What have you been watching? Including En Immersion, Neviditelní, Gomorra and The Collection

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. 

Look at that – Autumn’s here. How did that happen?

Anyway, just as leaves will fall and everyone in the US is now morally obliged to stop wearing white, so TMINE returns to its usual blogging service come Autumn. More or less. Give it a week or so, anyway.

However, although I’m braced and ready for duty, the TV networks are biding their time, deploying some sophisticated form of Sicilian Defence with their schedules, which means there’s not been a lot new for me to review since the previous WHYBW?, other than the somewhat awful Four In The Morning (Canada: CBC) and a whole bunch of Amazon pilots. A few old favourites have returned, though, which means that after the jump, as well as The Last Ship and Mr Robot, I’ll be casting an eye over the first new episodes of the third seasons of Halt and Catch Fire and You’re The Worst, as well as the start of season two of Narcos.

I did manage to look over a couple of new shows, fresh off the presses, though.

En Immersion (Deep) (France: Arte; UK: Netflix)
Stylised French crime drama from Philippe Haïm (Braquo) in which Patrick Ridremont (Dead Man Talking) plays an unambitious cop and single father living in Paris. When he starts to suffer hallucinations, he discovers he is suffering from an incurable fatal neurological disease. With nothing left to lose, Ridremont joins a team of undercover narcotics agents led by Emmanuelle Meyssignac (The Avignon Prophecy), working to bring down Olivier Chantreau (Spiral) and his designer drugs.

As you can probably guess from the fact it was made for France’s arty Arte, En Immerson is more about how the story is told than what the story is, with the series shot in black and white and Haïm at times replacing dialogue with music. Visually, it’s lovely, but unfortunately, it’s also completely uncompelling, not exactly innovative in terms of plotting, and its Braquo-esque ultraviolence is as hard to palate. 

The Collection (Amazon)
Set in France just after the Second World War, The Collection sees Richard Coyle (Coupling, Crossbones, Covert Affairs) playing the owner of a fashion house that is going to give France a makeover and once more associate it with fun, haute couture and femininity. Trouble is that the talented one who can design clothes is his f*ck-up brother Tom Riley (Da Vinci’s Demons). How can the ruthless Coyle get little bro with the programme, while preventing the deep, dark, possibly wartime-collaborating family secret from seeing the light of day? Well, it ain’t going to be pretty…

Echoing the latter day production arrangements of Ripper Street, it’s an odd little thing, this, with a whole host of American actors playing moustache-twirling Americans (including Mr Robot/The Newsroom‘s Mamie Gummer), a whole host of Britain’s finest (including James Cosmo, Sarah Parish and Frances De La Tour) playing the French and a soupçon of French actors in teeny tiny unnoticable parts playing god-knows-what, with virtually every exterior shot of post-war Paris apparently shot on the same repeatedly redressed backlot in Grimsby. Coyle is as well cast as when he was a pirate or KGB assassin, and everything has the authenticity of a Hong Kong market knock off. 

There’s too little fashion to please fashionistas, too little charm or romance to please the period drama-lovers, too little action to please thriller-lovers and too little attention to detail to please historians. The Collection‘s not awful and is competently made, but there’s no USP, nothing it does that you won’t have seen done better elsewhere, no reason for its existence other than to keep another BBC Worldwide co-production agreement going. Try it if you like, but I doubt it’ll be your size.

But hey guys! This is ‘What have you been watching?’! Note the emphasis on you. Over the weeks and years, some of you have rather benevolently been letting the rest of us know about the good stuff we’ve been missing that I haven’t been picking up on. Just in case you were worried it’s all been falling on deaf ears, you can breathe more easily: in my quest to fill the empty gaps in my viewing schedule, I also looked through your recommendations to find some new shows to try. Here’s what I found.

Neviditelní (The Invisibles) (Czech Republic: CT1; UK: All4)
One of JustStark’s recommendations, this quirky little fantasy drama based very loosely on 1970s movie How to Drown Dr Mrácek is centred on the ‘Nixies’, a bunch of water-breathing people living amongst us – or at least in Prague – but doing their best not to be found out. Then one of their own, albeit someone who doesn’t know he’s a Nixie, goes and publicly commits suicide by drowning. When he promptly fails to die to everyone’s surprise, including his own, a crisis is provoked in the Nixie community. 

