What have you been watching? Including Childhood’s End, Legends, Limitless, The Expanse and Supergirl

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.

It’s the last round-up before TMINE takes its Christmas break, but as I was away for a couple of days at the start of the week and I’m about to head off to YA Christmas party, I’ve not yet caught up on The Bridge. Otherwise, though, I’m up to date with all the regulars, so after the jump, we can talk about the latest episodes of The Expanse, Legends, Limitless and Supergirl.

Elsewhere, I’ve reviewed the first episode of Syfy’s The Magicians but I’ve also been watching a new Syfy mini-series, although I’m only up to episode two (of three), so not too many spoilers if you’ve seen the rest, please. Although it’s based on a book I’ve already read, so they might not be spoilers, if you see what I mean.

Childhood’s End (US: Syfy)
This adaptation of the classic Arthur C Clarke novel sees aliens come to Earth promising to turn the world into a utopia, by helping humanity to end poverty, inequality, global warming, etc, etc. To make things easier, since they don’t think humans will like their true appearance, they pick on an American farmer (Mike Vogel) to be their official spokesperson, turning his life upside down. But various people, including one of the few remaining scientists Osy Ikhile and newspaper proprietor Colm Meaney, who dubs the aliens ‘the overlords’, think the arrivals have an ulterior motive. And maybe they do…

Although the narrative is compressed from the original decades-long story to something a bit shorter to allow the same cast and characters to appear throughout, the show is nevertheless pretty faithful to the original, mulling over what would happen to humanity if we ever did get a utopia, particularly from an extraterrestrial rather than religious source, and whether we’d even like it. The story also plays with the fear of the unknown and the different, religion, and the perils of science, which it constantly subverts, with the aliens seemingly benevolent at each twist of the story. Well aware that numerous similarly-themed, more conventional movies and TV shows have appeared since the original was written (such as V, Signs and Independence Day), the adaptation uses them to its advantage, even referencing them at points (“What do you think their weakness will be? In Signs, it was water…”). 

Filmed in Australia and written by Matthew Graham (Life on Mars, Doctor Who), it’s replete with Aussie and British actors including Ikhile, Julian McMahon (Charmed, Fantastic Four, Nip/Tuck), Daisy Betts (The PlayerThe Last ResortPersons Unknown), Don Hany (Serangoon Road), Charles Dance (everything), and various members of The Doctor Blake Mysteries cast. Knowing how everything winds up does ruin it a little for me, female roles do feel a bit 1950s and I’m finding the second episode a bit poorly paced at the moment, but it’s a jolly decent and even surprisingly funny effort by Syfy (which is now committed to its new ‘fewer, bigger, better‘ mantra) that harks back to the network’s halcyon days of projects such as The Lost Room. Matthew Graham for next Doctor Who showrunner?

Shows I’m watching but not recommending

The Expanse (US: Syfy)
1×2 – The Big Empty
Same problems as the first episode, basically – big ideas but poor characters and pacing. Some nice sci-fi touches here and there, such as Jane’s futuristic burglary, but some dreadful dialogue has arrived to fill in the gaps where the characterisation should have been, as has the occasional bit of stupid (spaceship crews not alert to the symptoms of hypoxia? I think not).
Where can I watch it?
Reviews: First episode

Supergirl (US: CBS; UK: Sky1)
1×8 – Hostile Takeover
Chris Vance from Transporter: The Series arrives to make the possibility of decent fight scenes not such an impossibility as before in another relatively decent episode that makes the possibility of Supergirl getting promoted to the recommended list not such an impossibility as before either. Laura Benanti, it turns out, can only act when not in the same scene as Melissa Benoist – maybe it’s the costume, which is proving a bit of a hazard in fight scenes, too. And, of course, there was the big revelation, which should make the show a bit different in the New Year. But I have to ask, with all these Kryptonians flying around the place, where’s Superman in all of this? Leaving Kara to fight her own battles is one thing; having her fight half a dozen Kryptonian soldiers by herself seems a little callous… 
Where can I watch it?
Reviews: First episodethird episode

The recommended list

Legends (US: TNT; UK: Sky1)
2×6 – The Legend of Tamir Zakayev
Six months ago, if you’d told me that one of this year’s best shows would:

  1. Be Legends
  2. Have reasonably good flashbacks to the University of Leeds in the 80s

I’d have smacked you in the face with my gauntlet. But it is. While arguably the change of Sean Bean’s character from super-chameleon to an almost Callan-esque weary spy, trying to protect the innocent from the clandestine world of spy agencies that he can’t control but want to control him, has made him a lot less interesting and robbed the show of a lot of its narrative drive, it is equally arguably one of the best, most realistic spy shows US TV has produced in decades (bar perhaps Rubicon), all the more surprising in that it’s now set in Europe. This episode effectively gave Bean both his origin story and his memory back, though, so should enable him to be a more solid foundation for the action going forward. 
Shame it’s been cancelled, really.
Where can I watch it?
Reviews: 2×1-2×2

