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Public Service Announcement 9 of 2014: Salamander; Cedar Cove; Babylon; Weekend

February 7, 2014 15 comments

Flemish TV, to the extent that we’re now obliged to consider it, probably falls neatly between two Unpopcult stools – CJ takes care of the French stuff, I do the Scandinavian. But Belgian conspiracy drama Salamander is the latest to fill BBC4’s Saturday-night-subtitled-double-bills-English-speaking-remake-along-in-due-course 9pm slot. Now, as it happens I have an encyclopaedic knowledge of Flemish TV drama, and can tell you whether it’s worth watching… actually, I don’t and I can’t. What I do know is that I need a rest after five weeks of two-hourly doses of The Bridge, and I won’t be watching unless the reviews on Sunday and Monday make it clear that I’m missing out on a landmark of European television. (Which they won’t.) And since CJ isn’t bothering either, there Unpopcult will be leaving it (Saturday 8 February, BBC4, 9pm).

American drama Cedar Cove starts the next day: it’s Hallmark’s first original drama series, based on Debbie Macomber’s series of bestselling books, and stars Andie McDowell as a divorced judge, dealing with professional and personal issues in a quirky small town. I suspect that’s about all you need to know to be able to make a decent fist of storyboarding this one yourself; in fairness, though, the reviews have been respectable, suggesting that if you’re looking for a bit of Sunday afternoon distraction you could do worse. And it’s been renewed for a second season, so it’s worth getting invested if it otherwise appeals. Hee. Appeals. Judge. Oh, please yourselves (Sunday 9 February, 5USA, 4pm).

Later the same day, Channel 4 is showing Babylon, a comedy-drama about the Metropolitan Police; it’s apparently the feature-length pilot for a series which we may not see until next year. There are some serious names involved, though: Danny Boyle directs, Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show) write, and James Nesbitt leads the cast. So if it’s worth watching – and it might be – you’ll have a year or so to catch up if you don’t bite this time round (Sunday 9 February, Channel 4, 9pm).

Finally, we don’t as a rule include films in PSAs, but I’m going to make an exception for Weekend, which, as I mentioned in my review of Looking, is on tonight. Written and directed by Andrew Haigh, who is now showrunning Looking, it’s a kind of Nottingham-based Before Sunrise, with great performances from Tom Cullen and Chris New, it’s lovely, and not nearly enough people have seen it (tonight, Channel 4, 11.20pm).

More soon.

Public Service Announcement 8 of 2014: Nashville; How I Met Your Mother

February 4, 2014 2 comments

Nashville returns to UK screens this week for the start of its second season. For all its faults – that land deal thingy and Dante for starters – I thought the first season was ridiculously entertaining. And Connie Britton‘s in it, which makes it worth watching anyway. The advance word seems to be that season 2 is a bit of a letdown, but we’ll see. Weekly reviews here (Thursday 6 February, 10pm, More 4).

And the same night sees the start of the ninth and final season of How I Met Your Mother, with everyone in the cast now keen to go away and do other things. The audience, at least, met The Mother (Cristin Milioti) in the final episode of season 8, but Ted might have to wait a while yet – this season will be stretched out to cover the three days of Barney and Robin’s wedding. The writers have always had a fondness for non-linear storytelling, and it’ll be interesting to see whether the audience’s tolerance survives what will presumably be a lot of it (Thursday 6 February, 8.30pm, E4).

Also starting: the post-hiatus run of Sleepy Hollow – I watched the first episode and, while I could appreciate its qualities, it isn’t for me (Wednesday, 9pm, Universal); season 3 of Grimm (Wednesday, 9pm, Watch).

Coming soon to their own PSAs: Flemish conspiracy thriller Salamander, Parks and Rec, Southland, and Nurse Jackie. With plenty more around the corner, and Game Of Thrones, Mad Men, and 24 now jostling on the horizon.

