What have you been watching? Including Chicago Justice, Prime Suspect 1973 and The Blacklist: Redemption

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.

March is here and with it comes Spring! Snowdrops, wee fluffy little bunnies and chocolate eggs are on the way, as are a big bunch of new shows. This week, on top of passing an impending verdict on The Good Fight, I’ll also be reviewing two US time travels shows that aired last night: Time After Time and Making History. Not sure why they waited until Timeless finished before starting, but they did. There may be some other things, too, but I’m lazy and haven’t looked yet.

A few other new shows have also appeared on our screens, although none of them really warranted proper reviews:

Prime Suspect 1973 (UK: ITV)
It’s hard to look back now through the distant mists of time, past sequels and remakes to 1991, when Lynda La Plante’s Prime Suspect appeared on our screens. An amazingly good piece of TV that makes you weep for what’s happened to ITV – and indeed BBC – drama in the quarter-century since, it still stands the test of time and I heartily urge you to watch/rewatch it, since it’s currently available to view on the ITV Hub for free.

A career-transforming piece for star Helen Mirren, it saw her playing DCI Jane Tennison, a discriminated against Met Police detective who has to win over her male colleagues in order to first get, then close, a case against a possible serial killer, back when those were still rare things in the media. Flipping traditional structures on its head, the show was more about the accumulation of evidence and building of a case than whoddunnit, since we know probably whodunnit right from the outset – although some of the show’s power comes from its ambiguity and whether they’ve genuinely got the right man. 

These days, ITV (motto: “Is it a crime drama? Is it a period crime drama? No? Then it’s not on ITV”) seems to have given up on creating truly original new shows in favour of developing prequels to its back catalogue (what next? Brideshead Revisited: The Prep School Years?). So, following on from the success of Inspector Morse‘s origin story, Endeavour, we now have Prime Suspect 1973, in which a young Jane Tennison (Emerald City‘s Stefanie Martini) is a mere WPC learning the ropes of policework in between having to make cups of tea for the male officers. But the murder of a teenage prostitute and the benevolent support of the investigating DI (The Astronaut Wives Club‘s Sam Reid) give her an opportunity to shine.

Based on Lynda La Plante’s own prequel novel, Prime Suspect 1973 is at least decently executed. Thematically, it sits nicely as a rejoinder to Life On Mars’ ‘white male privilege’, pointing out that Sweeney-like fun might have been good for certain people, but women, minorities, the unluckiest members of the working class and others all tended to get shafted. It also deals neatly with class, with Maida Vale posh girl Tennison having to work extra hard to prove her interest in the working class populace of Hackney. And it does all this without sticking the boot in, giving us nuances and exceptions to show reality is a lot messier than simplistic sociological theories.

Martini is surprisingly good and makes for a nicely mardy young Tennison. It’s also a cracking touch to get Cracker‘s ‘Panhandle’, Geraldine Sommerville, to play her mum. But Aussie Reid is slightly odd casting and his choice of accent throws off all the questions about Tennison’s poshness, since he sounds posher than she does. Period detail is pretty decent, even if some of the sideburns look stuck on, but it seems at times like it’s trying more to look like Life On Mars’ idea of 1973 than actual 1973. Still, props for the use of Pink Floyd’s ‘Time’ in the soundtrack.

But is it even a tenth as compelling as the original or even La Plante’s dry run at a Prime Suspect prequel, Above Suspicion? Not at all. I might stick around for episode two, though.

The Blacklist: Redemption (US: NBC)
I abandoned The Blacklist after its second season got too convoluted and daft, even by its own standards. The last I heard, Tom Keen (Ryan Eggold) – evil husband of Megan Boone – was an orphan raised by Lance Henriksen to do evil spy things and was going undercover to be a German neo-Nazi.

