It’s “What have you been watching?”, your chance to recommend anything you’ve been watching this week
The flurry of new Spring shows has been dying down of late, but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped regaling you with reviews of the latest and greatest – or at least freshest – shows. True, Trust and The Terror are still sitting in that viewing queue, looking ever more unappealing, but I’m still going to give them a shot. And elsewhere, I have at least given you reviews of:
As well as a third-episode verdict on The Crossing (US: ABC; UK: Amazon). Incidentally, in case you haven’t visited that The Detail review recently, it turns out that it really is a remake of ITV’s Scott & Bailey. They kept that one quiet (at first).
Being the lazy type, I can’t be bothered to check the worldwide schedules for new shows, so let it all be as much of a surprise to me as it is to you if a new one materialises for me to review – or as if I actually get round to Trust and The Terror.
After the jump, a look at the latest episodes of the regulars: The Americans, Deep State, The Good Fight, Harrow, Killing Eve, Krypton, Legion, The Looming Tower, SEAL Team, Silicon Valley and Timeless. We’ve also had the season finale of Black Lightning, so I’ll be letting you know how that went, too.
In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, ABC
In the UK: Tuesdays, Amazon
The Crossingstarted as a really quite basic allegory about modern day politics, in which a whole bunch of refugees are literally washed ashore in the US, only to reveal themselves as Americans travelling back in time to escape from a war they’re losing quite badly.
Come on, audience, feel some empathy for Syrians – there but for the grace of God go you.
For the most part, that was all it was, with small town sheriff Steve Zahn (Treme, Mind Games) and Department of Homeland Security agent Sandrine Holt (Hostages, House of Cards, Macgyver, The Returned, The Art of More) having to deal with the new Americans. Holt has to deal with the mystery of the refugees’ arrival, while Zahn has to deal with one particular refugee (APB‘s Natalie Martinez) who it turns out has superpowers – the war was actually between Homo Sapiens and a newly engineered master-race of Apex predators, of whom she is one.
Come on, white audience, feel some empathy for oppressed minorities – there but for the grace of God go you.
And it wasn’t very good. It was okay, but it wasn’t great sci-fi, Zahn was less than plausible as a sheriff and Holt just sat behind a desk answering phones for the most part. A hint that another bunch of time travellers had already come through a good deal earlier gave the ending a nice twist, but beyond Martinez and her super-leaping, that was about it.
A mild improvement
Since then, things have got a bit better, as we’ve moved away from the allegory into telling more of a story. Episode two gave us some glimpses at the Continuum-like future and revealed Martinez’s mission in the past. We also got a super-virus that the world needs to watch out for.
While Zahn and Holt have had the same duties as before, Martinez has had some really quite whizzy super-fights and it rapidly became clear that she was the one good thing about the show. We also got some nice greying of the waters, with the previous travellers turning out to be regular humans coming back in time to try to prevent their terrible future from occurring, but not being especially concerned about what they have to do to prevent it.
However, while episode three at least maintained Martinez’s fighty fun, Zahn spent most of his time with his kid at a funfair, while Holt spent it typing into a computer or calling other people to get them to type into a computer. I do wonder if she’s only been hired for a couple of days, so they had to film all her scenes back-to-back on the same set.
The Crossing: Conclusion
Like The Whispers before it, The Crossing is probably going to turn out to be one of those sci-fi shows that ABC periodically produces that has a semi-decent core and just enough promise and decent production values that you imagine it might not be too bad – but which ultimately is likely to disappoint and never lead anywhere really satisfying.
That’s how I ended my review of the first episode and I stand by it. The Crossing is all of that and if you’re after decent sci-fi with pretty much all the same themes as The Crossing, try Continuum instead since it’s a lot better.
That said, The Crossing‘s meat and two veg sci-fi will serve you just fine as one of your regular servings a week, even if it doesn’t really contain much that’s nourishing. I might just keep watching to see what Martinez gets up to and if the plot will advance at all and become about more than looking for lost children and endless capture/release cycles, but as that would be my only draw, I imagine that if anything else pops up in the schedules, The Crossing would fall out of my watch-list very quickly.
