What have you been watching? Including Ms Marvel, Obi-Wan Kenobi, The Time Traveler’s Wife and The Old Man

The Old Man

It’s “What have you been watching?”, your chance to recommend to fellow TMINE readers anything you’ve been watching this week

Let’s keep this short and sweet or else I’ll never get anything down! And I have a lot to cover.

Superman & Lois (US: The CW; UK: BBC One) seems to be operating on a fortnightly to three-weekly schedule at the moment. It’s been interesting and as good as always, even if it starting to feel like Smallville: The Parenting Years, . There’s an interesting ‘post-Metropolis’ vibe to the whole thing, like Superman’s youth was in Metropolis and now he’s older, things that we took as read (he won’t tell people his secret, etc) are no longer clear cut, since honestly, he’s getting on a bit now. So there have been some interesting format changes, at least.

Star Trek: Picard (US: Paramount+; UK: Amazon Prime) I finally watched to the end and it turned out to be okay by the end. Not total bobbins and the finale almost made up for the bobbins that went before it. But it was all a supertextually ‘We’re all old now and isn’t it a bit young and silly to be having fights, even with your arch enemies, so why don’t we just be nice to one another before we’re all dead.’ Which is fair enough I guess.

I watched another episode of The Essex Serpent (Apple TV+), which did suggest that maybe there really was a serpent (interesting!), but as usual, hints of adultery and failing marriages put it in my bad books for a couple of weeks so I got no further. Some interesting points around mass hysteria, though.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (Paramount+) has been really fun. Maybe a little too fun? Remember those old episodes of Star Trek with Harry Mudd and the like? Like that much fun. I mean we’ve literally just had space pirates that have a spaceship that has a steering wheel off a ship.

Still awesome, though.

The Orville (US: Hulu; UK: Disney+) is back in new homes on both sides of the Atlantic. That seems to have forgotten it’s a Star Trek piss take that’s supposed to be having fun and appears to now think it actually is Star Trek and there’s not supposed to be fun in Star Trek. One funny line in the latest episode (there’s three new ones already) and zero in the first, which was basically one of those vaguely philosophical ones they do: can suicide be justified? Seems like if you want to watch funny Star Trek, you have to watch… Star Trek.

For All Mankind (AppleTV+) has made its return and has made it as far as the early 90s. Except the show postulates in a vaguely Watchmen-esque way that the continuation of the space race means that we’d be about 10-30 years ahead of where we were back then, with people doing video conferencing on their Apple Newtons. This season: we’re going to Mars and maybe socialist black Elon Musk, rather than the US and USSR, will be the man to get us there. There’s reduced soapiness at least, and it’s nice to see that our old guard are maybe not as liberal as people would like them to be. So I’m actually enjoying this one a lot more than season two. Particularly since this season opened with an episode that was almost as good as Gravity.

Stranger Things (Netflix) also returned and while not a marked improvement over season three, did feel a lot less repetitive and more innovative. This first batch of eps from the season (there’s a couple more to come next month, then another season after that) is a lot more grown up than the previous episodes, too, with some properly scary stuff going on. But most of it has the show’s favourite characters split up at the beginning, with the rest of the season then either about getting them back together or how 11 is going to get her powers back – which ultimately involves an explanation at last for why Hawkins is such a horror show. I really enjoyed it. I watched it over one weekend, which is something I generally don’t manage to get to do these days. There’s at least one really good new character, maybe two (no spoilers), as well.

And even if none of that was any good, there is one truly great scene that has justifiably propelled Kate Bush to the top of the charts again as a result. Watch it for that scene at least, because it’s actually incredibly moving – oddly enough.

After the jump, the new shows I’ve been watching. Although I might have to be brief on that, too. Sorry!

The Time Traveler’s Wife (US: HBO Max; UK: Sky Atlantic)

Blending romance and science fiction, the series follows the relationship between Henry DeTamble, a man with a genetic disorder which causes him to sporadically travel through time for short periods, and Clare Abshire, a woman who met an older version of Henry when she was a girl who told her they were married in the future.

This Steven Moffat adaptation of the book of the same name stars a mostly British cast putting on American accents (although its leads are Theo James and Rose Leslie, and they’re used to that). And it’s not bad, actually. It’s clearly a Steven Moffat story, not just an Audrey Niffenegger affair, since there’s quite a shift to a male viewpoint in many places and some suitably fruity Grand Moff dialogue. It’s as timey-wimey as both the book and a Moff tale, too. Perhaps that shouldn’t be 100% surprising, given how much the Moff borrowed from the book for Doctor Who (cf River Song).

But it’s not that romantic. If the book was anything, it was tragically romantic and all about longing and absence. This is a lot closer to About Time, and its concerns about mucking up dates and whether you get relationship re-dos with time travel. Intellectually, I liked it. Emotionally, it left me a bit dead. Which perhaps is true of most Moff work.

