What have you been watching? Including The Night Manager, Outcast, The Americans 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. 

Sunday’s got a bit busy all of a sudden. As well as Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley, we now have Secret City and the returning The Last Ship, as well as Preacher once it catches up with me. So unless I take every Monday off work or forgo sleep, I’m thinking I’m not going to be able to watch all of those in time for WHYBW. So this week, WHYBW will be returning to Fridays (or more probably Saturdays. Sob), given Thursday’s worldwide TV schedule currently consists of Cleverman. Hold your thoughts on Silicon Valley, Secret City and The Last Ship until then, so we can share.

Anyway, thanks to the world unleashing a huge swathe of new shows for us all to try out, this week I reviewed/previewed elsewhere:

I’ll be previewing/reviewing Uncle Buck (US: ABC) and Still The King (US: CMT) in the next couple of days, and after the jump, I’ll be reviewing the latest episodes of Cleverman, Game of Thrones and Outcast, as well as the season finale of The Americans. But first, over the weekend, I finally got round to boxsetting a show you’ve almost all probably seen and forgotten already!

The Night Manager (UK: BBC One)
The first John Le Carré TV adaptation in 20 years, Tom Hiddleston’s audition tape for the role of James Bond sees him playing a former soldier turned hotel night manager sign up with SIS (in the form of Olivia Colman) to defeat international, improbably accented gun runner Hugh Laurie as he tours all manner of shiny places in HD. It all looks lovely and it’s got a great supporting cast (Tom Hollander and David Harewood), but the UK production aesthetics (music, title sequence) make it seem a lot cheaper than it is, and to be honest, Le Carré’s plotting stretches into the clunky, simplistic and improbable at times, with few surprises. The ending is also a disappointment, essentially relying on Laurie giving an almost total stranger who’s a thief and a murderer exclusive control over $300m – after the set-up, I was expecting something a lot smarter. But the low-fi spying, Hiddleston and the locations make it more memorable.

Shows I’m watching but not recommending

Cleverman (Australia: ABC; UK: BBC Three)
1×2 – Containment
A slightly less action-packed episode that also reveals a few unexpected depths: while the ‘hairies’ of the piece are treated as the aborigines were historically treated, what’s made much clearer here is that rather than be metaphors, they’re supposed to be literally the hairies of the Aboriginal Dreaming. Indeed, what the show is actually doing is treating the Dreaming, the Cleverman and all the stories as being literally true (more or less), with the Aborigines themselves being characters in their own rights, which is a lot more interesting than it seemed to be in episode one. Nice to have whole chunks of dialogue in Gumbaynggirr, too. But it needs to pick up a bit in terms of showing us what it’s up to, since at the moment, it’s all a bit ‘modern life is rubbish’.
Review: First episode

Outcast (US: Cinemax; UK: Fox International) 
1×2 – (I Remember) When She Loved Me
Probably to get promoted next week to the recommended, a genuinely unsettling bit of horror that was a whole lot smarter than its Exorcist pilot, as we ask what if the devil were really real and only a smart town preacher truly believed it – and had to fight the devil by himself. To be honest, it could still be utter rubbish and I’d watch it just for the Atticus Ross score, though. 
Review: First episode

The recommended list

The Americans (US: FX; UK: ITV Encore)
4×13 – Persona Non Grata
The saddest show on TV rounds off its best season since the first with a traditional finale of no truly big events, just more sadness and various characters filled with ennui/dying/departing. Marvellous to see a show that just fails to obey all the traditional rules of TV storytelling in terms of ‘beats’, but one that’s so smart about it.
Review: First episodethird episode

Game of Thrones (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
6×8 – No One
The Arya Stark storyline gets an interesting push (although probably not this one), as does Daenarys’, but mainly an episode of amusement and character moments, particularly for the Hound, Jamie and Daenarys’ retinue. Quite fun, but I’d quite like a new Red Wedding some time soon.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episodefirst seasonsecond and third seasons

  • Mark Carroll

    Thanks, interesting to read your take on “The Night Manager”, fine it took a while! I took it somewhat as being fun, pretty fluff.

