What have you been watching? Including Dear Murderer, Bang and The Orville

Dear Murderer

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. TMINE recommends has all the reviews of all the TV shows TMINE has ever recommended, but for a complete list of TMINE’s reviews of (good, bad and insipid) TV shows and movies, there’s the definitive TV Reviews A-Z and Film Reviews A-Z. But it’s what you have you been watching? So tell us! Tell us if you want to live

As the temperature outside starts to get colder, things start to hot up again in the world of tele, which means new shows are starting to pop up again on both network TV and Internet TV. Elsewhere, I reviewed the hilarious Get Krack!n (Australia: ABC) while in the new ‘Boxset Monday’, I reviewed Amazon’s Comrade Detective.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’m currently four episodes into Sky Atlantic’s slightly bonkers Canadian-set Tim Roth revenge thriller Tin Star, but I’ll Boxset Monday that next week so you’ll have to wait until then to hear my opinion.

There have also been three other new shows in the past week: TVNZ (New Zealand)’s Rake-ish Dear Murderer, S4C (UK)’s bilingual gun drama Bang and Fox (US)’s The Orville. I’ll be covering all of them after the jump, as well as the regulars –  כפולים (False Flag), The Last Ship and the premature season finale of Shooter. See you in a mo.

New shows

Dear Murderer
Mark Mitchinson as Mike Bungay in Dear Murderer

Dear Murderer (New Zealand: TVNZ 1)

Supposedly autobiographical dramatisation of the life of Mike Bungay, one of New Zealand’s most high-profile, ‘outrageous’ and ‘flamboyant’ barristers, Dear Murderer is more a blatant attempt by TVNZ to do a home-grown Rake. A temporally agile show, it begins in 1970 then flashes back back to Bungay’s past, first as a child growing up in London during the Blitz, then to his evacuation to the countryside where he’s abused by his new family, his joining the army then moving to New Zealand and then his eventual signing up on the toss of a coin to a law degree so that he can be stationed in Wellington with his wife and (unplanned) family.

In the present day, Bungay is part lawyer, part member of the Westside gang but without the laughs, as he behaves very badly while using his legal skills to get himself and anyone who hires him out of trouble. He parties, he cheats, he sexually harasses, he gets drunk, he has car crashes. Blimey, Charlie – what a character.

However, by the end of the first episode, there’s precious reason to be watching Bungay, although maybe if you’re as aware of him as the New Zealand audience supposedly is, you’ll be hanging on in there for whatever comes next – whatever that is. I certainly wasn’t persuaded of the show’s possible merits by the antics of the first episode: despite some sterling period detail, an obviously interesting character (although his daughters suggest more than a few liberties might have been taken with the truth) and a good cast (bar one of the worst Scottish accents I’ve heard in my life), middle-aged, alcoholic, prostitute-visiting lawyers behaving badly ain’t the greatest ever TV viewing. But I might try episode two, since it appears New Zealand’s first ever spying trial will be its focus, which should be interesting on its own terms.

I can’t find a trailer for it anywhere, but this appears to be the full episode, if you want to give it a watch.

Bang S4C
Jacob Ifan and Catrin Stewart in S4C’s Bang

Bang (UK: S4C)

Y Gwyll (Hinterland) was a Damascene moment for S4C, as it realised that well made drama shot in Welsh could still appeal to the rest of the world. Mind you, the network fudged the issue somewhat by shooting both Welsh and English versions, showing a Welsh-only version on S4C itself and selling a hybrid, mostly English-language version to the rest of the world (English-only was originally going to be the only other version available, the hybrid version being a late addition that I like to think I had a little something to do with. Although I suspect I didn’t).

The next step in the evolution of S4C drama aimed at the wider world is Bang, a Port Talbot-set crime thriller about a zero-hours-contract loner (Jacob Ifan) and his cop sister (Catrin Stewart). Back when just a kid, Ifan saw his dad shot in front of him on the beach and now mostly stays at home looking after his nan when he’s not working down the shop. However, across the road are some criminal neighbours, one of whom (Rebecca Hayes) Ifan takes a fancy to – something she notices and is quick to take advantage of, by asking him to look after a gun for her. And although reticent at first, he grows to like the gun he’s acquired, even though it may ultimately lead him into conflict with his sister.

