It’s “What have you been watching?”, my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently and your chance to recommend anything you’ve been watching.
I did promise you on Monday one potential last WHYBW to sign off with before the Christmas hols to mop up the few shows with remaining episodes this week. And here it is! How exciting. How reliable of me for a change.
After the jump then, the finale of Falling Water and as Netflix released all of Travelers today in the UK, I was able to binge-watch the final episodes, so I’ll be looking at them, too. Thanks to its delayed airing, I’ll be looking at the latest (not final) episode of Shooter, and I’ve also watched a few more episodes of The OA since I started it on Monday.
On top of that, I also managed to catch up with another of Netflix’s French imports:
Dix pour cent (Call My Agent!) (France: France 2; UK: Netflix) Sort of the French equivalent of Extras, Dix pour cent is set in a talent agency, where the various members of staff have to deal with all the problems that beset the ‘talent’, including the talent themselves. Except there’s all manner of inter-agency rivalry, poaching et al to deal with, too, once the head of the agency pops his clogs.
The show’s selling point in France is that series producer Dominique Besnehard was one of the biggest talent agents in France for 20 years and managed huge numbers of top actors, actresses and directors. He then persuaded a select range of these stars to appear as ‘themselves’ in the show to send themselves up, with episode one seeing Cécile de France (The Young Pope, Around The World in 80 Days, Mesrine) finding herself ditched from a Quentin Tarantino movie for being – gasp! – too old.
Which is a problem for UK audiences, since although there’s a chance that some of us will be familiar with some of the stars such as Audrey Fleurot from Engrenages (Spiral), most of the stars are like de France and are going to leave virtually everyone scratching our heads in exactly the same way every American did when Les Dennis turned up in Extras, for example. Even if you do know the show features such cameos (which isn’t obvious), most people aren’t going to know fictional character from cameo, let alone know an actor’s public persona and what they’re sending up.
On top of that, it’s just not that funny. Quelle surprise, given it’s France 2, but the show’s few jokes went flashing past unaccompanied by laughs. Oh, and the subtitling is terrible.
One to avoid unless you really know your French acting scene, I’m afraid.
It’s “What have you been watching?”, my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently and your chance to recommend anything you’ve been watching.
It’s the final week before Christmas and TMINE’s usual end-of-year break, so this is going to be the final WHYBW of 2016, unless I do another one on Thursday and Friday to mop up a few concluding shows.
As usual, American TV has just about wound down in readiness for Crimbo but this year, Internet TV has started arming a flotilla of box sets for everyone to settle down with once the turkey has subsided and no one can move any more. I’ll be looking a couple of those in a mo, but there’s too many for me to deal with by myself, so if you’ve already watched season two of TheMan in the High Castle on Amazon or season one of Une Chance De Trop(No Second Chance) or Cannabis on Netflix, feel free to let everyone know what you thought of them in the comments section.
Elsewhere, I’ve (p)reviewed Swedish Dicks (Sweden) and passed a third-episode verdict on Shut Eye(US); after the jump, the regulars:
US Chance, Falling Water, The Great Indoors, Shooter, and Timeless.
But first, a couple of newbies:
Nobel (Norway: NRK1; UK: Netflix)
Aksel Hennie (The Martian) is a Norwegian special forces officer just back from Afghanistan who is ordered to investigate when a former Taliban target turns up in Oslo. Hennie ends up killing him, but begins to learn that maybe his orders weren’t as legitimate as he first thought. Who’s responsible, will he get found out, has it anything to do with the Nobel Peace Prize committee and what happened back in Afghanistan anyway involving the target’s wife?
Something of a leap up in quality from previous Norwegian efforts such as Okkupert (Occupied) and Mammon, Nobel is a geopolitical thriller that juxtaposes the individual with realpolitik, examining the decisions individual soldiers have to make on the ground, the effects of war and the little bit people who get caught up in big decisions, while looking at the alliances needed and compromises made to end war, where even a $60bn deal can be threatened by the wrong person turning up to a party at the wrong time. It all feels nicely realistic for a change, even if some of the nuances of the language and culture passed me by (eg a translator appears to be speaking Norwegian with everyone else and then someone says to her “six languages and you still can’t speak Norwegian”. What language is she speaking then?!), and Hennie makes for a very plausible special forces operative.
