What have you been watching? Including Indebted, Briarpatch, Katy Keene, Tommy and For Life

For Life

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

Mythic Quest

Previously on TMINE

TMINE was clearly on speed or something this week, since it served up reviews of not one but two streaming Boxsets: the first seasons of Apple TV+’s Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet and Netflix’s Ragnarok.

Meanwhile, in the film world, Orange Thursday… didn’t happen. Sorry, I forgot I was actually supposed to be having a day off on Thursday. Still that does mean I definitely have a double-bill lined up for tomorrow…

Parasite
Parasite

Next on TMINE

It’s Part II of Spring 2020 in the US and after the jump, I’ll be reviewing literally all the new shows that aired on broadcast TV this week: Briarpatch, Indebted, Interrogation, Katy Keene, For Life, and Tommy.

However, don’t be surprised, given I’ve watched all of that as well as two entire boxsets (plus half of another, which I’ll tell you about in a mo), that I didn’t quite have time to watch all of Netflix’s Locke & Key. But I am two episodes in and I’m hoping to get through the rest of it within the next week – who knows, maybe next week will be another Boxset doubler because…

…also coming up in the next week are new shows High Fidelity, ZeroZeroZero and Utopia Falls, while Narcos: Mexico is back for a second season. That’s four shows from which to pick a second boxset, so expect at least one of them, maybe two, to get a review, too.

Meanwhile in movies, tomorrow’s Orange Thursday will be reviewing A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2020) and Parasite (2019), as I don’t have a day off this week. Definitely.

Iron Fist
Iron Fist

The regulars

The regulars list is now small enough that I’m pretty sure I’m only watching some as a result of experimental error: Avenue 5, The Outsider and Star Trek: Picard. And one of those is for the chop this week, too – you can see which one after the jump, but it probably won’t take much guesswork.

As you might expect, even with two boxsets, a third on the go, movies being watched and a whole bunch of new shows to watch, I found myself with time on my hands and ironing to do. Naturally, I started watching Marvel’s Iron Fist again – I’m now midway through my fifth viewing of season one, and yes, I’m still seeing new things in it and no, I’m not certifiable, thanks for asking, imaginary voice in my head.

But after a few eps of Iron Fist, with an ironing pile that wasn’t diminishing, I suddenly remembered that the second season of Netflix’s Altered Carbon is due to hit the Internet in a couple of weeks, so I decided to give season one a re-watch.

Altered Carbon
Altered Carbon

Altered Carbon: the rewatch

Unlike my rewatch of season one of Marvel’s Daredevil, my rewatch of Altered Carbon hasn’t made me reconsider my original view of the show: it’s still a beautifully made bit of sci-fi with a colossal problem with women (that may or may not be inherent to it or a critique of the patriarchy) that has six or so fabulous episodes that collide with the brick wall of the seventh as soon as we reach the big part of the narrative that wasn’t in the book. I’m on that episode at the moment, so I’m not going any further – or I’ll skip it and head straight into episode eight.

But on the plus side, my rewatch has reminded me of how good those first few episodes were, as well as some of the plot. It’s also interesting to rewatch more or less remembering not just whodunnit but why they dunnit, to see what clues the show leaves and how well the whole ‘universe’ holds together (pretty well).

All the same, watching the trailer for season two today, it’s noticeable that all the plot highlights seem to suggest that rather than going with one of the other books in the series, the show’s producers are doubling down on their own created mythos. So while Anthony Mackie looks like a good replacement for Joel Kinnaman in the lead role, I can’t say I’m 100% looking forward to the next season.

What TMINE watched this week

New shows

Indebted

In the US: Thursdays, 9.30/8.30c, NBC
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Young parents Dave and Rebecca are ready to reclaim their lives after years of diapers and sleepless nights. However, things take an unexpected turn when Dave’s parents show up unannounced and broke, leaving Dave with no choice but to open the door to the two people who gave him everything. But these boomerang parents aren’t great with boundaries, and the question of who’s parenting whom quickly becomes blurred.

Stars: Fran Drescher, Adam Pally, Steven Weber, Abby Elliott and Jessy Hodges

TMINE verdict

Indebted has the kind of cast that would draw you to watch any sitcom. Unfortunately, it has the kind of jokes that make you want to switch it off. Despite the presence of the normally ultra-reliable Adam Pally and old hands Steven Weber and Fran Drescher, this is an entirely laughter-free zone.

Which is a shame because it does have something moderately interesting to say: Baby Boomers have frittered away all their/our money, leaving Generations X, Y and Z both in poverty and having to look after them in their dotage. There’s also something notable being said about the US healthcare system and how it can bankrupt anyone at a moment’s notice if they have the wrong kind of insurance.

It’s just not funny in the slightest when it says all of this – or anything else.