I haven’t got very far into it yet and the early episodes are less concerned with dynamic storytelling and more with setting up this quaint community, its politics and its rules, from its attempts to attain power through ownership of the water and sewage system through to its attitudes to bleach and its love of fermented frogs. But it’s pleasingly off the wall and amusing, and it’s significantly better once the fallout of the suicide starts, so I’ll stick with it.

No English-language trailers available on YouTube, but you can find out more over on All4, and here’s a Czech one:

Gomorra (Gomorrah) (Italy: Sky Atlantic; UK: Sky Atlantic)
One of GYAD’s recommendations, Gommora is based on the book of the same name by Roberto Saviano. Again, one I’ve not got very far into yet – there are two seasons so far, so give me time – it’s so far been a reasonably and impressively violent but smart look at the Naples mafia, wars between gangs and mafia operations at the street level. It certainly looks fantastic and the differences between UK and Italian societies, such as the greater availability of guns through official channels, take the show in unexpected directions, too. I’m not 100% in love with it yet, but I’ve been seeing it get a lot of love on Twitter, where it’s been described as almost poetic at times and comparisons have been made to The Wire, and what I’ve seen so far has been good enough to make me want to watch more, so I’ll be sticking with it as well.

The recommended list

Halt and Catch Fire (US: AMC; UK: Amazon)
3×1-Valley of the Heart’s Delight – 3×3-Flipping the Switch
The departure of showrunner Jonathan Lisco at the end of last season seems to mean that after a couple of seasons chugging along nicely but not really getting to the point very quickly, Halt and Catch Fire is going to stop being an AMC show and start being a proper drama. That means it’s a little bit less quirky, but a lot more enjoyable.

In the hands of the show’s creators, Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C Rogers, it’s also decided that any attempt to fit with IT history is doomed to dullness, so has decided instead to transport the concerns of today to the 1980s. Lee Pace, now doing a sort of Steve Jobs/Larry Ellison hybrid impersonation, is not only running a full-on anti-virus company, a year before the first virus was even discovered, he’s worrying about whether to give away his software, which is probably about a decade too early for that particular sales tactic. This creative decision does at least manage to make the show a bit more relevant and a bit less pre-determined in its outcomes than earlier seasons, even if it’ll make the average Silicon Valley observer’s eyes roll. 

Also welcome is the arrival of Annabeth Gish as a San Francisco VC and a boosting of the role of Toby Huss’s character. However, the show does feel a little bit less focused on emotions and relationships than it was before, taking a little of its heart away. All the same, as I’ve said with previous seasons, let’s see where they go with this, as it could be somewhere very interesting.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episodethird episode

The Last Ship (US: TNT; UK: Sky1)
3×11 – Legacy
After a big built up, we finally get this season’s nifty sea battle but it’s not quite as thrilling as in previous years; there’s also the most ludicrous bit of plotting imaginable involving Adam Baldwin’s character that beggars belief. But that latter problem aside, which TBH is pretty standard for The Last Ship, as decently exciting an episode as usual, with the welcome return of an old character. 
+ 3×12 – Resistance
Worryingly resembling an episode of Walker Texas Ranger at times, Resistance had a few high points of excitement but the loss of naval focus, as before, is taking away the show’s unique qualities. It’s also retreading a lot of old ground, with the James‘s quest a combination of season 1’s cliffhanger and some of the more important parts of season 2. Fingers crossed for a good finale at least.
Reviews: First episode Third episode

Narcos (Netflix)
The return of the dramatisation of the hunt for famed drugs lord Pablo Escabar is already as tense and exciting as the first excellent season. Great acting, thrills that come directly from reality and top writing mean it’s once again a must-see. I’ll try to binge-watch the rest of it this week.
Review: First season

Mr Robot (US: USA Network; UK: Amazon)
2×8-succ3ss0r.p12 – 2×9-init_5.fve
After the revelations of episode seven, episode eight gives us an entirely Elliott-free episode in which the other characters get to flourish, while episode nine gives us a brilliant recap of the season, showing us what’s really been happening so far, while simultaneously doing the thing that Mr Robot does so brilliantly – explore the nature of the unreliable narrator.
ReviewsFirst episodethird episode 

You’re The Worst (US: FXX; UK: 5*)
3×1 – Try Real Hard
The return of TV’s best romantic comedy manages to do its usual trick of someone taking some of the worst narcissists around and someone making their actions heart-warming and touching – and simultaneously witty. Standout moments are Gretchen’s Spanish scene and Jimmy’s reaction to it, as well as that final scene with Lindsay and Paul.
Review: First episode

  • Mark Carroll

    I'll be interested to hear how “Neviditelní” goes.

