It’s “What have you been watching?”, your chance to recommend to fellow TMINE readers anything you’ve been watching this week
WHYBW is back on Wednesday, following its August-friendly move to a Friday time-slot. That means, though, that there’s been a week and a half since the last WHYBW and TV has come back with a vengeance. Well, a trickle, maybe.
Elsewhere, I’ve been keeping up with most of the new arrivals, reviewing the first season of Amazon’s Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan and the second season of Netflix’s Marvel’s Iron Fist, as well as the first episodes of Fox (US)’s Rel, ABC (Australia)’s Back in Very Small Business and Showtime (US)’s Kidding. In the next week or so, I should also be previewing CBS (US)’s God Friended Me and hopefully, I’ll have got through the whole of the second season of Netflix’s Ozark.
Those glued to their TV schedules will notice I’ve missed a few shows. But there are Reasons. First up is the USA Network’s The Purge, which is a spin-off from the popular horror/sci-fi movies in which everyone gets to go off and commit crimes for a day without fear of penalty. I’ve not seen any of the movies, they certainly don’t appeal to me and you can already see new episodes every Wednesday on Amazon in the UK, so I’m not going to make the effort. Soz.
Similarly, FX (US)’s Mayans MC might be hugely popular already in the US, but it’s a spin-off from Sons of Anarchy all about a Mexican biker gang. Again, didn’t like Sons of Anarchy, didn’t watch very much of it, and this doesn’t sound like my show, either. Maybe you’ll like it more than I would.
After the jump, I’ll be looking at the second episode of Kidding and the penultimate episode of Shooter, as well as the return of old favourite The Last Ship and the first episode of another show I missed off the list: One Dollar.
In the past, I’ve fretted that today’s generations aren’t being educated in the TV classics. Back in the 80s, when there were just three to four channels, no Internet, no DVDs, no games consoles, no smartphones, et al, TV networks had a captive audience. So as well as making plenty of original shows, they could air repeats from decades earlier (sometimes even in primetime) and know the audience wouldn’t change channel or even turn the TV off. It ensured that the nerdy likes of me were introduced to The Man From UNCLE, The Avengers, The Invaders, the various ITC shows of the 60s, Champion the Wonder Horse, black and white sitcoms like The Addams Family or Car 54 Where Are You? and more.
The chances that any of today’s generation are going to watch these is pretty close to zero. Even if they wanted to, no channels are airing these old shows and few if any streaming services are offering them. There’s almost no chance they’ll get seen by the youth of today unless said youth have a lot of cash and patience.
Lost in Space? Good
However, I have absolutely no concerns about the youth of today not getting to watch classic 60s sci-fi show Lost in Space. Produced by the famous TV auteur Irwin Allen (Land of the Giants, The Time Tunnel, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea) and originally titled Space Family Robinson (kids: that’s a reference to a another thing we used to call ‘books’), it sees a family called the Robinsons blasting off into space in the then-far-flung-future of 1997 to colonise a planet around Alpha Centauri that’s fit for human life. However, their ship goes off course and before you know it, they’re… lost in space.
Why do I have no concerns? Because frankly – sorry, Lost in Space fans, if there are still any of you – it was terrible. Just awful, in fact. Forcing a child to watch it today is tantamount to abuse.
That isn’t just because of its patriarchal 60s values, with father Professor John Robinson (Guy Williams) and ‘Space Corps’ Major Donald West (Mark Goddard) going off doing action things and solving problems, while mum Maureen (June Lockhart) and daughters Judy (Marta Kristen) and Penny (Angela Cartwright) basically stayed at home and did the housework. It isn’t because of its shiny 60s idea of what space travel would be, either.
No, it’s because of what was actually the show’s most iconic character: one Dr Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris). He wasn’t in the original pilot, but in keeping with other Allen series and the post-Bond fever for spy shows in the 60s, the show included Dr Smith for an element of international intrigue. In the new first episode for the show, he’s introduced as a saboteur whose presence on board the Jupiter 2 is what causes it to go off course. Never intended to last more than a few episodes before being written out, Harris soon hatched a cunning plan: he started writing his own lines and playing up his character as a colossal coward and pompous oaf.
