What have you been watching? Including Vagrant Queen and Council of Dads

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

I think it’s fair to say that TMINE is on a quarantine schedule at the moment. It’s actually surprising hard for me to watch things at the moment, let alone find the time to write about them (as today’s delayed WHYBW proves) – mainly because I’m working like a bastard at the moment (oh to be on PAYE and furloughed!)), but also because I’m playing lots of board games and watching loads of things I’ve already watched but on Disney+. Plus Iron Fist, of course.

Thing’s will probably be a little different next week once my workload shifts to “things that don’t have deadlines”, but certainly, this week, I’ve not been able to review any new TV and the only movies I’ve watched have been The Banker (2020).

It probably doesn’t help that none of the new shows hitting the Internet have either looked or been very appealing.

Sorry about that, but hopefully normality will return soon.

Council of Dads

Next on TMINE

I’ve not watched any new movies, so there’ll be no Orange Thursday tomorrow. Sorry again. But I have watched Council of Dads (US: NBC) and Vagrant Queen (US/UK: Syfy), both of which I’ll be reviewing after the jump.

Coming up this week in TV world is Broke (US: CBS), which I feel like I’ve reviewed already but don’t seem to have (not a good sign); Home Before Dark (Apple TV+); and Tales From The Loop (Amazon). Not sure I fancy any of those, but let’s see what I actually manage to watch. Plus there’s always Freud (Netflix).

The regulars

It’s the usual regulars after the jump: Devs, For Life, Stateless, Transplant, War of the Worlds and Westworld. I’ve not had time to watch any of last night’s episodes, mind (sorry, Devs and Transplant). I’ll also be talking about the season finales of Star Trek: Picard and Stumptown. Catch you on the other side.

What TMINE watched this week

TMINE recommends has all the TV shows TMINE has ever recommended and TV Reviews A-Z lists every TV show ever reviewed in the past 13 years.

New shows

Council of Dads

In the US: Thursdays, 8/7c, NBC (returns April 30)
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Cancer patient Scott Perry worries about his five children growing up without his help and advice. He and his wife Robin recruit three friends to act as a “council of dads” to be father figures to his children. Scott dies and his loved ones form an expanded chosen family.

Stars: Sarah Wayne Callies, Clive Standen, J August Richards, Michele Weaver, Steven Silver and Michael O’Neill

TMINE verdict

TV – usually NBC – occasionally comes up with TV shows so precisely calculated to be emotionally manipulative that they might as well have left the workings out on the title cards. Joining the likes of This is Us and A Million Little Things, we now have Council of Dads, which even if it weren’t for the obviously provoking effort of having a man dying of cancer and getting lots of his mates to provide his family with dad-like support in his absence is so full of gay black men, biracial children, adopted children, and trans children that it might as well have been called Feel Their Pain.

The first episode rockets along over the course of more than a year, which is enough time for Tom Everett Scott to get a diagnosis of cancer, lose a leg, get his wife (Wayne Callies) pregnant, have another child, go into remission, get cancer again, die and have a funeral. By the time of the 10th episode, it’ll probably be his great-grandchildren we’re dealing with.

During this time, we get lots of Big, Big Emotions and Big Big Speeches about dreams, being a dad, being a mum, being a widow, being a trans child et al. Just in case you didn’t realise these were Big Things, of course.

But the cold hard calculations of the show’s warm heart do mean that it’s hard not to get sucked in by it. The choices of the dads – Vikings‘ Clive Standen, Angel‘s J August Richards and The West Wing‘s Michael O’Neill – is also very good casting. Standen is very much against type, given he’s usually picked for hard man roles (cf Taken), Richards is also atypically uncocky and sympathetic, while O’Neill craggy ex-alcoholic stern father figure casting is pretty typical for him, but it all works well.

Sarah Wayne Callies does at best she can, smothered under a hundred weight of Issues, but comes out of it well. The children are enormously tedious, however.

I’m slightly curious to see where they go with it in the second episode, since so much of the first is mawkish and related to the death of the father. Plus, it is somewhat moving to see all these nice engaging non-dads show three different aspects of paternal love and their characters are reasonably engaging.

