What have you been watching? Including Hamlet (NT Live/Barbican), Limitless and The Player

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.

So I had a last minute ‘Cumberemergency’ on Friday, which meant that I suddenly didn’t have the time to write ‘What have you been watching?’ Sorry about that, but hopefully, this will make it up to you.

Last week on the blog, I reviewed a big slew of first episodes from all manner of different countries:

And today I passed a third-episode verdict on BBC America/BBC Two’s The Last Kingdom.

That means that after the jump, you can find reviews of the latest episodes of 800 Words, Arrow, Blindspot, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, CSI, Doctor Who, The Flash, Grandfathered, Limitless, The Player, Y Gwyll and You’re The Worst. Yes CSI, since I finally got around to watch the final ever episode of that.

One of those shows is getting promoted to regular. Can you guess which one it is? Not CSI, obviously.

(Actually, I haven’t managed to watch the very latest episodes of either Y Gwyll or The Beautiful Lie, because it’s really Sunday and this is a scheduled post I’m writing before both of them have aired. I’ll let you know about them next time.)

I did try to watch the first episode of Con Man as well. However, I gave up 5 minutes when it started becoming cringe comedy on the plane and Tudyk tried to get a fan to give up his seat for him. No extended music sequences in my TV shows, no cringe comedy in my comedies – those rules are sacred.

Anyway, let’s talk about the ‘Cumberemergency’, since I was called upon at the last minute to accompany my mother-in-law to the theatre. Or was it a movie? Maybe it was both. Or neither.

Hamlet (The Barbican)
The National Theatre’s latest version of Hamlet, performed at the Barbican and starring that Benedict Cumberbatch from off the telly. Except it was one of those NT Live things where they film the play as it’s performed and beam it into cinemas everywhere. Except the cinema in question was at the Barbican, so they might as well have just knocked a hole in the wall and let us look through it.

Anyway, Hamlet‘s one of those plays where every director tries to make his or her mark by doing something radically different. The last version I saw at the Barbican was the Stephen Dillane (The One Game, The Tunnel, Hunted, Game of Thrones) one where he went naked for a scene.

On top of that, Hamlet exists in three different versions, some which have scenes that aren’t in the others. The result is that I always forget what’s in the play and spend the whole time thinking “I don’t remember this. Is this in the original?”

In this version, our Benedict is playing a very bereaved, but generally good-egg Hamlet, who’s a bit annoyed his mum’s remarrying so soon after his dad died – except his dad’s ghost reveals that actually, he was murdered. He doesn’t get very pissed off like Mel Gibson or naked like Dillane, but does plot his revenge, all while his girlfriend goes super-loopy.

Unfortunately, the NT Live experience is basically the worst of both worlds. Despite my flippancy, the NT production does look very innovative, interesting and surprisingly funny, giving all the scenes genuine meaning. Bennie gives a great performance as Hamlet, making interesting choices such as the removal of any hint of sarcasm from the ‘what a piece of work is man’ monologue to make him a disappointed optimist rather than an embittered child-man. Siân Brook is marvellously barking as Ophelia. Ciaran Hinds’s Claudius is the surprising weak link, straining to effect a Yorkshire accent for no discernable reason, but still a decent stage presence.

But any sense of theatre’s immediacy is lost in the cinema. It looks nice, but you don’t feel anything, because the actors aren’t there on stage in front of you. Similarly, it’s not cinematic enough, despite the director’s best efforts to include crane shots and the like, for you to get the benefits of the directorial options and camerawork available to movies.

The play’s split into two acts, the first 2h, the second 1h, and the first certainly feels the full 2h as a result of these problems. It’s not the production’s fault, it’s simply a problem of the medium.

So don’t do NT Live if you can. The play’s the thing, after all.

Shows I’m watching but not recommending

800 Words (Australia: Seven)
A mystery needs to be solved, and rather than giving it a wide berth, the most unpopular new arrival in town decides to dig up the bodies. Oh dear. Generally, quite a weak episode, and an attempt to sex things up in the middle was a bit misguided. It also fails to address the rudderless nature of the show, meaning I think I might be turning this one off, soon.
Reviews: First episode