Public Service Announcement 7 of 2014: Damages; Looking

January 25, 2014 3 comments

Although television has always created its own stars, for many of them TV was just a stepping-stone to the movies, long seen as the creative and financial superior. This continued into the present Golden Age, even as it became more and more apparent that well-made TV offered unrivalled artistic opportunities. The tide had to turn, and Glenn Close was one of the first proper movie stars of the current era to head the other way, when in 2007 she starred in the first season of legal thriller Damages.

Damages was one of the very first shows we covered on Unpopcult: we liked the first season, didn’t think as much of the second, and regarded the third as a return to form. And there, in 2010, on the brink of cancellation, we left it. But Damages was revived for two more seasons, and now, nearly three years after its transmission in America, season 4 has finally found a home on UK television. (It has, I should say, been available on Netflix for a while.) Close and Rose Byrne are back, joined by John Goodman and Dylan Baker, who is one of my favourite actors. The season attracted decent reviews when shown in America, but I kind of feel as if the thrill has gone. Film stars turning up on TV is no longer a big deal – we in the UK, for example, are getting HBO’s True Detective, with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, in about four weeks – and with so much competition around, its time may have passed. On the other hand, of course, “when I am through with you…” (Monday 27 January, 9pm, Lifetime).

There is, however, another – potentially more interesting – example of TV/cinema cross-pollination the same night. Andrew Haigh managed something of a cult triumph with the charming and deceptively profound low-budget British film Weekend (2011). This brought him to the attention of HBO, and as a result he’s exec producing and showrunning Looking, an eight-part comedy-drama about gay men in San Francisco, which started a week ago in America. (Haigh also writes and directs some of the episodes.) It’s been generally well-received by US critics, and if it’s as good as Weekend it’ll be worth watching. I’ll be reviewing the first episode at least (Monday 27 January, 10.35pm, Sky Atlantic).

Also starting the same night: apparently dreadful Giovanni Ribisi/Seth Green sitcom Dads (9.30pm, ITV2). And coming very soon – to much Unpopcult excitement – The Good Wife.

Public Service Announcement 6 of 2014: Mr Selfridge, Helix, The Musketeers

January 18, 2014 Leave a comment

*picks up baton*

imageThe trickle of post-Christmas tv is turning into a stream, as this weekend brings us two very different, but equally cosy period dramas with the return of ITV1′s Mr Selfridge and the debut of BBC1′s The Musketeers - both set to duke it out for ratings supremacy at 9pm tomorrow (Sunday) night.

Mr Selfridge is a strange one: the first season of the “shipping and shopping” drama was a demented mix of the amazing (Henri, Miss Mardle, Lady Mae) and the appalling (anyone with “Selfridge” in their name), worth watching principally for gorgeous Gregory Fitoussi although the rest of the supporting cast were great when they got a look in. Unfortunately, every time Mr Selfridge himself or his love interest/wife/family popped up (which was a lot) the show turned teeth-grindingly annoying. Since his name is in the title, though, sadly the focus is likely to remain on “Harry”; the second season kicks off five years on, with Mr S pining for the estranged Mrs S and the kids, while Europe hovers on the brink of war. I’m not looking forward to any of that. We are promised the return of Monsieur Fitoussi at some point, although goodness knows when that’ll be – advance reports (ok, unpopculter e) indicate it might not be in the first ep, so that’ll make sitting through it a challenge. But come on, Fitoussi fans, we can get through it together. I’ll review it here as soon as I can, but if you want a head start, the first ep is already available on iTunes.

imageAnyone more inclined towards the swashbuckling side of the shipping genre, however, may want to try out the BBC’s new take on the decidedly old story of The Three Musketeers. Starring various modestly attractive young men, it looks suspiciously like the love child of Merlin and Robin Hood with Atlantis acting as midwife, so I doubt it’ll tax anyone’s brain cells too much but it’ll probably be an inoffensive watch. And Peter Capaldi’s in it – as that famous Scotsman Cardinal Richelieu – so it can’t be all bad.

imageIf we’re going back in time with Sunday’s tv, though, Monday brings us right back to the frightening future with new science-fiction drama Helix on Channel 5 at 10pm. It doesn’t sound remotely original, of course: a deadly virus breaks out at a remote facility, a bunch of scientists travel out to investigate, they find more than they bargained for… so far, so Syfy and, depending on who you listen to, it’s either a worthy addition to the X-Files and Fringe branch of creepy, clever sci-fi, or it’s idiotic nonsense. I have a suspicion it’ll be a bit of both, but the exec producer is Ron “Battlestar Galactica” Moore and I like the look of the trailer (and of Billy Campbell, on leading man duties), so I’ll be giving it a go anyway. Review of the first ep will be up here in due course.

