What have you been watching? Including Game of Thrones, 19-2, Le Bureau Des Légendes (The Bureau) and Zoolander 2

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. 

State of the country, politics, the world, et al right now:

Sob. Oh well, let’s talk about tele to try to cheer ourselves up. Last week, I reviewed the first few episodes of:

However, a few new shows have also stuck their heads up the parapets this week, so in the next few days I’m hoping to review Greenleaf (US: OWN), Queen of the South (US: USA) and maybe The Night Of (US: HBO) – it’s only a mini-series.

Obviously, this was supposed to go up over the weekend, but owing to post-referendum blues and a general desire to boxset a certain French TV show, that didn’t happen. However, I haven’t had time to watch anything more than Game of Thrones from last night’s usual bumper crop of shows. So after the jump, I’ll be talking about that, the latest episodes of more or less the only shows that don’t air on a Sunday – BrainDead, Cleverman and Outcast – last Sunday’s Preacher, Secret City, Silicon Valley, Still The King and Westside, as well as the return of Canada’s good show, 19-2, and the whole of season 1 of Le Bureau Des Légendes (The Bureau). Some are for a-chopping, though, and some are on a lifeline.

(For those of you wondering, I couldn’t be bothered to watch episode 3 of Animal Kingdom or Uncle Buck, after their uninspiring performances last week. Soz)

But first, a movie!

Zoolander 2 (2016) (iTunes)
Sequel to everyone’s favourite Ben Stiller movie, although it only became such once it came out on DVD, since it tanked a bit at the box office. It sees Stiller, Own Wilson, Will Ferrell, et al, returning as their original characters, who have all gone their separate ways after Derek’s school collapsed just a couple of days after opening. Then incomprehensible fashion designer Alexanya Atoz (Kristen Wiig) invites them to star in her new fashion show in Rome, and they’re soon imbroiled in a Da Vinci Code parody that sees the likes of Justin Bieber being killed off to protect a terrible, terrible secret, with fashion policewoman Penelope Cruz their ally in solving the crime.

I was a bit wary of this, since it got bad reviews, and the movie itself is really not much more than that Da Vinci Code twist on the original Zoolander structure. However, surprisingly, it’s actually quite gigglesome, with plenty of laughable moments, huge numbers of odd cameos (Kiefer Sutherland, Susan Sarandon, Fred Armisen, Anna Wintour et al), references to everything from Dune to Star Wars and the general surrealism that pervaded the original still managing to percolate through. 

Very stupid, but cheered us up a lot on Friday.

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including Game of Thrones, 19-2, Le Bureau Des Légendes (The Bureau) and Zoolander 2”

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Review: American Gothic 1×1 (US: CBS; UK: Amazon Prime)


In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, CBS
In the UK: Thursdays, Amazon Prime

Does drama need to have a point? Tricky question – indeed, one I’m increasingly asking in this age of ‘peak television’. Obviously drama needs to engage the audience (although Mr Bertolt Brecht might have something to say about it, were he still alive), so to that extent it needs a point. But does it need to speak to something, have a message or do anything beyond that engagement?

American Gothic certainly pushes that particular envelope to the limit, because for the life of me, in common with an increasing number of TV shows, I can’t see the point of it at the moment, beyond it filling the airwaves for an hour. Not having read any press notes about it, I assumed it might have something to do with either

  1. The Grant Wood painting
    American Gothic by Grant Wood
  2. The 1995 TV series with Gary Cole

But it didn’t take long to realise that at most it wanted to tie into the name of the painting while being ‘a bit gothic’ – especially since half the main cast aren’t American. The show concerns one of those huge American families you get in TV shows, this one a blue collar Boston bunch who have done good for themselves, thanks to dad (Jamey Sheridan)’s construction company. Elder daughter Juliet Rylance (The Kick) is running for mayor and younger son Justin Chatwin (Shameless) is a newspaper cartoonist, while younger daughter Megan Ketch (Gotham, Blue Bloods) and mum Virginia Madsen (Dune, Highlander 2) don’t do an awful lot but have husbands, one of whom is a cop.

