What have you been watching? Including My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, Mr Robot, The Last Ship and Outcast

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, look at that. I’m back blogging in August. Okay, the Daily News won’t be back until September and I’m not going daily until then for anything else, either, but there’s a good chance I’ll be peppering August with further posts, including a look at the latest Amazon pilots, such as The Tick, Jean-Claude Van Johnson and I Love Dick, I hope.

Elsewhere, I reviewed the first season of Baron Noir (France: Canal+; UK: Amazon Prime), which was my holiday project, and I left you with my thoughts on Stranger Things (Netflix) and Star Trek Beyond (2016) before I went. But surprisingly, since then, there hasn’t actually been much new TV and as I did quite a purge before the holidays, the only regulars I’ll be covering after the jump are The Last Ship and Mr Robot, as well as everything up to the season finale of Outcast. I also haven’t been to the movies, being away and all, not even to see Jason Bourne

But we did watch one movie rather a lot:

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (2016) (iTunes)
The sequel to the worldwide success that was wedding culture-clash comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002), My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 brings back virtually the entire cast to just about manage to do something different, with Nia Vardalos and John Corbett’s daughter Elena Kampouris (American Odyssey) having to choose whether to go away to college or not, while facing the constant pressure to get married to a good Greek boy; meanwhile, Vardalos’ parents discover the priest at their wedding didn’t sign the certificate, meaning they’re going to have to have – you guessed it – a big fat Greek wedding.

Vardalos’ script is mostly a mother-daughter story, but is also partly a rejoinder to the original movie’s stereotypical portrayal of Greek culture, emphasising its potential for acceptance and diversity as well as the cloying conservatism shown in the original movie. Wisely, it also gives Andrea Martin far more to do. However, there are few of the original’s insights, various plot lines (eg Corbett’s relationship with his parents) go virtually nowhere, the Greek (what little there is of it, even between people who are from Greece) is atrocious, and the general message of hope and pushing boundaries of the original is destroyed, with Vardalos’ travel agency having closed between movies, forcing her to work for the family restaurant again, and her brother’s artistic talents going precisely nowhere either.

Nice to see everyone back together again, but a shame that Vardalos doesn’t have much left to say, it seems (did she use it all up on the TV series?).

The recommended list

The Last Ship (US: TNT; UK: Sky1)
3×7 – In the Dark – 3×10 – Scuttle
The slight alteration in format away from matters maritime towards conspiracy theories and land-based action is hurting the show somewhat, as is the low budget for the CGI, but generally, each episode has been guaranteed to fire the adrenaline glands full speed ahead at least once during its run. The arrival of additional ships has also made things interesting, to the extent that even the latest filler ep was marvellously tense. But can we get back to naval warfare again, please? Thanks.
Reviews: First episode Third episode

Mr Robot (US: USA Network; UK: Amazon Prime)
2×4 – eps2.2_init_1.asec – 2×7 – eps2.5_h4ndshake.sme
Another show that’s been treading water a bit, it finally gave us the big reveal that everyone had been theorising about since the first episode – and wasn’t it marvellous? I suspect more is to come, though, judging by that figure in the trunk of that brilliant 1980s sitcom mock-up in episode 6 (with a cameo by none other than Alf!)… It’s great to see the other characters getting something to do, too, as well as the continuing attention to detail at every level by Sam Esmail, despite the fact there’s literally nothing on-screen that you can trust as being what’s actually happening.
ReviewsFirst episodethird episode 

Outcast (US: Cinemax; UK: Fox International) 
1×7 – The Damage Done – 1×10 – This Little Light
A show I probably promoted to recommended before it was ready, Outcast has had continuing problems since those early episodes, not the least of which was nothing happening for episodes at a time. While the later episodes have at least given us a few more clues as to what’s going on than we had at the beginning, and there’s been some enticing moral ambiguity, too, the show has nevertheless been less a US version of Apparitionsmore a slower version of Heroes set in one tedious little, demon-riddled Virginian backwater town. The genuine chills of the earlier episodes have also disappeared, something expedited by Brent Spiner’s hammy act and hat. The season finale did offer enough of a change of pace and direction that the second season still holds some appeal for me, but if I do go back to it, things had better start happening and soon. Overall, a slightly disappointing first season after a good start, buoyed up by some intelligence and Atticus Ross/Leopold Ross/Claudia Sarne’s brilliant soundtrack.
ReviewFirst episode

  • Mark Carroll

    (Memory a bit hazy but,)

    I am perhaps more entertained by or patient with “Outcast”. The reveal at the end was nice and I like to imagine they're not just making up the “how things are and why” as they go along. It's one of the most entertaining things on for us but that may simply speak poorly of what else is in easy reach. It is nice to see husband-of-lady losing some confidence in his chosen path.