    I've been enjoying “Mr Robot”, it's been the highlight of the week, though not for much longer I suppose. It still moves along nicely but phase two had better be good.

    My wife has been somewhat enjoying “American Horror Story”. The current season seems to have started with more sex and gore than story but I have to confess that episode five actually seemed worth watching. It's well-made but it really just isn't the kind of thing that draws me in, I prefer things to make a bit more sense.

    There've been some anime series. More “Soul Eater” which I suppose has grown on me some but it doesn't look like it'll get anywhere great at any point. We also started “Fate/stay night” which, while also seeming nothing special, isn't too bad and maybe I've not yet given it enough time. Both are all full of the usual battles and high stakes and whatnot, though “Soul Eater” takes itself less seriously.

    We saw the Russell T Davis “A Midsummer Night's Dream”. Sure, it wasn't faithful, it was a bit Doctor-Who-y perhaps, and goodness it was unsubtle at times, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

    The BBC series “The Chronicles of Nadiya” about cookery and Islam in Bangladesh was about as other reviews have said. I can't say that it was eye-opening in any special regard but it was pleasant and somewhat interesting. Relatedly, “The Great British Bake Off” is back. I do enjoy watching that. Fortunately they haven't messed with the formula.

    Dominic Sandbrook had a three-parter on the 1980s. It was actually quite good and a little more thoughtful than I expected rather than just reprising what other retrospectives have offered.

    I also rather liked “The Gatekeepers”, interviews with past heads of Shin Bet. The visual effects were a bit distractingly fake at times, unnecessarily when they had past news footage and the real interviews. Certainly an interesting view into one specific perspective on Israel's history in recent decades.

  • JustStark

    Glad you think The Invisibles is good. The plotting isn't perfect — some storylines and characters just reach a point where they spin in circles for a while and then disappear — but it just gets more and more bonkers. By the end even dippy Monika grows on you.

    I've just done something I can't remember the last time I did it — switched something off in the middle of an episode because it was so bad. Oh BBC, I keep having faith in you and you keep giving me stuff like One of Us. Why, BBC? Why?

    Horror channel did their 'Frightfest' tie-in season so I've been working my way through those. Curtain was probably the best, even if it's not so much a great horror film as a slightly extended Twilight Zone kind of short story. Not a classic by any means but an interesting piece of quirkiness if you're into that. Manage your expectations, is I think what I'm saying.

    I finished the first series of The Outcast. It's, well, okay, but goodness I wish it would move faster. And it does that really annoying thing where it drops hints about what's going on that the characters can't work out but the audience can, but then doesn't do anything with the resulting dramatic irony and continues to act as if there's a mystery, when the audience is just waiting to see if their guess will be confirmed.

  • JustStark

    Is that the American Horror Story with that mysterious oddly-clothed singing member of the peerage in it? The one with the hotel? That's the only one I've seen, and it didn't seem to have much of a story, rather just a setting that allowed them to do a bunch of vignettes / sketches on whatever came into their heads.

    I liked the programme on the '80s, too.

    I think I'll look out The Gatekeepers, it sounds interesting. Thanks.

  • Mark Carroll

    Yes, that'll be it. Each season has a considerably different setting (previous was a circus freak show), though with recurring actors and never with a shortage of blood and sex. I think each season is meant to be happening in the same reality even if a mostly separate part of it. I like the hotel itself, though: it's a bit dingy but I'm a fan of art deco.

  • Mark Carroll

    “but it just gets more and more bonkers” — ha, I'm reminded of “The Prisoner”.

  • JustStark

    Yes, I definitely thought the star of it was the set designer. I hope he or she got an award.

    Don't know about watching the next one. But I do like getting my money's worth from Now! TV! so I might give it a shot.