During one of Rylance’s press conferences, Sheridan has a heart attack. Is it age or could it be something to do with the recently discovered new evidence in the case of the notorious ‘Silver Bell’ serial killer? Whatever it is, it’s time to lure back wayward eldest son Antony Starr (Outrageous Fortune, Banshee), who mysteriously disappeared 14 years ago, just as the Silver Bell killings ended. And coincidentally, what should the kids find stashed away in a box in the house but a whole bunch of silver bells like the one’s the killer used to leave? Is Dad the killer? Or is Starr, who even if he didn’t look like a serial killer, shaves with a hunting knife? Or were they accomplices? Or was it someone else in the family? Whatever it is, it’s probably genetic, judging by the way Chatwin’s young son has started cutting up cats…

All dark and nasty, albeit with almost nothing to say, just a mystery that needs solving. Except American Gothic also has a weirdly comedic vibe to it. No laughs at all, unless you count people not noticing a car being crushed behind them, and most of the cast are as dead serious as can be, but Madsen, Chatwin and incidental music composer Jeff Russo (Fargo, Power, Extant) are all utterly convinced this is supposed to be a dark comedy, judging by the various choices they’ve made.

Drama, comedy or dramedy, though, American Gothic isn’t very good at any of them. The plot is a composite of all the dafter novels you could pick up in an airport book store, five minutes before your flight was due to board. The dialogue is arch most of the time, but rarely seems to have been intended to do more than sketch, rather than give depth – when Ketch reveals that her husband has just had a promotion, everyone congratulates them for all of five seconds… before instantly moving on to explaining the plot at each other again. You’d think they might ask a question, maybe even two, wouldn’t you? And even if they didn’t, you’d think Ketch and co might be a bit miffed, wouldn’t you? But no.

Starr’s the show’s main draw, doing an even less animated, more menacing version of his Banshee performance, although Rylance is no shirk, Chatwin is engagingly dotty and Madsen gets hidden depths in the last few minutes of the episode. But the script simply doesn’t give them much to work with and it doesn’t give you a reason to want to watch the rest of the show. Despite the entire kitchen sink of drama tools being thrown at the screen, it’s a show about nothing – and not in a Seinfeld way. It’s not saying anything about social mobility, the rich, families, serial killers, Boston, politics, the police or anything else, unless it accidentally stumbles into it. The characters exist merely to drive the plot and/or provide ambiguity. There aren’t even any real gothic qualities to it, beyond the occasional shot of mist and old stonework.

So if American Gothic doesn’t know why you should you watch it, beyond an arbitrary mystery that needs solving, can you think of a good reason? 

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Le bureau des légendes
French TV

Third-episode verdict: Le Bureau Des Légendes (The Bureau) (France: Canal+; UK: Amazon Instant Video)

In France: Broadcast on Canal+ in 2015
In the UK: Available on Amazon Instant Video

Walter has been napping. Supposedly watching hours of foreign-language TV every week to find the best shows from around the world for Channel 4, somehow he managed to avoid watching any of Canal+’s 2015 output – despite Canal+ officially being France’s good TV channel. That means Amazon have had the chance to poach Canal+’s Le Bureau Des Légendes (The Bureau) from out of Walter’s hands. Oops.

In that curious way these things happen, we’ve coincidentally been talking a lot about both verisimilitude and spy shows in the past couple of weeks, taking in along the way both Legends and The Night Manager. The latter is the epitome of modern British spy shows, departing from the glorious semi-realistic days of Callan, The Sandbaggers, et al to give us nonsensical, cliched but glossy affairs that convince almost no one.

