Masters of Sex, one of my favourite new shows of 2013, returns to British screens tomorrow night for the start of season 2. Like The Americans, one of my other cable favourites of last year, the advance word is that the show has used the opportunity of a second season to become even better. Meantime, the first season has hoovered up deserved Emmy nominations for the refulgent Lizzy Caplan as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama, and for Allison Janney and Beau Bridges in the Guest categories. And we’re only around four weeks behind American transmission, which isn’t at all bad (tomorrow, More4, 10pm).
We’re still waiting for the autumn deluge of new and returning shows, but there are a few other things starting around now. After three years the not-as-good American remake of The Killing (Forbrydelsen) was itself killed by AMC, but resurrected by Netflix for a fourth and final six-episode season, released on August 1. Sky Atlantic has Gomorrah, the Italian adaptation of a book about the Camorra, which was also turned into a film a few years ago (tonight, 9pm).
And new channel TruTV – no, me neither – starts today, and will be showing Conan O’Brien’s talk show nightly at 11pm. I’m very much not an expert, so the next few sentences can be discounted, but it seems to me as an outsider that the late night talk shows have simultaneously become more visible – if anyone does a bit that’s worth seeing, it’s all over social media within 24 hours – and less essential to their parent broadcasters, because fewer people are watching live. Which gives Coco’s show, with a small but select audience on parent cable channel TBS, a fighting chance of greater cultural relevance than might otherwise be the case. Meantime, here in the UK it isn’t easy to see any of the American late night shows as they were intended – we get The Daily Show on cable/satellite, some Fallon if you hunt around, and that’s about it, I think. I wonder if Stephen Colbert’s impending move to Letterman’s chair might prompt an enterprising British broadcaster to take a chance on it? Probably not.
It’s been a while, and More4’s idiotic four-month-long game of hide and seek means that UK viewers are now almost a full calendar year behind the USA. But we can put all of that nonsense behind us, because Scandal is BACK. The deserved winner of the Best Drama award in Unpopcult’s 2013 poll is now in the hands of Sky Living, which on balance is probably good news – say what you like about Sky, but in general its scheduling is better than that of other British TV broadcasters.
Anyway, let’s not worry about that. The second season of Scandal was perhaps as close to flawless as that of any network drama I can recall (although the just-concluded season 5 of The Good Wife came pretty close). And as far as I can discern, stepping gingerly between spoiler-shaped landmines, we don’t need to worry about a drop in quality as we go hurtling into season 3, even if it had to shed a few episodes to fit in with Emmy-nominated Kerry Washington’s pregnancy. It’s Scandal time, folks. SCANDAL (Thursday 31 July, 9pm, Sky Living).
Also coming soon – heh – the fantastic Masters of Sex.
Maggie Q’s new show Stalker may be causing a lot of controversy in the US before it’s even aired but, here in the UK, some of us are still waiting to see the end of her old show Nikita. That wait is nearly over at last, however, as the fourth and final season arrives on Sky Living on Monday night (21st) at 9pm.
The second and third seasons had their flaws – Alex, Ryan, Alex, Amanda the Mad Scientist, Alex – but there was plenty of great stuff too so, as long as Nikki, Michael and Birkhoff are around, I’m in. And we’re only getting 6 episodes this time, which hopefully means time to wrap up the story without getting bogged down in nonsense like the Zetrov carry-on. Yay! Anyway, check back here for reviews of every ep, laced with a liberal amount of shipping and squeeing. In fact, let me start practising now: Mikita 4eva!!!!! SQUEEEEEE!!!!!
On the strength of its remarkable first episode I called Utopia the best British drama I’d seen in a long time, a verdict I was happy to reiterate when the season was over. Visually remarkable and narratively daring, with a gratifying wit and nastiness, the first season was little short of extraordinary, even if the final episode left me wondering whether there was anywhere for a second season to go. But writer-creator Dennis Kelly clearly thinks there is, and it therefore makes a welcome return to our screens this week.
The really exciting news, though, is that the Daily Mail wants to ban it, because the first episode of the second season apparently uses the 1979 assassination of British politician Airey Neave as a plot point, suggesting that he was killed at the instance of The Network – the shadowy organisation at the heart of season 1 – rather than by Irish terrorists. Cue outrage: “By placing real events in the midst of fantasy, it could easily lead many younger viewers to think the lies are true”, says the Daily Mail – the Daily Mail! – showing a lack of self-awareness which is breathtaking in itself. “I struggle to find the words to describe the extent of my disgust at (this) piece of so-called television drama”, says Lord Tebbit, who then has a pretty good go at it anyway.
