What have you been watching? Including The Martian, Arrow, The Flash and Continuum

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 got a bit snowed under with work on Friday and then went out for the evening, which meant ‘What have you been watching?’ didn’t happen. Sorry about that. Fingers crossed, things will be back to normal by the end of this week.

Anyway, here it is now. Unfortunately, I’ve not yet had a chance to watch last night’s Quantico, Blood & Oil, and Y Gwyll, but never fear third-episode verdicts of the first two will be arriving in the next few days, as will a third-episode verdict on The Player and a review of BBC America’s new Vikings v Saxons show The Last Kingdom

However, the delay does mean I’ll be able to provide my thoughts on Friday’s Dr Ken and the last ever Continuum, as well as Saturday’s Doctor Who. You’ll find them after the jump, snuggled in the warm embrace of reviews of the latest episodes of: 800 Words, Arrow, Blindspot, Code Black, The Flash, Grandfathered, The Grinder, Scream Queens and You’re The Worst

Just in case you think I was slacking, though, elsewhere I did manage to review the first episodes of new shows This Life (Canada: CBC) and Dr Ken (US: ABC), as well as provide third-episode verdicts on Blindspot (US: NBC; UK: Sky Living), The Muppets (US: ABC; UK: Sky1) and Limitless (US: CBS; UK: Sky Living).

And, I went to see a movie, too:

The Martian (2015) (in cinemas now)
Ridley Scott and Drew Goddard’s adaptation of Andy Weir’s bestselling ‘MacGyver in space’ novel, in which an astronaut is accidentally left behind on Mars and must use his advanced knowledge of science and engineering to survive, re-establish contact with Earth and then somehow get home again. Despite being very faithful to Weir’s original plotline and dialogue, it’s neverthless a different beast to the book, which was originally published online a chapter at a time, presenting a different scientific or engineering challenge with each installment. Most of the science and a lot of the tension have gone, to the extent that huge chunks get replaced with a ‘seven months later’ caption, although you can still see some of it left behind in various places.

All the same, it’s different, rather than inferior to the book – a cinematic experience rather than a literary one that’s more about survival than solving problems single-handedly – and is easily Scott’s best work in years, as well as probably his funniest ever. A great cast in a movie that largely tries to get science right, doesn’t pick sides and actually looks great in 3D for a change.

Shows I’m watching but not recommending

800 Words (Australia: Seven)
The first episode to really bother giving any kind of background to the ‘bevy of lovelies’ flocking around Erik Thomson and all the better for it, with Thomson wondering if he’s ready to start dating yet, his children clearly not wanting him to. The best episode so far, with a good ending and some good work by Michelle Langstone, who’s shaping up to be the series’ unexpected heroine.
Reviews: First episode

Code Black (US: CBS; UK: Watch)
1×2 – We Plug Holes
A show that bucks the general Fall trend by not getting any better in the second episode. Indeed, the second episode was basically the first episode again, but with less exposition. If you like brusque doctors and nurses being dicks to each other and patients, while wading through bloody floors, this could be the show for you but I’m out.
Where can I watch it?
Reviews: First episode 

Dr Ken (US: ABC)
1×2 – The Seminar
I sat as stoney-faced as Dr Ken’s parents all the way through this. Just despearately unfunny. No more for me. Please.
Where can I watch it?
Reviews: First episode

Grandfathered (US: Fox)
1×2 – Dad Face
Less charming and stupider than the first episode, this second episode sees John Stamos learning that being a father/grandfather means that you can’t spend all your time at parties and having sex with women young enough to be your daughters – and who might actually be your daughters. Since a lot of the show relies on liking Stamos, the producers probably need to do a bit more to make him be likeable, rather than a dick, and the romantic side-plot getting dropped didn’t help either. But there’s still enough in there to make me want to keep watching.
Where can I watch it?
Reviews: First episode

The Grinder (US: Fox)
1×2 – A Hero Has Fallen
A marginally better second episode that once again thinks it’s clever than it actually is, giving us front and centre a discussion about the difficulties of second episodes of TV shows and how they reboot shows while still trying to preserve elements of the pilot episode. While most of the episode concerns Fred Savage’s attempts to find his narrative place both in the TV show itself and in Rob Lowe’s TV-oriented brain, the producers clearly learned from Kumail Nanjiani’s presence in the pilot and have recruited Natalie Morales (White CollarThe Middlemanto take his place and provide some much-needed deadpan cynicism. I’ll be checking in for at least one more episode to watch how she fits in.
Where can I watch it?
Reviews: First episode

Scream Queens (US: Fox; UK: E4)
1×4 – Haunted House
Time to call it a day on this one, for a couple of simple reasons. One, I’m not in the 16-24 demographic any more by quite some considerably tragic distance. Two, I don’t really enjoy horror movies any more, largely because of point one. While Scream Queens maintained a high laugh and satire count, those weren’t problems enough to make me stop watching. But as the inventiveness has died down a little, Scream Queens has become a somewhat gory horror pastiche in the style of Scream, but without a central hero or heroine whom you can really root for. It still has lots going for, but one for the young folk rather than me, I think.
Where can I watch it?
Reviews: First two episodes

