Streaming TV

What have you been watching? Including The Umbrella Academy and The Terminal List

It’s “What have you been watching?”, your chance to recommend to fellow TMINE readers anything you’ve been watching this week

This may or may not be my last lot of reviews before the traditional TMINE August vacation. It feels like the amount of TV being released in July has died down now, but there’s a whole bunch of new shows coming in August that actually look quite good – Netflix’s The Sandman and Disney+’s She-Hulk: Attorney at Law being the most obvious ones – so I might have to forego my usual ‘if it comes out in August, I won’t watch/review it’ rule.

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?

US TV

What have you been watching? Including Leverage: Redemption, Invasion and Dopesick

It’s “What have you been watching?”, your chance to recommend to fellow TMINE readers anything you’ve been watching this week

It’s been a fortnight since the previous WHYBW, thanks to the delights that are half-term and the mandatory staff holiday TMINE resultingly enforces. And there’s been a lot of TV for me to watch in that time! Shock! That’s new… but also old, which is reassuring.

But with a lot of TV to review, it’s going to be a bit of whistlestop tour. I should point out at this stage that I wasn’t able to watch 4400, the CW’s revival of the very similarly named show of the mid-2000s, The 4400, as I never watched that and I wasn’t that excited to watch a reboot of it. But if you reckon I should, let me know.

After the jump, we can talk about new shows Dopesick, Invasion and Leverage: Redemption, the final episodes (oops) of season one of Only Murders in the Building and the return of Locke & Key.

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including Leverage: Redemption, Invasion and Dopesick”
US TV

What have you been watching? Including Guilty Party

It’s “What have you been watching?”, your chance to recommend to fellow TMINE readers anything you’ve been watching this week

It’s mid-October and I’m still reviewing things! How amazing is that. But I’m not watching so much, it seems, since I’m getting through an episode of something then giving up, for the most part.

I’m going to have to work on that, aren’t I?

I have at least made it to the end of Only Murders in the Building (US: Hulu; UK: Disney+), which ended pretty well, but inconclusively and only proved that the US really needs stronger libel laws, if people are just going to go around willy nilly accusing people of murder. There’s a cliffhanger, too – two in fact – which actually made me less likely to want to watch season two. But the ending was amusingly meta at least, with our true-crime podcast fans having now acquired fans of their true-crime podcast and uniting with them to try to solve the mystery.

I might be back for season two, since the cast were amiable enough, there were some good jokes and the occasional very good episode indeed. But crime dramas, particularly intricate ones that require you to pay attention to what happened to person x and what they were holding in episode 2 of 8 just don’t really fit into my ‘one and done’ viewing pattern, so it’s a tough fit.

Episode 2 of CSI: Vegas sits ready to be watched, as do the next few episodes of Ghosts; I just have to find the time to watch them, which given that next week is half-term, isn’t impossible, even if my writing about them is.

I’ve also got the first episode of Hulu (US)’s Dopesick to watch, which given that’s going to be hitting Disney+ in about a month seems a reasonably important task, even if it’s a quasi-true-story drama starring Michael Keaton about the opioid crisis in the US. That sounds hard and harrowing. Goddamn it.

Still, I hope to review that properly this week, but that’s going to be another tricky proposition…

All of which left me with one new show to watch…

Guilty Party (US: Paramount+)

A discredited journalist is desperate to save her career by latching on to the story of a young mother, Toni Plimpton, who has been sentenced to life in prison for killing her husband.

Rob says: ‘It’s a crime’

Apparently, this show has already been hailed as “genre-bending”, combining drama, true crime, thriller and social commentary. TBH, it also sounds a lot like Truth Be Told (Apple TV+), but let’s look further.

Creator Rebecca Addelman says: “It was very intentional decision-making on the show’s part to go at the idea of white saviour-ism and to present what may seem like stereotypes initially and take those stereotypes and develop very real and very dimensional characters that evolve to truly unexpected boundary-breaking places.”

My problem with that is that honestly, based on the first episode, I don’t trust the writers to do that. Stereotypes in abundance yes. Total lack of reality? That, too.

It was dreadful.

Not 100% dreadful. I got to the end of the episode and saw the credits. “Kate Beckinsale” starred in it. This was genuinely a revelation to me. Not for one second did I realise it was her – and in a good way. She didn’t look like herself or sound like herself. Not one mannerism or gesture of hers reminded me of any of her previous roles.

Even when I skipped back to look at her performance, I really had to work at it to spot that yes, this was the same Kate Beckinsale who’d done Emma (UK: ITV) and Underworld (2003). Absolute kudos to her on that. If you were to watch Guilty Party for her and her alone, that would understandable.

