What have you been watching? Including Spectre, Master of None, Flesh and Bone, 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.

The first of the mid-mid season shows made their way on to our screens/Internet connections this week. Elsewhere, I’ve reviewed the first episodes of Agent X (US: TNT), Donny! (US: USA) and Blood and Water (Canada: Omni). However, they’re not the only new shows that have started this week:

Master of None (Netflix)
Aziz Ansari’s best known from Parks & Recreation, but here he’s playing a thinly disguised version of himself – Dev, a small-time Indian actor living in New York and trying to get his break in a business that’s still not ready to accept Indian actors as anything except taxi drivers, doctors and convenience-store clerks, and then only with Indian accents. This is something that Ansari has one or two opinions about, which he shares with his other Indian friends, as well as his Asian friend and black lesbian friend. 

It would be tempting to assume this is basically Ansari’s version of Curb Your Enthusiasm, but actually, it’s far more reasoned, genteel, likable Curb Your Enthusiasm, with each episode almost self-contained and exploring not just discrimination against Indians by the media, but a different facet of modern life, during all of which Ansari tries to be reasonably respectful and thoughtful in extremis. The first episode looks at kids and parenthood, with Ansari discovering that being the fun uncle only works for an hour or so, and that a full afternoon looking after kids is more than he can bear. However, of the six episodes I’ve watched so far, it’s actually the least funny. 

Fortunately, things pick up after that, with some genuinely amusing episodes, particularly one that sees Colin Salmon doing a ‘Patrick Stewart on Extras‘, and Parents, which is a spot-on look at the relationships between older parents and young adults, particularly first-generation immigrant adults. Guest stars including Claire Danes, H Jon Benjamin and Noah Emmerich also give the show a greater pedigree than you’d otherwise have thought.

While Ansari’s squeaky voice gets annoying after a while, this is the first Netflix comedy so far that’s been worthy of the name, and I’ll be trying to watch the rest of it as soon as I’ve finished writing this.

Flesh and Bone (US: Starz)
Short version: Showgirls meets Whiplash at the ballet
Long version: A surprisingly loving, beautifully shot, eight-part mini-series about an abused young woman (Sarah Hay from Black Swan) who runs away from home to make it big at the ballet. Her talent is spotted by the head choreographer (Ben Daniels), who decides to make her a star, but he has very strict training methods. 

All of which is lovely and beautifully done, with some excellent acting, and even though I’m absolutely not a ballet person, some of the dancing was absolutely stunning and even moving. However, so far, the long version doesn’t sound Starz enough, does it? 

So first add in copious nudity, sex and drug-taking, lots of mean girl scenes, maybe a hint of lesbianism. Then have new girl ballerina equivocating about whether to moonlight with another ballerina as a stripper to make ends meet. Then add in some truly hilariously bad scenes, such as when the choreographer is vigorously bumming another bloke over his desk while repeating to himself things like “I am the master of all I survey.”

I think I would have watched this were it not for that kind of epic stupidity and excess that tend to dog Starz shows. But I doubt I’ll get much further with it now.

I’ve passed a third-episode verdict on Supergirl (US: CBS; UK: Sky1) elsewhere, so after the jump, a look at the latest episodes of Arrow, Ash vs Evil Dead, The Beautiful Lie, Blindspot, Doctor Who, The Flash, Grandfathered, The Last Kingdom, Limitless, The Player and You’re The Worst. But first, a movie:

Spectre (2015) (at cinemas now)
I actually saw this last week but completely forget to include it in my round-up. That should give you a clue as to what I thought about it.

As the name suggests, this introduces old Bond’s eventual arch-enemy Spectre to us, except here it turns out that it’s been Spectre orchestrating everything from Casino Royale onwards, for all kinds of pointless personal reasons involving Bond. Meanwhile, Andrew Scott (Moriarty in Sherlock) is a new surveillance-obsessed bigwig intent on unifying MI5 and MI6 and getting rid of the 00 section in the process.

It’s fine. Nothing great bar Craig and a marvellous four-minute long pseudo-tracking shot at the beginning, but fine, although there are parts of it that will make you feel like a great big chunk of story has been removed. It’s more or less the same structurally and thematically as Skyfall. There’s one age-appropriate Bond girl (Monica Bellucci), one age-inappropriate Bond girl (Léa Seydoux), a baddie who finally looks like he can take on this muscled incarnation of Bond (Dave Bautista), and Christoph Waltz does a homeopathically weak version of his usual routine, as the head of Spectre. I would give you the name of his character, but you can guess it.

