What have you been watching? Including The Last Ship, Westside, Secret City and Cleverman

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. 

You can tell the summer’s season now fully under way, can’t you? New shows everywhere, as well as returning shows, with more to come. But all is in hand. Elsewhere, you can find my reviews this week of the first episode or two of the following exciting new shows:

And after the jump, I’ll be updating you on the latest episodes of Animal Kingdom, Cleverman, Feed The Beast, Outcast, Secret City, Uncle Buck and Silicon Valley, as well as the returning The Last Ship and Westside. Two of those shows are for the chop and one is being promoted to the recommended list – but which are which? There’s also a whole bunch of potted third-episode verdicts, since I can’t be bothered to do them all individually.

I’ve also been doing some more laggardly box-setting, so I’ll be chatting about the final five episodes of Ófærð (Trapped) as well as the entire third series of Plebs, too. That’s all after the jump. TTFN!

Shows I’m watching but not recommending

Animal Kingdom (US: TNT)
1×2 – We Don’t Hurt People
A moderately smarter second episode than the first, treading similar territory to Smith (in terms of plot) and Southland (in terms of direction), with the (literally) fatal mistakes of the first episode coming back to bite our anti-heroes’ backsides and hopefully lead to their undoing. But it’s still characterless and unengaging and for all its self-belief of edginess, it’s still basic for basic cable crime stories.
Review: First episode

Cleverman (Australia: ABC; UK: BBC Three)
1×3 – A Free Ranger
Bit of a dull one and again, a show of two distinct storylines:

  1. A snorefest/borderline laughbale story about the oppressed ‘hairy’ population, which this week involved, as well as a nasty madam, some evil hairdressers (I kid you not).
  2. A much more interesting story involving the intersection of science and the supernatural, the Aboriginal Dreaming, predicting the future and more

Unfortunately, the show seems far more interested in plot line 1 than plot line 2. I might keep watching, as it’s only six episodes, but it’s too much of a slog at the moment for me to recommend it.
Review: First episode
Barrometer rating:
 4
Would it be better with a female lead? Yes, although none of the ones in the current cast.
TMINE’s prediction: Already renewed for a second season, but unlikely to go down as a classic and not providing anything much that you won’t be able to find elsewhere.

Feed The Beast (US: AMC; UK: BT Vision)
1×3 – Screw You, Randy
Marginally more interesting than the first two episodes, with some character work that makes everyone a bit more plausible and engaging. The crime side of things is taking steady steps towards reality, too, and everyone also seems now to have learnt how to pronounce θηρίο. But still some daftness of plotting, particularly the cliffhanger at the end of the episode, means it all still feels like a bunch of episodes designed to fill up airspace, rather than anything compelling or necessary.
Review: First two episodes
Barrometer rating: 3
Would it be better with female leads? Yes
TMINE’s prediction: Will probably get a second season, purely because of David Schwimmer, but not worth watching for any other reason 

Secret City (Australia: Foxtel Showcase)
1×3 – Beware The Jabberwock
A less interesting, more somber affair, as the fallout from the events at the end of the second episode make an impact. Largely, indeed, an intelligent episode that was about characterising an already dead character. However, the computer side of things managed to get a bit more realistic and we’re now firmly in Edward Snowden territory, too. Whether this moves to the recommended list will depend on today’s fourth episode, but the odds are looking good, if the show can recover some of its pizzazz from the first two episodes.
Review: First two episodes
Barrometer rating: 2
Would it be better with a female lead? N/A
TMINE’s prediction: It’s a mini-series based on two books, but I imagine if it proves successful, it could spawn an original sequel.

Uncle Buck (US: ABC)
1×2 – Li’l Scarface
Not one joke. Not one laugh. Indeed, the show’s headed into some dodgy territory, with this particular Uncle Buck helping his young niece to sell cookies, using some of the tricks he learnt as… a conman/drug dealer. Hmm. The show’s one redeeming feature is its attempts to show differences in class in US black culture, but that’s not enough to make me keep watching.
Review: First episode

Westside (New Zealand: TV3)2×1
The return of the Outrageous Fortune prequel continues straight on from last season to finish off some plotlines and start everything on an even keel from next episode. In the gap between seasons, there’s been some recasting of young Wolf, who’s been working with a biker gang. And his dad’s got a beard, which would probably inspire Wolf’s own beard at some point in the future. Otherwise, a not very fun or joyful episode, but some good individual moments. If the next episode isn’t a lot more fun, I’m probably going to bail, though.
Review: First episode; third episode

The recommended list

The Last Ship (US: TNT; UK: Sky1)
3×1 – The Scott Effect – 3×2 – Rising Sun
I was a bit worried for this third season, when I heard that there was going to be a 50-50 split of the action between land and sea. Given that the MacGuffin for the whole show – the virus – has now been more or less cured (subject to ‘The Scott Effect’) and that the show is now more about world building, that meant my two big genre loves that drew me to the show (killer viruses/ships) wouldn’t be part of it to as great an extent. However, I needed haven’t been worried. As well as just the usual outright daftness (remind me how radiation works again? Is it different in the apocalypse?), there’s the usual Big Things that set up the action nicely, including a few character deaths and (spoiler alert) the US is probably at war with China by the end of the second episode. We’ve also got some new arrivals, including Dichen Lachman, who’s perfectly cast for once, and Bridget Regan. And there was enough action without ships (and with) to give me the adrenalin shot I need from the show. Definitely one to stick with.
Reviews: First episode Third episode

