What have you been watching? Including Interstellar, Arrow, Gotham, Elementary and Plebs

It’s “What have you been watching?”, my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently that I haven’t already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I’ve missed them.

The usual “TMINE recommends” page features links to reviews of all the shows I’ve ever recommended, and there’s also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I’ve reviewed ever. And if you want to know when any of these shows are on in your area, there’s Locate TV – they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.

Despite the fact a couple of shows in the US have decided to take a wee break this week, the moving of “What have you been watching?” to a Friday hasn’t quite solved my backlog issues. So I haven’t yet watched this week’s The Affair or Jane The Virgin – which might be telling me something, or might not be. Otherwise, I’m up to date.

Elsewhere, I reviewed The McCarthys and I managed to watch a movie this evening:

Interstellar (2014)
Christopher Nolan’s latest. Christopher Nolan is, of course, a genius and Interstellar is another convention-defying, mainstream movie industry-defying blockbuster with little busting or indeed action. Three of its biggest stars are only revealed halfway through and the whole thing is set in some dystopian near future where the Earth is dying and our only hope is for Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway to travel through a wormhole to a distant galaxy and try to find a new planet. An odd combination of 2001, 2010, Silent Running, Planet of the Apes and, erm, Signs, it’s thoughtful, tries its best with science – it’s one of the few movies to even attempt to have the repercussions of relativity as a main plot point, let alone worry about whether a black hole is spinning or not in order for its singularity to be of the right kind, or try to simulate five dimensions with just two – and has some lovely outer space bits filmed in Iceland.

But I don’t know whether it’s because I’m a genius, too, because virtually all the twists and turns the movie runs through seemed blindingly obvious to me. I saw them all coming and was mildly disappointed when the movie did exactly what I expected it to do, particularly in one particularly bonkers bit towards the end. YMMV, but I’m off to watch Gravity and Inception again after this, both of which do aspects of Interstellar much much better. Still, it is a Christopher Nolan movie so automatically in the top 10% of all movies this year, despite a run time of three hours and nine minutes, and it does handles emotions and the people side of things much better than previous Nolan movies have, while still being very smart.

After the jump, I’ll be running through: Arrow, The Blacklist, Elementary, Gotham, Gracepoint, Homeland, Muianey, Plebs, Selfie and Scorpion.

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Review: The McCarthys 1×1 (US: CBS)

The McCarthys

In the US: Thursdays, 9.30/8.30c, CBS

With diversity being the touchstone topic of the fall season, I think it’s instructive to have a look at what CBS produces when it tries to do diversity (that’s CBS, the home of Big Bang Theory, Two Broke Girls, Two and a Half Men et al).

Let’s start with some clues: The McCarthys is set in Boston. That’s your first bit of diversity right there – it’s not New York or Los Angeles. And it’s all about a great big Irish Catholic family, who love JFK and the Celtics and all live on the same block. Can you feel the diversity yet?

Well, one of the sons – there are three sons, one daughter (how’s that for diversity?) – is gay. Ooh. Yes, on CBS. And you know he’s gay because he likes The Sound of Music, his best friend is his mum and he doesn’t like sports, unlike his straight brothers and straight sister. Yes, his sister plays basketball with her brothers but being gay means not even knowing after 20+ years in this family that the Celtics are the ones in green.

Unfortunately, gay son (he needs no name other than that) is heading off to Rhode Island (shock! horror! away from Boston) to be a counsellor at a private school and be part of the vibrant Rhode Island gay scene and maybe meet someone, since it’s kind of hard to do that with his stifling family. But his family don’t want him to leave, so they organise him a big gay party so he can meet other gay men (or men who look gay… or lesbians who look like men).

That doesn’t work. But then his dad, who is the coach of a high school basketball team, discovers a potential new recruit’s lesbian mother is only going to allow her son to sign if the school is down with the diversity thing – so the dad tells her that his gay son is actually the basketball team’s assistant coach.

Laughs? There were few and even the best of them were based on stereotypes (“Vibrant gay community? Aren’t all gay communities vibrant?”). But only a few.

There are a few points where the humour doesn’t involve stereotypes and it even tries to subvert stereotypes at times – gay son actually turns out to have a natural talent for basketball. But only a few, amidst the fighting, candle-lighting, loud-mouthed, basketball-loving Irish, flamboyant, sexless gay men, masculine lesbians – and non-existent non-white characters.

I do hope CBS gets better with practice…

A few trivia points to leave you with

  1. The show has premiered to the worst ratings of the season. It’s doomed.
  2. It was originally intended to be a single camera comedy, but that made it ‘too dark’.
  3. Gay son is played by Tyler “son of John” Ritter, Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne) plays the mother
  4. Apart from Jimmy Dunn and Joey McIntyre, who have the benefit of coming from Massachusetts, not one member of the cast, main or supporting, deemed it necessary to effect a Boston accent.

Here’s a trailer. It’s literally everything of note in the first episode, so that should save you some time.

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 1

Third-episode verdict: The Affair (US: Showtime)

In the US: Sundays, 10pm ET/PT, Showtime

I’m three episodes into Showtime’s The Affair, in which Dominic West and Ruth Wilson each tell their side of their affair to a particularly interested bystander (spoiler alert: someone’s been murdered and they’re both being interviewed by a cop), and it’s still relatively easy to summarise: it’s outstanding, quality television, intelligent, thoughtful, emotional, incisive – beautifully acted and written.

