What have you been watching? Including Dear White People, Great News, Doctor Who and Silicon Valley

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.

Slightly later than normal this week thanks to everyone and their auntie suddenly thinking Sunday nights are the best time to broadcast TV shows. Monday nights? Not so much, so here we are on Tuesday, perhaps for a little time, perhaps for one week only.

Earlier this week, I reviewed the first episode of American Gods (US: Starz; UK: Amazon) and the first three episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale (US: Hulu; UK: Amazon). But time and time wait for no man, not even me, so I’ll be reviewing the second and fourth episodes of those two respective shows after the jump, along with the usual regulars: The Americans, Doctor Who, The Flash, Great News, Lucifer and Silicon Valley.

But I did try to watch something else as well. Albeit a tad unsuccessfully.

Dear White People (Netflix)
Follow-up TV series to the massively successful movie that explores the modern day nuances and mores of race, class, race again, sex and race (again). Set on a modern day US Ivy League college campus, it looks at what happens when a humour magazine organises a black-face Halloween party. The ‘Dear White People’ of the title is the name of a college radio show run by Logan Browning (Powers, Hit The Floor) in which she tries to explain to white people what they’re doing might be racist, while they in turn phone in to explain to her how racist she’s being.

And that’s all I got.

The first 10 minutes were actually quite funny – astute critiques of what forms racism can take in an age in which accusing someone of racism is seemingly worse than their actually being racist, as well as insights into how racism changes depending on the classes of both those being racist and those targeted, and even how what constitutes racism can vary from one person to another.

I’d like to have carried on watching, but then came a point where I realised I literally had no idea what people were saying. The words didn’t mean anything to me. I am old and white and British, and the cast are predominantly young and black and American, and I simply couldn’t understand their lexicon and references, or when I did, it was five to 10 seconds after the line had been delivered.

What I caught was very good, though, so I may come back to it – with the subtitles turned on and tablet in hand set to the Urban Dictionary so I can work out what’s going on and maybe learn a little, too.

Shows I’ve been watching but not recommending

American Gods (US: Starz; UK: Amazon)
1×2 – The Secret of Spoons
If episode one was tonally season two of Hannibal, then episode two was… the same, except on aggregate rather than consistently, as it was an average of seasons one and three. In some ways, much improved and often disconcerting à la season 1. The opening scene with Anansi was clever and actually made more sense of the opening scene of episode one  – you can now see each episode opens with a story about how each of the gods got to the US that also illustrates what kind of god they are. Shadow Moon got a bit more personality, just as people in-story were starting to point out he hadn’t got one. We also got Gillian Anderson and Peter Stormare showing up, Anderson as Lucille Ball/Media and Stormare as ‘generic European god’ (judging by his accent).

All of which was lovely, but at the same time, the show verged on the highly pretentious and there was a touch of the stupid to a lot of the proceedings and characters. We even had Stormare calling Ian McShane ‘Wotan’ and Shadow Moon not picking up on that at all – he really isn’t the brightest. 

More promising than episode one, but still not as good as everyone was expecting, I suspect.
Reviews: First episode

Doctor Who (UK: BBC; US: BBC America)
10×4 – Knock Knock
This season’s traditional haunted house episode had its moments but really just trundled along, failing to scare. David Suchet veered between brilliant and absolute rubbish, and the puppet tree girl was more than a bit CBeebies. All the same, Peter Capaldi is ace this season and Bill does seem like an actual student, even if her group of friends is suspiciously and specifically highly diverse.

The Flash (US: The CW; UK: Sky 1)
3×20 – I Know Who You Are
Another promising uptick in quality and we finally get to know who Savatar is – and it’s actually not too bad a revelation, even if it’s more timey-wimey-ness. You get the feeling that the whole season story arc made a lot more sense when they were architecting it, but that stretched out over 24 episodes, it’s become a bit of a nonsense thanks to everything needed to pad it out. My advice to The CW would be to dial back the episode count a bit, but given its reliance on superhero shows, I doubt that’ll happen.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Great News (US: NBC)
1×3 – Chuck Pierce is Blind – 1×4 – War Is Hell
Great News episodes seem to have a sort of rhythm to them. They start off firing jokes at you before you’re ready for them, so they fall flat and you start to worry that you’ve recommended people a pup. Then as the episode progresses and more zany fun, dance numbers and lunacy get piled onto the stack and you, in turn, acclimatise to it all, so it starts to become hilarious. Nothing in particular that’s special about these two episodes, they’re just very silly and very funny… by the end.
Reviews: First two episodes

Lucifer (US: Fox; UK: Amazon) 
2×15 – Deceptive Little Parasite
Another “really, that’s the best you’ve got?” 45 minutes that advance the season plot a little while mainly being about a tedious police investigation. At least, the investigations are getting sillier and stupider as the writers realise it’s all absolute nonsense, but the show needs a bit more edge if it’s to avoid being consigned to my ‘rejected’ bin at the end of the season. Also: are all angels this stupid?
Reviews: First episodethird episode

The recommended list

The Americans (US: FX; UK: Amazon/ITV)
5×9 – IHOP
Another episode that managed to reference virtually every previous season, with returning characters and storylines that I’d almost completely forgotten about and made me wonder even further how our heroes find the time to do all the things they’re doing. Some nice surveillance moments, too, and the show is flaunting is masterful command of all its themes. On the other hand, was that a real poster from the 80s in the travel agency or does the show’s poor production designer think Crete looks just like Santorini and Mykonos – because they really, really don’t, I’ll tell them that for nothing.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

The Handmaid’s Tale (US: Hulu; UK: Amazon)
1×4 – Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundum
The first episode that felt like it was written about modern feminism rather than 80s feminism, but which also meant that it seemed to contradict most of the previous three episodes. Gone was the claustrophobia and general feeling that the Handmaids can’t trust one another – now they’re all secretly girl power-saluting each other. But the rest of the time, sticking closely to the book and generally horrifying.
Reviews: Episodes 1-3

Silicon Valley (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
4×3 – Intellectual Property
Not one but two subversions of expectations this episode, with both a date and a con going in different directions to those expected. I’m not sure how many times I can keep writing “very funny”, though. Watch it.
Reviews: First episodethird episode