I’m only two episodes in but this looks like a keeper.
The OA (Netflix)
Netflix has started to develop a habit of covertly producing very odd but wonderful little series with no publicity that it puts out of a Friday as a boxset and surprises everyone. The OA is such a show, a genre-defying piece created by and written by Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, directed by Batmanglij and starring Marling (as well as a certain Jason Isaacs) that’s almost impossible to categorise – the best comparison I can come up with is if Neil Gaiman and Hal Hartley sat down together and decided to mash up Stranger Things,Room and Anastasia.
It starts with Marling jumping off a bridge. But when her parents come rushing to her hospital, they reveal she’s been missing for seven years – however, before she disappeared, this fully sighted girl was blind. Returning to her home, she’s soon shaking up the town with some special powers she seems to have acquired. But she needs five “strong and flexible” people to help her rescue someone, perhaps from that mysterious other realm she once visited…
Full of strange authorial decisions from Marling’s insistence that everyone now call her ‘The OA’ through to only starting the title sequence 45 minutes into the episode once she begins to retell her story of actually being a reincarnated Russian oligarch’s daughter, it’s a properly auteured piece of work that needs to be watched if you’re to stand a chance of knowing what it’s like. Visually beautiful, it is by turns upsetting, bewildering and heart-warming, and most frequently like a fairy tale – but even that’s a classification it eludes.
I’ve seen one episode so far and it never once did any of the things I suspected it would do and did many things I’ve never imagined. I’m going to watch more just to see if it’ll blow my mind any further, but it requires a good deal of patience and I suspect it won’t be to everyone’s tastes.
I also watched a movie this week!
Rogue One (2016)
An almost immediate prequel to Star Wars, Rogue One reveals the full details of how those plucky spies mentioned in the first movie’s opening introduction were able to retrieve the plans for the Death Star and ultimately help to stop the Empire’s plans for galactic domination. Directed by Gareth Edwards and co-written by Tony Gilroy, the film is more like a proper war movie than any of the other Star Wars flicks, echoing The Dirty Dozen and The Seven Samurai, as plucky crim Felicity Jones puts together a band of warriors that includes Donnie Yen and Riz Ahmed to track down the man who designed the Death Star – her father, Mads Mikkelsen.
Operating resolutely in the vein of Edwards’s previous blockbuster, Godzilla, it’s a game of two halves. The first is a slow, character-builder that shows off the Star Wars universe with some spectacular location filming. The second is then a giddy, action-packed pay-off that surprises with an oddly large number of heroic deaths. On top of that, you have the return of a number of original Star Wars characters and actors who appear as their young and/or not-dead selves through the power of CGI, the movie effectively spelling out why the Empire was so fearsome, why everyone was properly worried of the Death Star and by the end, precisely why everyone was right to cack themselves as soon as Darth Vaderentered the room.
All in all, a movie that gets better in the memory and which finally does something new and worthwhile with the franchise. It’s also best to watch Star Wars afterwards to see how it almost exactly matches up with everything we see in that.
We should probably be giving Shut Eye a medal, since it’s doing such a public service – revealing all the tricks of the trade used by psychics to fleece their customers. But good thoughts alone aren’t enough to make a good TV programme, so unfortunately for Shut Eye, we have to evaluate it on when it’s watchable or not.
The first episode set the scene pretty well, with star Jeffrey Donovan playing a former Las Vegas magician now working as a fake psychic in LA under the purview of a bunch of Gypsies, including Isabella Rossellini. Well versed in the arts of cold reading and setting people up, one day he gets a bump on the noggin from a client’s disgruntled boyfriend and winds up having proper psychic visions. Will he use his new powers for good or for evil, we wonder at the end of the episode?
Evil, it turns out. Didn’t see that coming, did you?
