What have you been watching? Including Strike Back: Retribution and Spider-Man: Homecoming

Strike Back: Retribution
Strike Back: Retribution

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

We’re now entering mid-mid-season in the US, that time when a number of shows have their November finales and a new set of somewhat lesser shows get ushered onto the scene to fill the airwaves. It beats alternating new episodes with re-runs I guess, but it does mean I had to endure S.W.A.T. (US: CBS) this week. Young Sheldon (US: CBS) has also made its return – but more on that later – and there are more to come now the likes of Will & Grace have bowed out.

Elsewhere, I reviewed Babylon Berlin (Germany: Sky 1; UK: Sky Atlantic) and the whole of Stranger Things 2 (Netflix), but there are a few new shows floating around the airwaves that I’ll be looking at later in the week. CBC in Canada has decided to staple The Murdoch Mysteries onto Miss Fisher’s Mysteries to give us (you guessed it) the ubiquitous Lauren Lee Smith in The Frankie Drake Mysteries, so I’ll be letting you know what I think of that in the next couple of days. Sperm-crimes drama Sisters (Australia: Ten) has somehow been slipping by me over the past couple of weeks, so I’ll try to play catch-up with that, assuming it’s any good.

After the jump, then, the latest episodes of the regulars: The Brave, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, Great News, Marvel’s Inhumans, Mr Robot, Professor T, Star Trek: Discovery, Travelers, Will & Grace and Young Sheldon. 

I’ll also be casting my eye over one new show, Strike Back: Retribution, as well as a movie: Spider-man: Homecoming. See you in a mo.

Films

Spider-man Homecoming

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

The first proper Marvel Spider-man movie since it took over the franchise from Sony, Spider-Man: Homecoming forgoes origin-story shenanigans to get into the thick of it with a full-on Spidey adventure.

We start with flashbacks to just after The Avengers, during which blue collar contractor Michael Keaton is cleaning up the mess from the alien invasion. Chucked off the project by the government to keep it secure, Keaton has a family and workers to look after, so together with his more technically gifted pal soon starts putting his accumulated alien tech to nefarious purposes, including building his own vulture-like flying armour.

Then we flashback to Spidey’s foray in Captain America: Civil War and discover that afterwards, he’s been left to his own devices in New York and that promised opportunity to join The Avengers isn’t going to happen any time soon. So Peter Parker decides to turn his attention to local crimes. Wouldn’t you know it? Before long, he’s butting heads with the Vulture.

These days, Marvel films tend to either be quite gritty (Captain America: Winter Soldier) or quite silly (Ant-man, Thor: Ragnarok), and Spider-man: Homecoming falls firmly into the latter camp. The movie does a good job of establishing Spidey as the blue collar superhero who looks after the average American Joe while billionaires and gods do more world-altering things. At the same time, it sits Peter Parker quite firmly in the High School milieu, having problems with homework, girlfriends, teachers and the like.

With its hands firmly back on Spider-man, Marvel pulls out all the stops not just to integrate him into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, but to show off aspects of the comics that previous Sony movies never bothered with, such as his spider-trackers for following people and his ‘wings’ for gliding. There are even references to Ultimate Spider-man, including the appearances of both the costume and Donald Glover (Community, Atlanta), who was once rumoured to be up for the part of Miles Morales. Oddly, his spidey sense seems to be MIA, which is a first, but something we can all live with, I’m sure.

However, slightly problematically, most of the spidey-gimmicks come from Tony Stark’s gifting to Peter of a special Spider Suit packed full of gadgets and a lot of the movie is about Peter learning to use his new costume and whether he’s worthy of its more powerful features. Indeed, Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark is pretty much ubiquitous in the movie, as are Ironman supporting characters such as Happy and (spoiler)Pepper, and there are so many MCU references, it feels almost like Captain AmericaCivil War 2 at times. The end fight does of course go on too long and there are scenes that are straight lifts from Sony’s efforts, too.

