What have you been watching? Including Beowulf, Rebellion, 100 Code, Endeavour and American Crime

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.

Things have got off to a quick start in the TV land, all over the world, with new shows airing this week pretty much everywhere the TV industry still has a budget (so not Canada these days). Elsewhere, I’ve reviewed the first episodes of Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life (US: Fox) and Byw Celwydd/Living A Lie (UK: S4C), the first three episodes of The Shannara Chronicles (US: MTV) and previewed next week’s Idiotsitter (US: Comedy Central); and while I haven’t reviewed their latest episodes, since I couldn’t be bothered to carry on with them after Christmas, I did give you a flavour of Telenovela (US: NBC) and Superstore (US: NBC), both of which started in earnest this week. 

After the jump then, the regulars, including Grandfathered, Limitless, Supergirl and episode four of The Shannara Chronicles, as well as the return of American Crime, Man Seeking Woman and Endeavour, and a special guest reappearance by The Grinder.

But I did promise you reviews of a few other new shows, and while I didn’t manage to get round to Deutschland 83 (you can ask Walter what he thought of it – he can probably ask you about Spin, too, which is on More4 right now), I did manage to watch the rest, as well as a couple of surprise guest new shows.

Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands (UK: ITV; US: Esquire)
If it’s on ITV, unless it’s a crime drama, period drama or period crime drama, you can be about 95% sure it’s going to be rubbish, and Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands does nothing to disprove this rule. ‘Based’ on the Anglo-Saxon epic, in the sense that it has a few characters with the same names, it sees famed warrior Beowulf (Kieran Bew) return to ‘the Shieldlands’ (no, not Scandinavia) to mourn the death of his dad, Hrothgar (William Hurt, who seems to be doing a lot of UK TV at the moment). Unfortunately, all manner of beasties, including the ‘terrifying’ Grendel are lurking around Hrothgar’s halls, so Beowulf and his Danish lothario mate are going to have to get out their swords and give him a stabbing.

In just about every sense possible, this is woeful stuff, ranging from the lack of fidelity to the original through to the Primeval-level special effects. While the colour-blind casting that gives us both Supergirl/Homeland‘s David Harewood and Numbertime‘s Lolita Chakrabarti is in a sense commendable, it’s a little jarring given quite how early it’s set. And if you are going to spend your time being ahistorically politically correct, don’t spend your entire time justifying it as though it’s just turned 1974 and the first female doctor in your hospital has just turned up; also, if you are going to cast an Indian woman as a fifth century AD blacksmith, can you at least hire an Indian woman who looks like she spends all day working iron?

Although Grendel is a little bit creepy at a distance, it’s too boring to be a good fantasy show, too PC to be a realistic historical drama and just too badly written on any terms and too badly acted to qualify as any kind of drama. Go and read the poem instead.

Rebellion (Ireland: RTÉ One)
While last year saw Australia and New Zealand celebrating their birth as nations in the cauldron of Gallipoli with a number of shows, this year it’s Ireland’s turn with Rebellion, a five-part drama that follows the Irish Nationalist movement from the 1916 Easter Rebellion all the way through to the 1919 war for independence. Featuring all manner of famous Irish and Northern Irish actors actually getting to use their own accents for a change (including Game of Thrones‘ Michelle Fairley and Ian McElhinney), it’s a show that doesn’t set out to be a piece of propaganda. Indeed, most of those involved in the rebellion seem to spend more of their time fighting each other, cocking things up, debating whether independence would be good and shagging than fighting the English. The show itself also seems more interested in the plight of women at the time than with demonstrating any oppression by the Overlords. But it’s a lavish, well put together piece of work, happy to have parts in Gaelic where necessary, and was good enough to make me want to watch at least the second episode – if only to remind myself of all sorts of history I’d learnt at school but completely forgotten about.

100 Code (Sweden: Kanal 5; UK: Sky Atlantic)
Oh goody. Two mismatched cops chasing a serial killer in a show that uses a veneer of intelligence to mask its exploitativeness. I’ve not seen one of these before. Even the fact it’s set in Stockholm and one of the cops is American (oddly enough, Dominic Monaghan from Lost), the other Swedish (Michael Nyqvist from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, John Wick and the best-forgotten Zero Hour and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol), isn’t that new. But as with pretty much any Nordic Noir (or even crime story these days), originality isn’t the thing – what surrounds it is more of interest and pretty everything surrounding the central crime of 100 Code is a lot more interesting than YA serial killer. Here Monaghan is doing an Insomnia, screwed up and sleeping drug-taking because he accidentally shot his partner; meanwhile, Nyqvist is desperate to give up being a cop so he can be a security guard and spend more time with his teenage daughter.

