What have you been watching? Including Odysseus, כפולים, and Halt and Catch Fire

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! Ah go on. Go on, go on, go on

Here we are at the third of my post-August WHYBW catch-ups. If you recall, the first was to catch up with all the boxsets I’d been watching; the second was to catch up with all the movies; and this third one will deal with new shows and episodes of all the regular shows I’ve been watching over August.

However, as you may have noticed, as always things haven’t quite gone according to plan. Already, I’ve slipped in a review of the complete third season of Narcos. But on top of that, I’ve gone and watched some more movies, too. Whoops. You’ll see which ones in a tick.

I’ve also not seen as many new shows as I’d wanted to. My usual “if it starts in August, I ain’t watching it” rule means that 21 Thunder, Gone, Get Shorty and The Sinner, to name but a few, aren’t even getting a plot summary out of me – let that be a lesson to you, broadcasters! – but as well as a couple of Amazon boxset shows that need my attention – The Last Tycoon and Comrade Detective –  I’ve still to watch some new shows that just about slipped in under the wire.

That means Get Krack!N (Australia: ABC) will probably be getting reviewed on Thursday, seeing as episode two goes out on Wednesday. I’m also in two minds as to whether to review The Deuce (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic). On the plus side, it’s from David Simon (The WireTreme) and stars James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal; on the minus side, it’s about the rise of the porn industry in New York in the 1970s, so might be a bit too risqué for my blood. Still, it doesn’t officially premiere until 10 September, so I’ve still plenty of time to preview it.

All of that cunningly means that after the jump, I’ll be reviewing:

  • Movies: Just Friends (2005) and Doctor Strange (1978)
  • New (ish) showsOdysseus (France: Arte; UK: TV5)
  • Regular shows: כפולים (False Flag), Game of Thrones, Shooter and Twin Peaks
  • Returning shows: Halt and Catch Fire and The Last Ship

Yep, I gave up on Will – as did TNT, to be fairSee you in a mo…

Movies

Just Friends (2005)

Just Friends (2005)

Ryan Reynolds is a fat kid at high school who’s in love with his best friend (Amy Smart). Unfortunately, she’s just not into him and after a humiliating ‘we’re just friends’, he runs off. A decade later, Reynolds is thin, hot and a successful LA music producer. He’s also a player, determined never to be stuck in ‘the friends zone’ again. However, one Christmas, he’s forced to chaperone a potential new client – borderline insane singer Anna Faris – and when their plane has to land in New Jersey near his home town, Reynolds decides to use all his new womanising skills to win Smart. But things don’t quite go accordingly to plan…

Just Friends is a pretty mean-spirited rom com. Obviously, it’s immensely sizeist at every opportunity anyway, but even though it ultimately ends with the message that you can’t force someone to love you so have some gumption, it nevertheless manages copious misogyny and misandry along the way.

Smart picked the short straw, with only one scene ever giving her any character, so it’s really Reynolds and Faris’ movie – Reynolds still perfecting his smart ass dickery that he eventually perfects by the time of Blade: Trinity, Faris somewhat implausibly ‘America’s number one pin-up’ (although less implausibly than Ben Stiller’s pulchritudinous in Zoolander), but at least getting a whole bunch of funny lines and situations.

Honestly best avoided though.

Doctor Strange (1978)

Doctor Strange (1978)

Despite being based on the same comics characters as the more recent movie, this TV movie was one of Marvel’s many attempts in the late 70s to create TV properties based on their comics and so a very different kettle of fish from its big screen brother. It sees Peter Hooten playing the eponymous doctor, a humble medical resident whose life becomes considerably stranger when a student (Anne-Marie Martin) turns up on his caseload, begging not to be allowed to sleep because she’ll die if she does. She’s an amnesiac, but also remembers trying to kill John Mills, which is odd because Hooten had a dream about that not so long ago… Soon, he’s having to face off against Mills’ arch enemy – none other than Morgan LeFay (Jessica Walter).

Obviously, it’s a 1970s TV movie, so clunky, bad dialogue, slow pacing, low budget et al are par for the course. The story is also far more tinged with Western magical themes – demons, magical incantations, glyphs and wards, cats – than the more Eastern Cumberbatch movie. It’s also awfully, awfully silly, particularly the costumes.