The casting of Donovan as the lead is a genius move, since he’s able to recycle two of his old routines for the role. In episode two, the show becomes full on psychic Burn Notice, with Donovan giving us (and his mark) the rundown on the mystic art of psychically stealing people’s money. By episode three, he’s mining Touching Evil for sympathetic, dazed, brain-damaged and odd, as he starts using his new found powers to tell people the hard truths they probably don’t want to hear.
As you might have deduced from that run-down, Shut Eye is as odd a show as its lead character, since it is by turns comedic and then deeply serious and violent. More problematically, it keeps piling more and more details onto to the plot, almost in an apparent attempt to confuse us while it steals our watches. As well as the Gypsies and their bizarre activities – including poetry recitals and love ceremonies – there’s Dexter‘s David Zayas as a gang boss customer of Donovan, who’s as quick to throw someone in a deep fat fryer as he is to fix Donovan’s floorboards. There’s Donovan’s hard-edged wife, KaDee Strickland, who wants him to regain his former manhood while she’s simultaneously sleeping with another woman. There’s Donovan’s son, his supposed ADHD and his school issues. There’s The Wire‘s Sonja Sohn as a police officer who’s chasing after Donovan. There’s thirtysomething‘s Mel Harris as Donovan’s main mark, who sometimes wakes up with a rooster and a tree branch in her bed. There’s even a kooky doctor – Susan Misner (Billions, The Americans) – trying to help unclog Donovan’s subconsciousness using Mozart and drugs.
And so on.
It makes for a show that says an awful lot without really taking the time to say anything worthwhile, not even about fake psychics because they might be real, it turns out.
I probably won’t be bothering with the rest of Shut Eye, despite its funnier and more psychedelic qualities. Donovan’s worth his enormous salary for this gig, but the gig itself could probably have done with a rethink about exactly what story it wanted to tell.
Barrometer rating: 4 TMINE’s prediction: Unlikely to get a second season
So I’m going to say it now and obviously you have to bear in mind that all my predictions are inevitably wrong, but just in case for once I’m not, I’d like to take credit for my incredible psychic powers this time: peak TV is unsustainable.
You don’t technically need to be psychic to work that out. Netflix’s currently $3.1bn in debt in order to pay for all its original content and it’s going to need an awful lot of subscribers paying $9.99 a month for a long time to break even on that. To be fair, it got $2bn in revenue in Q3, so maybe not, but that’s Netflix. How about Amazon?
More so, how about Hulu, which is making shows like The Path, 12.22.63, Chanceand The Handmaid’s Tale willy nilly and you can’t even watch it outside the US. And now we’ve got Shut Eye, in which Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice, Touching Evil) plays a Las Vegas magician turn shabby Los Angeles conman psychic who has problems with Gypsies (including matriarch Isabella Rosselini) who don’t like the fact his sister, Leah Gibson (Rogue, The Returned) is using their tricks; his wife and partner in crime KaDee Strickland (The Wedding Bells), who thinks he’s losing his mojo; and disgruntled boyfriends of his easily duped clients.
Now, obviously, Jeffrey Donovan is a good actor. But is he $175,000 an episode good? Probably not, but that’s what Hulu’s paying him. And if that’s what they’re paying him, you can bet pretty much everyone else is having to pay similar cash for similar actors, let alone the likes of Hugh Laurie and Billy Bob Thornton, who’s allegedly getting $350,000 an ep for Goliath.
Something’s got to give and either there are going to be a lot of companies who are going to have to get out of the content business soon or there are going to be some ‘market shake-ups’ (ie bankruptcies, mergers, acquisitions) in the next few years.
Again, you heard it here first.
Still, enjoy it while it lasts, since we might get some good TV out of it, at least. Is Shut Eye some of that good TV?
Almost. Certainly, Shut Eye is a good name for the first half of the show’s first episode, since it’s amazingly soporific. I was this close to switching it off and not bothering with a proper review of it.
But the show really gets its name from the concept of the mystic third eye, which when opened reveals all manner of wisdom and knowledge. Here, Donovan’s third eye is shut until that jealous boyfriend gives him a kicking to the head halfway through the episode. Then, hypnotist Emmanuelle Chriqui (Entourage) tries to hypnotise him into wanting to partner with her and before he knows it, Donovan’s inner eye is opened and he starts seeing the world beyond, including psychedelic peppers. And not just the future – soon, he starts to re-think his life and asking himself whether lying to everyone is a good idea.