    We did watch “Stranger Things” and found it generally entertaining, thank you. Winona Ryder was good. It wasn't great — I don't think it quite warranted the stellar press it subsequently got — but it was indeed worth watching, especially as we're Netflix subscribers anyway, it wasn't billions of episodes long, and it might have made some kind of sense at times.

    Netflix also led my family into binging on “American Horror Story”. It seems well-made but, goodness, I find the characters simple and the plot absolute bobbins, I just can't bring myself to give half a dingo's kidney about it. Now they're watching “Soul Eater” instead where some of the characters might be growing on me but overall I'm also not sure what the appeal is.

    I'm enjoying “Mr Robot”. It's nice to watch something that's been carefully thought through. I wonder where it's going. It's certainly well-delivered and makes my shortlist of best current things. It's delivered well on cool-things bingo too though I think I'm still awaiting a Tox client.

    I enjoyed “Preacher”. It looks like we're firmly on a road trip now of much the expected form. I'll certainly be sticking with it. There are a number of nice moments of humor and it is firmly rooted in its comic-book origins.

    I watched a sizable chunk of “The Last Ship”. I'm not quite up to date but the third season has trundled along well given the much worse things it could have otherwise been. I'm not going to say it has much highbrow merit but it does have the property of making me want to watch the next episode too.

    Hmmm. I think I'd better push movies off to another entry.

  • Mark Carroll

    One pleasant surprise was “Shooter” with Mark Wahlberg. Okay, it wasn't Oscar material by any means, but as mainstream American action films go, it was actually quite entertaining.

    In contrast, “Event Horizon” wasn't so great. They did the space stuff nicely, it felt (er) atmospheric and authentic, they had good cast, but the fundamental horror plot thing just kind of went from reasonable mystery steadily downhill.

    I could say the same of “Dark Skies”. Alien abduction doesn't have to be quite that silly and, in a sense, it was all a bit inconclusive, but it did have some nice tense parts and it's hard not to like something that gives Keri Russell plenty of screentime.

    I also gave “The Awakening” a try. Nice cast and nicely shot and happy that Rebecca Hall's getting decent work. In later reveals it did make some amount of sense though not entirely. I wouldn't say it was exactly scary or perhaps even worth watching but it wasn't too bad.

    “Godzilla -vs- Space Godzilla” turned out to be quite good. If one goes in with the reasonable expectation that it's going to be absolute bobbins then one'll be entertained and satisfied by this effort, especially given the mining rocket with detachable head and pilot with a grudge. Though, now I can't recall that the tiny ladies with the moth fellows sang for us, maybe they just told us things.

    We saw “The Danish Girl” which probably was about as one would expect. Not really my kind of thing, and honestly “he” seemed a bit tedious, but I suppose if it were close to the actual story then it's worth telling. (In terms of advancing transgender issues I'd have probably found a documentary on people's experiences of the modern NHS approach more valuable.)

    The same for “Steve Jobs”, I guess, without the NHS bit. It did find it engaging and it seemed to pick a good selection of history to portray. I don't know much of the story well but to my ignorant eyes it seemed about right. It did actually hold my attention more than I expected which was annoying because I wanted to get on with other things.

  • Stranger Things isn't especially innovative. It's more a love letter to the 80s, Spielberg, King et al, so best considered as such, rather than as an innovative drama. I did like that they were willing to stray from their 80s box, though, such as with the Under The Skin black room scenes.

    Last Ship isn't a Great Programme, but it is a great programme to watch

  • Shooter's surprisingly not awful, isn't it? You can tell why they're making a TV series version of it, can't you?

    Event Horizon's disappointing but it has its moments IIRC. Bit too gory for me, though.

