It’s “What have you been watching?”, your chance to recommend to fellow TMINE readers anything you’ve been watching this week
Previously on TMINE
When I get busy, TV gets busy – such is the game the Fates play with me. Nevertheless, TMINE still managed to review the entire second season of Netflix’s Altered Carbon and preview Fox UK’s forthcoming War of the Worlds.
Meanwhile, in the magical world of the silver screen, Orange Thursday’s double bill last week was 1917 (2019) and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)
Next on TMINE
But I also watched a whole bunch of other new shows, which I’ll be covering after the jump: Transplant (Canada: CTV), Tribal (Canada: APTN), Stateless (Australia: ABC; UK: Netflix) and Queen Sono (Netflix).
In movies, tomorrow’s Orange Thursday will be down to a single feature, since I’m out tonight so won’t have time to watch a second flick: Dark Waters (2020).
In TV, by next Wednesday, I’m hoping to have watched and maybe even reviewed: Dave (US: FX), Devs (US: Hulu), Amazing Stories (Apple TV+) and Temple (US: Spectrum). There’s probably some other shows I’ve missed, knowing me, so I’ll try to review them too when they show up.
With Stumptown taking another week off, the list of regulars is back down to the usual three again: For Life, The Outsider and Star Trek: Picard. All of which I’ve managed to catch up with and are after the jump.
What TMINE watched this week
In the UK: Available on Netflix
A highly trained South African spy takes on her most dangerous mission yet while facing changing relationships in her personal life.
Stars: Pearl Thusi, Vuyo Dabula, Abigail Kubeka and Kate Liquorish
Not quite Netflix’s first South African original – that honour lies, I think, with Shadow, although this was commissioned first – Queen Sono is an unashamedly South African spy show that combines humour with action, as Africa-trotting Pearl Thusi wends her way around the continent, on missions for the South African government.
The show proudly shouts its origins and is as sweary as the average South African, too; the fact the soundtrack is loaded with local music, as well as songs about Black Power, and the narrative involves a group in Nigeria who are trying to liberate Africans from the yoke of the West should give you a clue as to where this is coming from.
Unfortunately, although everything looks very shiny as we zoom from Zanzibar to Johannesburg, with Thusi working her way through numerous costumes along the way, the scripts could do with a lot of work. Before we even start on the Basil Exposition level of ‘saying the plot out loud’, so keen are the producers to emphasise South African power, they make Thusi the daughter of a former freedom fighter and president. Even normal people know who her mum is and ask her how she’s doing, as it’s the anniversary of her mother’s assassination.
Gosh, how incognito.
Meanwhile, as much time is taken up with bitchy in fighting between other women in the office as with spying, and Thusi also drops by on her ex’s date to ‘out woman’ his new belle. Plus, there’s the usual – Cf Shadow – comedy sidekick as back up, who spends most of his time back in the car.
Still, I do like a spy who travels to work on a foldable bike. Wouldn’t see James Bond doing that.
In Australia: Sundays, 8.30pm, ABC
In the UK: Acquired by Netflix
The series centres on four strangers in an immigration detention centre in the Australian desert: an airline hostess escaping a suburban cult, an Afghan refugee fleeing persecution, a young Australian father escaping a dead-end job and a bureaucrat caught up in a national scandal. When their lives intersect they are pushed to the brink of sanity, yet unlikely and profound emotional connections are made amongst the group.
Stars: Yvonne Strahovski, Asher Keddie, Fayssal Bazzi, Marta Dusseldorp, Dominic West, Cate Blanchett, Jai Courtney, Soraya Heidari, Rachel House, Kate Box, Clarence Ryan, Claude Jabbour, Rose Riley, Helana Sawires and Darren Gilshenan
Another of those Crash-like dramas, in which a bunch of seemingly unconnected people’s lives intersect to explore a Very Important Issue (here, refugees and immigration in Australia), Stateless is classic ‘worthy TV’. But it’s a little odder than that summary would suggest.
Based on a true story, it sees air hostess Yvonne Strahovski (Chuck) joining a dance-based cult – yes, dance-based – run by Cate Blanchett and Dominic West. Meanwhile, stay at home dad Jai Courtney (Terminator: Genysys) has just the immigration police at a refugee camp. Meanwhile again, an Indian family is trying to make its way over to Australia with the help of some human traffickers – what could go wrong?
The first episode is the telling of each of these groups’ stories, which dovetail at the end, presumably to say something Very Important about how refugees are treated in Australia. That means the first episode is largely watching some odd individual stories, rather than anything with a real coherent narrative, and then suspecting that half the big names aren’t going to be in subsequent episodes. Classic bait and switch that.
Nevertheless, there’s a lot of fun to be had simply seeing all these famous Australians actually getting to be Australian and using their true accents for a change. The dance-cult is pleasingly bizarre, while Courtney does well as an oh-so-soft bloke about to meet reality – even if most of his training is about being culturally appropriate with his eye contact.
Given this was all set-up, I’m going to stick with it to episode two to see if the plot-proper is any good – and whether it does have anything to say that’s new. But you might not have the luxury of time that I have, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you skipped this.
