What have you been watching? Including You Are Wanted, Passengers and The Accountant

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.

WHYBW took a bit of a break last week, thanks to there being Twin Peaks to watch and not enough time to do that and write about other TV, too. But it’s back, just in time to catch some season finales as the US Fall season begins to wave its final goodbyes and the Summer season starts to kick in.

There have been a few new shows, too, in the past fortnight: the first episode of Downward Dog and those first two new episodes of Twin Peaks I’ve already reviewed elsewhere and I’ll be reviewing Still Star-Crossed (US: ABC) and previewing I’m Dying Up Here (US: Showtime) later in the week. But with a bank holiday weekend, I’ve had a chance to catch up with everything, watch a few movies and even try some of my backlog.

So, after the jump, I’ll be reviewing the latest episodes of American Gods, The Americans, Doctor Who, Downward Dog, The Handmaid’s Tale, Master of None, Silicon Valley and Twin Peaks, as well as the season finales of The Flash, Great News and Lucifer. Before then, a new TV show and not one but two movies!

You Are Wanted (Amazon)
Amazon’s first German-language TV show is a Berlin-set ‘techno thriller’ starring (and written, directed, produced and composed by) one of Germany’s most successful actor-director-composer-writer-cameramen-producers Matthias Schweighöfer, who plays a moderately successful hotel manager and family man, whose life starts to fall apart when hacktivists start to take an interest in him for no obvious reason. Before you know it, they’re in every computer system he has from his laptop and smartphone through to his TV and child monitor, stealing his money, faking an affair and incriminating him in crimes, all while blacking out Berlin’s power system. What do they want and why him? Well, you’ll have to watch to find out.

The first episode was a touch more German in its production values than Amazonian (ie not as good and a bit silly at times), but while it’s not exactly Mr Robot when it comes to hacking, it’s not American Odyssey either, exhibiting a slight hint that it might know a bit about the subject at least. Schweighöfer is appealing, but there’s not much by way of thrills so far, just a lot of Schweighöfer playing with his family and reinstalling operating systems. But it’s promising enough I’ll probably be watching episode two this week at some point.

Word to the wise: despite promises to the contrary, Roku’s Amazon channel won’t display subtitles (I’ve fiddled with every setting it has and nada on anything I’ve watched). So, although half the dialogue’s in English, your German had better be up to knowing what “hydraulic fracking” and “epidemiology” are auf Deutsch if you’re to get by on that platform, so stick with iOS (which definitely does work) or something else. When I gave the subtitles a whirl, though, they turned out to be pretty bad translations that removed any nuance from the original (eg “Google is your friend” became “Use Google”), so I’m not sure that’s much better.

Passengers (2016)
Mechanic Chris Pratt is in hypersleep on board a spaceship to a new colony, when a meteorite collision causes a malfunction on the ship. Pratt wakes up 90 years too early and he’s the only one on board apart from android barman Michael Sheen. Dare he wake up alluring writer Jennifer Lawrence to keep him company? And if he does, what will she do when he finds out he’s effectively killed her? And was his malfunctioning hypersleep pod the only thing damaged by the collision?

A lot has been written about the gender politics of Pratt’s actions in this and to be fair, the movie does go at great lengths not to dodge the ethical questions involved. It’s also far more of a piece of science-fiction than you might have assumed and everything looks very beautiful. But ultimately this is a two-hander between Pratt and Lawrence and how much you’ll want to watch this and their musings about the meaning of life and death very much depends on how much like both of them, whether you find their age gap a bit creepy and whether you think Pratt unconsensually violating sleeping Lawrence’s body (metaphorically) is too much of an obstacle to your enjoying the movie. There’s a brief appearance by (spoiler) Laurence Fishburne and a so-brief-you-probably-won’t-even-see-his-face cameo by (spoiler) Andy Garcia, too, which makes me think there’s a longer cut of the movie out there somewhere…