Doctor Strange 1978 costume

And yet, there was something a lot more charming about it than the big budget version, with Strange not be an arrogant twat but a bloke who simply wants to help people. And although *RUBBER PUPPET ALERT* for the big bads, in conjunction with the soundtrack, they actually felt scary, weird, unsettling and unworldly in a way that the other Doctor Strange never managed to achieve, despite its huge CGI budget.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s terminally terrible and you shouldn’t watch it unless you really fancy a laugh. But there’s a soul to it, which the new movie just didn’t quite have.

New shows

Odysseus

Odysseus (Europe: Arte; UK: TV5)

So here’s a thing – turns out that if you scale all the way up to nearly 1,000 on the Sky EPG, you can find some genuine French TV in the form of TV5, a TV channel I used to rather love as a kid, since it had all the good (dubbed) US imports. That’s not quite what it does in the UK now, but among its many French delights, you’ll find airing in the wee small hours of Sunday morning Odysseus, Arte (France/Italy/Portugal)’s… well, that’s slightly harder to explain since it’s as much about Odysseus, the hero of The Odyssey, as Waiting for Godot is actually about Godot.

Rather than a straight up adaptation of The OdysseyOdysseus is instead centred entirely on his wife Penelope and son Telemachus and their life on Ithaca as Penelope’s suitors struggle for power during the final stage of Odysseus’ return home from the Trojan War. All the familiar plots from The Odyssey are there, such as Penelope’s tapestry-based deceptions, as well as many, many additions, such as Telemachus having a flirty relationship with a slave-girl. But of Odysseus there is nought (not till the final episodes, anyway).

It has to be said, it does at least look good, since rather than going all toga-lite, the show’s producers have turned to original Mycenaean and Minoan designs for their sets and costumes (not a figure-of-eight shield or boar’s tusk helmet in sight, mind). However, all the budget’s basically gone on the sets, meaning that other than the occasional trip to the beach and outside to a field, the action goes nowhere – hence Menelaus making a surprise visit from Sparta, rather than Telemachus making the trip all the way there.

And while everything’s a tad more Mediterranean in attitude than Troy was, say, it’s still got a modern-day French spin on things, with the power-struggles less Mycenaean, more Fifth Republic; I’m also not sure anyone on staff really understood which gods did what, who prayed to them and how, since women are praying to Artemis for happy marriage beds. Nope – I don’t think so.

That and the generally huge amount of inauthentic embellishments (Menelaus wants to conquer Ithaca!) meant that I gave up on it after a couple of episodes. Oh well.

Recommended shows

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

1×2-1×6

An obvious promotion for what is easily one of the best new shows to hit UK TV screens this year. After an already impressive start, the show has continued with political intrigue and tension, shoot outs, hacking, duplicity and a truly fascinating spin on the spy show – and if there’s one thing Israeli TV can do well, it’s the spy show. Our group of innocents (if any of them actually are) continue to be a sympathetic bunch, while the marvellous Angel Bonanni continues to impress as the genuine spook among them.

While there have been a few implausibilities and exploding ships to highlight that this still a drama, not real-life, the show’s been a real education in how to make a smart modern spy show that the likes of The Night Manager should sit up and take notice of.

Reviews: 1

Game of Thrones (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)

Like all of season 7

Well, gosh. Doesn’t a deadline concentrate the mind? With only a few episodes left before the entire series is wrapped up, the producers decided to hit the afterburners and put more into this half-season than reasonably would have fit into two previous seasons. We’ve had massive revelations, deaths, ice dragons, wall-breaches, major campaigns, a whole new incestuous relationship, some great moments of comedy, some lovely character moments, some great meetings between characters who had never met and some genuinely cool moments that actually made sitting through some of the slower seasons entirely worth it.

On the other hand, the producers somehow fitted those same after-burners on practically every character and animal in Westeros. Stuck north of the wall and need help from someone at the southern-most tip of the continent by tomorrow? Send a raven and she’ll be with you in a thrice. Or a boat. They’ve got jet-propelled boats now apparently. It makes a bit of a nonsense out of the previous seasons’ addiction to slowly cantering across the Northern Irish countryside, but what the hell? Wasn’t it a rush? Plus seeing that poor little dragon die has to be one of the saddest moments of the year’s TV.

ReviewsSeason one

Halt and Catch Fire (US: AMC; UK: Amazon)

4×1-4×4

And it’s a welcome return for the unluckiest people in the tech business. Having failed to win in the PC-compatible business, the online gaming business, the open source business and the security business, we now get to watch them fail at the Internet with the assurance of the historical record to back us up. Appropriately, since we’ve now reached the Internet in our potted guide to computing history, the whole show is moving at Internet speed, with gaps in time elapsing not just between episodes and scenes, but even within scenes – the bravura first episode theatrically almost literally walking us through the team’s failures post-season three to get them to where they need to be this time round.

