In an ideal world, yes, this would have been PSA number 24. What can we do? So you might not have noticed – there’s been hardly any publicity – but 24’s been rebooted. I suppose I could do a long post on whether it’s wise; acutely relevant in the post-9/11 world, there weren’t too many tears shed when Chloe barked “Shut it down!” at the end of season 8. I could add to the groaning pile of material about the dubious politics of 24, although (as is frequently the way) many of the people who thought that it was an uncomplicated right-wing fantasy tended not to be actually watching; its political worldview was sometimes rather more nuanced than its critics gave it credit for, and Jack Bauer himself was essentially apolitical, a blunt weapon to be wielded by whoever happened to be President at the time. And I could argue that, while the first season arguably rewrote the rulebook for serialised TV drama, the returns inevitably diminished thereafter.
But none of that matters. It’s “DAMMIT!” time. (Kiefer Sutherland, no abstainer himself, on learning that there was a student drinking game based on how often he said it, reputedly redrafted a script or two to include even more.) It’s Chloe time. It’s electrodes-on-nipples, “copy that”, who’s-the-mole?, “hard perimeter”, “WHERE IS THE BOMB?”, “Patch me through!”, and “WHO ARE YOU WORKING FOR?” time. And, yes, I’m excited. Cut down to 12 episodes, to remove any possibility of filler, and set at least initially in London, it’s the return of the Jack, ‘cos we knew that he’d be back, even if we were actually expecting a movie.
As for scheduling: Sky 1 is broadcasting the opening double-bill simultaneously with America: a gimmick, perhaps, because hardly anyone’s going to be watching in the early hours of the morning, but a welcome gesture of commitment. More importantly, the show’s regular slot will be on Wednesday evenings, within a couple of days of American transmission, which is – how often do we need to say it? – exactly how you deter piracy: by giving swift and ready access to the legitimate product. Well done, Sky. As before, weekly reviews here (Tuesday 6 May, 1am; thereafter Wednesdays at 9pm, Sky 1).
Also starting: season 2 of Hannibal (Tuesday 6 May, 10pm, Sky Living); and the first and only season of JJ Abrams’s cop/robot crossover Almost Human (Tuesday 6 May, 9pm, Watch). Lukewarm reviews, interesting cast – including Friday Night Lights’s Minka Kelly, Michael Ealy (Derrick Bond in The Good Wife), Mackenzie Crook, etc. – but cancelled. Might be worth a go, but I won’t be.
And coming very soon: Louie.
We left Orphan Black in November of last year, with an episode I described as “ambitious and uneven“, which frankly could have applied to just about any of them in my view. I liked it but didn’t love it, perhaps because the subject matter – clones, genomes, “monitors”, a human with a tail (ew) – isn’t generally my thing. But there was absolutely no denying the imagination on view, nor Tatiana Maslany’s astounding central performance(s).
Anyway, with cult status firmly in place, the show is back for a second run, with presumably lots of clones, and some new guest actors: for example, our old opinion-dividing friend Michelle Forbes, as well as Liam out of Nashville, presumably sans hat. The good news is that viewers in the UK are getting season 2 much more quickly this time round, only a couple of weeks behind American transmission. So well done the BBC, a channel which doesn’t have a great track record for this sort of thing. And the other good news is that the advance word from the US would suggest that the show might be a little better – or even better, depending on your perspective – than last time. CJ – who was more enthusiastic than me first time round – is on reviewing duties for the first episode at least (Wednesday 30 April, 10pm, BBC Three).
But along with the good news there’s some very bad news. I had hoped that the next time I mentioned Scandal – winner of Best Drama in our 2013 poll, and a show which put together, in its second season, a run of episodes which was as close to flawless as you’re going to get on network TV – would be to confirm its return to British TV screens. However, More4 has today announced that it won’t be showing season 3. So those of us who are fans, who have avoided our social media feeds the day after an episode has aired in America, who have refused to use “alternative methods” of accessing the show on the basis that we would prefer to watch it legitimately, albeit nine months after US transmission, as part of a shared viewing experience for which the makers are properly compensated, have in effect been told that we can go and fuck ourselves.
