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 did one of those movie review things: Greyhound (2020)
Next on TMINE
The upcoming week’s going to be quite busy, with work mounting up pre August break, but I’m going to give reviewing Aladdin (2019) another try.
Helping to ease my workload, however, is that looking ahead through the schedules, we have practically no new shows scheduled to come our way any time soon. In fact, all I could see was Signs on Netflix, which is an imported Polish cop show from 2018.
You can tell the summer season is here, but added to Covid, we’ve hit what I assume must be the opposite of peak TV – trough TV?
I’ll just have to stick with the regulars, I guess. Talking of which…
What TMINE has been watching
So it’s patently clear I can’t do boxsets right now. And trying to do them is, ironically, making it less likely that I watch/review things (sorry, Babylon Berlin). So rather than keep muttering on about Dark et al, I’ll carry on doing what I did with Das Boot and review now what I’ve seen so far and then just treat them as shows I watch weekly.
Which given next week is the last week before TMINE’s August holidays is probably just as a stupid as trying to watch boxsets.
Anyway, that means from now on, the usual regulars will be: Baron Noir, Condor, Dark, Das Boot, Doom Patrol, Stargirl and The Twilight Zone. We can talk about them after the jump.
I did try to watch season 2 of Humans (UK: Channel 4), given it’s now on Netflix. We made it through half an episode and quite enjoyed it, but it seems to have lost its metaphor and is basically an excuse to have androids/gynoids chatting and working out their feelings. The arrival of Carrie-Anne Moss on the scene did make me consider watching more, though.
And as mentioned in my Greyhound review, I’ve started rewatching ITV’s Hornblower, which stars a rather young Ioan Gruffudd. It’s very disconcerting watching it now, because… it’s really good. It’s a really good, scripted ITV show that isn’t a crime drama, a period crime drama or something that involves the aristocracy and country houses. The dialogue is also straight out of Forester. And it’s surprisingly dark, too, straight from the outset. Plus what sets! It’s like being on the Victory in Portsmouth, they’re so good.
So I know what I’m probably watching on my holidays at least.
But in contrast to this forthcoming week, last week brought us three new shows, so after the jump, we’ll be talking about: Brave New World, Cursed and United We Fall.
See you in a mo.
What TMINE watched this week
Brave New World
In the US: Available on Peacock
In the UK: Will air on Sky One in 2020
As citizens of New London, Bernard Marx and Lenina Crowne have only ever known a rigid social order, a perfect pharmaceutical called Soma, and a culture of instant gratification and ubiquitous sex. Curious to explore life beyond the strictures of their society, the two New Worlders embark on a vacation to the Savage Lands, where they become embroiled in a harrowing and violent rebellion.
Bernard and Lenina are rescued by John the Savage, who escapes with them back to New London. John’s arrival in the New World soon threatens to disrupt its utopian harmony, leaving Bernard and Lenina to grapple with the repercussions. The three become entwined in a fraught relationship that awakens them to the dangers of their own conditioning.
Stars: Harry Lloyd, Jessica Brown Findlay, Alden Ehrenreich, Nina Sosanya, Demi Moore, Hannah John-Kamen, and Kylie Bunbury
So the knee-jerk reaction to Brave New World, which bizarrely enough has been adapted from the Aldous Huxley classic for TV by comics impresario Grant Morrison (Doom Patrol, Happy!), is to say it’s neither brave nor new.
Which is fair enough. After all, Blakes 7 did quite a good job of being Brave New World in its own right, so Brave New World can’t really claim to be new.
But for a UK/US co-production, there aren’t half a lot of orgies, nudity and drug-taking. And again, for a US show to have the Savage Lands be a sort of US South theme park, in which posh Brits can watch while trailer park Americans pretend to have shotgun weddings with their pregnant girlfriends, is actually quite biting as satire in this day and age.
It’s also imaginative, beautifully shot in Valencia, has a good cast and has some interesting things to say about relationships, society, conformity et al. All of which Huxley said before everyone else (except maybe HG Wells) but which has ended up in the likes of Gattaca (1997) so simply feels familiar by derivation.
It does at least add to Huxley’s original, as well, since there’s also a fair amount of extrapolation from modern technology, although the likes of Continuum have already given us computer-enhanced vision through contact lenses.
All of which makes Brave New World a very decent watch. It is, however, at least in its first episode, a bit of a dull watch, despite and in fact because of all the orgies and nudity and drug-taking. Point made. Bored now. The Savage Lands also provide some very clunky scenes indeed, and the social commentary is laid on with a trowel as well.