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.
In the US: Sundays, 9pm, BBC America
In the UK: Acquired by BBC One/BBC Three. Will air in 2018
These days, it’s perhaps hard to remember that the James Bond books were aspirational pieces of writing. Sure, they were about an MI6 spy – well, assassin really, given his licence to kill – but as well as being a classic example of ‘competence porn‘, their endless lists of foods, designer labels and airports were also windows on a world of luxury and international travel that a post-war generation of readers still on rations could never hope to see for themselves. Small wonder that the movies with their glossy location filming became huge hits for the pre-EasyJet generations, who now know full well that airports are not in the slightest bit glamorous.
Outside the John Le Carré world of spy realism, pretty much every male spy TV and film series has been the same aspirational idea, just redressed for a new generation or slightly different audience: the Bourne movie series is basically Bond again, but for liberal Americans, for example.
Aspirational female spies – and assassins – have been a little harder to find. Sure, there have been attempts, such as the Moneypenny books and Black Widow in comics, but possibly the best attempt so far has been Modesty Blaise, although the movie didn’t really set the world on fire, despite numerous charms.
One could argue about what an aspirational female spy/assassin would be, but BBC America’s new series, Killing Eve, offers one really good suggestion. Adapted from Luke Jennings’s Villanelle novels by Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge, it sees Sandra Oh (Grey’s Anatomy) playing a bored MI5 desk officer who begins to suspect that a series of assassinations around the world are the work of a female assassin. Even though, it’s not her job, she defies orders and investigates, resulting in tragedy – and possibly a new job thanks to MI6’s Fiona Shaw.
Rather brilliantly, even though the books are about Russian orphan-turned-assassin Villanelle – played equally brilliantly here by Jodie Comer (Doctor Foster) – Oh is the clear protagonist of the piece. That means we aren’t asked to identify as much with Villanelle and her job and can instead aspire to her rather wonderful lifestyle. She lives in Paris, speaks multiple languages fluently, and has designer bed linen and clothes.
But rather than be a simple blunt, character-less tool of the state like James Bond, or a seductive femme fatale without any desires of her own, Comer’s Villanelle has fun. She’s also fun herself. When handler Kim Bodnia (Bron/Broen) shows up at her apartment, she’s faked her own suicide – but not too well, as she doesn’t want him to believe too much, since it’s just a joke.
She’s also no mere male spy with the pronouns changed or a male fantasy. She does things that no male spy tends to do: she plays with children, for example. Can you imagine Bond doing that? She’s also more gymnast than ninja or member of the military. She shins up drainpipes like she’s in the circus, and when she’s forced to hide in a room without exits, she literally folds up her diminutive stature inside a suitcase. She listens to cool music, wears cool clothes, zooms around on motorbikes and is a delight to behold, even when she’s stabbing someone in the eye.
Small wonder that Killing Eve is all about the mutual fascination that Oh and Comer end up having for one another, Comer and her fun life being something that Oh could aspire to having.
But Killing Eve is as much a comedy as it is a drama. Nevertheless, unlike most spy comedies, such as Austin Powers, Chuck, Spy or In Like Flint,it’s not a spoof. Instead, this is a comedy of everyday life, of the office and of relationships. Oh and work colleague David Haig are annoyed to have to come into work on a Saturday – and are still hung over from Haig’s birthday party from the night before. Oh snacks her way through this important meeting and is worried that she’s not making the right impression with Shaw. Important conversations happen while buying milk at the corner shop, rather than over a shark tank.
I have to admit to really loving Killing Eve, with its mixture of spy glamour and spy mundanity. Despite being made by BBC America, there’s location filming all over Europe and it looks great. Oh’s a great lead and fits in with the British tone and humour. Comer, meanwhile, is a revelation – I don’t remember ever seeing her in anything, but here she dominates every scene when necessary, while disappearing into the background whenever the story demands it.
Even if you didn’t like Fleabag, there’s a good chance you’ll like or even love this. And it might even make you want to become a top female assassin.
In Canada: Sundays, 9pm ET, CTV
In the UK: Acquired by Channel 5
Sometimes a name just leaps out at you. Sometimes a name leaps out at you as being particularly British.
