What have you been watching? Including Deadpool, The Americans and The Tunnel (Tunnel)

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. 

Well would you look at that – back as scheduled. Miracles will never cease.

As usual, though, the networks have carefully timed a batch of new shows to start airing while I’ve been away. I’ll be reviewing them in the next few days, but hold your horses on discussing Animal Kingdom (US: TNT), Private Eyes (Canada: CBC), Feed The Beast (US: AMC; UK: BT Vision) and Cleverman (Australia: ABC; UK: BBC Four) until then, if you’ve seen them.

After the jump, I’ll be looking at the season/series finales of Arrow, The Flash and The Tunnel (Tunnel), as well as the dwindling regulars (won’t someone give us some good new TV, please?): 12 Monkeys, The Americans, Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley. Surprisingly, despite my reduced viewing list, one of these is for the chop because I can’t even.

Before that, though, I’ve seen not one, but two superhero movies!

Deadpool (2015) (iTunes)
Ryan Reynolds in the first of Marvel’s adult-oriented superhero movies, here playing a mercenary who gets given mutant powers at the cost of his good looks, so tries to get the Brit scientist/kickboxer who experimented on him (Ed Skrein from The Transporter Refueled and Game of Thrones) to undo the damage so he can get back his girl (Morena Baccarin from Firefly and Homeland). But as well as his looks, the newly-christened Deadpool also loses his sanity – for some reason, he thinks he’s in a superhero movie and chooses to satirise anything and everything about it, as well as talk to the audience he thinks is watching him…

Although not as funny or as daring as it thinks it is and saddled with a conventional revenge plot that all the storytelling tricks in the world can’t cover up, Deadpool has a lot going for it, particularly its potty mouth, and meta jibes at Ryan Reynolds and the X-men. You’ll laugh at about half the jokes and there are scenes that will stick with you for days afterwards. But its own critiques (“It’s almost like the studio couldn’t afford more famous stars”) reveal the film’s biggest problem – it’s subversive enough that the studio wants to keep it safely confined in a box away from the rest of the franchise, unable to play with the big boys. Also, Gina Carano is wasted in a small role, which makes me sad. 

But you can’t really knock a superhero movie that has its lead masturbating with a toy unicorn, now can you?

Spider-Man 3 (2007) (iTunes)
Somehow I missed/couldn’t be bothered to watch the third of the previous (but one) Spider-Man movie franchises, but with another on the way, I figured I’d watch all the old ones (not including the Nicholas Hammond 70s TV show) just to see how they compare. Here we get Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man finding (yet again) it’s hard achieving a work-life-superhero balance, and despite wanting to marry girlfriend Mary-Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), ends up neglecting her. Then, he discovers that the man (Thomas Haden Church) who really killed Uncle Ben has escaped from prison and acquired the power to turn into and shape sand. And best friend James Franco has discovered Peter Parker is Spider-Man and wants to get revenge for the supposed murder of his father (aka The Green Goblin). Just as Peter’s at his lowest ebb, he attracts the attention of an alien symbiote who turns his costume – as well as his soul – black…

Weirdly, despite its rep, I found this to be the best of the lot – Spider-Man 1 & 2 do not bear up well, despite my having found them reasonably good at the time, and The Amazing Spider-Man is astonishingly dreary and uncompelling. While the ‘Venom’ subtext is a little clunky and the character itself a bit rubbish, the story actually takes novel turns, with forgiveness and doing good lorded over violence and darkness (take note, DC Comics). 

Utterly meaningless if you haven’t seen the first two movies, mind.

Shows I’m watching but not recommending

12 Monkeys (US: Syfy; UK: Syfy)
2×6 – Immortal – 2×7 – Meltdown
So I think I’m pretty much done with this, despite a slight upturn in these two episodes. The first episode gives us a serial killer ‘Primary’, killing others to prevent paradoxes, but hoping to attract the attention of those in the future; the second is more of a bottle episode, with the ‘Witness’ using a ‘mental tether’ to brainwash a traveller into causing the splinter machine to emit unfocused temporal radiation. That sentence should show you the programme’s biggest problem – beardy weirdy sci-fi, disappearing up its own bottom, Ouroboros-like, more interested in big ideas than people. It’s hard to care about whether our heroes can save time itself from being destroyed (it’s such a stupid idea by the bad guy(s) – let’s destroy time to prevent people from dying!) when you don’t care about them.

