Recent TV

September 8th, 2014

Recently watched, that is…

Vikings Season 2

It’s as if a set of TV Executives sat down with the express purpose of making a show Joe Abercrombie would really like, and they largely succeeded. Love, hate, violence and pagan strangeness abound as Scandinavia’s shiftiest opportunist, Ragnar Lothbrok, becomes embroiled not only in Viking blood-feuds but Saxon politics.  I doubt they’d make any high claims of historical accuracy but there’s vastly more authenticity on the bone than one might expect from a Hollywood treatment of the material and lashings of drama, shocks, shield-walls and wonderfully strange, inscrutable, and morally dubious characters. There’s a real stylistic boldness creeping into this second season as well, with gripping dreamlike sequences and whole episodes in which Ragnar barely speaks, communicating all that is necessary though his trademark unblinking wonky death-grin.

Orphan Black Season 1

Whenever Tatiana Maslany isn’t on screen this sfnal thriller looks decidedly wobbly, but she’s usually on screen at least once, and often more than twice, in a barnstorming multiple performance as a set of clones caught up in a sinister conspiracy.  The first few episodes are driven by breakneck pacing and the dialogue can seem pretty creaky, but soon enough we get almost soap-operatic glimpses beneath the skins of the characters.  You never for a moment doubt you’re watching a set of entirely distinct people who happen to look the same.

Hell on Wheels Season 3

I’m a sucker for a western, and I enjoyed the first and especially the second season of this railroad-based effort in which an ex-confederate soldier hell-bent on revenge gets drawn into the efforts of the Union-Pacific to cross the continent with ensuing political shenanigans, gunslinging, fist-fighting, Indian entanglements and moral ambiguities. This third season was a bit of a disappointment, though. Still some strong characters but while the pace was always full steam ahead before here things slowed to a crawl, with an awful lot of circling around, great attention given to sub-threads that never amounted to much, and a slightly baffling turn at the end.  I’d watch another but, boy, they need to get themselves together and strike for the Pacific.

House of Cards Season 1

This is just as great as it looks on paper, a re-invention of the classic British series based on the books by Margaret Thatcher’s ‘baby-faced hit man’ Michael Dobbs (who is an exec on the US show). Ian Richardson’s supremely manipulative tory whip Francis Urquhart has become Kevin Spacey’s supremely manipulative majority house whip Frank Underwood, and the skullduggery has been updated for the mobile-phone and internet generation, but otherwise the basic formula of ruthless political manoeuvrings translates easily from Whitehall to Washington, along with the central character’s almost Shakespearian soliloquies to camera, coaxing the audience very much into complicity. Kevin Spacey makes for a hugely charismatic and likeable Machiavellian megalomaniac but there are plenty more strong performances, including Robin Wright majestic as Underwood’s equally ruthless wife.  Well into Season 2 now and enjoying it just as much, particularly a masterfully executed shock in the first episode.

Suits Seasons 1&2

This was a very pleasant surprise, I must say. Hot-shit doesn’t-play-by-the-rules New York corporate lawyer Harvey Specter is asked to interview for a new associate and the only candidate who interests him turns out to be a genius drop-out who wandered into the interview to avoid the cops when a drug deal went south. Sounds like a recipe for cheese and indeed the pilot is pretty wobbly, but the writing quickly finds its feet and I ended up burning through two seasons of this in nothing flat. It won’t change your world but it’s hugely watchable, with some zinging lines and some great characters, especially Harvey’s bitter, pedantic, tragic, weirdly loveable nemesis Louis Litt. There is a tendency to run over and over the same ground, though, with endlessly will-they-won’t-they relationships that nearly do then don’t, and rivalries that become friendships that become rivalries that become friendships that etc. etc. At some point you have to crap or get off the pot and I wonder if they can get enough variety into the formula to keep it fresh.

Arrow Season 1

Enjoyable enough superhero hokum based on the Green Arrow comics, in which pampered rich boy Oliver Queen is shipwrecked on a mysterious island and returns after 5 years with superhuman powers of archery, handsomeness, looking troubled, and working out, powers which he is determined to use for (kind of) good in ridding his city of a deadly conspiracy and etc. etc. I guess they’re going for a comic book over-the-top shininess but the result is that everyone is so improbably pretty they all end up looking strangely average. Attempts to complicate the standard superhero narrative are somewhat hamstrung by, for example, our hero’s habit of ruthlessly slaughtering three dozen bodyguards who one supposes are just doing their job before he lets their malefactor boss off with a harsh warning.  Still, an enjoyable, if relatively predictable, way to while away a few hours…

Posted in film and tv by Joe Abercrombie on September 8th, 2014.

22 comments so far

  • Jeremy+Szal says:

    Yep, Vikings is awesome. Loving the show.
    Perhaps the next step is a little adaptation of Half A King to ride on the Viking-themed coat-tails, eh?

  • kangas says:

    Agreed on Vikings and Orphan Black(though I just finished season 2 of Orphan and it was a bit of a chore to finish). You should check out Hannibal and Fargo if you haven’t. Incredible TV.

  • bobo says:

    Suits Season 3 is more of the same but different, and is still easy happy watching, with good chemistry between all the main characters. Donna is brilliant.

  • brainoiz says:

    Re: Arrow – “our hero’s habit of ruthlessly slaughtering three dozen bodyguards ”

    I don’t want to spoil anything, but they will address this very early in season 2.

  • Crowjack says:

    If you like police procedurals with an espionage bent AND an ongoing story arc, I highly recommend THE BLACKLIST.

