It’s “What have you been watching?”, your chance to recommend to fellow TMINE readers anything you’ve been watching this week
This week’s reviews
Last week, I reserved the right to relocate WHYBW to Thursday. I was wise. As you can see. Work has been busy.
That didn’t stop me reviewing The Laundromat for Orange Thursday, and The Mandalorian (Disney+), though, but it did mean I’ve not discussed the second season of Netflix’s Plan Cœur (The Hookup Plan) as I’d hoped and I’ll only be discussing the first three episodes of Hulu (US)’s Dollface after the jump, rather than all 10.
What’s coming this week
Orange Thursday, tomorrow (I know), will take in The Fear of God: 25 Years of the Exorcist (1999) – gods willing – and maybe another movie if I manage to watch one tonight.
Work’s a little busy again Monday and Tuesday, but fingers crossed I’ll be able to talk about Plan Cœur. Or something else: Amazon has The Feed coming, and Netflix has Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings, but there’s no way on Earth I’m watching that. Spectrum’s Mad About You revival has six episodes for our delectation, but we’ll maybe see about watching that. It is Spectrum, after all.
After the jump, as well as Dollface, we’ll be talking about the regulars (pretending for a moment that there was no TV on last night that I could have watched): Evil, For All Mankind, Mr InBetween, Mr Robot, Silicon Valley, Titans and Watchmen. Stumptown took another break last week, you’ll notice.
We also have two season finales to consider – Engrenages (Spiral) and Total Control – and there’s another Star Trek: Short Trek to mull over, too.
See you in a mo.
Dollface (US: Hulu)
After being dumped by her longtime boyfriend, Jules (Kat Dennings) must deal with her own imagination to literally and metaphorically re-enter the world of women and rekindle the female friendships she left behind.
Magical realism has sometimes had a hard time of things on this ‘ere blog, but it has produced at least some good shows, including Man Seeking Woman. That worked well when dealing with the modern American heterosexual male’s experience of dating but its ‘Woman Seeking Man’ episodes, which attempted to show the other side of things, frequently failed to offer much beyond cliché and had little insight.
Although it’s still a little limited in outlook, Dollface feels like it’s what those episodes should have been. The first three episodes take us on a whistle-stop tour of what happens when Dennings gets dumped, how she then tries to connect with her one-time friends and how she has to avoid being snared back into being a male-oriented woman.
It does this with considerable imagination, with various female social subtexts and metaphors being made literal. It’s often very funny, thanks mainly to the always watchable Dennings’ performance, but also due to a fair degree of smartness. I particularly enjoyed her fitness app:
True, the fact it’s explicitly set in Los Angeles and is often very focused on LA etiquette robs it of a certain universality. There are parties where you’re expected to recognise celebrity magicians and reality stars such as Joey Lawrence (playing himself), and the third episode’s equation of church and brunch is funny and perceptive for sure but so LA.
It’s also American so beyond that LA focus, we have an American slant on this, too, such as a celebrity vegan chef… who secretly eats meat when no one’s looking! Because they’d have to, wouldn’t they? Because who wouldn’t eat meat, right? Because vegan food’s not that tasty, right?
<Looks around practically every restaurant in the UK, Germany and Scandinavian, notices vegan dish(es) on every menu, as well as dedicated vegan restaurants, notices those businesses are not going out of business, eats the vegan food>
There’s also a certain ‘chick lit’ unreality to things. Sure, it’s a magical realist show so what real realism might we be expecting? Yet at the same time, Dennings is supposedly out of touch with her womanhood and female friends, yet works for Malin Åkerman (Billions) who plays a Gwyneth Paltrow-like CEO of company that sells tat such as ‘anal crystals’ and literally all her co-workers are female.
How out of touch can she be? Would someone that male-oriented have really joined such a company or even want to work there?
She’s apparently the company’s only web designer, too (hmm…), because why else would she have to go to Åkerman to ask for a raise, rather than her line manager, even though she’s never met Åkerman before?
It’s not just magical realism, it’s escapist and almost completely divorced from reality.
Yet that’s not a total killer by any means. Dennings’ delivery of some pretty decent lines and the fact she’s appropriately nerdy really work and while her female friends are interchangeable LA types, she provides welcome cynicism and quirkiness. While the feminism isn’t exactly the strongest blend out there, it does make some valuable points without repurposing the entire plot to its cause or losing humour.
I’ll be watching the rest when I have a chance, for sure.
Shows I’m watching but not necessarily recommending
Star Trek: Short Treks (US: CBS All Access; UK: Netflix)
8 – Ask Not
Another welcome return to the Enterprise and the Pike crew. Unfortunately, this one’s a little predictable and obvious in its twist, constrained as it is by Star Trek canon and rules. There’s nevertheless a certain joyfulness and general love of Star Trek to it that’s a delight to behold.
I’ll be so annoyed if CBS can’t get its act together and commission a full series on board the Pike Enterprise, I really will.
Treadstone (US: USA; UK: Amazon)
1×5 – The Bentley Lament
We’re now passing the point of ‘honouring the source material’ and serving up Ludlum-esque nonsense and are squarely heading on towards ‘absolute nonsense’. We’ve got our globe-trotting freelance journalist (who’s apparently highly solvent, almost certainly thanks to her taxi-driving career, though) heading off to Africa to hatch possibly the stupidest prison escape plan ever. The North Korean situation is getting dafter. We’re heading off to acid trips in Berlin in 1973. And then we’re getting bulletproof in small-town America.
