It’s “What have you been watching?”, your chance to recommend anything you’ve been watching this
TMINE was on holiday last week but fortunately, I’ve now managed to review pretty much all the new shows that have started airing in that time:
I’ll be reviewing Killing Eve (US: BBC America; UK: BBC One/BBC Three) in the next couple of days and seeing as Channel Five have gone and bought CTV (Canada)’s The Detail, I’ll be giving that a whirl, too, with next week’s Boxset Monday set to be Netflix’s Lost in Space.
Regular readers will notice that I’ve not yet reviewed Trust (US: FX; UK: Sky Atlantic) or The Terror (US: AMC; UK: AMC Global). They’re a bit of a ‘work in progress’, with Trust being a bit of a slog so far, but I will get round to them at some point, particularly The Terror since I do love a naval story.
I also gave Amazon’s Dangerous Book for Boys a go, but didn’t even make it through the first episode, since it was a bit too ‘US family comedy’ for me, so I can’t really give it a real review.
Spring is officially here, however, which means that as well as in with the new, it’s out with the old. That means that this week’s WHYBW? is not only chock full of new and returning shows, including The Americans and Legion, it’s also waving goodbye to a few shows that have aired their season finales, namely Counterpart, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, The Magicians and Will & Grace.
I haven’t had the time (or really the inclination) to watch the new season of Plebs, but after the jump, double-helpings (mostly) for the rest of the regulars: Black Lightning, The Crossing, The Good Fight, Harrow, Krypton, The Looming Tower, SEAL Team, Silicon Valley and Timeless. See you in mo – can you guess which show will be getting a promotion?
Shows I’m watching but not necessarily recommending
The Crossing (US: ABC; UK: Amazon)
1×2 – A Shadow Out of Time
A somewhat better episode than the first, as they amp up the sci-fi a bit to give us sub-Continuum glimpses of an even further-flung future, make the time travel element a bit more convoluted, while also make the plotting a bit more interesting (again, in the style of Continuum and Travelers – well, it is filmed in Canada, as the fact Brian Markinson and Melinda McGraw have shown up evidences). I’m still not buying Steve Zahn as the hero, but Natalie Martinez has come along pretty swiftly as a persuasive action superheroine. If I keep watching, it’ll probably be because of her.
Episode reviews: 1
Harrow (Australia: ABC)
1×4 – Finis Vitae Sed Non Amoris – 1×5 – Non Sum Qualis Eram
Five episodes in, I’m almost ready to create a new TMINE rule: ‘shows about medical examiners are not really about forensics – they’re about their stars’. Think Silent Witness (with which Harrow is partnered in the schedules in Australia), think Quincy – now think Harrow.
Despite all the playing around with Harrow’s family, his daughter, his relationship with the new SOCO, his work colleagues, his potentially murderous back-story and every crime of the week, the show’s one constant is its understandable admiration for Ioan Gruffudd. Each episode is tonally different from the one before, making it hard to find any real constant, other than our Ioan, with our hero investigating a murdered homeless woman in Finis Vitae Sed Non Amoris (showing trademark compassion and rule-flouting) and than trying to stop his daughter from getting arrested for drug-dealing (showing trademark compassion and rule-flouting) in Non Sum Qualis Eram. Different stories, different approaches to storytelling, but our Ioan constantly watchable throughout.
I’m not a big fan of procedurals, no matter how quirky they get, but I like Ioan Gruffudd, so I’m going to keep watching. If you don’t, you don’t have to watch Harrow, but what’s wrong with you?
Episode reviews: 1-2
Krypton (US: Syfy)
1×2 – House of El – 1×3 – The Rankless Initiative
Episode 1 of Krypton was best summarised as “not as bad a show about Superman’s home planet as you might have expected, given he’s not in it and no one has superpowers”. Episode 2 was more “as bad a show about Superman’s home planet as you might have expected, given he’s not in it and no one has superpowers” – a pretty dull affair all about rival houses all plotting against/shagging one another, with lots of bored Brits wondering about the banality of their lines.
Episode 3 was a little more enjoyable, though, becoming almost an Inbetweeners style bit of bantering between our three boy heroes as they go on their quest for Brainiac. Ian McElhinnery, meanwhile, gets to be a hologram. Strangely, he’s a hologram who also needs to wave his hands around to make the computer that’s generating him do other things as well. I’m not sure how that works.