  • That's about right 😉

  • GYAD

    Oh boy, I'd forgotten that I even watched The Night Manager.

    I pretty much concur – glamorous but stupid.

    My big problem was that after all PR tosh about Le Carre-esque realism, it ended up being very, very silly and quite monocultural.

    We have a British hero backed by a British team infiltrating the world of a British arms dealer and his British team. Oh and there's a couple of Americans and some English-speaking white mercenaries too.

    The Arab and Spanish characters are all pretty shallow and are mostly disposed of quite quickly. The geopolitics are laughable – apparently the Turkish authorities don't notice when you build a mercenary army and napalm villages on their border with Syria.

    And why are they selling this stuff? I'm not really sure. Even the kit being sold to the Egyptians at the beginning was silly – you don't put down a street movement with F-22s (on the manifest); you just need small arms and men willing to use them.

    What's weird is that there is an obvious case this should have been based on: the buying of Eastern Euro arms by various (Western) intelligence services and the smuggling of them to Turkey and Jordan where they were provided to Syrian rebel groups. That would be an interesting and morally complex background.

    In fairness Laurie make a good villain and Hollander steals every single scene he's in, but the rest is like far too many BBC dramas: moderately entertaining but hardly informative or educational.

  • I think napalm was in the list, too. Hmm. But I was more intrigued not just that illegal gun runners had computerised systems that printed out then faxed rather than email ordered, but they did it without even the slightest hint of encryption. It was 2011 but even '6 of your finest baguettes… nod, nod, wink, wink' would have been better than nothing. And were people even using faxes still in 2011?

    Anyway, it was yet another viewing of a UK drama on my part that lived down to expectations and made me wonder why I'd bothered*. I wasn't exactly expecting Smiley's People, but from all the praise it was getting, I was thinking it might have some unique or outstanding features, other than Tom Hiddleston's backside.

    Haven't watched the Miami Vice movie yet. Kept meaning to, since a) Miami Vice b) Michael Mann, but never got round to it. That'll be promoted on the list then.

    * Knew I should have watched something foreign – I also watched Mary Beard's Rome documentary series, which was 'glamorous but stupid', too. Thinking UK TV might be virtually a lost cause…

  • GYAD

    Yes, the lack of any sort of cyber tradecraft was amazing. I did get a distinct sense of 'old-man-ism'; that Le Carre and the screenwriter weren't really comfortable with 21st century espionage.

    Like you I was expecting it to be good, if not a classic, from the reviews. But apart from a good cast and some nice scenery it didn't deliver. For me the problem is in the writing – far too shallow. And tbh I thought the famous backside sex scene had as much sizzle as tofu bacon…

    I have to warn you that Miami Vice is a very polarising film; some love it, others hate it. I hope for you it's the former!

  • Yeah, you can get away with the old manism if you acknowledge it in some way, such as with The Wire where everyone was using pagers in season 1 as a retro way to overcome police surveillance (and because it was based on a real case in the 80s so pre-cellphones). Here it was just a big plot loophole.

    Fingers crossed for Vice though!

  • GYAD

    Absolutely – same as how some terror groups use human couriers or very obscure dialects because they know they can't out-tech the US.

  • JustStark

    What amused me about it was the way it was determined to do every single spy story cliché*, without even a hint of justification beyond its shiny production values.

    Just the sheer chutzpah of its 'it makes no sense, but look! Turkey!' attitude was entertaining.

    * ie, all the glossy James Bond ones (with Hiddleston) and all the gritty Harry Palmer ones with (pregnant, for added down-to-earthness!) Olivia Coleman, not just in the same programme but in back-to-back scenes, leading to massive tonal whiplash.

  • Coleman's also the trademark Le Carré grungy 'everyperson' – like George Smiley

  • JustStark

    Right: every single spy cliché there is, all in one series, one after the other, utterly shamelessly.

  • Pingback: The Medium is Not Enough TV blog()

  • Pingback: The Medium is Not Enough TV blog()