Irwin was no fool and seeing what Harris was up to, he told him: “I know what you’re doing. Do more of it!” Before you knew it, ‘special guest star’ Jonathan Harris was in every single episode and was the star of the show. Most episodes were about him, his relationship with the Robinson’s very trusting son Will (Bill Mumy) and the almost equally iconic ship’s robot voiced by Dick Tufeld, whose catchphrase “Danger, Will Robinson!” is far better known than even the show itself, despite only having been used once.
To cope with a man screaming “Oh the pain! Save me, William!” as though he was being attacked by Puss in Boots every episode, the writers naturally shifted the tone of the show’s writing, taking it from a surprisingly gritty and even dark piece in its initial episodes to one in which actors were spray-painted silver and giant carrots turned up. Watch anything more than those first few episodes and you’ll discover that if you have any actual choice in terms of what’s available to watch, you won’t be watching Lost in Space unless you also happen to be smoking something a little exotic.
And now for something completely different
For reasons unknown, people had fond memories of the original show – presumably because they hadn’t watched it since they were three years old – and producers have been keen to tap into that misplaced nostalgia. In 1998, a movie version tried to turn the TV series into something watchable, but even the acting talents of the likes of Gary Oldman (as Dr Smith), William Hurt, Matt LeBlanc, Mimi Rogers, Heather Graham and Jared Harris still weren’t enough to save it. The less said about it, the better – particularly if you’re in the company of anyone who worked for a London post-production house at that time (“Oh the pain!” indeed).
An attempt to make a new TV series, The Robinsons: Lost in Space, floundered in 2004, despite John Woo directing the pilot. Apart from this YouTube video, the show’s only lasting mark were its sets, which were repurposed for the Battlestar Pegasus in Battlestar Galactica.
You’d have thought that given such a low bar to get over, any adaptation of the original could only succeed, but apparently not.
Third time lucky?
Nevertheless, here we are again, as Netflix has just given us a full 10-episode season of a show called Lost in Space that is ostensibly a reboot of the original show. It sees Toby Stephens (Black Sails, Die Another Day) playing dad John Robinson, Molly Parker (House of Cards, Deadwood) playing mum Maureen Robinson and ‘queen of the indies’ Parker Posey playing Dr Smith, who once again are ‘lost in space’.
You would, of course, be quite entitled to wonder what sort of show this new Lost in Space would be like. If it’s an adaptation of the original, is it a remake of that original darkish spy show or the camp show it ultimately became? Is it more like the movie, perhaps? And is it a show for the kids or a grimdark piece for adults?
Last of all, is it actually any good and worth watching? Unlike the original.
While you’ll have to wait until after the jump before I tell you whether it’s any good, I can at least give you one of TMINE’s trademark ‘meets’ to give you an idea of the tone of the show.
Not only is it suitable for both adults and children, Netflix’s Lost in Space is indeed Lost in Space, but it’s Lost in Space meets Interstellar meets The Martian. Have a think about that while you watch this here trailer.
Science-fiction and espionage seem at first glance to be a perfect combination. Think of how many successful spy shows and movies over the years have also been science-fiction greats: Total Recall, The Champions, Alias, Airwolf and more. Indeed, there’s even a name for the genre: spy-fi.
Look a little harder, though, and you’ll notice that the greater the emphasis on the science-fiction, the worse the show is. The more SF a James Bond movie contains, the worse it gets (invisible cars, anyone?). That’s because – to generalise broadly – the spy genre is fundamentally about people, whereas science-fiction is more about ideas. Those spy-fi classics? They were the ones that remembered to concentrate on both the people and the ideas.
Now we have Counterpart, a show that does its best to give us both big ideas and little people, while also invoking the magic blessing for any spy show: a Berlin location and obvious Cold War parallels. JK Simmons (Law & Order, Whiplash, The Closer, Oz) plays a very little person at a UN spy agency based in Berlin. For 29 years, he’s worked uncomplainingly in the ‘Interface’ department, where he goes up every morning in the same suit to read out sentences to another man from ‘the Other Side’ in a small room, before returning to his desk. His requests for promotion go unheard and he can’t even get an interview.
