What have you been watching? Including The Tunnel: Sabotage, 12 Monkeys and Scott Pilgrim vs The World

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. 

I promise it’s not deliberate: “What have you been watching?” has not gone fortnightly. But work got a bit silly on both Friday and Monday and I couldn’t string two sentences together by the end of the day, so WHYBW had to take an enforced break. 

It’s back now. You can exhale.

I’ve been doing my best to catch up with all the new shows, although I’m afraid to say that a certain ‘can’t be arsed’ feeling has permeated my viewing schedule. I have at least reviewed the following new shows in the past two weeks:

I’ve also passed a third-episode verdict on TV Land’s Lopez. However, I really just couldn’t be arsed to watch:

Dice (US: Showtime; UK: Sky Atlantic)
The new eponymous Andrew Dice Clay comedy, because it stars Andrew Dice Clay

The Path (US: Hulu)
This cult drama (no, not like The Tripods) has managed to air four episodes so far and I got through a minute of it before I decided to do more enjoyable things and gave up.

The Girlfriend Experience (US: Starz)
This may be a beautifully directed drama produced by Steven Soderbergh and based on his film of the same name, but it’s still on Starz and it’s still about New York escorts, so is basically going to be porn, isn’t it? I managed 5 minutes of internship interviews at various attornies (oh, how will she make ends meet?) before giving up.

The Ranch (Netflix)
Ashton Kutchner stars as one of two brothers trying to run a business together on a Colorado ranch. It looked potentially interesting until it turned out to be a multi-camera comedy with an audience, at which point I gave up.

The Durrells (UK: ITV)
Keeley Hawes takes her family of future authors to live on Corfu in the 30s. I gave up, mainly because of Keeley Hawes. However, I might come back to it at some point.

Watch those trailers (or even an episode) and tell everyone if you could be arsed, why don’t you?

I also couldn’t be arsed to watch any more episodes of:

  • Blå Ögon (Blue Eyes) (Sweden: SVT1; UK: More4)
    As I said in the previous WHYBW, the show has two plot threads: a conspiracy thriller and a right-wing terrorist drama. The latter is great, the former is bobbins. Unfortunately, the third episode was 75% of the former, only 25% of the latter, so I gave up after 15 minutes.
  • The Catch (US: ABC; UK: Sky Living)
    I almost can’t remember what the episode was about, but the desperate attempt to do Ocean’s 11 with a cast desperately under-equipped for the challenge was more than I could bear.

That means that after the jump, we’ll be looking at the final episodes of 11.22.63Billions and The Magicians, as well as the latest episodes of Arrow, The Americans, Banshee, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Limitless, Lucifer and Supergirl. We’ve also had the return of both 12 Monkeys and The Tunnel (Tunnel) – how well will they hold up in their second seasons, I bet you’re wondering.

Before that, though, a movie, and I should also offer as a side-note that Netflix has acquired RTÉ One’s Rebellion, which makes my decision to review the first few episodes not quite as insanely stupid as it looked at the time, hey? 

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010) (Amazon Instant Video)
The movie that almost killed off director Edgar Wright’s Hollywood career before it began – the fuss behind the scenes over Ant-Man eventually did that – is a comic book adaptation that has so many things going for it yet ultimately never quite works. A fusion of comic book and gaming logic and visuals with the real world, it sees nerdy inadequate college student Scott Pilgrim (Arrested Development’s Michael Cena) wanting to date new girl 
Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) but finding he has to fight her seven evil exes first. Literally.

We did try to watch this a couple of years ago, but we switched off, bored, after the first 40 minutes or so. Giving it another go last weekend, I have to say that wasn’t an entirely incorrect decision, but it does get a lot better in the second half. It has many individually visually beautiful moments, dozens of nerdy heady nods to the expected and the unexpected (Flash Gordon), and is frequently hilarious, but stuck together, none of it quite works – the narrative falters like watching all the narrative scenes from a video game stuck together.

All the same, six years on, it’s fun to see not only its influences (I’m pretty sure The World’s End owes a lot to it) but also what a marvellous supporting cast it had, with people who were already quite big to start with or who went on to many big things later on (Alison Pill, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Chris Evans, Brie Larson, Mae Whitman, Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman, Thomas Jane).