But actually, I quite enjoyed the first episode. Enough to watch the next one, anyway.
In the UK: Available on Netflix
A re-imagining of the Arthurian legend, told through the eyes of Nimue, a young heroine with a mysterious gift who is destined to become the powerful (and tragic) Lady of the Lake. After her mother’s death, she finds an unexpected partner in Arthur, a young mercenary, in a quest to find Merlin and deliver an ancient sword.
Over the course of her journey, Nimue will become a symbol of courage and rebellion against the terrifying Red Paladins, and their complicit King Uther.
Stars: Katherine Langford, Devon Terrell, Gustaf Skarsgård, Daniel Sharman, Sebastian Armesto, Lily Newmark, Peter Mullan, Shalom Brune-Franklin, Bella Dayne and Matt Stokoe
So, despite my impeccable sci-fi credentials, I wouldn’t say I’m a big fan of fantasy shows. I am, after all, the man who panned the first episode of Game of Thrones and didn’t start watching it again until season 3 had started.
Most of them are terrible, IMHO. But I do accept some fantasy shows are great (eg Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and some are okay (eg The Shannara Chronicles).
However, it doesn’t take much for me to give up on them, although my reasons usually vary. The Witcher lost me in episode two because it was just so dammed convoluted and silly.
Cursed had me going for quite a large portion of its first episode. It started well enough with Katherine Langford – the future Lady of the Lake – ending up dead in a lake, before going into flashback to some quasi-Irish (judging by the accents), quasi-Celtic (judging by the other accents) magical setting in which she’s chosen as the magical boss of her little clan.
I got a bit lost here, since everyone seems to be magical but everyone seems to hate Langford for being magical, too. Not sure how that works.
There’s then a bit of semi-agitprop as Peter Mullan turns up as the leader of the Christians, doing a bit of ethnic cleansing in the name of rooting out heresy. I’m not sure when this is all supposed to be set, but it’s certainly post-Roman times, maybe even Anglo Saxon times, but pre the arrival of Christianity? Nevertheless, it’s certainly modern enough they’ve invented eyebrow plucking and really good mascara.
Anyway, she’s the chosen one, she doesn’t want to be the chosen one because everyone hates her for being magical, which is presumably what the chosen one is supposed to be, given they’re chosen by the actual dead. How’s that work then?
Normally, it’s that kind of convoluted nonsense that makes me given up on fantasy, so you’d think that would have been my trigger for giving up. But no, it was when a child actor pretending to be a life-size fairy with furry butterfly legs turned up.
I’m too old for this coming-of-age YA sh*t.
United We Fall
In the US: Wednesdays, 8/7c, ABC
In the UK: Not yet acquired
Jo and Bill Ryan are the parents of two young children, just trying to make it day to day as a functioning family. Bill’s very judgmental live-in mother and Jo’s large Latinx Catholic family never hesitate to let the couple know they’re seemingly screwing everything up, but Bill and Jo always have each other’s backs, united against everyone — other parents, teachers, doctors, specialists, coaches, co-workers and, especially, their kids.
Stars: Will Sasso, Christina Vidal Mitchell, Ella Grace Helton, Guillermo Díaz, Jane Curtin
So there’s a show currently in production called Kevin Can F**k Himself that deconstructs the typical US network sitcom, which pairs a petite, long-suffering, all-knowing wife with a slobbish, man-child of a husband. United We Fall, a sitcom that reeks since it’s been sitting in ABC’s back pocket for the past year, somehow had me déjà-vuing for this show that doesn’t exist yet, it so massively fits that particularly well worn slot.
In common with most ABC shows these days, since the network is trying to expand its audience niche from “white women” to “women”, United We Fall is a diverse affair with a half-Latinx, half-white cast. Unfortunately, the script is all terrible, a neverending cavalcade of jokes that barely merit the description in situations that alternate between the improbable and the clichéd. Plus you can’t help but wonder how Sasso and Vidal Mitchell are quite such disparate sizes if they’re eating all the same meals together.
The show’s one saving grace is that the two parents have a relatively good relationship. But United We Fall falls at the first hurdle and never picks itself up.
