What have you been watching? Including Spotlight, The Americans, Second Chance, The Magicians,

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. 

Can you feel it? It’s springtime, everyone, and that can only mean a changing of the TV seasons. Some current shows are finishing their runs, while others are just starting, and there are more on the way. Others are just lounging around, eating chocolate eggs.

This week, I’ve reviewed Underground (US: WGN America) and Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders (US: CBS; UK: W), and if you cast your minds back to last year, I previewed Crowded (US: NBC), which has just started airing in the US. In the next couple of days, I’m going to be reviewing the entire second season of Daredevil (Netflix), which I somehow managed to binge-watch over the weekend, as well as anything else new that comes my way. Either that, or I’ll be toasting my eminent good sense in not bothering to watch ABC’s Of Gods And Prophets, given it was cancelled after a mere two episodes of Wicked City-bad ratings.

That means that after the jump, I’ll be looking at the latest episodes of 11.22.63, Billions, Damien, The Doctor Blake Mysteries, Flaked, Limitless, Lucifer, The Magicians, Okkupert (Occupied), Second Chance, Stan Lee’s Lucky Man, Supergirl and Vikings. One of those is probably not long for this world, one is getting a demotion, but surprisingly, two that had surprisingly awful beginnings are getting promoted to the recommended list. Can you guess which ones?

Oh yes. The Americans is back, too.

But first, a movie!

Spotlight (2015)
Journalism always seems exciting to outsiders, but if you actually look at what it involves, even if the results can be exciting, to be honest, the actual process is pretty monotonous. I use Excel in my day job just as much as I use Word – that should tell you something. Certainly, the most realistic movies and TV shows about journalism point out that it mostly involves endless note-taking, fact-checking, research, dead-ends and meetings, with even All The President’s Men being a major snoozefest most of the time – I think only the TV version of State of Play has ever managed to be both fun to watch while depicting something that a journalist would recognise as been similar to his or her day job. 

So it is with Spotlight, a meticulously exacting recreation of how the Boston Globe‘s investigative journalism department revealed in 2001 that nearly 100 local Catholic priests had abused as many as 1,000 boys and girls in their charge over the years and the church had covered it up. Featuring a star-studded but unflamboyant cast (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci), the almost pre-Internet story largely consists of Ruffalo, McAdams and Keaton setting up spreadsheets, looking in books, sifting through legal documents and trying to find evidence, all without a gunshot, car chase or even fist fight (it is Boston) along the way.

The film just about manages to keep the viewer’s attention, helped in part by the sheer horror of the story, but also by the attention to location, the period details – yes, it really does feel like a period drama – and the exploration of the politics of the situation, with powerful pressure being applied to the paper and its journalists through subtle means, as the social interconnections between the paper, the church, the police and other institutions worked to try to prevent anyone rocking the boat. But there were times when even my desperate need to nitpick the movie’s accuracy (I couldn’t) wasn’t quite enough to stop my attention from wandering.

Don’t get me wrong – this is undoubtedly not only the second best journalism film ever made, but the second best film about a member of the Bradlee clan (Mad Men‘s John Slattery plays Ben Bradlee Jr). It’s also marvellous to have a grown-up film, telling a grown-up and important story, in which journalists are the good guys for the change. It just would have be nice to have a car chase, too.

PS It’s coming up to the Easter double holiday here in the UK, which means this will be the last WHYBW until 1st April. Or maybe the 2nd. Or maybe, just to be wacky, 30th March. It’ll just appear at some point around then, anyway.

Shows I’m watching but not recommending

11.22.63 (US: Hulu; UK: Fox International)
1×5 – The Truth
Interesting as a demonstration of what norms of morality were back in 1963, rather than any intrinsically dramatic qualities, the unpleasantness at the end of the episode emphasising not only how little the show cares about its central concept, but also its characters or any sense of drama. I guess the show doesn’t want to come down on any one side of the conspiracy theory debate, so as soon as it looks like we’re going to get a definitive answer about something, ‘the past’ fights back and stops us finding out. But it’s very tedious and all the excitement has to come from side plots and King nastiness. I’m guessing there’ll be a reset (or a choice about a reset) at some point soon but unless there’s a really good twist in the tale, I can’t quite see what the point of all this is.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Billions (US: Showtime; UK: Sky Atlantic)
1×9 – Where The F*ck Is Donnie?
The first funny episode of the show, but otherwise just a plot advancer rather than anything clever or interesting. Probably could have been done in about half the running time.
Reviews: First episodethird episode 

Damien (US: A&E)
1×2 – Second Death
As is now tradition this season on US TV, a much improved second episode in which signs of intelligence are allowed to appear. Here, all the ridiculous hamminess and stupid deaths have been displaced by more intriguing religious discussions, with suggestions aplenty that it may actually be God protecting Damien, since Damien is part of His masterplan, and Damien picking up Christopher Hitchens’ mighty mantle at times. Unfortunately, the reverence of the show for the original still manifests itself, with a literal room dedicated to all the best bits of The Omen
Reviews: First episode