Public Service Announcement 5 of 2014: Hawaii Five-0

January 17, 2014 4 comments

There are quite a few shows of interest to Unpopcult starting over the next few days, and CJ will be along soon to flag some of them up. Let’s start, though, with long-standing Unpopcult favourite Hawaii Five-0, now into its fourth season. If I’m being honest, the third season was variable at best, with some real curios like the Victoria’s Secret supermodels-in-danger episode, the all-female roller derby episode, and the Derrida-esque experiment in deconstructing the notion of the omniscient storyteller. And not enough bromance either, although finding plausible female partners for Steve and Danny continued to be a challenge when they very plainly only have eyes for each other.

Unfortunately the producers quite like the gimmicks, and later this season we’ll get the chance to see a “fan-built episode”, the result of viewers being allowed to vote on certain key plot points. For example: is the murder weapon a five inch stiletto, flame thrower, poisoned jacuzzi, snow shovel, poisonous toad, tiki torch, or spear gun? (Stiletto, say the people.) In fact, if you head over right now to CBS.com you can vote on what you’d like Chin to be wearing. (I am not making this up.) If you’re being kind, you can see this as evidence of a playful willingness to engage with the fanbase and stretch the parameters of TV procedurals, or it might look like creative exhaustion.

Anyway. The Five-0 have a bit to prove after season 3, but American ratings have held up well enough. And we’re still doing weekly reviews, so Bromance Watch, “Oh, FFS!” Watch, and the rest will be back just as soon as we can get them done (Sunday 19 January, Sky 1, 9pm).

Also starting: season 7 of Psych (Sunday, Universal Channel, 7pm); season 5 of NCIS: LA (Sunday, Sky 1, 10pm); season 3 of uterine British drama Call The Midwife (Sunday again, BBC 1, 8pm); season 3 of Girls (Monday, Sky Atlantic, 10pm); season 2 of The Following (Tuesday, Sky Atlantic, 10pm); and new Chuck Lorre comedy creation, the Anna Faris and Allison Janney-starring Mom (Monday, ITV 2, 9pm). More tomorrow from CJ.

Public Service Announcement 4 of 2014: Brooklyn Nine-Nine; Mob City

January 15, 2014 11 comments

Single-camera police comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine starts its UK run this week, fresh from unexpected Golden Globes for the show itself and star Andy Samberg, and also featuring Andre Braugher, about whom I’ve already said my piece more than once. It’s been well enough reviewed, and Fox in America has picked it up for a full 22-episode run, even if renewal for a second season is far from certain at this stage. It might be good. But I have no idea whether I’ll find it funny, still less whether you will. Tricky chap, comedy (Thursday 16 January, E4, 9pm).

Mob City, meantime, is another in the more or less unstoppable flood of American event TV, with big names attached every which way. Created by Frank Darabont (director, inter alia, of the overrated The Shawshank Redemption, and exec producer of The Walking Dead), and featuring Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead); Milo Ventimiglia (Peter Petrelli off of Heroes); the peerless Gregory Itzin (24, Covert Affairs, The Mentalist, everything else, and yet to play Nixon, the role he was born to); Neal McDonough (Justified, Desperate Housewives, everything else); Edward Burns (who was, at one point, the coming man in US movies); Robert Knepper (Heroes, Prison Break, everything else); Patrick Fischler (everything on TV ever); etc. Etc. etc. Etc.

