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.
The usual “TMINE recommends” page features links to reviews of all the shows I’ve ever recommended, and there’s also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I’ve reviewed ever. And if you want to know when any of these shows are on in your area, there’s Locate TV – they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.
Can you feel it? Can you? It’s coming. It’s nearly here. It’s the Fall 2015-16 US TV season! Hoorah!
But not until next week. Not properly, anyway, which is why the only new US TV show I’ve reviewed this week is FX’s The Bastard Executioner and the only regular US shows I’ll be examining after the jump are the season finale of Impastor and the latest You’re The Worst. In desperation, I even went back a few weeks to give Patrick Stewart’s new August-debuting series a go, too.
Blunt Talk (US: Starz) Patrick Stewart plays a former British marine turned US chat show host whose ratings are on the down turn. He ends up high on drugs and alcohol, and in the arms (and bosom) of a young, transgender prostitute, and is promptly arrested – well, once he’s stopped beating up the cops. What will happen to his career now?
This is a comedy by the way. It’s not one of those crazy old-fashioned things with jokes, but instead mainly seems to get by on seeing Stewart not being a ‘English gentleman’. This might amuse Americans, unused to English people doing such things, but as Stewart himself points out in the show, we’re a bit more used to idiosyncratic Englishmen here.
The only rays of hope in the show are the moments Stewart has by himself with Adrian Scarborough (Gavin & Stacey, Plebs), his former Falklands batman, which are actually pretty good fun, even if filtered through a strange US prism.
Overall, by the end of the first episode, I really wasn’t sure what the point of the show was. It’s not satirising anything, it’s not doing a The Newsroom or a The Larry Sanders Show. It’s just Stewart being a mild-mannered, self-harming dick.
Here’s a trailer.
But that’s it for US TV. Oh well.
However, there’s more to the world than America. Indeed, elsewhere, I’ve reviewed the first episode of Australia and New Zealand’s new 800 Words, and after the jump, I’ll be looking at the continuing adventures of Canada’s Continuum and the return of Wales’ Y Gwyll/Hinterland. There’s lovely, hey?
And as if all that wasn’t enough, I broke a rule and took a look at some Greek TV.
The Island/Το Νησί (Greece: Mega) The reason for my rule-breaking is that this year marked the 10th anniversary of the publication of Victoria Hislop’s The Island, a novel set in the first half of the 20th century on the Greek islands of Crete and Spinalonga. On Spinalonga is a fortress where Greece used to send people with leprosy until a cure was discovered in the 1950s and the story is about various love affairs, some of which involve people who end up on the island, and how that affects their families.
As well as a Q&A with Hislop, the night featured an airing of the first episode of Το Νησί, Greek television’s 2010/11 24-part adaptation of the novel, which despite being made for €4m and a couple of bottles of raki, is actually very lavish and emptied the streets when it aired. Indeed, it has only ever been beaten in the ratings twice, both times by sporting events, one of which was the opening of the Athens Olympics.
The adaptation is pretty faithful to the book, right down to the modern-day London bookending, which features a pre-DowntonAbbey Dan Stevens. It’s all very lavish and well made in Greek terms, too, although equally, it’s very Greek and emotionally drawn out, too. Acting’s pretty good, with Evgenia Dimitropoulou playing a double-role of both the modern day Alexis and her own aunt Anna – as Alexis, she does a good job of playing a British-Greek girl who doesn’t speak Greek that well (hers is about as good as mine, in fact), although she seems to understand an awful lot, even some quite obscure words such as λεπρός (leper), when she winds up in Crete.
The series has never aired in the UK, surprisingly, although I’m sure BBC Four will get round to it some day. However, you can watch all of it on YouTube, albeit without subtitles, if you hunt around.
There were a few celebs among the audience at the Q&A, including Patrick Barlow and Robert Young, but one in particular pretty much stalked me all over Blackfriars and at the Q&A the entire evening. He made his bilingual acting debut in the first episode of the series, which I’ve embedded below – see if you can spot him. I’ll give you a clue – he first appears at the 3m59s point.
It’s on S4C, it’s about a dying Welsh village that puts the faces of its single men on the sides of milk cartons to attract women there, it stars Dave Coaches (Steffan Rhodri) from Gavin & Stacey – it’s Cara Fi.
But it has something of an interesting disclaimer at the start of every episode.
In the UK: Fridays, 8pm, Channel 5. Starts Friday 24th October
Channel Five’s best kept secrets are its documentaries. Although the channel as a whole as a reputation for low quality programming – beyond a couple of decent imports and one original drama (Suspects) – its documentaries are actually really good.
So let’s get the worst part of this out the way: the title. Rome wasn’t the world’s first superpower, since the Persian empire was not only a third bigger, it also had 44% of the world’s population under its control at its height. And if you don’t like that, there was also the Macedonian Empire under Alexander The Great.
Hyperbolic title aside, though, it’s all very good. You might not think Larry Lamb from Gavin & Stacey and EastEnders would be the best person to present a documentary covering the history of Rome, from the city’s foundation through its attainment of empire through to its collapse. Certainly, if you think back to Joanna Lumley’s Greek Odyssey on ITV, you can see all the potential traps writ large of having an actor hosting what is potentially a lavish, content-free and even misleading travelogue.
But not only is Lamb engaging and passionate, he’s an amateur historian – he goes to Rome every year, he speaks Italian, and he’s been studying Rome almost all his adult life. More so, as an actor he can re-enact readings from the works of Livy, for example, rather than merely having an actor blankly read the same in voiceover.
The show goes to pertinent locations in both Rome and Pompeii (and in later episodes to Tunisia, Sicily and France), to explore Roman history and archaeology. We get to see the sewer system under Rome, which dates back 2,500 years. Indeed, it’s the first time the oldest part has ever been shown on TV, making that a good enough reason for a classics-lover to watch the show.
Along the way, Lamb interviews historians and archaeologists, including Richard Miles, who’s presented documentaries for BBC2 and BBC4. Lamb’s an intelligent interviewer and asks some decent questions of the experts. He also puts his working class roots to the fore, focusing on areas that other shows don’t, such as the relationship between the plebeians and nobles, giving us choice lines such as “The Romans’ noble ambitions were just that: the ambitions of nobles.” He’s also happy to throw out a little Latin as needs be, such as Senatus Populusque Romanus (SPQR).
The show itself also looks good and there’s some knowing Spartacus qualities in the CGI and recreations of scenes, although that’s mostly done with statues rather than actors, which is novel. Channel 5 may do good documentaries – but it doesn’t quite have the budget of the BBC.
About the only thing that drew me up was when Lamb says that he’s realising that the rape of the Sabine women was the ‘kind of thing you have to do if you want to become a superpower’ – which I can’t imagine Mary Beard or Bethany Hughes letting through on one of their shows. Otherwise, entirely recommended for anyone with an interest in history, particularly Roman history.