Weekly Watchlist #9 (28th Oct – 3rd Nov)

Much more stuff this week!

Daybreak (Netflix)

This has really captivated me – very easy to dismiss as derivative (because, well, it absolutely is), but with just enough flourish to occasionally feel very inspired. Oddly, it’s not the most confident show – for every step it takes towards a new idea, it quickly hurries two steps back to comforting archetypes – but when it gets things right it absolutely soars. I’d struggle to recommend it wholeheartedly, but at the same time it’s clearly not a bad show: just one I wish was a little more willing to trust its best instincts.

Defending the Guilty (BBC Two)

It never quite managed to solve the flaw I highlighted a while ago – the lack of development for Will’s girlfriend – which becomes harder to ignore as the series concluded. At the same time, though, I still really enjoyed this: it’s funny and it’s moving, with a brilliant cast and a killer soundtrack. The ending invites a second series I’m not sure is wholly needed – but I really can’t wait for more.

House of Games (BBC Two)

I normally tend not to include all the quiz shows I watch in these listings, but I just wanted to note for posterity that I got an answer about Virginia Woolf very quickly this week, and I was very proud of myself.

That’s all.

In the Long Run (Sky One)

It’s easy to forget just how good a comic talent Idris Elba is, given his more high-profile outings tend towards the dramatic – even then, this loosely-autobiographical piece feels like it’s flown especially under the radar, not really making a huge impact on people’s impressions of Elba. (I’d bet more people know about his DJ work than this show. Actually, I’d bet more people would know him from Bond rumours than this show, and that’s probably never going to happen.)

That’s a shame – In the Long Run is a charming, funny little show, the sort of thing that I could very easily see being just as loved as Derry Girls or Stath Lets Flats if it too had found a home at Channel 4.

Motherland (BBC Two)

Admittedly, “I really can’t wait for more” is also exactly how I felt about Motherland’s first series; this year’s effort is much more easily written off. I could never quite put my finger on what changed – and maybe if I went back and rewatched the first series, I’d be disappointed by that as well. Either way, it’s been a disappointing year

Riverdale (Netflix)

Halloween is absolutely the best time of year for Riverdale. Wait a few months and I’ll say the same about Christmas, though – this is a show that really thrives on excess and exaggeration, so the heightened nature of any holiday always makes for an especially fun instalment of Riverdale nonsense.

Superstore & The Good Place (NBC, Netflix)

Doing these ones together, because I remain of basically the same mind about each – Superstore is just about recovering from a rough start, while The Good Place continues to tread water, increasingly prompting me to realise again (as is the case with every new season of The Good Place) that I just don’t love it. Both these shows might end up bumped from the weekly watchlist – I’ll still keep on top of them, of course, but I’m definitely not going to have something new to say about them each week.

Favourite show of October: I suspect ‘favourite’ is probably the wrong word here – I’d want to very heavily caveat it in this instance – but Daybreak is undeniably the show that’s made the most impression on me, and I suspect the one I’ll be thinking about longest.

Best new show of October: Again, I think it has to be Daybreak.

Most looking forward to in November: Lot of possibilities here – I have high hopes for His Dark Materials, some measured interest in a few of the Apple+ shows, and I haven’t quite got around to Watchmen yet so we’ll call that a November show – but it’s hard not to choose The End of the F***ing World series 2. Absolutely loved the first series, and really curious to see how Jessica Barden fills the role of the lead.

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Weekly Watchlist #8 (21st Oct – 27th Oct)

I watched very little this week. But I was doing real work! So that’s got to count for something, I hope.

Fleabag (BBC Three)

Just the one episode, from the first series, because I was channel hopping, and it was on. Hugh Dennis gives such a subtle, moving performance in this; it’s surely the best work of his career, certainly not something you’d think he was capable of from Mock the Week. But the closing moments of that fourth episode, the one I watched this week? He’s sublime.

Riverdale (Netflix)

Riverdale is very easy to criticise – and, in fairness, deserves a lot of the criticism it gets – but I will always maintain that it’s actually a much better show than its reputation suggests. Structurally, it’s a marvel; I’m convinced that Riverdale is one of the most attentively, acutely paced programs on television at the moment. I really believe that!

Superstore (NBC)

I can’t help but feel like Superstore’s solution to keep Matteo in the store after last year’s ICE cliffhanger is a bit contrived – although, equally, I wouldn’t have wanted them to lose Nico Santos, whose always been one of the best parts of the show. I’m interested to see what Matteo’s plotline will look like across the rest of the year; so far it hasn’t quite lived up to the weight of expectation created at the end of season 4, but hopefully that’ll change going forward.

