What have you been watching? Including Frontier, People of Earth, Stan Against Evil and Ghostbusters

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. There’s also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I’ve reviewed ever. 

Made it. Backlog – cleared. TV – watched.

Okay, not quite. I skipped Dark Water because that’s now on BBC Four, so there’s not much point my previewing it now. Oops. Still, it was only a mini-series.

Also, all the new Internet shows I keep listing are going to take a little longer, as are the shows I’m currently watching with lovely wife (WestworldHumans, The Crown). But everything else is now up-to-date. Well done me.

Given I’ve already passed third episode verdicts this week on The Great Indoors (US: CBS; UK: ITV2) and Eyewitness (US: USA), that means that after the jump, I’ll be looking at the latest episodes of Ash vs Evil Dead, Chance, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Designated Survivor, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, Doctor Doctor, Falling Water, Frequency, Hyde and Seek, Lethal Weapon, Lucifer, Son of Zorn, Supergirl and Travelers.

In terms of new shows, elsewhere, I’ve reviewed Second Jen (Canada: City), but I have tried a few others, you’ll be happy to hear.

Frontier (Canada: Discovery; UK: Netflix)
Set in the disputed Hudson Bay territory of Canada at the turn of the 18th century, Discovery’s first scripted show Frontier sees Jason Momoa as a tomahawk-wielding go-between for all the competing interests that want to kill animals for their fur, including the English, Scottish, Americans and Canadians (who are all either English or French at this point, of course). With its terrible dialogue, motley medley of actors all sporting bad accents no matter their origin, and middling production values, Frontier is unfortunately little more than The Patriot meets Last of the Mohicans, with Momoa clearly thinking he’s in a different show from the rest of the anaemic cast. Practically unwatchable, it’s still not quite as bad as The Bastard Executioner.

People of Earth (US: TBS)
TBS apparently being where Daily Show correspondents now go to die, People of Earth gives us Wyatt Cenac as a cynical magazine journalist sent to cover an “alien abductees survivors group” – although they prefer ‘experiencers’ – where he soon begins to realise that those vivids hallucinations of talking deer might be a sign that he, too, has been abducted. So he decides to stay in town and see if he can work out what’s really happening and whether an alien invasion is really underway. 

The show is a 50/50 split between two strands. The first strand is the desperately unfunny goings on at the support group, which reminds you of Go On but with Cenac’s deadpan instead of the jokes and Matthew Perry’s sardonic quips.

The second is with the aliens themselves – for they are real – where the show is actually a properly funny workplace comedy. Yes, that’s right – a workplace comedy. I mean have you ever considered how much effort goes into faking those cover-ups?

I watched the first episodes, I might keep watching for the aliens. But I might not. 

Stan Against Evil (US: IFC)
John C McGinley reprises his Scrubs Doctor Cox role here to play a sheriff of a small town near Salem that was once the host to even more witch burnings. However, these were all real witches and demons, who vowed to kill every sheriff the town would ever have. Fortunately for Cox, his learned wife managed to use all manner of magic to protect him, making him the only sheriff to survive the job in the town’s entire history. But Cox is fired, just after his wife’s funeral, so soon a replacement (You’re The Worst‘s Janet Varney) is in town and together, they have to fight all manner of horrors together, since the demons want them both dead.

Coming on the heels of Ash Vs Evil Dead, this is a somewhat poorly timed piece of comedy horror, in which the clueless, frequently misogynistic, outspoken McGinley (“I want you to admit Starsky was gay. He wore a sweater with a belt. Come on, you’re a cop. Follow the evidence!”) has to deal with demons, women and modern society’s general pansiness, with only a suspiciously familiar book of magic to help him. Varney does offer a reasonable counterpoise to him and the plots involve her as much as him, but ultimately this is McGinley’s show and he’s naturally very good.

Unfortunately, the plots themselves are neither as funny nor as gory as Ash vs Evil Dead‘s. I watched the first four episodes of this, and while each offers maybe a couple of laughs, is a little smarter than than Bruce Campbell’s show and the demons (eg goat demons, a succubus) have a bit more variety and a bit more of a scare than the ‘deadites’, it still felt like a bit an effort to get through for some slightly pointless, slightly derivative pieces of work.