The trouble with the show is that it’s about a discredited journalist trying to solve a true crime. You see her on the verge of winning an award at the start of the episode, only – 10 minutes afterwards – for her newspaper boss to come up to her at the party, introduce the company lawyer, say “You’ve probably not met before” (an award-winning investigative journalist who hadn’t met the company lawyer? Sure. That’s plausible), and for that lawyer to say “We have reason to belief you may have fabricated a quote so we’re going to have dismiss you.”

You fired someone for maybe fabricating a quote? You are so going to get sued.

Except she doesn’t. She then goes to work for some online gossip mag and is surprised that the gossip mag doesn’t want to do things in which she sleeps with homeless people. Children: every journalist knows exactly what kind of title they’re going to work for and part of the job is knowing what sort of stories to pitch to meet that title’s aims. You are not a good journalist if you cannot do that. You are definitely not an award-winning journalist.

Anyway, she then goes to meet with a random woman in prison who writes she hasn’t committed the crime and needs help. But doesn’t prep, doesn’t do any research, knows nothing about the person she’s about to talk to. Not even the absolute basics of journalism, from a once award-winning journalist who wants to camp out with homeless people to get important stories. This is despite a supposed year of hating her job/life/etc and wanting to do anything to hit the big time again.

Dealing with “white saviour-ism”? You can’t even deal with journalism, let alone properly create a character who could represent white saviour-ism that wouldn’t be stupidly easy to knock over. If you want to tackle an issue well, at least have some knowledge of your subject matter yourselves. Then you might be taken seriously and you might even be able to generate some nuance, something for the audience to digest, rather than spit out as soon as it hits the mouth.

Which is what I’m going to be doing. Beckinsale is great, the show is dreadful.

But what did you watch?

US TV

What have you been watching? Including Ghosts and CSI: Vegas

It’s “What have you been watching?”, your chance to recommend to fellow TMINE readers anything you’ve been watching this week

What do more shows make? More fun! Obviously. Yes, the US has started pumping out some more new shows now we’re entering October, which makes I actually have something to write about instead of whinging the whole time.

I’ve actually tried a few new shows, but my tolerance threshold has been sharply reduced by Covid so I didn’t get as far watching more than a few minutes of them.

Squid Game (Netflix) seems to be the show all the cool kids are talking about right now. It’s a Korean drama that involves some childhood playground game called ‘the Squid Game’ that has absurdly complicated rules about getting into a zone and holding the zone and pushing and pulling and stuff.

All grown up, one of the players has a gambling problem that means he steals money from his mum. And then he gets called to play the same game as an adult, but with a few heavily modified, possibly lethal rules.

I didn’t get far enough to decide whether I liked it or not. It could have been the new Saw, in which case I’m glad I didn’t watch it. It could have been the new Parasite (2019), since there were aspects of the guy’s home set up that reminded me of the con-family’s home. Either way, it almost certainly wasn’t for me, judging by the trailer.

Also on the quick for the chop list was One of Us is Lying (US: Peacock), which seemed basically to be like a lethal version of The Breakfast Club (1985). Adapted from the novel of the same name by Karen M McManus, it follows five high school students who enter detention, where one of them dies under suspicious circumstances and an investigation ensues.

I’ve seen The Breakfast Club. I don’t want to watch the murder mystery young adult version. The programme also had me annoyed almost from the point I saw the poster for it. Bah! Kids!

But I did manage to watch all the way through to the end of two new shows.

CSI: Vegas (US: CBS)

Facing an existential threat* that could bring down the Crime Lab, a brilliant team of forensic investigators must welcome back old friends and deploy new techniques to preserve and serve justice in Sin City.

Rob says: ‘It’s nice to see old friends’

A limited series follow-up to CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, this sees a lot of the original (read: popular, alive, available, financially interested) show’s cast reunited for what can only be described as a very numpty, CSI: Miami plot.

Here, the now blind Jim Brass (Paul Guilfoyle) is attacked in his home by a killer, who’s been hired by someone with a grudge against the forensics lab. He lures back Sara Sidle (Jorja Fox), who teams up with the new crime lab nerds to investigate the mystery, which turns out to be linked to a kidnapper Brass put away. That in turn links in more former crime lab bods, including by the end of the episode Gil Grissom (William Petersen) – it’s not a spoiler if it’s in the main titles!

