Sky Atlantic's Riviera
UK TV reviews

Third-episode verdict: Riviera (UK: Sky Atlantic)

In the UK: Thursdays, 9pm, Sky Atlantic

When Sky Atlantic started out making drama, it seemed like little more than an advert for the virtues of HD TV. While plots have improved since then, Riviera still feels like one of those early Sky Atlantic shows – all glossy locations, famous actors and glorious colours designed to show off what an improved Sky subscription package has to offer.

Since its first episode, Riviera has at least improved from merely giving us the likes of Julia Stiles, Lena Olin, Adrian Lester and Anthony LaPaglia marching from rich, plush location full of rich, plush people to another, with Amr Waked running around a lot and the occasional bit of sexy fun time thrown in for good measure. Episode two managed to up the IQ quotient a bit while adding the slightly less glamorous Phil Davis to the cast as an Interpol officer investigating financial dodginess in the family Stiles.

However, despite having a psychotic drowned prostitute going around murdering everyone she comes across, episode three has been light on thrills, intelligence or much else, preferring instead to have Stiles walking around gibbering to everyone she comes across while pointing a gun at them, whether they’re genuine crims, slightly poncy sculptors or innocent deer, which feels a bit of a cheap way to bring in even more excitement. Most scenes involve one or both of Stiles’ step-sons (Iwan Rheon and Dimitri Leonidas – the only cast member Greek enough to be a ‘Clios’)  being mean or nice to either Stiles or the other brother, or Stiles and Lester snapping at each other. And Davis only serves to make everything seem artificial and fake, rather than highlighting the differences between the very rich and the rest of us mere mortals.

There are precious few thrills in this thriller, but if you want to know how pretty HD can be or if Rheon can actually be anything other than a bit slimey, then Riviera is at least a break in watching Blue Planet on continual loop.

Barrometer rating: ‘4 or about as good as John Barrowman’s appearance in Shark Attack 3

The Barrometer for Riviera

Naomi Watts in Netflix's Gypsy
TV reviews

What have you been watching? Including Gypsy, Downward Dog, Doctor Who, Glow, Riviera, Ronny Chieng – International Student and Westworld

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. Go on – I dare you.

The slowdown into summer continues and with the July 4th weekend having just passed, there wasn’t a huge amount for me to watch this week. Elsewhere, I’ve reviewed Spike (US)’s The Mist but that was the only new show other than Netflix’s Gypsy, which I’ll get onto in a minute. In fact, two more shows have had their season finales since last week: Doctor Who (UK) and Downward Dog (US). There’ll be nothing left at this rate…

Anyway, after the jump, as well as those two concluding shows, I’ll be looking at what’s left of the regulars: Glow, Riviera and Ronny Chieng – International Student. And, because I finally had some time to play catch-up, I’ll be looking at the final few episodes of Westworld (US), too – now there’s a blast from the past, hey?

Gypsy (Netflix)

Tediously familiar Chance territory in which Naomi Watts plays a bored psychiatrist trapped in a struggling marriage with Billy Crudup and dealing with a borderline-ADHD, possibly trans eight-year-old daughter and the mundanities and social rivalries of fellow mums. But then she begins to think that maybe she could do more for her clients by interfering in their lives, and in the process add some excitement to her own life. So she does and the boundaries between personal and professional begin to blur once she gets the hots for Karl Glusman’s dangerous ex-girlfriend (Sophie Cook) and begins constructing a boundary-crossing alter-ego for herself.

Gypsy wants to be a clever lesbian erotic thriller, playing with ambiguities about what’s real and who’s real, whether Glusman, Watts or Cook has the best idea of what Cook is truly like, and so on. The trouble is that it’s busy naming its episodes things like ‘The Rabbit Hole’, setting them in bars called ‘The Rabbit Hole’ set in basements you have to climb down stairs to get to, shortly before people say “We’re going down the rabbit hole now.” It’s basically a stupid person’s idea of a clever lesbian erotic thriller. Were it not for the production values, cast and runtime, it would probably be airing late night on Channel 5, having previously been released straight to video back in the early 90s.

I managed an episode and a half before the tedium of it all was too much for me.

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What have you been watching? Including I’m Dying Up Here, The Americans and Twin Peaks

It’s “What have you been watching?”, my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently and your chance to recommend anything you’ve been watching.

This may – or may not – be the last WHYBW for a couple of weeks. TMINE will be taking a break from Thursday through to Monday next week. Will I have time to watch much TV? I don’t know. The fact that my watch list is now just a few shows should help, but we’ll know for sure next Tuesday.