For now, anyway. At some point, I suppose, another broadcaster will pick it up, or Netflix/Amazon will make it available, or it’ll come out on DVD. (And I don’t particularly blame Channel 4: it’s a commercial enterprise, and presumably the numbers didn’t add up. It would have been nice to know sooner, though.) But it’s another reminder of precisely why the present model drives viewers towards downloads of dubious legality. I went on about this at some length a couple of years ago, and nothing’s changed. The tl;dr version is this: As of right now I will happily hand over cash money to anyone who will let me see season 3 of Scandal legitimately in the UK. Any takers, in an industry perpetually whining about how piracy is cutting its income? Nope.
Fargo, the next contender for the best new drama of 2014, starts tonight. It comes with both the benefit and potential handicap of being based on Joel and Ethan Coen’s more or less perfect 1996 film of the same name, meaning that it’s probably for the best that the TV series is “inspired by” the film, rather than being a lengthy rehash.
Like True Detective, Fargo comes with an impressive cast – led this time by Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman – and also like True Detective, it arrives on UK screens borne aloft by critical hosannas. On top of that, as a Coen fanboy, I’m prepared to regard the presence of both brothers on the list of exec producers as something of a guarantee of quality. And once again British transmission is hot on the heels of America, so well done Channel 4. We’ll be reviewing the first episode at least. Thereafter, with both Orphan Black and 24 starting soon, it might be that Fargo gets squeezed out of the review schedule; we’ll see (tonight, Channel 4, 9pm).
The news that Mad Men returned in America to its lowest premiere rating since the season 2 opener is unimportant on one level – it’s on cable, it’s on its final demi-season anyway – but on another it simply confirms that, for whatever reason, we reached peak Mad Men some time ago. And even for a devotee like me it’s been difficult to disagree with the proposition that the last two seasons have failed to match the first four.
Looking on the bright side, though, I thought season 6 better than 5, and I’m sure that everyone connected with the show will want to go out on a high, particularly given that showrunner Matthew Weiner has always wanted to make seven seasons, suggesting that he has a fitting endgame in mind. (Given that, in line with current fashions, this final seventh season is being split into two, with the second half scheduled for 2015, it could be argued that he’s making eight seasons. But no matter.) And we in the UK are getting to see the show a matter of days after American transmission, which is always welcome. Weekly reviews here as soon as I can manage them (tonight, Sky Atlantic, 10pm).
CBS drama Intelligence definitely isn’t going to run for seven seasons – it’s completed its first (thirteen episode) run in America, with little chance of renewal. Which perhaps isn’t surprising: with Josh Holloway starring as an ex-Delta Force operative with a chip in his brain which enables him to access, y’know, the internet and stuff, it sounds like Sawyer off of Lost playing Chuck. There is, in fairness, a decent supporting cast – CSI’s Marg Helgenberger among others – and the reviews weren’t terrible, but I can’t see myself watching this (17 April, Sky 1, 9pm).
And another thirteen-episode drama, although this time one that’s already been cancelled in the USA, starts the day after. ABC’s Betrayal is about a couple having an affair who are also on opposite sides in a murder trial – yes, sounds like 13 episodes is about your maximum for that premise. Reviews for this one really weren’t good, and it’s based on a Dutch show anyway, which makes me wonder why we’re not just getting the subtitled original (18 April, 5USA, 10pm).
Finally, the BBC is providing us with “another chance to see” Parks and Recreation, which our CJ reckons to be just about the best thing on TV, from the start. (tonight, BBC4, 11pm).
Coming soon: season 2 of Orphan Black. And coming very soon: Fargo.
Although season 1 of The Trip was a bit of a critical slow-burner, with hindsight it’s difficult to see how it could have been anything but a success: glorious scenery, foodie porn, a proper director (Michael Winterbottom), and Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon riffing for half an hour every week. Assuming that the relevant parties were interested there was always going to be a second season, and four years later it’s finally arrived.
This time round the action, such as it is, is transferred to Italy: so this time round there’s glorious foreign scenery and foodie porn, but presumably the main attraction – insecure middle-aged men bickering, with a genuine darkness at the core – is still in place. Part of the success of The Trip, I think, stems from the leads playing slightly exaggerated versions of how we imagine them to be in real life: Coogan prickly, priapic, and overtly competitive; Bryson outwardly more amiable, perhaps, but capable of querulousness. And also competitive as all hell. She was only 16 years old (tonight, BBC2, 10pm).
In theory I’m way too old for this sort of thing, but you know me better than that, so….. just a quick word about new US drama Star-Crossed, debuting in the UK on Sky 1 tomorrow (Friday) night at 8pm.