But pretty funny, with some lovely moments, such as the final reveal of (spoiler)MJ. Silicon Valley‘s Martin Starr makes for a great science teacher, Keaton for a moderately sympathetic “voice of the working man” super-villain and Tom Holland a suitably star-struck but frustrated Peter Parker. Plus the frequent Captain America educational videos for the schools (the best of which is after the end credits) are often works of genius, as are the gym teacher’s withering statements about them (“I don’t want to show you these, but I’m mandated to do so by the Federal government, even though Captain America is a war criminal or something now”).

TV shows

New shows

Strike Back: Retribution

Strike Back: Retribution (UK: Sky 1)

Look out! Here comes the D-team! When Strike Back started as an adaptation of the Chris Ryan novel, it was a relatively prestige series for Sky 1, with Richard Armitage in the lead and Andrew Lincoln co-starring. They were both B-list then, but good choices with great pedigrees who have gone far since.

Then Cinemax came on board and we got a new team roster, with Sullivan Stapleton and Philip Winchester as the leads. They were C-list in comparison, but they’d both got good backgrounds in their home countries and have since gone on to star in big NBC shows in the US. They could also banter with the best of them…

…and were also pretty good at the action scenes.

When Strike Back finished, that was supposed to be the end, but now it’s back, rebooted for a second time with a completely new cast of former soap stars who frankly couldn’t act their way out of a paper bag. The idea is that Nina Sosanya wants to revive the old ‘Sections’ and so recruits a bunch of unruly but pretty soldiers, including Warren Brown (Hollyoaks), Daniel MacPherson (Neighbours), Roxanne McKee (Hollyoaks) and Alin Sumarwata (Neighbours), to go undercover in nightclubs and shoot Muslims without any legal oversight.

Somewhat tragically for the show, the baddies are all better actors than the goodies by several orders of magnitude. We have the marvellous Don Hany (East West 101, Serangoon Road) as the chief bearded Muslim, just for starters, but then we have Trevor Eve as a growly arms dealer, too. The goodies don’t have a chance, no matter how tight their dresses.

The dialogue is dreadful, the action kinetic but unexciting and the plotting is at best perfunctory. A pale shadow of former series, this one should never have come back.

Shows I’m watching but not necessarily recommending

The Brave (US: NBC)

1×7 – It’s All Personal

And we’re back to wondering if these people are special forces soldiers or members of the CIA, as the Muslim member goes undercover in an attempt to infiltrate a French terrorist cell and stop a suicide bombing. A little bit crasser than usual (“They won’t do a concert or a sports event – they’ve been done recently”) and no amount of non-stop rain will cover up non-Parisian architecture, no matter how hard you try, but generally decently done, smart and willing to do the unexpected where necessary.

Episode reviews: 1, 3

Marvel’s Inhumans (US: ABC; UK: Sky1)

1×7 – Havoc in the Hidden Land

Everyone goes to the Moon. No one asks why the gravity is the same up there as down here. Or why it’s precisely as sunny as Hawaii. Waited for some cool moments. There was one with Karnak. Again. That was it, though.

Episode reviews: 1

Star Trek: Discovery (US: CBS All Access; UK: Netflix)

1×8 – Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum

Back to the war, then. Some surprises, but going to yet another planet full of not-quite-so innocents to broker peace with the Klingons? Isn’t that Errand of Mercy from the original series, just with a singing space tree instead of quasi-medieval peasants?

Episode reviews: 1-2

Young Sheldon (US: CBS; UK: E4)

1×2 – Rockets, Communists, And The Dewey Decimal System

The Big Bang Theory prequel returns after a weirdly long time since its pilot, giving us more insights into Sheldon’s early life in Texas. Here, he struggles to find a friend, but finds surprising inspiration from his ostensibly stupid sister.

Again, in many ways a charming and even touching piece, looking at the difficulties not just of being a genius but of being a nine-year-old genius attending a US High School. Again, in many ways just not funny, bar the frequent zingers in the narration by Jim Parsons’ older Sheldon.

Given the lack of laughs, I’m probably quitting after this episode, but I might still stick with it. Stranger things have happened.

