What have you been watching? Including Arrival (2016) and The Americans

It’s “What have you been watching?”, my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently and your chance to recommend anything you’ve been watching.

Grrr. Aargh. Sundays. They really make this whole thing harder. As of last week, there was already The Good Fight, Billions, Time After Time and Making History, but now American Crime is back and there’s The Arrangement to watch, too. So, given I do actually have a day job and the whole of Marvel’s Iron Fist is coming out on Netflix this Friday, let’s face facts and accept I’m going to be a week behind with everything that airs on Sunday from now.


All the same, Time After Time will be getting a third-episode verdict later this week, seeing as I reviewed the first two last week; and I’ll be casting my eyes over the first two episodes of The Arrangement (US) as well, so there is at least hope in sight.

Elsewhere this week, I reviewed the first episode of Making History and passed verdict on The Good Fight, which means that after the jump, I’ll be looking at the latest episodes of: 24: Legacy, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash, Imposters, Legion, Lethal Weapon, The Magicians, Powerless and Taken, as well as the season finale of Man Seeking Woman. The observant will notice I haven’t watched Fortitude or Prime Suspect 1973 this week. Sorry about that, although it probably says something about both them that I haven’t pushed myself to watch either.

However, I did watch the first episode of the new season of The Americans, which I’ll also be covering after the jump. And in other news, I’m going to drop not one but two regular shows this week. Can you guess which?

I also managed to watch a movie at the weekend, mind.

Arrival (2016)
Mysterious aliens ‘the heptapods’ arrive on Earth, but they don’t speak Earth languages. It’s the job of linguist Amy Adams and theoretical physicist Jeremy Renner (a ‘Christmas Jones’ on the plausible casting scale) to try to learn how to communicate with them and find out what they want.

Arrival was heavily hyped as the new 2001 of intelligent science-fiction movies, so we went into this with high expectations, particularly given what language nerds lovely wife and I both are. Disappointed we were. Disappointed.

While there was a little bit about the difficulties of learning any language, this was a bowdlerised version of the original book’s linguistic intrigue…

The heptapods have two distinct forms of language. Heptapod A is their spoken language, which is described as having free word order and many levels of center-embedded clauses.… Unlike its spoken counterpart, Heptapod B has such complex structure that a single semantic symbol cannot be excluded without changing the entire meaning of a sentence.

…in much the same way as The Martian changed the original book’s constant Macgyvering-in-extremis into a far simpler tale of surviving against the odds.

Even so, despite some beautiful visual direction, Arrival is largely a film in which Renner and Adams repeatedly go into a room, see some circles, then go away again, interspersed with Adams thinking about her dead daughter. Tension and excitement there are not.

That said, there is a point in the movie when Adams finally learns the aliens’ language where Arrival comes together, everything becomes clear and the movie becomes a much more interesting piece thanks to a couple of properly genius ideas. There are a couple of scenes that probably will linger for a long time in the memory, too.

Not so much the new 2001, then, so much as the new (spoilers, because they’re very, very similar) Interstellar.

Shows I’ve been watching but not recommending

24: Legacy (US: Fox; UK: Fox UK)
1×6 – 5:00pm-6:00pm
And I’m out. 24 became a load of twoddle towards the end, but it was at least always very exciting and there was Jack Bauer to care for. Now, it’s just a generic action show with a generic action hero, going through the exact same motions every previous season of 24 went through but without even the slightest trace of innovation. Tired and old, it’s time to say goodbye to 24 and its racism, since at least it used to have some balls and belief in what it was saying. Now, it feels like it’s there because, well, why not? So I’m out.
Review: First episode

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow
2×13 – Land Of The Lost
Rip’s back everyone. Yay? Not so much, actually, since it was a lot better when he was evil. Still, at least we had a couple of decent fights this episode and there was a bit of fun with a dinosaur.
Reviews: First episodefourth episode

The Flash (US: The CW; UK: Sky 1)
3×15 – The Wrath Of Savitar
Savatar’s back everyone. Yay? Not so much, since yet again, he’s going to be someone we already know, which is something we’ve already done this season as well as in every previous seasons. Anyone’s money on it being Wally? 
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Imposters (US: Bravo; UK: Virgin)
1×5 – Is A Shark Good Or Bad?
On the one hand, we now have Uma Thurman being every character in Pulp Fiction. On the other, we have a quite nice little plot line about how all of our anti-heroine’s exes are now quite good at simple con tricks. We’ve also come to one plot resolution surprisingly early in the series. Anyone’s money on them all becoming a new con team?
Reviews: First two episodesthird episode

Lethal Weapon (US: Fox; UK: ITV)
1×17 – A Problem Like Maria
Kudos, first off, for naming an episode of a manly show like Lethal Weapon after a line in a song in The Sound of Music. Otherwise, mostly about Riggs’ relationship with Palmer and the changing set-up for the show as it properly sets its own course away from the movies, defying expectations about how it might do that along the way. Some kudos due, too, for outing the captain.
Review: First episodethird episode

Powerless (US: NBC)
1×5 – Cold Season
And I’m out. Powerless had returned to the dullness and lack of humour of the first two episodes, I’m afraid, with lame jokes that fail to make you laugh. In fact, the only mirth I found was in some small children’s toys, about which there will be more tomorrow…
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Taken (US: NBC; UK: Amazon)
1×2 – Ready
Even less Taken than the first episode. Seriously, why is it even called Taken when it has this little to do with the original movie? Still, some good action scenes mean this is basically the inverse of Taken 3
Review: First episode

The recommended list

The Americans (US: FX; UK: Amazon/ITV)
5×1 – Amber Waves
More or less a direct continuation from the previous season, picking up all the themes where they’d been left. One or two WTF moments of brilliance, particularly the one just before the title sequence, though, but you do have to wonder precisely how these 40-something parents find the time and energy to do everything they’re doing. I can’t even watch all the TV I want to watch. 
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Legion (US: FX; UK: Fox UK)
1×5 – Chapter 5
Gosh. Beautiful to look at, creepy, some answers at last (although we could have guessed at most of them) and some scary use of superpowers, too. If you’re not watching, you should be.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

The Magicians (US: Syfy; UK: 5*)
2×7 – Plan B
As with the previous season, The Magicians is finding its feet at more or less the exact same point around episode seven, by bringing our band of magicians back together in quite a stylish bank heist (Plan B a reference to Brad Pitt’s production company/Ocean’s 11, maybe?) But it’s still to really find the heights it hit with the Beast. I’m waiting…
Episode reviews: First episodethird episode

Man Seeking Woman (US: FXX)
3×10 – Blood
A nice way to round of the season and possibly the series, with a wedding. Not huge amounts of the trademark magical realism, and what there was didn’t work that well, but the final scenes with the parents were lovely and we did finally get to see that thing in the title sequence.

Does the show have anywhere to go after this, though? Probably not, so I’ll just round it off by saying it was a great show that while not quite a classic, often came perilously close, was often hugely funny, had a surprisingly large amount of insight to impart about modern relationships and managed in its final season to say something about the female perspective, too.
Review: First episode


  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.