Apparently following the standard CW template, it’s about a beautiful, kind young woman who falls in love with a handsome, potentially dangerous but actually more misunderstood young man – this time the object of her (and our, ideally, or the show will be a total bust) affections is a good-looking chap of the alien variety, rather than the mutant, vampire or otherwise kind. Almost certainly about to be cancelled in the US, it probably isn’t your best bet if you’re looking for something more than a one-and-done season of plaintively-soundtracked teen romance and I can already see Jed rolling his eyes from several miles away, but who am I kidding? I love this kind of nonsense, so I’ll be checking out the first ep anyway.
It’s only been about 900 years since it was last on, but Person of Interest’s winter/spring hiatus is finally over and the second season resumes tonight (Thursday) at 10pm on Five. This puts us over a year behind the US, which is particularly problematic when you spend any time on the internet at all – I fell upon a somewhat massive season 3 spoiler a few months ago, and have been trying desperately to forget about it since then – but I suppose we should be pleased the Five stable is at least still showing POI at all. Unlike Justified or Parenthood…. Anyway, weekly reviews here as usual.
Tonight also sees the UK debut of two interesting recent – much more recent than POI, Five, take note – dramas from the US in the form of Believe (9pm on Watch) and Klondike (9pm on Discovery). Believe is JJ Abrams and Bad Robot’s latest attempt to repeat the success of Lost – never gonna happen, mate – this time with a new series about a little girl with special powers of some sort and the wronged man who has to protect her. It sounds suspiciously like a re-run of (the utterly turgid) Touch to me, and it doesn’t even have Jack Bauer in it this time, so I won’t be bothering. The pilot was however directed and co-written by Alfonso “Gravity” Cuaron, one of the show’s creators who seems heavily involved in it, so at least it’ll look gorgeous, whether it’s actually any good or not.
Klondike, meanwhile, may be a more intriguing oddity: a period mini-series about prospectors in the Gold Rush, it’s the Discovery Channel’s first scripted offering, and ordinarily, I’d turn my nose right up at it on that basis, but its reviews have generally been much better than those for Believe, it’s produced by Ridley Scott and it stars Richard “Robb Stark” Madden, Tim Roth and Sam Shepard. All of which suggests Klondike is more than worth our time, but sadly we don’t have any – it’s on at the same time as The Good Wife, Nashville, POI and Southland so I can’t see us having the space on these pages or our viewing schedules to squeeze it in. Shame. If you do give it a go, let us know how you get on.
And finally… if you make it through all of Thursday’s tv, More 4 is jumping on the Scandi-drama bandwagon on Friday with new 6-part Norwegian financial conspiracy thriller Mammon kicking off at 9pm. Jed deals with the Scandi stuff around here so he may or may not decide to add it to his roster, but it’s not one for me, I have more than enough to catch up with already.
I seem to know quite a few people who gave up on The Americans during its first season, which just goes to show how opinions can differ. I thought this 80s-set drama about Russian spies in American suburbia was terrifically enjoyable, and very probably the best new (cable) drama of 2013. So I’m delighted to see it back on British screens this weekend, commendably soon after US transmission (well done ITV). And the exciting news is that, according to initial reaction to the first episodes of season 2, The Americans has got even better, which opens up the thrilling possibility that, rather like Justified did between seasons 1 and 2, The Americans might have gone from really good to great. Anyway, don’t listen to the naysayers: The Americans is worthy of your time (Saturday 15 March, 9.20pm, ITV 1).
Which, sadly, is more than can be said for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., returning tonight after its mid-season hiatus. I almost never bail on shows – and I should do so a lot more, frankly – but one good episode and a couple of half-decent ones were nowhere near enough to persuade me to continue either watching or reviewing. It should be said that the evidence from America, where a handful of post-hiatus episodes has been screened, is that there might have been a recent improvement in quality; it’s too late for me, I’m afraid. Our friend Tim at Slouching towards TV is, I think, carrying on with weekly reviews, but we’re out.