Meanwhile, his wife Olivia Williams (Dollhouse) is in hospital after being run over six weeks previously, and her brother Jamie Bamber (Battlestar Galactica, Perception) is trying to get her returned to the UK and her ‘true family’. Simmons is passively nice and unable to say or do much in response to all these injustices.
Then one day, he’s dragged by boss Harry Lloyd (Robin Hood, Game of Thrones) to meet chief of security Ulrich Thomsen (Banshee). A top spy from the Other Side wants to defect. The Cold War that’s been going on is thawing and assassin Sara Serraiocco has come over to start killing people on this side – including Simmons’ wife.
Thing is, the Other Side is a parallel universe with which Simmons’ universe has been in contact with for decades but which has diverged over time, and the would-be defector is… JK Simmons.
Now the two Simmons, spy and Mitty, must work together to stop the assassin and whatever’s caused this thaw in the Cold War, while simultaneously looking at each other to see how their lives turned out so differently.
Regrets, I’ve had a few
Although similarities with Fringe are obvious, this is far more a well worn story of male wish fulfilment: the little man, over the hill, wishing for a more exciting life than he ever had, suddenly getting a chance to lead that life. It was the substance of many of the early Man from UNCLEepisodes and it’s the essence of Total Recall.
Here, the difference is that firstly, Simmons is a much better, more plausible little man/spy than Arnold Schwarzenegger. Secondly, while there is action and excitement to be had, the show works far better as an examination of roads not taken, what choices you can make in your life that will take it in completely different directions and how much of who you are as a person is caused by external rather than internal factors. Great efforts are made against the overly-stylised sci-fi background to make Simmons and all the other characters seem like real people, albeit with variable success. It’s certainly helped by the supporting cast, with a range of Brits giving great, understated performances, particularly Lloyd, but Thomsen is as good as always and there are also some fine German actors in minor roles, too. More good actors are on the way, too, with the near ubiquitous Richard Schiff and Stephen Rea set to do a turn soon, too.
It works less well as a spy show than you might hope, though, and that’s because of the sci-fi throwing everything out of whack. The Interface department looks cool, for example, but seems ludicrous – why are they doing this? What possible reason could they have for it? Whatever it is, it’ll be nonsense when revealed, I bet you. There’s also far less of Berlin to be seen than you might hope and while the show avoids the tourism of Berlin Station, there’s the obligatory ‘exotic’ club scene.
All the same, Counterpart offers more or less the best of both genres. It’s not exactly Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; neither is it Blade Runner. But as a moderately entertaining piece of metaphysical musing – with guns, parallel universes and a surprisingly kick-ass JK Simmons – Counterpart has a lot to offer.
It’s “What have you been watching?”, my chance to tell you each week what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently and your chance to recommend anything you’ve been watching. TMINE recommends has all the reviews of all the TV shows TMINE has ever recommended, but for a complete list of TMINE’s reviews of (good, bad and insipid) TV shows and movies, there’s the definitive TV Reviews A-Z and Film Reviews A-Z. But it’s what you have you been watching? I bet it’s better than what I’ve been watching. And I watched a lot
Week one into the new US TV season and I reckon I’m keeping up pretty well. Admittedly, I’ve had to ditch Boxset Monday and move WHYBW? from Tuesday to Wednesday to do it, but I don’t think that’s going to cause too many fainting fits.
This week, I’ve reviewed (and even previewed) the first episodes of:
That’s not the whole gamut of new shows, mind, and still to come this week are my reviews of Kevin (Probably) Saves The World (US: ABC), Ten Days in the Valley (US: ABC) and The Gifted (US: Fox; UK: Fox UK). I’m also planning to have a look at Alias Grace (Canada: CBC; UK: Netflix) and Absentia (AXN), and I might even give 4 Blocks (Germany: TNT Serie; UK: Amazon) a whirl if I have the time.
On top of that, there are a few other new shows – but I’ll be dealing with them after the jump, along with the regulars, both old and new. So follow me over the page to where I will cast my eye over the latest episodes of The Brave, Get Krack!n, Great News, Halt and Catch Fire, The Last Ship, Lethal Weapon, Lucifer, My Myself and I, ProfessorT and Star Trek: Discovery, as well as fill you in on new arrivals Bad Blood, 9JKL and – what’s this? – Will and Grace. Is that right?