What have you been watching? Including Pine Gap, All American and Light as a Feather

Pine Gap

It’s “What have you been watching?”, your chance to recommend to fellow TMINE readers anything you’ve been watching this week

At my TV signal, unleash Hell.

Gosh, what a lot of new shows there have been this week. I got the air date of Marvel’s Daredevil wrong – it’s out this Friday, not last Friday as I thought last week – which was some relief, but The CW has finally released its new wares onto the world and ABC has unveiled its second wave of shows. I’ve just not had time to review them yet.

Of the new shows, elsewhere, I’ve reviewed DC Universe’s Titans and passed a fourth-episode verdict on Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House; I’ve also passed verdicts on ABC (US)’s A Million Little Things and CBS (US)’s God Friended MeThe Neighborhood and Happy Together. But that still leaves a fair few other shows to cover. After the jump, I’ll be dealing with two of them: The CW’s All American and Hulu’s Light As A Feather. But HBO’s remake of BBC Four’s Camping, The CW’s remake of its predecessor The CW’s Charmed, last night’s new ABC shows The Rookie and The Kids Are Alright, and Amazon’s Matthew Weiner anthology show The Romanoffs will all have to wait. As will anything else joining them in the next couple of days, although I imagine I’ll be binge-watching Daredevil at the weekend. Or maybe Chilling Adventures of Sabrina – that’s this weekend, too, isn’t it?

However, joining All American and Light as a Feather after the jump is another new show, this one from Australia to add a little variety: Pine Gap. And, of course, there’ll be the current roster of regulars: Black Lightning, Doctor Who, The Last Ship, Magnum P.I., Mr InBetween, SEAL Team and You. One of those is for the chop – can you guess which?

TV shows

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New shows

Pine Gap

Pine Gap (Australia: ABC; UK: Netflix)

The US has two major overseas communications monitoring facilities: one in the UK and one in Pine Gap, Australia. Based outside Alice Springs in the middle of the Outback and jointly managed by Americans and Australians, it’s both a blessing and a curse to the locals – the Aboriginal people resent the fact their land has been taken from them and it’s used for every dodgy human-rights-violating US operation, yet at the same time recognise that the local economy would collapse without it.

The show itself is an interesting combination of spy show genres. On the one hand, it’s a brave attempt to swim against the tide of HumInt shows. Normally, the average spy show gives us the heroic agents and officers on the ground, sneaking intelligence from other people, with the occasional bit of help from drones and the boys and girls back home (cf The Brave). Here, though, it’s all SigInt and ComInt – the action is all in one control room, with analysts searching databases, listening to communications and deploying satellite surveillance to find out what’s going on when a SAM missile is launched in Myanmar in the vicinity of both the US President and the Australian PM. There’s not a James Bond or a gunfight in sight, just people piecing through intelligence to work out what’s going on – and watching remote drone strikes on TV monitors when their intelligence appears to pay off.

On the other hand, there’s also a little bit of intrigue closer to home, as a Chinese mining company is in negotiations with the Aboriginals for access to their land in exchange for a big, big wodge of cash – a mere 20 miles or so from the Pine Gap installation. The local community needs the money and would quite like to be free of US dominance, but is this company as benevolent as it seems or is it trying to monitor Pine Gap itself? And then there’s that weird glitch with the canteen’s thermostat…

The backdrop to all of this is the everyday lives of these analysts. The Americans (virtually all African-American men, interestingly enough) are all homesick and having to deal with the metric system, and they clash with the more relaxed, banter-esque Aussies’ (virtually all white women, equally interestingly enough) style of working. At the same time, everyone has to deal with not being able to tell anyone else what they do in this strangely double-bottled world: there’s almost nothing else in town so there are only locals and spies, and the spies all get bussed in and out of Pine Gap together every day, making the spies almost like a family, the difference being they can actually talk to one another about their work, unlike their real families.

Some of the US accents are a bit dodgy. The “gung-ho Americans v circumspect Aussies” was a bit cliched, too. But it’s actually a fascinatingly different approach to spy shows and a pretty exciting one at that. I thoroughly enjoyed the first episode and will be happily watching the rest soon, I hope.

All American

All American (US: The CW)

Based on a true story, this sees Daniel Ezra playing a star LA High School football player who’s given a chance at the big time by Taye Diggs, a coach at a plush Beverly Hills school populated by rich kids. But does Diggs have his best interests or his own interests at heart?

And beyond one last-minute revelation, that’s basically it. Ezra learns that rich kids can be naughty or nice, whether they’re black or white; there are class struggles; girls clash over him; his mum worries about him; Diggs’ son is annoyed that Diggs is treating Ezra like a son. So completely bog standard.

You’ve really got to love American football to love this.

