Two shows at different ends of the fantasy spectrum to look out for this week.
First up, obscure little show-that-could, Haven returns to UK screens tonight – 9pm, Syfy – for a fourth season. Having left its inauspicious beginnings as a cheap and cheesy spin-off from a Stephen King novella behind, the show has done a wealth of world, arc and character building over the past couple of seasons, turning into something much deeper and richer, moving past the Colorado Kid and giving us the Barn mythology, the awesome Duke, and the lovely will-they / won’t-they / for-the-love-of-God-please-let-them Nathan and Audrey relationship. I wasn’t a fan at first but unpopculter e encouraged me to give it another chance and I’m glad she did: I love it now and will be delighted to chat about it if anyone wants to comment on this thread.
The opposite of obscure meanwhile arrives tomorrow (Friday) at 8pm on Channel 4 in the form of super-hyped hot-ticket Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., a name so annoying I will never type it again if I possibly can help it. A spin-off from his insanely successful (bloated and disappointing) Avengers movie, it’s Joss Whedon’s first tv offering since the little-watched Dollhouse and since he hit the movie big-time. Millions of people tuned in to check out the first episode in the US – just two days ago, which is astonishingly speedy scheduling for channel 4 – but the test will be whether that Marvel alchemy will translate to tv and hold onto the majority of viewers for more than a few eps. To be honest, I don’t really like the look of it, myself, but I think we’ve established – especially in the Marvel context – that that doesn’t mean anything at all.
BBC America’s Canadian science fiction show, Orphan Black, finally arrives on UK TV tonight (the first episode has been available on the iPlayer for a few days). It stars Canadian actor Tatiana Maslany as Sarah Manning, a woman who witnesses the suicide of someone who looks exactly like her, and assumes her identity. It turns out, though, that the deceased woman isn’t the only Manning-a-like out there.
Maslany’s performance was good enough to win both the Critics’ Choice Award for best actress and, even more significantly, the TCA Award for individual achievement in drama, a category open to both men and women. There was, therefore, a certain amount of surprise in the critical community when she wasn’t even nominated for an Emmy. Still, the show itself did well enough to be renewed for a second season, and the advance word from across the Atlantic, where all ten parts of the first season have been shown, is generally positive. And Max Headroom is in it. It starts tonight at 9pm on BBC Three, with a double-bill, because BBC schedulers are idiots.
We’ll be getting busy again shortly, as UK autumn TV schedules align themselves more and more closely with the American ones. This is, of course, a good thing.
But it means that a quick decision will need to be made about Bates Motel, a ten-episode present-day prequel to the events of Psycho, which would have gained attention simply for being What Carlton Cuse Did After Lost. (Cuse exec produces.) It’s supposed to be pretty good, though, and on the back of decent ratings it’s been renewed for a second season. I haven’t seen a frame of it, but I’m willing to bet that it might well be worth watching for the terrific Vera Farmiga in an Emmy-nominated role as Norman Bates’s mother, demonstrating yet again that one of the benefits of the present Golden Age of TV is that it provides proper roles for women over the age of 35. Freddie Highmore is Norman, and our old friends Nestor Carbonell and Jere Burns guest star, with Vaughn off of Alias lined up for season 2. You know, this might be OK (Thursday 12 September, 9pm, Universal).
The night before, Covert Affairs returns for its fourth season. After two seasons of Alias-lite amiable fluff, the show went up a level in its third year, particularly in the arc which had Richard Coyle as the mysterious Simon Fischer. We ended season 3 with the much-awaited Annie/Auggie hookup, although sometimes with long-term ships we need to be careful what we wish for. Hill Harper from CSI: NY is on board this time round, and there was more than enough in season 3 to suggest that the writers have a grasp of how to develop a show year-on-year. I’m an unashamed fan of Covert Affairs, and I’ll be watching (Wednesday 11 September, 9pm, Really).
Over on the British side of things, we should probably have mentioned The Guilty before now (Thursdays, ITV), the first episode of which has already aired: a not-called-Broadchurch UK drama about a murdered child and a family with secrets, starring one of our better female actors (Tamsin Greig this time). I’m sure it’s great, but I’ll probably never know.
Moving away from the dead children and fractured communities for a moment, Peaky Blinders at least sounds a bit more original: a post-First World War drama about Birmingham gangsters, with Cillian Murphy as a gang leader and Sam Neill as a cop. Advance word is good, but advance word tends to be optimistic for British drama. (And it has a silly name.) It’s on at the same time as Scandal, Bates Motel, and The Guilty, so even with a DVR involved it might be time to hunt around the schedules for repeats and +1s if you’re following them all (Thursday 12 September, 9pm, BBC2).