TMINE rating

Briarpatch

In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, USA
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Based on the Ross Thomas novel of the same name, Briarpatch follows Allegra Dill, a dogged investigator who returns to her border-town home in San Bonifacio, Texas. What begins as a search for her sister’s killer turns into an all-consuming fight to bring the corrupt town to its knees. Briarpatch celebrates a unique blend of crime, thriller, mystery, and pulp fiction.

Stars: Rosario Dawson, Jay R Ferguson, Edi Gathegi and Brian Geraghty

TMINE verdict

Thanks to both Mr Robot and Homecoming, Sam Esmail is now well established as one of TV’s few obvious visual auteurs. Whatever he makes looks fantastic – and usually sounds fantastic and is fabulously well acted, too. Trouble is, this doesn’t always extend to the scripts, which are usually both challenging and ‘challenging’, and equally usually often leave you wondering why you’re watching something.

Briarpatch is another such work. Basically, a much slower-paced, Texas-set, quirkier version of Scandal, it sees top political fixer Rosario Dawson using her Washington-honed skills to investigate the murder of her sister in her home town. Soon, she discovers that she didn’t know her sister – or her home town – as well as she thought she did.

There’s a certain richness to the characters and the dialogue that you don’t get on most TV shows, plus it’s always nice to see a journalist who can do his job well, even if it’s among the supporting characters. And although it’s early days, there is clearly a decent plot underneath it all, with thrills and surprises to be had, and the characters are all smart enough that you don’t feel like corners are being cut.

But it’s a show that tries too hard to be quirky (“Look – escaped zoo animals!”), as though it wants people to watch it more for Dawson and her love of BDSM than for the plot. I doubt it’ll try to settle down from those ambitions over time, so I suspect I won’t be watching too much more of this, but I’ll try to watch at least the second episode, I think.

TMINE rating

⭐⭐⭐

Katy Keene

Katy Keene

In the US: Thursdays, 9.30/8.30c, NBC
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Katy designs clothes for anyone she can, including her friend and roommate Josie, whose singing talent catches the attention of Alexander Cabot, a CEO who hopes to reboot the record label division of his father’s corporate empire. But Alexander’s dream of signing Josie to a recording contract meets resistance from Cabot Media’s powerful senior vice president Alexandra, who also happens to be his twin sister.

Josie and Katy’s roommate, Jorge, works at his family’s bodega and has his eye on Broadway, but after a series of rejections, he hopes to take his drag performance career as Ginger to the next level. The mysterious Pepper Smith plans to open her own version of Andy Warhol’s Factory. She has the connections, but no one seems to know where she got her money or if she really has any at all.

As these aspiring artists take on the runway, the recording studio, Broadway and the New York social scene, they find more than just a career in the big city – they find long-lasting friendship.

Stars: Lucy Hale, Ashleigh Murray, Katherine LaNasa, Julia Chan, Jonny Beauchamp, Lucien Laviscount, Zane Holtz and Camille Hyde

TMINE verdict

Riverdale was, of course, a big surprise, being an adaptation of the Archie comics that was more like Twin Peaks than the original strip. Since then, we’ve had the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which again, took a decided left turn into full-on Satanic worship compared to the far tamer comics.

And now we have a double surprise with Katy Keene. The first is that it’s a sequel to a show that’s still airing, being set five years after the events of Riverdale (I’m guessing Josie isn’t going to die). The second is that it’s a massively vanilla piece of work that’s more or less exactly what you’d imagine an adaptation of Katy Keene to be, just with more gay characters.

A sort of heightened The Carrie Diaries crossed with Ugly Betty, you really have to be drinking the Lambrini while painting your toenails with your girlfriends to enjoy Katy Keene‘s cloying agglomeration of New York fashion, music, theatre and sexual orientation stereotypes. It’s all supposed to be jolly japes, but if you aren’t vomiting pink from every orifice within 10 minutes, you’ve clearly been vaccinated with a 10% solution of Sex and the City 2.

Unbearable.

Tommy

In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, CBS
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Multiple Emmy Award winner Edie Falco stars in Tommy as a former high-ranking NYPD officer who becomes the first female chief of police for Los Angeles. A true blue New Yorker, Abigail “Tommy” Thomas uses her unflinching honesty and hardball tactics to keep social, political, and national security issues from hindering effective law enforcement in the Southland.

Equal parts political, procedural, and family drama, Tommy comes from Paul Attanasio, the creator of Bull and Homicide: Life on the Street.

TMINE verdict

If CBS is a barometer for what conservative over-60s in the US will tolerate, then clearly the times they are a changing. Because while Tommy is largely a bog-standard procedural, but more from the political side of policing than from boots-on-the-ground policing, it’s still a show in which a gay woman is in charge of a police force, having got her job with a hint of positive discrimination – having lost 10 years of her career in New York thanks to negative discrimination.

The first episode does the usual run round the show’s set-up and characters, introducing us to Tommy’s estranged daughter, her helpers and her adversaries, who include her deposed predecessor Corbin Bernsen (the representative of privileged straight white males). The plot tries to have its cake and eat it, too, with Tommy firmly enforcing the law in favour of liberal-hate target ICE while simultaneously helping abused women.

