US TV

What did you watch last week (w/e September 7)?

 

Time for "What did you watch last week?", my chance to tell you what I watched last week and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case we’ve missed them.

My recommendations for maximum viewing pleasure this week: none. Sorry, but everything regular is finishing! Although Doctor Who‘s obviously good.

  • Suits: oddly low key ending to the season. Good to see Chi Mcbride doing an evil turn (is he going to be a regular next season) as well as one of the show’s few forays into the courtroom. A mini-cliffhanger to end it with and I’m looking forward to the next season, albeit worried about the change in showrunner (even if it is the show’s creator taking over the helm).
  • Burn Notice: confusingly, the previous week’s episode was a better cliffhanger than this episode’s. Good that they’ve picked up on some of the breadcrumbs laid down earlier in the season and some clever touches in the plotting, and good to see Jere Burns (Kirk in the US version of Dear John) still hard at work.
  • Royal Pains: really? That was the episode you want to finish the season on? Okay…
  • Seven Wonder of the Buddhist World: If you were expecting Bettany Hughes to enlighten you about Buddhism, this wasn’t the show for you. More a combination of travelogue and history lesson, instead, it left me feeling a little unsatisfied compared to the usual Hughes extravaganzas.
  • Strike Back: Project Dawn: a show that can only be said to be loosely connected to the original Strike Back. Largely ludicrous and with Cinemax (aka "Skinemax") now a co-funder, featuring a hefty amount of gratuitous female nudity, it’s good when dealing with action but otherwise poor. The central characters have almost no personalities or interesting qualities and the decision in the first episode to kill off John Porter (presumably because Richard Armitage is filming The Hobbit right now) was just bad. Episode 2 at least redeems episode 1, but it’s not getting that much better. Amazingly, this is mostly written by Frank Spotnitz. Nevertheless, we’re going to keep watching.
  • Chemistry: another Skinemax production, with all the scriping and production values of 80s soft porn (not that I’m an expert or anything). Attempts to have a script are painful, as is the acting.

And in this week’s list of movies:

  • Zorba the Greek: For a supposedly feelgood movie, this wasn’t half miserable. Honour killings, disasters, broken hearts, looting – it can all be fixed with some dancing apparently. But it was fun to watch all the same since it was filmed in Kokkino Chorio, which is where I went on holiday this year and some of the views and places are still the same.
  • Limitless: Actually, a pretty good film. I quite liked it. Essentially, "what would happen if you could take a pill and become a member of The Champions?" Flagged a bit in the middle, ends a bit abruptly and Anna Friel’s character could have been better served, but clever and interesting. Worth a watch if you haven’t seen it already.

But what have you been watching?

"What did you watch last week?" is your chance to recommend to friends and fellow blog readers the TV and films that they might be missing or should avoid – and for me to do mini-reviews of everything I’ve watched. Since we live in the fabulous world of Internet catch-up services like the iPlayer and Hulu, why not tell your fellow readers what you’ve seen so they can see the good stuff they might have missed? And keep an eye on The Stage‘s TV Today Square Eyes feature as well for British TV highlights or you’ll be missing out on the good stuff.

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Question of the week: what do you think of the state of TV documentaries?

Bit of a blanket question this one, but let’s look around at the state of the TV documentary, both in the UK and the US. How are you finding them? Informative? Useful? Cheaply made?

Now TV has obviously changed since Civilization could be bunged on BBC2 at primetime, back when David Attenborough was controller in 1969. So has society and the assumptions about what an audience would already know – and should know – in the 42 years since.

But even watching the History Channel (particularly the US one) and the Discovery Channel, I’m getting the increasing feeling that in an attempt to make documentaries more watchable or ‘accessible’, a lot of the time spent telling people new things has been replaced with telling people things they already knew while trying to entertain them with strange metaphors and whizzy graphics. Laudable aims in one sense, but I’m coming out of a lot of documentaries with the feeling that I haven’t actually learnt anything, an hour of my time has been wasted and someone’s got to go on some very nice holidays (Professor Brian Cox – I’m glaring at you here).

