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.
After last week’s Marvel’s Iron Fist (Netflix) and Snatch (US: Crackle) action, with only a verdict on Making History (US: Fox) for a bit of variety, I’ve had time to play catch-up with my viewing. After the jump, I’ll be talking about the latest episodes of The Americans, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash, The Good Fight, Imposters, Legion and The Magicians.
But that’s not all. We’re nearly up to date (shucks) with Westworld now, but I’ll save my comments to next week, when there’s a good chance we might have finished it by then. I also should have reviews of Shots Fired (US: Fox) and Nobodies (US: TV Land) up this week, as well as possibly Amazon’s first German-language show You Are Wanted.
On top of that, I’ve even been to the theatre and watched quite a few episodes of some new shows that I don’t have time to review in full:
The Arrangement (US: E!)
E!’s choice for its first venture into scripted television was slightest unwise: The Royals, a slightest farcical, hugely unfunny piece about the British royal family. The Arrangement is a slightly wiser pick that plays to E!’s core competencies: salaciousness and celebrity.
A thinly veiled allusion to… (hey libel lawyers – can I say who? No. Oh. Okay…) a certain celebrity couple, it sees Christine Evangelista (Lucky 7) playing a smart but careerless young actress. One day, she attracts the attention of superstar actor Josh Henderson (Desperate Housewives, Dallas) at an audition for his new movie and before you know it, he’s whisking her off in his private jet to buy islands.
However, looking after Henderson’s career are producer Lexa Doig (Arrow, Andromeda, Continuum) and Michael Vartan (Alias), the proprietor of a self-help institute that has rather a few similarities to Scientology. Before Evangelista’s even on her second date, they’re getting her to sign a $10m marriage contract that plots out the two love-birds’ relationship, including pretty much every aspect of what Evangelista can and can’t do with her life. Should she sign it, become world famous as Henderson’s wife and kick start her career in his movie? Or is the creepy weirdness of it too off-putting?
The show is actually surprisingly credible and even a bit of slow burn, clearly intent on showing how an actress and definitely not a specific one who’s smart and talented and who raps about Shakespeare in her spare time could walk eyes-open into a relationship with a charming actor who’s still famously a nut-job, in preference to waiting tables and dealing with her two-timing beau.
The first episode is quite a delightful little romance in its own right, as Evangelista and Henderson ‘click’, have a whirlwind romance and then have a lot of basic-cable sex in Venice and Mexico. It’s not perfect – I didn’t know whether I was supposed to be laughing when Evangelista excels at her audition by crying through lines like “I got close to you so that I could devise the perfect plan to kill you”, after which Henderson chases after her to say “That’s what acting is supposed to be” in a way supposed to indicate how deep he is – but it was quite sweet, quite fun and it felt like a certain degree of E!’s collective knowledge about celebrity lifestyles had gone into it.
It’s over the course of the next couple of episodes that the show becomes a bit more mundane and darker, as we see Henderson punching out photographers who come after Evangelista and Vartan getting heavies seemingly to take out ex-girlfriends of Henderson. The third episode feels less about the ongoing themes and more about “Gosh, wouldn’t it be nice to have a lot of money. Oh no! People might sell old photographs of me for money now I’m famous!” There’s still a degree of smartness to proceedings, including time jumps in the narrative, and the leads are all still firing on all four cylinders, but it’s less fun than it was when it started.
Whether the show will become simply a modern-day Cinderella, with Henderson throwing off Vartan the Wicked Stepmother in favour of true love, or whether it’ll all end in divorce, murder investigations and recriminations, isn’t clear at this point. But there are enough hints that it’s not going to be all ball gowns and coaches that it might well be worth sticking with.
Barrometer rating: 3
Midnattssol/Jour Polaire (Midnight Sun) (France: Canal+; Sweden: SVT; UK: Sky Atlantic)
A curious bit of Nordic Noir that feels like SVT (Sweden) wished it could have more episodes of Bron/Broen (The Bridge), Canal+ (France) wished it could have more episodes of The Tunnel (Tunnel), so the two of them sat down together to create a weird French/Swedish/English hybrid of the two. Midnattssol/Jour Polaire (Midnight Sun) sees a bizarre murder involving a French national take place in rural Sweden. Lead investigator Peter Stormare (Swedish Dicks, Fargo, Prison Break) asks the French police for their help and they send Leïla Bekhti (Paris je t’aime, A Prophet). But soon it turns out that it’s not the only murder and that the murder victim was a member of the French Foreign Legion.
Midnight Sun is strange. Even before the title sequence has rolled, we have “Death by being attached to a helicopter rotor and whirled around a lot”, which is just plain nonsense. Then at the end of the first episode (spoiler alert) Stormare dies of a stroke after the entire ground opens up in front of him – the nearby iron ore mine is so huge, so important that the fact it’s causing quakes and other problems means that rather than the mine be closed down, the town itself is being moved instead. Which is an odd choice that suggests a bit of funding money was needed.
After that, the focus is more on Bekhti’s relationship with Stormare’s deputy, Gustaf Hammarsten (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), which is a far more comedic partnership, although Stormare’s relationship with his wife is still both warm and amusing. By contrast to the experienced Stormare, however, Hammarsten is inept, constantly joking and constantly has problems with his teenage daughter.