Spectre‘s basically the conclusion of the Daniel Craig James Bond series, which has been setting up all the aspects of the Bond character from the previous films, just so that he can retire now it’s all been set up. Of the four Craig movies, it’s probably the second or third best, and like the previous Logan-Mendes Skyfall, it actually seems to enjoy the sexist and hokey aspects of the old series that it’s trying to reintroduce, despite the pains Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace took to try to make Craig’s Bond a modern hero.

Basically, meh.

Shows I’m watching but not recommending

Ash vs Evil Dead (US: Starz)
1×2 – Bait
Campbell and his minions go on a road trip to determine if female minion’s mum (Mimi Rogers) is a Deadite or simply an amnesiac car crash survivor. Plenty of fun with some good yucks, and the fact the show’s decided that half-hour episodes are the way forward means the story has no excess flab at all.
Where can I watch it?
Reviews: First episode

The Beautiful Lie (Australia: ABC)
Reality settles in as the two star-crossed couples have to deal with practicalities, particularly with a (spoiler alert) baby around the corner. The show does a little better at making Anna more tolerable, while simultaneously making Kitty unbearable, if understandably unbearable. Skeet’s a tit, still, though. But a decent look at the messiness of life, life choices, and love.
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Blindspot (US: NBC; UK: Sky Living)
1×8 – Persecute Envoys
Probably the first completely unmemorable episode of Blindspot so far, with (looks up episode summary to remind himself) flashbacks to the big cover-up the tattoos are intent on exposing. Despite attempts to give the supporting cast personalities and back stories, they’re not getting any more memorable either.
Where can I watch it?
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Grandfathered (US: Fox)
1×6 – My Amal
Another episode perilously close to excellent and recommendable, with Stamos trying to date one of Brewster’s smart friends in the hope of finding his Amal (Clooney), only to end up reconnecting with Brewster on a road trip; meanwhile, the younger generation are trying to work out if ‘friends with benefits’ can work. A bravura opening scene with Stamos charming the socks of everyone with a baby as he watches kids TV, only to discover the secret messages in it designed to make it more tolerable for adults (right down to Sopranos references). But as well as the surprising maturity of the show, the highlight is the magnificence of the Brewster/Stamos scenes. They’re almost up there with Brewster’s drunk histories…
Where can I watch it?
Reviews: First episodethird episode

The Last Kingdom (US: BBC America; UK: BBC Two)
Tedious Hero, son of Tedious Hero, now has a son called Tedious Hero, too. But despite not having that much Alfred in it, this was the first episode that could really be called ‘good’, thanks to some top battle scenes, Tedious Hero not being quite so tedious and some juicy intrigue and murder. 
Where can I watch it?
Reviews: First episodethird episode

The Player (US: NBC)
1×8 – Downtown Odds
Aka ‘Romeo & Juliet in the desert’. Two rival ethnic gangs are at each others’ throats and only The Player can stop all-out war from breaking out. A few shoot-outs doesn’t quite qualify as exciting, unfortunately, and the ‘someone’s out to stop The Game’ was probably a storyline that should have been saved until season two, given it’s hardly established itself yet. The dialogue and acting from the gangs probably qualified as a hate crime in itself. Generally now feeling like the whole thing is winding up and people are preparing to move on to other things.
Where can I watch it?
Reviews: First episodethird episode

The recommended list

Arrow (US: The CW; UK: Sky1)
4×6 – Lost Souls
Basically, another Legends of Tomorrow establishing episode, designed to get White Canary and The Atom in place. All the same, given what the producers had to work with, a very credible effort, with some genuinely funny moments, surprisingly often thanks to Oliver, and it’s nice to see the parents getting a look-in with the plots, too. 
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episodethird episode 

Doctor Who (UK: BBC; US: BBC America)
9×8 – The Zygon Inversion
The first genuinely excellent episode this season was also a fanboy treasure trove, with references to everything from Harry Sullivan to nu Who’s Black Archives. It also contained ‘the speech’, which is probably going to be one of the Capaldi Doctor’s most iconic moments. Yet surprisingly, it was mainly an all-out homage to Peter Davison’s Kinda, with its empty Osgood box full of wisdom, women leading the tribe of UNIT and the need to stop and get off the wheel of life and suffering. Thankfully, no snakes were involved. You could probably write a book on the subtext. 
Where can I watch it?

