Whitstable Pearl
UK TV

What have you been watching? Including Whitstable Pearl

Look at that! Two weeks in a row. Could consistency be approaching, just as August finally arrives? Who knows, but let’s tread softly and not say anything, lest we jinx things.

This week, I’ve mostly been self-isolating, thanks to the pingdemic – thanks, Covid! – so no new trips to the cinema for me. Bah! Or new movies, in fact – just repeated viewings of Black Widow (2020) on Disney+.

But I have been watching TV, at least.

Mostly, it’s been the regulars: Loki (Disney+) and Superman & Lois (US: The CW). Evil (US: Paramount+; UK: Alibi) I’ve decided is just too silly now, so I’ve given up on it. Damn, that was a good show when it started, too.

Also damn: that was the last Loki of the season, but in a change of tack for Disney+, there’s actually going to be a second season. However, all six episodes of Loki showed me was that Richard E Grant is very funny when dressed in the classic Loki outfit.

I did kind of it enjoy, and I get the feeling I’d have enjoyed it even more if I had any idea who (spoiler alert) Kang was in Marvel comics. Everything looked great and Sophia Di Martino’s Sylvie was lovely.

But so far, it’s feeling a little unnecessary: we already knew there were going to be alternative timelines from Avengers: Endgame. The show spends the entire run trying to stop them from happening. And then they happen. Prune those six episodes from the timeline and we’d be exactly where we were when we started, just absent some great comedic acting from Tom Hiddleston.

I’ll dare say others will argue otherwise, but compared to the innovation of WandaVision (Disney+) and what that is giving the MCU, it doesn’t feel like there’s much point to Loki other than giving us more Loki (something I admit I’m not unhappy about).

Superman & Lois continues to give us the definite Superman of any TV show or movie, and we had a sort of conclusion to the current story arc this week, which ended in the most inspiring way possible. Screw Zac Snyder and ‘the symbol means hope but my movie isn’t going to give you any’ – this is a show that is also definitively about the world’s nicest and most inspiring superhero and it knows it without being cheesy.

Slightly oddly we also got a cameo from Diggle (David Ramsey) from the Arrowverse, which amounted to very little (so much for the Green Lantern suggestions), although he’s set to be in future episodes, too. His appearance, however, raised the flipside of the question we always asked when watching Supergirl: where the Hell was Supergirl in all of this and why wasn’t the baddie interested in her at all? Are Kryptonians that sexist?

I did give on new show a try as well…

Whitstable Pearl (UK: Acorn TV)

Whistable Pearl is based on one of those neverending stream of crime books that see quirky men or women in small towns solve all manner of unexpected crimes. This adaptation, one of the first original shows by streaming service Acorn TV, sees Pearl (Kerry Godliman from After Life, Treadstone), an ex-copper turned restaurateur, trying to become a private detective in her native oyster-loving Kent town of Whitstable, while striking up a sort of relationship with widowed ex-cop Howard Charles (The Musketeers) and trying to deal with her grown-up son’s problems, as well as those of her waitress and her mum (Frances Barber).

Normally, I give these kinds of things a wide berth, but not only do I go on holiday in Whitstable a lot so know it well, I was actually on holiday when they were filming it there in October and so I might even be in some of the establishing shots – I was certainly passing the house of ‘posh woman’ in episode two. So I thought I’d give it a go.

The first thing to note is that it’s really trying hard to be a Nordic Noir with its title sequence and theme: apparently, that’s now the go-to for European crime shows of any kind. However, the show itself is pretty generic stuff after that, without much edge to it. It’s 45 minutes in which a crime is established, everyone gets interrogated by Charles and/or Godliman in various capacities or they interrogate each other for facts/local knowledge, and the whole thing gets solved by the end. There’s nothing really remarkable about it at all. Even Charles seems weary of the pedestrian nature of the plotting.

But… it does look great. They use Whitstable and other Kent locations well (Ramsgate harbour gets a look in in episode two), although I spent most of my time trying to work out what specific shops and restaurants normally were when they’re not covered in fake fascias. Everything looks quasi-moody and picturesque (or at least like Whitstable in October when it’s not absolutely bucketing it down). Godliman is actually a charismatic screen presence. Two eps was my limit, but if you like slightly quirky crime shows in regional UK locations, Whitstable Pearl is worth a try.

That’s what I watched. But what did you watch?

Film

What have you been watching? Including Black Widow, Nobody and The Tomorrow War

As usual, the gulf between my ambitions and the practical realities has been vast. I had a big list of things I wanted to review but my Monday and Tuesday work schedules told me something different, which is why it’s three weeks later and I’m only just about to write something. All the same, there has been viewing going.