Shows I’m watching but not necessarily recommending
Stargirl (US: DC Universe; UK: Amazon)
1×9 – Brainwave
Another supervillain (and junior supervillain’s) story is revealed in the darker, rather good, adult A-plot. Meanwhile, in the stupider teenage B-plot, Stargirl considers invited the son of the supervillain to join her top secret superhero league.
I’d ground her for life.
The Twilight Zone (US: CBS All Access; UK: Syfy)
2×4 – You Might Also Like
Gretchen Mol is a futuristic housewife who’s baby recently died. Doesn’t sound like a fun set-up for an episode, but this is probably the funniest of both seasons of The Twilight Zone so far. It’s thoroughly ridiculous from start to finish (but in a good way), yet also manages to say a lot of somewhat controversial things about consumerism, motherhood, abortion and more along the way.
Miraculously, it also manages to be a sequel to an original series episode. No, no clues.
Baron Noir (France: Canal+; UK: Amazon)
I’ve waxed lyrical on the magic of Baron Noir before, with its almost prescient ability in its first season to predict the Jeremy Corbyn leadership election and Brexit, just set in France. Since then, it’s only gone from strength to strength and is genuinely one of the best TV shows I’ve ever seen come out of France – it’s up there with Engrenages and Le Bureau des Légendes.
This season is a fantastic melange of even more cutting edge politics – populism, the Internet, #MeToo and continuing left wing division in the face of a united right – all done in a French style. Remember the time when people in the street debated politics with politicians and quoted Voltaire? Me, neither, but France is different and everyone can sing the communist anthem and an entire train carriage of passengers, as well as guards, will gather round to discuss whether a return to the Fourth Republic through the disestablishment of presidential elections is a good or bad thing to be decided by referendum.
As a result, season 3 is an almost never-ending series of massively fascinating debates that echo the eloquence of The West Wing mixed up with dirty politicking and vote rigging. Even when Baron Noir is getting married, he’s off to an intoxicating mix of backroom discussions about how to Frexit while not Frexiting through honouring particular articles of treaties and alcohol-fuelled punch-ups about doing deals with Nazis.
It’s genuinely fascinating to see French politicos debating about how they should honour De Gaulle’s legacy – I never realised there were Degaullist fundamentalists until now.
If I were to criticise it, it’s that as well as being somewhat meandering, with the Baron’s motivations and long-term plans changing more or less every episode, it’s all politics all the time, with almost never any time for anything personal unless it’s also political. The fact that Baron Noir is still magnetically sexually attractive to any woman with a pulse is also weirdly French and inconceivable.
But my gods, Kad Merad has such charisma (and such great lines), you can almost understand it. Watch. This. Show.
Condor (US: Audience; UK: Sky One)
2×7 – A Perspective, Not the Truth
And we’re back to some first-season style kinetic tradecraft, as well as that season’s great big plot loopholes. This one requires our hero not only to never take a shower, even when he’s caked in blood, it’s the middle of the night and he’s nowhere to go but home, but also not to even run his hand through his hair from time to time.
That huge quibble to one side, a very decent episode indeed – exciting, emotional and with more twists that do make sense. I also enjoyed the second act, which had three parallel car journeys with people just having conversations with one another, about spying, life and more. It’s a clever bit of writing, that.
Das Boot (Germany: Sky Deutschland; UK: Sky Atlantic)
2×4 – Episode 4
Yep, still The Hunt for Red October, although there was also a dash of Greyhound as well. The American side of things is feeling a bit forced – why is German spy more or less forcing Mr U-Boat to give away military secrets to the Americans?
But as a way to get rid of the evil U-boat captain, that was clever.
I have to admit that I’ve no idea really what’s going on and why any more. I don’t even know who anyone is. I’m really only watching for cool moments (such as the future that turns up in episode four) and to find out what happens at the end of all of this.
It’s a great show, but so convoluted, it’s impossible to work out who’s doing what and why. And when.
I also wish the alternative reality and future and past versions of everyone weren’t so shouty and such dicks.
But I do hold out hope for a good ending. It feels so structured that someone, somewhere must have had a masterplan from the beginning for how it all fits together
Doom Patrol (US: HBO Max; UK: StarzPlay)
2×4 – Sex Patrol
The inevitable pun on ‘friends of Dorothy’ turns up, as all of Danny the Street’s ‘dannyzens’ turn up to help resurrect him from a brick. Yep, even Flex Mentallo. It’s by far the most ridiculous episode of the series so far (but in a good way), it has a great musical number and Cliff’s swearing passes whole new levels of brilliance.