What have you been watching? Including Wolf Creek, Banshee, The Tunnel and Game of Thrones

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. 

It’s been another quiet week for new TV, as the various networks around the world let their older shows run their course, so they can leave the field clear for the newbies to wow us in just a week or two. That doesn’t mean a few shows haven’t tried to jump the gun and show us what they’ve got ahead of the others. I’ve already reviewed Raising Expectations (Canada: Family), but over in the US, there’s also been Submission on Showtime (so inevitably will be coming to Sky Atlantic at some point). Why haven’t I reviewed it yet? Well, here’s the plot synopsis:

Beautiful but unfulfilled Ashley has her eyes opened to the tantalizing possibilities of BDSM when she discovers the popular erotic novel SLAVE by Nolan Keats. But her fascination with the mysterious Mr. Keats leads her into a sexy but dangerous love triangle, and tests the boundaries of her own sexual limitations. Part romantic drama, part mystery, this tale of seduction, obsession and sexual power from acclaimed adult writer/director Jacky St. James will leave you breathless and begging for more.

Yep, it’s lady porn. You can rely on Showtime, can’t you?

But I have watched one other new show:

Wolf Creek (Australia: Stan)
Based on hit Australian horror franchise of the same name and with John Jarratt reprising his role as outback serial killer Mick Taylor, Wolf Creek is a pretty effective but overly gory thriller in which the poorly accented Lucy Fry (11.22.63) plays an American teenager on holiday with her family in Australia, who are trying to help her get over her drug addiction. Unfortunately, pre-credits they bump into Jarratt, who slaughters everyone except Fry, who then goes on a quest to bring Jarratt to justice, helped and hindered along the way by cop Dustin Clare (Spartacus).

Never having watched the movies and not being a huge fan of horror, I don’t know how much the series has in common with the originals. For the most part, it plays like a standard crime drama and it’s nice to have the reversal of the ‘last girl’ becoming the one doing the chasing. But whenever Jarratt shows up, it becomes something else almost comedic at times, part mockery of the Crocodile Dundee stereotype that people hold of Australians and Outback denizens in particular, part embracing of that stereotype, almost in the style of Ronnie Johns’ Chopper impression, with Jarratt hacking to death anyone who needs to harden the fuck up, particularly anyone who does yoga. 

Horror ain’t my scene and the first five minutes of chainsaw and machete misery almost made me want to switch off. But when the action is focused on Fry and her quest, it’s actually pretty good. Not for me, might be for you.

After the jump, the dwindling regulars: 12 Monkeys, The Americans, Arrow, Banshee, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash, Game of Thrones, Silicon Valley and The Tunnel (Tunnel). When will something new be along to join them, I wonder?

Shows I’m watching but not recommending

12 Monkeys (US: Syfy; UK: Syfy)
2×4 – Emergence
Once upon a time, 12 Monkeys was a relatively simple movie spin-off in which a man goes back in time to stop a killer virus from nearly wiping out all life on Earth. However, he discovers that time’s not that simple, and causality might not be what it seems. Apparently, though, the extinction of all life on Earth isn’t enough for the show’s producers, who are trying to up the game to “the destruction of time”. To do this, they’re playing silly buggers, inventing all manner of oddness and taking us on drug-fueled trips to try to make us go with the flow. However, I’m not exactly sure I want to. Fortunately, there’s enough of the causality problems and Back To The Future 2-style “hey, remember last episode when that happened? That’s because this person was travelling through time and here’s what they were doing to make it all happen”, which is pretty enjoyable. The producers just need to avoid too much of their rather daft mythos, to keep me interested.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First two episodes

Arrow (US: The CW; UK: Sky1)
4×21 – Monument Point
A marked uptick in quality over previous episodes, but is it too little, too late? And now Oliver’s got magic powers? Oh dear.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (US: The CW; UK: Sky 1)
1×15 – Destiny
Talking of too little, too late, here’s DC’s Legends of Tomorrow turning in an episode that could actually be described as good, giving us – 15 episodes after they should have done – a show of the quality and tone we were all expecting when it started, with some smart time travel twists, decent character moments and even excitement. Maybe the second season will be better…
Reviews: First episodefourth episode

The recommended list

The Americans (US: FX; UK: ITV Encore)
4×9 – The Day After
Another TV show-inspired episode title (a reference to the US equivalent of Threads) that niftily takes us back to the heights of the first season to give us an unusual take on the US from the Soviet point of view. We also get a proper reminder of what Soviet spying usually involved back in the 80s. Marvellous.
Review: First episodethird episode

Banshee (US: Cinemax; UK: Sky Atlantic)
4×7 – Truths Other Than The Ones You Tell Yourself
Thankfully the serial killer storyline concludes, which feels like quite a waste of time in retrospect, although the conclusion feels a bit wasted as it doesn’t address the show’s big loss this season. However, we do have some great moments with Hood and the sheriff, including a terrific “confession” scene. Some brilliant direction as well, once again confirming Banshee‘s status as the most stylishly directed (pulp) TV show around. Job wasn’t in it much, but when he was, oh wow.
Reviews: First two episodesthird episode