First up, I went to the theatre. Yes! A theatre! A local production of Photograph 51, in fact. It wasn’t exactly the West End but it was theatre and I actually thought it was really good, in terms of both the writing and the production values, serving science, history and Rosalind Franklin well.

From the regulars pile, I’ve been watching Loki (Disney+), Evil (US: CBS), Superman & Lois (US: The CW) and Mythic Quest (Apple TV+). I’m a bit behind on Loki, so I’m two weeks behind, but I’m enjoying the new female Loki (or is she?) and will be sticking with it. Evil… has got a bit silly. The fun of Evil was that it was horror with smart humour; now it’s gone the way of The Good Fight and is downright implausible. That said, the arrival of an archangel in episode two was really very good. All the same, I might well abandon it because it’s not what I signed up for.

Superman & Lois is on hiatus right now but ended with a broke up with a doozy an episode, the cliffhanger of which is still haunting me, but in itself, was a lovely trip through Superman history while simultaneously giving us a dark mirror image version of it, as well as a two-fingered salute to John Cleese.

Meanwhile, Mythic Quest, which has arguably been a bit pedestrian this season, both went out on a high and managed to come up with an in-story reason for its own insipidness. Equally arguably, that wasn’t a real explanation since the show’s main problem this season is that it had little to say about games, much to say about the problems of having good ideas and writing well.

In terms of new things, it’s largely been about movies. Movies on streaming and at the cinema. Ooh! Remember those?

Kevin Can F**k Himself (US: AMC)

But I did try the first episode of Kevin Can F**k Himself (US: AMC), which stars Annie Murphy as a woman with the usual overgrown manchild husband you’d expect of a studio-filmed sitcom. Except Murphy is only in a studio-filmed sitcom when he’s around; whenever he leaves, she’s suddenly in a bleach out single-cam real-world of impoverished working-class Massachusetts life, having to deal with all the indignities of life without the safety net of comedy writing conventions.

However, that’s a very positive spin on what is basically just a miserable show about people with miserable lives. The high concept doesn’t really work – there’s no explanation for it, no real consistency in its use and it’s not even a good critique of bad sitcoms. Murphy is fine, but the other actors are having to deliberately mug for the imagined conventions of the sitcom, so she’s effectively the only one.

Black Widow (2020)

The highlight of the past three weeks’ movies has undoubtedly been the much-delayed Black Widow, the latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, serving as a sequel to Captain America: Civil War and a prequel to Avengers: Infinity War with Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) on the run but brought back to the spy game she threw aside by her ‘sister’ and fellow Red Room graduate Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh).

It’s an oddly standalone piece that is more background story for Natasha, taking in everything spyish from The Bourne Identity through to The Americans. Despite its plot arc and big bads somewhat mirroring Captain America: The Winter Soldier, without quite having that movie’s directorial power, and despite never really giving its heroine a chance to truly shine, it’s a really enjoyable affair that has a lot to say about the abuse of women. The Russian elements are a little Rocky and Bullwinkle at times, but the script manages to throw in some genuinely nasty moments, some drawn from the Black Widow comics and you get a real context for Natasha’s character. The end-credits scene is genuinely moving and given both the movie’s dramatic and box office success, you do hope that somehow, we’ll still get to see more of the Black Widow.

Nobody (2021)

A decent second place is Nobody, written by the guy who wrote John Wick and essentially John Wick again, just with Bob Odenkirk being funnier and doing fewer fights. Odenkirk is a nobody – and a Nobody (cf The Odyssey) – who breaks bad and returns to his former violent ways when his house is broken into and his daughter’s Hello Kitty bracelet is stolen. He then obviously has to go and fight some Russians, using the very special skills he’s built up.

It’s not in John Wick’s league by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s actually a lot of fun, Odenkirk is surprisingly plausible and an unstoppable death machine and the fights are decently executed.

The Tomorrow War (2021)

Coming unquestionably in third place is Amazon exclusive The Tomorrow War, a sort of horrendous mismash between Starship Troopers and The Edge of Tomorrow in which soldiers from the future arrive in our time to draft the current generation as soldiers against a nasty species of aliens that have invaded the Earth. For some reason, only 40somethings are suitable for drafting – something to do with paradoxes – and former special forces soldier turned science teacher Chris Pratt gets enlisted. In the future, he then has to team up with Yvonne Strahovski to take on the nasty things and maybe find a way of defeating them once and for all.

And it’s daft. Very, very daft. Pratt struggles, unable to do anything but his usual routine, but he doesn’t struggle anywhere as much as the script does as it tries to convince us that a 16 year old volcano obsessed nerd is our best hope for saving the human race. The third act weirdly is more like The Thing (From Another World) that what went before it, and actually better than the non-stop CGI firefights that preceded it. But it’s very far from engaging or exciting, even when emptying an entire magazine into your face.

That’s what I watched. But what did you watch?