Meanwhile, Stewart is trying to advance herself in the force, despite the efforts of boss Suzanne Packer. When she comes across a body in the marina, she tries to get herself onto the investigation… with varying success.

Port Talbot is neither packed with Welsh speakers nor an amazingly beautiful place. S4C deals with the former issue by taking a radical step and making Bang a properly bilingual show – supposedly its first, although frankly, big chunks of Caerdydd were in English or as good as at times (you can’t just still ‘mae’n’ in front of English phrases and claim you’re speaking Welsh, IMHO). The latter issue it solves through some judicious location-hunting and surprisingly lovely direction that somehow makes even Port Talbot’s ‘at-ats’ (as my wife likes to call them) look delightful.

Port Talbot At-Ats near the beach
Port Talbot At-Ats near the beach

Bang itself is also a pretty credible piece of work. Ifan’s storyline is a little bit weak at the moment, although there are hints at bigger mysteries to solved and the suggestion he’s going to ‘Break Bad’ at some point soon. However, Stewart’s investigations are properly interesting, her repartee with her partner authentic and life back at the station a lot more plausible than Y Gwyll‘s.

It’s not exactly an explosion a minute, but its low-key, artfully constructed script and direction make it one of the more compelling crime dramas I’ve seen in a while, and one that feels like it involves real people for a change, too.

It’s on iPlayer if you want to watch it.

The Orville

The Orville (US: Fox; UK: Fox UK)

One of the funniest and loveliest movies you could ever hope to watch is Galaxy Quest. A magnificent spoof of Star Trek (and occasionally Blake’s 7), it genuinely is one of those laugh-a-minute movies that gets even funnier the more you know about the TV shows in question.

So hopes were obviously high for The Orville, a new show from Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy, American Dad, Ted) that’s ostensibly a spoof of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It sees MacFarlane playing a mid-tier starship captain living 400 years in the future in a San Francisco that looks very, very similar to the one in Star Trek. He’s been having a rough time of it since he caught his wife (Adrianna Pallicki) cheating on him, but then he gets offered the chance to command a mid-level spaceship called The Orville. His team? A bunch of mid-level officers that include his unreliable best friend, a robot racist and – you guessed it – his now ex-wife.

Watching the first episode of The Orville will dash all hopes for cutting-edge parody from you. Seriously, although there are some elements of workplace comedy, with characters being dicks to one another and wondering if they’re allowed to drink soda on the bridge of their underpowered starship, even Hyperdrive was funnier than this; there were episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation that were better self-parodies than The Orville is a parody. I think I laughed a few times, mainly thanks to Pallicki and MacFarlane’s bickering, but that was about it.

By the end, however, you’ll realise that there’s been some false advertising going on. The Orville isn’t a spoof of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Seth McFarlane simply wanted to star in his own Star Trek episodes and he made The Orville so he could do just that. It’s Star Trek: The Next Generation with the serial numbers filed off and what jokes there are are basically the legal requirement for Seth Macfarlane to be able to make the show without getting sued for format theft.

For the most part, The Orville is actually a relatively decent sci-fi drama that just happens to have some optional jokes, most of which fall flat. There’s sci-fi techno nonsense; there are aliens; there are starship fights in space; there are firefights. None of it is that great and there’s little cutting-edge writing going on, but the cast are amiable, the hour passes along without much clock-watching, there’s pathos and some jokes do actually work.

I’m not exactly going to recommend it, but if you go into it expecting season eight of ST:TNG rather than Galaxy Quest 2, you’ll have a much better time of things. More importantly, it might actually be a better Star Trek than Star Trek: Discovery is. But we’ll soon see about that.

Here’s a trailer. Literally as I was writing this, the news came through that Fox UK had acquired rights, so you won’t have too long a wait to watch it.

