What have you been watching? Including Banshee, Blå Ögon (Blue Eyes), The Catch, Supergirl and The Americans

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. 

Despite the Easter break and being somewhat occupied this week, I’ve actually managed to watch quite a few of the new shows that have popped up on our screens and monitors in the past week or so. Elsewhere, you’ll find shiny reviews of:

I’ve also passed a third-episode verdict on Damien (US: A&E). Still sitting in the viewing pile, however, are the first two episodes of Hulu’s The Path – I think I’ll wait until the third episode next week and review them (or as many as I can bear, depending on how good it is) all in one go.

Last night, Dice started on Showtime, Netflix offloaded The Ranch in one go (not as an April’s Fool) and Syfy also started airing Wyonna Earp. Despite being away for a few days next week, I’ll hopefully be reviewing them all at some point – although as I’m old enough to remember Andrew Dice Clay when he was doing horrendous stand-up in the 80s, it’s possible I might not bother with that.

But I have watched one other new show:

Blå Ögon (Blue Eyes) (Sweden: SVT1; UK: More4)
Well, the plot summary and trailer are back here, so I won’t bother repeating myself. But having now watched the first two episodes, my advice would be stick with it. The show is a mix of the implausible and the very plausible, with Elin Hammar’s plotline, in which she gets plucked from a life of waitressing to return to politics, only to discover her predecessor has gone missing, is eminently daft, with all kinds of odd conspiracies going on that remind me of the silliness of Byw Celwydd (Living a Lie) crossed with 24. Similarly, everything involving the right-wing party Trygghetspartiet is embarrassingly bad.

However, where the show does do well is develop over the course of these first two episodes a frighteningly nasty, anti-immigrant, anti-everyone, racist right wing terrorist group, Veritas, with foot soldier Adam Lundgren quietly frightening and ultimately violent, like a slightly malnourished, prettier Russell Crowe in Romper Stomper. Here, the viewing gets very uncomfortable, but after the uninspiring first episode, the second episode managed to sell the show to me.

From a UK perspective, what’s also interesting is how similar the rhetoric of Trygghetspartiet is to UKIP’s, presumably without the writers borrowing directly. I guess that makes UKIP either very European or very fictional.

After the jump, I’ll be covering the return of Banshee, as well as reviewing two weeks’ worth of episodes of the regulars: 11.22.63, The Americans, Arrow, Billions, The Catch, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, The Doctor Blake Mysteries, The Flash, Limitless, Lucifer, The Magicians, Second Chance, Stan Lee’s Lucky Man, Supergirl and Vikings. Apart from the ones that are finishing anyway, two of these are getting dropped from the viewing schedule altogether, while a recommended show is going to get demoted. Can you guess which one, tigers?

Shows I’m watching but not recommending

11.22.63 (US: Hulu; UK: Fox International)
1×6 – Happy Birthday, Lee Harvey Oswald – 1×7 – Soldier Boy
The Stephen King body count starts build up, but it’s clear, given how few episodes are left, that the show is angling for a second season (or at least an open-ended finale), rather than wrap up its ‘limited series’ run. Some intriguing aspects to these two episodes, but generally something that (judging by Wikipedia’s summary) has taken all the aspects of the book then jumbled them up into something that’s now less than the sum of its parts.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Arrow (US: The CW; UK: Sky1)
4×16 – Broken Hearts – 4×17 – Beacon of Hope
A long-time recommended, Arrow has now transformed and dropped in quality enough that I can’t really recommend it any more. Indeed, the return of Cupid in Broken Hearts and a The Flash villainess crossover in Beacon of Hope almost got the show removed from my viewing list altogether. But some terrific Mr Terrific fun in the latter redeemed it and once I adjusted my mindset to consider the show as a comedy, rather than anything smarter or more dramatic, it became easier viewing. 
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Billions (US: Showtime; UK: Sky Atlantic)
1×10 – Quality of Life
A sort of flashback episode to explain everything that we’d already worked out had been going on in the previous episode. But some decent character work with Giamatti and Lewis, as well as some dark touches, made it more palatable than that sounds. 
Reviews: First episodethird episode 