But what separates 100 Code from a lot of other shows, beyond its incorrect use of Greek myth, having half the dialogue in Swedish and acting like a Stockholm travelogue the whole time (“It’s the Venice of the North – look at this lovely vista”), is that when it’s not pretentiously exploring its own arse, it’s frequently funny. Monaghan is by no means hard-boiled, getting travel sick in cars, boats, and aeroplanes, and doesn’t know how to drive in Stockholm, so frequently has accidents. Nyqvist’s recipe-centric relationship with his daughter is amusingly quirky. And the Swedes are not taking any sh*t from Monaghan and entertainingly exclude him at every possible opportunity, usually linguistically.

I’m going to keep watching since Peter Eggers (Anno 1790) is in the cast – although since he’s not turned up yet, I suspect he might turn out to be the killer – but also because it’s nice to see Nyqvist demonstrating just how good an actor he is in native language.

Shows I’m watching but not recommending

Grandfathered (US: Fox)
1×10 – Perfect Physical Specimen
Featuring a guest appearance by Dr Phil as John Stamos’ new doctor, Stamos not having been to see one in 20 years, making his newfound family rather worried for his health. Of course, Dr Phil finds something for Stamos to be concerned about… A little odd from a UK point of view, as usual whenever anything related to the American healthcare system pops up, but the Dr Phil/Stamos relationship kept the show ticking over.
Where can I watch it?
Reviews: First episodethird episode

The Grinder (US: Fox)
1×10 – The Olyphant in the Room
I dropped this show a while back, but I heard they were going to start getting in famous actors to play versions of themselves, so I thought I’d revisit the days of ‘the random Carusometer‘ and tune in at a random episode to see if I’d misjudged the show. Oddly enough, the show was ready for me, opening with another of its metanarratives about how a TV show should be written so that anyone can start watching it any point and not be mystified (“What? Any episode? Wouldn’t that give you really unnatural dialogue like ‘This is my actor brother who’s come to help me with my law cases’?”). However, despite that opening, a guest appearance by Jimmy Kimmel and a cracking episode title, the show pretty much sank like a stone after that, with Olyphant getting very little to do and the plot being largely pointless. So I was right about this one then.
Where can I watch it?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Supergirl (US: CBS; UK: Sky1)
1×9 – Blood Bonds
A small red reset buttons gets pushed, disappointingly. Meanwhile, Martian Manhunter discovers his phasing ability doesn’t work on this show. But a good ending to the episode, even if most of it was wide-eyed idiocy.
Where can I watch it?
Reviews: First episodethird episode

The recommended list

American Crime (US: ABC)
2×1
A new location and a slightly different cast, but still as amazingly good as the previous season was. This season, the show follows two separate schools, one public, one private, and then follows the events that transpire after photos of a boy are posted on social media, and his mother then calls the police to say he’s been raped. John Ridley’s script is as detailed, precisely observed and powerful as always, and what’s interesting here in an episode he directs himself is how the directorial style has changed this season: while last season it emulated documentaries about law enforcement, here it’s similar to that of educational documentaries such as Hoop Dreams. Also notable is how many of last year’s cast are back but in radically different roles – whether it’s simply because they’re all great actors (or want us to know what great actors they are) or whether it’s some deeper message remains to be seen.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episodethird episode

Endeavour (UK: ITV; US: PBS)
3×1 – Ride
As I remarked above on 100 Code, these days, it’s not so much about the crime itself, but everything surrounding the crime that’s important in a crime drama and Endeavour proves the point. A preposterous melange of The Great Gatsby, The Monocled Mutineer and The Prestige, Ride also dragged in The Odyssey to prop up it’s silliness, in which a bus conductress is killed but Morse, who’s just been exonerated after the events of last series, is too busy moping to find out why. But gradually, he’s dragged back into the life. The crime itself is very silly and full of so many plot loopholes, you could make a string vest from them, but more interesting – as always – is Shaun Evans’ portrayal of Morse, Morse’s relationship with his boss (Roger Allam) and the fact that an Inspector Morse mystery would have so much latitude as to have him not even being a policeman for the first half of its episode.
When’s it airing near me?

