiances and some new responsibilities. Given this fourth season is going to be a limited, six-episode run that winds everything up, I’ll be tuning in now to see how everything gets resolved, since this does actually feel quite promising.
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Impastor (US: TV Land)
1×3 – 1×7
Largely coasting along on goodwill and some laughs, the show has nevertheless managed to blend its strange concoction of dark crime story with comedy vicar moments into something strangely watchable and at times like a US version of Rev. While it’s a bit more on the money when it comes to Lutheran worship than depictions of homosexuality and with the seventh episode oddly choosing to base itself around an attempt to help an 11-year-old boy grope a woman’s breasts, the show still has a lot of things going for it and is often a lot smarter than it appears.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode

The recommended list

Glitch (Australia: ABC)
After three episodes that slightly danced around, the final three episodes started to orient the show, giving us something that I’m happy to promote to the recommended list. As well as giving each dead person an important part of Australian history to represent, the show gave us some genuinely creepy moments particularly the magic trumpet. Beating Les Revenants et al to give us something of a Tru Calling season two vibe, the show also introduced a supposed baddie who might well have a good point about whether the dead should be alive or not.

Annoyingly, the show effectively spent the final two episodes of the season cranking up the plot from 0 to 10, leaving the vast majority of points not only unanswered but not even raised until the final episode. However, given the show had already been given a second season before the first had even aired, I’m inclined to think of this more as a mid-season break than a cop out. Looking forward to season two.
Reviews: First episode

Halt and Catch Fire (US: AMC; UK: Amazon Instant Video)
2×9 – 2×10
You’d think when given such an unexpected reprieve by AMC that the producers of Halt and Catch Fire would have put some effort into speeding things up and making the show compelling this season. Instead, we’ve basically had a whole season that could have been condensed into two episodes. It was an entertaining ride, but it feels in retrospect entirely like set-up to relocate the show to Silicon Valley while manoeuvring all the characters into more or less the same positions they were in at the start of season one. But I loved season one, so fingers crossed for season three!
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Hannibal (US: NBC; UK: Sky Living)
3×9 – 3×13
A somewhat uneven end to the series, with the entire Red Dragon arc still feeling rushed and not mined as much as it could have been, given the original plan to have it make up the entire fourth season. The finale also felt like a bit of a letdown, again rushed to achieve a closure and set-up that didn’t really make a whole lot of sense.

I’ll still treasure the first season and isolated moments of the subsequent seasons as jewels in the crown of modern day US broadcast TV. But the third and to a lesser extent second season feel like a sterling example of what happens when you’re in an echo chamber of praise and you start to believe your own hype and what fans say they like – in this case wandering into film school student pretentiousness and homoerotic subtext made unlikely text.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

The Last Ship (US: TNT; UK: Sky1)
2×7 – 2×12
Unlike Hannibal, The Last Ship neither believes that it’s a high-brow affair nor is content to rest on its laurels. As a result, it’s been must-see TV for me, with superb action scenes, thrilling plots and the usual twists and revelations at every turn. Some favourite characters even got killed off, too. Terrible dialogue, but superb TV.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode Third episode

Mr Robot (US: USA Network)
1×6 – 1×9
Finally, the quantum Barrometer’s wave functions have collapsed revealing that Mr Robot is… superb! For a worrying few moments, it was looking like it was heading in the wrong direction, but the final revelations were as good as we could have hoped, while giving us unexpected additional revelations that made sense of things maybe we hadn’t been puzzling over.

If anything, the show proves the superiority of TV over film, given that this first season was apparently intended to be the plot of the first half hour of a movie. I know which I’d rather have.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode; third episode   

True Detective (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
2×5 – 2×8
Ultimately, not as good as we’d all hoped, given the first season, with only a few twists and turns into the final two episodes giving us any really top moments. Too complicated for its own good and without any real pay off of the themes, encumbered with too many unlikeable characters, encumbered by Vince Vaughn, and flatly directed, thanks to the lack of Cary Joji Fukunaga behind the scenes. Unless it’s a fine cast for next season, I don’t think I’ll be tuning in.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

The Whispers (US: ABC)
1×8 – 1×13
After a good first half season for the show, The Whispers faltered into silliness for quite some time, never recovering the creepiness it started with until the final episode. This was pretty much as dumb as it’s possible to get and yet still be fun science-fiction, but the cliffhanger ending is annoying to say the least, particularly since a second season is highly unlikely, and there’s no chance anyone is going to be around to explain why the aliens had to do any of things they did over the previous 30 years.