The Catch (US: ABC; UK: Sky Living)
1×2 – The Real Killer
As you may have gathered from my review of the first episode, it wasn’t exactly clear what the show’s format was going to be in subsequent episodes, so I tuned in to find out. Oddly, it seems like we’re going to have a split-team series: Team Evil led by Krause and Walger will be doing various cons to try to recover their fortunes after their losses in the first episode, while Enos tries to hunt them down; meanwhile, Enos’ Team Good will be doing private detective work and investigating a whole bunch of other crimes for their clients. And the two plots will be united through the medium of split-screen and flashbacks to Enos and Krause’s relationship pre-con. Trouble is, that’s not very interesting. Enos seems to be on tranquillisers, while Krause has all the sociopathy and bad boy edge of the average Jehovah’s Witness. So I won’t be bothering with episode three.
Reviews: First episode 

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (US: The CW; UK: Sky 1)
1×9 – Left Behind
The first good episode since the show began has Atom and Hawkgirl marooned in small town America, while White Canary decides to hang out for a couple of years with Ra’s Al Ghul. Meanwhile, the rest of the team are having to deal with Chronos and Captain Cold finds himself in the same predicament as T-Bag did in Prison Break, and comes up with a very similar solution. There’s a couple of twists that really lift the story – and the whole of the series, in fact – but it’s the chance for the characters to breath and explore themselves that really makes the episode. That, the return of Matt Nable from Arrow as Ra’s Al Ghul, and the introduction of a young Talia Al Ghul, too.
Reviews: First episodefourth episode

The Doctor Blake Mysteries (Australia: ABC; UK: BBC One/Alibi)
4×8 – The Visible World
A decent finale for the series, with Doctor Blake himself under suspicion of murder, leaving the rest of the cast to do the investigating for a change. All the story arcs get wound up, leaving the show almost precisely where it was in terms of the main story as it was at the start of the season, albeit with roughly a 50% cast change. I think for me, this is a natural stopping point, so I doubt that I’ll be back for more next series. The show is basically a very nice, well made, period delivery system for a murder a week that has some lovely characters but doesn’t really have much ongoing story. One episode is much like any other and while that works with something like Endeavour, over an eight-to-ten episode season, with nothing much different between episodes, that’s probably more investment of my time than I’d like to make. My mother-in-law will keep watching, though, I suspect.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Lucifer (US: Fox; UK: Amazon Instant Video)
1×9 – A Priest Walks Into A Bar
A show that’s hanging on by a thread in the viewing schedule, too, with Tom Ellis’ performance really the show’s only saving grace at the moment. Again, as with Doctor Blake, the near-identical episodes are getting boring, as is the police procedural aspect of the show, and it’s now not doing anything interesting with the supernatural aspect of the format, either. That all said, this episode was quite a nice character piece, but nothing more than that.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Stan Lee’s Lucky Man (UK: Sky 1)
And we’re left with a cliffhanger, although for those intending to carry on with the show, there’s the good news that it’s been renewed for a second season. It is fair to say that apart from certain coproductions, this has been the best ever original Sky 1 show. I won’t be back for more, though, unless there’s a promise of more fun, since the show’s “Who is Golding?” storyline, while fascinatingly keen on proper police procedure, has been hard to endure since Golding’s identity has been obvious, and the magic bracelet has been used very little. Plot holes have been as frequent as changes in the extent of the bracelet’s power, and the finale itself gives us Golding too frightened to shoot our hero himself in case something incredibly bizarre happens yet perfectly willing to give a loaded gun to the luckiest man in the world so he’ll kill himself (apparently, he’s never heard of Clive of India). Perhaps best thought of as a superhero origin story – maybe the next series will flesh things out better.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Supergirl (US: CBS; UK: Sky1)
1×17 – Manhunter
In which we learn all about how Martian Manhunter came to become Hank, as well as about Dean Cain’s fate. A nice episode but with few surprises, bar the odd (temporary) reduction in the cast list.
+ 1×18 – Worlds Finest
The moment we’ve all been waiting for – the crossover with The CW’s The Flash. And bar the incredibly cheesy, very American conclusion to the fight with the baddies, it’s everyone we could have hoped for, being probably the best episode of the show so far. Props to the writers for the fun and also for the marvellous Cat Grant line: “You look like the attractive, non-threatening, racially diverse cast of a CW show.”
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Vikings (US: History; UK: Amazon Instant Video)
4x 6 – What Might Have Been – 4×7 – The Profit and the Loss
And I’m done. Despite a cracker of a battle scene at the start of The Profit and the Loss, it’s now so degenerated into soap opera and general daftness that have little to do with history, Viking culture and all the other things that made the first couple of seasons at least so interesting. Oh well. All good things have to end sooner or later.
Reviews: Season one review