Ms Marvel (Disney+)

Ms Marvel follows Kamala Khan, a 16-year-old fangirl of the Avengers, who struggles to fit in until she gains her own powers

The latest MCU comic adaptation, this is a love letter to Marvel fans that it’s all about a teenage Muslim Captain Marvel fan who discovers that she has superpowers when she puts on some special bracelets (in the comics, she’s an Inhuman, but thankfully there’s no reference to that benighted show so far. I’m heading out the door the moment terrigen mist gets mentioned).

But it’s been a bit yawny TBH. That’s not necessarily the show’s fault since it’s clearly pitched at people who are probably a third my age (oh no!), but for me it’s a bit dull. Ep two was better and felt a bit more authentic, though.

Now, I’m not sure how things are in the US but it felt like someone writing about growing up in 1st gen immigrant Pakistani family in the 80s, rather than a 2nd gen family in the 20s. But what would I know on that score! (It’s based on G Willow Wilson’s Ms Marvel comics; she’s a white woman in her 40s now who converted to Islam in the 90s/00s and so that would all fit, but I’m no expert).

What it definitely lacked, though, was any real sense of excitement and peril. Lots of love for things Marvel, but no actual superheroics worth caring about.

If you’re 16, this is probably awesome. For me, it just made me feel odd. And wonder when Brie Larson was going to show up as Captain Marvel.

Obi-Wan Kenobi (Disney+)

Set ten years after the events of Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005), the series follows Obi-Wan Kenobi as he sets out to rescue the kidnapped Princess Leia from the Galactic Empire, leading to a confrontation with his former apprentice Darth Vader

Obi-Wan Kenobi returns to the scene of the crime that was the prequels to the Star Wars movies, in a reasonably successful attempt to beat them back into shape and make them seem retrospectively good. It reunites Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen as Obi-Wan and Anakin Skywalker, with James Earl Jones back as the voice of Darth Vader, with the first episode or two also giving us some of the other prequel cast, including Jimmy Smits. Pleasingly, it’s initially a Leia origin story as we learn what she was like as a girl, but soon it’s all Jedi/Sith action all the time.

It’s a bit clunky, with EMG a bit rusty and the story rolling down the hill of plot set-up until it picks up enough momentum by episodes four and five to actually become downright thrilling. The show may be called Obi-Wan but this is far more exciting as the Darth Vader origin story we were originally hoping for, with the Sith Lord showing us properly why people are scared silly by him.

Weirdly, we only have one episode left and it’s unclear where everything’s going with such limited time. But it’s definitely been one of the highlights of the past few weeks, at least, even if McGregor’s efforts to do a good Alec Guinness impression stop him from actually acting.

THE OLD MAN — “II” Episode 2 (Airs Thursday, June 16) Pictured: (l-r) Jeff Bridges as Dan Chase, Amy Brenneman as Zoe McDonald. CR: Prashant Gupta/FX

The Old Man (US: FX; UK: Disney+)

Dan Chase is a former CIA operative who has been living off the grid for thirty years. After killing an assassin, Chase is forced into hiding. While in hiding, Chase rents a room from Zoe McDonald, with whom he is forced to partner while on the run.

FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence, Harold Harper, is called upon to bring Chase in, because of their complicated past. Working alongside Harper is his protégée, Agent Angela Adams, and Agent Raymond Waters, as well as Julian Carson, a highly trained special ops contractor sent to pursue Chase.

This is very much a spy show aimed for people who have been around for a while. I guess the best way of thinking of it is as The Bourne Supremacy, but if Jason Bourne had actually been an old man by the time the CIA caught up with him. But there’s also a hint or two of John Wick, as this Jason has very few limits when it comes to ultraviolence.

Here, it’s Jeff Bridges as the old Jason Bourne (a cunning coincidence of initials) and John Lithgow as his former CIA colleague turned FBI assistant director who has to catch him. The show’s big selling point for me is that it’s messy. Maybe not realistic. But messy. Nothing goes right. Our hero is out of practice and knows tradecraft from the 80s, but he’s an old man and times have moved on. It’s only his sheer ruthless nastiness and blind luck that help to overcome people who are just as smart, but younger, fitter and more up-to-datea. Fight scenes are not “one punch and he’s knocked out”, but long protracted affairs of viciousness and people just carrying on fighting because they know they’ll die if they don’t.

Unlike Supremacy, there’s also a refreshing lack of macho cliched dialogue. A lot of macho dialogue for sure, but it’s very much written for people who’ve heard it all before and want something in the same vein but different. The first episode is quite a brutal affair; the second is a little more reserved, as our hero meets Amy Brenneman (NYPD Blue, Heat) and the two strike up a realistic, old-person’s relationship based around knowledge of their own long pasts, a lifetime of self-discovery – and a collection of exciting medications they now have to take.

Bridges is awesome: he’s not sleeping walking his way through this one at all. Lithgow is permanently electrifying. Even the supporting cast (which includes Alia Shawkat and Joel Grey! Yes, he’s still alive and acting!) are mesmerising. If you like a good spy show, this is definitely one to try.

(I’ve put Disney+ as all the news sites say that’s where it’s going to be. But they also say June 17. And it’s not there yet. So take that with a pinch of salt.)

Author

  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.