It’s “What have you been watching?”, your chance to recommend anything you’ve been watching this week
I’m a little bit behind. Sorry. Watching all of Altered Carbon (Netflix) for Boxset Monday, coupled with the double-episode French demands of Engrenages (Spiral) and Baron Noir meant that although I’ve managed third-episode verdicts of Counterpart (US: Starz) and Black Lightning (US: The CW; UK: Netflix), I’ve not yet had the chance to see the first eps of A.P. Bio (US: NBC) or Let’s Get Physical (US: Pop). They’ll be coming later in the week, along with a gander at Squinters (Australia: ABC) and maybe even The New Legends of Monkey (Australia: ABC Me; UK: Netflix), although that’s really for kids. Still, Monkey Magic!
Still a lot of shows are now ending, which should make that job easier. Indeed, after the jump, I’ll be looking at the season finales of Engrenages (Spiral) and Happy!, as well as the penultimate episode of Star Trek: Discovery.
On top of that, I’ll be looking at the latest episodes of Black Lightning (yep, another one), Baron Noir (well, one of them, since at two episodes a week, I’m a bit behind…), The Magicians, SEAL Team and Will & Grace.
See you in a mo.
PS I saw two new movies in the whole of January. That’s not a lot, is it? So it might be time to have a Monthly Movies feature, rather than including it in WHYBW. What do you all think about that?
Shows I’m watching but not necessarily recommending
Black Lightning (US: The CW; UK: Netflix)
1×4 – Black Jesus
Generally improving, with more Black Lightning action this week and Jill Scott seemingly having the time of her life as the even bigger bad. James Remar also seems to be having loads of fun pretending to be a different workmen every week. The whole albino villain thing is a bit too close to the knuckle and obvious as well, for my taste, though.
A little caveat to last week’s concerns though: it is actually quite nice to have a superhero not only fighting something other than a super villain, but also having to deal with more complicated concerns, with ramifications and knock-on effects that can’t be punched. Indeed, most of each episode is really our hero’s alter ego negotiating so that he doesn’t have to do anything, since action only seems to result in reaction. It’s a surprisingly smart undercurrent for a CW superhero show that even Arrow‘s best efforts never really touched on.
SEAL Team (US: CBS; UK: Sky1)
1×13 – Getaway Day
It all starts dramatically, with an entire SEAL team getting blown up. Then the rest of the episode is about the implications for the other SEAL teams in terms of redeployment. Yawn.
Star Trek: Discovery (US: CBS All Access; UK: Netflix)
1×14 – The War Without, The War Within
Back in the normal universe and everyone’s screwed. Oh dear. Does that mean we’re going to have to compromise our ethics? It sure does. But at least everyone’s dealing with the ramifications on all the previous episodes’ events relatively well.
The ending was slightly obvious because if there’s one thing that seems to be true, it’s that the Terran Empire does produce a fine officer class.
Episode reviews: 1-2
Baron Noir (France: Canal+; UK: Amazon)
Even more calculator work needed this week, not just for the electoral maths but the financial maths, as Baron Noir tries to make ends meet by moving back to the seaside. While the scheming is marvellous, everyone’s plans do seem to be merely looking forward a step at a time (“Why don’t we try and rule without a majority” “Good idea… Oh dear! Now we can’t pass any laws…” “Right, let’s…”), which makes me wonder why no one is questioning the Baron for a bit more detail.
Slightly problematically, I’m thinking Amazon’s “day after” release strategy seems to be the wrong decision, as the quality of the subtitling has gone downhill. There are lots of obvious mistakes and sometimes the translation doesn’t actually make sense, to the extent I’d almost rather have it subtitled in French and translate it myself (French people are a right bunch of mumblers), since it’s getting harder to fathom what people are actually saying. Maybe they can redo them once the season ends?
Episode reviews: Season 1
Engrenages (Spiral) (France: Canal+; UK: BBC Four)
An oddly abrupt ending to the season that feels to be winding the series itself down for its ultimate conclusion next season, with Roban off to hospital to get his brain fixed, Karlsson banged to rights, Tin Tin giving up the squad altogether and Laure legging it away from motherhood as fast as her feet will take her.
Fortunately, given the ineptitude of Laure’s squad, the bad guys basically give themselves up or incriminate each other, thus resolving that storyline. In the end, it was the ethnics wot done it (as usual), of course. Still, probably better than the previous season, nice to see all the characters again and there was at least a little interesting criticism of the nature of policing in modern day France.