My wife’s been vegan for the past few months and this clip is now her new favourite thing, too – I’ll make sure she doesn’t drink any half-and-half, don’t worry.

Shows I’m watching but not recommending

11.22.63 (US: Hulu; UK: Fox International)
1×8 – The Day In Question
A really good end and a really good beginning to this mini-series don’t make up for the weeks of plodding meandering that sat in between them. Every time the show was presented with an opportunity to do something interesting, it squandered it. If you are going to watch it, just watch the book ends since the bits in the middle just aren’t worth the time.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

12 Monkeys (US: Syfy; UK: Syfy)
2×1 – Year of The Monkey
The return of the exceedingly adequate adaptation of the movie sees some repositioning of the show by its new showrunners to give it new things to do, now it’s exhausted its time cycle. After about half an hour of retconning and exceedingly silly beardy-weirdy mythology, the show starts to find both a sense of humour and a new purpose, giving us the chance to explore older periods, by the looks of it. Whether it’ll overcome its dafter elements, I can’t say, but the modified set-up is at least promising.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First two episodes

Arrow (US: The CW; UK: Sky1)
4×18 – Eleven-Fifty-Nine
It comes to something when death has been so devalued on superhero shows that the producers have to come out and promise that someone is definitely dead and not coming back to life – except in flashback, parallel universes, etc. Certainly, when I watched it, I assumed magical herbs, etc, had made it appear like this person was dead. Apparently not. Except… who cares? If they were going to kill anyone off from the main cast, this was the one (particularly since there’s a back up not too far away…), since they’ve never exactly been a fan favourite. Still, apart from that, yawn, death, which to be honest probably makes Arrow a better show, not a bad episode.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Billions (US: Showtime; UK: Sky Atlantic)
1×11 – Magical Thinking 
The best episode of the show since the pilot, oddly enough, since for a programme that’s really about male strutting, all the real power of the episode came from those men sitting down and talking about their feelings. One particular standout scene has an almost stereotypical “men with money” fantasy discussion that turns into something vastly more poignant about the need for something real.
+ 1×12 – The Conversation
An episode that owes its name to both the final scene and to an earlier scene that’s a tribute to the movie of the same name, it feels more like an attempt to beg for a second season (despite having had an early renewal) than a genuine final episode, with Lewis and Giamatti being given their obligatory fourth (?) scene together this season in order to basically mouth philosophies about government and private enterprise. Despite its cracking first episode, Billions has consistently failed to come up with any real justification for itself, other than to show what it’s like to have billions of dollars and muse upon whether having billions of dollars is a good thing for both those who have it and everyone else. Nevertheless, despite some Showtime excesses that thankfully the show kept virtually to the beginning and to a minimum, it’s always been superior writing and I think I’ll be along for season two.
Reviews: First episodethird episode 

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (US: The CW; UK: Sky 1)
1×10 – Progeny – 1×11 – The Magnificent Eight
Clearly the show’s mid-season break did it good, because it’s come back with three pretty decent episodes in a row, which is three more than before the mid-season break. Progeny has the show mull over that good old “could you kill Hitler as a kid?” conundrum, while The Magnificent Eight gives us a trip to the Old West and the introduction of DC Comics hero Jonah Hex to the TV universe (despite its stellar cast, the movie Jonah Hex is best forgotten). It also continues to do some sterling work in making us care about the ‘Legends’, who until now were largely worthy of being driven over by buses.
Reviews: First episodefourth episode

Lucifer (US: Fox; UK: Amazon Instant Video)
1×10 – Pops – 1×11 – St Lucifer
Individually, not much to say about these episodes, other than the usual: Tom Ellis good, everything else forgettable, particularly anything involving the police side of things. But there’s a good twist at the end of St Lucifer and the writers are doing some good things with DB Woodside and Lesley Ann Brandt.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Supergirl (US: CBS; UK: Sky1)
1×19 – Myriad
Apart from a few too many inspiring speeches, actually a very good episode, bar – as usual – Chyler Leigh’s tedious sister. Helen Slater can’t act for toffee, mind, but her scenes with David Harewood were marvellous.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