Elsewhere, I’ve already reviewed:

Which means that after the jump, I’ll be looking at the latest episodes of American Gods, Doctor Who, The Handmaid’s Tale, Silicon Valley and Twin Peaks, as well as the season finale of The Americans. That’s not much, is it. Come on summer season. Where are you?

Because this is the only other show I watched this week:

I’m Dying Up Here (US: Showtime)
1970s-set drama about a bunch of up-and-coming comedians in LA, all hoping to hit the big time by appearing on the Johnny Carson Show. But first, they’ve got to prove themselves worthy of a main room gig at Goldie’s on the Sunset Strip and Goldie (Melissa Leo) is only going to let you have that once she decides you’re good and ready. Until then, you’re not going to get paid, so you’ll be bunking down with your mate in someone else’s closet or masturbating in front of dying priests to earn some money, just to get by.

Initially, the show, which is based on journalist William Knoedelseder’s non-fiction book of the same name, looks like it’s going to be about Sebastian Stan’s ‘Clay’, who is the first of the bunch to get on Tonight. However, as the name of the show suggests, all doesn’t work out well for Stan, so the focus quickly shifts to his ex-girlfriend and fellow comic Ari Graynor (Bad Teacher), some of Clay’s friends from Boston (The Knick‘s Michael Angarano and The Office (US)‘s Clark Duke), and African-American comic RJ Cyler, who’s badly represented by agent Alfred Molina.

Despite being exec produced by Jim Carrey, I’m Dying Up Here‘s biggest problem is it’s not funny. Indeed, it’s bloody miserable, being closer to How To Make It In America and the horrors of being completely utterly broke than it is about the joys of comedy. Even when it’s supposed to be funny, such as when Graynor finally produces a routine that will ‘define’ her and potentially take her to the big time, it’s singularly unfunny.

It looks beautifully 70s and it quickly kills any idea you might have that stand-up was glamorous back then. Watchable or enjoyable, though? Not at all.

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including I’m Dying Up Here, The Americans and Twin Peaks”

What have you been watching? Including You Are Wanted, Passengers and The Accountant

It’s “What have you been watching?”, my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently and your chance to recommend anything you’ve been watching.

WHYBW took a bit of a break last week, thanks to there being Twin Peaks to watch and not enough time to do that and write about other TV, too. But it’s back, just in time to catch some season finales as the US Fall season begins to wave its final goodbyes and the Summer season starts to kick in.

There have been a few new shows, too, in the past fortnight: the first episode of Downward Dog and those first two new episodes of Twin Peaks I’ve already reviewed elsewhere and I’ll be reviewing Still Star-Crossed (US: ABC) and previewing I’m Dying Up Here (US: Showtime) later in the week. But with a bank holiday weekend, I’ve had a chance to catch up with everything, watch a few movies and even try some of my backlog.

So, after the jump, I’ll be reviewing the latest episodes of American Gods, The Americans, Doctor Who, Downward Dog, The Handmaid’s Tale, Master of None, Silicon Valley and Twin Peaks, as well as the season finales of The Flash, Great News and Lucifer. Before then, a new TV show and not one but two movies!

You Are Wanted (Amazon)
Amazon’s first German-language TV show is a Berlin-set ‘techno thriller’ starring (and written, directed, produced and composed by) one of Germany’s most successful actor-director-composer-writer-cameramen-producers Matthias Schweighöfer, who plays a moderately successful hotel manager and family man, whose life starts to fall apart when hacktivists start to take an interest in him for no obvious reason. Before you know it, they’re in every computer system he has from his laptop and smartphone through to his TV and child monitor, stealing his money, faking an affair and incriminating him in crimes, all while blacking out Berlin’s power system. What do they want and why him? Well, you’ll have to watch to find out.

The first episode was a touch more German in its production values than Amazonian (ie not as good and a bit silly at times), but while it’s not exactly Mr Robot when it comes to hacking, it’s not American Odyssey either, exhibiting a slight hint that it might know a bit about the subject at least. Schweighöfer is appealing, but there’s not much by way of thrills so far, just a lot of Schweighöfer playing with his family and reinstalling operating systems. But it’s promising enough I’ll probably be watching episode two this week at some point.