The recommended list

Arrow (US: The CW; UK: Sky1)
4×1 – Green Arrow
After effectively ending the show at the end of last season, season four starts with the producers doing some sterling work to restart the show as we know it. And rather than mess around or gloss over previous story arcs to do it, this time round, they’ve decided to both return to basics – spoiler alert: Ollie gets returned to the island in the flashbacks – while giving us the always interesting Neal McDonough as big bad, magic-using Damien Darhk. It all fits together nicely, although there’s a couple of moments when you ask “Really?”, but at this point, it’s just perfectly executed comic book fun. Yes, fun. In Arrow.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episodethird episode 

Continuum (Canada: Showcase; UK: SyFy)
4×5 – The Desperate Hours/ 4×6 – Final Hour

And after all that, it’s over. In a sense, it’s the ending you probably could have predicted from the first episode; in another, it was entirely twistier, turnier and sadder than you might have expected. Clearly suffering from both a low budget and having to squish four seasons of story into six episodes, this final season hasn’t exactly been a triumphant success so much as a minor miracle it hung together at all. Lots didn’t make sense, lots seemed to come out of nowhere, plenty of questions never got answered. But the final episode was at least a fitting conclusion for the show, even if the journey to get there wasn’t as good as you hoped it might have been.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Doctor Who (UK: BBC; US: BBC America)
9×3 – Under The Lake/9×4 – Before the Flood
A stonking, scary “base under siege” story, followed by a less satisfying attempt to do timey wimey that still was a whole lot better and smarter than it could have been. It’s all a bit unclear what ‘the Fisher King’ was really up to, but generally a good endorsement for the new two-parter format.
Where can I watch it?

The Flash (US: The CW; UK: Sky 1)
2×1 – The Man Who Saved Central City
Worryingly close at times to losing the fun that made season one so enjoyable and with a cop out on (spoiler alert) the release of Barry’s dad from prison, the signs were that maybe the show had lost some of its mojo over the summer. But the first episode managed to pull it together and give us ample fun, comic book references and hints at the season ahead that more than made up for those slightly necessary stumbles in tone. Good to have you back Flash.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episodethird episode  

Y Gwyll/Hinterland (UK: S4C)
Another two-parter that ends with the sunshine coming out to suggest that the next one won’t be so miserable (hint: it will be). Some great acting fighting against a turgid script, but at least even within the show, it’s being acknowledged that DCI Tom is bobbins at police procedure and his failings are dicking things up for everyone else.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episodefirst series

You’re The Worst (US: FXX)
2×5 – We Can Do Better Than This
Turns out the previous ending’s episode wasn’t as bleak as I’d thought, but still a bit sad, and more or less repeated this episode, just for luck. Otherwise, the episode’s highlight was Gretchen and Lindsay trying to beat the Bechdel Test and Jimmy’s attempts to novelise an episode of NCIS: LA.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode

  • JustStark

    Theatre! Oresteia at Trafalgar Studios. Started off quite well but oh my goodness did the wheels come off by the end, with the last (trial) section devolving into a confused, tedious mess of sub-undergraduate epistemology where all the drama stops so that the characters can berate the audience. My companion knew the original far better than me, so was able to inform me exactly which overblown speeches were that way because they were hitting the images from the Greek, and which were playwright's own.

    Dearie me.

    Film-wise, saw Ruby Sparks a painfully indie rom-com version of the Pygmalion story (faithless updating of Greeks seeming to have been a bit of a theme this week). But, for all that, it wasn't actually bad. A bit predictable and as I said incredibly eager to establish its indie credentials but more than watchable.

    Meanwhile in TV-land, the first episode of the new series of Homeland. A bit early to judge, I think, but looks promising.

    They actually got the latest episode of The Americans ready for download at the right time! And it was a good one too: quite a lot of it just happening in one room, with just two characters, as an unsuspecting civilian finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    And, of course, there was Doctor Who, in which a man in a rubber suit wandered around a deserted location that was inexplicably* Russian. A step in the right direction I thought, as it actually had a plot, ie, characters worked things out and made decisions and then those decisions had consequences which caused them to have to figure other things out and make other decisions. I could list the flaws, but I'll content myself with mentioning the biggest one, which is that the Alien Warlord was so under-used, only getting to kill two people off-screen and then shuffle embarrassingly around like someone on a school camping trip trying to make it to the bathroom without getting out of their sleeping bag, and the second biggest one, which is that although the resolution was technically set up beforehand, it did rely on the Magic Sunglasses being able to, basically, do whatever ridiculous stuff the plot demands, and therefore was not actually work-out-able from information the audience actually had. So points off for that. But that is not to take away from the fact they actually tried to have a plot, unlike the Dalek one, and here's to more moves in that direction.