The Flash (US: The CW; UK: Sky 1)
2×6 – Enter Zoom
A stonker of an episode in which Zoom turns up and everyone wets their trousers as a result. Quite menacing and nasty in its own way, yet also full of the fun that the previous season had had but which had been missing of late.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episodethird episode  

Limitless (US: CBS)
1×8 – When Pirates Pirate Pirates
It would be hard for the show to live up to last week’s Ferris Bueller tribute episode and despite efforts to give Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio’s character some background (and cash), the show didn’t manage to do much better than merely entertain this week. But it still made its usual sterling efforts to find innovative ways of telling the story, for which it has to be credited.
Where can I watch it?
Reviews: First episodethird episode

You’re The Worst (US: FXX)
2×10 – A Right Proper Story
A practically perfect episode, despite having the darkness of Gretchen’s depression at its centre. As the episode title suggests and as Jimmy’s “racist northern mining town” background has been intimating, it was time for his family to arrive and I was braced for the worst. But either there’s a Brit on staff or they’ve been binge watching The Royle Family, because that was perhaps the most precise and accurate recreation of a (scummy) Northern working class English family by a US show in the entire history of US television. I’ll never think of Tesco’s the same way again.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode

  • Mark Carroll

    At some point I'm going to have to get chance to start on season two of “You're the Worst”. Though, next month I start my Christmas holiday before the children, so that might help. “Master of None” is sounding like it might end up staying good enough that I have to watch it; I like some of those cultural things. I had wondered what “Ash vs Evil Dead” might do about actual plot, I guess we'll see how that goes.

    It's been an unmemorable week for me. I'm enjoying the “Terminator: TSCC” series but otherwise short enough of stuff that we're actually back to watching more old “House” which is staying actually a little better than I remember. Though, you did like “Doctor Who” rather more than I (mostly for reasons mentioned last week), though I usually miss subtext (and honestly had clean forgotten about the box, the rubbish-effect snake kind of dominates those memories; oh, you know Tegan's one of this year's storm names?). I'm not the biggest “The Flash” fan, not sure if the family thought the latest episode was great, but “Zoom” was indeed not tediously corny yet, let's hope he's not dispensed with in one leap with silly science bobbins. So far, police lady seems more sweet and pretty than actually smart, we'll see.

    We watched a reasonable BBC documentary on Sellafield, presented by one of those guys who seems to be doing that kind of show lately. It felt like there was probably more interesting material there than we got to see, but perhaps it was just a matter of time, and pacing for those who need it made more interesting.

    “Film 2015” is back, yay. I enjoy the warm enthusiasm with which they chat about films though, given the limited duration, I'd be happy to see the guest critics get a smaller fraction of the show's time. “Have I Got News For You” has been back for a bit; somehow I'm not finding it quite as unmissable, though I still enjoy it. I can't figure out if the show changed or if I did.

    The latest episodes of “The Walking Dead” (and news about next season) are making me think it's not really going to manage to tread new and interesting enough ground that I'd elevate it to “I'd actually bother to watch it even if my wife weren't wanting to anyway”. But, she's showing signs of wanting to watch “Cranford”, for which I'm guessing I'd be glad to be elsewhere.

    “Gotham” ambles along in its usual way. It's good, and different, but it's stayed pretty consistent the whole run so it makes for boring reviews. Not something I'd choose to watch, but by this point it beats “The Walking Dead” for entertainment. “Once Upon a Time” is probably at least as good as last season, but that's not saying much given that I again can't even much remember what actually happened. They pull out enough random rubbish to affect the plot that it's not really worth actually paying any thoughtful attention.

    I nearly forgot that we watched “The Salvation”. It was a perfectly conventional Western revenge film. Well-made and -acted, but nothing other than what you'd expect anyway, except that Eva Green got to travel around looking expressionlessly at various proceedings.

  • JustStark

    So I missed a couple of these due to weekends away, let's see what I remember. I saw Spectre too and it was an okay Bond film, with a completely nonsensical breadcrumb plot (if you're waiting for Bond to arrive at your secret base so you can taunt him, why did you send someone to try to kill him on the train on the way there?, being one of the more minor questions). I think they must have got a job lot deal on a bunch of old helicopters, every other scene seems to involve them crashing one, dangling out of one, or otherwise just spinning around. And I really don't like the revelation about the big baddy having been known to Bond all along: it makes it the world feel far too small.

    I also saw the Bond girl in The Lobster, where she was a lot less glamorous. It's a good film, though very much one of two halves: the first better than the second, mainly due to the fact that that's the one that has Oliva Coleman in it and she's hilarious.

    Theatre. Tomcat at the Southwark Playhouse, not brilliant but not half bad either, some excellent scenes in between bits of clumsy exposition and a subplot that comes out of nowhere, doesn't really fit, and peters out without resolution. Still, interesting questions about bioethics and free will vs genetic determinism, even if it does mix up psychopathy and schizophrenia. A very impressive young actress who I noticed was also in The Enfield Haunting, which I also watched this week, coincidentally (and which is also not at all bad).