Word to the wise: despite promises to the contrary, Roku’s Amazon channel won’t display subtitles (I’ve fiddled with every setting it has and nada on anything I’ve watched). So, although half the dialogue’s in English, your German had better be up to knowing what “hydraulic fracking” and “epidemiology” are auf Deutsch if you’re to get by on that platform, so stick with iOS (which definitely does work) or something else. When I gave the subtitles a whirl, though, they turned out to be pretty bad translations that removed any nuance from the original (eg “Google is your friend” became “Use Google”), so I’m not sure that’s much better.

Passengers (2016)
Mechanic Chris Pratt is in hypersleep on board a spaceship to a new colony, when a meteorite collision causes a malfunction on the ship. Pratt wakes up 90 years too early and he’s the only one on board apart from android barman Michael Sheen. Dare he wake up alluring writer Jennifer Lawrence to keep him company? And if he does, what will she do when he finds out he’s effectively killed her? And was his malfunctioning hypersleep pod the only thing damaged by the collision?

A lot has been written about the gender politics of Pratt’s actions in this and to be fair, the movie does go at great lengths not to dodge the ethical questions involved. It’s also far more of a piece of science-fiction than you might have assumed and everything looks very beautiful. But ultimately this is a two-hander between Pratt and Lawrence and how much you’ll want to watch this and their musings about the meaning of life and death very much depends on how much like both of them, whether you find their age gap a bit creepy and whether you think Pratt unconsensually violating sleeping Lawrence’s body (metaphorically) is too much of an obstacle to your enjoying the movie. There’s a brief appearance by (spoiler) Laurence Fishburne and a so-brief-you-probably-won’t-even-see-his-face cameo by (spoiler) Andy Garcia, too, which makes me think there’s a longer cut of the movie out there somewhere…

The Accountant (2016)
An odd attempt to revive The Saint but without paying a licence fee, in which rather than Val Kilmer playing a swashbuckling and suave master criminal who adopts Catholic saints as his noms de plume, we have Ben Affleck playing a socially awkward savant and master criminal who adopts the names of famous mathematicians as his noms de plume, as he goes about… analysing the finances of whomever will pay him. Anna Kendrick is the Elisabeth Shue of the piece, a mid-level accountant who finds an irregularity in her employer (John Lithgow)’s books that Affleck can’t stop himself from investigating. Except Affleck has a very specific code of conduct and if any of his employers break it, he’ll use all the training his psych ops army dad gave him to kill them with extreme prejudice. Trouble is, Lithgow has hired Jon Bernthal (Marvel’s Daredevil‘s The Punisher) to protect him so Affleck might not find the going so easy and Treasury agent Cynthia Addai-Robinson is chasing after him in the exact same way she chases Ryan Phillippe in Shooter

Written by Bill Dubuque (The Judge and Netflix’s forthcoming Ozark) and directed by Gavin O’Connor (Warrior), oddly enough the film is more about an accountant with autistic spectrum disorder than it is about a fighty master assassin, with Affleck redeploying the ‘tortured hero with a disability’ routine he used in Daredevil to evoke sympathy as he does a lot of A Beautiful Mind-like writing on vertical surfaces. But oddly, although its portrayal of ASD’s sensory issues as something that simply needs to be overcome through harsh regimens of fighting, flashing lights, loud noise and hitting yourself with a stick is probably a little contra-indicated, it’s surprisingly accurate, albeit more in a Bron/Broen (The Bridge) sort of way than Life, Animated, with Affleck’s character driven by, advantaged by and disadvantaged by his condition throughout.

The ending is surprising, the fight scenes are genuinely very good, and Affleck and Kendrick are frequently amusing together. And I promise you you’ll never see Martha from The Americans the same way by the end. It’s nonsense and there’s one scene in which JK Simmons sits down to explain the entire plot to the audience, but it’s nevertheless a jolly entertaining, surprisingly smart, surprisingly generous action movie that does for ASD what Daredevil does for blindness.

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What have you been watching? Including American Gods, Master of None, Lucifer and The Americans

It’s “What have you been watching?”, my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently and your chance to recommend anything you’ve been watching.

That flood of new shows I was expected? Hasn’t shown up. Hmmm. Wonder why. Anyway, we’re still on a Tuesday because Sunday is still quite full, plus Upfronts week coverage took a bit of work to put together yesterday.

That means it’s time to look at the regulars, including the latest episodes of American Gods, The Americans, Doctor Who, The Flash, Great News, The Handmaid’s Tale, Lucifer and Silicon Valley. Netflix also released season two of Master of None on Friday and I’ve watched… an episode of it. So I can talk about that, at least, after the jump. See you in a mo. 

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