It’s “What have you been watching?”, my chance to tell you each week what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently and your chance to recommend anything you’ve been watching. Go on – I dare you.
The slowdown into summer continues and with the July 4th weekend having just passed, there wasn’t a huge amount for me to watch this week. Elsewhere, I’ve reviewed Spike (US)’s The Mist but that was the only new show other than Netflix’s Gypsy, which I’ll get onto in a minute. In fact, two more shows have had their season finales since last week: Doctor Who (UK) and Downward Dog (US). There’ll be nothing left at this rate…
Anyway, after the jump, as well as those two concluding shows, I’ll be looking at what’s left of the regulars: Glow, Riviera and Ronny Chieng – International Student. And, because I finally had some time to play catch-up, I’ll be looking at the final few episodes of Westworld (US), too – now there’s a blast from the past, hey?
Tediously familiar Chance territory in which Naomi Watts plays a bored psychiatrist trapped in a struggling marriage with Billy Crudup and dealing with a borderline-ADHD, possibly trans eight-year-old daughter and the mundanities and social rivalries of fellow mums. But then she begins to think that maybe she could do more for her clients by interfering in their lives, and in the process add some excitement to her own life. So she does and the boundaries between personal and professional begin to blur once she gets the hots for Karl Glusman’s dangerous ex-girlfriend (Sophie Cook) and begins constructing a boundary-crossing alter-ego for herself.
Gypsy wants to be a clever lesbian erotic thriller, playing with ambiguities about what’s real and who’s real, whether Glusman, Watts or Cook has the best idea of what Cook is truly like, and so on. The trouble is that it’s busy naming its episodes things like ‘The Rabbit Hole’, setting them in bars called ‘The Rabbit Hole’ set in basements you have to climb down stairs to get to, shortly before people say “We’re going down the rabbit hole now.” It’s basically a stupid person’s idea of a clever lesbian erotic thriller. Were it not for the production values, cast and runtime, it would probably be airing late night on Channel 5, having previously been released straight to video back in the early 90s.
I managed an episode and a half before the tedium of it all was too much for me.
Shows I’ve been watching but not recommending
What began as little more than a patchily-authentic sitcom about real-life 80s women’s wrestling phenomenon GLOW mutates in the next few episodes to become something slightly more interesting: a paean to ineptitude. Most shows about female empowerment are all about the meek and downtrodden finding their inner strength to overcome adversity and become powerful. GLOW more interestingly provides us with a bunch of female losers and half-talents who are never going to truly be powerful but may find a place in GLOW where they can be comfortably rubbish and talentless with fellow rubbish and talentless women. Of these, Alison Brie’s failed actress is the exemplar, unable to come up with a convincing wrestling persona because she doesn’t really have any personality of her own and has no idea who she really is.
But the episodes are also equally about Marc Maron’s former B-movie director turned wrestling show director, whose lack of talent matches the women he’s trying to cast and whose self-image of a daring, seasoned professional and boundary-breaker is vastly at odds with the Amazon Women on the Moon-style movies he’s written and made. Maron’s vision of GLOW having a background story set in a man-less post-apocalyptic dystopia is breathtaking in its terribleness (“I am Kuntar!” – “It’s not pronounced like that” – “Oh”) yet every else acknowledges it’s better than whatever they could come up with. Because in the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed director is king.
I’ll be sticking with it for a while, because even if it’s not the funniest sitcom around – there are almost no laughs, to be fair – it’s amiable, gentle stuff with a unique vision and a real love for schlock.
Reviews: Episode 1
Riviera (UK: Sky Atlantic)
A slight improvement on the first episode, largely slapping down some of the sillier ideas in favour of more interesting discussions of art, the art world, finance and the differences between French and Monaco law, particularly for the super-rich. Lena Olin is also shaping up nicely as the villainess of the piece and Iwan Rheon is getting to be not-creepy for once in his life. The dialogue hasn’t improved at all, though.
Reviews: Episode 1
The recommended list
Doctor Who (UK: BBC; US: BBC America)
10×12 – The Doctor Falls
Typical of the past few seasons, we get a cracking build-in in episode one of a two-parter, full of some really interesting ideas, followed by a second episode in which the Doctor sits around a lot and says, “I don’t have a plan. Why don’t we just sit here for a few thousand years and chat?” That lack of Rusty adrenaline to one side, some lovely moments throughout, whether it’s Bill becoming a Cyberman and still thinking of herself as she was, the call back to the first episode of the season, anything involving John Simm and Michelle Gomez, and of course the final reveal, which finally makes David Bradley canon – it may also be the closest we ever see (again) to The Tenth Planet #4. Very nerdy, but roll on Christmas!
Downward Dog (US: ABC)
1×7 – Getting What You Always Wanted – 1×8 – Lost
A double-episode conclusion to the season that ended strong with Martin first having to deal with Pepper ‘the serial killer’ (aka the neighbourhood cat) and then his mistress’s rural-dwelling dad. While Martin’s learning from the first episode (“I am not a powerful animal. I am a pussy cat.”) didn’t seem to carry over to the second episode (“I am a wolf!”), that can be excused by his being a dog. Can the same be said for the humans, though? But as usual, some lovely moments in both episodes, some of which again brought tears to my eyes. Such a shame that a show that proved to be such an unexpected delight has now been cancelled – fingers crossed that the producers can find it a new home. Until then, here’s the original short it was based upon.
Ronny Chieng – International Student (Australia: ABC)
1×4 – Extension Quest
A promotion this week for Ronny Chieng – International Student, which has rapidly become in its latest two episodes 2017’s Australian sequel to Spaced. After last week’s marvellous fun with Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, this week we had almost Edgar Wright levels of fun as Ronny has to rid gal pal’s antique computer of a virus by going on various platform-game style quests. Who’d have thought simply walking across open areas of space to an 8-bit soundtrack could be so hilarious?
Reviews: First two episodes
Westworld (US: HBO)
So I finally got round to watching those final episodes. Gosh, wasn’t that tricksy. Full of time jumps, memory spasms, allusions to the illusion of free will and more. Does it all make sense? Maybe, but I’d have to rewatch it. However, lots of it feel like it was made that way purely to trick the viewer, rather than because it made sense, either literally or thematically. But those revelations (eg Arnold dead, but Bernard his android reincarnation) were great fun on first viewing and it’s nice to have the brain challenged now and again. I can’t really see what Anthony Hopkins’ plan was the whole time, though (did he have one, other than to be around for a season then leave?).