Turns out that since then, we’ve discovered that his dad and mum are still alive and are Terry O’Quinn and Famke Janssen, the latter being a blacklister who runs a secret organisation that does things for the government that would otherwise be too dangerous. Plus he and Boone are back together, have a baby, and rather than play at being a German neo-Nazi, Eggold’s now a house-husband.

Except The Blacklist: Redemption drags Eggold away from all that to go on undercover missions for Janssen, although only because O’Quinn wants him to inflitrate her organisation. Why? Because. Except Eggold must never reveal that he’s actually working for O’Quinn. Why? Because.

At least, that’s what I’ve gleaned.

On the face of it, a spin-off from The Blacklist with Eggold is a good idea, since he was actually one of the best things about the original series. But the producers do nothing to help turn that idea into a viable drama. As you can tell from above, it’s all so convoluted and too unforgiving in its set-up that anyone who didn’t bother watching season 3 and beyond of The Blacklist (is Red still having problems?) is probably going to give up on the impenetrable mess before they’re five minutes in.

Yet even if they do decide to stick with it, it’s just atrociously written nonsense that makes even less sense than the mothership, but with no James Spader to make it palatable and none of the original’s unique format.

Chicago Justice (US: NBC; UK: Universal Channel – starts March 30, 9pm)
Time was that famed producer Dick Wolf only needed Law & Order to show you the two sides of the two groups in the US criminal justice system who represent the people: the police, who investigate crime; and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. Now, he needs two different TV shows altogether just to show Chicago’s system. Maybe that’s because it’s Chicago and things are done differently there.

Launched in a triple episode with Chicago Fire and Chicago PD (all the victims were dead so no need to visit Chicago Med, I guess), Chicago Justice is all about Chicago public prosecutor and former baseball player Philip Winchester (Strike Back, The Player). There are other public prosecutors (Carl Weathers, Anna Valdez) but the show’s not so fussed about them here because they’re not the sons of Michael Moriarty’s character in Law & Order.

Chicago might have a bit of a rep for corruption, but here Winchester gets to hurdle a very low morality bar by fighting sleazy Bradley Whitford’s sneaky defence lawyer tricks and spurning helpful but false confessions to prove using truth, justice and the American way that a teenager stalker did in fact burn to death 39 kids because he was evil. 

The script stops short of going “ooh, the Internet and that Facebook and the Tumblr – they’re full of the bad kids who spend too much time indoors rather than playing all-American baseball” and if you squint, there’s a useful message in there that you could potentially extract about consent, privilege, radicalisation online, etc. But it’s such a ham-fisted piece of work that Winchester might as well be riding a horse wearing a white cowboy hat as he shoots a moustache-twirling villain.

Still, that’s what the audience for these shows wants. Me? Not so much.

After the jump, the regulars: 24: Legacy, Billions, The Flash, Fortitude, The Good Fight, Imposters, Legion, The Magicians, Man Seeking Woman and the season finale of Cardinal. One of them is getting a promotion – can you guess which, tigers?

Shows I’ve been watching but not recommending

24: Legacy (US: Fox; UK: Fox UK)
1×4 – 4:00PM-5:00PM
Andrew Howard (Limitless, Banshee, Agent X) gets to do his evil thug routine again, this time as an American baddie. The first of the important deaths arrives, as is compulsory in 24. But otherwise, not especially notable. In fact, 24: Legacy is proving to be a very by-the-book, uninnovative series so far and could do with breaking its format very soon to maintain the interest of the viewer. But still – so exciting!
Review: First episode

Billions (US: Showtime; UK: Sky Atlantic)
2×3 – Optimal Play
Less of an advancement of the plot as a continuation of the first two episodes. However, it suddenly feels like everyone in the room got two or three orders of magnitude stupider than before. Whether the air hostess is a plant or not, surely someone should at least be wondering about it, for example? And since when did Jonathan from Buffy (yes, I know, the award-winning writer and co-creator of Empire Danny Strong) become a viable arch-nemesis for any show, let alone a show about alphas?