The Circle (Channel 4)

I still haven’t actually caught up on this – in fact, I got spoilers for who won when I was putting together the last weekly watchlist. (Whoops.) Again, though, I’m inclined to stick with it. I sort of wish it would get a bit more popular, so there would be more writing on it – I’m convinced that someone better versed in the history of reality television would have quite an interesting take on it.

The Good Place (Netflix)

After I complained last week about the memory wipes, this episode opened with a quick joke about restoring Jason’s memories. That, I think, is probably the best I’m ever gonna get – and I don’t think I’ll ever really be entirely pleased with that.

But, yes, quite a few things missing this week. Keep managing to miss Watchmen, which is a nuisance, because I’m really curious about that. And I missed The Accident, too; I mostly enjoyed Kiri, so I was keen to check that out, but a lot of the reviews have been less than encouraging.

Tell you what, though, I’m increasingly becoming more and more conscious of just how much television there is. Which is a bit of an obvious thing to say, but I was quite struck by the fact that this week, a friend of mine started watching and in turn heavily recommending Daybreak – a new Netflix show that debuted this week, and I hadn’t even heard of until he mentioned it. There’s a lot going on there, of course, and part of that is down to Netflix’s advertising – but equally, this isn’t a small show! It’s got Matthew Broderick in it, it’s based on what are apparently relatively popular comic books!

But we’re at the point where there’s so much television that even I, someone who ostensibly watches television for a living, hadn’t heard of this show. Which is an odd thing to confront, I suppose.

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Weekly Watchlist #7 (14th Oct – 20th Oct)

weekly watchlist 7 the good place tahani jameela jamil rebecca front thick of it succession kendall headphones

Haven’t picked up anything new yet this week. Been a while. Recommendations always appreciated!

Motherland (BBC Two)

An improvement this week, if only a little one, because last week’s new character was sidelined a bit. (It is… a shame that this character is played by the only WOC in the cast. The actress is great, but the character is really, really misconceived. Do intentionally irritating side-characters ever work?) Even then, anyway, the episode was a bit of a disappointment. Ah well.

Riverdale (The CW, Netflix)

It’s absolutely ridiculous, but that’s why I love it. Frankly I’d be disappointed if it ever tried to be grounded again – I watch this for nonsense like Veronica making reporters watch her sing and dance before giving a press conference, or Jughead having a classmate called ‘Bret Weston Wallis’. It is nonsense! And, therefore, often the highlight of my week.

Succession (HBO, Sky Atlantic)

Undoubtedly, it’s going to make my top ten for 2019 – how could it not? – but, as I’ve noted a few times over the past few weeks, I think it’s harmed by the fact it never quite followed up on the ending of episode 5 as much as it could have. Or, I suppose, maybe it’s more accurate to say ‘as much as I would’ve liked’. Given how important the relationship between Shiv and Kendall was to this episode, though, it definitely feels as though the ball was dropped, at least a little bit.

Still! That ending. Can’t wait for next year.

Superstore (NBC)

It’s still a little frustrating, and still feels like a weak cover of earlier years, but it’s starting to find the groove again. Thankfully!

The Good Place (NBC, Netflix)

So, here’s the other thing that bothers me about The Good Place: the mind-wipes. It’s never quite sat with me – especially in a show that purports to be a character-driven show – how easily and how willingly The Good Place quite literally resets its characters. There’s only ever been a partial restoration of memories once, so it’s not like these memories are going to be restored – I don’t understand how losing those memories isn’t essentially like a death?

That feels like a hugely important thing for a show that’s meant to be about its characters to grapple with – certainly I had a bit of trouble caring about any of them again at the start of series 2, as it became clear that all the development they underwent the year before was being undone – but especially so for a show that’s so heavily concerned with philosophy. How is that not something they’d get into – all these questions about selfhood and identity and what constitutes the fundamental essence of a person? It’s a strange device to use in such a throwaway fashion, and I’m increasingly realising I’ll never quite get a satisfactory answer on that.

The Thick of It (BBC Two, Netflix)

Very nearly caught up on this, just coming to the end of the third season. Really like Rebecca Front as Nicola Murray, quite a breath of fresh air for the show. Curious to see how they handle the coalition years in the next series too.