Now this rule isn’t universal and you can normally rely on Bettany Hughes and certain other broadcasters to make sure there’s a reasonable ratio between information and flash (although if you ever go and see a Bettany Hughes talk, ask her about how her producer on Helen of Troy forced her to try to recreate Bronze Age chariot races in Turkey, but neglected to book any horses, as an example of the influence of producers).

Certainly, Adam Curtis, whose BBC2 series of documentaries, All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace, has just started, can usually be guaranteed to tell you something you don’t know while still entertaining enormously, although he veers more towards the polemic than true documentary.

But if you take something like Atlantis – an example of the baleful drama-documentary genre that also included the likes of Egypt – where there’s a good basic documentary submerged under a drama that has little to no merits, you can see where it would be infinitely preferable just to watch a regular documentary like Bettany Hughes’ The Minoans instead. Arguably, even the worst documentary will impart more information than an average docu-drama on the same subject.

But your mileage may vary. So this week’s question is:

Are documentaries getting stupider? Is too much time being spent making things accessible than actually imparting useful information? And apart from a few notable exceptions, such as Shoot To Kill and Lifestory, are drama-documentaries a complete waste of space?

Answers below or on your own blog.

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UK TV

Review: Atlantis

Atlantis

In the UK: Sunday 8th May, 9pm, BBC1. Available on the iPlayer

Ah, drama documentaries? Is there a more benighted category of programming? The idea is simple: documentaries are dull things in which people who know stuff talk to you; a drama-documentary makes it all exciting, and it comes to life since it’s dramatised.

However, while there’s the occasional exception – usually when there’s a reasonably good amount of evidence to go on – the average drama-documentary combines the worst aspects of both dramas and documentaries: not enough information for a proper documentary, too little time to do a decent, well written story for a drama.

So it is with Atlantis, BBC1’s recent one-hour documentary about the Bronze Age volcanic eruption on the Greek island of Santorini (aka Thera) that destroyed much of the island and pretty much ended the ‘Minoan’ civilisation that had thrived on both it and the nearby Crete for 1500 years. It was this that possibly inspired Plato’s tale of Atlantis over 1,000 years later. A combination of history documentary, geology documentary and a doomed romance, Atlantis wasn’t without its merits and indeed in some areas was very good, but it wasn’t on a par with any of the great Bettany Hughes’ documentaries on the subjects, even though she was one of its advisors.

Here’s a trailer.

Continue reading “Review: Atlantis”

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US TV

What have you been watching this week (w/e December 24)?

Alex Breckenridge in Life Unexpected's Thanksgiving episode

Okay, let’s try this again given my last 20 minutes work just deleted itself thanks to buggy software…

It’s “What have you been watching this week?”, your chance to recommend to friends and fellow blog readers the TV that they might be missing or should avoid – and for me to do mini-reviews of everything I’ve watched this week.

It’s been two weeks since the last one, which was entirely deliberate and because of the Christmas schedules and not because I was working or anything. Oh yes. Over that time, there’s actually been not much at all, so I’ve caught up with just about everything. So after the jump Ancient Worlds, The Apprentice, Being Erica, Burn Notice, Community, Dexter, Dirk Gently, Hellcats, Life Unexpected, Misfits, Peep Show, Running Wilde, The Trip and a big chunk of BBC4’s ‘The Glory of Greece’ season – Delphi: The Bellybutton of the World and Gods and Monsters: Homer’s Odyssey.

Continue reading “What have you been watching this week (w/e December 24)?”

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What have you been watching this week (w/e June 11)

I know, I know. What a long time since the last one of these. Sorry, which appears to be my new catchphrase. Anyway, it’s here now, just in time for summer when there’s hardly anything worth watching on. Good timing, Rob.