The recommended list

Banshee (US: Cinemax; UK: Sky Atlantic)
4×1 – Like Something From The Bible
The best, most exploitative bit of pulp fiction to grace our TV screens is back with, surprisingly, a two-year gap in the narrative, during which everyone’s roles have changed, some old favourites have died, others have moved on and others are MIA. Frequently told in flashback and with as much creative camerawork as possible, the episode once again reminds us that despite copious shagging, nudity and ultraviolence, its main concerns are the heart and mind, with all the characters basically having broken down to greater or lesser extents, depending on how much evil they’ve been exposed to and how much loss they’ve suffered. But the gang’s got to get back together and with this episode, the writers also establish what new style-Banshee is going to look like in its final season, right down to an Outrageous Fortune-style haircut for Hood. No sign of Eliza Dushku yet, though.
Reviews: First two episodesthird episode

The Americans (US: FX; UK: ITV Encore)
4×2 – Pastor Tim – 4×3 – Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow
Another show that’s starting to wobble a bit. I’m not quite sure it knows what it’s doing now – why is it here? What is its purpose? The biological warfare strand feels very ahistorical, for starters, and characters are there merely because we liked them in the first season, rather than because they’ve of any real use now. That said, the suspicions about our heroes that are growing in all quarters do add a marvellous claustrophobia to show. I just wish it was a bit more tied to both the history of the time and some proper spying.
Review: First episodethird episode

The Flash (US: The CW; UK: Sky 1)
2×16 – Trajectory
In which our heroes discover who Zoom is and, more importantly, why he is. Very well done and a suitable way to make Zoom different from Reverse Flash. 
+ 2×17 – Flash Back
A nifty excuse to get Reverse Flash back for an episode, as well as give us the return of some other old characters and a bit of retconning to mix things up a bit. Plus loads of fun, as usual. 
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Limitless (US: CBS)
1×19 – A Dog’s Breakfast
Back to the normal format for investigations, but the suspicions of Brian that everyone now has make it a slightly different show, and Bradley Cooper, sporting yet another scruffbag hairstyle as he takes 10 minutes out of filming another film to show up, also gives the show another change of direction. I’m also liking how Limitless is creating a show where the drug isn’t ‘bottled up’ at the FBI but which is potentially available around the world and could change life as we know it, in both the right and wrong hands.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

The Magicians (US: Syfy)
1×10 – Homecoming – 1×11 – Remedial Battle Magic
A show that’s really coming into its own now, both in terms of bringing the funny and giving us some genuinely chilling moments. Magic here is genuinely reality-warping and it’s fascinating to see what leeway that gives the writing. Everyone’s still a dick, but the rougher edges have now been worn off enough that they’re tolerable.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Second Chance (US: Fox)
1×10 – Gelassenheit
Props to the show for both naming the final two episodes after Heideggerian philosophy and giving a decent send off to what started as quite a poor sci-fi procedural and ended up a bit more like what Fox’s Minority Report could have been. Not the best show ever, but pretty good as well as smarter than it should have been by the end.
Reviews: First episode

