What have you been watching? Including American Gods, The Handmaid’s Tale and Doctor Who

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.

The thing about holidays, even short ones, is you end up with masses of work to do in order to catch up. So apologies for the lack of much blogging last week and indeed this week, but work called. Plus there hasn’t been that much new to review anyway.

Since the last WHYBW, I’ve looked at all the new shows I could find (there was probably something on Netflix, but they tend to hide) but that tally isn’t huge:

Come on TV networks! What am I going to focus my sarcasm on if you’re not going to wheel out some crappy new summer shows. (What’s that Freeform (US)? The Bold Type started last night? Fine, I’ll review it tomorrow.)

It doesn’t help, of course, that a lot of current shows are winding up, too. After the jump, all I’ll be able to talk about are the latest episodes of Downward Dog, Doctor Who, Silicon Valley, Twin Peaks and You Are Wanted, as well as the season finales of American Gods and The Handmaid’s Tale. Pfft. I’m going to have to take up crocheting or something, aren’t I?

Shows I’ve been watching but not recommending

American Gods (US: Starz; UK: Amazon)
1×7 – A Prayer for Mad Sweeney – 1×8 – Come to Jesus
All tease and little pay-off is probably the best way to describe the first season of American Gods. Created by the talents behind Hannibal and based on Neil Gaiman’s novel, the show has trod an uneasy tightrope between the visual brilliance of season 1 of Hannibal and the excesses of its third season, interspersed with Gaiman’s trademarked ‘swotty, pasty, fey bookworm’-friendly class of fantasy. The promised war between Old Gods and New Gods? A few mouth-offs before a final 10-minute slapping match in the final episode where the big reveal is that McShane – aka Mr Wednesday – is… Odin, just as everyone already knew. While there is a phenomenal cast of gods, with Ian McShane and Gillian Anderson excelling on the behalf of Old and New Gods respectively, Crispin Glover, Corbin Bernsen and Orlando Jones have been little more than cameos. And with the central Shadow Moon character so insipid, a mere joyless vessel of disbelief to be converted into a believer by season’s end, it’s effectively been the Ian McShane show the entire time.

That all at least has stopped American Gods getting onto my recommended list. That said, a combination of those visuals, McShane, Anderson, a frequent streak of dark comedy, some spine-tingling moments of divinity and some pathos have kept the show on my viewing list. The updating for TV of Technology to be a childlike alt-right Tweeter is borderline genius, too.

Of the episodes themselves, A Prayer for Mad Sweeney was a sweet little excursion into Irish/British history that was effervescently moving, while Come To Jesus had some fascinating moments, including the arrival of Jesus (Lots of Jesuses, in fact) and Easter (Kristin Chenoweth).

I guess saving the best for season two, rather than using it all up in the first season, is a sensible measure, and at eight episodes, the first season doesn’t exactly eke everything out beyond their natural lifespans. But American Gods had better to do more than just tell a few myths, drive around in cars and look pretty next season if it’s to retain my faith.
Reviews: First episode

You Are Wanted (Amazon)
Things get moderately more interesting and stupider in Germany, as our hero is revealed to be one of potentially many people whose lives are being ruined by hackers and who are being used to carry out tasks for them. He’s still willing to take an unopened box through airport security for them, though.
Reviews: First episode

The recommended list

Doctor Who (UK: BBC; US: BBC America)
10×9 – Empress of Mars
Mark Gatiss, eternal ‘homager’, mashes up numerous works from his book and DVD shelves to give us First Men in the Moon meets She, while finally giving us that Monster of Peladon prequel absolutely no one was clamouring for. All jolly good fun, though, even if the commentary on empire was as clumsy as a sock full of sand to the back of the neck.
10×10 – The Eaters of Light
Rona Munro, arguably the most successful of writers of 80s TV Who, returns to the show to give us something… okay. Obviously having loved Rosemary Sutcliffe’s Eagle of the Ninth as a kid inspired her, but beyond the ancient Scottish setting and the inclusion of the Romans, not much that stood out here. Except the dialogue, which to be fair did have plenty of zingers and illustrative points.

Downward Dog (US: ABC)
1×4 – The Full Package – 1×5 – Trashed – 1×6 – Old
A perhaps surprising promotion for Downward Dog, but it’s actually a lovely little show that’s become even lovelier as time has gone on. We’ve started to lose the somewhat tedious work plot in favour of more personal issues that are as human as the the show’s philosophy is doggy. Each episode can be guaranteed to feature at least one moment that’s tear-jerking, as well as one that’s laugh-out loud funny (usually from Maria Bamford’s evil – and occasionally lyrical – cat, Pepper).

The Full Package gave us Timothy Ormundson as a would-be British gentlemen and all-round adult, allowing the show for once to look at the difficulties of being a grown-up woman when you’re still a child at heart. Trashed meanwhile gave us a poignant look at Martin the dog’s love of trash and the underlying reasons for that. Similar to The Full Package, Old gave us a look at maturing – while Martin has to simultaneously deal with being a full seven years old and having a new puppy in the house, our heroines have to deal with no longer being hip and cool but also not being of pensionable age. Oddly, Star Trek‘s Nichelle Nichols turned up for that, allowing for a whole bunch of “you’re such an inspiration”s to be meta-hurled her way.

I’m surprised by the fact that despite other animals turning up in the show, our hero and Pepper are the only ones to speak, though. I wonder if there’s a reason for that…
Reviews: First episode; third episode

The Handmaid’s Tale (US: Hulu; UK: Channel 4)
1×9 – The Bridge – 1×10 – Night
A surprisingly optimistic ending to a potentially utterly bleak season, with the season ending more or less the way the book ends, albeit in a far more open-ended way. Bridge also gave us a really wonderful look at the plight of refugees as well as how a cataclysm can unite those who were once antagonistic in comfier settings. All in all, a really good, incredibly timely updating and rounding-out of the novel, which while dropping certain aspects of the narrative (Ofred’s mum) nevertheless remained authentic to the book and has finally put Hulu on the map. Roll on season two.
Reviews: Episodes 1-3

Silicon Valley (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
4×8 – The Keenan Vortex – 4×9 – Hooli-Con
Gosh, hasn’t The Sixth Sense‘s Haley Joel Osment changed? More to the point, the show’s getting back on track with actual Silicon Valley-relevant content, while still maintaining a pretty decent laugh count. 
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Twin Peaks (US: Showtime; UK: Sky Atlantic)
Again disrespecting episode boundaries, David Lynch manages to return the show back into more interesting territories than constantly watching ‘Duggie’ sleepwalking through life, including some more cameos from his cinematic cast, such as Laura Dern who wonderfully turns out to be Diane, Cooper’s never-seen secretary from the original series. Turns out Twin Peaks is actually a lot more fun, too, when it’s in Twin Peaks, but Lynch actually made Duggie a lot more interesting with the arrival of a screaming dwarf assassin. Yes, it’s Twin Peaks – you did read that correctly.
Reviews: First two episodes


  • Rob Buckley

    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.

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