It’s “What have you been watching?”, your chance to recommend to fellow TMINE readers anything you’ve been watching this week
The US fall season started in earnest this week – no more previews, just plain old new episodes of new series in their regular time slots. Since the last WHYBW, we’ve had – and TMINE has reviewed – I Feel Bad (US: NBC), Magnum P.I. (US: CBS) and Manifest (US: NBC). Joining them are New Amsterdam (US: NBC) and FBI (US: CBS), which I’ll review after the jump.
The Internet streamers have been keeping up, too – as has TMINE – with the likes of season two of Ozark (Netflix) and after the jump, The First (US: Hulu; UK: Channel 4). Netflix also gave us Maniac over the weekend, but I’ve not had a chance to watch that, so here’s a trailer in lieu:
Meanwhile, the plucky Australians have decided to give us their own version of Footballers’ Wives (Aussie rules, of course) in the shape of Playing for Keeps (Australia: Ten).
Needless to say, I won’t be bothering with that. Maybe you will.
I’ll be trying to keep up with the rest of the new schedule (I hope) so expect all manner of new US TV shows to be reviewed by the next WHYBW, although my work schedule looks a bit crazy for the next week, TBH, so I can’t promise nowt, I’m afraid.
After the jump, on top of those new shows, I’ll be casting my eye over the latest episodes of the regulars: Forever, The Last Ship and You. See you in a tick.
New Amsterdam (US: NBC)
Not to be confused with Danish Highlander, this is a regular old medical procedural that tries to be the starry-eyed flipside of cynical old The Resident. It sees The Black List: Redemption‘s Ryan Eggold playing a newly arrived medical director at New York’s largest, oldest and most famous public hospital, New Amsterdam. He reckons there’s a lot wrong with it, so plans to turn it upside down, ignore all the rules and fire everybody who’s part of ‘the system’, so that doctors can get back to being doctors rather than accountants/golf players. Why, he’s so optimistic and revolutionary, he might even inspire that Freema Agyeman to stop touring all the TV talk shows to raise funding and come back to working as a doctor again.
Based on a real-life doctor at the real New York hospital of Bellevue, there is at least a germ of something different in New Amsterdam and it was moderately interesting to see Eggold doing some robust change management, listening to those on the front-line to see what could be changed and then putting it into practice. The show doesn’t make him an all-knowing genius, but one who makes mistakes and is prepared to listen to find out how to fix them. It’s also not entirely populated with pretty people, with nice old doctor Anupam Kher turning out to have almost House-ian diagnostic skills, if a much better bedside manner, thanks to the mystic skill of “taking your time”.
However, the rest of the time, it’s plain old medical procedural melodrama and soap, with Eggold turning out to have cancer, his wife nearly miscarrying their baby, doctors trying to have relationships and dumping their girlfriends for not being black enough and so on. That’s before we get onto the likelihood of random people being injected with Ebola by terrorists in order to destroy New York.
This is clearly not a production team confident in its ability to woo viewers with rigorous MBA framework analyses.
By the end of it, I’d been pleasantly surprised by the show but not interested in it enough to want to watch much more of it. But at the very least, it wasn’t a waste of my time.
FBI (US: CBS)
Even more ordinary than New Amsterdam is CBS, a generic, by the book crime procedural about New York’s FBI that comes from NBC’s Law & Order stalwart Dick Wolf. It sees Missy Peregrym (Rookie Blue) playing “Generic female FBI agent with a tragic past”, here tasked with tracking down a bomber who might be in league with Donald Trump’s favour Twitter topic, MS-13, although the show does cunningly manage to bring in the alt-right as baddies as well so it can play both sides of the viewing demographic.
The first episode is full of the usual tropes of the genre: lots of well meaning professionals acting professionally; questions about whether to bend the rules a bit (boss Connie Nielsen won’t have it – at least not without her authorisation – which is presumably how they’ll write her out in episode two in favour of Sela Ward); general questions about whether the ex-army Zeeko Zaki is too gung-ho/muslim/Arab (delete as applicable) for whatever’s happening in each scene; general questions about whether Peregrym is too female/not female enough. And so on.
Scenes often force these issues, such as when Peregrym prevents a mother going into a building in which her young son is holed up, on the general grounds it’s already blown up once and it’s likely to blow up again. Guess what? Five seconds later it blows up and falls down, killing everyone inside. Yet a few minutes later Peregrym is having to apologise to the mum who’s countering with guilt-questions like “You don’t have children, do you?” Gosh. Is she unmarried, too? And do those pants make her ankles look thick?