For the most part, this is the Sara show, pleasingly enough, as she mills about being shown the ways of the new lab and what advances have been made in forensics since her day, by new lab boss Paula Newsome. It all feels very backdoor pilot to a revival of the show, rather than just a limited series, but given that the new cast are some of the worst actors I’ve ever seen in a TV show, even an American TV show, even the Brits (Mandeep Dhillon), I doubt I’ll be tuning in for that, even if Sara and Gil stick around.

It’s all massive sci-fi nonsense, of course, and the attempts to create some new nerds with moderately different personalities from all their nerd predecessors is reasonably flawed. The plot, as usual, involves violence to women, women being abducted, etc, which is pretty distasteful. There’s various side-mysteries that need to be solve on the path to solving the main mystery.

Yet, it wasn’t bad. Seeing the old cast again was pleasing and Fox shows she could have been a decent TV lead if only she’d been given her own show. I might stick around for episode two, because my mother in law is a fan of the original and she might well like it. Let’s see what she says once she’s seen the first ep.

* An existential threat? Does Jean-Paul Satre have a knife at their throats?

Ghosts (US: CBS)

A young couple, whose dreams come true when they inherit a beautiful country house, only to find it’s both falling apart and inhabited by many of the deceased previous residents.

Rob says: ‘A decently funny adaptation of the BBC original’

This may sound familiar to you, given it’s based on the BBC show of the same name. However, since I largely gave up on UK TV about five years ago, it was all new to me.

And I quite enjoyed it!

Again, stop me if you’ve heard this already – or maybe it’s been artfully constructed to be as different from the original as possible – but while the story’s not that fresh (haunted home, young couple move in, ghosts are upset, but then one of the couple turns out to be able to see them), the show at least does something fun with the different ghosts and the couple.

The ghosts both represent ages past. Each ghost largely therefore represents a different minority group who was oppressed or another group with horrific prejudices; the newer ghosts understand tech better than old ghosts and so on.

So we the rich woman who runs the house having a hatred of the Irish, a gay Civil War soldier, a Black Southern flapper-singer, a 90s Wall Street broker with horrific misogynistic tendencies – all the way back to the Vikings and native Americans, in fact. Wall Street broker can go on about Tara Reid’s movies, old ghosts only know about movies, older ghosts still have to be reminded that’s theatre that’s projected while the oldest ghosts don’t know what projection is. You get the idea.

That formula actually lends itself though to some quick, sparky dialogue and self-deprecating dialogue that shows that no matter what era you’re from, there’s winners and losers, the bigoted and the enlightened for the time – who now look a bit backward. There’s also the occasional (but only very occasional) bit of horror, just to add a little bite to the meal.

The cast are all solidly funny. Rose McIver (I, Zombie) knows how to do supernatural and funny in her sleep, but to her credit stays awake and provides a good anchor point for the whole thing. Utkarsh Ambudkar (Free Guy) is capable of better but isn’t hugely subtle here; all the same, he provides a suitably strong counterpoint to McIver.

I really enjoyed the first episode, so I’ll be back for more.

The regulars

The regulars list is back down to two shows. For one week only, because it was the last episode of The Cleaner last week, with Greg Davies bumping into the woman (This is England‘s Jo Hartley) he’s been pining for since she dumped him on his 30th birthday: ‘The One’ of the title. As usual, it’s a two-hander with Davies generously giving Hartley as many zingers in the script as he gives himself.

But it’s also a poignant piece about growing old but not quite being old yet, moving on, deciding (or not deciding) what to do with your life and working out who is genuinely The One, with the episode title also presenting a pleasing ambivalency: Hartley is Davies’ ‘one’ (who got away) but is she ‘the one’; is he the ‘one’ she should never have left or is he ‘the one’ she escaped from; and is Davies’ ‘the one’ actually someone else and he’s been so hung up on the Hartley that he’s never realised that maybe there’s another ‘one’.

Although it has the least acting pyrotechnics and jokes of the series, for my money it was the best.

Only Murders in the Building also turned in the finest episode of the season so far, with the episode that (more or less) explained the show’s whole mystery. But with one character deaf, it was largely played out both in ASL and in near total silence, beyond the simulated sounds a deaf person might hear – the noises from their own body. It was a genuinely well done piece of TV that actually managed to integrate all the previous episodes together and make sense of them, too.

Don’t watch this unless you want to be spoiled, BTW, but it’s a pretty fascinating look at how they shot the whole thing. In particular, how will deaf viewers watching the episode know when it’s gone silent?

But what did you watch?

US TV

What have you been watching? Including La Brea

It’s “What have you been watching?”, your chance to recommend to fellow TMINE readers anything you’ve been watching this week

Surprisingly, last week’s huge flurry of new shows seems to have been the extent of the Fall season in North America. I assumed it would be bigger and longer than… a week. Maybe there’ll be more this month, but that would involve me looking to find out. Sounds like work, doesn’t it?