Quite a few things I’ve missed this week – fallen behind on Defending the Guilty, which is a bit of a shame. I’ll have to get back on top of that soon.

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Weekly Watchlist #6 (7th Oct – 13th Oct)

Still trying to work out a format for this that actually works, given that I’m not sure I have a lot worth saying about all the things I’m watching. Getting there, though.

House of Games (BBC Two)

I really, really like quiz shows, and this is fun enough and slightly offbeat enough to be worth tuning into regularly.

Motherland (BBC Two)

Hugely disappointed by this, I’ve got to admit – this, I think, made my best of 2017 list, so I was really looking forward to its return. Which was hugely underwhelming in the end! The issue I think was because so much of this episode was dedicated to a new, fairly one-note character, the entire episode structured around one fairly limited joke (“look, the mothers have to take care of this other mother, who is acting like a teenager”). Bit of a shame, that.

Riverdale (The CW, Netflix)

Genuinely moving, in a way I didn’t think of Riverdale ever could be.

Succession (HBO, Sky Atlantic)

I’ll miss this a lot when it ends for the year – admittedly I do think it’s faltered ever so slightly since those near-perfect opening episodes, but frankly Succession at 80% is better than a lot of shows at 100%.

Superstore (NBC)

Something of an improvement this week, but mainly I was just trying to work out where I recognised the actress playing Colleen from. (The answer, I’m fairly sure, is SNL. Or more likely Veep, since I don’t even really watch SNL.)

The Chase (ITV)

I watch this every day, more or less – even on the weekends, when it’s not actually on properly, I’ll tend to watch a syndicated repeat. I would hate to know how many hours of my life I’ve spent watching The Chase, to be honest. And how little I’ve actually learned from it! But I’m definitely getting better at it. Eventually, I will go on The Chase, I will take the higher offer, be caught within two questions, and never watch it again.

Which would be one way to break a habit, I suppose.

The Circle (Channel 4)

Still gradually working my way through The Circle, albeit fairly behind the actual broadcast schedule – six episodes a week is frankly too much of anything. It remains unexpectedly compelling, though; it’s the first reality show of its ilk that I’ve been genuinely into enough to actually want to watch six episodes of a week. (Or, well, try to anyway.)

The Good Place (NBC, Netflix)

This episode wound me up a bit, admittedly. I’ve always gone back and forth on Tahani, whether I find her charming or irritating; I’m increasingly starting to think, though, that while Tahani is still this cartoonishly bourgeoisie character, The Good Place is never quite going to make “there’s no ethical consumption under capitalism” land as its central thesis. (Assuming that remains its central thesis, admittedly.)

The character needs to develop beyond the initial archetype – I’m not saying there isn’t some depth to her (well, I’m not saying that at the moment, anyway), but while The Good Place still sticks to that initial joke, I’m not sure it’ll ever quite be what it seems to want to be.

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Weekly Watchlist #5 (30th Sept – 6th Oct)

weekly watchlist 5 phoebe waller bridge saturday night live fleabag posh malcolm tucker peter capaldi superstore the thick of it

Slightly shorter one this week!

Defending the Guilty (BBC Two)

I liked it already, of course, but when they used my favourite Wolf Alice song? That’s when I loved it.

Saturday Night Live (NBC)

I’ve never quite bought into the whole “Fleabag is too posh” line of criticism – not as much as I probably should have, anyway – but the sheer level of contempt on display in that Love Island sketch made me quite uncomfortable, actually.

(The rest of it, obviously, was predictably throwaway fare. Still, Taylor Swift was pretty good.)

Succession (HBO, Sky Atlantic)

One thing I quite enjoy about Succession is all those cutting little jokes about journalism. “Here’s ten reasons why you’re never getting paid”. Yeah. Yeah.

Superstore (NBC)

An improvement over last week, definitely, although I’m still getting the feeling that something is just a little off – which is odd, really. There’s no way, surely, that the head writer moving to more of a producer-only role should have this much of an impact – it’s a way too auteuristic model of understanding a network sitcom, of all things, and anyway his replacements have been working on the show since the start. But at the same time, something definitely feels not quite right. I wonder if maybe it’s me, and simply knowing that something has changed behind the scenes is enough to make things feel different. Hmm.

The Good Place (NBC, Netflix)

One day I’ll get it. It’s still, you know, fine – although definitely hurting itself by sidelining William Jackson Harper, who’s always been one of the best bits of the show.