Blindspot (US: NBC; UK: Sky Living)
1×5 – Split The Law
After last week’s best episode, we have this season’s worst episode since the pilot, with ‘terrorists’ trying to create a dirty bomb using previously unknown science (don’t worry guys – as long as your radiation ‘level’ doesn’t hit 300, you’ll be fine. 299, you’ll be fine, but 301 you are so dead) while the CIA and FBI play slapping matches without even trying to be slightly plausible. Jane’s presence in the whole event is tenuous to say the least, too. Still, there have been worse things on TV.
Where can I watch it?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (US: The CW)
1×2 – Josh’s Girlfriend is Really Cool
More or less the same problems as the pilot, with lots of cleverness (particularly the new meta title sequence), some funny songs, some good scenes but none of it hanging together at all well. I think I’m going to be turning this one off soon, too.
Where can I watch it?
Reviews: First episode

CSI (US: CBS; UK: Channel Five)
The Final episode (whatever that was – season 15 or something)
Not the best final episode of anything, despite the show’s initial intelligence, back when I started watching it. Indeed, despite there presumably being people who have loyally stuck through numerous cast changes to the end of the series, this was very much an episode targeted at people like me, with the return of Grissom, Jim Brass, Lady Heather and Catherine, the current regulars more or less having cameos in their own show. The arrival of a very famous creepy actor meant there wasn’t much mystery to be solved, either, and not much forensics worth mentioning, unless you count bee tracking. And for those of you who thought the Grissom/Sara power-relationship might get inverted in the final episode – Sara having dropped everything to come to Vegas in the very first episode of the show – here she got to drop everything to follow Grissom again, purely so they could literally sail off into the sunset. Disappointing at pretty much every level, except the chance to see the old characters again.
Where can I watch it?

Grandfathered (US: Fox)
1×4 – Deadbeat
Despite my third-episode misgivings, I stuck around for the fourth episode, which turned out to be the best one since the pilot, with lots of the smarts, romance and charm of the first episode. Stamos’ character is still a dick, but simply through inexperience at parenting and different perspectives, rather than stupidity or maliciousness. The final half almost made me cry, although I manfully held back the tears, even when the show won massive bonus points by playing The Cure’s ‘Pictures of You’. If the next episode’s as good, I’ll be promoting it to recommended.
Where can I watch it?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

The Player (US: NBC)
1×5 – House Rules
Another show giving us its best episode since the pilot, The Player managed to find some of its old fun again, mainly through finally doing the right thing – bringing in Will Yun Lee (Witchblade, Bionic Woman, Elektra) to give Wesley Snipes someone to fight with, and it was a thing of beauty.

I might go off and watch Blade now.
Where can I watch it?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

The recommended list

Arrow (US: The CW; UK: Sky1)
4×3 – Restoration
Arrow‘s continuing journey into proper comic book territory continues, with people being brought back to life and magic all around, coupled with lots of humour thanks to Felicity and the future Mr Terrific (already inventing T-spheres). Of course, it’s all leading to both Legends of Tomorrow but more immediately, the arrival of John Constantine. Now there’s something to look forward to.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Doctor Who (UK: BBC; US: BBC America)
9×5 – The Girl Who Dies/9×6 – The Woman Who Lived
An impressive performance by Maisie Williams and an intriguing central idea – following an immortal through time to see how her singular nature affects her – but a limply comedic first episode (complete with inaccurately helmeted vikings) coupled with a better, occasionally moving, but still ultimately empty second episode wasn’t enough to make me squee.
Where can I watch it?

The Flash (US: The CW; UK: Sky 1)
2×3 – Family of Rogues
Another show prepping for Legends of Tomorrow, with the new Firestorm on the way and Mr Cold (or is he Captain Cold?) turning gradually less bad. However, overall, an episode more enjoyable for the arrival of Michael Ironside than anything else. Also home to some science that made Blindspot look like the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Limitless (US: CBS)
1×5 – Personality Crisis
This episode mirrored episode three, which united series lead Jake McDorman with his former Manhattan Love Story lover Analeigh Tipton, by uniting series lead Jennifer Carpenter with her former Dexter lover Desmond Harrington. However, Limitless is the first promotion of the new shows to the recommend list, something it’s achieved not just by these surprisingly touching movies but by effortlessly converting itself to a comedy with a heart, brains and some action, rather than yet another CBS procedural.
Where can I watch it?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Y Gwyll/Hinterland (UK: S4C)
DCI Tom glowered a lot again and solved the case. More notable, however, for the reunion of Mali Harries with the rather good Ryland Teifi (35 Diwrnod).
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episodefirst series

You’re The Worst (US: FXX)
2×7 – There Is Not Currently A Problem
Things just got serious, in what was an intriguing bottle episode. Not that many laughs, but for once, the show didn’t need them.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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