By episode four, we’re at search, giving us a competition between directories and search engines that’s somehow managed to drag the wonderful Anna Chlumsky over from Veep to play a very funky librarian indeed (her cataloguing of death metal CDs in something to behold indeed). But, of course, we know that directories collapsed and Google triumphed within the next five years, so we also know it’s all going to fail. Oh dear, not again.

So again, this season, rather than let our heroes go out on high, Halt and Catch Fire is instead allowing them to show us just how hard success is in life, even when you have great people and great ideas, while also allowing them to find out there’s more to life than work. I hope they all get nice jobs in good companies at the end of it all – and great lives. Whether they do or not, it’s still lovely to have them back.

ReviewsFirst episodethird episode

The Last Ship (US: TNT; UK: Sky1)

4×1-4×4

As I mentioned last week, this season The Last Ship is doing The Odyssey – and actually, it’s doing it a damn sight better than Odysseus is. This week, for example, the episode was called Nostos, which is of course Greek for a journey home (The Odyssey being one of group of works called ‘the Nostoi’ about the Greek heroes’ journeys home from Troy after the war), and it saw the Nathan James‘ CO drinking some obvious modern day Lotus and getting pangs of nostalgia (see what I did there?) as a result as he made the mental journey home in flashbacks. That’s separate from when the Nathan James was fighting a hydra, of course.

Thankfully, as well as a general return to the more isolated set-up of the first season, we’re also getting a welcome and indeed educational return to naval warfare – I’d never heard of the Nulka until now, so it’s good to see the show’s writers still finding new ways to excite. We also have Peter Weller exploiting his normal day job as he philosophically bad-guys to the max, too.

I’m not entirely convinced that giving Slattery feelings, emotions and an elaboration of the back story that we already knew about him is really a good idea, given Mr Baldwin’s acting talents, mind. All the same, a welcome return to the most exciting show on TV.

ReviewsFirst episode Third episode

Shooter (US: USA; UK: Netflix)

2×2- the latest ep, whatever that is

So far proving to be almost as good as season one, but lacking a little as the narrative becomes a bit more conventional. Our hero is spending most of his time trying to work out whether to be pals with him off House after the events of season one; meanwhile, his wife is 50% PTSD, 50% accidentally making friends with the bad guy. Sure, there’s the occasional bit of shooting and punching, but it’s not quite the full on sniping, marine-let-loose fun of the previous season.

That said, Josh Stewart is proving very impressive as the Big Bad, there’s still plenty of respectful conservative moments to admire and when the show does let off the safety, it’s really good at it, so I’m probably quibbling a bit much at this point.

Reviews: Season one

Twin Peaks (US: Showtime; UK: Sky Atlantic)

3×11-3×18

So 18 episodes, many of which were filled with long languorous pauses and silliness, but somehow it all wasn’t enough. Does it matter though?

We did of course get Agent Cooper back. In episode 17, we also got plenty of answers to questions raised by both this series and the original. But episode 18 effectively just booted everything else into the long grass to create an entirely new massive set of questions instead. Is it all a dream? How many levels of dream are there? Is it the future now or an alternative reality?

Many questions, few answers, but I’m not sure I care. I think the series is best considered as a different entity from the original series. After all, there’s been precious little action in Twin Peaks and although virtually everyone from the original show has appeared at some point or other, this has largely been 18 episodes about an FBI investigation and a pastiche of 1950s sitcoms, rather than anything specifically addressed at the concerns of the inhabitants of Twin Peaks.

Instead, Twin Peaks: The Return has really been a dream itself. A Lynchian exploration of the subconscious, meandering into dreams and out into nightmares on a whim. Narrative logic has had less importance than the visual and dream logic used. You could after all go mad wondering how David Bowie’s character has become an all-knowing, steam-billowing giant industrial teapot if you were concerned about the realism of the show.

If you learn that lesson, it doesn’t matter that the story of ‘Dougie’ could have been told in about three episodes and the entire thing could have been just eight or so. All those pauses were somehow necessary so that Lynch could point to conventional TV and show that the rule book can be tossed up if you really want. Over the past 18 episodes, we’ve had some of the most amazing visuals, sounds, plot twists and innovations that TV has ever had, some beautiful, some nightmarish, all of which will stick with me forever, I reckon. Five years from now, there’ll be imitators aplenty, changing what TV can be in response to what they’ve just seen.

