What have you been watching? Including Travelers, Falling Water, The OA, Shooter and Dix pour cent (Call My Agent!)

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 ExtrasDix 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.

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Question of the year: what were your favourite new shows of 2016? Here’s my Top 13!

TMINE’s about to take its traditional Christmas and New Year break. I’ll be back tomorrow but after that, normal business won’t resume until January 3rd or 4th with the Daily News et al. But a new tradition I started last year was to leave you with a specific question to keep you occupied: what were your favourite new shows of the year? As always, let everyone know your choices and the reasons below or on your own blog.

For the record, after the jump are my Top 1213 from all the countries around the world, as well as that new-fangled Internet thing, in no particular order, with the addition of one I mysteriously left off this morning. Merry Grafelnik, everyone!

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What have you been watching? Including Rogue One, Nobel, The OA and Chance

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 The Man 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:

  • Canada
    Travelers
  • 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 WarsRogue 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 Vader entered 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.

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What have you been watching? Including Jason Bourne, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and Ash vs Evil Dead

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 been a slightly busier weekend than I was planning, thanks in part to the arrival of my new nephew, Charlie (welcome to the world, Charlie!). That means I didn’t quite manage to watch all the new shows I wanted, but I’m otherwise pretty much up to date. I’ve already reviewed the first episode of Shut Eye (US: Hulu), but that’s as far as I’ve got – third-episode verdict later this week, though. I’m five minutes into Netflix’s Medici: Masters of Florence and it’s got a worrying Borgia-quality to it, so I’m not in a rush to get any further with that, but I’ll try.

However, I’ll definitely be previewing Swedish Dicks (Sweden: Viaplay) this week and hopefully working my way through 3% (Netflix) and anything else that looms large, too.

That means that after the jump, thanks to last week’s minor purge and the December break, I’ll be looking at the slightly reduced list of current regulars:

Canada
Travelers

US
Chance, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Falling Water, The Flash, The Great Indoors, Lethal Weapon, Shooter, Son of Zorn and Timeless.

I’ll also be looking at the season finales of Ash vs Evil Dead and Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.

I did manage to watch a movie this week, too:

Jason Bourne (2016)
Disappointing return of the now-venerable franchise, with both Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass returning after the brief Tony Gilroy/Jeremy Renner interlude of The Bourne Legacy. Trying to take in the developments in world espionage since the The Bourne Supremacy, Jason Bourne brings Damon out of retirement to help Julia Stiles with her Snowden-esque activities, only to discover that his own dad might have had a hand in the Treadstone programme that created ‘Jason Bourne’. Meanwhile, Alicia Vikander is helping CIA director Tommy Lee Jones hunt down Damon and Stiles, while covering up his guilty secret, which involves Mark Zuckerberg-alike Riz Ahmed; Vincent Cassel is their asset out in the field, trying to kill Damon and Stiles, but not just because he’s following orders.

The plot and pretty much everything else is a poor retread of the best and worst bits of The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, offering nothing new, while sacrificing one of the things that made the first few movies so refreshing: a reasonable attempt at mimesis. Here, the technology is just nonsense – “I’ve embedded malware in the files. As soon as she accesses them, I’ll know where she is” – the fights and inevitable car chases are poor and implausible, and even locations are glossed over, with the Canary Islands standing in for Athens at one point.

Should have stayed off the grid, guys. Or asked Tony Gilroy to help out again.

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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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