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

  • Mark Carroll

    Gah, I was just being pleased that I'm not watching too much at the moment, and you threaten to add “The Magicians” to my list. Well, I'll give it some thought, and at least I can still feel safe in omitting “Lucifer”. I will try to actually remember what I've been watching and comment further!

  • Mark Carroll

    My memory's a bit hazy. We did get started on the new “Archer” season but honestly, it was okay, but not so amazing that I didn't wonder if the earlier seasons gave me all it's going to.

    “The Walking Dead” finished and the direction it's taking makes me uninclined to bother further. We dallied briefly with farming and walker-herding and suchlike but we seem to have securely returned to the old staple of being severely challenged by a group of armed mean people. Perhaps the graphic novels would give me reason to hang on even longer for something truly new and interesting to finally happen but I've not read them.

    There was a BBC documentary about the history of clockwork automata that was quite good and fun and interesting. Also, “Points of View” is back. It pointed me to “James May: The Reassembler” which I'll now get around to. “Have I Got News For You” is back too, about the same as ever, but it's always nice to see Henning.

    “Grimm” is about the same as ever; not too bad, and not unduly overcome with silly international conspiracies, though they do figure.

    “Gotham”'s remaining surprisingly good. The arc keeps advancing. For a show I think of as one that just happens to be on for others in the family, I admit that I have actually been paying attention and liking it. It balances a few things well without being too irritating or silly; it sets expectations well.

    I'm enjoying “Banshee”. I'm three episodes in now and I am looking forward to how this final season goes. It balances fun stuff and serious stuff well and feels like it is maybe running for about the right length, though there's that big Native American fellow I can't recall if we settled things with. I'm not too sure about the flashbacks as the main way to fill in the inter-season gap though.

    I'm also enjoying “The Americans”. It's been nice to see some resolution and arc advancement in this season though there's a plot line from last season that either I forgot or they did. It is indeed nice to see the return of some spy stuff and it is good to see how things go with the characters.

    I got back into “In Treatment”, starting the final season, which looks so far to be maintaining the quality and diversity of the previous.

    I'm a bit behind on “The Blacklist”; I've some catching up to do there, and in due course I will at least complete the season.

    Somewhere on Freeview we stumbled onto some “Paranormal Survivors” (kind of a, “Haunted Canadians”) which was silly fun as you might expect from that kind of documentary series.

  • They've both been renewed for second seasons so you may find them both harder to avoid than you think…

  • IIRC, things were well decided with the big Native American guy on a pier…

  • Andy Butcher

    As usual, largely agree with you on most of the shows that we both watch. Am still hoping for a late surge on Arrow now that we finally know who dies, but am concerned that they just couldn't resist giving poor Ollie yet another secret to deal with. <sigh>

    Other things of (at least some) note:

    Elementary has been making good use of both John Noble and Lucy Liu, and I'm actually looking forward to seeing how things play out in the final three episodes of the season.

    Stitchers is back, and proving to be just as lightweight and silly as the first season, although they seem set on playing down the lead character's 'Temporal Dysplasia' and associated character traits, which was one of the only interesting things about both her and the show.

    Fear the Walking Dead is back, and I'm still watching it without being entirely sure why.

    Oh, and despite my better judgement, I went to see Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Oh God Make It Stop, as it shall henceforth be known. A truly terrifying amount has already been written about it all over the internets, so the short version is that it has some good bits, but is not a good movie. At all.

    Fortunately the Supergirl/Flash teamup was the perfect antidote. 🙂

  • Mark Carroll

    Oh yes! Thank you. Obviously too long ago. (-:

  • I think there's a Mayan prophecy that when Ollie reveals his last secret, the world will end.

    Has Elementary been doing any Sherlockian or that makes you feel like he's a brilliant detective? Only the complete lack of both is why I gave up. I did want to watch John Noble in action, because he's aces, but the shying away from anything to do with the original canon was too much for me.

    Batman v Superman. There was a four hour cut to start with. Imagine that movie.

  • Andy Butcher

    I'm afraid the procedural side of Elementary has remained largely indistinguishable from that on any other US procedural show, right down to the unfortunate tendency for the actual perpetrator to be immediately obvious because it's always the most recognisable guest star.

    What I like about it (and what keeps me watching), are Miller and Liu's takes on the characters themselves. I find them both to be fascinating 'reinventions' of Holmes and Watson. Likewise, I loved the show's version of Moriarty (still the highlight of the whole run so far), and am thoroughly enjoying John Noble as Sherlock's dad this season.

    I did nearly drop it in season three when they focussed too much on a new protege for Sherlock, but now they've gone back to the Holmes/Watson dynamic, I'm glad I didn't.

    Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't put it on my 'recommended' list or anything, but if you can ignore the case of the week, it's not without its appeal.

    And please don't make me imagine the four hour cut of BvS. I think there's a good chance it was a better movie than what we got in the cinema, but it'll still be based on what is, for me at least, a fundamentally flawed interpretation of Superman, a very questionable version of Batman and an actively painful version of Lex Luthor, all enslaved to an incomprehensible 'story' that exists solely to allow Snyder to recreate his favourite images from a wide variety of different comics and computer games.

    Still, at least Wonder Woman kicked ass. 😉

  • The lack of Moriarty after the second season is another reason I gave up on Elementary. Definitely the highlight of the show.

    Wonder Woman's 7 minutes in the movie are its 7 best minutes. Superman's in it a lot, but only has 70 lines, all of them dull. Batman's dodge but he's basically Dark Knight Returns Batman, so I'll let them off

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