The show also plays to cultural differences. Bekhti speaks French back in France and with other French people; Hammarsten and Stormare speak Swedish; none of them speak each other’s languages so the rest of the time, the dialogue is in English. But that still leaves plenty of time for jokes, with Bekhti’s request to Hammarsten to say a Swedish place name results in “It’s spelt as it’s pronounced”, which results in Bekhti telling a colleague to “just Google it”. Meanwhile, Hammarsten and Stormare’s boss is advising about the use of the French word ‘bordel’ (brothel) as a way of meaning ‘it’s a mess’ (well, it does but… What could possibly go wrong?), which is something a French audience will certainly have fun with. As the name suggests, Bekhti also has to deal with the Insomnia-esque issue of the constant daylight in her new home away from home.
However, the central dynamic of the two investigators isn’t that compelling, Bekhti’s having to deal with the news of her brother’s death and occasional desire to impale her hand on spikes usually makes her a little joyless, and I’m a bit tired of grotesque deaths and mutilations by genius killers, even if you aren’t. I’ll probably watch some more of it, because later episodes look at the local native culture more, but this isn’t the instant classic Broen/Bron was.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (Old Vic – Until 6 May)
The play that made Tom Stoppard’s name, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead takes two minor characters from Hamlet who appear in a few scenes and are then declared dead, and catapults them into their own play, imagining what they got up to in between scenes and using those dialogues to discuss the nature of fiction, the nature of theatre, what it is to be a thinly drawn supporting character and to critique Hamlet itself. The play is an amazing piece of work, clever and witty, written in modern day English except whenever it meets up with the mothership again, where it uses the original’s dialogue.
However… the two leads are Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire playing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern respectively (or is that Guildenstern and Rosencrantz?). Whichever way round it is, it was the wrong choice, because while McGuire is perfectly good and has decent presence, Radcliffe, who has the more passive character, is… passive and uncharismatic as the role demands, but far more so than necessary, resulting in a chemistry-less pairing and McGuire doing all the heavy lifting. Director David Leveaux also allows the two to rush the dialogue, perhaps to keep the play to its very tight two and a half hour runtime, meaning that it’s almost impossible to savour the writing and sometimes to even hear it.
Both McGuire and Radcliffer, however, are eclipsed by the more seasoned David Haig (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Yes, Prime Minister) as the leader of the strolling players. Direction is fine, although quite sexualised, and the party of teenage schoolkids behind me couldn’t quite cope, so spent the whole time commenting on it. Try to ensure you don’t have an audience of easily embarrassed schoolkids behind you if you’re going to watch it.
To be honest, not a great production, but a perfectly solid one and enough of the text shines through that it’s still no failure. Try the movie instead, though.
Shows I’ve been watching but not recommending
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow
2×15 – Fellowship of the Spear
Bonkers as usual, with our team recruiting JRR Tolkien to help them find the blood of Jesus in the South of France. As you do. Characters returning from the dead and more make it all even more marvellous. However, attempting to recreate the Battle of the Somme on a The CW budget was a decided mistake.
Reviews: First episode; fourth episode
The Flash (US: The CW; UK: Sky 1)
3×17 – Duet
Enough to reprieve the show from my kill list, as we get a musical crossover with Supergirl that enables the stars of both shows to show off their Glee skills and sing a lot. Unfortunately, that was basically like a conch shell for anyone else on the cast list of any The CW superhero show ever to turn up and start singing, too, including Victor Garber who I thought had got it all out his system last week when he got to sing a calypso. But it also meant BARROWMAN turned up to sing and dance, too. Sorry, America.
Reviews: First episode; third episode
Imposters (US: Bravo; UK: Virgin)
1×7 – Frog-Bikini-Eiffel Tower
It’s about now the show is starting to play with its title’s various meanings, including Imposter Syndrome, which all works quite nicely as we see how not having to be yourself is liberating but also removes your grounding. Psychologically interesting as we see how other people are what keeps us as we are.
Reviews: First two episodes; third episode
The recommended list
The Americans (US: FX; UK: Amazon/ITV)
5×2 – Pests – 5×3 – The Midges
Yes, agriculture. Did the Americans do that? I could probably Google to find out, but what an interesting choice of thing to look at (no sarcasm). The Paige advancements are well judged, too, and feel natural, and all the stuff back in the USSR and with the Russian defector in the US are a nice way to possibly end our heroes’ feelings of patriotism. Lovely cameo by a much-loved former character, too. I’m guessing the fact that the mystery gym woman is played by Laurie Holden means she’ll be back. I wonder if she’s a spy.
Reviews: First episode; third episode
The Good Fight (US: CBS All Access; UK: More4)
1×6 – Social Media and its Discontents
A promotion for The Good Fight this week, as it proves itself the smartest procedural on TV. This week, a thinly veiled portrayal of Milo Yiannopoulos and the alt-right that examines freedom of speech, racism and more, and which I learned something from, even though this is something I’ve been following for a while. Also good to see the non-white characters being rounded out and put centre stage now.
Reviews: First episode; fourth episode
Legion (US: FX; UK: Fox UK)
1×7 – Chapter 7
A welcome return to form as we get another great episode, as well as lots of plot exposition again. Still, at least this was new exposition, Dan Stevens gets to be English for a bit and Jemaine Clement got to do more again. Plus didn’t I tell you that daddy would turn out to be Professor X? Kudos for going there. But who in the 1970s was sending emails to their partners? Is this some sort of hint at a different reality or simply the superior technology of the X-Men universe.
Reviews: First episode; third episode
The Magicians (US: Syfy; UK: 5*)
2×9 – Lesser Evils
Fairies and polyamory, as well as Chris Gorham, all add up to an improvement on last week, but the show is still feeling underpowered and needs to have some really nasty things happen and soon.
Episode reviews: First episode, third episode