Episode reviews: 1

Recommended shows

 

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (US: BBC America; UK: Netflix)

2×4 – The House Within The House

The pattern last season was that the show started weird and then gradually explained itself. What I’m finding with this season is that the show started relatively coherently but as it’s added more and more explanations and new ideas, it’s becoming far weirder and more fascinating. So it is with this episode, which forgoes characterisation to instead indulge in some very strange journeys involving slides, prophecies, wallpaper and even (spoiler)a one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater. Marvellously bonkers, if incomprehensible, although I get the feeling that we might be inside a child’s head.

Episode reviewsFirst episodethird episode

 

Great News (US: NBC)

2×6 – Pool Show

Continuation of the ongoing “will they, won’t they?” plot between Greg and Katie that has one of the best sandwich pay-offs you’ll ever see, as well as some really solid critiquing of television v print journalism in the US. That and some truly great marital advice videos. What more could you ask for?

Episode reviews: First two episodes

Mr Robot (US: USA; UK: Amazon)

3×4 – eps3.3_metadata.par2

No science-fiction again this episode, which is good. My hunch that this season was going to be less tricksy and a lot straighter seems to be paying off, too, with everything mostly linear and the narrative focused on both ‘Stage 2’ and people’s efforts to negotiate with either Mr Robot or Elliot but not both. A little of the magic is missing in this regard, but it’s almost a welcome release to not be constantly wondering what’s real and what’s not the whole time, and just follow the narrative.

Episode reviewsFirst episodethird episode

Professor T (Belgium: Eén; UK: More4)

1×12 – Murder by Numbers: Part 1

A slightly sadder piece than normal, with everyone digesting the fall-out from the previous episode and processing a new conservative hate crime perpetrator. There is, of course, a major event at the end, too, which oddly enough I saw coming. However, pitching Professor T as a man who likes to beat up and sometimes kill women, even if only in his imagination, is probably a misstep. Although maybe it’s for criminal purposes.

Episode reviews: 1-2

Travelers (Canada: Showcase; UK: Netflix)

2×4 – 11:27

Seemingly a standalone episode that once again muses on the nature of predestination, whether you can truly change the future, whether even seemingly small changes (eg small talk) can cause huge changes in the long-term and how much you should just follow orders, as the team are ordered to assassinate someone… by the someone they’re supposed to assassinate. But it’s the show’s final couple of minutes that give us some of its now trademark truly cool moments.

I’m intrigued to see where they’re going with all the seemingly different storylines, as well as hints being dropped that there are things going on behind the scenes that our heroes haven’t considered. Nice to see the producers playing the long-game. I hope it’s not too long, though.

Episode reviews: First episodethird episode

Will & Grace (US: NBC)

9×6 – Rosario’s Quinceanera

One major character has, of course been missing from this revival for various reasons, and although mentioned several times this season, has never actually shown up. So the events of this episode are not hugely surprising, but they are quite ballsy in a show formerly dedicated mostly to hijinks and glibness. Still, ageing and maturing have been the name of the game this season, and this was a natural conclusion to it all that also allowed Megan Mullally a chance to shine.

Episode reviews: 1




  • Mark Carroll

    I’m enjoying “Mr Robot”. We seem to have an imminent deadline, I’m looking forward to seeing how that goes, though I appreciate the show’s patience about revealing things.

    I’m enjoying “Star Trek: Discovery” too though one of the fan theories doing the rounds does seem plausible and the latest episode managed to make even less sense than “Stranger Things” which I’m now a good way through and also enjoying plenty. Best not to just think about them and just go along for the ride.

    I did get to finish off “Samurai Gourmet” which was about as much as one might expect from the first couple of episodes. Not high drama by any means but charming and relaxing before bed. I like the closeups on the making of the food and was amused by how those shots get the dramatic music.

    I’ve probably mentioned that the BBC’s “QI XL” is back. Normally I kind of half-watch it while doing something else but this season has so far been rather entertaining.

    • I deliberately steer clear of fan theories these days, given that they ruined season 2 of Mr Robot for me and ruined season 1 of Westworld for everyone

  • Does Strike Back: Version 3 have the same very high sex scene quotient that Version two did?