The show also falls between two stools: it doesn’t have the down-at-heel realism of Wolf’s Law & Order but it doesn’t have the science-fiction gee whizz of CSI, which it also tries to ape by bringing in experimental genotyping to hunt down the bad guys.
All of which makes it a soporific waste of everyone’s time. And I didn’t get to mention Jeremy Sisto. His time’s wasted, too.
The First (US: Hulu; UK: Channel 4)
Talking of soporific, what were they thinking with The First? Space-flight is exciting, right? Science-fiction is exciting, right? Being the first astronauts to fly to Mars is exciting, right? So how come The First is beautifully made but unwatchable tedium?
Penned by House of Cards‘ Beau Willimon, it starts off reasonably enough in the 2030s by giving us the first manned flight to Mars. We’ve been back to the Moon already, with rough tough Sean Penn one of those who’ve been there and back. But he’s not going to Mars as he’s got a troubled daughter to look after and his wife’s carked it. Plus he has an awful lot of topless running to do. So much topless running.
Trouble is, this flight is entirely populated by no-named actors who’ve had no introductory scenes, so you know it is doomed even before everyone gets into the rocket. Hey presto, big explosion and CEO Natascha McElhone is looking very sad and having to apologise to angry parents over the deaths of their children. The next episode is then convincing the world, particularly the US Congress, that they should fund a new flight to Mars that will be headed up by none other than Penn. Cue lots of discussions of how great space is, particularly with climate change really kicking in a gear, that you could have gleaned from Interstellar instead.
After that, rather than sending everyone to Mars, we’re faced with another six episodes of what is basically Andy Weir’s background research for The Martian, with no flight to Mars, just a lot of training, people sitting around deciding who should go on missions, dinner parties and Penn wearing sticky tape on his nose for entire scenes. There are little bits of science-fiction frisson here and there, with everything voice-controlled, cars electric-powered and doors opening automatically.
But really, it’s all about the Penn. Penn showing off his physique. Penn showing off that he’s a better spokesperson than a top female CEO. Penn showing he’s more empathic with parents than a top female CEO. Penn showing he’s going to be the best parent ever to his daughter.
All Penn, all the time, while everyone else discusses oxygen fuel conversion on MAVs and weight ratios. Space-based fun? You’ll get more excitement from a Haynes instruction manual narrated by Sean Penn.
Shows I’m watching but not necessarily recommending
1×3 – The Lake House
So I was bewildered by the first two episodes, in which we see married couple Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph first leading a somewhat mundane life of togetherness after many years of marriage. Then Armisen dies and Rudolph is miserable. Then she dies and joins him in the after-life. What sort of format was this, I wondered?
Turns out that episode three is episode one again, just in the after life, with Armisen and Rudolph together again, doing the same things they did before, and Rudolph realising that she’s bored and might not want to do the same things for the rest of eternity. What happens next episode? Do they die again in the after-life? Do they get reincarnated and then end up doing the same things again just in different bodies and with no memories of what happened before, the message being that immortality is boring so thank goodness we’re mortal?
I don’t care. Neither will you.
Episode reviews: Initial review
You (US: Lifetime; UK: Netflix)
1×3 – Maybe
A slight downtick in quality from the previous couple of episodes, with a slight tendency towards the silly this time. The boundaries of plausibility are also being stretched to their limits. But the show still has a good deal of charm and the romcom morphic resonance means you really do want the ‘hero’ and heroine to get together and be happy, even if he is a murdering psychopath. It’s also fun that they’re really making the heroine a lot more nuanced than she was at first. Plus a properly hilarious final scene, too – you have to admire that level of dedication to subverting the genre(s).
Episode reviews: Initial review
The Last Ship (US: TNT; UK: Sky1)
5×3 – El Puente
We’re settling into a nice routine of one land battle and one sea battle an episode now, with our land-bound heroes fighting the enemy in the jungle, while ‘the last ship’ gets to fight the bad guys’ airforce World War 2-style. It’s a good job Colombia doesn’t have jets or missiles in its airforce, isn’t it, or else the Nathan James would be in all sorts of trouble, wouldn’t it? Still, if we’re reducing this to Moby Dick meets Pearl Harbor, I guess them’s the rules we’re playing by.
As always, deeply daft but deeply exciting in equal measure.