The Accountant (2016)
An odd attempt to revive The Saint but without paying a licence fee, in which rather than Val Kilmer playing a swashbuckling and suave master criminal who adopts Catholic saints as his noms de plume, we have Ben Affleck playing a socially awkward savant and master criminal who adopts the names of famous mathematicians as his noms de plume, as he goes about… analysing the finances of whomever will pay him. Anna Kendrick is the Elisabeth Shue of the piece, a mid-level accountant who finds an irregularity in her employer (John Lithgow)’s books that Affleck can’t stop himself from investigating. Except Affleck has a very specific code of conduct and if any of his employers break it, he’ll use all the training his psych ops army dad gave him to kill them with extreme prejudice. Trouble is, Lithgow has hired Jon Bernthal (Marvel’s Daredevil‘s The Punisher) to protect him so Affleck might not find the going so easy and Treasury agent Cynthia Addai-Robinson is chasing after him in the exact same way she chases Ryan Phillippe in Shooter

Written by Bill Dubuque (The Judge and Netflix’s forthcoming Ozark) and directed by Gavin O’Connor (Warrior), oddly enough the film is more about an accountant with autistic spectrum disorder than it is about a fighty master assassin, with Affleck redeploying the ‘tortured hero with a disability’ routine he used in Daredevil to evoke sympathy as he does a lot of A Beautiful Mind-like writing on vertical surfaces. But oddly, although its portrayal of ASD’s sensory issues as something that simply needs to be overcome through harsh regimens of fighting, flashing lights, loud noise and hitting yourself with a stick is probably a little contra-indicated, it’s surprisingly accurate, albeit more in a Bron/Broen (The Bridge) sort of way than Life, Animated, with Affleck’s character driven by, advantaged by and disadvantaged by his condition throughout.

The ending is surprising, the fight scenes are genuinely very good, and Affleck and Kendrick are frequently amusing together. And I promise you you’ll never see Martha from The Americans the same way by the end. It’s nonsense and there’s one scene in which JK Simmons sits down to explain the entire plot to the audience, but it’s nevertheless a jolly entertaining, surprisingly smart, surprisingly generous action movie that does for ASD what Daredevil does for blindness.

Shows I’ve been watching but not recommending

American Gods (US: Starz; UK: Amazon)
1×4 – Git Gone – 1×5 – Lemon Scented You
An episode in which first we get to see how Mrs Moon came back from the dead. Which was fine and generally worked well to humanise both her and Mr Moon. More interesting was episode five, in which the producers start to lay their cards on the table and finally New Gods get to meet Old Gods. A slight dropping of the heart as the director credit rolled by at the beginning – Vincenzo Natali of season 3 of Hannibal – but fortunately, there were few of that season’s excesses here while visually Lemon Scented You was an extravaganza in all the right ways, particularly Gillian Anderson’s very versatile appearances, but also the lovely puppetry (yes, puppetry) at the beginning of the episode and Mr World’s appearance (yay, Crispin Glover is here!). Techno Boy also feels like he’s been nicely updated for the Internet of 2017, with hints of the alt-right’s gaucheness.

I’m still not ready to move it to the recommended list, but I can imagine it will be there once the whole season has played out, since American Gods feels very much like it’s novelistic – unsurprising, perhaps, given the source material.
Reviews: First episode

Downward Dog (US: ABC)
1×2 – Boundaries
What should by rights now be settling into a formula and diminishing in quality is actually only getting better and more profound, with an episode that actually managed to handle quite grown-up topics of relationships and boundaries, while also navigating a slightly more promising work story about taking a creative idea and actually making it work in reality. On top of that, Maria Bamford’s evil cat made a much-welcomed reappearance and the various bits of dog psychology (“I made a portal open… with my mind”) were pretty entertaining, too.
Reviews: First episode

