Sunday 26 July 2015


Sunday 26 July 2015
Familiar preamble by now: I'm still watching lots of television every week, but have less time and inclination to blog about it all. Therefore, occasionally I like to offer brief thoughts on some of the shows I've made a weekly appointment to watch. Maybe you'll enjoy reading? Onwards!

Extant – Season 2 (CBS/Amazon Prime)
Look, I wasn't a huge fan of season 1, but sometimes you watch silly things in the summer. It's a symptom of heat stress. Extant looks gorgeous in 1080p on Amazon and is frankly of the few reasons I can justify paying for their Prime service. But I'm probably going to give up soon, because this is clearly yet another U.S series that doesn't warrant going beyond a single season. This year has Molly (Halle Berry) becoming more crazy-eyed cop than problem-solving astronaut (who's suddenly a gifted marksman!), and I'm less interested in her reshaping because it's so clichéd. Ditching sensible Goran Visnjic for swaggering Jeffrey Dean Morgan was a good move, though. David Morrissey doing his American Accent© in a clichéd military tough-guy role, and the ridiculousness of scientists designing the government a robot warrior who resembles, um, a beautiful catwalk model... less so.

Halt and Catch Fire – Season 2 (AMC/Amazon Prime)
I was dismissive of the first season, which I still think was narratively rocky and often outright bad for two-thirds of its run, but season 2 wins my 'Most Improved TV Show' award. By focusing on its two female characters, and pushing the bigger-name males into glorified supporting roles, it's managed to find its feet. Who would've thought that would be the solution? It also helps that this season's tackling the birth of our internet culture (chat rooms, online gaming), which is much more interesting than suitcase-sized laptops. Nice to see James Cromwell in a recurring role this year, too.

Hannibal - Season 3 (NBC/Sky Living)
One of the few shows I like to review weekly, you can read my thoughts in more detail via the archive. The third season's been alternately maddening and horrifying, but overall I think the first half's proven the show works best when it has a crime procedural element to give it some shape—and ensure Will Graham has a more active role. This year's Euro-trip was extremely pretentious at times, and there were occasions when I think the writers dropped the ball. But the conclusion of the first half contained some of the most WTF sequences the show has ever done, so it pulled things back somehow—despite never really finding a way to make me care about Will as I used to. The weird love affair he has with Dr Lecter is sometimes more trouble than it's worth. [read my weekly reviews here]

Humans – Series 1 (Channel 4/AMC)
In terms of a UK drama, it's a pleasure to see British science fiction that's asking familiar questions but with enough of a fresh angle to keep matters interesting. (Although yes, I know this is a remake.) Excellent performance from Gemma Chan as an emotionless android, too. In terms of a sci-fi drama on the world stage, it's quite slow and has taken five episodes to reach a point where anything became interesting to me, which isn't great for a run of just 8 episodes. I also dislike the storyline where a robot physiotherapist is coming between a middle-aged couple's marriage, and the direction can sometimes feel a bit flat. Would have been nice to get the sense there's more of a budget behind this venture, too.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (BBC1)
I know this finished weeks ago in the UK, but just realised I didn't once mentioned this fantasy miniseries about magic existing in 18th-century England. I think it was a handsome failure, mainly because too many elements felt vague and it was difficult to emotionally connect to it. Bertie Carvell and Eddie Marsan were both excellent in their eponymous roles, and there were some impressive visual sequences (the sand horses stampede was amazing), but the story just sort of went limp by episode 3 or 4 and didn't quite recover. I was hoping the finale would compensate with something incredibly moving to pull everything together, but even that just sort of fizzled out for me. And yet, it was a delightful world to dip into every week, so I don't regret watching it.

Mr Robot – Season 1 (USA Network)
Lots of people are going crazy for this new series, and it's certainly an interesting drama with overtones of both Dexter (antihero leading a double life; sardonic voice-overs) and Fight Club (anarchic backdrop; unorthodox mentor who may be imaginary). I should be loving this show, but instead I'm just finding it a mildly diverting curio. I think this is mainly because underground hacking subculture doesn't interest me much, no matter how much they try and spice it up, and I don't share the worldview of the characters trying to overthrow capitalism. That doesn't mean it's impossible for me to find enjoyment in characters with a different belief system to me, but it does mean I find their ambitions very naïve. Also, Evil Corp—seriously? But I can't fault the show's ambition and fact it's doing something very different, so I'm willing to stick with it and see what shape it ultimately takes.

The Strain - Season 2 (FX)
I don't want to condemn this sophomore season, as it's only a few weeks old, but I have a very bad feeling about it. I just don't think this concept works for television; at least with the budget this has. It's bravely (or foolishly?) trying to dramatise a mass vampire attack on New York City, but none of it feels realistic. It's mostly being accomplished through the sound of distant police sirens, and occasional shots of billowing smoke on the horizon of rooftop scenes. And then there's the nonsense of the localised internet blackout, and the haziness of what the rest of the U.S are doing. They'd have been better off just setting the show in the 1980s, or something. The internal logic's so faulty that most of my pleasure is coming from just a few other areas: the excellent CGI vampire 'mouth-snakes', David Bradley's old git of a vampire killer, and Richard Sammel's performance as the deliciously slimy Eichhorst.

True Detective – Season 2 (HBO/Sky Atlantic)
Painfully slow and relentlessly boring crime drama, but with gorgeous visuals and decent performances from Colin Farrell and Rachel McAdams. It's "borrowing" so many ideas from other sources (mainly James Ellroy) that it's starting to feel like a scrapbook Nick Pizzolatto's glueing together at HBO's expense, rather than anything fresh and compelling with its own merits. Similar criticism was levelled at the first season's writing, so I'm beginning to believe Pizzolatto's just a lazy writer who lucked into hiring director Cary Fukunaga and Matthew McConaughey the first time. Maybe this season will end brilliantly and rise above its sense of self-parody, but so what if it does? The journey itself has been boring for too long; and television shows like this are mostly journeys audiences take, and ones you should want to stay on.

Wayward Pines - Season 1 (Fox)
This mystery drama, based on some trashy sci-fi novels few people have read, was a weak show for half its season—taking lazy inspiration from Twin Peaks and The Prisoner in its tale of a Secret Service agent trapped in a peculiar town while investigating the disappearance of two colleagues. Then, after it made the wise decision to reveal the answers to most of its questions by episode 5, it became an enjoyably bad show. There wasn't much brains behind Wayward Pines as a piece of storytelling, but it was good for some B-grade giggles. I'm going to ruin the mystery, for those who haven't watch it yet, so stop reading if you don't want to know! Okay, so... the town was founded by a scientist who predicted the end of civilisation at the hand of genetic aberrations, who took the unlikely step of putting thousands of people into hibernation and awakening them centuries later to populate a sanctuary protected by an electrified perimeter in the post-apocalypse of 4028 A.D. Got that? This preposterous reveal fuelled the second half of the season, which was consequently a great deal crazier and fun; although the finale, teasing a second season where the children have seized control of the town from their parents three years later, doesn't interest me as much. Frankly, the child actors were the worst part of this show and we've now lost too many of the adult stars who were holding this nonsense together—just.

So that's what I've been watching over the past few months. Do you agree with my assessments, or am I being too harsh on a few of those shows? And have I been missing out on something terrific you've been enjoying? Let me know in the comments below!