So I’m going to remember season 1 as a fine extrapolation of the movie and give up on season two.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First two episodes

Arrow (US: The CW; UK: Sky1)
4×23 – Schism
A perfunctory finale that retreads all previous finales, offering the usual plot points with significantly diminished returns. It caps a generally hugely disappointing season that felt tired, bereft of ideas and saddled with too many other tasks, such as launching DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. Flashbacks were pointless and even when one of the main characters died, it was hard to care. Probably its one redeeming feature was the episode featuring John Constantine. 

I’ll probably be back next season, simply for the crossovers, at least. But the show will have to do a lot to convince me it’s worth my investment of time after such an insipid season.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

The recommended list

The Americans (US: FX; UK: ITV Encore)
4×11 – Dinner for Seven – 4×12 – A Roy Rogers in Franconia
While Keri Russell needs to brush up on her jiu jitsu, a couple of top episodes with the tension ratcheting up as the FBI gets closer, top spying techniques deployed and everyone feels sadder and sadder.
Review: First episodethird episode

The Flash (US: The CW; UK: Sky 1)
2×23 – The Race of His Life
A reasonably decent finale with some clever plot tricks, but one which still feels a little flat after a generally miserable season. Nice to see they’ve found a way to make the 1990s show reasonably canon, too, but does the ending mean that we can be expecting Flashpoint next season? Oh god no.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Game of Thrones (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
6×6 – Blood of my Blood – 6×7 – The Broken Man
A little bit of a filler episode that didn’t do anything unexpected, followed by an episode that did a whole bunch of unexpected things, as well as an expected thing that was still surprising. I can’t say more than that – spoilers, you know?
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episodefirst seasonsecond and third seasons

Silicon Valley (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
3×6 – Bachmanity Insanity – 3×7 – To Build A Better Beta
You wouldn’t have thought two episodes about tabs versus spaces when coding, and beta testing could be so funny, would you? I suspect to many people they weren’t. Indeed, the season’s been a little aimless since the departure of Stephen Tobolowsky. That said, there’s some good character comedy going on, although TJ Miller’s character is becoming increasingly redundant by the minute.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episodethird episode

The Tunnel (Tunnel) (UK: Sky Atlantic; France: Canal+)
A strange ending to a strange season, with the show suddenly becoming more interested in spies, MI5 and MI6 than cops and mysteries (in much the same way as Between The Lines did). Overall, despite some fine work improving the French focus of the show and some good first episodes, as well as a neat, last-minute tie-in to the first season, this second season lacked focus and didn’t really have much to add or say for itself. Bit of a shame, really, although the final 10 minutes will probably stick with you if you decide to watch it.
Reviews: First episode

  • JustStark

    So The Americans has started on ITV Encore, and while the US one is still airing — wonders will never cease! It's still good, too, indeed, possibly better than it's been since the first series because frankly the Paige plot is the core of what's interesting about the premise.

    I don't get why it keeps going to Russia, though. She is easy on the eye, but does anyone really still care about Nina? Even Stan's moved on.

    I've been catching up on the second series of Fargo, too, and it's similar to the first one but just feels a bit too drawn-out: slow-paced is fine, that's what you want from Fargo, it's the three or four unnecessary plot turns that seem to have been thrown in just to keep the story going. Six slow, leisurely episodes would have been perfect.

    I rented Dark Matter on disk. Brainless sci-fi action-adventure, lots of quips, guns and spaceships, definitely prime fodder for the teenage boy I was oh so very long ago.

    But the one I really want to bring to people's attention is one of Channel 4's 'world drama' things. Despite being disappointed by The Lens, when I noticed they had a new Czech fantasy series, I thought, well, the Czechs are good at surrealism (eg Kafka, Zeman, Svankmajer) so I'll give it a go.

