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


  • 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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