The effects are still pretty decent and the Voice of Rao’s voice is indeed quite good. But without superpowers and other aliens, it’s basically a bunch of Brits stuck on same sci-fi sets doing a low-budget Game of Thrones. There’s still potential, but it’s not quite shown up yet.
Episode reviews: 1
The Looming Tower (US: Hulu; UK: Amazon)
1×7 – The General – 1×8 – A Very Special Relationship
A very strong couple of episodes, both largely in Arabic, too, as our team of FBI agents continue to try to track down Osama bin Laden’s handymen and find that the locals are about as keen on ObL as they are on Americans. But lots of interesting points made about Islam and Arab culture, with the second episode laying out exactly why the CIA might be willing to put American lives as risk if it avoided destabilising the Middle East and Saudi Arabia in particular.
Of course, we’re now in 2000-2001 so we’ve seen George W Bush elected and the show is being quite open in its suggestions about the Bush family’s ties to Saudi Arabia. But perhaps more startling is it depiction of Condoleezza Rice as a dimwitted woman more interested in appearing in Vogue than attending a briefing on the biggest threats to the United States.
Episode reviews: 1-3
SEAL Team (US: CBS; UK: Sky1)
1×17 – In Name Only
A show that’s somewhat past the point that individual episodes are identifiably different from others, I think we’ve had the same “let’s find the man who was really responsible for killing our brothers” plot for about five episodes now. Everything’s competently done, the shoot-outs are exciting – or at least make you think of exciting night-vision enhanced first-person shooters – the acting is sufficient for the job, everything’s reasonably accurate without being too jingoistic. But there’s still nothing really that remarkable about it, nothing that makes you think you’ve just watched a great hour of TV. I like it, but it’s basically just a decent military procedural and any character work is largely wasted at the moment.
Timeless (US: NBC; UK: E4)
2×4 – The Salem Witch Hunt
Still mixing up the formula, following last episode’s big revelation (which has now been explained, thankfully), with a new lifeboat voyager going back in time with our heroes to the time of the Salem Witch Trials. Apparently, they all spoke modern American English back then, so maybe they were just in an episode of Salem. Decently enjoyable more for what was happening back at home base than in the field for once.
The Americans (US: FX; UK: ITV4)
6×1 – Dead Hand – 6×2 – Tchaikovsky
Sometimes, a programme will have you wondering right from its first episode how it is going to end, given its format. The Americans, with its Russian spies trying to undermine the US, has been such a show. Would they get caught by their FBI agent next door agent? Would they simply give up their ‘good fight’? Would they get shopped to the authorities by their own children?
Dead Hand effectively slapped the shows whole hand of cards on the table and said “Bet you feel silly now.” A genuinely brilliant piece of plotting, it shows how the programme is going to bring all its many elements together. Even if we don’t know exactly how it will end, unless the producers muck up quite seriously, we can see it’s going to be satisfying, smart and in keeping with everything we’ve seen happen in the past five seasons.
Big credit to the cast, too, particularly Keri Russell who gives a great performance as the utterly frazzled Elizabeth and Matthew Rhys as the torn and now completely American Philip.
Tchaikovsky was never going to measure up to Dead Hand but was still an excellent continuation of the same themes, as well as the continuing (and probably ultimately unsuccessful) attempts using Russian TV shows and music to indoctrinate Paige into believing Russia is a land of milk and honey.
Lovely stuff from what is likely to go down as one of TV’s true classics when it’s finished.
Black Lightning (US: The CW; UK: Netflix)
1×11 – Black Jesus: The Book of Resurrection – 1×12 – The Resurrection and the Light: The Book of Pain
Ooh, very exiting, with lots of superhero on supervillain action. A pair of episodes that also push the envelope of what the show is doing in exploring both the comic book world and black street crime, as well as how father-daughter relationships are depicted on TV.
Counterpart (US: Starz)
1×10 – No Man’s Land – Part Two
A somewhat surprising end to the season. I didn’t think they’d do that. Still, for a would-be Cold War spy show set in Berlin, it nevertheless ticked all the boxes, so perhaps I should have done.
A decent slice of both existential musing and John Le Carré-style spying, it never quite hit the heights it touched in his first couple of episodes, but it was almost always the highlight of the week and gave us virtuoso performances by JK Simmons and a whole bunch of undervalued Brits, too.
The story – and plan – now spelt out, I look forward to seeing where they take it in season two.
