An archive of blog entries about international TV programmes and production, including co-productions and shows from countries other than usual
It’s “What have you been watching?”, your chance to recommend to fellow TMINE readers anything you’ve been watching this week
Let’s catch up with the regulars, which have pretty much all come and gone now.
Ms Marvel (Disney+) has proved to be the most boring of all the Marvel TV shows so far. The middle episodes in particular took the rather strange decision to be more or less focused on the partition of India and Pakistan and what a bad thing that was. It’s funny how US TV shows, when they do actually decide to go to another country, always focus on Some Terrible Wrong Thing From History That We Should Be Sorry About, isn’t it? I mean we should be sorry about the Partition, but not exactly in the way that the show says we should, in its simplistic way, and is that really the way to engage teenage viewers? It did manage to do a couple of interesting things in the final episode, but honestly, beyond the cameo in the end credits, I’m a bit sorry I wasted my time on this.
Superman & Lois (US: The CW; UK: BBC One) proved engaging enough to the end. The final episode had some lovely callbacks to Superman: The Movie but it was an ending where essentially the show came up with a big resolution to the big problem by creating an entirely new set of rules for the problem. I’m not even 100% sure I understand what happened. Also, after wondering why Superman & Lois in no way references the show it spun off from, Supergirl, for two seasons, the show decided in the final episode to declare that Superman is the world’s only superhero. Wait. What? It makes sense in context, but how does that work? Anyway, it was all very enjoyable as a season. I liked what they did with Adam Rayner’s character. I liked the innovations with the Superman mythos that setting it so late in his career have allowed it to do. Roll on season 3.
Obi-Wan Kenobi (Disney+) got progressively better with each week, more so as the Darth Vader and Obi-Wan moments increased, until the final two episodes which were actually pretty great. Some very cool Jedi moments, but I wish there’d been more Leia in the final episodes. Probably, actually, the Star Wars TV spin-off I’ve enjoyed the most so far.
For All Mankind (AppleTV+) has been getting progressively more exciting and more interesting each week, with pay off after pay off from previous episodes and seasons really making it worthwhile viewing. The parallels with true 90s history are amusing – what if the Republicans had come up with Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell? – as are the new conspiracy theories about space travel the world has hatched, and the Mars exploration is proving suitably cataclysmic. I’m not 100% sure the ‘son of Gordo’ storyline works, though. That’s a little bit too OTT.
The Orville (US: Hulu; UK: Disney+) is slowly finding its feet again. The jokes and funny moments are returning, and we’ve had SF cameos from the likes of Bruce Boxleitner (Tron, Babylon 5) to amuse the old school viewers (practically all of them?). The attempts at debates about philosophy and morality are usually very confused, with the continuing clumsy mixing of trans/gender discrimination issues ultimately making the show’s one big through-season debate a little pointless. But it’s generally been decent viewing, even if the show’s 1 hour+ runtime for episodes makes them a bit more of an endurance than they should be.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (Paramount+) remembered to get serious again towards the end, with a couple of characters getting written out, perhaps in preparation for some interesting new arrivals next season. The season finale itself was nothing short of miraculous, being a redoing of my favourite the original series episode Balance of Terror that asked the question “What if Captain Pike had been the captain of the Enterprise in that episode?” and came to a very surprising answer, given Pike is the hero of this piece and Star Trek is generally a very pacifist show. I actually think in a lot of ways it might almost have been as good as the original episode, taking a lot of its predecessor’s strengths (its theatricality and discussions of war) and marrying them with this show’s usual strengths.
Also surprising was the inclusion of Kirk himself in the episode, since it was a very unshowy, un-Shatner performance by Paul Wesley. That allowed you to avoid being blinded by performance tics to see the nature of Kirk’s character better, so it was actually a surprisingly powerful episode for both Pike and Kirk. Overall, a generally great first season that’s probably now my favourite Star Trek since the original series.
Stranger Things (Netflix) came back for its final couple of episodes, which were very good. I’m not sure they really warranted the wait from the previous batch, since they didn’t do anything especially different or climactic. The Russian end of things all felt a bit superfluous and unnecessary, too. But they were suitably exciting and strong, packed with all the things that Stranger Things does so well. Including Kate Bush.
The Old Man (US: FX; UK: Disney+) continued to be very strong and very surprising, right up to the end. You thought it was definitely going to do one thing and it ended up doing something completely different instead. There is a plot revelation in episode two or three that makes you think “Really? Oh come on?” However, the next few episodes did get round to justifying it so it doesn’t feel quite as unlikely as it all initially seemed on first viewing.
There are some sterling performances from all the cast. Obviously, Jeff Bridges, John Lithgow and Joel Grey are great, but I wish Amy Brenneman had had a chance to do better shows and movies since she’s really good and Alia Shawkat is proving a revelation in a dramatic role. Leem Lubany (Condor) is similarly surprisingly superb, but even the supporting cast (The Wire‘s Gbenga Akinnagbe) do well with dialogue and scenes that are wonderfully theatrical/literary.
Weirdly, it’s only seven episodes long and the season finale doesn’t really feel like a season finale. I was expecting an episode eight to clear everything up. But there’s a second season at least, so I’ll definitely be tuning in for that.
Only Murders in the Building (US: Hulu; UK: Disney+) returned for a second season… but I gave up midway through the first episode. It felt a little too full of itself and charmless this time, and the arrival of the likes of Amy Schumer as herself felt a little forced.
Talking of shows I gave up on midway through the first episode, I gave The Terminal List (Amazon Prime Video) a whirl. That has Chris Pratt playing a Navy SEAL who goes on a mission that goes a bit pear-shaped and then goes on a personal mission to track down and kill those responsible for the deaths of his mates.
This is one of those shows where there’s clearly a lot of military advisers on hand telling everyone how to make it authentic but where the plot hasn’t had anywhere near that level of attention. Apart from the fact Pratt really isn’t a great actor – he got very, very lucky with his comedy roles, but without the laughs, he’s a bit of a charisma vacuum – the show made very little attempt to engage the audience. Bangs! Explosions! Patriotism! Isn’t that enough? What do you mean you want characters and innovative thinking? Soz.
Anyway, it actually felt like a step down from CBS’s SEAL Team, so I decided not to bother. Amazon – continuing to be the best at making B-grade action TV and movies.
Lastly, we had the return of The Umbrella Academy (Netflix). I managed to make my way through the entire season, which wasn’t quite as good as the first season but was definitely a step up from the second season. That gave us an alternative reality with a different Academy for us to enjoy that was full of some suitably silly and bonkers moments, such as a superhero who is just a cube. Marvellous. Good plotting and a great soundtrack, as per usual, too.
The characters were a little less well drawn, I thought, though, with a lot of character developments that came out of nowhere or that ignored previous character developments. What was up with Klaus, for example? And while Ellen Page’s transition to Elliot Page was incorporated into the plot, it did feel a little bit of an arbitrary character development that came without explanation and few questions from anyone. Would that all the world were so woke, hey?
But what have you been watching?