    Also at the Southwark (well, you might as well make a day of it), Xanadu, a roller-skating musical based (very loosely) on the Olivia Newton-John vehicle of the same name. The absolute no-question-about-it campest thing I have ever seen in my entire life. But enough about the audience, the play was funny and energetic and, as I say, only loosely based on the film: where the film had Newton-John play a muse pretty much in name only and in order to provide a sort of reverse-deus ex machina ending where the mortal storms Olympus rather than the god descending to sort things out, the musical is mostly focused on the muses and includes lots of Greek mythology jokes.

    But what am I supposed to be writing about here? Oh, yes, television. Television, television, television. I'm sure I watched some. Oh, yes, Doctor Who. The Zygon story: unmemorable pants. Again with the telling rather than actually making things dramatic.

    And then this week's, Mark Gatiss writing for his old League pal. In an episode which basically reads like they decided to go, 'You know those of you who complain that Doctor Who stories don't make any sense these days? Here is one finger. Here is a second finger. Here is my hand flipping up and down at you. How do you like that, eh? You and your desire for 'sense'. this episode makes no sense and that is the point. I can make a crap episode of Doctor Who and I can actually have a character explain to camera how it's a crap episode of Doctor Who and you know what? People will still watch it. So how do you like that, you and your desire for things to make dramatic sense?'

    The start of Scream Queens. The first episode, the comedy worked, the horror / action didn't. Second and third episodes, the humour is starting to get weaker; they make have done all the funny jokes up-front.

    What else… nothing new, just things continuing. Oh yes, The Returned series two. Beginning to wish I hadn't started with this, it's really hard to follow as it's all characters who are very similar talking in similar tones of voice, with subtitles, about mysterious things that it's beginning to seem will never be resolved. And the episodes are really long, in order to fit in all the slow landscape shots that apparently have to be there.

    The final episodes of The Americans series three. Excellent. Do wish they had been more explicit about what has happened to Martha, but otherwise, a great ending, though of the two subplots which just sort of disappeared halfway through the series (South Africa and Philip's creepy seduction job) they could probably have lost one in order to give the other a proper resolution (unless they're planning to pay them off next series, I suppose — perhaps appropriately given the subject matter, it's becoming clear that they are playing very long games with their stories, with elements set up in the first year only paying off now).

    The Muppets. A couple of laughs per episode but again, they may have done all the best ones at the start. I do hope not.

    American Horror Story Hotel has seen the shape of a story starting to emerge but is still mostly just random happenings. Not terribly satisfying. In terms of scary TV programmes, The Enfield Haunting was far, far superior.

    And I think that's it.

  • I don't think Eva Green does expressions. She drives my wife nuts because she has 'vocal fry' that's entirely put on – women don't get it naturally.

    Master of None became more rom-drama than rom-com in the final few episodes but was still pretty good overall. I'll be doing a third-episode verdict on Ash vs Evil Dead in a mo.

  • RE: Spectre. Was it explained why Bond turns up at the station and then hangs around waiting for a Rolls Royce to turn up so that he can be driven to the HQ of the people who have been trying to kill him? I'm feeling that I must have missed something, but if I did, I must have blacked out/fallen asleep at some point.

    Hoping to see Lobster at some point. It's old Yorgos and his Dogtooth was fascinatingly bonkers.

    Doctor Who is pending.

  • JustStark

    I have Dogtooth on my hard drive, to watch some time I'm not too tired to deal with subtitles.

    I'm trying to remember that bit of Spectre… in the breadcrumb plt he's just found out the baddy base is in the middle of the desert, so he gets off at the nearest train stations, and his plan is… just wait for something to come up? the baddy knows he's coming (hence the attack on the tain) and he can't sneak up on them because it's the desertt, so maybe he thinks a jeep full of people will arrive and try to kill him, and he intends to kill them and take the jeep?

    Only the Rolls arrives instead, so he gets in it?

    I don't know, I can't remember him having much of a plan at that point beyond 'follow the next breadcrumb, I'm sure there'll be a helicopter at the end of it.'

  • JustStark

    you know Tegan's one of this year's storm names?

    Also, the new barmaid at my local. But she's not Australian.

  • Sounds about right. Very helpful of Christoph Waltz that. That could have been a much longer movie without his forward thinking

  • Pingback: The Medium is Not Enough TV blog()

  • Pingback: The Medium is Not Enough TV blog()