The recommended list

The Americans (US: FX; UK: ITV Encore)
4×4 – Chloramphenicol – 4×5 – Clark’s Place
The daftness of the bioweapons plot continues in episode four, but one big twist redeems it. Episode five, by contrast, is the first episode I’ve really enjoyed in quite some time, giving us all the spying excitement and tension, Russian-speaking and general, all round sadness that I so loved about the first season. Phew. I think we’re back on track, guys. 
Review: First episodethird episode

Banshee (US: Cinemax; UK: Sky Atlantic)
4×2 – The Burden of Beauty
Surprisingly, an episode that’s mostly about everyone standing around being sorry and throwing out recriminations at each other, rather than doing anything too much fun. The show also makes a slight misstep in its usual tightrope act between exploitation and pulp, giving us a very disconcerting scene (resulting in a police raid, to give you a clue which one I mean) that was probably misjudged.
Reviews: First two episodesthird episode

Limitless (US: CBS; UK: Sky Living)
1×20 – Hi, My Name Is Rebecca Harris…
Jennifer Carpenter gets to take some NZT and narrate the show for a change in an episode that’s quite enjoyable, with some memorable moments, but which is too yoked to the series’s darker narrative to have too much free rein by itself. But good that the show doesn’t treat its supporting characters like idiots, either.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

The Magicians (US: Syfy; UK: 5*)
1×12 – Thirty-Nine Graves – 1×13 – Have You Brought Me Little Cakes
By parts hilarious and horrifying, a great and very meta way to end the season, with various characters wondering who is actually the hero and the recipient of the narrative drive, as they work their way through an hilariously evil version of Narnia. Any show this self-aware, routed in misery and (it turns out) smart clearly wasn’t going to go the obvious Harry Potter route at the end, either, and narrative imperative gets flipped on its head, as the show reveals that anything that looks too good to be true probably is – prompting a re-evaluation of earlier episodes, yet again.
Genuinely looking forward to the second season now, and I’d recommend catching this (and enduring the first few episodes) on 5*, when it begins in the week commencing May 2nd.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

The Tunnel (Tunnel) (UK: Sky Atlantic; France: Canal+)
Sky Atlantic/Canal+’s remake of the first season of Bron/Broen (The Bridge) was, as I remarked when I reviewed its final episode, “the best version of The Bridge, with most of the original’s flaws polished and fixed… the stupider things were changed; the dialogue was improved; and Stephen Dillane was marvellous.” Unbelievably, that was more than two years ago now, but it’s back now and it’s got a completely original new storyline for its second season, with terrorists crashing a passenger jet by remote control just outside Dover Harbour, forcing Dillane to return to investigations and the newly promoted Clémence Poésy having to come over to help out at her old boss’ instigation. 

As I also remarked about the first season, “It wasn’t perfect, however. Compared to Sofia Helin’s Saga Norin, Clémence Poésy’s Elise Wasserman was a much duller, less charismatic character, albeit one who Asperger’s was for more useful and far more plausible than Norin’s more teenage Aspieness. The French side of things was more or less ignored in favour of the English side and when it was dealt with, the show demonstrated far less of the nuance and understanding it did with the English.”

So given how much of a mistake it was for The Bridge (US) to depart from the original in its second season, is The Tunnel (Tunnel) doing a bad thing, too, and has it fixed its flaws? Well, for starters, it may not be totally original, since if you squint “plane crashes into sea” is quite similar to “boat crashes into bridge” and both series have a side plot about a bunch of people imprisoned against their will.

However, to me, it’s already feeling as good as the previous season, if not better. The scenes with the plane were genuinely thrilling. Wasserman (and indeed Poésy) are both considerably more at ease and enjoyable – still no Saga Norin/Sofia Helin, but not the plot placeholder she was in the first season. The show is also far more interested in the French side of things, with far more of the episode in French and set in France, too. Ben Richards’ dialogue is as sparkling as ever and it’s lovely how little he has to do to make you care for and understand characters (“And yet they can’t speak French?” one French woman wonders after someone tries to explain some convoluted Cockney rhyming slang to her). There’s also some top Dover filming and a supporting cast on both the French and English sides (you may spot Killjoys‘ Hannah John-Kamen as one of the terrorists and Les hommes de l’ombre (Spin)‘s Olivier Rabourdin).

The only flaw, as with season one, is a guest posh girl trying to pretend to be Kent working class – in this case Emilia Fox rather Keeley Hawes. No. Just stop it with the big names, all right? It doesn’t work. 
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.