I also watched a movie!

Ghostbusters (2016)
An all-woman line-up of ghost exterminators (Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Hope) go into business for themselves in New York and have to deal with a bunch of spooks emerging from the afterlife who could threaten life as we know it.

Featuring cameos from all the surviving cast of the classic 80s movie, this 2016 version homages most of the first movie’s iconic moments and props, while simultaneously avoiding being a retread and finding its own sources of humour. McKinnon – best known as Saturday Night Live‘s Hillary Clinton – in particular breaks from the confines of the plot to be something a lot odder and more interesting than you’d expect.

However, the movie plays a lot younger than the original, losing the 80s version’s slightly edgier and stranger qualities, and its denoument goes on for far too long. On the plus side, though, Chris Hemsworth is very funny as the Ghostbusters’ eyecandy receptionist.

Chance (US: Hulu)
1×4 – The Mad Doctor – 1×5 – A Still Point In The Turning World
Probably a bit slower than it should be for the midpoint of the season, but ratcheting up the tension and cleverly refusing to reveal if this is a tense piece of Breaking Bad vigilantism by Laurie’s character, or whether he’s the patsy in Ethan Suplee/Gretchen Mol et al’s cunning long-con. With the show playing the coincidence card (cf the title) very heavily, either this is going to turn out to be a rubbish Vertigo remake or pure genius.
Review: First three episodes

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (US: The CW; UK: Sky 1)
2×4 – Abominations – 2×5 – Compromised
In which our heroes first fight zombies while learning that slavery is a Bad Thing then head off to the 80s and a cracking Miami Vice tribute. While the season has been a bit episodic so far, Compromised does hint with its finale at some very interesting things to come.
Reviews: First episodefourth episode

Designated Survivor (US: ABC; UK: Netflix)
1×6 – Interrogation
Hmm. If only all terrorist ringleaders would crack in just under an hour. Still, an interesting counterpoint on the utility of torture to the 24 point of view, even if the ending was more than a tad silly.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (US: BBC America; UK: Netflix)
1×4 – Watkin
I’m not sure if this was supposed to be a tribute to Douglas Adams’ ‘Starship Titanic’ or not, but more or less an episode set in a text adventure game of the 1980s. Meanwhile, outside the crystal maze, we get a bit more plot explanation – if it can be called that. Nicely bonkers, even if Dirk’s powers of being annoying are getting cranked up to the max.
Review: First episode; third episode

Doctor Doctor (Australia: Nine)
Stuff happens with Hugh and his newfound son. But you’re not watching for the plots at this point, more the characters.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Falling Water (US: USA)
1×6 – Amergris
Nope. No idea. Not the foggiest what was going on there. I guess that’s the point, though. Full on channelling of Jacob’s Ladder, too.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Frequency (US: The CW; UK: Netflix)
1×5 – Seven Three – 1×6 – Deviation
More variation of the formula, the first episode playing with the idea that our heroine remembers not just one but both timelines, so can use information from one memory to solve crimes in the current timeline. This also saw the leads in the same room for the first time since the pilot (for obvious reasons). The second episode, meanwhile, opened up the possibility that others could be using temporal communication, too, but ultimately was too ambiguous to really do much with that.
Reviews: First episode

Lethal Weapon (US: Fox; UK: ITV)
1×6 – Ties That Bind
Women are weak, stupid and in need of rescuing; foreigners are dangerous and up to know good – yes, we’re on Fox. All the same, quite a decent episode featuring a link to Riggs’ past and probably the first one where I was able to accept the new show and characters for what they are, rather than simply retreads of the original movie.
Review: First episodethird episode

