What have you been watching? Including Trickster and Helstrom

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

No reviews. Sorry. Usual excuses – and it’s going to be worse next week, since I’m on holiday because it’s Half Term, which means WHYBW will be taking a break next week, too.

But I have been watching TV, I promise. And I will be watching more…

ANYA TAYLOR as BETH HARMON in THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT. Cr. CHARLIE GRAY/NETFLIX © 2020

Next on TMINE

There’s actually not too much coming up in terms of new shows for me to review. Netflix has limited series The Queen’s Gambit, which I might try. But HBO’s The Undoing, which airs on Sunday in the US, is going to be on Sky Atlantic on Monday, so there’s nothing for me to do there, I suspect.

Otherwise, the second season of The Mandalorian starts on October 30, but that’s about it. Probably a good time for us all to have holidays, then.…

Warrior

What TMINE has been watching

The regulars list is starting to dwindle again. After the jump, reviews of the latest episodes I’ve watched of neXt, The Right Stuff, Tehran and Warrior, the season finale of Criminal (UK), as well as the first episodes of new Canadian show Trickster and the latest Marvel comics adaptation Helstrom.

However, at least one of those is for the chop. Can you guess which one?

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 15 years.

New shows

Trickster

In Canada: Wednesdays, 9pm (EDT), CBC
In the UK: Acquired by Syfy UK

Based on the bestselling trilogy of novels by Eden Robinson, Trickster tells the story of Jared, an Indigenous teen struggling to keep his dysfunctional family above water. Jared holds down an after-school job and cooks ecstasy on the side to support his separated parents – partying mum Maggie, who self-medicates an undiagnosed mental illness, and unemployable dad Phil, who has a painkiller addiction and a new girlfriend.

But when Jared starts seeing strange things – talking ravens, doppelgängers, skin monsters – his already chaotic life is turned upside down. At first, he thinks he’s losing his mind, but to his relief, and terror, the supernatural events are all too real. It turns out there’s more than meets the eye to the place Jared grew up, the people he loves – and to Jared himself.

This is Indigenous Gothic – spirits, ancient magic, deadly rites of passage – in a coming of age story unlike any you’ve ever seen.

Stars: Joel Oulette, Crystle Lightning, Kalani Queypo, Nathan Alexis, Anna Lambe and Georgina Lightning

TMINE verdict

Trickster reminds me a lot of One Lane Bridge, a supernatural drama from the opposite side of the world to Trickster, in which a relatively secular Indigenous man discovers he’s inherited abilities that show him visions and more. The difference is that Trickster delivers a lot more than One Lane Bridge promised.

The first episode is more or less an introduction to small town Canadian life if you’re poor, working class and First Nation – and a drug dealer who’s still at school and whose parents are both disaster areas. That’s a somewhat laidback affair that serves largely to introduce the supporting characters and make a few political points.

Things really start to lift off with the arrival of Kalani Queypo’s Trickster character, which gives us some pleasingly hallucinogenic moments, from singing, reality-distorting ravens to doppelgängers and more.

However, the second episode is when the show starts to hit something of a stride, since it seems that the Queypo isn’t the only supernatural being in town – and that disaster area mum might actually not be quite such a disaster area, but something vastly more interesting.

As seems typical of these shows, the hero is taking his time getting to grips with the idea he might be superpowered, so as of yet, he’s a bit of a leaf tossed by the wind at the moment. But at the very least, the show is very promising, sometimes even scary, and also gives a glimpse into non-standard Canadian life as a great as Pure‘s.

TMINE rating

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Helstrom

In the US: Available on Hulu
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Daimon and Ana Helstrom are siblings who live in Portland and San Francisco, respectively. Daimon is a college professor who aids the Saint Teresa Center for Mental Health with cases using his demonic-based abilities. At the same time, Ana works as an antique dealer who scours and kills criminals with her psychic powers. Their mother, Victoria, is held in Saint Teresa’s due to her demonic possession by a demon named Mother. Her husband was a serial killer Satanist. Daimon is forced to work with Gabriella Rosetti, an agent from the Vatican.

Stars: Tom Austen, Sydney Lemmon, Elizabeth Marvel, Robert Wisdom, Ariana Guerra, June Carryl and Alain Uy

TMINE verdict

It’s a rare horror show that manages to be both boring and incomprehensible at the same time, particularly one based on a comic, but Helstrom somehow manages it. It’s just rubbish from start to finish – derivative rubbish that knocks off most of The Exorcist movies, Outcast and other much better affairs, without ever managing to evoke even a trace of their chills, just put out a thin miasma of gore.