TMINE rating

⭐⭐

Vagrant Queen © Marcos Cruz/Vagrant Productions/SYFY

Vagrant Queen

In the US: Fridays, 10/9c, Syfy
In the UK: Wednesdays, 9pm, Syfy. Starts April 15

Elida built a life as a scavenger and outlaw, but when an old frenemy, Isaac, turns up with news about her long-lost mother, she is forced to return to her broken kingdom with Isaac and Amae in hopes of staging a rescue before a deadly childhood foe, Commander Lazaro, finds them.

Stars: Adriyan Rae, Tim Rozon, Alex McGregor and Paul du Toit

TMINE verdict

Based on the comic of the same, Vagrant Queen is self-described as ‘campy’, but ‘cheesy’, ‘unsure whether to be serious or funny’, ‘boring’ and ‘silly’ would all work equally well. Essentially a show for those who miss Killjoys but found it too cerebral, Vagrant Queen goes through many of the same tropes (oppressive empire, group of reprobates on the run, scavengers, et al) mainly in an effort to get laughs. However, it’s singularly lacking in confidence here, so most of the jokes fall flat.

Not that there are many.

Again, trying to find the positives in the writing, there is a certain sparkiness in essentially making what is the space queen heroine talk like a regular urban millennial American, and Adriyan Rae is actually a star-quality lead, trapped in a very bad show.

I also did like the way the show deconstructed some of the tropes of space opera (“If they’re going to make all the uniforms the same, they should really make it easier to see who’s wearing them, because it’s ridiculously easy to infiltrate this army”).

But the pluses are way too far apart. And I never really liked Killjoys either.

TMINE rating

⭐⭐

Shows I’m watching but not necessarily recommending

Devs (US: Hulu; UK: BBC Two)

1×5 – Episode 5

A flashback episode (made possible using the show’s mighty MacGuffin) that’s more a (bad) examination of the nature of quantum mechanics than anything that usefully advanced the plot. The characters do get fleshed out nicely and in case anyone was in any doubt about what the MacGuffin is, they would have been put out of their misery this episode.

But there’s a big “where is this going?” hanging over the whole show at the moment, because it’s really unclear what its point is now.

TMINE rating

⭐⭐

Initial TMINE review

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

1×10 – Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2

What a load of fan wank. Really, beyond answering a few plot points spelled out in some later episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, what was the point of that? I mean, it was decent enough TV, but (spoiler alert) turning Picard into a golem indistinguishable from the real thing? Why would you do that when all you had to do was say “There have have been medical advances in the past 30 years and he’s fine”?

Still, on the plus side, all the plot threads got wrapped (albeit easily and without much by way of awe and shock), Harry Treadaway got a chance to be funny instead of threatening and there is at least a decent foundation for the second season. Plus Riker got to slouch.

All in all, though, a season that while consistently better than the second season of Star Trek: Discovery, was really little more than a convoluted piece of fan fiction with a big budget. Although, to be honest, there’s probably a lot of fan fiction out there that would have been better.

TMINE rating

⭐⭐⭐

Initial TMINE review

Stateless (Australia: ABC; UK: Netflix)

1×5 – Panis Angelicus

So, everything is pretty much going in the direction you’d expect from the set-up at the end of the first episode (including Yvonne Strahovski’s increasingly poor German accent). It’s sort of like a dumbed-down version of The Wire, but in a refugee camp, where you see how the system crushes and brutalises everyone, despite their own best intentions.

Jai Courtney’s character is the most obvious transformation in this regard (even the nicest of men will become brutal if brutalised and given power), but it’s much the same throughout the rest of the characters.

Still, important things are being said, albeit a tad clumsily.

TMINE rating

⭐⭐⭐

Initial TMINE review

Stumptown (US: ABC; UK: Alibi)

1×18 – All Hands on Dex

At last, we reach the end of the season. Jesus, they spun that out far longer than they had to. They managed to wrap up Dex’s Benny storyline at least, but it’s a testament to the show’s many missteps that at the end of the season, Jake Johnson’s storyline now appears to be entirely separate from everyone else’s, while Michael Ealy’s got a sudden reheating in an effort to make him anything slightly better than a non-player character in some cut scenes, advancing the plot by handing out information each episode.

