What have you been watching? Including פאודה (Fauda), Incorporated, The Crown and Arrow-verse crossover

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:

Canada
Travelers

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

The Internet
Goliath

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 Shadows and 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.

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The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 2

Third-episode verdict: Shooter (US: USA; UK: Netflix)

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, USA
In the UK: Wednesdays, Netflix

The biggest problem with Shooter – USA’s adaptation of the 2007 movie of the same name, in which a retired marine (Ryan Phillipe) is falsely accused of an assassination and must find the true culprits to clear his name – is that it’s educational. Yes, educational.

I say problem because you’ll end up knowing an awful lot about guns after each episode. At some point in each hour, you’ll get an awful info dump from Phillipe about some new weapon or other (“the pistol grip on that shotgun reduces your control and may cause you to spray shot into her gut”) that’s both impressive and yet simultaneously a bit upsetting – like a neighbour who can tell you in forensic detail exactly what you did every single moment of the day in chronological order. Even when you thought you were alone. And were at work.

But like that neighbour who might otherwise be quiet, keep to himself and always mow his lawn, if you can overlook the one problem, you might get on well. Shooter, like its antecedent, is actually a pretty fine thriller.

While the first episode was more or less identical to the first 20 minutes or so of the movie, providing almost no surprises whatsoever, episode two was an intriguing “what if he’d turned right instead of left?” embellishment to the movie that still ended up at more or less the same point by the end, but which fed in a whole new bunch of parameters, allies, enemies and situations that made the whole thing just a little bit more realistic and expansive than the movie. It also made Phillipe’s wife (Shantel VanSanten from The Messengers and The Flash) a little more interesting and gave Cynthia Addai-Robinson something to do other than glower.

Episode three in turn is the beginning of Phillipe’s hunt for the bad guys and their hunt for him, and it dials the tension up several notches with some smart moves on everyone’s parts. It also added to the show’s already pleasantly conservative tone, giving us all manner of ‘brothers and sisters in arms’ moments that should make you swell with patriotism, even if you aren’t American.

Where the show falls down a bit, oddly enough, is its action scenes – or at least its fight scenes. Never has a marine been so incompetent at fighting. In a day and age when pretty much every action show has an ex-military advisor on hand, Phillipe appears to be at almost yellow-belt status in dealing with the enemy, barely able to muster a competent o-soto-goshi, let alone give us any proper marine corps martial arts.

If you like a decent thriller, with reasonably sensible plotting, a decent cast and decent characters, then Shooter‘s a good show to watch. If you love guns, you may even love it*. It’s just a shame nothing about Phillipe really says ‘top marine sniper’, particularly his fighting.

Barrometer rating: 2
Would it be better with a female lead? If it was Gina Carano, sure
TMINE’s prediction: Will certainly last a season

*Although for all I know, it might be making it all up, in which case you won’t

US TV

Review: Search Party 1×1-1×2 (US: TBS)


In the US: Nightly, 11/10c, TBS

One of the conclusions of Adam Curtis’ Hypernormalisation was that thanks to individualisation and the Internet, people are now more invested in the virtual world than the real world, making political solutions to problems all but impossible.

So now you’ve seen the documentary, here’s the dramedy: Search Party. Arrested Development‘s Alia Shawkat is an aimless twentysomething, drifting through life without any real ambitions or interests of her own, it seems. But she’s no different from shallow boyfriend John Reynolds, shallow gay friend John Early, shallow actress friend Meredith Hagner and shallow ex-boyfriend Brandon Micheal Hall, all of whom are more invested in texting, Twitter and selfies than anything real.

But then Shawkat spots a missing person’s poster for a college friend who’s disappeared and decides to investigate, perhaps in an effort to connect properly with someone else. Can she drag everyone else back into the real world with her to help her? 

Despite airing on TBS, whose motto should really be “We’re occasionally funny, but never as much as Comedy Central”, Search Party is barely a comedy at all; it’s also a lot smarter than you’d expect, thanks to the likes of indie movie makers Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers (Fort Tilden, The Color of Time) on the writing team.