Limitless (US: CBS)
1×11 – This Is Your Brian On Drugs
A surprise, last-minute edition to this year’s Limitless run, even more surprising since it had no Christmas link at all. All the same, a very welcome one. Not only does it give us the usual innovation in TV storytelling we’ve come to expect from Limitless, with references to Pulp Fiction and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels among the techniques used, it also gives us an almost Lower Decks/The Zeppo-style episode (Marc Blucas from Buffy even made an appearance) where we got to see the worlds of all the supporting characters and how annoying Brian Finch must be to work with. But as the episode title suggests (it’s a reference to a classic US public information film), it’s also quite a serious look at what NZT might do if taken by the wrong people and why perhaps it’s a good idea that an amiable slacker like Finch, rather than a high-achiever with issues like most of the FBI agents, takes the pills. There’s also some quite moving moments of pathos as we discover what Harper Hill’s life is like, and there’s some fine acting by Desmond Harrington as he shifts over to an NZT-enhanced version of himself. Generally excellent as always.
Where can I watch it?
Reviews: First episodethird episode

  • Spectrox Toxemia

    Loved The Lost Room! I think that was a huge missed opportunity to create a great series with a strong story and style. Perhaps the new people behind Fewer, Bigger, and Better will take another look at it and develop it/relaunch it.

  • Mark Carroll

    Yes, “The Lost Room” was excellent. If “Childhood's End” is representative of 'fewer, bigger, better' then perhaps I can dare hope for more shows that are actually worth watching.

  • Mark Carroll

    I noticed that “The Bridge” is something I'm actually looking forward to resuming next month. Most shows whose previous season I watched, I'm finding myself feeling lukewarm about launching into the next, suspecting that they've already shown me all their best bits.

    We're only one episode into “Childhood's End”. I'd clean forgotten the bit about the deceased loved ones, if that was in the book, but the rest seems pretty good so far. We'll probably watch the next tomorrow. Also we have the latest “Clangers” still to watch. I think there was also something I was going to watch on 4oD but I can never get it to work in any browser so that failed.

    Things I've actually watched that are worth mentioning? Not much, to be honest. (Though I did finish “Whit”, yay.) My wife likes “Grimm”, we still have some creature of the week, though silly international conspiracies seem to be back on the radar, and we saw Captain Renard in an old “House”, and Kyle from “The 4400” in another.

    Oh! And the last “Hobbit”, the five armies one? I found it on Netflix. Goodness, what tedious rubbish, I even nearly forgot we watched it. We had the usual implausible silliness in battle scenes and it generally dragged. I just wasn't engaged: plot kept happening, often spectacularly, but it didn't feel either real or interesting. I think I enjoyed the first half of the first film more where they don't even get out of the front door yet.

  • benjitek

    The Bridge is a great continuation of the series — the finale had me hoping for a 4th season, but it doesn't sound like the network is moving forward with from what I read here — fingers crossed 😉

    My impression of Childhood's End is that maybe it would be a better watch for those who have read the book. As someone who didn't, I found the actors to be TV-movie-cardboard-cutouts, lots of overacting and no one seemed believable in their roles. The children didn't had zero acting skills, especially the central one. The ending surprised me though, not what I was expecting based on the alien's appearance. The only real highpoint for me was the realistic look of the aliens.

    Am on the last couple episodes of Legends season 1, enjoying that — now that it's been cancelled am hoping they resolve things as season 2 concludes.

  • Mark Carroll

    I got to wondering if the actor still has to wear awkward contacts or if the different eyes are all somehow CGI these days.

  • benjitek

    Overall, it seemed to be a good blend of CGI on a live-actor. I wondered if they CGI'd where the head material met with the actor's face as it was seamless. Same with the eyes — they didn't look like contacts.

  • Maybe. A friend with a source at Syfy tells me that The Sci-Fi Channel as was wanted to make a series from The Lost Room, but some kind of issue behind the scenes prevented it. It may have been various members of the cast not being interested in coming back, but I'm not sure what.

  • A few. Maybe not The Magicians or The Expanse, though

  • As I mentioned when I first saw Hobbit: Five Armies, I rented it, got about two-thirds through one day and didn't remember I'd been watching it until two weeks later, by which point the rental period had expired. I eventually caught up with the rest of it on Netflix, but it wasn't especially worth the effort

  • Be prepared for a bit of a tonal shift between seasons of Legends…

  • benjitek

    It shifted… I like season 2 more, it sort of turned season 1 into a very long 1st episode…

  • JustStark

    From what I can recall there wasn't really anywhere for The Lost Room to go as a series, was there? The serial was a good mystery story, but it had a good ending; what else was there to do with it, other than 'mystery object of the week'?

  • That's a good way of thinking of it, actually!

  • Maybe. I guess if we could guess where any series was going to go creatively, there'd be no need to watch it. But it ends with Brian Krause as an object, setting off on the road, which at least suggest possibilities. And just doing this Google search reveals that there were a few hanging plot threads to resolve: http://mirathon.blogspot.com/2

    Having said that, the comic book series sequel never materialised, so perhaps in practice, things were a little harder

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