It’s a slightly wobbly act, but to Tommy‘s (and Paul Attanasio’s and Edie Falco’s) credit, the show does manage to pull it off. The dialogue alternates between naturalism, pragmatism and archness, so while sometimes you feel the show is clearly using artifice for effect or comedy, other times it’s clear that it’s drawing on reality – and the reality of what top female cops must face.

I’m not a big fan of procedurals, so I probably won’t stick with it for very long. But Tommy is at least a pretty credible bit of work.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

For Life

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, ABC
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Inspired by the life of Isaac Wright Jr, For Life is a fictional serialised legal and family drama about an imprisoned man, Aaron Wallace, who becomes a lawyer, litigating cases for other inmates while fighting to overturn his own life sentence for a crime he didn’t commit.

His quest for freedom is driven by his desperate desire to get back to the family he loves and reclaim the life that was stolen from him. Aaron’s complicated relationship with a progressive female prison warden helps shine a light on the flaws and challenges in the US penal and legal systems.

Stars: Nicholas Pinnock, Indira Varma, Joy Bryant, Dorian Missick, Tyla Harris, Mary Stuart Masterson, Boris McGiver, Felonious Munk and 50 Cent

TMINE verdict

Some of the most interesting TV is often about prisoners who apply the skills they learned in prison to the law (remember Life?). For Life is triply interesting. Firstly, it’s got a double British acting whammy of Nicholas Pinnock and Indira Varma in the lead roles (as well as Mary Stuart Masterson and 50 Cent is still to come). Secondly, it’s based on a true story, albeit loosely. And thirdly, Pinnock is still in prison – it’s just he can practise law thanks to some ingenious loophole-jumping with the Vermont Bar Association.

The first episode is largely the sort of thing you’ve come to expect of courtroom dramas, which is what the show mostly is. Pinnock is trying to get a fellow prisoner acquitted because he’s innocent; the system doesn’t want him released, particularly since Pinnock is clearly going after the DA (McGiver). We get the usual courtroom scenes and vindicating evidence.

However, this is also dirty tricks legal practice, with McGiver et al using the system and the fact Pinnock’s behind bars to derail proceedings; meanwhile, Pinnock is perfectly happy to skirt prison rules, get the help of white supremacists, fabricate evidence and more if it helps to get his client off the hook.

Which is certainly novel, and not something I’ve seen in a legal procedural before.

The rest of it I can probably do without, such as Pinnock’s relationship with his family. But it’s a very good start at least.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Shows I’m watching but not necessarily recommending

Avenue 5 (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)

1×3 – I’m a Hand Model

Yep, done. Just people being snippy in space. To be fair, I did laugh three times in the second half of the episode, which is more than I did with the preceding episodes.

But we’re two episodes in and the reveal midway through the episode is… basically the same reveal we had in the first episode (spoiler alert) no one knows what they’re doing and is just an actor . If you’re cannibalising your own jokes this early on and you’re not The Fast Show, you’ve got issues.

It’s a shame because Hugh Laurie et al are a great cast. It’s just that everyone is just mildly annoyed with one another that they’re going to have to spend three years in space – and that’s about it. That’s not funny.

TMINE rating

Initial TMINE review

The Outsider (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)

1×6 – The One with the Yiddish Vampire

Finally, we have movement, with Holly finally revealing all to those who hired her. Thankfully, everyone is rightfully annoyed with her batshit crazy theories, rather than merely accepting them. All the same, as with the first episode, the show is very keen for all the characters not to have all the necessary facts at their disposal, even if it would be really useful for one character, who could actually tell them everything. Where’s all the info about the neck bumps and the observation points, Holly?

Still, things are at least picking up speed, so hopefully we’re heading towards some real excitement now.

TMINE rating

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Initial TMINE review

Star Trek: Picard (US: CBS All Access; UK: Amazon)

1×3 – The End is the Beginning

Talking of picking up speed, remember Homer? Remember how the story of the Trojan War lasted 10 years and Odysseus’ return home took another 10? Well, in some versions of the story, the Greeks spent another 10 years before the war assembling everyone together.

In the case of Star Trek: Picard, it’s certainly felt like 10 years to take us to the point where Picard is ready to go on his Odyssey – and for the show to actually get interesting. But finally, the ship seems to be underway.

True, there’s still a lot of foundational building still to go and while Santiago Cabrera (Heroes, Musketeers) can do good London and Madrid accents, whatever that ENH accent was (Irish? Scouse?) needs a lot more work. But there seemed to be some actual forward motion on the plot, we’ve got a crew and Picard actually said ‘Engage’. You could also see a big switch marked ‘Fun’ being flicked to ‘On’ as he said it.

So while it’s been a bit of a fan-fiction chore so far, hopefully we’re on a voyage to somewhere exciting now. Hopefully.

TMINE rating

⭐⭐⭐

Initial TMINE review

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