Recommended shows

כפולים (False Flag) (Israel: Channel 2; UK: Fox UK)

1×7

While the ending of the episode was a clear attempt to create a cliffhanger at the expense of all logic (“You must kill the guy who is about to explain everything to the authorities… so I can explain it to them myself”), an otherwise consistently tense piece of work that was thoroughly enjoyable. I’m still not clear exactly why Asia is being such a dick towards Jonathan or why Emma keeps feeling the need to break into English every so often, but those are minor niggles. Plus the highlighting of a key plot point from episode two emphasised – to an almost PD James-level – the importance of paying attention to seemingly unimportant details if you want to catch all the clues.

Reviews: 1

The Last Ship (US: TNT; UK: Sky1)

4×5 – Allegiance

Everyone’s messianic attitude towards Tom Chandler is getting a bit hard to bear now, but another engaging episode, filled with navy loveliness, the occasional Odyssey reference (was that a Trojan Horse I espied?) and Peter Weller now practically frothing at the mouth. Some spy fun, too, and the revelation that one of the refugee Arabs was actually a jolly nice English spy was thoroughly amusing. Again, though, don’t give Adam Baldwin any acting to do. Just let him stand there and look mildly constipated – how hard is that?

ReviewsFirst episode Third episode

Shooter (US: USA; UK: Netflix)

2×8 – That’ll be the Day

A slightly premature end for the second season, thanks to Ryan Phillippe incurring a leg injury, which meant that the remaining two episodes of the season couldn’t be filmed. Still, the producers thought episode eight’s ending was sufficiently climactic that they could simply end the season here.

They’re kind of right, in that all manner of tantalising threads get laid down in the episode that should prove interesting at the start of the third season. But it does make me wonder what role Solotov is going to have going forward – are they’re simply going to kill him off in the first two episodes of the third season or is something else afoot now we have new big bad Harry Hamlin to deal with?

A decent enough episode for what’s been a decent enough, but not outstanding season that pushed things too far in the direction of silly conspiracy theories. The finale did at least manage to return some of the marine know-how of season one to proceedings, which had been notably absent of late, but I wish the show had found a way to ratchet up the tension without making Phillippe a dick towards his wife and daughter at the same time. The efforts to make Phillippe reconcile with Omar Epps have also stretched credulity.

On the whole, though, I’m still looking forward to the third season, but the second season has felt too much like an extended exercise in reformatting, rather than good drama in its own right.

Reviews: Season one




  • JustStark

    Well, in film, I finally managed to get around to watching Lilya 4-Ever, having meant to see it when it on its cinema release but missing it for reasons I cannot now recall.

    Man, that’s bleak. If you have the slimmest shred of faith in humanity, this is the film to cure you of it good and proper.

    So we have to turn to TV for less utter despair. What did we have this week? Well, I think I’m a couple of episodes behind you on False Flag and The Last Ship so I’ll hold off on the former and just say that the latter is, well, pretty much continuing as it has always done in the past. I like that they approach their Odyssey references with the same subtlety that they do everything else (‘Nobody’, indeed).

    Still working my way through Archer and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Third series may be the best yet; though thanks for giving away Boobs in California, Mark (Gordy’s got some o-pin-yons)…

    Finished series one of Stranger Things. Yeah, it wasn’t bad. Very slickly made, and impressive to get that many child actors who stay just on the right side of intensely irritating. I like the fat kid who translates everything into Dungeons & Dragons terms.

    Also finished Continuum. Was slightly disappointed; not sure if it’s just that it was so long since I saw the rest of it, but those final six episodes seemed simultaneously incredibly rushed, and interminably padded. Rushed, because they stuffed them full of plot, and all the things they wanted to do to finish, like blowing up the sets; padded because most of the plot had nothing to do with the stuff the last three series had been setting up, so instead of Theseus and Alec and Liber-8 and even late arrivals like the Freelancers, it was all the future soldiers and Mr Breakfast, none of which was relevant before this and none of which I really cared about. Oh well, I’m glad I got through to the end.

    So what do I do next, until Stranger Things is back? The Expanse, The OA, Travellers, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Ozark, Tin Star, or do I take the opportunity to catch up on some of the BBC/Channel 4 stuff I’ve been taping like Trust Me and Born to Kill (or what about Rellik?)