    Thanks for the warnings on Steve Jobs and Danish Girl, which I might almost have watched otherwise!

  • JustStark

    I caught up with The Last Ship based on your recommendation and the fact it turned up on NowTV. Goodness, it's incredibly moreish, isn't it? In just the way I hear crack is. I also admire the brazenness with which they base entire episodes around things like, 'What have we not done yet? A minefield? Yeah, let's do that for an episode, never mind it makes no sense.'

    I'd quite like to see Stranger Things but it's only on Netflix and to subscribe to every online TV service would be just too expensive, so a line must be drawn. I hope it comes out on disk.

    The Americans was brilliant. Can't wait to see the rest of that.

    Oh, and Mark, if you're still looking for horror films, I saw a Kiwi horror-comedy called Housebound which was quite good, I thought. More tilted towards the horror than What We Do in the Shadows, but still definitely comedy, so don't expect searing terror that will haunt your nights, I will just say, stick with it during the bits where you go 'What, really?' — I found it just about redeemed itself each time.

  • JustStark

    Also as regards The Last Ship, I do love how Lantern-Jawed Captain (I assume the characters have names, I don't see why I should bother learning them) always set his face like he has just smelled something really bad. A graduate of the Joey Tribbiani School for the Dramatic Arts, methinks.

    Plus on average twice and episode I end up humming Bananarama, so that's all good.

  • JustStark

    Oh, goodness, yes, Dark Skies. I watched it because of Keri Russell, obviously (I've loved her since Waitress), but I can think of few films which have quite as much of a disappointing fall from first half to second: some start bad and continue that way, but Dark Skies has some really nice moments in the set-up, and a couple of very creepy scares, before it all just goes completely to pot.

    Event Horizon on the other hand just kind of peters out as it becomes apparent that they only had one idea and it isn't quite enough to last the running time. Though, I did find it effective the way they establish that Bad Things can happen when the rotating circles line up, and then keep cutting back to them just as they align. Though maybe they do that once too often as well, again, some good ideas but not enough to last the full film.

    Sam Neil is always good value, though, I thought the last series of Peaky Blinders really felt his absence.

  • Mark Carroll

    Aha, thank you for the recommendation. (Yes, the minefield really was silly! And, yes, too many TV services; if you can wait for The Americans then you certainly can Stranger Things.)

  • Mark Carroll

    She was pretty compelling in Waitress, yes.

  • JustStark

    Last night, I watched Fleabag. I saw from the logo it had been produced for BBC3 but still, I thought, how bad can it really be?


  • I've obviously watched The Last Ship from the beginning and some episodes several times. It still took me five minutes to remember the name of the captain. He's still the only one I can name (I can guess at others but only with 50% certainty max).

  • Gratefully forewarned. I'd heard Twitter chat about it that was positive so there was an actual chance I might have watched it

  • Mark Carroll

    Just now I could remember his XO's surname but not his.

  • JustStark

    I do appreciate the way they fill out the minor character roster with people of different races and sexes in each category, making it very easy to keep track of who's who: there's Woman Scientist, Man Scientist, Black Bridge Guy, White Bridge Guy [bit of a cheat him, as he's also 'Guy From Chuck'], White Bridge Woman, Black Bridge Woman, Action Woman, Black Action Guy, White Action Guy, Ozzie Action Guy, Engineering Woman, etc etc.

    Much more considerate than Generation Kill, which was just a bunch of identical white guys with identical haircuts in identical uniforms. I had literally no idea what was going on for half of that.

  • Yes, that's largely how I keep track, when I don't know the actors' names. Oddly, now I think about it, that's how I think of them: 'Rhona Mitry from SGU and The Gates who's always a bit of a b*tch', 'that Baldwin who was in Chuck and likes Gamergate', 'Captain Dane who's the gay sportsman in one of those ensemble calendar date movies', 'English scientist who was the terrible Russian bad guy in Y-fronts in Taken 3', 'Bridget “Legend of the Seeker” Regan who was 1950s Black Widow in Agent Carter' and so on. Character names, personalities, et al pass me by, often because they don't really have them. I mean does Black Vicar actually have a name or do anything except be a Black Vicar?

  • Mark Carroll

    The Walking Dead has a black vicar too.