The show is in part a cry for self-involved millennials to reach out and connect – and it has some acute observations about how disconnected everyone now is. Reynolds would rather masturbate to his own fantasies in bed than have sex with Shawkat when she’s right next to him. Neither of them know what to do when they hear sounds of domestic violence in a neighbouring flat, so they do nothing, even when glass starts smashing. No one remembers anyone else, unless there’s an online record of their actions, and no one is willing to commit to anyone else if it draws them out of their bubble, their fear of the real world and real feelings is so great. Hagner even has to turn to a writer on one of her TV shows to ask for his advice on what an event in the real world might mean, and no one is that sure about what’s real and what’s not, anyway. After all, Hagner is an American actress pretending to be a fictional actress pretending to be a policewoman who works with another American actress pretending to be an English actress pretending to be an American policewoman. Can anything be trusted to be real or has everything been hypernormalised now?

But at the same time, the show is more complicated than a simple hippyish “why don’t we all just reach out and touch someone to make the world a better place?” It has a New York-mistrust of others and strangers. When Shawkat reaches out to someone, they turn out to be crazy or aggressive; when Reynolds finally tries to help the abused woman living next door, she simply shrieks insults at him until he goes away. Even when Shawkat goes to the police for help with the missing girl, the police are equally atomised, unwilling to become involved in another person’s life to help her, and Shakat, as with the rest of her peers, lacks the social skills to persuade them, instead resorting to insults herself.

The show is almost too clever, with metatextual references to Anna Karenina (“She dies at the end”) and comments about how the search is often more interesting than the discovery are almost designed to put you off watching further. Yet at the same time, it’s not clever enough. Like the oddly similar Girls, it gives you a set of pampered heroes and heroines you want to die a horribly fiery death. Unlike Girls, it has almost no wit or comedy to alleviate that desire, making it an almost Scream-like show, crying out at the loneliness of modern life yet not making the alternative look any better.

Search Party is an interesting idea that’s as alienating as its characters are alienated. I don’t want to reach out and join this party, I’m afraid.

US TV

Review: Shooter 1×1 (US: USA; UK: Netflix)


In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, USA
In the UK: Wednesdays, Netflix

I think it’s fair to say that America loves guns. Or at least has a lot of them: 300 million at last count, on a population of 325 million. And if you have a lot of guns, they tend to get used, sometimes with tragic consequences.

Which has caused all kinds of problems for USA’s Shooter, a show that loves guns rather a lot. Originally scheduled to air mid-July, it was postponed at first by a week following the shooting in Dallas. However, following the shooting in Baton Rouge, USA decided to move Shooter from its summer schedule to November. 

Shooter sees Ryan Phillipe (Secrets and Lies, Cruel Intentions) once again take on a role to which he’s slightly ill suited – a former marine sniper. Wounded in action by the Chechnyan sniper who killed his best friend, he’s perfectly happy with his wife and daughter, until his former CO turned secret service agent Omar Epps (House, Resurrection) approaches him for help. Said Chechnyan sniper has threatened to kill the President and Phillipe is one of the few people in the world with the skills to work out how he could do it and so prevent it. Except things are not quite as they seem…

Based on the 2007 movie of the same name, which in turn was based on Stephen Hunter’s book Point of Impact, this pilot episode follows the film and to a lesser extent the book pretty faithfully, meaning that if you’ve seen the movie, there’ll be almost no surprises as to what happens at the end of the episode.

That said, there have been a few tweaks. Epps’s characters might not be the obvious double-crosser that Danny Glover was, while Cynthia Addai-Robinson (Arrow, Spartacus)’s disgraced FBI agent and potential ally to Phillipe is a moderately interesting gender-change to the Michael Peña character, even if she’s not quite as interesting as he was. The fact Phillipe now has a family, rather than a Kate Mara to hook up with, also changes the dynamics of the story a little.