Nevertheless, let us all know what you’ve been watching, because if there’s good stuff on, it’s going to be in short supply. I’m still working my way through this week’s episodes of Royal Pains and Burn Notice, with Pretty Little Liars and Persons Unknown still to be digested and reviewed but here’s what I watched:

  • Atlantis: The Evidence: Another great Bettany Hughes documentary, this time on the BBC and benefiting considerably from her having written it as well as presenting it. Basically, her theory (not just hers – it’s a very popular one) is that the explosion of the volcano on Santorini in the 18th century BC was the inspiration for Plato’s story of Atlantis. It’s hard not to be convinced by the evidence, which did all add up nicely, but I don’t know enough about Atlantis to judge. But for anyone interested in Bronze Age Mediterranean history, it was a bit of treat, particularly since it included recent discoveries that aren’t well known. Weirdly, lovely wife and I spent the entire time going “Been there!” whenever Bettany changed location, the one exception being Akrotiri on Santorini, where we went “Wish we’d been there!” since it’s closed off to the public right now.
  • Burn Notice: The US’s number one cable TV drama is back and I’m feeling a bit “meh” about it. If we were hoping for anything different this season, given the ending of season three, well, clearly we’re not used to being bluffed. It’s basically business as usual, and I was bored by the biker gang plot. Michael’s continuing issues with the Burn Noticers were more interesting, and his breakdown with his mum at the end was compelling. But really, we need some forward motion on plot development, more spies, more character development and less “client of the week” stuff, please.
  • Royal Pains: It’s back and it’s just as good as it was before. Woo hoo! We’ve even got Henry Winkler as Hank and Evan’s dad which has got to be a bonus and Jill has a new enemy at the hospital, which is a good development for her character. The medical mystery of the week was easily guessable, but the charm of the show is still there, but Hank’s negligence with Boris’ file was a very unlikely twist. It’s just a shame that the filming schedules meant that the greyish skies indicating it was clearly heading into the Fall at the end of the first season have been replaced by bright blue skies for the second season. But what you going to do?
  • Stargate Universe: Ooh. An invasion – the arrival of the Stargate SG-1 crew, including Richard Dean Anderson, Michael Shanks and Amanda Tapping, to be exact. Boy do they stick out like a sore thumb now, with the writers either having to change the characters to fit in with the SGU universe or leave them as is and looking a bit lily-livered in comparison to the Destiny team. The other issue is Young’s decision to be nice and not vent the gate room, which seemed both out of character and odd in context. Still, the dovetailing of story arcs, the revelations about Lou Diamond Phillips’ character, and the secrets of the Destiny (I wonder if the chair had anything to do with the mysterious disintegrating man this week) have all made the episodes worth watching. One thing I do like about SGU is the ‘previously on SGU‘ bit at the beginning which always contains more backstory than is needed for the episode, so you never end up thinking “Oh, well he’s going to be in it then. That’s that plot revelation ruined.”
  • 24: Bit of a “meh” ending to the series, with rabbits pulled out hats to save Jack. I was hoping for something a bit more explosive. The second half of the season was definitely better than the first half, but it was still a week final season overall.
  • 30 Rock: Matt Damon, and a stout rejoinder to Tina Fey critics. Plus Michael Sheen is brilliant.
  • Women: Finally started watching that BBC4 documentary on the history of feminism from the 1960s/70s onwards. My brain and body almost sighed with relief as I found that yes, there are still intelligent documentaries being made at the Beeb and I wasn’t going to be talked down to. Definitely worth watching, if only as a reminder (in case you’ve not been watching Mad Men) of what women had to go through before women’s liberation came along. Oh, and to see the clips from old chat shows: it’s unbelievable, looking at them now, just how smart they seem in comparison to modern day chat shows. Interesting guests, people talking about complicated subjects. What happened?

But what have you been watching? Anyone watch Father and Son? Pulse and those other BBC3 pilots from last night any good?

As always, no spoilers unless you’re going to use the <spoiler> </spoiler> tags, please. If you’ve reviewed something on your blog, you can put a link to it here rather than repeat yourself (although too many links and you might get killed by the spam filter).