The show is enjoyably slippery with the truth, with no objective only subjective reality presented, with West and Wilson’s stories having either different perspectives or outright contradicting each other, with no real clues unless you watch very, very closely as to who might be lying and when. Even then, there might be double bluffs, meaning we’ll have to wait to the end of the series (or perhaps even never) before we find out what really happened.

The writers do a good job of giving us the two sides of the story, although West’s is the harder to watch: he’s self-obsessed and bitter and the affair (as he describes it) comes more from disaffection, dissatisfaction and obsession; by contrast, Wilson’s story is about a woman coming back to life after the death of her son, and feels more joyful as she finds pleasure in life again. How much of that is because Wilson’s character is the better liar remains to be seen, though.

But you’ll note that I wrote ‘three episodes’, even though four episodes have now aired, and you’ll get a hint of the problem: it’s a hard watch. It’s rarely joyful or fun. It involves people who probably deserve an Amish-style shunning from society (especially the rich ones). It’s also paralysingly slow, taking three episodes before anything really happens. That means it’s taking me a week to summon up the enthusiasm to watch each episode. Once I do, I’m glad I did, but it’s a real struggle.

So while I do recommend this, as with the likes of In Treatment (from the same writers) and Rectify, I would say be prepared to have to work at The Affair. Whether it’s better to save up all the episodes for a binge watch or whether the drip drip drip of one a week will work better for you, only you can say. Certainly, you’ll need to be – in the words of many a job advert – a motivated self-starter. But, so far, it’s certainly been worth the effort I’ve put in, even if, being a remarkably lazy, couch potato-like creature, finding that effort has been harder than normal.

Barrometer rating: 1

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 3

Third-episode verdict: Marry Me (US: NBC; UK: E4)

In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, NBC
In the UK: Acquired by E4. Will air late 2014/early 2015

Romance is officially dead. Manhattan Love Story was the first of the US Autumn shows to get cancelled, and A To Z has just been given its marching orders, leaving the not-especially-romantic Selfie and NBC’s Marry Me as the last of the potential suitors, forlornly looking around in the hope that their dates are going to show up some time soon.

To be honest, though, I’d be surprised if Marry Me wasn’t stood up soon, too. Based on the real-life meeting and eventual marriage of writer David Caspe and actress Casey Wilson, it runs through the gamut of relationship events that can occur leading up to and following a marriage proposal (episode one), from moving in together (episode two) through to, erm, Halloween (episode three). And with Caspe (Happy Endings) writing and both Wilson and Ken Marino (Party Down) starring, it should be good.

Unfortunately, the most it ever does is make you admire it and occasionally smile wryly. As I said in the first episode, it clearly wants to be the new I Love Lucy, to the extent – it turns out – that Marino and Wilson actually dress up as Arnaz and Ball for Halloween. But really, despite some good writing, it’s never actually very funny. It tries hard to be edgy, to the extent of, say, blurring out the screen and beeping over dialogue to avoid nude and verbal indiscretions. But it’s that knowing edginess and the writers’ tendency to take what could be a good short, one-scene joke and then milk it for an entire episode that undermines its efforts.

It’s not without value and it’s enjoyable in its own way. But I’m not sure it’s a keeper.

Barrometer rating: 3
Rob’s prediction: Will last a season but not more than that unless it’s very, very lucky.

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 3

Third-episode verdict: Jane The Virgin (US: The CW; UK: E4)

In the US: Mondays, 9/8c, The CW
In the UK: Acquired by E4. Will air in 2015

As I mentioned when I reviewed the first episode of Jane The Virgin, The CW’s adaptation of a telenovela about a miraculously inseminated young woman called Jane, there’s a right and a wrong way both to do diversity and to adapt telenovelas. And the first episode of the show was very much the right way to do it. A fun, clever meta little story, possessed of one of the best, most knowing narrators on TV, it knew what it was and played with the genre and convention to give us a wonderfully ludicrous piece of soapy fun.

The trouble from the show since then has been living up to the high standard of the first episode. Because knowing-soapiness is fun, but soapiness by itself can be a bit dull. While episode two redeemed itself in the final five minutes with some wonderfully exciting and bizarrely improbable twists, those five minutes sat at the end of an otherwise conventional bit of soap opera plotting. No moustache twirling, minimal “hey, I’m in a telenovela!” self-awareness and even the narration felt a bit limp.

Unfortunately, episode 3 continued this downward escape from escaping from reality, with a somewhat conventional attempt at farce and intrigue as Jane attempted to lose her virginity. The narrator did his best to salvage it, but overall you could have been watching a pretty standard soap opera and not noticed the difference.

When Jane The Virgin is good, it’s very, very good – a fun, knowing, innovative show for those who are fans of telenovelas and those who biggest exposure has been Ugly Betty. Unfortunately, more often than not, it’s a regular old soap opera running through plot lines and ideas that you’ll have seen before. To some extent, that familiarity will provide comfort to some telenovela fans, but to others – as indeed the ratings have borne out – it’ll be something of a turn-off.

I might stick with Jane, but telenovelas aren’t really my thing and it’s been harder to justify watching it. We’ll just have to see how it goes.

Barrometer rating: 3
Rob’s prediction: Will be lucky to last more than a season