Outcast (US: Cinemax; UK: Fox International) 
1×3 – All Alone Now
A swift promotion to the recommended list for the new Exorcist, despite having Brent Spiner wandering around in a silly hat. An occasionally genuinely disturbing show, with a marvellous Atticus Ross/Leopold Ross/Claudia Sarne score, it’s a claustrophobic little number that wonders what it would be like if demonic possessions were happening all around us, and we needed to believe in both Jesus and Philip Glenister to survive. It’s all a little overblown, but its main horror stems from the insidiousness of Satan’s words and conversation, as well as the loneliness of human existence, rather than gore and directorial tricks. 
Review: First episode
Barrometer rating: 2
Would it be better with a female lead? Probably, although female leads in horror stories aren’t exactly unknown
TMINE’s prediction: Already renewed for a second season, but might go on for longer, if the central idea turns out to be good.Review: First episode

Plebs (UK: ITV2)3×1-3×8
Somehow, I missed the start of this so I saved all the episodes up to watch in one go. Not as effective as previous seasons, with more or less the same tropes recycled, but a few changes for the better – Maureen Lipman as the Landlord’s mother and a new fiery French girl (Bella Dayne – shortly to be popping up in Channel 4’s Humans) to replace the two Brit girls of the first two seasons – that opened up a few new plot avenues. Generally smart, though, and a lot nicer than the “The InBetweeners in Ancient Rome” plot summary would have you believe. I might stick with it if there’s a fourth season, but only by boxset, since I suspect I would have given up midway through the season otherwise.
Review: First episode

Silicon Valley (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
3×8 – Bachman’s Earnings Over-Ride
The first episode I’ve properly laughed at in a while, particularly the joke involving the corporate jet, and the show also manages to find a role for TJ Miller, which was a surprise. Looks like everything’s back on track again.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Ófærð (Trapped) (Iceland: RÚV; UK: BBC Four)
1×6-1×10It’s taken me an embarassingly long time to watch the remaining episodes of Ófærð (Trapped), mainly because it’s really hard to watch while you’re do the ironing, but also because it started to drag a bit around episodes 4-6. But finally, I managed it and I have to say, all in all, despite the pacing issues, probably my favourite Nordic Noir since season 1 of Bron/Broen (The Bridge). Characters who feel like real people responding to real problems, a lack of master criminals, some great acting, some beautiful scenery beautifully shot, and lots of emotions, it felt like a proper crime story, rather than the traditional murder-mystery we’ve had to deal with with a lot of Norse Noir. It’s not flawless, particularly the finale, and it was too long by at least a couple of episodes, but I’m glad I eventually made it through to the end.
Review: First three episodes

  • GYAD

    GOMORRA 2 – The end of the best series of the year so far; savagely real, brilliantly realised & a great car chase to boot

    HOLLOW CROWN – Another pompous, faux-gritty, ahistorical series with too much luvvie acting…give me Olivier any day

    PERSON OF INTEREST – Still silly but moderately amusing

    NEW BLOOD – A old man's view of what millenials are like, wedded to an unconvincing corporate crime plot

  • Mark Carroll

    I am glad you mostly liked “Trapped”. It quite-slowly grew on me. I may have to start thinking about watching “Outcast”, we'll see.

    “Game of Thrones” we have to stay vague about, I suppose. The latest (penultimate, I think?) didn't exactly grip me, but I don't mind the fan-pleasing lack of nasty surprises because I think there's still credible potential for them. I'm enjoying it, though lately the special effects have occasionally been a little distractingly ropey.

    Somehow “The Americans”' finale didn't quite grab or excite me either, though abstractly it seems like it should have been good. Lately it's felt a bit low-energy somehow, maybe through Philip's issues. Still one of the best things on though.

    “Top Gear”'s been okay. I can't say I'd recommend it, but I'm in the room when it's on, and I also can't say it feels much worse than the previous season; the show had felt tired — too obviously contrived — for me for some time now. I do miss Jeremy Clarkson articulating what many people probably think. The kids are still liking it.

    “Upstart Crow”'s been okay too; I'm also in the room when it's on. It's a peculiar one: nice idea, plenty of wit and variety, irritants are mild and brief, but unfortunately for me it just doesn't get quite as far as actually being funny, and is perhaps in increasing danger of recycling too many previous ideas in further episodes.

  • Mark Carroll

    I haven't got around to “Hollow Crown” yet and goodness there are hours of it. In general I've been remiss with the histories. Does your criticism cover the earlier ones too or just this latest batch? I also grabbed “A Midsummer Night's Dream” that was on BBC recently that I also didn't yet get around to; that I've only otherwise seen as a live outdoor amateur production.

  • I'm going to have to get round to boxsetting Gomorra, aren't I?

  • Was thinking about watching Upstart Crow, but sounds like I'm not missing anything then?

  • Midsummer Night's Dream was an adaptation by Russell T Davies. I hear good things about it, but it sounds like a very loose, Rusty adaptation indeed

  • JustStark

    It's amusing enough to pass the time — I've been downloading it to my device and watching it at the gym or on aeroplanes — but nothing special, and suffers from the fact it thinks that made-up words are inherently funny. They aren't.

    But, like I say, it's amusing, and it helps if you know, for example, which plays were written by (or, as the programme would have it, credited to) Christopher Marlowe and which by Shakespeare.

  • GYAD

    A lot of people have liked it but I'm a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to Shakespeare.

    The second series is probably a bit better than the first, although they mostly suffer the same problems.

  • GYAD

    I hope so…!

    It takes a while to sort itself out in the first series but then just keeps getting better and better.

  • Mark Carroll

    Agreed. Also, they're short and consistent so safe and easy to watch a couple and decide on that basis.

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