Limitless (US: CBS)
1×12 – The Assassination of Eddie Morra
As usual, the return of Bradley Cooper pushes the show in a new direction, taking us away from the comedy (bar a few funny seasons) to something a bit more dramatic, with some clever twists. We also get the return of the idea that maybe Cooper isn’t such a good guy after all, as well as a glimpse at what the world would be like if everyone were on NZT – most intriguingly, we see what NZT does to different people, with Cooper on NZT being immensely calculating, just like in the movie, while our hero imagines everyone else having think bubbles above their heads. Nice to see Colin Salmon stubbornly insisting on pronouncing Z as Zed at every possible opportunity, too.
Where can I watch it?
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Man Seeking Woman (US: FXX)
2×1 – Wings
I did predict this show would get promoted to recommended this season and here it is. As usual, pioneering insights into relationships, emotions and human behaviour explained through ridiculous, hilariously imaginative metaphor. This week, Josh’s new girlfriend’s close relationship with her friends is explained by their having killed a Satan-possessed lumberjack last summer – now, she’d rather spend time with them, helping them kill him now he’s risen from the grave than with Josh. Is that all right with you?
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode

The Shannara Chronicles (US: MTV)
1×4 – Changeling
Not quite as exciting as the previous three episodes, but still pretty action-packed, enjoyable tatt all the same. Manu Bennett gets to do fun, fighty things, the young ‘uns get to do young person things, and the episode concludes with everyone ready to go on the quest this time. Not one of the little quests we’ve already had, but the quest. This is the big one.
Where can I watch it?
Review: First three episodes




  • Mark Carroll

    I haven't been watching much. We have a visitor for much of the month such that we watch random stuff on ITV4 and other channels that I usually forget exist. At present “Come Dine With Me” and “Pawn Shop” are perhaps two of the better live options for idly whiling away time. (I don't have a proper Freeview box, just a cheap Chinese DVB-T2 receiver that sometimes goes for months without anybody noticing it got unplugged; we're limited to HD channels.)

    I forgot to mention, we did watch “The Fifth Estate” last week. I expected not to be all that interested, but it actually held my attention and didn't annoy me. I don't know the true story well but it generally fit with what I did know, though I was curious that the costs seemed to be more in the servers than the bandwidth. I remain generally unattracted by this recent technology biopic genre, but if that's your kind of thing then it's probably a rather good film.

    My wife's started watched “Making a Murderer” on Netflix. At least this first part seems to be put together well. It took us through events without tedious fluff and with various contributions organized coherently. How misleading it is, I've no idea, I know nothing of the real case, and I fear the series to be a long and depressing journey through meanness and misery, but if that's your kind of thing, you may like it. Assuming that we were watching real footage, they're lucky that the American criminal justice system (and media) film so much as they go along.

  • GYAD

    100 CODE – Tormented cop, genius serial killer, pretty female victims… Derivative, boring and not very pleasant.

    BEOWULF – Worse than predicted. Badly filmed, horribly written, obnoxiously PC and an insult to the original.

    JERICHO – 21st century Catherine Cookson.

    PIGALLE, LA NUIT – Characterful French sex-thriller. The mysteries will probably be rubbish but the area is a great character.

    THE BRIDGE III – Sublime filming/editing/acting in the service of another silly no-substance plot. Nordic noir is already fading fast.

    BORGIA II – Still wonky storytelling and casting but even more beautiful and bonkers than the last season.

    LONGMIRE – Still great.

    LAST PANTHERS – Serb bits interesting. French bits OK. British bits tedious. Better than most but not great.

  • Mark Carroll

    I wonder if Nordic noir per se isn't what made the earlier good ones good, they just happened to be in that genre.

  • GYAD

    Nordic Noir is pretty ill-defined as a sub-genre. I'd say The Bridge is a great example of the good (the setting, the atmosphere, the quality) of the genre whilst also embodying the reason it won't last, namely that it's so divorced from reality that it entertains and then quickly fades from memory.

    In contrast, Engrenages (for example) hasn't helped to create a whole new sub-genre or spawn imitators, but it is a brilliant slice of 21st century life that still resonates and deserves to survive like the social-criticism novels of Zola.

  • I never got round to watching that through Assange-phobia. Was Cumberbatch any good in The Fifth Estate? And does it touch on later events (i.e. hiding from an embassy to escape rape charges)?

    I'm surprised that your DVB thing does HD – with almost all of them, it's SD only. Come Dine With Me's sore loser this week was amusing (Peter IIRC)…

  • I saw Jericho was back. Then I realised it wasn't a new series of the post-apochalypic US show and was thoroughly disappointed. Then I saw it was ITV and realised I probably wasn't missing anything, so relaxed

  • I think Nordic Noir is far better at creating memorable characters than at creating plots. I think memories of Sofie Gråbøl and Sofia Helin's characters will endure far longer than memories of the individual plots, which have already disappeared into the mists of my memories, at least.

  • GYAD

    I'd agree. Both excellent characters. I think that's why I preferred the ending to the most recent series of The Bridge over the others; because it was focused on character, not plot.

  • Mark Carroll

    Cumberbatch was good, yes; he made a good Assange. I too wondered what it would touch on: it ended between the split with Daniel and the assault allegations.

    Yes, I was rather surprised that my DVB thing doesn't do SD. No Dave for us! (Well, I think there's an app for that.)

  • Mark Carroll

    I too was briefly baffled. (-:

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