And from roughly the same period in history, The Wipers Times is a one-off drama about a newspaper printed by soldiers in the Ypres trenches in 1916. Co-written by Private Eye’s Ian Hislop and his usual collaborator Nick Newman, it has a fascinating story to tell and a good cast (Ben Chaplin, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Michael Palin) to tell it (Wednesday 11 September, 9pm, BBC2).
Another quick reminder that season 2 of The Newsroom starts tomorrow night (Monday) at 9pm on Sky Atlantic. Since season 1 regularly managed the perplexing feat of being one of the best and worst things on tv AT THE SAME TIME, I’m both intrigued and scared about what season 2 will bring. Especially since the “Together, they stand alone” trailer is cringe-inducingly mortifying in every possible way. Although, at least Mac and Maggie don’t get to speak at any point during it; too much to hope that that will be the theme for the season?
Yeah. I’m not that lucky.
Moving on to another “fake news show” dealing with real news, I mean no disrespect to John Oliver who has, by all accounts, done a great job filling in, but hurrah! The summer is over and the main man is back: Jon Stewart returns to The The Daily Show this week – his comeback episode will screen in the UK at midnight on the evening of Wednesday 4th September (which I suppose technically is 00:00 hours on Thursday, but whatever) on Comedy Central X. I’m a little concerned about the show being shunted around the schedules (of what is a fairly obscure channel anyway) into progressively later and later slots, but that’s a worry for another day. For now, welcome back, Jon – we missed you.
This time last year, it looked like the second season of The Almighty Johnsons was going to be the last. But – ta-dah! – we got our miracle: a third season was commissioned and the world’s best brothers-cum-Norse-gods are back.
Just a couple of months after it began in New Zealand, then, season 3 starts in the UK tonight (Wednesday) on Syfy at 10pm, picking up right where season 2 left off with that insanely AWESOME cliffhanger. Even more good news is that Dean O’Gorman is now back from Middle Earth so there’s plenty of Anders (I ADORE Anders) to go around – WOOT again!
I know I’ve said this before, but TAJ is just so good: brilliantly clever, riotously funny, unashamedly honest, surprisingly poignant and generally just a total delight – why more people haven’t cottoned on to this is both a mystery and an injustice, but if you haven’t seen the first couple of seasons yet, trust me: you should. And then spread the word.
Those of you who’ve already met the Johnsons will know what I’m talking about, though, and you guys will not be disappointed in season 3. It is glorious. Check in with the boys, then check out the episode reviews at friend-of-unpopcult kiwigods’ fantastic blog , endorsed by no less than Mikkel Johnson himself, and deservedly so. Comments are also welcome on this thread, as usual, since the Johnsons are one of my favourite subjects too – let’s enjoy them while we can.
“Enjoyment” is a slightly less straightforward business when it comes to Aaron Sorkin’s frustrating but addictive The Newsroom, however. We’ll do another reminder about it (and all our problems with it – Hi Maggie and Mac!) next week, when it returns to UK TV proper, then regular reviews after that, but meantime the first episode of season 2 is currently available On Demand if you want to get in ahead of the game.
We should probably have mentioned Emily Owens, M.D. before now. The first episode was on Monday, but it’s being repeated this Sunday at 11. 11am, that is, which suggests that this CW show about a new doctor who discovers that hospital is just like high school, or something, won’t be troubling the censors too much. With Mamie Gummer as Emily, Justin Hartley as someone she has a crush on from medical school, someone else as the cool one from medical school, etc. It only lasted 13 episodes before cancellation, so don’t leave it too late (Mondays, Really, 9pm).
Very much more interesting is tomorrow night’s UK network premiere of The Imposter, which we reviewed on its theatrical release. It’s not without flaws, but in the main it’s a straightforward telling of a true story which is almost literally unbelievable: blonde-haired and blue-eyed 13-year old Nicholas Barclay disappeared from his home in San Antonio, Texas, in 1994; three years later, twenty-three year old dark-haired and brown-eyed Algerian-Frenchman Frédéric Bourdin, found in a childrens’ home in Spain, was accepted by Nicholas’s family as their missing son and brother. Recommended (Thursday 22, Channel 4, 9pm).
I didn’t watch the 2006 British two-part original of Low Winter Sun, so I can’t tell you much about it. It’s been revived by AMC, though, as a ten-parter set in Detroit, with Mark Strong returning from the UK cast to play a homicide cop whose girlfriend might have been murdered by another officer. On the face of it, Low Winter Sun has a lot going for it: Strong is an fine actor, joined here by Lennie James, Ruben Santiago-Hudson (Castle), and Sprague Grayden (the appalling Olivia in 24) among others. Detroit strikes me as pregnant with TV drama possibility. And we in the UK are right on top of American transmission, which is Unpopcult’s favourite thing besides chocolate. On the other hand the critical reception has been mixed, so we’re undecided (tonight, 10pm, FOX).