The Doctor Blake Mysteries (Australia: ABC; UK: BBC One/Alibi)
4×7 – For Whom The Bell Tolls
A demotion for the show that to be honest should have happened a season or so ago, but which I kept on for old times sake. It’s just getting to be very repetitive, with little new to say for itself and important conversations constantly interrupted until the next episode to keep the storylines strung out. Plus the fatality count is now getting to Midsomer levels. Needs to step away from the formula or else it’ll get dropped altogether, with only my affection for Craig McClachlan’s marvellous central performance keeping me going at this point.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Flaked (Internet)
If there are mysterious comic depths to this Will Arnett comedy, they haven’t materialised by the midway point. Neither has the point of the show.
Reviews: First two episodes

Lucifer (US: Fox; UK: Amazon Instant Video)
1×8 – Et Tu, Doctor?
Another attempt to get different members of the cast interacting with one another, with Rachael Harris getting to come out to crime scenes for a change. Unfortunately, there’s less fun for Lucifer as a result, and the tedious ongoing corruption plot tries to spring a surprise on us that turns out to be completely obvious. One thing I will say: there’s clearly some members of the Carry On appreciation society working behind the scenes, because not only is Tom Ellis getting more and more Kenneth Williams in his performance every week, but the show is rapidly turning into the most double entendre-laden show on TV.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Okkupert (Occupied) (Norway: TV2; UK: Sky Arts)
1×10 – January
It took nine episodes to get to what would have been episode 2 of a US TV show, but Okkupert (Occupied) concluded by finally giving us not only an obvious request for a second season but by sticking everyone into the necessary places for what could be a cracker of a show if it gets it. A lot of eyebrow raising throughout the episode, though (spoiler alert: the US ambassador poisoning the Norwegian PM to get him out the house?), but plenty of action and excitement, as well as thoughtful moments. Overall, a show that really needed to up its speed, because it made the Norwegians look a right bunch of paranoid, but highly passive nancies in taking so long for them to start resisting. But a good start to the series, and given it’s now been picked up by Netflix in the US, could get that second season it really needs to do justice to its initial idea.
Reviews: First episode

Stan Lee’s Lucky Man (UK: Sky 1)
I think I’m in this now just to see how it ends, since it’s done so little otherwise to make me want to watch it. The reveal of the identity of the villain this week was no great surprise. More surprising is that Nesbitt was allowed into prison while wearing a bracelet. Really? No one’s even going to at least try taking it off him when he’s remanded? Having said that, despite its failures dramatically, it is oddly at pains to demonstrate authentic police procedure most of the time.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Supergirl (US: CBS; UK: Sky1)
1×16 – Falling
Time for Superman III, as Maxwell Lord tries to make artificial kryptonite and balls it up, turning Supergirl super-evil. She’ll be smoking soon. A fun ep, though, with Melissa Benoist getting a chance to do something new for a change, and the ending obviously moves the pieces around on the board considerably.
Where can I watch it?
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Vikings (US: History; UK: Amazon Instant Video)
4×5 – Promised
Another show not long for the viewing list, we’re five episodes in and we still don’t have any real plot for the season, no one’s doing much that’s fun beyond stabbing each other in the back (sometimes literally, sometimes in the front) and shagging. But that’s it. All the marks of intelligence and, in fact, history from the first season seem to have gone by the wayside. But I’ll give it another week at least, just to make sure I’m not being too hasty.
Reviews: Season one review

The recommended list

The Americans (US: FX; UK: ITV Encore)
4×1 – Glanders
After last year’s slightly odd season finale, this year carries on more or less the same, with the show picking up the fallout and running with it. New addition is (spoiler alert) the threat of biological warfare, which feels a bit odd and 70s, but that’s about it. Hmmm. Let’s see where this goes.
Review: First episodethird episode

Limitless (US: CBS)
1×17 – Bezgranichnyy
A slightly low key episode, despite everything being set in Russia. Some very funny individual scenes, including the ‘drunk dubbing’, but overall too tied into the darker season arc to be truly enjoyable.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

The Magicians (US: Syfy)
1×9 – The Writing Room
The first of this week’s promotions, The Magicians started abysmally but over the course of the season has slowly become quite an intriguing and interesting fantasy and horror show. Yes, almost everyone in it is a complete git, making it hard going, but it has some genuinely scary moments, magic that’s genuinely mind-warping, the occasionally very funny bit and the characters are now all showing dimensions that make them more tolerable. On top of that, this week’s ep was plain old horrifying but in a completely different way from normal, earning the show a place in the recommended list. Note to Canadians and Americans: no member of the British (or Irish) working class has worn a peaked flat hat since about 1985 – you’re thinking of hipsters.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Second Chance (US: Fox)
1×10 – Geworfenheit
Another show that’s taken a long time to get good, Second Chance spent a long time trying to escape its basis as an updating of Frankenstein (including two name changes) in an attempt to become a police procedural via an updating of Now And Again. But the past few episodes have seen it return to its roots, with mad scientists, monsters and more, all within some genuinely interesting science fiction trappings. Given it hasn’t (yet?) been renewed for a second season, it’s likely that it’s now simply going for broke by throwing everything it has at putting out a top season finale. But I’m not sure that matters – it’s just really worth watching right now.
Reviews: First 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.