    * I mean non-diegetically

  • benjitek

    So far there hasn’t been a season 1 first episode of anything that has me looking forward to more, or wishing it was on Netflix so I could binge-watch it. Just bland disappointments. The only beacon of hope left: The Expanse, we’ll see how that goes though. SyFy trailers often betray expectations: https://youtu.be/kQuTAPWJxNo

    Of the new seasons of pre-existing shows, Homeland entertains but without the can’t-wait-for-next-week feeling. Bron/Broen is the only one I’d consider excellent — with a depth-of-story reminiscent of Äkta Människor. 10 minutes into an episode I hate there’s only 40 minutes left 🙂

  • Mark Carroll

    I don't find Dr Ken awful as American sitcoms go. It goes just a bit too far. I don't at all mind that my wife might decide to go no further than a third-episode verdict.

    I certainly agree with everyone about Doctor Who. JustStark's comments make sense for me, and I do think the two-parter approach is working better. Now I think about it, a lot of the earlier stories I've liked were also two-parters. I don't know why it was called the Fisher King, though; did I miss the groin injury?

    There hasn't been much good television for me. My wife wanted to see the Zero Theorem and it was actually better than I expected. The ending seemed a little confused and perhaps unsatisfying, but it was engaging overall; Christoph Waltz is always good and it was clearly Terry Gilliam behind the style.

    The Affair is remaining as good as last season, but this season's arc doesn't engage me as much. I'll certainly keep watching anyway.

    We've actually resorted to re-watching The 4400. We're into the second season now and it's actually better than I'd remembered, I don't regret the decision so far. It does seem to know where it's going but I don't now recall if it really does.

  • JustStark

    I don't know why it was called the Fisher King, though; did I miss the groin injury?

    A friend pointed out during the pub discussion that there was a character in the Dalek one called Bors; perhaps it's this year's theme.

    Some two=parters work and some don't, but pretty much all the one-parters don't; I think the problem is that unlike most TV programmes where there's some basic set-up that doesn't need to be repeated every episode but can just be assumed*, whereas Doctor Who needs to set its situation up completely afresh for each story. The fact that the Doctor and companion are as much strangers to the situation as the audience helps, of course, but it does mean that they spend a minimum of ten, maybe fifteen minutes just establishing each new setting — and in a one-episode story, assuming you need another ten minutes for climax / coda (twenty if you're in the Russell T. Davies era: all that running away from explosions eats up screen time!), and you lose another few minutes to the titles and credits, and you don't get much change out of forty-two minutes to develop an actual story.

    (It's why, I think, the one-episode stories which are most successful, like The Girl in the Fireplace, Blink, The Beast Below, etc, are the ones which leave out 'plot' altogether in favour of something else, be it mood, or a gimmick which allows jumping about in time to just the interesting bits, or something.)

    (And in fact possibly the single most successful one-episode story of Doctor Who ever, at least in purely pragmatic terms, was Rose, which in a move of sheer audacious genius dealt with the problem by simply leaving out all the set-up and throwing the audience straight in at the climax of the story. A brilliant move, to be sure, but not the sort of thing you can do every week.)

    * For instance, watching the first episode of the new series of Homeland, I was struck by how fast they could set things up because they didn't have to establish Carrie, Saul, Quinn, their relationships, etc and could just show the differences to what the audience was expecting and let them fill in the blanks. It was very impressive, economical writing, but you simply can't do that if you've landed on a new planet with a fresh supporting cast just for this one episode.

  • GYAD

    HOMELAND – Ehhh…Still quite stiff. Amused to see they read the Graeme Wood article too. Will Dajjal turn up?

    BATTLE CREEK – Unfunny.

    FROM DARKNESS – Cliche-ridden Scandi rip off.

    UNFORGOTTEN – Typical ITV crime drama #324.

  • Battle Creek was a puzzler. I really did wonder why it even existed.


  • There have been worse US sitcoms than Dr Ken. Certainly back in the 80s and 90s there were. But there have many considerably better sitcoms out there. Ones that are funny. It's not egregiously bad, but it does need to have some jokes

  • I'm finding virtually all the pilots/first episodes this year aren't very good and the good new shows are all emerging from the second episode.

    By contrast, the few shows that did have good pilots have slowly gone downhill.

  • I'm almost tempted to return to Homeland now it's set in Berlin. I might hold off for a bit, though

  • benjitek

    True… but for me, even the ones that haven't turned out to be bad after a few episodes are all easily forgotten should they be cancelled.

  • GYAD

    I believe the pilot script was rejected ten years ago, then Vince Gilligan got hot after creating BREAKING BAD, so the execs decided to go through all his old material and throw it at the TV screens to see if they could repeat the success…

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