I’m a ponce to say it, but Twin Peaks: The Return was genuine art and you owe it to yourself to watch it to see what TV can be when someone genuinely innovative is given free reign. And if you’re a Lynch fan, I’d say this is the best thing he’s done since Eraserhead. Except maybe Dune. I love Dune.

ReviewsFirst two episodes




  • Mark Carroll

    I don’t have “False Flag” conveniently available at present but have added it to the list so I’ll get there someday.

    I caught some of the Big Band Swing episode of the BBC’s Proms season and it was actually quite good and my wife liked it too.

    I’ve watched a bit more early “Colditz”. That’s still going well, it’s not too same-y yet. I’ll be interested to see how it develops, if I’m still in a long setup toward a steadier state.

    We’re still watching and liking “Rick and Morty”, into the second season now. There’s still a reasonable amount of wit and variety. Let’s hope that continues.

    The latest “Preacher” I thought was quite good too, some plot movement and character stuff and whatnot.

    We’re a little way into “Ozark”. For me the jury’s still out, not quite sure the story and characters are quite worth the blowjobs and suchlike. Certainly happy to keep giving it a chance though.

    On BBC radio I caught “A Long Walk With Gary Numan” and that was actually quite good and interesting as an extended interview, though we found that he can sound remarkably like Noel Fielding.

    So, we’ve been watching cookery shows. I think that “The Great British Bake Off” has survived its move just fine, I don’t see that it’s really lost anything. The commercial breaks are good chances to go make cups of tea and whatnot. The “The Big Family Cooking Showdown” is pleasantly different; I am liking it reasonably but it’s not amazing and it’s somewhat distracting (entertaining?) that a clear aspect of it is family members’ irritation with one another. A pleasant surprise has been “Nadiya’s British Food Adventure” which has been sporadically interesting and the things she chooses to cook generally look practical and appealing.

    We saw “Under the Shadow”, the Iranian horror film. It was good, I enjoyed it. Not amazing but certainly above average and an unexpected bonus was that it included the same model of vacuum cleaner that my mother had at that time.

    Netflix has “Russia’s Toughest Prisons” and, as documentaries on it go, this one really was not too bad, fairly interesting and not much padded or intolerably overdramatic.

    Over recent weeks we also saw some BBC documentaries. “Britain’s Nuclear Bomb – The Inside Story” was quite good, it gave a reasonable summary of the history, especially the journey from WWII to the H-bomb, with some decent interviews along the way. “Milton Keynes and Me” was quite a different affair, not overly personal despite the presenter being much in the foreground, again with some decent interviews and file footage regarding the history and ideas and how they turned out. “Two Types – The Faces of Britain” was also quite good, allowing for that it was about a pair of fonts; the history there wasn’t as interesting to me but it was still worth a watch.

    • JustStark

      We saw “Under the Shadow”, the Iranian horror film

      See what I mean about how it makes a much more interesting story about a woman living in a repressive regime than The Handmaid’s Tale? The mother has agency, goals, desires (both in terms of getting away from the supernatural threat, and in terms of her own thwarted life ambitions) and these intersect with the details of living in such a regime (the bit where she flees out into the street… and is promptly arrested for not being properly attired for a woman outside the home!). And all without trying to overthrow the system like some kind of Iranian Rambo.

      Much more interesting than just watching Peggy Olsen feel sorry for herself and passively receiving whatever new indignity is heaped upon her head.

      [I suspect, as I wrote before, that this is because Under The Shadow was made by someone with actual experience of living under such an oppressive regime, and the real indignities and challenges and details of such a life, rather than someone unable to imagine any course of action other than ‘be a resistance fighter’ or ‘become a totally passive victim of feminist torture porn’].

      • To be fair, Iran’s been like that since the Iranian Revolution, whereas Gilead is a completely new society that isn’t yet fully established and that started off in a very different country anyway, so they’re not going to be identical. Plus Iran is relatively liberal compared to Saudi, which is the true inspiration of Gilead – it’s a few years of Christianised Wahhabism imposed on the US, while there’s still resistance, punishments are harsher, ideology is more Manichean and so on. There are parallels, obviously, but it’s not an isomorphic mapping.