I prefer to just bump into new shows these days. Did you know IMDb TV is going to be a thing? I’d heard a bit about it and knew there was a new Judge Judy show on it, but that’s about it, so figured it was just reality TV.

But now I’ve just stumbled onto the fact that apparently, they’ve rebooted Leverage with the entire original cast and Noah Wyle but not Timothy Hutton (for very, very obvious reasons). And here’s a trailer for Leverage: Redemption, which is going to start in just a few weeks. Isn’t that some good stumbling?

I also stumbled across Fires, which is ABC (Australia)’s retelling of last year’s wildfires in Australia. Remember when that was going to be the thing of 2020?

Anyway, that’s just started but is verboten in this house, on the grounds it’s about something real and miserable.

That meant the only new show I have to share with you is this piece of rubbish.

© NBC

La Brea (US: NBC)

A massive sinkhole mysteriously opens up in Los Angeles, separating part of a family in an unexplainable primeval world, alongside a disparate group of strangers.

Rob says: ‘Lost meets The Lost World = Twice as Lost’

It’s pretty obvious right from the outset of La Brea that this is going to be an awful TV show. All the standard tools for character compression get thrown out like balls from a tennis practice machine, with us clear within the first minute of a random car journey to school that the three characters have moved house, are a family, one has lost her leg somehow, have left the father somewhere else for ‘reasons’, the mum (Natalie Zea) is feeling guilty of being a ‘helicopter mom’ and more. Not for a moment is it natural dialogue.

By minute two, a massive sinkhole has opened up and we’re having car chases on pavements in reverse, people running out the way, buildings falling and more.

Never for one second are you expected to be bored or to have to use your brain. Don’t worry – you won’t need it.

Before you know it, half our family are in a grassy wonderland that looks a bit Canadian that’s apparently under LA somehow, the other half are stuck up above and think the first lot are dead. But fear not, they’ve just fallen down some kind of portal into a primeval dimension, filled with CGI wolves, sabretooth tigers and sort of vultures.

Meanwhile, Air Force dad (Eoin Macken from Nightflyers) turns out to have been diagnosed with schizophrenia but – oh wow, isn’t this handy and coincidental – has actually been having visions of what’s happening in this parallel world and can now see that his wife and all these other helpfully diverse people (surgeon/Navy SEALs, psychologist with guns, heroin smugglers) are all still alive! And must be saved! Please believe him!

One of the characters references Lost. I presume that’s as a sort of preemption to prevent people from accusing it of being Lost. “We’re not going to point out the similarities if we actually are just doing Lost are we?”

It is Lost. Sorry. That little ruse didn’t work for Catherine Tramell in Basic Instinct; it won’t work here either.

But it’s also The Lost World. That’s a really hard one to portmanteau with Lost, isn’t it? Shall we just say it’s twice as Lost?

Clearly, it’s The Lost World. Maybe even Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Or more likely that thing with Doug McLure.

Anyway, it’s terrible. Everyone’s stupid. There wasn’t even one moment of plausibility in the whole thing, even before the sinkhole opened up. The effects are poor. The set-up is dumb. Even Natalie Zea can’t save this one.

And, of course, it’s an NBC show with a central ‘secret’ that will be eked out across multiple seasons and then cancelled before there’s any real resolution, unless Netflix saves it (cf Manifest). And this one is going to get cancelled very quickly. That means there are even fewer reasons to watch it.

The regulars

Otherwise, it was just the regulars. So, first up, I’m not going to be reviewing What We Do In The Shadows any more. For starters, I’m getting a bit bored of it, so I’m not sure there’s much point. It’s a bit funny every week, but that’s about it. There’ll probably be one awesome episode this season, which seems to be the tradition, but one awesome episode isn’t really enough to sustain reviews.

It’s also a comedy and as with Modern Family, which I did watch until the final episode but stopped reviewing at about season 4, there’s only so much you can say about an episodic comedy anyway before there stops being a point. So I’m going to keep watching What We Do In the Shadow but not review it.

Only Murders in the Building gave us more of Selena Gomez’s character, but as usual, Martin Short steals the show with his podcast antics.

The Cleaner was a more interesting affair, since it was basically Greg Davies (old bloke) meeting some young guy who’s obsessed with both social media and the 80s and Davies educating him about what the 80s was really like. But the two also came to a sort of interesting rapprochement that I quite enjoyed, so it wasn’t just an old guy going ‘Tsk, tsk! The kids today, hey?’

But what did you watch?