It’s “What have you been watching?”, your chance to recommend to fellow TMINE readers anything you’ve been watching this week
This decade’s reviews
Christmas may only be one day, but somehow it manages to knock a couple of weeks out of the year. It’s no different with TMINE, either – just imagine our office party! – as we’ll be closing down on Friday until 6 January 2020.
Holidays are coming, as a certain yearly advert puts it.
That means this’ll be the last WHYBW of 2019 and indeed the decade for anyone who isn’t a great big pedant. Have I prepared anything special? Of course not. Don’t be ridiculous.
All I can say for my round-up of 2010-19 is that this decade, TMINE published more than 6,600 posts and more than 1,500 TV reviews, sometimes of multiple TV episodes, which is an awful lot of writing about and watching tele. I hope you’ve enjoyed it!
What’s coming this week
I’m going to push the boat out and say there might be an Orange Thursday, tomorrow, seeing as I’ve now watched both The Fear of God and Netflix’s new movie, 6 Underground. I’ll just need to write the reviews. However, that’s easier said than done, particularly given I’m seeing the new Star Wars in the evening. So we’ll see what transpires.
But after the jump, as promised, I’ll be taking a look at Apple TV+’s Truth Be Told, as well as the slightly unexpected Virgin River from Netflix.
Otherwise, the reviews will start again in the New Year.
With Christmas nearly here, most of the regular shows have scaled down, but after the jump, we’ll also be talking about the latest episodes of Evil, For All Mankind, The Mandalorian and Mr Robot, as well as the season and (probably) series finale of Watchmen.
See you in a mo.
Truth Be Told (Apple TV+)
True crime podcaster Poppy Parnell (Octavia Spencer) is called to investigate the case of convicted killer Warren Cave (Aaron Paul), a man she incriminated after he murdered the father of identical twins.
Soon, Parnell must decide where the lines between guilt and innocence lie when Cave claims that he was framed for the crime.
I have to say, I lost patience with Truth Be Told very quickly. There were a number of factors at play here.
- Spencer’s podcasting studio, which makes God Friended Me‘s podcast look like it’s done on a shoestring budget. Seriously, guys, it’s podcasting. The only way anyone makes real money from it is TV adaptations. Stop watching re-runs of Midnight Caller and assuming that podcasting and radio are the same thing.
- Everyone ‘says the plot out loud‘.
Spencer to husband: “You remember that top investigative story I wrote about that double-murder, the one that made my name at a top newspaper and allowed me to become a top-rated, hyper-rich podcaster.”
Husband: “I do.”
Spencer: “Today I went to the parole hearing, which of course you wouldn’t know about because we haven’t been talking about this for weeks or even this morning. And now I have begun to doubt myself because of the testimony I saw.”
Husband: “I understand your dilemma. But have you considered that this would jeopardise your position and possibly ruin you?”
Spencer: “Yes, but I am very moral and the truth is important to me. I cannot sit by and allow an innocent person I sent to jail by writing hideously unprofessional articles that would never have got past a copy-editor to stay there.”
- Spencer’s a terrible actress.
And what’s the point of a true crime podcast drama about something that isn’t a true crime, anyway?
Virgin River (Netflix)
Virgin River follows Melinda “Mel” Monroe (Alexandra Breckenridge), who answers an ad to work as a nurse practitioner in the remote California town of Virgin River, thinking it will be the perfect place to start fresh and leave her painful memories behind. But she soon discovers that small-town living isn’t quite as simple as she expected and that she must learn to heal herself before she can truly make Virgin River her home.
Surprise! Bet you didn’t expect me to be watching this.
How big a fan? Enough to watch True Blood for her, but not enough to watch This is Us or The Walking Dead, that’s how much. And enough to make me watch something that clearly looks like it should be on the Hallmark Channel as a never-ending series of TV movies.
However, I’m now up to episode five of 10 of Virgin River, so there’s clearly more to it than all of that and the plot summary suggests.
For starters, the scripting is actually moderately decent. Many of the tropes you’d expect are there. There’s the complicated ex-marine (Martin Henderson from The Ring (2002), The Red Road and the original Australian Secrets and Lies) with a troubled past who runs the bar and who’s Breckenridge’s love interest. There’s the quirky small town folk with their backward, gossipy ways, but who are good-hearted and willing to help out. There’s the bickering estranged older couple who love each other really (Tim Matheson and Smallville‘s Annette O’Toole).
The first few episodes go through the standard cycle you’d expect of what is basically Doc Hollywood at first – Matheson even calls Breckenridge ‘Hollywood’ at one point, while everyone goes on about the Los Angelian’s ‘big city ways’ – with Breckenridge balking at the job and home she’s been mis-sold by O’Toole, crying a lot at her failed life, then slowly winning over and being won over by the town and Henderson.
So far, so predictable. But the script does work hard to undermine these tropes. Breckenridge’s character may spend a lot of time staring into the distance so the show can flash back to her traumatic past, but her past is a bit more interesting than you’d think, as is she.
True, you’ll be hammered at the end of every episode if you play the ‘nurse practitioner’ drinking game (take one shot if Breckenridge says she’s a ‘nurse practitioner’, take two if someone else calls her a ‘nurse practitioner’). But she is very definitely a nurse practitioner, not a nurse or a healthcare assistant, and the show actually seems to know what one of those is, what it might involve and gives her good set of skills. She doesn’t so much learn from the small town – and their, to be fair, somewhat dangerous, illegal ways – as teach them the value of good processes.