As I mentioned when I reviewed Graves, shows with conservative politics are relatively rare and Shooter is clearly aimed at viewers of that disposition, right down to our hero’s family saying grace before meals. Its dedication to honourable men and women, doing honourable things in service, is a refreshing change, too, even if we know a great big conspiracy is potentially looming round the corner. Its big, big, big love of guns (aka “defenders of freedom”), which it inherited from its source material, is also a little different, even if does come across like a product review page in Guns & Ammo at times.

But dramatically, it’s not really innovating much and the opening scene in which Phillipe starts shooting orthodentists because they’ve used the wrong kind of gun and rounds to hunt a wolf is astonishingly clumsy. Characterisation is weak, largely fitting people into particular plot functions rather than making them fully fleshed out human beings. Dialogue is often dreadful, particularly anything between Phillipe and his wife, who judging from her lines must have been a sniper herself. And the constant use of low-budget CGI “bullet time” shots for, erm, bullet shots makes the show look cheap and a bit silly. 

As a piece of action-thriller TV, Shooter‘s pretty good, though. Clearly, that’s mainly down to the source material but sometimes it transcendents that material to avoid some of its sillier ideas. Whether subsequent episodes, which will have far less to work with, will be as good or whether Phillipe will be shooting more dentists remains to be seen.

Good Behavior
US TV

Preview: Good Behavior 1×1 (US: TNT)

In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, TNT. Starts tonight

Sometimes, I’m surprised there’s any scripted British TV at all. Who’s starring in it, given that virtually every actor in the UK seems to have nipped off to the US to try their chances at having a well-paid career for a change. Hell, even Jeff from Coupling gets to be a an ex-Russian special forces soldier over there; here, he’d be some doctor in a low-key BBC Two drama or something.

So widespread is this problem that even the cast of Downton Abbey are heading stateside. Dan Stevens has been paving the way for the others for some time but now Michelle Dockery’s there.

What’s stranger than their managing to get jobs is the kind of jobs they’re getting. Stevens has already been voicing a supercomputer in The Tomorrow People but now he’s going to be a TV X-Man in FX’s Legion. Meanwhile, Dockery is in a new TNT show starting tonight that she has no right to be the lead in whatsoever, you’d have thought.

Based on Blake Crouch (Wayward Pines)’s Letty Dobesh Chronicles, Good Behavior sees Dockery unexpectedly playing the books’ titular former con and conwoman, a drug addict who’s just been let out of jail and working in a dead-end job in roadside café. When she gets fired, she returns to her life of burglary and confidence tricks, but when she overhears two men planning a hit against a woman, she decides to do something nice and save her. 

No good deed goes unpunished, of course, and just as she’s about to end the pain with a bucketload of drugs, sexy Juan Diego Botto turns up with an offer she can’t refuse.

Read that description of the plot and tell me your first thought is “Hmm, maybe that Lady Mary from Downton Abbey would be good for the job?” Ridiculous, isn’t it?

Yet, surprisingly, Dockery ain’t half bad. True, she spends a lot of her time in her undies or implausible wigs, which might distract the viewer from her performance a tad. But she does well with what she’s got and is persuasive, as is Botto.

The problem isn’t with them, though – it’s with the source material. While it’s not stupid, it’s very much a piece of male gaze. Dockery’s character is a typical male fantasy – a bad girl with a heart of gold, who naturally does everything for the love of her daughter and her mother, rather than because she’s properly trailer trash, properly criminal or every bit the sneaky equal of Botto. Dockery’s also expected to be both put-upon victim and top con artiste, but trying to be plausibly crushed underfoot by life yet strong willed is a squaring of the circle that would be hard for anyone to attempt even unbewigged.

So little does any of this hold together that I honestly thought I’d missed bits. Wait… she was a waitress cleaning the toilets a minute ago. How is she now burgling top end hotels with her phone buddy? Was it something to do with that wallet she stole? But he can’t have had any money, surely. What did I miss?

Rewind.

Nope. Didn’t miss anything.

If anything, Good Behavior shows that if you get a good cast together and shoot something in a noirish way, it’s almost enough to fool the viewer into thinking a quality piece of work is being produced. But like sister show Animal KingdomGood Behavior also demonstrates the vital importance of something actually making sense, if it’s going to aspire to darkness-tinged mimesis.