The Thick of It (BBC Two, Netflix)

Been watching this in my spare time, mainly because I’ve never seen it before, and I figured it was worth catching up on just so I could understand all the references people made. It’s quite fun. Probably there is lots to be written about what it tells us about politics in hindsight, to, uh, varying levels of insight, but mostly what stood out was a throwaway line about how scandalous a Tory MP doing blackface is… in the same week that Desmond Swayne was all over the news openly boasting about having done blackface in the past.

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Weekly Watchlist #4 (23rd Sept – 29th Sept)

weekly watchlist 4 fleabag live phoebe waller bridge the politician ben platt the good place kristen bell ted danson netflix

And another one. Still working out exactly what I want these to look like, but I think they’re starting to take shape a bit better.

Defending the Guilty (BBC Two)

Again, I’m really enjoying this, particularly as it began to fill in the rest of the cast a little more this week. I think the main thing it needs to do, and do quite quickly, is make more of an effort to characterise the lead character’s girlfriend – at the moment she’s not much more than a cipher, which would be a flaw even if a lot of the drama didn’t pivot around Will Sharpe’s character’s relationships.

Fleabag Live! (National Theatre Live)

I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so conscious of how important Sian Clifford is to Fleabag until she wasn’t in it. That was my primary takeaway, anyway, and what I kept thinking throughout this not-actually-live-but-repeat-recording-of-the-live-version showing of Fleabag that I went to see this week. (The same is sort of true of Hugh Dennis too, actually, although to a much lesser extent.)

What I was also trying to work out, though, was Fleabag series 2 – I am, I think, one of the few people for which that didn’t entirely click (although I’m of the mind that I must’ve surely just missed something). It struck me that the ending of Fleabag series 2 was an almost complete refutation of the ending of series 1 – I’ll go into this properly someday I’m sure – so I was interested to see if, maybe, that was the DNA of the spikier stage show resurfacing. Not so, though; the way Fleabag’s first series adapts the stage show is obvious, and the second series remains a mystery to me.

Succession (HBO, Sky Atlantic)

If all was right in the world, Jeremy Strong would get lots and lots of awards for this. He’s sublime.

Superstore (NBC)

Superstore is an all-time favourite of mine – the cliffhanger that closed season 4 has already earned it a place on the best of 2019 list, no question. It was the sort of moment that felt like it was breaking genuinely new ground for a network sitcom, positioning Superstore as a vital, urgent piece of television, the sort of thing that genuinely earns a place in television history.

The fifth series opener threw me a little, though – I’m not sure if it was behind the scenes changes, or maybe it’s just not quite possible to live up to the weight of expectation generated by a big moment like that (I’m quite consciously trying to avoid revealing it here), but I was a tad disappointed by this. Looking forward to next week anyway, though.

The Circle (Channel 4)

This is surprisingly engrossing – it’s mostly a load of nonsense, as tends to be the case with reality TV, but there’s something about the Big Brother crossed with Catfish premise that’s becoming increasingly difficult to look away from, even before they threw Richard Madeley pretending to be a 27 year old woman into the mix.

The Good Place (Netflix)

More than anything else on television at the moment, The Good Place makes me feel slightly out of step with everyone else. I just don’t like it that much! It’s… fine. It’s nice, it’s often sweet, and sometimes I quite enjoy it. It feels friendly, and that’s neat. But by the same stroke, it’s often unbearably twee, deeply, overly saccharine, and at times it’s actually quite irritating. It’s not bad, or not bad enough to be worth some attempt at a takedown – but I do feel so, so out of step with the general critical consensus on this one, since everyone’s hailing it as the most revolutionary comedy since, well, the genre was invented it sometimes feels like.

It is very conceptually striking at times, and it’s often quite inventive – what I do find sort of notable actually is that the stretch I’ve enjoyed the most, series 3, seems to be the consensus weakest season – but for the most part I struggle to click with it. I think I just don’t find it particularly funny (I’ve always enjoyed it more when I stopped expecting it to be funny, I think), and I’m always slightly baffled when some screencap goes viral on twitter.

“Stonehenge was a sex thing”, says a CGI elephant. I mean, sure, okay.

The Politician (Netflix)

This is peak Ryan Murphy, and – I say this with genuine admiration – quite neatly filled a Riverdale-shaped hole in my heart.

Favourite show of September: Has to be Succession, really.

Best new show of September: Going to go with Defending the Guilty, actually, which I’ve been quietly impressed by.

Most looking forward to in October: Oh, it could only be Riverdale, my one true love, even now.

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