    And that's how I discovered the rather good The Invisibles. About a race of people able to breath water, but otherwise indistinguishable from humans, hiding in plain sight, and concerned for the future of their community as their numbers dwindle due to interbreeding with humans (or 'landlubbers' as the subtitles have them call us), it dips in and out of crime drama, overblown dynastic family soap, and, yes, high fantasy, all with a knowing lightness of touch that gets the most out of its comedy without ever descending to the level of blunt parody.

    And Prague is, as always, gorgeous and used to full effect as the backdrop.

    Definitely recommended. Just watch the opening of the first episode (though not the cut-down one-minute version linked as a clip from the bottom of that web page, you need the pacing to get the proper impact) and see if you don't love it.

  • Mark Carroll

    Welcome back! Also, “Clangers” has been back! I'm already a few episodes behind.

    I'm enjoying “Game of Thrones” but I'm one behind you on that and won't be getting to watch much noteworthy television this week.

    My son likes the new “Top Gear”. I didn't find it an execrable drop in quality but I'd thought the previous had been getting tired anyway.

    Finished off and enjoyed “Agent Carter”. Pretty unsubtle, but fun and not overly long. Fit the genre just fine.

    “Gotham” wrapped up okay. I'll probably come back for the next season but mostly because my wife will want to see it anyway.

    “The Americans” has been a recent highlight though. I'm enjoying that. Things keep happening and nothing is irritating.

  • Mark Carroll

    Ha, nearly forgot, caught the “Preacher” pilot: good fun, certainly enjoyed it.

  • bob

    I don't get the Nina love in the Americans either. I tended to zone out when her scenes were up. It's a good opportunity to make a cuppa.

  • Andy Butcher

    Welcome back, hope you enjoyed your break. 😉

    While there's no doubt that this was the weakest season of Arrow so far, I do think it picked up noticeably over the last few episodes. The biggest issue for me was one of scale. Like Daredevil and the other Netflix/Marvel characters, Ollie is a street-level hero. It's fine to have him and the gang up against a big bad who represents a global threat, but the focus should be on preventing the big bad from unleashing said threat. Once it's actually happening, the scale gets too large and the show becomes increasingly unconvincing.

    (As recovering comic geek, I tend to get frustrated by the 'where are the other heroes?' thing – heroes having individual adventures and not immediately calling up all their super-powered buddies to help out is just a convention of the genre to me. But in this case even I was wondering where Barry was and whether there was a way to contact the Legends…)

    Fortunately, the very end of the season finale left me with some hope that maybe the writers have recognised this and are deliberately setting up season five to be smaller in scale and get back to the city and street level where the show works best.

    Or at least it did, until the final scene of The Flash. Here comes Flashpoint, which means all the existing continuity for Arrow, Flash and Legends should literally become a thing of the past… 😉

    Unlike you, I think this could be kind of awesome – but only if Berlanti and his merry crew actually have the balls to follow through and have Flashpoint reset all three shows (and maybe even Supergirl as well – at the very least, it would provide the perfect excuse to have her come across to the Arrowverse Earth 1). If Arrow and Legends just continue unaffected and the altered timeline is localised to Central City, it'll be a both a mess and (imho) a huge missed opportunity.

  • GYAD

    VERSAILLES – Shambolic storytelling, risible soft-core sex and historical inaccuracies everywhere.

    FOLLOW THE MONEY – Brilliantly done but falls into all the usual Scandi cliches and drags on until it becomes tedious.

    GOMORRA 2 – The best thing on TV by far: savage, incisive and superbly made.

    THE RETURNED 2 – Very well done as always but all too clearly making it up as it goes along.

    LOCKED UP – Soap-opera-esque and too similar to other dramas about the same subject.

    TRAPPED – Yet more Scandi cliches and unbearably slow/obvious.

    BLUE EYES – A Scandi left-wing projection of what they think the far right is; also unnecessarily long.

    NG's LIKELY STORIES – Not terrible but not great.