The Flash (US: The CW; UK: Sky 1)
2×21 – The Runaway Dinosaur
Kevin Clerks Smith turns up to amp up the humour and direct a slightly weird episode, in which Barry meets the Speed Force, who turns out to really want him to have some therapy. Clumsy attempt to do God without God it might be, but it was moving at times and the show finally not only gave one character a mother but actually made her important and not a drug addict. Nice twist with Jessie and Wally, too, making the B-plots better than the A-plot.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Game of Thrones (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
6×4 – Book of the Stranger
A decent ending to the episode, but the biggest problem this season is that it’s giving the audience what it wants. We’ve all been expecting certain storylines to go a certain way, and the show is seemingly taking us in those exact directions. So lots of pay-offs, lots of reunions, lots of characters finally confronting other characters and so on. And they’re what we wanted. It’s just the show has always been one for pulling the rug out from underneath us, just as we’ve got what we wanted. Is that what’s going to happen this time? Or are we finally heading to the dramatically correct but unsatisfying conclusion the show needs as it heads towards its final seasons?
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episodefirst seasonsecond and third seasons

Silicon Valley (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
3×4 – Maleant Data Systems Solutions
Remember when I got all excited by the first episode of Billions and its business chess-playing? Oddly, Silicon Valley is becoming the show Billions should have been, albeit in a different industry, with move and counter-move being played marvellously, although by neophytes who are just lucky rather than grandmasters. Plenty of laugh out loud moments, too, and some great engineering moments, too. I can’t help but feel that at least a couple of characters are now superfluous to requirements (eg TJ Miller), though.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episodethird episode

The Tunnel (Tunnel) (UK: Sky Atlantic; France: Canal+)
The first episode not written by Ben Richards and the show really misses him, as the dialogue becomes average, the plot feels like it’s treading water and the humour disappears. I’m also a bit suspicious they’re going to make not-Sofia Helin a bit lesbo for the sake of it. But some top location filming and the tension is still there.
Reviews: First episode

  • Paul Dumont

    If you haven't come across it, can I unreservedly recommend the Slate TV Insider podcast that goes online after each episode of The Americans. As well as chatting to Noah Emmerich and Matthew Rhys about the challenges of acting and directing, the interviewees have included a Russian specialist talking about the nuances of translation and a real life 'illegal' sleeper agent who is now an advisor on the series. The host is a British expat and it feels a bit like a Radio 4 discussion show – In Our Time or Start the Week.

  • Many thanks! I've now subscribed to it, so fingers crossed, I should be able to listen to at least one episode this week

  • Mark Carroll

    I'm never sure if Jools Holland's show's worth mentioning. It's been the
    usual awkwardly presented hit-and-miss thing that it's been for years;
    worth having on in the background as the occasional good song from an unfamiliar band comes on.

    I'm enjoying “Banshee”, though serial killer guy has just felt too implausible. The show strains against those ropes anyway but usually not so much and such that it's worth it. So, glad to see the back of that part, which reminded me a bit of a rubbish horror film. Everybody else more than made up for it though.

    I enjoyed “The Americans” too, it is on form. I'm still surprised that they managed to turn Paige into an interesting character, mind. I'm generally interested in people's arcs and they're not too annoying anytime. Did I forget some resolution to uncomfortably young lady last season though? And I kind of lost track of what Asian family was all about though maybe we've now moved on from them so perhaps it doesn't matter.

    Yes, lots of payoff and things finally happening in “Game of Thrones”. Maybe not surprising lately but a good deal nicer viewing than last season. I don't mind if the unfortunate surprises are infrequent, I am happy to be simply entertained. But, goodness, it does continue its tradition of ill-provisioned long treks in difficult climes not apparently being noteworthy at all, they just happen.

    “Gotham”'s been moving along nicely. It remains reliably reasonable at
    least. I think they handle the original stuff respectfully enough while
    not being afraid to run their own plots. It stays fun and maintains its
    atmosphere well. It stays varied but risks trying out just about everything in the longer term.

    “The Blacklist” has been reasonable but not exactly compelling. The earlier part of the season was more coherent. I do wonder what's intended for the non-spinoff next season; if just kind of more of the same then I'm less interested.

    “Grimm” is mostly focused on the local conspiracy which, while somewhat daft, is better than the more global tendrils, and arc seems to be pushing us toward things happening, but I fear not actually for a while yet. It better not wait too long to find a new tune though.

    The Eurovision Song Contest was actually quite good. The usual mix of decent/catchy, bland, and worthy, though unfortunately with less of the surreal this time. The voting wasn't at all as predictable as usual, nor as tedious, which was an improvement (otherwise I'd have been minded to head to bed earlier). Interesting to contrast the jury voting with the televoting. The Austrians sang in French, the Australians nearly won, and the Russians weren't booed.

    We've been watching films. Finally, “Ant-Man”, which, despite the cliched child custody circumstances, was more entertaining than irritating, and my family certainly seemed to enjoy it. Less tardily, the most recent “Captain America” which was good: the plot made some sense, plenty of people got a look-in, and there were abundant, diverse, well-done action scenes.

    I think “The Grudge” (Japanese) was last week; that was the one with the dead people stalking the live ones and making them die by, er, something or other. More recently we watched “Dark Water” (Japanese), with the ghostly little girl and all the water, which I think people liked and I heard a few reactions to jump scares from upstairs because for most of the middle I wandered off to make a telephone call and I don't think I really missed much. Hardly gripping, sophisticated stuff, but I think it hit its mark and made some sense.

  • Mark Carroll

    Incidentally, “Game of Thrones” continues to cause me to have conversations in which my wife reminds me of who on Earth people are and what was going on with them last. I can barely keep track of “The Americans” after all.

  • I've listened to the latest one – really good, particularly the details on network notes, how the writers' room works, and so on. Many thanks!

  • Re: Americans – they've mentioned Kimmy (?) once this season, but there wasn't a resolution – she's an ongoing project, basically.

    Good point about Game of Thrones and the lack of provisioning. Many a D&D campaign has failed on that score, I suspect…