It’s just so daft and we’ve not even starting to ask important questions like: how did people get turned into killing machines with top martial arts skills in under nine months, when they spent four of those months hiding out somewhere on a mission? And how come every other spy seems better at these same martial arts? What’s the point of that?
I’ll keep watching, but I don’t think there’s any real point to anyone joining me now.
The recommended list
Engrenages (Spiral) (France: Canal+; UK: BBC Four)
And we’re out with a bang, since despite everyone basically fed up of everything or locked up in prison, the plot has been brought to a triumphant conclusion. Honestly, probably the best or maybe second-best season since the very first, with a proper plot, everything making sense (more or less), the characters behaving well, insights into the system aplenty and more.
I still wish Gilou would speak his lines in a way that I could hear even one word of what he said, but that’s really my only major criticism of the season. A real belter.
But honestly, what are they going to do for season eight – the final one? Send everyone off on a boat trip? Carry on the plot ten years later?
Evil (US: CBS)
1×7 – Vatican III
And we’re back to the initial promise of the first episode, as we turn our sights on the real evil in this world: screw demons, it’s male-entitlement that’s the problem. While the show’s increasing ambivalence about whether anything supernatural is going on could have led other shows astray (cough, cough, Millennium, cough, cough), Evil‘s determination to expose genuine, secular evil in society is admirable, and the fact it can do that with equal humour is impressive.
The religious side of things is also proving interesting, and while (spoiler alert) age-old prophecies are ten a penny in this kind of show, Evil is proving thoroughly unpredictable in how it handles this one and the Catholic Church. Although frankly, you’d have thought that the church would know more than Wikipedia on certain topics.
Episode reviews: Initial
For All Mankind (Apple TV+)
1×5 – Into the Abyss
The first episode so far that’s demonstrated the true potential of the show, with a genuinely exciting piece of TV, as the first American woman gets to land on the Moon and the two astronauts go off hunting for water at its south pole. Although the effects aren’t up there with First Man, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time.
On top of that, the show also cooked up some nuance and subtlety in the characterisations, and that Nixon impressionist was on the top of his game, too.
Episode reviews: Verdict
Mr InBetween (Australia: Showcase)
2×10 – Nice Face
The fallout from the previous episodes hit, not just in terms of Ray’s job prospects, but also the return of Matt Nable and Ray’s previous targets. While the highlight fight demonstrated that Ray really should have taken some lessons from that BJJ girl earlier in the season – boxing just ain’t enough – it was still suitably brutal and to the point that we can forgive the lack of technique.
But are we really heading into tonight’s season finale with basically the same plot as we had for the first season’s finale, just with the roles reversed? How odd.
Mr Robot (US: USA; UK: Amazon)
4×7 – Proxy Authentication Required
The best episode this season, by my reckoning, thanks to Sam Esmail being on both writing and directing duties. How much that’s down to simple flair distracting from some obvious problems with the writing, I can’t quite distance myself enough from it to say for sure. The revelations weren’t exactly staggering and even with the duress of the situation, I’m unconvinced that his therapist would act like that.
But there was so much auteurial artifice anyway, and as a show, it’s always had a sketchy relationship with reality (bordering on magical realism at times), that it’s easy to get distracted by the visuals and the top acting by Rami Malik and Christian Slater.
What it all means for Mr Robot, remains to be seen, but Esmail has been slowly killing off the regular cast at the rate of about one character/week, so I wouldn’t be too surprised to see him go. But does that mean the extra personality eluded to a few weeks ago was a decoy or are there more tricks coming? Given the first and second seasons’ intricate construction, I find it hard to believe that Esmail’s going for totally linear plotting this season.
Silicon Valley (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
6×4 – Maximizing Alphaness
Workplace bullying: whatevs. More enjoyable: giving Monica something to do at the ‘women in tech’ conference. That we’ve not seen before.
Titans (US: DC Universe; UK: Netflix)
2×11 – E.L._.O.
So, I should probably apologise to Titans for mocking its “Deathstroke watching sports” episode, since it turns out there was a reason for that – and a whole lot more. I had wondered, there had been hints, but this episode reverses my worries about the show, hints at the impending arrival of Nightwing, and generally pushes the story in good directions.
And did Bruce Wayne really just turn up to the middle of nowhere to mansplain and then drive away?
Episode reviews: Initial
Total Control (Black B****) (Australia: ABC)
I was right to worry about that phone’s passcode last week.
A strong end to the series (or maybe just the season, as there are at least some plans afoot for a second season), as we get some strong political wrangling, double-crosses, corruption and more. The central betrayal that I was initially worried about being pulled off plausibly really worked here.
Best of all, apart from the copious obvious Julia Gillard references in Rachel Griffiths’ character, the show really did its best this episode to not make her a monster and to actually make her both sympathetic and in some ways right, to the point you might have wanted to support her over Deborah Mailman.
Realpolitik and compromise getting things done versus moral purity and getting nothing done. Support the latter and ‘you get fascism in a week’. It’s almost like Australia has been watching the UK news.
In all in all, a very impressive first season.
Episode reviews: Initial
Watchmen (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
1×5 – Little Fear of Lightning
Still bonkers. Really loved the 1985 flashback. The stuff with Ozymandias was beyond weird but seems finally to have an obvious explanation. I’m not convinced the smartest man in the world would have made that video or that Robert Redford would have distributed it – or that the secret wouldn’t have getting spread more widely – but it was entertainingly done and the anti-ageing of Jeremy Irons worked pretty well.
We also got a few hints as to where the show might be going. But do we know yet? I think not.
Episode review: Initial