Light as a Feather
© Rachael Thompson/Hulu

Light as a Feather (US: Hulu)

Four best friends invite the shy new girl out on Halloween, but they soon regret their decision when she suggests they play a twisted version of ‘Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board’. And again, that’s basically the story, with the slight fillip of one of them possibly already being possessed before they play the game. Not scary, not exciting. Not bothering.

Shows I’m watching but not necessarily recommending

Black Lightning (US: The CW; UK: Netflix)

2×2 – The Book Of Consequences – Chapter Two: Black Jesus Blues

For a worrying moment, this looked like it was going to turn into Smallville – woo hoo, not just one but two ‘meteor freaks of the week’ – and drop all pretence at relevance. Fortunately, the show’s writers course-corrected to give us a more interesting piece about community and fitting in. Not perfect, for sure, but still a keeper.

Episode reviews: Initial review, Verdict

Doctor Who (UK: BBC One)

11×2 – The Ghost Monument

Sigh. I had a look through the writers list for this season. It’s basically all Chris Chibnall – for the next few weeks. So let’s brace ourselves for dialogue as corrosive as acid yet not as interesting, and tedious plotting that stretches 15 minutes of bog-standard sci-fi story over an hour, for the foreseeable future. The hermetic bubble of Englishness that traps Doctor Who in its own world also gave us a nonsensical look at supposed “bad people”. While the reintroduction of Venusian Aikido was nice, try imagining sticking an armed Pablo Escobar into a scene in which the Doctor starts mouthing off and says guns and bullets just make things worse, and see what happens in the real world. Except a moderate slapping at least. Or maybe even some shouting? No? You can take dramatic liberties, particularly with family TV, but that was just ridiculous.

Not helping was the direction. Everything looked lovely, for sure, particularly thanks to a South African shoot, but no one seemed to have packed more than one camera, given the static shots and the lack of kinetic action. Poor old Jodie Whittaker was trying ever so hard to inject excitement into everything with her delivery, but when all she’s got to do is go from chair to chair, avoid flying bits of paper, and try not to get hit by blind robots, even the best actor or actress in the world is going to struggle.

All in all, bar the occasional high point of a custard cream, the sort of dreadful averageness I was expecting from Chibbers.

Magnum P.I. (US: CBS)

1×4 – Six Paintings, One Frame

The focus shifts onto the supporting characters, with Rick and TC getting a bit more to work with this week. Meanwhile, a working class mate of Higgins turns up from Brixton and there are discussions about shandy, toffs, chavs and having a butcher’s that perplex the Americans. A bit sillier than the previous two episodes, thanks to a rather bog-standard plotline about how to burgle a skyscraper that looks like it was cribbed from one of the Mission: Impossible movies, but the rest of it was nicely done, particularly the characterisation.

Episode reviews: Initial review, Verdict

SEAL Team (US: CBS; UK: Sky1)

2×2 – Never Say Die

And I’m done. Another bog-standard mission I could live with, but tedious conflicts between David Boreanaz and his former 2IC that have no real basis and the decision to fridge a female character for no good reason at the end of the episode means I’ve no interest in watching any more. SEAL Team never really ever hit a peak of quality, but it could be relied upon to avoid most clichés, at least. Now it’s the same as any other procedural, so it’s time to leave.

Episode reviews: Initial review, Verdict

Recommended shows

The Last Ship (US: TNT; UK: Sky1)

5×6 – Air Drop

A distinct lack of decent sea warfare this week, edged out in favour of land warfare and making Eric Dane the manliest of all men. But the navy-marine quarrels were enjoyable and you have to admire the wish-fulfilment hubris of allowing the US to finally (spoiler) invade Cuba

Episode reviewsInitial reviewVerdict

Mr InBetween (Australia: Showcase)

1×4 – On Behalf of Society

Things get even scarier as our ‘hero’ finds he’s attracted the wrath of some local heavies. Unfortunately for them, they fail to heed his warnings. Meanwhile, new girlfriend discovers that our hero has a violent side and we get to learn his philosophy of violence.

Really great work all round here, with the usual mix of black humour and smiles turning into something far more terrifying.

Episode reviews: Initial review, Verdict

You (US: Lifetime; UK: Netflix)

1×6 – Amour Fou

A pleasing conclusion to the Peach storyline, although there’s now so much violence and death in Guinevere’s life, you do have to wonder why she’s not at least a little bit wary of Joe by now. You also have to wonder if Joe maybe has a cloak of invisibility and a noise-dampening aura – how does he manage to avoid getting spotted all the time? Or leaving blood stains everywhere?

Still, a brave amount of disfigurement for the handsome Penn Badgeley to put himself through for the story and the hints at what happened to his previous girlfriend give his character more depth. It’s also fascinating to see him doing all the things he does and yet still see himself as Harry in When Harry Met Sally. He really does.

Episode reviews: Initial review