It’s a shame, since the show started well and if it had been Cobie Smulders as the show’s sole focus as she did proper PI work, that would have worked well. But the numerous pointless supporting characters, particularly her brother but also Johnson, merely diluted the show’s good qualities.

Given the ratings, Stumptown is one of the few network shows likely to get cancelled during the coronavirus pandemic, but if by some miracle it does come back, unless there are massive changes, I doubt I’ll be back for more.

TMINE rating

⭐⭐⭐

Initial TMINE review

War of the Worlds (France: Canal+; UK: Fox)

1×5 – Episode 5

Our (unlucky) survivors finally all meet up – well, the French elite are still stuck with one another, but everyone else is en masse now – but the plot ain’t advancing much faster. We do have a few revelations about the ‘aliens’ that take things in a different direction – (spoiler alert) are they psychic and were they actually trying to communicate in some way when they sent that signal that killed everyone? Are they doing experiments on babies or are they trying to come up with something more benign?

But while the scenes with the robot hunters are quite frightening, it’s largely a bunch of French and English people sitting around in rooms chatting. You kind of want a Negan to turn up to shake things up.

TMINE rating

⭐⭐

Initial TMINE review

Recommended shows

For Life (US: ABC)

1×7 – Do Us Part

Our hero’s first selfless case is an interesting perspective on ‘pro bono’ cases, making us rethink what that might mean in context. 50 Cent continues to dominate, however, with his few appearances nevertheless being the show’s standout features as he presents looming menace to a previously ‘cushy’ prison system.

Not a huge amount that’s new, but the show continues to find new things to say about long-distance, long-term relationships, the written and unwritten rules of the legal system, and the nature of good and evil among criminals – they may have done something bad, but are they evil?

TMINE rating

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Initial TMINE review

Transplant (Canada: CTV)

1×5 – Eid

With most of the concerns of the first few episodes wrapped up, we’re now moving on to less important and more trite issues. What’s it like being a Muslim then? Do you really have to pray five times a day? On top of that, while there were some decent medical conditions to pay attention to, this episode’s dialogue was just terrible. Ugh.

We also seem to be suffering from ‘Lie to Me syndrome’. We have a great lead actor. We have an equally great John Hannah. They both make the rest of the cast look terrible actors in comparison.

The worst episode so far, then, but by no means terrible.

TMINE rating

⭐⭐

Initial TMINE review

Westworld (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)

3×3 – The Absence of Field

So… How do you make a character whose main mission is to kill all humans into a heroine? You change the whole plot of the show, that’s how. Way back when, the show was all about artificial intelligence and the nature of consciousness, as well as how we treat those we regard as ‘lesser’. That worked for a couple of seasons, but when you’re actually at the point of ‘the lesser has revolted and want revenge’, metaphor becomes a bit harder to continue. We are the ones the lesser want revenge against. We are the ones who are going to die.

Which won’t really wash on HBO. You have to be rich to afford HBO. It’s nice to root for the underdog, but not if you have to change or might end up getting killed.

So now the show is transformed into a slightly convoluted affair in which the lesser is effectively helping us to fight those who regard us as ‘lesser’ – the really, really rich. Plus artificial intelligence. TV really is frightened of artificial intelligence, isn’t it? Everyone is basically picking a side but it’s a little unclear who’s bad at this point. Is Vincent Cassel running the AI or has he lost control of it? Is the AI at Delos running things?

Dunno.

As usual, there’s the same message as Devs – don’t trust tech companies with your data. This makes the show feel a little bit less visionary and a bit more reactionary (in the sense that it’s talking about an existing problem rather than predicting new ones).

But it still looks good, I’m enjoying the characters both old and new, and it’s nice to have a show on that you have to think about. So I’m going to keep watching, to see if gets a bit clearer and starts to say something new. But maybe that’s beyond Westworld.

TMINE rating

⭐⭐⭐

Initial TMINE verdict

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