  • JustStark

    A bit more gentle and less fuelled by the ball of pure incandescent fury that was Patrick McGoohan's sublimated rage than The Prisoner, but yes, a similar progression.

  • It might be a while but I will get back to Neviditelní at some point

  • I no longer have faith in the BBC. Every time I give them an (n+1)th chance, I end up regretting it.

    Totally agreed about Outcast

  • Fury and whisky in the case of the latter episodes of The Prisoner. I always wondered if McGoohan was an Objectivist, too. I doubt there's much of Rand in American Horror Story, mind

  • JustStark

    He was a Catholic, wasn't he? Which is similar to Objectivism in its commitment to an unbending moral Truth (right is right, wrong is wrong, A is A), but different as to what the content of that Truth is (Objectivism, with its 'whatever you want to do for your own interests is good' philosophy, would have a bit of trouble with the doctrine of Original Sin, for example).

  • GYAD

    Glad you liked Gomorra enough to keep on with it – it's definitely a show that grows in strength as it progresses.

    The Invisibles sounds very interesting – I'll have to see if I can find that.

    The only TV I've seen recently has been Spanish – which is so dreadful that I ended up watching a dubbed episode of Walker: Texas Ranger.

  • Mark Carroll

    My mother's been getting into Walker: Texas Ranger lately.

  • GYAD

    It's cheesy but one of the few 'nice' shows; also the stunt work is often surprisingly good (I saw the rebooted Hawaii 5 O in Spanish too – and Walker was the better show)

  • Comparisons with The Wire made me think it might be one of those shows – The Wire's first episode isn't great, but you have to watch the entire season to see how everything fits together.

    Invisibles is All 4: http://www.channel4.com/progra

    As I understand it, Spanish TV has odd scheduling – thanks to siestas and Franco's odd time zone choice, prime time doesn't really start until 11pm, so that's when the good stuff is. I've seen some reasonable stuff around (eg Isabel, Grand Hotel) but they're possibly the exception to the rule

  • Hawaii Five 0 reboot is dreadful stuff – I think I gave up after the standard three but I can't imagine it's improved since then.

    Did Walker have good stunt scenes? It's been a while, but I don't have great memories of Walker, only that the fights invariably had Chuck Norris kicking everyone out, usually with a roundhouse, and that you had to wait for someone like Sammo Hung to show up before anything interesting happened

  • GYAD

    I don't think it's as well structured as The Wire was…more that as the season grows the writers and directors grow in confidence and skill.

    Pity Invisibles in All4 – the most annoying of the On Demand options. I'll give it a go tho.

    As the Spanish don't eat till late there isn't much of a prime time…and tbh most of the TV is soaps of one sort or another; the Spanish are too busy being out to stay at home and watch TV…or the young ones watch American TV on their laptops.

  • GYAD

    The martial arts in Walker aren't that great – but the vehicle stunts are pretty good, if old fashioned. You can tell there's a crew of middle-aged professionals behind everything.

  • JustStark

    Pity Invisibles in All4 – the most annoying of the On Demand options

    But, and this is quite important, it is free. I can put up with the ads in order to be able to watch it given I am not paying for any more than one service (because if you pay for more than one you may as well pay for all of them and that gets far too expensive).

    Also you can download, which you can't with Now! TV! so it's watchable in the gym or on a train or aeroplane.

    Swings and roundabouts.

  • The lack of downloads with Now TV is odd, given that it's basically the same service as Sky Go (Extra), which offers downloads. Siloed development, hey?

  • JustStark

    I assumed it was rights issues but maybe not.

    Ah well. It has The Americans on it. That's all I ask really.

  • GYAD

    The ads don't worry me especially; it's the quality & usability.

  • JustStark

    Ah, when you're watching it on a tiny screen quality matters less, and as for usability I find them all uniformly terrible.

  • GYAD

    Yeah…it's probably 'cos I use it thru the TV.

  • Mark Carroll

    I tend to go somewhat by level of faff given that attached to the television I have an OpenBSD machine and my laptop's Linux. For instance, I seem to recall having to drag out Pipelight for Hulu. I don't want to go near some “smart” television that will quickly become outdated (our television is actually a decade-old American one). I may be a curmudgeon.

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