  • There's a reason Nina's there. It just won't be obvious for a few episodes yet…

    Will check out The Invisibles – sounds interesting!

  • Thanks!

    Top Gear ep 1 seemed okay, if basically the same but more irritating thanks to Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc trying to act like they've been friends for years and failing terribly. LeBlanc also seems a worse actor live than either May or Hammond, which is both surprising and impressive.

  • Doctor Who suffered a lot in the RTD years from 'ever more impressive finale' syndrome. Earth at risk, then entire universe at risk – where do you go from that? I'm not sure the show found a solution, once the expectation was there.

    With Arrow, though, I'm hoping they find a different way to round off a season than 'big fights in the street, big fight between Ollie and the Big Bad, everyone deciding to give up being a member of Team Arrow' (assuming I stick with it).

    Theoretical Flashpoint doesn't worry me – an entire universe reset might be fun to watch, particularly if it brings Supergirl into the fold. It's if they start following the storyline of Flashpoint itself that I'll give up hope altogether.

  • Unnecessarily long is almost the defining quality of Scandinavian TV series

    Sorry Versailles turned out to be rubbish – you were looking forward to that, I think? Interestingly, I thought you'd said Marseilles at first and most of your criticisms actually still applied.

  • JustStark

    I'm not sure the show found a solution, once the expectation was there.

    Well, since Davies left, the finales have involved: universe destroyed, universe destroyed, Doctor killed (leading to universe having been destroyed because he wasn't there to save it), Earth invaded (which might look like a de-escalation except it had 'companion's boyfriend killed' chucked in as well).

    So I don't think it did manage to find a solution either.

    [Well, unless you count going from 'universe at risk of being destroyed' to 'universe actually destroyed' as a step up, but then it did that three times on the trot, so if it was it was the final step]

    (I honestly can't remember what happened in the most recent one, because that's after Doctor Who finally abandoned all pretence at storytelling in favour of being its own fan-fiction and Internet GIF generator).

  • GYAD

    I can't really remember…I thought the subject was good but as soon as I learnt it had British writers I adjusted my expectations – also the failing with The Last Panthers.

    Still haven't watched Marseilles but I'll get around to it at some point…

  • Andy Butcher

    Yeah, the 'ever more impressive finale' thing can be a real problem unless you plan it out, pace yourself and have a very definite end game in mind (one of the few examples I've seen of it done well is the Dresden Files series of novels by Jim Butcher – no relation, by the way).

    I think there's a tendency for some creators to believe the audience wants something bigger in scope than last time, when in fact all they really want is a good story. I can't believe anyone is going to stop watching a show that just had an excellent season with an engaging and satisfying season finale just because said finale didn't involve bigger consequences than last year's. Maybe that's just me, though. 😉

    As far as Flashpoint goes, I'm pretty confident they won't follow the comic version too closely, just the general concept.

    I'm actually a little sad that they already used the 'Robert Queen is the Hood and Ollie is the one who died' as something of a throw-away Flashpoint reference on Earth 2. There's a part of me that would have loved to see season five of Arrow starting like that. 😉

  • Mark Carroll

    Yes, “classic” DW had some decent multi-part stories where the outcome would affect barely more than the handful of people (in some remote part of space or whatever) the BBC could afford to show us!

  • I believe in the latest season (it's a bit fuzzy now), that the universe could only be saved by Clara dying like she was supposed to, except the Doctor decided to take a chance that it wouldn't. And it didn't, so he was right. Probably

  • No one need get round to watching Marseilles

  • GYAD

    My love of Gerard Depardieu has taken me to some bad places…

  • JustStark

    I can't be bothered to do the count, but I'm fairly sure that at least in more eras of the original programme, stories in which the entire Earth was at risk (let alone the universe) were the exception, rather than the rule.

  • JustStark

    It's so difficult to tell what happened and why now Doctor Who episodes don't bother with causal links.

  • Mark Carroll

    I did enjoy his Cyrano de Bergerac.

  • GYAD

    Excellent film.

    He is, hands down, one of the best actors in the world today.

    He's made some pretty dodgy films in Russia recently though…