In Canada: Wednesdays, 9/10MT, CTV
In the UK: Not yet acquired
Dr Bashir “Bash” Hamed, a Syrian doctor with battle-tested skills in emergency medicine, makes the difficult decision to flee his country with his younger sister Amira. With the hope of returning to his career in medicine, together Bash and Amira strive to build a new life in Canada while managing the struggles that come with a new country.
With life experiences and a medical background unlike his Canadian counterparts, Bash works to navigate a new environment and forge new relationships after earning a coveted residency in the Emergency Department of one of the best hospitals in Toronto, York Memorial.
Stars: Hamza Haq, Laurence Leboeuf, John Hannah, Ayisha Issa, Jim Watson, Sirena Gulamgaus, Torri Higginson, Linda Smith, Grace Lynn Kung
It’s hard to believe that there are new ways to do medical procedurals, without going through some really insane plot contortions (cough, cough, Good Sam, cough, cough), but Transplant does indeed manage to innovate – and have a punny title to boot.
Taking on board the fact Canada took in rather a lot of Syrian refugees a few years ago, it explores the question of what you need to be a doctor. Experience? The right kind of experience? The right kind of training? The right papers?
It sees former Syrian surgeon Hamza Haq working in a late-night restaurant when an accident forces him to apply his war-zone honed skills to work on a bunch of injured customers – who coincidentally include the doctor who rejected him for a job (John Hannah). Soon, he’s being suspected by the police of being a terrorist, while the doctors in the hospital are wondering who did all this weird, dangerous but life-saving work on their patients.
The show artfully manages to avoid being a Very Big Issue show. Haq is clearly skilled, with very different experiences and skills from those of the Canadian doctors. But at the same time, he’s from a different country, doesn’t know procedures, breaks the rules in quite dangerous ways, takes potentially life-threatening chances and is possibly a bit dodgy, too.
The show also delays the obvious outcome until the end of the episode, allowing for a certain degree of gritty naturalism. Most of the future action is likely to involve that clash of systems, as well as the more obvious social commentary. It’s also going to be about grumpy doctor Hannah having a life-changing experience as a result of his accident. Cue MDs 2? That should be fun.
In Canada: Thursdays, 9pm, APTN
In the UK: Not yet acquired
The Department of Federal Justice attempts to save political face under the mask of inclusion and collaboration as they take control of the Tribal Police Force that governs the four Indian Reserves that surround the city.
Interim Tribal Chief Samantha Woodburn attempts to overcome political red tape and must also prove herself amongst the old-white-boys club of the Metro Police. Thrust into an unfamiliar world, she navigates politics and procedure as she clashes with her new partner, Chuck “Buke” Bukansky, a seasoned but broken-down Metro Police detective.
Tribal examines First Nation crime stories based on real world cases, including mistaken identity, pipeline controversy, healing lodge justice, social services, tobacco and missing Indigenous Peoples.
Stars: Jessica Matten and Brian Markinson
When it comes to writing about Very Important Issues, you can’t get much more Very Important Issues than Tribal. Weirdly, though, those issues are not the ones you might expect of a channel dedicated to First Nations viewers.
The show is largely a ‘mismatched partners’, 80s-style detective show, complete with terrible keyboard music. On the one hand, we have new arrival First Nations Matten; on the other, we have old hand white male Markinson. Both think they’re in charge; both think they’re better than the other.
When they’re called on to investigate crimes against First Nations peoples, however, most of the culture clash isn’t what you think. Rather, it’s an old people versus young people, with Markinson doing traditional style shoe-leather policing and interviewing, while Matten is a whizz with the Internet. There’s numerous lines about political correctness, but this isn’t clunky racist dialogue, but clunky “do we call you women or girls?” dialogue.
Markinson, who’s been a grumpy cop in numerous shows over the past couple of decades (cf Touching Evil and Continuum), is very good at grumpy cop here, plus he’s actually not a stereotypical white male piñata, there to be torn down and beaten as the script needs – he has an actual character.
Matten is fine, as are the veritable collection of older character actors populating the supporting cast, although some of the “supporting bad guys” echo 80s’ acting style as well.
I’m more inclined to watch it for Markinson than the scripts (or anything else), but Tribal is at least an educational show for anyone who doesn’t know much (like me) about First Nations affairs, politics and policing in Canada.
Shows I’m watching but not necessarily recommending
For Life (US: ABC)
1×3 – Brother’s Keeper
Events from the pilot episode catch up with our hero, as does his desire to do good for others but only if he can use them to advance his own case. More interesting, though, is the show’s dismembering of its own premise: that a prisoner can learn to become a good lawyer in jail.
Here, Pinnock learns the hard way that black guys don’t always stick together and that he’s still a novice lawyer who doesn’t know the system well or even case law well – but you can at least get some points for trying.
The Outsider (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
1×9 – Tigers and Bears
Generally spooky and the secret flashback was nifty. Also sometimes a little funny. Plus it’s odd watching scenes and noting that even though they’re packed full of actors, at least 80% of them are not Americans (Ben Mendelsohn, Cynthia Erivo, Paddy Considine, Max Beesley).
Star Trek: Picard (US: CBS All Access; UK: Amazon)
1×6 – The Impossible Box
No Jeri Ryan this week, but with the show’s creators off writing duty, this felt like a far better affair than previous weeks, with action, excitement, jokes et al far better balancing the fan fiction, mythos and so on. Plus we might finally be free of all that tedious Romulan loving now.