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