The Flash (US: The CW; UK: Sky 1)
3×22 – Infantino Street – 3×23 – Finish Line
As usual, The Flash pulls itself together at the end, making me regret promising to drop it from my viewing schedule next season. The resolution was unpredictable and while the twist at the start of the finale was foreseeable, I assumed it would be (spoiler) Earth 2 Iris who bit the dust instead of HR. Obviously, everything will get undone at the start of next season, but the show finishes in a promising place, one that realises perhaps that it’s been too dark and serious of late and needs to get its fun back.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Great News (US: NBC)
1×7 – The Red Door – 1×8 – Celebrity Hacking Scandal – 1×9 – Carol Has A Bully – 1×10 – Carol’s Eleven
For the show’s final four episodes of the season (gosh, that went by quickly, but it’ll be back again next season, thankfully), Great News makes the decision to go serial, surprisingly enough, with a long story arc about a celebrity hacking scandal that somehow involves Ross’ mum from Friends pretending to be an English, Anne Robinson-like business magnate who appears on the ‘British version of Shark TankPond Scum‘ with Robin Leach (note for Americans and other aliens: the real one is called Dragon’s Den, it’s based on the Japanese show マネーの虎 (Money Tigers) and it’s been running since 2005, which is three more years than Shark Tank). Lots of odd attempts at unnatural Englishness in behaviour and dialogue make me think it’s all a huge piss-take, but it’s borderline as to whether the writers believe it to be mild exaggeration. Still, all’s well that ends well.

Generally, over the season, the show didn’t quite live up to the promise of the first two episodes and Adam Campbell is a singularly uninspiring lead, romantic or otherwise, it turns out. But the rest of the cast work the jokes for all they’re worth, there are enough lines and oddball comedy moments that hit home that it’s always funny, and it’s good to have another US comedy show about people who just aren’t that good at their jobs, particularly one involving journalists.

Not quite the next 30 Rock, but give it the summer to shake itself loose and settle down and it could be.
Reviews: First two episodes

Lucifer (US: Fox; UK: Amazon) 
2×17 – Sympathy For The Goddess – 2×18 – The Good, The Bad, And The Crispy
While not exactly a slam-dunk, the show just about rescues itself, both dramatically and theologically, with a couple of episodes that push the show if not in new directions, at least in moderately interesting ones. The final ending comes out of nowhere but could be worth watching, depending on what happens next, yet the show will need to do a lot more in its first two episodes next season beyond stupid crime investigations if it’s to maintain its presence in my viewing list – it’s been a disappointingly bland season for the most part, with too many filler episodes, even if the character chemistry is starting to come together now (with the exception of the always uninspiring Lauren German).
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Master of None (Netflix)
2×2-2×4
Shaping up into what is basically an American version of The Trip, with Aziz Ansari pottering around through life with his friends while having a new culinary experience every episode. The return to the US by the end of episode two is welcome, as it allows the show to return to episodic observations on everyday life from a unique perspective, such as Ansari’s deliberations with his cousin over whether they can both be Muslim still if they eat bacon, even using the Qu’ran to justify it to his mother. Nicely amiable, but it’ll be a show of definite occasional viewing rather than bingeing. 
Reviews: First six episodesrest of the first season

The recommended list

The Americans (US: FX; UK: Amazon/ITV)
5×11 – Dyatkovo – 5×12 – The World Council of Churches
The traditional point in the season when everything comes into focus and you say to yourself, “Ah! So that‘s what it’s all been about!”, and this season’s no different, whether it’s the Russian storyline or the American one. Beautiful and often moving execution of plots, with Dyatkovo having some really wonderful moments, and although the show is called The Americans, it’s good to see us getting to see more and more of the Russians inside these particular Americans. The continuing ‘recruitment’ of Page is also some masterly work to behold.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Doctor Who (UK: BBC; US: BBC America)
10×6 – Extremis – 10×7 – The Pyramid at the End of the World
And we’re back on the recommended list. Extremis is the superior of the two episodes, with a genuinely surprising twist at the end, while Pyramid at the End of the World is just a nice piece of properly English sci-fi (the world will end because someone has a hangover). Easily the best season since Moffat’s first season and Capaldi’s only good one so far – hence the recommendation.

The Handmaid’s Tale (US: Hulu; UK: Channel 4)
1×6 – A Woman’s Place – 1×7 – The Other Side
Two episodes that fill in the holes in the world view of previous episodes, as the narrative gets handed off to the supporting characters. We first get to see Yvonne Strahovski’s view of life before and after the Rise of Gilead and then (spoiler) Luke’s view of what happened. Both are properly updated takes on the book (Strahovski is now an author rather than the very 80s televangelist of Attwood’s novel) and flesh out the world both before and after, showing why people might even like Gilead (“a 73% reduction in greenhouse gases in three years”) and effectively giving us a view of what it must be like to be a woman in Saudi Arabia every time a foreigner comes into town and feels sorry for you. While perhaps making the story more hopeful and less oppressive than it was before, it also makes it feel more real and nuanced, while providing a view on our own times through a particularly dark prism.
Reviews: Episodes 1-3