Fortunately, France seems to remember how to do a decent spy show, judging by Le Bureau Des Légendes. Set in the undercover section of France’s equivalent of MI6, the DGES, it sees Mathieu Kassovitz (La Haine) playing a top undercover operative who’s been working in Damascus for the past six years. He’s mysteriously summoned back to Paris at short notice, where very quickly problems emerge with ‘Cyclone’, the DGES’ top operative in Algeria. A devout Muslim, Cyclone is nevertheless mysteriously arrested for drink-driving and is taken away by Algerian police, before promptly disappearing. Has he been rumbled as a spy or has he been turned and engineered his own disappearance?

In common with its stable-mate at Canal+, Engrenages (Spiral), there are multiple wheels turning within wheels in Le Bureau Des Légendes. Despite being ordered to break off all ties with her, Kassovitz invites his married lover from Damascus (Zineb Triki) to visit him in Paris. His superiors wonder whether he has ‘Post Mission Disorder’ and can’t shake off his old life. But more importantly, Triki might have secrets of her own that jeopardise Kassovitz.

At the same time and seemingly unrelated to the main plot, Kassovitz is training up a new operative (Sara Giraudeau) to go undercover in Iran. There’s also a new psychiatrist (Léa Drucker) monitoring everyone and Kassovitz has to deal with his now grown-up teenage daughter, whom he left without explanation. And there’s a bunch of French spies out in the Sahara somewhere who are definitely up to something, but by the end of the third episode, may themselves not know what that is. Just to make everything even less clear, the third episode is told in flashback while Kassovitz is attached to a lie detector – all without explanation.

How it all fits together I suspect is something that will get revealed by the end of the season, but it’s merely happy to set up the puzzles in these first few episodes.

In common with the likes of The Sandbaggers, the show is admirably concerned with realism and tradecraft. Although it occasionally uses the likes of Drucker and Giraudeau to Basil Exposition everything to us, it does do its best to give us a look at how spies probably work and approach security in the 21st century in a way that most other shows ignore. Mobile phones are banned in the Bureau in case of remote exploits turning them into listening devices and operatives have to clean their own desks so that no one who doesn’t ‘need to know’ needs to enter the Bureau. But that’s basic compared to things like mapping mobile phone signals and using behaviour analysis of the data to get an indication of likely events.

As you might expect from the double meaning of bureau/office, also in common with The Sandbaggers, this is a show that’s mostly about talking and office work. Big chunks of it are people sitting around discussing what precious information they have from far away can mean, as well as internal and external politics with other agencies, divisions, superiors and allies. Although the second episode does give us a car chase of sorts through central Paris, it ends as a car chase in central Paris probably would end, rather than à la The Bourne Identity‘s. The show also does have the occasional moment of humour, such as an odd little side-plot in the third episode involving a mouse getting into the Bureau and Drucker’s analysis of her superior’s multi-coloured tie.

Linguistically, there are fun things going on in the French that for once, the subtitles actually do a jolly decent job of conveying, but occasionally miss out on. I quite liked the French ‘faire le ménage’ (to do the housework) being used to mean ‘remove anything incriminating from the house’, for example, but that gets translated as ‘clean the house’, which sort of works but not quite. More entertainingly, all the codenames for undercover operatives are derived from insults and expletives used by Captain Haddock in the French-language Tin Tin comics. But as befits such a globally-focused show, there’s plenty of Arabic and the occasional bit of English, too.

It’s not 100% realistic. While there’s some admirable computer expertise behind the scenes, for some reason everyone in France uses the same Windows XP installation, no matter where they work. It also seems unlikely that anyone who’d been undercover for six years would have been so senior or so readily accepted back into the fold.

But Le Bureau Des Légendes is certainly the best spy show I’ve seen this year and the first French show in quite some time that I’ve actually wanted to boxset (sorry, Marseille). There have already been two seasons in France, and a third is on the way, so give it a go if you can.

Barrometer rating: 1
Would it be better with a female lead? Yes, but is that ever going to happen in France?
TMINE’s prediction: N/A

Here’s a French-language trailer, but if you want one with subtitles, you’ll need to go here, although there are a few spoilers from after the first three episodes by the looks of it.