That’s more or less when the show starts to become watchable. How watchable, I’ll let you know once I’ve got a few more episodes under my belt – Hulu’s put them out all at once for a change – since although Donovan’s very watchable and obviously knows from his Touching Evil days how to play brain-damaged sympathetically and accurately, the other characters are all unlovable scumbags who like to dupe others. The Gypsy side of things is pretty offensive, Donovan’s the sole source of humour, and the crime’s are all petty and the victims are all sad dupes.
That means that you’re in it only for Donovan and how well he can put off increasing serenity and not being dark and glowery for a change. Who knows – perhaps he might really be worth that $175,000 an episode after all.
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. There’s also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I’ve reviewed ever.
Who launches new shows at the start of December? Not many networks, which is why I haven’t reviewed too much in the past week, although you may have caught my third-episode verdict on Shooter (US: USA; UK: Netflix) if you were hanging on my every word.
But with Thanksgiving over, all the regular TV shows have come back – at least until their Christmas breaks in a week or so. That means that after the jump, I’ll be taking a look at the following regulars:
US Ash vs Evil Dead, Chance, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Designated Survivor, DIrk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, Falling Water, The Flash, Frequency, The Great Indoors, Lethal Weapon, Lucifer, People of Earth, Son of Zorn, Supergirl and Timeless
For one week and one week only, thanks to the fact there was the four-way superhero crossover on The CW, Arrow also makes a return. Will I stick with it afterwards? Maybe – after all, not only will I be dropping at least one show this week, I’m also going to be promoting a show, too…
Surprisingly, though, a couple of networks decided that actually, the start of December is a perfect time to launch a new TV show:
Incorporated (US: Syfy)
Hailing from no less a pair of minds (or at least their production company) than Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, Incorporated is one of those ‘futuristic thriller’ things set in the near future where the whole world’s gone to pot: corporations now run everything and either you work for them in the ‘green zone’ living it up and holidaying on the beaches of Reykjavík now that global warming’s properly kicked in or you live out in the ‘red zones’ in favelas, fighting for your life while trying to make a quick buck selling one of the last three or so cigarettes made from real tobacco that exist in the world.
Against this backdrop, you have former red-zoner Sean Teale (Skins) sneaking his way around a top company at the behest of Ian Tracey (Continuum, Intelligence, Travelers) in order to find out where the sister of pal Eddie Ramos is. Can he work his way to the top of the corporate ladder, by any means necessary, including framing his rivals so they get a visit from scary Dennis Haysbert (24, The Unit)?
Incorporated is ostensibly a futuristic industrial espionage thriller, but is really 49% Gattaca, 49% Elysium and 2% Soylent Green. While clearly a lot of thought has gone into imagining this future Earth of self-driving cars and face transplants – although even today we have better IT – little thought has gone into working out why we should care about Teale and his problems or any really complex bits of industrial tradecraft. Oh look, here comes a scene where Teale has to steal some data from a computer while he’s in someone else’s office. Can he copy it all in just a few minutes? Now – maybe not. In 2074? Of course he bloody can with his 100Tbps USB 23.0 interface and still have time left over to play holographic Tetris with his cranial implant.
The only interesting and new thing about the show that I noted was the use of capoeira as the favella martial art of choice, which was a nice touch. Otherwise, slow-moving and oddly devoid of human interest.
פאודה (Fauda) (Israel: Yes; UK: Netflix) Somewhat different from Netflix’s other Israeli spy show – the comedy Mossad 101 – this is a political thriller from Lior Raz and Avi Issacharoff, based on their experiences of doing military service in the IDF’s Duvdevan special unit. It sees former Mista’arvim (undercover counter-terrorist) commander Lior Raz (The Gordin Cell) being lured from his vineyard to supervise an operation – the capture of a Hamas leader known as ‘the Panther’ (Hisham Sulliman), whom Raz supposedly killed two years earlier. Except the Panther isn’t dead and everything doesn’t quite go as planned…
As with most Netflix ‘originals’, this is actually a simple acquisition, this time from Israel’s Yes network, where the show aired last year, winning no fewer than six of Israel’s equivalents of BAFTAs, the Ophirs, including Best Drama. I’ve only watched the first episode so far, and that’s a relatively plot-heavy piece that leaves little time for any real character development. But it’s action-packed, sympathetic not only to Arabs but also Hamas (surprisingly enough), and is pretty even-handed, with our heroes even taking unarmed civilians hostage at one point.