Lucifer (US: Fox; UK: Amazon) 
2×7 – My Little Monkey
Bit of a throwaway episode, despite the continuing attempts to give Lauren German something to do, but just about worth it for Tom Ellis’ hanging out with Kevin Alejandro.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Supergirl (US: The CW; UK: Sky1)
2×5 – Crossfire
Following in The Flash‘s footsteps, it looks like the plot of season 2 of Supergirl is going to be the plot of season 1 again, just with different characters doing the same things. While any comics fan could have seen the Maggie/Alex storyline coming a mile off, it’s being reasonably and tastefully done, at least. But I might just hang in there for the four-way supershow crossover at the end of the month, then call it quits with Supergirl, since I wasn’t a big fan of season 1 so watching it again isn’t really something I particularly fancy.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Travelers (Canada: Showcase; UK: Netflix)
1×4 – Hall
Stargate Universe‘s Louis Ferreira turns up to do what he does best – cause a lot of antagonism and fights to see who’s top of the chain of command. As always with Travelers, plays with the cliches and conventions of the genre to give both amusement and to trick the audience – but never too much – and does it well. 
Reviews: First episode; third episode

The recommended list

Ash vs Evil Dead (US: Starz; UK: Virgin On Demand)
2×6 – Trapped Inside – 2×7 – Delusion
A decent enough episode that explores Baal a bit, followed by the first bum ep of the season, which plundered both Buffy (ep set in a mental hospital suggesting the series is all in the protagonist’s imagination) and Angel (evil Muppet-like puppet episode), but without its own trademark humour.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Hyde and Seek (Australia: Nine)
Something of a bridging episode, linking the previous investigations of the first five episodes with what looks like a different plot for the remaining few episodes. A trip to Indonesia added to the show’s more globe-trotting tendencies and the near-romance was thankfully side-stepped, but the show now has to avoid dafter conspiracy theories if it’s to stay in the recommended list.
Review: First two episodes

Son of Zorn (US: Fox)
1×6 – A Tale of Two Zorns – 1×7 – The Battle of Thanksgiving
Two full-on He-Man acknowledgements, with Mecha-Zorn guesting in the first episode, and the second – the first of this month’s no-doubt endless Thanksgiving episodes – giving us Zorn’s running abilities and a documentary on his nemesis. Hilarious as always and we even got a guest voice from Nick Offerman.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

  • Mark Carroll

    “The Affair” is back and I’ve decided that despite how it’s well-made, well-acted, with lovely actresses, life’s too short. Two seasons so far with no payoff and no end in sight; that’s enough for me even if Ruth Wilson softens the tedium.

    “Poldark” is done, at least for a while, thank goodness. It’s probably been quite good for being what its audience wanted. It looks like we have more tedious wrangling with Warleggan to come in the next batch. Nicely made but it’s basically a missable period soap opera.

    “The Incredible Human Journey” is done too. It would have been done rather sooner if not for all the filler and mock retrace of the scientific investigation but we did get there in the end so that’s something and we got plenty of time to think about things like what hairstyles best suit Alice. The last episode sent my son actually to sleep, he just keeled over.

    People have been dying. There’s an old Leonard Cohen interview off “Front Row”‘s webpage if one hunts around the BBC site well enough (PID p04fymcr). I watched the “Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance” and, while being much as one might expect, it was mostly quite good and I liked much of it (while wondering how on Earth one gets shot on a submarine, that’s some rotten luck). We also watched “Still Walking”, a Japanese film set at an anniversary remembering a family member’s untimely demise years before. I enjoyed it: we saw into some Japanese family life with various plausible characters. It wasn’t amazing – once suffices – but it was my kind of thing.

    “Humans” has been okay. I still prefer “Westworld” but, out of stuff that’s on, both are fairly near the top of the list. Things have been happening and characters generally range from appealing to tolerable.

    Lacking much among current output, I watched the 1992 “Wuthering Heights” (Fiennes, Binoche). Sure, it’s much maligned, and it does have some obvious imperfections, but it remains my favorite adaptation: it covers a good chunk beyond Cathy’s death and portrays neither her nor Heathcliff in an overly flattering light.

    • No pay-off with The Affair? Blimey, they drew that one out a bit then!

      • Mark Carroll

        Well, they had an affair, I’ll grant them that…

        • Mark Carroll

          Now I find from reading pieces by people who’ve seen the start of the new season that bailing was the right thing for me to do.

          • So many shows string out storylines for ages and you hope there’ll be a good resolution. So few of such shows actually do have a good resolution, unfortunately.

          • Mark Carroll

            If only we could tell in advance!

            I thought the reimagined Battlestar Galactica pulled things together reasonably actually given how they gave the strong impression for quite some time of having as little idea of where it was going as we did. It wasn’t great but at least it didn’t make me regret having bothered at all.