Channel 4 has, of course, wearily pointed out that Utopia is “entirely fictional”. I suppose it should be added, for the sake of completeness, that a (no doubt completely fantastical) conspiracy theory to the effect that Neave was actually murdered by British security forces has done the rounds for years, rather than being invented by Kelly; and that 35 years after the then prime minister James Callaghan said, ”No effort will be spared to bring the murderers to justice and to rid the United Kingdom of the scourge of terrorism”, no-one has yet been tried for, still less convicted of, Neave’s killing.
Bottom line – it’s season 2 of Utopia, and the Daily Mail thinks that Channel 4 shouldn’t show it. That’s more than enough for me (Monday and Tuesday, 10pm; thereafter Tuesdays).
Another day, another CW show with a bunch of attractive people pretending to be teenagers.
Based on the novel by Kass Morgan, The 100 is set in a dystopian future where nuclear war has destroyed most of the human race. The survivors, living on an ageing space station, decide to send 100 “juvenile” (but good-looking) delinquents down to Earth to see if it’s fit for habitation again, the idea being that if it’s not, they’re no great loss.
Anyway, I don’t know exactly what awaits the “kids” down there, but I’d hazard a guess it combines danger from their surroundings with – heavens! – danger from EACH OTHER. As well as forbidden romance and beefs with their parents.
Maybe because it’s summer or maybe because I’ve finally reached saturation point with teen dramas (surely not!), I’m struggling to muster up any interest in the show but, in fairness, reviews have been largely positive and the cast includes unpopcult favourites Paige Turco and Henry Ian Cusick, so it can’t be all bad. A second season has already been commissioned as well, so somebody must like it. If any of this whets your appetite, you can catch its UK debut on E4 at 9pm tonight (Monday). And if you’ve already seen it, let me know whether I should bother.
Two very different programmes showing at exactly the same time. Glee is now generating vast quantities of apathy on a transatlantic basis, and the fact that Sky has opted for a midsummer burn-off for the remainder of season 5 suggests that it might now be regretting the squillions of pounds it spent to steal the show away from Channel 4. The thing is, though, the show hasn’t actually got any worse since the world stopped watching (I’m excluding the breathtaking season 1, of course), and I’d actually be prepared to argue that the status of scrappy underdog might suit Glee better than that of global behemoth: remember how New Directions, the show’s glee club, started as a home for the school’s unpopular misfits? Anyway, I’m in until the end, with weekly reviews, even if it’s just me watching (Thursday 3 July, 9pm, Sky 1).
The Honourable Woman, on the other hand, looks like a hyper-serious British spy drama, written and directed by Hugo Blick, the man behind The Shadow Line, which suggests it’ll be a little short on teh lolz. It boasts a huge and starry cast, with Maggie Gyllenhall starring as Nessa Stein, the daughter of a Zionist arms dealer, who is given a life peerage. Stephen Rea, Eve Best, Andrew Buchan, Lindsay Duncan, and plenty of others are along for the ride as well. We’re promised complexity, of course. We’re also promised Radiohead on the soundtrack, which would normally be reason enough for me to watch. But after The Shadow Line I’m not sure I want to go down the Blick rabbit-hole again (Thursday 3 July, 9pm, BBC 2).
Next, two repeats which might be worthy of your attention. 80s conspiracy thriller Edge of Darkness is getting a Monday night rerun on BBC4. I’m sure it’ll be on the iPlayer.
And season 1 of Damages starts a rerun on Lifetime (no, me neither). It might be argued that the returns diminished a little as time went on, but the first season is a terrific example of episodic TV, and featured one of the first examples of a genuine film star (Glenn Close) realising that many of the good roles are on TV these days. If you haven’t seen it, we highly recommend it (Saturday 5 July, 9pm and 10pm).
But the really important news is that season 3 of Scandal is coming soon, very soon…
This might be a pointless PSA, because I’m pretty sure that I’m the only person in the UK who actually watches American cable drama Royal Pains, viewing figures notwithstanding. Which is a shame, because its combination of likeable characters (now that Divya has been sorted out), Hamptons setting, moderately diverting plotting, and medical mysteries makes it the perfect summer evening after-work go-to. It could be argued that the show lost a little of its mojo when Jill Flint left, because she was both toothsome and a good foil for Mark Feuerstein’s concierge doctor Hank Lawson. But the show keeps rolling along nicely: this is season 5, and season 6 is about to get under way in the US. Somewhat bizarrely, episodes seem to be premiering at 5am, but let’s just pretend that the 8pm repeat is the actual broadcast time. I’ll be watching, and I still think it’s worth your time… hello? Anyone? Is this thing on? (Sunday 8 June, 8pm, Universal Channel.)
And if you missed season 1 of The Blacklist, Sky Living is repeating it from the start. Episode 1 is on at 11.05pm on Sunday; I think that’s a repeat of a repeat, if you see what I mean, but if you hunt around I’m sure you can find the regular weekly slot. Very highly recommended, if you like your American procedurals slick, implausible, and thrilling.