  • Mark Carroll

    I suppose we can start with superhero shows. I experimentally stopped bothering to provide “The Flash” and nobody seems to have bothered to watch it of their own accord. While not great, “Gotham” remains solidly good: the character and plot developments are interesting, there's never a bad episode, and the show is really good at maintaining the atmosphere. In contrast with “Gotham”, one place I think “Daredevil” fell down is having much of the arrant silliness you pointed out play out in a Manhattan that otherwise seemed to be made to feel quite real. “Daredevil” is also still suffering from having the bad guys more interesting than the good, though not as interesting as last season's and, rather than just boring, I mostly found Elektra positively annoying. Overall it was good enough that I'd bother trying a third season but for me it's actually hanging by a thread that will snap if it focuses on this Black Sky stuff without making it seem less like they just pulled it out of their asses.

    On related notes: “Grimm” is actually ambling along reasonably. I'd not recommend it, but it's not actually too bad: the larger conspiracy subplot remains a bit tedious but I do end up mostly watching it when I put it on for my family. They went to see “Batman vs Superman” and confirmed that I was correct to choose to skip it. Apparently the camera work even induces motion sickness. By far the best thing about it, at least as I could gather from their conversation afterward, was Wonder Woman.

    I'm enjoying “The Americans”; I thought (in violation of treaty) the Soviets did have a strong biological warfare program at that time, largely hidden within what seemed to be broader medical research facilities? They'd even managed to accidentally kill those townspeople with anthrax a few years earlier. Actually, that reminds me, I didn't mention sufficiently how impressed I was with the background behind “Deutschland 83”, as far as I know much of the West German military and East German intelligence stuff (and its interaction with Moscow) does fit what was happening then. However, I do agree that a bit more proper spying in “The Americans” would be appreciated.

    We watched the whole of “Trapped”. I honestly found it a bit boring at first, perhaps partly because I'm new to Icelandic and it was hard for a while to even match up names with faces, but as I learned who was who (and explained it to my wife, so she'd also been having difficulty) the show grew on me and I ended up liking the central good guys. I enjoyed it, and appreciated that it didn't do “The Killing”'s first season thing of dragging the arc all over with implausibly many twists. I can't help but feel like it may be best to wrap it up there though.

    We also watched “The Night Manager” which I rather enjoyed. While it was exciting and fantastical and pretty, it also felt just real enough to keep me wanting to see what actually happened, and it was fun to see the different places. And, again, it wasn't so long as to outstay its welcome or actual plot. Perhaps they're exploiting my ignorance of how major international arms dealing actually happens but that's okay.

    i also tried out the low-budget British film, “The Disappearance of Alice Creed”, centering on a hostage and the kidnappers. It was good: nothing special or surprising, really, but for the resources that went into it, it was well-executed, especially in the editing.

    There's also been some non-fiction:

    “Easter Sunday Worship Live From St Albans Cathedral” was a nice service from a lovely place covered well. The BBC often manage a decent service at holidays, I wish they televised more regular services too. “Songs of Praise” I find tedious with its jumping around, interviewing people, having celebrity singers, whatever.

    “Art of Scandinavia” was good. I had been very ignorant of it but we saw some great paintings. The presenter took us on a good tour and provided much useful background, well worth the occasional digressions he took in interpreting the works, which seemed to me to possibly be indistinguishable from an “A Bit Of Fry & Laurie” parody of same.

    “Inside Obama's White House” has also been good. Perhaps not quite as engaging as it should be but, as far as I know, it's been a pretty solid account of events, with no filler and some great interviews.

  • The Soviets very much did have a bioweapons programme at that time but (spoiler alert) this season is all about our heroes stealing bioweapons from the US, when the US didn't have a programme any more because of – of all people – Nixon.

  • JustStark

    Although presumably, like the stealth technology in series two, that's just a MacGuffin to get their marriage to crack up and for all the difference it makes they might as well be stealing the recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken*?

    I am eagerly awaiting the next series and I do rather hope that ITV Encore don't keep screwing up the episode uploads like they did last time.