While the plot is subtler than before, it’s also lost a lot of its energy and the dialogue is now considerably less subtle. Things happen for no good reason, particularly anything with Malin Åkerman. Still, the focus on the new trans intern this episode enabled it to go in a different direction and highlight how much of the show (and the finance industry) is about male posturing.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

The Flash (US: The CW; UK: Sky 1)
3×14 – Attack on Central City (2)
Who knew that war with an army of gorillas could be so… dull. Generally, the usual tropes we’ve come to expect of The Flash, made even sillier again by having human characters possessed by gorillas and talking in faux gorillas voices. That was a mistake. The question of how gorillas can beat a bunch of speedsters who can travel faster than the speed of sound also fails to get answered.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

The Good Fight (US: CBS All Access; UK: More4)
1×2 – First Week
A considerably more interesting piece of work than the first episode, evolving the show from mere retread of The Good Wife into a far more interesting piece about working for a modern, C-list New York legal firm helping the poor and abused, while dancing to the tune of investors. However, everything involving the pseudo-Ponzi scandal is a bit of a waste of time.
Reviews: First episode

Imposters (US: Bravo; UK: Virgin)
1×4 – Cohen. Lenny Cohen.
Instead of a switch back to the comedy of episode two, more darkness this episode. Uma Thurman gets to do a Pulp Fiction-style monologue, much to the audience’s delight. The terrible trio of exes prove less fun as they step up their own con act, although as with Billions, isn’t everyone a little too trusting for no good reason (eg the mum of a conwoman)? But the twist at the end about our anti-heroine’s boss does take the show in a different direction. Let’s see what, though…
Reviews: First two episodes; third episode

The recommended list

Cardinal (Canada: CTV; UK: BBC Four)
1×6 – Catherine
A marvellous, deserved conclusion to the first season, with some proper detective grit, that answers virtually all the important questions while leaving others open for the two new seasons that have just been commissioned. Despite the quick rounding off of the investigation, nothing feels rushed or unearned. Smart, beautifully directed and acted, if it can lose its gore-factor next season, it’ll be a must-watch.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Fortitude (UK: Sky Atlantic)
2×6
Revealing the first true details about what’s going on and why Dan’s been so bonkers, the episode is also the first to repeat its first season trick of killing off one of its major cast members. Although given we’re now in the land of the walking dead, maybe they’re not dead. Has the potential to be even more barking mad than the first season.
Reviews: First three episodes

Legion (US: FX; UK: Fox UK)
1×4 – Chapter 4
A quick promotion for a show that while not exactly packed with narrative drive, being largely concerned with people talking about their feelings and memories, is still one of the most visually impressive and smartest shows on TV, despite being about superheroes. With a marvellous meta/not-meta introduction by Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords), this was the best episode since the pilot, with some excellent ideas, some superheroics that felt fresh and the ever-pervasive yellow-eyed demon to scare. Good reveal for Aubrey Plaza’s character, too. 
Reviews: First episode; third episode

The Magicians (US: Syfy; UK: 5*)
2×6 – The Cock Barrens
The episode titles of this show are getting funnier and funnier. The show itself? Decidely not. But things are lining up in interesting ways with Alice and Quentin. Giving Margot something to do, too, made a change. But the Renard stuff is all deeply unpleasant and should go away soon, please.
Episode reviews: First episodethird episode

Man Seeking Woman (US: FXX)
3×9 – Cake
This season, as well as being about how a relationship grows from its first stages through to marriage, has also been about growing up and maturing, with this episode being the apotheosis of that trend, as Mike tries to win his friend back to his single days, only to discover that Josh no longer enjoys strip clubs and bad food. It’s a surprisingly touching episode for a show that’s largely only willing to discuss things by analogy, but well worth it. Yet it also feels perhaps like the end of an era for the show, and even the show itself, as the need for magical realism disappears and is put away, along with childish things.
Review: First episode