Almost incidentally, it’s a six-part 1940s-LA-set cops vs gangsters noir drama from cable channel TNT, and it’s had decent if unspectacular reviews – it may be that it looks better than it is. But with only six parts, it might be worth at least giving it a go without feeling as if you’re signing half of your life away (Friday 17 January, FOX, 10pm).

Also starting: post-hiatus Big Bang Theory (Thursday, E4, 8.30pm) and 2 Broke Girls (ditto, 9.30pm); and from Canada, season 4 of Lost Girl (Thursday, Syfy UK, 10pm) and season 1 of cop drama Played (Friday, 5USA, 10pm).

Not starting: season 5 of Justified, which Channel 5 has confirmed it won’t be showing. Come on, More 4. Living. Netflix. Someone.

And coming very soon: Unpopcult’s favourite bromance is back…

Public Service Announcement 3 of 2014: Hostages

January 11, 2014 3 comments

The President of the US is about to undergo an operation. Renowned surgeon Dr Toni Collette is going to carry it out. But wait! Dr Toni Collette’s family have been taken hostage by Dylan McDermott and his piercing blue eyes, and she has to choose: kill the President and they live, save the President and they DIE.

What? Again?

Since this particular plotline seems like it’s already on tv every other week, Channel 4′s latest US import “Hostages” certainly has its work cut out for it in terms of trying to surprise UK viewers or even just holding their attention for the duration of its 15-episode run. It didn’t manage either of those feats in the US: reviews were “mixed” and the season (and probably series, no way this is getting renewed) finished earlier this week with abysmal ratings. But – as far as I can tell with my hand over my eyes, trying to avoid seeing too many spoilers – it looks like the main story is mostly complete by the end of the run, and tv is still a post-Christmas wasteland for the next week so I could do with some of the”high-octane” po-faced drama that the Jerry Bruckheimer and CBS combo promises. I’m going to give it a whirl. (The fact that Dylan McDermott is looking seriously handsome these days has nothing whatsoever to do with that decision, obviously.) If you fancy joining me, the pilot starts tonight at 9pm on Channel 4. I’ll review the first ep anyway and we’ll see what happens after that.

Public Service Announcement 2 of 2014: Castle; The Tomorrow People; The 7.39

January 7, 2014 8 comments

One of my favourite distractions returns this week, as UK viewers get season 6 of Castle. Now that Caskett is a thing, the writers need to find ways of making that more of a struggle than it should be (apart, of course, from the visibly diminishing chemistry between the two leads), so season 5 ended on some bobbins relationship cliffhanger, which presumably won’t be allowed to get in the way too much. You’ll probably know by now if it’s your sort of thing. It’s mine (Alibi, Thursday 9 January, 9pm).

Before that, we get our first look at The CW’s sci-fi drama The Tomorrow People, about teenagers who have evolved supernatural powers. It stars Jacob from Lost, Nina Myers from 24, Peyton List (Roger Sterling’s second wife in Mad Men), someone off of Home and Away, and a few others. It’s co-created by Greg Berlanti (Eli Stone, No Ordinary Family, Arrow), Julie Plec (The Vampire Diaries) and Phil Klemmer (Chuck), with all three exec producing alongside Danny Cannon of the CSI stable. And it’s a remake of a fondly-remembered (by those who saw it, which doesn’t include me) 70′s UK teen drama. So on the face of things it has a lot going for it, but the critical response in America was lukewarm at best, and ratings have been nothing special either. Unpopcult isn’t bothering, unless CJ has a change of heart (E4, Wednesday 8 January, 9pm).

And, belatedly, we should note The 7.39, a two-part drama about a man (David Morrissey) and woman (Sheridan Smith), both in committed relationships, who meet on a commuter train and fall for each other. The first episode, which was enjoyed by at least one friend of Unpopcult, was broadcast last night, and is on the iPlayer; the finale is tonight. Now, let it be said right here and now that I am entirely in favour of scenarios in which attractive younger women fall for older married men. As, presumably, is the writer of The 7.39, David (One Day) Nicholls, who is 47 and married. Perhaps David Morrissey, who is 49 and married, is too. I can’t help but think, though, that The 7.39 would be a more interesting proposition if the gender roles were reversed. Or if it had been written by a woman. Or if one of the leads hadn’t been quite as good-looking. Or… something (BBC1, 9pm).