    * Consider comparisons between KFC bargain buckets and bioweapons done

  • Yes, but more about something else I won't spoil you with (hopefully) than about their marriage.

    All the same, Stealth and Star Wars were recognisably US technologies (or vapourware) that they could have spied upon in the 80s, if not at the exact times the narrative suggests. This MacGuffin might as well be Airwolf for all the real-world concerns involved.

  • JustStark

    All the same, Stealth and Star Wars were recognisably US technologies (or vapourware) that they could have spied upon in the 80s

    Well yes, but by the third series it's clear that they aren't going to actually do anything with that: Star Wars/SDI and stealth are both thematically interesting in ways that could connect with the whole 'sleeper agent' motif (the former about changing the balance of power not by developing a better weapon but a better defence; the latter about being able to slip unnoticed past your enemy's gaze) but given they aren't used in that way, they may as well have just been pure MacGuffins, so I'm not going to object to a pure MacGuffin this time around.

    Especially given that frankly all the spying stuff is now totally uninteresting compared to what's going to happen with the daughter — that's what I'm eager to find out when it reaches the UK.

  • Mark Carroll

    Ah! Thank you.

  • To me (and YM clearly Vs), the point of the Star Wars storyline is that there is no Star Wars,
    1) With a lot of spying (cf Zero Dark 30), you never know what's just gossip and what's actually important – you have to investigate both
    2) More importantly, it mirrors the whole show: we know the Soviet Union is going to fall in a decade and that there is literally no point to 'The Americans' endeavours. As in that larger scheme of things, with Star Wars, they're risking their lives for something that ultimately is going to turn out to be worthless. There is no Star Wars any more than there's an eventual 'win' for them at the end of it all.

    I agree the Stealth storyline was a bit more pointless (and, of course, the Russians already had the Firefox had that point), but for me the point of season two was more the Nicaragua storyline, which is obviously a different form of MacGuffin altogether.

  • JustStark

    I think you've read The Americans differently to me. I mean, yes, clearly the dramatic irony that the audience knows how things will work out is inevitably part of the extradiegetic context in which it's received, but to me the series itself never actually engages with that, indeed, I think it often explicitly goes out of its way to invite the audience to actively forget that they know what things are leading to and to put themselves in the situation of the characters, of that uncertainty as to what is going to happen.

    I mean, you could imagine a Cold War series that did engage with the audience's hindsight, and used that as part of its storytelling, but I just can't see how The Americans is that series. Going into it I thought it would be that type of series, but what it actualyl does is I think even more interesting. It's a series fundamentally about uncertainty: uncertainty about whether people are who they say they are, uncertainty about who you can trust, uncertainty about whether you're doing the right thing, and uncertainty about where it's all leading.

    Inasmuch as it does use the specific type of dramatic irony afforded by the audience's hindsight, it does it by playing on the audiences' greater knowledge than the characters of what was happening at the time (in South Africa, in Nicaragua, in Afganistan), never by invoking what the audience knows about the diegetic future.

    So, I just don't see the audience's knowledge about either the future of the Soviet Union or the SDI projects as being part of the storytelling. The SDI plot in series one could have been replaced by a bioweapons plot and thematically I don't think it would make that much difference. The point is that the characters at the time don't know whether it's feasible or not (and there were a fair few on both sides who were convinced that SDI would work).

  • It's an interesting question: if a show is set in the past but in no way refers to the future, how much should a reading of the show be informed by what the audience should be expected to know about what happens both in the period and after? A show that is informed by it but doesn't refer to it should be indistinguishable from a show that isn't informed by it. But at the same time, there may be plots/themes that are in the show that make more sense in the light of future events, without referencing them.

    I'd assumed that Star Wars was chosen because even though the show doesn't sit there and highlight that all this spying is for nothing, Star Wars was picked because it's a complete waste of their time that could get them killed, much like their own spying. Turns out I was wrong and it was picked purely because it was cool and of the period. Oh well:


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