The show does at least try to spread out the story over the first few episodes, rather than simply infodumping everything into the first episode, so to a certain extent you’re kept guessing as to what’s going on, which is at least intriguing.

But by the second episode, it’s clear that’s also because the mythos, plot and characters en masse are such intricate, tightly woven nonsense, it’ll all unravel in a hail of audience laughter when it’s explained.

The brother and sister Helstroms are insufferable, so the only character who’s actually of interest is Ariana Guerra’s definitely unconventional nun. Here the show does look at why a young, attractive woman might want to become a nun – and what they might involve in this day and age.

Otherwise, after three episodes of trying to watch this by-the-books snoozeathon and largely only finding references to larger Marvel Easter eggs (eg Roxxon) to entertain myself, I decided to give up. Avoid.

TMINE rating

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Shows TMINE has been watching but doesn’t necessarily recommend

neXt (US: Fox)

1×3 – File #3

And I’m out. I think I could just about bear the daftness of the technology for the first two weeks while the show was exciting, but when our happy AI starts to be able to crash planes and cause storms somehow, it’s just starting to become insanely stupid. And that’s before we consider how an AI can hack a regular PC and scan its entire hard drive in 10 seconds.

Efforts to add in a Stephen Hawking-style scientist ended up a bit tasteless, particularly once the show added in killer robots.

Yep, killer robots. Very slow-moving killer robots. I’m done.

TMINE rating

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Initial TMINE review

Tehran (Israel: Kan 11; UK: Apple TV+)

1×6 – The Engineer

As with previous episodes, most of the interest lies with Shaun Toub’s character and the show’s explorations of Tehran and Iranian culture, rather than with our heroine and her mediocre spying efforts – although they were enlivened by a more hardcore character this episode. I’m finding it diverting, but not exactly wowing, outside those two factors, but I’m probably going to stick with it to the end now.

TMINE rating

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Initial TMINE review

The Right Stuff (Disney+)

1×3 – Single Combat Warrior

A better combination of the soapy and the daring this week than in episode two, as we head into the launch of the first unmanned Mercury capsule. Once again, the show touches on things looked at in greater detail elsewhere, here going into the same territory and events as Astronauts Wives Club. But the show does strike its own course, giving us some fascinating moments of temptation for both Glenn and Shepherd, as well as some insight into Shepherd’s medical condition.

It’s not the slam dunk of a show I thought it was going to be on first viewing, but it’s a solid enough affair, with a good cast and engaging (real) characters.

TMINE rating

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Initial TMINE review

Recommended shows

Criminal UK (Netflix)

2×4 – Sandeep

The least impressive of this season’s episodes is also the show’s finale. It’s nevertheless not bad, but a more predictable affair in which Kunal Nayyar (The Big Bang Theory) is a banged-up crim suspected of a crime, but who turns out might be a key to solving an even bigger crime. But can the former businessmen carve out a good deal for himself?

The episode serves more to return the show to some of its season one storylines, including a returning character, than to do anything too exciting with that plot, which has a twist, of course, but one that somewhat relies on some obvious trickery.

I still really liked it, though, and overall the season has been a really surprising uptick in quality over the previous UK episodes of Criminal that’s pushed the boundaries of the format. Here’s hoping for more of both it and the other countries’ episodes.

TMINE rating

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Initial TMINE review

Warrior (US: Cinemax; UK: Sky 1)

2×1 – Learn to Endure or Hire a Bodyguard

And it’s the return of the ‘inspired by the vague thoughts of Bruce Lee and maybe some reruns of Kung Fu‘ show from the creators of Banshee. This are much as they were before: lots of kung fu, lots of skin, lots of blood and guts.

What’s missing in this episode, apart from anything very new from the first season’s tropes, is the insight into history and culture of the time, which is what redeemed the first season. It’s all just punching and people being racists.

To be fair, that’s largely to remind us what happened last season, rather than to begin any new plots. But there’s a lack of subtlety and without some intelligence to it all, there are few selling points to the show as far as I’m concerned, particularly as the martial arts become more cartoonish and overly choreographed.

You’re on notice Warrior.

TMINE verdict

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Initial TMINE review