  • Michael says:

    We like Suits at home, and am just about to begin House of Cards. Not caught any of the others, but a shout for The Blacklist if you get the chance, Spader (like Spacey) has a very dominant persona, and is immensely watchable. And of course, for amusement, you should tune in to Universal channel on Sky who are just starting reruns of Boston Legal from series 1. Denny Crane.

  • Robert says:

    Arrow has some pretty terrible acting in my opinion (and the writing is cringeworthy at times) but i still find it enjoyable (i just hate the fact that they everyone must look like a supermodel)

    Also, you should watch True Detective if you havent already (and Justified which i think is very underrated)

  • jagarrett says:

    I agree totally with you on Hell on Wheels. It somehow often turns out to be less than the sum of its parts, and the finale had me shaking my head. Will continue to watch as long as Colm Meaney is on the show, though.

    Also agreed on Orphan Black and Arrow. Need to check out Vikings.

    I’d also recommend Hannibal, as the previous poster said, and also Longmire. It’s surprisingly good, even if it plays a little loose sometimes.

  • Gary says:

    Vikings is a fantastic show and they are upping the ante even more with season 3. Bring on Paris!

  • Dylan says:

    I’d definitely give Arrow season 2 a show – it definitely addresses the problems you mentioned with Season 1, and became a genuinely good TV show. Now bring on Hellblazer!

  • Gina F says:

    I had the exact same feeling about Vikings…at long last, a TV show JUST FOR ME! I agree with Kangas..the TV Fargo was excellent.

  • Ben O'Flaherty Seddon says:

    Have you tried True detective? I loved it, gritty and a great set of performances.

  • Lord O'Grady ofNorn Iron says:

    Vikings is great.

    Watch True Detective pronto Joe, it is one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. It is goddamn Marvelous.

  • Suits is my favourite thing on television. Season 2 has been the best one so far (I’ve seen 4 now). I think season 3 and 4 they moved a little too far over to the comedy side of things, although the previews for season 5 makes it look like it is shifting back towards tense and fast paced season 2 🙂

  • James says:


    Its so up your alley, Joe.

    I reckon.

  • Tim says:

    Joe if you like westerns you have to check out Longmire! It’s sort of a modern day western, which when I first heard that I was kind of turned off (I like my old timey westerns) but man was I wrong! The actors are amazing and you will really get sucked in and care about these people. The stories are always layered and interesting. It’s my favorite show right now.

    On a side note A&E just cancelled Longmire after season 3 and it was their second highest rated show. Their reason for cancelling it? They want to move away from scripted shows. Meaning more reality junk. Good news is that they are shopping it to other networks. I would be shocked if it doesn’t get picked up by another network. You really should check it out!!!


  • innokenti says:

    Didn’t expect to like Arrow but I really did. I think the narrative structure is one of their big strengths because the story and pre-story are nicely woven together and not always in predictable ways. And for a superhero series it keeps things (comparatively) grounded, which I rather like.

    Still only very slowly getting through Vikings – good fun, but slow going!

  • Philip says:

    Matthew McConaughey plays an incredibly grit character in True Detective. Please consider him for the role of Logen if the first law ever gets transferred to the big/small screen.

  • Alejandro says:

    Vikings is awesome, very good stuff. House of Cards is on my to-watch list as well.

    Have watched Sons of Anarchy season 5 the last days and I have to say it was absolutely amazing and shocking.
    SoA has always been a nice-to-watch Show in my eyes but after the fifth season it is in the same bracket as Breaking Bad for me.

  • dawnrazor says:

    Hi Joe – Can I also but a vote in for the following.

    Hannibal Season 1 and 2 – Truly unique TV in terms of it’s content, look, subject and quality writing and acting. But it can be incredibly graphic and gory.

    Also watching The Knick – Clive Owen in Steven Soderbergh drama set in 1900 NYC hospital. Didn’t think I’d enjoy it and found I couldn’t stop watching it after one episode. in a word, compelling.

    What else, Season 5 of Justified was another classic in screenwriting, I believe there is one more final season to go and then it’s done.

    Watching Sons of Anarchy 5 at the moment, but that is something that lost the plot a longtime ago.

    New season of The Walking Dead starts soon, looking forward to that and it’s new directions etc.

    Oh here is a bit of a left field one, an Irish series called LOVE/HATE, about gangland drug dealers in Dublin, 4 series in two to go, it is hard, violent, intelligent and at times hilarious. It has been called the Irish Wire, which is high praise indeed, and not unfounded, there is a touch of a Breaking Bad comparison in there as well. Well worth checking out and finding, first 4 series are available on DVD.

  • Bran says:

    If you can stomach subtitles (there are those who cannot, one must imagine even among authors) you should check out ‘Romanzo Criminale’ (the 2008 tv series rather than the movie). A description would make it sound merely potentially interesting…

    Its not. Its so much better.

    (I would have also posted in the Destiny thread but enough people have already pointed out that Shadow of Mordor is where its at for experiencing something fresh in games this year)

  • Really? says:

    Vikings is a great show, and the “historical accuracy” of anything done by Ragnar Lothbrok is questionable anyway as the personage is somewhere between Charlagemene and Arthur Pendragon in terms of known history about him.

    Arrow is fun in the same way supernatural is fun. Its not exactly ground breaking or anything, but I find myself enjoying each episode.

    You might want to change “majority house whip” to “House Majority whip” in your discussion of house of cards. The actors do great work in that show. However, when I watch it I always feel like the show is just off in the way events occur. His political plans for getting to the presidency makes very little sense, and while murdering people is obviously illegal some of his plans involve violating election law which would not just be brushed over by the other party.

    Again the acting is great, but Washington is not Westeros and the game of American Electoral Politics is not played with you win or you die rules.

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