It’s “What have you been watching?”, your chance to recommend anything you’ve been watching this week
With Thanksgiving largely knocking the US schedules for six last week, I’ve had the chance to play a bit of catch up. Okay, so Netflix played sneaky and released both Godless and Spike Lee’s update of She’s Gotta Have It, but fingers crossed, I’ll be able to have watched one (or even both) of those this week in time for next week’s Boxset Monday.
Elsewhere, I passed third-episode verdicts on Frankie Drake Mysteries (Canada: CBC; UK: Alias) and No Activity (US: CBS All Access) and reviewed the first episode of The Indian Detective (Canada: CTV; UK: Netflix). Tomorrow, I’m going to either review the first episode of or pass a fourth-episode verdict on Marvel’s Runaways (US: Hulu), depending upon how tolerable it is (“Six diverse teenagers who can barely stand one another must unite against a common foe… their parents” – this could be unbearable, but word-of-mouth seems good so far).
But it’s mainly the regulars I’ve had time for. After the jump, I’ll be casting my eye over the rest of the first seasons of Babylon Berlin and There’s… Johnny!. I’ll also be looking at the latest episodes of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, Mr Robot, SEAL Team and Travelers. We also steeled ourselves and finally got round to watching the series finale of Marvel’s Inhumans. Was it worth it? You’ll find out soon enough.
All that, after the jump, as well as a gander at one new(ish) show: Les témoins (Witnesses). See you in a mo, where you can tell us all what you watched, too. Go on – you know you want to.
Les témoins (Witnesses) (France: France 2; UK: BBC Four)
So Witnesses is a funny old bird. Back before Walter started presenting, Channel 4 briefly caught the foreign TV bug following its success with Les revenants (The Returned). Presumably hoping to cash in on the boom in Nordic Noir started by BBC Four, it then bought Witnesses, starring Marie Dompnier as a police inspector in a small coastal town who has to investigate a former chief of police (Thierry Lhermitte) after bodies of murder victims start getting unearthed and left to be discovered. However, not having much of a clue about scheduling, Channel 4 aired it in the middle of summer, so nobody watched it. However, BBC Four has acquired the rights to the second season, taking it to its natural home, given that the second season now stars the wonderful Audrey Fleurot (Engrenages (Spiral)).
Now, I didn’t watch the first season of Witnesses, as I imagine is the case for a sizeable number of BBC Four fans who wouldn’t touch any other channel with a latte-tipped bargepole. That means the average viewer is going to be thrown into the deep end, since the show makes no concessions as far as introductions to the set-up go. I also don’t know how much of a reboot and change of direction this might be, which is entirely possible given what I’ve seen of the first season from clips and photos.
However, the basic plot is clear: a bus turns up in the middle of nowhere with 15 bodies inside. They’re all dead and frozen (but maybe not frozen to death); all have been involved with married photographer Fleurot; all of them disappeared some time in the previous three years. Trouble is, so did Fleurot, except she turns up in the middle of town at the same time as the bus, but with total amnesia and a dodgy chemical in her blood supply. She’s also given birth some time in the past six months.
Is Fleurot faking amnesia? Even if she’s not, did she murder all her ex-lovers? That’s something Dompnier has to work out, all while trying to cope with single parenthood following her divorce and an insanely bratty French daughter.
There is a very Bron/Broen (The Bridge) quality to the show – is that new? – from the pretty, pretty title sequence with a foreign performer trying to sing in English not always successfully through to Dompnier’s iconic leather jackets and old car. It’s also far more human and funnier than you might expect from The Bridge and Spiral. Dompnier dates men using the same app Fleurot used and then takes their glasses to check their DNA – a waiter notices and protests (“I’m a cop” “Yes, but you’re stealing all our glasses. Am I supposed to say nothing?”). Dompnier’s team are also more fun and get more to do, from deciding to host Christmas in March for the fun of it through cajoling white goods sales assistants into freezers to see if you can get two people inside them.
It also feels a bit more like a police investigation. There are clues to be solved and they’re not being deliberately left by genius serial killers, but are actual clues. Indeed, the hint that the people behind it all are (spoiler alert) Satan worshippers is an oddly welcome relief and adds a slight whiff of the supernatural to things.
Dompnier’s good, although doesn’t have as much to work with for character as Sofia Helin. Fleurot just has to be blank the whole time, beyond the occasional moment of trauma, where she gets to let it all out.
If you like Nordic Noir, with its lovely houses and coastal views, but prefer your series French and full of Fleurot, then this is a welcome arrival to our screens.
Shows I’m watching but not necessarily recommending
Babylon Berlin (Germany: Sky 1; UK: Sky Atlantic)
Notionally the end of the first season, even though we’re going straight into season 2, which is already available to watch in its entirety on Sky Go/Now, making it a candidate for Boxset Monday. I think we’ve basically finished the first of the source novels and are now on our way into the second one, which is why we’ve got this artificial split in the seasons.
So how was it? Overall, a bit flabby in the middle, more interested in history than in telling a story, giving us plenty of temporal tourism of important events and social conditions. But it was, nevertheless, excellent tourism, giving a real flavour of the time, not just the extremes, with the social middle ground just as well covered. The porn also dissipated from the plot, which was welcome, and the nods to Fritz Lang et al in the direction were subtle touches that I much admired.