All the same, I liked the fact that the ending we did get wasn’t a pat “We won!”, instead being a whole lot more Ray Bradbury-esque. But if you’ve not started it, I wouldn’t say there’s enough in the whole 13 episodes to really make it worth your while making your way through them.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode; third episode

  • Mark Carroll

    I am glad that I avoided “The Whispers” and season two of “True Detective” in the end, thanks to you. I'll be curious to hear if I should bother with season four of “Continuum” without bothering to catch up with the previous.

    I wasn't much of a fan of “The Men Who Stare at Goats”. I don't remember much now, alas, but the fact that I don't is significant. I did rewatch both “Seven” and “Dark City” which remain rather good indeed. Thanks to recommendation here, I also watched “Wake Wood”, which was indeed above average for the genre; I'm glad I bothered. As I like science fiction, I watched “Code 46” with Tim Robbins: while not amazing, it was decent enough at conjuring its world that it was certainly worth a once-through. It was well-made.

    “Hannibal” did finally pick up a bit again, yes. It was quite good at times: its head got a little back out of its ass, and the music was interesting. This latest season was still quite a disappointment after the previous, though. The first was great. I finally got around to watching “Hannibal Rising”, too; I don't think I read that book, so what Chiyo or Lady Murasaki might have been in that I don't know, but it probably doesn't matter. The film was quite adequate anyway.

    For reasons, I watched a fair chunk of “The Last Ship”, up until an important fellow gets a shiny new office, but probably won't finish it off until next year. It's still moving along well, I'll give it that. I'd say the same of “Humans”. I wonder where they're both going, but for now they remain sufficiently good I'll give them some benefit of the doubt.

    As well as “Hannibal”, I also got to wrap up “Falling Skies”. The earlier seasons remain the best. This latest did pick up from the execrable rubbish the show became, but was overall nothing special or surprising or even subtle, and veering between silly and cliched. Stopping after two seasons really wouldn't be a bad move.

    I liked “Mr Robot” too. It certainly did pick up toward the end. While I'd like a higher rate of actual hacking action — perhaps the pilot spoiled me — I'm definitely sticking around for the next season. Which reminds me, I'm fairly far through season two of “In Treatment”. I am liking that too: it's as good as, and sufficiently different from, the first season.

    On the BBC I'd say that “Would I Lie To You?” is presently my favourite light entertainment. Danny Baker's “Brushing Up On…” series was random but short and fun. I saw a nice documentary on Andrew Carnegie, and I liked the “Are Our Kids Tough Enough?” thing where the Chinese teachers try to bring their methods to a British school; it was a bit annoying, but just interesting enough to be worth the short journey. There was also quite a good Horizon about the ancient Britons and about Britain becoming an island.

    The family's now discovered “Mushishi”, an easygoing anime with odd creatures and a situation of the week, which I'm finding pleasant enough but quite missable.

  • benjitek

    Continuum opens with summary scenes from previous episodes, all that's needed — in fact they work better as a 3 minute summary than as multiple episodes 😉

    I watched the pilot, and being as there are only 5 more — I'll probably watch them too. Season 1 hasn't been recaptured, they're too far gone at this point. You could easily skip the previous stuff and just finish up with the final mini-season.

  • benjitek

    Welcome back!

    Of the ones on your maybe list, Sneaky Pete is a good place to start. Only the pilot is available at Amazon and it's better than I was expecting. Favorite character: Audrey (Margo Martindale)

  • Chiyoh is Lady Murasaki's maid in the book. Lady Murasaki is Hannibal's aunt.

    Mr Robot still has one episode to go – the finale got pulled last week because of the shootings in Virginia. I think it's rescheduled for tonight

  • I like Margo Martindale so I'll probably give that a go then. Thanks!