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (US: The CW; UK: Sky1)
3×17 – Guest Starring John Noble – 3×18 – The Good, The Bad and the Cuddly
And thus DC’s Legends of Tomorrow gets its promotion to the recommended list after a mere three seasons. Now, let’s be clear: it is not a great show. It is a low-budget show shot in Canada and featuring superheroes you’ve never heard of and actors who are mainly there because they’re getting money for old rope. Fight scenes are fine, effects are okay and nothing’s ever too scary, too sexy or too intricate. No TV or movie reference is beyond being made or being pointed out that it is a TV or movie reference.
But, it is bonkers. Truly bonkers in a way almost no other show ever aspires to be. In many ways, it is the inheritor of the mantel of the 1960s’ Lost in Space, being a knowing comedy that deploys ideas you’d never even thought possible in a TV landscape dominated by movie mimesis.
Just as an example, Guest Starring John Noble gave us a psychic gorilla travelling back in time to kill Barack Obama while he’s still in college so that an ancient demon (voiced by Fringe‘s John Noble) can be freed from his prison. At the same time, our heroes also get the actor John Noble – whom they’ve just watched in Lord of the Rings – to dub some instructions in the voice of said demon, so that they can get the baddies to obey their instructions.
And let’s not get started on the final fight and Ghostbusters reference in The Good, The Bad and the Cuddly. That took stupidity to a whole new level. But in a good way.
It’s back for more next year, and it’ll have Matt Ryan on board as John Constantine, his hair getting ever more fluorescent with every episode, so now seems an appropriate time to promote it. Roll on with the stupid!
The Good Fight (US: CBS All Access; UK: More4)
2×5 – Day 436 – 2×6 – Day 443
A lack of proper episode titles doesn’t help me in recalling plots too well. However, the ‘ride along’ ep (Day 436) was a really good, subtle piece of work about subconscious bias, allowing the pampered white lawyer to see what life was like for the black working class and the black lawyer to see what life is like for the rich white folks, while simultaneously showing them both that their assumptions were also biases. Plus F Murray Abraham!
Meanwhile, the ‘pundit’ ep (Day 443) gave us another daft judge to enjoy, as well as a glimpse at the categorisation of panellists in cable news shows. Not quite as good, but an example of how to make a high quality procedural interesting and variable without becoming dull (cf SEAL Team).
Legion (US: FX; UK: Fox UK)
2×1 – Chapter 9
The most visually exciting programme on TV returns to warp our minds, with temporally hopping, possession, stunning visuals, comedy, horror, dance routines and everything that made season one so astonishing, all dialled up to the max and then narrated by John Hamm, who might be wearing a whicker basket on his head. All other superhero shows look like mere comics in comparison, so if you want to see something that might change your idea of both them and of what TV is capable of, tune in.
The Magicians (US: Syfy; UK: Channel 5)
3×12 – The Fillorian Candidate – 3×13 – Will You Play With Me?
A somewhat bewildering conclusion to the season, with a last-minute switcheroo that takes away with one hand while giving with the other. Not quite as good a season as its predecessors, thanks to the absence of magic, but still plenty to love about it, not least its continuation rather than mere repetition of Greek myths.
Silicon Valley (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
5×2 – Reorientation – 5×3 – Chief Operating Officer
Interesting to see the show now taking the brave step of expanding the show to take Pied Piper through the next logical steps in business development, potentially breaking its near-bedsit formula, while simultaneously having to deal with the departure of a regular character (TJ Miller – apparently just in time, too). Generally pretty funny and more accurate than previous seasons, if not quite as funny. Combined, the two episodes also show how CEOs and COOs are different – if only someone could have showed it to the makers of The Intern.
Will & Grace (US: NBC; UK: Channel 5)
9×15 – One Job – 9×16 – It’s A Family Affair
Alec Baldwin shows up for what is practically a two-parter, as various regular characters mull their relationships – or lack thereof. Also making a reappearance from the original run was Mary McCormack and Blythe Danner, which was nice. Of course, the end of the second episode potentially could change the show in big ways (spoiler for anyone who doesn’t watch the promo below: Will and Grace becoming brother and sister!) as well as small, so that’s what most people will remember.
All in all, this season has been an example of how to bring back an old show, tweak it for modern times and still retain the things fans liked, while also making it smarter. To be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of the original series, which got way too catty for my liking, and I actually preferred this season to any of the original seasons. I’ll definitely be back next season.
Episode reviews: 9×1