Which makes us “losers”, apparently, according to Clark Gregg, Mr Tahiti-It’s-A-Magical-Place himself. We should have had more patience, according to Mr Gregg – ironically the best thing about the show so far – who compared the first run of episodes to eating the “healthy stuff” and saving “dessert” for later. Now, I like it when actors are passionate about their shows, and I suppose you could applaud his ingenuity in trying to turn the show’s limp plots, miscast and misfiring actors, and lame dialogue into virtues; and, for that matter, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. into The Sopranos or something. Having given the matter further careful consideration, though, he and his show can piss off (tonight, 8pm, Channel 4).
And I suppose we should mention the UK debut of Ironside, a remake of the 60s/70s show about a wheelchair-bound detective. Blair Underwood – always watchable – is the star, but it was cancelled after only a few episodes, so it hardly seems worth taking an interest. I’m guessing that there must be contractual reasons why 5USA is bothering to show it at all, otherwise it would look odd that it’s broadcasting Ironside while cancelling its contract to show Justified (Tuesday 18 March, 9pm, 5USA).
Coming soon: Person of Interest, and new Scandi-drama Mammon. And just around the corner: Burn Notice, Mad Men, and Game of Thrones.
The Blacklist, perhaps the best of 2013’s new network shows, is back on British screens tonight. With a cracking Case of the Week premise, backstories to die for, and James Spader’s screen-devouring central performance, this is something close to a state-of-the-art procedural. In fact, if there is a problem – and so far at least it isn’t much of one – it’s that it’s definitely Spader’s show, to the point where the rest of the cast can sometimes feel like a bit of an afterthought. Still, Spader’s portrayal of master-criminal Red Reddington contains more subtlety, empathy, mystery and humour than many of its critics are prepared to allow, and with renewal for a second season already safely in the bag The Blacklist is a success, any way you want to look at it. We’ll be back with weekly reviews as before (tonight, Sky Living, 9pm).
And tomorrow brings the third run of Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle. Lee has spent years honing his particular artistry to its present sharpness, and even though he’s claimed that he won’t be satisfied until it’s just “me and broadsheet journalists in a self-congratulatory loop”, he probably now has exactly the sort of size and type of audience he wants: big enough to sustain a career and a TV series or two, but not so big that he has to accommodate those who just don’t get it. (Like, for instance, the difference between real life and a stage/screen persona.)
Saturday night might seem like an odd time to put this on; in fact, it might be ideal, as many of us in Lee’s fanbase are probably more likely to be at home, nursing our low-level misanthropy to keep it warm, rather than out enjoying ourselves. Lee’s intelligent, provocative brilliance is best seen on stage, and it survives the transition to TV quite comfortably. (Having said that, his book ‘How I Escaped My Certain Fate’, in which he transcribes and deconstructs some of his routines – which are themselves, of course, deconstructed during his act – is also worth a look: crammed with fantastic bits so that, rather like his performances, it repays revisiting.) And enigmatic genius Chris Morris is in the show this time as well. Irresistible, I’d say (Saturday, BBC 2, 10pm).
Also starting: Jonathan Creek’s back, although it’s never been the same since Caroline Quentin left, has it? (Tonight, BBC1, 9pm) And Revolution returns tomorrow for the second part of its second season (Saturday, Sky 1, 10pm).
Coming soon: Person of Interest, and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
When PSA-ing Damages a few weeks ago, I suggested that, when it started, much of its significance resided in the fact that it had a bona fide Big Movie Star opting, apparently voluntarily, for the small screen. This weekend British viewers get to see another example, when HBO’s True Detective starts. It stars Matthew McConaughey – currently odds-on favourite to win the Academy Award for Best Actor – Woody Harrelson and Michelle Monaghan, and arrives on the back of the sort of reviews which leave you in no doubt that you are about to see an Event. Well, we’ll be the judges of that; in any case, it’s slightly unfair to compare it to, say, Breaking Bad, which took at least three seasons to become Breaking Bad, the phenomenon.
In True Detective Harrelson and McConaughey play Louisiana homicide detectives trying to solve the apparently ritualistic murder of a woman, because of course it’s generally women who are the subject of ritualistic killing in TV and films. It runs to eight episodes, and the intention – if the show is renewed – seems to be that each subsequent season will have a different cast, which must be a temptation to actors who perhaps want to do something worthwhile on TV without tying themselves to seven-year contracts.
Anyway, CJ has already decided that True Detective comes under her TV For Boys heading – I’m sure that the Emmys will be including that category this year – so I’m on reviewing duties for the first episode at least; thereafter, we’ll see (Saturday February 22, 9pm, Sky Atlantic).