The show managed to maintain a running thread about our heroine’s attempts to become a proper police investigator, while Gideon’s back story also got explored, and by the end, everything came together incredibly well – almost as though it was structured like a novel – gasp! – and there were some genuinely horrifying recreations of the First World War, Giftgas and more. The moral ambivalence was interesting, too, with no one black or white.
Probably best watched as a boxset in its totality, rather than weekly, I reckon, but definitely worth the effort.
Episode reviews: 1-2
Marvel’s Inhumans (US: ABC; UK: Sky1)
1×8 – …And Finally: Black Bolt
And it all ends with a whimper – and a whisper – not a bang, as Black Bolt finally gets to say something. With as odd a tone as it had when it started, when it finished, there was no super-cool face-off, no mega-battle, just a lot of CGI buildings falling down and everyone deciding to go on holiday.
Overall, as fun as the casting was, every good idea in the show came from Jack Kirby but was usually implemented badly. Those ideas were scarce, too, in what was more or less just an advert for Hawaii. If you haven’t started watching, whatever you do, don’t bother; if you’ve already started, turn away now.
Episode reviews: 1
SEAL Team (US: CBS; UK: Sky1)
1×8- The Exchange
Quite a tense little piece as our heroes go into Afghanistan on prisoner escort duty, taking some Taliban leaders back home to exchange for a US soldier. Essentially, an ode to professionalism and honour, it’s quite a surprising piece in which no one quite does what you think they’ll do. Liked it a lot.
Was acquired by Sky 1 last week, so should be on UK screens next year.
There’s… Johnny! (US: Hulu)
After a promising first episode, There’s… Johnny! more or less limps along as a series of vignettes about life at the Tonight Show and the 70s. Lots of plot and character points get raised: Joy’s problems with her dad; the fact one of the writers is closeted and doesn’t want to admit it even to himself; the arrival of a new black would-be stand-up called Rasheed; the fact Rasheed is middle-class; Andy’s brother’s problems in Vietnam; and Andy’s problems at church. However, virtually nothing gets resolved or carried over from episode to episode. The show’s initial trademark teary-eyed nostalgia also disappears, returning only for the final episode.
There are a fine series of origin stories for various Tonight Show incidents that you probably had to live through to care about, though. The characters and cast are all lovely. But it feels like Paul Reiser and his co-writer didn’t quite know what to do with the show in its first season and were heavily gambling on getting a second season to really explore all the themes they raised.
To be fair, I’d be tempted to watch that. But I’m not 100% confident it’s going to happen.
Episode reviews: 1
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (US: The CW; UK: Sky1)
3×7 – Welcome to the Jungle
References to Predator abound as the team goes to the Vietnam War and discover there’s something lurking in the jungle (other than Mick’s dad). Decent special effects and a few poignant moments don’t cover up a relatively generic affair, though.
+ 3×8 – Crisis on Earth-X (4)
Fourth in the Arrow-verse crossover episodes this week and an episode that makes me so glad I’m not watching The Flash, Arrow or Supergirl any more. Just brain-meltingly bad in places, particularly any moment related to marriage but also anything related to ‘science’ (“She’ll explode with the power of a supernova” – and your plan is to carry her into the upper atmosphere? Guys, we need to talk…). But the overall “invasion of alternative reality Nazis” plotline worked quite well, as did the alternative reality superheroes, including an even gayer than normal Wentworth Miller and a slightly more macho than normal Russell Tovey.
Some obvious long-term effects for the show, including (spoiler) the return of Zoom and the death of Martin . Let’s see what they do with them.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (US: BBC America; UK: Netflix)
2×7 – That is Not Miami
For about half the episode, I was tempted to switch off and abandon the show forever, as Dirk continued with his depressed streak and everything turned into a silly runaround in the forest as well as back in the real world. But as soon as Dirk got his mojo back, as if a magic wand had been waved, everything became brilliant again. I’m hoping that Dirk’s realisation is that (spoiler) either Dirk’s world is the imagined world or they both are . That would be great.
On another point, my wife has a new heroine. She’s been doing this literally every day since Sunday now:
Can you imagine the hours of fun I’ve had?
Mr Robot (US: USA; UK: Amazon)
3×7 – eps3.6_frederick+tanya.chk
Well, you’ve got to love an episode that opens with an hilarious discussion of Knight Rider that even includes the theme tune. After that, though, it goes a bit downhill as the show loses its specialness and begins to feel like set-up for the season finale. Some good moments, mind, but the ending doesn’t make a lick of sense.
Travelers (Canada: Showcase; UK: Netflix)
2×7 – 17 Minutes
As I’ve remarked before, every sci-fi show needs to have a Groundhog Day episode sooner or later, and despite Travelers‘ ‘no do-overs’ rule, it went for it this week in what was the show’s first properly cool™ episode this season. Actually more a combination of ST:TNG‘s Lower Decks, Person of Interest‘s If-Then-Else and The Edge of Tomorrow, it managed to be a ‘cast-light’ episode, moved on its own rules, gave us a glimpse at the Director, added a bit more detail about how the whole process worked, provided some surprisingly moving moments and injected some timey-wimey cleverness into what could – and almost did – become very repetitive.
Best ep of the season so far, even if there were a few times when the logic of the whole thing escaped them (eg Why didn’t she just drive into the bad guy? Why did he get off the bike and start running?).