    • Depends what you want. I thought:

      • The Expanse was reasonable meat and two veg sci-fi
      • The OA’s really just impressively odd and worth watching just to see some new things, even if the ending is a tad undeserved
      • Travelers I really loved as character-driven, frequently amusing time travel sci-fi that acquires a real hard sci-fi edge at the end, but it’s not to everyone’s tastes
      • Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s fun but just made me feel sorry for the obviously mentally disturbed ex-girlfriend
      • Ozark’s fun financial Breaking Bad in the country but not must-see
      • Tin Star I’m seven episodes into now and it’s a very odd show that’s billed as a revenge thriller but really just jumps between genres in the same way Fortitude did, sometimes being hugely dark, sometimes being outright broad comedy, sometimes being almost The OA, sometimes Fight Club – more on Monday.

      There’s good old TMINE recommends, of course. By the sounds of it, you’ve got Netflix so maybe the new Dirk Gentley? I hear Professor T on Walter Presents/All 4 might be a bit of a laugh, too, but I’ve not got round to watching that yet

      • JustStark

        Well, that list was made up of things which your reviews have made sound interesting…

        (I don’t just go by your recommendations, I’m afraid — they are a factor, but then again there’s some things you’ve recommended which don’t interest me at all (cough cough Net-flicks Marvel*) and others which you don’t recommend but your comments make sound interesting. It’s when you don’t mention something at all that I am completely lost!)

        I await your verdict on Tin Star though.

        Dirk Gently I hadn’t thought of, but looking it up it doesn’t look like too big a time investment, so I’ll put it on the list.

        Fundamentally it’ll depend on what mood I’m in next time I have some free time, I guess: Sci-fi, comedy or drama? (I probably would have started The OA last night, but the first episode is over an hour, and it was already late).

        * Actually the Jessica Jones thing sounds slightly interesting, but I have struck it off because (a) everything I’ve read about it, including you, I think, has said that it’s far too long and should lose six episodes of loop-plot padding out of the middle, and I really hate things like that, and (b) I know you don’t have to watch all of the associated programmes if you watch one, but I fear that they are designed to assume you will and I don’t want to reward that kind of mercantilist co-promotion). So if it were a stand-alone six-episode serial I’d watch it; but padded and as part of a ‘shared universe’, no.

        • Ah.

          Jessica Jones is a slightly odd case in that it is shared universe, but IIRC it ignores the only show that precedes it (Daredevil). You do get Luke Cage and other characters from the shared universe turning up, but this is the show that introduces them, which means you can watch it as a standalone show.

          It is too long though. That almost works as an exhaustive list of all things you can do with a supervillain other than kill him. But it’s too long nevertheless.

          • JustStark

            What I’m scared of is that they’ll make a second series, which will then depend on having seen the combined series, which will then depend on having seen all the other ones, including the kung-fu one everybody but you hates.

            Perhaps I’ll leave it a few years, and then if that hasn’t happened I can catch up.

          • They’re definitely making a second season. However, JJ was more or less a guest star in The Defenders and by the end of it, apart from a new dedication to PI work, I don’t think anything about her situation actually changes. Plus The Defenders is more or less a line in the sand that rounds of the plots from all the preceding series so they can start with completely new plots.

            Of course, given that The Defenders was basically a sequel to Daredevil and Iron Fist, it’s very possible that the second season of The Defenders might end up a sequel to JJ and Luke Cage for a bit of symmetry, so you’re probably right to be wary. I’ll be watching all of them, of course (maybe not Daredevil, actually, but we’ll see) so I’ll warn you if the crossover klaxon goes off at any point.

            At the very least though, season 1 of JJ is safe to watch by itself.

  • Mark Carroll

    Hmmm, will be interested to hear how “Bang” goes. Still have to get back to “The Bureau”, probably this week.

    Watched some more “Colditz”. Still entertaining, varied and, I think, settling into how things will be, but we’ll see, there’s still enough of it to make me doubtful about later seasons. I actually quite liked the latest “Ozark”, still some to go, plenty of interacting subplots and people happening now. Still enjoying “Rick and Morty”, into season three with no decline in how mean people are to one another; there’s actually a bit of continuity and enough witty lines.