          • I don’t think it really knew where it was going until the end of the first season, possibly the second. Certainly, there were elements (who are the final five?) that they didn’t work out until close to when they were disclosed. But the ending did work.

            I don’t know to what extent that’s down to there being a template to follow: both the original series and Galactica 80, and the Book of Mormon, on which the original series was based. It wasn’t something they had to pluck completely out of thin air.

            Of course, having a template is no assurance either. John Doe had an ending worked out from the beginning, but it wasn’t very good. I’m sure Blindspot’s revelation, if ever occurs, isn’t going to be outstanding; ditto The Blacklist.

            Lost, of course, had a template of sorts, but not from the beginning – I think it’s when Carlton Cuse came on board that they got their template. And that ending was terrible, even though it was planned out, because of fundamental dramatic misunderstandings – you don’t sit through five seasons of TV for a pay off of “we must protect the glowing light”.

            So I’m not sure if knowing where you’re going from the outset is any better than not knowing. It probably helps, since you’re less likely to paint yourself into a corner, but it still doesn’t prevent a bad pay-off.

          • Mark Carroll

            A good point. Yeah, “Lost” was a disaster there: very unusual for me in having a rubbish arc but a number of good individual episodes.

            I am a bit of a sucker for foreshadowings: I love the later reveal of why the earlier thing made sense. One of the reasons I like “Mr Robot” perhaps.

  • JustStark

    Film: In the Heart of the Sea. Not my pick, but it turned out to be better than I thought it would be. Lots of old-timey saioling stuff if that’s your bag.

    No Scream Queens this week (no This Week either, but I don’t usually mention that as we’re more about fiction here than late-night political chat), so straight to American Horror Story which, like the episode before, was just nastiness. This series seems to have had one idea that was better than any of the the last series, but everything else is worse. Still just one more to go, may as well watch it.

    I was all ready, after reading the blurb for this week’s Humans, to go on a rant about how consciousness is not the same as reacting to emotional stimuli and who the Hell was in charge, B.F. Skinner? (my favourite behaviourist joke: two behaviourists have sex, and afterwards one turns to the other and says, ‘That was great for you, how was it for me?’).

    But then it seemed to actually get that, maybe, a bit. It didn’t quite commit, anyway. So I still have some vague hope it might turn out to be better than that. Though if nobody brings up the point of the Chinese room (not even necessarily the experiment itself, just the point that no external observations can ever prove consciousness) then basically it’s a bust. I’ll let them off not mentioning philosophical zombies though as I’m never sure if they are really very interesting.

    The fact that the girl from Memento works for a company called Qualia (and this is mentioned in the dialogue in a way that specifically draws attention to it) could be a good sign that they have done their research, or a bad sign that they have just picked up on a couple of words without really understanding.

    And that brings us to (slim pickings this week) Westworld. It’s a bit weird watching this and Humans concurrently, given both seem to be trying to be about consciousness. In the case of Westworld, though, it would be nice to see them make a distinction between consciousness and free will, and decide which one they are really interested in, because at the moment the seem to be conflating the two in a very messy way. I mean possibly the most interesting, certainly horrific, thing would be for them to make the robots’ condition hardcore epiphenomenalism and explore how awful that would be.

    [Come to think of it, the same point could be levelled at Humans: why is consciousness the point at issue in whether Niska can be tried as a human? What does it matter whether she is conscious or not? Surely what matters, legally, is whether she had free will; ie, whether she was responsible for or actions or whether they were merely an inevitable outcome of her programming, in which case, the programmers are the ones responsible for her actions (and the family of the man she killed could presumably either have her manufacturers prosecuted for negligence, or sue them for damages, or both) — but in neither case does whether she actually had any conscious experience make the slightest bit of difference, legally or morally]

    Anyway, plot-wise, I didn’t see that coming, but I’m not sure it brings us any closer to a satisfying conclusion. I continue to reserve judgement but, as I wrote earlier in the week, the fact that it was apparently considered open-ended enough to admit of a continuation dims my hopes more than somewhat.

    • Good knowledge! I’m going to have to look some stuff up now…

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