Also starting: NCIS season 11 (Fox, Friday 10 January, 9pm); Grey’s Anatomy season 10 (Sky Living, Wednesday 8 January, 10pm); and Longmire’s first appearance on Freeview (5USA, tonight, 9pm), about which I’m not going to say anything in case we get accused again of not doing our homework. And Hostages, also coming soon, will have its own PSA later in the week.

Public Service Announcement 1 of 2014: The Bridge (Bron/Broen); Revenge; The Americans

January 2, 2014 13 comments

As ever, Unpopcult’s only New Year resolution is to watch more TV, and we’re starting about now.

In 2013, Danish/Swedish cop drama Bron/Broen became the latest European drama to generate a well-meaning English-speaking-world remake or two, with a British/French (The Tunnel) and an American/Mexican imitation now available. But the good news is that the real thing is back this Saturday, with both principals – Sofia Helin and the underrated Kim Bodnia – on duty once again. This time, the border-spanning crime which throws them together happens when a ship, containing a very unpleasant surprise or two, rams the Øresund Bridge. As with season 1, reviews here as soon as I can manage them, a task which will be hampered by the BBC once again opting for those stupid double-bills (Saturday 4 January, 9pm, BBC 4).

Then on Monday, UK viewers get the make-or-break season 3 of Revenge. Season 1 was awesome; season 2, on the other hand, really wasn’t as good, although I was a lone voice in suggesting that it wasn’t that bad, either. My theory remains that when critics and viewers are suckered into believing that a show they like is a “guilty pleasure”, the inevitable backlash is louder and longer, as they scramble to claim that the show was never all that in the first place. Once again: there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure. Like something, don’t like something, but don’t let would-be tastemakers make you feel guilty about it. There’s more than enough room for feeling guilty in real life.

Deep breath. Anyway. The good news is that season 3 ratings have held firm enough to make a further renewal more likely than not for now, which I’m hoping means, in turn, that the storytelling problems which marred the second season have been ironed out (Monday 6 January, 9pm, E4).

And, tonight (Thursday), ITV starts a rerun of the first season of 80s-set Russians-in-the US spy drama The Americans. If you’re fed up with Homeland – and quite a few people seem to be – this might fill the espionage-thriller gap in your life. I think it’s a great show, and tonight’s first episode was one of the best pieces of TV in 2013 (10.35pm).

Also starting: season 9 of Criminal Minds (Monday, 9pm, Sky Living), and season 4 of Mike and Molly (Monday, 9.30pm, Comedy Central). And Universal has started nightly re-runs of the first half of Sleepy Hollow, the show which, along with Unpopcult double-award-winner The Blacklist, has been the biggest hit of the new network dramas in America. It’s worth a look.

Public Service Announcement 48 of 2013: Borgen

November 14, 2013 Leave a comment

Unpopcult favourite Borgen returns this weekend for its third season. At the end of season 2 we left Birgitte (the radiant Sidse Babett Knudsen) in power, if only just. By the start of season 3 we’ve moved on two and a half years; Birgitte is out of politics, and making a nice living on the public speaking circuit, with a few consultancies and board memberships on the side. She will, however, be drawn back into the political world during the season, and will also acquire a new boyfriend (Archie off of Monarch of the Glen), which presumably means that those of us holding out for a reunion with Philip are going to be disappointed.

There’s no getting away from the fact that the reaction in Denmark to this season was muted, and the advance word from America – where they’re about halfway through – is that it doesn’t match up to seasons 1 and 2. Still, we’ll be the judges of that, and even lesser Borgen is going to be better than just about everything else on TV. Creator Adam Price is on the record as saying that there won’t be a fourth season, so we should enjoy it while we can. Usual stupid double-bills (Saturday, BBC4, 9pm).

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