        That said, it’s also supposed to be a metaphor for modern day Western patriarchy. I think the fact so many female viewers relate to it and see it merely as an extrapolation of current society, rather than anything radically different, whereas many men complain about the supposed passivity in the show/book, also suggests it speaks to something that women understand about their own situations better than men do – that they’d be more like Ofred than Rambo if Gilead ever happened. Of course, then Ofred is ideologically woken, so the show becomes something else.

        But I’ve not seen Under the Shadow so can’t compare

    • Ozark is a slow burn and you do have to watch the whole season before you can fully appreciate what it’s doing. It’s not absolutely outstanding, but it’s worth watching, I reckon.

  • JustStark

    Twin Peaks: well, then. I’m glad they showed the last two back-to-back; I thought it ended right, because the penultimate episode provided a satisfying-ish conclusion (thematically, if not narratively — like a song where the lyric makes no sense, but the music resolves so perfectly that it feels satisfying despite that), but left me thinking, ‘it’s a bit off that Cooper has become a sort of Doctor Who figure who now understands how the Otherworld works, it makes things a bit less mysterious’ — only for the last episode to blow that out of the water entirely by completely spinning everything around and leaving Cooper just as confused as the newly re-baffled audience. But I would have been very cross if I’d had to wait a week between the two, thinking I’d get more answers, and then got… that.

    I have started watching Stranger Things. It’s basically a ‘greatest hits’ medley of ’80s sci-fi films, isn’t it? The second episode is basically ET: The Extra-Terrestrial. I tell you, though, scary as the monster might be when in the shadows, it’s nothing compared to the constant creeping dread that any second Air Supply might turn up on the soundtrack.

    Finished the most recent series of The Americans and it remains excellent. Philip’s slow-motion breakdown is a wonder to behold; as was the moment when Elizabeth looks anew at all the things her life in America has given her that she won’t have back in the USSR. Still possibly the best thing on television. Next series is going to be epic: I’m not sure what I’m looking forward to most, but it may be the look on Stan’s face when he finally realises that he is literally the worst counter-intelligence officer in the entire history of the world.

    [I note that it followed the ‘end of series’ formula that I identified to the letter: knocks for multiple characters that send them off in new directions (Henry, Paige, Martha, Stan, and of course the central couple) combined with the end of the operation introduced in the opening episode and the departure of characters introduced there who were associated with it (Tuan and the defector’s family), plus a bit of foreshadowing for next series (the reintroduction of Kimmy). I believe the idiom is, ‘Called it.’]

    Continued watching False Flag. I’m not as impressed with it as you: I think there’s a been a lot of wheel-spinning in the middle three or four episodes. Characters keep either bouncing off or spinning past each other and things are almost revealed but then aren’t (you can’t just keep teasing the same reveal indefinitely!). It looks like it’s shaping up now, but I suspect my final verdict will be a great first and last episode, and a middle six that should have been cut down to four, or maybe even fewer.

    All but the last episode of Son of Zorn. It’s funny. It’s not a total classic. But each episode has made me laugh out loud at least twice (Zorn’s mind-swapping ability: ‘That’s such a handy trick to have. I wonder why I don’t use it more often, you know? Oh, that’s right, ’cause I start lactating blood.’; or Craig getting the hang of Zephyria: ‘Okay, let me guess. Arrowhead is a guy whose head is shaped like an arrow, and when he opens his mouth, arrows come out and they shoot you, and then you turn into an arrow, and then you shoot other people in the head.’ ‘No, that’s Archeron.’). I can’t say I’m incredibly sad that they didn’t make more of it, though, as while it’s not one joke, it is definitely a finite number of jokes (Edie was wild! Craig’s a wuss!) and they’ve kind of done them all.

    • I see what you mean about Twin Peaks. I can’t imagine that they’d ever show the two episodes separately in the US, but I can imagine that the finale was notionally divided in two for the export market and fixed time slots, so some poor viewers in some country somewhere are probably going to get them that way and be a bit upset.

      Most people say that Stranger Things hits its stride by episode 4, but I thought it was beautiful from the outset. Of course, I’ve never seen ET (shock! horror!) so can’t compare that either.

      False Flag: I boxsetted that, so the gap between episodes was non-existent, which meant I didn’t notice any wheel-spinning. It all seemed to flow very nicely to me

      • Robin Parker

        re Bowie’s talking, steaming teapot: At risk of trying to apply logic to something that probably doesn’t need it, it was presumably a late change to the script due to Bowie’s unavailability, but I wondered if it’s Lynch’s warped tribute to the hookah-chanelling caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland?

        • Probably – on both scores. Hadn’t occurred to me!