The Detail at first looks like a completely ordinary – some might even say paralysingly ordinary – female police procedural. I shouldn’t need to specify ‘female’ since
There should be plenty of women in police procedurals anyway
There shouldn’t be a difference between procedurals that feature mainly men and those that feature mainly women.
Yet as we know from the likes of Women’s Murder Cluband Rizzoli & Isles, female police procedurals are usually 50% about a desperately uninteresting and mundane crime and about 50% about their police’s great friendships and relationships with their usually cheating boyfriends and/or alcohol. They also don’t really follow police procedure at all – although that’s true of a lot of police procedurals, to be fair.
Here, Shenae Grimes-Beech (Degrassi High) stars as ‘street smart’ Detective Jacqueline ‘Jack’ Cooper, who has keen investigative skills, but a messy personal life. That means she drinks a lot and has accidentally been dating a married man (Rookie Blue‘s Ben Bass) for a year, and doesn’t find out until she’s about to move in with him and he dumps her (pre-title sequence). Some detective, hey, something she herself points out as if the script hopes that the audience will give that stupidity a pass if it points it out itself.
Meanwhile, Angela Griffin (off that Coronation Street no less) stars as Detective Stevie Hall, a sharp quick-witted interrogator who is Jack’s mentor, who has to balance the demands of work and her complicated family life, as well as the arrival of her ex (of 15 years previously) David Cubbitt on the scene.
Lastly, Wendy Crewson (Frankie Drake Mysteries) plays the homicide unit’s boss, ‘who works overtime to secure justice, no matter what the cost’. You know, I’d quite like to have a cop show where everyone works regular hours for a change.
All of which is pretty dull to start with and only gets duller as we investigate our initial crime. Has a doctor murdered his wife, who appears to have committed suicide? He was having an affair with a nurse, after all.
Cue Grimes-Beech over-identifying with the nurse, getting overly involved in the case, Griffin warning her, Crewson telling her to stick to the rules, etc. That’s when she’s not abusing her police powers to track down Bass’s home and wife.
I mean, sure, it manages to integrate the relationships and the investigations better than Women’s Murder Club and its ‘magic Oprah door’. But ‘yawn’ all the same.
So what was the British name that leapt out at me and made me spare a second thought for The Detail, you might be wondering? Well, a fact little mentioned in all the publicity but mentioned in the titles is that despite the showrunner and show developer being Ley Lukins (Lost Girl, Rookie Blue, Saving Hope), the first episode is ‘based on a script by’ Sally Wainwright, who’s also a producer on the show.
‘Sally Wainwright’, hey? Pretty English, hey? That’s why it leapt out me. But someone who watches UK TV more than me, particularly female-centric police dramas, might have recognised her immediately as the creator of Happy Valley, Last Tango in Halifax and Scott & Bailey. Not inconsequential dramas – some, in fact, highly regarded.
On top of that, as well as in front of the camera with Griffin, look behind the camera and you’ll see vast hordes of top Brits, including noted producer and long-time Russell T Davies collaborator Nicola Shindler, who also worked with Wainwright on Happy Valley et al.
So how come, despite all this female talent and this being just the right #MeToo moment to launch a female-centric police procedural, The Detail is just so generic, so bland, so totally unremarkable and indistinguishable from all the shows that have gone before it?
Maybe they’ve used up all their ideas for the genre on the proceeding shows. Maybe it’s because Lukins’ previous shows were pretty generic, too, and her development of Wainwright’s script rendered it equally soporific. Maybe it’s because it’s CTV, which doesn’t have a stellar drama track record and something got lost in the translation. Maybe it’s because it’s Canadian TV, where sometimes people forget that while assembling a diverse cast is a good thing, you still need to equip them with decent scripts.
Or maybe it’s because female police procedurals are simply converging with male police procedurals – to become as dull as each other.
Whatever the reason, unless I plan on catching up on my sleep soon, I don’t think I’ll be paying attention to TheDetail.
UPDATE: It turns out that it really is an adaptation of Scott & Bailey!