Silicon Valley (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
4×5 – The Blood Boy – 4×6 – Customer Service
A show that feels like it’s very slowly contracting in scope to become something about a group of three nerds living in house, mocking each other, rather than anything too focused on Silicon Valley. All the same, as funny as usual, and good to see Bachman come into his own, even if we know he’s going to be leaving us next season.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Twin Peaks (US: Showtime; UK: Sky Atlantic)
3×3-3×4
As always, it’s hard to predict Lynch. He even seems to be eschewing conventional episode boundaries, effectively ending episodes in their middles to start the next episode. Episode three is basically a direct continuation of episode two, following Cooper’s undefinable, disturbing adventures through the Black Lodge and beyond. Some amazing, nightmarish imagery as before and then… it all becomes something considerably more mundane and very, very slow moving. We get some more of the old characters back, with appearances by David Duchovny, Miguel Ferrer, Lynch himself and someone who looked suspiciously like Heather Graham (not reprising her role as “where’s” Annie), as well as Ethan Suplee and Naomi Watts. But mostly it’s Kyle MacLachlan walking around a casino for an episode and a half, winning at the slots and then learning how to function as a human being again. I don’t know whether to recommend it or tell you to avoid it any more, but my gods, those visuals.
Reviews: First two episodes




  • JustStark

    So I did watch Alien: Covenant. Hm. More like an episode of Star Trek than an Alien film, disappointingly. A couple of good action sequences, but really, action sequences aren’t what you want from Alien, and far, far too much tedious mythology-welding.

    Also watched The Girl with all the Gifts. not quite as clever as it thinks it is, but seeing as it thinks it’s about seventy billion times cleverer than most zombie movies, that still puts it above the general herd. Very John Wyndham-y, didn’t you think?

    Although, I can only assume that was a deliberate misunderstanding of Schroedinger’s ‘cat’ thought experiment because surely nobody could be so dumb as to actually make that mistake, and still be able to punctuate well enough to write a screenplay?

    On television, there was Doctor Who. So while the three weeks before these ones were random Davies-era episodes, these ones were specifically Moffat Davies-era episodes. Not classics, like The Girl in the Fireplace, but more like the Silence in the Library two-parter (complete with virtual reality, no less, as well as, you know, a library). So while I can’t agree it’s particularly good in any sense other than in comparison to the last few years, at least it’s clawed itself back out of its own arse for a bit [yuk — Ed].

    (and yes I liked the twist: a return to Moffat’s best twists, in that it was hidden in plain sight the whole time: once it’s revealled you realise that he actually explicitly told you the twist right at the beginning, and you forgot. Those are some of the best twists).

    Also, there was Twin Peaks. Sooooooo sloooow. And yet still watchable — not exactly gripping, but not tedious either. I’m slightly concerned that there’s eighteen episodes of it, I think? That seems a long time to keep this pace going without getting self-indulgent (it’s already skirting close to it in the ‘Dougie’ scenes). But for the moment it’s kind of working.

    Watched the first episode of The Handmaid’s Tale. That’s fairly slow-paced as well, and not exactly subtle (I haven’t read the novel, is it as polemical?). Will have to see where it goes.

    • It’s been 25+ years since I read the novel (gulp) or watched the movie, but I remember it being as polemical, if perhaps a bit less concentrated than in the first episode of the TV show. The first couple of eps are a bit in your face, but it evens out from ep 3 or so. But no, it’s not supposed to be subtle, at least not in terms of iconography

  • Mark Carroll

    If someone’s going to explain the plot to me, JK Simmons would be an agreeable choice.

    Still watching “The West Wing”, into season three, maybe not as excellently varied but still quite good. I liked “The Americans” and “The Bureau” (halfway through the season) but I don’t now remember much I’m afraid and with the former I’m usually an episode behind you.

    “Doctor Who” has large plot holes or convenient nonsense at times but I am still enjoying it and it’s not painfully awful so, great, we’ll see what the next brings.

    • He’s quite good at it, I grant you