There’s nothing I’ve seen, beyond its novel setting and authenticity, to make it stand out from any other good guy/terrorist Moby Dick piece, but it’s certainly promising enough to make me want to watch more.
The Crown (Netflix)
I’ve been promising for weeks to cover this, but we’ve been stalled at episode 8 for a month now, so time to at least discuss what I’ve seen so far. The first of seven or so seasons, each focusing on a different decade of her life, The Crown is a moderately fictional biopic of none other than Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy from Crossbones, White Heat, Going Postal).
Season 1 starts off giving us a woman who had no plans to do much except be a wife, mother and horse breeder, until the death of her father King George VI (the miscast Jared Harris from The Other Boleyn Girl, Mad Men, Fringe, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadowsand To The Ends of the Earth, when Netflix should have stumped up the cash to get Colin Firth to redo his The King’s Speech turn) catapults her and hubby Philip (Matt Smith – Doctor Who, Terminator: Genisys) into one of the most constitutionally important roles in the UK. In an age of increasing modernity, with the monarchy increasingly looking like an anachronistic relic, Foy then has to find a role for herself as well as for the Crown, while juggling the competing demands of her husband, duty, previous kings and queens, her randy sister Margaret and Prime Minister Winston Churchill (John Lithgow).
While there are attempts to give the show some Game of Thrones-like qualities, thanks to the machinations of Churchill, abdicated uncle Edward VIII and quasi-father-in-law Lord Mountbatten (Greg Wise), The Crown really sits as a halfway house between writer Peter Morgan’s The Queen and The Audience. Oddly episodic for Netflix thanks to the nature of real-life, the show is something of an unplanned origin story, going from historic incident to historic incident in the 1950s, showing us how Elizabeth might have evolved from someone whose most important thought was whether to take her husband’s adopted surname to being someone with the power to depose the government if she so chooses – albeit running the risk of losing all power if she ever exercises it.
Unlike The Audience, which was firmly on Elizabeth’s side, making her an ambitious woman with plenty of ideas for government that she has to put to one side, The Crown is less concerned with this Elizabeth and her supervising of Margaret’s scandalous love life, and is more on the side of Philip, something helped perhaps by Smith’s magnificent performance/impersonation. Here, Philip’s more notorious qualities are toned down to make him a sympathetic, dedicated naval officer (albeit one who would rather have been in the air force), loving husband and father, and firm embracer of modernity, forced to abandon his ambitions and kneel to his wife by the necessities of the throne and the Crown.
There are parts of The Crown that feel made up, particularly anything to do with Edward VIII or Churchill, and although a little research reveals that they are actually absolutely true, it doesn’t help with the show’s verisimilitude. Foy, who’s shown herself to be sparky in other shows and is almost perfect casting as the young Elizabeth, is nevertheless done no favours by Morgan. He tosses her a few bones, such as being able to repair a truck thanks to her wartime service as a mechanic, or her requests for a proper education to supplement the constitution-focused training she got as a child, which she’s able to use to outmanoeuvre polticians. But that’s largely drowned out by thankless duty after thankless duty after tragic loss being dropped on her shoulders – such is the burden of ‘the Crown’.
But it’s beautifully made, highly enjoyable, far more palatable than Downton Abbey, frequently funny, frequently tear-jerking, often romantic and just like Elizabeth, finds a reason for the monarchy in this day and age.
We will watch the rest of it. Just as soon as lovely wife’s finished Master Chef – The Professionals, The Grand Tour, My Kitchen Rules Australia, and Strictly Come Dancing. Oh yes, and The Walking Dead.