    Heard an entertaining brief “Witness” on BBC iPlayer, being “BBC Proms: Audience Member Rescues Concert”. Also bothered with the BBC’s “Awesome Beauty: The Art of Industrial Britain” which was fairly good but not amazing. Included a typical bit of the artist seeing a bit more in some things than I thought to be truly there.

    Finally got around to “The Winter’s Tale” from the Barbican, by
    Cheek by Jowl. It was quite good after what felt like a shakily odd start, then I decided that half the remaining oddness was more Shakespeare’s than theirs (I don’t know the play).

    Also finally saw “The Hateful Eight”. I’d gone in with middling expectations but it was reasonable in the end. Not worth making a special effort for but also worth watching once if it happens to come along conveniently. Kind of a bottle episode. A bit of other-point-of-view flashback later on makes things even more clear than they’d already become. It’s really nothing special but it passes the time reasonably. It felt underlyingly humorous in a way that I could perceive and, while not grating, did not cause anything resembling amusement in me.

    • The Hateful Eight is basically The Thing with cowboys, but not as good. Glad you’re still enjoying Ozark!

      • JustStark

        I remember watching The Hateful Eight and thinking it was a decent idea for a short play, stretched out to (what feels like) about six hours of tedious indulgent larking around. There’s an entire normal-length film in there that you could cut out and the remainder would be great.

        • QT needs to be a lot less self-indulgent when it comes to story length. Did you see it in the cinema? There was an actual intermission in the middle of ours, which is why you get QT explaining the plot in voiceover midway through. I’m sure he only made the movie as long as he did so he could do that voiceover.

          • JustStark

            No, on disk, so the voiceover was a really weird addition — interesting to find out why it was there!

            Actually it did serve a bit of a purpose as setting out ‘here’s the bits of the stuff you’ve been watching that are actually important, the rest was just padding you can safely ignore’. But you know what would have communicated that even more clearly?

            Not putting the padding in in the first place.

  • Thanks for the heads-up on ‘Comrade Detective’. Just watched ep.1, looks like fun (unlike Orville, which just looks like).

    • A partial thanks to JustStark is due because he expedited my viewing of it in last week’s WHYBW. I hope you enjoy the rest of it!

      • JustStark

        I think the important thing is to be aware that it’s not just a parody played for laughs, and calibrate your expectations accordingly: I almost gave up after the first episode because it wasn’t laugh-out-loud funny but am glad I didn’t.

        • Just finished; loved it all. I laughed throughout; think it worked wonderfully as a cop thriller as well as satire (it’s satire, rather than comedy). It’s a better cop thriller than many nominal cop thrillers / police procedurals.

          I have never enjoyed police brutality more, and doubt will ever enjoy it so much ever again. Catharsis! I’ll miss those guys.

          Don’t want to get too spoilery, but the commupance for the Adam Smith character was wonderful. His great speech at the end about the Invisible Hand, I nearly died. And the Marx paperback, signed by Marx! Saw the final zinger coming a mile away, but it was all the better for it. Wonderful!

          I read the show as a critique of the west, using the Soviet system as a foil. Part of me wants to live in that imaginary Romania, bean and ham-hock soup be damned. And please bear in mind, I did a little happy dance the day Ceaucescu was executed, so not exactly ideologically pure myself.

          • Gosh, you did like it! Glad we were able to introduce you to something good, which is basically the whole point of TMINE – hoorah!

  • JustStark

    even Hyperdrive was funnier than this

    That’s quite stunning, because even Lilya 4-Ever was funnier than Hyperdrive, and that made me think that the entire human race getting wiped out by a killer virus wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

    It sounds like a very weird situation. Imagine having the clout to get someone to spend millions of dollars making a professional-quality Star Trek fan film just because you want to play at being Captain Kirk — a level of power few in Hollywood ever attain — but only if you pretend it’s a comedy. I’m almost curious to watch it. Depends how many episodes it has, I guess.

    • The Orville got relatively good ratings on Sunday, but it had an NFL lead-in and very little competition, since it’s basically the first out of the starters’ gates. How well it’ll fare in later weeks will be interesting to see

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