  • Not quite season 1 again, but an end to (spoiler alert) Bad Alec, Keira wanting to go back to the future again, etc, mean it's heading back in that direction. No real timey-wimey stuff yet, but it's got six episodes.

    I did read an interview with Simon Barry where he claimed to have originally planned out seven seasons, which suggests both seasons 2 and 3 were in the original plan: http://www.westender.com/arts-

  • benjitek

    Loved season 1… then it died for me. Same with Orphan Black, season 1 was great. IMHO both would've been better if they'd told a complete story in 8-10 episodes…

  • Andy Butcher

    Am in the midst of a month-long trip to Oslo for work at the moment, and while I've brought a bunch of the stuff you've covered with me on my laptop, I've not really had time to watch much of it yet.

    I suspect that when I get back to the UK in September I'll have to make some hard choices about what to spend the time catching up on and what to just drop, as the new season will have kicked off by then and there'll be new and returning shows for me to fall behind on. 😉

    (It's the one downside of the 'golden age of TV' that we seem to be enjoying right now – too much stuff worth watching, not enough time.)

    With all that said, I am nearly up to date on Mr Robot – just have 9 and tonight's season finale to watch – and was so relieved when the quantum Barrometer’s wave functions collapsed into the state we were all hoping for. Don't have a lot else to add beyond how much I'm already looking forward to Season Two.

    I've also managed to catch the first couple of episodes of Fear the Walking Dead, which I've enjoyed more than I expected, although if anything it's moving a bit faster than I'd hoped it would. I've only managed to get through the first three seasons of its parent show – I think I got a bit 'zombied out' for a while – so I'm not sure what dedicated WD fans will make of it, but so far it looks like I'll be sticking with it.

    Of the early-release pilots you mention, I thoroughly enjoyed Lucifer, despite fully expecting to loathe it for turning a complex, sophisticated and often very clever comic into a police procedural. This was mainly down to Tom Ellis, who has an absolute whale of a time throughout the whole episode and is clearly loving every minute of it, and a surprisingly witty script.

    Blindspot I was less convinced by – it's very proficient and has great production values, but like most shows based around a central mystery, it's impossible to say whether it's actually going to be any good or not based solely on the pilot. Also, while Jaime Alexander was very watchable, I found Sullivan Stapleton to be more like a life-size action figure than a remotely believable human being. Not sure how much of that was down to the fairly awful dialogue he was given and how much was due to his ever-so-serious and square-jawed delivery, but he started to grate before I was halfway through.

    Minority Report I haven't managed to summon up the interest to watch yet – the trailer left me pretty cold.

    Will be interested to hear what you make of them, and whether Minority Report is worth watching. 😉

  • Mark Carroll

    I rewatched the “Minority Report” film, actually; it turned out to be entertaining. I'd forgotten it enough that I wasn't sure what was happening. “Lucifer”'s sounding promising, thank you.

  • tassiekev .

    Watched all of Narcos over the last weekend, absolutely brilliant – there's possibly enough of the story left for season 2. I hope so.

    Sadly, I wasted 8 hours of what's left of my life on True Detective 2 – kept thinking it must get better, it didn't.

    Fear of the Walking Dead leaves me cold, another poorly constructed American family who seem amazingly racially diverse. No LGBTs though (so far anyway), maybe America's not ready. At the end of the first hour I was hoping they'd all be eaten alive, I'm not the sympathetic type.

    Looking forward to Hand Of God on Prime later this week, then its back to real football.

  • GYAD

    Glad to see you back. Hope you had a nice holiday.

    WITNESSES – A French go at Scandi-noir: vivid atmosphere, flawed characters, ludicrous plot, limp ending.

    THE SABOTEURS – Good story, lousy execution. Poor writing and pacing mostly.

    AQUARIUS – The 1960s as a boring, overly-made-up cartoon.

  • Mark Carroll

    That's a pity, I'd had hopes for “The Saboteurs”.

  • Then I shall add Narcos to the list! Agreed about True Detective, too

  • Thanks! Agreed re: Aquarius and glad I missed out on Witnesses

  • GYAD

    So did I. Sadly nowhere near as good as MAX MANUS and other recent Norwegian cinema.

  • GYAD

    I quite enjoyed WITNESSES…it's just that I was always aware that it was utter tosh.

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