Case in point: a baby gets dumped on her doorstep at the end of episode one and there’s a big fight between Breckenridge and Matheson about whether to call child services. Breckenridge wins and rightly so, and when the child’s mother is found, Breckenridge is able to counsel her on post-partum depression. And when child services turn up, they’re not the horror figures of most shows, but actually help and are understanding.
Breckenridge is also not a stereotypical nurse, given her love of drinking shots, listening to heavy metal and her dedication to running track. All of which means the plot advances in something approaching a realistic and novel manner, rather than the usual Hallmark approach.
Then there’s the two central performances. While many of the lines would still read like something out of Mills & Boon, Breckenridge’s comedic chops are pretty perfect for the role and elevate the lines to something quirkier and smarter. Similarly, Henderson isn’t what you’d expect of an ex-marine and is very winning. And while O’Toole and Matheson sometimes veers into the realm of those maddeningly wry women and tired-sounding men of The Archers, their performances do mean you still are interested in them and want to root for them.
Of course, despite being set in a remote part of California, it’s by about the second line of dialogue delivered by one of the supporting cast that you realise it’s actually filmed in Canada and a very pretty part at that, which makes it at least nice to watch.
And you know that actor you like? They’re in it, too. Because it’s Canada.
I’m not going to pretend this is everyone’s cup of tea, that it’s radical or even especially challenging TV. But it is nice TV. It’s good at jerking the tears, it’s got a flotilla of well meaning, kind characters. The central romance is engaging.
And it’s got Alex Breckenridge – and she’s the lead, not supporting cast. That’s my Christmas viewing sorted.
Shows I’m watching but not necessarily recommending
The Mandalorian (Disney+)
1×6 – Chapter 6: The Prisoner
Hmm. I wonder why Number 6 of The Mandalorian is called The Prisoner?
I also wonder why it’s taken so long for the show to finally give us a really good episode. I thought it might because this is the first not to be written by Jon Favreau, but then last week’s was by Dave Filoni, so that’s clearly not the reason.
Whatever the reason, it was a very good episode indeed, as we head into Dirty Dozen/Die Hard territory and have the Mandalorian team up with a group of hardened mercenaries he’d once worked with in order to effect a prison escape.
As well as a good guest cast that included Clancy Brown and Richard Ayoade (or at least his voice), we finally got to have some decent stunt work, we got to see why the Mandalorians are so feared and there was some nice direction and claustrophobic tension, as well as humour. This also felt like the first time the show was part of the wider Star Wars universe and properly imagining it post Return of the Jedi, rather than simply borrowing some of the toys from the movies’ cupboard.
Keep it up guys.
Episode reviews: Initial
The recommended list
Evil (US: CBS)
1×10 – 7 Swans a Singin’
This might qualify as the first The Good Fight crossover of the series, given that the animator/singer they use for the instructional videos in that show seemed to have done the ones in this episode.
Kudos, anyway, since in an episode dedicated to a horrifying earworm, that really was a horribly catchy tune that I found myself repeating for hours afterwards. Again, a nice use of actual science – this week, mass hysteria and stuck song syndrome – coupled with some more Michael Emerson developments that all led up to a horribly creepy affair.
I don’t think the show earned its surprise ending, mind, but let’s see what they do with it next episode.
Episode reviews: Initial
For All Mankind (Apple TV+)
1×9 – Bent Bird
While everything’s a bit dull, if emotional, down on Earth, a really properly tense affair in space and on the Moon, as all manner of things go wrong and Russians and Americans finally meet. Plus good to have Sonya Walger back again.
Episode reviews: Verdict
Mr Robot (US: USA; UK: Amazon)
4×11 – eXit
They’ve only gone and done it. They’ve blown the bloody doors off! Very odd, very weird first-half set-up by Sam Esmail (writer and director of this episode), right down to the return of some earlier season things I completely forgotten about, such as Angela’s locked room puzzle.
But it’s the second half, which sets everything up for this Sunday’s series finale, that send things off into a spin. They’ve been threatening it for a while, but they’ve actually gone and done it now. Let’s see if what they do with it is worth it and actually says something, rather than seems cool.
Watchmen (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
1×9 – See How They Fly
I said it yesterday in my round-up of 2019’s top TV, but this entire season added up to what’s almost a perfect sequel to Alan Moore’s graphic novel. Both faithful to the original in tone yet almost entirely original in its own right, the show has thrown some pretty bonkers ideas out there and made them all work together as a whole over the course of the season.
This final episode also gave us some truly marvellous moments, almost all of them involving Jeremy Irons, such as the obvious Empire Strikes Back reference, his solution to the ultimate villain’s masterplan and, of course, the revelations of how everything fits together.
There were some missteps and arguably a lot of the new themes developed in the earlier episodes were dropped and replaced with themes from the original Watchmen instead. All the same, despite those flaws, the combination of writing, soundtrack, direction and acting gave us something utterly unique and powerful, yet also enjoyable.
One could quibble that the show’s initial episodes seem to suggest the show was going to be something else – they did – but always review the show we get, not the show we wanted to have, and on those terms, Watchmen did a brilliant job.
Will there be more? Creator Damon Lindelof says he’s told the story he wanted to tell, and even if HBO wants to do more, he’s got no more ideas left, so it’ll have to be someone else running things. So enjoy these nine episodes in their entirety.
Episode review: Initial