  • Oh, you mean, “Seth Gilliam who was the bright black patrol cop in The Wire” as I think of him when I see him

  • JustStark

    I clearly haven't watched as much American television (or crappy action movies) as you, so I have less to draw on: I basically got stuck as 'Guy from Chuck'.

    (I hadn't noticed the new girl was the one from Agent Carter, because she was a blonde in that, and I am basically that shallow; though I know the helicopter pilot is 'her from Dollhouse')

    The Last Ship is kind of over at the far edge of the spectrum where the characters don't really exist, though, they're just there to go through the motions. At the other end you've got something like The Americans where I can name pretty much all the main cast (the only ones I'm not sure about are a couple of the minor FBI agents) because it is the characters, and their relationships with each other, which are important.

    And then you've got things like Outcast, which I am watching, well, I say watching, but it doesn't really keep my attention, so while I'm just about following the plot, and the characters are important, I still couldn't tell you any of their names except, let me just look up and check I'm right, yes, except the redhead sister.

    I sometimes wonder whether it would be better if I didn't know any of the actors or actresses, so I couldn't use shorthand and would have to pay more attention.

    On the subject of names, I watched Identity Thief. I don't recommend it, it's terrible, but Genesis Rodriguez was quite good in it, albeit in a rather crappy rôle that didn't give her much to do.

  • Mark Carroll

    As I just had to look up the name of Keri Russell's character in The Americans I'm possibly disqualified! (Her husband and children, I could remember.)

  • Her from Dollhouse is of course Her from Neighbours, too. Not that that narrows it down. She's also in the second season of Agents of SHIELD, playing Pretty Eyes' mum, but no human being would want to be associated with that show.

    Last Ship characters all represent Something Great About America. I'm starting to suspect that the current storyline is also about how Liberals Are Not Those Things That Are Great About America. But I'm not fussed.

  • Page is the only name I can remember off the top of my head. Keri Russell is of course 'her off Running Wilde with Will Arnett and Peter Serafinowicz'

  • JustStark

    I haven't watched Neighbours for, oh, over two decades. Like, since Kylie Minogue was actually young enough to play her Doctor Who character.

    Though obviously I bowed my head for Mrs Mangel.

    The UK broadcast of <ithe last=”” ship<=”” i=””> still has them farting about in the South China Sea, & is mainly about how to really obviously set the Chinese Premier up as a red herring bad guy, though I haven't quite worked out who the real one is yet, so I guess that's kind of a success.

    Is this your next Great Searching Question, then? What TV programmes do you know the names of most characters off of?

  • Mark Carroll

    Blake's 7? (-:

  • That's a good one. I reckon Doctor Who will be the one 100% of people who watch (and most who don't watch) will know who the hero of Doctor Who is ± arguments about whether it's The Doctor or Dr/Doctor Who and pretty close to 100% of those who watch will know at least the first name of the current companion(s). Which is the entire regular cast.

  • JustStark

    Yes, but it's still only two characters, which is kind of cheating… it's like knowing Mulder and Scully off of The X Files. But what was their boss called?

    So I think we have to go by number-of-characters, not proportion-of-cast, to avoid easy cases like that and Quantum Leap.

    (Do we count characters who are named but never appear? Like can you name Mulder's sister, or Niles's wife?)

  • I think two is fine, if potentially, slightly trivial, depending on the rules. What was Al's surname in Quantum Leap? How many people remember it was Fox Mulder, not just Mulder? Roj Blake, Kerr Avon, Villa Restell, Jenna Stannis or just Blake, Avon, Villa and Jenna?

    So do we stop at 'the name everyone knows them by', one of their names or insist on full name?

    I think Doctor Who is still 100% within the laxer rules, BTW, no matter the number of regulars (eg The Doctor, Amy, Rory; The Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan and Adric; the Doctor, Jo Grant, The Brigadier, Mike Yates, Sergeant Benton; etc).

    I don't think we count characters that never appear. Or cartoons, or else the Simpsons would win.

  • Mark Carroll

    My wife, who liked the show, can't recall Al's surname, but claims she could pick it out in multiple choice!

  • JustStark

    That also has the advantage that the characters are named in the opening narration, which of course I assume we can all quote off by heart.

    'Theorising that one could time-travel within one's one lifetime…'