Happy! (US: Syfy)
1×8 – I am the Future
Gosh. When Happy! first started, it seemed a relatively obvious bit of Grant Morrison dadaism. “I know, let’s partner a gritty, hard-boiled killer and a cute little flying unicorn! Imagine the meta-fun and the explicit violence we can have!”
Eight episodes in, the first season ended, and I’ll declare now that the series is a shoo-in for this year’s list of TMINE’s Top Shows. How did this come to be?
The show’s really had two strands. About 50% of the show has been Christopher Meloni’s staggering around as a Very Bad Detective, pulling faces and generally sending up the conventions of grimdark comics, all in a small-screen version of Crank – you know, the nice Jason Statham movie.
Perhaps not too surprising that, since the show is co-written by one of Crank‘s producers. Here the show has been incredibly violent, profane and sexually edgy. I’m surprised it’s allowed on basic cable, to be honest. Particularly that bit with ‘Smoothie’.
The other 50% of the show has slowly evolved into Toy Story 3. It didn’t start that way at first, with Happy the imaginary flying Unicorn-Donkey more irritating and Scrappy Doo-ish than genuinely cute. It didn’t help that his CGI was still a bit of a work in progress, either.
But by about episode three, little Happy is a genuinely lovely character and a source of a very sweet form of humour. A virtual frame-by-frame reshoot of the Reservoir Dogs torture scene in the final episode takes a properly hilarious and lovely twist and there have been great one-liners based around the discrepancy between the situations Happy finds himself in and his true nature.
The show has also effectively crafted a whole ‘imaginary friend’ mythos. Essentially, as the final episode demonstrates, these imaginary friends are more or less the souls of toys. In fact, the final episode actually gives us both the body and soul of one such toy. But unlike actual toys – or Toy Story toys, with their constant hierarchical competitions and desperate attempts to remain relevant to their owners – these ‘imaginary friends’ are just that: friends. They selflessly live and indeed die purely to help their friends or even the friends of other imaginary friends, with no thought for themselves.
Happy spends the entire season dedicating his life to his own friend, risking his own existence to do so. When he cries because he thinks he’s failed her, it’s gut-wrenching. And even thinking about his final scene with Hailey in the finale has genuinely had me crying buckets of tears for about the past week – more so even than at Toy Story 3.
(spoiler) (spoiler alert) After finally reuniting with her, saving her and introducing her to her father for the first time, Happy has to leave Hailey as she’s growing up – if he stays, her normal development as a child will be curtailed. “One day, you’ll forget all about the silly horse…” he tells her, as he starts to disappear, possibly to cease existing altogether. And as he does, Hailey starts to misremember his song, in a Freudian slip swapping out the word ‘fun’ for ‘love’ – “So full of love… fun… I’l always remember you, Happy.”
Sob. Just heart-breaking – because the writers take it seriously, rather than playing it for laughs.
Of course, it’s not just Happy who manages this. It turns out that a sock puppet can be genuinely moving, too, with a scene in the final episode that will miraculously have you not just feeling sympathy for the devil but bawling your eyes out for a man who lobotomises children. I know. Sounds odd, but somehow Happy! managed it, which is some pretty impressive work – particularly from one of the producers of Crank.
Whither now for a longer season 2 that no longer has any source material to work with? The clues are in the end-titles and a couple of unresolved plotlines. But I’m hoping that the shift to (spoiler)(spoiler alert) Happy becoming Nick’s imaginary friend won’t in some way ruin the show. One of the flaws of the source material and the Morrisonian episodes has been to make Happy too knowing and adult, rather than sweet and innocent, which is when the show works best. But I’m also hoping that that feather holds the key to further adventures…
Lovely stuff. Watch it if you can, but be patient with it at first. And be prepared to have your mind blown and taste threshold challenged by the last couple of episodes.
The Magicians (US: Syfy; UK: Channel 5)
3×4 – Be The Penny
The first episode of the third season that’s properly felt like The Magicians, with disembodied Penny going around trying to get people’s attention and realising everyone hates him because he’s been such a dick to them. Plenty of laughs, lots of great one-liners (“As a white, heterosexual male born in 1902, I did empathise with the character”) and the occasional scary moment – the magic’s back, guys.
Will & Grace (US: NBC; UK: Channel 5)
9×11 – Staten Island Fairy
Despite being part of an overall “heinous product placement” theme for the episode, Will and Grace bickering on their own QVC segment was quite fun, thanks mostly to the QVC floor manager rather than Will and Grace. However, more interesting was Jack’s growing up and Karen’s flashbacks, giving the show a bit more depth.
Episode reviews: 9×1