Under The Dome, though, might be worth a go. Adapted from a Stephen King novel – King himself exec produces, along with Lost’s Brian K. Vaughan, who has also succeeded ER veteran Neal Baer as showrunner – it’s about the American town of Chester’s Mill, which suddenly and inexplicably finds itself cut off from the rest of the world by an impenetrable barrier. Although it’s been running over the summer in the US, not always the most rewarding time of year for network shows, it’s attracted decent ratings, largely positive reviews (at least to start with), and a second-season renewal, which presumably means that we aren’t going to find out too much about the Dome any time soon. So disappointed Les Revenants viewers should perhaps stay away (Monday, 10pm, Channel 5).
A couple of years ago, I accidentally stumbled upon BBC Scotland’s adaptation of crime novelist Denise Mina’s The Field of Blood and was very pleasantly surprised by it. I hadn’t read any of the books but this take on young female would-be reporter Paddy Meehan’s determined investigation of a murder in 1980′s Glasgow had a decent story, a great cast – with David Morrissey, Peter “New Who” Capaldi, Jonas Armstrong and Ford Kiernan supporting newcomer Jayd Johnson – and a healthy respect for the period by way of costumes and soundtrack. The conclusion to the story didn’t work as well as the first part, but I still liked it a lot – more than enough to be pleased to hear about a forthcoming follow-up. That follow-up is finally here: still called The Field of Blood for tv purposes, it’s actually based on another 80′s-set Mina novel, The Dead Hour, and follows Paddy (now a proper reporter) and co as she becomes embroiled in another murder mystery, set against the backdrop of all sorts of political and professional changes. No Capaldi or Armstrong this time, but still worth a watch I should think – part 1 is on at 9pm on BBC 1 tonight (Thursday) and part 2 at 9pm tomorrow.
Also at 9pm tomorrow, the return of another drama with a female heroine at its centre, albeit one a lot sleeker and shinier than Field of Blood. Yes, almost a year after it started in the US , Sky Living is finally getting around to showing season 3 of Nikita. Now, I love Nikita in general and I ship Michael and Nikita with a fervour which may not be entirely healthy. However, I’m a little worried season 3 might end up being a season too far for the material (never mind the 6-hour season 4 that’s been greenlit to finish the whole thing off.) I would have been happy enough with one season, since it was so entertaining and ended so brilliantly. Then we got a second season, which I also loved for the most part, but there were a few signs of strain – the misguided focus on the Zetrov story and the return of the appalling Ryan in the main. Now for season 3, Ryan has been promoted to series regular and he’s Nikita’s boss? Aw HELL no.
Suffice to say then that now the shipper high of the end of season 2 has worn off and I’ve had 8 months to fret about it, I’m still delighted to see my beloved Mikita and the magnificent Birkhoff again but I’m a touch more apprehensive about where the new run might take us than I was before. But since Nikita at its best is absolutely cracking entertainment, I’ll be watching, shipping and, for now at least, reviewing anyway. And hoping Ryan doesn’t ruin my show.
If, like me, you’ve already had enough bleak British drama for one year, the news that Channel 4 is broadcasting Southcliffe, a four-parter about a series of random shootings in an English market town, isn’t going to fill your heart with joy, even if the advance word suggests that it’s excellent. However, a couple of things mark Southcliffe out as possibly being worth a shot. Firstly, the presence of Eddie Marsan, one of the best British actors around. And secondly it’s directed by Sean Durkin, who wrote and directed the brilliant, unsettling Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011), and who, on that basis, I’m prepared to regard as almost a guarantee of quality. So it might be a very good bleak British drama (tonight and tomorrow, 9pm, Channel 4).
A couple of one-offs (of a sort) this week.
US update of the Jekyll and Hyde story Do No Harm begins tonight on Watch at 9pm. Since it’s already been cancelled in the US, your time with Steven “no relation to Joe” Pasquale’s Dr Jason Cole, neurosurgeon extraordinaire, and Ian Price, his mad alter ego, will be limited to a single season of 12 episodes if you give it a go, but if you like unashamedly soapy, trashy (and expensive-looking) fun, I wouldn’t let that get in your way.
Soap of a different sort meanwhile on BBC4, also tonight at 9pm, in the form of one-off drama Burton and Taylor. With Dominic West playing Richard Burton and Helena Bonham Carter Elizabeth Taylor, this promises to be a rather more classy and well-received affair than the heartily reviled ”Liz and Dick” and the trailer suggests it might be worth it for the gorgeous hair alone. Er, and the insight into one of the most fascinating relationships in movie history, of course – definitely that too.