What have you been watching? Including I’m Dying Up Here, The Americans and Twin Peaks

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.

This may – or may not – be the last WHYBW for a couple of weeks. TMINE will be taking a break from Thursday through to Monday next week. Will I have time to watch much TV? I don’t know. The fact that my watch list is now just a few shows should help, but we’ll know for sure next Tuesday.

Elsewhere, I’ve already reviewed:

Which means that after the jump, I’ll be looking at the latest episodes of American Gods, Doctor Who, The Handmaid’s Tale, Silicon Valley and Twin Peaks, as well as the season finale of The Americans. That’s not much, is it. Come on summer season. Where are you?

Because this is the only other show I watched this week:

I’m Dying Up Here (US: Showtime)
1970s-set drama about a bunch of up-and-coming comedians in LA, all hoping to hit the big time by appearing on the Johnny Carson Show. But first, they’ve got to prove themselves worthy of a main room gig at Goldie’s on the Sunset Strip and Goldie (Melissa Leo) is only going to let you have that once she decides you’re good and ready. Until then, you’re not going to get paid, so you’ll be bunking down with your mate in someone else’s closet or masturbating in front of dying priests to earn some money, just to get by.

Initially, the show, which is based on journalist William Knoedelseder’s non-fiction book of the same name, looks like it’s going to be about Sebastian Stan’s ‘Clay’, who is the first of the bunch to get on Tonight. However, as the name of the show suggests, all doesn’t work out well for Stan, so the focus quickly shifts to his ex-girlfriend and fellow comic Ari Graynor (Bad Teacher), some of Clay’s friends from Boston (The Knick‘s Michael Angarano and The Office (US)‘s Clark Duke), and African-American comic RJ Cyler, who’s badly represented by agent Alfred Molina.

Despite being exec produced by Jim Carrey, I’m Dying Up Here‘s biggest problem is it’s not funny. Indeed, it’s bloody miserable, being closer to How To Make It In America and the horrors of being completely utterly broke than it is about the joys of comedy. Even when it’s supposed to be funny, such as when Graynor finally produces a routine that will ‘define’ her and potentially take her to the big time, it’s singularly unfunny.

It looks beautifully 70s and it quickly kills any idea you might have that stand-up was glamorous back then. Watchable or enjoyable, though? Not at all.

Shows I’ve been watching but not recommending

American Gods (US: Starz; UK: Amazon)
1×6 – A Murder of Gods
Another episode that looks nice, touches on some fun things, deploys a few Gaimanisms, but ultimately doesn’t really take the show anywhere. All the same, Mr Wednesday’s encounter with Vulcan (no, not that one, despite a few suggestions to the contrary) were a moderately interesting metaphor for Trumpism.
Reviews: First episode

The recommended list

The Americans (US: FX; UK: Amazon/ITV)
5×13 – The Soviet Division
Not an especially earned earning, which effectively leaped out of nowhere to twist the storyline into a completely new direction from the one in which it had been going all season. Overall, in fact, a season that feels like it’s actually one of half of whatever’s coming next season to finish the whole thing off, with all manner of storylines not getting rounded off. All brilliant stuff, of course, particularly the events in Russia as well as the machinations with Paige, but I do wish the show could hurry itself.
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Doctor Who (UK: BBC; US: BBC America)
10×8 – The Lie of the Land
Disappointing Toby Whithouse piece that concludes the Monks storyline (for now, at least). Very rushed, full of plotholes and basically a cheerier, less narcissistic version of The Last of the Time Lords, it didn’t make a whole lot of sense, reduced the scary Monks down to the level of stonking idiots and made you wonder if maybe the Doctor was having an embolism when he came up with his six-month long plan. But enjoyable despite all of that, possibly because it had Pearl Mackie rather than Freema Agyeman.

The Handmaid’s Tale (US: Hulu; UK: Channel 4)
1×8 – Jezebels 
Heading back towards the territory of the novel, with a trip to some of Gilead’s less salubrious and moral locations, as well as a flashback for Nick this time that also gives us some insight into how Gilead’s system of government came to be. Not exactly a huge turning point or a subtle message (the most moralistic societies and individuals often have the darkest underbellies), but it’s nice to see the show continuing to flesh out its universe.
Reviews: Episodes 1-3

Silicon Valley (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
4×7 – The Patent Troll
Returning back to Silicon Valley-relevant storylines, a great piece of fun about the absurdity of the US patent system, the ridiculous hyper-masculinity of the typical VC and the even more nonsensical nature of the smart fridge.  
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Twin Peaks (US: Showtime; UK: Sky Atlantic)
Well, this is hard going, isn’t it? And largely still not set in Twin Peaks. 18 episodes of Duggie walking around and not doing anything apart from drinking coffee is really going to be hard to take. But somehow, it’s all worth it just for the occasional nugget of Lynchian bonkersness the show throws out, such as evil Cooper’s phone call at the end of the episode. I’d really like it if they could increase the density of those. Or maybe have less Duggie. Or get him to do something else.
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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