    • No, surprisingly. I think there was only one in the first episode and not much, if any real nudity IIRC. Whether Cinemax will put in some extra skin when it airs in the US, I couldn’t say, though

  • JustStark

    Oh, American Horror Story. I knew it was too good to keep going. The madness has plateaued. Still, just one more episode to go.

    First couple of episodes of The Good Place series two, one of which was double-length, and they have only just got to what I assume is the new on-going set-up. Getting there, though, meant there was hardly any time for actual jokes. also I am not very sure about the new set-up. Hm.

    First episode of Babylon Berlin (or is it Berlin Babylon?), intriguing, not stellar, will stick with it for now.

    Went to see Murder on the Orient Express (not my choice) and, well, I guess what it proves is that if Ken Branagh wants to put on a stupid moustache and a stupider accent and basically just take the piss in a purpose-built train, nobody can stop him. Almost more entertaining was the cast members on The Graham Norton Show, where you could just see everyone tense up any time Johnny Depp, who was clearly under the influence of something, opened his mouth, just in case he said something highly inappropriate.

    Oh, and the first episode of the first series of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Very odd. I can see the point of those who claim it’s not Adams’s Gently: it’s very clearly ‘loosely inspired by’ the character in the books. In some ways he’s the direct opposite: as I recall in the books he was mainly trying to avoid his creditors, whereas in this one he’s the ‘money doesn’t matter, I’m above that’ guy and Elijah Wood is the one who can’t make his rent, which is more like Gently from the books.

    But, on its own terms, the character works: it’s just that when, say, the famous line about no private detective looking like a private detective comes out of his mouth it’s really jarring as it doesn’t quite fit with the new character and so reminds you that what you’re watching is something which is almost, but not entirely, unlike the Dirk Gently from the books.

    Will keep watching, though. I like the holistic assassin, though, that’s a nice (and very Adams-esque) touch.

    • Dirk Gently is very clearly a fantastically accurate adaptation of the books while simultaneously being absolutely nothing like them. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again – I think if Douglas Adams had been American, he’d have probably written Dirk Gently just like the TV series (provided he was contractually obligated to include a Brit in the cast).

      Initial episodes are a bit disjointed and annoying, but everything does hold together and work by season’s end.

      • JustStark

        Well, given that in the first episode he mentions past cases that are clearly meant to be those of the books, I assume the idea is that sometime after The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul he owed too much money to too many people in Britain and had to free the country.

        It’s kind of disappointing because I thought his invoices were some of the funniest bits of the book, but then, that is page-humour that doesn’t really translate well to the screen.

        • They’re clearly references to the books yet at the same time, Dirk’s background (when revealed) is nothing like that of the books and certain elements of the books then appear later on, so can’t have been in previous cases (unless Dirk’s forgotten about them. Yet can still reference them).

          My favourite bits from the books were the horoscopes and the Electric Monk. And everything blatantly ripped off from Shada.

          • JustStark

            Dirk’s background (when revealed) is nothing like that of the books

            Oh, that’s a pity. I quite liked that he was a Cambridge undergraduate who tried much too hard to be seen as eccentric. Because that’s basically all Cambridge undergraduates.

            (I may have worn a hat, but at least I never arranged for myself to be discovered hanging upside-down from a bar on the ceiling like a bat, so that I could act embarrassed and claim that it was because I had a bad back and nothing at all to do with being a vampire, which in any case I am not.)

          • The BBC4 version didn’t bother with that either, so getting BBC America to do it probably would have been a stretch too far.

            Still, once you get the idea that it’s the same Dirk out of the way, it’s probably a bit easier to just enjoy them as standalone stories that sometimes reference Thor and the like.

          • JustStark

            Oh, I do hope his origin isn’t what is hinted at at that end of episode two. I could cope with him not being an undergrad from St Cedds; but not with him having actual unambiguous special powers.

          • I think it’s fair to say (and hopefully not too spoilery) that he has ambiguous special powers that may not be special at all. Or powers. At least ones he can control. Or if he does, they’re indistinguishable from not having any special powers