It’s “What have you been watching?”, your chance to recommend to fellow TMINE readers anything you’ve been watching this week
It’s been another quiet week for TV, thanks to the Thanksgiving break. If you like anthology and true crime shows, particularly ones based on podcasts, you could have course have watched Dirty John (US: Bravo; UK: Netflix).
I don’t, though, so I didn’t. Instead, I watched the rest of Narcos: Mexico. I also gave More4’s new German show, Schuld nach Ferdinand von Schirach (Shades of Guilt), a try and after mentioning it rather a long time ago, I finally made a start on El Ministerio del Tiempo (The Ministry of Time).
I’ll be talking about all of them after the jump. Joining them will be the few regulars that didn’t take a Thanksgiving holiday: Black Lightning, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Doctor Who, and Titans.
See you in a mo…
Schuld nach Ferdinand von Schirach (Shades of Guilt) (Germany: ZDF; UK: More 4)
Adaptations of Ferdinand von Schirach’s Schuld novels that sees Moritz Bliebtreu playing a defence lawyer who has to defend his clients in cases that seem simple but are somewhat morally complicated. Trouble is, despite the subject matter, it’s pretty tedious stuff.
Episode one sees Bliebtreu defending a man who seems to have bashed to death another man in his hotel suite. The first act is then the accused and his wife explaining to Bliebtreu in incredibly long flashback what happened, and basically involves both of them getting a bit excited by a random bloke staying at their hotel and Mrs Accused doing the dirty with him while Mr Accused watches.
That paragraph of plot takes about 20 minutes, during which Bliebtreu sits there and says nothing. Gosh. How riveting.
Act 2 is then then 20 minutes of her explaining how she quite fancied doing the same again. While Bliebtreu says nothing. Snore.
I’m sure the books are better but this left me looking for far better ways to spend my time.
El Ministerio del Tiempo (The Ministry of Time) (Spain: La 1; UK: Netflix)
Similar enough to Timeless for there to have been a lawsuit against the US show, El Ministerio del Tiempo is a less worthy but more interesting affair that thinks time machines are silly. Instead, there are literal doors to other times through which people can enter, potentially messing up history in the process, so a secret Spanish government department has been charged with protecting the timelines.
However, rather than merely being a bunch of modern-day heroes, these brave heroes and heroines come from throughout time and the first episode is about the assembling of one such team: Rodolfo Sancho is a 2015 Madrid paramedic, Aura Garrido is the country’s first woman to attend university and Nacho Fresneda is a 17th century soldier and swashbuckler. They then have to stop a naughty bunch of Napoleonic supporters from 1808 using knowledge of the future to prevent Bonaparte’s downfall.
As with most time travel stories, there are arbitrary rules that don’t make a lot of sense (“You can’t travel into the future,” says the under minister, while sat next to an entire legion of people who have quite literally done just that). It was also obviously made almost entirely with the Spanish market in mind, so while you’ll probably know who Velasquez, Picasso and the likes are, be prepared to start Googling Spanish historical and cultural references such as Captain Alatriste every few minutes, if you really want to know what’s going.
Those minor caveats to one side, the show is actually very enjoyable. It’s not quite as knowingly silly as Doctor Who, but it’s definitely got its tongue in its cheek most of the time, with a lot of the humour revolving around being a Spanish civil servant (“20 hours a month more and a cut in salary? I was better off in 1635…”). The characters are well drawn and diverse, and there’s a real enjoyment of the shock of time travel, both comedically and dramatically, the latter sometimes offering poignancy. CGI, where used, is pretty decently done and you won’t feel lectured at, as you might do with Timeless.
All in all, a good start and I’ll probably be working my way through more episodes over time.
Shows I’m watching but not necessarily recommending
Black Lightning (US: The CW; UK: Netflix)
2×8 – The Book Of Blood: Chapter Three – The Sange
A far more thrilling affair than previous weeks, with a full-on capoeira fight just for starters. Nice to have Black Lightning in it lots as well and to have to face some white racist villains for a change, rather than black albino racists, with some suitably subtle conversations about the difficulties of ‘white pride’. But there was a level of comic-book stupidity to the villains – “Let’s try to electrocute Black Lightning!” – that took a little bit more suspension of disbelief to deal with than normal.
Still, we’re eight episodes in and I can’t tell you what the full narrative thrust of the season is. That’s not good.
Doctor Who (UK: BBC One)
11×8 – The Witchfinders
Funny, isn’t it? We’re nearly at the end of this first Chibnall/Whittaker season of Doctor Who and there’s still not really been one episode I’d call excellent. A couple of good or very good ones, but so far nothing where you think, “Nailed it!” at the end. That said, The Witchfinders was ‘pretty good’ at least, with Alan Cumming typically marvellous as James I/VI and the companions all getting something to do. The aliens were at least semi-threatening for a change, and I’m enjoying how many historicals we’re getting this season. But competently done is the most I’d say about it.
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (US: The CW; UK: Sky1)
4×7 – Tender is the Nate
I’m not sure exactly when the show switched from being a drama with some comedy to being a drama that was a bit silly to being a comedy with some drama to being a silly comedy, but Tender is the Nate is firmly in that last camp, as Biff from Back to the Future sings James Taylor at a minotaur to protect Ernest Hemmingway. That’s fine, though – the world needs more silly sci-fi comedies. That said, there was an odd finality to some elements of the episode, as though everyone half expects the show to be cancelled at the end of the season. Or maybe everyone’s just growing up. And as with Black Lightning, I do wonder what the show’s narrative thrust this season actually is. Who is the Big Bad and what do they want? And why haven’t we seen them?
Narcos: Mexico (Netflix)
If not quite as epic as the show’s first season of Narcos, the rest of this first season of Narcos: Mexico was almost as good. Following on from the first two episodes, the rest of the season follow the rise, fall and rise again of Gabriel Luna’s character as he manages to set up Mexico’s first ever drugs cartel, nearly throws it all away by shifting from weed to cocaine, and then recovers at the last minute as the forces of law and order and the governments in the US and Mexico nearly catch up with him.
In common with Narcos, the season is very good at pointing out what everyone did wrong in the early 80s that ultimately led to the Drugs War in Mexico that’s killed half a million people, as well as just how much power unlimited money can bring you in a poor country with corrupt government organisations. But it’s also a celebration of the bravery of real people and law enforcement agents, particularly Michael Peña’s DEA agent Kiki Camarena. The use of documentary footage continues to impress, too.
But where it differs slightly is in being funny. There are properly funny moments through Narcos: Mexico, which surprise when they arrive. The final episode, in which we see the arrival of the previously unseen narrator, Scoot McNairy, also promises a rather different kind of show in the second season, as we see how the DEA will evolve from its humble beginnings as a result of the incidents shown in this season.
For long-term fans of both shows, of course, episode five is the one to watch as several characters from Narcos “crossover”, and remind you how good they all were. No spoilers here, but if you go here, you’ll see what I mean.
I would of course recommend watching Narcos first, but if you haven’t got the time, Narcos: Mexico is as good a place to start, too. Definitely worth watching.
Episode reviews: Initial review
Titans (US: DC Universe; UK: Netflix)
1×7 – Asylum
In which our team gets captured and experimented upon, prompting some queasiness and some ultimate ultra-violence. All very good, but this does mean Robin (the Nightwing to be) is now a mass-murderer, which is an odd character twist.
Very much looking forward to next week, as Wonder Woman’s sister is showing up. For reals.